Weird things happen, yes--but when technology is the cause, everything seems more confusing. Didn't we build these things? Don't we know how they work? Here are seven quiddities topping the social news sites this week.
Last week, thousands of Kindle owners turned on their devices to find that they had been the victims of digital book theft. Under pressure from one of its book publishers, Amazon deleted purchased ebook copies of two George Orwell books from customers' Kindles and left a refund in their accounts, without any explanation. Creepy? Outrageous? Yes. But also "rare," according to a belated statement by Amazon. Even still, the notion that the Kindle's Whisper radio gives Amazon partial control over your device is a little unsettling. (If you're a victim of the heist, see this Make blog article  to find out how to get your Orwell back. Image below courtesy of Make.)
This long screed by TechCrunch writer MG Siegler gives voice to the popular outrage of iPhone owners nationwide, who've spent the last few months suffering ghostly call drops, mysterious voicemail delays, and arbitrary 3G service interruptions. In certain markets (like California) the failures have reached epic, life-disrupting proportions, which could mean the makings of a mass iPhone abandonment. The upside: someone will figure out an ultra-cheap, easy way to unlock these things for T-Mobile, even though the phones' 3G radios will only get 2G service there; at least that might force AT&T to make concessions. (Already, USAToday reports , over 300,000 iPhone owners have jailbroken their phones to use them with T-Mobile.)
The roots of our recent switch to all-digital TV reach back to 1996, when digital television was in its infancy. Back then, the powers that be at the FCC decided they'd devote the entire chunk of each TV channel to ATSC signal--in other words, stationary antenna TVs. No provision for mobile TVs, which need different signals, was made. Now companies like Samsung are trying to reverse-engineer a solution by building mobile TV technologies that can use that ATSC signal on the go without breaking up. Check out the article at the IEEE's Web site above.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, there's something off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, that is unlike anything Alaskans have ever seen. Normally when something like this turns up, it's because something in our industrial supply chain--a tanker, pipeline, or collection station--has broken down. But at twelve miles long, viscous and elastic, this floating blob isn't man-made, says the Coast Guard--it's some kind of organism. They just don't have any idea what.
Last September, a computer snafu shut down the London Stock Exchange for seven hours just as American mortgage corporations Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were receiving their bailouts. As a result, London brokerages lost out on the opportunity to do billions of dollars of business as bank stocks surged. TradElect, the system that failed, runs on HP servers and Microsoft .NET and SQL server technology. Now there are reports that the LSE, which is the world's third largest share market, will dump the Windows-based system and seek an alternative. (The Exchange, pictured below.)
Hundreds of millions of people rely on Google applications every day, but that's no assurance of their security, say critics of a new proposal in Los Angeles. Having outgrown its proprietary computer system, the city hopes to ink a multimillion dollar contract with Google to store its email, police records, and other data. But that would mean the data would exist on Google's servers, not the city's, raising some concerns about high-value information like narcotics investigation files. How safe are they in Google's Web-based hands? (Below, the LAPD's new HQ.)
ArsTechnica has an interesting piece on the phenomenon of dummy products: buying a laptop or iPod only to open it up and find a brick or a piece of meat. The ruse works like this: unscrupulous shoppers buy a product, return home, replace it with something of similar weight, and return the product at the store. If they get lucky and the store clerk doesn't check inside the box--say, if the miscreant has re-shrink-wrapped the item--they get to walk away with a cash refund and a new computer or MP3 player. Other possibilities: savvy store employees who know how to eschew bag-check and other inventory management protocols in their store.
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