Episode 05 News: Tech News Value Meal, Super-Size the Fries

Hey, why go to other social networks when you can just build your own? Perhaps that’s Microsoft’s motive for dropping $1.2 billion dollars in cash for Yammer, a four-year-company specializing in making corporate social networks. At least if you have your own social network, you don’t have to worry about Facebook constantly changing stuff up on you, like it did recently when it switched everyone to a facebook.com e-mail address and made it visible on profile and timeline pages. (At least you can change your settings back as sites like Gizmodo and Lifehacker nicely explain…but still.)

On a happier note, Facebook named its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, as its first female director, elevating her to a board that includes seven men. (Hey, does this general female-male ratio vaguely make you think of a certain recent movie, too?)

Sony’s got a new smartphone to add to the mix – its Xperia Ion is a 4G LTE Android phone with a 12-megapixel camera and 4.6-inch 1080p HD screen; according to at least one review, call quality seems to pretty far down on the feature list, though. It’s available through AT&T and will cost $99.99. (Hey, doesn’t Sony have a big ol’ summer movie of its own coming out next week?)

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has a new report out on e-books and public libraries that’s interesting, but what’s even more interesting — and possibly a bit enraging if you’re a traveling Mac user — is that the Orbitz site told the Wall Street Journal that it showed Mac users different and often more expensive hotels compared to people who surfed the site on a Windows PC. They said it was an experiment and they never showed the two groups the same room for different prices, but I plan to experiment by never using Orbitz again for my future travel plans.

Apple seems to be taking a sharper focus on Mac OS X security, including backing off that “Macs don’t get PC viruses” claim and reportedly increasing the frequency of security-update checks for the looming Mac OS X 10.8 Cougar — I mean, Mountain Lion — system. Meanwhile, Google plans a standalone version of its Google Maps app for iOS and recently updated its Gmail app to work with the iOS Notification center. The company also found time this week to announce its new Nexus 7 Android tablet (among other things) during its I/O conference.

And finally, in the Not So Much News Department, a study from McAfee security reports in a new study that 70 percent of teens hide online behavior from their parents. The Internet may be relatively new, but really, kids have been sneaking around for centuries

P.S. Like fries? Check this out.

Revisiting Amazing Grace

When following up on a recent online flap about women’s contributions to technology, I came across an image of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper atop a Boing Boing blog post. It all made me remember I had a biography of Grace Hopper in my reading queue (otherwise known as that pile of books by the couch) that I’d been meaning to get to. As Internet flaps go, this one turned out to be quite inspiring.

The book is Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer. It came out in paperback earlier this year from MIT Press and can be found online and in bookstores for less than $17. The book explores Grace Hopper’s life and how she fit into the pioneering days of computing in the United States. Her work is said to have laid the foundation for the programming profession.

The book lightly touches on her early days as a mathematics student — and later professor at Vassar College after she completed her doctorate at Yale University — but kicks in when World War II is in full swing and Hopper joins the Navy to do her part. Hopper was one of many female mathematicians who joined the war effort; the film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II covers the women programmers working for the Army and it’s available on Netflix. (And let’s not forget the actress Hedy Lamarr’s work in spread spectrum technology — the subject of the 2011 book, Hedy’s Folly, that also generated a nice NPR story.)

Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age covers her early days coding and calculating high-level math problems for the military on a 9,000-pound computer. After the war ended, she went to do even more for the infant industry, including writing compilers, working on the UNIVAC computer and developing the COBOL programming language.

While the book notes her accomplishments and sticks mostly with primary sources and documentation, it’s more history than biography. It drills down into how these early calculating machines functioned, whether or not Grace Hopper was involved directly or not — but does discuss that little story about a certain moth.

For those interested in the evolution of modern computing, Beyer’s book is an educational read. While it may skimp on an abundance of personal details concerning its human subject, it distills the Hopperian philosophy to “maintain a youthful creative outlet by constantly broadening one’s knowledge base,” as this sort of thing lets you approach problems from different angles. It’s a good lesson to learn. (Her famous quote “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission,” is also a good one to remember for certain situations when you just really need to get something done.)

If you’re looking for a more personal biography, try Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea by Kathleen Broome Williams and published by the Naval Institute Press. It’s less overall techie history, and more focused on the actual life of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. A short biographical bit on 60 Minutes in 1983 shows her in action as well.

Grace Hopper passed on in 1992, but she and her work live on in many forms (yes, nerds, including t-shirts). This year, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference is being held October 3-6 in Baltimore. And if you have 10 minutes, be sure to check out her appearance on David Letterman’s show back in the 1980s. It’s a hoot.

Episode 04 News: Flatter, Faster and a Bit Litigious

After at least one false start, Microsoft is getting back to tablet business with its own spiffy new tablet computer called the Surface. Although the name may bring to mind other products, the hardware is memorable: a 10.6-inch HD screen, dual cameras, a kickstand to prop up the tablet screen and a thin smart-cover that includes a functioning keyboard for those times when you need to type on a real set of keys. No word yet on final pricing and availability, though. (Sure, IBM’s Sequoia supercomputer may be a bit larger that the Surface, but hey, it’s overtaken a Fujitsu K computer as the world’s fastest for crunching big numbers.)

Facebook just acquired the Israeli company Face.com, which makes facial recognition software and while it had the checkbook out, settled that lawsuit over sponsored stories for 10 million dollars. Google is also having some legal action of its own, reportedly threatening to lower the boom on the YouTube-MP3.org site for misuse of the YouTube API to rip songs from videos.

Most prize-winning authors are already available in e-book form, but about 40 books written by one Sir Winston Churchill are finally getting digitized and ready to go on sale in e-bookstores next month. For those of you waiting for a lighter version of A History of the English Speaking Peoples and his other works, fire up your e-readers.

Weekend’s almost here. After a scorching couple of days here in New York City, air-conditioning and frosty drinks are in order. Hmm, perhaps a Pixar movie.



(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Search Me

Unless you’ve got a photographic memory and meticulous organizational habits, you’ve probably had to dig around on your computer at some point for an elusive file that you can’t immediately locate. Although the beloved Sherlock utility has been retired, Mac OS X users have the Finder’s Command-F keyboard shortcut to dig around for matching files with keywords, but there’s also the handy Spotlight feature waiting right up in the top right corner of the screen under the magnifying-glass icon. (Spotlight search also lives within Apple’s iOS software as well.)

On the PC side of the street, Windows users can use the trusty Search box on the Start menu or in library windows to uncover files and folders. The sleuthing fun doesn’t stop there: check out Microsoft’s advanced search tips, including the natural language search setting for finding files in regular English. (Hopefully, this natural language thing will catch on.)

Now, if only there were similar tools for finding missing socks and car keys.

Tech Term of the Week: Tumblelog

And now it’s time for the Pop Tech Jam Tech Term of the week where I do my level best to explain the geekspeak, nerdwords and communications jargon you may encounter on the Internet.

I’m sure most of you listening to this have at least a passing familiarity with the social network Tumblr. I recently had some issues with my Tumblr account and was forced to contact their tech support. In every interaction I had with the support team they kept referring to my “Tumblelog”. Not my “page” or my “blog” but my “Tumblelog”.

At first I thought it was just their way of branding their product with a snazzy marketing term but buried in the deep recesses of my memory I recalled having coming across the word tumblelog at least a year before Tumblr went live. When I actually remember something that happened more than a week ago I stand up and take notice. This was obviously developing into a real chicken and egg situation and because stuff like this keeps me up at night I had to look into it immediately. TO THE BROWSER!!!!

The most concise definition I could find for a tumblelog describes it as a stream of consciousness. A series of images, links, videos, quotes, and short blurbs that don’t necessarily share a common thread, but can collectively be pieced together to form a personality. If a conversations exists, it doesn’t exist on the tumblelog itself, but throughout the entire internet.

Wait, that sounds just like a microblog! TO WIKIPEDIA!

According to Wikipedia, the word tumblelog was first used way back in 2005 and Tumblr was born in August of 2007. They also claim the the term microblog has replaced tumblelog in web vernacular. EUREKA! The egg obviously came first in this caper. Tumblr was keeping the term alive and branding it as their own. Smart!

Other microblogging sites include Twitter, Plurk, and Jaiku. I tweet like a maniac, as most of you know, but I’ve never…um…plurked. Or Jaikued. Luckily I do have  personal tumblelog…um…microblog at mynameisnotpablo.com. What? The cheap shameless l=plug was a little too much? Okay, I’m sorry about that…

Tumblelog, your Pop Tech Jam tech term of the week.

(That’s www.mynameisnotpablo.com…)

Be sure to check out Episode 03 of Pop Tech Jam!  

Episode 03 News: Apple Announces, But Android Activates

For the two or three folks out there who may have been on vacation in an Internet-free zone this week, Apple made a bunch of announcements at its World Wide Developers Conference. These included a preview of its coming iOS 6 software for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, hardware updates to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops and a new MacBook Pro with the super-sharp Retina display screen. And the next version of Mac OS X — Mountain Lion — drops next month for less than $20.

But while Apple may be hogging the limelight with new product announcements, Android is quietly humming along. According to a tweet by Android guru Andy Rubin, Google is now activating more than 900,000 new Android devices a day. The current number shows an increase from even this past February, with 850,000 activations per day. The general number of activated Android gadgets is currently thought to be around 390 million.

If you have multiple gadgets that need Internet access and you have Verizon Wireless, the company’s new Share Everything data plans may be for you, as it offers unlimited voice minutes, text, video and picture messaging for 10 Verizon Wireless mobile devices.

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with family members around the world, but be careful who can see your profile. The F.B.I. has a warning up on its site for a little hustle known as “The Grandparent Scam,” in which evildoers often use information gleaned from social media sites to convince grandparents that their grandchildren are in danger in foreign countries and need money wired immediately. Yeah, these old cons never really go away, do they?

A few last new nuggets here: An article on the MIT Technology Review site suggests that malicious software has become too sophisticated for old school antivirus programs. The Amazon Cloud Player app is finally available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Incoming Seton Hall freshmen are all getting brand new Nokia Lumia 900 smartphones, thanks to the university’s Mobile Computing Initiative. Blizzard Entertainment dropped the banhammer on several thousand user accounts of Diablo III players suspected of “found to be cheating or using hacks, bots, or modifications in any form…” And speaking of hacks, there was this Dutch artist and his deceased cat…I know the pet has passed on, but this sorta thing just makes me wanna go save living animals in need.

Hey, look at the calendar! This week was Patch Tuesday and it sounds like Microsoft had a few big Band-Aids to dispense. Let’s be careful out there, people.

The Stream Team

Countless stories have been written about cutting the cord, ditching the cable company and watching all your video through online streaming. But if you’re not quite ready to make the snip, you can at least watch your shows in more places than ever before.

Take for example, the Euro Cup 2012…’cause I need my international football, y’all.

I have a cable TV subscription, but I was out of town in a place with Internet – but no cable TV. But, thanks to the Watch ESPN app, I could watch matches live on the iPad. The app is also available for Android devices and the ESPN3 online channel often streams live sports video on the ESPN Web site if you’re on a regular laptop or desktop computer.

All I needed was a free user name and password from my cable company. In most cases, you can sign up for free to get credentials on your provider’s Web site, but you may need to dig up a recent cable bill with your account number on it to sign up.

Of you do keep the cable account and have premium channels on it, you have other entertainment options as well:

The one that’s been in the news lately: HBO Go.  It works on Android phones, Xbox, Samsung Smart TVs, iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Roku box and the Amazon Kindle Fire. The service is free with an HBO subscription – you can watch past episodes of Game of Thrones, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and other HBO fare.

If you get the Showtime channel, there’s also Showtime Anytime. You get unlimited access to Showtime original series like Homeland and Dexter, movies and other specials for iPad, iPhone and the computer. You also need a Showtime subscription and a participating provider, like AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS. (And hey, for the Dexter fan in your life, the gift opportunities await.)

That same cable company name and password can also be used for the DVR apps many providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable now have for scheduling recordings or watching live TV. You can also program the DVR through a mobile Web site. (TiVo has its own apps and mobile site, too.)

If you still want to ditch cable, you won’t be without stuff to watch, and this is not even counting YouTube. For example, for $8 a month, you can subscribe to either Netflix or Hulu Plus, which both have apps available for Android, Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, Windows Phone, Wii, PS3, Xbox, Roku and the computer.

If you’re a fan of public television, there’s the PBS app for iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch – it’s free and you can catch up old recent episodes of Masterpiece, NOVA, Austin City Limits and more.

Many broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) have their own apps, especially for their nightly news shows. NBC Nightly News is available for Android and iOS if you need your Brian Williams fix.

And let’s not forget the Olympics. NBC, which is broadcasting the London 2012 games next month, will have some apps. These apps themselves aren’t quite ready just yet, but you can get a preview of what to expect here.

Got some time and need some brain food? Try the TED Talks app for iOS and Android. TED Talks are 18-minute “great idea” lectures from scientists, writers, entertainers, business folks and more. There are hundreds of them online on a wide variety of topics. (I must admit, Joshua Klein’s speech on the intelligence of crows and Steven Johnson’s thoughts on where good ideas come from are two of my all-time favorite TED Talks.)

And one of these days, maybe we’ll even get the BBC iPlayer here in the US — legally. Sigh.