Tag Archives: hackers

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!

PTJ 217: She’ll Always Be Royalty to Us

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

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

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

Links to Stories in This Week’s Episode

PTJ 210: The Internet of Hijacked Things

Last week’s massive denial-of-service attack (and resulting Internet outage) was big news all on its own, but toss in AT&T’s latest digital land grab and you have a jam-packed few days of tech news. After the weekly discussion of the recent headlines,  J.D. explores free or cheap word processors that cut down on toolbar clutter for minimal distraction when you’re probably already procrastinating that big writing deadline anyway. Come on along for this week’s episode of Pop Tech Jam! (Also, El Kaiser gently suggests that you change all your default router and device passwords.)

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 196 News: Windows $10K

Microsoft’s Windows 10 upgrade has steadily grown more persistent since the software’s release last year, even to the point of practically hijacking a user’s computer to ram it on there. While the Windows forums have lit up with complaints, at least one dissatisfied customer has taken Microsoft to court over the unauthorized update. The plaintiff was awarded $10,000 to compensate for lost wages and the price of a new computer to replace the one banjaxed by an unwanted Windows 10 upgrade. Microsoft denied that it had done anything wrong and said it had dropped its appeal in the case to avoid additional legal expense. However, the company said it’s changing that sneaky dialogue box that starts the Windows 10 install when you click the “x” to close the box. (Also disappearing:  The Xbox Fitness service.)

Due to copyright issues, many song lyrics sites used to be hosted on offshore servers, but now Google has cut a deal with the Toronto-based firm LyricFind to legally display lyrics in search results. The move both funnels money to the publishers and songwriters of the licensed songs — and might send a few people to Google Play Music as well.

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Google is also expanding the tools its offers to teachers by making its Expeditions virtual reality experience available to everyone with the Android app, a network connection and a VR viewer. Expeditions offers virtual reality tours to more than 200 locations and an iOS edition of the app is expected soon. The company also released its Google Cast for Education app for Chrome for wireless screen-sharing in the classroom.

Facebook has decided that it needs to rev up the Slideshow feature that was originally included it its Facebook Moments app last year. In a new update to the Facebook mobile app, if it senses you have taken more than five pictures or videos in the past 24 hours and you go to post a status update, Facebook suggests that you make a slideshow out of the material. (The TechCrunch site has a theory that Facebook is desperate to get people to post more original content on the site.)  Facebook is also adding location-based events to its main app to offer suggestions for things to do besides spend all night on Facebook, and actual humans will curate the events lists.

Twitter announced that its adding stickers to photo tweets, perhaps in an attempt to get more teenage girls to use the service.

Municipal lawmakers and the Airbnb site for easy short-term rentals have a contentious relationship in places like New York City and San Francisco because of local housing laws, and now the start-up is even suing San Francisco over a new law that says Airbnb hosts must register with the city first. The lawsuit contends that San Francisco is putting the burden on Airbnb to enforce the law by fining the site $1,000 for posting unverified-with-the-city listings on the site. As The New York Times points out, Airbnb originally helped write the law in the first place to quell protests from affordable hosing advocates. The New York Legislature also passed its own bill against Airbnb this month that would impose fines on apartments listed with the service that rent for less than 30 days if the leaseholder if not present. That bill awaits the governor’s signature.

Amazon has added a new feature to its Kindle apps and e-readers that’s designed to make it easier for you to wander around in an ebook without losing your place. The new tool is called, appropriately, Page Flip.

Medical offices have become a popular target for hackers thanks to the troves of personal patient data and now hackers have taken to selling thousands of records on the dark web after their demands for money were turned down.  Speaking of hackers, Apple’s forthcoming iOS 10 software has already been poked, prodded and had its flows exposed in public by an individual who has posted it all online on the iOS Hacker Wiki.

Pinterest, which added buy buttons to some items on its mobile app last year, has added those click-to-buy buttons on its web version now. A shopping bag is also available so you can click around on either mobile or desktop and then buy all your pinned purchases at once.

And finally, summer is here and if you need some projects to occupy the kids, Bose has a $150 BoseBuild Speaker Cube kit that shows kids how to make a Bluetooth speaker that works with an iOS device while also teaching them how the principles of sound and speakers work, along with magnets, electromagnets, frequency and waveforms.

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Need another educational a summer project? Make has instructions on how to make a Wi-Fi Drone Disabler with a Raspberry Pi, some telnet scripts and a cantenna, but stresses this is an educational exercise to help you “understand the security risks of wireless communications.” Yes. Yes, it is.

PTJ 184: The Force Just Won’t Stay Down

The are only two type of people on this big blue marble we call Earth: those who love Star Wars and those who don’t. I think you all know which camp J.D. and El Kaiser spend their time in. This week J.D. fills us in on the goodies you’ll get in the various and sundry versions of the digital and DVD/Blu-Ray releases of the latest chapter in the space opera, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. In tech headlines, the FBI doesn’t need Apple’s help hacking into an iPhone, Instagram gives users more time, and now you can build your own Amazon Echo with help from another fruit-themed toymaker.

PTJ 179 News: Deep Writ

Is the future of digital privacy about to get totally pwned? The battle  between Apple and the United States Department of Justice has been raging since late last week, when government officials filed a motion asking a judge to make Apple help crack open an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernadino terrorists. and the company resisted.  Apple CEO Tim Cook posted an open letter to Apple’s customers concerning the issue and the company’s stance on privacy. The deadline for Apple to respond to the motion is this Friday, February 26th, but the company may even already be at work to make cracking iPhones even harder.

The Justice Department is also pursuing orders to make Apple to extract data from around 12 other iPhones involved in non-terrorist criminal cases around the country. As part of its case, the DOJ is using the All Writs Act, originally passed in the Judiciary Act of 1798 and amended in 1911 and a few times since; news outlets as diverse as Popular Mechanics and The New Yorker have weighed in on this legal tactic. Apple has asked for the ruling to go beyond a courtroom and take it to a hearing before Congress, saying what needs to be done is to . . . form a commission.

allwritsPublic option on the matter is split, as a quick poll by the Pew Research Center released earlier this week showed 51 percent of respondents siding with the government and saying Apple should be forced to unlock the iPhone. The director of the FBI said the agency could not look the San Bernadino survivors in the eye if the government did not follow this lead.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he supports Apple’s position, but Bill Gates, former Boss of Microsoft says Apple should cooperate. Meanwhile, Google announced it was working with wireless carriers on a new uniform messaging app for Android that security pros point out is a bit weak and very government friendly.

In other news, the annual Mobile World Congress trade show kicked off this week in Barcelona. As expected, Samsung revealed its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge phones, which is pre-ordered, comes with a free Samsung Gear VR headset.  LG Electronics showed off its new LG G5 phone, which works with the new LG 360 VR headset.

HTC has a new virtual reality headset called the HTC Vive that it created with Valve, the company behind the Steam gaming service — preorders start at the end of the month. The headset will be about $800, and arrive in April. Valve also released an online Steam VR Performance Test for gamers who want to make sure their systems can handle the demands of virtual-reality software.

Sony, perhaps taking a cue from Joaquin Phoenix and the 2013 movie Her, announced the Xperia Ear, a voice-controlled gadget for communicating with your smartphone that works like an audio-only smartwatch that sits in your auditory canal.  As for the rest of the announcements, the Gizmodo blog has a good running tally of all the major things unveiled at Mobile World Congress.

Plastic-money mainstay Mastercard said it soon plans to start accepting biometric data as an alternative to passwords for making online payments. Perhaps you’ll even be able to pay for those purchases by duck face.

AT&T and Intel are working together to test drone-control technology over a 4G LTE network so the devices are more useful to businesses. Because that’s what we need: More drones up there.

linuxhackThe Linux Mint site was infiltrated and a modified version of the operating system with a handy hacker backdoor was temporarily posted. The Linux Mint blog says to be on guard if you downloaded Linux Mint 17.3 Cinnamon edition on February 20th and the site provides tools to check your installation. And also in Linux news, there’s a new distro called Subgraph OS that describes itself as an “adversary resistant computing platform.” The new variation can isolate programs that have been exploited by attackers and limit the access program have to other parts of the computer like your files and network connections.

Now in the departure lounge: Google announced this week that it was shutting down its Google Compare/Google Advisor service next month. Microsoft announced it was punting the standalone Skype Qik messaging app to the curb, or as the company’s announcement phrases it, “Skype Qik is moving” – right into the main Skype app. And the Cheezburger network, (which pretty much made LOL cats mainstream with the immortal question “I can haz cheeseburger?”) has been sold to an undisclosed buyer.

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BuzzFeed has a new app out for Android and iOS called BuzzFeed Video. You can guess what it does, and yes, the clips start rolling as soon as you pause on one — then stop as you scroll on.

NASA is looking to shave some of five months it currently needs to get a spacecraft toting human passengers to Mars, but scientists there are working on a laser propulsion system that could get that trip time down from five months to three days.  Dr. Philip Lubin says the technology is there, and just needs to be scaled up. Some of Dr. Lubin’s papers on the subject are available of the University of California Santa Barbara’s Experimental Cosmology Group’s site for experimental astrophysics, including last year’s “A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight.” A recent episode of the “NASA 360” video series also explains the theories. (Chewie, check the hyperdrive!)

And finally, if you like NASA adventures, check your local PBS affiliate next week. On March 2, look for the first episode in a two-part series called A Year in Space, starring twin astronaut brothers Scott and Mark Kelly. Now there’s a family reality show we can get behind!

PTJ 177 News: Unboxed

Might the cable bill have fewer line items in the future? The Federal Communications Commission would like to make it happen! While the intended merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications is still under review and the agency is defending its net neutrality policy against attacks and appeals, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler got the cable industry in a further tizzy by announcing a proposal that would do away with the practice of customers having to rent their set-top boxes from their service providers. Cable companies: Not so happy.

budget2017President 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.

A worldwide tweetstorm began to brew over the weekend after BuzzFeed reported that Twitter was getting ready to change its real-time reverse chronological feed into a Facebook-like algorithm-run arrangement that shows you tweets the program thinks you want to see rather than what’s happening at the moment.  Wired defused some of the tweet-rage saying the new version of Twitter basically expands the While You Were Away highlights of older tweets. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also responded. Oh, and Twitter launched its First View ads this week, which are video adverts that sit on top of your newsfeed so you can’t miss them.

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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.

Facebook’s promise of free Internet — or at least Facebook’s version of the Internet — has been rejected by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the government authority there who blocked the Social Network’s Free Basics app. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to press on.

Instagram, also owned by Facebook, had better news. The official blog announced an update to its app that allows you to add multiple accounts and then easily switch between them.

Home theater hobbyists who have been eagerly awaiting the Samsung UBD-K8500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player to buy won’t have to wait much longer. Samsung jumped its own expected March release date for the player to slip a few units into the Video & Audio Center out in Santa Monica, where they quickly sold out.

Google Cardboard has been the on-ramp into the world of virtual reality for a lot of people, but Google is now said to be working on a higher-end VR headset to rival the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift gear. Google is not commenting on its plans.

linuxtabletCanonical, the company that makes Ubuntu Linux, just announced the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition tablet produced with European hardware maker BQ and is expected to go on sale next month. The Penguin Pad has a 10-inch screen and runs the touch-screen version of Ubuntu.

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.

StubHub is  moving into direct sales with a new ticketing platform. The new system won’t delineate between second-hand resellers and direct sales from the venue’s box office and lets StubHub give TicketMaster a lot more competition. StubHub is also partnering with the Philadelphia 76ers to sell tickets to the team’s games when the NBA season starts up this fall.

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.

frodovirus

PTJ 173 News: Heaving Las Vegas

If it’s early January, you know there’s going to be a warm blast of hot air coming from Nevada no matter what the actual weather forecast. Yes, it’s time for the Consumer Electronics Expo out in Las Vegas! The show is underway this week and the product announcements are popping out left and right. Creations like the OMbra, a $150 brassiere with fitness tracker tech built right inside have already snagged headlines. Wearables in general are a big trend this year, as are even more gadgets for your smart home. The Ford Motor Company is adding Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto to its 2017 models, newer, faster drones are on the way, virtual reality gear is finally here and many more products will be sporting a USB-C port in the future. Some journalists are finding this year’s crop of tech to be a tad underwhelming, though.

Bored with the current alphabet soup of 802.11 flavors? This week, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced 802.11ah, a new low-power, long-range variation that operates in the frequency bands below one gigahertz. It’s designed to work with smart home, connected car and fitness and medical wearables. This new Wi-Fi also comes with a trendy nickname: Wi-Fi HaLow. (Can Wi-Fi JLaw be next?)

win10Microsoft, ever so excited to get people moved off older versions of its operating systems, announced on one of its blogs this week that Windows 10 is now active on more than 200 million devices worldwide. Still, when it comes to computer adoption, Windows 10 hasn’t quite nudged the needle past 10 percent mark. Net Applications, which measures these things, reports that Windows 10 is now on 9.96 percent of machines out there. Windows 7 continues to lead the PC pack, nabbing just under 56 percent of usage. As one might have predicted, a Microsoft marketing exec is already expressing concern over Windows 7’s future and sounding that old “use it at your own risk” warning. Bloggers have called FUD Factory on that one and point out that Microsoft itself is supporting Windows 7 until 2020. (Oh, and Microsoft also found time over the holidays to release a new iOS called Microsoft Selfie designed to make your quick bits of photographic narcissism look better.)

Speaking of things that aren’t what they appear to be, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has tested out T-Mobile’s Binge On service. After the EEF looked a little deeper and found that T—Mobile was actually “optimizing” ALL video streams, even those from non-Binge On participants. The EFF is now calling ion the FCC to take a look into this service, which could be more accurately called Throttle On.

appleSome analysts are predicting a rough 2016 for Apple, citing a somewhat boring year of products in 2015 — the year that saw the Apple Watch, a revamped Apple TV and a great big iPad. Then again, remember that Apple has $206 billion in cash on hand and is expected to do $77 billion in sales this quarter. Apple does not care about you, analysts.

In the Department of Scary News, security blogger Brian Krebs has a recent post about how some companies don’t properly verify the identifies of their customers for things like password resets. He bolsters his argument with the story of how his own PayPal account got hacked.

Could a power outage in Ukraine last month have been the latest shot fired into the Internet of Things in the creeping cyberwar? Kalev Leetaru, a guest contributor over on the Forbes website seems to think so. He describes an incident that took place in late December where several cities in Western Ukraine lost power for about six hours and very sophisticated malware was found on the computer systems of the power company.

Twitter has plans for the first quarter of 2016 and is said to be working on a feature that gives users a 10,000 character limit for tweets, up from the current 140 characters. No specific launch date has been set and Twitter is not confirming anything. Some have already noticed that Direct Messages have a 10K character limit as well, so perhaps it’s not a totally new thing from inside Twitter HQ.

jarvisMark Zuckerberg, boss of Facebook, has some goals for the New Year. As stated on his own Facebook page, this year’s personal challenge is to build his own voice-controlled artificial intelligence powered software assistant to run his home. “You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man,” Mr. Zuckerberg writes. We’ll check back on this one at the end of the year.

Also in challenges, Dean Kamen’s FIRST organization is kicking off the year in robot-building. More than 350 New York City high school students are set to participate in the regional FIRST Robotics Competition next week in Brooklyn and Manhattan, with the regional contest due for March at the Jacob K. Javits Center  (which New Yorkers can now get to easily by SUBWAY after all these years.)

floppyAnd finally, the DriveSavers company has been called upon by many to rescue digital data from crashed hard drives and other unfortunate incidents, and the engineering team there has now been credited with excavating text files from 200 old 5.25-inch floppy disks that belonged to the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Although DriveSavers said it got about 95 percent of the text back, one thing it couldn’t talk about was the content of the files, which was subject to privacy agreements with Roddenberry’s family. But let’s keep an eye out for some “recently discovered” Roddenberry scripts in the next new months.

PTJ 170 News: Duck and Cover

Technology plays a part in all modern wars, doesn’t it?  The recent uptick in violent terrorist attacks around the world has politicians looking at the situation with Internet in mind. While the hacktivist collective Anonymous has been having a go at Islamic State for months now — and has even declared December 11th to be a trolling day for online hassling — presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wants American tech companies to join the battle. And, over in France, the police forces there are asking for more powers during state of emergencies. According to a report in Le Monde, French law enforcement has asked to block free and shared Wi-Fi connections during an official state of emergency and also outlaw communications over the Tor network.

Several companies around the techsphere are making little tweaks and changes to their services. Google announced that it was turning on its protective Safe Browsing warning system for Chrome users on Android so it can warn mobile users about malware and phishing sites just like it does on the desktop. The company also blogged that you can now set up Reminders in Google Calendar alongside your scheduled appointments.

Dropbox and Facebook are both pulling a Google in terms of shutting down certain underperforming apps and services. Dropbox announced this week it was giving its standalone Mailbox and Carousel products the hook and Facebook closed the door on its Creative Labs division.

AT&T continues to roll out its GigaPower gigabit Internet service around the country and said this week is was bringing the fast fiber to 38 more cities around the country. Metro areas getting the glass include LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Pensacola, Louisville, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Memphis, Milwaukee and several other locales. Google Fiber, meanwhile, is flirting with Chicago and Los Angeles.

gigapower

Mozilla is helping out iOS users who are getting pummeled by web ads. The company released its free Focus by Firefox content blocker this week. The app works with the Safari browser for iOS 9.

Apple seems to have hear the pleas of those with extensive music collections and has now upped the number of tracks matched by iTunes Match from 25,000 songs to 100,000. The increased capacity is rolling out slowly, so if you don’t have the extra space yet, just keep checking. The company also released a $100 Smart Battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6s that claims up to 25 hours talk time or 18 hours of LTE data-surfing time on a charge.

In NASA news, the International Space Station hasn’t had a Fresh Direct delivery in months thanks to a couple of failed cargo missions earlier this year, but a supply capsule launched on Sunday finally reached the station this Wednesday. NASA’s involvement with the International Space Station could be winding down in the next decade or so, however, as an agency official at an advisory council meeting this week said NASA plans to get out of the low-Earth orbit business as soon as possible as it looks to the moon and beyond for its explorations. And father out in space, high-resolution images of Pluto taken during the July flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft are arriving back here on Earth.  A sample:

plutoHiRez

Twitter announced this week that it’s going to stop cropping photos posted in tweets. The next time you post a photo or see one in your feed, you should see it as the photographer took it and not some weird little detail of a lather image. Also in the Twitterverse…it’s December, so it must be time for the Top Twitter Trends for 2015.

Also looking at trends: Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Report, which is out now. The report, which crunches data from more than 250 communications services around the world, takes a look at just how people are using their Internet connections.

hellobarbieAnd finally, it’s the holiday season, and tech toys for children are hot this year. As one might expect, interactive toys, like drones and robots, are very popular this season. Toys that talk back to your kids through a combination of voice recognition and networking are also getting a lot of attention, and even seemingly old-school categories are getting a tech upgrade. Hello Barbie and Edwin the Duck, interactive versions of the unrealistically shaped tiny woman and the yellow bathtub waterfowl respectively, are two such items putting a spin on the old analog formats and opening up new worlds. But, with the recent VTech hack, general privacy concerns and the state of Internet security in general, make sure you know the risks — as well as the rewards  — with Internet-connected toys. It’s the season of giving, but you don’t want to give away anything to hackers and data stalkers.

PTJ 126 News: Dawn of a New Day

draftbillThe Federal Communications Commission’s new rules for Net Neutrality are scheduled for a vote on February 26th, but that has not stopped Congress from doing something in the meantime. Republican leaders put out draft legislation this week that prohibits the FCC from reclassifying broadband service as regulated public utility like radio, television and telephone, as President Obama proposed last year. The proposed bill does ban throttling or blocking, but has a “network management” loophole for the telecom companies. Several Internet activists like Free Press have already taken up the call to protest, so this issue certainly isn’t going to fade into the background anytime soon.

Remember when the United States government blamed North Korea for the massive hack on Sony Pictures last year and some security experts questioned how officials could be so sure North Korea did the deed? As reported in The New York Times, it turns out that the National Security Agency itself had totally pwned, er, infiltrated North Korea’s networks back in 2010 so they were familiar with some of that territory.

zombiesCloser to home, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a list of apps and services that do and do not protect you from Verizon Wireless’s user-tracking perma-cookie that was discovered by researchers last fall. The ProPublica site published a story last week about how the online ad company Turn was using Verizon’s tracking numbers to regenerate deleted cookies and keep tabs on the users who thought they deleted them. Once busted by ProPublica, Turn said it would suspend its use of these back-from-the-dead Zombie Cookie IDs — pending further evaluation.

Bloomberg News reports that like everybody else, Taiwanese electronics maker HTC is working on its own smartwatch, as well as a new flagship smartphone with a 20-megapixel rear camera and Dolby 5.1 audio. Both products are expected to be announced at the Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona the first week of March.

Google Glass, which made a couple year-end lists of Biggest Flops of 2014, is getting discontinued (the original version, anyway). Microsoft, however, has Project HoloLens in the works, so people who want to compute while wearing strips of see-through plastic on their faces have a fresh new option. The company’s holographic goggles will arrive around the same time as its new Windows 10 system; both got some event love this week.

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One little wearables flop isn’t slowing down Google, though. The company, which took out a lease from NASA last year for the historic Hangar One in California, is doing business with other space firms as well. The Big G (and Fidelity) are making a billion-dollar investment in SpaceX for a project that would use about 700 small satellites to provide Internet access to parts of the world that don’t have it.

We have yet another NASA mission to follow this year. This March, the space agency’s Dawn spacecraft will arrive for its assignment at Ceres, a 600-mile wide asteroid in the belt of flying space rocks between between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn, which launched in 2007, has previously orbited Vesta. The Dawn spacecraft combines state-of-the-art technologies tested by other recent space experiments with off-the-shelf components and spare parts and instrumentation left over from previous missions. The spacecraft will make a study of Ceres, which NASA considers to be a dwarf planet, and has already beamed back some images from about 238,000 miles away.

And one more NASA item of note: the agency says the Earth is due to get buzzed by an asteroid later this month.  The big rock should be visible to those in the Americas, Africa and Europe the night of January 26th  and the Virtual Telescope site also plans to track the asteroid starting at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time that day for those who pref to stargaze from inside the house.

Facebook wants to help you further cut down on the amount of floating garbage on your News Feed. In a company blog post this week, two Facebook staffers described an update to the News Feed mix that reduces the distribution of posted stories that have been reported as hoaxes or deleted by other users. (While this could help declutter News Feeds around Facebook, the tool does have the potential for abuse from organized campaigns to discredit, say, an environmental issue. Let’s hope Facebook has thought of this, too.)

Amazon announced this week that it has plans to develop its own original theatrical films that will also be available quite early on its Amazon Prime Instant Video service. This move comes a few months after Netflix announced it was producing a sequel to the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for both IMAX theaters and its own streaming customers that will premiere this August 28th.

The new movie Blackhat opened in theaters this past weekend, and although the hacking action thrilled starring Chris Hemsworth got blown away at the box office by American Sniper, it did get a little cred from the Ars Technica site for not having completely illogical, implausible and just plain stupid technology scenes. The film’s creators hired not one, but two hacking consultants. Judging by the movie’s poor reception from critics, perhaps the producers should have sprung for a script consultant or two as well.

mariogoombaAnd finally,  over at the University of Tübingen in Germany, a group of researchers in the area of cognitive modeling have developed an artificial intelligence system that allows the videogame character Mario the plumber to  experience emotions and respond to voice commands. Mario AI is also aware of his environment, makes decisions in the game on gathered data or “learning.” Yes, there’s a video demonstrating the experiment. Maybe for the next experiment, the researchers can get the Angry Birds to talk through their feelings so they’re not quite so outraged all the time.