The are only two type of people on this big blue marble we call Earth: those who love Star Wars and those who don’t. I think you all know which camp J.D. and El Kaiser spend their time in. This week J.D. fills us in on the goodies you’ll get in the various and sundry versions of the digital and DVD/Blu-Ray releases of the latest chapter in the space opera, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. In tech headlines, the FBI doesn’t need Apple’s help hacking into an iPhone, Instagram gives users more time, and now you can build your own Amazon Echo with help from another fruit-themed toymaker.
2015 has come and (almost) gone and it’s time for the media-mandated Look Back at the Year We Just Had. [Drumroll … rimshot … clown horn noise] Noted in no particular order, here’s our list of high points, low points and things that just stood out to us here at Pop Tech Jam HQ over the course of the earth’s latest loop around the sun:
• NASA: New Horizons and Beyond.— While it wasn’t quite the Apollo 11 mojo, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had a banner year with the New Horizons successful flyby of Pluto and data treasure trove that’s still trickling back from the other side of the solar system. The agency also grew lettuce, aged whiskey and ran many other experiments up at the International Space Station while its Dawn spacecraft took at look at the dwarf planet Ceres. And that Matt Damon movie was very good publicity.
• Windows 10. Microsoft released its successor to the much-reviled Windows 8 this summer. Despite some major bugs and user wariness, Win10 did see relatively fast adoption rates by 8Haters, people finally upgrading from XP and those who wanted to try out the new technology as soon as they could.
• Security! Security! Security! (or Lack Thereof…). It seemed like no corporate database was safe from intrusion this year. Plenty of major companies got breached, including Anthem health insurance, the CVS Photos site, interactive toymaker VTech, the federal Office of Personal Management, the Internal Revenue Service, the Ashley Madison site for love affairs, Slack and Experian’s T-Mobile servers. Just to name, you know, A FEW OF THEM.
• Underwhelming Apple. The Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino finally released a smartwatch and a giant iPad in 2015 — just like industry types have been speculating about for years. And not only was much of the public was pretty “meh” about it all, the stock was down as well, based on fear of what comes next with iPhone sales.
• Video Streaming Goes Big. The standalone HBO Now finally arrived for Game of Thrones fans and other cord-cutters, Sling TV further chopped the coax with an over-the-top package of channels, and new voice-controlled streaming boxes from Amazon, Google, Roku, Apple and others have stepped up the battle for the living room’s big screen.
• Ad Blockers. Apple’s iOS 9 was just the latest piece of software that allows its users to block other pieces of software, namely intrusive advertising that makes reading so aggravating on mobile devices and other digital platforms. Yes, blocking ads takes money out of the content-publisher’s pocket (and may make it hard for them to keep going). But publishers and advertisers, if you don’t want people to use ad blockers, make better ads.
• E-Book Reversal. E-book sales dipped, and print titles had a slight rebound. And although some think nothing will happen, authors and publishers asked the Department of Justice to look into Amazon’s influence in the industry.
• Google, Even More Helpful But Creepy — Machine-learned responses to emails, self-driving cars, Trip Bundles, parking markers, rerouted traffic navigation on the fly and the increasingly accurate predictive Google Now service that tries to guess what you want to see before you see it. Yes, the Big G had a very big year all up in your business. (But remember, you don’t have to use it.)
• Broadway Sings Social Media. Internet fan favorite and Sulu OG George Takei used Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word about this new musical Allegiance, the story of Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. Meanwhile, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of the Broadway smash musical Hamilton were all over Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other social outlets, not only to promote the show, but to add new views — like the short YouTube movie a cast member made about opening night from the actors’ perspective. The cast album for the show was available to stream free on the NPR site during the week before it arrived as an official download, and the recording’s devotees soon revved up the enthusiastic #Hamiltunes hashtag to quote their favorite lyrics. Smartphone videos of the weekly rapfest Ham4Ham — where the show’s actors perform short bits for fans clustered outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Manhattan’s West 46th Street — also got online play. And let’s not overlook the mash-up memes like #Force4Ham, which combined themes from both Hamilton and Star Wars. Now, about the latter…
• Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sixteen years after The Phantom Menace and the turgid prequels, director and nostalgia reboot specialist J.J. Abrams revived the franchise with a record-smashing, uplifting return to form that served as a bridge between the old world and the new one in that galaxy far, far away. The Force is strong in that one.
Happy 2016 from Pop Tech Jam!
Attention octocopter pilots! The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the suggestions of its task force to heart and has now set up a database for drone owners to register their unmanned aircraft with the government. The new rule goes into effect December 21st and those who skip out could be subject to chunky fines. And in other government news, The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Homeland Security is trying to come up with a plan to examine social media posts made by individuals applying for visas to the United States. Watch out for those Facebook hoaxes, agents.
Across the pond, the European Union is getting serious about user privacy and is putting a new directive in place that imposes fines on companies that do not clearly explain to users what personal information about them is being collected — and how that information will be used. Hit ’em up, Europe!
Facebook is taking yet another bit of functionality out of its main mobile app. As the TechCrunch blog reports, The Social Network is turning off the photo sync feature for its mobile app next month and will nag its members to download its Moments app instead.
Hoverboards are hot items — for reals. Numerous reports of fires from the devices’ lithium-ion batteries have prompted safety concerns for some time, with the Federal Aviation Administration even encouraging airline passengers earlier this year to leave spare batteries at home. Several recently reported hoverboard fires now have the industry on even higher alert. Most major airlines — including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue, Alaska Airlines and others — now ban the boards in checked and carry-on luggage. Amazon began to yank certain models from its online store last week as well.
Google is trying to help you keep your plans organized with its Inbox by Gmail app. Last summer, Inbox added an algorithm that sniffs out and collects all the airline, hotel, rental car and other confirmation messages associated with travel and groups them together in a collection called a Trip Bundle. This week, Google announced one-tap sharing for all the Trip Bundle data so friends and family can get all your coordinates at once.
Google is also showing some love to those who buy a new Chromecast streaming dongle. If you pony up $35 for a Chromecast, Google kicks back $20 to go shopping for content in its Google Play store. The offer can be redeemed through the Chromecast app until January 2nd, 2016.
Careful web watchers noticed a recent post on a Microsoft blog that seems to be walking back the company’s decision to take away promised gobs of OneDrive storage because some people were abusing the privilege. A Microsoft manager posted that while the company was not changing its overall plans, it would make some concessions to loyal customers, as long as they sign up on the OneDrive site to keep it by the end of January.
In hacking news, Kromtech, the makers of the software utility MacKeeper, has acknowledged what it calls “a potential vulnerability in its data storage system” that was found by a security researcher. Security blogger Brian Krebs said the incident revealed the personal information of 13 million customers was exposed. (And yes, MacKeeper is that pesky scareware program that uses pop-under ads to get people to buy it and some sites recommend against using it anyway.)
And in a follow-up to the big VTech hack last month, a 21-year-old man has been arrested in England on suspicion of “unauthorized access” to a computer. UK officials say they are still in the early stages of the investigation.
The New York State Attorney General continues the probe into advertised vs. actual broadband speeds, and is now asking the public to check their own connections at the Internet Health Test site and report the findings. AG Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating speed claims made by Verizon Communications Inc, Cablevision Systems Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc., said customers wanting to help should perform the test, take a screenshot of the results and fill in an online form on the state’s website.
Speaking of Verizon, the company has just updated it FiOS mobile app so customers can steam and watch shows they have recorded back home on their DVRs when they are out and about with their mobile devices.
Also streaming, Netflix but up a blog post this week describing its efforts to increase the quality of the video flowing over broadband connections while reducing data use by 20 percent. A story on the Variety site explains the project in detail, which basically amounts to different encoding rules for different types of video content, because after all, as a Netflix manager says, “You shouldn’t allocate the same amount of bits for ‘My Little Pony’ as for ‘The Avengers.’”
Rumors about next spring’s expected Samsung Galaxy S7 phone are beginning to emerge, and the whispers make the new model sound not unlike the iPhone 6s. According to The Wall Street Journal, Samsung is adding a pressure-sensitive screen, ala 3D Touch, and a high-speed charging port. A retina scanner for biometric security may also be in the works. Samsung is also appealing its recent patent-case loss to Apple, and is going all the way to the Supreme Court. No word yet if the Supremes will take the case.
And finally…what’s everybody doing this weekend?
The heart of the Geek Movie season traditionally runs from late spring through the summer, with the superhero films and action flicks rolling into theaters for the warm-weather months. There are exceptions, however: The adaptation of the final installment in the The Hunger Games series arrives later this month and there’s a little flick called Star Wars: The Force Awakens that opens in mid-December. Still, the last two months of the year traditionally see the serious films, aiming for Oscars and more viewer attention span with people taking time off around the holidays. If you’ve lost track of what else is on the way to your local cineplex, here are a few sites to keep you in the loop.
ComingSoon.net not only features trailers for a huge selection of upcoming theatrical films headed your way, you can get sneak peeks for upcoming TV episodes, home video releases on DVD and Blu-ray and even videogames. ComingSoon.net also has the latest Hollywood box-office figures as well as industry news and is really a one-stop shopping trip for entertainment information. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and RSS feeds keep you up to date.
Apple’s iTunes Movie Trailers collection focuses mainly on theatrical films, but also sports exclusive clips and early previews. The site also has a Twitter feed and RSS to alert you to new material, plus a Top 25 list. You can view the trailers on the Web, but if you have an iOS-based gadget, you can use the official iTunes Movie Trailers app. You can also watch through the Apple TV’s app. Both feature a calendar view that places each trailer on a grid, which can be helpful for planning your weekends.
If your tastes run toward more independent efforts, check out the IndieWire site. It does cover the mainstream movie and TV culture, but gives the smaller productions a bigger share of the spotlight.
And if you’re feeling nostalgic and have a few hours to kill, visit the Archives at Movie-List.com to see many of the Generation X Classics as they were first presented in trailer form. Airplane!, Escape From New York, Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, WarGames…they’re all here in one convenient place, waiting to take you back to the 1980s, when movie tickets were cheap and a bucket of popcorn was affordable.
And with the trailer buzz for Star Wars: The Force Awakens still echoing, how about a nostalgic trip over to the trailer for the original Star Wars from the mid-1970s? It certainly had a more low-key unveiling back in its day, and it and perfectly illustrates the power of the John Williams soundtrack — by not actually having the iconic score rumbling around in the in the background.
The air up there isn’t completely full of drones yet, but the skies have gotten way more crowded in the past few years. This week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced that a task force had been created to develop ideas and recommendations on a registration process for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Recommendations are due November 20th — will drone license plates be coming soon?
Speaking of government agencies, John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly had his email hacked by a high school student. The young hacker in question told Wired.com how he did it. The account is question has been disabled and it was an . . . AOL account.
Facebook is here for you. In a blog post on the company site, Alex Stamos of The Social Network said: “Starting today, we will notify you if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an attacker suspected of working on behalf of a nation-state.”
If you need a daily reminder of what planet you live on, check out NASA’s new website devoted to photography from the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard its Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite. While the Deep Space Climate Observatory’s main mission is to track solar wind and storms that could disrupt the world’s electrical grid, air travel and communications systems, it’s handy Earth-facing camera promises a picture every day.
The free trial period of Apple Music has run out for the first wave of people who signed up and Tim Cook, the company CEO said at a technology conference this week that the service retained 6.5 million subscribers who switched over to paying monthly. Cook also reported another 8.5 million people are currently participating in the 90-day free trial, and that orders for the fourth-generation Apple TV will start on October 26th.
Google is very proud of its Google Docs productivity suite, (with its recent additions of Voice Typing and other useful features) and is telling enterprise customers who have contracts with other software vendors that it will cover their Google Apps fees until their commitments with those other places run out. In other Google news, the Waze navigation app has gotten a redesign.
Table-top PC’s make a run for glory every few years and now it’s Lenovo’s turn with its 27-inch Lenovo Yoga Home tablet with its own tabletop operation system overlay called Aura that runs atop Windows 10. The current price is about $1500 and you can apparently play air hockey on it.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s released here in the United States. All those who played a few rounds of Super Mario Brothers, raise a glass Nintendo’s way.
And finally, many nerds sat through the first half of Monday Night Football game to see the brand new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Early tickets for the film’s December shows also went on sale last Monday night and the anxiety was made worse when the websites for Fandango, AMC Theaters and other ticket outlets went grinding and crashing down.
As expected, the trailer did produce a lot of reaction, including the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII for a social-media campaign purporting to complain that the new film wasn’t dominated by white people and all good racists should avoid the film. Trolls are now claiming the whole thing was a joke designed to stir up controversy. Remember people, never feed the trolls. Now, let’s watch the trailer again. And again.
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.
The 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!
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.
Microsoft 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.
And 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?
Will the drama of the Sony Pictures, North Korea and a certain Massive Network Hack every end? After announcing last week it was canceling the theatrical release of The Interview, Sony said on Tuesday that it was making the picture available to theaters who wanted to start showing it on the original Christmas Day release date. That was Tuesday. On Monday of this week, Internet access to, from and within North Korea, went dark for about nine hours in a complete network failure and was still unstable at least a day later.
Back in the USA, Sony is still trying to get itself back together. At least one Sony employee has spoken to the press about what it was like to work in a place that suffered a catastrophic breach (hint: not fun) and in a sternly worded letter, the company has threatened to sue Twitter unless it removes the accounts of people who’ve been shared data leaked from the hack. The beleaguered entertainment company has also said to be working with crisis manager Judy Smith, a consultant and inspiration for the Olivia Pope character on the ABC drama Scandal. It’s apparently that bad.
It’s been a bad year for corporate IT departments. A report in The New York Times this week says the massive hack of JPMorgan bank earlier this year might have been blocked if one server on the company’s very large network had been upgraded to handle two-factor authentication. Hackers were reportedly able to get into the network after swiping the login credentials from a bank employee.
Meanwhile, Apple isn’t leaving it to sysadmins or mere users to update their Macs. While the company usually pushes out its patches and pesters with popups to install them, an update to fix a vulnerability in the system’s network time protocol was delivered over the Internet and automatically installed. (In other Apple news, the company has recently added a Tumblr blog and an Instagram account for iTunes.)
The proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable has been given a time out. The Federal Communications Commission paused its regulatory review of the $45 billion dollar deal this week when it discovered that thousands of requested documents from Time Warner were improperly withheld from the agency and another 31,000 did not get submitted properly due to “vendor error.” The FCC sent a letter to Time Warner, Comcast and Charter Communications saying it was going to “stop its informal 180-day transaction clock until January 12, 2015.”
Many of us have looked up song lyrics on the web for various reasons, but if you use Google for the search, you just may get those lyrics back at the top of your results page in that Knowledge Graph area. Not every song-lyrics search out there returns Google’s own results, but for those that do, you also get a link to the Google Play store for the full set and a link to buy the corresponding song. Google’s intentions may be a bit transparent there, but not as crystal-clear as the latest version of its own Transparency Report that tracks government requests for information. In a post on the Google Public Policy Blog, legal director Trevor Callaghan reports that from June to December 2013, Google received 3,105 government requests to remove 14,637 pieces of content.
The Hyperloop, the Elon Musk futuristic mass-transit project we talked about on the show last year could be moving farther from fantasy and closer to fact. JumpStartFund, the project’s developers have released a 76-page white paper detailing the current state of the system. The project’s managers are also thinking that the Hyperloop could be a reality within 10 years. Buckle up.
Roberto Orci is not going to be sitting in the director’s chair for Star Trek 3, but Deadline.com and a few other Hollywood publications are reporting that Jason Lin — known for his work on the Fast & Furious franchise — will be taking over on the third film. It’s due out in July 2016, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek‘s first broadcast in September 1966.
NASA’s Orion space capsule is home for the holidays. After its post-orbit splashdown in the Pacific on December 5th, the capsule took a week-long cross-country roadtrip back to Cape Canaveral, arriving on December 18th. Scientists are digging into the data collected during its trip around the Earth, and NASA has released images and video taken by the Orion capsule as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.
The VentureBeat site claims Amazon is working on an update for its epic fail of a smartphone. No comment from Amazon, but the Fire Phone 2 is rumored for 2016. The six people who bought the original Fire Phone will probably be due for an upgrade by then.
And finally, even though that hotly anticipated Fire Phone 2 may not be out next year, Mashable as a story on five smartphone innovations that are coming out in 2015. The predictions are based on the arrival of Qualcomm’s powerful new Snapdragon 810 processor and what it can do for the smartphone experience. If the predictions hold up, we’ll be using these powerful new phones as PCs and gaming consoles when we’re not enjoying their superior video and audio capabilities. It’s something to look forward to in the new year, along of course, with the return of Orphan Black on BBC America in April and Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December.
With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us here in the United States the team at PTJ HQ can’t thank you all enough for supporting us so passionately over these last few years. Both J.D. and I don’t have plans of stopping any time soon since we continue to have a wonderful time doing the show. We promise to keep serving up our special brand of insight and shenanigans—along with the occasional surprise—if you promise to keep coming back for more.
A very special thanks to the BROS!
When we say we wouldn’t be here without them that is a 100% accurate statement. They convinced us to make the leap to doing the show on our own and have supported us every step of the way. A heartfelt bushel of gratitude from all of us at HeadStepper Media and Pop Tech Jam!
This week on the show, J.D. is thinking of linking and shares a slew of helpful keyboard shortcuts with us. In the news the FCC reaches an agreement with T-Mobile about their throttling practices; the Federal Aviation Administration is prepares a set of new rules for commercial drones; the European Union is expected to vote on breaking up Google’s business; Apple sees (RED); the United States and the United Kingdom are suspects behind a sophisticated series of cyber attacks against the European Union; Barbie (and Mattel) **** it up again; and the first teaser trailer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters this weekend.