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In 2017, the FCC made life easier for your internet provider - CNET - News - December 29, 2017 - 5:43pm
It’s a little less clear whether you and other consumers really benefited.

McAfee founder tweets 'hack' of his account - CNET - News - December 29, 2017 - 5:00pm
Hackers allegedly compromised John McAfee's Twitter account to promote cryptocurrencies.

How to securely erase hard drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs)

ZDnet News - December 29, 2017 - 4:42pm
Got a pile of old drives that you need to wipe before sending them to Silicon Heaven? Or do you want to wipe a drive in a computer that you are selling or giving away? Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the job done.

Top Windows 10 questions: How to install, secure, upgrade, get it for free

ZDnet News - December 29, 2017 - 4:40pm
In 2017, Ed Bott answered hundreds of questions about Windows 10. Here are the topics that readers found most interesting.

Google kills Pixel C tablet, points customers to Pixelbook

ZDnet News - December 29, 2017 - 4:05pm
Google will still support Pixel C with updates, the company said.

Oh snap: How a shrimp closes its claws fast enough to vaporize water

Ars Technica - December 29, 2017 - 3:56pm

Enlarge (credit: Christian Gloor)

The mantis shrimp, which isn't a shrimp, gets a lot of attention for its visual acuity and powerful punch. But there are actual shrimp that are equally impressive. There are various species of snapping shrimp that can close their claws fast enough that it produces a jet of water that undergoes cavitation, where the extreme turbulence creates pockets of low pressure where the water vaporizes. As these bubbles collapse, they reach temperatures above 5,000K and emit light along with a powerful snapping noise.

This, not surprisingly, can be valuable both on offense and defense, which is probably why there are more than 500 known species of snapping shrimp. But how did this ability evolve in the first place? To find out, an international team of researchers obtained the claws of nearly 70 different species of snapping shrimp and subjected them to CT scans to identify their structure and musculature. After 3D printing models of what they found, they conclude that a surprisingly minor set of changes led to a big mechanical difference.

A shrimp causes cavitation with its claws.

The study gets at a common conundrum in evolution. It's easy to see how generation after generation of small changes can refine a useful feature. It's harder to understand how a feature shows up in the first place, since any antecedents to the feature wouldn't be useful in the same way. So it is with snapping shrimp. Until the claws managed to produce powerful jets of water, it's not clear what could possibly be refined.

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How Hotmail changed Microsoft (and email) forever

Ars Technica - December 29, 2017 - 3:50pm

Enlarge / The many lives of Hotmail. (credit: Sean Gallagher)

Twenty years ago this week, on December 29, 1997, Bill Gates bought Microsoft a $450 million late Christmas present: a Sunnyvale-based outfit called Hotmail. With the buy—the largest all-cash Internet startup purchase of its day—Microsoft plunged into the nascent world of Web-based email.

Originally launched in 1996 by Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia as "HoTMaiL" (referencing HTML, the language of the World Wide Web), Hotmail was initially folded into Microsoft's MSN online service. Mistakes were made. Many dollars were spent. Branding was changed. Spam became legion. Many, many horrendous email signatures were spawned.

But over the years that followed, Hotmail would set the course for all the Web-based email offerings that followed, launching the era of mass-consumer free email services. Along the way, Hotmail drove changes in Windows itself (particularly in what would become Windows Server) that would lay the groundwork for the operating system to make its push into the data center. And the email service would be Microsoft's first step toward what is now the Azure cloud.

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Chrome OS 64 beta allows Android apps to run in the background

Ars Technica - December 29, 2017 - 3:21pm

Enlarge / Pixelbook folded into "entertainment" mode. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Smoothly running Android apps on Chrome OS has been a work in progress for years now. Google has done a lot to improve the experience of running mobile apps on its browser-based operating system, and it appears a forthcoming software update could fix one of the remaining problems. A report by Chrome Unboxed details a new feature in Chrome 64 beta called Android Parallel Tasks that lets Android apps run continuously in the background even when you're actively using another program.

Chrome OS has always allowed users to have multiple programs open at one time, including Chrome OS and Android applications. However, Android apps pause when you click or tap out of their windows. That means the app essentially stops working until you tap back into it to continue using the program. There are some exceptions like Spotify, which will continue to play music even when you're not actively using the app, but other programs pause all activity until you resume using them.

While this makes sense for smartphone apps, it doesn't translate well to a desktop. On a traditional PC, one expects to be able to open multiple programs and have them all running continuously, no matter which one is being used at any given moment. Chromebooks, like Google's expensive Pixelbook, couldn't do that with Android apps, but it appears Android Parallel Tasks fixes that issue. Each program or app that you have open will run continuously until you manually pause it or close it entirely.

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Robocalls—and complaints about robocalls—are booming

Ars Technica - December 29, 2017 - 2:36pm

"Press '1' now to speak with cardholder services, as we have an amazing timeshare opportunity reserved for you. It comes with a warranty extension for your current automobile and includes a month of free prescription refills!"

Such a pitch may not cover the complete range of possible robocalls—I get pitched regularly by some company that wants to wash my home's windows—but it does cover the slimy basics of this swampy industry. Which, by the way, is booming.

Robocalls beat out live spam calls by a significant margin. (credit: FTC)

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data released last week (PDF) shows a massive 4.5 million consumer complaints about robocalls in 2017, way up from 2016's 3.4 million. For every single month of the year, robocalls topped the list of "Do Not Call" violations, and they came in six common forms:

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Planning Africa's smart cities

BBC Technology News - December 29, 2017 - 2:18pm
African cities are getting "smart" by embracing technology and improving efficiency.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm review: The path to tragedy

Ars Technica - December 29, 2017 - 2:05pm

Enlarge / Life is also very sad.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm began with the unenviable job of acting as a prologue to a very self-contained story. The first season of the episodic adventure series closed out the story of Chloe Price and Max Caulfield with two possible conclusions. So when Before the Storm promised to focus on the very different friendship between Chloe and Rachel Amber—a character that’s mostly only talked about in the first game—I had my doubts.

Thankfully, the first of Before the Storm’s three episodes nailed the approach. Chloe and Rachel might not get as much time on-screen together as the main season’s duo, but their relationship starts much stronger. An emotionally wounded and uncertain Chloe opens up to Rachel in a way that lets us see how she became the character Max comes to meet. It’s that meat of the story that navigates the prequel through some occasionally rocky B plots.

Whereas 2015’s Life is Strange has a strong conflict at its center—Max and Chloe’s search for a missing Rachel Amber—Before the Storm is more generally about the leading ladies’ search for their place in the world. Chloe is pretty much branded a delinquent from the jump. Rachel doesn’t like that everyone expects her to be perfect. The two outsiders naturally attract each other (romantically, in my playthrough) and barrel along from there.

Piling on expectations

A central mystery does eventually develop in Before the Storm, but it’s still mostly an excuse to push the characters closer together. That’s a good thing. That close relationship is exactly where the game shines brightest—particularly near the end of each individual chapter.

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Time in a Bottle, Part 3 - CNET - News - December 29, 2017 - 2:00pm
Original fiction from CNET's Technically Literate series. In this three-part story, a glass of precious wine leads to a precious technological breakthrough.

Is “Big Data” racist? Why policing by data isn’t necessarily objective

Ars Technica - December 29, 2017 - 1:23pm

Enlarge / Modeled after London's "Ring of Steel," the NYPD opened its coordination center in 2008. As seen in 2010, cops monitor feeds from over 1,159 CCTV cameras with the number increasing to 3,000 as the program expands. (credit: Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images)

The following is an excerpt from Andrew Ferguson's 2017 book, The Rise of Big Data Policing and has been re-printed with his permission. Ferguson is a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clarke School of Law.

The rise of big data policing rests in part on the belief that data-­based decisions can be more objective, fair, and accurate than traditional policing.

Data is data and thus, the thinking goes, not subject to the same subjective errors as human decision making. But in truth, algorithms encode both error and bias. As David Vladeck, the former director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (who was, thus, in charge of much of the law surrounding big data consumer protection), once warned, "Algorithms may also be imperfect decisional tools. Algorithms themselves are designed by humans, leaving open the possibility that unrecognized human bias may taint the process. And algorithms are no better than the data they process, and we know that much of that data may be unreliable, outdated, or reflect bias."

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Contact made with 'missing' Angolan satellite

BBC Technology News - December 29, 2017 - 12:22pm
Data links to Angosat-1 have been restored after it went missing for two days.

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