Monthly Archives February 2015

Google Reportedly Developing Point-of-Sale System

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Reports suggest Google has been testing new retail point-of-sale software to work on Android devices and integrate with a store’s existing payment processing system. The service, called Plaso, will allow customers to pay for items by giving their initials to the clerk at the register.

It appears as though Plaso will utilize Bluetooth beacon technology to detect the Google digital payments apps on smartphones physically in the store. Customer’s initials can be used to help the clerk determine which wallet belongs to them, at which point a digital transfer from either the device or from the cloud would take place.

Details about Plaso have not yet been confirmed, but additional verification would likely be necessary to ensure the payment system is secure. There is no word at this time as to when Plaso might see commercial use.

U.S. Wi-Fi Innovation Act Seeks More Airwaves Alongside Smart Cars

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Legislation requiring regulators to quickly test how shared radio frequencies could exist alongside those used for communications between smart cars was recently revived by two U.S. senators, in an attempt to allocate more airwaves to public Wi-Fi.

U.S. Senators Cory Brooker, a New Jersey Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, are re-introducing a piece of legislation that aims to direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to study how more spectrum can be freed up for public use without interfering with connected vehicles.

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act was originally visited last year. The bill is supported by cable and wireless industries and various makers of high-tech equipment, which are hoping to make their devices more usable in public places.

“The result will transform 75 megahertz of currently moribund and lightly used spectrum into a powerhouse for American broadband,” wrote Comcast’s Regulatory Policy Vice President David Don about the bill in 2014.

This bill remains a concern for the automotive community, who have used the airwaves in question to develop safety systems allowing cars to communicate with each other and elements around them. They believe any interference with this system could potentially pose a safety risk.

“‘Talking cars’ that avoid crashes and reduce traffic congestion and pollution are being deployed today as tests continue,” the groups wrote. “That is why we ask for you to oppose any legislation, such as the Wi-Fi Innovation Act, that could set the program back and risk the implementation of this life saving technology and safety system.”

The bill was first introduced last June but was never voted on. It remains an example of bipartisanship amongst American lawmakers who hope to benefit the general public, as well as the wireless and cable industries. Whether or not this piece of legislation makes progress will determine how the FCC handles the present issue of expanding the use of the “upper 5 gigahertz band of spectrum” in question.

100GB of OneDrive Storage – Free for Two Years

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Microsoft is offering 100GB of free OneDrive cloud storage for two years, and all you need is a free Bing Rewards account to get it. OneDrive, formerly known as SkyDrive, is a convenient option for anyone looking to add online storage or backup to their computing environment.

Once users have signed up for a Bing Rewards account, they simply need to go to their Bing Rewards dashboard and click on the “100GB free” link. Users must then agree to receive promotional OneDrive emails in exchange for the free storage space, which is an extremely reasonable price to pay.

Microsoft currently charges $1.99 per month for a 100GB plan, so the most users will need to pay at the end of the two year term if they wish to keep their storage is $24 per year. This is assuming prices don’t drop even further in that amount of time.

This generous offering is, unfortunately for the rest of the world, only available to US residents.

AT&T Offering Big Deals Including Free Galaxy Tablet with Galaxy Phone Purchase

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AT&T recently announced two major promotions just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Customers looking to buy a new Galaxy smartphone can now qualify to get a free Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 with purchase, if they are willing to sign up for a $0 down Next plan. Similarly, if you are a bigger fan of LG, the carrier is also offering a G Pad 7.0 LTE for 99 cents with any smartphone purchased on an AT&T Next plan.

In order to take advantage of this offer, customers will be required to sign a two-year contract for data, with plans starting from $14.99 per month.

AT&T will also be offering some smaller sales on gadgets running through February 19. Highlights of this sale include Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones for $99 and the onyx Jawbone UP24 for $69.

Microsoft Purchases Sunrise Calendar App for Over $100 Million

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Microsoft has recently acquired calendar application Sunrise for over $100 million. The company has yet to comment on the purchase, but speculation suggests the app was purchased in hopes of reinventing the brand.

Sunrise allows users to synch all of their calendars to one device, regardless of software. For example, if a user has one Apple product and another Microsoft product, the two calendars can be linked through Sunrise. This eliminates a user’s need to remain loyal to one brand for the sake of organization, which could prove quite beneficial for Microsoft.

So far, it has not been disclosed if the app will remain as is, or be altered to only feature Microsoft products.

Can Social Media Lead to Depression?

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A new study conducted at the University of Missouri has found an interesting correlation between social media sites, such as Facebook, and depression. Professor Margaret Duffy, co-author of the study, explains that the way a person uses Facebook may decide whether or not they experience symptoms of depression.

“Facebook can be a fun and healthy activity if users take advantage of the site to stay connected with family and old friends and to share interesting and important aspects of their lives.” Duffy said. “However, if Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship – things that cause envy among users – use of the site can lead to feelings of depression.”

The study, which questioned 700 young users, found that “surveillance users” of Facebook often feel a sense of envy which can lead to depression. These “surveillance users” are the ones who browse through Facebook in order to compare their life to those of their friends’.

Professor Duffy said: “We found that if Facebook users experience envy of the activities and lifestyles of their friends on Facebook, they are much more likely to report feelings of depression. Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one’s own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect. It is important for Facebook users to be aware of these risks so they can avoid this kind of behavior when using Facebook.”

The study and its findings have been published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.

Google Maps Shows Canada’s Best Tobogganing Hills

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With the recent storm leaving Canada quite snowy, it might be time to break out the old sled. Google wants to help. A new map highlights over 200 of the best tobogganing hills across Canada.

While the map was created by Edmonton toboggan enthusiast Charles Heard, it can easily be edited by other users, allowing for the addition of new hills and useful tips. For instance, the user who added the “Emond kiddie run” in Val-Belair, Quebec wrote, “A hedge wall prevents any run-away sleds. Ample parking at the nearby school.”

Anyone can access and edit the tobogganing map on Google Maps as long as they have a Google account. Heard encourages as many people as possible to add their favorite spots, tips, and stories.

Keep in mind, the map does not address current issues surrounding tobogganing and the use of helmets. Nor does is show that some Canadian cities, Hamilton in particular, have tobogganing bans, or that cities like Niagara and Ottawa have restricted sledding to specific hills.

Health Canada recommends children wear helmets that fit and are secured properly to prevent head and brain injuries.

Eero Using Mesh Networking to Strengthen Home Wi-Fi

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As streaming video and smart home devices become more prevalent, Eero is working to wipe out weak Wi-Fi. The new startup wants to provide reliable Internet access to every corner of your home with its system of multiple routers.

“Streaming content has taken over our homes and there’s all these devices connecting to the internet, but our existing home networking gear hasn’t been designed for that,” said Nick Weaver, the 26-year-old CEO and co-founder of Eero.

Eero promises to solve the problem of network reliability with a distributed mesh network. Instead of using one large device with powerful range extenders, multiple small devices will be placed around the home. On pre-order, Eero routers will cost $125 per device, or $300 for a set of three to cover an entire house. After pre-orders the price will jump to $200 per device, or $500 for the set.

“What we’ve seen in home networking is that routers have gotten bigger and more powerful,” said Weaver. “But the solution isn’t to have more power; the solution is to have many different internet connection points in the home. But to do that in a simple and easy way, it really becomes a complex software problem. And that’s just not an area that’s seen innovation in 10 or 15 year.”

Each router has been designed to cover 1,000 square feet, and comes equipped with two Wi-Fi radios, a Bluetooth wireless chip, a half gig of RAM and a gig of flash storage. Eero plans for its routers to help ramp up video streaming, and to get better Internet access to smart home devices through the use of Bluetooth chips.

Distributed networking gear exists in enterprise settings, but is too expensive and complicated for home use. The Eero system promises easy setup, and an accompanying app to view Internet speeds and manage which devices are connected to the network.

Eero recently raised $5 million in seed funding. The company is now taking orders for its devices, and plans to start shipping them in early summer.

Raspberry Pi 2 is 6X More Powerful and Runs Windows 10

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The latest Raspberry Pi is now six times more powerful than its predecessor and will run Windows 10 for free. The updated quad-core microcomputer will maintain its previous $35 price tag.

The new board’s hardware includes a Broadcom 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor and 1GB of RAM. The Pi 2 Model B is now on sale, and is strong enough to run Windows 10, as well as more usual Linux operating systems.

“For the last six months we’ve been working closely with Microsoft to bring the forthcoming Windows 10 to Raspberry Pi 2,” the Raspberry Pi Foundation writes on its blog. “Microsoft will have much more to share over the coming months. The Raspberry Pi 2-compatible version of Windows 10 will be available free of charge to makers.”

To date, 4.5 million Pi boards have been sold since its launch. While the Raspberry Pi 2 is still an extremely simple computer, its increased power and appealing price will undoubtedly only increase its popularity.