We’re baaaaack! In an effort to burn off some of the calories we packed on during our time off we’ve put together a super-sized show. J.D. pits voice enabled personal assistants from Google and Apple against each other in a Hunger Games-style battle to the death! Okay, that may be a little heavy on the hyperbole but she does see what each can do. Musician, recording engineer, record producer and vintage home audio enthusiast Michael Puretz visits with El Kaiser to discuss affordable high-end stereo equipment. In the news Amazon tests drone deliveries for their Prime subscribers; Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One battle each other for holiday sales supremacy; Motorola has a Cyber Monday Meltdown; Apple’s iPad grabs close 70 percent of holiday tablet sales so far; and NASA confirms that Comet ISON has largely disintegrated.
Yes, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his ideas about drone delivery that he shared during his appearance on the CBS news show 60 Minutes last weekend grabbed a lot of attention — but was it real or a PR stunt? Octocopter dreams aside, the company is having a good time poking fun at Apple’s grandiose iPad commercials with one of its own comparing the new iPad Air with its own Kindle Fire HDX. But it wasn’t a total Week of Win: the US Supreme Court has decided not to take on the Amazon’s appeal in the fight with New York State over collecting sales tax.
The Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One and have been battling each other for holiday sales as well. Microsoft said its Xbox One also sold 1 million units in its first 24 hours to match the PlayStation 4’s opening-day numbers, although analysts have pointed out that the Xbox One debuted in 13 markets its first day, while the PS4 only launched in two countries at first. Sony recently announced the PS 4 has now sold 2.1 million units worldwide across 32 countries since it first arrived on November 15th here in North America.
Motorola, which was hoping to lure holiday shoppers with a $349 off-contract Moto X phone deal, had a Cyber Monday Meltdown. The Motomaker.com Web site reportedly crashed and burned due to intense demand, forcing Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside to issue an apology on the company’s blog and announce that the $349 deal will now also be valid Monday, December 9th.
Some industry watchers are forecasting Apple’s iPad line to have grabbed about 70 percent of the holiday sales market so far, and the company also seems to be getting some hefty sales on its new iPhone models as well. The research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech said Apple got a significant sales bounce for the third quarter thanks to the release of the iPhone 5S and candy-colored iPhone 5C.
Apple, for its part, seems to be planning for the future with a couple of corporate acquisitions. The recent weeks, the company bought Topsy, a social-media analytics firm and PrimeSense, a company that makes motion-sensing technology. And Yahoo has whipped out the checkbox again as well, buying SkyPhrase for an undisclosed about of money. (SkyPhrase makes natural language processing technology and will be joining the Yahoo Labs team in New York.)
While this year is winding down in terms of new software updates and hardware releases, ZDNet reports that Microsoft is working on updates for its three major operating system platforms — Windows, Windows Phone and the Xbox One — for spring of 2015. Microsoft isn’t commenting, but there was one thing it did officially release this week: its long-promised cloud-based Student Advantage Office 365 Education offer for young academics is now live as of December 1st. And the company’s deal to buy Nokia’s handset business has gotten regulatory approval from the United States.
Google, which has six snow-globe-shaped temporary stores to sell its Chrome and Nexus wares, may be looking for more year-round retail space. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the Google mystery barge that’s been under construction out in the San Francisco Bay is actually the first of three floating retail stores. Google says it plans to the use the structure as “an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”
And finally, NASA has confirmed that Comet ISON, which astronomers first saw on September 21, 2012, largely disintegrated during its recent trip near the sun’s corona on November 28th. Check out the memorial post by astrophysicist Karl Battams and NASA’s explanatory page on ISON’s demise. Requiescat in pace, sweet Comet ISON, fragmented into history at the approximate age of 4.5 billion years.
Voice-activated “personal assistants” have been getting more useful and skilled over the years, offering a hands-free way to call up information on the Web, make appointments in your calendar, get the temperature and all kinds of similar chores. But if you haven’t used either of the two big players lately, Apple’s Siri and the voice-command function in Google Now, you may be surprised at what they can do.
The Siri assistant got a lot of press when it first arrived on the iPhone 4S back in 2011. Unlike the simplistic voice-driven search of the day, Siri could handle questions on a variety of topics and even add a touch of personalization when presenting answers. She even turned up as a love interest for a character on The Big Bang Theory. (The name, incidentally, means “beautiful woman who leads you to victory” in Norwegian.) Apple’s latest update to iOS 7 has improved the program and has even added a male voice option in the settings.
And then there’s Google Now. It’s also a virtual assistant that helps keep track of your daily life and interests and can take spoken commands. Google Now with voice actions is available in the Google Search app for Android and iOS devices; the company recently released an extension for its Chrome browser that brings voice search to to the desktop when you utter the magic hotwords, “OK, Google.”
Although Google has had manually activated voice search for years, the Google Now software arrived in the summer of 2012 with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and has been growing ever since. The latest version of Android — 4.4, also known as KitKat — has more than 60 voice commands you can use with Google Now.
Want to give Siri or Google Now a shout? If you have Siri open on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch screen, tap the question mark in the corner for a list of sample questions or just ask away.Otherwise, just hold down the Home button on your iOS device until you hear the Siri beeps and see “What can I help you with?” appear on the screen. The Tech Blog has its own list of Siri commands and MacTrast’s infographic on the topic is also helpful.
If you’ve got the Google app open, tap the microphone icon at the top of the screen or say “OK, Google” and then ask your question. If you like visuals, check out Trendblog’s handy chart for what you can ask the latest version of Google Now. Google has its own list of Voice Action commands as well.
And even though it’s winter holiday time, don’t forget the Easter eggs!
I have to get something off my chest before getting too far along with this review. I beg you not to judge me too harshly.
Okay, here goes…. I don’t care how eco-friendly the new On1 supra-aural studio monitors from Thinksound are. I honestly don’t.
Yes, they have a hand crafted natural wood casing and the company’s mission is to create headphones with the smallest eco-footprint possible by using renewable resources and recyclable materials but for El Kaiser, that‘s all just icing on the cake.
Now before you start flooding my email inbox with strongly worded messages of disappointment and anger, let me just say for the record that I care DEEPLY about our planet and respect the effort of companies like New Hampshire based ThinkSound for minimizing their impact on the environment.
I do my best to limit my impact as well but when you get right down to it, it’s all about the sound for me. It’s ALWAYS about the sound. In that regard, the On1 headphones do not disappoint. They are both earth-friendly and great sounding headphones.
Included with the On1s are two Kevlar reinforced, tangle-resistant cables. One of the cables is a standard cable with 3.5mm stereo plugs and the other has a single button microhone and music control for iDevices. The cables connect to the right ear cup as opposed to the left, which is what appeared to be the default for cans with single stereo cables, and it takes some getting used to. Another minor quibble is that ThinkSound did not include a ¼ inch/6.3mm adaptor to use on home stereo equipment. Yes I have a drawer full of them but still, it would have been nice to have one that matches.
The headphones are light, stylishly designed and surprisingly durable. The On1’s padded metal headband is flexible and can be stretched flat or coiled tight but will spring back into shape allowing for comfortable extended listening sessions.
The soundstage is generous and the overall sound is accurate and transparent with an especially well articulated low-end. If the song calls for a tight bass sound, then that’s exactly what the On1s deliver. If the track wants to bring the boom, it’ll bring the boom too. The high end is crisp, not harsh, which I suspect will smooth out after a breaking in period and the mids are smooth and clear.
At $299 dollars, ThinkSound On1s are obviously an investment in quality sound and not a disposable pair of cans you toss in your bag for a commute. According to Aaron Fournier, President and CEO of Thinksound, the company developed their own plastic molds instead of using existing off the shelf designs from their manufacturers in China, which contributes to the higher cost.
The On1 headphones are exceptionally good headphones for all styles of music and while not inexpensive I can say with sincerity I have paid more for worse sounding headphones.
The Console Race is on! The Sony PS4 went on sale last Friday in North America and has already made a lot of money, selling more than one million units in the first 24 hours of release. As with any massive launch, there were reports of server overload and dud consoles harshing some gamer joy, but Sony’s PS4 support site and live chat technicians are trying to keep up with and resolve the complaints. Microsoft’s Xbox One enters the fray later this week.
Samsung says its sold 800,000 units in the two months since it released the $300 Galaxy Gear. And Bloomberg News is reporting that leaks from “people familiar” with the company’s future plans point to an upcoming Galaxy smartphone next year with a three-sided display that wraps around the edges of the handset so messages can be read at an angle.
Google announced this week that it will soon display warnings above the search results on 13,000 terms it believed are associated with child sexual abuse and pornography; Microsoft is following suit with Bing. While the companies first made the change at the request of Prime Minster David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Google said it plans to display the warnings worldwide. Detractors of the new policy question its usefulness as pedophiles tend to surf anonymously.
Sprint and Best Buy are teaming up to help out students this holiday season. Those young academics who buy a smartphone with Sprint service from Best Buy, will get a free year of unlimited talk and text on the phone and one gigabyte of data month. The iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S class and several LG models are included in the deal, but keep in mind that because you’re buying the phone without a two-year contract, you’re paying full price for the device up front.
Slingbox — that handy piece of hardware that hooks up to your TV and lets you watch your programs on tablets and computers over the Internet — has updated its apps for Android and iOS to add support for the Roku box. The new SlingPlayer 3.0 is available now and an app for Windows 8.1 is due next month.
The Google Play Music app has also arrived for iOS at last, optimized for the iPhone and ready to go. Those with iOS devices can now stream their $10 a month Google Music All Access subscriptions although new users on Apple gadgets get that first month free. All Access is Google’s stake in the online radio station game where Pandora and iTunes Radio also play, but unlike other services, Google’s radio does not limit the amount of songs listeners can skip.
Also in the Google-Apple mix, the Big G has agreed to pay $17 million dollars to 37 states and the District of Columbia to settle that lawsuit over Google blowing by the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. In brighter legal news, Google did win 8-year-old library book-scanning lawsuit last week.
CNN Money and other sites are reporting that some of the Android sales figures may be erroneously based on so-called Android TV sticks and set-top boxes commonly used in certain parts of the world to bootleg movies. But on a more legitimate commerce note, Google is opening snow-globe-shaped popup stores called Winter Wonderlabs in six cities around the country. Step into the globe and check out the Google merch.
If you were planning on making a trip top New York City to see the Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, you may want to hurry. The big-budget show, which had a very rocky and accident-plagued start, is scheduled to close in New York early next year and move to Las Vegas for a run beginning in 2015.
Oxford Dictionaries has announced its Word of the Year and the 2013 winner is….selfie. And speaking if Australia, researchers at the University of Sydney are testing a four-wheeled robot to herd cows.
In NASA news, the agency successfully blasted off its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission on Monday from Cape Canaveral. When it arrives, hopefully on September 22, 2014, the 8-foot, cube-shaped MAVEN spacecraft will fall into an elliptical orbit above the Red Planet to study the atmosphere.
Celebrations and anticipations for the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who are running high this week. The special episode, “The Day of the Doctor” will be globally simulcast around the world this Saturday. In the meantime, you can find plenty of interviews, episode marathons and retrospectives on various BBC outlets, including Radio 4’s audio archive and the BBC and BBC America sites. And in the slim chance that you haven’t seen it yet, DO NOT MISS the prequel Webisode, The Night of the Doctor, that We Shall Not Spoil Here.
And finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam note the passing of Mavis Batey, one of the top female codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. Ms. Batey, who died last week at the age of 92, was the last of the great break-in code crackers, and the messages she helped decipher from Nazi Enigma machines played a significant role in the Allied effort, especially for the D-Day landings in 1944. Thank you, ma’am!
Pedro reviews new on-ear headphones from two companies that are doing their best to keep things friendly between them and this big, blue marble we call earth: House of Marley’s EM-JH073 ”Liberate” and ThinkSound’s On1 Studio Monitors. J.D. has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint™ for those of you dreading the photographic evidence of your antics guaranteed to flood your social networks this holiday season. In the news, Sony sells more than 1 million PlayStation 4s with Microsoft’s XBox One on-deck; Samsung claims Gear smartwatch sales are brisk; Google and Bing get set to take on pedophiles; Facebook confirms that anything you post on their service is fodder for advertising; Sprint and Best Buy offer students a deal on phones; and the world awaits the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who.
2103 is in the home stretch and Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s are all looming. With the holidays come lots of family events and seasonal parties where photographs will be taken — but not necessarily pictures you want to have posted outside your circle of family, friends or co-workers. You’d also like to see all the pictures everybody else took without having to dig through your mailbox or wander all over the Web.
So how do you keep your party and family photos visible only to the people you want to see them, all without having to email buckets of pixels? Sure, there are always shared photo albums on Facebook or Google+, but some people aren’t so comfortable with the privacy on social-networking sites these days, no matter what controls you have over who sees your stuff.
But you have other options, specifically sites and services designed for group photo sharing. Although features and steps vary from site to site, you can basically set up a private, members-only Web page or photo feed and only the people you have approved can see or post pictures to it.
For example, you have online file services like Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive. Here, you post photos online and dole out links for people to click and see the pictures in your own little personal area of the site.
You’ve also got the mega-photo site, Flickr, as another option if you have an account there or want to set up a free one for the occasion. Say you’ve got a big corporate holiday party and you want everyone there to be able to share their photos with each other, but not necessarily the outside world. One way to do it: use Flickr’s groups feature. You can make a new group page on Flicker for the party or event (call it Holiday Party 2013 for argument’s sake) and invite friends to join the group by email. Once they accept your invite, they can all upload their own photos to the private group page. Flickr also lets you post photos by e-mail, so if you’ve created a Flickr account for the event, you can give the email address out to friends and let them post pictures to the page from their smartphones — even while the event is taking place.
Is your family is all hooked into Apple and iCloud? If so, you’ve got the option of shared photo streams. You can create shared streams on iOS 6 and iOS 7 devices, Macs and Windows computers, but you need an iCloud account on the participating computers and gadgets. You start by selecting some photos to share, creating a photo stream and sending e-mail invitations to friends and family. You can allow these “subscribers” to post their own photos and videos; they can also comment and “like” your pictures in the stream while uploading their own to the mix. When people share photos in the stream, others can download and keep them.
Sure, hoisting images up to SkyDrive, setting up a Flickr group page or creating an iCloud shared stream may take a little extra work up front. But if you want to keep those photos in one place and all in the family, it’s worth the effort.
Go, gamers, go! The Sony PlayStation 4 is out this Friday, November 15, and the Microsoft Xbox One arrives on November 22. Plenty of gaming sites will help you analyze the two and decide which one is best for you. And that Web ripple about the PS4 TOS prohibiting used games after all? A Sony exec took to Twitter to assure the faithful that they can resell and play previously owned games on the PS4.
In product news, Motorola will soon let customers with Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile create their own personalized versions of the Android smartphone and Apple quietly released the iPad Mini with Retina Display this week.
The AppleInsider site noted that not long after a Microsoft PR executive poo-poohed Apple’s iWork suite as “watered-down” imitation apps compared to Microsoft Office, the company put up giant billboards for its Surface tablet that showed the Excel software on the screen failing to correctly add up seven numbers on a spreadsheet. This led to much mocking online, but the TechCrunch blog says Microsoft did not get its math wrong, haters.
Google Glass wearers will soon have the option for stereo earbuds that let them listen to their Google Play music by commanding the Spendy Spectacles™. According to a report this month, the Motorola Mobility division of the company has filed a patent for an electronic, removable neck tattoo with an embedded microphone that can link up with a mobile phone. In addition to serving as a secret-agent way to make a mobile phone call without having the handset in site, the neck tattoo might have use as a lie detector. (Google’s also been busy with the Gmail this week, announcing several new enhancements to its Webmail service on its company blog; these new features add on to Gmail’s existing Inbox shortcuts.)
Want that sleek OS X/iOS look on PC hardware? Check out the Pear OS 8, a Linux variation for desktops and laptops — and soon, tablet hardware is everything goes according to plan. Will this mean a Thin-Skinned Fruit War if Apple takes offense?
As some of you may have suspected, Netflix and YouTube are responsible for more than half of peak fixed network data in North America as confirmed by Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena report. Speaking of audio, a new beta build of Google’s Chrome browser lets you know which one of your many open tabs is the one streaming the loud audio file that you need to close right away.
On the security front, Trend Micro just put out its Q3 2013 Security Roundup Report, which shows an increase in online banking malware infections, particularly in the US, Brazil and Japan. The 22-page report, available online, also described a noticeable uptick in phishing sites aimed at Mac OS X and iOS users.
And you’re not even safe in space from malware. According to Russian security expert Eugene Kaspersky, the International Space Station was infected with malware that rode along on a USB stick used by a Russian cosmonaut. The malicious program was not Stuxnet, as originally reported by some organizations, but Kaspersky said the Stuxnet virus had also infected a Russian nuclear power plant. (At least the laptops used aboard the space station were converted from Windows XP to Linux last spring, but if the aliens attack, we may need to dig up those old Macintosh PowerBooks running System 7 to defeat them.)
And finally, the Roomba — the popular roving robot vacuum cleaner — has gotten a redesign. The iRobot Roomba 880 has ditched the brush cylinders and moved to a new AeroForce system of spinning thermoplastic polyurethane tubes. In addition to being a more efficient method of dirt removal, no brushes means: no hairballs. Now, if we can just get cats to switch to spinning thermoplastic polyurethane tubes…
As relief groups and charities collect donations for much needed supplies to help the typhoon ravaged Philippines, how do you know which organization is best for your contribution? J.D. gives us the rundown on how to avoid the dirtbags and fly-by-night outfits when lending a hand. The snow has El Kaiser in a foul mood but he lightens up a bit to share more smartphone battery tips, this time for Android devices. In the news Sony assures gamers that they can indeed play used games on the PS4 despite what the terms and conditions read; Motorola drops the price of their Moto X and makes it easier to get; they also file a patent for a neck patch that can let you make phone call or act as a lie-detector; Apple vs. Microsoft sniping heats up over a Surface 2 billboard; Google Glass gets stereophonic sound; and dig out that Pentium desktop from the garage! A new Linux distro offers the look and feel of Apple’s newer operating systems on old gear.
The devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines last week has reportedly killed more than 10,000 people (by some estimates) and caused untold amounts of damage. As in any disaster, the first inclination for many people is to lend a hand, usually by volunteering or sending money to charities designed to help the survivors.
But remember, disasters also bring out the scum-weasels looking to make a buck off the catastrophe. As we’ve seen in the past — even with Superstorm Sandy here on the East Coast last year — it’s not long before the vultures get their fake websites set up and ready to rip off those trying to assist others.
If you donate, an established organization like the Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam is usually a safer bet that a pop-up charity without a lot of history or background. These groups have all stepped up efforts for the typhoon survivors:
- The Philippine Red Cross
- The American Red Cross
- Oxfam America
- World Vision
- Catholic Relief Services
- Doctors Without Borders
Before you give to any cause at any time, you can check out the reputation and reliability of many organizations at one of the watchdog sites online. These include:
- Charity Navigator calls itself your guide to intelligent giving. The site has evaluated more than 700 charities and reports what they do with your money.
- CharityWatch, from the American Institute of Philanthropy, also offers ratings and reviews.
- The Better Business Bureau has a special department from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance that reviews charities and keeps track of complaints.
As for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyun, Google has launched a Person Finder Page for survivors and relatives to connect; the company also has a Crisis Response page with news and information. Apple is taking donations on behalf of the American Red Cross right in the iTunes Store and Microsoft has a Disaster Response Blog with a list of aid resources. The Feet in Two Worlds blog also has a list of resources compiled by Filipino Americans for those who wish to contribute to the relief and recovery efforts.
Earthquakes, typhoons/hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, blizzards and other major weather events can’t be stopped. In this modern age of the Internet, however, it’s much easier to see when the storm is coming — and how to help where it’s most desperately needed in the aftermath.