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Adobe’s Flash Days Are Numbered In Firefox Browser

July 26, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Mozilla has announced that  it will follow other browser markers by limiting the use of Flash in Firefox next month.

The open-source developer added that in 2017 it will dramatically expand the anti-Flash restrictions: Firefox will require users to explicitly approve the use of Flash for any reason by any website.

As have its rivals, Mozilla cast the limitations (this year) and elimination (next year) as victories for Firefox users, citing improved security, longer battery life on laptops and faster web page rendering.

Starting in August, Firefox will block certain Flash content that is not essential to the user experience, while continuing to support legacy Flash content,” wrote Benjamin Smedberg, the manager of Firefox quality engineering, in a post to a company blog.

Firefox 48 is slated to ship on Aug. 2.

The initial blocking Smedberg mentioned will be based on a list Mozilla will generate by crawling the home pages of the top 10,000 websites as ranked by Alexa. Flash content that those sites use to “fingerprint” users, or as “super cookies” — two techniques to track visitors for advertising purposes — will land on the list, and thus not be run by Flash.

Through 2016, Mozilla will expand the list in Firefox by blocking other Flash content, including that used by advertisers to measure “viewability;” whether the ad has been seen, not erased, for example, by an ad blocker.

In 2017 — Smedberg did not say when, exactly — Firefox will require users to click on Flash content to activate the plug-in, and thus show that content. The click-to-activate demand will be enforced for all Flash content on all pages of all sites.

Firefox is late to the dump-Flash party.

Other browser developers — Apple, Google and Microsoft — have been more active in limiting Flash. Safari has frozen some Flash content since 2013, while Chrome did the same in September 2015. Edge will follow suit with the release of the Aug. 2 upgrade, Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

 

 

More Than Half The World Remains Off The Internet

July 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

About 3.9 billion people, or 53 percent of the population still remains offline at the end of this year, according to the International Telecommunication Union estimates. Even in Europe, the most connected region, 20.9 percent of all people aren’t online. In Africa, the least connected continent, 74.9 percent are offline.

Those figures are part of the annual statistical report from the agency, which is part of the United Nations. The report also showed there’s still a huge divide between rich and poor countries, and a growing gap between men and women, when it comes to internet access. It shows that efforts by companies like Google and Facebook to get all people connected could take a long time.

While more than four out of five people in developed countries use the internet, just over 40 percent of those in developing countries have access. In the ITU’s “least developed countries” — places like Haiti, Yemen, Myanmar and Ethiopia — just 15.2 percent of the people are online.

Also, fewer women than men are on the internet, and that difference is getting worse. The worldwide difference between internet user penetration for males and females is 12.2 percent, up from 11.0 percent in 2013, the ITU says. It’s shrunk significantly in developed countries, from 5.8 percent to just 2.8 percent, but grown in poorer places.

Cost makes it harder to get online in some countries. The ITU says entry-level internet access has become affordable in many developing countries since 2011 but remains unaffordable in most of the poorest countries. By the ITU’s definition, that means internet service costs more than 5 percent of average monthly income.

 

 

 

Facebook Solar-powered Drone Takes Flight

July 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc announced that it has completed a successful test flight of a solar-powered drone that it hopes will help it extend internet connectivity to every corner of the planet.

Aquila, Facebook’s lightweight, high-altitude aircraft, flew at a few thousand feet for 96 minutes in Yuma, Arizona, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his Facebook page. The company ultimately hopes to have a fleet of Aquilas that can fly for at least three months at a time at 60,000 feet (18,290 meters) and communicate with each other to deliver internet access.

Google parent Alphabet Inc has also poured money into delivering internet access to under served areas through Project Loon, which aims to use a network of high-altitude balloons to made the internet available to remote parts of the world.

Yael Maguire, Facebook’s engineering director and head of its Connectivity Lab, said in an interview that the company initially hoped Aquila would fly for 30 minutes.

“We’re thrilled about what happened with our first flight,” Maguire said. “There are still a lot of technical challenges that need to be addressed for us to achieve the whole mission.” He said he hoped the system might be brought into service “in the near future.”

Zuckerberg laid out the company’s biggest challenges in flying a fleet of Aquilas, including making the plane lighter so it can fly for longer periods, getting it to fly at 60,000 feet and creating communications networks that allow it to rapidly transfer data and accurately beam down lasers to provide internet connections.

Maguire said Aquila will go through several more test flights and hopes it will soon break the world record for the longest solar-powered unmanned aircraft flight, which currently stands at two weeks.

Facebook, which has more than 1.6 billion users, has invested billions of dollars in getting more people online, both through an initiative called internet.org – which offers a pared-down version of the internet to poor areas – and by building drones.

 

Google Launches New Cloud Natural Language API

July 22, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google’s intelligent cloud developer tools added new features with the launch of a new Cloud Natural Language API. The service is aimed at helping developers create applications that understand human language.

It’s an important move for Google, as public cloud providers race to host new applications built with intelligent capabilities. Natural language processing allows developers to build apps that can tackle the challenging task of understanding how humans communicate. It is also key for building intelligent assistants and chat bots.

This API can provide information about a block of text back to an application, including the overall sentiment of a passage and an analysis of the structure of a sentence. The system can also identify entities mentioned, including people, organizations, locations, events and products.

The API is based on the same research that Google used to create Parsey McParseface, an open source parser for English text that the company released earlier this year.

The natural language API entered public beta alongside Google’s already announced Speech API, which lets applications take in recorded voice clips and get text back. By connecting the two APIs, it’s possible for developers to build an app that can listen to a user’s voice and then understand what that person is saying.

By launching these two services in beta, Google continues its competition against Microsoft, Amazon and IBM, which are also launching intelligent capabilities in their public cloud platforms.

 

 

Google’s Transparency Reports Uptick In Governments Requesting User Data

July 21, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Government requests worldwide for user data related to search engine traffic on Google surged by 29% from 2014 to 2015, according to the search site’s most recent Transparency Report.

Google reports on the government requests every six months. In the second half of 2015, it said it received more than 40,000 requests for data related to more than 81,000 user accounts; That compares to the first half of the year when Google received about 35,000 requests related to about 69,000 accounts.

In the second half of 2014, Google received 31,140 requests from U.S. entities for user information related to more than 50,000 accounts.

“Usage of our services [has] increased every year, and so have the user data request numbers,” Google said.

By far, the U.S. leads the world in government requests for data: it submitted 27,157 requests related to 12,523 user accounts in the second half of last year. The next highest country was Ireland with 12,114 requests, followed by Germany with 11,562 reqeusts.

Google agreed to hand over “some” user data for 64% of the requests worldwide, but it handed over data for U.S. government requests 79% of the time.

Several search engines and social media sites voluntarily offer annual or semi-annual transparency reports related to state and federal law enforcement information requests about user data.

Google has been publishing its semi-annual Transparency Report since 2011; the latest statistics show that requests for user data is at an all-time high.

In 2014, Apple, Microsoft, and Google were among 10 top tech companies that signed  a letter backing passage of the USA Freedom Act, which would curtail bulk collection of Internet metadata by government agencies.

Passed in June 2015, the USA Freedom Act now requires transparency when the government demands user information from technology companies. Nevertheless, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said there still needs to be more transparency when it comes to government-mandated back doors, as well as what deleted data is kept around in case government agents seek it in the future.

 

 

 

Was The Rise Of The Machines A.I. Contest A Success?

July 19, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

The Winograd Schema Challenge is a competition intended to reward technologists who can build a system that understands the kind of ambiguous sentences humans come out with all the time, but which are simple for other humans, even stupid ones, to understand.

Get it right 90 per cent of the time and $25,000 is up for grabs. And with things like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant, the Winograd Schema Challenge must surely be as good as obsolete by now.

Right? Wrong.

The best two entrants at the event this week achieved correct scores only 48 per cent of the time, little better than randomly guessing the meaning of the sentences they were supposed to crack.

This is despite a decade of advances in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), which has barely shifted since the late 1950s, according to some.

The Challenge posed a series of ambiguously worded sentences to the entrants such as:

The trophy would not fit in the brown suitcase because it was too big (small). What was too big (small)?

The town councillors refused to give the demonstrators a permit because they feared (advocated) violence. Who feared (advocated) violence?

There is an ambiguity in the above examples, read literally, about what is too big (or small) and exactly who is fearing violence, although a semi-intelligent human should be able to work it out with ease.

The problem, according to Gary Marcus, a research psychologist at New York University, who acted as an advisor for the Challenge, is that computers lack common sense, and programming it into them is incredibly difficult.

Indeed, the MIT Technology Review said that most of the entrants in the Challenge used a combination of hand-coded grammatical understanding and a ‘knowledge base’ of facts. It still didn’t help much, though.

However, one of the two best-placed systems, led by Quan Liu, a researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China, together with researchers from York University in Montreal and the National Research Council of Canada, used neural network-based machine learning in a bid to train their computer to recognise the many different contexts in which words can be used.

Liu claimed that after fixing a problem in the AI, he was able to achieve a success rate closer to 60 per cent, which is still a long way from being able to go home with a cheque for $25,000.

The Challenge is deliberately designed to be different from the Turing Test, which tests only whether a human can be fooled into thinking that an AI program is human.

The trouble with this is that there are more than enough idiots who could be fooled into helping an AI system to pass that test. The language test, in contrast, provides a more objective test of genuine AI, argued Marcus.

The failure of the AI programs in the Challenge highlights how far chatbots and other supposedly revolutionary AI-based machines still have to go before humans can clock-off for the last time and leave running the planet to computers.

Some experts have claimed that its development will spark the next industrial revolution, while others, such as Apple co-founder and pontificator Steve Wozniak, suggest that we’ll be adopted as pets by robots.

Google, Microsoft and Facebook didn’t bother entering, perhaps because they feared outright humiliation.  Maybe next year.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Skype Launches New Chromebook And Linux Versions

July 15, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Linux and Chromebook owners now can now install new versions of Skype.

Microsoft launched an alpha version of a new client for Linux on Wednesday, in a push to get users of the open-source operating system to make video calls and send messages with Skype.

There was a Linux client available for the service previously, but this launch is a move by the company to get users of the operating system on the latest version of Skype. Users will get a new interface, emoticons and a file-sharing interface.

Chrome users will be able to use web.skype.com to make calls from Google’s web browser and desktop operating system starting Wednesday, too. Like the Linux client, the new Chrome client is still in alpha, so there are likely to be bugs, along with missing features.

These launches are important as Skype faces increased competition in the messaging and digital calling space. Apps like Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts have all either built or are building voice and video calling functionality into their services.

The new Linux app allows users to connect with other people using the latest versions of Skype across many other platforms. But it’s based on new calling architecture that makes it incompatible with the previous version of Skype for Linux and some older versions of Skype on other platforms.

 

Is Linux Having A Bad Week?

July 15, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Open Source’s Mr Sweary, Linus Torvalds has dubbed his fellow Linux kernel creators and “brain-damaged” because of their C++ style punctuation.

On one of the kernel news groups, Torvalds threw his toys out of the pram over “brain-damaged stupid networking comment syntax style.”

This is the sort of thing that miffs him.

/* This is a multi-line format.
It does not look bad to us, but Linus hates it becasue it is not balanced */

“If the networking people cannot handle the pure awesomeness that is a balanced and symmetric traditional multi-line C style comments, then instead of the disgusting unbalanced crap that you guys use now, please just go all the way to the C++ mode.”

That is fighting talk in the Linux community where people have been killed for less.

Torvalds writes that he wants comment styles have a certain visual symmetry and balance.” It would probably be fine, but for the fact that following an internet law which states that if any comments on grammar or spelling, their post will have at least one such mistake in it, Torvalds misspelt symmetry.

He said that “networking code picked *none* of the above sane formats… but picked these two models that are just half-arsed shit-for-brains.”

“I’m not even going to start talking about the people who prefer to ‘box in’ their comments, and line up both ends and have fancy boxes of stars around the whole thing,” he adds. “I’m sure that looks really nice if you are out of your mind on LSD, and have nothing better to do than to worry about the right alignment of the asterisks.”

Torvalds snarled that if people thought this comment punctuation was ok then it was time to “start moving the whole kernel over to the C++ style.”

For now, he writes “I really don’t understand why the networking people think that their particularly ugly styles are fine. They are the most visually unbalanced version of _all_ the common comment styles, and have no actual advantages.”

Courtesy-Fud

 

Nintendo Questioned Over Pokemon GO Data Collection, Privacy

July 14, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

A Democratic U.S. senator requested the software developer behind Nintendo Co Ltd’s Pokemon GO to clarify the mobile game’s data privacy protections, amid concerns the augmented reality hit was unnecessarily collecting vast swaths of sensitive user data.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota sent a letter to Niantic Chief Executive John Hanke asking what user data Pokemon GO collects, how the data is used and with what third party service providers that data may be shared.

The game, which marries Pokemon, the classic 20-year-old cartoon franchise, with augmented reality, allows players to walk around real-life neighborhoods while seeking virtual Pokemon game characters on their smartphone screens – a scavenger hunt that has earned enthusiastic early reviews.

Franken also asked Niantic to describe how it ensures parents give “meaningful consent” to a child’s use of the game and subsequent collection of his or her personal information.

“I am concerned about the extent to which Niantic may be unnecessarily collecting, using, and sharing a wide range of users’ personal information without their appropriate consent,” Franken wrote.

“As the augmented reality market evolves, I ask that you provide greater clarity on how Niantic is addressing issues of user privacy and security, particularly that of its younger players,” he added.

Franken additionally asked Niantic to provide an update on a vulnerability detected on Monday by security researchers who found Pokemon GO players signing into the game via a Google account on an Apple iOS device unwittingly gave “full access permission” to the person’s Google account.

Pokemon GO on Tuesday released an updated version on iOS to reduce the number of data permissions it sought from Google account users.

Niantic did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Franken’s inquiry.

The company, spun off by Google last year, created the game in tandem with Pokemon Co, a third of which is owned by Nintendo.

 

Is Samsungs Galaxy S7 Active Really Waterproof?

July 13, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

If you look at adverts for Samsung’s new Galaxy you would be forgiven for thinking that the smartphone is waterproof. Unfortunately according to US consumer reports, it isn’t.

The Samsung advert shown in Italy ends with the dramatic placing of a Galaxy into a glass of water. Which looks impressive.

Consumer Reports performs an immersion test when a manufacturer claims that its product is water-resistant and the Galaxy S7 Active failed.

While the phone performed extremely well in other tests. Consumer Reports is refusing to recommend it because the water resistant claim is incorrect.

Samsung says its phone follows an engineering standard called IP68 that covers both dust- and water-resistance, and that the phone is designed to survive immersion in five feet of water for 30 minutes.

Consumer Reports placed a Galaxy S7 Active in a water tank pressurised to 2.12 pounds-per-square-inch, the equivalent of just under five feet of water, and set a timer for 30 minutes. When it removed the phone, the screen was obscured by green lines, and tiny bubbles were visible in the lenses of the front- and rear-facing cameras. The touchscreen was borked.

A second Galaxy S7 Active also failed the same test and neither phone worked properly again.

Samsung says it has received “very few complaints” about this problem, and that in all cases, the phones were covered under warranty. A spokes Samsung sang:

“The Samsung Galaxy S7 active device is one of the most rugged phones to date and is highly resistant to scratches and IP68 certified. There may be an off-chance that a defective device is not as watertight as it should be.”

The company says it is investigating the matter.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Will Android Nougat Really Thwart Ransomware?

July 11, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Android 7.0 Nougat will have added security to prevent malware, especially ransomware, resetting passwords and locking owners out of their device.

The long overdue security measure comes after the Android platform was invaded by a wave of ransomware, particularly Android.Lockdroid.E and its variants, in late 2015.

Dinesh Venkatesan, a principal threat analysis engineer at Symantec, said in a Security Response blog post: “These variants scare victims with a system error GUI and then reset the lockscreen password used to access the device.

“Even users who manage to remove the malware without resetting the device may be unable to use the phone because they won’t be able to get around the password the malware sets.”

The malware can reset a PIN or pattern-style password in Android by invoking the resetPassword API.

“In order to invoke this method, the calling application must be a device administrator,” explained Venkatesan.

“The upcoming Android version … will introduce a condition so that the invocation of the resetPassword API can only be used to set the password and not to reset the password.”

This ensures that malware cannot reset the lockscreen password, as the change is strictly enforced and there is no backward compatibility escape route for the threat.

“Backward compatibility would have allowed malware to reset the lockscreen password even on newer Android versions. With this change, there is no way for the malware to reset the lockscreen password on Android Nougat,” Venkatesan said.

However, the measure won’t protect people who have not set a password, and who therefore deserve everything they get.

Venkatesan concluded: “The new feature will also affect standalone disinfection utilities, which also depend on the resetPassword() API. A disinfector utility is an automated tool designed to help users whose devices are infected with malware.

“The disinfector should clean the malware [and] reset the arbitrary password set by the threat during its infection routine.

“Before Android Nougat, the disinfector calls the resetPassword() API to achieve this functionality. However, with Android Nougat’s new restrictions, the disinfector’s ability to call that API is bound to fail.”

 

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Google Acquires Machine-learning Company Moodstocks

July 8, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google has acquired machine-learning company Moodstocks.

Paris-based Moodstocks builds image and object recognition software using deep learning techniques, and offered an Android app and visual search API that could recognize certain kinds of objects. By analyzing video from a smartphone camera, and correlating it with accelerometer readings to determine how the camera is moving around, the software is able to infer information about the three-dimensional shape of objects in the video, facilitating their recognition.

In February 2015 the company demonstrated its ability to identify sneakers through its app. Three months later, after training the software using 15,000 photos of shoes from an online retailer’s website, Moodstocks claimed to be able to shop online for all the sneakers on sale in a Macy’s store.

Google has been introducing elements of machine learning into its existing online services, including Google Translate and Inbox, a next-generation interface for Gmail.

Its online photo archival service, Google Photos, uses machine learning to identify categories of photo, such as parties or beach scenes, to make it easier to search.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done in this field, according to Google’s blog post (in French) announcing the acquisition of Moodstocks.

Google said the Moodstocks team will join its existing research and development operation in Paris.

There, they will develop image-recognition tools for use in Google services, the Moodstocks team wrote on their own site.

Meanwhile, Moodstocks will discontinue its own image recognition services, although paying subscribers will have access until their subscriptions run out, the post said.

Google didn’t put a price on the Moodstocks acquisition, but it’s unlikely to be as high as the $500 million it reportedly paid in 2014 for the much larger DeepMind, the London-based developer of the Go program that beat top player Lee Se-dol in March.

 

 

 

Walmart Announces Mobile Payment Service Rollout Complete

July 8, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Walmart Stores Inc announced that it has completed the rollout of its Walmart Pay mobile payment service across the United States and that 88 percent of transactions on the payment app are from repeat users.

Overall transactions on the app, which the world’s largest retailer launched in December, jumped 45 percent in the last week, Daniel Eckert, senior vice-president of services at Walmart US, said on a conference call with the media.

Walmart declined to disclose the increase in transactions since the launch, or the number of the mobile app’s users in its stores.

U.S. retailers have launched many mobile payment apps in the last two years, but customers and merchants have been slow to adopt them.

U.S. mobile payments accounted for an estimated $67 billion of purchases in 2015, and are expected to grow this year to $83 billion, or 24 percent of all purchases made via smartphones, according to the latest Forrester Research data.

Eckert said Walmart Pay users have not been spending more as a result of using the app. The company is monitoring shopping patterns to see if purchases would increase.

The retailer will start advertising the app to push customer usage, he said.

Walmart Pay is available on Apple and Android devices and allows payments with any major credit, debit, pre-paid or Walmart gift cards.

Customers at a checkout counter must choose the payment option within the app and use their smartphone camera to scan the code displayed at the register. An e-receipt would be sent to the app. Apple Inc’s Apple Pay and Alphabet Inc’s Android Pay require retailers to install compatible new equipment, which has hindered wider acceptance.

Walmart does not accept external mobile wallets like Apple Pay in its stores. Discussions about accepting third party wallets are ongoing, but Walmart has no immediate plans to do so, Eckert said.

 

 

Microsoft Launches Skype Meetings For Businesses

July 7, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft is offering small businesses a new way to conduct meetings online with the launch of Skype Meetings product that’s aimed at providing professional communication tools for free.

Skype Meetings is free and users can launch meetings for up to 10 people during their first 60 days of using it. After that, they’re limited to only hosting meetings for three or fewer people. Those meetings can take advantage of several features, including the option to bring in participants using a hyperlink and present a PowerPoint slide deck live.

The new service is something of a lure to try and get people hooked on Skype for Business. That’s why Microsoft imposed its user limit restrictions: small businesses can use Skype Meetings without paying, and growing companies are encouraged to buy an Office 365 subscription to hold big meetings.

Microsoft is facing tight competition in that arena, with Google pushing its Hangouts chat and calling software, while Slack is developing calling capabilities for its popular chat app.

Skype Meetings will give users a professional space to coordinate their work with one another and present to people outside their business without having to pay for Office 365. The ability to upload a PowerPoint presentation to a meeting and do things like wave over it with a virtual laser pointer and draw on it with digital ink ought to be of particular interest for people who do a lot of online presentations.

Microsoft says that users can join a meeting from any device that has a microphone, camera, speaker and web browser. It’s not clear if this product is only browser-based, or if it will also work with client applications like Skype or Skype for Business on smartphones and tablets.

 

Microsoft’s Updates Sway, Adds Paid Features

June 30, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

After a year on the market, Microsoft’s Sway presentation software has been updated with new functionality available to paying customers.

Office 365 subscribers will be able to lock their Sway presentations with passwords, load them up with more multimedia content, and conceal the software they used to make them with an update that Microsoft announced Tuesday.

That last feature will be an important change for users who don’t want to have a big banner at the end of their presentations saying they were made with Microsoft Sway. This change means that the presentation software will be more useful for creating shareable, public-facing documents that are either presented live or published to the web.

Adding paid features is a big step for Sway, which was launched in beta last year as the new kid on the block in Microsoft’s Office suite. It feels like the sort of presentation software that Microsoft might have created if it set out to make PowerPoint for the 21st century.

The news came as part of a major end-of-month Office update from Microsoft, which also revealed that users of Outlook will start seeing new cards that inform them about upcoming flights and inbound packages when they get notifications sent to their email inbox.

Those capabilities are rolling out to the Outlook web client and Outlook for the Mac. In the future, they’ll be available on Windows, iOS, and Android, along with the Mail and Calendar apps built into Windows 10.