Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 26, 2014

MIT creates a system to “PRISM-proof” websites;  5 quick tips to get more from Google Now;  Secure your Google account with a little 2-step shuffle;  Add useful features to the Windows 8 Start Screen;  Admit It, You Don’t Care About Digital Privacy;  The ultimate guide to proper SSD management;  The 5 Best In-Ear Headphones;  Self-publishing e-books: How to get started;  The Most Helpful Travel Sites for Booking Hotels and Flights;  Just previewing email can give attackers control of your PC, Microsoft warns;  Wikipedia founder calls alt-medicine practitioners “lunatic charlatans”;  Obama’s New NSA Proposal and Democratic Partisan Hackery;  Bruce Schneier sneers at IBM’s NSA denials.

MIT creates a system to “PRISM-proof” websites – Created by MIT researchers and the Meteor Development Group, Mylar is a redesign of the architecture of Web applications that aims to protect confidential data against attacks. Data is encrypted in your Web browser before it goes to a server, and it is only decrypted on a computer on the other end. As MIT researcher and co-developer of the platform Raluca Popa explained, “There’s really no trusting a server.” Popa elaborated on how the system works, telling MIT Technology Review: “You don’t notice any difference… If the government asks the company for your data, the server doesn’t have the ability to give unencrypted data.”

Admit It, You Don’t Care About Digital Privacy – Americans have a rich history of expressing outrage over privacy violations, before trading it all away for greater convenience. Take a trip down memory lane. When former NSA analyst Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. government’s near-limitless ability to hoard and monitor private communications, it created shockwaves of indignation and forever changed the way we all conduct our digital business. Well, maybe not that second part. Even with the full knowledge that intelligence agencies can—with little effort—get all up in our various digital nooks and crannies, most of us haven’t altered our online habits in the slightest. No matter how loudly we proclaim the complete opposite

Secure your Google account with a little 2-step shuffle – Security has become a key factor for mobile computing. Jack Wallen shows how you can secure your Google account with the help of an Android app called Google Authenticator.

5 quick tips to get more from Google Now – Let’s face it, there’s only so much nagging a person can take: Don’t miss that meeting! Bring an umbrella today! Take out the trash! Like we need to be reminded to take out the trash? Useful? Maybe, but Google Now doesn’t have to be just a slew of tiresome reminders. With these five simple tips, you can make Google’s smart cards do more.

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Add useful features to the Windows 8 Start Screen – The Windows 8.1 Start Screen is populated with tiles to apps and a link to sign out, lock Windows, or switch users. You can customize the appearance of the Start Screen, but there’s not much you can do to add features or functionality. Start Screen Unlimited is a Windows 8 program that adds a few useful features to the Windows 8 Start Screen, like date and time, a link to the Windows control panel, and more power options. It also adds a Google search bar directly to the Start Screen.

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Photowall for Chromecast aims to liven up your next party – Photowall creates a collage of photos on the big screen; anyone can add their own images via their phones and tablets. Users must visit g.co/photowall from their browser and enter the access code shown on the TV set. They can then pick a photo or take a new one, doodling or writing a caption on the photo before uploading.

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Google Drive gets creative with image editing in Slides – Ever put together a slideshow presentation with Google Slides only to realize the photos needed a bit more tinkering with? Well, this process has just become a bit easier. Google announced Tuesday that users can now edit images right in Slides and Drawings. The Web giant is featuring a host of editing tools, including crop, shape masks, and borders. Before today, users would have to edit images in another program.

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The ultimate guide to proper SSD management – A solid-state drive will speed up everything that requires disk access, from boot times and application launches to in-game load screens. Upgrading to a SSD provides a more noticeable speed boost than a $1000 Nvidia Titan graphics card when doing most things. But SSDs aren’t the perfect replacement for a mechanical hard drive just yet, thanks to their far higher per-gigabyte costs compared to traditional drives and a few unique quirks. Read on for tips and tricks on how to put that rip-roaring SSD speed to best use.

How to disable Windows 8’s deep cloud integration, piece by piece – You could just use a local account to keeping Microsoft as far away from your PC as possible, but a lot of Microsoft’s services are actually pretty useful. What if you wanted to enable some and disable others? Here’s how to individually sever Bing and OneDrive’s deep tendrils into your system, along with info on how to keep general Windows apps from looking over your virtual shoulder.

The 5 Best In-Ear Headphones – Here are the five best in-ear headphones you can buy right now, based on data from our friends at FindTheBest. Each ranking is based on FindTheBest’s Smart Rating, which aggregates scores from gadget review sites along with specifications and audio ratings (impedance, sensitivity, high and low frequencies, etc.) for each set of headphones.

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Facebook’s Privacy Checkups Remind Users To Stop Posting Publicly – Facebook has begun running a “privacy checkup” campaign that prompts users on the desktop version of the website to check that they’re sharing their posts with the right audience – for example, “Friends,” or some specific list, instead of just everyone. Users tend to report seeing this new pop-up appear when their privacy settings are currently set to “Public.”

Self-publishing e-books: How to get started – Self-published e-books are all the rage. Authors are finding it much easier and much quicker to get their stories in front of a wide audience when they do it themselves, versus waiting to find an agent or traditional publisher willing to take them on. There’s also an advantage in having control over where your book is sold, what it looks like and other issues that a traditional publisher usually has the final say on.

NVIDIA launches $3,000 GeForce GTX Titan Z graphics card – We have seen graphics cards priced at hundreds of dollars or even $1,000 in the past, but today NVIDIA took that to a new level. The graphics chip company, which introduced its GTX 800M chips for laptops a couple of weeks ago, officially announced the GeForce GTX Titan Z, which will set the high end PC gamer, or anyone who wants a supercomputing rig, back $3,000. making it more expensive than even most personal computers.

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HTC Adds Sense 6.0 Apps from the HTC One M8 to Google Play – HTC just announced its new flagship smartphone, the HTC One M8. That’s not all that’s going on in HTC’s little corner of the Android ecosystem. The Taiwanese OEM has also started dropping apps into the Play Store that will plug into the new device and other HTC phones. Believe it or not, this is a big deal for HTC owners.

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As WinXP death looms, Microsoft releases its operating system SOURCE CODE for free – Retro-computing fans got a treat on Tuesday when Microsoft donated the source code of MS DOS 1.1 and 2 to the Computer History Museum (CHM), along with the first version of Word for Windows. The code isn’t being open sourced – that would be a step too far for Redmond – but is available under a research license. The code can be downloaded here for MS DOS and here for Word for Windows but not distributed further under the terms of the license. The museum’s servers were struggling at time of writing.

The Most Helpful Travel Sites for Booking Hotels and Flights – If you’re planning a family vacation or romantic getaway, you’re probably aware of the huge number of ways to search for the right flights and hotels. And while all of these search services work hard to show you the lowest prices, a lot of them miss the mark when it comes to helping you find the best trip. A new crop of travel sites is focusing less on cost and more on happiness to help you find the lowest price without impacting your enjoyment of your trip. We’ll walk you through the most helpful sites for booking your perfect vacation.

Security:

Just previewing email can give attackers control of your PC, Microsoft warns – Attackers are actively exploiting a newly discovered Microsoft Word vulnerability that could be used to gain remote access of your PC, Microsoft warned Monday—and even worse, the exploit can be triggered by opening or merely previewing a malicious email using Outlook’s default settings. The attack is delivered using booby-trapped Rich Text (RTF) files. Accessing or previewing a poisoned file with Word grants the attacker the same rights as the current user. Making matters worse, Word is the default document viewer in Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013.

Symantec: Hackers already attacking ATMs as Microsoft’s Windows XP deadline looms – Just 14 days remain until Microsoft cuts off support for Windows XP and as we have reported before, the 12 year old operating system is used in 95 percent of all ATMs. Now a new report by software security company Symantec claims that hackers are already finding ways to attack these cash machines via a combination of malware and hardware.

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Wal-Mart is latest big company with mobile-app security problems – The evidence keeps mounting that companies that put out mobile apps are not paying nearly enough attention to security. Even big companies with large and experienced IT staffs are guilty. In fact, the latest evidence suggests that the iOS mobile app of the largest company in the U.S., by revenue, Wal-Mart, exposes users’ passwords, account names and email addresses, as well as many geolocation details.

Company News:

Facebook To Buy Oculus VR, Maker Of The Rift Headset, For Around $2B In Cash And Stock – Facebook has announced plans to purchase Oculus VR, the company behind the Rift headset, for around $2 billion in cash and stock. This includes $400 million, and 23.1 million Facebook shares. An additional $300 million earnout will be paid in cash and stock if Oculus hits certain unspecified milestones.

Candy Crush Maker King Prices Shares At $22.50, Puts Valuation At $7B – In the most anticipated gaming IPO of the last few years, Candy Crush Saga maker King priced its shares at $22.50 in an offering that will raise $326 million for the company and value it at slightly more than $7 billion. Shares will trade for the first time tomorrow. That valuation will put King at nearly four times its trailing annual revenue of $1.88 billion. The vast majority of that revenue came from the mega-hit Candy Crush Saga, which pulled in 78 percent of the company’s bookings.

eBay tells shareholders to ignore Icahn’s appeals – eBay is asking stockholders to stand by the company in its battle with activist investor Carl Icahn. Icahn and eBay have been duking it out in a war of words the past couple of months over the direction of the company. Icahn had been urging eBay to spin off PayPal as a separate entity as a way to increase shareholder value, a move that eBay has continually nixed. The activist investor has also been demanding that eBay add some of his own choices to the board of directors.

Google Announces Massive Price Drops For Its Cloud Computing Services And Storage, Introduces Sustained-Use Discounts – At its Cloud Platform event in San Francisco today, Google announced a number of massive price drops for virtually all of its cloud-computing services. The company has also decided to reduce the complexity of its pricing charts by eliminating some charges and consolidating others. Google Compute Engine is seeing a 32 percent reduction in prices across all regions, sizes and classes. App Engine prices are down 30 percent, and the company is also simplifying its price structure.

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Amazon sends money to Kindle readers affected by e-book price-fixing scandal – So why is Amazon giving you money? Well, because publishers raised prices, Amazon passed on that increase to you. If you bought a Kindle book published by Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, or Penguin between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012, you’ll probably see a credit show up in your e-mail. The credit is automatically applied to future Kindle purchases, and expires after March 31, 2015.

Actress in anti-Islam film seeks sanctions against Google – Actress who won a court decision ordering the removal of controversial film seeks contempt of court ruling against the Web giant for allegedly failing to comply with the order.

Games and Entertainment:

Minecraft Creator Cancels The Oculus Rift Version Because Facebook “Creeps” Him Out – Minecraft creator Markus Persson (aka Notch) has cancelled the Oculus VR version of the game, because, as he puts it: “Facebook creeps me out.” His studio, Mojang, had been in talks to bring a version of Minecraft officially to the VR gaming headset, but he said on Twitter shortly after the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR was announced that he “cancelled that deal.”

NVIDIA Shield gets temporary price cut to $199, native version of Portal coming soon – NVIDIA launched its Shield portable Android gaming console in mid-2013 with much fanfare but since then, the company has been fairly quiet about the product. Today, it announced quite a few updates that will be coming to Shield owners in the next few weeks and months, and also cut the price of the console down $50 to just $199 from now until the end of April.

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Blizzard releases Diablo 3 expansion, Reaper of Souls – Today, Blizzard has released its first expansion to the Diablo 3 series, Reaper of Souls. The original Diablo 3, which was released nearly two years ago, set a record at the time for selling the most units in a 24-hour period. The franchise returns this year with a new entry into the series introducing some new features and a new class, the Crusader. The game also increases the player’s level cap to 70 and introduces players to a new Adventure Mode. Adventure Mode will have all way points unlocked and will have a greater emphasis on randomized environments. The new expansion will also include improvements to gameplay to allow for greater re-playability.

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BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea, Episode Two Now Available – Heads up, gamers. The final episode of BioShock Infinite has arrived. As promised, 2K and Irrational Games on Tuesday dropped Burial at Sea – Episode Two, the third and final BioShock Infinite add-on content pack. The new DLC is available for download worldwide (with the exception of Japan) on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows PCs. Those in Japan will get access later this year.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Facebook’s Oculus Buy Signals A Hardware Land Grab, And Company Fit Isn’t A Concern – There’s a gold rush on, and the people striking it rich are the ones building things — not apps, not software, but honest-to-goodness hardware, like the Oculus Rift, whose creator, Oculus VR, was just purchased by Facebook for around $2 billion in cash and stock. Earlier today, Intel closed its purchase of wearable health tech maker BASIS, and Google recently bought Nest for $3.2 billion. Google is also said to be nosing around wearable device makers for another purchase, and everywhere you look, Internet companies are spending money on things, not just platforms or virtual experiences. So what’s the story here?

Wikipedia founder calls alt-medicine practitioners “lunatic charlatans” – Several months ago, the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP), an alternative medicine non-profit, began a petition on Change.org asking Wikipedia to “create and enforce new policies that allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing.” The petition reached 7,000 signatures in mid-January and then largely stalled. But this weekend, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales responded to the request, saying that no amount of signatures would get him on board with ACEP’s request.

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Gay Firefox developers boycott Mozilla to protest CEO hire (Updated) – Much of the public reaction to his promotion skipped past that “can a coder run a company” question, focusing squarely on another financial issue. In 2008, Eich donated $1,000 in support of California’s Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that sought to ban gay marriage in the state. So shortly after the announcement of Eich’s hiring, the reaction came swiftly. In particular, developers came forward with a mix of boycotts and reluctant acceptance.

Marc Andreessen on Warren Buffett: Old white guy who doesn’t get tech – At a Bitcoin confab, the VC and Web world veteran lumps the Bitcoin-dissing business magnate in with “old white men crapping on new technology they don’t understand.”

To replace drone strikes, US to give Yemen Hellfire-armed crop dusters – Looking to get out of the business of secret drone strikes against Al Qaeda members and others in Yemen, the US is preparing to give the Yemeni Air Force its own, somewhat lower-tech equivalent of the Predator and Reaper for carrying out “targeted killing” operations. According to documents obtained by Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston, the US will provide a squadron of 10 aircraft originally designed as crop dusters, which are now equipped for a wholly different sort of reaping.

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15 Crazy GoPro Stunt Videos You Must Watch – In previous eras, there were few options available to an aspiring insane person who wanted to share their rampant disregard for life and limb. However, thanks to the exhibitionist-enhancing power of technology, we can all take part in borderline-psychopathic endeavors. While mediums like YouTube have provided avenues for anyone to share their insane stunts, perhaps the most vital ingredient for this new generation of Evel Knievels are small, light cameras such as GoPro, which are dainty enough to capture all the action. All. The. Action.

Something to think about:

“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.”

–     Woodrow Wilson

Today’s Free Downloads:

WindowsPatchLoader – WindowsPatchLoader will provide users with a very witty tool to rapidly gather all the updates for your Windows operating system and create custom packs that fit exactly your very own preferences. With WindowsPatchLoader, you will be handed a powerful application to perform numerous operations on Windows updates such as integrate them within the Windows installation disc.

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VirtualBox – VirtualBox is a general-purpose full virtualizer for x86 hardware. Targeted at server, desktop and embedded use, it is now the only professional-quality virtualization solution that is also Open Source Software. VirtualBox has an extremely modular design with well-defined internal programming interfaces and a client/server design. This makes it easy to control it from several interfaces at once: for example, you can start a virtual machine in a typical virtual machine GUI and then control that machine from the command line, or possibly remotely. VirtualBox also comes with a full Software Development Kit: even though it is Open Source Software, you don’t have to hack the source to write a new interface for VirtualBox.

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WinToUSB – WinToUSB is a free software that allows you to install and run Windows operating system on a USB hard drive or USB flash drive, using an ISO image or CD/DVD drive as the source of installation. If you have a Windows installation source (a DVD disc, an image file) and a valid Windows product key, you can use WinToUSB to install Windows on your USB drive.

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Obama’s New NSA Proposal and Democratic Partisan Hackery – I vividly recall the first time I realized just how mindlessly and uncritically supportive of President Obama many Democrats were willing to be. In April 2009, two federal courts, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, ruled that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) required the Pentagon to disclose dozens of graphic photos it possessed showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration announced that, rather than contest or appeal those rulings, they would comply with the court orders and release all the photos. The ACLU praised that decision: “the fact that the Obama administration opted not to seek further review is a sign that it is committed to more transparency.” This decision instantly turned into a major political controversy. Bush-era neocons, led by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney, excoriated Obama, arguing that release of the photos would endanger American troops and depict the US in a negative light; Cheney expressly accused Obama of “siding with the terrorists” by acquiescing to the ruling. By contrast, Democrats defended Obama on the ground that the disclosures were necessary for transparency and the rule of law, and they attacked the neocons for wanting to corruptly hide evidence of America’s war crimes. I don’t think there was a single Democratic official, pundit, writer, or blogger who criticized Obama for that decision. But then – just two weeks later – Obama completely reversed himself, announcing that he would do everything possible to block the court order and prevent it from taking effect.

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Hold on, everyone … Prez Obama thinks he’s cracked this NSA super-snooping problem – After nine months of revelations about the extent of US government surveillance, the Obama administration is floating a plan that will curtail mass snooping by its intelligence agencies and reform the way individuals are investigated. “I said several months ago that I was assigning our intelligence community to bring me new options with respect to the telephone database program,” President Obama told a news conference in The Netherlands on Tuesday. “They have presented me now with an option I think is workable. It allows us to do what is necessary to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people have raised.” Senior administration officials told The New York Times that the American government wants to end mass metadata collection of mobile phone records by the NSA, and let the phone companies store that data instead. Phone records will be held for 18 months, they suggested, rather than the NSA’s claimed hold period of five years. In addition, when the intelligence agencies want to investigate a specific number, each individual monitoring request will have to be approved by a judge, rather than the yearly blanket approval given currently.

World Wide Web founder supports Brazil’s “Internet Constitution” – The founder of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for Brazil’s first set of internet governance rules to be passed “without further delay or amendment.” The Marco Civil da Internet, dubbed Brazil’s “Internet Constitution”, is due to be voted this week and the creator of the Web, who had previously voiced opinions about aspects of the Bill, released a statement of support. “If Marco Civil is passed, without further delay or amendment, this would be the best possible birthday gift for Brazilian and global Web users,” says Berners-Lee. “I hope that by passing this Bill, Brazil will cement its proud reputation as a world leader on democracy and social progress and will help to usher in a new era – one where citizens’ rights in every country around the world are protected by digital bills of rights,” he adds. The scientist pointed out that Marco Civil has been built by internet users in a “groundbreaking, inclusive and participatory process” and has resulted in regulations that “balances the rights and responsibilities of the individuals, governments and corporations who use the Internet.”

Bruce Schneier sneers at IBM’s NSA denials – Ten days ago IBM issued ”A Letter to Our Clients About Government Access to Data” that, as we reported, swore on all that is good and holy that it did not hand over data to the NSA and would never do such a thing. But the letter did not satisfy security commentator Bruce Schneier who’s penned an open letter of his own to Big Blue. Schneier first takes issue with IBM’s statement that it did not give the NSA anything under the PRISM program, because “PRISM” was an internal name used by the NSA alone. Schneier thinks that leaves wriggle room for IBM to have handed over data under another program. In a similar vein he notes IBM’s denial that it handed over bulk user data, but opines that IBM doesn’t hold the same kind of data as the likes of Google. That caveat again sees him ask if IBM complied with another program.

Petitions call on U.S. government to leave Snowden alone – U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration should reverse its decision to suspend the passport of U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and end its efforts to prosecute him as policymakers push to change the programs he exposed, a group of activists said. It’s not rational for the U.S. Department of Justice to continue to push for Snowden’s prosecution on treason-related charges when Obama is poised to end the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. telephone records, said Coleen Rowley, a former special agent, division counsel and whistleblower at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “It is extremely incongruent to be fixing what’s you’re forced to fix … and to say that the person who made this possible is somehow to blame,” she said during a press conference on Tuesday. “It doesn’t make sense at all.”

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