Tech Thoughts Net News – Monday – July 25, 2016

Prisma is now out on Android;  Would You Pay a Subscription for Windows?  Tricks that ransomware uses to fool you;  11 Secret Codes That Unlock Hidden Features on Your Phone;  Redbox is giving streaming another shot;  Pokemon Go Already on the Decline in U.S.;  Microsoft cuts Xbox One price to $249;  More than half the world is still offline – and much more news you need to know.

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Prisma is now out on Android – Prisma, the sensationally popular iOS photo manipulation app that’s been second only to Pokémon Go in terms of summer hype, has now arrived on Android. The Google Play Store has been plagued by sketchy knockoffs of this excellent new app, so it’s a welcome relief to have the authentic app now up and running. Prisma’s makers say they’ve ported over all the iOS functionality, so there shouldn’t be any difference in user experience or capabilities. With more than 400 million pictures “prismed” and over 10.6 million installs on iOS, Prisma is arriving on Android having barely been able to sustain its popularity among iPhone users.


Google Play starts showing apps’ actual download sizes: No more guessing games – Google Play now displays the actual storage space a whole app or an upgrade will take up, so you don’t accidentally download anything too big. If an update is only 2.91MB, it will show that exact figure right there in each app’s detail box. That will give you the chance to reconsider your download or to free up some space before getting a particularly large game or VR experience. Besides displaying more accurate file sizes, Google also tweaked its Play Store algorithm to make updates even smaller.

Digital advocates call DMCA copyright restrictions unconstitutional – The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the government, arguing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has outlived its usefulness in protecting copyrighted material from pirates and stifles free speech.

A Jim Hillier article: Would You Pay a Subscription for Windows? – Speculation surrounding the possibility of Microsoft introducing a subscription based option for Windows 10 has been doing the rounds for quite some time. We even wrote about it way back in 2014: Subscription Based Windows OS – Is It On The Cards? Now, it seems, Microsoft has taken the first step in this direction by offering a subscription based Windows 10 option to enterprise consumers. On Tuesday, Microsoft confirmed that it will be offering Windows 10 Enterprise E3, a special enterprise tier of Windows 10, which will cost $7 per user per month.

11 Secret Codes That Unlock Hidden Features on Your Phone – The USSD protocol allows you to access hidden features you didn’t know about right from your smartphone’s dialer. But there is some trickiness you’ll need to know about.

This simple tool tells you if Amazon Prime is worth it (or not) – Amazon Prime is pretty great, but is it worth $99 per year? That varies depending on how you use Prime, of course, but there’s now a really simple way to figure it all out. Slice is an app for iOS and Android that tracks shipments for you based on shipment confirmation emails. It’s new tool, My Amazon Report, breaks down exactly how much you are (or aren’t) saving on shipping costs.

How to customize the Bubbles, Ribbons, and Mystify screen savers for Windows 10 – If you’re a fan of traditional Windows screen savers, these simple HTA apps are for you. They’ll make it easy to access and configure three screen savers that dropped off the map with Windows 10.

iPhone 7: All the rumors on its release date, specs, design and features – As July turns to August, it means that summer is winding down — and that new iPhones are imminent. With an announcement expected during the first or second week of September, we’re now officially in the homestretch — less than 8 weeks away from the big day when rumors turn to vapor or crystalize into reality. Here’s an updated rundown of the things we may see with the iPhone 7.

Verizon will cut off unlimited data users who use too much unlimited data – Verizon is forcing heavy data users to get off its unlimited plan or get off the carrier’s network entirely.

9 Chatbots You Can Talk to Right Now on Facebook Messenger – You want to talk to bots instead of people? These are the most useful you’ll find on Facebook.


Tricks that ransomware uses to fool you – Ransomware quite often targets businesses (for example hospitals) rather than individuals. Corporations have more valuable data and more money for ransom (ransom increases from roughly $500 per computer to $15,000 for the entire enterprise). Cyphort has examined different variants of ransomware to help users get an idea of what might be coming down the Internet pipeline. So keep an eye out for these characteristics before your network is taken hostage.

Is Computer Security Becoming a Hardware Problem? – In a new piece for the Communications of the ACM, Paul Kocher, chief cryptographer at semiconductor firm Rambus, argues that current computing devices are similarly vulnerable: “Today’s computing devices resemble the Silver Bridge, but are much more complicated. They have billions of lines of code, logic gates, and other elements that must work perfectly. Otherwise, adversaries can compromise the system. The individual failure rates of many of these components are small, but aggregate complexity makes vulnerability statistically certain.” To Kocher, this is a scaling problem. While the complexity of our machines increases exponentially, the development of new, reliable security schemes has not kept pace. Instead, security engineers take comfort in the complexity itself.

Company News:

Nintendo’s Stock Plummets Because It’s Not Making Enough Money Off of Pokémon Go – Earlier last week, Nintendo was basking in a dewey post-Pokémon Go glow, its stock doubling in value because of the game’s wild success. But what goes up must come down—thanks, Newton—and after the market closed on Friday, Nintendo revealed in a press release that “the game’s financial impact will be ‘limited’ and that it doesn’t expect to revise its annual forecast higher based on ‘current conditions,’” according to Bloomberg.

Your privacy at risk: Verizon reportedly close to purchasing Yahoo’s Internet business  – A major report suggests that Verizon may be about to buy Yahoo’s internet business. It’s unwelcome news for anyone concerned with privacy, but a potentially great move for Verizon’s bottom line.

Redbox is giving streaming another shot – After unceremoniously putting the old kibosh on it Instant service back in 2014, your friendly neighborhood DVD dispenser Redbox is ramping up to give streaming another go. The movie distributor, whose vending machines have become a supermarket mainstay across the US, is taking another shot at Netflix with a small beta roll out for “a small subset of [its] customers” From the sound of things, this is all still very early stages. No definite pricing or timing, but the Redbox Digital app has been published in the App Store, and screen shots reveal a UI pretty on-par with what’s offered up by Netflix and its ilk, albeit with a download option entered into the mix, along with a cast button to stream it to compatible devices.


Cyanogen Inc. reportedly fires OS development arm, switches to apps – Cyanogen Inc. seems to be in trouble. A report from Android Police cites “several sources” that say the three-year-old Android software house will be laying off 20 percent of its workforce. One source said the company would “pivot” to “apps” and away from OS development.

PonoMusic Taking a Break While it (Frantically) Switches Providers – Neil Young’s high-definition song store is down for a number of weeks, as its music service provider, Omnifone, was recently acquired.

Games and Entertainment:

SurveyMonkey: Pokemon Go Already on the Decline in U.S. – Has Pokemon Go peaked in the United States? Probably. Is it still going to mint a lot of money and have millions of players running around parks? Probably.

Microsoft cuts Xbox One price to $249 – Microsoft is cutting the price of its Xbox One console to $249. The new price marks the third price cut in less than two months, ahead of the new Xbox One S launch on August 2nd. 500GB versions of the Xbox One are now $249, and this includes bundles with games like Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Quantum Break, Forza Motorsport 6, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Rare Replay. Retailers like Best Buy and Amazon will be selling Microsoft’s Xbox One console at the new $249 price point immediately, and the software giant says the consoles will be available at $249 “while supplies last.”

‘Gears of War 4’ will have plenty of PC-specific features – The history of Microsoft-backed Xbox One games coming to the PC isn’t exactly stellar. When Remedy’s Quantum Break reached Windows, it was saddled with limitations that were partly dictated by the Universal Windows Platform’s own limits, such as frame rate issues and an overall lack of features. You shouldn’t run into those problems when Gears of War 4 rolls around, though. As part of a Eurogamer interview, The Coalition has revealed that the cover-based shooter will have ample PC-specific features. You’ll get much deeper video settings that include dynamic resolutions, so your ultra-wide display won’t go to waste. It’ll also take advantage of many-core PC processors, higher-resolution textures and UWP’s recently unlocked frame rates, offering a distinct visual advantage to playing on a brawny computer.


Sonic Mania is a new game straight from the Sega Genesis era – It’s hard to remember the last decent Sonic the Hedgehog game — most would agree Sega’s once iconic series took a drastic turn downhill following the Sonic Adventure titles on the Dreamcast. With each disappointing games’ release in the years that followed, all fans asked for was a Sonic title that played like the originals from the early ’90s: 2D graphics and fast gameplay. It may have taken them over 15 years, but it looks like Sega has finally gotten the point.

That new ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ series is hitting Netflix – That Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot you backed last year – you remember the one, right? Jonah Ray, Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt all signed on and you threw your screen like an angry Fry from Futurama meme (helping the project reach $5.7 million on the crowdfunding service). It’s finally got a home. The 14 new episodes of the show will be, perhaps unsurprisingly, arriving on Netflix, which has long served as a second (or, like, fourth or fifth) home for older episode of the series.

‘This is the Police’ Is Like ‘SimCity’ for Dirty Cops – This Is the Police is part comic book, part SimCity, and part crime noir detective story. The city in the game is full of robberies, purse snatchings, false alarms, domestic murders, and the slow, steaming simmer of a pending race war. A mentally-ill kid breaks into a museum, draws dicks on all the paintings, and threatens to kill himself in a toilet stall—and all that’s before lunchtime. As police chief, players manage rosters of cops and detectives, dispatching senior officers to attempted murders and junior beat cops to chase teenage vandals. The game plays mostly in an overhead map of the city itself, letting players click on incoming emergency calls, hire new blood, and take reports from homicide detectives.

Off Topic (Sort of):

This short documentary shows how astronomers hope to find the next habitable planets – Just a couple of decades ago, the very idea that there were other planets orbiting stars throughout the universe was something that belonged to science fiction. However, recent research has shown not only are there other planets out there, but that they’re extremely common. The short documentary The Search for Earth Proxima outlines the breakthroughs that have led us to these discoveries, and how a group of astronomers plan to look for habitable planets in our neighborhood.


NASA releases new video showing the globe age one year – Last year around this time, NASA released the first image of Earth taken by the EPIC camera on the DSCOVR satellite. Since then, that camera has captured a full year of our planet from its location at Lagrange Point 1 about one million miles away. Compiling over 3,000 images, NASA put together a video showing a sunlit Earth age one full year.


Beer Is Getting Nutrition Labels and It’ll Probably Bum You Out – The last thing you probably want to think about before starting a weekend in July is how many calories are in your favorite beer. But it will soon be something you can’t easily avoid. The Beer Institute—the trade association representing more than 3,300 US brewers—recently released voluntary guidelines directing beer makers to list nutrition information right on the label. And multiple major brewers have agreed to do just that. In fact the six largest brewers in the country, which collectively produce more than 81 percent of beer sold in America, have all agreed to the new label standards.

Machine learning is about to change how corporations are run – When you’re a big acquisition-hungry corporation like Google, sometimes you make mistakes — you pay billions for bug-riddled Nest technology, for example. But really, you’ve got accept such losses as inevitable when you’re pursuing the big, infrequent pay-offs that only modern technology can provide. Increasingly, it’s becoming clear that the $500 million acquisition of DeepMind, which signaled to many observers the true beginning of AI as a major technology industry, is one such winning investment. Not only can Google rent out the company’s services for enormous profit, competing with other major machine learning entrants like Amazon for a quickly growing market share, but it can also use DeepMind’s insights to improve its own competitive advantage.

More than half the world is still offline – While it may seem like half the world is chasing Pokemon right now, the other half is not even on the Internet. About 3.9 billion people, or 53 percent of the population, will still be offline at the end of this year, the International Telecommunication Union estimates. Even in Europe, the most connected region, 20.9 percent of all people aren’t online. In Africa, the least connected continent, 74.9 percent are offline. Those figures are part of the annual statistical report from the agency, which is part of the United Nations.

Federal regulators says car makers “cannot wait for perfect” on automation – On Friday, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Mark Rosekind told an audience in Detroit, Michigan that car makers “cannot wait for perfect” when it comes to developing and deploying self-driving car technology. The Wall Street Journal reported that Rosekind said automation would “save people’s lives” in a time when auto fatalities have been up 8 percent since 2014. Rosekind’s comments come after a man using Tesla’s autopilot system fatally crashed into a left-turning truck in Florida.

Something to think about:

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

–     Franklin D. Roosevelt

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Apple’s Touch ID blocks feds—armed with warrant—from unlocking iPhone – A Dallas, Texas man accused of prostituting underage girls was secretly ordered by a federal judge to unlock his iPhone using his fingerprint, according to federal court documents that are now unsealed.

It’s rare that we see a case demanding that a phone be unlocked in that manner, but we should expect more as the mainstream public begins embracing fingerprint technology. Ever since 2013, when Apple popularized this form of unlocking technology, legal experts have predicted that these types of government demands would slowly become more common. Experts also warned these demands are probably not a breach of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.

As an aside, some courts don’t necessarily think that compelling a suspect to reveal their computer passcode is a constitutional violation. A Philadelphia man accused of possessing child pornography has been behind bars on a contempt charge for more than seven months for refusing to divulge his password. The man’s attorney claims it’s a constitutional violation to compel his client to assist the authorities with their prosecution. A federal appeals court has tentatively agreed to hear the case in September as the suspect (who has not been charged with a crime) remains in prison.

Judge Orders Yahoo to Explain How It Recovered ‘Deleted’ Emails in Drugs Case – A judge has ordered Yahoo to present a witness and provide documents explaining how the company handles supposedly deleted emails.

The move comes in the appeal case of a drug trafficker who was convicted, in part, because of emails Yahoo provided to law enforcement that conspirators believed had been deleted.

Defense lawyers in the case claim that six months of deleted emails were recovered—something which Yahoo’s policies state is not possible. The defense therefore speculates that the emails may have instead been collected by real-time interception or an NSA surveillance program.

United States Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James, from a San Francisco court, granted the defense’s motion for discovery in an order filed on Wednesday.

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