PTJ 98 News: Earth, Wind and Fire

That Amazon 3D smartphone first revealed in April by the Boy Genius Report blog has now been officially announced: It’s called the Fire smartphone, and let’s hope it never has an overheating battery problem. As it did with Apple’s original iPhone back in 2007, AT&T has emerged as the exclusive carrier for the phone. Amazon’s innovative new phone was developed at its secret hardware headquarters in Silicon Valley, Lab126, according to a report on the Bloomberg Businessweek site. On the software side of the news, Amazon also released its Prime Music service last week that brings unlimited ad-free music streams to Amazon Prime subscribers.

Speaking of Android, the Ars Technica site has posted a history of Google’s mobile operating system, tracing the evolution of Android 0.5 back in 2007 to the current state of chocolatey KitKat Android 4.4. Google itself is on a campaign for safer email and released a new section of its Transparency Report earlier this month showing which major mail providers encrypt messages in transit.  The company also released an early version of its new End-to-End encryption tool for its Chrome browser that uses OpenPGP to scramble messages until they’re decrypted.

loon

Google’s high-flying effort to bring Wi-Fi to underdeveloped parts of the world is taking off. Project Loon, as it’s called, had successful test runs in places like New Zealand and parts of rural Brazil, as detailed on a Google+ page devoted to the South American endeavor. In addition to calculating wind data and enhancing balloon design to make them more efficient, the project team also had to deal with dramatic temperatures, dripping humidity and scorpions.

skyThe United States government is lifting restrictions on just how detailed satellite images can legally be, and at least one company, DigitalGlobe, will be selling even better snaps from the sky soon, with much sharper pictures taken from oh high. (Please stop scowling at the camera, privacy advocates.)

Back here on Earth, satellite imagery is often used in modern map apps, and the U.S. Department of Transportation would like to regulate those navigational smartphone and tablet apps in moving vehicles.  Congress is expected to debate the proposed legislation, part of the GROW AMERICA Act, over the next few months and to possibly make a decision later this year, but given the recent Congressional track record for getting much of anything done besides creating hot winds, we’ll believe it when we see it.

Meanwhile, another US government agency is looking into that little squabble between Netflix and Verizon over slow download speeds. Verizon is not alone, as Comcast and other ISPs are said to be under scrutiny as well. Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, issued a statement late last week on the matter.

Facebook went and changed its policy on personal-data collection from its users last week. Yes, the privacy advocates were not happy about that, either, with some yelling at the Federal Trade Commission for letting Facebook get away with it. Facebook announced the changes on its company blog and says it will now pull in information about other websites you have browsed and use that data to calculate what ads to serve you. Lifehacker, PC Magazine, VentureBeat and many other sites have already posted instructions on how to opt out of Facebook’s web-history snooping.

The folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are also concerned with transparency and how someone’s private data is used by others. They’re working on a new tool dubbed “HTTP with Accountability,” or HTTPA, which will automatically monitor the transmission of private data and allow the data owner to examine how it’s being used. The new protocol will be outlined in a paper presented a security conference in July.

In entertainment news, The Museum of Modern Art has added the first iPad app to its permanent collection. It’s Biopihlia, a musical app with interactive graphics and animations developed in part by Björk Gudmunsdóttir, former Sugarcubes singer-songwriter and swan-dress model. The $13 app is available for Android and iOS.

pennysoloWe here at Pop Tech Jam would like to wish Harrison Ford a speedy recovery from his accident on the set of Star Wars VII last week. Mr. Ford is expected to be off the set for up to 8 weeks while he heals from a broken ankle suffered when a hydraulic door from the Millennium Falcon reportedly fell on him.   The Falcon is still apparently the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, including when its parts pop off.

And finally, the Unicode Standard is getting an update to Version 7.0 and bringing with it a whole bunch of new characters — 2,834 of them to be exact. Unicode 7.0.0 supersedes all previous versions of the standard and now includes things like currently symbols used in Russia and Azerbaijan and 23 new lesser-used and historic scripts for written languages around the world. It also includes about 250 new Emoji, those little cartoony pictographic symbols common in text messages. The new Emoji include several hand gestures including 1F596 – RAISED HAND WITH PART BETWEEN MIDDLE AND RING FINGERS, also known as the Vulcan salute, and 1F595 – REVERSED HAND WITH MIDDLE FINGER EXTENDED, a more offensive gesture commonly referred to as the One Finger Salute. Can’t imagine who might find use for that sort of thing in a text message…

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