Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – October 29, 2014

Back up your PC’s files for free with these 3 tools;  5 important things to know about security in Android 5.0;  14 Vine Video-Shooting Tricks You Must Know;  12 ways to use your older iPad;  Drivebot dongle monitors your car’s health;  HP’s $200 Windows 8.1 Stream laptop now on sale;  Top Android apps of the month, October 2014;  iHealth Edge fitness tracker arrives in the US;  Google Fit now available via the Play Store;  Wireless carriers are rolling out a horrible new way to track you;  Tracking and the law;  California reports huge jump in data breaches;  Survey shows what Americans fear most;  Taylor Swift’s new ‘1989’ album is just $0.99 with Microsoft’s Music Deals app;  Walmart starts selling used video games;  FTC sues AT&T over ‘deceptive’ throttling;  OpenVPN (free);  Tweak-SSD (free);  Proposed FCC rule change blurs Internet/Cable TV lines.

Back up your PC’s files for free with these 3 tools – Been meaning to back-up your PC, but not sure where to start? Here are three tools that can get you started.

5 important things to know about security in Android 5.0 – Fun features aside, Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop release introduces some important improvements to security — some of which have yet to be publicized.

Google Now Lets You Make Free One Minute International Calls – Need to make an international phone call, but don’t want to deal with the mystery connection fees and huge minute-by-minute charges? Google has just quietly launched a rather nifty new feature: free international calling to 25 different countries through Hangouts/Gmail/Google+. The catch, if you want to call it that: only the first 60 seconds are free.

14 Vine Video-Shooting Tricks You Must Know – You can now get official Vine apps on iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and they’re all free, as is the service. With its latest update, the Vine app does more than ever—and that’s why we’re here. To show you the coolest new features, and well-hidden old ones, to make your Vine video shoots a breeze.

Have a Surface Pro 3? There’s new firmware to download – Microsoft has released new firmware for the Surface Pro 3 today that addresses several issues including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth drive updates, and an issue with the Pro 3 dock sleep state transition.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

12 ways to use your older iPad – Apple’s new iPads are faster, slimmer and lighter than the last generation and it’s possible millions of iPad 2 owners will make like iPhone users and choose to upgrade to one of the new models — so what can you do with your old Apple tablet? Here are 12 suggestions:

Hands-on with the Fuhu Nabi Big Tab HD 24, a tablet for kids that parents can control – The BigTab HD 24 elicited an awed “Whoa” from my six-year-old son, who quickly volunteered to help “test” it. We both came away impressed: he with the variety of apps, including the ability for me to load his favorites on the tablet, and me with the ability to create a virtual playspace to keep him entertained. We both agreed, though, that the BigTab probably favors boys over girls, however, and that we didn’t think the BigTab was appropriate for his two-year-old brother, because of the size. At $549, the BigTab HD 24 is priced slightly more than an entry-level Apple iPad Air 2 (the 16GB model costs $499), which would be more the little one’s speed.


iHealth Edge fitness tracker arrives in the US – iHealth Lab’s Edge health tracker has officially launched in the United States, bringing yet another activity-centric wearable to a market that doesn’t yet have enough of them. The wearable features a design similar to a smartwatch, though it can also be worn as a clip-on for times that is more convenient. As with competing products, the Edge keeps track of all sorts of health metrics, not the least of which is fitness data like calories burned and information related to one’s sleep quality at night.


Google Fit now available via the Play Store – With Apple’s HealthKit, we were promised a core app in Health that would give us insight on our overall wellbeing, based on apps that worked with the platform. though HealthKit had a rough start, it’s here, and when used properly, not all that bad a take on your health and fitness stats. Google previously announced their own health platform in Google Fit, which aims to do the exact same thing HealthKit does — just for Android. Google has now published their app to the Play Store, and it’s compatible with just about every Android phone around.

Drivebot dongle monitors your car’s health – Unless you own an OBD-II reader, a random check engine light coming on in your car requires a trip to the nearest auto shop or service station to have it read — an annoyance in what are often busy days with little time for unexpected car troubles. The makers behind Drivebot aim to eliminate this hassle with what they call “a Fitbit for your car”, and it comes in the form of a Bluetooth-equipped dongle that shuttles data about your vehicle’s status to a paired smartphone.


HP’s $200 Windows 8.1 Stream laptop now on sale, comes with $25 Windows store credit – HP’s Stream 11 laptop, which costs only $200, is now on sale and it looks like it will include a $25 Windows Store credit as well, in addition to the one free year of Office 365 that comes with it.


Windows 10: OneGet, a Linux-style package management framework – Microsoft is building in a new framework for PowerShell that works as a package manager and anyone who has used Linux before will welcome this feature with open arms. If you are not familiar with package managers, it’s a tool that makes installing, updating and locating the install software much easier for developers. With the use of trusted repositories, every time a package is updated on the repository, your machine can be updated as well.

Top Android apps of the month, October 2014 – What are some of the most interesting apps for Google’s Android operating system we’ve discovered this month?


Wireless carriers are rolling out a horrible new way to track you – Last week, privacy advocates turned up some unsettling news: for two years, Verizon’s Precision Insights division has been seeding web requests with unique identifiers. If you visited a website from a Verizon phone, there’s a good chance the carrier injected a special tag into the data sent from you phone, telling the website exactly who you were and where you were coming from, all without alerting customers or informing the public at large. Today, Forbes’ Kashmir Hill reports that AT&T is testing a similar program, although it may be possible to opt out. In both cases, the message is clear: there’s a lucrative business in tracking users across the web, and carriers want in on it.

Tracking and the law – As courts continue to rule on what is and is not acceptable when it comes to tracking, a lot of what we do with our smartphones could become illegal

California reports huge jump in data breaches – The number of personal records compromised by data breaches in California surged to 18.5 million in 2013, up more than six times from the year before, according to a report published on Tuesday by the state’s Attorney General. There were 167 breaches reported during the year, up 28 percent from 2012. The massive increase in the number of compromised records came as a result of two major breaches—the loss of credit card data at Target in December 2013 and the cyber attack on LivingSocial in April 2013.

Report: Many Windows automatic updates are thwarted by user inaction – Windows automatic updates don’t work if you never restart the PC, and yet that seems to be the bottleneck for many, according to a survey of 4,500 Windows users.

Company News:

FTC sues AT&T over ‘deceptive’ throttling of unlimited data customers – The Federal Trade Commission is suing AT&T because the second-largest US carrier throttles speeds of its unlimited data customers, a policy that the FTC describes as “deceptive” and “unfair.” In a press release, the FTC said AT&T has “misled millions of its smartphone customers” by slowing down their data speeds after they’ve used up a certain amount of data in a single month. AT&T has failed to make its throttling policies clear enough, according to the complaint. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. The Commission’s filing blasts AT&T for slowing customers down to the point where common tasks — watching video, streaming music, etc. — become “difficult or nearly impossible.”

Facebook’s Slowing User Growth And Weak WhatsApp Revenue Send Shares Down 9% – Wall Street wants growth, or else. Twitter reported slow growth of 4.8 percent yesterday down from 6.3 percent last quarter and got hammered with a 9.8 percent share price drop today. And now, Facebook’s growth slowed from 3.125 percent last quarter to 2.27 percent this quarter, and now $FB is down 9.76 percent in after-hours trading. Meanwhile, Facebook broke out financials of its $22 billion WhatsApp acquisition for the first time, and they were a tad disappointing. WhatsApp brought in just $15 million in revenue in the first half of 2014 despite having 600 million users.

Facebook has first $3 billion quarter via ad network – Facebook just reported their third quarter earnings for 2014, and they are pretty impressive. For all the attention paid to Facebook tanking, or a possible ‘killer’ on the horizon, the social networking giant just steamrolls the competition time and again. This time, they’ve had their first $3 billion quarter, returning $3.2 billion in revenue. that’s a significant increase over the $2.9 billion they brought in last quarter, and much better than the $2.01 billion in Q3 2014. It’s also nearly triple what they brought in for Q3 2012.

Apple facing lawsuit over 2011 Macbook Pro GPU – Apple makes beautiful products, but they’re not perfect. A recent iPhone 5 button swap made that clear, and though it took longer than many would have liked for Apple to respond to the issue, they did. This time, they’ll have no choice. A class-action lawsuit has been filed in Northern California, alleging Apple’s 2011 Macbook Pro might be suffering from GPU issues Apple failed to acknowledge. The issue is said to affect both the 15-inch and 17-inch screen versions.

Games and Entertainment:

Walmart starts selling used video games – This expands on the company’s earlier trade-in program, which amassed the games Walmart is now selling, and introduces a massive player into the used game market, which has long been dominated by GameStop and similar retailers. The library of used games can be browsed on Walmart’s website now and picked up at one’s local store. As you’d expect, the prices vary based on title and console. A quick trot through the website reveals, as examples, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare for the Xbox 360 at $5, Tomb Raider for $5.51, and Borderlands 2 for the Xbox 360 at $6.35 USD. As of now, gamers in the United States can grab a game at one of 1700 Walmart stores.

Hulu will soon have old Nickelodeon shows and more – Hulu is a decent subscription to have if it offers a show you like to keep relatively up-to-date on, but isn’t so great when it comes to watching old episodes of long gone shows. Netflix fills that void to some degree, but it is lacking in its own way, which makes Hulu’s latest announcement a welcomed one: a new deal is in place with Viacom that will usher in thousands of additional episodes, including ones from older shows like The Ren & Stimpy Show and Nickelodeon’s under-appreciated Invader Zim.


Taylor Swift’s new ‘1989’ album is just $0.99 with Microsoft’s Music Deals app – Microsoft’s new Music Deals app only launched last week, but it’s already making waves thanks to a massive deal on Taylor Swift’s new 1989 album today. For just $0.99 you can own Taylor Swift’s latest album that only debuted yesterday. The same album is priced at $12.99 on the US iTunes Store, highlighting the 90 percent off sale here. Microsoft isn’t making noise about the promotion just yet though, quietly promoting the $0.99 deal on its Windows Twitter account this afternoon. It appears that the deals are limited to the US.


GoG offers X-wing, TIE Fighter games as legit downloads for first time – When Disney bought Lucasfilm for over $4 billion nearly two years ago to the day, we lamented the uncertain publishing future of the company’s stable of classic LucasArts games. The fear was that these classics would be lost in corporate shuffling indefinitely. Thankfully, digital distribution site GoG isn’t letting that happen. This week, GoG published its first games from the Lucasfilm/Disney catalog as DRM-free downloads playable on modern machines.


Action-packed ‘Ghostbusters’ remix will get you dancing – Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic? Have you or your family ever seen a spook, specter or ghost? If the answer is “yes” then you will appreciate Eclectic Method’s newest music video that remixes your favorite moments from the hit movie “Ghostbusters.”


Off Topic (Sort of):

Survey shows what Americans fear most – The Chapman Survey on American Fears included 1,500 participants from across the nation and all walks of life. The research team leading this effort pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, crime, natural disasters and fear factors.

Proposed FCC rule change blurs Internet/Cable TV lines – The FCC might be a slow-moving agency, like any in Government, but they’re oddly in-tune with what consumers want (most of the time). A new proposal by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would give many TV addicts exactly what they want, giving Internet TV providers the same footing as legacy Cable TV providers. If passed, the new rules would make it impossible for a broadcaster to refuse to allow an Internet TV provider the right to carry their service specifically because they weren’t a cable provider.

UK roads to look like Tron’s game grid thanks to glow-in-the-dark bike lanes – UK cyclists may soon feel a bit like they’re riding light cycles around Tron’s game grid. Two cities are looking into creating glow-in-the-dark bike lanes on their roadways. Their goal: to increase both rider and driver safety by making cyclists more visible at night.


The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed – The campuses of the tech industry are famous for their lavish cafeterias, cushy shuttles, and on-site laundry services. But on a muggy February afternoon, some of these companies’ most important work is being done 7,000 miles away, on the second floor of a former elementary school at the end of a row of auto mechanics’ stalls in Bacoor, a gritty Filipino town 13 miles southwest of Manila. When I climb the building’s narrow stairwell, I need to press against the wall to slide by workers heading down for a smoke break. Up one flight, a drowsy security guard staffs what passes for a front desk: a wooden table in a dark hallway overflowing with file folders.


A contractor at the Manila office of TaskUs, a firm that provides content moderation services to U.S. tech companies.  MOISES SAMAN/MAGNUM

Cree cuts heat, bulk, and cost with vented LED bulbs – LED lightbulbs continue their downward price spiral into the mainstream, and latest to haunt incandescents is Cree’s freshly redesigned 40W and 60W replacements. Looking far more like a traditional bulb than previous iterations, primarily because Cree has done away with what would normally be a bulk-adding heatsink, the old-fashioned shape actually hides a clever alternative approach to cooling which uses heat itself to keep things chilly.


Deepwater Horizon spill left an oil ring the size of Rhode Island at the bottom of the sea, study says – There’s an oil ring the size of Rhode Island at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and researchers say it belongs to oil company BP. According to a study published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, about 10 million gallons of coagulated oil now coats the sea floor, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that resulted in 172 million gallons of oil being spilled into the Gulf in 2010. The rest of the oil, however, is still largely unaccounted for. BP doesn’t agree with the findings, however. The company told the Associated Press that the researchers were unable to determine the source of the oil — an aspect of the study that lead “them to grossly overstate the amount of residual Macondo oil on the sea floor and the geographic area in which it is found.”

Something to think about:

“Consumers shouldn’t be shackled to rules that only recognize 20th century technology.”

–      Tom Wheeler, FCC chair

Today’s Free Downloads:

OpenVPN – The OpenVPN application was designed to be a full-featured SSL VPN solution which can accomodate a wide range of configurations, including remote access, site-to-site VPNs, WiFi security, and enterprise-scale remote access solutions with load balancing.

OpenVPN implements OSI layer 2 or 3 secure network extension using the industry standard SSL/TLS protocol, supports flexible client authentication methods based on certificates, smart cards, and/or 2-factor authentication, and allows user or group-specific access control policies using firewall rules applied to the VPN virtual interface. OpenVPN is not a web application proxy and does not operate through a web browser.


Tunnel any IP subnetwork or virtual ethernet adapter over a single UDP or TCP port,

Configure a scalable, load-balanced VPN server farm using one or more machines which can handle thousands of dynamic connections from incoming VPN clients,

Use all of the encryption, authentication, and certification features of the OpenSSL library to protect your private network traffic as it transits the internet,

Use any cipher, key size, or HMAC digest (for datagram integrity checking) supported by the OpenSSL library,

Choose between static-key based conventional encryption or certificate-based public key encryption,

Use static, pre-shared keys or TLS-based dynamic key exchange,

Use real-time adaptive link compression and traffic-shaping to manage link bandwidth utilization,

Tunnel networks whose public endpoints are dynamic such as DHCP or dial-in clients,

Tunnel networks through connection-oriented stateful firewalls without having to use explicit firewall rules,

Tunnel networks over NAT,

Create secure ethernet bridges using virtual tap devices, and

control OpenVPN using a GUI on Windows or Mac OS X.

Tweak-SSD – The original Tweak-SSD: Everything you need to optimize your SSD drive on Windows 7 or 8.

Optimize and tweak your Windows 7 or Windows 8 for a better performance of your SSD drive

Includes several tweaks that will optimize your SSD drive, making it even faster and reducing read and write access

Intuitive tweaking wizard guiding you from one tweak to the other, suggesting the best settings

Designed especially for Windows 7 and Windows 8 – unlike competitive products!

TRIM performance optimizer included (licensed edition only)

Completely free!

Compared to competitive products, Tweak-SSD does not require any user knowledge when it comes to activating SSD related system tweaks. The included wizard guides the user from one tweak to the other and suggests the best setting by intuitive red-green switch buttons, and an additional system status gauge visualizing the system’s optimization status.

Tweak-SSD works on Windows 7 and Windows 8, both on 32bit and 64bit editions. It includes an English user interface.


In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Taking back privacy in the post-Snowden cloud – When the technology industry embraced “cloud computing” and made it part of our daily lives, we all made a Faustian bargain. They gave us a way to break free from the expense of owning all the hardware, making computing and storage capacity dirt cheap and available on demand. On the other side, we promised not to worry too much about the fine print.

“In the 2000s we had this wild cloud party,” said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That party ended—Edward Snowden crashed that party. And we’ve woken up with a massive privacy and security hangover that companies are now trying to shake.”

It’s not like this happened without warning. In 1999, former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy spoke in front of the US government and infamously said, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”  But in the wake of the Snowden leaks, US companies that sell “cloud computing” services are now losing international customers in droves. At the same time, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are trying to keep what they have left, pushing back on attempts to make the cloud systems Americans use more secure from criminals and foreign governments because those authorities might get locked out too.

How did we get in this mess? And is there any way to have both the convenience of mobile access to nearly everything while still keeping out the prying eyes of government spies and criminal crackers?

‘Camouflaged’ internet concerns the Australian Federal Police – The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has said that the anonymous nature of the internet continues to be a concern for the law-enforcement agency, and that it is reliant on global partnerships with law-enforcement agencies around the world to continue to effectively tackle crime online.

The Australian Federal Police’s manager of cybercrime operations Glen McEwen appeared on Wesneday before a parliamentary committee investigating government agency use of powers in Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, which allows agencies to request internet service providers to block websites.

The committee has been investigating the issue after it was revealed last year that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had accidentally blocked 250,000 websites when seeking to block sites associated with investment fraud, because the agency did not know that a single IP address could be associated with a number of websites.

The AFP is one of three agencies known to use the power, along with ASIC and one unnamed national security agency. It has been reported that during the 2012 and 2013 financial years, the AFP used this power 21 times to block websites on the Interpol “worst of” list of child abuse websites.

McEwen said on Wednesday that the AFP also uses the power to block malware websites, and, in particular, the recent GameOver Zeus botnet. He said that asking telcos to block websites is a “last resort”, where sites are hosted in jurisdictions outside the AFP’s reach, or where websites need to be taken down quickly.

The U.S. Government Is Suddenly Way, Way More Interested In Tracking Snail Mail – Old-fashioned mail, the kind sent through the U.S. Post Office, has fallen out of fashion; U.S. first-class mail volume fell 36 percent from its 2001 peak to the end of last year, and total mail volume has been falling in tandem. But the surveillance state’s interest in snail mail has shot up massively.

A report published yesterday by The New York Times showed an unexplained sixfold increase in the number of approved government requests to spy on the snail mail correspondence of American citizens in recent years.

Roughly 50,000 requests to spy on Postal Service metadata — the names, return addresses, and postmark locations on the outside of envelopes sent to a particular location or individual — were granted by the United States Postal Service in 2013 alone, The New York Times points out today. That’s up from an average of just 8,000 requests per year between 2001 and 2012. This increase happened with essentially no explanation as to why it was necessary, or with any added mechanisms to protect such a program from abuse:

“The number of requests, contained in a little-noticed 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.

The audit was posted in May without public announcement on the website of the Postal Service inspector general and got almost no attention.”

In other words, the government has very quietly and very suddenly become extremely interested in reading a lot of people’s mail.

Newspaper outraged after FBI creates fake Seattle Times page to nab suspect – In 2007, the FBI wrote a fake news story about bomb threats in Thurston County, Washington, and then sent out e-mail links “in the style of the Seattle Times.”

The details have now been published by that very same newspaper, which today carries a story including outraged quotes from a Seattle Times editor. The FBI put an Associated Press byline on the fake news story, which was about the bomb threats in Thurston County that they were investigating.

“We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the US Attorney’s Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,” said Seattle Times editor Kathy Best. “Not only does that cross a line, it erases it.”

The information comes from documents about the 2007 FBI operation, which were acquired via a Freedom of Information Act request and published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2011. It wasn’t until yesterday that ACLU Technologist Christopher Soghoian noted The Seattle Times/AP reference and published it on Twitter. That spurred the newspaper to express its outrage and get FBI response.

Retain private data for police use or face $685,000 fine, Swedish authority tells ISP – Swedish ISP Bahnhof must resume retaining customer communications metadata for police use by the end of November or pay a fine of 5 million Swedish Kronor (US$685,000), the Swedish telecom authority has ruled.

Bahnhof should comply with Swedish law requiring ISPs to retain customers’ location and traffic metadata for six months for law enforcement purposes, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) said Monday.

Bahnhof will fight the order, CEO Jon Karlung said Tuesday.

The ISP stopped retaining the communications metadata and deleted all records with the permission of the authority after a May ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidated the EU’s Data Retention Directive because it seriously interfered with fundamental privacy rights.


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

4 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – October 29, 2014

  1. Fred

    Hi Bill!
    In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues
    Between Verizon and AT&T tracking devices and giving personal information to websites to .gov spying on our snail mail, whew!
    This I thought was most comforting:
    British Spies Allowed to Access U.S. Data Without a Warrant
    “It is unclear whether any restrictions on Britain’s access to NSA surveillance data is imposed by the U.S., and the NSA did not respond to a request for comment. However, documents provided by Snowden to The Guardian last year reveal that the NSA shares raw intelligence data with Israel without removing information about U.S. citizens.”

    • Hi Fred,

      A tidy little arrangement. A spies on B’s citizens (since B can’t LEGALLY spy on it’s own people) – A does B’s dirty work and hands over the data. Vice versa, of course, is the order of the day. The Canadian and U.S. governments are neck deep in this clearly transparent attempt to deceive.

      Thanks for the link – I’ll put this up in the AM.