Happy Friday, dear readers. Let’s get right to it. This ultimately was a slow week on the tech news front, but it got off with a bit of a bang thanks to the long-awaited revelation of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. It’s a conceptual means of high-speed, low-cost transportation that harkens back to many concepts of the ’50s and ’60s. Namely: a train able to go very fast thanks to a near-vacuum enclosure. Air resistance and imperfect tracks are the biggest limiting factors to train speed, and Musk’s concept of a windowless, aluminum enclosure kills both birds in one, dual-barreled shot.
Hello again, folks, and happy Friday. Apologies for the lack of updates this week, but it’s been a busy one. Let’s take a look at the week in tech news and dig right in to what I consider to be the biggest story: the discontinuation of the Lavabit service. In a heart-wrenching open letter to the service’s users, founder Ladar Levison writes about making an impossible decision: “to become implicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.” He’s made the noble and tragic choice to take the latter path.
As noted by Xeni Jardin in her post on the subject at Boing Boing, the secure email service recently gained notoriety thanks to its use by Edward Snowden. Lavabit actually dates back to 2004, offering an alternative to advertising-driven and, presumably, easily cracked Gmail accounts. I confess to thinking little of the need for the service at the time, but recent developments have certainly caused me to reconsider my former “Well if you’re not doing anything wrong…” stance regarding online privacy. Jennifer Granick over at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society has a brief run-down of the implications. It’s well worth a read.
The service now appears dead, though perhaps existing in a state of suspended animation is a better way to put it. Levison seems to have no interest in handing over the keys to the US Government, but that he’s asking for donations to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund shows a bit of hope for re-awakening at some point down the road. Now would be a lovely time for a molten carbonite joke and mix in an obscure Han Solo reference, but I’m sorry to say that levity doesn’t quite feel appropriate for this particular story.
Welcome, dear readers, to the Weekly Tech Overload, in which I boil down the last seven days of tech news for easy consumption on a lazy Friday afternoon. Whether you’re too busy to follow the blogosphere churn or still can’t bring yourself to rebuild your Google Reader sources elsewhere, here’s your opportunity to get caught up on what you’ve missed.
We’ll start with the biggest product unveiling of the week by far: the Moto X. Dubbed the anti-iPhone by Roger Cheng at CNET this is, if you fan away the hype, a pretty typical Android smartphone. It has a 4.7-inch AMOLED display that gets by at 720p while pictures come in through a 10 megapixel rear camera or two megapixel front-facer. Inside there’s a rather complex suite of CPUs and GPUs powering the whole thing that Moto has thoughtfully branded as eight cores worth of “contextual computing processors” and “natural language processors,” as explained at Ars.
PR-speak aside, what you have is a pair of dual-core Snapdragon S4 processors running at 1.7GHz and an Adreno 320 GPU, plus a pair of other custom chips for doing fancy things like hopping into Google Now whenever you say “Okay Google Now” — even when the phone’s display is off. I confess I’ve long-since tired of saying “Okay Glass, take a picture,” far preferring to just reach up and hit the damned shutter button, and I think X users will quickly find themselves forgetting their own predefined command. That’s not the only gimmick. Moto also announced a set of NFC tokens you can clip onto your clothes to unlock the phone without a pass code. These won’t ship until sometime in the future, but it doesn’t really matter when because no one will buy them.