Pokémon, those whimsical little Japanese pocket monsters, are celebrating their 20th anniversary in style by taking over much of the mobile world this month with the release of the augmented reality smartphone game, Pokémon GO. But while millions of people downloaded the game to their Android handsets and iPhones in the first week of release, security experts and privacy advocates have voiced concerns. Journalist Laura M. Holson drops by Pop Tech Jam HQ to discuss how Pokémon GO works, what to worry about and why it became so popular so fast. El Kaiser and J.D. also discuss the non-Pokémon headlines of the week, including Twitter’s big plans for this month’s political conventions and some truly classic code.
Do you like reality TV? If you’re a general fan of long windy speeches, you can see the United states political machine grinding its gears later this month on Twitter. The bird-themed microblogging service announced this week that it has reached a deal with the CBS television network to livestream both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, much to the delight of trolls everywhere.
Also in Twitter news, the company has issued a cease-and-desist letter to another site that made a habit of recording and displaying the deleted tweets of politicians and celebrities. Upon receiving the letter, the PostGhost site did shut down, joining Politiwoops in the club of sites who have angered Twitter. Politiwoops, though smacked by Twitter last year, does seem to be back as part of the Sunlight Foundation for transparent government. And Twitter has increased the allowed size of animated GIF files that can be attached to tweets, which can now be up to 15 megabytes on the Twitter web interface or 5 megabytes on mobile. This has inspired some people to compress full-length movies and TV episodes into high-speed animated files, just because they can.
The ebook revolution seems to have hit a snag, at least with book from major publishers. The American Association of Publishers released its annual sales survey this week that showed ebook sales had declined about 11 percent in 2015. Overall, ebooks accounted for 17% of all book sales for the year and Fortune magazine thinks the drop may be in part to major publishers reining in e-sales with higher prices as a way to limit Amazon’s influence over the publishing industry. Digital formats are not all riding the down arrow though: The AAP survey also showed that revenue from audiobook sales has nearly doubled since the year 2012, from $299 million in sales up to $552 million last year.
Facebook, Apple and Google have all taken a keen interest in India as a new source of revenue. While Facebook’s Internet.org project to bring its version of the web to the country hit a roadblock with local officials and net neutrality advocates earlier this year, and Google has busted out with a new program designed to train two million local developers in the art of Android. The new initiative is called the Android Skilling program that it plans to implement in universities and training schools around India later this year. Also in international tech news, the Obama administration says the Twitter traffic of Islamic State has dropped 45 percent in the past two years due to an online counteroffensive.
Electric cars are picking up speed. <rimshot> Along with your Tesla Model S, Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt and other models out there, Mercedes-Benz is said to be prepping a concept version of an all-electric sedan that it plans to unveil at the Paris Motor Show in Paris this fall. peaking of Tesla, though, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Elon Musk’s electric car company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to tell investors about the fatal crash of one of its cars in Autopilot mode this May.
Google is making high-speed data access easier for its Project Fi customers who are traveling. The company announced on its Android blog this week that it was giving Project Fi subscribers a $10-per-gigabyte data plan in more than 135 countries for those who don’t want to drift between Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels and cafes or fumble with the international SIM card maneuver.
After initial delays, Oculus Rift VR headsets are now shipping within 2-to-4 business days from ordering. And developers who want to attend the company’s Oculus Connect 3 conference on early October can fill out applications for attendance starting August 2.
And finally, if you like NASA and you like programming, head on over to GitHub — if you’re not already there — and check out the source code for the onboard guidance computers used on the Apollo 11 command and lunar modules back in 1969. The pages of source code were digitized a while back for the MIT Museum and was later transcribed and uploaded into text files by a researcher in 2003. So the code itself was already in the public domain if you knew where to look, but a former NASA intern uploaded the entire collection to GitHub last week so even more people could examine the files and read the comments put in by the original NASA programmers. As PCMag.com notes, the code has a lot of humor and even some Shakespeare in the comments. And lest you think all those 1960s-era computer jocks were men in short-sleeve white dress shirts, remember that software engineer Margaret Hamilton (shown here) was one of the main programmers on the Apollo 11 project and is still an inspiration to many of today’s girls who code.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. There has now been a reported fatality with one of Tesla’s Model S sedans in self-driving mode. A man in Florida was killed last month using his car in the Autopilot setting while reportedly watching a Harry Potter movie when his Tesla vehicle slammed into a truck at high speed. In a post on the company blog, the Tesla team explained why the software failed, but the incident is also a good reminder to always pay attention to your surroundings, even when the car is driving itself.
As reported in Wired, Google has added settings for its search users that ask if they want to see tailored ads based on age, gender, and search history to show up now on third-party sites as the ads currently do on Google sites. By opting in, users can edit and block ads they don’t like across any device logged in with a Google account. This compares to other ad networks, which require users to opt out of such personalization. Google has also reworked the history page where it hoards all of the old searches and viewing history you’ve previously done on Google and Google-owned sites. The new data locker is called My Activity and it allows you to log in and delete specific entries out of your search and viewing history. In case you need to.
Android N has a full name now: Android Nougat. (Hungry for a Snickers now?)
Rumor has it Apple is pondering the purchase of Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming music service. Apple also got into a punch-up with Spotify last week. It came down to Spotify saying Apple won’t approve the new Spotify app for its App Store because it wants to cut competition for the aforementioned Apple Music and Apple saying the app was rejected because Spotify disobeyed the App Store developer guidelines for in-app purchases.
Is Big Brother 2016 watching you? Those free Wi-Fi kiosks with the video ads and phone-charging ports that are popping up around New York City streets the past few months, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocates who say the kiosks can be used to spy on and collect information from people passing by them. As reported by the ReCode site after obtaining documents through public-records laws, Alphabet, parent company of Google, “wants to monitor pedestrian, bike and car traffic, track passing wireless devices, listen to street noise and use the kiosks’ built-in video cameras to identify abandoned packages.” Sidewalk Labs, the company behind the kiosks, said all data is anonymized, not sold to third parties and the cameras haven’t even been turned on. Still, the kiosks have found dedicated fans on the city streets: The New York Post reported some of the city’s homeless population was using the stations to watch free porn until the city remembered it had to put in URL filters.
The hacking of social media accounts has been in the news since a Mr. Mark Zuckerberg got jacked recently, and if you’re worried about your own Twitter account, BuzzFeed has an article up with tips on how to see if your account is vulnerable from third-party applications.
The Chicago man who hacked several celebrity iCloud and Gmail accounts in 2014 (and made actress Jennifer Lawrence extremely angry) is going to plead guilty. Edward Majerczyk could get up to five years in prison, a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act after stealing user names and password through phishing.
Facebook announced last week that it is adding a new multilingual composer for users to write one post, but have it appear in multiple languages. Sounds like there could be some good machine-translation memes coming soon.
Comcast and Netflix have made nice and come to an agreement that will allow Netflix’s streaming video service on to Comcast’s set-top boxes. Netflix’s long march to be on every type of screen available continues.
According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Linkedin also was courting Google and Salesforce as potential suitors, but Microsoft’s all-cash deal won out. Let’s hope this one turns out better than the Nokia acquisition.
BlackBerry (remember them?) announced this week that it would no longer make the BlackBerry Classic smartphone and said earlier this year that it was ditching its own BlackBerry 10 operating system in favor of Android. Some member of the United States Congress will likely be very upset by this, as there are still some lawmakers holding on to the once-dominant platform, even though it got toasted by Android and iOS devices in the late 2000s. Without BlackBerry updates, the Senate’s IT department sent out a memo saying Senate staffers would no longer be issued official BlackBerry smartphones for office use. While the 600 BlackBerry models currently in circulation will still get tech support, for the time being. Guv’ment business and all.
And finally, NASA announced last week that nine missions by far-traveling spacecraft are getting extended because the hardware has lived beyond the original estimates. The New Horizons craft that already completed the Pluto flyby job got extended, as did the Dawn mission to Ceres. And NASA’s Juno probe, launched in 2011, has reached its destination after a five-year journey. After a 130,000-mile-an-hour trip through radiation belts and planetary clouds slowed by a 35-minute engine burn, Juno dropped into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th to start observing the solar system’s largest planet while searching for its origins. As one of the principal members of the Juno team said, “This is the hardest thing NASA has ever done.” That’s really saying something, because when you look at the History of NASA, they’ve done some pretty darn hard and impressive things since the agency was created in 1958. You go, NASA!
On this week’s episode, journalist Laura M. Holson previews her upcoming story about the life of Maye Musk, a registered dietitian-nutritionist and blogger who became a professional model in her late 60s. (Oh, and one of her kids runs SpaceX and Tesla.) El Kaiser and J.D. also trot through a week’s worth of tech news, including the government’s initial approval of the Charter Communications-Time Warner Cable merger, the data breach that’s making the Beautiful People sad and continuing squabbles over at the Unicode Consortium.
Facebook mess with the News Feed? Really!?! But seriously, according to Mashable and a few other sites, images of a new tabbed news feed screen for mobile devices have been spotted on Twitter. Facebook did confirm that it is indeed testing the new design, but did not say if or when it would actually launch.
YouTube is stepping up its virtual-reality game with a couple of new features. As announced on the company blog, YouTube is introducing 360-degree live streaming on the site, which adds on to last year’s support for uploaded 360-videos. YouTube also launched spatial audio for on-demand videos. If you want to hear what all that means, check out the company’s special spatial audio playlist for Android devices.
We’re just about a month away from Google’s annual I/O developer’s conference, and now Apple has finally gotten around to announcing when its own World Wide Developer’s Conference. The first word on the dates for some people, however, did not come from an email announcement, but from the Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, as the 9to5Mac site reported. A press release on Apple’s website confirms it all Apple fans are already murmuring about the show, wondering if OS X will be renamed macOS to fall better in line with iOS, tvOS and watchOS.
Apple didn’t wait for its next big media event to make new hardware announcements, though. This Tuesday, it quietly updated its 12-inch Macbook laptop model with better hardware on the inside. The laptop is available in a few different processor and storage configurations and comes in four colors now: Gold, Silver, Space Gray and Rose Gold. And in other news, Apple has hired a former vice president of vehicle engineering from Tesla. The company also killed off QuickTime for Windows and the Department of Homeland Security has advised PC users to uninstall it RIGHT AWAY.
In legal news, it appears that Google’s massive book-scanning project that triggered a copyright lawsuit buy an author’s group is in the clear. The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from the Authors Guild over the legality of the Google Books project, so last year’s lower court ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York stands.
Also in Google news, the company’s Android Security 2015 Annual Report was released this week. The company touts its monthly security updates, better screening for potentially harmful apps in the Google Play store and greater adoption of its app verification service as factors in making Android devices safer than before, but it notes that there are still a steady number of malware, ransomware and other nasty apps lurking out there.
Speaking of software and malicious intentions, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the machine-learning startup company PatternEx have come up with a new system predicts 85 percent of cyber attacks.
Amazon is taking a shot at Netflix’s monthly streaming fees by making its own Amazon Prime service available as, you guessed it, a monthly subscription instead of an annual fee. And speaking of Netflix, that company is raising its monthly fees by 25 percent for longtime streaming customers next month.
Yahoo’s deadline for financial suitors to present themselves has come and gone and Verizon has emerged as the only major player to maintain interest in the sagging company.
Microsoft introduced Skype video bots a few weeks ago for developers and consumers to interact with and announced this week that the bots are now available for Mac and web users. Some of the stock bots available include Murphy, a bot to find and create images for when questions can’t be answered by words alone and Summarize, a bot designed to give an overview of a web page if you don’t have time to read the whole thing.
As expected, the Name That Research Ship contest over in the United Kingdom has ended and Boaty McBoatface won in a tidal wave. However, UK Science Minister and total buzzkill Jo Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live this week that “there is a process now for us to review all of the public’s choices. Many of them were imaginative; some were more suitable than others.” Even if the RSS Boaty McBoatface never sails the seas as a government science ship, the contest did inspire an Australian racehorse owner in Sydney to name one of his geldings Horsey McHorseface and an English rail worker temporarily named the Portsmouth to Waterloo line Trainy McTrainface.
— Matthew Fifield (@funfield5) March 22, 2016
And finally, if you love NASA and you live vintage graphic design and branding standards, you can now buy a copy of the space agency’s official graphics manual first published in 1976. The book is 220 pages with 129 image plates and comes individually packages in a static-shielding pouch. This is actually a reissue of the original book, of which only 40 copies were originally printed. The new version is a Kickstarter project that can now be ordered only for $79 a copy.
If you’re on a bit of a tight budget, however, you can download a free PDF copy of the original manual from NASA’s website and print it yourself because hey, it’s a taxpayer-funded government agency. And after just staggering through another tax season, we’ll take all the perks we can get.