J.D. helps us get the most out of our Webmail and Pedro gives us his view on the state of the pop music scene. In the news, Microsoft prepares to unveil Windows 8.1; Samsung and Android continues it’s smartphone dominance; the latest reports from Google’s I/O conference; Archos releases a tablet specifically designed for the kitchen; Nvidia begins taking preorders for their Shield mobile gaming system; and the HTC First Facebook Phone appears to be on the road to oblivion.
On this week’s show I mentioned “Sound of the Crowd”, a Human League track that ignited my love of synthesizer-based music and, by extension, my continuing fascination with computers and electronics. This is the 12 inch version of the song which is what I heard blasting out of the record shop that fateful afternoon many years ago…
Daft Punk, the pioneering French dance-music duo, will debut their first non-soundtrack release in eight years next week and after previewing the album on iTunes, Random Access Memories reveals itself to be a hit and miss affair with, admittedly, more hits than misses. Thomas Bangalter (the silver helmeted “robot”) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (the gold “robot”) have essentially created a tribute album to their music heroes that only just barely manages to keep the trademark synthesized and sequenced Daft Punk vibe. The pair worked with several top session players who played live and imbued most of the tracks with an organic feel missing from the former club DJs previous albums. Daft Punk’s now legendary stage shows highlight the duos ability to connect with concertgoers, a lesson many newer synth-heavy acts must master at the start of their careers as they no longer have the luxury of avoiding live performances and perfecting their craft in the recording studio.
At a sold-out performance earlier this month, Capital Cities, a scruffy yet lovable synthpop duo, wore their Daft Punk influence on their satin jacketed sleeves. The band has obviously mastered the art of charming an audience but in an engaging manner that is the direct opposite of the detached and robotic performances of Daft Punk. Their goofy enthusiasm was so infectious I couldn’t help but get caught up in the fun. For the encore of the short set featuring songs from their upcoming debut album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian dived into the audience and danced with the worked up crowd. Their interaction and joyfulness had us all completely swept up in the performance.
I was in the music business for many years and became so disillusioned by it that I turned the page on that part of my life. This new music landscape lets acts like Capital Cities maintain a more intimate connection with their fan base, unlike the studio-centric pop-rock juggernauts of a few years ago, and is allowing jaded veterans like myself to get lost in the groove once again.
It’s been a busy middle week of May on the pop culture front, with plenty of geeky TV news (Almost Human and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. coming to the broadcast airwaves this fall), our favorite Watson speaking out on racism in Hollywood, a new Dan Brown history cryptothriller and a big health announcement from geek-girl icon Angelina Jolie. Amid it all, there was even some tech news.
The next version of Windows is no longer Blue, but now Windows 8.1. This is an update to the current Windows 8 system that has had a few detractors since it’s release last fall. As reported by Engadget and other blogs around the Web, the upgrade will be free and available from the Windows 8 home screen when it’s done and ready for downloading. (Windows 8 itself has been dubbed Microsoft’s “New Coke” in some circles for its thudding reception, but hey, maybe it’s a marketing thing…)
BlackBerry is also updating a recent system. Version 10.1 of the new BlackBerry OS for Z10 users is rolling out. The folks at BBHQ also announced that its BBM — BlackBerry Messenger Service — was expanding to other smartphone platforms. Perhaps the expanded service will lure more users, as Gartner Research and their data reports that BlackBerry only snagged 3 percent of worldwide mobile phone sales in 1Q 2013; nearly 75% of phones sold were running Android, while Apple had around 18 percent.
Nokia unveiled the Lumia 925, a reduced-fat version of its Lumia 920 Windows Phone The Lumia 928 model, available here in the States on Verizon’s network, adds a Xenon flash to the hardware mix. (One handset that did not sell well last month: the HTC First, the original Facebook Home phone, which may be may be discontinued soon by AT&T.)
Apple could be changing up the way it deals with hardware repairs and its AppleCare extended warranty plans this fall. Of course, it’s all rumor until Apple announces something, but it sounds like the company will have quite a bit to announce around harvest time.
Google is holding its annual I/O conference this week and had many announcements. In addition to talking about its upcoming plans for Android, its new streaming music service and other products, Google-placed environmental sensors will be recording anonymous data from the attendees to analyze crowd flow and other conference happenings. (As for conference happenings, it’s unlikely the ill-fated Nexus Q will get a mention.)
Despite preparing for its big fancy conference, Google also found time to unify online storage options for its Google Drive, Gmail and Google+ photo services. The company also had a few moments to stick an Easter Egg into its Google Images service. And in a bit of corporate cooperation, Microsoft has made its Outlook.com Webmail service interoperable with the Gmail chat program and Google Chat.
Amazon has released a new version of its Cloud Player app for Windows users. Although PC users could already listen to their music stored in Amazon’s cloud through the Web browser, the new app can now store music offline. A Mac version is said to be in the works.
For those who like to cook and also love Android tablets, Archos has released the ChefPad, a 9.7-inch Jelly-Bean-based tablet. The $210 8GB tablet comes with a splash-resistant case and stand in case the home-made sauce really starts flying. Android fans who prefer gaming to cooking may want to check out the Nvidia SHIELD instead, a new $350 portable Android-based gaming system on the way next month.
And finally, three astronauts who’ve been up on the International Space Station for the past five months have returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule. Among the three was Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, known for his videos on life in space and his recent cover of David Bowie’s classic track, “Space Oddity.” Welcome home, gentlemen! Just in time to grab a showing of Star Trek Into Darkness on its opening weekend and stock up on some sartorial upgrades!
Want to make Webmail feel more like desktop mail when you’re checking your personal account at work or on a different computer? Sure, you can format messages in rich text and make folders in most services now, but here are a few other tips for managing your mail more efficiently through your Web browser.
1. Use keyboard shortcuts.
- Gmail. Google’s mail program comes with one level of shortcuts that work automatically and another level that you have to turn on within the Gmail settings. The automatic ones are things like navigational controls for jumping around between messages with the arrow keys, that sort of thing. To turn on the second level of shortcuts, go into your Gmail settings by clicking on the gear-shaped menu icon, selecting Settings and tuning on the option for keyboard shortcuts. Once you save the changes, you get a couple dozen more shortcuts for composing mail, moving through conversations, archiving mail and so forth. Press the keyboard’s ? key to see a list of all the shortcuts.
- Yahoo. Yahoo has all kinds of shortcuts for using Yahoo Mail, including those for composing messages, working with message lists and navigating. Press the keyboard’s ? key to see a list of all the shortcuts.
- Outlook.com. In Microsoft’s Webmail service, which used to be Hotmail, you can use the built-in shortcuts, or if you’re coming from Gmail or Yahoo, you can use those instead. When you’re in Outlook.com, Press the keyboard’s ? key to see the shortcuts and get to the settings.
2. Drag and drop those attachments.
Most Webmail programs now let you do it this way instead of clicking the attach button and navigating through your hard drive to find the file you want to send. Gmail has more information here and Yahoo’s mail-attachment tips are here. Outlook.com still uses the Insert button, but you can choose to stick them on as “Files as attachments,” Pictures inline” or “Share from SkyDrive.”
3. Use integrated online storage for big attachments.
Speaking of the “Share with SkyDrive” option — got a 30-megabyte file that’s too big to attach to a normal message? The big three Webmail service all have integration with other cloud services. Microsoft’s SkyDrive can do the heavy lifting for mail attachments with Outlook.com and other mail programs. If you have Gmail, you can insert that big attachment that lives on your Google Drive to your Gmail message. Yahoo Mail recently linked up with Dropbox for similar big attachment handing.
Some things about doing mail on the Web will always be different than managing your messages with a dedicated desktop program, but Webmail does give you a lot of freedom and perks of its own. And just think how far it’s come since the original HoTMaiL’s official launch back on July 4, 1996, with its free two megabytes of storage.
Sales taxes for online purchases could be in the near future. The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, a bill that was just approved by the United States Senate by a vote of 69 to 27, is now headed to the House of Representatives. (Do you have to pay tax on rentals? Adobe announced this week that it’s no longer going to sell the Creative Suite software, but is moving to the $50-per-month Creative Cloud subscription service and other rental plans with varying fees for new versions of its products.)
Security analysts have found flaws in Internet Explorer 8, which Microsoft has confirmed, although it says that IE 6, 7, 9 and 10 are not affected by this particular exploit. The attack has been reported as hitting US government Web sites and federal workers involved in nuclear research. In other security news, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress directly accuses the Chinese military of staging cyber-attacks on American government computer systems and defense contactors.
Google Glass may not be feeling the love from certain legislators and Las Vegas casinos, but Google is keeping busy with other projects. The company added the ability to share files from your Google Drive folder on your PC or Mac directly with others, and it also updated its Gmail app for iOS this week.
An analyst from NPD DisplaySearch says Apple will release a Retina display version of its popular iPad Mini tablet in the third quarter of this year — and then turn around and drop a third-generation Mini with a faster processor in the first quarter of 2014. (So what’s a geek to do for the holiday season purchases this year?)
On the topic of small tablets, Amazon may have spoiled a Microsoft surprise by accidentally publishing pictures of a new 7-inch Acer tablet, which is thought to be the first smaller slab to run Windows 8. Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates thinks Windows tablets offer more perks like keyboards and Office for “frustrated” tablet users, although judging from the sales numbers, iPad users aren’t that frustrated.
Windows 8 has now sold 100 million licenses since it arrived six months ago. Don’t get too comfy — an update to Windows 8, codenamed Windows Blue, is expected later this year, as is a new version of the Xbox game console that may have an HDMI port.
Electronic Arts announced that The Sims 4 will arrive next year for PC and Mac gamers. Much to the relief of many, The Sims 4 will be available in single-player offline mode. (Will Wright, SimCity’s original 1980s developer, expressed sympathy recently for the EA team involved in the epic fail that was the SimCity 5 launch a few months ago.) Electronic Arts has a few other things going on besides Sim-related games. Disney, which recently shut down the LucasArts game division, has tapped EA to develop future game titles for the Star Wars franchise. Not everyone is excited by this, including one writer over at TG Daily. However, other media outlets were more hopeful.
Finally, and sadly, we note the passing of Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion animator and film visual-effects wizard behind the classic Jason and the Argonauts and scores of other pictures. He was an inspiration to George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and pretty much anyone entranced by the magic of movies. Requiescat in pace.
If you were completely thrown by our reference to the “Yub Nub Song” in the opening minutes of this week’s episode, that’s understandable. You’ve obviously had the misfortune of only ever having seen the post-1997 versions of the classic finale to the epic Star Wars saga, “Return of the Jedi”. A victim of the “Special Edition” massacre, all Yub Nubbing was replaced by the generic world music blandness of “Ewok Celebration” in the subsequent soundtracks.
Now, don’t blame yourselves! The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of a certain bearded and pompadoured filmmaker from the Bay area of California who just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As a public service for all Gen Y and Millenials deprived of the vocal stylings of those fluffy little cash cows, I present, for your viewing and listening pleasure, the “Yub Nub Song”…
J.D. has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint about offering remote computer assistance to trusted friends and family and Pedro celebrates the 30th anniversary of “Return of the Jedi” by sharing what the Star Wars films mean to him. In the news, the U.S. Senate approves the Marketplace Fairness Act; more Google Glass(es) bans; Adobe changes their paradigm; and movie visual effects giant Ray Harryhausen dies at age 92.
“See the Start menu button? Okay, click that and go to Control Panel. No, Control Panel, over there. Do you see it? Yes, you have Control Panel, just look a little closer…”
Anyone who’s done technical support for a friend or family member over the phone has probably felt some frustration about not being able to see the computer’s screen to better assess the problem and guide the user along. Although they can often be overlooked, remote assistance tools — which let you see the other person’s screen and even take over control of the computer through your Internet connection — can make it easier for helper and helpee alike.
Tapping in via remote assistance is not as hard as it used to be, thanks to new software and services. For example, Google recently added a Remote Desktop feature to its Google+ Hangouts group video-chat service.
There’s a little bit of set-up involved, but a guide on PC World walks you through the steps. The Remote Desktop function had been previously seen as an extension for the Chrome browser, so that’s a possibility as well for helping out from afar as well; Google has info on using it here.
If you don’t use Google+ hangouts, or the Chrome extention, the Windows operating system has its own Windows Remote Assistance feature that’s been around for at least a decade and also lets you tinker with someone else’s computer over an Internet connection; questions about it are answered here.
Mac OS X has a few ways to share the screen (including with the Messages app) so you can see what’s going on and better direct your support. Apple has its own instructions for screen-sharing in OS X 10.8 here.
Third-party remote desktop apps like LogMeIn or TeamViewer, but these can be pricey if your needs go beyond the freebie editions. There’s also a whole category of remote desktop apps for mobile devices as well, so search your app store if you want to go that way.
Because it involves surrendering control of the computer, a remote assistance solution should only be used between trusted parties — and at least one of those parties needs to know what it’s doing. Remote assistance is obviously better for diagnosing software problems that it is for hardware issues, but if you just need to tweak a setting or find a “lost” file that accidentally got saved to the wrong folder, it can be a great tool for wielding your Jedi Master technical expertise when you’re not even physically in the room.
We’ve moved into the month of May, so fans of summer movies and Macs are buzzing. Six weeks ahead of Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, the 9to5Mac site claims it has exclusive information about the next release of OS X. The upcoming iOS 7 software is said to be sporting a new look as well — possibly moving to the “flat” design currently favored by Google and Microsoft, where plain backgrounds are accented with bold color buttons devoid of 3D effects like rendered shadows and gradations.
While LG Electronics is moving from flat to curvy with what it calls the world’s first curved OLED screen, the whole “flat” seems to be working for Microsoft, on the mobile front, anyway. According to the firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, the Windows Phone OS grew from 3.7 percent of the US market share at the end of March 2012 up to 5.6 percent the first quarter of 2013. (Maybe those sassy TV ads for Windows Phone are also helping.) But Microsoft is doing more with voice-work than just pumping out handsets — the company now has the make-Skype-calls-directly-from-your-Outlook.com-inbox feature up and running, in the United Kingdom anyway, with more countries on the way.
Google Now, the Big G’s voice-assisted life helper program for mobile devices, arrived this week for iOS as part of an update to the Google Search app. Battery-burn accusations aside, Business Insider and other sites report that Google Now actually seems to be more useful than Apple’s own Siri assistant, while also noting the irony that Google Now doesn’t actually work on a lot of phones running older versions of Google’s own Android system.
A new study from North Carolina State University has found that older programmers know more than their younger counterparts about recent software platforms and that the skills and knowledge of the veteran coders improves over time. The full paper is titled “Is Programming Knowledge Related to Age?” (Code wranglers and others who work odd hours might want to know that McDonald’s may be expanding availability of its delicious breakfast meals.)
In security news, the Syrian Electronic Army, which claimed it was behind last week’s hack attack on the Twitter feed of the Associated Press, is also targeting other organizations like the Guardian, National Public Radio and Al Jazeera. The Twitter account of Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA and notable controversial newsmaker himself, was also compromised.
Like the airline industry, the travel search-and-bookings business is getting a little smaller thanks to mergers and acquisitions. As announced last fall, Priceline.com bought the sprightly little Kayak service and last month, Expedia.com bought Trivago, a German hotel search site. As detailed in a story in the New York Times this week, some travel industry analysts don’t think the companies will tamper with the search-engine formula, but the British Office of Fair Trading is taking a closer look.
The Internet — and the Web in particular — have made travel, shopping, cat videos and plenty of other things in life much easier, and it’s time to wish it a happy birthday this week. On April 30, 1993, CERN made the announcement that the World Wide Web would be expanding from its scientific and research origins and become free to anyone out there in the public domain. The CERN site has a short history of the Web, along with a link to a 1993 copy of the first Web site.
And finally, while some people may not have predicted just how popular the World Wide Web would be 20 years later, others are actively campaigning for a pre-emptive international ban on…killer robots. Yes, there is an official movement known as the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and the group seeks to halt the production of weapons that can attack targets without human intervention. For those who want to know more, a 50-page report released last fall from Human Rights Watch outlines many of the ethical concerns over fully autonomous weapons and the danger to civilians. Here’s hoping the future turns out to be more like The Jetsons and less like The Terminator…