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2015 April

April 23, 2015

Google Is About to Make Your Wireless Carrier a Lot Less Relevant


Google’s new wireless phone service, Project Fi, offers a long list of modern day perks. It automatically moves phones between traditional cellular networks and the WiFi wireless networks inside homes and businesses. Once on WiFi, you can still make calls and send texts. And you can pay for all this in small, flat, monthly fees—avoiding the sort of inflated, strings-attached pricing that so often accompanies our cell services.

But the most interesting perk is that the service uses two different wireless carriers—T-Mobile and Sprint—and you don’t have to pick between them. As you move from place to place, Project Fi will not only move you from cellular to WiFi and back again. It will move you between T-Mobile and Sprint, depending on whose signal is the strongest in your particular location.

“The unique thing is that you’re no longer tied to a network. You can go from a Sprint tower to a T-Mobile tower and back to a Sprint tower. That’s groundbreaking. It gives customers so much more freedom,” says Robert Schouwenburg, the chief operating officer of mobile hotspot startup Karma, which has negotiated a deal with Sprint similar to Google’s.

For more on this topic, check out this article from Wired.com

April 20, 2015

In 2017, Norway will shut down FM radio

Flag of Norway

The Norwegian Ministry of Culture announced this week that their government will be shutting down their FM radio band effective January 11, 2017 and will require radio stations to broadcast solely using digital audio broadcasting (DAB) citing high FM operating costs. Norway only has 5 national FM radio stations and already has 22 DAB stations up and running. The FM switch-off was dependent on several criteria including national services could reach 90% of the population and that 50% of the listening population had daily access to the new standard in addition to making DAB receivers affordably available within cars.

DAB takes a different approach to what we may be used to in the Western Hemisphere concerning digital broadcasting. In a DAB system, the audio signal is encoded in order to preserve signal fidelity while allowing for signal multiplexing — having multiple data streams on the same signal — not unlike what is used in digital TV here in the U.S. The signal is then broadcast at a higher wavelength than FM (typically between 174-240 MHz though a wider range is available for use). The types of data transmission used in this standard include audio (radio, sports commentaries, etc.) and video feeds like electronic programming guides, traffic/weather updates that can use a vehicle’s in-dash display for real-time updates.

For more information about Norway’s decision, check out this article from The Verge.

For more information about DAB, check out the benefits list and additional features from WorldDMB, the DAB standards governing body.

April 16, 2015

Sorry, Pluto: You’re really not a planet

Pluto from the New Horizons project, 71 million miles away

The first color image of Pluto sent back by the New Horizons probe. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

In 2006, Pluto was officially demoted from “planet” to “dwarf planet.” But this debate flared up again earlier this year, when astronomer David A. Weintraub wrote a column predicting that Pluto would be returned to “planet” status sometime in 2015. And it will likely remain in the news for the next few months, as the New Horizons probe becomes the first spacecraft to visit Pluto in July.

Before that happens, we need to get one thing clear: there are very good reasons why Pluto isn’t a planet.

“There are eight bodies in the solar system that dominate the others,” says Mike Brown, the Caltech astronomer who in 2005 discovered Eris — a dwarf planet more massive than Pluto — and wrote How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. “Those eight are planets, and the other thousands are not.”

His point isn’t just that the eight planets are orders of magnitude bigger than Pluto (though they are). Equally important is the fact that in terms of size and location, Pluto fits neatly in a group with dwarf planets like Eris, Haumea, Makemake, and likely thousands of undiscovered rocks that orbit in the Kuiper belt, outside Neptune. If we really want to call Pluto a planet, our list of planets is going to be expanding dramatically in future years.

For more of this article by Joseph Stromberg, check out Vox.com

April 10, 2015

New Apple devices receiving mixed reviews are no surprise

apple

Today, Apple started to take preorders for their newest device — the Apple Watch. Various tech review sites like The Verge and CNET.com have given the Watch mixed reviews based on its functions and perceived utility for users. Mixed reviews on first-generation Apple products, however, are old news.

When the iPod was first released, critics were questioning its price tag ($399 in 2001 for the 5GB model) and the demand for it especially when less expensive models with more storage were available. The iPhone and iPad encountered similar critiques that initially would have deterred all but the severely loyal. Call quality was not great with early models of the iPhone and the iPad did not have a market for which to grant a comparison. All of these devices would eventually garner their respective majority market share helping to bring Apple to where it is today.

This is not to say that the Watch will follow similar suit. It could just as easily become something like the Apple MessagePad personal digital assistant (PDA) or the Performa — the predecessor of the iMac. It could, however, become the catalyst for the latest trend in personal devices. The MessagePad eventually paved the way to the Palm series of PDAs of the mid-to-late 1990s and eventually to the iPhone and iPad for Apple years later.

For a look back at the initial reviews for some of Apple’s first-generation devices, check out these articles:

CNET.com’s review of the original iPod from 2001

CNET.com’s review of the original iPhone from 2007

PC Magazine’s review of the original iPad from 2010

The Verge’s review of the Apple Watch from Wednesday

April 3, 2015

Which flight will get you there fastest?

Eugene flight paths and added times from FiveThirtyEight.com interactive map.

Eugene flight paths and added times from FiveThirtyEight.com interactive map.

FiveThirtyEight.com created an interactive map based upon the standard routes of the top 309 airports in the United States. The map takes into account the amount of time that each airport typically adds to a trip by available destination.

In 2014, based on the six million domestic flights in the United States, the average airport added nearly 14 minutes to any given flight.

For more on the data compilation and the full interactive map, check out this article.

April 2, 2015

NSA’s Internet spying will cost US tech vendors $47 billion

The National Security Agency’s spying scandal will lead to a $47 billion hit in revenue over the next three years for US-based cloud and outsourcing providers, but that sum is lower than the previous expectation of $180 billion, according to a Forrester Research analysis.

In 2013, the NSA’s Prism program, a massive Internet spying operation, was outed by one-time NSA contractor Edward Snowden. As reports continually surfaced about the agency’s programs, large tech vendors began to see revenue hit. Officially, the NSA wasn’t blamed for the financial losses, but multiple US tech giants noted thatbusiness tanked in China and other key markets.

For more information, check out this article on CNET.com