GNC #1058 Hadron Collider a Stargate?

Normally I would not cover such and idiotic story of someone claiming the Hadron Collider was a Stargate. But I could not help myself when I learned it had appeared in my boyhood hometown newspaper. I will have my mom do some investigation to find out who this crackpot really is. I cover all of the latest tech news as well in today’s show.

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Hulu Offers Commercial-Free Viewing

Hulu LogoHulu has announced that they are now offering a commercial-free option to their subscribers. This is in addition to their subscription option that show a limited amount of ads. For a few dollars more, those ads can disappear (in most cases).

Many people feel that if they are paying a subscription fee to a TV streaming service that the shows should not have ads in them. In general, the idea is that you can either watch things for free – with ads included – or pay to avoid the commercials. Hulu’s “Limited Commercials” plan didn’t quite make sense because it was billing people $7.99 a month for a subscription while continuing to stick commercials into the content they chose to watch.

Hulu now offers a “No-Commercials” plan. It costs $11.99 a month, and will allow you to watch TV shows on Hulu without having to see any commercials. The FAQ notes that if you sign up with an iOS device and pay for your Hulu “No Commercials” subscription with your iTunes account, the cost is $13.99 per month.

To get people interested in this new plan, Hulu is offering a 1 week free trial. If the only thing holding you back from getting a Hulu account was the ads, it might be worth it to check out the free trial of the “No-Commercials” plan.

The FAQs point out that not all of the shows and movies on the “No Commercials” plan will be commercial-free. Most of them will, however. There are some shows that Hulu has not obtained the rights to stream commercial free. Those shows will have a short commercial before and after each episode. In other words, the shows won’t have commercial interruptions. Currently, that list of shows includes: Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon a Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, Grimm, New Girl, and How to Get Away With Murder.

GNC #1057 Site Traffic Exploding

The site traffic here at Geek News Central has exploded and the server has barely been able to handle it all. We will be moving to a much more robust server in short order.. It’s truly remarkable to see it. Some of the traffic has come from bad actors as well trying to bust the door down, but that’s the world we live in at this point. I also shake things up tonight and change up the show a little.. It’s time for some change.

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Booq Boa Shift Backpack Review

booq LogoOn review here is the Booq Boa Shift, a lightweight laptop backpack and brother to the Booq Taipan Shock reviewed a few weeks ago. Cut from the same cloth, both physical and metaphorically, the Shift takes laptops up to 17″ compared with the Shock’s 16″, but there’s little in it terms of overall size at 46 x 34 x 20 cm. There’s plenty of room inside for the gadgets and gear, with a slim pocket for the laptop, a larger section for gear and a couple of outer pockets for easy access. It’s a svelte, streamlined pack when all zipped up.

booq Boa Shift

The outer material is 1680D triweave water-repellent polyester closed with YKK zips and all the stitching is neatly finished and taped over on the inside. It looks like a quality product – there are no stray threads or sticky zips. The specs say the Shift weighs around 1.4 kg (3 lb) which is heavier than the Shock and although I don’t have the benefit of the two backpacks side by side, the Shift does feel a little more substantial with extra internal pockets.

The dedicated laptop section is closest to the back side of the Shift and has padding on all sides. It took every laptop I had with ease, including a hefty HP ProBook with a near 16″ screen. My small Chromebook almost disappeared inside it.

booq Boa Shift Internal Pocket

In the main section, there’s a selection of zipped pockets, netted areas, keyrings and pen-holders with plenty of room for books and lunchboxes too. The Boa Shift has flashes of yellow both inside and on the back. The main pocket opens good and wide for easy access to the insides.

booq Boa Shift Internal Pocket

The Boa is loaded with features. To start with all the zips are YKK’s water-repellent versions, so once closed up the bag will keep gear dry in a rain shower, and the bag looks neat as there are no zip teeth showing. Each side of the bag has two open pockets which will take a small bottle of water or perhaps boarding passes. The shoulder straps have two small elastic pockets that can take small items, such as an mp3 player. On the rear, there’s a separate zipped pocket, just the right size for an ereader or small tablet.

booq Boa Shift back

One final touch is a small separate zipped pouch for bits’n’pieces like headphones or credit cards. I can see it being handy travelling too, as you could put all the essentials in it and simply pull out the pouch before putting the Shift in the overhead bin.

Comfort-wise, the shoulder straps are well padded and can be adjusted for fit. There are little loops on the end of the straps to help tighten when needed. There’s an airmesh back padding to help with the load while keeping cool. I loaded the Boa up with some books and lugged it around for a bit and there’s no complaints here.

booq Boa Shift Straps

Finally, as with all Booq backpacks, the Boa Shift comes with Terralinq, a service designed to reunite lost bags with owners. By pairing a serial number on the backpack with the purchaser, the Shift can be returned should it be found.

Overall, as with Taipan Shock, the Booq Boa Shift is a well-made backpack that has plenty of pockets and space for safely toting the biggest of laptops and all the gear that goes with them. The Boa Shift is available from Amazon.co.uk for around GB£120, which is pricey enough and given that the Shock is currently retailing for about half the price, unless you need that extra 1″ or so, I’d stick with the Shock. However, if size matters (or you want a more streamlined pack), take a look at the Boa Shift.

Thanks to Booq for the loan of the Boa Shift.

Twitter Aims Toward More Diversity

Twitter logoTwitter announced their commitment to a more diverse work force. Information was posted by VP, Diversity and Inclusion, Janet Van Huysse, on the Twitter blog.

In the blog post, she states that Twitter has already been working towards internal diversity goals at different levels in the company. They decided to publicly share those goals. Twitter has defined what these changes will yield a year from now. In short, the new goals are focused in increasing the overall representation of women and underrepresented minorities throughout the whole company.

Those goals (set for 2016) are:

* Increase women overall to 35%

* Increase women in tech roles to 16%

* Increase women in leadership roles to 25%

* Increase underrepresented minorities overall to 11%

* Increase underrepresented minorities in tech roles to 9%

* Increase underrepresented minorities in leadership roles to 6%

Those last three goals come with an asterisk: “US only”.

That’s a good start, and an admirable goal. The LA Times breaks things down a bit. In an article titled “Twitter’s diversity plan: approximately 40 women” written by Tracey Lein and Daina Beth Solomon, the reality of those percentages becomes more clear.

In the article, it says that Twitter has a global workforce of 4,100 people. Right now, 34% of those employees are women. Twitter’s new goal for 2016 is to increase women overall to 35%. That comes out to 41 more women than they currently employ.

The same article notes that underrepresented ethnic groups (mostly blacks and Latinos) currently make up 8% of Twitter’s U.S. Workforce. Twitter wants to increase that number to 9%. In other words, Twitter has made some very modest goals.

GNC #1056 Outage what Outage

I heard there was a major Internet outage today, because I was head down cranking things out I really did not notice. Lot’s of fun tech news today as well so sit back for a fast show, due to my late start.

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One Billion People Used Facebook in One Day

Facebook logoToday, Mark Zuckerberg took to his verified Facebook account to announce that Facebook had passed an important milestone. For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day.

Part of his statement read: “We just passed an important milestone. For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day.

On Monday, 1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family.

When we talk about our financials, we use average numbers, but this is different. This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world.”

TIME points out that the one billion number is the total number of people who used Facebook on that one day. That number is different from the Daily Active User figure the company posts with its financial earnings that reflects a 30-day average.

Gizmodo notes that if one billion people used Facebook in one day, it means that over six billion people did not use Facebook at all that day. How you present things is important. Put one way, the one billion milestone sounds huge. Put the other way, it gives you some perspective about what that number really means.

What were the six billion people who didn’t use Facebook that day doing? One can only speculate. They might have used a different social media website instead. Or, they could have been spending time with their loved ones “in real life”. It is summer right now for half the planet, so it’s entirely possible that people were on vacation, going outside, and enjoying the weather.

Where Are The Smart Watches?

Michael KorsQueuing for rides at theme parks is a great opportunity for sizing up the fashions of fellow thrill seekers. Everyone docilely shuffles along and the folding line passes lots of people both in front and behind. As a watch fan, I enjoy checking out the timepieces around me and at Disneyland, Paris, there was plenty to see in the warm weather.

The wrists of Disney’s guests provided a good selection of horology from Rolexes and Omegas to Tissots and Casios. Michael Kors must be selling watches by the truckload: there were probably more of these fashion watches than anything else. What slightly surprised me was the dearth of smart watches. In five days at the House of Mouse and hundreds of people, I saw two Apple watches, one Sony smartwatch and a handful of Pebbles.

The Sony owner was next to me at one point and I engaged him in conversation about the watch. He confessed that it had been a gift and he didn’t use it very much. Interestingly, both the Apple watches were on women’s wrists. I’m not quite too sure what to take away from that…perhaps they were gifts too, or perhaps Apple has made the watches sufficiently fashionable and appealing that women will be the leaders here. Or perhaps it was pure coincidence.

Where are the smart watches? They’re not at Disneyland, that’s for sure.

Twitter’s First Hashtag Was Posted 8 Years Ago

HashtagHave you ever wondered why people started using hashtags on Twitter? Today, it’s not unheard of for a group of people, who are all tweeting about the same event, to use three or more hashtags to describe it. We may have reached #hashtag #overload.

Eight years ago, that wasn’t so. The very first person to suggest that people who are all tweeting about the same thing use a # (pound) was Chris Messina. His very influential tweet was posted on August 23, 2007.

Who is Chris Messina? His bio says: “I invented the hashtag, advocated for many open source and open web projects, and co-founded BarCamp and coworking communities. I previously worked at Google in developer relations as a UX designer.”

It’s pretty amazing to see how far his suggestion to use what was then refereed to as a pound symbol has gone. Why did he choose the pound symbol, instead of some other one?

In another of his tweets, Chris Messina notes that Twitter (the company, not the users) resisted using hashtags in the beginning. He points out that hashtags were not intended to be Twitter-only. Today, we see them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Aérotrain

aerotr1Last week I was on  holiday in France. Driving down from Paris to Orléans on the D2020, I noticed a long raised structure to the east running for several kilometres. It was a few hundred metres from the road so all I could see was a raised platform or aquaduct on stilts. I initially assumed that it was related to the energy industry because the structure passed near a nuclear power station. I thought nothing more about it for a few days and then used Google Maps and Street View to find out that this was an actually the industrial remnants of a high speed transportation experiment called Aérotrain from the 60s and 70s which achieved speeds of over 400 km/h (about 250 mph).

I80_HV_1Generically known as a hovertrain, the Aérotrain used a cushion of air to reduce the rolling resistance of the vehicle, in a similar way to maglevs. Aero engines were used from propulsion, initially with propellors, then turbojets and finally turbofans. A prototype using a linear induction motor was also tested.

The futuristic vehicle on the left is the I-80 HV and is shown on the track that I passed between Ruan and Saran. Able to carry 80 passengers, the I-80 HV established the world speed record for overland air cushion vehicles on 5 March 1974 with an average speed of 418 km/h (259 mph) and a top speed of 430 km/h (267 mph).

This was the brainchild of French engineer Jean Bertin who initially proposed the concept and demonstrated a scale prototype in 1963. Subsequently there were four prototypes built for France and one for the USA which ran on a test track in Pueblo, Colorado.

It’s totally fascinating and there are some comprehensive information resources online including the Association of Friends of Jean Bertin (in French) and Aerotrain.fr (French and English). There are some videos on-line too which show how amazingly futuristic the Aérotrain must have seemed in the 60s. The one below is nearly 20 minutes long. There’s a couple of videos on YouTube too – search for aerotrain.

For a quick 3 minute fix, French pop group Exsonvaldes released a music track with a video about the Aérotrain. There’s brief sequence of the I-80 HV keeping pace with a light aircraft.

State support for the Aérotrain ceased in 1974 and France pushed forward with the TGV for high speed rail transportation. The key benefit of the TGV was that the trains could run on standard rail tracks in urban areas before switching to dedicated high-speed lines in the countryside. Aérotrain needed a completely new infrastructure and the last flight of Aérotrain took place on 29 December 1977.

For comparison, here’s a BBC top five fastest trains. There’s some learning here for Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system.