PTJ 165: A Sweet, Boozy Party in Outer Space

In this week’s episode, J.D. takes a look at the current state of digital comic books and offers up suggestions on what apps and services are available to help us take our digital comics experience to the next level. Also on the show we have a cubic buttload of tech news, including a fascinating discovery about our new favorite celestial body.  Astronomers have determined that good old Comet Lovejoy is spraying sugar and booze as it hurtles it’s way around the solar system. There’s a space party going on and we weren’t invited. Bummer…

PTJ 165 News: Stream On

Oh, cord-cutters, could it be? Time Warner Cable is reportedly testing an Internet TV service this week, which would allow subscribers to go over the top and stream their television programs without having to have a cable box. All you need is a supplied Roku 3. TWC  isn’t commenting yet, but as reported by the Tech Times site, the so-called “Starter TV” package will cost $10 a month on top of usual broadband costs, and the service tiers go from there.

The Roku 3 may have gotten tapped for the rumored test, but the Roku 4 has now rolled out, bringing its 4K video streams with it. CNet reviewed the new model and said that the Roku 4 is the best way to ultra high-def 4K video at the moment —but it wasn’t so hot with voice search or gaming. But the 4K picture is nice, when you can find 4K content to watch.

The fourth generation Apple TV went on sale this week. Pre-orders started Monday and units were expected to start arriving October 30th.  VentureBeat reports that the remote is radically different than previous models and that iPhone owners can set the box up over a Bluetooth connection with the phone held near the Apple TV. Brian X. Chen of The New York Times reviewed it as well.

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Thinking of cutting the cable cord but are afraid of losing your cable-comany DVR box? Consumer Reports has an article on DVRs you can use to record shows from over-the-air signals.

You do need broadband to stream TV with these new boxes, but New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is looking into the speed claims made by Verizon Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable Inc., and Cablevision Systems Corp. because maybe, you know, connections aren’t as fast as advertised. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, over in Europe this week, the European Parliament voted against a set of amendments intended to protect “net neutrality” in the EU. Proponents of Net Neutrality were critical, those against said the proposed legislation was too vague. Also getting legal, another class-action lawsuit against Apple over the Wi-Fi- Assist feature in iOS 9 that turned out to be eating through user’s mobile data plans if left unattended.

Speaking of mobile data hogs: Facebook is rolling out is redesigned and expanded the notifications tab in its Android and iOS apps. A blog on the company site says the notifications will include things like friends’ milestones, sports scores, reminders about your favorite TV shows, upcoming events and whatnot – just like Google Now already does.

Samsung is not letting everyone else have Big Tablet Fun without it. On the heads of the iPad Pro and the 27-inch Lenovo table-top tablet, Samsung is reportedly working on a Galaxy View model with an 18.4-inch screen. Images of the Galaxy View are online.

It seems like everyone and their grandmother is launching a mobile payment system and now Chase has announced its own digital wallet service called Chase Pay. The service is expected out next year, but uses QR codes on screen with the CurrentC system instead of near-field communication connections with payment terminals like Android Pay and Apple Pay do. And MasterCard announced a new program of its own this week that will let it bring a payment system to any accessory, wearble or consumer device into a mobile payment system. (Any accessory?)

Wal-Mart  has applied for its own permit with the Federal Aviation Administration to start testing drones for warehouse inventory, home deliver and curbside pickup. The application is under review. Here’s hoping for a Drones of Wal-Mart website soon thereafter.

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If you have an Xbox One, mark November 12th on your calendar. That’s the day Microsoft plans to roll out Windows 10 to its console nation. Tech-support hotlines are standing by…

And finally, space party! A new study published in Science magazine finds that Comet C/2014 Q2 — also known by its club name, Comet Lovejoy — is spraying sugar and booze as it flies around the solar system. Analysis by scientists found ethyl alcohol and sugar in the comet’s chemical mix, at a concentration of 0.12% alcohol and 0.16% sugar. All aboard the Cocktail Comet!

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Panel Discussion

Digital comics have thankfully been around for several years now, and in that time, they’ve gone from random back issues to full same-day download distribution for some titles. Digital-first or digital-only issues are also available. Some comics now have other bells and whistles that take advantage of tablet and smartphone technology to help tell the story.

So, what else is new lately?

supergirlFor one, ComiXolgy, the sort of Amazon of digital comics that was one of the first big download shops, was actually bought by Amazon last year.  The site’s mobile Comics app — for Android, iOS and Amazon Kindle — is popular. The app’s Guided View feature and wide selection (at least 75,000 titles) are still part of the ComiXology experience. But with Amazon’s acquisition, in-app purchases on the iOS version are no longer possible because Amazon doesn’t want to give Apple a 30% bite of the pie. So iOS users have to select and pay for purchases through the ComiXology website and then download them while logged into an account. This switch upset many iPad readers who dislike the inconvenience and extra steps, so you may see some pretty negative reviews of the app online. You can still get your comics, but it’s not as easy as it used to be with the ComiXology Comics app. Android and Amazon Kindle versions? No problem.

You can also get Android and iOS apps for your favorite publishers: DC Comics and its Vertigo line, Marvel Comics (which also has its Marvel AR app for augmented reality offerings in certain titles), Dark Horse Comics and IDW Publishing, which does comics for a lot of TV shows. And we can’t forget Archie Comics. Third-party comics reader apps are also around.

madefireIf you want comics with a little something more — like motion, soundtracks and light animation, check out the Motion Books in the Madefire storefront app. Motion Books aren’t videos of comics, but technology enhanced digital books that use music, sound effects, parallax views and animated objects within the frame to build the story. Madefire has apps for many screens, and you can also look at comics on your television with its apps for set-top boxes like Android TV and now the new fourth-generation Apple TV. Madefire also makes its Motion Book software available to indie comics creators through the deviantArt website.

Don’t like the Bam! Pow! Pop! stuff? Check out the Sequential app for iOS, which specializes in indie and alternative books. As it says on the Sequential website, “We don’t do superheroes. You can get them in a lot of other places.”

Why, yes. Yes, you can.

PTJ 164: El Kaiser Awakens

The countdown to the opening of the newest “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has officially begun! This week saw the release of a new trailer, an official movie poster, and pre-sale tickets. One thing noticeably absent from all the hoopla: Luke Skywalker. Also on the show, El Kaiser delivers his annual “State of the Podcast” rant and J.D. takes a look at note taking apps for mobile devices. Oh yeah, and we lots and lots of tech news.

PTJ 164 News: Eyes in the Sky

The air up there isn’t completely full of drones yet, but the skies have gotten way more crowded in the past few years. This week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced that a task force had been created to develop ideas and recommendations on a registration process for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Recommendations are due November 20th — will drone license plates be coming soon?

Speaking of government agencies, John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly had his email hacked by a high school student. The young hacker in question told Wired.com how he did it. The account is question has been disabled and it was an . . . AOL account.

Facebook is here for you. In a blog post on the company site, Alex Stamos of The Social Network said: “Starting today, we will notify you if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an attacker suspected of working on behalf of a nation-state.”

If you need a daily reminder of what planet you live on, check out NASA’s new website devoted to photography from the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard its Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite. While the Deep Space Climate Observatory’s main mission is to track solar wind and storms that could disrupt the world’s electrical grid, air travel and communications systems, it’s handy Earth-facing camera promises a picture every day.

The free trial period of Apple Music has run out for the first wave of people who signed up and Tim Cook, the company CEO said at a technology conference this week that the service retained 6.5 million subscribers who switched over to paying monthly. Cook also reported another 8.5 million people are currently participating in the 90-day free trial, and that orders for the fourth-generation Apple TV will start on October 26th.

Apple will be kicking a few apps out of its App Store for violating the company’s privacy policy. Researchers at SourceDNA found about 256 apps that were secretly gathering user information like email addresses, serial numbers and other bits of data that could be used to identify and track users. To the curb, appholes.

Google is very proud of its Google Docs productivity suite, (with its recent additions of Voice Typing and other useful features) and is telling enterprise customers who have contracts with other software vendors that it will cover their Google Apps fees until their commitments with those other places run out. In other Google news, the  Waze navigation app  has gotten a redesign.

Table-top PC’s make a run for glory every few years and now it’s Lenovo’s turn with its 27-inch Lenovo Yoga Home tablet with its own tabletop operation system overlay called Aura that runs atop Windows 10. The current price is about $1500 and you can apparently play air hockey on it.

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This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s released here in the United States. All those who played a few rounds of Super Mario Brothers, raise a glass Nintendo’s way.

And finally, many nerds sat through the first half of Monday Night Football game to see the brand new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Early tickets for the film’s December shows also went on sale last Monday night and the anxiety was made worse when the websites for Fandango, AMC Theaters and other ticket outlets went grinding and crashing down.

As expected, the trailer did produce a lot of reaction, including the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII for a social-media campaign purporting to complain that the new film wasn’t dominated by white people and all good racists should avoid the film. Trolls are now claiming the whole thing was a joke designed to stir up controversy. Remember people, never feed the trolls. Now, let’s watch the trailer again. And again.

Duly Noted

We all have times when we need to jot down a few notes on the go. To-do list items and appointments are one thing, but notes are more:  the name of a contractor, the model number of a thing you want to buy, a story idea, a recipe or paint color at the hardware store. And it’s even cooler when you can sync up your mobile thoughts with your desktop like. Here are four multi-platform apps to consider:

evernote• Evernote is the pretty much the good standard for many a jotter — or people collaborating across different platforms on a project. Evernote works on most mobile and desktop systems and you can sync your notes and projects across them all. You can save webpages, email, audio clips, photos, charts, chats and more in your Evernote projects. It also has an extensive help section with videos, three levels of service — from free to paid to even more paid.

• Microsoft OneNote is another established digital notes-taking app that works on most major mobile and desktop platforms. It’s free and you can save mail, webpages and photos into it, plus it has integration with other apps like WordPress, Chegg, Feedly and several scanning apps. Microsoft also just announced this week that OneNote has formed a partnership with FiftyThree to support its Paper app and Pencil stylus. (OneNote will also work with the Apple Pencil, whenever that fancy $100 stick rolls into town.)

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keep• Google Keep is the notes ‘n’ lists app for Google and Android users and stores your various types of thoughts in colorful boxes within the app on screen. If inspiration strikes, you can dictate your thoughts into the app, too. It’s all tied to your Google account, so  you can get to all your kept items tucked away in the program through phone, tablet, computer or Android wearables.

• iOS 9 Notes from Apple is a major improvement over the limited notepad app that’s been in iOS since 2007. You ios9can whip up to-do lists and checklists if you want, but you can also doodle or sketch with your finger, add maps, photos, webpages and text to your notes. And if you’re hooked into iCloud, the service will sync all your notes across your Mac and other iOS devices.

Plenty of other note-taking apps are out there to consider too. No matter which one you use, odds are it’s going to be more versatile than the scraps of paper we grew up using — and often losing.

PTJ 163: Oh, Oh, Oh, It’s Magic!

El Kaiser is back from the House of Mouse with a Tech Term focusing on the magic of technology at Disney parks and J.D. fills us in on the many commands available to use with Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. Don’t fret, we have the week’s tech news sprinkled with our usual generous helping of snark.

PTJ 163 News: No Time Like the Present

Money makes the world go ’round, (also the conservation of angular momentum), and things were really spinning this week. That’s because Dell, maker of computers, has agreed to buy EMC, maker of data storage products, for $67 billion dollars. This, of course, is subject to regulatory approval and may take a year to complete, but if it all goes through, it creates the world’s “largest privately-controlled, integrated technology company.” Boo-yah!

When one thinks “Pepsi,” technology usually doesn’t come to mind unless it’s something like the limited-edition Pepsi Perfect bottles the company first released at New York Comic Con last week to celebrate the year depicted in Back to the Future II and 30 years since the franchise started.

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However, the soft-drink company has announced a deal to work with a partner to make Pepsi-branded mobile phones and accessories in China. Pepsi’s not doing the hardware, mind you, just putting its name and logo on the Pepsi P1 phone that’s due out soon.

From the It Was Only A Matter of Time Department: Facebook is testing a shopping section that it says will act as a “single place for people to more easily discover, share, and purchase products.” And also never, ever use any other site besides Facebook.

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The Hollywood Reporter asks an important question: Does the Future of Television Belong to the Device or the App? The site has a story this week about a new case before the Federal Communications Commission that’s dividing the movie and TV industry and bringing tech companies like Amazon and Google into the fray.

Speaking of control issues, Twitter suspended the accounts for the sports blogs Deadspin and SB Nation over the weekend for posting copyrighted GIFs and video highlights. Deadspin at least had a little fun at the NFL commissioner’s expense when the account was reactivated.

Now, Windows 10 officially came out this summer, but the work is not finished. Microsoft has promised it to make Windows 10 an ever-evolving system and the company just released its Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 10565 version this week.

Apple updated its iMac line of desktop computers, bringing faster processors and 4K or 5K displays to the hardware. New input accessories the Magic Keyboard 2, the Magic Mouse 2 and the Magic Trackpad 2 — now with Force Touch — were also announced.

Experian, one of the bureaus out their keeping tabs on people’s credit, got hacked last week. Brian Krebs, who runs the Krebs on Security blog, has a story about how the bureau’s security practices have lapsed over the past few years due to attrition, dissatisfaction and other factors.

Google Cardboard is expanding internationally. The little fold-together virtual reality viewer that works with your smartphone and a special app is now is available in 39 languages and over 100 countries on both Android and iOS devices.

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And finally, with The Martian topping the movie box office two weeks in a row and the Red Planet getting lots of press anyway, NASA released a document detailing its next steps in it Journey to Mars project, which it has been working on for some time. It may sound farfetched, but it it took less than ten years from President Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon to NASA’s Apollo 11 mission making it a reality. And speaking of the Apollo missions, check out the Project Apollo Archive that was recently published on Flickr. Science! It just makes you want to . . . break into song sometimes, doesn’t it?

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Ask Me (Almost) Anything

Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana are the Charlie’s Angels of personal virtual assistants, each with their own strengths and weaknesses in the battle to do good. As assistants go, none of them are very old: Siri first arrived in iOS 5 in 2011, Google Now debuted in 2012 and Microsoft’s Cortana stopped being a Halo entity and rolled out to Windows Phones in 2014; she landed on Windows 10 this summer.

In less than five years, though, assistant software has gone from fielding basic questions (“What’s the weather today?”) and handling a good-natured HAL 9000 joke now and then to opening apps, doing currency conversions, identifying songs, finding pictures from specific events and more. No pushing buttons here: Thanks to the voice commands “Hey, Siri,” “Okay Google” and “Hey Cortana,” you don’t even have to lift a finger to get results.

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So, what commands can you use these days for Siri, Google Now or Cortana? These sorts of lists just keep growing and growing:

And, in a pinch, you might be able to just ask your assistant:

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PTJ 162: Microsoft Doubles Down on Hardware

Back in the day, Microsoft was the elephant in the room. Apple was a cult favorite and Google was just a search engine. These days, Bill Gates’ pride and joy is the scrappy underdog and is doing all it can to stay relevant. To that end, the boys from Redmond unveiled a slew of products this week and that took aim squarely at behemoths Apple and Google. In a Hopefully Helpful Hint segment, J.D. explains how we can tweak privacy setting on Windows 10.