Monthly Archives: December 2013

Tech Stuff We Lost In 2013

In memoriam here’s some “tech stuff” we won’t have to kick around in 2014.

1: Google is always quick to introduce new things and just a fast to kick an ill-conceived product to the curb. Say goodbye to Google’s Reader and iGoogle.  Reader has fallen victim as the popularity of RSS feeds has steadily declined over the past few years and iGoogle, a cool web app that allowed one to place widgets and other cool stuff on our iGoogle home pages just wasn’t interesting enough to keep our attention.

2: Twitter acquired then shortly thereafter pulled the plug on Posterous. Launched way back in 2008, it was supposed to challenge Tumblr as a blogging platform but since the acquisition by Twitter in 2011 it was totally ignored – only a matter of time…

3: Microsoft even dropped an old standby in 2013. How many hundreds of millions of Hot Mail users were moved over to The transition was fairly seamless and since the service remains free for these users, no harm – no foul.

4: Tag, you’re out: another Microsoft wannabe. You may not even have heard of or seen it but this product was supposed to be the QR Code of the future. Unfortunately, Microsoft couldn’t unseat the original QR Code so Tag fell by the wayside. Oh, and for those folks who jumped on the Microsoft Tag bandwagon, Microsoft is giving you until August 19, 2015 to replace their scan-friendly platform.

5: Farewell to AltaVista, once the best of the bunch in search engines and long before Internet Search meant Google. AltaVista first appeared on the search engine scene in December of 1995 indexing around 20 million web pages at a time when 20 million was considered a lot of pages. Today, Google indexes pages in the tens of billions.  AltaVista was purchased by Oveture in 2003 and then Yahoo bought Overture a year later. If you type in Altavista today, you’ll be taken right to Yahoo’s search. I’d choose Google instead.

6: Before iTunes… there was Winamp: a compact media player first released back in 1997. It set itself apart from the pack with a “skinnable” interface and every time the software booted, you were faced with a screen proclaiming “it really whips the llama’s a$$”. Winamp was bought by AOL in 1999 for $400 million. Winamp still has millions of users worldwide and employees estimate its yearly revenue at $6 million. December 20th 2013 was Winamp’s day of reckoning.

Here’s a few more: ESPN dropped its 3D sports channel, Apple quietly discontinued its Cards greeting card app replaced by iPhoto and Panasonic killed off Plasma TV’s instead moving towards the 4k Ultra HD technology.

What can we look forward to in 2014? Let’s wait until CES 2014 (Consumer Electronics Show) takes place January 7th through the 10th to delve further. Here’s a link from to whet your appetite

58 Years Tracking Santa

For the past 58 years, various incarnations of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) have been tracking Santa’s progress across the globe as he delivers presents to all the good boys and girls, and each year a new degree of technology has been added to the process.

The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.

This year, features an advent calendar of interactive games, a library of reading materials, holiday music and videos featuring Santa’s journey across the globe.

There was a flurry of controversy this year expressing concern about the image of fighter jets accompanying Santa on his rounds but all of us true believers know the jets could never keep up with Santa anyway.

NORAD’s Santa tracker is supported by corporate sponsorship, not the military budget — “Everything from computer servers, web site design, video imaging, Santa’s tracking map, and telephone services are donated,” says the Our Team page.

The most prominent sponsor is Microsoft, plugging its Internet Explorer. But there’s support across other operating systems as well: For families on the go, NORAD Tracks Santa is available as both an iOS and Android app — this year features also include two games, a countdown to Santa’s arrival and (of course) a tracker to indicate where Santa is currently.

YouTube users can subscribe to the NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube feed, which will be posting animated updates throughout the day, and of course Twitter will provide “up-to-the-minute information” on his progress.

Finally – Google jumped on the bandwagon as well -Android users can download Google’s Santa Tracker, which offers real-time maps and another selection of games for Christmas Eve, plus the ability to beam everything to the big screen via Chromecast support.

For myself and the entire team at ACTSmart, here’s wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Its Looking Like An IPad Christmas

Tablets are sure to be some of the most popular gifts this holiday season. Both Apple’s new iPad Air and Amazon’s latest tablet, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, will be atop a lot of gift lists. The iPad is the most popular tablet today, and the Air will help Apple continue its dominance in the market.

Although it’s been looking like an iPad Christmas, Amazon really wants to sell more Kindle Fire HDX tablets so to that end, here’s Jeff Bezos’s newest pitch:

Buy a Kindle Fire HDX tablet today, and we’ll give you nine months to finish paying for it.

Amazon started pushing its installment plan program this weekend, by splashing the offer on its home page.

The basics: It is letting customers pay for its $229 Kindle Fire HDX seven-inch tablet, or its $379 8.9-inch version, in four-part installment plans. Customers shell out 25 percent of the purchase price — plus tax and shipping charges – when they buy the tablet, and then spread out the remaining three payments in 90-day increments.

There aren’t a lot of catches with the offer — for instance, Amazon isn’t adding any interest charges to its installment plan. But there is one interesting twist spelled out in the relatively fine print: If you don’t cough up the rest of the money, Amazon may semi-brick your tablet: “Our remedies will include the right to deregister your Kindle Fire HDX device, which will block your ability to access Amazon content from your Kindle Fire HDX device.   

The new Kindle Fire upped Amazon’s tablet game, and it outshines the iPad in a number of ways:

Amazon Prime Movies/TV and Offline Viewing
One of the best things about Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets is their integration with Amazon’s content ecosystem and services. And perhaps the most noteworthy content feature is Amazon Prime subscribers’ ability to download Instant Videos for offline viewing.

Amazon Mayday Tech Support vs Apples Genius Bar
Apple has a fancy, modern-looking retail store located in your city or local mall. Its Genius Bar, or service area within the stores, helped redefined tech customer service during the past few years. But Amazon won’t be outdone, and as such, it launched its new Mayday button and service along with the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9.

You’ve probably already seen the TV commercials about this. Mayday connects you to a live “Amazon Tech Advisor” who can see your screen (but not you although YOU can see them) to help with whatever issues you may encounter.

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and Case Cost Less Than iPad Air
You can purchase a new 16GB Wi-Fi Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 tablet for $379 with “special offers,” which means deals and offers display on your tablet’s lock screen, or $394 without the special offers. The 16GB Wi-Fi iPad Air costs over $100 more at $499.

For the rest of the story, see the full article – 8 things the Kindle Fire HDX does that the iPad Air can’t here:

Tech Giants Unite

Tech Giants Unite In Anti-Snooping Effort

Eight major United States high-tech companies have called on President Obama and governments worldwide to reform their surveillance practices.

Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and AOL want governments to ensure that data collection by law enforcement and intelligence agencies is bound by rules and focuses on targeted suspects. They also want governments to be more transparent about the data they request.

“The security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” said Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page.

“This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world,” he continued. “It’s time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”

Some of the principles the tech industry suggests governments should embrace:
• Governments should pass laws imposing “sensible limitations” on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data and should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes.

•Intelligence agencies should only collect data or compel its production under a clear legal framework with strong checks and balances. Independent review courts incorporating an adversarial process should be set up, and important rulings should be made public in a timely fashion.

•Companies should be permitted to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information, and allowed to promptly disclose this data to the public.

 The call for independent reviewing courts and the inclusion of an adversarial process are a direct blow against the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is viewed as rubber-stamping the NSA’s requests without affording defendants or recipients of warrants the chance to be heard.

User anger over government surveillance is growing, particularly in light of recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency has infected 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malware, and that it is daily harvesting the locations of 5 billion cellphones around the world.

The Long, Hard Battle for Transparency
The Center for Democracy and Technology wrote the White House and Congress on these issues in July and November on behalf of coalitions representing various sectors of society.

 In August, proponents of surveillance reform held closed-door meetings separately with President Obama and top administration officials about government surveillance.

 Meanwhile, bipartisan support is growing for the USA Freedom Act, jointly introduced in October, by Rep. Jim Sesenbrenner, the lead author of the U.S. Patriot Act, and Sen. Patrick Leahy to rein in NSA’s bulk collection of data.

All Good Things Take Time
Don’t expect changes any time soon. The political process doesn’t work like the tech industry, where things change overnight.

The problem is that changes in technology have overtaken the law. When the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, it was inconceivable that someone could record every single telephone conversation. However, technology has improved dramatically and is able to accomplish this today and it’s easier to record everything now than it is to selectively record various conversations.

Between legal cases challenging surveillance and legislative measures being proposed, the Patriot Act is not going to be reauthorized in its exact same form when it comes up again for reauthorization in 2015.

Article in the Washington Post:

Article in USA Today

Cyber Monday 2013

Chances are, if you were sitting at your computer yesterday, you were searching for Cyber Monday deals. Survey results indicated that 86% of working Americans planned to spend at least some time shopping or browsing for gifts during work hours on Cyber Monday.

Cyber Monday is the single biggest online shopping day of the year and this year retail experts say sales will be 15 percent more than they were in 2012. Online ads are expected to help drive the $2 billion in sales that was expected to take place on Cyber Monday.

Cyber Monday, so-called because of the rush of internet sales following a traditional Black Friday, is the busiest online shopping day of the year. Cyber Monday is similar to Black Friday, only without the long lines and pushy fellow shoppers. Online stores roll out deals at specific times on a first-come-first-served basis, and the best items generally sell out in seconds.

It’s also a less stressful environment in which to shop, because if one site runs out of an item you want, you don’t have to hop into your car and drive to another location hoping to find that same item elsewhere. Simply navigate to another online store and try your luck there.

Many Cyber Monday e-Tailers have committed to keep the shopping spree up for the entire week (can you say Cyber Week?) right through December 8th in an effort to make up for the slower than expected Black Friday sales. I suspect that shoppers will continue find better deals online for the entire month and perhaps even after the Christmas holiday.

The term “Cyber Monday” was coined by, a division of the National Retail Federation, in a press release that reported the results of a 2004 research study

In 2012, online shopping traffic peaked just before lunchtime on the east coast – at 11:25 a.m. EST. Right around that time, web traffic soared for department stores, health and beauty retailers, home goods sellers and apparel stores.

Cyber Monday predictions for 2013:!oNhYN
Lastly – have you heard that is planning to deliver your online purchases using unmanned drones? Amazon Prime Air will provide some consumers with 30 minutes or less – to your door – deliveries for products weighing 5 pounds or less.  Although the actually technology implementation is still 3 – 4 years away, you can be sure that CEO, Jeff Bezos will make it happen.

Here’s some info and a short video and picture of a drone:

Amazon Prime Air “Octocopter” introduction on You Tube



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