All posts by J.D. Biersdorfer

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.



(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Search Me

Unless you’ve got a photographic memory and meticulous organizational habits, you’ve probably had to dig around on your computer at some point for an elusive file that you can’t immediately locate. Although the beloved Sherlock utility has been retired, Mac OS X users have the Finder’s Command-F keyboard shortcut to dig around for matching files with keywords, but there’s also the handy Spotlight feature waiting right up in the top right corner of the screen under the magnifying-glass icon. (Spotlight search also lives within Apple’s iOS software as well.)

On the PC side of the street, Windows users can use the trusty Search box on the Start menu or in library windows to uncover files and folders. The sleuthing fun doesn’t stop there: check out Microsoft’s advanced search tips, including the natural language search setting for finding files in regular English. (Hopefully, this natural language thing will catch on.)

Now, if only there were similar tools for finding missing socks and car keys.

Episode 03 News: Apple Announces, But Android Activates

For the two or three folks out there who may have been on vacation in an Internet-free zone this week, Apple made a bunch of announcements at its World Wide Developers Conference. These included a preview of its coming iOS 6 software for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, hardware updates to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops and a new MacBook Pro with the super-sharp Retina display screen. And the next version of Mac OS X — Mountain Lion — drops next month for less than $20.

But while Apple may be hogging the limelight with new product announcements, Android is quietly humming along. According to a tweet by Android guru Andy Rubin, Google is now activating more than 900,000 new Android devices a day. The current number shows an increase from even this past February, with 850,000 activations per day. The general number of activated Android gadgets is currently thought to be around 390 million.

If you have multiple gadgets that need Internet access and you have Verizon Wireless, the company’s new Share Everything data plans may be for you, as it offers unlimited voice minutes, text, video and picture messaging for 10 Verizon Wireless mobile devices.

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with family members around the world, but be careful who can see your profile. The F.B.I. has a warning up on its site for a little hustle known as “The Grandparent Scam,” in which evildoers often use information gleaned from social media sites to convince grandparents that their grandchildren are in danger in foreign countries and need money wired immediately. Yeah, these old cons never really go away, do they?

A few last new nuggets here: An article on the MIT Technology Review site suggests that malicious software has become too sophisticated for old school antivirus programs. The Amazon Cloud Player app is finally available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Incoming Seton Hall freshmen are all getting brand new Nokia Lumia 900 smartphones, thanks to the university’s Mobile Computing Initiative. Blizzard Entertainment dropped the banhammer on several thousand user accounts of Diablo III players suspected of “found to be cheating or using hacks, bots, or modifications in any form…” And speaking of hacks, there was this Dutch artist and his deceased cat…I know the pet has passed on, but this sorta thing just makes me wanna go save living animals in need.

Hey, look at the calendar! This week was Patch Tuesday and it sounds like Microsoft had a few big Band-Aids to dispense. Let’s be careful out there, people.

The Stream Team

Countless stories have been written about cutting the cord, ditching the cable company and watching all your video through online streaming. But if you’re not quite ready to make the snip, you can at least watch your shows in more places than ever before.

Take for example, the Euro Cup 2012…’cause I need my international football, y’all.

I have a cable TV subscription, but I was out of town in a place with Internet – but no cable TV. But, thanks to the Watch ESPN app, I could watch matches live on the iPad. The app is also available for Android devices and the ESPN3 online channel often streams live sports video on the ESPN Web site if you’re on a regular laptop or desktop computer.

All I needed was a free user name and password from my cable company. In most cases, you can sign up for free to get credentials on your provider’s Web site, but you may need to dig up a recent cable bill with your account number on it to sign up.

Of you do keep the cable account and have premium channels on it, you have other entertainment options as well:

The one that’s been in the news lately: HBO Go.  It works on Android phones, Xbox, Samsung Smart TVs, iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Roku box and the Amazon Kindle Fire. The service is free with an HBO subscription – you can watch past episodes of Game of Thrones, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and other HBO fare.

If you get the Showtime channel, there’s also Showtime Anytime. You get unlimited access to Showtime original series like Homeland and Dexter, movies and other specials for iPad, iPhone and the computer. You also need a Showtime subscription and a participating provider, like AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS. (And hey, for the Dexter fan in your life, the gift opportunities await.)

That same cable company name and password can also be used for the DVR apps many providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable now have for scheduling recordings or watching live TV. You can also program the DVR through a mobile Web site. (TiVo has its own apps and mobile site, too.)

If you still want to ditch cable, you won’t be without stuff to watch, and this is not even counting YouTube. For example, for $8 a month, you can subscribe to either Netflix or Hulu Plus, which both have apps available for Android, Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, Windows Phone, Wii, PS3, Xbox, Roku and the computer.

If you’re a fan of public television, there’s the PBS app for iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch – it’s free and you can catch up old recent episodes of Masterpiece, NOVA, Austin City Limits and more.

Many broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) have their own apps, especially for their nightly news shows. NBC Nightly News is available for Android and iOS if you need your Brian Williams fix.

And let’s not forget the Olympics. NBC, which is broadcasting the London 2012 games next month, will have some apps. These apps themselves aren’t quite ready just yet, but you can get a preview of what to expect here.

Got some time and need some brain food? Try the TED Talks app for iOS and Android. TED Talks are 18-minute “great idea” lectures from scientists, writers, entertainers, business folks and more. There are hundreds of them online on a wide variety of topics. (I must admit, Joshua Klein’s speech on the intelligence of crows and Steven Johnson’s thoughts on where good ideas come from are two of my all-time favorite TED Talks.)

And one of these days, maybe we’ll even get the BBC iPlayer here in the US — legally. Sigh.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: PDF Files on Hand

Want to stash those important documents, receipts, confirmation numbers or other files on your phone before you go someplace? Here’s how.

Step One: Convert File to PDF 

On the Mac, you can quickly make a PDF out of a Web page, email message or other document just by pressing Command-P. Yes, this is the Print box, but in the bottom corner is a button marked PDF. Click on that to se a menu of options, including Save as PDF.

On Windows, there several options that let you make PDFs out of Web pages and other documents. Cute PDF Writer, the browser add-on Web2PDF or even with the Google Chrome browser.

Step Two: Move the PDF File to Your Phone

There are a number of ways to transfer the PDF files from the computer to the phone. You can email the PDFs as attachments and open them on the handset. (Just make sure you don’t have personal information in the documents that you may not want to email openly.)

Just open the message, select the attachment icon and save it in a PDF-ready app like iBooks  or the mobile version of Adobe Reader X for iOS or Android. There are a ton of third-party PDF apps out there, like EverNote, GoodReader or PDF Expert.

If you want to avoid emailing, you can also sync PDF files to an iPhone through iTunes. You can also copy files from the computer to an Android phone with a file manager app (Kaiser Pedro likes Astro File Manager).

So the next time you need to refer to these documents you’ve saved, you don’t need to dig through your email app or struggle with one bar of signal strength. The files are right there — ready and waiting on your phone.

Episode 02 News: Time to Drink the Donuts

The Electronic Entertainment Expo brought its usual flurry of gamed-related news this year. Sony’s new Wonderbook peripheral for interactive storybooks on the PlayStation 3 looks especially interesting, especially since J.K. Rowling (She of Harry Potter Fame) has created the first title, The Book of Spells, to let Hogwarts wannabes practice heir wizarding lessons on the big screen. Nintendo also announced 23 titles that will ship when its fancy new Wii U game system hits stores later this year, including Batman: Arkham City, Super Mario Brothers U. and Pikmin 3.

Microsoft isn’t just sitting still. Representatives showed off the company’s new SmartGlass technology that links all your screens — Xbox, tablet, computer, smartphone, etc. — together to share movies and games on whatever device you happened to be using at the time. Oh, and Microsoft officially buried the Zune brand (2006-2016) for good with the move to “Xbox Music and Windows Phone Marketplace just passed the 100,000 apps mark.

In non-gaming news, Google bought QuickOffice, the productivity suite of apps that lets users create and edit files in Microsoft Office formats on iOS, Android and Symbian-based mobile devices.

Is Facebook losing its mojo? While it hasn’t slid into AOL Oblivion quite yet, a new online poll out from Reuters and research firm Ipsos has found that four out of five Facebook users surveyed have never brought a product or service because they saw an ad or a comment about it on Facebook. The poll also found that 34 percent of Facebook users surveyed were spending less time on the site than they were six months ago. 20 percent of users, however, were spending more time on the site. A poll from the Associated Press and CNBC last month also found that 57 percent of Facebook users polled said they never click on ads or other sponsored content when they use the site.

And finally, vodka that tastes like glazed donuts? Who knew? I doubt we’ll partake of 360 Glazed Donut, but we’ll definitely be celebrating National Donut Day next year.

Oh, Snap! Photo Apps and Other Things in Episode 01

For a holiday-shortened week, there sure is a lot of tech news out there to discuss. For instance: Is Facebook making its own smartphone? We’ve heard this rumor before and we’re hearing it again.

GameStop is making a mobile move, too, selling Android tablets in its stores, even with a few pre-loaded games. Tablet screen sizes are turning out to be popular with gamers, but what about a 1080p HD screen on a 5-inch phone? LG is working on it, so we’ll probably see it soon.

Flame, Flamer, SkyWiper — no matter what you call it, it’s a worm with a mission and its snatching sensitive data off computers around the Middle East and making a lot of people very unhappy. Check out the Kaspersky Labs blog post that covers it all.

Get ready for the next flurry of actual non-rumor Apple posts this month! The keynote speech at the World Wide Developer’s Conference is scheduled for June 11 at 10 a.m. Pacific time. While you’re waking, you can always watch some Amazon Instant Video on your Xbox, mourn the loss of the Nextel network next year or watch the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man.

Summer vacation season is now officially here, so what mobile camera apps and photo editors do you favor? Facebook hopes you’ll go with its new Facebook Camera app for iOS, but I still favor Camera+ for its ease of use, ability to upload to multiple sharing sites and rockin’ Clarity filter. Pedro likes the similarly named Camera Plus Pro for firing off quick snaps with the 5 megapixel camera on his latest iPad. (He also has a thing or two to say about HDR photography and why it looks so nice.)

As for editing photos on tablets, although it’s possible to do quick edits like cropping and red-eye removal with the Photos app tools in iOS 5, there are a ton of other options, including Adobe’s free Photoshop Express and Photoshop Touch apps for iOS and Android. Apple’s own iPhoto for iPad is another option for iOS users who prefer the iPhoto take on photos and Snapseed has its fans as well. Pedro also likes the Photoforge 2 and Photogene apps. As for the photo-friendly accessories, we both get a lot of use out of the iPad Camera Connector Kit and the Digital AV Adapter for iPad.

Now, if only some of these apps would run on this phone….

Recipe for Dessert Casserole

This delicious dish is good for group snacking activities like gaming parties, Marvel movie marathons, card or board games, and so on.

A big Pyrex or CorningWare baking dish
Oven mitts (these are nice)

1 bag each:

Chips Ahoy
Nutter Butters
Pecan Sandies
Fudge Stripes
or other cookies of your choice

1. Line the baking dish with foil.

2. Open the cookie bags and set down a layer of Oreos, then Chips Ahoy and so on until you have a layer of all the cookies filling up the baking dish. Use which ever order you want or mix up the different types of cookies within the layers.

3. Cover the finished casserole with foil over the top of the dish.

When it comes time to bring your contribution to the party, put on the oven mitts and march in holding the dish carefully. Peel back the foil and let the hunger games begin. (May the Oreos be ever in your favor!)

Additional suggestions: For healthier options, use Snackwells or other reduced-fat cookies. Before the party, check to see if anyone has for nut allergies.

Consume responsibly.