Prime Day is Here; The UK Spaceport Will Be in Scotland; Samsung Health Measurements

Christmas in July is here…or as Amazon calls it, Prime Day. The ‘day’ lasts 36 hours, not even counting the pre-sale deals or ‘last chance’ ones. Techcrunch.com notes that, as is often the case, a couple of the hotter deals are on Amazon’s own products. The Amazon Cloud Cam is $60, or half price. The Kindle Paper White has been dropped to $80, which is $40 off regular price. If you’re looking for something more pricey and outdoorsy, check the DJI Mavic Pro foldable drone at $999, which is $300 off the usual price. Prime Day officially starts at noon Pacific time July 16th.

The first spaceport built for the UK Space Agency will be on Scotland’s north coast, and Lockheed Martin is a major winner, with a $31 million grant to develop it and a new made-in-Britain system for deploying satellites into orbit. Geekwire.com says London-based Orbex will get $7 million towards design of the Prime rocket, which uses bio-propane and will deliver payloads of up to 330 lbs into low earth orbit. Orbex has also raised $40 million in public and private funds towards the rocket project.

Samsung has applied for a trademark ‘Samsung Speckle’ in Europe. Rumors are flying regarding what it is…and most point-to a device using lasers to measure heart rate or blood pressure. Businessinsider.com says the recent filing referring to the mark mentions a “laser speckle interferometric system” described in a previous patent application from 2016. Apple’s Watch uses LED lights to measure heart rates and to authenticate the wearer. A laser based system could be more accurate.

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Samsung Bug; Amazon Anti-HAck Drone; HTC Cuts; Big Bank Blockchain Success

Here’s a creepy new development for some Samsung phone owners. Apparently, Samsung Messaging is randomly sending your camera roll photos to your contacts without permission. According to theverge.com, it is on the S9 and S9+ phones at the least…and appears to be when you use MMS messaging or send a message with a link. Samsung says they are aware of the issue and are looking into it. If you have the problem, Samsung says to call 1-800-SAMSUNG and let them know. The problem was first noticed on T-Mobile, but the carrier says it’s not their issue. Meanwhile, if you have a Samsung phone, better delete those racy selfies and private pictures until Samsung issues a fix!

Amazon just got a patent approved that they filed 2 years ago for “Hostile takeover avoidance of unmanned vehicles”. It’s aimed at making their future drones as hack-proof as possible. Amazon has been experimenting with having drones deliver people’s goods within an hour, so this is one step closer to that goal. The company’s other drone-related patents include self-destruction when a failure is detected and drones that can respond to gestures and voice commands. Mashable.com says Amazon is seeking to avoid hackers who might steal the drones and their payloads, crash them, or otherwise cause disruption to the operation of drones on their way to deliver your order.

The smartphone world is dominated by Samsung, Apple, and Huewei. Now, maker HTC is cutting a quarter of its workforce worldwide…mainly at its manufacturing plant in Taiwan. Reuters.com reports that HTC once sold 10% of smartphones worldwide, but that’s been in decline for some time. Sales were down 48% from year to year in March. The company is also consolodating its smartphone and virtual reality divisions. Last year, HTC shifted 2,000 handset engineers to Google in an 1.1 billion dollar deal. Alphabet’s Google has been trying to get a foothold in the handset market with it’s Pixel line of phones.

It was confirmed today that the first cross-border, commercial transactions have been conducted on the we.trade blockchain platform – an initiative established by a group of financial giants, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Rabobank. These aren’t your average bank-funded, cross-border remittances transactions powered by the blockchain, though. This particular test was a sustained cross-country, multi-bank, interoperability remittance fest. Thenextweb.com reports that over a whole business week, 10 companies conducted trades on the we.trade platform, making use of four different banks, in 11 European countries. The successful tests are a major win for the IBM Blockchain Platform, which powers we.trade.


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!


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.


Google Pixel 3 Update; Amazon Rekognition; Tesla Sabotage; Kids Hearing & Music Players

Google has had better success with the Pixel 2 phones that it had with the original model, and expects to see more growth with the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. A little more info has trickled out about the upcoming handsets. Cnet.com reports that we will probably see the phones debut in early October. It appears that they will sport a front screen ‘notch’ like the Apple iPhone X. Geeks digging through the beta code of Android P say the code points to the Pixel 3’s getting wireless charging like the iPhone, and probably a glass back. One exciting plus…the larger 3XL may have and edge to edge display and TWO front-facing cameras, in addition to the 2 rear cams!

There had already been unrest over Amazon selling its facial recognition tech to law enforcement…the tech can detect faces in images and videos. Now, CNN says that almost 20 groups of Amazon shareholders are pressing the company to stop selling the tech to law enforcement. The investors expressed their views in a letter, warning of potential civil and human rights violations…and of course how that could have a negative impact on Amazon stock. Back in April, Amazon had announced that Rekognition had been made 25% more accurate at picking out faces that the prior version. Shareholders are concerned about the disproportionate surveilance of people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations, as well as sales to authoritarian regimes.

Tesla has gotten up to 3,500 Model 3’s per week, on the way to the 5,000 Elon Musk promised by next month. Now, there may have been sabotage that electronically threw a wrench into the works. According to CNBC, Musk sent an all hands email to staff, saying a disgruntled employee had done ‘quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations,’  Musk said the employee had made ‘direct code changes’ to the company’s production systems, and even exported ‘large amounts’ of Tesla code to unidentified 3rd parties. The email says the person became disgruntled after not getting a promotion, but may also have been working with short sellers and oil and gas companies. Thus far, Tesla has not commented on the leaked email. For Jason Middleton, I’m Clark Reid

A new study indicates that kids who listen to portable music players are three times more likely to suffer hearing loss than those who don’t! Gizmodo notes that the large-scale study was conducted among more than 3,000 children aged 9-11. Of those, 14 percent, or 450 children, had hearing problems, based on tests. Seven percent tested positive for high-frequency hearing loss, a form of hearing loss often caused by noise exposure, usually only in one ear. Looking only at the 2,000 children for whom they had data about music player use, the researchers estimated that children who listened to portable music players were nearly three times as likely to have high-frequency hearing loss than those who didn’t.


Samsung Galaxy X Folder; iPhones Beef Up Hack-proofing; Waymo Ridership; Microsoft Eyes Automated Check Out

The mythic Samsung Galaxy X folding smartphone may yet be coming…the latest rumors say in 2019…pretty cool news for those excited about a phone with a large, folding screen. Ok…that’s the good news. The not-so-good news? According to Golden Bridge Investment, it will probably cost a bit under $1850…or almost double the cost of the present iPhone X. In addition to the two OLED screens with virtually no bezel between them that fold in, the handset will have a third panel for use when the phone is folded. Bgr.com reports that unfolded, the inner screens will combine for a phablet-sized  7.3 inch display! Samsung partners should get a preview at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Apple has confirmed a leak that says it is closing the tech loophole that has been letting law enforcement hack iPhones via USB based hardware like the GrayKey box. The GrayKey box is designed to plug into the Lightening port of an iPhone, and it then uses a data connection to brute force a passcode in as little as a few hours.  In an upcoming software update, the port will be disabled and require a password starting an hour after the phone is locked. The setting will be enabled by default. Macrumors.com says an exception is charging…which doesn’t require a data connection. Apple notes that they aren’t anti-law enforcement…in 2017 they responded to over 29,000 National Security Requests from the US government.

This Spring, Google’s Waymo kicked off an Early Rider program to let people in Arizona get their feet wet in experiencing self-driving cars. They have now let us in on a bit of a progress report. Waymo has gotten 20,000 applications to participate, and so far, riders have ranged in age from 9 to 69. Destinations pretty well mirror rides from Uber or Lyft…the most popular is getting to work…followed by restaurants, schools, and bars. According to 9to5google.com, the biggest request by riders: closer pickup and drop-off points. You’ll be glad to know that Waymo is working on how to gently wake napping riders upon arriving at their destination!

Amazon’s checkout-less stores…Amazon Go… have been covered here a number of times, but now there’s word of a heavyweight challenger in the push to eliminate the check out line at stores….Microsoft. Reuters.com says The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is developing systems that track what shoppers add to their carts. Microsoft has shown sample technology to retailers from around the world and has had talks with Walmart  about a potential collaboration. While it isn’t clear how soon Microsoft could get their system to the market, it’s worth noting that they are the #2 provider of cloud services behind Amazon. According to analyst Gene Munster of Loop Ventures, the US market for automated checkout is worth some $50 billion dollars.