dimanche 31 janvier 2016

Microsoft is like SpongeBob with Project Natick -- puts data center under the sea


Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants! Depending on your age, you might absolutely adore that character or possibly not be familiar at all. Me? I fall into the former. While it is a kids show, I find it to be quite entertaining.

You know who else might be a fan of Mr. SquarePants? Microsoft. Yes, believe it or not, the company has built an underwater data center, located in California, named 'Project Natick' for the ocean. In other words, like SpongeBob, the data center will live under the sea. While it is only in a testing phase, it is still cool nonetheless. Hopefully it operates quietly, however, as if it is noisy, it might bother Squidward's clarinet playing.

The big question you should be asking, of course, is why is Microsoft is doing this? The answer is surprisingly simple -- heat. Data centers run very hot and require intense cooling from air-conditioning. Not only does this cost the owner a lot of money in energy bills, but it can be bad for the environment too.

The carbon footprint from the world's combined data centers is likely astronomical. If you can harness the cooling of the deep ocean's waters, by using it to dissipate heat naturally, you can arguably reduce costs and reduce the strain on the environment.

Ben Cutler, a Microsoft employee and engineer on the project tells the New York Times, "when I first heard about this I thought, 'Water ... electricity, why would you do that?' But as you think more about it, it actually makes a lot of sense".

Of course, despite the potential environmental benefits, there are unknown risks too. Could the heat given off by the data center impact the natural habitat of the sea life? Even if local temperature increases are slight, it could be enough to disrupt a balance. More research and testing will likely be needed to determine if Project Natick is a risk-free proposal.

Plus, lets be honest here folks; electronics and water generally don't mix well. True, some computers are liquid-cooled with minimal risk and maintenance, but a data center in the ocean is faced with extreme pressure -- a leak could prove disastrous. It may be quite a while before a company truly trusts its precious data under the sea. Luckily, Microsoft has installed sensors on Project Natick to monitor just how harsh the ocean's impact will be on it.

What do you think of Project Natick? Tell me in the comments.

Photo credit: New York Times

Emotionally retarded? Facebook Likes soon to be bolstered by just 5 new 'reactions'


The 'liking' of online content goes hand in hand with using Facebook. It's a simple idea, and one that has been copied by the likes of Google, Twitter and countless other sites. But as great as the iconic Like button is, it's hugely limiting and insufficiently expressive. There was talk of Facebook introducing a Dislike button but this idea (if it ever existed) was canned in favor of 'reactions'. Facebook has been testing reactions for a while, and now the feature is on the verge of a global rollout.

Mark Zuckerberg said this week that the glorified emoji will spread to all users 'pretty soon', but while people will undoubtedly embrace the option to do something other than just 'like' friend's post (how appropriate it is to 'like' the status "My cat just died"?), reactions are still very limited. Users will be restricted to expressing just five emotions -- cut down from six as testers were apparently too stupid to understand a 'yay' emoji -- meaning that reactions will be almost as limiting and blunt as the humble Like button.

We're not much closer to knowing exacting when reactions will be available worldwide, but when the rollout does eventually happen, users will be able to express themselves through Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry emoji. The Yay option -- essentially a smiley face with eyes blissfully closed and lovely rosy cheeks -- was dropped after Facebook found "it was not universally understood".

One can't help but feel that Facebook has rather overthought reactions. So what if an emoji is not universally understood? Take a look through the ever-growing of official Unicode emoji -- there are some weird entries on that list! How should one react to the 'face without a mouth' emoji? Is the thermometer is the 'face with thermometer' emoji actually a spliff? Who's to say that the crosses over the eyes of the 'astonished face' emoji are indicative of having been blinded?

This is precisely the point. Emoji -- just like facial expressions -- can be interpreted in many ways. That's the beauty of being human. Does it matter if the Yay reaction was not universally understood -- and what does that even mean? Are we only allowed to interpret an icon in one way? Who makes this decision?

The official list of emoji includes (literally) hundreds of entries. Some are utterly, utterly bizarre. How many times have you felt the need to use (or how many times have you seen someone else use) the 'diamond with a dot' emoji? How about the 'vibration mode' one, or 'syringe' one? The chances are that you have never used them, and the very fact that they are so odd means that they could be used in numerous different ways. Why should it be any different with the Yay reaction? Facebook really should just have left people to use the reactions in whatever way they see fit.

And while we're at it, why on earth limit people to just five emotions and a Like option? The official Unicode emoji is there and ready to be used -- why not just integrate them into the new reaction system so that people are given a far wider range of options. The 'pile of poo' emoji would almost certainly be overused, but with over a thousand images to choose from, it would give Facebook users the ability to express pretty much the full gamut of emotions.

Five reactions? I'm more expressive than that when I make a cup of coffee in the morning!

Of course the real reason for limiting reactions so much is that it makes them eminently more trackable. As well as using reactions to respond to friends' status updates, Facebook users will also use them to respond to adverts, videos and other content. By limiting reactions to a pitiful five, Facebook and its advertisers will be able to gather far more useful information about people.

That’s the reality. That's why Facebook is keen to keep its users emotionally stunted.

Photo credit: Pressmaster / Shutterstock

samedi 30 janvier 2016

Does the sight of a cancer patient's nipple offend you? It does Facebook


For all of the social aspects of Facebook, the site does a very good job of failing to fully reflect society as a whole. Part of the reason for this is that Facebook has an ideology, a world view, and a set of values. The social network has a comprehensive list of banned content and there have been countless cases of censorship or removal of user posts for violation of the rules.

Breastfeeding mothers found they were not allowed to post photos of themselves that included even the merest hint of nipple -- this led to the #FreeTheNipple campaign. More recently Facebook decided to ban the private sale of guns through the site, but now the humble nipple is causing upset once again. This time Rowena Kincaid -- suffering from terminal breast cancer -- had photos she had uploaded to Facebook removed. The intention was to educate people about what to look for in terms of symptoms, but the nipple pictures fell foul of Facebook's rules -- it has been dubbed BoobGate.

Rowena has already made a documentary called Before I Kick The Bucket, and she uses a Facebook page to not only keep her followers up to date with her progress and experiences, but also to educate people about cancer. Recently she uploaded a photograph of her breast, showing a rash around the nipples which she points to as a possible symptom of cancer. The aim is to help people to learn what to look out for, but Facebook removed the image because it violated site policy.

The photo managed to attract more than 70,000 views in just a couple of hours before it was removed. Rowena was keen to share her tips about what to look out for, and ended up sharing the same image with the nipple obscured with a smiley face; "If I don't share this, it will die with me," she said.

I learnt after posting the picture how valuable it was. People were getting engaged, it was getting shared. What was coming through was that people only ever knew to look for a lump. But there are other things to look out for: puckering, inverted nipples, pain, a rash. I wasn’t out to offend anyone. [It] looks like something out of a medical journal.


Facebook has refused to comment on the case beyond saying it is investigating. Rowena says that the nudity in her image led to its automatic removal, but this is another case that highlights the limitations of automated systems, as well as the need for Facebook to show far greater 'leniency', particularly when it comes to educational posts. Rowena was doing nothing more than trying to raise awareness of an important medical issue. She deserves praise for her bravery, not censorship from Facebook.

Photo credit: scyther5 / Shutterstock

Stop using Microsoft Edge's InPrivate mode if you value your privacy


It's possible that you reached this article purely by chance, or you may have Googled 'how to change the default search engine in Microsoft Edge'. However you got here, the fact that you're reading this indicates that you're either interested in Windows 10's Edge, or actively use it -- and this means there's something you need to know.

If you fall into the latter camp and use Edge's InPrivate mode to cover your online tracks, you might want to think about changing your web browser. Edge has already got some stick for its lack of extension support -- "it's coming, it's coming!" Yeah, whatever... so's Christmas -- but now it turns out that InPrivate mode is a privacy nightmare. It is possible to peak behind the curtain and see which sites have been visited when using a browsing mode that should mask this.

There are similar features found in other browser. Chrome has Incognito mode, Safari has Private Browsing, Firefox has... actually, Firefox has Private Browsing too. Whatever the name, what these browsing modes all have in common is that once the browser is closed, there is no record of which sites have been visited. That's not to say that ISPs and law enforcement agencies wouldn’t be able to determine the browsing history, but from a local point of view it is as though no browsing has taken place.

But Edge is different.

Somewhat counterintuitively, Edge actually records browsing history in InPrivate mode. More than this, by examining the WebCache file it is a relatively simple task for someone to reconstruct full browsing history, regardless of whether surfing was performed in regular or InPrivate mode.

Over on Forensic Focus, researcher Ashish Singh warns:

The forensic examination of most web browsers has proven that they don't have a provision for storing the details of privately browsed web sessions. Private browsing is provided for a purpose, i.e. privately browsing the web, which is being delivered.

However, in the case of Microsoft Edge even the private browsing isn't as private as it seems. Previous investigations of the browser have resulted in revealing that websites visited in private mode are also stored in the browser’s WebCache file.

NOTE: The Container_n table stores web history. There a field named 'Flag' will be available. A website visited in the private mode will have a flag value as '8'. Generally the purpose of storing this information is to retrieve crashed private sessions.


Therefore any skilled investigator can easily spot the difference and get concrete evidence against a person’s wrongdoings. Plenty of artifacts are maintained by the browser, which makes examination quite easy. However, there are stages where evidence is not so easy to find. The not-so-private browsing featured by Edge makes its very purpose seem to fail.

Microsoft is aware of the problem, and says:

We recently became aware of a report that claims InPrivate tabs are not working as designed, and we are committed to resolving this as quickly as possible.

As is often the case, there is no indication of quite when this might be fixed, but it will be fixed. At some point. But you can't help but ask how such a fundamental aspect of private browsing could be so fantastically borked. It beggars belief.

Photo credit: T.Dallas / Shutterstock

Microsoft is still working to fix Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 power management problems


Surface devices have been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. As well as false accusations of Surface tablet causing problems at the NFL playoffs, Microsoft has also recalled Surface Pro power cords because of an overheating issue. Some problems are fixed with a little good PR, but other require software fixes.

Just a couple of days ago, Microsoft released a firmware update for Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. While this addresses problems with Bluetooth performance, battery charging, and wireless issues, it does nothing to resolve the power management and battery drain issues many users are experiencing. Microsoft says a fix for this is still in the works.

Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 owners have reported issues with power management when placed in standby mode. It's a problem that have been known about for some months now, and it sees massive battery drain when the devices should really be using minimal power. But if you're hoping for a quick fix, you might have a wait on your hands.

Writing on its support forums, Microsoft said:

Yesterday our engineering team published some updates for Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. These updates offer refinements to improve battery charging and thermal tuning, wireless and Bluetooth performance, and to the detach-reattach experience on Surface Book. We know some of you are still experiencing issues, including issues related to power management, and we are working to address those as quickly as possible. We’ll publish additional updates as soon as they are ready.

At the moment there is no indication of just when the problem might be addressed, but in the meantime, users continue to experience battery drain of up to 12 percent per hour even when their devices are not in use.

LG G3 'Snap' vulnerability leaves owners at risk of data theft

LG G3 Lollipop 1

Security researchers have discovered a vulnerability in LG G3 smartphones which could be exploited to run arbitrary JavaScript to steal data. The issue has been named Snap, and was discovered by Israeli security firms BugSec and Cynet.

What is particularly concerning about Snap is that it affects the Smart Notice which is installed on all LG G3s by default. By embedding malicious script in a contact, it is possible to use WebView to run server side code via JavaScript. If exploited, the vulnerability could be used to gather information from SD cards, steal data from the likes of WhatsApp, and steal private photos.

Researchers identified a number of possible attack vectors, including asking a victim to scan a QR code, or sending a fake contact via WhatsApp or MMS. Liran Segal and Shachar Korot, who discovered the vulnerability, say they contacted LG and the company responded quickly by updating Smart Notice with a patch. The onus is on G3 owners to install the update

In a blog post, Cynet says:

The root cause for the security problem is the fact that Smart Notice does not validate the data presented to the users. Data can be taken from the phone contacts and manipulated. The attack can take place in several ways due to functionality issues of the Smart Notice application. The application pops notifications (named 'cards') in each of these scenarios:

  • Favorite contact notification – Recommends you keep in touch with favorite contacts.

  • New contact suggestion – Suggests saving a caller number.

  • Callback reminder – Reminder to callback a contact after declining the call.

  • Birthday notification – Reminder about contact birthday.

  • Memo reminder – Provides notifications about user memos.

The video below from BugSec Group shows how the vulnerability can be exploited:

Adobe pushes out betas for version 21 of Flash and Air

Adobe LogoLots of things are said about Flash, and most of them aren't good. The Adobe app has proven to be a security nightmare and constant updates do little to alleviate the problems. Now a new version is on its way and hoping to fix things.

New versions of Flash 21 and Air 21 are in the works, currently these products are codenamed "Sutter". Don't expect any major changes, the company points out it's just incremental advances.

"This beta release includes new features as well as enhancements and bug fixes related to security, stability, performance, and device compatibility for Flash Player 21 and AIR 21", the software maker announces.

Both are being released by Adobe Labs, meaning they are a bit experimental, so you may experience some issues in using them. Likely you won't but that caveat needs to be pointed out, as it does with all beta software.

You can grab the updates from the following links:

Download Adobe AIR 21 beta

Download Flash Player 21 beta

Adobe concludes that "As always, we appreciate all feedback. We encourage you to post in our beta forums or create bug reports or feature requests on our public bug database".

Why did Google give $6,006.13 to MBA candidate Sanmay Ved?

Google Logo

Google's security bounty programs can be quite lucrative for those who discover problems, and the company has just published a report looking back at the security landscape in 2015. Entitled Google Security Rewards - 2015 Year in Review, the report reveals the financial rewards that have been paid out in the last 12 months.

In all, Google has paid out more than $2 million to more than 300 people, but Sanmay Ved is probably one of the more interesting reward recipients. He's the guy who -- very briefly -- managed to buy Google.com before having it taken off his hands. Google offered him a $6,006.13 reward, but there's a little more to the story.

If you're wondering about the slightly strange amount, Google explains that if you squint and use a little imagination, the figure spells out the word Google. Sanmay decided to donate his reward to charity, and when Google learned about this, the reward was doubled. While Sanmay may have been one of the more unusual reward recipients, Tomasz Bojarski got the crown for the most prolific, discovering no fewer than 70 bugs on Google.

2015 was the year that Android was added to the to the Security Reward program initiative resulting in payments of over $200,000 to researchers. Google shares a graphic that shows some of the highlights from 2015:


In 2015, Google's Vulnerability Research Grants was used to provide researchers with the funds they need to carry out their work. One example of how these funds were used includes research into a YouTube problem:

We’ve already seen positive results from this program; here’s one example. Kamil Histamullin a researcher from Kasan, Russia received a VRP grant early last year. Shortly thereafter, he found an issue in YouTube Creator Studio which would have enabled anyone to delete any video from YouTube by simply changing a parameter from the URL. After the issue was reported, our teams quickly fixed it and the researcher was rewarded $5,000 in addition to his initial research grant. Kamil detailed his findings on his personal blog in March.

Find out more about Google's reward programs over on the Google Security blog.

Photo Credit: tanuha2001 / Shutterstock.com

'Alexa, turn on kitchen lights': Setting up Cree bulbs with Amazon Echo and Wink hub

cree bulbs

"Alexa, turn on the lights". This is a phrase echoed, apparently, by more people than I thought. Amazon's Echo is taking hold and seems especially popular with those interested in the home automation side of technology. Voice control can be both good and bad, though. It's great when it works, but embarrassing and frustrating when it doesn't.

Let's start with the bad, though really it's just the amusing. My Amazon Echo is in my living room, as is the TV. Words emitting from my surround sound system can sometimes have hilarious results -- music suddenly beginning to play, Alexa telling me she doesn't understand the question, and if an ad for Echo comes on then things go nuts.

With all of that said, the device is very good. It makes a great speaker -- it plays music while I work, it gives me sports and weather updates as well.

But one area Amazon really seems to want to move into is home automation -- the smart home, the Internet of Things, whatever you wish to call it. Companies are increasingly coming on board to work with Alexa and allow voice control of all sorts of products. All it takes is a hub and several are already operational with it.

A while back I wrote about  setting up the Wink hub with Echo and then using it to control my living room lights which I outfitted with GE Link bulbs. Now I am once again using the Wink hub but this time to control Cree bulbs in my kitchen. The process is pretty much the same, but we'll walk through it once more, as both apps have updated since the last time, so a bit is different.

So here are the steps. It's fairly simple, but not necessarily intuitive.

1: Install the bulbs and connect hub.

2: Install the Wink app on your phone or tablet -- Android or iPhone (sorry Windows Phone)

3: Open the app and click menu at the top left.

4: You need to let the app discover and add the lights and also name them -- naming is important. The app will walk you through the steps. Be sure the lights are turned off when you start.

5: Create a group and add the lights to it, then give the group a name.

6: Test this by turning off one bulb at a time and also the entire group at once. Just tap each bulb and then switch to the group view and tap its name ("Kitchen" in this case).

7: Open the Alexa app on your device.

8: Click Menu > Settings > Connected Home.

9: Click "Discover new products". The app should find your bulbs in 15-20 seconds (the Wink app can take much longer).

10: Click "Create group", name it and check the boxes next to your bulbs then save it.

11: Now test Alexa -- "Alexa, turn on/off kitchen".

Things should be all up and running for you now. If you have a problem then verify the steps. At worst you can always call Wink or Amazon, both have excellent customer service.

Act now! You only have this weekend to save your free OneDrive storage before Microsoft takes it away for good


Free online storage space is something many of us really appreciate. Quotas are usually so generous that’s there’s rarely a need to spend money on a paid subscription.

However, Microsoft recently announced plans to cut back on the amount of free storage offered to OneDrive users. As a recap, the base storage will drop from 15GB to 5GB, the 15 GB camera roll storage bonus is being discontinued, Office 365 Home, Personal, or University users will no longer get unlimited storage, and some paid tiers are going away also.

After an outcry from disappointed OneDrive users, Microsoft backtracked and permitted users with 15GB of OneDrive space to keep their base storage quota and camera roll bonus, even after the changes roll out. There is a catch though.

This is an opt-in offer with a time limit and you need to act before the end of January 31 to secure your free storage. Delay, and it will be gone for good.

The good news is saving your space is incredibly easy. All you have to do is go here and click the "Keep your free storage" button. That’s it.

So what are you waiting for? Go do it now before you forget and it's too late.

vendredi 29 janvier 2016

Facebook bans private gun sales -- no, that doesn't violate your 2nd Amendment rights


While many people view Second Amendment defenders as gun nuts, the truth is, that isn't always the case. A good example? Me. While I am a life member of the NRA, firearms don't really thrill me. No, I get my jollies from computers and technology. My interest in Second Amendment protection is mostly constitutional -- I don't want to see any of my fellow American's rights get trampled.

Today, Facebook announces that it is banning private gun sales on its site. Of course, some folks will see this as an attack on the Second Amendment, and maybe even the First Amendment. The truth of the matter is, neither your freedom of speech nor your right to bear arms are impacted by Facebook's decision. Why? Because the social network is not a public or government place. Facebook has the right to determine its own policies.

I reached out to Facebook for more information. A spokesperson for the company told me the following.

Today we are updating our policies for managing regulated goods to prohibit people from using Facebook to offer and coordinate private sales of firearms. This policy already prohibits people from offering marijuana, pharmaceuticals, and illegal drugs for sale.

The updated policy aligns more closely with our policies around commerce and advertising, which place similar restrictions on advertisements of regulated goods including pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs, and firearms.

This policy update focuses on private or 'peer-to-peer' sales of weapons, not weapons that are being sold in stores or off Facebook through online, licensed retailers. Licensed firearm retailers will still be able to post about their goods and services on Facebook while completing sales transactions off Facebook.

We have systems in place to review and remove content that violates our terms of service and advertising that is false, deceptive, or misleading.

There you go folks, only peer-to-peer sales are impacted by this decision. This means licensed businesses can continue to leverage the social network to advertise firearms. Heck, individuals can still post pictures of themselves with guns, discuss guns, and even post videos of themselves at a shooting range.

Quite frankly, this is a smart and responsible move on Facebook's part. There has been a lot of gun violence lately, and private sales on the site could elude police or other investigators. Will the private sales ban stop all gun violence? No. But at least it means one less way for bad guys to purchase guns under the radar.

Job well done, Facebook.

Photo credit: JPL Designs / Shutterstock

Why your business should consider outsourcing

Outsourcing laptop coffee desk table office notebook

Technology tethered with innovation drives business, it determines how successful your business can be and ensures that you maintain your standing in the market. It plays a huge role in your businesses growth, it demands that you constantly improve upon yourself and it enables your business to reach its potential.

In more ways than can be explained, a synergistic effect of technology coupled with innovation will assure your survival. If you lag behind you risk losing your market share and thus a slow and steady path towards decline takes over.

Considering its advantages, most organizations today opt for an outsourced-based model for IT or will bring on board a third party cloud partner to provide managed cloud hosting. What is important to understand is that even though there are a lot of positives, firms tend to outsource this prime function mainly because of its negative impact.

The one which has everyone going is the fact that it’s expensive to maintain, it’s investment driven and can have a considerable impact on the bottom line of your business. On the one hand it encourages you to upgrade, on the other it bleeds your cash flows dry.

However when all is said and done, outsourcing IT-based functions or cloud computing is also beneficial for a completely different reason as well. It allows the business to breathe, when you have a third party vendor taking care of your requirements and building capacity at their end to fulfill your demands, then what you get to focus on are elements which really drive revenue.

Factors such as costs which relate to licensing of software or the maintenance of hardware can be put towards other important aspects. Similarly, no matter how good you are at what you do, you still won’t be able to develop a support system on an as and when basis. Firms which are experts in their fields will take over complete operational management of your requirements and will run a mile to offer support at any time.

Bluewire Solutions specializes in tailoring enterprise-class managed systems and services.

Published under license from ITProPortal.com, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.

Photo Credit: Tashatuvango/Shutterstock