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Need To Know A Bacon Number? Google It!

Now there’s a much easier way for you and your buddies to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon—courtesy of Google.

Google launched over the summer its intelligent and contextual search, the Knowledge Graph, with the aim of making users’ search results and browsing more in-depth and powerpacked with information.

You may have noticed the changes already: when you type a query on Google, new lists and panels appear, including images, related trivia, and a “Wikipedia-like” stream of information.

It’s the search engine giant’s way of further enhancing our Web surfing and searching experience.

Given that billions of facts and data are already available within Google, it was just a matter of time before engineers began mapping out a way to make the search process a little more intelligent, or try to anticipate what else we may be interested in aside from what we actually typed in the Search field.

But Knowledge Graph became more popular when Matt Cutts from Google sent out a tweet about the “Bacon number” Easter egg. It calculateshow Hollywood stars and celebrities are connected to Bacon, eliminating the need for you and your friends to figure it out over drinks at the bar.

“We like to provide answers to questions that are popular and fun — and, in some cases, useful to those who really need it,” said Yossi Matias, Google engineering director. Because obviously, we really need to know Paula Abdul’s Bacon number (by the way, it’s 2).

So what did the actor himself think of all this?

“What am I… zero!”, Bacon tweeted. “I guess in my heart of hearts I kinda knew I was a ZERO.”

Google’s Matias added, “While this is fun, this is also an illustration for what can be be derived by building this structure and starting to learn about the world.”

Who knows, maybe we’ll live to see the day when Google will tell us our personal Bacon numbers as well.

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Pulse News Reader app now free for iOS, Android

The top-rated, beloved-by-all Pulse News Reader is now available free of charge. width="270" height="360"/>

The top-rated, beloved-by-all Pulse News Reader is now available for free.

(Credit:Screenshot by Rick Broida)

I’ll admit it: the App Store is home to so many nifty and inventive news readers (Blogshelf, Early Edition, and TheScore, to name just a few), I never got around to Pulse News Reader.

My mistake. It’s not just the coolest blog/feed reader for the iPhone and iPad alike, it’s also one of the coolest iOS apps, period. And where it once cost $1.99, Pulse News is now free. (Same goes for the Android version.)

I spent some time fiddling with Pulse News for iPad. (If you’re interested in Pulse News Mini for iPhone, which, true to its name, is just a smaller version of the app, check out Jason Parker’s write-up.) Like Blogshelf and Early Edition, it serves up popular blogs in a slick, easily digestible format.

Right out of the box, Pulse News Reader gives you everything from Fast Company to Mashable to Serious Eats. Of course, you can add, remove, and reorganize sources to your liking.

The app lists about 10 “featured” sources, dozens more divided into categories, a search option for sites and keywords, and support for Google Reader–meaning you can import any feeds you’ve already subscribed to in your account.

The iPad edition supports up to 60 sources arranged across five tabbed pages (which, thankfully, you can rename from the default “PAGE2,” “PAGE3,” and so on.) You scroll up and down to find the feed you want, across to peruse the stories from within that feed, and tap any story to see the full text (and/or the actual Web page, depending on your preference).

As with other readers, Pulse News lets you tag items as favorites (which it calls “creating your own pulse”), share with friends via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, and even send to Instapaper (another essential app).

It may take a little doing to get Pulse News set up with just the blogs and feeds you want. But once you do, you’ll never look at another reader. (Or will you? If there’s an app you like better, by all means shout it out in the comments!)

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

Sencha’s Web-app tools reach mobile browsers
Sencha Touch lets programmers build Web sites and Web apps that reach a variety of mobile devices, though only iOS and Android today. width="504" height="367"/>

Sencha Touch lets programmers build Web sites and Web apps that reach a variety of mobile devices, though only iOS and Android today.

(Credit:Sencha)

Sencha, a start-up trying to make a business out of open-source tools for building Web applications, has begun an important new phase of its business with its first foray into the hot mobile browser market.

The new Sencha Touch 1.0 software is a JavaScript programming framework out of which mobile Web apps can be built. It joins the company’s earlier products, the Ext JS and Ext GWT frameworks and the Ext Designer developer tool.

The tools are designed for those who need to build user interfaces out of dialog boxes, pop-up windows, sliders, charts, check-boxes, and all the other elements used in applications today.

Sencha’s work is part of the effort to ease the advancement of the Web into a more powerful foundation for interaction, with dynamic sites and applications. It employs HTML5 and a number of related Web standards such as local storage, geolocation, and most notably CSS3, the new version of the Cascading Style Sheets specification for Web page formatting.

width="265" height="203"/>

Those technologies, while significant, have lacked mature development tools, though they’re coming with software from Adobe Systems and JQuery, arguably the top dog in JavaScript programming frameworks. Maturation is important especially in the mobile realm, where it’s often easier to write native applications for one operating system or another rather than Web applications that at least in theory could reach a broader market.

Sencha has a little incentive to attract programmers to its tools. It had said earlier that Sencha Touch would cost $99, but the company changed course and decided to make it free. The other tools, sold on the basis of standard or premium support contracts that come with commercially licensed versions of the software, aren’t free; the Sencha Complete package that combines all the software costs $995 for a single developer with standard support and $3,995 for five developers and premium support.

Of course, anyone can already use it for free in its open-source software form. However, under the terms of the GPLv3 (GNU General Public License) that governs it, any project using the software must be made available under the same terms. “If you use our GPLv3 option, then the derivative work is also governed by GPLv3, which triggers the requirement to provide source code to anyone using the application outside your organization,” Sencha said.

Sencha Touch is designed to be a cross-platform environment, making it easier for programmers to reach a multitude of devices. For example, it’s geared to shield programmers from variations in screen resolution and how specific devices handle the all-important smartphone interaction mechanism, touch.

However, it’s not all the way there yet, in part because the mobile browser market is so fluid. Sencha Touch today works with only two mobile operating systems: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Both of those use a Web browser based on the open-source WebKit engine, and it’s spreading to other operating systems. That means today a Sensa Touch application will run, unchanged, on both Android and iOS. BlackBerry and MeeGo, which also employ WebKit, should be supported “very soon” as well, Sencha said

Non-WebKit browsers are another matter for now. “We hope to support Opera in the not-too-distant future, although Firefox is a little further behind in the features that we rely on for styling and animation,” Sencha said.

Windows Phone 7, however, isn’t supported at all at present, Sencha said.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Blow away asteroids and play as a giant worm: iPhone apps of the week
iPhone width="159" height="142"/>
(Credit:
CNET)

Hey, iPhone gamers, I received a press release just yesterday that plenty will be excited about: Real Racing 2 is coming soon for the iPhone. As one of my favorite games for 2009, the original Real Racing might be the best in its class for graphics, gameplay, and realism (as the name suggests) among auto-racing games on the iPhone.

Though there is no information beyond the announcement (here is Firemint’s cryptic info page), I’m personally hoping for new tracks, new cars, and maybe even an accelerometer-based motorcycle racing mode. I admit that last wish is probably far-fetched, but it never hurts to dream, right? It almost seems impossible to improve upon the original, so I’m excited to see what Firemint will add in the sequel.

Though I can only guess at a release date, the timing of this press release seems to suggest that we could have this product on our iPhones in time for the gift-giving season. I’m crossing my fingers!

This week’s apps are both arcade games: an advanced Astroids-like title and a game where you play as a man-eating giant worm.

Space Miner Blast width="320" height="213"/>

Gather ore from asteroids to gain bonus multipliers for bigger scores.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Space Miner Blast (Free) is a slimmed-down arcade version of one of my favorite games on the iPhone called Space Miner: Space Ore Bust. The original game included a storyline in which you tried to keep your uncle’s space-mining company afloat by mining various sectors of space and using the ore to make money so you could upgrade your ship. Though I still recommend the original as a more involved and unique game, Space Miner Blast takes the basic gameplay mechanic (flying around and shooting asteroids) and makes it into a fun challenge on its own.

Space Miner Blast tasks you with battling your way through wave after wave of asteroids and spaceships, all while grabbing power-ups to add to your firepower. Similar to the arcade classic Asteroids, Space Miner Blast uses a control scheme that lets you control your ship on the left side of the screen with your main fire buttons and thrust on the right. You’ll need to shoot large asteroids to break them up into smaller pieces and blow away the remaining rocks by following the blue arrow indicators around your ship. As you progress through the game, harder enemies like UFOs and mines will make your job more difficult, but fortunately you can find shields as you play, and you can upgrade your ship in between levels for more firepower.

Space Miner Blast is an ad-supported free game. To get rid of the ads you have the option to buy one of three advanced ships for 99 cents each or you can allegedly by the Blast Pack of all the ships for only $1.99. As of this writing, I was unable to locate the Blast Pack in the menus, but hopefully the developers will fix this soon so you don’t have to buy all three ships at 99 cents each.

Part of what made the original Space Miner: Space Ore Bust such a great game was the classic Asteroids game mechanic. With Space Miner Blast, you get a game that the developers say “Brings Asteroids into the 21st century!” and I can’t help but agree. Anyone who liked the original game or the classic Asteroids will love this shoot-’em-up action game.

Death Worm width="320" height="213"/>

Sneak up from underground to take the evil humans by surprise.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Death Worm (99 cents for a limited time) is a lot like a game I reviewed not long ago called Super Mega Worm and is the original game that Mega Worm was based upon. Already a widely acclaimed indie title, Death Worm is a great fit for the iPhone and iPod touch screen. The control system involves a directional pad on the left and buttons for nitro and firebombs on the right. The object of the game is to take out as many humans as possible as you worm your way underground and breach the surface to create havoc against a military onslaught. As you progress, your worm will level up, letting you add more nitro power, better fireballs, and stronger skin.

Death Worm is an excellent time waster, but not terribly challenging in the early levels, leaving you wondering just what it will take to bring you down. But as the game goes on, you’ll be challenged by tanks, cars, rocket-launcher-wielding soldiers, helicopters, and more. In later levels, you’ll struggle to stay alive long enough to level up, giving you full health to continue on.

Overall, with 45 levels to play across three themed locations, 30 enemy types to contend with, and enough explosions and carnage to satisfy the most serious shoot-’em-up gamers, Death Worm is a great addition to your iPhone game library.

What’s your favorite iPhone app? How do you like the arcade action of Space Miner Blast? Which game is better: Super Mega Worm or Death Worm? What do you think Firemint will add to Real Racing 2? Let me know in the comments!