PTJ 161 News: Life on Mars

5XGoogle’s turn! Yes, it’s Google’s turn for the big fall product announcement event, which the company held this Tuesday in San Francisco. Among the revelations, the LG Nexus 5X (top) and the Huawei Nexus 6P (bottom). Both are in Google’s Nexus line and available for online pre-order in in the Google Store.  6PYou have to buy the phones from Google and then pick a carrier plan, but the new handsets also work with Google’s Project Fi, a wireless experience made up of Wi-Fi networks and partner 4G LTE carriers.

The Nexus name didn’t continue onto tablets, however, as Google also announced its new Pixel C device, which looks like a tablet with an optional and magnetically attachable keyboard. The 10.2-inch Google-designed gadget (shown below) has already been compared to Microsoft’s Surface tablet.

pixelc

ChromecastGoogle also updated its $35 Chromcast dongle for streaming media this week. The new version of the regular Chromecast has been redesigned into a small, puck-like ChromecastAudioobject with a smaller connector to the back of the TV set that may fit a little better when you have a bunch of other stuff plugged it. As shown here at the top, you can get it in three different colors. If you don’t care about video and just want a way to stream the tunes on your mobile devices over Wi-Fi to a pair of big-ass speakers in the house, there’s the Chromecast Audio dongle (below). That one’s also $35 and available in basic black.

LG Electronics, which makes appliances, television sets and some very nice high-end Android smartphones, is bringing its laptop business here to the States. Like its smartphones, LG’s laptop line, called the Gram series, leans to the fancier end of the spectrum, with a MacBook-like Air look with Intel Core processors and HD displays. Prices range from about $900 to $1400.

Public Service Announcement: People, stop posting that status about Facebook charging money to keep your profile’s privacy settings! The copyright thing is bogus! It was a hoax three years ago and it’s still a hoax today! It does play on fears about privacy, though, which is a sensitive topic for many people. Microsoft published a post on its Windows blog this week that addressed privacy concerns some users have voiced with Windows 10.

vrkitObservers noticed the Microsoft offering its own variation of Google’s Cardboard viewer called the Microsoft VR Kit for its Lumia phones, at least for participants at a Russian hackathon.  In other reality-avoidance news, Re/Code is among those reporting that YouTube is getting ready to launch an ad-free subscription service next month that will also include access to its YouTube MusicKey streams.

Twitter is also moving away from and supplementing its original service model. Reports are circulating that the company is building a new product that would let users post content longer than 140 characters. Twitter itself is not commenting about that or the TV Timelines feature it’s been working on since March of this year. However, Twitter is seen to be making a bigger grab for more television show fans as the new fall season rolls out by adding shortcuts to its TV Timelines feature on TV-related tweets.

cardreaderOctober is here and along with heartier fall-themed beers, many retail merchants are finally upgrading their credit-card terminals to accept dips from cards with smart chips. Merchants who do not up their security by installing chip-reading credit card terminals could be liable for fraudulent transactions in their stores.

Big news from NASA earlier this week: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has new findings that provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water is flowing on Mars.

NASAAnd finally, Mars will be all up in the news this weekend as the new film, The Martian opens around the country. The movie stars Matt Damon and  is based on a best-selling novel originally self-published in 2011 by Andy Weir, a software engineer who used apps and diligence to get the science plausible and right within the story. Ridley Scott directed the picture and worked with NASA consultants to make the visuals technically accurate, and the agency highlights nine real and developing NASA technologies used in the film. (Since NASA has been such a big booster of the film, Yahoo News is among those wondering if the agency even timed Monday’s Mars announcement just ahead of the film’s release on Friday.) But perhaps even more exciting than water on Mars, however, is that Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara are in the film as well — and they get to play actual astronauts instead of astronauts’ wives.
Now that’s progress.

martiancast

 

PTJ 160: Takedowns and New News

This week on the galaxy’s best independent tech-themed podcast, El Kaiser breaks down the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and J.D. digs up some news apps that may may actually help you forget the long lamented Google Reader. And, of course, we have a whole mess of pumpkin-spiced tech news for your listening pleasure.

PTJ 160 News: Vroom Vroom

Well, well, well… According to a report in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Apple is committed to producing an electric car and aims to have it tooling down the road by 2019. So I guess we’ll pencil in that grand demo for September 10th, 2019, eh?

pencilThe stuff that Apple did announce on this past September 9th is finally starting to roll out. iOS 9 hit the download channels last Wednesday and already has a 50-percent adoption rate among users with compatible iOS devices. The second version of the Apple Watch OS also arrived this week after a short bug delay. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus begin to land in stores and delivery trucks on Friday. The 4th generation of the Apple TV is due out in late October (even though iFixit has already found one and torn it down to see how it works) and the iPad Pro with the optional $100 Pencil is due in November. Apple is also issuing the rare refund in its App Store after the creator of the $3 Peace ad-blocker for iOS had second thoughts over ethics and yanked his app .

kindleAmazon is not letting Apple grab all the TV and tablet press, though. Last week, the company announced a new gaming edition of its Fire TV box, and an update to its Fire TV box that brings 4K streaming and the Alexa voice-controlled assistant. Amazon also rolled out a version of its Fire tablet for less than $50, beefier upgraded hardware for its other Fire tablet models and well as a $100 Kindle Fire tablet for kids. Choices, there are choices.

Dot-Com Collapse II on the way, or just a little wobble? Collective discounts site Groupon announced this week that it was cutting 1,100 jobs and closing down operations in at least seven countries as part of a restructuring plan. And Oyster, the so-called Netflix-for-reading company announced it was shutting down its e-book subscription service it launched in 2012. According to Re/code, however, a number of Oyster employees are headed to Google to shore up the Google Play Books store

Speaking of Google, the company just updated its Wallet app for iOS. Like the previously released Android app, the revamped Google Wallet now emphasizes sending money to friends instead of paying for merchandise in a store.

office16Also revamped and updated: Microsoft Office 2016 for Windows. It’s available to Office 365 subscribers who are paying $100 or $70 a year after the free trial period. The Home & Student edition is also available as a one-time purchase for a price of $150. Microsoft is also making its Office 2016 for Mac available for a one-time purchase. (Some people, however, prefer LibreOffice, iWork for iCloud, Google Docs or even Office Online.)

beretIn legal news, the French government agency that regulates data has rejected Google’s appeal in the right-to-be-forgotten. At this stage of the process in the French legal system, Google has no legal possibility to appeal the order and may have to pay a fine if it doesn’t comply. Russia is also mad at Google and accused the company of violating Russian anti-monopoly laws earlier this month. Penalties may ensue there as well.

vinylPandora is having a better time of it with legal matters. The music-streaming service said it was pleased that the U.S. Copyright Office agreed that Pandora’s agreement with Merlin Network, a global rights agency for independent musicians, was admissible as a benchmark in royalty proceedings. A panel of three judges known as the Copyright Royalty Board has been working on setting royalties for Internet radio and is expected to have a decision in mid-December. (Also in the music world, the Recording Industry Association of America reports that while total revenue was essentially flat for the first half of 2015. Vinyl sales were rising, though!)

And finally, the Onion humor site, which started the ClickHole spin-off for goofy viral video, is having a go at the countless celebrity gossip sites online. The Onion’s new site is called StarWipe. Decked out with hot pink and bright blue accents, Star Wipe currently features such headlines as “Emmys Photos We Can’t Stop Staring At Even Though We’re Supposed To Be Controlling Air Traffic” and “Rihanna Says She And Taylor Swift Have Different Fan Bases, Has Clearly Never Been To University Of Missouri Party.” StarWipe is just starting out and still has a way to go to top some of ClickHole’s triumphs like “Yes! Ham Goes Up an Escalator.” Oh, let’s watch that one again shall we?

New News Apps

The official arrival of Apple News last week brought a reminder that there are tons of customizable news-gathering apps out there. Some even serve like RSS readers to collect the top stories on topics you actually care  about. Yes, Flipboard and its ilk are still around, but here are a few news apps to consider if you don’t use one already.

  • applenewsApple News for iOS 9. Fresh out into the open, Apple’s elegant news reader invites you to tap through a series of tiles representing your favorite newspapers, magazines, blogs and other information sources — plus your favorite general topics — and set up your own personalized current-events feed. Once you create your news preferences, you can tap the For You button to see the headlines and the stories behind them. The Favorites area lets you select a specific news source, or topic like The Atlantic or Gadgets. Tap the Explore button to see suggested topics and channels. You can also search and save stories. Some news outlets have even said they’ll release exclusive content for Apple News.
  • GoogleNWGoogle News & Weather for Android and iOS. If you love Google News on the web, this standalone app takes you right to your personalized feed without having to dig through menus in the Google Mobile app or web site. The app pulls in news from 65,000 sources around the world. Once you select a story, you can tap it to drill down into other sources, opinion pieces, videos and more about that topic. You can easily swipe through your favorite news subjects and add them. Oh, get your local weather, too, if you let Google News pick up your location settings.
  • NuzzelNuzzel for Android and iOS. Unlike an app that gathers news using its own algorithms to crawl across the World Wide Web, the Nuzzel app grabs its headlines from what your friends are posting about on Facebook and Twitter. You do have to give the app permission to see your followers and friends lists, but it does help you keep up with what everybody else is talking about. So that could be helpful, especially when people are all up about momentary distractions like Pizza Rat.
  • BBCOthers. If you want a straight up news service app, there’s the Associated Press’s AP Mobile app for Android, iOS and even Windows Phone. Likewise the Reuters news starwarsapp works on all three of those platforms and has a version for the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, too. The BBC News mobile app (shown above) got redesigned earlier this summer. In addition to online stories created by BBC journalists, you also get a live stream of BBC World News Radio. The app is available for Android and iOS and you can set up your own list of personal topics of interest. And one of those topics can be Star Wars, but if you want all Star Wars news, just get the Star Wars app. Seriously.

PTJ 159 News: Solid Opinions and Virtual Reality

It’s been a busy September already, but the Federal Communications Commission hasn’t  forgotten about the proposed merger of Charter Communications/Time Warner Cable/Bright House. The agency has put forth the request for public comments on the possible transaction, just as it did last year with the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger that later collapsed. You have until October 13th to comment and yes, you can file your comment online, as several people have already.

In other legal news, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco has ruled that copyright holders must pause to consider if use of their material qualifies as fair use before issuing a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It’s all in the case of Lenz vs. Universal, also commonly known as The Dancing Baby Lawsuit, and it started way back in 2007.

Although a triumphant Monday press release touting first-weekend sales did not arrive, Apple did release a statement announcing that global pre-orders for the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models were on track to beat last year’s 10 million first-weekend sales of the iPhone 6. The iPhone 6s Plus does seem to be sold out in numerous areas, but a manufacturing issue has been rumored in the shortage blame game. And if you’re thinking about buying one of the new iPhone models, The Washington Post has a guide to the various payment plans you can choose from now if you have to have the latest model.

cashtagThis week saw yet another Republican debate on television as next year’s Presidential campaign continues to grind on. In the spirit of things, Twitter announced that it was teaming up with Square to let people in the United States donate to the political candidate of their choice with a tweet.

Facebook bought the Oculus Rift virtual reality company last year and many wondered why, but The Wall Street Journal is reporting that The Social Network is developing a stand-alone video app that would support “spherical” or 360-degree clips. Facebook is not commenting on that topic  yet, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg did say this week that the company was developing a Dislike button for posts.

Flickr is also getting into virtual reality and did a little VR demo at a festival in Oregon last weekend. After putting on a the VR goggles, a user would be immersed in a 360-degree panoramic photo. Oh, and Sony announced its Project Morpheus product is now PlayStation VR.

fembotsAlso in the world of “virtual” but not “reality”. . .  Annalee Newitz over at the Gizmodo site continues her investigation into the Ashley Madison site and how the company alleged used female-identifying chatbots or “fembots” to lure unsuspecting male customers into paying for credits in order to keep interacting with what they thought were real women. Although they used more sophisticated language, the Ashley Madison fembots were not all that far removed from ELIZA and some of the early chatbots from the 1970s.

NASA is preparing to send Microsoft’s HoloLens hardware up to the astronauts in the International Space Station, with delivery scheduled for a cargo mission in early December. And for those with Ultra High Definition 4K TV sets and not much to watch on them, NASA just announced it’s partnering with Harmonic to create a new channel called NASA TV UHD. NASA says this will be the first ever non-commercial consumer ultra-high definition (UHD) channel in North America and said it plans to start broadcasting on it November 1st.

sleepyAnd finally, an Oculus Rift virtual-reality production has become the first show of its kind to win an Emmy Award. The production, called Sleepy Hollow: VR Experience and set in the town cemetery of the supernatural FOX TV show, won the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media category for User Experience And Visual Design. Perhaps next year, NASA will start a non-commercial consumer UHD VR channel so we can really reach for the virtual stars…

PTJ 159: Put Your Credit On Ice…Online

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but where there is good, there is also bad — namely the major spike in identity theft and credit-card fraud. Within the past couple years, hacks of huge customer-info databases like Target, Anthem, Sony, eBay, Home Depot, the IRS, Ashley Madison, JPMorgan, CVS Photo and U.S. government computer systems have put the personal information of millions of people into the hands of evildoers.

Getting a fraud alert call from your credit-card company — or seeing and stopping unauthorized charges on your monthly bill — is annoying enough to deal with, but things get kicked up several notches in the PITA department if your whole identity is stolen. If someone gets your Social Security number, address and other personal information, you can find your credit wrecked by that person signing up for new credit cards in your name and running up unpaid bills.iStock_000041691558LargeOne thing you can do to protect yourself, however, is to put a Security Freeze on your credit file with the big three agencies – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. The freeze locks up access to your credit report — which people issuing new credit cards want to see before they approve a new account. If it’s you wanting that new account, you just have to provide a pre-approved PIN to unlock your reports for creditors, but an identity thief won’t have access to that. So most likely someone else’s application for a new credit card in your name will be turned down, thus saving your credit integrity.

You can put the freeze on your credit file in about 20 minutes by going online to the sites of Experian, TransUnion and Equifax and filling out a webform. You do have to type in your Social Security Number for this, so make sure you are on a secure Internet connection. You also need to remember the PIN you pick to unfreeze your accounts. If you are nervous about doing this online, you can also call each agency:

Depending on the state you live in, there may be a small fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit files. Activating a security freeze does not affect your credit score, stop fraud on existing credit cards or prevent you from getting a free annual credit report. It also does not stop your mailbox from filling up with “prescreened” credit-card offers and pamphlets, but you can call or go online to opt out of those at 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or at www.optoutprescreen.com.

Intrigued, but want to know more about the credit deep freeze? The Federal Trade Commission has more information on its site, as well as details on Extended Fraud Alerts. Adding a freeze may take a few minutes out of your day, but it can help protect your identity and credit score. And as they say, the best defense is a good offense.
Go team!

PTJ 158 News: Fall Harvest

Oh, look! It’s September again and Apple has announced a bunch of new stuff this week, including:

• An update to the Apple Watch operating system,  new watchbands and the “Hermès Collection
• The iPad Maxi, er, iPad Pro with fancy optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil and a flexible Smart Keyboard
• The long-awaited hardware update to the Apple TV with Siri-powered remote and games
• The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
• The arrival of iOS 9 on September 16th

Oh, and rose gold is apparently a thing.

But Apple was in the spotlight for other reasons as well this week. A story on the front page of The New York Times highlighted the company’s national security tussle with the United States government over encryption and data access with software like iMessage, a program Apple says it can’t decrypt itself.

lgtvThe fall tech bounty does not begin nor end with the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, however. The annual IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin just ended this week and like the Consumer Electronics Show here in Las Vegas each January, companies preview many products and tech journalists look for trends. Meanwhile, LG Electronics did some fun stuff with flat televisions, like making a  double-sided 4K OLED set (shown here, and probably just a prototype). And if you like a lot of pixels, Canon announced that it’s developed a 250-megapixel sensor that’s still small enough to fit inside a DSLR camera.

Comcast is testing a new form of data plan in south Florida. While the company normally imposes a 300-gigabytes-a-month limit, customers can now pay an extra $30  for the Unlimited Data Option. It’s just like those old unlimited broadband plans of yore, except more expensive!

Verizon announced its new Go90 mobile streaming TV service this week. The service will be ad-supported and show programs young people want to watch.

A 7-inch display for the Raspberry Pi barebones computer went on sale this week for $60. Here’s what you can do with it:

The publishing industry and Amazon had a very public spat last year over e-book pricing, which eventually led to new distribution deals with the under mega-everything store. But while several publishers got to charge more for their e-books and lose less income to Amazon’s deep discounts, recent sales reports show that their e-book revenue declined overall in the last quarter.

EdgeMicrosoft really, really, really wants you to use its new Edge browser and has even employed its Bing search engine to steer you away from the likes of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. If you happed to search for an alternative browser with Bing on Edge, you see a little box at the top of your search results declaring that Microsoft Edge is really the best browser for Windows 10 and click this here link to learn why. However, the browser does not actually stop you from stepping off the Edge.

A writer over at BuzzFeed is disputing the recent PageFair study that estimated ad-blocking software would make sites lose $21 billion in ad revenue this year, bit even squishy numbers do not soothe The Interactive Advertising Bureau. According to Advertising Age, the trade group met this summer to discuss what to do, including filing lawsuits against companies that make ad-blocking software, but nothing major has been decided yet. The IAB did vote to move away from Adobe Flash and make HTML5 its new standard for online ads. And in related news AdBlock Plus just announced its first official ad-blocking app for iOS and than it was back in the Google Play store for Android.

NASA said late last week that it has begun its intensive data downlink phase to grab the massive amount of data the New Horizons spacecraft collected during its Pluto flyby in July.  The agency also announced that engineers at a facility in New Orleans have welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will be used in a test flight to the far side of the moon in preparation for an eventual manned journey to Mars.

stormtroopersAnd finally, September 4th last week was Force Friday, the day retailers unleashed a giant wave of new officially licensed Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise into stores around the world. Global celebration events included midnight sales and twerking stormtroopers in Times Square. And as the BBC has noted, all of these merch sales could make this seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise “the biggest film ever.” December 18th, folks — or even earlier, if you happen to live in popular parts of Europe. Okay, who’s checking mid-December airfare to France now?

PTJ 158: No, the “Apple Pencil” is Not a Joke

In this special double-sized episode, we look at this week’s Apple product announcement and feature a bountiful late summer harvest of tech news.

512CyThiA2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Also on the show, are technobabble, jargon and buzzwords ruining our ability to write clearly — and get the point across with our colleagues? Author Phil Simon joins us to discuss the general state of professional  correspondence in this high-tech world of ours. Phil’s latest book, Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It, is out now and here’s its trailer:

Message Not Received – Book Trailer from Phil Simon on Vimeo.

Have You Been Ghosted? You Know Who to Call

You date someone and suddenly they cut off  all contact. Texts are ignored, calls are unanswered. No explanation for the disappearing act. That poor confused, and propably angry soul, has just been “ghosted” and in this world, there are two types of people: ghosters and ghostees. El Kaiser explains how it is actually harder than ever to completely shut someone out of your life these days.

The iOS and Android have more in common than most people think. On this weeks episode, J.D. looks at the similarities between the two dominant mobile operating systems.

We also offer up a late summer hunk of tech news and shenanigans.

POP | TECH | JAM: Same as it ever was…