iOS 8: 10 things you want to see

iOS 8: 10 things we want to see

When Apple unveiled iOS 7, CEO Tim Cook called it the “biggest change since the iPhone”. The OS received a major visual and interaction overhaul, along with a slew of new features.

The OS should arrive in the hands of consumers around October 2013, and in the meantime Apple has already released several beta versions, one of which radically altered the system’s typography.

Still, there are many other things we’d like to see Apple change by the time iOS 8 rolls around in 2014 – although in some cases we’ve gpt a sneaking suspicion Apple would disagree.

1. Change and hide default iOS apps

We’d love to be able to choose non-Apple alternatives for handling email, browsing and maps, but doubt it’ll happen. However, Apple not providing the means to hide preinstalled apps you don’t use is an irritant that goes back to the very first iPhone.

Even if there was a similar ‘parental controls’ trick for hiding apps to the one on the Apple TV, that’d be good enough.

2. A guest/child account

Apple’s mantra is everyone should own their own device. That’s lovely, but not everyone’s pockets are as deep as those of Apple board members.

OS X-style user accounts are unlikely, but it can’t be beyond Apple to provide a single-tap child account or a guest account that doesn’t affect your settings and data, and doesn’t retain settings or data of its own.

3. Better iOS app management

As of iOS 7, Apple automates app updates, but it should go further. Devs wrestle with iCloud app data, but this should be child’s play to save and also (optionally) restore whenever you reinstall an app.

And the App Store itself should offer trials and paid version updates (rather than devs being forced to use IAP or ‘replacement’ apps as a workaround).

iOS 7

 4. Stronger inter-app communications

One of the weakest elements of iOS is inter-app communication. If a service bumps you to another app, you’re not always returned when you’ve finished performing an action.

Worse, when making document edits across several apps workflow can be a nightmare with document copies in various states strewn throughout individual app sandboxes.

5. Better document management

Following on from the previous point, iOS should introduce at least some kind of centralised access to documents. Right now, Dropbox is a surrogate file system because iCloud is a bunch of silos.

It’s absurd that you can’t easily attach documents within Mail in an OS that boasts a version number of 7. The lack of collaboration opportunities within iCloud document workflow is also disappointing.

6. Group FaceTime calls

This isn’t specifically tied to iOS, but Apple’s mobile platform is where FaceTime began life, and although the one-to-one model is great, it’s about time you could call several people at once, rather than a group having to crowd around an iPhone.

7. iOS notifications like in OS X Mavericks

In OS X Mavericks, notifications are interactive – get a message and you can deal with it there and then, rather than leaving the app you’re in. This is even more important on iOS, and so we hope Apple adds similar functionality on mobile. Google does it with aplomb, so we want to see the same here.

8. More Do Not Disturb options

Do Not Disturb gained extra power in iOS 7, enabling you to silence notifications only when a device is locked. Bizarrely, it still retains only a single schedule though. Is it beyond Apple to enable you to at least set one for weekdays and a separate one for weekends?

iOS Do Not Disturb

9. Better text manipulation

Apple’s text-selection, cut, copy and paste seemed elegant when it was introduced, but only compared to disastrous equivalents on competing mobile systems.

Today, it comes across as awkward, and it’s a barrier to usability for far too many people. We’d like to see a rethink from Apple and more usable and intuitive ways of dealing with text.

10. Two-up apps

We love the focus iOS provides, but there are times when we’d like to work with two apps at once. Much like messing with default apps, we doubt Apple will ever go down this path, but OS X Mavericks now has a more powerful full-screen mode for multiple monitors.

So there’s perhaps the slightest hope a multi-screen mode might one day arrive for the iPad or a larger iPhone, and would be one in the eye for all those Samsung owners out there.


Rosatom Says It Remains Interested in Slovak Nuclear Project

Rosatom Corp. said it remains interested in a partnership with the Slovak state to build an atomic reactor if the government can guarantee profitability.

The Russian nuclear builder won’t insist on guarantees on the purchase price of power if the Slovak state comes up with an offer that ensures the Jaslovske Bohunice project is economically feasible, Rosatom overseas spokeswoman Andrea Krajniakova said by phone.

“Guarantee on the purchase price was never our sole condition,” Krajniakova said. “We are prepared to enter the project if a mutually satisfactory solution is found.”

Rosatom is in talks with CEZ AS to buy its 49 percent stake in the venture with Slovakia’s state nuclear decommissioning company JAVYS. CEZ, which paid 117 million euros ($159 million) for the stake in 2009, shelved the project last year to focus on expanding its own Temelin nuclear plant in the Czech Republic.

Slovak Premier Robert Fico has supported the construction of atomic plants to make the country self-sufficient in power. The Bohunice unit would be built at the site of an existing nuclear station, where Enel SpA’s local unit operates two reactors.

Enel is also building two 440-megawatt reactors at Mochovce, Slovakia’s other nuclear plant. The project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns as Enel and the Slovak government disagree about budget increases.

FMRI Scans Of Jazz Musicians’ Brains In Improv Leads To Remarkable New Discovery In Neuroscience


The human brain is the most powerful and mysterious biological machine in the known Universe, and new revelations into the mechanics of its inner workings continue to amaze us.  One of the newest discoveries came recently when neuroscientists with John Hopkins studied the brains of jazz musicians engaged in the improvisational act of “trading fours,” wherein the musicians alternate creative control of a round of music usually four bars in duration.

The researchers connected each jazz musician’s brain to an FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner as the musicians were engrossed in spontaneous, improvisational musical conversation.  Unaware of what they were about to find, the researchers were stunned to discover a remarkable ability of the human brain which had never previously been known.  As the brain scans of the musicians began to emerge, the researchers soon witnessed robust activation of the inferior frontal gyrus and posterior superior temporal gyrus that deal primarily with spoken language and syntax — areas that brain science has taught us are responsible for the interpretation of phrases and sentences.  At the same time, the team also discovered the musical conversation was shutting down the regions of the brain that deal with semantics (the angular gyrus and supramarginal gyrus) – areas that process the meaning of spoken language.

“Until now, studies of how the brain processes auditory communication between two individuals have been done only in the context of spoken language,” says Charles Limb, M.D., an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the senior author of the study’s report.  ”But looking at jazz lets us investigate the neurological basis of interactive, musical communication as it occurs outside of spoken language.  We’ve shown in this study that there is a fundamental difference between how meaning is processed by the brain for music and language.  Specifically, it’s syntactic and not semantic processing that is key to this type of musical communication.  Meanwhile, conventional notions of semantics may not apply to musical processing by the brain.”

To read the entire study, which also includes a detailed explanation of the technical challenges involved in fitting the pianos inside the FMRI scanner, be sure to visit  For more extraordinary stories about the human brain be sure to visit The Human Brain on FEELguide.

Extraordinary Ecotourism: 7 Excellent Earthly Escapes (PHOTOS)

Every time you travel, your goal should be to craft the experience of a lifetime.  This is especially true in the world of ecotourism, where the nature of a location carries more importance than the hotel or the nightlife around it.  Your goal as an eco-traveler is to discover the nature of this world in a way you have yet to experience, and it is our aim to guide you along that path.  From the rain forests of Costa Rica to the icy shores of Antarctica, these seven ecotourism destinations could make for the vacation of a lifetime.  If you’re ready to travel off the beaten path, join us to explore the beauty below…

This article is published in partnership with smartwater. smartwater, simplicity is delicious.


At Sal Salis Nigaloo Reef, Australia, you spend your days snorkeling a pristine natural reef, hiking the rolling dunes and observing the friendly local wildlife.  By night, you fall asleep with the sound of the tide just a few meters away from your canvas domicile.  To vacation here is to escape the ordinary, but to do so with the finest in rustic comforts.  It’s rare that the words “rustic” and “comfort” find themselves in equal employment, but they blend well at Sal Salis.  This is either the finest form of camping or the most adventurous form of resort living available.  Either way, rarely can an ecotourism traveler find such a deep connection with coastal nature than in this little hamlet down under.

Sal Salis Nigaloo Reef Gallery




There is no greater frontier on the Earth’s surface than the icy reaches of Antarctica.  This frozen continent at the southern base of our planet is home to resilient animals, hearty plant life and massive ice structures that rival man’s greatest architectural achievements.  Several times a year, the people at National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions carry a few dozen ecotourism passengers to the world’s coldest extremes to explore this frozen frontier.

The National Geographic Expeditions cruise leaves Argentina to explore the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and the shores of the Antarctic peninsula in an intimate fashion.  On board this ship, you’ll do a lot more than gazing from the top deck, you’ll walk on icebergs, kayak through thawing waters and come face-to-face with penguins and albatrosses alike.  While the price tag carries a bit of sticker shock (trips can start around $10k per traveler), you will rest assured that few other ecotourism travelers will ever experience the natural world quite like this.  Bon Voyage!

National Geographic Expeditions: Antarctica Gallery




In an otherwise untouched reach of the forests of Sweden, a strange mirror cube floats in the pine needle canopy.  This might be the world’s most unusual hotel– a large reflective cube that welcomes guests to an intimate forest experience.  The Tree Hotel – Sweden features a collection of tree house suites that include the mirror cube above, a UFO-shaped saucer, a branch-covered cube and a fairytale red tree house.  It is a prime destination for design and ecotourism travelers, where architecture and natural immersion meet in the same location.  It’s an other-worldly escape, one that is near the top of our own personal bucket list.

Tree Hotel Sweden Gallery




If you’re planning a visit to the Joshua Tree National Park in California, there may be no better way to experience it than the Rosa Muerta Desert Retreat.  This stunning home was designed by architect Robert Stone to serve as a rentable vacation shelter for ecotourism travelers to Joshua Tree.  The goal was to allow visitors to experience the desert firsthand in an architecturally-progressive structure with an unparalleled connection to its environment.  The open windows, doors and exposed skylights make this shelter a part of the environment, not a point of escape from its character.  At $200/night, its rental price beats most vacation rentals in nearby LA.  Don’t expect a maid service, but that’s not what you came to the desert for…

Rosa Muerta Desert Retreat Gallery




When taking to the snowy Alps for a winter-time ski retreat, your traditional chalet may not be the optimal ecotourism option.  The WhitePod Alpine Ski Resort features 15 geodesic dome rooms with their own wood-burning fireplace, raised wooden floors and soft, cushy furnishings.  These domes make a minimal impact on the mountainous environment of the Swiss Alps, while providing a comforting and quiet escape from the cool temperatures of the local climate.  Each dome features a wide, panoramic window to the hills and valleys below while the sun sets on the snow-kissed mountains beyond.

WhitePod Alpine Ski Resort Gallery




If a safari is on your horizon, the Naibor Luxury Safari Retreat is an ideal African escape.  This prime place of Kenyan ecotourism welcomes guests who wish to explore the African continent without giving up the creature comforts.  Like others on this list, Naibor is part camping, part luxury resort– it features fine dining and personal relaxation while also offering deep African exploration.  It’s the kind of destination where one can observe lions and hippos go about their day while enjoying the romantic quiet at night.  It’s hard to beat Naibor if Kenya is on your itinerary.

Naibor Luxury Safari Retreat Gallery




In the lush jungles of Costa Rica, you’re welcome to visit, vacation or even live in this vibrant treehouse community.  This community, lovingly named Finca Bellavista, welcomes visitors from the United States and beyond who wish to experience life amongst the trees and the animals of the jungle.  Finca Bellavista was founded by visiting Americans and expatriots who built a vast network of treehouses that are connected by bridges and zip lines in a large section of forest.  Visitors are welcomed to stay in one of the Finca Bellavista guest houses, provided that they help out around the community and immerse themselves into the jungle experience.  That includes bathing in freshwater waterfalls, hiking to the nearby Pacific Ocean and understanding the jungle environment.  It’s an experience we’ve all dreamed about since childhood– living amongst the trees far above the ground in a land where no one could touch us.  It’s quite idyllic, isn’t it?



Your USB cable, the spy: Inside the NSA’s catalog of surveillance magic

Latest batch of documents leaked shows NSA’s power to pwn.

A diagram of an NSA BIOS-based attack, brought to you by sneakernet.

The National Security Agency’s sophisticated hacking operations go way beyond using software vulnerabilities to gain access to targeted systems. The agency has a catalog of tools available that would make James Bond’s Q jealous, providing NSA analysts access to just about every potential source of data about a target.

In some cases, the NSA has modified the firmware of computers and network hardware—including systems shipped by Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei, and Juniper Networks—to give its operators both eyes and ears inside the offices the agency has targeted. In others, the NSA has crafted custom BIOS exploits that can survive even the reinstallation of operating systems. And in still others, the NSA has built and deployed its own USB cables at target locations—complete with spy hardware and radio transceiver packed inside.

Documents obtained by Der Spiegel reveal a fantastical collection of surveillance tools dating back to 2007 and 2008 that gave the NSA the power to collect all sorts of data over long periods of time without detection. The tools, ranging from back doors installed in computer network firmware and software to passively powered bugs installed within equipment, give the NSA a persistent ability to monitor some targets with little risk of detection. While the systems targeted by some of the “products” listed in the documents are over five years old and are likely to have been replaced in some cases, the methods and technologies used by all the exploit products could easily still be in use in some form in ongoing NSA surveillance operations.

Special delivery

There’s no indication from the documents that the manufacturers played any role in the development or delivery of the backdoors (something that manufacturers are now loudly telling their customers, too). The documents, which appear to be pages from a catalog of capabilities provided by the NSA’s ANT division for the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division, show that many of the tools on offer are ordinary Windows exploits designed to use parts of the operating system to “phone home” to the NSA with data; like most malware, these packages can be dropped in place remotely and are probably the least interesting of the new revelations.

Hardware- and firmware-based backdoors, by contrast, require laying hands on the actual target systems. In some cases, the NSA’s operators install backdoor hardware and firmware directly onto the systems by “interdiction”—the systems are diverted during shipping to “load stations” where the surveillance components are installed. (This interception may have been accomplished with the cooperation of shipping companies or other government agencies; details of the process remain murky.) In other cases, the NSA uses an insider with a USB device or remote access tools deployed by other means to gain access to computer systems, allowing the NSA to “reflash” their low-level BIOS firmware.

Either way, the altering of systems’ firmware or hardware gives the NSA the ability to install backdoors that can survive a total operating system wipe and re-installation. One BIOS attack, called SWAP, was developed by the NSA to attack a number of types of computers and operating systems by loading surveillance and control software at boot-up. SWAP uses the Host Protected Area on a computer’s hard drive to store the payload and installs it before the operating system boots.

More specialized BIOS attacks were developed to take advantage of motherboard-based System Management Mode (SMM) capabilities on Dell and Hewlett-Packard servers. Dell PowerEdge servers were targeted with an implant called DEITYBOUNCE, while HP Proliant 360DL G5 servers were targeted with one called IRONCHEF. Both allowed NSA operators to gain remote control of systems in SMM mode—giving the agency firmware-level control over infected servers and the ability to do things like run “rootkits” on the server operating system.

The ANT “product” listing for IRONCHEF, the BIOS attack on HP servers, showing an example attack scenario where remote operators use a covert wireless network to take control of servers.


Network hardware is also a target for the NSA’s BIOS attacks. For example, one collection of BIOS hacks called the “MONTANA” family  (SCHOOLMONTANA, SIERRAMONTANA, and STUCCOMONTANA), was designed to target Juniper Networks routers using the JUNOS operating system—a FreeBSD derivative. Once installed, the hacked BIOS actually modifies the operating system kernel in memory when the router is booted, giving an NSA remote operations center full command and control over the router and allowing for selected network traffic to be sent back to the operations center over an external network connection. Even physically replacing the CompactFlash memory card the router boots from wouldn’t get rid of this back door.

Juniper routers weren’t the only targets of these sorts of BIOS “implants,” either—firewalls and routers from Cisco and Huawei were also on the 2007 menu for firmware and software exploits. Such router exploits didn’t even require interception of the hardware but could in many cases be remotely installed by way of another hack.

For systems where a BIOS hack is impractical, the NSA has other tools to install a persistent backdoor. One, called GINSU, uses a PCI bus device installed on the computer. An implant called BULLDOZER creates a stealth wireless bridge, providing radio-based remote control of the backdoor to TAO operators. If the rootkit on the system (called KONGUR) is removed by a system re-installation, the GINSU backdoor can re-install the software on the next boot-up.

Enlarge / GINSU allows the NSA to slice and dice computers’ hard drives and control them remotely over a covert radio connection.


Reach out and touch someone

An implanted wireless device is the NSA’s go-to approach for dealing with “air-gapped” networks—networks that don’t have an Internet connection for security reasons. There are a number of other implanted devices that the NSA has in its TAO arsenal, including USB and Ethernet implants that can transmit short-range radio signals and more robust implanted hardware for longer-range transmissions. These radio links create a shadow Internet that allows the NSA to move data out of an adversary’s network and into its TURMOIL and X-KEYSCORE collection system.

The COTTONMOUTH series of implants are USB devices that provide a covert wireless bridge into a target network. They can be integrated into any USB plug, so check your mouse.


For networks that the NSA can’t get to physically, there’s NIGHTSTAND, a self-contained Wi-Fi hacking system that can break into networks up to eight miles away, in optimum conditions. NIGHTSTAND hijacks the target network and uses packet injection attacks to install exploits on the target network’s computers. Combined with a Windows exploit called SOMBERKNAVE, which uses a computer’s Wi-Fi adapter to “phone home” with data, it could be used to collect data from target computers even when they’re not intentionally connected to a network.

Enlarge / According to the ANT catalog, the NIGHTSTAND Wi-FI exploit system’s attack is “undetectable by the user.”


But why stop at network data? The NSA also uses some fairly exotic tools to grab computer video, keyboard strokes, and even audio from inside more difficult-to-reach places by using passive electronic devices that are actually powered by radar. These devices, charged by a specially tuned continuous wave radio signal sent from a portable radar unit (operating at as little as 2W up to as much as 1kW of power in the 1-2GHz range), send back a data stream as a reflected signal, allowing the NSA’s operators to tune in and view what’s happening on a computer screen or even listen to what’s being said in the room as they paint the target with radio frequency energy—as well as giving a relative rough location of devices within a building for the purposes of tracking or targeting.

Hacking smartphones

The 2007 NSA wish book for analysts also includes a number of software tools that allow data to be stolen from a variety of smartphones and dumb cell phones. One software hack, called DROPOUTJEEP, is a software implant for Apple iOS devices that allows the NSA to remotely control and monitor nearly all the features of an iPhone, including geolocation, text messages, and the microphone and camera. (Researcher and developer Jake Appelbaum, who helped write the Spiegelarticle revealing the documents, said separately this week that the NSA claims DROPOUTJEEP installations are always successful.) Another package, called TOTEGHOSTLY, does the same for phones based on the Windows Mobile embedded operating system.

Both the DROPOUTJEEP and TOTEGHOSTLY releases mentioned in the 2007 product listing required “close access methods” for installation—in other words, a human being getting up close and personal with the phone to install it. “A remote installation capacity will be pursued for a future release,” the document states. But another tool, called MONKEYCALENDAR, allowed the NSA to remotely install location-tracking software onto any GSM phone by way of a software implant for SIM cards.

But these aren’t the only way the NSA can get to cell phone data. Also in the bag of tricks are a number of wireless monitoring devices, as well as “networks in a box” and other gear that can pose as cell towers and networks—intercepting devices as they enter an area and grabbing up their voice, data, and SMS traffic. A “tripwire” program called CANDYGRAM can send out alerts whenever a cell phone hits a specified cell tower.

Old tricks, new tricks

It’s important to note that the exploits in the documents are largely over five years old, so they don’t necessarily give a complete picture of what the NSA is capable of today. That doesn’t mean that these techniques are no longer in circulation—given the stubbornness of Windows XP, many of the exploits developed for older Windows platforms may have years left in them, and some of the adversaries the NSA is trying to monitor don’t have Fortune 500 hardware refresh rates.

A frequent defense of what the NSA does with its bag of tricks is that in many ways it is no different from what other countries (including China, Russia, and France) try to do to the United States and other countries via their intelligence organizations. These documents show the key way the NSA is different—its vast technical resources and ability to essentially put itself into the supply chain for technology flowing to the rest of the world. US officials have long suspected China of doing the same thing with hardware from companies such as Huawei and ZTE, but these documents essentially spell out that “interdiction” is part of the US intelligence strategy, too.

The exposure of the techniques and capabilities of the NSA creates another problem for the agency, in that it provides those hard-to-get-at organizations the TAO was created to go after with an idea of how the NSA has targeted and will target them. It also creates a problem for companies like Cisco and Juniper, who now face the same sort of scrutiny the US and others put Huawei under for its connections to the Chinese military. Even if Dell, HP, Cisco, and Juniper had no hand in creating the backdoors for their products, the documents will undoubtedly be used against them the next time they try to sell hardware to a foreign government.

Samsung’s Market Cap Loses $8 Billion on Profit Growth Concerns


Samsung is off to a rocky start this year.

Samsung Electronics’ stock declined by nearly 5% in trading Thursday on the Korea Stock Exchange, shaving off $8.8 billion from the company’s market cap, according to The Wall Street Journal. The drop comes amid growing concerns that Samsung’s profit growth is slowing.

The South Korean company is expected to report an operating profit of more than $9 billion for the fourth quarter, according to a survey of analysts. That’s more than the overall revenues of many tech companies, but it represents a 9.2% increase from the same quarter a year earlier. By comparison, Samsung’s profit in the third quarter was up 26% year-over-year.

Declining profit growth was a top concern for Samsung for much of 2013. Analysts are worried about Samsung’s mounting marketing expenses and slowing demand for high-end smartphones, among other factors.

A Yelp for Colorado’s Newly Legal Marijuana Industry

A Yelp for Colorado's Newly Legal Marijuana Industry

On Wednesday, legal recreational marijuana went on sale in Denver. How’s it gone so far?

Denver officials say they haven’t seen any flagrant violations of the ordinance against public consumption, and the Marijuana Enforcement Division hasn’t reported any violations of the strict product labeling and tracking guidelines. Some retailers are even going beyond Amendment 64’s requirements, asking shoppers to sign a “customer agreement” that outlines where you can use and who you can share with.

“Pot fears were unfounded,” the Denver Post declared Thursday morning. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is also happy with the roll-out.

This also means Colorado, despite efforts to avoid the reputation, is now open for pot tourism. Shoppers from out-of-state can buy up to a quarter ounce of marijuana at a given store, and they’re legally allowed to hit as many stores as they like. (Though, like Colorado residents, they cannot possess more than an ounce total).

A micro-industry has sprung up to help these out-of-towners navigate Denver’s offerings. To figure out which stores are open and selling what to who, you could sign up for a Colorado High Life Tour, or plot your course using the Colorado Springs Gazette‘s list of licenses stores.

Or, you could use WeedMaps, which combines a Yelp-like rating system with Google Maps, all in the service of helping you get high. Justin Hartfield started WeedMaps five years ago as a way to track dispensaries in California, where legally buying pot requires only a cursory visit to a doctor’s office.

Since then, the site has evolved to include detailed descriptions of the marijuana strains stores carry, as well as prices, daily deals, customer feedback, store hours and contact information. WeedMaps also just unveiled “the A-Okay symbol, so that residents and visitors alike can find the good stuff at responsible marijuana retail stores.”

Thanks to a feature that allows stores to update their WeedMaps menus, potential customers can learn pretty much anything before ever leaving the house, including price per gram, 1/8, and quarter ounce. You can even learn background on certain strains. Below is a shot of the WeedMaps menu for 3D Cannabis Center in Denver:

No offense to the folks at, but WeedMaps looks better and updates way more often (it also has a map with an easy-to-understand key). Hartfield recently told CNBC that his site brings in $30 million in annual revenue “by charging dispensaries for access to certain information, the ability to respond to reviews and getting professional photos and videos posted,” and that he expects to increase revenue by $6 million in the coming year.

If legalization continues apace, it’s easy to imagine WeedMaps being bought up by a bigger player. Though since they’re reliant on Google Maps, they’ll need to stay on Google’s good side.

Top image: Denver has a lot of places to buy marijuana, but not all of them cater to recreational users (yet).   

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