That Sinking Feeling - US Navy Still Using Windows XP

Microsoft has not officially supplied security updates for Windows XP since last year, but because of lingering legacy systems the US Navy still has some 100,000 XP boxes in use. The bandaid is to pony up so Microsoft can supply critical security patches until the land- and sea-based systems can be upgraded or phased out - one would hope quickly.

Hell of a way to run a railroad...er, navy.
Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Washington, is being awarded a $9,149,000 firm-fixed-price modification to a previously awarded contract (N00039-14-C-0101) for Microsoft Premier Support services and Microsoft Custom Support services for Windows XP, Office 2003, Exchange 2003 and Server 2003. Microsoft Premier Support services and Microsoft Custom Support services are required to provide critical software hotfixes to sustain deployed capabilities.


No Real Flying Cars In Sight, Dang It

I want a flying car. Let me rephrase that: I want the flying car to be real. I could never afford a flying car, but at least let me have a vicarious thrill via some lucky owner who posts a 360 degree video of a drive/flight on YouTube.

No light aircraft that coverts to something awkward that you can theoretically (if impractically) drive on a public road. Nor one of those quadcopter-type contraptions either, however interesting they may be. 

I just want there to be something like the DeLorean from Back To The Future, or the Spinner from Blade Runner - or even Lady Penelope's Fab One from Thunderbirds. A car that flies, for cripes sake. It's been a "thing" with me since, well, probably the Gerry Anderson Supercar kid's show back in the 1960's - although perversely enough, that was not technically a car at all...

It seems though, that the big thing holding us back is the propulsion system; surely we are really close to having the kind of software to assist in safely flying such a contraption. We need something compact and powerful like Tony Stark's repulsor technology, not turbines or propellers. So, to all you budding Starks out there - c'mon!


Friends, Chromium, Countrymen - Lend Me Your Ears

A recent article describes the rather "sneaky" download of a listening component on the open source version of the Chrome browser, Chromium:
Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome, had abused its position as trusted upstream to insert lines of source code that bypassed this audit-then-build process, and which downloaded and installed a black box of unverifiable executable code directly onto computers, essentially rendering them compromised.
That's a no-no, but it opens up the whole convenience vs privacy aspect of those types of "listening" services, like Siri and the Google feature mentioned. Personally, I don't have Google set to listen on my phone and tablet; I have to swipe up, then say "okay Google" for it to listen for the next bit of speech.

At least that's what I hope it does. For all I know, it could be listening all the time. It's one thing to use Siri or Google Now or Xbox knowing what those features do, but quite another when it's done without one's knowledge, as in the Chromium example.

If that sounds paranoid, how about the new information that the NSA and British GCHQ have been actively hacking into security products in order to tack user activities?

*UPDATE* - Google to remove this


The Hollywood Retread Machine

Why does Hollywood continue to churn out sequels, prequels and reboots? Because they make money, of course! Other than newly-released Inside Out, all the other top 40 box office openings this year are non-original works. Yep, read that line again.

Whether that says that people go because they are familiar with the material and want the same experience again, or because they have little choice due to what is being presented to them, I can't say, but if it keeps making money, you can bet your sweet bippy the movie makers will keep doing it.
Inside Out is something of a rarity among summer blockbusters, since it’s an entirely original story that isn’t a sequel, a remake, a reboot, an adaptation or a new iteration of an established franchise. Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, the film focuses on an 11 year-old girl called Riley who moves to a new home in San Francisco and struggles to deal with the changes in her life. It also takes part partly inside Riley’s head, where a group of anthropomorphic emotions try to help her keep it together.

No Flying Car, But A Flying Volocopter?

The Volocopter is something new; kind of like a big quadcopter drone, but with more rotors - eighteen currently on the working prototype. It's also electric!

The two-seater prototype has flown unmanned (inside a large hanger) and the e-Volo company  are working under cover on a new production version which they hope to show publicly next Summer (flying outdoors).
The e-Volo team is working on an upgrade of the entire system in preparation for that first manned flight. The structure and architecture are essentially the same as they were in 2013, but the inner workings have been thoroughly upgraded. “We’re assembling a new electronic flight-control system, and a new battery system,” says CEO Alexander Zosel.


Free Windows 10 Now A Wee Bit More Free

Microsoft really wants you to install Windows 10, because they really want to reach their stated target of Windows 10 running on one billion devices within the first three years. 

To help prod us out of our apathy, they are offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade for the first year to existing Windows 7 and 8 users, and - according to a new ZDNET article - they are quietly offering Windows 10 for free to anyone signed up for the Windows Insider Program. Whether or not you already have a licensed copy of Windows 7 or 8.

A pretty sweet deal, if you are a Windows person. In fact I will probably take advantage of the offer for our home PC, which currently has Windows 7. I was going to upgrade it to an SSD this summer, so it would be a good time to upgrade the OS as well.


Macrium Reflect Free Steps It Up

Disk imaging programs can be a good way to backup your system and allow you to quickly recover from a catastrophic drive failure, avoiding the need to reload Windows again, run all your updates and then reinstall your software and data.

If, that is, you have a recent backup image. Images can take a while to create, but if you can make an original image and then do regular (faster) differential images, you have a better solution.

Up till now, Macrium Reflect Free did not support differential images - but that has changed - 
Paramount Software has released Macrium Reflect Free 6, the personal-use-only edition of its popular imaging backup tool.

The big addition is support for differential images, which save time by only recording the data that has changed since the last backup.


Government Server Hacking Up North

Our friends in the Canadian Great White North were also subject to recent hacking of some government websites, although so far the minister in charge is saying not data was compromised. This time, the Anonymous group claimed responsibility for the intrusions.
A number of federal government websites appear to be back online after the brief blackout, including websites for the Senate, the Justice Department and Canada's spy agencies, CSEC and CSIS. 
However, it's unclear whether the attacks have stopped, as government websites seem to be flashing on and offline intermittently.



Thinking Of Something To Say

A working brain-to-text system may be a lot closer to reality than most people might think (pun intended). Such technology may open up possibilities for direct human-to-computer interfaces and the like; real science fiction stuff.
German and U.S. researchers have decoded natural continuously spoken speech from brain waves and transformed it into text — a step toward communication with computers or humans by thought alone.
Their “Brain-to-Text” system recorded signals from an electrocorticographic (ECoG)* electrode array located on relevant surfaces of the frontal and temporal lobes of the cerebral cortex of seven epileptic patients, who participated voluntarily in the study during their clinical treatment.


OMB Shuts The Security Door After The Horse Is Long Gone

Not only is the horse gone, it started a family and is now heading towards retirement. In a rather astonishing directive following the successful hack attack on the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget has ordered federal system admins to *gasp* install patches in a timely manner, among other security 101 steps.

According to the Register, the steps include:
  1. Install software patches for critical vulnerabilities "without delay."
  2. Use antivirus and check log files for "indicators" of malware infection or intrusion.
  3. Start using two-factor authentication.
  4. Slash the number of people with administrator-level access and limit what they can do and for how long per-login-session, and "ensure that privileged user activities are logged and that such logs are reviewed regularly."
Pardon me, but wtf have they been doing up to now??? Our tax dollars at work, indeed.


Kevin Rose Knows What Time It Is

Kevin Rose, serial geek entrepreneur, has another start up thing going on. This time, it deals with watches, but not smartwatches like you might expect. Rose, still looking impossibly cherubic at 38 years old, is bringing together his Watchville app with wristwatch enthusiast site Hodinkee.
The merger with Hodinkee aims to attract a hard-core, dedicated audience to using the Watchville app on a regular basis.
“It’s not about going into a mall, pointing at a case and buying something for the bling factor,” Mr. Rose said. “It’s a geeky thing, and once you get into this world, you get into the internals, you go deep.”


New Internet Regulations Kick In And...

If the whole "net neutrality" debate taught me anything, it was that fascinating scene of two sides using the same information to put forward two completely opposite arguments. Regardless, on June 12th the new regulations took affect, and there was no immediately noticeable effect; no tearing asunder, no cats and dogs living together, etc.
Open Internet activists counted down to this Friday. After years of advocacy and months of legal procedure, the federal government’s rules for strictly regulating the web took effect: The democracy of the Internet became enforceable, with the government ready to protect the principles of net neutrality and Internet service providers required to load every site at the same speed.


My Geek Cred Is Faltering Because Of Browser Tabs

My geek cred (such as it is) is faltering; I have realized I don't use enough browser tabs. When reading blogs and forums I come across a lot of people who seem to habitually run with dozens of tabs open in their browser. Here is one person with over 200

I rarely have more than 8 or 10 tabs open at a time, usually more like 3 or 4.

Even assuming some of these browser fiends are just posturing blowhards, there still seems to be a lot of folks running lot of tabs - and I am not one of them. I have tried and tried to think what might demand that one keeps so many web pages available at once, and I can't imagine. It must be some deep, geeky thing of which I am not aware, and hence my faltering geek cred.



R.I.P. Christopher Lee (1922 - 2015)

If you are of a certain age, you probably think of Christopher Lee as Dracula from the Hammer
horror movies of the 1950's and 60's, with bloody fangs and red crazy eyes. If you are younger, then more likely you will identify him as Saruman the white, Tolkein's "good wizard gone bad" in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie series.

Mr Lee passed away on June 7th at the grand age of 93, and leaves behind a great legacy of cultural touchstones and a huge movie catalog. From all accounts he lived a full and varied life, and that's surely a good epitaph for anyone.


Smart Homes Are Low-Hanging Fruit

"Low-hanging fruit" is sometimes used in a security context to describe those targets that appeal to the bad guys, simply because they are so readily attacked; why struggle with something more secure, when the pickings are much easier elsewhere? Smart Homes are one of those.
Repeatedly, studies have revealed that devices designed to automate the home have serious vulnerabilities. Many devices have weak password policies and do not protect against man-in-the-middle attacks, according to an HP survey of 10 off-the-shelf home security systems. Others do not prevent access to the device’s debugging interface, which could allow easy hacking of the device, according to an April study by code-security firm Veracode.
PC World has some quick tips to make things a bit tougher for those who would access your residential digital devices for nefarious purposes.



Apple Starts Streaming Music

The fruity mega company should launch a new streaming music service imminently:
Apple is still negotiating deals for the streaming service, which it would like to announce soon. But it would like to offer several ways to let people listen to some music without paying,  according to industry sources. Those include:
  • A free trial period, which may range from one to three months, depending on the outcome of Apple’s negotiations with music labels.
  • A feature that will let music owners upload a sampling of songs that users could listen to without subscribing to the service. Several sources describe this feature as something akin to SoundCloud, the music streaming service that describes itself as the “YouTube for audio.”
  •  A new version of Apple’s iTunes Radio, featuring stations programmed by human beings instead of computers, which could be localized for different countries. 

*update* - see here for more details on Apple Music


Cameras And Drones - A Match Made In Heaven

A coworker recently gave me an up close and personal look at his quadcopter with a nifty gimbal camera mount. It was a slick piece of gear, and when he pointed me to his YouTube page containing some camera footage, I was duly impressed: smooth, sweeping videos that seem to combine Steadicam and helicopter shots into one very pleasing result.


Watching The Watchers

Drones may be watching you, but who is watching the drones? NASA and Verizon have Top Men looking into it...
The space agency has partnered with telecom company Verizon to develop technology to direct and monitor all of the commercial and civilian drones in the U.S. 
According to documents obtained by The Guardian, Verizon signed an agreement last year with NASA "to jointly explore whether cell towers ... could support communications and surveillance of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) at low altitudes."


Self-drive Cars And The Trolley Problem

Self-drive cars are coming; the Google cars have driven over a million miles, and other manufacturers are making noises about their own autonomous vehicles (both cars and trucks). If left to decide "for themselves", how will these vehicles make what may well be life-or-death decisions when encountering an emergency situation?


Stegosploit - Bringing Us More Malware Crap To Worry About

Steganography is a technique that can "hide" data within other digital data - hiding a text message within an image for example. With tools like Stegosploit, we now learn it's also possible to hide malware within images - great, just what we need.
In plain speak, this means virtually any picture you view on the web, even without clicking on it or downloading it, could potentially contain malware. Upon viewing the image, the hidden program would automatically load on your computer or mobile device without your consent. That malicious software could then do a variety of nasty things from taking control of your device to stealing data, photos, login credentials, sensitive personal and financial information and more. The best part of all, antivirus and malware detection scanners are not, at this time, equipped to detect these kinds of attacks, rendering your safety net completely useless.