Microsoft’s Cortana is sleeping with the fishes

Lots of people are fine with allowing a helpful wiretap into their lives. I am not one of them. None of them. So, when I heard that Cortana was being sent out to pasture by Microsoft, I was pretty excited. The dismantling of surveillance apparatus that’s slimed its way into our daily lives always leaves me feeling a little frisky.

From Gizmodo:

That’s according to a support article Microsoft posted to several regional markets this week, though a spokesperson later clarified to Gizmodo that only users in the following areas can expect to say goodbye to the voice assistant: Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India. Despite dropping the app in these regions, Cortana itself remains “an integral part” of the company’s business model to incorporate “conversational computing and productivity” into its products according to the spokesperson, so Microsoft doesn’t appear to be closing the coffin on it entirely.

According to Gizmodo, at least in North America, we’ll have to put up with the company’s post-Clippy assistant on our smartphones until January 31, 2020.

Cortana’s death has been a long time coming. Last year, Microsoft’s CEO admitted that the company’s virtual assistant could keep up with the likes of Alexa or Siri.

Score one for those of us who don’t want our gadgets listening in on us. I can only hope that Halo’s Master Chief will be able to quickly deal with the loss of his long-term companion and move on with his life.

Image via Wikipedia Commons Read the rest

I found the perfect distraction-free writing device

It's no secret that Jason Weisberger and I have little love for the Freewrite. While it allows for distraction-free writing, it's design, build quality and software limitations make it a pain in the ass to use. Having found that the device just isn't for me, the last several years have seen me hunting for a highly portable distraction-free writing device that I can use when I'm not plugging away at my day job. The ability to constantly check in on Twitter, look at what's new on Flickr and look up random, interesting but in the end, useless facts sucks the marrow out of my creativity and robs me of the small amount of personal writing time I have at my disposal. Happily, I finally found the tool I've been longing for: the KingJim Pomera DM30.

I imported mine from Japan (although you can sometimes find it on Amazon) after doing scads of research on the thing. It weighs less than a laptop and most tablets and when not in use can be folded up to around the size of a paperback novel.

When you're ready to write, simply flip up its E-Ink display (which also turns boots the DM30 up in under two seconds,) unfold its near full-sized keyboard and you're good to go. The DM30 boasts a Japanese keyboard layout which, at first, is a little vexing. Keys that North American Qwerty keyboard users have come to expect are not always where you'd assume them to be. To type an apostrophe, for example, its necessary to hit Shift and the number seven. Read the rest

Pet bunny experiences rabbit nirvana

If any of y'all want to do this for me with Japanese stationary supplies and airline tickets, I'm fine with it. Read the rest

Mexican Walmart employees strike to demand wages

I've spent a lot of time in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It's a beautiful place, filled with friendly people and an insanely low cost of living... if you're from somewhere further north in North America. In my experience, Mexicans are a hard-working people. They want to earn their way. That's not easy to do in a nation where many citizens, when they can find work are forced to work for pauper's wages. In some cases, the only compensation for doing your job in Mexico comes in the form of tips from those willing to help you get by. The folks that bag groceries and other consumer goods in big box stores like Walmart? Nothing but tips, baby. With any luck, at least in Cancun, this could soon change.

From Riviera Maya News:

With the support of la Confederación Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos (CROC) workers at Walmart stores including Sam’s Club, Bodega Aurrerá, Superama and Walmart demanded a salary for their work.

The workers, who are grocery baggers at the various Walmart outlets, are not paid anything beyond tips. El Comité Ejecutivo Nacional of CROC says that the Walmart chain has refused talks to solve the lack-of-pay issues with its workers.

El Comité Ejecutivo Nacional says the American chain store violates their labor rights. The workers protested outside a 24-hour Cancun Walmart where they demanded a salary and legal benefits for the packers since their tips have drastically decreased due to the ban on plastic bags.

Hard work for a fair wage? Read the rest

Directly importing photos into Adobe Lightroom is about to get a lot easier

I love Adobe's Lightroom app. It makes editing my photos, one at a time or a bunch all at once a pleasure. I use it to catalog my photos, too: Apple's Photos apps on Mac OS and iPadOS just don't do it for me.  That said, I loath the number of hoops I have to jump through any time I want to import RAW photos from my camera into the iOS or iPadOS version of the app. Yeah, there's a Siri Shortcut to give shutterbugs a hand. But I don't use Siri. Happily, earlier today, I discovered that the two hundred and eleventy steps required to import photos into the app from my much-loved Sony RX100 III will soon become a whole lot more reasonable.

Next to Scrivener releasing an iOS version of its spectacular writing app for iOS a few years back, the possibility of easily importing RAW images to Lightroom without having to deal with any bullshit is one of my favorite developments to come to the iPad since I bought my first one back in 2010.

Image via Séamus Bellamy Read the rest

Qantas flies passengers around for 19 hours in the name of science.

At 19-hours and 16-minutes, the recent Qantas' non-stop flight from New York, 'Murica to Sydney, Australia is the longest haul to be had on a commercial flight. Currently, the this long-ass trek isn't an option for the traveling public to undertake. Rather, the flight seen in this video is one of three that Qantas is has planned, during which it'll be studying the physiological and physiological effects that being on an airplane for so long could have on a passenger.

Image via Wikipedia Commons Read the rest

Bethesda is launching a subscription service for the glitch-fest that is Fallout 76

Fallout 76 has been... not so great. Plagued with problems, bugs and angry players, it was a highly anticipated game that shit the bed almost immediately after its release. Instead of changing the sheets, Bethesda has seen fit to longe in the bed it pooped in. Certainly, they've made efforts to sort the multiplayer survival game out into something playable, but It's fair to say that the damage to the title's reputation has been done.

So, it's surprising to hear that Bethesda thinks that charging players a monthly premium to mess about with private servers and a few additional perks would be a great idea.

From The Verge:

...a $12.99 monthly subscription it’s calling Fallout 1st, which will grant access to premium features. In particular, the membership — Bethesda is calling it a membership and not a subscription — “offers something players have been asking for since before launch: private worlds for you and select friends.”

You’ll get some other perks, too. There’s a “scrapbox” storage container for holding unlimited materials, a monthly deposit of in-game Atoms currency for you to spend, exclusive outfits and other cosmetics, and a new fast-travel option called survival tent. Overall, these appear to be a mix of items you might normally spend real money on in any given month in Fallout 76, and the private world feature, which arguably is the only real benefit here.

I can see how being able to build and play on a server without being attacked every five minutes by other players would be appealing. Read the rest

Hackers be hacking: NordVPN servers compromised

NordVPN's a popular tool that many people turn to for keeping their shit private while the plumb the depths of the Interwebz. It's available to use with a number of different operating systems. While I'm not fond of what I found while writing about them a few years back (for the record, I rely on ProtonVPN for my online privacy needs) The service is good enough for a whole lot of people.

Or at least it was. Because it's been hacked.

From TechCrunch:

The admission comes following rumors that the company had been breached. It first emerged that NordVPN had an expired internal private key exposed, potentially allowing anyone to spin out their own servers imitating NordVPN.

...NordVPN told TechCrunch that one of its data centers was accessed in March 2018. “One of the data centers in Finland we are renting our servers from was accessed with no authorization,” said NordVPN spokesperson Laura Tyrell.

The attacker gained access to the server — which had been active for about a month — by exploiting an insecure remote management system left by the data center provider; NordVPN said it was unaware that such a system existed.

NordVPN did not name the data center provider.

So, that sucks.

According to TechCrunch, the infiltrated server didn't contain any user activity logs, which is nice. Additionally, NordVPN's spokesperson swears that there's no way that a motivated attacker could have intercepted usernames or passwords. This of course, is like saying that you shit the bed, but the pillows are fine. Read the rest

Super genius blows up backyard trying to kill critters

This is some serious Wile E. Coyote-level gopher management going on here. Read the rest

Chinese citizens will have to submit to a face scan in order to get a new phone number

So, this is fun: starting in December, Chinese citizens who want to snag a new phone number or sign up for internet service will have no choice but to allow their faces to get scanned. This new bag of Orwellian bullshit was announced at the end of September by the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. According to Gizmodo, the MIIT totally swears that the initiative is totally designed to “earnestly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of citizens in the cyberspace”.

Uh huh.

The Chinese government recently lost their shit over protestors in Hong Kong wearing masks to hide from the facial recognition tech that the police and other government agency use to monitor their citizens. They use surveillance tech to detect and creep on the nation's Uighur Muslims. In the case of the latter, those identified and confirmed as being part of the Uighur minority have ended up in reeducation camps. Given that this is the case, it seems unlikely that the nation's only motive for forcing you some to submit their face to get a phone number is to cut down in fraud.

When a nation's citizenry's every move is monitored and cataloged to use against them, the notion of democracy becomes one that is thought upon, but never dares to be heard. Read the rest

Weekend tunes: close to an hour with Shooglenifty and Dhun Dhora

Scotland's Shooglenifty was one of the first acts that I had the opportunity to interview for the music magazine I still occasionally write for, over two decades ago. That it was one of my first paying assignments, well before I'd finished J-school, and that I'd been a fan of the band for years has made the experience a fond memory. 10 albums in and the Shoogles are still on regular rotation in my home.

Recorded in 2018, Written in Water, was a collaboration between the band and Rajasthani musical geniuses Dhun Dhora. It's in turns a challenging and rewarding collection of tracks to listen to. The more I jog it through my ears, the more I like it. I'd like you to have the same opportunity.

This piece of concert was recorded last year off of Bellstone stage at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. Read the rest

Utah Highway Patrol trooper swoops in to save unconscious man from being hit by a train

I was scrolling through Jalopnik earlier today when HOLY CRAP THERE'S A COP SAVING A DUDE FROM GETTING HIT BY A TRAIN!

From the Utah Department of Public Safety:

This morning, Trooper Ruben Correa pulled an unconscious driver from his vehicle seconds before it was struck by a train. Trooper Correa had been on a traffic stop close by before he responded to the area on a call of a car on the tracks. As he spoke to the media about this incident this morning, Trooper Correa said, "At that point, I actually wasn’t really thinking, I was just doing my job."

Image via PXhere

 

  Read the rest

There's a galaxy-sized security hole in Samsung's S10 smartphone

Let me break it to you as gently as possible: If you dot your tapping swiping and scrolling on a Samsung Galaxy S10, your handset's security is currently a joke. According to TechCrunch, an S10 user in the UK has reported that her handset's screen lock can easily be cleared by any old fingerprint you'd care to smoosh against the smartphone's display.

From TechCrunch:

The flaw was discovered after placing a $3.50 screen protector on the device, confirming earlier reports that adding one could introduce an air gap that interfered with the ultrasonic scanner. The company noted the issue in a statement, telling the press that it was, “aware of the case of S10’s malfunctioning fingerprint recognition and will soon issue a software patch.”

...Samsung has warned against the use of screen protectors previously, but the ability to fool the product with a cheap off the shelf mobile accessory clearly presents a major and unexpected security concern for Galaxy users.

A four buck piece of plastic can defeat the security on a $1,000 handset. What's not to love?

The fix that Samsung's quickly cooking up for this issue is no doubt keeping their software engineers busier than a cat trying to bury a turd in a marble floor. Until that fix drops, Android provides a number of other methods for keeping your digital goods locked away from the world. If'n you don't want your data hanging out for the world to peruse, you'd do well to switch over to using an alpha numeric code or pattern lock to keep your data safe. Read the rest

Video: sea critters chow down on the carcass of a young whale

Who doesn't love a free meal?

From Nautilus Live:

During the final dive of this year’s Nautilus expedition season, our team discovered a whale fall while exploring Davidson Seamount off central California’s coast with researchers from Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The skeletal remains of the whale lying on its back are estimated to be 4-5 meters long. The team is working to identify the species, but it is confirmed to be a baleen whale as indicated by baleen remaining along the whale’s jawbones. While evidence of whale falls have been observed to remain on the seafloor for several years, this appears to be a relatively recent fall with baleen, blubber, and some internal organs remaining. The site also exhibits an interesting mid-stage of ecological succession, as both large scavengers like eel pouts are still stripping the skeleton of blubber, and bone-eating Osedax worms are starting to consume lipids (fats) from the bones.

There's no getting past how rare a sight this must be—just listen to the excitement in the voices of the scientists who came across this whale fall for the first time. Read the rest

Review: Untitled Goose Game is a difficult delight

I downloaded Untitled Goose Game to my Nintendo Switch a few days ago. It's the most self-abusive fun that I've had (with a video game, I mean we're all friends here) since I owned an NES back in the day. If you're not familiar with the game's premise and don't care to watch the video, here's the short of it: You are a goose. You're kind of a dick (becasue goose). You fuck people's shit up. Constantly.

Or if you're me, you try to.

The controls of this game are simple. The laundry list of objectives the goose must fulfill before moving on to each new area are simple too. Completing said list to-do list? That's often more difficult. Some tasks are a breeze: scaring a kid so badly that he locks himself into a phone booth to get away from you was a piece of cake. Attempting to steal multiple items from the same person, collecting them at a single drop point? Kind of a pain. If the person you're stealing from sees you take their stuff, they'll give chase. The best policy is to drop whatever you had in your bill as soon as you're noticed: run too far towards your stash of swag and your hard-won loot will be found and returned from whence it came, forcing you to start all over again, often with your loot stashed in slightly more difficult locales than where you first snagged them from. I didn't expect a goose-related game to take careful planning or involve stealth. Read the rest

London Metropolitan Police Service bans Extinction Rebellion from entering the city

Folks have been protesting about our species' slow turning of the knife deeper into the belly of Mother Earth for a long time now. However, once it became evident that it was a killing wound we inflicted on the environment, leaving us well and truly fucked, the protests escalated in size and numbers. Quickly.

Kids have been walking out of class, taking to the streets by the thousands. The pillaging of the Amazon, which has been going on for decades, is suddenly on the agenda in a big way with the United Nations and popping up in news broadcasts around the world. The climate activist group Extinction Rebellion is all up in everyone's grills around the globe, too. Recently, members of the group took to the streets to block traffic and generally fuck shit up (in a good way!) in major cities around the globe. London was on their hit list and man, did they hit it: shutting down streets in the city's downtown core, primarily in Trafalgar Square. Flights out of Heathrow Airport were disrupted. Over an eight-day period, London's Metropolitan Police Service threw over 1,300 of the protesters in the clink. It seems that the MPS was so sick of filling out paperwork for the arrests that they opted to make it illegal for Extinction Rebelling to do their thing within the city's borders... which, when you think about it will likely result in more paperwork. But hey: I am but a simple writer.

From The Guardian:

The Metropolitan police issued a revised section 14 order on Monday night that said “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ ...

Read the rest

Toto's no good very bad encounter with gravity

Don't think his manager won't raise hell over their client working under these unsafe conditions. Read the rest

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