This week J.D. and El Kaiser entertain pastry-slinging guests in the studio and in between bites of cannoli, Pedro explains the tech term “Internet of Things” while J.D. provides details on alternatives for Google Reader which is set to shut down July 1st. In the news, Sony debuts a new smartwatch; the Ouya open-source Android-based game console makes the scene; Microsoft reverses course on its Xbox One policies; and Apple looks into Wi-Fi issues with its new MacBook Air laptops.
It’s the week before the U.S. Independence Day holiday and companies are popping out all kinds of news as the general public will likely be distracted by fireworks and grilled meat for part of next week. For example, Sony had a slew of announcements this week, including its SmartWatch 2 and the Xperia Z Ultra Android-based phablet with a 6.4-inch 1080 HD-screen. The company also put out a software update for the iOS Music Unlimited app.
The Ouya open-source Android-based game console has finally landed, although early reviews have not been kind. (Speaking of game consoles, we all saw that news last week that Microsoft reversed course on its Xbox One policies and used games and offline player mode are now accepted, right?)
Also in Microsoft gaming news, the company is developing its Age of Empires game for iOS and Android. Need an Android device to play it on? Pre-orders started this week and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 tablets in the 10.1, 8.0 and 7.0 models will arrive here in the States on July 7.
Microsoft showed off its upcoming Windows 8.1 system this week at its annual Build Conference, this year in San Francisco. This free update to Windows 8 is due out this fall and includes several new features.
The Leap Motion controller folks have a released a limited beta version of the Leap Airspace app for Mac and PC users so they can control their computers with gestures. The controller is getting some good early reviews and has its own app store revving up as well ahead of its July 22 launch.
Meanwhile, Real Cameras continue to fight back against the Smartphone Invasion as best they can. Fujifilm’s new X-M1 camera has built-in Wi-Fi, although you have to bounce your photos through your Android smartphone or iPhone before you can post them online.
In the Department of Oh, What Else Is New?, the social network recently had a security issue. A white-hat programmer found a bug in Facebook’s data archive that inadvertently revealed the phone numbers and email address of about six million users. Facebook posted its explanation of the situation on its blog and company claims that the issue has been fixed. Concerned Facebook users have issued demands for an apology (which, with a buck plus tax, would get you a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s in Times Square — but probably won’t prevent further Epic Facebook Security Fails).
And finally, Apple is also said to be investigating Wi-Fi issues with its newly released MacBook Air laptops and has also rolled out a second version of its iOS 7 beta so that iPod Touch and iPad users in Apple’s dev program can see the flat world for themselves. And for those not in the Apple Developer program, well, there are always the video demos on the Applefan sites to keep you in the infinite loop of upgrade-watching.
Google Reader will go away on July 1, and with it, the ability of its users to quickly keep up with the world through their meticulously curated updates from various news services, blogs and websites. Many people have been expressing outrage since the announcement and many have scrambled to find a substitute before the virtual axe falls. There’s even the Replace Reader survey page that asks what people via Twitter are using as alternatives to Google Reader.
The Next Web and other sites have gathered up some contenders, but three current programs have emerged on the leaderboard, along with two new entries hoping to snap off a piece of the Google Reader audience. Here’s a quick look at those five options:
- Feedly, which has stepped up its game since Google announced Reader was headed for the dustbin, can run in most popular Web browsers and also has app versions for Android and iOS. You can just log in with your Google account and all your old G-Reader feeds get imported automatically. Feedly has been getting hammered this week as the End is Nigh, so you may see their version of the Twitter Fail Whale — the Over Capacity Sad Cloud — but keep trying. Feedly also has a fairly detailed Help Guide for those who need it.
- NewsBlur bills itself as a personal news reader and comes in both a free version that lets you track 64 sites or a premium version or $24 a year that gives you unlimited sites to add to your feed. You get real-time RSS (important in these days of breaking news), the power share and hide stories from your feed and the ability to view the stories on their original sites. The site has Web, Android and iOS versions.
- Flipboard, the mobile app that lets you create your own dynamic digital magazines on your iPad or Android tablet from things you find around the Web is another Google Reader importer. You just need to create a free Flipboard account or log in with your Facebook credentials. Once you log into Flipboard, log in with your Google account to pull in your Reader feeds.
Two big names have recently entered the fray as AOL and Digg have each been working on their own Google-esque RSS reader to fill the void.
- AOL Reader, which lets you sign in with an AOL, Google, Facebook or Twitter account, promises to be a highly customizable RSS system where you can import subscriptions from other readers, star and tag articles and tweak the page layout to your liking. AOL is also making the API available for anyone who wants to create AOL Reader mobile and desktop apps. AOL itself plans Android and iOS app versions and the ability to share with other AOL Reader users within the system.
- Digg Reader, which was a whirlwind three-month race to release before Google Reader rode off into the sunset, had a short beta period to generally positive reviews. It imports existing G-Reader feeds and uses a layout that’s noticeably similar. The first version was made for the Web, an iPhone app is expected and a premium edition that costs money is also said to be in the works. It’ll probably be a work-in-progress for a while.
Don’t like any of the current options? Just wait — Facebook is working on a reader of its own, too, although it sounds a bit different from other straight-up RSS reader apps. Seriously, though, if you have a Reader feed that you don’t want to lose, visit the Google Takeout page now — or at least before July 1 — to export your info as an XML file. That way, you have it on hand to import whenever you find a new RSS reader that you like. And here’s hoping whatever new RSS Reader you find sticks around for awhile so you don’t have to lose your news all over again.
J.D. has a Helpfully Helpful Hint about how to avoid comment trolls and Pedro gives us his thoughts on the two big superhero films of the summer, “Man of Steel” and “Iron Man 3”. In the news, Facebook adds hashtags; Samsung plans to give away Jay-Z’s new album to Galaxy smartphone owners; Microsoft drops the price of the Surface RT tablet; and Yahoo continues its spending spree.
Facebook, which announced that it was adding hashtags to its service last week, is having a big announcement this week and word on the digital street has it that the company plans to unveil video as an added feature to Instagram. In other video news, Amazon announced this week that those recently purchased Nick Jr. shows like Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues are among the new material that has been added to its Kindle FreeTime Unlimited service. (The company also has the more limited Kindle FreeTime app, which is free.)
Samsung’s buying up a million copies of Jay-Z’s upcoming album Magna Carta Holy Grail to give out to Galaxy smartphone owners 72 hours before the album officially drops on July 4. The company also has a faster version of its Galaxy S4 phone on the way next month, one that promises double the speed of the current 4G LTE network. While the U.S. mobile networks may not be quite up to super-quick LTE, New Yorkers can at least juice up their batteries as AT&T has added 25 solar-powered recharging stations around the five boroughs.
Microsoft has a special deal for educational institutions buying hardware: a 32-gigabyte Surface RT tablet for $199. Its Outlook.com team up in Redmond also announced this week that it was ditching linked accounts in the name of security and switching over to aliases and the company released its Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers With iPhones app this week. The biggest Microsoft news o’ the week, however, is that nicely executed 180 on its Xbox One policies (you know, those “required Internet connection” and “restrictions on used games” policies) thanks to customer “feedback.” Your move, Sony.
As for Apple, the company’s e-book pricing trail continues in New York City with summations expected Thursday of this week, but an immediate ruling is not expected. Apple issued a statement on customer privacy in regards to the ongoing revelations about the National Security Agency and noted that its FaceTime and iMessage conversations were encrypted and said it couldn’t even crack those. The company found the time to work up a beta update for Apple TV testers that adds in iTunes Radio and a conference-room display feature.
Yahoo also joined the growing list of tech companies that have issued privacy statements to their customers. The post, from CEO Marissa Mayer and General Counsel Ron Bell, said Yahoo had between 12,000 and 13,000 requests from law enforcement agencies in from December 2012 to May 2013. And the shopping continues — according to the All Things D Web site, which reports that the company made an offer of $30 to 40 million dollars for Xobni and possibly $50 million for the Qwiki video app.
In other tech news this week, Adobe Systems has officially released its Creative Cloud suite to the public and the reviews are starting to come. Wal-Mart and Staples plan to start selling Google’s Chromebook laptop. BlackBerry has issued a security warning about a critical bug in the BlackBerry Protect app for its Z10 smartphone. Ford is responding to consumer complaints that its MyFord Touch electronic touchscreen dashboard systems are too confusing by putting back the knobs, and the Oxford English Dictionary has added some new terms in its latest update.
And finally, Man of Steel broke the box office record for the biggest opening numbers in June with $113.1 million dollars last weekend. This haul puts Supes second in line behind Iron Man 3’s $174.1 million dollar opening weekend last month.
The comic-book movies of summer are doing quite well and we’re not even to the mid-way point of the season yet. Next month, The Wolverine, RIPD, and RED 2 all arrive, as does the enormous San Diego Comic-Con International, with all of its industry news and film previews. So there are plenty of things to look forward to besides the new books hitting the shelves of your local comics shop each Wednesday.
The Internet is a vast expanse of many things, including free speech in certain parts of the world. But the line between free speech, hate speech and those one-strand-away-from-being-a-houseplant trolls can get muddled, or even trampled, at times. Unmoderated comment areas have been known to pull in people who have nothing better to do than pick fights and be offensive, mixed in with those who actually have thoughtful additions to the discussion at hand. Mashable has even pondered why Internet trolls in general exist.
The comments section of YouTube however, has gotten a reputation for being a particularly wretched hive of scum and villainy in the Troll Department — it’s even generated its own set of memes. Case in point, General Mills having to turn off YouTube comments on a Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial child because of the virulent racist screeds scorching the page. (Remember, if it’s a video, you posted, you can review or disable comments yourself.)
So, what else can you do?
For one, with a simple Web browser extension of your choice, you can block YouTube comments from appearing. Some of these extensions work by just disabling the comments field, while others scan the comment text for things like typos, profanity, all caps and other troll poopnoise – and then filter out the more obnoxious stuff.
The extensions that can block comments (as well as on-page advertising) include:
- YouTube Comment Blocker for Firefox
- Comment Blocker for Firefox
- GreaseMonkey Profanity Filter
- AdBlock Plus for Firefox, Chrome, Android and Opera (LifeHacker has tips for using the extension as a comment-blocker)
- No YouTube Comments for Chrome
- Shut Up for Safari (in the Social Networking area)
- Simple Ad-Block for Internet Explorer
Chris Finke’s YouTube Comment Snob for Firefox and Chrome scans the comments and hides offensive ones that trip its filters.
If you want a more entertaining — or even educational — option consider a script or extension that replaces YouTube comments with something more enlightening.
- Herp Derp changes all the comments to the most excellent herp derp, but you can still read a comment by clicking on it; for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera.
- NietzscheDerp for Firefox and Chrome also replaces YouTube comment text, but with quotes from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche instead.
- Fans of theoretical physics (or The Big Bang Theory) might like the FeynComment script for Firefox and Chrome. As shown below, it replaces YouTube comments with quotes from Richard P. Feynman.
If you are tempted to read comments around the Web, sign up for the Don’t Read Comments Twitter feed that occasionally pops up to remind you not to go there. And if you find yourself just spending too much time on the social-media sites in general, consider one of those browser babysitters that limits your time or even blocks you from going to certain sites during the workday. The Productivity Owl gets it done for Chrome and LeechBlock does similar minding for Firefox users.
Some people like the comments section, warts and all. If you’re one of those folks, go have fun. You’ll never run out of material. But for those who are easily offended, or who just want a civil discussion, you have options. As Nietzsche himself once said, “Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings — always darker, emptier and simpler,” but the same could be said about certain unmoderated Internet comments.
The NSA is watching, Apple decides to go flat and Microsoft and Sony officially unveil their new gaming consoles at the E3 in Los Angeles. It has been a very busy news week in tech so J.D. and El Kaiser roll up their sleeves and tell you exactly when who did what to whom…. and where. Also, J.D. explains how you can save a little money by taking your own passport photos.
Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference collided squarely with the Electronic Entertainment Expo this week and as we found out, WWDC + E3 = one cubic buttload of competing product announcements.
At the WWDC keynote speech on Monday, Tim Cook and the Apple corps showed off all kinds of new and forthcoming Apple wares, including OS X Mavericks (10.9), new MacBook Airs, a creatively shaped Mac Pro, iWork in the Cloud, iTunes Radio and a revamped iOS 7. Except for the new MacBook Airs, most of this stuff will officially arrive this fall. Thorough conference-news roundups and beta peeks are here at Macworld, Ars Technica, and Cult of Mac, plus you can read Apple’s press releases on the new hardware and software and even watch a replay of the keynote speech here.
Meanwhile, down at E3, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and other game companies also gave fans a sneak peek at upcoming titles. Sony showed off new games and made the faithful happy by revealing the new $399 PlayStation 4 — and announcing that it was not going to charge people to play used games on the console when it arrives this holiday season. (Online multiplayer gaming on the PS4, however, will cost you.)
Microsoft, while showing off its impressive $499 Xbox One hardware (due out in November) and games, had more of a PR problem thanks to new policies on used games and the need for frequent online check-ins to keep the console running. This sort of thing makes many gamers unhappy, perhaps even terribly vexed.
Still on the fence between the PS4, Xbox One or even the Nintendo Wii U? Compare the hardware spex. And start saving your money for all the new stuff coming this fall.
Just a month after Facebook was rumored to be the buyer, Google announced this week that it closed the billion-dollar deal on the Waze traffic and social-mapping service. The addition of Waze to the Google portfolio is expected to make the traffic-tracking in Google Maps more powerful and also boost the company’s social-networking services.
Amazon, which has been testing its AmazonFresh delivery service around its hometown of Seattle, is now dropping off produce, meat and other supermarket staples to certain areas of Los Angeles. As a page on the site explains after a free 90-day trial, your $79 Amazon Prime membership gets automatically upgraded to an Amazon Prime Fresh membership, which costs $299 a year AmazonFresh is expected to expand into San Francisco later this year and into at least 20 more cities in 2014.
Comcast is doing some expanding as well, adding 3,800 hotspots for its Xfinity Wi-Fi network around Washington, DC. The company is also using its Xfinity Internet subscribers to increase the reach of the Xfinity Wi-Fi network by having home users broadcast two network signals from their Comcast Xfinity Wireless Gateway router/modem combos — one for the private family network and one for the public wireless network. (Comcast is part of the Cable WiFi Alliance, a group of other cable companies that offer 150,000 WiFi hotspots for their customers to use outside the home.)
Another cable company, Time Warner, is probably not too thrilled with this, but the season finale of Game of Thrones set a new BitTorrent record, with 171,000 people sharing the episode and a million people downloading it in one day.
The uproar over that National Security Agency surveillance program that collects phone records and user data from social sites shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The Guardian promises more to come, but it’s not the only one revved up by the revelations.
Members of Congress are calling for investigations, the American Civil Liberties Union is filing a lawsuit, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have asked the government to let them share details of their involvement and Edward Snowden, (aka The Leaker) has been fired from his $122,000-a-year job based in Hawaii and is now fighting extradition from Hong Kong. This story has more legs than a centipede and it’s gonna be a long summer. (Need some summer reading? George Orwell’s 1984 and Franz Kafka’s The Trial are getting new attention.)
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web back in the 20th century, is not happy with the way his creation has been handled by corporations and world governments. As reported by the Daily Telegraph in London, Sir Tim also said in a recent speech that “companies and governments in different places all over the world trying to take control of the Internet in different ways” and that net neutrality should be protected.
While the Web opened to the general population on April 30, 1993, Mr, Berners-Lee had been working on it since 1990 at CERN, using one of the NeXT computers (the black boxes Steve Jobs was involved with between his two separate stints at Apple). Now, researchers are trying to locate an original version of his very first Web page. Professor Paul Jones at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, heard the team was looking for it and produced a copy of the page from 1991 that he’d had all along. Professor Jones, who also had a NeXT computer, worked with Berners-Lee when he was town. Although Jones copied the first Web page off the NeXT computer at one point, he thinks the old machine may hold other ancient Web artifacts — but he can’t remember the password. Raiders of the Lost NeXT, anyone?
If you travel internationally, you need to update your United States passport every 10 years — and this means getting a new picture taken. If you hate going to those little passport-photo places and want to have more control over what you look like on your official government documentation, you can take your own pictures with a digital camera (at least here in the US, anyway; check with your local government if you live elsewhere).
While you can take your own photo, but not just any snapshot will do. The State Department has the official passport rules and guidelines on its site, as well as a photographer’s guide and a photo composition template.
As for the photo requirements, here are some of the highlights:
- Hand-held cellphone selfies are not allowed. The government wants professional quality pictures here.
- Take the picture in front of a plain white or off-white background.
- Make sure the photo presents the full head from the top of the hair to the bottom of the chin. You need to present a full-face view, facing the camera, without hats, sunglasses or other things that cover your head and face. If you normally wear eyeglasses, you can wear them, but you have to make sure there’s no glare in in the picture.
- Use a neutral expression — no goofy faces or wacky grins — and be looking straight at the camera. Facial-recognition software likes neutral expressions.
- Also, you are not allowed to use image-editing programs to “digitally enhance or alter your appearance in any way.” That means no overdone beauty-magazine cover retouching, zit removal or wrinkle smoothing. Just touch yourself up beforehand and take another photo.
- The final photograph needs to be two inches tall by two inches wide — and you need to have two copies of the image. You also need to have your head centered within that space the height of the head and the eyes within a certain measurement within those two inches of photo. Full details are on the State Department Web site.
The site even has a free photo tool (shown below) that lets you prepare an existing photo on the computer for use with a passport. You basically start up the Flash-based app and select a photo stored on your computer. You can resize and rotate it if needed and crop it to 600 by 600 pixels. There’s a template on the page that helps you get the head size and proportions correct. Once you get the picture sized and cropped, you save it, print it and send it in with your passport application.
And remember, if you haven’t renewed your passport in awhile, as of 2007, the State Department has only been issuing what it calls “U.S. Electronic Passports” — the kind with a computer chip embedded in the back cover. The chip stores an electronic copy of the same information printed inside the passport’s pages, including your photograph. As the State Department Web site states:
The inclusion of the digital photograph enables biometric comparison, through the use of facial recognition technology, at international borders. The U.S. e-passport also has a new look, incorporating additional anti-fraud and security features.
Curious about those electronic chips and records? Read up on the official US Electronic Passport FAQ. And then have a lovely trip overseas with your personally approved passport photo, the one you won’t be ashamed to show off at the border or customs counter.