Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – August 4, 2014

How one judge single-handedly killed trust in the US technology industry;  Some GameStop stores now fingerprint customers who trade in games;  50 Best Websites 2014;  Are You Using The Most Secure Web Browser?  UK finally makes it legal to copy music to your iPhone;  Four ways to watch your favorite TV shows online;  LA Residents Call 911 Over Facebook Outage;  The 9 Best Android Phones of 2014;  Windows 8’s uptake falls again, now slower than dud Vista;  Phantom Brings Self-Destructing Photos To Facebook, Twitter And More;  Google takes down sex offender by going through his personal e-mail;  The Only Guide to PS4 vs Xbox One You’ll Ever Need;  8 apps for streaming foreign TV and movies;  Forget drones: These tethered blimps can spy on cities below;  10 great Rainmeter skins for productivity.

How one judge single-handedly killed trust in the US technology industry – Some people volunteer at shelters. Some people play video games. Some work tirelessly for 80 hours a week for the sake of their startup. Some destroy the global trust in the US technology industry. In a single two-hour courtroom session on Thursday morning — just in time for lunch — US District Judge Loretta Preska ruled on a case that has massive global implications for US technology giants. As for the vast majority of foreigners not living in the US? The bottom line is simple, and it’s a question rather than a statement. Based on this ruling, why should you ever trust a US technology company again?

Some GameStop stores now fingerprint customers who trade in games – Certain GameStop stores in Philadelphia have started requiring fingerprints from customers who want to trade in their used games. The change has been acknowledged by GameStop, which said through a spokesperson that the practice kicked off in early July. The change is necessary to meet local legal requirements, according to the company, and it isn’t limited to Philadelphia stores — any region that requires pawn shops or second-hand sellers to fingerprint customers will have the same policy. What happens to the thumbprints that are taken? They are shuttled off to a database for law enforcement to keep an eye out for thieves who trade in stolen games for cash.

(Up next? A DNA test – of course. Insanity like this doesn’t just disappear – it continues to expand.)

Don’t fly camera-equipped drones over our police stations, LAPD says – The inquiry was prompted Friday after the LAPD confronted a Southern California man outside its Hollywood station. The cops told him he was trespassing for using a drone to capture footage of the station’s parking lot, and ordered him to stop. The incident is posted to YouTube. “What concerns us is that they are filming over private property and it’s gated – you’re looking at the layout of the police station, how we operate, personnel license plates,” police Lt. Michael Ling said. “It’s kind of like if it was your house, if they’re flying over your backyard you’d start asking questions about it.”

(One more example of the police making up rules and regulations on the fly – so to speak.)

50 Best Websites 2014 – TIME’s annual salute to great sites and services.

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Are You Using The Most Secure Web Browser? – All of us like to think we use the safest web browser possible whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, or any other of the many options. Each has their pros and cons, but is there one browser that can carry the unquestionable title of most secure? According to Skybox Security, the answer is: no. Even tackling this question is hard, as the security experts admitted, because how do you begin to measure security of a web browser? Skybox Security decided to take a few different metrics into account including fewest exposed vulnerabilities, most published (and patched) vulnerabilities, and the shortest time between security patches

UK finally makes it legal to copy music to your iPhone – A small change to the UK’s copyright laws has finally made it legal for Brits to do what they’ve most likely been doing for a decade — copying a CD to MP3 format. As ridiculous as it sounds, until this week it has been illegal for British citizens to copy a CD that they own and put it on their iPhone. That changed with an announcement by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office that Parliament had approved new “exceptions” to copyright, making it legal for consumers to copy music, books, film and photographs, so long as it’s for private use.

Four ways to watch your favorite TV shows online – Watching television is a common pastime, but the way it is done is rapidly changing, with many gravitating away from traditional cable to get their fix through the Internet. Downloading individual episodes was the most common way to do this, but with the introduction of set-top boxes like Roku and streaming apps for smartphones, this has too changed. The ways to watch your favorite TV shows online are numerous, but we’ve detailed four methods that will likely meet all of your needs.

NFL brings Surface tablets to the sidelines–for watching replays, not checking Facebook – According to Engadget, the NFL will provide players and coaches with ruggedized Surface Pro 2 tablets on the sidelines this season as part of a program called the Sideline Viewing system. The idea here is that players and coaches will be able to use the tablets to watch replays of game action from the sidelines, and be able to make adjustments as needed as the game progresses.

LA Residents Call 911 Over Facebook Outage – Facebook was not accessible for a short time during “a widespread outage that affected users in multiple countries,” according to Reuters. Service was restored fully and the outage was being blamed on “a ‘technical’ failure rather than any suspicious activity,” the news agency cited an unnamed source as saying. But before all Facebook users were able to access the site again, some LA-area Facebookers seems to have thought the interruption of their social networking fix was worthy of a call to emergency dispatch, the Los Angeles Times reported.

These Are the 9 Best Android Phones of 2014 – The “big four” high-end Android smartphones are the HTC One M8, the Samsung Galaxy S5 the Sony Xperia Z2 and the LG G3. But then there’s a whole host of cheaper, smaller and, in fact, bigger alternatives too, and they come from all manner of different manufacturers. It seems like everyone is making a Google-running phone these days, which makes the selection process even more of a headache.

Windows 8.1 update 2 (‘August Update’) said to have minor UI changes – In August, Microsoft will be releasing its second update for Windows 8.1 and although it is expected to be a minor update, it will also bring a few small changes to the user interface

Windows 8’s uptake falls again, now slower than dud Vista – Windows 8’s uptake was stuck in reverse for the second straight quarter as the reputation-challenged operating system fell behind the pace set by Windows Vista six years ago, according to data released Friday. Web metrics firm Net Applications’ figures for July put the combined user share of Windows 8 and 8.1 at 12.5% of the world’s desktop and notebook systems, a small drop of six-hundredths of a percentage point from June. That decline was atop a one-tenth-point fall the month before, the first time the OS had lost user share since its October 2012 debut.

10 great Rainmeter skins for productivity – The Rainmeter desktop customization tool isn’t just about creating the coolest-looking desktop by mixing and matching different skins. Rainmeter can also help your productivity by letting you keep tabs on your inbox at a glance, know what kind of weather you’re facing outside, monitor PC system health, track the news, and take notes. Thanks to a recent Rainmeter update, these skins are also getting smarter by reacting to conditions set by programmers, such as PC temperature or an upcoming appointment.

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Phantom Brings Self-Destructing Photos To Facebook, Twitter And More – The app, available on both iOS and Android, lets you snap a photo or record a video, or select an item from your smartphone’s gallery, then mark it up with commenting and drawing tools that are very similar to those found in Snapchat. But instead of just offering a timer function to control how long the image or video is visible to a friend after it’s shared, Phantom also lets you configure how long the content will live, period, as well as how many viewers it can have.

Crock-Pot hits market with WeMo smartphone control – The “Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker enabled with WeMo” is a mouthful, to be sure – but it’ll also fill your mouth with delicious, digitally controlled cooking excellence. Controlled wirelessly using the WeMo app, this Crock-Pot will allow you to receive alerts, change the temperature, and a variety of other oddities.

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Chrome passes 20% share milestone, locks up 2nd place – Because the browser war is a zero-sum game, when Chrome won others had to lose. The biggest loser, as has been the case for the last year: Mozilla’s Firefox, which came dangerously close to another milestone, but on the way down. Firefox accounted for 15.1% of the desktop and laptop personal computer browsers used in July, a low point not seen by the open-source application since October 2007, a year before Chrome debuted and when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) was only on version 7.

Security:

Google takes down sex offender by going through his personal e-mail – Google, Microsoft and other companies as well as the FBI use automated image scanning to fight online child exploitation mainly by finding and punishing sites that deal with such content. However this was a bit different as Google was scanning images inside of e-mails for illicit content. Of course this is undeniably good news and we’re very glad the police had the support of Google in finding and taking down this offender and others like him. However, being reminded of how much power these companies and the government have to intrude into our personal lives does leave us with a sort of mixed bag of feelings.

(How about that? Google scans your email images. All in a good cause of course. Clearly, you’re either with us, or you’re with the child pornographers. Right? Right???)

Registry-infecting reboot-resisting malware has NO FILES: Anti-virus doesn’t stand a chance becuase there’s nothing for it to scan – Researchers have detailed a rare form of malware that maintains infection on machines and steals data without installing files. The malware resides in the computer registry only and is therefore not easy to detect. It code reaches machines through a malicious Microsoft Word document before creating a hidden encoded autostart registry key, malware researcher and black hat exterminator Paul Rascagneres (@r00tbsd) says. It then creates and executes shellcode and a payload Windows binary.

Mozilla gaffe exposed 76,000 email addresses, 4000 passwords – Mozilla has ‘fessed up to accidentally exposing the email addresses for 76,000 members of its Developer Network, along with 4000 encrypted passwords. The breach was caused by a bad script that on July 23 was found to have inadvertently published the records online over the previous month.

Attackers can easily create dangerous file-encrypting malware, new threat suggests – A new program that encrypts files to extort money from users highlights that attackers don’t need advanced programming skills to create dangerous and effective ransomware threats, especially when strong encryption technology is freely available. Researchers from antivirus vendor Symantec recently came across a Russian-language—for now—ransomware program of which the core component is a simple batch file—a command-line script file.

US warns of ‘Backoff,’ latest entry into POS malware market – US Homeland Security has warned businesses to stay on their guard against a newly-detected strain of point-of-sale malware.

Company News:

Facebook hit with international class action privacy suit – An Austrian privacy activist has launched a wide-reaching class action suit against Facebook Ireland for breaching European data protection law. Anyone outside of the US and Canada can join activist and law student Max Schrems’ suit via the website fbclaim.com, since they will have signed up to Facebook’s terms and conditions via the Dublin-based European subsidiary. That amounts to around 82 percent of all Facebook users. After being live for just one hour, the site has collected 100 participants.

Twitter adding 50,000 Australians a month – New research shows that Australian Twitter accounts have mainly been created to keep up to date with breaking news, particularly during major crisis such as earthquakes and flooding.

HP agrees to settle allegations it overbilled US Postal Service – Hewlett-Packard has agreed to pay US$32.5 million to settle allegations that it overbilled the U.S. Postal Service on a IT hardware contract. The U.S. Department of Justice had alleged that HP overbilled the Postal Service for a government contract called Acquisition of Desktop Extended Processing Technology (ADEPT) II, which ran between October 2001 and December 2010. HP allegedly failed to comply with pricing terms of the contract that required the company to offer the Postal Service prices that were not higher than offered to HP customers with comparable contracts, the DOJ said in a news release. The DOJ also alleged that HP misrepresented its prices.

Android makers must pay Microsoft, or else—software giant sues Samsung – Samsung was late in making a patent royalty payment to Microsoft over the Android phones it sells, and today that led to the predictable result: a lawsuit. “Today’s legal action is simply to enforce our contract with Samsung,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post explaining its actions. “We don’t take lightly filing a legal action, especially against a company with which we’ve enjoyed a long and productive partnership.” The two companies reached a patent deal in 2011, in which Samsung presumably paid Microsoft for the patents it says apply to devices running Google’s Android operating system.

German copyright law is unconstitutional, Yahoo says in complaint – Yahoo thinks that the new copyright law imposes an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of information of Internet users because obtaining specific information from the Internet without the help of search engines is not feasible, Helge Huffman, general counsel of Yahoo Germany said in a statement published on Friday.

Judge decides Apple’s $450M e-books settlement is OK after all – A US district court judge on Friday gave preliminary approval for Apple’s $450 million settlement for e-book price fixing. Judge Denise Cote, of the southern district of New York, initially had issues with the terms but later came to believe the settlement was fair to consumers, she said in a ruling Friday.

Games and Entertainment:

The Only Guide to PS4 vs Xbox One You’ll Ever Need – Both the Xbox One and PS4 have been around for enough time to give us a solid grounding for the strengths and weaknesses of each. Whether you go for the people’s favourite, the PS4, or opt for the potentially more well-rounded Xbox will be decided on your preferences. The decision is not clear cut. To help you work out which console is right for you we’ve compared each aspect so you can safely decide between the PS4 or Xbox One.

An hour of video games a day is good for kids, according to study – Many of us are used to hearing the arguments that video games are bad for children, but there’s now peer-reviewed research indicating that the opposite may be true. A study – conducted by Oxford University, and published in the medical journal Pediatrics – tested nearly 5,000 children, and compared those who played no video games at all with those that played them for various amounts of time per day. For those who insist that such games do nothing but destroy the minds of children, the results may well prove eye-opening.

Microsoft releases Xbox ‘teaser trailer’ video for Gamescom 2014 – Microsoft’s main Xbox Briefing at Gamescom 2014 will take place on August 12, and its ‘teaser trailer’ for the event reveals highlights of what it’s got lined up, and where you’ll be able to watch.

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For those about to rock, 10 music films to stream – Summer is the time for music festivals and larger-than-life concerts—nothing beats dancing under the stars with a pack of friends, sloshing beer on your shoes from a plastic cup of Budweiser you paid $12 for. You can’t go to a concert every night (and after a few Budweiser hangovers, you’ll agree that’s probably for the best), but anytime you want, you can fire up Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video to rock out to a great concert film or a documentary about an amazing musician.

8 apps for streaming foreign TV and movies – You prefer subtitles to big Hollywood titles, Japanese anime to American animation, and Gérard Depardieu to Gerard Butler. If you hunger for more international programming but don’t want to rely on pricey cable add-ons or out-of-the-way art-house theaters, then check out our software picks for streaming the best foreign cinema and TV.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Tablets really are the new PCs; nobody needs to buy them any more: There’s nothing new tablets can offer existing owners – The tablet market is tapped out. We saw signs of this when Apple reported that its iPad sales were down year-on-year and we’re seeing a similar message from retailers. Re/code’s Walt Mossberg recently talked to Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly, who said that tablet sales had “crashed.” The computer industry has to face an uncomfortable truth. Tablets aren’t the next smartphone. They’re the next PC.

Technology’s Role In Direct Democracy – An influx of communication and collaboration technologies since the beginning of the 21st century has helped to make this the most connected time in human history — and seemingly easier than ever for society to work together. Yet, where is the political yield?

These old-timey Radio Shack photos prove techies have been nerding out since 1931 – Just as Radio Shack moves to reinvent itself for 2014, we look at the most adorable photos from the company’s archives.

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Minnesota man 3D-prints a castle big enough to walk in – Most of the 3D-printed scale models you’ve seen have probably been relatively small. This project is anything but. You can actually walk inside this castle; it’s going to be more than 10 feet tall when it’s finished. The massive printer that’s laying down the concrete castle is the creation of Minnesota engineer Andrey Rudenko.

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Everything you need to know about Ebola – Right now, West African countries are experiencing the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have confirmed more than 700 deaths from the disease, which has swept through those countries since appearing just six months ago. In this outbreak, it’s killing more than half of the people it infects — which makes it one of the less lethal strains of Ebola to emerge recently. Perversely, this relatively low mortality rate has a lot to do with its quick and devastating spread; Ebola is the sort of malicious evolutionary creation that exploits anything and everything it can find. It is the disease on which virtually all viral-horror thrillers are based.

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Galaxy phone blocks bullet after man brings knife to gun fight – A Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 stopped a bullet this week as a man had a friendly disagreement with another citizen in the streets of Xinjiang. The altercation involved a wallet being dropped by the first man, the second man picking it up for him and joking about spending his cash, the first man pulling a gun, and the second man pulling a knife.

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Elon Musk: AI could be more dangerous than nukes – The entrepreneur has used technology to reshape payments, electric cars and space travel, but he’s still really worried about what could happen if tech gets super-smart.

Something to think about:

“The average person thinks he isn’t.”

–    Father Larry Lorenzoni

Today’s Free Downloads:

WPS Office Free 2014 (Formerly Kingsoft Office) – WPS Office(formerly Kingsoft Office) is a free MSO alternative for PC users. It lets users view, create and share office documents that are fully compatible with MS Office.

Composed of Writer, Spreadsheets and Presentation, WPS Office adopts many outstanding features such as specialized paragraph tool, drag-and-drop table tool and tabbed interface. It also supports spell check for multiple languages.

Powerful as it is, WPS Office does not have a large installation package. With a package of less than 60 MB, WPS Office allows you to download and install at a lightning speed.

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(WPS Office Free is my goto office application. It beats Open Office and LibreOffice hands down. The graphic above illustrates today’s Tech Thoughts Daily Net News being prepared.)

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Forget drones: These tethered blimps can spy on cities below – Patrolling the skies these days is hard. There’s so many options to choose from: traditional helicopters, new wide-angle surveillance planes, and even the more cutting-edge drones.

Each of these options has its drawbacks. Beyond the initial purchase price, well-tested helicopters typically cost at least hundreds of dollars per hour to send up. One-off surveillance planes are also not cheap, coming in at around $1,000 per hour. Drones, while very cheap, are problematic. Law enforcement needs a blanket Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and possibly a specific Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) each time a drone is used above 400 feet.

Enter a small Florida company now attempting to make snooping from the air both cheap and administratively easy. The Drone Aviation Holding Corporation (DAHC) recently announced that it had sold its second-ever “Blimp in a Box” for local law enforcement purposes.

These tethered blimps—formally known as aerostats—don’t move on their own. They’re allowed by the FAA as a “moored balloon” if they stay below 500 feet and meet other minor restrictions. The company said that similar tethered drones (which would require FAA approval) are also on their way.

The Blimp in a Box has a “days-duration flight time,” an infrared sensor, and video cameras, according to the company’s marketing materials. The device is designed to aid with surveillance, enhance situational awareness, and help with “communications research.” For years, this type of inflatable spy technology has been sold to the military for ISR (intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions, but only more recently has it come home to roost.

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Internet Companies Berate Microsoft’s Recent Loss In Email Privacy Case – The case, in which U.S. authorities demanded email content of stored on servers in Ireland, has attracted considerable attention in the technology industry. Apple and Cisco filed a joint amicus brief in Microsoft’s favor, among others. Microsoft has vowed to appeal.

Moreover, the judge seemed ill-equipped to make a ruling on the case based on her technical knowledge. According to sources present, the judge referred to Microsoft repeatedly as an ISP — which it isn’t. She also made mention of a Microsoft employee in California executing a search, where the company is not headquartered, and suggested she did not know much about cloud technology.

In the wake of Microsoft’s quick loss, Internet service providers have criticized the court’s decision.

Wayne Watts, AT&T senior executive vice president and general counsel, said the company supported Microsoft.

“There is nothing more critical than protecting the privacy and information of every single AT&T customer – no matter the country in which they reside,” Watts said in a statement. “That’s why we’re extremely disappointed with today’s U.S. District court decision in favor of the U.S. government’s extraterritorial search warrant. We will strongly support Microsoft’s pursuit of a stay and subsequently a successful appeal of this decision.”

Verizon also disagreed with the court’s decision.

Dear America, Would You Please Give Edward Snowden His Medal Of Freedom Already? – 2013: “A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Face­book and Google to enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur.” 2014: “Politically, it’s plutonium now for a member of Congress in this environment to be supporting something that would enhance the government’s ability to conduct electronic surveillance.”

What happened? You guessed it: everyone’s favorite hero/villain/demon/saint, Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia exactly one year ago. This week, the tech industry threw its weight behind a bill that proposes “sweeping curbs on NSA surveillance” and “would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years ago.” And it could actually pass — again, thanks to Snowden.

So when does the man get his medal?

A lot of people, including Dianne Feinstein and John Kerry (and Marc Andreessen), still think of Snowden as a traitor. Mind you, in theory, treason requires “helping or supporting an enemy.” I’m not sure which enemy they have in mind: Russia? China? Edward Epstein insinuates that the Snowden affair was a foreign espionage operation all along, but the man himself claims he took no secret files to Russia and was able to protect them from Chinese spies as well.

Do the people of Earth count as an enemy?

The anti-Snowden brigade generally claim that he should have worked within the system to blow the whistle on it, and/or should have returned to the USA to face the subsequent music — although it has since become apparent that the NSA has not been completely forthcoming about Snowden’s attempts to express his concerns without going public.

China bans Symantec and Kaspersky from providing software to government – In recent weeks, the Russian government has been taking steps to discourage the use of foreign software – including the likes of Microsoft’s Windows and Office – in favour of using home-grown software solutions. But Russia isn’t the only country that’s making moves to limit its use of international software.

China’s largest newspaper group, the state-controlled People’s Daily, reports that the agency responsible for government software procurement has barred two of the world’s leading antivirus developers – American firm Symantec, and Kaspersky Lab from Russia – from a list of approved software vendors.

Malaysia’s former PM calls for web censorship, lashes out at its impact on ‘morality’ – The internet has played a key role in eroding public morality and must be censored to prevent further degradation, urges Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

He said his government should not have promised not to censor the web as it did not then understand the “power of the internet”. “Today, I have changed my mind,” , Mahathir said on his blog.

He argued that alternative media has no true freedom to begin with, where governments and operators of internet platforms, among others, can censor alternative media. Since websites can be blocked, the internet is “actually less free” than print and electronic media operating under government licences, he added.

“I myself have suffered from such censorship,” he said, referring to his previous post about the Jews and the war in Gaza which was blocked from Facebook. In an attempt to reinstate his post, he revealed that he changed hosting servers three times but still faced attempts to block his blog.

“I think it is time we stop talking of the freedom of the press. Let us admit that the press needs to be censored. It needs to be censored because freedom, any kind of freedom will always be open to abuse. The worst abuses are in the field of morality,” said the former politician, who was Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister from 1981 to 2003. He remains a major influence on local politics and his blog is widely followed by the local community.

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