Tag Archives: google

Robots organize your photos, so you can procrastinate

If you’re like many people, you have thousands of photos on your phone, long forgotten after you’ve posted a few on Instagram or Facebook.

They don’t have to stay forgotten. Apple and Google are both applying a form of artificial intelligence called “machine learning” to organize your pictures and video _ and along the way, help you rediscover last year’s vacation, dinner with close friends and a casual summer outing to the park.

Apple’s tools are part of last month’s iOS 10 system update for iPhones and iPads. The Google Photos app for Apple and Android devices has a digital assistant to automatically organize these memories _ and Google signaled last week that it will only get smarter. And on Wednesday, Google introduced additional features for rediscovery.

Here’s a look at how they take you down memory lane:

APPLE’S MEMORIES

Apple’s new Memories feature automatically generates video highlights around a theme, such as a trip or birthday party. Individual photos and snippets from video are chosen for you, as is the music, though you can change it to reflect a different mood.

This isn’t just a slideshow. There’s slow zooming and panning, reminiscent of Ken Burns historical documentaries. Some of the photos also come to life, at least on newer iPhones that automatically take three seconds of video with every photo.

When you’re ready to share, the app creates a standard movie file _ so it works on Windows and Android devices, too.

For me, Apple’s app created a “Florida to Illinois” package for a three-week trip in January and one for a day trip to Philadelphia last November. But Apple goes beyond date and location. Apple created a “Together” package for shots with family over the past two years. It also created an “At The Beach” package with beach photos since 2013. Other scenic themes could include mountains, lakes and sunsets.

Apple offers up to three new Memories a day. You can create more based on photos you add to an album and generate new automated ones by scrolling down to “Related.” You can also add or delete images within Memories _ in my experience, a few included mundane screenshots I had to get rid of.

Nothing will ever replace the human touch. But let’s face it, even though I keep meaning to organize my photos, I never find the time. The machine-generated selections aren’t necessarily ones I’d choose myself, but with a small amount of tweaking, they’re presentable and will tide me over until I get around to catching up manually … someday.

 

GOOGLE’S ASSISTANT

Google Photos has been at this longer and offers more types of packages. With collages, Google combines smaller versions of several shots into one layout . Animations combine a bunch of photos taken in succession so that they resemble as a moving image . Unlike typical “GIF” animation files, Google applies its magic to align successive shots, so buildings and bridges look steady _ without the shake common with handheld video. Google also offers albums and video highlights, though without the Ken Burns effect.

Google’s Assistant generates much of this for you automatically. You can edit auto-generated albums and video highlights, but not collages or animation _ although you can create your own from scratch. (That does defeat the purpose of letting the robots do the work, though.)

Sharing is easy and doesn’t require recipients to have Google Photos.

The results vary in quality. I tend to take several shots of the same subject, just in case some are blurry. Yet I get collages and animations out of those repetitive shots. The albums and video highlights I got are grouped by location and date, though Google says it will be doing more with themes , such as following a kid growing up.

Most of my computer-generated creations are animations and collages. As with Apple, Google’s choices aren’t necessarily ones I’d make, if only I had the time. But some are good enough that I look forward to alerts for new ones to check out.

I also enjoyed a feature called “Rediscover this day.” Google will automatically create collages from shots taken on a day, say, two years ago. On Wednesday, Google said it will apply that to people, too, so you’ll get collages of you with a specific friend or family member.

 

SEARCHING

Apple and Google are both getting better at image recognition. Apple’s version tends to be more conservative. While Apple found four photos in a search for fireworks, Google found dozens. Google also found more photos with hats, though one was actually a strange hairdo and a few were of a headband. Then again, Apple thought an illustration of a hut was a hat.

Google is also bolder with face recognition. Its technology is smart enough to recognize the same child at 2 months and 6 years, while Apple often separates the same child into multiple identities (you can merge them, and things will be fine after that).

Google has an edge over Apple in part because it taps its powerful servers to process photos. Apple leaves all the machine thinking to your device as a privacy measure. But Apple says it also favors being right more than complete to reduce the work people need to do to fix things. Being wrong can also have consequences: Google had to apologize last year after its software got too aggressive and mistakenly labeled two black people as gorillas.

 

STORAGE

To free up space, both services will automatically clear photos from your phone after uploading them to the internet, once you activate the option. You still have a lower-resolution version on the device and can get the sharper image anytime, as long as you’re online.

Google Photos offers unlimited online storage of photos at up to 16 megapixels and videos at 1080p high definition _ good enough for most people. It will compress larger photos, or you can store the original and have it count toward your Google Drive limit, which starts at 15 gigabytes for free. Apple’s iCloud Photo Library requires paying once you exceed 5 gigabytes, which is enough for a few thousand photos.

 

On the Web

Apple Memories video from January trip.

Google animation of fountains.

Google collage.

Starbucks, Amazon pay less taxes in Austria than sausage stand

Multinationals like coffee chain Starbucks and online retailer Amazon pay fewer taxes in Austria than one of the country’s tiny sausage stands, the republic’s center-left chancellor lamented in a recent interview published.

Chancellor Christian Kern, head of the Social Democrats and of the centrist coalition government, also criticized internet giants Google and Facebook, saying that if they paid more tax subsidies for print media could increase.

“Every Viennese cafe, every sausage stand pays more tax in Austria than a multinational corporation,” Kern was quoted as saying in an interview with newspaper Der Standard, invoking two potent symbols of the Austrian capital’s food culture.

“That goes for Starbucks, Amazon and other companies,” he said, praising the European Commission’s ruling this week that Apple should pay up to 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) in taxes plus interest to Ireland because a special scheme to route profits through that country was illegal state aid.

Apple has said it will appeal the ruling, which Chief Executive Tim Cook described as “total political crap.” Google, Facebook and other multinational companies say they follow all tax rules.

Kern criticized EU states with low-tax regimes that have lured multinationals – and come under scrutiny from Brussels.

“What Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg or Malta are doing here lacks solidarity towards the rest of the European economy,” he said.

He stopped short of saying that Facebook and Google would have to pay more tax but underlined their significant sales in Austria, which he estimated at more than 100 million euros each, and their relatively small numbers of employees – a “good dozen” for Google and “allegedly even fewer” for Facebook.

“They massively suck up the advertising volume that comes out of the economy but pay neither corporation tax nor advertising duty in Austria,” said Kern, who became chancellor in May.

($1 = 0.8965 euros)

End of meat? Startups seek meat alternatives for the masses

Patrick Brown is on an improbable mission: Make a burger Americans love, minus the meat.

Veggie patties have been around for decades, but Brown and others want to make foods without animal products that look, cook and taste like the real thing — and can finally appeal to the masses.

“We are not making a veggie burger. We’re creating meat without using animals,” said Brown, a former Stanford scientist who has been scanning plants in search of compounds that can help recreate meat.

Brown’s company, Impossible Foods, is part of a wave of startups aiming to wean Americans off foods like burgers and eggs, and their efforts are attracting tens of millions of dollars from investors. The goal is to lessen the dependence on livestock for food, which they say isn’t as healthy, affordable or environmentally friendly as plant-based alternatives.

The challenge is that most Americans happily eat meat and eggs. That means that, without a breakthrough, those seeking to upend factory farming risk becoming footnotes in the history of startups.

To understand the difficulty of their task, consider the transformation raw chicken undergoes when cooked. It starts as a slimy, unappetizing blob, then turns into a tender piece of meat.

LEARNING TO MIMIC NATURE

In its office in Southern California, Beyond Meat works on “chicken” strips made with pea and soy proteins that have been sold at places like Whole Foods since 2012. But founder Ethan Brown concedes the product needs work.

To give the “meat” its fat, for instance, canola oil is evenly mixed throughout the product.

“That’s not really how it works in an animal,” said Brown, a vegan. “The fat can be a sheath on tendons.”

To form the strips, a mixture is pressed through a machine that forms and sets the product’s texture with heating and cooling chambers. The method isn’t new in the world of fake meats, but the company says it fine-tuned the process to deliver a more realistic offering.

Brown dismisses the idea that fake meat might weird people out and says it’s a “desirable evolution.”

“It’s like moving from the horse-drawn carriage to the automobile, or the landline to the iPhone,” he said.

But Beyond Meat isn’t quite there yet; The Huffington Post described the strips as having an “unpleasant” taste that inhabits a “strange territory between meat and vegetable.”

At Impossible Foods, the patty is made by extracting proteins from foods like spinach and beans, then combining them with other ingredients. The company, which has about 100 employees, expects the product to be available in the latter half of next year, initially through a food-service operator.

Few have tasted it, but the vision continues to gain traction. In October, Impossible Foods said it raised $108 million in funding, on top of its previous $74 million. Among its investors are Bill Gates, Google Ventures and Horizons Ventures.

CULTURING MEAT, JUST LIKE YOGURT

Another startup isn’t totally ditching the cow.

With $15.5 million in funding, Modern Meadow in New York City takes cells from a cow through a biopsy and cultures them to grow into meat. At a conference in February, company founder Andras Forgacs likened the process to culturing yogurt or brewing beer.

“This is an extension of that,” he said.

Modern Meadow doesn’t have a product on the market yet either. The company says it doesn’t necessarily want to replicate steaks and burgers, and gave a hint of the type of foods it might make by presenting “steak chips” for attendees at a small conference last year.

Only about 200 people have tried the chips, which Forgacs describes as “crispy, crunchy beef jerky.”

Citing the demand for more openness about how food is made, he sees a day when people tour meat plants, as they do with breweries.

“There could be your friendly neighborhood meat brewery,” Forgacs said.

BANNING THE WORD ‘VEGAN’

In San Francisco, Hampton Creek’s mission is to replace the eggs in products without anyone noticing. In trying to appeal to the mainstream, co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick has a simple rule.

“Number one, never use the word ‘vegan,”” he said.

To avoid perceptions its eggless spread Just Mayo won’t taste good, Hampton Creek even removed the V-word from the label. Tetrick says what makes the product different is that it tastes better and costs less — not that it’s made with a protein from a Canadian yellow pea instead of eggs.

“The egg-free thing is almost irrelevant,” he said.

Swapping out a single ingredient in a product may make it easier for people to swallow change. It may also make change simpler to achieve; Just Mayo’s consistency and taste are similar to mayonnaise. The product, which is available at retailers including Target and Wal-Mart, is gaining enough traction that the American Egg Board, which is responsible for slogans like the “Incredible, Edible Egg,” sees it as a “major threat,” according to emails made public through a records request.

So far, Hampton Creek has attracted $120 million in funding. It continues to screen plants for compounds that can help replace eggs in recipes and plans to eventually introduce a scrambled-egg product.

ON THE CUSP OF SOMETHING BIG?

For those looking to lessen the reliance on animals for food, there are encouraging signs all around.

Last year, Pinnacle Foods, the maker of Hungry-Man dinners, paid $154 million to acquire Gardein, which makes frozen veggie patties, nuggets and crumbles. Pinnacle CEO Robert Gamgort said he thinks meat alternatives are in the “early stages of a macro trend,” similar to the way soy and almond milk changed the dairy category.

But for now, vegetarian products remain a niche market. And even if people cut back on meat and eggs for health, environmental or animal welfare reasons, they might not want literal replacements.

Morningstar, a longtime maker of vegetarian products owned by Kellogg, says people are becoming more accepting of vegetables as main ingredients. As such, it wants to evolve from a maker of meat substitutes to a brand known for its “veggie cuisine,” such as bowls with brown rice and black beans.

Yves Potvin, Gardein’s founder, also thinks veggie alternatives don’t have to replicate meat, so long as they taste good. It’s why Gardein’s products are shaped to be reminiscent of meat, but don’t try to mimic their exact flavor and texture.

“What people like is the experience,” Potvin said. “They like the memory.”

New online site BroadwayHD offers to stream live theater

A new online streaming service launches this week that hopes to one day become the Netflix of Broadway, offering high-definition broadcasts of top theatrical events to computers and phones.

BroadwayHD currently has a modest list of plays and musicals ready to stream but hopes to eventually be the place where theater fans and educators turn for their live event fix.

It was founded by Broadway producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, a Tony Award-winning husband-and-wife producing team behind such shows as “On Your Feet!” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and “Legally Blonde.”

“We’re not going to replace the Broadway experience, but if you can’t get to Broadway, get to BroadwayHD,” said Lane. “Hopefully it will whet your appetite to go see it live.”

Users can buy a monthly subscription for $14.99 and or a yearly one for $169.99. There’s also free content. The shows can be streamed to computers, mobile devices and TVs — both Apple TV or Google Chromecast.

While sites such as iTunes, Amazon Video, Netflix and GooglePlay stream musicals and plays on phones and tablets, BroadwayHD hopes to become the go-to library to find live-captured theatrical events, whether from off-Broadway or the West End, after a show has been seen in cinemas or on cable TV.

While the service currently leans heavily on the archives of the BBC, WNET-TV in New York and Broadway Worldwide, the creators hope they will be able to expand their titles with partnerships and their own captures. They’ve also added commentaries, introductions and documentaries.

Offerings at launch include more than 120 productions, mostly classics from Shakespeare and Anton Chekov. “A lot of it is classic archival pieces, but then we start layering in the new things and go out and start shooting new shows,” Comley said. “We’re looking for this to be the landing place.”

The site comes at a time when so-called event cinema has exploded. When once there was just the Metropolitan Opera at the movie theater, now there’s the Bolshoi Ballet, concerts from One Direction, circuses and a steady stream of English plays.

To those who sneer at reducing a live Broadway show to the size of an iPhone screen, Lane responds by pointing out that people also said the theater experience would be diluted when microphones were introduced.

“This is part of an evolution,” he said. “We’re never going to replace the communal experience of seeing actors live. I understand that. New York has an amazing caliber of talent _ of writers, directors and performers _ that we’d like to share with the world. If they can’t get here in time, we can share that with the world in the best way we can.”

A sample of what you can now find on BroadwayHD includes Orlando Bloom in the 2013 Broadway revival of “Romeo and Juliet,” a live “Jekyll & Hyde” with David Hasselhoff in 2001, Helen Mirren in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Montego Glover and Chad Kimball in “Memphis,” Daniel Craig and Stephen Rea in “Copenhagen” from a BBC TV movie in 2002, and Rufus Sewel in “Henry IV.” Up next will be Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” after it airs on HBO.

“There’s plenty of stuff out there but what we’re trying to do is have anecdotal evidence for producers and all of the creatives to see where this goes,” Comley said.

On the Web…

https://www.broadwayhd.com

WiGWAG: News with a twist | Calling Dr. Google?

Calling Dr. Google: When your back aches, your eyes itch, your knees go weak or your nose runs, do you go searching for a cause and treatment on the Web? You are not alone, because Google reports that one in 20 searches are for health-related information. However, an analysis by experts in technology information based in Brisbane and Vienna found major search engines provided irrelevant information leading to incorrect self-diagnosis and self-treatment. The result? A bad case of cyberchondria.

Another reason to come out: A Nebraska woman who claims to be an ambassador for God and Jesus Christ filed a federal lawsuit against all homosexuals in the world for breaking “religious and moral laws.” In a seven-page, handwritten petition delivered to the U.S. District Court in Omaha, Sylvia Ann Driskell contends that “homosexuality is a sin and that the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality,” according to the Lincoln Journal Star. “Why else would they have been hiding in the closet(?)”

Rainbow warriors: How do you keep a Russian submarine at bay? Swedish peace activists staged a stunt earlier this month, playfully launching an underwater defense installation: a gay-themed sonar system. In “Operation Singing Sailor,” the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society placed a sonar device in the Stockholm archipelago and sent a message in Morse code: “This way if you are gay.” The group was responding to calls for re-armament after a hunt in October for a suspected Russian sub.

Sprayed down: A man is in jail after authorities say he foiled his own robbery by accidentally pepper-spraying himself. Police allege the 43-year-old West Virginia entered a pharmacy wearing full camouflage and a paintball mask. He started spraying pepper spray in an effort to take down employees, but then walked into the cloud of pepper spray in front of him. Police say security footage shows him staggering out of the business. 

BBQ blunder: The owner of Rubbin’ Buttz BBQ and Country Cafe in Milliken, Colorado, placed a sign in his restaurant announcing, “White Appreciation Day! June 11th. Because all Americans should be celebrated!!” He planned to offer white customers discounts of 10 percent. Edgar Antillon thought, “least we could do is offer one day to appreciate white Americans.” Bad idea. He received a bomb threat and protests shut down the server for his website. Now he’s offering the deal to all.

Hungry man: Pennsylvania police cited a 47-year-old man for disorderly conduct after he became furious that a Roy Rogers restaurant on the turnpike was out of macaroni and cheese and potatoes. He was left with a choice of salad, baked apples, baked beans, a fruit cup or coleslaw. Police were called when the man began throwing condiments at employees. 

Ginsburg’s doppelganger: Natalie Portman recently signed on to play U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a biopic titled “On the Basis of Sex,” which focuses on Ginsburg’s support for women’s rights. The actress and the justice have a lot in common. Like Portman, Ginsburg is Jewish and was a great beauty in her youth. Portman left her acting career for several years to receive a degree from Harvard University. While there, Portman was research assistant to famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

Strange bedmates

A city councilman in Bremerton, Washington, said he was surprised to learn his wife had filed to challenge him for the office he’s held for six years. Kim Faulkner said she decided to join the race after watching husband Roy Runyon on the council. “I just sat down and said I think the city of Bremerton, District 6, needs more qualified people to run for office,” Faulkner said.

Restroom research: Research published in Gender, Place & Culture exposes gender-based differences in bathroom graffiti. The researchers claim that in the private confines of a public bathroom, men and women stick to stereotypes. Women’s graffiti refers to love and relationships a. Men’s graffiti centers on sexual acts and sexual organs and is characterized as “crude,” “competitive” and “aggressive.”

Scandalous: Fox News is accustomed to ridicule, but usually it’s over factual errors. New York City’s local Fox affiliate, however, came under fire for covering the breasts of a nude woman in a cubist painting by Pablo Picasso. “We decided to blur the nude portions so that we could show it to you on air,” said anchor Dari Alexander before “Les Femmes d’Alger” appeared partially on screen. The painting recently fetched $179 million at auction, making it the world’s most expensive painting.

WiGWheels: Google’s latest version of self-driving car headed to streets

The latest version of Google’s self-driving car — a pod-like two-seater that needs no gas pedal or steering wheel — will make its debut on public roads this summer, a significant step in the technology giant’s mission to have driverless cars available to consumers in the next five years. 

This prototype is the first vehicle built from scratch for the purpose of self-driving, Google says. It looks like a Smart car with a shiny black bowler hat to hide its sensors, and it can drive, brake and recognize road hazards without human intervention. It has more capabilities than the prototype Google introduced last May, which was so rudimentary it had fake headlights. 

The new pod isn’t designed for a long trip, or a joyride. It lacks air bags and other federally required safety features, so it can’t go more than 25 miles per hour. It’s electric, and has to be recharged after 80 miles. And the pod can only drive in areas that have been thoroughly mapped by Google. 

At first, it will likely even have a steering wheel and gas pedal — current California regulations require them. Those regulations also require a driver to be able to take back control of the car at any time. But Google is lobbying for more flexible regulations.

Google will initially build and test 25 pods, mostly in neighborhoods surrounding its Mountain View headquarters. It will eventually build between 50 and 100, and will broaden testing to sites that are hillier and rainier. 

The ultimate goal, says Google co-founder Sergey Brin, is computer-controlled cars that can eliminate human error, which is a factor in an estimated 90 percent of the 1.2 million road deaths that occur worldwide each year. Self-driving cars could also improve traffic congestion and transport the elderly and disabled.

Google shocked the auto industry in 2010 with its announcement that it was working on a driverless car. Brin insists Google doesn’t aspire to be a car company, but wants its technology to be adopted by automakers.

“We want to partner to bring self-driving to all the vehicles in the world,” Brin told a group of journalists and community members gathered earlier this week to take rides in the prototype. 

For now the traditional automakers are pursuing their own self-driving technology, but with less ambitious timeline of 10 to 15 years for a truly driverless car. 

Chris Urmson, who directs Google’s self-driving car project, says the slow-moving, friendly looking prototype _ his young son thinks it looks like a koala because of the nose-like black laser on the front _ is a good bridge between the company’s current test fleet of 20 specially outfitted Lexus SUVs and the more advanced, higher-speed driverless cars of its future, which might not even look like anything on the road today.

“This vehicle is really all about us learning. This vehicle could go on a freeway, but when we think about introducing the technology, we want to do that very thoughtfully and very safely,” Urmson says. 

Convincing drivers that driverless technology is safe is one of the hurdles the company must overcome. Earlier, in response to questions from The Associated Press, Google acknowledged 11 minor accidents in the six years it has been testing autonomous cars. Urmson says the company is proud of that record, and notes that Google’s vehicles have completed more than 1.7 million miles of testing. He says all but one of the accidents were caused by drivers in other cars; in the only incident caused by a Google car, a staffer was driving in manual mode.

Consumers question whether they can trust self-driving cars to work all the time, who will be liable if there’s an accident and how self-driving cars will interact with regular cars, says the consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates. In a 2013 survey of U.S. drivers, J.D. Power found only one in five was interested in a fully autonomous car.

Urmson says Google needs to do a better job of educating people about self-driving technology and updating them on Google’s progress. It’s building a Web site to teach people about the technology, and the site will feature a monthly report that will include details of any accidents involving Google cars. The site will also have a section where people can send feedback when they interact with the cars.

The prototype cars — assembled in suburban Detroit by Roush Industries — have the same array of radars, lasers and cameras as Google’s fleet of Lexus SUVs, which allows them to share data. If one car’s camera spots orange cones and construction signs, for example, it will alert all the others to slow down in that area or reroute around a lane closure.

Dmitri Dolgov, the head of software for the self-driving car project, says Google’s software has gotten much better over the last year at classifying objects, like trees and mailboxes, and predicting behavior of pedestrians and other cars. For example, Google’s cars will slow down if they sense that a car in the next lane is speeding up to cut in front of them. And in one recent test, a Google car paused when a cyclist ran a red light. Another car, driven by a human, went ahead and nearly hit the cyclist.

The system isn’t perfect. On a test drive, one of Google’s Lexus SUVs seemed momentarily confused when a mail truck partially blocked its path. Later, during a demonstration drive in Google’s parking lot, the prototype _ without a wheel or pedal _ braked when it spotted a row of folding chairs. It had to figure out that the chairs wouldn’t move before it proceeded.

Dolgov says it’s impossible to predict everything its test cars might see, so they’re programmed to act in the most conservative way when they confront something unusual, like the time a Google SUV stopped and waited while a woman in a wheelchair chased a duck with a broom.

Google isn’t alone in developing self-driving cars. Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and other brands already have advanced driver assistance systems, like lane keeping and adaptive cruise control, that can pilot the car on the highway with minimal input from the driver. Unlike Google, automakers think self-driving cars will arrive feature-by-feature instead of all at once, giving people plenty of time to adapt to autonomous driving.

But Urmson says that approach is “fundamentally wrong.”

“We believe that’s like saying, `If I work really hard at jumping, one day I’ll just be able to fly,'” he said.

Egil Juliussen, the principal analyst of infotainment and advanced driver assist systems for the consulting firm IHS Automotive, says Google’s “moon shot” strategy is difficult and riskier than just adding features to existing cars. But he thinks it could ultimately be successful. Google could make self-driving urban pods for universities or urban centers, for example, or sell its technology to automakers.

Brin says the company is still refining its plans for self-driving cars, but he’s excited about their potential.

“Our goal is to create something safer than human drivers,” he said.

Who’s Who in music streaming: Tidal, Spotify, Pandora & more

Since Apple shook up the music world with iTunes a little more than a decade ago, online music has exploded and become the central way many people enjoy and discover music. Internet services such as Pandora and Spotify have millions of users. Now, several high-profile musicians are behind what’s being billed as the first artist-owned music-streaming service.

Tidal isn’t new, but it’s getting a reboot from rapper Jay-Z, who bought the Scandinavian company behind it, Aspiro. Madonna, Rihanna and Beyonce are among the co-owners. That’s notable because many artists complain about how little payment they get from other music services, such as Spotify. As owners, artists could insist on better deals.

There are now three main ways to get music, and many services offer a blend:

• Pay per song. Apple’s iTunes has made it easy to buy singles or albums. Many artists release new albums early through iTunes. Google and Amazon now compete, but the premise remains the same: Buy songs or albums to own forever.

• Unlimited listening. For a monthly subscription of about $10, you can listen to as many songs as you want on a variety of personal computers, phones, tablets and other devices. Many also let you download songs for offline playback. Once you stop paying, though, you lose all your songs, even ones you’ve already downloaded. Some offer free versions with ads and other restrictions, such as song selection only on PCs.

• Internet radio. You can’t choose specific songs or artists, as you can with the unlimited-listening services. But you can fine-tune your Internet stations by specifying a song, artist, genre or playlist. The station will then stream songs similar to your choices. You can personalize stations further by giving thumbs up or thumbs down to songs you hear.

Music services typically have deals with all major recording companies, so they differ mainly in features rather than song selection. That said, Taylor Swift took her music off Spotify last fall in a dispute over fees. All but her most recent album are on Tidal, Rdio and Beats.

Here’s a look at who’s who in music streaming.

SPOTIFY

One of the most popular music services, with 60 million active users worldwide, and a quarter of them paying subscribers. Just this week, Spotify launched an app on Sony’s PlayStation game console. The two companies worked closely to make listening seamless, so music can be heard in the background while playing games, without losing the game’s sound effects, for instance. Spotify offers unlimited listening and Internet radio. It’s free with ads; on mobile devices, users are limited to Internet radio and can’t choose songs. Paying $10 a month gets you an ad-free premium service that offers song selection and offline playback on mobile devices.

PANDORA

Offers Internet radio only. More than 81 million active listeners. Free with ads, or pay $5 a month for an ad-free premium service and higher-quality audio over Web browsers.

TIDAL

Unlimited listening. Among the few services offering high-fidelity songs, which many audiophiles prefer over MP3s and other formats that reduce quality in the compression process. Offers music video and curated playlists from experts. $10 a month for standard sound quality and $20 for high fidelity. There’s no free offering.

APPLE

Pay per song to download and own forever through iTunes. Free Internet radio through iTunes Radio on Apple devices. Also owns Beats Music, which offers unlimited listening for $10 a month, with no free version. Beats touts its playlists and other recommendations curated by experts, not computers.

GOOGLE

Pay per song through Google Play. Google Play Music service offers unlimited listening for $10 a month, with no free option. Google also offers YouTube Music Key for selected music videos, free of ads, for $10. Paying for one gets you the other, too.

AMAZON

Pay-per-song offering. Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime membership comes with unlimited listening, though the song selection isn’t as broad as what rivals offer.

SAMSUNG’S MILK MUSIC

Offers free Internet radio like Pandora and others, but tries to make it easier to find music to match your mood. Instead of typing in songs or artists to find matching stations, you spin an on-screen wheel to go through various genres until you land on something you like. Initially exclusive to Samsung TVs and mobile devices, there’s now a Web player for personal computers.

‘House of Cards’ returns for 3rd season

Even if it never wins another award, “House of Cards” already ranks among the most influential series in television history.

The political drama launched Netflix’s expansion into original programming two years ago, a risky bet that might have toppled the Internet video service had “House of Cards” flopped and squandered its estimated $100 million investment. Instead, the show was an immediate hit with viewers and critics, giving Netflix the financial clout and creative firepower to further transform how we watch and define “television.” And it spurred other online services such as Amazon.com Inc. and Google’s YouTube to spend more on their own original content to create shows that rival those produced by broadcast and cable channels.

Season three debuted last week, giving fans a chance to see Frank and Claire Underwood continue their machinations, now from a hard-won White House perch. The show marks just one of more than 20 original series or movies that Netflix is scheduled to show this year. Producing that much original content would have seemed like a long shot before “House of Cards” first established Netflix as more than a convenient and cheap way to watch recycled TV series and movies previously released on DVD. Launched in February 2013, “House of Cards” was among the first major series to release an entire season at once, a move that fed into viewers’ desire to devour several episodes at a time instead of having to wait a week to see another installment.

Many analysts now view “House of Cards” and Netflix’s other award-winning series released a few months later – “Orange is the New Black” – as turning points in the company’s evolution, similar to the impact “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” had for HBO. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings now regularly likens the company to the HBO of the Internet.

Just how many Netflix subscribers have watched “House of Cards” remains a mystery because the company has refused to reveal the viewership of any of its series. But this much is clear: “House of Cards” came along at a pivotal juncture for Netflix.

The Los Gatos, California, company was still recovering from a subscriber backlash triggered in mid-2011 by a dramatic increase in its prices and a bungled attempt to spin off its DVD-by-mail service. Undaunted, Netflix continued to commit billions of dollars to long-term licensing agreements with movie and TV studios while also spending heavily on an international expansion. Some analysts questioned whether the company could survive.

Wall Street’s doubts have dissipated, and Netflix’s service has become an entertainment staple around the world. Since “House of Cards” was released, Netflix’s stock has nearly tripled to about $480 while its Internet video service has grown subscribers by 24 million subscribers to 57 million. Half of those gains have come in the U.S.

The momentum emboldened Netflix last year to raise its monthly streaming prices by a $1 to $9. There was little blowback from customers this time. Netflix’s widening appeal may have also contributed to HBO’s decision to begin selling its channel as a separate Internet service later this year. HBO hasn’t yet announced its prices for the HBO Go service.

The next challenge for Netflix will be proving that it can consistently deliver series as good as “House of Cards,” which has received 22 Emmy nominations and won four awards so far, and “Orange Is The New Black,” which has collected three Emmy awards among its 12 nominations.

While some of Netflix’s other original programs, such as “Hemlock Grove” and “BoJack Horseman,” have attracted enthusiastic followings, they haven’t proven to be a subscriber drawing card like “House of Cards,” said Rosenblatt Securities analyst Martin Pyykkonen. “Netflix needs to get to the point where it’s showing three or four high-quality shows like `House of Cards” every quarter if it wants to retain subscribers,” he said.

Robin Williams’ suicide seizes the year on Google

Robin Williams’ suicide seared into the world’s collective mindset more than anything else this year, based on what people were searching for on Google.

The reaction to Williams’ death in August topped Google’s list of 2014’s fastest-rising search requests. It beat notable events such as the World Cup, the Ebola outbreak, the March disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the Ice Bucket Challenge, an Internet video craze to raise awareness and money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Other topics of worldwide intrigue on Google included the addictive smartphone game “Flappy Bird,” bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst, the Middle East extremist group ISIS, the hit Disney movie “Frozen,” and the Winter Olympics in Russia.

Williams, Ebola, the World Cup and the Ice Bucket also ranked among the most-discussed subjects this year on Facebook, which released its list last week. Google released its list Tuesday.

Williams’ death drove many people to reminisce about his career highlights. In the first few days after his suicide, there was a six-fold increase in the number of Google searches for “carpe diem” _ a Latin phrase for “seize the day” that Williams popularized in the film “Dead Poets Society.” Reports about Williams’ long-running battle with depression caused searches for that term to triple. There was also a flurry of searches about his movies (the top five were: “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Jumanji” and “Patch Adams.”)

Google’s worldwide list of the year’s hottest search requests mirrored the activity in the U.S. with a few exceptions. Wurst didn’t make the Top 10 list in the U.S., nor did the Winter Olympics. Instead, Web surfers in the U.S. were seeking more information about the August confrontation that culminated in a white policeman shooting and killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Ukraine’s conflict with Russia also held more intrigue in the U.S. than the rest of the world.

Google’s review follows annual roundups compiled during the previous two weeks by its main search rivals. Although Google’s list usually comes last each year, its rankings typically provide more telling insights into what people were thinking because the company’s technology processes about two out of every three search requests made on the Internet.

Yahoo’s search lists indicated that its websites tend to attract entertainment-minded people. While Ebola topped Yahoo’s rankings for 2014, celebrities or entertainers occupied six of the other slots. They were singer Ariana Grande (No. 3), actress Jennifer Lawrence (No. 4), actress Kaley Cuoco (No. 5), reality TV star Kim Kardashian (No. 6), singer Miley Cyrus (No. 8) and actress Jennifer Aniston (No. 10). Yahoo’s list was rounded out by: the video game “Minecraft,” whose popularity prompted Microsoft to buy it for $2.5 billion earlier this year; “Frozen” and Apple’s latest gadget, the iPhone 6.

Instead of doing a wide-ranging compilation of top searches, Microsoft’s Bing separated its lists into disparate categories, such as athletes (NBA star LeBron James soared the highest), celebrities (Kardashian reigned), vacation destinations (Costa Rica) and musicians (Beyonce).

Google: We’re building car with no steering wheel

Google will build a car without a steering wheel.

It doesn’t need one because it drives itself.

The two-seater won’t be sold publicly, but Google said Tuesday it hopes by this time next year, 100 prototypes will be on public roads. Though not driving very quickly — the top speed would be 25 mph.

The cars are a natural next step for Google, which already has driven hundreds of thousands of miles in California with Lexus SUVs and Toyota Priuses outfitted with a combination of sensors and computers.

Those cars have Google-employed “safety drivers” behind the wheel in case of emergency. The new cars would eliminate the driver from the task of driving.

No steering wheel, no brake and gas pedals. Instead, buttons for go and stop.

“It reminded me of catching a chairlift by yourself, a bit of solitude I found really enjoyable,” Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, told a Southern California tech conference Tuesday evening of his first ride, according to a transcript.

The electric-powered car is compact and bubble-shaped _ something that might move people around a corporate campus or congested downtown.

Google is unlikely to go deeply into auto manufacturing. In unveiling the prototype, the company emphasized partnering with other firms.

The biggest obstacle could be the law.

Test versions will have a wheel and pedals, because they must under California regulations.

Google hopes to build the 100 prototypes late this year or early next and use them in a to-be-determined “pilot program,” spokeswoman Courtney Hohne said. Meanwhile, by the end of this year, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles must write regulations for the “operational” use of truly driverless cars.

The DMV had thought that reality was several years away, so it would have time to perfect the rules.

That clock just sped up, said the head of the DMV’s driverless car program, Bernard Soriano.

“Because of what is potentially out there soon, we need to make sure that the regulations are in place that would keep the public safe but would not impede progress,” Soriano said.