El Kaiser has a very blue Tech Term and J.D. shows us how to make iOS 7 easier to read. In the news, some love for Google Glass early adopters; Amazon launches a new program allowing customers the option to buy Kindle versions of their previous book purchases; SoundCloud adds Instagram integration; Netflix ponders its next move; a new report confirms that U.S. citizens pay more for less when it comes to their Internet service; Apple plans to continue its OS X freebie; and “The Zuckerberg Files”.
Monthly Archives: October 2013
PTJ 70 News: Through the Looking-Glass
Those eager early adopters who joined the first-look Google Glass Explorers program are getting a little love from the Big G for sharing their opinions on the product — free upgrades! For people who already wear prescription eyeglasses, this next version of Google Glass said to be compatible with “future lines of shades and prescription frames.”
Amazon officially launched its new Kindle MatchBook program this week, which allows customers the option to buy discounted Kindle versions of books they’d previously purchased in print. To use it, log into your account on Amazon’s site to see what books are eligible. If you decide to grab the e-edition, you’ll typically pay $3 or less and the Kindle versions work with the Kindle apps for tablets, phones and computers as well as on actual Kindles.
In multimedia news, SoundCloud, the audio-sharing site, has hit 250 million listeners and now includes Instagram integration for users who want to ad cover art for the playlists and audio files they upload. After some very good quarterly earnings, Netflix is pondering its next move. One option the company is said to be considering? Releasing a “big” feature film on the streaming service the same day the movie appears in theaters. And as previously discussed, the Nielsen ratings people are going to start counting people who watch television programs on mobile devices instead of just on traditional television sets. Mobile ratings won’t start getting included until the fall 2014 television season, but Nielsen will be sending out software kits to its participants.
Thinking about hacking major government sites? If you do, maybe you shouldn’t brag about it on Twitter.
According to a report called The Cost of Connectivity 2013 from the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, broadband customers in the United States pay higher prices for slower Internet service than people living in Europe and Asia. But T-Mobile, which did do fairly well in the survey, has nice plans for people who buy iPads to work on the company’s network.
In an earnings call earlier this week, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said that future versions of OS X for the Mac will be free. CEO Tim Cook also announced that the company had its best quarter in the education market ever. The iPhone’s hold on the market continues to slip, though, as many more smartphone users opted for the Samsung Experience last quarter. Android 4.3 Jelly Bean is rolling out to owners of many Samsung devices and on the Smartwatch Watch, the Wall Street Journal reports that Google’s rumored Android-based wrist accessory is supposedly integrated with its Google Now service.
Scientists may predict how your romantic entanglements on Facebook will turn out. The paper, titled Romantic Partnerships and the Dispersion of Social Ties: A Network Analysis of Relationship Status on Facebook was written by Lars Blackstrom of Facebook and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University and it looks at patterns of engagement and disengagement on with your social network activity.
And finally, the recent Facebook notice that the company was changing its “Who can look at your timeline by name” setting so anybody can find you with a search has some folks annoyed and ticked off and now Michael Zimmer, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is building a scholarly archive of every one-the-record statement about privacy uttered by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The motive behind the project is is to keep Zuckerberg honest when it comes to his stance and evolution on privacy issues. The archive, which can be viewed online, is called The Zuckerberg Files. (Curiously enough, Google+ has seen a hefty jump in users recently.) But anyway, time for that weekly check of the Facebook privacy settings!
And your Google+ settings!
(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Super-Size It!
Tablets have made it easier to stay online wherever you are and those bigger screens are a lot easier to read than squinting at a smartphone — or even a phablet. But even with the more expansive screen real estate, you may find the tablet type a little small for comfortable reading. And the thinner font in Apple’s new iOS 7 has irritated a lot of people, who find it too spindly to read comfortably.
If you find yourself wrestling with iOS 7 on your iPad — or even iPhone or iPod Touch — hit the Settings icon on the home screen and go right to the General line. Tap General, and then Accessibility. In the second section of settings on the screen, you have options for:
- Larger Type. iOS 7 uses Dynamic Type technology that can resize on-screen text to your preferred default. Turn on Larger Dynamic Text here and move the slider to the size you want. Apps that uses Dynamic Type should pick up your chosen size automatically.
- Bold Text. Back on the main Accessibility menu, you find an option called Bold Text. Flip it on, let your iPad restart itself and lo-and-behold, your system font is bold. You can reverse the setting by coming back here and turning off the Bold Text switch.
- Lots of other stuff. The Accessibility menu has more options for general legibility, including an Increase Contrast option, a Reduce Motion control (in case those floating backgrounds make you queasy) and On/Off Labels that add little notches to the virtual switches in case you can’t see the green color that means the setting is turned on.
iOS 7 has many other accessibility tools, including a screen-zoom magnifier, a spoken-word function called VoiceOver, the ability to invest the screen colors, closed captioning for videos, mono audio and many more assistive functions.
As for Android, this may vary from version to version, but in Jelly Bean 4.3 on the Nexus 7, tap into your Settings and hit Accessibility. Here, you can turn on features like:
- Large text
- Magnification gestures
- Spoken passwords
- The TalkBack screen reader
- Text-to-speech output
- And more!
Of course, if you’re reading ebooks on your tablet, you have controls within your book app’s settings to bump your font up to a happy size independently. So now you can sit back, give your eyes a little bit of a boost, and save all that peering-at-the-fine-print stuff for cellular-data contracts, social-media privacy policies and tax forms.
PTJ 69: Apple Brings the Free and the Breezy
Apple unleashes a second fall product announcement and while most of the updates were expected, they still managed to surprise. J.D. has a Hopefully Helpful Hint detailing how to configure Twitter and other services to deliver emergency alerts directly to your smartphone. In the news, Nokia holds what could be their last phone hardware event before the unit becomes part of Microsoft; Microsoft’s new Surface 2 tablets arrived in stores and Windows 8.1 was finally made available to the public — but not without problems; Lenovo launches a new Android-based convertible laptop/tablet; BlackBerry releases the long-awaited Android and iOS versions of its popular BlackBerry Messenger software; Google provides free voice calling; Netflix continues its surge; and a British mathematician develops a formula for the perfect pizza. The podcast revolution continues…
PTJ 69 News: Do the Math
Over yonder in Abu Dhabi, the Finnish firm Nokia held its presumed last phone hardware event before the phone unit melds into Microsoft. As for Microsoft, the company’s next generation of Surface 2 tablets arrived in stores earlier this week. Last week saw the arrival of Windows 8.1, which will hopefully bring some relief to people who were hating on 8. Download Day was not without its problems, however, including installation errors and the unceremonious yanking back of the Windows 8.1 RT update for what Microsoft termed “a situation” and several users called “the blue screen of death that won’t let my tablet boot.” Microsoft released a Surface RT recovery image two days later.
Code explorers poking around version 4.4 of Google Play think they’ve found signs that Google is planning its own Android-based Newsstand in the near future. And as we’ve seen with other products, Android’s not just for tablets anymore. Lenovo, maker of giant 29-inch desktop computers, also has a new Android-based convertible laptop/tablet. No word on if the Lenovo A10 will hit the US yet, but is available in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asian Pacific countries.
Facebook had a case of the Monday Morning Blahs this week — the site was acting erratic and refused to let its users post comments or photos, update their status lines, send messages or “like” posts. “Network maintenance” was eventually blamed for the issues.
The hardware may have tanked, but BlackBerry was able to put out Android and iOS versions of its popular BlackBerry Messenger software that was formerly constrained to BlackBerry devices. The company reported that six million people signed up for information about the app before it was released.
Also in app news, Google has added free voice calling to its Google Hangouts app for iOS. The updated version of the iOS app arrived last Friday and brought with it free in-app voice calling to numbers within the U.S. and Canada, plus incoming call support to a user’s Google Voice number.
On the entertainment front, Netflix announced that it now has 40 million subscribers worldwide and announced that its quarterly earnings had quadrupled. Orange Is the New Black, the women’s-prison drama that arrived in July, is the company’s most-watched original series ever. And the Hollywood Reporter and Variety are both reporting that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton are in talks for a sequel to 1988’s Beetlejuice.
Feeling hungry? A mathematician at the University of Sheffield in England has calculated a formula that is supposed to create the “perfectly proportioned margherita pizza.” Dr. Eugenia Cheng’s equation factors in the volume of dough, the constant volume of toppings, and the ratio between base to topping to find the “optimum mouthful.” (Who cares about P versus NP when the optimum mouthful problem has been licked?)
Oh, yeah. Apple had an event on Tuesday. It announced some stuff, namely the release of OS X Mavericks, new MacBook Pro laptops, more information on the tubular Mac Pro, new free iLife and iWork software and, oh, new iPads. Time to start guessing when the iPhone 6 will arrive!
(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Keep Informed With Twitter Alerts
Twitter, in addition to serving as a personalized news service for people who like to follow the feeds of their favorite Web sites, newspapers and TV stations, recently introduced its own emergency alert system. Although it’s not to be confused with the government’s Wireless Emergency Alerts, more than 100 Federal, state and local agencies are participating in Twitter Alerts as well.
To sign up for an alert from an agency like NOAA or FEMA, visit the page of participating organizations on Twitter’s site. Click the ones you want and fill in your information. You’ll get alerts by text message, push notification and as entries in your news feed.
In addition to Twitter, you probably some news and weather apps on your phone as well. Most newsy apps let you set up notifications on your phone when they have important information to push out — things like wildfires, winter storms, traffic problems or breaking news events. Apple has information about using Notifications in iOS here and Google has similar information for Android here.
Red Sox or Cardinals fan? Yeah, you’ve probably got your alerts set up already, even if you’re watching the games.
PTJ 68: Geeking Out With Comedian Mike Robles
It’s the middle of October now, which in addition to being in the height of the Fall Product Announcement Season, the annual NaNoWriMo event is just two weeks away. Never heard of NaNoWriMo? It’s been around since 1999, and NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an Internet-based project designed to get creative people — wait for it — writing novels.
This is the challenge: You have from November 1 to November 30th to complete 50,000 words. Yes, 50,000 words s a bit short for a novel and to get that many words in 30 days, you need to crank out about 1700 of ’em a day. But the goal here is to get you writing. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done. But you know what? If you complete the challenge, you have a first draft to build upon. You have completed perhaps the hardest part of the process: just getting started.
If you want to sign up, just head over to the NaNoWriMo site. Once you make a free account, you can track your daily progress, meet fellow writers, get encouragement and so on. Almost 84,000 people have signed up fore this year’s event already, so you won’t be alone.
Now, knocking off around 1600-1700 words a day is going to take some time. You may have to get up early and squeeze in a few hundred words at lunchtime. This is where software — especially mobile programs that keep you focuses on the writing — can help you meet your word counts.
On the go? Grab a Bluetooth keyboard and your mobile device, and you’ve got a portable writing studio wherever you are. Next, check out your app store. For example, you can find desktop and mobile apps that help you see your book-in-progress with a helicopter view so you can keep track of your plot and dramatic arcs better. On the flip side, there are also so-called “distraction-free word processors” can help, too, by keeping you focused on a Spartan screen instead of procrastinating in formatting toolbars and menus.
Here’s a sampling of inventive writing programs for desktop and mobile devices:
- Scrivener 2, writing-studio software for Windows and Mac OS X, is designed for long-form works and lets you collect your thoughts, notes and research within the program so they’re all in once place when you need to write fast. The program normally sells for $45, but there’s a free 30-day trial edition designed just for NaNoWriMo participants.
- Storyist is similar outline/Word processing software for Mac OS X and iOS, Prices range from $10 for the iOS app to $60 for the desktop edition.
- yWriter for Windows breaks your story into chapters and scenes so you can keep track of it better. And it’s free.
- WriteRoom from Hog Bay Software is a fullscreen word-processor with nothing to draw your attention away from your words. Shown above, it’s available for Mac OS X or iOS ($5 to $10, depending on the version you want).
- WriteWay for Windows is a story-based word-processor that helps you organize your book. Normally, it’s $35, but there’s a 30-day free trial — just long enough for your NaNoWriMo project.
- OfficeSuite Pro 7 is a $15 mobile office suite for Android.
- Stenosaur, which calls itself a “personal microjournal” is a $3 iOS app from Axe Monkey. Sort of like a Twitter feed to yourself, you type in short bursts of thought, swim in your stream of consciousness, break through writer’s block and keep on going.
And when it comes to collecting ideas and keeping us focused on a project, let us not forget Evernote. The software works on mobile devices and desktop computers — and keeps them all in sync. And don’t forget Google Docs, Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive, Zoho Docs and the other online services that let you create and store documents.
Don’t think you can do 50,000 words in a month but want to explore shorter fiction? Check out Andrew Fitzgerald’s TED talk on the really short literary forms.
PTJ 67: Spoiler-Free, Sweetie
On a supersized episode of everybody’s favorite geek-culture podcast El Kaiser takes a turn at hopefully being helpful by detailing the steps to avoid a malware infection. With social networks making spoilers a legitimate concern for all TV watchers, J.D. introduces us to some apps that can help keep second screens from spoiling what’s on the first. In the news, more of the world gets online access and some companies help bring less expensive Internet access to developing countries; the Gold Master of OS X Mavericks is made available to developers; rumors point to Amazon releasing a set top box to compete with the Apple TV and Roku devices; Google and Hewlett Packard announce the HP Chromebook 11; and Yahoo gets to blow out 16 candles.