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    December 25, 2014
    Merry Christmas From Shaktronics

    In lieu of any actual posted content, I’m going to take a day with family and friends and to decompress and just ride out the rest of the holiday season on what I hope is a cloud of relaxed, fun stuff.  Like, for example, looking at some Christmas lights before they all start coming down around the beginning of 2015.  Since 2014 was the year of Frozen mania, it’s only fitting that the lights of 2014 are all set to songs from Disney’s newest masterpiece.  While we’re all still feeling festive, feast your eyes upon this awesome display.

    YouTube Preview Image

    So if you celebrate, Merry Christmas.  If you don’t, enjoy the random day off in the middle of the week.

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    December 24, 2014
    Wordless Wednesday: Happy Holidays

    Via Marvel’s Twitter account.

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    December 19, 2014
    T-Mobile Hit With $90 Million In Cramming Case

    Once upon a time, there was a commercial every few hours.  Get a horoscope, subscribe to something, and you’d get updates, text messages, and all kinds of other weird stuff.  It was a problem for phone users, because once these started, they tended to multiply, and they were practically impossible to get taken off the bill.  T-Mobile was a big offender of this, at least according to the federal government, and now they’re paying the price.  T-Mobile will refund customers $67.5 million dollars, state attorneys general $18 million in fines and penalties, and the Federal Communications Commission $4.5 million.  T-Mobile was one of the first companies to jump on the cramming bandwagon, and now they’re paying for it.

    “Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers, and I’m pleased that this settlement will put money back in the hands of affected T-Mobile customers,” said Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez.  ”Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile-phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more.”

    Phone bills are super tricky, even now, but things are a little clearer than they used to be.  Now people are getting gouged on data plans, not horoscopes and trivia texts.  At least it’s honest gouging.

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    December 14, 2014
    Microsoft Now Taking Bitcoins

    It wasn’t Apple or Google that struck the blow that turned BitCoin into something closer to legitimate money, but Microsoft.  The company that was late to the smartphone party and who has struggled to catch up in most of the big consumer electronics areas–video games aside–is a leader in one key area.  Microsoft will now accept bitcoins as a way to add money to your Microsoft accounts.  One small step for cryptocurrency, one giant leap for Microsoft.

    “You can only use bitcoin to add money to your Microsoft account and then purchase digital goods at select Microsoft online stores.  You can’t use bitcoin to purchase Microsoft products and services directly at this time,” says Microsoft’s webpage.

    Of course, there are some conditions.  Once you’ve made the transaction, it cannot be reversed.  There’s a limit of $1000 per day for a personal account, with a limit of $5000 total for an individual’s account.  Bitcoins can only be used to add money to the Microsoft account, not pay directly for products.  Still, baby steps forward.


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    December 12, 2014
    Iowa’s Driver’s License App

    You’re driving, the cops pull you over, and then it’s time to do the information shuffle.  You have to find your registration, proof of insurance, and license.  The hard part isn’t usually the license, but Iowa is going to make getting a ticket even easier by making it smartphone accessible.  Iowa is going to have a driver’s license app available for smartphones.

    Apparently, the app pulls up like a standard app with a QR code, and it can be scanned by police like the barcode on the back of a normal driver’s license.  You just hand your phone over to the officer for scanning, or perhaps a portable scanner system will be available for use by the officers on traffic patrol, kind of like the hand-held radar detector.  Apparently the app will be fully secured and will connect directly to the Iowa Department of Transportation to ensure the latest in up to date information.

    Of course, there are civil liberty concerns…

    “There are so many logistical problems because of the differences in cellphones and the way people maintain their cellphones,” said defense attorney Nicholas Sarcone.  ”I see the greater potential for harm coming from purely accidental circumstances, where the police officer has to open the license and by mistake comes across something they shouldn’t come across.  In theory, it’s a really cool idea.  The thought of having my license on my phone is great, but it can be a problem.”

    Yeah, I don’t think I’d want any part of that, personally.

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    December 10, 2014
    Discontinued iPod Classics Selling For BIG Money

    It’s only been a year or so, but already absence has made the heart grow fonder when it comes to the iPod Classic.  The discontinued iPod Classic was dismissed by Apple after the company apparently couldn’t find the parts to continue to source the parts for the hard drive-based machine, which can hold twice as much as the biggest iPod currently being made.  Either the scarcity or the size has people taking note, and iPod Classics are going for up to $1000 on eBay and other popular auction sites.

    Since the device was discontinued, it’s been a hot seller on eBay, with models going for as high as $400.  Not bad for a retired piece of hardware that can’t be replaced when it goes bad.  Still, I guess the storage–up to 40,000 songs for a 16GB unit–is enough to make the device popular among the music world’s favorite fans.  Sure, you can’t stream, but who needs to stream when you have a lifetime’s worth of music in your pocket for free?

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    December 3, 2014
    Wordless Wednesday: Happy 42nd Birthday Pong!

    Via Reddit.

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    December 2, 2014
    Apple’s Billion Dollar Antitrust Lawsuit

    In the early 2000′s, Apple was the king of music.  They had the iTunes delivery service, they had the iPod, they cheerfully turned their back on all the music downloading that happened around them, and they reaped the benefits of being the first company to capitalize on the world’s hunger for music downloads.  However, it’s not their success that has them facing trouble in a lawsuit in California; it’s their scheming to stay on top that’s looking problematic.  Apple is facing a billion-dollar antitrust lawsuit over its business practices.

    The class-action lawsuit alleges that Apple went out of its way to keep competitors off the iPod format, and out of the iTunes infrastructure.  The company has turned over several emails from the late Steve Jobs detailing just how the company needed to keep people out of their delivery system and to keep competing music sellers from using iPods as delivery systems.  The walled garden approach, and Apple’s allegedly deliberate use of technology to keep the blockades in place via unnatural means, is why the lawsuit is so big.

    Under California law, if a corporation’s activities directly harm the consumer, the fines are tripled.  Since Apple is squaring off with a $350 million dollar price gouging lawsuit, that means the fines will be over $1 billion assuming the court finds in the favor of the public.

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    November 27, 2014
    Happy Thanksgiving From Shaktronics

    Here in the United States, it’s Thanksgiving Day.  That’s a time for gathering together with family and friends, eating too much, watching too much television, and generally just enjoying the most wonderful sort of relaxing sloth between now and the beginning of the frantic holiday shopping season tomorrow.  So, if you’re celebrating, have a happy Thanksgiving!  If you’re not celebrating, or you’re not from the United States, then happy Thursday just the same.

    As always, I am thankful most of all to you guys, the readers, for checking the site out and being a part of things.  I’m also thankful for the rest of the Shak family for their support and assistance with this project.  Year after year, we keep it going, and if you haven’t checked out the other parts of the Shakadoo family, please do so.  They’re all great sites with great writers.

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    November 22, 2014
    Google To Offer Paid Ad-Block Service

    It’s hard for me, as someone who writes for and maintains websites, to advocate for people not to use ad blockers.  For every blocked ad, I lose a little potential financial reward for the hard work I put in working on the Internet.  Still, as an internet user, I tend to use ad blockers myself, like the browser-based app AdBlock.  However, I’d love to support the websites I visit while still avoiding the inconvenience of pop-ups and other malicious adverts.  Google hears, and Google has a solution.  Google is testing a subscription service that allows users to block ads while not pulling money from the pockets of hard-working website owners.

    The subscription service is called Google Contributor.  There’s a thank-you note that appears in place of the ads, and there are 10 websites signed up for the test service, including IMGUR, The Onion, Urban Dictionary, and Mashable.  It’s both a way to protect users from ads, and to protect users from targeted ads, making it both a convenience issue and a privacy issue.

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