All posts by J.D. Biersdorfer

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.


10 Tips for Using Electronics in Hot Weather

  1. MP3 players like iPods generally work best in standard room temperature, say, around 72 degrees, but can function fine in a range of 32 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. (That would be 0 to 35 on the Celsius scale).
  2. Don’t leave your MP3 players, tablet computers or other mobile gear in a hot car, especially one in direct sunlight. According to the National Weather Service, even if it’s just 80 degrees outside, the inside of the car can get up to 123 degrees in an hour.
  3. If you do have a device that gets really hot, bring it into the hotel room and wait until the gadget cools down to room temperature before trying to use it.
  4. Try to avoid hauling anything like a laptop or a tablet to the beach. Oceans tend to involve elements like salt spray in the air, water, hot sun and sand – and none of these things is good for electronics. If you do need to bring an e-reader to the beach, cover the electric and USB ports with electrical tape to keep out sand and salt — or invest in a tight-fitting protective case designed to keep Mother Nature out of the device. The same goes for camcorders and cellphones. In a pinch, keep your mobile phone sealed inside a plastic bag.
  5. If you do haul gear out in to the sun, consider storing it in a dry cooler (with no ice inside) to keep it out of the sun and sand.
  6. Wear sunscreen. If you’ve just applied sun-blocking lotion, be sure to wipe it off your hands before handing your electronics — especially touchscreen devices.
  7. A can of condensed air back in the hotel room is helpful for blowing off any sand that may have dusted the gadgets.
  8. And, if you happen to be reading iBooks on an iPad under an umbrella on the hotel balcony or in the room after a long day of sun and fun, remember that you can choose a different color-scheme theme that just black text on a white background. Just tap the Fonts icon in the top corner. In the menu that pops up, tap the Theme button for the option to switch to Sepia for a soothing light brown pages or Night, the high-contrast white type on a black background. The Fonts icon also has the screen brightness controls if you need to make the iPad’s screen dimmer or brighter.
  9. A good weather app on your smartphone is a great way to keep up with any alerts for heat advisories, approaching storms and other nature-related event that may be on the way to harsh your vacation fun.
  10. Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated so you don’t become woozy and drop your gear in the sand or water.

Episode 06 News: All Kinds of Things that Go BOOM!

If you’re looking for an orb-like streaming media player, Google’s new Nexus Q may fill the void. Introduced at last week’s I/O conference and reportedly even made here in the USA, the $300 black sphere connects to your audio and video system to music and video right from the cloud to your home entertainment center. (Catchy name, eh? Sorta make you think of this Nexus and this Q…)

The Q of Star Trek: The Next Generation liked to meddle — something Facebook is still being accused of after last week’s “let’s-change-everyone’s-default-email-address” incident. Seems the address swap messed up a few smartphone contact lists and The People are not happy about it.

Amazon has apologized for major outages to clients using its Amazon Web Services cloudware after power-disrupting massive thunderstorms and pesky software bugs knocked a few sites offline. The Leap Second of June 30 also tripped up a few sites, although Google smartly planned ahead for that extra tick on the clock.

MobileMe went down for good this past weekend, but that was intentional, as Apple retired the service for good in favor it its big puffy iCloud. Apple also kept up the patent lawsuit heat on Samsung, which still can’t sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the U.S. Off to appeals court, we go!

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to tout its new Windows 8 system that’s due out later this year. A Windows Team blog post reports you can even upgrade your existing Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC to the spiffy new Windows 8 Pro for a mere $40 when the new system lands.

Twitter is marking American Independence Day this week by releasing its first Twitter Transparency Report detailing international government requests for both user information and requests received to remove content DMCA takedown notices were also noted. As a post on the Twitter blog notes: “Beyond the fireworks and barbecue, July 4th serves as an important reminder of the need to hold governments accountable, especially on behalf of those who may not have a chance to do so themselves.”

Happy American Independence Day for those who celebrate it! And for our beloved international listeners, party on anyway.


Episode 05 News: Tech News Value Meal, Super-Size the Fries

Hey, why go to other social networks when you can just build your own? Perhaps that’s Microsoft’s motive for dropping $1.2 billion dollars in cash for Yammer, a four-year-company specializing in making corporate social networks. At least if you have your own social network, you don’t have to worry about Facebook constantly changing stuff up on you, like it did recently when it switched everyone to a e-mail address and made it visible on profile and timeline pages. (At least you can change your settings back as sites like Gizmodo and Lifehacker nicely explain…but still.)

On a happier note, Facebook named its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, as its first female director, elevating her to a board that includes seven men. (Hey, does this general female-male ratio vaguely make you think of a certain recent movie, too?)

Sony’s got a new smartphone to add to the mix – its Xperia Ion is a 4G LTE Android phone with a 12-megapixel camera and 4.6-inch 1080p HD screen; according to at least one review, call quality seems to pretty far down on the feature list, though. It’s available through AT&T and will cost $99.99. (Hey, doesn’t Sony have a big ol’ summer movie of its own coming out next week?)

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has a new report out on e-books and public libraries that’s interesting, but what’s even more interesting — and possibly a bit enraging if you’re a traveling Mac user — is that the Orbitz site told the Wall Street Journal that it showed Mac users different and often more expensive hotels compared to people who surfed the site on a Windows PC. They said it was an experiment and they never showed the two groups the same room for different prices, but I plan to experiment by never using Orbitz again for my future travel plans.

Apple seems to be taking a sharper focus on Mac OS X security, including backing off that “Macs don’t get PC viruses” claim and reportedly increasing the frequency of security-update checks for the looming Mac OS X 10.8 Cougar — I mean, Mountain Lion — system. Meanwhile, Google plans a standalone version of its Google Maps app for iOS and recently updated its Gmail app to work with the iOS Notification center. The company also found time this week to announce its new Nexus 7 Android tablet (among other things) during its I/O conference.

And finally, in the Not So Much News Department, a study from McAfee security reports in a new study that 70 percent of teens hide online behavior from their parents. The Internet may be relatively new, but really, kids have been sneaking around for centuries

P.S. Like fries? Check this out.

Revisiting Amazing Grace

When following up on a recent online flap about women’s contributions to technology, I came across an image of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper atop a Boing Boing blog post. It all made me remember I had a biography of Grace Hopper in my reading queue (otherwise known as that pile of books by the couch) that I’d been meaning to get to. As Internet flaps go, this one turned out to be quite inspiring.

The book is Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer. It came out in paperback earlier this year from MIT Press and can be found online and in bookstores for less than $17. The book explores Grace Hopper’s life and how she fit into the pioneering days of computing in the United States. Her work is said to have laid the foundation for the programming profession.

The book lightly touches on her early days as a mathematics student — and later professor at Vassar College after she completed her doctorate at Yale University — but kicks in when World War II is in full swing and Hopper joins the Navy to do her part. Hopper was one of many female mathematicians who joined the war effort; the film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II covers the women programmers working for the Army and it’s available on Netflix. (And let’s not forget the actress Hedy Lamarr’s work in spread spectrum technology — the subject of the 2011 book, Hedy’s Folly, that also generated a nice NPR story.)

Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age covers her early days coding and calculating high-level math problems for the military on a 9,000-pound computer. After the war ended, she went to do even more for the infant industry, including writing compilers, working on the UNIVAC computer and developing the COBOL programming language.

While the book notes her accomplishments and sticks mostly with primary sources and documentation, it’s more history than biography. It drills down into how these early calculating machines functioned, whether or not Grace Hopper was involved directly or not — but does discuss that little story about a certain moth.

For those interested in the evolution of modern computing, Beyer’s book is an educational read. While it may skimp on an abundance of personal details concerning its human subject, it distills the Hopperian philosophy to “maintain a youthful creative outlet by constantly broadening one’s knowledge base,” as this sort of thing lets you approach problems from different angles. It’s a good lesson to learn. (Her famous quote “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission,” is also a good one to remember for certain situations when you just really need to get something done.)

If you’re looking for a more personal biography, try Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea by Kathleen Broome Williams and published by the Naval Institute Press. It’s less overall techie history, and more focused on the actual life of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. A short biographical bit on 60 Minutes in 1983 shows her in action as well.

Grace Hopper passed on in 1992, but she and her work live on in many forms (yes, nerds, including t-shirts). This year, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference is being held October 3-6 in Baltimore. And if you have 10 minutes, be sure to check out her appearance on David Letterman’s show back in the 1980s. It’s a hoot.

Episode 04 News: Flatter, Faster and a Bit Litigious

After at least one false start, Microsoft is getting back to tablet business with its own spiffy new tablet computer called the Surface. Although the name may bring to mind other products, the hardware is memorable: a 10.6-inch HD screen, dual cameras, a kickstand to prop up the tablet screen and a thin smart-cover that includes a functioning keyboard for those times when you need to type on a real set of keys. No word yet on final pricing and availability, though. (Sure, IBM’s Sequoia supercomputer may be a bit larger that the Surface, but hey, it’s overtaken a Fujitsu K computer as the world’s fastest for crunching big numbers.)

Facebook just acquired the Israeli company, which makes facial recognition software and while it had the checkbook out, settled that lawsuit over sponsored stories for 10 million dollars. Google is also having some legal action of its own, reportedly threatening to lower the boom on the site for misuse of the YouTube API to rip songs from videos.

Most prize-winning authors are already available in e-book form, but about 40 books written by one Sir Winston Churchill are finally getting digitized and ready to go on sale in e-bookstores next month. For those of you waiting for a lighter version of A History of the English Speaking Peoples and his other works, fire up your e-readers.

Weekend’s almost here. After a scorching couple of days here in New York City, air-conditioning and frosty drinks are in order. Hmm, perhaps a Pixar movie.