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 It updates WPA2, which has been around since 2004 and has bee woefully out of date.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!

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Fire TV Cube Gets Alexa; Lyft Redesigns App; Waymo Passes Big Milestone; Instagram Long Form Video

Amazon has announced the Fire TV Cube. It’s a set top box with all the usual suspects: Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, HBO Go, Sling, And Amazon Prime Video. It also features Alexa…which Engadget.com notes was already available in the Stick and Fire TV box…but the Cube has full-featured Alexa. You can access thousands of third party ‘skills’ on the Cube just like an Echo. The Cube had eight built-in microphones, and can turn on your TV, sound system, cable box. Amazon demoed it by saying ‘Alexa…I’m home,’ and it turned on the entire home theatre system, and brought up the lights in the room. It supports cable boxes from Comcast as well as Dish and DirecTV. There is an IR extension cable for the cable box so the Cube can turn it on and off when the gadgets aren’t line of sight. It ships June 21st for $119. ***UPDATE*** Prime members can preorder and save $30 for a limited time!

Lyft is updating its app for the 1st time in 3 years, and putting more emphasis on shared rides and public transit. Theverge.com reports that it should roll out to everyone by the end of the month. A few changes include Lift Line being rebranded ‘Shared Rides’ and giving that feature a more prominent place in the app. Lyft says it wants shared rides to be 50% of its business by 2020, and has promised to lower its carbon footprint. The updated app will be customized based on a riders’ preferred services and locations. The algorithm considers account fare price, trip time, and more to present the most efficient ride for users, whether a solo rider or shared ride. There is a tweak that encourages riders to get picked up on side streets…which has been piloted in San Francisco (on Valencia Street), and Lyft got 20,000 riders to divert to side street pickup.

Now, more than ever, there’s Google’s Waymo and everyone else when it comes to self-driving cars. According to arstechnica.com, Waymo hit 7 million self-driven miles this week. For reference, they just announced that they had passed up 6 million less than a month ago! Waymo plans to launch commercial driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area before the end of the year.

Instagram is adding support for video of up to an hour in length, with the long form video hub designed to compete with YouTube and Snapchat Discover. According to 9to5google.com, all the videos will be in vertical orientation and 4K resolution. The company has been reportedly meeting with social media stars and content publishers in prep for launching the feature, which is planned for June 20th. No details have gotten out on monetization, but Instagram apparently intends to let creators and publishers earn money from the longer form videos.


Uber Wants Waymo Self-Drivers On Network; WWDC Apple Watch Leak; Reddit Passes Up Facebook; WeChat China-Divorce by Button

At the Code Conference, Uber CEO Dara Khosroshahi revealed that Uber has been in discussions to have Waymo self-driving cars added to its network. This is somewhat remarkable considering the two companies are just coming off a legal battle over alleged trade-secret theft. Theverge.com reports that the Uber CEO also forces self driving tech as ‘a horizontal technology that should be available to everybody.’ He believes that it will be open to all via third party licensing. What about the drivers? Khosrowshahi says they think ‘machines augment humans’ and that ultimately their network will be a machine network and a human network together.

A cool little nugget has been revealed ahead of time that Apple had planned for WWDC. June is Pride Month, and Apple will unveil a special Pride watch face at noon Pacific right at the end of the World Wide Developers Conference keynote. Mashable.com reports that the colors of the rainbow flag are strings on the watch face, and you can interact with them, like strumming a guitar. The special face has two complication spots.

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytics may be hurting the social media platform more than first thought. According to thenextweb.com, Amazon’s Alexa web traffic analyzing platform has determined that Reddit has passed up Facebook as third most visited site in the US. This is probably as scientific as a Survey Monkey poll, but it still gives pause. Google is the top site, with YouTube second, then Reddit, Facebook, and Amazon. Interestingly, average Reddit users spend over 15 minutes a day on the platform, compared to Google with about 7 and a quarter minutes, YouTube 8-1/2 minutes, Facebook at almost 11 minutes, and Amazon just over 7-1/2 minutes.

In what may be the ultimate for a no-deposit, no-return society, people in China can now file for divorce with a button on the WeChat app! Businessinsider.com says the trial divorce function is available right now in th eGuangdong Province, home to cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Just click, enter info, and make an appointment for the local divorce registrar. Payments can also be handled through WeChat, but so far they haven’t opened it up to spousal support payments! WeChat has a billion active users globally.


Google Home Outships Amazon Echo; Apple-VW Self-Driving Pact; Uber Self-Driving Leaves Arizona; Silicon Valley Longs to Tax Big Tech Like Seattle

In a first, Google Home has shipped more smart speakers than Amazon…3.2 million vs 2.5 million first quarter of this year. According to cnet.com, it may be due to retailers prioritizing Google over Amazon because they see Amazon as more of a direct competitor. Alibaba had the third biggest shipping smart speaker, with Xiaomi 4th. Apple’s HomePod was lumped in with the 17% ‘other’ smart speakers.

After lots of back and forth with Mercedes and BMW the last several years that never made it to a deal, Apple has cut a deal with Volkswagen. Macrumors.com reports that Apple will be buying VW vans and converting them to employee shuttles to run between San Francisco Bay Area campuses and buildings. The vans will be fitted with Apple’s self-driving tech. Word is, no deal ever came through with BMW and Mercedes, because Apple insisted on partner companies handing over control of data and design…which no car maker was willing to do.

Uber has canned its self-driving program in Arizona, and along with it, 300 employees. Businessinsider.com says this comes 2 months after a self-driving Uber Volvo (with safety driver behind the wheel) hit and killed a woman in Tempe. The governor had already suspended their ability to test the autonomous cars there. Uber says it will regroup and double check its safety procedures and be back testing somewhere soon.

Since Seattle has dropped an annual head tax on big tech companies, a number of Silicon Valley cities are angling to do the same. Bloomberg.com reports that Seattle intends to use the revenue to help with homeless problems and relieve housing shortages caused by the influx of higher paid tech workers. San Francisco, Mountain View, Cupertino, and East Palo Alto are all looking at similar taxes on large local employers (which are virtually all tech companies) to offset growing inequality and overcrowding. The Bay Area cities have learned from Seattle’s battle with Amazon, and instead of shooting for $500 per head, are looking to extract more like $250-$300 per employee.


Amazon Working On 1st Home Robot; iPhone Price Rumor; Streaming Music Growth Exploding; Google And (Lots of) Your Data

It was bound to happen, and of course Amazon is involved. Theverge.com reports that Amazon is working on a robot for homes…code named ‘Vesta.’ The development is happening in Lab126, the Amazon ‘Skunk Works’ that cranked out the Kindle, Fire Phone, and Echo. Apparently, the device is something of a ‘mobile Alexa,’ that would follow you around the house, awaiting your commands. It could be out for the public…at least in beta…by next year!

There’s been talk for months about Apple bringing out 3 phones this fall….successors to the iPhone X and X Plus with OLED screens (and a budget-busting price), and a less expensive 6.1 inch LED screen phone. According to businessinsider.com, KGI Securities…probably the most reliable leaker about things Apple on the planet…says it could be priced starting at $550! But wait….there’s more! This more reasonably priced iPhone could also have a $650 version with TWO sim cards for 2 different numbers! This is not only a plus for travelers or for having both a home and business number, but it’s a really big deal inAsia, where people like to be able to easily switch between carriers and data plans. If these rumors pan out, KGI says the phone could account for 65-75% of iPhone sales next year.

The death of the recorded music business has apparently been ‘highly exaggerated!’ After dropping for the last 10 years, the music biz is being buoyed by…of all things…streaming music. 9to5mac.com says streaming music now makes up some 43% of total revenues, but it grew a full 39% last year! On top of that, the combined revenue of indie artists was nearly as big as that for Universal Music, the biggest label. Apple Music now boasts 40 million subscribers, and some analysts think it may grow another 40% a year for the next 3 years!

Facebook has been getting pounded for the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the data of millions. Meanwhile…amazingly under the radar….Google rolls merrily along, Hoovering up even more of your data! Bgr.com is reporting that Google is able to track you even better than Facebook can, and has vast information on people…especially people who use Google services like gmail. A report finds that Google collects enough data on some users to fill a stack of pages 8 feet high every two weeks! The European Union is cracking down on such data grabs, and Google is working to change their policies to comply…but be aware that even if you don’t use their services and opt out of ad targeting, Google still has plenty of info on you! They know what you want and where you go, and even what you read. Again…even if you don’t use anything but the web, and no services but Google search, they have piles of info about you!


Google Pumps $300 Million into Saving Online Journalism; IBM Rolls Out Watson Assistant; 100 TB SSD Drive; IoT Mousetrap-Wait, What?

Google has announced that they are launching the Google News Initiative with $300 million. According to mashable.com, the intent is to fight fake news by providing publishers online tools. No list of the publishers was released at the announcement. Facebook started a similar initiative last January, but so far, not much impact has been felt the past 14 months.

In an effort to build an assistant for the business world, IBM has showed off Watson Assistant. Big Blue has been working on the project for a year, and hopes to get established in the business world before Amazon can with Alexa. Cnet.com reports that Watson won’t be for asking what the weather or a sports score is, but more of a behind the scenes brain. It is already in use in the airport in Munich, Germany for a robot that can give directions and gate info. IBM is also working with BMW for an in car voice helper. No, it doesn’t look like you will be able to use it to play Jeopardy if you’re bored in your cube, but it will be great, according to IBM, for crunching sensitive info companies may not want being bounced out into the world to Amazon, Google, Apple, or Microsoft servers.

Bigger is better, right? Now, a company in Irvine, CA, Nimbus Data, has showed the biggest SSD drive ever, a 100 Terabyte job. To give you an idea of how insanely big that is, thenextweb.com says it would hold half of Spotify’s catalog…in something that fits in a pocket!! Its not really designed for home for office use, actually…more for enterprise customers that need to cram more storage into their space that requires less cooling expense. Speaking of expense, no price is out yet, but as a comparison, Samsung has a 15TB drive that came out in 2016 for 10 grand!

A company named Victor has claimed to have built a better mousetrap…it’s connected to the Internet of Things. If this seems silly and massive overkill for way more than you’d spend on a mousetrap, you’re right. According to zdnet.com, it’s really aimed at restaurants and businesses where traps need to be set in attics and cellars that are not very accessible….because seeing visible rodents can be a sure fire business killer. The IoT mousetrap runs on Comcast’s MachineQ platform, and has a dashboard for monitoring. Victor claims they have improved battery life and WiFi range to the point that they can be left unattended for long periods, saving on labor for pest control in larger facilities. Finally….a trap that catches mice and ‘rats them out.’


Cheaper Retina MacBook Coming; Ford Self-Driving Car Rescue Drone; Free Alexa Calling Moves to Tablets; 3D Printed MicroHomes in 24 Hours

There may be a new lower cost 13 inch Retina MacBook in June, around World Wide Developers Conference, according to 9to5mac.com. Word is, it will be priced lower than the present 12 inch MacBook. It will have the same pixel density as the present 13 inch MacBook Pro. If sources are correct, Apple will roll it out for just a little more than the $999 price of the present MacBook Air. This rumor doesn’t say it is an air, but since KGI Securities was already predicting a cheaper 13 inch MacBook Air, this could be the same device. The Retina display would be a first for this price level.

Long ago, Ford ran ads that crowed, ‘Ford has a better idea.’ Now, techcrunch.com reports on a patent that really is a great idea. Ford envisions a drone that could fly i and dock with a fully self-driving car in case of sensor and camera failure (which would render the vehicle helpless.) The docked drone would be equipped with its own sensors and cams, and could safely guide the vehicle home, or to a shop for service help. Getting such a drone out into the world will take time…but widely used self-driving cars are probably still 10 years away, too, so Ford has time to flesh out this idea!

Free calls and messages over an Echo speaker using Alexa is cool, and now that service has been expanded. Engadget.com says you can now use Alexa to place calls, video calls, and send messages from Android tablets, iPads, and Amazon’s Fire tablets. It’s a snap on the Fire HD 10, where you you just have to ask Alexa to get in touch. For other Fire tablets, you hit the home button first. On Android and iOS, you will need to open the Alexa app. You can also communicate with other devices in your house, basically making it a tablet to Echo or tablet to tablet intercom. This will reduce yelling by Moms when dinner is ready!

An Austin based startup is showing off 3D printable homes today at SXSW. According to theverge.com, they can print a house out of concrete (one report says cement, which is incorrect) in less than 24 hours…and have already printed a permitted micro house in Austin! The 1st one was about $10,000 for a single story, 650 square foot house with one bedroom, a bathroom, and a wrap around porch. (Note: no mention of a kitchen.) Icon believes they can get the cost down to $4000 each, and plan to start building in El Salvador. The idea is to ease the global housing crisis, but Icon says eventually they could produce micro houses in the US, too…up to 800 square feet with the present tech. (The average New York apartment is 866 sq. ft.)