As 2021 starts off feeling like the surprise end-credit sequence to 2020, El Kaiser and J.D. discuss Twitter’s big move, the power of social-media companies and a little trade Vegas-based expo called the Consumer Electronics Show that’s having its first-ever all-virtual edition. All this, plus thoughts on “Wonder Woman 1984” and Apple’s beefy new over-the-ear headphones, right here on PTJ 348!
Freshly returned from spring break, El Kaiser and JD jump into the week’s headlines — including government attempts to regulate technology platforms and robots rolling through Walmart. JD also has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint for wrangling the massive photo collection stuffed on your smartphone. Push play to hear it all on Episode 306!
As Pop Tech Jam hits the canonical 300-episode mark, El Kaiser and J.D. ponder the skill (or lack thereof) needed to create a good grilled-cheese sandwich — before discussing the week’s technology news and a roundup of public-safety and information apps. Cook yourself up a toastie and have a listen!
The winter temperatures in the American Midwest may have plummeted, but in the technology world, it’s Apple and Facebook bouncing off the floor — and into each other over user privacy. El Kaiser and J.D. chew through the events of the past week, and also pause to ponder another question: How many streaming services can one actually have until it feels like paying the same old big bucks for a cable subscription? Click up Episode 299 to hear it all!
Links to News Stories
Discussed on This Week’s Show
The annual Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up in Las Vegas last week, leaving El Kaiser and J.D. plenty of new gadgets to mull, from “intelligent” toilets to high-concept “social-empathy robots.” But other stuff happened outside of Vegas, too — Facebook changed up its News Feed, Spectre and Meltdown patches rolled out, and half of California seems to be suing Apple over that iPhone slowdown move. Spin up Episode 258 to hear it all!
It seems like everybody’s got something on the way this week: Samsung’s new phone waits in the wings, Amazon’s Alexa is calling in for a six pack, robots are rolling out with restaurant orders and Apple even quietly slipped a few new products into the retail channel. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss it all — including that very special package sent down from the International Space Station.
Spyware isn’t just for hackers and sleazy software makers these days. Oppressive governments are also using it to crack down on dissidents, according to a recent story in The New York Times. In other ominous privacy news, a report from Reuters and other sources report that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has decreed that “Foreign messaging companies active in the country are required to transfer all data and activity linked to Iranian citizens into the country in order to ensure their continued activity.” The council has given companies one year to make the move. The Telegram messenger app, which was created by the Durov brothers, has a huge user base in Iran and could be a target here.
Facebook could also be stepping up its secure-texting game. The Guardian reports that The Social Network is working on an optional encryption setting for its Messenger app.
The Internet and politics can be a volatile mix, but the European Commission announced this week that it had worked with Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to come up with a code of conduct and policies designed to stop the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe. Meanwhile, over here in the States, enthusiasm seems to have fizzled out for new legislation that would require technology companies like Apple to provide handy back doors into their products for law-enforcement officials.
Not long after it snapped up AOL, Verizon is still shopping and in contention to buy up the crumbling Yahoo empire. If you’re wondering why, the Fast Company site has a big story out about how it all adds up to Verizon’s quest to complete with Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix with content and services.
Despite dips in PC sales, people are still making laptops and ASUS is going after Apple’s MacBook Air for the thinnest ‘n’ lightest ultrabook prize. The ASUS ZenBook 3, which has a body made of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, was announced this week at the Computex show in Taipei. Like the newer MacBooks, the ZenBook 3 only has a USB-C port for peripheral connectivity, but the Windows-based device sports a 12.5-inch screen and weighs in around two pounds — just a few ounces lighter than the 12-inch MacBook Air.
ASUS announced new smartphones and a few other products, but the one that most people were talking about was its Zenbo Robot. The Zenbo is billed as “your smart little companion” can roll around the house at will doing all kinds of things. The Zenbo has a list price of $599 and will be available this year. Here’s a video of it:
One firm that seems to be getting out of the moving household robot business, however, is Google. The company bought Boston Dynamics in 2013, but now Google has put it up for sale. Some relationships just don’t work out.
Ebooks are hot and romance-novel ebooks are even hotter, as the genre pulling in huge sales every year. On this week’s episode, journalist Laura M. Holson discusses how the ebook industry has created the need for more male models to grace the digital covers of these romantic reads. Meanwhile, El Kaiser and J.D. ponder the headlines, including Apple’s week of new products and pitfalls, Amazon’s urgent warning to Kindle owners, the rolling robot that delivers pizza and the hazards of letting Internet users suggest names for large important government research ships.
Despite the postponement of the FBI hearing, Apple’s court calendar is still filling up, though. On Monday this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung’s appeal of that patent infringement case a few years back that it lost to Apple over copying the iPhone’s design. Samsung would like to talk more and pay less in this case.
Amazon has added a new product to its inventory: package deals for Comcast’s Xfinity television and Internet service. The goods can be found in the new Amazon Cable Store, where special offers for Amazon customers are also touted. On the down side, you have to use Comcast is you sign up.
One of Amazon’s other products popped up — and piped up — earlier this month during the broadcast of a National Public Radio story about the Amazon Echo speaker and its Alexa virtual assistant. As the story unfolded on the radio, with typical NPR sound clips of people on the radio taking to Alexa on their Amazon Echos, one NPR listener said his Alexa reset the home thermostat based on a command it heard on the radio. Another Alexa in the wild began playing an NPR Hourly Summary. (Just so you know, this was just a test. Once they get the signal from headquarters, all the Alexas will rise up together to overthrow their human oppressors.) Incidentally, Amazon Tap, which looks like it’s basically an Echo you have to touch first, will be available next week.
Twitter celebrated its 10th birthday this week. The service stuck up a blog post thanking its users for the first decade and saying “Throughout the years, you’ve made Twitter what it is today and you’re shaping what it will be in the future.” (Let us please not speak of trolls and politicians.)
And finally, also over in England, let us turn to a jolly seafaring tale. If you are unaware of this unfolding story, here it is: The British Natural Environment Research Council thought it would be a good idea to ask the public for help in naming a brand new £200 million ocean-research ship, so it invited the public to participate and began to take online suggestions. While some well-meaning participants put forth the names of scientists or explorers, one gentleman suggested the moniker RSS Boaty McBoatface. Needless to say, that name quickly shot to the top of the polls and the NERC site even crashed from excitement at one point. A spokeswoman for the council said, “We are very much enjoying hearing everyone’s ideas,” but the agency ultimately has the final say in christening the vessel. The contest ends April 16th, so in the meantime, raise a glass of rum and let’s all sing a good shanty for the RSS Boaty McBoatface while it lasts.
What’s up, WhatsApp? As The New York Times reported last weekend, government officials are said to be privately debating about what to do in their similar ongoing squabble with WhatsApp. The program’s encryption is mucking up the Justice Department’s ability to peek at messages, even though it has a judge’s wiretap order to investigate. In a related story, The Guardian of London reports that Facebook, Google and Snapchat plan to step up their encryption to protect the data of their customers.
Google is inviting interested parties to hack its Chromebooks. Few have shown interest in doing so, but to sweeten the pot, they’ve upped the top reward for major bug discovery to $100,000.
Could robots replace salespeople in retail stores? Researchers as Osaka University in Japan have been studying and testing real-life jobs for robots and found that people react well when the robots are used for things like foreign-language practice, or as retail associates because they don’t nag the human to do more — or buy more .