Tag Archives: drones

PTJ 209: Fights and Flights

It’s been a loooong campaign and Election Day is just a few weeks away. If you want to beat the crowds, J.D. has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint on how to see if your state allows early voting — and what you need to bring to the polls. Meanwhile El Kaiser has a few new headphones to inspect. In the week’s tech news Google checks facts and flights, Samsung is still scrambling to douse the Galaxy Note 7 fires, Facebook Messenger has some suggestions for your online discourse and there is a squadron of Taunting Drones buzzing drivers south of the border. Want to find out more? Just press Play.

Headphone Review Models

Status Audio CB-1 Closed Black Studio Monitors
• thinksound On2 Monitor Series

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 203 News: Irish Wakeup Call

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

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

ifixit

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

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

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

hatespeech

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

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

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

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

bangbanglady

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

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

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

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

PTJ 200 News: The Jet Set

Walmart, the original übermegaeverything store before Amazon.com waltzed into town, announced this week that it was going to buy Amazon competitor Jet.com for $3 billion in cash and about $300 million in stock. As both Walmart and analysts have stated, the acquisition of the e-commerce start-up will give Walmart a big boost in its online sales presence and help it keep up with Amazon. Or try to, anyway.

As for Amazon, the company seems to be going ahead with authorized major delivery drone tests in the United Kingdom, even though it’s not officially saying so. Local residents near the college town of Cambridge say they’ve seen unmanned aircraft buzzing around above a 2,000-year-old Roman road in the area, which has distressed historical preservationists and those who like quiet walks in the English countryside. But while Amazon is neither confirming nor denying it’s joyriding drones around Cambridge, the company’s job board says otherwise: A position for Community Affairs, Prime Air, based in Cambridge has been posted. Apply now!

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Facebook makes a lot of its money in serving up ads to its users and the company announced this week that it was going to block ad blockers on the desktop version of its site. While some question the ethics of using ad-blocking software — because after all, that site you’re using for free needs to make money some way — Facebook’s blog post announcing the move acknowledged that “Bad ads are disruptive and a waste of our time.” The post also touted new controls users have to control the type of ads they see on The Social Network.

Speaking of banning things, Iran has outlawed the Pokémon Go game, claiming “security concerns” for children. The ruling comes from Iran’s High Council of Virtual Spaces, not to be confused with the country’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace. Iran is not the first country to take action against the high popular mobile game. A cleric in Saudi Arabia has issued a religious edict against Pokémon Go (that’s actually an update of the country’s original 15-year-old ban on the Pokémon card game), on the grounds that the franchise violates Islamic prohibitions on gambling and also displays forbidden images.

Security researchers from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec say they’ve found malware that’s been hiding for five years on computers and quietly spying on its host. The malware is called Project Sauron and researchers say they’ve found it burrowed into government, military and other high-level computers in Iran, Russia and Rwanda. The malware, which researchers think is sophisticated enough to be a professional state-sponsored job, can log all keystrokes, steal files and create backdoors into the computers it’s infested.

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Delta Airlines got itself into a major mess this week when a power outage in its Atlanta offices knocked its worldwide computer system offline for six hours and disrupted service around the world. Passengers complained Delta was initially slow to inform them that they weren’t going anywhere The president of the company later released a video apology to customers and affected travelers were given fee waivers and $200 vouchers. While hacking came to the mind of many as the possible cause, Delta spokespeople said there was no indication of foul play and that they had a backup system in place, but key network computers did not fail over to the backup. They just failed.

Twitter says it eventually plans to open up its Moments features to all users on the service, even though was originally only available to few select publishing partners. So now everyone can have their Moments. (Admit it, you saw that one coming.)

NBC Universal is getting all hep with the Snapchat and plans to start producing original shows for the service. The Wall Street Journal reported NBCU’s E’! entertainment network is gearing up to debut an exclusive show only on Snapchat called The Rundown and existing NBC stalwarts The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live will create original content for the service as well. And yes, there will be advertising, but maybe some bonus Kate McKinnon.

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Hulu is ditching the free ad-supported variation of its streaming video service in favor of al all-subscription menu. Curiously enough, the demise of the free version of Hulu comes a week after Time Warner announced it’d bought a 10% stake in the company. Hmm.

The Roland music equipment company is acquiring V-Moda, a manufacturer of headphones. A Bluetooth speaker is said to be the first product to come out of the union. Headphones with a built-in drum machine next?

Apple is said to be gearing up for its annual fall Media Hogging event next month, which means the rumor mill has been spinning at Warp 2 all week. Among the whispers, an Apple Watch 2 with better water resistance, new GPS functions and improved performance. And Bloomberg is murmuring about the iPhone 7, saying the next model will have a dual camera system for sharper photos, a Home button with haptic feedback and yes, the dreaded NO traditional 3.5mm headphone jack.

And finally, 25 years ago this month, the world’s first website went online to the public. The site, created by World Wide Web pioneer Time Berners-Lee, arrived on August 6, 1991. It was a short summary of the World Wide Web project with hypertext words that linked to other pages, and it invited other interested parties to collaborate with him. Guess it worked out.

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PTJ 200: Excelsior!

Four years after it rose from the ashes of that other podcast, Pop Tech Jam has reached its 200th episode and we’re ready to party with our friends! Journalist Laura M. Holson and actor/poet/writer Francis Mateo join El Kaiser and J.D. after the news segment this week to discuss the ever-churning evolution of popular culture and consumer technology in the four years since Episode 1 hit the Interwebs. And yes, there might even be a mention of Star Wars

And, as always, a big thanks to the BROS for hosting the party since 2012!

PTJ 199: Conventional Wisdom

Forget those grainy old newsreels of Republicans and Democrats putting on large hats and gathering every four years to nominate a candidate for president. Thanks to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and various other social platforms, wonks and watchers alike have instant access to high-definition video right from the arena floor, plus ongoing commentary from viewers around the world. Will this massive wall of easily accessible data make for a more informed body politic — or just lead to more online body slams? And what about those the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee that some say were courtesy of Russian operatives trying to influence the results of November? Journalist Laura M. Holson drops by PTJ HQ with her observations on it all.

And, after a week off so J.D. could work on her monitor tan, she and El Kaiser are back behind the mic with a summary of the week’s tech news, including Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo and summer projects from Microsoft and Google. Pour yourself a cool, refreshing beverage and settle on in for a listen!

PTJ 199 News: Areas of Interest

No real surprises here: Verizon won the bidding war for Yahoo’s operating business. In an apparent quest to scoop up Yahoo’s reported one billion monthly active users (while reliving those halcyon dial-up days of  The 1990s), the telecom giant agreed to pay $4.8 billion in cash for the fading purple web pioneer.  Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is still onboard Yahoo and has said she wants to stay, even if it means losing her golden parachute severance deal of about $55 million  if she’s terminated as part of the acquisition. One thing not included in the sale: Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba.

strangerIn case you’ve been holed up binging on the new Netflix series Stranger Things, even stranger things have been happening in Cleveland and Philadelphia this month as the American political party conventions came and went. There’s already been a bit of Cold War intrigue surrounding the hacked and leaked emails of the Democratic National Committee, possibly by Russians. Given the timing of the emails’ release, some are now theorizing that Russia is trying to influence the US election by swaying voters to Republican candidate Donald Trump (who seems to be just fine with Hillary Clinton getting hacked). Whatever the case, the FBI is investigating and it’s clear that cyberwarfare is on the rise. Perhaps in a related development, The White House announced this week that it now has a new scale of classifying cyberattacks.

Speaking of security, thousands of people voluntarily gave up their Twitter passwords last week to the pop star Jack Johnson, who nicely asked his four million followers to send him their login information. Kids, it’s all feels and fame until someone gets majorly hacked. Just ask the IT department of the DNC.

trollOn the topic of Twitter, the bird-themed  is launching a new marketing campaign where it will attempt to explain why it’s a unique delivery mechanism for breaking news and gossip. However, do not expect any mention of the colossal amount of troll poop that clogs the best of timelines.

Does two-factor authentication  via SMS make you feel safer?  TechCrunch and a few other sites are reporting that the National Institute for Standards and Technology is concerned that SMS is not suitably secure and is circulating a document called the Digital Authentication Guideline while accepting comments on the GitHub site.

In international Unmanned Aviation Vehicle news, Amazon is stepping up its testing of delivery drones in Britain. The übermegaeverything store is even partnering with the UK government to expand the experiments, which are scheduled to begin immediately.  Tea drones ay five o’clock!

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Microsoft’s free Windows 10 upgrade offer for Windows 7 and 8.1 users ends this month, so if you didn’t get it before July 29th, you probably didn’t want Windows 10 in the first place and fought hard to avoid it. If you did install Windows 10 (or bought a new computer that already had it), look out on August 2nd for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the biggest upgrade heave since last November.

Microsoft also announced updates to its Office 365 suite, including a new Researcher service for Microsoft Word that helps you find, fit in and format reliable and legitimate resources to cite in your academic papers. Word has also been updated with a virtual cloud-based writing assistant called Editor that provides better document proofreading and analysis of your writing, which might make it less painful for you to compose and others to read.

Microsoft has added a new feature called Zoom to PowerPoint as well. Zoom can easily create interactive non-linear presentations for those who really don’t care about slide order and want to go freestyle.

The Outlook mail app also got a Gmail-like “Priority Inbox” update that helps weed out distracting fluff in your mailbox.  Microsoft calls its version  “Focused Inbox” instead.

Google has done some updating of its own this week and has released updates to Google Maps for desktop, Android and iOS. The company tweaked the color scheme and design of the maps to make them cleaner, sharper and easier to read. Google Maps also has new orange-shaded “areas of interest” that show algorithmically selected pods of restaurants, bars and other attractions nearby.  According to the Android Police blog, Google Maps is rolling out notifications for mass-transit delays and a Wi-Fi only mode to help you keep your data allowance under control, too.

Nexus and Android Phone users are getting a nice gift from the Google phone app – a warning that an incoming call may be spam. If you do get a spam call, the app makes it easy to block and report the offender.

And finally, Pokémon Go dating was only a matter of time and yes, now it’s a thing. A company name RazorGo will be coming out with a site and app for Pokémon Go players to chat with their teams or privately. And you know that tune…

Love soft as an easy chair
Love fresh as the morning air
One love that is shared by two
I’ve found thanks to Pikachu

pika

PTJ 196 News: Windows $10K

Microsoft’s Windows 10 upgrade has steadily grown more persistent since the software’s release last year, even to the point of practically hijacking a user’s computer to ram it on there. While the Windows forums have lit up with complaints, at least one dissatisfied customer has taken Microsoft to court over the unauthorized update. The plaintiff was awarded $10,000 to compensate for lost wages and the price of a new computer to replace the one banjaxed by an unwanted Windows 10 upgrade. Microsoft denied that it had done anything wrong and said it had dropped its appeal in the case to avoid additional legal expense. However, the company said it’s changing that sneaky dialogue box that starts the Windows 10 install when you click the “x” to close the box. (Also disappearing:  The Xbox Fitness service.)

Due to copyright issues, many song lyrics sites used to be hosted on offshore servers, but now Google has cut a deal with the Toronto-based firm LyricFind to legally display lyrics in search results. The move both funnels money to the publishers and songwriters of the licensed songs — and might send a few people to Google Play Music as well.

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Google is also expanding the tools its offers to teachers by making its Expeditions virtual reality experience available to everyone with the Android app, a network connection and a VR viewer. Expeditions offers virtual reality tours to more than 200 locations and an iOS edition of the app is expected soon. The company also released its Google Cast for Education app for Chrome for wireless screen-sharing in the classroom.

Facebook has decided that it needs to rev up the Slideshow feature that was originally included it its Facebook Moments app last year. In a new update to the Facebook mobile app, if it senses you have taken more than five pictures or videos in the past 24 hours and you go to post a status update, Facebook suggests that you make a slideshow out of the material. (The TechCrunch site has a theory that Facebook is desperate to get people to post more original content on the site.)  Facebook is also adding location-based events to its main app to offer suggestions for things to do besides spend all night on Facebook, and actual humans will curate the events lists.

Twitter announced that its adding stickers to photo tweets, perhaps in an attempt to get more teenage girls to use the service.

Municipal lawmakers and the Airbnb site for easy short-term rentals have a contentious relationship in places like New York City and San Francisco because of local housing laws, and now the start-up is even suing San Francisco over a new law that says Airbnb hosts must register with the city first. The lawsuit contends that San Francisco is putting the burden on Airbnb to enforce the law by fining the site $1,000 for posting unverified-with-the-city listings on the site. As The New York Times points out, Airbnb originally helped write the law in the first place to quell protests from affordable hosing advocates. The New York Legislature also passed its own bill against Airbnb this month that would impose fines on apartments listed with the service that rent for less than 30 days if the leaseholder if not present. That bill awaits the governor’s signature.

Amazon has added a new feature to its Kindle apps and e-readers that’s designed to make it easier for you to wander around in an ebook without losing your place. The new tool is called, appropriately, Page Flip.

Medical offices have become a popular target for hackers thanks to the troves of personal patient data and now hackers have taken to selling thousands of records on the dark web after their demands for money were turned down.  Speaking of hackers, Apple’s forthcoming iOS 10 software has already been poked, prodded and had its flows exposed in public by an individual who has posted it all online on the iOS Hacker Wiki.

Pinterest, which added buy buttons to some items on its mobile app last year, has added those click-to-buy buttons on its web version now. A shopping bag is also available so you can click around on either mobile or desktop and then buy all your pinned purchases at once.

And finally, summer is here and if you need some projects to occupy the kids, Bose has a $150 BoseBuild Speaker Cube kit that shows kids how to make a Bluetooth speaker that works with an iOS device while also teaching them how the principles of sound and speakers work, along with magnets, electromagnets, frequency and waveforms.

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Need another educational a summer project? Make has instructions on how to make a Wi-Fi Drone Disabler with a Raspberry Pi, some telnet scripts and a cantenna, but stresses this is an educational exercise to help you “understand the security risks of wireless communications.” Yes. Yes, it is.

PTJ 190 News: Hot Topics

Funny how that happens: Facebook has gone from curating Trending Topics to being one itself. Late last week, Gizmodo put up a post about how Facebook handled the actual people — mostly journalists — who were hired to curate the site’s news feeds and how those people were treated. That was last week.

This week, Gizmodo has another post up, as several former Facebook contractors came forward to say they manipulated those news topic feeds by suppressing stories that may have appealed to conservative readers.  All this brought out a statement from Facebook Trending Topics product manager Tom Stocky, and soon, an update from Gizmodo: “Several hours after this report was published, Gizmodo editors started seeing it as a topic in Facebook’s trending section. Gizmodo’s video was posted under the topic but the “Top Posts” were links to RedState.com and the Faith and Freedom Coalition.”

Still, some conservatives are really mad about this and would like to discuss it further. Perhaps in a Congressional hearing.

Amazon continues to branch out. The übermegaeverything store has just launched a new service called Amazon Video Direct that aims to take a bite out of YouTube. Spotify is also diving deeper into the world of video, with execs there telling Bloomberg News it’s making 12 original series as a way to bring in new customers.

camResearchers at Purdue University say they have developed the prototype for a  new system that would allow law enforcement officials and public-safety agencies to tap into the feeds of thousands of cameras used by city and state governments along highways, as well as around national parks, construction sites, parking garages and other public venues. This new system would work with the existing closed-circuit security cameras already available to authorized personnel. The project, dubbed “Analyze Visual Data from Worldwide Network Cameras” won a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Speaking of surveillance, Twitter’s live-streaming app Periscope has announced that it’s adding a search tool to find contents, the ability to save broadcasts beyond a 24-hour period and for previously recorded events and support for drones to beam their streams from above.  Also in drone news, a collation of groups that includes the United Parcel Service Foundation, the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, and startup drone-maker Zipline are coming together for a project that will be delivering vaccines and other medicine to those who desperately need them in Rwanda. Good job, drones!

googGoogle is ever-experimenting with its products and some observers recently noticed the Search Giant was trying out a new color scheme for its search results page. Google says it likes to experiment.

Apple’s earnings may have been down the other week, but the company is not alone in weaker sales figures. Shipments of personal computers and tablets worldwide were down 13 percent for the first three months of this year, dropping to a level analysts say they haven’t seen since the second quarter of 2011.

The creator the Siri virtual assistant seems to have found a way to pass the time after selling the software to Apple. At the TechCrunch Disrupt event in New York this week, developer Dag Kittlaus demoed his new artificial intelligence system called Viv for the crowd and said the new system wants to be “the intelligent interface for everything” and that it could “breathe life into the inanimate objects of our life through conversation.”

The mobile version of the Opera browser is giving a little love to iOS users. The company announced its new, free Opera VPN app that lets its users jump onto a virtual private network to disguise their true locations. Opera VPN also blocks tracking cookies.

The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission want your mobile device to be safe from malware. Both agencies issued statements this week saying they were looking into security practices and said they’ve sent letters to the major mobile carriers and eight mobile device manufacturers. The letter from the FCC to carriers asks questions about the companies’ process for reviewing and releasing security updates while the FTC asked the mobile device makers to give them a report on how they send out security updates to patch vulnerabilities in smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 is now running on 300 million active devices and reminds everyone that its free Windows 10 upgrade offer ends this July 29th. For those who spurn the offer now but want to update later, Microsoft said those people can get Windows 10 after July 29 by either paying $119 for it or buying a new machine. So there.

And finally, SpaceX has done it again – this time completing what was called its hottest and fastest landing yet, as it successfully set down one of its reusable rocket boosters on a drone ship at night. Before it happened, SpaceX itself was unsure of the mission’s chances, noting that the landing was “unlikely” — and using a barge called “Of Course I Still Love You” as the booster’s target. However, once the booster nailed it, company founder Elon Musk issued a series of excited tweets, including one that said “Woohoo!” and another that said, “May need to increase the size of rocket storage hanger.” Congratulations again, SpaceX!

PTJ 180 News: Down to Earth

From coast to coast, Apple is having quite a time with the legal system. The company may still be at a standoff with the Justice Department about unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone out in California, but here in New York’s Eastern District court, a federal judge has ruled that the government can’t use the 227-year-old All Writs Act to force the company to unlock the phone belonging to a drug dealer. The New York case is separate from the ongoing fight in California and the two situations involve different aspects of iOS encryption, however. In California, Apple filed a motion in court last week to vacate the order that it cooperate with the FBI. One of Apple’s lawyers spent his Tuesday in Washington, testifying in front of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

9to5Mac and other sources are now reporting that rumored Apple’s upcoming spring event has moved back a week from around March 15th and will now be in the week of March 21st. No invitations yet, though! It’s not real until you see the invitation!

In app news, Google has also given iPhone users a bit of parity with its Android peeps by adding the “pit stops” feature to the iOS version of Google Maps. And, in a reverse for the Reuters TV app we talked about a few months ago — the one that was that was only available for iOS — the company has now released an Android version.

One of Google’s self-driving cars smacked into a city bus in California last month, which has the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority investigating things. Google admitted its Lexus RX450h auto-piloted vehicle bears “some responsibility” for the incident.

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset looks like it’s actually becoming a reality for developers. The dev kit edition is now available for pre-order from the company, with a chunky $3,000 price tag and delivery on March 30th.  Also new, but slightly cheaper: The Raspberry Pi 3 barebones computer is now on sale for a mere $35.

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In drone developments, a new model from DJI has the ability to sense and avoid obstacles in its way, and also, to track people and animals. The DJI Phantom 4 costs about $1400 and follows its subjects automatically using cameras, sensors and ActiveTrack technology. Also tracking: Sleep cycles. Over on the Medium site, a Danish developer posted the results of a little project he did that used the Last Active timestamp data gleaned from the web-based version of Facebook’s Messenger service to figure out the sleeping patterns of his Facebook pals. Facebook was not too happy about his work and someone else using the same data they collect about you themselves, and was fussing because he posted the code for the project online.

McDonald’s has noticed the low-budget virtual-reality craze brought on by the Google Cardboard viewer and is busting a move of its own — in Sweden. The fast-food giant is launching a promotion there over the next couple weekends, and it lets kids fold their Happy meal boxes onto VR viewers to see a smartphone-based VR game especially created for the occasion. These special meal containers are called Happy Goggles and yes, you get fries with that.

The Brita filter people have joined up Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service to create the $45 Wi-Fi Brita Infinity Smart Water Pitcher that automatically orders more Brita filters when it needs them. No word on if the pitcher has any tiny cameras embedded in its lid so it can scope out what else in in your fridge and report back to Amazon.

Sony has a new beta out for its PlayStation 4 software. Although the version 3.5 beta doesn’t contain the feature that allows you to remotely play PS4 games on a Mac or PC, the feature is coming along sooner than many anticipated.

And finally, Commander Scott Kelly is back on Earth this week after 340 days aboard the International Space Station.  Welcome home, sir!

scottkelly

PTJ 179 News: Deep Writ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cheez

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

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

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