PTJ 156: Creation Sensation

The Ashley Madison Hackpocalypse shows no signs of fading away, Google has brought back its Map Maker tool (now with adult supervision) and the Japanese have sent whiskey into space. J.D. and El Kaiser march through these stories and more in the weekly roundup of geek news.

Technology has changed many aspects of daily life — including how we express ourselves through music, art, photography and more. Laura M. Holson drops by to discuss how people are finding outlets for their creativity with mobile apps. If you want to play along at home, check these out:

DubSmash lets you lip-sync the hits in Vine-like clips. (Check out how much fun the the stars of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter had with the app this summer — and now there’s even a contest for charity brewing.) Oh, and it’s free for Android and iOS.

• GarageBand is music-making software for OS X and iOS and even if you don’t know the first thing about multitrack recording or writing your own songs, you’ll learn fast with this gem of a program. It’s $5 if it didn’t already come on your device and the help guide can be, well, helpful.

Paper By FiftyThree  is a free drawing, sketching and brainstorming app for the iPad.

Frontback uses your smartphone’s front and rear cameras to take two images that are then shared as a single photo or video. It’s free for Android and iOS.

Disney Frozen: Story Theater lets you create your own stories using characters and props from Disney’s unstoppable 2013 animated ice-princes film. (Yeah, good luck getting THAT SONG out of your head now.) The app is $5 for the iOS device of your choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s ad-free, as a disclaimer on the site warns: Before you download this experience, please consider that this app contains advertising for the Walt Disney Family of Companies.

Buddha Board goes beyond the mobile app and lets you get the Zen with a $35 piece of hardware designed to let you live in the moment.

PTJ 156 News: Insecurity Checkpoint

Well, that Ashley Madison thing sure blew up last week, didn’t it? At last count, there are five lawsuits seeking more than a half-billion dollars filed against the site and its parent company. In further fallout, a $500,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the hackers. But in an ironic twist noted by security blogger Brian Krebs, other files posted in the data dump indicate that top dogs from Avid Life Media itself may have hacked a competing website themselves to hijack customer information. Oh, and the Columbia Journalism Review has some thoughts on the journalistic ethics of the whole sordid mess.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to sue companies that fail to enforce data security policies and lose personal customer data to hackers. The ruling stems from the original case filed by the FTC back in 2012 against hotel conglomerate Wyndham Worldwide Corporation for three data breaches in two years and $10 million dollars in fraudulent charges, all due to epic security failures.

Microsoft may not be dominating smartphone sales, but the company is finding new uses for the devices. A Microsoft Research Project called MobileFusion lets people use their phones to scan objects and create high-quality 3D images that can be later used for things like augmented reality video games or 3-D printing. The research team on the project will formally present MobileFusion in early October at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality but you can check out the demo video now:

Microsoft also just  released a public beta of its Cortana assistant for Android for anyone interested enough to jump in. And in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Windows 95 this past Monday, the company gave away free downloads of the classic Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” in the Windows Store for anyone who was paying attention or feeling nostalgic about old advertising campaigns.

Comcast has big plans for the next couple of years. The company told the Fierce Cable site that it plans to upgrade its entire cable network with DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which can support maximum data speeds of 10 gigabits per second. No word on pricing for the home crowd yet

In the Department of Just Not Having It, Mozilla  CEO Chris Beard has threatened to fire — if the person was found to be a Mozilla employee — an anonymous Reddit user posting remarks about feminists and “social justice warriors.”   In other company news, Mozilla announced a shift for the Firefox browser last week and has plans to move away from the add-in software created by third-party developers to the more secure extensions model used by Google Chrome.

Twitter has informed Open State Foundation, the Netherlands-based political watchdog group, that it was suspending access to the company’s API for both the Diplotwoops and Politwoops apps. The apps displayed deleted tweets of lawmakers and diplomats for journalists and other to see. While the US version of Polititwoops got the kibosh on May, other companies had been able to use it.

Mapmaker

Google has re-opened its community-editing Map Maker tool to 45 more countries after shutting down the utility in May after a bout of user-generated vandalism was uncovered. Two weeks ago, Map Maker, reappeared for six countries. Google has changed the way Map Maker works, and now includes Regional Leads, or people who will moderate edits to maps in their area. Polygon editing is no longer available and Google warns that is you mess around and violate Map Maker’s terms of use, you will not be able to use the software anymore. The Android Police and other sites are reporting that Google is experimenting with adding food photography  to its maps for people browsing restaurant possibilities.

In drone news, Sony is working with the Japanese robotics company ZMP and experimenting with an unmanned aerial vehicle that look like tiny airplane, but that can take off and land vertically. The two companies have formed a new company called Aerosense for  commercial drone adventures, and have another model that looks more like the traditional buckshot-magnet quadcopter.

MMAnd finally, the International Space Station just received a cargo module from Japan with 4.5 tons of supplies — and a batch of Suntory Whiskey products. Now, before you have visions of the astronauts playing quarters in zero gravity or taking some really loopy spacewalks, the booze is there for scientific reasons. The  whiskey samples will be studied to see if aging in microgravity has any effect on the mellowing of the liquor’s flavor.  All in the name of science, folks.

PTJ 155: Yo, Cortana. Are You There?

This week along with a heaping helping of news, we feature a Hopefully Helpful Hint that focuses on the Windows 10 start menu and El Kaiser tells us all about Responsive Web Design.

For those of you about to pop, tech AND jam, we salute you!

PTJ 155 News: Grin and Bear It

marshAfter months of speculation, Android M has an official snack nickname in Google’s pantheon of tasty versions! Android 6.0, the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, will be called Marshmallow and the software development kit is now available for those who want to build apps for it. Ever so busy, Google also just built a standalone website for its Hangouts videochat service, too.

As a story in last weekend’s New York Times tells it, Amazon is the modern equivalent of a massive Dickensian workhouse where everyone is overworked and crying.  As one can imagine, however, Twitter got hopping and Amazon spokespeople were quick to defend the company, fanning out across print, television and Internet to rebut The Times. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even wrote a company-wide memo that was widely leaked, and the NYT Public Editor weighed in as well.

Amazon was not the only company with a PR team in overdrive lately. The social media team at the dating app Tinder took offense to a Vanity Fair article lamenting the rise of hookup apps in general and went on a long Twitter rant against the magazine and the author of the article. During the tweetstorm, the Tinder Twitter complained the writer did not contact the company for comment and accused Vanity Fair of one-side journalism. Others noted the article wasn’t specifically about Tinder, but dating apps in general, and said the company behaved like a hurt teenage girl lashing out and seemed surprised that journalists do things differently than PR people. Salon wondered if the whole thing was “a sincerely epic case of butthurt or just a clever attention-getting ruse.”

In other online hookup news, the National Security Agency and AT&T apparently had quite a partnership in sharing customer data. As revealed in the latest document dump from Edward Snowden and reported by The New York Times and ProPublica, AT&T gave the NSA access to billions of emails crossing its domestic networks, as well as a massive amount of cellphone calling records.

As for government agencies, there are new reports out that the hack on the Internal Revenue Service was larger than originally thought. New evidence points to the hack starting several months earlier than first noted as well. So, instead of 100,000 people having their personal details swiped, it’s more than 300,000.

Sprint is the latest carrier to ditch two-year cellphone contracts, following T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. As part of its service overhaul, Sprint introduced its iPhone Forever plan, which gets you the current model for $22 a month on your bill.

robokillerThe Federal Trade Commission has announced the winner of last spring’s “Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back” challenge to developers. The $25,000 prize goes to an app called RoboKiller. If you want to know how it works, check out this PDF and the Kickstarter page.

The same sort of malvertising campaign that infested Yahoo’s ad network seems to have spread to other sites around the Web. The Malwarebytes security team reports they’ve now seen poison adverts on aol.com, weather.com, Weather Underground, The Drudge Report and other well-traveled domains.

Comcast is said to have new video platform called Watchable waiting in the wings. According to the Business Insider site, the telecom giant has formed partnerships with digital publishers like Vox, Buzzfeed, The Onion, Mic, Vice, Refinery29 and other sites to package content for streaming on the service. (BuzzFeed, for its part, announced this week that it was getting a 200 million dollar investment from Comcast family member NBC Universal to put toward its video efforts.) The new Comcast service, if it exists, could also compete with Verizon’s upcoming Go90 mobile video service.

Facebook is revamping its blog-like Notes feature to make it more appealing to users who have forgotten than Notes exists. Some have observed that the wide-margined new Notes templates make them look like articles on Medium. (Does anyone remember actually using Facebook Notes outside of those viral “15 Things” lists?)

Boston Dynamics recently released a video (below) that showed off Atlas, its humanoid robot with a stomp through the woods in such a manner that The Washington Post likened it to “a drunk Iron Man.” For those who have forgotten, Boston Dynamics is owned by Google, which is testing Atlas as an experimental bipedal rescue machine. Try to ignore the fact that it looks like, well, a Cylon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwrjAa1SgjQ

The 9to5Mac site is beefing up the details on its New Apple TV rumor coverage and is now predicting the new set-top streamer will have a new streamlined hardware design, new user interface, iOS 9, App Store access, that dedicated remote control we heard about earlier this year and Siri support.

Apple’s Siri assistant can do more than just set calendar appointments and look up baseball scores. The program was credited with saving the life of a teenage boy in Tennessee when he was pinned under his truck after the tire jack collapsed. While he was shifting around trying to get out from under the 5,000-pound Dodge Dakota, he heard the familiar Siri bleep coming from his back pocket and was able to get the app to call 911 for help with a life-saving butt-dial.

And finally, it’s not just shotgun owners and other privacy minded people who are annoyed by unmanned drones buzzing around overhead. Bears in the woods do not like drones either. Researchers at the University of Minnesota put health-tracking monitors on six black bears and recorded the ursine reaction to 17 drone flights. The heart rates of all the bears increased when the drones were within 21 years overhead — which indicates stress. The 15-page paper titled “Bears Show a Physiological but Limited Behavioral Response to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” was published online in the journal Current Biology and concludes that more research is needed to see if the bears would get used to the drones over time. The study, in one convenient image:

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Wildlife researchers do use drones in their work to observe animals from a distance, and Canada even has what the BBC calls a “goose-bothering drone” designed to scare off pesky Canadian geese in Ottawa by blasting recordings of predatory birds. And why yes, that drone is called the GooseBuster. Who ya gonna call?

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Start Me Up, 2015 Edition

The return of the Start menu was one of the things that made many a Windows 8 Haters stop griping about Microsoft and take a look at Windows 10. Yes, a variation of that handy little button is back, baby, hanging out in the lower-left corner of the screen.  But if you’re used to the text-based list of items like in Windows 7, Vista and XP, this new-fangled Windows 10 Start menu looks and acts a little bit different.

How different? For one thing, it takes up more space when you pop it open, because Microsoft has shrunk down the old Windows 8 Start screen (the one with the little colored self-updating live tiles) and stuffed it into the Start menu. You can tap or click a tile to open its app, like Weather, Photos or Mail. You can ditch or resize the tiles within the Start menu as you see fit. So that’s nice.

PTJ_StartMenu

For a lot of people, the Start menu was where you went every day to, well,  get started — by opening your programs. The Windows 10 Start menu has a variation of the old All Programs menu found in previous editions, except now it’s a vertical list of little app tiles. Links to the File Explorer, system Settings and logout/shutdown button are all here in the new Start menu, too. And as with previous versions of Windows, you can pin your favorite and most-used items to the Start menu so they are always nearby. You can even combine pinned apps into a group.

Windows 10 brings along some new things as well. For one, Cortana is hanging out down there at the bottom of the screen, waiting for you to ask her stuff. Think the Windows 10 Start menu is too small and you miss the expansive Start screen of Windows 8? You can go back to the Windows 8 days when Start takes up the whole screen by changing your settings. You have options.

No matter if you’re coming from Windows 8 or an earlier version of Windows, elements of the Start menu will look vaguely familiar. For those who avoided Windows 8 and clung to XP or Windows 7, popping open the Start menu in Windows 10 can feel  just like coming home again — albeit to a slightly bigger, colorful redecorated house that talks back to you.

PTJ 154: DIY Pixar

Pixar Animation Studios not only makes great movies, it shares the love with its technology. Last spring, the company put out a free, non-commercial version of RenderMan, the same software it uses to the render animation and visual effects on its own films. This week, Pixar announced it was releasing its Universal Scene Description software as an open-source project by the summer of 2016. It’s the same software the pros use, so why is the company being so generous? Laura M. Holson drops by Pop Tech Jam HQ to discuss.

J.D. and El Kaiser also tear into the week’s tech headlines, including Google’s sudden corporate makeover, new plans from Verizon Wireless, Facebook’s new laugh study and the importance of eating your greens, even on an international space station.

PTJ 154 News: Salad Days

Google isn’t taking much of a summer vacation and instead, set up a whole new corporate operating structure this week.  In a blog post on the company site, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced a new business entity called Alphabet that will now oversee  a collection of companies underneath it, including Google. Other members of Alphabet include Nest and Google Fiber. The new structure is said to give all the companies more room to grow and embody the Google Philosophy. However, there was one little glitch with setting up the new mega-company: German automaker BMW actually owns the trademark and domain of the now-overloaded alphabet.com.  Google has abc.xyz instead, and a cheeky little Silicon Valley joke in the mix, too.

Verizon Wireless is also changing things up. Following in the steps of T-Mobile, Verizon announced late last week that it was getting rid of that whole two-year contract commitment when you buy a new cellphone and has new service plans outlined in the Verizon press release “Simplified Data Choices Match Customer Lifestyles.”  If you blow past your monthly allowance, that’ll cost you $15 per gigabyte. (On that note, Snapchat has introduced a new Travel Mode in its Android and iOS apps that stops automatic Snaps, Stories and Discovery updates on cellular connections unless the user requests it to help save data-plan bytes.)

stopA new report by Adobe and PageFair estimates that ad-blocking software will cause a $22 billion dollar loss of revenue for advertisers this year, and that could affect jobs. Advertisers worry that ad-squashing software is even starting to stifle those expensive video ads everyone’s rolling out. Many users counter those arguments by pointing out that online ads can stalk and collect data on the user, hog bandwidth and are often infected with malware. So that’s why they use software like Adblock Plus — and will do so on mobile platforms as more blocker apps arrive.

Speaking of blocking, the Internet Watch Foundation is stepping up the fight against images of child pornography online. By using hashes, also known as digital fingerprints of specific images, and compiling these hashes into a lengthy list for sites and service providers, the group hopes to prevent uploading or speed up the takedown of the illegal content.

The Internet of Things is gaining ground and a world of automated appliances and household systems looms, but the Online Trust Alliance is trying to stop it all from turning into Skynet: The Home Edition. The OTA group has proposed a set of privacy and security standards for smart devices, and released a draft of its Internet of Things Trust Framework this week.  For those who like to participate, there’s a call for public comments on the document.

Meanwhile, up in space, the crew on the International Space Station got together, harvested and ate lettuce actually grown on the station. It’s all part of NASA’s research on fresh food grown in microgravity. If we’re sending humans to Mars, after all, we’re gonna need to pack some sustainable food resources.

issvege

While most of the crew was enjoying delicious space salad, two cosmonauts from the Russian Federation Space Agency went on a five-hour spacewalk to install new equipment, clean the windows and inspect the exterior of the station.

Mozilla has released Firefox version 40 with a new look for Windows 10 and more built-on security to guard against rogue third-party browser add-ons. Mozilla also seemed to be settling a score with Microsoft for setting its own Edge browser as the default in the Windows 10 express setup. Cortana searches in the new version of Firefox don’t have to use Microsoft’s Bing browser.

Since it’s mid-August,  the Applesauce rumor mill is beginning to grind faster ahead of the traditional September Apple Product Announcement and Media Lovefest. The 9to5Mac is among those guessing that the event will be on Wednesday, September 9th. The blogs are expecting Apple to reveal this year’s iPhone model with Force Touch feedback, iOS 9 and a new iOS-based Apple TV. The mythical, larger 12.9-inch iPad has also been rumored for fall.

And finally, Facebook just published a study about how the world expresses laughter online and found that the once-dominant chatroom standard LOL has become passé, giving way to chortling emojis, hehe and  hahaNelson Muntz, your time is now.

PTJ 153: Space Peanuts and Selfie Sandwiches

This week it’s all about fun on the best tech-themed podcast in the known universe. Don’t fret, it’s not all shenanigans.

Do we talk about robots?

Yes.

Do we discuss Microsoft 10?

Of course we do.

Is there a short conversation about toast?

You bet there is!

Stop reading this and click the play button already. If you’ve made it this far you know you wanna listen…

PTJ 153 News: Toasted

Blasting a nosy quadcopter out of the sky is a dream for some, but a Kentucky man was arrested in late July for shooting down a neighbor’s unmanned drone. The shooter claimed the drone was hovering low over his property, but the owner of the drone said he wasn’t spying. The Federal Aviation Administration is siding with the drone owner in this case, saying that the agency is responsible for the safety and management of US airspace from the ground up, and that shooting down the drone and causing it to crash endangers others. Another lawyer looking at the case told the Ars Technica site, “There is no defined aerial trespass law. You do not own the airspace over your own property.” (So is the concept of airspace rights just a real-estate scam? Confused.)

Sad news for the HitchBOT, a Canadian robot that successfully hiked around Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, all thanks to the kindness of strangers. The poor thing was just two weeks into its journey across America when it was vandalized and put out of commission by an unkind individual in Philadelphia. A video claiming to show the destruction was making the rounds, but the Gizmodo site is calling it a fake. The decapitated robot did get to spend time with movie-maker Kevin Smith, though.

As a fan of the Risky Business podcast recently mentioned to us on Twitter, a husband-and wife team have shown how it’s possible to hack a network-enabled, Linux-powered, self-aiming sniper rifle and disable it — or even change its target. As manually operated sniper rifles are worrisome enough in non-combat situations, the existence of hackable weapons in today’s insecure world is especially distressing.  El Kaiser’s contact-popping reaction to the news has been duly noted:

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Yahoo has had a history of security issues in the past, and the company’s entire advertising network recently got hit with a hacking. For seven days starting on July 28th, hackers turned Yahoo’s ad network into a malvertising wonderland. The security company Malwarebytes discovered the attack and notified Yahoo, which then shut down the scheme this past Monday. (In more Yahoo news. Bloomberg is among those reporting that the company is buying the shopping site Polyvore for $230 million dollars.)

Regulators approved AT&T’s $49 billion dollar deal to buy DirecTV last week, instantly creating the biggest provider of paid television in the country. AT&T wasted no time rolling out new plans, including one that combines cellular service with television programming so you can watch TV on your phone. Or at least, Homeland.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear the oral arguments in the lawsuits that sprang up from telecom providers over the new Net Neutrality rules later this year. Mark your calendar for December 4.

Apple just bought 40 acres of land in the San José area to use for research and development facilities and more offices. In the rumor department, there are whispers that the Mac Maker plans to launch a new version of its Apple TV box at its September media event. Business Insider is also reporting that Apple might be working on a new voicemail service that uses the Siri personal assistant to transcribe your messages. No comment there, but Apple has denied rumors that it plans to bypass mobile wireless carriers and offer its own service plans as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator by renting bandwidth from other companies. (Not so good for Apple, though — researchers have created the first worm that attacks Mac firmware.)

Here on Earth, Twitter seems to be experimenting with a News tab in the mobile app for some of its Android and iOS users.

kellyUp in space, Astronaut Scott Kelly of NASA answered questions this weekend sent in by Twitter users — including one from President Obama. Astronaut Kelly is spending a full year aboard the International Space Station and took time to respond to questions about exercise, hygiene, personal communication and watching ESPN in space. If you’re down here on Earth, however, don’t forget the peak days of the annual Perseid meteor shower are due next week. Check them out early in the morning from August 11 to 13 and if you miss these, there are a few other meteor events coming later in the year.

NASA has also noted that an asteroid passed within 4.5 million miles of Earth late last month. The asteroid, which appeared to have two lobes stuck together in a familiar shape, has been dubbed the “Space Peanut” and there’s video to prove it:

Amazon has changed the way its Prime members can share the account. While you could formerly have up to four adults sharing the Prime bennies, you now need to create an Amazon Household grouping within your account to share one $99 Prime membership with another adult and four kids.

Sony has just announced two new Xperia smartphones, the C5 Ultra and the M5, and these are aimed at connoisseurs of the digital self portrait. The phones are part of Sony’s PROselfie line of handsets. The Xperia C5 Ultra has a 6-inch display with twin 13-megapixel cameras front and back, while the Xperia M5 has a 5-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera in the front, a 21-megapixel camera on the back, and is said to be waterproof. Both phones run the Android operating system and are expected to arrive in stores this month.

selfietoasterAnd finally, the fall Hammacher Schlemmer catalog is out now and the company’s exclusive $70 Selfie Toaster is still available — in case you want to start your holiday shopping before Labor Day. After all, a toaster that “uses custom heating inserts crafted from a submitted headshot photograph” to burn someone’s likeness into a piece of bread just may be the perfect gift for the person who has everything.