Authors Posts by Gadget Advisor

Gadget Advisor




The National Security Agency has hardly been out of the news since the leak of internal documents revealed the extent of its online operations. Here’s our guide to what’s known about the agency’s Internet monitoring and how you should respond.

Where did the leaks come from?

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden left his post and shared an extensive collection of internal NSA documents with several newspapers. They then checked through the documents, consulted security officials where appropriate to see if their publication would constitute a genuine threat to security, then published them one by one over time. That’s in sharp contrast to outlets such as WikiLeaks which simply make entire collections of documents public without filtering.

Are the leaks reliable?

Naturally officials have been reluctant to publicly confirm any of the claims in the reports are true. However, both the newspapers that dealt with Snowden and other media outlets that reported on the stories say trusted sources confirm the documents as genuine.

What do the leaks reveal?

The big revelation was the existence of PRISM, a program by which the NSA gathers large amounts of data (much of it supposedly private) that travels through the servers of major US tech firms such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. The documents suggested the NSA had the ability to retrieve data directly from the companies rather than have to ask the companies to hand it over.

While many people assumed security agencies collect Internet data, the most fundamental shock in the revelations was that the NSA appears not to simply pick a target and then begin monitoring specific communications for evidence. Instead it seems its general policy is to gather as much data as possible about all users, store it on a long-term basis, then look back through the data as and when it selects a target individual. In other words, it stores data even when it doesn’t yet have any reason to believe it may be evidence.

The NSA later revealed to Congress that its collection of data allows it to carry out a “three hop query”. This means that once it identifies a target, it can retrieve all communications the target had with contacts, all communications those contacts had with other people, and then all communications those other people had with anyone else.

Were Google and company complicit?

It’s hard to say. Most firms involved have vigorously denied allowing the NSA access to their data. The problem is that they may be under secret court orders that ban them from admitting they have allowed access.

Am I safe in the US? Surely the constitution protects Americans?

In theory, the Fourth Amendment should mean the government can’t read American citizens’ e-mails without a court order based on reasonable cause for suspicion. When the story broke, government officials insisted security staff could not look at domestic communications unless they had a warrant.

It later emerged that the system the NSA created took advantage of a major legal loophole. The rules under which the NSA operates (laid down by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) allow security staff to examine the contents of an intercepted e-mail solely to check whether it is domestic or foreign, and thus whether either party can be monitored without a warrant.

However, if the security staff do notice anything suspicious during this check they can permanently store and use the e-mail as evidence, even though it was gathered without a warrant.

Is Prism the only project uncovered by the leaks?

No, another leaked document revealed Project Optic Nerve, in which the NSA was habitually intercepting Yahoo webcam chats and capturing a still image from the video every five minutes, whether or not the participants were under suspicion. The spies got a bit of a surprise from doing this as around seven percent of the images featured “undesirable nudity”!

I’ve done nothing wrong. Should I be worried about the NSA?

This is really something of a philosophical issue. From a purely practical perspective, the NSA may have data on you, but it’s highly unlikely it will have the time or inclination to do anything with it unless it has cause to suspect you of being a security threat. From a principled perspective, you may certainly believe the NSA gathering data on you is a breach of your rights and reject the old line that “you’ve got nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide.”

It’s worth noting that the NSA doesn’t just follow-up evidence of illegal activity. For example, a memo in the Snowden files shows staff considering leaking records that suspected Islamic terrorists had (legally) accessed pornographic websites in an attempt to discredit them among their followers.

What can I do to keep my data secret? Is it practical to do so?

This is really a balancing act between security/secrecy and privacy. There are three main practical tools you could consider using.

1) TOR, or The Onion Router. This is free software that helps disguise your web browsing. It does so by changing the way your data travels to and from a website by routing it through hundreds of different computers, making it much harder and more time-consuming to trace. It doesn’t guarantee privacy, but does mean security agency staff will have to be very determined to find out what you are up to. One big downside is that it can slow down your traffic, particularly when using filesharing services.

2) Encrypt your e-mail. There are plenty of services out there for this, the best-known being Pretty Good Privacy. Encryption means anyone intercepting your e-mail won’t be able to read it, but it only works if both the sender and recipient are using the same system. Be wary of encryption services from large security software firms as it’s suspected some of them may be set up to allow the NSA a “backdoor” to access the messages without encryption.

3) Use secure web connections. Tools such as browser plug-in HTTPS Everywhere will make sure your connection to a website is automatically secure whenever a site supports it. That gives you the same protection against interception by snoopers that you get when connecting to services such as online banking.

Hand holding smart phone playing angry birds
Image Credit: BigStock Photo

Designing an app for an iPhone or Android requires lots of work and dedication. The end product gives you pride and is worth the hours put into it, but another important step in building apps is getting users. This requires promoting the app through word of mouth and other methods.

When promoting an app, the trick is to make yours stand out amongst the hundreds of thousands of other apps. Here are a few methods that may help you get the word out about your app:

1) YouTube ads. Sure, they can be annoying when you’re trying to watch a video – but if you make a short, 20 to 30 second ad that will catch the viewer’s attention, you’re reaching a huge demographic. It can get pricy, but if your company can afford to pay for them, they are beyond worth it.

These ads reach millions of people each day and if yours is well-designed and not annoying, you’ll have people downloading your app every hour.

2) Conventions. Each year, there are hundreds of tech conventions all over the country. The most popular and widely attended is probably the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Attending these conventions is a great way to gain exposure in the tech world, and you can

give away promotional products from places like QualityLogoProducts.

This will make your app memorable so people actually go home and use it. This will also help with word of mouth promotions, as people will tell their friends if they have reminders with them such as stress relievers and pens with your app’s logo on them.

3) Social media. This may be the most important step in promoting your app. Making a Facebook and Twitter for your app is extremely vital in a world that depends on technology and people are attached to their laptops or iPhones at all times. Gaining “likes” and followers on these platforms will show how popular the app is becoming, and paying for Facebook ads will also gather more users.

Did you know the Angry Birds Twitter has almost 600,000 followers? As people download the app, they’ll want access to statuses and updates concerning it if there are any changes made – so keep the Facebook page and Twitter updated at all times. Not only does it expand the ground covered for your app, it makes your company relatable.

There are tons more ways to promote your app, but these are just a few. What ways do you promote your apps and gadgets? Tell us in the comments.


Going green is not merely fashionable these days…it is a huge trend, which no industry and no company wants to miss. Dutch tech giant Philips is not stepping out of line and has just introduced its greenest TV, the Econova 42 PFL6805.

So why should tree huggers want to buy this device? Well, for starters, the TV just won a prize for being the most environmentally friendly television in Europe. While running in Eco Mode, the TV does not use more than 40 watts of power, as confirmed through a test conducted by the Judicial Committee of the EISA (European Imaging and Sound Association).

This is mainly due to elaborate LED technology that powers background lightning. It consumes much less energy than ordinary fluorescent lamps. Philips has also paid attention to details while creating this TV, such as the advanced remote control that is charged by solar energy.

First seen at the IFA in Berlin, the Philips Econova 42 PFL6805 is now available for sale everywhere.


Do you enjoy playing Mahjong? If so, check out:

…to play online or access other game resources, such as books, info, rules, tiles, history, glossary, etc. You can play directly online from:

The online game features a couple different face options, four different tile sets, audio, 150 levels, high scores, and a level editor.

The site is an all around resource for Mahjong, both online and physical tiles. Check it out!


Algadon Free Online RPGWe last wrote about Mafia MoFo.nbsp; Today wersquo;re looking at a a free online game called Algadon. It is similar to Mafia MoFo in some ways, though it seems to take the best features from numerous online games and add in its own unique features to comprise an excellent new creation. Algadon is medieval fantasy themed, which is an excellent alternative to all the mafia style games. When you begin playing, you can choose between 14 different character classes (two more options become available to you after you have logged in).nbsp; They all have different characteristics and benefits. The main differences are the energy gained every 5 minutes, the energy cap, and gold income. The sorcerer and sorceress can use spells, while the other character classes use weapons and armor. In Algadon, not only can you battle other players, but you can also battle bosses. New bosses become available as you level up, and you get more gold and increasingly better item drops from the newer bosses. You also receive an experience bonus when defeating a boss. If no other players are attacking a boss, it can be a challenge to beat them since they have high HP, but it is certainly a worthwhile option, especially with the item drops. You can also place bounties on other players and perform quests (where you can also get item drops). When playing Algadon, new weapons, armor, and spells become available as you level up. It’s important to always get the best equipment possible as they’re a great help in defeating bosses and other players. In Algadon, you can join up and play with other members in a clan, or go on your own. If you decide to join a clan, you can interact with other players in the clan through a private message board, gain access to clan gold, etc. When you deposit gold into a bank account, you can earn interest on the banked gold, and clan gold also gains interest. Players can send private messages to one another, post messages on another player’s public profile, and more. A very important thing to remember when playing Algadon is to search for treasure every day. You will receive free royal credits, which you can use to refill energy or save up to obtain special items. Check it out! If you enjoy the type of online game, we’re certain you’ll enjoy Algadon, even more so if you’re a fan of the medieval fantasy genre.


Mafia MoFoRecently, there has been a lot of activity with online mafia / mobster games, from the problems with Mafia Wars to the launch of Bulletproof, New Mafia, and more.  You may be asking why you would care about yet another mafia game.

Mafia MoFo sets itself apart from the rest in several ways.  Mafia MoFo is not a MySpace game, which generally makes it more easily accessible, without the performance issues associated with Myspace.  However, what really sets Mafia MoFo apart from the rest is the amount of entertaining activities that are available.  Mafia MoFo is miles ahead of the other games in this regard.  Some of the virtual properties and activities available include a pharmacy for buying drugs, real estate purchasing (house and land), equipment shop, pawn shop, black market, point shop, used car lot, bus station, ability to drive to another city (if you have a car), jobs, hire a private investigator, stock market, gambling (lottery, slot machine, and 50/50 game), and more.  Players increase stats by working out in the gym.  Numerous crime jobs are available to increase experience and earn cash.  Of course, fighting is also available, as well as a hitlist.  The game is further enhanced with interactive contests and events that award prizes, such as a medal or other special item.  On top of all that, the job outcomes and other messages displayed throughout the game are humorous and very enjoyable, making the entire game experience pleasant and relaxed.

The game is brand new.  Therefore, it is being enhanced vigorously with new features and improvements.  Soon the game will feature the same fight list style familiar from other mafia games.  Since the game has just launched, new players are all the game really needs to be a big success and highly enjoyable for all players.  Come check it out!  The most important thing to concentrate on in the beginning is performing crime jobs to advance your level and working out in the gym.  By the time you’re ready to battle it out, perhaps the new fight system will already be in place!  So, get started building up your character so that once it is available, you will be ready!  Of course, you can also fight now from any player’s page in the meantime, if you so choose.  On one last note, be sure to check out the "How to Play" tutorial under the Account section.  If contains valuable information all players need to know.  Mafia MoFo is a bit different from the others, but easy to play once you get the hang of things.  Of course, the differences it features are what make the game as great as it is!


Gadget4All All-in-One Mouse Pad with Speaker and USB HubAre your desktop and/or work area cluttered with adapters, wires, and all sorts of junk? Even if the answer is no, the Gadget4All all-in-one mouse pad can improve organization and offer more functionality for anyone that currently uses a mouse pad.  Combo gadgets are usually a good thing – they save space, offer more functionality, and when they’re designed properly, can be an item of beauty.  Similar to the SourcingMap All-in-One Music Mouse Pad, Gadget4All recently designed a new combo gadget disguised in the form of a mouse pad. Gadget4All’s all-in-one mouse pad consists of built-in speakers, 4 USB ports, a 3.5mm audio port, and a speaker in port so that you can connect your iPod, Zune, or other MP3 player. The roll-up capability makes it perfect for use when traveling.  As already mentioned, combo gadgets are great, but for only $22, this combo gadget should be of particular interest.


Google Earth's Rome RebornHow did people live thousands of years ago?  The University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities asked this exact same question. As a result, they decided to digitally rebuild the revolutionary city of Rome during the peak of its development (around A.D. 320 – the time of Constantine The Great). They figured this would be the best way to try and understand how humans lived so long ago.

The very first version of the Rome Reborn product went under construction 10 years ago, and the task was finally finished last year. Included in it were 250 highly detailed structures, and a total of over 7,000 structures in all. They used a 1:250 scale model of Rome that took forty years to create (from 1933 to 1973). This smaller scale Rome was actually constructed out of Plaster of Paris. Using laser scanners they scanned the Plaster of Paris model and created the virtual model. The original use of this model was to be utilized in a theater at UCLA. Since last year the Rome Reborn Project has seen many faces, it’s most recent being Rome Reborn 2.0 which improved the detail significantly. Google then joined in and offered to include Rome Reborn in Google Earth.

With Rome Reborn in Google Earth, it’s the equivalent of an virtual time machine, which can be used to study the history of Rome and other great cities of the world. If you currently have Google Earth (any version), you can enjoy touring ancient Rome. Not only can you navigate around the structures, but you can also go in them, and enter areas like the Colosseum and even the Roman Senate. With more time, more information will be added researches believe. They also hope that by pioneering this research into the past – other researchers will catch some inspiration and create 3D models of other forgotten cities.


BulletproofA new MySpace game has recently surfaced that is poised to give Mafia Wars some stiff competition.  Named Bulletproof, the game offers players a number of advantages over Mafia Wars, especially considering the recent frustration Zynga has caused for many of its players. 

With Mafia Wars, you must endlessly get other MySpace game players to become friends with you on MySpace and then request approval to become family members inside the game.  Your player’s strength is greatly affected by the number of family members you have.  Bulletproof does not require this, which gives you a lot more time to actually play as well as preventing all the hassle of working to get all the family members (500).

Since your character in Mafia Wars should have so many family members, you also have to equip each with weapons, defense, and vehicles.  Bulletproof only requires that you look out for yourself and build your own character.

Ability points are more challenging to come by in Bulletproof, which makes them very precious.  This also makes the game more of a challenge, and thus more entertaining. 

One of the best aspects of Bulletproof is how interactive it is.  While Mafia Wars will offer you a special item every once in a while (that is not really beneficial since they are never used when you already have the napalm), that’s about it.  On the other hand, Bulletproof is highly interactive with several special items, competitions with other players to get items better than those you can obtain normally in the game, and more.

Bulletproof offers a comprehensive selection of jobs, investments, and inventory, with more on the way.  In fact, new content will be added on an ongoing basis.

The fight list is structured in such a way that only players within the same level range are able to fight during normal game-play.  This is especially useful for new players, but also high-level players since higher level opponents can typically withstand more hits, and therefore yield more experience.  In Mafia Wars, there are ongoing problems with the fight list that prevent you from facing comparable opponents.

Additional extras not present in Mafia Wars include an armory (which requires a special badge obtained by defeating an enforcer for access), junkyard for obtaining rare items not available elsewhere that are available occasionally by random, ranking system details, and more player information.  Being sent to jail is actually implemented in Bulletproof also.  While you can see a jailed count in the Mafia Wars stats, it doesn’t seem to be used at all during game-play.

Bulletproof is also being actively developed.  Therefore, suggestions and new ideas are being considered, and the game is being improved continuously.  Bulletproof seems to be a better game than Mafia Wars in virtually every aspect.  All it needs is more players.  Join in on the fun!  A support and community chat is also available for the game here.


Windows 7There’s much anticipation for Microsoft’s next operating system release, Windows 7. Enthusiasts are still speculating on the official launch date, and as of writing, there is no official word from Microsoft. Below is a list of new features that enthusiasts can look forward to enjoying, most of which are confirmed in the current pre-release version that is nearly at a "feature-complete" state.

User interface Features

User interface features affect nearly every user.  While it is not the most important part of an OS, user interface features often go a long way towards the impression of an OS, and will likely draw many comparisons to other Microsoft operating systems.  Windows 7 comes with a stylish end-user interface. You can expect icons to respond with quick animated movements, which is done to enhance the user experience. So far, compliments for the speed and ease of use of the user interface have been dominant for the new OS.

The desktop is clearly much cleaner and better organized, and comes with docking options that are similar to the Mac’s OS.  New applications and improvements to existing applications have been added as well. For example, you will find the calculator to be much improved and more powerful. It supports real life conversions and calculations, like weight and length converters.

If you are in the habit of placing sticky notes all over your monitor and work area, you will surely welcome the new stick notes application that comes with the desktop. You can stick as many virtual notes on your desktop, and delete them as you work. Now your workstation will certainly look cleaner and more organized. You are also saving trees by using less paper!

A new version of Windows Media Center will also launch with this release. New gadgets are being integrated into the Media Center and Windows Explorer. Gadgets are standalone applications that sit on the desktop (some are hosted on another server). There are web gadgets, sidebar gadgets, and sideshow gadgets (run on external displays).

System Performance Features

Windows 7 now offers support for virtual hard disks and boasts improved performance on multi-core processors, improved boot performance, improved SSD support and performance, and improved kernel performance.  Obviously, performance is a key goal for Windows 7.  With the current pre-release version, even at an unfinished state, it appears that Microsoft is doing extremely well in achieving this goal.  The pre-release version tested is remarkably stable and offers noticeably better performance than Windows XP with the latest hardware.

If you visit the control panel, you will find that many new items are added, including Accelerators, Display Calibration Wizard, Gadgets, Recovery, Troubleshooting, and more. Windows Security Center is now known as Windows Solution Center, and it is responsible for maintaining the security of the system.

Unique Features

The touch screen feature is a new and unique feature that enables many interesting touch applications. For instance, you can have a touch app that works exactly like a keyboard. This means you can type an entire document without the use of an additional piece of hardware. You can also use this feature to play the piano or do a painting. The feature is something that has not been previously available in earlier versions of the Microsoft OS.

Other unique features include speech and hand writing recognition. Hand writing recognition technology can help convert human handwriting into digital text.

Developer Features

Developers can look forward to using a new networking API to develop SOAP based web services in native (or machine) code. There are also new features that reduce application install times. Development of installation packages is simplified in the new OS as well.