Tag Archives: AT&T

PTJ 213: Server Loads and Angry Rogues

Another year, another Disney-generated Star Wars movie. And, like last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens pre-sales, the demand for advance  Rogue One tickets Monday morning knocked over the Fandango site like an AT-AT tripped up by crafty snowspeeders. But now that you’ve got your tickets, kill some time until the movie with Carrie Fisher’s new book — or catch up the recent tech news with El Kaiser and J.D., along with this week’s discussion of video streams and spam awareness. May the Force be with you!

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 210: The Internet of Hijacked Things

Last week’s massive denial-of-service attack (and resulting Internet outage) was big news all on its own, but toss in AT&T’s latest digital land grab and you have a jam-packed few days of tech news. After the weekly discussion of the recent headlines,  J.D. explores free or cheap word processors that cut down on toolbar clutter for minimal distraction when you’re probably already procrastinating that big writing deadline anyway. Come on along for this week’s episode of Pop Tech Jam! (Also, El Kaiser gently suggests that you change all your default router and device passwords.)

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 203 News: Irish Wakeup Call

Nothing like a $14.6 billion bill for back taxes to get your attention, eh? That’s the hefty sum Apple is facing after a European Commission ruling this week found the company’s tax deal with Ireland was illegal under European Union rules. Apple and Ireland are both vowing to appeal the ruling, and in a letter released publicly on its website, Apple stated the ruling would have an impact on investment and job creation in Europe.  The EU is also investigating Amazon and McDonald’s for similar practices.

Apple may have other legal woes brewing on this side of the pond as well. A nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed against the company by plaintiffs who claim that their iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones suffer from defecting screens that make them unresponsive. The defect was dubbed Touch Disease by the repair site iFixit, who has looked at the issue and found hundreds of ailing iPhones with flickering gray bars on glitchy screens.

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Apple has set the date for its annual Fall Media Monopoly Event. As some predicted, it’ll be early this year — September 7th and at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. New iPhones and an arrival date for iOS 10 are expected to be announced for sure, and updates on macOS Sierra, watchOS, and tvOS could be in the mix, as well as hardware news about Apple Watch, the MacBook Pro laptops, the iPad Pro and other gear. But will there be One More Thing?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California tossed out a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission in 2014 that accused AT&T of bandwidth-throttling customers who still had unlimited data plans after those customers went beyond customary allowances.

Twitter and Facebook may get more if the hate speech headlines, but Microsoft is stepping up its efforts to smack down the extremists and Troll Legions roaming on own online properties. In a post on one of the company blogs, Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer Jacqueline Beauchere, writes, “Today we’re announcing a new dedicated web form for reporting hate speech on our hosted consumer services, and a separate web form for requests to reconsider and reinstate content.”

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Facebook’s Trending Topics section has had its ups and downs this year with charges of political bias in story selection and promotion and last week, Facebook reportedly decided to get rid of the humans who were writing story descriptions for trending list and just have the algorithms start listing popular topics based on what users were sharing. However, a lot of Facebook users were sharing a false story about broadcaster Megyn Kelly getting fired from Fox News for being a liberal — so the fake story made it onto the trending list. Whoopsie!

On to the Department of Democracy Nightmares, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says it has evidence that hackers breached two state election databases this summer. While actual vote-counting systems were not involved YET, foreign-based hackers targeted voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. Paper ballots for all this year, please.

While test drones are buzzing around the countryside of merry old England, here in the States, the Federal Aviation Administration just started giving the drone pilot’s-license test this week. More than 3300 people signed up to take the test on the first day. The Wired site has a study guide for wannabe drone jockeys.

In other drone news, Jennifer Youngman, a 65-year-old woman in rural Virginia, took down a drone in one blast from her 20-gauge shotgun earlier this summer. She lives near the actor Robert Duvall. She also chatted with the CBC about the incident.

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In product news, Sonos and Amazon are hooking up with a new strategic partnership. What this means is that people who own both voice-activated Echo speakers and Sonos sound systems will be able to tell the Echo speaker to play music through the Sonos system.

FitBit announced two new exercise trackers this week, the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Fitbit Flex 2. You can even swin with the Flex 2, they say.

russiaAnd finally, the Centauri Dreams blog devoted to deep space exploration noted a radio telescope in Russia (shown here), had picked up “strong signal in the direction of HD164595” last year. HD 164595 is a star with at least planet in the system within the constellation Hercules, all about 95 light years from Earth. The site merely said the signal was interesting and deserved further scrutiny. Astronomers at the SETI Institute have already written a brief paper on the matter.  Seasoned experts around the web were skeptical, with one noting the signal was on the part of the radio spectrum used by the military and another posting, “It’s not our first time at this rodeo, so we know how it works,” on a SETI message board. Sure, the signal may be nothing — but it kind of makes one want to haul out the Contact DVD for some Hollywood science and reinstall the SETI@home software on your current computer, you know?

Opening shot from Contact (1997) from Single Shot Film Festival on Vimeo.

PTJ 191 News: Advancing Torpor

Even more characters on Twitter — and we’re not even talking about the trolls!  Bloomberg is reporting that the bird-themed microblogging service will soon stop counting the characters used by web links and photos in that 140-character limit.

Microsoft has big plans this summer for its Windows 10 Anniversary Upgrade, like more ads for promoted apps on your Start Menu.  And as CNet and others have reported, Microsoft has gotten aggressive with the pop-up notifications now. Windows 7 and 8.1 users who have no plans to upgrade should pay careful attention to what those little nag-ass boxes are saying.

WhatsApp is moving into video-calling, according to those who have seen a recent beta version of the app for Android. At last,  another video calling option to compete with FaceTime, Skype, Google Chat and the other apps out there.

Amazon, the über-mega-everything store already sells thousands of name-brand items, but The Wall Street Journal is talking to sources within the company who claim that Amazon plans to introduce its own house-label products like diapers and beverages.

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AT&T, on the heels of its corporate hookup last year with DirecTV, announced this week that it had acquired Quickplay Media. Not to be confused with Apple’s QuickTime multimedia software or Quick Draw McGraw, the equine sheriff of the animated Old West, QuickPlay Media is a video-streaming platform for the “TV Everywhere” initiative and other over-the-top applications.

Adobe churned out yet more patches for its Flash Player multimedia software last week, but it seems Google has had about enough of the security-addled software. Developers for the company recently laid out plans to disable Flash by default and move to HTML 5 for multimedia playback. When the move happens by the end of the year, embedded Flash files in websites viewed in the Chrome browser won’t run or acknowledge the plug-in; Flash will hang around on some sites like YouTube until the end of 2017.

The Google I/O developer conference kicks off this week in Mountain View, California. Here’s the keynote speech. Google also put out a new app called Spaces this week for “small-scale” sharing.

Have you checked out the YouTube app’s Google Cardboard modeAs of this week, it’s now available on the iOS app as it catches up to  the Android version. The mode converts any YouTube video into a Cardboard-worthy VR experience. (Disney is also after virtual reality fans with its new Disney Movies VR app out on Steam.)

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Apple has finally updated its iTunes program for the desktop with an attempt to make navigation for the cluttered app more streamlined and sensible. Apple also pushed out other updates this week, including those for OS X, iOS, watch OS and tvOS for the fourth-generation Apple TV. (Speaking of the Apple TV, BitTorrent has just launched its own Live app there.) Be careful, though: According to screams from around the Twitterverse, however, the iOS update, version 9.3.2, has bricked more than one iPad Pro tablet. The OS X update 10.11.5 for El Capitan is seen primarily as a security fix.

Doom 2016 has come blasting out into stores. One reviewer over at PC World said the new modernized version of the classic first-person shooter succeeds because it knows it’s a big dumb bang-bang game.

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Current C, a mobile-payments competitor to Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and similar services, has, shall we say, “suspended its campaign” and laid off about 30 staff members. Current C, which was hacked before it ever got out of the gate, is largely considered to be stranded on the Island of Abandoned Software Projects.

The SoundHound mobile app just got an update that adds a virtual assistant. To use it, just start out saying OK, Hound, and then you can ask it to do things like play music from certain streaming services, add songs to playlists, play YouTube music videos.

For consumers of more genteel entertainment, The Daily Telegraph over in London reports that the BBC and ITV television networks plan to launch a British competitor to Netflix. The working title, of course, is Britflix. Perhaps it will show Downton Abbey.

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And finally, NASA has provided funding eight projects that are based on advanced technology, but could help kick the agency’s space exploration efforts into high gear. The development grants were part of Phase II NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, also known as NIAC. Among this year’s projects: “Advancing Torpor Inducing Transfer Habitats for Human Stasis to Mars,” which would put human passengers in a hibernation-like state for long trips to other planets and “Further Development of Aperture: A Precise Extremely Large Reflective Telescope Using Re-configurable Elements,” for a new type of space telescope that would use a membrane-like primary mirror that could be corrected after deployment. Congratulations to all the grant winners! Thanks for making the future!

PTJ 179 News: Deep Writ

Is the future of digital privacy about to get totally pwned? The battle  between Apple and the United States Department of Justice has been raging since late last week, when government officials filed a motion asking a judge to make Apple help crack open an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernadino terrorists. and the company resisted.  Apple CEO Tim Cook posted an open letter to Apple’s customers concerning the issue and the company’s stance on privacy. The deadline for Apple to respond to the motion is this Friday, February 26th, but the company may even already be at work to make cracking iPhones even harder.

The Justice Department is also pursuing orders to make Apple to extract data from around 12 other iPhones involved in non-terrorist criminal cases around the country. As part of its case, the DOJ is using the All Writs Act, originally passed in the Judiciary Act of 1798 and amended in 1911 and a few times since; news outlets as diverse as Popular Mechanics and The New Yorker have weighed in on this legal tactic. Apple has asked for the ruling to go beyond a courtroom and take it to a hearing before Congress, saying what needs to be done is to . . . form a commission.

allwritsPublic option on the matter is split, as a quick poll by the Pew Research Center released earlier this week showed 51 percent of respondents siding with the government and saying Apple should be forced to unlock the iPhone. The director of the FBI said the agency could not look the San Bernadino survivors in the eye if the government did not follow this lead.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he supports Apple’s position, but Bill Gates, former Boss of Microsoft says Apple should cooperate. Meanwhile, Google announced it was working with wireless carriers on a new uniform messaging app for Android that security pros point out is a bit weak and very government friendly.

In other news, the annual Mobile World Congress trade show kicked off this week in Barcelona. As expected, Samsung revealed its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge phones, which is pre-ordered, comes with a free Samsung Gear VR headset.  LG Electronics showed off its new LG G5 phone, which works with the new LG 360 VR headset.

HTC has a new virtual reality headset called the HTC Vive that it created with Valve, the company behind the Steam gaming service — preorders start at the end of the month. The headset will be about $800, and arrive in April. Valve also released an online Steam VR Performance Test for gamers who want to make sure their systems can handle the demands of virtual-reality software.

Sony, perhaps taking a cue from Joaquin Phoenix and the 2013 movie Her, announced the Xperia Ear, a voice-controlled gadget for communicating with your smartphone that works like an audio-only smartwatch that sits in your auditory canal.  As for the rest of the announcements, the Gizmodo blog has a good running tally of all the major things unveiled at Mobile World Congress.

Plastic-money mainstay Mastercard said it soon plans to start accepting biometric data as an alternative to passwords for making online payments. Perhaps you’ll even be able to pay for those purchases by duck face.

AT&T and Intel are working together to test drone-control technology over a 4G LTE network so the devices are more useful to businesses. Because that’s what we need: More drones up there.

linuxhackThe Linux Mint site was infiltrated and a modified version of the operating system with a handy hacker backdoor was temporarily posted. The Linux Mint blog says to be on guard if you downloaded Linux Mint 17.3 Cinnamon edition on February 20th and the site provides tools to check your installation. And also in Linux news, there’s a new distro called Subgraph OS that describes itself as an “adversary resistant computing platform.” The new variation can isolate programs that have been exploited by attackers and limit the access program have to other parts of the computer like your files and network connections.

Now in the departure lounge: Google announced this week that it was shutting down its Google Compare/Google Advisor service next month. Microsoft announced it was punting the standalone Skype Qik messaging app to the curb, or as the company’s announcement phrases it, “Skype Qik is moving” – right into the main Skype app. And the Cheezburger network, (which pretty much made LOL cats mainstream with the immortal question “I can haz cheeseburger?”) has been sold to an undisclosed buyer.

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BuzzFeed has a new app out for Android and iOS called BuzzFeed Video. You can guess what it does, and yes, the clips start rolling as soon as you pause on one — then stop as you scroll on.

NASA is looking to shave some of five months it currently needs to get a spacecraft toting human passengers to Mars, but scientists there are working on a laser propulsion system that could get that trip time down from five months to three days.  Dr. Philip Lubin says the technology is there, and just needs to be scaled up. Some of Dr. Lubin’s papers on the subject are available of the University of California Santa Barbara’s Experimental Cosmology Group’s site for experimental astrophysics, including last year’s “A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight.” A recent episode of the “NASA 360” video series also explains the theories. (Chewie, check the hyperdrive!)

And finally, if you like NASA adventures, check your local PBS affiliate next week. On March 2, look for the first episode in a two-part series called A Year in Space, starring twin astronaut brothers Scott and Mark Kelly. Now there’s a family reality show we can get behind!

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.

PTJ 169 News: Feeling the Heat

Well, the Holiday Season is upon us and it’s time for…yet another epic database security breach! This time, it’s the Hong Kong-based VTech who got the personal data of nearly five million customers stolen — and  the first names, genders and birthdays of more than 200,000 kids. VTech acknowledged the breach in what is becoming the customary blog post admitting the intrusion. The hacker who did the job allegedly talked to the alternative news org VICE and told the VICE reporter, “Frankly, it makes me sick that I was able to get all this stuff.” (Dude, you are not the only one feeling that way.)

The aforementioned Bill Gates,  co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, was in Paris this week for the global conference on climate change and took to his blog to announce two related initiatives. Meanwhile, over at the place where Mr. Gates had his former day job, Microsoft took to its blog this week to announce its new PowerApps tools for businesses to make their own internal apps.  Also over on the business side, Microsoft announced its new Skype for Business service for Office 365 customers.

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.

Reports from the rumor mill say Apple is getting ready to ditch the standard 3.5-millimeter headphone port on its iPhones in lieu of an all-in-one Lighting connector and an overall thinner iPhone 7. Apple, of course, is not commenting, but soundhounds across the Internet are.

In Mac software news, the creators of the Sketch program have decided to quit selling their software in the Mac App Store, basically due to the constrictions Apple places on developers. The Sketch design software will be available as a direct-sale product from its creators. Other developers like Panic have also quit the Mac App Store for similar reasons.

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Two other Apple-related deals seem to be in the works. One looks to be a sure thing: The Sonos music system will start carrying the Apple Music service this month – the beta goes live December 15th. Less confirmed, however, is the news that Amazon Prime Video may actually be landing on the new Apple TV. According to the MacRumors site, Amazon has confirmed that an app for Apple’s tvOS is in development and may even arrive by the end of the year. Good news for Apple-owning PKD fans wanting to stream The Man in the High Castle on the big screen.

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.

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If you live in the New York City area and enjoy a good nerdy museum visit, check out the “Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York” exhibit at the New-York Historical Society. It runs through April 17th and features a recreation of IBM’s pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, a nod to Grace Murray Hopper’s contributions to programming, a model of the Bell Labs Telstar I communications satellite and extremely early video games.

If you’ve been holding on to that $30 Unlimited Data Plan from AT&T since 2007, brace yourself. Starting in February, the price will go from $30 to $35 a month.

And finally, this week marks the 20th anniversary of SOHO — not the overpriced trendy Manhattan neighborhood — but the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a joint project by NASA and the European Space Agency. SOHO was launched into space on December 2, 1995 and quickly went to work studying the sun — and also discovering 3,000 comets out there as well. Happy 20th, SOHO. Here’s looking at you.

PTJ 155 News: Grin and Bear It

marshAfter months of speculation, Android M has an official snack nickname in Google’s pantheon of tasty versions! Android 6.0, the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, will be called Marshmallow and the software development kit is now available for those who want to build apps for it. Ever so busy, Google also just built a standalone website for its Hangouts videochat service, too.

As a story in last weekend’s New York Times tells it, Amazon is the modern equivalent of a massive Dickensian workhouse where everyone is overworked and crying.  As one can imagine, however, Twitter got hopping and Amazon spokespeople were quick to defend the company, fanning out across print, television and Internet to rebut The Times. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even wrote a company-wide memo that was widely leaked, and the NYT Public Editor weighed in as well.

Amazon was not the only company with a PR team in overdrive lately. The social media team at the dating app Tinder took offense to a Vanity Fair article lamenting the rise of hookup apps in general and went on a long Twitter rant against the magazine and the author of the article. During the tweetstorm, the Tinder Twitter complained the writer did not contact the company for comment and accused Vanity Fair of one-side journalism. Others noted the article wasn’t specifically about Tinder, but dating apps in general, and said the company behaved like a hurt teenage girl lashing out and seemed surprised that journalists do things differently than PR people. Salon wondered if the whole thing was “a sincerely epic case of butthurt or just a clever attention-getting ruse.”

In other online hookup news, the National Security Agency and AT&T apparently had quite a partnership in sharing customer data. As revealed in the latest document dump from Edward Snowden and reported by The New York Times and ProPublica, AT&T gave the NSA access to billions of emails crossing its domestic networks, as well as a massive amount of cellphone calling records.

As for government agencies, there are new reports out that the hack on the Internal Revenue Service was larger than originally thought. New evidence points to the hack starting several months earlier than first noted as well. So, instead of 100,000 people having their personal details swiped, it’s more than 300,000.

Sprint is the latest carrier to ditch two-year cellphone contracts, following T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. As part of its service overhaul, Sprint introduced its iPhone Forever plan, which gets you the current model for $22 a month on your bill.

robokillerThe Federal Trade Commission has announced the winner of last spring’s “Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back” challenge to developers. The $25,000 prize goes to an app called RoboKiller. If you want to know how it works, check out this PDF and the Kickstarter page.

The same sort of malvertising campaign that infested Yahoo’s ad network seems to have spread to other sites around the Web. The Malwarebytes security team reports they’ve now seen poison adverts on aol.com, weather.com, Weather Underground, The Drudge Report and other well-traveled domains.

Comcast is said to have new video platform called Watchable waiting in the wings. According to the Business Insider site, the telecom giant has formed partnerships with digital publishers like Vox, Buzzfeed, The Onion, Mic, Vice, Refinery29 and other sites to package content for streaming on the service. (BuzzFeed, for its part, announced this week that it was getting a 200 million dollar investment from Comcast family member NBC Universal to put toward its video efforts.) The new Comcast service, if it exists, could also compete with Verizon’s upcoming Go90 mobile video service.

Facebook is revamping its blog-like Notes feature to make it more appealing to users who have forgotten than Notes exists. Some have observed that the wide-margined new Notes templates make them look like articles on Medium. (Does anyone remember actually using Facebook Notes outside of those viral “15 Things” lists?)

Boston Dynamics recently released a video (below) that showed off Atlas, its humanoid robot with a stomp through the woods in such a manner that The Washington Post likened it to “a drunk Iron Man.” For those who have forgotten, Boston Dynamics is owned by Google, which is testing Atlas as an experimental bipedal rescue machine. Try to ignore the fact that it looks like, well, a Cylon.

The 9to5Mac site is beefing up the details on its New Apple TV rumor coverage and is now predicting the new set-top streamer will have a new streamlined hardware design, new user interface, iOS 9, App Store access, that dedicated remote control we heard about earlier this year and Siri support.

Apple’s Siri assistant can do more than just set calendar appointments and look up baseball scores. The program was credited with saving the life of a teenage boy in Tennessee when he was pinned under his truck after the tire jack collapsed. While he was shifting around trying to get out from under the 5,000-pound Dodge Dakota, he heard the familiar Siri bleep coming from his back pocket and was able to get the app to call 911 for help with a life-saving butt-dial.

And finally, it’s not just shotgun owners and other privacy minded people who are annoyed by unmanned drones buzzing around overhead. Bears in the woods do not like drones either. Researchers at the University of Minnesota put health-tracking monitors on six black bears and recorded the ursine reaction to 17 drone flights. The heart rates of all the bears increased when the drones were within 21 years overhead — which indicates stress. The 15-page paper titled “Bears Show a Physiological but Limited Behavioral Response to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” was published online in the journal Current Biology and concludes that more research is needed to see if the bears would get used to the drones over time. The study, in one convenient image:

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Wildlife researchers do use drones in their work to observe animals from a distance, and Canada even has what the BBC calls a “goose-bothering drone” designed to scare off pesky Canadian geese in Ottawa by blasting recordings of predatory birds. And why yes, that drone is called the GooseBuster. Who ya gonna call?

PTJ 153 News: Toasted

Blasting a nosy quadcopter out of the sky is a dream for some, but a Kentucky man was arrested in late July for shooting down a neighbor’s unmanned drone. The shooter claimed the drone was hovering low over his property, but the owner of the drone said he wasn’t spying. The Federal Aviation Administration is siding with the drone owner in this case, saying that the agency is responsible for the safety and management of US airspace from the ground up, and that shooting down the drone and causing it to crash endangers others. Another lawyer looking at the case told the Ars Technica site, “There is no defined aerial trespass law. You do not own the airspace over your own property.” (So is the concept of airspace rights just a real-estate scam? Confused.)

Sad news for the HitchBOT, a Canadian robot that successfully hiked around Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, all thanks to the kindness of strangers. The poor thing was just two weeks into its journey across America when it was vandalized and put out of commission by an unkind individual in Philadelphia. A video claiming to show the destruction was making the rounds, but the Gizmodo site is calling it a fake. The decapitated robot did get to spend time with movie-maker Kevin Smith, though.

As a fan of the Risky Business podcast recently mentioned to us on Twitter, a husband-and wife team have shown how it’s possible to hack a network-enabled, Linux-powered, self-aiming sniper rifle and disable it — or even change its target. As manually operated sniper rifles are worrisome enough in non-combat situations, the existence of hackable weapons in today’s insecure world is especially distressing.  El Kaiser’s contact-popping reaction to the news has been duly noted:

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Yahoo has had a history of security issues in the past, and the company’s entire advertising network recently got hit with a hacking. For seven days starting on July 28th, hackers turned Yahoo’s ad network into a malvertising wonderland. The security company Malwarebytes discovered the attack and notified Yahoo, which then shut down the scheme this past Monday. (In more Yahoo news. Bloomberg is among those reporting that the company is buying the shopping site Polyvore for $230 million dollars.)

Regulators approved AT&T’s $49 billion dollar deal to buy DirecTV last week, instantly creating the biggest provider of paid television in the country. AT&T wasted no time rolling out new plans, including one that combines cellular service with television programming so you can watch TV on your phone. Or at least, Homeland.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear the oral arguments in the lawsuits that sprang up from telecom providers over the new Net Neutrality rules later this year. Mark your calendar for December 4.

Apple just bought 40 acres of land in the San José area to use for research and development facilities and more offices. In the rumor department, there are whispers that the Mac Maker plans to launch a new version of its Apple TV box at its September media event. Business Insider is also reporting that Apple might be working on a new voicemail service that uses the Siri personal assistant to transcribe your messages. No comment there, but Apple has denied rumors that it plans to bypass mobile wireless carriers and offer its own service plans as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator by renting bandwidth from other companies. (Not so good for Apple, though — researchers have created the first worm that attacks Mac firmware.)

Here on Earth, Twitter seems to be experimenting with a News tab in the mobile app for some of its Android and iOS users.

kellyUp in space, Astronaut Scott Kelly of NASA answered questions this weekend sent in by Twitter users — including one from President Obama. Astronaut Kelly is spending a full year aboard the International Space Station and took time to respond to questions about exercise, hygiene, personal communication and watching ESPN in space. If you’re down here on Earth, however, don’t forget the peak days of the annual Perseid meteor shower are due next week. Check them out early in the morning from August 11 to 13 and if you miss these, there are a few other meteor events coming later in the year.

NASA has also noted that an asteroid passed within 4.5 million miles of Earth late last month. The asteroid, which appeared to have two lobes stuck together in a familiar shape, has been dubbed the “Space Peanut” and there’s video to prove it:

Amazon has changed the way its Prime members can share the account. While you could formerly have up to four adults sharing the Prime bennies, you now need to create an Amazon Household grouping within your account to share one $99 Prime membership with another adult and four kids.

Sony has just announced two new Xperia smartphones, the C5 Ultra and the M5, and these are aimed at connoisseurs of the digital self portrait. The phones are part of Sony’s PROselfie line of handsets. The Xperia C5 Ultra has a 6-inch display with twin 13-megapixel cameras front and back, while the Xperia M5 has a 5-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera in the front, a 21-megapixel camera on the back, and is said to be waterproof. Both phones run the Android operating system and are expected to arrive in stores this month.

selfietoasterAnd finally, the fall Hammacher Schlemmer catalog is out now and the company’s exclusive $70 Selfie Toaster is still available — in case you want to start your holiday shopping before Labor Day. After all, a toaster that “uses custom heating inserts crafted from a submitted headshot photograph” to burn someone’s likeness into a piece of bread just may be the perfect gift for the person who has everything.

PTJ 147 News: Lady Justice

Good on ya, Taylor Swift! Now, you may not care for her music or her sudden promotion to New York City’s official “global welcome ambassador,” but the young singer/songwriter knows how to stand up for herself and her fellow musicians trying to make a living. In a public post on her Tumblr page this past weekend, Ms. Swift called out Apple over the lack of artist royalties during the three-month free trial period of the company’s forthcoming Apple Music adventure — and said she’d be withholding her latest album from the service. But Apple, for its part, did the right thing. By Sunday night, the company announced that it’d be paying artists their due royalties for all the music streamed during the free trial of Apple Music. (Of course,  conspiracy theorists are suspicious about the whole thing, like they always are.)

googleplaymusicApple Music rolls out on June 30th, but Google is not waiting around for it. The Big G announced a new, free ad-supported version of its subscription-based Google Play Music service for  “giving you a new way to find just the right music and giving artists another way to earn revenue.” (Oh snap, Google.) If you’re looking for a new stream, the service is available now via the Web and will be hitting Android and IOS devices soon. If you find you like Google Play Music and want to subscribe, you get ad-free offline listening, song skips and on-demand access to more than 30 million tracks for just $10 a month. Spotify has got to be feeling a little nervous these days.

Meanwhile, the Tidal music service has hit a bit of a rough wave. The company has booted its interim CEO after three months.

In legal news, Verizon says it’s completed its acquisition of AOL on paper. The Federal Communications Commission did not actually have to approve this particular deal because AOL did not have any licenses before the FCC that would have tripped that trigger. The agency, however, has been keeping itself busy by slapping a $100 million dollar fine on AT&T for misleading consumers about unlimited data plans and throttling.

eyeballIn guv’ment news, the regular document dumps from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowdon continue. A new post over on The Intercept blog details how the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, have reverse-engineered consumer antivirus and security software products. (In more government news, the State Department of the United States is having an epic fail over in the biometrics department.)

And on the subject of biometrics, a new research paper from scientists at UC Berkeley and Facebook’s AI Research division has found that The Social Network’s facial-recognition software can often identify people in photos, even when their faces are looking away from the camera or partly obscured. The team used Facebook’s algorithm on 40,000 public photos pulled from Flickr and found it could accurately ID people about 83 percent of the time. Oh, and Facebook’s Instagram has just updated its Search tool.

echoAmazon’s Echo device is now available to members of the general public now. The voice-activated, Internet-connected  9-inch tall cylindrical Bluetooth speaker streams music and answers questions just like Siri, Cortana and Google Now. If your life needs an Echo, head over to Amazon’s site, pay up $180 and start watching the mailbox after July 14th.  Amazon is also throwing a little artificial intelligence at the problem of fake product reviews over on its main store site and is cleaning up the astroturf.

As promised, mayorships are finally back in Foursquare’s spun-off Swarm app. Let the check-in competition begin once again.

In Windows 10 news, Microsoft has tried to clarify just who gets the new system for free. Recently, there was some confusion as to whether people in the Windows Insider preview program who didn’t have legitimate copies of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 would get the free finished copy of Windows 10. (They get to stay as previewers.)

As a wrap-up of last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, The Mary Sue blog notes there are 23 games announced at the show that feature “badass playable female characters.” Lady justice, indeed.

spidermanAnd finally, with great power comes great responsibility and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan certainly knows it — as well as her old-school Spider-Man. The Court sent down a decision in the case of Kimble v. Marvel, in which the Supremes declined to overrule a precedent that kept patent-holders from collecting royalties after said patent expired. In her written opinion for the majority on the case, Justice Kagan showed off her comic-book chops with multiple Spider-Man references. Now, just imagine if she was a fan of The Punisher….