Tech Thoughts Net News – Monday – September 5, 2016

Apple, Fox News, and ACLU join Microsoft’s fight against secret data demands;  Build yourself a $10 VR headset;  23 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Try;  The best laptops you can buy right now;  Everything you need to know about wireless charging;  11 Sweet Hidden Features Inside Android 6.0 Marshmallow;  These 20 deep, absorbing PC games will eat days of your life;  OpenOffice, after years of neglect, could shut down – and much more news you need to know.

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How to customize the Windows 10 Anniversary Update Start menu using the “Pare It Down” technique – Microsoft tweaked the Windows 10 Anniversary Update Start menu, making it easy to tailor it to suit your needs.

The best laptops you can buy right now – Our favorites, from budget-priced hybrids to upscale ultraportables to gaming laptops that skip the performance compromises.

11 Sweet Hidden Features Inside Android 6.0 Marshmallow – Nougat is here, but your phone could be stuck on Marshmallow for awhile. Make the most of it.

Are iPhone prices giving you heartburn? Consider your options – Since all four major carriers have done away with their device subsidies, US consumers for the first time are seeing how much their fancy phones actually cost. And it’s not pretty. While we’ve all been trained to lust for the latest Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy gadget, which cost a small fortune, the reality is that you can still get a pretty sophisticated, good-quality phone for a fraction of the price. In this edition of Ask Maggie, I spell out options for a frugal shopper.

Everything you need to know about wireless charging – No smart home would be complete without wireless chargers to keep the batteries your smart devices topped off. We’ll help you choose the right standard.

23 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Try – Regardless of how you feel about it, Google Maps (and its cousin Google Earth) remain powerful and versatile tools—and most of us are only scratching at the surface of what they have to offer. (And we’re just talking about the Web version, the mobile incarnations are a whole other bag of magic.) Here, we present 23 cool things you didn’t know Google Maps could do. Click on through and experience just a little bit of the power of the everyday.

Build yourself a $10 VR headset – Want to get a VR (Virtual Reality) headset but don’t want to spend big bucks on one? Here’s how you can transform an iPhone or pretty much any Android handset into a cool VR headset.

OpenOffice, after years of neglect, could shut down – Many developers have abandoned OpenOffice to work on LibreOffice, a fork that got its first release in January 2011. While LibreOffice issues frequent updates, OpenOffice’s most recent version update was 4.1.2 in October 2015. That was the only OpenOffice release in 2015, and there were only two updates in all of 2014. LibreOffice got 14 version updates in 2015 alone. In July, OpenOffice issued an advisory about a security vulnerability that had no fix. The problem could let attackers craft denial-of-service attacks and execute arbitrary code. One of the workarounds suggested by the OpenOffice project was to use LibreOffice or Microsoft Office instead. A patch for that problem that can be applied to existing versions of OpenOffice was released in late August, but concerns about fixing future security problems remain.

How to install and configure the impressive BlackBerry Hub Android app – BlackBerry has done the unthinkable and added a universal inbox-style email app to Android–and Jack Wallen says it’s actually very good. Here’s how to use BlackBerry Hub.

Chrome for Windows gets Material Design and big battery improvements – Microsoft has been hammering Chrome’s battery performance in recent months, but Google is starting to hit back with updates to its browser. Chrome 53 has been released to the stable channel this week, and it brings CPU and GPU power consumption enhancements for video playback, alongside “big” performance and power improvements overall. We’ll have to test them fully in battery tests, but it’s encouraging to finally see Google making some solid efforts to improve its laptop battery consumption.

Here come ‘Awareness of Things’ gadgets – While nobody was paying attention, a wonderful new class of mobile gadget emerged. These devices aren’t wearables because you don’t wear them. They’re not “Internet of Things” devices because they don’t have IP addresses. And they don’t enhance the normal functionality of a smartphone like, say, Bluetooth earbuds or a tiny projector. Even more intriguing is that the actual functionality of these gadgets is very specific, but can be applied creatively to a huge number of jobs. I’m talking about tiny, inexpensive sensor-based devices that work with a smartphone to keep you informed about what’s going on with your projects, hobbies or other stuff. You might call them “Awareness of Things” devices. Here are five interesting examples.

Samsung will exchange US Galaxy Note 7 devices as early as next week – Following today’s announcement of a worldwide recall of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, Samsung has issued an official statement on how it will exchange devices for customers in the US. The US carriers have already halted sales and offered ways for customers who have already purchased the device to get refunds. Now Samsung has announced its own exchange program, which will provide customers with a new device as soon as next week. Note 7 customers taking advantage of Samsung’s exchange program will have two options, as detailed by Samsung’s press release:

Samsung now sells refurbished phones in the US – Late last month we heard word that Samsung may soon start selling refurbished smartphones in the U.S., and today that rumor has become official. As of now, you can buy a refurbished Samsung smartphone directly from the company itself rather than a carrier or third party. The devices are available through the Certified Pre-Owned online device store, which boasts that the phones are “rebuilt, refreshed, and covered” with the same one-year warranty you get on new smartphones.

From this point forward, all Intel and AMD CPUs are Windows 10-only  – Keep in mind as you plan your hardware purchases — AMD CPUs, APUs, and Intel CPUs are all Windows 10-only from this point forward. AMD GPUs will continue to support Windows 7 and 8 for now, though we don’t know when the company will terminate this.

App the vote: 8 mobile tools for tracking the election – This collection includes not only general-news apps from the likes of CNN, Fox News and The New York Times, but also election-specific news apps. Some promise non-partisan coverage, others make no such promises. And if you’re a poll junkie, we’ve got you covered there, too.

Five ways to find out which premium mobile apps have gone free – Some of the best apps for iOS and Android cost money. Developers know cost can be a barrier, and many of them occasionally offer their apps for free. Here’s how to get notified.

Security:

This data-stealing Trojan is the first to also infect you with ransomware – As if stealing your personal data wasn’t bad enough, one form of Trojan malware has now become the first of its kind by also infecting victims with ransomware, forcing targets to pay to regain access to their computer as well as compromising their credentials. Betabot, which steals banking information and passwords, has been around since March 2013. It disables antivirus and malware-scanning software on infected Windows machines before modifying them to steal users login credentials and financial data. But now, according to cybersecurity researchers at Invincea, Betabot is “breaking new ground”, becoming the first known weaponised password-stealing malware that also infects victims with ransomware in a second stage of attack.

A mystery user breached an email account on Clinton’s server – In 2013, an unknown user accessed an email account on Hillary Clinton’s private email server through Tor, the anonymous web surfing tool, according to new FBI documents.

Why identity protection is the next phase in security – Talk to any security expert, and sooner or later the line “It’s not a case of if you are hacked, but when” will be trotted out. It’s a good line because it is true and demonstrates how perimeter-style security has fallen by the wayside. But consider the implicit implications of everyone eventually being breached, not as a sysadmin or security specialist, but as a user of services, and you will realise what it means for your personal information. Whether today, tomorrow, or next year, eventually the personal information you have handed over to third parties is going to find its way online, and there is not a thing you can do to stop it.

Twitter hackers manage to reactivate banned accounts – Twitter has been known to ban accounts for several reasons, such as if they’re connected to known hacking groups or extremist organizations, and sometimes if the use is offensive/abusive. Once an account has been suspended, there’s really not supposed to be anyway to reverse the ban unless the social network itself decides to. That’s why is comes as a surprise that hackers have not only gained control of a handful of said accounts, but actually managed to reactivate them as well.

Hacking group OurMine takes control of Variety website, spams readers with email – The group of hackers going by the name OurMine managed to briefly take over the website for the entertainment new outlet Variety this weekend. If the name OurMine sounds familiar, it’s because the same collective was responsible for hacking social media accounts belonging to high-profile tech CEOs recently, including Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and even Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. But unlike your typical hack that simply leaves the victim website defaced with a message of the hackers’ achievement, OurMine went a step further and managed to get control of Variety’s email system, in turn bombarding subscribers with dozens of copies of the same message.

Company News:

Softbank has completed its £24B cash acquisition of ARM Holdings – One of the biggest tech deals this year — and the biggest ever in the UK — has now closed. Today, Softbank announced that it has completed its acquisition of ARM Holdings, the semiconductor firm that it announced that it would acquire for £24 billion (around $32 billion in today’s currency, $31 billion at the time of the deal) in July, in order to make a big jump into IoT.

Apple’s top lawyer fires back at EU over tax ruling – After being told the company owes $14.5 billion in back taxes, Apple’s general counsel says the European Commission has its numbers wrong. That’s how Apple CEO Tim Cook and the company’s top lawyer this week described the European Commission’s reckoning of the taxes the company has paid in Ireland. In demanding this week that Apple pay $14.5 billion in back taxes, the Commission said the company, which is based in California but has offices in Ireland, paid just 0.005 percent taxes in that country in 2014. Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell denied that. “We paid tax at the statutory rate of 12.5 percent tax on profits relating to our activities in Ireland,” Sewell told a German publication, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, on Friday. “We don’t understand where the Commission’s figures are coming from.”

Pokemon GO gross revenue hits $440 million worldwide – Earlier reports of the demise of Pokemon GO may have been a little premature. According to app analytics firm Sensor Tower, the game has just passed $440 million in worldwide gross revenue. Instead of comparing it to other popular mobile games, Sensor Tower has taken a different approach this time around, putting Pokemon GO’s revenue up against some the summer’s biggest film

Kaspersky ‘terminates’ deal with security reseller Quadsys – Kaspersky Lab is the first big vendor to publicly rip up its contract with disgraced security reseller Quadsys in the wake of the hacking scandal that the company’s bosses recently admitted to. On 22 July, Quadsys owner Paul Streeter, MD Paul Cox, director Alistair Barnard, account manager Steve Davis and security consultant Jon Townsend pleaded guilty to securing unauthorised access to computer material, contrary to section 1 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990. The five were charged in summer 2015 with hacking into a rival’s database to plunder customer information and pricing details.

Twitter Adds More Monetization Options for Periscope Videos – Twitter is building out more monetization options for Periscope via its Amplify platform. Unfortunately, Amplify isn’t just going to let Periscope publishers click a button and start accepting advertising of all kinds. Instead, Twitter has added Periscope as an option for brand partners interested in creating larger campaigns across Twitter and its properties. In the program’s big kickoff, Chase and Grey Goose will be sponsoring a series of Periscope broadcasts from Andy Roddick, all themed around this year’s U.S. Open.

Mercedes parent Daimler has plans for at least 6 electric cars – We’ve known for some time that German carmaker Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, has plans to unveil an all-electric vehicle before the end of the year. It turns out, however, that their plans are much more ambitious, as six electric models are said to be in the works, according to a new report from Reuters. Back in June, the company promised that a long-range Mercedes EV would be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in October.

Uber’s Didi Deal Under Antitrust Investigation in China – China’s commerce ministry is investigating the planned acquisition by ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing of U.S. rival Uber Technologies Inc’s China unit over anti-monopoly concerns, the ministry’s spokesman said on Friday. Shen Danyang told reporters the Ministry of Commerce would look to protect fair market competition and consumer interests in the deal, which will create a roughly $35 billion giant dominating China’s car-hailing market.

Games and Entertainment:

These 20 deep, absorbing PC games will eat days of your life – These majestic, long PC games demanded to be played for days, not hours—and your tenacity will be rewarded.

Duke Nukem 3D’s back in a remastered 20th Anniversary Edition with eight new levels – Let’s all pretend Duke Nukem Forever never happened, so then maybe we can be excited about this news.

YouTube disappearing from 50 Sony Bravia sets highlights why smart TVs suck – As I said at the beginning, this is a cautionary tale for any prospective TV buyer. Smart TVs are generally a bad buy, pure and simple. While those apps look enticing, they are restricted by the rather expensive hardware that runs them and Smart TVs are often lower down the priority list for updates by app developers. Accessories such as an Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku, however, don’t cost that much and are easily replaceable once they fail or also hit the limits of their internal capabilities. Sony’s 2012 televisions are only the latest victims of YouTube’s modernization. The original iPad and any other device older than the iPhone 4 famously lost access to YouTube in 2015 after the video site shut down its older developer programming tools.

Pokemon Go to introduce buddy system with next update – While the number of active users has been on a slight decline over the last few weeks, Pokemon Go still maintains a significant user base, and remains a big hit for developer Niantic Labs. We’ve known for a while now about new features coming to the game in the near future, including new Pokemon and gameplay mechanics, thanks to various data-mining attempts into the app’s code, but now Niantic has specifically announced an anticipated feature that will debut later this fall.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare multiplayer trailers released as beta details surface – Activision has launched new multiplayer-centric videos for the latest entry in the Call of Duty franchise, Infinite Warfare, while at the same unleashing a few details on when we can expect the multiplayer beta to take place. Just like Black Ops III before it, this beta will be exclusive to PlayStation 4 owners at first, eventually unlocking for Xbox One players at some later, undetermined point.

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12 gorgeous PC games that will punish your graphics card – Don’t know what to play? No old favorites? Well, allow us to point you in the right direction when it comes to handing your computer a stack of heavy weights and saying “Lift this.” These 12 punishing PC games will bring even powerful rigs to their knees—but the eye candy is utterly delicious.

The Farming Simulation Competition Is About to Heat Up – Though there are a few imitators, the farming simulation genre is largely defined by the Farming Simulator series, which is developed by Giants Software. However, there’s a new farming simulation on the way, and it’s backed by a company that might give Giants some real competition. Pure Farming 17, as the upcoming game is called, is being developed by a studio called Ice Flames, and is being published by Techland, which will also support development. Techland is a Polish developer known for the Wild West shooter Call of Juarez and the zombie apocalypse games Dead Island and Dying Light (a personal favorite). They’re big budget games aimed at core players, so farming simulators are a little out of Techland’s wheelhouse.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Woman brilliantly fools a phone scammer – Technically Incorrect: Canada’s Dawn Belmonte gets a call from a man claiming she owes money. What happens next is not what you might expect.

Video: 3 invaluable tips from famous tech entrepreneurs – Running a small business requires optimism and wisdom. Here are three pieces of useful inspiration from a trio of successful tech entrepreneurs: Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.

Cutty Sark: Tour 147 years of sailing history – For over eight decades, the Cutty Sark sailed seas, moved cargo, and trained crews. Today it is a meticulously maintained museum ship in London. Here’s what it looks like inside and on deck.

Nope, printed books aren’t going out of style – As Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble launched their respective eBook readers in 2007 and 2010, there were many who rushed to predict that the printed book would soon be meeting an untimely end. New data from the Pew Research Center now suggests that your standard paper, ink, and glue novel has considerable staying power with consumers. Pew’s study surveyed readers, and found that while the total number of Americans who had read a book in the past year had dipped slightly (73 percent, down from 74 percent in 2012), the number of readers who read a printed book had essentially remained the same, at 65 percent. That number more than doubles the number of people who reported that they had read an e-book in the same time period (28 percent).

Something to think about:

“At least two-thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity: idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religous or political ideas.”

–        Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963)

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Apple, Fox News, and ACLU join Microsoft’s fight against secret data demands – Dozens of US businesses, tech companies, and prominent rights groups have filed in support of Microsoft, which is currently suing the Justice Department over its use of gag orders.

The software giant announced that it filed suit against in April in an effort to strike down the government’s use of gag orders, which Microsoft argues is unconstitutional.

The company said in a legal filing that the government should not be allowed to prevent a company from telling a customer when their data has been turned over to investigators. These gag orders can be used in cases where national security is at risk, such as terrorism investigations, but often aren’t.

As of Friday, the deadline for filing amicus briefs in the case, more than 80 signatories have rallied behind the company.

Many of those who signed also include attorneys, law professors, and former law enforcement officials.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a brief earlier this year.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed its brief on Friday, commented in a blog post:

“When electronic searches are done in secret, we lose our right to challenge the legality of law enforcement invasions of privacy. The Fourth Amendment doesn’t allow that, and it’s time for the government to step up and respect the Constitution,” said senior staff attorney Lee Tien.

Apple and Mozilla were among other tech companies who also filed a brief with the court. The tech duo argued that the gag order provisions harms US businesses abroad, particularly in Europe, where disclosures are necessary.

Airbnb releases first transparency report on government requests for user data – Airbnb received 188 requests for users’ data from governments around the world in the first six months of this year, according to the company’s first-ever transparency report. The home-sharing company provided data in response to 82 of those requests.

Airbnb is publishing a transparency report as part of its Community Compact, an initiative to make the company more transparent to the public and to the local governments in the cities where it operates.

“We’re building a more transparent community and sharing data about our community with the general public,” Airbnb spokesperson Christopher Nulty told TechCrunch. “We felt that this is an important first step. In the future, we’ll look to share additional sorts of data about our community.”

In releasing its transparency report, Airbnb is joining the growing cohort of tech companies that regularly publish information about the government requests they receive. Google, Facebook, Uber, and others make transparency reports available, but most of those companies receive a much higher volume of requests than Airbnb.

Google was hit with 40,677 requests in the second half of 2015, while Facebook received 19,235 requests during the same period. These companies hold troves of user data that is valuable to law enforcement, so it makes sense that they’d be slammed with requests. But Uber and Airbnb likely receive fewer requests because they don’t hold the same rich repositories of user communications, photos, and personal information. In its inaugural transparency report released in April, Uber said it received only 469 law enforcement requests over a six-month period.

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