Tag Archives: SxSW

PTJ 226: The Sound of Hacking

The Pi Day Northeast Blizzard of 2017 may have blown through, but El Kaiser is still powering through a nasty winter cold to get to this week’s tech and science news with J.D. — which features quite a bit of hacker activity, as well as an update on our old friend Boaty McBoatface. Episode 226 here also takes a look at public beta programs you can join to see the latest software first. Interested? Just push play to find out more!

Links to Stories in This Week’s News Segment

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.


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.


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.


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?


PTJ 134: Superchunky News and SXSW 2015

This week on the podcast journalist Laura Holson returns to discuss how technology is influencing the next generation of filmmakers and in the news we bring you the latest from the annual SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.

Also in the news, seven years removed from its launch at SXSW, Twitter lays the ban hammer on new video app Meerkat.; regional cable company joins the HBO Now party; YouTube introduces interactive 360 degree videos; and late author Sir Terry Pratchett’s name will live in the Intertubes.

PTJ 134 News: Clicks and Clacks

meerkatThere’s a ton of news coming out of the SXSW conference down in Austin, Texas, this week, including a new smartphone app called Meerkat that lets its users broadcast live video from their smartphones to their Twitter followers. Part of Meerket’s ease of use was that it can tap into a user’s Twitter contacts and get the party started fast. But last Friday, however, Twitter shut down access to its social graph, citing an internal policy. Twitter may have been treating Meerkat like a parasite app, and the fact that the bird-themed microblogging site quickly turned around and announced its January acquisition of Periscope seems a bit calculated. Some worry that Meerkat’s popularity and expansion will take a fatal hit unless it in turn gets bought by Facebook or Google, but the company’s founders vow to press on after all the PR at SXSW.

It’s March Madness again and we expect time-outs on the basketball court, but the Federal Communications Commission has called a time-out and stopped the clock (again) in the 180-day review periods for the pending Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV mergers. This time, the stoppage is due to a pending court decision about the disclosure of video-programming contracts between the service providers and content companies.

HBO’s new standalone streaming service has picked up another distributor along with Apple TV. Cablevision has announced that it, too, will allow subscribers to its Optimum broadband service sign up and stream content from HBO NOW without having to already have an HBO tithe bundled in their TV packages.

NBCBut that’s not all in streaming TV news this week! The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple is talks to create a small, 25-channel bundle of TV networks that could be subscribed to and streamed across the screens of iOS gadgets and connected Apple TV boxes. Apple, of course, Is. Not. Commenting. As reported, the deal could include streams from ABC, CBS, ESPN and Fox. While NBC has been MIA on the ATV, there are reports that The Peacock Network is actually in negotiations with Apple,  too.

Apple is also said to be revamping its trade-in and recycling program for old gear to include smartphones made by other manufacturers. The current program offers Apple Store Gift Cardsfor the value of the Apple product you want to unload so you can upgrade. According to the blog 9to5Mac, Apple Store employees will determine the trade-in value for old Android, Blackberry, WinPhone and other competing handsets and even transfer address-book contacts for new iPhone owners.

Facebook has updated its Community Standards policy and is bringing down the ban-hammer on nudity, with the usual non-porn exceptions like “art.” On the other side of the coin, Google is reversing course on its recent decision on adult content. Instead of outright banning sexual images, Google’s updated policy now says you can post your non-commercial naughty bits as long as you turn on the adult content warning for your blog.

Two notes from YouTube this week: The massive video-sharing site now supports interactive 360 degree videos. YouTube also announced its new YouTube for Artists effort, a resource portal for musicians seeking to get more audience engagement, as well as making money on YouTube through merchandise sales and online fundraising.

googlenowGoogle Now, the helpful-yet-creepy tool that automatically reminds you of things like restaurant reservations and flight times by using information in your Gmail, Google Calendar and other services, could be expanding its powers soon. A Google product manager said this week that the company plans to offer an open API that other companies can build into their own apps. This would move Google Now’s reach from beyond the 40 third-party services it works with already and could, in theory, add Google Now cards for things like line-wait times at theme parks, all while making Cortana and Siri feel like they need to step it up.

Google is also said to be tightening up app submissions in the Google Play Store by having a team of reviewers analyze the programs for developer policy violations before the software gets turned loose in the store. Apps will also be labeled using an age-based ratings system.

Nintendo is trying to get back in the game of games. The company has formed a partnership with DeNA to develop games for mobile gadgets and smart devices.

Microsoft has updated its Malicious Software Removal Tool to zap the controversial and security-exploitable Superfish adware that had been preinstalled by Lenovo on many of its new laptops sold between September 2014 and February 2015. Lenovo has also released its own Superfish Removal Tool and probably feels pretty guilty about the whole thing now.

The Pew Research Center has a new report out that examines how Americans feel about their privacy (or lack thereof) after revelations and leaks from the Department of Edward Snowden. While a majority of the survey respondents are in favor of the US government monitoring communications of suspected terrorists, American leaders and foreign leaders and citizens, there was also a majority that said it was unacceptable for the US government to monitor the communications of its own citizens.

hellobarbieChild privacy advocates are forming petitions and making a ruckus over the new Hello Barbie doll, which is a Wi-Fi capable version of the iconic blonde toy lady. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is one of the groups leading the charge against the new doll because it says this $75 Internet-connected Barbie uses a microphone to record children’s voices and then uploads the audio data to servers in the sky. While Mattel says this voice-recognition process is needed to make the doll interactive and respond to the kid, some parents are concerned that the company will be storing and analyzing the child’s conversations with NSA Barbie — or possibly be eavesdropping on the whole family.

And finally, the geek world lost another cherished icon last week with the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, British author of the Discworld series of fantasy novels. In honor of Sir Terry, fans and programmers have come up with a way to keep his name alive on the Internet based on a bit from his 2004 novel Going Postal. In the book, the Clacks, a telegraph-style communications system, was used to keep alive the name of one of the novel’s deceased characters by passing the code GNU John Dearheart endlessly back and forth across the network. So the fanbase came up with GNU Terry Pratchett, a snippet of code that can be added harmlessly to website HTML, mail servers and even WordPress blogs. Because:


PTJ 131 News: Game of Thrones

The Federal Communications Commission voted this week to approve new Net Neutrality rules that reclassify broadband Internet service as  a public utility. As expected, Big Telco jumped aboard the Pantload Express and has vowed to fight the decision in court. The opposing political party is not too happy either, so expect this story to keep on giving throughout the year.

Twitter is another company coming out in favor of the FCC’s proposal to reclassify broadband service as a public utility. A blog post on the company’s site states, “Empowering ‘lesser’ or historically less powerful voices to express themselves and be heard globally is at the core of Twitter’s DNA.”

youtubekidsThere’s also news from YouTube’s official blog. The video-sharing supersite and colossal archive of pet videos has just released a YouTube Kids app for Android and iOS. The new kid-friendly app (video demo here) is supposed to “make it safer and easier for children to find videos on topics they want to explore” and includes a set of parental controls.

Yahoo’s chief information officer, Alex Stamos, had some very firm questions for the NSA at the “Cybersecurity for a New America” conference in Washington DC this week. Mr. Stamos is not in favor of giving encryption keys to governments.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Android and iOS still hog most of the mobile platform and new numbers from the International Data Corporation prove it. The latest report shows the two had 96.3 percent of all smartphone shipments worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Google announced this week that it was banning pornography on its Blogger site.  Anticipating an exodus, Google has also posted instructions for exporting your blog so you can take it elsewhere.

emojiApple is adding a little diversity to the world of emoji. New beta versions of OS X and iOS reveal emoji characters with varying skin tones. Users can press and hold down a character to see the variations and select one of six different shades. (There has been some backlash to the new character set, however.)  In other news from Cupertino, Apple is said to be overhauling its Genius Bar experience, starting next month.

The Apple Watch is looming on the horizon this spring, but it’s not scaring off every other smartwatch maker out there. Scrappy little Pebble, which got a big boost from its Kickstarter campaign in 2012, is back at the fundraising site to gin up cash and pre-orders for its new Time smartwatch. The Time model has a new operating system, color e-paper display, 7 days of battery life, a microphone for responding to notifications and a thinner case. It’ll be out in May with a price tag of $200.

The Apple Watch isn’t going to be hogging all the mobile payment action, either. Google just acquired Softcard, a mobile payments app backed by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, and also got a distribution deal to pre-install the Google Wallet payments app on Android phones sold by those carriers.

voyagerIf you’re a fan of spacecraft and the history of human exploration in our galactic backyard, check out a new book by planetary scientist Jim Bell. It’s called The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission and details NASA’s missions with the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft launched back on the 1970s. NPR’s All Things Considered segment about the project is worth checking out, space fans.

The Mobile World Congress event kicks off next week in Barcelona, so odds are we’ll be hearing about a new Galaxy S6 phone from Samsung and a bunch of other mobile gear. And later in the month, the SXSW festival opens in Austin, Texas.

And finally, if March — and warmer weather — still feels so far away from where you live this winter, a spot of toilet humor may help with the winter fatigue. There’s video on the web featuring David Goldberg of Maryland, who attached a snowplow to a motorized commode and was see clearing off the sidewalks around his suburb of Washington DC. Because after this kind of winter for much of the country, a do-it-yourself dude shoving a pile of snow out of the way atop a souped-up ceramic throne just makes sense.

PTJ 85: Naming That Tune

This week J.D. and El Kaiser play “Stump the Music Recognition App”.  In the news, the annual SxSW Festival in Texas is in full swing; the release of a potential new tent-pole game for the XBox One; Apple quietly rolls out an update to iOS 7; Windows 8.1, Update 1 is leaked; Google announces several new add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets; Samsung gets into the personalized music-service business; and the ‘Veronica Mars’ film based on the cult TV favorite makes it to the big-screen after hugely successful crowd-funding campaign.

PTJ 85 News: Burnin’ Down the House

Everyone wants to go to the annual SxSW Festival in Texas these days! With a little help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Edward Snowdon, the former National Security Agency contractor who has released thousands of confidential documents about government data collection to the public, appeared to festival attendees via a livestream from a Google Hangout video chat bounced through seven proxy servers. Mr. Snowdon chose to address the techies at SxSW because (in part), “the NSA is setting fire to the future of the Internet and you guys are the firefighters.”

The Xbox One may be lagging behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 in game console sales, but the release of the hotly anticipated Titanfall game for Microsoft’s platform may help even things up. The first-person shooter from Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts went on sale this past Tuesday after many awards and promo events.

Apple’s iOS 7.1 update arrived for compatible iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch players earlier this week. Along with the usual “improvements and security fixes,” iOS 7.1 brings user interface tweaks; Apple’s site has a list of the changes. And now that iOS 7.1 has landed, it’s time for the tech blogs to get all excited for iOS 8, which could arrive later this year. The 9to5Mac site reports that Apple is preparing a much-improved version of its once-maligned Apple Maps.

iOS 8 may be a while off, but Microsoft continues work on Windows 8.1, Update 1. The update has not been officially released yet, but it’s out there. According to tech writer Ed Bott, someone at Microsoft inadvertently left the final software packages on the Windows Update server last week. Mr. Bott took advantage of the opportunity to install the Windows 8.1 update on several computers and wrote up a report highlighting the major features of the update.

Google announced several new add-ons for its Google Docs and Sheets online productivity software. Meanwhile, angry parents displeased over a child’s shopping spree of unrestricted in-app purchases, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. Google has not responded to the action, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit alleges that that 30-minute gap of time after the initial password entry “is designed to enable children to purchase in-game currency without parental permission and without having to enter a password.” Or maybe Google was just trying to help developers take advantage of those adult impulse buys…

Like everyone else, Samsung is getting into the personalized music-service business. Designed for those toting Galaxy devices, the new Milk Music radio service will include 200 ad-free and customizable stations.  And while Samsung is touting its exclusive music service, Amazon is said to be ramping up its own game-development efforts. The Daily Telegraph of London and others are reporting that Amazon has its own game console hardware in the works and plans to develop its own games to play on it.

Facebook is rolling out yet another revamped News Feed design over the next few weeks. Most people don’t seem to care anymore. (But maybe we should care more now that robots have mastered air hockey and are moving into table-tennis matches with humans.)

ComiXology continues to be one of the highest-grossing mobile apps out there for its excellent interface and wide selection of downloadable digital comics. CNBC has a report this week about the company’s effect on independent publishers and comics creators.

bunnyVMAnd finally, on the topic of independent productions, the Veronica Mars movie arrives this weekend in selected theaters and on-demand sites. The movie was financed by a Kickstarter campaign that passed its funding goal in less than a day. So, if the film is successful going outside the traditional Hollywood route, will it bust up the paradigm and open up all sorts of new possibilities for movie and TV creators? Time till tell — and if you haven’t seen the original show, the pilot is free on iTunes, (each of the three seasons is $20 there) or you can stream the episodes on Amazon Instant Video. Fans of Frozen: If you loved Kristen Bell in that Oscar-winner, you’ll enjoy seeing her even more animated as the one and only Veronica Mars.

PTJ 84: Facebook Drones And Bitcoin Heists

J.D. goes all Winslow Homer on us this week and introduces us to apps she uses to convert photos into digital works of art on her smartphone.  In the news, Samsung reportedly spends $20 million on Oscars product placement; Facebook looks to fill the sky with drones; Radio Shack closes 1100 of its retail stores; the US Department of Justice sides with broadcasters in fight with Aereo; Google barge ordered to pull up anchor and scram; Sony’s PS4 arrives in Japan; and Pizza Hut developing an interactive touchscreen pizza-ordering table.

PTJ 84 News: 11,000 Drones to Go, Hold the Anchovies

Everyone wants to be near those little gold men out in Hollywood. Samsung reportedly spent $20 million on advertising for this year’s Academy Awards show and also got huge product placement with the Selfie Seen Round the World when Bradley Cooper used a Galaxy Note 3 to snap a group shot with Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Pitt and several other celebrities during the show. According to The Wall Street Journal, Samsung and its media-buying firm negotiated to have the phone integrated into the broadcast at various points (although there didn’t seem to be any Samsung ads on those pizza boxes that arrived midway through the show). TheOscar selfie and its retweet (times two million) is said to have crashed Twitter Sunday night. All in all, it was a busy few days for Twitter, which also apologized to a small number of its users on Monday after unintentionally sent them unnecessary password reset notices.

Facebook is reportedly in talks to by Titan Aerospace, a company that makes near-orbital, solar-powered drones that can fly for five years without having to land. As one of the major backers for the Internet.org initiative, the company seems to be doing its part to bring affordable Internet access to some of the five billion people around the world who have no online resources. TechCrunch says it hears Africa may be one of the first areas to see Facebook’s NetDrone Squadron if this all works out.

RadioShack announced earlier this week that it will be closing up to 1,100 of its retail stores this year as it tries to find its place in the 21st century. As Business Insider pointed out,  a RadioShack ad from 1991 shows products that have all been replaced by the smartphone, so the chain could definitley do with some reinvention.

Aereo, the tiny-antenna company known for its service that provides streams of broadcast television channels over the Internet, may also be in for a future bummer. In papers filed recently, the US Department of Justice has sided with the television broadcasters who are currently suing Aereo for harvesting their over-the-air signals without paying the standard retransmission fees. The major broadcast television networks said last week that a Supreme Court decision in favor of Aereo would destroy the broadcast TV model. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case on April 22th.

Officials in San Francisco have ordered Google to stop work on its mystery barge out in the Bay and tow the structure 80 miles to the Port of Stockton. (No permit? No mystery barge, Google.)

Verizon Wireless has rebooted its prepaid wireless service with its new AllSet plans. The new no-contract plans now let customers carry over unused data allowances from one month into the next. Plans start at $35 a month for regular phones and 500 voice minutes and $45 a month for smartphones with unlimited messages and 500 megabytes of data.

The annual Mobile World Congress event took place in Barcelona last week when we were on vacation, but just to recap the big announcement: the Samsung Galaxy S5 will have a 16-megapixel camera, fingerprint scanner, heart-rate monitor, 5.1-inch screen and Android KitKat, as well as $500 worth of gifted news, productivity and fitness apps when it arrives next month. Other stuff got announced, too.

Cortana, Microsoft’s own personal virtual assistant software is expected in the next update to the Windows Phone software. More details should arrive early next month at Microsoft’s Build conference.

Apple’s “iOS in the Car” project has formally emerged as CarPlay, and is the company’s system for linking the iPhone with the dashboard infotainment system built into certain automobile models. CarPlay is expected to show up later this year on models from Ferrari, Volvo and Mercedes.

Coming sooner: Apple’s iOS 7.1. a major update to last fall’s love-it-or-hate-it iOS 7, should be out any day now. (Also in Apple news, Microsoft may be looking to bring its Xbox Live gaming network to Android and iOS devices.)

Sony’s PlayStation 4 launched in Japan late last month and sold 370,000 units in its opening weekend. The company says it’s now sold 6 million PS4 consoles worldwide.

Georgetown U is headed to the annual SxSW conference down in Texas. The university will be hosting a panel called “Designing the Future University From the Inside,” which will look at the school’s own experiments in finding alternative ways to deliver a quality education and how universities can be proactive in their evolution in today’s world of technology and globalization.

While we were on vacation last week, the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange collapsed in a $460 million pile of FAIL. Hackers were said to have made off with the big bucks; the company also has another $27 million missing from its bank accounts. Wired has an excellent rundown of The Great Bitcoin Banjax.

A new survey reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere finds that 1 in 10 Americans think HTML is a sexually transmitted disease. It was perhaps not the most scientific survey with the most rigorous methodology, but remember, not everyone out there is a geek. (If you know some non-geeks, though, warn them of the fake Netflix phishing scam going around.)

xppopSpeaking of warnings, Microsoft is starting to sent out pop-up alerts to Windows XP users telling them that April 8th is the last day of support and to please, please, please upgrade. The company is trying to lighten the upgrade load by providing free copies of Laplink’s PCmover Express migration software that copies the files and settings on an XP machine to a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 machine. If you’re interested in upgrading, click here. (If XP users need to migrate programs as well, Laplink is offering its PCmover Professional program for $24, which is 60 percent off the regular price.)

And finally:  Chaotic Moons Studio, which has been helping Pizza Hut develop mobile apps for online ordering, has a new concept project. It’s the interactive touchscreen pizza-ordering table. It’s still a concept, but you can bet if it ever goes mainstream, you’ll be able to play Angry Birds on it while you wait for your pie.

Episode 39 News: You Want Curly Fries With That?

“Is this a game or is it real?” WarGames, may have been a 1983 Cold War-era teen movie, but computer-assisted attacks 30 years later are certainly very real. James R. Clapper Jr., the US director of national intelligence, made his annual presentation to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week and listed “cyberattacks” at the top of his threat list for the first time. Recent hack attacks attributed to the Chinese are a sore point in the relations between China and the US, and the White House demanded earlier this week that the Chinese government stop its local hackers from breaking into American networks and stealing data. The Chinese government has denied involvement is such activity but said it is open to discussions about international cybersecurity.

Down in Austin at the interactive part of the South By Southwest festival, 3D printing and intelligent devices got good exposure, as did Leap Motion’s $80 3D motion sensor device for controlling the computer through hand and finger gestures. At least one reporter attending the show noted that the live appearance of the famous Internet meme, Grumpy Cat, overshadowed many of the actual technology announcements. Still, this year’s show had speeches by Bill Gates and others and there were a few items of note. Marvel Comics announced new and expanded mobile and online offerings and Google also had some revelations about its Project Glass augmented reality spectacles, which are expected to arrive later this year for about $1500 a pair. (The Google glasses can take pictures and record video, which has caused some people to have privacy concerns already, and a bar in Seattle has already banned the high-tech headsets from the establishment.)

In Mars news, NASA held a press conference this week to discuss findings from the Curiosity rover’s recent rock-drilling adventure. According to scientists, ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Life! On Mars! (But not Life on Mars, alas.)

TiVo has released the TiVo Mini, launched a $100 miniature version of its set-top box, designed to let users watch content stored on the home’s main TiVo DVR. You also need to have one of the four-tuner TiVo DVR models in the house and pay a subscription fee.

The launch of SimCity 5 last week was highly anticipated – but ultimately frustrating for many world builders who rushed online to play but couldn’t do anything thanks to crashing games and overloaded servers. SimCity 5, which has no offline mode, has seen disgruntled fans posting message of unhappiness on the game’s Amazon page, online forums and other places, lamenting the lost of their time, fun and $60. But in happier gaming news, Mike Mika, a game-developer dad, made his three-year-old daughter a very happy girl by hacking the old Donkey Kong ROM and changing it so she could play as Pauline and save Mario. The mod took just a few days and Mr. Mika tells his story on Wired.com, which is definitely worth a read for anybody who admires insanely cool dads.

The past week saw several new developments around the techsphere. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology say they’ve created self-healing processors that can repair themselves, even after being blasted by lasers. (Did they name the processor the “T-1000?”) International Data Corp analysts predict shipments of Apple’s iPad this year will fall behind those running Google’s Android system for the first time. And Facebook showed off a revamped look for its News Feed last week, featuring bigger photos and a cleaner design that reminded some of Google+.


And finally, also in Facebook news, researchers at Cambridge University have created algorithms that use a person’s Facebook “Likes” to predict that person’s religion, politics, race and sexual orientation. The results of the study were published on the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal. According to a story on the BBC’s Web site, the researchers found some strange results as well: “Curly fries correlated with high intelligence and people who liked the Dark Knight tended to have fewer Facebook friends,” said research author David Stillwell. And yes, privacy advocates have something to say on the topic, too!