My last column discussed the intersection between Big Data and Artificial Intelligence and where things might be heading. The question for this column is can I (Bob Cringely) be replaced by a machine?
Look below the fold on most news sites and you’ll see ads that look like news stories but aren’t: "One Weird Trick to Grow Extra Toes!", or "The 53 Hottest Ukrainian Grandmothers!" I’m waiting for "One Weird Trick to Becoming a Hot Ukrainian Grandmother with Extra Toes!" Read the stories and they are total crap, that is unless you have a fetish for Ukrainian Grandmas… or toes. They are all about getting us to click through page after page and be exposed to ad after ad. Alas, in SEOWorld (the recently added 10th level of Hell) some people call this progress.
Time travel has been a fantasy for many. Popular movies such as the Back to the Future trilogy and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure have piqued people's imaginations. After all, who wouldn't want to travel back in time to see the dinosaurs or travel forward to see the iPhone 27? That would be awesome!
Sadly, this is a dream that cannot be realized, as it is an impossibility. Man will never be able to travel through time -- it is just science fiction. However, Google has enabled a new Street View feature that simulates time travel.
Earth Day might be over but Google has announced another eco-friendly program to go along with yesterday’s news of a renewable energy purchase. This time, the company is partnering with SunPower Corporation for a new deal intended for homeowners.
"Together with SunPower Corporation we’re creating a new $250 million fund to help finance the purchase of residential rooftop solar systems -- making it easier for thousands of households across the US to go solar", says Google’s Rob Parker.
I have just recently finished my review of the new Amazon Fire TV, a box I found tremendously likable and easy to use. However, that doesn't mean it's for everyone. Not all of us utilize Prime for our video content.
However, it’s not the only game in town. Other companies are making competitive boxes, though I can't say I've had occasion to try them all. For instance, I do not have, nor have I used, the offerings from both WD and Apple. However, for the three I have used, I have some early impressions to share that could, hopefully, serve as a bit of a guide towards your next purchase.
Adobe Air is loved by some developers, but many users hate it. While the runtime works well for many developers and allows easy porting of apps, many people dislike having to install it just to make a handful of apps run. Plus, many simply don't like Adobe as a company. I can understand the company's detractors. After all, much of the company's software is arguably bloated and constantly exploited, causing numerous security updates. Steve Jobs chided Adobe Flash for poor performance, and actually banned it from the popular iOS operating system. Oh, and the information of 2.9 million customers was stolen.
With all of that said, Adobe makes some great products, such as Photoshop and Premier. Quite frankly, Air is pretty good too, despite what naysayers say. Today, Adobe announces that Air is coming to x86 Android, joining the already supported ARM architecture.
This weekend, I came across an interesting post by Benedict Evans on "unfair but relevant" comparisons. While I agreed with everything he said, his focus was entirely on the hardware side of the equation. It may be just as relevant to compare today's hot mobile services to online service start-ups from the PC era.
The chart above compares the growth of Facebook's user base, since inception, to that of KakaoTalk and LINE. One disadvantage here is that we can only compare registered users for messaging apps to active users for Facebook. According to one estimate, 61 percent of LINE's registered users are active. If this proves roughly accurate for major messaging apps, KakaoTalk and LINE would still overshadow Facebook's user growth by a considerable margin. This is because PC-era start-ups like Facebook and Google operated in a much smaller playground as compared to today's mobile start-ups. But the "scale of mobile" has already been beaten to death. Does that necessarily mean that these companies also make more money?
It's nearly a week since Microsoft ended support for Windows XP, but there are still around a quarter of Avast customers who plan on sticking with the old dog a little longer. What is perhaps more shocking is the revelation that over one fifth of those surveyed had no idea that support was coming to an end! For those living more on the cutting edge, good news came for Chrome users who found that their browser of choice gained support for Office Online. Microsoft may be leaving users of Windows XP out in the cold, but this is to be expected after so long. Users of Windows 8.1 who have opted to forego the pleasures of installing the recently released Update will find that their operating system is also not supported, as no further security updates will be made available until the confusingly named Update is used to update Windows 8.1 to Windows 8.1 Update. Got it? Good! Some business users who had trouble grabbing the download have been granted slightly longer.
Post Build, following Microsoft's announcements about universal apps for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone, app prices are changing -- but consistency seems to be an issue. The hotly anticipated Windows Phone 8.1 was released to developers, but Mihaita was on hand with a guide that allows anyone to grab themselves a copy of the latest update. If you're on the lookout for a new Android handset, Joe puts forward a compelling argument in favor of the HTC One M8.
Have you ever been at a party and felt out of touch? I have. Quite often, the conversation turns to some Internet meme or current event and I just have no idea what people are talking about. It's my own fault, I tend do focus mostly on technology news as world news is rather depressing. Not to mention, it is hard to find time to stay on top of it. Believe it or not, I even ignore weather reports as I prefer to be surprised.
Google apparently feels my pain as it aims to make me relevant and sociable again with an updated Google Trends. Yes, the search-giant has created a way to get hot trends delivered right to your inbox.
Trend Micro has announced the availability of two free scanners for the Heartbleed bug, meant for Google Chrome and Android. The first, a browser add-on, allows users to enter and check any specific URL.
The second, an Android app, is a little more advanced. It checks whether your device or apps are directly affected by the bug, or whether any installed apps access a cloud service which is still vulnerable.
Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd. Take me to Best Buy to buy a $35 Chromecast. When Google's dongle was announced, I don't think anyone truly knew how popular it would be.
At first, it seemed like a cool little accessory for watching YouTube or Netflix videos on your TV. Really, that's all that it was. That is, until Google opened up the SDK. Now, the floodgates are open and the sky is the limit. Today, Chromecast scores its biggest win yet, with live casting from MLB.TV.
Not content with already having a Kindle app for Android devices, Amazon has joined forces with Samsung to launch Kindle for Samsung. The slightly unnecessary venture brings a new custom ebook service to owners of devices from the South Korean firm and launches on the Galaxy S5 immediately. Other Samsung Galaxy handsets and tablets will gain access to the app shortly afterwards, providing they are running Android 4.0 or newer. Of the millions of books and magazines that will be available through the service, more than 500,000 of the titles will be exclusives.
At the same time as the Kindle for Samsung launch, the two companies are also launching Samsung Book Deals. This enables Galaxy owners to obtain up to 12 free ebooks per year, making a selection from a choice of four each month. With the promise that "each book is chosen specifically for Galaxy smartphone and tablet users from a wide selection of prominent titles", there should be something for everyone.
In late-2012, Google released Chrome Remote Desktop, allowing users of the popular browser to provide and receive remote assistance. The feature has been especially useful to those who rely on Chromebooks, which have a much more limited app selection compared to traditional PCs where many tools, like TeamViewer, are available for such tasks.
Now, Google brings Chrome Remote Desktop to Android. Unlike on PCs where the feature can be added to the browser, this tool is a standalone app, designed for both phones and tablets.
Android phones running stock or manufacturer-installed KitKat 4.4+ get a big photo-shooting upgrade today. Google Camera is now available from the Play store. The app replaces the standard shooter on Nexus devices and places a separate camera app on others. The headline feature: Lens Blur, which does exactly what the name indicates. You shoot the image, and then use the app to either blur the foreground or background. Photographers call the capability "bokeh", and it usually requires a specialized lens on dedicated hardware to produce well. The blurred effect is highly desirable for portraits. Can you say selfie?
Google does what Apple should -- use software development wits to add hardware smarts. This is exactly the kind of thing I would expect from the fruit-logo company first. But that's a number recently missing from the iOS crop. Google is by no means first to offer software blur, but in my testing delivers arguably the best effort. Hell, the new camera app even shames newfangled hardware mechanisms. HTC One M8 uses two lenses and feature UFocus to produce bokeh. In my testing, on The One and Nexus 7, blur is surprisingly comparable.
The greatest dream for many people is home and land ownership. House prices, at least in the USA, are extraordinarily expensive, putting this dream out of reach for many. For those that do achieve the dream, there are many hurdles that must be faced afterwards -- utility bills, property taxes and maintenance to name a few.
Well, homeowners have one more thing to worry about -- the visibility and legibility of their house numbers. You see, Google is now using a sophisticated algorithm to scan Street View data and detect those numbers. The end result is better accuracy in Google Maps, and a stronger reCAPTCHA.
Cloud storage is great for mostly all file types, but there is one type where it truly shines -- photos. Smartphones have become ubiquitous in daily life, making them the perfect camera. After all, precious memories can occur at anytime, not only when you have your DSLR or point-and-shoot. And so, auto-backup of photos to the cloud is an ideal situation for safety and sharing.
Overall, auto-backup is a great solution, because people like the idea of having their entire library of photos with them wherever they go. However, it can sometimes be tedious to utilize those photos. For example, inserting an image from the cloud into an email can be more complicated than adding a locally stored file. Google recognizes this dilemma and improves Gmail on the web with a new "Insert Photo" button.