All posts by J.D. Biersdorfer

Episode 11 News: Let’s Be Careful Out There

If Web browsers could compete in their own Olympics this summer, Google Chrome would take the gold. For July 2012, the traffic-measurement company StatCounter, puts Chrome’s global market share at 33.8 percent. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer takes the silver with a 32 percent share and Firefox lands the bronze with 23.7 percent. Not making it to the podium: Apple’s Safari with a 7.1 percent worldwide market share and Opera, with about a 1.72 percent share of the global browser market.

Luckily for Apple, Safari is not its only piece of software and the company has been keeping busy prepping its coming iOS 6 system for iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches. Google’s map cartography has already been tossed overboard for the new system, and now YouTube is getting dropped from the default apps on the Home screen. One hopes that Apple is also investigating a battery issue with its new OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion system, as a number of online complaints have popped up from folks reporting that their laptop battery charges haven’t been lasting as long since they Cougarized their Macs.

Microsoft has been keeping itself occupied as well, revamping its Windows Phone developer portal into Windows Phone Dev Center and overhauling Hotmail into its new Outlook.com Web mail site. (At least one review rather likes the new Outlook.com interface, but remember, we can’t call it “Metro” anymore.)

On the mobile front, AT&T is launching its Mobile Share wireless plans for people with a lot of devices and who don’t want to ride herd on multiple data plans; AT&T explains the new stuff here. (The company says you can also keep your current plan and won’t shove you onto one of the new ones.)

Like satellite radio but never have time to listen to it when you want to? SiriusXM Radio has just announced its new service, SiriusXM Radio On Demand, which lets subscribers using its iOS app (or online media player) pick out and listen to their favorite episodes from 200 different shows to listen to whenever they want. And Android version is in the works.

In legal news, U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has introduced a federal law that, if passed, would put warning labels on cell phones and create a national research program to study cell phone radiation levels. The bill, formally known as H.R. 6358, is casually referred to as “The Cell Phone Right to Know Act.”

Finally, it you missed the writer Mat Honan’s sad tale of cloud power gone wrong, give it a read. It involves security flaws at Apple and Amazon, hijacked accounts, lost data and a lesson for all of us who keep part of our lives online. As a result of Mr. Honan’s misfortune, Apple and Amazon have made some changes to their policies and, there’s been a renewed interest in Google’s two-step account authentication process and helpful articles offering tips for better personal security.

Gimme Some Space!

If NASA’s latest mission to Mars has you all hepped up on the space program again, you don’t have to go farther than your smartphone or tablet to touch the sky. The agency itself has several software goodies, including the official NASA app for iOS and Android so you can keep tabs on the Mars Curiosity rover and other projects in the works. (Speaking of Curiosity, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a nifty new iOS app last month called Spacecraft 3D that lets you virtually check out the rover up close.) Remember, if you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, you can also find most of this stuff on the official NASA Web site.

For real space heads, it’s not just about NASA, though. Just search for astronomy in your local app store, and odds are you’ll get plenty of hits (even the BlackBerry PlayBook has the $2 Stellarium app in the BlackBerry App World). For example, there’s the $3 Star Chart and the free, open-source Sky Map for Android, which had a lot of input from Google and Carnegie Mellon University. Deneb Software has a similarly named app called SkyMap for Windows Phone for less than two bucks.

On the iOS side, there are plenty of astronomical options, including a pair of slick apps from Vito Technology called Star Walk (for stargazing, $3 to $5) and Solar Walk (for a 3D solar system experience and on sale right now for a buck). Many advanced astronomers favor the $7 Luminos app for iOS for views of 3D textured planet and moons in detail. Space Junk Pro is a similar app — for $5 you can track satellites, planets, stars and other stuff floating high above your head and it’s available for both iOS and Android.

Need more astronomy apps? Check out these roundups and collections for Android, BlackBerry, iOS and Windows Phone.

And while it’s not quite mapping the sky, the free Planetary app for iPad maps your music collection to a series of animated intergalactic visualizations.  While the deep-space picture show may seem a little weird when listening to, say, banjo music (unless you have the right song), it really rocks the screen if you tap up a bit of Gustav Holst.

Episode 10 News: Summer Games

The 2012 Olympics are underway in London and although social media and streaming apps are bigger than they’ve ever been during the Games, not everything is going swimmingly. The US television network NBC has been getting some criticism as viewers complained about the Opening Ceremony commentary and for editing out a sensitive section of the show that dealt with terrorism

The tweetstorm also raged against Twitter when company suspended the account of journalist Guy Adams after he posted an NBC exec’s corporate e-mail address as part of a rant about the TV coverage. (The Adams account was soon reinstated, but the whole episode should have won Twitter a gold medal in the Synchronized Kneejerk event. But at least the company has apologized.)

Facebook, another pillar of online activity, has its own issue this week with allegations of click-fraud. Limited Run, a small startup company, said it could not verify 80 percent of the clicks on its advertisements and wonders “Who let the bots out?” Limited Run (which has deleted its Facebook page) was also involved in another spat with Facebook over changing the name of its company page. Facebook has said it’s looking into these matters.

Hulu Plus has landed on the Apple TV, but what the tech blogs are more concerned with is that Apple may be making new product announcements on September 12. While we wait to find out, we can always try out Google’s revamp of video chat for Gmail.

Not everyone is down with Valve Software’s efforts to bring Steam games to the Linux paltform. Richard Stallman, the founder of The GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation, has some concerns. Whatever your feelings on the matter, we hear Left 4 Dead 2 (4 Linux) is coming along nicely. Also on a gaming note, Ubisoft has patched a major security vulnerability in its Uplay browser plug-in. Players, please update your software.

We’re into August (and our 10th episode!) and there’s still time to enjoy the idle pleasures of just parking it for summer with visits to state parks, car trips to National Parks and all-day passes to theme parks. Just wait until they fix the Superman Ultimate Flight roller coaster at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California before you hop aboard, okay?

If you’re like The Kaiser, though, you may be spending your lazy days of summer upgrading your computers. (Ubuntu Linux frequently releases updates and that little company in Cupertino just popped out a new cat called OS X 10.8, you know.) As he reports this week, make sure your Mac has the hardware chops to wrestle the Cougar and prepare it properly before you jump into the App Store and slap down an electronic Jackson. The loss of the RSS Feeds feature in Safari and Mail is a bummer, but as with most things, there’s a hack to recover your lost Mail feeds for use elsewhere and a handful of other options for RSS fans who might be a tad peeved about the situation. Now that the brave and fearless early adopters have taken the Mountain Lion plunge, it won’t be long for the rest of us to catch up. Probably best to get it done before September 12th, just in case there are new things to occupy one’s attention.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: International Keyboards to Go

Many people communicate in more than one language and today’s technology keeps up with this global worldview. While your phone or tablet’s operating system may have a default language for the menus and interface, you can go multilingual when it comes to dashing off texts, e-mail messages and other bits of writing.

Apple makes this quite easy to do on its iOS devices and offers a wide range of languages to choose from, including Arabic, most European and Asian languages and Cherokee. You can even choose regional variations like French Canadian or Brazilian Portuguese. Emoji, those popular little pictographs favored by teenage girls, are also an option.

If you are linguistically gifted, you can set up multiple keyboards for all the languages you need and just toggle between them by tapping the globe key that now appears on your iOS keyboard. Apple has instructions for setting up international keyboards on iOS devices right here.

Most Android devices also let you add international keyboards to your typing arsenal, but the steps for doing so vary by phone model, carrier, Android version, moon phase, sun sign and other assorted fragmentary factors. (Just kidding about a couple of those, but you knew that already.) Here’s one walkthrough for adding a keyboard, but check with your phone or tablet’s manual for precise instructions of you need them. If you want more flexibility, consider an alternative keyboard app. Yes, Google Play has Emoji options for Android as well.

Episode 09 News: Law & Orders

Hardcore trolls will still hide behind their handles YouTube (owned by Google, you know) is encouraging members to link their user names on the video site to their real names on the Google+ service. The whole universal Google-wide identity thing is not going over well with everyone — most notably with the actor Wil Wheaton, who went on a rant last spring after being asked to sign up for Google+ in order to give the thumbs up to a video he liked on YouTube. (Quick tip: Got Firefox and want to filter out the more offensive spew in the comments area? Try the YouTube Comment Snob add-on for cleaner living.)

Need some beach reading? The Justice Department has released its lengthy response to public comments on the proposed final judgment on its e-book price-fixing lawsuit.  Apple, which is heavily involved in the e-book case, is also battling Samsung Electronics over patent issues and would like $2.5 billion for its troubles. That rock’em, sock ‘em court battle is scheduled to begin next week. With all this litigious action, it’s a wonder Apple has time to make all the products people are whispering about online. (Yes, the amount of sheer speculation on Apple’s plans can cause problems, but even Apple CEO Tim Cook knows you can’t stop the chatter.)

Amazon is reportedly cranking out a fresh pile of tablet hardware as well (and so, for some reason, is RIM with a new BlackBerry Playbook). For the camera hardware fans, Canon finally hit that sweet spot between pocket point-and-shoot and bug burly digital SLR with its Canon EOS M mirrorless model. (Some folks have even tested it out already, even though it’s not due in stores until October.)

Hey, if you jumped in early with the Windows 8 Preview, the 7digital music service is right there with you and has a preview version of its Windows 8-ready app available to try out. The store has several AC/DC covers, so you can rock out just like the Iranian nuclear scientists, who have been supposedly hit by a new cyberattack that makes their computers blast “Thunderstuck” in the wee hours. (While accounts of this latest worm seem dubious and unverified, admit it: It does get you duck-walking, doesn’t it?)

And finally, we note the passing of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Thanks, Dr. Ride, for smashing through the glass ceiling and take the dreams of young geek girls right into orbit with you.

Gold Medal Apps for the 2012 Olympics

Need an app that lets you keep up with the 2012 Summer Olympic games in London? If you’re cruising the mobile Web on an Android or iOS device, quite a few await you. The London 2012 Organising Committee, for example, has three apps of its own, including Join In and Official London 2012 Results. The Results app is also available for BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 users. If you need to pass the time between events, there’s also a game app where you can actually play a few sports on the screen while you’re waiting to find out who won men’s single canoe slalom.

NBC, which has the U.S. broadcasting rights for the Games has a mobile Web site for phones with browsers, plus two apps for Android and iOS users. The NBC Olympics app offers live event updates, medal counts, video clips, photos and more. If you have a user name and password from your cable or satellite provider, you can use the NBC Olympics Live Extra app for real-time streams and full video replays of all 302 events in the Summer Games. (For those in the U.K., the BBC has its own app action.)

Want to know more about the athletes on the American squad? The United States Olympic Committee has a free app called Team USA. The USOC app takes a personal look at members of the US Olympic and Paralympic teams, with bios, photo galleries and video clips, plus social media connections for Facebook and Twitter. And if sports photography is your cup of tea, the Thomson Reuters news service also has its own London Olympics 2012 app for iOS devices. Now then, let the Games begin!

P.S. The official London 2012 mascots still kind of creep me out… Are they staring at you, too?

 

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Creating Hard-to-Crack Passwords

Thievery and hacking never go away, and tech nerds like us always advise coming up with “strong,” hard-to-guess password for your computer or other accounts. But many people don’t exactly know what exactly constitutes a strong password. Fortunately, you can get some password-creation advice on your computer — right there in the control panel where you go to change your password in the first place. Isn’t that convenient?

In Windows, just go to the Start menu to Control Panel to User Accounts and Family Safety to User Accounts. Click on Change Your Password. This opens up the box where you type in your old and new passwords. If you need some help with the strong stuff, look closer. Right in the box is a link called “How to create a strong password” (circled below). Click there for advice. Microsoft also has a site that checks the strength of your chosen password.

On a Mac, just pop open the System Preferences box from the Dock or Apple menu and click on the Users & Groups icon. Make sure your user account is selected on the left side of the box and then click the Change Password button. Here, you also get the familiar Old Password/New Password box, but look on the New Password line. As circled below, there’s a key icon there. Click that icon to call up the Mac OS X Password Assistant, which offers a strength indicator and can even generate strong passwords for you so you don’t have to burn the brain cells thinking them up yourself.

There. You now have no excuse for still using password as your password. It’s time to show your strength!

 

Episode 08 News: Dolphins and Sea Lions and Penguins, Oh My!

Yahoo is busting a move and has nabbed Marissa Mayer, an engineer and one of the earliest employees at Google, to be the company’s new chief executive. Yahoo has had a rough time of it in the CEO department the past year, so here’s hoping Mayer gets the ship back on course. (Maybe give Flickr a tune-up? Pleeeease?)

A lot of people watch TiVo, but who knew TiVo was watching back? The digital recorder company said this week that it was buying the advertisement research company TRA Inc. for about $20 million. The TRA technology allows networks and advertisers to measure the effectiveness of advertisements on television and which networks sell stuff the best. (Hey, does the old TiVo 30-Second Skip trick still work?)

Microsoft continues to churn out announcements and updates this summer. This time, the news concerns the company’s flagship business software, Microsoft Office. A public beta preview version of the new software, Office 2013, is now available for the curious and the company is also revving up its cloud version, Office 365, to draw users away from the likes of Google Docs and Apple’s iWork/iCloud combo.

And now, a paragraph about robots — because the PTJ blog here has not had a paragraph about robots in awhile. Navy scientists are working with several research institutions with an ultimate goal of to creating mine-sweeping autonomous robots for dangerous missions under the sea. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is in on the project with some spiffy new algorithms and there’s more information and some cool video on the MIT site.

Valve Software is dedicating a team to bring the Steam gaming service to the Penguin Nation. A blog post on the Valve site states that the team’s current goal is to get the Steam service fully working on Ubuntu Linux 12.04, the system otherwise known as Precise Pangolin.

Samsung may be having trouble with Apple in the Federal courts, but the South Korea-based electronics company is winning in the people’s court of retail sales. According to a Reuters poll, from April 1 to June 30, analysts estimate that Samsung had sold over 50 million smartphones, overshadowing Apple’s projected sales of 30.5 million iPhones. Keep in mind that an iPhone 5 looms and people may be holding back on Apple purchases in anticipation.

Also, in anticipation by Batman fans everywhere: The Dark Knight Rises, and he rises this weekend in movie theaters. The Los Angeles Times is predicting big box office for the third film in the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale take on the Caped Crusader. Early reviews have been largely positive, but there was a bit of a dust-up for those expressing more negative views on the film. Please folks, leave the explosives to the mine-sweeping robots with their fancy MIT algorithms, okay?

 

 

Episode 07 News: Boo-yah!

Not that the rumor mill ever slows down, but the arrival of Google’s Nexus 7 tablet seems to have spurred unconfirmed reports that both Apple and Amazon are working on updates to their own tablet lines. “Smaller for the iPad, thinner for the Kindle,” so go the rumors. Time will tell, but remember, video on iPods was once debunked, y’know.

While tablet touchscreens seem to be popular in the 7- to 10-inch range, Microsoft is also betting big with its purchase of Perceptive Pixel, which makes touchscreens up to 82 inches in size.  Hopefully, Microsoft can lower the price down from the current $80,000 to grab some new customers. The company also confirmed this week that PC and tablet computers running its brand-new Windows 8 operating system will arrive in late October.

Apple is also rolling into a new Mac OS X release, passing along the golden master for Mac OS X 10.8 (Cougar, er, Mountain Lion) to developers. This usually means that the system will show up in the Mac App Store within a few weeks — plenty of time to hit up the Roaring Apps Compatibility Table page to make sure al your mission-critical Mac programs play nice with the new cat.

Google is paying the price for blowing by the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. And the price is $22.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission for that little indiscretion. (On the topic of Google, if you’re already fretting about next year’s announced demise of the iGoogle portal project, check out PC World’s pages for three alternatives, plus two more.)

So much for the DNSChanger Trojan that was supposed to knock hundreds of thousands of people and their infected computers off the Internet this week. The security company F-Secure estimated that about 47,000 computers in the US were still infected with the malware. If you think you may be one of them, check out these instructions. On a more annoying security note, some phish factory is spewing fake account-billing notices from United Parcel Service. (UPS is ON it.)

Mobile may be grabbing a lot of the gameplay these days, but don’t count out the consoles, with their motion controllers and other new forms of inventive interaction. On the horizon: the new Android-based Ouya console, which sports an attractive $99 price tag. (It also has a Kickstarter page with an infovid.)

Ah, game consoles. You always remember your first.