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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Everything you need to know about the computer chip security mess By Francis Navarro,

Boy, the computer security world has been abuzz because of the two major critical chip flaws that were recently brought into the public eye.

The security issues, known as Meltdown and Spectre, are probably the worst bugs found in processors ever and they might fundamentally change how chips will be designed moving forward.

Read on to learn what we know so far about these massive security vulnerabilities.

Speculative execution: the heart of these flaws

Both Meltdown and Spectre exploit a process called "speculative execution," a capability built into every modern processor.

This process makes chips faster by allowing them to predict what tasks your gadget may need and execute them beforehand whether you actually need a task or not. If a task is not needed, then it is discarded.

As demonstrated by Google's Project Zero team, attackers can then exploit flaws caused by this predictive process to access protected areas of a system's memory.

Due to how data is being cached in these areas, hackers can then read and steal sensitive information such as passwords, encryption keys, login info and even files. Anything cached is fair game.
Keep in mind that these flaws are entirely a new class of attacks, meaning, this is the first time a processor's "speculative execution" process has been found to be exploitable.

Since this process is being used as a core optimization technique by all modern chips, this discovery will potentially change everything and it will require a redesign of how chips work. Yep, it really sounds bad, folks.

Note: Meltdown is known as Variant 3 of this type of attack, specific to Intel chips. Spectre attacks are Variants 1 and 2 and these are said to impact AMD, ARM, and Intel chips.


The first flaw that was reported by "The Register" is officially known as Meltdown. This critical design flaw was discovered in Intel processing chips that could let attackers gain access to protected kernel memory areas and steal sensitive information like passwords, login data, security keys and files that are still cached on your computer's disk.

To fix this particular flaw, the kernel's memory has to be separated from user processes completely (known as Kernel Page Table Isolation). The downside - according to initial tests, this isolation was found to slow down your Intel-based computers.


Spectre is the name the two other variants of this new class of attacks and it can potentially be even worse than Meltdown.

First, unlike Meltdown, which reportedly primarily affects Intel chips, the Spectre bug can impact chips from every major manufacturer - ARM, AMD, and Intel. This puts almost every computer, smartphone and tablet at risk of Spectre attacks.

Secondly, while Meltdown can be addressed with software patches, Spectre appears to be a fundamental flaw in how processors work and a software patch may not be able to fix it.
Spectre also abuses flaws in a processor's speculative execution process and does it by taking advantage of the timing delay between the CPU's data cache and the validity checks for a memory access call.

Fortunately, on the flipside, it looks like Spectre is harder to exploit than Meltdown.

Intel's response

Intel confirmed that the design flaws exist and it is working on a solution that will not significantly bog down computers. Since Meltdown is the only variant that is currently patchable via software, we're assuming that the company is referring to this specific flaw.

The company also stated that the problem is not unique to Intel chips. Technically this is true because, as mentioned earlier, the Spectre variants affect AMD and ARM chips, as well.

Intel also disputes the claims regarding the performance hits that the fix will bring. The company stated that the slowdowns are dependent on the tasks at hand and average users will not be significantly affected.

"Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time," Intel wrote in an official statement.

Furthermore, Intel stated that its updates for all types of Intel machines will render them immune from BOTH Meltdown and Spectre attacks.

AMD's response

Advanced Micro Devices aka AMD, also issued its own statement regarding these flaws. Contrary to earlier reports that stated that AMD processors are impacted by at least one Spectre variant, AMD believes that its chips are not vulnerable to all three variants of the attack, including Spectre.

According to AMD:
"To be clear, the security research team identified three variants targeting speculative execution. The threat and the response to the three variants differ by microprocessor company, and AMD is not susceptible to all three variants. Due to differences in AMD's architecture, we believe there is a near zero risk to AMD processors at this time."

Since the Spectre flaw is apparently a fundamental design flaw in virtually all modern chips made in the last 20 years, we'll have to wait for third-party security researchers to confirm AMD's claims.

What now?

Google's Project Zero wrote that there is no single fix for all variants and each requires a specific method of protection.

Fortunately, it is believed that the vulnerabilities have NOT been exploited as of yet and there is no evidence that hackers have abused or are actively abusing them. Technical details about the flaws are still scarce, buying hardware and software vendors some time.

However, since the existence of these flaws is now publicly known, issuing patches and security updates to mitigate these flaws will be the first order of business for hardware and software vendors.

What can you do to protect yourself against the chip flaws?

In the meantime, prepare for these inevitable updates that you must apply as soon as you can to protect yourself from the "chip-ocalypse."


Microsoft will likely push its fixes in this month's Patch Tuesday updates for supported Windows systems. Most Windows machines are set to download and install updates automatically by default. If you haven't changed your automatic update settings then you should be fine.

On Windows 10, click Start (Windows logo), choose "Settings," select "Update & Security," then on the "Windows Update" section, click on "Advanced Options." (Note: the "Windows Update" section is also handy for showing you updates that are currently being downloaded or applied.) Under "Advanced Options," just make sure the drop down box is set to "Automatic."


Apple has also confirmed that its products are also affected by the chip flaws. The company wrote in a post that it has already released mitigations for Meltdown in iOS 11.2, macOS 10.12.2, and tvOS 11.2. This means Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs are all impacted by either Meltdown or Spectre variants so make sure you keep all your Apple gadgets up to date. Note: The Apple Watch is not affected by Meltdown.

Google and Android

Google stated that it already issued security patches for its Nexus and Pixel phones. Chromebooks also received patches later this week.

Although the software fixes are ready, rollouts for other Android phones from companies like Samsung and LG, for example, will depend on the carrier and the phone manufacturers themselves.

Keep checking for the latest updates for your Android gadget and apply them as soon as you can.
To manually update your Android gadget, Go to Settings >> scroll down, click on 'About Phone' or 'About Tablet.' (If you have a tabbed settings menu then this will appear in the 'general' section) >> click software update >> click install now, install overnight, or later.

Web Browsers

Since Meltdown can also be initiated via web browsers using JavaScript applications, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Microsoft Edge updates have incoming updates, as well.
Firefox 57.0.4 has security patches for both Meltdown and Spectre exploits by disabling a feature called SharedArrayBuffer. Firefox ordinarily updates itself when you open it by default. To manually update, visit for the latest version.

Google recommends turning on an optional feature in its Chrome browser called Site Isolation to protect against the chip flaws for now. Proper security patches will be included in Chrome 64, due out on January 23.

To turn on Chrome's Site Isolation, paste this on your Chrome address bar: chrome://flags#enable-site-per-process, then click Enable on "Strict Site Isolation."

For more information about Chrome's Site Isolation, click here.

Apple is set to release an update in the next few days for Safari for Macs and iOS to mitigate the Meltdown and Spectre exploits. Apple claims that its Safari fixes have no significant impact on its speed.

Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer 11
As mentioned earlier, Microsoft will likely push its security fixes with this month's Patch Tuesday updates and this will include patches for Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer 11.

And don't forget - Always follow computer safety basics

Aside from keeping your gadgets updated with the latest software, following basic computer safety practices should protect you from these threats.

Since these flaws still require malicious code to execute on your computer or gadget, avoid clicking on unknown links and attachments on emails and refrain from installing software and apps from unofficial sources.

Avoid clicking on website ads too that may harbor malicious code. If you want to take it a step further, you can turn off Javascript on your browser (this will limit functionality, however.)

As bad as it looks, there's actually no real reason to panic. Performance hit or not, the incoming patches should mitigate Meltdown's flaw. Spectre, on the other hand, is difficult to execute so its widespread impact will be fairly limited.

Spectre, on the other hand, likely can't be fixed by a simple software patch and security pundits are saying that it might take a new generation of chips to completely eradicate it. Hopefully, updates can still be issued to at least lessen its potency.

A few questions

With these revelations, we can't help but pose some interesting questions. First, why did it take more than 20 years to discover these flaws? Does it take extensive technical and software engineering skills to pull them off in the first place?

Did the chip makers know something that they didn't want the rest of the computing world to know? Considering it will require a total rethinking of how chips are designed, didn't they factor how they can affect a processor's speed?

Are they expecting us to relegate all our old flawed gadgets to that big tech recycle bin and wait for newer chips that, of course, will be immune to these flaws? Just asking.

Apple's HomePod speaker: Either way late or way earlyby David Pogue

Apple (AAPL) has never been ashamed to be late to the party. The iPod wasn’t the first pocket music player; the iPhone wasn’t the first cellphone; the Apple Watch wasn’t the first smartwatch. But in each case, Apple won the category by making its product better

On Friday, you’ll be able to buy the HomePod, Apple’s answer to the smart speakers from companies like Amazon, Google, and Sonos. It is indeed way late to the party, even by Apple’s definition — last June, Apple said that it would ship the HomePod in time for the holidays.

But the HomePod is better only in the “speaker” sense. Despite all of those delays, despite the chance Apple has had to study its rivals, despite the fact that Apple says it’s been working on the HomePod for six years, the “smart” part of this speaker is way behind.

Which is so weird. Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, was born before Alexa, “OK Google,” and Cortana. It had a huge head start. It has no excuse now for being the dumbest smart assistant on the market.
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The Apple HomePod is here at last: get a black or white pod in your home.

Music first

You hear people shrieking about the HomePod’s price, which is $350. “I could get an Amazon Echo Dot for $40!”

Well, yeah. And instead of buying a Tesla, you could buy a bike off of Craigslist. It’s just not the same thing.

This thing is built. It’s a heavy, squat cylinder (6.8 inches by 5.6 inches), available in black or white. Rubber on the bottom, cloth mesh around the sides, touch-sensitive screen on the top. Even the power cord is dressed up.
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The HomePod’s cord is wrapped in fabric, too.
The touchscreen on the top never displays words or recognizable pictures; it exists solely to offer a cool, colorful swirling LED light whenever HomePod is speaking or listening. Then it goes black.
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Apple says that your music habits are encrypted and anonymized before anything’s transmitted to its servers.
Setting up the HomePod is incredibly easy: You just bring your iPhone near it and tap Set Up.
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Things get off to a very easy start.
After a few setup screens (including, inevitably, an Apple Music ad), your Apple account password and home Wi-Fi password get transmitted automatically, and then you’re good to listen.
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The iPhone walks you through the HomePod setup. No iPhone? No HomePod for you!
Assuming you’re among the 40 million subscribers of the Apple Music service ($10 a month), you’re in for a glorious ride. You can ask it to start playing music by genre, band, song name, album name, whatever. “Hey Siri — play Coldplay.” “Hey Siri — play me some 80’s dance tunes.” “Hey Siri — play ‘The Wall.’” “Hey Siri, next track.” “Hey Siri, volume up.” “Hey Siri, stop.”

You tap the top to pause playback, or tap + and – to adjust the volume. You can also double-tap for “next track,” or triple-tap for “previous track.”
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You can tap these buttons for volume adjustment—or just speak your volume requests.
The audio quality will floor you. Let’s just get one thing straight: The HomePod sounds better than the Google Home Max ($400), the Sonos One ($200), or the Amazon Echo Plus ($150), let alone all the smaller Echos and Google Homes. This isn’t a matter of opinion; it’s a universal reaction, based on blind side-by-side blind listening tests I’ve conducted with listeners from all walks of demographics. (I’ll post the video here on Friday.) The HomePod has the most balanced midrange, the most detailed highs, and a crisp, muscular, musical bass the other little guys can’t touch.
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From left: The Amazon Echo Plus ($150), Google Home Max ($400), Apple HomePod ($350), Sonos One ($200). The HomePod sounds best.
Maybe that’s because the HomePod contains seven tweeters, arrayed in a circle, and a gigantic, 4-inch woofer, capable of moving 0.8 inches, pointing out the top. Or, as Apple describes it, “array of seven beam-forming tweeters, each with its own amplifier and transducer. And each custom designed with a precision acoustic horn that focuses sound for tremendous directional control.” But you knew that.
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Here’s what the HomePod looks like naked.
At top volume, the HomePod is powerful enough to fill your entire downstairs, or your entire yard. It gets really loud — so loud that Siri asks if you’re sure you want to crank it that loud before doing so. And guess what? It doesn’t distort at 100 percent, like the Google Home Max does.

The HomePod also contains six microphones. They’re designed to pick up your voice commands even when you’re across the room, even when it’s blasting music. (My 13-year-old is fond of subjecting his parents to the following prank. He tells our Amazon Echo: “Alexa, play ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ at 100% volume.” The Echo complies — but at that point, it’s impossible for it to hear any further commands! There’s no way to stop it except to get off the couch, march over, and tap it. The HomePod, on the other hand, can always hear you. You can say: “Hey Siri — tell me about this album.” “Hey Siri — who’s this singer?” “Hey Siri — play more like this.” And so on.)

But Apple says that the six microphones also serve to sample the proximity of the walls and ceilings around it. It instantly reconfigures what’s coming out of those seven tweeters so that the important stuff, like the band and the singers, come out toward the room, and the ones on the sides handle reverb, applause, and the like.

I don’t know about all that — there’s really no way to tell if all that’s happening. But never mind. The HomePod sounds really, really great.

Siri second

If you’re among the 39 million Americans who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home, you already have certain expectations of the things it can do for you. You can ask about sports, weather, news, measurements, facts, timers, reminders, and so on.

And you can voice-control your home, to the extent that you’ve bought Apple HomeKit-compatible thermostats, lights, and so on. Unfortunately, Google and, especially, Amazon are way, way ahead on smart-home compatibility. Siri can’t even control anything from Nest, which is probably the most popular brand.

But the sad, stunning fact is that the HomePod can’t do a lot of the things that the other speakers can— or even things Siri on your iPhone can. It can’t call you an Uber. It can’t tell you what’s on your calendar. It can’t set up more than one timer at a time (sorry, kitchen chefs). It can’t check your email.

It also can’t make free speakerphone calls to any number without needing a phone, the way the Amazon Echo and Google Home can. You can use the HomePod for dictating texts and reading incoming ones, if your iPhone is within range; and the HomePod can be a speakerphone for the iPhone.

But the HomePod can’t tell apart different voices in your family, the way the Google and Amazon speakers can. So if the texting feature is on, there’s nothing to stop other people from sending texts “from you” while you’re in the shower, or listening to your incoming texts when you’re upstairs. For a company that touts its dedication to personal privacy, Apple dropped the ball on this one.

Oh, and while we’re categorizing our disappointments: You can’t set up two HomePods as a stereo pair, as you can with Google or Sonos smart speakers. Nor is the HomePod multi-room; you can’t say “Play Barry White in the bedroom,” as you can with its rivals. Apple says that both of those features will come later in the year. (What exactly were you doing during those six years, Apple?)

Velvet handcuffs

The most astonishing limitation of the HomePod is that you must own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to set it up, and you must be an Apple Music subscriber to voice-control music. (It can also play what’s in your iTunes or iTunes Match libraries.) Unless you’re all-in on Apple, you can’t even use this thing.

That’s right. Apple’s $350 smart speaker has never heard of Spotify, the music service that’s twice as popular as Apple Music (70 million subscribers). No Spotify, no Pandora, no Google Play, no iHeart Radio.

Now, you can start up these services on their various iPhone apps and send the playback through the HomePod. But you can’t command them by voice, which is the whole point.

“Totally understandable,” you might say. “Apple runs a music service — they want to drive customers to that.” Well, sure, but so do Google and Amazon. Yet their speakers let you control Spotify and other services by voice. And they don’t require one phone brand or another.

For most people looking for a smart speaker, I’d recommend the Sonos One (here’s my review). Its audio quality is just shy of the HomePod’s (you’d notice a difference only in a direct A/B comparison test). It contains Amazon Alexa and “OK Google.” It’s multi-room, it’s stereo-pairable, and — here’s the kicker — you can buy two for the price of a single HomePod.

Bringing HomePod

Being late to the party is an Apple hallmark — but so is starting out with a lame 1.0 version. The first iPod worked only with Macs, not Windows. The first MacBook Air was painfully slow. The first Apple Music app was a hot, confusing mess. And how about the Apple Watch 1.0? Yeah — nobody touched it.

Maybe that’s the master plan for the HomePod, too.
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It’s a 1.0 product, for sure.
We already know that Apple is working on letting you use two in a stereo pair, and developing multi-room features (“Hey Siri, play Taylor Swift in the playroom”). So maybe Apple’s also assembling a team of voice engineers to bring Siri out of its 2011 rut. Maybe a software update will bring speaker-independent voice recognition, so each family member can ask about their own calendars, texts, and playlists. And maybe Apple’s lawyers are furiously hammering out the deals with Spotify and Pandora even as we speak.

Until then, the HomePod sounds amazing only in the literal sense. Otherwise, it’s best suited only to a core audience of true-blue Appleheads: people who use the iPhone, signed up for Apple Music, and, preferably, live alone.

In other words, maybe the HomePod isn’t late to the party. Maybe it’s just really, really early.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Microsoft says older Windows versions will face greatest performance hits after Meltdown, Spectre patches By Zack Whittaker for Zero Day

Microsoft has confirmed that users of older versions of Windows should expect to "notice a decrease in system performance" after they apply system patches to protect against the Meltdown and Spectre processor bugs.

The bugs, which affect mostly Intel processors but also some ARM and AMD chips, expose the majority of the world's computers and phones to speculative execution side-channel attacks.
A successful attack could read portions of protected, sensitive memory, such as passwords and other secrets.

Microsoft released security updates on January 3 to fix the issue at the operating system level. Intel also issued updates for its microcode.

In changing the way that Windows accesses the computer's memory, Microsoft has conceded that users may experience performance hits -- depending on the age of their computer's processor and version of Windows.

Microsoft's Terry Myerson said in a blog post that Windows 7 and Windows 8 users running older processors, like 2015-era Haswell or older chips, will be most affected by performance issues.

20 amazing things you didn't know Google photos could do By Amanda Kooser,

You take a lot of pictures and they all have to go somewhere, so you store them in Google Photos. You use it as an archive to back your snaps up to the cloud. Maybe you search it from time to time or use it to share a photo with friends. If that’s all you’re doing with Google Photos, then you’re missing some of the service’s coolest features.

Get ready to become a next-level Google Photos user when you discover all the amazing things it can do.

Handy tips and unexpected features

1. Download all of your photosDo you have a desire to archive your photos outside of Google’s cloud storage? You can do it using Google Takeout. Takeout lets you download all or just some of your Google data. You can select just Photos and even choose exactly which albums to include in the download. Keep in mind this could be a very large download if you have a lot of photos stored.

2. Get the Google Photos iOS appGoogle Photos isn’t just for Android. Download the app for your iOS devices and you can enjoy the same backup, archiving, search, and storage features on your iPad or iPhone.

3. See the original photo while editingHere’s a nifty, under-the-radar feature of the Google Photos app: When you’re editing a photo and playing with a filter, just touch and hold down (or click in a browser) on the image to see the original and quickly compare your edits with how the picture first looked. Lift off to see the changed version again.

4. Automate backup on your Mac or PCYou probably don’t even think twice about Google Photos handling images on your smartphone, but what about your Windows or Mac computer? Download Google’s Backup and Sync app for Mac or PC and you can automatically back up images from your desktop or laptop.

5. Watch for Google Assistant notificationsIf you like surprises, then keep an eye out for alerts from the Google Photos assistant feature. It will automatically create stylized photos, collages, and photo albums you might find fun. You can choose to save these automatic creations, ignore them, or delete them. You may also receive “Rediscover this day” alerts showing images from a point in the past. It can be a delightful reminder of good times from years ago.

6. Scan your old photos with PhotoScanOne of the easiest ways to add real photographs to your Google Photos library is to use Google’s PhotoScan app for Android and iOS. Follow the on-screen instructions to capture your pictures and then organize and access them with Photos. It’s an easy way to bring vintage photographs into the modern age.

7. Move photos to archiveClear out the clutter by moving unneeded photos to your archive. Just select the three dots to access the photo-options menu and choose “Archive.” Occasionally, Google will automatically suggest photos to move, which you can review and archive as you like.

8. Un-delete photosIf you trashed a photo and now want it back, just open up the main Google Photos menu, select trash, and then choose the image or images you want to restore. Photos remain in the trash for 60 days before being permanently deleted.

Discover seven useful Google features you’re not using.

Sharing is caring

9. Chromecast your photos to a TVIf you have a Chromecast hooked up to your TV, then you can open up your Google Photos app on your phone, click on the “cast” icon in the corner, and share your favorite snaps on the big screen for everyone to enjoy.

10. Link up with Google DriveSync your Google Drive with Google Photos by heading to your settings and turning on the Google Drive option. Now you can see and edit photos and videos from Drive right in Photos. Next, head to Google Drive, open the settings and check the option to “Create a Google Photos folder” to easily access your images on My Drive.

11. Add a photo to a Gmail emailThere’s a super-simple way to add a pic from Google Photos into an email when you’re using Gmail from a web browser. Look for the “Insert Photo” icon at the bottom of the compose window. It looks like a little landscape picture. Click on this to access your Photos archive and choose which snaps to include.

12. Hide your location from shared photosGoogle collects location information for photos, which can be very helpful for organizing and searching your archive, but it might not be something you want to reveal when you share images with others. Head to Settings, open your Sharing preferences and select “Remove geolocation in items shared by link” to hide that information for any images or videos you share via a link.
Learn five Google photo tricks only the pros know.

Creation tools

13. Build a photo bookAs much fun as it is to look at photos on a screen, sometimes you just want to hold a real book in your hand. Use the “Photo books” feature to build and order physical books stocked with your lovely images.

14. Make an animationReady to get moving? Select “Assistant” in Photos, choose “Animation,” and then select anywhere from two to 50 photos and let Google create a fun animation from the images. This is especially entertaining if you have a sequence of action shots that go together.

15. Create a slideshow movieLook under the “Assistant” feature in your Google Photos app for the “Movie” option. This lets you select up to 50 photos or videos to put into a slideshow video. You can customize your creation by choosing different filters and selecting a soundtrack. Google offers a selection of fun tracks ranging from dogs barking “Blue Danube” to upbeat jazzy tunes. You can share your movie creation with friends or publish it to social media or YouTube.

The power of search

16. Search for places and objectsGoogle applies its high-level search expertise to sorting your photos, so you can search by location or look for particular objects. For example, “camping” or “tent” should pull up images of your outdoor adventures while “Hawaii” should bring up your fabulous vacation shots.

17. Locate photos using datesIf you use Photos in a web browser, then look for the subtle timeline of dates along the side. You can use this to quickly navigate to a specific time period. You can also type a month or year or even a specific date into the search box to find photos.

18. Find your adorable pet picturesGoogle uses machine learning to visually sort out different pets. So go ahead and search your photos by “cat,” “dog,” or even “tabby” or “golden retriever.” The system isn’t perfect, but it works surprisingly well.

Learn how to organize your photos so they’re not a big mess anymore.
19. Label people by nameClick on the search bar and look for the row of faces that appear in little round circles. Click on a face and you now have an option to add a name by typing it in or choosing it from your contacts. Pro tip: you can also name your pets this same way.

20. Search by emojiPop open your Google Photos app, go to the search bar, and, instead of typing in text, choose an emoji for your search term. A cat emoji will return feline photos, a happy-face emoji will get pictures of smiling people, and a birthday cake will give you birthday-related images. This might not be the most practical way to search your photos, but it sure is fun.

Grab these new Apple updates now to protect you from the Spectre chip flaw! By Francis Navarro,

By now, you've probably heard about the two critical flaws that are affecting virtually every processing chip made in the last two decades.

The flaws, dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, are in all computer processors including home computers, mobile devices, and servers. This includes Linux, Windows, and macOS machines.

With Apple confirming that its products are also affected by these flaws, you'll need to grab these new updates to protect your gadgets.

New updates for macOS and iOS

Apple has just released important security updates for both iOS and macOS, specifically addressing the Spectre chip vulnerability.

Make sure you update your iPhone or iPad to iOS 11.2.2 and your Macs to macOS High Sierra 10.13.2 to protect yourself from any Spectre exploits that may surface.

If you can recall, Apple also stated that it has already released mitigations and fixes for the other flaw, Meltdown, in earlier updatesNote: The Apple Watch is not affected by Meltdown nor Spectre.
Having the latest patches will then protect your iOS and macOS gadget from both Meltdown and Spectre.

According to the company's analysis, although Spectre is difficult to exploit on a Mac or iOS device, it can potentially be initiated via JavaScript running on a web browser so these updates include Safari fixes. According to Apple's test, these fixes don't have a significant impact on Safari's performance.
Apple will also continue developing and testing further protections against these critical chip flaws and release them in future updates for iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS so keep an eye on those and update as soon as they roll out.

For now, Apple said that although Macs and iOS devices can be affected by the flaws, "there are no known exploits impacting customers at this time."

Since exploiting these chip flaws require malicious code running on your Mac or iOS gadget, Apple recommends downloading software and apps only from trusted sources like the App Store.

How to Update:

Here's how you update your Apple gadgets:


Go to your "Settings" app and select "General." From there, select "Software Update" and your device will begin to check for updates. Then select "Download and Install" to get the latest version.
To get the update from iTunes, connect your device to a computer, open iTunes, and select your device from the menu in your iTunes Library. Select "Summary" and then click on "Check for Update." Finally, select "Download and Update" and wait for the update to sync to your device.


To get macOS updatesclick the Apple icon on the taskbar (top-left corner of your screen), then click "About This Mac" then click "Software Update" on the window that appears. Alternatively, you can use the Updates pane of the Mac App Store to check for the latest Mac software updates.

Apple TV

For the fourth-gen Apple TV, go to Settings >> System>> Software Updates >> Update Software.

Apple Watch

For watchOS, you will need to connect your Apple Watch to your iPhone. Once connected, open the Watch app on your iPhone, select General and Software Update to access the update. Make sure your Apple Watch is in range of your Wi-Fi connected iPhone and it is charged to at least 50 percent.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How to stop the capital 'I' from turning into gibberish on your iPhone By Michael Simon

From the Department of Really Strange and Mystical Bugs comes this: Some iPhone users running the latest version of iOS 11 can’t type a capital “I.” That means that millions of people who were trying to text their friends, “I got my new iPhone X!!” over the weekend were actually sending out this message instead: “A [?] got my new iPhone X!!”

The iOS 11.1 bug affects the autocorrect engine on phones, and changes a capital “I” to an “A” alongside an unreadable Unicode symbol. While it’s pretty low on the seriousness scale, it’s still an annoying bug to say the least. And it’s hardly uncommon. All over Twitter, unaware celebrities were posting “A [?]” all over the place. Apple, of course, is working on a fix—the Wall Street Journal reports that we could see an iOS update that patches it sometime this week—but in the meantime, there’s a workaround. The iOS 11.2 public beta 2 update fixes this bug, so if no fix rolls out to the non-beta channel this week, it will at least be fixed as soon as 11.2 rolls out to all users.
If you type a capital “I” and it autocorrects to this bug, you can do one of three things:
  • Turn off autocorrect.
  • Press the leftmost text option to tell autocorrect to keep the capital “I” instead of changing it. This will need to be done every time you type a capital “I” and can get tedious.
  • Set up a text replacement for lowercase “i.”
text replacement ios bug IDG
If your capital I’s look weird on you iPhone, try setting up a text replacement.
Text replacement is the thing that expands “OMW” to “On my way!” on new iPhones, and it can be used to alleviate this particular headache. Head over to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement and tap the plus symbol to add a new rule. Then type an upper-case “I” for the phrase and a lower-case “I” for the shortcut. That will tell your phone to substitute a capital I whenever a stadalone lowercase “I” is typed.

Now, you’ll only need to train your brain to stop telling your finger to hit the shift key before typing a standalone “I,” which will probably be harder than setting up the new text replacement. And once Apple fixes it, you’ll need to unlearn what you just unlearned.

The impact on you at home: This is one of those bugs that’s more funny than fatal, but it’s still a nuisance—and Apple has yet to disclose what is causing the glitch in the first place. But while you wait for Apple to push out the iOS 11.1.1 update or 11.2, at least this fix will help you regain your sanity.

This story, "How to stop the capital 'I' from turning into gibberish on your iPhone" was originally published by Macworld.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

When to buy SD, HD or UHD streaming movies and TV shows By Francis Navarro,

With Apple finally embracing 4K movies with the new Apple TV, you are probably wondering, "What's the big deal?" You've been hearing the 4K/UHD buzzword for years now but maybe you weren't really paying attention since it all sounded like marketing mumbo jumbo to you.

A few years ago, that may have been true since there was hardly any 4K content available and those expensive state-of-the-art UHD TV sets seemed like total wastes of money. Only early tech adopters, avid videophiles and people with broad swaths of disposable income seemed interested.

Fast forward to today, with cheaper 4K TV sets dropping and Apple pushing 4K content to the mainstream, it's now safe to say that 4K has finally arrived.

While 4K streaming video is nothing new - Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu have been offering this format for a while now - with Apple and iTunes in the mix, we'll surely be seeing more of this UHD option getting promoted everywhere when we rent or purchase videos online.

But what does all this mean and why do some video resolutions cost more than others?

What are video resolutions?

The three streaming formats available right now are Standard Definition (SD), High Definition (HD) and Ultra High Definition (UHD).

Basically, the difference between SD, HD, or UHD formats is the number of pixels that comprise the video image. Pixels are the small dots that combine to "draw" the images you see on screen. The higher the resolution, the more pixels you have. And with more pixels, you get a sharper and more detailed picture.

The numbers commonly attached to these formats represent their vertical resolutions. As you can see in the comparison image below, there's a significant difference between the variety of resolutions.
In the subsequent sections, I'll explain when and why you'll choose one format over another.

SD Quality

Standard Definition or SD quality is the cheapest format you can rent or buy. It is also known as DVD quality since DVD movies also max out at this resolution: 858 x 480 (480p).

On smaller screens like those old tube TVs or even smartphones, SD quality may be good enough. Some people say that the resolution differences between SD and HD are not perceivable on small screens so you're just wasting the extra pixels pretty much.

SD video files are also smaller in size and take up less bandwidth than HD or UHD videos. Since SD videos are typically cheaper to rent, if you're planning on renting a quick movie on your smartphone while on the road, SD is the smarter choice. But take note, I said renting and not buying, there's a big difference. More on that later.

If you're streaming off Netflix or Amazon Video on mobile, SD quality is also more efficient, since it takes less bandwidth. In fact, most carriers are already throttling streaming videos to SD to relieve their networks of congestion.

HD Quality

720p and 1080p videos fall under HD quality. 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) is simply known as HD (or sometimes semi-HD) and 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) is known as Full HD.

If you're watching at home on a TV that's at least 32 inches and at least 720p compatible, then paying the extra cost to get the HD version of a movie is definitely worth it. You'll get a significant bump in quality and level of detail that's hard not to miss. Also, the bigger the TV and the closer your viewing position is, the more discernable the differences are, even when comparing 720p and 1080p resolution videos.

Another important thing to consider is that when you buy HD quality movies from streaming sites including Vudu, Amazon, Google Play, Fandango or iTunes, the SD quality version is also included in your purchase. This means if you're planning on watching your movie purchase later on the road on mobile, you can view the SD version instead to save bandwidth.

UHD/4K Quality

Now, here's the latest, greatest and biggest format, 4K or UHD (3860 x 2160 pixels) video. It used to be a real luxury to get a 4K TV and the matching content to go with it. But slowly but surely, with prices for 4K TV sets dropping and streaming services like Netflix, Vudu and Amazon offering more 4K content, mainstream adoption is inevitable.

4K versions of streaming movies typically cost more than even their HD counterparts, usually around $30 per movie. Early adopters, as usual, got the raw end of the deal since they had to repurchase all their movies in 4K if they want to add them to their collection, even though they already own the HD version. Talk about double and triple dipping.

But things are suddenly starting to look up since Apple joined the 4K party. Ever the market disruptor, Apple managed to force the movie studios to drop iTunes 4K movie prices down to $19.99. And better yet, all the HD flicks in your iTunes movies collection are automatically upgraded to include the 4K version for free!

Other streaming services are taking notice. After Apple's 4K announcement, Amazon slashed its 4K video prices across the board and we're expecting others like Vudu to follow suit soon.

Keep in mind that 4K videos are extremely large and take up lots of bandwidth. Make sure that your internet connection has the recommended speed (and data cap) for handling 4K content.

Bottom line

It's not that tough to choose. What I recommend is this: if you're purchasing one of your all-time favorite movies for your video collection, then definitely go at least 1080p HD since you're bound to watch it repeatedly. When in doubt, always choose HD.

If you're just renting a movie to pass the time away, you can get away with just the SD version if you're going to watch on a smartphone on the road or if you have an old standard definition set at home. If it's family movie night in the living room on your main HDTV, rent the HD version.

Now, with 4K in the mix, if you want to future proof your movie collection, wait for the prices to go down, then go for the 4K version (as mentioned earlier, this doesn't really matter with iTunes purchases, you always get the 4K version with an HD purchase). Obviously, if you don't really care for 4K because you don't have 4K equipment yet, stick with the HD version for now.

Until then, we're hoping that all streaming services will follow Apple's lead and will start offering free 4K upgrades for past HD purchases.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The $50 Google Home Mini vs. the $50 Amazon Echo Dot—who wins? by David Pogue

Ever since Amazon (AMZN) created the Amazon Echo, the “Siri for the home” voice assistant, every company and its brother has rushed to come up with one almost exactly like it.

Take, for example, the Amazon Echo Dot. Like the full-size Echo, it responds to your commands and questions from across the room—but it’s a tiny, sawed-off one that costs $50. The only difference is that because you don’t have the big cylinder, the sound quality is tinny. It makes a fantastic second Echo—say, for the upstairs.

Well, now here’s Google (GOOG, GOOGL) with its own version of the Dot, called the Google Home Mini. Also puck-shaped, also $50. (Google will also be releasing the Google Home Max, a beefier version with better sound.)

The Dot and the Mini are 90% identical. They both work great. Each has a Microphone Off switch, so you can be sure that it’s not listening for its trigger word. Both can now distinguish who is making the request, so that it can respond to commands like “Play my party playlist” and “What’s next on my calendar?” with the right person’s music or info. 
Both now let you make free speakerphone calls to actual phone numbers (although the Google’s call quality is awful).
There are, however, a few differences to note.
In this corner: The Google Home Mini.
  • The sound is much better. Neither assistant pod will be mistaken for a concert hall. But there’s no question that Google’s built-in speaker is richer than Amazon’s.
  • It talks to Chromecasts and Android TVs. If you spring $35 for a Chromecast (a little receiver stick that plugs into a modern TV’s USB jack), or if you have a TV that runs Android TV, you can perform a nifty trick. You can say, “Ok Google, show me a video about how to remove contact lenses” or “Show me funny cat videos” or “Show me the trailer for the new Avengers movie,” and it appears on your TV instantly. As you can see in the video above, it’s quite magical.
  • It will someday have a tap-to-talk feature. The top of the Mini is supposed to be touch sensitive. As designed, you could tap it to issue a command (instead of saying “OK Google”), or tap it to pause music. But just as the Home Mini was shipping, a reviewer discovered a bug in which that button thought that it was being pressed all the time, transmitting everything anyone said in the room to Google’s servers. So Google responded by shutting off that top button’s features altogether.

And now, in this corner: The Amazon Echo Dot.
  • Works with more home-automation products, like internet-controlled thermostats, lights, security cameras, and so on. It’s a huge list. Google’s improving on this front, but Amazon’s had a several-year head start.
  • It has an audio output jack. Lots of people love plugging in their nice speakers or sound systems to an Echo Dot, thanks to the standard miniplug on the side (the Google offers nothing similar). That makes it easy to control your music by voice—one of the most luxurious features ever.
  • The volume controls are much better. The Echo Dot has a smoothly turning volume ring on the top. On the Google Mini, you have to repeatedly tap one side to raise the volume, the opposite edge to lower it. There are only 4 LED light segments to tell you what the current volume level is (rather than the far more informative, full 360-degree light-up ring on the Echo). And it’s never clear which side you’re supposed to tap, since there’s no label.
  • You can see feedback across the room. The Dot’s LED ring glows in different colors and patterns to communicate different things—for example, it glows when it’s transmitting sound back to Amazon. You can see it from the side, and therefore from across the room. The Google’s four LEDs are visible only when you’re looking down on the device, which isn’t nearly as useful.
  • You can order stuff. Of course, this is exactly what Amazon hopes you’ll do, but it’s still cool. “Alexa—order more paper towels.”
If you’re a Google Play subscriber, maybe the convenience of speaking your desires for music tips the balance for you toward the Google Home Mini. (The argument about “Buy a Google Home if you keep your calendar in Google Calendar” doesn’t really hold water, since the Echo can consult or add events to the calendar systems of Google or Apple (AAPLor Microsoft (MSFT).

Otherwise, though, the Echo Dot is still the better micro-assistant. (Especially when it’s on sale for $40—for example, on the typical Black Friday, which is in a couple of weeks.)

Both of these devices are delicious enhancements to almost anyone’s home. Over time, you’ll find more and more ways that they’re useful—and for only 50 bucks!