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Google Home Adds Unwanted Ad to Daily Agenda

posted Saturday Mar 18, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Home Adds Unwanted Ad to Daily Agenda

Over the past few years, the battle over personal digital assistants has really heated up. With Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Home all vying to help you through your day, there is an important question to be asked: why do any of these companies care?

For Microsoft, Cortana is a way to promote the power of Windows on multiple platforms and the capabilities of Azure. For Amazon, Alexa is a way to make buying products from the company's online store easier. For Apple, Siri was initially a way to set the iPhone apart from Android. But for Google, where does Home fit into the company's plan?

For Google, Home seems to be about encouraging people to use Google's online services, such as Search, Gmail and Calendar, because that is where Google generates the majority of their revenue. But, Google's business model revolves almost entirely around advertising revenue from their web properties. The problem for Google is that Home does not show any of their ads.

This week, Google found a way to introduce the only thing it knows, advertising, into its Google Home product, in the form of information about Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast film that premiered this week. On Thursday, when people asked about their day, they were forced to endure a message about the film,

By the way, Disney's live action Beauty and The Beast opens today. In this version of the story, Belle is the inventor instead of Maurice. That rings truer, if you ask me. For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle.

After users voiced their complaints Thursday online, the ad mysteriously vanished, with Google issuing two statements claiming that the insert wasn't an ad. There is no explanation how an unsolicited product placement into a daily agenda is different from an ad, and Google has not answered questions about whether or not Disney had paid for the product placement, or if Google was simply testing the idea of product placement.

This could be an indication of things to come for Google's Home products. Based on the reaction from users, however, this move could end similar to the Google Buzz disaster, where people end up boycotting the product over Google's invasion.

If Google begins adding advertisements into Google Home, will it lower your interest in the service? Let us know in the comments.

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Spotify to Implement TIDAL's Quality Benefit

posted Saturday Mar 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Spotify to Implement TIDAL's Quality Benefit

Over the last few years, streaming music services have kind of taken over the industry. Between services like Groove, Amazon Prime Music, Spotify and more running around $100 per year, it is hard to justify the cost of purchasing music, either on CD or MP3.

The problem with these services is that most of them stream using a fairly lossy format, meaning you're not getting quite the sound quality you may be used to. There have been services that have tried to remedy this scenario, with TIDAL being the most discussed. They have continued to have issues getting people to sign-up for their service, recently selling 33% of the company to Sprint in hopes of gaining traction.

Market leader Spotify may be about to mix things up, however, with a yet-to-be-announced feature that leaked this week. Some people have been invited to join "Spotify Hi-Fi" - Spotify's introduction of "lossless CD quality audio" streaming. Members on Reddit and Twitter have shared images of their invites, with pricing including $5, $7.50 and $10 per month. The variation of prices is likely due to Spotify testing which price tier will attract more customers.

Adding a new, premium feature is a great way for Spotify to increase revenue without having to try and lure customers away from other services. Spotify has not responded positively or negatively to the news, saying only that they test new features often. If the company is working on bringing this feature to market, it is unclear when we might be able to test it out.

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Amazon Shows the Hazardous Risks of the Cloud with a Typo

posted Saturday Mar 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Amazon Shows the Hazardous Risks of the Cloud with a Typo

Love it or hate it, the cloud is here to stay. It's hard to beat the capabilities and it's nearly impossible to beat the prices. While our site is hosted traditionally, all of our media files for all of our shows are hosted at Microsoft Azure. While it seems like a slam dunk, the growing popularity of cloud services does present an interesting new problem.

As more and more sites and applications begin to rely on services like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS), it creates a scenario where there is a single point of failure. If one of the cloud companies has an issue, then hundreds or thousands of users can be affected.

This issue was demonstrated this week when the AWS Simple Storage Service (S3) failed on February 28. Amazon was very open about the issue, keeping their status page up-to-date as the issue was identified, troubleshot and solved. This outage, however, collapsed as many as 150,000 websites and applications, with more having partial outages, for about half of the day.

With this kind of failure, you would expect that something serious, such as a power outage or massive storm, would be to blame. Unfortunately, you would be mistaken. As it turns out, it was an institutional failure within AWS that caused the issue. Let's examine what happened.

According to Amazon, a typo during a billing system change was to blame for the outage in their northern Virginia datacenter. The typo, however, was only a symptom of the actual problem within Amazon. Their system should not be so open to the support team that it allowed one employee to essentially shutdown an entire datacenter with a single command. The system should have denied the command, knowing that there was little to no chance that it was done on purpose.

That is a system and organizational failure, no matter how you slice it. A company who knows how many companies and organizations rely on their services should be more respectful of those customers.

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Microsoft Introduces Features That Will Make You Love Your Xbox Even More

posted Saturday Mar 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Introduces Features That Will Make You Love Your Xbox Even More

It is no secret that Microsoft is expanding the reach of the Xbox brand. Steve Ballmer's idea was to make Xbox the all-inclusive media brand, but under Satya Nadella, Xbox has returned to its gaming roots, but in a big way. Rather than just being a gaming console, Xbox represents Microsoft's gaming ambitions across everything running the OneCore: Xbox One, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Holographic.

This week, the company added a couple of new features to the Xbox ecosystem that will give you even more reasons to spend more time in the Xbox world.

Xbox Live Creators Program

As the Windows 10 Creators Update gets closer to the public, Xbox wants to embrace the community that they are cultivating. With that comes the new Xbox Live Creators Program, a new way for really indie developers to publish games to the Xbox ecosystem. The program is not intended to replace ID@Xbox, the program where large indie developers can publish fully-qualified Xbox titles. Instead, this is intended for much smaller shops, or single developers, looking for exposure.

Creators will have access to a much smaller subset of Xbox APIs. For example, they can access Xbox Live account information, but cannot publish achievements. They can create achievements and hubs, but cannot use Xbox Live multiplayer capabilities. Also, games must be UWP applications created using Construct 2, MonoGame, Unity or Xenko.

Because these games are required to be UWP, that means that they can run on Xbox One, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Holographic, all with a single publish. The breadth of platforms available places the Creators Program above Valve's new Steam Direct, a similar program, but with a very limited availability.

Xbox Game Pass

Another new way to get new games to play is the Xbox Game Pass. Premiering with more than 100 titles, this new subscription service will give a variety of titles for a single monthly price. For $10, you will see Xbox One titles, like Halo 5: Guardians, and Xbox 360 titles, like Gears of War. There are RPG titles like Fable and sports titles, like NBA 2K16.

While this is similar to PlayStation Now, it has a few major enhancements. For example, while Now only allows streaming of titles, allowing for gaming lag, Game Pass allows you to download the titles to your console. Now only offers access to older titles, while Game Pass will give access to more modern Xbox One content. Also, Now runs $20 per month, while Game Pass will come in at only $10 per month.

Obviously, games will cycle in and out of the program, so that new games are always available to try out. If a game leaves the program, and you want to keep access to it, Xbox will offer you a discount to purchase it. We don't have an official launch date, but Xbox Insiders can try out a preview of the service this week.

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Lenovo to Reclaim Motorola Brand After Odd Moto Trial

posted Saturday Mar 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Lenovo to Reclaim Motorola Brand After Odd Moto Trial

One of the most iconic brands in mobile devices is Motorola. The brand made smartphones long before they were popular in the Q, they made a flip phone that was the envy of the entire industry in the RAZR and they even made a phone so popular that even Mercedes Benz built its accessories into their cars in the StarTAC.

Over the past few years, the brand has not been shown the respect it deserves. After Google purchased the company, they let it languish, only releasing mid-range phones. During that time, Google partnered with other manufacturers to produce its Nexus line of devices, rather than using their own Motorola hardware division. Unsurprisingly, the purchase never paid off for Google.

Lenovo decided to add the brand to their collection of device brands, including IBM's ThinkPad line. Unfortunately, shortly after the purchase, they decided to try a rebrand, going from the iconic Motorola to just Moto. Even after the change, devices were coming out with the original branding, continuing the confusion.

This week, Lenovo has announced that they plan to return Motorola and its name to its former glory. The Moto moniker is gone, and Motorola will return full-force. In fact, not only will existing and future devices out of the Motorola division receive the proper Motorola name, but will also phase out its other phone brands. That means that future phones will no longer have the Lenovo or ZUK brand names.

Luckily, they have learned their lesson, and will not phase those additional brands out immediately, but will instead raise the profile of Motorola in countries like Russia and China, where the Lenovo brand is better known, before making the transition complete.

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PewDiePie is Not a Victim, He Is Embarassed to be Losing

posted Saturday Feb 18, 2017 by Scott Ertz

PewDiePie is Not a Victim, He Is Embarassed to be Losing

If you don't know who PewDiePie is, that is alright. Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg is a YouTube star, whose channel has the largest subscriber count at 53 million subscribers and generated him an estimated $15 million in 2016. He has managed to accomplish this by consistently being surprising. He started off as a gaming channel and later began to fancy himself a comedian, and the content began to change.

One of his go-to concepts is shock value. The thing he seems to find both shocking and funny is anti-Semitic content. While these types of "jokes" have been accepted for other content creators, such as South Park, Kjellberg's latest video did not. The difference was in what the actual content was. He paid someone to hold up a sign that read, "DEATH TO ALL JEWS." The world did not respond to it as he had hoped, and he blames everyone else for that "problem."

Rather than saying he was sorry for creating something that offended a lot of people, he blamed the media for reporting on the negative response the video received. Of course it could not possibly be the fault of the person who created the concept, filmed the video and then published it to the world - the reason it didn't go well is because someone else noticed that it was offensive content.

I truly believe these articles slamming people like me for these topics, they're doing more harm than good. They're doing more harm than I'm doing by saying them. I think being the political correctness police is essentially just going to fuck us all over, and this year, 2017 I decided I'm taking a stance back, I'm going to be true to myself. I want to do the sense of humor that I enjoy, and this is the price for it, I'm fine with that.

While I do agree that the "PC Police" are creating an environment in which everyone is encouraged to be offended by something, there are still some things that are actually offensive, such as calling for the extermination of a people who have faced that exact fate more than once in their history, and are facing a new version of it today. Some things simply are not funny, and this is one of them. In 2016, he took a different stand on content, however, saying,

I still make kinda stupid jokes that I shouldn't make. But I feel like back then I didn't understand. I was so immature and I just thought things were funny just because they were offensive. So I would say a lot of stupid shit. I'm not proud of it. I'm really not. But I'm also glad that I've grown past it.

It makes you wonder what has changed, and why he feels that being offensive is his true self in 2017. The price he is mentioning in the first quote, however, is incredibly high. The PewDiePie channel has had two major partnerships which led to his financial windfall in 2016: YouTube itself, which is owned by Google, and MakerStudio, which is owned by Disney. Both of those partnerships came to an end this week after the video was published. MakerStudio released a statement about the termination, saying,

Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case. The resulting videos are inappropriate.

YouTube issued a statement about canceling Felix's YouTube Red series, which is produced by The Walking Dead's Robert Kirkman, saying,

We've decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie season 2 and we're removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred.

All 3 of these changes are going to take PewDiePie from being a YouTube star to being an internet unknown. Removal from Preferred will mean new people will be less likely to encounter new content, and cancelation of his promoted content will end his financial successes. However, no matter what he says, this is his fault, not yours or the media's. He created controversial content, knew it was controversial and now must pay the price for the reaction. No one is responsible for paying for your mistakes but you, a lesson that is going to be incredibly expensive for Felix.

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