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.
With the pain of losing Google Reader still fresh and Feedly a disappointment after repeated missteps, El Kaiser looks at RSS feed aggregators. J.D. breaks down the differences between Ultrabooks and notebooks and helps us make the right choice between the two laptop flavors. In the news, a campaign encouraging kids to try computer coding; several technology companies issue a joint statement calling for restrictions on US government spying; Microsoft helps users know when and where their accounts have been used; Google continues to add apps to its Chromecast TV streamer; and predicting weather patterns for Middle Earth.
Welcome to the tail-end of Computer Science Education Week! This year, a campaign called Hour of Code encourages kids to try computer coding for just one hour to see what it’s like; you can find out more at Code.org. Supporters of the event, including the author Douglas Rushkoff say in order to be a smart and savvy consumer of modern technology, you have to know how it works.
Executives at several major technology companies — including Google, Microsoft, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo — have issued a joint statement calling for new legal restrictions on US government Internet surveillance programs. The group letter was addressed to President Obama and the United States Congress. And the full text can be found at ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com. (In a somewhat related story, Pro Publica, The Guardian of London and The New York Times reported this week that the NSA and the CIA have also been spying on gamers.)
Microsoft is stepping up security to help users know when and where their Microsoft Accounts have been used. The company is adding a Recent Activity page where users can log in and see all the times and locations of sign-ins, failed sign-ins due to incorrect passwords, security challenges and password-reset requests.
A couple of new iOS updates arrived this week: the latest version of the Pandora app now includes an alarm clock mode, and Amazon’s Cloud Drive Photos app now works on iPad and iPad Mini hardware. And Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition will hopefully arrive in the App Store later this month.
Google announced that 10 new apps have been added to its $35 Chromecast TV streaming dongle and fans of Google Street View may be happy to know that Google is now allowing users to create their own Street View images. (FYI, work has stalled on the Google Mystery Barge out near San Francisco, as the project is on “hiatus” until spring, much like a cable-network TV show.) What isn’t a mystery anymore is how Google might start making some money from its Google+ social network. This week, the Big G introduced a new ad type called +Post, which lets advertisers turn Google+ content into expandable display advertisements. The +Post system is still in the beta stage, but Toyota USA, Cadbury UK and Ritz crackers are among the early adopters.
Advertising is everywhere, especially in social media, but some companies have found that maybe some occasions aren’t appropriate for promoting your brand. Case in point, Campbell Soup apologized last weekend for a tweet from the SpaghettiOs account that featured the grinning circular noodle holding an American flag and encouraging followers to remember Pearl Harbor Day. Those who like to mock through creative use of image-editing software also had a field day with the tweet and transplanted the SpagehttiOs mascot into a variety of inappropriate situations.
And finally, a British climate researcher at the University of Bristol has taken J.R.R. Tolkein’s detailed maps from his books, plugged the info into a supercomputer and predicted weather patterns for Middle Earth. Dr. Dan Lunt did the work in his spare time and said the climate models he used were based on the fundamental understanding of science. He’s published a mock paper called “The Climate of Middle Earth” and it’s available in English, Dwarvish and Elvish. Perhaps it’s time for a little light reading before heading out to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this weekend?