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April 15, 2019 - Episode 526 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Google's changing its delivery, PlayStation is changing your ID, and Yahoo is changing its settlement offer.

13 Inch HP Spectre x360 - Episode 193 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch shows off the HP Spectre x360 13" 2-in-1 notebook. This new model of the popular Spectre x360 series has some interesting new features. One of the most interesting, though seemingly simple changes, is the angled back corners. On these corners, which are cut at a 45-degree angle, house the power button and charging port. This minor change is a nice design change but also has a nice functional change. With the charging port at an angle, it makes it easy to get to without having it stick out into your desk or pushing back into the wall.

The laptop is ultra thin, but you don't have to sacrifice a standard USB-A port for the size. With more laptops coming with only USB-C, it's nice to have a laptop with both choices. The laptop comes in a couple of color schemes, including a copper-banded and a blue. There are also two choices for screen resolution, both an HD (1080) and UHD (4k). While the screen is colorful, it does suffer from a lack of brightness.

The benefits and deficits of Android updates being tied to Google Play

According to a find by 9to5Google, Google might be in the process of changing the way that updates are delivered to Android users. As it works now, updates are pushed through a series of levels before they arrive on your handset. Google develops the changes and makes them available to the manufacturer of your handset. The manufacturer makes their changes and verifies that it does not break the device. The manufacturer either does or does not make the update available to your carrier, who does their own QA testing. Only then are updates made available to the owner of the device.

This incredibly long process is why it can take months from the time a big update is made available until it arrives on your device. Some devices never receive those updates, with manufacturers opting to ignore older handsets entirely. This is one of the problems that Google has tried to address with the Google One platform, which has no manufacturer or carrier overrides, providing a "pure Google experience," similar to what Apple provides with iOS and Microsoft provided with the now defunct Windows Phone and Windows Mobile.

As part of this unification, Google seems to be moving the update process from deep within the settings menu into the Google Play Store. Moving the update process will almost certainly make it a more direct process for users to get notified about, and manually search for, system updates. It might also begin to create some confusion for users, as the process is very different from any other major platform. The only system on the market today that groups app and system updates together is Linus, which has a statistically insignificant user base, making it a foreign concept.

In addition to the potential for confusion, there is the potential for legal issues. By moving the update process into Google Play, it might suggest that Android will now require Google Play and Play Services as part of the system. That will cause problems for manufacturers who have chosen to bypass Google Play and other Play Services in their devices in favor of their own stores, services, and more. If system updates are about to become dependant on Google Play, it will potentially end their platforms. At a time where Google's behaviors are being questioned on a daily basis for antitrust, this could cause them even more trouble, especially in the EU.

April 7, 2019 - Episode 525 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Apple's lowering their price, Microsoft's raising their benefits, and Google's shrinking their offerings.

Hack Computer Kids' Laptop - Episode 192 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch shows off the brand new Hack Computer, a laptop designed to help teach kids about computers. There are two parts to the computer: the hardware and the operating system. The hardware is a quality laptop manufactured by Asus. Featuring a 1080p screen and lightweight design, it feels at home in the $299 price point. As for the operating system, it is a Linux build with tools and features specifically for the Hack Computer.

Where the Hack Computer really shines is the learning platform. Featuring characters that give you quests, Hack uses those quests to teach kids about the computer and how to code. For example, when in a game, there is a button that allows the child to flip the game over and exposes the inner workings. From there, the child is encouraged to alter the game parameters. As they do, they are given hints on ways they might want to accomplish their goal. They are also given information about coding and the inner workings of the computer.

Some of the information that is given is helpful, while others would seem more at home in a beginning engineering course. It is a little odd to tell an 8-year-old child that Latin root of the word cursor, for example. It's almost as if the target audience of the product changed at some point, but the original content was not removed. Speaking of content, the platform is a little light right now. That is because the platform is designed to expand over time, with a monthly subscription, though you get the first year of content included.

Fortunately, the Hack Computer offers an app store of sorts, so you can install some software you might consider missing as shipped. The Hack Computer is available now for $299.

Apple makes HomePod cheaper, but it is still way too expensive

Since Apple first announced the HomePod, the company's rt speaker, they have struggled to gain any traction. Even the most hardcore Apple fans have skipped this device entirely. Apple has decided that the reason customers have not purchased the HomePod is because of its price and, this week, have lowered the retail price from $450 to $300: a 15% discount.

Unfortunately for Apple, they have made a major miscalculation on the cause of consumers' disinterest in the HomePod. Apple has never had problems selling their devices when they are overpriced. In fact, overpriced hardware is kind of Apple's brand message. In reality, the reason why no one is purchasing the device is that it is massively underpowered, as far as features. You get the features that Apple has provided and that is about it. Sure, you can get the weather from Apple, or control HomeKit-enabled smartphone devices, but you don't get much more than that.

Siri has never been the most powerful digital assistant in the market, dating back to when Apple purchased the technology in 2010. While she may have been the best known, she had no developer support, meaning that only Apple could give her capabilities. When Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant were introduced, all were designed with extensibility at their core.

While Apple has added some developer support to Siri in the past decade, it is far from useful for developers to add real capabilities through distributable skills. Even Cortana, who is in the #3 position as far as digital assistants, has more capabilities when used away from the computer, and they are having trouble selling the Harmon Kardon Invoke for $50[url" class="UpStreamLink"> (though it is a great Bluetooth speaker). If Apple wants to gain any traction on the HomePod, they need to give developers proper access to be able to build standalone apps for Siri.

Asus update tool hacked, allowed access to millions of computers

Computer manufacturers and users are definitely getting more sophisticated. Manufacturers, as well as Microsoft and Apple themselves, continue to produce more sophisticated tools to prevent hackers from gaining access to your computer. Users are getting smarter about which sites and emails they interact with, preventing attacks. With a more sophisticated computer user must come a more sophisticated hacker, and we have definitely seen a growth in that area. This week, Asus was the target of an incredibly advanced attack, putting computer owners at risk.

According to Russian security firm Kaspersky, a supply chain attack had been carried out using the ASUS Live Update Utility. Using a flaw in the utility, hackers opened a back door into any computer that had downloaded the tool. Kaspersky said that 57,000 of their users have downloaded the compromised tool, but that represented only a small portion of the Asus customer-base. They believe that as many as a million computers may have this backdoor installed.

ShadowHammer, as the attack has been called, is certainly a sophisticated one. The software was able to bypass initial detection because it was signed using an official Asus security certificate. For most, that would be enough to believe it is legitimate. In addition, the hackers managed to make the file exactly the same size as the original file which it replaced.

While many computers are likely compromised, it would appear that the actual usage of the exploit was incredibly targeted. It appears that only 583 MAC addresses were targeted, representing computers within large organizations. The affected computers are almost exclusively owned by ASUSTek, Intel, and AzureWave Technologies, with only 70 affected computers being owned by anyone else. That does not mean that users should not be concerned about this hack. This is not the first time that a company's update utility had been compromised, and it will not be the last.

March 31, 2019 - Episode 524 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Asus customers are under attack, Google customers are under surveillance, and Apple customers are under pressure to subscribe.

Death of Intel Compute Card - Episode 191 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch talks about the death of a product that never made any sense: the Intel Compute Card. This tiny computer was about the size of a credit card but required a docking station to be used. Intel believed that this platform was the future of integrated devices, like smart TVs and refrigerators, but manufacturers never agreed. "Secure computing" also didn't pan out as a business model, because of the requirement for a lot of overhead. The problem is, this concept has been around for years, and will not be going anywhere any time soon. Samsung DeX is the same concept, with all of the same limitations. Microsoft Continuum was, again, most of the same issues. So, while Compute Card is gone, the idea is not.

John Deere shows off how GPS, cloud, AI, and more help farmers daily (PLuGHiTz Live Special Events)

What many people do not know is that one of the most technology infused industries in the world is farming. Most modern farming would be completely impossible without the unbelievably large and powerful machines that reside on farms. The leader in farming machinery, as well as computing, is John Deere, a name that even non-farmers are familiar with. The company was at CES 2019 to show how technology that is just barely emerging in consumer technology has been used for farming for a while.

The best example of a technology in use for agriculture that is just making its way to the consumer market is self-driving vehicles. Farmers have been using incredibly large self-driving machinery for years to both plant and harvest fields. Using incredibly precise onboard GPS, this 20-ton machine is able to steer around a field with an accuracy of 2.5 centimeters. This level of precision is essential in agriculture, as a small variation can be the difference between harvesting and destroying a field.

Some of the more recent versions of these machines are able to learn all about a field on its own, using over 100 sensors. Connecting these sensors to the cloud, farmers are able to keep track of the job being done and the quality of the job being performed. Combined with the precise GPS driving, these machines are just shy of being able to set them in the field and walk away.

One of the most interesting advancements in agricultural machinery is the ability for them to be truly multipurpose. In fact, they are referred to as factories on wheels. After a tuning process, they can be used for an entire process, from harvesting grain to separating it with intense detail. Essentially, when the machines come back from the field, the grains can be ready to run into a silo and sold or used.

Whether or not you're a farmer, there is a lot of exciting technology to learn about at John Deere's website.

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