As more states and cities tell citizens to stay out of public places and do their part to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, El Kaiser and J.D. fire up the microphones in their respective recording bunkers to discuss the latest tech news. El Kaiser also offers his pro tips for looking and sounding better on those office video-conference meetings, and J.D. has a few ideas for parents trying to keep the kids busy after they’ve finished their online lessons for the day. It’s all here on PTJ 329 — right in the comfort of your own home!
Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference opened this week, bringing a ton of announcements and new-product demos to the faithful. Don Donofrio drops by to sort it all out with El Kaiser and JD. Meanwhile, governments fight with the Internet on multiple fronts and a certain Amazon Princess conquers the worldwide box office. All this and more on Episode 237!
Despite the postponement of the FBI hearing, Apple’s court calendar is still filling up, though. On Monday this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung’s appeal of that patent infringement case a few years back that it lost to Apple over copying the iPhone’s design. Samsung would like to talk more and pay less in this case.
Amazon has added a new product to its inventory: package deals for Comcast’s Xfinity television and Internet service. The goods can be found in the new Amazon Cable Store, where special offers for Amazon customers are also touted. On the down side, you have to use Comcast is you sign up.
One of Amazon’s other products popped up — and piped up — earlier this month during the broadcast of a National Public Radio story about the Amazon Echo speaker and its Alexa virtual assistant. As the story unfolded on the radio, with typical NPR sound clips of people on the radio taking to Alexa on their Amazon Echos, one NPR listener said his Alexa reset the home thermostat based on a command it heard on the radio. Another Alexa in the wild began playing an NPR Hourly Summary. (Just so you know, this was just a test. Once they get the signal from headquarters, all the Alexas will rise up together to overthrow their human oppressors.) Incidentally, Amazon Tap, which looks like it’s basically an Echo you have to touch first, will be available next week.
Twitter celebrated its 10th birthday this week. The service stuck up a blog post thanking its users for the first decade and saying “Throughout the years, you’ve made Twitter what it is today and you’re shaping what it will be in the future.” (Let us please not speak of trolls and politicians.)
And finally, also over in England, let us turn to a jolly seafaring tale. If you are unaware of this unfolding story, here it is: The British Natural Environment Research Council thought it would be a good idea to ask the public for help in naming a brand new £200 million ocean-research ship, so it invited the public to participate and began to take online suggestions. While some well-meaning participants put forth the names of scientists or explorers, one gentleman suggested the moniker RSS Boaty McBoatface. Needless to say, that name quickly shot to the top of the polls and the NERC site even crashed from excitement at one point. A spokeswoman for the council said, “We are very much enjoying hearing everyone’s ideas,” but the agency ultimately has the final say in christening the vessel. The contest ends April 16th, so in the meantime, raise a glass of rum and let’s all sing a good shanty for the RSS Boaty McBoatface while it lasts.
2015 has come and (almost) gone and it’s time for the media-mandated Look Back at the Year We Just Had. [Drumroll … rimshot … clown horn noise] Noted in no particular order, here’s our list of high points, low points and things that just stood out to us here at Pop Tech Jam HQ over the course of the earth’s latest loop around the sun:
• Video Streaming Goes Big. The standalone HBO Now finally arrived for Game of Thrones fans and other cord-cutters, Sling TV further chopped the coax with an over-the-top package of channels, and new voice-controlled streaming boxes from Amazon, Google, Roku, Apple and others have stepped up the battle for the living room’s big screen.
It’s been a week of hacking, cracking and more than a little tracking. For starters, Facebook, which is never shy about getting all up in the content you post on the site, is now testing its Photo Magic feature on its Australian users. So, what is Photo Magic? It’s a Facebook tool that jacks into your phone’s Camera Roll to look for pictures you haven’t yet posted — and then suggests that you send those images to the friends it recognizes through the Facebook Messenger app. Privacy advocates, start your engines.
And from tracking to hacking, the same group that claims to have broken into the personal email account of CIA director John Brennan an few weeks back says it recently got into a law-enforcement portal site for arrest records, agency collaboration tools and other sensitive crime-fighting information. The group, known as Crackas With Attitude, let the world know of the hack of the Joint Automated Booking System over Twitter:
Just to clear this up, CWA did, indeed, have access to everybody in USA’s private information, now imagine if we was Russia or China.. #CWA
Pinterest has added a new visual search tool — which it describes as “crazy fun” — to help you find the things you want on sight. To quote the Pinterest blog, “When you spot something in a Pin that you want to learn more about, tap the search tool in the corner. Then select the part of the Pin you’re interested in, and we’ll show you Pins just like it. You can even filter your visual search results by topic so you find exactly what you’re looking for.”
Like video? T-Mobile has also added a new plan called Binge On that lets its users stream content from popular video services like Netflix and HBO Now without denting their data plans. However, some critics note that because not all streaming services are included in the Binge On plan, T-Mobile may have some net neutrality issues to work out with the FCC. Apple’s iPad Pro went on sale this week, with online orders starting Wednesday and the big slab hitting shelves a few days later. The tablet with the 12.9 inch screen has a starter price of $800 for the 32-gig Wi-Fi only version and the tags go north from there. Optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil stylus and the $170 Smart Keyboard, which turns your iPad Pro into a Microsoft Surface, also went on sale this week. And more reasons for Apple to be happy – a federal district court judge threw out a class-action lawsuit brought by Apple Store employees who wanted to be reimbursed for the time spent in the office bag-search line to make sure they weren’t nicking the merch.
Well, well, well… According to a report in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Apple is committed to producing an electric car and aims to have it tooling down the road by 2019. So I guess we’ll pencil in that grand demo for September 10th, 2019, eh?
Pandora is having a better time of it with legal matters. The music-streaming service said it was pleased that the U.S. Copyright Office agreed that Pandora’s agreement with Merlin Network, a global rights agency for independent musicians, was admissible as a benchmark in royalty proceedings. A panel of three judges known as the Copyright Royalty Board has been working on setting royalties for Internet radio and is expected to have a decision in mid-December. (Also in the music world, the Recording Industry Association of America reports that while total revenue was essentially flat for the first half of 2015. Vinyl sales were rising, though!)
And finally, the Onion humor site, which started the ClickHole spin-off for goofy viral video, is having a go at the countless celebrity gossip sites online. The Onion’s new site is called StarWipe. Decked out with hot pink and bright blue accents, Star Wipe currently features such headlines as “Emmys Photos We Can’t Stop Staring At Even Though We’re Supposed To Be Controlling Air Traffic” and “Rihanna Says She And Taylor Swift Have Different Fan Bases, Has Clearly Never Been To University Of Missouri Party.” StarWipe is just starting out and still has a way to go to top some of ClickHole’s triumphs like “Yes! Ham Goes Up an Escalator.” Oh, let’s watch that one again shall we?
But Apple was in the spotlight for other reasons as well this week. A story on the front page of The New York Times highlighted the company’s national security tussle with the United States government over encryption and data access with software like iMessage, a program Apple says it can’t decrypt itself.
Comcast is testing a new form of data plan in south Florida. While the company normally imposes a 300-gigabytes-a-month limit, customers can now pay an extra $30 for the Unlimited Data Option. It’s just like those old unlimited broadband plans of yore, except more expensive!
Verizon announced its new Go90 mobile streaming TV service this week. The service will be ad-supported and show programs young people want to watch.
NASA said late last week that it has begun its intensive data downlink phase to grab the massive amount of data the New Horizons spacecraft collected during its Pluto flyby in July. The agency also announced that engineers at a facility in New Orleans have welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will be used in a test flight to the far side of the moon in preparation for an eventual manned journey to Mars.
In this special double-sized episode, we look at this week’s Apple product announcement and feature a bountiful late summer harvest of tech news.
Also on the show, are technobabble, jargon and buzzwords ruining our ability to write clearly — and get the point across with our colleagues? Author Phil Simon joins us to discuss the general state of professional correspondence in this high-tech world of ours. Phil’s latest book, Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It, is out now and here’s its trailer:
Facebook has yet another app to help you share your personal data with the company, oh, and your friends. The Social Network announced its new Moments app this week that uses facial-recognition software to automatically recognize your Facebook friends in random snaps and then sync all the photos between you all. If this sort of thing interests you, the app is now available in the Google Play and iOS App Stores.
Google Maps wants to save you even more time and aggravation. When you punch in directions to a particular store or business, the app does its calculations and warns you if you will arrive too late because the place has already closed for the day. Creepy, helpful and handy!
And finally, an intrepid interactive programmer at The New York Times took a peek inside the hidden source code of Jeb Bush’s website and found quite a few paragraphs not about Republican policies, but a plot summary of the 1988 Bruce Willis movie, Die Hard. The text was not publically visible on the website and has since been removed after The Times discovered it, so here’s to you and your dreams, Die Hard-loving console cowboy.
The independent audio magazine devoted to mashing up pop culture, technology and more. J.D. Biersdorfer and Pedro Rafael Rosado are your hosts. It's an Internet Radio revolution!