Tag Archives: J.J. Abrams

The Year in Geek: 2015 Edition

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:

• NASA: New Horizons and Beyond.— While it wasn’t quite the Apollo 11 mojo, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had a banner year with the New Horizons successful flyby of Pluto and data treasure trove that’s still trickling back from the other side of the solar system. The agency also grew lettuce, aged whiskey and ran many other experiments up at the International Space Station while its Dawn spacecraft took at look at the dwarf planet Ceres. And that Matt Damon movie was very good publicity.

Windows 10. Microsoft released its successor to the much-reviled Windows 8 this summer. Despite some major bugs and user wariness, Win10 did see relatively fast adoption rates by 8Haters, people finally upgrading from XP and those who wanted to try out the new technology as soon as they could.

• Security! Security! Security! (or Lack Thereof…). It seemed like no corporate database was safe from intrusion this year. Plenty of major companies got breached, including Anthem health insurance, the CVS Photos site, interactive toymaker VTech, the federal Office of Personal Management, the Internal Revenue Service, the Ashley Madison site for love affairs, Slack and Experian’s T-Mobile servers. Just to name, you know, A FEW OF THEM.

• Underwhelming Apple. The Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino finally released a smartwatch and a giant iPad in 2015 — just like industry types have been speculating about for years. And not only was much of the public was pretty “meh” about it all, the stock was down as well, based on fear of what comes next with iPhone sales.

• 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.

• Ad Blockers. Apple’s iOS 9 was just the latest piece of software that allows its users to block other pieces of software, namely intrusive advertising that makes reading so aggravating on mobile devices and other digital platforms. Yes, blocking ads takes money out of the content-publisher’s pocket (and may make it hard for them to keep going). But publishers and advertisers, if you don’t want people to use ad blockers, make better ads.

• E-Book Reversal. E-book sales dipped, and print titles had a slight rebound. And although some think nothing will happen, authors and publishers asked the Department of Justice to look into Amazon’s influence in the industry.

• Google, Even More Helpful But CreepyMachine-learned responses to emails, self-driving cars, Trip Bundles, parking markers, rerouted traffic navigation on the fly and the increasingly accurate predictive Google Now service that tries to guess what you want to see before you see it. Yes, the Big G had a very big year all up in your business. (But remember, you don’t have to use it.)

• Broadway Sings Social Media. Internet fan favorite and Sulu OG George Takei used Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word about this new musical Allegiance, the story of Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. Meanwhile, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of the Broadway smash musical Hamilton were all over Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other social outlets, not only to promote the show, but to add new views — like the short YouTube movie a cast member made about opening night from the actors’ perspective. The cast album for the show was available to stream free on the NPR site during the week before it arrived as an official download, and the recording’s devotees soon revved up the enthusiastic #Hamiltunes hashtag to quote their favorite lyrics. Smartphone videos of the weekly rapfest Ham4Ham — where the show’s actors perform short bits for fans clustered outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Manhattan’s West 46th Street — also got online play. And let’s not overlook the mash-up memes like #Force4Ham, which combined themes from both Hamilton and Star Wars. Now, about the latter…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sixteen years after The Phantom Menace and the turgid prequels, director and nostalgia reboot specialist J.J. Abrams revived the franchise with a record-smashing, uplifting return to form that served as a bridge between the old world and the new one in that galaxy far, far away. The Force is strong in that one.

Happy 2016 from Pop Tech Jam!

PTJ 136 News: May the Force Field Be With You

April Fools’ Day was this week and the usual tech-company hijinks were on display. Google turned its Google Maps site into a location-specific version of the Pac-Man videogame that was actually fully functional — and let users navigate the munching yellow ball over city streets. Samsung, meanwhile, released a promo site for a fake Galaxy phone called the Blade Edge, which claimed to be a chef’s knife with smartphone capabilities. And Amazon’s thing called  the Dash button? The timing mades it sound fake but many outlets reported it was real (or real lame).


Hopefully not an April Fools’ Day joke: Verizon Wireless customers can now fully opt out of those mandatory zombie supercookies that were tracking their whereabouts on the Web. Verizon had promised cookie relief earlier this year when the news broke and a few members of the US Senate called for an investigation.

Need help around the house? Turns out you can order that from Amazon now, too. The company just launched its new Amazon Home Services directory.

watchGot your eye on the Apple Watch that costs as much as a car? According to the 9to5Mac site, there’s a unique “Apple Store purchasing experience”  and a “personalized journey” in the works for those who lay out the scratch for the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition. Also, you don’t have to wait in line, so there’s that.

People have been wondering what Apple has planned for the Beats music service since it acquired the company last year. News organizations began reporting last week that an overhaul of Beats and Apple’s own iTunes service is in the works.  No word on when the new services are arriving, but Apple will get some competition from Jay Z’s revamped Tidal music-streaming service, a platform owned by artists.

Thanks to bigger bandwidth, better compression and boffo hardware, high-def video keeps getting more gorgeous. YouTube is rising to the challenge with 4K video using 60 frames per second. If you have the hardware to run it, the clips are beautiful, but as the Macworld site put it, video that massive will crush your computer if your graphics card is not up to snuff.

Google continues to tinker and merge its various services. The company announced this week that photos Google+ users keep online are now also be available in Google Drive and the Gmail team has also updated its Android app to put all your Inboxes in one place.

sheepA farmer in Ireland has released a video of an aerial drone herding a flock of sheep.  Meanwhile, Facebook continues to test its solar-powered drones for delivering Internet access to part of the world that have no connectivity, much like Google’s balloon-powered Project Loon is doing. And the Guardian news organization got a visit to Amazon’s secret drone testing ground in Canada. The uber-mega-everything store is testing its Prime Air delivery service north of the border due to frustration with regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Still, Amazon’s keeping busy stateside — the Re/Code site noticed a patent the company recently filed that envisions a retail store that lets shoppers fill their carts and then leave without going through the cashier lane — because the store’s sensors would just bill you for the goods.

Also in patent news: Boeing, maker of aviation equipment and sponsor of public-television programs, has a patent for a force field that could, in theory, protect buildings and vehicles from explosions. As a conceptual video from the Patent Yogi site illustrates, the force-field would work by detecting shockwaves from nearby explosions and respond with laser pulses to absorb the blast by ionizing the air.

swcAnd finally, speaking of force fields and things that make us think of Star Wars, several fan sites are reporting that a new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, will debut at this year’s Star Wars Celebration convention next month in Anaheim, California. J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy are kicking off the show on April 16th at 10AM Pacific time, so let’s expect the trailer’s debut then and there — and for it (please) to be online five minutes later.

PTJ 120: NASA and the Troll Patrol

This week El Kaiser shares his ickiest Tech Term yet and J.D. tells us all about Twitter’s new “Troll Patrol”.  In the news NASA’s Orion spacecraft completes a successful test flight; the first Coder In Chief; Facebook modifies its search function; Princeton University puts thousands of documents written by Albert Einstein online; Amazon rolls out 4K streams; the FCC wants wireless carriers to ste up efforts to protect consumer data; researchers discover Linux-based malware that’s been active for years; the fallout from cyber-attack on SONY’s networks continues; and the father of the videogame passes away.

PTJ 120 News: Readin’, Writin’ and Roarin’ Through Space

Yes, it’s officially  Computer Science Education Week now and companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple are into it, with many sponsoring the Hour of Code project with Code.org . For instance, Apple is holding coding events at its Apple Stores and Google’s YouTube site has plenty of inspirational videos. President Obama even hosted an event at the White House with middle-school students and banged out a few lines of JavaScript, perhaps getting some training for that inevitable job switch that’ll be happening in a couple years.

mcThe past week has been great for space. Last Friday, NASA’s Orion spacecraft completed a successful test flight, with a launch at Cape Canaveral, orbit around the Earth a few times and splashdown in the Pacific less than five hours later. Just a day later, on  Saturday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft woke up out of its hibernation state just in time for its 2015 mission to observe Pluto, the celestial body many of us still consider to be a planet at the outer edges of our solar system. And lets not forget our old pal Curiosity (left) is still hard at work up on Mars. The geographical data gathered by NASA’s busy little rover over the past 28 months of exploring has helped scientists study and theorize about the lakes and streams that used to exist on the Red Planet in warmer times. (Oh, and a Canadian company wants a little cool Mars action itself – Thoth Technology is calling for a crowdfunding campaign to make, among other things, a “Beaver” rover to represent Canada on Mars.)

Facebook is tinkering once again with the site’s search function. While its Graph Search feature was released almost a year ago, its clunky semantic search engine was too much work for a lot of people. This week, Facebook announced that is was rolling out good old-fashioned keyword search.


Princeton University has put thousands of documents written by Albert Einstein online. The site, called The Digital Einstein Papers, is part of a larger ongoing project called The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. The new site covers the first 44 years of Einstein’s life and features digitized letters, scholarly articles and other material .

In streaming video news, Amazon announced some of its Instant Video streams are now available in ultra high-def 4K. And YouTube has overhauled its app for the Apple TV, bringing predictive search, personalized recommendations and a new visual design to the screen

The Federal Communications Commission continues its rampant news grab as it still contemplates Net Neutrality. The agency has now found time to release a 140-page report on mobile phone theft and has some suggestions for wireless carriers to help protect consumers and their data.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab have discovered Linux-based malware that’s been active for years and aimed at computers in government, military, education, research and pharmaceutical networks in 45 different countries.

sonyThe recent hack of  Sony’s network is still spewing fallout. A group calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” or GOP, have dumped a whole lot of confidential Sony data out into the public, including celebrity aliases and contract information, internal emails between Sony employees, personal information about said Sony employees including 47,000 Social Security numbers, and digital copies of several new and unreleased Sony films, including the remake of Annie due in theaters December 19th. According to a message posted on the GitHub code-sharing site, one of the demands was to “stop showing the movie of terrorism,” which is believed to be a reference to an upcoming Seth Rogen-James Franco film called The Interview, which is about a plot to assassinate Kim Jon-Un, the current leader of North Korea.  North Korean officials have denied involvement but have referred to it as a “righteous deed.” Sony has hired security consultants to figure out what happened (perhaps, Team America: World Police?). This would almost make for a good videogame, if only the PlayStation network wasn’t getting hacked again.

In happier movie news, there’s a new extension for the Google Chrome browser that gives you an interactive tour of Middle-earth so you can celebrate the opening of the third-and supposedly final movie in the Hollywood “Hobbit” trilogy properly.


And in even happier movie news, the 88-second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens landed on the Web and in select movie theaters, sending geeks everywhere to analyze the visuals down to every last frame of video. Among the hot topics of discussion — the cross-hilt lightsaber and exterior modifications made to the Millennium Falcon. The lightsaber design seemed to draw the most attention, even drawing in late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert. And with the official teaser comes the parody teasers, including the J.J. Abrams lens-flare edition, the George Lucas version, the Other George Lucas version, the Wes Anderson Adaptation and even an amusing parody on Saturday Night Live, a show that’s been around even longer that the Star Wars franchise itself.

And finally, let us pour one out for Ralph Baer, who died this weekend at the age of 92. Mr. Baer, who was born in Germany and fled the Nazis and was an intelligence officer in the US Army by 1943. In 1966, Mr. Baer wrote out a four-page description for a “game box” designed to let people play sports and other action games on a TV set. His work eventually resulted in the Magnavox Odyssey game system in 1972 and he also invented the electronic Simon game in 1978.

Ralph Baer, father of the videogame, we salute you.


PTJ 96: FIFA and Apple Have The World In Motion

FIFA’s 2014 World Cup tournament is set to kickoff in Brazil  in just a few days and J.D. tracks down the apps you’ll need to stay connected to the action.

What’s that you say? You’re looking for tech news too?  And you want it chunky and packed with snark? Well look no more my friends, J.D. and El Kaiser have you covered.

Apple unveils new versions of (don’t call it Mac) OS X and iOS 8 at their annual developers convention; Samsung launches its first smartphone running the long awaited Tizen operating system; Instagram is out with a new version of its mobile app;  US authorities say they’ve caused a disruption in the GameOver Zeus botnet; Comedian John Oliver unleashes Internet trolls on the FCC; Researchers create bakable robots; and the cast of the new Star Wars sequel finally gets around to casting more women.


PTJ 96 News: The Old New and the New Old

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference stormed San Francisco this week and showed off the new software the company has been working on. The next version of the Mac operating system is called OS X Yosemite.  The new system is available for those in Apple’s developer program now, but has a public beta for those who just can’t wait and have n aversion to working with unfinished software. Macworld, Cult of Mac and Ars Technica were among the many Applewatchers doing OS X feature roundups for those who want to read up in detail.


The forthcoming iOS 8 also made an appearance at WWDC, and Apple is calling it “the biggest release since the launch of the App Store.” The new system meshes with OS X and ties all your Apple hardware together just a little bit tighter with the Handoff continuity feature, where you can start a message on your iPhone and finish it on your Mac. As rumored, new apps for health monitoring and developer tools for adding smart-home control apps were in the mix, so the new features already felt kind of old.

Still, there was other stuff: iOS 8 includes a new keyboard with better predictive functions (to hopefully stiff Autocorrect) and ability for third-party keyboards to be added. The Messages app can send audio clips and handle group conversations better and the Photos and iCloud way of handling your digital pictures are getting improvements. Siri is also shacking up with Shazam for music recognition.

As this was the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple also spent part of the presentation showing off new tools for programmers with the iOS 8 SDK with its 4,000 new APIs. A new graphics technology called Metal was demoed, as was a whole new programming language called Swift for iOS and OS X. If you’re a developer and intrigued by this new language, a free 500-page manual for coding in Swift is available in the iBooks Store.


Try as it may, Apple could not hog all the headlines this week.  Samsung finally launched its first smartphone running the open-source Tizen operating system. The Samsung Z was revealed at a conference this week and is expected to be released first in Russia this fall. The black and gold phone will have a high-definition 4.9-inch screen, 2.3 gigahertz Snapdragon quad-core processor and a fingerprint sensor.

Instagram is out with a new version of its mobile app, dubbed Instagram 6.0, that adds new controls to its photo filters. And Intel announced a new line of Core M processors that promise more power for computing while consuming less power from the battery.

Hey, if you liked the “Kids React to Old Computers” video we talked about on last week’s show, check out The Fine Brothers new clip, “Teens React to the 90s Internet.” And while you’re absorbing that blast from the past, here’s another one. Myspace, the social network pretty much stomped into irrelevance by Facebook, has been sending out messages to former members to remind them that they still have old — and potentially embarrassing — photos on the site. A spokesperson at Myspace told the Mashable site that the company wasn’t trying to blackmail former users into returning, but you know, just engaging them.

us-cert-logoIn security news, US authorities say they’ve caused a disruption in the GameOver Zeus botnet and warn that victims (and potential victims) have about two weeks to shore up their systems before hackers can get the botnet back up and running. The peer-to-peer malware, which tries to steal a user’s online banking credentials, attacks Windows systems and is spread through spam and phishing messages. US-CERT has a warning out, along with links to virus scanners and steps to take for getting rid of the malware.

Self-updating systems that can automatically repair security holes would be a dream, and its one that’s being dared over at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The New York Times takes a look at the agency’s Cyber Grand Challenge, a two-year contest to develop an automated cybersecurity system. Thirty teams from academia and industry plan to participate, with the winner being announced at DEFCON 2016.

June is National Internet Safety Month, not to be confused with National Cyber Security Awareness Month, (which is in October) and Data Privacy Day, (which is every January 28th). National Internet Safety Month came out of a resolution passed by the US Senate in 2005 and is devoted to educating people on ways to stay safe online and a number of sites are offering advice on basic online behavior to keep you out of trouble. Visit StaySafeOnline.org for a guide on how to observe National Internet Safety Month. Antivirus vendor Intego has a list of tips as does Symantec over on the Norton site. (National Internet Safety Month also coincides with the National Safety Council’s own National Safety Month, in which citizens are advised to be careful in general. So let’s watch what we’re doing.)

oliverJohn Oliver, the British comedian and social commentator over on HBO, had a few things to say about the current Net Neutrality debate over Federal Communications Commission’s proposed new rules. Mr. Oliver had a 13-minute monologue on the topic last weekend and encouraged Internet comment trolls to use their powers for good, or as he put it “focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction,” and provide feedback on the FCC’s website. As of Tuesday, more than 47,000 comments had been posted with more on the way and temporarily crippled the site’s commenting system.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have announced their advances in the field of bakable robots, while those at Texas A&M there have published a paper explaining that many people have little or no fear of drones if the drones are small and or shaped like the fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Technology comfort levels continue to rise in other categories. The Washington Post reports that the US ambassador to Switzerland was sworn in on a Kindle reader this week. )

Analyst Mary Meeker released her annual Internet Trends report last week. Bloomberg Businessweek made note of the report while not thinking much of her visual aids with a story called “Redesigning Mary Meeker’s Ugly Internet Slideshow.”

Levar Burton’s Kickstarter campaign to bring his old Reading Rainbow TV show back as a streaming series on the web, mobile devices, game consoles and connected televisions got a lot of love, making its one million dollar goal in just 11 hours. The show, which lives on already as an iPad app, has now upped its goal to five million dollars. It’s at more than three million bucks at the moment and also plans to donate reading and educational materials to schools that can’t afford them.

And finally, the cast of the upcoming Star Wars VII just got a little bigger. Actresses Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Oscar for her work in 12 Years a Slave last year and Gwendoline Christie, currently playing Brienne of Tarth on HBO’s Game of Thrones have joined the production. The casting news, along with 45 photos posted on TMZ.com that were reportedly leaked from the film’s Tattooine set in Abu Dhabi, have many Star Wars fans hyperventilating and counting the days to December 18th, 2015. Director J.J. Abrams, however, would totally like people to quit leaking stuff from his movie, okay?

PTJ 78: The Case of the Missing Kaisercoins

Series 3 of the BBC’s “Sherlock” finally makes its debut on PBS stations across the United States but if you can’t get enough of the deerstalker hat wearing detective, J.D. fills us in on other ways to get our Sherlock fix. Pedro deals with the disappointment of not having any cryptocurrency named in his honor by telling us what he knows about digital money.  In the news,  the U.S . Court of Appeals strikes down F.C.C. net neutrality rules; hackers mark the one-year anniversary of the death of programmer and digital-rights activist Aaron Swartz; Winamp will whip more llama ass; Google goes shopping; Snapchat continues to deal with its growing pains; and the bells begin to toll for Microsoft’s Windows 8.

PTJ 78 News: Whacks and Hacks

The year’s not even three weeks old and plenty of change is in the air. Earlier this week, the US Court of Appeals bounced the net neutrality’s rules put forth by the Federal Communications Commission. This gave Verizon Communications a legal victory over potential restrictions that would have made the company treat all traffic over its broadband lines equally. Continue reading PTJ 78 News: Whacks and Hacks

Episode 47: We Had Joy. We Had Fun.

J.D. helps us get the most out of our Webmail and Pedro gives us his view on the state of the pop music scene. In the news, Microsoft prepares to unveil Windows 8.1; Samsung and Android continues it’s smartphone dominance; the latest reports from Google’s I/O conference; Archos releases a tablet specifically designed for the kitchen; Nvidia begins taking preorders for their Shield mobile gaming system; and the HTC First Facebook Phone appears to be on the road to oblivion.

Episode 33 News: “Siri, Get Me Tickets for ‘Star Wars VII,’ NOW!”

Data Privacy Day is January 28th each year, so start planning your 2014 parties now! Twitter and Google celebrated the event this week by releasing stats for requests from government and rights holders concerning material on the sites. To check out the stats in detail, visit Twitter’s transparency page and Google’s Transparency Report.

While Google was talking about privacy this week, it also unveiled a more detailed map of North Korea, a country known for its intensely reclusive approach to privacy. The map, created by the help of citizen cartographers including some from South Korea, shows subway stops, schools and hospitals in the capital, Pyongyang.

haretvA digital edition of Anne Frank’s diary is now available as an app for the iPad and the Barnes & Noble Nook in the United Kingdom, with a US release expected to follow. If you find your 64-gigabyte iPad is stuffed to the max, Apple just announced a bigger capacity version of its fourth-generation iPad and the company also released iOS 6.1 this week. The update contains the usual security and bug fixes as well as the ability to tell the Siri assistant to buy you movie tickets with Fandango. The little black Apple TV also got a software update, which now lets the set-top box work with Apple’s Bluetooth wireless keyboard (and other Bluetooth keyboards), and manage music better.

Facebook had an update for its iOS app as well, a week after it updated the Android version of its mobile software with voicemail, video recording and other perks. Twitter’s video-sharing service, Vine, arrived week the iPhone and iPod Touch and is already a favorite for people who like to share those really special pornographic moments.

Research in Motion held is BlackBerry OS 10 launch this week. In addition to announcing new phones and software and changing its corporate name to “BlackBerry,” the company confirmed that the BB10 OS is will eventually make its way to the BlackBerry Playbook tablet.

Yahoo is also trying to climb back from mediocrity and beat its fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 14 percent and YouTube is set to launch channels that require paid subscriptions. Microsoft has finally officially launched Office 2013 desktop productivity software and its Office 365 premium Web service this week.

Up on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues its testing in preparation for drilling into a rock to collect a sample. And while the rover going through drilling drills is exciting, it was the news about J.J. Abrams directing Star Wars VII that really sent a tremor through the Force. (The announcement even inspired an online musical number with a tap-dancing Darth Vader.) A new hope for the galaxy, indeed.