Tag Archives: o hai NSA

PTJ 88 News: Frick and Frak

Just about a year ago here on Pop Tech Jam, we were chattering about the tests the United States Navy was doing with laser weapons and this week, the Navy has announced its engineers are putting the finishing touches on a laser weapon prototype that will be the first to be deployed to a ship. The device is said to be accurate and affordable. However you feel about modern combat, this seems to be a significant step into the future. Frickin’ lasers. On a warboat.

Back in the present, the United States Supreme Court has decided to skip a case against the National Security Agency over all that bulk phone metadata surveillance. The Court denied a petition by activist Larry Klayman. Ars Technica and other sites have noted that the court giving this one a miss means that Congress will attempt to tackle the future of the phone surveillance program. However, given the past few years of Congressional productivity (or lack thereof), one is not filled with a sense of great hope on this matter.

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Over in the Department of More Things To Be Paranoid About, The New York Times has a story this week about how hackers can break into computers on corporate networks in ways most people have never imagined — including online menus from Chinese food restaurants. And if you think that’s gonna gives you heartburn, check out Heartbleed, a dangerous security flaw. GigaOM has an info-roundup on the topic here.

The Google Play app store has another embarrassing security incident to add to its list. An app called Virus Shield, which cost $4 and had a huge number of downloads, was discovered last week to be a complete scam. Seriously. It did absolutely nothing. The Android Police site even posted samples of the app’s code to show the thing was bogus. Google has since yanked the app from the store.

Microsoft’s official End of Support for Windows XP deadline was this past Tuesday. Obituaries for the 12-and-a-half year-old operating system could be found around the Web along with stories about the massive security sinkhole the outdated system poses as it continues to run unsupported on millions of machines around the world. If you (or someone you know) is still on XP for whatever reason, at least make sure the poor computer has an up-to-date antivirus and security program installed and do not use Internet Explorer on it.

Microsoft fancies itself a TV studio now, too, after seeing Netflix and Amazon jump in.  Bloomberg News reports that the company’s new Xbox television studio is producing at least six new shows that are expected to arrive this summer.

Amazon went and released its Amazon Fire TV set-top box last week. The small $99 device connects to your HDTV and pretty much serves as a rabbit hole right to Amazon’s warren of wares. Digital music and Amazon Instant Video streams, are available, of course, as is content from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora and a few other services. (It has been noted that the Amazon Fire TV box has about 180 apps and channels so far, while Roku’s set-top streamer currently brings about 1,200 to your TV screen.)

Games could also be on the menu for the next version of Apple TV. Adding more weight to the rumors: a public filing to the FCC from Comcast and Time Warner Cable mentions that Apple is developing a new type of set-top box.

Speaking of set-top boxes and services, remember Google TV? Yeah, not exactly a barnburner there, with the whole Web-on-your-TV thing, but The Verge site is reporting that Google is having another go soon with Android TV. Google isn’t talking, but remember, the annual I/O conference is and the end of June in San Francisco.

Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference is set for early June, also in San Francisco, but Microsoft already had its programmer’s pow-wow last week. The annual Build Conference wrapped up last Friday after a series of announcements from the company on Windows-related matters.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of Apple’s aforementioned WWDC event, the 9to5Mac site has put together a roundup of all the rumors and leaks it’s heard on OS X 10.10 and iOS 8. (Also down Apple Way, Adobe has released a mobile version of its Lightroom program for photographers on the go with their iPads.)

Perhaps taking a page from the Facebook, Twitter is overhauling the design of user profile pages in its Web site. A post on the Twitter company blog describes its sassy new look for spring.

And finally, the Hollywood trade publication Variety is reporting that Universal is gearing up for a movie version of Battlestar Galactica. No word on casting or timing, but the site hears that the film will be developed as “a complete reimagining of the story.”
“WHYYYYYY?” so say we all.

Now let us think of happier times:

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PTJ 85: Naming That Tune

This week J.D. and El Kaiser play “Stump the Music Recognition App”.  In the news, the annual SxSW Festival in Texas is in full swing; the release of a potential new tent-pole game for the XBox One; Apple quietly rolls out an update to iOS 7; Windows 8.1, Update 1 is leaked; Google announces several new add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets; Samsung gets into the personalized music-service business; and the ‘Veronica Mars’ film based on the cult TV favorite makes it to the big-screen after hugely successful crowd-funding campaign.

PTJ 85 News: Burnin’ Down the House

Everyone wants to go to the annual SxSW Festival in Texas these days! With a little help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Edward Snowdon, the former National Security Agency contractor who has released thousands of confidential documents about government data collection to the public, appeared to festival attendees via a livestream from a Google Hangout video chat bounced through seven proxy servers. Mr. Snowdon chose to address the techies at SxSW because (in part), “the NSA is setting fire to the future of the Internet and you guys are the firefighters.”

The Xbox One may be lagging behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 in game console sales, but the release of the hotly anticipated Titanfall game for Microsoft’s platform may help even things up. The first-person shooter from Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts went on sale this past Tuesday after many awards and promo events.

Apple’s iOS 7.1 update arrived for compatible iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch players earlier this week. Along with the usual “improvements and security fixes,” iOS 7.1 brings user interface tweaks; Apple’s site has a list of the changes. And now that iOS 7.1 has landed, it’s time for the tech blogs to get all excited for iOS 8, which could arrive later this year. The 9to5Mac site reports that Apple is preparing a much-improved version of its once-maligned Apple Maps.

iOS 8 may be a while off, but Microsoft continues work on Windows 8.1, Update 1. The update has not been officially released yet, but it’s out there. According to tech writer Ed Bott, someone at Microsoft inadvertently left the final software packages on the Windows Update server last week. Mr. Bott took advantage of the opportunity to install the Windows 8.1 update on several computers and wrote up a report highlighting the major features of the update.

Google announced several new add-ons for its Google Docs and Sheets online productivity software. Meanwhile, angry parents displeased over a child’s shopping spree of unrestricted in-app purchases, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. Google has not responded to the action, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit alleges that that 30-minute gap of time after the initial password entry “is designed to enable children to purchase in-game currency without parental permission and without having to enter a password.” Or maybe Google was just trying to help developers take advantage of those adult impulse buys…

Like everyone else, Samsung is getting into the personalized music-service business. Designed for those toting Galaxy devices, the new Milk Music radio service will include 200 ad-free and customizable stations.  And while Samsung is touting its exclusive music service, Amazon is said to be ramping up its own game-development efforts. The Daily Telegraph of London and others are reporting that Amazon has its own game console hardware in the works and plans to develop its own games to play on it.

Facebook is rolling out yet another revamped News Feed design over the next few weeks. Most people don’t seem to care anymore. (But maybe we should care more now that robots have mastered air hockey and are moving into table-tennis matches with humans.)

ComiXology continues to be one of the highest-grossing mobile apps out there for its excellent interface and wide selection of downloadable digital comics. CNBC has a report this week about the company’s effect on independent publishers and comics creators.

bunnyVMAnd finally, on the topic of independent productions, the Veronica Mars movie arrives this weekend in selected theaters and on-demand sites. The movie was financed by a Kickstarter campaign that passed its funding goal in less than a day. So, if the film is successful going outside the traditional Hollywood route, will it bust up the paradigm and open up all sorts of new possibilities for movie and TV creators? Time till tell — and if you haven’t seen the original show, the pilot is free on iTunes, (each of the three seasons is $20 there) or you can stream the episodes on Amazon Instant Video. Fans of Frozen: If you loved Kristen Bell in that Oscar-winner, you’ll enjoy seeing her even more animated as the one and only Veronica Mars.

PTJ 81: Facebook’s Paper Beats Scissors

Facebook celebrates its 10th anniversary this week by allowing users to automagically create a short video highlight reel  of their time on the world’s most popular social network.  The decade old soc net also released a new iPhone-only mobile client dubbed Paper and J.D. gives us her review.  While he believes America is beautiful in any language, the Twitter backlash to Coca-Cola’s now famous multicultural Super Bowl advertisement has left El Kaiser less than thrilled.

In the news Microsoft finally picks a new CEO as Windows 8.1, Update 1 software leaks onto various file-sharing sites around the Internet; Google updates their Google Now service on mobile devices; Iridium introduces a WiFi hotspot that can get you on the Internet all over the world with a satellite connection; and Apple continues to note the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer with a celebratory movie shot by 15 camera crews using 100 iPhones.

PTJ 81 News: Moves and Movie Memories

New year, new job for Satya Nadella. Microsoft announced this week that he’ll be its new chief executive officer, only the third CEO in the company’s history. His official bio on the Microsoft site says his hobbies are cricket and poetry. Meanwhile, a version of the company’s Windows 8.1 Update 1 software has escaped into the wild and has made its way onto various file-sharing sites around the Internet.

Microsoft is among the tech companies releasing more information about US government requests for customer data. Google, along with Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn all released reports this week. While the reports are a bit vague and don’t do into details about how much of a customer’s data has been collected or what exactly was snagged, the disclosures come after the Obama administration relaxed regulations enough so the tech giants could give their users some idea of what was going on.

Google has been doing some updates of its own. If you’re using the Google Now service on a mobile device, as well as with the Chrome beta browser on your Mac, Windows or Chromebook system, you can see your notifications appear on the computer. An update to Google Maps for iOS now includes a new feature that tells you when there’s a faster route available when you’re cruising along in Navigation mode. Android users have had this perk for a month already. The Goog also released a new Google Cast software development kit for its Chromecast streaming media stick that lets developers beam and stream their apps to the big screen. (And John Nack, a longtime Adobe product manager, blogger and Photoshop evangelist has jumped ship after 13 years and is joining Google’s digital photography group.)

koreaIn the hardware headlines, Microsoft’s Kinect motion-controller is being used to monitor the DMZ, or demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. The controller works with special software to scan the area and identify anything that crosses into the DMZ. The program can tell the difference between animals and people and if a human is detected, an alert is sent to the nearest outpost. (Talk about an always-on system…)

For those who like to travel off the beaten path, Iridium says it’s not got a pocket-sized WiFi hotspot that can get you on the Internet all over the world with a satellite connection. The Iridium Go is due in the second quarter of this year, probably for less than $800 and will have its own Android and iOS apps. Expect raging speeds of about 20 kilobits per second and prepaid fees of about a buck a minute, but hey — you’re online in places you wouldn’t be otherwise. In other WiFi news, there’s a lawsuit brewing against Gogo, the in-flight Internet provider, brought on by people accuse the company of holding a monopoly over the sky-surfing business.

But wait, there’s more legal news! The Senate had some questions for Target CEO John Mulligan this week about that major data-security breach late last year that resulted in the theft of at least 40 million credit-card numbers. Several security experts were also on hand for the session. Mulligan also said this week that Target plans to overhaul its own credit-card system and move to the  smart chip-and-PIN system by early next year.

Democrats in the US Senate and House of Representatives introduced their own net neutrality bill early this week in hopes of reinstating the FCC’s recently struck-down Open Internet rules until the agency can come up with newer better regulations. The bill, H.R. 3982, is also known as The Open Internet Preservation Act of 2014.

And finally, Apple continues to note the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer with a celebratory movie shot by 15 camera crews using 100 iPhones. Want a more personalized cinematic experience? Facebook is ringing in its first decade by giving its users Look Back, a tool that creates a personalized greatest-hits video for each user from photos and other information from their timelines on the site. Here’s hoping you’ve aged better than the Macintosh 128K.

PTJ 80 News: Time Flies

As the week winds down, the State of the Union address is history and cloud service provider Akamai has popped out its latest quarterly  State of the Internet report. Once again, South Korea leads the world in average global connection speed; the United States ranks 8th. As if to rub it in, the South Korean government is dropping $1.5 billion into upgrading its mobile communications network by 2020, and says this will make it a thousand times faster than it is now. In theory, you could download an entire movie in one second on this mythical 5G network. Think of it, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in less time than it takes to sneeze and find a tissue.

But wait, this week had more reports to report. The Android operating system was tops in Europe in 2013, according to new numbers from research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. The little green robot snagged a 68.6 percent share of the European smartphone market, compared to Apple’s 18.5 percent. Windows Phone, showing some moxie, was able to claim 10.3 percent of the market. All three operating systems placed in the same order Stateside, but don’t even ask about BlackBerry (although BlackBerry OS 10 did get another update recently to make loading Android apps even easier).

Now, while Apple did set a record in the last quarter with 51 million iPhones sold, investors were hoping for 55 million iPhones out the door, so the company’s stock fell 8 percent. The tech press will now be filled with stories about how Apple needs to innovate again, although the company recently filed a patent for a solar-powered MacBook and seems to have new plans in the works for its Apple TV set-top streamer. Just last week, the tech press was filled with stories about the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer, which made its debut on January 24th, 1984, and had a very memorable Super Bowl commercial that can still be found online.

Google is still on its January shopping spree, buying up DeepMind, a privately held artificial intelligence company based in the United Kingdom. While replicants don’t seem to be in the near future, a DeepMind investor told the Re/Code website, “If anyone builds something remotely resembling artificial general intelligence, this will be the team. Think Manhattan Project for AI.”

Google Glass may be getting a little more affordable for some, particularly those with optical health insurance. The provider VSP has made a deal with Google to subsidize prescription lenses and frames for the Internet-connected spendy spectacles. However, Google Glass may not be the only wearable face computers strutting around town. The Korea Times is reporting that Samsung and Sony may be getting into the game. Samsung is rumored to be showing off its version this September at the annual IFA trade show in Berlin.

Shifting gears to Gears of War, Microsoft has purchased the shoot ‘em up franchise from Epic Games, which means future installments will likely be Xbox-only. And in other Microsoft news, the company announced that it was renaming its cloud storage service. The formerly known Hawaii Five-0 Approved Microsoft SkyDrive will now be known as OneDrive. Microsoft was forced into the name change after losing a trademark tussle to British Sky Broadcasting.

Government security groups have allegedly been harvesting player info from mobile games. Do people at the top of the leaderboards have anything to worry about? Angry Hackers, by the way, have already smacked up the Angry Birds website.

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The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be on the lookout for mysterious charges $9.84 on their credit-card bills. Those charges, often from unfamiliar sounding websites, are part of a scam. Call your bank and request a new debit or credit card, as this one’s been compromised.

The Chrome browser for iOS just got an update from Google that brings more speed and security to the app. And speaking of apps, a couple hotels in the Starwood chain are trying out new room door locks that can be opened by a smartphone with a Bluetooth connection and an Android or iOS app. (Here’s an idea: put this system in a few Vegas hotels during the annual DEF CON gathering and see how it holds up.)

And finally, Facebook marks its 10th birthday next week. The site was founded as TheFaceBook.com back on February 4th, 2004, and was intended as a resource for Harvard students. Flash forward a decade past a big-budget origin movie, a wobbly IPO and about 1.2 billion users around the world and you have the current social network. Now, if you’ve been wondering how much of your life in the past 10 years you’ve spent on the site, the folks at Time magazine’s website have created a handy tool called “How Much Time Have You Wasted on Facebook?” If the thought of letting an app trip merrily through your Facebook history disturbs you (it’ll probably meet up for drinks with the NSA bots in there), you can probably ballpark it yourself, especially if you’re a daily user. Just calculate the average amount of time you spend per day on the site, look up the date on your Timeline when you joined Facebook to see how many days it’s been, and factor those numbers together. Remember, there are 1440 minutes in a day

PTJ 75: The Scintillating 75th Episode

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.

PTJ 75 News: Cloudy With a Chance of Orcs

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.

reformExecutives 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.

Meanwhile, up on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover is still hard at work. Researchers on the project published six different papers this week.

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?

PTJ 71: Righteously Rowdy

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.

PTJ 71 News: Halloween Candy

kitkat-androidLate last week, Google announced its new Nexus 5 smartphone running Android 4.4 KitKat, all nicely timed for Halloween. The KitKat update is expected for Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 devices — as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One — within the next few weeks, so hang tight, candy lovers. In the meantime, a Quick Start guide to Android 4.4 is available in the Google Play store. (In other Google News, the company has a new venture, called Google Helpouts, that promises real help from real people in real time and in some case, in exchange for real money.)

And while Google has a four-story mystery structure out in the San Francisco bay that’s had observers wound up and speculating for the past few weeks, Apple is being a little more transparent about its future plans, The company has announced a new plant in Mesa, Arizona, intended to make components for its products—maybe future iPads? And Apple’s iPad Air went on sale last Friday, but as of now, the company has not released its typical exuberant first-weekend sales numbers, some analysts estimate between 2.5 and 3.5 million Airs were sold; as for the cellular models, newcomer T-Mobile reportedly did very well. (Heard El Kaiser’s concerns about iOS 7’s Frequent Locations feature on the iPhone? Read more about it here.)

Although it got some flack last week when its original report went public, The Washington Post did another story this week about how it knew the National Security Agency had access to internal Google and Yahoo cloud data, and defended the first story. But wait, there’s more security news: hackers broke into Corporate Car Online, a company that takes reservations for Town cars and limousines. According to the Krebs on Security site, intruders made off with financial and personal information belonging to 850,000 people. Lebron James, Tom Hanks and Donald Trump were among the names reportedly grabbed in the data theft.

Twitter is supposed to go all IPO on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. Things aren’t totally smooth sailing, though as IBM has accused the bird-themed microblogging service of at least three patent infringements.

Call of Duty: Ghosts arrived this week for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PCs. The latest installment takes the player to a post-apocalyptic society after the US has been hit with a major attack. The game made a large amount of money on its first day, and gamers can play as female soldiers in this edition.

And finally, the British supermarket chain Tesco is installing high-tech cameras that can scan the faces of customers for advertisers. The ads are planned for the gas pumps and after scanning the face of a customer, will then present targeted advertising based on the sex and age detected. Other retailers have also begun to use scanning technology to roughly identify customers for tailored advertisements and websites are all over the tracking and targeting. But still: today the face, tomorrow the eyes.