Tuesday Tech Talk: Finding flight number MH370

Everyone heard something about the missing flight number MH370 which is missing since five days. The flight was last seen near Palau Perak at the Strait of Malacca. No one really knows where it is now and what exactly happened. In addition to this, there were some curious incidents with passengers who traveled by using stolen passports.

Anyway, now everyone who wants to help can do something. Not on the ships and planes which are currently seeking the missing flight, but also on your computer at home. A company called DigitalGlobe uploaded satellite pictures of the area where the malaysian plane was last seen.
Sometimes the site is not accessible because of the large number of people who are currently using it, but when you enter it you can check the pictures for hints and traces of the Boeing 777 which is lost.
Digital Globe itself announced on Twitter that they “are working to best handle an unprecedented level of web traffic and interest in supporting the search. Please check back soon”.
So when you want to help finding the flight, you are now able to do so!

 

Picture: CC BY-SA 2.0 Aero Icarus

Tuesday Tech Talk: iOS enters the car

iOS comes to your Car. That is the key message of the recently introduced Apple service called CarPlay which will be available on “select new cars in 2014”, according to the Apple website.
It will be possible to use your iPhone in a more comfortable and safer way than ever because of the very good integration in your car’s infotainment system.

Owners of selected Mercedes, Volvo, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai and Jaguar vehicles will use the well-known apps from their smartphone also in their car, using the built-in touchscreen of it.
There are different ways how CarPlay can be implemented, this depends on the manufacturer of the car. Of course it will be possible to use your voice by speaking to Siri. In addition to that you can not only touch the display in your car but also use knobs and controls which are built in. That makes the usage of CarPlay safer, because you do not have to put your hands around the whole cockpit. Instead of that, “your eyes and hands stay where they belong”. For example at your steering wheel with built in keys to navigate through your messages, contacts or your music library. It is known that Mercedes adds CarPlay at first in its new C-Class model, using a Siri button to provide constant access to the speech recognition system. Also Volvo’s concept sounds and looks very good. Here is a video.
Other manufacturers who want to use CarPlay on future models and are not mentioned above are BMW, Ford, Opel Nissan and Peugeot. There are some more listed on Apple’s page.

Apps for the car

That leads us to the apps which will be supported for the beginning.
Apple reimaged the applications for Maps, Phone, Messages and Music. So these ones will be perfectly fit to your car’s screen.
They are adapted with the result that the it might be easier to use them for example very big buttons in the Phone menu or a neatly arranged list of your messages.
Do not worry, there will be other apps as well!
Apple mentions Podcasts, Beats Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Stitcher. Except for Spotify these apps are not very common in Germany (as far as i know) but there will be enough big companies which want to enter that new market.
For the beginning you have to connect your iOS device with your car by the Lightning connection. This means you can only use the iPhone 5s, 5c and 5. But there are rumors that Apple and the manufacturers want to use Wifi later on.

Picture: Apple.com (fair use)

Tuesday Tech Talk: SlickLogin

The Tech Talk today is about SlickLogin, a small (start-up) company which is interested in making login and verification processes on the internet much easier.
Since Google bought the company in the last days, media is suddenly interested in SlickLogin, which consists of a small team of 3 former Israeli military officers.
The three founders Or Zelig, Eran Galili and Ori Kabeli are all “graduates of the IDF’s elite cyber security unit, and have spent over 6 years working on the cutting edge information security projects”, according to the SlickLogin website.
Now Google bought the company to further develop their own login methods and make logging in at all the Google services easier and more convenient for the users.

Too many passwords

The techniques of SlickLogin might introduce a revolution in the process of logging in to a web service. Even if we actually have no chance against the big intelligence services concerning the defense of our privacy on the internet, many different and secure passwords are the most important thing to guarantee your data a minimum of security.
The problem is, that no one is able to memorise 8, 5 or even 1 password for his user account, if it really is a secure one. Because that ones should have a lot of characters, consist of numbers and special characters and also have some capital and not capital letters. And even if you follow all the rules, passwords can be stolen or hacked.
At this point, SlickLogin comes into play.

The technique of SlickLogin

SlickLogin just makes the use of passwords unnecessary or at least makes plogin processes at lot more secure as a part of a so-called two-step authentification. Currently Google’s two-step authentification uses your mobile as a second step and sends you a code which has to be typed in on the pc to make sure your access is valid.
SlickLogin also uses your mobile to authentificate, but in a much easier way. When you want to login to a site which has SlickLogin enabled, you just put your phone next to the speakers of your pc and then will get access to your account.
How this works? Very slick!
The speakers send out an audio signal which will be recognized by your phone. The signal is not audible for humans, but your mobile sends an signal back to your account just after it verified if the sound was correct.
In addition to that you can attach location data to your different accounts. For example, when you only login to your work  mail account when you are at work, SlickLogin also checks via WiFi, GPS or NFC or Bluetooth if your phone (and you) are at your working place. This way it makes unauthorized access attempts from another location very hard.
Also it is impossible to record somone else’s audio signal and use it for access later on because the signal is absolutely unique every single time you login to a service.
All in all, the concept of SlickLogin sounds very good and the technique maybe gets involved in our daily life by the support of Google, even when Google is maybe not the perfect company for privacy matters.

Picure: Screenshot SlickLogin.com

Tuesday Tech Talk: Android apps on Windows?

Heads up! Something which is maybe interesting for Windows phone users today:
According to The Verge, Microsoft maybe will allow Android apps to be installed on their Windows phone OS. The fact that Windows has a huge problem with their app store – they just have too little apps which are famous, and too little apps in general – make rumors come up that they might allow the installation of Android apps on Windows.
The current problem is a vicious cycle, where Microsoft hardly can escape. The small number of Windows devices on the smartphone market make the Windows OS unattractive for developers so there are not very much new apps for the platform, compared to iOS and Android.
On the other hand, the small number of apps make Windows phones unattractive for the potential customers. These days the most important thing on a device is, beside its capability to run the OS and have built in good components, the range of apps which are provided by the platform’s shop. The more apps a shop provides, the more someone can do with his phone.

Risks for Microsoft

Of course, that way would not be a simple solution for Microsoft’s problem.
At first, someone has to arrange that the apps are really running on Windows phone OS. That alone is not an easy task, at least when it should be easy for the consumers to load the Android apps. Today it is also possible to virtualize Android apps on Windows, but that is very difficult.
Microsoft has to decide how they implement the Android app store in their system, or if they use the help of another company which helps them make the Android apps compatible.
Even when it is technically possible to provide apps from the additional platform in Windows, there still is the question whether this will be helpful for Microsoft.
No one can predict the reaction of the users to that. Maybe that step which should be the salvation is the doom for the app store of Microsoft itself, because the Windows apps will not be used anymore.

 

Picture: CC BY-SA 2.0 mbiebusch

Tuesday Tech Talk: Paper by Facebook

Facebook revealed a new app called “Paper”. It unites news and the personal timeline of the user.
Paper is built by the Creative Labs project, which is a new space for facebooks developers to create new apps “to support the diverse ways people want to connect and share.”
The head of the project is Mike Matas, who was one of the designers of the original iPhone and also a part of the team from Nest labs Inc.
With Paper you can browse through different categories and you can choose between several departments, like “Facebook” and e.g. “Headlines”. In the Facebook department you get your normal timeline and the newest stories from your friends like shared pictures or other posts. In “Headlines” you will see articles from news providers like TIME, CNN, and The New York Times.
If you are not interested in current news, you are also able to choose a lot of other categories like Planet, Cute, Tech, Pop Life, and Score. I do not exactly know what the american users currently get to see in that departments, but we will find it out when Paper comes to Germany. Currently it is only possible to download the app in the U.S. App Store.

Thinner and lighter

According to wired.com, “you’ll find no navigation bars and on-screen buttons”. The app commonly uses gestures to navigate through it and explore the new facebook and news world.
The font is a very thin one and not only the buttons, but all other things wo are not absolutely necessary disappeared, to make the app a beautiful one. One which makes really fun to use.

On the other side, Paper maybe will not last very long – at least it’s name. Soon after Paper was revealed, the app-designer Fifty Three claimed that “Paper” is too likely to their own app “Paper by Fifty Three”. The developers of that app saved the brand name already in 2012. Now Georg Petschnigg, chief at Fifty Three, calls for Facebook to change the name of their new app.

Picture: The Verge

Tuesday Tech Talk: Lexbase.se, the internet pillory

Imagine you could know every single crime from all the people who live near you, or even in your hole country. Imagine you could see what they did and what sentence they got, or just why they were accused, even if they are not condemned. This is already possible in Sweden, where a new site, called lexbase.se, launched on monday this week. You are able to search for names of people, see what crime they commited and also explore a map where all the cases are marked.

How can they do that?

The persons who run the site use both, the swedish “principle of public” and the right of press freedom, to get the public informations from all the judgements and put them on an internet page.
The “principle of public” (swedish: “Offentlighetsprincipe”) is a special law, what e.g. allows you also to check how many taxes your neighbour pays or how much debts he has.
So it is legal, that lexbase.se gets the information, and it is legal that they publish it, because of the press freedom. According to media it is very easy to get a so-called “publisher-certificate” which assures you to have a right on press freedom in Sweden.
It is paradox that one of the organisator of the site has not paid his taxes since years and it is said that he also had to do with some dubious businessmen.

What about errors?

Beside the general question if it is right to publish all these informations about people who are maybe not even really sentenced but were only accused one time, more and more bad details are currently revealed: According to The Local, the first wrong datas are found on the page.
This means that you are declared as a thief or something much worse than that, also when you did not do a thing. Another problem is what happens in the case of an relocation of a person or a family. It is possible that you are out of luck and your new house is the former one of a criminal. It is not sure that anyone always checks the data and that people think of you as an criminal only because of your new residence.
In my opinion no one can agree to all the risks of that website even if it would work absolutely correct, and besides of that I do not think that it is right to pillory all the people publicly.

(lexbase.se is currently sometimes not available)

Picture: Screenshot lexbase.se

Tuesday Tech Talk: What’s Nest?

Since Google bought the company some days ago, Nest labs Inc. was in the focus of the media, but no one really knows what they do, at least in Europe. Nest was founded by the iPod-inventor Tony Fadell and his colleague  Matt Rogers in 2010. (So at least the products look very nice.)
It is a home-automatization company which wants to develop a smarter and more intelligent home system, by now only in the sector of thermostats and fireboxes.
Currently the thermostats work and are only made for use in the United States, because of the given technical standards in the country. In many houses houses of the USA it is usually that you can only turn on the heating on 100 or zero percent. E.g. the heating turns off at 21°C, but only turns on again when it is 18°C cold. This is what Nest wants to change. A Nest Labs thermostat recognizes the out- and inside temperature and also is able to provide a constant temperature, like an air conditioner. It also knows where you live, because you have to enter your ZIP-Code when setting up the system. Yeah, ill that point it is not very different to the systems we already have here in Germany, too.

Key features of the Nest thermostat

But the special features of a Nest thermostat is that you can control it via your Smartphone and that it learns from your behaviour every day. The Smartphone thing is not that big thing either, but the learning of the thermostat is quite innovative. The most heatings of the present time have the function to turn off at a determined time and turn on again at another, but Nest learns from your everyday usage. When you always want the heatings to cool down at 11 P.M. it recognizes that and adjusts itself on its own after a time. It also learns when you come home, or what temperature is your favourite.
And when you are home earlier one day, you can adjust the thermostat with your smartphone and it heats up so it is warm again when you arrive.

What wants Google?

Like you can easily guess out of the previous paragraph, an absolute inalienable component of the Nest Thermostats functioning is collecting data. Now some people think that Google did this to collect more data and are worried about that. Nest itself declares that the personal data of their customers are only used for the improvement of their products. It is probable that this buyout is only the beginning of Google’s effort to get involved in your home and your daily life and that we will get to know some more products from Nest/Google in the next years.

 

Picture: CC BY 2.0 David Berkowitz

Tuesday Tech Talk: Moto X comes to Germany, too

The Moto X, the “big sister” of the already in Germany available Moto G also comes to Germany. Motorola revealed that it will be obtainable at the beginning of February this year at a price of 399€. Compared to the Moto G it has some hardware improvements and will be delivered with the newest Android version, 4.4 KitKat. By the way, the users who already own a Moto G can update their phones on the latest software in these days, too.

Specifications

The Moto X has got in comparison with the Moto G a doubled size of RAM, 2Gb, a slightly bigger display and will be only available with 16Gb of memory at the beginning. Of course, you aren’t allowed to put in an SD card or extend your storage on another way. Additionally Motorola provides a 2 year support of 50gb Google Drive storage, which can not really console for the small capacity of the phone.
The Moto X will come with LTE support and a better camera, too, which alas is not as good as the ones from the e.g. the Galaxy S4 or the iPhone, but should be okay for the price and a better one than which is used in the Moto G. The main Camera has a resolution of 10MP and the front camera one of 2MP. (Moto G: 5 and 1.2) Also it has built in a better processor, a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro which works with 2 cores at 1,7Ghz.
As against the Moto G, the Moto X supports Near Field Communication (NFC) which can be helpful to pay somthing “over the air”, e.g. train tickets or your weekly purchase at the supermarket. Unfortunately this practice is not very common yet, at least in Germany.

Speech recognition at every time

A in the USA very hot discussed feature of the Moto X is the speech recognition capability of the phone. You know Siri from the iPhone, where you have to press the home button for a longer time to activate it. With the Moto X you do not have to do anything, you can just speak. Of course not all the people who are around your phone because it listens only to your specific voice, but in my opinion it is a little bit crazy that your phone “never sleeps”, like Motorola officials describe the feature. It is clear that someone can listen to you through your mobile even if you own another one, if he wants and if he has got the fitting resources for such an attack, but this feature maybe makes it more easy to spy on you.
In addition to that, I do not think that you always need your speech recognition activated because most of the people only barely use it, or at least not very much.

All in all the Moto X seems to be a quite good phone for an acceptable price, even when the Moto G will suffice for the most users.

 

Picture: CC BY-SA 2.0 andsnleo

Tuesday Tech Talk: Internet of things

Internet of things, what should that be? Isn’t the Internet just in the Internet, just a virtual space, nothing to touch and nothing to hold in your hands, except of your smartphone?
Obviously this can’t be right when there is a Internet of things, things which take place in the “real life” as well, and not just in the internet. Things we know from our daily life, but which are going to be advanced by the help of the internet. Maybe it means that normal things come in contact with the internet, that they get connected?

That were my thoughts when I stumbled about the phrase this morning, and they are not that wrong. The phrase “Internet of things” was first used by Kevin Ashton, a RFID specialist, in 1999. His thoughts, and the main understanding of the phrase today was that all the data in the internet is mostly caused by humans, “by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a bar code.” (RFID Journal)
His idea is, that all the things we use in our life should act a bit more on their own. For example in the world of logistics, it could mean that with the help of computer chips the packets on delivery know how they get best to their destination or, at a first step, don’t have to be scanned at every checkpoint of the shipping route, because this works wireless with the help of RFID chips.  After that, the goal is to make things intelligent, to let them decide and to support the humans. This is the solution for the “increasing complexity and the claim for more flexibility” in our modern world.

Another example which is already present in our world could be the measure of rain and the weather and the automatic reaction of all your doors and your windows at home. And not only that, because that would not have something to do with the internet. But the further advancement of that idea would be that your windows communicates with a weather service, and closes before the rain begins to fall. Another example is that your garage door has not to be opened by you anymore because it recognizes your arrival and opens automatically.
One could ask why we need that, could criticize that the people won’t do anything and how it could help that your garage door opens, but on the other hand in some cases like in the delivery of goods and logistics it is necessary to help the mankind deal with the challenges of the future.

For further information on german click here.

 

Picture: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Casaleggio Associati

Tuesday Tech Talk: Christmas presents

Yes, it is late, very late. But at the present state of technics, it should be no problem to get you another Christmas present within the next day, even when you buy it on the internet. Thank the overnight delivery.
Since this is a technic column, here are some last technical Christmas gift suggestions.

Happy Christmas!

Picture: CC BY-NC 2.0 Wysz