Tag Archives: SONY

PTJ 224: Uncloudy Skies

Mobile World Congress brought in the new and the old this week, Twitter and Facebook are stepping it up to help users in need and Amazon Web Services had a sad day this week. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss it all — and YouTube’s big week of views and cord-cutting measures — on this week’s weatherproof episode of Pop Tech Jam.

Links to Stories in This Week’s News Segment

PTJ 202 News: Chew On This

Who says you shouldn’t release new products in August? Google’s all out with the shiny, releasing the final version of its Android 7.0 operating system to compatible Nexus devices. [Sorry about that, Nexus 7 owners.] For a deep review of the new system, check out what Ars Technica has to say. (Hint: Ars Technica has a lot to say.)

Yes, the month of August seems to make everyone want to shop, and not just for Trapper Keepers and sturdy jeans for school. Pinterest just bought the streamlined reader app Instapaper. Microsoft has acquired the firm Genee, which specializes in intelligent scheduling coordination and optimization, or rather, letting bots run your calendar and send you reminders. (In a blog post, Microsoft said it plans to use the Genee technology in its Office 365 suite.) Microsoft is also getting closer to Lenovo, as the China-based hardware company announced plans to preload Microsoft Office mobile apps on certain Android-based devices it sells.

babsAnd Apple’s been shopping too, acquiring Gliimpse, a startup specializing in personal health-data management. Apple also made news recently with the decision to replace the revolver emoji in the coming iOS 10 system with a squirt gun to artistically make a comment about gun violence. The iOS 10 system itself is expected out by the next month and if a certain diva is to be believed, it might just be on Friday, September 30th. Actress and recording artist Barbra Streisand told NPR that she personally complained to Apple CEO Tim Cook about the way the Siri virtual assistant pronounces her name and he agreed to fix it.

No official word on when the annual fall Apple Special Event will be slurping up all the media bandwidth next month. Some observers like WhenIsKeynote.com are going with September 6th, the day after Labor Day, while others predict it’ll be sometime around September 13th. Major iPhone changes are not expected this year and some blogs are already skipping ahead to 2017 with the breathless anticipation of an overhauled handset design, including a curved display not unlike the Samsung Edge.

echoAmazon is looking to grab some more customers by going cheap. The ReCode site hears the übermegaeverything store is looking to launch a cheap streaming music service that only works on its Amazon Echo speaker assistant and may cost about $5 a month.

The state of Massachusetts is taking a stand of its own in favor of a taxi-cab industry that’s been taking it on the chin from ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. As the Reuters news agency reports, the Bay State plans to levy a 20-cent tax per trip on a ride-hailing service and a nickel of that will go right to the taxi industry until the year 2021.

Also taking a stand: Dozens of human rights and civil liberties organizations who have signed a letter protesting the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed plan to screen the social media accounts for foreign visitors to the country. The comment period for the proposal ended on this Monday.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sony is getting into downsizing mode with a thinner design for its PlayStation 4 console called the PS Slim.  Sony is said to be planning a media event on September 7th to share the news.

tux25This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Linux operating system kernel. On August 25, 1991, one Linus Benedict Torvalds posted a message in a Usenet group announcing a little project and suffice it to say, some people paid attention.  Here’s to the next 25, Penguin Nation.

The enthusiasm for the Pokémon Go mobile game seems to be fading a bit. Does Pikachu get a third act?

Twitter has finally added that eye-soothing dark night mode to the iOS version of its app. Android users have been enjoying the feature since last month.

The once hot Gawker website shut down for good this week. Gawker’s founder Nick Denton put up one final post.

And finally, after two years in the wilds of space, one of the two Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft, known as STEREO-B, has reestablished contact with NASA after going silent in October 2014. The agency’s website explains how the bond was broken, in case you were wondering. NASA engineers had been trying to get back in touch with the craft for the past 22 months and were finally able to establish a lock on STEREO-B’s downlink carrier on August 21st — thanks to the Deep Space Network array of giant radio antennas. Don’t you go running off again, STEREO-B, you hear?

stereoB

 

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Set the Scene

We’ve all gotten used to using filters and camera apps on our smartphones to produce interesting photography for our social-media lives. But if you’ve still got a separate stand-alone camera and are only using it in its Automatic setting (where you just snap the photo and go with minimal fuss), you may be missing out on some handy built-in shooting and exposure modes that can give your photos more zing when you actually take them.

modedialMost decent point-and-shoot models have these modes, which you can usually find on a dial or in a menu in the camera’s controls. On the dial at the top of your camera, you may find settings for Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual and whatnot. There may also be a dial setting to take you into Scene Mode — or you may find that in one of the camera’s menus. The scene modes have names like Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Macro, Night and so on. The names typically refer to the type of photo you’re trying to take, and the camera’s settings are adjusted accordingly.

menus

Take Portrait mode, the one you would use when you’re trying to capture an image of someone in the middle of the frame. In most cases, switching to Portrait mode will have the camera switch to a large aperture to narrow the depth of field — which means your subject is nicely in focus and commanding attention, but the background and any distracting elements are blurred.

Other modes adjust the flash, shutter speed, exposure settings and more to capture the gist of the situation. Sports mode, for example, kicks up the shutter speed to capture more of the action in focus.

Your camera’s instruction manual should have a full explanation of the settings and shooting modes your model offers. (Some of the better cameras even have an automatic setting that picks the scene mode for you based on the shooting conditions it senses.) If you’ve chucked or lost your manual, worry not.
You can usually find copies:

On the manufacturer’s website. Look for a PDF download — Canon, NikonSony and others usually have them posted.

• In the app store you use with your mobile device. You might luck into a free electronic version or manual viewer.

Around the Web. The comprehensive  ManualsOnline.com quite possibly may have your model’s guidebook.

Or, you could do what many nerds do: Just fiddle around and press buttons until you get the machine to do what you want.

PTJ 189 News: Eyes on the Prize

The race is on between Sony and Samsung to patent smart contact lenses that function as cameras floating atop your eyeballs. Yes, eyeball cameras.  Sony’s design even makes it hard to tell someone is even wearing an eyeball camera. But let’s not forget Google, which received a patent for a solar-powered contact lens last year and recently just got a patent for what’s described as an intra-ocular device; it sounds sort of like a bionic eye that could perhaps be used to help with degenerative vision diseases.

riftSpeaking of eyeballs, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is headed to 48 Best Buy stores on May 7th, and will be included as part of a special in-store promotional kiosk called The Intel Experience. A small number of units available for sale at those particular Best Buy outlets, too. You can look up the stores involved on Best Buy’s site. Amazon and Microsoft plan to start taking Oculus Rift orders at 9 a.m. Pacific time on May 6th.

Microsoft has decided that its Cortana virtual assistant for Windows 10 is not going to be allowed to play with other company’s web browsers and search engines. No Cortana for you, Google Chrome.

Yahoo hasn’t found anybody to pick up its pieces yet, but it has cut its list of potential dance partners down to 10 companies. Whatever happens, though, Yahoo CEO (and micromanager of bad logos) Marissa Mayer will make out all right. A  Securities and Exchange Commission filing revealed she’ll get a severance package worth about 55 million bucks if she’s booted within a year of any sale. No ramen noodles and Tang dinners for you, Marissa Mayer. (Unless you want them, that is.)

bitcoinArguments about the true identity of Bitcoin’s anonymous founder have bubbled up this week. Australian businessman Craig Wright has claimed he is the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, elusive founder of Bitcoin, but the Motherboard blog over at Vice isn’t buying it.

From the ever-expanding Department of Mergers & Acquisitions News, Comcast/NBC Universal made a deal to buy the DreamWorks animation studio for $3.8 billion. Also, the online video-sharing site Vimeo has acquired VHX. And there are even more video-streaming services than ever now, as Hulu is said to be preparing its own service to bundle streams of broadcast and cable channels to paid subscribers. This would move Hulu away from being primarily a streaming TV rerun site with a few original shows to an enticing option for cord-cutters.

robotsecurityGoogle has changed the name of its own monthly Nexus Security Bulletins patch collection to the more inclusive Android Security Bulletin, and this week’s May is intended to fix about 40 vulnerabilities in the mobile operating system. Many of the holes in the Mediaserver software for Android are on the fix list here. And make sure when you do update apps on your Android device, get them from the Google Play store itself and not from a website disguising itself as an Android update site. This is because there’s a new little piece of malware on the loose that claims to be an update for Android’s Chrome browser, but it’s really an infostealer app.

Google may have found a hardware partner for its self-driving cars. Bloomberg News is reporting Fiat Chrysler plans to team up with the Big G on prototypes based on the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Some exciting typing news: The popular Google Keyboard app just got a big update this week.  Also in keyboard developments, the Giphy Keys app for iOS arrived this week, making it easier than ever to add just the right animated loop to your messages. No boring messages for you, Giphy Keys user.

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Consumer Encryption and Government Security concerns continue to clash. This week, it’s Brazil throwing a 72-hour block on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger service after Facebook refused to hand over information requested for a criminal investigation. Another judge in Brazil soon overturned the order.

includeSeveral women working in the tech industry have come together to form a new nonprofit venture called Project Include that hopes to help the aforementioned tech industry work on its diversity issues. Let’s check back this time next year to see if anything has changed.

And finally,  Ad-Block Plus, the popular ad-blocking extension, and Flattr, a micropayment service that lets its users donate money have teamed up a new service called Flattr Plus that lets you set a content budget and then send money to the sites you actually spent time reading. No money for you, clickbait sites.

PTJ 184 News: Never Mind

Well, after all that legal grandstanding and trying to force Apple to build a back door in its mobile operating system, the Justice Department went back to court this week to say: Never mind. Thanks to help from a third-party volunteer hacking specialist, the FBI says it is now rolling through the encrypted data that was harvested from the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist.

So now that the whole incident is over, what was it about? Some argue that corporate compliance is mandatory in this dangerous era of terror. Others, including famed NSA leaker Edward Snowden, have gone on record saying the FBI could have gotten into the phone on its own and the whole thing was about establishing a legal precedent. So, until next time…

Speaking of Apple’s iOS software, the company has acknowledged bugs in its recent 9.3 update. Patch on the way!

instagramInstagram’s previously announced move to using algorithms  in feeds has caused a bit of a panic in the Insta-community, so that’s why you’ve been inundated by people asking you to turn on notifications so that their posts will not get buried. No word on when that change to the system  going live, but Instagram did announce this week that it was increasing the maximum running time of posted video from 15 seconds to 60 seconds.

Twitter celebrated its 10th-anniversary last week and this week, the company’s Periscope app for live-streaming video celebrated its one-year anniversary from its official launch date. Periscope has reportedly been used for 200 million live video broadcasts and not all of them were Game of Thrones or House of Cards bootlegs.

People poking around in Facebook Messenger code say they’ve found evidence that points to the potential to make purchases in retail stores and fund them with Apple Pay, all without leaving the Messenger app. Facebook has made no announcements yet, nor on reports that it’s also working on Snapchat-like self-destructing messages called Secret Conversations. (But, while we’re talking bout Snapchat, that company has just released what it calls Chat 2.0, which lets users easily tap between text, audio and video chat.)

riftIn gaming news, reviews of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset are starting to pop up around the web, including one from Brian X. Chen at The New York Times who called it a well-built hardware system brimming with potential. However, the first wave of apps and software will probably only appeal to hard-core gamers.

Sony is also stepping up the graphics in its console games and said it plans to release an updated version of its PlayStation 4 machine later this year. The current PlayStation 4 model would stick around, but it would add a newer version with enough mojo to handle virtual reality and other visually intense gaming experiences.

Vimeo announced this week that it’s made some updates to its channel on the Roku set-top box. As explained in a blog post on the company site, you can now you can rent or buy films and video series directly from their creators right there on your Roku TV.

Audio-sharing site SoundCloud is also stepping things up with a new subscription service here in the States called SoundCloud Go.

Oracle is not happy with Google over a little matter of copyright and is suing the Big G for use of Java in the Android operating system. Oracle seeking 9.3 billion dollars in damages. Google, for its part, has other things on its mind this week, like its new Fiber Phone service, which brings unlimited and nationwide phone calls to homes with Google Fiber broadband service for $10 a month.

fiber

Yahoo’s financial woes have not gotten any better this year and the company announced it’ll be accepting bids for its web business and Asian assets. The Wall Street Journal reports the company has set an April 11th deadline for preliminary bids from interested buyers. Perhaps Yahoo can throw a few departments up on eBay.

And finally, if you don’t live in the States or you’re too broke to buy one of those handy Amazon Echo speakers that does your bidding when you give it verbal commands, you can build your own with an inexpensive Raspberry Pi barebones computers and a little time. Novaspirit Tech has a demo video:

Lest you think this is an unauthorized adventure, Amazon itself has posted its own instructions on GitHub for getting the hardware working with its Alexa Voice Service. So, if you need a summer project this year when you’re not picking up Yahoo properties at a weekend tag sale, consider the DIY Raspberry Echo.

 

PTJ 182 News: Tales from the Encrypt

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.

event

Apple is due to appear in a federal court in Riverside, California, on March 22 to fight the order that started this most recent squabble over privacy vs. security. Perhaps not so incidentally, the company has confirmed its next Apple Event to Reveal New Products to be on March 21st, just as the Apple-watching blogs predicted. But as the legal battles rage, Adam Segal and Alex Grigsby of the Council on Foreign Relations have an essay in The Los Angeles Times that lays out what they call three realistic solutions to prevent further fights over encryption. Will anybody try them out?

The South By Southwest festival has been going on the past week, but some outlets like CNBC are reporting a diminished interest in the interactive side of the event, which could explain the relatively low-key media coverage. Or perhaps the media is just preoccupied with a certain 2016 Presidential election.

election

In happier news, Microsoft announced this week that the Xbox One will soon support cross-network gameplay, meaning people using Xbox Live with their Xboxes or Windows 10 hardware could, in theory, be able to frag players using other hardware like the Sony PlayStation 4. Microsoft has also just updated the web version of Skype. and if you’re not paying attention, the company will update your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer to Windows 10.

win10up

Adobe’s Experience Design CC is now out in preview for Mac users. The program was specifically created for user-experience designers who make mock-ups for interfaces and whatnot. The preview has that nice price of free.

Amazon has filed a patent that lets people pay by selfie. Smile for the cashier, please.

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 .

And finally, speaking of artificial intelligence, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo computer, which we mentioned a few weeks ago on the show, has defeated the Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol in a best-of-five series of the ancient game of Go. Artificial intelligence has already kicked human butt in chess and on Jeopardy, but how will AI do at Cards Against Humanity?

cah

PTJ 180 News: Down to Earth

From coast to coast, Apple is having quite a time with the legal system. The company may still be at a standoff with the Justice Department about unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone out in California, but here in New York’s Eastern District court, a federal judge has ruled that the government can’t use the 227-year-old All Writs Act to force the company to unlock the phone belonging to a drug dealer. The New York case is separate from the ongoing fight in California and the two situations involve different aspects of iOS encryption, however. In California, Apple filed a motion in court last week to vacate the order that it cooperate with the FBI. One of Apple’s lawyers spent his Tuesday in Washington, testifying in front of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

9to5Mac and other sources are now reporting that rumored Apple’s upcoming spring event has moved back a week from around March 15th and will now be in the week of March 21st. No invitations yet, though! It’s not real until you see the invitation!

In app news, Google has also given iPhone users a bit of parity with its Android peeps by adding the “pit stops” feature to the iOS version of Google Maps. And, in a reverse for the Reuters TV app we talked about a few months ago — the one that was that was only available for iOS — the company has now released an Android version.

One of Google’s self-driving cars smacked into a city bus in California last month, which has the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority investigating things. Google admitted its Lexus RX450h auto-piloted vehicle bears “some responsibility” for the incident.

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset looks like it’s actually becoming a reality for developers. The dev kit edition is now available for pre-order from the company, with a chunky $3,000 price tag and delivery on March 30th.  Also new, but slightly cheaper: The Raspberry Pi 3 barebones computer is now on sale for a mere $35.

drone4

In drone developments, a new model from DJI has the ability to sense and avoid obstacles in its way, and also, to track people and animals. The DJI Phantom 4 costs about $1400 and follows its subjects automatically using cameras, sensors and ActiveTrack technology. Also tracking: Sleep cycles. Over on the Medium site, a Danish developer posted the results of a little project he did that used the Last Active timestamp data gleaned from the web-based version of Facebook’s Messenger service to figure out the sleeping patterns of his Facebook pals. Facebook was not too happy about his work and someone else using the same data they collect about you themselves, and was fussing because he posted the code for the project online.

McDonald’s has noticed the low-budget virtual-reality craze brought on by the Google Cardboard viewer and is busting a move of its own — in Sweden. The fast-food giant is launching a promotion there over the next couple weekends, and it lets kids fold their Happy meal boxes onto VR viewers to see a smartphone-based VR game especially created for the occasion. These special meal containers are called Happy Goggles and yes, you get fries with that.

The Brita filter people have joined up Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service to create the $45 Wi-Fi Brita Infinity Smart Water Pitcher that automatically orders more Brita filters when it needs them. No word on if the pitcher has any tiny cameras embedded in its lid so it can scope out what else in in your fridge and report back to Amazon.

Sony has a new beta out for its PlayStation 4 software. Although the version 3.5 beta doesn’t contain the feature that allows you to remotely play PS4 games on a Mac or PC, the feature is coming along sooner than many anticipated.

And finally, Commander Scott Kelly is back on Earth this week after 340 days aboard the International Space Station.  Welcome home, sir!

scottkelly

PTJ 179 News: Deep Writ

Is the future of digital privacy about to get totally pwned? The battle  between Apple and the United States Department of Justice has been raging since late last week, when government officials filed a motion asking a judge to make Apple help crack open an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernadino terrorists. and the company resisted.  Apple CEO Tim Cook posted an open letter to Apple’s customers concerning the issue and the company’s stance on privacy. The deadline for Apple to respond to the motion is this Friday, February 26th, but the company may even already be at work to make cracking iPhones even harder.

The Justice Department is also pursuing orders to make Apple to extract data from around 12 other iPhones involved in non-terrorist criminal cases around the country. As part of its case, the DOJ is using the All Writs Act, originally passed in the Judiciary Act of 1798 and amended in 1911 and a few times since; news outlets as diverse as Popular Mechanics and The New Yorker have weighed in on this legal tactic. Apple has asked for the ruling to go beyond a courtroom and take it to a hearing before Congress, saying what needs to be done is to . . . form a commission.

allwritsPublic option on the matter is split, as a quick poll by the Pew Research Center released earlier this week showed 51 percent of respondents siding with the government and saying Apple should be forced to unlock the iPhone. The director of the FBI said the agency could not look the San Bernadino survivors in the eye if the government did not follow this lead.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he supports Apple’s position, but Bill Gates, former Boss of Microsoft says Apple should cooperate. Meanwhile, Google announced it was working with wireless carriers on a new uniform messaging app for Android that security pros point out is a bit weak and very government friendly.

In other news, the annual Mobile World Congress trade show kicked off this week in Barcelona. As expected, Samsung revealed its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge phones, which is pre-ordered, comes with a free Samsung Gear VR headset.  LG Electronics showed off its new LG G5 phone, which works with the new LG 360 VR headset.

HTC has a new virtual reality headset called the HTC Vive that it created with Valve, the company behind the Steam gaming service — preorders start at the end of the month. The headset will be about $800, and arrive in April. Valve also released an online Steam VR Performance Test for gamers who want to make sure their systems can handle the demands of virtual-reality software.

Sony, perhaps taking a cue from Joaquin Phoenix and the 2013 movie Her, announced the Xperia Ear, a voice-controlled gadget for communicating with your smartphone that works like an audio-only smartwatch that sits in your auditory canal.  As for the rest of the announcements, the Gizmodo blog has a good running tally of all the major things unveiled at Mobile World Congress.

Plastic-money mainstay Mastercard said it soon plans to start accepting biometric data as an alternative to passwords for making online payments. Perhaps you’ll even be able to pay for those purchases by duck face.

AT&T and Intel are working together to test drone-control technology over a 4G LTE network so the devices are more useful to businesses. Because that’s what we need: More drones up there.

linuxhackThe Linux Mint site was infiltrated and a modified version of the operating system with a handy hacker backdoor was temporarily posted. The Linux Mint blog says to be on guard if you downloaded Linux Mint 17.3 Cinnamon edition on February 20th and the site provides tools to check your installation. And also in Linux news, there’s a new distro called Subgraph OS that describes itself as an “adversary resistant computing platform.” The new variation can isolate programs that have been exploited by attackers and limit the access program have to other parts of the computer like your files and network connections.

Now in the departure lounge: Google announced this week that it was shutting down its Google Compare/Google Advisor service next month. Microsoft announced it was punting the standalone Skype Qik messaging app to the curb, or as the company’s announcement phrases it, “Skype Qik is moving” – right into the main Skype app. And the Cheezburger network, (which pretty much made LOL cats mainstream with the immortal question “I can haz cheeseburger?”) has been sold to an undisclosed buyer.

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BuzzFeed has a new app out for Android and iOS called BuzzFeed Video. You can guess what it does, and yes, the clips start rolling as soon as you pause on one — then stop as you scroll on.

NASA is looking to shave some of five months it currently needs to get a spacecraft toting human passengers to Mars, but scientists there are working on a laser propulsion system that could get that trip time down from five months to three days.  Dr. Philip Lubin says the technology is there, and just needs to be scaled up. Some of Dr. Lubin’s papers on the subject are available of the University of California Santa Barbara’s Experimental Cosmology Group’s site for experimental astrophysics, including last year’s “A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight.” A recent episode of the “NASA 360” video series also explains the theories. (Chewie, check the hyperdrive!)

And finally, if you like NASA adventures, check your local PBS affiliate next week. On March 2, look for the first episode in a two-part series called A Year in Space, starring twin astronaut brothers Scott and Mark Kelly. Now there’s a family reality show we can get behind!

PTJ 175 News: In the Air

Several Twitter peeps have flown the coop recently, as the company attempts  to jump-start its growth by making the service easier to use and more appealing to Everyday People. Jack Dorsey, the company chief, did a few layoffs when he took the top spot last fall, but the revolving door continues to spin into the new year. (The bird-themed microblogging service has also gotten dinged inside and out for its lack of diversity and has been trying to improve things, although it got mixed reactions for hiring a white dude as its VP of diversity and inclusion — albeit one that was a founding member of a global LGBT leadership organization.) Twitter also busted a move this week and hired former American Express exec Leslie Berland as its chief marketing officer. Old School, meet New Media.

The Re/Code site is among those reporting that Twitter seems to be trying to keep its big famous users happy by majorly reducing the amount of ads those celebrities and notable figures see in their feeds. One site that seems to be showing more ads than before is Instagram. Facebook’s photo service did announce last year on its blog that it would be stepping up the ad game, and advertising statistics show the company has boosted ad impressions quite a bit the last five months of 2015.

vrSony and Samsung are doing a little corporate remodeling of their own. Sony announced it’ll be merging the hardware and software parts PlayStation game console business into one big company called Sony Interactive Entertainment. Out at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Samsung executives said the company has plans to open a production studio here in New York to create virtual reality films. Samsung, as you know, makes the Gear VR headset for those emerging immersive experiences.

Spotify launched a video channel this week in its Android and iOS apps. The video channel features clips from the BBC, VICE news, ESPN, Comedy Central and others, if you’re tired of merely listening to Spotify.

Security blogger Brian Krebs recently explained how his PayPal account was hacked with the help of PayPal itself — and now Australian developer Eric Springer has a frighteningly similar story on the Medium and Ars Technica sites. This time, though, it’s Amazon’s customer service department inadvertently cooperating with an imposter and compromising account security.

fireAlso in Amazon Land, the übermega everything store apparently hasn’t given up on its mobile dreams, even though its own Fire Phone was a gargantuan FAIL. As a site called The Information reports, Amazon has been talking to Android handset hardware manufacturers about weaving Amazon apps and surfaces deep into the phone system. However, it may want to be careful, as Google has bounced Amazon products out of the Google Play store before when it felt Amazon was getting too pushy.

Google has had some less-than-saintly moments itself, but the company is donating millions of dollars to help refugees from the conflict-torn Middle East. Google’s philanthropic division is partnering with a non-profit group called NetHope on Project Reconnect, an initiative to provide 25,000 Chromebooks loaded with educational and language-learning software, which will then be distributed to groups working with refugees who made it to Germany.

Microsoft’s Cortana would also like to help you out, but it does involve getting into more of your data. In a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft announced that an upcoming update to Cortana will allow the virtual assistant to root around in your email to help you keep your promises. You WILL KEEP THEM, says Cortana.

Apple has some recent software updates of its own: The company’s tvOS 9.1.1 update for the fourth-generation Apple TV box adds the Podcasts app  to the home Screen. While Apple released a version of the Remote app that works with the 4th gen box last month, the upcoming 9.2 update for tvOS is expected to restore Bluetooth keyboard support to the latest model and add new features like app folders .

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Even though iPhone sales have dipped, rumors about a new model coming soon are floating in the breeze. The 9 to 5 Mac site reports that Apple is readying a model called the iPhone 5se that basically takes the old iPhone 5s form factor with the 4-inch screen and adds in the faster A9 and M9 processors. (It may possibly be revealed the week of March 14th, when several Mac blogs also seem to think an updated version of the Apple Watch may also arrive.) And beware the prank link going around that exploits a known text message bug that when opened in Apple’s Safari browser, crashes the iPhone or Mac and forces a reboot.

Periscope announced this week that it can take feeds from a GoPro Hero 4 action camera and stream it over Wi-Fi to the Periscope app on the iPhone. Get ready for some wacky ski and snowboarding live channels to hit the Web soon…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and conventions are popping up all over. In addition to the Creation company’s official and (officially massive) fan events around the country, ReedPop, the organizer behind New York Comic Con, is celebrating the show too — and right in New York City, the home of the first-ever full-on Star Trek convention back in 1972. ReedPop’s 2016 convention, called Star Trek: Mission New York, will be held September 2-4 at the Javits Center in Manhattan; more information and ticket sales dates will be announced soon. (Yes, that is Labor Day weekend and will compete with the Dragon Con science fiction and fantasy expo down in Atlanta the same weekend. Tough choices here, geeks.)

BBTST

And finally, two passings of note this week. Marvin Minsky, a founding member of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died in Boston on January 24th. And actor Abe Vigoda, whose incorrectly reported death by People magazine in 1982, actually passed away January 26th at the age of 94. Mr. Vigoda, a celebrated actor, became an Internet meme later thanks to the confusion over his status; updates to the sites abevigoda.com and isabevigodadead.com have been sadly updated.
Rest in peace, gentlemen.

PTJ 159 News: Solid Opinions and Virtual Reality

It’s been a busy September already, but the Federal Communications Commission hasn’t  forgotten about the proposed merger of Charter Communications/Time Warner Cable/Bright House. The agency has put forth the request for public comments on the possible transaction, just as it did last year with the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger that later collapsed. You have until October 13th to comment and yes, you can file your comment online, as several people have already.

In other legal news, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco has ruled that copyright holders must pause to consider if use of their material qualifies as fair use before issuing a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It’s all in the case of Lenz vs. Universal, also commonly known as The Dancing Baby Lawsuit, and it started way back in 2007.

Although a triumphant Monday press release touting first-weekend sales did not arrive, Apple did release a statement announcing that global pre-orders for the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models were on track to beat last year’s 10 million first-weekend sales of the iPhone 6. The iPhone 6s Plus does seem to be sold out in numerous areas, but a manufacturing issue has been rumored in the shortage blame game. And if you’re thinking about buying one of the new iPhone models, The Washington Post has a guide to the various payment plans you can choose from now if you have to have the latest model.

cashtagThis week saw yet another Republican debate on television as next year’s Presidential campaign continues to grind on. In the spirit of things, Twitter announced that it was teaming up with Square to let people in the United States donate to the political candidate of their choice with a tweet.

Facebook bought the Oculus Rift virtual reality company last year and many wondered why, but The Wall Street Journal is reporting that The Social Network is developing a stand-alone video app that would support “spherical” or 360-degree clips. Facebook is not commenting on that topic  yet, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg did say this week that the company was developing a Dislike button for posts.

Flickr is also getting into virtual reality and did a little VR demo at a festival in Oregon last weekend. After putting on a the VR goggles, a user would be immersed in a 360-degree panoramic photo. Oh, and Sony announced its Project Morpheus product is now PlayStation VR.

fembotsAlso in the world of “virtual” but not “reality”. . .  Annalee Newitz over at the Gizmodo site continues her investigation into the Ashley Madison site and how the company alleged used female-identifying chatbots or “fembots” to lure unsuspecting male customers into paying for credits in order to keep interacting with what they thought were real women. Although they used more sophisticated language, the Ashley Madison fembots were not all that far removed from ELIZA and some of the early chatbots from the 1970s.

NASA is preparing to send Microsoft’s HoloLens hardware up to the astronauts in the International Space Station, with delivery scheduled for a cargo mission in early December. And for those with Ultra High Definition 4K TV sets and not much to watch on them, NASA just announced it’s partnering with Harmonic to create a new channel called NASA TV UHD. NASA says this will be the first ever non-commercial consumer ultra-high definition (UHD) channel in North America and said it plans to start broadcasting on it November 1st.

sleepyAnd finally, an Oculus Rift virtual-reality production has become the first show of its kind to win an Emmy Award. The production, called Sleepy Hollow: VR Experience and set in the town cemetery of the supernatural FOX TV show, won the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media category for User Experience And Visual Design. Perhaps next year, NASA will start a non-commercial consumer UHD VR channel so we can really reach for the virtual stars…