postheadericon ›› Acer offers up new all-in-one desktops for the holidays


Acer's new 23-inch AZ5 Series all-in-one
Acer's new 23-inch AZ5 Series all-in-one
(Credit: Acer)
Acer announced a variety of new desktops today for consumers and business buyers. Among the highlights are two new all-in-ones, each for under $1,000.
The Acer-branded AZ5 is Acer's new flagship all-in-one. Starting at $750, the 23-inch AZ5 will feature second-generation Intel Core i3- and Core i5-series CPUs, along with a touch screen and Acer's Clear.fi media-streaming software.
Although this is a touch-screen-based desktop, the AZ5, in keeping with Acer's older all-in-ones, doesn't seem to offer an equivalent to HP's well-conceived touch software suite. At least the overall design of the AZ5 has a certain future-pop appeal. Acer will also offer a smaller 21.5-inch AZ3 model, starting at $650.

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Joining the AZ5 in Acer's ever-confusing brand portfolio is the similarly 23-inch Gateway ZX6971. This system will also feature a touch screen and second-gen Core i3 chips, and starts at a remarkably similar $730.
We understand that the Gateway brand still has a certain cachet here in the States, and that's why Acer has kept it alive since it acquired Gateway in 2007. What we don't understand is why Acer still insists on forcing its Acer-branded desktops into that same mold. Is it too much to ask for meaningful differentiation?
Alongside these two consumer all-in-ones, Acer also has a few new models in its Veriton line of corporate desktops, as well an updated Gateway SX-series small tower PC, and a new Aspire AM3 midtower PC.

postheadericon ›› Look out: Fossil fuels may be out-innovating green tech


Oil and gas companies aren't as slow-moving as you might think.
(Credit: Flickr user Richard Masoner)
Scrappy green-tech start-ups aren't the only ones who make big bets on technology.
A spate of articles this week points to the fact that new technologies in the fossil fuel industry are making it harder for alternative clean energy technologies to get a larger foothold.
A New York Times article this week says new techniques allow drillers to tap oil and gas from a variety of "unconventional sources" that were once considered too difficult, a shift that changes the global picture on energy supply.
The most dramatic example in the U.S. is freeing natural gas from shale rock, largely in Pennsylvania and Texas, using a method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." In just a few short years, the supply of shale gas has slashed the costs of natural gas--and brought the ire of people concerned about the impact on water supply.
In a column earlier this week, inventor and investor Nathan Myhrvold said the emergence of cheap natural from fracking has challenged the notion that fossil fuel prices will keep rising. The "miracle" of shale gas "has changed that calculus, much to the chagrin of Silicon Valley venture capitalists who caught the green-energy bug," he wrote.
A Houston Chronicle columnist also argues that innovation in fossil fuels, particularly hydraulic fracturing, has done as much to harm the prospects of clean tech as the failure of solar company Solyndra and the subsequent political fall-out.
Without a doubt, low fossil fuel prices certainly aren't helping alternatives get off the ground. Cheaper power generation from natural gas means that solar and wind have had a harder time competing on price, a dynamic which reverberates through other areas such as energy efficiency. Tempered oil prices, meanwhile, make it harder to make an economic argument for buying plug-in electric vehicles or biofuels.
Fossil fuel technology doesn't stop at "fracking." Aided by powerful supercomputers, the oil and gas "majors" are able to find new deposits in more and more locations, notably offshore. Once considered uneconomic, the tar sands in Canada are now a major source of oil. Hydraulic fracturing can even be used to release oil from rock in some locations.
Adapting 
The environmental cost of tapping unconventional fossil fuels can be significant. Many techniques, such as drawing oil from tar sands, produce far more carbon emissions than conventional drilling and damage to water supplies and local ecosystems. And as the Macondo deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico showed last year, oil drillers are pushing the limits of technology and taking on greater risks and they move into new terrain.
But if measured only in dollars, fossil fuels still look cheaper than alternatives. Both solar and wind continue to come down in costs, but solar in particular needs to fall further in price before it can be a more meaningful portion of electricity generation, according to utility industry executives at the Solar Power International conference last week.
"At the end of the day it comes down to costs because of economic pressures. We have to make decisions in regards to allocation of capital," said Randy Mehrberg, president and chief operating officer of PSEG Energy Holdings, according to an article in EnergyBiz. "We just spent $1 billion on the back-end of our coal plants to make them some of the cleanest in the country, and we have to compete with those expenditures when we do solar."
Green-tech investors and entrepreneurs are adapting to a regime of low fossil fuel prices and the inability of Washington to pass major new energy or climate change laws, in what some people call green tech 2.0.
Solar and biofuels used to garner the bulk of venture capital money, but investors and entrepreneurs have shifted their focus to either less capital-intensive industries, such as efficient lighting, or toward creating products for the fossil-fuel business. Companies that once wanted to make biofuels have turned their attention, at least initially, to higher-margin chemicals.
There remain a few venture investor funds seeking out early-stage ideas for disruptive technologies in material science, such as better batteries or more efficient solar cells. But much of the venture capital crowd has chosen to focus on using mobile and software technology to improve efficiency and better use natural resources.
Many of these companies leverage social media to appeal to green-minded consumers and the innovations in IT. Peer-to-peer car-sharing site RelayRides, for example, was singled out in aNew York Times article this week as an example of a new breed of clean-tech companies better suited to Silicon Valley style entrepreneurship.
Newer green-tech companies are targeting more narrow niches than those founded last decade in order to survive through the downturn in private investment and eroding policy support in Washington.
But ultimately, concerns over how quickly the world is using fossil fuels or the effect they have on the environment and climate are not going away. It's slow moving compared to IT, but in energy there's yet another technology race--this one between the fossil fuel giants and entrepreneurs and consumers who want cool, greener products.

postheadericon ›› Vu1 enters $15 bulb in efficient-lighting race


The Vu1 flood light will be followed by a classic Edison-style bulb.
The Vu1 flood light will be followed by a classic Edison-style bulb.
(Credit: Vu1)
Vu1 said today the first in its line of efficient light bulbs will be available at retailer Lowes, pitting one more technology against the aging incandescent bulb.
The company's first product is an R30 bulb designed to replace a 65-watt incandescent flood light, which uses about 19.5 watts of power. Vu1 (pronounced "view one") plans to introduce a classic Edison A19 shape bulb as well in Europe and the U.S.
The R30 is less efficient than a comparable compact fluorescent bulb, which uses about 13 watts, but it does not have mercury and has full light instantly. Priced at $14.95, it's less expensive than comparable LEDs. Compared to halogens, Vu1 says its bulbs are more energy efficient and will last longer--about 11,000 hours.
The color rendering index, which is a measure of light quality, is 85 CRI and the color temperature is warm at 2800 Kelvin.
The company calls the technology behind the bulb electronically stimulated luminescence (ESL), a technique that produces the same light quality as traditional incandescent lamps. Like a cathode ray tube, electrons are fired at glass coated with phosphors that are excited to give off light. The technology has been around for years but never fully pursued for lighting, according to the company.
The company has received UL certification for its A-type bulb and R-30 flood light bulb.

postheadericon ›› Facebook stops 600,000 suspicious log-ins a day


This section of a larger Facebook security infographic indicates that .06 percent of about one billion daily logins are blocked, although the use of the word "compromised" has created some confusion.
This section of a larger Facebook security infographic indicates that .06 of approximately 1 billion daily log-ins are blocked, although the use of the word "compromised" has created some confusion.
(Credit: Facebook)
Facebook released an infographic blog post yesterday that says about 600,000 log-ins per day are compromised. That's given some the false impression that there are that many accounts compromised every day.
I asked Facebook to elaborate and was provided with this statement:
While Facebook does block (approximately) 600,000 log-ins per day, it is not that these Facebook accounts are compromised on Facebook, and certainly not that they're 'hacked' as some have written. There may be compromised accounts that appear on Facebook, but more often than not they are compromised off of Facebook--they use the same password for e-mail as Facebook, they get phished, etc. Compromised in this sense refers to log-ins where we are not absolutely confident that the account's true owner is accessing the account and we either preemptively or retroactively block access. We are being preventative and helping make sure people secure their account even if they aren't actually compromised on Facebook.
After some follow-up questions I learned that so-called "retroactive blocks"--which actually sound more like post log-in shutdowns, but who wants to quibble?--"tend to occur immediately after we detect anomalous activity, which may be at the point of log-in or after the compromised account exhibits malicious/unusual behavior. Unfortunately, I do not have a breakdown of pre- vs post-blocks," a Facebook spokesman said.
Some of the suspicious log-ins may be malicious actors trying to break in, but many are legitimate log-ins by the account holder who is using a computer infected with malware. "In this case, we will preemptively block the account and ask the user to scan and repair their machine before we allow them back on the site," the spokesman said.
An undisclosed number of those 600,000 log-in cases may involve accounts that are already compromised and Facebook will likely block the account after discovering that.
So, how many accounts are compromised a day? The Facebook spokesman said he does not have statistics for that.
Meanwhile, if your account does get hijacked, you can get it back by using a new Trusted Friends feature that was announced yesterday along with the security infographic. It lets you select three to five friends who can be trusted to help get access to a hijacked account. Facebook will send secret codes to them and they can then share them with you.

postheadericon ›› Welcome back: Rockstar announces GTA V


More than three years after the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV, the creator of the franchise, Rockstar Games, has finally revealed that another entrant is on the way.
Web users who head over to the Rockstar Games Web site today will not be able to access its pages. Instead, the site has been replaced with the Grand Theft Auto V logo, along with a promise to launch a game trailer on November 2. Other than that, Rockstar hasn't divulged any details on the game.
Rumors have been swirling for years that Rockstar would launch a new Grand Theft Auto game. However, the company has stopped short of announcing the title, deciding instead to focus its efforts on other popular games it has launched recently, like Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire.
But given the success of Grand Theft Auto IV, it seemed that it would only be a matter of time before its successor was announced.
After hitting store shelves in 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV became a mega-hit around the world, tallying first-week unit sales of 6 million copies and bringing in $500 million during that period. The game became the biggest launch in the industry's history, easily besting the previous record-holder, Halo 3.
More than a year later, however, Grand Theft Auto IV lost its crown to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Last year's release of Call of Duty: Black Ops then bested that title to become the bestselling game of all-time.
Rockstar did not immediately respond to request for information on the game. However, we should know much more next week after the trailer launches.

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