Tag Archives: VTech

PTJ 171 News: Don’t Forget to File Your Paperwork

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.

hotwheelsHoverboards 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.

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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.

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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?

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PTJ 170 News: Duck and Cover

Technology plays a part in all modern wars, doesn’t it?  The recent uptick in violent terrorist attacks around the world has politicians looking at the situation with Internet in mind. While the hacktivist collective Anonymous has been having a go at Islamic State for months now — and has even declared December 11th to be a trolling day for online hassling — presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wants American tech companies to join the battle. And, over in France, the police forces there are asking for more powers during state of emergencies. According to a report in Le Monde, French law enforcement has asked to block free and shared Wi-Fi connections during an official state of emergency and also outlaw communications over the Tor network.

Several companies around the techsphere are making little tweaks and changes to their services. Google announced that it was turning on its protective Safe Browsing warning system for Chrome users on Android so it can warn mobile users about malware and phishing sites just like it does on the desktop. The company also blogged that you can now set up Reminders in Google Calendar alongside your scheduled appointments.

Dropbox and Facebook are both pulling a Google in terms of shutting down certain underperforming apps and services. Dropbox announced this week it was giving its standalone Mailbox and Carousel products the hook and Facebook closed the door on its Creative Labs division.

AT&T continues to roll out its GigaPower gigabit Internet service around the country and said this week is was bringing the fast fiber to 38 more cities around the country. Metro areas getting the glass include LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Pensacola, Louisville, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Memphis, Milwaukee and several other locales. Google Fiber, meanwhile, is flirting with Chicago and Los Angeles.

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Mozilla is helping out iOS users who are getting pummeled by web ads. The company released its free Focus by Firefox content blocker this week. The app works with the Safari browser for iOS 9.

Apple seems to have hear the pleas of those with extensive music collections and has now upped the number of tracks matched by iTunes Match from 25,000 songs to 100,000. The increased capacity is rolling out slowly, so if you don’t have the extra space yet, just keep checking. The company also released a $100 Smart Battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6s that claims up to 25 hours talk time or 18 hours of LTE data-surfing time on a charge.

In NASA news, the International Space Station hasn’t had a Fresh Direct delivery in months thanks to a couple of failed cargo missions earlier this year, but a supply capsule launched on Sunday finally reached the station this Wednesday. NASA’s involvement with the International Space Station could be winding down in the next decade or so, however, as an agency official at an advisory council meeting this week said NASA plans to get out of the low-Earth orbit business as soon as possible as it looks to the moon and beyond for its explorations. And father out in space, high-resolution images of Pluto taken during the July flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft are arriving back here on Earth.  A sample:

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Twitter announced this week that it’s going to stop cropping photos posted in tweets. The next time you post a photo or see one in your feed, you should see it as the photographer took it and not some weird little detail of a lather image. Also in the Twitterverse…it’s December, so it must be time for the Top Twitter Trends for 2015.

Also looking at trends: Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Report, which is out now. The report, which crunches data from more than 250 communications services around the world, takes a look at just how people are using their Internet connections.

hellobarbieAnd finally, it’s the holiday season, and tech toys for children are hot this year. As one might expect, interactive toys, like drones and robots, are very popular this season. Toys that talk back to your kids through a combination of voice recognition and networking are also getting a lot of attention, and even seemingly old-school categories are getting a tech upgrade. Hello Barbie and Edwin the Duck, interactive versions of the unrealistically shaped tiny woman and the yellow bathtub waterfowl respectively, are two such items putting a spin on the old analog formats and opening up new worlds. But, with the recent VTech hack, general privacy concerns and the state of Internet security in general, make sure you know the risks — as well as the rewards  — with Internet-connected toys. It’s the season of giving, but you don’t want to give away anything to hackers and data stalkers.

PTJ 169 News: Feeling the Heat

Well, the Holiday Season is upon us and it’s time for…yet another epic database security breach! This time, it’s the Hong Kong-based VTech who got the personal data of nearly five million customers stolen — and  the first names, genders and birthdays of more than 200,000 kids. VTech acknowledged the breach in what is becoming the customary blog post admitting the intrusion. The hacker who did the job allegedly talked to the alternative news org VICE and told the VICE reporter, “Frankly, it makes me sick that I was able to get all this stuff.” (Dude, you are not the only one feeling that way.)

The aforementioned Bill Gates,  co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, was in Paris this week for the global conference on climate change and took to his blog to announce two related initiatives. Meanwhile, over at the place where Mr. Gates had his former day job, Microsoft took to its blog this week to announce its new PowerApps tools for businesses to make their own internal apps.  Also over on the business side, Microsoft announced its new Skype for Business service for Office 365 customers.

Google, ever helpful (and sometimes creepy), is touting its new Data Saver mode for its Chrome browser for Android.  Google estimates this could help users have 70 percent of their data downloads. Other browser, (Like Opera Mini for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, also have tools for compressing images to help save time and money.) And, feeling sort of Pinteresty, Google has also made it possible to “star” photos you find on Google Image Search for later looking. The feature is available on the Android and iOS versions.

Reports from the rumor mill say Apple is getting ready to ditch the standard 3.5-millimeter headphone port on its iPhones in lieu of an all-in-one Lighting connector and an overall thinner iPhone 7. Apple, of course, is not commenting, but soundhounds across the Internet are.

In Mac software news, the creators of the Sketch program have decided to quit selling their software in the Mac App Store, basically due to the constrictions Apple places on developers. The Sketch design software will be available as a direct-sale product from its creators. Other developers like Panic have also quit the Mac App Store for similar reasons.

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Two other Apple-related deals seem to be in the works. One looks to be a sure thing: The Sonos music system will start carrying the Apple Music service this month – the beta goes live December 15th. Less confirmed, however, is the news that Amazon Prime Video may actually be landing on the new Apple TV. According to the MacRumors site, Amazon has confirmed that an app for Apple’s tvOS is in development and may even arrive by the end of the year. Good news for Apple-owning PKD fans wanting to stream The Man in the High Castle on the big screen.

Adobe has been busy the past week as well. The company has rolled out updates to its Creative Cloud software and managed to rename its Adobe Flash Professional program as “Adobe Animate,” perhaps because the name “Flash” has become synonymous with “giant gaping security hole.” And another update: the Adobe Premiere Clip video-editing mobile app is now available for Android along with iOS.

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If you live in the New York City area and enjoy a good nerdy museum visit, check out the “Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York” exhibit at the New-York Historical Society. It runs through April 17th and features a recreation of IBM’s pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, a nod to Grace Murray Hopper’s contributions to programming, a model of the Bell Labs Telstar I communications satellite and extremely early video games.

If you’ve been holding on to that $30 Unlimited Data Plan from AT&T since 2007, brace yourself. Starting in February, the price will go from $30 to $35 a month.

And finally, this week marks the 20th anniversary of SOHO — not the overpriced trendy Manhattan neighborhood — but the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a joint project by NASA and the European Space Agency. SOHO was launched into space on December 2, 1995 and quickly went to work studying the sun — and also discovering 3,000 comets out there as well. Happy 20th, SOHO. Here’s looking at you.