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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

Curiosity might not have killed the cat, but it sure isn’t helping.

Common life advice states that you should strive to keep your curiosity alive. After all, curiosity is what keeps us, as a species, moving into the future.

But sometimes curiosity gets the better of us. In fact, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, curiosity often leads us to make decisions that we know will end with poor, unpleasant and sometimes downright painful outcomes. What does that actually mean, though? Well, it’s probably best to answer that with an example.


Remember ‘Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans’ from the Harry Potter books and movies? If not, they were jelly beans that had every flavour imaginable from strawberry to boogers. The catch was that you never knew what you were going to get. Jelly Belly actually made a version of these beans and people across the world ate them up, literally, despite the fact that most of the time it was unpleasant.

According to the team, this is because we throw caution to the wind when curiosity takes over.

"Just as curiosity drove Pandora to open the box despite being warned of its pernicious contents, curiosity can lure humans - like you and me - to seek information with predictably ominous consequences," said one of the researchers, Bowen Ruan.

The team’s work started by examining previous curiosity studies that showed how often the impulse drew people to seek out these upsetting experiences. With that in mind, the team set out to test this theory.

Their initial hypothesis was that "this curiosity stems from humans’ deep-seated desire to resolve uncertainty regardless of the harm it may bring".

To test this idea, the team did a whole bunch of experiments. The first featured 54 student participants who were shown electric-shock pens that they could mess with while they waited for the 'real study' to begin. Some of the participants had pens that were marked with red and green stickers that indicated which ones shocked while the others had pens marked with only yellow stickers, making it unclear which pens would shock.


After leaving the students in a room to shock themselves for a little bit, the team found that the uncertain group clicked way more pens in general. However, the participants with the marked pens often chose the shock pens over the non-shock pens. In both cases, the students expected a painful outcome but ignored the warning signs because of curiosity.

In another experiment, the team had participants look at a computer screen with 48 buttons. Each of these buttons played a certain sound ranging from something pleasant like a song, to nails on a chalkboard. Mixed in with these labelled sounds were mystery buttons marked with a question mark.

"On average, students who saw mostly mysterious options clicked about 39 buttons, while those who saw mostly identified buttons clicked only about 28," the team writes in a release.

To make matters worse, the 'more curious people' reported that they felt worse after following their curiosity than those who went with more certain choices.

In the end, the team concluded that while curiosity is an important human trait, it’s also sort of a flaw, because we are curious to a fault sometimes.

Source: sciencealert.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

You know what they say about curiosity.

In the age of the smartphone and constant mobile connectivity to the internet, USB drives might not be quite as useful as they once were, but they're still an indisputably handy way to carry your personal files around.

And because of that, when people see a random USB drive just lying on the ground, it's a perplexing dilemma. Should you pick it up? Take a look at the data you find on it, and maybe try to return it to its owner? What about malware, is there a security risk? Regardless of what goes through people's minds when they face this situation, a new study has found that discarded USB drives lying around in public will definitely not go unnoticed.


A team from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign dropped 297 USB drives around the uni grounds, leaving them in places like parking lots, hallways, classrooms, libraries, and cafeterias. They found that almost half of the data sticks (and possibly a lot more) ended up being used in a computer, and almost all of them (98 percent) were picked up and removed from where they were originally dropped.

To track what people did with the USB sticks when they found them, the researchers put HTML documents on the drives, masquerading as files called "documents", "math notes", and "winter break pictures". When somebody discovered these files on the drive and tried to open them with an internet-connected computer, the researchers were notified.

Amazingly, despite the potential risks of executing these random files, people did so with 45 percent of the discarded USB drives – representing 135 instances of users opening the files. It's entirely possible that many more of the USB drives were inserted into computers too – the researchers were only notified if the HTML files were opened (and even then, only if the computer was online at the time).

So are people just nosey snoops who can't resist rifling through others' personal data? Not necessarily.

When people opened the HTML files on the drive, they were informed about the experiment (in which they had so far been an unwitting participant) and invited to complete an anonymous survey. This gave them a chance to provide some information about themselves and explain what had motivated them to pick up and use the drive in the first place.

Less than half of the 135 users at this point opted to continue the experiment, but 43 percent did provide feedback. Most of the respondents (68 percent) said they wanted to return the drive to its owner, while 18 percent acknowledged they were merely curious about the contents. Two people admitted they just personally needed a USB drive!


Some of the USB drives had been put on key rings with dummy house keys, and many of the participants indicated that this encouraged their altruistic intentions, as it added an extra sense of urgency to returning the keys (ie. the owner might be locked out of their house).

But the study found that people with good intentions still let their curiosity get the better of them, opening things like personal photos on the drives. You could argue that seeing what the owner looked like would help you find the owner of the keys, but it would be nowhere near as efficient as just opening the "personal résumé" file on the drive to look up their contact details.

The findings, which are being presented next month at the 37th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in California, also highlight just how unaware or unconcerned we can be about the potential security risks of opening unknown files on randomly found devices.

Over two-thirds of respondents admitted they had taken no precautions before connecting the drive to their computer. "I trust my Macbook to be a good defence against viruses," said one, (bad move) while others admitted opening the files on university computers to protect their own personal gear.

"This evidence is a reminder to the security community that less technical attacks remain a real-world threat and that we have yet to understand how to successfully defend against them," the authors write. "We need to better understand the dynamics of social engineering attacks, develop better technical defences against them, and learn how to effectively teach end users about these risks."

As lead researcher Matt Tischer told Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai at Motherboard, despite the ridiculousness of these kinds of experiments, the study shows that people, regardless of their motivation, aren't cautious enough when it comes to opening unknown files on totally random drives.

"It's easy to laugh at these attacks, but the scary thing is that they work," he said, "and that's something that needs to be addressed."

Source: sciencealert.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

It happens to everyone at some point. You're doing something on your computer, whether it's an important project, some aimless browsing, or trying to beat your high score on Solitaire, and without warning everything freezes. You wiggle the mouse, click the buttons a few times, tap some keys on your keyboard and get nothing. Your 21st century piece of technology is as useless as a pet rock. What do you do next?

Restart

OK, this step is obvious. However, some people think they have to pull the computer's power plug or flip the switch on the power strip. Instead, simply hold the computer's power button for 5 to 10 seconds and it will restart with less disruption than a complete power loss.

There are a few things that can happen next when your computer comes back on. Let's look at the three most typical ones and what you should do next.

1. Computer starts fine

If the computer starts up fine, immediately back up your important information in case a serious problem is on the way. Otherwise, you could find yourself scrambling through more complicated ways to get files off a dead computer.

Then use the computer as normal until it freezes again, although it might not. Find out why a restart often makes problems disappear. If the computer does freeze again, then keep reading for more steps to take.

2. Computer asks you how to boot

While restarting, the computer might say there was an error with Windows and ask if you want to start normally or in Safe Mode. The first time, choose to start Windows normally. Then back up your data and keep using the computer to see if it freezes again.

If this is the second time your computer has frozen, choose to boot in "Safe Mode with Networking." Try using the computer like this and see if it freezes again. If it does, then you could be looking at either a software or a hardware problem.

If it doesn't freeze again while in Safe Mode, it's likely a software problem. Keep reading for tips to investigate both.

3. Computer freezes again immediately

If the computer freezes again immediately after it booting, whether in normal mode or Safe Mode, then you could have a serious software or hardware problem. However, it's most likely a hardware problem.

Now we're going to look at some ways to narrow down and fix the cause.

Basic software troubleshooting

An occasional or consistent computer freeze could be the result of a program acting up. Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + ESC to open Windows' Task Manager and then select the "Performance" tab. In Windows 8.1 and 10, you might need to click the "More details" link at the bottom of the Task Manager to see it. Click here for more Task Manager tricks that you should know.

Start using your computer as normal, but keep an eye on the CPU, memory and disk categories. If the computer freezes, and one of these is really high, then that could be your answer. Make a note of which area was really high then restart the computer and open Task Manager again.

This time, however, choose the "Processes" tab. Sort the list by CPU, memory or disk, whichever was really high last time the computer froze, and see what process pops up to the top of the list as the computer freezes. This should tell you what software is acting up so you can uninstall or update it. Learn how to unravel what processes tell you about your programs.

You might also have hidden software, such as a virus, causing problems. Be sure to run a scan with your security software to uncover something that shouldn't be there.

In cases where your computer freezes during startup in normal mode, but boots OK in Safe Mode, the problem could be a program that's loading during the boot sequence. Use a program like Autoruns to selectively disable the programs that begin at startup and see which one is causing the problem.

If your computer is freezing during startup no matter what, and it's at the same point, then the problem could be corruption in Windows, or a hardware problem. A quick way to tell is to grab a Live CD for another operating system, such as Linux Mint or Tails, and boot with that.

If the other operating system boots OK, then you're probably looking at a problem with Windows and might need to reinstall. For those using Windows 10 (and 8), it has a Refresh/Reset feature that's supposed to return Windows to a factory state. It's under Settings>>Update and recovery>>Recovery. If Windows is having trouble starting, it should pop up a Recovery option during boot that includes this, or you might have to use a disc.

If the non-Windows operating system has trouble too, then it's time to look at your hardware.

Basic hardware troubleshooting

A computer that freezes both in normal mode and Safe Mode, or with another operating system, can often indicate a problem with your computer's hardware. It could be your hard drive, an overheating CPU, bad memory or a failing power supply. In some cases, it might also be your motherboard, although that's a rare occurrence.

Usually with hardware problem, the freezing will start out sporadic, but increase in frequency as time goes on. Or it will trigger when the computer is working hard, but not when you're doing more basic things. Fortunately, you can run some checks and see if that's the case.

Use a program like CrystalDiskInfo to check your hard drive's S.M.A.R.T. data for signs of impending failure. A program like SpeedFan can tell you if your computer processor is overheating, or if the voltages are fluctuating, which might be a problematic power supply.

If you want to go more in-depth, you can grab a diagnostic CD like FalconFour's Ultimate Boot CD. It has plenty of other tools for checking out your computer, including MemTest for putting strain on your computer's RAM to see if it's working OK.

Learn about more signs that your computer could be close to dying. If your computer is newer, it might still be under warranty, in which case you'll want to contact the manufacturer or seller.

For an older computer, you need to decide if it's less expensive to repair or replace it.

Source: usatoday.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 6th Apr 2016

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service with over 1 billion users, announced on Tuesday that every message sent using the service will be protected in a way that even WhatsApp would not be able to read it if it wanted to.

WhatsApp had started to move to end-to-end encryption in 2014, starting with encrypting WhatsApp messages sent between Android phones, but now all messages and phone calls sent with up-to-date WhatsApp software will be protected, the company announced on Tuesday.

The Facebook subsidiary is using encryption technology by Open Whisper Systems, which has the advantage that it is open-source and publicly vetted, which security experts believe make it less likely to be cracked. Open Whisper Systems' technology has been praised by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, for example.

"The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us. End-to-end encryption helps make communication via WhatsApp private – sort of like a face-to-face conversation," WhatsApp founder Jan Koum wrote in a blog post.

"As of today, the integration is fully complete. Users running the most recent versions of WhatsApp on any platform now get full end to end encryption for every message they send and every WhatsApp call they make when communicating with each other," Open Whisper Systems founder Moxie Marlinspike wrote in a blog post.

WhatsApp announced the change with a new security page featuring a white paper that explains the company's encryption on a technical level.

Whether personal communications should be encrypted in a way that even law enforcement cannot read it even with a warrant has become a hot issue in recent years, first spurred by Snowden's revelations, and more recently, when the FBI asked Apple to break its own security in order to get into a terrorist's encrypted iPhone.

WhatsApp founder Jan Koum was the first major Silicon Valley CEO to publicly back Apple CEO Tim Cook in that battle. Brian Acton, another WhatsApp founder, reportedly told Koum that day that "Tim Cook is my hero," according to Wired.

Earlier this month, Facebook shot back at Brazil for detaining a company vice president for 24 hours over law enforcement demands for encrypted WhatsApp messages.

Last month, The New York Times wrote that WhatsApp is fighting against United States government officials in a secret court case in which WhatsApp said that it technically could not implement a court-ordered wiretap because of its systems' encryption.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 6th Apr 2016

As the internet becomes dominated by images, Facebook is launching a system which can "read" photos and tell visually impaired people what appears in them.

The internet is changing. From a medium based almost entirely on text, it is now becoming increasingly picture-led. An estimated 1.8 billion images are uploaded every day to social networks such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Good news for aspiring photographers, bad news for blind or partially sighted users who often have no way of telling what is in an image - despite the available modern assistive technologies.

But a new service from Facebook, being launched on Tuesday, is attempting to remedy that.
Matt King, head of accessibility Jeffrey Wieland and data scientist Shaomei WuImage copyrightFacebook

Blind people use sophisticated navigation software called screenreaders to make computers usable. They turn the contents of the screen into speech output or braille. But they can only read text and can't "read" pictures.

Using artificial intelligence (AI), Facebook's servers can now decode and describe images uploaded to the site and provide them in a form that can be read out by a screenreader.

Facebook says it has now trained its software to recognise about 80 familiar objects and activities. It adds the descriptions as alternative text, or alt text, on each photo. The more images it scans, the more sophisticated the software will become.
Some of the objects the new technology can recognise are:

Transport - car, boat, aeroplane, bicycle, train, road, motorcycle, bus

Environment - outdoor, mountain, tree, snow, sky, ocean, water, beach, wave, sun, grass

Sports - tennis, swimming, stadium, basketball, baseball, golf

Food - ice cream, sushi, pizza, dessert, coffee

Appearance - baby, eyeglasses, beard, smiling, jewellery, shoes - and selfie

The man behind the development is Matt King, a Facebook engineer who lost his sight as a result of retinitis pigmentosa - a condition which destroys the light sensitive cells in the retina.

"On Facebook, a lot of what happens is extremely visual," King says. "And, as somebody who's blind, you can really feel like you're left out of the conversation, like you're on the outside."

The technology that King and his team have developed uses Facebook's in-house object-recognition software to decipher what an image contains. It has been trained to recognise items such as food and vehicles.

"Our artificial intelligence has advanced to the point where it's practical for us to try to get computers to describe pictures in a meaningful way," King says.

"This is in its very early stages, but it's helping us move in the direction of that goal of including every single person who wants to participate in the conversation."

The system currently describes images in fairly basic terms such as: "There are two people in this image and they are smiling."
Facebook screenreader recognising a pizzaImage copyrightFacebook

The screenreader can recognise such foods as ice cream, sushi, pizza, dessert and coffee

Last month, Twitter added a similar function which enables users to manually add their own descriptive text to images. Although the descriptions may be better, it requires users to actively choose to do it, whereas Facebook's new system automatically tags every photo.

King and Facebook would like the system to go one step further and use face recognition to identify people in a picture by name with help from their database of users, but others are resisting the idea on privacy grounds.

For King, it is a matter of principle - he says sighted and visually-impaired people should have equal access to the content posted online. Sighted people know who is in many of the photos they see, so blind people should also be allowed that same privilege, he believes.

"I feel I have a right to that information," he says. "I am asking for information that is already available to other people to be revealed to me. So I see it as a matter of fairness."

Jeff Wieland, head of the Facebook accessibility team, says the social networking site is investing in accessibility and devising strategies for different communities, to allow them to engage with it.

He says the site is "going to have dedicated teams thinking about how to get all these different communities on-board and connecting with each other. That is the chance for us to be equalisers and to really empower the world".

Hear more from Matt King in Default World, first broadcast on the BBC World Service on 2 April as part of the Identity season. An edited version will be broadcast as an Analysis documentary on BBC Radio 4.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 6th Apr 2016

Sony's next major update to the PlayStation 4 debuts tomorrow. It includes a number of new features, but the most important addition is Remote Play for PCs and Macs. New Remote Play apps for Windows and Mac will allow PlayStation 4 players to stream games to their Mac and PCs, and Sony is allowing up to 720p resolutions to be streamed remotely. You'll be able to use a DualShock 4 controller on a PC or Mac to play games, connected through a USB cable.

Alongside the Remote Play features, the new 3.50 firmware update also includes the ability to set yourself as offline, enable friend online notifications, and game event scheduling. Sony is also enabling the ability for all members of a party to see what each person is playing to easily join a friend's game. The 3.50 update will be available tomorrow, and Remote Play apps for the Mac and PC will be available at Sony's website.

Source: theverge.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 6th Apr 2016

We haven't seen much from HP recently that catches our eye, but the new Spectre laptop certainly got our attention.

HP claims it's the thinnest laptop in the world, beating the MacBook Air at its own game. And just as its exterior is luxurious, its specs are premium, too.

It's not priced for the budget laptop shoppers, but it's not designed for them, either. Rather, it's for people who care about how their laptop looks as much as how well they perform.

It's absurdly thin at 10.4mm, which is thinner than the 11-inch MacBook Air (17 mm) AND the 12-inch MacBook (13 mm).

At 2.45 lbs, the HP Spectre is heavier than the 11-inch MacBook Air (2.38 lbs) and the 12-inch MacBook (2.03 lbs).

Despite its sleek design and slim weight, it has similar specs you'd find on thicker laptops.

Most importantly, it runs Intel's full-size Core i processors, not the mobile Core m processors that are designed for super-slim and portable computer that run a lot slower.

The hinges retract into the Spectre's body to eliminate extra bulk that hinges usually add.

It has a full HD 1080p 13.3-inch screen, which the MacBook Air can't boast.

The Spectre also exclusively uses the new USB-C standard for charging and connecting other devices.

You might need adapters to plug peripherals like monitors or hard drives, which might be a hassle, but transitioning to new, better standards is rarely easy.

The base model of the HP Spectre is priced at $1,169, which is about the same price as the 13-inch MacBook Air.

So far, it only comes in the copper/gold color option. HP says it uses the color scheme for "warmth" and to make it feel like a piece of jewelry.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 5th Apr 2016

A new update to Google Search has made it possible for people to vote for their favourite contestants on reality TV shows, The Next Web reports.

The update, which is being rolled out in Asia across mobile and desktop, reportedly allows people to search for a show and simply tap on the contestant they want to vote for.

It will reportedly work in conjunction with existing voting mechanisms, such as texting and placing votes through an app.

The Next Web suggests that reality TV fans will be able to vote for shows such as "The X Factor" and Asian versions of shows like "Got Talent" and "Idols."

TV shows such as "Vietnam's Got Talent" and "The X Factor Indonesia" have already trialled the voting mechanism, according to The Next Web. The producer of these shows, FreemantleMedia, is planning to expand the feature to India and Thailand.

Although the feature is launching in Asia, it's likely that Google will expand it to other regions if it proves successful. Business Insider has contacted Google to find out when this could happen.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 5th Apr 2016

Satya Nadella is busy bringing you new devices and apps to infuse everything you do with computer-aided intelligence.

These include using a personal assistant (Cortana) to manage your calendar, having chat bots interact with you on the internet, and using the HoloLens virtual-reality glasses to impose a 3D virtual world onto your real world.

Yet when it comes to balancing work with family and personal life, the CEO of Microsoft doesn't think our obsession with our devices is helping.

Nadella doesn't believe in work-life "balance" but in work-life harmony, he tells Business Insider.

"There's no such thing as balance. It's how do I harmonize my work and my life?" he says.

We all spend tons of time at work and thinking about work, so it's important that our work be meaningful and fit in with our core values. But when it comes to spending time with the family, we all need to focus less on our phones and more on the real world.

That means not thinking about "the last email" you got from work, he tells Business Insider.

But it also means putting down that phone and paying full attention to your family and friends.

It's something that he's working on himself (emphasis added):

When I'm with my family, doing something, say, even this weekend, tomorrow when I'm there with my daughter, I'm present. What does that presence mean? A lot of us have the residual effect of the last email, the last thing. You've got to get very, very good, I think, in modern life to not have that residual effect spoil your presence. I see people over a dinner table all on their cellphone — that's when I say, wow, that's tragic.

Nadella calls our need for our phones "information anxiety," and he's hoping that Microsoft's new generation of smarter talking software and devices will help us solve that.

"So I'm running late to a meeting. The personal assistant realizes that, automatically on my behalf reschedules or notifies the person because it knows my calendar. I'm not doing some texting and driving. That's one trivial example," he says.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 5th Apr 2016

British police tricked a suspected terrorist into handing over his unlocked iPhone by posing as company managers at the suspect's workplace, according to CNN.

Last Friday, a 25-year-old delivery driver from Luton, England, was convicted of planning a terror attack on American soldiers stationed in Britain. Junead Khan was planning to target United States Air Force bases in East Anglia, and communicated online with an ISIS fighter in Syria, The Guardian reports.

Securing evidence from Khan's iPhone 5s was an important part of his conviction. However, police had to figure out a way to get Khan's phone, while gaining access to his password. Data that could contain vital evidence in law enforcement investigations can be permanently inaccessible if the suspect refuses to surrender the password.

The FBI recently tried to make Apple create software to help it break into an encrypted iPhone belonging to a deceased terrorist earlier this year. The FBI retreated from this legal battle after an unnamed third party helped it hack into the device instead.

To get around any encryption issues in Khan's case, investigators went undercover, a source close to the investigation told CNN. According to the source, cops pretended to work for his company as managers and challenged him on where he was on a certain day. Khan then got out his iPhone to prove where he was.

"The undercover officers asked to see his iPhone and Khan handed it over," CNN reports. They then arrested him — and kept the iPhone accessible by changing the settings before it automatically locked.

"Via that phone we knew that they'd been in contact with Daesh fighters in Syria via text message, via emails but also using social media applications but also there was a vast amount of extremist and terrorist material on there in relation to how to make a bomb, for instance, but also material that related to atrocities overseas," Dean Yaydon, head of Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police, told CNN.

The episode is reminiscent of the 2013 arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the convicted owner of Silk Road, then the world's largest online drugs marketplace. Ulbricht's laptop was encrypted, meaning that law enforcement had to get it off him while he was logged in, and before he had a chance to close or lock it.

So they swooped in undercover, targeting him while he sat at a library. Ars Technica reports that two disguised cops staged an argument, and when Ulbricht turned to look, they grabbed the laptop and arrested him. After that, one FBI agent had to keep pressing buttons to prevent it from going to sleep — because without the password to wake it back up, it would be useless.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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