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Thursday, June 6, 2013

With Cameras Rolling, Egyptian Politicians Threaten Ethiopia Over Dam

Video of a meeting between the Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, and other political leaders, translated and subtitled in English by a group that monitors the Arabic-language media. The footage shows politicians proposing a range of hostile acts against Ethiopia in retaliation for a dam project on the Nile.

Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, had some important information to share with a room full of politicians who, believing they were in a secret meeting, had just laid out all the covert ways that their country could stop a Nile River dam project in nearby Ethiopia: they were on live television.

Mr. Morsi convened a meeting of political leaders from both Islamist and secular parties on Monday to discuss the potential impact of a proposed Ethiopian dam on Egypt, which views access to the waters of the Nile as a vital national interest. Unaware that their words were being broadcast live on a state-owned television channel, many of those seated around the table said the dam was in fact a secret American and Israeli plot to undermine Egypt that must be stopped at all costs.

Excerpts from the meeting were posted to YouTube on Wednesday by the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, an organization that monitors the Arabic-language media and was founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer.

Mr. Morsi broke the news to the gathered politicians after Magdi Hussein, the leader of the Islamic Labor Party, proposed that the men gathered around the table vow not to leak any information from their meeting to the media. All information must first go through Pakinam el-Sharkawy, he said, one of Mr. Morsi’s top aides.

I’m very fond of battles. With the enemies, of course, with America and Israel, but this battle must be waged with maximum judiciousness and calm. Even though this is a secret meeting we must all take an oath not to leak anything to the media unless it is done officially by Sister Pakinam. We need an official plan for popular national security, even if we did…

At that point, someone off-camera then handed Mr. Hussein a note, which he studied for a moment before chuckling and quickly changing his tone.

“O.K. Fine. It’s good that you told me,” he said. “The principles behind what I’m saying are not really secret. Our battle is with America and Israel, not with Ethiopia. Therefore, engaging in battle, this is my opinion … ”

Mr. Morsi then interrupted him, “This meeting is being aired live on TV.”

The men seated around the long table burst into laughter, as Mr. Hussein, who less than one minute earlier had earnestly described the gathering as a “secret meeting,” began to backtrack with a hint of embarrassment in his voice.

“I am not presenting a secret plan or anything,” he said, as the other politicians continued to laugh. “All countries do what I am saying and what has been said by others. All countries with regional interests do that.”

Off-camera, someone can be heard saying, “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

Earlier in the meeting, the assembled politicians proposed a number of ways that Egypt could attempt to stop the dam project. Some were relatively benign, like organizing artistic and cultural exchanges between the two countries. Others were hostile and clandestine, like arming rebels to fight against Ethiopia’s government or instructing Egyptian spies to simply destroy the dam altogether.

Younis Makhyon, a senior member of the ultraconservative Salafi Nour Party, said he believed that the United States and Israel were secretly behind the dam project and “would use it as a lethal bargaining chip to pressure Egypt.” But not everyone at the meeting was opposed to the idea of foreign countries intervening in the domestic affairs of others.

“We should intervene in their domestic affairs,” said Ayman Nour, a liberal politician jailed under the Mubarak regime, who proposed exploiting “political rivalries in Ethiopian society” as a cost-effective way to “fend off the danger” of the dam. He also proposed that instead of attacking Ethiopia, Egypt could leak false “intelligence information” to the media suggesting that such an attack was imminent. By airing his proposal in front of a live television camera, Mr. Nour may have unwittingly done just that.

Saad El-Katatni, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing and a longtime lawmaker who served as speaker of the country’s first post-Mubarak parliament, told the gathering that the government had to prepared to do anything “in order to protect our water security, because for us, water security is a matter of life and death.”

Last week, Ethiopia began diverting water to begin construction of a large hydroelectric dam called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is expected to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Ethiopian officials have said it will not be used for agriculture and so it should not substantially decrease the amount of water available to downstream countries like Egypt and Sudan.

The Nile is a vital lifeline for Egypt. Egyptian agriculture is wholly dependent upon the river and the vast majority of the country’s population lives along its banks, but the question of who has a right to the water has long been contentious. Under an agreement negotiated during the colonial era, Egypt is entitled to the majority of the water. Sudan is entitled to a significantly smaller share, but Ethiopia, home to the source of 85 percent of the Nile, is entitled to nothing, as are the other seven countries along the its path.

Trulia’s Google Glass App Shows Nearby Real Estate Listings

Walk down a street wearing Google Glass, and you can see alerts about nearby houses on the market.

The alerts are courtesy of Trulia, the real estate site, which this week introduced an app for Google Glass. It is one of only a handful of apps available for the Internet-connected glasses, and is an example of how software developers are experimenting with the new device.

Trulia’s app sends alerts for houses that the service thinks users want to see, whether because of criteria they have previously given Trulia or because of the types of houses in which they have shown interest. On Google Glass, people can scroll through photographs, get walking directions to a house, hear a description, save a listing to an account and call or e-mail a real estate agent.

Like Yelp or Google Maps, real estate sites like Trulia are an example of services that are often more helpful on mobile devices than on computers, because people use them to learn more about their current location. More than half of weekend traffic and a majority of leads for real estate agents come from mobile devices, according to Trulia.

But the app raises the question of whether people want to see the information pushed to a screen in front of their eyes.

“The model is different,” said Jeff McConathy, vice president for engineering for consumer services at Trulia, who built the Glass app during two weekends. “When a person engages with a phone, they express intent. With Glass, you have to be very careful that you’re not being intrusive.”

He said that the Trulia app for Glass shows “tiny tidbits so as not to overwhelm,” and that it works well on the format because it is reliant on location and photos.

Building apps for Glass, known as Glassware, is a still a gamble for developers. No one wants to miss out on the next big thing, but there is no guarantee that Glass is it.

Mr. McConathy said that building the app felt like the early days of experimenting with building iPhone apps, but that he was not yet convinced that Glass is the form of the future. He has been wearing it for a few weeks and said he used it mostly to read the time, which is on the home screen, or to read text messages while he is riding his motorcycle.

Only a couple thousand people who have signed up with Google have Glass, and there is not yet a public app store. Only people who own the device have full access to the tools to build apps and the ability to download new ones, and only after Google approves the apps.

Robbing a Gas Station: The Hacker Way

Thieves of the future will look back on today’s stick-up artists and have a good old belly laugh. Why would anyone ever rob a cashier with a gun, when all that is needed is a smartphone?

Matt Bergin, a security consultant at Core Security, discovered he could hack a cash register remotely, popping it open, by sending two digits from his smartphone to the service running on the cash register’s point-of-sale system. No gun or holdup note was required. He was able to do so through a vulnerability in Xpient, which makes point-of-sale software that runs on cash drawers.

“It was extremely trivial,” Mr. Bergin said in an interview Wednesday. He reverse-engineered Xpient’s point-of-sale system, expecting that to interact with it he would have to crack a password or break through a layer of encryption. To his surprise, he encountered neither. By simply sending a two-digit code from his phone to the point-of-sale system, he discovered he could pop open the cash register remotely.

Christopher Sebes, the chief executive of Xpient, said in an interview Thursday that the company had issued a patch for the vulnerability, which Xpient customers can download to their systems. Mr. Sebes noted that customers who had a Windows firewall switched on would be protected from the hack, regardless of whether they had downloaded the patch. He also noted that someone could just as easily pop open a cash register by physically hitting the “No Sale” button on the register itself.

Increasingly, criminals are finding ways to use digital tactics for physical theft. In February, thieves stole $45 million from thousands of New York City A.T.M.’s in a few hours using a few keystrokes. It was one of the largest heists in New York City history, the authorities said, on par with the 1978 Lufthansa robbery at Kennedy Airport that inspired a scene in the 1990 film “Goodfellas.”

Today’s Scuttlebot: Zynga Memories and Wi-Fi Agriculture

The technology reporters and editors of The New York Times scour the Web for important and peculiar items. For Wednesday, selections include scenes from the bars where laid-off Zynga employees mourned, and an experiment that finds plants won't grow near a Wi-Fi router.

Publishers Tell of Disputes With Apple on E-Book Prices

Publishers Tell of Disputes With Apple on E-Book Prices

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

David Shanks, the chief of Penguin Group USA, left court in Manhattan Tuesday after saying he fought with Apple over e-book pricing.

In an e-mail to her boss, Leslie Moonves, Carolyn K. Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, dismissed an Apple executive as a “minion.”

David Shanks, the chief executive of Penguin Group USA, fought with Apple over the e-book pricing it initially proposed.

And Ms. Reidy called an executive at Paramount Pictures to verify Apple’s claim that a 30 percent commission on sales in their iTunes store â€" which she considered too high â€" was standard.

These actions were described in testimony this week as evidence that, rather than illegally conspiring to fix e-book prices, Apple and the publishers were locked in intense negotiations during December 2009 and January 2010. Again and again, Apple lawyers sought to portray the actions as normal business proceedings.

Mr. Shanks and Ms. Reidy echoed that theme, saying the negotiations with Apple were much like those with other retailers, a push-and-pull series of talks that forced them to demand concessions and make some of their own.

Mr. Shanks and Ms. Reidy were the first publishers to take the stand in Federal District Court in Manhattan in the civil antitrust trial stemming from the lawsuit filed last year by the Justice Department.

The publishers, which have all settled with the government, are not on trial. But the proceedings have provided a glimpse into the state of the book business during the period several years ago when Apple decided to enter the e-book market to coincide with the introduction of the iPad.

Lawyers for the Justice Department have argued that the publishers not only used Apple as a conduit to communicate with each other, but also had conversations in which they shared information about Apple and its competitor, Amazon, the dominant force in e-books.

They have repeatedly pressed publishing executives this week on the phone calls and e-mails they exchanged, the private dinners they attended and their conversations at industry events, interactions that, according to the government, are evidence that the publishers were engaged in a conspiracy to raise prices on e-books.

When Apple entered the e-book market, it did so under the so-called agency model, in which publishers set prices for e-books and the retailer takes a 30 percent commission. At the time, publishers sold e-books to other retailers under a wholesale model, where publishers charged retailers close to half the cover price for a book, and the retailers set their own prices.

Amazon, which controlled 90 percent of the e-book market, had set the default price of most new and best-selling books at $9.99, a price that publishers felt undervalued their books and cannibalized hardcover sales. Eager for another big competitor in the e-book market, all six publishers engaged in talks with Apple.

It was during that time, the government said, that the publishers and Apple illegally colluded, eventually forcing Amazon to adopt the agency model as well.

Lawrence Buterman, a lawyer for the Justice Department, questioned Ms. Reidy on Wednesday about her conversation with Brian Murray, the chief executive of HarperCollins, while Mr. Murray was trying to move Amazon to the agency pricing model.

Mr. Buterman also asked her about a conversation with John Sargent, the chief executive of Macmillan, a fellow publisher, during which the two talked about Amazon.

Ms. Reidy shrugged it off. “I made some crack about the personalities at Amazon,” she said.

Mr. Buterman pointed to phone logs that showed several phone calls between Ms. Reidy and David Young, then the chief executive of Hachette. Ms. Reidy said she did not remember all of the calls.

Ms. Reidy, displaying occasional flashes of impatience and sarcasm during several hours of testimony, repeatedly deflected the government’s suggestion that the most-favored-nation clause imposed the agency model on other retailers. The most-favored clause is a provision in the publishers’ contracts with Apple requiring that no other retailer sell e-books for a lower price.

“As a practical matter, the M.F.N. made Simon & Schuster want to move other retailers to an agency model,” Ms. Reidy said, emphasizing the word “want.” “It didn’t force us.”

Later, under questioning by Daniel Floyd, a lawyer for Apple, Ms. Reidy said she initially resisted the most-favored nation clause, but eventually agreed to include it.

Mr. Shanks, testifying on Tuesday, said he was not able to convince Apple to eliminate price caps of $12.99 and $14.99 on its e-books.

Ms. Reidy said she also opposed the price caps, but relented and allowed them to be written into the contract.

The antitrust trial, which is expected to take about three weeks, is presided over by Judge Denise L. Cote.

After the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Apple and five publishers last year, the Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins settled immediately; Macmillan and Penguin agreed months later to settle. Penguin and Random House, two of the biggest publishers in the business, are expected to complete a merger in July.

Ms. Reidy provided the most embarrassing moment of the day when an e-mail from her to Mr. Moonves was projected onto a large screen. In the e-mail, Ms. Reidy updated Mr. Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, which owns Simon & Schuster, on her talks with Apple. She referred to an Apple executive as a “minion.”

The executive, Keith Moerer, was seated in the courtroom.

“Sorry, Mr. Moerer,” Judge Cote said, as the onlookers laughed.

“That’s just what I was thinking,” Ms. Reidy said.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 6, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Publishers Tell of Disputes With Apple on E-Book Prices.

Building Your Own Web Site, Free

Building Your Own Web Site, Free

Personal Web sites have been around a long time. Just ask anyone with an old Angelfire or GeoCities page. But now, Internet users have a dizzying array of free, feature-rich services to choose from â€" no coding skills required.

Weebly offers many free services to those who want to create Web sites, including domain name transfers.

“These days, personal site builders have a lot more functions, and they’re a lot better because of it,” said Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner, the technology research firm. Still, Mr. Blau noted, the free model has drawbacks. “It has little to do with helping people. It has to do with making money. The free is always the hook. What they’ll sell later is shopping carts and all these other add-on services, because once you’re hooked in, you’re not as motivated to change.”

The market is teeming with businesses based on the free model, which helps companies increase their users and in turn helps them secure financing and advertisers.

Still, for Web users seeking to promote their work or business on a small budget, these ready-made sites are useful. Below is a roundup featuring some free platforms, broken down by category.

QUESTIONS WORTH ASKING Having a wealth of services to choose from is both good and bad. Simply because a company offers 300 fonts doesn’t mean you need anywhere near that. So before you get started, ask yourself three questions: What am I looking to get out of the site? What features must I have? And which ones can I live without? Figuring out these answers before settling on a service can help you avoid potential pitfalls down the line, like dealing with outdated plug-ins and overly sophisticated tools.

GENERAL-PURPOSE WEB SITES When it comes to creating personal sites, the former AOL-owned About.me is a great first option. Like most others, About.me offers social media buttons, a mobile application and a simple sign-up. The free version of the site is also ad-free, with the exception of a company promotion positioned on your home page.

But if one of your must-haves is themes, look elsewhere. About.me doesn’t have them, relying instead on existing About sites (showcased under directories) to help inspire other users. “A lot of parallel products were focused on themes and rigid formats, and we’re more focused on user control,” said Ryan Freitas, the site’s co-founder. “Users don’t need as much hand-holding when they’re given examples.”

Weebly is a better alternative if you want themes. The company offers over 100 of them, from corporate to entertainment. More important, Weebly continuously adds themes and removes old and outdated ones. With Weebly, too, a large majority of its services, including domain name transfers, are free.

“All of our growth has been through word of mouth,” David Rusenko, Weebly’s co-founder, said, noting that the site had an 80 percent Net Promoter Score, which measures how willing users are to recommend the service to others. “We spend an inordinate amount of time on the product, and, at the end of the day, this metric shows how users feel about it.”

If your top priority is social networking, consider Flavors.me. The site aggregates and posts photographs, blog posts, status and other updates from more than 30 services, including SoundCloud, Instagram and Tumblr. Like Flavors, DooID is big on social network integration. The site places your profiles on a single landing page, along with a vCard button on the Web version, so others can download and import your contact data.

If customer service support is high on your list, Wix is a great option. The company’s contact form offers support in nine languages. Additionally, Wix has a call center in San Francisco with over 70 agents to field questions from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. On the user end, Wix has an HTML 5 drag-and-drop editing tool, integration with the image editor Aviary and hundreds of fully malleable templates. “We give you templates, but they’re a jumping-off point. You place what you want, where you want,” said Eric Mason, the spokesman for Wix. On the downside, such malleability often comes with more upkeep.

Breezi is less laid back than Wix, which means that you can’t, say, drop an image anywhere you like. But this more restrictive model also makes it less likely that you’ll run into broken links and screen resolution issues. Most impressive is the company’s relatively new design engine, which generates designs on the fly.

“The real problem is that a lot of these sites can’t help a user design. That’s why you have the designer act as the middleman, because the real issue is the know-how,” said Navid Safabakhsh, a founder of Breezi. “You can waste a lot of time using the wrong tools.”

Breezi lets you select your category from among hotel/spa, pet services, consulting and other options. Then you can choose and lock in colors, fonts and other features until you’re happy with what you see.

SHOPPING AND SMALL BUSINESS For business or brand promotion, Facebook Pages is a popular option, mainly because of the social network’s built-in billion-plus users that page owners can turn into “likes” and dollars. Users can also create promotional discounts for their customers.

If you’re in the market for a fleshed-out online store to sell big-ticket items, but don’t want to pay for an e-commerce solution like Shopify, try Etsy. The site lets users create a store to sell handmade goods and vintage items, like furniture and greeting cards. Store owners pay 20 cents per listing, and Etsy takes a 3.5 percent cut of the item’s selling price. For smaller shops, Big Cartel also provides a similar service, with a clean, customizable interface, a one-time monthly fee instead of individual transaction charges and the ability to sell a wider range of goods. But its free version lets you post only five products, and you won’t get the built-in traffic base that comes with a community marketplace like Etsy.

If you want to create a site for a single item, there’s Gumroad. The site is especially good for independent artists seeking to sell their documentary films, songs and books. Like Etsy, Gumroad takes a cut of your proceeds, though it also accommodates deposits in over 190 countries and has a simple checkout process that makes buying easy.

To advertise a bake sale or create a lost dog flier, try Smore. The service is an easy way to create and publish posters online, with the ability to embed videos and Twitter posts.

PORTFOLIO SITES For professional or résumé sites, look into Zerply. Like LinkedIn, your Zerply page can highlight your education, experience and biography, and users can endorse others. For professional writers, two good sites are Muck Rack and Contently. Both sites allow journalists to showcase their work, including published articles. User profiles also display how many times a highlighted article has been shared on social sites like Twitter.

For graphic design and art portfolios, Carbonmade is a good way to show off your illustration skills, though its free version allows a maximum of only five projects and 35 images.

And that’s a small reminder that, ultimately, there’s no such thing as a full free lunch.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 6, 2013, on page B9 of the New York edition with the headline: Building Your Own Web Site, Free.