Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 19, 2014

Snowden Leak: NSA Is Recording All Calls From At Least One Country;  Real Excel power users know these 11 tricks;  Best Cheap Tablets: Top 5 Tablets for Under $150;  5 tips to make Windows 8’s Metro UI more practical and less irritating;  Simple smartphone photo tips;  Get true multitasking goodness on your Android tablet;  The right way to set up a new PC;  The $13 accessory every Chromebook owner should carry;  How to Watch March Madness Online; 25,000 UNIX servers hijacked by backdoor Trojan;  Your next corporate computer might be a Chromebook.

NSA records 100% of foreign country’s phone calls – The latest Snowden-leaked information on the NSA arrived today by way of The Washington Post, where it detailed what is said to be a surveillance system capable of recording 100-percent of a country’s telephone calls. Which country this is was not specified, though it is said to be a foreign nation.

The right way to set up a new PC – You could use a new system as-is, of course, but performing just a handful of tasks can help ensure that your PC is lean, mean, fully compatible with your hardware, and all-around pleasant for the foreseeable future. Even if you did everything yourself—starting from scratch with a blank hard drive, installing only Windows and Windows Updates—there is still plenty of tweaking to do to optimize a rig and rid it of performance-robbing bloat. Ready? Good. Let’s get going.

How to spy on your lover, the smartphone way – A company called mSpy now can convey to you phones preloaded with spying software that could tempt you to monitor texts, calls and, well, pretty much everything. Now that’s caring.

Best Cheap Tablets: Top 5 Tablets for Under $150 – Here are the five best sub-$150 tablets you can buy right now, based on data from our friends at FindTheBest. Each tablet’s ranking is based on FindTheBest’s Smart Rating, which aggregates scores from gadget review sites along with specifications and benchmark scores for each device.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Get true multitasking goodness on your Android tablet – Every once in a while I come across an app that makes my eyes go wide and mouth uncontrollably smile. Multitasking is one such app. With this app, you can easily break free of the boundaries forced upon you by the standard tablet interface. You’re no longer limited to a list of apps still in RAM that you can re-open (hopefully you weren’t fooled into thinking that you were actually multitasking).

How to Watch March Madness Online (When You Should Be Working) – If you happen to have a TV in the office, live games will be broadcast throughout the day on CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV (as an added bonus, this year’s Final Four match-ups will be simulcast with different channels broadcasting team-specific telecasts, which you can select based on who you’re rooting for). However, if you are unlucky enough to find yourself stuck at work during key match-ups with no TV in sight, there are still a number of ways to catch the action live on the webbernets.

Five must-have apps for March Madness – Whether you’re a casual fan or a hardcore hoops aficionado, some mobile helps can help you enjoy the mania. Use them to build your bracket, compete with your friends, and follow all of the action all the way to the Final Four and championships.

5 tips to make Windows 8’s Metro UI more practical and less irritating – Microsoft’s modern UI might be pretty to look at, but when most of us want to get some work done, the traditional desktop is really the best choice. But what if you have a touchscreen device where it makes more sense to use the modern UI—or if you just prefer the new interface? If that’s you, here are a few tips on how to spend more time away from the desktop in Microsoft’s touch-friendly universe.


Your next corporate computer might be a Chromebook – Quick, name a personal computing device that’s simple and painless to operate, has a very low learning curve, is virus and malware resistant, is extremely secure, requires no extra software, and is inexpensive—less expensive than a phone, tablet, or laptop computer. Hint: It’s a Chromebook. It might be hard to imagine that there’s such a device available to you and your users, that is all those things, but it’s true. The Chromebook comes very close to being the perfect corporate computing device.

Facebook’s DeepFace Project Nears Human Accuracy In Identifying Faces – Facebook has reached a major milestone in computer vision and pattern recognition, with ‘DeepFace,’ an algorithm capable of identifying a face in a crowd with 97.25 percent accuracy, which is pretty much on par with how good the average human is (97.5 percent accurate) at recognizing the faces of other walking, talking meat sacks.


The $13 accessory every Chromebook owner should carry – There’s just one problem with relying on a Chromebook while on the road: Most Chromebooks lack a good old-fashioned Ethernet port. And whether you’re in a hotel or at a conference (hello, I/O), there are plenty of times when reliable Wi-Fi access isn’t available but you still need to be online. Luckily, the solution’s pretty simple: All you need is a cheap little adapter that lets you connect your Chromebook to Ethernet via USB. I picked one up for about 15 bucks a couple years ago and haven’t traveled without it since.

Simple smartphone photo tips – Today’s smartphone cameras have become nearly as complex and feature-laden as the compact cameras they replaced. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but here are four simple tips for better photos that will work with virtually any modern smartphone.

Microsoft’s OneNote Flies To Top Of The Mac App Store – OneNote for Mac has become most popular free Mac app in the App Store in a single day, besting OS X update Mavericks, which was released in October. The app is now available across both major PC platforms and all three mobile platforms for free. Response has been strong so far. Racking up more than 600 reviews in a day, OneNote for Mac is overwhelmingly rated highly, with more than half of them being 5-star reviews. See if you can see what’s interesting in the below:


Motorola unveils its first smart watch the Moto 360 – Motorola has finally released its own smart watch that utilizes a new design to create a watch that reflects the design of a traditional time piece with the functionality of a modern mobile phone


Google officially announces Android Wear for smartwatches, launching this year – Google has officially announced Android Wear, a version of its mobile operating system made for wearable computing devices like smartwatches that will officially launch later this year.

Runtastic Six Pack for iOS Hits v2.0 with Body Fat Visualizer, Heart Rate Integration, and More – Runtastic makes some of the most well-known fitness apps on mobile devices, and today the Runtastic Six Pack app is getting a big update to version 2.0. This app, as the name suggests, focuses on workouts to strengthen your core, as they say. It costs a few bucks to get the full experience, but you can try it out free.


iPad 2 discontinued, now replaced by 4th generation iPad – Apple has finally discontinued the iPad 2 and relaunched the cellular and Wi-Fi variants of the fourth generation iPad starting at the price of the current iPad mini with Retina display.

Nook Press self-publishing tool expands to global markets – The service was already available in the US, and allows aspiring authors to publish their own books and sell them through the Nook platform. Nook Press is now available in authors and publishers in the UK, France, and Germany, among other European countries, Barnes & Noble announced on Tuesday. Nook authors can upload their titles for sale on Nook devices and through Barnes & Noble’s e-reader apps. Authors share the revenue with Barnes & Noble, with royalty rates based on list price. All authors are paid in their local currency.

WhatsApp wants to “set the record straight” on privacy under Facebook – WhatsApp users freaked out after Facebook announced plans to buy the popular over-the-top messaging app for north of $16 billion. The world’s largest social network doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to privacy, and people were concerned that WhatsApp would start collecting user information and sharing it with Facebook. WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum published a reassuring blog post on Monday, but also backed up his words with an app update that added new privacy settings.

Real Excel power users know these 11 tricks – There are two kinds of Microsoft Excel users in the world: Those who make neat little tables, and those who amaze their colleagues with sophisticated charts, data analysis, and seemingly magical formula and macro tricks. You, obviously, are one of the latter—or are you? Check our list of 11 essential Excel skills to prove it—or discreetly pick up any you might have missed.

Cadenza: You play, and a full orchestra plays with you – Dream of playing along with world-class symphonies? Now, a Harvard-backed app heads to your mobile device to give you instant portable orchestral backup that adjusts to your playing in real time.


Avast: Windows XP users already attacked 6 times more often than Windows 7 users – The words of warning about Windows XP’s impending end-of-life are no joke. After April 8, Microsoft will stop supplying security patches for the 13-year-old operating system—and a recent blog post by Avast, provider of one of the more popular free antivirus solutions around, drives home just how dangerous using Windows XP beyond that is.

25,000 UNIX servers hijacked by backdoor Trojan – The attack, which has been dubbed “Operation Windigo” by security experts, hijacks servers, infects the computers that visit them and steals information from victims. The infected servers are then used to redirect half a million web visitors to malicious content on a daily basis. Servers located throughout the U.S., Germany, France and the UK are all among those infected. With more than 60 percent of the world’s websites running on Linux servers, ESET researchers are warning webmasters and system administrators to check their systems to see if they have been compromised. The company published a detailed technical report today presenting the findings of the teams’ investigations and malware analysis.

Shuttleworth: Firmware is the universal Trojan – Canonical boss Mark Shuttleworth has called on the world to abandon proprietary firmware code, calling all such code “a threat vector”. In this blog post, Shuttleworth makes the case that manufacturers are simply too incompetent, and attackers (including government security agencies) too competent, for security-by-obscurity in firmware to ever work. “Any firmware code running on your phone, tablet, PC, TV, wifi router, washing machine, server, or the server running the cloud your SaaS app is running on” is a threat, he writes, calling on the industry to abandon secret firmware entirely.

Online tool for browsing and analyzing web-based malware – Barracuda Networks launched Threatglass, an online tool for sharing, browsing and analyzing web-based malware. It allows users to graphically browse website infections by viewing screenshots of the stages of infection, as well as by analyzing network characteristics such as host relationships and packet captures.


Report: Average of 82,000 new malware threats per day in 2013 – Malware has been around for more than 40 years,  but according to a report from Panda Security 20 percent of all of the malware that’s ever existed was created in 2013. That’s the equivalent of 30 million new malware threats in one year, or about 82,000 per day. Given that context, you should probably consider yourself lucky your devices aren’t constantly compromised. Even if you got infected by one malware attack per month, it would still mean you were spared from 99.9999 percent of all the possible new threats. Your antimalware must be doing something right.

Company News:

Google Tipped To Consolidate Communication By Killing Google Voice, Rolling Features Into Hangouts – The move makes sense not only because there’s already some overlap of functionality, but also because Google has been gradually turning Hangouts from a straightforward web-based video chat tool into a multiplatform chat client which supports text, video and audio communication, as well as rich media. Hangouts replaced the native Android messaging app for SMS and text in the most recent version of Android (4.4 KitKat) and it also previously killed both Messenger and Talk, too.

Microsoft’s stock surges up to 14 year high thanks to Office on iPad rumors – Microsoft saw its stock price surge up today by 3.94 percent to reach a new 14 year high, thanks to investors who are hoping the company will be making an Office on iPad announcement next week.

Viacom and Google settle $1 billion YouTube lawsuit – While the terms of the settlement remain undisclosed, the two sides say that the agreement reflects increasingly productive discussions between the two companies and a mutual willingness to work together. No money is reported to have changed hands during the settlement, which came in advance of oral arguments before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, scheduled for March 24.

Report: Amazon Set-Top Box Launching in April – The rumored Amazon set-top box may finally be arriving next month, according to the Wall Street Journal. Citing people familiar with the company’s plans, the Journal suggested that Amazon’s Android-based device will ship with apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Pandora—all of which are already available in similar products from Apple, Roku, and Google.

Group files complaint against Verizon on ‘forced’ VOIP conversions – Verizon is converting some traditional telephone customers to VoIP without their permission, advocacy group says.

Games and Entertainment:

Walmart introduces used game trade-ins, promises to pay more for your games – Walmart will next week launch its Video Game Trade-In program as part of its Gamecenter offering in-store. But why would you choose to trade-in at Walmart over visiting a dedicated games retailer? Because Walmart will take your games in return for a gift card, meaning you can use the cash to purchase anything in-store, online, or at Sam’s Club.

Unity Partners With Mozilla To Port Its Popular Game Engine To The Web – Unity and Mozilla today announced that they are bringing the Unity game engine to the web using the WebGL standard and Mozilla’s asm.js. With over 2 million users, Unity is one of the most popular game engines on the market. At the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco today, the two organizations will demo a version of the popular 3D shooter Dead Trigger 2 running in Firefox, the only browser that currently supports asm.js. With the release of Unity 5.0 later this year, WebGL support will become available as a Unity early-access beta add-on.


Rescape wants to turn the world around you into a first-person shooter – Computer vision company 13th Lab has what it thinks is a better method, using the smartphone to create an augmented reality shooter that’s easily overlaid over a live image of your surroundings. Players stick a specially designed lens on top of their phone’s camera, then put the phone onto the end of a vaguely gun-like plastic shell (which looks and feels a bit like the Wii Zapper). As you walk around the room, the phone’s display shows the scene in front and lets you aim and shoot at virtual opponents layered on top.

GOG will bring classic PC games to Linux this fall – GOG says it has been working on Linux support for the last few months, and will add support for the Ubuntu and Mint Linux distributions this fall with at least 100 games at launch. This not only includes classic games that ran on Linux originally, but games that never had official Linux support to begin with.

Sony Project Morpheus: Virtual Reality headset for the PlayStation 4 – It’s time for Sony’s first PlayStation 4 Virtual Reality headset, one called Project Morpheus. This is unlike what Sony has shown before in any virtual reality headset for the public, one that covers the entirety of the eyes, front and sides, utilizing lights on the front outside edges to work with the Sony PlayStation 4 Camera.


Microsoft reveals first 25 Xbox One games via ID@Xbox self-published program – Microsoft has announced the first 25 games that will be released for the Xbox One as part of the self-published ID@Xbox program, with the first titles to be released “in the coming weeks.”

SimCity updated to include long-awaited offline single player mode – It’s been over a year since developer Maxis and publisher Electronic Arts launched their revival of the SimCity franchise as an online-only multiplayer game. Today, Maxis and EA finally released “Update 10” for the game that adds a way to play SimCity in a classic offline single player mode. While Maxis at first tried to defend their vision of an online SimCity after the game’s release, many fans of the original series still wanted to play the game the old-fashioned way by themselves without an online requirement. EA announced their plans to offer such a mode in January.


Xbox One Headed to 26 More Countries in September – Redmond on Monday announced a major international expansion for its next-generation video game console. This coming September, the Xbox One will arrive in 26 more countries, including: Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UAE.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Kandu Teaches Kids How To Make iPad Apps, No Coding Required – Kandu, the latest venture out of betaworks, founded by David Bennahum and Gerry Laybourne, is looking to make computer programming as accessible as it’s ever been. Through a snappy, adorable little iPad app, kids can now learn about the overall structure of coding by developing their own games or animated pictures. To make things simple, the app doesn’t actually use any code — at least not the kind you’re used to. Instead of using educational curricula like on Codecademy, Kandu opens up to the child as a blank canvas. Toolbars on the right and left allow kids to add characters, objects, and backgrounds.


NASA scopes show Earth dodged devastating solar storm by nine days in 2012 – “Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous,” said UC Berkeley research physicist Janet Luhmann. The 1859 storm, also known as the Carrington Event, after the British astronomer who recorded it, swept over the Earth at the end of August and is the largest recorded solar storm in history. The aurora borealis extended as far south as Cuba and telegraph systems burnt out across Europe and the US, in some cases shocking operators and continuing to send signals even when switched off.

Your new disease, America: Compulsive gadget-hoarding – According to a study, 68 percent of Americans keep their unused gadgets for posterity’s sake. Or something. Only 25 percent allegedly admit to it.


I must confess – I have this model stored away in a kitchen drawer. Hey, you never know, right?    Smile

Android Wear: 6 big reasons to be excited about Google’s smartwatch platform – Google’s getting into smartwatches with its new Android Wear platform — and there are six big reasons to be excited about what’s in store.

Something to think about:

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

–    Friedrich Nietzsche

Today’s Free Downloads:

Panda Cloud Cleaner: Scan your PC for FREE with Panda Cloud Cleaner – Panda Cloud Cleaner is an advanced disinfector based on Collective Intelligence (scanning in-the-cloud) that detects malware that traditional security solutions cannot detect.

Rufus – Rufus is a small utility that helps format and create bootable USB flash drives, such as USB keys/pendrives, memory sticks, etc. It can be especially useful for cases where: – you need to create USB installation media from bootable ISOs (Windows, Linux, UEFI, etc.) – you need to work on a system that doesn’t have an OS installed – – you need to flash a BIOS or other firmware from DOS – – you want to run a low-level utility. Despite its small size, Rufus provides everything you need! Once downloaded, the application is ready to use — no installation or other files are necessary.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Snowden Leak: NSA Is Recording All Calls From At Least One Country – The National Security Agency has the capability to replay all telephone calls for 30 days from an entire country, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden by the Washington Post. “The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording ’100 percent’ of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place,” writes The Post. The Post withheld the name of the country currently being surveilled under code name “MYSTIC” to protect on-going operations. The report said that MYSTIC was begun in 2009 and reached full capacity in 2011. The NSA claims it needs this ability because emerging threats are “often hidden within the large and complex system of modern global communications, and the United States must consequently collect signals intelligence in bulk in certain circumstances in order to identify these threats.” Though the NSA is required by law to minimize the surveillance of innocent people, especially Americans, it is difficult to do with massive sweeps. “Present and former U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide context for a classified program, acknowledged that large numbers of conversations involving Americans would be gathered,” explains The Post.


Snowden: Big revelations to come, reporting them is not a crime – Edward Snowden made a surprise appearance on the TED stage in Vancouver today—using a Beam telepresence robot from “somewhere in Russia.” Snowden, in his second remote talk in eight days after an appearance at SXSW Interactive in Texas, urged online businesses to encrypt their websites immediately. “The biggest thing that an Internet company in America can do today, right now, without consulting lawyers, to protect users of the Internet around the world, is to enable Web encryption on every page you visit,” he said. “If you look at a copy of 1984 on Amazon, the NSA can see a record of that, the Russians, the French can—the world’s library is unencrypted. This is something we need to change, not just for Amazon—all companies need to move to an encrypted browsing habit by default.” Snowden said the leaks from his document cache would continue. “There are absolutely more revelations to come,” he said. “Some of the most important [publishing] to be done is yet to come.”

After Snowden, Australia’s cops worry about people using crypto – Several Australian law enforcement agencies and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) have submitted proposals asking the country’s senate for more surveillance power, and state police have even asked that the government move to log its citizens’ Web browsing history. Several months ago, on the heels of revelations that Australian Intelligence had been sharing surveillance information with its partners in foreign nations, the Australian Senate opened an inquiry into whether the country’s Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act of 1979 should be revised to better protect AU citizens’ privacy. Unsurprisingly, the ASIO—along with Northern Territory, Western, and Victoria state police—has submitted commentary asking for more data retention and offering little in the way of more privacy protection. In particular, the ASIO said that Snowden’s leaks will make it more difficult for the organization to collect meaningful data about a person, so the organization should be given more leeway to perform its surveillance duties. In its proposal, the ASIO asserted that certain technological advances are detrimental to its spying on bad actors (a refrain that is not often heard, as it’s generally accepted that technology is making it easier to spy on citizens).

Push for Australians’ web browsing histories to be stored – Intelligence agency ASIO is using the Snowden leaks to bolster its case for laws forcing Australian telecommunications companies to store certain types of customers’ internet and telephone data for a period of what some law enforcement agencies would like to be two years. The federal spying agency is supported by the Northern Territory Police, Victoria Police, Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime Commission and Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, who all say they are in support of a data-retention regime. What type of data should be stored by internet and phone providers is another question. Although storing “content” data has been ruled out under a retention scheme, at least two agencies – the Northern Territory Police and Victoria Police – want web-browsing histories stored. (recommended by Mal C.)

Inside Facebook’s Efforts To Fortify Security In A Post-Snowden World – Nine months after Edward Snowden revealed just how insecure the Internet is due to secret spying programs by various governments, Sullivan says Facebook hasn’t changed what it’s doing, it’s just being more public about it. For example, today Facebook invited a group of reporters to its Menlo Park headquarters to learn more about its protocols. There Sullivan said “We’re continuing to work on the same things we worked on before [the Snowden revelations].” Still, the presentation he gave implied security has become a great focus for the social network. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been speaking out against unauthorized government surveillance, saying the United Stats “blew it” on the NSA scandal. He even posted about calling Obama directly to express his frustration. The company asked the government to let it be more transparent around government data requests, and eventually was able to release a more detailed but still vague report.

Judge rebukes Feds for overbroad search warrant applications for e-mail – In a rare public rebuke of American prosecutors’ request on accessing a person’s e-mail, a federal magistrate judge in the District of Columbia has denied a government warrant request to search an unnamed user’s e-mail address, citing the request as being over broad. The case appears to offer very little by way of public details for the time being. According to the March 7, 2014 court opinion and order (PDF), the case involves alleged corruption and conspiracy by a defense contractor, and “for purposes of this opinion, the details of the investigation—which remain under seal on the Court’s docket—are irrelevant.” Citing a key 2010 appellate ruling establishing a warrant requirement (at least in one United States federal judicial district), Judge John Facciola observed, “[T]he government continues to submit overly broad warrants and makes no effort to balance the law enforcement interests against the obvious expectation of privacy e-mail account holders have in their communications.” As a magistrate, Facciola has the power to grant search and arrest warrants—and he has done so numerous times in his nearly 17 years on the bench.


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

6 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 19, 2014

  1. Your new disease, America: Compulsive gadget-hoarding
    Hey Bill,
    Considering the high price collectors pay for antique gadgets, why not?