Geekly Update - 10 September 2014

Category: Tech-News

Are evil hackers messing with your thermostat? Who is behind all those fake cell phone towers that secretly listen to your conversations? And is there any way to stop Facebook videos from playing automatically? Get answers to these burning questions, and the scoop on the latest tech news, in this edition of the Geekly Update. It's guaranteed to make you 146% smarter. Read, think and comment!

The AskBobRankin Geekly Update

"Is it getting really hot in here?" Hackers at the Black Hat security conference demonstrated that it's possible to compromise a Nest thermostat in 15 seconds, and control it from a remote location.

General Motors has announced Super Cruise, an automated driving technology that will enable hands-free lane following, braking and speed control on highways. But don't too excited yet. John Capp, GM's director of global safety strategy, says drivers must still "pay attention" when driving. No snoozing while cruising...

A car chassis inspired by a turtle’s skeleton doesn’t sound very promising, but it does show off the latest achievements in 3D printing. Germany’s EDAG Genesis engineering group tried even sexier-sounding technologies – selective laser sintering, selective laser melting, and stereolithography – before settling on a modified version of fused deposition modeling.
Geekly Update 09-10-2014

Internet founding father Ray Tomlinson invented email, according to everyone except India-born scientist Shiva Ayyadurai. He says he invented email when he was 14, in 1978, while “helping out” the dental clinic in Newark, NJ, where his mother worked. There’s a book, of course.

“Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?” “Have you ever driven cross-country without stopping to ask for directions?” These are two of seven futuristic questions asked in AT&T ads during 1993-1994. The spot-on punchline to each ad is, “You will!” You can view all seven ads in one compilation here.

A smartphone app called Pulse Point allows 911 dispatchers to broadcast a call for help to registered users who are near a medical emergency scene. It brought CPR-trained auto mechanic Jeff Olson to the aid of a month-old baby who wasn’t breathing at a dance studio two blocks from his shop. He applied CPR to the infant until EMTs arrived. Tell your police department about Pulse Point:, the federal portal to “affordable health care,” was hacked and malware was planted on one of its servers, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal . The breach went undetected from March until late August, 2014. We’re told that the malware only launched denial-of-service attacks against other government servers. But frankly, that makes little sense. would be a perfect place to plant a “drive-by download” exploit kit to infect millions of visitors.

Twitpic, the popular picture hosting and URL-shortening service for Twitter users, is shutting down thanks to Twitter’s trademark enforcers. But who cares? Twitter added similar functionality in 2011. And according to CNNMoney, the Twitpic terms of service let them take credit for your photos, and keep your deleted images.

“Facebook auto-play videos are driving me over my data allowance!” That complaint is flooding many consumer-gripe sites. The fix is simple: on the Facebook app, go to your account settings; click “App Settings,” then choose “Auto-play only on WiFi” or “Off.”

At least 17 fake cell phone “towers” are intercepting callers’ transmissions and routing them to unknown parties, or downloading malware to victims’ phones. That’s according to experts with ESD America, which just happens to sell a Cryptophone that solves this security problem.

Now you can learn physics online, for free, from the legendary collection of lectures by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. If that sounds boring, how about a list of sub-atomic particle jokes?

"Hey's that's my dog!" Dave McLean with the Center of Geographic Sciences has created an interactive map of over 650 photos of Earth taken from the International Space Station.

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Most recent comments on "Geekly Update - 10 September 2014"

Posted by:

Ralph Sproxton
10 Sep 2014

Do a little online research, and you find that what was "breached" was a test server that was not connected to any servers with data or access to data, and malware was placed on it to launch DDOS attacks on other sites. was never compromised, or even at risk. Right-wing sites (Fox News, HotAir, NewsBusters) of course shrieked "Obamacare Hacked!" in an attempt to cause panic among the fearmongees.

EDITOR'S NOTE: is not one web server, it's probably dozens. And clearly, one of them was hacked, breached, or compromised in some way. If you believe everything the government is telling us about this hack, then all is well! But the public really has no way of knowing what the attackers might have learned about the security or internal structure of other servers in the network.

Some sites that covered the story, and called it a "hack" or "breach" of included ComputerWorld, CNET, Washington Post, NY Times, USA Today, Slate and Time. I doubt any of those would qualify as a "right-wing" outlet.

Posted by:

Jim Russell
12 Sep 2014

I had a large pop up come on my screen. It said I was infected with the virus which only their company could repair. The virus name is: ZewS.Zbot.aoaq
The web site is: and their phone number is: 8448397975. Is this another scam? I've also had 3 calls from companies which say they are working with Miocrosoft and they can repair the problems with my computer. Used Avast, Spybot, Malware, CClean, and Glary. None of these can find this problem. Who do I call? That company?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sounds like the only problem you have now is the annoying callers trying to scam you. There's a lot of that going on - see

Posted by:

13 Sep 2014

Thank you for all of the work you do. Just wanted to let you know, I tried disabling the Facebook video as you mentioned, and there was no option for "“Auto-play only on WiFi” or “Off.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: Was that with the mobile app of the desktop version of Facebook?

Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
22 Sep 2014

How far we've come, in such a short time!

The seven "futuristic" ads from AT&T were run about 20 years ago. ... That's barely a blink of an eye to this 68-year-old geyser. Every one of the scenarios was absolutely mind-blowing in 1994. ... And nearly every one is possible NOW, in most cases exactly as predicted in the ads.



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