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Week in review: Tech goes to the polls

As the final week of campaigning in the presidential election nears, the battle for ballots is heating up on the Internet.

As the final week of campaigning in the presidential election approaches, the battle for ballots is heating up on the Internet.

When comedian Jon Stewart blasted the hosts of CNN's "Crossfire" as fomenting political partisanship, he ignited a frenzy of online activity. The online transcript and video clips of the program became an overnight sensation among Web surfers, bloggers and pundits alike.


Photo: Comedy Central
Jon Stewart fanned
Internet flames with his
roast of CNN experts.

As of Friday morning, online video hosting site IFilm said, more than 1.6 million people had downloaded the 13-minute CNN clip from its site. Links to the IFilm video and CNN.com's transcript of the show have been posted to countless Web logs and online bulletin boards.

The video clip also was a favorite among the peer-to-peer community. According to SuprNova.org, which tracks usage of the Bit Torrent file-sharing protocol, the segment is currently being offered for download by more than 1,100 sources.

Voters in swing states currently saturated with political ads might choose to avoid the P2P Politics Web site, which helps people swap campaign commercials via e-mail. But for anyone who has missed the ads now barraging battleground states with all the relentlessness of a Florida hurricane, a trip to the new civic-minded site might be in order.

The new site is backed by Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig and his Creative Commons foundation, which promotes a version of copyright that facilitates widespread distribution and use of content. Although the site's role in shifting voters' opinions is likely to be small, it is a real part of what has been a radical transformation in campaigning and political awareness because of the Internet.

Tech-minded voters who are still undecided may be interested in how President Bush and Sen. John Kerry stand on tech issues. Both responded to a questionnaire on technology policy from the Computing Technology Industry Association, weighing in on such issues as Internet telephony and intellectual-property protection.

Bush and Kerry, both looking to gain an edge in the extremely close race, expressed their views on 12 topics, which also include spam, privacy and unlicensed wireless spectrum. Voters can view the candidates' answers on the association's Web site.

Security breakdown
One question that has gone unanswered is what made the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign sites inaccessible for six hours on Tuesday. The two Web sites failed to respond to some Internet requests starting around 8 a.m. PDT and were largely unresponsive by 9 a.m. PDT.

The problem seemed to most affect GeorgeWBush.com, which became largely inaccessible within an hour. A representative for the Bush-Cheney campaign said that the problem was being investigated and that the outage could have been caused by a technical glitch. But the sites do not seem to share the same infrastructure, making it unlikely that a technical glitch could be responsible for the outage.

There's little mystery in what recently happened to a University of California, Berkeley, computer system: A hacker accessed a computer that had names and Social Security numbers of about 1.4 million Californians, in perhaps the worst attack of its kind ever suffered by the school.

The computer was being used by a U.C. Berkeley researcher who had collected data on elderly people and individuals who provide in-home care to seniors. The data, which included home addresses, telephone numbers and datess of birth, was being used at the state's authorization but without the consent of the individuals whose information was being used in the study.

Homeland security: The price of safety
The U.S. government's multibillion-dollar drive for homeland security has produced a boom in antiterror technologies. At the same time, it has created problems ranging from industry confusion to lack of basic accountability, and privacy concerns are higher than ever.

In a three-part special report, CNET News.com examined how strategic conflicts, rampant confusion and miscommunication are slowing counterterrorism efforts; how multibillion-dollar security initiatives have given rise to a new industry seemingly overnight; and how cutting-edge data mining and other intelligence tools are redefining privacy as we know it.

Prepping for the holidays
Apple Computer introduced a slew of new machines as it gears up for the annual holiday-shopping season. As part of the launch, the company cut the price of its entry-level iBook G4 notebook computer and boosted chip speed across the line.

The new low-end iBook features a 1.2 GHz G4 chip, a combination drive that can play DVDs and burn CDs, and a 12-inch screen. It sells for $999--that's $100 less than the prior low-end model. A midrange model features a 1.33GHz chip, a combo drive and a 14-inch screen, for $1,299. The top-of-the-line iBook sells for $1,499 and has the so-called SuperDrive, a drive that can burn both DVDs and CDs.

Apple has also added faster 802.11g wireless networking to all its iBook models, and Bluetooth is now an option on them as well.

Apple has scheduled a special event for next week, fueling speculation that the company could be ready to introduce an updated model of its iPod digital music player. In an invitation to the event, Apple said only that "Steve Jobs, Bono and The Edge invite you to a special event." Bono and The Edge are members of U2, whose song "Vertigo" is featured in an Apple commercial. The track is also the top-selling song at Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Among the sources of speculation was a report from Macintosh rumor site ThinkSecret that Apple would introduce a "U2-edition" iPod, which would come preloaded with the band's catalog, potentially linked with exclusive online access to U2's upcoming new album through the iTunes store.

Plugging that iPod into your car is getting much easier. Electronics companies demonstrated new products at a conference this week that offer better ways to link Apple's audio player to a vehicle's stereo, replacing the problematic and low-quality methods of radio transmitters and cassette adapters.

The $190 Ipod2car adapter is a box the size of a cigarette pack that lets almost any car stereo control an iPod, with the controls for changing tracks on CDs now able to skip through playlists. The company's Ipod2car adapter also charges an iPod, which would typically be mounted on a dashboard.

Texas Instruments, meanwhile, demonstrated what's essentially a tiny custom PC--complete with hard drive--that can rip CDs inserted into the dashboard and control an iPod linked through a USB port.

Also of note
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer believes that one way to stem piracy is to offer consumers in emerging countries low-cost PCs: "There has to be...a $100 computer to go down-market in some of these countries."...Dell will announce within weeks a plan to build a new manufacturing plant in the United States, as other PC makers continue to send such work overseas...Dell is also getting ready to launch a big-screen version of its Inspiron notebook...A keychain gadget allows people to turn off most televisions, whose flashing images and background, the inventor says, is comparable to second-hand smoke.