Pokémon, those whimsical little Japanese pocket monsters, are celebrating their 20th anniversary in style by taking over much of the mobile world this month with the release of the augmented reality smartphone game, Pokémon GO. But while millions of people downloaded the game to their Android handsets and iPhones in the first week of release, security experts and privacy advocates have voiced concerns. Journalist Laura M. Holson drops by Pop Tech Jam HQ to discuss how Pokémon GO works, what to worry about and why it became so popular so fast. El Kaiser and J.D. also discuss the non-Pokémon headlines of the week, including Twitter’s big plans for this month’s political conventions and some truly classic code.
Do you like reality TV? If you’re a general fan of long windy speeches, you can see the United states political machine grinding its gears later this month on Twitter. The bird-themed microblogging service announced this week that it has reached a deal with the CBS television network to livestream both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, much to the delight of trolls everywhere.
Also in Twitter news, the company has issued a cease-and-desist letter to another site that made a habit of recording and displaying the deleted tweets of politicians and celebrities. Upon receiving the letter, the PostGhost site did shut down, joining Politiwoops in the club of sites who have angered Twitter. Politiwoops, though smacked by Twitter last year, does seem to be back as part of the Sunlight Foundation for transparent government. And Twitter has increased the allowed size of animated GIF files that can be attached to tweets, which can now be up to 15 megabytes on the Twitter web interface or 5 megabytes on mobile. This has inspired some people to compress full-length movies and TV episodes into high-speed animated files, just because they can.
The ebook revolution seems to have hit a snag, at least with book from major publishers. The American Association of Publishers released its annual sales survey this week that showed ebook sales had declined about 11 percent in 2015. Overall, ebooks accounted for 17% of all book sales for the year and Fortune magazine thinks the drop may be in part to major publishers reining in e-sales with higher prices as a way to limit Amazon’s influence over the publishing industry. Digital formats are not all riding the down arrow though: The AAP survey also showed that revenue from audiobook sales has nearly doubled since the year 2012, from $299 million in sales up to $552 million last year.
Facebook, Apple and Google have all taken a keen interest in India as a new source of revenue. While Facebook’s Internet.org project to bring its version of the web to the country hit a roadblock with local officials and net neutrality advocates earlier this year, and Google has busted out with a new program designed to train two million local developers in the art of Android. The new initiative is called the Android Skilling program that it plans to implement in universities and training schools around India later this year. Also in international tech news, the Obama administration says the Twitter traffic of Islamic State has dropped 45 percent in the past two years due to an online counteroffensive.
Electric cars are picking up speed. <rimshot> Along with your Tesla Model S, Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt and other models out there, Mercedes-Benz is said to be prepping a concept version of an all-electric sedan that it plans to unveil at the Paris Motor Show in Paris this fall. peaking of Tesla, though, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Elon Musk’s electric car company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to tell investors about the fatal crash of one of its cars in Autopilot mode this May.
Google is making high-speed data access easier for its Project Fi customers who are traveling. The company announced on its Android blog this week that it was giving Project Fi subscribers a $10-per-gigabyte data plan in more than 135 countries for those who don’t want to drift between Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels and cafes or fumble with the international SIM card maneuver.
After initial delays, Oculus Rift VR headsets are now shipping within 2-to-4 business days from ordering. And developers who want to attend the company’s Oculus Connect 3 conference on early October can fill out applications for attendance starting August 2.
And finally, if you like NASA and you like programming, head on over to GitHub — if you’re not already there — and check out the source code for the onboard guidance computers used on the Apollo 11 command and lunar modules back in 1969. The pages of source code were digitized a while back for the MIT Museum and was later transcribed and uploaded into text files by a researcher in 2003. So the code itself was already in the public domain if you knew where to look, but a former NASA intern uploaded the entire collection to GitHub last week so even more people could examine the files and read the comments put in by the original NASA programmers. As PCMag.com notes, the code has a lot of humor and even some Shakespeare in the comments. And lest you think all those 1960s-era computer jocks were men in short-sleeve white dress shirts, remember that software engineer Margaret Hamilton (shown here) was one of the main programmers on the Apollo 11 project and is still an inspiration to many of today’s girls who code.
This past Tuesday was supposed to be the end of the first-round public comment period for the proposed Net Neutrality (or Open Internet) rules but forth by the Federal Communications Commission. Due to an overwhelming volume of people trying to deposit their $0.2, however, the FCC has now extended the initial round of comments until Friday, July 18th, at midnight. [Quick! To the Rantmobile!] The FCC’s website even has a chart showing the huge flurry of messages coming in through the site’s Electronic Comment Filing System on this particular topic. In addition to mere mortals, several large tech companies have stated their support for an open internet and thirteen US senators also called on the FCC to support net neutrality. A decision could come in September, after the next round of comments.
The FCC is also hearing it from the DISH network, which has formally asked the agency to block the pending Comcast-Time Warner merger due to serious competitive concerns. (By the way, the FCC just picked its panel last week to review that looming deal.) DISH also doesn’t like the proposed AT&T and DirecTV merger, but the company should be celebrating the recent court ruling in favor of its Hopper DVRs.
Adding to the alphabet soup: the FAA and the FTC: A few weeks ago, the Federal Aviation Administration said it wasn’t authorizing drones for commercial use, but Amazon is persisting. Last week, the megamoo überstore filed an official request to the administrator of the FAA to ask for an official exemption from the No Commercial Drones rule. In other Amazon news, the battle with publishers over ebook pricing drags on and oh, by the way, the Federal Trade Commission just sued the company for improperly billing parents for in-app purchases made by their children.
If the rumors are to be believed, the iPhone 6 will come on two sizes, (a 4.7-inch and a 5.5-inch screen model) but are whispers from analysts that the 5.5-phablet-size version will be delayed due to complications with components and the manufacturing process. So if you want to buy the thing that doesn’t offically exist yet, you may have to wait a little longer.
Microsoft, which is starting to but cloud and mobile moves of its own, has plans for a $199 Windows laptop from HP in time for the holiday season, as well as similar low-cost laptops from Acer and Toshiba for about $249. Take that, Google Chromebooks.
After a month of drama, diving and oh, fútbol, the 2014 World Cup wrapped up in Brazil this past weekend as Germany won the large gold trophy. Along with setting new records for global television viewership, the tournament was also the biggest streaming multimedia video event in history. The Spanish-language channel Univision Deportes got 81 million total viewers for the tournament and was up 34% in viewership from the 2010 World Cup.
Also up in recent numbers — album sales on vinyl. Nielsen Soundscan’s mid-year report shows the once-dominate format for audio recordings has clawed its way back to 4 million units from near-extinction at the hand of CDs and digital downloads .
In robot news, the folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on phase-changing material made from wax and foam that could allow robots to become “squishy” or shift between hard and soft states. These robots are intended for good works.
Now, if you missed the supermoon on July 12th, there’s another one on August 10th, and some are calling it the superdupermoon because it will be even brighter and larger than the previous mere supermoon. August 10th will see the moon’s perigree coincide with the hour that the moon itself is most full. There will also be a supermoon hat-trick this year, with another (but dimmer) one occurring on September 9th.
Mark your calendars.
The frostiness between Samsung and Google is probably going to get a little more polar vortex-y as Samsung has opened its own Android app store that its users can shop instead of Google Play. The new store is called Galaxy Apps and claims hundreds of exclusive programs just for Samsung shoppers.
And finally, Dungeons & Dragons is not just a role-playing game, it’s a skill-builder for writers and programmers. As The New York Times reported earlier this week, several renowned authors like Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Junot Díaz, Sherman Alexie, Sharyn McCrumb and yes, George R.R. Martin were all influenced by the game and said it helped with their development as writers. D&D’s ability to teach players creativity, narrative and problem-solving skills is nothing new. In his 1998 Gen X memoir, Extra Life: Coming of Age in Cyberspace, author Davis S. Bennahum said the complexity of the game even got him into computer programming. Perhaps there’s hope for the younger generation today, who have grown bored with repetitive casual games. Wizards of the Coast just released a Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit for $20 this week. Get rolling!
As we approached the century mark in episodes J.D. and I considered all the cool things we could do to mark the occasion. Sky divers, bouncy castles, and a Blade Runner marathon were all discussed but in the end we decided to offer up what all of you have come to expect from us: tech news, helpful hints, product reviews and shenanigans. Thank you for sticking with us for these past 100 episodes and we look forward to serving up many, many more!
This week El Kaiser takes a listen to Bowers & Wilkins flagship P7 headphones and J.D. makes using your set top boxes a whole lot easier.
In the news, Facebook experiments with its users; the NSA takes a particularly strong interest in Linux users; protocols for the Internet of Things popping up like weeds; Python is more popular than Java in schools; and The Beatles film “A Hard Days Night” gets the remastering treatment.
Oh, Facebook. The revelation of your controversial “emotional contagion” experiment was weeks ago, but people are still talking about it. (In case you were on vacation, too, this was the one where Facebook deliberately tampered with the feeds of about 700,000 users back in January 2012 and took note of how those people reacted to really negative or really positive postings — but the site never informed the affected users that they were being used as guinea pigs.) The news broke in mid-June when a paper on the study was published and now the editor of that academic journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has issued an Editorial Expression of Concern over the whole thing.
Facebook, facing a backlash, defended the its actions and said a clause in its terms of service informs users that their data may be used for research purposes. But, as The Daily Dot, Forbes and others point out, that policy wasn’t added until four months after the experiment took place. Why, yes, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has already filed a complaint against Facebook to the Federal Trade Commission. Regulators in Ireland and the United Kingdom are looking into the matter as well.
This is apparently nothing new on the Facebook campus, as a former data scientist for the company basically told The Wall Street Journal, hey, if you’re a Facebook user, you’ve been experimented on. Andrew Ledvina, on his blog, later clarified some of his statements and said several were taken out of context by the paper.
Also in the Department of Things Under Scrutiny: Linux users. New disclosures about the National Security Agency and its practices claim the NSA is particularly interested in visitors to the Linux Journal site, along with those who frequent the TOR (The Onion Router) and Tails Linux distro site.
If we’re going to have an Internet of Things, we’re gonna need some protocols and specifications. Wouldn’t you know it, major technology companies are jumping in to create an open-source standard for wirelessly connecting devices.The latest group is called the Open Interconnect Consortium and its founding members include Intel, Samsung, Dell, Wind River, Broadcom and others. However, this is not the first Internet of Things club. The Allseen Alliance, formed last year, counts Qualcomm, Microsoft, Cisco, LG, Panasonic, D-Link, HTC among its 50 or so members. (Will there be a nerd war over IoT standards?)
Interconnected smart homes are starting to go mainstream, though. Box-boxer The Home Depot, is now working with Wink, the app and platform that lets you control and monitor your connected thermostat, locks, lights, blinds and other household furnishings from your smartphone.
If you’re getting ready to study computer science at any of the top universities here in the States this fall, odds are you’ll probably be taking a Python course or two. According to the newsletter for the Association for Computing Machinery, Python has now passed Java as the most popular programming language taught in introductory computer-science courses. (If you can’t afford the time or money to go to college, you can take a free Python fundamentals course online at the Codeacademy.) And yes, the name is derived from the British comedy classic, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Also in education news, alumni from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dropbox have teamed up on a new email platform called Inbox. The Inbox announcement comes a few weeks after Google announced its new Gmail API at the I/O conference.
The PC market, once thought on the decline thanks to the rise of tablets and mobile devices, has had a bit of an uptick — or perhaps, less of a slump than expected, According to Gartner Research, PC shipments will only drop 2.9 percent this year, compared to a plummet of 9.5 percent last year. Part of this change is said to be people upgrading from their ancient Windows XP machines at last.
And finally, the latest digital restoration technology is to thank for the restoration and re-release of A Hard Day’s Night, the 1964 film staring The Beatles in their youthful prime. The Criterion Collection folks created a 4K scan of the film from its original 35-millimeter negative to work with and added a 5.1 surround sound mix.
The restored film had a limited release in theaters last week and is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. Yes, it’s true, money can’t buy you love — but you can get a lovely restored classic piece of movie (and music) history on Blu-ray disc for less than $40.
El Kaiser reviews Logitech’s $40 Bluetooth Audio Adapter. The device allows you to play audio from smartphone or tablet through your home stereo or powered speakers.
Of course he (not so) secretly pines for the $250 rBlink wireless DAC from Arcam which promises superior sound quality and rock solid Bluetooth pairing to mobile devices.
If you use Flicker and are looking to reorder your snapshots J.D. shares a Hopefully Helpful Hint that will show you how.
Lots of Google news this week as the Big G kicked off its annual I/O developers conference in San Francisco by announcing a new version of Android. Google takes another swing at the living room with Android TV and releases a new software update to the Chromecast streaming dongle. Their recent acquisition Nest, maker of Internet-connected smart-home thermostats and fire alarms, has opened its platform to outside developers and buys security firm Dropcam. The search and advertising behemoth experiments with its own domain registration service.
In other news, Yahoo releases a replacement app launcher for Android. Dating sites get hit on hard by phishing scam; Cloud storage prices drop; both houses of Congress hold hearings about proposed merger between AT&T and DirecTV; the Supreme Court rules against Aereo, a service that allows subscribers to view live and time-shifted streams of over-the-air television on Internet-connected devices, in th the Internet company’s battle with broadcast networks; and finally Google, the Girl Scouts, the MIT Media Lab, TechCrunch, the National Center for Women & Technology and others launch the “Made with Code” website.
Google’s I/O Conference is happening at the Moscone Center out in beautiful downtown San Francisco this week. As happens at these Big Dev Lovefests, major announcements are made. Among other things, Google previewed its upcoming “Android L” release, which is said to be the biggest update to the mobile operating system yet. “Android L” features 5,000 new APIs for developers and plenty of interface changes for users with the “Material Design” approach that is supposed to add subtle depth and perspective to elements in screen. And after Google TV flopped, the company is taking another swing at the living room with Android TV — which like other streamers from companies with big content ecosystems, ties your phone and tablet to the television more tightly.
The Chromecast dongle, Google’s low-end entry into streaming, also got an update. Developers also got previews of Android Wear, the version of the system for wearables like watches and Android Auto, for the connected dashboard in your motor vehicle.
In other Google News, its newly acquired Nest company, maker of Internet-connected smart-home thermostats and fire alarms, has opened its platform to outside developers and also bought the security firm Dropcam for a reported $555 million dollars. Dropcam makes WiFi enabled video cameras with night vision, microphones and zoom capabilities. (This is not scary, right?) Google is also experimenting with its own domain registration service. It’s called Google Domains, but it’s still in the early-beta invite-only stage. And good news for the Google Play store — in the past year, quarterly revenue from its app sales has more than doubled, thanks to games and free apps that offer paid in-app upgrades.
But it’s not all Google this week. Yahoo, which has been trying to get attention for its editorial content lately, has a new software product out now in the Google Play store. The app is called Yahoo Aviate, and it’s a simplified replacement app launcher for Android. Aviate basically takes the concept of Google Now — useful little chunks of information displayed on your home screen — and displays them when it thinks you’ll need them, roughly linking your info to the time of day.
Over in Apple Land, a code explorer poking around the beta version of the iOS 8 software claims to found an unpublicized “City Tours” feature buried in the Apple Maps app. Samples of the feature are on the 9to5Mac site.
Match.com, eHarmony, PlentyOfFish, Christian Mingle and other dating websites are getting hit on hard by phishing scams. Netcraft, an Internet monitoring company, has detailed the attacks, in which hundreds of fraudulent PHP scripts out there stealing user names and passwords to compromise paid accounts. What can you do with a stolen dating-site subscription? For one: dating fraud.
Cloud storage prices are coming down, with users getting more space for less money. Microsoft has added a bonus 8 gigabytes to the 7 gigs OneDrive customers already get for free, making it a total of 15 gigs of server space. Office 365 subscribers using the OneDrive for Business option will soon be going from 25 gigs to 1 terabyte of space. Microsoft, known for its Windows Phone line, just launched its first Android smartphone. It’s the Nokia X2 and it is running a modified version of Android that kind of makes it look like…Windows Phone.
Both houses of Congress held hearings about the proposed merger between AT&T and DirecTV this week as part of their anti-trust investigations. C-SPAN streamed the hearings, for those who had an interest or insomnia.
About that other major merger: the Comcast-Time Warner deal, the merger could also be affected by an FCC report on Internet broadband speeds. The report found that DSL was lagging behind fiber optic and cable, so how much choice do consumers actually have out there? This sort of puts a dent in one of Comcast and Time Warner’s big arguments for merging.
In related news, the Washington Post recently had an interesting piece about how the state of New York could but a big dent in that deal if it decides it’s not a good thing for the people of the Empire State. Because New York has its own cable franchise laws in place, it could block the merger from happening within state boundaries. Governor Andrew Cuomo has his own investigation underway.
Governors aren’t the only ones weighing in on fairness, competition and Net Neutrality. The mayors of several major cities at the US Conference of Mayors have adopted a resolution, which calls on the FCC “to enshrine the values of what is commonly referred to as net neutrality.”
The Supreme Court has handed down its ruling in that case of Every Major National TV Broadcaster v. Aereo, the feisty startup with the teeny-tiny antennas. Bad news for Aereo – the Supremes ruled 6 to 3 that the company’s retransmission of signals without paying a fee to the broadcasters does violate the Copyright Act. Aereo’s chief executive has said before that losing this case pretty much ends it for the company.
Also in regulatory news, The German Publishers and Booksellers Association has submitted a complaint against Amazon to the country’s anti-trust author. And one more bummer for Amazon — the Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the company cannot use drones for package delivery, at least for the immediate future. Policies do change with the times, however.
And finally, one last word on Google — but it’s not about I/O, acquisitions or product news. Last week, the Big G teamed up with the Girl Scouts, the MIT Media Lab, TechCrunch, the National Center for Women & Technology and others to launch the “Made with Code” initiative. As one might guess from the name, “Made With Code” is designed to get girls interested in coding, or as it’s called these days, the new literacy.
You go, girls. Future coders can find plenty of free instruction on the web. In fact, we talked about this back on Episode 20 and here’s our own Pop Tech Jam roundup of free instructional sites. Summer’s here and it’s time to work on your monitor tan!
Okay, maybe it isn’t exactly a “Spectacular” but J.D. does update the summer’s geek movie calender while El Kaiser hashes out the differences between an Image Macro and a Meme. In the news rumors abound that Apple is getting set to unveil new versions of their OSes; Windows Phone gains traction; Google debuts their virtual personal assistant software; and McDonald’s gets set to offer breakfast all day.