Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


BBC Beta Homepage for the Post-PC Era

Posted by Andrew at 7:40 AM on September 21, 2011

The BBC is embracing the post-PC world with a reworked homepage at beta.bbc.co.uk. Here’s what it looks like on my TouchPad.

The black arrows on either side slide the screen through three other views. It’s a little bit reminiscent of how the BBC’s iPlayer displays programmes on my Bluray player, which isn’t entirely unsurprising. Some of the other features, such as setting your location, aren’t yet working but will be fixed before this version becomes the standard interface.

Compare this with the current mobile version of the site and you’ll see the change.

The BBC’s homepage was probably due for a refresh anyway, but I think it’s fairly telling that the new page is going to look the way it does. One can only assume that the BBC has stats on the web browsers being used to visit their site and they show the trend towards tablets and mobile devices. Is this the post-PC era with touch now driving the user interface, rather than keyboard and mouse?

“News of the World” Phone Hacking Scandal

Posted by Andrew at 3:45 AM on July 7, 2011

News International today announced that this Sunday’s edition of the News of the World newspaper would be the last edition and that the newspaper was closing down. Ostensibly the reason is that a phone hacking scandal had a irretrievably stained the name of the newspaper but the suspicion is that there’s far more to the closure.

For non-UK residents, it’s an astonishing story that involves several alleged crimes and some disgraceful behaviour. First of all, News of the World (NOTW) is one of the biggest selling Sunday newspapers with around 40% of the market and 2.8 million readers. It’s been going for 168 years and while considered a tabloid paper, it has been instrumental in revealing other scandals involving politicians and other well-known figures.

The scandal itself is that around six years ago, a private investigator used by the newspaper is alleged to have hacked into the voice mailboxes of over 4,000 people, including royal aides, sports stars, celebrities and politicians. Even worse, it is further alleged that the mailboxes of soldiers killed in Iraq and murder victims were hacked into. In particular, the alleged deletion of messages on Milly Dowler’s phone is suggested to have given hope to her parents that she was still alive when she had been killed.

Rumours of the hacking arose when the newspaper published stories that could only have been discovered from personal messages. The private investigator and the journalist involved were sent to prison back in 2007 and at the time, a police investigation suggested that the two individuals involved acted alone. In 2009, the Guardian newspaper claimed that thousands of mailboxes had been hacked and that the practice was well known and routine. The Metropolitan Police refused to re-open the investigation. It has also now been alleged that NOTW made payments to the police in return for information. The hacking of the mobile phone’s voice mail was not sophisticated. The private investigator simply relied on the fact that most people did not bother changing the default PIN on their voice mailbox.

Over the past week, as the revelations of the alleged hacking continued, public opinion turned against NOTW. Major advertisers in the paper withdrew their contracts, unwilling to be associated with the unfolding scandal. It was perhaps inevitable that the NOTW would have to close but it seems harsh to punish the current staff for the activities of their predecessors.

The intrigue continues as the parent company, News International, is keen to buy out the remaining shares in BSkyB. However, this had raised concerns that one single company would own too much of the UK media – News International owns the The Times too. The suggestion has been made that by closing one newspaper, NOTW, this will reassure the regulatory authorities but there are also now questions about whether News International is fit and proper to take over BSkyB. It is rumoured that News International will launch a Sunday edition of a sister newspaper The Sun. The domains “TheSunOnSunday.co.uk” and “TheSunOnSunday.com” were registered two days ago, though it’s not clear by who registered them

It’s an amazing scandal and totally despicable – some of the stuff you couldn’t make up. If there’s one thing to be learnt from the scandal, it’s make sure you change the default PIN on your mobile phone’s voice mailbox.

 

Google News Mobile Gets a “Near You” Update

Posted by Alan at 7:10 PM on May 13, 2011

The Google New mobile app received an update today, that was announced at the Google I/O Conference.  If you are a news hound then Google News is probably something you visit frequently.  And now, it just got better on your phone or tablet.  According to Google:

“Location-based news first became available in Google News in 2008, and today there’s a local section for just about any city, state or country in the world with coverage from thousands of sources. We do local news a bit differently, analyzing every word in every story to understand what location the news is about and where the source is located.”

If your phone tracks your location, and most do, then you can easily build a local new feed on your phone.  To get started you will have to visit Google News from your Android or iOS device.  A pop-up will ask you to share your location.  Just say “yes” and the local news will auto-populate.  You will then receive a “news near you” link at the bottom of you home page.  You can turn off the feature at any time hiding the section in your personalization settings or by adjusting your mobile browser settings.

This update adds a nifty “local” aspect to Google News that has been lacking since launch.  It’s a great way to keep up-to-date with what is going on around you.  Google News has continued to improve since launch, despite threats from high-powered news orginaztions such as Ruppert Murdoch’s empire.  Now they are muscling in on the territory of local papers and networks to go one step beyond.

Flickr Hiring, Rumors of Demise Greatly Exagerated

Posted by Alan at 6:40 PM on April 13, 2011

Flickr posted on their blog yesterday that they are now in search of new employees.  This, of course, flies in the face of rumors that Yahoo is looking to shutter some their properties.  Names that have been bandied about have included Delicious, Yahoo Buzz, and even Flickr.  Clearly though, Flickr is alive and well and looking to move forward and grow.

Positions they are looking to fill include Software Engineers, Product Managers, Product Designers, and an Engineering Manager.  This is not only good news for Flickr’s large user base, but also for out-of-work computer industry types.

Flickr was the first mainstream photo sharing website and is still the king, despite the growing specter of Google’s Picasa.  The fact that they are looking to grow the business and improve their offerings will allow a large portion of the internet breath a huge sigh of relief.  We don’t know what they have in store for future platform updates, but this latest post is a good sign that updates are in the works.

iPad Not A Newspaper Substitute (Yet)

Posted by Andrew at 2:34 PM on March 17, 2011

Britain’s The Telegraph was one of a few organisations to be given early access to the iPad before its launch and Tim Rowell, Director of Mobile Product Development at the Telegraph, reports on some of the thinking that went on as the team developed the first apps for it.

Initially, it appears that the plans were for a “all encompassing service” but as no-one knew what people wanted or how they would behave, in the end a simpler app was developed that tracked what the readers did. Over 60,000 people provided tracking data and the results were revealing.

“People are realizing that the iPad is not a direct substitute for the newspaper, they’re arguably complementary,” Mr Rowell says. The data showed that the average age of a reader was 47 and the app was only used seven times a month when the readers were unable to buy a paper.  Interestingly, the iPads tended to stay at home or at work and weren’t carried around. And to the Telegraph’s delight, the app was being used in over 186 countries.  “Here is a market, we can start selling the iPad edition to people abroad,” Mr Rowell says.

Mr Rowell went on to give some of the lessons learned from the experience (quoted from the original article)

- The iPad is not a direct substitute for print (yet)
- Users want editorial guidance – they want editors to provide the hierarchy of what is important.
- Production is a headache, building the app itself is easy.
- Advertising agencies and clients see the iPad app as a web product while newspapers see it as print. “We have to come up with a new metric,” Mr Rowell says.
- Apple’s insistence that anything offered outside the Apple store has to be offered inside is a problem, but Apple seems willing to listen to publishers’ concerns.

There’s some very interesting stuff there, especially when combined with the State of the News Media, reported on earlier in the week. Clearly some of the news media aren’t willing to have the web steal their lunch entirely and are fighting back, but what is revealing is the Telegraph app was mostly used when the reader couldn’t buy a paper.

For non-UK readers, The Daily Telegraph is one of the leading quality daily newspapers.

The State of the News Media 2011

Posted by Andrew at 4:59 PM on March 15, 2011

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism has released its eighth annual of  State of the News Media 2011, a fascinating review of the news media over the past year, showing that news has reached a tipping point (if it hasn’t already tipped) with more news read on-line than in print.

In the last year alone, on-line news reading grew by a little over 17% with every other news source losing audience: cable TV lost nearly 14% and there’s bar chart showing the decline here. Getting news and information on mobile devices was a big winner with 47% of all American adults reading some local news on their mobile device. There’s also an interesting part on how many people would pay for news and how much they would pay. The full article on mobile consumption is here.

Newspapers are the biggest losers with a weekday circulation loss of 5% and an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 newsroom jobs lost in the last year. There’s also concern that the move to on-line reading and in particular, reading on mobile devices, has introduced new players such as Google and Apple to the news space and they want to both set the rules and take their share of the revenue.

And if you want to know who owns the news media, then there’s a whole page of “Top 5s“.

This is absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to know what’s happening in news media but you’d need to set aside an hour or so to read it cover to cover.

NHK World TV iPod App

Posted by tomwiles at 8:59 PM on March 13, 2011

Like millions of others, I’ve been glued to news sources to get as much current information as I can about the ongoing disasters in Japan following the massive earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear plant disasters. This has to be the biggest natural disaster that has occurred in my lifetime.

In pre-Internet days, we had to rely on newspapers and television for news. Those forms of information have their problems. This is the Internet age. I want current information directly from the source NOW, not later. I want current information of my choice, not what news agencies that aren’t directly on the scene think is or is not important for me to know. If I want 24/7 disaster coverage, in the Internet age that becomes possible, allowing me to completely bypass limited conventional coverage.

It took a while for me to find, but there’s an iPhone/iPod/iPad/iOS app from Japan’s NHK called NHK World TV Live. The app is free. Once the app is installed, it operates very simply. You simply open the app and the live video directly from Japan’s NHK World news service immediately begins streaming. Search iTunes for NHK World TV Live.

The service has an English translator that talks over the lowered volume of the original Japanese broadcasts. The English translators aren’t slick and you can hear them become a bit confused from time to time.

There’s also an app from the Al jazeera TV English news network that operates live out of Doha, Qatar. Al jazeera TV English is highly produced from a beautiful state-of-the-art studio. The on-air newsreaders seem to be British nationals. Though Al jazeera gives more news from the Arab world than the typical American is used to, they do a pretty good job of covering international news, including the situation in Japan. Search iTunes for Al jazeera English Live.

Savvy TV news agencies in today’s world have to make themselves available if they want to continue to be relevant. News agencies such as the BBC, CBC, CNN, Fox, etc. seem to be dragging their feet regarding available-to-anyone-anywhere 24/7 Internet TV broadcasting. I believe they are already losing world market share.

 

Interactive New Zealand Earthquake Map

Posted by Alan at 5:35 PM on March 10, 2011

An interactive map, called the Canterbury Incident Map, is online providing information for victims of the recent Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake.  The clickable map gives information on what bridges are open, water distribution centers, road closures, aftershock locations, supermarket locations, and more.

The map also provides some insight for the rest of the world by displaying geotagged Flickr photos and YouTube videos.  It’s another example of a great use of modern technology.  It is providing crucial information for local residents as well as showing all of us exactly what the situation on the ground there is.  The latter is also helpful for those looking to provide aid to the area.

Shuttle Adds Blu-ray To XS35 Series

Posted by Andrew at 1:00 AM on October 7, 2010

If you haven’t seen how small Shuttle’s XS35 series of ultra small PCs are, then you need to look more closely at the picture on the left.  The PC is the unit stuck to the back of the monitor.

The XS3510M is now available with a Blu-ray player making this a full hi-def media device.  Powered by Intel’s dual-core Atom D510 coupled with Nvidia’s Ion graphics, it’s capable of 1080p playback via HDMI.

At only 38mm thick, it’s just a little bit bigger than an external USB 3.5″ HDD unit and yet there’s both the Blu-ray / DVD writer combo drive and a 500GB disk drive (I assume that it’s of the 2.5″ variety) crammed in there, along with a 4-in-1 card reader on the front.  Round the back, there are four USB ports for your mice and keyboards.  11n Wi-fi is built in too.

Shuttle also touts the low power credentials, claiming a maximum of 29W, which would hardly get my standard desktop PC started.  Power is supplied via an external power brick, much like a laptop.

There are no fans in the XS35 series and all cooling comes from air circulating through the many holes in the case.  Consequently, the PC has to be stood upright, not on its side, but it makes the system totally quiet apart from the gentle whirr of the Blu-ray drive.

Windows 7 comes pre-installed with the XS3510M but the range has also been tested with Novell’s OpenSuSE Linux.

Prices start at £171 for barebones systems and around £650 for the unit featured above (depending on options, exchange rate, etc.)  Brochure (.pdf) available here.

All pictures courtesy of Shuttle.

All Of Your News In One Spot

Posted by Alan at 3:53 PM on August 11, 2010

A lot of people are saying RSS Readers are dead – or on life-support, but I certainly don’t think so.  In fact I use one more now than I ever did.  Sure, breaking news may be easier to find on Twitter, but that does not cover most of what we are all interested in.  You won’t find, at least not easily, basic news headlines there.  Twitter is great, but it’s more for the sensational as opposed to the non-headliners.  But, it’s those non-headliner stories that we so often care about – the one about Adobe issuing a security update for Flash, or that your team pulled out a last minute win, or even the latest spectacular photo from Hubble.

Some of you who read this site probably also listen to the associated podcast (and those who don’t should).  If you are among those who do, then you probably are aware that Todd uses Google Reader to bring you the latest news stories from the tech world in each episode.  There’s a reason he’s using this technology and that’s because it still works better that anything else to bring you the news you want in a timely fashion.

But what you may not know is that Google Reader is not just a program for tech headlines.  Everyone can use it and for all kinds of news.  If you want tech news or sports or science or headline, it doesn’t matter.  You can add any site that has an RSS feed.  Then you can divide them into categories, move them around by drag-and-drop and organize however you want.

This is how I get my news everyday.  I rarely visit sites for this information.  When I find a site that has something of interest to me then I add it to Reader.  If I want to expand on an article I can click on it and it will open in a new tab.  Generally, I will go through all of my feeds and click on the articles that interest me, which opens them in a new tab, that I can click later to read the details.

I can edit the feeds as well.  This means that they can me added into groups (folders) that I create (such as Science), moved around, or removed altogether.

Google Reader is included in Google Mobile Apps, which can be loaded on almost any smartphone – Windows Mobile, iPhone, Android, etc.

Feedreaders are nothing new, and Google Reader, itself, has been around a while.  But, if those I know are any indication, many PC users are not using them.  And, I think the main reason for that is a simple lack of knowing about them and understanding how much convenience and efficiency they can add.