Category Archives: Tech News

Google Plans To Bundle All Its Chat Services Under ‘Babble’

Forget regular chats, it might be time to babble. And soon, if Google has its way.

Google-Babble
Google Babble

At one point or the other, faithful Google users must have felt that the disparate facilities offered by Google – Google Talk, Google+ Hangout, Google Voice and Google Drive – would be much better off if merged into one giant facility. That is where Babble comes in – it’s the promised unification of all these above-mentioned facilities.

What will that give you? That will allow you to use the same chat window as Google Talk and start a Hangout, while still editing a Google Drive file. You will be able to Hangout with anyone in the contact list.

Geek.com reported this story here and it’s drawing quite a bit of attention. Google is not launching a new product in this as it is just bundling up its old services into one master service and that has a lot of users excited.

What about Skype and AIM, which are similar services but not under the Google umbrella? Unfortunately, they will continue to be out of the shade as Google will integrate only its own services under the XMPP, a message-oriented communication protocol originally launched as Jabber.

The most exciting aspect of the grand unification plan is the promised quality. Geek.com reports that Babble will have exceptional voice and video quality.

Google has however not released any comment on any of the above issues. Maybe, the initial rollout will be quiet and on an experimental basis, like Google+. The interest is quite high, and the same can be said about the imminent launch of the new Android OS ‘Key Lime Pie’.

Enough Talk-ing, let’s start Babble-ing.

LG’s New M-Disk Ready Drive Can Write DVDs That Last up to 1000 Years

Some things in life are just too precious to forget and move on. Your marriage video, the picture of your child walking for the first time, or his first day in school. These are memories that you can’t afford to lose. Unfortunately, keeping your memories safe can require much more work than apparent at first glance. All storage devices have a shelf life. For a hard drive it’s about five years, while for a DVD it’s about 8 years. Cloud storage options might seem more tempting, but they are only good for as long as the service lasts. Millenniata, an Utah based digital storage company, believes that it has the perfect solution.

M-Disc-Long-Lasting-DVD-Technology

Millenniata has developed a storage technology that promises to permanently etch data onto the write layer of the disc for use anytime and for generations to come without any data loss. Millenniata’s M-Disc is essentially a specially manufactured DVD with four separate layers constructed of organic, synthetic materials. Data is physically engraved into a patented rock-like layer that is resistant to light, temperature, humidity, and more.

LG-M-Disk-Long-Lasting-DVD-Drive

LG has tied up with Millenniata to launch M-Ready Drives that can write data onto M-Discs. Since M-Discs are essentially DVDs, once written, they can be read in most standard DVD and Blu-Ray drives. LG is launching its Super Multi DVD Writer in India for Rs. 2,000. I’m still waiting for clarification on how LG intends to sell M-Disc drives in India. They are currently available on Millenniata’s website at $30 for 10 discs before adding shipping costs and taxes. This equates to about Rs. 162 for each disc.

LG-M-Disk-Long-Lasting-DVD-Writer

Don’t Panic: Google Just Paid Tribute To Douglas Adams With An Doodle

Google has done it again. On the 61st birthday of the great Douglas Adams, Google chooses to pay tribute to the author who almost set alight a whole new genre and fired up the imagination of so many people, most of whom became his fans. The scale is massive, the ideas, all taken from his book, span the entire length and breadth of the universe and the doodle epic! Let’s just hitchhike through the whole animated doodle.

Oh that Frood!

Before that, a brief introduction to who Douglas Adams was.  Since you can read up on him on Wikipedia, I’m going to be opinionated and basically give you a fan’s eye view of the genius. Towering at 6’ 5’’, Adams was the perfect example of the gentle giant you read about in literature – the person who melts the hearts of children with his warmth and endears the adults alike with his wide depth of knowledge in so many different fields. And of course, wins over the entire galaxy with his unique sense of humor, sarcastic and dry in parts, warm and witty at other times, but never alienating. His most favorite bragging right included that fact that his initials are D.N.A. (Douglas Noel Adams is his full name).

Remembering Adams

Of course, the one-liners don’t hurt at all. The reach of his imagination spanned till the end of the universe, where he founded a restaurant in which time was just an illusion, especially lunchtime, doing all sorts of crazy things! And that spaceship, the Heart of Gold, which could zap through every point in space-time all at once but then end up in an indeterminate state! And that paranoid android Marvin who could kill a supercomputer just out of depression! And of course, who can forget the mad two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy! All of this and much much more make Douglas Adams, who is no longer with us, that same smiling genius towering over all of us, literally and metaphorically, gently imploring us all to think a little bit beyond our own reach.

And of course, 42!

Google’s Doodle

Google does a splendid job with the doodle. Go the page and click once on the calculator, on which is written ‘Don’t Panic’, one of the Adams trademark lines. You’ll be greeted with an animated video accompanied by digital music. Subsequent clicks yield more such scenes. I’ll just describe a few of these – don’t treat them as spoilers, just enjoy them.

Scene: Translation

The first click gives you a small orange creature, which fellow froods (fans of the author) will recognize to be the Babel fish. When implanted into someone’s ear, it feeds off any sound frequency entering and then excretes a sound frequency which the person can understand. Translating from any known language in the Universe to a language understood by the user, this has removed all barriers of communication. Well, there will definitely be consequences of that!

Scene: Flying

Another shows the art of flying. The “knack [of flying] lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss”, says the Hitchhikers’ Guide. An animation shows a figure throwing himself on the ground and finally flying! Mission accomplished.

Scene: Infinite Improbability

There is definitely the Heart of Gold spaceship and the Infinite Improbability Drive which allows it to go through all space-time points all at once!

Scene: Intelligence

And froods also know that humans are the third most intelligent creatures on Earth preceded by mice and dolphins. An animation celebrates that as well. The trusty towel also is not to be missed.

Scene: The Ultimate Answer

The grand finale is definitely the supercomputer, which is built to compute the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. The animation shows that when it’s asked what ‘1+1=’ is, it shows ‘2’ and when asked what “E=” is, it shows “mc2”, but then it’s asked The question on Life, the Universe and Everything and it computes for millions of years and returns the answer “42”! Of course, the question is unknown!

Google, hats off.  And from a big fan of the author, a big ‘Thank You’!

Canon Takes a Shot at Virtual Reality with MReal

When it comes to next-gen tech, Google clearly has the lead with its Glass project. Google Glass might be premature for its own time, but it is creating a visible impact in the market, as more companies are getting serious about virtual reality. While Glass has a more social and augmented-reality based use case, other companies like Oculus Rift are focusing on a niche market like gaming. The next revolution in consumer devices is coming in the form of virtual reality, and Canon Inc., the imaging expert is joining this race.

canon-mreal

Canon is working on a virtual reality device called the Canon MReal. It combines Canon’s excellent imaging technology with the awesomeness of virtual reality to give us a mixed reality environment. The MReal device has a head-mounted display that is fed with a processed video for the wearer to see. There is a camera in front of each eye, which captures a live video, a computer combines the video with computer-generated visuals in live and puts it back on the screen for the wearer to see with assistance from a number of sensors.

Google Glass, Oculus Rift and the Canon MReal are all trying to capture different markets. However, all three are working separately on virtual reality. While the Oculus Rift has the advantage of being super affordable, Google Glass has the awesome Google infrastructure powering it. So, what does Canon MReal have to offer? At a price tag of $125,000, the MReal is not affordable, neither is it a consumer device. It has been showcased as a mixed reality environment creator, which needs a definite predefined behavior from the existing environment. Clearly, this is less of a Google Glass competitor and more of an industrial virtual-reality toy.

Google is playing a big bet with its Glass project. It is pitching Glass aggressively, and everyone’s attention is fixated on this one project; so much that it can easily be called the biggest thing that Google is working on right now. It would be sad if the project’s peak moment at Google were timed poorly in the context of the consumer electronics market. However, the very fact that it has aroused an interest elsewhere is a good indicator. Google is going beyond cellphones and is taking a lead in the consumer electronics sector for the first time, and as we can see, it seems like it is working great for them.

Yahoo! Sitebuilder is Still Stuck with Java Version from 2008

Over the last few years, we have seen a number of exploits and vulnerabilities in Java. Oracle released Java 6 update 39 earlier this month fixing several security bugs. This was probably the last security update for Java 6, as Oracle had said earlier that there would be no security updates for Java 6 after February. However, you will be surprised to know that there are some top-notch organizations that still ask you to install age-old versions of Java.

java

Sitebuilder is one such tool from Yahoo! Sitebuilder can be used to whip up really simple websites within a few minutes. It is not the kind of tool developers would boast of, and I do not know anyone who uses it. However, the tool very much exists, and is distributed by Yahoo!. Most of us would not care about using it, but there are people who would want to skip the technical knowhow and just the website out.

Here comes the interesting part- Yahoo Sitebuilder comes with Java 6 update 7, which came out back in the summer of 2008. That version of java is severely flawed and outdated. The Sitebuilder tool cannot be blamed either, as it talks about support for Windows Vista at best, which makes it look like no one at Yahoo! cares about Sitebuilder either! However, what is of importance is that Sitebuilder is being distributed by Yahoo! and given the number of hacks and malware Java is attracting lately, Yahoo! should take care of this and thus prevent the spreading of Java vulnerabilities.

BREAKING: Did North Korea Just Conduct Its Third Nuclear Test?

The 1984 state may have just conducted a nuclear test, fears the world. An earthquake of 4.9 magnitude on the Richter Scale was detected today, at about 12 noon (Korean time) which occurred in North Korea and it bears significant resemblance to a tremor expected to accompany a nuclear test. Pyongyang hasn’t confirmed any nuclear test though.

A TV broadcast at a South Korean rail station. The writing in Korean reads: North, artificial earthquake 11:58 a.m (Photo Courtesy: AP Photo)

South Korea has raised its military alertness to high priority after the quake, and Seoul is also trying to ascertain the exact cause of the quake. Natural quakes are preceded and succeeded by tremors of smaller magnitude than the actual quake, while an earthquake due to a strong explosion occurs as a single wave of a particular magnitude. The quake detected today is such a quake.

UPDATE: We note that N.Korea has confirmed the nuclear test. The New York Times has more. 

Third time’s a charm

If confirmed, this will be the third nuclear test conducted by North Korea after 2006 and 2009 and rough position triangulation suggests that the epicenter of the quake is about the same as that of the two previous quakes. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) would be violating international peace treaties and sanctions imposed upon them by the UN if this turns out to be a nuclear explosion.

Chi Heoncheol, an earthquake specialist at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resource says

There is a high possibility that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test

Not only was the epicentre location congruent with previous tests, the strength was also roughly the same – 3.9 and 4.5 were confirmed the last two times. This latest one is between 4.9 to 5.2, according to the South Korean weather stations monitoring seismic activity.

The US and its allies in the region have been on high alert since the quake.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro “Sold Out”

Microsoft made its new member of the Surface family, Surface Windows 8 Pro, available for sale starting February 9, 2013. The Surface Pro, as I would like to call it, is being sold via Microsoft’s online store, their few retail stores and Best Buy and Staples retail stores.

Within hours, news started rolling in of the 128GB model going “out of stock”. The 64GB was available in most places, but the higher-end model was showing no stock at most of the retailers.

What does it mean? Unfortunately, besides the simple math of demand being more than the supply, nothing. The supply was not enough to keep up with the demand, which for a robust manufacturing organization means a supply chain disaster. How can a company botch supply on launch day? It is the one day the company gets to be in the press more than any other day, at least from that product’s standpoint, and they are unable to fulfil demand.

However, despite their keyboards and mice, as well as their Xbox and now Surface RT, I don’t consider Microsoft a “robust manufacturing company”. Also, the Surface Pro is not a run-of-the-mill product, or an iteration of an existing product. It has a complex screen and specialized materials. There very well could be issues in larger scale manufacturing of those components. In fact, after promising that the Surface Pro would be released about 90 days after the Surface RT, Microsoft ended up releasing the former about 2 weeks later. That hints at a possible issue (or a set of issues) they may have faced during the manufacturing.

There were also anecdotes from individuals going to or calling retail stores in their area and finding out that the stock at these stores was in many cases in single digits. While those are still anecdotes, it is worthwhile to remember that the stock is ordered by the store, and not by Microsoft. Regardless, the customer experience ended up being bad because they could not buy the product they wanted to.

However, not all is lost as long as Microsoft can ramp up quickly. If they replenish stocks quick enough and take advantage of the momentum they have unexpectedly received, it may end up working in their favour. These enthusiastic customers will show off their shiny new toy to their friends and family and perhaps create a few more customers out of them.

Here is where Microsoft will have to learn what Apple has mastered — pre-production capital expenses to fulfil the demand expected at launch, accurately predicting launch day demand, and most importantly, making sure more markets are served at launch and soon after, than the previous launches.

In some ways, this situation is better than the opposite situation, which is Microsoft and its retail partners stock a ton of units and no one wants to buy them. At least at this point it does seem like there is unmet demand for the product. It is for Microsoft to ramp up and ensure that their next Surface family member has even better launch day balance between supply and demand.

The Pirate Bay – Away From Keyboard Documentary is Available for Download

The Pirate Bay – Away From Keyboard (TPB-AFK), the documentary about The Pirate Bay (TPB), and its founders Gottfrid Svartholm Warg (Anakata), Fredrik Neij and Peter Sunde (brokep), was released a few hours back. It took over four years to complete and tells the story of the lives of the founders of TPB. The movie was released online and also featured at the Berlin International Film Festival this year. The film has been made by Swedish filmmaker and producer Simon Klose, who followed and documented the court cases involving TPB.

GOTTFRID

Currently, Anakata is serving a prison sentence after being arrested in Cambodia and Peter and Fredrik are wanted. The case also included the CEO of TPB Carl Lundström, and all four of them were sentenced to one year in prison each and were ordered to pay damages of USD 3,620,000 in total. Although Carl Lundström’s prison sentence was reduced to four months, which is over now, he had to pay additional damage charges.

The title “Away From Keyboard” is symbolic of the harsh realities of life away from the keyboard where the Pirate Bay trio would face a court trial away from their online lives. Cases like these push the boundaries of reality and make us wonder just how orthodox and stagnant the media industry is, when it comes to copyright. This movie lays case for copyright reforms.

The full documentary is available on YouTube and it is released under a Creative Commons License.

Additionally, there is crowdfunding page for the movie at the official website. If this movie interests you, there are two more documentary films called Steal This Film (2007) and Good Copy Bad Copy (2007), which feature the police raids on The Pirate Bay.

Monkey Photo Embarrasses Iran, Calls Into Doubt Their Space Program

Quit monkeying around Iran, the world community seems to be saying. Very recently, Iran boasted of putting its very first primate into space and to bring him safely back to Earth. However, the image of a monkey, which Iranian officials claim is the ‘wrong picture’, has shattered Iran’s claims. People have several questions: did the landing happen? Did the monkey survive the journey? Or even, did the mission ever happen?

The monkey strapped up before being sent to space. (Photo Courtesy: AP/Getty Images)

Not the same Monkey!

Iran’s rocket Pishtam (meaning ‘pioneer’ in Parsi) was scheduled to carry a primate, a grizzly monkey, into space. The mission would last 20 minutes. The release of a picture showing a monkey which bears little resemblance to the one supposedly launched into space has now called into question the veracity of Iran’s claims. What happened to the other monkey?

The two monkeys

The new photo clearly shows a monkey with dark fur and narrower nose, while the one supposedly launched was grizzlier and had a distinctive red mole over the right eye.

The Pishtam launch vehicle. (Courtesy: AP/Getty Images)

The doubts increase further since there were no landing photos released by Iran, despite there being launch photos. Some are calling the whole mission a hoax, and it seems justified too!

The interest in Iran’s space launch is because any space launch capability directly influences the state’s ability to develop long-range ballistic missiles. Topped with a nuclear warhead and a regime not afraid to use nuclear weapons, this could be a deadly combination.

Google’s Project Glass Gets Patent

It’s reality like you’ve never seen before. Google has just acquired a patent for Project Glass which is aimed at changing people’s lives forever and how they view it. Google’s Project Glass has already received space here on this blog with my colleagues Chinmoy and Pallab writing about it here and here. Very recently, a test report described the prototype for Google’s wearable computing project was released. It described all the cool features of the Project Glass ‘smart glasses’ headset.

Sky divers tested Google Glasses while freefalling. (Courtesy: Google)

A new paradigm to hearing

Google recently sought – and obtained – patentfor their audio transmission technology titled ‘Wearable Computing Device with Indirect Bone-Conduction Speaker’. It doesn’t use earplugs, as that might interfere with the ambient sounds, but transmits sounds via the skull bones into the inner ear. This is a refined version of what Beethoven is said to have done about his own deafness – he put a rigid rod between the piano and his head, so that he could pick up vibrations from the piano. While the success of that experiment is unknown, Google has certainly impressed people with their bone-conduction technology. Reviewers however rate the quality of sound to be slightly lower than the earplug sound quality, but it is good enough for most purposes.

More things to be packed in!

The Heads-Up Display is also being modernized. Google plans to incorporate most features of the Android OS onto the display. Its concept video shows all sorts of cool additions, like Google Maps, Video chats on the go and sharing display while video chatting, but these will take a long time to incorporate.   Google showed off the glasses by having skydivers sound and video test it. A group of skydivers relayed live photos from the glasses last year as they dropped down towards the Google developers’ forum. Publicly promoting the glasses was Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin who was spotted sporting these shades!

The future?

The market seems to be ripe for picking. A lot of companies are vying for the Head-Up display eyegear, and Microsoft and Motorola have filed their respective patents in order to bite into the massive potential market pie. However, Google seems to be heads and shoulders above these companies when it comes to this market share. Only time will tell whether Google can create – and rule over – this niche in the highly competitive hardware market.