Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – December 4, 2011

Windows Starter Kit – The Windows Starter Kit is a collection of some of the best and most essential freeware to get your new PC going. From browsers to productivity to utilities, we cover all the bases.

Julian Assange to Smartphone Users: You’re Screwed – If you think Carrier IQ is a huge violation of privacy, get ready to have your mind blown by the 287 documents released yesterday by WikiLeaks. Julian Assange doesn’t mince words: If you carry a smartphone you are “screwed.” There are a growing number of off-the-shelf software products that exist solely to gather information from mobile devices. Geek.com has the details.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Web Tracking (But Were Too Paranoid to Ask) – Think Web trackers aren’t following you? Think again. Just by visiting this Web site, roughly half a dozen ad networks and Web analytics companies have deposited tracking cookies on your machine. Don’t freak out, it’s not as bad as it seems. In fact, there’s an awful lot of hype, fear, and misinformation surrounding Web tracking — and both sides are guilty of overstating the dangers of tracking, as well as the benefits.

What’s the Difference Between 3G and Wi-Fi? – The Internet can be a confusing thing. Not what’s on it, but how you access it. In my travels I continue to encounter folks who don’t understand the basics of Internet connectivity–namely, the differences between Wi-Fi and 3G. This can cause problems, especially for buyers of devices like the Kindle Fire and Nook Color, which rely heavily on Internet access. Indeed, I’ll reckon no small number of these devices get returned because users think they’re broken–when what’s really happening is a lack of Wi-Fi.

Want to Tweak GNOME 3? There’s a Site for That – There’s never a dull moment in the world of desktop environments these days, and the past week has been no exception. Not only did the arrival of Linux Mint 12 deliver a comforting stepping stone for users uncertain about GNOME 3, but Thursday saw the launch of a site dedicated to helping GNOME 3 users further customize that desktop with an array of available extensions. Even as Ubuntu’s Unity draws continued criticism, in other words, GNOME 3 appears to have gotten a nice boost over the past few days.

Carrier IQ Controversy Prompts Denials from Microsoft, RIM, Others – Microsoft, Nokia, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Research In Motion are just a few of the companies denying their smartphones and services are loaded with Carrier IQ, the company whose smartphone diagnostics software is accused of monitoring users activity without their explicit consent.

The Dark Side Of Java – It’s a declining tool on the developer side, but Java remains a major yet oft-forgotten presence on the desktop that is increasingly being targeted by the bad guys. Why Java as an attack vector? Its pervasiveness and inordinate number of out-of-date versions running out there on desktops are making Java the black hat hacker’s choice of late. The numbers say it all: some 80 of enterprise systems run outdated, unpatched versions of Java, according to data from Qualys.

FBI: Three US Cities Breached via SCADA Systems – Michael Welch didn’t name the cities, but he claims that in theory the hackers could have caused havoc as they had the chance to shut off the power to a mall and even dump sewage water into a lake, Information Age reports.

Company News:

Nokia Opens Its Own Mobile App Store – First Apple did it, and Microsoft is expected to announce its own this week. But Nokia beat the operating system vendor to it, announcing its own mobile application store for the upcoming N97 and other Nokia mobile devices.

RIM PlayBook to Support Two More High-Speed Network Standards – Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, will release its PlayBook tablet computer on two more high-speed network standards in the second half of 2011, the company said on Monday. The move to offer LTE and HSPA+ versions of its PlayBook guarantees access the most advanced wireless data networks in the world, including all major carriers in North America.

Network Security Gets a New WatchGuard – WatchGuard Technologies launches the XTM 2050 security appliance that provides security for large enterprises and data centers that require a high-performance firewall and protection from malware and security breaches.

Sprint Props Up Clearwire With $1.6B for WiMAX License, LTE Funding – Sprint agreed to pay Clearwire up to $1.6 billion for access to its WiMAX service through at least 2015, as well as a bridge to LTE services that Clearwire plans to overlay on its network.

Western Digital Thai factories starts producing hard drives again – The price of a hard drive has skyrocketed over the past few weeks due to major flooding in Thailand effecting many of the hard drive manufacturing companies and their plants. Western Digital was especially hard hit with its two largest plants being taken offline and cutting production capacity by 60%.

Off Topic (Sort of):

The Surveillance Catalog – Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean there isn’t a vast multibillion-dollar industry dedicated to tracking your every move. WSJ has a ground-breaking and frightening display of industry documents.

Siri is Dumb. There, We Said it – Apple’s remarkable iPhone 4S personal assistant doesn’t seem to like helping women find abortion services. But Siri isn’t anti-choice, it’s just a hammer dressed up as a person.

Are you finished with physical media? – Books, magazines, newspapers and LPs, CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays–are they all on their way out of your life?

Do You Speak Securitese? Five Security Terms You Should Know – Listening to a group of security experts carry on a conversation, for instance, can be a frustrating experience for mere mortals. And sometimes, technical jargon seeps into everyday security news. Knowing what the following five key security terms mean, however, can help you stay better informed about the threats around you.

Today’s Quote:

“If one puts to the side his wildly extreme political views, his obvious and cringe-inducing knowledge gaps, and his alleged treatment of women, one can easily find things to admire in Herman Cain”

–     Michael Tomasky

Today’s Free Downloads:

Kingsoft Office 2012 – Kingsoft Office’s Writer, Spreadsheets, and Presentation programs aren’t perfect, but they are free and definitely worth a look.

Billard 3D – Billard 3D is a 3D “pocket billiards” game, or what everyone knows as “pool.” With a realistic game field and the capability to approach virtually any shot from any angle and hit just the right spot with just the right amount of force, the only thing that’s missing is the ashtrays and cigar smoke.

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