Technology Now
The business and culture of our digital lives
SpaceX is launching rockets made with parts produced by a 3-D printer

SpaceX is printing rocket parts, including the thrust chamber on the engines for its Dragon V2 spacecraft, which it hopes will one day deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

The Hawthorne rocket maker announced Thursday that a Falcon 9 launch in January marked the first time it flew a part into space that was created using an additive manufacturing technique, popularly known as 3-D printing.

One of nine Merlin engines on the Falcon 9 included a printed part, known as a main oxidizer valve body, that houses the valve controlling the flow of liquid oxygen into the engine’s combustion chamber. It operated successfully under super-cold temperatures and high vibration, the company said.

Over the last several years, SpaceX has been evaluating and perfecting the fabrication technique it said. The process “prints” parts layer by layer, and promises advantages over traditional manufacturing methods.

The valve housing was printed in two days compared to months needed for...

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Unlocking cellphones is legal again; here's the skinny on the law

In a big win for consumers, President Obama on Friday signed into law the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which makes it legal once again for consumers to unlock their cellphones.

What is cellphone unlocking?

Cellphone unlocking is the practice of changing the phone's settings so that it can work with any cellular network, not just the one that sold the device. With the ability to unlock phones, consumers can change carriers without having to buy new devices. The consumer can also sell or buy used unlocked phones.

But there is a caveat. Consumers will still be restricted by the terms of the service contracts they sign with their carriers. For many, this means they will not be able to unlock their devices until two years after they were purchased, but it varies by device and carrier. 

Why did unlocking cellphones become illegal?

Cellphone unlocking was legal until the Library of Congress chose not to renew an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act...

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Beats officially joins Apple as $3-billion deal closes

Apple Inc. has finalized its $3-billion deal for Beats, adding a lineup of headphones, speakers and streaming music service to its core products of iPhones, iPads and Macs.

The Cupertino, Calif., company confirmed the completion with an announcement on its website:

"Today we are excited to officially welcome Beats Music and Beats Electronics to the Apple family. Music has always held a special place in our hearts, and we’re thrilled to join forces with a group of people who love it as much as we do."

The page directs visitors to the Beats by Dre site, which explains that all online orders will now go through the Apple Store. It also has a video ad touting how wonderful Beats audio sounds on a Hewlett-Packard laptop.

The Beats deal is the largest in Apple's history, though it's relatively conservative by Silicon Valley standards. Beats has a revenue stream and profits, though not enough to make a major dent in Apple's overall business. 

Part of the attraction was the Beats founders,...

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Google sells one of its mystery barges in Portland, Maine

Google has sold one of the two barges that were the subject of global fascination after they were uncovered by reporters last fall.

The barges -- one in Stockton, Calif., and another in Portland, Maine -- carried four-story-high buildings made from cargo containers. Reporters discovered them, but the tech giant declined to acknowledge what they were or even if it owned them.

That led to an outpouring of speculation, including that Google was secretly constructing a floating data center or a party boat.

Google eventually confirmed it owned the barges and said they were being turned into “an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”

On Wednesday, the Portland barge was towed to a new location where the containers will be disassembled and the boat will be prepared for an ocean voyage,  according to the Portland Press Herald. The barge was purchased by an undisclosed international shipping company.

Google confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that it sold the barge, but...

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Facebook goes down, Twitter picks up slack
Ford to app developers: Come to our Vegas conference

In an attempt to get more software developers to build apps for vehicles, Ford Motor Co. will host what it calls the auto industry’s first app developers conference.

A growing number of smartphone users want to bring apps to life on the screens inside their cars, but automakers’ early attempts have faltered because a jumble of competing technologies has left many developers unsure where to start.

Ford’s $99-a-person conference on Sept. 8 in Las Vegas, part of Super Mobility Week, will pitch to developers the Ford technology called AppLink. Smartphone operating system makers Apple and Google for several years have used developer conferences to rally appmakers around their products.

Both companies provide tools for developers who already use their platforms to more easily make existing apps available in car systems. Google’s recently announced system is called Android Auto. Though Ford is among those planning to release cars equipped with Android Auto, it's not abandoning AppLink.


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Apple slicing Beats

About 200 positions at Beats could be eliminated as the Culver City headphone maker and streaming music service folds into Apple Inc., according to a Bloomberg report.

Apple agreed to purchase Beats Electronics and Beats Music for $3 billion in May, and the largest acquisition by price in Apple history is expected to be finalized soon.

All Beats employees are transitioning to Apple. But about 200 of the company's 700 workers are receiving guaranteed terms of only three months to a year. They'll have to compete for other internal openings beyond that, according to the report.

A Beats spokeswoman declined to comment.

Apple, which had 41,300 employees at the end of June, is eliminating duplicative positions such as human resources and finance staff at Beats, 9to5mac reported Wednesday. Much of the Beats team is expected to remain in Culver City. 

Plans for integrating Beats into the Apple ecosystem haven't been publicly laid out. Apple indicated in June that the Beats team could help...

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BitTorrent unveils NSA-proof online calling and messaging software

BitTorrent Inc., the San Francisco company behind the most popular technology for sharing files online, is branching out into a new arena: snoop-proof calling and texting.

The company announced the availability Wednesday of a preliminary, test version of BitTorrent Bleep software, which will enable people to make calls (voice only) and send messages over the Internet without using a central server to direct traffic. Instead, users will find one another through groups of other users, with no records of the calls or texts stored anywhere along the way.

Once a connection is made for a call or text, the communication travels directly between the two computers involved. That peer-to-peer approach also defies mass surveillance. Granted, it doesn't pay to underestimate the National Security Agency's ability to monitor even well-hidden communications. But Bleep certainly makes the job harder than the most popular online calling and messaging apps do.

Bleep will be available by ...

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Snapchat value could hit $10 billion with possible Alibaba investment

Last year, Snapchat decided Facebook's $3-billion offer wasn't cool. You know what's cool? $10 billion.

The Venice start-up is reportedly in talks with investors, including Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holdings, for a round of financing that would value Snapchat at $10 billion.

The discussions are ongoing and terms could change, according to a Bloomberg report, which cited unnamed sources with knowledge of the situation.

If a deal happens, it would be vindication for Snapchat, which spurned a $3-billion takeover offer from Facebook last year to the bewilderment of tech watchers. Google, too, tried to acquire the company, which enables users to send messages that disappear seconds after they're viewed.

But Snapchat executives insisted then that they were in it for the long run and were not content to sell out and turn over the reins of the young company.

Snapchat Chief Executive Evan Spiegel and spokeswoman Mary Ritti did not return an email and a call for comment. A...

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Electronic Arts launches video game subscription service for Xbox One

Electronic Arts Inc. announced a new subscription service Tuesday that would allow players to download some of its biggest titles for a $4.99-per-month membership.

The company said the service, dubbed, EA Access, is currently in beta testing with just a few Xbox players. But EA said in a press release that it expects EA Access to be available to all Xbox console owners "soon."

With sales of video games struggling in recent years, studios like EA are looking for ways to spark interest and revenue among players who are increasingly flocking to mobile and social games. In some ways, the $4.99 price puts the cost of otherwise expensive games in the realm of a paid app download.

It remains to be seen whether that shift in pricing will get gamers to think differently about the economics of console games.

In the current limited beta version of EA Access, subscribers get to download and play four of the company's biggest games: Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2, FIFA 14, Peggle 2, and Battlefield 4.


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Manatt, ICM, Originate launch O Labs, new investment arm for startups

A law firm, a marketing agency and a software development company have formed a joint venture based in Los Angeles to incubate startups building products and services in line with the needs of major businesses, including video game publishers and Hollywood studios.

O Labs plans to start building projects in-house that the large companies have already expressed interest in. It’ll then seek out executives to take the reins with the hope of successful launches leading to buy-outs or licensing deals. The venture includes Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, ICM Partners and Originate.

“The fact that this brings together so much operational expertise, not just strategists and people who can help you raise money, that’s something new,” said Matthew Pierce, the chief executive of O Labs and a former vice president at Orginate.

The twist on the typical startup accelerator or incubator program will “take the technical, legal and branding risk out of a company in a way that’s not possible with other...

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Shazam expands to Mac computers

On its quest to get its technology on as many of your devices as possible, Shazam has released a new version of its audio-identification service built for Apple computers.

Shazam for Mac, available now on the Web and the Apple App Store, marks the company’s first venture outside the world of mobile. It is designed to run in the background without disturbing users as they work on their desktops and laptops, but it is also ready to spring to action and identify a song, commercial, TV show or movie as soon as it detects any sound.

The iPhone and iPad versions of Shazam come with an always-on feature that can be turned on, but for the most part, Shazam’s 500 million registered users only turn the app on after they hear audio that they want to identify. With the desktop version, Shazam hopes users will leave the software on permanently so that “it gives you the answer to your question before you even ask it,” Shazam Chief Product Officer Daniel Danker told The Times.

After installing the...

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