Ah, boss? I just overheard someone say they spotted the microphone!

Subject: General Tech | February 20, 2019 - 12:34 PM |
Tagged: nest, google, alphabet, iot

You may recall a news story last summer, about USB fans which were handed out to journalists that showed how oblivious many people are when it comes to security.  The recent news about the microphone in Google's Nest Secure shows that the lesson still has not been learned, though there is certainly an extra level to this particular story.  Google recently announced that they would be activating the microphone embedded in the Nest Secure, something which they completely neglected to document that their home security system contained.

The Nest Secure consists of several sensors to detect a window or door opening, as well as a base with a speaker to sound alerts and a keypad to verify the user.  You would not reasonably expect such a thing to contain a microphone, let alone an undocumented one.   Google insists that they simply forgot to include it in the parts list and that this is all just an innocent misunderstanding.  They are also asking you to believe that the microphone has never been enabled and that there is no possible way that it might have been secretly recording conversations. 

As a point in Google's favour Ars Technica does point out that every other product Google sells has a microphone in it, and so it would be reasonable to suspect one was present in the Nest.   In a world where your TV spies on you, an update can brick your shoes and you can buy smart locks that will ensure you will never be able to go home again, just to mention a few, having your security system spying on you does not seem too far fetched.

eavesdropping.PNG

“The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part.” According to the company, "the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.”

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Ars Technica

Get some deep Tensorflow lovin' instead of the cupidity which is the hallmark of today

Subject: General Tech | February 14, 2019 - 12:24 PM |
Tagged: tensorflow, google, Downtiration, deep learning, ai

Downtiration is not a word, but then again what you are about to hear isn't exactly a song either, though is closer to one than many of the insipid honey drenched hits you are likely to hear today.  A company by the name of Search Laboratory fed Google's Tenserflow software with 999 love songs and let it assemble the new benchmark for sentimental songbirds.  It is also a great example as to the current limitations of AI and Deep Learning, regardless of what the PR flacks would have you believe.

You can thank The Register for the next two irrecoverable minutes of your life.

"The song, entitled 'Downtiration Tender love' was created by media agency Search Laboratory and its "character-based Recurrent Neural Network," that uses Google's open-source machine learning software, TensorFlow loaded up with 999 snippets from the world's greatest love songs."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

Google Chrome 73 Getting Media Keys Support

Subject: General Tech | February 11, 2019 - 08:20 PM |
Tagged: media keys, google, chrome

While the desktop version of Google Chrome has just been updated to 72, the next version, 73, will allow websites to bind JavaScript events to media keys. This means that websites will be able to listen to those buttons and respond accordingly, even if Google Chrome is a background application. Some websites should support this immediately, because it was already available on mobile, although I am not sure which ones and how.

google-2019-media-keys.jpg

Image Credit: Google

The update should be useful to those of us who, for example, listen to YouTube playlists. I am curious what sort of controls Google will add to tune its behavior. For instance, I probably do not want to close every old YouTube tab that I have laying around just so I can use Spotify in peace.

The feature will be added to Chrome OS, macOS, and Windows. Linux users will need to wait a little bit for some reason.

Source: Google

Chrome browser is hungry!

Subject: General Tech | February 6, 2019 - 01:34 PM |
Tagged: chrome, google, Chromium Gerrit

Chrome developers are working to end one of the internet's long standing gags, that of Chrome munching every bit of RAM it can get it's hands on.  The Chromium Gerrit project is in very early days and we don't have much information on it all except that they are working to develop a version of Chrome which "sets budgets for certain resource types".  The idea being that when you stop interacting with a page or tab, Chrome will stop large scripts from running until you start using that tab again. 

In theory this should provide a way to reduce the amount of system resources an idle page gobbles up, and The Inquirer, among others, hopes this will be more effective that current add-ons designed to do this.  With Microsoft intending to move Edge to Chromium, this will benefit quite a few people if ever successfully implemented.

RAM.png

"Full details are held on an unreleased design document, and we're far too early for even the Canary channel users to be seeing it in the wild - it may never happen at all, though it's very much hoped that it will."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Inquirer

Lenovo Unleashes Smart Devices with Alexa and Google Assistants

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2019 - 02:11 AM |
Tagged: tablet, snapdragon 450, Lenovo, google, Android, Alexa

While Lenovo’s desktop displays and mobile PCs got most of the attention at CES earlier this month, the company also took the wraps off a number of smart devices for the home in the form of a Google Assistant powered clock and a pair of Alexa powered tablets.

The Lenovo Smart Clock features a four-inch touchscreen using an IPS panel and 480x800 resolution wrapped in a soft touch fabric shell. Around back there is a single USB port, mute mic button, and volume controls. The Smart Clock uses a single 3-watt speaker (6W max) and there is support for Google’s multi-room audio and Chromecast support integrated. Measuring 113.88x79.2x79.8mm and weighing 328 grams (0.72 lbs), Lenovo’s smart clock is powered by a MediaTek 81675 clocked at 1.5 GHz paired with 1GB RAM and 8GB of internal eMMC storage. Wireless support includes 802.11ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 5.0.

Lenovo Smart Clock_CES 2019.png

On the tablet front, Lenovo launched the Smart Tab P10 and Smart Tab M10 which officially launched January 19th. Both models are 10-inch tablets that run Android Oreo and include a docking station (the Smart Dock) that enables Alexa Show Mode. The Lenovo M10 is the budget option and the P10 dials up the specifications a bit. Both tablets have a 10.1” 1920x1200 IPS display, front-facing Dolby Atmos speakers (the M10 has two, the P10 has four), front and rear cameras (the M10 uses a 2MP camera up front and a 5MP rear camera while the P10 has a 5MP front camera and an 8MP rear camera), and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 processor. The M10 features a soft touch finish, measures 8mm thick and weighs in at 1.05 pounds while the P10 uses a dual glass design and is slightly thinner and lighter at 7mm and 0.97 pounds respectively. The Lenovo M10 has 2GB or 3GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of internal storage depending on the specific SKU along with a 4850 mAh battery. Stepping things up slightly the P10 offers up to 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and a 7,000 mAh battery. The P10 further adds a Fingerprint reader and extra sensors.

Lenovo Smart Tab_CES 2019.png

When docked the tablet can take advantage of dual 3-watt speakers and three far-field microphones to listen for Alexa activation commands while also being charged via the dock connector. The Smart Dock itself weighs 1.76 lbs and measures 2.57” x 11.16” x 1.96”.

Lenovo’s Smart Tab tablets are available now starting at $199.99 for the Smart Tab M10 and $299.99 for the Smart Tab P10. The Google Assistant-powered Smart Clock has a MSRP of $79.99 and is slated for a spring 2019 release.

What are your thoughts on the Alexa integrated tablets? I think it’s a nice-to-have feature, but I’m not sure I like Alexa enough to buy a tablet because of it. With that said, I will say that I was resistant to the various assistants (Cortana, Alexa, Google), and I still don’t use it on my phone, but the Echo and Echo Dots at the house are useful and can do some cool stuff! A tablet that can dock and use Alexa controls to display stuff could be handy for looking up recipies or watching the PC Perspective podcast (#JoshTekk) while in the kitchen.

Source: Lenovo

Chalk up another one for Chromebooks

Subject: General Tech | November 30, 2018 - 05:42 PM |
Tagged: pixel slate, google, chrome

The new Pixel Slate has an impressive 12.3", 3000x2000, 293ppi touchscreen, powered by the UHD 615 GPU on the Core i5-8200Y.  You will also find 8GB and a 128GB SSD, what you will not find is Thunderbolt on the 2 USB-C ports nor a headphone jack.  You do pay for the components and design, a Slate with those specs will cost you $1000.  Ars Technica were impressed by the Chromebook, especially the inclusion of fingerprint authentication.

Check it out here.

pixelslate11800533.jpg

"The Pixel Slate may not share a silver-and-white aesthetic with the Pixelbook, but it still has a clean design, now just with a darker hue. The all-metal back sports a deep navy color with a slightly lighter blue "G" on the top-left corner."

Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:

More Mobile Articles

Source: Ars Technica

Open the pod bay doors Google ...

Subject: General Tech | November 1, 2018 - 01:56 PM |
Tagged: google, security, iot, Home Hub

There is an undocumented web API in Google's Home Hub which is causing a bit of concern over at The Register and elsewhere.  This mysterious connection is available to anything on the same WiFi network as the Home Hub and it does not check for any authentication or tokens which means anyone connected to your WiFi can successfully connect and start to play with your settings.  Currently there is code which is capable of rebooting the device or to completely delete the current configured network, requiring you to rebuild it from scratch.  That could be very annoying if the delete command is coming from malware already inside the house, as it were. 

Hopefully there will be some basic authentication added ASAP, as that is a very blatant oversight.

Capture.PNG

"A spokesperson for Google confirmed that any device, computer, or smartphone on the Wi-Fi network of a Home Hub can command the assistant as described above – that includes mischievous malware on a PC, for example."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Chrome's anonym-ish incognito mode

Subject: General Tech | August 23, 2018 - 12:27 PM |
Tagged: chrome, google, incognito, obvious

To cut straight to the chase, if you are browsing anonymously and log into one of your accounts, you are no longer anonymous; a seemingly obvious fact which is making headlines today.  A Google rep feels this is being pushed by Oracle who are hoping to turn public opinion against Google, though how that would affect their ongoing legal battles is unclear.  The timing is rather unfortunate as the publics opinion of Google plummeted after being reminded that Google Maps always knows where you are if you have it installed. 

The Inquirer does remind us what is worth getting upset about; Google's unsubstantiated claim that they offer tools to prevent their products from tracking you and a way to delete your entire history. 

incognito-mode1.jpg

"A researcher from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee found that although the data collected appears to be anonymised, in reality, Google can retroactively identify it from the usernames and other account data used during the session."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Inquirer

Mozilla, Opera, and Google Pull Malicious Extension

Subject: General Tech | July 6, 2018 - 09:12 PM |
Tagged: Opera, mozilla, google, firefox, chrome

I don’t think this should surprise anyone, but it’s good to report on none-the-less. There was a popular browser extension, called Stylish, that allowed users to customize the pages that they visit, and share those customizations with their friends. It’s a cool concept, but it was later sold to another company. That new owner changed the extension to monitor its users.

Mozilla, Opera, and Google slapped it across the jaw with a banhammer.

valve-nope.jpg

If you go to Mozilla’s Firefox Add-ons site, Opera's Add-ons site, or Google’s Chrome Web Store, you will get a 404. If you already installed the extension, it will be removed from your browser. As such, you probably don’t need to worry about it, because the browser vendors went DEFCON 1 on it.

But just in case you haven’t yet got the kill signal (because you’re behind a limited VPN or something) be sure to remove “Stylish” from your browser.

This also raises the point about curated app stores: review isn't perfect. Sometimes malicious software can go unnoticed for years. It's best not to get too complacent.

Source: Sophos

Matt Pharr Returns to NVIDIA by Joining NVIDIA Research

Subject: General Tech | May 28, 2018 - 08:43 PM |
Tagged: pixar, nvidia, matt pharr, Intel, google

NVIDIA Research has another industry veteran working for them: Matt Pharr.

According to his blog post on the topic, he will be working on some balance of ray tracing, neural-networks, and how they can work together for computer graphics.

nvidia-2018-mattpharrgreenerpastures.jpg

Moving on to Green... er... pastures.

Matt Pharr has been in the industry for quite some time. In the 90s, he worked at Pixar on A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2. He then co-founded a company that made rendering software, which was bought by NVIDIA and eventually lead to Gelato. From there, he founded another company, Neoptica, which was acquired by Intel. While there, he worked alongside the Larabee team. He then joined Google in 2013, which has been his employer for the last five years.

He has been partially credited with physically based rendering, which is a way of defining computer-generated materials that is lighting independent. This allows artists to create content once and use it across multiple scenes, be it indoor or outdoor, light or dark.

We’re at an interesting point in time. We’re beginning to see hardware that can reasonably shoot rays into an environment to augment the data that rasterization provides us. At the same time, we’re also seeing the rise of neural networks that can hallucinate convincing, but physically inaccurate effects relatively cheaply. Graphics isn’t just evolving forward, it’s mixing laterally, too. There’s room for engines and technologies to behave wildly different from everyone else.