April 1st is dangerous for the credulous on the Internet

It’s that day again. The day of pranks and mischief where everyone tries to pull one over on you. Tech companies in particular really seem to enjoy this day and go to extra lengths to put forth almost believable fake products.

Companies like nVidia and their new R.O.N. AI Personal Assistant for Gamers:

I could totally use one of these for the RageConverter™ technology alone. The Troll Destroyer would also be nice.

Then there’s Newegg with their announcement of their entry into hardware production with their first CPU for gamers that continues the current trend of putting RGB lighting on everything. The Newegg iBrite RGB CPU:

It’s not clear how you’re supposed to see the RGB lights once you put a heatsink on it, but the specs of this processor more than make up for it: Cores: 100 — Threads: 200 — DDR5 RAM support: Sure, probably — Base clock: 1.4 PHz — Overclock capable, but doing so might create a small black hole inside your CPU (and void your warranty).

ThinkGeek goes all out for April 1st with a number of fake products that are often things people would really want. So much so that in the past they’ve actually turned some of them into real things you can buy. This year they’re “offering” up the Burned Bread Toaster by Banksy for the low low price of $1,370,000.00, the Flame Jam Hoop for all your Boomshakalaka needs, the Captain Marvel Universal Pager for a mere 1¢ (with $9.99/month 2-year service contract), the Roomby: Kirby Robot Vacuum that’ll suck your carpets clean, the Marvel Thor Mighty Mjolnir Mailbox because your mail is worthy, a Motion-Controlled Mimic Package to stop those porch pirates, the NERF Nuke to end all those NERF gun wars once and for all, the Power Wheels Desert Drifters so your kids can live out their Mad Max dreams, and — my personal favorite — the Bean Bag Onesie for all you lazy millennials out there.

Logitech has given in to demands to rename Wireless Mice to a more appropriate mammal considering that they lack “tails.” Announce they will now be called Hamsters:

Google is excited to introduce their newest product: Google Tulip! Decoding the language of flowers has been a decades-long challenge. But that changes today. Thanks to great advancements in artificial intelligence, Google Assistant on phones and Google Home is now able to understand tulips, allowing translation between Tulipish and dozens of human languages.

If you want to try for yourself, set your Google Assistant on your phone or smart speaker to the English language and say “Talk to Tulip Translator”. Yes, they went through the trouble to add this to the Google AI. I tried it. It works. This is some serious above and beyond for the sake of a joke.

Gotta admit, the amount of work some of these companies put into their pranks is impressive and I do look forward to this each year. However, I can imagine that for some folks the day is a nightmare.

This just in: FOX News is stunned that smartphone cameras can be used to record the police.

Help me out here, the year is still 2018, right? I only ask because apparently the folks at FOX & Friends First are very alarmed by the fact that smartphones have cameras on them. Cameras that can record video clips. Cameras that can record video clips of police officers. Almost like, *GASP!*, BODY CAMERAS!

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!

To be fair, they’re freaking out over a shortcut some dude came up with for the iPhone that makes recording an encounter with the police very easy by simply saying  “Hey Siri, I’m being pulled over.” 

Here’s why this is stupid: First, cell phones have had cameras capable of recording video since at least 2005, though video recording capabilities wouldn’t become commonplace until a few years later. The original iPhone, for example, had a 2MP camera and couldn’t record video. Still, it’s easily been doable for over a decade now. 

Second, being able to start recording a video with a voice command has been a thing since at least 2014. With my Pixel 2 in my shirt pocket all I need to say is “OK Google, record a video,” and it will launch the camera app in video mode and start recording immediately. In most of my shirt pockets the phone is just tall enough to peak over the top of the pocket. This makes it trivally easy to start a recording without making it obvious that I’m doing so. At least so long as the target is out of earshot as I have to issue the command and the phone acknowledges that it’s launching the app. Once I stop recording my phone is set to immediately back it up to my Google Photos account. The one drawback to this is that if it’s been awhile since you unlocked the phone then you may need to unlock it before it’ll start the app, but with the fingerprint reader that’s pretty easy to do.

Third, this isn’t something that can only be done on the newest iPhones as the report above suggests. It’ll work on any iPhone running iOS 12 and the Shortcuts app. It’s not even the only shortcut that’ll do this. The I Got Pulled Over shortcut is also available. 

The big innovation here is that the Police shortcut pauses music you may be playing, turns down the brightness on the iPhone, turns on “do not disturb” mode, starts recording with the front facing camera and sends out a text message to a friend letting them know where you are and that you’re recording a police encounter. Guess what? There have been apps that will do similar things for quite some time now.

On Android there’s Legal Equalizer which will text a contact of your choice, record the encounter and upload it to cloud storage, advise you of your rights and what to say, and even help find a lawyer.

Also, there is the Mobile Justice app developed in association with the ACLU which has been around since 2012. There are multiple versions of this app as each is specific to a state (here is the link for Mobile Justice: Michigan on Android and here’s the iPhone version). This app is more for activists as in addition to recording video and uploading straight to the local chapter of the ACLU, it has the ability to let you know when someone else is involved in a police encounter nearby so you can act as a witness.

That’s just two examples of dozens of apps. The point being that this isn’t anything new. So why is FOX acting like this is some shocking new affront to the police? Well, it turns out that lots of news organizations are reporting on it because the shortcut has shot up to become the third most popular one available at the moment. Business Insider did an article on it where they even show you how to make the shortcut yourself, USA Today wrote about it, Car and Driver got in on it, etc. and so on. The difference here is that FOX & Friends First decided to play it off as something bad because it’s FOX News: Propaganda Arm of the GOP since 1996.

Man literally betrayed by his own heart.

Modern technology is amazing, but every day we’re hearing about cases where someone’s electronic device ends up tying them to the crimes they’ve committed. Usually it’s cellphone location data or photos that busts someone for a crime, but in this case police arrested Ross Compton for arson because his story didn’t line up with data from his electronic heart monitor:

Middletown man’s electronic heart monitor leads to his arrest – WLWT5

Middletown police said Compton told them that he was able to pack his suitcases and throw them out his bedroom window after he broke out the glass with a walking stick.

According to court documents obtained by WLWT, a cardiologist told police that those actions were “highly improbable” because of Compton’s medical condition.

Police sought to prove that by collecting electronic data stored in Compton’s electronic heart device. They wanted to know Compton’s heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.

Police told WLWT on Friday that it was an excellent investigative tool, and the information that was retrieved didn’t match Compton’s story.

“It was one of the key pieces of evidence that allowed us to charge him,” Lt. Jimmy Cunningham said.

It’s believed this is the first time data from an electronic heart monitor has been used in this manner. Of course, it helps that the arson inspectors say the fire was started with gasoline at multiple points around the outside of the house and it was on the clothes Compton was wearing at the time, but this is the icing on the cake.

I’m always amused by the criminals who don’t think to leave their cellphones at home when undertaking a planned crime because that’s going to be the first thing the police are going to check. Turning it off is another option, but that looks suspicious if it’s only off during the time the crime takes place. Especially if it’s during the day when you’d have it turned on.

Having a heart monitor, however, is not something you could (or probably would want to) turn off. I suppose you could start the fire and then go through the motions of what you are going to claim to have done so that the data links up, but given that it’s physically demanding you’d be putting yourself at risk of heart failure while in the middle of a burning building which doesn’t seem too smart either. Probably want to change your clothes after handling the gas too.

I dunno, seems like the smart thing to do is not to do this in the first place.

Today’s I’m-Feeling-Old Moment: Kids react to a Walkman.

I should really stop following TheFineBros‘ YouTube channel. All it ever does is remind me how old and decrepit I’ve become.

Kids these days don’t know how good they got it with their “em-pee-three” doohickeys and their smartass phones. Why in MY day we had to get up to change the damned channel on the TV and we had only three major networks and a couple of minor UHF channels to choose from!

And now here is today’s “feeling old” moment.

I’ve already shared this one on Google+ so if you’ve already seen it there I apologize for the repetition, but I know my mother would get a kick out of this so I’m sharing it here too.

I’m old enough now that snot nosed kids can make me feel old pretty easily. Especially when it comes to stuff I grew up with. Stuff like dealing with a rotary phone:

Even though touch tone phones were introduced well before I was born, it took awhile before they were ubiquitous. Growing up we mostly had touch tone phones in the house, but we had a couple of the old rotary ones around too. I don’t recall when I learned how to use one though I’m sure I had to be taught. These days I don’t even have a landline anymore. It’s just an added expense that doesn’t make much sense when I carry my cellphone with me everywhere. That doesn’t stop this video from making me feel really old.

Public Alerts on my Google Maps? YES PLEASE!

This could prove to be mindbogglingly useful for a lot of people. Not the least of them myself. #seb #Google #Neato #Technology

Embedded Link

Google adding Public Alerts to Maps, keeps you in the loop in times of worry
You can’t deny that Google often hands out marvelous tools for the masses to utilize (yes, some can be a miss), and today the King of Search is launching a fresh virtual apparatus as part of its Crisis Response project. Dubbed “Public Alerts,” the feature is accessible from within Google Maps, keeping you in the loop during times of high alert. Your search query will trigger things like weather relevant to your area, public safety and earthquake alerts — all of which are provided by the NOAA…

Google+: View post on Google+

RAM: You’ve come a long way, baby!

My gaming desktop at home has 8 Gigabytes of RAM. If I had to use these 4KB modules instead of the two 4 GB sticks I have in my system it would take 2,097,152 of them to do it. Hell, the SDHC memory card — a single card the size of a postage stamp — that I put into my new digital camera is 8 Gigabytes of room and that’s not even the most spacious such card available. SDXC cards can range from 32GB to 2 Terabytes of storage for your camera/phone/MP3 player. #seb #computing #history #technology #RAM

Embedded Link

This Giant Chunk of Metal Is 4 Kilobytes of Memory [Past Perfect]

What’s this gent holding? A toaster? Farm equipment? Part of an engine? Wreckage from a destroyed tank? Nope—that’s 4KB of ol’ fashioned IBM memory. That’s enough to hold 12% of my Facebook profile picture!
Editor-in-Chief of CNET Reviews Lindsey Turrentine discovered the rugged computer antique in her grandfather’s barn. Not a bad catch! Turrentine pointed out the wonderful irony that the image itself is 692 KB—meaning she’d only need to find 172 more of these memory modules and a tractor tr…

Google+: View post on Google+

The autonomous cars are coming and will be a problem until laws are changed

There’s going to be some nasty legal fights before the laws are modified/created to deal with cars that drive themselves, but in the long run I think it’ll be worth it. #seb #automobiles #technology #laws

Embedded Link

How Do You Police Cars That Drive Themselves? [Cars]
Google is already testing its autonomous cars on the roads of California, and plenty of other manufacturers are starting to muscle in on the act, too. But when they hit the roads, how do you go about policing a city full of self-driven cars?
The New York Times reports that that very question is causing lawyers and government officials to break out in a cold sweat. It’s not just working out how the police could pull such a car over, either. How well would those cars interact with normal ones? …

Google+: View post on Google+

Own an iPhone or iPad? It’s been tracking everywhere you go for the past year.

Pic of output from iPhone Tracker app.

A sample of the output. The bigger the dot the more times you've been recorded as being there.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about your iPhone/iPad: It appears to be keeping a record of everyplace you’ve ever been both the device itself and on your computer if you use iTunes to back up your phone. The folks over at AresTechnica.com have the details:

Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed their findings on Wednesday ahead of their presentation at the Where 2.0 conference taking place in San Francisco. The two discovered that the iPhone or 3G iPad—anything with 3G data access, so no iPod touch—are logging location data to a file called consolidated.db with latitude and longitude coodinates and a timestamp. The data collection appears to be associated with the launch of iOS 4 last June, meaning that many users (us at Ars included) have nearly a year’s worth of stalking data collected.

In order to drive the point home, the two developed an open source application called iPhone Tracker that lets anyone with access to your computer see where you’ve been.

Now some of you might be thinking this isn’t anything new as these products have long had GPS features that will tell you where you are and they often notify you that they’re doing so when you use them. Yeah, but this is slightly different. This tracking isn’t being done using the GPS, but by triangulating your position relative to cell phone towers:

Users don’t get to decide whether their locations are tracked via cell towers or not—unlike GPS, there is no setting that lets users turn it off, there’s no explicit consent every time it happens, and there’s no way to block the logging. (Nitpickers will point out that you do give your consent to iTunes when you download and install iOS 4, but this is not treated the same way as the consent given to the iPhone every time an app wants to use GPS.) So, whether or not you’re using GPS, if you’re using your iPhone as a cell phone, you are being tracked and logged constantly without your knowledge.

The only way to avoid this tracking is to turn off the cellphone part of the device. Now the problem here isn’t so much that your devices are tracking your every move, but that you’re not being told about it. The good news is that, as near as the researchers can determine, this data is not being sent back to Apple or any other third party. The bad news is that it’s not at all difficult to get access to which means that if you lose your phone or your computer is compromised then anyone with the iPhone Tracker app can call up everywhere you’ve ever been with it. You can bet your ass that law enforcement absolutely loves this “feature” so if you’ve ever been anywhere you don’t want someone to know about, well, hope you didn’t have an iPhone with you.

Of course, this only really matters if you give a shit about people knowing your comings and goings. Something which more and more people seem to have stopped worrying about. In fact, the folks at Gawker are reporting that this discovery has spawned a hot new trend:

When it comes to technology today, there is barely any distance between outrageous privacy violation and cool new feature. When news broke yesterday that Apple has been secretly spying on iPhone users, many people immediately broadcasted the illicit data to everyone.

[…] Holy crap, Apple has been secretly logging our every move for months? Let’s… broadcast it to everyone on the internet! Many techies are now showing off their iSpy maps: “I find myself fascinated staring at this automatically generated record of where I’ve been,” wrote tech blogger Alexis Madrigal. Tumblr and Twitter arefull of them. “I don’t get out of West LA enough,” user aboycommemoi observed.

For its part, Apple hasn’t said shit about this discovery, but there is some indication that this may not have been an intentional breach of user trust. More likely it’s a bug or an oversight in the program. The folks at Gizmodo explain:

As Gruber’s been informed, consolidated.db—the tin-foil-hat-inducing log in question—is a cache for location data. (As Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan’s FAQ about their project implies.) What’s supposed to happen with the cache is that the “historical data should be getting culled but isn’t”—because of said bug or oversight. In Gruber’s words:

I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

So how freaked out should you be? If you don’t own an iPhone or iPad then this isn’t really an issue for you. If you do then it depends on how much you give a shit if someone could potentially get hold of that data. The chances that you’ll be hacked and have it stolen for some nefarious, but unknown purpose is probably minimal. However that data is something that could potentially be used against you by law enforcement if they should happen to have reason to acquire it.

Given the recent hoopla here in Michigan where the State Police have been accused of extracting data from cell phones during routine traffic stops, that may be something to consider. (Note, the MSP put out a response to the ACLU’s assertions saying that they do not collect cell phone data during routine traffic stops and only do so with a court issued warrant.) And while you may say that you’ve nothing to hide from the police, it’s not like there aren’t cases where circumstantial and coincidental evidence got an innocent person convicted.

Just the same, forewarned is forearmed and it’s better to know what is being collected about you — intentionally or not — than not know.

Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine works well enough for BP.

So here’s a bit of good news in the morass of bad news coming out of the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf. Turns out that BP did test Kevin Costner’s machine that separates oil from water and it appears to work:

BP says Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine can ‘make a real difference’ | NewsWatch: Energy | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle.

BP’s COO of Exploration and Production, Doug Suttles, said that within the first few hours of testing the machine, the company decided to order 32 of them.

“We tested it in some of the toughest environments we could find and actually what it’s done — it’s quite robust,” Suttle said. “This is real technology with real science behind it and it’s passed all of those tests.”

Suttles said BP has committed to building four deepwater systems. Two of the systems will be barges that have machines on them and two of the systems will be a new design using 280-foot offshore supply vessels.

In total, the systems BP is rigging up will have a processing capacity of 128,000 barrels a day.

“That’s a substantial amount of capacity and can make a real difference to our spill response efforts,” Suttles said.

There’s already a lot of damage done, but better late than never in getting something like this out there where they can prove themselves in a real-world worst-case situation. If they end up helping to any decent degree then they should be made a mandatory part of every oil company’s oil spill response plan.

Which shouldn’t be too difficult considering that they all had the exact same photocopy of the piss-poor BP response plan anyway.