Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 30, 2015

Has your router been hijacked? – there’s an easy way to find out;  The programs with the most security vulnerabilities in 2014 were not the ones you think;  10 Chrome extensions for streamlined, sped-up productivity;  This trick can quickly fix many mysterious hardware failures;  Photos: The 10 best consumer drones you can buy right now;  Vine Boosts Video Quality to 720p;  Popular hotel Internet gateway devices vulnerable to hacking;  British users can sue Google in UK over “secret tracking”;  You can now play Super Mario 64 in your browser;  Tumblr Adds ‘Buy, Pledge, Get Involved’ Buttons;  BlackBerry posts second straight earnings gain;  Fast & Furious expansion for Forza Horizon 2 available for free;  Amazon unleashes unlimited storage for $5 a month;  How “standby” modes on game consoles suck up energy;  Four tips that can enhance your Netflix experience.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Has your router been hijacked? You might not have any idea how to answer that question. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to find out… and it’s both fast and free. The security experts at F-Secure just announced the launch of their Router Checker tool. It’s a dead-simple way to find out whether or not your DNS is working the way it should. There’s no app to download and install, it’s just a website that you visit with any modern, standards-compliant browser. Current versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera should all work just fine. Click the start now button, and Router Checker tests to see if DNS requests sent from your device are being routed as they should be or whether they’re being hijacked by a third party.

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The programs with the most security vulnerabilities in 2014 were not the ones you think – Summary:Google Chrome, Oracle Solaris and Gentoo Linux all beat Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in having the most vulnerabilities last year, according to Secunia, while IBM software took 40 percent of the Top 20 places.

Ed Bott: Six surprising facts about who’s winning the operating system and browser wars in the U.S. – The United States government has given the public access to its massive analytics database, and the results are fascinating. What share does the Mac really have? Is Windows 8.1 a hit or a miss? Who’s winning the browser wars? I’ve dug deep to get the answers.

Google admits it has huge influence in Washington as it tries to deny having influence – Last week, a Wall Street Journal report suggested Google tampered with an FTC investigation that was looking to see if the search giant was engaging in anti-competitive practices. While the FTC ultimately decided not to bring a lawsuit against Google, reports published by the WSJ indicated the commission was deeply divided on whether it should sue — and another report exposed the close ties that Google has with the Obama administration. The implication was that Google used its influence in the White House to ultimately sway the FTC’s decision in its favor — something that Google is now vigorously denying in an unusual post today on its public policy blog.

10 Chrome extensions for streamlined, sped-up productivity – While there are plenty of web-based tools and productivity tricks to help you power through tasks in your browser, you can step up and speed up your capabilities even more by grabbing some smart Chrome extensions. These add-ons add more functionality to Chrome for Windows and Chromebook users alike, enabling you to quickly save items to Google Drive, clip articles, or keep tabs on all your social media shares.

Most popular US web browsers, according to the federal government – We finally have some clear, objective data on which web browsers and operating systems are the most popular in the United States. Thanks to the federal government’s Digital Analytics Program (DAP), we now know that over the last 90 days, and 1.39-billion web visits to more than 37 government agencies, Google Chrome is the most popular web browser with 34.7 percent of all visitors.

5 secret Chrome app launcher tips and tricks that speed up everyday tasks – The Chrome app launcher is more than a glorified version of the Windows start menu. It packs a surprising amount of Google-y power that can speed up a wide variety of tasks on a Chromebook—and Windows, if you install the Chrome launcher.

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Tumblr Adds ‘Buy, Pledge, Get Involved’ Buttons to Mobile App – Tumblr is spicing up its mobile app with the introduction of new buttons that appear within posts whenever you link to particular sites. The new buttons—Buy, Pledge, and Get Involved—only seem to appear on Tumblr’s mobile apps right now (as in, you won’t notice them if you’re browsing through your favorite Tumblr blogs). They also only appear whenever a Tumblr post links to a particular site—Etsy, Artsy, Kickstarter, or DOSomething.org.

This trick can quickly fix many mysterious hardware failures – Every now and then something breaks on your computer. Maybe you get a bad system update from Microsoft or cosmic rays flip the wrong bit on your system. Whatever the cause, often your problem has nothing to do with hardware, but lies within the software powering it, instead.

Microsoft’s Lumia 530 will soon be available for just $29 off-contract in Australia – If you’re looking for a low-cost smartphone in Australia, the perfect opportunity to buy may be just around the corner, as Big W will soon be selling the Lumia 530 for just $29, with a free cover.

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Vine Boosts Video Quality to 720p – Vine’s six-second looping videos will soon be a bit crisper. The Twitter-owned company today announced a new high-quality format for all clips created and uploaded on its apps and website. Rolling out first on iOS, the videos will reach Android users soon, though no official launch date has been announced.

Photos: The 10 best consumer drones you can buy right now

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DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

Periscope vs. Meerkat: Which Is the Livestreaming App For You? – With Thursday’s public release of Periscope, Twitter is trying to torpedo its live-streaming competition by launching its own app that lets users send video to viewers around the world at the tap of a touchscreen. In development for more than a year but bought by Twitter earlier this year, Periscope offers a nearly identical service to Meerkat, the wildly popular ephemeral video app that launched on Feb. 27. But in this battle for live-streaming dominance, Twitter and Periscope currently have a huge advantage: it owns both the seas and the ports.

Pointing up   What’s really needed here is a dedicated application specifically designed to record/stream every encounter one might have with the police. Every encounter.

Security:

Popular hotel Internet gateway devices vulnerable to hacking – The affected devices, designed to manage visitor-based networks, are manufactured by a company called ANTlabs and are used by both low-cost and luxury hotels around the world, according to researchers from security firm Cylance. The researchers discovered that multiple ANTLabs InnGate models contained a misconfigured rsync service that listened on TCP port 873 and gave unauthenticated attackers full read and write access to the device file system.

AT&T’s plan to watch your Web browsing—and what you can do about it – If you have AT&T’s gigabit Internet service and wonder why it seems so affordable, here’s the reason—AT&T is boosting profits by rerouting all your Web browsing to an in-house traffic scanning platform, analyzing your Internet habits, then using the results to deliver personalized ads to the websites you visit, e-mail to your inbox, and junk mail to your front door. AT&T charges at least another $29 a month ($99 total) to provide standalone Internet service that doesn’t perform this extra scanning of your Web traffic. The privacy fee can balloon to more than $60 for bundles including TV or phone service. Certain modem rental and installation fees also apply only to service plans without Internet Preferences.

British Airways confirms frequent flyer hack – The airline has confirmed thousands of frequent flyer accounts have been accessed.

G20 world leaders’ personal information leaked in ’email error’ – Australian G20 organisers have been left red faced after it was revealed an email autofill error led to a leak of passport details for 31 world leaders, including Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and more.

Thousands of Uber accounts are allegedly being sold on the dark web – Thousands of Uber users account credentials could have been compromised, and are up for sale from unscrupulous sellers. At least two separate vendors on dark web marketplace AlphaBay are hawking active Uber accounts, Motherboard reports. Once purchased, these accounts let buyers order up rides using whatever payment information is on file. Those accounts can also show trip history, email addresses, phone numbers, and location information for people’s home and work addresses.

Slack Got Hacked – Slack, the super-slick team chat-room service, is getting popular fast. Word around the rumor mill is that they’re currently raising funds at a $2.8 billion valuation. And in the words of the late, great Biggie Smalls: Mo Money, Mo Problems. In the case of startups, success can make your databases a juicy target for hackers. And sure enough: Slack got hacked.

Puush calls for password change after malware hit – Online screenshot-sharing service Puush is warning its users to change their passwords after it emerged that the platform had been infected with malware.

Company News:

British users can sue Google in UK over “secret tracking” – The UK’s Court of Appeal has confirmed an earlier landmark High Court decision that a group of British consumers using Apple’s Safari browser to access Google’s services can sue the US company in the UK. Google has always argued that the appropriate forum for such cases is in the US, so this sets an important precedent for future legal actions against foreign companies operating in the UK. The UK Court of Appeal’s ruling clears the way for the group known as “Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking” to proceed with its claim for compensation. The group alleges, “Google deliberately undermined protections on the Safari browser so that they could track users’ internet usage and to provide personally tailored advertising based on the sites previously visited.”

Google turns to GIFs (oh, and facts) to slam FTC snark – Weaponized GIFs are apparently the new way to make serious points more flippant online, with Google smacking back at News Corp. criticism that the search giant had made a habit of hanging around the White House. Google had been accused of chasing undue political influence, with the News Corp. owned Wall Street Journal suggesting it was sneaky maneuvering that saw Google escape FTC censure over activities contrary to the public interest. Key to the accusations was a count of the number of times Google had visited senior officials since President Obama took office.

BlackBerry posts second straight earnings gain – BlackBerry’s turnaround continues, as the company reported a second straight quarter of profit on Friday, along with expectations of sustained profitability throughout the coming year. “Our financial viability is no longer in question,” CEO John Chen declared in a conference call, even as he admitted the company is only halfway through a long transition. He also predicted sustained profitability in the current fiscal year that started March 1. Profits for the quarter that ended Feb. 28 were 4 cents a share, up from 1 cent a share for the previous quarter.

Sony’s SmartEyeglass augmented-reality glasses on sale in 10 counties – Just after Sony unveiled its SmartEyeglass augmented-reality glasses a few months ago, it was quickly labeled by tech media and critics as dorky, unfashionable, and tacky. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), Sony has decided to press ahead in the wake of the Google Glass experiment and release the headgear in 10 countries, starting this week. Labeled as a Developer Edition, the SED-E1 SmartEyeglass will set lucky purchasers back a steep $840. Just don’t expect people to jealous of how cool you look while wearing it.

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UK investigation finds Huawei isn’t a security threat – Huawei, along with ZTE, has previously been a source of concern for western governments, many of whom have expressed worry that the Chinese company could be performing surveillance for the Chinese government. That has led to use of its hardware being banned in some places, and probes into whether Huawei hardware has been compromised. Back in 2013, Huawei revealed that it would be launching an R&D facility in the United Kingdom, and that resulted in an investigation into the matter. It has been quite a while since then, and the result is in Huawei’s favor.

Not to be outdone, Amazon unleashes unlimited storage for $5 a month – Amazon this week laid down the gauntlet: Unlimited cloud storage for individuals for $5 a month ($59.99 per year). Amazon’s Unlimited Everything Plan allows users to store an infinite number of photos, videos, files, documents, movies and music in its Cloud Drive. The site also announced a separate $12 per year plan for unlimited photos. People who subscribe to Amazon Prime already get unlimited capacity for photos. Both the Unlimited Everything Plan and the Photos Plan have three-month free trial periods.

Games and Entertainment:

These 20 deep, absorbing PC games will eat days of your life – Far too many games these days are built to be played in small bursts: brief encounters, designed for a world with too few hours in the day and too many digital distractions. And that’s fine! Blasting through a few rounds of Call of Duty multiplayer, or playing a few run-throughs in Spelunky, is a wonderful way to spend a few minutes. But sometimes, you want something more—something meatier. Whether you’re looking for an entertaining way to blow a long weekend or simply want to wrap your head around a satisfyingly complex experience, these 20 deep, intricate, and just plain great PC games will hold you for hours and hours and hours on end.

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Pointing up   Skyrim, shown above, cost me $60 three years ago. The best entertainment dollars I’ve ever spent – 2000+ hours of game play later, and I’m still finding new challenges. The open world concept makes this game essentially never ending.

Fast & Furious expansion for Forza Horizon 2 available for free – Here’s a deal for Xbox gamers that will appeal to fans of either the Fast & Furious movie series or the Forza racing game series. As a way to promote the release of the new Furious 7 movie next week, a Fast & Furious-themed expansion for Forza Horizon 2 has just been released on both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles. The best part of all? It’s completely free, even if you don’t already own the full game.

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How “standby” modes on game consoles suck up energy – First, this should go without saying, but don’t leave your consoles sitting on and “idle” on the home menu when you turn the TV off. That draws about 33W of power on the Wii U, 92W on the Xbox One, and a whopping 130W on the PS4. Leaving your PS4 sitting on the menu like this all year would waste over $142 in electricity costs. Here’s a system-by-system breakdown on how those standby modes shake out, power-wise, and how to avoid what can be a significant drain on your power bill.

Half-Life 2 gets a visual makeover in this awesome mod – Half-Life 3 is one of the most anticipated (yet unconfirmed) sequels in modern PC gaming history with rumors dating back several years now. Still, there’s no solid evidence that Valve is working on the title. In the meantime, perhaps a trip down memory lane with a remastered version of Half-Life 2 will suffice? You may remember Half-Life fan Filip Victor’s first graphics mod in 2009. Since that, he’s been working on a revision that features improved lighting and environmental effects while maintaining the look and feel that made the original so special.

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You can now play Super Mario 64 in your browser – Super Mario 64 is still an amazing game, but nearly 20 years after it first launched on the Nintendo 64, it looks pretty dated. But with a little love, it can look amazing. Computer science student Erik Roystan Ross recently decided to remake the first level of the game while experimenting with the Unity game engine, and the results are impressive — the game looks almost as good as more recent games in the series, like Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. And you can even play the remake in your browser right here — but don’t expect to see the rest of the game rendered in HD. “I currently do not have any plans to develop this any further or to resolve any bugs, unless they’re horrendously game-breaking and horrendously simple to fix,” says Ross.

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This week in games: 3 reasons why mods are the best part of being a PC gamer – Plus Halo comes to PC…sort of, and somebody breaks their Rainbow Six: Siege NDA in order to show you dudes fighting on an airplane. This is all the gaming news for the week of March 23.

Four tips that can enhance your Netflix experience – We love binge-watching our favorite TV show and movies on Netflix as much as you do. These tips will help improve your viewing experience.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Apple’s Tim Cook speaks out against discriminatory ‘religious freedom’ laws – Apple CEO Tim Cook has used the editorial pages of The Washington Post to condemn laws that allow businesses to refuse service to homosexuals or other groups on the grounds of “religious freedom.” Calling the legislation “something very dangerous happening in states across the country,” Cook says these laws “rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”

Tech Titans Blast New Anti-Gay Law In Indiana – It’s hard to believe, after how far the gay rights movement has come, that we’re still doing this. But here we are. Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has signed into law a bill that allows private businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian consumers, according to CNN. The “Restoration of Religious Freedom Act” is meant to allow businesses and corporations to cite “religious beliefs” as a defense, should they be sued by a private party for discrimination. This of course means that Gov. Pence and the state of Indiana are prioritizing the religious beliefs of a company or corporation (after all, corporations are people!) over the basic human rights of a gay person. Right on queue, tech industry titans have swooped in to decry the move, led by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

Watch the Samsung Galaxy S Evolve Before Your Very Eyes – The Samsung Galaxy S has come a long way since it first launched in 2010. With its latest versions — the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge — set to go on sale on April 10, take a look at how the Android-powered iPhone rival has changed over the years:

Evolution of the  Galaxy S

Researchers demonstrate quantum entanglement, prove Einstein wrong – For the first time, quantum entanglement of a single particle has been observed by researchers — an event that Albert Einstein believed to be impossible under the contemporary quantum mechanics definition of physical reality, calling it “spooky action at a distance”. According to theory, quantum entanglement occurs when a pair of particles remains connected over distance in such a way that actions performed on one particle also have an affect on the other.

10 Reasons Why Building a Gaming PC is Awesome – Building a gaming PC can be time-consuming and stressful. There are a thousand things that could go wrong, and any one of them could wind up costing hundreds of dollars. And yet we do it anyway. Why? Because building PCs is totally awesome.

Cry-Baby of the Week: A Woman Fired a Gun Into Mcdonald’s Because They Messed Up Her Order – It’s time, once again, to marvel at some idiots who don’t know how to handle the world:

ElecFreaks Is Selling (And Giving Away) A DIY VR Drone – A new 3D-printed drone called the ELF VR Nano is available for pre-order on Indiegogo and for download on Thingiverse. That’s right: you can either buy the product and receive pre-printed parts or you can simply print it yourself. It’s one of the purest open source hardware plays I’ve seen in a long while and it just goes to show how cool it is to be able to print your own plastic parts at home. You can pick up a kit now for $65 on Indiegogo or simply print out the parts yourself for free. DIYers will also have to buy the motors and electronics but with the ubiquity of DIY manufacturing tools that’s far easier than it sounds these days.

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Living Without Cable: My Experience with Cutting the Cord – It’s been a month since I disconnected my AT&T U-verse TV service. It’s not the first time, but something I’ve done half a dozen times over the last several years. What’s different about this time and why I’m compelled to write about it is the fact that I have no intentions of going back. Cutting the cord sounds trendy enough but the reality is, there’s quite a bit of thought and consideration that goes into it, and there will be some compromises.

Something to think about:

“Religions are, for the most part, bad—but religion is not”

–   Kurt Gödel

Today’s Free Downloads:

Multi-Monitor Viewer – With Multi-Monitor Viewer you can view the contents of any of your monitors inside a typical application window.

Working on a PC with multiple monitors, in an extended desktop, while in general it can be a very rewarding and interesting experience, it might end up being a nightmare when it happens that you cannot actually have physical eye contact with one or more of your monitors. The typical scenario of such a case is when you need some of your monitors to face your audience during a presentation. There is no easy way to view what your audience sees without moving yourself in a proper position in space in order to establish eye contact with the presentation monitor.

Multi-Monitor Viewer is a software that allows for viewing the contents of any of your monitors inside a typical application window, making browsing the contents of your monitors super easy.

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Turn Off the Lights for Firefox – Turn Off the Lights for Firefox is a browser extension that lets users obscure everything on their screen except the Flash or HTML5 video they’re watching, minimizing distractions and making for a more pleasant viewing experience.

A lamp icon is displayed in the browser menu bar or in the omnibox, and users click on the gray lamp icon to make the area surrounding the video fade. Clicking outside the video restores the rest of the screen. Users can adjust the opacity of the screen blocking and select a color other than black if desired.

Available for IE and Chrome.

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Vivaldi Snapshot – MajorGeek says: Vivaldi is a new browser from the founders of the original Opera Web Browser in 1994.

Vivaldi has an interface, if I had to compare, similar to Google Chrome. By default you have you forward, back, refresh and home keys next to the address bar. New tabs open with the simple + tab and close with the X tab. It has a tiny sidebar that has quick links to bookmarks, mail (not available yet), downloads, contacts and notes. Towards the bottom left, just above the status bar, there is the options gear icon which would make more sense if brought up to the top right or even the sidebar where people would look for it first.

You can look at the bottom and you will find the option to show or hide images as well as show only cached images to speed up browsing. On a web page you’re having difficulty reading? Just slide the bar to zoom in or out and reset. Between those 2 features you can go nuts changing how a page renders 15 different ways from filters, including grayscale and intensify, to 3D to fonts. This is great for anyone having difficulty reading a webpage or just to have a little fun.

Vivaldi enters a crowded and vocal browser market. People tend to love what they love for a long time. The name Vivaldi does not exactly roll off the tongue but so far they got a really good thing going here. I had some difficulty rendering pages in 3D and a few other very minor annoyances but you want to keep in mind that this is still in its early stages so let the developers know your thoughts. So far it’s done a lot of downloads and is well received on MajorGeeks. Who knows, it could be the next big thing?

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Inquiry Launched into New Zealand Mass Surveillance – New Zealand’s spy agency watchdog is launching an investigation into the scope of the country’s secret surveillance operations following a series of reports from The Intercept and its partners.

On Thursday, Cheryl Gwyn, New Zealand’s inspector-general of intelligence and security, announced that she would be opening an inquiry after receiving complaints about spying being conducted in the South Pacific by eavesdropping agency Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB.

In a press release, Gwyn’s office said: “The complaints follow recent public allegations about GCSB activities. The complaints, and these public allegations, raise wider questions regarding the collection, retention and sharing of communications data.”

This month, The Intercept has shined a light on the GCSB’s surveillance with investigative reports produced in partnership with the New Zealand Herald, Herald on Sunday, and Sunday-Star-Times.

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4 Comments

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

4 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 30, 2015

  1. Fred

    Hi Bill!
    “Google admits it has huge influence in Washington as it tries to deny having influence”

    I read something yesterday which I found troubling about this:
    http://nypost.com/2015/03/28/google-controls-what-we-buy-the-news-we-read-and-obamas-policies/

    You know, WE THE PEOPLE, have NO IDEA what is really going on. I knew Schmidt was OK with Big Brother but this really troubled me, and Obama, whatever the ILLUSION of his persona was is clearly revealed by now to anyone paying attention as a POLITICIAN as you so aptly put it the other day.

    I used to think Richard Branson was a good guy but now I wonder if ANYBODY except you Bill, is really a good guy!
    I mean you tell the truth you express your opinions clearly without BS and you are HELPFUL to your fellow humans, I think these rich guys and politicians are NOT, at all, like that.

    With best wishes always,
    Fred

    • Hi Fred,

      Oh, I’m about as far from perfect and still be semi-respectable as it’s possible to be. Barely civilized, in fact. 🙂

      The wealthy/powerful/politicians (with their political machines), are more than capable of creating myths around their own accomplishments, life styles, morality, ethics – what have you. And, since advertising/propaganda (call it what you will), can be extremely convincing – it’s hardly surprising that the majority buy the bullshit.

      We live in an unfortunate time – a time in which one would hazard that the Internet (with it’s infinite capacity to satisfy curiosity), has led to a more aware, more engaged representation of who we are. But no – in fact, the reverse (depending on how one chooses to interpret data), appears to be true. We’re less engaged – less knowledgeable. And so, the bullshit acquires a thin veneer of truth.

      Politicians in my experience (way more than 50 years 🙂 ), are generally conniving, lying, smug, self-satisfied assholes primarily driven by a desire to acquire as much as possible at the public teat.

      Best,

      Bill

  2. Is it a month end posts round up Bill ?