Yahoo Hears Call of Audio Search

August 6, 2005

Yahoo is testing a new search-engine feature that will pore through millions of songs offered by popular internet music services like iTunes, Rhapsody and Napster.

The free service, available at Yahoo Search, boasts an index of more than 50 million audio files, including newscasts, speeches and interviews posted online, as well as the internet’s deepening pool of “podcasts.” The index identifies the content by reading metadata embedded in the files.

Other internet search engines already find audio files, but Yahoo (YHOO) is touting its as the most comprehensive, largely because it has received permission to index downloadable songs offered by virtually all of the internet’s top music services.

The expansion coincides with an increasing emphasis by Yahoo and other search engines on indexing online video. The diversification beyond searching simple text online reflects the web’s evolution into a multimedia hub — a shift that the top search engines hope to parlay into profits.


Apple Mighty Mouse

August 6, 2005

Apple has insisted that mice need only one button for so long that its stance has become an article of faith for many in the Mac community. What a shock then that this week it should release a mouse with essentially not one but four buttons. And some of you thought the shift to Intel was bad…

Apple Mighty MouseTruth is, Mac OS X has had multi-button mouse support for ages, and I for one have been happily pushing a Logitech job around my desk in order to get fast access to contextual menus, now a key component of the Mac UI – though not, of course, when Apple began shipping one-button mice.

With a one-button mouse you can still access contextual menus, either by holding down the Control key, or simply clicking and holding. But there’s no doubt a dedicated mouse button is best. Ditto a scroll wheel, for navigating long documents, and the Mighty Mouse, as the new Apple peripheral is styled, has one of those too.

The Mighty Mouse works straight out of the box, sort of. Mac OS X 10.4.2’s Keyboard and Mouse control panel already spotting the presence of the scroll wheel and introducing a speed setter control accordingly. But installing the bundled software adds the ability to customise the buttons and, crucially, allowing the ‘right-hand button’ – Apple calls it the “secondary” button – to work.

I say ‘right-hand button’ in quotes because in truth it isn’t. The Mighty Mouse has a single button as earlier Apple mice did. Inside, a sensor detects where your finger is – they work by detecting changes in the circuits’ capacitance – and on that basis decides whether the click should be treated as a left-hand button or a right-hand one. This is fine if you keep your fingers ever poised above the mouse, only touching it when you want to click. But if, like me, you rest both fingers on the mouse’s surface, it can’t work out which kind of click you want and defaults to left.

The Mighty Mouse is comfortable enough to use, particularly if you’re used to Apple’s rounded-rectangle design. If you’ve become accustomed to something more contoured – my Logitech notebook mouse is distinctly fatter at one end that the other, for example – it feels unusual.

There’s a third button positioned on the left-hand side of the mouse where your thumb rests, and an identical one on the other side, similarly positioned for left-handed users. Apple talks about the Mighty Mouse’s ‘squeezability’, but it’s a simple thumb-switch. It could have allowed you to customise both of these buttons, but it assumes you’ll be using just one, with your thumb, though it’s perfectly possible to operate both.

Well, almost. The buttons are positioned too far forward for my shortish fingers, though lank-fingered arty types should have no problem. In any case, I’d have liked a little more ‘give’ in the either switch, which have almost no movement. There’s some audio feedback, courtesy of a clicker inside the mouse – unplug it and you can’t hear a thing – so I suspect it too operates through a sensor.

Pressing the scroll wheel in activates the mouse’s fourth button, though I should say it’s not really a wheel at all but a tiny ball. The upshot is vertical and horizontal scrolling without the need for the convoluted rocker mechanism Microsoft builds into certain of its mice. The Mighty Mouse’s ball is perhaps no easier to use, but it feels better. It’s not as ‘steppy’ as other scroll-wheels feel, but it’s not totally smooth either. It’s precise enough to give you pixel-level scrolling in some apps, though not others.

Apple Mighty Mouse

As usual Apple has provided a cable that’s rather short, but since its mice are usually connected to a keyboard or a notebook, that’s less of an issue than it might be for PC-connected rodents that need to run to the floor and round behind the system unit. A USB extension cable would solve the problem had Apple chosen to bundle one. Given the price, it should have, particularly since it notes the rodents ability to work with Windows XP and 2000.

The cable is thin, too – about three-quarters of the width of the one on my Logitech mouse. At least the cable seems well secured at the mouse end – I’ve seen too many transparent Apple mice where one of the fine wires has broken here, rendering the device useless.

That’s not an issue with cordless mice, and hopefully a Bluetooth Mighty Mouse is in the works.
Verdict

I like the Mighty Mouse. The thumb button is tricky, but otherwise it’s reasonably comfortable to use. The single physical click/two virtual clicks mechanism works well, and the scroll nipple is a joy to tease… er… push. But while the Mighty Mouse is better than some I’ve tried, I’m not sure it’s worth more than double the £15 I spent on the Logitech. ®

Apple Mighty Mouse

Rating 75%

Pros Good solution for horizontal and vertical scrolling; does just what it says on the tin.

Cons Favours the long-fingered; rather expensive.

Price £35/$49


Mobile filmmaking

August 6, 2005

As MMS clippings continue doing their rounds, a few heads at the Discovery Networks Asia and Nokia make an endeavour to reinvent the concept of filmmaking.

The new genre called mobile filmmaking is soon to hit the mobile users as the companies are gearing up to launch Mobile First Time Filmmakers Contest. The contest seeks to provide the consumers a ticket to venture into mobile filmmaking.

What’s the funda?

Using the Nokia N90 multimedia device contestants can create their own personal high-quality mobile films with their Nokia camera phones.

This use of mobile technology will gradually contribute to the evolution and growth of documentary filmmaking and the way content is utilised by mobile phone users.

How to go about it?

Participants can send a photo or a video of their favourite icon that represents the values and hopes of their community, not more than nine seconds in duration with a brief description.

The icon can be anything ranging from an old shop house in an alley, a vintage car, or even a childhood game, which conveys its significance. The contest, which started on August 1, is open to individuals aged 18.

Entries can be submitted through the website www.mobifilms.net. The last date for submissions is Sunday September 4, 2005.

What next?

15 participants will be short-listed and flown to Singapore in September to attend a workshop organized to learn more about mobile filmmaking techniques. In addition, the fifteen selected filmmakers will each receive a Nokia N90, which they will use to shoot and submit their final entries.

Big moolah

One among the 15 contenders will get to win a cash prize of US$10,000. It might look as a distant dream but it’s worth a try for all camera phone users.


Antarctic losing ice at historic pace

August 6, 2005

Professor Eugene Domack of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. — writing in a cover article for the current issue of the journal Nature — said the Antarctic warming may be associated with human-induced greenhouse effects.

Domack says the spectacular collapse of the Antarctica’s Larson B Ice Shelf — an area roughly the size of Rhode Island — is unprecedented in 10,000 years.

He said his paper provides evidence the break-up of the ice shelf was caused by thinning during thousands of years, as well as short term (multi-decade) cumulative increases in surface air temperature exceeding the natural variation of regional climate during the Holocene period — the last 10,000 years.

The recent collapse is attributed to climate warming in the Antarctic Peninsula, which is more pronounced than elsewhere in the world. In recent years, Domack said, the Antarctic Peninsula has lost ice shelves totaling more than 4,825 square miles.


The battle for bloggers

August 6, 2005
Call it the battle of the blogs. Yahoo is testing a system that will let it place ads on Web sites of bloggers and other small and medium-size publishers, a market that was created and is dominated by Google.

Yahoo will invite 2,000 sites to take part in the test, which was set to start on Wednesday, and will open the system to blogs and other publishers by the end of the year.

Google and Yahoo have hundreds of thousands of advertisers who bid to have their small text advertisements associated with Internet search words. Two years ago, Google reached out to publishers – mainstream media companies and bloggers alike – with technology that can analyze the content of a given Web page to select related ads.

Google places ads on hundreds of thousands of sites, industry specialists say.

These include big sites like The New York Times on the Web and myriad small blogs and specialized sites.

As a result, Google has been an important contributor to the vast proliferation of Web logs because it has been able to provide at least some income for even small-time bloggers.

Yahoo has a much smaller program, working with a few hundred sites like CNN.com.

Yahoo says its new small-site service will let a Web site specify what categories of advertising it does or does not want on a given page.

Moreover, Yahoo will offer a telephone number that even small publishers can call for help, something that Google does not readily make available.

Yahoo appears to be focusing on a weakness in Google’s offering for small publishers, said John Battelle, a blogger and author of “The Search,” a book on Google and its rivals to be published in September by Portfolio Hardcover.

“Google is the 800-pound gorilla, and until now there aren’t even any chimps around,” he said.

“You hear two complaints over and over again,” Battelle added. “They are a black box, and you can’t get anyone on the phone to help you.”

NEW YORK Call it the battle of the blogs. Yahoo is testing a system that will let it place ads on Web sites of bloggers and other small and medium-size publishers, a market that was created and is dominated by Google.

Yahoo will invite 2,000 sites to take part in the test, which was set to start on Wednesday, and will open the system to blogs and other publishers by the end of the year.

Google and Yahoo have hundreds of thousands of advertisers who bid to have their small text advertisements associated with Internet search words. Two years ago, Google reached out to publishers – mainstream media companies and bloggers alike – with technology that can analyze the content of a given Web page to select related ads.

Google places ads on hundreds of thousands of sites, industry specialists say.

These include big sites like The New York Times on the Web and myriad small blogs and specialized sites.

As a result, Google has been an important contributor to the vast proliferation of Web logs because it has been able to provide at least some income for even small-time bloggers.

Yahoo has a much smaller program, working with a few hundred sites like CNN.com.

Yahoo says its new small-site service will let a Web site specify what categories of advertising it does or does not want on a given page.

Moreover, Yahoo will offer a telephone number that even small publishers can call for help, something that Google does not readily make available.

Yahoo appears to be focusing on a weakness in Google’s offering for small publishers, said John Battelle, a blogger and author of “The Search,” a book on Google and its rivals to be published in September by Portfolio Hardcover.

“Google is the 800-pound gorilla, and until now there aren’t even any chimps around,” he said.

“You hear two complaints over and over again,” Battelle added. “They are a black box, and you can’t get anyone on the phone to help you.”

NEW YORK Call it the battle of the blogs. Yahoo is testing a system that will let it place ads on Web sites of bloggers and other small and medium-size publishers, a market that was created and is dominated by Google.

Yahoo will invite 2,000 sites to take part in the test, which was set to start on Wednesday, and will open the system to blogs and other publishers by the end of the year.

Google and Yahoo have hundreds of thousands of advertisers who bid to have their small text advertisements associated with Internet search words. Two years ago, Google reached out to publishers – mainstream media companies and bloggers alike – with technology that can analyze the content of a given Web page to select related ads.

Google places ads on hundreds of thousands of sites, industry specialists say.

These include big sites like The New York Times on the Web and myriad small blogs and specialized sites.

As a result, Google has been an important contributor to the vast proliferation of Web logs because it has been able to provide at least some income for even small-time bloggers.

Yahoo has a much smaller program, working with a few hundred sites like CNN.com.

Yahoo says its new small-site service will let a Web site specify what categories of advertising it does or does not want on a given page.

Moreover, Yahoo will offer a telephone number that even small publishers can call for help, something that Google does not readily make available.

Yahoo appears to be focusing on a weakness in Google’s offering for small publishers, said John Battelle, a blogger and author of “The Search,” a book on Google and its rivals to be published in September by Portfolio Hardcover.

“Google is the 800-pound gorilla, and until now there aren’t even any chimps around,” he said.

“You hear two complaints over and over again,” Battelle added. “They are a black box, and you can’t get anyone on the phone to help you.”


Bigger than Pluto: Tenth planet or icy leftover?

August 6, 2005

Step aside, Pluto, there’s a new kid in town. Astronomers last week announced that they have detected a body larger and more distant than Pluto. It’s the biggest body found in the solar system since Neptune and its moon Triton were discovered in 1846. But whether the body, dubbed 2003 UB313, qualifies as our sun’s tenth known planet is a matter of intense debate.

NEW ON THE CHART. The largest object yet found in the outer solar system is illuminated, in this illustration, by the faraway sun.
Brown et al.
Many astronomers, including codiscoverer Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, says that it’s a no-brainer—if Pluto is the ninth planet, then this object must be the tenth. But others argue that both Pluto and the newfound body, which are tiny compared with the other eight planets, are merely large members of the Kuiper belt, a reservoir containing thousands of icy leftovers from the solar system’s formation.

The debate began last week when Brown and his colleagues Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., described the body in a July 29 circular of the International Astronomical Union. The team first found the object in October 2003 during a search for distant bodies in the solar system. For more than a year, the object remained just another data point. But early last January, a revised computer program flagged the object as notable: a slowly moving body that was brighter than other distant objects.

The slow motion indicated that the body resides far away, while the brightness suggested that it might be large. Images taken by the team on Jan. 8 with the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near Escondido, Calif., showed that the object lies more than twice as far from the sun as Pluto does.

The infrared Spitzer Space Telescope failed to detect any heat from the body, indicating that it’s less than about 3,550 kilometers in diameter. However, the visible-light images revealed that it must be at least as large as Pluto. The team’s best estimate is that 2003 UB313 has a diameter about 1.5 times that of Pluto, which measures 2,300 km across.

Like Pluto, the object contains methane ice. Traveling around the sun in an elongated, 560-year orbit, it comes as close to the sun as 38 times the Earth-sun distance and strays as far as 97 times the Earth-sun separation. The orbit of 2003 UB313 shows an unusually large tilt, 44° relative to the plane in which most of the planets orbit the sun.

But is the object a planet? The body lies in the Kuiper belt and should be classified as a Kuiper resident, along with Pluto, asserts Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. He notes that the large asteroid Ceres, discovered in 1801, was initially designated a planet, until a gaggle of rocky, asteroid belt objects was found in the same region. Similarly, the plethora of icy objects roaming the solar system’s outskirts should all be called Kuiper belt bodies, Marsden argues.