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.
The media world was buzzing this weekend as The New York Times jumped into a new dimension. The company gave out Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to its home subscribers and pointed them to the new NYT VR smartphone app for Android or iOS to see special videos that accompanied certain stories in the Times Magazine.
As with other virtual-reality systems, once an Android phone or iPhone was placed in the back of the cardboard contraption and the required content downloaded, the user got a much more immersive experience than watching a 2D clip because the whole thing had a panoramic feel to it. (Shooting a film in virtual reality can be technically challenging as well, but viewing one puts you in the middle of the action; the How Stuff Works site has a good explanation of the virtual-reality experience.) The NYT website helpfully included a frequently asked questions page for users new to the VR scene, as well as a video showing how to fold together the Cardboard viewer.
The Times got a lot of buzz for busting the move, but virtual reality has popping up all over the past year. On the high end of the spectrum, the new Facebook-owned Oculus Rift virtual reality system has been kicking around for years and is scheduled to finally make a commercial debut early next year. The $99 Samsung Gear VR system, (shown below) also powered by Oculus technology, is now available for pre-orders and works with Samsung’s newer Galaxy devices; older Samsung VR headsets are also around. Microsoft’s HoloLens system, which is advertised more as an augmented reality system as opposed to virtual reality, may also jump into the mix when it officially rolls into town next year.
So, what do you need to see the new virtual reality? You need a virtual-reality app that can display the videos on the appropriate format. To get the most of the experience, you also need a Cardboard-style viewer and a pair of headphones to immerse yourself in the audio. These range in price online from about $4 up to $30 for the sturdier, fancier models that look less like pieces of a packing box and more like sophisticated binoculars.
And, along with the hardware, you need content to look at. The Google Cardboard site has a list of VR apps that work with the viewer. But much more content is coming or is already here. The Wall Street Journal announced last week that it, too, was adding virtual reality content to its video app. Facebook is said to be developing its own virtual reality videos app and YouTube’s blog just announced last week that the site had added support for VR, including a The Hunger Games Virtual Reality Experience, (shown above), a trailer from the Apollo 11 mission and many others.
If you don’t have the viewer, you can also watch some videos in standard mode on muse smartphones or in a desktop browser. While you can just turn your head to get a panoramic view with a viewer, you can usually drag your finger or mouse around the frame to see more of the surroundings on the home screen or video window.
Is VR the future or just a fad? Time will tell, but people are testing out the format in all sorts of places. Last month’s Democratic debate on CNN even had a virtual reality version, although viewer response to the experiment was mixed. Some things, after all, may be better off in their own reality.
Those massive corporate data breaches just keep rolling on like an endless Mardi Gras parade, don’t they? Last week’s big heist from the Anthem health insurance company may have actually started almost nine months ago, though. Brian Krebs, keeper of the excellent Krebs on Security blog, is among those reporting that open-source information used to analyze the attack suggests that the first Anthem network intrusions took place in April 2014. When the hack ‘n’ heist was announced last week, Anthem quickly put up an information page and frequently asked questions page for its customers. Some experts have also suggested putting a security freeze on your accounts if you really want to throw up a roadblock.
Also hacked: The Twitter account of Anthony Noto, the chief financial officer of Twitter. Oops.
The White House is at least trying to get an agency together to help sort out online security incidents. The Cyber Threat and Intelligence Integration Center is expected to serve as a portal for members of the intelligence community to share and compare cyber threat data.
Google is also celebrating Safer Internet Day until February 17th, The company put up an online Security Checkup tutorial that guides you through reviewing your permissions and security settings. It takes about two minutes to complete and has a reward, Google will give you a permanent two-gigabyte bump in your Google Drive storage space. So that’s win-win, but perhaps Google ought to to some safer Internet housekeeping and clean out those nasty adware apps posing as games in its Google Play store.
On a happier health-related note, Google announced this week on its Google Blog that it was adding fact-checked medical information to its Knowledge Graph feature of Google search. Who knows what else they’ll be adding to search by the time the annual I/O conference rolls in — it’ll be May 28th & 29th this year.
Smart TVs may be getting a little too smart for some people. There’s chatter around Samsung’s Smart TV this week, particularly the voice activation feature that can be used to control the set by talking when it was revealed that the TV can eavesdrop and record private conversations that take front of the TV and transmit the information to third-party companies.
Samsung acknowledged the practice in its user agreement for the TV and said users can turn off voice activation whenever they want and other users have gone to more extreme measures Samsung, realizing that clumsy wording its is EULA was causing uproar, later went to its corporate blog to clarify that the Smart TV does not randomly record private living room conversations and its really just about transmitting the spoken-word commands to Nuance for translation into action. Still, many people have noticed a similarity to the spying telescreens of Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel 1984.
Hey, a $10,000 Ethernet cable? Some gearheads are clearly a bit skeptical, but if this sort of thing appeals to you, we also hear there’s a super-cool bit of New York City real estate over there for sale, too.
Scribd, the service that offers unlimited access to certain ebooks for a monthly fee, is bringing the same approach to comics — yes, unlimited access to the company’s digital comics offerings for $9 a month. No DC Comics, though. Yet, anyway. But look! Up in the sky! At least you can use Apple Pay on JetBlue starting this month.
Apple is also hard at work on the next couple versions of its iOS software. Several tech blogs are reporting that there’s an iOS 8.4 update down the road when the Apple Watch arrives this spring and that one may include a new streaming Beats music service. And later this year, look for iOS 9.
And finally, the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum announced this week that it has some long-lost space artifacts from Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Although Mr. Armstrong died in 2012, his widow contacted the museum recently and said she found a white bag known as a “McDivitt purse” in one of Mr. Armstrong’s closets. The random objects inside the bag turned out to be about 10 pounds of hardware related to the original moonwalk — including the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that was mounted in the window of the lunar module Eagle to record the historic landing and “one small step” step. Here’s hoping the Smithsonian does an Inside Neil Armstrong’s Historic Space Purse exhibit soon!