Tag Archives: Mars

PTJ 103: Company’s Shopping and Records Dropping

This week we channel our inner AV club as El Kaiser reviews a USB headphone amp and digital to analog converter called the Dragonfly from Audioquest and J.D. takes a look at how to deal with DVD region codes. Yes, DVDs. You remember? Shiny disk that looked like CDs and every PC and laptop used to have a drive that could read them…

In the news Facebook officially splits off their popular Messenger feature; Foursquare looks to improve it’s new Swarm app; Yelp allows users to post videos along with their reviews; Google addresses another major Android security vulnerability; Apple goes shopping; Napster announces it has passed the 2 million user mark, Bose and Beats Electronics go toe to toe over noise cancellation; the Chinese government investigates Microsoft over anti-trust concerns; and the Mars Opportunity Rover breaks a record.

PTJ 83 News: Deals and Wheels

Cable companies are hooking up — with each other. Late last week, Comcast announced it had reached an agreement to take over Time Warner Cable for $45 billion dollars. Criticism over the deal flared up quickly, including a statement from former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who said the merger would let the two companies “run roughshod over consumers in the end.” Several consumers took to the Internet themselves, lamenting a possible future of even more high prices and bad service. (Last year’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index survey ranked Internet providers and cable companies even lower than the airlines, another industry that’s seen a lot of mergers and a dwindling number of choices over the recent years.) The deal, which has not gotten the official government seal of approval yet, includes no breakup fee if it falls through. The Ars Technica site has an analysis of the proposed deal and how it might play out if the FCC steps in. In addition to consumer fears, the Comcast-Time Warner deal could derail a deal between Time Warner Cable and Netflix.

Meanwhile, much smaller cable company RCN is teaming up with TiVo and Opera Software are all joining forces together to bring the Opera TV Store to certain TiVo’s recorders. (Never heard of RCN? It’s a smaller outfit with service mainly along the major East Coast cities and Chicago.)

On the phone front, Federal lawmakers have followed the California Senate in proposing a new law that would require a kill switch on smartphones. Dubbed the Smartphone Theft Protection Act, the bill aims to cut down on theft and save consumers $30 billion a year in lost hardware and related costs. The wireless phone industry is not too keen on being told how to build phone hardware, however. Whatever happens, at least there are basic remote recovery tools in many phone operating systems now, like Android Device Manager, Find My iPhone or Windows Phone remote wipe.

Details about the Samsung Galaxy S5 phone are starting to percolate. Bloomberg News reports that the S5 will have a 5.2-inch display screen that’s sharper than the screen on the current S4 model, and have an improved camera and better battery life. Other sites claim the new model will have a fingerprint sensor and a spiffy new physical design.

The Kickstarter crowdfunding site got hacked this past weekend. If you’re a member of the site, change your password if you haven’t already. In a post on the Kickstarter company blog, CEO Yancey Strickler said no customer credit-card information had been accessed.

girlsclubSony’s PlayStation continues to outsell its main rival the Microsoft Xbox One. Sony announced it’s sold 5.3 million PS4 consoles since the hardware debuted last November, comparde to Microsoft’s sales of 3.9 million Xbox One units since its own November debut. Nintendo’s Wii U console has sold about 6 million units since it arrived in November 2012. Nintendo may be zeroing in on a certain segment of its user base, however. Over in the United Kingdom, the company has launched a new YouTube channel aimed at female gamers. It’s called Nintendo Girls Club and it features videos from British actors and bloggers on the latest gameplay and trailers.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day last week, Facebook added more than 40 new gender terms for users to use with their profiles on the site, expanding from the binary male/female to include transgender, intersex and a whole lot more. While many called the move progressive move into the modern world of gender identity, and editorial in the Guardian suggested that Facebook should get really radical and remove all gender options instead.

Also in the V-Day vibe, the Facebook Data Science group did a series of posts last week, sharing some of its research. One post was called “The Formation of Love,” and explained how Facebook can tell when you’re about to start a new relationship.

Ken Burns, a documentary filmmaker so iconic that he got a special effect named after him in Apple’s iPhoto software, now has an iPad app of his own. It, too, is called Ken Burns. Software Ken Burns is free to try and $10 to buy.

jetstreamMany New Yorkers have not been shy in complaining about the winter weather this year, but is there science behind it? (The weather, not New Yorkers complaining.) A study recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, research was presented that suggested warmer temperatures in the Arctic have caused the jet stream to shift father south and take a longer path across the globe — and making for more sustained weather systems.

And finally, NASA says it’s solved the mystery of the jelly-shaped donut rock on Mars that seemed to suddenly appear in front of its Opportunity rover last month. The rock, as Mars-watchers know, looked like it showed up out of the blue in pictures the rover sent back to earth within the span of 12 Martian days. This set off all sorts of speculation about just how the rock got there, but NASA now says it was a broken-off piece of another rock that the rover ran over while it was exploring the area. Let’s hope Opportunity has its insurance card in the glove compartment in case the Martians file a claim.

PTJ 83: Hard Knocks and Mystery Rocks

El Kaiser reviews a sexy set of headphones from Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer Onkyo and J.D. compares top three set-top streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, and Google. In the news, Comcast and Time-Warner Cable look to merge;  the U.S. look present a bill forcing smartphone carriers to include killswitch on hardware; Samsung Galaxy S5 rumors heat up; Kickstarter gets hacked; Facebook adds 40 more gender options; and NASA solves the mystery of the Martian doughnut rock.

Episode 41: April Foolishness and Big Data

This week we go big on Pop Tech Jam! Technology expert and author Phil Simon talks to J.D. about his new book, Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data and Pedro reviews two new headphones in his never-ending quest for the perfect subway headphones. In the news,  Amazon’s Cloud Drive service takes on Dropbox; Microsoft’s Windows Phone making inroads against Apple and Android’s dominance; Google’s new privacy czar; and mobile ads that talk back.

Episode 41 News: Game of Bacon

Tech companies do love the April Fool’s Day gags, don’t they? In general, some “jokes” work better than others, but everyone seems to be moving on and getting back to business as we ease into spring. Take Amazon — its Cloud Drive can now give your files that syncing feeling. The company just released a new desktop app for Windows and Mac gives that lets you copy files to your online drive by just moving them into a desktop folder, just as you can do with Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox and other services. (As Ars Technica and others have pointed out, the app requires Java, but not that worrisome browser plug-in.)

Microsoft is getting it out there: Windows Phone handsets seem to be getting some traction in the marketplace (right before BlackBerry has sold a million new Z10 phones already) and the Internet Explorer 10 almost doubled in market share, thanks to the Windows 7 version arriving in February as an automatic update. Windows 8 is still trying to find its place in the world, and has risen to claim 3 percent of the desktop operating system pie, according to Net Applications in its report for March.

Meanwhile, over at Google, Alma Whitten, the Director of Privacy, is leaving the job this summer. Lawrence You, an engineering director, will be taking over the privacy-and-security department in June. In other company privacy news, Google is facing new probes and possible fines for privacy violations in Europe. (And on the topic of international incidents, Apple CEO Tim Cook has written a letter of apology to the company’s Chinese customers. )

Talking back can get some results and Nuance, the speech-recognition company, is working on mobile ads that can talk back to customers. Hopefully, the ads will wait until they are spoken to before nattering on about the product.

tapestryOut in space, astronomers have discovered a new comet that could be one of the visibly brightest in decades. (But will it be as popular as Halley’s comet, which has turned up in song, story and tapestry for centuries? Eh, probably not.) Hopefully, the Mars rovers will get a few good shots of Comet Ison when it passes by the Red Planet — and US astronaut Buzz Aldrin hopes the United States will take a shot at sending astronauts to Mars. He lays out a plan in his new book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, due out May 7th.

And finally, spring is here on the northern hemisphere, on the calendar if not in the weather forecast. Baseball is back, and so are a few very popular TV programs, including the BBC’s Doctor Who (which featured a geektastic episode about scary Wi-Fi) and HBO’s Game of Thrones (which broke the BitTorrent Swarm record with more than a million downloads in less than a day). HBO, however, does not seem to be worried.

Fans of these two franchises can also take in David Tennant (the beloved 10th Doctor) in the BBC miniseries Spies of Warsaw this month, and enjoy John Lanchester’s 4,600-word essay on George R.R. Martin’s opus in the London Review of Books. Both might be a nice distraction for all those who were crushed to find out, alas, that Scope Bacon was not real.

Episode 39 News: You Want Curly Fries With That?

“Is this a game or is it real?” WarGames, may have been a 1983 Cold War-era teen movie, but computer-assisted attacks 30 years later are certainly very real. James R. Clapper Jr., the US director of national intelligence, made his annual presentation to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week and listed “cyberattacks” at the top of his threat list for the first time. Recent hack attacks attributed to the Chinese are a sore point in the relations between China and the US, and the White House demanded earlier this week that the Chinese government stop its local hackers from breaking into American networks and stealing data. The Chinese government has denied involvement is such activity but said it is open to discussions about international cybersecurity.

Down in Austin at the interactive part of the South By Southwest festival, 3D printing and intelligent devices got good exposure, as did Leap Motion’s $80 3D motion sensor device for controlling the computer through hand and finger gestures. At least one reporter attending the show noted that the live appearance of the famous Internet meme, Grumpy Cat, overshadowed many of the actual technology announcements. Still, this year’s show had speeches by Bill Gates and others and there were a few items of note. Marvel Comics announced new and expanded mobile and online offerings and Google also had some revelations about its Project Glass augmented reality spectacles, which are expected to arrive later this year for about $1500 a pair. (The Google glasses can take pictures and record video, which has caused some people to have privacy concerns already, and a bar in Seattle has already banned the high-tech headsets from the establishment.)

In Mars news, NASA held a press conference this week to discuss findings from the Curiosity rover’s recent rock-drilling adventure. According to scientists, ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Life! On Mars! (But not Life on Mars, alas.)

TiVo has released the TiVo Mini, launched a $100 miniature version of its set-top box, designed to let users watch content stored on the home’s main TiVo DVR. You also need to have one of the four-tuner TiVo DVR models in the house and pay a subscription fee.

The launch of SimCity 5 last week was highly anticipated – but ultimately frustrating for many world builders who rushed online to play but couldn’t do anything thanks to crashing games and overloaded servers. SimCity 5, which has no offline mode, has seen disgruntled fans posting message of unhappiness on the game’s Amazon page, online forums and other places, lamenting the lost of their time, fun and $60. But in happier gaming news, Mike Mika, a game-developer dad, made his three-year-old daughter a very happy girl by hacking the old Donkey Kong ROM and changing it so she could play as Pauline and save Mario. The mod took just a few days and Mr. Mika tells his story on Wired.com, which is definitely worth a read for anybody who admires insanely cool dads.

The past week saw several new developments around the techsphere. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology say they’ve created self-healing processors that can repair themselves, even after being blasted by lasers. (Did they name the processor the “T-1000?”) International Data Corp analysts predict shipments of Apple’s iPad this year will fall behind those running Google’s Android system for the first time. And Facebook showed off a revamped look for its News Feed last week, featuring bigger photos and a cleaner design that reminded some of Google+.

bigbro

And finally, also in Facebook news, researchers at Cambridge University have created algorithms that use a person’s Facebook “Likes” to predict that person’s religion, politics, race and sexual orientation. The results of the study were published on the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal. According to a story on the BBC’s Web site, the researchers found some strange results as well: “Curly fries correlated with high intelligence and people who liked the Dark Knight tended to have fewer Facebook friends,” said research author David Stillwell. And yes, privacy advocates have something to say on the topic, too!

Episode 14 News: ’Cause the Man from Mars Won’t Eat Up Bars Where the TV’s On…

The first round of the Apple-Samsung legal slapfight over patents wrapped up last week, with Apple winning a large chunk of change in the decision and asking for an injunction against the sale of several Samsung Galaxy phones. While Samsung vows to fight on in this case, the company is going about its business elsewhere, including in Germany, where it introduced three new Windows 8 desktop computers due out later this fall.

Apple isn’t sitting around basking in its legal victory either. The latest grind of the rumor mill now suggests two major Apple product announcements this fall instead of just one mega event. Amazon, in the meantime, is getting out ahead of any of Apple’s rumored showcase dates with an event of its own in southern California next week. While the shadow of iPhone 5 may loom over much of this fall’s mobile news, LG Electronics is diving in with the Optimus G, a 4G LTE Android phone with a quad-core Snapdragon processor, Bluetooth 4.0 and a big honkin’ 13-megapixel rear camera.

Dropbox, the online storage and file-sharing site, has had its share of security issues the past year. The company is busting a move, though, and has announced it’s adding two-step authentication to help keep those cloud accounts safe and sound. The procedure is still being tested and sounds a bit buggy, but will hopefully get smoother and make things safer for Dropboxers everywhere.  While Dropbox’s new security system is working out the bugs, researchers from the computer science and biology departments at Stanford University are studying them. It turns out the behavior of harvester ants is quite similar to the algorithm used in the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol. Yay, Anternet!

NASA’s mission for the Curiosity rover has gone beyond rolling around and taking pictures on the surface of Mars. The exploratory vehicle also belted out will.i.am’s “Reach for the Stars” this week — and it was the first time a song has been broadcast from another planet. Now, if only Curiosity can tap into The Walker Art Center’s star-studded Internet Cat Video Film Festival and share even more quality Earth culture with any galactic neighbors that might be around.

Episode 11: Space Apps and the 2012 Tablet Olympiad

Mars rover and Olympic fever hit J.D. and Pedro hard this week. J.D. highlights some essential smartphone and tablet apps for the mobile astronomer and The Kaiser officially opens the inaugural 7 inch Tablet Olympiad. In the news, Google’s Chrome browser continues to gain in popularity, Apple and Google’s divorce gets even more contentious, and Microsoft shows developers lots of love.