PTJ 188: Scientific Model

On this week’s episode, journalist Laura M. Holson previews her upcoming story about the life of Maye Musk,  a registered dietitian-nutritionist and blogger who became a professional model in her late 60s. (Oh, and one of her kids runs SpaceX and Tesla.) El Kaiser and J.D. also trot through a week’s worth of tech news, including the government’s initial approval of the Charter Communications-Time Warner Cable merger, the data breach that’s making the Beautiful People sad and continuing squabbles over at the Unicode Consortium.

PTJ 188 News: Medieval Times

It’s felt like a blast from the past lately with all the big players in the airline industry, publishing business and now the telecommunications world merging themselves into near-monopolies. This week, the Department of Justice — with conditions — approved the marriage of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications. The Consumerist blog took a look at what the merger means and came up with a few salient points to think about.

In less-worrisome TV and video news, the Turner company, the force behind the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, is teaming up with the Criterion Collection folks for a brand new streaming service called Filmstruck. With such a cinephile pedigree, however, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to find newer classics like Paul Blart, Mall Cop in the Filmstruck library.

filmstruck

Spotify spokespeople have denied the site was hacked this week, but according to TechCrunch, some actual Spotify users have reported that their account emails had been changed or their list of saved songs had been altered. And Forbes is reporting that the personal information from 1.1 million members of the BeautifulPeople.com dating website is up for sale in the dark corners of the web.

Amazon is just not having any paid or fake reviews for products on its site. The übermegaeverything store filed a lawsuit last week against several sites that offered to write glowing reviews in exchange for a fee.

YouTube has overhauled its mobile apps for Android and iOS with a new focused design and improved recommendation engine to keep you watching more videos. The service also rolled out new six-second bumper ads to complement rather than replace the current formats it sells to advertisers and yes, you cannot skip the bumpers.

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Many members of the tech press recently observed the one-year anniversary of the Apple Watch . A few noted that sales for the Watch were actually better than the iPhone’s first year of sales back in the day, some 12 million watches compared to six million phones. While some lamented the fact they every ponied up the bucks for the expensive digital timepiece, others were hopeful that the next generation of the product — which may include its own cellular chip and more functions to separate it from the iPhone — may fare better. Perhaps we’ll see in September.

Apple, of course, refused to comment on any speculation about future products, but the company did have a media moment this week with its quarterly earnings report to investors. Although the company knew it was coming, it did have to report its first quarterly loss since 2003 thanks to shrinking iPhone sales. And in one more Apple note, the FBI says it actually knows so little about how that terrorist iPhone was cracked a few weeks ago that the agency says there shouldn’t be an internal review to decide if it should tell Apple how it was done.

Although Facebook tried a stand-alone camera app a few years ago only to kill it off due to lack of user interest, the company seems to be trying again. Reports describe a prototype for an app that would open to a camera and that users could record video and share live streams as well as snapping photos. The Wall Street Journal does say that its sources have not confirmed this latest go at a camera app is a done deal for Facebook.

photoNokia, which many people forgot still existed after Microsoft bought its phone handset business a few years ago, is still in business. And with that, Finland-based Nokia announced this week that it plans to acquire Withings SA, a company that makes digital health products like blood pressure monitors and wireless gadgets to monitor one’s body.

Speaking of Microsoft, that company pushed out a public preview of its new Skype for Business software for the Mac this week. If you are so inclined (or bored), you can request an invitation from Microsoft to participate in the preview program.

SpaceX, which had a successful landing of one of its reusable rocket boosters the other week, is lining up for another go. The company plans another launch and hopeful landing of a Falcon 9 booster rocket on May 3 to send up a Japanese communications satellite.

And finally, there’s a battle raging at the Unicode Consortium, the organization behind the standards for converting typed characters and pictographs into code that all computers can read. It seems battle lines have been drawn between academics and scholars who want official Unicode characters for things like medieval Cornish punctuation and those who want to create emoji for things like stuffed flatbread sandwiches.

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If you feel strongly about either side of the argument, you can weigh in financially with the Unicode Consortium’s Adopt a Character to sponsor your favorite Unicode character, which in turn helps the non-profit Unicode Consortium continue its work. And perhaps a compromise between the two warring tribes can be reached . . . a proper Cornish pasty emoji, anyone? Anyone?

PTJ 187: New Earbuds and Insecure Phones

This week, a review of the IEB6 + MIC in-ear monitors from First Harmonic and the debut of a new segment we like to call “Stuff We Saw on TV”. Of course we bring you all the tech news and shenanigans you’ve come to expect from the best tech-themed podcast on this or any other galaxy.

PTJ 187 News: Standards & Practices

Facebook mess with the News Feed? Really!?!  But seriously, according to Mashable and a few other sites, images of a new tabbed news feed screen for mobile devices have been spotted on Twitter. Facebook did confirm that it is indeed testing the new design, but did not say if or when it would actually launch.

YouTube is stepping up its virtual-reality game with a couple of new features. As announced on the company blog, YouTube is introducing 360-degree live streaming on the site, which adds on to last year’s support for uploaded 360-videos. YouTube also launched spatial audio for on-demand videos. If you want to hear what all that means, check out the company’s special spatial audio playlist for Android devices.

siriWe’re just about a month away from Google’s annual I/O developer’s conference, and now Apple has finally gotten around to announcing when its own World Wide Developer’s Conference. The first word on the dates for some people, however, did not come from an email announcement, but from the Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, as the 9to5Mac site reported. A press release on Apple’s website confirms it all Apple fans are already murmuring about the show, wondering if OS X will be renamed macOS to fall better in line with iOS, tvOS and watchOS.

Apple didn’t wait for its next big media event to make new hardware announcements, though. This Tuesday, it quietly updated its 12-inch Macbook laptop model with better hardware on the inside.  The laptop is available in a few different processor and storage configurations and comes in four colors now: Gold, Silver, Space Gray and Rose Gold. And in other news, Apple has hired a former vice president of vehicle engineering from Tesla. The company also killed off QuickTime for Windows and the Department of Homeland Security has advised PC users to uninstall it RIGHT AWAY.

In legal news, it appears that Google’s massive book-scanning project that triggered a copyright lawsuit buy an author’s group is in the clear. The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from the Authors Guild over the legality of the Google Books project, so last year’s lower court ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York stands.

Also in Google news, the company’s Android Security 2015 Annual Report was released this week.  The company touts its monthly security updates, better screening for potentially harmful apps in the Google Play store and greater adoption of its app verification service as factors in making Android devices safer than before, but it notes that there are still a steady number of malware, ransomware and other nasty apps lurking out there.

Speaking of software and malicious intentions, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the machine-learning startup company PatternEx have come up with a new system predicts 85 percent of cyber attacks.

Amazon is taking a shot at Netflix’s monthly streaming fees by making its own Amazon Prime service available as, you guessed it, a monthly subscription instead of an annual fee. And speaking of Netflix, that company is raising its monthly fees by 25 percent for longtime streaming customers next month.

Yahoo’s deadline for financial suitors to present themselves has come and gone and Verizon has emerged as the only major player to maintain interest in the sagging company.

murphyMicrosoft introduced Skype video bots a few weeks ago for developers and consumers to interact with and announced this week that the bots are now available for Mac and web users. Some of the stock bots available include Murphy, a bot to find and create images for when questions can’t be answered by words alone and Summarize, a bot designed to give an overview of a web page if you don’t have time to read the whole thing.

As expected, the  Name That Research Ship contest over in the United Kingdom has ended and Boaty McBoatface won in a tidal wave. However, UK Science Minister and total buzzkill Jo Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live this week that “there is a process now for us to review all of the public’s choices. Many of them were imaginative; some were more suitable than others.” Even if the RSS Boaty McBoatface never sails the seas as a government science ship, the contest did inspire an Australian racehorse owner in Sydney to name one of his geldings Horsey McHorseface and an English rail worker temporarily named the Portsmouth to Waterloo line Trainy McTrainface.

And finally, if you love NASA and you live vintage graphic design and branding standards, you can now buy a copy of the space agency’s official graphics manual first published in 1976. The book is 220 pages with 129 image plates and comes individually packages in a static-shielding pouch. This is actually a reissue of the original book, of which only 40 copies were originally printed. The new version is a Kickstarter project that can now be ordered only for $79 a copy.

If you’re on a bit of a tight budget, however, you can download a free PDF copy of the original manual from NASA’s website and print it yourself because hey, it’s a taxpayer-funded government agency. And after just staggering through another tax season, we’ll take all the perks we can get.

Stuff We Saw on TV: Phone Hacking on “60 Minutes”

How fast can someone hack a mobile phone? As 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi found out, the answer is: Not very long at all — especially if you have a room full of experts on the job. Speaking of security issues, the videos below are unfortunately in the dreaded Adobe Flash format and useless for most mobile devices, but here’s the segment called “Hacking Your Phone” that ran last weekend, plus the additional web-based 60 Minutes Overtime segment. (You can always check them out, plus the transcriptions, on the 60 Minutes website yourself if the embed here is problematic.)

Scary? Yes.
Consciousness raised? Through the roof.

PTJ 186: Bots and Boosters

Kicking old-school this week with a heaping helping of tech news goodness, including nuggets from Facebook’s F8 conference in San Fran and Elon Musk’s reusable rocket finally sticking the landing and a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint from J.D. explaining how one might skip logging into their computer with a password if they were so inclined.

Just kick back, relax, and let the snark roll over you.

You know you want to…

PTJ 186 News: Twist of F8

Microsoft, now Facebook, then Google and Apple: The developer conference season is in full swing. Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference took place in San Francisco this week, complete with live streaming sessions and announcements about 360 degree video — as well as bots, news distribution and marketing tools for its Messenger app.

Lots of Facebook/Messenger-related news was announced as well:  The Dropbox blog said this week that you can share files stored on Dropbox directly through and without leaving the Facebook Messenger; Ticketmaster says it will soon start selling tickets to concerts and other events directly on Facebook; and Fandango sent out an email blast about a new ticketing and movie-discovery bot for Facebook Messenger.

fandango

Speaking of that popular movie site,  Fandango completes its acquisition of the Flixster site this month, alerting users that the deal was done with an update to the privacy policy. Fandango agreed to buy Flixster, which comes with the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation site, last February from Warner Brothers.

Less than a week after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced it on Twitter, images purporting to be of the new Kindle Oasis e-reader popped up briefly on the Tmall.com website.

The Yik Yak social site, popular on college campuses for its easy anonymous posting ability, is said to be having some financial problems due to a slide in popularity, and this has generated an interesting post on the Medium site. It’s a good read  about what makes one app succeed and another app flop.

Microsoft seems to be makingWindows Blue Screen of Death errors easier to deal with, at least if a recent Windows Insider build of Windows 10 is any indication. Beta testers there have noticed the appearance of handy, scannable QR code on the Blue Screen of Death messages that when zapped by a smartphone QR app, takes you to a Microsoft help page to begin your troubleshooting journey.

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The 9to5Mac site got a peek at a note from an investment firm that predicts Apple Watch shipments will drop by 25% in a year-on-year comparison with 2015. Time to developer that killer app now…

If you like making graffiti or ever had fantasies of being a football TV analyst where you get to draw on the video playback, Periscope has something for you. A new beta version of the live-streaming app owned by Twitter includes a tool that lets you draw on your video feeds.

After a series of unfortunate events including an exploding rocket on a resupply mission, SpaceX is back on track with both its cargo deliveries to the International Space Station — and its ability to reuse its rocket boosters. While the payload took off for the sky, the Falcon 9‘s rocket booster made a successful vertical landing on an ocean platform without falling over.

Its Dragon cargo capsule docked with the station on April 10th and brought with it 7.000 pounds of supplies for the astronauts stationed up there — including lettuce seeds, mice and an inflatable room called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, for short.

BEAM1

Ransomware — malware that encrypts all the data on your computer until you pay up —has been making a comeback this year thanks to social engineering and the usual tricks, but the white hats are fighting back with a a decryption tool that can unlock files held hostage by the Petya ransomware. The decryption tool is a bit technical and probably not for the novice, but it’s a good punch in the fight against crime.

The State of New York is getting serious about distracted driving. A bill in the New York State Senate would require drivers involved in collisions to submit their phones at the crash site for analysis to see if they were texting while driving.

Also in New York, the U.S. Attorney’s office notified a federal judge in Brooklyn that the government plans to move forward with its request to make Apple help them unlock an iPhone related to a dealer in a local drug case. Encryption Wars, Round II.

Google is beta-testing its Voice Access accessibility feature that lets users open apps and navigate screens without using their hands. The beta test is full, but stay tuned.

And finally, while Google Glass may have bombed as a consumer product, the Internet-empowered eyeglasses have found fans with neuroatypical kids. Stanford University’s Autism Glass Project is using the Google specs as a learning aid for autistic teenagers trying to learn social interactions, emotions, recognize facial expressions or even make eye contact. Stanford researchers have created special software to use with the glasses and early results have shown improvement in social acuity for some participants. Perhaps Google Glass has found its mission at last.

stanford

PTJ 185: Bugs, Shrugs and Hugs

Ever wonder what’s being installed in those regular security patches for your devices and computers?

No? Well this is awkward.

Okay, then.  For those of you that are curious, J.D. tells us where we can find details of what gets installed in all those mysterious updates.

Not to worry, El Kaiser joins J.D. for his weekly dose of terror! (AKA the week’s tech news round-up).

Popping, teching and jamming for your listening pleasure!

PTJ 185 News: Punt, Pass and Kick

Ten years old and busting some moves on the field: Twitter caught a deal to stream 10 NFL games globally this coming season. The bird-themed microblogging service paid a reported 10 million dollars for the rights to stream these Thursday night gladiator matches for the cord-cutting population. Are you ready for some football — with lots of commentary and trolls?

Amazon has the 8th generation of the Kindle waiting in the wings, but the news didn’t come from the rumor blogs. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos teased the news himself over Twitter this week. Amazon also looks to be taking a piece out of PayPal by extending the reach of its Amazon Payments service. The company has announced its Amazon Payments Partner Program will be available to e-commerce platform providers in several countries..

The Federal Communications Commission is taking a cue from the Food and Drug Administration and has come up with information labels for broadband and mobile service that look just like those black-and-white nutrition labels you see on food.  Although the agency is not making these labels mandatory for service providers, the FCC’s current Net Neutrality rules do require the ISPs to be more transparent in their dealings with consumers.

Print

WhatsApp announced this week that it’s turned on full end-to-end encryption. The move locks up communications between the service’s billion users tight enough so WhatsApp employees and government watchers can’t peek. Your move, guv’ment.

That expected Sony PlayStation 4 update arrived this week. That’s the update with the remote play function for Windows and Mac and other social features.

Microsoft’s annual Build conference for developers was out in San Francisco last week. The event seemed to please developers, as Microsoft announced programmers could use the Ubuntu Linux BASH shell on Windows and the Xamarin dev tools are now free. Presentations at the Build conference also highlighted intelligent AI apps, bots, digital ink and this year’s Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which features enhancements to Cortana and other elements of Windows 10. (Not reported at the conference, however, was the trial run of Outlook Premium service.)

NASA is getting in on Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality system. The agency announced a new exhibit called “Destination: Mars” scheduled to open this summer at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Guests will get a holographic tour of Mars from retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin and explore several sites on the red planet that were reconstructed using real imagery from NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover.

buzz

Umbrella-shaped Google parent-company Alphabet is not endearing itself to some of its customers. Reports around the web say Nest, (the smart-home component of the Alphabet empire), is kicking and bricking a bunch of older devices deliberately. The smart-home devices in question were made by Revolv, That company recently announced in its site that it was shutting down as of May 15 and its app and smart-home hub will no longer work.

Google just pushed out a pretty chunky over-the-air patch for the Android system as part of its April Security Bulletin.  Apple has issued a patch for iOS 9.3 that was intended to correct that little crashing Safari links problem. However, an independent security researcher has posted a video and description of a bug he says the new 9.3.1 patch brings with it. As several sites have pointed out, until a proper patch arrives. the quick fix for now is to turn off Siri from using the phone’s Lock Screen. Cue iOS 9.3.2…

The Starz cable TV channel has joined the stream team. If you want to watch Outlander, Black Sails or any other Starz content on your Android or iOS device without having to get a cable subscription, you can get it for $9 a month a la carte.

ThinkGeek.com had its usual roster of stellar fake April Fools products last week,  including a Star Trek White Noise Machine. Quilted Northern went viral with a video about rustic-weave artisanal toiler paper. The Epic Fail award for 2016, however, goes to Google, for slipping in an animation featuring one of those yellow Minions characters dropping a microphone that unfortunately got into many serious and professional messages send by Gmail used. Google has apologized.

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And finally, two items of note from Department of Making Things Easier to Understand. First up, the MIT Media Lab has created a new site called Data USA, which tries to make public government data on a variety of subject easier to view and mentally process. Second, Facebook announced this week it was using artificial intelligence software to create automatic alternative text that describes the contents of photos for blind and visually impaired users with screen reader software on their iOS devices. The auto alt text is rolling out in English for iOS users first, but more languages and platforms are expected soon. But how will Facebook’s picture describing software software be able to withstand the the “Chihuahua or Muffin” meme?