Apple Releases iOS 8.4

Today Apple released iOS 8.4, the latest update to its mobile operating system. The update is not as wide-ranging as iOS 8.3, but it does add a few notable things, chief among them are a revamped Music app and a fix for a bug where a specific set of characters could crash the operating system. iOS 8.4 is available for the iPhone 4S and newer, the iPad 2 and newer, and the fifth-generation iPod Touch.

The redesigned music app accompanies the launch of Apple Music and the 24-hour, human-curated Beats One radio station, which Apple exec Eddy Cue and a parade of others spent a long, long time unveiling at WWDC earlier this month. The Spotify-esque on-demand streaming station comes with a three-month trial, and when that ends, it will cost $10 a month for individuals or $15 a month for families of up to six people.

Also included in iOS 8.4 are improvements to iBooks, which can now be used for audiobooks. “Made for iBooks” books now work on the iPhone, too. Other improvements include a setting to turn off the auto-night theme, the ability to pre-order books in a series, and various bug fixes.

Finally, iOS 8.4 fixes another problem that “prevented GPS accessories from providing location data,” and “fixes an issue where deleted Apple Watch apps could re-install.”

iOS 8.4 will likely be the last major update the operating system receives before iOS 9 is released later this fall. The new version, which will also be available as a public beta next month, will run on every device that currently runs iOS 8. Among other things, it introduces a more intelligent, context-aware Siri, multitasking for newer iPads, and many refinements for existing apps.

Microsoft’s New Mobility First Vision

If you do not believe that the “cloud” is for real or that it is a tech fad you may want to start re-thinking that. For me personally, I really never had a problem accepting this. After all, as I have written many times right here on this fine technology blog, the “cloud” or more accurately “mobility in computing” is the next evolution in computer technology. We are in the early days of it, that is for sure but that is the direction we are all heading, some sooner then later.

Mobility is the road that will be well traveled very shortly for most everyone.

Microsoft Vision Gets Clearer

Microsoft just made this vision even clearer. In a recent memo from Microsoft’s CEO, Natya Nadella he touched on Microsoft’s new vision for the future. Woven throughout Nadella’s memo was an emphasis on Microsoft’s place in a mobile-first, cloud-first world.

“The transformation we are driving across our businesses is designed to enable Microsoft and our customers to thrive in this world,” Nadella said. “It’s important to note that our worldview for mobile-first is not just about the mobility of devices; it’s centered on the mobility of experiences that, in turn, are orchestrated by the cloud.”

The company should aim to appeal to “dual-use” customers by helping them improve their productivity both at work and “in the rest of their life activities with other people,” Nadella said.

Another goal, will be for Microsoft to “build the best instatiation” of its vision through its Windows platform and devices, he added. With its Windows 10 operating system set for release on June 29, Microsoft will seek to “delight our customers, increase distribution of our services, drive gross margin, enable fundamentally new product categories, and generate opportunity for the Windows ecosystem more broadly,” Nadella said.

You can see, I am not the only one seeing where this computing transformation is heading.

Mobility with less emphasis on physical on-premises hardware is where we are all heading.

Tuesday’s Leap Second Explained

This Tuesday, a single second will be added to clocks around the world to help counter Earth’s rotation slowing down.

What is a “Leap Second”?

leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to keep its time of day close to the mean solar time, or UT1. Without such a correction, time reckoned by Earth’s rotation drifts away from atomic time because of irregularities in the Earth’s rate of rotation. Since this system of correction was implemented in 1972, 25 such leap seconds have been inserted. The most recent one happened on June 30, 2012 at 23:59:60 UTC. A leap second, the 26th, will again be inserted at the end of June 30, 2015 at 23:59:60 UTC.

Humans can handle the additional second without even being aware of it, however computers are are another story and can get a little “confused”  where a path of time suddenly changes.

When a leap second was last added to the clock in 2012, during a weekend it wreaked some havoc online.

The leap second in 2012 caused Reddit, Foursquare, Yelp, LinkedIn, Gawker and StumbleUpon to be knocked offline entirely, as well as hundreds of flights to be delayed in Australia.

Many issues were caused by a bug in the Network Time Protocol used to keep Linux system clocks in sync. The flaw caused NTP to lock up some systems entirely, requiring a reboot before they could recover.

When the leap second comes around, it means the system clock sees an additional figure, like so:

2011-12-31 23.59.57
2011-12-31 23.59.58
2011-12-31 23.59.59
2011-12-31 23.59.60 <– leap second
2012-01-01 00.00.00
2012-01-01 00.00.01
2012-01-01 00.00.02

The second will be inserted into network time services at the exact same moment worldwide, on June 30th at 23:59:60 UTC.

This time around it’s critical that businesses are ready, with the leap second being added during a time when trading on stock markets is open.

Some businesses are ready for the leap second to be added, like Google and Amazon, which adjust server clocks gradually over a number of weeks so that it’s not a sudden change.

Others that rely on time-critical systems, like stock markets and utilities are nervous about it going wrong. A single second of downtime for a stock market means up to $4.6 million could be lost.

Linux systems specifically should be fine. The bug that affected them last time has since been resolved, along with other issues found in Java and other operating systems.

The leap second is mostly a headache for system administrators who need to ensure their services are highly available and need to plan how to handle the change. Hardware providers such as Cisco now provide detailed advice on how their hardware handles the leap second, but the side effects are unpredictable.

The Leap Second’s Future Demise?

Leap seconds might not be around for much longer with the International Telecommunications Union planning to vote on a proposal to eliminate the leap second in November 2015.

Windows 10 Shines in the Latest Build

Patience and endurance is beginning to pay off for me with this Windows 10 build process. Some builds have been just plain bad, while some have been clunky and others, like the latest one which was released to fast ring testers late yesterday afternoon prove that Windows 10 truly has the potential to be the best version of Windows yet. And it better because if there is a repeat of the Windows 8 disaster I am not sure what Microsoft will do. I believe that there is little chance of another disaster and at the end of the day Windows 8 will look like the beta operating system that it was.

Microsoft’s release of Windows 10 Build 10158 to Insiders late yesterday afternoon keeps us on track for at least one more build, possibly a Release Candidate level build before the official July 29th release is scheduled to his the street.

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I of course stopped what I was doing yesterday evening and immediately installed the most recent build of Windows 10.

One cool features that has survived the past couple of builds is the theming around the Bing wallpaper of the day. I really like this because it keeps your PC looking fresh every day. Now onto some new stuff with this latest build.

By far the biggest addition in this build is the fully branded Microsoft Edge internet browser and finally goodbye to “Project Spartan” and even “Internet Explorer”. Edge brings with it a very big list of new features:

  • One of the top pieces of feedback we’ve heard from Windows Insiders is that many of you really wanted a “home” button for Microsoft Edge. In this build, we’ve provided an option for you to add it via Settings > Advanced Settings and turn on “Show the home button”.
  • We’ve added the ability for you to import favorites/bookmarks from other browsers into Microsoft Edge.
  • There are new options for changing what you see when you first start Microsoft Edge.
  • There are new customizations for the New Tab page. You can choose to either see top sites and suggested content – or just top sites.
  • We’ve added password and form-fill support. Microsoft Edge now lets you manage your passwords for your favorite websites.
  • Audio from Microsoft Edge plays while the app is minimized or in the background – another top request from Windows Insiders.
  • You can drag and drop tabs to a new window.
  • Another top request: we now have a dark theme!

Among the improved user experience are much needed fixes for Continuum and Tablet Mode both including better handling of Windows 8.1 and Win32 apps. A new gesture has also been added that allows you to open the All Apps list with a swipe up from the left side of the screen.

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Taskbar icons that are trying to get your attention will now flash orange and downloads are once again green and animate horizontally instead of vertically.

Cortana has received some updates with her Notebook now being final and has a combined Profile and Settings area along with the consolidated sidebar menu.  She has joined other areas of the OS and received her own dark theme as well. For Office 365 users on a company opted into the First Release for Office 365 Cortana is now integrated with Office 365.I have not seen this yet but being a Office 365 Enterprise user I hope to shortly.

There is an update for the Photos app on Windows 10 in the Windows Store Beta that adds new features including support for GIF files – anther top Insider request.

The improved Snipping Tool is also in this build and adds a delay option to make it easier to grab images of context and pop-up menus.

I am also happy to see that Surface Pro 3 users finally have fixes in this build to improve battery life.

You can see that Microsoft is very close to the finished product because there are no known issues with this build. The first time since the Windows Insider Program began.

Riding the fast ring of beta testers has been quite an experience and dare I say it but I will miss the ups and downs during the past you with Windows 10. Microsoft shiny new operating system is just about ready to step into the light.

Hershey Park Latest Hack Victim

This weekend the wife and I are attending the annual Hershey “Give The Kids The World” Disney Meet and this morning I wake up to read that Hershey Park may, and most likely is, the latest security breach victim.

What are the odds?

Details About Hershey Security Breach Emerge

Recent visitors to Hershey Park could end up paying more than the price of entrance to the Pennsylvania resort and theme park.This is because of recently published reports stating that Hershey Entertainment and Resorts has hired a firm to investigate a possible security breach. Financial institutions apparently discovered a pattern of fraudulent charges on customer credit cards that link back to Hershey. To further suggest that this has likely happened Hershey Park ownership has also confirmed some of its guests are reporting fraudulent charges on their payment cards after they visited the property.

“We take reports like this very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “While our company does have security measures in place designed to prevent unauthorized access to our network, we immediately began to investigate our system for signs of an issue and engaged an external computer security firm to assist us. The investigation is ongoing.”

Regularity Check Your Statements and Online Banking Activity

It is always a good practice for consumers to review their payment card account statements, If there are signs of unauthorized charges, you should immediately report them to the bank that issued the card because payment card network rules generally state that individuals are not responsible for unauthorized charges that are reported in a timely manner to their bank. I would also suggest actively doing this while on vacation, visiting resorts or parks.

Further Protecting Yourself

  • As I have said many times, use a good password manager to manage all of your online and account passwords.
  • Use unique and strong passwords for each and every account.
  • Consider Two-Factor Authentication. It offers very strong protection of your information. I will begin to talk about this more very soon and try to offer my best recommendations.

Oracle’s New Cloud Strategy

The race for your cloud dollar just heated up.

Tech giant Oracle is jumping into the cloud sector in a very big way. Larry Ellison,  executive chairman of the board and CTO, this week announced a beefed up Oracle Cloud Platform that aims to compete head-to-head with Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft.

The Oracle Cloud Platform is an integrated suite of services designed to help developers, IT pros, business users and analysts build, extend and integrate cloud apps. Larry Ellison announced 24 new cloud services, including Oracle Database Cloud — Exadata, Oracle Archive Storage Cloud, Oracle Big Data Cloud, Oracle Integration Cloud, Oracle Mobile Cloud, and Oracle Process Cloud.

If there was any doubt that the cloud was not here to stay here is yet another example of why cloud services are the future of how we will deal with document management, messaging services and collaboration efforts.

As an example of what I am suggesting just take a look at Oracle Cloud Platform’s specific growth. Their platform is powering some of the world’s biggest brands, with over 1,800 customers including Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, the Washington Nationals, Big Fish Games, General Motors among many others.

Finding Oracle’s Cloud Nitch  

While Amazon, Google, Microsoft Azure and the other providers have largely been providing commodity-like compute services it appears that Oracle Cloud is branding itself as a fully integrated platform to run Oracle apps in particular.

It is becoming not a decision for most organizations if they should go to the cloud, but which cloud to embrace.

FCC Seeks To Stop RoboCalls

f you are like me you just cannot stand robocalls. If you are like me this might be the best news you’ve heard all week. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now moving to protect us against these nuisance calls as well as spam texts to boot.

The FCC approved a slew of what it calls “declaratory rulings” that affirm your rights to control incoming calls from political campaigns, survey-takers, charities and the like. As part of the package, the FCC made it crystal clear that telephone companies can freely allow you to use robocall-blocking technology.

All this is in response to thousands of consumer complaints about robocalls the FCC fields every month. In fact, the FCC reported that complaints related to unwanted calls are the most typical type of grievance it receives. All told, there were over 250,000 unwanted call complaints in 2014 alone. Apparently, the FCC is tired of fielding calls about annoying calls.

Breaking down the package, the FCC gave a green light to so-called “do-not-disturb” technology. Telephone companies can offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers and add on market-based solutions that consumers can use to stop unwanted robocalls. Consumers also have the right to revoke consent to receive robocalls and robotexts, even if they previously signed up for them. And if a phone number has been reassigned, companies have to stop calling the number after one call.

The new FCC package theoretically covers just about anything you could think of. The agency tackled third-party consent, affirmed the law’s definition of auto dialers, and reaffirmed that consumers are entitled to the same consent-based protections for texts as they are for voice calls to wireless numbers. The FCC even covered Internet-to-phone text messages and free calls or texts to alert you of possible fraud on your bank account, along with reminders of medication refills and related alerts.

How does all this impact the do-not-call list? This week’s action make no changes to the Do-Not-Call Registry, which restricts unwanted telemarketing calls, but are intended to build on the registry’s effectiveness by closing loopholes and ensuring that consumers are fully protected from unwanted calls, including those not covered by the registry.

Airline Cancels Flights Due to Malware

Here is yet another example of how cyber crime is finding its way into our real lives.

LOT Polish Airlines was forced to cancel 10 flights scheduled to depart from Warsaw’s Chopin airport on Sunday after hackers attacked its ground computer systems.

The IT attack, which was not described in detail, left the company unable to create flight plans for outbound flights, grounding around 1,400 passengers.

The company said that plane systems were not affected and aircraft that were already in the air were able to continue their flight or to land. The incident affected only the ability of planes to depart from the airport for several hours.

It’s not clear what kind of attack it was and whether it was the hackers’ intention to ground planes or if the systems were taken offline as part of incident response procedures.

LOT Polish Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for more details.

This is not the first time hackers or malware have affected computer systems belonging to airports or airlines, although it’s one of the rare cases where such an attack actually had an impact on flight schedules.

This incident demonstrates that while attacking in-flight systems may have made headlines recently, there are many more areas of vulnerability to address in the aviation industry, Like most industries today, aviation relies on a wide variety of interconnected systems, from air traffic control to reservations systems.