Monthly Archives: February 2015

Net neutrality a reality: FCC votes to bring Internet under utility-style rules

In a 3-2 vote, the agency decides to apply the same rules that govern telephone service to broadband, with the hope that it ensures the fair and equal treatment of all traffic on the Internet.

It’s official. The Internet will now be regulated as a public utility.

After months of anticipation and weeks of frenzied last-minute lobbying on both sides of the political aisle, the Federal Communications Commission has adopted Net neutrality regulations based on a new definition of broadband that will let the government regulate Internet infrastructure as it could the old telephone network.

At the FCC’s monthly meeting Thursday the agency reinstated open Internet rules in a 3-2 vote split along party lines. The new rules replace regulations that had been thrown out by a federal court last year.

The new rules prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing down traffic on wired and wireless networks. They also ban Internet service providers from offering paid priority services that could allow them to charge content companies, such as Netflix, fees to access Internet “fast lanes” to reach customers more quickly when networks are congested.

The crux of the new rules is the FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. Applying the Title II moniker to broadband has the potential to radically change how the Internet is governed, giving the FCC unprecedented authority. The provision originally gave the agency the power to set rates and enforce the “common carrier” principle, or the idea that every customer gets equal access to the network. Now this idea will be applied to broadband networks to prevent Internet service providers from favoring one bit of data over another.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the controversial move to reclassify broadband is necessary to ensure that the rules will stand up to future court challenges. The FCC has lost two previous legal challenges when defending its Net neutrality rules.

But the FCC’s move to apply Title II to broadband has been viewed by cable operators, wireless providers and phone companies as a “nuclear option,” with potentially devastating fallout from unintended consequences.

These companies argue that applying outdated regulation to the broadband industry will stifle innovation by hurting investment opportunities in networks. It could also allow the government to impose new taxes and tariffs, which would increase consumer bills. And they say it could even allow the government to force network operators to share their infrastructure with competitors.

Wheeler has said these fears are overblown. The agency is ignoring aspects of the Title II regulation that would apply most of the onerous requirements.

He said critics have painted his proposal as “a secret plan to regulate the Internet.”

His response to that? “Nonsense. This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept: openness.” Reactions to the passage of the FCC’s new rules and the reclassification of broadband came quick from the industry. Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman and head of the cable industry’s lobbying organization, said the FCC has gone too far in its intent to secure an open Internet for all consumers and entrepreneurs by reclassifying broadband.

“The FCC has taken the overwhelming support for an open Internet and pried open the door to heavy-handed government regulation in a space celebrated for its free enterprise,” he said in a statement. “The Commission has breathed new life into the decayed telephone regulatory model and applied it to the most dynamic, free-wheeling and innovative platform in history.”

AT&T’s top legislative executive, Jim Cicconi, echoed these sentiments in a blog post.

“At AT&T, we’ve supported open Internet principles since they were first enunciated, and we continue to abide by them strictly, and voluntarily, even today,” he said. “What doesn’t make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of 80 years ago, live under it.”

Political lines drawn

Thursday’s FCC vote was split along party lines with the three Democrats — led by Wheeler, who was appointed by President Barack Obama — on the five-person commission supporting the proposal and the two Republicans opposing it.

The debate over Net neutrality, and more specifically the fight to reclassify broadband as Title II service, has turned into another bitter partisan battle in Washington. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the new regulation “Obamacare for the Internet.”


Republicans have also accused the White House of skewing the independence of the FCC, with some seeking an investigation into Obama’s role in shaping the rules, since Wheeler’s initial proposal, made public in May, did not include reclassifying broadband traffic.

After a public outcry, including a 13-minute rant by HBO comedian John Oliver who implored viewers to flood the FCC with comments, Wheeler said he changed his mind and became convinced the only way to protect the open Internet was to change the definition of broadband.

But Republicans say Wheeler was likely influenced by a statement issued by Obama in November that urged the FCC to reclassify broadband. Obama said in a nearly 1,100-word statement that there should be no toll takers between you and your Internet content, and he said Title II was the only way to ensure the Internet remained open to everyone.

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai highlighted the change in position in his statement during the FCC’s meeting Thursday, asking why Wheeler changed his mind.

“Is it because we now have evidence that the Internet is broken?” he said. ” No. We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason alone. President Obama told us to do so.”

Republicans in Congress have also drafted legislation that would write the Net neutrality rules into law but strip the FCC of its authority. But even though the Republicans control both the House and the Senate, they don’t have the votes to override an executive veto from Obama. As a result, the party’s leadership conceded earlier this week that it could not pass a Net neutrality bill without support from Democrats.

The fight continues

The vote today ends the most recent chapter of the Net neutrality battle, but it’s by no means the end of the story.

After the rules are published in the Federal Register, likely within the next few weeks, broadband providers are sure to file suit against the FCC. AT&T has already suggested it will sue. And it’s likely that other broadband providers will join the company.

FCC officials have said they anticipated such challenges, and they’re confident the rules will stand up to legal changes.

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How Carl Bass is crafting Autodesk’s push for makers like you

The software company known for projects as far afield as One World Trade Center and Grand Theft Auto is bringing its tools to DIY-ers tinkering fixes to everyday problems.

Carl Bass opens a drawer lined with black-handled chisels, picks one up and carefully runs the steel blade along his arm as if it were a straightedge razor.

“See all those little hairs there?” he says, pointing to a dusting of black hair that settles into the drawer. “That’s how you can tell if they’re sharp.”

Bass is in his element. He hurries around his spacious, cement-floored woodworking shop, showing off both rudimentary hand tools and a collection of complex machines. Bass set up this workspace and a personal metalworking shop down the street as hobby spaces. But they both also serve as testing grounds for the company he runs: Autodesk.

While design professionals are familiar with Autodesk, it’s likely the multibillion-dollar company most people have never heard of. Autodesk makes more than 100 software products that millions of engineers, architects and animators use to design and model everything from bridges, buildings and roads to cars, planes and video games. Many of the creations you see around you — whether it’s One World Trade Center on the New York skyline, Grand Theft Auto on your game console or even a soldier’s prosthetic leg — were designed or modeled with Autodesk software.

Now the 33-year-old company is pushing into the consumer realm, bringing affordable software to the masses with the goal of helping people create. And that puts Autodesk smack in the middle of the Maker Movement that, at its core, encourages tinkerers and hobbyists to think of new ways to solve everyday problems. Makers combine do-it-yourself invention with technology — which could also describe Autodesk’s approach to design, simulation and modeling.

That positioning is just fine with Bass, who took over as CEO of the San Rafael, Calif.-based company in 2006.

“One part is creativity, the other part is solving problems,” says Bass. “You can step back and say we are trying to use technology to solve problems.”

Rather than looking like a buttoned-up executive, Bass more resembles a carpenter. He’s tall — 6 feet, 4 inches — and prefers T-shirts and Carhartts to suits. He has a thick New York accent and often belts out a deep laugh. Bass is not your typical CEO, say people who work for him. Yes, he’s business-minded, competitive and has strong opinions, but he’s also unassuming and on a first-name basis with hundreds of his employees.

Bass, 57, has been a maker since his 20s. Sawing, sanding and soldering seem to be part of his DNA. Before joining Autodesk in 1993 as chief architect for AutoCAD, he built houses on an Indian reservation and constructed boats in Maine. A quick scan of Bass’ wood and metal shops shows dozens of objects he’s made, like a chair built from one piece of plywood, a 2,000-pound iron table, baseball bats for his two sons and road-ready go-kart.

“Some people buy yachts, some people buy fast cars. Carl does his workshop,” says Amar Hanspal, Autodesk’s senior vice president for the Information Modeling and Platform Group. “It’s been in his blood. It’s not a recent discovery.”

Autodesk and the Maker Movement

Set against the wall of Bass’ woodworking shop is a 20-foot piece of bubinga, a distinctive type of wood with curly rose-colored grain and dark bark. “That’s destined to be a table,” Bass says, explaining that it’s one of the newer additions to his decades-old collection. For instance, he carved his bed frame out of a piece of maple burl he had for 25 years. “Metal you go to the store and buy. Wood you accumulate over the years,” he says.

While Bass has always made things with his hands, he hasn’t always seen Autodesk as playing a role in the Maker Movement, which began to gather steam in 2006 with the first Maker Faire in California. Shortly after Bass became Autodesk CEO, Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine, sat down with him to explain the movement.

“I have to say, at the time, he wasn’t buying it. I think he defined it as localized production,” Dougherty recalls. “For many years, the company Autodesk wouldn’t have resonated with the Maker movement as the consumer movement, their focus has been on professional design tools.”

On TechRepublic: Mickey McManus: Autodesk researcher. Futurist. Technology humanizer

That changed in 2010. While Autodesk always had amateur users, it really began to focus on the consumer market that year. The company has since grown its consumer user base to 227.6 million people worldwide, far outdistancing the 12 million professional users who work with its software.

One reason for that consumer growth is that Autodesk now gives away much of its software for free. Students, teachers and schools pay nothing for the company’s professional products, while many small businesses get hefty discounts. Professionals, on the other hand, typically pay thousands for the software.

Carl Bass has amassed a huge collection of wood at his personal woodworking shop in Berkeley, Calif.James Martin/CNET

“Part of what we’re seeing with Autodesk is the democratization of that tool set. It’s moving from just professionals to amateurs,” Dougherty says. “The more they can make this easier for more people, the more powerful it becomes.”

Making design software more accessible has been the company’s strategy since its start in 1982, when it offered a cheaper and (relatively) easier way to create 2D designs on personal computers versus requiring dedicated and costly workstations. Autodesk also was among the first to realize the benefit — to itself and to its customers — of allowing hundreds of other software companies to create products that hook into its programs. This universe of add-on products gave Autodesk an edge over its competitors, like PTC and Dassault.

Now, by giving away free software to schools, Autodesk is creating a new pool of users who may one day buy its software.

“It has a synergy with what we’re trying to do,” says Crawford Beveridge, who’s been a director on Autodesk’s board for 21 years. “Some would say a lot of our main focus is on very large customers who design cars or airplanes or buildings. But the Maker movement has a very important role to play in both the democratization issue and the opportunity to go to other businesses.”

It’s everywhere

By far, the company’s biggest markets are construction, architecture and engineering, and its most popular software is AutoCAD, which lets designers and engineers draft 2D and 3D drawings. But Autodesk also extends into other markets and offers software for things like 3D modeling, personal creativity, simulations, photo editing and animation.

“When you step into your car, use some type of other physical product, or walk into the building you might be in now,” says Marc Halpern, a research vice president in Gartner’s Manufacturing Advisory Services division, “there’s a tremendous chance that Autodesk technology played a role in the design or creation of that building or product.”

So, for example, the US Navy’s first 45,000-ton amphibious assault ship USS America was created with Autodesk’s ShipConstructor. Lightning Motorcycles used Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher to design the world’s fastest electric motorbike, which can reach speeds of up to 218 miles per hour. And Autodesk’s 123D Catch software was used to help figure out how to clip 25,000 LED lights on the San Francisco Bay Bridge for the world’s largest light sculpture called The Bay Lights.

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron relied on Autodesk’s MotionBuilder and Maya 3D animation software for his 2013 Oscar-winning film “Gravity.”Warner Bros. Pictures

“Their software is the equivalent of a Ferrari,” says Leo Villareal, The Bay Lights artist, who also used his own software for the installation.

Autodesk’s animation, editing, motion capture and 3D rendering software has also been used in dozens of Academy Award-winning movies, including “Interstellar,” “Avatar” and “Frozen.” Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron relied on Autodesk’s MotionBuilder and Maya 3D animation software for his 2013 Oscar-winning film “Gravity.”

When Cuaron first set out to film “Gravity,” he couldn’t figure out how to realistically show actors Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in space. The movie’s production team solved the problem by using Autodesk software to pre-visualize and animate the entire film before shooting.

“If you take the shot where they’re repairing the shuttle and the shuttle gets hit by the debris, everything there — the shuttle, the debris, everything — is created on the computer using our software and then is animated,” says Maurice Patel, Autodesk’s entertainment industry manager. “The main point about the movie and the use of technology is this trend we’re seeing in the industry, which we call the blurring between the digital and real world.”

While Autodesk has been helping film companies stay on top of digital trends, it’s also been working to keep current with the trends reshaping its own technology industry. One of the most transformative is cloud computing, where people can share applications, documents and data over the Internet. While cloud-based apps have touted their collaboration and teamwork benefits since the late 1990s, cloud services didn’t become mainstream until 2009, when Google first publicly offered Google Apps.

Yet Bass has hammered on bringing software to the cloud since becoming CEO. He believes the future involves bringing 3D modeling and design to the cloud in the same way that Google Docs now hosts documents in the cloud.

“One thing that Autodesk has been able to do and why it stayed in its leadership position is it can touch the technology trends,” says Carol Bartz, who was the Autodesk’s CEO from 1992 to 2006. “We had to pull the company into the Internet. Carl is pulling the company into cloud services.”

Helping makers make

Bass is also pulling Autodesk into the Maker Movement. This move can be traced back to 2009 when the company released its first mobile app SketchBook Mobile for iOS. The app garnered more than 1 million downloads in the first 50 days. That level of success prompted Autodesk to roll out more apps for students, professionals and, yes, makers. The company now offers 17 programs under its Personal Creativity category. That category’s tagline reads, in part, “Reshape your world. Make a difference. Create something.”

A little over a year ago, Autodesk opened a 27,000-square-foot workshop on San Francisco’s Pier 9. It juts off the dock of the city’s Embarcadero into the waters of the clay-blue bay. From the outside, Pier 9 looks like most of its neighboring whitewashed piers. Inside, it’s a hotbed of makers.

The two-story workshop is divided into several rooms holding state-of-the-art machines and tools. Here, Autodesk hosts its artist-in-residence program that lets people play with its water jet cutter, CNC router (a computer-controlled cutting machine) and industrial sewing machines. Hanging from the wall is a giant set of electronic googly eyes that look at you wherever you move, a fire-breathing machine and a conference table that swings. One room holds Autodesk’s first foray into hardware — its desktop 3D printer called Ember.

Pier 9 is also home to Autodesk’s how-to website, Instructables, which it acquired in 2011. Geared toward helping makers create, the site offers a range of lessons from “how to make a solar robot” to “how to kiss.” Bass himself has even authored a few Instructables, including “Turning a baseball bat” and, fittingly, “Sharpening a chisel.”

As Bass strolls from room to room in Pier 9, he waves hello and stops to chat with the local makers and ask them about their projects. One man is working on a small part for a lunar lander, another is 3D-printing tiny metal pieces of jewelry that look like delicate swaths of lace.

In a sense, Pier 9 is a highfalutin version of Bass’ Berkeley workshops. Every year Bass spends extra time in these shops fashioning holiday presents for Autodesk’s directors. He’s made small sets of audio speakers, 3D-printed metal baskets and other various creations. One of the reasons he does this is to work with and test Autodesk’s software.

“Carl’s always been interested in building things even before the Maker Movement was called the Maker Movement,” Autodesk board member Beveridge says. “His own interest in making things has allowed him to bring back into the company information about how we can help other people who make things, make them better.”

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Google buys .app web domain for $25m

Google has purchased the website domain .app in an auction held by the organisation which oversees the running of the net.

The firm’s winning bid for $25,001,000 (£16,234,000) is believed to be the highest so far.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) is rolling out new customised web names and auctioning them off.

Other web address endings sold so far include .baby, .tech, .salon and .VIP.

The suffixes are known as generic Top Level Domains (gTLD).

In its bid application, Google-owned company Charleston Road Registry Inc says its plan is that the domain will be used by developers of apps.

“The proposed gTLD will provide application developers with the ability to customise domain and website name application offerings to signal to the general population of internet users that .app websites are indeed related to applications and application developers,” the firm writes.

“This specialisation makes it clear to internet users that this is the authoritative and designated space where they can find applications and information about developers accessible via differentiated and streamlined web addresses.”

The ending .baby was bought by pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson, which makes a range of baby products, for just over $3m.

A firm called Dot Tech LLC bought .tech for $6,760,000.

All funds acquired through auction will be held by the Icann board and used “through consultation with the community”, the organisation said.

Last year, the French wine industry expressed concern over the creation of gTLDs .wine and .vin which it argued could affect existing trade agreements for regional products like champagne.

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US spy chief James Clapper highlights cyber threats

US intelligence agencies have placed cyber attacks from foreign governments and criminals at the top of their list of threats to the country.

Online assaults would increasingly undermine US economic competitiveness and national security, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

A report issued by his office said Russia’s military was setting up a cyber command to carry out attacks.

The report also describes China, Iran and North Korea as leading threats.

In testimony to a congressional committee on Thursday, Mr Clapper said he no longer believed the US faced “cyber Armageddon”.

The idea that major infrastructure such as financial networks or power grids could be disabled by hackers now looked less probable, he said.

However he warned: “We foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyber attacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on US economic competitiveness and national security.”

Mr Clapper highlighted the case of Russia, which he said posed the greatest a cyber risk to US interests. He said that threat from the Russian government was “more severe” than previously realised.

He also said profit-minded criminals and ideologically driven hackers were also increasingly active.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said moderate attacks were the biggest threat
Movie posters for the premiere of the film 'The Interview' at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, California on December 11, 2014. Hollywood film “The Interview” was embroiled in the fallout of a hack attack last year

Over the past year there have been a series of high-profile cyber attacks against US targets.

North Korea was accused of being behind the theft of a huge data cache from Sony Pictures in November.

Mr Clapper also mentioned the example of an alleged Iranian attack on the Las Vegas Sands Casino Corporation last year.

Meanwhile in January the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the US military command were hacked by a group claiming to back Islamic State (IS).

During the hearing, Mr Clapper acknowledged that the US had its own “offensive capabilities”.

In 2010 Iran experienced a cyber attack on its nuclear program. Tehran accused Israel and the US of planting malware.

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Battery builder A123 Systems sues Apple for poaching employees, implies Apple Car is happening

Lithium-ion battery manufacturer A123 Systems has sued Apple, alleging that the smartphone and tablet manufacturer has been poaching its employees. Some of you may remember A123 Systems high-profile bankruptcy from several years ago — the company collapsed in 2012 after a meteoric ascent. Post-bankruptcy, A123 Systems was bought by Chinese conglomerate Wanxiang, and it has continued to develop battery technology and win customers for its stationary installations through the present day.

A123’s complaint alleges that five of its top researchers have been lured away by Apple in violation of their noncompete agreements. Said agreements (we’ve reprinted part of one below) forbid an employee from working for any competitor of A123 Systems and forbid employees who leave the company from soliciting their fellow co-workers from jumping ship alongside them.

A123 then states that it believes Apple “is currently developing a large scale battery divisionto compete in the very same field as A123,” that it began poaching A123’s employees in June of 2014, and that it has also recruited employees from LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Johnson Controls (these, apparently, have chosen not to file suit). One particular defendant, Mujeeb Ijaz, is accused of actively recruiting the other four, putting him in double-violation of the non-compete.

A123 Systems Noncompete clause. The only thing worse than reading it is writing it.

The company then steps through the various steps it took before filing a lawsuit, including formally notifying Apple that it believed an employee had breached their contract and its discussions with a third company that first alerted it to the possibility of employee poaching. More interesting, from the technical perspective, is what this says about Apple’s potential car plans.

Expertise is hard to find

If you wanted to poach employees for a major battery initiative, you could do far worse than A123 Systems. While the company was initially blamed for the collapse of Fisker and its ill-fated Fisker Karma, later information suggested that Fisker had plenty of its own financial problems. A123 Systems insists it delivered every battery Fisker ever ordered and paid for.

Fisker Karma 3/4 left panning

If you want to build an electric vehicle, you need a team of people with significant expertise in the field. While renewable energy and rechargeable batteries are hot topics these days, many of the experts in the industry already work with (or partner closely) with existing auto manufacturers or companies like Tesla. It’s easy to see how Apple might have opted to co-opt other talent to design its products rather than launching a new effort entirely from scratch. A123 may have focused more on stationary batteries after its bankruptcy, but the company still has a foot in both camps.

This also highlights some of the thorny issues with non-competes that we’ve discussed in other contexts. Communicating with other employees in an attempt to lure them away from existing jobs is a fairly clear-cut violation of one’s contract, but only one employee is accused of that. Whether A123 Systems can prove that Apple poached its workers or not may depend on their responsibilities and the scope of the technology they’re working on — assuming that Cupertino doesn’t just pay a sum of money to settle the issue.

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3 places better than Craigslist to buy and sell used items

When you want to buy or sell something used online, your first thought might be to use Craigslist. After all, it’s the site that brought the newspaper classifieds into the digital world and today has nearly 40 million new listings every month.

Of course, using Craigslist does have valid concerns. You might deal with a buyer or seller who tries to cheat you with bad payment or an item that’s different than what was listed. There are many stories of people going to meet a buyer or seller only to get robbed — or worse. That’s why it’s essential to meet in a public place and let someone know where you’re going. Or, it might be smart to bring them along, too.

Fortunately, Craigslist isn’t the only game in town. Here are three sites that fix Craigslist’s biggest problems.

A safer Craigslist

If safety is your primary concern, then OfferUp is where you should start. It created the innovative TruYou system to verify the identity of buyers and sellers.

The TruYou system works with the site’s app for Android and Apple gadgets. It lets you scan your ID so the website can verify your identity for other users on the site. Items sold by TruYou-verified sellers have a blue highlight.

There’s also a rating system, so buyers and sellers can let the rest of the community know what they thought about a particular transaction. Was your item described accurately? Was the other person friendly? This is the place to let everyone know what to expect.

Buying is really easy with OfferUp. If you like something, just click on it to be taken to the item page. From there, you can make an offer. You’ll see the price the owner is asking for next to the item, but you might be able to talk them down. If the seller accepts your offer, you can set up a time and place to meet up and get your stuff.

Selling is simple, too. Using the app, you can take a picture of the item you want to sell, add details like your asking price, and then upload it. The whole process is done in no time.

Buy and sell ‘like-new’ clothes from brands you love

Used clothes aren’t something you’d normally want to buy online — especially from Craigslist. You never know where they’ve been or what condition they’re really in.

ThredUp aims to change that. The site has a strict set of Quality Standards for all clothes it accepts. It employs a team of fashion experts to go through all the clothes and approve them for sale.

Clothing is not all you can save money on, though. You can also find accessories, from all sorts of shoes to purses and handbags on the site. That’s where you can really save the big bucks. Imagine getting a ‘looks just as good as new’ Coach bag for a huge discount. You can save money on clothes for your kids and grandkids, too.

If you have nice clothes you want to get rid of before updating your wardrobe, you can sell them on the site, too. ThredUp depends on people like you to collect its inventory. It’s easy to send in your old stuff to make a little extra cash.

Find garage sales near you

One of the best places to get used items is garage sales. Not only can you physically examine the item, you can do some haggling to get a better price.

You just need to find a good garage sale, and that’s where comes in. Just enter your location in the search box to see garage sales going on in your area on a Google Map. Then click on the red location flags for more details like time and location of the sale, or scroll through the listings on the right side of the page.

If you don’t care about travel distance, you can browse the listings or sift through photos by clicking “List” or “Photos” at the top of the page.

Need to narrow your search and filter your results? Click on “Search Filters,” located at the top left of the page, and enter a new location, the day of a sale, or enter keywords to look for a certain item like furniture or antiques.

Once you’ve found sales near you, you can add to a favorites list by clicking the favorite button. When you’re done adding favorites, click “View Route & Directions” to get directions.

If you’re in the mood for selling, you can add your own garage sale to the site.

Bonus: Get tons of free valuable stuff people are giving away

What do you do if you have used items you can’t sell? Don’t just throw it in the trash; give them away on Freecycle.

Freecycle is a non-profit that lets you post your unwanted items to give away. It’s kind of like Craigslist — but only with free stuff.

To get started, create a free account and post the items you want to get rid of. Be sure to include a full description. Photos help, too.

On the flip side, if you’re in the market for something in particular, you can post a want ad and see if anyone responds. Or, just cruise the site and see what kind of free stuff you can get. I mean, who doesn’t love free stuff?

When I looked in my area, there was a range of items, from television sets and moving boxes to desktop computers, children’s clothing, plants, and fitness equipment.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at

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SIM card maker Gemalto wants answers on alleged hacks by US, UK spies

Gemalto says it’s looking into a report that its SIM card encryption keys were hacked by the NSA and British surveillance agency GCHQ.

Did the US and UK hack their way into SIM cards used in mobile phones? That’s the question one SIM card maker is trying to investigate.

Dutch company Gemalto manufactures SIM cards for mobile phones, which it sells to around 450 carriers throughout the world, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. The cards certain personal and normally secure information, including your phone number, billing information, contacts and text messages. These cards are protected by encryption keys to resist hacking.

But a story published Thursday by The Intercept claims that a joint unit of spies from the US’s National Security Agency and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, hacked into the internal network of Gemalto and stole the encryption keys used to secure the company’s SIM cards. If true, that means the agencies would’ve been able to access personal data and tap into mobile phone voice and data communications from users around the world. Citing documents from former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, the publication — founded by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist through whom Snowden’s revelations first were channeled — said the hacking occurred in 2010 and 2011.

The issue of government surveillance has been an undercurrent of concern over the two decades since the Internet began to become a part of everyday life for businesses and private citizens. But those worries exploded into a mainstream matter after Snowden’s first revelations two years ago, and others have taken up the torch. Just last week, for instance, security company Kaspersky raised a red flag over reports that the NSA can infect hard drives with surveillance software to spy on computers.

Reacting to the claims about its SIM cards, Gemalto issued a statement Friday saying that it is looking into the matter.

“We take this publication very seriously and will devote all resources necessary to fully investigate and understand the scope of such sophisticated techniques,” the company said. “We cannot at this early stage verify the findings of the publication and had no prior knowledge that these agencies were conducting this operation.”

Gemalto’s stock dove around 10 percent in early trading after The Intercept reported the hack.

But Gemalto wasn’t the only target, according to The Intercept, saying that the goal was to hit as many mobile phones as possible. The overall aim was to spy on mobile communications without the consent or knowledge of users or mobile carriers, The Intercept added. Calling itself the “world leader in digital security,” Gemalto said that it has detected and mitigated other hacking attempts over the years but for now can’t prove any link between the past attempts and the one reported by The Intercept.

“I’m disturbed, quite concerned that this has happened,” Paul Beverly, a Gemalto executive vice president, told The Intercept. “The most important thing for me is to understand exactly how this was done, so we can take every measure to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and also to make sure that there’s no impact on the telecom operators that we have served in a very trusted manner for many years. What I want to understand is what sort of ramifications it has, or could have, on any of our customers.”

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Backstage at the Oscars: Transforming the Dolby Theatre for the show

On a normal day, the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood is a movie theater, with the surrounding shopping complex overrun by tourists. It’s hard to believe this is the home of the Oscars — which makes the transformation even more impressive.

The day I visited the Dolby Theatre was definitely not a normal day. It was less than a week before the 87th Academy Awards and I was there to see what it took to change the theater for Hollywood’s biggest, most glamorous night.

In the days leading up to the Oscars, the Dolby Theatre’s auditorium is one of the hardest places to get into. And don’t even think about whipping out your phone to snap a picture.

The most closely guarded area is the stage, with its glitzy set. From backstage, I could see it as rehearsals played out, but in no way could I shoot video or photos. Security is so tight you’re instructed to wear your media credentials backward, so they can’t be photographed and replicated. That’s more strict than some White House events I’ve covered.

The Dolby Theatre’s transformation for the Oscars started in January, when a crew of about 20 to 30 people began to strip the 3,400-seat venue of some of its movie theater components, including a selection of speakers, trusses, cables, seats and rigging motors.

David Gray, vice president of global services and industry relations for Dolby Labs, oversees the theater’s conversion. He said one of the most nerve-wracking tasks is packing up the 60×32-foot movie screen.

“We have to roll it up, which is time consuming because it’s really big and we don’t want to get it dirty. We don’t want to scratch it. We don’t want to put anything through it.”

One type of technology the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not like to rely on is rigging motors, which help lift and lower things like scenery or scrims or lights. Instead the Academy prefers ropes, pulleys and man power.

Gray explained, “The Academy uses very few motors in the Oscars. Motors can fail, and in their case it would be deadly. Not deadly in terms of people, but deadly in terms of the show. They’re still using the old pipe and ropes and counterweights. So all the stuff flies in on that.”

For this Oscars, Dolby added surround speakers and boosted the acoustic absorption in the mezzanine levels. Gray hopes the audience in the theater will get a more immersive experience, especially with the movie clips.

“The clips in stereo are kind of flat,” he explained. “When you’re here live, you’re watching the clips on little monitors. It’s way nicer to have the sound be big and normal, because the picture is on the little monitor.”

For audiences at home, movie clips and music performances will be in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Home viewers with a surround sound setup can have a similar sound experience as the celebrities.

All the audio and video from the show is piped into broadcast trucks stationed just behind the Dolby Theatre in an area nicknamed the broadcast compound. Hundreds of thousands of miles of cables from the red-carpet area and inside the theater dead-end into those trucks, which serve as mobile control rooms.

With hundreds of millions of people watching from more than 200 countries, there are multiple backup plans and redundancies.

“The signal has multiple fiber feeds, but we also have satellite feeds,” said Steve Venezia, Dolby Labs’ worldwide senior director for contact services. “So they can cut from one feed to another pretty seamlessly.”

One of the trickier parts of the broadcast is melding the live orchestra performance with what’s happening on stage. That’s because, to make room for more seats, the orchestra is not in the auditorium but one mile away at Capitol Records. The live music is piped through fiber optic cables back to the theater. According to Dolby, the entire latency from the Oscar broadcast trucks to Capitol Records and back is about 2.7 milliseconds.

“We just keep trying to get that latency down as close to zero,” audio director Paul Sandweiss explained, “so that performers can hear exactly what the orchestra is doing, and the orchestra can respond with them so they are all seamlessly performing together.”

The Greenroom, where presenters and honorees can relax, was still being constructed at the back of the stage. Crew members were nailing the door into place and trying to figure out how to drag a 500-pound table into the room without cracking the floor tiles.

This is the 13th year Architectural Digest has produced the backstage lounge, and it’s become a sort of showcase for show sponsor Samsung, which struck marketing gold last year with Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie on a Note 3.

When you first enter the Greenroom, there’s a wall of 16 Samsung displays designed to mimic a window view of Los Angeles from atop the Hollywood Hills. Architectural Digest says the room also includes Galaxy Tab S tablets and Samsung smart TVs, including a curved UHD TV.

New this year, to top last year’s Twitter Mirror in the Greenroom, will be a so-called “GIF-Cam ” powered by Twitter, to capture celebrities’ reactions. According to Twitter, the cam takes a series of four photos and makes a GIF out of them. Celebrities can also put their signatures on them.

And when it’s all over and the final golden statuette has been handed out and the Governors Ball is closed down, Dolby says its team can convert the theater back to cinema mode in only 14 hours. And then it’ll be a wrap, until next year.

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You may already be holding someone’s next hot smartphone

The business for used smartphones is exploding as more consumers consider the second-best option behind the latest and greatest.

For smartphones, used is increasingly becoming the new.

While gadget enthusiasts still clamor for the latest and greatest gear, a growing number of consumers are considering buying secondhand smartphones. On Wednesday, research firmGartner released a report projecting the used-smartphone market to roughly double to 120 million units, or a wholesale value of $14 billion, by 2017.

Consumers have long dumped their old gadgets onto the secondary market, but the numbers underscore the growing maturity of the business. Previously, used cellphones primarily ended up in the hands of consumers in developing markets looking for a cheap way to communicate. But that’s changing.

With consumers increasingly looking to tighten their belts, a year-old smartphone at a steep discount doesn’t seem like a bad deal. That thinking is bolstered by the wireless carriers’ push to get its subscribers to pay the full price of a device. And for those who need the latest and greatest, selling off the old — but still relatively high-end — phone is an attractive way to recoup some funds

“With consumers in mature markets upgrading their smartphones every 18 to 20 months, the inevitable question is what happens to the old device?” said Gartner analyst Meike Escherich.

Many companies are capitalizing on this trend. One such player is Gazelle, an e-commerce company that specializes in enabling people to sell used electronics. In October, Gazelle began offering the option to also buy used smartphones. By December, the store made up a fifth of its revenue, according to CEO Chris Sullivan. He expects it to make up half its revenue in the next 12 to 15 months.

“It’s a huge market that’s growing fast,” Sullivan said in an interview.

He believes Gartner’s estimate undervalues the market size, saying that the final price of the smartphones could lift the total value to $20 billion or more by 2017.

Gazelle’s own studies found that within the same household, one member of a family could be constantly upgrading to the newest smartphone, with other members either taking the secondhand phone or buying a cheaper used model. Consumers who end up losing their phone but aren’t yet eligible for a discounted upgrade will also consider the used option.

A big driver of this trend has been the increased awareness of the true value of the smartphones. A subscriber who signs up for a two-year service contract only has to pay $199 for the basic iPhone 6. But that’s a discount the person receives for agreeing to stay locked into the carrier at a higher rate. Without the contract, that same iPhone 6 would cost $650.

The carriers are quickly shedding the subsidy model. T-Mobile has scrapped it completely, while a growing number of customers on AT&T and Verizon are opting to pay for their smartphones in exchange for lower service fees. Sprint offers a leasing program where customers turn their smartphones back in to Sprint after two years.

The growing used market could have an impact on the smartphone manufacturers themselves, since fewer consumers may consider its newest model, Escherich said. On the flip side, this model allows tech enthusiasts to keep upgrading — with most of them preferring to stick to a single brand.

Indeed, consumers have grown savvy about selling their existing smartphone to defray the cost of their new purchase — particularly ahead of the launch of a new iPhone or other flagship product. In 2009, only 9 percent of consumers sold their smartphones, according to a survey taken by Gazelle. By 2013, that number jumped to 31 percent.

Gazelle calls its products “certified pre-owned” smartphones, taking a page from car dealerships. The company takes the product and certifies that it is in working order, repairing major damage like the display or battery, and posts it on its own website.

It’s not alone in this business, with retailer GameStop, online stores and the carriers themselves offering used smartphones.

But Boston-based Gazelle has been so successful on the sales end that it needs to look for new sources of inventory, Sullivan said, adding that he was considering buying excess inventory from the carriers and affiliate partners.

“What we’re offering is a channel that provides better pricing than traditional wholesale markets,” he said. “It’s a commercial opportunity for players in this space.”

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Lenovo officially responds to Superfish, releases list of affected systems

Lenovo has issued another official statement regarding its Superfish security debacle alongside a list of affected systems. The company’s response to the entire affair is going to be taught in future marketing texts as an example of how not to respond to a crisis — each successive statement has inched towards admitting responsibility and acknowledging a problem. The company still maintains that it thought Superfish would “enhance the shopping experience,” but claims that it acted “swiftly and decisively” once concerns were raised. It continues, however, to maintain a long list of what Superfish doesn’t do and makes repeated reference to the fact that Superfish doesn’t engage in active, specific, targeted user monitoring.

The first sign that Lenovo is still struggling to understand the enormity of its screwup is when it claims “Users are given a choice over whether or not to use the product.” This is flatly untrue. Superfish shipped as a pre-installed default on user systems, the only “choice” users were given was whether or not to click “Accept” on the entire laptop. There’s zero evidence suggesting that users were aware that doing so would fatally compromise user security. Our guide to removing Superfish and its false certificate is available here.

An evolving message and a very deep hole

Lenovo’s first responses to this problem were a mixture of tone-deaf and defiant, loudly certifying that the company had created no security flaw, that all such issues were theoretical, and that it stood by the security of the Superfish software. This changed later — sentences like “We have thoroughly investigated this technology and do not find any evidence to substantiate security concerns” have now been stricken from the record. Lenovo has also walked back its support for Superfish, though the CEO of that company, Adi Pinhas, still claims that Superfish is “completely transparent.”

Window Shopper

It’s possible that Lenovo has begun to wake up to just who it jumped in bed with. Forbes has an extensive profile on Mr. Pinhas’ history, and it’s not a flattering one. Superfish has been behind multiple previous adware and malware products, including the much-maligned Window Shopper. It’s also now been discovered that the same company has provided a similar solution to multiple other software solutions, including “Keep My Family Secure” (produced directly by the company), Qustodio’s parental control software, and Kurupira’s Webfilter. In every case, the private key sequence is always “komodia.”

Possibly impacted systems

Lenovo has released a list of affected systems, but the wording is rather odd. The company states that Superfish may have appeared on the following models: (emphasis added)

G Series: G410, G510, G710, G40-70, G50-70, G40-30, G50-30, G40-45, G50-45
U Series: U330P, U430P, U330Touch, U430Touch, U530Touch
Y Series: Y430P, Y40-70, Y50-70
Z Series: Z40-75, Z50-75, Z40-70, Z50-70
S Series: S310, S410, S40-70, S415, S415Touch, S20-30, S20-30Touch
Flex Series: Flex2 14D, Flex2 15D, Flex2 14, Flex2 15, Flex2 14(BTM), Flex2 15(BTM), Flex 10
MIIX Series: MIIX2-8, MIIX2-10, MIIX2-11
YOGA Series: YOGA2Pro-13, YOGA2-13, YOGA2-11BTM, YOGA2-11HSW
E Series: E10-30

I’m genuinely uncertain what to make of the words “May have.” Microsoft has its Signature series, where you can buy laptops from other vendors that are guaranteed to ship without bloatware of any kind, but apart from those systems, Lenovo should know whether or not its laptops shipped with this software or not.

The company has yet to release an actual tool for removing the software and security certificate, but Microsoft has already updated its own Windows Defender to do so. Firefox and Thunderbird users, however, will still need to clean those systems manually.

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