PTJ 75 News: Cloudy With a Chance of Orcs

Welcome to the tail-end of Computer Science Education Week! This year, a campaign called Hour of Code encourages kids to try computer coding for just one hour to see what it’s like; you can find out more at Code.org. Supporters of the event, including the author Douglas Rushkoff say in order to be a smart and savvy consumer of modern technology, you have to know how it works.

reformExecutives at several major technology companies — including Google, Microsoft, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo — have issued a joint statement calling for new legal restrictions on US government Internet surveillance programs. The group letter was addressed to President Obama and the United States Congress. And the full text can be found at ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com. (In a somewhat related story, Pro Publica, The Guardian of London and The New York Times reported this week that the NSA and the CIA have also been spying on gamers.)

Microsoft is stepping up security to help users know when and where their Microsoft Accounts have been used. The company is adding a Recent Activity page where users can log in and see all the times and locations of sign-ins, failed sign-ins due to incorrect passwords, security challenges and password-reset requests.

A couple of new iOS updates arrived this week: the latest version of the Pandora app now includes an alarm clock mode, and Amazon’s Cloud Drive Photos app now works on iPad and iPad Mini hardware. And Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition will hopefully arrive in the App Store later this month.

Google announced that 10 new apps have been added to its $35 Chromecast TV streaming dongle and fans of Google Street View may be happy to know that Google is now allowing users to create their own Street View images. (FYI, work has stalled on the Google Mystery Barge out near San Francisco, as the project is on “hiatus” until spring, much like a cable-network TV show.) What isn’t a mystery anymore is how Google might start making some money from its Google+ social network. This week, the Big G introduced a new ad type called +Post, which lets advertisers turn Google+ content into expandable display advertisements. The +Post system is still in the beta stage, but Toyota USA, Cadbury UK and Ritz crackers are among the early adopters.

Advertising is everywhere, especially in social media, but some companies have found that maybe some occasions aren’t appropriate for promoting your brand. Case in point, Campbell Soup apologized last weekend for a tweet from the SpaghettiOs account that featured the grinning circular noodle holding an American flag and encouraging followers to remember Pearl Harbor Day. Those who like to mock through creative use of image-editing software also had a field day with the tweet and transplanted the SpagehttiOs mascot into a variety of inappropriate situations.

Meanwhile, up on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover is still hard at work. Researchers on the project published six different papers this week.

And finally, a British climate researcher at the University of Bristol has taken J.R.R. Tolkein’s detailed maps from his books, plugged the info into a supercomputer and predicted weather patterns for Middle Earth. Dr. Dan Lunt did the work in his spare time and said the climate models he used were based on the fundamental understanding of science. He’s published a mock paper called “The Climate of Middle Earth” and it’s available in English, Dwarvish and Elvish. Perhaps it’s time for a little light reading before heading out to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this weekend?

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