A Hidden Cost To AT&T Fiber Internet

AT&T is matching the price of Google fiber in several markets, but that includes a cost other than money. I am one of those quaint holdouts that believe that privacy is something important; not a trivial concept, as an increasing number of people seem to feel. The AT&T "Gigapower" fiber package, includes an agreement that allows the provider to examine your web traffic, in order to provide advertisers with information that helps them target the ads you see.

Look, I get it; companies want their ads to be effective - they don't want to pitch Katy Perry albums to an old geezer like me for example; they want some bang for their buck. AT&T is offering them added value by virtue of the monitoring of your web travels. Even so, it's none of your damn business what I search for or which sites I got to - and I don't want the data hanging around so entities other than advertisers can see it either. Yes, you can opt out and use the same fiber service without the monitoring for an extra cost - but I get tired of all the Big Brother crap, I really do.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that paying extra gives customers "enhanced" privacy; paying those monthly fees that add up to hundreds of dollars more per year simply provides the same level of privacy customers would get from other Internet providers, or from AT&T’s slower DSL and fiber-to-the-node services.
AT&T says Internet Preferences tracks "the webpages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter.” This helps AT&T serve ads targeted to each user based on that person’s interests. And advertisers are willing to pay more when they know their ads will be shown only to the people most likely to be interested in their products.

Who Gets A Free Upgrade To Windows 10?

Microsoft has clarified the "free upgrade" situation of it's forthcoming Windows 10 operating system, which is currently undergoing public testing. Essentially, if you are a home user with a legitimate, licensed current version of Windows  7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 you can upgrade for free for one year after the launch date of Windows 10 (likely some time next Summer). Microsoft may even be a little squishy on the "one year" thing. "Current version" means, for example, that Windows 7 has Service Pack 1 installed and is otherwise up to date.

However, if you have a janky, unlicensed version of Windows 7 or 8 you will end up with an unlicensed ("not genuine") version of Windows 10. Unlicensed versions will still "work" by and large, but you will have reduced functionality. 

Windows has not suddenly become "free", and will still be factored into the retail price of new Windows computers. This is just Microsoft's way of ensuring as many current Windows users as possible will be able to upgrade their home computers for no additional cost. The original free upgrade does not "expire" or become a limited version after a certain time.
There are, though, “edge cases” that add up to a small fraction of Windows users. If you want a fresh copy of Windows 10 to install on a home-built computer or on a virtual machine (like Parallels or VMware Fusion on a Mac), you might have to pay for the operating system.


A Quick Look At SuperX 3.0 Linux

SuperX 3.0 is a Linux distro from India, and is the latest version of this young release. As I have stated before, I will hop around Linux distros in a heartbeat, so I thought I would give this a try. It's not that I don't like or enjoy my usual distro (Linux Mint) - I absolutely do, but I also enjoy futzing around with other flavors. My setup allows me to do this relatively painlessly; I don't have a whole lot of data, and I have a set up that allows me to quickly restore my data and get to work after a reload.
SuperX is a desktop-oriented computer operating system based on Linux, using a highly customized KDE desktop environment. Originally developed in India, SuperX is published by Libresoft, a startup with a free and open source software business model. SuperX is available in multiple variants, from a freemium variant for home users to a professional variant for enterprise users. SuperX strives to be "Simple User friendly, Powerful, Energetic and Robust eXperience".


And On That Bombshell - Jezza Is Gone From Top Gear

Long time Top Gear presenter and rubber of salt in many Politically Correct wounds, Jeremy Clarkson, is officially off the show per the BBC top brass. I considered the three presenters on-screen personas - the Pedant, the Wannabe American, and the Boor - to be exaggerations of the actual people: James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson though (I think) was pretty much playing Clarkson most of the time, and that infuriated a vocal minority over things he said and did both on and off the internationally popular car show.

While there is no doubt the most recent incident (where he apparently hit a producer in the face during a noisy row and bloodied his lip) is a firing offense in almost any work setting, it's a little disturbing to hear the glee with which the PC crowd are celebrating his banishment from the show. They don't really dwell on the bloody lip, it's all about Clarkson being "sexist, homophobic, xenophobic" etc.
They pose as caring protectors of BBC staff from physical abuse, but in truth the Clarkson-bashers are pursuing a culture war, a moral crusade, against the presenter they love to hate and against the words and ideas he projects from the TV into the little people’s heads.

Their glee with Clarkson’s sacking is deeply dishonest. Under the cover of supporting the stamping-out of workplace harassment, they've actually instituted a media kangaroo court trying Clarkson for joke crimes.

Their main interest is not in protecting a BBC producer’s face from Clarkson’s fists — it’s in protecting the public’s ears, and our allegedly putty-like brains, from Clarkson’s words, from his consensus-pricking, fast-car loving, two-fingered salute to modern liberal orthodoxies.
The future looks a bit bleak for the show, at least as far as having the remaining cast stay on. I suspect they will reboot the show (it happened before), but after trying to watch the US version of Top Gear, I hope but doubt they will retain their audience.

And on that bombshell...



Opportunity Rover Completes Mars Marathon

NASA's Opportunity - the little rover that could - has been wandering around the Martian landscape for a little over 11 of our years, and has just completed a literal travel marathon. The plucky prowler has traversed over 26 miles, the equivalent of a terrestrial marathon race and is the first time any vehicle from Earth has completed such a distance on another planet.
The long-lived rover surpassed the marathon mark during a drive of 153 feet (46.5 meters). Last year, Opportunity became the long-distance champion of all off-Earth vehicles when it topped the previous record set by the former Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 moon rover.

"This mission isn't about setting distance records, of course; it's about making scientific discoveries on Mars and inspiring future explorers to achieve even more," said Steve Squyres, Opportunity principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. "Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool."

The Truth Is Out There - Again

Fox is confirming a 6-part return to the X-Files, featuring the original cast. The quirky 90's cult classic TV show will begin production this Summer and should show up late this year or in 2016. FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) investigated stories of high strangeness and had an interesting dynamic between them. I can't wait.


Google Glass Is Not Dead: Just Napping

Contrary to what most sentient life forms believed in January, Google Glass is not dead (yet?) - only the "Explorer Program" was shut down. Google Big Cheese Eric Schmidt said they are just fixing it up to make is more usable. A little odd that it took Google three months to clarify a widely-held misconception, but no matter.
Schmidt added that Glass remains a "big and very fundamental platform for Google," and that just like the company's self-driving cars, the wearable device is a work in progress that will take years to come to fruition. "[It's] like saying the self-driving car is a disappointment because it’s not driving me around now," said Schmidt.

If You Have A Hilton HHonors Account, Change Your Password!

A security issue, now apparently fixed, could have exposed the personal information of those with Hilton HHonors accounts. If you do have one of these, please change your password as soon as possible.
“Hilton Worldwide recently confirmed a vulnerability on a section of our Hilton HHonors website, and we took immediate action to remediate the vulnerability,” Hilton wrote in an emailed statement. “As always, we encourage Hilton HHonors members to review their accounts and update their online passwords regularly as a precaution. Hilton Worldwide takes information security very seriously and we are committed to safeguarding our guests’ personal information.


Web Browser Security Wack-A-Mole At Pwn2own

The web browser is the means through which most of us connect from our computing device to the scary internet out there. The state of their security features in large part determines what we can expect to encounter as far as malware and other security issues. The good news is that web browser security is improving all the time. The bad news is that web browser security is still pretty handily beaten by talented and persistent hackers; all 4 major browsers had their asses handed to them in short order at this year's Pwn2own competition.
Two researchers on Thursday took down the four major browsers, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari, as Pwn2Own, the annual hacking contest that runs in tandem at CanSecWest, wound down in Vancouver.
The story of the day was Korean researcher Jung Hoon Lee, who worked alone under the name lokihardt and earned the single highest payout for an exploit in the competition’s history, a staggering $110,000 in just two minutes.

Coming Soon: OneDrive Music Streaming

Microsoft is tweaking OneDrive as they go, and the next thing coming down the pike is a "Music" folder you can store and stream your mp3's and other music files - nice. Just like Google.
Microsoft didn’t say when we could expect OneDrive to support music, but the company pushed that feature live this week over on, where the company proudly declares that MP3s added to your OneDrive can now be played on any Windows or Xbox device, be it PC, phone, tablet or Xbox.


North Korea's Internet: 1024 IP Addresses For 25 Million People

North Korea does have Internet access - for a few thousand party elites. The few thousand other people who have any kind of computer access can log on to Kwangmyong, a sanitized, heavily restricted Intranet run by the government. Any other North Koreans are S.O.L. - but they are probably more concerned about other, more pressing needs anyway.

Kwangmyong, which is Korean for "bright star," is North Korea's officially sanctioned intranet. It looks sort of like the internet circa 1994; many users even access it with old-school dial-up or computer labs. It is a closed network that runs on pirated Japanese versions of Microsoft software and looks sort of like the real internet but isn't. Rather, it runs rudimentary email and browser tools that are restricted to a hand-picked collection of "sites" that have been copied over and censored from the real internet.

This network is accessible by the handful of computer labs at major North Korean government offices, universities, and a small number of cyber cafes in major cities. (Internal travel is forbidden without permission in North Korea, so most citizens never see Pyongyang or can visit its cyber cafes.) But you need a computer to access it, and that's only possible with official permission.


Guardians Of The Galaxy: Speak To Me, Rocket

Guardians of the Galaxy was a big gamble and an even bigger hit for Marvel Studios last year; a relatively unknown, often jokey outer space yarn that included a couple of fully CG non-human main characters. It really could have been a train wreck. But the stars all aligned, so to speak, and we got a Summer blockbuster. Since we see so much CG work in movies these days (both good and bad quality), it's easy to forget the tremendous amount of effort that goes into even marginal computer generated animations. The UK-based visual effects house Framestore handled many of the character animations, including Rocket, the snarky genetically-manipulated talking Raccoon, and they have a blog post detailing some of the work that goes into producing something like that - Rocket: the making of a space raccoon

click to enlarge
We referenced Bradley Cooper’s vocal performance as an anchor point in terms of lip-sync, along with a level of interpretation required to translate a human face performance to a raccoon muzzle. “People talk a lot about lip-sync and facial animation, but really a good performance is a combination of everything – the body poses, the amplitude and of course the timing – and those elements coming together and looking like one thing. We had Bradley’s voice, James Gunn’s brief, post-vis and reference of the animators doing Rocket actions to nail the physicality. We used all of that as reference to create a performance” adds Kevin [animation supervisor Kevin Spruce].
 Here is a look at Framestore's "Rocket reel":



Virtual Reality Porn Cometh

I guess it was inevitable; for those of us who like to watch the rumpy-pumpy, the next big thing may very well be virtual reality porn. I am sure it is a scathing comment on our society that the vehicle that provides for the explosion of this intriguing technology would be nekkid folks doing the nasty, but that's where we are at. A generation may never leave their parent's basements...
So what will the breakout application for virtual reality be? According to a panel with Brian Shuster and Alec Helmy at SXSW, VR porn will be the first mainstream application for the new technology.
History bears this out. Everyone knows the story about porn choosing the winner in the VHS/Betamax battle. In the mid-90s, pornography embraced the Internet, and later on the industry was the first to take advantage of advanced features of DVDs. Using history as a predictor of the future, it only makes sense that porn will be the dominant application out of the gate.
Virtual reality headsets will be combined with haptic feedback devices placed on... personal... body parts to provide stimulation that can be controlled by a partner halfway across the world.


TV Chef Jamie Oliver Has Cooties (On His Website ... Again)

Most television personalities are all about "the brand"; they establish a persona that attracts viewers and work hard to maintain that public façade. TV chefs are a good example - you know what you will get with Gordon Ramsey, for example: shouting, swearing and (eventually) redemption. Another UK chef, Jamie Oliver, had some trouble recently when his website was found to be serving up malware - and was quite quickly cleaned up. Or so we thought. Well, there are problems again, and while no one thinks Chef Oliver is sitting at his kitchen table banging out wonky HTML between basting his cornish hens, the site bears his name and this sort of thing can't be good for that all important brand.
Malwarebytes found the malicious code disguised within the HTML for the site's comScore analytics tag. It is also digitally signed with a certificate from Just Great Software, although the certificate is now expired.
"This is basically the same structure as we observed in the previous hack, which leads us to believe this is the same infection that was not completely removed or perhaps that a vulnerability with the server software or Content Management System (CMS) still exists," said Jérôme Segura, a senior security researcher at Malwarebytes.
"This example of a popular and legitimate site is a stern reminder that there is no such thing as a 'safe' site anymore. We have documented time and time again on this blog malicious advertisements as well as site hacks that affect well-known brands just the same as smaller sites."

SXSW Has A Geeky Version Of The Rescue Dog

If you find your mobile doohickey running low on charge at the SXSW conferences in Austin, TX, you may find yourself being rescued by a St Bernard - carrying a battery pack to give you a quick boost.
If that's you, Mophie has you covered! If you notice that your phone is about to go dead, simply send a tweet to @Mophie with the hashtag of #MophieRescue, along with your location, and one of these St. Bernards will try to find you to give your mobile device a jumpstart. This is all for a good cause too: Mophie is letting people know about the fact that you can adopt these dogs and bring them into your home.

I got the power, baby!


LED Filament Bulbs Heating Up

A new design of LED bulb has been showing up in Europe and may be appealing to customers in the USA, where we still think (mostly) fondly of the traditional incandescent lamps. The often-maligned fluorescent "curly" bulbs are generally considered to be a sort of stop gap until we find something better such as LEDs, or other kinds of photo-luminescent lighting.

The new lamps differ from most consumer LED bulbs in that they look like an incandescent lamp - they appear to have glowing filaments, and no obvious, clunky heat sink like most LED devices. They are more efficient than the other LED lamps, and so far are as reliable - although a bit more expensive at this time (on an already comparatively expensive product).
The LED filament bulbs were as efficient as the European Commission projected for the industry in 2018. Cost of the filament bulbs just about on par for the 2014 predictions, at about slightly more than 15 euro per 500 lumens. Overall, the LED Filament bulbs were 40% more efficient and 20% more costly than the conventional LED bulbs included in this study.

Testing the light characteristics such as color rendering index showed that the LED filament bulbs had high light quality (> 80 CRI) that overall didn’t seem any better or worse than the conventional LED bulbs included in the study. Long-term durability testing is ongoing, with a followup report for lumen maintenance after 6,000 hours due in May.

Initial results were encouraging. Though a few bulbs failed in the initial 200 hour "burn in" period due to manufacturing flaws or physical damage (well within the warranty period), initial results show that the LED filament bulbs have been faring well so far.


Antiphon Instrument 1 Offers A One Stop Digital Music Experience

I dabble in digital music - and I do mean "dabble" - and it can be quite interesting, even for one with minimal actual ability like myself. There are lots of ways to create digital music through software, midi interfaces and so on. The Antiphon Instrument 1 is a digital musical instrument that is not only programmable as to the sounds it make, but as to the way it can be played, which is a rather cool idea.
It can be played in seemingly any way: on your lap if you’re a piano maestro; resting on your thigh if you’re a guitar shredder; or on your shoulder if you’re a violinist. And it’s not just a silly toy. It plays the notes you hit, strum, or bow so it’ll only sound good if you do. (It also has a beginner mode where it can auto-play notes.)


CryptoFortress Has An Unpleasant New Trick

Cryptolocker-type viruses have had the ability to encrypt mapped network drives before, but now any open SMB shares on the same network are up for grabs too. Ugh. Almost makes to you want to just go back to using pencil and paper.
A new encrypting ransomware called CryptoFortress was discovered yesterday by security researcher Kafeine that appears to be either a copycat or a new version of TorrentLocker. When looking at the ransom note and decryption site for both CryptoFortress and TorrentLocker the differences between the two appear to be small. On further inspection, though, we have discovered that CryptoFortress includes the new and nasty feature of being able to encrypt files over network shares even if they are not mapped to a drive letter.


Harrison Ford Can't Get A Break

Harrison Ford has had a crappy time of it the past year or so. The 72-year-old actor was injured last year while making the new Star Wars movie, fracturing an ankle when a door fell on him on the set. Today, he crashed a small airplane  on a golf course shortly after taking off. He was the pilot of the vintage two-seater, and according to initial reports he was pretty banged up, but breathing and conscious when rescue crews arrived. We can only hope the man who brought us Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Rick Dekard (Blade Runner) has a full recovery, and is able to come back and show us some more.

Photo: Reuters


GIMP Project Loses User Experience Maintainer

The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an open source multi-platform image editor, and offers a lot of functionality for no monetary cost. It's not Adobe PhotoShop, but it's comparable in many ways and meets the needs of a lot of users. The GIMP has always had a bit of a cloud hanging over it for some because of it's user interface; it's a bit "eclectic" and can make the program seem less than intuitive for some users; it's not horrible exactly, just different. The GIMP project is losing it's UX (user experience) maintainer, and perhaps that may open the way to freshening up the user interface, and opening this software to a wider audience.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the UX maintainers of GIMP decided they had their own well designed horses outside the building and didn't really care about the only horse that mattered -- the GIMP's horse. The UX maintainer tuned out the needs of the community, and the single most powerful open-source vector image editor faltered. Yes, at some point, they tossed the community a bone and created the single window mode, but that was pretty much it. And then came a new voice for Gimp UX -- Peter Sikking. Peter did everything he could to change the way things worked, and he did an admirable job. In the end, however, certain elements of the design process were broken, and Peter had to step down.

IKEA To Help Charge Your Gizmo

The favorite furniture store of my daughter and her husband, IKEA, is going to offer furniture with integrated wireless charging spots. This will allow you to easily charge devices using the Qi standard by simply laying them on the charging spot. 
”Through research and home visits, we know that people hate cable mess. They worry about not finding the charger and running out of power. Our new innovative solutions, which integrate wireless charging into home furnishings, will make life at home simpler”, says Jeanette Skjelmose, Business Area Manager Lighting and Wireless Charging.
The technology builds on collaboration with the global certification standard Qi, offering a third party certification for wireless charging products. The new collection, turning bedside tables, floor and table lamps as well as desks into charging spots, was designed by among others David Wahl.