Tag Archives: design

PTJ 168 News: Reality Check

The world can be a very scary place and it got worse last week with multiple attacks on civilians overseas. As one might expect,  government officials from various countries (including France) are again calling for access into encrypted message apps.  Belgian officials have also said that prior to the Paris carnage, terrorists had been hiding their communication using online gaming tools like Sony’s PlayStation 4. The activist collective Anonymous announced on YouTube and Twitter this week that it was going after ISIS and stepping up its ongoing efforts to knock the group’s social media and websites offline. The chaos in Paris last Friday prompted Facebook to turn on its Safety Check feature but the site received criticism for not making the tool available to those who were in Beirut during the attacks there the previous day. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the issue on his profile page. Going forward, the company plans to make Safety Check available for other tragic incidents around the world. It’s becoming a common — yet depressing — aspect of modern life online.

Now, moving on to news that hopefully makes one less despondent about the state of the world…

Google has tweaked its search app to help it better understand the questions you ask it. According to a blog post on the Inside Search site, Google search now understands superlatives in questions as well as questions relating to data in certain points of time. Google is also on the hunt for people to legitimately review businesses and services for its Google Maps app and is offering one terabyte of Google Drive storage for those who contribute regularly to the Local Guides program. And the company’s $85 computer-on-an-HDMI-Stick Chromebit device is rolling out now.

cbit

The Pandora streaming music service has bought parts of Rdio, another streaming music service, for $75 million dollars, acquiring its under-the-hood technology and design. While the deal is contingent on the acquired firm filing for bankruptcy, Rdio posted on its site that its customers would not see an immediate interruption, for the time being, anyway. Advertising Age reports that Pandora plans to start a subscription-based, on-demand version of its music-streaming service.

While Apple has often been lauded for its visual product aesthetic over the years, an essay on the Fast Company site says the fruit-themed toymaker is actually giving design a bad name. If you find user experience and interface design interesting — or find iOS 7 and later insanely hard on the eyes and mind — check out the essay.

Back to more privacy issues, but this time in regards to protecting your personal data from advertisers if you have one of Vizio’s smart TV sets. The ProPublica public interest site has a story on how Vizio Smart TVs track what you watch and sell the information to advertisers. Cable TV and video rental companies are banned by law from doing this sort of thing, and other smart TV companies like Samsung and LG have viewer tracking as an opt-in policy. Vizio’s so-called “Smart Interactivity” tracking is on by default, but there is a way to opt-out if you make the effort.

brownzuneAnd from the Department of We Forgot It Still Existed, Microsoft has now retired its Zune music service this past weekend. Once a challenger to Apple’s might iPod empire, the Zune hardware and software launched in 2006 and the hardware was discontinued in 2011.  Old Zunes will work as stand-alone music players and the four remaining Zune music service subscribers have been switched over to the Groove music platform.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 November Update has been rolling out to users. While the three-gigabyte download brings new features and big fixes, it has created some problems of its own, like deleted or changed default apps and other issues. While the Xbox One game console also got an update, Microsoft representatives said another big update in February.

Oxford Dictionaries has picked it 2015 Word of the Year and it’s not even technically a word — it’s the emoji called Face With Tears of Joy. Oxford University Press partnered with SwiftKey to explore frequency and usage statistics for some of the most popular emoji across the world, and Face With Tears of Joy was chosen because it was the most used emoji globally in 2015.

And finally, last week, Disney/Lucasfilm announced that Star Wars was going to be part of the Hour of Code this year and this week Microsoft announced it was adding a Minecraft coding tutorial to the event. Although Computer Science Education Week isn’t until Dec. 7th–13th, kids can jump in early with the Minecraft module, which is up and running now.  Go forth and code, folks, and lets build things instead of tearing them down.

minecraft

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.

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.