Book Review: “Planet of the Apes – Tales from The Forbidden Zone”

If you are a dedicated reader of this fine technology blog you surely are aware that I am always reading a book. From history to science to tech to biography to Star Trek and science fiction in general I always have a trusty book on my night stand.

With this in mind I decided that it would be pretty cool to take a few moments to mention my book reads right here – on this very blog. I must do it here because I do not have the energy or time to start another blog! I understand if you want to skip these book mentions & reviews but forgive me – I need to get it out of my system.

This evening I finish a pure joy of a book, “Planet of the Apes – Tales From The Forbidden Zone”. This is a collection of 16 short stories from the Apes universe.

Why is this book so much fun? Well I grew up fascinated by the Planet of the Apes universe. Only second to Star Trek did the Apes universe capture my imagination (as it still does). Also you must understand Planet of the Apes books are actually quite a rare thing. This year there are several books being released, with this being the first and only original one. This collection of stories is such fun because the sheer range of the tales here are a sight to behold.

Apes Stories Of All Kinds Abound

There are side-stories such as John Jackson Miller’s “Murders’ Row” with its intriguing perspective on Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, tales that delve into the back-stories of classic character such as Anderson and co-author Sam Knight’s “Of Monsters And Men”, explorations of Ape culture such as the tales written by Greg Cox and co-editor Handley, and stories that present new additions to the mythology such as Keyes’ tale which also takes readers beyond the usual North American setting of the franchise. There are stories that fill-in plot holes such as Ty Templeton’s story that sets up the aforementioned film Escape or that act as sequels such as Dayton Ward’s “Message In A Bottle” that helps to start wrapping up the canceled 1970s live-action TV series (which I still enjoy). There’s even room for some poignant tales such as Bob Mayer’s “what if?” sequel to the 1968 film or co-editor Beard’s epic “Silenced” that will have you looking at parts of the series in a whole new light.

I also love it that the Planet of the Apes short lived 1974 TV series gets some much deserved loved with a couple of awesome stories in this collection.

Apes Quality

Perhaps more than the individual stories is the sheer quality of the overall product. Anthologies, by the nature of them being a hodgepodge of different authors, tend to be hit and miss with some stories being better than others. There are exceptions to almost every rule and this proves to be such as case as there isn’t a single miss in the entire collection. Every single story here presents its own intriguing (and sometimes knowingly contradictory) take on Planet Of The Apes as we know it with always intriguing results.

Good short fiction always leaves you begging for more and this collection is full of such tales.

Tales From The Forbidden Zone is among the rarest species of anthologies. That’s not just because it finally presents a collection of Planet Of The Apes short fiction but because of the sheer quality of the tales it presents. It is a book that expands and explores the Planet of the Apes franchise in new and exciting ways, sometimes outside the box but it never ceases to be interesting. So if you are one of those with even a modicum of interest in classic Apes, this is an anthology for you.

I went Ape for this book and if you – like me fondly recall the Apes movies & TV series you will GO APE for it as well!

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Windows Defender Matures & Improves

If you are using Windows 10, I am happy the report that Microsoft’s built-in security application, Windows Defender is finally growing up. This is important because if you can trust Windows Defender on your Windows 10 PC you will save yourself some money because you will not need to purchase a third party security application.

The Creators Update will include a new Windows Defender Security Center. It’s basically a hub where users can go to see if there are any security concerns for their system, and if any do exist they can easily address them. It’s also a place to customize security across five different pillars. Here is what Microsoft has to say about each one:

  • Virus & threat protection provides a new view of your antivirus protection whether it’s Windows Defender Antivirus that comes free with Windows 10 or AV software from one of our ecosystem partners. If you’ve chosen Windows Defender Antivirus, your scan results and threat history will be displayed here, or you will be able to launch your 3rd party AV protection app directly from this screen.
  • Device performance & health provides a single view of your latest Windows updates, drivers, battery life and storage capacity. Additionally, you have the option to start fresh with a clean install of Windows using the Refresh Windows feature. This option will keep your personal files and some Windows settings, and remove most of your apps for a fresh start that can help with performance improvements should your device need them.
  • Firewall & network protection provides information on the network connections and active Windows Firewall settings, as well as links to network troubleshooting information.
  • App & browser control allows you to adjust settings for SmartScreen for apps and browsers helping you be more informed and stay safer online by warning you of potential malicious sites, downloads and unrecognized apps and files from the Internet.
  • Family options gives you an easy way to connect to the family options available online. This page can link you to information about parental controls, options for setting up good screen time habits, setting up activity reports of your kids’ online activity and managing controls for purchasing apps and games. You can also view the health and safety of your family’s devices from this centralized location.

This is an effort by Microsoft to streamline Windows 10’s advanced security features so that users have a better understanding of how they’re protected and can more easily make changes.

The Creators Update will also look to close gaps in security. For example, if you have a third-party antivirus program installed and it expires, Windows Defender Antivirus will automatically become the default option until you take further action. Some people may find that annoying, though Microsoft is choosing to err on the side of caution.

I am part of the Windows Insiders Team and therefore I have been using Windows Defender Security Center for a few weeks now. So far I like what I see. It will be available to everyone else when the Creators Update rolls out, which is expected to happen in April.

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Why Digital Document Management?

This week I presented some information to the Borough of West Chester’s Sustainability Action Committee regarding the benefits of digital document management. If you were not there you can check out my presentation right here.

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Microsoft Releases Rare Out of Band Flash Update

Earlier this month I reported that Microsoft decided to push their February Patch Tuesday updates into next month despite a couple of pending security concerns that needed to be addressed.

Image result for windows flash patch

According to reports, this delay was due to some internal issue in preparing the patches for distribution so the company opted to delay the updates rather than issue patches that may have caused issues for customers.

While delaying routine patches such as the normal monthly cumulative update for Windows 10 is not a big deal, there was a bug with the SMB protocol in Windows that could be used in a Denial of Service attack and it was expected to be patched this month however, that fix is also part of the delayed Patch Tuesday.

Although the Redmond company delayed that security patch, one area that is getting addressed through an out of band update for Windows is an update for Adobe Flash.

Microsoft pushed out this fix for the Flash vulnerability yesterday under Knowledge Base article KB4010250 (MS17-005).

This patch applies to the following versions of Windows:

  • Windows Server 2016
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows 10
  • Windows 10 Version 1511
  • Windows 10 Version 1607
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows RT 8.1

MS17-005 is rated as a critical so it is recommended that you install it at your earliest opportunity.

There is still no word or indication from Microsoft on whether they might issue additional out of band updates to address the SMB protocol issue before the arrival of Patch Tuesday in March which is scheduled for the 14th.

However, there is a work around to keep someone from exploiting the SMB protocol bug on your system.

According to the Software Engineering Institutes vulnerability note on this you can block outbound SMB connections from your local network to the wide area network and disable connections on TCP ports 139 and 145 plus UDP ports 137 and 138.

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7 New Planets Could Mean We Are Not Alone…

Our universe just got a little more crowded! That’s because NASA announced today that they have discovered seven new Earth-sized planets, at least three of which could potentially support life. And the best news of all is that they are relatively close by.

NASA discovered seven nearby planets that could support life

All of the planets orbit TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool dwarf star roughly the size of Jupiter. The system is close to Earth, relatively speaking – TRAPPIST is located in the Aquarius constellation, less than 40 light years from us.

What makes these exoplanets special is they are temperate which meant that all seven could potentially have water. Three of the planets are in the habitable zone, making them the most likely candidates to support life.

The TRAPPIST system is named after the telescope in Chile with which researchers originally spotted the exoplanets. Their existence was recently confirmed with NASA’s Spitzer Telescope.

So far, all we know about our potential new homes is they are likely to be rocky. They are all also closer to their star than Mercury is to our Sun, but the star is so cool that the furthest of the seven is probably a ball of ice.

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New Chrome Hack Emerges

Hackers are getting more wicked by the day. Security researchers have recently discovered a new hacking vector for Chrome that prompts users to download a ‘missing font’ and then tricks them into installing malware on their systems.

chrome, malware, hack

The infection was first reported by NeoSmart Technologies, which recently detailed the attack in a blog post.

The threat was first noticed while browsing an unnamed WordPress website that was allegedly already compromised. Unlike other worn-out attacks, this one was particularly well-disguised.

The hackers fundamentally use JavaScript to tamper with the text rendering, causing it to resemble mis-encoded text in place of actual content. The script then prompts users to fix the issue by updating the ‘Chrome font pack.’

What makes the attack especially sly is the subtle hacking vector it employs. In addition to the credible premise involving the ‘missing font,’ the dialog window has also been formatted to accurately resemble an actual Chrome pop-up: It uses the correct logo as well as the correct shade of blue for the ‘update’ button.

There are a few “tell-tale signs” that ought to alert careful users. For one, the dialog window has been hard-coded to display the user is running version 53 of Chrome – a clue that could tip off some users running other reiterations of the browser that something might be off.

Additionally, while clicking ‘Update’ will proceed to download a file titled “Chrome Font v7.5.1.exe,” the name of the downloaded file doesn’t match the one displayed in the malicious instruction image, which reads “Chrome_Font.exe.”

Despite this, researchers warn that as of now Chrome still fails to filter out the file as malware – it is, however, blocked by the standard “this file isn’t downloaded often” warning. Windows Defender similarly misses to label the file as malicious.

Your best for now. Do not install new fonts if you are prompted when using Chrome.

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Yahoo’s Security Woes Continues

If you are still using Yahoo for email I would find another email provider. The long history of Yahoo breaches just continues.

Now Yahoo is warning users of potentially malicious activity on their accounts between 2015 and 2016, the latest development in the internet company’s investigation of a mega-breach that exposed 1 billion users’ data several years ago.

Yahoo confirmed this past Wednesday that it was notifying users that their accounts had potentially been compromised but declined to say how many people were affected.

In a statement last week  Yahoo tied some of the potential compromises to what it has described as the “state-sponsored actor” responsible for the theft of private data from more than 1 billion user accounts in 2013 and 2014. The stolen data included email addresses, birth dates and answers to security questions.

The catastrophic breach raised questions about Yahoo’s security and destabilized the company’s deal to sell its email service, websites and mobile applications to Verizon Communications.

The malicious activity that was the subject of the user warnings revolved around the use of “forged cookies” which are strings of data used across the web that can sometimes allow people to access online accounts without re-entering their passwords.

A warning message sent to Yahoo users Wednesday read: “Based on the ongoing investigation, we believe a forged cookie may have been used in 2015 or 2016 to access your account.”

Yahoo continues to struggle with their user’s security and I believe it’s time for users to move on from Yahoo, an outdated and overwhelmed service that continues to put user’s security at risk.

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Building Fuzzy Engine

While the very notion of a lightweight email search tool may seem quaint in this mobile/cloud era, Microsoft may actually be on to something here. Its new Email Insights app for Windows 10 promises faster, more relevant email searches than what’s possible today in Microsoft Outlook or Gmail.

“Searching through emails can be tedious at times,” the Email Insights website notes. “You might have to keep scrolling to find that elusive email. We present a lightweight no-frills email application to alleviate these problems.”

Searching your email can be a daunting and frustrating experience and Email Insights strives to finally rectify this problem. That app works with both Outlook 2016 and Gmail. You can download Email Insight from the Windows Store.

I tested the new app today and I can report that it works as advertised, and seems to work quickly. Email appears inline in the search results, and you can expand each message individually to read more.

Be aware that the install took almost 10 minutes for me (Surface Book) and I really enjoyed some of the messages during install like, “Building Fuzzy Engine” which I have no idea what it means.

I believe that Email Insights will be a big deal for Outlook users, since that application is so terrible (with searches). Further, this would be a much bigger deal if Microsoft simply integrated this technology into Outlook 2016 itself.

According to Microsoft, the reason for Email Insights was simple enough: Email search sucks. (Remember that these are Microsoft guys, so they are probably using Outlook. Email search in Gmail is excellent.)

“The email search experience today lags far behind the web search experience,” Microsoft notes. “A user might search for an email with some keywords and keep scrolling down the search results to find that elusive email. A user has to remember the keywords from an email or the spelling of peoples’ names to get to the required email. Moreover, having a complex application with hundreds of features is an overkill for doing some quick tasks like send one liner emails.”

If regularly searching email for specific content is an issue for you, Email Insights is worth checking out. However I do hope that this solution will simply become a part of Microsoft’s email services and applications at some point.

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February’s Windows Patches Delayed Until March

As reported earlier this week, On February 14, Microsoft made the unusual move to delay its regular Patch Tuesday updates over a “last minute issue”, and now it looks like those updates won’t arrive until next month.

Microsoft is now reporting that the February’s updates will now be distributed as part of the next planned Patch Tuesday on March 14 – which is what I had guessed at the time.

From Microsoft:

We will deliver updates as part of the planned March Update Tuesday, March 14, 2017.

Our top priority is to provide the best possible experience for customers in maintaining and protecting their systems. This month, we discovered a last minute issue that could impact some customers and was not resolved in time for our planned updates today.

After considering all options, we made the decision to delay this month’s updates. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this change to the existing plan.

Again, Microsoft hasn’t provided a reason for the delay, but at least those impacted now have a firm date to plan for. Still, this is odd for an update schedule that has run like clockwork since it was introduced, and potentially leaves users exposed to bugs and exploits that would have otherwise been patched (including a particularly nasty SMB exploit).

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Outlook.com Premium at a Bargain Price

My favorite personal email service just got better… for $19.99 a year, for a limited time after which the annual cost grows.

Image result for outlook.com premium

As with the consumer-oriented “Ad-free Outlook.com,” a $20 per year deal that scrubs advertisements from the service, Outlook.com Premium also erases ads from the five inboxes.

According to the small print on the Premium website, 12 months of the service will cost $20 until the end of March, at which time it will climb to $50, its regular price.

Renewals for those who get in under the discount wire will run up to $30 — $20 for the Outlook.com service, $10 for the domain name, if there is one — apparently until Microsoft decides to raise the price. “You will be notified if the price changes,” the website said.

Microsoft has aggressively promoted subscriptions for several years, but with the launch of Windows 10 — and that operating system’s “software-as-a-service” model — the company accelerated efforts with new enterprise-grade subscriptions to Windows as well as programs targeting consumers, such as the Groove music streaming service and now Outlook.com Premium.

Microsoft today officially launched a premium-grade Outlook.com email service in the U.S. that omits ads, provides five inboxes and supports personalized addresses.

If you are looking for a inexpensive email service that is professional, easy to use and modern in it’s offerings you cannot go wrong with Outlook.com.

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