Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – December 2, 2013

Awesome Cyber Monday Apps;  New York Times: End the N.S.A. Dragnet, Now;  Video Call With A Real-Life Santa;  BlackBerry World 25 Days of Gifts; Online privacy: how secure are you?;  MiseryMap tracks weather, flight delays; Chinese smartphone clones – not a good deal;  Windows 8 winter themes;  50 Gadget Gift Ideas;  Why you shouldn’t buy a 4K TV this year;  The NSA and surveillance … made simple – video animation.

UK.gov’s web filtering mission creep: Now it plans to block ‘extremist’ websites – Whitehall is carefully floating plans that might result in ISPs being forced to start blocking “extremist” websites. The first hint reached us in October, when the Premier – basking in what he believed to be a victory against the ubiquity of smutty websites, with big name ISPs set to bring in network-level filters – told Parliament that he was mulling over ways “to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites.”

Skype in China reportedly tweaked to remove censorship – Microsoft appears to have tweaked its Skype application in China to make it tougher to monitor communications delivered over the Internet phone service, according to analysis from GreatFire.org.

The NSA and surveillance … made simple – video animation – Confused about the NSA revelations? Do you wonder how the activities of GCHQ and the NSA affect you? Why have spies been monitoring Facebook, Gmail and Skype? And even if we are being watched online, how does that affect what we do? This animation, narrated by Jemima Kiss, explains what the disclosures mean for all of us.

Online privacy: how secure are you? – Expert advice on deterring both government spies and ordinary fraudsters – plus some help from five well-known netizens, including Sheila Hancock, Philippa Perry and Will.i.am

Berners-Lee blasts surveillance as a threat to democracy – Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee is warning that government surveillance and censorship will threaten the democratic nature of the web.

“Hello Santa” Offers A Memorable, But Pricey, Video Call With A Real-Life Santa – Want to FaceTime Santa? There’s an app for that. A new video chat app called “Hello Santa” offers you and your child a one-on-one with the jolly ol’ elf himself, and for once, it’s not a pre-recorded video. For those who are sick of standing in half-hour or longer lines only to have their kid freeze up, balk or cry when it’s finally their turn to sit on Santa’s knee, Hello Santa can be a great alternative.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

How to Fix the Windows 8.1 Refresh Function after Upgrade – If you are running Windows 8.1 and you upgraded from Windows 8 using the Windows Store you may be in for a very unpleasant surprise if you need to use either PC Reset or PC Refresh. Many users are reporting that when they attempt to perform a PC Reset or PC Refresh that the process stalls almost immediately and asks the user to insert the Installation media. Unfortunately for those affected they have no Windows 8.1 media as it was downloaded through the Windows Store and their original Windows 8 media or recovery partitions are not accepted as valid.

Did somebody say Free? BlackBerry World 25 Days of Gifts 2013 – From December 1st to December 25th, if you have a BlackBerry 10 device, you can visit BlackBerry World each day and be treated to a select premium download for FREE! That’s right. Every day, for 25 days, you’ll get access to a premium selection of apps, movies and games that are available to you for free. But be sure to check BlackBerry World daily because each gift is only available for 24 hours! (recommended by Aseem S.)

Sickweather tracks then alerts you of nearby illnesses – By scanning social networks for mentions of specific illnesses while filtering out redundant phrases or random uses of the word “sick” (and the like), Sickweather is able to plot where the plague has occurred on a map. When you approach an area marked on the map, you’ll receive an alert of the illness and when it was last reported.

Awesome Cyber Monday Apps – These mobile apps will make your smartphone a handheld bargain shopping center come Cyber Monday.

MiseryMap tracks weather, flight delays in real time – Approximately zero people enjoy flying over the holidays. Not only is it more expensive and the airports more crowded, in many areas, the weather is also just worse. How bad is it and where? FlightAware’s Misery Map shows you in real time.

How to get unlimited free holiday music on your phone or tablet – Warm fire, check. Good company and good cheer, check. Now all you need is some good holiday music, which you can get in virtually unlimited quantities on your smartphone or tablet. And it won’t cost you anything extra. With the exception of iTunes Radio, which is available only for iOS devices, most of the services listed below are available for most mobile platforms.

Black Friday Desktop E-Commerce Spending Rose 15 Percent To $1.2B, Amazon Was The Most Visited Online Retailer – ComScore reports that 66.1 million Americans visited online retail sites on Black Friday using a desktop computer, representing an increase of 16 percent versus a year ago. Amazon, unsurprisingly, ranked as the most visited online retail site on Black Friday, followed by eBay, Walmart, Best Buy and Target.

A plea for mobile civility – Are our ubiquitous mobile devices causing us to forget or unconsciously rewrite the rules of courtesy in society?

Why Chinese smartphone clones may not be a good deal after all – CNET’s Marguerite Reardon explains in this edition of Ask Maggie why those too-good-to-be-true deals on cheap smartphones from China should be avoided.

Chrome, Opera pass Epic Citadel demo’s Web graphics test – Chrome and Opera have become the first browsers to match Mozilla Firefox’s support for Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 and the Web-based Epic Citadel demo that’s built on the 3D graphics technology. The demo’s computing challenges include 3D graphics covered with 2D textures, rustling leaves, flowing water, reflective stone floors, lens flare, and shadows and other lighting effects.

Microsoft releases some new Windows 8 themes for the winter – Microsoft has released some new free themes for Windows 8 that have a winter setting, including a new panoramic theme called Snow and another that centers on the snowy owl. Another new theme is titled Snowy Night and features 13 more winter and holiday photos from around the world, including several taken in Sweden and Canada, along with locations in Norway, Scotland and more.

Windows XP remains nearly flat; Windows 8/8.1 up slightly in November’s OS data – Microsoft’s goal of reducing the market share of Windows XP to just 13 percent worldwide by its support cut off date of April 8th is looking more and more like it will miss its target. Newly posted numbers from the research firm Net Applications shows that worldwide, Windows XP is still the second most popular operating system on PCs, claiming 31.22 percent of the market in November.

50 Gadget Gift Ideas for the Holidays – Searching for the perfect gift for that special techie in your life? Look no further. We’ve got something for everyone here.

Woman’s house robbed while neighbors watch, she blames Facebook – Facebook is not a good place to post information that you don’t want untrustworthy people to see. People like robbers, who plan their next big heist based on information gleaned from careless Facebook posters. A Canadian woman’s Kamloops, B.C. home was robbed of around $20,000 in goods. To make things worse, the thieves loaded their loot into the family’s second car and drove off. The kicker? That a neighbor witnessed this all happening and didn’t do anything — assuming that it was just the family moving out.

Security:

FBI warns: ’tis the season for online shopping scams – The FBI this week issued a series of reminders to online shoppers to beware of scams and to use their common sense.

YourFreeProxy Is Caught Installing A Toolbar That Mines Bitcoin On The Sly – Today in “Things Your Tech Service Shouldn’t Do” we present YourFreeProxy from Mutual Public AKA We Build Toolbars, LLC. The company, which offers proxy servers for routing around firewalls and censorship, has been secretly using its tool to mine Bitcoin using their customer’s computer. This “feature” even appears prominently in their terms of service.

Bitcointalk.org warns passwords in danger after DNS attack – Some users of the popular Bitcoin discussion forum are advised to change their passwords in the wake of a security breach.

Vodafone Iceland breached, customer details, SMSes stolen – The Icelandic branch of Vodafone is in damage control after being breached and having its customer data leaked.

Red-Haired Women Pick The Best Passwords, Bearded Men the Worst – Besides shedding light on our overwhelming sloppiness, data from recent security breaches at websites like Adobe and LinkedIn reveal some quirky patterns in how we choose our online passwords.

Botnet busts more for stunts than security, expert says – Microsoft and Symantec have touted taking down major botnets, but one expert calls their actions ineffective and aimed primarily at getting attention.

Malware ransom drops to keep pace with Bitcoin price surge – The purveyors of the Cryptolocker Trojan have lowered their ransom demands in light of the soaring value of their preferred currency, Bitcoins, a security firm reports.

Company News:

Apple gripes about e-books antitrust monitor – The tech giant and its court-appointed antitrust monitor are having a hard time seeing eye to eye. Apple is objecting to the lawyer’s “excessive fees” and “inappropriate manner.”

Steam reaches new peak of over 7 million concurrent users – In late October, Valve announced that its Steam game download service had reached a new high of over 65 million accounts worldwide, 10 years after the first beta client was released. Today, the number of concurrent Steam users reached a new record as well as it surpassed the 7 million mark for the first time.

Instagram saw busiest day ever on Thanksgiving – Instagram has indicated that this year’s Thanksgiving Day was its busiest day ever. More photos and videos were shared on its network on that day than on any other day in its history. However, the company did not release exact figures, possibly indicating its growth may not be as marked as in previous years.

Amazon unveils “Prime Air,” a plan to deliver by drone in just 30 minutes – This future Amazon initiative would use octocopter drones to fly orders directly to customer doorsteps in just 30 minutes. Bezos told the news program he anticipates the project could be rolled out within the next four to five years (with the timing impacted by the FAA’s ever evolving approach to drone regulation).

India startup touted as world’s largest offline search engine – Get “online” without a data connection via SMS with the browser by Bangalore-based startup, Innoz.in, which seeks to connect the unconnected poor with featurephones to the information riches of the Web.

Acer needs to focus on brand building, tablets under new leaders – As it searches for a new president and chairman, Acer looks for ways to shed its reputation as a low-end seller of notebooks.

Games and Entertainment:

Microsoft shows off modern browser with 1995 computer game – In case you need a touch of nostalgia to carry you through the week, Microsoft has just released a version of Hover! that runs in the browser. Hover! was originally bundled with Windows 95, and puts players in the seat of a hovercraft on a 3D map. The goal is to collect three flags scattered around the map before your computer-controlled opponents do, avoiding obstacles using powerups to get an edge.

This may be a first: A PC game is canceled after it is released – In what may be a first for the industry, 505 Games has canceled the PC game Ashes Cricket 2013 after it was briefly published on Steam this week, with plans to refund the people who bought the game.

Grand Theft Auto V maker Rockstar to be sued by Lindsay Lohan: TMZ – Actor Lindsay Lohan has instructed her lawyers to sue Rockstar Games for the alleged use of her likeness in its blockbuster video game Grand Theft Auto V. The news comes by way of gossip website TMZ. The charges are related to two gameplay scenarios and possibly the cover art.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Luddite magazine questions our relationship with tech – In an exquisite juxtaposition, an eight-page handcrafted, letterpress-printed magazine examines issues of the digital age.

Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?) – David Hockney and others have speculated—controversially—that a camera obscura could have helped the Dutch painter Vermeer achieve his photo-realistic effects in the 1600s. But no one understood exactly how such a device might actually have been used to paint masterpieces. An inventor in Texas—the subject of a new documentary by the magicians Penn & Teller—may have solved the riddle. (suggested by Michel F.)

Modern Masterpieces of Comedic Genius: The Art of the Humorous Amazon Review, Part Deux – Many moons ago, I wrote about the art of the humorous Amazon review as a modern masterpiece of parodic genius, embodying Arthur Koestler’s seminal “bisociation” theory of how humor and creativity work. It turns out this peculiar micro-genre of satire is surprisingly expansive — here is a sequel-selection of amusing, absurd, preposterous, and plain funny reviews, spanning everything from literary classics to industrial equipment. (suggested by Michel F.)

Louis C.K. parody reveals the one button Facebook needs – Your spiritual guide might be the Dalai Lama, Miley Cyrus or Evan Snapchat. Mine is Louis C.K. He has that desperate grip on reality, despite the modern world trying to rip it from him at every moment. He’s already explained why he won’t let his kids have cell phones in stunningly persuasive words. Now, a Louis C.K. parody account offers that he’d like to make a positive contribution to Facebook.

10 smartphone features that I’m pretty darn thankful for – In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, Sonja Thompson lists 10 things about her smartphone that she’s pretty darn thankful for.

Why you shouldn’t buy a 4K TV this year - Ultra-High Definition (UHD) 4K televisions are sure to be on many holiday shopping wish lists this season, but industry experts say now is not the time to buy. For one, they’re still pricey: Most UHD TVs large enough to showcase their better picture quality – that is, 65-in. or larger — cost $5,000 or more. There’s also a lack of 4K content that can be viewed, and industry standards that need to be hammered out. In fact, the lack of standards is hampering the availability of 4K content.

Report Finds ‘Dramatic Progress’ on HealthCare.gov – Despite the progress, more work remains to be done, according to a Sunday report. Recent upgrades, mean that average response time is down from 8 seconds in October to less than 1 second in the last three weeks. Error rates, meanwhile, are now “well under” 1 percent, down from 6 percent in October, while system availability on Nov. 30 was at 95.1 percent, up from 42.9 percent on Nov. 2. The move means HealthCare.gov can now support 50,000 concurrent users, who normally spend about 20-30 minutes on the site, or more than 800,000 consumer visits per day.

Comet ISON fizzles… but there’s a sting in the tail – It looks like comet ISON, or most of it, did not survive its encounter with the Sun yesterday, when it made a close approach at just 1.2 million kms from that fiery surface. This distance may seem large, but it is close enough to have subjected the comet to temperatures of around 2,700°C. To survive such a close shave with the Sun may sound unlikely, but a few other sungrazing comets have managed the feat during even closer passes. So some people hoped ISON would perform a death-defying stunt and emerge intact.

Something to think about:

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

-      Ray Bradbury

Today’s Free Downloads:

HDDExpert 1.7 – HDDExpert gives you a crystal-clear vision of your Hard Drive (HDD or SSD) health and performance and translates S.M.A.R.T. attributes into a readable indication. It then recommends maintenance (fans upgrade, spare purchase, backups and more) depending on the amount of failures detected on your hard drives.

Helicon Photo Safe 4.0 – Everyone’s heard the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”. But in today’s parlance, it would be more accurate to say that a picture is worth thousands of data points, and it’s rare to find an image management system that offers you the power and flexibility to keep track of thousands of digital photos, as well as location data, privacy controls, and easy file manipulation and organization. But such a solution exists today, and it’s called Helicon Photo Safe!

XMedia Recode 3.1.7.6 - XMedia Recode can convert almost all known audio and video formats, including 3GP, 3GPP, 3GPP2, AAC, AC3, AMR, ASF, AVI, AVISynth, DVD, FLAC, FLV, H.261, H.263, H.264, M4A , m1v, M2V, M4V, Matroska (MKV), MMF, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, TS, TRP, MP2, MP3, MP4, MP4V, MOV, OGG, PSP, (S) VCD, SWF , VOB, WAV, WMA and WMV. XMedia Recode can only convert unprotected DVDs.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

NSA files live – Australia offered to share information on its citizens – Australia’s surveillance agency offered to share information collected about ordinary Australian citizens with its major intelligence partners, according to a secret 2008 document leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The privacy of ordinary Australians is under serious threat – Intelligence representatives offered to share the confidential data of law-abiding Australians with international partners. In this Orwellian climate, who will guard the guardians?

New York Times: End the N.S.A. Dragnet, Now – THE framers of the Constitution declared that government officials had no power to seize the records of individual Americans without evidence of wrongdoing, and they embedded this principle in the Fourth Amendment. The bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records — so-called metadata — by the National Security Agency is, in our view, a clear case of a general warrant that violates the spirit of the framers’ intentions. This intrusive program was authorized under a secret legal process by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so for years American citizens did not have the knowledge needed to challenge the infringement of their privacy rights.

Decoded: the main stories from the Snowden files explained – Revelations about mass surveillance by the NSA and GCHQ have shocked some and embarrassed others. Here we outline the main stories, what they mean and why they matter.

Justice Department urged to make public secret surveillance documents – Federal appeals judges in Washington will soon decide whether the public has the right to see secret Justice Department documents setting out the legality of surveillance practices – which powerful senators say amount to a body of secret law.

Malaysia: We can protect classified data – Top government official says the country has the necessary system in place to protect classified information and communications, following reports Singapore had helped the U.S. spy on Malaysia, among others in the region.

6 Comments

Filed under Free Software Downloads, Internet Security Alerts, Latest Tech News

6 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – December 2, 2013

  1. Laurence

    Hi Bill,
    “YourFreeProxy Is Caught Installing A Toolbar That Mines Bitcoin On The Sly”
    A big THANK YOU for a heads up. I didn’t know such a company existed. I’ve learned a new thing today.

    Best regard,
    Laurence

    • Hi Laurence,

      As far as we know, no other applications (of this type), behave in this way. I’ll emphasize – “As far as we know.”

      The reality is, this is an extreme example of the perils one might face following an unwillingness to read the EULA. But hell, the average person won’t/can’t read loan documents, mortgage documents, insurance documents………. So reading a EULA? :)

      So, this company took advantage of that – it’s just business in 2013, right? Sad.

      Best,

      Bill

  2. Mal

    Hey Bill,
    RE: Skype in China reportedly tweaked to remove censorship
    What a joke. I bet the NSA will still be able to “compel” Microsoft to hand over chat logs of Chinese users. Let’s protect people from China authorities, but not American authorities.
    The hyprocrisy is breathtaking.
    Cheers

    • Hey Mal,

      Excellent assessment – a point missed by many, I suspect. It really is an “Alice in Wonderland” world when blatant hypocrisy goes unremarked. Think politics. :)

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – “Absurdity has become necessary.” Here we have MS providing a security service to a country which we old-hands remember as Communist China and, at one and the same time acting as a conduit for invasive surveillance by a country once known as the “Land of the Free” – more properly known now, as the “Excited States of America.” It’s absurd – but, it’s necessary to maintain the status quo. How sad.

      Best,

      Bill

  3. Mal

    Hey Bill,
    Re:Malware ransom drops to keep pace with Bitcoin price surge
    Hitman Pro Alert claims to be able to detect and block Cryptolocker infections. More information is here http://www.surfright.nl/en/cryptoguard.

    I haven’t tested it, because there’s no way I will purposely infect my machine, but I have a very high respect for HitmanPro products and we all know some protection is better than none.

    Cheers

    • Hey Mal,

      Just finished downloading – eight seconds. :)

      “we all know some protection is better than none.” – Exactly!! This is a worthwhile addition even if it’s capabilities might later be downgraded (which of course, remains to be seen.)

      I’ll feature this in tomorrow’s TNN.

      Thanks for looking out for the rest of us mate.

      Best,

      Bill