Monday, June 23, 2014

Microsoft Office Subscriptions Just Got a Lot More Tempting

Microsoft Office Subscriptions Just Got a Lot More Tempting

Microsoft Office Subscriptions Just Got a Lot More Tempting

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 11:20 AM PDT

There was a time when you couldn’t convince me to buy Microsoft Office, let alone pay the recurring cost for an Office 365 subscription. My word processing needs are basic enough that I can survive on free options like Google Drive, OpenOffice or even Microsoft’s Office Online. Paying for Office just never made sense, and subscribing to Office 365 seemed like madness.

But now, I’m tempted to take Microsoft up on its latest offer for Office 365 subscribers: For $7 per month or $70 per year, you can get Office on a single computer, plus one terabyte of OneDrive cloud storage. Paying $10 per month or $100 per year gets you Office on up to five computers, and up to five users each get their own terabyte of storage.

That’s a big jump from the measly 20 gigabytes per user that Microsoft used to give to Office 365 subscribers. And according to our cloud storage comparison chart–which I’ve just updated–an Office subscription now gets you the most storage for the money, edging out Google Drive ($10 per month or $120 per year for one terabyte) and Bitcasa ($99 per year for one terabyte).

I started using OneDrive in earnest last fall after purchasing a Surface Pro 2. The tight OneDrive integration in Windows 8.1 made it easy for me to sync Word documents and .TXT files, so I could move between the Surface and my main Windows desktop without having to manually transfer files back and forth. (The free version now includes 15 gigabytes of storage, up from 7 gigabytes previously.)

With a terabyte of storage, I could start syncing all my photos as well. OneDrive’s iOS and Android apps can automatically back up any photos you take, so I could then manage those photos–along with any from my DSLR–on my Surface or desktop. Currently, I use BitTorrent Sync to automatically send photos to my desktop, while also auto-uploading them at reduced resolution to Google+ and occasionally doing a manual upload to Flickr, which offers 1 terabyte of free storage. Sending everything to OneDrive and managing it all through Windows Explorer sounds like less of a hassle.

In my case, Microsoft’s Office suite would be icing. My wife wouldn’t have to use the outdated version of Office she gets free from work, and I wouldn’t mind having a touch-optimized version on the Surface once Microsoft actually gets around to releasing it.

I haven’t decided one way or another yet–indefinite payments of $100 every year is still a big commitment–but what Microsoft is offering no longer seems crazy to me.

No, You Can’t Auction Off Public Parking Spaces in San Francisco

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 11:17 AM PDT

San Francisco District Attorney Daniel Herrera sent an immediate cease-and-desist letter Monday to Monkey Parking, a peer-to-peer app that “enables motorists to auction off the public parking spaces their vehicles occupy to nearby drivers.” Though startups often operate in legal grey areas that new laws will eventually flush out, spokesperson Matt Dorsey says that “there is no grey area here.”

Imagine that you snag a parking spot on a busy downtown street where finding a slot is generally the equivalent of winning the lottery. Once your car is in the spot, Dorsey says, the app allows you to “sell” that space to the highest bidder. The winner gets to slide their car in as yours pulls out, paying you perhaps $25 in addition to the actual meter fees. The problem is that those parking spaces, unlike driveways, are clearly public assets that private citizens are forbidden to sell.

“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work—and Monkey Parking is not one of them,” Herrera said in a statement. “It creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate … People are free to rent out their own private driveways and garage spaces should they choose to do so. But we will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.”

The DA is giving Italy-based Monkey Parking, which operates on Apple’s iOS system, until July 11 to cease all activity in the City by the Bay and has vowed to file a lawsuit if that deadline is not met. A state consumer-protection law provides for a $2,500 fine per violation, and the DA is arguing that means Monkey Parking will be on the hook for that amount for every transaction that has occurred through the app. The drivers using the app, meanwhile, could be paying $300 penalties under a city law that prohibits people from buying, selling or leasing public parking.

Nestlé Is Developing an Instant-Nutrient Food Machine

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 11:04 AM PDT

Pretty soon, treating your Vitamin D deficiency could be as simple as firing up your espresso machine. Or so Nestlé hopes.

The research arm of the Swiss food and beverage company, Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS), is hard at work on a program called "Iron Man" that aims to measure nutritional deficiencies in group’s or individual’s diets and produce tailor-made remedies. These might take the form of powder similar to instant coffee capsules, like those used in Nestlé's popular Nespresso machines. Running low on zinc? Press a few buttons for the cure, and you might get to slurp it down with a double latte.

The exact form and function of the machine is yet to be determined, NIHS director Ed Baetge tells Bloomberg, and will take years to develop. A huge obstacle is in getting consumers information about their complete nutrition profile to assess which nutrients they're lacking; at present, such tests run into the hundreds of dollars. Nestlé wants to bring that cost way down into an affordable range.

The current limit in regulation around supplements might help such a product get to market without much fuss. But there's been significant questioning in the scientific community as to the value of such supplements—how much do they really help, and are supplements an efficient way of delivering nutrients when compared with food? And could these supplements actually hurt us?

Without hard facts, it's hard to know whether "Iron Man" would truly help consumers or simply spark another fad diet. By the time it's ready for the market, perhaps research will show whether such a quick-fix is the cure for all maladies or part of the problem.

Robin Thicke Tries to ‘Get Her Back’ in New Video About Estranged Wife

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 11:00 AM PDT

Most celebrities like to work out their marital troubles away from the spotlight. Robin Thicke is not one of those celebrities.

In fact, he prefers the opposite: Since the “Blurred Lines” singer and his wife, Paula Patton, separated in February of this year, he’s written an entire album—called Paula—about trying to repair their relationship, and he even got down on his knees to perform the new song “Get Her Back” at the Billboard Music Awards.

In the track’s just-released music video, a bloody, beat-up Thicke admits to being an inattentive lover and vows to do whatever he can to make things right. Even more revealing, however, are the text messages—perhaps some real ones sent between Thicke and Patton—that pop up on screen and spell out all the ways Thicke dropped the ball in the husband game. “You drink too much,” says one. “You embarrassed me,” reads another.

But the most interesting detail of all reveals what Patton thinks of Thicke’s grand, public gestures.

“I wrote a whole album about you,” reads one text message.

The response? “I don’t care.”

The Final Trip Home: A Young Soldier’s Funeral in Photos

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 10:42 AM PDT

A ‘Chilling’ Verdict in Egypt After U.S. Floats More Aid

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 10:35 AM PDT

You’ll be hearing a lot in the coming days about John Kerry’s visit to Baghdad Monday, where the Secretary of State held meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders in an effort to prevent the country’s explosion into a new sectarian civil war. But Washington has limited influence in Baghdad, and it’s not clear what Kerry’s visit can accomplish.

That’s why it’s worth focusing on Kerry’s earlier stop in Cairo, which was more revealing about U.S. policy in the region. After his Sunday meeting with Egypt’s military ruler Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, he signaled the Obama Administration wants to fully restore U.S. military aid to Cairo—choosing the priorities of influence and stability in Egypt over a principled defense of human rights under a government that a top U.S. Senator recently branded “a dictatorship run amok.”

That’s a retreat from Obama’s earlier, and half-hearted, punishment of al-Sisi’s repressive regime, which has showed no signs of moderation. To the contrary: Hours after Kerry left Cairo, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others people for alleged collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood. That prompted Kerry to issue a statement from Iraq denouncing the “chilling, draconian” sentences.

“Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success,” Kerry said in a statement. “Today’s verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law.”

Kerry’s trip to Egypt was the clearest statement yet that President Barack Obama would rather work with al-Sisi than punish him, and his conciliatory words in Cairo before the verdict were not surprising, says Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official and Egypt expert now with the Brookings Institution. “I think the trajectory has been clear for a while.”

Meeting with reporters in Cairo, Kerry said he and al-Sisi discussed their “mutual determination for our countries to work together in partnership in order to deal with the challenges that we face.” Kerry also noted America’s support for political freedoms and “a vibrant civil society.” But his overall tone was supportive of the military general who led the July 2013 coup against Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government and was elected the country’s president this month.

Put an asterisk after “elected,” though. Sisi won in a phony “campaign” carefully restricted by his military regime with a comical 97 percent of the vote. That tells you a lot about the nature of Egypt today: a politically repressive dictatorship which has banned its main political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, and wantonly imprisons its critics. Once home to the stirring mass protests on Tahrir Square, Egypt now quashes virtually all political dissent.

Last fall, the White House announced a partial suspension of the $1.5 billion in U.S. military aid Egypt receives each year, an enduring legacy of the country’s 1979 peace deal with Israel. Even at the time, an Obama official explained that the suspension “is not meant to be permanent; this is meant to be the opposite." (The Obama Administration never officially recognized al-Sisi’s seizure of power as a coup; doing so would have automatically triggered a full aid cutoff under U.S. law.)

That move didn’t exactly prompt moderation from al-Sisi. His crackdown against Islamists continued, punctuated by a court’s recent death sentences for a Muslim Brotherhood cleric and 182 of his supporters who were accused of inciting violence that killed a single police officer.

But Obama wants to maintain a strong relationship with Cairo, not least for strategic reasons like access to the Suez Canal, and U.S. officials believe that continued military aid buys us influence over the country’s future. The U.S. also has little love for the Muslim Brotherhood, which, although it governed peacefully, has radical Islamist elements and allies.

And so, speaking to reporters in Cairo, Kerry explained that the Obama Administration supports fully restoring U.S. aid to Egypt—despite a recent move by Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy oto chop $650 million from America’s annual aid package and halt the shipment of 10 Apache attack helicopters the Egyptians say are vital to battling militants in their Sinai region, a goal very much shared by Washington.

“We will work that out, and I am confident that we will be able to ultimately get the full amount of aid for precisely the reasons that I describe—because it is strategic and it is important for us to be able to work together,” Kerry said, adding that he had spoken to Leahy from Cairo. “I am confident… that the Apaches will come and that they will come very, very soon.”

Unfortunately, the same probably can’t be said for political reform in Egypt, which Wittes calls essential to reforming Egypt’s shattered economy, currently propped up by billions in aid from Gulf Arab states, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It's very hard to see how with [al-Sisi] could make the really painful economic choices needed to revitalize Egypt’s economic growth, and address the needs of Egypt’s young men without broader political support,” says Wittes. “You cannot separate the economics from the politics.”

And with the U.S. aid spigot likely to reopen in full, it’s also hard to see what might make al-Sisi seek that broader support.

Scientists Find Brain Circuit That Controls Social Behavior

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 10:34 AM PDT

What do you do when you want to study something as complicated as what happens deep in the brain when two strangers meet? You develop a completely new way of tracking nerve connections, and then you test it in mice.

That's what Dr. Karl Deisseroth, a professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at Stanford University, and his colleagues did. "We know social behavior is complicated, but to be able to delve into the brain of freely behaving mammals and to see the signal in real time predicting their social interaction was very exciting," says Deisseroth, who published his results in the journal Cell.

Brain researchers have long known that certain chemicals known as neurotransmitters soar or drop depending on what we’re doing and how we feel. Based on these observations, drug companies have developed an armada of medications aimed at mimicking these changes to treat everything from depression, hyperactivity and even social anxiety or shyness. But there’s a difference between observing hormone levels rising or falling and identifying a specific circuit—among the millions that occur in the brain—responsible for how we feel and whether we are friendly at a first meeting, say, or a little more reserved. Studying those circuits has been challenging because scientists simply couldn't get real-time information about which nerves were firing, and where, when certain behaviors, such as a meet and greet, occurred.

MORE: The Upside Of Being An Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated)

Deisseroth solved that problem. Using optogenetics and fiber photometry, he was able to tag specific nerves in the brain with light-receptor molecules and connect them to ultra-thin fibers that were tied to a switch. Flip the switch on, and the cells were stimulated; turn it off and they quieted down.

Deisseroth and his team hooked up their show to cells that operated on the brain chemical dopamine. When they turned the system on, the cells would release dopamine, and when that happened, the mice showed more interest in investigating newcomers dropped into their cage—they sniffed, they explored and they engaged. When the dopamine activation was turned off, however, the mice made little effort to acknowledge or investigate the intruder.

MORE: Study: Nearly 1 in 8 Shy Teens May Have Social Phobia

While manipulating the social interactions of mice is fascinating in itself, Deisseroth sees his findings as being potentially helpful in treating mental illnesses. The fact that he was able to isolate a single circuit that affected something as complex as social behavior suggests that manipulation of deep brain circuits might be a promising way to treat, or modulate behavior in people as well. What if, for example, it became possible to dampen the social aversion that affects some children with autism? If they could interact with people more comfortably, it might be possible to modulate the other symptoms of their developmental disorder. Or what if hyperactivity could be dialed down? Or depression's darkest moods lightened in the same way?

Diesseroth stresses that we're far from even speculating how such therapies might be used, but the possibility that deep brain circuits might be tapped to affect behavior is promising. In the meantime, says Deisseroth, "We know these things are complex. The brain is so mysterious, and psychiatry is so mysterious, so our job for a long time will be to deepen understanding of these complex circuits. If that's the only thing that comes out of this, that would still be great."

4 Great Sports Headphones for Under $50

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 10:33 AM PDT

Getting active is always more fun with music, especially when you exercise solo. Normal headphones aren’t often up to the challenge, though, breaking when they’re covered in sweat and falling out when you move from a walk to a jog. So it’s important to use a pair of headphones made for sports.

Key features in sports headphones to look for include a stabilizer, like ear hooks, sweat resistance and different size eartips for you to choose from to get the perfect fit. Below are four top rated sports headphones that not only deliver a superior auditory experience, but also won’t break the bank.


1. Philips ActionFit Sports SHQ4200 ($35 on Amazon)

The flexible neckband auto-adjusts to your head for a perfect fit and you can choose from three eartip sizes for the best fit.


2. Sony MDR-AS200 ($16 on Amazon)

The Sony MDR-AS200 is built to stay in, with a loop hanger for stable fitting and angled earbuds that stay put.


3. Koss KSC 32 FitClips ($18 on Amazon)

Amazon reviewers rave about the fit as well as the sound quality of the FitClips earbuds. They come in five colors designed to appeal to women, including coral, purple and lime.


4. Philips ActionFit Sports SHQ1200 ($20 on Amazon)

Smaller and lighter than the SHQ4200 earbuds, these are coated in an anti-slip rubber to keep them in your ears while you run and sweat, even in the rain.

This article was written by Dan O’Halloran and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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Ukraine Rebels: We Will Honor Cease-Fire

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 10:18 AM PDT

(DONETSK, Ukraine) — Insurgents in eastern Ukraine say they will honor a cease-fire declared by the Ukrainian president and engage in more talks to help resolve the conflict.

Alexander Borodai, one of the rebel leaders who took part in Monday’s talks in Donetsk, said they would respect the cease-fire declared Friday by the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Borodai also promised that the insurgents would release observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe whom they have held.

How the U.S. and Germany Could Hack the World Cup

Posted: 23 Jun 2014 10:15 AM PDT

It is a measure of just how much the U.S. has grown as a soccer nation that a last-gasp goal by Portugal, one of Europe's perennial powers, to earn a 2-2 draw is being viewed as a devastating loss. Going into that game, most U.S. soccer strategists would have been thrilled to come away with a point against a team fronted by Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the world’s best player.

The now disappointing draw with Portugal means that a draw would be a delightful outcome for both sides in the U.S. game against Germany this Thursday—and a feast for conspiracy fans, oddsmakers, and app makers. The World Cup can be hacked, because a point each would make Germany the Group G winner and the U.S. the runner-up, and each team would advance to the second round.

So it's simple, right? The U.S. and Germany should have a kickabout on Thursday and waltz into the finals, an outcome made easier because U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann and German coach Joachim Loew are friends and former colleagues. A draw between Ghana and Portugal, who play at the same time, would produce a similar result, but there's no controlling that outcome. (That said, some officials from Ghana's football federation have been implicated in trying to arrange fixed friendly matches. On the field, Ghana's players have been nothing short of terrific.)

An agreement? A fix? Couldn't be, won't be done, says Klinsmann. His boys are playing for keeps—they're American, aren't they—"we will give everything to beat Germany. That is our goal," he said. On the field, though, life just doesn't work that way, whatever the players' good intentions. If this game is level in the second half, it's only natural that the players on both sides will want to take fewer risks. Better to not win then to lose and go home. No one wants to be the guy who ruins the World Cup for his team.

In the somewhat sordid history of the World Cup, agreements to fix matches or manipulate them are not unheard of. In fact, West Germany was involved in one of the most famous incidents: In 1982, West Germany needed to beat Austria by a 1-0 score to qualify for the second round, a score that worked perfectly for Austria's advancement, too. The infamous "Great Gijon Swindle" as it is sometimes known (the Cup was staged in Spain that year) saw Germany go up a goal early and then the lads had a nice rest for the duration of the game. The victim was an Algerian team that had played well and deserved better.

The third group games of the World Cup are always a swirl of possibilities. Brazil had a 1% chance to get knocked out; Iran a 15% chance to advance. The U.S. can advance even if it loses and Portugal or Ghana wins. The outcome depends on a series of tiebreakers, the first being goal differential: goals scored minus goals allowed. In this scenario, Ghana can advance with the same record as the U.S., despite having been beaten by the Americans.

That last bit—the fact that a team you beat earlier could advance in a tiebreaker—says all you need to know about FIFA's tournament management skills. The idea of the U.S. and Germany cooking up common cause is indeed unsporting if not downright un-American. But on FIFA's distorted planet football, it makes all the sense in the world.


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