05 July 2014

Google's Killer Robots.txt Easter Egg

Like many other sites, Google uses the robots exclusion standard and has its own robots.txt files that instruct web crawlers to exclude some publicly available content. To celebrate robots.txt's 20th birthday, Google created a funny killer-robots.txt file with the following text:

User-Agent: T-1000

User-Agent: T-800

Disallow: /+LarryPage

Disallow: /+SergeyBrin

T-800 is The Terminator, the cyborg portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, while T-1000 is the robot assassin from the Terminator 2. The killer-robots.txt file prevents T-800 and T-1000 from killing Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Last year, Google acquired Boston Dynamics, a company that "has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans". Here are some videos.

The New York Times notes that "although the videos frequently inspire comments that the robots will evolve into scary killing machines straight out of the Terminator movies, Dr. Raibert has said in the past that he does not consider his company to be a military contractor — it is merely trying to advance robotics technology."

A Hacker News comment mentions that "at Google I/O a protestor interrupted a presentation to yell that Google made killer robots. There have been a lot of jokes internally about it." Indeed, a protester interrupted the Google I/O keynote by yelling that "You work for a totalitarian company that builds robots that kill people!"

{ Thanks, Herin. }

02 July 2014

Google Buys Songza

Google announced that it has acquired Songza, a music streaming service that offers music curated by experts. Songza is only available in the US and Canada. It's free and supported by ads, but you can disable ads by paying $3.99 a month.

"We aren't planning any immediate changes to Songza, so it will continue to work like usual for existing users. Over the coming months, we'll explore ways to bring what you love about Songza to Google Play Music. We'll also look for opportunities to bring their great work to the music experience on YouTube and other Google products. In the meantime, check out their service on Android or iOS to find a playlist for any mood you're in — whether you're feeling a little mellow or a lot funky," suggests Google.

Songza's site has a page about the acquisition: "Today, we're thrilled to announce that we're becoming part of Google. We can't think of a better company to join in our quest to provide the perfect soundtrack for everything you do. No immediate changes to Songza are planned, other than making it faster, smarter, and even more fun to use."

There's also a Googley logo:

Curated playlists are very popular nowadays. That's the main feature of the Beats Music service recently acquired by Apple.

"Stating that its playlists are made by music experts, the service recommends various playlists based on time of day and mood or activity. Songza offers playlists for activities such as waking up, working out, commuting, concentrating, unwinding, entertaining, and sleeping. Users can vote songs up or down, and the service will adapt to the user's personal music preferences." (Wikipedia)

The New York Times reports that "Google paid more than $39 million for Songza".

Hangouts Interface for Google Voice Migration

Google already announced that Google Voice's functionality will be added to Hangouts. Here's the interface that will be used for migration when this feature will be publicly released: "Migrate Google Voice to Hangouts. Receive voicemail and send text messages in Hangouts".

This dialog can actually be displayed in Hangouts, but the underlying functionality can't be enabled for now. There's an Android app called #DebugAllTheThings that enables debugging features from various Google apps like Play Store, Play Music, Play Books and Hangouts. It requires root, most debugging features aren't useful for regular users and some of them can even cause issues.

To display this message, install #DebugAllTheThings, enable "Hangouts" in the new app, restart the phone, open Hangouts, tap the menu, select "Debug" (this menu item is added by the #DebugAllTheThings app) and then "activate all butter bars".

{ Thanks, Jérôme. }

01 July 2014

Google Maps Trivia Game: Smarty Pins

Google developed a trivia game called Smarty Pins. You need to answer a few questions by moving the pin to the right location. Here's an example: "In 'The Shawshank Redemption,' Andy and Red happily reunite on a beach in which city?" The map will move closer to the right answer and you have a few seconds to move the pin.

You can answer as many questions as you can before you run out of kilometers. Kilometers are lost by placing the pin incorrectly. Bonus kilometres are gained for quick thinking.

Google uses funny messages like: "Wrong but at least you're on the right continent. That's something, yeah?", "You just scored a solid B. Smile and you might get a B+", "Well, it's not right but at least it's on the map. Or on a map, somewhere", "Bullseye!", "You're a human GPS system (without the annoying voice)".

{ via Florian Kiersch }

Understanding Android Wear

Android Wear watches work best when paired with phones running Android 4.3 or later. You can also pair them with tablets, but they're more useful as phone companions. Android 4.3 brings support for Bluetooth 4.0 and that's the reason why it's required.

There's no app store for Android Wear: the watch will show information from the apps you've installed on your phone. Android Wear has a simple interface for displaying notifications, Google Now cards and a few customization options. Watches don't make sounds for notifications, they only vibrate. You can only use voice input and this works when you are online.

So what happens when you aren't near your phone or you unpair your watch from your phone? You can still use some basic features: tell the time, alarm, stopwatch, timer, view calendar for today, step count, heart rate (if supported), change watch face and enable airplane mode. Basically, it's a combination of watch, timer and pedometer.

Android Wear watches don't bring any new feature, they're just a more convenient way to access your notifications and Google Now cards. A second screen for your phone that displays useful information, so that you only use your phone when it's necessary. It's also a way to quickly find information or perform simple actions like setting reminders, controlling music, taking notes or replying to texts and emails - all of them using your voice. "OK Google" is the magic hotword.

Android Wear's tagline is "information that moves with you". The first two Android Wear watches from Samsung and LG cost from $199 to $229 and don't have impressive specs. Battery life is limited to 1-2 days and that's one of the most important things that need to be improved. Unlike Samsung's Gear watch that runs its own software, they don't have a camera and they don't let you answer phone calls.

Computing devices get smaller and smaller, they're powerful because they're always with you. Still, it's important to keep in mind that Android Wear watches aren't standalone devices, they're only companion devices. They're water resistant, so they're better suited for an active lifestyle.

Google Now and Google Voice Search are great for interacting with a simple device that has a small screen. Hopefully, Android Wear forces Google to add APIs that allow other apps to add Google Now cards and voice actions.

New Features for YouTube Uploaders

YouTube has a lot of new features in store for those who upload videos and for those who watch them.

YouTube Creator Studio combines a lot of useful information about your videos: analytics data, video management, comment management and a dashboard that lets you see what's new. It's available at http://ift.tt/1d953Cr for the desktop. There's also an Android app and an upcoming iOS app.

The Audio Library now includes thousands of royalty-free sound effects you can add to your videos: from dog barking to cowbell ringing, from zombie roar to keyboard typing, alien breath and baby whine. You can download the audio effects as MP3 files and also add them to your favorites.

YouTube will add support for 48fps and 60fps videos. You can test the new feature using this playlist. "We're starting to roll out video support for 48 and even 60 frames per second. See how high frame rates can make motion-intense videos even more awesome," mentions the description.

Fans will be able to contribute money to support a channel. They'll also be able to contribute subtitles. "In the coming months, your fans will be able to submit translations in any language based on the subtitles or captions you've created, helping you reach even more viewers." You can test user-contributed subtitles by checking some of the latest Barely Political videos.

YouTube will also add better-looking annotations and more ways to create playlists.

Create GIF Screencasts with SnagIt for Chrome

SnagIt, the popular screen capture program for Windows and Mac, is also available for Google Chrome. The extension is free and it can capture screenshots of your desktop as well as screencast videos. The recorded videos can be directly uploaded to YouTube or Google Drive from within the SnagIt app itself.

The most recent version of SnagIt for Chrome can save your screencast video as an animated GIF, a format that is perfect for publishing quick & short demos. The only condition is that the duration of your recorded video should be 20 seconds or less. The GIF is sent to your Google Drive for quick sharing or you can download it locally as well.

Upload screencasts to YouTube or Google Drive

Upload screencasts to YouTube or Google Drive

If you are not using the latest version of Google Chrome, it may take a few steps to enable screencasting support inside your browser.

The first step is to install the SnagIt app and extension from the Chrome Store. Next type chrome://flags in the browser address bar and enable the setting that says Enable Screen Capture Support in getUserMedia(). Restart the Chrome browser.

Internally, like the other screen sharing apps for Chrome, SnagIt is using WebRTC to record the screencast. When you hit the record button, it starts a private screen sharing session, with no other participants, and all your on-screen activity during the session is saved as an .AVI video.

The only downside is that SnagIt for Chrome can either record the entire desktop screen or an individual browser window but there’s no option to select a custom area for recording. Maybe its more a limitation of the browser platform than the app itself.

The other good alternative is the Screencastify extension for Chrome. It lets you screen record individual browser tabs or the entire desktop screen. Videos are recorded as .webm files that play in nearly all modern browser without requiring plugins. The screencast videos can also be uploaded to Youtube and Google Drive but it doesn’t do GIFs though.

This story, Create GIF Screencasts with SnagIt for Chrome, was originally published at Digital Inspiration on 28/06/2014 under GIF, Google Chrome, Screencasting, Software

How to Save Tweets for any Twitter Hashtag

Wouldn’t it be nice if Twitter had an Export button? You search for something, maybe an #hashtag or your brand name, and all the matching tweets would get saved in a spreadsheet or another file format of your choice. And, better still, the archive would update itself as new matching tweets are posted on Twitter in the future.

Well, Twitter is unlikely to provide you an option to save search results directly but here’s a do-it-yourself solution that takes 5-minutes to implement (watch video) and it will save all matching tweets for your search term(s) in a Google Spreadsheet automatically.

The idea is simple. We’ll have a Google Spreadsheet that will talk to Twitter through a Google Script and will import all the search results into the sheet. It will make this connection to Twitter every few minutes and fetches all the new tweets that have been added to Twitter since the last check.

Archive Tweets Permanently

Save Tweets Forever in a Spreadsheet

  1. Click here to copy the Twitter Archiver sheet into your Google Drive. Set the name of the sheet as any hashtag or a search phrase. For instance, you could set the sheet name as #WorldCup2014 to save all the FIFA related tweets.

  2. Go to apps.twitter.com and create a new application. Put http://ift.tt/PDVGTM as the Callback URL and save your changes. Select the API Keys tab and make a note of the Twitter Consumer Key and Secret.

  3. Switch to your Google sheet and select Tools -> Script Editor. Don’t worry, you don’t have to write a single line of code here, just copy-paste the Twitter secret and key inside the editor. Now select the Run menu, choose Initialize and grant the necessary permissions.

That’s it. The tweets will now appear inside your Google Sheet. These are the first set of 100 tweets and new tweets will be automatically pulled and added into your sheet every few minutes.

In addition to tweets, the Twitter Archiver app also imports other data like the tweet’s retweet & favorite count and the tweeter’s friend & followers count. This data will help you filter out the spam or figure out the most influential tweets from the imported data.

The Twitter Archiver sheet will run in the background and monitor Twitter for new tweets. If you would like to stop the tracker, go to the Script Editor and choose Stop from the Run menu as shown in the screencast video.

Twitter Archiver – Video

Since the tweets are saved in a standard spreadsheet, you can easily export the search results in various formats including PDF, CSV or even publish your data set as an HTML web page (choose File -> Publish to Web inside Google Sheets). Advanced users may try this technique to create JSON or RSS Feeds from Twitter.

This story, How to Save Tweets for any Twitter Hashtag, was originally published at Digital Inspiration on 30/06/2014 under Twitter, Internet

30 June 2014

Short URL for Classic Google Maps

Now that Google Maps for desktop redirects to the new interface, I tried to find a URL for the classic version. Last year, I found: http://ift.tt/1bAuJMx. Here's a shorter URL: http://ift.tt/1ls79Aw. For some reason, the old Google Local address redirects to the classic Google Maps.

Of course, you can also go to Google Maps, click the help icon at the bottom of the page and then click "return to classic Google Maps" twice. Google includes some reasons why you would prefer the old version: map is covered by boxes, too slow, missing features, map display issues.

Google's Detailed World Cup Results

Google used to call them OneBox results. Now they're interactive gadgets that provide detailed information.

World Cup instant results are probably the most comprehensive OneBox results ever added by Google. They offer so much real-time information that you don't even have to visit other sites. A search for [world cup] shows today's matches and the matches from any other day, group results and a chart for the second stage.

Search for a match and Google shows a timeline, match stats and lineups. Search for a country (for example: [argentina world cup]) and Google shows the latest matches and results.

There are also Google Now cards with useful information and notifications:

To see much Google's results have evolved, here are the OneBox results from 2010:

Another screenshot:

Here are the results from 2006:

29 June 2014

Plugin-Free Google+ Hangouts in Chrome

Last year, Chrome's team announced that NPAPI support will be removed by the end of 2014. At that time, the Google+ Hangouts (Talk) plugin was one of the most popular NPAPI plugins used in Chrome (8.7% usage), so it was obvious that Google had to provide an alternative solution.

Now Google+ Hangouts no longer requires plugins in Chrome. Google uses WebRTC and Native Client to provide a native video chat experience.

"We're rolling out an update that makes it easier than ever to start Hangouts video calls with your family and friends! You'll now be able to launch Hangouts in Chrome without having to download and install a plugin. Just click to start the Hangout, allow Hangouts to use your camera and microphone, and you'll be good to go! This update is now available for all Chrome Dev and Canary users, and will be rolling out to all Chrome users over the next few weeks."

New Interface for Gmail and Google Drive File Previews

When you use Google Drive and click on a file that can't be edited, you get a preview interface that lets you quickly check your files, navigate between your files and more. The same file preview UI is also used for Gmail attachments.

Google updated the file previewer to give more focus to the content. The toolbar is now at the top of the page, it has more buttons and it disappears when you're not using it. Documents and images are displayed in a wider frame and take the center stage.

{ via Google Apps blog }

Password Lock in Google Drive for iOS

Google Drive for iOS has a feature that lets you set a 4-digit passcode code for the app so that others can't access your files while using your iPhone or iPad. Just go to the settings, tap "passcode lock", enable the feature, enter a passcode for Drive and decide if you want to enter the passcode even when you return to the app.

The passcode is only for the phone or tablet you are using and for the account that's currently logged in.

"To always require a passcode when returning to Drive, choose the Always Lock option from the passcode settings screen. Without Always Lock enabled, you will be prompted for the passcode only after 15 minutes or more of inactivity. If you have multiple accounts linked to your Drive app and want to switch between them, you'll only be required to enter passcodes for accounts with codes that have already been created," informs Google.

"If you have forgotten the passcode for your Drive app and have entered the wrong code 5 times, a menu will appear allowing you to remove your account from the app without a passcode. You can then re-add the account to the app without a passcode. After entering the wrong passcode 20 times, you will be prompted to remove your account from the app and will no longer have the option of trying again to enter the passcode."