Apple Are Christmas Champs

Apple did a nice bit of business over the Holidays, thank you very much!
Apple devices accounted for 51.3 percent of all device activations in the week leading up to December 25, according to mobile analytics firm Flurry, with more than two-thirds of those devices being medium-size smartphones. In second place was Samsung with 17.7 percent of all device activations, and Nokia coming in third with 5.3 percent.

Flurry deduced the activation numbers for device manufacturers by tracking which mobile operating system's version of popular apps like Instagram and Facebook were downloaded between December 21 and December 25. Similar to years past, says Flurry, app downloads spiked 150 percent in the week leading up to Christmas, with the largest jump in downloads occurring that day.


Hello Windows 10, Goodbye Internet Explorer

Well, after a fashion. Mary Jo Foley, the Microsoft Lady, (as I think of her) writes that Windows 10 may ship with both Internet Explorer and a new, lightweight browser (codenamed "Spartan") that looks a bit more like Chrome or Firefox. She also recalls mention of a possible rebranding of IE to try and escape some of the bad press it has gotten over the years - some deserved, some not. Currently, the Preview Builds on Windows 10 have Internet Explorer as one would expect.
However, if my sources are right, Spartan is not IE 12. Instead, Spartan is a new, light-weight browser Microsoft is building.
Windows 10 (at least the desktop version) will ship with both Spartan and IE 11, my sources say. IE 11 will be there for backward-compatibility's sake. Spartan will be available for both desktop and mobile (phone/tablet) versions of Windows 10, sources say.
Spartan is just a codename at this point. My sources don't know what Microsoft plans to call this new browser when it debuts. The IE team hinted during a Reddit Ask Me Anything earlier this year that the team had contemplated changing the name of IE to try to get users to realize the much more standards-compliant IE of today is very different from older, proprietary versions of IE.


Sensitizing Our Thumbs By Using Our Smartphones

Smartphone users are "reshaping the sensory processes" from their hands, by the constant use of their thumbs and the natural plasticity of their brains.
The plasticity of the human brain and how it adapts to repetitive gestures has been tested in multiple contexts previously, including in musicians and gamers, but neuroscientists from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich believe smartphones provide a unique opportunity to understand how everyday life can shape the human brain on a huge scale.
Smartphone growth has seen people using their fingers—and in particular their thumbs—in a completely new way multiple times a day, every day. The very nature of the devices means there is usually a record kept of all the things we are doing with our thumbs on our phones, providing the neuroscientists extensive data to work with.
"What this means for us neuroscientists is that the digital history we carry in our pockets has an enormous amount of information on how we use our fingertips (and more)," explains one of the study's authors, Arko Ghosh.
Personally, because of my sausage fingers I find myself using the Google Now voice recognition more than half of the time. 

Photograph: Ricardo Moraes


Clara Oswald Back For Season 9 Of Doctor Who

After a hiatus from watching Doctor Who after David Tennant left, I came back to the fold when Peter Capaldi became the new doctor, and have hugely enjoyed the sparks between the Doctor and Clara, played by Jenna Coleman. I see a lot of online flack directed at the Clara character, and I don't get it. I think the combo is great and reminds me in some ways of the Doctor and Donna, when Catherine Tate gave us another feisty companion. 

Most of the season has been handling the regeneration of The Doctor from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi and Clara's attempts to come to terms with that, while her involvement with an Earthbound love interest further complicated things. It was a lot less "soapy" than my description makes it sound, but it was an undercurrent during plenty of time travelling, logic bending adventures. 

The whole "Will Clara return?" thing has been simmering away for months, the cast and producers were mum and the whole thing was only resolved in the Christmas Special. Even then, there was a sort of tricky "ending" that suggested she was indeed gone - but no. Clara Oswald and Doctor Who will be together for another season, which is just fine by me.


A Better Way To Get To Mars?

ScientificAmerican - Getting spacecraft to Mars is quite a hassle. Transportation costs can soar into the hundreds of millions of dollars, even when blasting off during "launch windows"—the optimal orbital alignments of Earth and Mars that roll around only every 26 months. A huge contributor to that bottom line? The hair-raising arrivals at the Red Planet. Spacecraft screaming along at many thousands of kilometers per hour have to hit the brakes hard, firing retrorockets to swing into orbit. The burn can require hundreds of pounds of extra fuel, lugged expensively off Earth, and comes with some risk of failure that could send the craft careening past or even right into Mars.

This brute force approach to attaining orbit, called a Hohmann transfer, has served historically deep-pocketed space agencies well enough. But in an era of shrinking science budgets the Hohmann transfer's price tag and inherent riskiness look limiting.

Now new research lays out a smoother, safer way to achieve Martian orbit without being restricted by launch windows or busting the bank. Called ballistic capture, it could help open the Martian frontier for more robotic missions, future manned expeditions and even colonization efforts.

Read the rest of "A New Way to Reach Mars Safely, Anytime and on the Cheap" at ScientificAmerican.com


Looks Like Sony WILL Make Some Money From A Fictional Assassination

It's a little tough to keep up with Sony's changes of position on the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy "The Interview". Unless you have just returned from living rough out in the woods for a couple of weeks, the theatrical release of the movie was pulled following some threats of physical violence from a hacker group, then sort of of re-established, but now it appears the movie will be released as a paying proposition on various online outlets such as YouTube, Google Play and so on.
While it is cool that free speech and American ideology wins again, it is so much more than that. Google and Microsoft are American companies, Sony is Japanese, and together they are fighting back against tyrannical hackers.
Whether North Korea was behind the hack is inconsequential. When it comes to evil-doers, there are no borders. Sure, the film is probably terrible, and won't likely win an Academy award, but the comedy has become an unlikely beacon of freedom.
Kudos to Sony for ultimately coming to the correct conclusion. Google and Microsoft should be honored as well, for playing a part in the distribution of the film.

Star Trek 3 Warps In For 50th Anniversary Of The Franchise

Having finally settled on a director in Justin Linn (Fast and Furious), the third movie version of the rebooted series will make it to theaters in July 2016, in time to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary. Although the original TV series on NBC on ran for just 3 seasons, it's popularity grew dramatically over time, resulting in many movies and other TV spin-off shows set in the same universe. The latest series of movies featuring a younger cast rebooted the whole Trek universe timeline by destroying the planet Vulcan in the first outing in 2009, and so opening things up for future storylines.
Director of the first two rebooted "Trek" movies JJ Abrams has jumped ship to take over the "Star Wars" series, beginning with next December's "Episode VII: The Force Awakens". His "Trek" co-writer Robert Orci was slated to make his directorial debut with the third "Trek" film, but has now made way for Lin.
Lin directed the fourth, fifth and sixth "Fast and Furious" movies, and is also linked to the next Jason Bourne movie.


What Does The Big Lebowski And Willy Wonka Have In Common?

The movies "The Big Lebowski" and "Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory" have been entered into the National Film Registry of the Library Of Congress. Other movies for 2014 include "Rosemary's Baby" and "Saving Private Ryan".

In addition to the movies' cultural significance or otherwise, the film must be at least 10 years old to qualify for inclusion into the registry. The Librarian of Congress decides the titles each year after reviewing nominations from the public, Library film curators and the National Film Preservation Board. The public can vote on next year's additions on the Library of Congress website.


Windows 10 Getting A Workout

If the sheer number of public testers is anything to go by, Windows 10 should be pretty slick when it finally becomes an official release sometime in 2015. The Preview build of Windows 10 has been out for a few months now, and Microsoft says they have about 1.5 million "insiders" - i.e. members of the public that have signed up and downloaded the fledgling operating system. Of those, Microsoft considers almost 500,000 of those to be "highly active" testers, and the company has fixed around 1,300 bugs so far as part of the Preview process.


Microsoft's Legal Action Against Tech Support Scammers

It's common sense not to poke a sleeping bear with a stick. The bear may ignore it the first couple of times, but sooner or later, the beast will rouse itself and take care of business - in this example, you.

Tech Support scammers have long preyed upon computer users, but the sleeping Microsoft bear is sharpening it's legal claws in an attempt to at least slow these cretins down by going after "Omnitech Support", one of the alleged scammers.
Many of these technical support companies are able to gain victims’ trust by claiming they work for Microsoft, are a Microsoft Certified Partner or somehow affiliated with Microsoft. In some instances, once the tech scammer gains remote access to a consumer’s computer, they will use scare tactics — telling the consumer that if they do not pay for support services they will lose all of their files, suffer a computer crash, or risk the leak of personal identifiable information. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software have fooled victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.

Tech support scammers don’t discriminate; they will go after anyone, but not surprisingly senior citizens have been among the most vulnerable. According to the FBI (Fraud Target: Senior Citizens), senior citizens are often more trusting and con artists exploit these traits.

 Microsoft Blog


Sony Employee Medical Records Up For Grabs, Too

Among other things, the Sony breach also exposed the medical record of Sony employees - just the kind of scenario one fears with the move to EHRs (Electronic Health Records). While digitizing medical information can be useful and more cost-effective that the "old" printed records, it is neither if they can be so readily pilfered in quantity. Notwithstanding how sophisticated the attack on Sony may or may not have been, it's physically much easier that dragging boxes of paper records out of a locked building.
The incident has prompted privacy advocates to speak out on the need to implement added safeguards to protect data in the digital age. 
Deborah Peel, MD, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a non-profit health privacy advocacy group, was chief among them to weigh in.
"This stuff will haunt all those people the rest of their lives. Once it's up on the Internet it is up in perpetuity," Peel told Bloomberg. "This is a thousand times worse than that other stuff," she said, referring to salary information and personal e-mails. “Health information is the most sensitive information about you.”

Skype Translator - The Future Is Now?

A "real time" language translator is one of those science fiction staples that has always seemed just a bit too much to expect in real life, at least to me. And yet, Microsoft has announce just such a thing in Skype Translator - who wold have thunk it?
Skype Translator Preview works on Windows 8.1 or preview copies of Windows 10, and it works by translating voice input from an English or Spanish speaker into text and translated audio. An English speaker will hear a translation from a Spanish speaker, and vice versa. Microsoft previously demonstrated the technology working between English and German, but Spanish will be the only language outside of English that will be initially supported during the preview.

Microsoft is marketing Skype Translator as a tool for schools, and the company tested it out with students in the US and Mexico. Skype is already popular in the classroom, with teachers participating in video conferences around the world to connect their schools to classrooms across the globe. While tests and demonstrations have been in limited and controlled experiments, Microsoft’s move today opens up its Skype Translator to a much wider audience to test it in the real world.


This Is Why You Should Take Internet Videos With A Large Grain Of Salt

Back in the day fake UFO photos could be created with a pie pan, some thin wire and a Kodak Brownie camera (the Model T of consumer cameras). These days we have some more resources at our disposal, and the things you can do in your den with some digital finagling would put even fairly recent Hollywood blockbusters to shame. This is why I just can't bring myself to look at recently produced UFO photos and videos anymore - I just know 99% of them at out and out fakes, regardless of how un-fake they look. I mean look at the short video below - the only way you know it's not real is because, well, it can't be real (and the videographer can't spell "fighter")...


Most Phishing Websites Of Chinese Origin

Phishing is an attempt to try and trick computer users into divulging personal or financial information,  and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website that looks almost identical to the real one.
A recent report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) into phishing attacks in the first half of 2014 has found that China is responsible for 85% of fake websites used in phishing scams.

The Global Phishing Survey 1H2014: Trends and Domain Name Use report found that there were at least 123,741 unique phishing attacks worldwide from January to June 2014.
These attacks occurred on 87,901 unique domain names, of which 22,679 were found to have been registered maliciously, mostly by Chinese phishers. The other 59,485 domains were almost all hacked or compromised domains.

Another Windows Update Dud Joins An Annoying Trend

The most recent Update Tuesday patch collection from Microsoft contained a wonky update to Windows Update itself, the latest in a troublesome trend from Microsoft and others that does not seem to be getting better. Apple's first iOS 8 broke Bluetooth and other things for many, and Google's first crack at Android 5 (Lollipop) caused a variety of headaches for a lot of user for some Nexus device versions.


8-Bit Art Delights

Back in the day, when men were men and games only had 8 bits of graphic goodness, we relied on gameplay dammit! Even so, it's still impressive how much can be conveyed by blocky graphics and artist Adam Lister uses that framework with pastel watercolors to produce some impressive and impressionistic images.
From the Mona Lisa to the movie poster for Jaws, Lister, 36, re-imagines iconic art with a clean but crude, geometric reverence for the video game landscape of his youth.
“It’s ingrained in me,” said Lister, who makes his living as a painter in Beacon, New York. “It was this other world and it is kind of a cool way to reinterpret what we see in the real world. I guess in a way, I am simplifying what is an overcomplicated world.”
Art imitating, er, art?

Looking For New LCD Monitor?

If you are in the market for an LCD monitor, you many want to cool your jets for a few months and save yourself some money.
While supplies of panels for LCD monitors failed to meet demand during this year, there will be a glut next year.

That’s because of the entry of Chinese manufacturers into the market, according to analysts at market intelligence company Trendforce.

In 2015, two Chinese companies, BOE and CEC-Panda will ramp up their generation 8.5 production lines, and in turn that will allow branded vendors to drop costs, resulting in cheaper monitors for us all.


Encrypt Your DNS Queries

Full disclosure - I had not heard of this being done before, and had not really even considered it. I do use alternate DNS servers on our home PCs for various reasons (speed, malware blocking), but implementing an encrypted connection to the DNS server was not even on my radar. The good people at HowToGeek have come up with a guide to doing just that, though.
DNSCrypt, from the great team at OpenDNS, is the simple solution that we’ll use to add encryption between your computer and the DNS server. It’s a lightweight solution that works on either Windows or Mac — sadly no mobile support so far.
What this tool is actually doing is creating an encrypted connection to any of the supported DNS servers, and then creating a local DNS proxy on your PC. So when you try to open howtogeek.com, your browser will send a regular DNS query to the localhost address on port 53, and that request will then be forwarded through the encrypted connection to the DNS server.


Amazon Bicycle Delivery

I'll be perfectly honest here - I am pretty stodgy about a lot of things, and I don't really see the need to get consumer goods right now - although I will concede I am probably in a small minority, if the current Zeitgeist is to be trusted. Amazon made quite a splash in 2013 with their out-of-left-field proposal to offer a drone delivery system, but this latest result of Amazon brainstorming is definitely more down-to-earth.
Delivery by drone might not be in Amazon’s future if the FAA has anything to say about it. In the meantime, the e-commerce giant is turning to a much more accepted form of transportation – the trusty bicycle.

Amazon is testing a new service called Amazon Prime Now in which they’re relying on bike messengers to put orders in the hands of buyers within an hour. The idea is to give customers the same sort of immediacy that they’d get from buying something in person at a local brick-and-mortar store.

Sources tell The Wall Street Journal that Amazon has been conducting tests in New York City with three of the top bike messenger services. During the trials, bikers are given an address and told to travel there, snap a photo of the address then return to home base.


Free Windows 10? Not So Fast, Skippy

Any speculation about the final version of Windows 10 perhaps being offered free has been pretty much squashed Microsoft CTO Kevin Turner. It sounds like there may be low cost or perhaps free versions, a'la Windows 8.1, but not the primary OS itself despite the relatively poor adoption of Windows 8.1.
"We've not had any conversations [about] Windows 10 being a loss leader for us," Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer, said at a technology conference sponsored by Credit Suisse on Thursday. "[But] we've got to monetize it differently. There are additional opportunities for us to bring additional services to the product and do it in a creative way."

Turner was short on specifics, but spelled out in general terms those opportunities, saying that new business models will allow the company "to monetize the lifetime of that customer" by selling them services and what he called "add-ons."
Sounds like I may just stick with Linux, then.



Hello, Firefox!

I recently blogged about being a bit worried about the Firefox browser, however this item gives me hope - this could be really cool.
It's been a very long time since Mozilla released something that really caught my attention. All that changed when I found out about Firefox Hello. This is Mozilla's Web RTC feature that, quite frankly, could be game changing. Effectively, Hello is the means for real-time browser-based chat (video and audio), without having to use a service.

Why is this important? I have friends, fans, contacts, that prefer chatting as a means of communication. Some use Skype, others use Google Hangouts. Depending on which person wants to chat, I have to use a different service. With Firefox Hello, both parties just have to open up the Firefox browser and initiate an Hello chat.

A Preview Of Coming Attractions For Web Users?

Iran is promising they will be able to identify all web users, (leading to an obvious implication) and to be honest I would not be that surprised to see that happen here at some point. Don't believe me? Well, they are already proposing fixed IP addresses for users in the UK.
Iran's telecommunications minister has said his technicians are developing a system to identify any Internet user in the country at the moment of log-on, the ISNA news agency reported Saturday.

"Because of our efforts, in future when people want to use the Internet they will be identified, and there will be no web surfer whose identity we do not know," Mahmoud Vaezi said, without elaborating on how this would technically be done.
Last month, he said the Islamic republic would have "smart filtering" within six months to weed out Internet content the authorities deem offensive or criminal.
"The first phase of smart online filtering will be ready within a month, a second phase within three months and a third within six months", ISNA reported him as saying on November 14.


Android Lollipop At Last

After what seemed like an interminable wait, I finally got my OTA Android update to Lollipop 5.0.1 for my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet. Now, there were some reported issues with the 2012 Nexus 7 and the original Lollipop release (5.0), but honesty I have had no issues at all. Video playback is fine (unlike some reports), some things actually seem a bit faster. Boot time seems slower though, but this sort of device is not actually rebooted that often, so...

Now bear in mind, my device is pretty much bog standard; default launcher, no encryption, only a few additional apps, etc. - so your mileage may vary. In general, I like the update and I will be interested to see if I run into any issues with battery life or anything like that. 

My only very small gripe so far is the design change of the three navigation buttons (below) - it now looks like the symbols for stop, play and record on ye olde cassette recorder. Whatever. Other than that - seems good so far after a few days.

Umm, why?


Magical PC Case Mods

Building a PC can be fun on many levels; you get to pick the parts you want, set a budget (or blow it) and also build your project into a case that is limited only by your own imagination, if that's your thing. I confess I was never very good at the last part; if my home brew desktop PCs worked as expected, I was quite happy with that result. The folk in this article went that extra step to make their statement about what their PC should look like, though, and some are truly something special.



"Gangnam Style" Almost Broke YouTube

The crazily popular Gangnam Style video from Korean pop start Psy rung up so many views (2 billion and counting) on YouTube that it broke the counter's ability to keep up. The 32-bit register just did not have the oomph to keeps tabs on all those viewings, and so YouTube had to up the counter to 64-bits.
"We never thought a video would be watched in numbers greater than a 32-bit integer (=2,147,483,647 views), but that was before we met Psy. Gangnam Style has been viewed so many times we have to upgrade!" said Google.
"Hover over the counter in Psy's video to see a little math magic and stay tuned for bigger and bigger numbers on YouTube."


Sony Has Several Unreleased Movies Swiped

The cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment has some unusual casualties - several unreleased movies have been stolen, including the "Annie" remake. Being that many (most?) movies are now stored in digital format, I am surprised this has not happened before - or if it did, I missed it.
The attack and dump of corporate data was undertaken by a group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” (GOP). The group claims its motive was to punish Sony Pictures for “terrible racial discrimination" and said that it was able to gain physical access to Sony’s network with the aid of “other staff with similar interests,” according to an e-mail sent to The Verge. Ars has attempted to contact the attackers through one of the e-mail addresses included in the dump of file names from last week but has not yet received a response.
None of the alleged demands against Sony Pictures made by the GOP, which shares a name with a paramilitary counter-insurgency organization in Burundi but has no apparent ties to it, have been made public. However, Sony Pictures is the studio behind the upcoming The Interview, a comedy about an assassination attempt on the leader of North Korea; the country has accused Sony of promoting "terrorist acts" by making the film. All of which raises the question: could North Korea have been involved in the attack?