The focus of this super-sized episode of your favorite tech-themed, snark-infested web-radio extravaganza is one of El Kaiser’s absolute favorite topics in the world: audio. This week he reviews the rBlink Bluetooth DAC from Arcam and J.D. fills us in on how to use Siri, Cortana, and Google Now to help name that tune. In the news, Time Warner Cable finds a new dance partner now that Comcast is out of the picture; bacon, Batman and a teen, tiny Tony Manero get the emoji treatment; and NASA retires it’s railroad system.
Monthly Archives: May 2015
PTJ 144 News: Cheese and Bacon Edition
A new day, a new dance, and Time Warner Cable has indeed found a new tango partner. As previously rumored, Charter Communications has stepped up with a $56.7 billion dollar deal to acquire the larger Time Warner Cable crew. Charter is also said to be negotiating to buy the smaller Bright House Networks cable company as well. Time Warner Cable was spun off of Time Warner Inc. in 2008 and if the new deal with Charter goes through, the new company will be dubbed with the sprightly new moniker “New Charter.” (As opposed to, you know, Classic Charter.)
Twitter is also in acquisition discussions to snag Flipboard — but sources say apparently stalled at the moment. (The bird-themed microblogging service also added Periscope to its Android app this week.)
The streaming-music service Spotify held a press event last week to announce it was expanding into podcasts and video clips. Some detractors have pointed out that Spotify’s audience uses the service as a background medium and a soundtrack to doing something else, which is harder to do with video because it requires direct attention.
Instagram wants your attention and has been sending out a regular Highlights message that shows off recent pictures from the people you follow on Instagram. It really hopes you’ll be intrigued enough to start using your account again.
Also in pictures — Google’s new Photos app is on the way, reports the Android Police site. as the Google I/O 2015 conference gets underway this week. Meanwhile, Google has also filed a patent for an interactive toy that even the BBC labeled as “creepy” in a headline. See for yourself, courtesy of the US Patents Office:
Netflix has given itself a redesign for the first time in four years. The changes include showing more information about shows you might want to watch, better presentation for the tons of Netflix options available and an enhanced recommendation engine.
Microsoft wants everyone to love its upcoming Windows 10 system! For those of you who do not have Windows Phones, the company has announced a companion app for Android and iOS phones that will let you connect your device to your PC. Once installed, the Phone Companion app will make sure photos you take with your phone get saved back to the computer by way of OneDrive and notes, music and Office documents can be used between the two. Microsoft also announced a standalone Cortana app for Android and iOS. Watch your back in the App Store and Google Play store, Cortana.
The Daily Telegraph of London recently had an extensive article on Apple’s design guru Jony Ive, written by actor Stephen Fry. The story broke one new bit of news: Sir Ive has just been promoted from Senior Vice President of Design to Apple’s Chief Design Office and will take up the new gig on July 1st.
The usual leaks and rumors are starting to pop a few weeks ahead of Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference. The iPhone 6s just may include the Force Touch screen with haptic feedback. The 9to5Mac site also says it hears the new iOS 9 will include split-screen apps for iPads, a fresh new system-wide font for the user interface, a Home app for controlling your HomeKit Internet of things and mass transit directions for the Apple Maps app. As with any iOS update, performance and security enhancements are also promised — and unusually for Apple, there’s talk that the new iOS 9 system could actually run better on older hardware like the iPhone 4s than iOS 8 did.
And speaking of new hardware, an eye doctor in Canada says he’s created bionic lens implants that can give the wearer 3 times better vision than 20/20. Cue bionic eye sound FX!
NASA’s Dawn probe has been taking a close view of Ceres and discovered some curious lights on the surface of the dwarf planet last month. So now NASA has put up an online poll asking members of the public what they think those bright spots may be.
Holiday Monday or not, NASA was busy this week, with the relocation of one of the International Space Station’s modules to make room for more docking ports to host commercial spacecraft, and the announcement of the scientific instruments to be sent on the Europa mission. And sad news for locomotive fans — the NASA Railroad has been retired. The 38-mile stretch of track was once used by three trains to haul rocket boosters for the space shuttle from the train yard over to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.
And finally, bacon has become a big part of techie culture — hence the variety of bacon-flavored products you can buy over on ThinkGeek.com. The flat, fried breakfast meat has so entrenched itself that a bacon emoji has been named as a candidate for Unicode 9.0, which is due out next year. In addition to bacon, other nominees include a dancing man that looks somewhat like John Travolta in the white disco suit from Saturday Night Fever, a wilted flower, a croissant, the face-palm gesture, a pregnant woman and a symbol that brings to mind the original Batman logo. As with most emoji, there are no words.
(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Hear Me, See Me
As we discussed on the show last year, apps like Shazam and SoundHound are great for identifying music you hear — but don’t recognize. As shown below, Google Now was also dipping a toe into to music identification world back then, too, but Apple’s Siri wasn’t quite there yet and was still performing basic tasks.
Since we recorded that segment way back on PTJ Episode 85, though, Apple’s assistant has picked up a new trick. If you have Siri rolling with iOS 8 and the Shazam app on your iPhone, you can have the old girl (or old boy) name that tune by pressing down the Home button and asking, “What song is this?” If the song is recognized, you get a screen back with info and a BUY button.
Now, some may fuss that if you already have the Shazam app installed, why not just use that? Well, unless you’ve got the Shazam icon right there in front of you, pressing the Siri button (or just saying “Hey Siri” if you’re plugged into a power source while using the iPhone) and asking is probably going to be faster.
And lest we forget the Windows Phone fans out there, Cortana can now identify songs too. When you hear something you want to recognize, tap the magnifying glass to wake up Cortana and then tap the music-notes icon. If Cortana knows the tune, you’ll get a screen full of info about it from Xbox Music.
Shazam itself doesn’t stop with Name That Tune, though. The service — which has apps for Android, Windows Phone, iOS, Apple and Android watches and Mac OS X desktops — can also recognize certain shows on television. If you see a Shazam logo on the TV screen, hold your phone next to the tube and tap the Shazam icon to get bonus content.
Not to be outdone, Google Now has added TV cards to its repertoire. These cards pop up to provide more information about the show currently playing on your the television. Just open the Google app on your phone, tap the microphone and say, “Listen to TV.” If Google recognizes the show, you get a TV card with all sorts of information about the show and topic.
All the extra details could come in handy. With so much new music and so many great shows to watch these days ( some people are even proclaiming we’re currently in the New Golden Age of TV), you may need all the information you can get to keep track of your favorite songs and stories.
PTJ 143: Jay Z’s Tidal and Other Celebrity Techies
Reporter Laura Holson joins J.D. and El Kaiser to discuss celebrities and their tech startups. Despite an impressive roster of artists, Jay Z’s Tidal music service appears to be struggling against more established services like Spotify and Pandora. Is it a failed vanity project, a callous moneygrab by some very rich pop music performers or a sincere effort to make the distribution of digital streaming royalties more equitable for all performers? It may very well be a mix of all three. (Or maybe it’s just musical Goop.)
PTJ 143 News: Red-Letter Days
Who says the epistolary arts are dead in this age of text and email? As user-privacy rights and national-security concerns continue to clash, stern words are still the weapons of choice. This week, a coalition of 140 technology companies, security experts and other industry players sent a letter to President Obama asking him to “reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products.” The letter comes in response to recent remarks by Administration officials that suggested American companies not use (or create) products secured by encryption —unless a backdoor key was provided to the government. No word on a White House reply yet, not even from the President’s new official Twitter account. (Perhaps Mr. Obama was busy joshing with Mr. Clinton.)
The White House was not the only place that got a note of concern this week. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, received a group letter of opposition signed by 67 digital rights groups who don’t like the idea of the company’s Internet.org project because it stifles the concept of net neutrality, freedom of expression and all that stuff.
Also in letter writing news, the Federal Trade Commission has asked the bankruptcy court handling the RadioShack case to protect the personal information of former RadioShack customers. As more companies eventually go bust and their data assets are up for grabs, the FTC will likely be writing a lot more letters.
Worried that the telcos will backslide on those new Net Neutrality rules from the Federal Communications Commission? Internet activists have launched an Internet Health Test site that checks the quality of your broadband connection and looks for any sign of speed degradation, perhaps by an ISP throttling. Your results are then shared as compiled data in the public domain. Meanwhile, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who once threatened to pause developments of fiber networks if the FCC’s new rules were passed, said AT&T would keep investing in its infrastructure because he is now confident the new rules will be overturned.
Federal investigators are looking into the claims of one Chris Roberts, a security researcher who said he was able to hack into the computer systems on an United Airlines flight. He said he could gain enough control to do things like drop the oxygen masks, mess with the cockpit’s alert system or even cause the plane to move sideways. Um, yeah, Federal officials, please look into this.
According to an investigative piece out this week from Advertising Age, Google has a crack squad of Antifraud Specialists fighting the ad-bot hucksters. And speaking of exploits, there’s a new one out that shows a proof-of-concept address-spoofing attack using a bug in Apple’s Safari web browser.
In other Apple News, the fancy new 15-inch MacBook Pro with the ForceTouch trackpad is available now, as is a cheaper version of the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. Prices start at about $2,000 for either. If the Internet can be believed, Apple is getting ready to roll out some fresh code for both the Apple Watch and the Apple TV; the new version of that set-top box is expected next month at the World Wide Developers Conference. Oh, and The Wall Street Journal has a story this week that explains why Apple hasn’t jumped into the full-on television market yet.
The Internet has come to the rescue again! After it was canceled by Fox, Mindy Kaling’s sitcom, The Mindy Project, was picked up by TV-streaming service Hulu for a fourth season of 26 new episodes.
Google and the University of Washington have teamed up for an inventive project that uses 86 million pictures from photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa to create amazing time-lapse videos. The researchers wrote up their findings in a paper whimsically titled “Time-Lapse Mining from Internet Photos.”
And finally, Microsoft is celebrating 25 years of Solitaire on Windows. Woo hoo! Microsoft’s solitaire collection, which includes the standard Klondike version, plus the FreeCell, Spider, TriPeaks, and Pyramid variations, is available free in the online app store for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1. Here’s to a quarter century of lost productivity in offices across the globe!
PTJ 142: Microsoft Changes the Paradigm
At its Ignite conference in Chicago this past week, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 will be the last version of its flagship operating system. No, they aren’t throwing in the towel in the fight for OS dominance, the boys in Redmond have decided that Windows will stop being a standalone system and instead become a service with updates and improvements rolling out regularly.
J.D. has a Hopefully Helpful Hint about what to do when your flight gets cancelled at the last minute and El Kaiser explains the tech term “Digital Detox”…and why he’ll never try it.
Don’t despair, we also feature a cubic buttload of tech news and the snarkiness and shenanigans you’ve come to expect from the best Little Tech Show in the Galaxy.
PTJ 142 News: You’ve Got Sale!
This has been quite a year for mergers and acquisitions — or at least attempts thereof. This week, Verizon Communications announced it was buying AOL. Inc. for $4.4 billion dollars. AOL Inc. produces digital content and advertising and claims to be the 4th largest online property in the United States with 200 million customers. The Huffington Post is expected to be spun off, but Verizon should keep some spare cash handy — the company also needs to pay $90 million to settle a US government probe into unauthorized charges on customer bills.
No more grand Windows OS launches? Microsoft is changing the way it does these things and says Windows 10 is going to be its last major revision of the system. At the Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago this week, Microsoft development executive Jerry Nixon said that going forward, Windows will stop being a standalone system with and become a service, with updates and improvements rolling out regularly.
It’s developer conference season at last! The Google I/O 2015 Conference is later this month, May 28th and 29th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. (There may also be a celebration of Google’s self-driving car program, which has now covered 1.7 million miles and only been involved in 11 minor accidents — and none of them was the Google car’s fault.) Attendees are expected to get the inside scoop on things like on Android M, the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android Auto for car infotainment, the Chrome operating system for netbooks, Google TV, wearables and other projects. Then Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference rolls into town 12 days later, starting June 8th and running through the 12th.
If fancy Apple computers aren’t in your budget, keep your eyes peeled for the CHIP (shown below), the new $9 computer envisioned by a startup called Next Thing Co. A funding drive to build CHIP went up on Kickstarter this week with a pledged goal of $50,000 needed to buy components in bulk. As of this week, the project was closing in on $1.1 million.
If you hate those unintentional selfies from taking pictures through windows, you’ll be glad to know that the smart folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology now have an algorithm for that. The algorithm can sense discreet dual reflections from double-paned windows and remove them from the image. The MIT team will be presenting their findings next month at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Boston.
The Warner Music Group released is second-quarter earnings report this week and had one bit of surprising news: music-streaming revenue surpassed music-download revenue, as the press released stated it “for the first time in the history of our recorded music business.” Fluke or paradigm shift? Time will tell.
There’s a new social network in town (and in beta) and it’s designed for members of the build-it yourself maker community to show off projects and share knowledge. The new site is called MakerSpace and it’s the official community for Maker Faire.
Mozilla released Version 38 of the Firefox browser this week. In addition to the usual bug fixes and speed bumps, Firefox 38 now includes integration with the Adobe Content Decryption Module to play back copy-restricted content within the HTML 5 video tag. This could let users watch DRM-enabled content in Firefox — although only on the Windows version of the browser at the moment.
Microsoft is making it easier for more people to try the preview of the new Skype Translator for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. While the original version required interested users to sign up for the software, Microsoft had removed that bit of electronic paperwork and now you can just go to the site and download it to get yapping with someone in another language.
Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, along with one of the company’s lawyers, did a Reddit Ask Me Anything last week and during the course of the question and answer session, it was revealed that Google does not use end-to-end encryption for its Google Hangout chats. So yeah, those Hangouts could, in theory, be wiretapped by government request.
And finally, from the Department of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Google announced this week that it had to temporarily shut down the online Map Maker component that lets users add their own content to Google Maps due to vandalism. The service has been plagued with pranks and obscenities in recent months, including an image of the green Android taking a leak in the Apple logo and an area of the White House called Edward’s Snow Den. Google said earlier this year that it planned to build a spam protection system into Map Maker, but perhaps it’s time step up those efforts. If they can make a self-driving car, how about a self-driving map bot that cruises the site looking for the naughty edits?
(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Plane Plan
The weather this year has been one for the Buzzfeed listicles — after ass-shattering cold and way too much snow all winter, we’ve now moved on to a new season we can complain about. For example, a tropical storm grazed the South and tornadoes blew through the Midwest in the past week. We talked about keeping prepared for hazardous road travel in January, so here are tips for dealing with flight cancelations when cranky Mother Nature once again destroys your carefully laid air-travel plans.
First of all, before you go anywhere, sign up for push alerts from your airline. You can get messages for your flight, either through the airline’s mobile website or smartphone app. Should anything disrupt your flight schedule, the airline should push out a text message right away. Hopefully, you’ll get this alert before you leave for the airport. If you’re watching an incoming storm on your preferred weather app — and getting that sinking feeling that your flight the next day is about to get borked — turn up the volume for audio alerts for text messages on your phone before you go to bed. Even if you’re asleep, you’ll want to get the bad news as soon as possible. This is especially helpful if you get a notice from the airline saying your flight has been flat-out canceled.
The reason you want to get this message ASAP is because it gives you time to grab an available seat on an alternate flight long before those less tech-savvy people stuck on hold with the airline’s telephone customer service hotline. (It’s possible to get rebooked in as little as 10 minutes online.) When you get a cancelation message, look for a link that takes you right to the rebooking part of the website for the list of all the alternate flights you are eligible to take.
Once you get confirmation of your rebooking, you may need to make a few other arrangements – like, for example, extending your car rental period or booking a hotel room for another night. Discount sites like Hotels.com or Priceline.com are great for finding the inexpensive last-minute room.
Hotels near the airport often have free shuttles to the terminal, so if you were getting around by mass transit or cab during your stay, you may be able to take advantage of this handy amenity. And check your hotel for other services that may be useful. For example, if you have to rebook on an early morning flight and go right to work — but all you have is a suitcase full of dirty clothes — see if the hotel has a laundry service or coin-operated washers and dryers on the premises. You can kill your extended time by throwing in a load so you have fresh duds for your dash to the office after you land.
There’s no app that can change the weather — yet. Thankfully, though, there are plenty of apps out there that can make dealing with it (and the upheaval of your travel plans) just a little bit easier.
PTJ 141: Let’s All Go To The Movies
This summer is shaping up to be a Geek movie lover’s dream with Disney’s Marvel and Disney studios dominating multiplexes but do not despair! Their are many other geektastic offerings unspooling over the next few hot and sticky months and we’ll list a few of them for you.
Go ahead and grab a bucket of popcorn and a barrel of your favorite soft drink and join J.D. and El Kaiser at the picture show!
PTJ 141 News: Go, Greased Lightning!
Google didn’t have much luck dethroning Facebook as everyone’s go-to social media experience, so is the Google+ site now aiming to be a challenger elsewhere? The new Google+ Collections debuted this week and it’s billed as “a new way to group your posts by topic.” Like, uh, on Pinterest?
Facebook announced its new Internet.org platform this week, which includes “non-exclusive partnerships with mobile operators to offer free basic Internet services to people through Internet.org.” While this sounds good and noble in a press release, detractors to the project, including Josh Levy, the advocacy director at a global digital rights group, said Internet.org is really Facebooknet because Facebook is holding the keys to the gate of a walled garden and, you know, that’s not so much for Net Neutrality.
Microsoft released a Public Preview Version of its Office 2016 desktop suite. New charts! New graphs! It’s the best Christmas ever!
Comcast may have lost the war, but it spent some coin in its various battles to buy Time Warner. Ars Technica, which took a look at Comcast’s earnings report for the first quarter of 2015, notes $99 million listed in transaction-related costs. This is just another round on the tab however, as Comcast has spent a total (so far) of $336 million dollars spent in the $45.2 billion FAIL.
Speaking of cable giants, all those new livestreaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat could turn out to be a real pain in the wallet, with those sneaky users livestreaming paid content like boxing matches and HBO shows off their TVs for others to watch for free. Of course, many people remember Meerkat, the little app that made such a splash at SXSW until Twitter kicked it to the curb. But now Meerkat has snuggled up with Facebook and you can post your live video streams right to your Facebook page. So take that, Twitter.
Rumors of a new Apple TV box have been in the wind the past few weeks, and now Brian X. Chen of The New York Times reports that Apple is also revamping the minimalist remote control that comes with the box. The Apple Watch is also getting some design scrutiny, but this time, it’s from developers and curious members of the public who have discovered a secret charging port hidden in the connection slot of the lower watch band. At least one accessory maker, Reserve Strap, says the hidden jack is a six-pin diagnostic port that can be used for charging — and it plans to release a tool for connecting to the jack when it releases its $250 battery band this fall. Let’s see if Apple allows that, as it has just released its own developers’ guide for third-party watch bands.
NASA is developing its own 10-engine drone for use in science missions that can take off vertically like a helicopter and then fly like an airplane. The drone’s name is GL-10 and the GL stands for: Greased Lightning. (If you are of a certain age, you will now have the soundtrack from Grease stuck in your brain for the rest of the day.)
As for good news on the app-security front, the MIT Technology Review reports that some security researchers in France have come up with an automated system that can tell when Android apps on your phone or tablet quietly connect to user-tracking and ad-serving sites online. They plan to make their new program available soon in the Google Play store soon under the name No Such App, or NSA for short.
And finally, did you complain when Foursquare split itself into two and called the other half Swarm — and all the mayorships, badges and points went away? The Foursquare blog announced this week that it plans to bring back the mayorships to Swarm and now you can unlock brand new stickers instead of the old badges. The people have spoken and have been heard — we want civic leadership in our apps!