Microsoft update: removes ability to stop Cortana

Cortana, the digital personal assistant that is part of the latest Windows 10 operating system by Microsoft, aligns perfectly with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s ambitions to create an artificial intelligence service, which is the future of technology. Furthermore, this service drives users toward’s Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.
cortana switch off

Many users are disappointed, but not surprised that Microsoft’s latest update will remove the ability for users to turn off the Cortana service. The update released on August 2nd.

The older version of Window 10 allowed users to turn off Cortana. When Cortana was turned off, a basic search bar was available to scan the files and folders on the computer. Cortana offered a number of features, including calendar reminders; however, many users say they worry that this will allow Microsoft to track their user data.

Now, the option to remove Cortana is being removed by Microsoft. Once the update is installed, you will need to use Cortana to search your computer files. The only way to turn down this or any other update is if you use Windows 10 at work.

Privacy with Microsoft Window 10’s Cortana

Cortana provides you with a lot of personalized information once you sign into the Service, according to Matt Weinberger of Business Insider.

It should be noted that you do not have to sign into Cortana; however, you will not get the features that Cortana offers, such as personalized news stories and access to your calendar and contacts. You do have the ability to use Cortana anonymously. If you are concerned about your privacy, you can sign out of Cortana. Microsoft will still receive data information; however, it will be sent anonymously. Finally, you will have the ability to hide the Cortana bar from your taskbar.

All in all, Windows 10 is pretty amazing. Cortana is one of the best services that is available because it gives the user so much personalized information. It truly is like have your own personal assistant. However, it is disturbing when a company takes away user options, especially when it is so central to their day to day life, such as a Windows 10 personal computer.

The news of this update comes on the heels of the last update when Microsoft prevented Cortana from using Good to do web searches. Instead, users were forced to use Microsoft Edge and the Bing as their search engine. Last week, Microsoft reported a 16 percent increase in the last quarter.

This is what Microsoft’s spokesperson said:

“With the latest update, the search bar has turned into a Cortana search bar. Customers should expect a fantastic search experience. The new searches will be powered by Microsoft Edge, Bing, and Cortana.

Microsoft understands that consumers want choices. This this is why we have made it easy to customize Cortana or even opt-out of the personalized services offered by Cortana. It should be noted that Cortana works the best when a user is signed in; however, if you choose to remain anonymous, you will still be able to use Cortana to chat, search the internet and search your files and folders on your Windows device.”

We’ll have to wait and see how the user community reacts to this news.

apple logo

Google sides with Apple in FBI encryption debate

You may have seen news of the battle between the FBI and Apple over the last few days relating to backdoors in IPhone encryption. Apple’s CEO – Tim Cook – had described a judge’s order forcing apple to backdoor a terrorist’s IPhone as “a troubling precedent”.

Google’s Sunday Pichai, the CEO has added his weight to the argument, by describing Tim Cook’s letter as important. He tweeted that Google build secure products but give law enforcement access to data when valid legal orders were presented. He described how different that is to forcing companies to enable the hacking of devices or data. He states that this could compromise user privacy, and that the issue needs further open discussion. The full tweets can be seen here.

This reflects Cook’s words – who stated that the issue requires public discussion, and that people need to understand what could be lost if these measures go through.  His stance has garnered praise from many privacy campaigners.  Until now, many of the other peers in the industry have remained silent, but it looks like that is changing.  Jan Koum, of WhatsApp, has also backed Apple’s stance, and stated that he couldn’t agree more with everything said in Apple’s letter.


sundar twitter

It’s unlikely to be long before the other major players in Silicon Valley chime in on the subject.

Edward Snowden had already called Google out on the subject just yesterday, stating that they hadn’t chosen to be on the same side as the public.  However Pichai has dismissed the comment.

The situation has been bubbling up over the last couple of years, since Apple implemented new privacy controls in the IPhone with 2014’s update to IOS.

California senator, Dianne Feinstein, has vowed to introduce legislation to require compliance, in spite of a previous attempt having failed.  Donald Trump also called the situation disgraceful, and that Apple should be forced to do it.

SIIA (Software and Information Industry Association) saw such measures as doing more harm than good, and they’re not alone in the tech industry.  Ed Black of the CCIA pointed out that when governments build in these vulnerabilities, it’s not just they who will have access.  In time, criminals and hackers will find them, and be able to exploit them for their own gain.





Stop Windows 10 spying on you

Windows 10 has been around in it’s official form for a little over a month now. It’s been met with some great praise from the IT industry as well as by home users. But as time progresses, it’s becoming clearer that Windows 10 is gathering a lot of information on its users, and sending it back to Microsoft.

One of the first screens that upgraders to Windows 10 are met with gives options to protect privacy, but unfortunately this doesn’t go far enough as in the background there is a large amount of tracking going on.


What is being tracked (that we know of?)

Within the privacy policy that comes with the latest version, Microsoft state that they “access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to: 1.comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies; 2.protect our customers, for example to prevent spam or attempts to defraud users of the services, or to help prevent the loss of life or serious injury of anyone; 3.operate and maintain the security of our services, including to prevent or stop an attack on our computer systems or networks; or 4.protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services – however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement”.

This is disconcerting – and how far this will be taken remains to be seen.  Following on from the concern, Microsoft have now added the same abilities in a new update for both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

So what can we do?

A new set of utilities have sprung up, which offer to restrict this spying to various degrees (and abilities).  In the past, it might have been easy to block some of the Microsoft addresses by editing the “hosts” file on an individual PC.  Apparently that doesn’t work on Windows 10, with the ability to resolve the MS telemetry hostname being built right into the operating system, and with no option for a user to avoid it.

Luckily, the brains behind these utilities have worked out some methods of stopping this, for the time being at least.

The first tool that I can recommend is called WinPrivacy, which can adjust many different Windows 10 features that have an impact on privacy.  Unfortunately it’s in German, but if you can make your way through the interface, it’s well worth it and doesn’t install adware unlike its equally able competitor called DoNotSpy10.  DoNotSpy10 installs the Open Candy software on your machine, which loads adverts into many of your applications, so you’re just swapping one bad thing for another.

These features include,

  • Disabling telemetry
  • Disabling lock screen camera functions
  • Disable handwriting information uploads
  • Disabling Digital Rights Management internet access from Windows Media player.
  • There are many more settings inside, so it’s well worth checking out.

Other settings that I recommend

Microsoft are desperate to get folks onto their Onedrive system.  This has many benefits – such as syncing your files to every Windows 10 machine you log onto.  But at the same time, you’re giving them your files.  The easiest way to avoid this is to ensure that you are using a local account on your system.  Don’t set up a Microsoft account.  The option is there during setup, so choose it.  It’s also possible to turn off later, but better to be safe and do it from the start.

Another ‘feature’ is Wi-Fi Sense, which saves your home wifi settings in the cloud, and allows visitors to your home to automatically connect to your wifi.  Again – best to turn this one off from the start.

So it seems that Microsoft is now able to gather as much info on customers as Google does.  It’s a shame that such a great free operating system has all of this intrusion running in the background.  But you know nothing is free – in the end your personal information is the payment they’re taking.



improve your gaming with nootropics

Can Nootropics Enhance Your Gaming?

Like academics and work productivity, gaming performance requires numerous cognitive abilities which can be enhanced by nootropic supplements.

So many games and so little time! It’s hard enough to master some of the current best games today, such as Batman: Arkham Knight, Mad Max, and the latest Grand Theft Auto. Even just one game demands a lot of time to master. But then there are more great games in the pipeline, such as Halo 5: Guardians for the Xbox One, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for the PS4, and the next installment of the Killer Instinct franchise for the PC. It’s no wonder that quite a few people are already using Nootropics for gaming.

improve your gaming with nootropics

Nootropic supplements such as MindBoost Day and Night are becoming much more popular because of this need to master these great games. It’s not just being taken by students hoping to improve grades, office workers aiming to increase productivity, or older adults trying to stave of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Now gamers are also getting into the action and trying out nootropics as well.

What are Nootropics?

Nootropics are a kind of performance enhancing drugs, but they don’t really improve your strength and muscle mass the way illegal anabolic steroids do for professional athletes and ardent bodybuilders. Nootropics are “cognitive enhancing” drugs, which are designed to help you improve your mental and cognitive abilities. In short, they make you smarter for a while.

best nootropics for gaming

This is rather broad definition, and thus the category includes coffee, which helps eliminate the mental fuzz in the morning and keeps you alert and awake during the rest of the day. They may also include prescription drugs such as modafinil or Adderall, which were designed to help people with ADHD focus more effectively but are also being taken by students to help them concentrate.
This concept of nootropics isn’t new, as the term itself was coined in 1972. And even without the formal acknowledgement of the concept, the idea that you can take something to make you smarter has long been accepted.
After all, people have been drinking coffee and tea not just for the taste. Truckers and soldiers who need to be alert have in the past used amphetamines. And many people with complicated jobs such as stock analysts have abused cocaine. It’s just that today, the newer nootropics are legal and offer to make you smarter without the harrowing side effects that you usually associate with drugs.
For gaming, this kind of boost can be invaluable. Nootropics are now being used as gaming enhancing drugs in much the same way they are used by college (and even high school) students to help them get better grades. They’re also all the rage in the tech industry, and in Silicon Valley they’re being consumed like potato chips in order for people to boost their efficiency.
Many gamers who are passionate about their hobby feel the same way, and they welcome any mental improvements they can get. Improving brain function and  performance is a hot topic and one which sites such as cover in detail. After all, the skills needed for gaming are in general the very same skills students need for school. And these are also the skills which nootropics can improve.

Increase Your Ability to Process Information

Video games offer audio visual clues to help you understand what’s going on. But can you? You have to understand what you’re seeing, and do so as fast as you can. If the information is written you have to be able to interpret the instructions or clues. And sometimes you will have these instructions spoken to you, such as in FPS gaming when you work in groups.
Without this skill, you’re going to be lost and ignorant about what’s going on and what you need to do.

Boost Your Perceptual-Motor Abilities

These abilities include objection identification, pattern recognition, and speed of perception. It also involves your ability to respond quickly with the appropriate solution through recall. What’s more, you need to teach your fingers to press the right keys and buttons at the proper time.
A fighting game such as Tekken will need these abilities. When your opponent is making their moves, you need your fingers to react quickly to make your own counter moves.

Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

Sometimes you encounter what is an outright puzzle, and you have to solve it to progress in your game. This is a skill that’s much needed in school and in the workplace, and in gaming it is crucial as well. You will have to understand what’s being asked and come up with the right solution.

Develop Your Social Skills

In many games these days you need to work as part of a team, and your individual abilities may come to nothing if you don’t have the necessary social skills needed. You have to learn to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team mates, as well as your opponents and even your own. You will need to learn to remember their tendencies and anticipate their moves.
This is a skill that you can actually lose when you don’t get enough rest, because tired people are more short-tempered. And stimulants that can make you jittery can make things worse as well. Many gamers have discovered this when drinking too much soda or coffee, and their ability to deal with stress becomes compromised.

Replenish Your Energy

Even though it may seem to non-gamers that you do nothing all day but sit around and stare at a screen, all gamers know that mental fatigue is a problem for gamers as it is for students. And sometimes you just can’t quit, especially in a critical juncture. Either your team mates are relying on you or to quit is to waste all your recent efforts because you can’t save the game at that particular point. So you have to persevere!


Choosing to improve your gaming skills through nootropics is an easy choice to make, provided you pick the right one. You need something that improves your memory, learning speed, and energy levels. With the right supplement, you can boost your APM (actions per minute) because you can shorten your reaction time, recall specific counter moves and tactics, and even muster tremendous focus for short bursts.
Yet you may also want to avoid any stimulants, which may make you jittery and negatively affect your performance instead. With these requirements, it’s no wonder that the stimulant-free nootropics such as MindBoost Day are flying off the shelves.


Do Apple have a car on the way?

There have been plenty of rumours over the years that Apple have been looking at ways of getting into the automotive market in some way.
Some of this was almost fan-fiction, whereas other rumours seemed to have a little more to them. However now we have some hard evidence – a chain of correspondence between Frank Gearon, a senior Apple engineer, and GoMentum Station, who operate car testing facilities.

Who are GoMentum?

Based in Concord, California, GoMentum’s HQ is a short distance away from Apple in San Francisco. They have a custom facility which has been created since the inception of the driverless car initiatives were kicked off in Silicon Valley over the last few years. Their tracks simulate actual scenarios that driverless cars are likely to encounter in reality, such as tricky junctions, unforeseen obstructions, and human miscalculations. There’s around 20 miles of roads, rail crossings, overpasses and buildings – almost like a ghost town.
It’s all based at a site which was a former Naval weapons station, which is owned by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. The base was officially closed down in 2007, and had previously been used during the second World War to supply weapons to ships at Port Chicago. It’s a five thousand acre site, which is kept off-limits to the general public by a private security force.
“[Apple would] like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it]” Fearon is said to have written. The correspondence took place earlier in 2015.

So what’s been confirmed?

Not much more is known at this stage, but it does clearly show that they have ambitions to proceed in the driverless industry in some way. “Project Titan”, one of the rumoured names for the secret work, hasn’t been officially confirmed as of yet, but the correspondence mentioned that Apple hopes to see the layout of testing grounds, and how the areas could be used.
GoMentum have not commented on the speculation, and it is likely due to a strict non-disclosure agreement. They have confirmed that Apple are “interested” in their service.
Apple are likely going down this route in order to maintain secrecy. If they decided to test on public highways, they would have to apply for approval, which would be in the form of a permit for the CA Department of Motor Vehicles.

Might it not be a smaller entry into automotive tech?

So following on from Apple’s comments that cars are the ultimate mobile devices, it seems like a natural progression into this arena. Could it be that they are planning to battle Google in the driverless vehicle race, or is this something on a much smaller scale, such as the car platform in a similar approach to Google’s in-car entertainment and navigation system.

When will we see it?

It’s likely that we’ll hear more in the not-too-distant future, but I don’t believe you’ll be actually driving one of these cars in the next couple of years. This may be the start of worrying times for some of the other car manufacturers out there, having seen the way that Apple took control of other industries.

apple pay

Apple Pay arrives in the UK.

According to a leaked memo, Apple Pay is due to launch across the UK on Tuesday 13th July, enabling iPhone owners to quickly pay with their devices.

It launched some time ago in the U.S, and has been a success. Now, anyone in the UK with an iPhone 6/+ will be able to do the same.

The news was accidentally leaked in a supermarket memo, and then HSBC confirmed it in their Twitter account today.  The tweet was removed after a short period.

hsbc tweet

Similar to contactless credit cards, Apple Pay will allow users to make payments by holding their phone next to a terminal while using a finger on the phone’s fingerprint scanner.

Many well-known UK companies have already signed up to the service, and just as with contactless cards , the transactions are limited to £20 at a time, although this is expected to increase to £30 in September.   There will be 250,000 locations that will accept the payments at launch, so this is going to be a popular payment method in no time.

On the security side, Apple have stated that credit and debit card numbers are not stored on the device when they’re added to the system, or even on Apple’s servers.  A one-time security code is used instead, and this allows each transaction to complete.

Android Pay, which is Google’s own payment solution, launches towards the end of 2015, and there are other competitors too, such as Barclays’ bPay system, which will allow customers the choice of a wristband, gob, or an RFID sticker for their phone and can be linked to any credit or debit card.  They are the only major UK bank who won’t be supporting the new system.

Last year saw around £2 billion in payments using contactless technology, and that figure will only rise with the advent of these new systems.

A number of major brands, including Boots, M&S, Pret-a-Manger and many of the major banks are ready to support the system from tomorrow.  More information is available on the Apple website.

streaming to Windows 10

Windows 10 can now stream

A new update for the Xbox One has this week enabled the functionality that allows users to stream to their Windows 10 devices. We’ve known for some time that this was coming, and since seeing the demo at E3, it’s been an addition that many have been looking forward to (along with backwards compatibility). So now that it’s here (for some), how does it fare?

The feature works with the preview versions of Windows 10, which are available for free when you sign up on the Microsoft site. Once the ISO disk image is installed, it’s just a matter of updating the pre-installed Xbox app in the windows store. At this point, you can sign in, point the system to your Xbox One’s IP address, and away you go. The only hardware requirement is that you have an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controlller to plug into the Windows 10 box. If all this talk of ISO disk images is out of your comfort zone, then don’t worry as Windows 10 can be installed just like any other update in the near future when it is officially released.

High Quality Video Setting


I’ve tested this out on a couple of PCs so far, and the results have been excellent. The first game I tried was Titanfall (still my favourite game on the system by a mile). The Windows 10 machine was a fairly low spec box from 2010, linked via an ethernet cable.

It’s the Xbox which is still performing most of the work, with the Windows machine just displaying a mirror of what would appear on the console’s video output.

At the highest quality setting, there was barely any image degredation – just a few minor artifacts here and there. Latency was acceptable, and the game remained perfectly playable.  I didn’t notice any slowdown in the entire session.  MS are still testing consumer’s responses to the streaming, and a questionnaire pops up after each stream in order to provide feedback on the experience.

Slower network setting

The second game tested was Minecraft, which I streamed to a very old laptop over wifi. When a decent signal was obtained, the system coped well, and the game was perfectly playable on the lower quality video setting. The edges were a little softer than on the real console, but that was to be expected over a slow link (which was hovering around the 10 mb/s mark).

Another great feature is being able to power on/off the console remotely. This really makes the system very convenient to use from anywhere in the home.  Many of the buttons can be pressed via the onscreen display if this is preferred over the controller.

Kinect will not work for obvious reasons, but other media features such as Netflix and Xbox video will be available from the outset.

It won’t be long before Windows 10 is officially released at the end of July – 29th to be exact, and you can get your hands on a copy for free if you have an existing Windows 7 or Windows 8(.1) license on your PC. With this feature and backwards compatibility already available to members of the preview, the system is shaping up to be even better than originally advertised.

I’ll post a video shortly of my own setup, but in the meantime, here’s a quick demo of what is coming:

seo rules

Google’s own investment penalised by SEO rules?

Google’s ever expanding range of searches is soon to include a system that will help consumers to get in touch with service experts, such as roof repair and domestic appliance repair service.

So it’s odd when a startup that they’re currently backing suddenly disappears from the search engines. The company, Thumbtack, has had over $150 million invested in it by various backers, including Google themselves.

However, a couple of weeks ago, Thumbtack disappeared from the search engine results, where they had been riding high for many different search keywords. This happens all the time in the SEO world, and manual action is usually required to fix the issue. The site is then resubmitted to Google, and if it all checks out, then in the next few weeks the site may recover its rankings and get back to its original position – if you’re lucky.

Thumbtack had a remarkable recovery though. So remarkable that it’s started conspiracy theories about whether some help from inside the big G was give. It’s very unusual for a site to recover quite as spectacularly as in this case, especially since it was being penalised for having requested paid links to the site in order to boost its value in the eyes of the search engines.

Cathy Houghton, from ForwardSEO, Cheshire has dealt with similar situations, but has not many clients for her Cheshire SEO company recover quite as quickly as Thumbtack. “It’s not clear at this stage whether Google is helping a company they’ve invested in, or if they’ve been caught flattening a competitor site – we’ll know for sure later this year, but it could be just a misunderstanding as Google’s investment division is separate from the rest of the company” stated the company’s search engine expert.

What’s not clear is whether Google is going to withdraw future funding when their own competitor product is ready. It’s likely that they will swallow up the company, but that’s speculation at this stage.
The Thumbtack service is based around gamifying the whole industry of local service results, by giving points is they provide backlinks to their website. They’ve since sent out emails to clients requesting that they remove such links, possibly since they’ve realised that it contravenes the search engine giant’s rules.
Google and Thumbtack have both declined to comment on the situation. This may leave other local search startups feeling that they’re on shaky ground in the future, unable to tell whether Google is going to pull the rug from under them at any minute.

xbox one backwards compatibility

Xbox One Backwards Compatibility Is Coming!

Breaking News from E3.

At the opening of the E3 show, Microsoft have made a huge announcement, and one which is sure to get loyal fans of the system excited.  Xbox 360 games will finally be compatible with the Xbox One.  The omission of this feature disappointed many fans at the launch of the newest system.

Over 100 titles will be added in the first few weeks, and many more will come later.  Both digital downloads and retail disks will work with the new feature.  Games will run exactly as they did on the 360.  Multiplayer will work from the start, as will Windows 10 streaming, and screenshots.

Here’s the full playback:

Publishers will not need to rewrite games to work with this – they simply need to approve their games to be enabled on the new system.  From that point, they will be immediately available.

It’s not clear yet whether 360-based Kinect games will work with the new system.  We do know that 360 controllers such as steering wheels and Guitar Hero controllers will not be available, which is s shame, but not unexpected – the technology used by the Xbox One wireless is very different from its predecessor.


Other announcements at today’s event included the new Xbox One “Elite” Controller.


This is an enhanced version of the standard controller aimed at hardcore gamers.  There’s a wealth of options that can be adjusted:


  • Hair trigger – this allows the user to select how hard a button has to be pressed before the system registers a click.
  • Paddles – there are 4 new paddle buttons on the back, which can be mapped to any key.  The demo showed an ideal application – gear changes in racing games.
  • Adjustable sticks and D-pad.  The sticks can be replaced with different grips, and the D-pad can be altered according to your preferences.Pricing is due to become available in the near future, but I’m sure these new controllers will be flying off the shelves and making things even tougher for me on Xbox Live!

Read More “Xbox One Backwards Compatibility Is Coming!”

xbox oculus

Oculus Touch and Microsoft team up – Xbox One streaming to VR headset

xbox oculusMicrosoft has made a deal with Facebook, which will bring Xbox One game streaming to the forthcoming Oculus Rift VR headset.  Using the goggles will give the user the impression of playing the games on a cinema sized screen.

Phil Spencer made the surprise announcement today, ahead of the E3 2015 show which begins next week.

It’s not clear at present whether the partnership with Facebook will lead to fully immersive VR games being playable on the headset.  The immediate plans are for the headset to simply act as a display, without any of the head motion tracking that fans are anticipating.vr ice hockey

The headset will be sold with an Xbox One controller, and a stand with an attached sensor. More information will emerge at the E3 show and the device is due to go on sale in the first half of 2016.

Further info is available at the BBC Website.