As much of the United States drifts into its second month of lockdown to help stop the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, El Kaiser and J.D. discuss the joy of playing old predictable games in decidedly unpredictable times. This week’s episode also includes a roundup of the past week’s technology news and a sharing of feelings about the Titans show on DC Universe. Spin up PTJ 333 to hear it all!
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Discussed on This Week’s Show
You have your good history and you have your bad history — and both kinds are mashed up here this week on Pop Tech Jam. The violent protests in Charlottesville last weekend were amplified in all directions thanks to social media and the technology industry finds itself entwined with current events, as El Kaiser and J.D. discuss. A few other headlines from the tech world managed to get attention as well. But at the end of the day, if you just want to curl up and spend some of your free time in a happy place, the Internet Archive has some new treats to explore. Peace out, Jammers. We’ll be back in September.
Masaya Nakamura, known to many as the Father of Pac-Man, died earlier this week at the age of 91. In 1980, his company, Namco, released the original Pac-Man game by designer Toru Iwatani — and we’ve been busting ghosts ever since. The influence of Pac-Man on popular culture these past 30-odd years is hard to underestimate, but if you’re feeling nostalgic, fire up the Android, iOS and Windows app versions of the game.
Not everyone likes new stuff. Still, Microsoft took to one of its own blogs recently to make a push for its spiffy new Windows 10 browser Edge, trying to show that the software provided better battery life when surfing compared to those other companies’ browsers (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera). However, in the latest survey of desktop browser market share from Net Applications, Google Chrome version 50 was in first place with 22.65 percent of users, with two versions of IE and an older edition of Chrome right behind. Edge appears in fifth place with about 4.46 percent of users, so perhaps this battery tip hasn’t gotten around.
Also from the Department of Microsoft News, the company announced a new version of its signature game console called the Xbox One S that starts at $400 for the two-terabyte model. The S-model is smaller than the earlier Xbox One and supports 4K video; the older Xbox One now sells for $280, so up yours, Sony PlayStation.
Google has added a new feature of its own to its app: Symptom Search. Yes, now when you type in specific health woes you’re feeling like headache or foot pain, Google returns a list of medical conditions that may include your symptoms. Doctor Google advises you not to use use this in place of actual medical care.
China is still winning at supercomputers. The new top performer, the Sunway TaihuLight, is capable of performing some 93 quadrillion calculations per second (petaflops, dudes). The TaihuLight is roughly five times more powerful than the fastest supercomputer in the United States.
And finally, the summer box office is heating up and Pixar’s latest production, Finding Dory, just broke the box office record for the highest-grossing animated film debut. The sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo — made with the voice of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, melded to Pixar’s cutting-edge, state-of-the-art animation technology — made more than $136 million dollars at the box office. Finding Dory passed the DreamWorks film, Shrek the Third,as top-earner. Pixar’s former top debut Toy Story 3 debuted with about $110 million back in 2010, but it looks like Dory will give a lot of people the urge to go fishing in the next few weeks.
President Obama sent his last budget to Congress this week, and out of the $4 trillion dollars total, the budget requested $19 billion dollars for national cybersecurity. The new plan calls for a chunk of change to finally upgrade federal workers off their ancient totally hackable computer systems. Case in point, according to VICE’s Motherboard site, an anonymous hacker has threatened to dump gigabytes of employee information grabbed off a Justice Department computer. Homeland security, indeed.
Speaking of Wired, the site is cracking down on ad-blocking and soon plans to start restricting access to the site for readers cruising by in a browser with an ad-blocker. You can also give them money to get rid of the ads.
But be very careful when shopping for USB-C cables. The Verge site reports that the faulty or improper wiring on cheap uncertified USB-C cables has actually shorted out laptops due to incorrect power usage. The article points to lists of cables that have been tested to work correctly, but also calls USB industry groups to come up with reliable certification procedures because nobody wants fried laptop for dinner.
And finally, if you long for a more simpler time when computer viruses were not just out to steal your money and identity, visit the Malware Museum online at the Internet Archive. Curated by security expert Mikko Hypponen of F-Secure, the emulated selections in the museum have been cleansed of their destructive power but show you the sometimes-whimsical messages left by hackers in a gentler, DOS-based era.
The core of Big Bang Data consists of artists and designers using data — and data visualization — to illustrate just how much public and private information drives the world these days. There’s historical content, like sections of underwater data cables and a display of data-storage devices including ancient floppies, USB drives and the ever-looming cloud. A film on government surveillance outlines the NSA’s known practices. Another documentary on a loop explores the history of the Internet Archive project. A wall projection (shown above) rates the happiness factor in London’s boroughs based on real-time social media posts. Another mapping project shows the physical Networks of London, and another examines how data can be used for good to “catapult healthcare into the future.”
Julian Oliver’s 2012 work, Transparency Grenade, is also on view. As described by the gallery card, “Equipped with a tiny computer, microphone and powerful wireless antenna, the Transparency Grenade captures network traffic and audio at the site and securely and anonymously streams it to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. User names, hostnames, IP addresses, unencrypted email fragments, web pages, images and voice extracted from this data and then presented on an online, public map, shown at the location of the detonation.” The gallery provides an open Wi-Fi access point named watchednetwork so visitors can see just what the Grenade can grab.
Even if you can’t make it across the pond to see it, the exhibit’s website is well worth checking out. Life is art, as they say, and that goes for our digital lives as well.
The Consumer Electronics Show has lumbered into Las Vegas for its annual Unveiling O’ the Gadgets. As suspected, lots of smarthome systems, fancy TVs and wearables are in the spotlight. We’ll have a full rundown of the show next week, but some bullet points include:
Facebook has just acquired Wit.AI, a company that turns spoken words into instructions that robots can understand. Perhaps in the near future, the Roomba will be able to handle your status updates as well…
Gogo, which provides inflight Internet services to many airlines, does not want its users to stream video and hog bandwidth enroute and has gone so far as to issue a fraudulent HTTPS certificate to anyone onboard who dares to visit YouTube during their flight. The company was busted by Adrienne Porter Felt, an engineer on the security squad for Google’s Chrome browser, and she even posted a screenshot to her Twitter feed of the fake certificate. Gogo’s chief technology officer Anand Chari then posted a statement on his company’s blog explaining Gogo’s actions. And so it goes.
Another week, another lawsuit against Apple. This time, two plaintiffs are suing the company because they say their 16-gigabyte iOS devices do not really come with 16 gigabytes of storage, and that the iOS 8 system takes up even more precious space. Apple had no comment.
For those who like to complain, the Federal Communications Commission has launched a new site called the Consumer Help Center. You can use it to file complaints about various FCC-regulated industries.
Behind every flop, there’ a story, and Fast Company has a very detailed long read about the development and fallout of Amazon’s failed Fire Phone. The site has an additional post about post-Fire Phone changes at Lab126, the quasi-secret R&D arm of Amazon that develops the company’s hardware.
Old music can be new music – if you’ve never heard it before, and the inventive Radiooooo.com site is one of the options out there that can perk up your ears. It’s still in the beta stage, but if you’ve never come across the site before, Radiooooo.com presents a nice world map in your browser window, along with a series of tabs at the bottom of the window all labeled by decade:
If you want to hear what was playing in Brazil in the 1950s, click the decade and the country on the map to hear the site serve up a popular song from that place and time. (A video from the sites creators demonstrates how it all works.) It’s a great way to discover new-old tunes and lose yourself in music history for a while. The site, which started as an Indiegogo project, is currently in beta.
If Radiooooo whets your appetite for more vintage tunes, there are plenty more to be found online with a quick search. For example, there’s the UK 1940s Radio Station, which plays classic radio shows, songs and other audio bits popular in the United Kingdom during the World War II era. The station occasionally plays news bulletins and weather reports from the period as well.
Other sites, including services like Vintage Radio Shows that have apps and trial subscriptions, the old-time radio options at Live365.com and Relic Radio are also around the Web. And if you’re doing some driving this holiday season and want to download some classic old radio shows to keep you company on the crowded highway, check out the Internet Archive’s Old Time Radio collection. Don’t forget, TuneIn Radio and other mobile apps can also pull down vintage streams, if you want to play recordings from the early 20th century on your mobile device here in the early 21st century.
It’s that time of year when the weather gets chillier but the Oscar race heats up in Hollywood. The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch is an early award season favorite but if you just can’t wait for the biopic of cryptanalyst, computer pioneer, and super-boffin Alan Turing, J.D. tells us where we can get a biographical fix of the WWII hero.
In the news, Google’s Nexus 9 tablet is now available, as is the latest iteration of their mobile OS; the Apple Pay roll-out gathers momentum; researchers identify a costly glitch in Visa’s contactless credit cards; Microsoft joins the wearable fitness tracker game; Amazon unveils their Prime Photos cloud service; lots and lots of corporate hookups; and The Internet Archive debuts their Internet Arcade with 900 classic games.
Mobile payments, along with chip ‘n’ PIN cards like the ones used in Europe, are destined to replace the antique magnetic-stripe credit cards still in use here in the United States. But chip ‘n’ PIN may have some problems of its own. Researchers at Newscastle University in the United Kingdom have published a report that says a glitch in Visa’s contactless credit cards lets them bypass the standard £20 limit and approve unlimited cash transactions up to one million dollars without requiring a PIN – as long as the amount is requested in a foreign currency. Okay, guys, fix that now, please.
Last week, Microsoft announced its new wearable fitness tracker — a $200 black tech bracelet with the catchy name of Microsoft Band. It works not just with Windows Phones, but Android models and iPhones as well; if you do happen to use Windows Phone 8.1 with it, you also a few other perks like vice commands to the Cortana assistant and text notifications. Now, if only the Microsoft Band did not look like a court-ordered monitor for those under house arrest…
Microsoft will be getting a new neighbor soon. The Seattle Times has confirmed that Apple is opening an engineering office up there in the Emerald City. The tech-scene corporate mixers are probably going to get a lot more interesting once Apple moves into town.