Tag Archives: Google Now

Browser History

It seems like Web browsers have been around forever. Along with email, a browser is probably the other piece of software that the average computer user fires up every single day. It’s part of the routine.

But browsers have come a long way since 1993, when Mosaic and Arena were the popular point-and-click windows to the World Wide Web. Yes, Netscape Navigator dominated the scene when it arrived in 1994 — the year before Microsoft launched both Internet Explorer and Windows 95. Internet Explorer v. 1 (shown here) was not much to look at, but then again, there wasn’t much to look at on the Web, either.

IE1

Time flies. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Internet Explorer’s debut. IE wasn’t the first graphical browser — nor will it be the last — but it had a hold on the surfing public. At one time around 2002-2003, the program was used by about 95 percent of people surfing the Web. Suffice it to say, that is a dominant piece of software.

The Opera browser, with its small legion of fans, landed in 1996 and Apple’s Safari browser, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome all arrived in the 2000s. Still, Internet Explorer was boss of them all.

As competition for users increased, the capability of the humble web browser began to evolve. New tools like tabs and private browsing modes became commonplace.  Add-on extensions for showing the headlines, the weather forecast or even controlling your computer’s music player added to the browser’s functionality. Handy buttons to share links to Twitter and Facebook began to appear.  A “reading view” to strip out ads became popular with serious readers. Synchronization between devices — computers. phones and tablets — has made sure we can pick up reading wherever we left off.

Of all the browsers, though, Internet Explorer has been showing age lately, especially in regards to security. Its once-mighty user share has declined below 68 percent.

Microsoft is aware of its stubborn user base that hates to change once it gets everything working. The company even launched a cheeky website a few years ago to get people to STOP using Internet Explorer 6, the old, unsecure version that persists in popularity, thanks to its ties to Windows XP. (The Escape From Windows XP game with the giant evil Clippy is an especially fun part of the aforementioned site. But we digress.)

escapeWXP

Things in Browser Land are changing. As revealed in a Windows 10 demo last January, Microsoft has a new surfboard on the horizon. It’s called Project Spartan (for now) and it may be the browser that gets a lot of Windows users to quit Internet Explorer for good.

The new browser will have a new rendering engine and compatibility with modern programming. Don’t worry though: It’ll load up the IE11 engine when it comes across a page written for the older browser. (Windows 10 users dependent on legacy code will still be able to use Internet Explorer as well, so fear not government workers with your weird proprietary sites.)

Could Project Spartan be the beginning of the next Browser Age? It’s too early to tell, especially since the official code hasn’t been released yet, but Microsoft has revealed some intriguing features that bring it into line with what a lot of other browsers have been doing.

Like Safari (and extensions you can get for other browsers), Spartan will have a distraction-free view, which peels away all the junk that normally clogs up a page, like ads. You’ll be able to annotate Web pages without extra tools like Scrible so you can mark up the parts you need for projects and research. Microsoft is also adding voice integration for its Cortana assistant, aiming to give Google Voice Search and Chrome — or Siri on iOS — a run for their money. And because Microsoft is trying to link every device that runs Windows 10 together for a consistent experience, it’s trying to make Spartan (shown here) work and act the same everywhere.

spartan

Project Spartan is not the only newly built browser revving its rendering engine the starting line. A new browser called Vivaldi is already out in its second technical preview and has some geeks interested.

Vivaldi, created by the former CEO of Opera software, wants to be a browser for power users. The streamlined interface (shown below) includes stackable tabs you can but on any side of the browser window and Quick Commands that let you open a ton of settings with just one keyboard shortcut. There’s also a Notes command that lets you stash your thoughts and screenshots in a side panel. Vivaldi can also run many extensions written for Google Chrome because it’s built on the open-source Chromium software from Google.

vivaldi web

As new as Project Spartan and Vivaldi seem, it probably won’t be long before the others change up or catch up. With new looks and well-integrated features that make life easier, however, it’s the first time in a long time where the good ol’ Web browser actually feels like a fresh piece of software — and that’s kind of exciting.

PTJ 128 News: Rules, Regulations and Rude Suprises

It’s February, which is showtime for the Federal Communications Commission! As reported by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and several other news organizations, the FCC now proposes that the Internet be regulated like any other public utility.  A vote on the proposal by the full commission is scheduled for Feb. 26. While the F.C.C. is an independent agency, it takes action through a five-member commission vote.

Also in FCC news: The agency was just not having that petition from the Marriott Hotel chain to block Wi-Fi hotspots and other external networks that guests may be using for security and management reasons, so the hotel empire has withdrawn that request. Late last week, the agency updated its definition of what counts as the minimum benchmark for broadband speeds from a now-wimpy 4 megabits per second to 25 megabits per second for downloads. As The Consumerist blog points out, this reclassification could affect the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, Earlier this week, the FCC also began to consider draft legislation that would stop state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that limit cities from deploying their own municipal broadband services to compete with national mega-providers.

amIt’s not just the FCC gearing up for new rules — the National Security Agency is getting some from the White House. The Obama Administration will now be requiring the NSA to delete irrelevant personal and private information of Americans and foreigners that the agency may accidentally grab during its big data sweeps. Note that this announcement comes the week before German chancellor Angela Merkel comes to visit.

Reddit has published its first Transparency Report detailing government requests for information on its users. According to the company’s tally, it handed over information for 58 percent of all government and civil requests, and 64 percent of all US state and federal government requests.

The White House also released its budget request for the fiscal year 2016, which included a half-billion dollar bump for NASA. The budget, which allocates a total of $18.5 billon dollars to the space agency, allows for continued development on the Orion mission and the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. There’s also $30 million dollars set aside the development of a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons and possibly a place to host alien life.

europa

The Comcast Customer Service department is back in the news, not horribly long after last year’s incident when an aggressive company rep basically refused to let a man disconnect his cable service. This time, a customer reported that a Comcast employee had changed the name on his bill to a rather descriptive and obscene moniker after the man’s wife tried to cancel the cable to save on monthly bills. This prompted other Comcast customers to come forward with their own reports of name changes In response to the original incident, Comcast published a blog post last week called “Respecting Our Customers” that apologized for and said that the employee in question will no longer be working on behalf of Comcast. (Also in Big Telco and Customer Relations, Verizon Wireless said it plans to let its subscribers opt out of those invulnerable supercookies, or unique identifiers, that privacy advocates were so concerned about.)

If you’ve been thinking about getting into barebones computing, you may be excited to hear the Raspberry Pi 2 is now on sale for the very reasonable price of $35. The little board is more just a toy — this generation of the tiny computer can actually run a version of Windows 10. Microsoft has been working with the Pi makers to create a compatible version of the operating system and invites interested parties to come register for the company’s Windows Developer Program for IoT.

rsRadio Shack seems to be headed over the financial cliff. As reported by Bloomberg News, the chain is said to be preparing a bankruptcy deal that would sell half its store leases to Sprint and shut down the other half. Bloomberg also reports that Amazon may be interested in picking up a few RadioShack locations to give the online company a little more brick-and-mortar action.

Tangerine, one of the most buzzed about movies at the recent Sundance Film Festival, was shot entirely on an iPhone 5S tricked out with the $8 Filmic Pro app, a Moondog Labs lens adapter and some external audio gear. And  Vine has introduced a new simplified version of its six-second looping video app called Vine Kids .

For the map lovers — Google Earth Pro is now free. This premium version of Google Earth used to cost $400, but now you can get the exclusive data layers and advanced measuring tools of Google Earth Pro for zero dollars. The Big G has also added Google Now info cards for about 40 different apps. (Google, in addition to all the other things it’s been working on lately, is also recreating human skin — will they call it Google Flesh?)

puffs1And finally, while we’re on the topic of medical research: Mark Shrime, a medical researcher at Harvard, wondered about the factual content of articles published in medical journals. So he decided to run a little experiment and used gibberish produced from www.randomtextgenerator.com to produce text for a fake article titled entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals,” authored by Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. According to Fast Company magazine, he submitted the article to 37 journals in a two-week period and at least 17 of them have accepted it. Most wanted a $500 “processing” fee, so the “call for papers” here is clearly referring to those infamous small green pieces of paper that make the world go ’round. But, hey, at least it doesn’t cost anything now to see the world spin in Google Earth Pro.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Anti-Freeze

Winter has slammed into most of the United States, bringing with it the inevitable bouts of bad weather and hazardous travel. Just look at the massive ice-related highway pile-ups we’ve seen already this season in New York state, Michigan, Oregon — and even closer to home just this past weekend in the Philadelphia area due to a flash-freeze on the roads.

If you have a preferred weather or traffic app on your phone, this is the season to fire up those notifications because Mother Nature has a way of throwing a hissy fit and disrupting your plans. If there’s a storm on the way, a highway closed or a train line suspended, odds are you’d like to know about it ahead of time, right? Most specialized apps can be configured to push out alerts to warn you of impending events, so have them ping you when something’s up. Most major mobile platforms — Android, iOS and Windows Phone — let you configure notifications so you can turn them on and when you want.

IMG_3768On the weather side, apps include AccuWeather and Weather Undeground for most platforms, DarkSky or NOAA Weather Radar for iOS and dozens of others. Seriously, there are a ton of weather apps for every kind of phone out there and your mobile platform of choice may have even included one. Don’t have a smartphone? The National Weather Service’s mobile site and sign-up page for third-party email and SMS text alert services can keep you in the loop.

As for traffic and transit, popular cross-platform apps like Inrix and Waze are good sources of highway and road information. If you do have to be out driving in bad weather, make sure you have an emergency kit in the trunk. The professional winter states of Wisconsin and Minnesota have especially good advice on this topic, and you can buy pre-made collections, like the AAA’s own Severe Weather Travel Kit. If you don’t have one already, it’s a good idea to get a car charger for your phone  — just in case.

aaa

Weather emergencies can seriously affect mass-transit systems as well, and some more than others. (Seriously, have you ever tried to get around the DC Metro during a snow storm?) If you’re riding the rails, the iTrans app for iOS is available for several cities and offers service alerts. There’s also the Transit app for Android and iOS. If you’re a New Yorker, the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority has a whole page of mobile apps for various phone platforms to check out.

Other information sources, like Google Now (if it has your commute in its list of info cards) and Twitter’s emergency alerts can also be useful. And don’t forget, if you’re trying to fly out for a nice vacation in a warm place, get your airline’s app and sign up for alerts that may affect your flight.

It’s winter and in much of the country, that means the roads are a giant asphalt Slushee out there, so let’s be careful. In fact, let’s just stay home and watch some more Agent Carter.

PTJ 95 News: Catching Fire

Amazon, which has been locked in a heated battle over e-book prices for weeks with book publisher Hachette, is hoping customers warm up to its new Fire TV box with a little taste of the action. The company’s website is currently running an offer for selected (and interested) users  can sign up for a free 30-day test drive with the Fire TV box .

The Oculus Rift technology may have a bigger future than just creating a virtual world for Facebook users. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, (club name: DARPA), has been experimenting for the past few years with using the virtual reality headsets for cyberwar training. The project is called Plan X and Wired has a detailed look at it.

Speaking of games, a new PlayStation 4 system update from Sony allows customers to download pre-ordered games in advance so you don’t have to sit there and wait for it to crawl down your wires on release day before you can play. Destiny, a first person shooter due out for the PS4 in September, is the first game to support pre-loading.

Spotify is telling its Android users of a security breach concerning user data and is advising people using its Android app to upgrade to a new version. Those using the Windows Phone or iOS apps are not affected.

Malware is everywhere, including on the Mac, and Google has just released an OS X upload client for its VirusTotal meta scanner. Elsewhere in the Googleverse, the company has added its Google Now-style Voice Search to its Chrome desktop browser. To get rolling with it, you just need to do a bit of setup, then point Chrome to Google.com. From your desktop, you can ask Google the same sort of questions you may ask your mobile device running the Google Search app.

checkbookThe spring shopping trend in the tech world continues. Intuit, maker of the personal finance mainstay Quicken has dropped $360 million for the mobile bill-paying app Check. (And yes, after weeks of rampant whispers, Apple sealed the deal with Beats this week.)

Rumors about Apple’s forthcoming announcements at next week’s World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco have already started to fly, and the Financial Times says its sources point to a new software platform for the “smart home.”  Apple does plan to livestream the keynote address next Monday at 10 a.m. Pacific.

The Internet of Things has raised all kinds of discussion, including excitement about the remote control of one’s home to security fears about appliance rebellion. For deep thoughts, consider the upcoming philosophy conference devoted to The Internet of Things. It starts July 3rd at York St. John University in England.

The audio software Pro Tools is partly responsible for a new compilation of unreleased songs by the rock band Queen. The album is mixed from unreleleased vocals by Freddie Mercury, the group’s late lead singer, and new instrumental tracks by living members of the band. Dr. Brian May, a guitarist, songwriter and backing vocalist for the group, as well as an astrophysicist at Imperial College London, recently confirmed the plans to The Guardian of London. The new album, tentatively titled Queen Forever, is due out by the end of the year.

queen

And finally, if you like antique computers, want to feel old or like to see the kids confused by technology for once, check out The Fine Brother’s “Kids React to Old Computers” video that’s been lighting up YouTube the past few days. The 8-minute clip shows a variety of pre-teens trying to figure out how to use an Apple II-like PC. Kids, back in the Olden Days, we had green-on-black VDTs and 300 baud modems to connect to our BBS’s, uphill both ways. And, not to get philosophical about it or anything, we liked it.

PTJ 95: Another Rootin’ Tootin’ Good Time

The Pop Tech Jam crew couldn’t help getting their geek on over this past U.S. holiday weekend.

J.D. spent her time off digging up online Cultural goodies from the British Library and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art while El Kaiser tried valiantly to install customized versions of the Android mobile operating system onto his Samsung and Google branded devices.

In the news Amazon offers selected users the opportunity to sign up for a free 30-day test drive of the Fire TV set-top box ;  Oculus Rift technology may become an integral tool in the training of cyberwarriors;  Sony will allow customers to download pre-ordered games in advance for the PlayStation 4 game console; Intuit, makers of Quicken, goes shopping; technology paves the way for a new album from Queen with Freddie Mercury on vocals; and the Fine Brother’s “Kids React to Old Computers” video lights up YouTube.

PTJ 94: How Soon Is (Google) Now, Fellow Netizen?

El Kaiser looks at the Tech Term “netizen” and explains how the once innocuous mashup of “Internet” and “citizen” has come to represent a responsibility all of us should not take lightly.

In her (Hopefully) Helpful Hint segment J.D. takes a look at Google Now, the interactive virtual assistant from the “Big G” and tells us how it is slowly evolving and trying to stand out when compared to Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

In the news  AT&T has sealed the deal to buy DirectTV;  YouTube rumored to be buying the videogame-streaming company Twitch;  FBI arrests over 90 suspected cyber-criminals;  Verizon continued rolling out its zippier XLTE service across the country;   and Facebook is testing an Ask button on user profiles allowing a user to inquire about  the relationship status of your online acquaintance.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Operator, Give Me Information

Technology is suposed to make life easier — robots will clean our homes, hyperdrive will get us to distant galaxies and we’ll have the science to whip up a cup of Earl Grey, hot, out of thin air.  While we’re not quite there yet, Apple, Microsoft and Google are at least trying to get the helpful interactive virtual  assistant thing sorted out.

As you may recall, Apple’s Siri got a lot of press a few years ago with her splashy debut on the iPhone 4S. Microsoft’s Cortana arrived this spring for Windows Phone 8.1. Then there’s Google Now, which has been lurking since around 2012 and has been adding features since. Each system uses a form of natural language user interface to accept questions and commands asked in an informal manner.

Of the three, Google Now may be the most subdued. While it can speak up on some occasions, it mostly mines your data quietly from Google services and then tries to present data nuggets it thinks you’ll need, like traffic and weather for your location. With Siri, you press a button, ask the software for information and it responds back, usually with what you wanted. Siri can also address messages, make appointments and set reminders when you command it. Cortana tries to utilize both approaches, by responding to voice-activated commands, while also gathering more factoids about you so it can better predict your needs.

Google Now can do some voice-activated activities, like search, but it’s a less splashy service. If you have an Android device — especially one from Google — or use the Google Search app on your iOS device, computer’s Chrome browser or Windows 8 hardware with your Google account, you have probably run into Google Now.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to use the service, but if you don’t mind it poking around in your other Google services accounts like Gmail and YouTube, it can be useful. For example, once Google Now pulls info from your current location, search history, its own queries to you and your Gmail account, it can:

  • Give you the score of your favorite team’s game last night
  • Alert you to any traffic problems for your morning commute
  • Display the current price for selected stocks
  • Show when your latest Amazon order shipped
  • Tell you when your favorite blog updated
  • Round up headlines about your favorite movies and TV shows
  • Remind you to pay your bills.

In other examples of real-world use, Google Now can also show you the emailed digital boarding pass for your flight tomorrow night, tell you what time to leave for the airport (to catch that very flight) and thoughtfully show you the weather forecast for both home and your destination city.

This can all be very helpful and very creepy at the same time.

To get the most out of Google Now, let it use information from your search history. Unless of course, you often search for stuff, (without an incognito window) you’d rather not have popping up on screen.

GoogleNow2

To customize your screen, open the Google Search app to the Google Now screen, flick down and tap the little magic wand icon at the bottom of the screen. Here, you can pick the sports teams and stocks you want to follow, choose the places you love and work for traffic and weather reports and get local TV listings. If you search for a particular TV show on Google and get a Set a Reminder link for that show in your results, Google Now shows that reminder on your screen the day of the show.

Using Google Now is pretty straightforward. When you tap open the Google Now widget from your Android screen or open the Google Search app, you see all the little bits of information displayed as “cards” that you can scroll through. If you don’t care about one of the info card, you can flick it off the screen for the time being, or tap the menu icon to stop further updates.

GoogleNow1

Google Now also has Google Voice Search built in, so just say “OK, Google” to your device and then announce what you want to search for. Depending on what you ask, you may even get an audio response, like the current temperature. If you are using Google Chrome on your desktop and are logged into your Google account there, you can get Google Now notifications on the computer for alerts you set up on your mobile device.

Once again, like Siri and Cortana, Google Now does mine your personal information to do its job. If this gives you the wiggins, don’t use it. But if you figure Google, Facebook, Apple and the rest of them are all up in your business anyway and you don’t mind getting extra information about the things affecting your life each day, virtual assistants can save you time — and maybe make a few of those secret JARVIS fantasies come true.

PTJ 85: Naming That Tune

This week J.D. and El Kaiser play “Stump the Music Recognition App”.  In the news, the annual SxSW Festival in Texas is in full swing; the release of a potential new tent-pole game for the XBox One; Apple quietly rolls out an update to iOS 7; Windows 8.1, Update 1 is leaked; Google announces several new add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets; Samsung gets into the personalized music-service business; and the ‘Veronica Mars’ film based on the cult TV favorite makes it to the big-screen after hugely successful crowd-funding campaign.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Name That Tune

We’ve all been there at some point – you hear a song on the radio that you fall in love with instantly, but have no idea what it is. Or you hear the track in the background of a TV show, love it, and have no idea what it is. Or you hear a tune over the supermarket P.A. system and it makes you forget all about trawling for decent strawberries, even though you have no idea what it is. Maybe you could find it by doing a lyric search if you could remember enough of the words by the time you got home. Or maybe not.

These situations are why music recognition apps became so popular so quickly when the smartphones came to live with us. When a song jolts you to attention, just grab your phone and fire up your sound app so it can listen. If the track is recognized in the app’s database, you instantly get the title, artist — and often a link to buy and download the song right then and there. It’s a beautiful bit of instant gratification.

For those who haven’t used a music recognition app before, there are two major players in the space: Shazam and SoundHound.

Shazam, shown below, is available in a few ad-supported editions or in a paid version that runs about $6 or $7, depending on your platform.  And you can get versions of it for a number of mobile devices and platforms.

shazam

As shown below, there’s also the SoundHound app, which is available as well on the four major mobile operating systems. SoundHound claims to be faster at the recognition says it can even pinpoint tunes you sing or hum. It, too, is available in a free ad-supported edition or for $6 or $7 depending on your platform. Like Shazam, it also grabs lyrics to the songs it identifies.

soundhound

The paid versions of the programs usually throw in a few more features, but losing the splat of ads all over the screen is worth the cost for many people. Shazam and SoundHound aren’t the only music-lookup and discovery apps put there, and if you don’t like them, search your app store.

If you use Google Now, though, you can ask it to listen in and give you the name of the current song playing on your computer or radio. If Google Now can nail the tune, it cheerfully announced the title and offers to sell you the track from the Google Play store, as shown below.

google_now

And Apple’s usually helpful Siri assistant? Siri doesn’t do music-recognition. And frankly, she seems a little defensive about it.

siri

PTJ 81: Facebook’s Paper Beats Scissors

Facebook celebrates its 10th anniversary this week by allowing users to automagically create a short video highlight reel  of their time on the world’s most popular social network.  The decade old soc net also released a new iPhone-only mobile client dubbed Paper and J.D. gives us her review.  While he believes America is beautiful in any language, the Twitter backlash to Coca-Cola’s now famous multicultural Super Bowl advertisement has left El Kaiser less than thrilled.

In the news Microsoft finally picks a new CEO as Windows 8.1, Update 1 software leaks onto various file-sharing sites around the Internet; Google updates their Google Now service on mobile devices; Iridium introduces a WiFi hotspot that can get you on the Internet all over the world with a satellite connection; and Apple continues to note the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer with a celebratory movie shot by 15 camera crews using 100 iPhones.