Tag Archives: internet

Internet Use has Plateaued in the United States



The Pew Research Center found that the number of adults in the United States that said they use the internet, social media, own a smartphone or own a tablet computer are nearly identical to the amount who said the same in 2016. Parts of the population have reached near saturation level.

Perhaps that isn’t surprising. It might alarm social media companies who are constantly craving more users. It may also be disconcerting to companies that strive to sell everyone a brand new version of their phone, tablet, or computer every year or so.

Pew Research Center found that there are noteworthy numbers of non-users that are far from reaching the saturation point. Why? One answer is that the ability to use the internet, and own devices, depends on your income level and access.

Pew Research Center found, in a 2015 survey, that 43% of non-broadband users cited costs as the primary reason why they didn’t have broadband at home. The cost could be of the broadband subscription itself, or the cost of a computer. A survey done earlier in 2018 found that six in ten Americans living in rural areas said that access to high speed internet is a problem in their local communities.

This is a big problem, because the cost of internet access appears to be excluding the poor and those who live in rural areas. Those who cannot get online are limited in ways others are not. Today, people use the internet to register to vote, look up information about candidates, set up automatic bill pay, read their local newspaper, find a job, and connect with potential employers via email.

In my opinion, broadband companies, and the companies that sell smartphones and computers, have the potential to reach this excluded group. All they have to do is lower their prices. It would result in equal access to the internet, regardless of a person’s income. Caring about people over profit would benefit everyone.

Image from Pixabay


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.