CES 2017: Talk To Your TV: Dish Unveils Integration With Amazon Echo

Yours truly taking on CES for the The Geeks of Doom:

In case you needed another reason to go Alexa rather than Google, the media gods have got one for you. The avalanche of CES 2017 press conferences hadn’t even begun when the news came in from Dish Network. In addition to their Sling Box and their 2014 breakthrough, no-contract live-streaming cable service, SlingTV, Dish decided to take another leap forward in delivering television entertainment to their consumers — support for Amazon‘s Alexa Voice Services or AVS.

Dish users with Hopper DRV devices of any generation will be able to control them using their voice through Amazon’s Echo or Echo Dot hardware...continue here

The Echo Dot is Amazon's Best Seller

Andria Cheng, writing for eMarketer in the wake of holiday sales: 

"Rising sales of digital assistants reflect changing user behaviors as more people become comfortable with the idea of spoken word commands and queries. In September 2016, Google said that fully one in five search queries on its mobile app were voice initiated. And in November, a Google/Ipsos survey found that more than half of the smartphone users had used a voice-activated app to answer a question or perform a task.

Amazon said Tuesday that popular requests made to Echo over the holidays included queries about mixing cocktails and requests to play holiday music."

the $50 pricepoint of the Dot 2 was an incredible move to get the device into the hands of myriad consumers, which, through their voice platform, makes the entire system stronger. The Skills piece is also a huge part of the device's success.

Accolades these may be; the app interface leaves a lot to be desired in terms of UI and performance. Echo will need all of these elements to be top knot here if it wants to survive the oncoming onslaught from Google and (eventually) Apple, who is no doubt developing hardware with similar functionality that ties in deeply with its existing tech toy ecosystem.

Let's Gut Net Neutrality

If Trump truly cares about business growth and innovation, he'll work to keep Net Neutrality in place rather than to allow the below nonsense to take place.

 "FCC Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly sent a letter to five lobby groups representing wireless carriers and small ISPs; while the letter is mostly about plans to extend an exemption for small providers from certain disclosure requirements, the commissioners also said they will tackle the entire net neutrality order shortly after President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20.

"[W]e will seek to revisit [the disclosure] requirements, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible," they wrote, referring to the order that imposed net neutrality rules and reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Pai and O'Rielly noted that they "dissented from the Commission's February 2015 Net Neutrality decision, including the Order's imposition of unnecessary and unjustified burdens on providers." "

Had a friend make fun of Blade Runner (1982) recently in light of the imminent sequel. The conversation reminded me of why I enjoy the film-- there's a lot to it but that scene, late in the film, with Roy Batty-- that scene means so much. 

Here's the quote: 

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Howard, through the character of Roy is able to spark emotion and imagination not by pontificating, but by simply musing.

When he says "I've seen things that you people wouldn't believe," he opens a narrative gateway for the audience. The "place" of the film expands far beyond LA in 2016 and Roy shows you that there's a whole universe out there. That the off-world colonies aren't just some frontier but that there are attack ships out there as far as Orion's shoulder. That they may travel though space and time through magnificent gates with names like Tanhauser. And that finally, his six years have been full of deep and meaningful experiences that make LA, a huge city with a million people and things going on, little more than a provincial bit of all that is rather than the centre of all that is. Roy speaks in terms of nostalgia-- as a war veteran his is literally a longing, a return to the pain of war, which is preferable, presumably to the pain of death. What's remarkable is how that nostalgia is transplanted to the reader who certainly does not remembers these sights he's mentioned, but who wants to.

The entire stream of consciousness proves that contrary to popular belief of the Blade Runner universe, Roy is not some automaton-- that he's in fact alive. The audience is reminded that the deprivation of that life is morally and ethically questionable. This doesn't justify his actions but does make him tragic and sympathetic in the face of Deckard's actions because it's through the system that Deckard supports that Roy disappears to us almost as soon as we get to know him. Just as we begin get a handle on Roy's multi-faceted personality, do he slips away and is lost to time, as his tears are in the rain. It's beautiful.

A woman who called Michelle Obama an ape has her job back. This is part of a pattern.

 "Pamela Ramsey Taylor, the director of a Clay County, West Virginia, nonprofit who was removed from her post after she called Michelle Obama an “ape in heels” in a November Facebook post, will be back on the job December 23, the Charleston Gazette-Mailreported Monday.

That’s right, she wasn’t fired by the Clay County Development Corp. Though the initial headlines claimed she “lost her job,” she was just temporarily suspended. While Clay County Mayor Beverly Whaling stepped down permanently after commenting that Taylor’s racist Facebook post, “just made my day,” Taylor will return to work by Christmas." 

Dipayan Gupta's response:

The developing mainstream reaction to explicit racism: “That’s not very nice, but … shrug”

Designer of 'Star Wars' Death Star still calls Boulder home base

Mitchell Byars writing for my local paper, 'The Daily Camera:'

 "While the design for the deadly space station is in the hands of the Empire in the movie, in real life they came from the mind of Cantwell, who was one of the first people George Lucas hired to work on the movie, having been introduced to Lucas after his work on Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." "

Casinos are having Trouble Attracting Young People

Some notes on this story:

1) This is nothing to lament about. The death of places where people lose games of chance and risk addiction is a good thing.

This is what happens when people have slightly more sense than their forebears.

2) The gentleman explaining the game is an uncharismatic bore.

3) If this industry really wanted to get people inside their doors, they should take a lesson from Nog on Deep Space 9 and create Virtual Reality Suites.

85% of Manufacturing Job Losses are due to Robots.

 Alison Burke wiring for. Too king's Now with Regard to the Manufacturing Question:

"...the predominant force behind losses in manufacturing employment has been technological change (85 percent), not international trade. As she explains, automation has transformed the American factory, and the advent of new technologies (like robotics and 3D printing) has rendered many low-skilled jobs unnecessary."

The fault is not with other nations, it is with ourselves.

Those without skills will lack the opportunity to earn the purchasing power necessary to fare well.

The solution? We must simply change course and do what we have not done in the past-- ensure that all have access to opportunity.

Make it easy to access, or affordable or vocational or whatever label one has to put on it but tie those qualities to a universal message that we all must have it and in doing so compete with one another for meaningful, gainful employment.

Clinton did poorly at making such a fact based appeal. Indeed the winds of discourse flew from these truths. On this issue, Trump's misrepresentation of America's trade deficits and outsourcing as the reason for US manufacturing's decline won the day.

The truth of this matter, however, is something we have yet to actually contend with. 

America, Properly Defined By German Automotive Engineering

In this time of discord about what makes America great, this 30 second ad spot (yay capitalism?) could be the greatest, most significant message about what the USA is. It is fitting that it was designed around and relies upon the Olympics.
Not surprisingly, it is a view from the outside that looks in to tell us the truth about ourselves. Thanks BMW.

The Drill Down 437: All In The Family

On this week’s Drill Down podcast, we ask whether the Russians hacked the DNC, and discussed how Instagram is out-Snapchatting Snapchat. We also get into how Uber exited China, Oracle's acquisition of NetSuite, how Tesla sealed deal with Solar City, and whether we should be concerned that all three mergers were between family members. 

We also go into the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, a real-world tribute to Pikachu, and ask the question: Who’s the most tech-savvy Presidential candidate?

That and more this week on #TheDrillDown

Apple and the Autonomous Car

I was catching up on a news backlog and came across this interesting piece on the Project Titan, the code word for the autonomous electric vehicle that Apple seems to be making. Max at Appcessories brings us up to speed with history and findings from his recent research. 

One thing struck out to me in particular:

"Apple seems to have hit a bump when BMW politely excused itself from the future partnership. The German automaker, Daimler, also refused to join up with Apple for its project."

Apple, Inc. is a different company than it was in 2005, but it's worth remembering that Steve Job's Apple Computer, Inc teamed up with Motorola to create the first mobile device, a phone called the ROKR, that could connect to iTunes. At the time Motorola was at the top of hte mobile space, with a series of devices that had great performance and style, like the conversation piece, I owned, the Moto V70, the standard, practical flip, the Moto V60, and the gold standard of mobile device design at the time, the Moto RAZR.

Motorola was exactly where BMW and Diamler are now-- at the top of their industry. They worked with Apple to get the ROKR device out, but Apple was either distracted by the imminent release of their iPod Nano, which was smaller than the phone and could hold far more song's than the Motorola's arificially capped 100 song limit.

The disruption was complete two years later when Apple unveiled the iPhone, a device with more speed, more storage, a dazzling interface, and a music app. Motorola would never regain its spot as the top mobile phone maker again.

No- Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs but the lesson here is that BMW and Daimler, both of whom are working on both autonomy and advanced drive vehicles,  would do well to innovate on their own-- grabbing talent where they can, lest a relationship with Apple lead to a vehicle that completely devours their core audience.

Facebook's Hardware Lab

From the AP and picked up by CBS News: Facebook's got some ambitions for hardware. But it's not much about designing and creating the next Facebook Phone... 

The lab will be a space for engineers to design energy-efficient servers for Facebook data centers, test new laser mounts and drone propellers and perfect a prototype 360-degree video camera that Facebook unveiled at a conference in April.

I'm excited about what we'll see coming out of this space-- an island of physical creativity in a facility that's nearly completely dedicated to virtual space.

Moon Express is slated for a 2017 Trip to... the moon.

Mike Wall, writing for Space.com, reveals that "For the first time ever, a private company has permission to land on the moon."

It's a great idea and long overdue. As much as I'm excited for development of the moon, I od have one concern and that's a worry about changing the face of the moon that we all see at night. If there's anything that all humans have in common (external to their anatomy), it's the idea that we've all looked at the same moon whenever it was present, for the countless generations we've been around. That heritage is important to save. The face of the satellite that's exposed to Earth should remain relatively unchanged for as long as possible. 

Why am I concerned? As awesome as the whole endeavour is, this promotional video, a marketing sizzle reel, makes Moon Express look like a company that's not very used to showing restraint.

Fear the Robot Revolution: Dallas

The "Robot" used in the Police Killing of an armed and dangerous Dallas man, suspected in killing five DPD officers and wounding seven more was, to be sure, a rolling drone, somewhat modified, rather than some autonomous homunculus on a mission to kill a man. 

Still, it's a disquieting moment when devices like this remote controlled unit, designed to investigate and possibly remove bombs, was used to deliver one that was meant to detonate.

Top of mind is the detachment and ease with which this state-sanctioned killing took place. Still, one has to wonder whether the use of the robotic device was at least as detached and easy as a man fuelled by hate, pointing a high-powered rifle at unsuspecting law men and women, and then pulling the trigger to the effect of hitting 12 people. Horrifying.

CNN describes how the situation took place here (story and video) and ZDnet discusses the controversy of death by government robot here. It's important to give some thought to these issues as we move toward a world where our technology penetrates every facet of our civil life.

An Economic Hybrid Drivetrain

Billy Steele, writing for Engadget on Honda's new hybrid motor, which they built in collaboration with Daido Steel:

The new motor doesn't use heavy rare earth metals like dysprosium and terbium, instead relying on magnets from Daido Steel that cost 10 percent less and weigh 8 percent lighter than the previous components.

Hybrids are going to be an ever-important step toward auto's step to electrification, since large batteries still cost a lot and developing nations have more access to petroleum based fuels than they do steady electricity supplies. reducing dependence on Rare Earth metals goes a long way into bringing the cost of these devices down.

Steele also mentions that without the need for these metals, Honda doesn't have to negotiate with China, which holds most of the rare earth metal reserves. A positive political externality for Japan, perhaps, but an even more positive externality for the price of these metals, which should become more accessible as the price diminishes.

Tesla Motors under investigation by the SEC

Last week, the story broke that on May 7th, Tesla driver Joshua Brown lost his life as his 2015 Model S drove beneath a tractor trailer and was destroyed. It was the first fatality in an autonomous car and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration  ("NHTSA") is investigating the crash. New this week, Jean Eaglesham, Mike Spektor, and Susan Pulliam of the Wall Street Journal collaborated on a report which reveals that in addition to the NHTSA investigation, the Security and Exchange Commission is investigating whether or not Tesla Motors breached securities laws by not properly disclosing the details of the fatal May 7th crash to their investors. 

"Tesla did alert NHTSA to the crash but it's unclear, what, if any notifications they sent to their investors aside from a discussion about how their technology, if caught malfunctioning, could affect their brand image."

For context, while Tesla's Autopilot reminds drivers to pay attention to the road, the May 7th crash was the first in which a human died while their vehicle was in autonomous mode. That's a tragic, but important moment in automotive history, especially for Tesla, which has built its brand on ushering in a new era of not only attractive and efficient cars, but of smarter cars, in the vein of smartphones, which can be updated and upgraded with new skills. Autopilot is probably the highest profile of those skills and has become the company's flagship feature. The fact that someone died while the functionality was in use would be of keen interest to investors as the NHTSA investigation, and the possibility that regulations or restrictions can come down on autonomous driving technologies or Tesla Motors as a company, could change the outlook for shareholders significantly, leading them to change how they planned on supporting, or not supporting the company with investment. To put it simply, this crash presents non-experts and experts alike uncertainty about the future of autonomous cars and the SEC wants to know whether Tesla communicated that effectively with its shareholders.

In addition to how shareholders would react, it’s important to note that Tesla recently raised money by selling more than $2 billion in stock, $598m of which belonged to Elon Musk. Would investors have purchased this stock if they knew about this fatal crash on 7 May? Maybe. Maybe not.

The issue here is whether the automaker did the proper thing with respect to disclosures of this issue. Certainly automakers do not report every fatal crash that takes place in their cars every quarter to their shareholders, so the question is asked, why would Tesla? That's usually a stat automakers leave to organizations like NHTSA and SAE International, the worldwide auto-association of engineers, which compile stats on this sort of thing.

What we do know is that Tesla Motors did add new language to the 10Q form they filed with the SEC on May 10th, just three days after the autopilot fatality-- language that alludes to knowledge of the potential impact of the May 7th crash and the press surrounding the NHTSA of Tesla and their autopilot feature. It reads:

“Claims related to any misuse or failures of new technologies that we are pioneering, including autopilot...could generate substantial negative publicity about our products and business...and would have material adverse effect on our brand business, prospects and operating results. We self-insure against the risk.”

Eight days later, on May 18th, Tesla sold $1.4 billion in stock. On the same day, Elon Musk sold $598 million in stock.

The question the SEC has is: With the potential damage to Tesla’s brand and perhaps their operations based on the May 7th crash and investigation, was their sale of stock in good faith? Did they make sure that buyers of that stock fully understood the risks that may threaten Tesla Motors’ future viability?

Only time will tell.

"Facebook Decides Which Killings We’re Allowed to See"

Joseph Cox and Kason Koebler writing for Motherboard:

A video of the aftermath of a fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer was temporarily removed from Facebook. The company has said the removal was due to a “technical glitch.”

“We're very sorry that the video was inaccessible,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Telegraph. “It was down to a technical glitch and restored as soon as we were able to investigate.”

They go on to say:

The video has since been restored, but with a “Warning—Graphic Video,” disclaimer.

“Videos that contain graphic content can shock, offend and upset. Are you sure you want to see this?” the disclaimer continues.

Judging by the timestamps on tweets, the video was restored within around an hour of being removed.

Facebook did not respond to a series of questions about the apparent glitch, or if the video was flagged by a user or by Facebook itself.

This is problematic. Just last week, Facebook announced that they were going to change their news feed algorithms to favour content generated and uploaded by users rather than news sites like Upworthy and CNN. Here we have someone attempting to make sure the world sees the injustice she believes that her lover and her are facing and Facebook essentially silences her for a time.

Now it could be that of the millions of users who viewed the video, thousands or tens of thousands flagged the content as inappropriate. If that's the case, then they should just say so. 

Given the aforementioned algorithm change and the recent kerfuffle about the Trending News suffering from liberal editorial bias, Facebook is in jeopardy of losing the trust that it's re-gained over the last several years after multiple privacy issues. 

The bottom line is that while the social media giant is clearly a private company with its own processes, Facebook needs to come up with a clear set of guidelines for those within and without to work with. That would cease this confusion, as well as build and maintain trust.

Password Sharing Is a Federal Crime, Appeals Court Rules

Jason Koebler, writing for Motherboard:

One of the nation’s most powerful appeals courts ruled Wednesday that sharing passwords can be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a catch-all “hacking” law that has been widely used to prosecute behavior that bears no resemblance to hacking.

In this particular instance, the conviction of David Nosal, a former employee of Korn/Ferry International research firm, was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who said that Nosal’s use of a former coworker’s password to access one of the firm’s databases was an “unauthorized” use of a computer system under the CFAA.

The decision is a nightmare scenario for civil liberties groups, who say that such a broad interpretation of the CFAA means that millions of Americans are unwittingly violating federal law by sharing accounts on things like Netflix, HBO, Spotify, and Facebook. Stephen Reinhardt, the dissenting judge in the case, noted that the decision “threatens to criminalize all sorts of innocuous conduct engaged in daily by ordinary citizens.”

This is going to ruffle a lot of feathers.