Tag Archives: Amazon Echo

PTJ 202 News: Chew On This

Who says you shouldn’t release new products in August? Google’s all out with the shiny, releasing the final version of its Android 7.0 operating system to compatible Nexus devices. [Sorry about that, Nexus 7 owners.] For a deep review of the new system, check out what Ars Technica has to say. (Hint: Ars Technica has a lot to say.)

Yes, the month of August seems to make everyone want to shop, and not just for Trapper Keepers and sturdy jeans for school. Pinterest just bought the streamlined reader app Instapaper. Microsoft has acquired the firm Genee, which specializes in intelligent scheduling coordination and optimization, or rather, letting bots run your calendar and send you reminders. (In a blog post, Microsoft said it plans to use the Genee technology in its Office 365 suite.) Microsoft is also getting closer to Lenovo, as the China-based hardware company announced plans to preload Microsoft Office mobile apps on certain Android-based devices it sells.

babsAnd Apple’s been shopping too, acquiring Gliimpse, a startup specializing in personal health-data management. Apple also made news recently with the decision to replace the revolver emoji in the coming iOS 10 system with a squirt gun to artistically make a comment about gun violence. The iOS 10 system itself is expected out by the next month and if a certain diva is to be believed, it might just be on Friday, September 30th. Actress and recording artist Barbra Streisand told NPR that she personally complained to Apple CEO Tim Cook about the way the Siri virtual assistant pronounces her name and he agreed to fix it.

No official word on when the annual fall Apple Special Event will be slurping up all the media bandwidth next month. Some observers like WhenIsKeynote.com are going with September 6th, the day after Labor Day, while others predict it’ll be sometime around September 13th. Major iPhone changes are not expected this year and some blogs are already skipping ahead to 2017 with the breathless anticipation of an overhauled handset design, including a curved display not unlike the Samsung Edge.

echoAmazon is looking to grab some more customers by going cheap. The ReCode site hears the übermegaeverything store is looking to launch a cheap streaming music service that only works on its Amazon Echo speaker assistant and may cost about $5 a month.

The state of Massachusetts is taking a stand of its own in favor of a taxi-cab industry that’s been taking it on the chin from ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. As the Reuters news agency reports, the Bay State plans to levy a 20-cent tax per trip on a ride-hailing service and a nickel of that will go right to the taxi industry until the year 2021.

Also taking a stand: Dozens of human rights and civil liberties organizations who have signed a letter protesting the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed plan to screen the social media accounts for foreign visitors to the country. The comment period for the proposal ended on this Monday.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sony is getting into downsizing mode with a thinner design for its PlayStation 4 console called the PS Slim.  Sony is said to be planning a media event on September 7th to share the news.

tux25This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Linux operating system kernel. On August 25, 1991, one Linus Benedict Torvalds posted a message in a Usenet group announcing a little project and suffice it to say, some people paid attention.  Here’s to the next 25, Penguin Nation.

The enthusiasm for the Pokémon Go mobile game seems to be fading a bit. Does Pikachu get a third act?

Twitter has finally added that eye-soothing dark night mode to the iOS version of its app. Android users have been enjoying the feature since last month.

The once hot Gawker website shut down for good this week. Gawker’s founder Nick Denton put up one final post.

And finally, after two years in the wilds of space, one of the two Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft, known as STEREO-B, has reestablished contact with NASA after going silent in October 2014. The agency’s website explains how the bond was broken, in case you were wondering. NASA engineers had been trying to get back in touch with the craft for the past 22 months and were finally able to establish a lock on STEREO-B’s downlink carrier on August 21st — thanks to the Deep Space Network array of giant radio antennas. Don’t you go running off again, STEREO-B, you hear?

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PTJ 184: The Force Just Won’t Stay Down

The are only two type of people on this big blue marble we call Earth: those who love Star Wars and those who don’t. I think you all know which camp J.D. and El Kaiser spend their time in. This week J.D. fills us in on the goodies you’ll get in the various and sundry versions of the digital and DVD/Blu-Ray releases of the latest chapter in the space opera, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. In tech headlines, the FBI doesn’t need Apple’s help hacking into an iPhone, Instagram gives users more time, and now you can build your own Amazon Echo with help from another fruit-themed toymaker.

PTJ 184 News: Never Mind

Well, after all that legal grandstanding and trying to force Apple to build a back door in its mobile operating system, the Justice Department went back to court this week to say: Never mind. Thanks to help from a third-party volunteer hacking specialist, the FBI says it is now rolling through the encrypted data that was harvested from the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist.

So now that the whole incident is over, what was it about? Some argue that corporate compliance is mandatory in this dangerous era of terror. Others, including famed NSA leaker Edward Snowden, have gone on record saying the FBI could have gotten into the phone on its own and the whole thing was about establishing a legal precedent. So, until next time…

Speaking of Apple’s iOS software, the company has acknowledged bugs in its recent 9.3 update. Patch on the way!

instagramInstagram’s previously announced move to using algorithms  in feeds has caused a bit of a panic in the Insta-community, so that’s why you’ve been inundated by people asking you to turn on notifications so that their posts will not get buried. No word on when that change to the system  going live, but Instagram did announce this week that it was increasing the maximum running time of posted video from 15 seconds to 60 seconds.

Twitter celebrated its 10th-anniversary last week and this week, the company’s Periscope app for live-streaming video celebrated its one-year anniversary from its official launch date. Periscope has reportedly been used for 200 million live video broadcasts and not all of them were Game of Thrones or House of Cards bootlegs.

People poking around in Facebook Messenger code say they’ve found evidence that points to the potential to make purchases in retail stores and fund them with Apple Pay, all without leaving the Messenger app. Facebook has made no announcements yet, nor on reports that it’s also working on Snapchat-like self-destructing messages called Secret Conversations. (But, while we’re talking bout Snapchat, that company has just released what it calls Chat 2.0, which lets users easily tap between text, audio and video chat.)

riftIn gaming news, reviews of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset are starting to pop up around the web, including one from Brian X. Chen at The New York Times who called it a well-built hardware system brimming with potential. However, the first wave of apps and software will probably only appeal to hard-core gamers.

Sony is also stepping up the graphics in its console games and said it plans to release an updated version of its PlayStation 4 machine later this year. The current PlayStation 4 model would stick around, but it would add a newer version with enough mojo to handle virtual reality and other visually intense gaming experiences.

Vimeo announced this week that it’s made some updates to its channel on the Roku set-top box. As explained in a blog post on the company site, you can now you can rent or buy films and video series directly from their creators right there on your Roku TV.

Audio-sharing site SoundCloud is also stepping things up with a new subscription service here in the States called SoundCloud Go.

Oracle is not happy with Google over a little matter of copyright and is suing the Big G for use of Java in the Android operating system. Oracle seeking 9.3 billion dollars in damages. Google, for its part, has other things on its mind this week, like its new Fiber Phone service, which brings unlimited and nationwide phone calls to homes with Google Fiber broadband service for $10 a month.

fiber

Yahoo’s financial woes have not gotten any better this year and the company announced it’ll be accepting bids for its web business and Asian assets. The Wall Street Journal reports the company has set an April 11th deadline for preliminary bids from interested buyers. Perhaps Yahoo can throw a few departments up on eBay.

And finally, if you don’t live in the States or you’re too broke to buy one of those handy Amazon Echo speakers that does your bidding when you give it verbal commands, you can build your own with an inexpensive Raspberry Pi barebones computers and a little time. Novaspirit Tech has a demo video:

Lest you think this is an unauthorized adventure, Amazon itself has posted its own instructions on GitHub for getting the hardware working with its Alexa Voice Service. So, if you need a summer project this year when you’re not picking up Yahoo properties at a weekend tag sale, consider the DIY Raspberry Echo.

 

PTJ 183 News: Screen Lock and Key

So maybe the Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t need Apple so much after all. The Justice Department postponed this week’s hot court date over that whole “you must unlock this terrorist iPhone” fight they were having with Cook & Co. It seems the DOJ has found someone else it thinks can hack and crack into the iPhone in question. The court date has been rescheduled for April 5th. (And who knows what’s behind that door, as a new report analyzing the November attacks in Paris indicated that the terrorists there were using disposable cellphones and not encryption to communicate.)

imessageApple may be fighting to keep the passcode locked, but researchers at Johns Hopkins University say they’ve found a way to decrypt encrypted iMessages. While this bug in iMessage wouldn’t have helped the FBI with the San Bernardino phone (and Apple released software updates for iOS and OS X this week anyway), the Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that some Apple encryption can be broken.

Despite the postponement of the FBI hearing, Apple’s court calendar is still filling up, though. On Monday this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung’s appeal of that patent infringement case a few years back that it lost to Apple over copying the iPhone’s design. Samsung would like to talk more and pay less in this case.

But lest we forget, there was one more bit of Apple News this week: The company held a small-scale event at its headquarters this week to unveil the [no surprise] 4-inch iPhone SE, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, an iOS software update, new Apple Watch bands — and a cheaper price on the Apple Watch itself. Updates on the company’s recycling efforts were also revealed:

Amazon has added a new product to its inventory: package deals for Comcast’s Xfinity television and Internet service. The goods can be found in the new Amazon Cable Store, where special offers for Amazon customers are also touted. On the down side, you have to use Comcast is you sign up.

Amazon Kindle owners also probably saw a lot of panicky stories online this week warning that if they did not update the system software on older Kindle models, those Kindles would not be able to access the Kindle bookstore to buy new books. If you missed the March 22 deadline, you’ll have to plug the Kindle into your computer, download the updates from Amazon’s site and apply those patches manually.

amazonechoOne of Amazon’s other products popped up — and piped up — earlier this month during the broadcast of a National Public Radio story about the Amazon Echo speaker and its Alexa virtual assistant. As the story unfolded on the radio, with typical NPR sound clips of people on the radio taking to Alexa on their Amazon Echos, one NPR listener said his Alexa reset the home thermostat based on a command it heard on the radio. Another Alexa in the wild began playing an NPR Hourly Summary.  (Just so you know, this was just a test. Once they get the signal from headquarters, all the Alexas will rise up together to overthrow their human oppressors.) Incidentally, Amazon Tap, which looks like it’s basically an Echo you have to touch first, will be available next week.

It’s no secret that Facebook hoovers up gobs of data from its users to help it target advertising, and recent stories show how its ad platform guesses what race a person is based on his or her online behavior. Although Facebook has been offering its its racial profiling, er,  “ethnic affinity” targeting to advertisers since 2014, the Business Insider site illustrated this practice with a story showing how different trailers for the film Straight Outta Compton were pushed out to white viewers, black viewers and Hispanic viewers. Facebook: Never missing a chance to use any of your data to sell you things.

Twitter celebrated its 10th birthday this week. The service stuck up a blog post thanking its users for the first decade and saying “Throughout the years, you’ve made Twitter what it is today and you’re shaping what it will be in the future.” (Let us please not speak of trolls and politicians.)

Hungry? Venerable pizza chain Dominos is testing an automated pizza delivery robot down in New Zealand. It’s called the Domino’s Robotic Unit, or DRU, and it has a 12-mile range, runs on battery power and has compartments for hot and cold food — including storage for up to 10 pizzas.

While America seems to be lurching toward delivery drones, ground-based delivery bots seem to be catching on in other parts of the world, including small six-wheeled vehicles dispensing packages in London this spring.

And finally, also over in England, let us turn to a jolly seafaring tale. If you are unaware of this unfolding story, here it is: The British Natural Environment Research Council thought it would be a good idea to ask the public for help in naming a brand new £200 million ocean-research ship, so it invited the public to participate and began to take online suggestions. While some well-meaning participants put forth the names of scientists or explorers, one gentleman suggested the moniker RSS Boaty McBoatface. Needless to say, that name quickly shot to the top of the polls and the NERC site even crashed from excitement at one point. A spokeswoman for the council said, “We are very much enjoying hearing everyone’s ideas,” but the agency ultimately has the final say in christening the vessel. The contest ends April 16th, so in the meantime, raise a glass of rum and let’s all sing a good shanty for the RSS Boaty McBoatface while it lasts.

boaty

PTJ 174 News: Gloom and “DOOM”

No more tunneling to better streams? Netflix has announced it’s going to start blocking viewers using proxy servers and virtual private networks to get around regional restrictions on certain movies and TV shows.  Wired, however, has an article that casts a bit of doubt on Netflix actually being able to block out every type of VPN or proxy service out there. Ever feisty, Netflix also got into a little tussle with NBC over remarks made at a Television Critics Association press event this past weekend. A researcher at NBC Universal threw down the gauntlet by saying Netflix and its little herd of bingeable shows were not a threat to the traditional TV-viewership model and claimed to have ratings data on Netflix taken by a third-party company. Netflix execs, however, gave it right back to NBC, saying its survey was based on “really remarkably inaccurate data.

Also in the world of subscription services, the WhatsApp messenger service is dispensing with the 99-cent annual subscription fee and making itself available for free. And supposedly, without ads.

primeairAmazon has now enabled its voice-commanded Alexa assistant on its tubular Amazon Echo devices to read Kindle books out loud for free. The feature works with a number of Kindle titles, but don’t expect the melodious tones of a professional audiobook narrator here – it’s the Robot Lady Voice reading them to you. Also in Amazon Land: Amazon’s vice president for global public policy recently had a chat with Yahoo’s David Pogue about how Amazon Prime Air, the company’s infamous drone delivery program, is coming along; they at least have new press photos of the drones, as shown here. (Amazon, ever so busy, also announced this week that the first devices that use its Dash Replenishment service to automatically order new supplies for themselves are rolling out. Yo, better keep an eye on that printer so it doesn’t go buck wild with the toner orders.)

Apple bounced out the first beta of its upcoming iOS 9.3 software last week and the update has a lot of new features for something that doesn’t get its own big honkin’ Apple keynote event. Among others, the Macworld site wonders if Apple is perhaps changing its update strategy and just releasing a regular stream of substantial iOS improvements instead of saving them all up and making a big deal about everything at a press conference.

AOL may also be getting some changes — and perhaps even a new name. Verizon, which now owns the former America Online service, is said to be pondering an image makeover that could include a new name for the brand. Hopefully, a better logo will come along, too.

holoMicrosoft is slowly revealing more details about its coming Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality goggles. According to reports from a Microsoft event in Tel Aviv, the HoloLens will have a battery life of 2.5 to 5.5 hours, depending on the task at hand. The headset will also be able to run any universal Windows 10 app and hook up with just about any other gadget with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity.

Google is said to be testing the ability for Android users to install apps directly from the search screen in Google’s own eponymous — without having to go through the Google Play store. Because really, what could go wrong there?

The cable networks are readying their campaign teams for Election 2016, and Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio are banding together and combining their resources to bring their traditional no-nonsense approach to coverage. The PBS-NPR team-up, an early version of which was announced last year, will bring shared digital, video and audio content from the primary debates to election night to whatever happens after that.

In rocket news, SpaceX continues its testing with the Falcon 9 rocket — and getting it to land in one piece so it can be reused. After a successful Falcon 9 recovery from the ORB-COMM mission last month, a mission last week saw the returning rocket fall over and explode on the landing pad. Or, as SpaceX found Elon Musk tweeted, it had a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” event on the deck.

If you want a snapshot of how social media has evolved over the past decade or so, check out “The History of Twitter’s Rules” by Sarah Jeong on VICE’s Motherboard channel.  (Yes, trolls mucked a lot of things up.) Twitter, incidentally, had a service outage earlier this week.

And finally, old school gamers can go back to school now that one of DOOM’s creators, John Romero,  has created another level for the iconic first-person shooter after 21 years. Boom! DOOM!

P.S. Like tidy lists? Don’t miss the SplashData’s 25 Worst Passwords of 2015 and GeekWire’s Worst and Weirdest of CES 2016 observations. Both may boggle your mind, but for different reasons…

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