Tag Archives: European Space Agency

PTJ 217: She’ll Always Be Royalty to Us

After a tumultuous year that saw the sad passing of actress and author Carrie Fisher (as well as Kenny Baker) the year 2017 has arrived. And so, coincidentally,  is Episode 217 of Pop Tech Jam.

On this week’s show, El Kaiser and J.D. discuss some early announcements out of the Consumer Electronics Show, what Facebook’s been up to lately and explore suggestions to the Twitter’s CEO about improving the bird-themed microblogging service.

J.D. also has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint about watching the skies. While you’re looking up, raise a glass to the memories of the actors that brought Princess Leia and R2-D2 to life all those years ago. They will be with us, always.

Links to Stories in This Week’s Episode

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Free Space

Here at Pop Tech Jam, we love space and we love free stuff. If you, too, love these things, visit the Universe Today astronomy blog, which has just released a free ebook called 101 Astronomical Events for 2017 by David A. Dickinson.

The ebook is more than 200 pages long, and nicely illustrated with photos and charts. It explains all the predictable things that are going to happen in the next 12 months with the stars, planets and other celestial objects.  Mr. Dickinson is a teacher, an amateur astronomer and author who has been writing and blogging about activities Out There for years.

Meteor showers, planetary conjunctions, eclipses and other happenings are covered in 101 Astronomical Events for 2017. If you want to keep up on missions and other man-made interactions in space, though, bookmark the NASA site with its various mission pages, the Watch the Skies blog and also, the European Space Agency’s site for great photos and other interesting forays into the Final Frontier.

PTJ 204: Apple Picking 2016

It’s September and you know what that means: Apple will hold forth a mighty media event in San Francisco to formally reveal its fall lineup of hardware and software. As today is Apple Event Eve, we here at Pop Tech Jam thought we’d pass the time with technologist Don Donofrio to speculate about what tomorrow’s announcements will bring. And on next week’s show, we’ll regroup to see how many things we guessed correctly. Feel free to play along at home, Jammers! And for those of you who care not for the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, we have news on Samsung’s exchange program for the overly combustible Galaxy Note 7 and the end of the Rosetta mission to good ol’ Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

PTJ 204 News: Great Balls of Fire

Samsung’s hot new Galaxy Note 7 phone has gotten a little too hot — to the point of bursting into flames due to a battery issue — and the company stopped selling it late last week. Samsung is now trying to reel back the million units that were sold with an exchange program. As The Consumerist blog reports, Samsung’s voluntary exchange is not one of those official U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls, but that’s expected soon.

While Samsung is trying to play boomerang with its flaming phones, The Repair Association is trying to make it easier for people to fix their older, less combustible gadgets, even if it means violating certain manufacturer legal policies. The Repair Association was founded in 2013 by a group of service, security and environmental organizations and is dedicating to fighting such restrictive repair policies. Although most of the early attempts at Right to Repair legislation have been killed so farincluding Senator Phil Boyle’s bill in the New York State legislature this past June, the group plans to reintroduce their proposals soon.

Speaking of smartphones, research firm comScore says as of this past July, it finds that 50 percent of all the time Americans spend derping around online is now done with smartphone apps.

As you may have already heard, SpaceX suffered another “rapid unscheduled disassembly” event last week as one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral and took Facebook’s first satellite with it. There was no human loss of life, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was displeased. Mr. Zuckerberg posted some thoughts on his Facebook wall.

We haven’t had a good robot sailboat story in a while — if ever — but here’s one now.  The New York Times reports that a company called Saildrone has remote-controlled vessels busily counting fish and monitoring seals in the Bering Straight off the coast of Alaska while their operators are 2,500 miles away in California.

And finally, the European Space Agency has found its lost little Philae space probe at last. Philae landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November of 2014, but soon lost power and contact with mission operators. But thanks now to high-resolution photos from the Rosetta spacecraft (which launched Philae and hung around to orbit the comet), scientists spotted the probe wedged in a dark crack on the comet’s surface. The Rosetta craft itself is scheduled to end its mission of September 30 as it completes a controlled descent onto the comet’s surface before the iceball-with-a-tail heads off toward the orbit of Jupiter — and out of range for solar power and communications. Thanks for the memories, Rosetta!

PTJ 193 News: You Say You Want a Revolution

telegramSpyware isn’t just for hackers and sleazy software makers these days. Oppressive governments are also using it to crack down on dissidents, according to a recent story in The New York Times. In other ominous privacy news, a report from Reuters and other sources report that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has decreed that “Foreign messaging companies active in the country are required to transfer all data and activity linked to Iranian citizens into the country in order to ensure their continued activity.” The council has given companies one year to make the move. The Telegram messenger app, which was created by the Durov brothers, has a huge user base in Iran and could be a target here.

Facebook could also be stepping up its secure-texting game. The Guardian reports that The Social Network is working on an optional encryption setting for its Messenger app.

ecThe Internet and politics can be a volatile mix, but the European Commission announced this week that it had worked with Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to come up with a code of conduct and policies designed to stop the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe. Meanwhile, over here in the States, enthusiasm seems to have fizzled out for new legislation that would require technology companies like Apple to provide handy back doors into their products for law-enforcement officials.

Not long after it snapped up AOL, Verizon is still shopping and in contention to buy up the crumbling Yahoo empire. If you’re wondering whythe Fast Company site has a big story out about how it all adds up to Verizon’s quest to complete with Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix with content and services.

Despite dips in PC sales, people are still making laptops and ASUS is going after Apple’s MacBook Air for the thinnest ‘n’ lightest ultrabook prize. The ASUS ZenBook 3, which has a body made of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, was announced this week at the Computex show in Taipei. Like the newer MacBooks, the ZenBook 3 only has a USB-C port for peripheral connectivity, but the Windows-based device sports a 12.5-inch screen and weighs in around two pounds — just a few ounces lighter than the 12-inch MacBook Air.

ASUS announced new smartphones and a few other products, but the one that most people were talking about was its Zenbo Robot. The Zenbo is billed as “your smart little companion” can roll around the house at will doing all kinds of things. The Zenbo has a list price of $599 and will be available this year. Here’s a video of it:

One firm that seems to be getting out of the moving household robot business, however, is Google. The company bought Boston Dynamics in 2013, but now Google has put it up for sale. Some relationships just don’t work out.

A team of German researchers is trying to design a system that teaches robots how to feel pain. The paper describing the system is called “An Artificial Robot Nervous System To Teach Robots How To Feel Pain And Reflexively React To Potentially Damaging Contacts.”

Also from the world of academic journals — Jack Ma, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his team published a paper in the publication Advanced Functional Materials that describes tiny integrated circuits that adhere to a person’s skin like a temporary tattoo. The technology could have future use in biomedical devices or a really personalized integration with the Internet of Things.

skin

And about that Internet of Things,  the consulting firm Chetan Sharma reports that a third of new cellular service customers for  Q1 2016 were cars.

Some people poking around  an upcoming update to the Google Photos Android app say there are hints in there that certain users will get free unlimited online storage for photos and videos in their original resolutions. And who are those lucky users? People using Google’s own Nexus hardware, of course!

Scientists studying samples from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft have detected the amino acid glycine and other organic molecules in the cloud surrounding  Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Researchers say this helps prove the theory that comets may have brought water and organic molecules from space to a very young, newly formed baby planet Earth.

Also showing signs of life — or at least the potential for it — is a little planet about 1,200 light years away called Kepler-62f. NASA announced the discovery of Kepler-62f back in 2013 and said the planet was in the habitable zone. Last month, researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Washington released a study called “The Effect of Orbital Configuration on the Possible Climates and Habitability of Kepler-62f” that detailed the results of computer simulation models that tried to determine of the planet could sustain life.

After an unsuccessful first try, the team on the International Space Station were able to fully inflate the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module last week, giving astronauts a little more room to move up there. As you may recall, the BEAM bouncy space castle was delivered in April by one of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsules this past April.

SpaceX itself is having a pretty good couple of months. The company just made its third successful rocket booster landing at sea this year after launching the Thaicomm 8 communications satellite into orbit.

And finally, still in space, Pluto may have gotten busted down in status, but the United State Post Office is celebrating the dwarf planet and last year’s NASA New Horizons mission with a set of commemorative stamps. And not just any stamps — Forever Stamps. As in, “Pluto, you’ll forever be a full-size planet to us!”

pluto

PTJ 169 News: Feeling the Heat

Well, the Holiday Season is upon us and it’s time for…yet another epic database security breach! This time, it’s the Hong Kong-based VTech who got the personal data of nearly five million customers stolen — and  the first names, genders and birthdays of more than 200,000 kids. VTech acknowledged the breach in what is becoming the customary blog post admitting the intrusion. The hacker who did the job allegedly talked to the alternative news org VICE and told the VICE reporter, “Frankly, it makes me sick that I was able to get all this stuff.” (Dude, you are not the only one feeling that way.)

The aforementioned Bill Gates,  co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, was in Paris this week for the global conference on climate change and took to his blog to announce two related initiatives. Meanwhile, over at the place where Mr. Gates had his former day job, Microsoft took to its blog this week to announce its new PowerApps tools for businesses to make their own internal apps.  Also over on the business side, Microsoft announced its new Skype for Business service for Office 365 customers.

Google, ever helpful (and sometimes creepy), is touting its new Data Saver mode for its Chrome browser for Android.  Google estimates this could help users have 70 percent of their data downloads. Other browser, (Like Opera Mini for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, also have tools for compressing images to help save time and money.) And, feeling sort of Pinteresty, Google has also made it possible to “star” photos you find on Google Image Search for later looking. The feature is available on the Android and iOS versions.

Reports from the rumor mill say Apple is getting ready to ditch the standard 3.5-millimeter headphone port on its iPhones in lieu of an all-in-one Lighting connector and an overall thinner iPhone 7. Apple, of course, is not commenting, but soundhounds across the Internet are.

In Mac software news, the creators of the Sketch program have decided to quit selling their software in the Mac App Store, basically due to the constrictions Apple places on developers. The Sketch design software will be available as a direct-sale product from its creators. Other developers like Panic have also quit the Mac App Store for similar reasons.

sketch

Two other Apple-related deals seem to be in the works. One looks to be a sure thing: The Sonos music system will start carrying the Apple Music service this month – the beta goes live December 15th. Less confirmed, however, is the news that Amazon Prime Video may actually be landing on the new Apple TV. According to the MacRumors site, Amazon has confirmed that an app for Apple’s tvOS is in development and may even arrive by the end of the year. Good news for Apple-owning PKD fans wanting to stream The Man in the High Castle on the big screen.

Adobe has been busy the past week as well. The company has rolled out updates to its Creative Cloud software and managed to rename its Adobe Flash Professional program as “Adobe Animate,” perhaps because the name “Flash” has become synonymous with “giant gaping security hole.” And another update: the Adobe Premiere Clip video-editing mobile app is now available for Android along with iOS.

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If you live in the New York City area and enjoy a good nerdy museum visit, check out the “Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York” exhibit at the New-York Historical Society. It runs through April 17th and features a recreation of IBM’s pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, a nod to Grace Murray Hopper’s contributions to programming, a model of the Bell Labs Telstar I communications satellite and extremely early video games.

If you’ve been holding on to that $30 Unlimited Data Plan from AT&T since 2007, brace yourself. Starting in February, the price will go from $30 to $35 a month.

And finally, this week marks the 20th anniversary of SOHO — not the overpriced trendy Manhattan neighborhood — but the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a joint project by NASA and the European Space Agency. SOHO was launched into space on December 2, 1995 and quickly went to work studying the sun — and also discovering 3,000 comets out there as well. Happy 20th, SOHO. Here’s looking at you.

PTJ 146 News: Yippie-Ki-Yay!

It liiiiiiiiives! After its batteries ran down last fall, many people forgot about the European Space Agency’s Philae lander and the whole Rosetta mission to explore a comet. But the little lander woke up over this past weekend, sending scientists scrambling to collect and analyze the data it’s resumed sending back to earth. The lander had been in hibernation after it ran out of power and shut down last November, but the comet’s travels have now brought it in better line with the sun so Philae can recharge its battery and get back to work.

How about a network of 4,000 inexpensive satellites to bring Internet access to the unwired parts of the world? That’s the plan, anyway, as SpaceX founder Elon Musk has filed the official paperwork with the government asking permission to proceed with the project. No word from the Federal Communications Commission yet on approval, but at least Mr. Musk has good timing, as Facebook recently shelved its own plans to for popping up an Internet-service satellite.

LastPass, the password-manager service, notified customers last week that it found suspicious activity on its network.  Not exactly what you want in a password-manager service.

Facebook has yet another app to help you share your personal data with the company, oh, and your friends. The Social Network announced its new Moments app this week that uses facial-recognition software to automatically recognize your Facebook friends in random snaps and then sync all the photos between you all. If this sort of thing interests you, the app is now available in the Google Play and iOS App Stores.

closedGoogle Maps wants to save you even more time and aggravation. When you punch in directions to a particular store or business, the app does its calculations and warns you if you will arrive too late because the place has already closed for the day. Creepy, helpful and handy!

Apple sleuths digging through the iOS 9 betaware say they’ve found references in the code to some sort of device with a much larger keyboard than the pixel dimensions of the current 9.7-inch iPads. Could the long-rumored large-screen iPad Pro be on the way this fall?

Amazon may be going all Uber with the package delivery and ditching official courier services like FedEx and UPS in favor or regular people with cars dropping off your orders. The company hasn’t announced anything yet, but The Wall Street Journal is talking to people in the know over there. Amazon also uses its Amazon Locker service to store deliveries for pickup in public places, and may expand those options as well.

And finally, an intrepid interactive programmer at The New York Times took a peek inside the hidden source code of Jeb Bush’s website and found quite a few paragraphs not about Republican policies, but a plot summary of the 1988 Bruce Willis movie, Die Hard. The text was not publically visible on the website and has since been removed after The Times discovered it, so here’s to you and your dreams, Die Hard-loving console cowboy.

PTJ 145 News: Developing Situations

Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference opened this week, and the very long Keynote on Monday morning brought a whole bunch of announcements with it. For starters , the next version of OS X will be called El Capitan, and over on the iOS 9 Preview side of the fence, a new proactive Siri is just one of the many new features that await. Apple Pay has added more card support, branched out to the UK and  the Passbook app has now been renamed with the more obvious moniker, “Wallet.” There’s a new News app that looks like it’s gunning for Flipboard. The new iOS 9 will have specific treats for the iPad , like a QuickType keyboard for easier input and split-screen views for multitasking — including a picture-in-picture view. The Swift programming language will be open-source in its next version. The Apple Watch got native apps and a bunch of tweaks to makes it less dependent on a nearby iPhone, and Apple announced its long-rumored Apple Music service.   So now we wait, at least until the public betas start trickling out.

cardboardBut 12 days before Apple’s big programmer’s party, Google held its developer’s conference and made quite a few of its own announcements at Google I/O 2015. As expected, the company provided new information and a developer’s preview for Android M, the next generation of its operating system. The new Google Photos app with its free online storage was formally unveiled. The company proclaimed support for USB Type C, (the one connector to rule them all) and announced a bunch of other stuff. While Siri is getting more proactive little Google Now, Google Now is getting a little more interactive like Siri, thanks to a new feature called Google Now on Tap.  Among other things, Google also provided details on Android Pay and an updated version of Google cardboard — a virtual-reality platform for Android and iOS users.

While Apple didn’t announce a new Apple TV model or fancy remote at WWDC, Google added a bunch of content to its Android TV pltform, namely an online store with 600 apps that can be arranged in a sort of program-guide like grid and intermingle with live broadcast channels.  Cable TV is growing less and less mandatory…

win10Trying not to get lost on all the kerfuffle: Microsoft. The company announced last week that July 29th is its release date for Windows 10. Just follow the steps to reserve your copy of the new operatiing system. Once you make your reservation, Microsoft will let you know later when your update is ready to download. Microsoft has a set of Frequently Asked Questions on its site for those of you who want more information. The company also upgraded its Xbox One game console to a version with a 1-terabyte drive and has revamped its wireless controller. The terabyte model is $400, the 500-gigabyte version of the Xbox One is now $350 and the wireless controller will be $60 when it’s released in July.

marsNASA is keeping up its busy schedule and tested an experimental vehicle shaped like a flaying saucer this week as part of the research for its manned mission to Mars one day. The test seems to have failed after a 100-foot-wide parachute ripped during the craft’s test flight.  Meanwhile, the European Space Agency must have really liked the old Space 1999 show, as its announced plans to start building an inflatable town on the moon. The ESA plans to send up a lunar lander in 2018 to get things rolling and start construction on the habitat in 2024 using 3D printers to create the necessary parts right them and there. The structure would not be called Moonbase Alpha, but rather, Lunarville. You know, like the band.

If anyone out there is a fan if the scary longread, check out the New York Times Magazine’s recent story about the Russian Ministry of Trolls that spends its days spreading hoaxes, rumors and misinformation over social media to raise havoc. The story is called The Agency.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge is over and the team from South Korea has won the $2 million prize. A highlight reel is on YouTube.

pacmanAnd finally, the first six members of the World Video Game Hall of Fame have been announced. The classics DOOM, Pac-Man, Pong, Super Mario Bros., Tetris and World of Warcraft made the inaugural cut. The World Video Hall of Fame is part of the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, and yes, you can visit. Bring a bag of quarters in case you have to exit through the gift shop.

PTJ 138 News: Time Will Tell

And, they’re off…preorders for the Apple Watch started last week. Although Apple itself hasn’t released any sales figures of its own, analysts are chiming in and some watch models are now backordered until June. One research firm, Slice Intelligence, had a report that said its consumer-survey data showed that Apple took about 957,000 preorders for Apple Watches on the first day. The Apple Watch is initially available in nine countries, but compare that to last year’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus rollout, which was available in 10 countries. The phones topped four million pre-orders in the first 24 hours and went on to sell ten million in the first weekend of launch. The last time Apple launched a new product, it was the iPad in 2010, which sold 300,000 units on the first day of sales and took less than a month to hit the one-million mark. So, will the Watch move past the Apple fankids and make a splash in the mainstream?

WWDCAmid all the timepiece hoopla, Apple also knocked a few other projects off its To-Do List. One was an update Final Cut Pro, its professional-level video-editing program. The update includes a speed boost, support for key camera formats, workflow enhancements, 3D titles and more, along with the usual bug stomping. And those in the Apple developer program are buzzing about the new iOS 8.4 beta because it reveals the new overhauled version of the Music app. The final version of the refreshed Music app is expected to be revealed at the  World Wide Developer’s Conference that starts June 8th in San Francisco. And about WWDC — Apple has banned selfie sticks at the conference this year. No smarmy stick pics in Moscone West, got it?

Google introduced its new Designed for Families program for its Android developers this week. Look for the “family friendly” displays  soon in the Google Play store.

drone2A few weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration proposed new rules for unmanned aircraft systems and news organizations got permission to test drones in their work, Amazon seems to have finally gotten its way on the whole permissions thing with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA sent a letter to Amazon last week giving the company specific permission to test its delivery drones here in the US instead of Canada. Certain rules do apply, however, like daytime flights only and no aircraft up there weighing more than 55 pounds.

The Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules were officially published in the Federal Register this week, and almost immediately, Doug Collins, a Republican congressman from Georgia, introduced a resolution called the “Resolution of Disapproval.” Under the Congressional Review Act of 1996, the resolution  gives Congress the authority to do a quick 60-day review of new regulations from government agencies and vote to disapprove them before they go into effect. It is unlikely that President Obama will sign the resolution to make it a law, though.

lawBut that’s not all on the net neutrality front. Three trade groups representing the cable and wireless communications industry have filed lawsuits over the FCC’s new rules in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Petitioners include the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which counts Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision as members, and the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, (now known by the hip moniker “CTIA — The Wireless Association”) whose members include AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile USA. The American Cable Association, which represents about 850 small and medium-sized providers, also piled on. The suits all accused the FCC of overreach and may be consolidated into one Super Suit. Experts say it could take three years for a decision in the case.

rrTime Warner Cable is not about to let Google Fiber horn in on its turf in North Carolina. Just a few months after Google said that it was expanding its gigabit Internet service to Atlanta, Nashville Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, Time Warner Cable announced it was “taking the next step to transform the TV and Internet experience in the Charlotte area.” The cable giant’s upgraded new service, which is up to six times faster than its old one and has already landed in other metropolitan areas (like Los Angeles and New York City), is dubbed TWC Maxx and is not to be confused with the department store TJ Maxx.  And AT&T is also giving Atlanta its own U-verse GigaPower love after Google Fiber and Comcast Gigabit Pro announced their intentions to court subscribers there.

Also getting more cost-affordable: 4K ultra high-definition television sets. Vizio, one of the brands that led the way to affordable HDTVs, has announced its 2015 lineup of Ultra HD sets and the low-end 43-inch model comes in at just $600. At the other end of the price list, the 80-inch 4K TV sells for about $4,000 but well under the hefty five figures the average UHD TV was selling for just a few years ago.

Seeking to regain ground and customers, Sprint will gladly sell you a new mobile phone — and they will even come to your house with the new device and set it up for you. It’s part of the company’s new Direct 2 You service and although it’s rolling out in Kansas City now, it’s expect to expand to Miami and Chicago next week and then on to the rest of the country. Sprint has hired about 5,000 roaming tech helpers through a third-party company and is mainly aimed at existing customers who are due for an upgrade.

redmarsMeanwhile, out in space, NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover has discovered that water can exist as a liquid in the soil near the Martian surface. Even though Mars is too cold to allow water in liquid form to exist on the planet’s surface, it could just below the surface where salts in the soil have lower freezing points, possibly making for a life-sustaining liquid brine. The research was published in the Nature Geoscience journal.

A little father out in space, the Rosetta probe and its Philae lander have found that the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerisemenko is not magnetized. Scientists at the European Space Agency and elsewhere study the properties of comets in order to get insight on the role magnet fields have played in the formation of all the celestial bodies flying around in our solar system.

YodaMacAnd finally, in case you were out of town last weekend, all six Star Wars films arrived as legal digital downloads last Friday in a package called Star Wars: The Digital Movie Collection. The whole saga could be purchased in bundle form for $90 — or $20 each if you hate the Jar Jar chapters. The films, which have old and new bonus extras and featurettes included, are available on all the major media download stores. And, thanks to the wide-ranging merchandizing rights, you can enjoy the movies while dining on a big bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in Star Wars Shapes. Now that’s good eatin’!

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.