Episode 29 News: Terms of Servitude

Diplomacy (or lack thereof) has been getting a real workout this month. After recent negotiations in Dubai, the US refused to sign the International Telecommunication Union global treaty over Internet-freedom issues. Apple, quickly releasing an update to November 29th’s iTunes 11 software, fixed a bunch of bugs and also restored the much beloved Display Duplicates menu item to iTunes 11.0.1.

Google continues to offer its own alternatives to built-in iOS apps, including the new YouTube Capture app for video recording and sharing. It also set forth the triumphant return of the Google Maps app for iOS — which was downloaded 10 million times in the first 48 hours as users fled the native Apple Maps app for more familiar territory.

instarageHulu Plus is up to three million subscribers, but Instagram may be down a few after a Terms of Service kerfuffle that stated the service could basically do what it wanted with its members’ photos, including shilling them out for use in ads. After the Internet became very angry about this and the How to Leave Instagram and Instagram Alternatives blog posts began popping up in droves, Instagram piped up again and said it had been misinterpreted.

Facebook, which owns Instagram now and was already having a banner week in annoying its user base, was also rumored to be readying 15-second autoplay video advertisements on its members’ news feeds next year. Perhaps the other whispers about Facebook doing a new “self-destructing” message app for people who are sending text and photos that maybe they don’t want hanging around after the initial thrill will be better received.

Celebrities sending naughty photos of themselves to their romantic partners may want to consider a self-destructing message app themselves, although the Florida man accused of hacking Scarlett Johansson’s phone to get her naked pictures just got sentenced to 10 years in Federal prison.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, wants to create an ultra-fast wireless network that can support speeds of 100 gigabits per second, just like fiber-optic networks can do on land. The agency is also taking submissions from folks who have their own ideas how to make such a boss network, so sign up now.

And finally, IBM is out with its annual list of The 5 in 5 — five technology predictions for the next five years. This time around, the company concentrates on cognitive computing and the five senses of touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. Hopefully, the same machines won’t get all five senses at once and begin to learn the way humans do, because the next thing you know, they have a plan and they may not be so diplomatic about it.

Episode 29: Business as Usual

In this final episode of the year J.D. gives us a germ-free helpful hint and Pedro answers the age-old question: Android or iOS? In the news, Instagram’s new privacy policy riles up users; Facebook getting set to launch video advertising in your timeline; Hulu climbs past 3 million subscribers; and IBM lists its annual “5 for 5” predictions.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Germ Warfare

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes travel and the general cold and flu season. Keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer close by and washing your hands frequently can help cut down on the spread of germs, but so can wiping down your gear, says WebMD.

Several companies make cleaning products designed to get the germs off mobile phones, where moist hands can spread those microbes around. This is where the whole concept of the wipe — the pre-moistened disposable cleaning cloth — fulfills its potential. Someone out there somewhere has a wipe product for just about anything, including babies, automobile interiors and even ferrets.

Celluwipes is one such moist-towlette product for your smartphone. A pack of 10 costs $3 from the company’s Web site. ZAGG sells its similar ZAGGwipes in packs of 15 antibacterial gadget-cleaning cloths for about $5.

Wireless Wipes, which are a pack o’ 12 for about $3, are made to clean cell phones, PDAs, and laptops. If you want minty-fresh hardware, these are probably the wipes for you, as rosemary peppermint is one available scent; you can also opt for pomegranate citrus or green tea cucumber.


If you work in an office where the landline is shared and more than a little grody, Fellowes sells a pop-up dispenser of 100 Phone Cleaning Wipes for about $11 at Staples and other office supply stores. You can also find cleaning kits for computer mice and keyboards that in addition to maybe killing a few germs, make the equipment all sparkly and much nicer to use. (Cleaning putty can also get in those hard to reach parts of a keyboard and other devices, plus it’s totally cool to play with.)

And when you get done cleaning, sit back and visit the Moist Towelette Online Museum to see the history of such an important product.

5 Low-Tech Geek Gift Ideas

Need a holiday gift for the technology enthusiast in your life, but you’re not sure what platform to buy for? Want to skip the whole iTunes/Amazon/Red Lobster prepaid card thing? Overwhelmed by the sheer number of phone and tablet cases out there?

Here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

1. Tablets are great for reading ebooks or watching videos in bed, but who wants to hold the darn thing up the whole time, especially when trying to relax? The $33 Peeramid Pillow is great for propping up your tablet — or even a hefty treeware tome — when one is inclined to recline.

2. Crazy weather and power outages can happen anywhere and you know how we get when our phone batteries slip into the red zone. If your gift sense leans toward the practical, consider a deluxe combination USB charger/radio/LED flashlight powered by solar panels or hand cracking; the $60 Eton FRX3 fits the bill — and you can also connect an MP3 player to pump out some tunes in the dark. The company makes several other charger models branded by the American Red Cross as well.

3. If you’ve got a radio lover in the family, consider a portable Wi-Fi model like the Mutant Innovation M-Wavio, which you can pick up online for around $80 from sites like NewEgg and Amazon. Once connected to a wireless network, this little baby can pull in streams from about 12,000 radio stations around the world, including those from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio France and other international broadcasters. You can also tap into college radio stations from around the country, specialty streams and some Internet-only stations. And if the power goes out, flip the radio over to the regular FM band to get live news and make sure the zombies haven’t gone all apocalypse now.

4. For those young learners and engineers-to-be, check out the many educational kits from Radio Shack, like the $15 Tin Can Robot, the $13 Velleman Traffic Light Kit and the $70 Electronics Learning Lab. Science is the most fun when you can do it yourself and see it in action.

5. If the programmer on your list eschews the traditional can of Red Bull for a more stately approach to caffeine consumption, there’s the $20 Star Wars Death Star Tea Infuser, designed to brew up that cuppa with Imperial flair. And if you’re not shy about mixing movie franchises, you can back-order a $15 tin of officially licensed Star Trek Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. — which should be back in stock from ThinkGeek around January 4th. (Hmmm, January 4th. Why does that date seem so familiar? Oh…yeah.)



Episode 28: Revirtualized!

This week J.D. is the one on vacation but through the magic of prerecording we present a brand-spanking new edition of everyone’s favorite pop-culture and technology audio magazine. Haven’t finished shopping for this non-denominational winter holiday gift-giving season? Not to worry! In this episode J.D. introduces us to some low-tech products the high-tech geek in your life will love. Also on the show El Kaiser, concerned that he may be carrying too many gadgets with him when he travels, considers a radical change.

Episode 27: That New Tablet Smell…

El Kaiser unboxes a new addition to his tablet arsenal, Google (and Samsung’s) Nexus 10, and J.D. gives us her first impressions of Apple’s redesign of their iTunes media player and media library application. In the news, tech companies concerned over International Telecommunications Union’s reworking of a telecom treaty that may negatively impact Internet freedom, thousands of Tumblr accounts are hacked, and the text message is finally out of its awkward teen years.

Episode 27 News: OMG!

As the International Telecommunications Union works to update to update a telecom treaty, representatives from companies like Google and Mozilla are among those voicing objections to the closed-door treaty process—and what more government control might do to Internet freedom around the world. The ITU, however, says it affirms the right to freedom of information online.

Google also found time to launch a new version of its Maps API and update the Gmail app for Android to version 4.2.1. The standalone Gmaill app for iPhone and iPad also got a redesign. Meanwhile, Apple finally delivered iTunes 11.

Also this week, Yahoo acquired a startup company called OnTheAir and Tumblr acquired a nasty worm. Oh, and Nexflix acquired a new deal with Disney.

If you like gaming on the big screen, Valve’s Big Picture mode is out of beta. If you like video on the small screen and used Verizon’s V Cast service…be prepared to say goodbye, as Verizon plans to shut it down. V Cast joins The Daily, News Corp’s designed-for-the-iPad electronic newspaper, in the digital dustbin on December 15th.

In NASA news, the Mars Curiosity rover is down in the dirt, while Voyager 1 is headed out on the magnetic highway— hopefully with the windows rolled down and Steppenwolf  shredding the stereo.

Happy 20th birthday to text messages! The handy short communication form hit the big 2-0 on Monday and will be old enough to buy its own beer next year. And who knew the popular SMS shorthand “OMG” was at least 95 years old and once showed up in an epistolary exchange with Sir Winston Churchill?

iTunes 11: Everything New Can Look Old Again

After a month’s delay, Apple finally released iTunes 11 last week. Macworld and Ars Technica are among those sites who have weighed in with reviews and Macworld has even rounded up some cool tips and tricks for using iTunes 11, as has iLounge.

If you’re an iTunes user, you’ve probably been playing around with the program since Apple released it into the wild on November 29th. While the new interface is a fresh look, some people may find it another piece of confusing disorientation in a season that has already brought the less-than-universally-beloved Windows 8 and Apple Maps.

iTunes 11 has moved some stuff around, ditched some features (buh-bye, iTunes DJ) as most major program updates tend to do, so you may need to take some time to explore.  But if you absolutely HATE HATE HATE the new visual look, you can mostly retrofit iTunes 11 to look a lot like old-school iTunes, back when it had the vertical pane of info on the left side and even a bit of color on those little icons.

Let’s visit the View menu, shall we?

  • To restore that vertical side panel that listed all the stuff in your library, choose View > Show Sidebar.
  • To add back the line at the bottom that tells you how much stuff you have in your iTunes library, choose View > Show Status Bar.
  • If you really liked that multi-pane column browser in Song list view that showed the Album, Artist, Genre, Grouping and Composer lists, click the Songs button and choose View > Column Browser > Show Column Browser and pick what you want to see in your iTunes window.

Later, if you decide you want to try out the new iTunes 11 look after you’ve had some time to think about it, you can always revisit the View menu and reverse course.

No matter what you make your iTunes 11 window look like, though, the Up Next feature is still pretty handy if you want to queue up a lot of tracks fast (and seems to be a replacement for the aforementioned iTunes DJ). Soon enough, many people will get used to iTunes 11 in its default form and just get on with the music —and expect a few who will complain how great it was when iTunes 12 arrives.