Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for April, 2017

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon’s advertising business has loomed quietly in the digital media space for some time but the online behemoth has given the clearest indication yet that it will now come to the fore. Advertisers and agencies have been hearing Amazon-sized footsteps for some time but until now the business has erred away from revealing too much. However, on its latest earnings call Amazon was asked by one analyst as to whether advertising could become a more “meaningful part of the business” over the near to mid-term. “It’s pretty early in the days with advertising but we’re very pleased with the team we have and the results, ” said Amazon’s chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky in response to another analyst query. “Our goal is to be helpful to consumers and enhance their shopping or their viewing experience with targeted recommendations, and we think a lot of the information we have and preferences of customers and recommendations help us do that for customers.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A US online pet store has exposed the details of more than 110, 400 credit cards used to make purchases through its website, researchers have found. From a report on ZDNet: In a stunning show of poor security, the Austin, TX-based company FuturePets.com exposed its entire customer database, including names, postal and email addresses, phone numbers, credit card information, and plain-text passwords. Several customers that we reached out to confirmed some of their information when it was provided by ZDNet, but did not want to be named. The database was exposed because of the company’s own insecure server and use of “rsync, ” a common protocol used for synchronizing copies of files between two different computers, which wasn’t protected with a username or password. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Junk food and summer blockbusters go hand in hand — from the nachos, popcorn and candy you buy at the cinema, to action-hero faces plastered on every brand of potato chips at the supermarket. This has been the way of the world as long as I can remember, but this summer, the pairing may have reached its apex. In a perfect storm of brand synergy, nostalgia and guilty pleasures, Marvel has decided to release the soundtrack to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ in the most unconventional format imaginable: a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos . Like Frito-Lay’s last “smart bag, ” the album-in-a-Doritos-bag gimmick is a bizarre, yet weirdly delightful marketing mess. The film’s soundtrack isn’t hidden in the bag as a CD or thumb drive, nor is it a redemption code for iTunes or Google Play — the album is literally built into the Doritos bag as a faux-cassette player, complete with a headphone jack, buttons to play, rewind, fast-forward, change volume or stop and a mini-USB port to recharge. Again — this is a bag of tortilla chips that you can recharge. The moment new of this absurd product tie-in reached Engadget, our team had questions. Does it sound any good? Can you transfer the music to your phone? If you tear the bag apart, are you rewarded with a halfway decent media player? We resolved to track down a bag, destroy it, and find out. You can tell at a glance that the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Doritos aren’t your typical bag of snack chips. For one, the bag itself comes in a display box decorated to look like a vintage stereo, with printed dials and a window peeking through to the bag’s embedded media player. Inside the box are instructions (plug in headphones and turn it on, of course) and an extremely cheap headset reminiscent of 1990s “walkman style” stereo cans with a thin metal headband and flimsy, foam-covered speakers. While the headphones do look a lot like the pair Chris Pratt wore in the original Guardians movie, they put out decidedly low fidelity sound. Maybe it’s an intentional nod to the MP3 player’s facade: cassette tapes never sounded that great anyway . Either way, the bag’s music player doesn’t need cheap headphones to be mediocre. The ports on ours were so misaligned that we actually couldn’t get the headphones to plug in until we opened the bag and shuffled around the internals. When we finally got the audio port lined up, it worked well enough to fulfill its novelty — but the music was a little distorted, even on good headphones. Fortunately, this is the fault of Doritos’ cheap media player, not the music itself: plugging the bag’s mini-USB charging cable into a PC will let you download the entire album as DRM-free MP3 files encoded at 320kbps. The novelty of asking someone if they want to listen to music from a snack bag is worth a few laughs, but at $29.99, this is probably the worst way to buy the film’s soundtrack. Getting the music files out of the bag is a bit of a chore, and tearing it apart to get at the electronics doesn’t yield much of a reward — the Doritos MP3 player is little more than a cheap, exposed circuit board sandwiched between two pieces of foam. Without the snack bag, its buttons are too tall and awkward, the audio port is exposed and flimsy and it has no visible user interface to speak of. It’s not even worth pillaging for the player’s microSD card , which holds a paltry 256MB of data. Looks like we destroyed the eBay value of this season’s most ridiculous collector’s item for nothing.

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Flashlight fish have glowing lanterns below their eyes

Posted by kenmay on April - 29 - 2017

Flashlight fish , also called lanterneye fish and scientifically photoblepharon (light-eye), are strange and wondrous creatures best viewed during a night dive in the Pacific. (more…)

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NSA will stop illegally collecting American emails

Posted by kenmay on April - 29 - 2017

The National Security Agency has enjoyed relatively broad authority to monitor communications among suspected terrorists and their associates, even when those people happen to be American citizens and even without a warrant . However, The New York Times reports the NSA is stopping one of its most controversial practices: the collection of Americans’ international emails and text messages that mention a foreigner under surveillance. The NSA is attempting to adhere to a 2011 ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court found this “about the target” collection program violated the Fourth Amendment because some internet companies packaged and processed emails in bundles — meaning if one message contained a foreign target’s email address, the entire group was swept up. The NSA was intercepting domestic communications, resulting in illegal searches. FISC allowed the surveillance to continue, but with a new safeguard in place: The NSA proposed a program where it would keep these bundled emails in a separate repository where analysts would not be able to see them. In 2016, the NSA reported the revamped program was not going as planned and analysts were, in fact, still searching the sequestered documents, The New York Times says. FISC delayed renewing the agency’s warrantless surveillance program until it promised to cancel the entire “about the target” collection process. The NSA has argued its bulk-collection methods help officials track potential threats, as contact with someone under surveillance is grounds for suspicion. Privacy advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union argue otherwise. “This development underscores the need for Congress to significantly reform Section 702 of FISA, which will continue to allow warrantless surveillance of Americans, ” ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani says in response to today’s news. “While the NSA’s policy change will curb some of the most egregious abuses under the statute, it is at best a partial fix. Congress should take steps to ensure such practices are never resurrected and end policies that permit broad, warrantless surveillance under Section 702, which is up for reauthorization at the end of the year.” I’m going to go out on a limb & add a big reason: bulk access going darker 1—email providers moved to TLS/https 2—targets moved to E2E apps https://t.co/zz5WCxOHmZ — Thomas Rid (@RidT) April 28, 2017 Of course, technology continues to rapidly advance, and online communication has changed a lot since 2011. Today, more people are using end-to-end encryption and email providers are offering more secure ways to communicate, potentially making it harder for the NSA to round up these messages in the first place. In 2014, Google announced it would use HTTPS connections in Gmail specifically because the NSA was poking around in users’ business. Source: The New York Times

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Haha! Lucky riders on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland were treated to a live Jack Sparrow animatronics performance yesterday by Johnny Depp. He made a surprise visit to the park as part of a PR stunt. It’s fun to hear the passengers as they realize that the real Johnny Depp is standing right in front of them.

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Facebook and Google Were Victims of $100M Payment Scam

Posted by kenmay on April - 28 - 2017

Employees of Facebook and Google were the victims of an elaborate $100 million phishing attack, according to a new report on Fortune, which further adds that the employees were tricked into sending money to overseas bank accounts. From the report: In 2013, a 40-something Lithuanian named Evaldas Rimasauskas allegedly hatched an elaborate scheme to defraud U.S. tech companies. According to the Justice Department, he forged email addresses, invoices, and corporate stamps in order to impersonate a large Asian-based manufacturer with whom the tech firms regularly did business. The point was to trick companies into paying for computer supplies. The scheme worked. Over a two-year span, the corporate imposter convinced accounting departments at the two tech companies to make transfers worth tens of millions of dollars. By the time the firms figured out what was going on, Rimasauskas had coaxed out over $100 million in payments, which he promptly stashed in bank accounts across Eastern Europe. Fortune adds that the investigation raises questions about why the companies have so far kept silence and whether — as a former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission observes — it triggers an obligation to tell investors about what happened. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Nintendo programmer Masahiro Sakura coded the Game Boy classic Kirby’s Dream Land on a cartridge-based Famicom console and Disk System that lacked a hardware keyboard. According to a recent presentation given by Sakura, “values had to be input using a trackball and an on-screen keyboard.” Sakura, who was 20-years-old at the time, said he just thought that was “the way it was done.” From Game Watch’s report in Japanese, translated by Source Gaming : At the time, the development tool that HAL Laboratory was using was the Twin Famicom, a console that combined the Famicom and the Famicom Disk System. A trackball made specifically for the Twin Famicom was used with the machine, which read and wrote data to a floppy disk and uploaded data to the floppy disks [during development]. Essentially, they were using a Famicom to make Famicom games. Sakurai told the crowd, “It’s like using a lunchbox to make lunch”. However, because of that, they were able to create a functional test product before the project plan was even completed. (via Ars Technica )

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McDonald’s already tried delivering Quarter Pounder combo meals via Uber in Florida and now the fast-food restaurant it ready to expand the option. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that McDonald’s will launch its delivery option in more cities before the end of June. And yes, it’s still powered by UberEats . That original testing phase included 200 locations in Florida, and for now, there’s no word on exactly where the delivery option is headed next. Those details are likely to come soon, so you might be able to satisfy your Big Mac craving without leaving the house in the near future. For now, McDonald’s is trying to perfect the process of accepting orders, finding the right packaging for deliveries and tackling other “operational challenges.” The company also tried its hand at delivery in 2015 with help from Postmates. That initiative is limited to New York City, though. Delivery isn’t the only move McDonald’s is making to meet the needs of diners in 2017. The company began testing mobile ordering and payments back in March, a feature of its app that’s now available for 400 locations in Chicago, California, Washington state and the DC area. The plan is for every location to have the mobile ordering system in place eventually. As part of the Uber news, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook explained that restaurant redesigns and digital options like mobile ordering are top priorities over the next two years. Source: Crain’s Chicago Business

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Take a look at Apple’s self-driving test vehicle

Posted by kenmay on April - 28 - 2017

Photos obtained by Bloomberg are giving us our first look at what appears to be a testbed for Apple’s self-driving car technology. An observer caught the Lexus SUV (looking similar to the demo vehicle above) rolling out of an Apple facility in Silicon Valley, rocking an extensive kit including Velodyne LiDAR units and radar sensors, which help the car observe the world around it. Apple picked up a permit to test its autonomous technology on California streets a couple of weeks ago, and it apparently isn’t waiting to get started. According to an expert cited by Bloomberg, the kit observed appears to consist of “off the shelf” sensors from third parties like Velodyne , instead of custom hardware. It’s unclear what form the scaled-back Project Titan plans could eventually take, but getting time on the road is a big first step. Here’s the car that #Apple ‘s using to test its autonomous car technology. Story with @mhbergen . https://t.co/jHLnJDRjoS pic.twitter.com/zTezUmcZwC — Alex Webb (@atbwebb) April 27, 2017 Source: Bloomberg

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