Tech Thoughts Net News – Friday Edition – September 4, 2015

10 Favorite Windows 10 Universal Apps for PCs and Phones;  Build a Windows 10 PC for $495;  3 things you should know before you buy your next laptop;  Skype mobile apps updated with redesign, more features;  The 10 Best Budget Laptops of 2015;  Google now helps you easily look up details for 900 illnesses;  Google Docs Has a New Killer Feature;  Despite reports of hacking, baby monitors remain woefully insecure;  My favorite Windows 10 tweak: GodMode;  Privacy Concerns Raised Over Kids’ Apps And Websites;  Photos: 10 brain buster apps to raise your mental game;  Google patches 29 vulnerabilities in latest Chrome release;  6 Video Games You’ll Want to Buy in September;  30 percent of Australians still pirate online material;  HDClone 6 Free Edition;  Microsoft wants you to Snip your next screenshot;  Microsoft, US face off again over emails stored in Ireland;  DisableWinTracking (free);  Bad tech movies you might want to watch this weekend.

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Our 10 Favorite Windows 10 Universal Apps for PCs and Phones – Windows 10 lets you get apps that run on differing device sizes from phones to high-powered desktop PCs. Here are the best of these apps we’ve found.

Google Classroom Launches Chrome Extension So Teachers Can Instantly Share Links With The Entire Class – Google calls Classroom a “mission control for teachers,” allowing them to access all of Google Apps for Education within one central place. Teachers can use the product to chat with students, help students with their work and keep track of the daily goings on in the classroom. Today, the product is introducing something really nifty that will allow a teacher to share a link with students immediately without them having to give out a URL. If all of the students happen to be using a Chrome browser and are logged in, a teacher can jump on over to a webpage, click the extension and pick a class to share it with. An alert will pop up to the entire class, no matter where they’re located, and the page will load.

3 things you should know before you buy your next laptop – A couple months back I reviewed, then bought, an Asus ZenBook UX305 — a thin, lightweight laptop that, at first glance, seemed an ideal replacement for my aging, slowing, increasingly problem-ridden Samsung Series 9. Though it was already a very solid deal at $699, I decided to take the leap when the Microsoft Store put it on sale for $599. Now that I’ve had the chance to live with it and really make it part of my workday, I have a few regrets — and I’m going to distill those into three things you should strongly consider when shopping for your next laptop.

The 10 Best Budget Laptops of 2015 – The saying goes, “dirt-cheap laptops are dirt cheap for a reason.” While this might have been true a couple of years ago, times have changed, and for the better. These days, laptop manufacturers are inventing new ways to outsell each other, including aggressive price cutting. Now we’re seeing full-size and ultraportable notebooks that run powerful-enough processors to take around the house or at work or school, as well as full-featured chromebooks and hybrid systems that give you both laptop and tablet functionality in one device.


Build a Windows 10 PC for $495 – Quite a few readers have been asking for an outline spec for a PC that can run Windows 10 and get stuff done but which won’t break the bank. Here you go. It’s actually possible to build a pretty decent PC for under $500. Could you buy cheaper from an OEM? Sure you could, but I doubt that you could buy much better for the money. Also, because you know everything that went into the system, you can diagnose problems or carry out upgrades much easier than you could on a big-box OEM PC.

Skype mobile apps updated with redesign, more features – Skype has introduced version 6.0 for both Android and iOS, and both updates are big — the apps have been overhauled, with the starting point of that overhaul being redesigns. Skype says the newest version is both more intuitive and more natural than the last version, and building upon that are new features that expand its usefulness for mobile users. Skype 6.0 for iOS is available now; the Android update is rolling out, so you may have to wait a little longer.


Google now helps you easily look up details for 900 illnesses – A new Google search feature is making it easier to find details on more than 900 different health conditions. These include everything from common conditions like pink eye to tropical diseases like dengue fever. Along with adding 500 more diseases to this search feature, Google is also making design improvements to the information boxes. Now if you search specifically for a disease’s symptoms, the symptoms will show up in the box first. There’s also an option to print out a PDF of the information so patients can bring it to a doctor.

Google Street View app makes spherical photos useful – Several years ago Google introduced their own take on spherical photo capture in Android. They pushed this functionality to Street View, their own real-world-capture system for Google Maps. Now they’ve made it accessible and user-friendly for all people with mobile devices with a new Street View app from Google Maps. This app allows you to capture, share, and view your own spherical photos in as simple a way as has ever been delivered on a mobile device.


Google Docs Has a New Killer Feature – Welcome back to the feature war. On Wednesday, Google will unveil a spate of new functions to Google Docs including voice dictation (Google’s calling it voice typing) which should be very nifty if it works as advertised. Not only can you speak what needs to be typed, Google can translate what you say into 40 languages. A caveat: “We’re not sure it can handle the Boston accent yet,” said Ryan Tabone, director of product management for Google Docs. To use the feature, a user needs to click on a microphone button and go. Microsoft Office does not have this yet, although since Microsoft has translation and speech recognition capabilities of its own, it’s probably just a matter of time.

Google for Education preps to go back to school with ‘superpowers’ – Google is bringing what could be arguably its greatest superpower to Docs through a new function called “Research.”

My favorite Windows 10 tweak: GodMode – I like GodMode for two reasons. First, it’s easy to do (there’s no registry editing or messing around with system files, and there’s no chance that the wheels will fall off your system). Secondly, it brings a myriad of different settings and options and puts them all in one place so I no longer have to go searching all over the operating system for them. This feature has existed in previous version of Windows, dating back to Windows XP, but if you’ve recently switched up to Windows 10 you might find it a useful aid in finding things within the new operating system.

Photos: 10 brain buster apps to raise your mental game – If it’s been a long summer of sun-soaking and sloth and you’re ready to get your brain energized again, these mobile apps can get the neurons firing.


Can You Escape – Break out of rooms by solving puzzles and finding objects that will come in handy in the next room you get trapped in. It’s free and available for iOS and Android.

Microsoft wants you to Snip your next screenshot – Microsoft released a free app for capturing, annotating, and explaining screenshots. While the name is a bit confusing, Snip is not the same thing as the improved Snipping Tool that comes free with Windows 10. The Snipping Tool will capture screenshots, but it does not have any annotation features. Snip, on the other hand, is a free tool developed through a Microsoft Garage project that allows users to capture screenshots and then annotate them (Figure B). With the Snip app, users can draw on their captured screenshots using a software pen, which is available in various colors and sizes.


Chrome 45 frees up memory faster, reloads most recently used content – Google has taken user feedback about Chrome becoming a sluggish memory-hog seriously: The latest release speeds up browsing and is more aggressive at memory management.

Privacy Concerns Raised Over Kids’ Apps And Websites – Given the sophisticated tracking technologies embedded into so many digital products and services as a matter of course, it should come as no surprise that a global privacy audit of children’s websites and apps has highlighted big concerns about the collection and use of kids’ data.


Google patches 29 vulnerabilities in latest Chrome release – Google has patched 29 security flaws, many of them deemed critical, in the latest update to the Chrome browser. On Tuesday, Google pushed Chrome 45 for Windows, Mac and Linux to the stable channel and for public release. As part of the Chrome 45.0.2454.85 update, 29 bugs have been fixed, and a number of improvements have been made. The most critical issues fixed in this update were three cross-origin bypass problems, which netted researchers $7500 in each case. In addition, a bug bounty hunter earned $5000 for a use-after-free vulnerability in Skia.

Despite reports of hacking, baby monitors remain woefully insecure – Disturbing reports in recent years of hackers hijacking baby monitors and screaming at children have creeped out parents, but these incidents apparently haven’t spooked makers of these devices. A security analysis of nine baby monitors from different manufacturers revealed serious vulnerabilities and design flaws that could allow hackers to hijack their video feeds or take full control of the devices. The tests were performed by researchers from security firm Rapid7 during the first half of this year and the results were released Tuesday in a white paper. On a scale from A to F that rated their security functionality and implementation, eight of the devices received an F and one a D.

Android ransomware uses XMPP chat to call home, claims it’s from NSA – A new variant of mobile ransomware that encrypts the content of Android smartphones is putting a new spin on both how it communicates with its masters and how it spurs its victims into action. The updated version of Simplocker masquerades on app stores and download pages as a legitimate application, and uses an open instant messaging protocol to connect to command and control servers. The malware requests administrative permissions to sink its hooks deep into Android. Once it’s installed, it announces itself to some victims by telling them it was planted by the NSA—and to get their files back, they’ll have to pay a “fine.”


Check Point

Shopperz adware takes local DNS hijacking to the next level – Shopperz, also known as Groover, injects ads into users’ Web traffic through methods researchers consider malicious and deceptive. In addition to installing extensions in Internet Explorer and Firefox, the program creates Windows services to make it harder for users to remove those add-ons. One service is configured to run even in Safe Mode, a Windows boot option often used to clean malware. Moreover, Shopperz creates a rogue Layered Service Provider (LSP) in Windows’s network stack that allows it to inject ads into Web traffic regardless of the browser used.

The shadiest characters in the world of top-level domains – A number of top-level domains are used almost entirely to support botnets, spam campaigns and phishing, researchers have revealed. On Wednesday, a team from enterprise security firm Blue Coat unveiled the result of months of research into today’s top-level domains (TLDs). Domains are no longer limited to .com, .org and country of origin; instead, website operators can choose from a wide selection including .link, .edu, .mil, .review and .work, among others. However, the use of many TLDs is far from legitimate; instead, the researchers say over 95 percent of websites in ten different TLD “neighborhoods” are considered suspicious — and in two domains, .zip and .review, every link analyzed related to malicious use.

Even encrypted medical record databases leak information – A new study from Microsoft researchers warns that many types of databases used for electronic medical records are vulnerable to leaking information despite the use of encryption. The paper, due to be presented at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security next month, shows how sensitive medical information on patients could be pilfered using four different attacks. Researchers discovered the sex, race, age and admission information, among other data, using real patient records from 200 U.S. hospitals.

Latest security flaw to destroy all business? ‘Sanity check’ your cybercrime statistics – The difficulty telling fact from fiction in cybercrime news has been getting worse over the past few years. For decision makers, this means a “sanity check” on reported stats should be in your everyday toolkit.

Company News:

Apple, Google, Other Silicon Valley Tech Giants Ordered To Pay $415M In No-Poaching Suit – United States District Judge Lucy Koh today approved a $415 million settlement in the Silicon Valley no-poaching case. The dollar figure comes after a previous $324 million settlement was rejected as being too low. More than 64,000 workers are part of the case. The suit stems from a secret agreement among large tech firms like Google, Apple and Intel to not poach employees from one another. The effect of that sort of arrangement depresses employee mobility, and, therefore, wages. Perhaps the victory that results here on behalf of the working portion of Silicon Valley is moral, but it still feels light. The dollar figure, before taxes and the like, is just under $6,500 apiece. The amount is based on the individual base salaries between 2005 and 2009 of the workers listed in the suit.

Amazon snaps up Elemental to boost video on  AWS – Amazon will acquire Elemental Technologies in a bid to enrich the video capabilities of its AWS cloud service, the company announced Thursday. Elemental makes software to help media and entertainment companies take live and on-demand video intended for traditional purposes such as cable, satellite or over-the-air broadcast and reformat it for digital distribution to PCs, smartphones, tablets and TVs. The Oregon company was founded in 2006. Amazon Web Services plans to use the technology in new integrations and infrastructure offerings, it said. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year; terms were not disclosed.

Google sued over Waze’s alleged theft of map information – Google has more litigation on its hands. Waze, the GPS navigation app Google acquired in 2013, is being accused of stealing proprietary mapping information from a Washington, DC-based rival called PhantomAlert prior to its acquisition. The search giant’s purchase of Israeli-based Waze for $1.3 billion was a blockbuster mapping scoop that let Google tap into troves of important Waze data, which crowdsources mapping errors and traffic accidents to improve its product. Now, this lawsuit calls into question the underlying motivations with which Google bought Waze in the first place.

Double the performance, triple the battery: Intel looks to Skylake to revitalize PC business – According to Intel, there are hundreds of millions of computers out there that were state-of-the-art in 2010, and are now due for an upgrade. With the introduction of its new Skylake processor family on Tuesday – along with a slew of allied technologies – the company hopes laptop and desktop owners, both consumer and corporate, will be persuaded to open their wallets for a new system.

Games and Entertainment:

30 percent of Australians still pirate online material: Choice – 30 percent of Australians still download, stream, or watch pirated TV shows or movies online, despite government action, according to the Australian consumer advocacy group, Choice. Choice conducted a survey of 1,010 people from July 2 to 15, via iView — the free internet TV service from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) — as a follow up to the same survey it conducted in 2014. “The most frequent pirates are also the biggest consumers of paid and unpaid legal content and many exhaust the legal options before infringing online,” Choice said. “This doesn’t make piracy excusable, but it sure suggests that the best way to battle online piracy is to start making content more available and less expensive.”

Popcorn Time users sued again, this time for streaming 2015’s Survivor – The same law firm that sued 11 Popcorn Time users for watching Adam Sandler’s The Cobbler has fired another salvo, this time at users who viewed the 2015 film Survivor. The latest lawsuit targets 16 Comcast subscribers in the state of Oregon, Ars Technica reports. Both lawsuits were filed by the same attorney, Oregon-based Carl Crowell, who told Ars that he’s only seeking the statutory minimum of $750 from each anonymous defendant.

6 Video Games You’ll Want to Buy in September – September is here, and it arrives with several major video game releases in tow. It’s easy to get blindsided, as this month features some of the biggest game releases of 2015. Fortunately for you, we’re here to help narrow the scope of September’s releases to a few choice gems, for the sake of both your wallet and your sanity.


TV fans drop the remote, pick up their smartphones instead  – Consumers are embracing video-on-demand TV and video services like never before and together these are now responsible for every third viewing hour of the day. If that seems a lot, it’s worth point out that figure is for viewing as a whole worldwide – the figures for teenage viewing suggest that nearly two thirds of teens total TV and video viewing is now done on a mobile device. That statistic is from the latest Ericsson ConsumerLab TV & Media Report for 2015 which also highlighted the huge growth in the number of consumers watching video on a mobile device with 61 percent saying that they watch on their smartphones today. This is an increase of 71 percent over the previous survey in 2012.

Bad tech movies you might want to watch this weekend – Odds are if you’re watching this, you know something about tech, and if you know something about tech, watching movies about tech can be a big problem. Why? Hollywood doesn’t always do its research. Nevertheless, a bad movie can also be a fun movie. Here’s our count down of our top four worst tech movies.

Off Topic (Sort of):

eBay seller who sued over negative feedback dinged $19k in legal fees – When Med Express sued Amy Nicholls for giving negative feedback on eBay, she didn’t back down and remove the feedback. Instead, she lawyered up, acquiring pro bono counsel with help from Paul Levy at Public Citizen, who’s been called “the Web Bully’s worst enemy.” Med Express founder Richard Radey quickly backed down and apologized, but it didn’t sit well. “Problem is, I don’t believe a word of what he says,” Levy told Ars in 2013. Radey had a history of such lawsuits. Levy sought sanctions and attorneys’ fees. That battle has, at long last, been won. A Medina County, Ohio, judge ruled (PDF) this week that Med Express and Radey must pay $19,250 to Tom Haren and Jeffrey Nye, the two Ohio lawyers who represented Nicholls and one other defendant. Levy worked on the case pro bono and sought no fees.

14-year-old added to police database for using Snapchat to send naked selfie – A 14-year-old boy has been added to a UK police intelligence database for using Snapchat to send a naked picture of himself to a female classmate he was flirting with from his bedroom. She saved the image and shared it with others, which is how the case came to light. Although the boy was not arrested or charged, the incident was nonetheless recorded as a crime of “making and distributing an indecent image of a child,” even though it was of himself. As The Guardian reports, “the [database] file remains active for a minimum of 10 years, meaning the incident may be flagged to potential employers conducting an advanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, such as for those who work with children.”

Starfish-killing robots headed to Great Barrier Reef – Roboticists at QUT develop a robot aimed at destroying invasive starfish, thereby saving the life of the Great Barrier Reef. First trials of this robot in the sea have been completed in Queensland’s Moreton Bay. More trials are set to take place later this month. While just a few robots will be deployed at first, this device’s creator sees great potential for a whole horde of them, all with the same goal. “The COTSbot becomes a real force multiplier for the eradication process the more of them you deploy,” said Dr Matthew Dunbabin from QUT’s Institute for Future Environments.


Phones with ultra high-res 4K screens are serious overkill. Seriously – A 4K smartphone seems like an inevitable evolution in the industry, as engineers continue to improve the performance of shrunken internal components like camera sensors and computing processors. Phone-makers that implement the newest advancements snare bragging rights and lure buyers with claims of their products’ superiority. But before you take a stance one way or another, let’s consider what we already know about 4K resolution on TVs and current state-of-the-art resolution (2,560×1,440 pixels) on smartphones — and the niche segment where 4K might actually make a real difference.

Something to think about:

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

–       William Arthur Ward


DisableWinTracking – Uses some known methods that attempt to disable tracking in Windows 10.


HDClone 6 Free Edition – The Free Edition is real freeware without any obligation to buy. It is intended for temporary and free use cases. For more frequent or professional use, we recommend you to use one of the higher Editions, as they offer higher speed, broader hardware support and further options for regular and professional usage.

HDClone cre­ates phys­i­cal or log­i­cal cop­ies (clones) and file im­ages of hard disks and oth­er mass stor­age me­dia. HDClone is a per­fect tool for back­ups and cre­ating cop­ies of en­tire soft­ware or operating system in­stal­la­tions. A spe­cial Safe­Rescue mode makes HDClone an in­valu­able tool for res­cu­ing de­fec­tive hard disks and oth­er me­dia. HDClone works in­de­pen­dent of par­ti­tion­ing scheme, file system, and operating system. It also works with pro­pri­e­tary for­mats which would oth­er­wise be in­ac­ces­si­ble.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Feds say they’ll now get warrants before using cell-tower simulators – The fight against cell tower simulators, commonly known as Stingrays, just scored a major victory. Today the Justice Department issued a new policy for the simulators, which requires a search warrant before any such device can be deployed, effective immediately. The legal status of the cell-site simulators is still uncertain, and the new policy won’t have the force of law, but it’s still expected to radically change the way federal law enforcement deploys the devices.

There are still some exception to the warrant requirement, but they’re expected to be tracked and monitored significantly more rigorously than in the past. The relevant section of the new policy reads:

The use of cell-site simulators is permitted only as authorized by law and policy. While the Department has, in the past, appropriately obtained authorization to use a cell-site simulator by seeking an order pursuant to the Pen Register Statute, as a matter of policy, law enforcement agencies must now obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause and issued pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (or the applicable state equivalent), except as provided below.

Specific exceptions follow for exigent circumstances as named in the Fourth Amendment, as well as circumstances where the pen register statute is more relevant than the traditional warrant requirement. Any applications granted under these exceptions are to be tracked and reported by the department components.

Journalists arrested on terrorism charges in Turkey for using crypto software – Three journalists working with Vice News have been charged with “engaging in terrorist activity” on behalf of ISIL (ISIS), because one of them used encryption software. A Turkish official told Al Jazeera: “The main issue seems to be that the [journalists’] fixer uses a complex encryption system on his personal computer that a lot of ISIL militants also utilise for strategic communications.” There are no details as to what that “complex encryption system” might be, but it seems likely that it is nothing more than the PGP email encryption software, or perhaps the The Onion Router (TOR) system, both of which are very widely used, and not just by ISIL.

The correspondent and cameraman for Vice News, who are both British, and their fixer, who is Iraqi but Turkey-based, were arrested last Thursday in Diyarbakir, located in south-eastern Turkey, and an important centre for the country’s Kurdish population. According to The Guardian, the Vice News journalists were covering “recent clashes between Turkish security forces and the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, the youth wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).”

The new legislation could be blunted by re-designing messaging systems.

Exposing those tensions would not have endeared them to the Turkish authorities, and the real reason for their arrest may be to stop them reporting on this sensitive issue. What is particularly troubling, however, is that it seems the mere use of encryption software is enough for three journalists to be arrested on terrorism charges.

Microsoft, US face off again over emails stored in Ireland – A dispute between Microsoft and the U.S. government over turning over emails stored in a data center in Ireland comes up for oral arguments in an appeals court in New York on Wednesday.

Microsoft holds that an outcome against it could affect the trust of its cloud customers abroad as well as affect relationships between the U.S. and other governments which have their own data protection and privacy laws.

Customers outside the U.S. would be concerned about extra-territorial access to their user information, the company has said. A decision against Microsoft could also establish a norm that could allow foreign governments to reach into computers in the U.S. of companies over which they assert jurisdiction, to seize the private correspondence of U.S. citizens.

How Microsoft’s data case could unravel the US tech industry – Saying “no” to the government is never a good idea. But Microsoft had little option.

In a little under a week, Microsoft will again head to a Manhattan court in an effort to try to quash a search warrant, sought by the US Justice Department, in an international drugs-related case.

The warrant itself isn’t out of the ordinary, but it does contain a crucial facet: It is demanding data on an email account stored by Microsoft in a datacenter in Ireland.

Microsoft argued the search warrant goes way beyond the means of a traditional search warrant because it forces the company to hand over data it stores in another country, which in itself is subject to different laws and regulations.

This one case will determine — effectively — how far the US can use its own legal system to compel companies doing business within its borders to hand over data it stores overseas.

As one report put it, the case will determine whether data has a “nationality.”


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