Tech Thoughts Net News – Monday Edition – May 18, 2015

The simple Smart Home: Where to start;  Don’t panic! How to fix 5 common PC emergencies;  6 Apps for People Who Hate Apps;  Tails 1.4 polishes up the privacy-obsessed Linux OS;  3 simple tips to get the most out of your webcam;  7 Android apps that track your expenses;  Plane hacker admitted in-flight engine takeover says FBI;  Make the Chrome New Tab page more useful, beautiful;  No free Windows 10 lunch for PC pirates;  10 utterly wonderful technologies you shouldn’t buy yet;  RAM for the rich: 128GB DDR4 memory kits;  These clothes manager apps help you dress better;  The 50 Geekiest Movies Streaming on Netflix;  The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is like an open-world, playable Game of Thrones;  The Internet Backbone is reaching its physical limits;  Microsoft Punishes Gears of War Leakers;  SlimCleaner (free).

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

The simple Smart Home: Where to start – Controlling lights, appliances, and keeping an eye on home security has never been easier, but as smart home technology proliferates, picking the best place to start can be tough.  I’m going to focus on products that require the minimum of installation effort. I’m a big fan of non-permanent options: it makes a lot of sense if you’re renting, but it also gives you flexibility to change things up as you get used to your newly-smart home. I’ve also made sure that my suggestions will all carry forward and work with many of the more capable home automation systems, in case you later decide on a more complex setup.

6 Apps for People Who Hate Apps – While smartphone apps are certainly as popular as ever, there’s also a revolt brewing against these attention-grabbing, notification-slinging programs. People are tired of being tied to their handsets and falling down the rabbit hole of their touchscreen every time an alert dings. These six apps will help you cut back on your screen time, while making you more productive than ever.

Flickr, Google Photos, Photobucket and more: Which photo storage service is right for you? – Find out which photo-sharing and storage site best suits your needs with this deep dive into the top online photo services.

10 utterly wonderful technologies you shouldn’t buy yet – Yes, there’s amazing gear out there that will blow your mind if money is no object. But the cutting edge requires compromise, be it in the form of high sticker prices, bugs galore, or other issues. With that in mind, here’s a list of technology that absolutely rocks—but you probably shouldn’t buy.

Don’t panic! How to fix 5 common PC emergencies – Your PC may not be as essential to you as your smartphone, but chances are it’s still pretty damn important. So it’s completely understandable if your first reaction is to freeze and freak out when you run into a PC emergency, such as a broken screen, accidentally-deleted important file, or a virus. But panicking is counter-productive, because time is often of the essence. Don’t worry. While you can’t call 9-1-1, here’s what you can do to fix five common PC emergencies.

Make the Chrome New Tab page more useful, beautiful – Right now, your New Tab page in Chrome is probably a Google Search box, eight quick links to frequently visited sites, and a few extra Google links nestled in the top right-hand corner. It gets the job done, but it’s not much to look at. If you want to add a bit more functionality to your New Tab page, then check out Leoh for Chrome. This extension will let you add a to-do list, custom backgrounds, take notes and much more.

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7 Android apps that track your expenses – The following seven Android apps have been created to help users track and report on their expenses. Some are strictly for business purposes; others can be used for both personal and work finance tracking. All of these have been updated within the last six months and have earned a rating of at least 4 out of 5 stars on Google Play by at least 100 users.

RAM for the rich and nerdy: 128GB DDR4 memory kits become reality – Sure, you’ll have to sell both your kidneys to buy it, but at least now you can finally have 128GB of cutting-edge RAM in your PC. Corsair’s two kits fall into its premiere Dominator line up. The “cheaper” of the two uses eight 16GB DIMMs running at DDR4/2400 speeds for just $1,980. Corsair also offers a kit running at DDR4/2400 speeds for $2,120. Sign me up for two! Not to be outdone, Kingston this week also announced its own 128GB DDR4 kit, coming at even higher speeds. The company said its eight 16GB DIMMs are rated to hit DDR4/3000 speeds. Kingston did the deed not with the pricey Core i7-5960X Haswell-E processor, but the cheapie Core i7-5820K CPU.

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No free Windows 10 lunch for PC pirates – Microsoft’s appetite to get Windows 10 on as many PCs as possible may have seen it extend an olive branch to those running stolen software, but it won’t be a free lunch. The software giant surprised many earlier this year with its promise of a complimentary update in the first year; now, tackling the thorny issue of whether those running “non-genuine” prior versions of Windows will also get the free 10 upgrade, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson has confirmed that it won’t be so simple.

6 awesome new Android apps you should check out – The selection of apps and games in the Play Store is getting huge, but that’s not always a good thing. You could wander through the listings every day and still never spot the best stuff behind all the mediocre free-to-play games and keyboard skins. Luckily, we’re here to find the coolest apps and games so you’ll know what’s worth your time and money. So here are the best new apps and games on Android right now. Make sure to hit the gallery above for images of each pick.

Panasonic’s Firefox TVs are now on sale – The first TVs running Firefox OS are now on sale. Mozilla announced this morning that six models of Panasonic TVs running its new OS are starting to ship in Europe, with global availability arriving in “the coming months.” It’s hard to actually find the TVs online, but the two models that did turn up — the 50-inch CX700 and the 40-inch CX680 — were selling for £999 (around US $1,570) and £791 (around US $1,240).

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3 simple tips to get the most out of your webcam – The webcam is such a ubiquitous part of PCs we just don’t give them much thought anymore. They’re just one component among many on the latest desktops, laptops, and Ultrabooks sitting on store shelves.  People just aren’t giving the webcam the respect it deserves. Well, I say enough. Here are three tips to make the most of your webcam—including one tip that has nothing to do with video chat.

What to wear: These clothes manager apps help you dress better for work or play – Your phone can already handle a lot: Email, text messages, web-browsing, music-playing, picture-taking, and more. But did you know it can also serve as your personal stylist, helping you organize your wardrobe and dress appropriately for a wide variety of situations? Here are three apps that can help you look your best, whether you’re meeting with the CEO or taking clients out for a night on the town.

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Microsoft says it’s taking over updates for Windows 10 Mobile devices – It’s not exactly Android-style fragmentation, but Windows Phone users are perennially frustrated at carriers dragging their feet on operating system updates. That’s all changing with Windows 10 Mobile, the company says. And this time they mean it.

Security:

Tails 1.4 polishes up the privacy-obsessed Linux OS trusted by Edward Snowden – Tails, a privacy and anonymity-focused Linux distribution most famously used by Edward Snowden, just released version 1.4. This Debian-based system is designed to preserve your privacy and anonymity online, providing better protection than just using the Tor browser alone on a typical operating system. How effective is this concealment-centric operating system’s tools? Well, in 2012, vulnerabilities for Tails topped the NSA’s most-wanted list alongside Tor and TrueCrypt. Let’s dig into Tails’ basic capabilities, as well as the new changes.

Use privacy software if you want to be safe from Facebook, warns watchdog – A Belgian watchdog has urged all Internet users to download privacy software specifically to shield themselves from Facebook’s grasp. The social network has been under fire for the ways in which it tracks user and non-user behaviour online, without consent, most recently becoming the target of a Europe-wide lawsuit headed up by activist Max Schrems.

Plane hacker admitted in-flight engine takeover says FBI – While we were all busy arguing whether our cellphones could affect planes, one security researcher was busily hacking into aircraft and potentially gaining access to engine control. An ill-advised tweet got infosec specialist Chris Roberts barred from a United flight last month, after he joked about tinkering with aircraft systems like passenger emergency oxygen control. Turns out, so documentation submitted by the FBI reveals, Roberts’ abilities were even greater, to the point of momentarily controlling engine thrust.

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United launches bug bounty, but in-flight systems off limits – United Airlines is offering rewards to researchers for finding flaws in its websites but the company is excluding bugs related to in-flight systems, which the U.S. government says may be increasingly targeted by hackers. The bug bounty program rewards people with miles that can be used for the company’s Mileage Plus loyalty program as opposed to cash, which web giants such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo pay.

Penn State says it was hit with pair of “sophisticated” cyber attacks – Penn State has revealed that it was hit with two major cyber attacks, one of which it determined originated from China. The announcement was made today, with the university saying that it first became aware of the threats on November 21, 2014 after being alerted by the FBI. According to the statement, the FBI alerted the university of a cyber attack taking place on its College of Engineering network. The university is saying that “advanced persistent threat actors” conducted the two cyber attacks, with “at least” one being based in China. The oldest discovered date of intrusion was September of 2012.

Some perspective on Flash Player bugs – Last month, Adobe fixed 22 bugs in the Flash Player, in March, they fixed 11, in February, 15. January was a busy month, Adobe updated the software three different times to fix a total of 12 bugs. That’s 78 bugs fixed this year, after only 132 days. It averages out to a patch every 1.7 days. Or, 3 bug fixes every 5 days. What a disgrace, especially when you consider that Flash is a mature product. The software has been around since 1996. I started tracking it on my FlashTester.org site back in 2003. Putting it another way, after 18 years of work, Adobe produced such poor software that in its 19th year it needed 143 bug fixes.

FireEye, Microsoft wipe TechNet clean of malware hidden by hackers – According to a new report released by cybersecurity firm FireEye, in late 2014, FireEye Threat Intelligence and the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center discovered a command-and-control (C&C) obfuscation code hidden within Microsoft’s TechNet web portal. A Chinese group dubbed APT17 — also known as Deputy Dog — used the TechNet forum in order to hide the C&C code, making it more difficult for security professionals to locate the true source of the attack infrastructure.

Company News:

Google tipped to show “Buy” buttons in mobile search results – This latest insider info will surely ruffle Amazon’s and eBay’s furthers. Sources familiar with the matter claim that Google will be slowly rolling out a new feature on its mobile search results that will show a “Shop on Google” for sponsored search results, which will take users to a new page to make tweak the order and make a purchase. This dangerously encroaches on the territory of the two largest e-tailers but it could also sour Google’s relationships with other retailers already paying Google for some prime spots on its search results.

Amazon Might Let Merchants Ship Amazon Prime Goods Directly – Amazon is allegedly considering allowing some merchants to ship items directly to Amazon Prime shoppers instead of forcing them to store Amazon Prime items in Amazon’s warehouses.

AdBlock Plus team rumored to launch their own Android browser next week – If a report is to be believed, AdBlock Plus is going all out with its own web browser on Android for release on Wednesday May 20th, and as with most custom web browsers today, the browser is expected to use the chromium rendering engine. Other details about the browser are sparse but we will be keeping a very close eye on this one and will report any details and features this new browser may have.

Alibaba faces lawsuit from luxury brands over counterfeits – Alibaba Group has been hit with a lawsuit from luxury brands that alleges that the Chinese e-commerce giant has been deliberately promoting the sale of counterfeit products. The lawsuit, filed in a New York federal, comes from Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and other brands owned by Kering. The brands claim that Alibaba has knowingly helped an “army of counterfeiters” to sell their products over its e-commerce sites.

Apple quietly acquires Coherent Navigation for precision GPS mapping – Apple could be looking to bolster its mapping services; which have a bit of a spotted history, polarizing iPhone users. Apple just purchased the company Coherent Navigation which specializes in High Integrity GPS. This specialized GPS system differences from consumer-end GPS systems in that it uses data from multiple Iridium satellite networks to give incredibly precise locations–accurate within centimeters. Apple is keeping mum on the deal, confirming the deal with a standard, boilerplate response, “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Games and Entertainment:

Microsoft Punishes Gears of War Leakers – Did you know that the original Gears of War is coming to the Xbox One? Well it turns out Microsoft wasn’t ready to let the secret out. After footage of the upcoming remake was leaked onto the Web, Microsoft retaliated by remotely disabling the consoles of the leakers responsible. That wasn’t all, though. According to VMC, Microsoft also rendered the Xboxs of the accused totally unusable. Microsoft later released a statement saying they only revoked online access on the consoles in question, but even that still leaves countless games on the platform essentially unplayable. Apparently the punishment is only temporary. Microsoft will turn the consoles back on once it feels justice has been adequately served. And the company definitely has the right to go after people who break contracts.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is like an open-world, playable Game of Thrones – The latest entry in the Polish role playing series is essentially what would happen if you mashed up Game of Thrones and Grand Theft Auto. It takes place in a gritty fantasy realm beleaguered by horrific happenings. Not unlike Westeros, here is a place where magic and monsters exist alongside people. Characters die in brutal ways, and seemingly every story has a tragic element. The Witcher 3 is also an open-world game, a huge virtual playground where you can go practically anywhere and tackle things however you like. If the main story doesn’t interest you, simply wander off and hunt some monsters in the woods or investigate murders in a bustling medieval town. But no matter what you choose, you’re going to have some fun.

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Nvidia releases first WHQL driver for Windows 10 – Nvidia has beaten AMD to the punch with a full WHQL certified Windows 10 GPU driver, version 352.84, supporting their last three generations of desktop and four generations of mobile GPUs. This is a fairly major milestone for previewing Windows 10 on modern desktops, as solid video driver support is key to a good experience, and video driver issues have been known to plague Windows Insiders before. The full list of GPUs supported is as follows

The 50 Geekiest Movies Streaming on Netflix – It wasn’t hard to find 50 truly worthwhile movies to watch that hit all the right dork buttons. I limited the choices to science fiction and fantasy tales, with some horror thrown in if it had a super-natural element. Now sit back and fire up your My List with some streaming greatness (and check out the best geeky TV shows at left, too.)

Here’s the high-end PC you’ll need to run the Oculus Rift – It was always clear that the Oculus Rift would require a high-end PC — Oculus product VP Nate Mitchell said as much last week. But today, Oculus has published the actual recommended specs for a Rift-compatible computer. Here’s what you’ll need: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater; Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater; 8GB+ RAM; Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output; 2x USB 3.0 ports; Windows 7 SP1 or newer.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Google readies self-driving cars for public roads – As part of its self-driving car project, Google has announced plans to move prototype autonomous vehicles from its test center to city streets. Google’s self-driving cars have been in development for several years. The new prototypes are based on Google’s original fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs, which have logged nearly a million miles during testing and have recently begun driving themselves for roughly 10,000 miles each week.

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Researchers: The Internet Backbone is reaching its physical limits – According to New Scientist, the fiber optic cables that make up the Internet’s Backbone have a maximum data capacity of about 100 terabits per second: René-Jean Essiambre of Alcatel-Lucent says that those cables could reach that full capacity within five years. It sounds a little scary, but we have some time to address this looming crisis. And researchers are working toward doing just that: A melding of minds took place last week at the Royal Society in London where Internet experts discussed ways to keep the Internet running smoothly. The group discussed several ideas, New Scientist says, ranging from methods to reduce signal interference to new kinds of fibers that “contain multiple cores for transmitting data.”

Starbucks app fail leads to manager’s epic YouTube meltdown – A New York customer says she was struggling with her mobile app. This seemed to lead to the Starbucks manager completely losing it. Of course it’s now on YouTube.

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Who really wins from Facebook’s ‘free internet’ plan for Africa? – In the world’s least-developed countries, isn’t free internet, or at least a bit of it, a good thing? As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s expanding ventures in Asia and Africa demonstrate, the issue is considerably more complex than it might initially appear. Facebook caused a storm of controversy in India when it launched its Internet.org app, offering free access to a suite of websites including Facebook’s own pared-down ‘zero rated’ service. Net neutrality advocates have been up in arms, and their arguments have gained enough traction to cause a number of Indian content providers, including the Times Group and NDTV, to step away from the initiative.

Woody Allen: I don’t own a computer – Technically Incorrect: The famed director reportedly says he’s sad that people now watch movies on tiny screens and regrets signing a deal to make a TV series for Amazon.

Something to think about:

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

–     Mahatma Gandhi

Today’s Free Downloads:

SlimCleaner – SlimCleaner is the world’s first software that lets you clean and optimize Windows systems using a crowd-sourced approach.

Crowd-sourced and cloud-based, SlimCleaner combines a powerful PC cleaning engine with a community of tech-expert users who provide real-time feedback about the apps and items on a PC, to help others improve their own computer’s performance.

New Features:

New Interface: Gives users greater control and a faster experience, thanks to numerous refinements in SlimCleaner’s interface. Enhancements are based on extensive studies of how users interact with the software.

Intelligent Defrag: Allows users to run a personalized defrag based on their specific PC hardware. SlimCleaner will identify a PC’s hardware configuration and allow users to start a defrag based on settings intelligently determined by SlimCleaner based on that individual PC.

Software Updater: Lets users check for updates to the software on their PC and install those updates directly from SlimCleaner. SlimCleaner checks and installs updates for tens of thousands of commonly used software programs. Software updates are downloaded from SlimWare Utilities’ cloud, and all updates are scanned for viruses using CloudScan technology, SlimWare Utilities’ proprietary system of scanning files with multiple antivirus engines.

Solid-State Drive Optimization: Allows users to optimize the layout of files on their solid-state drives to speed-up loading programs and opening documents. The intelligent defrag system works with solid state drives by organizing files into logically sequential sectors while minimizing wear on the drive.

Duplicate Finder: Provides users with a quick, automated way to find and eliminate unnecessary duplicate files that can clutter and slow down a hard drive. The duplicate file finder wipes out extra or unneeded copies of files — including text files, videos, music files, etc. — that can take up space. The feature includes settings to allow for different levels of analysis.

The duplicate finder feature includes the company’s new “IntelliMatch Scan” engine, which uses SlimWare Utilities’ IntelliMatch technology to identify all duplicates. The engine works similar to a high-end anti-virus to read the various parameters of each file and accurately identify all duplicates across an unlimited amount of drives.

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Critics blast NSA phone records bill as ‘fake reform’ – A lopsided vote in the U.S. House of Representatives this week to rein in the National Security Agency’s domestic telephone records dragnet won muted praise, with many supporters calling on Congress to take stronger action.

Critics, meanwhile, slammed the USA Freedom Act for extending the section of the antiterrorism Patriot Act that the NSA has used to collect the telephone records of nearly all U.S. residents. The bill, passed by a 338-88 vote late Wednesday, would end the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic telephone records, while allowing the agency to continue to collect phone and other business records in a more targeted manner.

The bill’s failure to kill the business and telephone records section of the Patriot Act, which would expire on June 1 without congressional action, is “fake reform,” according to digital rights groups Fight for the Future and Demand Progress and progressive carrier CREDO Mobile. The bill would expand NSA surveillance powers to VoIP and video chats and would take the “wind out of the sails of real reform by appearing to have addressed mass surveillance,” the groups said on a new website, USAFreedom.fail.

The USA Freedom Act is “the opposite of reform,” Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, said by email.

UK government quietly rewrites hacking laws to give GCHQ immunity – The UK government has quietly passed new legislation that exempts GCHQ, police, and other intelligence officers from prosecution for hacking into computers and mobile phones.

While major or controversial legislative changes usually go through normal parliamentary process (i.e. democratic debate) before being passed into law, in this case an amendment to the Computer Misuse Act was snuck in under the radar as secondary legislation. According to Privacy International, “It appears no regulators, commissioners responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies, the Information Commissioner’s Office, industry, NGOs or the public were notified or consulted about the proposed legislative changes… There was no public debate.”

Privacy International also suggests that the change to the law was in direct response to a complaint that it filed last year. In May 2014, Privacy International and seven communications providers filed a complaint with the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), asserting that GCHQ’s hacking activities were unlawful under the Computer Misuse Act.

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4 Comments

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

4 responses to “Tech Thoughts Net News – Monday Edition – May 18, 2015

  1. Reblogged this on Process THIS!! Facilitating business profitability. and commented:
    6 awesome Android apps you should check out is a great little article. It talks about BLEEP, a must have for people who like anonymity.

  2. I greatly enjoy the eclectic nature of your blog as their is something for everyone here. It’s obvious from the amount of work you put in this that this is a passion of yours. KUDOS!