After a two-week summer vacation, El Kaiser and J.D. return to the studio to catch up on the week’s technology news: Facebook ‘fesses up to a chunk of Russian ad buys during the election, Amazon looks to expand its corporate footprint, researchers have discovered a way to hack most of the popular voice-activated assistant programs by sonic frequency — and the headlines just keep on coming. El Kaiser also previews two new pieces of gear from OWC and Anker for ultrabookers who need to pack their own USB ports and J.D. reports on a couple of scams gaining steam around the Internet. Summer’s over, folks! We’re back to work here on Episode 246!
The 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.
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 hills are alive with the sound of earnings calls! Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has now passed Apple and wins the Most Valuable Company prize. The murmurs started Monday night , when Alphabet’s market cap hit about $570 billion, shooting by Apple’s mere $535 billion. So Alphabet is on top, for now. And like Apple, blogs are reporting that Google may be preparing to take tighter control over its own Nexus hardware line, much like Apple’s iron grip on both the hardware and software for its iOS devices.
Speaking of iPhones, however, 9to5Mac.com is floating the idea that Apple will be having a big media event on March 15th to announce new hardware (including an iPad Air 3), but we haven’t seen any invitations yet. One thing Apple probably won’t be talking much about is the recent death of its ad-supported iTunes Radio service which only arrived in late 2013. If you try to play an old station you created and are not an Apple Music subscriber, you will get a nag alert telling you to sign up for Apple Music, where you can still use the stations as part of your subscription. Also in streaming music news, The Recording Industry Association of America has said it will now include on-demand audio and video streams and a track sale equivalent for calculating those Gold & Platinum Album Awards.
As announced on its site this week with the headline “Using Qualitative Feedback to Show Relevant Stories,” Facebook is making an change to the News Feed algorithm. Because that’s never happened before.
As threatened, er, promised last fall, Microsoft has switched the status of its Windows 10 update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users from Optional to Recommended, so it may initiate the installation sequence on its own before it’s manually stopped. Let the howls from Windows 7 users (shown below) commence…
If you watch A LOT of television and find that two — or even four — TV tuners are just not enough, the DISH network is ready to help you out. It just released the DISH Hopper 3, a digital video recorder with a 16 tuners and built-in 4K resolution. The Hopper 3 is available for about $15 a month to Dish Network satellite TV customers.
Meanwhile, across the pond, the European Commission and the United States have resolved that little tussle over the old Safe Harbour system for American companies handling the privacy rights of Europeans. The new framework is to be called the EU-US Privacy Shield.
According to Open Signal’s “State of Mobile Networks: USA” report, T-Mobile has won three network comparison tests, including 3G download speeds and latency, as well as 4G speeds. Verizon had the most 4G coverage, so Big Red still gets some bragging rights.
Google, ever helpful (and sometimes creepy), is touting its new Data Saver mode for its Chrome browser for Android. Google estimates this could help users have 70 percent of their data downloads. Other browser, (Like Opera Mini for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, also have tools for compressing images to help save time and money.) And, feeling sort of Pinteresty, Google has also made it possible to “star” photos you find on Google Image Search for later looking. The feature is available on the Android and iOS versions.
Adobe has been busy the past week as well. The company has rolled out updates to its Creative Cloud software and managed to rename its Adobe Flash Professional program as “Adobe Animate,” perhaps because the name “Flash” has become synonymous with “giant gaping security hole.” And another update: the Adobe Premiere Clip video-editing mobile app is now available for Android along with iOS.
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.
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:
Just to clear this up, CWA did, indeed, have access to everybody in USA’s private information, now imagine if we was Russia or China.. #CWA
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.”
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. 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.
The air up there isn’t completely full of drones yet, but the skies have gotten way more crowded in the past few years. This week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced that a task force had been created to develop ideas and recommendations on a registration process for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Recommendations are due November 20th — will drone license plates be coming soon?
Speaking of government agencies, John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly had his email hacked by a high school student. The young hacker in question told Wired.com how he did it. The account is question has been disabled and it was an . . . AOL account.
Facebook is here for you. In a blog post on the company site, Alex Stamos of The Social Network said: “Starting today, we will notify you if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an attacker suspected of working on behalf of a nation-state.”
If you need a daily reminder of what planet you live on, check out NASA’s new website devoted to photography from the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard its Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite. While the Deep Space Climate Observatory’s main mission is to track solar wind and storms that could disrupt the world’s electrical grid, air travel and communications systems, it’s handy Earth-facing camera promises a picture every day.
The free trial period of Apple Music has run out for the first wave of people who signed up and Tim Cook, the company CEO said at a technology conference this week that the service retained 6.5 million subscribers who switched over to paying monthly. Cook also reported another 8.5 million people are currently participating in the 90-day free trial, and that orders for the fourth-generation Apple TV will start on October 26th.
Table-top PC’s make a run for glory every few years and now it’s Lenovo’s turn with its 27-inch Lenovo Yoga Home tablet with its own tabletop operation system overlay called Aura that runs atop Windows 10. The current price is about $1500 and you can apparently play air hockey on it.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s released here in the United States. All those who played a few rounds of Super Mario Brothers, raise a glass Nintendo’s way.
And finally, many nerds sat through the first half of Monday Night Football game to see the brand new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Early tickets for the film’s December shows also went on sale last Monday night and the anxiety was made worse when the websites for Fandango, AMC Theaters and other ticket outlets went grinding and crashing down.
As expected, the trailer did produce a lot of reaction, including the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII for a social-media campaign purporting to complain that the new film wasn’t dominated by white people and all good racists should avoid the film. Trolls are now claiming the whole thing was a joke designed to stir up controversy. Remember people, never feed the trolls. Now, let’s watch the trailer again. And again.
In less than five years, though, assistant software has gone from fielding basic questions (“What’s the weather today?”) and handling a good-natured HAL 9000 joke now and then to opening apps, doing currency conversions, identifying songs, finding pictures from specific events and more. No pushing buttons here: Thanks to the voice commands “Hey, Siri,”“Okay Google”and “Hey Cortana,” you don’t even have to lift a finger to get results.
So, what commands can you use these days for Siri, Google Now or Cortana? These sorts of lists just keep growing and growing:
Comcast’s leapfrog over Google Fiber in the speed department is big — and comes with a big price tag. The company’s Gigabit Pro service, which promises 2- gigabits per second of blazing download speed compared to Google Fiber’s 1-gigabit per second, will cost $300 a month. (If you sign on for a two-year contract, though, you can get it for the promotional rate of $159 per month, however.) But that’s not all. Fine print on the Comcast site says installation may take up to 6 to 8 weeks, and then come the installation and activation fees, which could be up to $500 each. Speed also kills your wallet, too.
Even if you have regular Comcast Internet service, though, the company is thinking up ways for you to give it more of your money — like with its new Comcast Stream service, announced this week. For $15 a month, Comcast is promising a bundle of broadcast TV channels plus HBO and some on-demand movies, along with a cloud-based DVR. This would all be viewable on your computer or mobile devices, but as Wired points out, there is a catch — you actually have to be home using your Comcast Internet service to use Stream and only two devices at a time can use it simultaneously. You also need to live in a Comcast Internet service area. The service is due out later this year starting in Boston, Seattle and Chicago.