Tag Archives: Android

PTJ 189 News: Eyes on the Prize

The race is on between Sony and Samsung to patent smart contact lenses that function as cameras floating atop your eyeballs. Yes, eyeball cameras.  Sony’s design even makes it hard to tell someone is even wearing an eyeball camera. But let’s not forget Google, which received a patent for a solar-powered contact lens last year and recently just got a patent for what’s described as an intra-ocular device; it sounds sort of like a bionic eye that could perhaps be used to help with degenerative vision diseases.

riftSpeaking of eyeballs, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is headed to 48 Best Buy stores on May 7th, and will be included as part of a special in-store promotional kiosk called The Intel Experience. A small number of units available for sale at those particular Best Buy outlets, too. You can look up the stores involved on Best Buy’s site. Amazon and Microsoft plan to start taking Oculus Rift orders at 9 a.m. Pacific time on May 6th.

Microsoft has decided that its Cortana virtual assistant for Windows 10 is not going to be allowed to play with other company’s web browsers and search engines. No Cortana for you, Google Chrome.

Yahoo hasn’t found anybody to pick up its pieces yet, but it has cut its list of potential dance partners down to 10 companies. Whatever happens, though, Yahoo CEO (and micromanager of bad logos) Marissa Mayer will make out all right. A  Securities and Exchange Commission filing revealed she’ll get a severance package worth about 55 million bucks if she’s booted within a year of any sale. No ramen noodles and Tang dinners for you, Marissa Mayer. (Unless you want them, that is.)

bitcoinArguments about the true identity of Bitcoin’s anonymous founder have bubbled up this week. Australian businessman Craig Wright has claimed he is the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, elusive founder of Bitcoin, but the Motherboard blog over at Vice isn’t buying it.

From the ever-expanding Department of Mergers & Acquisitions News, Comcast/NBC Universal made a deal to buy the DreamWorks animation studio for $3.8 billion. Also, the online video-sharing site Vimeo has acquired VHX. And there are even more video-streaming services than ever now, as Hulu is said to be preparing its own service to bundle streams of broadcast and cable channels to paid subscribers. This would move Hulu away from being primarily a streaming TV rerun site with a few original shows to an enticing option for cord-cutters.

robotsecurityGoogle has changed the name of its own monthly Nexus Security Bulletins patch collection to the more inclusive Android Security Bulletin, and this week’s May is intended to fix about 40 vulnerabilities in the mobile operating system. Many of the holes in the Mediaserver software for Android are on the fix list here. And make sure when you do update apps on your Android device, get them from the Google Play store itself and not from a website disguising itself as an Android update site. This is because there’s a new little piece of malware on the loose that claims to be an update for Android’s Chrome browser, but it’s really an infostealer app.

Google may have found a hardware partner for its self-driving cars. Bloomberg News is reporting Fiat Chrysler plans to team up with the Big G on prototypes based on the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Some exciting typing news: The popular Google Keyboard app just got a big update this week.  Also in keyboard developments, the Giphy Keys app for iOS arrived this week, making it easier than ever to add just the right animated loop to your messages. No boring messages for you, Giphy Keys user.

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Consumer Encryption and Government Security concerns continue to clash. This week, it’s Brazil throwing a 72-hour block on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger service after Facebook refused to hand over information requested for a criminal investigation. Another judge in Brazil soon overturned the order.

includeSeveral women working in the tech industry have come together to form a new nonprofit venture called Project Include that hopes to help the aforementioned tech industry work on its diversity issues. Let’s check back this time next year to see if anything has changed.

And finally,  Ad-Block Plus, the popular ad-blocking extension, and Flattr, a micropayment service that lets its users donate money have teamed up a new service called Flattr Plus that lets you set a content budget and then send money to the sites you actually spent time reading. No money for you, clickbait sites.

PTJ 187 News: Standards & Practices

Facebook mess with the News Feed? Really!?!  But seriously, according to Mashable and a few other sites, images of a new tabbed news feed screen for mobile devices have been spotted on Twitter. Facebook did confirm that it is indeed testing the new design, but did not say if or when it would actually launch.

YouTube is stepping up its virtual-reality game with a couple of new features. As announced on the company blog, YouTube is introducing 360-degree live streaming on the site, which adds on to last year’s support for uploaded 360-videos. YouTube also launched spatial audio for on-demand videos. If you want to hear what all that means, check out the company’s special spatial audio playlist for Android devices.

siriWe’re just about a month away from Google’s annual I/O developer’s conference, and now Apple has finally gotten around to announcing when its own World Wide Developer’s Conference. The first word on the dates for some people, however, did not come from an email announcement, but from the Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, as the 9to5Mac site reported. A press release on Apple’s website confirms it all Apple fans are already murmuring about the show, wondering if OS X will be renamed macOS to fall better in line with iOS, tvOS and watchOS.

Apple didn’t wait for its next big media event to make new hardware announcements, though. This Tuesday, it quietly updated its 12-inch Macbook laptop model with better hardware on the inside.  The laptop is available in a few different processor and storage configurations and comes in four colors now: Gold, Silver, Space Gray and Rose Gold. And in other news, Apple has hired a former vice president of vehicle engineering from Tesla. The company also killed off QuickTime for Windows and the Department of Homeland Security has advised PC users to uninstall it RIGHT AWAY.

In legal news, it appears that Google’s massive book-scanning project that triggered a copyright lawsuit buy an author’s group is in the clear. The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from the Authors Guild over the legality of the Google Books project, so last year’s lower court ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York stands.

Also in Google news, the company’s Android Security 2015 Annual Report was released this week.  The company touts its monthly security updates, better screening for potentially harmful apps in the Google Play store and greater adoption of its app verification service as factors in making Android devices safer than before, but it notes that there are still a steady number of malware, ransomware and other nasty apps lurking out there.

Speaking of software and malicious intentions, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the machine-learning startup company PatternEx have come up with a new system predicts 85 percent of cyber attacks.

Amazon is taking a shot at Netflix’s monthly streaming fees by making its own Amazon Prime service available as, you guessed it, a monthly subscription instead of an annual fee. And speaking of Netflix, that company is raising its monthly fees by 25 percent for longtime streaming customers next month.

Yahoo’s deadline for financial suitors to present themselves has come and gone and Verizon has emerged as the only major player to maintain interest in the sagging company.

murphyMicrosoft introduced Skype video bots a few weeks ago for developers and consumers to interact with and announced this week that the bots are now available for Mac and web users. Some of the stock bots available include Murphy, a bot to find and create images for when questions can’t be answered by words alone and Summarize, a bot designed to give an overview of a web page if you don’t have time to read the whole thing.

As expected, the  Name That Research Ship contest over in the United Kingdom has ended and Boaty McBoatface won in a tidal wave. However, UK Science Minister and total buzzkill Jo Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live this week that “there is a process now for us to review all of the public’s choices. Many of them were imaginative; some were more suitable than others.” Even if the RSS Boaty McBoatface never sails the seas as a government science ship, the contest did inspire an Australian racehorse owner in Sydney to name one of his geldings Horsey McHorseface and an English rail worker temporarily named the Portsmouth to Waterloo line Trainy McTrainface.

And finally, if you love NASA and you live vintage graphic design and branding standards, you can now buy a copy of the space agency’s official graphics manual first published in 1976. The book is 220 pages with 129 image plates and comes individually packages in a static-shielding pouch. This is actually a reissue of the original book, of which only 40 copies were originally printed. The new version is a Kickstarter project that can now be ordered only for $79 a copy.

If you’re on a bit of a tight budget, however, you can download a free PDF copy of the original manual from NASA’s website and print it yourself because hey, it’s a taxpayer-funded government agency. And after just staggering through another tax season, we’ll take all the perks we can get.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Patched In

Ah, the first half of the month, when rents are traditionally due and software is often patched. But while these program fixes and security updates are meant to fix problems in software, they can sometimes create even more problems.

Take for example, the recent iOS 9.3.1 patch that was intended to fix the crashing-links problem — but inadvertently created a security exploit on some iPhones. Or Google’s patch last year that was supposed to repair the Stagefright-sized hole in Android but didn’t cover everything the first time around. You win some, you lose some.

Now, many people just get an update notice and install whatever software arrives with the notifications. Or they have automatic updates turned on — and pay even less attention. Patches are generally a good thing and designed to keep your computer and data safe. But if you’re the type that wants to know what’s going on your hardware (or what scary thing you’re being protected from now), hit up the support area of the manufacturer’s website for detailed notes.

Here are a few of the major players:

  • Adobe Security Bulletins and Advisories. Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader are two of the most hacker-targeted pieces of software out there, and so security updates to sew up those holes are issued regularly. Find your Adobe product on the list and click through for the details on each update.
  • Apple Security Updates. Apple makes a lot of system software, including OS X, iOS, tvOS, watchOS and all its in-house applications, and you can find information about everything security-related here. Links on the site also take you to the downloads and supporting documentation, in case you didn’t let your Mac update the software automatically (or your iOS device, for that matter).
  • Microsoft Security Tech Center. Thanks to decades of Windows, the Redmond giant is an old pro at the security-update game. The company celebrates with new bugfix releases on Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of every month. All the latest security bulletins are posted there so you can read up and see what’s getting fixed this time. (The site is a little techie, but Microsoft has a Safety & Security Center site written for less-technical home users as well.)

Additionally, Amazon’s site has a Device Support page for its various Kindle, Echo and Fire hardware, along with information about software updates.

All updated with nothing to read now? Microsoft’s next Patch Tuesday is next week, so you don’t have long to wait.

 

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: ICE? ICE, Baby!

If you were in an accident or had a health situation, do you have a way for first responders to find your emergency contact or know important particulars about your medical history? If you don’t wear a medical-alert bracelet, you can have your phone handle the job of communicating life-saving information when you can’t do it, thanks to the category of “ICE” apps — ICE, short for In Case of Emergency.

The Health app, first introduced in in iOS 8, let you record and track your personal and health and fitness data. But even if you never look at the built-in step counter or share your calorie intake privately with your phone, you can use the handy Medical ID screen.

medIDYou can get to Medical ID by opening the Health app and tapping the Medical ID tab. The screen is sort of like an electronic medical-alert bracelet. You can list any major health conditions, medications you’re allergic to, your blood type and the phone number for your emergency-contact person.

Even if you have a passcode on your phone, someone can see your Medical ID info by tapping the Lock Screen, tapping Emergency and then tapping Medical ID. Granted, if you have privacy issues with any of this, don’t use it, but it can be helpful if you are unable to respond to an EMT or police officer.

While pure Android currently doesn’t have a built-in health app, you can find similar free or inexpensive medical ID apps in the Google Play store, like the $4 ICE for Android or the free iMedAlert app (which can even issue a GPS-based distress call). Android apps have a woolier reputation for security and privacy, however, so check the specifications to make sure any app you’re looking at doesn’t get grabby with permissions or store your data on their servers.

medapps

If you don’t want to fiddle around with a separate app, there’s a basic hack you can do with just about any modern smartphone. Simply call up the Notes app that came with your phone (or any other word-processing app) and type out any emergency information you would want any first responder to know. Next, take a screenshot of that completed text and set the image as your phone’s lock screen image. Anybody who finds you (and your phone) can see the information — and as a bonus, the person would not have to know how to get to the iPhone’s Medical ID screen.

Again, if you have privacy reservations wth any of this, don’t use an app and get a medical-alert bracelet if you do have any conditions you need to identify. But if you just want to add the information to your phone where you already have so much of your life recorded anyway, it could just save your life.

PTJ 180 News: Down to Earth

From coast to coast, Apple is having quite a time with the legal system. The company may still be at a standoff with the Justice Department about unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone out in California, but here in New York’s Eastern District court, a federal judge has ruled that the government can’t use the 227-year-old All Writs Act to force the company to unlock the phone belonging to a drug dealer. The New York case is separate from the ongoing fight in California and the two situations involve different aspects of iOS encryption, however. In California, Apple filed a motion in court last week to vacate the order that it cooperate with the FBI. One of Apple’s lawyers spent his Tuesday in Washington, testifying in front of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

9to5Mac and other sources are now reporting that rumored Apple’s upcoming spring event has moved back a week from around March 15th and will now be in the week of March 21st. No invitations yet, though! It’s not real until you see the invitation!

In app news, Google has also given iPhone users a bit of parity with its Android peeps by adding the “pit stops” feature to the iOS version of Google Maps. And, in a reverse for the Reuters TV app we talked about a few months ago — the one that was that was only available for iOS — the company has now released an Android version.

One of Google’s self-driving cars smacked into a city bus in California last month, which has the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority investigating things. Google admitted its Lexus RX450h auto-piloted vehicle bears “some responsibility” for the incident.

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset looks like it’s actually becoming a reality for developers. The dev kit edition is now available for pre-order from the company, with a chunky $3,000 price tag and delivery on March 30th.  Also new, but slightly cheaper: The Raspberry Pi 3 barebones computer is now on sale for a mere $35.

drone4

In drone developments, a new model from DJI has the ability to sense and avoid obstacles in its way, and also, to track people and animals. The DJI Phantom 4 costs about $1400 and follows its subjects automatically using cameras, sensors and ActiveTrack technology. Also tracking: Sleep cycles. Over on the Medium site, a Danish developer posted the results of a little project he did that used the Last Active timestamp data gleaned from the web-based version of Facebook’s Messenger service to figure out the sleeping patterns of his Facebook pals. Facebook was not too happy about his work and someone else using the same data they collect about you themselves, and was fussing because he posted the code for the project online.

McDonald’s has noticed the low-budget virtual-reality craze brought on by the Google Cardboard viewer and is busting a move of its own — in Sweden. The fast-food giant is launching a promotion there over the next couple weekends, and it lets kids fold their Happy meal boxes onto VR viewers to see a smartphone-based VR game especially created for the occasion. These special meal containers are called Happy Goggles and yes, you get fries with that.

The Brita filter people have joined up Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service to create the $45 Wi-Fi Brita Infinity Smart Water Pitcher that automatically orders more Brita filters when it needs them. No word on if the pitcher has any tiny cameras embedded in its lid so it can scope out what else in in your fridge and report back to Amazon.

Sony has a new beta out for its PlayStation 4 software. Although the version 3.5 beta doesn’t contain the feature that allows you to remotely play PS4 games on a Mac or PC, the feature is coming along sooner than many anticipated.

And finally, Commander Scott Kelly is back on Earth this week after 340 days aboard the International Space Station.  Welcome home, sir!

scottkelly

PTJ 178 News: Toy Story

The New York Toy Fair was in town and now we have new Star Wars action figures from Hasbro — including Rey and other female characters from the movie’s universe! At last, we know the answer to the #WheresRey question: She came to New York to make it big.

tmMattel used the Toy Fair to unveil the ThingMaker 3D printing system . The new system is an update to the old Thingmaker kit from the 1960s, and the 21st-century edition uses software co-created by Autodesk that wirelessly beams the designs from the mobile device to the child-safe 3D printer. The $300 ThingMaker 3D printer won’t be available until mid-October, but you can pre-order it on Amazon. The free ThingMaker app for Android and iOS is out already if you want to get a feel for it and work out your designs in advance.

vmThe ThingMaker printer wasn’t the only geekworthy news Mattel made at the Toy Fair. The company also announced an update to its View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer. The 2.0 model has been reworked to handle varying sizes of smartphones without the need for an adapter, and it also has improved access to the phone’s headphone jack.

Speaking of virtual reality, the technology is also starting to turn up as a tool for real-estate brokers to sell you an apartment. As a recent story in The New York Times explains, companies like Halstead are using virtual reality headsets to let prospective buyers look around apartments for sale or rent. Thanks to contractors like Virtual Xperience and ArX Solutions who create a VR rendering of the future space based on architectural plans, prospective tenants can get a feel for the place — even if it hasn’t been built yet.

AT&T, which used to be known as the American Telephone & Telegraph Corporation has been around in some form since 1875, is urging its massive workforce to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology. The company started a corporate education program about two years ago that offers to help pay for its workers to take classes on their own time to update their skill-sets. One of the new technologies AT&T is working on is the next generation of mobile data networks, the so-called 5G networks. As you can imagine, AT&T is not alone in the speed race, and Verizon said it plans to start field-testing its own 5G airwaves next year. Remember when 3G was all the rage?

Google released its Android 6.0 Marshmallow system last fall, and Samsung announced this week that it was finally pushing out the software to owners of its Galaxy S6 andS6 Edge phones. Part of the multi-month Marshmallow delay was likely due to Samsung tweaking Google’s software to add new features like the new Quick Tools panel to the S6 Edge model.

galaxySamsung is also said to be gearing up to announce its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge phones next week and at least one blog thinks there’s going to be a Batman vs. Superman version out there for fanboys of both Android and DC Comics. The S7 is also said to be water-resistant.

Other in blog rumors about new phones: 9to5Mac claims Apple will put the new smaller 4-inch iPhone 5se and iPad Air 3 on sale March 18th after a possible March 15th unveiling. Apple is not commenting on that, but did announce its Apple Music service is now up to 11 million subscribers and online service iCloud has 782 million users. But in not so happy news for the Apple, Immersion, a company specializing in haptic feedback technology, has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against the fruit-themed toymaker for incorporating elements of its technology. (We haven’t even mentioned Apple’s standoff with the Department of Justice the other day…)

The notion of turning smartphones and their sensitive motion detector chips into earthquake sensors isn’t original, but there’s a new Android app called MyShake out from UC Berkeley Seismologicial Laboratory that has some research cred. The app sits quietly in the background until it senses the earth rumbling, and then it uploads a small amount of data to the centralized database created by the seismologists as an earthquake early-warning system. According to the companion paper its creators published on the Science Advances site, the app analyzes motion to see if the “newly incoming data are similar to previously defined human activities.” If it’s not a toddler birthday party or loud music, the data is sent along for further possible-earthquake analysis.

The Tidal music service got a big boost in the App Store because it had exclusive rights to distribute Kanye West’s new album, “The Life of Pablo,” but a glitch in the system left a reported 4,000 fans with credit-card charges and no new album. And then there are the pirates splashing the Tidal wave.

Tax scams are in the air, because people are filing and hackers are hacking. The Internal Revenue Service says it’s stopped an automated attack from identity thieves on its Electronic Filing PIN application on the IRS.gov site.

NASAAnd finally, if you’ve got the qualifications to be an astronaut, well, NASA is hiring this month. It’s the first time in four years the agency put out the word for new talent, and the folks they’re looking for might just end up on a mission to Mars. Other open positions in the NASA job board include IT specialist at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and Research Geophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. And the agency offers benefits, and hopefully an employee discount on the cool stuff.

Cloudy With a Chance of Goofballs

People on the East Coast probably had about enough of The Weather Channel’s wind-whipped dramatics last week with the Blizzard of 2016 — even though it is important to keep in the loop on potentially life-threatening conditions.  True, we all probably have at least one weather program on the smartphone to check in times of need, but if you get tired of the more earnest forecast apps, here are a few that put a decidedly different spin on the weather:

• Funny or Die Weather (for Android and iOS). In addition to actual legit forecasts and current conditions, the FOD app provides plenty of humorous pretend “facts” to entertain. For example, did you know that “Rain drops are just God crying because he’s disappointed in you” or “The humidity of water is extremely high”? Funny or Die Weather is free.

• Swackett (various editions for Android, iOS, Mac and Web). Here’s a weather app that tells you what it’s like outside and then suggests what to wear — like coats, hats and sunglasses — when you do venture out of the house. The company also makes a dog-walking app for iOS that tells you when the weather for the day might be best to take the pup out. Most apps are free or 99 cents, but have in-app purchases for another buck or two to get more content.

kittyweather• Weather Puppy / Weather Kitty (for iOS and Android). Speaking of pups — and kittens — the Weather Puppy and Weather Kitty apps are still around. These have been around for a few years, and still bring big pictures of adorable fuzzy animals to your weather watch. Both are free, but you can upgrade with in-app purchases for different themes and pets (Grumpy Cat is an option). Some of the money goes to shelters and animal non-profit groups.

Now, if cute or lightly humorous is not your cup of tea in a tempest, you can also find several weather apps that take a more…profane look at your forecast.

awFor those who don’t mind a little F-bomb with your current conditions, there’s Authentic Weather for Android and iOS. It costs about a buck and bills itself as “probably the most honest weather app.” To prove its point, Authentic Weather often mixes in a dose of profanity with its observations; the screen shown here is one of the milder forecasts. You can snap a photo with the current assessment superimposed over the image, and there’s an active Tumblr online to share your shot.

The free Effing Weather for Android is similar, except without as much overt cussing. If you like your weather with curse words, the freemium Grumpy Weather Widget for Android and iOS is another one of the many apps that fit the bill and even has a bleeped word on its icon. And finally, it you live in New England and want a little regional flavor, check out the two-buck Wicked Weathah app for iOS that sports conditions like “Wicked rainin’ like effin’ cats and dahgs.”

These are just some of the options in your local app store. Yes, these more foul-mouthed weather apps can be a bit juvenile. But let’s face it: That weather app is probably saying exactly what you’re thinking when the storm blows in.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Brief Cases

Don’t have time during the day to go deep with all the news flying around the Internet? Thanks to a number of news orgs, you can get a quick crib sheet of current events so you’re at least in the loop with what everyone else is talking about.

APFor example, the Associated Press’s AP Mobile app for Android and iOS routinely offers a daily list called “10 Things to Know for Today.” You get the quick headlines — and you can go back to the app and follow up the full stories later when you have more time.

Ten items too much of a commitment? Try the “5 Things You Need to Know” list from the website for a magazine called The Week. The print version of the publication, by the way, serves as sort of a weekly reader for adults to collect capsule summaries of the top national and international stories of the past seven days.

NYTThe New York Times has a witty New York Today daily briefing you can get by email or read on the web, and it includes stories of local interest, traffic and transit updates — even the weather forecast. In its wide selection of email newsletters for which you can sign up, The Times has morning and evening briefings with top stories around the country and world. There’s also an afternoon update, and early headlines from Europe and Asia. The NYT Now app for iOS grabs the top stories out there for a quick look.

Want spoken words instead of written ones so you can multitask? National Public Radio’s NPR Hourly News Summary gives you a quick five-minute recap of the current state of the world and it’s updated about every 60 minutes. You can listen to it on the NPR website or stream it through NPR News apps for Android or iOS.NPR

If you don’t have five minutes, the BBC World News website has a One Minute World News video update, though the short commercial at the beginning is an extra 15 seconds.

And if you need a little more on the video, check out Reuters TV, which you can watch in a web browser, as shown below. Go to the site and it gives you an instant newscast with whatever if going on in the world at the moment. If you have an Apple TV or iOS device, you can also use the Reuters TV app, which asks how much news you want to watch — 10, 15 or 30 minutes — and then instantly whips together a newscast of the day’s top stories based on that amount of time.

Now, if only we could get the news to be actually good…

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PTJ 170 News: Duck and Cover

Technology plays a part in all modern wars, doesn’t it?  The recent uptick in violent terrorist attacks around the world has politicians looking at the situation with Internet in mind. While the hacktivist collective Anonymous has been having a go at Islamic State for months now — and has even declared December 11th to be a trolling day for online hassling — presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wants American tech companies to join the battle. And, over in France, the police forces there are asking for more powers during state of emergencies. According to a report in Le Monde, French law enforcement has asked to block free and shared Wi-Fi connections during an official state of emergency and also outlaw communications over the Tor network.

Several companies around the techsphere are making little tweaks and changes to their services. Google announced that it was turning on its protective Safe Browsing warning system for Chrome users on Android so it can warn mobile users about malware and phishing sites just like it does on the desktop. The company also blogged that you can now set up Reminders in Google Calendar alongside your scheduled appointments.

Dropbox and Facebook are both pulling a Google in terms of shutting down certain underperforming apps and services. Dropbox announced this week it was giving its standalone Mailbox and Carousel products the hook and Facebook closed the door on its Creative Labs division.

AT&T continues to roll out its GigaPower gigabit Internet service around the country and said this week is was bringing the fast fiber to 38 more cities around the country. Metro areas getting the glass include LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Pensacola, Louisville, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Memphis, Milwaukee and several other locales. Google Fiber, meanwhile, is flirting with Chicago and Los Angeles.

gigapower

Mozilla is helping out iOS users who are getting pummeled by web ads. The company released its free Focus by Firefox content blocker this week. The app works with the Safari browser for iOS 9.

Apple seems to have hear the pleas of those with extensive music collections and has now upped the number of tracks matched by iTunes Match from 25,000 songs to 100,000. The increased capacity is rolling out slowly, so if you don’t have the extra space yet, just keep checking. The company also released a $100 Smart Battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6s that claims up to 25 hours talk time or 18 hours of LTE data-surfing time on a charge.

In NASA news, the International Space Station hasn’t had a Fresh Direct delivery in months thanks to a couple of failed cargo missions earlier this year, but a supply capsule launched on Sunday finally reached the station this Wednesday. NASA’s involvement with the International Space Station could be winding down in the next decade or so, however, as an agency official at an advisory council meeting this week said NASA plans to get out of the low-Earth orbit business as soon as possible as it looks to the moon and beyond for its explorations. And father out in space, high-resolution images of Pluto taken during the July flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft are arriving back here on Earth.  A sample:

plutoHiRez

Twitter announced this week that it’s going to stop cropping photos posted in tweets. The next time you post a photo or see one in your feed, you should see it as the photographer took it and not some weird little detail of a lather image. Also in the Twitterverse…it’s December, so it must be time for the Top Twitter Trends for 2015.

Also looking at trends: Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Report, which is out now. The report, which crunches data from more than 250 communications services around the world, takes a look at just how people are using their Internet connections.

hellobarbieAnd finally, it’s the holiday season, and tech toys for children are hot this year. As one might expect, interactive toys, like drones and robots, are very popular this season. Toys that talk back to your kids through a combination of voice recognition and networking are also getting a lot of attention, and even seemingly old-school categories are getting a tech upgrade. Hello Barbie and Edwin the Duck, interactive versions of the unrealistically shaped tiny woman and the yellow bathtub waterfowl respectively, are two such items putting a spin on the old analog formats and opening up new worlds. But, with the recent VTech hack, general privacy concerns and the state of Internet security in general, make sure you know the risks — as well as the rewards  — with Internet-connected toys. It’s the season of giving, but you don’t want to give away anything to hackers and data stalkers.

PTJ 167 News: Cracker Jacks

It’s been a week of hacking, cracking and more than a little tracking. For starters, Facebook, which is never shy about getting all up in the content you post on the site, is now testing its Photo Magic feature on its Australian users. So, what is Photo Magic? It’s a Facebook tool that jacks into your phone’s Camera Roll to look for pictures you haven’t yet posted — and then suggests that you send those images to the friends it recognizes through the Facebook Messenger app. Privacy advocates, start your engines.

Also in nosy news, a Belgian court has ordered The Social Network to stop using its special web-tracking cookie on visitors who are not Facebook members. And the Federal Communications Commission has dismissed a petition from the California-based Consumer Watchdog group that would have required big content-and-apps sites like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Netflix and others to honor the Do Not Track requests from browsers.

And from tracking to hacking, the same group that claims to have broken into the personal email account of CIA director John Brennan an few weeks back says it recently got into a law-enforcement portal site for arrest records, agency collaboration tools and other sensitive crime-fighting information. The group, known as Crackas With Attitude, let the world know of the hack of the Joint Automated Booking System over Twitter:

Pinterest has added a new visual search tool — which it describes as “crazy fun” — to help you find the things you want on sight. To quote the Pinterest blog, “When you spot something in a Pin that you want to learn more about, tap the search tool in the corner. Then select the part of the Pin you’re interested in, and we’ll show you Pins just like it. You can even filter your visual search results by topic so you find exactly what you’re looking for.”

Tumblr has added instant messaging for its users. Go, team!

No Internet connection? Google Maps has added offline navigation and search to its Android app. Oh, and in case you were waiting for it,  the Android app version of Apple Music is now out.Google also announced that as of April 2016, it was discontinuing Chrome browser support for on Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X 10.6 to 10.8. So long, outdated operating systems!

Like video? T-Mobile has also added a new plan called Binge On that lets its users stream content from popular video services like Netflix and HBO Now without denting their data plans. However, some critics note that because not all streaming services are included in the Binge On plan, T-Mobile may have some net neutrality issues to work out with the FCC. bingeon Apple’s iPad Pro went on sale this week, with online orders starting Wednesday and the big slab hitting shelves a few days later. The tablet with the 12.9 inch screen has a starter price of $800 for the 32-gig Wi-Fi only version and the tags go north from there. Optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil stylus and the $170 Smart Keyboard, which turns your iPad Pro into a Microsoft Surface, also went on sale this week. And more reasons for Apple to be happy – a federal district court judge threw out a class-action lawsuit brought by Apple Store employees who wanted to be reimbursed for the time spent in the office bag-search line to make sure they weren’t nicking the merch.

Moving on to the exciting world of cable television, Time Warner Cable officially announced its TWC TV Roku Trial program in New York City. If you’re interested, you can sign up for the trial. Also in cable news, an internal Comcast memo that got leaked and posted on Reddit admits that the company’s 300-gigabyte-per-month data caps recently imposed on customers in several southeastern cities to improve network performance is not actually about improving network performance.

Meanwhile, up on the International Space Station, astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren took an almost 8-hour space walk late last week to do a little maintenance. A tweet from the International Space Station’s Twitter account described the chores as “serious high-flying plumbing and cable work,” while NASA reported the mission as the two “restored the port truss (P6) ammonia cooling system to its original configuration.” The Space.com site has an excellent rundown of the walk.

And finally, the Hour of Code is always upon us, but this year, there’s an even bigger push to get women and people of color into programming. To help lure the kids in, the Code.org site is teaming up with Disney/Lucasfilm to have Star Wars characters help with the learning. As explained on a Disney blog, “Students will learn to write code that allows them to create games using Star Wars characters.” This is all part of the third annual Hour of Code event that’s part of Computer Science Education Week, which takes place December 7-13 this year. May the Code be with you!