Riddles

Microsoft issues emergency Windows patches for PrintNightmare flaw

Microsoft has released an emergency patch to address a critical flaw in the Windows Print Spooler service that bad actors are actively exploiting, as noticed by The Verge. A few days ago, the tech giant has published a security advisory to notify users about the flaw called PrintNightmare, though it didn’t name the bad actors currently using it to infiltrate victims’ computers.

Attackers taking advantage of the vulnerability can remotely run code with system-level privileges, giving them the ability to install programs in the victims’ computers, delete or change data and create new accounts with full user rights. The vulnerability impacts all versions of Windows, and the company advised users to disable Print Spooler to deactivate local and remote printing to prevent hackers from getting in. They can also disable just the inbound remote printing capability through Group Policy.

Now, after investigating the vulnerability, Microsoft has issued patches for several versions of the Windows Server, Windows 10, Windows 8 and even Windows 7 — security updates for this OS ended in January 2020 — platforms. The vulnerability has been classified as “Critical,” which means its “exploitation could allow code execution without user interaction.” Microsoft is asking users to install the updates immediately or to take steps towards protecting their systems if they can’t.

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Top builder says the housing boom isn’t over just yet

Intense bidding wars and supply shortages for lumber and other building materials threaten to finally derail the housing market. But one top homebuilder says the good times — for builders, anyway — aren’t over just yet.

Lennar (LEN), a Miami-based builder, reported earnings and revenue after the closing bell Wednesday that topped forecasts. What’s more, Lennar said that its backlog and new orders for homes continued to surge. The stock was up about 3% Thursday on the news.

“The housing market remained very strong across the country, even as interest rates mildly ticked up,” said Lennar executive chairman Stuart Miller in the earnings release.

“A combination of strong personal savings rates during the pandemic, strong stimulus from the government and a developing return to normalcy continued to drive the economy forward while bringing the housing market to new heights,” Miller added.

The average selling price for one of Lennar’s homes during the most recent quarter was $414,000 — up more than 6% from the second quarter of 2020 and higher than expected.

Record low inventory, record high prices

Data from online real estate broker Redfin (RDFN) released Thursday also show just how frothy the housing market has become.

Redfin said the number of homes for sale fell 27% in May from a year ago to a record low. Houses were on the market for just 16 days, on average, also a record low. And 54% of houses sold above their listing price — an all-time high level.

That could be a problem. Prospective buyers, especially younger first-time buyers, are increasingly getting priced out of the market.

“May marked the likely peak of the blazing hot pandemic housing market,” said Redfin lead economist Taylor Marr in a report.

“Sellers are still squarely in the drivers’ seat, but buyers have hit a limit on their willingness to pay,” Marr added. “The affordability boost from low mortgage rates has been offset by high home price growth.”

Supply constraints appear to be one reason why prices continue to spike.

Housing starts and building permits figures for May came in weaker than expected, according to a government report Wednesday.

Given these concerns — as well as difficulty finding construction workers — it makes sense that builders may hold off on new projects and instead focus on completing existing ones.

“It is sensible for builders to reduce permitting activity as they work through existing commitments to build,” said analysts at Citi in a report Thursday.

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Amazon Fire HD 10 Plus tablet: Is it time to replace your iPad?

Tablets are in a really weird place. Our smartphones pretty much do everything we want. If we need to get work done, even though there’s attachable keyboards for iPads and other tablets, most of us will choose from a wide range of laptops.

It’s especially important to figure out what you want from a tablet. In the case of Amazon’s Fire HD Plus, if you want a tablet with a great screen, access to all your video entertainment options and books, and a pretty affordable price, then look no further.

However, as nice as it is living within the Amazon ecosystem, it does have its limits.

Before we dig into that, let’s start with the tablet itself, which I’ve been testing out with both a wireless charging dock and Fintie detachable keyboard case that’s part of its productivity bundle (which also includes a 12-month Microsoft 365 Personal subscription).

The Fire 10 HD Plus packs a gorgeous 10-inch HD screen, yet it doesn’t feel big at all.

At 10.1 inches, it’s slightly smaller than the 10.2-inch iPad and 10.9-inch iPad Air. Still, it’s light and compact.The Fintie does add considerable bulk and weight, though.

It’s zippy, too. Flipping between apps is effortless. There’s also a split-screen option allowing you to use two apps at once, such as writing an email while having a browser open.

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The real draw of the Fire 10 HD Plus is as an entertainment device. Between the screen and support for Dolby Atmos audio, watching movies and TV shows is delightful, whether it’s Amazon’s own Prime Video or competitors including Netflix, Hulu or HBO Max. There’s also the treasure trove of books elegantly handled through Amazon’s Kindle app.

It’s available with 32 GB of storage for 179.99, or $219.99 for 64 GB. Either model lets you add a microSD card to bump up storage to as high as 1 TB. Amazon is also selling the Fire 10 HD Plus bundled with the charging dock or the detachable keyboard case for $40 more.

There is potential for using your Fire 10 HD Plus beyond entertainment. It supports Microsoft products like Office, Teams and Skype, as well as Zoom, if you want to use it for business.

The Fintie case with keyboard suits the tablet well. It connects by Bluetooth, and users can detach it if they want to use the Fire HD as a traditional tablet. But it’s important to keep in mind that these keyboards, like many aimed at tablets, can feel cramped compared to a standard keyboard for a desktop or laptop.

When paired with the charging dock, owners can not only wirelessly power up your tablet, but transform it into an Echo Show-style device. A display pops up with the weather, news items, recipes or other customizable details. The tablet also supports using digital assistant Alexa hands free. Amazon says you can fully charge the tablet in as little as 3.5 hours.

Here’s the problem, and it applies to all of Amazon’s tablets: you are stuck with Amazon’s app store. It has most of the big names you’d expect: Netflix, TikTok, Facebook, Hulu, Candy Crush Saga, and others. But Amazon’s app store is not anywhere as robust as Apple’s App Store or Google Play.

There is also a notable absence from Amazon’s marketplace: Google. So, no YouTube app or any other Google apps. Amazon’s Silk browser handles some Google services smoothly, such as YouTube and YouTube TV. However, if you rely on productivity apps like Google Docs, they don’t seem to work.

If you’re seeking an affordable alternative to an iPad or Microsoft’s Surface line, the Fire HD 10 Plus will serve you well. But only if you really want it.

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Quantum drums could lead to more powerful computer networks

Tiny musical instruments might just be the key to the future of quantum computing. Gizmodo reports that NIST researchers have built two miniscule (about the width of a human hair), quantum-entangled aluminum drums to measure their properties and lay the groundwork for large quantum networks.

The team used microwave light to give the drums two patterns (one “cool and calm,” the other less steady) that entangled on a level so precise that human instruments couldn’t match their level of coordination. The scientists then measured tiny differences in the drum head positions and found that they’d move at the same speed in relation to each other, just in different directions.

NIST could only keep the entanglement active for about 200 microseconds even in the near absolute zero temperature needed for the experiment. However, that would be long enough for them to be used as qubits for storing data and converting it to and from microwaves that could be sent to distant quantum computers in a network. Other researchers have tried this before, but they haven’t had success with on-demand entanglement like this.

There’s still plenty of work left before this reaches hardware outside of a lab. The research group would like to make the drums perform complex operations. The breakthrough suggests it’s just a matter of time, though, and practical quantum networking might be that much closer as a result.

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ARM introduces v9, its first new chip architecture in a decade

You don’t have to look far to find ARM chips. They’re everywhere, from our phones to laptops and even some of the cloud servers that power the countless online services we depend on every day. And if ARM has its way, its designs will only become more ubiquitous over the next few years thanks to its first new architecture in a decade, ARMv9. With v9, ARM focused on three primary areas: security, AI-related processing and overall computing power.

ARMv9 includes the company’s new Confidential Compute Architecture, or CCA for short. It will enable a new “Realms” concept. ARM says all apps will have the opportunity to leverage Realms to protect their code and any private data they’re processing by executing in a different environment from other software.

ARMv9 chips will also feature the latest version of the company’s Scalable Vector Extensions (SVE) technology. Developed with help from Fujitsu, it’s one of the technologies in use by the world’s fastest supercomputer. The company says its new SVE2 platform will give ARMv9 chips an edge when processing 5G, machine learning, and virtual and augmented reality workloads locally on their CPU.

And when it comes to raw computing power, ARM claims v9 will enable performance increases of more than 30 percent over the next generations of mobile and cloud CPUs, thanks, in part due to its Total Compute design philosophy.

ARM didn’t say when the first ARMv9 chips will arrive in the hands of consumers, but the company is bullish about its prospects. It says v9 will power 300 billion new ARM-based chips. At the rate ARM chips are being shipped at the moment, the company estimates 100 percent of all the world’s shared data will soon be processed by ARM chips, whether that’s on an individual device or in the cloud.

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Verizon brings unlimited storage to cloud data battle with Apple, Amazon and Google

The photos and videos you have on your smartphone are important to you. But are you protecting them adequately?

Backing up your data is always a good move. And there are plenty of cloud storage options available to do some from tech giants such as Apple, Amazon and Google.

Now, Verizon has jumped into the game with its Verizon Cloud service, which gives you unlimited storage of photos, videos and other files for $19.99 monthly.

Available to Verizon Wireless and Verizon Fios subscribers, Verizon Cloud lets you store photos, videos, documents and other data using an app that’s available across Android or iOS phones and tablets, and Windows and Mac computers.

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The primary account holder can add four additional accounts; each account can create private files requiring a PIN or biometric authentication.

“We heard from consumers that storage limits is a pain point for them,” Todd Oberstein, Verizon’s executive director of consumer mobile products. “We know storage can get used up very quickly, and we know that’s why different providers are providing more and more (cloud storage). We just said, ‘You know what, let’s just make it unlimited.’ That way it provides peace of mind for customers because they don’t have to think about it anymore.”

Verizon’s cloud storage entry comes as the nation’s wireless providers are expanding their 5G networks. “It’s going to be easier to download movies,” Oberstein said. “You’re not going to have to worry about that any more” he said, because you can offload large video files to the cloud.

Those data appetites will grow the U.S. consumer cloud storage market to $500 billion annually in the next five years, and Verizon is in a good position to get a bigger share, says Daniel Ives, managing director, equity research at Wedbush Securities.

“Verizon and other carriers are in the sweet spot to monetize this growing opportunity,” he said. “While competition is fierce, carriers like Verizon have built a moat as more consumers utilize cloud storage despite increasing price points.”

Still, there are many ways to store your data in the cloud. And don’t forget, it’s good data sense to also have another copy somewhere of your important photos, videos and documents – perhaps stored on a hard drive or USB drive.

How the cloud services compare

At nearly $20 a month, Verizon’s service may seem like princely sum for a piece of the cloud, but it’s the only one to offer unlimited storage for all kinds of data. Here are some other options:

Apple iCloud. Sign up and get 5GB of storage free. For more, you can pay 99 cents for 50GB. Upgrade to the 200GB ($2.99 monthly) or 2 terabyte plan ($9.99 monthly), and you can share those with your family.

AT&T Personal Cloud. After a 30-day free trial, you pay $4.99 monthly for 500GB or $9.99 monthly for 2TB. Under the plan, you must maintain your AT&T wireless service.

Amazon. Amazon Prime members get free unlimited photo storage, plus 5 Gigabytes of video storage. Other customers get 5GB of total storage free. Need to store more? You can expand your Amazon Drive to 100GB for $1.99 month, 1TB for $6.99 monthly/$59.99 annually, and 2TB for $11.99 monthly/$119.98 annually (capacity: about 280 hours of HD video). Prime members can share storage with family members.

Although it’s aimed more at businesses, consumers can use Amazon Web Services (AWS) Simple Storage Service (S3) to store up to 50GB for $0.023 per GB ($23 per TB). The price per GB declines slightly as you store beyond that amount of data.

Box. Individuals can sign up for 10GB of free storage. The Personal Pro plan gives you 2TB of storage $14 monthly/$120 annually.

Dropbox. The Personal Plus plan gives one user 2TB of storage for $11.99 monthly/ $9.99 annually. The Family plan lets up to six users share 2TB for $19.99 monthly/$16.99 annually.

Google. You get 15 GB free, but for additional storage there’s larger Google One plans (all shareable with up to five family members) including 100GB for $1.99 monthly/$19.99 annually, 200GB ($2.99 monthly/$29.99 annually), or 2TB for $9.99 monthly/$99.99 annually.

Microsoft OneDrive. Beyond the free OneDrive Basic, which gets you 5GB of storage, individuals can can expand to 100GB for $1.99 monthly or get 1TB within the Microsoft 365 Personal package ($6.99 monthly/$69.99 annually), which comes with Excel, Word, Outlook, Powerpoint and Skype. Families can opt Microsoft 365 Family OneDrive ($9.99 monthly or $99.99 annually), which includes 6TB, shareable by six family members.

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House scraps work schedule amid security threat

Congress

Federal authorities and the sergeant-at-arms warned of discussions by “militia violent extremists” to seize control of the Capitol complex on or around March 4.

U.S. Capitol Police protective agents stand watch as Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers hold a news event on the steps of the House of Representatives at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

By HEATHER CAYGLE, SARAH FERRIS, KYLE CHENEY and NATASHA BERTRAND

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Top House Democrats are abruptly wrapping up all work on Wednesday and sending members home — a day earlier than planned — as congressional leaders grapple with another potential threat to the Capitol, nearly two months after deadly riots overtook the complex.

While the extent of the concerns is not yet clear, U.S. Capitol Police have stepped up the security around the Capitol and related office buildings after both federal authorities and the sergeant-at-arms warned of discussions by “militia violent extremists” to seize control of the complex on or around March 4.

March 4 has been touted by some conspiracy theorists as the date that former President Donald Trump will return to power. The date was the inauguration date for presidents before being changed to Jan. 20 in the 1930s.

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A Sonic Lego set is coming

Everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog is about to get his own Lego set. You can thank 24-year-old Sonic fan Viv Grannell and the Lego Ideas program for bringing Lego and Sega together. Over the years, the initiative, which allows fans to submit designs they’d like to see the company manufacture, has produced some truly delightful sets, including a handful of fun NASA-themed ones. Grannell’s design of the Green Hill Zone, based on the excellent Sonia Mania rendition of the level, earned the more than 10,000 community votes a design needs before Lego considers making it into something official.

With Sega’s approval, Lego is now starting official development on the design (so expect the final product to look different than the concept pictured above). Lego didn’t say when the set will go on sale but did mention it will be available globally once it’s ready.

This isn’t the first time Sonic has gotten the lego treatment. You could buy a Sonic pack back when Lego Dimensions was a thing. But the timing of this latest set couldn’t have worked out better for Sega. It’s the year of Sonic, with the franchise celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021. Sega has multiple Sonic-related projects planned for the future, including an animated Netflix series.

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Finally, I can solve a Rubik’s Cube

The Rubik’s Cube has been around for decades. I’ve toyed with the cube, probably in the very late ‘80s or early ‘90s, but never imagined being able to solve one. But wouldn’t it be satisfying if I could? And if not now, with months of social distancing, when?

Fortunately, the internet makes solving what was originally an architecture puzzle doable for most of us. Even the impatient, like me. The world record for solving a cube has plummeted since 2000 from 20 seconds to under five, as pros and enthusiasts synthesized high-speed solutions and turn combinations (called algorithms) and shared them with the world. (For a good primer, check out this documentary on Netflix.)

While the answers are already out there, a new Bluetooth-connected Rubik’s Cube (and companion app) unravels the terminology and simplifies it all into a guided tutorial. The Connected Cube sadly won’t have me cracking into the world rankings, but I can now, with increasing reliability, solve a Rubik’s Cube from scratch, without any help.

The Rubik’s Connected Cube is $59, making it notably pricier than typical Rubik’s Cubes, which are usually less than $20. You’re paying that premium for an iron-clad way of learning how to set up your scrambled cube, and an on-the-rails step-by-step method that will solve it, barring human error.

The only visible difference from a cube you didn’t solve in your childhood is a cross-shaped recess on the yellow face. This is where you recharge the puzzle so it’s able to connect over Bluetooth. A single charge will last you a good week of attempts to solve the cube. It otherwise looks, feels and moves like any other Rubik’s Cube. The magic lies with the companion app. This is a teacher with infinite patience that can track your every twist and, well, screw-up.

The Rubik’s Connected app is mostly focused on competitive functions and speed-solve timers aimed at experienced cubers, with the learning section for the rest of us, relegated to the final tab. GoCube, the company behind the Rubik’s Connected, has made connected cubes in the past — this is one with some (arguably important) Rubik’s branding. It also makes a more advanced modelthat lights up as you progress. That costs $20 more.

The solution guide includes a detailed course that covers the terminology and the moves used to get you to your first solve. It’s a seven-step process (there are faster, more complicated ways to solve it), and you’ll find some steps more complicated than others. At least I did.

Each step comes with at least one video tutorial, alongside a cheat sheet of the algorithm combinations needed to manipulate the cube. The best part is that the app is able to keep you on track by offering a way to reverse your mistakes, through a series of on-screen twists and rotations, as well as the option to  “program” your cube so you can repeat any trickier steps until you’ve got them memorized.

After I got my first solve — which I was far too proud of — there’s a practice option in the learning tab that offers minimal hints to help you work through the cube. If you need more assistance, a light-bulb icon will offer a video tutorial of the step you’re working on, as well as the turns needed.

I’ve now solved the cube a handful of times, and I’m working to memorize the process. I can typically unscramble the cube in under three minutes. The more complicated final steps still trip me up occasionally, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Sub-ten-second solves aren’t happening any time soon, but if I can solve a Rubik’s Cube, you almost definitely can too.

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White House monitoring GameStop stock explosion

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The feds are keeping an eye on GameStop’s exploding stock price, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other economic officials in the Biden administration are “monitoring the situation” with GameStop and other stocks that have been pumped up by rookie investors online, Psaki told reporters at a press briefing.

“It’s a good reminder, though, that the stock market isn’t the only measure of the health of our economy,” Psaki said. “It doesn’t reflect how working- and middle-class families are doing.”

Psaki made the remark in response to a question and didn’t say what concerns officials might have about the stock rally. But Barron’s reported late Tuesday that securities regulator in Massachusetts are concerned that GameStop’s unusual trading suggests there is something “systemically wrong” with the options trading around the stock.

GameStop’s share price more than doubled Wednesday and has surged more than eightfold over the past week thanks largely to what appear to be small-time traders on Reddit’s “r/wallstreetbets” forum.

Users on the message board, who refer to themselves as “degenerates,” have been trying to put a squeeze on institutional investors who bet against the video-game retailer, sending the stock price soaring in the process.

Novice traders have also been plowing into other companies whose shares were worth only a few bucks just last week, such as movie theater chain AMC Entertainment, smartphone maker Blackberry and headphone maker Koss Corporation.

Those stocks exploded even as the broader market took a tumble Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average was down about 1.4 percent, or 427.42 points, at 30,509.62 as of 2:05 p.m. while the S&P 500 was recently off about 1.7 percent.

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