PTJ 206: The Age of Ophiuchus

What’s your sign? It might not be what you think. Hey, don’t blame us, blame NASA. On this week’s episode the Dynamic Duo go through the week’s tech (and geek) news; J.D. fills us in on a certain bird-themed micro-blogging service that’s had quite a busy past few weeks; and El Kaiser gets his rant on.

PTJ 206 News: Robot, You Can Drive My Car

Forget about the distant promise of Hyperloop for a minute, because the United States Department of Transportation is looking toward the near future. The agency has released its first set of government guidelines for self-driving automobiles. The document is wittily titled Federal Automated Vehicles Policy: Accelerating the Next Revolution in Roadway Safety and is available as 116-page PDF from the DOT’s website. Don’t read it while you’re driving.

Speaking of the road ahead, the first US Presidential debate is Monday night, September 26th, so be sure to warm up your fingers properly if you plan to dive into the rolling slapfight on Twitter — and remember, you get the full 140 characters now.

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Twitter also got a workout last weekend during the annual Emmy Awards. and one of its own blogs posted the top five most-discussed moments of the event.  (All the feels for the amazing Tatiana Maslany, y’all.) And the service seems to have had a good turnout online for its first live-streamed NFL game last week. According to Adweek, Twitter adding two million viewers on the livestream to the 48 million eating chips and watching the game on TV. The day before its first football adventure, Twitter released set-top apps for the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Microsoft Xbox. Fly, little bird, fly!

Microsoft says its researchers are working to “solve” cancer by using computer science. Go on, give it a read.

Samsung’s voluntary recall of its potentially dangerous Galaxy Note 7 phones became an official government recall from the Consumer Product Safety Commission late last week. But here come the lawsuits:  A Florida man is suing Samsung because he claims he suffered severe burns on his leg and thumb when his Galaxy Note 7 exploded in his pocket.

hissWhile Samsung tries to reel in the million or so defective Galaxy Note 7 devices, Apple’s iPhone 7 rolled out last Friday and had some of the usual quirks people seem to find with new iHardware. The company is dealing with a bug in the remote control for the new Lightning-tipped earbuds that come with the iPhone 7 line. Some new owners are also claiming that the iPhone 7 makes a hissing sound. (Yes, Parseltongue jokes commenced as soon as the news broke.)

The news may not be all bad for Samsung, however. The Tom’s Guide site did a head-to-head comparison with the 12-megapixel cameras in both the iPhone 7 models and the camera in Samsung’s non-exploding Galaxy S7Edge phone — and found that the S7 Edge edged out the new iPhones.

Apple users can distract themselves by banging around on the new macOS Sienna operating system, which arrived for download this week. (If you haven’t done it yet, backup before you update. ) Productivity Software Fans: The iWork suite of Pages, Numbers and Keynote was also updated.

Google is just all kinds of busy these days. The company has scheduled an event for October 4th in San Francisco, where insiders assume new phones and maybe that rumored 7-inch Google-pure Android tablet may be unveiled. The company has also goosed the algorithm for its Google Books suggestion engine to make better recommendations on what you should read after you get done with your current Google book. Oh, and they added voice search to Google Drive to help you find your stuff by asking and updated the Google Photos software for Android, iOS and the web.

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For travelers, the Big G announced its new Google Trips mobile app for Android and iOS. The new program wants to be your portable personalized tour guide, but parts of it sound an awful lot like the Trip Bundles feature in the Inbox by Google app.

Like Apple, though, Google may be facing a rather large bill from a foreign government or back taxes. As Reuters reports, Indonesia plans to tap Google’s parent company Alphabet for more than $400 million in what it says is unpaid tax in 2015. Google says it’s paid its tax and that most of its revenue for the region is booked through Singapore.

And finally, two notes on relationships. For one, Tinder and Spotify are hooking up to let users of both services see potential matches based on musical tastes (or lack thereof). Secondly, NASA has weighed in on the recirculating rumor that it has messed with the zodiac and everyone’s astrological signs are now different so maybe Scorpios aren’t your type after all. The five-year-old story, apparently hauled out of mothballs by Glamour.com who linked to NASA’s page for kids, describes how the space agency decided to compensate for the fact that the Earth’s axis has shifted over 3,000 years and added a thirteenth sign called Ophiuchus. Someone at NASA with a with a sense of humor rose to the challenge early this week and put up a post on the agency’s Tumblr account to clarify things. Because, you know, NASA ain’t got much to do these days.

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PTJ 205 News: Grab and Go

fireexWell, it’s a week later and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 problem continues to grow.  Two government agencies have now issued warnings about using the new device. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is urging all Galaxy Note 7 owners to stop using the phones and to power down and stop charging them. And the Federal Aviation Administration is strongly advising passengers not to charge, turn on or even pack any Galaxy Note 7 devices in checked baggage. Samsung, for its part, is stepping up efforts with a quick-fix Galaxy Note 7 over-the-air patch designed to stop charging batteries form overheating by limiting the maximum charge to 60 percent. (And a quick correction to last week’s, it’s not just 1 percent of phones affected by the recall, it’s all of them.)

Could Google be working on a new 7-inch Android tablet to replace the retired Nexus 7 line? Several tech blogs are reporting that’s the case. (“w00t!” say we all!)

Google has also been doing some software updates this week as well. The company updated the iOS version of its Google Photos app to include a feature that turns iPhone Live Photos taken on a 6s or later into animated GIFs that can be shared more widely. And there’s also a new iOS version of the Google Cardboard Camera app for taking 3D 360-degree virtual-reality photos that look cool in your Google Cardboard Viewer. Of course, an Android version of the app has been out for awhile now.

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Facebook has also updated its Messenger platform to be much more an e-commerce engine. One of the company’s blogs has announced that the site was quote “starting to roll out ads in News Feed that drive people to chat with your bot on Messenger.” You have been warned, people.

Apple doesn’t seem to be sitting still while Facebook takes all the advertising dollars, though. The iMessage app in the iOS 10 software that arrived this week now has its own app store where users can purchase things like stickers and games.

instagramInstagram announced this week that it was adding keyword moderation tool that allows users to block comments using specific words from appearing on posts.  Twitter, are you paying attention?

But speaking of Twitter, The Verge and other blogs are reporting that the bird-themed microblogging service’s previously announced plan to stop counting links, polls and other media in the 140-character limit will go into effect on September 19th.

In Windows 10 news, Sling TV has an official Windows 10 app available in Microsoft’s Windows Store. The app allows the streaming TV service to work with Windows 10 and the Cortana virtual assistant to organize one’s television watching on the PC.

Blue Origin, the space exploration company owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, showed off some new rocket designs to the public this week. The designs were very nice.

And finally, NASA is working on that problem that another asteroid may smash into the earth and wipe out more than dinosaurs this time around. We need more knowledge on the topic, so last week, the agency launched a robot explorer craft called Osiris-REX (short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) toward the asteroid Bennu, where it will orbit for two years. Before they part ways, Osiris-Rex will use its robot arm to reach out and take a piece of the rock before it turns around and comes back to each with the sample in tow. Talk about your takeout…

PTJ 205: Throwing Sevens

After a week to process the big iPhone 7 announcement last week, technologist Don Donofrio returns to the show to discuss the good, the bad and the stuff Apple skipped this time around. In the news segment, El Kaiser and J.D. bring updates on the increasingly combustible Samsung Galaxy Note 7 situation, rumors of Google doing another 7-inch tablet and plenty of other non-Apple news from the geekosphere. Let’s roll the dice!

PTJ 204: Apple Picking 2016

It’s September and you know what that means: Apple will hold forth a mighty media event in San Francisco to formally reveal its fall lineup of hardware and software. As today is Apple Event Eve, we here at Pop Tech Jam thought we’d pass the time with technologist Don Donofrio to speculate about what tomorrow’s announcements will bring. And on next week’s show, we’ll regroup to see how many things we guessed correctly. Feel free to play along at home, Jammers! And for those of you who care not for the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, we have news on Samsung’s exchange program for the overly combustible Galaxy Note 7 and the end of the Rosetta mission to good ol’ Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

PTJ 204 News: Great Balls of Fire

Samsung’s hot new Galaxy Note 7 phone has gotten a little too hot — to the point of bursting into flames due to a battery issue — and the company stopped selling it late last week. Samsung is now trying to reel back the million units that were sold with an exchange program. As The Consumerist blog reports, Samsung’s voluntary exchange is not one of those official U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls, but that’s expected soon.

While Samsung is trying to play boomerang with its flaming phones, The Repair Association is trying to make it easier for people to fix their older, less combustible gadgets, even if it means violating certain manufacturer legal policies. The Repair Association was founded in 2013 by a group of service, security and environmental organizations and is dedicating to fighting such restrictive repair policies. Although most of the early attempts at Right to Repair legislation have been killed so farincluding Senator Phil Boyle’s bill in the New York State legislature this past June, the group plans to reintroduce their proposals soon.

Speaking of smartphones, research firm comScore says as of this past July, it finds that 50 percent of all the time Americans spend derping around online is now done with smartphone apps.

As you may have already heard, SpaceX suffered another “rapid unscheduled disassembly” event last week as one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral and took Facebook’s first satellite with it. There was no human loss of life, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was displeased. Mr. Zuckerberg posted some thoughts on his Facebook wall.

We haven’t had a good robot sailboat story in a while — if ever — but here’s one now.  The New York Times reports that a company called Saildrone has remote-controlled vessels busily counting fish and monitoring seals in the Bering Straight off the coast of Alaska while their operators are 2,500 miles away in California.

And finally, the European Space Agency has found its lost little Philae space probe at last. Philae landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November of 2014, but soon lost power and contact with mission operators. But thanks now to high-resolution photos from the Rosetta spacecraft (which launched Philae and hung around to orbit the comet), scientists spotted the probe wedged in a dark crack on the comet’s surface. The Rosetta craft itself is scheduled to end its mission of September 30 as it completes a controlled descent onto the comet’s surface before the iceball-with-a-tail heads off toward the orbit of Jupiter — and out of range for solar power and communications. Thanks for the memories, Rosetta!

PTJ 203: Courts of Appeal

Labor Day is upon us and so is the annual U.S. Open tennis tournament. Laura M. Holson drops by to share her love of the game and ways to share the excitement through apps, streaming and other technology. Check out the U.S. Open’s official website, Twitter feed and mobile apps for Android and iOS. And don’t forget the podcasts, either. In the weekly news roundup, El Kaiser and J.D. serve up talk of Apple’s various legal woes of the past few days, Facebook’s whoopsie with its Trending Topics list and the fate of a certain noisy, nosy drone in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virgina.

PTJ 203 News: Irish Wakeup Call

Nothing like a $14.6 billion bill for back taxes to get your attention, eh? That’s the hefty sum Apple is facing after a European Commission ruling this week found the company’s tax deal with Ireland was illegal under European Union rules. Apple and Ireland are both vowing to appeal the ruling, and in a letter released publicly on its website, Apple stated the ruling would have an impact on investment and job creation in Europe.  The EU is also investigating Amazon and McDonald’s for similar practices.

Apple may have other legal woes brewing on this side of the pond as well. A nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed against the company by plaintiffs who claim that their iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones suffer from defecting screens that make them unresponsive. The defect was dubbed Touch Disease by the repair site iFixit, who has looked at the issue and found hundreds of ailing iPhones with flickering gray bars on glitchy screens.

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Apple has set the date for its annual Fall Media Monopoly Event. As some predicted, it’ll be early this year — September 7th and at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. New iPhones and an arrival date for iOS 10 are expected to be announced for sure, and updates on macOS Sierra, watchOS, and tvOS could be in the mix, as well as hardware news about Apple Watch, the MacBook Pro laptops, the iPad Pro and other gear. But will there be One More Thing?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California tossed out a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission in 2014 that accused AT&T of bandwidth-throttling customers who still had unlimited data plans after those customers went beyond customary allowances.

Twitter and Facebook may get more if the hate speech headlines, but Microsoft is stepping up its efforts to smack down the extremists and Troll Legions roaming on own online properties. In a post on one of the company blogs, Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer Jacqueline Beauchere, writes, “Today we’re announcing a new dedicated web form for reporting hate speech on our hosted consumer services, and a separate web form for requests to reconsider and reinstate content.”

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Facebook’s Trending Topics section has had its ups and downs this year with charges of political bias in story selection and promotion and last week, Facebook reportedly decided to get rid of the humans who were writing story descriptions for trending list and just have the algorithms start listing popular topics based on what users were sharing. However, a lot of Facebook users were sharing a false story about broadcaster Megyn Kelly getting fired from Fox News for being a liberal — so the fake story made it onto the trending list. Whoopsie!

On to the Department of Democracy Nightmares, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says it has evidence that hackers breached two state election databases this summer. While actual vote-counting systems were not involved YET, foreign-based hackers targeted voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. Paper ballots for all this year, please.

While test drones are buzzing around the countryside of merry old England, here in the States, the Federal Aviation Administration just started giving the drone pilot’s-license test this week. More than 3300 people signed up to take the test on the first day. The Wired site has a study guide for wannabe drone jockeys.

In other drone news, Jennifer Youngman, a 65-year-old woman in rural Virginia, took down a drone in one blast from her 20-gauge shotgun earlier this summer. She lives near the actor Robert Duvall. She also chatted with the CBC about the incident.

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In product news, Sonos and Amazon are hooking up with a new strategic partnership. What this means is that people who own both voice-activated Echo speakers and Sonos sound systems will be able to tell the Echo speaker to play music through the Sonos system.

FitBit announced two new exercise trackers this week, the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Fitbit Flex 2. You can even swin with the Flex 2, they say.

russiaAnd finally, the Centauri Dreams blog devoted to deep space exploration noted a radio telescope in Russia (shown here), had picked up “strong signal in the direction of HD164595” last year. HD 164595 is a star with at least planet in the system within the constellation Hercules, all about 95 light years from Earth. The site merely said the signal was interesting and deserved further scrutiny. Astronomers at the SETI Institute have already written a brief paper on the matter.  Seasoned experts around the web were skeptical, with one noting the signal was on the part of the radio spectrum used by the military and another posting, “It’s not our first time at this rodeo, so we know how it works,” on a SETI message board. Sure, the signal may be nothing — but it kind of makes one want to haul out the Contact DVD for some Hollywood science and reinstall the SETI@home software on your current computer, you know?

Opening shot from Contact (1997) from Single Shot Film Festival on Vimeo.