Pokémon, those whimsical little Japanese pocket monsters, are celebrating their 20th anniversary in style by taking over much of the mobile world this month with the release of the augmented reality smartphone game, Pokémon GO. But while millions of people downloaded the game to their Android handsets and iPhones in the first week of release, security experts and privacy advocates have voiced concerns. Journalist Laura M. Holson drops by Pop Tech Jam HQ to discuss how Pokémon GO works, what to worry about and why it became so popular so fast. El Kaiser and J.D. also discuss the non-Pokémon headlines of the week, including Twitter’s big plans for this month’s political conventions and some truly classic code.
Do you like reality TV? If you’re a general fan of long windy speeches, you can see the United states political machine grinding its gears later this month on Twitter. The bird-themed microblogging service announced this week that it has reached a deal with the CBS television network to livestream both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, much to the delight of trolls everywhere.
Also in Twitter news, the company has issued a cease-and-desist letter to another site that made a habit of recording and displaying the deleted tweets of politicians and celebrities. Upon receiving the letter, the PostGhost site did shut down, joining Politiwoops in the club of sites who have angered Twitter. Politiwoops, though smacked by Twitter last year, does seem to be back as part of the Sunlight Foundation for transparent government. And Twitter has increased the allowed size of animated GIF files that can be attached to tweets, which can now be up to 15 megabytes on the Twitter web interface or 5 megabytes on mobile. This has inspired some people to compress full-length movies and TV episodes into high-speed animated files, just because they can.
The ebook revolution seems to have hit a snag, at least with book from major publishers. The American Association of Publishers released its annual sales survey this week that showed ebook sales had declined about 11 percent in 2015. Overall, ebooks accounted for 17% of all book sales for the year and Fortune magazine thinks the drop may be in part to major publishers reining in e-sales with higher prices as a way to limit Amazon’s influence over the publishing industry. Digital formats are not all riding the down arrow though: The AAP survey also showed that revenue from audiobook sales has nearly doubled since the year 2012, from $299 million in sales up to $552 million last year.
Facebook, Apple and Google have all taken a keen interest in India as a new source of revenue. While Facebook’s Internet.org project to bring its version of the web to the country hit a roadblock with local officials and net neutrality advocates earlier this year, and Google has busted out with a new program designed to train two million local developers in the art of Android. The new initiative is called the Android Skilling program that it plans to implement in universities and training schools around India later this year. Also in international tech news, the Obama administration says the Twitter traffic of Islamic State has dropped 45 percent in the past two years due to an online counteroffensive.
Electric cars are picking up speed. <rimshot> Along with your Tesla Model S, Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt and other models out there, Mercedes-Benz is said to be prepping a concept version of an all-electric sedan that it plans to unveil at the Paris Motor Show in Paris this fall. peaking of Tesla, though, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Elon Musk’s electric car company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to tell investors about the fatal crash of one of its cars in Autopilot mode this May.
Google is making high-speed data access easier for its Project Fi customers who are traveling. The company announced on its Android blog this week that it was giving Project Fi subscribers a $10-per-gigabyte data plan in more than 135 countries for those who don’t want to drift between Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels and cafes or fumble with the international SIM card maneuver.
After initial delays, Oculus Rift VR headsets are now shipping within 2-to-4 business days from ordering. And developers who want to attend the company’s Oculus Connect 3 conference on early October can fill out applications for attendance starting August 2.
And finally, if you like NASA and you like programming, head on over to GitHub — if you’re not already there — and check out the source code for the onboard guidance computers used on the Apollo 11 command and lunar modules back in 1969. The pages of source code were digitized a while back for the MIT Museum and was later transcribed and uploaded into text files by a researcher in 2003. So the code itself was already in the public domain if you knew where to look, but a former NASA intern uploaded the entire collection to GitHub last week so even more people could examine the files and read the comments put in by the original NASA programmers. As PCMag.com notes, the code has a lot of humor and even some Shakespeare in the comments. And lest you think all those 1960s-era computer jocks were men in short-sleeve white dress shirts, remember that software engineer Margaret Hamilton (shown here) was one of the main programmers on the Apollo 11 project and is still an inspiration to many of today’s girls who code.
2015 has come and (almost) gone and it’s time for the media-mandated Look Back at the Year We Just Had. [Drumroll … rimshot … clown horn noise] Noted in no particular order, here’s our list of high points, low points and things that just stood out to us here at Pop Tech Jam HQ over the course of the earth’s latest loop around the sun:
• NASA: New Horizons and Beyond.— While it wasn’t quite the Apollo 11 mojo, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had a banner year with the New Horizons successful flyby of Pluto and data treasure trove that’s still trickling back from the other side of the solar system. The agency also grew lettuce, aged whiskey and ran many other experiments up at the International Space Station while its Dawn spacecraft took at look at the dwarf planet Ceres. And that Matt Damon movie was very good publicity.
• Windows 10. Microsoft released its successor to the much-reviled Windows 8 this summer. Despite some major bugs and user wariness, Win10 did see relatively fast adoption rates by 8Haters, people finally upgrading from XP and those who wanted to try out the new technology as soon as they could.
• Security! Security! Security! (or Lack Thereof…). It seemed like no corporate database was safe from intrusion this year. Plenty of major companies got breached, including Anthem health insurance, the CVS Photos site, interactive toymaker VTech, the federal Office of Personal Management, the Internal Revenue Service, the Ashley Madison site for love affairs, Slack and Experian’s T-Mobile servers. Just to name, you know, A FEW OF THEM.
• Underwhelming Apple. The Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino finally released a smartwatch and a giant iPad in 2015 — just like industry types have been speculating about for years. And not only was much of the public was pretty “meh” about it all, the stock was down as well, based on fear of what comes next with iPhone sales.
• Video Streaming Goes Big. The standalone HBO Now finally arrived for Game of Thrones fans and other cord-cutters, Sling TV further chopped the coax with an over-the-top package of channels, and new voice-controlled streaming boxes from Amazon, Google, Roku, Apple and others have stepped up the battle for the living room’s big screen.
• Ad Blockers. Apple’s iOS 9 was just the latest piece of software that allows its users to block other pieces of software, namely intrusive advertising that makes reading so aggravating on mobile devices and other digital platforms. Yes, blocking ads takes money out of the content-publisher’s pocket (and may make it hard for them to keep going). But publishers and advertisers, if you don’t want people to use ad blockers, make better ads.
• E-Book Reversal. E-book sales dipped, and print titles had a slight rebound. And although some think nothing will happen, authors and publishers asked the Department of Justice to look into Amazon’s influence in the industry.
• Google, Even More Helpful But Creepy — Machine-learned responses to emails, self-driving cars, Trip Bundles, parking markers, rerouted traffic navigation on the fly and the increasingly accurate predictive Google Now service that tries to guess what you want to see before you see it. Yes, the Big G had a very big year all up in your business. (But remember, you don’t have to use it.)
• Broadway Sings Social Media. Internet fan favorite and Sulu OG George Takei used Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word about this new musical Allegiance, the story of Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. Meanwhile, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of the Broadway smash musical Hamilton were all over Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other social outlets, not only to promote the show, but to add new views — like the short YouTube movie a cast member made about opening night from the actors’ perspective. The cast album for the show was available to stream free on the NPR site during the week before it arrived as an official download, and the recording’s devotees soon revved up the enthusiastic #Hamiltunes hashtag to quote their favorite lyrics. Smartphone videos of the weekly rapfest Ham4Ham — where the show’s actors perform short bits for fans clustered outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Manhattan’s West 46th Street — also got online play. And let’s not overlook the mash-up memes like #Force4Ham, which combined themes from both Hamilton and Star Wars. Now, about the latter…
• Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sixteen years after The Phantom Menace and the turgid prequels, director and nostalgia reboot specialist J.J. Abrams revived the franchise with a record-smashing, uplifting return to form that served as a bridge between the old world and the new one in that galaxy far, far away. The Force is strong in that one.
Happy 2016 from Pop Tech Jam!
Oh, look! It’s September again and Apple has announced a bunch of new stuff this week, including:
• An update to the Apple Watch operating system, new watchbands and the “Hermès Collection
• The iPad Maxi, er, iPad Pro with fancy optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil and a flexible Smart Keyboard
• The long-awaited hardware update to the Apple TV with Siri-powered remote and games
• The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
• The arrival of iOS 9 on September 16th
Oh, and rose gold is apparently a thing.
But Apple was in the spotlight for other reasons as well this week. A story on the front page of The New York Times highlighted the company’s national security tussle with the United States government over encryption and data access with software like iMessage, a program Apple says it can’t decrypt itself.
The fall tech bounty does not begin nor end with the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, however. The annual IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin just ended this week and like the Consumer Electronics Show here in Las Vegas each January, companies preview many products and tech journalists look for trends. Meanwhile, LG Electronics did some fun stuff with flat televisions, like making a double-sided 4K OLED set (shown here, and probably just a prototype). And if you like a lot of pixels, Canon announced that it’s developed a 250-megapixel sensor that’s still small enough to fit inside a DSLR camera.
Comcast is testing a new form of data plan in south Florida. While the company normally imposes a 300-gigabytes-a-month limit, customers can now pay an extra $30 for the Unlimited Data Option. It’s just like those old unlimited broadband plans of yore, except more expensive!
A 7-inch display for the Raspberry Pi barebones computer went on sale this week for $60. Here’s what you can do with it:
The publishing industry and Amazon had a very public spat last year over e-book pricing, which eventually led to new distribution deals with the under mega-everything store. But while several publishers got to charge more for their e-books and lose less income to Amazon’s deep discounts, recent sales reports show that their e-book revenue declined overall in the last quarter.
Microsoft really, really, really wants you to use its new Edge browser and has even employed its Bing search engine to steer you away from the likes of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. If you happed to search for an alternative browser with Bing on Edge, you see a little box at the top of your search results declaring that Microsoft Edge is really the best browser for Windows 10 and click this here link to learn why. However, the browser does not actually stop you from stepping off the Edge.
A writer over at BuzzFeed is disputing the recent PageFair study that estimated ad-blocking software would make sites lose $21 billion in ad revenue this year, bit even squishy numbers do not soothe The Interactive Advertising Bureau. According to Advertising Age, the trade group met this summer to discuss what to do, including filing lawsuits against companies that make ad-blocking software, but nothing major has been decided yet. The IAB did vote to move away from Adobe Flash and make HTML5 its new standard for online ads. And in related news AdBlock Plus just announced its first official ad-blocking app for iOS and than it was back in the Google Play store for Android.
NASA said late last week that it has begun its intensive data downlink phase to grab the massive amount of data the New Horizons spacecraft collected during its Pluto flyby in July. The agency also announced that engineers at a facility in New Orleans have welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will be used in a test flight to the far side of the moon in preparation for an eventual manned journey to Mars.
And finally, September 4th last week was Force Friday, the day retailers unleashed a giant wave of new officially licensed Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise into stores around the world. Global celebration events included midnight sales and twerking stormtroopers in Times Square. And as the BBC has noted, all of these merch sales could make this seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise “the biggest film ever.” December 18th, folks — or even earlier, if you happen to live in popular parts of Europe. Okay, who’s checking mid-December airfare to France now?
This week’s Pluto Flyby had most people at NASA in a state of giddiness by Tuesday morning, If you happened to be watching, you could see the agency folks sharing their exuberance over NASA TV, its website and all its social media channels. Here at PTJ HQ, we’ve taken a look at NASA’s apps and online presence before, but the missions just keep on coming and the online offerings just keep expanding. So it’s time for an update.
For all your Pluto voyage news, visit the New Horizons mission page, where you’ve got photos, videos, animations, an illustrated diagram of the spacecraft’s instruments and even podcasts. You can also keep up with related tweets from NASA’s many Twitter accounts.
To see what else is going on out in space, visit the main Missions page to check out all the projects NASA has in the works. The Eyes on Pluto desktop app for your Mac or PC shows simulated mission data, and when you get done on Pluto, you can jump to another mission like Dawn or Juno. And it’s free.
NASA is a government agency, so in fact, most of the material on the site is free, You can find mobile apps galore and free e-books (on such topics as the Hubble Space Telescope, flight research and if you need a little light reading, a tome called Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce.) The site has general podcasts on other topics besides Pluto and even photos to liven up your day, plus audio clips and ringtones.
And don’t forget, getting kids interested in space is getting them interested in the future. NASA has a hefty amount of its own space devoted to educational material. There’s an area for older students to learn about the Pluto trip or spot the International Space Station in the night sky — or even get to know the astronauts. For the younger set, there’s the games-and-activities subsite called the NASA Kids’ Club.
And that’s just the main NASA site. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has its own chunk of the Web filled with all kinds of good science-y stuff.
Not sure where to even begin? Call up NASA’s launch schedule and plan accordingly.
As for the New Horizons team, they got even happier Tuesday night because like E.T., the spacecraft phoned home. Check it out at the end of this informative video detailing the mission and its history:
Amazon, which has been locked in a heated battle over e-book prices for weeks with book publisher Hachette, is hoping customers warm up to its new Fire TV box with a little taste of the action. The company’s website is currently running an offer for selected (and interested) users can sign up for a free 30-day test drive with the Fire TV box .
The Oculus Rift technology may have a bigger future than just creating a virtual world for Facebook users. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, (club name: DARPA), has been experimenting for the past few years with using the virtual reality headsets for cyberwar training. The project is called Plan X and Wired has a detailed look at it.
Speaking of games, a new PlayStation 4 system update from Sony allows customers to download pre-ordered games in advance so you don’t have to sit there and wait for it to crawl down your wires on release day before you can play. Destiny, a first person shooter due out for the PS4 in September, is the first game to support pre-loading.
Spotify is telling its Android users of a security breach concerning user data and is advising people using its Android app to upgrade to a new version. Those using the Windows Phone or iOS apps are not affected.
Malware is everywhere, including on the Mac, and Google has just released an OS X upload client for its VirusTotal meta scanner. Elsewhere in the Googleverse, the company has added its Google Now-style Voice Search to its Chrome desktop browser. To get rolling with it, you just need to do a bit of setup, then point Chrome to Google.com. From your desktop, you can ask Google the same sort of questions you may ask your mobile device running the Google Search app.
The spring shopping trend in the tech world continues. Intuit, maker of the personal finance mainstay Quicken has dropped $360 million for the mobile bill-paying app Check. (And yes, after weeks of rampant whispers, Apple sealed the deal with Beats this week.)
Rumors about Apple’s forthcoming announcements at next week’s World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco have already started to fly, and the Financial Times says its sources point to a new software platform for the “smart home.” Apple does plan to livestream the keynote address next Monday at 10 a.m. Pacific.
The Internet of Things has raised all kinds of discussion, including excitement about the remote control of one’s home to security fears about appliance rebellion. For deep thoughts, consider the upcoming philosophy conference devoted to The Internet of Things. It starts July 3rd at York St. John University in England.
The audio software Pro Tools is partly responsible for a new compilation of unreleased songs by the rock band Queen. The album is mixed from unreleleased vocals by Freddie Mercury, the group’s late lead singer, and new instrumental tracks by living members of the band. Dr. Brian May, a guitarist, songwriter and backing vocalist for the group, as well as an astrophysicist at Imperial College London, recently confirmed the plans to The Guardian of London. The new album, tentatively titled Queen Forever, is due out by the end of the year.
And finally, if you like antique computers, want to feel old or like to see the kids confused by technology for once, check out The Fine Brother’s “Kids React to Old Computers” video that’s been lighting up YouTube the past few days. The 8-minute clip shows a variety of pre-teens trying to figure out how to use an Apple II-like PC. Kids, back in the Olden Days, we had green-on-black VDTs and 300 baud modems to connect to our BBS’s, uphill both ways. And, not to get philosophical about it or anything, we liked it.
The Pop Tech Jam crew couldn’t help getting their geek on over this past U.S. holiday weekend.
J.D. spent her time off digging up online Cultural goodies from the British Library and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art while El Kaiser tried valiantly to install customized versions of the Android mobile operating system onto his Samsung and Google branded devices.
In the news Amazon offers selected users the opportunity to sign up for a free 30-day test drive of the Fire TV set-top box ; Oculus Rift technology may become an integral tool in the training of cyberwarriors; Sony will allow customers to download pre-ordered games in advance for the PlayStation 4 game console; Intuit, makers of Quicken, goes shopping; technology paves the way for a new album from Queen with Freddie Mercury on vocals; and the Fine Brother’s “Kids React to Old Computers” video lights up YouTube.
The barbecue grills have been rolled out across North America and summer is unofficially here. Those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” are not as carefree for some as they used to be, but if you find yourself with more time here and there, check out these new online features from two of our big repositories of Western civilization.
First up, the website of the British Library recently added a Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians section. This electronic collection has more than 1,200 literary goodies, mostly from the 19th century, accompanied by essays from experts and 25 documentary videos.
Items include some digitized manuscripts of Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Austen, Dickens and Wilde, plus the childhood writings of the Brontë sisters. Other historical tidbits can be found as well, like exceprts from a slang dictionary dating back to 1809 (shown below). And remember, since many of these works are in the public domain, you can get free ebook copies of many classic 19th century works from places like Project Gutenberg or the Free section of your preferred online bookstore for some really old-school summer reading.
Visual stimulation more your thing? The Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York City just announced a few weeks ago that it was making more than 400,000 of its high-resolution digital images of public domain works free for download. The files, including some very famous works of art, are available for non-commercial use — including in scholarly publications in any media — without the need for permission from (and money to) the Museum.
It’s all part of the new Open Access for Scholarly Content initiative. To download a file, click its thumbnail from the Met’s Online Collection page and look for the little OASC tag and download arrow underneath it; not every work is in the public domain and available. In addition to providing impromptu art-history lessons and high-rez images for your various personal projects, the images also make really classy desktop wallpaper when you need to take a break from your X-Men collection.
El Kaiser has a new toy and he can’t wait to tell you all about it. This week he reviews the Mont Blanc E12 portable headphone amplifier from FiiO. Let’s face it, ebooks are here to stay. J.D. fills us in on how to make margin notes and highlight our favorite passages on all the popular digital book readers.
In the news the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo; Lytro unveils a new camera; Rumors circulate that an Amazon smartphone will sport a radical new UI; Comcast reports its subscriber numbers are up; AT&T wants to beat Google in the Fiber Race; the AOL mail site is hacked; and Apple announces it plans to power all of its stores, data centers and offices with renewable energy sources.
Ebooks have grabbed quite a few eyeballs with their lower prices, wide selection and ability to be read on a tablet, reader or computer with a minimum of fuss. While ebooks do have their conveniences, some people are still pondering how to make margin notes or underline their favorite passages in the text, which can come in handy for study or book club reference. But scribbling digitally in your ebooks is rather easy on most of the major platforms.
Take the Amazon Kindle, for example. Whether you’re using a Kindle e-ink or Fire tablet, (or even the apps Amazon makes available to read Kindle books on Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone), you can annotate your ebooks. You typically just need to press and hold the word or passage until it highlights or you get an option to make a note within the text.
The notes and highlights you make in your Kindle books are also stored in your account on Amazon’s website — just log in to see them. If you choose, you can make your notes public so other Kindle users can see them on Amazon’s site. Although it can do so anonymously, Amazon’s site also keeps a public list of the most popular highlights from books, if you want to see what other people found noteworthy.
Barnes & Noble’s NOOK e-readers and apps have a similar tap-to-highlight passages and make notes. (You can share your favorite passages on social media if you want to brag on your literary taste.) Kobo, which has a line of e-readers and jumped into welcome users of Sony’s now-defunct Reader hardware also lets you mark up your ebooks.
Got Google Play books, say, on your Android phone or tablet? You can take notes and highlight text there, too. Apple’s iBooks app for its iOS devices and OS X Mavericks Macs adds colorful highlight colors and notes with a tap or click. On the book’s Contents page, you can see all your musings throughout the text listed all in once place for easy reference. Like the Kindle, your annotations sync up between all the iBooks devices you use.
While notes and highlighted passages in electronic books may lack the smudged immediacy or mental scorch-marks from the burst of late-night energy, they do have one major advantage — thanks to search and sync, they’re a lot easier to find within your books. And you also won’t wake up from a cram session with yellow Hi-Liter smeared all over your face.