Tesla Model 3 Orders; Facebook-Not Listening; Google Gaming; CIMON Robot to ISS

If you have a reservation and deposit on a Tesla Model 3, you’re in luck….you can start spec’ing out your future car. On the occasion of Elon Musk’s 47th birthday, techcrunch.com says you can now log on to the Tesla website and start configuring your car with the online design studio. For now, only the two higher cost Model 3s are available to be configured, and they aren’t giving an estimated delivery time for some models, but if you pick the dual motor performance version…the most expensive one…Tesla says you should have it in two to four months. For advance order holders that plunked down $1000 to get in line, it will be nice to at least spec out their car.

There was a flurry of reports yesterday that a patent showed that Facebook might be getting ready to switch on your phone’s mic when your TV was on and secretly record you and what you are watching…to better serve you ads. Theverge.com has pointed out that a number of sources saw the title and what’s called the ‘abstract’ of a patent, and got this idea…without actually reading the claims…which are the actual subject matter of the patent.  It’s really a system that receives a user ID and an audio fingerprint, matches that audio fingerprint to some content, sees if that content was played for a certain duration, and then checks a counter to see if that content has been played a specific number of times. No microphone use at all. With all they already know about all of us, they could practically write a conversation in our living room, IMHO!

Earlier this year, there was a rumor that Google might be getting into gaming. Now, further reporting from 9to5google.com indicates that it’s happening. The project apparently involves a streaming platform to offer games from the cloud without presumably having to download large files in the tens of gigabytes, as well as hardware. In other words, you could open a tab on your browser and play a game. Google has been in talks with some major game studios about content. They have also hired some top game developers and marketers lately. Here’s a Google-esque wrinkle they are considering…if you hit a tough level or boss, you could hit a key to activate an overlay on your screen that cues up a YouTube walkthrough of the game you’re playing.

The International Space Station is getting a new crew member. On the SpaceX supply ship that blasted off this morning is a round robot with a flat side for a face dubbed CIMON…for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion. Engadget.com says it can speak, respond to spoken commands using AI, and fly…well, obviously fly…there’s no gravity on the ISS! The helpful robot can display repair instructions on a screen with just a voice command, so astronauts can keep both hands free for doing the repair. It will also be able to display procedures for experiments, and be something of a floating database. The ‘brains’ of the little robot are made by IBM, and the body and flight mechanism are built by Airbus.

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Facebook Keyword Snooze; Apple Content Bundle; Google Duplex; Amazon Delivery Entrepreneurs

Facebook is trying out a useful feature to add to their 30 day snooze feature. Instead of snoozing accounts that annoy you, you can snooze by keyword to fight spoilers for sports events, movies, and even triggers…like the names of politicians you may be fed up with seeing posts about. The test drive of this feature is rolling out this week to a small number of users, who will be able to make such things go away for 30 days in their news feeds and groups. Techcrunch.com reports you go to a post in your feed with the subject, then hit the dropdown and look for the word you want to snooze…say for example ‘World Cup.’ Facebook says requests for the feature kept coming up in interviews with users, so they’re giving it a test run.

Apple is reported to be working on a big bundle of services including original TV content, Apple Music, and news. Macrumors.com says Apple has ordered multiple original shows, so won’t continue to offer all of them for free like Carpool Karaoke on Apple Music. The news and digital magazines from Texture will also be included in the service along with Apple Music…all for one price. Apple will continue to offer all of the services a la carte, too. The original TV series are expected to roll out next March, and it’s likely the bundled service will debut at that time, too. Pricing is apparently still up in the air, but top tier Netflix is about $14, so a good guess would be something like $25 a month for the 4 bundled services. 

Yesterday, Google gave some journalists the chance to demo their Duplex intelligent assistant. The AI with the human-like voice and delivery had been debuted earlier with a call to make a hair appointment at a beauty shop. According to theverge.com, this demo had reporters (actually at a restaurant in Mountain View) call a restaurant and try to book a reservation. Google says they will be expanding tests for the AI system in coming weeks with a group of ‘trusted tester users.’ The larger test will be with businesses Google has already partnered with. The test calls are limited to holiday hours, booking a restaurant reservation, and hair appointments, the only 3 domains Duplex has been trained for so far. As a backup, Google does have a bank of human operators standing by for when Duplex inevitably goes sideways.

Amazon has rolled out…in home town Seattle at first…a new delivery program, staffed by entrepreneurs decked out in Prime branded vans and uniforms. Geekwire.com notes that Amazon has already been using this type of ‘last mile’ service to supplement the post office, UPS, and FedEx, but those have been plain white vans and only in some cases, an Amazon branded safety vest. This new program lets entrepreneurs own a delivery fleet of up to 40 vehicles and field staff of up to 100 employees. Amazon requires them to offer healthcare, paid time off, and competitive wages. The online giant said entrepreneurs can get started with as low as $10,000 and earn up to $300,000 annually in profit.


Twitter Tightening; WPA3 WiFi Security; Alexa Voice Hits iOS; Motion Sickness Fix for Self-Driving Car Riders

It’s widely known that Twitter has had ongoing issues with spam accounts and malicious automation. Twitter is saying that now, using AI, they are able to identify a lot more spam accounts and deactivate them more quickly…9.9 million a week, up from 3.2 million last September. Engadget.com reports that Twitter is not only using AI on present spammy accounts…going forward, new accounts will have to verify with an email address or phone number when they are being created. That feature will be out later this year. Meanwhile, the ‘firehose of social media’ will continue to audit and challenge what appear to be spammy accounts…like ones that do high volume Tweeting using the same hashtag or Tweeting at the same handle without getting a reply. 

After it got out that a huge number of routers had been infected with malware, here’s a little good news going forward: WPA3 has been finalized. New Wi-Fi routers will come with the stronger protections for your data using the new standard. Cnet.com says it will make it harder to run a common hacking attack on your router…frequently called an ‘offline dictionary-based attack,’ which allows hacker to make endless guesses of your Wi-Fi password. WPA3 is available on new routers certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It updates WPA2, which has been around since 2004 and has bee woefully out of date. Some manufacturers are looking for ways to update existing routers, but the best bet may be to upgrade your router in the coming months to one that comes with WPA3.

Alexa voice control for the Android app has been out nearly half a year, and Amazon says now it is finally coming to iOS. According to techcrunch.com, it isn’t baked in…you’ll need to tap a button in the app, but after that you can ask Alexa questions, listen to music, access skills, and control smart devices. The update is being rolled out to users over the next few days, so if you love controlling everything possible around your abode with Alexa voice commands, you’re going to have a way to do so on iOS. The touch of a button is unfortunate, but since Apple wants you to use their Siri, iOS devices are unlikely to get voice access without first touching the app. Since their last try at smartphones, Amazon has been at a disadvantage in the mobile market, having to rely on apps on Android and iOS without having and Alexa native device.

As with the space program years ago, Virtual Reality tech is throwing off some cool side benefits. Macrumors.com says Apple engineer and popular YouTuber Mark Rober is the primary inventor of some tech patents that can be used to help stop in-car motion sickness for passengers in self-driving cars. One replaces the view of the real world with virtual environments including visual cues to match the physical motion the passengers are experiencing. Another helps allow passengers to work or surf without getting sick. Drivers are usually not affected by motion sickness, as they are watching the road ahead and their surroundings. Besides his Apple engineer gig, Rober’s YouTube channel with science related videos has some 3.4 million subscribers!


Galaxy S10 Biometrics; Printable 3D Organs; Facebook Renegade Shareholders; AT&T Buys AppNexus

There have been rumors in the past that Samsung was going to completely ditch their iris scanner in favor of an improved version of their Apple-like Face ID. Now, it looks like the Galaxy S10 may actually do it. On top of that, 9to5google.com reports that Samsung may have figured out how to put the fingerprint reader under the screen, so they could drop the fingerprint sensor on the back of the S10. It looks like Samsung will be selling 5.8 and 6.2 inch sizes, unchanged from the S8 and S9 models. There may be a third model in the 5.8 inch form factor that will add a second camera, too.

A startup in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco called Prellis Biologics has apparently taken a big step toward developing viable 3D printed organs for people. According to techcrunch.com, the company has figured out a new tech that allows them to manufacture capillaries, a key component of making printable hearts, livers, kidneys, and lungs. Based on the new tech, Prellis has published findings that indicate that they could be able to deliver 3D printed organs implantable in people within 5 years. They are using holographic printing tech, which allows for the organs very quickly…before cellular material can deteriorate. Before humans, animal trials have to be run…and Prellis expects those to start in about 2-1/2 years!

Facebook shareholders with nearly $3 billion invested in the company are trying to topple Mark Zuckerberg as chairman and tear up the company’s governance structure. A report from Business Insider says  there is an unprecedented level of unrest among Facebook’s backers following a series of scandals.  At least a half dozen Facebook investors boasting nearly $3 billion in shares are making moves to remove Zuckerberg as chairman and break up his power base at the company. They want Zuckerberg to step down as chairman and an independent executive to be hired in his place. Shareholders also want Facebook’s dual-class share structure to be abolished because they believe it concentrates too much power into the hands of Zuckerberg and his top team. It’s a tough hill for the renegade shareholders to climb: Zuckerberg holds 75% of the class A voting stock.

Hot on the heels of their approval for snapping up Time Warner, AT&T is buying again…this time, a company called AppNexus, that delivers personalized ads based on Internet users’ Web browsing habits. The company will now be able to not only gather more information about people’s video watching habits, both online and on cable and satellite TV services, but can combine this data with AppNexus in order to deliver more personalized ads based on its customers’ TV watching and Web browsing histories.  AT&T has 60 million smartphone subscribers, 16 million home internet customers, plus DirecTV already. They expect to close on the AppNexus purchase by 3rd quarter.


Tesla ‘Premium’ Connectivity; Apple Ups Audio Game; Whole Foods Prime; Volvo Level 4 Self-Driving By 2021.

If it’s free, it’s probably not forever or there’s a catch. That’s the case with internet on Tesla cars. Starting July 1st, the free connection…which will be dubbed ‘Standard Connectivity’  cell access will just give you navigation (with traffic-based routing), live Supercharger usage info, and safety-related car updates. Engadget.com reports that most everything else will be part of the Premium Package. Satellite view, live traffic visuals, web browser, streaming audio, and non-safety updates will fall under it. At least Tesla has added WiFi access to the model 3. No official price as yet, but it’s expected to be about $100 a year…that’s not going to bend or break any Tesla owners! BTW, if you had a car ordered before July 1st, everything will stay free…at least for now. 

Apple has the HomePod, with very good audio, but has never had top notch audio in their earbuds, including the AirPods. That may be about to change. Bloomberg is reporting that Cupertino is working on a higher end version, that are water resistant and have noise cancellation and biometric sensors. In addition, Apple is working on higher end over-ear headphones, that will be positioned above their Beats brand. Apple has built an in-house audio team headed by Gary Geaves, a former engineer from higher end speaker and headphone maker B&W. Accessories are a decent side line for Apple…while no iPhone, they generated slightly less than $13 billion for Apple last year.

Amazon is opening up their Prime discount programs to all Whole Foods locations in the US this week. Stores in Florida have had the perk for almost 2 months, included with the $119 per year Prime membership. According to geekwire.com, you get a 10% discount on sale items, and other special deals. To use the discount, you sign in to your Amazon account with the Whole Foods app, then scan the “Prime Code” inside the app when you check out. As with most grocery store sales, the deals will change weekly. You will also still be able to get a 5% discount when you buy with an Amazon credit card. Amazon is hoping the various discounts will help them to shed the ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation for Whole Foods, which they bought last year.

While everyone in the auto biz is racing towards self-driving, with Google’s Waymo apparently well in the lead, Volvo has now issued a pretty amazing pledge…level 4 autonomous cars in showrooms you can buy and drive by 2021. According to bgr.com, Volvo is calling it ‘Highway Assist,’ and it sounds a great deal like Tesla’s Autopilot…only with Volvo’s legendary attention to safety detail. Volvo Senior VP Henrik Green says you will be able to ‘eat, sleep, work, watch a movie, relax, do whatever’ with the Volvo Highway Assist in operation. Note it will only work on appropriate roads that have been mapped out…basically highways and freeways.


YouTube Creator Plusses; Apple vs Qualcomm; Facebook Messenger Translations; Stanford Blockchain Research

YouTube has announced new ways for content creators to make money. Now, according to engadget.com, channels with over 100,000 subscribers will have access to Memberships, which will let viewers pay a monthly $4.99 fee to get exclusive access to badges, emoji, livestreams, members-only videos and shoutouts. YouTube had already offered this with Sponsorships, but that category was only available to a select group of content producers. If you have less than 100,000 subscribers, YouTube says it will offer Channel Memberships at $5 a month to more people in upcoming months. They are also partnering with Teespring for a merchandise shopping tool creators can use to sell custom gear on their channel. Initially, there are 20 different kinds of gear available. YouTube claims 1.9 billion monthly logged in viewers. 

The Apple-Qualcomm legal battle rages on. Apple has now filed petitions with the US Patent and Trademark Office challenging validity of 4 Qualcomm patents…saying they don’t cover new ideas. Macrumors.com says they cover camera autofocus, a gadget that functions as a phone and digital assistant, touch-sensitive displays, and circuit memory. This type of challenge is a favorite of Apple lawyers…Apple has filed just shy of 400 such challenges with the Patent Office. A panel of 3 judges will now consider Apple’s petition and Qualcomm’s response. Apple and Qualcomm have been hashing it out legally since early 2017, mainly in a dispute over royalties due Qualcomm.

Facebook has rolled out M Translations for Messenger. M Translations join the existing M Suggestions features that are already built into Messenger for things like quick replies, polls, and sharing your location. English-Spanish translation should now be available in both the US and Mexico. The feature was announced at Facebook’s F8 gathering earlier this year. Theverge.com reports that translation had been available for Marketplace transactions, but now all Messenger conversations have the feature. It should work pretty seamlessly. The app will note if, for example, English is your default language, and the Messenger bot will automatically pop up and offer to translate a message you receive in Spanish. Facebook says other languages will be coming, but hasn’t offered a time line as to when.

A group of crypto startups and organizations are sponsoring a new blockchain research center headquartered at Stanford University. According to coindesk.com, The Center for Blockchain Research is being led by two professors who have specialties in blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The research outfit plans to “develop best practices” for blockchain by bringing the university scientists and the industry’s top leaders together. The center will focus on designing a blockchain curriculum for both students and working professionals. The new center notes that blockchain is becoming increasingly critical to doing business globally.


Digital Car Key; Instagram’s IGTV; German Flying Taxi; Netflix Sharing

First, we got the key fob that you don’t have to pull out of pocket or purse to open and start your car. Now, the Car Connectivity Consortium, and organization of the likes of Apple, Samsung, and LG on the electronics end and Audi, BMW GM, VW, and Hyundai representing the automotive side unveiling a new Digital Key specification. Macrumors.com says it will allow manufacturers to transfer a digital key to a Trusted Service Manager via NFC directly to the secure area of the smartphone. It could not only be used for operation of your own car key-free, but also car rentals and car sharing. 

Instagram has fired a cannon blast over the bow of YouTube and Snapchat. They just rolled out IGTV, which is a new app for publishing long form videos. According to businessinsider.com, content creators will be able to make 4K videos that are significantly longer that the current Instagram 60 second limit. What remains to be seen is whether high profile users, or even we mortal video shooters, will bite when it comes to shooting and uploading mobile-first vertical video.  There is a 10 minute limit, with exceptions running to an hour for accounts with huge numbers of followers. Initially, the longer form videos will be ad-free, but they will have them later. CEO Kevin Systrom says there will be a way for creators to make a living. The IGTV app is available now on  Android and iOS just by updating the Instagram app. F

The world has missed the George Jetson 60’s flying car debut so far, but now Germany is preparing to test out a flying taxi concept from Airbus and Audi! Engadget.com reports that the government has signed a letter of intent to green light tests around Audi’s home city of Ingolstadt. Uber has also been trying to develop a flying taxi at their research center in Paris. The letter didn’t give any indication as to when tests would start. At this point, neither the Airbus-Audi partnership nor Uber has produced and flown a functional prototype, but the letter from the German Transportation minister authorizing tests shows that a flying taxi concept isn’t just hot air any longer.

There have been jokes floating for years to the effect that there is only one paid Netflix subscriber…everyone else is using their password. Now, Exstreamist has done a survey to gauge just how much password and account sharing really goes on. Bgr.com says 22% of users log in with their parents’ credentials. For 20%, it’s the password of a friend, with another 17% using the login of their current boyfriend or girlfriend. 13% are even using the Netflix account of an ex! Netflix keeps growing and seems unconcerned. A few years ago, CEO Reed Hastings said they find that password sharers are likely to become paid users anyway down the road. Netflix revenue the 1st quarter of 2018 is up 43%, with a subscriber base of 125 million worldwide.