February 11 – 17, 2013

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This week’s headline story: The drones are coming! The drones are coming!

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 10.31.31 AMRemote controlled drone aircraft, that can carry video cameras and other sensors, are empowering tools for law enforcement, news agencies, and other industries in the U.S.. Law enforcement authorities say drones can be a cost-effective technology to help with a host of policing efforts, including locating bombs, finding lost children, monitoring weather and wildlife or assisting rescue workers in natural disasters. While that may be true, drones have also given rise to fears of government surveillance. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington calls drones “a concrete and instantly graspable threat to privacy.”

Public concern over drones is prompting local and state lawmakers across the country to develop laws restricting their use or grounding them altogether. In Seattle, Mayor Michael McGinn answered public protests by banning the use of drones. Last week, members of Congress introduced a bill that would prohibit drones from conducting what it called “targeted surveillance” of individuals and property without a warrant. The Federal Aviation Administration has received about 80 requests from police, government agencies and others, for clearance to fly drones. Consumer grade drones that can carry video cameras or iPhones are available for less than $400 from companies like HeliPal. No doubt we will be hearing a lot regarding drones and privacy over the course of the year.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • Google has prided itself on being able to track the spread of the flu virus based in information that it mines from user search and social media data. But this year, Google’s projection was off… way off. Google predicted nearly twice as many flu cases as actually occurred. Analysts suspect that the widespread media coverage of the flu, caused many more flu-related searches, and online conversations, throwing a monkey wrench in Google’s algorithm. These results serve to caution researches about the dangers of drawing scientific conclusions from online interactions.
    When Google got flu wrong [Nature]
  • President Obama’s State of the Union address featured a record number of references to technology, suggesting that technical innovation is the key to U.S. economic recovery and global leadership. The president referenced a number of technologies including Macs, 3-D printing, drugs to regenerate damaged organs, new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful, wind energy, solar energy, technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner, high-speed rail, high-speed Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids, and modern pipelines to withstand a storm, to name a few.
    Obama: Technology Will Save the Country [TechReview]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • In the wake of cyberattacks against major news and media agencies, the big anti-virus companies have been forced to admit that their tools are insufficient against today’s most serious attacks. When it comes to so-called advanced persistent threats, Symantec says that “antivirus software alone is not enough.” Zero day viruses, those that are brand new and not guarded against by antivirus software, require more sophisticated methods of detection. New companies like FireEye are developing new techniques to battle these types of viruses and cyberattacks. Meanwhile, as the President presents technology as the savior of the economy, others wonder if technology might not be our downfall.
    Targeted Hacking Forces a New Reality on Antivirus Companies [TechReview]
  • President Obama has signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to share cyberthreat information with private companies and to develop standards to secure companies that provide the nation’s critical infrastructure.
    Obama signs cybersecurity order [Computerworld]
  • Facebook has reported that its network was breached by sophisticated hackers around the same time frame that Twitter, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others made similar admissions. Facebook has not found any evidence that Facebook user data was compromised. Both Facebook and Twitter were breached through a well-publicized vulnerability in Oracle’s Java software.

    Facebook Says Hackers Breached Its Computers [NYTimes]

  • Microsoft had a huge patch Tuesday this month: 12 security bulletins to fix a whopping 57 vulnerabilities, including five critical issues. The updates require several system reboots prompting security analysts to classify this month’s Patch Tuesday as “disruptive.”

    Microsoft Unleashes a Mammoth, ‘Disruptive’ Patch Tuesday [News Factor]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • In the U.S. smartphones currently make up roughly 80 percent of new phone sales, and roughly half the phone-carrying public use smartphones. However, in poorer countries smartphones have been priced out of reach, leaving most of the global population using feature phones. Now, with smartphone prices coming down, the global population is gradually switching over. Research firm Gartner is projecting that by the end of the year, smartphones will outsell feature phones world wide.
    Gartner: Smartphones To Outsell Feature Phones this Year [NewsFactor]

and finally….

  • Microsoft has purchased a Los Angeles television studio to produce original interactive television content for the Xbox. The new Xbox Entertainment Studios is a 125-employee production studio being led by former CBS Television President Nancy Tellem.
    Microsoft Seeks to Boost Xbox Claim on the Living Room [Newsfactor]

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February 4 – 10, 2013

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This week’s headline story: FCC Proposes Robust National Wi-fi Networks

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 10.28.09 AMThe Federal Communications Commission is proposing the creation of free, powerful Wi-Fi networks that could dramatically change wireless access to the Internet in the U.S. The plan would be the first of its kind for any country. Compared with existing Wi-Fi networks, the FCC networks would have greater penetration through walls and over hills, would be able to travel much further, and would make Wi-Fi available throughout virtually every city and many rural areas. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that “freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future, and benefits consumers.” As you might guess, the proposal is raising strong objections from the existing wireless carriers and cable operators.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • The Amber Alert system, designed to notify citizens of child abductions, has been extended to cell phones. The next time a child is abducted near you, your cell phone ma y shriek to life with an alert text message. Amber Alert messages have already taken tens of thousands of people by surprise. There is concern that, while the system is useful in catching abductors, the messages sent to cell phones are vague on details. One Amber Alert message stated “Emergency Alert: Amber Alert. An Amber Alert has been issued in your area. Please check local media. “FEMA officials said they are aware of the confusion the Amber Alerts have caused and are working with the U.S. Department of Justice to include more information in the text messages.
    Shriek! Texts on Missing Kids Startle Cell Users [NewsFactor]
  • The Federal Trade Commission has released a major report on mobile privacy in which it makes a number of recommendations to the industry. A key recommendation is that companies consider offering a Do Not Track mechanism for smartphone users, so that users could choose to opt out of having their path through apps or the Web reported to ad networks or other third parties.
    FTC Tackles Mobile Privacy with New Report [NewsFactor]
  • The use of social media during the Super Bowl was up significantly this year. Trendrr reports that there were 47.67 million instances of social-media engagement during the game this year, up from 17.4 million last year, and only 3.1 million in 2011.
    Super-Social Engagement Set Record for Super Bowl [NewsFactor]
  • The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, have found that 69 percent of online adults use some kind of social networking site like Facebook, compared with 47 percent in September 2009. It also discovered that 61 percent of current Facebook users say they have felt the need to take periodic long breaks away from Facebook.
    Need to Take a Break from Facebook? You’re Not Alone [NewsFactor]
  • Cisco is predicting that mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold over the next four years as more and more devices become connected.Cisco Predicts 13-Fold Mobile Data Traffic Increase by 2017 [NewsFactor]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • After recent reports of China-based cyber-attacks against The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Energy told employees in an e-mail that its systems, too, had been infiltrated.
    Energy Dept. Reportedly Latest Target of Hackers [NewsFactor]
  • Twitter has admitted that 250,000 of its user accounts may have been hacked last week. “This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident,” said Bob Lord, Twitter’s director of Information Security, writing in a blog post. “The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked.”
    Twitter Hack ‘Not the Work of Amateurs’ [NewsFactor]
  • A hacker broke into several e-mail accounts belonging to friends and family of former President George W. Bush. A wealth of personal photos, correspondence, home addresses, and other sensitive information were exposed on the website The Smoking Gun. The intrusions have prompted a criminal investigation, according to published reports.
    Bush family privacy shattered after e-mails, photos exposed online
    [Ars Technica]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • It looks as though Blackberry is hoping to gain market share by taking a stance to protect its user’s privacy. The company has begun issuing notices to application developers — and consumers — anytime it finds an app approved for distribution in its BlackBerry World online store that collects more data than users might think. Blackberry’s new phones running it’s latest OS are expected to be available in the US around mid-March.
    Sneaky Apps Beware: BlackBerry Is Watching [NewsFactor]
    New BlackBerry Scheduled for Mid-March U.S. Release [NewsFactor]
  • Amazon has received patent No. 8,364,595 for a “secondary market in digital objects.” The patent describe an electronic marketplace for used e-books, music, video, computer applications and other digital content. So soon, you may be able to sell your old, unwanted ebooks, digital music, movies, and apps on Amazon.
    Save Those Old Music Files, Content Markets Are Brewing [NewsFactor]
  • Industry researcher Canalys has released a new report which concludes that worldwide PC shipments have increased by 12 percent year-over-year for the fourth quarter. What’s unique about the report is that it includes tablets as PCs, while other similar reports that don’t include tablets conclude that the PC market is slowly drying up. So if tablets are PCs, then PCs are thriving and Apple is king.
    If Tablets Are PCs, PCs Are Thriving and Apple Is King [NewsFactor]
  • Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet computer is now available to U.S. consumers. The surface has a 10.6-inch screen and includes an optional Type Cover keyboard dock that doubles as a case. The tablet comes in models with 64GB and 128GB of storage, and runs the full version of Windows 8 – unlike its predecessor that runs the more limited Windows 8 RT.
    Microsoft Surface Pro goes on sale Saturday [Computerworld]
  • Sony is poised to unveil the next PlayStation game console on Feb. 20, a date that would give the Japanese electronics company a head start over Microsoft ‘s expected announcement of an Xbox 360 successor in June.
    New PlayStation Announcement To Trump Microsoft [NewsFactor]
  • Amazon has come up with it’s own form of currency: Amazon coins, and is using it to promote its Kindle Fire. The company plans to give Kindle Fire users tens of millions of dollars’ worth of free Amazon Coins to spend on apps in the Amazon Appstore. One Amazon Coin equals one penny of value. Who knows, perhaps perks will expand to purchases of other products on Amazon.
    Kindle Fire Users to Get Pennies From Heaven [ecommerce times]

and finally….

  • We often hear about private companies going pubic – for example Facebook’s initial public offering made headlines last year. We rarely hear about public companies going private. This week Michael Dell made headlines by signing a leveraged buyout agreement worth $24.4 billion, to purchase the company that he founded in his Texas dorm room. Roger Kay, senior analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, says that taking Dell private “will shelter the company from Wall Street while it makes its potentially ungraceful transformation from supplier of commodity PCs over to full-line enterprise solutions provider.” Microsoft is pitching in $2 Billion to help.
    A $24.4 Billion Bet on Dell’s Future [NewsFactor]
    Dell Hightails It Into Private Territory [Ecommerce Times]

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January 14 – 20, 2013

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This week’s headline story: Facebook Graph Search

facebook-graph-searchFacebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced a new feature coming to Facebook. It’s called Graph Search, and Zuckerberg described it as an integral part of the product, a third pillar, along with the newsfeed and timeline. Using Graph Search, Facebook users will be able to search all of their connections – what Facebook calls their graph, in order to find people, places, photos, and items of interests. So for example, a Facebook user could search for Mexican restaurants in Tucson recommended by friends, places in Ireland that their friends visited, or bands that are most popular with friends. Graph search will also provide search results outside your graph courtesy of Microsoft Bing. While some are proclaiming this the future of search, others are predicting major issues around privacy, and ugly unintended consequences. The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends that concerned Facebook users utilize the “Who can see my stuff?” feature and click “View as” to see how their Facebook profile and timeline appears to the public and to the various people in their groups of friends.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • You may recall a couple years ago when Kansas City MO won the privileged of serving as host to a new super-fast Internet service courtesy of Google. With that network now in place, Internet startups are flocking to Kansas City is take advantage of gigabit Internet speeds, giving the city the nickname “Silicon Prairie.”Google’s Ultrafast Internet Creates ‘Silicon Prairie’ [NewsFactor]
  • San Jose State University is signing a deal with the Massively Open Online Course company Udacity, to deliver a series of remedial and introductory courses to its students. San Jose State and other California State colleges are looking to MOOCs as a solution to the issue of an increasing number of incoming students who are unable to meet basic college entrance requirements.California to Give Web Courses a Big Trial [NYTimes]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • One year to the minute after the FBI shut down file sharing service Megaupload, the Internet tycoon that owned the service, Kim Dotcom, held a huge party at his mansion in New Zealand to celebrate the opening of his new service, simply named Mega. Mega is a cloud storage service that encrypts the data users upload giving the user the encryption key. So only the user, and those the user selects to share files with, can access files. Not even Mega knows or can find out what users are storing on its servers. Mega will force governments to seriously consider the level of responsibility Internet companies maintain for users activities on the Internet. It is likely that the movie industry and the FBI will be examining Mega closely to determine if the service is encouraging the illegal sharing of copyright protected property.A Year After the Closing of Megaupload, a File-Sharing Tycoon Opens a New Site [NYTimes]
  • Google researchers think that two-step identity verification isn’t secure enough. They are investigating the use of physical passwords, which might come in the form of a piece of jewelry such as a ring. Imagine being logged onto your computer and all of your web services automatically by the ring on your finger.Google sees one password ring to rule them all [Computerworld]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • AI expert and singularity evangelist Ray Kurzweil has taken the job of Director of Engineering at Google. Kurzweil has revealed details around an upcoming AI project at Google, focused on helping computers to better understand human language.Ray Kurzweil lifts lid on Google AI project [ZDNet]
  • Google is planning to bring it’s voice-recognition feature to Chrome browser. Soon users of Chrome on all platforms will be able to dictate to their Chrome browser and Web apps.Google Bringing Voice Recognition to Chrome Web Browser [NewsFactor]
  • Google has filed for a patent for a laser-projected keyboard on its Google Glasses which would project a keyboard on a surface allowing users to enter data by pressing virtual keys.Patent Filed for Laser-Projected Keypad with Google Glasses [NewsFactor]
  • Google is hosting two hackathons – one in San Francisco and the other in New York, where hackers will get a crack at creating apps for Google glasses.Google Glass Hackathons Unveiled to Further Develop the Technology [eWeek]
  • eBay received a much needed breath of life with its recently released mobile app. The app supports the popular activity of “showrooming” where shoppers in retail stores can check prices of items on eBay and make online purchases through eBay’s paypal service in under 30 seconds. eBay’s revenue jumped 18 percent to US$3.99 billion for the quarter after the release of the app.Showrooming Shoppers Send eBay Soaring [Ecommerce Times]

and finally….

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Google’s New Stuff

It is the season for developer conferences. Two weeks ago I reported on Apple’s developer conference and Apple’s unveiling of the new Macbook Pro product line. Last week it was Microsoft developers conference and the unveiling of the new Microsoft Surface tablet. This week it’s Google’s developer conference where Google unveiled its own tablet called the Nexus 7. While Microsoft’s new Surface tablet competes in price and features with the iPad, the Nexus 7 is more in line with the Kindle Fire, priced at $199 like the Fire but outperforming the Fire in several areas. The Nexus 7 features a 7″ HD display made of strong Corning Gorilla Glass, a 1.2 MP front-facing camera, a quad core Tegra 3 processor, and a 12-core GPU that has gamers drooling. The Nexus 7 will be released later this month running the new Android 4.1 – Jelly Bean.

Google engineers also demonstrated Google’s futuristic augmented reality glasses at the developers conference, providing developers with the opportunity to purchase prototypes for $1500. And if that weren’t enough, Google unveiled a set top box called Nexus Q, which allows viewers to stream content from the cloud using their Android smartphone or tablet. Both the Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q set top box integrate with Google Play – Google’s new cloud-based media store providing music, books, magazines, movies, TV shows, apps and games.

Microsoft’s New Stuff

Last week I talked about all of the new Apple stuff announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. This week it’s Microsoft’s turn. The big announcement, that many anticipated, was a new Microsoft tablet computer, named Surface. That’s right – the name was borrowed from Microsoft’s tabletop technology which will be getting a new name. Since Microsoft has traditionally stayed out of the hardware business, except for the Xbox, the failed Zune, and accessories like keyboards and mice, this announcement has caused quite a stir. The decision to make its own tablet suggests Microsoft’s disappointment with Windows tablets being manufactured by its partners, and puts Microsoft in direct competition with those partners. The first reviews of the Surface tablet are very positive; the devices do appear to be a cut above its competition. Of course, its biggest competitor will be Apple’s iPad. Surface offers some significant benefits over the iPad. The biggest benefit is its integration with Windows PCs and phones, and the inclusion of a fully functional version of Microsoft Office. Surface may be the first tablet to offer true productivity capabilities for business users. Surface also comes with a built-in stand and a cover that features an integrated keyboard. Covers come in a range of colors that automatically blend with the Surface display color settings.

Microsoft also announced its next edition of its Windows Phone OS – version 8. Windows Phone 8 will be INcompatible with current Windows handsets, as will be apps developed for Windows 8. So, if you are considering a Windows phone, you would be wise to wait a few months for Windows Phone 8 handsets, which are scheduled to roll out this Fall. Windows Phone 8 offers full integration with Windows 8 PCs and tablets. It also offers tighter security features that should please businesses. As we approach the release of Windows 8 across PCs, tablets, and smartphones, we begin to see Microsoft’s strategy unfurling, and perhaps a glimmer of hope for a company that has been steamed-rolled over by Apple and the world’s transition from desktop to mobile.

Apple’s News Stuff

Apple unveiled new Macbook Pros at its developers’ conference last week. The new Macbook Pros are thinner than current models and feature Retina displays that double the density of pixels for ultra-high resolution. The new Macbook Pros also boast Intel’s new quad-core i7, the new GeForce Kepler graphics card, and solid state drives, producing the best possible performance. Apple also announced that it has developed its own Maps app which will replace Google Maps on future generations of iOS on iPhones and iPads. Launching its own Maps app will reduce Apple’s dependence on Google, and will allow Apple to innovate independently, including providing its own turn-by-turn navigation feature and tightening up its integration with Siri. Apple is expanding Siri’s resources by allowing it to tap into sports data from Yahoo, restaurant info from yelp, and movie trailers and reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. Apple hopes that its mobile users will turn to Siri before resorting to a Google search. The new version of iOS will feature embedded integration with Facebook, providing the opportunity for users to post to Facebook from a variety of iPhone and iPad apps. Apple’s new direction includes partnering with other tech companies that excel in areas where Apple is weak.

Cloud Battle Escalates

The personal cloud storage battle escalated this week when Google released its Google Drive app. Google Drive works like the popular DropBox app to support storing files in the cloud. When Google Drive is installed on a computer, a folder is provided on the desktop that represents your Google Drive. Anything stored in that folder will be stored on Google’s server – in the cloud. Anyone with a Google account can use Google Drive to access a free 5 GB of cloud storage. Google Drive integrates nicely with Gmail, Google Docs, Google+ and with Android mobile devices.

Beating Google to the punch by one day, Microsoft announced a new personal cloud storage service on its SkyDrive offering 7 GB of space – besting Google by 2 GB, but failing to get nearly as many headlines. Microsoft’s SkyDrive integrates well with Microsoft Office and Windows desktop and mobile platforms. Not to be overlooked, DropBox announced that it is raising its free storage capacity to 5 GB matching Google Drive. SugarSync kept it’s cloud storage service in the news with an announcement of a new iPad app. SugarSync offers 5 GB of free storage. All of these services provide more storage for an additional monthly fee.

So why might a person consider using one of these cloud storage services?

  • Cloud storage provides a convenient method of backing up and securing your data – the cloud provider takes over the responsibility of keeping your data safe.
  • More than just backup storage, cloud computing can act as central storage for your data, allowing access to your files from any Internet connected device so you can work from anywhere anytime on any of your computers or mobile devices.
  • Versioning allows you to go back to previous versions of files when mistakes are made
  • Cloud computing is ideal for sharing files and folders with collaborators. You can assign users the ability to edit files or restrict them to read only.
  • Rather than having to attach files to email, you can simply share them from cloud storage by emailing a link to the file. Cloud storage web apps, allow many file formats to be accessed from within a Web browser.
  • Photos can be automatically uploaded and stored centrally on a cloud drive eliminating the need to copy photos between mobile devices and PCs – this also makes it easy to share photos and galleries with friends.
  • Some services allow you to stream music and movies from your cloud drive.

With all of these advantages, what may cause a person to decide not to use cloud storage? Privacy! There has been much controversy surrounding Google’s Privacy Policy which basically states that Google can do anything it wants with your files. While some believe that the policy is simply worded to protect Google from liability, others foresee Google using its user’s files for targeted advertisements or worse. This possibility exists with any of the cloud storage services. Still, Google’s new cloud drive sets the stage for a monumental shift in the way people store and access their personal data.

Bend your display

Bendable displays are finally coming to the market. LG has begun mass producing a 6-inch e-ink plastic screen, with a resolution of 1024 x 768, that bends up to 40 degrees at the center. Bendable displays will fuel the creation of new interesting devices, and also begin replacing glass displays in phones and tablets to create more durable devices. Samsung is developing a foldable OLED screen with no seam that folds in half — and unfolds to show a combined, larger screen. Nokia has shown a concept phone, the GEM, in which the entire surface of the device — front, side, back — is a single, touch-sensitive display.

LG Launching a Bendable Display [NewsFactor]

More Distracted Driving

New federal rules are pending that will force automakers to limit built-in electronic devices, like GPS systems, to accept user input only when the vehicle is in park. The intent is to reduce accidents caused by drivers typing on electronic devices. Automakers are complaining because they feel that mobile devices providing the same services should also be covered by the new rules. Meanwhile MIT researchers are studying the next front of distracted driving: wandering minds. The researchers are discovering that even a small amount of “cognitive demand” – drivers thinking about something other than driving, can cause an accident – even when the driver is looking at the road. How will the fed regulate that? Time to roll out the self-driving cars!