Tag Archives: iOS

PTJ 213: Server Loads and Angry Rogues

Another year, another Disney-generated Star Wars movie. And, like last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens pre-sales, the demand for advance  Rogue One tickets Monday morning knocked over the Fandango site like an AT-AT tripped up by crafty snowspeeders. But now that you’ve got your tickets, kill some time until the movie with Carrie Fisher’s new book — or catch up the recent tech news with El Kaiser and J.D., along with this week’s discussion of video streams and spam awareness. May the Force be with you!

Links to This Week’s News Stories

Spam Spam Spam

Thanksgiving is gone, Black Friday is over and even Cyber Monday is back there over the horizon. No denying it, the Holiday Season is here. But just as tax season brings a wave of specialized spam and scams, so do “the most wonderful time of the year.” In addition to the usual onslaught from botnets and the like, 2016 has even seen the emergence of so-called artisanal spammers, who target smaller groups of people in hopes of avoiding junk filters.

As always, beware the legit-looking spoofs, like fake order confirmation messages from Amazon or other online retailers asking you to log in from supplied email links. It’s a big problem and Amazon even has a guide to identifying bogus messages, dealing with them and reporting them. If you have any doubt, skip the message and log into your account directly on the retailer’s website. If you get mail about you didn’t order, check your order-history page to make sure nothing got charged to your card – or that you didn’t forget you ordered something in the first place.

Watch out for the messages with the fake invoice, fax, or other attachments sent to your inbox. If the subject matter seems unfamiliar (but the sender is not), call or text to confirm the situation. Otherwise, you’ve just opened that attachment and loaded malware or ransomware into your computer. Fake breaking news alerts are another delivery mechanism.

Be on guard for new types of spam. Junk mail sent in the form of iOS calendar invitations or iCloud Photo Library photo-sharing invites has increased lately. These messages can be tricky because you usually only have the option to Accept, Decline or reply Maybe to the invite — all of which sends a notification to the spammer that you have a good, working email address.

Apple is aware of the problem and is starting to block invites from identified spam merchants. In the meantime,  workarounds include turning off the iCloud Photo Sharing invite feature, moving spam invitations to a special iCloud Junk calendar and then deleting it in the iOS calendar app – or adjusting your iCloud settings to have calendar invitations sent instead to your mailbox for easy filtering and deletion.

Scammers never run out of ideas. A new category of fraud called whaling is also on the rise, in which thieves masquerade as senior-level executives asking junior associates to transfer corporate money on their behalf. The FBI noted an upward trend in this type of business scam earlier this year.

So, as we head to the end of the year, keep your junk-mail filters tuned, your computer’s anti-malware software up to date and trust no one.

PTJ 206: The Age of Ophiuchus

What’s your sign? It might not be what you think. Hey, don’t blame us, blame NASA. On this week’s episode the Dynamic Duo go through the week’s tech (and geek) news; J.D. fills us in on a certain bird-themed micro-blogging service that’s had quite a busy past few weeks; and El Kaiser gets his rant on.

PTJ 197: Parks, Recreation and Lots of Tech News

This week El Kaiser revisits Audioquest’s Dragonfly USB DAC, preamp and headphone amp. This new version of the thumb drive sized device improves on its predecessors and finally ditches black for fire engine red. Also on this episode,  J.D. prepares us for the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Parks Service and Pedro joins her for a rundown of the biggest tech news of the week.

It’s on like Donkey Kong!

 

Hurry Up and Wait

Flight tracker apps are great for checking the status of your flight, but what about the sheer stress you encounter before you actually get on the plane? Yes, we’re talking about the summer travel season and all the recent news stories about horrific waits in security lines. Things seem to have gotten slightly better with the lines, but still. You may not be able to avoid that annoyance, but you can at least plan for it. If you’re getting ready to take to the skies for your summer vacation, we here at Pop Tech Jam HQ have a few app suggestions.

For starters, you have to get to the airport first.

Salk International’s $5 Airport Transit Guide for Android and iOS offers insider travel information for 460 airports around the world for helping you get to the airport on time.

inrixIf you’re traveling domestically, traffic apps like Inrix Traffic (left) and Waze, both for Android and iOS, are among the dedicated road travel apps that tell you how long it will take to get to your destination — if you don’t want to use the services offered by Google Maps or Apple Maps. The WhatsBusy site, which is devoted to when there are lines in public places, has a section devoted to airports.

Then there’s the part of the journey that happens once you get inside the airport: Security lines. (Whee.)

You can help speed some of the process by checking in early for your flight online through your carrier’s own app or website. If you do, you can leave pre-checked luggage at the Bag Drop station and move on to the joy of the security line.

myTSAAlthough the Transportation Security Administration has been pummeled in the press for being a large part of the recent problem, its digital offerings may help travelers prepare themselves for the screening experience in a few of ways. The My TSA mobile website provides answers about what you can bring through airport security checkpoints so you’re not the cause of a snarled and snarly line; an Android app version of My TSA is available, as well as a version for iOS.

The TSA site/app also has a list of current security line wait-times, and an indicator if the airport has a TSA Pre-✓ expedited line. (Pre-✓ = Pre-Check. Get it?) You can sign up for TSA Pre-✓ or one of the government’s other Trusted Traveler programs over at the Department of Homeland Security’s site, although registration includes you providing an $85 and your fingerprints.

If you like guv’ment apps, the Federal Aviation Administration has its own mobile website with airport status and delays related to conditions outside the terminal.

miflightNewer apps like MiFlight for iOS are also designed to give you an idea of the wait times you’re in for once you hit the security line. MiFlight has nifty graphics and makes use of crowd-sourced data, but owners of some iPhone models have posted one-star reviews complaining of app crashes. Several developers make TSA and airport-related programs, so check the app store dedicated to your mobile platform to see the selection.

Once you make it through the security gauntlet, you might have some time to kill thanks to your careful planning. The GateGuru app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone might help here. Although GateGuru can function as an itinerary-tracking app while you travel, its Airport Card screens provide detailed information, maps and tips for the airports you’re in.

iFly Airport Guide for Android and iOS is another airport terminal guide with status updates. There’s a free and a pro version, depending on your whims and needs. The company also makes a TSA Wait Times by iFly app, which is $4 for  iOS.

Certain airports may have their own  terminal guides as well, so check your app store before you go. Once you get checked in, arrive at the airport and get through the security line,  you can fire up your flight tracker app and check your plane’s status.

ragerAnd remember, if you’re dissatisfied with your recent travel experience, the US Department of Transportation has a webform where you can file complaints against the airlines for safety and security reasons, along with customer service issues. It may not do any good, but you can also inform your airline’s customer-service department of your displeasure. You can find the Consumer Complaint Letter Wizard and a sample complaint letter to use as a template over at USA.gov, because if you’re going to gripe, you may as well do it officially.

PTJ 191: Voice Typing and Chatty Radios

Along with our usual rundown of the latest technology news, this week El Kaiser reviews a family friendly portable speaker, connected message board and speakerphone from Invoxia. The Triby is the first non-Amazon product to feature the Alexa Voice Service. Also on the show, J.D. clues us in on why we don’t need to buy third party text-to-speech apps for our  Android or iOS devices. And if you think we skimped on the hijinks and tomfoolery, you’d be dead-wrong…

PTJ 191 News: Advancing Torpor

Even more characters on Twitter — and we’re not even talking about the trolls!  Bloomberg is reporting that the bird-themed microblogging service will soon stop counting the characters used by web links and photos in that 140-character limit.

Microsoft has big plans this summer for its Windows 10 Anniversary Upgrade, like more ads for promoted apps on your Start Menu.  And as CNet and others have reported, Microsoft has gotten aggressive with the pop-up notifications now. Windows 7 and 8.1 users who have no plans to upgrade should pay careful attention to what those little nag-ass boxes are saying.

WhatsApp is moving into video-calling, according to those who have seen a recent beta version of the app for Android. At last,  another video calling option to compete with FaceTime, Skype, Google Chat and the other apps out there.

Amazon, the über-mega-everything store already sells thousands of name-brand items, but The Wall Street Journal is talking to sources within the company who claim that Amazon plans to introduce its own house-label products like diapers and beverages.

diapers

AT&T, on the heels of its corporate hookup last year with DirecTV, announced this week that it had acquired Quickplay Media. Not to be confused with Apple’s QuickTime multimedia software or Quick Draw McGraw, the equine sheriff of the animated Old West, QuickPlay Media is a video-streaming platform for the “TV Everywhere” initiative and other over-the-top applications.

Adobe churned out yet more patches for its Flash Player multimedia software last week, but it seems Google has had about enough of the security-addled software. Developers for the company recently laid out plans to disable Flash by default and move to HTML 5 for multimedia playback. When the move happens by the end of the year, embedded Flash files in websites viewed in the Chrome browser won’t run or acknowledge the plug-in; Flash will hang around on some sites like YouTube until the end of 2017.

The Google I/O developer conference kicks off this week in Mountain View, California. Here’s the keynote speech. Google also put out a new app called Spaces this week for “small-scale” sharing.

Have you checked out the YouTube app’s Google Cardboard modeAs of this week, it’s now available on the iOS app as it catches up to  the Android version. The mode converts any YouTube video into a Cardboard-worthy VR experience. (Disney is also after virtual reality fans with its new Disney Movies VR app out on Steam.)

disney

Apple has finally updated its iTunes program for the desktop with an attempt to make navigation for the cluttered app more streamlined and sensible. Apple also pushed out other updates this week, including those for OS X, iOS, watch OS and tvOS for the fourth-generation Apple TV. (Speaking of the Apple TV, BitTorrent has just launched its own Live app there.) Be careful, though: According to screams from around the Twitterverse, however, the iOS update, version 9.3.2, has bricked more than one iPad Pro tablet. The OS X update 10.11.5 for El Capitan is seen primarily as a security fix.

Doom 2016 has come blasting out into stores. One reviewer over at PC World said the new modernized version of the classic first-person shooter succeeds because it knows it’s a big dumb bang-bang game.

doom

Current C, a mobile-payments competitor to Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and similar services, has, shall we say, “suspended its campaign” and laid off about 30 staff members. Current C, which was hacked before it ever got out of the gate, is largely considered to be stranded on the Island of Abandoned Software Projects.

The SoundHound mobile app just got an update that adds a virtual assistant. To use it, just start out saying OK, Hound, and then you can ask it to do things like play music from certain streaming services, add songs to playlists, play YouTube music videos.

For consumers of more genteel entertainment, The Daily Telegraph over in London reports that the BBC and ITV television networks plan to launch a British competitor to Netflix. The working title, of course, is Britflix. Perhaps it will show Downton Abbey.

mags

And finally, NASA has provided funding eight projects that are based on advanced technology, but could help kick the agency’s space exploration efforts into high gear. The development grants were part of Phase II NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, also known as NIAC. Among this year’s projects: “Advancing Torpor Inducing Transfer Habitats for Human Stasis to Mars,” which would put human passengers in a hibernation-like state for long trips to other planets and “Further Development of Aperture: A Precise Extremely Large Reflective Telescope Using Re-configurable Elements,” for a new type of space telescope that would use a membrane-like primary mirror that could be corrected after deployment. Congratulations to all the grant winners! Thanks for making the future!

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Sky Talker

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

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

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

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

voicetype

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

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

ios

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

PTJ 187 News: Standards & Practices

Facebook mess with the News Feed? Really!?!  But seriously, according to Mashable and a few other sites, images of a new tabbed news feed screen for mobile devices have been spotted on Twitter. Facebook did confirm that it is indeed testing the new design, but did not say if or when it would actually launch.

YouTube is stepping up its virtual-reality game with a couple of new features. As announced on the company blog, YouTube is introducing 360-degree live streaming on the site, which adds on to last year’s support for uploaded 360-videos. YouTube also launched spatial audio for on-demand videos. If you want to hear what all that means, check out the company’s special spatial audio playlist for Android devices.

siriWe’re just about a month away from Google’s annual I/O developer’s conference, and now Apple has finally gotten around to announcing when its own World Wide Developer’s Conference. The first word on the dates for some people, however, did not come from an email announcement, but from the Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, as the 9to5Mac site reported. A press release on Apple’s website confirms it all Apple fans are already murmuring about the show, wondering if OS X will be renamed macOS to fall better in line with iOS, tvOS and watchOS.

Apple didn’t wait for its next big media event to make new hardware announcements, though. This Tuesday, it quietly updated its 12-inch Macbook laptop model with better hardware on the inside.  The laptop is available in a few different processor and storage configurations and comes in four colors now: Gold, Silver, Space Gray and Rose Gold. And in other news, Apple has hired a former vice president of vehicle engineering from Tesla. The company also killed off QuickTime for Windows and the Department of Homeland Security has advised PC users to uninstall it RIGHT AWAY.

In legal news, it appears that Google’s massive book-scanning project that triggered a copyright lawsuit buy an author’s group is in the clear. The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from the Authors Guild over the legality of the Google Books project, so last year’s lower court ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York stands.

Also in Google news, the company’s Android Security 2015 Annual Report was released this week.  The company touts its monthly security updates, better screening for potentially harmful apps in the Google Play store and greater adoption of its app verification service as factors in making Android devices safer than before, but it notes that there are still a steady number of malware, ransomware and other nasty apps lurking out there.

Speaking of software and malicious intentions, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the machine-learning startup company PatternEx have come up with a new system predicts 85 percent of cyber attacks.

Amazon is taking a shot at Netflix’s monthly streaming fees by making its own Amazon Prime service available as, you guessed it, a monthly subscription instead of an annual fee. And speaking of Netflix, that company is raising its monthly fees by 25 percent for longtime streaming customers next month.

Yahoo’s deadline for financial suitors to present themselves has come and gone and Verizon has emerged as the only major player to maintain interest in the sagging company.

murphyMicrosoft introduced Skype video bots a few weeks ago for developers and consumers to interact with and announced this week that the bots are now available for Mac and web users. Some of the stock bots available include Murphy, a bot to find and create images for when questions can’t be answered by words alone and Summarize, a bot designed to give an overview of a web page if you don’t have time to read the whole thing.

As expected, the  Name That Research Ship contest over in the United Kingdom has ended and Boaty McBoatface won in a tidal wave. However, UK Science Minister and total buzzkill Jo Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live this week that “there is a process now for us to review all of the public’s choices. Many of them were imaginative; some were more suitable than others.” Even if the RSS Boaty McBoatface never sails the seas as a government science ship, the contest did inspire an Australian racehorse owner in Sydney to name one of his geldings Horsey McHorseface and an English rail worker temporarily named the Portsmouth to Waterloo line Trainy McTrainface.

And finally, if you love NASA and you live vintage graphic design and branding standards, you can now buy a copy of the space agency’s official graphics manual first published in 1976. The book is 220 pages with 129 image plates and comes individually packages in a static-shielding pouch. This is actually a reissue of the original book, of which only 40 copies were originally printed. The new version is a Kickstarter project that can now be ordered only for $79 a copy.

If you’re on a bit of a tight budget, however, you can download a free PDF copy of the original manual from NASA’s website and print it yourself because hey, it’s a taxpayer-funded government agency. And after just staggering through another tax season, we’ll take all the perks we can get.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Patched In

Ah, the first half of the month, when rents are traditionally due and software is often patched. But while these program fixes and security updates are meant to fix problems in software, they can sometimes create even more problems.

Take for example, the recent iOS 9.3.1 patch that was intended to fix the crashing-links problem — but inadvertently created a security exploit on some iPhones. Or Google’s patch last year that was supposed to repair the Stagefright-sized hole in Android but didn’t cover everything the first time around. You win some, you lose some.

Now, many people just get an update notice and install whatever software arrives with the notifications. Or they have automatic updates turned on — and pay even less attention. Patches are generally a good thing and designed to keep your computer and data safe. But if you’re the type that wants to know what’s going on your hardware (or what scary thing you’re being protected from now), hit up the support area of the manufacturer’s website for detailed notes.

Here are a few of the major players:

  • Adobe Security Bulletins and Advisories. Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader are two of the most hacker-targeted pieces of software out there, and so security updates to sew up those holes are issued regularly. Find your Adobe product on the list and click through for the details on each update.
  • Apple Security Updates. Apple makes a lot of system software, including OS X, iOS, tvOS, watchOS and all its in-house applications, and you can find information about everything security-related here. Links on the site also take you to the downloads and supporting documentation, in case you didn’t let your Mac update the software automatically (or your iOS device, for that matter).
  • Microsoft Security Tech Center. Thanks to decades of Windows, the Redmond giant is an old pro at the security-update game. The company celebrates with new bugfix releases on Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of every month. All the latest security bulletins are posted there so you can read up and see what’s getting fixed this time. (The site is a little techie, but Microsoft has a Safety & Security Center site written for less-technical home users as well.)

Additionally, Amazon’s site has a Device Support page for its various Kindle, Echo and Fire hardware, along with information about software updates.

All updated with nothing to read now? Microsoft’s next Patch Tuesday is next week, so you don’t have long to wait.