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 It updates WPA2, which has been around since 2004 and has bee woefully out of date.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


$200 Beats HomePod; Microsoft Snaps Up Veteran AI Team; AT&T No WiFi Smart Button

Apple’s HomePod has had underwhelming sales so far, and now they may be trying to rectify that with a cheaper model than the $350 one with killer sound but anemic voice command abilities. Bgr.com reports that Apple is looking at bringing out one for $199 under the Beats brand. With a decent sounding Google Home speaker going for $130, and Amazon Alexa speakers for less yet, Apple might have a fighting chance at under $200 if the gadget still sounds better than its competitors.

Microsoft has picked up an AI team that includes the former chief speech scientist for Siri. According to businessinsider.com, Redmond has acquired AI startup Semantic Machines, to boost its ‘conversational AI’ and potentially make Cortana better at understanding natural language inquiries. At least for the short term, the artificial intelligence team will remain in Berkeley where Semantic Machines has been based. Besides Larry Gillick, the former chief speech scientist for Apple’s Siri, the team includes Cal professor Dan Klein and Stanford professor Percy Liang. Several other members worked at Nuance, the voice recognition company that built Siri.

AT&T has launched the LTE-M button, which you can use to order something online with a single click. Engadget.com says the gadget…which not only sounds like and Amazon Dash button, but is actually powered by Amazon Web Services….does have a new trick up its sleeve…it works over AT&T’s network, so doesn’t need WiFi. The AT&T button is not preprogrammed, so you can set it up to order different things, unlike the single function Dash buttons. It is pricier than an Amazon button, though. the first 5000 will be $30, then it will be $35. Since it has to be programmed, the price may not be the only limiting factor…you’ll also need to be geeky enough to figure out how to program the LTE-M button.


Distance Detector May Make Routers Safer; Transparent Wood Could Replace Glass

Whether it’s someone outside a cafe stealing WiFi, or concerns about someone snooping or hacking into your home system, geniuses at MIT have developed a slick solution. Engadget.com says that in the past, it took multiple routers to triangulate in order to figure out if someone was outside a business or your home, but the MIT engineers calculate ‘time of flight’ for the signal and then multiply by the speed of light to get the distance. It’s 20 times more accurate than triangulation, and can pick out a correct room in a home 94% of the time and if someone is outside a cafe 97% of the time. It also works with drones with a 2 inch margin of error. There’s already a working prototype, so your next router may be much better at keeping out thieves or hackers.

Transparent wood? What are those Swedes smoking? Actually, scientists at the Royal Institute of Technology have found a way to make transparent wood that is suitable for mass production. It can not only be used for eye catching architecture, but could lead to cheaper solar panels and windows. According to gizmodo.com, they strip out the organic compound that makes the wood brown, then add a polymer to increase strength and provide transparency. Veneer can be made from the material, and it can be laminated to make load bearing panels and beams. Hail resistant skylights could let in more natural light, and lower your heating bills. You may be spending more on curtains or blinds, though!


Looking Past Apple’s March Event; Google to Wire Cuba

There will be a bigger iPhone with a brighter screen in 2017 or 2018, according to applenws.com and Digitimes. Apple is reportedly going to go with OLED screens, which some competitors already use. They give users more vivid color and blacker blacks. The biggest phone will apparently grow from 5.7 to 5.8 inches, too. Apple giveth, and Apple taketh away…pictures have appeared online of Apple EarPods with a Lightening connector, instead of the standard everywhere else…including all iPhones up to now…1/8th inch phone jack. It appears that the rumor about iPhone 7 models losing the headphone jack are true. We’ll have a full recap of the Apple event today tomorrow morning.

The President is in Cuba, and announced today that Google has a deal to set up more WiFi and broadband across the island nation, immensely adding to the capacity of the state run system of public WiFi hotspots…which cost $4.50 an hour, and are out of reach to most Cubans anyway. Engadget.com reports that Cubans will still have to put up with government censorship of their internet.


Twitter Nixes Services That Tracked Politicians’ Deleted Tweets

Because we wouldn’t want any politicians’ hasty and foolish, embarrassing Tweets to bite them later, or journalists to be able to actually report them, Twitter has kindly blocked Politwoops and sister site Diplotwoops from access of it’s API. Techcrunch.com reports Twitter says it violates terms of service. Surely it can’t be from pressure from politicians and governments? The US version was shut down earlier this year. The Open State Foundation and watchdog Sunlight Foundation said they will look for other ways to report deleted Tweets, noting that politicians shouldn’t have the same expectation of privacy as private citizens.

According to businessinsider.com, Apple is bringing a couple of major changes to the Apple Watch with the software update due out next month. Watch OS 2 will have native access to the watch, which means it won’t have to ‘phone home’ to your nearby iPhone constantly. Apps should load much faster. It will also remember WiFi connections you’ve used previously with your phone, allowing you to connect to the web without having your iPhone tagging along. This won’t work for everything, but will for iMessages and using Siri.


What May Be Coming in Apple Watch 2

With a second generation refresh of the Apple Watch expected out next year, 9to5mac.com says multiple sources are touting some features we will probably see on v. 2.0. Among those are a Face Time video camera built into the top bezel, and a new WiFi system for more iPhone independence. Insiders say you may be able to do most basic communication over WiFi without going through your iPhone. One thing not expected is more battery life. Apparently, Apple says most customers are happy with what the device now has. Did we mention they plan additional pricey premium models starting at over $1000?

On the subject of batteries, some researchers at Stanford have come up with a way to make lithium-ion batteries safer. As has been known, they can overheat and catch fire sometimes. Engadget.com reports the researchers have developed a chemical layer over the lithium anodes that prevents the finger like dendrites from growing out and shorting the battery. The barrier utilizes a mixture lithium nitrate and lithium polysulfide, for you chemistry nerds. A nice side effect is longer life. The treated batteries hold 99% efficiency for over 300 charges, compared with 150 cycles without. The breakthrough could lead to electric vehicles that could go days without a recharge.


The Next Updates to Android Wear

With all the frenzy about the Apple Watch, Google hasn’t been standing still. The verge.com says Android Wear for those OTHER wearables will be getting Wi-Fi support and gesture control in the next update. Most Android Wear smart watches already have Wi-Fi baked in, the update will just activate it.

First it was their signature learning thermostat, then Nest had the shake start with the Nest Protect smoke alarm. Now techcrunch.com reports they are advertising for a head of Nest Audio, in a move to integrate control of your audio and video system.

That takes care of sight and sound, what about smell? According to geek.com, FeelReel has a new virtual reality accessory that simulates 7 different ‘smellscapes!’ Fire, ocean, jungle, grass, and flowers are among them, and there are heat and water mist ports too. It’s $249 PLUS a VR headset!


Google Wireless….IF You Have the Right Phone

Google may kick off it’s rumored wireless service as soon as the end of the month. Bgr.com says the system will switch from Wi-Fi to cellular like any other, but there’s one HUGE drawback…it will only be available initially on the latest Nexus 6 smartphone. No price point has been revealed, but expect it to be very competitive…with the usual caveat that you’ll give up a bit more privacy to Google if you sign up!

We know Samsung is including wireless charging in the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge. Now, the CEO of Powermat, says their wireless charging standard will come baked in to all future Samsung smartphones that feature wireless charging. CNET.com reports that Samsung is also including the wireless standard from the Wireless Power Consortium for now. Powermat is what you see at Starbucks.

One of the big concerns of smart watches is battery life, and that goes for the Apple Watch to be hitting wrists next month. According to 9to5mac.com, The Reserve Strap will come to the rescue…recharging the watch as you wear it. It will extend the battery life to 125% of normal, and preorders are open now on their website…but it’s $249…just a hundred less than the actual Apple Watch!