Sunday, March 23, 2014

#TechSeven - Say goodbye to aircraft black boxes

I was back on the air on Friday with CJAD Montreal's Barry Morgan. During our weekly tech talk. we run down the latest happenings in this rather exciting space, and when we're done I like to summarize what we spoke about in a #TechSeven post on my blog. Why #TechSeven? Because every week has seven days, and I try to stuff as much good stuff into them as I can.

If you're around a radio - or a browser: - tune in at 2 p.m. next Friday for our next segment. Until then, here's what we spoke about today. Enjoy!

ONE - Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 - You can help

As the agonizing search for clues in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, technology is offering up a way for ordinary people like you and me to help out. It's called crowdsourcing, and it involves regular folks around the world scouring digital satellite images and sharing their findings with researchers. It operates on the theory that the more eyes on something, the more likely we are to find something, anything. And having millions of Internet users around the world helping with the search certainly can't hurt.

3 million people have already joined up. If you want to get involved, point your browser toward DigitalGlobe's and start searching.

TWO - Are black boxes obsolete?

In related news, as crews race time to find the black boxes that could unravel the clues to this mystery, debate is growing over whether black boxes should be replaced altogether. The current challenge is the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder aboard MH370 will stop sending out pings in about two weeks when their batteries give out.

That will make it significantly more difficult for searchers to find the critical devices, and it's raising the issue again of why we don't simply live-stream data from planes while they're still in flight. That way we'd know what happened without worrying about needing to scoop the black boxes off of the bottom of the ocean.

Turns out there is a solution, and Canadian companies are leading the charge. Bombardier is including an in-flight data transmission system (known as FDM, or flight data management) in its upcoming C-Series jetliner. And a Calgary company, Flyht Aerospace Solutions, makes satellite transmission systems for commercial aviation and has been getting a lot of attention since the Malaysia Airlines plane went missing.

THREE - Chromecast launches in Canada

Everyone and their dog has been throwing one thing after another at the TV-on-Internet market and hoping that it'll stick. Everyone's failed so far, and for the most part we still watch conventional TV channels on our big screens, and downloaded or streamed stuff from YouTube and Netflix on our PCs, tablets and smartphones.

Chromecast is the simplest, cheapest (39 bucks...insane!) thing yet. Just plug it into the back of your flat screen and it turns your dumb TV into a smart one. And as developers create new apps for it, it'll get even smarter (just like your smartphone.)

And now it's available in Canada. Which as Roku gets set to sell its $60 Streaming Stick and Apple updates its $99 Apple TV, means we're in for a big old online TV battle royale. Where's the popcorn?

FOUR - Popcorn Time: The Netflix-like movie streaming app that could get you arrested

Speaking of popcorn, Netflix has become a massive online entertainment force. For $8 a month, you can stream an unlimited amount of movies to your PC, tablet, smartphone or TV. As long as you have the bandwidth, Netflix has the movies.

Popcorn Time is a new app that works just like Netflix - except it's free. Because unlike Netflix, it doesn't stream properly licensed, copyright-respectful content. Beneath its pretty video store-like interface, it's just another version of online piracy. In this case, it streams content from Torrent files - illegally shared copies of movies that most folks have, up until now, simply downloaded and watched later. This way you get immediate gratification.

The makers of Popcorn Time claim they're doing nothing illegal because they don't actually save or store the files on their own servers. They're just the intermediary, connecting the audience - us - with the content. That may be well and good, but by streaming this content, you violate Canadian copyright law, and are subject to prosecution. Worse, as you stream the content, Popcorn Time also shares it out from your own machine, which rather invisibly makes you a distributor. Which in turn makes it a lot more likely you'll be caught, and a lot more likely that you'll pay an even heftier fine if found guilty.

Stick to the real popcorn instead. And think of Netflix as cheap insurance to avoid getting nailed for copyright violation.

FIVE - The Streisand Effect takes hold in Turkey

I think Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan needs some lessons in social media. This week he tried to ban Twitter in Turkey after a couple of Twitter users posted documents and audio that appeared to show the PM warning his son to hide some questionable cash from authorities. This all occurs amid a widespread crackdown against corruption in Turkey.

Of course, in Twitterland, when you try to ban something, it never works out as planned. All it succeeds in doing is drawing even MORE attention to the thing you're trying to hide. It's called the Streisand Effect. The famous Baba in 2003 tried to keep pictures of her Malibu home from being published. But her attempts to keep everything quiet ended up causing such a brouhaha that the pictures went global.

Fast forward to today, and a couple of every Turks who use the Twitter handles Haramzadeler (meaning 'sons of thieves') and Bascalan ('prime thief'), are now Internet stars thanks to the Turkish PM's inability to learn from Barbara Streisand's lesson. What next? Ban Facebook? YouTube. Yeah, I'm sure that'll stay hush-hush, too.

SIX - Forget Flappy Birds and Candy Crush....welcome 2048

It's the latest addictive mobile game, and it takes over from where Flappy Bird leaves off. Instead of flying your bird through obstacles and trying to avoid certain and immediate video death, you're face with a 4x4 square grid. The goal: combine numbers together using the arrow keys until a tile reaches 2048.

Seems easy, right? Not so fast. It's almost impossible to ever reach 2048, and you'll find yourself maddeningly trying again and again - kinda like Flappy Birds.

Once again, we have a wunderkind to thank, a 19-year-old Web developer from Italy, Gabriele Cirulli, and since he launched the game March 9, he's become an Internet sensation (for 15 minutes, anyway.)

The difference? It isn't an app. It's a mobile-friendly website. Here's the address:

SEVEN - The cell phone marks its 30th birthday

Lost in last week's Web-turns-25 hoopla was this little fun anniversary: The first cell phone went on sale 30 years ago last Thursday (March 13, 1984).

It was officially called the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, but we all simply know it as "the brick phone". Cost? $4,000 in 1984 dollars (probably close to $9,000 today). It did not support texting. And I'm guessing surfing the web was also out of the question given it was 5 years before the thing was invented. And forget unlimited national calling or rate plans: You paid $2 a minute - or more - and you'd be lucky if the battery lasted till lunch.

Interesting tidbit: That same device had been around for 11 years. In 1973, a prototype of the 8000X was used to make the world's first-ever cell phone call. Things moved a lot slower then, apparently.

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