Scott Ertz - Staff

Scott Ertz

Scott Ertz

Former Segment Host

Current Host

Current UpStream Contributor

Current Product Reviewer

Current Episode Author

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Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLuGHiTz Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the DDR community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bar Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and judging engineering notebooks at competitions. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors.

Recent UpStream Articles

If You're a Media Company, Amazon Has Its Sights on You

posted Sunday Aug 19, 2018 by Scott Ertz

If You're a Media Company, Amazon Has Its Sights on You

Amazon has a fairly large presence in the media market even if they do lag behind in all of their markets. Prime Video doesn't quite compete with Netflix or Hulu. Amazon Music doesn't quite compete with Spotify or Apple Music. Even Fire TV doesn't quite compete with Chromecast. If Amazon has their way, that might be about to change.

Amazon Music

The company has decided to put a big focus on this brand. They want to turn it from a second tier option into a direct competitor to the larger Spotify and Apple Music services. Being as the company has both a music streaming service and a smart speaker, they are hoping to encourage people to think of them as one and not, as most people think, a way to consume Spotify. They are planning TV, radio, online and billboard ads to promote the music service and its natural pairing with Alexa. In addition to offering Prime Music for free, the company will also begin a campaign offering Music Unlimited for $3.99 rather than $7.99 per month if used with an Echo speaker.

Fire TV DVR

While the company currently offers the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Edition smart TVs, there is another market that is being skipped: live TV. To fill this need, Amazon is reportedly working on a new set-top box, dubbed Fire TV DVR (codenamed Frank). This product would compete directly with TiVo and Slingbox, giving you the ability to record live TV and stream it to a phone, computer or tablet. It would likely also offer its recording capabilities for Amazon Channels service. It will likely premiere along with a refresh of the Fire TV Stick product, bringing new features to the whole lineup.

Amazon Prime Video

One of the lesser-known, but better benefits of Amazon Prime, is Prime Video. Through the service, you can watch original content, like documentaries, movies, and series. Your ability to watch this content might be about to expand, though, as Amazon is reportedly in talks to purchase Landmark Theaters from Mark Cuban. While the deal is a bit of a longshot, such a relationship would give Amazon an easy way to show their original content in physical theaters, without the need to work on distribution licensing.

It is believed that there are 2 other companies bidding against Amazon for the company, which would give its new owners access to 27 major markets in the US. The purchase would not be out of order for Amazon, who purchased Whole Foods for $14 billion, and his toyed with physical retail stores. There is no telling if Prime subscribers will get any special treatment at the new theaters, but based on our Whole Foods experience, it's a safe bet to say yes.

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Australia is Not Interested in Privacy, Wants to Restrict Encryption

posted Sunday Aug 19, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Australia is Not Interested in Privacy, Wants to Restrict Encryption

Over the past few years, cryptography has been a big topic of conversation. First, cryptocurrencies have brought the topic into the mainstream, with the blockchains that most cryptocurrencies run on top of using various encryption methods to protect the blockchain data. Second, most major messaging systems have implemented encrypted messaging, with some (like Signal) using it always, and others (Facebook Messenger) enabling it as a setting. Third, most of the operating systems encrpt data with built-in technology, including Windows 10 and Android.

As more data is encrypted across the web, governments, especially those who value police presence over privacy, have gotten scared about their lack of ability to spy on people in the name of "investigation." In 2016, the US Federal Beaurau of Investigation tried to force Apple to unlock a phone, which was a capability the company simply does not have. If the government of Australia has their way, that scenario will be a thing of the past.

Angus Taylor, the minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, has proposed a bill, entitled Assistance and Access Bill 2018, which would force tech companies who do business within Australia or provides their service to users within the country, to give access to data, encrypted or not. The concept has previously bee discussed in the US but has never survived a vote.

To be able to decrypt data, the tech companies would be required to have a universal encryption key. Just like any master key, once it exists, its possibility for abuse is almost 100%. If that key were to slip outside of the company, by a disgruntled employee or an underrated hacker, all of the encrypted data on the platform would be available to the world - making the encryption worthless.

This is the kind of law that causes companies to leave a country entirely, like Google News in Spain. For everyone who uses encryption, I hope this law does not go any farther.

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Valve Continues to Clone Competing Products and Services

posted Sunday Aug 19, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Valve Continues to Clone Competing Products and Services

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Valve introduced their Discord clone into the Steam ecosystem. Discord shot back by introducing their own game store last week. This week, it would appear that Valve is not finished challenging their competitors with new services, either to directly compete or drive customers away from those companies.

Twitch and Mixer

When it comes to videogame streaming, there is no doubt that Amazon's Twitch service owns the market. Microsoft's Mixer is in the mix too, with YouTube and Facebook trying to capture some of the love, as well. This week, it was accidentally revealed that Valve might be interested in getting into the streaming space when they purchased a new domain and accidentally published Steam.TV to the world.

The service looked nearly identical to Twitch or Mixer, even using a purple accent color, mimicking Twitch's branding. While the site is no longer available to the public, while it was it featured a broadcast of The International 2018. There was the ability to log in with a Steam account and create group chats. What there was no was an ability to stream your own game feed. Valve released a statement saying,

We are working on updating Steam Broadcasting for the Main Event of The International, Dota 2's annual tournament. What people saw was a test feed that was inadvertently made public.

Obviously, this was not just a "test feed" but a nearly fully functional Twitch clone. When the service will be debuted fully is anyone's guess, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see it premiere tomorrow to coincide with the finals of The International 2018.

Windows

If there's one thing Valve dislikes more than competitors, it's Windows. There's no telling exactly what went wrong in CEO Gabe Newell's brain, but about the time that Windows 8 was released, Gabe started a campaign against gaming on Windows. Following the campaign, Valve announced SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system to power their new Steam Machines. The biggest failure of SteamOS? The lack of games available on Steam for Linux.

Continuing their campaign to get people to stop using Windows, it looks like Valve is working on bringing Windows games to Linux. Uncovered by a Reddit user, the company has code for a feature called Steam Play, which is a wrapper to bring more games to Linux without having to be ported or rewritten from scratch. A competing project, called WINE, describes the process on their websites,

Instead of simulating internal Windows logic like a virtual machine or emulator, Wine translates Windows API calls into POSIX calls on-the-fly, eliminating the performance and memory penalties of other methods.

That concept is okay when it comes to simple programs, but even more complicated software is questionable. Games, being some of the most complicated software available, is even less likely to work correctly. There are whole websites dedicated to curating games that work on WINE (hint, it's not a lot). The idea that Valve thinks they've got a plan to run more games through a similar system is ambitious at best, and insane at worst.

Valve seems to know this, as the SteamOS software shows hidden settings and warnings, including a warning that games "may not work as expected, and can cause issues with your games, including crashes and breaking save games." We don't know when, or if, this feature will release, either. Based on the fact that settings are beginning to appear within the OS, though, it might become available soon.

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Apple Hacked by Teenage Fan, Claims Customer Accounts are Safe

posted Sunday Aug 19, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Apple Hacked by Teenage Fan, Claims Customer Accounts are Safe

A teen in Australia pleaded guilty this week in Children's Court to hacking into Apple's secure network several times across the past year and accessing various systems. Among his intrusions, he downloaded over 90GB of secure data and accessed customer account information. His lawyer told the court that his client, 16, had hacked into the network because he is a fan of the company and dreamed of working there.

After Apple noticed the hack, which apparently took nearly a year, they notified the FBI. After investigating the source and determining it to have come from Australia, the FBI contacted the Australian Federal Police. The police raided the boy's parents' home and took two Apple laptops, a phone, and an additional hard drive. The boy will return to court next month for sentencing.

Apple has confirmed the account, but claims,

We ... want to assure our customers that at no point during this incident was their personal data compromised.

This seems contradictory to the pleading, however, which states that customer information was accessed by the boy. Despite Apple's seemingly cheery and firm commitment to the security of customer information, it is still in any Apple user's best interest to change their login information, just in case Apple is covering up a larger data breach. This would not be Apple's first time ignoring a breach, so better safe than sorry.

As for the teen, a hack on the company, accessing customer data and bragging about the incident on WhatsApp is likely to keep him from any career at the company.

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Spotify Gains a Big New Partner in Samsung

posted Saturday Aug 11, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Spotify Gains a Big New Partner in Samsung

Ever since entering the US market, Spotify has owned the music streaming business. Apple has made some inroads since purchasing and rebranding Beats Music, but they still trail in music selection and userbase. Spotify has gained a bigger foothold in the industry thanks to their newly announced partnership with Samsung. As part of the relationship, Samsung will tightly integrate Spotify service into their devices, including phones, televisions and new Galaxy Home.

This partnership means that Samsung fans in the ecosystem will be able to experience what other users currently have: music continuity. The continuity sounds like it will mimic what Microsoft ecosystem users have experienced since Microsoft terminated Groove Music. Playing music on Spotify in the car through your Samsung phone will allow you to transfer the music to your television when you enter the house and play through the Galaxy Home in the bedroom.

This ability has always been the promise of Spotify's service, and especially the play-to capability of the client. The capability gets even more interesting and powerful with more integrated devices. Pairing to a Bluetooth speaker works well but doesn't travel around the house easily. It requires disconnecting and reconnecting to various devices, depending on where you are. Having Spotify integrated into devices means that you don't have to do anything special to play from room to room.

Having smart capabilities behind Spotify makes the experience even better. When paired with an AI, like Cortana or Bixby, it gives an even more direct and frictionless music experience. Asking Bixby for music recommendations will now default to searching Spotify, which means that playing music through Spotify won't require any physical interaction with a Samsung phone or Galaxy Home speaker, with Samsung Smart TV integration coming in the near future.

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