Why won't anyone believe there really are subliminal messages corrupting young digital assistants?

Subject: General Tech | January 31, 2018 - 01:04 PM |
Tagged: siri, security, google, Alexa

Some of us are old enough to remember when certain parties were convinced there were subliminal messages in the music which kids listened to which they creatively blamed for a wide variety of behaviour.  This belief turned out to be as ridiculous as it sounds, though that doesn't stop it from recurring every couple of generations.  There is a somewhat similar and very real issue which The Register talks about here; using a deep neural net they were able to modify songs in such a way that digital assistants such as Echo, Siri and others would hear and execute a command while the humans in the room would only hear a slight distortion in the audio.  This particular method is much harder to protect against than the previously discovered vulnerability which was ultrasonic commands which a microphone could pick up but was well beyond the range of human hearing. 

You do need to reverse engineer the audio processing software of the digital assistant before you will be able to craft your hidden commands, however once that is done this is a very effective attack.

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"The researchers tested a variety of in-song commands delivered directly to Kaldi as audio recordings, such as: "Okay Google, read mail" and "Echo, open the front door." The success rate of these was 100 per cent."

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Source: The Register

Google's 'free' Spectre patch

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2018 - 12:51 PM |
Tagged: google, spectre, retpoline, security

Google have released their own patch for the second Spectre vulnerability and claim that there is no noticeable performance hit after installation.  The patch isolates indirect branches from speculative execution, similar in effect to what the Microsoft patch does but without the extra trampoline overhead.  Intel responded to The Inquirer's contact and confirmed Google's patch is both effective and more efficient than the patch currently being distributed but do mention there is a microcode update which must also be installed for the patch to be fully effective.  This is good news for those who use Google and hint at updated patches for Spectre which might mitigate any performance hits it causes.

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"The fix, called 'Retpoline' uses software patches rather than disabling the affected CPU features, which Google claims resulted "in no performance degradation across the different mitigation techniques they have developed."

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Source: The Inquirer

(Rumor?) Android Parallel Tasks Expected in Chrome OS

Subject: General Tech | December 31, 2017 - 11:24 PM |
Tagged: google, ChromeOS, chrome os

As far as I can tell, this feature has not been confirmed by Google, and everyone cites Chrome Unboxed rather than testing on their own Chromebooks. That said, Chrome Unboxed has a video of the feature in action, and I don’t have a Chromebook of my own, so I’ll just label this as a rumor even though I’m confident that it is true.

The feature? Android apps will soon be able to run in the background on Chrome OS. It is apparently possible using the beta channel Chrome OS 64, but that doesn’t mean it will land in Chrome OS 64 stable. This pushes Android (the app platform) significantly closer to a desktop-style platform, albeit when hitching a ride on Chrome OS.

I’m curious how much control will be given to Android developers, though. It seems like Google would want apps to do things like reduce their workloads when unfocused. If so, would they bring this feature to Android proper? Or would it be a Chrome OS-specific feature that developers need to specifically target?

Either way, it looks like Google is working on it.

Just Picked Up: Google Wifi x4

Subject: Networking | December 28, 2017 - 05:26 PM |
Tagged: just delivered, google wifi, google

While our house isn’t particularly large, there were quite a few wireless dead zones with our previous setup. For several months now, we’ve been patching it with a Linksys wireless extender that we move around the house to extend the network in a single direction. That had a few drawbacks, and the signal wasn’t too strong to begin with, but it worked okay.

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Out with the old, and in with the new.
4x Google Wifi routers + 1x Cisco 8-port Gigabit switch

I’ve now picked up a three-pack and a one-pack of Google Wifi devices, after having it recommended to me by some coworkers in my software development job (and a Boxing Week sale at BestBuy Canada). The internet comes in from the basement, so I figured that one on each floor (roughly in a vertical line) and a fourth near the deck (with rough line of sight to the middle one) would provide optimal coverage. Each Google Wifi device can only drive a single wired device, so I opened a Cisco gigabit switch that I purchased several years ago to increase that to seven.

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Setup was quite easy – just plug the first one in and follow the directions on the Google Wifi app. One step will ask you how many more hotspots you have, excluding the one connected to the internet modem. I answered three, so it asked me to set them up one at a time. I needed to scan the QR code on the first of the three pack, and the QR code on the fourth (which came from the one-pack).

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Yeah, I totally need to clean up these wires...
... some day.

When it was all done, everything had internet except the wired devices; that was automatically resolved by the Windows networking troubleshooter, though, so it wasn’t really a problem. Now, as I walk around the house, I see the Wi-Fi drop for an instant (seems like literally a second or two) and reconnect as it chooses a new access point. I suppose this could be annoying if you’re on a Skype chat and walking from room-to-room. The wired devices are getting the full 125/10 that my internet provides, so that’s good.

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One interesting note is that, while I have the option to prioritize devices using my phone, there doesn’t seem to be a “permanently prioritize this device until further notice” option. All I can select is one hour, two hours, or four hours. Seems like an odd omission, but I almost never use prioritization in real-world scenarios anyway.

Source: Google

Play nicely children; Google and Amazon having trouble with that sharing thing

Subject: General Tech | December 6, 2017 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: amazon, google, Alexa, youtube

Google has decided that YouTube should not work as advertised on any Amazon devices, in retaliation to Amazon refusing to stream Amazon Prime Video over Google Cast nor sell Google devices online.  Currently you will just be redirected to YouTube.com when you launch your app but Google is planning on blocking all access from Echo or Fire TV in the near future.  None of us particularly care about Google and Amazon's relationship problems but sadly, similar to children whose parents are going through a divorce, we are the ones who suffer.  These two companies have been at it for a while, The Register covers some of the highlights of their disfunctional relationship here.

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"Google is trying to stop Amazon Echo Show devices from streaming YouTube videos – and from January, it will block Amazon’s Fire TVs from accessing the vid service, too."

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Source: The Register

Google don't Play that; apps will now need to notify users about data harvesting

Subject: General Tech | December 5, 2017 - 01:39 PM |
Tagged: google, google play, Privacy

Google has responded to the news stories posted last week at various news sites about the secretive data collection many apps on Google Play indulge in.  Developers of Android apps now have 60 days to update their privacy polices and add notifications if their apps collect personal information such as your phone number and contacts or device information such as IMEI.  If they do not comply Google will create warnings for them, which will be displayed prominently.  The Register also reports that Google will include crash reports in this policy, requiring apps to notify users if the report will contain data not directly related to the app which crashed.

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"If developers don't comply within 60 days, Google said, it will warn users via Google Play Protect “or on webpages that lead to these apps”."

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Source: The Register

Identity theft? Ya, there's an app for that

Subject: General Tech | November 29, 2017 - 02:33 PM |
Tagged: smartphone, security, google play, google, Android

Hopefully you are already well aware that a large number of free Android apps slurp up a lot of personal information about you, however you might not realize the extent of the issue.  Researchers have just released a report which documents the amount of personal data that popular apps such as Uber, Tinder, Skype, Twitter, Spotify, and Snapchat gather about you, which The Inquirer linked to.  These apps collect and then share your name, phone number, e-mail address, login, IP address and device ID with targeted advertisers, something that many of the apps do not make clear when you install or use them.  That data can be used for some rather interesting things, such as tracking the physical location of your phone, so the next time you are installing an app on an mobile phone of any flavour you might want to consider what it may be sharing especially in light of the recently revealed Uber hack.

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"In case you're wondering, yes, there's a good chance at least some of your Android apps have tracked you rather more than you expect."

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Source: The Inquirer

Rumor: Google Pixel 2 XL Slow Charging

Subject: Mobile | November 5, 2017 - 07:49 PM |
Tagged: google, Pixel 2 XL

The Pixel 2 XL launch hasn’t been going so well for Google. Early complaints were about the screen: how it had alleged burn-in problems within the first few days, and how it couldn’t support the sRGB color space. Since then, we’ve even been hearing reports that some phones shipped without the OS even installed. Whoops!

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Now here’s a specific complaint: people are saying that the phone is charging slow. This is an easy one to test – run a multimeter in-line with the USB cable see what happens. Google+ user, Nathan K., apparently did, and he found that the Pixel 2 XL maxed out at 10.5W. When the screen is on, this drops to a maximum of 6W, which he claims (and I would have guessed) is likely due to the combined heat of a phone that’s both in-use and charging. Lithium batteries are very sensitive to heat.

He also says that this issue isn’t really a problem in-and-of itself. He just wishes that manufacturers advertised more about how the battery should perform, and maybe even provide the switches for users to override if needed. I could see that being a warranty nightmare, but I’m rarely going to fall on the side against user choice as a general rule, so I think that would be nice.

NVIDIA Partners with AWS for Volta V100 in the Cloud

Subject: Graphics Cards | October 31, 2017 - 09:58 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, amazon, google, pascal, Volta, gv100, tesla v100

Remember last month? Remember when I said that Google’s introduction of Tesla P100s would be good leverage over Amazon, as the latter is still back in the Kepler days (because Maxwell was 32-bit focused)?

Amazon has leapfrogged them by introducing Volta-based V100 GPUs.

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To compare the two parts, the Tesla P100 has 3584 CUDA cores, yielding just under 10 TFLOPs of single-precision performance. The Tesla V100, with its ridiculous die size, pushes that up over 14 TFLOPs. Same as Pascal, they also support full 1:2:4 FP64:FP32:FP16 performance scaling. It also has access to NVIDIA’s tensor cores, which are specialized for 16-bit, 4x4 multiply-add matrix operations that are apparently common in neural networks, both training and inferencing.

Amazon allows up to eight of them at once (with their P3.16xlarge instances).

So that’s cool. While Google has again been quickly leapfrogged by Amazon, it’s good to see NVIDIA getting wins in multiple cloud providers. This keeps money rolling in that will fund new chip designs for all the other segments.

Source: Amazon

Google Announces High-End Convertible Pixelbook Running Chrome OS

Subject: General Tech | October 5, 2017 - 02:35 PM |
Tagged: pixelbook, google, convertible tablet, Chromebook, chrome os

Google is dipping its Chrome toes into high end Chromebook territory again with the launch of a new thin and light convertible tablet called the Google Pixelbook. The 12.3” notebook is constructed of premium aluminum and glass components and packs 8th Generation refreshed Kaby Lake CPUs, up to 16 GB of RAM, and up to 512 GB of solid state storage. The Pixelbook has a Yoga-style folding multi-touch display and measures less than half an inch think (10.3mm) and weighs a smidge over 2 pounds (1.1kg).

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The Pixelbook has a classy two tone metal and glass design with straight lines and flat edges save for the front edge that has rounded corners. On the inside, the top half is dominated by a 12.3” touchscreen with a resolution of 2400x1600 (Google did not reveal the panel type but did note that it has enough brightness to be used outdoors), paired with a webcam. The display and Wi-Fi antenna area are covered with glass. The bottom half features a backlit keyboard and trackpad that uses almost all the available space of the 12.3” Chromebook.

Internally, the Pixelbook is powered by an Intel Kaby Lake (refresh) processor (in i5 or i7 SKUs), from 8 GB to 16 GB of RAM, and 128 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB of SSD storage depending on the model you purchase. Google has set up the Pixelbook so that it can automatically pair with a Pixel smartphone for tethered data on the go. The battery in the Pixelbook is rated for 10 hours and has a quick charge feature that offers up to 2 hours of usage on a 15-minute charge.

The display is multi-touch, and users can optionally purchase the new (Wacom developed) active electrostatic Pixelbook Pen for $99 and use the AI-powered handwriting recognition and Google Assistant functionality with the stylus. Google claims the pen has 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity and 60-degrees of angular recognition, and thanks to machine learning, 10ms response time.

Speaking of Google Assistant, the Pixelbook features a Google Assistant key on the keyboard where the Windows key normally resides. The pen can be used to highlight text and interact with the AI assistant as well.

The Google Pixelbook is available for pre-order now at the Google Web Store and Best Buy and will be up for purchase by October 31st. The base model with an i5, 8GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage is $999. Moving to 256 GB of storage gets you to $1199 and upgrading all the specs to an i7, 16 GB RAM, and 512 GB NVMe SSD pushes the price to $1699.

The high-end Chromebook is a bit of an odd market, but the primarily web application-based Chrome OS continues to inch towards being able to take advantage of the local processing power with the ability to run apps not only from the Chrome Web Store but also run Android applications and store and run more stuff (like media and document creation) when offline. No doubt the Pixelbook looks classy, but it is putting itself in the same territory as iPad Pros and Surface products (Surface Books and Surface Pro tablets) as well as most of the premium ultrabook and thin and light laptop and tablets running full versions of Windows.

What are your thoughts on the new Pixelbook? Would you buy one? 

Source: Google