Tag Archives: data

PTJ 239: Leak Week

June is Internet Safety Month, but it hasn’t been very safe for the personal information of 198 million people, which got exposed by sloppy data handling. The notoriously private Apple got trolled as well when a top-secret meeting about stopping data leaks got, er, leaked. After wading through the tech headlines of the week,  El Kaiser and J.D. discuss the merits of RAID, as well as how to turn your smartphone into a handy magnifier for those annoying moments when you actually have to read the fine print. Episode 239 of Pop Tech Jam awaits you.

Links to Stories in This Week’s News Segment

Tech Term

RAID levels explained (PCMag.com)
Digital storage basics, Part 2: External drive vs. NAS server (CNET)
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How to configure a cheap, secure RAID backup system (Macworld)

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint

PTJ 229: Private Investigations

Protections for consumer privacy and data collection took a hit this past week, as regulations were rolled back into nonexistence — sending some concerned Netizens to software they hope will help shield their online activity.  The big question: Does it work?

Meanwhile, Yahoo and AOL take an Oath, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 reveals some enviable features, Amazon finds yet another way to get your cash and Google tries to make sure perfectly nice advertisements don’t end up on hateful YouTube videos.  Join El Kaiser and J.D. as they discuss it all in Episode 229!

Links to Stories in This Week’s Show

PTJ 184 News: Never Mind

Well, after all that legal grandstanding and trying to force Apple to build a back door in its mobile operating system, the Justice Department went back to court this week to say: Never mind. Thanks to help from a third-party volunteer hacking specialist, the FBI says it is now rolling through the encrypted data that was harvested from the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist.

So now that the whole incident is over, what was it about? Some argue that corporate compliance is mandatory in this dangerous era of terror. Others, including famed NSA leaker Edward Snowden, have gone on record saying the FBI could have gotten into the phone on its own and the whole thing was about establishing a legal precedent. So, until next time…

Speaking of Apple’s iOS software, the company has acknowledged bugs in its recent 9.3 update. Patch on the way!

instagramInstagram’s previously announced move to using algorithms  in feeds has caused a bit of a panic in the Insta-community, so that’s why you’ve been inundated by people asking you to turn on notifications so that their posts will not get buried. No word on when that change to the system  going live, but Instagram did announce this week that it was increasing the maximum running time of posted video from 15 seconds to 60 seconds.

Twitter celebrated its 10th-anniversary last week and this week, the company’s Periscope app for live-streaming video celebrated its one-year anniversary from its official launch date. Periscope has reportedly been used for 200 million live video broadcasts and not all of them were Game of Thrones or House of Cards bootlegs.

People poking around in Facebook Messenger code say they’ve found evidence that points to the potential to make purchases in retail stores and fund them with Apple Pay, all without leaving the Messenger app. Facebook has made no announcements yet, nor on reports that it’s also working on Snapchat-like self-destructing messages called Secret Conversations. (But, while we’re talking bout Snapchat, that company has just released what it calls Chat 2.0, which lets users easily tap between text, audio and video chat.)

riftIn gaming news, reviews of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset are starting to pop up around the web, including one from Brian X. Chen at The New York Times who called it a well-built hardware system brimming with potential. However, the first wave of apps and software will probably only appeal to hard-core gamers.

Sony is also stepping up the graphics in its console games and said it plans to release an updated version of its PlayStation 4 machine later this year. The current PlayStation 4 model would stick around, but it would add a newer version with enough mojo to handle virtual reality and other visually intense gaming experiences.

Vimeo announced this week that it’s made some updates to its channel on the Roku set-top box. As explained in a blog post on the company site, you can now you can rent or buy films and video series directly from their creators right there on your Roku TV.

Audio-sharing site SoundCloud is also stepping things up with a new subscription service here in the States called SoundCloud Go.

Oracle is not happy with Google over a little matter of copyright and is suing the Big G for use of Java in the Android operating system. Oracle seeking 9.3 billion dollars in damages. Google, for its part, has other things on its mind this week, like its new Fiber Phone service, which brings unlimited and nationwide phone calls to homes with Google Fiber broadband service for $10 a month.

fiber

Yahoo’s financial woes have not gotten any better this year and the company announced it’ll be accepting bids for its web business and Asian assets. The Wall Street Journal reports the company has set an April 11th deadline for preliminary bids from interested buyers. Perhaps Yahoo can throw a few departments up on eBay.

And finally, if you don’t live in the States or you’re too broke to buy one of those handy Amazon Echo speakers that does your bidding when you give it verbal commands, you can build your own with an inexpensive Raspberry Pi barebones computers and a little time. Novaspirit Tech has a demo video:

Lest you think this is an unauthorized adventure, Amazon itself has posted its own instructions on GitHub for getting the hardware working with its Alexa Voice Service. So, if you need a summer project this year when you’re not picking up Yahoo properties at a weekend tag sale, consider the DIY Raspberry Echo.

 

PTJ 183 News: Screen Lock and Key

So maybe the Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t need Apple so much after all. The Justice Department postponed this week’s hot court date over that whole “you must unlock this terrorist iPhone” fight they were having with Cook & Co. It seems the DOJ has found someone else it thinks can hack and crack into the iPhone in question. The court date has been rescheduled for April 5th. (And who knows what’s behind that door, as a new report analyzing the November attacks in Paris indicated that the terrorists there were using disposable cellphones and not encryption to communicate.)

imessageApple may be fighting to keep the passcode locked, but researchers at Johns Hopkins University say they’ve found a way to decrypt encrypted iMessages. While this bug in iMessage wouldn’t have helped the FBI with the San Bernardino phone (and Apple released software updates for iOS and OS X this week anyway), the Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that some Apple encryption can be broken.

Despite the postponement of the FBI hearing, Apple’s court calendar is still filling up, though. On Monday this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung’s appeal of that patent infringement case a few years back that it lost to Apple over copying the iPhone’s design. Samsung would like to talk more and pay less in this case.

But lest we forget, there was one more bit of Apple News this week: The company held a small-scale event at its headquarters this week to unveil the [no surprise] 4-inch iPhone SE, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, an iOS software update, new Apple Watch bands — and a cheaper price on the Apple Watch itself. Updates on the company’s recycling efforts were also revealed:

Amazon has added a new product to its inventory: package deals for Comcast’s Xfinity television and Internet service. The goods can be found in the new Amazon Cable Store, where special offers for Amazon customers are also touted. On the down side, you have to use Comcast is you sign up.

Amazon Kindle owners also probably saw a lot of panicky stories online this week warning that if they did not update the system software on older Kindle models, those Kindles would not be able to access the Kindle bookstore to buy new books. If you missed the March 22 deadline, you’ll have to plug the Kindle into your computer, download the updates from Amazon’s site and apply those patches manually.

amazonechoOne of Amazon’s other products popped up — and piped up — earlier this month during the broadcast of a National Public Radio story about the Amazon Echo speaker and its Alexa virtual assistant. As the story unfolded on the radio, with typical NPR sound clips of people on the radio taking to Alexa on their Amazon Echos, one NPR listener said his Alexa reset the home thermostat based on a command it heard on the radio. Another Alexa in the wild began playing an NPR Hourly Summary.  (Just so you know, this was just a test. Once they get the signal from headquarters, all the Alexas will rise up together to overthrow their human oppressors.) Incidentally, Amazon Tap, which looks like it’s basically an Echo you have to touch first, will be available next week.

It’s no secret that Facebook hoovers up gobs of data from its users to help it target advertising, and recent stories show how its ad platform guesses what race a person is based on his or her online behavior. Although Facebook has been offering its its racial profiling, er,  “ethnic affinity” targeting to advertisers since 2014, the Business Insider site illustrated this practice with a story showing how different trailers for the film Straight Outta Compton were pushed out to white viewers, black viewers and Hispanic viewers. Facebook: Never missing a chance to use any of your data to sell you things.

Twitter celebrated its 10th birthday this week. The service stuck up a blog post thanking its users for the first decade and saying “Throughout the years, you’ve made Twitter what it is today and you’re shaping what it will be in the future.” (Let us please not speak of trolls and politicians.)

Hungry? Venerable pizza chain Dominos is testing an automated pizza delivery robot down in New Zealand. It’s called the Domino’s Robotic Unit, or DRU, and it has a 12-mile range, runs on battery power and has compartments for hot and cold food — including storage for up to 10 pizzas.

While America seems to be lurching toward delivery drones, ground-based delivery bots seem to be catching on in other parts of the world, including small six-wheeled vehicles dispensing packages in London this spring.

And finally, also over in England, let us turn to a jolly seafaring tale. If you are unaware of this unfolding story, here it is: The British Natural Environment Research Council thought it would be a good idea to ask the public for help in naming a brand new £200 million ocean-research ship, so it invited the public to participate and began to take online suggestions. While some well-meaning participants put forth the names of scientists or explorers, one gentleman suggested the moniker RSS Boaty McBoatface. Needless to say, that name quickly shot to the top of the polls and the NERC site even crashed from excitement at one point. A spokeswoman for the council said, “We are very much enjoying hearing everyone’s ideas,” but the agency ultimately has the final say in christening the vessel. The contest ends April 16th, so in the meantime, raise a glass of rum and let’s all sing a good shanty for the RSS Boaty McBoatface while it lasts.

boaty

Arts and Sciences

IMG_7489Art is influenced by everything around it —  including technology — and major exhibits of artists reacting or interacting with tech are becoming common. On 2011, The Museum of Modern Art had a successful show called Talk to Me: Design and Communication Between People and Objects (MoMA currently has 14 classic videogames in its permanent Applied Design collection, including Pac-Man, Tetris, Myst and Sim City 2000.) In 2014, London’s Barbican Center hosted a how called Digital Revolution that highlighted the rise of tech-assisted creativity. Those shows are in the past, but if you happen to be in London between now and March 20th, 2016, you can catch a wonderful new exhibit called Big Bang Data at Somerset House; a video promo gives you an idea of what to expect, as does the show’s official press release.

IMG_7483The core of Big Bang Data consists of artists and designers using data — and data visualization — to illustrate just how much public and private information drives the world these days. There’s historical content, like sections of underwater data cables and a display of data-storage devices including ancient floppies, USB drives and the ever-looming cloud. A film on government surveillance outlines the NSA’s known practices. Another documentary on a loop explores the history of the Internet Archive project. A wall projection (shown above) rates the happiness factor in London’s boroughs based on real-time social media posts. Another mapping project shows the physical Networks of London, and another examines how data can be used for good to “catapult healthcare into the future.”

IMG_7479Julian Oliver’s 2012 work, Transparency Grenade, is also on view. As described by the gallery card, “Equipped with a tiny computer, microphone and powerful wireless antenna, the Transparency Grenade captures network traffic and audio at the site and securely and anonymously streams it to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. User names, hostnames, IP addresses, unencrypted email fragments, web pages, images and voice extracted from this data and then presented on an online, public map, shown at the location of the detonation.” The gallery provides an open Wi-Fi access point named watchednetwork so visitors can see just what the Grenade can grab.

Even if you can’t make it across the pond to see it, the exhibit’s website is well worth checking out. Life is art, as they say, and that goes for our digital lives as well.

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwrjAa1SgjQ

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:

bearchart

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 130 News: Safety First

February will soon be known as National Regulation Proposals Month, as the Federal Aviation Administration has finally proposed its new rules for commercial drone operation. If adopted, the new rules would allow commercial flights of unmanned aircraft up to 55 pounds, once the operator applies for approval and passes a written exam on FAA rules.  The new rules would also keep commercial drone flights to below 500 feet in the air and flights must be taken during daytime hours and within sight of the operator. Google and Amazon are probably not too happy, though, as the restrictions would keep Google’s Project Wing and Amazon’s hoped-for Prime Air delivery service out of the skies. As with other federal rule-making parties,  members of the public can comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

The Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules have made AT&T very unhappy and CEO Randall Stephenson has hinted that his company may have to get litigious if Internet service is reclassified.

Meanwhile, when not throwing shade at the FCC, AT&T is throwing down against Google Fiber in Kansas City and plans to finally launch its own Gigabit Internet service for the same price as Google — $70 a month for all that delicious speed. AT&T’s U-verse with GigaPower service has one little condition for that low, low price, though. You have to participate in the company’s “Internet Preferences” program, which lets AT&T track “the webpages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter.” You can opt out of the program, but it’s going to cost you an additional $29 a month.

AT&T

Apple has been accused of making a lot of future products, and one of the latest rumors has the company working on a self-driving electric car. Apple if course, isn’t commenting in rumors and speculation. Google, of course, has been all over the self-driving car thing for years and the Financial Times reports Sony is working on a robot car of its own. Some naysayers have pooh-poohed the Apple car rumors and note that long-awaited iOS-powered smart television set would make more sense for the company.

The New Yorker magazine this week has a long profile of Sir Jonathan Ive and his approach to design. The article even reports that Sir Jony had dinner with J.J. Abrams at one point to discuss lightsaber design.  (Will the “flat” look be coming to our favorite energy weapons?)

isaber

And two last Apple bites: Apple’s is said to have ordered more than five million Apple Watches from its overseas suppliers ahead of the product’s planned debut this spring. Sensor problems have forced Apple to drop some of the initially planned features like blood pressure and heart-rate monitoring, though. And CEO Tim Cook spoke a White House-sponsored cybersecurity summit last Friday. In his remarks, Mr. Cook voiced his support for protecting the privacy of users and not letting governments have a free back-door key to personal data.

And speaking of government surveillance, Kaspersky Lab, a Russian security firm, says it’s discovered spyware buried deep in the firmware on hard drives made by several top manufacturers, The programs were found on computers in more than 30 countries. Although the company didn’t name names and the National Security Agency declined to comment on the matter, some former NSA employees did confirm the existence of the programs as intelligence-gathering tools.

dinowatsonIBM’s supersmart Watson software —which once aced the questions on Jeopardy! — could be headed for the toy shelves if a current Kickstarter campaign catches fire.  Elemental Path is gearing up to produce a “cognitive toy” that puts the brain of Watson into a small plastic dinosaur to interact with and entertain small children. The Green CogniToy Dino would cost about $100 and be suited for kids aged 4 to 7. It can also tell knock-knock jokes.

Those clever boffins at Oxford University are experimenting with a new form of wireless networking that can deliver data at 100 gigabits per second by converting the light from a fiber-optic network backbone into an electronic signal and beaming it across the room. Read all about it in the paper called “Beyond 100-Gigabits per second Indoor Wide Field-of-View Optical Wireless Communications” published in Photonics Technology Letters, IEEE, Volume 27, Issue 4.

sonyGoogle Glass may have flopped and given some people pause about Internet-connected eyewear, but Sony just announced that it’s taking pre-orders for its own SmartEyeGlass product. Good luck with that, Sony.

The Rosetta spacecraft has a close encounter with Comet 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko this past Valentine’s Day and like any dedicated follower, took some pictures. The European Space Agency has posted the detailed photos of the comet’s surface, which were taken from just six kilometers away. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has also transmitted sharper pictures of Ceres.

legologoThe Brand Finance consultant group has done its annual analysis of the world’s most powerful brands. This year’s report finds last year’s winner Ferarri, dethroned by Lego. (Oh, snap! Snap! Snap!)

And finally, speaking of familiar brands — Oscar Mayer. The meat-maker’s beloved Wienermobile spun out of control this weekend and smashed into a pole on an icy Pennsylvania road near the state’s   Harrisburg capital. There were no reported injuries, but the hot-dog shaped vehicle did suffer a busted-up front end and a shattered windshield. Just remember: winter driving is treacherous for everyone, so let’s be careful out there.

PTJ 120: NASA and the Troll Patrol

This week El Kaiser shares his ickiest Tech Term yet and J.D. tells us all about Twitter’s new “Troll Patrol”.  In the news NASA’s Orion spacecraft completes a successful test flight; the first Coder In Chief; Facebook modifies its search function; Princeton University puts thousands of documents written by Albert Einstein online; Amazon rolls out 4K streams; the FCC wants wireless carriers to ste up efforts to protect consumer data; researchers discover Linux-based malware that’s been active for years; the fallout from cyber-attack on SONY’s networks continues; and the father of the videogame passes away.

PTJ 120 News: Readin’, Writin’ and Roarin’ Through Space

Yes, it’s officially  Computer Science Education Week now and companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple are into it, with many sponsoring the Hour of Code project with Code.org . For instance, Apple is holding coding events at its Apple Stores and Google’s YouTube site has plenty of inspirational videos. President Obama even hosted an event at the White House with middle-school students and banged out a few lines of JavaScript, perhaps getting some training for that inevitable job switch that’ll be happening in a couple years.

mcThe past week has been great for space. Last Friday, NASA’s Orion spacecraft completed a successful test flight, with a launch at Cape Canaveral, orbit around the Earth a few times and splashdown in the Pacific less than five hours later. Just a day later, on  Saturday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft woke up out of its hibernation state just in time for its 2015 mission to observe Pluto, the celestial body many of us still consider to be a planet at the outer edges of our solar system. And lets not forget our old pal Curiosity (left) is still hard at work up on Mars. The geographical data gathered by NASA’s busy little rover over the past 28 months of exploring has helped scientists study and theorize about the lakes and streams that used to exist on the Red Planet in warmer times. (Oh, and a Canadian company wants a little cool Mars action itself – Thoth Technology is calling for a crowdfunding campaign to make, among other things, a “Beaver” rover to represent Canada on Mars.)

Facebook is tinkering once again with the site’s search function. While its Graph Search feature was released almost a year ago, its clunky semantic search engine was too much work for a lot of people. This week, Facebook announced that is was rolling out good old-fashioned keyword search.

Einstein

Princeton University has put thousands of documents written by Albert Einstein online. The site, called The Digital Einstein Papers, is part of a larger ongoing project called The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. The new site covers the first 44 years of Einstein’s life and features digitized letters, scholarly articles and other material .

In streaming video news, Amazon announced some of its Instant Video streams are now available in ultra high-def 4K. And YouTube has overhauled its app for the Apple TV, bringing predictive search, personalized recommendations and a new visual design to the screen

The Federal Communications Commission continues its rampant news grab as it still contemplates Net Neutrality. The agency has now found time to release a 140-page report on mobile phone theft and has some suggestions for wireless carriers to help protect consumers and their data.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab have discovered Linux-based malware that’s been active for years and aimed at computers in government, military, education, research and pharmaceutical networks in 45 different countries.

sonyThe recent hack of  Sony’s network is still spewing fallout. A group calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” or GOP, have dumped a whole lot of confidential Sony data out into the public, including celebrity aliases and contract information, internal emails between Sony employees, personal information about said Sony employees including 47,000 Social Security numbers, and digital copies of several new and unreleased Sony films, including the remake of Annie due in theaters December 19th. According to a message posted on the GitHub code-sharing site, one of the demands was to “stop showing the movie of terrorism,” which is believed to be a reference to an upcoming Seth Rogen-James Franco film called The Interview, which is about a plot to assassinate Kim Jon-Un, the current leader of North Korea.  North Korean officials have denied involvement but have referred to it as a “righteous deed.” Sony has hired security consultants to figure out what happened (perhaps, Team America: World Police?). This would almost make for a good videogame, if only the PlayStation network wasn’t getting hacked again.

In happier movie news, there’s a new extension for the Google Chrome browser that gives you an interactive tour of Middle-earth so you can celebrate the opening of the third-and supposedly final movie in the Hollywood “Hobbit” trilogy properly.

middleearth

And in even happier movie news, the 88-second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens landed on the Web and in select movie theaters, sending geeks everywhere to analyze the visuals down to every last frame of video. Among the hot topics of discussion — the cross-hilt lightsaber and exterior modifications made to the Millennium Falcon. The lightsaber design seemed to draw the most attention, even drawing in late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert. And with the official teaser comes the parody teasers, including the J.J. Abrams lens-flare edition, the George Lucas version, the Other George Lucas version, the Wes Anderson Adaptation and even an amusing parody on Saturday Night Live, a show that’s been around even longer that the Star Wars franchise itself.

And finally, let us pour one out for Ralph Baer, who died this weekend at the age of 92. Mr. Baer, who was born in Germany and fled the Nazis and was an intelligence officer in the US Army by 1943. In 1966, Mr. Baer wrote out a four-page description for a “game box” designed to let people play sports and other action games on a TV set. His work eventually resulted in the Magnavox Odyssey game system in 1972 and he also invented the electronic Simon game in 1978.

Ralph Baer, father of the videogame, we salute you.

baer