PTJ 175: Wicked Weather and the Return of Scully & Mulder

While still wrapping our brains around the fact that X-Files is back on TV, we found time to pack this episode with snark and shenanigans that will (hopefully) keep you informed and entertained during your commute, at the gym, at home or anywhere you listen to the best darned tech-themed around. This week, J.D. highlights some apps that mix in a dose of fun with the weather details and in the news, Twitter shakes up its executive ranks; Sony does some corporate housekeeping; Amazon gets duped by hackers; and those sites tracking Abe Vigoda’s status make one final update.

Of course there’s more. Just take a listen!

PTJ 175 News: In the Air

Several Twitter peeps have flown the coop recently, as the company attempts  to jump-start its growth by making the service easier to use and more appealing to Everyday People. Jack Dorsey, the company chief, did a few layoffs when he took the top spot last fall, but the revolving door continues to spin into the new year. (The bird-themed microblogging service has also gotten dinged inside and out for its lack of diversity and has been trying to improve things, although it got mixed reactions for hiring a white dude as its VP of diversity and inclusion — albeit one that was a founding member of a global LGBT leadership organization.) Twitter also busted a move this week and hired former American Express exec Leslie Berland as its chief marketing officer. Old School, meet New Media.

The Re/Code site is among those reporting that Twitter seems to be trying to keep its big famous users happy by majorly reducing the amount of ads those celebrities and notable figures see in their feeds. One site that seems to be showing more ads than before is Instagram. Facebook’s photo service did announce last year on its blog that it would be stepping up the ad game, and advertising statistics show the company has boosted ad impressions quite a bit the last five months of 2015.

vrSony and Samsung are doing a little corporate remodeling of their own. Sony announced it’ll be merging the hardware and software parts PlayStation game console business into one big company called Sony Interactive Entertainment. Out at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Samsung executives said the company has plans to open a production studio here in New York to create virtual reality films. Samsung, as you know, makes the Gear VR headset for those emerging immersive experiences.

Spotify launched a video channel this week in its Android and iOS apps. The video channel features clips from the BBC, VICE news, ESPN, Comedy Central and others, if you’re tired of merely listening to Spotify.

Security blogger Brian Krebs recently explained how his PayPal account was hacked with the help of PayPal itself — and now Australian developer Eric Springer has a frighteningly similar story on the Medium and Ars Technica sites. This time, though, it’s Amazon’s customer service department inadvertently cooperating with an imposter and compromising account security.

fireAlso in Amazon Land, the übermega everything store apparently hasn’t given up on its mobile dreams, even though its own Fire Phone was a gargantuan FAIL. As a site called The Information reports, Amazon has been talking to Android handset hardware manufacturers about weaving Amazon apps and surfaces deep into the phone system. However, it may want to be careful, as Google has bounced Amazon products out of the Google Play store before when it felt Amazon was getting too pushy.

Google has had some less-than-saintly moments itself, but the company is donating millions of dollars to help refugees from the conflict-torn Middle East. Google’s philanthropic division is partnering with a non-profit group called NetHope on Project Reconnect, an initiative to provide 25,000 Chromebooks loaded with educational and language-learning software, which will then be distributed to groups working with refugees who made it to Germany.

Microsoft’s Cortana would also like to help you out, but it does involve getting into more of your data. In a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft announced that an upcoming update to Cortana will allow the virtual assistant to root around in your email to help you keep your promises. You WILL KEEP THEM, says Cortana.

Apple has some recent software updates of its own: The company’s tvOS 9.1.1 update for the fourth-generation Apple TV box adds the Podcasts app  to the home Screen. While Apple released a version of the Remote app that works with the 4th gen box last month, the upcoming 9.2 update for tvOS is expected to restore Bluetooth keyboard support to the latest model and add new features like app folders .


Even though iPhone sales have dipped, rumors about a new model coming soon are floating in the breeze. The 9 to 5 Mac site reports that Apple is readying a model called the iPhone 5se that basically takes the old iPhone 5s form factor with the 4-inch screen and adds in the faster A9 and M9 processors. (It may possibly be revealed the week of March 14th, when several Mac blogs also seem to think an updated version of the Apple Watch may also arrive.) And beware the prank link going around that exploits a known text message bug that when opened in Apple’s Safari browser, crashes the iPhone or Mac and forces a reboot.

Periscope announced this week that it can take feeds from a GoPro Hero 4 action camera and stream it over Wi-Fi to the Periscope app on the iPhone. Get ready for some wacky ski and snowboarding live channels to hit the Web soon…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and conventions are popping up all over. In addition to the Creation company’s official and (officially massive) fan events around the country, ReedPop, the organizer behind New York Comic Con, is celebrating the show too — and right in New York City, the home of the first-ever full-on Star Trek convention back in 1972. ReedPop’s 2016 convention, called Star Trek: Mission New York, will be held September 2-4 at the Javits Center in Manhattan; more information and ticket sales dates will be announced soon. (Yes, that is Labor Day weekend and will compete with the Dragon Con science fiction and fantasy expo down in Atlanta the same weekend. Tough choices here, geeks.)


And finally, two passings of note this week. Marvin Minsky, a founding member of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died in Boston on January 24th. And actor Abe Vigoda, whose incorrectly reported death by People magazine in 1982, actually passed away January 26th at the age of 94. Mr. Vigoda, a celebrated actor, became an Internet meme later thanks to the confusion over his status; updates to the sites and have been sadly updated.
Rest in peace, gentlemen.

Cloudy With a Chance of Goofballs

People on the East Coast probably had about enough of The Weather Channel’s wind-whipped dramatics last week with the Blizzard of 2016 — even though it is important to keep in the loop on potentially life-threatening conditions.  True, we all probably have at least one weather program on the smartphone to check in times of need, but if you get tired of the more earnest forecast apps, here are a few that put a decidedly different spin on the weather:

• Funny or Die Weather (for Android and iOS). In addition to actual legit forecasts and current conditions, the FOD app provides plenty of humorous pretend “facts” to entertain. For example, did you know that “Rain drops are just God crying because he’s disappointed in you” or “The humidity of water is extremely high”? Funny or Die Weather is free.

• Swackett (various editions for Android, iOS, Mac and Web). Here’s a weather app that tells you what it’s like outside and then suggests what to wear — like coats, hats and sunglasses — when you do venture out of the house. The company also makes a dog-walking app for iOS that tells you when the weather for the day might be best to take the pup out. Most apps are free or 99 cents, but have in-app purchases for another buck or two to get more content.

kittyweather• Weather Puppy / Weather Kitty (for iOS and Android). Speaking of pups — and kittens — the Weather Puppy and Weather Kitty apps are still around. These have been around for a few years, and still bring big pictures of adorable fuzzy animals to your weather watch. Both are free, but you can upgrade with in-app purchases for different themes and pets (Grumpy Cat is an option). Some of the money goes to shelters and animal non-profit groups.

Now, if cute or lightly humorous is not your cup of tea in a tempest, you can also find several weather apps that take a more…profane look at your forecast.

awFor those who don’t mind a little F-bomb with your current conditions, there’s Authentic Weather for Android and iOS. It costs about a buck and bills itself as “probably the most honest weather app.” To prove its point, Authentic Weather often mixes in a dose of profanity with its observations; the screen shown here is one of the milder forecasts. You can snap a photo with the current assessment superimposed over the image, and there’s an active Tumblr online to share your shot.

The free Effing Weather for Android is similar, except without as much overt cussing. If you like your weather with curse words, the freemium Grumpy Weather Widget for Android and iOS is another one of the many apps that fit the bill and even has a bleeped word on its icon. And finally, it you live in New England and want a little regional flavor, check out the two-buck Wicked Weathah app for iOS that sports conditions like “Wicked rainin’ like effin’ cats and dahgs.”

These are just some of the options in your local app store. Yes, these more foul-mouthed weather apps can be a bit juvenile. But let’s face it: That weather app is probably saying exactly what you’re thinking when the storm blows in.

REVIEW: The Steelseries Nimbus MFi Wireless Gaming Controller

The Steelseries Nimbus wireless controller is touted as the first gamepad with official Apple TV support. I purchased mine to use with the 4th generation Apple streaming box but, truth be told, I’m playing the long game here.

The $49.95 iOS-only game controller is also compatible with iPhones, iPads and Macs, so it can pull double-duty on my television and on my iPad Pro. That is of course if I can ever afford to actually BUY an iPad Pro.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

The Nimbus looks like a cross between an Xbox and a Playstation controller but unlike either of them, it charges via an Apple lightning connector and sports a rechargeable battery that claims to offer up to 40-plus hours of life.

The joysticks, d-pad and buttons on the Bluetooth 4.1 controller are responsive and feel solid but the shoulder buttons and triggers are a tad too mushy. You can really feel the difference when comparing the Nimbus to Amazon’s proprietary game controller for the 1st generation Fire TV.


Amazon’s controller is less “plasticy” and has a better feel while gaming and the triggers have just the right amount of give.

You’ll need to download and install a companion app on your iPhone or iPad to keep the Nimbus’ firmware up to date and for a list of supported games. Rest assured, the list of games supported on the Apple phone and tablet is extensive.

New titles are popping up regularly for both the Amazon and Apple’s streaming devices but Apple holds a commanding lead over the Amazon box when it comes to available quality games.

One annoyance that came up while using the Nimbus on iOS devices was the lack of consistent controls across games. Many iPad and iPhone games do not extend controller support through menus, so you’re forced to go back and forth to the touchscreen. Of course this problem is not exclusive to the Steelseries device. All MFi (Made for iPhone and iPad) controllers will be affected by this limitation.

Overall, the Steelseries Nimbus wireless gaming controller works as advertised. It connected via Bluetooth quickly and painlessly and worked on all Apple devices and with all games I hurled at it.

You will not be blown away by its build or features but it is a solid controller and a must have for gaming on the Apple TV.

PTJ 174: iOS Gaming and Big Bang Data

So much going on we had to supersize the show this week! El Kaiser reviews the Steelseries Nimbus wireless game controller, the first controller that officially supports the 4th generation Apple TV. J.D. is back from her jaunt across the pond and reports on a museum exhibition that explores how the “datafied” world affects us all.

We also revel in the Big Stupid with a special segment on the silliest gadgets displayed at this year’s CES extravaganza in Las Vegas and the 25 worst computer and Internet passwords.

Don’t despair, we also offer up a huge chunk of the latest tech news, now with extra snark.

PTJ 174 News: Gloom and “DOOM”

No more tunneling to better streams? Netflix has announced it’s going to start blocking viewers using proxy servers and virtual private networks to get around regional restrictions on certain movies and TV shows.  Wired, however, has an article that casts a bit of doubt on Netflix actually being able to block out every type of VPN or proxy service out there. Ever feisty, Netflix also got into a little tussle with NBC over remarks made at a Television Critics Association press event this past weekend. A researcher at NBC Universal threw down the gauntlet by saying Netflix and its little herd of bingeable shows were not a threat to the traditional TV-viewership model and claimed to have ratings data on Netflix taken by a third-party company. Netflix execs, however, gave it right back to NBC, saying its survey was based on “really remarkably inaccurate data.

Also in the world of subscription services, the WhatsApp messenger service is dispensing with the 99-cent annual subscription fee and making itself available for free. And supposedly, without ads.

primeairAmazon has now enabled its voice-commanded Alexa assistant on its tubular Amazon Echo devices to read Kindle books out loud for free. The feature works with a number of Kindle titles, but don’t expect the melodious tones of a professional audiobook narrator here – it’s the Robot Lady Voice reading them to you. Also in Amazon Land: Amazon’s vice president for global public policy recently had a chat with Yahoo’s David Pogue about how Amazon Prime Air, the company’s infamous drone delivery program, is coming along; they at least have new press photos of the drones, as shown here. (Amazon, ever so busy, also announced this week that the first devices that use its Dash Replenishment service to automatically order new supplies for themselves are rolling out. Yo, better keep an eye on that printer so it doesn’t go buck wild with the toner orders.)

Apple bounced out the first beta of its upcoming iOS 9.3 software last week and the update has a lot of new features for something that doesn’t get its own big honkin’ Apple keynote event. Among others, the Macworld site wonders if Apple is perhaps changing its update strategy and just releasing a regular stream of substantial iOS improvements instead of saving them all up and making a big deal about everything at a press conference.

AOL may also be getting some changes — and perhaps even a new name. Verizon, which now owns the former America Online service, is said to be pondering an image makeover that could include a new name for the brand. Hopefully, a better logo will come along, too.

holoMicrosoft is slowly revealing more details about its coming Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality goggles. According to reports from a Microsoft event in Tel Aviv, the HoloLens will have a battery life of 2.5 to 5.5 hours, depending on the task at hand. The headset will also be able to run any universal Windows 10 app and hook up with just about any other gadget with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity.

Google is said to be testing the ability for Android users to install apps directly from the search screen in Google’s own eponymous — without having to go through the Google Play store. Because really, what could go wrong there?

The cable networks are readying their campaign teams for Election 2016, and Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio are banding together and combining their resources to bring their traditional no-nonsense approach to coverage. The PBS-NPR team-up, an early version of which was announced last year, will bring shared digital, video and audio content from the primary debates to election night to whatever happens after that.

In rocket news, SpaceX continues its testing with the Falcon 9 rocket — and getting it to land in one piece so it can be reused. After a successful Falcon 9 recovery from the ORB-COMM mission last month, a mission last week saw the returning rocket fall over and explode on the landing pad. Or, as SpaceX found Elon Musk tweeted, it had a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” event on the deck.

If you want a snapshot of how social media has evolved over the past decade or so, check out “The History of Twitter’s Rules” by Sarah Jeong on VICE’s Motherboard channel.  (Yes, trolls mucked a lot of things up.) Twitter, incidentally, had a service outage earlier this week.

And finally, old school gamers can go back to school now that one of DOOM’s creators, John Romero,  has created another level for the iconic first-person shooter after 21 years. Boom! DOOM!

P.S. Like tidy lists? Don’t miss the SplashData’s 25 Worst Passwords of 2015 and GeekWire’s Worst and Weirdest of CES 2016 observations. Both may boggle your mind, but for different reasons…


Arts and Sciences

IMG_7489Art is influenced by everything around it —  including technology — and major exhibits of artists reacting or interacting with tech are becoming common. On 2011, The Museum of Modern Art had a successful show called Talk to Me: Design and Communication Between People and Objects (MoMA currently has 14 classic videogames in its permanent Applied Design collection, including Pac-Man, Tetris, Myst and Sim City 2000.) In 2014, London’s Barbican Center hosted a how called Digital Revolution that highlighted the rise of tech-assisted creativity. Those shows are in the past, but if you happen to be in London between now and March 20th, 2016, you can catch a wonderful new exhibit called Big Bang Data at Somerset House; a video promo gives you an idea of what to expect, as does the show’s official press release.

IMG_7483The core of Big Bang Data consists of artists and designers using data — and data visualization — to illustrate just how much public and private information drives the world these days. There’s historical content, like sections of underwater data cables and a display of data-storage devices including ancient floppies, USB drives and the ever-looming cloud. A film on government surveillance outlines the NSA’s known practices. Another documentary on a loop explores the history of the Internet Archive project. A wall projection (shown above) rates the happiness factor in London’s boroughs based on real-time social media posts. Another mapping project shows the physical Networks of London, and another examines how data can be used for good to “catapult healthcare into the future.”

IMG_7479Julian Oliver’s 2012 work, Transparency Grenade, is also on view. As described by the gallery card, “Equipped with a tiny computer, microphone and powerful wireless antenna, the Transparency Grenade captures network traffic and audio at the site and securely and anonymously streams it to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. User names, hostnames, IP addresses, unencrypted email fragments, web pages, images and voice extracted from this data and then presented on an online, public map, shown at the location of the detonation.” The gallery provides an open Wi-Fi access point named watchednetwork so visitors can see just what the Grenade can grab.

Even if you can’t make it across the pond to see it, the exhibit’s website is well worth checking out. Life is art, as they say, and that goes for our digital lives as well.

PTJ 173: We’re Back! And so is CES

It’s the first week of January and the streets of the Big Apple, the city that (allegedly) never sleeps, are quiet. The Holiday tourists have gone home. Perpetually grumpy New Yorkers are enjoying our short respite from the out-of-towners we love to hate.

But the streets of another sleepless city tell a different story this week. Las Vegas is jam-packed with thousands of gadget nerds reveling in the consumer technology bacchanal that is CES. This year the event features 3,600 exhibiting companies and over 200 conference sessions.

We’ve girded our loins for the onslaught of hyperbolic press releases and breathless on-the-scene reports to bring you the latest news from the desert party.

Also on the show, J.D. shares tips to help us budget our money using online data and El Kaiser gives us his take on the goings on in Nevada this week.

It’s 2016. The podcast revolution continues!

PTJ 173 News: Heaving Las Vegas

If it’s early January, you know there’s going to be a warm blast of hot air coming from Nevada no matter what the actual weather forecast. Yes, it’s time for the Consumer Electronics Expo out in Las Vegas! The show is underway this week and the product announcements are popping out left and right. Creations like the OMbra, a $150 brassiere with fitness tracker tech built right inside have already snagged headlines. Wearables in general are a big trend this year, as are even more gadgets for your smart home. The Ford Motor Company is adding Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto to its 2017 models, newer, faster drones are on the way, virtual reality gear is finally here and many more products will be sporting a USB-C port in the future. Some journalists are finding this year’s crop of tech to be a tad underwhelming, though.

Bored with the current alphabet soup of 802.11 flavors? This week, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced 802.11ah, a new low-power, long-range variation that operates in the frequency bands below one gigahertz. It’s designed to work with smart home, connected car and fitness and medical wearables. This new Wi-Fi also comes with a trendy nickname: Wi-Fi HaLow. (Can Wi-Fi JLaw be next?)

win10Microsoft, ever so excited to get people moved off older versions of its operating systems, announced on one of its blogs this week that Windows 10 is now active on more than 200 million devices worldwide. Still, when it comes to computer adoption, Windows 10 hasn’t quite nudged the needle past 10 percent mark. Net Applications, which measures these things, reports that Windows 10 is now on 9.96 percent of machines out there. Windows 7 continues to lead the PC pack, nabbing just under 56 percent of usage. As one might have predicted, a Microsoft marketing exec is already expressing concern over Windows 7’s future and sounding that old “use it at your own risk” warning. Bloggers have called FUD Factory on that one and point out that Microsoft itself is supporting Windows 7 until 2020. (Oh, and Microsoft also found time over the holidays to release a new iOS called Microsoft Selfie designed to make your quick bits of photographic narcissism look better.)

Speaking of things that aren’t what they appear to be, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has tested out T-Mobile’s Binge On service. After the EEF looked a little deeper and found that T—Mobile was actually “optimizing” ALL video streams, even those from non-Binge On participants. The EFF is now calling ion the FCC to take a look into this service, which could be more accurately called Throttle On.

appleSome analysts are predicting a rough 2016 for Apple, citing a somewhat boring year of products in 2015 — the year that saw the Apple Watch, a revamped Apple TV and a great big iPad. Then again, remember that Apple has $206 billion in cash on hand and is expected to do $77 billion in sales this quarter. Apple does not care about you, analysts.

In the Department of Scary News, security blogger Brian Krebs has a recent post about how some companies don’t properly verify the identifies of their customers for things like password resets. He bolsters his argument with the story of how his own PayPal account got hacked.

Could a power outage in Ukraine last month have been the latest shot fired into the Internet of Things in the creeping cyberwar? Kalev Leetaru, a guest contributor over on the Forbes website seems to think so. He describes an incident that took place in late December where several cities in Western Ukraine lost power for about six hours and very sophisticated malware was found on the computer systems of the power company.

Twitter has plans for the first quarter of 2016 and is said to be working on a feature that gives users a 10,000 character limit for tweets, up from the current 140 characters. No specific launch date has been set and Twitter is not confirming anything. Some have already noticed that Direct Messages have a 10K character limit as well, so perhaps it’s not a totally new thing from inside Twitter HQ.

jarvisMark Zuckerberg, boss of Facebook, has some goals for the New Year. As stated on his own Facebook page, this year’s personal challenge is to build his own voice-controlled artificial intelligence powered software assistant to run his home. “You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man,” Mr. Zuckerberg writes. We’ll check back on this one at the end of the year.

Also in challenges, Dean Kamen’s FIRST organization is kicking off the year in robot-building. More than 350 New York City high school students are set to participate in the regional FIRST Robotics Competition next week in Brooklyn and Manhattan, with the regional contest due for March at the Jacob K. Javits Center  (which New Yorkers can now get to easily by SUBWAY after all these years.)

floppyAnd finally, the DriveSavers company has been called upon by many to rescue digital data from crashed hard drives and other unfortunate incidents, and the engineering team there has now been credited with excavating text files from 200 old 5.25-inch floppy disks that belonged to the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Although DriveSavers said it got about 95 percent of the text back, one thing it couldn’t talk about was the content of the files, which was subject to privacy agreements with Roddenberry’s family. But let’s keep an eye out for some “recently discovered” Roddenberry scripts in the next new months.