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.
The 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.
The 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.
This week J.D. takes us for a ride on the video game way-back machine with a look at the new Historical Software Collection at the Internet Archive. Also in this episode Kaiser Pedro has some hopefully helpful hints about improving your battery life and protecting your privacy on an Apple device running their iOS 7 mobile operating system. In the news Google unveils its long-rumored Nexus 5 smartphone; Apple looks to expand its manufacturing presence in the United States; hackers target a limousine service; Twitter makes its stock market debut; gamers lineup for the release of “Call of Duty: Ghosts”; and British supermarket chain Tesco wants to scan the faces of customers for advertisers.
Video-based games have been around since the middle of the 20th century. Consider Tennis for Two, created in 1958 and played on an oscilloscope at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Or Spacewar, thought by many to be the first shooter game, created in 1961 at MIT and played on a Digital PDP-1 mainframe computer. (And you thought the early Game Boys were bulky.)
But it was the next couple of decades when videogames really blasted off, with Computer Space and Pong fueling the arcade boom in the early 1970s. This lead into the microcomputer craze and the home videogame wave, Remember The Hobbit, Mystery House, Adventureland or Choplifter? If you played these in the early 1980s, you have some serious old-school gaming cred, emphasis on the old.
So what’s in the collection? You can revisit Lemonade Stand, an economics game popular on the Apple II in 1979, or the 1981 version of Castle Wolfenstein. From 1982, you can find the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man and KC Munchkin for the Odyssey2. How about 1983’s Chuckie Egg for the ZX Spectrum? There’s plenty more where those came from.
The Internet Archive Software Collection itself is a vast trove of CD-ROM images, Linux distributions, shareware mirrors and more. You could spend an afternoon trawling the virtual exhibits in this online repository. A sub-collection called Classic PC Games lets you relive those old DOS and early Windows favorites as well. But it’s not just fun and games. The archive has other ancient artifacts like VisiCalc and even WordStar to download or try out in emulation.
Yes, you can even grab a bag of Reese’s Pieces and run a version of that horrible E.T. game from 1983, just to see how bad it was. You are, after all, a student of history and history is not always pretty.
A few episodes ago, we talked about iTunes U as a free source of educational courses, content and lectures from major universities. Along those lines, you can also take free computer science and programming classes from sites like Coursera and MIT’s Open Courseware. Practical Programming in C is one such course offered on the MIT site.
If Ruby piques your interest, there’s also the TryRuby interactive site. It’s linked to the Code School site, where you can sign up for and try classes for free — and then pay $25 a month if you want to keep learning.
Want to learn Ruby on Rails, which is an open-source full-stack web application framework that works with the Ruby language? Try the Rails for Zombies site, also from Code School. (Zombies, we just can’t get enough of zombies — especially with The Walking Dead returning with new episodes this weekend.)
Another site for young programmers is <Code/Racer>, which is a multiplayer live game that teaches how to write the code for a basic Web site in HTML and CSS. If you already know how to do that, the site tests how quickly you can code.
These sites are just a few of the many options out there, but a good place to start your search for a programming language to learn. And once you get the skills down, you can flaunt the wardrobe.