Tag Archives: Internet of Things

PTJ 225: Shazam!!

The hills are alive with the sound of buzzing drones, leaking data and the thwack of fake news getting smacked down. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss it all, as well as Shazam’s jump into augmented reality, smaller Windows 10 updates and Consumer Reports stepping it up to evaluate the security of new smart-home devices. Just press Play to get a fresh helping of the week’s news, a Tech Term and a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint — all in one 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 193 News: You Say You Want a Revolution

telegramSpyware isn’t just for hackers and sleazy software makers these days. Oppressive governments are also using it to crack down on dissidents, according to a recent story in The New York Times. In other ominous privacy news, a report from Reuters and other sources report that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has decreed that “Foreign messaging companies active in the country are required to transfer all data and activity linked to Iranian citizens into the country in order to ensure their continued activity.” The council has given companies one year to make the move. The Telegram messenger app, which was created by the Durov brothers, has a huge user base in Iran and could be a target here.

Facebook could also be stepping up its secure-texting game. The Guardian reports that The Social Network is working on an optional encryption setting for its Messenger app.

ecThe Internet and politics can be a volatile mix, but the European Commission announced this week that it had worked with Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to come up with a code of conduct and policies designed to stop the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe. Meanwhile, over here in the States, enthusiasm seems to have fizzled out for new legislation that would require technology companies like Apple to provide handy back doors into their products for law-enforcement officials.

Not long after it snapped up AOL, Verizon is still shopping and in contention to buy up the crumbling Yahoo empire. If you’re wondering whythe Fast Company site has a big story out about how it all adds up to Verizon’s quest to complete with Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix with content and services.

Despite dips in PC sales, people are still making laptops and ASUS is going after Apple’s MacBook Air for the thinnest ‘n’ lightest ultrabook prize. The ASUS ZenBook 3, which has a body made of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, was announced this week at the Computex show in Taipei. Like the newer MacBooks, the ZenBook 3 only has a USB-C port for peripheral connectivity, but the Windows-based device sports a 12.5-inch screen and weighs in around two pounds — just a few ounces lighter than the 12-inch MacBook Air.

ASUS announced new smartphones and a few other products, but the one that most people were talking about was its Zenbo Robot. The Zenbo is billed as “your smart little companion” can roll around the house at will doing all kinds of things. The Zenbo has a list price of $599 and will be available this year. Here’s a video of it:

One firm that seems to be getting out of the moving household robot business, however, is Google. The company bought Boston Dynamics in 2013, but now Google has put it up for sale. Some relationships just don’t work out.

A team of German researchers is trying to design a system that teaches robots how to feel pain. The paper describing the system is called “An Artificial Robot Nervous System To Teach Robots How To Feel Pain And Reflexively React To Potentially Damaging Contacts.”

Also from the world of academic journals — Jack Ma, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his team published a paper in the publication Advanced Functional Materials that describes tiny integrated circuits that adhere to a person’s skin like a temporary tattoo. The technology could have future use in biomedical devices or a really personalized integration with the Internet of Things.

skin

And about that Internet of Things,  the consulting firm Chetan Sharma reports that a third of new cellular service customers for  Q1 2016 were cars.

Some people poking around  an upcoming update to the Google Photos Android app say there are hints in there that certain users will get free unlimited online storage for photos and videos in their original resolutions. And who are those lucky users? People using Google’s own Nexus hardware, of course!

Scientists studying samples from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft have detected the amino acid glycine and other organic molecules in the cloud surrounding  Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Researchers say this helps prove the theory that comets may have brought water and organic molecules from space to a very young, newly formed baby planet Earth.

Also showing signs of life — or at least the potential for it — is a little planet about 1,200 light years away called Kepler-62f. NASA announced the discovery of Kepler-62f back in 2013 and said the planet was in the habitable zone. Last month, researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Washington released a study called “The Effect of Orbital Configuration on the Possible Climates and Habitability of Kepler-62f” that detailed the results of computer simulation models that tried to determine of the planet could sustain life.

After an unsuccessful first try, the team on the International Space Station were able to fully inflate the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module last week, giving astronauts a little more room to move up there. As you may recall, the BEAM bouncy space castle was delivered in April by one of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsules this past April.

SpaceX itself is having a pretty good couple of months. The company just made its third successful rocket booster landing at sea this year after launching the Thaicomm 8 communications satellite into orbit.

And finally, still in space, Pluto may have gotten busted down in status, but the United State Post Office is celebrating the dwarf planet and last year’s NASA New Horizons mission with a set of commemorative stamps. And not just any stamps — Forever Stamps. As in, “Pluto, you’ll forever be a full-size planet to us!”

pluto

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 154 News: Salad Days

Google isn’t taking much of a summer vacation and instead, set up a whole new corporate operating structure this week.  In a blog post on the company site, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced a new business entity called Alphabet that will now oversee  a collection of companies underneath it, including Google. Other members of Alphabet include Nest and Google Fiber. The new structure is said to give all the companies more room to grow and embody the Google Philosophy. However, there was one little glitch with setting up the new mega-company: German automaker BMW actually owns the trademark and domain of the now-overloaded alphabet.com.  Google has abc.xyz instead, and a cheeky little Silicon Valley joke in the mix, too.

Verizon Wireless is also changing things up. Following in the steps of T-Mobile, Verizon announced late last week that it was getting rid of that whole two-year contract commitment when you buy a new cellphone and has new service plans outlined in the Verizon press release “Simplified Data Choices Match Customer Lifestyles.”  If you blow past your monthly allowance, that’ll cost you $15 per gigabyte. (On that note, Snapchat has introduced a new Travel Mode in its Android and iOS apps that stops automatic Snaps, Stories and Discovery updates on cellular connections unless the user requests it to help save data-plan bytes.)

stopA new report by Adobe and PageFair estimates that ad-blocking software will cause a $22 billion dollar loss of revenue for advertisers this year, and that could affect jobs. Advertisers worry that ad-squashing software is even starting to stifle those expensive video ads everyone’s rolling out. Many users counter those arguments by pointing out that online ads can stalk and collect data on the user, hog bandwidth and are often infected with malware. So that’s why they use software like Adblock Plus — and will do so on mobile platforms as more blocker apps arrive.

Speaking of blocking, the Internet Watch Foundation is stepping up the fight against images of child pornography online. By using hashes, also known as digital fingerprints of specific images, and compiling these hashes into a lengthy list for sites and service providers, the group hopes to prevent uploading or speed up the takedown of the illegal content.

The Internet of Things is gaining ground and a world of automated appliances and household systems looms, but the Online Trust Alliance is trying to stop it all from turning into Skynet: The Home Edition. The OTA group has proposed a set of privacy and security standards for smart devices, and released a draft of its Internet of Things Trust Framework this week.  For those who like to participate, there’s a call for public comments on the document.

Meanwhile, up in space, the crew on the International Space Station got together, harvested and ate lettuce actually grown on the station. It’s all part of NASA’s research on fresh food grown in microgravity. If we’re sending humans to Mars, after all, we’re gonna need to pack some sustainable food resources.

issvege

While most of the crew was enjoying delicious space salad, two cosmonauts from the Russian Federation Space Agency went on a five-hour spacewalk to install new equipment, clean the windows and inspect the exterior of the station.

Mozilla has released Firefox version 40 with a new look for Windows 10 and more built-on security to guard against rogue third-party browser add-ons. Mozilla also seemed to be settling a score with Microsoft for setting its own Edge browser as the default in the Windows 10 express setup. Cortana searches in the new version of Firefox don’t have to use Microsoft’s Bing browser.

Since it’s mid-August,  the Applesauce rumor mill is beginning to grind faster ahead of the traditional September Apple Product Announcement and Media Lovefest. The 9to5Mac is among those guessing that the event will be on Wednesday, September 9th. The blogs are expecting Apple to reveal this year’s iPhone model with Force Touch feedback, iOS 9 and a new iOS-based Apple TV. The mythical, larger 12.9-inch iPad has also been rumored for fall.

And finally, Facebook just published a study about how the world expresses laughter online and found that the once-dominant chatroom standard LOL has become passé, giving way to chortling emojis, hehe and  hahaNelson Muntz, your time is now.

PTJ 144 News: Cheese and Bacon Edition

A new day, a new dance, and Time Warner Cable has indeed found a new tango partner. As previously rumored, Charter Communications has stepped up with a $56.7 billion dollar deal to acquire the larger Time Warner Cable crew. Charter is also said to be negotiating to buy the smaller Bright House Networks cable company as well.  Time Warner Cable was spun off of Time Warner Inc. in 2008 and if the new deal with Charter goes through, the new company will be dubbed with the sprightly new moniker “New Charter.” (As opposed to, you know, Classic Charter.)

tweeterTwitter is also in acquisition discussions to snag Flipboard — but sources say apparently stalled at the moment. (The bird-themed microblogging service  also added Periscope to its Android app this week.)

The streaming-music service Spotify held a press event last week to announce it was expanding into podcasts and video clips. Some detractors have pointed out that Spotify’s audience uses the service as a background medium and a soundtrack to doing something else, which is harder to do with video because it requires direct attention.

Instagram wants your attention and has been sending out a regular Highlights message that shows off recent pictures from the people you follow on Instagram. It really hopes you’ll be intrigued enough to start using your account again.

Also in pictures — Google’s new Photos app is on the way, reports the Android Police site. as the Google I/O 2015 conference gets underway this week. Meanwhile, Google has also filed a patent for an interactive toy that even the BBC labeled as “creepy” in a headline. See for yourself, courtesy of the US Patents Office:

googletoys1

Netflix has given itself a redesign for the first time in four years. The changes include showing more information about shows you might want to watch, better presentation for the tons of Netflix options available and an enhanced recommendation engine.

Microsoft wants everyone to love its upcoming Windows 10 system! For those of you who do not have Windows Phones, the company has announced a companion app for Android and iOS phones that will let you connect your device to your PC. Once installed, the Phone Companion app will make sure photos you take with your phone get saved back to the computer by way of OneDrive and notes, music and Office documents can be used between the two. Microsoft also announced a standalone Cortana app for Android and iOS.  Watch your back in the App Store and Google Play store, Cortana.

The Daily Telegraph of London recently had an extensive article on Apple’s design guru Jony Ive, written by actor Stephen Fry. The story broke one new bit of news: Sir Ive has just been promoted from Senior Vice President of Design to Apple’s Chief Design Office and will take up the new gig on July 1st.

wwdc15The usual leaks and rumors are starting to pop a few weeks ahead of Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference. The iPhone 6s just may include the Force Touch screen with haptic feedback. The 9to5Mac site also says it hears the new iOS 9 will include split-screen apps for iPads, a fresh new system-wide font for the user interface, a Home app for controlling your HomeKit Internet of things and mass transit directions for the Apple Maps app. As with any iOS update, performance and security enhancements are also promised — and unusually for Apple, there’s talk that the new iOS 9 system could actually run better on older hardware like the iPhone 4s than iOS 8 did.

And speaking of new hardware, an eye doctor in Canada says he’s created bionic lens implants that can give the wearer 3 times better vision than 20/20. Cue bionic eye sound FX!

NASA’s Dawn probe has been taking a close view of Ceres and discovered some curious lights on the surface of the dwarf planet last month. So now NASA has put up an online poll asking members of the public what they think those bright spots may be.

Holiday Monday or not, NASA was busy this week, with the relocation of one of the International Space Station’s modules to make room for more docking ports to host commercial spacecraft, and the announcement of the scientific instruments to be sent on the Europa mission. And sad news for locomotive fans — the NASA Railroad has been retired. The 38-mile stretch of track was once used by three trains to haul rocket boosters for the space shuttle from the train yard over to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA_Railroad_locomotive_2And finally, bacon has become a big part of techie culture — hence the variety of bacon-flavored products you can buy over on ThinkGeek.com. The flat, fried breakfast meat has so entrenched itself that a bacon emoji has been named as a candidate for Unicode 9.0, which is due out next year. In addition to bacon, other nominees include a dancing man that looks somewhat like John Travolta in the white disco suit from Saturday Night Fever, a wilted flower, a croissant, the face-palm gesture, a pregnant woman and a symbol that brings to mind the original Batman logo. As with most emoji, there are no words.

PTJ 127 News: Waze and Means

Microsoft reported its quarterly earnings this week and things were better than expected, thanks to big sales in cloud computing software, Nokia Lumia phones and Surface tablets — all that primetime product placement on network television finally paid off! While this was all good news, the company’s stock did drop 4 percent in after-hours trading that day, due to that big multicolored elephant in the room — Windows for the PC, which continues to lose ground in a mobile world. (Meanwhile, Apple’s earnings call revealed that the company sold a ton of new iPhone 6 models and that the Apple Watch is supposed to ship in April.)

fbfailFacebook and its sister site Instagram had a major outage this week, going offline Tuesday morning for about an hour. Facebook said the faceplant was due to an internal glitch and not the Lizard Squad hacking group, which posted vague claims of responsibility on Twitter. The sites for Tinder and Hipchat were also down around the same time, but came back without incident.

The Facebook mobile app can be a bit of a space and resource hog, but the company is slimming things down for that new crop of inexpensive Android smartphones aimed at emerging markets overseas. Facebook Lite, as it’s known, is less than one megabyte in size and designed to work even on slow 2G cellular connections.

The merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable still looms. While many advocates on either side of the deal have shared their views with the Federal Communications Commission, some of those views seem a little…familiar. As The Verge blog revealed after examining public records, several politicians who have sent in personally supportive letters praising Comcast’s business practices were actually sending in letters ghostwritten by Comcast communications specialists. Comcast said it was just helping to provide information on the pending deal.

Google’s  new wireless service in partnership with Sprint and T-Mobile may let your connection bounce around between WiFi or whichever wireless carrier has the strongest signal at the time. It won’t be ready for several months, though, but is said to be similar to a WiFi-heavy phone service called Freewheel from Cablevision,

googfiberGoogle also continues its push into high-speed fiber optic networks for residential use. In a post on the Google Fiber blog, the company announced that Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham would be joining Kansas City, Austin and Provo in the Gigabit Internet Club, which as we know, as speeds about 100 times faster than most normal broadband.

Snapchat and Twitter are trying to swim deeper in the revenue stream. Snapchat has begun to integrate content (with advertisements) from media companies like CNN, the Food Network and People magazine as part of the app’s Discover section. And Twitter’s blog announced this week that group Direct Messages and mobile video were rolling out. The new video feature — which is available in the Android and iOS apps — can record, edit and post short clips to your Twitter feed so all your followers can share the experience when 140 characters just aren’t enough.

If you’ve ever used the Waze traffic app to note the location of police cars on the highway, note that officials in the Los Angeles Police Department would like to shut down that part of the program. The LAPD fear the feature could be “misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community.” No response from Waze-owner Google yet on the fate of the po-po button.

IoTsecurityAnd finally, the Federal Trade Commission just released a 71-page report that says companies making smart appliances and gadgets should monitor connected devices throughout the product’s entire life cycle, patch security holes, and grab the reins on how much personal data a device collects from the user. The FTC, which has filed complaints against companies before for things like lax security, also calls on Congress to pass new legislation like broader privacy protections for consumers and a National Data Breach Notification Law. Some industry think-tanks and at least two Republican lawmakers have raised issues with the report, saying basically that overregulation smothers innovation and jobs. Still, with reports of hacked baby monitors and other connencted devices becoming more frequent, forcing companies to secure their hardware and software doesn’t sound like too much to ask, y’know?

PTJ 123 News: Same Old Lang Syne

Will the Drama Llama ever leave Sony’s living room?  While US officials are thinking North Korea had some help or perhaps subcontracted the job, the hermit kingdom is still denying involvement and threatening retaliation, (as it often does). Not everyone is convinced North Korea did the hit, however, as some cybersecurity experts are questioning the FBI’s investigation into the matter and are now dubious as to the assumed motives and methods.

Speaking of The Interview, the film made about $3 million in theaters and about $15 million in online streams at Google Play, YouTube and Xbox Video on Christmas Day. Also on Christmas Day: hackers took down Sony’s PlayStation network, as well as Microsoft’s Xbox Live network in what was thought to be a opportune-yet-unrelated-to-North-Korea attack by the Lizard Squad.

And yet, a hacker’s work is never done. A member of Europe’s Chaos Computer Club is claiming he can fake a fingerprint and potentially fool a fingerprint scanner with high-quality digital photos of the aforementioned finger taken from afar and commercially available software. A video of the demonstration is on YouTube, but it’s in German. (Sprechen Sie Deutsch?) The Chaos Computer Club has claimed to have beaten Apple’s Touch ID scanner on the iPhone 5S before, and say vulnerabilities still exist in the iPhone 6.

There are a lot of iPhone 6’s out there now after the gift-giving season. According to the analytics firm Flurry, 51% of new device activations around the world from December 19th to December 25th were for Apple devices. Samsung had second place with 18% of new device activations and Microsoft had third place with 5.8%. (Apple also got a patent for a “smart stylus” this week, so get ready for those iSty and Apple Pen rumors.)

apple stylus

Sony may have had a rough year, but its old PlayStation 3 game consoles are doing their part for science, like helping crunch data in the study of black holes and gravitational waves. The New York Times has the story of how a scientist in the University of Dartmouth’s Physics Department has been making his own supercomputers by networking together stacks of old PS3s.

In space news, a recently discovered comet called 2014 Q2, also known as Lovejoy, should be visible in the night sky on the Northern Hemisphere for much of January if you live in an area free of light pollution.  For experienced stargazers, the comet is currently near the constellation Lepus the Hare and is passing close to Orion’s belt on its way to the constellation Taurus the Bull by January 9th.

lovejoy

It the Department of Out with the Old, Yahoo has now shut down its long-serving Yahoo Directory, a page of categorized topic links that had been around since 1994. And while it seems like Internet Explorer has been Microsoft’s browser since the dawn of Web Time, but new reports say that the company is building an entirely new browser codenamed Spartan for its upcoming Windows 10 system.

In legal news, the United States Bankruptcy Court here in Manhattan has ruled that Aereo — the now-squashed teeny tiny antenna company that got sued out of business for redistributing broadcast TV signals — can sell off its technology to the highest bidder.

Facebook has apologized for its Year in Review feature, an algorithm that created an automatic slideshow from a user’s photos that could be shared with Facebook friends. While it was meant to be a celebration of the year’s best moments, all capped with the tagline “It’s been a great year” some users complained that the software pulled in photos from sad events they’d rather not highlight. (For those who didn’t have tragedy but hated the photos Facebook pulled, keep in mind you can edit the results.)

yir

The Consumer Electronics Association’s CES tradeshow opens next week in Las Vegas and its planners say the 2015 show will be “the largest ever Internet of Things showcase” with more than 900 exhibitors rolling out their future wares. New products for home security and climate control systems, automotive connectivity, kitchen appliances and more are expected, as well as new innovations in sensor technology.

And finally, the Alternet site has put out its list of Biggest Product Fails of 2014. At the top of the flop list: the Amazon Fire Phone. At least the Fire Phone is topping a list somewhere, although it’s probably not the one Amazon had in mind. Happy 2015, y’all!

fire

10 Things We Talked About in 2014 That Will Be Even Bigger in 2015

  1. NET NEUTRALITY
    It wasn’t just us — nearly four million people took the time to file comments on the Federal Communication Commission’s website in the summer and fall of 2014. Larger corporations who do not want to see their businesses regulated are pitted against consumers, advocacy groups, digital-rights organizations and smaller companies who think the Internet should stay the way it is — and remain free and open. The FCC’s new rules are expected by February, so stand by for more chatter in the new year.
  1. HACKING
    The Sony Pictures Hack got a lot of press, but it was only one of many high-profile intrusions in 2014. JPMorgan Chase and The Home Depot also had hacking headlines, all on the heels of 2013’s big Target data heist. It all continues to be a big financial payoff for fraudsters, so batten down the hatches for 2015.
  1. SECURITY
    Yes, if big corporations had better security, maybe they wouldn’t get hacked as severely, but remember, security is an issue for everyone. The Heartbleed bug and the Shellshock vulnerability were just two incidents in the past year in which our everyday computer systems were proven not to be as secure as we thought. Apple has even resorted to an automatic patch for a recent clock bug to make sure people were protected. So stay on guard  and keep on patchin’.
  1. WEARABLES
    Yes, we saw a lot of smartwatches hit the stores in 2014, but they were all trying to get out ahead of the Apple Watch, which was announced last fall and is expected to go on sale sometime before the end of March. Fitness trackers, like the Microsoft Band and the Fitbit line saw some action, too. It’ll be interesting to see if the fancy watches impact their sales in the new year, or of fitness and fashion shall remain divided. (And don’t forget — Google Glass is still lurking out there as well in the wearable world.)
  1. MOBILE PAYMENTS
    Again, Google Wallet and a couple other mobile payment systems were already there, but Apple dropped Apple Pay into its new hardware, and that’s all people want to talk about. Apple Pay was not without backlash, though, as some stores like CVS and Rite Aid opted not to take Apple’s system because they had one of their own in the works (hel-lo, antitrust investigation). But the drugstores’ CurrentC system is not off to a great start security-wise and it’s already had an email database breach of its own.
  1. INTERNET OF THINGS
    Ah, devices all connected together into one big Internet of Things. As one might expect, there’s a massive push for connected-home stuff at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Expo next week. We’ve already seen connected light bulbs and thermostats get some attention in 2014, so get ready for more things talking to other things.
  1. 4K VIDEO
    Ultra high-def TV sets were all the rage at CES last year, but now prices have dropped far enough so that regular people who are Not Multimillionaires can afford some of the new models. YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are starting to stream some content in 4K, and new smartphones with faster processors that can handle 4K vid (like the Snapdragon 810) are on the way so more people can shoot their own UHD movies.
  1. SOCIAL ISSUES ONLINE
    As more women enter traditional male strongholds, like the fields of computer science or massively multiplayer videogames, some (but not all) men are feeling threatened by the changing world and lashing out protectively. Message boards, personal communication and even organized efforts like the so-called GamerGate incident have shown some uncivilized behavior towards women, who for their part, are starting to stand up and fight back — even getting coverage on the front page of The New York Times. America’s volatile year with racial issues has also spilled over into the online world, with tirades in social media and even snide remarks about a black stormtrooper in the Star Wars trailer. But people are rising above it and using technology as a tool to make a difference. Take for example, Feminist Hacker Barbie or the way social media has been used to organize peaceful protests efficiently and bring people together for to work for change. There’s still a long way to go, but things are shifting and will continue to do so.
  1. VIDEO EVERYWHERE
    2014 saw more ways than ever before to stream video conent to mobile devices. Even though some companies like Aereo bit the dust in court, others like HBO have made the jump to free their programming from cable packages and make it available in standalone apps and services. New hardware like the Amazon Fire TV box and Stick — along with the growing adoption of existing products from Roku, Google and Apple — have made it cheap and easy to stream Internet video to the big screen. Online video streams to all screen sizes will only get more popular, especially as more Smart TVs with some of these services built in continue to get more affordable.
  1. STAR WARS
    Yeah, we talked a lot about Star Wars: The Force Awakens this year on the show. So imagine what it’s gonna be like when the movie actually opens on December 18, 2015.

Happy New Year!

PTJ 101 News: Song of Dice and Ire

openThis past Tuesday was supposed to be the end of the first-round public comment period for the proposed Net Neutrality (or Open Internet) rules but forth by the Federal Communications Commission. Due to an overwhelming volume of people trying to deposit their $0.2, however, the FCC has now extended the initial round of comments until Friday, July 18th, at midnight. [Quick! To the Rantmobile!] The FCC’s website even has a chart showing the huge flurry of messages coming in through the site’s Electronic Comment Filing System on this particular topic. In addition to mere mortals, several large tech companies  have stated their support for an open internet and thirteen US senators also called on the FCC to support net neutrality. A decision could come in September, after the next round of comments.

The FCC is also hearing it from the DISH network, which has formally asked the agency to block the pending Comcast-Time Warner merger due to serious competitive concerns. (By the way, the FCC just picked its panel last week to review that looming deal.) DISH also doesn’t like the proposed AT&T and DirecTV merger, but the company should be celebrating the recent court ruling in favor of its Hopper DVRs.

Adding to the alphabet soup: the FAA and the FTC: A few weeks ago, the Federal Aviation Administration said it wasn’t authorizing drones for commercial use, but Amazon is persisting. Last week, the megamoo überstore filed an official request to the administrator of the FAA to ask for an official exemption from the No Commercial Drones rule.  In other Amazon news, the battle with publishers over ebook pricing drags on and oh, by the way, the Federal Trade Commission just sued the company for improperly billing parents for in-app purchases made by their children.

drones

If the rumors are to be believed, the iPhone 6 will come on two sizes, (a 4.7-inch and a 5.5-inch screen model) but are whispers from analysts that the 5.5-phablet-size version will be delayed due to complications with components and the manufacturing process.  So if you want to buy the thing that doesn’t offically exist yet, you may have to wait a little longer.

Microsoft, which is starting to but cloud and mobile moves of its own, has plans for a $199 Windows laptop from HP in time for the holiday season, as well as similar low-cost laptops from Acer and Toshiba for about $249. Take that, Google Chromebooks.

After a month of drama, diving and oh, fútbol, the 2014 World Cup wrapped up in Brazil this past weekend as Germany won the large gold trophy. Along with setting new records for global television viewership, the tournament was also the biggest streaming multimedia video event in history. The Spanish-language channel Univision Deportes got 81 million total viewers for the tournament and was up 34% in viewership from the 2010 World Cup.

Also up in recent numbers — album sales on vinyl. Nielsen Soundscan’s mid-year report shows the once-dominate format for audio recordings has clawed its way back to 4 million units from near-extinction at the hand of CDs and digital downloads .

In robot news, the folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on phase-changing material made from wax and foam that could allow robots to become “squishy” or shift between hard and soft states. These robots are intended for good works.

supermoonNow, if you missed the supermoon on July 12th, there’s another one on August 10th, and some are calling it the superdupermoon because it will be even brighter and larger than the previous mere supermoon. August 10th will see the moon’s perigree coincide with the hour that the moon itself is most full. There will also be a supermoon hat-trick this year, with another (but dimmer) one occurring on September 9th.
Mark your calendars.

The frostiness between Samsung and Google is probably going to get a little more polar vortex-y as Samsung has opened its own Android app store that its users can shop instead of Google Play. The new store is called Galaxy Apps and claims hundreds of exclusive programs just for Samsung shoppers.

Samsung is also working with Google’s Nest division on their own Internet of Things standards club called Thread Group.  They are not alone.

And finally, Dungeons & Dragons is not just a role-playing game, it’s a skill-builder for writers and programmers. As The New York Times reported earlier this week, several renowned authors like Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Junot Díaz, Sherman Alexie, Sharyn McCrumb and yes, George R.R. Martin were all influenced by the game and said it helped with their development as writers. D&D’s ability to teach players creativity, narrative and problem-solving skills is nothing new. In his 1998 Gen X memoir, Extra Life: Coming of Age in Cyberspace, author Davis S. Bennahum said the complexity of the game even got him into computer programming. Perhaps there’s hope for the younger generation today, who have grown bored with repetitive casual games. Wizards of the Coast just released a Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit for $20 this week.  Get rolling!