Tag: internet

Amazon’s Alexa can now wake you up with music instead of alarms

One of the greatest perks of connected speakers is waking up to whatever music you like, not just a buzzer or the radio. However, that hasn't been an option for Alexa-equipped devices like the Echo -- until today, that is. Amazon has added a feature to Alexa that lets you wake up to the music of your choice from one of several streaming services, including its own options and Spotify.

To begin with, your criteria can be as broad or narrow as you like. You can name a song, playlist or genre, or ask to play any kind of music if you're not picky. Alexa can stream radio channels from the likes of TuneIn and iHeartRadio. Naturally, there are a few perks if you use one of Amazon's music services. You can ask Alexa to wake you based on a mood (like "relaxing"), or find a wake-up song by reciting the lyrics.

This sounds like a minor feature, but it's potentially very important. If Amazon is going to make the Echo Spot a viable alarm clock, it needs to give the device better functionality than that 20-year-old clock radio sitting on your nightstand. This also makes all Echo models more directly competitive with rivals that have had music wake features for years, such as Sonos. And let's face it: even if you're just using Alexa on your phone, Amazon would rather be the one to start your day.

Russian hackers steal $10 million from ATMs through bank networks

The recent rash of bank system hacks goes deeper than you might have thought -- it also includes stealing cash directly from ATMs. Researchers at Group-iB have published details of MoneyTaker, a group of Russian hackers that has stolen close to $10 million from American and Russian ATMs over the past 18 months. The attacks, which targeted 18 banks (15 of which were American), compromised interbank transfer systems to hijack payment orders -- "money mules" would then withdraw the funds at machines.

The first known attack was in the spring of 2016, when MoneyTaker hit First Data's STAR network (the largest transfer messaging system for ATMs in the US). They also compromised Russia's AW CRB network, and swiped documents for OceanSystems' Fed Link system used by roughly 200 banks across the Americas. And in some cases, the group stuck around after the initial heist -- at least one US bank's documents were stolen twice, while the perpetrators kept spying on Russian bank networks.

While it's not clear who's behind MoneyTaker, you're only hearing about them now because they're particularly clever. They've repeatedly switched their tools and methods to bypass software, and have taken care to erase their tracks. For instance, they've 'borrowed' security certificates from the US federal government, Bank of America, Microsoft and Yahoo. One Russian bank did manage to spot an attack and return some of the ill-gotten gains.

This particular hack didn't directly affect users, since it was more about intercepting bank-to-bank transfers than emptying personal accounts. However, it illustrates both the sophistication of modern bank hacks and the vulnerability of the banks themselves. While it would be difficult to completely prevent hacks, it's clear that attackers are having a relatively easy time making off with funds and sensitive data.

Via: Reuters

Source: Group-iB (reg. required)

I tried (and failed) to become an Instagram guru

The life of a rock star social media celebrity may not be as worthwhile as building hospitals in war zones, but it looks a hell of a lot more fun. Imagine all of those trips behind the red velvet rope to a world where beautiful people like and respect you as you effortlessly acquire wealth and influence. Alas, it's not as simple as shoving your face on Instagram and waiting for the cash to roll in -- if you want to quaff champagne with the Jenners and Swifts, you'll need to put in plenty of effort.

So is it possible for any old schmo, like myself, lacking any sort of talent but plenty of enthusiasm, armed with little more than a smartphone, a DSLR and Photoshop, to become Insta-famous? All I'd need is an instruction manual to get me on my way and the time and space to build up my 'celebrity' status. Thankfully, there's a whole firmament of social media gurus, influencers and shamans willing to share their secrets to accruing a monster following. In fact, if you were to sift through all of their words of wisdom, who knows, maybe you could write the definitive social media bible.

Now, I'm not the first schlubby journalist to attempt to break into the upper echelon of D-list web celebrity. Hell, there are plenty of better-prepared and better-looking folks who've tried this without much success. Take Bloomberg's Max Chafkin, who even employed the social agency Socialyte to aid his quest toward Instagram stardom. My ascent to the social media stratosphere won't be aided by anyone because I've been tasked with doing this the hard way.

The rules are pretty simple: Set up an Instagram account and use whatever (legitimate) means to push my following as high as possible. I figure that, equipped with the knowledge that all of those star gurus can offer, it'll take me less than a month before I'm packing 100,000 followers. Along the way, I'll scour every how-to, every online guide, and learn from the master himself, Vaynerchuk, and it'll be a piece of cake.

Rule Number One: Use Hashtags

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and so does my quest to become a beloved Instagram influencer. I set up an entirely blank account -- serenecoops -- and wait for an army of fans to descend upon me.

It doesn't happen.

The first lesson I've learned is that building a following on Instagram can't be done passively, and it doesn't happen overnight. I'm pretty sore about this fact, since I'm very obviously an as-yet-unheralded genius and it's about damn time that I started getting some appreciation. Second, I should probably start posting some images to my feed to remind the internet that it should be hungry for what I give it. For my first submission, I share a picture of my face, explaining who I am, what I want to achieve, and get precisely zero likes for it. Bastards.

But I forgot to add any hashtags to my post, and as social media guru Garry Vaynerchuk would say, "Instagram's about hashtags." The advertising tycoon got his big break selling wine on social media and now has a reported worth somewhere north of $160 million. "Do not post anything on Instagram without your first comment being 15 to 20 hashtags," the businessman says in his widely circulated tutorials.

For my next post, I liberally spray hashtags into the comments in the hope of garnering some love. And, amazingly, it works -- with three people double tapping my shot of some books in quick succession. By the end of that day, six people (okay, five and myself) have liked the image, although no one felt motivated to click follow as a consequence.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

Instagrammers also need to have some sort of thing, especially if you're not a famous person already. You need to build a narrative whereby you become known for one or two things that people can come to you for. I figured that while technology would be an easy win, I didn't want my now-imminent Instagram fame to impinge upon my job. Not only are there plenty of folks doing that brilliantly already, I also didn't want to spend even more time taking pictures of smart watches.

But what else am I qualified to talk about, if not technology? I've got a small hankering for fashion, even if my build means that my clothes are more about masking my own inadequacies. I like watches but wondered if there'd be enough of an audience there for me to talk about them incessantly. I like reading, do DIY and perform comedy on the weekends, but none of those seemed like good enough causes either. Not to mention that anything adult or too naughty would be flagged by Instagram's highly-prudish filtering.

Rule Number Two: Leverage Fear

One of the trends I keep coming back to on Vaynerchuk's own account are his "inspirational" memes, delivered on a near-daily basis. The entrepreneur seems to specialize in images that end with some variation on the phrase "You've already lost." He also uses pictures of himself that wouldn't look out of place in a Nike catalog, overlaid with quasi-meaningful phrases.

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

One thing that I've spotted, however, is that they all seem to induce in me some sort of existential panic as I'm constantly being told to work harder. I should be maximizing my time, stop listening, start doing shit. I should stop caring about other people, but also care too much about everything. I should stop worrying about my own feelings but also be advised that my own fear of failure is holding me back from greatness. After a five-minute stroll through his feed, I'm gripped by a number of mid-life crises all at once.

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

The key lesson is that fear is a great selling tool, and if used correctly, can get people to pay attention to your Instagram. The trick is to leverage that subtle anxiety that, I'm sure many of us have, we're frittering away our time here on Earth. Deep down, I know I'm already giving one hundred percent working in a full-time job, raising a child and trying to renovate a house by myself. That's not enough, however, and I should also be working on my own startup, reading a book a week, training for an ultramarathon and making enough money to buy my own sports team.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

I set to work, finding pictures of myself doing things that I can overlay with useful phrases and lots of cool symbols. Another thing I learn, thanks to Fast Company, is that Instagram's most popular color is blue, so all of my images are tinted with the hue in Photoshop, and then I use the Clarendon filter to double up on the amount of blue on show in each image. And, actually, this combination of factors does prove effective, in its own weird way, often garnering me five or six likes within minutes of publishing.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

Rule Number Three: Maintain your energy

I'm reminded of Jessica Vasquez, a social media celebrity going by the name JessiSmiles. She quit the much-loved six-second comedy network Vine after finding the pressure to produce content too much. "You can say that it's six seconds, but six seconds -- putting it out there in front of millions of people to tell you what they think about it is hard." I'm feeling the same, putting all of this effort to craft an image and then email it to my phone so that it can be uploaded via Instagram's mobile app. In fact, the user interface itself forces everything to be slower than it could otherwise be done, be it adding comments with hashtags and editing images. It helps sap my already-ailing momentum.

On that subject, posting a list of hashtags in your comments is a nightmare because there are several opaque rules that enables Instagram to block your postings. After preparing a list of hashtags that I could paste in on the tail of every image, it would frequently be blocked, much to my dismay. All of this ensured that I began missing days, feeling lethargic and generally wanting to avoid spending time on Instagram.

But my efforts were, at least, noticed by David*, a social media marketer who got in touch to offer me his skills. David is a "social media marketer," who promises to essentially take the legwork out of building a following by doing it all for you. "You've got a LONG way to go," wrote David in an Instagram direct message, "it will pretty much be impossible to get there without any marketing help."

David's job is to log into his client's Instagram accounts and perform "outward engagement," industry speak for liking, commenting and following targeted users. These users are identified through niche influencers, locations and other variables, that are then intended to juice your own attention. The more attention you give, and the more you receive, the more prominent you're expected to become. Depending on how much cash you hand over each month, you can also get Dave to slide into other people's DMs on your behalf.

And, to be fair, David does look like he's at least capable of starting me on the ladder, having accrued 14,500 followers on his own account. He shares his other clients' profiles with me that all have similar counts -- and he promises to get around 1,000 new followers each month. Prices start from $49 a month and run all the way up to $199 if you want everything, including a weekly analytics call.

Unfortunately, my budget remains zero, so I'll never know if David could work his magic on my account, but the recognition does at least reinvigorate me. If I'm already worthy of attention from social media promoters, perhaps this is all something worth persisting with.

* Names have been changed.

Rule Number Four: Engage

There's something missing from my Instagram game, and that's the fact that I don't use the service to interact with others. I'm one of these folks who gets itchy about sending a Facebook friend request to people, even if I've known them for years. Consequently, the idea of copying Vaynerchuk's exhortations to slide into everyone's DMs in the hope of becoming a better marketer gives me hives.

But, as hard as it is, I begin doing it, responding in kind to every comment that pops up on my images and trying to reach out to others. The process is slow, mostly because I generally treat online interactions as meaningful, rather than simply process of shooting platitudes at everyone in my digital vicinity. I offer some very generic comments on the things that people have added and, again, see my likes spike. It seems that the more effort you put in, the more successful your account can be.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

depression for teenagers.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

I've given up trying now, and I don't think that the hallowed world of earning $100,000 per promotional image is within my grasp. I won't be receiving a free outfit from my favorite tailors or get invited to New York's hottest new nightclub. After a month of work to try and cultivate my image into that of a hot young influencer taking the Instagram world by storm, I managed to accrue a total of 18 followers, although that number is now falling by the day.

  • Total Posts: 20
  • Total Follows: 18
  • Total Likes: 231
  • Number of Protein Powder retailers that followed me: 2
  • Digital Marketers that followed me: 6
  • Churches: 1

Tech pioneers tell FCC: ‘You don’t understand how the internet works’

Today, pioneers of the internet such as Steve Wozniak, Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf sent a letter to the FCC telling them, "You don't understand how the internet works." The letter calls on the FCC to cancel the December 14th vote, which would repeal net neutrality.

The letter specifically says, "it is important to understand that the FCC's proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology." These problems were outlined in detail and sent to the FCC as part of a 43-page-long comment back in July. The FCC did not correct its misunderstandings, but instead "premised the proposed Order on the very technical flaws the comment explained," according to the letter.

The letter also calls out the problems with issues with the FCC's comment system. FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote a powerful op-ed at Wired asking for an investigation into the public comments on the proposal, after it came to light that around a million comments were fraudulently filed using the names of real people. Another half million were from Russian email addresses. The letter makes it clear that the FCC has failed to respond to a FOIA request from the attorney general of New York about these problems.

We've discussed in detail how the repeal of net neutrality would be disastrous, and also how it would hurt artists and small businesses the most. Plenty of companies and organizations have come out against the repeal, but it's unclear whether the ongoing commentary surrounding the issue is having any effect on the FCC. Apparently we'll find out on December 14th.

Source: Pioneers for Net Neutrality

Facebook’s ‘ticker,’ aka creeper feed, is no more

Facebook has killed one of its oldest features, the "ticker," that let you see at a glance what your friends were doing or sharing. First launched in 2011, it used to appear to the right of your news feed (on the web app) showing likes, comments and other friend activities. As TechCrunch noticed, Facebook's help community had been posting about the ticker's disappearance, when a verified employee chimed in to see that "this feature is no longer available."

Facebook hasn't explained exactly why it chopped the ticker, though we've reached out for comment. The social network is generally ruthless with features that don't increase user engagement, and by extension, ad revenue.

It's hard to remember now, but Facebook's feeds used to display posts in chronological order, much like Twitter (mostly) still does. The algorithmic feed, launched in 2011 eliminated date-ordered posts, surfacing what it thinks is more relevant information, instead. Facebook-owned Instagram made the same change early last year.

The ticker was introduced along with the algorithmic feed, so that you could still monitor your friends' activities in real time. Though often called the "creeper" feed, it didn't really do anything that the news feed didn't before.

The algorithmic feed is ostensibly good for users, but like any algorithm, it can be gamed. That has become especially apparent with Facebook over the 18 months, when Russian operators bought ads in an attempt to influence US election results. They correctly surmised that discord increases engagement, and paid for posts that played social factions off against each other. As a result, at least 126 million Americans were exposed to articles that likely influenced election results to some degree.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Facebook

The Morning After: Monday, December 11th 2017

Welcome to your Monday morning news missive. An anniversary Street Fighter game that crams in 12 (vaguely) different titles, a hacked way of cranking up the sound quality on your cheap Google Home Mini and Welcome To Night Vale gets its own TV show. It's a good start.

The 30th Anniversary Collection arrives in May.
'Street Fighter' anthology brings online play to classic brawlers

Street Fighter turned 30 this year, and Capcom is marking it in -- belated -- style. Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection arrives May 2018 and not only includes a bunch of pre-3D titles but also adds online multiplayer. It'll be available on the PS4, Switch, Windows PCs and the Xbox One. No Street Fighter: The Movie, the game, though. Sad.

Pump up the digital-assistant volume.
Mod gives Google's Home Mini speaker its 'missing' line-out jack

Google's Home Mini speaker has one key disadvantage over Amazon's Echo Dot: no line-out jack. If you want more powerful sound without buying a higher-priced model, you have to stream to a Chromecast-equipped speaker system. However, that didn't deter SnekTek -- the site added an aux audio port to the Mini through a clever homebrew mod. To say this required some delicate surgery would be an understatement, however.

Its research has come a long way in a short time.
Apple AI chief reveals more progress on self-driving car tech

Apple is now more than eager to share how much progress it's making on self-driving car technology. AI research director Ruslan Salakhutdinov made a presentation this week that revealed more of what the company's autonomous-driving team has been up to. While some of the talk was familiar, there were new examples of how far the fledgling project had come.

To start, Apple has crafted a system that uses onboard cameras to identify objects even in tricky situations, such as when raindrops cover the lens. It can estimate the position of a pedestrian even if they're hidden by a parked car. Other additions include giving cars direction through simultaneous localization and mapping, creating detailed 3D maps using car sensors and decision-making in urgent situations.

The bigger mystery of the project is how Apple will commercialize its self-driving know-how. At the moment, its next goal is to produce driverless employee shuttles. The company isn't currently expected to sell its own cars, but licensing its work to others would be unusual when Apple typically prefers to develop everything in-house.

But wait, there's more...

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OnePlus 5T needs an update to play Netflix in HD

The OnePlus 5T is defined by its cinematic 18:9 screen, but don't expect to get the full effect while you're watching your favorite streaming service... at least, not yet. Owners have learned that the 5T and its OnePlus 5 ancestor can't play Netflix or Amazon Prime Video in HD, since they both lack the Widevine rights management certification need to play at anything beyond standard definition. Yes, your $500 pride and joy currently plays video at a lower resolution than phones costing half as much. Thankfully, there's a solution in the works.

The company has explained to The Verge that an update is in the works to enable HD streaming on these devices. There's no indication as to when this update is coming or why more advanced Widevine support wasn't included from the start, but a solution is in sight.

However quickly the update comes, the situation doesn't help OnePlus' current situation. It has already had to fix some glaring software mistakes, and this is one that you'll definitely notice if you're streaming Stranger Things or American Gods. It also illustrates one of the concerns about digital copy protection: your ability to watch video at the best possible quality is dependent on software factors outside of your control.

Source: OnePlus, The Verge

New ‘Ready Player One’ trailer reveals more of the real-world story

The initial trailer for Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ready Player One focused on the virtual world of OASIS, and for understandable reasons: it's a visual showcase for a crucial part of the story. However, Warner Bros. wants to remind you that reality plays an important part as well. It just posted a new trailer that dives deeper into the real-world story, even as it makes a few extra nods to video game nostalgia.

As with Ernest Cline's book, the story centers on Wade Watts and his bid to win James Halliday's Easter Egg hunt, which promises both half a trillion dollars and (more importantly) control of OASIS. That, in turn, leads to an ideological battle -- Wade and fellow competitor Art3mis are racing to find all the clues before the megacorporation IOI gets them and exploits OASIS for profit. Wade is effectively drafted into a resistance movement, and his moves will have consequences in both VR and real life.

There aren't quite as many tributes to digital culture as in the first trailer, but there are a few pleasant surprises -- there's even a certain iconic Overwatch character that shows up. It's hard to say if Ready Player One will live up to the rapidly mounting hype when it premieres on March 30th. However, the trailer shows that Spielberg and crew are aware that clever references and dazzling visuals aren't enough to carry the movie.

Oh, and there's one more thing: Cline revealed in a livestream (shortly after the 27-minute mark) that he's writing a sequel to Ready Player One. He has precious few details, but he noted that Spielberg's movie helped jumpstart his work on a follow-up. Even if the movie falls flat, you'll have something to look forward to.

Source: Warner Bros. (YouTube), Ready Player One (Facebook)

First US bitcoin futures start trading at 6PM Eastern

Bitcoin is one step closer to becoming a part of the mainstream financial world. Cboe is launching the first US bitcoin futures exchange at 6PM Eastern, giving speculators a chance to bet on the value of the cryptocurrency through a listed (XBT), regulated entity. You don't use a digital wallet or otherwise require bitcoins -- instead, you trade and settle futures contracts using cash, with a $10 minimum price interval and a $1 transaction fee from January onward. There aren't any price limits, and you can short your futures (that is, immediately sell them in hopes of turning a quick profit) if your broker allows it.

This isn't going to be as huge as the expected Nasdaq bitcoin futures exchange. Also, don't be surprised if your brokerage of choice either doesn't allow bitcoin futures trading or limits what you can do. Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade and others are barring trades at the moment, while Interactive Brokers is both preventing customers from shorting futures and setting a minimum margin of 50 percent. Goldman Sachs is open to them, but only expects to approve futures trading for some of its clients.

Still, Cboe's exchange could be important. The regulation and added transparency may give more legitimacy to bitcoin, particularly among institutions and investors who see it as a wild experiment. Also, it could help calm down bitcoin's extreme volatility in recent months. A single bitcoin is worth about $15,550 as of this writing, or roughly $10,000 more than it was worth in mid-October -- those kinds of increases (and the crashes that follow) aren't healthy for a financial industry that needs some predictability. As futures have historically calmed markets down once introduced, there's a chance bitcoin could enjoy much-needed stability.

Via: Guardian

Source: Cboe

FX will turn podcast hit ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ into a TV show

It's not just Amazon hoping a podcast's success will translate to a TV series. FX has reached a deal with Sony Pictures Television to turn Welcome to Night Vale into a TV show. Most of the details haven't been nailed down, but Better Call Saul executive producer Gennifer Hutchison will handle the adaptation with the blessing of podcast co-creators Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. The story certainly lends itself to TV: it imagines the fictional town of Night Vale as a place where every conspiracy theory is true.

It's not hard to see why FX made the move. Popular narrative-driven podcasts like Night Vale frequently have rich stories and large numbers of passionate fans, but they also tend to operate on shoestring budgets even with touring shows involved. TV producers can snap up the rights at a relatively modest cost but still get plenty of quality source material.

Whether or not it succeeds is another matter. Night Vale is better primed than most, but we've seen podcast adaptations produce so-so results. Amazon's take on Lore premiered to mixed reviews, and the snappy comedy of My Brother, My Brother and Me wasn't enough to save NBC's Seeso. FX's Night Vale show will have to do more than pull in loyal listeners if it's going to have a long run.

Source: Night Vale Podcast (Twitter), Deadline