Tag Archives: Federal Aviation Administration

PTJ 230: Siren Songs

Things got loud last week down in Dallas, but it wasn’t just at a Mavericks game as hackers managed to set off every public-safety alarm in the city and freak out a lot of people. Meanwhile, a Russian spam king got collared, a new version of Windows 10 rolled out and Google confronted accusations about a gender pay gap at the company. This week’s episode also features the welcome return of journalist Laura M. Holson to the Pop Tech Jam recording table as she offers insight on her recent story about John Dean, the White House counsel back in Richard Nixon’s Watergate days — and a discussion on how some things never change.

Links to Stories in This Week’s News Segment

PTJ 205 News: Grab and Go

fireexWell, it’s a week later and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 problem continues to grow.  Two government agencies have now issued warnings about using the new device. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is urging all Galaxy Note 7 owners to stop using the phones and to power down and stop charging them. And the Federal Aviation Administration is strongly advising passengers not to charge, turn on or even pack any Galaxy Note 7 devices in checked baggage. Samsung, for its part, is stepping up efforts with a quick-fix Galaxy Note 7 over-the-air patch designed to stop charging batteries form overheating by limiting the maximum charge to 60 percent. (And a quick correction to last week’s, it’s not just 1 percent of phones affected by the recall, it’s all of them.)

Could Google be working on a new 7-inch Android tablet to replace the retired Nexus 7 line? Several tech blogs are reporting that’s the case. (“w00t!” say we all!)

Google has also been doing some software updates this week as well. The company updated the iOS version of its Google Photos app to include a feature that turns iPhone Live Photos taken on a 6s or later into animated GIFs that can be shared more widely. And there’s also a new iOS version of the Google Cardboard Camera app for taking 3D 360-degree virtual-reality photos that look cool in your Google Cardboard Viewer. Of course, an Android version of the app has been out for awhile now.

cardboard

Facebook has also updated its Messenger platform to be much more an e-commerce engine. One of the company’s blogs has announced that the site was quote “starting to roll out ads in News Feed that drive people to chat with your bot on Messenger.” You have been warned, people.

Apple doesn’t seem to be sitting still while Facebook takes all the advertising dollars, though. The iMessage app in the iOS 10 software that arrived this week now has its own app store where users can purchase things like stickers and games.

instagramInstagram announced this week that it was adding keyword moderation tool that allows users to block comments using specific words from appearing on posts.  Twitter, are you paying attention?

But speaking of Twitter, The Verge and other blogs are reporting that the bird-themed microblogging service’s previously announced plan to stop counting links, polls and other media in the 140-character limit will go into effect on September 19th.

In Windows 10 news, Sling TV has an official Windows 10 app available in Microsoft’s Windows Store. The app allows the streaming TV service to work with Windows 10 and the Cortana virtual assistant to organize one’s television watching on the PC.

Blue Origin, the space exploration company owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, showed off some new rocket designs to the public this week. The designs were very nice.

And finally, NASA is working on that problem that another asteroid may smash into the earth and wipe out more than dinosaurs this time around. We need more knowledge on the topic, so last week, the agency launched a robot explorer craft called Osiris-REX (short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) toward the asteroid Bennu, where it will orbit for two years. Before they part ways, Osiris-Rex will use its robot arm to reach out and take a piece of the rock before it turns around and comes back to each with the sample in tow. Talk about your takeout…

PTJ 205: Throwing Sevens

After a week to process the big iPhone 7 announcement last week, technologist Don Donofrio returns to the show to discuss the good, the bad and the stuff Apple skipped this time around. In the news segment, El Kaiser and J.D. bring updates on the increasingly combustible Samsung Galaxy Note 7 situation, rumors of Google doing another 7-inch tablet and plenty of other non-Apple news from the geekosphere. Let’s roll the dice!

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.”

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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 195 News: Living On the Edge

Not everyone likes new stuff. Still, Microsoft took to one of its own blogs recently to make a push for its spiffy new Windows 10 browser Edge, trying to show that the software provided better battery life when surfing compared to those other companies’ browsers (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera). However, in the latest survey of desktop browser market share from Net Applications, Google Chrome version 50 was in first place with 22.65 percent of users, with two versions of IE and an older edition of Chrome right behind. Edge appears in fifth place with about 4.46 percent of users, so perhaps this battery tip hasn’t gotten around.

Also from the Department of Microsoft News, the company announced a new version of its signature game console called the Xbox One S that starts at $400 for the two-terabyte model. The S-model is smaller than the earlier Xbox One and supports 4K video; the older Xbox One now sells for $280, so up yours, Sony PlayStation.

Microsoft also bought the LinkedIn social professional network last week for $26 billion dollars, which took many people by surprise, especially because LinkedIn was not profitable and was losing a reported $150 million dollars a year. The Guardian’s opinion section didn’t think the purchase was a great idea, but others ran with it.

Facebook has had suicide-prevention resources available to users for years. This month, the site is adding even more time-saving tools designed to help friends help their friends and also offers tips from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Google has added a new feature of its own to its app: Symptom Search. Yes, now when you type in specific health woes you’re feeling like headache or foot pain, Google returns a list of medical conditions that may include your symptoms. Doctor Google advises you not to use use this in place of actual medical care.

Twitter just bought itself a $150 million dollar pony — or, more precisely, the Magic Pony Technology company, a London-based firm uses neural networks and machine learning to understand images and enhance them for a variety of uses.

pony

Video is also on Twitter’s mind this week, as the company announced that clips posted on the site can now be 140 seconds long instead of just 30 seconds. (Everybody’s got to have live-streaming service and now Yahoo’s Tumblr site is jumping into the mix with its own version of the feature.)

China is still winning at supercomputers. The new top performer, the Sunway TaihuLight, is capable of performing some 93 quadrillion calculations per second (petaflops, dudes). The TaihuLight is roughly five times more powerful than the fastest supercomputer in the United States.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos backs a little rocket company called Blue Origin, which had a successful test flight of a rocket and capsule landing out in Texas last weekend. Blue Origin is developing flights for space tourism that could begin blasting off in 2018.

The Federal Aviation Administration has finalized its rules for commercial drone operators. In other government news, Reuters and other organizations are reporting that Republicans in the United States Senate have set up a vote this week to expand the surveillance powers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Instagram announced it hit the 500-million-user mark this week. And remember, you don’t have to use only square photos anymore.

Those who do not know Internet history are doomed to…try and read it on outdated formats and dead links. It may seem like it’s been around forever, but the concept for what was then called the Intergalactic Network came into focus in the early 1960s and picked up steam in the early 1970s when Vint Cerf of Stanford co-created the TCP/IP protocol that let different computer networks talk to each other. These days, Mr. Cerf (shown here), now working for Google as Chief Internet Evangelist, is working to create a decentralized backup of the Web so that the Wayback Machine over at the Internet Archive is not the only repository for our accumulating collective digital history.

VCerf

Cerf, who has previously warned of an Internet Dark Age where data is lost because systems become obsolete, was part of the Decentralized Web Summit conference earlier this month in San Francisco. Wired has the story on the backup and preservation efforts.

And finally, the summer box office is heating up and Pixar’s latest production, Finding Dory, just broke the box office record for the highest-grossing animated film debut. The sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo  made with the voice of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, melded to Pixar’s cutting-edge, state-of-the-art animation technology — made more than $136 million dollars at the box office. Finding Dory passed the DreamWorks film, Shrek the Third, as top-earner. Pixar’s former top debut Toy Story 3 debuted with about $110 million back in 2010, but it looks like Dory will give a lot of people the urge to go fishing in the next few weeks.

PTJ 171 News: Don’t Forget to File Your Paperwork

Attention octocopter pilots! The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the suggestions of its task force to heart and has now set up a database for drone owners to register their unmanned aircraft with the government. The new rule goes into effect December 21st and those who skip out could be subject to chunky fines. And in other government news, The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Homeland Security is trying to come up with a plan to examine social media posts made by individuals applying for visas to the United States. Watch out for those Facebook hoaxes, agents.

Across the pond, the European Union is getting serious about user privacy and is putting a new directive in place that imposes fines on companies that do not clearly explain to users what personal information about them is being collected — and how that information will be used. Hit ’em up, Europe!

Facebook is taking yet another bit of functionality out of its main mobile app. As the TechCrunch blog reports, The Social Network is turning off the photo sync feature for its mobile app next month and will nag its members to download its Moments app instead.

hotwheelsHoverboards are hot items — for reals. Numerous reports of fires from the devices’ lithium-ion batteries have prompted safety concerns for some time, with the Federal Aviation Administration even encouraging airline passengers earlier this year to leave spare batteries at home. Several recently reported hoverboard fires now have the industry on even higher alert. Most major airlines — including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue, Alaska Airlines and others — now ban the boards in checked and carry-on luggage. Amazon began to yank certain models from its online store last week as well.

Google is trying to help you keep your plans organized with its Inbox by Gmail app. Last summer, Inbox added an algorithm that sniffs out and collects all the airline, hotel, rental car and other confirmation messages associated with travel and groups them together in a collection called a Trip Bundle. This week, Google announced one-tap sharing for all the Trip Bundle data so friends and family can get all your coordinates at once.

Google is also showing some love to those who buy a new Chromecast streaming dongle. If you pony up $35 for a Chromecast, Google kicks back $20 to go shopping for content in its Google Play store. The offer can be redeemed through the Chromecast app until January 2nd, 2016.

Careful web watchers noticed a recent post on a Microsoft blog that seems to be walking back the company’s decision to take away promised gobs of OneDrive storage because some people were abusing the privilege.  A Microsoft manager posted that while the company was not changing its overall plans, it would make some concessions to loyal customers, as long as they sign up on the OneDrive site to keep it by the end of January.

onedrive

In hacking news, Kromtech, the makers of the software utility MacKeeper, has acknowledged what it calls “a potential vulnerability in its data storage system” that was found by a security researcher.  Security blogger Brian Krebs said the incident revealed the personal information of 13 million customers was exposed. (And yes, MacKeeper is that pesky scareware program that uses pop-under ads to get people to buy it and some sites recommend against using it anyway.)

And in a follow-up to the big VTech hack last month, a 21-year-old man has been arrested in England on suspicion of “unauthorized access” to a computer. UK officials say they are still in the early stages of the investigation.

The New York State Attorney General continues the probe into advertised vs. actual broadband speeds, and is now asking the public to check their own connections at the Internet Health Test site and report the findings. AG Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating speed claims made by Verizon Communications Inc, Cablevision Systems Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc., said customers wanting to help should perform the test, take a screenshot of the results and fill in an online form on the state’s website.

health

Speaking of Verizon, the company has just updated it FiOS mobile app so customers can steam and watch shows they have recorded back home on their DVRs when they are out and about with their mobile devices.

Also streaming, Netflix but up a blog post this week describing its efforts to increase the quality of the video flowing over broadband connections while reducing data use by 20 percent. A story on the Variety site explains the project in detail, which basically amounts to different encoding rules for different types of video content, because after all, as a Netflix manager says, “You shouldn’t allocate the same amount of bits for ‘My Little Pony’ as for ‘The Avengers.’”

Rumors about next spring’s expected Samsung Galaxy S7 phone are beginning to emerge, and the whispers make the new model sound not unlike the iPhone 6s. According to The Wall Street Journal, Samsung is adding a pressure-sensitive screen, ala 3D Touch, and a high-speed charging port. A retina scanner for biometric security may also be in the works. Samsung is also appealing its recent patent-case loss to Apple, and is going all the way to the Supreme Court. No word yet if the Supremes will take the case.

And finally…what’s everybody doing this weekend?

sw7

PTJ 165 News: Stream On

Oh, cord-cutters, could it be? Time Warner Cable is reportedly testing an Internet TV service this week, which would allow subscribers to go over the top and stream their television programs without having to have a cable box. All you need is a supplied Roku 3. TWC  isn’t commenting yet, but as reported by the Tech Times site, the so-called “Starter TV” package will cost $10 a month on top of usual broadband costs, and the service tiers go from there.

The Roku 3 may have gotten tapped for the rumored test, but the Roku 4 has now rolled out, bringing its 4K video streams with it. CNet reviewed the new model and said that the Roku 4 is the best way to ultra high-def 4K video at the moment —but it wasn’t so hot with voice search or gaming. But the 4K picture is nice, when you can find 4K content to watch.

The fourth generation Apple TV went on sale this week. Pre-orders started Monday and units were expected to start arriving October 30th.  VentureBeat reports that the remote is radically different than previous models and that iPhone owners can set the box up over a Bluetooth connection with the phone held near the Apple TV. Brian X. Chen of The New York Times reviewed it as well.

appleTV

Thinking of cutting the cable cord but are afraid of losing your cable-comany DVR box? Consumer Reports has an article on DVRs you can use to record shows from over-the-air signals.

You do need broadband to stream TV with these new boxes, but New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is looking into the speed claims made by Verizon Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable Inc., and Cablevision Systems Corp. because maybe, you know, connections aren’t as fast as advertised. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, over in Europe this week, the European Parliament voted against a set of amendments intended to protect “net neutrality” in the EU. Proponents of Net Neutrality were critical, those against said the proposed legislation was too vague. Also getting legal, another class-action lawsuit against Apple over the Wi-Fi- Assist feature in iOS 9 that turned out to be eating through user’s mobile data plans if left unattended.

Speaking of mobile data hogs: Facebook is rolling out is redesigned and expanded the notifications tab in its Android and iOS apps. A blog on the company site says the notifications will include things like friends’ milestones, sports scores, reminders about your favorite TV shows, upcoming events and whatnot – just like Google Now already does.

Samsung is not letting everyone else have Big Tablet Fun without it. On the heads of the iPad Pro and the 27-inch Lenovo table-top tablet, Samsung is reportedly working on a Galaxy View model with an 18.4-inch screen. Images of the Galaxy View are online.

It seems like everyone and their grandmother is launching a mobile payment system and now Chase has announced its own digital wallet service called Chase Pay. The service is expected out next year, but uses QR codes on screen with the CurrentC system instead of near-field communication connections with payment terminals like Android Pay and Apple Pay do. And MasterCard announced a new program of its own this week that will let it bring a payment system to any accessory, wearble or consumer device into a mobile payment system. (Any accessory?)

Wal-Mart  has applied for its own permit with the Federal Aviation Administration to start testing drones for warehouse inventory, home deliver and curbside pickup. The application is under review. Here’s hoping for a Drones of Wal-Mart website soon thereafter.

walmart

If you have an Xbox One, mark November 12th on your calendar. That’s the day Microsoft plans to roll out Windows 10 to its console nation. Tech-support hotlines are standing by…

And finally, space party! A new study published in Science magazine finds that Comet C/2014 Q2 — also known by its club name, Comet Lovejoy — is spraying sugar and booze as it flies around the solar system. Analysis by scientists found ethyl alcohol and sugar in the comet’s chemical mix, at a concentration of 0.12% alcohol and 0.16% sugar. All aboard the Cocktail Comet!

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PTJ 164 News: Eyes in the Sky

The air up there isn’t completely full of drones yet, but the skies have gotten way more crowded in the past few years. This week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced that a task force had been created to develop ideas and recommendations on a registration process for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Recommendations are due November 20th — will drone license plates be coming soon?

Speaking of government agencies, John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly had his email hacked by a high school student. The young hacker in question told Wired.com how he did it. The account is question has been disabled and it was an . . . AOL account.

Facebook is here for you. In a blog post on the company site, Alex Stamos of The Social Network said: “Starting today, we will notify you if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an attacker suspected of working on behalf of a nation-state.”

If you need a daily reminder of what planet you live on, check out NASA’s new website devoted to photography from the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard its Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite. While the Deep Space Climate Observatory’s main mission is to track solar wind and storms that could disrupt the world’s electrical grid, air travel and communications systems, it’s handy Earth-facing camera promises a picture every day.

The free trial period of Apple Music has run out for the first wave of people who signed up and Tim Cook, the company CEO said at a technology conference this week that the service retained 6.5 million subscribers who switched over to paying monthly. Cook also reported another 8.5 million people are currently participating in the 90-day free trial, and that orders for the fourth-generation Apple TV will start on October 26th.

Apple will be kicking a few apps out of its App Store for violating the company’s privacy policy. Researchers at SourceDNA found about 256 apps that were secretly gathering user information like email addresses, serial numbers and other bits of data that could be used to identify and track users. To the curb, appholes.

Google is very proud of its Google Docs productivity suite, (with its recent additions of Voice Typing and other useful features) and is telling enterprise customers who have contracts with other software vendors that it will cover their Google Apps fees until their commitments with those other places run out. In other Google news, the  Waze navigation app  has gotten a redesign.

Table-top PC’s make a run for glory every few years and now it’s Lenovo’s turn with its 27-inch Lenovo Yoga Home tablet with its own tabletop operation system overlay called Aura that runs atop Windows 10. The current price is about $1500 and you can apparently play air hockey on it.

yoga

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s released here in the United States. All those who played a few rounds of Super Mario Brothers, raise a glass Nintendo’s way.

And finally, many nerds sat through the first half of Monday Night Football game to see the brand new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Early tickets for the film’s December shows also went on sale last Monday night and the anxiety was made worse when the websites for Fandango, AMC Theaters and other ticket outlets went grinding and crashing down.

As expected, the trailer did produce a lot of reaction, including the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII for a social-media campaign purporting to complain that the new film wasn’t dominated by white people and all good racists should avoid the film. Trolls are now claiming the whole thing was a joke designed to stir up controversy. Remember people, never feed the trolls. Now, let’s watch the trailer again. And again.

PTJ 153 News: Toasted

Blasting a nosy quadcopter out of the sky is a dream for some, but a Kentucky man was arrested in late July for shooting down a neighbor’s unmanned drone. The shooter claimed the drone was hovering low over his property, but the owner of the drone said he wasn’t spying. The Federal Aviation Administration is siding with the drone owner in this case, saying that the agency is responsible for the safety and management of US airspace from the ground up, and that shooting down the drone and causing it to crash endangers others. Another lawyer looking at the case told the Ars Technica site, “There is no defined aerial trespass law. You do not own the airspace over your own property.” (So is the concept of airspace rights just a real-estate scam? Confused.)

Sad news for the HitchBOT, a Canadian robot that successfully hiked around Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, all thanks to the kindness of strangers. The poor thing was just two weeks into its journey across America when it was vandalized and put out of commission by an unkind individual in Philadelphia. A video claiming to show the destruction was making the rounds, but the Gizmodo site is calling it a fake. The decapitated robot did get to spend time with movie-maker Kevin Smith, though.

As a fan of the Risky Business podcast recently mentioned to us on Twitter, a husband-and wife team have shown how it’s possible to hack a network-enabled, Linux-powered, self-aiming sniper rifle and disable it — or even change its target. As manually operated sniper rifles are worrisome enough in non-combat situations, the existence of hackable weapons in today’s insecure world is especially distressing.  El Kaiser’s contact-popping reaction to the news has been duly noted:

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Yahoo has had a history of security issues in the past, and the company’s entire advertising network recently got hit with a hacking. For seven days starting on July 28th, hackers turned Yahoo’s ad network into a malvertising wonderland. The security company Malwarebytes discovered the attack and notified Yahoo, which then shut down the scheme this past Monday. (In more Yahoo news. Bloomberg is among those reporting that the company is buying the shopping site Polyvore for $230 million dollars.)

Regulators approved AT&T’s $49 billion dollar deal to buy DirecTV last week, instantly creating the biggest provider of paid television in the country. AT&T wasted no time rolling out new plans, including one that combines cellular service with television programming so you can watch TV on your phone. Or at least, Homeland.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear the oral arguments in the lawsuits that sprang up from telecom providers over the new Net Neutrality rules later this year. Mark your calendar for December 4.

Apple just bought 40 acres of land in the San José area to use for research and development facilities and more offices. In the rumor department, there are whispers that the Mac Maker plans to launch a new version of its Apple TV box at its September media event. Business Insider is also reporting that Apple might be working on a new voicemail service that uses the Siri personal assistant to transcribe your messages. No comment there, but Apple has denied rumors that it plans to bypass mobile wireless carriers and offer its own service plans as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator by renting bandwidth from other companies. (Not so good for Apple, though — researchers have created the first worm that attacks Mac firmware.)

Here on Earth, Twitter seems to be experimenting with a News tab in the mobile app for some of its Android and iOS users.

kellyUp in space, Astronaut Scott Kelly of NASA answered questions this weekend sent in by Twitter users — including one from President Obama. Astronaut Kelly is spending a full year aboard the International Space Station and took time to respond to questions about exercise, hygiene, personal communication and watching ESPN in space. If you’re down here on Earth, however, don’t forget the peak days of the annual Perseid meteor shower are due next week. Check them out early in the morning from August 11 to 13 and if you miss these, there are a few other meteor events coming later in the year.

NASA has also noted that an asteroid passed within 4.5 million miles of Earth late last month. The asteroid, which appeared to have two lobes stuck together in a familiar shape, has been dubbed the “Space Peanut” and there’s video to prove it:

Amazon has changed the way its Prime members can share the account. While you could formerly have up to four adults sharing the Prime bennies, you now need to create an Amazon Household grouping within your account to share one $99 Prime membership with another adult and four kids.

Sony has just announced two new Xperia smartphones, the C5 Ultra and the M5, and these are aimed at connoisseurs of the digital self portrait. The phones are part of Sony’s PROselfie line of handsets. The Xperia C5 Ultra has a 6-inch display with twin 13-megapixel cameras front and back, while the Xperia M5 has a 5-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera in the front, a 21-megapixel camera on the back, and is said to be waterproof. Both phones run the Android operating system and are expected to arrive in stores this month.

selfietoasterAnd finally, the fall Hammacher Schlemmer catalog is out now and the company’s exclusive $70 Selfie Toaster is still available — in case you want to start your holiday shopping before Labor Day. After all, a toaster that “uses custom heating inserts crafted from a submitted headshot photograph” to burn someone’s likeness into a piece of bread just may be the perfect gift for the person who has everything.

PTJ 135 News: Reach for the Stars

March marches on! Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference kicks off this week and early word has it that the Social Network could become a host for the content written by major media outlets.  The company in talks with big news organizations as it tests new formats for the project, in which advertising revenue (as always) could be the big lure for all parties involved.

layoutFacebook’s Instagram service has a new app called Layout that lets smartphone photographers remix up to nine images from their camera rolls into customizable collages. Layout (shown here) is free and now available for iOS users, with an Android edition, as usual, currently in the works.

In unofficial news, Facebook seems to be testing a phone dialer and Caller ID app of its own, although it doesn’t seem to be announced yet or anything. The Android Police site was the first to report on the new app, which the site says is called Phone. Facebook has confirmed the app’s existence, but has not said what it plans to do with it. (Perhaps  it was just some leftover code from the failed Facebook-powered phone a few years back?)

Oh, and the Toronto Globe and Mail is among those who noticed that Facebook seems to be making corporate and brand pages less of a place for angry customers to post angry rants about lousy customer service and product complaints. A recent tweak by Facebook collapses user comments so they are not as easily visible — and readable — on corporate pages.

Samsung seems to be grabbing the reins on the bloatware. People posting in the XDA Developers Forum online are chattering that many pre-installed apps for the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones can be easily removed without hassle. Removable apps are said to include Samsung’s S Voice and S Health apps, Google’s troika of Gmail, YouTube and Google+ and Microsoft’s OneNote, OneDrive and Skype. Microsoft and Samsung aren’t parting wys across the board, though, as the two companies announced earlier this week that Samsung will pre-install Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Skype and a few other company apps on certain Samsung Android tablets this fall.

pebbleOn the wearables beat, the Kickstarter campaign for the competing Pebble Time smartwatch saw a healthy spike around and during Apple’s media event a few weeks ago and is close to 20 million dollars, making the crowdfunded, less expensive smartwatch a player in the game. And Google Glass, despite having its original model discontinued, is not dead yet.

Just a week after we mocked it here for hardware stagnation, there are early leaks to BuzzFeed News about the Apple TV set-top box getting an upgrade and makeover, maybe right in time for the World Wide Developers Conference in June. According to sources, the revamped box would include a beefier processor, voice control with a Siri-esque digital assistant and have its own App Store to load up your home screen. As Wired noted, this alleged new hardware would go real good with the also-rumored live-streaming TV channel bundle.

steveThe biography of Steve Jobs written by journalist Walter Isaacson in 2011 went on to sell millions of copies, but many people close to Mr. Jobs felt the book focused a little too much on his periodic-but-infamous bad behavior. Now Becoming Steve Jobs has arrived in stores this week. Although Mr. Issacson’s volume was authorized by its subject and used official interviews with Jobs as part of its source material, Becoming Steve Jobs is already earning high praise for its accuracy by those who worked with him and knew him best.

Two lawsuits have been filed against the Federal Communications Commission’s new rules for net neutrality. Yes, these are probably the first of many.

skeetAmazon has gotten approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to test out commercial drones. The super-uber-mega-everything store has been issued an “experimental airworthiness certificate” from the FAA that allows Amazon to conduct the research it says it needs to train crew and further develop its Prime Air package delivery system. Amazon’s ambitions do have some skeptics, the Network World site for example, which points out that the problem with drone deliveries is practical, not regulatory. Amazon thought the whole FAA-approval process was way too slow.

And finally, if you love spectacular photos of rockets, space and other celestial subjects, NASA’s official website and dozens of social media feeds have traditionally been great places to go for new and interesting material, but now even the private space contractors are sharing their snaps. SpaceX, which makes cargo capsules, rockets and other spacecraft, has now put a number of breath-taking images on its Flickr page. The SpaceX pictures also sport a Creative Commons license that allows noncommercial re-use without a license with attribution, so hey, that photo at the top of this post is totally courtesy of SpaceX. So if you need a handsome photo for your blog or lesson plans, check it out. And don’t forget to grab a few inspiring pix for your desktop wallpaper, too.