Tag Archives: Cortana

PTJ 154 News: Salad Days

Google isn’t taking much of a summer vacation and instead, set up a whole new corporate operating structure this week.  In a blog post on the company site, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced a new business entity called Alphabet that will now oversee  a collection of companies underneath it, including Google. Other members of Alphabet include Nest and Google Fiber. The new structure is said to give all the companies more room to grow and embody the Google Philosophy. However, there was one little glitch with setting up the new mega-company: German automaker BMW actually owns the trademark and domain of the now-overloaded alphabet.com.  Google has abc.xyz instead, and a cheeky little Silicon Valley joke in the mix, too.

Verizon Wireless is also changing things up. Following in the steps of T-Mobile, Verizon announced late last week that it was getting rid of that whole two-year contract commitment when you buy a new cellphone and has new service plans outlined in the Verizon press release “Simplified Data Choices Match Customer Lifestyles.”  If you blow past your monthly allowance, that’ll cost you $15 per gigabyte. (On that note, Snapchat has introduced a new Travel Mode in its Android and iOS apps that stops automatic Snaps, Stories and Discovery updates on cellular connections unless the user requests it to help save data-plan bytes.)

stopA new report by Adobe and PageFair estimates that ad-blocking software will cause a $22 billion dollar loss of revenue for advertisers this year, and that could affect jobs. Advertisers worry that ad-squashing software is even starting to stifle those expensive video ads everyone’s rolling out. Many users counter those arguments by pointing out that online ads can stalk and collect data on the user, hog bandwidth and are often infected with malware. So that’s why they use software like Adblock Plus — and will do so on mobile platforms as more blocker apps arrive.

Speaking of blocking, the Internet Watch Foundation is stepping up the fight against images of child pornography online. By using hashes, also known as digital fingerprints of specific images, and compiling these hashes into a lengthy list for sites and service providers, the group hopes to prevent uploading or speed up the takedown of the illegal content.

The Internet of Things is gaining ground and a world of automated appliances and household systems looms, but the Online Trust Alliance is trying to stop it all from turning into Skynet: The Home Edition. The OTA group has proposed a set of privacy and security standards for smart devices, and released a draft of its Internet of Things Trust Framework this week.  For those who like to participate, there’s a call for public comments on the document.

Meanwhile, up in space, the crew on the International Space Station got together, harvested and ate lettuce actually grown on the station. It’s all part of NASA’s research on fresh food grown in microgravity. If we’re sending humans to Mars, after all, we’re gonna need to pack some sustainable food resources.

issvege

While most of the crew was enjoying delicious space salad, two cosmonauts from the Russian Federation Space Agency went on a five-hour spacewalk to install new equipment, clean the windows and inspect the exterior of the station.

Mozilla has released Firefox version 40 with a new look for Windows 10 and more built-on security to guard against rogue third-party browser add-ons. Mozilla also seemed to be settling a score with Microsoft for setting its own Edge browser as the default in the Windows 10 express setup. Cortana searches in the new version of Firefox don’t have to use Microsoft’s Bing browser.

Since it’s mid-August,  the Applesauce rumor mill is beginning to grind faster ahead of the traditional September Apple Product Announcement and Media Lovefest. The 9to5Mac is among those guessing that the event will be on Wednesday, September 9th. The blogs are expecting Apple to reveal this year’s iPhone model with Force Touch feedback, iOS 9 and a new iOS-based Apple TV. The mythical, larger 12.9-inch iPad has also been rumored for fall.

And finally, Facebook just published a study about how the world expresses laughter online and found that the once-dominant chatroom standard LOL has become passé, giving way to chortling emojis, hehe and  hahaNelson Muntz, your time is now.

PTJ 151 News: Hacks ‘n’ Snacks

Hear about that a big giant hack of the database belonging to the dating-for-married-people Ashley Madison website last? If you’ve never heard of the popular hookup site — run by the Avid Life Media, the same company that also makes Cougar Life and Established Men a reality — you probably have nothing to worry about. If you were a patron of the service, well, you may want to pay attention. An entity calling itself The Impact Team  made the heist and large chunks of stolen confidential information have already been posted online. Security blogger Brian Krebs has been following the story and reports that the hackers did the job because they claimed Avid Life Media’s $19 “full delete” service for wiping your presence from the company’s websites was a rip-off.

The excellent KrebsOnSecurity blog also has details on the big hack of the CVSPhoto.con website last week. If you’ve ever uploaded photos and had the processed at a CVS drugstore, check your credit-card statements.

CVSPhoto

Microsoft had a little freak-out of its own late last week on the exploit front. If you haven’t already, hit up Windows Update to get the security update for a flaw in the font driver software.

Sad news to report: Joshua Greenberg, the founder of the new-shuttered Grooveshark music streaming service was found dead in his home down in Gainesville, Florida. He was 28 years old. Condolences to his family.

Twitter has made some changes on its site in the past few weeks. For one, the company removed custom backgrounds for users of its web version, replacing personalized color choices with a bright white backdrop, perhaps better to display advertising upon. Twitter also introduced a new Safety Center area of its site which is supposed to school users on Twitter’s tools for privacy and battling harassment. It’s probably not the Troll Cannon we’d all like, but it’s a start.

pebbletimeThe Pebble smartwatch line, which got early financial traction as a Kickstarter project a few years ago, is hitting the big time and the big-box stores. The $200 Pebble Time smartwatch, which had originally been available on the Pebble website, are now for sale at Best Buy and will be showing up in Target stores next month. You roll, little Pebble!

Apple’s quarterly earnings report showed profit was up 38% (largely due to 47.5 million new iPhones getting homes), but the company did not break out sales numbers on the Apple Watch. Analysts have found that Apple Watch customer satisfaction with the device was at an overall 97% and higher than it was for the first generations of the iPhone and iPad. However, The New York Times had a story this week that looked at app developers and why some, like Facebook, weren’t rushing to create wrist-sized versions of their programs quite yet. Still waiting for time to tell on the Watch-success verdict there.

goldtouchApple also found the time to finally put out an update for the iPod Touch last week. While The Washington Post wondered if anyone cared about this at all, it does give Apple yet another platform to grab new Apple Music subscribers.

Meanwhile, Samsung, which didn’t have much luck with its Galaxy S6 line against the iPhone 6, looks like it’s going after the iPad now. The company just announced two new versions of the Galaxy Tab S2 tablet, now with an iPad-esque 4:3 aspect ratio for the screen and other similarities. The new Android-based tablets, due in August, come in screen sized of 9.7 inches and 8 inches.  Pricing has yet to be announced.

ch_logoAs we know from the sad tale of Google Reader, Google giveth and Google taketh away. In the giving side, the company announced that it was providing its high-speed Google Fiber service to low-income homes in all the broadband markets it is currently in. It’s all part of the ConnectHome initiative recently launched by the White House and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help more people get online. So that’s the giveth part, as for the taketh part, well . . . Google+ Photos is being discontinued on August 1st and replaced by the newer Google Photos service.  If you don’t want to use Google Photos, you can go to Google Takeout, download your stuff and go. Didn’t see that one coming, nosiree.

Windows 10 will be here next week and Microsoft is getting Cortana, the system’s virtual personal assistant software ready for her international desktop debut. Cortana’s developers say they have done research and taken the cultural sensitivities of each country where the software will launch; these include the United Kingdom, China, France, Italy, Germany and Spain, along with the United States. Thanks to this regional research, Cortana’s personality will be tailored to specific areas, as Microsoft explained in a blog post on its site.  But as the Kaiser asks, “When will the Bronx Cortana arrive?”

And finally, for those who like to cook, Ten Speed Press released an updated edition of The Twinkies Cookbook last week, featuring new recipes using the long-lasting sponge-cake snack. This new 85th Anniversary Edition of the cookbook features such treats as Twinkie Corndogs and Deep-Fried Bacon-Wrapped Chocolate-Covered Twinkies. Now that’s good eatin’  — but  don’t forget to pop your cholesterol meds.

baconwinks

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….

PTJ 144: Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!!!!

The focus of this super-sized episode of your favorite tech-themed, snark-infested web-radio extravaganza is one of El Kaiser’s absolute favorite topics in the world: audio. This week he reviews the rBlink Bluetooth DAC from Arcam and J.D. fills us in on how to use Siri, Cortana, and Google Now to help name that tune. In the news, Time Warner Cable finds a new dance partner now that Comcast is out of the picture; bacon, Batman and a teen, tiny Tony Manero get the emoji treatment; and NASA retires it’s railroad system.

PTJ 144 News: Cheese and Bacon Edition

A new day, a new dance, and Time Warner Cable has indeed found a new tango partner. As previously rumored, Charter Communications has stepped up with a $56.7 billion dollar deal to acquire the larger Time Warner Cable crew. Charter is also said to be negotiating to buy the smaller Bright House Networks cable company as well.  Time Warner Cable was spun off of Time Warner Inc. in 2008 and if the new deal with Charter goes through, the new company will be dubbed with the sprightly new moniker “New Charter.” (As opposed to, you know, Classic Charter.)

tweeterTwitter is also in acquisition discussions to snag Flipboard — but sources say apparently stalled at the moment. (The bird-themed microblogging service  also added Periscope to its Android app this week.)

The streaming-music service Spotify held a press event last week to announce it was expanding into podcasts and video clips. Some detractors have pointed out that Spotify’s audience uses the service as a background medium and a soundtrack to doing something else, which is harder to do with video because it requires direct attention.

Instagram wants your attention and has been sending out a regular Highlights message that shows off recent pictures from the people you follow on Instagram. It really hopes you’ll be intrigued enough to start using your account again.

Also in pictures — Google’s new Photos app is on the way, reports the Android Police site. as the Google I/O 2015 conference gets underway this week. Meanwhile, Google has also filed a patent for an interactive toy that even the BBC labeled as “creepy” in a headline. See for yourself, courtesy of the US Patents Office:

googletoys1

Netflix has given itself a redesign for the first time in four years. The changes include showing more information about shows you might want to watch, better presentation for the tons of Netflix options available and an enhanced recommendation engine.

Microsoft wants everyone to love its upcoming Windows 10 system! For those of you who do not have Windows Phones, the company has announced a companion app for Android and iOS phones that will let you connect your device to your PC. Once installed, the Phone Companion app will make sure photos you take with your phone get saved back to the computer by way of OneDrive and notes, music and Office documents can be used between the two. Microsoft also announced a standalone Cortana app for Android and iOS.  Watch your back in the App Store and Google Play store, Cortana.

The Daily Telegraph of London recently had an extensive article on Apple’s design guru Jony Ive, written by actor Stephen Fry. The story broke one new bit of news: Sir Ive has just been promoted from Senior Vice President of Design to Apple’s Chief Design Office and will take up the new gig on July 1st.

wwdc15The usual leaks and rumors are starting to pop a few weeks ahead of Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference. The iPhone 6s just may include the Force Touch screen with haptic feedback. The 9to5Mac site also says it hears the new iOS 9 will include split-screen apps for iPads, a fresh new system-wide font for the user interface, a Home app for controlling your HomeKit Internet of things and mass transit directions for the Apple Maps app. As with any iOS update, performance and security enhancements are also promised — and unusually for Apple, there’s talk that the new iOS 9 system could actually run better on older hardware like the iPhone 4s than iOS 8 did.

And speaking of new hardware, an eye doctor in Canada says he’s created bionic lens implants that can give the wearer 3 times better vision than 20/20. Cue bionic eye sound FX!

NASA’s Dawn probe has been taking a close view of Ceres and discovered some curious lights on the surface of the dwarf planet last month. So now NASA has put up an online poll asking members of the public what they think those bright spots may be.

Holiday Monday or not, NASA was busy this week, with the relocation of one of the International Space Station’s modules to make room for more docking ports to host commercial spacecraft, and the announcement of the scientific instruments to be sent on the Europa mission. And sad news for locomotive fans — the NASA Railroad has been retired. The 38-mile stretch of track was once used by three trains to haul rocket boosters for the space shuttle from the train yard over to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA_Railroad_locomotive_2And finally, bacon has become a big part of techie culture — hence the variety of bacon-flavored products you can buy over on ThinkGeek.com. The flat, fried breakfast meat has so entrenched itself that a bacon emoji has been named as a candidate for Unicode 9.0, which is due out next year. In addition to bacon, other nominees include a dancing man that looks somewhat like John Travolta in the white disco suit from Saturday Night Fever, a wilted flower, a croissant, the face-palm gesture, a pregnant woman and a symbol that brings to mind the original Batman logo. As with most emoji, there are no words.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Hear Me, See Me

As we discussed on the show last year, apps like Shazam and SoundHound are great for identifying music you hear — but don’t recognize. As shown below, Google Now was also dipping a toe into to music identification world back then, too, but Apple’s Siri wasn’t quite there yet and was still performing basic tasks.

googlenow_music

Since we recorded that segment way back on PTJ Episode 85, though, Apple’s assistant has picked up a new trick. If you have Siri rolling with iOS 8 and the Shazam app on your iPhone, you can have the old girl (or old boy) name that tune by pressing down the Home button and asking, “What song is this?” If the song is recognized, you get a screen back with info and a BUY button.

siri

Now, some may fuss that if you already have the Shazam app installed, why not just use that? Well, unless you’ve got the Shazam icon right there in front of you, pressing the Siri button (or just saying “Hey Siri” if you’re plugged into a power source while using the iPhone) and asking is probably going to be faster.

And lest we forget the Windows Phone fans out there, Cortana can now identify songs too. When you hear something you want to recognize, tap the magnifying glass to wake up Cortana and then tap the music-notes icon. If Cortana knows the tune, you’ll get a screen full of info about it from Xbox Music.

Shazam itself doesn’t stop with Name That Tune, though. The service — which has apps for Android, Windows Phone, iOS, Apple and Android watches and Mac OS X desktops — can also recognize certain shows on television. If you see a Shazam logo on the TV screen, hold your phone next to the tube and tap the Shazam icon to get bonus content.

Not to be outdone, Google Now has added TV cards to its repertoire. These cards pop up to provide more information about the show currently playing on your the television. Just open the Google app on your phone, tap the microphone and say, “Listen to TV.” If Google recognizes the show, you get a TV card with all sorts of information about the show and topic.

sesame

All the extra details could come in handy. With so much new music and so many great shows to watch these days ( some people are even proclaiming we’re currently in the New Golden Age of TV), you may need all the information you can get to keep track of your favorite songs and stories.

Browser History

It seems like Web browsers have been around forever. Along with email, a browser is probably the other piece of software that the average computer user fires up every single day. It’s part of the routine.

But browsers have come a long way since 1993, when Mosaic and Arena were the popular point-and-click windows to the World Wide Web. Yes, Netscape Navigator dominated the scene when it arrived in 1994 — the year before Microsoft launched both Internet Explorer and Windows 95. Internet Explorer v. 1 (shown here) was not much to look at, but then again, there wasn’t much to look at on the Web, either.

IE1

Time flies. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Internet Explorer’s debut. IE wasn’t the first graphical browser — nor will it be the last — but it had a hold on the surfing public. At one time around 2002-2003, the program was used by about 95 percent of people surfing the Web. Suffice it to say, that is a dominant piece of software.

The Opera browser, with its small legion of fans, landed in 1996 and Apple’s Safari browser, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome all arrived in the 2000s. Still, Internet Explorer was boss of them all.

As competition for users increased, the capability of the humble web browser began to evolve. New tools like tabs and private browsing modes became commonplace.  Add-on extensions for showing the headlines, the weather forecast or even controlling your computer’s music player added to the browser’s functionality. Handy buttons to share links to Twitter and Facebook began to appear.  A “reading view” to strip out ads became popular with serious readers. Synchronization between devices — computers. phones and tablets — has made sure we can pick up reading wherever we left off.

Of all the browsers, though, Internet Explorer has been showing age lately, especially in regards to security. Its once-mighty user share has declined below 68 percent.

Microsoft is aware of its stubborn user base that hates to change once it gets everything working. The company even launched a cheeky website a few years ago to get people to STOP using Internet Explorer 6, the old, unsecure version that persists in popularity, thanks to its ties to Windows XP. (The Escape From Windows XP game with the giant evil Clippy is an especially fun part of the aforementioned site. But we digress.)

escapeWXP

Things in Browser Land are changing. As revealed in a Windows 10 demo last January, Microsoft has a new surfboard on the horizon. It’s called Project Spartan (for now) and it may be the browser that gets a lot of Windows users to quit Internet Explorer for good.

The new browser will have a new rendering engine and compatibility with modern programming. Don’t worry though: It’ll load up the IE11 engine when it comes across a page written for the older browser. (Windows 10 users dependent on legacy code will still be able to use Internet Explorer as well, so fear not government workers with your weird proprietary sites.)

Could Project Spartan be the beginning of the next Browser Age? It’s too early to tell, especially since the official code hasn’t been released yet, but Microsoft has revealed some intriguing features that bring it into line with what a lot of other browsers have been doing.

Like Safari (and extensions you can get for other browsers), Spartan will have a distraction-free view, which peels away all the junk that normally clogs up a page, like ads. You’ll be able to annotate Web pages without extra tools like Scrible so you can mark up the parts you need for projects and research. Microsoft is also adding voice integration for its Cortana assistant, aiming to give Google Voice Search and Chrome — or Siri on iOS — a run for their money. And because Microsoft is trying to link every device that runs Windows 10 together for a consistent experience, it’s trying to make Spartan (shown here) work and act the same everywhere.

spartan

Project Spartan is not the only newly built browser revving its rendering engine the starting line. A new browser called Vivaldi is already out in its second technical preview and has some geeks interested.

Vivaldi, created by the former CEO of Opera software, wants to be a browser for power users. The streamlined interface (shown below) includes stackable tabs you can but on any side of the browser window and Quick Commands that let you open a ton of settings with just one keyboard shortcut. There’s also a Notes command that lets you stash your thoughts and screenshots in a side panel. Vivaldi can also run many extensions written for Google Chrome because it’s built on the open-source Chromium software from Google.

vivaldi web

As new as Project Spartan and Vivaldi seem, it probably won’t be long before the others change up or catch up. With new looks and well-integrated features that make life easier, however, it’s the first time in a long time where the good ol’ Web browser actually feels like a fresh piece of software — and that’s kind of exciting.

Ten Forward

Technical preview versions of Windows 10 have been out there for months and have already started to get reviews from testers, but Microsoft had a big Windows 10 event last week anyway. Part progress report and part consumer preview, the event also served as a reminder than the much-maligned Windows 8.1 is not long for this world.

One thing that got immediate attention: Microsoft announced that for the first year, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users. Windows Phone 8 users also get the free update.

To recap previous peeks, yes, the Start Menu — or a variation thereof — is back into the system, no add-on software required. Also, instead of having the old familiar Windows Control Panel in the Desktop Mode and the colorful “Change PC Settings” world of Windows 8 off the Charms bar, Windows 10 brings all the system settings into one place.

desktop

And speaking of that frustrating hybrid of desktop and Modern UI, there’s a Continuum feature  that automatically switches the interface between the more desktop-y mode with floating windows to the full-screen app style of the touch interface. The Notifications Center, or Action Center, will let you adjust settings with one click.

That new streamlined  “Project Spartan” browser (still a code name) has been confirmed for the Windows 10 mix. Among other things, it’s got markup and a reading list function built in so you can spend more quality time with your webpages.

As previously leaked to Windows Watchers, Cortana, the voice-activated personal assistant from Windows Phone is coming to Windows 10. You can verbally command Cortona to pull up files and photos, just like those computers do in the movies. The Xbox and Windows X, er 10, are also going to be getting a lot closer.

holoHowever, it was the HoloLens headset and its gesture-based holographic projection system that got most of the attention at the Microsoft event. These augmented-reality goggles were demoed (and some journalists got to try them out) for the first time in front of an audience, and earned a number of predictable ooohs and aaahs.

hologram

Microsoft managed to cram in quite a bit into the event (check out the video supercut from The Verge to see the highlights) and the company’s shift into a more nimble, less-tied-to-selling-boxed-copies-of-Windows way of life has gotten praise.  But it may be the HoloLens that got developers and other techies excited about Microsoft again — after the high-tech goggles were unveiled, tickets for Microsoft’s 2015 Build Conference sold out in less than an hour. Game on, Apple and Google.

PTJ 116: No Need to Put a Quarter Up

It’s that time of year when the weather gets chillier but the Oscar race heats up in Hollywood. The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch is an early award season favorite but if you just can’t wait for the biopic of cryptanalyst,  computer pioneer, and super-boffin Alan Turing, J.D. tells us where we can get a biographical fix of the WWII hero.

In the news,  Google’s Nexus 9 tablet is now available, as is the latest iteration of their mobile OS; the Apple Pay roll-out gathers momentum;  researchers identify a costly glitch in Visa’s contactless credit cards; Microsoft joins the wearable fitness tracker game; Amazon unveils their Prime Photos cloud service; lots and lots of corporate hookups; and The Internet Archive debuts their Internet Arcade with 900 classic games.

PTJ 116 News: Zen Arcade

Apple may have hogged all the headlines in September, but so far, Google is owning November. The  Google Nexus 9 tablet is now available and Android 5.0, also known as Lollipop, is beginning to roll out to those using older Nexus devices. The system update, among other things, includes the new Material Design look. If you’re rocking a phone from another manufacturer or wireless carrier, check with those folks to see when you might get Lollipopped.

gmailGoogle also officially released that new Gmail app for Android, which works on all devices running at least Android 4.0. You can find it in the Google Play store. The Google Calendar app for Android is also getting an update; it’s available already on Lollipop devices and will be arriving in the Google Play store soon for older hardware running at least Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. (The designers at Google must have had a hellaciously busy fall, as the Google Maps mobile app has also gotten a refresh.)

So, about Apple… although CVS and Rite Aid are spurning the new Apple Pay mobile payment system, Chase, Citi and Bank of America were all on board at launch and now another wave of banks is signing on to be part of Apple’s e-wallet. Navy Federal Credit Union, US Bank, USAA and PNC are all live now — or will be very soon.

Mobile payments, along with chip ‘n’ PIN cards like the ones used in Europe, are destined to replace the antique magnetic-stripe credit cards still in use here in the United States. But chip ‘n’ PIN may have some problems of its own. Researchers at Newscastle University in the United Kingdom have published a report that says a glitch in Visa’s contactless credit cards lets them bypass the standard £20 limit and approve unlimited cash transactions up to one million dollars without requiring a PIN – as long as the amount is requested in a foreign currency. Okay, guys, fix that now, please.

One somber note to the news this week: We would like to extend our condolences for all involved in the two horrible accidents last week involving spacecraft made by commercial companies. We speak, of course, of the unmanned Antares rocket that exploded in Virginia during the launch of a resupply mission to the International Space Station and also the deadly crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two in the Mojave Desert that killed a crew member.

mbandLast week, Microsoft announced its new wearable fitness tracker — a $200 black tech bracelet with the catchy name of Microsoft Band. It works not just with Windows Phones, but Android models and iPhones as well; if you do happen to use Windows Phone 8.1 with it, you also a few other perks like vice commands to the Cortana assistant and text notifications. Now, if only the Microsoft Band did not look like a court-ordered monitor for those under house arrest…

Microsoft will be getting a new neighbor soon. The Seattle Times has confirmed that Apple is opening an engineering office up there in the Emerald City. The tech-scene corporate mixers are probably going to get a lot more interesting once Apple moves into town.

baleAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, Christian Bale (left) has decided he was not right for the part of Steve Jobs in the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic. Deadline is reporting that Michael Fassbender is up for the part now, though, and that could be interesting. Fassbender has already shown off his brooding intensity as the young Magneto in the two most recent X-Men films, so the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field should be a snap.

Amazon Prime members continue to collect perks. Amazon has released a new service for them called Prime Photos, which brings unlimited digital-picture storage to Amazon Cloud Drive.  Amazon also announced that its Prime members can take advantage of partnerships the company has set up with other retailers. For example, Prime members can now get free, next-day shipping on items purchased from the British fashion company AllSaints.com.

Looks like a few major corporations are hooking up on some deals:

cheekyAnd finally, if you loved the collection of console and PC games preserved and made available online at The Internet Archive, you’re probably going to love the site’s new Internet Arcade. Yes, now 900 classic arcade games like Defender, Millipede, Major Havoc, Stargate, Quasar and Cheeky Mouse and all those others mall-arcade faves can be relived in emulation right in your web browser.  ‘Nuff said.