Politics body-slammed the tech world this week, cyber-criminals have figured out yet another way to rip off unsuspecting victims and an enterprising young archaeologist has come up with a way to let volunteers help look for lost ruins from the comfort of their own homes. And when El Kaiser and J.D. finish the news, it’s time to pour one out for the Father of Pac-Man. Welcome to Episode 220!
Samsung thinks it’s solved the mystery of the exploding Note 7, Sprint grabs a new business partner, SpaceX returns to work and oh, cars might fly soon. On this week’s episode, El Kaiser and J.D. dive into a pile of tech-news headlines before Apple-watcher Don Donofrio drops by to discuss the company’s 2016 efforts.
The crisp fall air has returned to the Northeast, as do memories of sipping apple cider in front of a roaring fire. Unfortunately for some, the only fire around was coming from their replacement Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones…
On this week’s episode, El Kaiser and J.D. wrangle the week’s headlines, including the latest from the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Inferno, a new coat for Microsoft Paint and Sprint’s efforts to close the digital divide for low-income high-school students. El Kaiser discusses proper electronics safety and J.D. has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint on how to find out what other household products might be problematic. Now, where are those marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers?
On a more personal level, with more of our home entertainment coming from streaming media — and more of it in increasingly high-definition — keeping an eye on our network speeds is vital to a good, unbuffered experience. Netflix, one of the major video-streaming sites out there, knows this.
The site is just a simple page with a logo, white background and big numbers that tell you how fast data can download to your home over your broadband connection. It’s also got a memorable URL: https://fast.com. A small link on the main page gives you a chance to cross-reference your result with Ookla’s Speedtest site.
Now, some people claim that Internet speed tests are rigged because the ISP’s give them a fast lane when they sense a request from one of the testing servers, and that may be true in some cases — especially if you use a speed-test page provided by your own service provider. You may also get varying results depending on the time of day, the general state of Internet congestion and activity on your own network.
But keep testing, use different test sites and various times of day and let your ISP know when you’re not getting your advertised rate. Even if it’s a technical problem on your end like a weak connection or frayed cable, you want to make sure you get what you’re paying for because reliable broadband is an important part of modern life. Her Maj thinks so, too.
This week, Gizmodo has another post up, as several former Facebook contractors came forward to say they manipulated those news topic feeds by suppressing stories that may have appealed to conservative readers. All this brought out a statement from Facebook Trending Topics product manager Tom Stocky, and soon, an update from Gizmodo: “Several hours after this report was published, Gizmodo editors started seeing it as a topic in Facebook’s trending section. Gizmodo’s video was posted under the topic but the “Top Posts” were links to RedState.com and the Faith and Freedom Coalition.”
Researchers at Purdue University say they have developed the prototype for a new system that would allow law enforcement officials and public-safety agencies to tap into the feeds of thousands of cameras used by city and state governments along highways, as well as around national parks, construction sites, parking garages and other public venues. This new system would work with the existing closed-circuit security cameras already available to authorized personnel. The project, dubbed “Analyze Visual Data from Worldwide Network Cameras” won a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Apple’s earnings may have been down the other week, but the company is not alone in weaker sales figures. Shipments of personal computers and tablets worldwide were down 13 percent for the first three months of this year, dropping to a level analysts say they haven’t seen since the second quarter of 2011.
The creator the Siri virtual assistant seems to have found a way to pass the time after selling the software to Apple. At the TechCrunch Disrupt event in New York this week, developer Dag Kittlaus demoed his new artificial intelligence system called Viv for the crowd and said the new system wants to be “the intelligent interface for everything” and that it could “breathe life into the inanimate objects of our life through conversation.”
The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission want your mobile device to be safe from malware. Both agencies issued statements this week saying they were looking into security practices and said they’ve sent letters to the major mobile carriers and eight mobile device manufacturers. The letter from the FCC to carriers asks questions about the companies’ process for reviewing and releasing security updates while the FTC asked the mobile device makers to give them a report on how they send out security updates to patch vulnerabilities in smartphones, tablets and other devices.
Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 is now running on 300 million active devices and reminds everyone that its free Windows 10 upgrade offer ends this July 29th. For those who spurn the offer now but want to update later, Microsoft said those people can get Windows 10 after July 29 by either paying $119 for it or buying a new machine. So there.
And finally, SpaceX has done it again – this time completing what was called its hottest and fastest landing yet, as it successfully set down one of its reusable rocket boosters on a drone ship at night. Before it happened, SpaceX itself was unsure of the mission’s chances, noting that the landing was “unlikely” — and using a barge called “Of Course I Still Love You” as the booster’s target. However, once the booster nailed it, company founder Elon Musk issued a series of excited tweets, including one that said “Woohoo!” and another that said, “May need to increase the size of rocket storage hanger.” Congratulations again, SpaceX!
Spotify spokespeople have denied the site was hacked this week, but according to TechCrunch, some actual Spotify users have reported that their account emails had been changed or their list of saved songs had been altered. And Forbes is reporting that the personal information from 1.1 million members of the BeautifulPeople.com dating website is up for sale in the dark corners of the web.
Amazon is just not having any paid or fake reviews for products on its site. The übermegaeverything store filed a lawsuit last week against several sites that offered to write glowing reviews in exchange for a fee.
Although Facebook tried a stand-alone camera app a few years ago only to kill it off due to lack of user interest, the company seems to be trying again. Reports describe a prototype for an app that would open to a camera and that users could record video and share live streams as well as snapping photos. The Wall Street Journal does say that its sources have not confirmed this latest go at a camera app is a done deal for Facebook.
If you feel strongly about either side of the argument, you can weigh in financially with the Unicode Consortium’s Adopt a Character to sponsor your favorite Unicode character, which in turn helps the non-profit Unicode Consortium continue its work. And perhaps a compromise between the two warring tribes can be reached . . . a proper Cornish pasty emoji, anyone? Anyone?
Ten years old and busting some moves on the field: Twitter caught a deal to stream 10 NFL games globally this coming season. The bird-themed microblogging service paid a reported 10 million dollars for the rights to stream these Thursday night gladiator matches for the cord-cutting population. Are you ready for some football — with lots of commentary and trolls?
NASA is getting in on Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality system. The agency announced a new exhibit called “Destination: Mars” scheduled to open this summer at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Guests will get a holographic tour of Mars from retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin and explore several sites on the red planet that were reconstructed using real imagery from NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover.
And finally, two items of note from Department of Making Things Easier to Understand. First up, the MIT Media Lab has created a new site called Data USA, which tries to make public government data on a variety of subject easier to view and mentally process. Second, Facebook announced this week it was using artificial intelligence software to create automatic alternative text that describes the contents of photos for blind and visually impaired users with screen reader software on their iOS devices. The auto alt text is rolling out in English for iOS users first, but more languages and platforms are expected soon. But how will Facebook’s picture describing software software be able to withstand the the “Chihuahua or Muffin” meme?
Also over in the House of Microsoft, the company has now enabled Skype chat right from OneDrive when you are collaborating on an Office Online document and just have to talk it out with your co-authors. And whispers around Redmond say Microsoft has pushed back the next big upfate to Windows 10, codenamed Redstone 2 from later this year to until spring of 2017 to better align with new device hardware on the way. No comment from Microsoft so far.
Verizon Wireless is having its own issues with the concept of privacy. The Federal Communications Commission (clearly having a busy year so far) has slapped the telecom giant with a $1.35 million dollar fine and a a three-year consent decree to settle the case of the privacy-chomping supercookies that first surfaced in 2014.
When it comes to Internet service providing, Google is mainly known for its Google Fiber broadband, but the company also has a lesser-known cellphone service that piggybacks on Sprint and T-Mobile networks. It’s called Project Fi and the reason you may have not heard of it before is that it was invitation-only since it launched last year. But as of this week, anybody with a Nexus 6, 6P or 5X can get Project Fi service. You just need to go to (where else?) the Sign Up page to get started.
Between the 2016 political elections, tax season and the usual robocall/telemarketer harassment, being anywhere near a telephone these days can be a major pain. True, you can screen unfamiliar numbers and let them go through to voicemail or the answering machine, but there are other ways to deal with them. Signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry is one step, but a lot of sleazy robomarketers ignore it. You can also block numbers from unwanted callers, but those unwanted callers keep coming up with new numbers. What to do, what to do…
Another winner from a previous year: A free service called Nomorobo, which works by using a feature known as “simultaneous ring.” When simultaneous ring is enabled, your phone will ring on more than one number at the same time. When the Nomorobo number is set as a simultaneous-ring number, it grabas the call first. If it’s legitimate, the call goes through to your number. But if Nomorobo detects the telltale signs of a robocall, it hangs up for you.
The FTC’s robocall challenge also generated a collection of tips and tricks a few years ago that reportedly cut down on automated calls for some people. Some suggestions include investing in call-blocker hardware or services, or even putting the three-note “disconnect” tone at the beginning of your greeting to trick some systems to automatically hanging up.
So what about telemarketers, those humans whose mission is to talk you into giving them money for something. As with the members of almost any civilization, some members are professional and well-behaved, and some are vile scum. A former telemarketer told the Lifehacker site that if you do happen to pick up an unwanted call, say “Please put me on your do not call list” and the well-behaved telemarketers will honor your request.
As for the autodialers and vile scum, you could always try a product like the TeleZapper, (which has been around for years and you can still find on Amazon), that simulates the disconnect tones when it senses the handoff from automatic dialer to telemarketer and dumps the call. Just look for a “call blocker” in your shopping searches.
But there’s also a newer approach emerging, one that takes a piece out of the person trying to waste your time by wasting their time by making them talk to a bot. These bots use a set of pre-recorded vocal responses to react to what the telemarketer is pitching and keeps them in an endless loop of pointless conversation — so telemarketers have less time to bother other people.
So here’s to all the creative types who fight telephone abuse! And since this is March already, don’t let your guard down against the annual surge of scammers pretending to be from the IRS either by phone or phish. And if you get a live fake IRS call — just give ’em a free cruise on the Jolly Roger.
President Obama sent his last budget to Congress this week, and out of the $4 trillion dollars total, the budget requested $19 billion dollars for national cybersecurity. The new plan calls for a chunk of change to finally upgrade federal workers off their ancient totally hackable computer systems. Case in point, according to VICE’s Motherboard site, an anonymous hacker has threatened to dump gigabytes of employee information grabbed off a Justice Department computer. Homeland security, indeed.
Speaking of Wired, the site is cracking down on ad-blocking and soon plans to start restricting access to the site for readers cruising by in a browser with an ad-blocker. You can also give them money to get rid of the ads.
But be very careful when shopping for USB-C cables. The Verge site reports that the faulty or improper wiring on cheap uncertified USB-C cables has actually shorted out laptops due to incorrect power usage. The article points to lists of cables that have been tested to work correctly, but also calls USB industry groups to come up with reliable certification procedures because nobody wants fried laptop for dinner.
And finally, if you long for a more simpler time when computer viruses were not just out to steal your money and identity, visit the Malware Museum online at the Internet Archive. Curated by security expert Mikko Hypponen of F-Secure, the emulated selections in the museum have been cleansed of their destructive power but show you the sometimes-whimsical messages left by hackers in a gentler, DOS-based era.
The independent audio magazine devoted to mashing up pop culture, technology and more. J.D. Biersdorfer and Pedro Rafael Rosado are your hosts. It's an Internet Radio revolution!