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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tear Gas in Tahrir Two Years After Revolution\'s Start

Bloggers in Cairo reported that tear gas was fired into Tahrir Square by the police Thursday night, as Egypt braced for a day of protests to mark the second anniversary of the revolution that began on Jan. 25, 2011.

As the Cairee blogger who writes as The Big Pharaoh explained, officers from the Central Security Forces fired the gas at protesters after the crowd started to pull down a wall blocking an entrance to the square on Qasr al-Aini Street.

The activist Sherief Gaber, who writes as @cairocitylimits, pointed to video of cheers erupting from the crowd as the wall was torn down on Thursday.

Hours after the fighting began, The Big Pharaoh called the clashes “useless,” coming on the eve of planned demonstrations in the same area to note continuing dissatisfaction with Egypt’s postrevolutionary government.

After the wall was estroyed, the Cairo daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that soldiers had been deployed to build a new one on the same street.

Twitter Introduces Vine, a New Video Feature, But With Privacy Snags

On Thursday, Twitter introduced Vine, a new video sharing service, albeit with a few serious privacy hiccups.

Several users who signed up for the service on Thursday said that when they tried to use the video service, they discovered that they were logged in as another user.

One user, Keith Whamond, told the technology blog AllThingsD that he was able to see another user’s private contact information, including his unlisted e-mail and telephone number.

Twitter did not immediately respond to request for comment, but only hours after starting the new feature, the company said it was temporarily disabling Twitter and Facebook sharing.

That privacy breach spoiled what otherwise would have been a promising new rollout for Twitter. Vine, which Twitter acquired for an undisclosed sum last fall, gives the company the opportunity to dip a toe in one area of the Internet where it has so far failed to gain a footing: video. According to ComScore, which monitors online video traffic, 86 percent of the Web audience in the United States viewed online video last October, the last month for which data is available. Of the more than 3! 7 billion online videos they viewed, the majority â€" 13 billion â€" were on Google’s YouTube video sharing service.

On smartphones, YouTube is the sixth most popular mobile app, with nearly 53 million users in December alone, also according to ComScore. It is also the only video service to break into the top 10 mobile apps. Other video services like CBS Connect, Hulu, Netflix and HBO Go still cannot compete.

Video could be a lucrative area for Twitter to play in â€" video ads account for more than half of all videos viewed and some 1.6 percent of all minutes spent viewing online video are spent with video ads.

Vine allows users to shoot and share bite-size, six-second-long looping video clips. That constraint, Twitter said, meshes with its 140-character-or-less model for Tweets.

“Like Tweets, the brevity of videos on Vine (6 seconds or less) inspires creativity,” Michael Sipey, Twitter’s vice president for product, wrote in a blog post Thursday. “Now that you can easily capture motion and sound, we look forward to seeing what you create.”

One company that was probably amused by Vine’s privacy snag Thursday is Tout, a competitive video start-up that has long marketed itself as a “Twitter for video.” Tout, which counts Shaquille O’Neal and The Wall Street Journal as users, lets people create videos of up to 15 seconds that can be embedded in Tweets, on Facebook and other sites, and is available for iPhones and Android phones.

For now, Vine is available only for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but Twitter said it was working to bring the service to other platforms. 

A Soldier in a Skeleton Scarf in Mali

A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask on Sunday in Niono, Mali.Issouf Sanogo/Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask on Sunday in Niono, Mali.

A photograph of a soldier with French forces in Mali who was wearing a skeleton scarf over his face generated reaction this week because of its similarity to a killer character called Ghost in Call of Duty, the online warfare game.

In France, a military official said the image conveyed was unacceptable, and the military was working to determine the identity of the soldier.

“This is a way of behaving that is not acceptable,” said Col. Thierry Burkhard, the French military spokesman, according to Libération. “This image is not representative of the action that France is conducting in Mali at the request of the Malian state.”

Online bloggers, news Web sites and writers covered the aftermath, with some saying that computer games should not be held responsible for inspiring real-life killing and that military forces have often wore masks or balaclavas on battlefields, or painted fierce images on to warplanes.

Issouf Sanogo, the Agence France-Presse news agency photographer who took the picture on Sunday, said he was surprised at the attention it had generated. In remarks on an AFP blog post, he said the “French legionnaire” was standing near som! e armored vehicles in Niono, in central Mali, with the grinning skeleton scarf tied around his nose and mouth to protect himself from the dust kicked up by a helicopter.

Mr. Sanogo, who is based in Ivory Coast but was sent to Mali to cover the French intervention, was quoted as saying:

The troops are working in difficult conditions. They travel thousands of kilometers by road and do what they can to entertain themselves a little. I don’t know the identity of the soldier in the scarf and I’d have a hard time recognizing him even if I did see him again. I think â€" and I hope â€" that it’s impossible to tell who he is. I’m not even sure if he knows what people are saying about him.

On Twitter and news sites, the image generated discussion and comparisons to previous wars.

It was the second time this week that a correlation between violent video games, like Call of Duty, and war has been highlighted. As my colleague Robert Mackey reported, a Taliban spokesman said on Tuesday that Prince Harry must have “mental problems,” after the broadcast of remarks by the royal in which he said that killing militants from an Apache helicopter was similar to playing video games.

Martin Williams, a senior reporter for The Herald, the Scottish newspaper, wrote:

Kotaku, the Web site that reports about video game news, has written extensively abut the gaming world intersecting with real conflicts, like in recent years when GameStop pulled videos from stores on United States military bases because of their portrayal of fighting with the Taliban.

As Kotaku reported, United States soldiers have been wearing similar skeleton face coverings in previous and current wars, linking to a New York Post story that had a photograph of a soldier in a skeleton mask in Afghanistan and to other photographs of soldiers wearing similar face coverings.

The Kotaku article said: “For one, you’ve got to feel for this particular guy, since skull masks (or balaclavas, which is actually what Ghost is wearing) are incredibly common in armed forces across the world, especially th! e U.S. Am! erican soldiers have been wearing them, and have been having their pictures taken in them, for years. This isn’t one guy acting alone, It’s an established ‘fashion’ among soldiers worldwide.”

Readers commented on the Agence France-Presse blog post that the negative reaction was hype, with one noting how the United States painted a shark face on its P-40 warplane during World War II. Another reader posted:

American soldiers have been wearing this kind of stuff since the first Iraq war. Long before Call of Duty Modern Warfare was in development, the whole thing is stupid, pointless and just a bunch of old men who are out of the loop knee-jerk reacting to a non-issue.

Scott Sayare, in Paris, contributed to this report.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Updates on the Katie Couric Interview With Manti Te\'o

The Lede is watching Katie Couric’s interview Thursday with Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame football star who said he was tricked into believing first that he had a girlfriend and then that the girlfriend died of leukemia. The interview is being show at 3 p.m. Eastern time on ABC in New York. Excerpts from the interview have been published on the “Katie” show’s Web site.

Teo had provided one of the heartwarming stories of the 2012 college football season, playing through the deaths of his grandmother and, he said, his girlfriend. But on Jan. 16, the Web site Deadspin published an investigation into the linebacker’s claims about the girlfriend, setting off a flurry of questions about Te’o's story and when he knew about the hoax.

As our colleague Brian Stelter has reported, the spokesman hired by Te’o’s family in recent days, Matthew Hiltzik, is also the longtime spokesman for Katie Couric. The ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap interviewed Te’o for two and a half hours last week, butTe’o’s representatives insisted that it take place off-camera.

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Video: For Investors, Apple Not as Shiny

The Times's Nick Wingfield talks about Apple's detrimental legacy of success.

Live Video: Kerry\'s Confirmation Hearing

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, returns Thursday morning to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he was once the chairman, to answer questions at his confirmation hearing as secretary of state.

In prepared testimony, Mr. Kerry told the Foreign Relations Committee that “foreign policy is economic policy.”

Mr. Kerry was appointed by President Obama to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Daily Report: Apple\'s Stock Drops Despite Huge Profit

Apple on Wednesday reported the kind of quarter most big companies would envy, posting a profit of $13.1 billion and selling 28 percent more iPhones and 48 percent more iPads, its two biggest products, Nick Wingfield reports in Thursday’s New York Times.

Its stock sank 11 percent in after-hours trading, and was set to open 9 percent lower on Thursday.

What is going on Because of its great success in recent years, many investors have come to expect nothing short of perfection from Apple. And while it is still widely considered the most innovative company in the technology world, a maker of products that its devoted customers cannot live without, Apple is facing a range of challenges.

It is dealing with increased competition from big rivals like Samsung and Google, and with so many people already using smartphones, the market is not quite as untapped as it once was. Apple is forging into cheaper poduct categories, meaning lower profit margins. And given that Apple has grown so big, with sales of more than $160 billion in the last 12 months, keeping up its heady growth rate is becoming harder and harder.

Once-euphoric investors, who pushed Apple’s stock to a record high of $702.10 last September, have become nervous, and in premarket trading on Thursday, the stock traded at $468.59.

Apple has reinvented itself several times over the last decade with groundbreaking new products, and could do so again. Television and electronic payments are among the markets where analysts believe the company could make a push, leading it to new heights.

“Apple has really been able to invent whole new markets,” said John Gallaugher, an associate professor at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. “That’s where it differs from companies like Microsoft. I don’t think the mojo of this team has evaporated.”

Wanelo: Social Commerce Site Is Big With Young Shoppers

The upsides to shopping online are plentiful â€" skipping long checkout lines and avoiding stuffy dressing rooms, to name two. But the downside is that unless you know exactly what you’re shopping for, it can be challenging to find great new things to put in your cart.

Fashion Tumblrs, Pinterest and Lookbook.nu, a street photography site, are certainly adept at displaying dreamy and sumptuous pictures of items you might want to buy. But more often than not, there is no information about how to purchase an item â€" or even where it is from.

Enter Wanelo a start-up based in San Francisco that has the same aesthetic as those sites, and one important difference: clicking on an image takes you directly to the place where it’s available for sale â€" not another blog, image site or Pinterest post. Wanelo (the name is a combination of want, need and love) lets people share items, like articles ofclothing, home furnishings, beauty accessories and makeup products, for their friends and followers to see. And they can browse others’ items, comment on them and share them with friends. Brands and companies like Anthropologie, REI and even the Apple repair shop Tekserve can create their own collections of items for online window shoppers.

Deena Varshavskaya, the founder and chief executive of Wanelo, began sketching out the idea for the site a few years ago. “I wanted to know what my friends shopped for and what things they liked,” Ms. Varshavskaya said. “But none of the current social media sites were good for shopping.” She hired a developer to help her build the site near the end of 2010, while she was running a user experience and design agency in Los Angeles during the day. It went through several iterations and by the end of 2011, she felt the site had enough traction to begin working on it full time. The company raised $2 million from First Round Capital and Floodgate, amon! g others, in mid-2012.

Wanelo joins a host of other sites like The Fancy, which was rumored to be an acquisition target for Apple, Svpply and Polyvore that want to serve up socially curated shopping experiences, to help people sift through the millions of products available for sale and present a few in a streamlined, chic way. But while Pinterest, Polyvore, Etsy and Tumblr still dwarf the site in terms of traffic, Wanelo garners 1.3 million visitors a month, outpacing The Fancy and Svpply, who both have less than half that, according to data from comScore. Wanelo seems to have the attention of a younger demographic â€" particularly women â€" and has a strong foothold in mobile.

The company’s app is No. 1 in the lifestyle category in the Apple App Store, and sits higher than Amazon, Etsy and eBay on the store’s free apps chart. It recently topped 1.5 million downloads, Ms. Varsavskaya said.

Ms. Varshavskaya declined to share information on how many people have signed up for Wanelo’s Web site and mobile application, but she did say that 6 million products are saved by members each day. Tens of thousands of products have been listed on the site, she said.

“We’re building a metalayer on top of commerce,” she said. “The industry is fragmented and we’re bringing them into an interconnected network. You can find any store on Wanelo.”

Wanelo doesn’t complete transactions on its site, but it has a built-in revenue model. It directs users to the e-commerce site where they can buy an item, and then gets an affiliate commission, or a portion of each sale.

“Our core content is product,” Ms. Varshavskaya said. “Wanelo has a buy button on everything.”

Robot Makers Spread Global Gospel of Automation

Robot Makers Spread Global Gospel of Automation

Sally Ryan for The New York Times

A robot designed by Rethink Robotics to work with people. An industry group said increased automation would lead to millions of new jobs by 2020.

CHICAGO â€" The robot equipment industry has one word for the alarmist articles and television news programs that predict a robot is about to steal your job: Fiddlesticks!

Rethink Robotics’ Baxter adapts to the actions of humans.

Motoman by Yaskawa dealt cards at a robotics trade show.

Well, that wasn’t actually the word used this week at the Automate 2013 trade show held here through Thursday, but the sentiment was the same. During a presentation on Monday, Henrik I. Christensen, the Kuka Chair of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Computing, sharply criticized a recent “60 Minutes” report on automation that was based on the work of the M.I.T. economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson.

The two economists in 2011 wrote “Race Against the Machine,” a book that renewed the debate about the relationship between the pace of automation and job growth. They argue that the pace of automation is accelerating and that robotics is pushing into new areas of the work force like white-collar jobs that were previously believed to be beyond the scope of computers.

During his talk, Dr. Christensen said that the evidence indicated that the opposite was true. While automation may transform the work force and eliminate certain jobs, it also creates new kinds of jobs that are generally better paying and that require higher-skilled workers.

“We see today that the U.S. is still the biggest manufacturing country in terms of dollar value,” Dr. Christensen said. “It’s also important to remember that manufacturing produces more jobs in associated areas than anything else.”

An official of the International Federation of Robotics acknowledged that the automation debate had sprung back to life in the United States, but he said that America was alone in its anxiety over robots and automation.

“This is not happening in either Europe or Japan,” said Andreas Bauer, chairman of the federation’s industrial robot suppliers group and an executive at Kuka Robotics, a German robot maker.

To buttress its claim that automation is not a job killer but instead a way for the United States to compete against increasingly advanced foreign competitors, the industry group reported findings on Tuesday that it said it would publish in February. The federation said the industry would directly and indirectly create from 1.9 million to 3.5 million jobs globally by 2020.

The federation held a news media event at which two chief executives of small American manufacturers described how they had been able to both increase employment and compete against foreign companies by relying heavily on automation and robots.

“Automation has allowed us to compete on a global basis. It has absolutely created jobs in southwest Michigan,” said Matt Tyler, chief executive of Vickers Engineering, an auto parts supplier. “Had it not been for automation, we would not have beat our Japanese competitor; we would not have beat our Chinese competitor; we would not have beat our Mexican competitor. It’s a fact.”

Also making the case was Drew Greenblatt, the widely quoted president and owner of Marlin Steel, a Baltimore manufacturer of steel products that has managed to expand and add jobs by deploying robots and other machines to increase worker productivity.

“In December, we won a job from a Chicago company that for over a decade has bought from China,” he said. “It’s a sheet-metal bracket; 160,000 sheet-metal brackets, year in, year out. They were made in China, now they’re made in Baltimore, using steel from a plant in Indiana and the robot was made in Connecticut.”

A German robotics engineer argued that automation was essential to preserve jobs and also vital to make it possible for national economies to support social programs.

“Countries that have high productivity can afford to have a good social system and a good health system,” said Alexander Verl, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering in Germany. “You see that to some extent in Germany or in Sweden. These are countries that are highly automated but at the same time they spend money on elderly care and the health system.”

In the report presented Tuesday by the federation, the United States lags Germany, South Korea and Japan in the density of manufacturing robots employed (measured as the number of robots per 10,000 human workers). South Korea, in particular, sharply increased its robot-to-worker ratio in the last three years and Germany has twice the robot density as the United States, according to a presentation made by John Dulchinos, a board member of the Robot Industries Association and the chief executive of Adept Technology, a Pleasanton, Calif., maker of robots.

The report indicates that although China and Brazil are increasing the number of robots in their factories, they still trail the advanced manufacturing countries.

Mr. Dulchinos said that the United States had only itself to blame for the decline of its manufacturing sector in the last decade.

“I can tell you that in the late 1990s my company’s biggest segment was the cellular phone market,” he said. “Almost overnight that industry went away, in part because we didn’t do as good a job as was required to make that industry competitive.”

He said that if American robots had been more advanced it would have been possible for those companies to maintain the lowest cost of production in the United States.

“They got all packed up and shipped to China,” Mr. Dulchinos said. “And so you fast-forward to today and there are over a billion cellphones produced a year and not a single one is produced in the United States.”

Yet, in the face of growing anxiety about the effects of automation on the economy, there were a number of bright spots. The industry is now generating $25 billion in annual revenue. The federation expects 1.6 million robots to be produced each year by 2015.

Mr. Greenblatt said that one of the advantages of robots was they did not take breaks.

“My robots are going to work during the Super Bowl,” he said. “Do you know how popular I would be to ask my employees to work during the Super Bowl”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 24, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: This Robot Wants to Be Your Co-Worker.

A Resurgent Netflix Beats Projections, Even Its Own

Streaming movies on an iPad. Netflix gained two million American subscribers to its streaming service in the fourth quarter.J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times Streaming movies on an iPad. Netflix gained two million American subscribers to its streaming service in the fourth quarter.

9:12 p.m. | Updated For all those who have doubted its business acumen, Netflix had a resounding answer on Wednesday: 27.15 million.

That’s the number of American homes that were subscribers to the streaming service by the end of 2012, beating the company’s own projections for the fourth quarter after a couple of quarters of underwhelming results.

Netflix’s growth spurt in streaming â€" up by 2.05 million customer in the United States, from 25.1 million in the third quarter â€" was its biggest in nearly three years, and helped the company report net income of $7.9 million, surprising many analysts who had predicted a loss.

The results reflected just how far Netflix has come since the turbulence of mid-2011, when its botched execution of a new pricing plan for its services â€" streaming and DVDs by mail â€" resulted in an online flogging by angry customers. Investors battered its stock price, sending it from a high of around $300 in 2011 to as low as $53 last year.

“It’s risen from the ashes,” said Barton Crockett, a senior analyst at Lazard Capital Markets. “A lot of investors have been very skeptical that Netflix will work. With this earnings report, they’re making a strong argument that the business is real, that it will work.”

Investors, cheered by the results, sent Netflix shares soaring more than 35 percent in after-hours trading Wednesday. The stock had ended regular tradin! g at $103.26.

Netflix’s fourth-quarter success was a convenient reminder to the entertainment and technology industries that consumers increasingly want on-demand access to television shows and movies. Streaming services by Amazon, Hulu and Redbox are all competing on the same playing field, but for now Netflix remains the biggest such service, and thus a pioneer for all the others.

“Our growth and our competitors’ growth shows just how large the opportunity is for Internet TV, where people get to control their viewing experience,” Netflix’s chief executive, Reed Hastings, said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.

Questions persist, though, about whether Netflix will be able to attract enough subscribers to keep paying its ever-rising bills to content providers, which total billions of dollars in the years to come. The company said on Wednesday that it might take on more debt to finance more original programs, the first of which, the political thriller “House of Cards,†will have its premiere on the service on Feb. 1. Netflix committed about $100 million to make two seasons of “House of Cards,” one of five original programs scheduled to come out on the service this year.

“The virtuous cycle for us is to gain more subscribers, get more content, gain more subscribers, get more content,” Mr. Hastings said in an earnings conference call.

The company’s $7.9 million profit for the quarter represented 13 cents a share, surprising analysts who had expected a loss of 12 cents a share. The company said revenue of $945 million, up from $875 million in the quarter in 2011, was driven in part by holiday sales of new tablets and television sets.

Netflix added nearly two million new subscribers in other countries, though it continued to lose money overseas, as expected, and said it would slow its international expansion plans in the first part of this year.

The “flix” in Netflix, its largely forgotten DVD-by-mail business, fared a bit better ! than the ! company had projected, posting a loss of just 380,000 subscribers in the quarter, to 8.22 million. The losses have slowed for four consecutive quarters, indicating that the homes that still want DVDs really want DVDs.

On the streaming side, Netflix’s retention rate improved in the fourth quarter, suggesting growing customer satisfaction.

Asked whether the company’s reputation had fully recovered after its missteps in 2011, Mr. Hastings said, “We’re on probation at this point, but we’re not out of jail.”

He has emphasized subscriber happiness, even going so far as to say on Wednesday that “we really want to make it easy to quit” Netflix. If the exit door is well marked, he asserted, subscribers will be more likely to come back.

The hope is that original programs like “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” will lure both old and new subscribers to the service. Those programs, plus the film output deal with the Walt Disney Company announced in December, affim that Netflix cares more and more about being a gallery â€" with showy pieces that cannot be seen anywhere else â€" and less about being a library of every film and TV show ever made.

“They’re morphing into something that people understand,” said Mr. Crockett of Lazard Capital.

Mr. Hastings said this had been happening for years, but that it was becoming more apparent now to consumers and investors.

Mr. Hastings’s letter to investors brought up the elephant in the room, the activist investor Carl C. Icahn, who acquired nearly 10 percent of the company’s stock last October. Mr. Icahn, known for his campaigns for corporate sales and revampings, stated then that Netflix “may hold significant strategic value for a variety of significantly larger companies.”

Netflix subsequently put into place a shareholder rights plan, known as a poison pill, to protect itself against a forced sale by Mr. Icahn.

The company said on Wednesday, “We have no further news about h! is intent! ions, but have had constructive conversations with him about building a more valuable company.”

Factoring in the stock’s 30 percent rise since November and the after-hours action on Wednesday, Mr. Icahn’s stake has now more than doubled in value, to more than $700 million from roughly $320 million.

A version of this article appeared in print on 01/24/2013, on page B1 of the NewYork edition with the headline: A Resurgent Netflix Beats Projections, Even Its Own.