PTJ News 117: Pay As You Go

Congratulations, Philae, for sticking the landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as part of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission! Good job! (Now, if only you’d landed before we recorded this week’s episode, but we’ll congratulate you in person next week.)

Back on Earth, more people continue to weigh in on the Federal Communication Commission’s pending decision on net neutrality. President Barack Obama issued a statement and a video this week urging the FCC to keep the Internet open. As reported by The New York Times and others, Mr. Obama has proposed reclassifying both wired and wireless Internet service as a Title II telecommunications service under the Communications Act of 1934. Some Republican leaders have already objected to the President’s proposal, including Speaker of the House John Boenher and South Dakota Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

cartIf you think the power-shopping  stretch from Black Friday to Cyber Monday makes money (more than $3.5 billion in the past), look east. This week, the Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba hosted “Singles Day,” named for its date of  11.11 and it took less than 18 minutes from the sale’s start  for Alibaba’s gross merchandise volume to hit $1 billion. The entire shopping event went on to make 8.5 billion dollars in one day, which is a heck of a lot of e-commerce.

FBMFacebook, which said it killed the messaging feature within its main app and forced users to download a whole separate Messenger because Mark Zuckerberg thought it would be a better experience, announced this week that said Messenger app is now being used by 500 million people. The other 500 million people on Facebook are probably still complaining about the company killing the integrated messaging function.

NASA has confirmed that it’ll be leasing out its historic Hangar One to Google’s subsidiary Planetary Adventures for $1.16 billion dollars over the next 60 years. The lease at Moffett Field also includes 1,000 acres of federal land, and Google has pledged $200 million dollars to restore the old naval-airship hangar and two others like it.

hotelAs reported in Wired, Kaspersky Lab has been researching what it calls the Darkhotel espionage campaign, in which high-level corporate executives staying in luxury hotels are tricked into installing malware over a compromised hotel Wi-Fi network. So it’s not just those prices at the mini-bar that are criminal. (And speaking of hacking, the computer networks of United States Postal Service were invaded this fall, with the personal data of 800,000 employees compromised.)

Microsoft Office for phones and tablets is now free. Well, a basic version of Office for iPad and soon-to-be-Android edition is free. If you want to do more than basic editing and viewing, you’ll need to sign up for Office 365. (The company also introduced its $200 subscription-based Work & Play Bundle this week. )

Meanwhile, Apple is close to opening a new office in Cambridge, England. The company recently hired five people from a defunct mapping company called Pin Drop based in London, so perhaps those international Apple maps will get better soon. And as TechCrunch and other blogs have noted,  Google announced a partnership with Oxford University on some artificial intelligence projects last month, so the Cambridge-Oxford rivalry could take on a new tech dimension real soon. (Apple also has a bit going on stateside with a new lawsuit over The Case of the Disappearing iMessages and a miraculous new tool that helps those still afflicted.)

Pliny_the_ElderAnd finally, DARPA, (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and Rice University, (in Houston, Texas), are teaming up on an $11 million dollar project that could make writing computer programs much easier. A new software tool called PLINY — named for the Roman author and encyclopedist Pliny the Elder — is designed to serve as an autocorrect and autocomplete function for programmers, much like similar programs today that suggest and fill in search queries for the web. Let’s just hope it works better than the autocorrect feature in those early versions of iOS.

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