Tag Archives: Siri

PTJ 162 News: Surface to Air

Now it’s Microsoft’s turn on stage! The company held a big press event on Tuesday here in New York City and showed off a great big pile of new devices all designed to run its Windows 10 operating system. There was the Surface Book, a laptop/tablet combo that starts at $1500, the Surface Pro 4 tablet with an $900 entry-level model, three new Lumia phones, and the second version of its fitness tracker called Microsoft Band 2 for $250. The Xbox One console got a Windows 10 update and Microsoft announced the HoloLens Development Edition because HoloLens headsets will start shipping out the first quarter of 2016 for $3000 each. So, who on your gift list wants Windows 10 this holiday season?

Roku was also out with The New this week and introduced  the Roku 4 set-top box, which can handle 4K video along with the now-standard voice search and gaming. Roku also has apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone to let you command the box from your mobile device. The Roku 4 is expected to ship October 21.

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Also fresh for the fall fashion season: Google has officially released Android 6.0 Marshmallow and is pushing out updates to recent Nexus devices. Google also updated the YouTube app for iOS with its Material Design look and tools for editing videos within the app itself, many users do not like the redesign. Not at all.

Meanwhile, over in Cupertino, Apple has purchased Perceptio, a company developing technology for artificial intelligence software for smartphones.  The Perceptio purchase goes with another recent purchase, the start-up VocalIQ, and company which makes software for processing natural language. Siri may be getting a brain transplant soon.

In Apple’s own software, the company says it has now resolved problems with the App Thinning feature promised in iOS 9 and has included it in the recent iOS 9.0.2 update. Apple has also made its keynote addresses searchable by keyword, if you search for a feature announcement by keyword.

Reddit has spun off a new site called Upvoted. The new site features some of the same content as its mother board, but none of the user comments, which are thought to. er, drive advertisers away from the main site.

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Facebook, which has discussed drones and other various ways to bring the Internet to places that don’t have access, announced this week that it would be launching a satellite with a French communications company to bring the Internet to mobile phones over large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook, your eye in the sky now, too.

The European Union Court of Justice has smacked down a deal that let companies transfer personal user data from Europe to the United States with the Safe Harbor system. The EU court ruled the system invalid because it subjects users in the European Union to spying by US government agencies.

And finally, we’ve recently talked about vinyl making a comeback, but now audio cassettes seem to be having a smaller, but similarly nostalgic return these past few years. Some people have stubbornly held on to the format for decades despite CDs and digital downloads. Cassettes peaked in the late 1980s from almost a billion units. But by 2001, they accounted for only 4 percent of all music sales and by 2005, sales had fallen to fewer than 1 million. National Audio Company of Springfield, Missouri, still makes pre-recorded and blank cassettes and sold 10 million of them last year, with sales up 20 percent this year. Do we think this might be a Guardians of the Galaxy effect? Are cassette lovers just . . . hooked on a feeling?

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PTJ 158 News: Fall Harvest

Oh, look! It’s September again and Apple has announced a bunch of new stuff this week, including:

• An update to the Apple Watch operating system,  new watchbands and the “Hermès Collection
• The iPad Maxi, er, iPad Pro with fancy optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil and a flexible Smart Keyboard
• The long-awaited hardware update to the Apple TV with Siri-powered remote and games
• The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
• The arrival of iOS 9 on September 16th

Oh, and rose gold is apparently a thing.

But Apple was in the spotlight for other reasons as well this week. A story on the front page of The New York Times highlighted the company’s national security tussle with the United States government over encryption and data access with software like iMessage, a program Apple says it can’t decrypt itself.

lgtvThe fall tech bounty does not begin nor end with the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, however. The annual IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin just ended this week and like the Consumer Electronics Show here in Las Vegas each January, companies preview many products and tech journalists look for trends. Meanwhile, LG Electronics did some fun stuff with flat televisions, like making a  double-sided 4K OLED set (shown here, and probably just a prototype). And if you like a lot of pixels, Canon announced that it’s developed a 250-megapixel sensor that’s still small enough to fit inside a DSLR camera.

Comcast is testing a new form of data plan in south Florida. While the company normally imposes a 300-gigabytes-a-month limit, customers can now pay an extra $30  for the Unlimited Data Option. It’s just like those old unlimited broadband plans of yore, except more expensive!

Verizon announced its new Go90 mobile streaming TV service this week. The service will be ad-supported and show programs young people want to watch.

A 7-inch display for the Raspberry Pi barebones computer went on sale this week for $60. Here’s what you can do with it:

The publishing industry and Amazon had a very public spat last year over e-book pricing, which eventually led to new distribution deals with the under mega-everything store. But while several publishers got to charge more for their e-books and lose less income to Amazon’s deep discounts, recent sales reports show that their e-book revenue declined overall in the last quarter.

EdgeMicrosoft really, really, really wants you to use its new Edge browser and has even employed its Bing search engine to steer you away from the likes of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. If you happed to search for an alternative browser with Bing on Edge, you see a little box at the top of your search results declaring that Microsoft Edge is really the best browser for Windows 10 and click this here link to learn why. However, the browser does not actually stop you from stepping off the Edge.

A writer over at BuzzFeed is disputing the recent PageFair study that estimated ad-blocking software would make sites lose $21 billion in ad revenue this year, bit even squishy numbers do not soothe The Interactive Advertising Bureau. According to Advertising Age, the trade group met this summer to discuss what to do, including filing lawsuits against companies that make ad-blocking software, but nothing major has been decided yet. The IAB did vote to move away from Adobe Flash and make HTML5 its new standard for online ads. And in related news AdBlock Plus just announced its first official ad-blocking app for iOS and than it was back in the Google Play store for Android.

NASA said late last week that it has begun its intensive data downlink phase to grab the massive amount of data the New Horizons spacecraft collected during its Pluto flyby in July.  The agency also announced that engineers at a facility in New Orleans have welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will be used in a test flight to the far side of the moon in preparation for an eventual manned journey to Mars.

stormtroopersAnd finally, September 4th last week was Force Friday, the day retailers unleashed a giant wave of new officially licensed Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise into stores around the world. Global celebration events included midnight sales and twerking stormtroopers in Times Square. And as the BBC has noted, all of these merch sales could make this seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise “the biggest film ever.” December 18th, folks — or even earlier, if you happen to live in popular parts of Europe. Okay, who’s checking mid-December airfare to France now?

Android 6.0 vs. iOS 9

AndroidMarshSo what’s the difference between Android and iOS anymore? While the two systems used to be more divergent, but the feature gap is closing  fast, especially with this fall’s arrival of Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) and iOS 9.

For example, both systems are upping the ante for their personal assistant software, trying ios9to get ahead of Microsoft’s Cortana. As shown below, Google Now is getting tweaked, partly to provide more location-relevant suggestions and information and make it more helpful-but-creepy than ever. (“Hey what are you doing? Google Now is here for you, NOW!”) Apple’s faithful  Siri assistant is getting some location-and contextual improvements to make her more useful as well. She’ll be able to remind you to do things in certain places, find photos from specific events and look up answers in more places online.

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Google and Apple continue to “borrow” features from each other. Like iOS,  Android Marshmallow  will support a standard fingerprint ID — something Apple’s devices  had for a few years in the form of Touch ID — but a feature that was a little more random across all the various Android handsets out there from different manufacturers. Of course, having a fingerprint scanner makes it easier for users to work mobile payment systems into their lives, and now Android Pay is here as the green-bot alternative to Apple Pay. Also like iOS, Android 6.0 will offer tighter control over app permissions.

Android Lollipop already has a Battery Saver mode, and  Marshmallow is adding the Doze feature to slow down battery burn even more. Finally, iOS 9 is adding a low-power mode so iPhone users can more easily put the brakes on battery drain without having to go in and start turning off functions one by one to conserve juice.

Google Maps (also available as a third-party app on iOS) has long owned the mobile mapping space, but iOS 9 will try to gain some ground with the new version of Apple Maps (shown here) that comes with better mass-transit information. However, people who do not live in urban areas and do not need mass-transit schedules — or those who drive everywhere anyway — may not care so much.

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The improved Notes app and the new News app give iOS 9 users some new software to explore. The new version of Android will offer USB-C support, the same all-in-one port Apple touted for its MacBook laptops earlier this year.

But it just may be iPad users may get the most out of iOS 9. For the larger devices. Apple is adding a better keyboard for the bigger screen, split-screen multitasking with apps (shown below)  and a picture-in-picture window so you can FaceTime while also looking at apps. People rocking Android Marshmallow tablets can look forward to the multi-window mode and the spilt-keyboard function that’s been in iOS the past few versions.

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With all this feature parity, it won’t be long at all until both systems feel almost the same. With that, it all comes down to the two other factors that drive our mobile choices: hardware and ecosystem, which means you just need to pick how many megapixels you want in your phone’s camera  and where you want to download your missed episodes of Minority Report — in case, of course, you forgot to have Google Now or Siri remind you to watch in the first place.

PTJ 155 News: Grin and Bear It

marshAfter months of speculation, Android M has an official snack nickname in Google’s pantheon of tasty versions! Android 6.0, the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, will be called Marshmallow and the software development kit is now available for those who want to build apps for it. Ever so busy, Google also just built a standalone website for its Hangouts videochat service, too.

As a story in last weekend’s New York Times tells it, Amazon is the modern equivalent of a massive Dickensian workhouse where everyone is overworked and crying.  As one can imagine, however, Twitter got hopping and Amazon spokespeople were quick to defend the company, fanning out across print, television and Internet to rebut The Times. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even wrote a company-wide memo that was widely leaked, and the NYT Public Editor weighed in as well.

Amazon was not the only company with a PR team in overdrive lately. The social media team at the dating app Tinder took offense to a Vanity Fair article lamenting the rise of hookup apps in general and went on a long Twitter rant against the magazine and the author of the article. During the tweetstorm, the Tinder Twitter complained the writer did not contact the company for comment and accused Vanity Fair of one-side journalism. Others noted the article wasn’t specifically about Tinder, but dating apps in general, and said the company behaved like a hurt teenage girl lashing out and seemed surprised that journalists do things differently than PR people. Salon wondered if the whole thing was “a sincerely epic case of butthurt or just a clever attention-getting ruse.”

In other online hookup news, the National Security Agency and AT&T apparently had quite a partnership in sharing customer data. As revealed in the latest document dump from Edward Snowden and reported by The New York Times and ProPublica, AT&T gave the NSA access to billions of emails crossing its domestic networks, as well as a massive amount of cellphone calling records.

As for government agencies, there are new reports out that the hack on the Internal Revenue Service was larger than originally thought. New evidence points to the hack starting several months earlier than first noted as well. So, instead of 100,000 people having their personal details swiped, it’s more than 300,000.

Sprint is the latest carrier to ditch two-year cellphone contracts, following T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. As part of its service overhaul, Sprint introduced its iPhone Forever plan, which gets you the current model for $22 a month on your bill.

robokillerThe Federal Trade Commission has announced the winner of last spring’s “Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back” challenge to developers. The $25,000 prize goes to an app called RoboKiller. If you want to know how it works, check out this PDF and the Kickstarter page.

The same sort of malvertising campaign that infested Yahoo’s ad network seems to have spread to other sites around the Web. The Malwarebytes security team reports they’ve now seen poison adverts on aol.com, weather.com, Weather Underground, The Drudge Report and other well-traveled domains.

Comcast is said to have new video platform called Watchable waiting in the wings. According to the Business Insider site, the telecom giant has formed partnerships with digital publishers like Vox, Buzzfeed, The Onion, Mic, Vice, Refinery29 and other sites to package content for streaming on the service. (BuzzFeed, for its part, announced this week that it was getting a 200 million dollar investment from Comcast family member NBC Universal to put toward its video efforts.) The new Comcast service, if it exists, could also compete with Verizon’s upcoming Go90 mobile video service.

Facebook is revamping its blog-like Notes feature to make it more appealing to users who have forgotten than Notes exists. Some have observed that the wide-margined new Notes templates make them look like articles on Medium. (Does anyone remember actually using Facebook Notes outside of those viral “15 Things” lists?)

Boston Dynamics recently released a video (below) that showed off Atlas, its humanoid robot with a stomp through the woods in such a manner that The Washington Post likened it to “a drunk Iron Man.” For those who have forgotten, Boston Dynamics is owned by Google, which is testing Atlas as an experimental bipedal rescue machine. Try to ignore the fact that it looks like, well, a Cylon.

The 9to5Mac site is beefing up the details on its New Apple TV rumor coverage and is now predicting the new set-top streamer will have a new streamlined hardware design, new user interface, iOS 9, App Store access, that dedicated remote control we heard about earlier this year and Siri support.

Apple’s Siri assistant can do more than just set calendar appointments and look up baseball scores. The program was credited with saving the life of a teenage boy in Tennessee when he was pinned under his truck after the tire jack collapsed. While he was shifting around trying to get out from under the 5,000-pound Dodge Dakota, he heard the familiar Siri bleep coming from his back pocket and was able to get the app to call 911 for help with a life-saving butt-dial.

And finally, it’s not just shotgun owners and other privacy minded people who are annoyed by unmanned drones buzzing around overhead. Bears in the woods do not like drones either. Researchers at the University of Minnesota put health-tracking monitors on six black bears and recorded the ursine reaction to 17 drone flights. The heart rates of all the bears increased when the drones were within 21 years overhead — which indicates stress. The 15-page paper titled “Bears Show a Physiological but Limited Behavioral Response to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” was published online in the journal Current Biology and concludes that more research is needed to see if the bears would get used to the drones over time. The study, in one convenient image:

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Wildlife researchers do use drones in their work to observe animals from a distance, and Canada even has what the BBC calls a “goose-bothering drone” designed to scare off pesky Canadian geese in Ottawa by blasting recordings of predatory birds. And why yes, that drone is called the GooseBuster. Who ya gonna call?

PTJ 153 News: Toasted

Blasting a nosy quadcopter out of the sky is a dream for some, but a Kentucky man was arrested in late July for shooting down a neighbor’s unmanned drone. The shooter claimed the drone was hovering low over his property, but the owner of the drone said he wasn’t spying. The Federal Aviation Administration is siding with the drone owner in this case, saying that the agency is responsible for the safety and management of US airspace from the ground up, and that shooting down the drone and causing it to crash endangers others. Another lawyer looking at the case told the Ars Technica site, “There is no defined aerial trespass law. You do not own the airspace over your own property.” (So is the concept of airspace rights just a real-estate scam? Confused.)

Sad news for the HitchBOT, a Canadian robot that successfully hiked around Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, all thanks to the kindness of strangers. The poor thing was just two weeks into its journey across America when it was vandalized and put out of commission by an unkind individual in Philadelphia. A video claiming to show the destruction was making the rounds, but the Gizmodo site is calling it a fake. The decapitated robot did get to spend time with movie-maker Kevin Smith, though.

As a fan of the Risky Business podcast recently mentioned to us on Twitter, a husband-and wife team have shown how it’s possible to hack a network-enabled, Linux-powered, self-aiming sniper rifle and disable it — or even change its target. As manually operated sniper rifles are worrisome enough in non-combat situations, the existence of hackable weapons in today’s insecure world is especially distressing.  El Kaiser’s contact-popping reaction to the news has been duly noted:

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Yahoo has had a history of security issues in the past, and the company’s entire advertising network recently got hit with a hacking. For seven days starting on July 28th, hackers turned Yahoo’s ad network into a malvertising wonderland. The security company Malwarebytes discovered the attack and notified Yahoo, which then shut down the scheme this past Monday. (In more Yahoo news. Bloomberg is among those reporting that the company is buying the shopping site Polyvore for $230 million dollars.)

Regulators approved AT&T’s $49 billion dollar deal to buy DirecTV last week, instantly creating the biggest provider of paid television in the country. AT&T wasted no time rolling out new plans, including one that combines cellular service with television programming so you can watch TV on your phone. Or at least, Homeland.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear the oral arguments in the lawsuits that sprang up from telecom providers over the new Net Neutrality rules later this year. Mark your calendar for December 4.

Apple just bought 40 acres of land in the San José area to use for research and development facilities and more offices. In the rumor department, there are whispers that the Mac Maker plans to launch a new version of its Apple TV box at its September media event. Business Insider is also reporting that Apple might be working on a new voicemail service that uses the Siri personal assistant to transcribe your messages. No comment there, but Apple has denied rumors that it plans to bypass mobile wireless carriers and offer its own service plans as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator by renting bandwidth from other companies. (Not so good for Apple, though — researchers have created the first worm that attacks Mac firmware.)

Here on Earth, Twitter seems to be experimenting with a News tab in the mobile app for some of its Android and iOS users.

kellyUp in space, Astronaut Scott Kelly of NASA answered questions this weekend sent in by Twitter users — including one from President Obama. Astronaut Kelly is spending a full year aboard the International Space Station and took time to respond to questions about exercise, hygiene, personal communication and watching ESPN in space. If you’re down here on Earth, however, don’t forget the peak days of the annual Perseid meteor shower are due next week. Check them out early in the morning from August 11 to 13 and if you miss these, there are a few other meteor events coming later in the year.

NASA has also noted that an asteroid passed within 4.5 million miles of Earth late last month. The asteroid, which appeared to have two lobes stuck together in a familiar shape, has been dubbed the “Space Peanut” and there’s video to prove it:

Amazon has changed the way its Prime members can share the account. While you could formerly have up to four adults sharing the Prime bennies, you now need to create an Amazon Household grouping within your account to share one $99 Prime membership with another adult and four kids.

Sony has just announced two new Xperia smartphones, the C5 Ultra and the M5, and these are aimed at connoisseurs of the digital self portrait. The phones are part of Sony’s PROselfie line of handsets. The Xperia C5 Ultra has a 6-inch display with twin 13-megapixel cameras front and back, while the Xperia M5 has a 5-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera in the front, a 21-megapixel camera on the back, and is said to be waterproof. Both phones run the Android operating system and are expected to arrive in stores this month.

selfietoasterAnd finally, the fall Hammacher Schlemmer catalog is out now and the company’s exclusive $70 Selfie Toaster is still available — in case you want to start your holiday shopping before Labor Day. After all, a toaster that “uses custom heating inserts crafted from a submitted headshot photograph” to burn someone’s likeness into a piece of bread just may be the perfect gift for the person who has everything.

PTJ 147 News: Lady Justice

Good on ya, Taylor Swift! Now, you may not care for her music or her sudden promotion to New York City’s official “global welcome ambassador,” but the young singer/songwriter knows how to stand up for herself and her fellow musicians trying to make a living. In a public post on her Tumblr page this past weekend, Ms. Swift called out Apple over the lack of artist royalties during the three-month free trial period of the company’s forthcoming Apple Music adventure — and said she’d be withholding her latest album from the service. But Apple, for its part, did the right thing. By Sunday night, the company announced that it’d be paying artists their due royalties for all the music streamed during the free trial of Apple Music. (Of course,  conspiracy theorists are suspicious about the whole thing, like they always are.)

googleplaymusicApple Music rolls out on June 30th, but Google is not waiting around for it. The Big G announced a new, free ad-supported version of its subscription-based Google Play Music service for  “giving you a new way to find just the right music and giving artists another way to earn revenue.” (Oh snap, Google.) If you’re looking for a new stream, the service is available now via the Web and will be hitting Android and IOS devices soon. If you find you like Google Play Music and want to subscribe, you get ad-free offline listening, song skips and on-demand access to more than 30 million tracks for just $10 a month. Spotify has got to be feeling a little nervous these days.

Meanwhile, the Tidal music service has hit a bit of a rough wave. The company has booted its interim CEO after three months.

In legal news, Verizon says it’s completed its acquisition of AOL on paper. The Federal Communications Commission did not actually have to approve this particular deal because AOL did not have any licenses before the FCC that would have tripped that trigger. The agency, however, has been keeping itself busy by slapping a $100 million dollar fine on AT&T for misleading consumers about unlimited data plans and throttling.

eyeballIn guv’ment news, the regular document dumps from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowdon continue. A new post over on The Intercept blog details how the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, have reverse-engineered consumer antivirus and security software products. (In more government news, the State Department of the United States is having an epic fail over in the biometrics department.)

And on the subject of biometrics, a new research paper from scientists at UC Berkeley and Facebook’s AI Research division has found that The Social Network’s facial-recognition software can often identify people in photos, even when their faces are looking away from the camera or partly obscured. The team used Facebook’s algorithm on 40,000 public photos pulled from Flickr and found it could accurately ID people about 83 percent of the time. Oh, and Facebook’s Instagram has just updated its Search tool.

echoAmazon’s Echo device is now available to members of the general public now. The voice-activated, Internet-connected  9-inch tall cylindrical Bluetooth speaker streams music and answers questions just like Siri, Cortana and Google Now. If your life needs an Echo, head over to Amazon’s site, pay up $180 and start watching the mailbox after July 14th.  Amazon is also throwing a little artificial intelligence at the problem of fake product reviews over on its main store site and is cleaning up the astroturf.

As promised, mayorships are finally back in Foursquare’s spun-off Swarm app. Let the check-in competition begin once again.

In Windows 10 news, Microsoft has tried to clarify just who gets the new system for free. Recently, there was some confusion as to whether people in the Windows Insider preview program who didn’t have legitimate copies of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 would get the free finished copy of Windows 10. (They get to stay as previewers.)

As a wrap-up of last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, The Mary Sue blog notes there are 23 games announced at the show that feature “badass playable female characters.” Lady justice, indeed.

spidermanAnd finally, with great power comes great responsibility and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan certainly knows it — as well as her old-school Spider-Man. The Court sent down a decision in the case of Kimble v. Marvel, in which the Supremes declined to overrule a precedent that kept patent-holders from collecting royalties after said patent expired. In her written opinion for the majority on the case, Justice Kagan showed off her comic-book chops with multiple Spider-Man references. Now, just imagine if she was a fan of The Punisher….

PTJ 145 News: Developing Situations

Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference opened this week, and the very long Keynote on Monday morning brought a whole bunch of announcements with it. For starters , the next version of OS X will be called El Capitan, and over on the iOS 9 Preview side of the fence, a new proactive Siri is just one of the many new features that await. Apple Pay has added more card support, branched out to the UK and  the Passbook app has now been renamed with the more obvious moniker, “Wallet.” There’s a new News app that looks like it’s gunning for Flipboard. The new iOS 9 will have specific treats for the iPad , like a QuickType keyboard for easier input and split-screen views for multitasking — including a picture-in-picture view. The Swift programming language will be open-source in its next version. The Apple Watch got native apps and a bunch of tweaks to makes it less dependent on a nearby iPhone, and Apple announced its long-rumored Apple Music service.   So now we wait, at least until the public betas start trickling out.

cardboardBut 12 days before Apple’s big programmer’s party, Google held its developer’s conference and made quite a few of its own announcements at Google I/O 2015. As expected, the company provided new information and a developer’s preview for Android M, the next generation of its operating system. The new Google Photos app with its free online storage was formally unveiled. The company proclaimed support for USB Type C, (the one connector to rule them all) and announced a bunch of other stuff. While Siri is getting more proactive little Google Now, Google Now is getting a little more interactive like Siri, thanks to a new feature called Google Now on Tap.  Among other things, Google also provided details on Android Pay and an updated version of Google cardboard — a virtual-reality platform for Android and iOS users.

While Apple didn’t announce a new Apple TV model or fancy remote at WWDC, Google added a bunch of content to its Android TV pltform, namely an online store with 600 apps that can be arranged in a sort of program-guide like grid and intermingle with live broadcast channels.  Cable TV is growing less and less mandatory…

win10Trying not to get lost on all the kerfuffle: Microsoft. The company announced last week that July 29th is its release date for Windows 10. Just follow the steps to reserve your copy of the new operatiing system. Once you make your reservation, Microsoft will let you know later when your update is ready to download. Microsoft has a set of Frequently Asked Questions on its site for those of you who want more information. The company also upgraded its Xbox One game console to a version with a 1-terabyte drive and has revamped its wireless controller. The terabyte model is $400, the 500-gigabyte version of the Xbox One is now $350 and the wireless controller will be $60 when it’s released in July.

marsNASA is keeping up its busy schedule and tested an experimental vehicle shaped like a flaying saucer this week as part of the research for its manned mission to Mars one day. The test seems to have failed after a 100-foot-wide parachute ripped during the craft’s test flight.  Meanwhile, the European Space Agency must have really liked the old Space 1999 show, as its announced plans to start building an inflatable town on the moon. The ESA plans to send up a lunar lander in 2018 to get things rolling and start construction on the habitat in 2024 using 3D printers to create the necessary parts right them and there. The structure would not be called Moonbase Alpha, but rather, Lunarville. You know, like the band.

If anyone out there is a fan if the scary longread, check out the New York Times Magazine’s recent story about the Russian Ministry of Trolls that spends its days spreading hoaxes, rumors and misinformation over social media to raise havoc. The story is called The Agency.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge is over and the team from South Korea has won the $2 million prize. A highlight reel is on YouTube.

pacmanAnd finally, the first six members of the World Video Game Hall of Fame have been announced. The classics DOOM, Pac-Man, Pong, Super Mario Bros., Tetris and World of Warcraft made the inaugural cut. The World Video Hall of Fame is part of the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, and yes, you can visit. Bring a bag of quarters in case you have to exit through the gift shop.

PTJ 144: Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!!!!

The focus of this super-sized episode of your favorite tech-themed, snark-infested web-radio extravaganza is one of El Kaiser’s absolute favorite topics in the world: audio. This week he reviews the rBlink Bluetooth DAC from Arcam and J.D. fills us in on how to use Siri, Cortana, and Google Now to help name that tune. In the news, Time Warner Cable finds a new dance partner now that Comcast is out of the picture; bacon, Batman and a teen, tiny Tony Manero get the emoji treatment; and NASA retires it’s railroad system.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Hear Me, See Me

As we discussed on the show last year, apps like Shazam and SoundHound are great for identifying music you hear — but don’t recognize. As shown below, Google Now was also dipping a toe into to music identification world back then, too, but Apple’s Siri wasn’t quite there yet and was still performing basic tasks.

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Since we recorded that segment way back on PTJ Episode 85, though, Apple’s assistant has picked up a new trick. If you have Siri rolling with iOS 8 and the Shazam app on your iPhone, you can have the old girl (or old boy) name that tune by pressing down the Home button and asking, “What song is this?” If the song is recognized, you get a screen back with info and a BUY button.

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Now, some may fuss that if you already have the Shazam app installed, why not just use that? Well, unless you’ve got the Shazam icon right there in front of you, pressing the Siri button (or just saying “Hey Siri” if you’re plugged into a power source while using the iPhone) and asking is probably going to be faster.

And lest we forget the Windows Phone fans out there, Cortana can now identify songs too. When you hear something you want to recognize, tap the magnifying glass to wake up Cortana and then tap the music-notes icon. If Cortana knows the tune, you’ll get a screen full of info about it from Xbox Music.

Shazam itself doesn’t stop with Name That Tune, though. The service — which has apps for Android, Windows Phone, iOS, Apple and Android watches and Mac OS X desktops — can also recognize certain shows on television. If you see a Shazam logo on the TV screen, hold your phone next to the tube and tap the Shazam icon to get bonus content.

Not to be outdone, Google Now has added TV cards to its repertoire. These cards pop up to provide more information about the show currently playing on your the television. Just open the Google app on your phone, tap the microphone and say, “Listen to TV.” If Google recognizes the show, you get a TV card with all sorts of information about the show and topic.

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All the extra details could come in handy. With so much new music and so many great shows to watch these days ( some people are even proclaiming we’re currently in the New Golden Age of TV), you may need all the information you can get to keep track of your favorite songs and stories.

Browser History

It seems like Web browsers have been around forever. Along with email, a browser is probably the other piece of software that the average computer user fires up every single day. It’s part of the routine.

But browsers have come a long way since 1993, when Mosaic and Arena were the popular point-and-click windows to the World Wide Web. Yes, Netscape Navigator dominated the scene when it arrived in 1994 — the year before Microsoft launched both Internet Explorer and Windows 95. Internet Explorer v. 1 (shown here) was not much to look at, but then again, there wasn’t much to look at on the Web, either.

IE1

Time flies. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Internet Explorer’s debut. IE wasn’t the first graphical browser — nor will it be the last — but it had a hold on the surfing public. At one time around 2002-2003, the program was used by about 95 percent of people surfing the Web. Suffice it to say, that is a dominant piece of software.

The Opera browser, with its small legion of fans, landed in 1996 and Apple’s Safari browser, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome all arrived in the 2000s. Still, Internet Explorer was boss of them all.

As competition for users increased, the capability of the humble web browser began to evolve. New tools like tabs and private browsing modes became commonplace.  Add-on extensions for showing the headlines, the weather forecast or even controlling your computer’s music player added to the browser’s functionality. Handy buttons to share links to Twitter and Facebook began to appear.  A “reading view” to strip out ads became popular with serious readers. Synchronization between devices — computers. phones and tablets — has made sure we can pick up reading wherever we left off.

Of all the browsers, though, Internet Explorer has been showing age lately, especially in regards to security. Its once-mighty user share has declined below 68 percent.

Microsoft is aware of its stubborn user base that hates to change once it gets everything working. The company even launched a cheeky website a few years ago to get people to STOP using Internet Explorer 6, the old, unsecure version that persists in popularity, thanks to its ties to Windows XP. (The Escape From Windows XP game with the giant evil Clippy is an especially fun part of the aforementioned site. But we digress.)

escapeWXP

Things in Browser Land are changing. As revealed in a Windows 10 demo last January, Microsoft has a new surfboard on the horizon. It’s called Project Spartan (for now) and it may be the browser that gets a lot of Windows users to quit Internet Explorer for good.

The new browser will have a new rendering engine and compatibility with modern programming. Don’t worry though: It’ll load up the IE11 engine when it comes across a page written for the older browser. (Windows 10 users dependent on legacy code will still be able to use Internet Explorer as well, so fear not government workers with your weird proprietary sites.)

Could Project Spartan be the beginning of the next Browser Age? It’s too early to tell, especially since the official code hasn’t been released yet, but Microsoft has revealed some intriguing features that bring it into line with what a lot of other browsers have been doing.

Like Safari (and extensions you can get for other browsers), Spartan will have a distraction-free view, which peels away all the junk that normally clogs up a page, like ads. You’ll be able to annotate Web pages without extra tools like Scrible so you can mark up the parts you need for projects and research. Microsoft is also adding voice integration for its Cortana assistant, aiming to give Google Voice Search and Chrome — or Siri on iOS — a run for their money. And because Microsoft is trying to link every device that runs Windows 10 together for a consistent experience, it’s trying to make Spartan (shown here) work and act the same everywhere.

spartan

Project Spartan is not the only newly built browser revving its rendering engine the starting line. A new browser called Vivaldi is already out in its second technical preview and has some geeks interested.

Vivaldi, created by the former CEO of Opera software, wants to be a browser for power users. The streamlined interface (shown below) includes stackable tabs you can but on any side of the browser window and Quick Commands that let you open a ton of settings with just one keyboard shortcut. There’s also a Notes command that lets you stash your thoughts and screenshots in a side panel. Vivaldi can also run many extensions written for Google Chrome because it’s built on the open-source Chromium software from Google.

vivaldi web

As new as Project Spartan and Vivaldi seem, it probably won’t be long before the others change up or catch up. With new looks and well-integrated features that make life easier, however, it’s the first time in a long time where the good ol’ Web browser actually feels like a fresh piece of software — and that’s kind of exciting.