Microsoft Locks Down Cortana Search In Windows 10

Microsoft has decided to keep the Cortana search function limited to using Bing and the Edge browser only for web results. This is in effect since the latest Windows 10 updates.
"Some software programs circumvent the design of Windows 10 and redirect you to search providers that were not designed to work with Cortana," Ryan Gavin, general manager of Microsoft Search and Cortana, said in a statement. In particular, they can interrupt some of Cortana's task completion and personalized search capabilities, he said.
In response, Microsoft is locking down the Cortana search experience.
Remember, it's Microsoft's OS, they are just letting you use it. And yes, I realize that it really legally IS Microsoft's OS, it's just that they are making it a little more obvious since Windows 10 reached us. 



So There Was This Robot Buddhist Monk...

We are beginning to see robots wandering into all kinds of areas of our lives, slowly but surely. It's almost inevitable then, that religion might be one of those areas - and indeed, here we have a robot "monk" that can chant and answer some basic questions on the tenets of the Buddhist faith.
At 2ft high, Xian’er is encased in saffron-yellow robes and has a shaved head. Despite spending much of his time closeted in the spiritual calm of Longquan Temple, he wears an expression of permanent surprise.
He started his existence as a cartoon drawn by Xianfian when he joined the temple in 2011. Xianfian described Xian’er as “a reflection of innovative Buddhist spirit … [who] might help traditional Buddhism reach a wider public more easily.”


A Really Slow Drone Race, But That's Okay

Drone racing is typically a high-speed type of proposition, with the little buggers zipping around at ridiculous speeds controlled by young people with incredible reflexes. Except this race was not fast at all; it featured a few drones stopping and starting, piloted by young people showing incredible concentration. That's because these drones were controlled by thought, not joysticks.
The University of Florida held a race April 22 which it called the first drone race controlled by the thoughts of the pilots. According to Motherboard, the pilots used a device that measured the electrical signals from their brains, called a brain-computer interface (or BCI) to direct the drones. The pilots look at a computer program, think about going “forward,” and the drones slowly move ahead.



Opera Bringing Free Built-In VPN To It's Browser *updated*

The Opera browser now has a developer version with a free, unlimited VPN as part of the browser, and it's expected that this feature will become part of the regular release version of the product.
This VPN feature is currently available in Opera 38 developer version, but you can expect it with regular Opera browser in future for sure. After bringing the built-in ad-blocker, Opera has stepped further to attract more users by introducing this free and unlimited VPN feature. You also have the choice to choose from three different VPN servers.
Now while this sounds pretty awesome, I know Opera has to pay for this "free" feature in some way - maybe involving some kind of data collection - so I will temper my initial enthusiasm until I read a bit more about this.

*update* it looks like the "VPN" is more correctly described as a proxy server.


First Time Ubuntu Upgrade

As I have mentioned here previously, I have the quirky habit of changing Linux distros pretty regularly; I have probably used a dozen different flavors of Linux over the last two years.

The itch struck again this weekend, and I was wondering what to try when I noticed I had an upgrade available on my current Ubuntu Mate 15.x install to 16.04 LTS (long term support). As I had never actually done a Linux in-place upgrade, I thought "why not?".

SyFy Channel On Roku - Sort Of

SyFyNow is a new channel available for Roku users - if you can sign up with a cable or satellite provider account. So, not really an option for true cord cutters (like yours truly). While SyFy is known for cheese fests like Sharknado, they have also produced some quality shows in recent years.
Today Roku customers in the U.S. who authenticate via their pay TV provider can stream full seasons, current and past episodes, short form clips and other programming from Syfy", says Bernarda Duarte, Director, Content Acquisition, Roku.


Shockingly, Not Everything On The Internet Is True

I hate to break this to you dear reader, but not everything you read on the 'web is true. Aside from parody stories like those found on the Onion, and exaggerations or chronically one-sided articles, there are also outright whoppers. I suppose because the medium feels "anonymous", folk feel they can get away with just spouting nonsense for the fun of it.

Case in point, the recent story about a man who "deleted his entire business" by running an incorrect scripting command on his servers. It was widely picked up and reported as fact, and it even sounded plausible - but it turned out to be a complete fabrication.


Firefox Browser To Get More Chrome-y In The Future

I like Firefox as a web browser; I like Chrome too, but I like Firefox more - there's something about the Chrome look and feel that just does not quite do it for me. Good news then, possibly, as Mozilla is looking at a project to utilize Chrome's chewy center for a new browser.
Senior VP Mark Mayo caused a storm by revealing that the Firefox team is working on a next-generation browser that will run on the same technology as Google's Chrome browser.
"Let's jump right in and say yes, the rumors are true, we're working on browser prototypes that look and feel almost nothing like the current Firefox," Mayo wrote in a blog post.
"The premise for these experiments couldn't be simpler: what we need a browser to do for us – both on PCs and mobile devices – has changed a lot since Firefox 1.0, and we're long overdue for some fresh approaches."
The Register



Ransomware - Little Victories Are Welcome

Ransomware is not fun, nor is it meant to be. It's meant to cause such disruption and hardship that you can be persuaded to part with your hard-earned money to get your data back. 

There as a few pieces of good news; one is that awareness is growing, and this will hopefully encourage folk to be at least a bit more prudent in their daily computer use. 


Circuit Simulator In HTML5

I used to monkey around with breadboarding circuits back in the day, and while this might not be as much fun it should certainly be much faster and promote more experimentation. The original was written in Java, and has been updated to work in HTML5. According to the article, Google Chrome will probably give the best experience currently.
This electronic circuit simulator is highly interactive giving the feeling of playing with real components. It's very helpful for experimentation and visualization. Best of all, thanks to the power of HTML5, no plug-ins are required! The original implementation, in Java, belongs to Paul Falstad who kindly gave his permission for me to build this port.
The capability to load and save files to the local disk requires HTML5 features that are not supported in all browsers. If the application detects the features required are not supported then some of the file options will be unavailable. Currently Chrome and Firefox support all the needed features.
Lush Projects

Japan Points To The Future Of Currency

Japan is preparing a system where foreign visitors can register their fingerprints and then simply use a fingerprint scanner to purchase goods and services during their visit.
The government hopes to increase the number of foreign tourists by using the system to prevent crime and relieve users from the necessity of carrying cash or credit cards. It aims to realize the system by the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Japan News



Windows 7 Checking For Updates...And Checking, And Checking

You know, I kind of wish my wife was not into her "click games" so much, and I could just reload our home computer with some flavor of Linux already. Some of those games will work via Wine, but unfortunately many will not.

Following a hard drive failure last week, I decided to consolidate formerly two physical hard drives into one, and purchased a bigger SSD drive (240GB vs the current 120GB). Fortunately, the drive that failed was the data drive, so the OS itself still booted - and yes, I had recent backups.

Interestingly, the 240GB replacement drive was about the same price - slightly cheaper even - as the 120GB one I got the previous year. Just shows how SSD drive prices have fallen.

I reloaded Windows 7, then Service Pack 1 and IE 11 from files on a USB drive, and then hit the old roadblock where Windows gets stuck searching for updates.

I hate this screen...


Bitcasa Drops Free Personal Drive Plan

Bitcasa, a cloud storage provider for personal and business use, is dropping their free plan as of 4/7/2016. Free users are being offered the opportunity to convert to a 60 day trial version, after which (presumably) they will then be part of the Premium plan.

The Premium plan offers 1TB of storage for $10 per month or $99 per year. I believe that is pretty competitive among the paid options, although it does mean that one more free storage option is gone.

Star Wars Rogue One - An Actual Trailer

The first Star Wars Rogue One actual trailer is out, and for some odd reason that I cannot put my finger on, it did nothing for me. I didn't dislike it, nor did I like it - just...nothing. I really had no expectations for the movie, but my non-response to this first look is kind of puzzling.

I guess they are bringing us a more gritty-looking Star Wars universe, and that's fine. With some exceptions, the cast looks to comprise some not-so-well-known actors, and that's fine too (Ms. Ridley and Mr. Boyega, anyone?!). Nothing seems particularly out of place or "wrong" - there are Stormtroopers, AT-AT walkers, blasters and so on - it's just not blowing my skirt up, so to speak.

I am certainly not dismissing the movie based upon one trailer, and I may just be having a grumpy day - we shall see.


US, Canada Issue Joint Security Alert Regarding Ransomware

It's not just your imagination, ransomware is on the rise to such an extent that US CERT and it's Canadian counterpart have issued a joint security alert on the subject.
The likes of TeslaCrypt 4 feature 'unbreakable encryption' and use scare-tactics to encourage victims to part with their money. This is what has prompted the joint alert from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre which warns about "destructive ransomware variants such as Locky and Samas". Interestingly, the advisory actively discourages victims from bowing to ransom demands.


New US Gov Secure Email Guide Released

The US government has released an update guide to securing email by way of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This is the first time the guide has been updated in about ten years, and it's probably safe to say it's about time. The 81 page PDF draft document is available here.
Key among the pieces of advice comes the simple note: don't just use a username and password with unencrypted TCP for email. Those days are long gone and the approach is "strongly discouraged." If you're using IMAP or POP3, TLS is a must.
Instead, it's time to build out a cryptographic key management system (CKMS) and use keys to protect email sessions.