Amazon, who seems to be having a year of contract battles with its merchandise providers, is dragging the Muppets and Captain America into the fray. Variety and Home Media Magazine are among those reporting that Amazon’s U.S. site is currently not offering pre-orders for many Disney movies scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray, including last spring’s Muppets Most Wanted, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Maleficent. This is not likely to go over well with geeks, parents and, well, geek parents.
The übermegastore is still slugging it out on another front with Hachette over e-book pricing and the some of the people who actually write the books are piping up. More than 900 authors signed a public letter last week that demanded that the Amazon stop messing around with writer’s book distribution and sales as a negotiating tactic. The company also got some flack earlier this week for misusing — of all things — a George Orwell quote in a letter from its Amazon Books Team.
At the Gamescom tradeshow on Germany this week, Microsoft made several announcements. One big one: the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider will launch as an exclusive to the Xbox when the game arrives next year. Other data points from Microsoft’s games division include the betas for the multiplayer Fable Legends starting on October 16 and the one for Halo 5: Guardians starting on December 29th and new Xbox One bundles including a shiny white version of the console this fall. The Xbox One hardware itself will be getting some additional features as well.
In Apple News, supply-chain watchers note that production of the next generation of iPads seems to be underway, probably headed to stores by mid-fall. The new models are expected to sport an anti-glare coating to make the screens easier to read and will come with the new iOS system. One of the features previewed in iOS 8 last June at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference — Healthkit — could be getting some traction. The Reuters News Agency reports that Apple has been talking about possible integration with folks at the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai, as well as with at least one electronic health record provider. One last Apple bite: The New York Times had a big story this week about Apple University, the company’s secret training program for employees that educates them in Apple philosophy. As the article noted, at least one Apple U. alum found the quality of the campus bathroom tissue to be superb.
The United States government seems to have realized that good, functional websites make life easier for its citizens and announced this week that it’s dedicating the new U.S. Digital Service department to the cause. The group will live in the Office of Budget and Management and there’s now a U.S. Digital Services Playbook online that outlines best practices and another online document called the TechFAR Handbook that explains Federal Acquisition Regulation to help government agencies implement their digital services. The USDS is intended to serve mostly as consultants, but there’s another department of government geeks over in the General Services Administration. The other group, called 18F, is designed to be more of a hands-on-get-in-there-and-fix-that-mess team.
Akamai has released its latest State of the Internet report and among other things, rates average Internet speed on a state-by-state basis. While data speeds may be slow in certain parts of the United States, six companies are forming a consortium to create a new $300 million dollar Trans-Pacific cable system between Japan and the US West Coast.
It’s Google Science Fair time again and one of the more notable projects from this year’s crop is called “Rethink” and it’s by Trisha Prabhu, a 14-year-old girl from Naperville, Illinois. As she outlines on the Google Science Fair site, Ms. Prabhu wanted to create a system to help cut down on cyberbullying between adolescents on social media sites and her experiment seems to have worked.
In robot news, our still-benevolent mechanical helpers are finding work this summer as bellhops and museum guides. Starwood’s Aloft hotel in Cupertino, California, is experimenting with a rolling butler called Botlr that delivers items like toothpaste and razors from the front desk up to guest rooms. The Tate Britain Museum in London is unleashing four robots into its galleries after hours to live-stream footage from the museum’s collection. The After Dark project runs five nights through August 17th and curious art lovers can log in through the museum’s online portal to follow along.
As detailed in Wired, security researcher Gene Bransfield successfully used a cat with a custom WarKitteh collar to map Wi-Fi security in his neighborhood. He explained it all in a DEF CON presentation called “Weaponizing Your Pets: The War Kitteh and the Denial of Service Dog.” As for the Denial of Service Dog project, Mr. Bransfield showed how a canine equipped with a saddlebag full of hacker gear was able to troll bars and turn off TV sets during the World Cup. (Brazil fans may have actually been grateful for the act of mercy during that notorious semi-final match with Germany.)
And finally, if you found yourself charmed by Vin Diesel’s Groot character and his limited dialogue in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, check out the 15-button Groot soundboard over on Vulture.com. And you can bring the magic along during your Web travels, grab the Grootify script button from the Us vs. Them site. It makes a number of websites so much better, as shown below.