Tag Archives: Department of Homeland Security

PTJ 227: Special Delivery

It seems like everybody’s got something on the way this week: Samsung’s new phone waits in the wings, Amazon’s Alexa is calling in for a six pack, robots are rolling out with restaurant orders and Apple even quietly slipped a few new products into the retail channel. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss it all — including that very special package sent down from the International Space Station.

Links to This Week’s News Stories

 

PTJ 202 News: Chew On This

Who says you shouldn’t release new products in August? Google’s all out with the shiny, releasing the final version of its Android 7.0 operating system to compatible Nexus devices. [Sorry about that, Nexus 7 owners.] For a deep review of the new system, check out what Ars Technica has to say. (Hint: Ars Technica has a lot to say.)

Yes, the month of August seems to make everyone want to shop, and not just for Trapper Keepers and sturdy jeans for school. Pinterest just bought the streamlined reader app Instapaper. Microsoft has acquired the firm Genee, which specializes in intelligent scheduling coordination and optimization, or rather, letting bots run your calendar and send you reminders. (In a blog post, Microsoft said it plans to use the Genee technology in its Office 365 suite.) Microsoft is also getting closer to Lenovo, as the China-based hardware company announced plans to preload Microsoft Office mobile apps on certain Android-based devices it sells.

babsAnd Apple’s been shopping too, acquiring Gliimpse, a startup specializing in personal health-data management. Apple also made news recently with the decision to replace the revolver emoji in the coming iOS 10 system with a squirt gun to artistically make a comment about gun violence. The iOS 10 system itself is expected out by the next month and if a certain diva is to be believed, it might just be on Friday, September 30th. Actress and recording artist Barbra Streisand told NPR that she personally complained to Apple CEO Tim Cook about the way the Siri virtual assistant pronounces her name and he agreed to fix it.

No official word on when the annual fall Apple Special Event will be slurping up all the media bandwidth next month. Some observers like WhenIsKeynote.com are going with September 6th, the day after Labor Day, while others predict it’ll be sometime around September 13th. Major iPhone changes are not expected this year and some blogs are already skipping ahead to 2017 with the breathless anticipation of an overhauled handset design, including a curved display not unlike the Samsung Edge.

echoAmazon is looking to grab some more customers by going cheap. The ReCode site hears the übermegaeverything store is looking to launch a cheap streaming music service that only works on its Amazon Echo speaker assistant and may cost about $5 a month.

The state of Massachusetts is taking a stand of its own in favor of a taxi-cab industry that’s been taking it on the chin from ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. As the Reuters news agency reports, the Bay State plans to levy a 20-cent tax per trip on a ride-hailing service and a nickel of that will go right to the taxi industry until the year 2021.

Also taking a stand: Dozens of human rights and civil liberties organizations who have signed a letter protesting the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed plan to screen the social media accounts for foreign visitors to the country. The comment period for the proposal ended on this Monday.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sony is getting into downsizing mode with a thinner design for its PlayStation 4 console called the PS Slim.  Sony is said to be planning a media event on September 7th to share the news.

tux25This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Linux operating system kernel. On August 25, 1991, one Linus Benedict Torvalds posted a message in a Usenet group announcing a little project and suffice it to say, some people paid attention.  Here’s to the next 25, Penguin Nation.

The enthusiasm for the Pokémon Go mobile game seems to be fading a bit. Does Pikachu get a third act?

Twitter has finally added that eye-soothing dark night mode to the iOS version of its app. Android users have been enjoying the feature since last month.

The once hot Gawker website shut down for good this week. Gawker’s founder Nick Denton put up one final post.

And finally, after two years in the wilds of space, one of the two Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft, known as STEREO-B, has reestablished contact with NASA after going silent in October 2014. The agency’s website explains how the bond was broken, in case you were wondering. NASA engineers had been trying to get back in touch with the craft for the past 22 months and were finally able to establish a lock on STEREO-B’s downlink carrier on August 21st — thanks to the Deep Space Network array of giant radio antennas. Don’t you go running off again, STEREO-B, you hear?

stereoB

 

Hurry Up and Wait

Flight tracker apps are great for checking the status of your flight, but what about the sheer stress you encounter before you actually get on the plane? Yes, we’re talking about the summer travel season and all the recent news stories about horrific waits in security lines. Things seem to have gotten slightly better with the lines, but still. You may not be able to avoid that annoyance, but you can at least plan for it. If you’re getting ready to take to the skies for your summer vacation, we here at Pop Tech Jam HQ have a few app suggestions.

For starters, you have to get to the airport first.

Salk International’s $5 Airport Transit Guide for Android and iOS offers insider travel information for 460 airports around the world for helping you get to the airport on time.

inrixIf you’re traveling domestically, traffic apps like Inrix Traffic (left) and Waze, both for Android and iOS, are among the dedicated road travel apps that tell you how long it will take to get to your destination — if you don’t want to use the services offered by Google Maps or Apple Maps. The WhatsBusy site, which is devoted to when there are lines in public places, has a section devoted to airports.

Then there’s the part of the journey that happens once you get inside the airport: Security lines. (Whee.)

You can help speed some of the process by checking in early for your flight online through your carrier’s own app or website. If you do, you can leave pre-checked luggage at the Bag Drop station and move on to the joy of the security line.

myTSAAlthough the Transportation Security Administration has been pummeled in the press for being a large part of the recent problem, its digital offerings may help travelers prepare themselves for the screening experience in a few of ways. The My TSA mobile website provides answers about what you can bring through airport security checkpoints so you’re not the cause of a snarled and snarly line; an Android app version of My TSA is available, as well as a version for iOS.

The TSA site/app also has a list of current security line wait-times, and an indicator if the airport has a TSA Pre-✓ expedited line. (Pre-✓ = Pre-Check. Get it?) You can sign up for TSA Pre-✓ or one of the government’s other Trusted Traveler programs over at the Department of Homeland Security’s site, although registration includes you providing an $85 and your fingerprints.

If you like guv’ment apps, the Federal Aviation Administration has its own mobile website with airport status and delays related to conditions outside the terminal.

miflightNewer apps like MiFlight for iOS are also designed to give you an idea of the wait times you’re in for once you hit the security line. MiFlight has nifty graphics and makes use of crowd-sourced data, but owners of some iPhone models have posted one-star reviews complaining of app crashes. Several developers make TSA and airport-related programs, so check the app store dedicated to your mobile platform to see the selection.

Once you make it through the security gauntlet, you might have some time to kill thanks to your careful planning. The GateGuru app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone might help here. Although GateGuru can function as an itinerary-tracking app while you travel, its Airport Card screens provide detailed information, maps and tips for the airports you’re in.

iFly Airport Guide for Android and iOS is another airport terminal guide with status updates. There’s a free and a pro version, depending on your whims and needs. The company also makes a TSA Wait Times by iFly app, which is $4 for  iOS.

Certain airports may have their own  terminal guides as well, so check your app store before you go. Once you get checked in, arrive at the airport and get through the security line,  you can fire up your flight tracker app and check your plane’s status.

ragerAnd remember, if you’re dissatisfied with your recent travel experience, the US Department of Transportation has a webform where you can file complaints against the airlines for safety and security reasons, along with customer service issues. It may not do any good, but you can also inform your airline’s customer-service department of your displeasure. You can find the Consumer Complaint Letter Wizard and a sample complaint letter to use as a template over at USA.gov, because if you’re going to gripe, you may as well do it officially.

PTJ 187 News: Standards & Practices

Facebook mess with the News Feed? Really!?!  But seriously, according to Mashable and a few other sites, images of a new tabbed news feed screen for mobile devices have been spotted on Twitter. Facebook did confirm that it is indeed testing the new design, but did not say if or when it would actually launch.

YouTube is stepping up its virtual-reality game with a couple of new features. As announced on the company blog, YouTube is introducing 360-degree live streaming on the site, which adds on to last year’s support for uploaded 360-videos. YouTube also launched spatial audio for on-demand videos. If you want to hear what all that means, check out the company’s special spatial audio playlist for Android devices.

siriWe’re just about a month away from Google’s annual I/O developer’s conference, and now Apple has finally gotten around to announcing when its own World Wide Developer’s Conference. The first word on the dates for some people, however, did not come from an email announcement, but from the Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, as the 9to5Mac site reported. A press release on Apple’s website confirms it all Apple fans are already murmuring about the show, wondering if OS X will be renamed macOS to fall better in line with iOS, tvOS and watchOS.

Apple didn’t wait for its next big media event to make new hardware announcements, though. This Tuesday, it quietly updated its 12-inch Macbook laptop model with better hardware on the inside.  The laptop is available in a few different processor and storage configurations and comes in four colors now: Gold, Silver, Space Gray and Rose Gold. And in other news, Apple has hired a former vice president of vehicle engineering from Tesla. The company also killed off QuickTime for Windows and the Department of Homeland Security has advised PC users to uninstall it RIGHT AWAY.

In legal news, it appears that Google’s massive book-scanning project that triggered a copyright lawsuit buy an author’s group is in the clear. The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from the Authors Guild over the legality of the Google Books project, so last year’s lower court ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York stands.

Also in Google news, the company’s Android Security 2015 Annual Report was released this week.  The company touts its monthly security updates, better screening for potentially harmful apps in the Google Play store and greater adoption of its app verification service as factors in making Android devices safer than before, but it notes that there are still a steady number of malware, ransomware and other nasty apps lurking out there.

Speaking of software and malicious intentions, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the machine-learning startup company PatternEx have come up with a new system predicts 85 percent of cyber attacks.

Amazon is taking a shot at Netflix’s monthly streaming fees by making its own Amazon Prime service available as, you guessed it, a monthly subscription instead of an annual fee. And speaking of Netflix, that company is raising its monthly fees by 25 percent for longtime streaming customers next month.

Yahoo’s deadline for financial suitors to present themselves has come and gone and Verizon has emerged as the only major player to maintain interest in the sagging company.

murphyMicrosoft introduced Skype video bots a few weeks ago for developers and consumers to interact with and announced this week that the bots are now available for Mac and web users. Some of the stock bots available include Murphy, a bot to find and create images for when questions can’t be answered by words alone and Summarize, a bot designed to give an overview of a web page if you don’t have time to read the whole thing.

As expected, the  Name That Research Ship contest over in the United Kingdom has ended and Boaty McBoatface won in a tidal wave. However, UK Science Minister and total buzzkill Jo Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live this week that “there is a process now for us to review all of the public’s choices. Many of them were imaginative; some were more suitable than others.” Even if the RSS Boaty McBoatface never sails the seas as a government science ship, the contest did inspire an Australian racehorse owner in Sydney to name one of his geldings Horsey McHorseface and an English rail worker temporarily named the Portsmouth to Waterloo line Trainy McTrainface.

And finally, if you love NASA and you live vintage graphic design and branding standards, you can now buy a copy of the space agency’s official graphics manual first published in 1976. The book is 220 pages with 129 image plates and comes individually packages in a static-shielding pouch. This is actually a reissue of the original book, of which only 40 copies were originally printed. The new version is a Kickstarter project that can now be ordered only for $79 a copy.

If you’re on a bit of a tight budget, however, you can download a free PDF copy of the original manual from NASA’s website and print it yourself because hey, it’s a taxpayer-funded government agency. And after just staggering through another tax season, we’ll take all the perks we can get.

Episode 31 News: “Give me a ping, Vasili. One ping only, please.”

whoopsLate last week, the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert about a flaw in Oracle’s Java software that could have potentially put 850 million computers at risk. Apple, Mozilla and other companies advised uninstalling or disabling Java until an update was available and Oracle put the pedal to the metal and rushed out a fix over the weekend. Security experts, however, were still dubious about patch, lingering security issues or even the need to still run Java in the first place.

Java security flaws are also suspected in a wave of cyber-espionage attacks on computer networks used by several international governmental, scientific and diplomatic agencies The attack campaign, dubbed “Red October” by security firm Kaspersky Labs, seems to have been active since 2007 and continues — albeit without the brawny Sean Connery-Alec Baldwin star power of the 1990 film that was made from the namesake 1984 Tom Clancy thriller, “The Hunt for Red October.” (The film version is available to stream on Netflix, and if you have a Nintentdo Wii, you can also watch it there since Amazon’s Instant Video service is now available on your game console.)

In case you have too many online friends and can’t keep track of their interests, Facebook just introduced a new feature this week called Graph Search. This future tool lets you match up people on your friends list with things you are looking for, like buddies with similar hobbies — as long as they’ve shared the info publicly. Graph Search is in the beta stage and may cut into LinkedIn’s territory more than Google’s as some have speculated. Also in the social-network news: MySpace made its redesigned site available to the public this week.

John Scully, a former Apple CEO, said the company needs to adapt to a changing world by overhauling its supply chain to meet demand for cheaper smartphones in emerging markets. Competition from Samsung, which has now sold more than 100 million Galaxy smartphones, is probably adding to Apple’s angina. (Some research has even shown that younger buyers consider Samsung’s phones way cooler compared to the iPhone, which may feel like the 1990’s in reverse for the longtime Applefolk.)

But while Samsung and Apple duke it out in the profitability-and-popularity contest, Microsoft is still trying to get developers to write apps for its Windows Phone handsets. Perhaps in a whiff of reality-show excitement, the company launched a contest this week called “Window Phone Next App Star” that invites developers to create and submit their apps for judging and rating by public voters. Research in Motion is also in app-gathering mode and just got 15,000 new apps for the BlackBerry in about 37 hours thanks to a couple of Portathon sessions that invited developers to port versions of their apps for other systems to the BlackBerry OS for fun and prizes.

Meanwhile, up on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover is rocking out and may be doing some drilling up on Mars. Yay, science!

Finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam note the passing of Internet prodigy and programmer Aaron Swartz, who sadly committed suicide at the age of 26 last week. Swartz, who helped create RSS at the age of 14, worked on other Web applications and was an advocate for freedom of information and open access online, was facing a Federal trial this spring for downloading millions of scientific journals, scholarly research and other documents from MIT and the JSTOR archive. While MIT has launched an internal probe of the events leading up to Mr. Swartz’s death, activists like the Electronic Freedom Foundation have called for an overall in computer crime law. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Swartz, and thank you for making the Internet a better place.