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Archive for September, 2013

#311 – Zoe

The number one chief complaint about text messaging is that it is hard to express tone. You might mean one thing but the other person took what you said to mean something else. A harmless joke suddenly turns into a flame war. Well, in the future you won’t have to worry about that thanks to Zoe, a new virtual assistant that enables people to send “face messages”. And it’s about to make Siri look downright primitive.

Designed by researchers at Cambridge University, Zoe was modeled and named after British actress Zoe Lister from the television show Hollyoaks which from what I can gather is essentially the British version of One Tree Hill. At first I found it weird that a futuristic communications system would be modeled after a television actress but then I realized that this is a bunch of socially awkward uber-nerds we’re talking about so it makes total sense that they chose to pay tribute to a hot television actress since they don’t know any women in real life other than their moms and their friends’ moms. Luckily for us, Zoe Lister is smoking hot, so it’s a win-win. And so, after a few days of recording her speech patterns and facial expressions and presumably unsuccessfully trying to record her naked, they had successfully laid the foundation for something that they had previously been unable to do up to that point in their lives: get a hot woman, albeit a virtual version of one, to talk to them.

Thanks to those efforts you will soon be able to type a message to someone and send it off as you would a standard text message. However, the other person, instead of simply reading your message, will instead see an image of Zoe’s face reading the message to them in the tone of voice that you have selected.

According to the Telegraph the system, “has six basic settings – happy, sad, tender, angry, afraid and neutral. (And) it can combine those emotions to create hundreds of others…”

But wait there’s more!

“It is hoped that users will eventually be able to personalize the head with their own faces and voices.”

This means that the next time your wife asks you to pick up a carton of milk she won’t just text you and say “hi, honey can you pick up some milk?” Instead, she’ll be shouting at you angrily “don’t forget the milk!!!”

On second thought maybe this isn’t such a great idea after all.

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In the future when you send a text message this may be what you see.

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#310 – From A to Z

Here’s a quick look at everything I’m geeking out about right now from A to Z:

Anonymity Visor – If you are concerned that Big Brother might be watching your every move you might want to rock one of these visors to thwart their efforts. 

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Breaking Bad – I was hesitant to watch this show at first considering the source material.  Big mistake.  Now I’m officially obsessed with arguably the greatest show of all time.  So much so that I’ve actually started acting like Heisenberg at work.  If you feel the same way then you are in for a treat as the final two episodes have been promised to be extra long. 

Read all about it at: http://www.hypable.com/2013/09/18/breaking-bad-season-5-final-two-episodes-extra-long/

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Cota – In the future you may not need to plug your phone into a charger to charge it.  Instead if you are within range of a Cota device your phone will just automatically charge.  Now that’s what I’m talking about. 

Find out more at: http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/09/cota-by-ossia-wireless-power/

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Dark Sky – I’ll let the app store write up do all the work for this description: “Dark Sky is a new kind of weather app.  It uses state-of-the-art weather forecasting to predict when it will rain or snow – down to the minute – at your exact location…”

Take that weather man!

Find out more at: http://darkskyapp.com/

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Enchroma – Sunglasses are great if you don’t mind viewing the World through tinted lenses.  If you do then try Enchroma and view the World the way it was meant to be seen while still getting all of the same benefits of wearing Sunglasses. 

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Fire Charging – I don’t go camping.  There are just too many bugs to contend with.  But if I did go it’s nice to know that I could use the fire to charge my phone!   

Find out more at: http://shop.biolitestove.com/BioLite-CampStove_p_15.html

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Gift Card Monkey – Everyone loves getting gift cards but unfortunately not everyone actually loves using them.  Often times you wind up spending more money than you wanted to because you have to pay the difference between your purchase and the amount of the gift card.  Or worse you may leave a balance on your card or not even use it at all.  Gift Card Monkey aims to change all that and even let merchants accept competitors’ cards at their stores essentially turning gift cards into a form of currency. 

Find out more at: http://www.giftcardmonkey.com/

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Headphones For Your Mood – If you’ve ever wished that your life came along with a built in sound track then the Mico headphones are for you.  According to the Huffington Post, “Neurowear announced earlier this month that it’s developing a pair of headphones with an electroencephalography-enabled sensor — that is, a sensor that can read brain waves. The headphones and the sensor read your mind and, in tandem with an iPhone app, play music suited to your mood.” 

Find out more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/19/mico-headphones-neurowear_n_2902436.html

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Invisible Drums – Have you always wanted to own a drum set but didn’t have room in your studio apartment?  With the invisible drum set your dreams can finally come true thanks to an app that mimics the sounds that a drum stick can make based on your movements.

Find out more at: http://www.bitshapesoftware.com/instruments/invisibledrumset/

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Journalism You Can Touch – Some news stories might be hard for the average person to understand.  Thanks to a new start-up called Lighthaus we might soon have touchable interactive graphics that could help bring the news to life.  Is this the future of journalism?  Find out at:

http://gigaom.com/2013/08/22/is-making-stories-touchable-the-next-big-thing-for-journalism/

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KALQ Keyboard – Unless if you are a thirteen year old girl you probably hate typing on your phone.  That may soon change though thanks to the newly designed KALQ keyboard that aims to speed up the typing process on phones and tablets. 

Find out more at: http://techcrunch.com/2013/04/24/kalq/

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Leap Motion Controller – It’s not often that a new way of interacting with computers makes headlines.  The last time it happened was when the mouse was invented.  Now it’s happening again thanks to the Leap Motion Controller, a device that leads you use gestures to manipulate objects on screen.  Even though it started out as a stand alone device it’s not starting to get embedded into computers starting with a design from HP. 

Find out more at:http://techland.time.com/2013/09/19/first-leap-motion-pc-is-a-17-inch-hp-laptop/

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Multiplexers to the Rescue – According to Popular Science we have some bad news coming our way as, “Nearly all communications data – Web, phone, television – run through a network of fiber-optic cables.  For now, that’s fine.  But within a decade data traffic is expected to outgrow information, which will result in transmissions that are glow and garbled.”

But have no fear.  Nicholas Fontaine is here to save the day for he has created a multiplexer that can essentially extend the information super highway from one lane to ten!!!  Thanks to his efforts we’ll never have to experience the equivalent of getting stuck in rush hour traffic on the internet.

Find out more at: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/nicolas-fontaine?src=SOC&dom=gp

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Nanopatch – If you hate needles then you’re going to love the Nanopatch, a new drug delivery system that delivers drugs through your skin. 

Find out more at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-06/13/nanopatch-vaccine

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Oyster – As you may already know I’m a huge fan of Next Issue, the Netflix of magazines.  So does that mean that I’ll also become a huge fan of Oyster, the Netflix of books?  Only time will tell but to get unlimited access to books for $9.95 a month it may be worth trying to find out.

Find out more at: http://mediajobs.com/new-york-based-startup-oyster-aims-netflix-ebooks/3692/

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Parallels Access – If you love your iPad but still find yourself in need of a resource from a competitor then rejoice for all your problems have been solved thanks to Parallels Access, an app that gets Windows apps to work like iOS apps. 

http://techcrunch.com/2013/08/27/parallels-launches-access-for-ipad-a-virtualization-app-that-gets-windows-mac-apps-to-work-like-native-ios-apps/

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Quartz Annotations – Everyone hates comment trolls and wishes that there was a better way to police internet comments. Some sites have even done away with comments all together.  Quartz had a better idea, creating a new method of commenting, called annotating, that lets readers add comments directly into the article.  Is this the future of commenting?

Read more at: http://thenextweb.com/media/2013/08/06/who-needs-a-comment-thread-quartz-now-lets-readers-annotate-articles-paragraph-by-paragraph/

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Reach Into Photos – I have no idea when I’d ever want to do this in my everyday life but I think it’s pretty cool to know that I could if I wanted to.  Find out what I’m talking about at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57602989-76/software-turns-2d-objects-3d-lets-you-reach-into-photos-bends-your-mind/

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Secret Audio – Passing notes in class just got a whole lot cooler thanks to Disney Researchers who have figured out a way to transmit a recorded audio message simply by touching another person.

Find out more at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-09/13/disney-touch-audio

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Time Travel Is Possible – Sorry to disappoint everyone that was expecting me to reference “Talk Like a Pirate” day here.  Instead, the focus is on Time Travel as Brian Cox seems to think that it is possible as long as you are only planning on going into the future.  Duh!!! I came up with the same theory three years ago when I first started my book of ideas!!!  But to be fair I guess it means more when an actual physicist says it. 

Find out more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/13/time-travel-possible-physicist-machine-future-only_n_3921944.html

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Under The Dome Renewed – The surprise hit of the summer, based on a Stephen King novel, will be back for a second season.  Woohoo!!

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Video Surround Sound – Watching television at home is a decent experience but it’s not a truly immersive experience.  However, that might soon change thanks to new technology from the BBC that projects additional video onto the surrounding walls!!  Surround sound you have finally meet your match!

Find out more at:  http://www.theverge.com/2013/5/7/4307816/bbc-beats-microsoft-to-immersive-tv-with-surround-video

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Wibbitz – If Lighthaus isn’t the future of journalism then maybe Wibbitz is.  This technology brings stories to life by transforming text-based articles into videos enabling users to visual information like never before.

Find out more at: http://www.wibbitz.com/

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X-men Take a Hike – Nobody cares about you anymore.  Instead Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the fall’s most highly anticipated new show, is about to take over.

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Yankees really, really, really need to fire Brian Cashman already!!! – How many times do I have to say this?!?!!?

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Zombie Ants – If this excerpt from an article on Wired.com about ants that lose control of their free will doesn’t creep you out then I don’t know what will:

“The ant heads, at the behest of the fungus, to a precise position in the forest. Scientists plotting the coordinates of these unfortunate ants have documented a striking regularity to their travels, making the pathogen a bit like GPS for the insect, only, you know, the ant never asked for directions.

The ants “are manipulated to bite onto very specific locations on the underside of a leaf, the main vein of a leaf, leaves orientated north, northwest, roughly 25 cm off the ground,” said David Hughes, a behavioral ecologist at Penn State. “And all of this happens with a remarkable precision around solar noon, making this one of the most complex examples of parasite manipulation of host behavior.”

Check out the video below:

 

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#309 – Calico

I met someone this past weekend that was surprisingly anti-Google.  I found this to be shocking because as we all know Google is awesome.  They are, after all, trying to save the World one Moon Shot at a time.  However, as it turns out, not everyone looks upon those efforts as glowingly as I do.  For whatever Google product I offered up as proof of their greatness this person was able to easily dismiss it as a meaningless ploy designed solely to extract data from us and make money. 

Take Project Loon for example.  Google’s audacious plan to use balloons to bring Wi-FI to far flung places isn’t a truly altruistic cause as I was lead to believe.  What Google really wants to do is just use these new customers to increase their own bottom line.  If some good comes of it well that’s just secondary.  Even their driverless car initiative isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  What I thought was a way to make our roads safer is in actuality just a way to get us to use their products more while we sit back and let the car do all the work.  And yes even Google Glass, as cool as it is, serves Sergey Brin and Larry Page more than it does me or you.  So, in a cruel twist of irony the company predicated on the mantra “Don’t Be Evil” may in fact be exactly that. 

As disappointing as it was to come to the realization that my favorite company wasn’t really as selfless as I first thought I didn’t want to completely write it off.  I still held out hope that their heart was in the right place and that they would eventually dream up a Moon Shot that actually did make the World a better place.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long for my faith has been rewarded just three days later.  That’s because Google has announced plans to create a separate company dedicated towards extending human life.  Called Calico, this separate entity will be a healthcare company that will focus on slowing down the aging process and treating other age related diseases.  And there’s no telling just how far this company will be willing to go to make that happen.

As Larry Page said in an interview with Time, “One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy. We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

You’ve got to love that kind of big picture thinking.  Curing cancer?  That’s for amateurs.  We’re going to go an order of magnitude beyond that and cure aging!  Take that Google hater!  

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Google just doesn’t want to control your life anymore. Now they want to control your death too.

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#308 – Fee-Mail

I may be in the minority here but I actually don’t mind that Big Brother is watching and that the federal government is reading my emails.  Considering the putrid readership of this blog it’s comforting to know that at least somebody is reading what I write.  But there is another aspect of Big Data that does bother me.  And that’s the fact that my data is being stolen out from under me and sold to third parties without my permission.

You see, in a given month I post dozens of messages on social networks, enter hundreds of terms on search engines, and send thousands of emails.  Collectively all that activity represents my data; it reflects who I am and what I do.  It is my digital footprint.  And yet I have nothing to show for it.  Companies like Google and Facebook on the other hand mine that data and sell it to advertisers making a pretty penny off of me.  Meanwhile all I get are Viagra emails, Farmville requests, and irrelevant targeted ads that I never click on.  Why is that?  Why is it that I don’t have more control over my own data?  Why is it that I don’t stand to benefit from it?

There is an obvious solution to this problem and that is to create a whole new slew of services designed with the customer in mind: a new search engine, a new social networking site, and a new email provider.  The data gleamed from these services would still get mined and sold to advertisers but this time the profits would be given back to the customers.  The equivalent of dividends paid out to share holders.  The more you use the service and the more it grows in popularity the more you stand to earn.  Maybe it’ll just be a few cents or a few bucks per month.  Maybe it’ll be more.  Perhaps it will one day even be enough to supplement your primary source of income.  That’s right, in the future when robots are doing your job you’ll still be able to make a living just by being you. 

To kick things off I’d like to start out small with an email service.  Instead of gmail it would be called fee-mail.  This would give us a great marketing opportunity as we could use a play on words to have bikini clad models as our spokesmen.  We’d be like the godaddy.com of email services.  Or we could go with a more straight forward naming approach and call it PayMail and use the slogan: You’ve Got Money.  Eventually the search engine and social network will follow and everyone will realize the truth about today’s society: that Big Data isn’t the problem.  How we choose to use it is.    

Of course going head to head with established tech giants like Google, Yahoo and Facebook won’t be easy but I’m confident that the superior concept will win out over time even if the business model is inferior.  Because when it comes down to it what people want, what people really, really want is control over their own data.  In the end that’s all that matters.  Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go make Google some more money.

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could get paid simply for sending emails?

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This may come as a shock to those of you who know me but I hate fantasy football.  Hate it with a passion.  Hate it the way that Raiders fans hate lollipops and unicorns; the way that the 49ers hate Clay Matthews.  I hate it all; the unrelenting trash talk from an annoying acquaintance who suddenly thinks that he’s better than you just because some scrub that he picked up off the waiver wire scored three touchdowns; the fact that no amount of preparation can prepare you for the total crapshoot that gets unleashed each and every Sunday; the fact that no skill is required; that a thirteen year old in Omaha, Nebraska can do better than a forty five year old with a thirty year experience edge.  

But what I really hate more than anything else is the format; the fact that when fantasy championships are won and lost, real football players are suddenly resting comfortably on the sideline resting up for the real playoffs.  Case in point: the Denver Broncos.  Lead by Peyton Manning, he of the seven touchdown passes in week one, they could very well be on their way to a fourteen or fifteen win season.  That’s great if you happen to live in Colorado.  Not so much if your starting quarterback is on the bench during the fantasy playoffs.  Sure, there is a workaround as your league could move up the fantasy playoffs by a week or two to account for this scenario.  But then you’re shortening the regular season and taking away an opportunity for somebody to make a late season comeback in the standings. 

This is why I’d like to propose a radical change to the way that fantasy football leagues are conducted.  If you are still standing I strongly recommend that you take a seat or find something to hold onto for what I’m about to say is going to blow your mind.  For the solution to our problem is to….drum roll please….divide the season into three mini seasons effectively creating a reverse league!!!

Hear me out on this.  The way that it works is that you divide the season up into three sections.  The first section just spans the first three weeks of the season before the bye weeks start to kick in.  The team with the most total points after these three weeks regardless of won-loss records wins a portion of the pot.  This is a stark contrast from the way that most leagues are presently constituted wherein almost all of the payout occurs at the end of the season.  But to me waiting to the end of the year to make payouts flys in the face of logic.  In a sport predicated on a war of attrition why would you pay out the last man standing when that person may just be luckier than everyone else and not actually better?  Why not pay out the most skilled person right off the bat?  

The second section then spans weeks 4-12.  The team with the best record during just this nine week juncture then wins another portion of the pot.  This ensures that the team that had the best depth i.e. the team that was best able to navigate the waiver wire and make trades has something to show for their efforts.  Anybody can draft a strong starting lineup that gets off to a hot start.  But not everyone can run the table during the bye weeks.  Since there is an added degree of difficulty during this time period the pot would be higher than it was after the first three weeks. 

The third and final section then takes place during weeks 13-15 as the top six teams make the playoffs and battle it out for the championship.  Since there’s a chance that your squad may have been decimated by injuries by this point and some players may be rested during week 15 the payout for this third stage would actually be the smallest of the three payouts.  

I know that this a crazy idea that will probably be easily dismissed by most people but I also know that it’s so crazy that it might just work.  By rewarding the person that drafts the best team, the person that manages the bye week mine field the best, and the person that does the best in head to head playoff match ups you’d be removing some of the dumb luck from the madness that is fantasy football and taking back some control over the process.  When it comes down to it you really can’t ask for anything more than that.

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Fantasy Football is great except when it’s not. A reverse league divided into three parts could make it great again.

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The news regarding spinoffs keeps getting better and better. Just days after the Breaking Bad prequel “Better Call Saul” was officially confirmed and days before Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up after the events of the Avengers word comes out that J.K. Rowling will be penning a Harry Potter spinoff series!!!

Unlike the seven books that made her a millionaire this series will be designed specifically for the silver screen. This makes a ton of sense considering that screenplays are a lot easier to write than a six hundred page book. And you don’t have to be a goblin at Gringotts to surmise that it pays better too.

Regardless though of whether it’s a movie, novel, or haiku written on the back of a bar napkin one thing is for sure. It’s going to be epic. But what is it going to be about? Will it follow the exploits of Harry’s children in the future. Or pick up where we left off by following around a beloved member of the supporting cast like Hagrid?

Neither according to The Verge because, “the movie will be set 70 years before the events of Harry Potter, and will follow the adventures of Newt Scamander. For big fans, Scamander’s name may be familiar — in the original series, he was the author of a textbook called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which Harry was required to buy.”

Since the name of that textbook is doubling as the title for the movie we have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be about. What we don’t know is if any familiar faces will be showing up and whether or not any story lines will be tied together. We also don’t know yet whether or not these movies will be designed with kids in mind as were the original books.

In any event I can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like even if it won’t have Emma Watson in it because I’m just glad that a spinoff series is happening. If for no other reason than the fact that it means that I can stop writing my Harry Potter fan fiction novel: Hairy Potter and the Magical Chest Hair.

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Unfortunately the new movie series won’t have Emma Watson in it.

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If a new iPhone comes out and no one cares did it really come out at all? Before I answer that it’s important to understand where popular sentiment lies in regards to Apple in the post Steve Jobs era. Fairly or unfairly the bar was set so high by their series of breakout hits, first the iPod and then the iPhone and iPad, that it created an almost insatiable thirst for new cutting edge products. Nobody cares about small, incremental changes anymore. A new feature here, an added component there is all fine and dandy but it’s not sexy. It’s boring. Anti-climatic even.

What we want is something new and shiny, something that disrupts industries and ushers in a cultural revolution along with it. We want what we think Steve Jobs would have given us by now. Something that we didn’t even know we wanted and then couldn’t live without. Whether that was a smart watch or a new way of watching TV or something else entirely didn’t matter. We just wanted to be amazed one more time by that company with the Midas touch. Instead all we got was a gold colored phone.

But what if we’ve been duped. What if Apple actually has changed the future again without us even realizing it? What if they are playing the long game, watching us all run around screaming that the sky is falling, knowing full well that they have us right where they want us?  It may just be wishful thinking to head through that thought process but it also may be the truth.  To find out all you have to do is look at what is hiding in plain sight, the iPhone’s newest attraction:  your fingerprint.

As Fast Company suggests, “The future Apple wants us to be heading toward is one in which we are all intermingled with Apple. A future where, united with Apple through design, we do not so much buy Apple devices as we are the device. A future where it’s not just you, but iYou. And if Apple pulls it off, it all starts today, with a fingerprint.”

In other words, this new fingerprint technology isn’t just a safer and more convenient way to unlock your phone.  It’s actually a gateway technology designed to bring them one step closer to their vision of having their hand in all of the World’s cookie jars at the same time.  A vision that revolves around them solving mobile payments so that they get a cut of all real world transactions not just digital ones.  A vision that could result in you being able to use your fingerprint to access your phone’s data even when you are using someone else’s phone.  That might not excite fan-boys who want a new toy but it will excite share holders which means that we have an answer to the question I first posed: yes the iPhone did come out and we probably should have cared more than we did.

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Is your fingerprint the missing piece in Apple’s quest for global domination?

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