US Web tool tracks government IT spending

The US government introduced a Web tool that tracks information technology spending as part of an effort to increase openness and accountability. The Obama administration developed IT Dashboard as part of its new USASpending.gov Web site, creating a Flash-based tool that includes spending graphics on hardware, software, and services for various government agencies. According to US chief information officer Vivek Kundra, more features are planned for IT Dashboard, including a blog where viewers can submit ideas and comments. The government spends roughly US$70 billion per year on information technology. (The New York Times)

China cracks down on gold farming

Chinese authorities have banned the exchange of virtual currencies into real goods, a practice known as gold farming that's common in online games. China's Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Commerce announced the new rule Monday, saying that it was necessary to curtail online gambling and other illegal activity. The change figures to have a major impact in China, where gold farming is popular and annually accounts for billions of yuan in trade, according to the government. The most popular virtual currency in China is "QQ coins," a form of virtual credit issued by Tencent.com, a social networking, shopping, and gaming company. (Information Week)

Pirate Bay sale signals copyright cooperation

The Pirate Bay announced Tuesday that it's in the process of being sold to a Swedish software company that will attempt to broker licensing deals with copyright holders. Global Gaming Factory X (GGF), which makes digital distribution tools for Internet cafes, said it had reached an agreement to buy the file-sharing site for 60 million kroner (US$7.7 million), twice the amount of a fine levied against The Pirate Bay's administrators in a March court judgment. GGF, expected to complete the acquisition in August, said it is exploring options to pay copyright holders for the music, movies, and other content that is distributed through Pirate Bay. The current administrators expressed enthusiasm for the change in a blog post, but also wrote: "If the new owners will screw around with the site, nobody will keep using it." (CNet)

China delays Green Dam filtering requirement

China has indefinitely delayed a requirement for all new computers sold in the country to include Internet filtering software, according to the Xinhua news agency. The Green Dam-Youth Escort program, which blocks pornography and other content, was scheduled for mandatory installation on Chinese computers beginning 1 July. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) backed off the requirement one day ahead of the deadline, citing complaints by manufacturers that there wasn't enough time to comply. However, the software will still be required at schools and Internet cafes. Green Dam was plagued by criticism from the moment China announced the requirement earlier in June, partly because of a remote update feature that could let the government strictly control content. Security researchers also warned that the program has severe vulnerabilities. One company, Sony, said it had already included Green Dam on its machines and would proceed with the requirement rollout. (Ars Technica)

Mobile companies agree to European charger standard

Major mobile phone makers and chipset makers have signed an agreement with the European Commission (EC) to manufacture universal cell phone chargers that use micro-USB technology. Monday's deal follows micro-USB agreements earlier this year with two trade associations -- the mobile phone industry's GSM Association and the wireless industry's CTIA. Companies that signed the EC agreement included Apple, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Research in Motion, NEC, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments. The standardized chargers, only expected to be compatible with European devices, are expected to begin arriving in stores by next year. Manufacturers believe the agreement will help reduce waste and make it easier for users to replace missing chargers. (CNet)

Thought-controlled wheelchair features quick responses

Japanese researchers have developed thought-controlled wheelchairs that feature quick responses as part of its brain-machine interface (BMI). Scientists at the BSI-Toyota Collaboration Center developed a BMI that responds in as little as 125 milliseconds, faster than previous systems that often take several seconds to deliver a response. Wheelchair users navigate with a mounted laptop that displays the environment, and the system measures electroencephalography (EEG) data from head sensors to correspond with users' thoughts. The wheelchairs have full range of movement, and to stop suddenly, users puff out their cheeks. Researchers say the technology holds promise for a wide range of medical and nursing applications. (Daily Mail)

Team solves $1 million Netflix software contest

An international research team has developed several algorithms to improve the accuracy of Netflix's movie recommendation system accuracy by 10.05 percent, just enough to satisfy the goal for a contest and collect the US$1 million prize. The recommendation system makes movie rental suggestions based on previous user rankings. The team, BellKor's Pragmatic Chaos, includes statisticians, machine learning experts, and computer engineers from four countries, including the US, Canada, Austria, and Israel. Other teams participating in the contest have 30 days to create a better system before BellKor's Pragmatic Chaos can collect the prize. (The New York Times)

Learning platform Sugar on a Stick makes schoolwork portable

Sugar Labs, an offshoot of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, has released a new learning platform designed to run entirely from a USB memory stick. Sugar on a Stick is a Linux-based platform that includes a suite of learning tools and can run on most computers, according to the organization. The platform can be booted from removable media such as a CD or memory stick without requiring installation on the computer, and students using memory sticks can save files directly to the platform, providing a way to take work from a classroom to a home computer. Boston elementary schools will be among the first to try the software, and Sugar Labs plans to install it on a new generation of OLPC machines to be shipped later this year. (Ars Technica)

Native development kit now available for Android

Android developers now have access to a native code development kit, which Google released Thursday to provide greater options for creating Android 1.5 applications. The kit lets developers work outside the Dalvik virtual machine that runs Android applications, and includes tools to build native code libraries in languages such as C and C++. Some developers could also use the kit for better data processing and signal processing. However, Google warned that simple applications will be better off without native code, as the kit adds an extra layer of complication. Applications created with the kit will have reduced compatibility, no access to framework APIs, and will be harder to debug. (Information Week)

No adult apps allowed on iPhone, Apple says

Apple removed from its online store an iPhone application that violated its development terms by featuring pornographic images. The "Hottest Girls" app, which featured images of nude women, appeared in the App Store on Thursday and disappeared a few hours later. Developer Allan Leung subsequently posted a note explaining that the app had become so popular that he requested that Apple temporarily remove it because heavy traffic was overloading his server. However, in a statement released Friday, Apple said that Leung had added inappropriate content to the app after it had already been approved and distributed. All of Leung's apps, including a Web browser and wallpaper app, are no longer available. (Macworld)

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