Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – February 12, 2015

Want to unlock your phone? Here’s what you need to know;  Willow, The Dating App Where Love Isn’t Based On Lust;  Can burglars jam your wireless security system?  Improve the power of Google Now with Commandr;  These Are the 10 Best Apps for People Who Commute;  Sometimes it’s ethical for the doctor to Google you;  Five free apps for customizing your lock screen;  Here’s How To Find Cheap and Free eBooks;  10 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Know;  10 quirky little OS X add-ons that increase productivity;  iPhone Kill Switch praised as phone thefts tumble;  Stop wasting your time on junk productivity hacks;  Best mobile games of December and January (pictures).

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Want to unlock your phone? Here’s what you need to know – Good news, smartphone users: today, unlocking your device via your carrier just got a whole lot easier. A new set of rules set forth by the CTIA (the governing body for carriers) sets today as the deadline for carriers to unlock phones at the behest of their customers. For most, that means you can walk into your carrier store and ask that your device be unlocked for service elsewhere. Still, your path for doing so might be a touch windy, so we’ll clarify things for you!

Of 10 IoT-connected home security systems tested, 100% are full of security FAIL – If you jump into the Internet of Things and purchase a home security system to provide security, you may actually be less secure and more vulnerable than before you bought a security system. HP Fortify researchers tested 10 of the newest home security systems and discovered IoT-connected home security systems are full of security fail. “The biggest takeaway is the fact that we were able to brute force against all 10 systems, meaning they had the trifecta of fail (enumerable usernames, weak password policy, and no account lockout), meaning we could gather and watch home video remotely,” wrote HP’s Daniel Miessler.


Can burglars jam your wireless security system? – Any product that promises to protect your home deserves a heightened level of scrutiny. To that end, it isn’t surprising that you’ll find plenty of strong opinions about the potential vulnerabilities of popular home-security systems. After all, home security is a bit of a chess game — you want your system to be as many moves ahead of the bad guys as possible. With the right device tuned to the right frequency, what’s to stop a thief from jamming your setup and blocking that alert signal from ever reaching the base station? As said, the odds are low of such an attack being attempted against you — successfully or otherwise — but let’s look at the facts.

These Are the 10 Best Apps for People Who Commute -Putting in an honest day’s work can be challenging enough, so commuting shouldn’t make it any harder. But between freak snow storms, soul-crushing traffic, and off-schedule public transit, the daily migration to and from the office can be enough to make a person “work from home.” Whether you drive, ride, walk, or do a mixture of all three, these ten smartphone apps will help you get to the office (and more importantly, back home) on time and in good spirits.

Greatly improve the power of Google Now with Commandr – If you’re a Google Now user, but you wish you had more power at your command, a 16-year-old developer named Ryan Senanayake has created a free app called Commandr that you must try. Commandr works out of the box (once it’s enabled), so there’s zero extra tweaking involved. And, with the help of Tasker, you can even add your own custom commands to the app. Once the app is installed, it will add the following commands to the Google Now system:

Meet Willow, The Dating App Where Love Isn’t Based On Lust – Willow, a new app launching to the App Store, asks users to make a connection based around who you are, not how you look. Instead of showing a feed full of selfies, Willow’s feed is full of questions. Users can ask anything that will be thrown into the feed, and users can respond to questions they find interesting or alluring. Once a question has been answered, pictures are revealed.


Five free apps for customizing your lock screen – Mobile device lock screens are easy to take for granted. They help secure your device — but depending on what type of device you have, they might not do much else. However, there are apps on nearly every mobile platform that let you customize your lock screen. Some apps add a bit of flair, while others add much more.

Sometimes it’s ethical for the doctor to Google you – The medical community needs ethical guidelines for doctors who Google their patients for information because such a move can erode confidence and trust. That’s the recommendation of a recently published research paper by professors at the Penn State College of Medicine. The study highlights how physicians have been left to navigate search engine waters on their own — and it points out the moral ambiguities involved in the practice.

10 quirky little OS X add-ons that increase productivity – Summary: If you use a Mac, you’re going to want to take a look at these quirky little add-ons. Each one can save you time, increase productivity, and reduce frustration.


Here’s How To Find Cheap and Free eBooks – When it’s cold or rainy outside, there’s nothing like curling up with a good ebook. But at prices averaging $7.00 a pop, a steady supply of ebooks can get real expensive real quick. The good news: There are plenty of places to find great ebooks for free or at a significant discount. Here are our favorite places to go for reading on the cheap.

10 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Know – Navigation apps are one of the most useful features of smartphones, and Google Maps is widely considered the cream of the crop — at least among free options. But chances are there are some features tucked away in Google Maps that you don’t know about. They could make mapping out your next vacation easier, or even improve your daily commute. Here are ten tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Google Maps on iPhone and Android:


Cloud security: Reports slam data protection, national Internets, access myths – Summary:Cloud security risks, and rewards: Leviathan Security today released three reports on whether it’s more or less secure than local storage, if data can be kept available and confidential, and whether companies can adequately hire to secure their data.

Anthem accused of failure to inform customers hit by hack – The health insurer has not yet communicated the necessary information to those whose personal data was compromised by the recent hack, say several US states.

Facebook ThreatExchange Lets Firms Securely Chat About Threats – If a cyber attack or malware scheme targets a major tech firm, it’s a good bet that the hackers are also trying to worm their way into that company’s top competitors, too. Why target one when two is twice the fun, right? Facebook is now tackling this problem via a new platform, dubbed ThreatExchange. Any company that signs up will be able to share information in a secure manner in the hopes of stopping an attack or bug in its tracks. ThreatExchange will operate like a secure and exclusive version of Facebook. So far, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, Yahoo, Bitly, and Dropbox have signed on.

Many PayPal lookalike phishing websites taken offline – PayPal has worked to shut down a handful of phishing websites that sought to steal people’s login credentials by appearing to be the company’s real website, according to a security company. Many of the sites, which are offline or have been redirected, were nearly identical copies of PayPal’s website, which could have fooled some victims into divulging their details, according to OpenDNS, a security company that in part monitors for suspicious domain name registrations.

iPhone Kill Switch praised as phone thefts tumble – New smartphones aren’t only coveted by regular users but by thieves, too, though the iPhone’s “kill switch” Activation Lock is being credited with cutting thefts significantly across three major cities. The feature, added in iOS 7 back in 2013, remotely locks down a lost or stolen iPhone so that it cannot be activated in future without the original credentials, something intended to make such thefts less appealing to those committing street crime. That’s paying off in three cities – New York, San Francisco, and London – where having a phone snatched has traditionally been a significant peril, new research from each confirms.

Microsoft, Google join forces to tackle antivirus false flags – The program, dubbed “trusted source,” has seen more than 6,000 false positives fixed so far, just one week after the program started.

Security Manager’s Journal: Breaches are everywhere – A look back at the top 20 data breaches of 2014 — over 450 million records compromised — points to the new normal.

Company News:

Apple shakes up labor practices with ‘bonded servitude’ ban – Apple has taken another step to address criticism about working conditions among its suppliers, banning ‘bonded servitude’. This means that henceforth workers will not be forced to work for free until they have paid off the costs associated with hiring them, something that at times amount to more than a full month’s salary. Apple has previously said that more than a month’s salary in fees was excessive, and now it is banning saddling the workers with the hiring debt altogether.

Cisco posts revenue gains, vows to beat VMware’s network software – Cisco Systems posted quarterly revenue and profit gains that included growth for its software-defined networking products, and Chairman and CEO John Chambers used the occasion to lay down the gauntlet to SDN rival VMware. The company’s revenue hit $11.9 billion in the fiscal quarter ended Jan. 24, up 7 percent from a year earlier. SDN, a new market that might imperil Cisco’s traditional network hardware business, was a strong point: Sales of the company’s recently introduced Nexus 3000 and 9000 data-center switches, key to its SDN architecture, grew 350 percent.

Microsoft Confirms Sunrise Acquisition, Adds Depth To Its Mobile Productivity Offerings – Microsoft is buying the mobile productivity reputation it seemed disinclined to build for itself for so many years, and the latest addition to the roster is Sunrise, the calendar app that managed to raise $8.2 million in venture funding and achieved rave reviews on the many platforms where it appeared, including the iPhone, iPad, Android hardware, the Mac and the web. TechCrunch first reported that Sunrise was being acquired for $100 million or more last week, and now Microsoft has confirmed that the deal went down in a video posted to YouTube (now made private).


Twitter buys startup Niche to pair Vine creators with brands – Connecting creators to their audience is a new trend among social websites. Tumblr recently made moves to expose creators to a wider audience, and YouTube is fighting hard to keep homegrown media stars on their service. Facebook is also encouraging stars to go their way ahead of any other mediums, and upstarts like Vessel are trying to steal the show. In an attempt to make themselves relevant to creators 140-characters at a time, Twitter has purchased Niche, which helps pair stars with brands.

Nvidia beats expectations in fourth quarter on strong sales of graphics chips – Nvidia posted another quarter of better-than-expected results on Wednesday, as gamers hungry for sharper visuals drove up demand for its computer graphics chips. Shares jumped 5 percent after in after-hours trading Wednesday, to $21.76, thanks in part to current-quarter guidance coming in slightly ahead of Wall Street expectations.

BitTorrent starts producing original TV shows in a quest to reform its image – BitTorrent Inc. is taking on Amazon and Netflix in 2015 with its own original television content platform, dubbed BitTorrent Originals. The first programming to roll out under BitTorrent’s banner will be Children of the Machine (COTM), a Sci-Fi television series first announced in July. COTM will be available in the fall as an ad-supported download or you can purchase a premium version for $9.95. All content for BitTorrent Originals will be produced under an exclusive partnership between BitTorrent and Rapid Eye Studios.

Windows with Bing reportedly getting restricted to screens under 14 inches – A report claims that Microsoft’s Windows with Bing program, designed to give OEMs zero-cost Windows licenses, may soon be limited to devices with screens under fourteen inches.

Games and Entertainment:

Best mobile games of December and January (pictures) – Looking for a new game to play on your mobile device? Here’s our pick of the best released in December 2014 and January 2015.


Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Grab a New Mystery Title During Steam’s Midweek Sale – Heads up, gamers. Steam is about to give you an early Valentine’s Day present. Valve’s online game retailer just launched a surprise midweek sale, offering discounts on more than 40 mystery-themed games. The sale ends on Friday, Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. PST, so head over to the Steam digital storefront for up to 75 percent off before it’s too late.


Toasting the Failed Experiments Behind Modern Video Gaming’s Greatest Hits – Games don’t just come into being—they’re made. And as they’re made, the process has to involve people. And people being people, they often take inspiration, intentionally or otherwise, from elsewhere. But it’s not always from the games that made the biggest splash. See, just because you introduce a feature, or perfect an existing one, or toy with a mechanic that could well revolutionize a genre, it doesn’t mean you’re making something that will be successful. The list below shows you just five times—out of plenty more—where the features, the tech, and the ideas were there, but the glory was grabbed later on, by another game. Or games. Or entire genres.


PGA Tour to launch an online golf network aimed at millenials – Golf’s elitist vibe and ponderous pace isn’t for everyone, but the game is not without its share of young, ardent followers. Fully 25 percent of all active golfers in the United States fall in the 18-to-34 age bracket, according to the National Golf Foundation. In order to better connect with these 6.2 million golf enthusiasts, the PGA Tour is launching Skratch TV, an all-new digital video platform, in partnership with Bedrocket. Bedrocket already operates two sports-focused video properties: the multi-sport Network A and the soccer-focused KickTV.


Evolve launches with $136 in paid DLC available, ignoring gamers’ DLC concerns – Evolve has come under a lot of fire in recent weeks for its DLC plans, and it poured fuel on the flames during its Tuesday launch. If you’ve missed most of the controversy and our review-in-progress of the 4v1 multiplayer game from Turtle Rock Studios, here are the details: Maps are free to all so as to avoid segregating or divvying up players. However, new characters will be sold—monsters for $15 a pop, hunters for $7.50. The DLC and preorder packages were so convoluted and numerous that people created spreadsheet guides to try and help you wrap your head around all the premium add-ons. It’s been a pretty ugly scene surrounding these announcements. Players are (rightly) upset for two reasons:

Off Topic (Sort of):

Exploding meteor caught on dash cam in New Zealand – Thanks to the increasing number of dashcams on cars across the globe, we’ve seen fireballs of various sorts caught on camera in places that mostly lie within Russia. Yet another has been caught on camera, this time in New Zealand where a meteor can be seen zipping into view between the clouds, then exploding with a bright light followed by zooming out of view. Unlike some of the massive fireballs we’ve seen in other videos, this one was relatively fast and simple, and punctuated with a quick woo! from the driver.


Voltera, The Electronics Printer, Launches To Much Fanfare – One of our absolute favorites from the Hardware Battlefield just launched on Kickstarter and they are, if you’ll excuse the cliché, crushing it. The company appeared on our stage at CES 2015 and showed of an early working prototype. Now, however, they’re ready to take orders and start shipping. The printer is essentially a PCB maker. You put in a board, upload a circuit diagram, and the system draws it in conductive ink. You can then solder in the proper components.

Stop wasting your time on junk productivity hacks – Find yourself an article promising surefire ways to boost productivity. Does it tell you to do one of the following: limit time spent emailing, make to-do lists or take the occasional break? Odds are good. Beyond the repetitive solutions, there are also ones that are simply wrong. Many self-appointed gurus counsel an early wake-up as a way to boost your output. They’ll point to a lengthy list of successful people—Richard Branson, Jeffrey Immelt, Jack Dorsey—who rise before dawn. Researchers working together from two Michigan universities, however, debunked this notion, suggesting an early alarm only helps a morning person. (If you’re a night owl, better to work late). The demand for this “work smarter, not harder” advice is symptomatic of a collective delusion.


Watch a kidney grow in real-time 3D – Though it might seem that their visualization techniques in this case are designed mostly to entice people like me to write about them (pretty pictures!) the colorized aesthetic actually serves a purpose. By getting these growing kidneys to express fluorescent proteins of different colors, the researchers can get a three-dimensional look at its overall structure.


Don’t read the comments—they can make you mistrust real experts – In the wake of the recent measles outbreak in California and with the threat of more to come, it’s clear that existing efforts to encourage vaccination and promote public health aren’t enough. We need to understand why the message isn’t sinking in where it’s most needed—why people believe what they believe and how they discover information they trust. A recent paper in the Journal of Advertising suggests that online commenting may sway people as much as public service announcements (PSAs) from health authorities. Depending on who’s doing the commenting, comments may sometimes be even more influential than PSAs.

Something to think about:

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”

–       Bruce Lee

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

More online censorship coming to closed countries, says report – Authoritarian governments are doubling down on press censorship and becoming more adept at blocking Internet access to uncensored news sources, according to the annual World Press Freedom Index that will be published on Thursday.

The report, from Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, saw many countries lose points this year as threats against reporters and press freedom increased. They included governments using national security as an excuse to track reporters and their sources; threats from para-military, organized crime and terrorist groups; government interference in the media, and reporters being targeted for covering demonstrations.

The five countries ranked highest for press freedom were all in Northern Europe, while the U.S. ranked 49th, down 3 places from last year, in part because of a crackdown on government whistle blowers under President Barack Obama.

Most of the bottom 20 countries saw their ratings fall after greater efforts to control free access to information.

“With complete control of the traditional media assured, reining in the Internet is the next big task,” said the report.



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

4 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – February 12, 2015

  1. Vic

    Dear Bill

    I love your site, I’ve followed it for years and benefited greatly. But every time I click a Time magazine entry, I’m told I can’t access it without a subscription, which I take it I have to pay for. What’s your take on this?

    • Hi Vic,

      Thank you – happy to hear that you’ve found it worthwhile. 🙂

      I had no success trying to duplicate the issue you describe. Running 4 different browsers (including Tor), I had no difficulty in accessing TIME. It may well be that a paywall comes into effect after a set number of articles – say, 10 or so. I didn’t test for that.