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Tip of the Week

Black To Back

There’s no shortage of decent backup programs. Some of them are free, like the utility we are looking at here, called Hitek JaBlack, but this one has a few interesting extras. In addition to standard stuff, like saving and synchronising nominated files and folders to selected locations and external drives, it also has the facility upload, via FTP or even email, to remote locations. There’s also automated compression using standard Zip format of backed up files, it has powerful scheduling features, email notification of alerts, like task failure. A local file monitor automates backups when folder contents have changed and there’s also a version for Mac OS. It is reasonably straightforward to use and there’s some useful support, demo and tutorial material on the Hitek website. If you are not already backing up your irreplaceable files, you are playing with fire, and with this little freeware program there’s no longer any excuse to put it off any longer.


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News Briefs

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3D Printer Material Benefit

Once again it haw been a pretty lean year for whizzy new gizmos as the annual Consumer Electronic Show, held in Las Vegas. In fact it was mostly just more of the same with lots of ultra, mega or whatever the latest high definition TVs are called, plenty of wearables, most of which will disappear without trace, and the usual glut of intelligent and connected kettles, fridges and vacuum cleaners, but dig deep enough and there were one or novel ideas. One such was from MakerBot, one of the leading manufacturers of 3D printers, but it’s not a printer, but the plastic filaments that make the objects that’s rather interesting. Until now that’s all it has been mostly just plain old plastic, but MakerBot has come up with composite filaments, bonded with a range of materials that includes limestone, iron, maple wood and bronze. MakerBot isn’t the first with composite filaments, and these won’t be available until later this year, but it’s a pacesetter in this small but rapidly growing market and it means that 3D printed objects can be made to look and feel much more like whatever it is they are supposed to be, which is especially useful for prototyping. One example on show is a hammer, with a wooden shaft and iron head, though it’s still mainly plastic, so you wouldn’t actually want to use it bash in nails, though apparently the handle does smell like wood. 3D printing is still some way away from being a useful consumer technology but developments like this are bringing it another small step closer, and making us want one...


Permissions To Play

How many Android smartphone and tablet users ever take the time to read the list of Permissions that they have to agree to when installing an app? Probably not that many, and few of those who do may wonder why apparently self contained kids games and utilities need to access a phone’s call logs, message store, photo album, microphone or camera, but tap the Accept button anyway. In some cases these permissions are legitimate, and there’s nothing wrong with vibrating the phone for an incoming call or haptic feedback, but in a growing, and worryingly large number of apps the only explanation for many of the permissions, is that they are there to gather data about the user. What may be surprising is how common it is and many of the most popular apps are now probing deeply into our devices, and lives. Well, someone has taken the time to look into the issue. The results are reported on the Vocativ website who, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon computer science Professor and founder of, Jason Hong, have analysed and listed some of the worst offenders and come to the conclusion that this is a strong indicator of what app developers think they can get away with. At the top of the list is AntiVirus Security, Viber and Facebook with 44, 42 and 39 permissions respectively, which is pretty good going when you consider that there are around 60 permissions in all, so you have to wonder what they are up to. Next time read what you are signing up for, and if you don’t like the look of it, let the developers know by leaving a comment and if you are concerned, walk away and hopefully they will get the message.



Junior Spooks

Catching them young is the theme of a new app from spy central, otherwise known as GCHQ. It’s called, Cryptoy and currently only available for Android devices from Google Play. Basically it is an interactive cryptography teaching and learning tool, aimed at Key Stage 4 students, but don’t let that put you off, it’s fun for all ages. Don’t get too excited, though, the sample cryptographic demos and games are not giving away any state secrets, they’re based on old-school systems. There’s even a section on the famous Enigma code, developed by the Germans in World War II, with some good historical background, but the essential principles behind many early forms of cryptography hold good for today’s code making and breaking technologies and GCHQ hopes it will inspire the next generation to take an interest in cyber security. Students, on a placement at GCHQ, originally developed the app for the Cheltenham Science Festival. It was meant to demonstrate encryption techniques, but it proved popular with the teachers who saw it, who asked for it to be made available as a teaching aid. In addition to giving users a basic understanding of cryptography they can use Cryptoy to compose and send encrypted messages via social media, challenging friends and family to decode their messages. It’s probably unnecessary, though, as anyone over 40 will know that teenage text-speak is already an almost unbreakable code…