Tuesday, December 16, 2014

iPhone 6, Robin Williams and World Cup Top Google's 2014 Search Trends

It is that time of year again when Google releases the company's annual list of the most popular  searches that its users have collectively searched for the most over the past 12 months. As per usual the list is broken down into several categories of interest. However the few that interest us geeks the most are listed below!

Overall top search trends of 2014:
  1. Robin Williams
  2. World Cup
  3. Ebola
  4. Malaysia Airlines
  5. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
  6. Flappy Bird
  7. Conchita Wurst
  8. ISIS
  9. Frozen
  10. Sochi Olympics

And trending consumer tech:
  1. iPhone 6
  2. Samsung Galaxy S5
  3. Nexus 6
  4. Moto G
  5. Samsung Note 4
  6. LG G3
  7. Xbox One
  8. Apple Watch
  9. Nokia X
  10. iPad Air
Interestingly enough smartphones and wearable tech take most of the consumer tech positions breaking from some past trends that saw gaming consoles taking a few of the top spots. For a full overview Google has a website dedicated to the year with stories and highlights following some of the wide range of stories that intrigued the world at some point or another. Here's the full list of the top search trends of 2014 if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Comcast Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Use of Customer Routers For Comcast Xfinity Wifi Service

Much to the disdain of many customers earlier this year Comcast began its roll out of the company's new Comcast Xfinity Wifi service. The service features an update to rented home Wi-Fi routers that turns on a little known feature enabling your Xfinity router to be turned into a public hotspot!

Unfortunately for many un-suspecting customers the newly update service was turned on by default, and while Comcast promises there is no risk to users, and no added costs associated. The new service has not been met with open arms.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle report a class-action lawsuit was filed against Comcast last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit was submitted by East Bay residents Toyer Grear and daughter Joycelyn Harris, who claim that Comcast is using its equipment to exploit customers for profit. They're seeking an injunction that will prevent Comcast from using its residential wireless routers as public hotspots. The suit also seeks compensation for unspecified damages.

According to the complaint Comcast violated the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as California laws on unfair competition and computer data access and fraud. They claim that the public hotspots, broadcast from the same equipment used for subscribers' private Wi-Fi networks, raise customers' electricity costs and harm network performance. But they also make what Comcast says is a false allegation regarding network security.

Comcast is looking to build a public Xfinity WiFi hotspot network, one that offers any current Comcast customer access to WiFi hotspotx throughout the region. This network will reside in 19 of the largest cities here in the United States and compete with America's top mobile service providers such as AT&T and Verizon. To do this, Comcast has added a second Internet channel to the newer models of its wireless gateway modems that are leased out to subscribers.

The lawsuit claims that “unauthorized broadcasting of a secondary, public Wi-Fi network from the customer’s wireless router subjects the customer to potential security risks, in the form of enabling a stranger who wishes to access the Internet through the customer’s household router, with the customer having no option to authorize or otherwise control such use.” The suit goes on to say that “upon information and belief, any activity on the Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot will appear as though it originated from the Comcast customer’s IP address.”

A Comcast FAQ says the public hotspots are "completely separate from your secure Wi-Fi home network" and contend that there is no risk of cross access or communication. Furthermore Comcast ensures users that because the public Wi-Fi signal these features provide is treated as a separate connection, you won’t get into trouble for anything anyone does with it. It should be a separate IP address and usage will be associated with the account the other person signs on with.

Security risks aside the lawsuit also claims that end users with these 'hotspot enabled' routers are subject to higher electricity bills and slower overall connections speeds. Another claim that Comcast has previously defended in regards to the hotspots, saying they use minimal extra power, do not pose security risks because they are walled off from each customer’s private network, and do not cause any noticeable performance drop.

Although the hotspots are turned on by default, customers can turn them off by calling 1-800-XFINITY or online at http://customer.comcast.com/.  More details can also be found in our previous report here.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Checkout The Writings of Albert Einstein - 5000 Papers Added Online Today

Albert Einstein has arguably one of minds in history and starting today you can gain a little more insight into how his genius worked! The Digital Einstein Papers — launched by Princeton University Press, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the California Institute of Technology have released more than 5,000 of his personal papers, including everything from Einstein's love letters to his high school essays.

The documents published on the Web are just a few of the 80,000 he left behind before his passing in 1955 at age 76.

For those that are able to follow them there are some very fascinating finds. For the scientific minded you can view lectures he gave on his theory of relativity at Princeton in 1921. For those looking for a little romantic intrigue, there is his letter at age 22 to Mileva Marić, his future wife.

The volumes are packed with lots of geeky stuff, from mathematical equations to scientific theory. Not all of the early works are translated, and some of the material contains some pretty in-depth theory. However, even for those of us that do not fully grasp the material, it still makes for good reading and rather interesting insight into Einstein's working mind. Definitely something every geek out there should checkout!

Monday, November 24, 2014

How To: Use Price Matching to Get The Best Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals

Black Friday and Cyber Monday often offer customers some incredible deals at incredible prices. However, it often involves a lot of shopping around and hunting for products that are in stock or available. In order to attract more online shoppers and get customers through the door more stores are upping the ante this year and are offering more lenient price matching policies and a few have started price matching to more stores.

Traditionally brick and mortar stores have been reluctant to price match to online e-tailers and more particularly online giants like Amazon. In the past most stores limited price matching to ads or websites from traditional retailers and would place heavy restrictions on price matching to anything online. This year Walmart is taking an aggressive pricing policy and reversing that trend. Earlier this month they announced they'd now price match Amazon.com and a handful of other online retailers.

With these new changes this year using price matching may just be the best bet and offer you the best deals! In order to get those deals though you'll need to know what you are doing and know exactly how to go about it! Here are a few tips that should help insure your price matching is a success:

Finding The Best Prices: Try using price comparison websites like NexTag.com or even Google Shopping to find the best buys and gather your information on products and pricing. Another great source is social media sites. Follow your favorite stores to stay up to date on coupons and sales. These kinds of announcements usually happen first on social media. Watch for hashtags like #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday for special deals from your favorite brands.

Do Your Store Research: Once you've found a deal you want and efore going in-store or calling customer service double check the store's price matching policy. All stores have them detailed on their website, though some may be a bit confusing. Walmart has their 'Ad Match' and 'Online Price Matching Policies'. The later explains exactly which websites they'll match prices to and offers clear stipulations as to the limitations.

Gather Your Information: Most stores require printed copies of competitor ads or print outs of the webpage with clear product information and pricing. Do not go in-store unprepared to show this! In some cases they may be nice and allow you to show them the website. However, they generally don't have time!

Verify Your Product Information: Before you head in-store make sure you verify that the item you want to buy is A) The same product and model numbers B)  Not part of a Clearance, Closeout, Liquidation, Special Hour/Flash/Limited Quantity offers C) In-stock at the online retailer’s website at the time the request.

Making Your Purchase: Once you are ready to head in-store before requesting your price match make sure you pick-up your item, re-verify the details from above and head to the cashier with your selection. You need to have all your information ready so that you can request the price match right at the register with your product in hand.

What If They Won't Price Match?: Be polite but be authoritative just try not to be overly assertive or pushy. If the store has a question or there is an issue with making the price match remember that Management has the final decision for matching an online price. If you are friendly most the time they are willing to work with you and will be more receptive to you. If they absolutely refuse, try going up the food chain to another manager. If they still refuse the price match then you may want to try another time or another store.

Once The Purchase Is Made: Don't forget the bargain hunting doesn't end once your purchase had been made. Many stores offer policies that extend for days or weeks after you've made your purchase. Don't be afraid to go back to the stores and ask for them to match a better price at a later date.

With these quick tips along with a little leg work you should have a fairly easy Black Friday and Cyber Monday price matching experience. Just remember patience is going to be key and will certainly help out when you are in-store! Do you have any tips to help make pricing matching easier? Share your ideas with fellow shoppers in a comment below!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Here's How to Find Out What Google Knows About You and How to Delete It

Have you ever wondered just how much information Google has on you and how you can remove it? Here are several of the links you can visit to help you identify what personal information Google has collected on you from its various services and site and steps you can take to remove that information.

First up let me say I share most of the privacy concerns of the average person out there. However, I've been in the tech industry for a couple decades now. So I'm also very aware of how most sites and services use my own personal data and I'm not one that is overly concerned with what Google is doing with that information. Second, I'll say that for some of you the shear volume and detail of the information collected might be a bit of a shock. So brace yourselves!

Before continuing you'll want to log into your Google Account as only then can you access any of this information or change the settings. Just remember that disabling some of these services may slow down things like search, or completely remove others like Google Now.

Remove your smartphone location data: For some this might be a bit shocking but Google tracks a lot of location information based on where your smartphone is. For starters visit https://maps.google.com/locationhistory this will show the location history Google has saved.You can view your history, plotted on a map, from as far back as 30 days ago.

To turn off location tracking in Android - Go to the Settings app, scroll down and tap on the Location section then tap Google Location Reporting and switch Location History to “off.”
Note: For greater privacy, you can also turn off Location Reporting, but this will keep apps like Google Maps from working properly.

Remove your Google Search history: As you search Google the site collects your entire Google search history and remembers it to make future searches that much faster. For some this makes things a ton easier but for others it might be a bit intrusive. To view what is being collected and/or remove your search history you can do so by visiting https://history.google.com. You can also remove individual items if you want, or stop Google completely from saving your search history. Of course, this will also make it impossible for you to use awesome Google services like Google Now.

Remove Google Now voice searches:You may not be aware of this but if you are a Google Now user, Google saves snippets of your search inquires. To see and remove the  you can also see a logs of all your audio visit this link: https://history.google.com/history/audio

Opt out of Ads: Tired of those seeing some of those targeted Ads? Luckily it is easy to Opt-out. Find out what Google thinks about you and view their basic profile of you, your age, gender and interests. They use this data to You can review how Google sees you here: https://www.google.com/ads/preferences/ with opt-out links listed at the bottom of the page.

Find the apps and extensions that are accessing your Google data:
If you use Google to log into various sites and services or use Apps like Chrome, Google Play Music Manager or browser extension. Then there are chances there are apps that have some sort of access to your data. You can see the exact type of permissions granted to each app as well as many of your device and revoke access to your data here: https://security.google.com/settings/security/permissions

Find out what devices have accessed your Google account:
If you worry that someone else might be using your account, you can find a list of all of the devices that have accessed your Google account, their IP address, time when they last logged in and approximate location here:
https://security.google.com/settings/security/activity. You can also remove device access and further secure your account by changing your password.

For a full overview, as well as things like your recent YouTube views and searches as well as settings for other services like Google+ you can visit https://www.google.com/settings/accounthistory where you'll find links to all of the above and more!

Comcast Looks to Cut Service Call Wait Times With New Technician Tracking Tool

We've all been there, stuck sitting at home waiting for the service tech to come out because our phone, internet or cable hasn't been working. Often times we are held hostage with a 'service window' that generally runs between 2 and 4 hours with no option but to still and wait. Now it appears as though we may see some changes, at least for Comcast wait times.

In Thursday blog post titled "Your time is valuable; we don't want to waste it," Comcast customer service chief Charlie Herrin detailed a new service that will give customers alerts 30 minutes before a technician shows up. This new feature, which will be available for free through Comcast's MyAccount app.

This is how it works. Customers with scheduled appointments will be alerted through the App on their smartphone when the Comcast technician is about 30 minutes away from arriving at their house, and will be able to track this technician’s progress on a map. This means no more sitting around waiting, as you can check the tech's progress from just about anywhere. So you can run those short errands and still be back in time to let them in!

Comcast also promises that if they are running late, which we all know all too often an happens, they will let those customers know that as well, and provide real-time status updates so they can plan accordingly.

Currently the App and service is on beta trial for those customers in the Boston area. However, Comcast hopes that with their feedback they will be able to refine the service and get it up and running in other areas soon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nokia Unveils It Was 'Up to Something' And It Was The Company's First Android Tablet

Yesterday Nokia sparked everyone's interest when the company tweeted 'We're up to something', with a photo of a mysterious black box. Speculation quickly spread as to what the company might have up its sleeve for its first major product release since leaving the smartphone business.

Today we have our answer as Nokia has announced the N1, the first Nokia-branded Android tablet. The N1 offers the innovative, predictive Nokia Z Launcher interface, and a carefully crafted industrial design by Nokia with a focus on simplicity.

"We are pleased to bring the Nokia brand back into consumers' hands with the N1 Android tablet, and to help make sophisticated technologies simple," said Sebastian Nyström, Head of Products at Nokia Technologies, who announced the N1 at the Slush technology conference in Helsinki. "The N1 has a delightfully intuitive interface and an industrial design to match it. This is a great product for Nokia fans and everyone who has not found the right Android tablet yet."

The Nokia N1 features a 7.9" 2048×1536 (4:3) IPS LCD with Gorilla Glass 3 laminated display. A 2.4Ghz Intel Atom Z3580 processor, plus PowerVR G6430 GPU. On-board will be 2GB of system RAM and 32GB of internal non-expandable storage. It will also include an 8-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front camera.

For software the Nokia N1 will feature Nokia’s custom Android skin called Z Launcher that sits on top of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Said software is described as intuitive and super easy to use with adaptive learning, so it will adapt to you and what you’re doing to bring you “what you need, when you need it.”

The N1 is planned to be available for purchase in China in Q1 2015 for an estimated USD 249 before taxes, with the anticipation of expanding sales to other markets.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Apple Downplays 'Masque Attack' Security Vulnerability, Why We Aren't Buying It!

Apple is downplaying the risks of a new security vulnerability in iOS that, thanks to security researchers made big waves this past week. The security flaw, dubbed 'Masque Attack', was first discovered and reported by security firm FireEye.

Since those initial reports we've seen several posts and article detailing the new flaw and warning users of the extreme risks associated with it. In short 'Masque Attack' allows attackers to create a fake version of a legitimate app, which sits on top of the real app and siphons off data without the users noticing. The risks are legitimate ones and could potentially become a major issues for users both in the personal private sector and the enterprise level where data breaches are big business.

However, the security flaw apparently isn't raising any eyebrows at Apple. In their response, released to iMore, Apple goes so far as to stating that the Masque Attack isn't really a flaw at all, and that it's 'not aware' of anyone who's actually been affected by the attack.

Apple believes that since the the 'attack' requires the user to first follow a a link, then allow 3rd party apps to be installed by click past an iOS pop-up warning people about downloading malicious apps that users will be safe!

Unfortunately if history tells us anything we know this simply isn't true! Windows and Android users alike have ignored these warnings for years. Not to mention these types of malware attacks are hardly new to Apple users, and in those cases we again saw users willing to overlook those warnings and install malicious packages to their OSX machines.

It would appear as though Apple has some serious misconceptions about security and the ability of malware creators to to implement socially engineered and targeted attacks. Malware has always used legitimate looking emails, web addresses or other legitimate looking means to infiltrate an unsuspecting users machine. And yes in almost all cases it does require end user engagement to become installed. This is how malware has worked, and extremely successfully might I add, for years.

So while Apple may want to down plays this as not a big deal, it shouldn't be, and as always users should be extremely vigilant as to the sites and services they are using and emails they are viewing. Make sure you take the time and read and verify any and all warnings you get from your devices, especially security warnings,