Tag Archives: Google Now

PTJ 220: Lost Worlds

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!

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Sky Talker

Hate pecking away on a tiny glass keyboard? While that sort of thing may be okay for texting and other short bursts of data entry, it can become wearisome when you want to process a significant amount of words.

Voice search and dictation programs have been around for a while, and both Windows and OS X have had their own speech-to-text recognition functions for years. As we all know, Google Now, Cortana and Siri all response to brief voice commands. But if you want to compose that great American Novel on the go, you can do it without having to download a third-party dictation app, thanks to built-in functions you already have on your mobile device — as long as that device is running a fairly recent version of its maker’s operating system.

Both Android and iOS include the dictation feature, but you may have to enable the service in your system settings if you start yapping and nothing happens. Also, keep in mind that in most cases, your words are being sent up to a server in the sky for translation, so manage your own privacy expectations.

In recent versions or Android, you can dictate documents in Google Docs open in the Chrome browser — and even add punctuation and editing by calling out the commands. Just open a Google Doc and either tap the microphone, or go to the Tools menu and choose Voice Typing. Then dictate your thoughts.

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If you get no reaction from your Android device, do into the Settings app to Language and Input and make sure Google Voice Typing is enabled. You can tap further into the settings there to make adjustments, like activating the ability to record through a Bluetooth headset or to block any offensive words that may (accidentally, of course) slip into your speech while dictating.

On a compatible iOS device, turn on the speech-to-text feature by going to Settings > General > Keyboard. Flip on the button next to Dictation to enable it. Now, when you want to recite a lengthy bit of text in Notes, Mail or another wordy app, tap the small microphone icon that now resides on the iOS keyboard and start talking.

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The dictation feature may not be as precise as an real, live human secretary, but it should get you that first draft with a minimum of actual typing. So grab your phone, yell “Take a memo!” as you tap on the microphone and start talking your typing.

The Year in Geek: 2015 Edition

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 CreepyMachine-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!

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.

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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.

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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 163: Oh, Oh, Oh, It’s Magic!

El Kaiser is back from the House of Mouse with a Tech Term focusing on the magic of technology at Disney parks and J.D. fills us in on the many commands available to use with Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. Don’t fret, we have the week’s tech news sprinkled with our usual generous helping of snark.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Ask Me (Almost) Anything

Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana are the Charlie’s Angels of personal virtual assistants, each with their own strengths and weaknesses in the battle to do good. As assistants go, none of them are very old: Siri first arrived in iOS 5 in 2011, Google Now debuted in 2012 and Microsoft’s Cortana stopped being a Halo entity and rolled out to Windows Phones in 2014; she landed on Windows 10 this summer.

In less than five years, though, assistant software has gone from fielding basic questions (“What’s the weather today?”) and handling a good-natured HAL 9000 joke now and then to opening apps, doing currency conversions, identifying songs, finding pictures from specific events and more. No pushing buttons here: Thanks to the voice commands “Hey, Siri,” “Okay Google” and “Hey Cortana,” you don’t even have to lift a finger to get results.

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So, what commands can you use these days for Siri, Google Now or Cortana? These sorts of lists just keep growing and growing:

And, in a pinch, you might be able to just ask your assistant:

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PTJ 147 News: Lady Justice

Good on ya, Taylor Swift! Now, you may not care for her music or her sudden promotion to New York City’s official “global welcome ambassador,” but the young singer/songwriter knows how to stand up for herself and her fellow musicians trying to make a living. In a public post on her Tumblr page this past weekend, Ms. Swift called out Apple over the lack of artist royalties during the three-month free trial period of the company’s forthcoming Apple Music adventure — and said she’d be withholding her latest album from the service. But Apple, for its part, did the right thing. By Sunday night, the company announced that it’d be paying artists their due royalties for all the music streamed during the free trial of Apple Music. (Of course,  conspiracy theorists are suspicious about the whole thing, like they always are.)

googleplaymusicApple Music rolls out on June 30th, but Google is not waiting around for it. The Big G announced a new, free ad-supported version of its subscription-based Google Play Music service for  “giving you a new way to find just the right music and giving artists another way to earn revenue.” (Oh snap, Google.) If you’re looking for a new stream, the service is available now via the Web and will be hitting Android and IOS devices soon. If you find you like Google Play Music and want to subscribe, you get ad-free offline listening, song skips and on-demand access to more than 30 million tracks for just $10 a month. Spotify has got to be feeling a little nervous these days.

Meanwhile, the Tidal music service has hit a bit of a rough wave. The company has booted its interim CEO after three months.

In legal news, Verizon says it’s completed its acquisition of AOL on paper. The Federal Communications Commission did not actually have to approve this particular deal because AOL did not have any licenses before the FCC that would have tripped that trigger. The agency, however, has been keeping itself busy by slapping a $100 million dollar fine on AT&T for misleading consumers about unlimited data plans and throttling.

eyeballIn guv’ment news, the regular document dumps from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowdon continue. A new post over on The Intercept blog details how the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, have reverse-engineered consumer antivirus and security software products. (In more government news, the State Department of the United States is having an epic fail over in the biometrics department.)

And on the subject of biometrics, a new research paper from scientists at UC Berkeley and Facebook’s AI Research division has found that The Social Network’s facial-recognition software can often identify people in photos, even when their faces are looking away from the camera or partly obscured. The team used Facebook’s algorithm on 40,000 public photos pulled from Flickr and found it could accurately ID people about 83 percent of the time. Oh, and Facebook’s Instagram has just updated its Search tool.

echoAmazon’s Echo device is now available to members of the general public now. The voice-activated, Internet-connected  9-inch tall cylindrical Bluetooth speaker streams music and answers questions just like Siri, Cortana and Google Now. If your life needs an Echo, head over to Amazon’s site, pay up $180 and start watching the mailbox after July 14th.  Amazon is also throwing a little artificial intelligence at the problem of fake product reviews over on its main store site and is cleaning up the astroturf.

As promised, mayorships are finally back in Foursquare’s spun-off Swarm app. Let the check-in competition begin once again.

In Windows 10 news, Microsoft has tried to clarify just who gets the new system for free. Recently, there was some confusion as to whether people in the Windows Insider preview program who didn’t have legitimate copies of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 would get the free finished copy of Windows 10. (They get to stay as previewers.)

As a wrap-up of last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, The Mary Sue blog notes there are 23 games announced at the show that feature “badass playable female characters.” Lady justice, indeed.

spidermanAnd finally, with great power comes great responsibility and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan certainly knows it — as well as her old-school Spider-Man. The Court sent down a decision in the case of Kimble v. Marvel, in which the Supremes declined to overrule a precedent that kept patent-holders from collecting royalties after said patent expired. In her written opinion for the majority on the case, Justice Kagan showed off her comic-book chops with multiple Spider-Man references. Now, just imagine if she was a fan of The Punisher….

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Hear Me, See Me

As we discussed on the show last year, apps like Shazam and SoundHound are great for identifying music you hear — but don’t recognize. As shown below, Google Now was also dipping a toe into to music identification world back then, too, but Apple’s Siri wasn’t quite there yet and was still performing basic tasks.

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Since we recorded that segment way back on PTJ Episode 85, though, Apple’s assistant has picked up a new trick. If you have Siri rolling with iOS 8 and the Shazam app on your iPhone, you can have the old girl (or old boy) name that tune by pressing down the Home button and asking, “What song is this?” If the song is recognized, you get a screen back with info and a BUY button.

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Now, some may fuss that if you already have the Shazam app installed, why not just use that? Well, unless you’ve got the Shazam icon right there in front of you, pressing the Siri button (or just saying “Hey Siri” if you’re plugged into a power source while using the iPhone) and asking is probably going to be faster.

And lest we forget the Windows Phone fans out there, Cortana can now identify songs too. When you hear something you want to recognize, tap the magnifying glass to wake up Cortana and then tap the music-notes icon. If Cortana knows the tune, you’ll get a screen full of info about it from Xbox Music.

Shazam itself doesn’t stop with Name That Tune, though. The service — which has apps for Android, Windows Phone, iOS, Apple and Android watches and Mac OS X desktops — can also recognize certain shows on television. If you see a Shazam logo on the TV screen, hold your phone next to the tube and tap the Shazam icon to get bonus content.

Not to be outdone, Google Now has added TV cards to its repertoire. These cards pop up to provide more information about the show currently playing on your the television. Just open the Google app on your phone, tap the microphone and say, “Listen to TV.” If Google recognizes the show, you get a TV card with all sorts of information about the show and topic.

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All the extra details could come in handy. With so much new music and so many great shows to watch these days ( some people are even proclaiming we’re currently in the New Golden Age of TV), you may need all the information you can get to keep track of your favorite songs and stories.

PTJ 140 News: Cable Ties and Record Highs

After we recorded last week’s episode (of course), news broke that the Comcast deal to acquire Time Warner Cable was kaput. While those worried about cable monopolies were happy the Comcast deal was scuttled, not everyone was thrilled about it — namely Time Warner Cable customers who say their quality of service is so miserable, that a Comcast takeover surely would have been an improvement. The New York Times had a story this week that talked to a few of those desperate souls trying to watch Game of Thrones from the Tenth Circle.

Also in cable news, ESPN is suing Verizon for breach of contract over those slimmed-down channel bundles. Fox and NBC seem poised to board the USS Lawsuit as well.

Apple announced its quarterly earnings reports this week and announced a $13.6 billion dollar profit thanks to record-breaking sales of iPhones, Macs and apps from the App Store. But while iPhone sales were up 40 percent from later, iPad sales were down 23 percent. Trouble in Tablet Town? (That iPhone 6 Plus does have a pretty big screen, come to think of it…)

The iPhone 6 line and the Apple Watch are boosting the use of Apple Pay, and Discover is the latest credit-card company to join up with Apple for mobile payments. Best Buy has also added Apple Pay to its mobile app and said its retail stores will be accepting those phone-tap payments at the cash register later this year. And speaking of those Apple Watches that started shipping last week, the Slice Intelligence research firm estimates that only 22 percent of the 1.7 million pre-ordered Apple Watched actually shipped to customers last week.

LGurbaneBut as we all know, the Apple Watch is just one of many smartwatch platforms out there an the rest of them aren’t exactly sitting still. Last week, before Apple’s pricey timepiece began rolling out on FedEx trucks, Google announced an update to its Android Wear software that’s used by several hardware makers. The company outlined the new features, like support for WiFi-enabled watches, scrolling through news and notifications with the flick of a wrist, and the ability to launch apps with a tap on the watch face. Google said the new version of Android Wear would be arriving in the next few weeks to all seven watches that support it, and the fancy LG Watch Urbane (shown here) was first in line for the update. Stylish smartwatches aren’t the only devices LG Electronics is releasing this spring, as the company just revealed its new authentic leather-backed Android smartphone, the LG G4.

Google just added 70 cards to Google Now from its partner apps, so you can get more creepy helpfulness than ever before. Even more!

T-Mobile had some good earnings news of its own this week. Thanks to its inventive campaign of promotional offers and price cuts, the company added 1.1 million new monthly subscribers, which was more than analysts had predicted. Not everyone had good earninsg to report, though. Twitter’s stock price took a hit after a research company leaked the bird-themed microblogging service’s less-than-desirable quarterly earnings report.

SwiftKey, the popular alternative mobile keyboard app, is experimenting with a new variation that can correct multiple words or even whole sentences you’ve tapped out. The new edition is called the Clarity Keyboard and you can download the beta from the Google Play store now.

Microsoft got just smacked down by a judge at the US International Trade Commission who found that Microsoft was guilty of infringements on two wireless cellular patents held by another company called InterDigital Inc.  As a result of the ruling, Microsoft could see an import ban that would stop its devices from coming into the country and hinder Windows Phone sales even more.  The judgement needs to be reviewed, however,  and Microsoft is vowing to press onward.

tugsIn robot news, those clever folks at Stanford University have developed tiny robots that can pull objects up to 2,000 times their own body weight. The little wonders are called “MicroTugs” and in addition to physics and engineering, the Stanford scientists took some cues from the natural world and incorporated techniques used by hardy ants — as well as geckos with their conveniently sticky feet for traction and climbing. You can see videos of the wee robots dragging cups of coffee and climbing with a payload are on the department’s YouTube channel.

Facebook announced this week that Messenger makes the video calls from one mobile phone number to another phone number regardless of smartphone platform. And Facebook-owned Instagram has added three new filters and the ability to use emoji characters in hashtags. (Also, we have heard reports of Instagram having some crashing issues even when updating to the new app, so it’s probably them, not you. Or a bug.)

And finally, the death toll is in the now thousands from the horrific earthquake that rocked the country of Nepal this weekend. Countless people have been displaced and the country is reeling, but tech companies are pitching in to help:

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Other new organizations have posted links to relief agencies and other organizations that are taking donations to help the people of Nepal. If you can, send help because we’re all in this world together.

PTJ 134 News: Clicks and Clacks

meerkatThere’s a ton of news coming out of the SXSW conference down in Austin, Texas, this week, including a new smartphone app called Meerkat that lets its users broadcast live video from their smartphones to their Twitter followers. Part of Meerket’s ease of use was that it can tap into a user’s Twitter contacts and get the party started fast. But last Friday, however, Twitter shut down access to its social graph, citing an internal policy. Twitter may have been treating Meerkat like a parasite app, and the fact that the bird-themed microblogging site quickly turned around and announced its January acquisition of Periscope seems a bit calculated. Some worry that Meerkat’s popularity and expansion will take a fatal hit unless it in turn gets bought by Facebook or Google, but the company’s founders vow to press on after all the PR at SXSW.

It’s March Madness again and we expect time-outs on the basketball court, but the Federal Communications Commission has called a time-out and stopped the clock (again) in the 180-day review periods for the pending Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV mergers. This time, the stoppage is due to a pending court decision about the disclosure of video-programming contracts between the service providers and content companies.

HBO’s new standalone streaming service has picked up another distributor along with Apple TV. Cablevision has announced that it, too, will allow subscribers to its Optimum broadband service sign up and stream content from HBO NOW without having to already have an HBO tithe bundled in their TV packages.

NBCBut that’s not all in streaming TV news this week! The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple is talks to create a small, 25-channel bundle of TV networks that could be subscribed to and streamed across the screens of iOS gadgets and connected Apple TV boxes. Apple, of course, Is. Not. Commenting. As reported, the deal could include streams from ABC, CBS, ESPN and Fox. While NBC has been MIA on the ATV, there are reports that The Peacock Network is actually in negotiations with Apple,  too.

Apple is also said to be revamping its trade-in and recycling program for old gear to include smartphones made by other manufacturers. The current program offers Apple Store Gift Cardsfor the value of the Apple product you want to unload so you can upgrade. According to the blog 9to5Mac, Apple Store employees will determine the trade-in value for old Android, Blackberry, WinPhone and other competing handsets and even transfer address-book contacts for new iPhone owners.

Facebook has updated its Community Standards policy and is bringing down the ban-hammer on nudity, with the usual non-porn exceptions like “art.” On the other side of the coin, Google is reversing course on its recent decision on adult content. Instead of outright banning sexual images, Google’s updated policy now says you can post your non-commercial naughty bits as long as you turn on the adult content warning for your blog.

Two notes from YouTube this week: The massive video-sharing site now supports interactive 360 degree videos. YouTube also announced its new YouTube for Artists effort, a resource portal for musicians seeking to get more audience engagement, as well as making money on YouTube through merchandise sales and online fundraising.

googlenowGoogle Now, the helpful-yet-creepy tool that automatically reminds you of things like restaurant reservations and flight times by using information in your Gmail, Google Calendar and other services, could be expanding its powers soon. A Google product manager said this week that the company plans to offer an open API that other companies can build into their own apps. This would move Google Now’s reach from beyond the 40 third-party services it works with already and could, in theory, add Google Now cards for things like line-wait times at theme parks, all while making Cortana and Siri feel like they need to step it up.

Google is also said to be tightening up app submissions in the Google Play Store by having a team of reviewers analyze the programs for developer policy violations before the software gets turned loose in the store. Apps will also be labeled using an age-based ratings system.

Nintendo is trying to get back in the game of games. The company has formed a partnership with DeNA to develop games for mobile gadgets and smart devices.

Microsoft has updated its Malicious Software Removal Tool to zap the controversial and security-exploitable Superfish adware that had been preinstalled by Lenovo on many of its new laptops sold between September 2014 and February 2015. Lenovo has also released its own Superfish Removal Tool and probably feels pretty guilty about the whole thing now.

The Pew Research Center has a new report out that examines how Americans feel about their privacy (or lack thereof) after revelations and leaks from the Department of Edward Snowden. While a majority of the survey respondents are in favor of the US government monitoring communications of suspected terrorists, American leaders and foreign leaders and citizens, there was also a majority that said it was unacceptable for the US government to monitor the communications of its own citizens.

hellobarbieChild privacy advocates are forming petitions and making a ruckus over the new Hello Barbie doll, which is a Wi-Fi capable version of the iconic blonde toy lady. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is one of the groups leading the charge against the new doll because it says this $75 Internet-connected Barbie uses a microphone to record children’s voices and then uploads the audio data to servers in the sky. While Mattel says this voice-recognition process is needed to make the doll interactive and respond to the kid, some parents are concerned that the company will be storing and analyzing the child’s conversations with NSA Barbie — or possibly be eavesdropping on the whole family.

And finally, the geek world lost another cherished icon last week with the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, British author of the Discworld series of fantasy novels. In honor of Sir Terry, fans and programmers have come up with a way to keep his name alive on the Internet based on a bit from his 2004 novel Going Postal. In the book, the Clacks, a telegraph-style communications system, was used to keep alive the name of one of the novel’s deceased characters by passing the code GNU John Dearheart endlessly back and forth across the network. So the fanbase came up with GNU Terry Pratchett, a snippet of code that can be added harmlessly to website HTML, mail servers and even WordPress blogs. Because:

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