How to Clean Up Your Online Image

You would never let your front porch or storefront become dilapidated. You would never hand out a crumpled resume or business card. And you would never show up to an big meeting with mismatched socks a stain on your shirt. These days, maintaining your digital footprint can be just as important. So how do you go about cleaning up your online image? Here's how:

1. Assess the damage. Now there's a reason to spend hours Googling yourself or better yet, to plug your name into 123people.com, which digs up harder-to-find info. You can tackle minor stains yourself but if there's a lot to bury, hire a pro like Reputation.com or ElixirInteractive.com

2. Start cleaning. Scour your Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking accounts and delete and dodgy photos or comments you've posted. If necessary, close down questionable accounts.

3. Push the positives. Blogs rank high in Google's algorithms so consider starting a blog about your interests. If you don't have time to post regularly, start a personal Web site instead, using a template from Wix.com or Webs.com. To find free, comprehensive advice on building a positive online presence, check out BrandYourself.com.
- As seen in Details
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Meet Baxter: The Humanoid Robot to Revolutionize U.S. Manufacturing

Rethink Robotics unveils Baxter, a robot that can work alongside humans. According to Valentin Schmid at The Epoch Times, Baxter could revolutionize the way American companies operate as they shift production back to the United States using the humanoid robot to save on costs. Rethink Robotics unveiled its flagship product to the public September 18, 2012.

“Roboticists have been successful in designing robots capable of super-human speed and precision. What’s proven more difficult is inventing robots that can act as we do—in other words, that are able to inherently understand and adapt to their environments,” said company founder Rodney Brooks, an artificial intelligence legend and robotics pioneer having spent much of his life teaching at MIT. Rethink was founded in 2008 with the purpose of designing a robot like Baxter and carries a few other products. It is currently owned by venture capital firms and Brooks.

He further notes that providing a flexible and inexpensive solution—the robot costs only $22,000—Rethink specifically hopes to contribute to a revival in American manufacturing. “We believed that if we could cross that chasm with the manufacturing environment specifically in mind, we could offer new hope to the millions of American manufacturers who are looking for innovative ways to compete in our global economy.”
Baxter Solves Problem of Safety, Adaptability, and Programming

Baxter, which is exclusively produced in the United States and will first ship in October, aims to solve some of the long-standing issues with automation. The most important one is safety, as most industrial robots on assembly lines operate far away from humans or need to be caged to prevent injury. Rethink’s robot, which has a screen as a head and big flexible arms, is also equipped with Sonar sensors and software that help it detect human activity. In addition, it is programmed to stop its relatively gentle movements as soon as it detects resistance. A promotional video shows the robot standing on a fixed platform and the company has not commented on whether it can also walk.

“The class of products that can work side by side with people without any protection, those would be important developments. They could take robots from a factory environment … where people would have to be kept away, into more areas … some outside of factories,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association, an organization that provides education and information for companies interested in automating workflows.

Another big advantage is the ease of use. Normally, industrial robots need technical personnel to be programmed to perform a limited amount of tasks in an effort that involves special software and more often than not can take up to a full day. Baxter, which can be employed in less than an hour after being delivered, can be trained by any type of personnel by merely showing it how to perform a wide range of tasks, such as material handling, line loading, light assembly, or packing products.

In practice this would mean that the employee would move Baxter’s arms to perform the desired process and chose one of several preprogrammed options by way of twisting a few dials. The robot can also adapt to changes in the environment, for example if it drops an object, it knows to get another before trying to finish the task, unlike other robots, which have been seen picking air for a whole day, if no human supervises them.

“This class of robots doesn’t need a whole lot of programming. … That’s important. There are a number of companies that either don’t have the in-house expertise or they don’t want to pay for outside assistance,” said Burnstein in an Epoch Times interview.

“Because of its versatility and the short amount of time it takes to retrain, Baxter can be easily moved by production personnel to different and varying tasks over the course of a day, week, and month,” says the company’s press release. Most of the claims that the company makes in the press release can be tracked in a promotional video and also have been tried in practice when Baxter was on loan at Vanguard Plastics, a small manufacturer based in Connecticut, writes Will Knight of technologyreview.com.

Jeff Burnstein cautions, however, that the ultimate success will be determined after the product is rolled out. “Until these products are out in big numbers you don’t know if they are safe or not.”

If Baxter or similar robots can be rolled out on a large scale, it could mean big things for American manufacturing. Given the fact that robots like Baxter are inexpensive, flexible, and do not need much maintenance in terms of programming, they can be used in companies of all sizes that face tough options in competing with low-wage countries. AFL-CIO, the umbrella federation for 56 U.S. unions cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data saying that 5.5 million jobs were lost in the process of offshoring.

“This development will either save or create new jobs,” believes Burnstein. “We would hope that companies that would have otherwise either closed down because they can’t compete or sent manufacturing jobs overseas will decide to automate in order to keep jobs in the United States.”

Bob Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO industrial union council, representing the manufacturing unions within the umbrella organization agrees: “If you are more productive this way, you can share the benefits. … The productivity is shared with the workforce and the community and the country in a sense that people earn better wages and income. They are compensated for these productivity gains that come with the interface with human interaction with technology to produce goods.”

The idea is as follows: A humanoid robot would boost human labor productivity in such a way that it would reduce costs and boost output without reducing employment here. Increased output at lower costs would mean more capital accumulated and wages paid in the United States, leading to greater economic prosperity, even outside manufacturing.

A simple example would see an American company closing its factory in China, because it is upset with intellectual property theft and corrupt business practices as well as rising wages over there. It would then reopen production in the United States, hiring workers and supplementing them with flexible automation solutions. Jobs and output are created in the United States, leading to more jobs and output created in the United States.

Jeff Burnstein sees numerous reasons why reshoring makes sense: “When you build domestically you are closer to your customers, you don’t have to deal with political instability … the fear of your IP being stolen. There are a lot of reasons if all things are equal why you would want to build domestically. … Automation and robotics in particular is allowing companies to do that, we are seeing signs of that.”

According to Bob Baugh, automation is also seen as a positive by the unions, as long as some standards are met: “Workers need to be compensated well and have a good work environment where they do these things and that they have the skills to operate the technology and equipment.” These new developments in automation seem to be a win-win situation that might even lead to American companies becoming export leaders again one day in the not too distant future.
- As seen in The Epoch Times
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U.S. is Tightening Web Privacy Rule to Protect Young

Federal regulators are about to take the biggest steps in more than a decade to protect children online. According to Natasha Singer of The New York Tiems, the moves come at a time when major corporations, app developers and data miners appear to be collecting information about the online activities of millions of young Internet users without their parents’ awareness.
Some sites and apps have also collected details like children’s photographs or locations of mobile devices; the concern is that the information could be used to identify or locate individual children. For example, McDonald’s invites children who visit HappyMeal.com to upload their photos so they can make collages or videos.

These data-gathering practices are legal. But the development has so alarmed officials at the Federal Trade Commission that the agency is moving to overhaul rules that many experts say have not kept pace with the explosive growth of the Web and innovations like mobile apps. New rules are expected within weeks.

“Today, almost every child has a computer in his pocket and it’s that much harder for parents to monitor what their kids are doing online, who they are interacting with, and what information they are sharing,” says Mary K. Engle, associate director of the advertising practices division at the F.T.C. “The concern is that a lot of this may be going on without anybody’s knowledge.”

The proposed changes could greatly increase the need for children’s sites to obtain parental permission for some practices that are now popular — like using cookies to track users’ activities around the Web over time. Marketers argue that the rule should not be changed so extensively, lest it cause companies to reduce their offerings for children.

“Do we need a broad, wholesale change of the law?” says Mike Zaneis, the general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry association. “The answer is no. It is working very well.”

The current federal rule, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), requires operators of children’s Web sites to obtain parental consent before they collect personal information like phone numbers or physical addresses from children under 13. But rapid advances in technology have overtaken the rules, privacy advocates say.

Today, many brand-name companies and analytics firms collect, collate and analyze information about a wide range of consumer activities and traits. Some of those techniques could put children at risk, advocates say.

Under the F.T.C.’s proposals, some current online practices, like getting children under 13 to submit photos of themselves, would require parental consent.

Children who visit McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, for instance, can “get in the picture with Ronald McDonald” by uploading photos of themselves and combining them with images of the clown. Children may also “star in a music video” on the site by uploading photos or webcam images and having it graft their faces onto dancing cartoon bodies.

But according to children’s advocates, McDonald’s stored these images in directories that were publicly available. Anyone with an Internet connection could check out hundreds of photos of young children, a few of whom were pictured in pajamas in their bedrooms, advocates said.

In a related complaint to the F.T.C. last month, a coalition of advocacy groups accused McDonald’s and four other corporations of violating the 1998 law by collecting e-mail addresses without parental consent. HappyMeal.com, the complaint noted, invites children to share their creations on the site by providing the first names and e-mail addresses of their friends.

“When we tell parents about this they are appalled, because basically what it’s doing is going around the parents’ back and taking advantage of kids’ naivete,” says Jennifer Harris, the director of marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, a member of the coalition that filed the complaint. “It’s a very unfair and deceptive practice that we don’t think companies should be allowed to do.”

Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s, said in an e-mail that the company placed a “high importance” on protecting privacy, including children’s online privacy. She said that McDonald’s had blocked public access to several directories on the site.

Last year, the F.T.C. filed a complaint against W3 Innovations, a developer of popular iPhone and iPod Touch apps like Emily’s Dress Up, which invited children to design outfits and e-mail their comments to a blog. The agency said that the apps violated the children’s privacy rule by collecting the e-mail addresses of tens of thousands of children without their parents’ permission and encouraging those children to post personal information publicly. The company later settled the case, agreeing to pay a penalty of $50,000 and delete personal data it had collected about children.

It is often difficult to know what kind of data is being collected and shared. Industry trade groups say marketers do not knowingly track young children for advertising purposes. But a study last year of 54 Web sites popular with children, including Disney.go.com and Nick.com, found that many used tracking technologies extensively.

“I was surprised to find that pretty much all of the same technologies used to track adults are being used on kids’ Web sites,” said Richard M. Smith, an Internet security expert in Boston who conducted the study at the request of the Center for Digital Democracy, an advocacy group.

Using a software program called Ghostery, which detects and identifies tracking entities on Web sites, a New York Times reporter recently identified seven trackers on Nick.com — including Quantcast, an analytics company that, according to its own marketing material, helps Web sites “segment out specific audiences you want to sell” to advertisers.

Ghostery found 13 trackers on a Disney game page for kids, including AudienceScience, an analytics company that, according to that company’s site, “pioneered the concept of targeting and audience-based marketing.”

David Bittler, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, which runs Nick.com, says Viacom, the parent company, does not show targeted ads on Nick.com or other company sites for children under 13. But the sites and their analytics partners may collect data anonymously about users for purposes like improving content. Zenia Mucha, a spokeswoman for Disney, said the company does not show targeted ads to children and requires its ad partners to do the same.

Another popular children’s site, Webkinz, says openly that its advertising partners may aim at visitors with ads based on the collection of “anonymous data.” In its privacy policy, Webkinz describes the practice as “online advanced targeting.”

If the F.T.C. carries out its proposed changes, children’s Web sites would be required to obtain parents’ permission before tracking children around the Web for advertising purposes, even with anonymous customer codes.

Some parents say they are trying to teach their children basic online self-defense. “We don’t give out birth dates to get the free stuff,” said Patricia Tay-Weiss, a mother of two young children in Venice, Calif., who runs foreign language classes for elementary school students. “We are teaching our kids to ask, ‘What is the company getting from you and what are they going to do with that information?’ ”

- As seen in The New York Times
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Squishy Robots That Can Hide and Seek

Researchers have built soft-bodied robots that can either blend into or stand out in their environment by changing their color. According to Sindya Bhanoo of The New York Times, these silicone-based robots can also glow in the dark.

The rubbery, four-legged robots mimic the behavior of soft-bodied creatures like sea stars and squid. Most robots today are large and rigid and mimic the movements of mammals.

“Starfish and things of this kind are simpler than mammals,” said George M. Whitesides, a chemist at Harvard who is involved in the research. “Less able to pick up a door, but maybe able to perform other tasks.”

He and his colleagues published their findings in the current issue of the journal Science.

The soft robots are made of a silicone-based polymer called polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS. They were created using 3-D printers, as were the recently added “color layers.”

The color layers were built with channels into which researchers could pump colored liquids to change the colors and patterns of the robots as desired.

By pumping heated or cooled liquids into the channels, the researchers were also able to camouflage the robots in the infrared.

The coloration feature may one day be useful in building search-and-rescue robots, Dr. Whitesides said. By using color, the robots can serve as a visual marker to help search crews.

“They are very light and can make their way across mud in a way that a heavy robot would have trouble with,” Dr. Whitesides said. “A way of seeing a robot there is to make it very visible in the infrared.”

The robots can also pick up fragile objects, like uncooked eggs and fruits, he said — or even a live mouse.

As a bonus, the soft-bodied robots are inexpensive to build. The current prototypes cost less than $10 each.

- As seen in The New York Times
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