New leaks emerged today in Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper about the scope of electronic surveillance conducted by the United States’ National Security Agency.
In short, it looks like the agency has even more access to personal data than we already thought.
Der Spiegel says it has obtained documents detailing the depth and breadth of access that the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, an elite group within the NSA that’s reportedly tasked with gaining access to foreign computer systems in the name of protecting national security, now has when obtaining data.
The paper wrote:
“According to internal NSA documents viewed by Spiegel, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies… The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO’s disposal have become — and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.”
Also according to Spiegel, the NSA has created a division called ‘ANT’ which has compiled information about specific hacking methods for everything from high-end networking devices to consumer-grade electronics:
“A document viewed by Spiegel resembling a product catalog reveals that an NSA division called ANT has burrowed its way into nearly all the security architecture made by the major players in the industry — including American global market leader Cisco and its Chinese competitor Huawei, but also producers of mass-market goods, such as US computer-maker Dell.
These NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives — from computing centers to individual computers, from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA’s specialists seem already to have gotten past them.
This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can order technologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets’ data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000.”
Our devices have a never-ending hunger for power – it’s their single greatest failing, in a time when they can do incredible things but still only last around a day of solid use in the best-case scenario. But Mophie has made a name for itself providing extra juice for your devices, and now they’ve got a new Powerstation XL model that packs a crazy 12,000 mAh, which can charge some smartphones up to eight times over.
Battery lasts and lasts
Intelligent amperage for less power wastage
Two ports for charging
A bit on the bulky side
Mophie’s Powerstation XL isn’t reinventing the wheel, it’s just making the wheel a lot bigger. Even design-wise, it resembles previous Mophie power pack devices, with a rubberized black top and bottom ‘sandwiching’ a silver wraparound rim. A button on the side will light up an LED indicator to tell you how much juice is remaining (to the nearest quarter), and two USB 2.0 ports on the top can charge up to two devices simultaneously, while a micro USB input is used to fill it back up once it’s empty.
The sandwich look is simple, good and a nice fit with Apple products, with which I’m generally using the Mophie Powerstation XL. Plus, the whole thing feels terrifically well-built, and you can imagine that if you pop the lid, it’ll be tightly packed edge to edge with battery cell units. Mophie’s backup batteries feel like they can survive a fall, which is more than you can say for a lot of the lower-priced models it competes with.
And the Mophie Powerstation XL also works as advertised. I used the partial charge it came with to fully reenergize a Nexus 5, HTC One and Nvidia Shield before it exhausted itself, and subsequent charges have managed to serve up multiple charges to my iPhone 5 while also topping up an iPad Air on the run. Plus, in terms of charge retention, you can easily have the XL in a bag for days without it losing a single dot of its energy meter to dissipation.
Mophie does good retention, and good overall life of the bank itself, which is why they can get away with asking for $130 for a backup battery and someone like IOgear charges a lot less. The XL is brand new, so I haven’t had the opportunity to test its longevity yet, but the Powerstation Pro I’ve had now for a couple of years still seems not to be noticeably diminished vs. when I first bought it.
The bottom line is that if you need serious backup juice in a relatively small package that’s bound to be reliable, Mophie’s latest delivers. It’d be great if someone made a smartphone that eliminated the need for such a thing, but until then, at least there’s the Powerstation XL.
At any given moment during my working day, I have browser tabs open for my email account, Feedly, TechCrunch, WordPress, Convo, Twitter, Google Calendar, Reddit, Pinterest and Facebook. That’s in addition to all the sites I am using for research (or to procrastinate) and desktop apps like Skype and Spotify. As a result of tab overload, and my ever-dwindling supply of brain cells, I often suffer from Google Amnesia. Searchlet won’t give me back the bits of my brain I have already lost, but the handy Web app will increase my productivity by making searches a lot easier.
To use Searchlet, all you need to do is install it onto your bookmarks bar. When you highlight a term and click on your Searchlet button, a sidebar slides into the left of your browser page and shows you results from four online references: Google, Wikipedia, Google News and open content dictionary Wiktionary. The sidebar is unobtrusive and fast. Its results refresh when you highlight new terms and it disappears as soon as you close it.
Creators Mark Fazzini and Spencer Simonsen met while they were both undergraduates at the University of Florida and collaborated on several projects before getting their degrees, including a mobile deals platform and an online music community. Fazzini’s background is in technology sales and the financial services industry, while Simonsen is a web programmer and developer currently working at LinkedIn. Searchlet is the first product from Spin Labs, which the two launched to “create innovative web products for businesses and consumers.”
Searchlet is handy for all Internet users who want to increase their productivity (or just keep their browser tabs manageable), but I think it’s especially useful for students, researchers and easily distracted information junkies. Fazzini says the next version of Searchlet, which will be released in late January, will include results from sites like Google Images, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn (I am especially excited about seeing results from Google Images in the Searchlet sidebar because that means I will be able to use it as a visual dictionary when reading Chinese-language sites). A mobile version is also in the works.
“A few months ago, Spencer was reading one of his favorite tech blogs and noticed that he opened seven different tabs just to search different terms and concepts on Google and Wikipedia. After getting very anxious about the number of tabs that were open (like most of us do), he thought about how nice it would be to get the relevant information he was looking for, right there on the page,” Fazzini told me by email.
“Our goal is to enhance the online web browsing experience for everyone, by adding an additional layer which allows you to get the information you need within a few short seconds,” he adds. “Not only does this enhance the online web browsing experience and make users more productive, but having a tool like Searchlet at your fingertips can increase a user’s impulse to gather new knowledge dramatically.”
The duo claims that Searchlet can increase search speeds by up to 86%, a figure that they arrived at base on initial testing that looked at how long it took a user to highlight text, open up a new tab and then navigate to Google, Wikipedia, Google News or Wiktionary to perform a search, a process they found took about 10 to 15 seconds for each site. Using Searchlet reduced that time to about four to six seconds.
“We concluded that searching all four sources (Google, Wikipedia, News, Dictionary) by hand takes around 50 seconds on average and with Searchlet it only takes six. This is how we found Searchlet to be around 86% faster than searching by hand,” Fazzini explains.
On the monetization side, Fazzini says Searchlet can potentially earn revenue through advertising, partnerships and premium resources, but the startup’s current focus is getting Searchlet on as many bookmark bars as possible in order to improve its functionality. To start using Searchlet, visit its site and drag the button onto your bookmark bar.
Despite the fact that Amazon had one of its best Cyber Mondays in reported history, it doesn’t mean that the holiday shopping season went off without a hitch.
The company had some trouble getting all of its orders delivered on time for Christmas, after promising customers the same speedy delivery as usual. Amazon Prime members, in particular, are promised two-day shipping on Prime-eligible products, whether it’s Christmastime or not.
Unfortunately, last-minute shopping and overloads at UPS left Amazon customers waiting by the window on Christmas morning.
To make up for it, Amazon announced last week that they would offer $20 gift cards to customers who didn’t receive their presents on time. UPS is also issuing refunds.
Long story short, Amazon certainly doesn’t want to deal with this (or lose money issuing refunds) again.
It’s been mere weeks since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the idea of delivery drones, which would offer half-hour delivery to Prime customers. We’ll clearly have to wait a while for this to be fully implemented, but perhaps the drone experts at Amazon are hearing the crack of the whip after this debacle.
For now, Amazon relies on UPS and USPS to deliver packages purchased through the service, which proved difficult this holiday season.
According to the WSJ, UPS originally expected to ship around 7.75 million packages on Monday, the 23rd. Though it’s unclear how many packages actually went through UPS systems that day, the company did admit that “the volume of air packages in its system had exceeded its capacity.”
Amazon is clearly on the road to taking shipping into its own hands. Setting aside delivery drones, the company has implemented Sunday delivery in big cities like New York and San Francisco, thanks to the U.S. government, with rollouts expected in Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Phoenix.
Plus, Amazon already has its own mini-fleet of delivery trucks and contractors for its AmazonFresh service, which delivers fresh produce and other foods on a same-day or next-day basis in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
It’s simply a matter of time before Amazon controls delivery entirely, perhaps even in time to avoid this situation next Christmas. Maybe that’s Bezos’ New Years Resolution?