J.D. on what to expect when you install the latest version of Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux distro and Pedro on the Academy Awards ceremony. In the news, rumors heat up about casting for the new Star Wars movies; ISPs are watch your P2P downloading habits; the world’s smallest wireless charger; Mozilla’s new Firefox OS is nigh; and Samsung unveils the Galaxy 8.0 “phablet”.
Monthly Archives: February 2013
Episode 37 News: Exploring the Galaxies
If you’re a fan of using peer-to-peer networks over your home broadband connection to get your entertainment, be aware that your Internet Service Provider is probably watching you. The “Copyright Alert System” went into effect this week after four years of planning. After six strikes, your service could be terminated and the Copyright Act also allows the user to be sued for damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.
Remember the webOS? LG Electronics did not forget and has not acquired the system from Hewlett Packard. LG plans to use the system to power a new line of Smart TVs. LG was also making news at this week’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, showing off what it claims is the world’s smallest wireless charger.
Also in operating systems news… Mozilla’s Firefox OS platform has some takers also plan to develop hardware to run the open-standard HTML 5-heavy Firefox OS that makes the Web the platform — not the software on the phone. Twitter is another company with an eye on the Firefox OS. A blog post on the company’s site outlines plans for an HTML 5 version of its mobile app that will be ready when the hardware starts showing up. Twitter also updated its app for the Windows Phone platform this week.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 phone will be introduced on March 14th at a press conference here in New York, the rumors are circulating of production problems. Power-management issues and overheating have been mentioned on tech blogs, so maybe the phone needs its own internal diagnostic app, much like the a built-in app to monitor aspects of your personal heath. But while the new Galaxy phone is still under wraps, Samsung did announce its new Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet. (It’s also a very large smartphone.)
As part of a legal settlement, Apple has agreed to pay $5 in cash or iTunes credit to parents who sued the company because their kids could easily make hundreds of dollars worth of in-app purchases for supposedly free games. In other Apple news, security researchers have found another passcode bypass hole in the iOS 6.1 software.
Google may be developing its own subscription music service, according to reports from Bloomberg news and other sources. And Microsoft has officially released Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7, for those who were waiting around for it.
Meanwhile, up on Mars, the Curiosity Rover has eaten part of the first rock-powder sample from its February big drilling adventure. Once ingested, the rover’s internal labratories can begin to analyze the sample to see just what Mars is made of.
Curiosity has 10 science instruments on board. As part of the rover’s two-year prime mission, these tools will be used in tests to see whether that particular area of Mars ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life — so in goes the drilled powder sample. But what wine do you even pair with fine Martian rock dust? I’m gonna go with maybe a nice Cabernet Franc…
March of the Penguins
Sure, it’s not hitting those Microsoft installation figures, but the Linux operating system continues to gain popularity. If you’ve got old hardware gathering dust around the house because it’s too old to run the latest flavor of Windows, installing the free (or very inexpensive) Linux operating system on the old gear can give it new life.
As mentioned last week and before, Ubuntu Linux is even making the move to tablets and smartphones. But if you know nothing about the system and are curious, it’s quite easy to repurpose your older PC laptop and desktop hardware into an Ubuntu Linux machine. Ubuntu is free, can use thousands of equally free applications and generally has lighter system requirements for hardware. It’s also one of the easier Linux distributions for newcomers to wrangle.
The current desktop edition, Quantal Quetzal (aka Ubuntu Linux 12.10) came out in October 2012, but the long-term support version is Precise Pangolin, version 12.04. If you haven’t upgraded your Ubuntu installation in a while — or are new to the system — Quantal Quetzal has a number of new features, including the ability to pin Web applications to the Launcher bar, plus search and preview powers right from the Dash.
Ars Technica has a very detailed look at Quantal Quetzal, as does ZDNet, and neither review sugarcoats the annoyances of this current distribution. The Ars review also points out some installation problems on some of the test systems and some workarounds, so it’s definitely worth a read before you jump in.
Not sure if you want to make that move to Linux Land? Not a problem. You can give it a test drive and run it from a DVD or a USB stick. The Ubuntu site has instructions. You can also just go for it and download an .iso file to burn your own installation disc, or use the Windows installer to get the system on your PC.
The system requirements for Ubuntu Linux are pretty low compared to recent editions of Windows. But if you want to try to squeeze even more life out of really ancient hardware, you can try a “lite” version of Linux like Lubuntu or Xubuntu instead.
Although Quantal Quetzal just came out last October, this bird won’t be flying high as the current version for long. The next edition, 13.04, will be called Raring Ringtail and has an expected release this April.
Ubuntu is not the only Linux distribution out there. Some people don’t care for its Unity interface and its approach to privacy, which Canonical founder and Ubuntu leader Mark Shuttleworth addressed recently and has blogged about.
If you try it out and decide the Ubuntu variation of Linux is not for you — or those privacy issues are a deal-killer — check out one of the other distros like Linux Mint or Mageia. Windows and Mac OS X may dominate the current desktop operating system market share, but with Linux, you can be part of the 1% at last.
Episode 36: Talking Apps and Malware Traps
If you’re too busy to get news headlines, weather updates or the latest social media posts from your friends, not to worry! J.D. introduces to some apps that will read them all for you. Sony announced its long awaited PS4 gaming-console this week and one feature captures El Kaisers attention: Ultra HD support. Pedro fills us in on the new video format in his Tech Term of the Week. In the news, Nasa’s Mars Rover drills into Martian soil for the first time; meteors rain down on Russia; Ubuntu gets into the tablet and smartphone business; Facebook contemplates autoplay video ads; and Apple gets hit by a virus attack.
Episode 36 News: Space Rocks!
Interplanetary boulders and red-plant dust have been flying this month. The Mars Curiosity rover drilled into the target rock and collected its very first sample. SpaceRef.com has a detailed look at the drilling, the sample collection and what may come next. Last week also saw the fly-by asteroid that came very close to Earth and the meteor that did hit, breaking up and pelting Russia last Friday. Reports of that meteor were all over the Web shortly after it hit, thanks to YouTube, Twitter and the apparent Russian love of dashboard cameras. Local people in the area are now said to be selling pieces of the space rock on eBay.
The meteor new has generated new interest in space and material science in the news, and a blog over on the British news site, the Telegraph, has an interesting essay about how heavy metals like gold and platinum may have come from meteorites hitting the Earth. And don’t forget: NASA is also hosting a live Google+ hangout with the crew on the International Space Station on February 22.
In non-space news, Canonical has officially unveiled a version of its Ubuntu Linux system for tablets. A developer preview arrived this week and will run on the Nexus 7 and 10 tablets (at least). Along with tablets, Ubuntu has also getting into smartphones lately.
The rumors are growing louder that Facebook will start embedding autoplay advertisements in user newsfeeds this spring – possibly in April. Some news sources have pointed out that Facebook costs money to operate and most things as useful as it is charge users and advertising is the life-blood that keeps the consumer Internet free.
Facebook itself was the target of hackers recently and these same hackers also managed to infect the computers of some Apple employees. Security breaches were just busting out all over. Burger King’s Twitter feed was hacked this week and was posting such announcements like the sale of the chain to archrival McDonald’s. The Twitter feed for Jeep was also compromised this week.
The New York Times and other news organizations have stories about a new 60-page report on Chinese hackers by the computer security company Mandiant. The report traces more than a hundred attacks on government departments, companies and journalists to a building about 40 minutes outside downtown Shanghai. The building is reportedly the headquarters of People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398. The Times contacted officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington, who again insisted that their government does not engage in computer hacking.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 will get announced March 14, and Google’s alleged Nexus 5 smartphone may be launching this spring as well, if the rumors are true. Both the Galaxy S4 and the new Google phone are thought to have a 13-megapixel camera. (As for Google, some Web gossips are even postulating a Triple 5 theory.) And while Samsung and Google duke it out, Samsung continues its competition with Apple and may even be doing its own smartwatch. With news of Google possibly opening its own retail stores, can Samsung stores be that far behind? Also biting the Big G: Microsoft said its Outlook.com mail service has gained 60 million users in 6 months, some of them, Gmail users.
And finally, the theory has been around for a while, but according to research published by Hungarian physicist Albert-László Barabási in in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, no two Web pages are separated by more than 19 clicks. Estimates put the total number of Web pages out there at more than 14 billion. So according to the theory all of these pages, through some link, text, image or other element, is less than 19 clicks from every other Web page out there. We are the world, yo.
Talk That Talk
Smartphones make it easy to get the news headlines, weather forecasts and updates from your friends on social media where ever you are, but what if you don’t have time to read? Over the past couple of years, apps that read for you have been popping up all over. Like Apple’s Siri personal assistant, which can talk back and bring you info, some of these apps respond to voice commands. Some, however, are literally just read-only.
Many apps use the text-to-speech function built into the phone. Granted, some of these are better than others and the technology has come a long way since the Mac’s text-to-speech robot voice. But as the need for decent accessibility programs has increased to help people with vision impairments use the technology, the speech has gotten better.
So what’s out there? The Winston app for iOS is one example. Once you install it on your phone and tell it what you want to hear, Winston delivers an audio briefing any time you want.
The app recites a few of the more recent status updates from your Facebook and Twitter feeds and also reads an RSS-style summary of new headlines in your favorite categories. This sort of thing can be useful when you’re busy doing other stuff, like trying to get out of bed, making coffee or cooking breakfast.
Winston, shown here, uses a male voice with a British accent. (You can pretend it’s Alfred, but the folks behind its Twitter account told me they were big fans of Carson and Bates from Downton Abbey.) But it does have a nice, classy sound to it as it reads Facebook updates about the idiot things your friends did last night. It’s free and you can stream it over AirPlay-connected devices.
An Android version of Winston is said to be under development. Until then, if you have an Android phone, the iHear app for Android can read Facebook and Twitter updates.
Now, it you want more of a dedicated talking-alarm clock for your phone, you have plenty to choose from in your app store.
There’s a $3 iOS app called Wake Smarter that responds to voice commands for things like reading your Twitter feeds or Facebook updates. It also has programmable alarm clock and sleep timer functions, plus relaxing photos for wallpaper.
On the Android side, there’s Wakeful, the Talking Alarm Clock, which updates you on weather, stocks and the latest headlines. BedBuzz has similar powers but that app says it does not use the built-in text-to-speech function and sounds more natural. The $3 WakeVoice app is another option that responds to your voice and can read RSS feeds out loud. Senti Wayk is yet another similar Android app under development.
Cars have been getting into the voiceover action the past few years as well. The Chevy Cruze with the special OnStar service (remember that commercial?) is one attempt at bringing social media to the driving experience. The Ford Sync software is also adding Facebook integration, in case you just can’t bear to miss what’s going there. But since Facebook seems to influence moods, do you really want to have that distraction while driving?
Yeah, perhaps it’s best to stick with your favorite road-mix playlist there, and leave the read-aloud updates for those more stationary moments at home in the kitchen.
Episode 35 News: Who Watches the Watch Men?
Is Apple working on a wearable computer? The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and several blogs reported rumors this week that the company is developing a curved glass smart watch and possibly a smart TV. Skeptics, (including the former Fake Steve Jobs blogger, Dan Lyons) suggest the sudden flood of rumors might be an attempt to boost that sagging stock price. Will this latest round of smartwatch attempts (including the Pebble Kickstarter project) gain traction this time around?
Here in New York City this week, Inkling showed off its new Habitat software for making digital books, as well as a tool called the Inkling Content Delivery Platform for searching through books. Inkling’s new software and services makes e-book collaboration quick and relatively easy and could challenge Amazon and Apple in the e-textbook space.
Some children are quick studies as it is — a spokesman for the AVG antivirus company told the BBC that it’s found kids are writing their own malicious software to hack accounts on gaining sites and social networks to do things like steal virtual currency. But learning code and mastering technology is part of a well-rounded education these days and a study at the University of California-Irvine has shown that medical students in an innovative, iPad-based educational program scored an average of 23-percent higher on their national exams than students using traditional study materials.
On the mobile front, Apple released a new update designed to fix 3G issues and other problems on the iPhone 4S. Android 4.2.2. is also now available for phones and tablets that can run it. Google’s update fixes Bluetooth audio-streaming issues. The BlackBerry Z10 and new system software are getting good early buzz in Europe and Canada, but Home Depot has said that it’s dropping the platform.
Microsoft is keeping busy and is said to be working on interactive TV content for the Xbox Live platform. There also seems to be something of a demand for the new 128-gigabyte Microsoft Surface Pro, the thousand-dollar tablet that can actually run Windows programs. While Windows 8 has taken its knocks, primarily from non-touchscreen laptop users, the system still has one big fan — former chairman Bill Gates who called the system a “huge advance.” Gates made the remarks in an Ask Me Anything interview over on the Reddit site.
And finally, American Express is rolling out a new program that lets cardholders link up their plastic with their Twitter accounts and buy things with tweets. To use it, an American Express cardholder needs to register their cards to sync with their Twitter accounts on a page on the Amex Web site. A $25 Amex Gift Card can also be had for the low, low discount price of $15 by tweeting #BuyAmexGiftCard25 with a synced account. The deals and products for purchase-by-tweet are still limited, but as The Consumerist dubbed it, Twitter is turning Hashtags into Cashtags. This sort of thing could be a dangerous thing for impulse buyers who are constantly on Twitter, especially if the technology somehow finds its way into a wearable computer…like a smartwatch.
Episode 35: What Time is it in Cupertino?
In this Valentine’s Day edition of Pop Tech Jam Apple blows El Kaiser’s mind — but not in a good way — and if you enjoy reading books on a portable device J.D. helps you build a giant e-library. In the news, a new app that lets you publish your own e-books; grammar school hackers; and how tablet computers can enhance education.
Library In My Pocket
Reading books on portable devices is nothing new — people figured out how to load text copies of public-domain works onto now-antiquated devices like Palm Pilots and early monochrome iPods years ago. But smartphones have turned out to be excellent e-readers and benefit from the fact that people tend to take their phones with them wherever they go these days.
Depending on what you want to read, you may not even need any money because the books are free. All you need is an app and some time. But which apps, and which apps work on which phone platforms?
If you’re looking for a reader that comes connected to its own online bookstore full of premium books – best-sellers, new titles, stuff written after 1923 — Amazon’s Kindle app works on just about every mobile platform: Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, plus you can read the same books through your PC, Mac or Kindle hardware e-reader. And being Amazon, you have thousands of books to browse and buy there, as well as free titles to peruse.
Sony has a Reader app for Android, iOS, PC and Mac reading and Barnes & Noble has a mobile Nook app for Android and iOS to buy and download books from its online bookstore. While there’s no Nook App for the Windows phone platform, there’s one for Windows 8 and Windows RT. Nook also has freebies.
Google Play Books has an Android app and one for iOS, and books from the Google shelves can also be read on devices with Web browsers and certain e-readers, including the Windows Phone. Google Play Books has its share of free titles as well.
Apple’s iBooks app — with its connection to Apple’s iBookstore —works on iOS. The iBookstore has its own free books — just tap the Top Charts button or any of the categories to see a list of the popular freebies.
If you like a social network with your reading, Goodreads has apps for Android and iOS, and Kobo has apps for Android, iOS, Windows and Mac as well (and BlackBerry). You can find Kobo free books here and Goodreads free books here.
Want to borrow an e-book from a participating library? Check out the OverDrive Media Console app (available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry).
Third-party apps for reading ePub, text and PDF books from independent sources (like Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive and indie stores) abound. Most apps stores have a ton of these and popular programs include:
With the right software and space on your phone, you can fit a whole shelf full of books in less physical space that a cheesy airport paperback takes up in your bag. And when you read on your smartphone, no one can really tell what you’re reading, so you can read the e-version of that cheesy airport paperback in peace.
Episode 34 News: Now Is the Winter of Our Facebook Discontent
The Super Bowl is over and according to the Marketing Land site, Twitter was the winner of the Social Media Bowl, getting mentioned in 50% of the commercials shown during the game. #HashtagsRule! But about 250,000 Twitter accounts were hacked last week, perhaps prompting Twitter to step up its security measures, as someone at the Guardian noticed a Twitter job posting for a security gig.
Facebook, which turned nine this week, will soon be letting its users know when ads from its FBX ad exchange are targeting them. In addition to serving up ads that track you, Facebook is also said to be working on mobile software that tracks the location of its users, even if they don’t have the Facebook app open at the time. As Bloomberg News points out, such a tracking app “could help Facebook sell ads based on users’ whereabouts and daily habits. It may also raise the hackles of consumers and privacy advocates concerned about the company’s handling of personal information.”
In a perhaps related development, a new Pew Research Internet study out this week found some people are suffering from Facebook Fatigue. The Pew study found that one in four people surveyed plan to cut back on their Facebook usage in 2013.
On the hardware scene, Dell Computer is going from a public to a private company and transitioning from maker of inexpensive PCs to an enterprise-solutions company. Cheap computers are one thing, but it may be hard to beat the Raspberry Pi, which just released its $25 model; the Pi was also recently featured in The New York Times. And IBM plans to bring some of the same technology used by Watson, the super-smart Jeopardy-playing supercomputer, to its new Power Express servers for the small business market.
Researchers at the University of Leicester revealed that the remains of the English king Richard III have been buried under a parking lot for the past 500-odd years. DNA testing and other scientific tools helped confirm the identity of the skeleton, which did have a spinal deformity as historians and even Shakespeare have noted. No contemporary paintings of the not-very-popular-at-the-time king when he was alive have ever been found, but scientists used computer simulations to reconstruct a life-like model of what Richard actually looked like. (Those members of the British monarchy sure get around, don’t they?)
Meanwhile, up on Mars, the Curiosity rover is still running tests in preparation for the big drilling adventure.
And finally, we’re headed into awards season good and proper now. The Grammys are this weekend, the Oscars are at the end of the month and the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers has announced its nominations for its 12th Annual Awards. Let’s see what fancy commercials all these awards can attract.