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Friday, December 7, 2012

With Game Awards Ceremony, Xbox Users to Direct the Show

It's tough to find a television show, at least of the contest or reality show variety, that is content to let viewers just watch the thing the old-fashioned way. “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “Project Runway” are always begging their viewers to vote on contestants or wheedling them into tweeting about the shows with ready-made hashtags.

On Friday evening, (Dec. 7) Microsoft and Spike TV are making a push to make television even more interactive with the Video Game Awards, an annual ceremony that Xbox users will be able to shape themselves during its live broadcast.

Here's how it will work: Xbox users watching a live stream of the awards ceremony through the game console will get opportunities throughout the ceremony to participate in live polls that will be tabulated in real time, with the results available for all viewers of the show to see. They will also be asked to select, using thei r Xbox controllers, which of a series of short spoof videos are aired during the broadcast of the show.

The spoofs will feature a virtual likeness of Samuel Jackson, the actor and host of the Video Game Awards, inserted into the action of videogames like Assassin's Creed and the game version of the television show “The Walking Dead.”

The ceremony is part of a growing effort by Microsoft to turn people who watch video through its console into more active participants in television, just as they are when they play games through their Xboxes. Microsoft did something similar when it streamed the presidential debates recently, polling Xbox users on the performance of the candidates during the events.

In an interview, Mark Burnett, the executive producer of the Video Game Awards and the mastermind behind “Survivor,” “The Voice” and many other reality shows, said he believed this kind of interactivity was on the verge of changing television. “It's u nbelievable where things are going,” Mr. Burnett said. “I can't imagine how, in as short as three years, what Xbox Live is doing won't be ubiquitous.”

Casey Patterson, an executive producer of the awards ceremony and an executive vice president with the Viacom Entertainment Group, believes interactivity will have the biggest influence on reality and live television, not scripted dramas. It's a little hard to imagine the makers of “Homeland” allowing viewers to meddle with their story arcs by choosing whether, say, Abu Nazir, a terrorist on the Showtime series, gets to live or die.

Ms. Patterson said viewers had long been able to talk about shows they're passionate about through various means, whether it's on Twitter or around the water cooler at work. But devices like the Xbox are letting show creators respond in near real-time to that dialogue.

“Now we're able to talk back,” she said. “I don't think there's ever any turning back from here.â €
The Video Game Awards will be broadcast on Spike TV and Xbox Live at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Dec. 7.

Why Apple Got a \'Made In U.S.A.\' Bug

Apple's decision to make some of its computers in the United States may be a positive for American jobs. It is certainly a marker of where much of the global computer industry has gone.

Today, rising energy prices and a global market for computers are changing the way companies make their machines. Hewlett-Packard, which turns out over 50 million computers a year through its own plants and subcontractors, makes many of its larger desktop personal computers in such higher-cost areas as Indianapolis and Tokyo to save on fuel costs and to serve business buyers rapidly.

“It's important that they get an order in five days, and there is a pride for the local consumer to see a sticker that says ‘Made in Tokyo,'” says Tony Prophet, senior vice president of operations for H.P.'s PCs and printers. Five years ago, he says, H.P. supplied most of E urope's desktops from China, but today it manufactures in the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia instead.

H.P. sells those kinds of computers particularly to business customers. The Macs that Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive, talked about making in the United States are likewise large machines, though it is not clear if Apple is doing so to pursue more enterprise business.The iPhones and iPads will still apparently be made in China.

If Mr. Cook is bringing his computer assembly back to the United States, it will probably be for larger, lower-value goods that Apple wants to sell locally, said Rob Enderle, an analyst in San Jose, Calif., who has been following the industry for a quarter-century.

“A big-value product, like an iPhone or an iPad, would be a bigger deal,” he said. “Cook is looking to give Apple some good news. He doesn't want people thinking about Apple as a declining company that Steve Jobs used to run.”

Computer manufacturers hav e shipped work overseas for decades. At first it was considered prestigious. In 1998, President Bill Clinton visited a Gateway Computer factory outside Dublin to cheer the role of American manufacturers in the rise of a “Celtic Tiger” in technology.

That plant was shut in 2001, when Gateway elected to save costs by manufacturing in China. Dell, which made its mark by developing lean manufacturing techniques in Texas, closed its showcase Austin factory in 2008 as part of a companywide move to manufacturing in China. A Dell factory in Winston-Salem, N.C., for which Dell received $280 million in incentives from the government, was shut in 2010 (Dell had to repay some of the incentives.)

More recent products, laptops and notebook computers, were in many cases originally assembled in China, and they are still largely made there. So are most smartphones and tablets. Every week, H.P. sends a group of cargo containers filled with notebooks to Europe.

The labor cost on a notebook, which is about 4 to 5 percent of the retail price, is only slightly higher than the cost of shipping by air. Soon even that is likely to change because of the twin forces of lower manufacturing costs from automation and higher transportation costs from rising global activity.

While the assembly of parts creates some jobs, the value in computers is primarily in semiconductors, like processors and graphics chips, and in screens. Here, the market is both global and concentrated in a few areas.

Intel, which makes most of the processors, has plants in Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Israel, Ireland and China. Many other chip companies design their own products and have them made in giant factories, largely in Taiwan and China. Computer screens are made in Taiwan and South Korea, for the most part.

The special glass used for the touch screens of Apple's iPhone and iPad, however, is an exception. It comes primarily from the United States.

As cheap as a Chinese assembly worker may be, an emerging trend in manufacturing, specialized robots, promises to be even cheaper. The most valuable part of the computer, a motherboard loaded with microprocessors and memory, is already largely made with robots. People do things like fitting in batteries and snapping on screens.

As more robots are built, largely by other robots, “assembly can be done here as well as anywhere else,” Mr. Enderle said. “That will replace most of the workers, though you will need a few people to manage the robots.”

Facebook Likely to End Experiment With Democracy

A half-million Facebook users have told the social network they do not want the company to change its privacy policy. Sounds impressive, right? Well, the only way that crowd will get its way and the status quo remain intact is if an additional 300 million people vote thumbs down before Monday. Odds of that happening? About zero.

Facebook says the changes to the policy are minor and beneficial for users. One concerns the integration of Instagram data with Facebook; another changes the filters for managing incoming messages. Privacy watchdogs disagree. So do those who bothered to vote: Shortly before noon Pacific time on Friday, 476,718 were against the proposed changes. A mere 68,884 were in favor.

But the really interesting change is that Facebook is proposing to end this system of direct voting, which w as implemented in early 2009 after a major privacy flap. “If we are trying to move the world to being more open and transparent and to get people to share more information, having an open process around this is ultimately the only way to do that,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, said at the time in a conference call.

The problem was that more than 30 percent of all Facebook users had to vote against a proposal for it to be binding. In the last vote, in June, the no's outweighed the yeses by a ratio of six to one, but the total votes were less than one half of 1 percent of the users. That made the vote simply advisory. And so Facebook went ahead and implemented the changes anyway.

There has been relatively little commentary, much less outrage, abo ut the new changes. One notable exception was Michael Phillips, who wrote a much-quoted piece in BuzzFeed, “The End of the Facebook Democracy”: “By repealing Facebook Suffrage, Facebook abandons a fundamental norm - that its users are citizens in a community, and not simply datapoints on an advertising algorithm. The vote may be quixotic, but if Facebook remains the indispensable social network, you'll want to be able to tell your grandchildren you fought for Facebook freedom.”

Some users are trying to take their privacy into their own hands. They are reproducing the following text as a status update:

“In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, status updates, messages, photos, videos and all other personal content that I post or have posted, online, as a result of the Berne Convention, on my perso nal profile page, or anyone else's page, For commercial use of the above, MY WRITTEN CONSENT IS NEEDED AT ALL TIMES WITH NO EXCEPTION.”

Perhaps this makes them feel better. But in reality, it has no legal standing at all.

Daily Report: Experts Are Skeptical About a Renaissance of U.S. Manufacturing

Apple plans to join a small but growing number of companies that are bringing some manufacturing jobs back to the United States, drawn by the growing economic and political advantages of producing in their home market, report Catherine Rampbell and Nick Wingfield in Friday's New York Times. But some experts remain skeptical that the move will inspire a broader renaissance in American manufacturing.

On Thursday, Apple's chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, who built its efficient Asian manufacturing network, said the company would invest $100 million in producing some of its Mac computers in the United States, beyond the assembly work it already does in the United States. He provided little detail about how the money would be spent or what kinds of workers might benefit.

“I find it hard to see how the supply chains that drive manufacturing are going to move back here,” Andre Sharon, a professor at Boston University and director of the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation, told The Times. “So much of the know-how has been lost to Asia, and there's no compelling reason for it to return. It's great when a company says they want to create American jobs - but it only really helps the country if those are jobs that belong here, if it starts a chain reaction or is part of a bigger economic shift.”

Over the last few years, companies across various industries, including electronics, automotive and medical devices, have announced that they are “reshoring” jobs after decades of shipping them abroad. Lower energy costs in America, rising wages in developing co untries like China and Brazil, quality control issues and the desire to keep the supply chain close to the gigantic American consumer base have all factored into these decisions.

Even so, the impact on the American job market has been modest so far. Much of the work brought back has been high-value-added, automated production that requires few actual workers, which is part of the reason America's higher wages are not scaring off companies.

American manufacturing has been growing in the last two years, but the sector still has two million fewer jobs than it had when the recession began in December 2007. Worldwide manufacturing appears to be growing much faster, even for many of the American-owned companies that are expanding at home. General Electric, for example, has hired American workers to build water heaters, refrigerators, dishwashers and high-efficiency topload washers, but continues to add more jobs overseas as well.

Apple has not announced plans to move the complex, faster-growing portions of its product lines. Macs now represent a relatively small part of Apple's business, accounting for less than 20 percent of its nearly $36 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter. The company's iPad and iPhone products, which amount to nearly 70 percent of its sales, will continue to be made in low-cost centers of manufacturing like China, mostly on contract with outside companies like Foxconn.

The Zuckerberg Family\'s Eggnog Cinnamon Chip Scones, and Other Tech Recipes

Not just anyone can build the next Facebook or Foursquare, but you can bake the Zuckerberg family's eggnog cinnamon chip scones, or cook the Foursquare founder's mother's sausage soup.

These are two of 75 recipes, along with personal stories and photos, shared by tech entrepreneurs, engineers and executives in a cookbook, “The Start-Up Chef,” available Friday, with proceeds going to hunger charities.

There are recipes for double marinated fillet of beef from Spotify's founder, Daniel Ek, and chocolate chip cookies from Fred Wilson, the venture capitalist, and his wife, Joanne, a blogger, who claim they are the best cookies around. There are quirky recipes, like the digital media entrepreneur Brit Morin's chocolate iPhone, and others that sound worthy of a dinner party, like Ken Weber of Zynga's halibut with Meyer lemon salsa, roasted new potatoes and creme fraiche.

The cookbook is available as an e-book or PDF, and a print version might be published later (hopefully with a more inviting cover). The publisher is Leanpub, which enables writers and editors to continuously update the digital version of the book even after it is originally published, so more recipes can be added.

It sells for a suggested $20 and a minimum $10, though shoppers can pay as much as they want. All proceeds after credit card processing fees go to charities fighting hunger, including No Kid Hungry and Rockaway Plate Lunch, which helps people affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“The Start-Up Chef” is the brainchild of Hunter Walk (who shared a recipe for thumbprint cookies), a product executive at YouTube who leads YouTube for Good, which works with nonprofits and schools. He created it with Maya Baratz (raspberry jam), who is in charge of new media product s at ABC News.

The recipes provide a peek into the private lives, and kitchens, of tech world celebrities. Engineers, it turns out, really like dessert, and venture capitalists really like cocktails.

“These are really interesting people, well-known for what they do in the office during the day, but this is a peek into what inspires them or their creative process,” Ms. Baratz said.

Mr. Walk came up with the idea a couple months ago, he said, after being inspired by the many food photographs that his friends in tech posted on services like Instagram. Cooking, it turns out, is not so different from writing software, in terms of taking raw ingredients and turning them into a finished product, or meal, the cookbook's editors said.

“It's not just the approach to cooking itself being iterative, much like product design and start-ups, but also the community table being somewhere that ideas, experiences and thoughts are shared,” Mr. Walk said.

Th e cookbook is the latest example of young tech founders doing philanthropic work long before they retire. Silicon Valley's young billionaires have sometimes been criticized for a lack of philanthropy relative to their wealth, but that is changing, Mr. Walk said.

“Increasingly, there's interest amongst the tech community, especially a lot of younger founders, to not wait for philanthropy to just be the pot of gold at the end of the I.P.O. rainbow, but how to contribute to the world around you all the time,” he said.