Tag Archives: internet

Netflix launches its own speed test website thanks to frustrating ISPs



Netflix_Web_LogoA big deal has been made of bandwidth when using Netflix, especially so after the streaming service had to arrange a payment agreement with Comcast because it was throttling customers — a fee that amounted to little more than protection money from a mob shakedown.

Netflix also publishes a monthly report that calls out ISPs for their speeds. Since that public shaming wasn’t really enough, the company is now releasing its own speed test so it’s customers can see exactly what it is they are paying for.

The new site, which goes by the name fast.com, is similar to some existing services. It’s the same, but different from what the company has been doing.

“This consumer speed test is different than our Netflix ISP Speed Index. Fast.com measures your personal Internet connection at any given time. The speed index measures average monthly speeds of actual Netflix streams during prime time hours”, Netflx claims.

The service works in every country and you don’t have to be a Netflix customer use it. It’s also free, which is always a plus for people.


Goodbye, Internet. Hello, internet



AP LogoIt always seemed like a curious thing to me. Does the word “internet” need to be capitalized? I’d seen it printed that way many times over the years. It sorta made sense. If you think of “the internet” as a singularly-defined, proper place, then it deserves the same type of grammatical treatment as California or Japan. And while it may seem that the world has just one internet, that really isn’t true. Some countries have government-run internets that can be closed off from the rest of the world. This means that there can technically be more than one internet. But there can only ever be one Ireland or one Botswana. That seems like as good a reason as any for the Associated Press (AP) to officially de-capitalize “internet” in its upcoming style guide.

And the AP isn’t stopping there. The organization has also decided it’ll be dropping the caps from the word “web” when referring to the World Wide Web (tho apparently, World Wide Web itself remains capitalized – this change only kicks in when the reference is shortened to just “web”).

As the AP describes it, the World Wide Web is a subset of the internet, like e-mail. And no one has ever capitalized e-mail.

Of course, the AP’s style guidelines are ultimately mere suggestions. No one will be kicked off the internet for referring to it as The Internet. Still, it’s nice to know that there’s something authoritative to point to in this matter.


VNC Roulette Will Make You Double-Check Your Remote Connections



VNC RouletteConnecting to a computer over a remote connection is nothing new. Most often, this technology is employed by people who need to connect to a work computer from home. Having a remote connection makes it possible for users to do all kinds of computer-related tasks without having to actually be on site with the host machine. This practice is typically referred to as Virtual Network Computing (VNC). Most modern computers have VNC capabilities built into their operating systems. This makes it relatively easy to get a remote connection up and running. But like any kind of connection made over the Internet, VNC’s should always be secured by a username and password. However, it turns out many VNC users haven’t done even this most basic level of connection security.

Hence, the creation of VNC Roulette. The VNC Roulette website is constantly scanning for open and unsecured VNC connections. When it finds one, it logs in and takes a screenshot of the remote computer’s desktop and then uploads it to the VNC Roulette website. Clicking the “Random Image” link at the top of the VNC Roulette homepage shows you a new random screenshot that has been captured by VNC Roulette.

Most VNC Roulette images are nondescript and fairly benign in nature. But some users have found some interesting things on the VNC Roulette site. For example, The Register found an image from an X-ray machine and another from a store’s CCTV system. Tom’s Guide found a screenshot of someone checking their Facebook page as well as several screenshots of what look like industrial control panels. The most interesting thing I’ve found so far is a cap of a Windows desktop urging the user to upgrade to Windows 10. (Image embedded above. Looks like they’re doing some home shopping as well. Imagine if the screenshot had happened a few minutes later while they were entering credit card numbers.)

Since VNC Roulette was able to capture these images, that means those computers are allowing open VNC connections without any security. In turn, someone with a fairly rudimentary understanding of network scanning could gain full access to those machines in short order. While VNC Roulette may be a fun voyeuristic waste of time, it also reminds us that it’s important to secure our remote connections. Otherwise, VNC Roulette could be the least of our online worries.


Xi3 Low Power PCs



Xi3 Corporation LogoDavid shows off Xi3‘s latest developments including the X7A modular computer and the Z3RO Pro. If you haven’t seen Xi3’s offerings before, you need to check them out – they’re small cube-like units totally unlike your normal case.

The X7A is aimed at the power user with a quad core AMD Trinity processor, Radeon graphics, 8 GB RAM, SSD (up to 1 TB) and more ports than you can shake a stick at. The modular part means that in future you’ll be able to upgrade components without replacing the whole unit. Prices start at $1099.

The Z3RO Pro is more budget friendly, starting at $549. With only a dual core processor and 4 GB RAM, it’s more suited to general office activities, but it will run two monitors. The killer feature here is that it consumes only 15W of power.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Philips Hue and IFTTT



Hue Personal Wireless LightingIn my first post on Philips Hue, I referred to “The Internet of things” where normally dumb devices such as fridges and washing machines are connected to the network. Having a washing machine with an IP address may mean that I can check whether the spin cycle has finished without getting out of my chair, but the real value of the internet of things comes when the devices start communicating among themselves. Not in a nefarious SkyNet way, but in a more practical sense: the washing machine counts the number of washes and when the soap is getting low, automatically orders your preferred brand from your preferred grocery service.

Obviously, it’s going to take a little while until this is a reality, but the web site IFTTT is beginning to show what is possible as more and more services are on-line and cloud-based. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “IThis, Then That” and reflects what IFTTT can do. It automates “If something happens, then I want that to happen”. In IFTTT-speak, a trigger on a channel generates an action on another (or the same) channel. A channel is typically an on-line or cloud-based service such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote or Weather. An example of what could happen is, “If I get a tweet on Twitter, copy it to Evernote” or “Every morning at 7.00 am, text me the weather forecast”. These are recipes, as IFTTT calls them, and there’s a large range of them already cooked up on the IFTTT web site.

It’s at this point in the story that Philips Hue comes in as a channel on IFTTT, which means that the lights in your home can be controlled by external events via the recipes on IFTTT. Here are some examples of recipes already available; at sunset, turn on the lights; when it’s freezing outside, turn the lights blue; when you receive an email from a particular person, blink the links; when the stockmarket closes down, turn the lights red. Some recipes are perhaps more useful than others, but the range of channels means that there’s tremendous flexibility. There are currently 77 channels on IFTTT and you can browse by channel, so it’s easy to see all the recipes that involve Philips Hue.

Setting up your Hue to work with IFTTT is two step process but it only has to be done once. The first step is to register with the Philips Hue website and allow the site to access the bridge unit within your home. Once you’ve done this and have a username and password, you can control your lights from outside your home using the Hue app on your smartphone too, so it’s probably something that most Hue owners have already done.

Back at IFTTT, the second step is then to activate your Hue channel. You’ll need to supply your Hue username and password, and authorise IFTTT to access your account.

Activate Hue

Now I’m going reuse a recipe that someone else has already created. In this instance, I’m going to flash the lights when I receive an email with the latest GNC podcast. I’ve already activated my Gmail channel.

Gmail to Hue

All I have to do is put in the email address – geeknews at gmail.com – and any time I get an email from Todd, the lights flash. This is the basic recipe; there are others that use keywords or other information likely to be in an email. If I want to, I can choose one particular light or all of them. Once the information is typed in and the recipe has been activated, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the latest podcast email to come in. Blink, blink.

That’s it. All pretty straightforward. If you are more adventurous, you can delve deeper into the recipes to customise them to your needs but there are plenty on IFTTT to get you started and provide inspiration. Philips Hue aside, the insight into the possibilities of the “Internet of things” is incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles on Philips Hue. It’s the first time that I’ve done this kind of short serial, so I’d welcome feedback in the comments on whether to actively search out similar opportunities.

Thanks again to Philips for the loan of the Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System.


Posting a Negative Review Could Harm You



b1keyboard02What happens when you receive bad customer service? For many people, the answer to that question is that they go online and post a negative review of the company that treated them badly. It turns out that, in at least some cases, doing so can result in harm to the person who posted the negative review.

KUTV.com and CNN both have written about a situation where a woman was fined by a company that she wrote a negative review about. One might consider it a cautionary tale about what can happen if you don’t read the fine print (or if you end up dealing with a less than honest company).

John Palmer bought his wife a Christmas gift from a particular website. The gift never arrived. The company sent the money back to John Palmer’s Paypal account. His wife, Jen Palmer, wrote a negative review of the company on Ripoffreport.com.

Three years later, the company sent an email to the couple that stated that they would be fined $3,500 if their negative review was not taken down within 72 hours. Long story short, the Palmers could not simply take down the review themselves (because it wasn’t posted on a website that they owned or had control of).

The couple refused to pay the fine. The company sent it to collections agents. The Palmer’s have now had their credit score damaged as a result of the situation. There may or may not be legal battles regarding what happened, but I will not speculate about that.

This holiday season, make sure you take a close look at the fine print before you make an online purchase. Some companies are including a “non-disparagement clause” in customer agreements. It is this clause that is being used by some companies to silence negative reviews.

Image computer keys keyboard enter shift by Imageafter.


GoDaddy first to launch new vanity domains



GoDaddy logo
GoDaddy logo

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has been opening the playing field recently, allowing for more top-level domain names. The days of the simple .com, .net. info and the rest are becoming a thing of the past. Replacing, well complimenting, then is a whole new breed that opens the floodgates to your wildest imagination.

At the forefront of this new wave is GoDaddy who today announced “today begins a new chapter in the expansion of the Internet, with the introduction of new Internet domain names.  GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar, is the first registrar to sell pre-registrations on the new, ICANN-approved domain name extensions, as part of a new program designed to expand the inventory of Internet website addresses”.

What’s included in this big update? According to the company, customers can now get ” .UNO, .MENU, .BUILD and .LUXURY, and more than 700 additional domain names are expected to launch over the next 24 months”.

There are some things to be considered before jumping feet first into this fire — “Each of the new domain extensions launching today for pre-registration have unique attributes. .UNO is a place online dedicated to Spanish speakers. .MENU gives restaurants a relevant name for their businesses. Contractors, designers, builders and more can use .BUILD. Those looking to appeal to a more affluent clientele, .LUXURY is available”.

Prices and exact rollout plans were not announced as part of this news,


20 Percent of Adult Americans Don’t Use the Internet



internet_mapI have a friend that hates the Internet. She cringes when the words “Facebook” or “Google” even come up. She’s been on only a couple of times – but otherwise I’ll get a call asking to print off some document she needs.

Even though more homes are investing in broadband Internet, the New York Times reports roughly 20 percent of American adults do not use the Internet at home, work or via mobile. Some are by choice, yet others do not have the money for this amenity.

76% of white American households and 57% of African-American households use the Internet. Approximately 50% of people 65 and older go online, while 75% under 65 use the Internet.

Average home Internet costs are around $30 a month.

Could You Live Without Internet for a Day? A Year, Perhaps?

Back in April, one man decided to go off-line for one year to see how he would fair. Paul Miller chronicled his life for the 365 days without an Internet connection. A very eye-opening article that makes you think about how different you might live.

Of course, that is Internet and not technology in general. It sounded like Paul still had a cell phone and used other technology to commute, eat, drink and get by.

I think back to around 1994, when I didn’t have a cell phone and I was on the Internet ever so sparsely. I had a university email address at that time and the University library was where I connected up. I spent more time building other things – I was a music major, so I also practiced a lot.

If that was to go away, I believe I could survive. I definitely would have to figure out a new path in life from podcaster/blogger.

What would you do if you went off-line for a year? Read more? Build projects? Let us know!


Google wants to give you internet from a balloon



When I read the most recent news from Google I had to check my calendar — sure enough it is not April 1st. However, what the search giant announced sounds fantastical. What more can you say about getting internet from a high altitude balloon? Well, that is the dream the company has announced.

“But for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach. And this is far from being a solved problem”.

Google talks of the serious challenges facing the internet connectivity for large portions of the world. The company aims to solve this with high-altitude balloons in stratospheric orbit. “Solving these problems isn’t simply a question of time: it requires looking at the problem of access from new angles. So today we’re unveiling our latest moonshot from Google[x]: balloon-powered Internet access”.

The company thinks it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below.

“It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters. The idea may sound a bit crazy—and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon—but there’s solid science behind it”.

This week Google started a pilot program in the Canterbury area of New Zealand with 50 testers trying to connect to the balloons. This is the first time Google has launched this many balloons (30 this week, in fact) and tried to connect to this many receivers on the ground, and promises to learn a lot that will help the company improve its technology and balloon design.


Has DNSChanger Infected Your Computer



Back in November 2011 a group of Estonian and Russian hackers were arrested for creating and running a botnet called DNSChanger. DNSChanger was true to its name, it changed the DNS address of the computer it controlled and directed it to  rogue DNS servers. These rogue DNS servers were shut down by the FBI and the Internet Systems Consortium, a nonprofit company was assigned to run the replacement DNS servers so those who had effected machines wouldn’t lose their connection to the Internet. That was over eight months ago and the time that the court assigned the Internet Systems Consortium to run the replacement DNS servers has run out. So on Monday, July 9, these replacement DNS servers will be shut down. The computers that are still connected to these DNS servers will no longer be able to connect to the Internet. There are an estimate 300,000 computers that are still effected. These are not only personal computers, but also computers run by Fortune 500 companies.

The FBI has set up a site where you can check to see if your system has been effected and what to do if it has been. Most likely if you have kept your computer updated and have run your anti-malware and virus programs you will be ok. However we all know someone who never updates their system either because they are too lazy or for some reason believe they are invulnerable. If you know someone like that, suggest they go to the site the FBI set up. If they decide not too, you may get a call Monday morning if you are the computer “expert” of the family, with them screaming they can’t connect to the Google.

The most interest part of this story of course was not the DNSChanger bot, itself, but how the FBI and the court handled it. They could have shut it down immediate and the results would have been the same for those 300,000 plus 270,00 more. By delaying the shut down they did allow those 270,000 to recover. However it seems to me they dropped the ball in getting the word out. This didn’t become big news until the past week. I am not sure if the court and the FBI is to be blamed for this, or is it the media’s fault for not getting the word out. Whose ever fault it is, communication was lacking.