Friday, July 25, 2014

Google celebrates the Chromecast’s first birthday with free music


Google celebrates the Chromecast’s first birthday with free music


Google launched the Chromecast exactly one year ago yesterday, and the $35 streaming stick has made some impressive progress in the intervening 365 days. The media player has added a ton of features, but Google also revealed that it has powered over 400 million Casts thus far, which involve users running software on their Android, iOS or PC device to displays connected to the Chromecast.


Chromecast is Google’s stripped down strategy for taking over your living room with a low-cost ($35) streaming HDMI stick that will ‘cast’ things from your mobile devices (and desktop) to your TV screen. It launched a year ago without much notice and more or less resurrected Google’s media platform ambitions.


The device is also now more international than ever, with sales extending across 20 countries including the latest addition, Ireland, as of this writing. 30,000 stores now stock the Chromecast, too, in addition to its online availability through Google Play devices store. The app now has support for scores more apps than it did at launch, can mirror the screens of select Android devices, and has sold “millions” of units according to Google.


As for Chromecast apps, Google revealed that more than 6,000 developers have produced over 10,000 apps. However, the company only launched its Chromecast SDK back in February, so that number should continue to increase. And since no birthday would be complete without presents, Google is giving Chromecast owners a free 90-day trial subscription to its streaming music service Google Play Music All Access. That offer is redeemable through September.


Chromecast is becoming more and more of true streaming over-the-top device replacement thanks to lots of iteration and feature additions, but its special power of Casting from Android devices is being baked into Android TV means that the Chromecast could become a transition device as its features are rolled into third-party settop boxes, TV sets and other devices. If Android TV succeeds, users should be able to get their casting elsewhere. In the meantime, however, $35 remains an amazing price to pay for an accessory that does what Chromecast can do, especially given how keen Google seems to be on continuous improvement for the gadget. Read more about the story here.


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Facebook Messenger is getting a mobile payments system… eventually


Facebook Messenger is getting a mobile payments system… eventually


Earlier this month, PYMNTS.com reported that Facebook is testing a “Buy” button that allows certain customers to purchase items placed in the news feed or on ads on the site with a click or two. But don’t expect Facebook to compete against the likes of Kmart.com or Walmart.com anytime soon.


When the company first announced it had hired David Marcus, the former president of PayPal, the industry took it as a strong hint that Facebook was looking to monetize its messaging app. After all, Marcus joined PayPal after parent-company eBay acquired his mobile-payments startup Zong in 2011, first leading PayPal’s mobile efforts before taking the lead as president.


During a July 23 second-quarter earnings call with analysts, Cheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, acknowledged the “small test” being done in the U.S. only, but cautioned against looking too deeply into it. “It streamlines the process for buying from our clients,” she said. “No one’s buying from us. We’re just streamlining the process of buying from our clients.”


In an earnings call on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg focused heavily on messaging. Messaging is a natural area for Zuckerberg to place his attention, not just because of WhatsApp but also because competitors in Asia are proving there’s a big market and a lot of money in it. One thing that he didn’t want to discuss much on the conference call was when exactly the messaging products would start generating revenue.


That’s OK. Facebook reported impressive quarterly earnings, with revenue surging 61 percent. The stock rose in extended trading past its all-time closing high. So shareholders are inclined to believe whatever Zuckerberg has to say right now. With messaging, the CEO was adamant that Facebook would not “take the cheap and easy approach and just try to put ads in.” Zuckerberg said: “We’re going to take the time to do this in the way that we think that’s going to be right over multiple years.”


Zuckerberg did suggest that payments, an area Marcus is well-versed in, will probably be a part of the equation. This would be something of a new model for Facebook, which made 92 percent of its revenue last quarter, or $2.68 billion, from ads. But payments is the standard business model for messaging apps around the world, including the one Facebook just bought, and it’s looking to be a mega business. Read more about the story here.


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Light pollution and the death of the night sky


Light pollution and the death of the night sky


It’s sad how many people have never seen the stars, I mean REALLY seen them. Our obsession with keeping things illuminated is responsible for destroying one of the most beautiful views that nature has to offer: the Milky Way. Miles away from populated areas, the night sky is filled with more stars than can possibly be counted, and occasionally, the inner regions of our galaxy, the Milky Way, can be seen. The reason you can’t get views like that in the city is because of something called light pollution. All the light we use to illuminate our cities essentially outshines the stars, and leaves us with a blank sky. Don’t believe me, look at some of these pictures.


Light pollution and the death of the night sky


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Four years later and the BP oil spill is still affecting the Gulf of Mexico


Four years later and the BP oil spill is still affecting the Gulf of Mexico


Traces of a chemical contained in dispersants used to break up oil during the 87-day BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 were found in material deposited on deepwater corals six months after the spill, and in weathered oil patties on Gulf Coast beaches four years later, according to a scientific letter published online this week in Environmental Science & Technology.


It is important to note that these reports of daily oil discoveries and further environmental damage come at a time when BP is attempting to renege on its oft-stated “Commitment to the Gulf.” BP is repudiating the Contract and Settlement Agreement it made with area businesses and individuals that compensates them for economic and environmental losses associated with the spill.


In addition, BP claims that the beaches have been cleaned and that all is well along the Gulf Coast. This despite the fact that the United States Coast Guard calls BP’s remediation claims premature, the USCG saying the cleanup effort is “not over by a long shot.” Now BP claims that it is the victim.


Researchers found tiny amounts of DOSS, an abbreviation of the chemical compound dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, in both the oil patties and deepwater sediment. The research conducted by scientists with Haverford College in Pennsylvania and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts raises new questions about the assumptions on how quickly two COREXIT brand dispersants disappeared after being used to break up oil into tiny droplets, said lead author Helen Kirsty White, an assistant professor of chemistry at Haverford.


“Now that we know the compound can exist for up to four years, it’s important to understand whether the oil and dispersant mixture is toxic and the way it is exposed to life in the Gulf of Mexico,” White said. “Those are important questions to be answered in order to understand the impact or damage it might be having on the environment.”


Since the end of BP’s official cleanup efforts in June 2013, over 45,850 tar balls and 3,912 pounds of Deepwater Horizon oil have been documented and removed from Florida’s beaches alone, not including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas. On an average survey day, the FDEP team covers no more than 1,000 yards of beach, less than 1% of Florida’s shoreline that was impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Therefore, these numbers represent a very limited snapshot of residual oiling on Northwest Florida’s beaches.


From this data, it appears BP has left town well before the job was done. So much for the company’s “Commitment to the Gulf.” Read more about the story here.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Enter into the mind of Professor X with the Oculus Rift


Enter into the mind of Professor X with the Oculus Rift


Comic-Con attendees will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enter the mind of Professor X. 20th Century Fox has created an “X-Men”-themed virtual reality stunt especially for the pop-culture convention, which kicks off Thursday in San Diego. The interactive digital experience utilizes the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which is not yet available to consumers, to simulate the fictional Cerebro technology used to track down mutants by the character portrayed by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the “X-Men” films.


Each participant will be immersed in a three minute, panoramic VR presentation on a quest to find nudest of all mutants, Mystique, with the best reactions recorded on a GoPro for Facebook posterity. On top of the VR experience, Fox is offering a limited-edition, thousand-run of X-Men: The Cerebro Collection in a replica Cerebro helmet on pre-order for $80, or $90 with X-Men: Days of Future Past. The latter will also be up for pre-order at $23 alone and both will arrive October 14th, with the Digital HD version set to come on September 23rd.


It won’t be the only use of an Oculus Rift headset at Comic-Con. Outside the convention center at an interactive zone at Petco Park, Fox is also employing the VR technology to transport users to the fictional town depicted in the TV series “Sleepy Hollow.” The second season of the supernatural series is set to debut on the network this fall. Fox’s use of the technology at Comic-Con is the latest example of how Oculus is making in-roads with Hollywood. HBO similarly used the technology to promote “Game of Thrones” with a virtual rendition of the fantasy series’ icy 700-foot-tall wall during a recent exhibition.


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Google has to face a U.S. lawsuit over its user data policies


Google has to face a U.S. lawsuit over its user data policies


A California court has allowed a privacy class action suit against Google to continue, though only in part. After evaluating each claim of each sub-class in the suit, Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal has allowed two claims of the “Android Application Disclosure Subclass,” which includes all persons and entities in the U.S. that acquired an Android-powered device between August 19, 2004 and the present, and downloaded at least one Android application through the Android Market or Google Play.


On March 1, 2012, Google introduced a single, unified policy that allows the company to comingle user data across accounts and disclose it to third-parties for advertising purposes. This move triggered the class action lawsuit in March, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose division, which argued that by switching to the less-restrictive privacy policy without user consent, Google violated both its prior policies and consumers’ privacy rights, according to court records.


Users also called this a violation of privacy, saying Google made the changes to how their data was used without their consent and without a way to opt out. They said Google’s actions amounted to a reaction to competitors like Facebook and other social media companies “where all of a consumer’s personal information is available in one site.” This violation of privacy, users said, exposes names, email addresses, geographic locations, and increases the possibility of harassment or identity theft by third parties.


The suit was filed over two years ago and since then the court twice dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims. Google moved for a third dismissal. The claims allowed by the judge includes a breach of contract claim that Google breached terms of the contract by disclosing user data to third parties following every download or purchase of an app, resulting in damages in the form of resource consumption. The second claim is under California’s Unfair Competition Law. Read more about the story here.


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Apple’s profits beat expectations thanks to strong iPhone sales


Apple’s profits beat expectations thanks to strong iPhone sales


Apple topped analyst projections in the third quarter of its fiscal year with profits of $7.7 billion, the company disclosed in its quarterly earnings report Tuesday. That figure amounted to earnings per share of $1.28, beating analysts’ projections of $1.23 per share. Apple’s revenue for the quarter was $37.4 billion, below analysts’ expectations of $38 billion.


Apple’s profits were again driven by the iPhone, which moved 35.2 million units during the quarter, up from 31.2 million during the same quarter in 2013. At $19.8 billion in sales, the iPhone comprised nearly 53% of Apple’s total revenue.


iPhone sales were down compared to the second quarter, when the device sold 43.7 million units. The period between April and June has historically been a weak time for iPhone sales as consumers anticipate the launch of the latest device in the line, which typically occurs in September.


While the iPhone’s business continues to grow, the iPad is showing signs of slowing. The tablet sold 13.3 million units in the quarter, down 9% year-over-year and down 19% from the period between January and March of this year. This was the second straight quarter the iPad slipped in year-over-year sales, in the second fiscal quarter the device line was down 16%. In fact, the entire tablet market was down in the U.S. early this year because of increased competition from large-screen smartphones.


The results, mostly in line with Wall Street estimates, come as Apple gears up for some of its most anticipated product roll-outs in years. This fall, Apple is expected to debut iPhones with bigger screens, a smartwatch device, and an upgrade to its Apple TV set-top box.


“We are incredibly excited about the upcoming releases of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, as well as other new products and services that we can’t wait to introduce,” chief executive officer Tim Cook said in a release issued after the close of stock markets on Tuesday.


Apple is poised to release new iPhones with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens, people familiar with the plans have said. The question is, if Apple can come out with a groundbreaking phone and some new iterations of the iPad in the fall, “will they capture some of the excitement from the past?’” said Joe Compeau, lecturer, information systems, at the Ivey Business School of Western University.


“There’s a pretty good chance they can, but if it’s not quite enough, people might say, ‘I can get something else that’s just as good.’” “I think that will be the real test of Tim Cook’s ability to launch a new product that creates new markets,” Compeau said. “Steve Jobs did that right from iTunes to the first iPod, and then for iPhones and iPads.” Read more about the story here.


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Basic Points of Apologetics


Apologetics


We have not taken on the realm of apologetics, at least not as a core item for our website. We have touched on it at times, but the foundation of our beliefs is based through faith and belief in the words of the Bible. However, there are times when strong information should be discussed.


The video below falls into that category. If you’ve been looking at apologetic evidence for any period of time, you’ve likely come across some of this data, perhaps even most of it. However, it’s worth a watch (even in the background, as we often do as we’re studying) to get some fresh ideas or additional pieces of evidence to help you if you’ve taken on the task of apologetics.


Here’s the video. Enjoy!



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Friday, July 18, 2014

The Jibo is essentially a smartphone in robot form


Jibo Robot Assistant


A famed roboticist at MIT’s Media Lab and a pioneer of social robotics by the name of Cynthia Breazeal has unveiled her latest creation. Whereas her previous robots were designed for research purposes and used in places such as classrooms or hospitals, her newest robotic device is designed for the average person to be used in their home. Called Jibo, Breazeal hopes that the robot will become “part of the family”.


She claims that Jibo is designed as both an interactive companion and a family helper. Jibo is capable of engaging people in ways that other devices, such as a smartphone or a computer, simply cannot do. The reason for this, Breazeal claims, is that rather than relying powerful processors or better sensors, Jibo uses emotion. Jibo separates itself from other gadgets by treating people like human being. “Emotion is the next wave of this humanized high-touch engagement with technology,” Breazeal asserts.


Jibo will come equipped with an intial set of “skills” that will allow it to play different “roles”, as Breazeal calls them. For example, Jibo will be able to tell stories using sound effects, graphics, and movement, “bringing content to life and engaging kids in a playful way.” The robot will also be able to act as a cameraman, tracking faces and snapping pictures so you can be in the photos. It could also act as an assistant who reminds family members of their schedules, or as a telepresence avatar that helps people connect with each other.


“Robots are about the autonomy and the partnership and playing the role versus being a tool that I got to pick up and poke at,” Breazeal explains. “So it’s not just what it does, it’s how it does it. And the new use cases that that enables.” Breazeal knows that her startup, also called Jibo, can’t explore all of the robot’s possibilities by itself. This is why Jibo (the company) is opening Jibo (the robot) up for developers to create, and more importantly, sell applications that will give the robot new functionalities. Read more about the story here.


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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tesla has unveiled the $35,000 Model III electric vehicle


Tesla Model III


Tesla Motors is bringing its electric vehicles to the mass market in 2017 with the Model III. The electric vehicle will cost a mere $35,000, far less expensive than the luxury-focused Model S which generally goes for around $80,000 to $90,000. If the Model III is anywhere close to the quality of its previous automobiles, automakers like BMW and Mercedes should be very concerned.


One of the biggest obstacles that electric vehicles face is their range. Tesla has generally rendered this a non-issue with its previous cars, something that it intends to do again with the Model III. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, claims that the vehicle will be able to travel two-hundred miles on a single charge. However, just because Tesla can solve the range issue doesn’t mean it can make the vehicle profitable.


Can Tesla build and sell a high-quality, two-hundred-mile electric vehicle for $35,000 and still make a profit? If it can, then it would shake the auto industry. The average sale price of a car in the United States is $31,000, so the Model III isn’t quite mainstream, but it’s still more than enough to put the competition to the test. Read more about this story here.


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