What’s your sign? It might not be what you think. Hey, don’t blame us, blame NASA. On this week’s episode the Dynamic Duo go through the week’s tech (and geek) news; J.D. fills us in on a certain bird-themed micro-blogging service that’s had quite a busy past few weeks; and El Kaiser gets his rant on.
Forget about the distant promise of Hyperloop for a minute, because the United States Department of Transportation is looking toward the near future. The agency has released its first set of government guidelines for self-driving automobiles. The document is wittily titled Federal Automated Vehicles Policy: Accelerating the Next Revolution in Roadway Safety and is available as 116-page PDF from the DOT’s website. Don’t read it while you’re driving.
Speaking of the road ahead, the first US Presidential debate is Monday night, September 26th, so be sure to warm up your fingers properly if you plan to dive into the rolling slapfight on Twitter — and remember, you get the full 140 characters now.
Twitter also got a workout last weekend during the annual Emmy Awards. and one of its own blogs posted the top five most-discussed moments of the event. (All the feels for the amazing Tatiana Maslany, y’all.) And the service seems to have had a good turnout online for its first live-streamed NFL game last week. According to Adweek, Twitter adding two million viewers on the livestream to the 48 million eating chips and watching the game on TV. The day before its first football adventure, Twitter released set-top apps for the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Microsoft Xbox. Fly, little bird, fly!
Microsoft says its researchers are working to “solve” cancer by using computer science. Go on, give it a read.
Samsung’s voluntary recall of its potentially dangerous Galaxy Note 7 phones became an official government recall from the Consumer Product Safety Commission late last week. But here come the lawsuits: A Florida man is suing Samsung because he claims he suffered severe burns on his leg and thumb when his Galaxy Note 7 exploded in his pocket.
While Samsung tries to reel in the million or so defective Galaxy Note 7 devices, Apple’s iPhone 7 rolled out last Friday and had some of the usual quirks people seem to find with new iHardware. The company is dealing with a bug in the remote control for the new Lightning-tipped earbuds that come with the iPhone 7 line. Some new owners are also claiming that the iPhone 7 makes a hissing sound. (Yes, Parseltongue jokes commenced as soon as the news broke.)
The news may not be all bad for Samsung, however. The Tom’s Guide site did a head-to-head comparison with the 12-megapixel cameras in both the iPhone 7 models and the camera in Samsung’s non-exploding Galaxy S7Edge phone — and found that the S7 Edge edged out the new iPhones.
Apple users can distract themselves by banging around on the new macOS Sienna operating system, which arrived for download this week. (If you haven’t done it yet, backup before you update. ) Productivity Software Fans: The iWork suite of Pages, Numbers and Keynote was also updated.
Google is just all kinds of busy these days. The company has scheduled an event for October 4th in San Francisco, where insiders assume new phones and maybe that rumored 7-inch Google-pure Android tablet may be unveiled. The company has also goosed the algorithm for its Google Books suggestion engine to make better recommendations on what you should read after you get done with your current Google book. Oh, and they added voice search to Google Drive to help you find your stuff by asking and updated the Google Photos software for Android, iOS and the web.
For travelers, the Big G announced its new Google Trips mobile app for Android and iOS. The new program wants to be your portable personalized tour guide, but parts of it sound an awful lot like the Trip Bundles feature in the Inbox by Google app.
Like Apple, though, Google may be facing a rather large bill from a foreign government or back taxes. As Reuters reports, Indonesia plans to tap Google’s parent company Alphabet for more than $400 million in what it says is unpaid tax in 2015. Google says it’s paid its tax and that most of its revenue for the region is booked through Singapore.
And finally, two notes on relationships. For one, Tinder and Spotify are hooking up to let users of both services see potential matches based on musical tastes (or lack thereof). Secondly, NASA has weighed in on the recirculating rumor that it has messed with the zodiac and everyone’s astrological signs are now different so maybe Scorpios aren’t your type after all. The five-year-old story, apparently hauled out of mothballs by Glamour.com who linked to NASA’s page for kids, describes how the space agency decided to compensate for the fact that the Earth’s axis has shifted over 3,000 years and added a thirteenth sign called Ophiuchus. Someone at NASA with a with a sense of humor rose to the challenge early this week and put up a post on the agency’s Tumblr account to clarify things. Because, you know, NASA ain’t got much to do these days.
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.
And 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.
Amazon 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.
This 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?
Pokémon, those whimsical little Japanese pocket monsters, are celebrating their 20th anniversary in style by taking over much of the mobile world this month with the release of the augmented reality smartphone game, Pokémon GO. But while millions of people downloaded the game to their Android handsets and iPhones in the first week of release, security experts and privacy advocates have voiced concerns. Journalist Laura M. Holson drops by Pop Tech Jam HQ to discuss how Pokémon GO works, what to worry about and why it became so popular so fast. El Kaiser and J.D. also discuss the non-Pokémon headlines of the week, including Twitter’s big plans for this month’s political conventions and some truly classic code.
Do you like reality TV? If you’re a general fan of long windy speeches, you can see the United states political machine grinding its gears later this month on Twitter. The bird-themed microblogging service announced this week that it has reached a deal with the CBS television network to livestream both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, much to the delight of trolls everywhere.
Also in Twitter news, the company has issued a cease-and-desist letter to another site that made a habit of recording and displaying the deleted tweets of politicians and celebrities. Upon receiving the letter, the PostGhost site did shut down, joining Politiwoops in the club of sites who have angered Twitter. Politiwoops, though smacked by Twitter last year, does seem to be back as part of the Sunlight Foundation for transparent government. And Twitter has increased the allowed size of animated GIF files that can be attached to tweets, which can now be up to 15 megabytes on the Twitter web interface or 5 megabytes on mobile. This has inspired some people to compress full-length movies and TV episodes into high-speed animated files, just because they can.
The ebook revolution seems to have hit a snag, at least with book from major publishers. The American Association of Publishers released its annual sales survey this week that showed ebook sales had declined about 11 percent in 2015. Overall, ebooks accounted for 17% of all book sales for the year and Fortune magazine thinks the drop may be in part to major publishers reining in e-sales with higher prices as a way to limit Amazon’s influence over the publishing industry. Digital formats are not all riding the down arrow though: The AAP survey also showed that revenue from audiobook sales has nearly doubled since the year 2012, from $299 million in sales up to $552 million last year.
Facebook, Apple and Google have all taken a keen interest in India as a new source of revenue. While Facebook’s Internet.org project to bring its version of the web to the country hit a roadblock with local officials and net neutrality advocates earlier this year, and Google has busted out with a new program designed to train two million local developers in the art of Android. The new initiative is called the Android Skilling program that it plans to implement in universities and training schools around India later this year. Also in international tech news, the Obama administration says the Twitter traffic of Islamic State has dropped 45 percent in the past two years due to an online counteroffensive.
Electric cars are picking up speed. <rimshot> Along with your Tesla Model S, Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt and other models out there, Mercedes-Benz is said to be prepping a concept version of an all-electric sedan that it plans to unveil at the Paris Motor Show in Paris this fall. peaking of Tesla, though, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Elon Musk’s electric car company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to tell investors about the fatal crash of one of its cars in Autopilot mode this May.
Google is making high-speed data access easier for its Project Fi customers who are traveling. The company announced on its Android blog this week that it was giving Project Fi subscribers a $10-per-gigabyte data plan in more than 135 countries for those who don’t want to drift between Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels and cafes or fumble with the international SIM card maneuver.
After initial delays, Oculus Rift VR headsets are now shipping within 2-to-4 business days from ordering. And developers who want to attend the company’s Oculus Connect 3 conference on early October can fill out applications for attendance starting August 2.
And finally, if you like NASA and you like programming, head on over to GitHub — if you’re not already there — and check out the source code for the onboard guidance computers used on the Apollo 11 command and lunar modules back in 1969. The pages of source code were digitized a while back for the MIT Museum and was later transcribed and uploaded into text files by a researcher in 2003. So the code itself was already in the public domain if you knew where to look, but a former NASA intern uploaded the entire collection to GitHub last week so even more people could examine the files and read the comments put in by the original NASA programmers. As PCMag.com notes, the code has a lot of humor and even some Shakespeare in the comments. And lest you think all those 1960s-era computer jocks were men in short-sleeve white dress shirts, remember that software engineer Margaret Hamilton (shown here) was one of the main programmers on the Apollo 11 project and is still an inspiration to many of today’s girls who code.
This week El Kaiser revisits Audioquest’s Dragonfly USB DAC, preamp and headphone amp. This new version of the thumb drive sized device improves on its predecessors and finally ditches black for fire engine red. Also on this episode, J.D. prepares us for the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Parks Service and Pedro joins her for a rundown of the biggest tech news of the week.
It’s on like Donkey Kong!
This week, J.D. shares some handy tips on how to keep track of your family’s whereabouts using tools you may already have on your computers and mobile devices. El Kaiser rants on the state of Hollywood and why he thinks movie makers need to worry. In the news, the Dynamic Duo snark it up over the latest Microsoft missteps with their Windows 10 push; Google’s plans to legally display lyrics in their search results; Facebook’s decision to go all in on slideshows and a cubic, um, BOATload of tech news. C’mon, press play already. You know you want to…
No summer lull for us here at PTJ HQ! This week El Kaiser breaks down the tech term “social media engagement”, as only he can, and J.D. helps us satisfy our need for (Internet) speed. They also offer up a heaping helping of technology news, seasoned with a dash of snarkiness and whole lot of silliness.
Pop Tech Jam: still the best tech-themed podcast in the business!
Spyware isn’t just for hackers and sleazy software makers these days. Oppressive governments are also using it to crack down on dissidents, according to a recent story in The New York Times. In other ominous privacy news, a report from Reuters and other sources report that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has decreed that “Foreign messaging companies active in the country are required to transfer all data and activity linked to Iranian citizens into the country in order to ensure their continued activity.” The council has given companies one year to make the move. The Telegram messenger app, which was created by the Durov brothers, has a huge user base in Iran and could be a target here.
The Internet and politics can be a volatile mix, but the European Commission announced this week that it had worked with Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to come up with a code of conduct and policies designed to stop the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe. Meanwhile, over here in the States, enthusiasm seems to have fizzled out for new legislation that would require technology companies like Apple to provide handy back doors into their products for law-enforcement officials.
Not long after it snapped up AOL, Verizon is still shopping and in contention to buy up the crumbling Yahoo empire. If you’re wondering why, the Fast Company site has a big story out about how it all adds up to Verizon’s quest to complete with Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix with content and services.
Despite dips in PC sales, people are still making laptops and ASUS is going after Apple’s MacBook Air for the thinnest ‘n’ lightest ultrabook prize. The ASUS ZenBook 3, which has a body made of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, was announced this week at the Computex show in Taipei. Like the newer MacBooks, the ZenBook 3 only has a USB-C port for peripheral connectivity, but the Windows-based device sports a 12.5-inch screen and weighs in around two pounds — just a few ounces lighter than the 12-inch MacBook Air.
ASUS announced new smartphones and a few other products, but the one that most people were talking about was its Zenbo Robot. The Zenbo is billed as “your smart little companion” can roll around the house at will doing all kinds of things. The Zenbo has a list price of $599 and will be available this year. Here’s a video of it:
One firm that seems to be getting out of the moving household robot business, however, is Google. The company bought Boston Dynamics in 2013, but now Google has put it up for sale. Some relationships just don’t work out.
A team of German researchers is trying to design a system that teaches robots how to feel pain. The paper describing the system is called “An Artificial Robot Nervous System To Teach Robots How To Feel Pain And Reflexively React To Potentially Damaging Contacts.”
Also from the world of academic journals — Jack Ma, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his team published a paper in the publication Advanced Functional Materials that describes tiny integrated circuits that adhere to a person’s skin like a temporary tattoo. The technology could have future use in biomedical devices or a really personalized integration with the Internet of Things.
And about that Internet of Things, the consulting firm Chetan Sharma reports that a third of new cellular service customers for Q1 2016 were cars.
Some people poking around an upcoming update to the Google Photos Android app say there are hints in there that certain users will get free unlimited online storage for photos and videos in their original resolutions. And who are those lucky users? People using Google’s own Nexus hardware, of course!
Scientists studying samples from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft have detected the amino acid glycine and other organic molecules in the cloud surrounding Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Researchers say this helps prove the theory that comets may have brought water and organic molecules from space to a very young, newly formed baby planet Earth.
Also showing signs of life — or at least the potential for it — is a little planet about 1,200 light years away called Kepler-62f. NASA announced the discovery of Kepler-62f back in 2013 and said the planet was in the habitable zone. Last month, researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Washington released a study called “The Effect of Orbital Configuration on the Possible Climates and Habitability of Kepler-62f” that detailed the results of computer simulation models that tried to determine of the planet could sustain life.
After an unsuccessful first try, the team on the International Space Station were able to fully inflate the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module last week, giving astronauts a little more room to move up there. As you may recall, the BEAM bouncy space castle was delivered in April by one of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsules this past April.
SpaceX itself is having a pretty good couple of months. The company just made its third successful rocket booster landing at sea this year after launching the Thaicomm 8 communications satellite into orbit.
And finally, still in space, Pluto may have gotten busted down in status, but the United State Post Office is celebrating the dwarf planet and last year’s NASA New Horizons mission with a set of commemorative stamps. And not just any stamps — Forever Stamps. As in, “Pluto, you’ll forever be a full-size planet to us!”
Flight tracker apps are great for checking the status of your flight, but what about the sheer stress you encounter before you actually get on the plane? Yes, we’re talking about the summer travel season and all the recent news stories about horrific waits in security lines. Things seem to have gotten slightly better with the lines, but still. You may not be able to avoid that annoyance, but you can at least plan for it. If you’re getting ready to take to the skies for your summer vacation, we here at Pop Tech Jam HQ have a few app suggestions.
For starters, you have to get to the airport first.
Salk International’s $5 Airport Transit Guide for Android and iOS offers insider travel information for 460 airports around the world for helping you get to the airport on time.
If you’re traveling domestically, traffic apps like Inrix Traffic (left) and Waze, both for Android and iOS, are among the dedicated road travel apps that tell you how long it will take to get to your destination — if you don’t want to use the services offered by Google Maps or Apple Maps. The WhatsBusy site, which is devoted to when there are lines in public places, has a section devoted to airports.
Then there’s the part of the journey that happens once you get inside the airport: Security lines. (Whee.)
You can help speed some of the process by checking in early for your flight online through your carrier’s own app or website. If you do, you can leave pre-checked luggage at the Bag Drop station and move on to the joy of the security line.
Although the Transportation Security Administration has been pummeled in the press for being a large part of the recent problem, its digital offerings may help travelers prepare themselves for the screening experience in a few of ways. The My TSA mobile website provides answers about what you can bring through airport security checkpoints so you’re not the cause of a snarled and snarly line; an Android app version of My TSA is available, as well as a version for iOS.
The TSA site/app also has a list of current security line wait-times, and an indicator if the airport has a TSA Pre-✓ expedited line. (Pre-✓ = Pre-Check. Get it?) You can sign up for TSA Pre-✓ or one of the government’s other Trusted Traveler programs over at the Department of Homeland Security’s site, although registration includes you providing an $85 and your fingerprints.
Newer apps like MiFlight for iOS are also designed to give you an idea of the wait times you’re in for once you hit the security line. MiFlight has nifty graphics and makes use of crowd-sourced data, but owners of some iPhone models have posted one-star reviews complaining of app crashes. Several developers make TSA and airport-related programs, so check the app store dedicated to your mobile platform to see the selection.
Once you make it through the security gauntlet, you might have some time to kill thanks to your careful planning. The GateGuru app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone might help here. Although GateGuru can function as an itinerary-tracking app while you travel, its Airport Card screens provide detailed information, maps and tips for the airports you’re in.
iFly Airport Guide for Android and iOS is another airport terminal guide with status updates. There’s a free and a pro version, depending on your whims and needs. The company also makes a TSA Wait Times by iFly app, which is $4 for iOS.
Certain airports may have their own terminal guides as well, so check your app store before you go. Once you get checked in, arrive at the airport and get through the security line, you can fire up your flight tracker app and check your plane’s status.
And remember, if you’re dissatisfied with your recent travel experience, the US Department of Transportation has a webform where you can file complaints against the airlines for safety and security reasons, along with customer service issues. It may not do any good, but you can also inform your airline’s customer-service department of your displeasure. You can find the Consumer Complaint Letter Wizard and a sample complaint letter to use as a template over at USA.gov, because if you’re going to gripe, you may as well do it officially.