Tag Archives: Youtube

PTJ 214: Shake the Fake

On this week’s very special episode of Pop tech Jam, journalist Laura M. Holson returns to the studio for a discussion about the past, present and future of fake news and how to avoid it. And while El Kaiser continues the long wait for his new Google Pixel phone, he and J.D. pass the time reviewing the week in technology news and planning to do at least an Hour of Code. Join in!

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 191 News: Advancing Torpor

Even more characters on Twitter — and we’re not even talking about the trolls!  Bloomberg is reporting that the bird-themed microblogging service will soon stop counting the characters used by web links and photos in that 140-character limit.

Microsoft has big plans this summer for its Windows 10 Anniversary Upgrade, like more ads for promoted apps on your Start Menu.  And as CNet and others have reported, Microsoft has gotten aggressive with the pop-up notifications now. Windows 7 and 8.1 users who have no plans to upgrade should pay careful attention to what those little nag-ass boxes are saying.

WhatsApp is moving into video-calling, according to those who have seen a recent beta version of the app for Android. At last,  another video calling option to compete with FaceTime, Skype, Google Chat and the other apps out there.

Amazon, the über-mega-everything store already sells thousands of name-brand items, but The Wall Street Journal is talking to sources within the company who claim that Amazon plans to introduce its own house-label products like diapers and beverages.

diapers

AT&T, on the heels of its corporate hookup last year with DirecTV, announced this week that it had acquired Quickplay Media. Not to be confused with Apple’s QuickTime multimedia software or Quick Draw McGraw, the equine sheriff of the animated Old West, QuickPlay Media is a video-streaming platform for the “TV Everywhere” initiative and other over-the-top applications.

Adobe churned out yet more patches for its Flash Player multimedia software last week, but it seems Google has had about enough of the security-addled software. Developers for the company recently laid out plans to disable Flash by default and move to HTML 5 for multimedia playback. When the move happens by the end of the year, embedded Flash files in websites viewed in the Chrome browser won’t run or acknowledge the plug-in; Flash will hang around on some sites like YouTube until the end of 2017.

The Google I/O developer conference kicks off this week in Mountain View, California. Here’s the keynote speech. Google also put out a new app called Spaces this week for “small-scale” sharing.

Have you checked out the YouTube app’s Google Cardboard modeAs of this week, it’s now available on the iOS app as it catches up to  the Android version. The mode converts any YouTube video into a Cardboard-worthy VR experience. (Disney is also after virtual reality fans with its new Disney Movies VR app out on Steam.)

disney

Apple has finally updated its iTunes program for the desktop with an attempt to make navigation for the cluttered app more streamlined and sensible. Apple also pushed out other updates this week, including those for OS X, iOS, watch OS and tvOS for the fourth-generation Apple TV. (Speaking of the Apple TV, BitTorrent has just launched its own Live app there.) Be careful, though: According to screams from around the Twitterverse, however, the iOS update, version 9.3.2, has bricked more than one iPad Pro tablet. The OS X update 10.11.5 for El Capitan is seen primarily as a security fix.

Doom 2016 has come blasting out into stores. One reviewer over at PC World said the new modernized version of the classic first-person shooter succeeds because it knows it’s a big dumb bang-bang game.

doom

Current C, a mobile-payments competitor to Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and similar services, has, shall we say, “suspended its campaign” and laid off about 30 staff members. Current C, which was hacked before it ever got out of the gate, is largely considered to be stranded on the Island of Abandoned Software Projects.

The SoundHound mobile app just got an update that adds a virtual assistant. To use it, just start out saying OK, Hound, and then you can ask it to do things like play music from certain streaming services, add songs to playlists, play YouTube music videos.

For consumers of more genteel entertainment, The Daily Telegraph over in London reports that the BBC and ITV television networks plan to launch a British competitor to Netflix. The working title, of course, is Britflix. Perhaps it will show Downton Abbey.

mags

And finally, NASA has provided funding eight projects that are based on advanced technology, but could help kick the agency’s space exploration efforts into high gear. The development grants were part of Phase II NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, also known as NIAC. Among this year’s projects: “Advancing Torpor Inducing Transfer Habitats for Human Stasis to Mars,” which would put human passengers in a hibernation-like state for long trips to other planets and “Further Development of Aperture: A Precise Extremely Large Reflective Telescope Using Re-configurable Elements,” for a new type of space telescope that would use a membrane-like primary mirror that could be corrected after deployment. Congratulations to all the grant winners! Thanks for making the future!

PTJ 188 News: Medieval Times

It’s felt like a blast from the past lately with all the big players in the airline industry, publishing business and now the telecommunications world merging themselves into near-monopolies. This week, the Department of Justice — with conditions — approved the marriage of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications. The Consumerist blog took a look at what the merger means and came up with a few salient points to think about.

In less-worrisome TV and video news, the Turner company, the force behind the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, is teaming up with the Criterion Collection folks for a brand new streaming service called Filmstruck. With such a cinephile pedigree, however, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to find newer classics like Paul Blart, Mall Cop in the Filmstruck library.

filmstruck

Spotify spokespeople have denied the site was hacked this week, but according to TechCrunch, some actual Spotify users have reported that their account emails had been changed or their list of saved songs had been altered. And Forbes is reporting that the personal information from 1.1 million members of the BeautifulPeople.com dating website is up for sale in the dark corners of the web.

Amazon is just not having any paid or fake reviews for products on its site. The übermegaeverything store filed a lawsuit last week against several sites that offered to write glowing reviews in exchange for a fee.

YouTube has overhauled its mobile apps for Android and iOS with a new focused design and improved recommendation engine to keep you watching more videos. The service also rolled out new six-second bumper ads to complement rather than replace the current formats it sells to advertisers and yes, you cannot skip the bumpers.

youtube

Many members of the tech press recently observed the one-year anniversary of the Apple Watch . A few noted that sales for the Watch were actually better than the iPhone’s first year of sales back in the day, some 12 million watches compared to six million phones. While some lamented the fact they every ponied up the bucks for the expensive digital timepiece, others were hopeful that the next generation of the product — which may include its own cellular chip and more functions to separate it from the iPhone — may fare better. Perhaps we’ll see in September.

Apple, of course, refused to comment on any speculation about future products, but the company did have a media moment this week with its quarterly earnings report to investors. Although the company knew it was coming, it did have to report its first quarterly loss since 2003 thanks to shrinking iPhone sales. And in one more Apple note, the FBI says it actually knows so little about how that terrorist iPhone was cracked a few weeks ago that the agency says there shouldn’t be an internal review to decide if it should tell Apple how it was done.

Although Facebook tried a stand-alone camera app a few years ago only to kill it off due to lack of user interest, the company seems to be trying again. Reports describe a prototype for an app that would open to a camera and that users could record video and share live streams as well as snapping photos. The Wall Street Journal does say that its sources have not confirmed this latest go at a camera app is a done deal for Facebook.

photoNokia, which many people forgot still existed after Microsoft bought its phone handset business a few years ago, is still in business. And with that, Finland-based Nokia announced this week that it plans to acquire Withings SA, a company that makes digital health products like blood pressure monitors and wireless gadgets to monitor one’s body.

Speaking of Microsoft, that company pushed out a public preview of its new Skype for Business software for the Mac this week. If you are so inclined (or bored), you can request an invitation from Microsoft to participate in the preview program.

SpaceX, which had a successful landing of one of its reusable rocket boosters the other week, is lining up for another go. The company plans another launch and hopeful landing of a Falcon 9 booster rocket on May 3 to send up a Japanese communications satellite.

And finally, there’s a battle raging at the Unicode Consortium, the organization behind the standards for converting typed characters and pictographs into code that all computers can read. It seems battle lines have been drawn between academics and scholars who want official Unicode characters for things like medieval Cornish punctuation and those who want to create emoji for things like stuffed flatbread sandwiches.

punct

If you feel strongly about either side of the argument, you can weigh in financially with the Unicode Consortium’s Adopt a Character to sponsor your favorite Unicode character, which in turn helps the non-profit Unicode Consortium continue its work. And perhaps a compromise between the two warring tribes can be reached . . . a proper Cornish pasty emoji, anyone? Anyone?

PTJ 187 News: Standards & Practices

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.

siriWe’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.

murphyMicrosoft 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.

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.

The Current Reality of Virtual Reality

The media world was buzzing this weekend as The New York Times jumped into a new dimension. The company gave out Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to its home subscribers and pointed them to the new NYT VR smartphone app for Android or iOS to see special videos that accompanied certain stories in the Times Magazine.

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As with other virtual-reality systems, once an Android phone or iPhone was placed in the back of the cardboard contraption and the required content downloaded, the user got a much more immersive experience than watching a 2D clip because  the whole thing had a panoramic feel to it. (Shooting a film in virtual reality can be technically challenging as well, but viewing one puts you in the middle of the action; the How Stuff Works site has a good explanation of the virtual-reality experience.) The NYT website helpfully included a frequently asked questions page for users new to the VR scene, as well as a video showing how to fold together the Cardboard viewer.

The Times got a lot of buzz for busting the move, but virtual reality has popping up all over the past year. On the high end of the spectrum, the new Facebook-owned Oculus Rift virtual reality system has been kicking around for years and is scheduled to finally make a commercial debut early next year. The $99 Samsung Gear VR system, (shown below) also powered by Oculus technology, is now available for pre-orders and works with Samsung’s newer Galaxy devices; older Samsung VR headsets are also around. Microsoft’s HoloLens system, which is advertised more as an augmented reality system as opposed to virtual reality, may also jump into the mix when it officially rolls into town next year.

samsungvr

So, what do you need to see the new virtual reality? You need a virtual-reality app that can display the videos on the appropriate format. To get the most of the experience, you also need a Cardboard-style viewer and a pair of headphones to immerse yourself in the audio. These range in price online from about $4 up to $30 for the sturdier, fancier models that look less like pieces of a packing box and more like sophisticated binoculars.

hungergames

And, along with the hardware, you need content to look at. The Google Cardboard site has a list of VR apps that work with the viewer. But much more content is coming or is already here. The Wall Street Journal announced last week that it, too, was adding virtual reality content to its video app. Facebook is said to be developing its own virtual reality videos app and YouTube’s blog just announced last week that the site had added support for VR, including a The Hunger Games Virtual Reality Experience, (shown above), a trailer from the Apollo 11 mission and many others.

If you don’t have the viewer, you can also watch some videos in standard mode on muse smartphones or in a desktop browser. While you can just turn your head to get a panoramic view with a viewer, you can usually drag your finger or mouse around the frame to see more of the surroundings on the home screen or video window.

Is VR the future or just a fad? Time will tell, but people are testing out the format in all sorts of places. Last month’s Democratic debate on CNN even had a virtual reality version, although viewer response to the experiment was mixed. Some things, after all, may be better off in their own reality.

PTJ 162 News: Surface to Air

Now it’s Microsoft’s turn on stage! The company held a big press event on Tuesday here in New York City and showed off a great big pile of new devices all designed to run its Windows 10 operating system. There was the Surface Book, a laptop/tablet combo that starts at $1500, the Surface Pro 4 tablet with an $900 entry-level model, three new Lumia phones, and the second version of its fitness tracker called Microsoft Band 2 for $250. The Xbox One console got a Windows 10 update and Microsoft announced the HoloLens Development Edition because HoloLens headsets will start shipping out the first quarter of 2016 for $3000 each. So, who on your gift list wants Windows 10 this holiday season?

Roku was also out with The New this week and introduced  the Roku 4 set-top box, which can handle 4K video along with the now-standard voice search and gaming. Roku also has apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone to let you command the box from your mobile device. The Roku 4 is expected to ship October 21.

roku

Also fresh for the fall fashion season: Google has officially released Android 6.0 Marshmallow and is pushing out updates to recent Nexus devices. Google also updated the YouTube app for iOS with its Material Design look and tools for editing videos within the app itself, many users do not like the redesign. Not at all.

Meanwhile, over in Cupertino, Apple has purchased Perceptio, a company developing technology for artificial intelligence software for smartphones.  The Perceptio purchase goes with another recent purchase, the start-up VocalIQ, and company which makes software for processing natural language. Siri may be getting a brain transplant soon.

In Apple’s own software, the company says it has now resolved problems with the App Thinning feature promised in iOS 9 and has included it in the recent iOS 9.0.2 update. Apple has also made its keynote addresses searchable by keyword, if you search for a feature announcement by keyword.

Reddit has spun off a new site called Upvoted. The new site features some of the same content as its mother board, but none of the user comments, which are thought to. er, drive advertisers away from the main site.

upvoted

Facebook, which has discussed drones and other various ways to bring the Internet to places that don’t have access, announced this week that it would be launching a satellite with a French communications company to bring the Internet to mobile phones over large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook, your eye in the sky now, too.

The European Union Court of Justice has smacked down a deal that let companies transfer personal user data from Europe to the United States with the Safe Harbor system. The EU court ruled the system invalid because it subjects users in the European Union to spying by US government agencies.

And finally, we’ve recently talked about vinyl making a comeback, but now audio cassettes seem to be having a smaller, but similarly nostalgic return these past few years. Some people have stubbornly held on to the format for decades despite CDs and digital downloads. Cassettes peaked in the late 1980s from almost a billion units. But by 2001, they accounted for only 4 percent of all music sales and by 2005, sales had fallen to fewer than 1 million. National Audio Company of Springfield, Missouri, still makes pre-recorded and blank cassettes and sold 10 million of them last year, with sales up 20 percent this year. Do we think this might be a Guardians of the Galaxy effect? Are cassette lovers just . . . hooked on a feeling?

tape

PTJ 161 News: Life on Mars

5XGoogle’s turn! Yes, it’s Google’s turn for the big fall product announcement event, which the company held this Tuesday in San Francisco. Among the revelations, the LG Nexus 5X (top) and the Huawei Nexus 6P (bottom). Both are in Google’s Nexus line and available for online pre-order in in the Google Store.  6PYou have to buy the phones from Google and then pick a carrier plan, but the new handsets also work with Google’s Project Fi, a wireless experience made up of Wi-Fi networks and partner 4G LTE carriers.

The Nexus name didn’t continue onto tablets, however, as Google also announced its new Pixel C device, which looks like a tablet with an optional and magnetically attachable keyboard. The 10.2-inch Google-designed gadget (shown below) has already been compared to Microsoft’s Surface tablet.

pixelc

ChromecastGoogle also updated its $35 Chromcast dongle for streaming media this week. The new version of the regular Chromecast has been redesigned into a small, puck-like ChromecastAudioobject with a smaller connector to the back of the TV set that may fit a little better when you have a bunch of other stuff plugged it. As shown here at the top, you can get it in three different colors. If you don’t care about video and just want a way to stream the tunes on your mobile devices over Wi-Fi to a pair of big-ass speakers in the house, there’s the Chromecast Audio dongle (below). That one’s also $35 and available in basic black.

LG Electronics, which makes appliances, television sets and some very nice high-end Android smartphones, is bringing its laptop business here to the States. Like its smartphones, LG’s laptop line, called the Gram series, leans to the fancier end of the spectrum, with a MacBook-like Air look with Intel Core processors and HD displays. Prices range from about $900 to $1400.

Public Service Announcement: People, stop posting that status about Facebook charging money to keep your profile’s privacy settings! The copyright thing is bogus! It was a hoax three years ago and it’s still a hoax today! It does play on fears about privacy, though, which is a sensitive topic for many people. Microsoft published a post on its Windows blog this week that addressed privacy concerns some users have voiced with Windows 10.

vrkitObservers noticed the Microsoft offering its own variation of Google’s Cardboard viewer called the Microsoft VR Kit for its Lumia phones, at least for participants at a Russian hackathon.  In other reality-avoidance news, Re/Code is among those reporting that YouTube is getting ready to launch an ad-free subscription service next month that will also include access to its YouTube MusicKey streams.

Twitter is also moving away from and supplementing its original service model. Reports are circulating that the company is building a new product that would let users post content longer than 140 characters. Twitter itself is not commenting about that or the TV Timelines feature it’s been working on since March of this year. However, Twitter is seen to be making a bigger grab for more television show fans as the new fall season rolls out by adding shortcuts to its TV Timelines feature on TV-related tweets.

cardreaderOctober is here and along with heartier fall-themed beers, many retail merchants are finally upgrading their credit-card terminals to accept dips from cards with smart chips. Merchants who do not up their security by installing chip-reading credit card terminals could be liable for fraudulent transactions in their stores.

Big news from NASA earlier this week: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has new findings that provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water is flowing on Mars.

NASAAnd finally, Mars will be all up in the news this weekend as the new film, The Martian opens around the country. The movie stars Matt Damon and  is based on a best-selling novel originally self-published in 2011 by Andy Weir, a software engineer who used apps and diligence to get the science plausible and right within the story. Ridley Scott directed the picture and worked with NASA consultants to make the visuals technically accurate, and the agency highlights nine real and developing NASA technologies used in the film. (Since NASA has been such a big booster of the film, Yahoo News is among those wondering if the agency even timed Monday’s Mars announcement just ahead of the film’s release on Friday.) But perhaps even more exciting than water on Mars, however, is that Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara are in the film as well — and they get to play actual astronauts instead of astronauts’ wives.
Now that’s progress.

martiancast

 

PTJ 139 News: Spring Cleaning

The Googleverse got  a little rattle this week as the company began rolling out its mobile-friendly update. As one might imply from the name, this new tweak to the new Google Search algorithm boosts the rankings of sites that are designed for (or have responsive versions for) mobile devices. The mobile-friendly update also applies only to mobile searches, so if you’re using a desktop web browser, your results won’t be affected. So, relax — unless you’re a website developer with an unresponsive site.

Google has also made it possible now for you to download a complete copy of your Web search history with the site. That is, all the searches you made, (good, bad or naughty), when you were logged in with your Google account for Gmail or another G-service. Remember, though, this is just a copy of your web-search history and doesn’t remove the original information from Google’s records. But you can go into your account’s search and browsing history and delete the information there.

youtube_apiGoogle’s YouTube is also clearing out a little old history. According to a blog post on the YouTube house engineering blog, the company will be retiring its Data API v2. So, why should you care? Here’s why:  A help page on the YouTube site said “select devices” manufactured in 2012 or earlier will be affected and will no longer be able to use the YouTube app. This includes second-generation and earlier Apple TV boxes, Apple devices running iOS 6 or older, some Sony and Panasonic Internet-connected television sets and Blu-Ray players and hardware running older versions of Google TV. Third-generation Apple TV boxes can upgrade to the new version of the YouTube app. Smart TVs and game consoles left out in the YouTube cold may be able to use the site through their web browsers. Bummer if you have the three-old hardware, but this is ultimately a GoogTube decision.

Twitter is also making some changes to its service. The company has added that previously announced feature that, when you turn it on in your account settings, lets anyone in the Twitterverse send you a direct message. At least this is optional and not on by default.

Twitter also stepped up its efforts to fight abuse on its network. The company has updated its policy on violent threats and target abuse, as explained on its website. Violating the policy first results in a temporary account suspension. In addition to the updated abusive behavior policy and a detailed support articled instructing users how to report abuse, the company is also testing what’s basically a bozo filter. The Twitter blog explains it all for you. (One more Twitter-related note: The Atlanta Hawks professional basketball team announced this week that it was going to sell a limited number of playoff tickets via Twitter.)

destinations

Early reports from last fall claiming that Amazon would be launching a hotel-shopping service has proven true. The new site is called Amazon Destinations and goes beyond the previous hotel deals offered by  Amazon Local for regional deals near you. So far, your destination with Amazon Destinations is just limited to Los Angeles, New York and Seattle, and you need to get there by car or ground-based transport because it’s local. But it’s a start.

Hewlett Packard is tossing out Snapfish after 10 years of ownership. The computer maker is cleaving itself into two companies, (one for enterprise, one for personal computers and printers) and is selling the Snapfish photo-sharing site to District Photo. Snapfish customers will continue to use HP printing services even after the sale, however.

Many modders love the Cyanogen open-source operating system based on Google’s Android.  Microsoft seems to love it enough to form a strategic partnership with the company. Microsoft services like Skype, OneDrive, Outlook, OneNote, Office and Bing will be integrated into future versions of the Cyanogen OS .

frogMeanwhile, researchers at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center have published a report in the Journal Zootaxa documenting a new species of glass frog that some observers say looked very similar to one Kermit the Frog. The similarity is noted on the little creature’s Wikipedia page, which describes it as “The frog is a lime-green coloured amphibian with translucent skin on its underside and has a horizontally shaped pupil that makes it look like Kermit, the Muppet.” Okay, that deserves a bonafide Kermit Flail:

kermit-flail

Facebook has some tweaks of its own to its News Feed algorithm and says content posted directly by friends will show up higher than promotional posts or updates from liked brands and Pages.

Well now. Apple’s recent Yosemite update 10.10.3, was supposed to fix some bugs and security holes but experts are saying that one known vulnerability was not fixed in the patch. The Rootpipe flaw, a potential backdoor in OS X that apparently dates back to 2011, is still present in 10.10.3. Here’s hoping the sequel to that update does the job. Security experts have also pointed out that about 1,500 iOS apps in Apple’s App Store have security vulnerabilities as well.

bothansAnd finally, last week’s new teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens not only put a lump in the throat and a hope in the heart of many a Generation Xer, it also gave a bump to Disney’s stock price. Although the stock got a brief $2 billion dollar goose after the trailer’s debut, share prices dipped back into normal territory the next day. But The Force Awakens was not the only Star Wars news last week. At the Star Wars Celebration expo in California, Disney and Lucasfilm executives shared details for a new film Rogue One, which will be a standalone chapter in the new Star Wars Anthology series. Rogue One is set between the events of Episode III and IV and is supposed to tell the story of how the rebels stole the plans to the Death Star in the first place. The new film is said to be darker in tone than the films in the two trilogies, and is due out December 2016. Let’s raise a glass to the Bothans for finally getting their story told. L’chaim, Bothans!

PTJ 137 News: Sticks and Phones

roku3Spring is full of popular television shows returning with fresh new episodes, and streaming TV boxes are busting a move. Roku has upgraded its Roku 3 and Roku 2 set-top streaming boxes with improved features like alphabetical search and a movie watchlist. A software update for existing Roku boxes also adds these features. The $100 Roku 3 (shown here) now has voice search — and a headphone jack — in its remote control. The $70 Roku 2 is pretty much the same streaming box without the fancy remote. Oh, and Roku just updated its Android app and is putting the finishing touches on the iOS version this week.

BuzzFeed New, which was the first to publish reports on the new updated Apple TV box expected later this year, has new information on the forthcoming device, mainly that it will not initially support those big but glorious 4K video streams. Apple is not commenting.

With new phones, come new complaints from early adopters — and PR moves to quell the unrest.  Samsung responded to a video from mobile-warranties dealer SquareTrade that purported to show a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge being bent and then broken. While arguing about the test’s methodology, Samsung released its own “Three-Point Bend Test” video. (The company also says that contrary to reports from developer forums, pre-installed apps on its Galaxy S6 phones cannot be uninstalled, just hidden from view.)

Ever quoted a tweet but had no room for your own comment due to Twitter’s character limit?  Twitter said this week that it was tweaking the “quote tweet” feature, which should give the quoters another 116 characters for snark or bark on the original.

Researchers at Stanford University are testing a new aluminum-ion battery that could one day replace the current lithium-ion and alkaline power cells we use today. They charge faster and catch on fire less, which is an improvement over current batteries all around.

oliverTV comedian John Oliver of the HBO show “Last Week Tonight” interviewed NSA leaker Edward Snowden to discuss government surveillance reform. Oliver broke down the topic into parts the average user who does not care about the complexities of government surveillance can understand.  In other Snowden news, activists placed a large sculpture of Edward Snowden in the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn his week. City workers quickly removed it, but a second activist group then began to project a hologram in the same place dedicated to Snowden.

Facebook is apparently being used to officially serve divorce papers. Will Facebook weddings be legal soon, too?

Apple Maps has now added content from TripAdvisor and Booking.com on certain hotel reviews. Hopefully, the maps themselves have gotten better, too.

surface3Speaking of products that originally arrived with a deep thud, Microsoft just released a new version of its tablet computer. The Surface 3 is thinner and lighter than previous versions. Prices start at $499. The Surface 3 is the less-corporate version of the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft’s touted laptop-replacement tablet that starts at $799.

Microsoft is middle-aged now. The company, which was founded on April 5th, 1975, just celebrated the big 4-0 this past weekend and is shopping for future relevance along with a little red Corvette.

Microsoft may have gotten rich selling PC software, but the PC hardware itself has slimmed down quite a bit over the years. As shown at the top of this post, Intel’s Compute Stick, (which started pre-orders this week), is an extremely narrow portable PC that plugs into the HMDI port on a big monitor or TV. With a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it turns it into a Windows 8.1 or Linux computer.  You can’t shake a Compute Stick at the competition, though, as Google’s Chromebit offers a colorful alternative to the system-on-a-stick approach.

A new Microsoft update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 includes a little code for the future, reports the Myce.com site. There’s a Windows 10 downloader quietly nestled in the update code, just waiting for its cue to make Windows 8.1 users deliriously happy.

The new YouTube Kids mobile app is already coming under fire from parental groups. Some have asked the Federal Trade Commission to take a look at the program, which they says deceptively targets toddlers with advertising. Google denies the accusations, saying it worked with numerous child advocacy groups on the app.

It’s National Robotics Week! The annual event features more than 250 events around the country designed to get kids interested in the science of robotics. iRobot, the IEEE Spectrum and Georgia Tech’s Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines are pitching in for the event and have even released a set of all-star real robot trading cards that you can download in PDF form, and IEEE Spectrum also has a free Robots app for the iPad that lets kids see and interact with 158 robots from 19 different countries. Because real robots are even cooler than movie robots (most of the time).

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PTJ 136 News: May the Force Field Be With You

April Fools’ Day was this week and the usual tech-company hijinks were on display. Google turned its Google Maps site into a location-specific version of the Pac-Man videogame that was actually fully functional — and let users navigate the munching yellow ball over city streets. Samsung, meanwhile, released a promo site for a fake Galaxy phone called the Blade Edge, which claimed to be a chef’s knife with smartphone capabilities. And Amazon’s thing called  the Dash button? The timing mades it sound fake but many outlets reported it was real (or real lame).

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Hopefully not an April Fools’ Day joke: Verizon Wireless customers can now fully opt out of those mandatory zombie supercookies that were tracking their whereabouts on the Web. Verizon had promised cookie relief earlier this year when the news broke and a few members of the US Senate called for an investigation.

Need help around the house? Turns out you can order that from Amazon now, too. The company just launched its new Amazon Home Services directory.

watchGot your eye on the Apple Watch that costs as much as a car? According to the 9to5Mac site, there’s a unique “Apple Store purchasing experience”  and a “personalized journey” in the works for those who lay out the scratch for the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition. Also, you don’t have to wait in line, so there’s that.

People have been wondering what Apple has planned for the Beats music service since it acquired the company last year. News organizations began reporting last week that an overhaul of Beats and Apple’s own iTunes service is in the works.  No word on when the new services are arriving, but Apple will get some competition from Jay Z’s revamped Tidal music-streaming service, a platform owned by artists.

Thanks to bigger bandwidth, better compression and boffo hardware, high-def video keeps getting more gorgeous. YouTube is rising to the challenge with 4K video using 60 frames per second. If you have the hardware to run it, the clips are beautiful, but as the Macworld site put it, video that massive will crush your computer if your graphics card is not up to snuff.

Google continues to tinker and merge its various services. The company announced this week that photos Google+ users keep online are now also be available in Google Drive and the Gmail team has also updated its Android app to put all your Inboxes in one place.

sheepA farmer in Ireland has released a video of an aerial drone herding a flock of sheep.  Meanwhile, Facebook continues to test its solar-powered drones for delivering Internet access to part of the world that have no connectivity, much like Google’s balloon-powered Project Loon is doing. And the Guardian news organization got a visit to Amazon’s secret drone testing ground in Canada. The uber-mega-everything store is testing its Prime Air delivery service north of the border due to frustration with regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Still, Amazon’s keeping busy stateside — the Re/Code site noticed a patent the company recently filed that envisions a retail store that lets shoppers fill their carts and then leave without going through the cashier lane — because the store’s sensors would just bill you for the goods.

Also in patent news: Boeing, maker of aviation equipment and sponsor of public-television programs, has a patent for a force field that could, in theory, protect buildings and vehicles from explosions. As a conceptual video from the Patent Yogi site illustrates, the force-field would work by detecting shockwaves from nearby explosions and respond with laser pulses to absorb the blast by ionizing the air.

swcAnd finally, speaking of force fields and things that make us think of Star Wars, several fan sites are reporting that a new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, will debut at this year’s Star Wars Celebration convention next month in Anaheim, California. J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy are kicking off the show on April 16th at 10AM Pacific time, so let’s expect the trailer’s debut then and there — and for it (please) to be online five minutes later.