Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – April 2, 2014

NSA searched U.S. calls, emails without warrant;  10 tips to protect your tax return from theft and fraud;  Link Bubble: A better way to handle links in Android;  Intel launches $99 MinnowBoard Max;  7 easy tips to extend your PC’s lifespan;  Stop Instagram from sharing your likes on Facebook;  The Secret iOS Feature That Could Change the Internet;  If your broadband is dead, BT may have stolen your line;  42 days to go for XP – 8 tips if you aren’t going to make it;  NSA isn’t evil, says noted civil libertarian;  Hack of Boxee.tv exposes password data, messages for 158,000 users;  HBO Plans ‘Game of Thrones’ Marathon;  Good Porn, Better Malware?

NSA searched U.S. calls, emails without warrant, U.S. intelligence chief admits – For the first time, the highest ranking U.S. intelligence community official admitted to two senators that the NSA used a “backdoor” in surveillance laws to conduct the searches.

Google tells Supreme Court it’s legal to packet sniff open Wi-Fi networks – Google wants the Supreme Court to reverse a decision concluding that the media giant could be held liable for hijacking data on unencrypted Wi-Fi routers via its Street View cars. The legal flap should concern anybody who uses open Wi-Fi connections in public places like coffee houses and restaurants. That’s because Google claims it is not illegal to intercept data from Wi-Fi signals that are not password protected.

42 days to go for XP – 8 tips if you aren’t going to make it – We’ll leave out the guilt trips about how your ever-weaker security will put the rest of us at ever-greater risk. And we’ll skip over our surprise if your objection is that you don’t like the fact that Microsoft is asking you to pay to upgrade, but you aren’t willing to put your mouth where your money isn’t, and switch to a free alternative. (There are many, including Linux and various incarnations of BSD.) Instead, we’ll assume there are unavoidable reasons why you have to keep sailing on the Steam Ship Windows XP for a while longer, and simply present you with a list of eight tips.

The Secret iOS Feature That Could Change the Internet – A few weeks ago, a messaging app called FireChat launched. It looks, at first, like just about any other messaging app in an already very crowded market, but FireChat is sneakily subversive and quite possibly the most important thing to happen to the Internet since international network hubs began to form in 1995.

7 easy tips to extend your PC’s lifespan – PCs aren’t as pricey as they used to be, but that doesn’t mean you want to swap them out all the time, especially since processor technology long ago reached a “good enough” point for many people. Most modern programs can run just fine on PCs that are six or seven years old—or even older!—and the push to move many services to the cloud is only making older PCs less of a drag on productivity. Keeping your system physically clean, following some basic preventive measures, and exercising common sense in daily use can add years of life to your PC.

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Clean up files on your Android device – Files you’ve downloaded, photos you’ve taken, as well as data stored by apps, are major contributors to unnecessary clutter on your Android device. By cleaning out a few things, you gain space for new apps, system updates, or maybe a larger portion of your music collection. Here are a few suggestions for taking back your internal and SD card storage:

10 tips to protect your tax return from theft and fraud – As far as cyber criminals are concerned, tax season means open season. This time of year is a favorite for phishing scams and fraud, second only to the holidays. With a little awareness and common sense, though, you can avoid being a victim and make sure your tax refund ends up in your pocket.

Stop Instagram from sharing your likes on Facebook – Are you oversharing on Facebook? You might be and not know it if you haven’t checked your Instagram settings in a while.

No joke: Comedy Central app launches with 200 episodes – Comedy Central’s new app replaces show-specific apps, creating a one-stop spot with free full episodes of “The Daily Show,” “South Park,” and more.

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Five free web-based tools that make diagramming a snap – Whether you need to create a flowchart, a use case diagram, a mobile device interface mockup, or network design specs, one of these free web-based tools will simplify the task.

If your broadband is dead, BT may have stolen your line – BT engineers have been accused of pilfering lines and leaving customers in the lurch in order to set up new connections. It happens all the time, according to some.

Batter Up: The best ways to watch baseball on your digital devices – Another baseball season is underway, and tech-savvy fans have more ways than ever to stream high-quality video and audio at their command. Here are all the options available so that you never have to miss a single pitch.

Chromebook shipments hit 2 million mark in 2013 – While that’s only a small dent in the overall PC market, which counts annual shipments in the hundreds of millions, it’s making waves in key segments like education.

Google lets you check out what your friends have been up to in the Play store – It sounds like it’s meant to help foster a community where users can bond over favorite apps and connect in that manner, but it also helps you check out what your friends have been downloading lately. It’s a little like the Google Games app portal, except that it includes applications of all types—so it’s more like an expanded version of the recent activity panel in the Google Play app for Android.

Ultrakam Brings 2K Video Recording to iPhone – Apple limited the video capture resolution on the iPhone 5s to 1080p, which is higher than the device’s screen resolution already. However, some owners are a little miffed that Apple is hanging back as Android devices start shooting 4K video. Well, you can get part of the way there with the new Ultrakam app for iPhone 5 and 5s. This app lets you take 2K video with the existing 8MP image sensor.

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Link Bubble: A better way to handle links in Android – There’s an app for Android that will completely change the way you interact with links. Jack Wallen introduces you to what should be the default behavior in Android.

Synology offers a Dropbox substitute—meet the personal cloud – Synology’s service functions largely work like a Dropbox clone, except you get to run both the server and the client. Once you set it up on one of the company’s NAS boxes, any computer running the client software can connect. On the client side, files are stored locally, and any changes are synched back to the remote copy. Although this is labeled a cloud service, a cloud is technically an amorphous pool of storage devices where files may be split up and have pieces stored in multiple locations. This provides redundancy both on the storage level—if any one disk fails, the scattered bits of your file will always be able to rebuild the whole. But it also provides redundancy on the network level. Even if an entire facility is offline, there’s a chance that your file’s bits will all be somewhere else.

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Intel launches $99 MinnowBoard Max – This version of the MinnowBoard makes significant strides over the last version, which came out last summer for $199. That’s a big jump over the super-affordable Raspberry Pi, but the MinnowBoard Max drops the price to $99 while also improving the hardware. The board has been scaled down from 4.2 x 4.2-inches to just 3.9-inches square. Just for reference, the Raspberry Pi is 3.37 x 2.21-inches. This version of Intel’s micro-computer runs on an Atom E3800 (Bay Trail-I). This is a full system-on-a-chip with a storage controller and Intel HD 400 graphics, which makes it considerably more powerful and efficient than the E640 used in the last version. This is also one of the few 64-bit SBCs you can buy. There is out-of-the-box support for Android 4.4 and Linux operating systems.

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Mt. Gox CEO ordered to US for questioning on missing bitcoins – The imploded exchange’s saga continues as a US bankruptcy judge orders Mark Karpeles to better explain the disappearance of 650,000 bitcoins.

Three features to help make presentations with Google Slides – Google’s office suite may not be as feature rich as Microsoft’s Office, but the apps are easy to use. These simple features make it even easier to build Google Slides presentations.

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Security:

Hack of Boxee.tv exposes password data, messages for 158,000 users: Huge file circulating online contains e-mail addresses, full message histories – The breach occurred no later than last week, when a full copy of the purloined forum data became widely available, Scott A. McIntyre, a security researcher in Australia, told Ars. On Tuesday, officials from password management service LastPass began warning customers with e-mail addresses included in an 800 megabyte file that’s still circulating online. The file contains personal data associated with 158,128 user accounts, about 172,000 e-mail addresses, and the cryptographically scrambled passwords that corresponded to those Boxee accounts, LastPass said. The dump also included a wealth of other details, such as user birth dates, IP addresses, site activity, full message histories, and password changes. All user messages sent through the service were included as part of the leak.

Texan liquor chain Spec’s leaks 550k card details in 17 month breach – Spec’s logoA chain of liquor stores based in Houston, Texas may have leaked as many as 550,000 sets of customer bank and card records after some of its systems were compromised for close to 17 months. Spec’s, a family-run chain which is apparently the fifth largest wine seller in the US, operates over 165 stores, of which 34 are thought to have been affected by the breach.

Good Porn, Better Malware? – On March 18th, Malwarebytes detected Beeg.com serving a drive-by download that originated from iframe injections. The domain inside this iframe leads to a redirect to an exploit kit landing page that prepares various exploits to be launched on users. Malwarebytes reported that it served Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight exploits. In response to the Beeg.com’s malware attack, Google initially blacklisted the porn site but then removed the warning while malware on the site was still active. Beeg.com has since claimed its servers are clean and the site displays a disclaimer about the hack when you visit it. You probably believe porn sites are obvious hosts of malware. While you might think this latest hack at Beeg.com proves you right, cyber crooks aren’t really interested in the content of porn websites.

Company News:

Microsoft Build 2014 is here: What to expect – Microsoft’s Build 2014 opens April 2nd, a chance for new CEO Satya Nadella to not only convince developers and the industry that his “mobile first, cloud first” strategy makes sense, but that Microsoft has the skills to deliver on it. After impressing with the Office for iPad launch, Nadella has a far bigger audience to preach The Windows Way to at Build, though there are plenty of balls in the air that he still needs to keep moving.

BlackBerry will not renew tie-up with T-Mobile – BlackBerry will not renew the license of T-Mobile US to sell its products when it expires later this month, the smartphone maker said. The announcement by the Canadian company comes after a dispute in February with the fourth-largest carrier in the U.S. for promoting Apple’s iPhone 5s at a discount to its BlackBerry customers.

14 million daily Windows Store/Windows Phone app downloads – Signage put up by Microsoft as part of its upcoming BUILD 2014 developer conference reveales that it is recording a combined 14 million daily app downloads for Windows Store and Windows Phone Store.

HP pays $57 million to finally put WebOS behind it – The company settles a class-action lawsuit that accused its leadership of rash decision-making that left shareholders out in the cold.

Twitter buys social TV firms Mesagraph, SecondSync – Twitter has purchased TV analytics specialists and social TV firms Mesagraph and SecondSync, which suggests that the company may want advertizers and broadcasters to make better use of the microblogging platform for content promotion.

Games and Entertainment:

HBO Plans ‘Game of Thrones’ Marathon, Online Viewer’s Guide – HBO is gearing up for the fourth season of its hit series, Game of Thrones, with a marathon of previous seasons on HBO2 this weekend, as well as the launch of a Game of Thrones Viewer’s Guide on HBO.com. The GoT marathon kicks off Friday at 9 a.m. Eastern with West Coast HBO subscribers getting a delayed feed that begins at 9 a.m. Pacific. The premium cable channel will run all 30 episodes of the first three seasons of the acclaimed sword-and-sorcery series for 60 straight hours, ending at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on April 6, just in time for the Season 4 premiere on the HBO main channel. HBO GO users can also catch up on the show at their leisure.

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Heroes of the Storm Alpha invites issued: gameplay streaming begins – This week the folks behind Blizzard Entertainment’s release of the next-generation Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game Heroes of the Storm have begun inviting players to the Alpha. This means that the game will be able to be played in a limited capacity, with only those with invites allowed to take part in the game until Beta mode begins. This game is being live streamed by a number of Alpha players through Twitch this afternoon as well.

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PS4 ships 7 million worldwide, outsells Xbox One in Europe 7:1 – That 7:1 sales lead accounts for (more or less) the last week in March, beginning on the 17. During that period, the PS4 sold 180,000 units, while the Xbox One only managed 25,000. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the Xbox One’s biggest game, Titanfall, released just one week prior, and did not appear to help sell the console just one week later.

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Microsoft reveals new Xbox Video features, including cross-device resume – Microsoft has announced plans to introduce a number of new features for its Xbox One console, including a way to resume watching an Xbox Video clip from another device.

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Five Nintendo GBA game trailers for the Wii U virtual console are out – A few days ago, we mentioned that the Nintendo Wii U game console would be getting several new games for the virtual console that originated on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance portable console. Eight titles will be coming starting on April 3. All of the games will be available for gamers that want some retro action in North America and Europe.

Some Oculus VR employees received death threats after Facebook deal – Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey stated that company employees, and even some of their family members, have received death threats since their deal to be acquired by Facebook was announced.

Netflix loses Fox series ’24’ to Amazon – Amazon has gained the exclusive streaming rights to the acclaimed Fox series, 24. The deal will also include the new 24 series, 24: Live Another Day which will debut first on Fox on May 5th.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Colorado Town Won’t Issue Drone-Hunting Licenses – Voters in the town of Deer Trail, Colo., voted down a unique proposal that highlighted unhappiness with government surveillance and would have allowed residents to get licenses to shoot down drones in local airspace

Microbes blamed for Earth’s biggest mass-extinction – The biggest mass extinction known to affect Earth likely had the smallest of causes, scientists at MIT have concluded, blaming microbes for killing out around 90-percent of every species on the planet 252 million years ago. The huge wipe-out – which, it had previously been speculated, could have been the result of an asteroid strike or uncontrollable volcanic eruptions – was, new fossil research indicates, the result of vast quantities of carbon dioxide or methane changing ocean chemistry and throwing the climate into a tailspin.

Weedmaps Spends Some Of Its $30M To Legalize Pot In NYC – To put it bluntly, Weedmaps is no joke. The Yelp of marijuana dispensaries has grown to $20 million in yearly revenue, and now it’s saying “High, NYC” with a Times Square jumbotron campaign to legalize pot. For the next 60 days, an 8-second Weedmaps ad will blaze across the CBS Super Screen pointing New Yorkers a site of legalization resources and a petition.

Apple receives patent for interchangeable iPhone camera lenses – Apple’s proposed fastening mechanism would use a series of small bayonet mounts located on both the phone and the lens. Rotating the lens in one direction would align the bayonets on both ends, attaching the lens to the camera; rotating it in the opposite direction would detach them. The patent also says that the lens and the phone could be detached from one another by force, presumably to protect the phone from damage if the lens was hit or dropped: “the attachment mechanisms may separate such that force applied to a first device may not be fully transferred to the second device, and thereby the second device may be protected.”

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Lego is a tool of Satan, says priest – Citing research from New Zealand and his own observation of Lego’s Zombie characters and Monster Fighters, Poland’s Father Slawomir Kostrzewa warns that children are being led into a world of death and darkness by the formerly lovable toy.

Google’s 12 biggest product debacles of all time – Google is widely regarded as one of the most innovative companies of our time, but it also runs lots of failed experiments. Here are the top 12 products where Google missed the mark.

Something to think about:

“In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.”

–    Paul Harvey

Today’s Free Downloads:

Tweakers – A portable application that provides several tweaks to improve your system performance. Not for novice users.

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NeoRouter Free – The NeoRouter Free application was designed to help you manage and connect to all your computers from anywhere. It gracefully integrates Remote Access, File Sharing, Virtual Private Network, User and Access Management.

Dexpot – Dexpot turns your monitor into 20 different virtual desktops – Dexpot creates additional workspaces you can quickly switch between them. Take, for example, Desktop 1 to listen to your favourite music, surf the web on Desktop 2, use Desktop 3 to handle your daily word processing or switch to Desktop 4 for a game of Solitaire. Different icons, wallpapers, start-ups, and much more can be configured for each desktop.

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

NSA phone metadata collection program renewed for 90 days – The Obama Administration has secured a 90-day extension of the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) controversial authority to collect phone metadata records on U.S. customers under Section 215 of the U.S.A Patriot Act. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which oversees the data collection program, granted a reauthorization request filed by the U.S. Justice Department last week. The court’s order expires on June 20. It basically grants the NSA continued authority to collect phone record information such as the originating and dialed number, call time and duration, location data, calling card numbers and other data belonging to U.S. phone customers.

What, besides phone records, does the NSA collect in bulk? – Last Thursday, the Obama Administration announced details of its plan to overhaul the government’s bulk phone-records collection program, previously authorized under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. Under the proposed changes, the National Security Agency would no longer be in the business of collecting call records in bulk. Rather, the agency will be required to go directly to phone companies to obtain records, and it will need prior permission from a judge to access such information. Some, like Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union, have praised this action, calling the White House proposal “a crucial first step toward reining in the NSA’s overreaching surveillance,” according to NPR. Even NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden described this moment as “a turning point.”

NSA isn’t evil, says noted civil libertarian – Civil liberties and privacy groups have long criticized the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), but those critics became louder last summer after details of the agency’s data collection activities were disclosed in classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Amid the criticism is a surprising take on the NSA by Geoffrey Stone, a civil libertarian and member of the National Advisory Council of the American Civil Liberties Union. In a blog post on the Huffington Post news site, Stone defended the agency, and its data collection. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago and former chairman of the American Constitution Society, was a member of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies established by the White House last summer to review the NSA’s surveillance practices in light of the Snowden incident.

Utah city ordered to provide water records for enormous NSA facility – For years now, reliable information about a massive new National Security Agency data center in Bluffdale, Utah has been hard to come by. The data center is believed to be the central node for the storage and analysis of the NSA’s data collection programs, storing exabytes (1 exabyte = 1 billion gigabytes) of data. In October 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Utah Data Center had experienced “10 [electrical] meltdowns in the past 13 months.” The paper added that the Utah site continuously draws 65 megawatts of power, “which could power a small city of at least 20,000.” Bluffdale itself is a small city of 8,000 people, just south of Salt Lake City—it is also the headquarters of the Apostolic United Brethren, a Mormon fundamentalist group. But now, a small sliver of information—how much water the NSA facility uses—may soon become available. Following a new ruling issued last week by the State Records Committee, Bluffdale now has just under a month to furnish municipal water records related to the Utah Data Center to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter or to appeal the decision to a state court.

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