Microsoft’s Fantastic New News iOS App

Microsoft has been releasing some great apps for iOS recently and their most recent one is a big hit, as far as I am concerned.

Microsoft’s new iOS app, “News Brief” does an amazing job of finding stories related to your job, skills, and interests. It cuts out the fluff and makes news reading easier.

It starts with an easy setup process. You can help the app out by signing in with LinkedIn or Facebook. I chose Facebook because I know that service has a much richer biography of my interests. It worked as expected. The app chose the buckets for “Star Trek” and “Microsoft” and immediately created magazines for these topics.

I clicked on the Me icon and added a few more interests, including “Information Technology” and a few related to Star Trek. When you search for new categories, you can see a list of organizations, skills, and products. It’s pretty slick, but more importantly, it works. I found about a dozen articles that interested me right away, which is far different from what happens with more generic apps I have tried. As usual, it’s all about the algorithms, and Microsoft, thanks to their Microsoft Garage dev team has hit the mark with this one.

The app is also speedy. With other readers, I have noticed there is sometimes a weird pause as the app fetches news or load images and text. With the News app, which is installed by default on an iPhone or iPad, it seems to take forever to scroll through the news feed as it reloads. News Pro lets you drag up and release to fetch new stories, placing one in a prime spot. Stories load quickly with a properly-sized thumbnail.

Speaking of speedy there is a mode in News Pro after you select an article to read called Speedy that removes some of the extra formatting and images.

News Pro reminds me of the Outlook app in that it makes every feature seem like it was designed for people who don’t have a ton of time to figure out weird settings and tabs and are not engineers. News Pro has an intuitive flow that puts the emphasis on finding stories and reading them. It puts the interface in the background where it belongs.

If you have an iPhone and want to check this out simply search for “News Brief” in the app store.

Facebook’s Like Feature Grows Up

You see a friend’s Facebook post about the death of a pet, the loss of a job or an annoying encounter they had on the road. You want to acknowledge the post but you really do not want to click the Like button. Posts like these are are not “likeable” but you would like to acknowledge them. What do you do? Well Facebook is apparently about to help with this terrible problem.

Facebook reactions

In cases like the ones I mentioned above you may prefer to click on a Sad button or a Love button or a Wow button. In a few weeks, it appears you will have that option.

Facebook recently reported that they will be adding five new reactions to the popular Like button. Although they would not give a specific date for the change, they did say it would be “in the next few weeks.”

Instead, when users hold down the Like button, they will get other options such as angry, sad, wow, haha and love expressions.

The reactions will pop up as yellow animated emojis that are designed to bounce and change expressions to make their meaning clear. The posts will also apparently show the totals of the different post responses.

This is a big change for Facebook. The social network’s Like button has become one of its most popular and well-known functions on the site. People “like” posts about a friend finishing a marathon, reading a great book, sliding in the snow or finding a new job. In fact this function’s popularity is I am sure – the reason it has taken so long to update it with additional features.

With more reaction options, individual users and businesses now will have more information about what their friends and followers think about what they’re doing.

Watch for this new feature if you use Facebook during the next couple of weeks.

Microsoft Surface Tablets Fail Patriots

Surface may be the “official tablet of the NFL,” but a one-sided problem during the AFC Championship game Sunday between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots isn’t the kind of awareness Microsoft is trying to build by outfitting teams with its slates.

Microsoft executives watching the game must have freaked out when they heard the following.

“On the Patriots’ sideline here, they’re having some trouble with their Microsoft Surface tablets,” reported Evan Washburn of CBS early in the second quarter. “That last defensive possession, the Patriots’ coaches did not have access to those tablets to show the pictures to the players. The NFL officials have been working at it. Some of those tablets are back in use, but not all of them. A lot of frustration that they didn’t have them that last possession.”

“That last possession” resulted in a Broncos score. It wasn’t immediately known what the specific issue affecting the tablets was.

Denver, which was hosting the game, reportedly did not have problems with their Surface tablets. Another sideline reporter spoke with the NFL which said it didn’t need to shut down the Broncos’ tablets as only New England was having problems, and it was after kickoff. The same reporter also talked to a Microsoft Surface representative who said that the Patriots are using hard wires to “keep [the tablets] going.”

Twitter erupted with reaction, some even dubbing the situation “Tabletgate.”

Microsoft paid the NFL $400 million to put Surfaces into every facet of the game, though it’s not uncommon to hear TV analysts and others refer to the tablets as “iPads.” If it’s any solace to Microsoft, that probably won’t happen again after today.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson has issued a statement reporting a network issue had caused the problem for the New England Patriots and not the tablets themselves.

“Our team on the field has confirmed the issue was not related to the tablets themselves but rather an issue with the network,” a spokesperson said. “We worked with our partners who manage the network to ensure the issue was resolved quickly.”

The problem lasted for about 20 minutes and I would suggest, had no impact on the game itself.

TOS 50 Book Mission #2 – “The Starless World”

Book #2 on my one-year mission to read as much Star Trek as possible as my way of honoring what Star Trek has meant to me, ironically during my first 50 years (as well) takes me to 1978’s “The Starless World” by Gordon Eklund. I read this one back in high school so I forgot almost everything about it.

The Story

While charting black holes and stellar masses near the Galactic core, the Enterprise manages to rescue Thomas Clayton, a Starfleet washout who now is an independent scout for the Federation. Amazingly enough, Clayton is aboard a Starfleet shuttlecraft from the starship Rickover which disappeared some two decades earlier. Clayton is completely insane; he has explained he is doing his god’s bidding. While beginning an investigation into this mystery, the Enterprise is suddenly drawn into a Dyson sphere where they encounter a Klingon ship.

After a brief exchange of hostile words (their weapons don’t work), Kirk, Uhura and Sulu beam down and encounter the only remaining inhabitants: short, plump, white chimpanzee-like humanoids. After befriending Ola by stopping her from becoming a carnivore’s dinner, she takes them to her village of Tumara where they are soon joined by McCoy and Spock who are forced down to the planet’s surface by the deranged Clayton. Spock is increasingly of the opinion that Ay-nab, the sun of the Dyson sphere known as Lyra, is a superintelligent being. There is also a rather odd and unnecessary sub-plot of Uhura meeting her father, one of the crew of the Rickover who are now little more than zombies whose souls Ay-nab feeds.

My Thoughts

Gordon Eklund does a really good job of telling a science fiction story first, then a Star Trek story which I really appreciate. The Star Trek novels written before the films were launched almost always have this kind of science fiction first plot point. Maybe it’s because I love classic science fiction that thsi appeals to me. That being said this IS a Star Trek book after all and for the most part works as a classic episode type story. However there are a few errors here and there (the Enterprise is a Constellation-class ship, for one, and Spock uses way too many colloquialisms for a Vulcan). However, Eklund really does manage to craft a credible and weird world. The theme of a star being an intelligent being is not new to Eklund, and it harkens back to his Nebula-award winning novella (co-authored with Gregory Benford) and later revised novel “If the Stars Are Gods.

During this year long Trek Book Mission I hope to delve into a couple of the original Bantam books (1970-1981) that were released prior to the films. This is because these books, for the most part really capture the feel of simply reading a lost original Star Trek episode. The authors of the books pre-1980 only had the original TOS episodes to draw from which sometimes, I find refreshing.

Apple Releases iOS 9.2.1 Update

Today Apple released iOS 9.2.1, marking the first update to iOS 9 since iOS 9.2 launched in December of 2015. iOS 9.2.1 has been in testing since December 16, with developers and public beta testers receiving a total of three betas before its public launch.

Today’s iOS 9.2.1 release is available as an over-the-air update to all iOS 9 users. A minor update, iOS 9.2.1 is the fifth update to iOS 9 in total, following the launches of iOS 9.0.1,iOS 9.0.2, iOS 9.1, and iOS 9.2.

iOS 9.2.1, as a 9.x.x update, is minor in scale, focusing mainly on under-the-hood performance improvements and bug fixes rather than outward-facing changes. According to Apple’s release notes, the update includes security improvements and bug fixes, including a fix for a significant Mobile Device Management issue that affected enterprise customers.

This update contains security updates and bug fixes including a fix for an issue that could prevent the completion of app installation when using an MDM server.

iOS 9.2.1 will be followed by iOS 9.3, which has also been seeded to developers for testing purposes. Set to be released in the spring, iOS 9.3 will be a major update that introduces a new Night Shift feature to cut down on blue light exposure during the evening for better sleep and brings new educational features.

iOS 9.3 also includes new Quick Actions for iPhone 6s users and it introduces updates for apps and features like Apple News, Notes, Health, Siri, CarPlay, and More.