Wired youth forget how to write in China and Japan

Like every Chinese child, Li Hanwei spent her school days memorizing thousands of the intricate characters that make up the Chinese writing system. Yet, at 21 and now a university student in Hong Kong, Li already finds that when she picks up a pen to write, the characters for words as simple as “embarrassed” have slipped from her mind—and surveys indicate the phenomenon, dubbed “character amnesia,” is widespread across China, causing young Chinese to fear for the future of their ancient writing system, AFP reports. Young Japanese people also report the problem, which is caused by the constant use of computers and mobile phones with alphabet-based input systems. There is even a Chinese word for the phenomenon: “tibiwangzi,” or “take pen, forget character.” A poll commissioned by the China Youth Daily in April found that 83 percent of the 2,072 respondents admitted having problems writing characters. As a result, Li says that she has become almost dependent on her phone. Character amnesia happens because most Chinese people use electronic input systems based on pinyin, which translates Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet. The user enters each word using pinyin, and the device offers a menu of characters that match. So users must recognize the character, but they don’t need to be able to write it. In Japan, where three writing systems are combined into one, mobiles and computers use the simpler hiragana and katakana scripts for inputting—meaning users may forget the kanji, a third strand of Japanese writing similar to Chinese characters…

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Obama urges Americans to take the lead in higher education

President Barack Obama urged Americans Aug. 9 to crack the books and boost post-secondary graduation rates, arguing that higher education achievement was key to U.S. economic health, AFP reports. “America has to have the highest share of graduates compared to other nations. But Texas, I want you to know, we’ve been slipping,” Obama said on a visit to the University of Texas. “In a single generation, we’ve fallen from first place to 12th place in college graduation rates for young adults. That’s unacceptable, but it’s not irreversible. We can retake the lead,” Obama stressed, adding: “Education is the economic issue of our time,” Obama insisted, arguing: “The countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

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Google to start selling electronic books

Google on May 4 said it will soon begin selling electronic books that people can read on any internet-connected device, including Apple’s hot-selling iPad tablet computers, AFP reports. Google will launch an Editions online digital bookstore by the end of July, and its virtual shelves will be stocked with in-print works with the permission of publishers owning copyrights. “This eBook service will be device agnostic,” Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker told AFP. Books bought from Google and its partners would be available to any device that has a web browser, from smart phones and the growing number of eBook readers to personal computers. Google books will be able to be read by Kindle readers but also will support the “epub” open standard format backed by the International Digital Publishing Forum and which many publishers now use. Editions is separate from a controversial Google Book Search project to make all the world’s written works, including out-of-print titles, available online. The move brings another heavyweight contender to the increasingly competitive eBook market; Apple and Amazon each run online digital book shops, but those companies also sell eReader devices and have a stake in offering eBooks only in formats compatible with their devices…

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Avatar’s James Cameron: ‘We need innovators’

Avatar director James Cameron urged young Americans on April 26 to pursue careers in science and technology to keep the United States at the forefront of technical innovation, AFP reports—and his remarks came at the U.S. finals of the 8th Microsoft Imagine Cup, where students presented projects they developed that use technology to fight global problems. “We can’t fall behind in that area. We need engineers, we need innovators,” Cameron said, adding that Avatar would not have made it into cinemas without innovative technology developed by Microsoft and the out-of-the-box thinking of a young team, average age 23, who put the technology to work in the movie. The Imagine Cup aims to inspire young people to use their talents and technology to do everything from making movies to saving the planet. Cup participants have to develop projects that use technology to make a difference in the lives of people in their local communities and around the world. Eighty students out of a starting field of 22,000 made it to the U.S. finals of the competition with projects that dealt with everything from pollution to pediatric illness to poverty. The winner of the software division—a project called Mobilife, by students at the University of California, Davis—will travel to Poland in July to compete against teams from more than 150 nations in the world finals of the Imagine Cup. Mobilife uses the Windows Mobile platform and computer-assisted microscopy to allow doctors who work without the benefit of the facilities of a modern hospital to detect vascular diseases in children. The game design division was won by a game called “Sixth,” developed by students at the two-year Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina, which raises awareness of global poverty by putting players into the skin of a child in a slum in India who has to battle his way past obstacles to collect water for his family…

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Fake antivirus software a growing online threat, Google says

Google said April 27 that fake software security programs rigged to infect computers are a growing online threat with hackers tricking people into installing nefarious code on machines, AFP reports. An analysis of 240 million web pages by the internet search giant during the past 13 months revealed that fake antivirus programs accounted for 15 percent of malicious software it detected. “The Fake AV threat is rising in prevalence, both absolutely and relative to other forms of web-based malware,” Google said in its findings. Fake antivirus peddlers rig web sites to frighten visitors with pop-up messages warning that supposed scans have found dangerous malicious software on their machines. The scam goes on by selling victims programs that hackers claim will fix the purported problems but in fact plant nefarious computer code on their machines. Such transactions also leave credit card information in the hands of cyber crooks. “Surprisingly, many users fall victim to these attacks and pay to register the Fake AV,” Google said…

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Google criticizes Australia on internet filter plan

Internet giant Google on March 23 criticized Australia’s controversial plan to filter the internet, saying the plan goes too far and could set a dangerous precedent, AFP reports. Currently locked in a major dispute over censorship in China, the U.S. web giant said its primary concern with Australia’s proposal was “that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide.” Google said Australia went “well beyond” filters being considered in countries such as Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, which focus only on blocking material related to child sex abuse. Such a sweeping mandate risked damage to Australia’s reputation, Google said, adding that it could “confer legitimacy upon filtering by other governments.” Canberra in December announced an ambitious plan to block access to sites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality, and child sex abuse with an internet-wide content filter administered by service providers. Google said such a “massive undertaking” would limit network speeds, and filtering material from popular sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter appeared “not [to] be technologically possible.” Filtering also could give a false sense of security to parents and easily could be circumvented, the company said…

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Smart phones under growing threat from hackers

Smart phones are under a growing menace from cyber-criminals seeking to hack into web-connected handsets, but the mobile industry has contained the threat so far, AFP reports. Software security firms warned at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that increasingly popular smart phones could face an explosion of virus attacks in the coming years. “Tomorrow we could see a worm on phones [that] would go around the world in five minutes,” said Mikko Hyppoenen, chief research officer at F-Secure, which makes anti-virus software for mobile phones. Security companies, mobile operators, and makers of operating systems so far have found solutions to limit the attacks and delay an onslaught of spam and viruses. “It won’t work forever; eventually we will see the first global outbreak. But we have been able to delay it by more than five years, at least,” he said. The first mobile virus appeared six years ago, and so far F-Secure has detected only 430 mobile worms, compared with millions of computer viruses. Much like the first computer hackers of two decades ago, the people attacking mobile phones have been doing it as a hobby, Hyppoenen said. “It seems that on any new platform, … the first viruses are done by hobbyists just to show off, and then later, more professional money-making criminals move in,” he said…

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Microsoft unveils new mobile software platform

Microsoft unveiled on Monday an upgrade to its mobile operating system as the US software giant seeks to regain lost ground in the competitive handset market, according to an AFP report. Windows Mobile 7 was made public on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, ending months of speculation about what Microsoft had in store for the industry’s biggest trade show. The new system, which follows the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 in October, is “a major new step in our strategy,” Nicolas Petit, director of Microsoft’s mobile division in France, told AFP. “It is a total break from what we were doing before,” Petit said. Microsoft completely changed the platform’s interface, with a “dynamic screen” allowing users to install his or her favourite icon, from music, to contacts and social networks, he said. It was inspired by the design of Zune, the Microsoft MP3 player that is only available in the United States at the moment.

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