Technology

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According to recent reports published by the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian and the non-profit news site Pro-Publica, the National Security Agency, in concert with the British government, has cracked a large portion of the digital encryption used by businesses and everyday web users. These reports also outline the billions of dollars the NSA has invested in powerful technology that allows the government unfettered access to nearly all user’s information before it gets encrypted. Our resident tech expert, Rob Fleischman says these alarming reports are not quite true.

Rob Fleischman is chief technology officer at Xero-Cole, and our chief explainer of all things wired. He sat down with Virginia Prescott to explain.

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There are some ways NASA can learn about deep space without sending anyone – or anything – into orbit.  For example, scientists are studying meteorite impacts by recreating them here on earth at the NASA Ames Vertical Gun Range… the gun shoots projectiles up to fifteen thousand miles per hour into materials designed to simulate the surface of the moon, Mars, and even asteroids. Producer Zach Nugent spoke with Adam Mann, an astronomy and physics reporter for Wired, who visited the Ames facility to see the gun in action.

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With all great innovations comes the potential for mischief. With so much of our social, commercial, and government infrastructure already online, it’s highly likely that we’ve all been targeted by cyber-attacks, even if we haven’t directly felt their results. Cars, computer cams, ATMs, databases, and power grids can be hacked.  In a recent high profile case, a week before one of the world’s most elite hackers was scheduled to demonstrate how to interrupt pacemakers and implanted defibrillators, he was found dead in his apartment. A team at the University of Texas Austin recently experimented with a technique they call “GPS Spoofing.” While that may sound like a YouTube comedy series, “GPS Spoofing” could be used to deadly serious effect.  Todd Humphreys is an assistant professor with the Aerospace Engineering department at UT Austin.

Taylor Quimby

Last February, Google sent out invitations for developers and consumers to “test drive” its new Google Glass technology – a head mounted computer that can access email and is equipped with a camera. The winners of the “Glass Explorer” program were required to attend an event in New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles before purchasing the wearable eyeglass computer for fifteen-hundred dollars. Reviews for the cutting-edge gadget have been mixed – there are concerns about safety, distraction, and privacy in Congress, along with more sartorial complaints about Google Glass being inexcusably geeky.

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Patent wars are now standard in the tech industry, so is fierce competition for markets. But what would happen if two Silicon Valley superpowers made the jump to all-out war?

“Though the feud with Apple has been escalating for months, Google CEO Larry Page has never given serious consideration to the plan known internally as Operation GhostFruit. Then Apple decided to test him, first by removing Google as the default search engine on the iPhone and iPad, and then …by blocking Apple devices’ access to Google.com entirely. Larry Page has no choice but to go nuclear.”

That’s an excerpt from Slate’s totally fictional, not remotely thought out experiment called “Wargames: Apple Versus Google,” a highly entertaining ten-part series imagining what might if happen if the two behemoths used all their power, resources, and money to destroy each other. Matt Yglesias is Slate's Business and Economics Correspondent and he spoke with us about the potential battle: Google vs. Apple.

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Whether you have a well-worn green thumb, or are making your first foray into home gardening, rest assured: there’s an app for that. New York Times Smart App Columnist Kit Eaton confesses he’s not an experienced gardener, but he dug in to the wide variety of garden-related apps on the market and joins us with some winners.   

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You may have heard the news earlier this week that taste-testers and scientists in the U.K. sampled the world’s first lab-grown burger.  One food researcher said that the burger tasted “close to meat, but not that juicy”. Another quipped, “what was consistently different was the flavor”. Not a great review for a patty costing somewhere around three hundred and thirty thousand dollars, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  Henry Fountain, science reporter for the New York Times, tells us about the science under the bun.

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It’s been a pretty big couple of weeks for Amazon.com.  First, President Obama chose one of the company’s fulfillment centers as a backdrop for a speech on raising the minimum wage.  Then, news broke that Amazon’s founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, had purchased the venerable Washington Post.  Amazon now has one hundred and twenty-six million monthly users.  But they might want to start reading product reviews with a grain of salt.  Cited as the largest single source of internet consumer reviews in 2010, the online giant is susceptible to a deceitful practice called astroturfing.  When Susan Crawford’s book “Captive Audience” about the Telecom Industry was published in January, it attached a number of bad reviews later revealed to be fake…with a political agenda behind them.  Our guest Mike Masnick weeded out these fake reviews and published an expose for Techdirt that reached the front page of Reddit.  Masnick is the founder and CEO of Floor64 and editor of the Techdirt blog, we spoke with him about his findings.

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As we learned from Joe Hanson, space weather can be an amazing thing. As receiving real-time space weather forecasts is becoming more of a reality, it would be good to familiarize yourself with some of the weather events you can expect to see. We’ve compiled a list to test your space weather knowledge. All of these events sound fantastic and have been the fodder for many a Sci-Fi plot, but do you know which one of these 4 space weather events isn’t real?

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People often lament that handwriting is a lost art. But if the creators of a new educational tool have their way, calligraphy will never die out completely. The Lernstift – or “learning pen”– is a working computerized pen which uses vibration to help improve handwriting, and is projected to go into production this fall.   Word of Mouth’s Molly Donahue spoke with Daniel Kaesmacher who helped develop the Lernstift, to learn a little bit more about it.

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Our favorite content, curated in one amazing hour of radio. This week, the science behind J.K. Rowling's unmasking, a guy who played Mr. Darcy at a Jane Austen Summer Camp, the Libertarian festival for Seasteaders, a new telescope technology that will send balloons into space, regular folks drive NASCAR cars, and a musician who writes songs based on the New York Times column, "Modern Love."

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The 2002 film Minority Report, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, imagines a futuristic crime unit that uses data provided by psychics to apprehend criminals before they commit crimes.

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Last week, author J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame was uncovered as true author behind The Cuckoo’s Calling, a mystery novel written under the pen-name Robert Galbraith. Signed first editions of the book are now selling for over six thousand dollars, a testament to the value of a name. The reporters at the Sunday Times who broke the Rowling story consulted several academics whose methods of determining authorship relied heavily on software they had developed for that very purpose.

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The state of New Jersey is still recovering from destruction left by super storm Sandy last October. Billions have been spent rebuilding property and restoring infrastructure. There is one amenity that some Jersey Shore residents will never again enjoy…old-fashioned telephone land lines. The AP reported last week that the Ocean County borough of Mantoloking lost its copper wire telephone infrastructure in the storm, and that Verizon – which services the area -- refuses to replace it. The story cited Mantoloking as “one of the first places in the country where the traditional phone line is going dead.” Rob Fleischman doesn’t see it that way. He’s an internet infrastructure entrepreneur, CTO at Xerocole, and Word of Mouth’s explainer of all things wired, or in this case…wirelesses.

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At any given moment invisible information is traveling all around you. There are two obvious examples: radio waves…or if you’re listening online, the wireless signal emitted by your router. Researchers at MIT have been experimenting with these signals and they’ve developed a type of radar that uses Wi-Fi signal that can be seen – and used to detect movement and even see through walls. Dina Katabi, is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and she spoke with us about her new project, what she’s calling “Wi-Vi.”

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Egyptian troops fired on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo last week. In June, anti-government protests in Turkey were broken up by what the Council of Europe deemed to be excessive force. In Brazil, weeks of demonstrations climaxed on June 21, when millions spilled onto the streets in more than 100 cities. More than 180,000 citizen-made videos captured the throngs in Brazil alone and some were uploaded to support charges of undue police violence made by Amnesty International and other civil rights groups. As amateur media grows increasingly integrated into protest coverage, software developed by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley could support and protect activists against unjust persecution. Called the “Rashomon Project,” the program synchronizes films taken from multiple angles to creating a complete timeline that could to be used as evidence of abuse during human rights trials. Ken Goldberg is professor of engineering at UC Berkeley and leader of the Rashomon Project, and he spoke with us about the project.

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Facial recognition databases containing millions of are being scanned by local and federal government agencies to help curb everything from driver’s license fraud to terrorism. The growing library of faces also consists of non-offenders and innocent witnesses; many of the photos were taken without the subject’s consent or knowledge. For some, this accumulation of facial data is adding to growing concerns over individual privacy rights.

Craig Timberg is the Washington Post’s national technology reporter and has been covering this story along with Ellen Nakashima.

Rebecca Lavoie for NHPR

If you’ve ever felt like customer support from a call center is a hopeless case, there are now statistics to back that up. Forbes recently reported that fifty percent of calls that go through call centers go unresolved. IBM hopes to change that by putting their new star employee on the job - a super-computer named Watson. You remember Watson, right?

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Premium TV channels like HBO, Showtime, and AMC are pricey, and with  many programs available on Netflix, Hulu, and other online sources, viewers are cutting the cable cord.  Those hanging on say they want to watch what they want, when they want it.

Joining us to give us some practical tips on cutting the cord to premium cable was David Sirota, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, author, and contributor to Salon, where he wrote about his own exodus from cable.

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In a product launch last Tuesday, gamers around the world waited with bated breath to see what innovations the Xbox One, Microsoft’s third console entry, would offer the gaming world.

The exhibition was sleek, innovative, trendy...and made almost no reference to gaming. Maybe not surprising, given that online entertainment usage outstripped online gaming for the first time last year. Here to discuss what Microsoft’s new console means for the future of home entertainment technology is Jamin Warren, co-founder of Killscreen and former culture reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Here's a link to his article about the Xbox One.

Rebecca Lavoie

Earlier this week, Yahoo!'s board of directors approved the tech company’s one point one billion dollar purchase of the micro-blogging site Tumblr, the latest move in CEO Marissa Mayer’s bid to revive the flagging tech company. The purchase has some Tumblr users up in arms, and others simply shrugging their shoulders at what just seems like the latest acquisition in the wake of so many to come before it.

Joining us to explain a bit more what the purchase of Tumblr means for Yahoo! and fans of the site is Lance Ulanoff, Editor in Chief at Mashable.

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A new data collection tool is being heralded as the first “mood ring” of the social media world. The “twittersphere” has become the home for millions and millions of micro-stories - fleeting tales of everyday life broadcast to the masses. Now, researchers at the University of Vermont are looking to extract a social pulse from Twitter’s vast output. Millions of tweets have been processed through UVM’s Hedonometer, which measures collective levels of happiness over space and time. Here to discuss the project - and the newly launched website, is Chris Danforth, associate professor at the University of Vermont’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics and one of the developers behind the Hedonometer.

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A government lab announced earlier this month that it’s been operating a quantum internet at Los Alamos for the past two years. Which led us to wonder, um, WHAT IS A QUANTUM INTERNET???  Joining us to explain it is Rob Fleischman, Chief Technology Officer at Xero-Cole, and the guy we call to help us understand things like, you know, quantum technology.

Photograph by Monique Jaques for Bloomberg Businessweek

Syria’s civil war is now in its third year. More than 70,000 people have been killed; more than 1.4 million people have fled their homes; lives and families have been shattered; landmarks decimated and the economy is crumbling. Among those seeking refuge in neighboring Jordan are innovators and diaspora entrepreneurs who may well be seeding the ideas and infrastructure of Syria’s future. Patrick Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Business Week covering small business and entrepreneurship and wrote about a tech boot camp for Syrians working in Jordan with Sarah Topol.

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Google Glass -- a glass-lens like device  which allows users to access the internet, take photos and film short snippets, is slated for retail release at the end of this year or in early 2014. Already, the wearable computer has been preemptively banned in large parts of Las Vegas, and legislators in at least one state are trying to make it illegal to use while driving. While there could be some tough legal battles ahead, that may not be the biggest hurdle facing Google Glass. Marcus Wohlson is a staff writer for Wired Business…and he wonders if Google Glass may just be too dorky to go mainstream.

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“Internet Addiction Disorder” is a disputed diagnosis in academic and mental health circles, but just try going a day without your daily habit of checking email, the news, weather, sports, recipes, and Facebook, and you may find yourself jonesing for access.

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Every year, the MIT technology review publishes a list of ten breakthrough technologies. From health care to environmental sustainability to consumer electronics, the list covers at it all. Here to discuss this year’s picks, just released yesterday, is Brian Bergstein, deputy editor of the MIT Technology Review.

via Ars Technica

Last month, Vancouver hosted the Hacking Health Weekend Hackathon, a place for collaboration between technology experts and health officials from across Canada. A team of three in attendance created a game simulation that elicits understanding and empathy towards those suffering from autism. The first-person indie game is called “Auti-Sim”, and uses 3-D graphics to simulate the horrors of sensory overload. Taylan Kay is a developer behind the thought-provoking indie game, and joins us today.

Project 1640 via amnh.org

The existence of planets outside our solar system was first confirmed in 1992. Since then, nearly 900 extra solar planets have been identified, with NASA’s Keppler Mission detecting more than 18,000 potential planets, including 262 in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone,” or habitable range from the stars they orbit. Now, the American Museum of Natural History is breaking new ground in the observation of far-distant planets using high-tech spectroscopy and software for Project 1640.

Last week, a Senate judiciary panel approved a measure to reinstate a ban on assault weapons. Those same legislators could have a whole new field of weaponry to contend with: homemade guns. A small, Texas-based company called “Defense Distributed” has been spearheading technological and legal advances behind the 3-D printing technology that could produce guns.

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