Saturday, August 31, 2013

As Ballmer Exits, Microsoft Inks Deal With ValueAct That May Lead To Board Seat

2013-08-30_13h53_58Today Microsoft announced that it has reached a “cooperation agreement” with ValueAct Capital, an investment company that had been a thorn in its side. It was said that ValueAct wanted a seat on Microsoft’s board. Instead, Microsoft and ValueAct have come to a different agreement, in which the president of ValueAct – Mason Morfit – and Microsoft directors will meet to talk over issues relating to the company. Morfit will also be given a chance at joining the board, after the company’s annual shareholder meeting. ValueAct owns 0.8% of Microsoft’s outstanding shares. It’s a hefty investment, one that is large enough for the investor to command the attention of the company’s board. It was said following Microsoft CEO’s Steve Ballmer’s promise to step down within the next 12 months that ValueAct and its pressure on the company was key to his removal. It is not clear if that is the case, or pressure resulting from a massive $900 million Surface writedown, or the ensuing market shellacking of Microsoft’s stock were larger catalysts. That said, to have the news of the agreement come precisely one week following the Ballmer announcement, is more than slightly suspicious. ValueAct is a large firm, with assets under management of $12 billion. That’s enough money to cause havoc. Departing CEO Steve Ballmer had nice things to say about his tormentors: “Our board and management team are committed to enhancing growth and value for Microsoft shareholders, and we look forward to ValueAct Capital’s input.” Only, I don’t think that that is true. Nice boilerplate, but I can’t imagine that Ballmer is too enthused about ceding some of his authority in his final days atop the Microsoft org chart to money folks from San Francisco. Whatever the case, Microsoft appears to have cleaned the decks of its little investor problem. Top Image Credit:�Robert Scoble



Add playback hotkeys to Amazon Cloud Player with a Chrome extension

Sure, Amazon's Cloud Player works -- as long as you're in the U.S. or willing to do some tinkering -- but it's fairly simplistic at the moment. There are plenty of features missing which we'd like to see added -- but since Cloud Player is a Web app we don't have to wait for Amazon!

Google Chrome users, for example, can add playback hotkeys with an extension called keyMazony. Once installed, you'll have keyboard control of your Amazon Cloud Player queue. keyMazony commands will work as long as you're in the same Chrome window as Cloud Player, even if its tab doesn't have focus. The key combinations are customizable as well -- just make sure you don't set up a combo that conflicts with another extension or Chrome's built-in keyboard shortcuts.

Add playback hotkeys to Amazon Cloud Player with a Chrome extension originally appeared on Download Squad on Thu, 31 Mar 2011 11:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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10 Tricks to Make Yourself a Google Maps Master

10 Tricks to Make Yourself a Google Maps Master

The Maps Wars are on in earnest?with Apple Maps now finding its feet after a shaky start, and Bing Maps forming an integral part of Windows Phone, Google Maps can't afford to stand still. A recent overhaul brought bringing more customization options, extra features and a brand new look. Here are 10 useful tips and tricks to help you navigate the best maps service on desktop and mobile, now that it's getting even better.





The Decline And Fall Of Flowtab, A Startup Story

2013-08-30_16h32_37It started with an idea: How can we get our drinks more quickly at the bar? Dreamed up at 2 a.m. in Coloft, a Los Angeles coworking space, future founder Mike Townsend doodled up an iPad application mockup that he called Apptini to answer the question. The product, later known as Flowtab, had been born. Its life became a startup story that most don?t tell: A company that didn?t make it.



Interlocked is a three-dimensional brain teaser

Back when I was a kid, I used to love crafting ornate puzzle boxes out of Lego. There would be just one way to open the box, by carefully shifting and rotating a bunch of pieces. Well, either that, or breaking the box in frustration.

Interlocked takes that spirit and turns it into a beautiful Flash game. It's a good thing the soundtrack is soothing, because the game itself can get pretty frustrating.

At the start of each level, you're presented with a box built out of blocks in different colors. You can click and drag the mouse to rotate the box any which way. Once you decide you want to shift a part of the box, hit SPACE to switch into "move" mode. You can then click any part of the box and drag it. Of course, you can only move a part as long as nothing is in its way. So it becomes a matter of understanding how the box is built, and what parts you need to move around so you could eventually take the box apart.

It's a tricky, difficult game, but it's a great brain teaser -- and definitely a keeper.

Interlocked is a three-dimensional brain teaser originally appeared on Download Squad on Tue, 29 Mar 2011 17:15:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Report: The NSA pays millions for U.S. telecom access

When it comes to tapping into U.S. telecommunications networks for surreptitious surveillance, the National Security Agency can?t be accused of not paying its way.

The government agency pays ?hundreds of millions of dollars a year? to U.S. telecommunications companies for the equipment and service required to intercept telephone calls, emails and instant messages of potential interest, according to a story in Thursday?s Washington Post.

For the current fiscal year, the NSA will pay $278 million for such access, and had paid $394 million in fiscal 2011, according to the Post.

Although previous news reports of NSA surveillance noted that the agency paid the costs for tapping into communications networks, the exact amount the agency has paid has not been cited before, according to the Post.

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This Week On The TC Gadgets Podcast: Nintendo 2DS, Pebble, And Unikey

gadgets2dsThe Nintendo 2DS is just like a 3DS, except for the fact that it's cheaper and has no 3D. Deal breaker or deal maker? Meanwhile, Matt still seems to fancy the Pebble smartwatch, while the rest of us are sick of hearing about it. And finally, the Unikey Kevo (currently available for pre-order) will make its way into homes in about a month with plenty of competition from Lockitron and others. But which is the better product?



Survival Lab is a fun pixelated game where dying doesn't matter

Survival Lab
In most games, dying is a bad thing. You have to start all over again, or at least revert to the last save point and lose some progress. Not so in Survival Lab: in this pixelated gem you play as a lone individual pitted against ruthless weapons in a sealed chamber. You have to run, jump and duck, collecting little yellow things (I have no idea what they're called).

For each donut-like yellow thing you pick up, you gain a bit of experience. If you manage to collect several in a row without getting hit, this counts as a combo. You can see my mad combo skills in the screenshot, of course. Collecting combos is a good thing, because a ten-point combo gives you for more experience than just collecting ten dounts one by one (getting hit in-between).

Having experience is useful, because once you die, you get to a screen where you can upgrade your skills. You can learn to run faster, double-jump (and then double-jump higher), and duck. You can also gain more armour so that getting hit won't kill you so quickly.

What makes this simple game so addictive is that when you die, your experience doesn't reset. You just go back to the same level, or another level of your choosing, and keep accumulating more and more experience. Lots of fun, especially if you're into the whole retro-gaming thing.

Survival Lab is a fun pixelated game where dying doesn't matter originally appeared on Download Squad on Mon, 28 Feb 2011 16:20:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Top 10 Punishments for Geeks

Top 10 Punishments for Geeks
Evil overlords have a tough time when it comes to punishing geeks. Here, then, are ten strategies for doing just that, for all those evil overlords -- or those who'd like to become one -- who could use a little ...



Facebook's new face recognition policy astonishes German privacy regulator

A German privacy regulator is astonished that Facebook has added facial recognition to a proposed new privacy policy it published on Thursday.

"It is astonishing to find the facial recognition again in the new proposed privacy policy that Facebook published yesterday. We therefore have directly tried to contact officials from Facebook to find out if there is really a change in their data protection policy or if it is just a mistake of translation," Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information Johannes Caspar said in an email on Friday.

The Hamburg data protection commissioner, already at odds with Facebook over its use of face recognition technology, reopened its proceedings against the company in August last year, telling the company to either obtain explicit consent for face recognition from users, delete the data, or face a lawsuit, Caspar said at the time.

Facebook turned off facial recognition for all European users in September last year, and said it would delete all face recognition templates for existing users in Europe.

To read this article in full or to leave a comment, please click here



Firefox 4 Mobile officially released for Android and Maemo devices

Firefox 4 MobileMoments ago, Mozilla stripped the release candidate moniker from Firefox 4 Mobile and pronounced it fit for public release. If you have a Nokia N900 phone, or a fairly-modern Android 2.0-or-later device, go ahead and install it from the Market, by using scanning the QR code after the break, or by visiting

Accompanying the release is the launch of Spark, a cute social game that's designed to fuel the adoption of Firefox 4 Mobile, much like last week's use of Glow and Twitter Party during Firefox 4 PC's release.

While the browser still feels a little rough around the edges, it's definitely worth trying out if you're still using Android's stock browser. Its JavaScript performance is significantly better than any other Android browser, and if you use Firefox on your PC, its built-in Sync functionality is awesome.

Over the next few days we'll have plenty of tips and tricks for Firefox 4 Mobile, and a list of the best add-ons available for the new browser.

Continue reading Firefox 4 Mobile officially released for Android and Maemo devices

Firefox 4 Mobile officially released for Android and Maemo devices originally appeared on Download Squad on Tue, 29 Mar 2011 11:40:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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International data overseas: How the U.S. carriers stack up

International Roaming

Oh, you'll have to pay extra for roaming data outside the U.S. — the question is how much?

We're headed over to Germany next week for IFA — and we're also doing a bit of talking about carriers and how they work this week as part of Talk Mobile 2013, so it seemed like a fine time to take a look at how the major U.S. carriers stack up when it comes to data overseas.

It helps to remember how all this stuff works. Back in the early days of cell phones, you'd be (more or less) confined to a restricted region. Stray outside that region, and suddenly you're "roaming." What that really means, in a nutshell, is that your carrier then has to pay another carrier for your phone to work. And that costs money.

Fast forward a few years, and those roaming charges disappear. "Free roaming." Now, we just use our phones wherever the hell we want to in the United States. And that's the way it should be. But head outside the U.S. of A., and suddenly you're roaming again. And that means it's time to pay the piper. You might get slightly lower rates in Canada or Mexico (thanks, neighbors!), or you might not.

International data isn't cheap. Your best bet is to find a local prepaid SIM card. But that's not always easy — and there's really something luxurious about stepping off a plane, firing up your phone ... and it just works.

And so we've gathered up the international data rates for the four major U.S. carriers — Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. These are all with various international "plans" that you'll add to your account (with one pay-as-you-go exception for Verizon), and so if you're not consistently heading outside the U.S. on a monthly basis, you'll need to be sure to turn off the service once you're home.

Here's how it stacks up:

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Google Confirms It Has Acquired Android Smartwatch Maker WIMM Labs

WIMM smartwatchGoogle has confirmed it acquired WIMM Labs last year, a company that previously made an Android-powered smartwatch before shuttering operations in 2012. At the time a message on its website said it had entered into an exclusive partnership without releasing further details, but it?s now clear that partner was Google, rather than Apple as some had initially speculated.



How Secure is My Password lets you know just that

We've all heard it before; you need to select a lengthy password, one that's hard to guess. Not a dictionary word. And it has to have some capital letters in it too, and some digits, and a symbol or two won't hurt either.

That's a handy set of rules to keep in mind, but How Secure is My Password helps us understand why they're important.

It's basically like a full-screen version of one of those password-strength meters websites sometimes use. But instead of showing you a bar going from "weak" to "strong", it shows you an estimation of how long your password would take to crack. That's a much more visceral way to understand why your password is strong.

For example, when I entered "rabbit", it came back with "your password is one of the 500 most common passwords. It could be cracked almost instantly". "rabbit5" would take two hours, "$rabbit5" would take 38 days, and "$rabbitZ5" would take 237 years. It's quite enlightening to see what a difference three simple characters can make.

How Secure is My Password lets you know just that originally appeared on Download Squad on Sat, 05 Mar 2011 14:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 coming to Canada through Rogers and Telus

Nokia Lumia 1020 coming to Canada through Rogers and Telus

Canadians won't miss out on the Lumia 1020's photographic prowess for much longer. Following rumors and teases, Nokia has confirmed that its flagship Windows Phone is coming to both Rogers and Telus. There's no official word on ship dates or prices, but the company says the 1020 will be available in both black and yellow. Let's hope that it reaches Canada soon -- rumors persist of even bigger devices that could overshadow the 1020 in the near future.

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Source: Nokia Canada (Twitter)