Behind those player ratings on ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

Top-rated players of ‘Madden 25′

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Donny Moore is the “ratings czar” for “Madden NFL 25″
  • Moore says players sometimes ask, complain about their scores
  • He watches every NFL game and studies stats
  • With weekly updates, mistakes can be fixed quickly now

(CNN) — Donny Moore watches at least part of every NFL game, every week, every year. After all, it’s part of his job.

You may not have heard of him. But while Moore is watching the best football players in the world, they’re watching him, too.

“I get a lot of feedback from Twitter,” said Moore, the so-called ratings czar for “Madden NFL,” the uber-popular video game franchise that rolled out its 25th annual edition on Tuesday. “Guys like (Seahawks cornerback) Richard Sherman, (Cowboys wide receiver) Dez Bryant — these guys all follow me and make sure to give me feedback.

“They always want to know ahead of time: ‘What have you got me at?’ “

That’s because it’s Moore’s job to come up with the numerical ratings — from 1 to 100 — that determine how skilled players, and by extension their teams, are at various facets of the game.

It’s a unique challenge. Although there are shooter games that emulate real-world weapons and military units, only sports games require their creators to assess, and then re-create, real-life humans as virtual avatars.

That’s bound to rankle some folks — if not the NFL players themselves, then “Madden” gamers who are often their most rabid fans. By most accounts, though, Moore and his team at EA Sports, publisher of the “Madden” series, do a good job.

“EA is not just pulling numbers from a hat,” said T.J. Lauerman, host of That Sports Gamer Show. “Gamers are uptight about their favorite team’s ratings because … they see their team’s running back make one great spin move that completely fakes out a defender, and when they try it in a game, they fail. They look up the player attributes and realize he has a 64 Spin Move, then they get angry and tweet Donny Moore.”

That’s all part of the job, says Moore.

“If you’re a Falcons fan who was mad some Falcons were underrated, we’re probably doing our job,” he said. “Everybody can’t be a 99.”

Moore has a lot of raw data to work with. In addition to on-field stats, there are 40-yard-dash times, scouting-combine scores for rookies, injury reports and the like. And a whole host of websites have sprung up to hyperanalyze performance, breaking down stats into super-specific categories, like “downfield passing completion percentage.”

But football is also a game of intangibles. Sometimes it takes watching a player accomplish things on the field that the raw data don’t show. Moore is thankful for Madden’s weekly online updates (a feature that earlier versions obviously didn’t have), which let him tweak player stats based on their performance throughout the season.

He cites Alfred Morris, the lightly regarded sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic University who ended up tallying 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns last year for the Washington Redskins.

“There was not a whole lot of buzz around him, really; he ran a terribly slow time at the combo,” Moore said. “Then, he started blowing up.”

Morris started the season on “Madden” with a 65 rating. By the end of the year, thanks to weekly updates, he’d risen to an 89.

“We were wrong about him to begin with, but the whole league was,” he said. “(Redskins head coach) Mike Shanahan was probably surprised. Pleasantly surprised.”

After actually watching on-field performance, Moore said, his best tool for adjusting player ratings may be those same fans who argue with him online. He adopted a stock response to fans who thought a player on their favorite team should have his numbers moved up.

He says ” ‘OK, give me five up and five down,’ ” he said. “When you made the fans give you the guys who should go down, that was some of the best feedback ever.”

But it’s always more amusing when it’s the players themselves complaining, especially when it’s over something relatively ridiculous.

Every player gets a rating in every category, meaning kickers are rated for Trucking — the ability to bull over defenders — and 300-pound defensive linemen get Spectacular Catch scores.

But that didn’t sit well when New York Jets defensive back Kerry Rhodes saw his Throwing Power rating of 21 and 23 for Throwing Accuracy — a full 17 points behind Nick Mangold, a Jets offensive lineman. Rhodes played some quarterback in college and high school and posted a good-natured video titled “WTF Madden!”

In it, he and Mangold go through a series of passing drills, in which he predictably beats his 307-pound teammate.

And it worked.

“After that, I bumped up Kerry Rhodes’ power to way outdistance Mangold,” Moore said. “But it was still terrible. You’d never play him at quarterback.”

That’s a silly example, but illustrates a bigger point: There are a lot of eyeballs on the best-selling “Madden” game series.

Moore has worked at EA since 1999, when he was hired for the “Madden” testing group after winning an “NCAA ’99 Football” tournament. He says that, for him, making the game as close as possible to the real thing is serious business.

“I treat it with a lot of pride,” he said. “I know what’s at stake here. I just want to get it right.”

CNN contributor Larry Frum contributed to this report.

CNN.com – Technology

Facebook rolls out shared photo albums

Facebook has added shared photo albums so multiple people can throw their photos from an event into a single album.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Facebook is adding shared photo albums for up to 50 people
  • Groups will be able to upload photos after social gatherings to the same album
  • Hundreds of millions of photos are shared on Facebook each day

(CNN) — Next time you host a soiree, you can collect photos of the event from your guests in one album on Facebook.

The social network has added shared photo albums so people can throw photos from an event or of a common subject into a single spot. The new shared album feature, first reported by Mashable, is rolling out to English-speaking users of the social network but will eventually be available around the world.

When you create a new photo album, there will be a new button that says “Make Shared Album.” Click and add up to 50 other people you want contributing to the album. Each person can upload 200 photos for a maximum of 10,000 images in a single shared album. Every contributor can tag, edit and give captions to the photos they add.

The album’s creator can decide who sees the photos by setting the privacy settings to just contributors, friends of contributors or public.

You can only add individual contributors. There’s no option to open an album to your entire network or base one on a specific shared gathering such as a concert or sporting event. You can open up the floodgates a bit by allowing your friends to add anyone else they like to an album.

“Hundreds of millions of photos are uploaded onto Facebook each day and today, we’re making it even easier for friends to share photos with the rollout of Shared Photo Albums,” the company said in a statement

Creating a single bucket for all the photos from an event is going to be a hit with wedding or other party guests, though the 50-person limit could be tricky if you throw proper ragers.

The 68,000 people returning from the Burning Man festival next week can share their dusty photos memories in groups on Facebook instead of each posting them individually. A family vacation to Disney World can be immortalized in one spot. Birthday party guests can share their photos of the guest of honor blowing out candles from every possible angle.

The shared photo album is not an original idea.

Various startups such as Keepsy, Hipstamatic and Albumatic have tried to make sharing albums easy, but many require everyone downloading the same app or signing up for a service. It makes much more sense as an additional feature on a site that is already a popular place for photo-sharing.

More than a billion people are on Facebook, and they’re sharing hundreds of millions of photos every day on the service, according to Facebook.

It’s surprising it took the company this long to add this simple, helpful feature.

CNN.com – Technology

Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft hits and misses

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

The many faces of Steve Ballmer

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced Friday that he will step down in the next 12 months
  • Under Ballmer’s reign, Microsoft has had a mixed record of success with its products
  • The Xbox console has been a consistent seller, while the now-defunct Zune music player was a dud

(CNN) — Poor Steve Ballmer. The burly Microsoft CEO, who announced Friday that he will retire next year, has been the victim of some unfortunate timing.

When he took over leadership of Microsoft in 2000 Ballmer had to follow iconic co-founder Bill Gates, who had built the software titan into the most valuable company in the world. Then Ballmer was blindsided by the swift rise of Steve Jobs and Apple, whose iPod, iPhone and iPad led a mobile revolution and made Microsoft appear slow and out of touch.

More recently, Ballmer has been credited for re-imagining the company’s core product with the bold Windows 8 operating system and leading a 2013 revival of the company’s once-flagging stock.

Under his reign, Microsoft has a mixed record of success with its consumer products. Here’s a look at some of the company’s more notable hits and misses of the Ballmer era.

Hits

Windows XP — This version of Microsoft’s desktop operating system was released in 2001 and used on more than 80% of PCs at its peak. The software also showed surprising staying power: Many IT managers, frustrated by the buggy Microsoft Vista, downgraded to the older but more reliable XP. Today, 12 years after its launch, XP still runs almost 39% of the world’s desktop computers.

Microsoft says a new upgrade will turn the Xbox 360 into a hub for all television viewing.

Xbox — Launched in 2001, the venerable video gaming console and its successor, the Xbox 360, have sold more than 100 million units. Some blockbuster games, such as the “Halo” and “Gears of War” series, are available only for the Xbox. Its Kinect system was hailed as a step forward in motion-control gaming, while Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online multiplayer gaming network, now has more than 46 million members worldwide. Microsoft will release its next-generation console, the Xbox One, in November.

Bing — Ballmer in 2009 introduced Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which drew praise for its attractive visuals and predictive-text features that produced search suggestions before users were done typing queries. It won’t challenge Google’s dominance any time soon, but Bing has emerged as a credible rival. It has gradually increased in popularity and now commands almost 18% of the U.S. search engine market.

Misses

Zune — In 2006, Microsoft finally launched its answer to Apple’s hot-selling iPod. But the clunky Zune line of portable media players never caught on, and by late 2009 their market share had dropped to 2%. It didn’t help that at midnight on December 31, 2008, all of Zune’s 30GB models froze up for a day — a problem with the way the device’s internal clock recognized (or didn’t recognize) leap years. Microsoft put the Zune out of its misery in 2011.

Vista — Released in 2007, this successor to Windows XP was an immediate dud. Critics complained about its cost, sluggish speed, restrictive licensing terms and how Vista aimed to discourage the copying of protected digital media. One survey of corporate users found only 8% said they were “very satisfied” with the operating system. Stung by the reaction, Microsoft rushed out Windows 7 less than three years later.

The Microsoft Surface, running Windows 8.

Surface tablets — Again, Microsoft found itself chasing Apple, this time with a belated attempt to dethrone the market-leading iPad. Launched in October 2012 — more than two years after the original iPad — the Surface tablet was Microsoft’s first attempt to integrate its new Windows 8 operating system with its own hardware.

Despite some good reviews, the Surface hasn’t clicked with consumers. Microsoft earned only $ 853 million from the Surface between its launch last fall and the close of the company’s fiscal year — a small fraction of iPad sales revenue during that time. Said AllThingsD, “That’s a particularly sad showing for the tablet, given the blustering smack-talk with which Microsoft launched the device.”

CNN.com – Technology

Zuckerberg’s page hacked to prove security flaw

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s personal page was hacked to make a point
  • Palestinian researcher says security team didn’t take his reports seriously
  • Facebook says volume of reports, language barrier hindered its response
  • Khalil Shreateh won’t get a reward for reporting the flaw

(CNN) — He tried to warn them.

A Palestinian researcher posted a message on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s page last week after he says the site’s security team didn’t take his warnings about a security flaw seriously.

“First, sorry for breaking your privacy and post(ing) to your wall,” wrote Khalil Shreateh. “I (have) no other choice to make after all the reports I sent to (the) Facebook team.”

Shreateh, who describes himself as an unemployed security researcher with a degree in information systems, said he found a hole in Facebook’s systems that let him post to any user’s page, including users not on his Friends list.

Such an exploit would be a virtual gold mine for spammers, scam artists and others seeking to take advantage of the site’s roughly 1 billion users worldwide.

Shreateh said he contacted Facebook security about the vulnerability before using it to post to Mark Zuckerberg’s page.

On his blog, Shreateh posted a series of e-mails he said were exchanged between him and Facebook security. After the first one, a Facebook employee responded that the link he attached was bad.

Shreateh had included a post — an Enrique Iglesias video — he says he posted on the page of a woman who went to college with Zuckerberg. He speculated that Facebook’s security team couldn’t see it because they weren’t on her Friends list.

Somebody buy Mark Zuckerberg some clothes

Facebook responded to his second message to say the issue he was reporting was not a bug.

His response: “ok that mean(s) I have no choice other than report this to mark himself on facebook.”

Needless to say, that got their attention.

Facebook says the flaw was fixed on Thursday. But over the weekend the episode began making headlines on tech blogs.

On the Hacker News website, Facebook security team member Matt Jones wrote that the language barrier with Shreateh, who is not a native English speaker, and the volume of reports the site receives were partly to blame for the site’s slow response.

“Unfortunately, all he submitted was a link to the post he’d already made (on a real account whose consent he did not have) … saying that ‘the bug allow facebook users to share links to other facebook users,’ ” Jones wrote.

“For background, as a few other commenters have pointed out, we get hundreds of reports every day. Many of our best reports come from people whose English isn’t great — though this can be challenging, it’s something we work with just fine and we have paid out over $ 1 million to hundreds of reporters.”

Because he violated Facebook’s terms of service by hacking the pages of other users, Shreateh is not eligible to receive a reward under the site’s White Hat program designed to find and fix bugs.

Shreateh, who says he has been looking for work for two years, lives in the Palestinian city of Yatta, in a region where the unemployment rate is officially 22% and is higher among men in their 20s, like Shreateh.

“I could sell (information about the flaw) on the black (hat) hackers’ websites and I could make more money than Facebook could pay me,” he said in an interview with CNN. “But for me — I am a good guy. I don’t deal with the black (hat) stuff.”

In hacker circles, “white hat” is a term for people who report exploits they find so they can be fixed, while “black hat” often refers to people who hack to take advantage of those exploits.

He said he’s proud that, as a Palestinian using a five-year-old laptop with broken keys and a broken battery, he had the skills to find a problem with one of the world’s biggest websites. But he acknowledged hoping his tip would lead to a reward from Facebook.

“I never asked them, ‘I want $ 4,000 or $ 5,000′,” he said. “I didn’t deal with them like that … . (But) I really needed that money.”

Jones acknowledged that the security team should have asked Shreateh for more information.

“I have to admit that I have some sympathy with Facebook on this issue,” security analyst Graham Cluley wrote on his blog. “Although he was frustrated by the response from Facebook’s security team, Shreateh did the wrong thing by using the flaw to post a message on Mark Zuckerberg’s wall.”

He would have been better served returning to Facebook’s security team with more evidence and further explaining it or, if that didn’t work, taking the information to a technology journalist to report, Cluley said.

CNN International’s Jim Clancy contributed to this report.

CNN.com – Technology

What the Steve Jobs movie got right, and wrong

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

Key scenes from ‘Jobs’

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Jobs,” starring Ashton Kutcher in the iconic role, hits theaters Friday
  • The movie is the first biopic about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs
  • Here are five things the movie gets right, and wrong

(CNN) — After months of speculation and hype, the first biopic about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs hits theaters Friday.

“Jobs,” directed by Joshua Michael Stern and starring Ashton Kutcher as the iconic tech guru, spans much of Jobs’ early career, from his hippie days at Reed College in 1974 to the launch of the original iPod in 2001.

And guess what? Although it omits or glosses over many chapters of Jobs’ life, it’s not bad.

This is first dramatic feature film to focus solely on the longtime Apple CEO, who died in 2011. A second Steve Jobs movie, written by Aaron Sorkin and adapted from the best-selling Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, is due as early as next year.

Jobs’ tumultuous life could probably fill three movies. But “Jobs” focuses on his early years at Apple and ignores almost everything else. Even though the two-hour movie spans 27 years, it makes little or no mention of Jobs being adopted, his work at NeXT, his search for his real father, his leadership of Pixar, his marriage to Laurene Powell, his late-career triumphs at Apple or the cancer that eventually killed him.

It’s probably just as well. A movie with all that would be fascinating. It would also be four hours long.

Here are five things the movie gets right, and wrong.

Surprise! Kutcher makes a convincing Steve Jobs

Kutcher, in full ’70s mode, as Steve Jobs.

If you know as Kutcher only as the handsome dimwit from “That ’70s Show” or lightweight movies like “Valentine’s Day,” you may be pleasantly surprised. Thanks in part to some subtle hair and makeup effects, he looks a lot like the Apple co-founder in many scenes. Kutcher nails Jobs’ speech patterns, distinctive gait, hunched posture and manner of pacing, hands clasped, when speaking to a group.

Becoming Steve Jobs: Ashton Kutcher on his movie transformation

He projects the intelligence in Jobs’ eyes and his impatience with people he felt were wasting his time. And he effectively captures both sides of the notoriously mercurial Jobs, who could be charismatic one moment and cruel the next.

The movie does not have Kutcher portray the skeletal, cancer-stricken Jobs of the late 2000s, however. That would have been asking a lot.

Apple was founded over … a plate of fruit?

The movie has some fun with the now-legendary story of how Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched Apple from the garage of Jobs’ parents’ house in Los Altos, California. Several real-life characters — electrical engineer Rod Holt and early investor Mike Markkula — show up at the house for the first time and gaze dubiously at Jobs’ workspace and his motley crew of assistants.

The scene where Jobs and Markkula negotiate Apple’s first infusion of venture capital takes place in Jobs’ parents’ dining room, with his mother serving the confused Markkula bread and a plate of fruit. “Steve’s a fruitarian,” she explains — a reference to the unusual diet of her young son, who once went a whole week eating only apples.

It’s not clear whether such a scene actually took place. According to Isaacson’s book, which was written with Jobs’ cooperation, the early business plan for Apple was hammered out over a period of weeks at Markkula’s house. There’s no mention in the book of what they ate.

Wozniak is almost a minor character

The shy Woz has never gotten enough credit for the early success of Apple, and he fades into the background in the movie as well, lost in the shadow cast by Jobs’ larger-than-life persona. The real-life Wozniak didn’t cooperate with the makers of “Jobs” — he’s apparently been consulting instead on the upcoming Sorkin biopic — and maybe that explains why his role feels underwritten.

The filmmakers also took some creative liberties with a few of Wozniak’s most prominent scenes. “Jobs” shows Wozniak (Josh Gad) fumbling to explain their primitive computer onstage to a bored audience at Stanford University’s Homebrew computer club while Jobs fidgets silently in the audience. In Isaacson’s book, however, Jobs and Wozniak both lead the presentation.

The movie also shows Wozniak startling Jobs in his office late one night in 1985 by telling him that he’s leaving Apple. This never happened. In reality, Jobs found out about Wozniak’s departure when news leaked out in The Wall Street Journal. The unassuming Woz, then working quietly as an engineer on the Apple II computer, didn’t feel that his leaving the company was important enough to warrant telling Jobs directly.

Jobs’ dark side

The movie has several scenes of Jobs delivering dynamic speeches while reverent Apple employees respond with wild applause. But to its credit, the film doesn’t sugarcoat the more difficult parts of his personality.

One scene shows Jobs angrily kicking his girlfriend out of their house after she tells him she’s pregnant with the child who would become his daughter, Lisa. It’s not clear whether this actually happened, although in real life the couple broke up soon after and Jobs disavowed paternity of the child. Another shows him cheating Wozniak out of several thousand dollars’ payment for their work on a video game for Atari, a deception documented in Isaacson’s book.

Jobs could be especially brutal with co-workers he did not respect. One scene shows him abruptly dismissing an engineer who did not share his enthusiasm for fonts. “Are you firing me?” the employee asks, surrounded by a roomful of stunned co-workers. “No, I already fired you!” Jobs yells back at him. “Why are you still here?”

The movie also shows how Jobs coldly refused to give stock options to several of Apple’s earliest employees, including his old college pal and roommate Daniel Kottke. “Jobs” milks this for drama in much the same way that “The Social Network” portrayed Mark Zuckerberg’s betrayal of his Harvard classmate and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

The ‘Think Different’ ad

The film ends in 1997 with Jobs in a studio, recording voiceover narration for Apple’s famous “Think Different” ad, the one that begins, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.” But while Jobs in real life did record his voice for the TV spot, he ended up choosing a version by actor Richard Dreyfuss instead.

The movie’s final frames play Jobs’ (OK, Kutcher’s) “Think Different” narration over romanticized images of Apple engineers. Coincidentally, that is almost the same ending that Sorkin favors for his version of the Jobs story. We’ll have to wait to find out which works best.

CNN.com – Technology

Why people share murder, rape on Facebook

Derek Medina, right, posted a picture of his slain wife’s body to Facebook and then turned himself in for her murder.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Crimes, both minor and major, get confessed on social media surprisingly often
  • A Miami man allegedly killed his wife and posted a photo of her body on Facebook
  • Experts say some criminals have always boasted of their crimes
  • Social sites, they say, make it easier to forget consequences

(CNN) — Committing such heinous crimes as sex abuse and murder are unthinkable enough to most of us. But it’s almost equally mind-boggling that the perpetrators would then confess, or even brag about, such acts on the Internet.

Even so, in cases as mundane as vandalism or as horrifying as gang rape, accused criminals are exemplifying a growing truth of the social-media age: To some, nothing is too sacred, private or damning to share online.

“Social media exposes the crimes, along with the poster’s need to feel important or powerful,” said Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. “However, in most cases, it appears that the need for bravado is much greater than any concerns about getting caught.”

The latest high-profile instance happened Thursday, when a Florida man allegedly killed his wife and posted a photograph of her body, along with a confession, on his Facebook page.

“Im going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife,” wrote Derek Medina, 31, of South Miami. “(L)ove you guys miss you guys takecare Facebook people you will see me in the news.”

The gruesome image was shared thousands of times before Facebook was alerted and deleted it several hours later.

It shocked his own Friends list. Among the responses: “WHAT??????” “What happened???? derek.”

But social-media posts about crimes are surprisingly common. Just a few of the most widely publicized in recent times:

– An investigation into the rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl by high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, began after some of the accused posted pictures and video of the girl on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

– The alleged 2011 rape of Rehtaeh Parsons, then 15, in Novia Scotia by four teens was discovered after the teens reportedly shared a photo of her online and via text messages. Two of them, now adults, were charged with child pornography this week. Parsons, at age 17, hanged herself and, in April, was taken off life support.

– In 2011, a Pennsylvania teen pleaded guilty to raping an intoxicated 15-year-old girl, then turned to Facebook, looking for a hit man to kill her. ” “I got 500 on a girls head who wants that bread?” he wrote. “Hit me up anyway possible.” The man who responded was, in fact, an undercover detective.

– A Hawaii man was charged after posting a video titled “Let’s Go Driving & Drinking!” in which he appears to open and drink a beer while driving and talking to a camera for more than five minutes.

READ: When oversharing online can get you arrested

Michele Nealon-Woods, national president of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, notes that criminals were publicly confessing or boasting of their crimes long before anyone heard of Mark Zuckerberg and tweeting was something done by birds, not humans.

In 1888, the notorious “Jack the Ripper” is believed to have sent at least three letters to London police, taunting them and telling them when he planned to kill again.

In northern California, the so-called Zodiac Killer did much the same nearly a century later. He sent dozens of letters to police and the media in the late 1960s and early ’70s — some of them cryptic puzzles that have never been solved.

Throw in timeless tales of jailhouse confessions and barroom braggarts and it’s clear that the base instinct here is nothing new.

“The new part of it now, though, is that when people did very dangerous, aggressive bad things to other people in the past, they didn’t have the medium with which they could share the information,” Nealon-Woods said. “There is that aspect associated with aggressive crime that we’ve always seen.

“What social media has done is give people with those propensities a whole new platform.”

But Nealon-Woods thinks there’s more to it. Social media, she says, is a tiny blip in the long and evolving history of human communication. And no on one can be really sure what, if any, impact it will ultimately have on the way we behave.

“It’s one of those things that are evolving,” she said. “It has been a major, really disruptive innovation in our lives and, like anything that us human beings do, it’s taking us quite a while to adapt and change and respond.”

While millions, if not billions, of people use social media in healthy, happy ways every day, Nealon-Woods said there are some — and not just criminals — who haven’t adjusted so well.

Their inability to pick up the new social norms result in behaviors ranging from Internet trolling to oversharing to the sort of misguided posts that can embarrass users or land them in jail.

The physically isolating aspect of social media is probably part of the equation, she said. When we can communicate with other people without seeing or hearing them, something in the brain makes it harder to remember that there are still consequences for what we say, she said.

“We’ve removed that human interaction, and that is giving people a false sense of the extremes they can go to,” Nealon-Woods added. “I really do believe that’s one of the main reasons that people are posting things where other people are saying, ‘Oh my gosh!’ “

Social media is a young form of communication that will take time for some people to adjust to, she said. In the meantime, Rutledge, the Massachusetts researcher, notes one upside of when awkward online behavior and crime mix.

“The good news is that compulsion to brag about getting away with these activities increases the probability of getting caught,” she said. “Without social media, it would have been much harder to find the culprits, much less prosecute (them).”

CNN.com – Technology

Why more Amber alerts will be waking you up

A cell phone in Los Angeles, California, displays an Amber Alert issued late Monday.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Californians were startled awake this week by Amber Alerts on their phones
  • The alerts were the first sent statewide in California under a new program
  • Some people were annoyed by the alerts, while others cite them for saving lives
  • Ethan Anderson, 8, and sister Hannah Anderson, 16, were abducted last weekend

(CNN) — Many Californians were startled awake Monday night and early Tuesday morning by Amber Alerts that made screeching noises on their cell phones. Some people even took to Twitter to complain.

They better get used to it.

The alerts about a blue Nissan — possibly carrying Ethan Anderson, 8, and sister Hannah Anderson, 16 — were the first sent statewide in California under a new program that sends Amber Alerts about abducted children via text messages to millions of mobile phones. The texts are accompanied by a high-pitched squealing sound to get the phone owner’s attention.

Cell phones have been receiving Amber Alerts since 2005 under a partnership between the wireless industry, the U.S. Justice Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But people had to sign up to receive the alerts — only about 700,000 did — and then designate the areas they wanted to get alerts for.

They would then only receive alerts for those chosen areas, regardless of where they were physically located. So you could be from Nebraska but vacationing in Florida, for example, and not get an Amber Alert about an abduction a dozen miles from your Tampa hotel.

That system was replaced on December 31, 2012, by the Wireless Emergency Alert program, run by FEMA, which sends free, automatic notifications to almost every phone in the surrounding area or even the state. Cellphone owners now receive Amber Alerts, as well as emergency weather alerts, based on their proximity to the emergency, not the location of their phone number. And people must opt out if they prefer not to get the alerts.

HLN: What you should know about mobile Amber Alerts

The messages are sent over a special wireless carrier channel called Cell Broadcast and aren’t affected by congestion that might disrupt regular calls and text messages, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. About 100 Amber Alerts, sent simultaneously to all compatible mobile devices within range of the cellular towers in the affected area, have been sent nationwide so far under the Wireless Emergency Alert program.

The program was credited with locating an abducted 8-month-old boy in Minnesota in February. A Minneapolis teenager saw an Amber Alert on his phone and called police about a neighbor whose Kia matched the description in the alert. The neighbor was arrested, and the infant was recovered unharmed.

Carriers representing 98% of all U.S. wireless subscribers are on the new program, and more than 200 models of phones support the alerts, said Brian Josef, an assistant vice president for regulatory affairs at CTIA, the wireless industry trade association.

The alerts “are absolutely saving lives,” Josef said.

“We have stressed that these alerts have been used judiciously, sparingly,” he added, when asked about irritated reactions to Monday’s Amber Alerts in California. Once phone users understand what it is, “they appreciate the information,” he said.

Some older phones, including the iPhone 4, will not receive the alerts.

People can choose not to hear Amber Alerts by adjusting the notification settings on their phones.

Monday’s alert was the third Amber Alert in California in 2013 to use the new system, although the first two were only broadcast to phones in specific counties.

A massive manhunt was under way Tuesday and Wednesday in California for James DiMaggio, 40, whom law enforcement authorities describe as a friend of the children’s mother, Christina Anderson.

Launched in Texas in 1996, Amber Alerts were originally sent out via radio, TV and electronic highway signs as part of the national emergency-alert system that includes warnings about extreme weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes.

Some critics of Monday’s alert said it was too vague, offering only a description of the wanted vehicle without further context. But Californians should appreciate that such a notification system exists in times of crisis, wrote columnist Jon Healey in the Los Angeles Times.

“The fact that the alerts were broadcast indiscriminately to San Diego-area cellphones (and later, to all California phones capable of receiving text messages, as the alert went statewide) clearly annoyed a lot of wireless customers,” he wrote. “But the alerts can’t really be targeted if police don’t know where the kidnapper is, and it’s impossible to predict who might be in a position to help. So AMBER has to cast a wide net to have any hope of succeeding.

“Yes, it might have helped if the message had been less cryptic. But now that we’ve all seen one, we should be able to recognize what such alerts are trying to tell us.”

CNN.com – Technology

Hackers break into homes — electronically

“Smart home” devices are becoming more common — but not all of them are equipped with proper security, say experts.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Hackers break into homes equipped with security devices
  • Among vulnerable items: front-door locks, power outlets, even certain toilets
  • Number of automated products for the home expected to soar

(CNN) — Hacking into a $ 6,000 Japanese “smart” toilet and taking control of the bidet is a neat trick or a mean prank, but it’s not the type of security issue most people will ever have to worry about.

But what about a hackable front-door lock, motion detector or security camera?

The bluetooth-controlled Satis smart toilet was just one of the many connected devices that security researchers hacked at the Black Hat and Def Con computer security conferences in Las Vegas this week. They also opened front door locks, hijacked power outlets, took over the hubs that coordinate all the home-automation devices, and did some very creepy things with a toy bunny.

Manufacturers are rushing to connect everyday objects around the house to the Internet so people can do things like control them with smartphones. It’s already possible to remotely turn lights off and on or put them on a timer. Motion detectors can be connected to alarms, windows can text you when they’re opened, thermometers will know when you’re home or away and adjust the temperature accordingly. You can see a live stream of security cameras in your house from halfway around the world using mobile apps.

There’s even an oven that can be controlled with an Android app.

These devices are commercially available now and they’re making the smart home of the future a reality, but researchers warn that security for these devices isn’t being taken seriously enough by manufacturers or the people buying them.

The Jetstons never had to worry about an attack that turned Rosie the maid into a remote surveillance device, but we should.

In 2012, 1.5 million home automation products were shipped in the U.S. That number is predicted to soar to 8 million by 2017. One of the most popular wireless standards for these home automation devices is Z-Wave, and an estimated 5 million Z-Wave devices will be shipped this year in the United States.

A bunny goes bad

Security researchers say that connecting anything to a network opens it up for attacks, and they’re eagerly testing smart devices to find flaws and inform manufacturers.

Software engineer Jennifer Savage bought a cute bunny toy called Karotz for her daughter. The plastic bunny can be controlled from a smartphone app and is outfitted with a video camera, microphone, RFID chip a speakers. After testing the security of the toy, Savage was able to take control of the it from a computer and remotely watch live video, turning it into an unwitting surveillance camera.

The most obvious threat seems to be home security devices. A smart door lock is designed be opened with a PIN code or an app. Using a smartphone, you can change the code from anywhere — great for people with heavy Airbnb traffic.

At a Black Hat session, Daniel Crowley demonstrated how a third party can hack into a front-door lock and open it from a computer. He then asked for a random four-digit number from the audience and successfully changed the lock’s code. Crowley says that smart-lock technology is still way too immature to trust.

“If someone breaks into your house and there’s no sign of forced entry, how are you going to get your insurance company back?” he said.

In another talk, Behrang Fouladi and Sahand Ghanoun demonstrated a hack that opened a smart lock that used the Z-Wave protocol. They said that these types of attacks were difficult to detect and don’t leave much of a trail and said that by keeping their standards closed, Z-Wave made it difficult for security researchers to find and report flaws early.

Many manufacturers were responsive to the discoveries and are working to address the security flaws. But as a stream new connected devices continues to pop up in homes, so will new security holes.

Without increased attention to security of connected devices, burglars of the future won’t need crowbars and ski masks. They could monitor your home network or security cameras to see when you are out of the house, disable any motion detectors and pop open the front door with a few lines of code.

CNN.com – Technology

MIT report: We did not ‘target’ Aaron Swartz

Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz fought for Web freedoms but faced charges that he illegally downloaded online documents.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • NEW: Father of Internet activist says “MIT in fact played a central role in Aaron’s suicide”
  • Internal report finds no wrongdoing by MIT in the case of Aaron Swartz
  • Swartz committed suicide while facing charges he stole documents from MIT’s computers
  • MIT president: “I am confident MIT’s decisions were reasonable … and made in good faith”

(CNN) — An internal report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found that it committed no wrongdoing in the case of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide while facing charges he hacked into the university’s computers and stole millions of online documents.

The report “makes clear that MIT did not ‘target’ Aaron Swartz, we did not seek federal prosecution, punishment or jail time, and we did not oppose a plea bargain,” wrote MIT President L. Rafael Reif in a letter Tuesday to the MIT community. Reif had requested an analysis of the university’s involvement in the federal case against Swartz from the time MIT first perceived unusual activity on its Web network in 2010.

But the report also questioned MIT’s “neutral” policy on the issues raised by Swartz’s prosecution and suggested the university could have showed more leadership. It also asked whether MIT should become involved in debates over reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — one of the laws under which Swartz was charged.

Swartz, 26, was discovered dead in his Brooklyn, New York, apartment in January. He was facing 13 felony counts stemming from his illegal downloading from MIT of more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, a repository of research journals, and was scheduled to go to trial in April. If convicted on the federal computer-fraud charges, he faced up to 35 years in prison.

Internet prodigy, activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide

Swartz was an Internet savant who helped develop social-news site Reddit and RSS, the technology that allows websites to send updates to subscribers. He was an outspoken advocate for the free exchange of information over the Internet and co-founded Demand Progress, a political action group that campaigns against Internet censorship.

As described in the report, Swartz’s death “ignited a firestorm on the Internet.” Admirers held memorial services, a petition on the White House’s website demanded the firing of the federal prosecutor responsible for the case and members of Congress introduced a proposed revision of the law under which he was prosecuted.

After his suicide, Swartz’s family issued a statement criticizing prosecutors for seeking “an exceptionally harsh array of charges (for) an alleged crime that had no victims,” and claiming that decisions made by prosecutors and MIT officials had “contributed to his death.”

How Aaron Swartz helped build the Internet

The MIT report on Swartz was issued by a review panel led by Hal Abelson, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science. In preparing its report, the panel reviewed about 10,000 pages of documents and interviewed about 50 people, including MIT faculty, students, alumni and staff; lawyers, police officers and prosecutors; and Swartz’s friends and family.

“The review panel’s careful account provides something we have not had until now: an independent description of the actual events at MIT and of MIT’s decisions in the context of what MIT knew as the events unfolded,” Reif wrote in his accompanying letter. “From studying this review of MIT’s role, I am confident that MIT’s decisions were reasonable, appropriate and made in good faith.”

But others disagreed, including Swartz’s family and romantic partner.

“Having now read Abelson’s report, it is clear that MIT in fact played a central role in Aaron’s suicide,” Robert Swartz, Aaron’s father, said in an e-mailed statement through a family friend.

“MIT made numerous mistakes that warrant further examination and significant changes. MIT was not neutral in the legal case against Aaron. And whether MIT was neutral or not is a red herring: the university had a moral obligation to advocate on Aaron’s behalf.”

Robert Swartz had some conciliatory reaction as well.

“We are encouraged by MIT President Raphael Reif’s desire to ensure that some positive comes of the terrible, tragic situation in which Aaron found himself, and applaud MIT for its commitment to self-examination.”

Swatz’s partner was upset at the report.

“MIT’s behavior throughout the case was reprehensible, and this report is quite frankly a whitewash,” said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.

“We have an institution to contrast MIT with — JSTOR, who came out immediately and publicly against the prosecution. Aaron would be alive today if MIT had acted as JSTOR did. MIT had a moral imperative to do so,” she said.

There was further reaction, too.

“Today’s report was intended to provide closure for the MIT community regarding the overprosecution and tragic loss of Aaron Swartz. Instead, the report simply whitewashes MIT’s role in Aaron’s prosecution and revises history to protect MIT’s image,” said Demand Progress campaigner Charlie Furman.

“MIT does not seem to understand that a few simple, reasonable actions would have saved Aaron’s life,” Furman added. “If the university had said publicly, ‘we don’t want this prosecution to go forward,’ there would have been no case, and Aaron would be alive today.”

Opinion: Why the Net grieves Aaron Swartz

CNN’s Brandon Griggs, Todd Leopold and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

CNN.com – Technology

Has technology ruined handwriting?

Blame keyboards? A 2012 study found that 33% of people had difficulty reading their own handwriting.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • One-third of participants in a study had trouble reading their own handwriting
  • Core education standards in U.S. schools no longer include handwriting requirements
  • Communicating via technology requires using different English from handwriting
  • National Handwriting Day is celebrated on John Hancock’s birthday, January 23

(CNN) — Semi-ambidextrous Nicholas Cronquist rebelled against third-grade cursive lessons.

“I remember I hated it and I told my teacher I thought it was dumb,” he says.

Cronquist, now 26, eventually learned to like using his left hand to inscribe strings of words. But typing papers while at the University of North Dakota and choosing a career rooted in technology drastically decreased the amount he wrote by hand, causing writing in cursive to become uncomfortable and painful.

So he switched to printing right-handed while still signing his name with the left.

“I don’t even think I know how to write in cursive anymore,” says Cronquist, who now lives and works in Laos.

Technology is constantly increasing communication speeds, often anticipating words before our brains can send signals to our fingers. But experts say handwriting is being sacrificed for the sake of technology’s convenience. People like Cronquist say they communicate so much via laptops, phones and tablets that they rarely need to scribble a handwritten note.

This trend is reinforced by a 2012 study that found 33% of people had difficulty reading their own handwriting. Docmail, a UK-based printing and mailing company, conducted the study and concluded that one in three participants had not been required to produce something in handwriting for more than half a year. It also found that updating calendars, phone books and reminder notes was more likely to be completed without using a pen. Finally, more than half of participants said their handwriting was noticeably declining.

The state of handwriting in the United States, which celebrates National Handwriting Day every January 23 — John Hancock’s birthday — is not much better, says Wendy Carlson, a handwriting expert and forensic document examiner. Carlson works as an expert court witness, maintaining offices in Denver and Dallas. She says the dramatic decline of handwriting is causing “great” deterioration of the mind.

“Texting played a role in it because people are trying to write quick short sentences,” she says. “People aren’t using their minds and they are relying on technology to make the decisions for them.”

Carlson says cursive writing combines mental and physical processes which involve both sides of the brain. She says she’s noticed that the number of people who write cursive decreases as technology becomes the most dominant means of communication.

“If you are typing or texting, it’s a matter of punching and finger-moving,” she says. “You are doing very little thinking because you are not allowing your brain to form neural processes.”

Jan Olsen is the founder and president of Handwriting Without Tears, a company that creates handwriting curriculum guides and workbooks for teachers and students from kindergarten through fifth grade. She says handwriting, especially cursive, is viewed as old-fashioned by some.

“The only reason to write anything is to retrieve it later,” she said. “So you need to have it legible.”

Cursive requirements in U.S. public schools have declined as access to technology increases. Alabama, California, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts and North Carolina require cursive and several other states are considering it.

The Washington Post reported in April that 45 states have adopted common core standards for education. Such standards are designed to provoke thought while at the same time preparing students to pass standardized tests, but they do not include a cursive learning requirement.

In other words, many kids today are growing up without having to learn the looping, elegant script that was demanded of their parents and grandparents.

Going forward, it will be up to individual states to decide whether to require cursive and then up to school districts to make it a focal part of the curriculum. Burdened by budget cuts, it is likely many states and districts will choose to have students type instead of write.

Olsen, 72, says the writing styles used in technology and handwriting conflict. Texts and instant messages require use of communication English, while writing requires use of standard English, she says. “To achieve in the world, people need to use standard (English).”

But the irony is that Olsen, who communicates via text message on her iPhone, says Handwriting Without Tears must be tech-savvy to remain competitive. In addition to its workbooks, the company offers an electronic teaching guide and an app.

“At work we have technology up the kazoo,” she says.

Francis Smith, a bank officer living in Gibraltar, says that while technology allows instantaneous communication, he is nostalgic about handwriting due to its permanence and tangibility.

“If there is no electricity, none of (technology) will work,” he says. “Notebooks have served us for a couple thousand years.”

Smith, a former civil servant, used to write for work, but has spent the last 23 years typing on a PC. He says it has negatively impacted his handwriting to the point that people would never guess he won a handwriting contest when he was a child.

“It’s a shame that now when you write quickly it looks like it’s by someone who has not had an education,” he says.

Smith, 52, says he’s started using a fountain pen to try to improve his penmanship.

“It’s got a lovely feel to it,” he says. “It’s not very practical.”

Smith says he wants to recapture his ability to write cursive. Cronquist, however, is happy that printing allows him to write legibly.

“My right-handed printing is not too terrible,” he says. “It’s slow, but readable.”

CNN.com – Technology