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Major Dangers of Deepfakes and How to Spot Them | MakeUseOf

In a world where your online identity links to you directly, the prospect of perfect replication is worrying. But that's exactly what we face with the advent of deepfake technology.

As the technology becomes cheaper and easier to use, what are the dangers of deepfakes? Furthermore, how can you spot a deepfake versus the real deal?

What Is a Deepfake?

A deepfake is the name given to media where a person in the video or image is replaced with someone else's likeness. The term is a portmanteau of "deep learning" and "fake" and uses machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to create realistic-yet-synthetic media.

At its most basic, you might find a face superimposed onto another model. At its rapidly developing worst, deepfake technology stitches unsuspecting victims into fake pornographic videos, fake news, hoaxes, and more.

You can read more about the origins of the technology in our deepfake explainer.

What Are the Dangers of Deepfakes?

Fake images have always existed. Figuring out what is fake and what is not is a common part of life, especially after the rise of digitized media. But the issues deepfake technology creates are different, bringing unparalleled accuracy to fake images and fake videos.

One of the first deepfake videos to hit a wider audience was Jordan Peele impersonating Barack Obama in a video discussing the very issue at hand:

The video appears crude, with a strange voice and grainy artifacts on the cloned face. Nonetheless, it illustrates deepfake technology.

Or have you ever wondered what it would have been like if Will Smith played Neo in The Matrix instead of Keanu Reeves (I mean, who hasn't?!)? Wonder no more:

These two videos are not malicious, taking hundreds of hours of machine learning to compile. But the same technology is available to anyone with enough time to learn and the computing power to go with it. The barrier to using deepfake technology was quite high initially. But as the technology improves and barriers for entry drop significantly, people find negative and harmful uses for deepfakes.

Before we delve into the dark side of deepfakes, here's Jim Carrey replacing Jack Nicholson in The Shining:

1. Fake Adult Material Featuring Celebrities

One of the major threats from deepfake technology is synthetic adult material, or deepfake porn as it is known. There are tens of thousands of fake adult videos featuring the faces of prominent female celebrities, such as Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, and Taylor Swift.

All use deepfake machine learning algorithms to stitch the celebrity face onto a female adult actress's body, and all attract tens of millions of views across the numerous adult content websites.

Yet none of these sites do anything about celebrity deepfakes.

"Until there is a strong reason for them to try to take them down and to filter them, nothing is going to happen," says Giorgio Patrini, CEO and chief scientist at Sensity, a deepfake detection and analysis firm. "People will still be free to upload this type of material without any consequences to these websites that are viewed by hundreds of millions of people."

The videos are exploitative and far from victim-free, as some deepfake creators allege.

2. Fake Adult Material Featuring Regular People

What's worse than synthetic porn featuring celebrities? That's right: fake adult material featuring unsuspecting women. A Sensity study uncovered a deepfake bot on the social messaging app, Telegram, that had created over 100,000 deepfake nude images. Many of the images are stolen from social media accounts, featuring friends, girlfriends, wives, mothers, etc.

The bot is a major advancement in deepfake technology, as the image uploader doesn't need existing knowledge of deepfakes, machine learning, or AI. It is an automated process that requires a single image. Furthermore, the Telegram bot appears to only work with women's images, and premium subscriptions (more images, removed watermark) are ridiculously cheap.

Like the celebrity deepfakes, the Telegram bot deepfake images are exploitative, abusive, and amoral. They could easily find their way to the inbox of a husband, partner, family member, colleague, or boss, destroying lives in the process. The potential for blackmail and other forms of extortion is very high and it ramps up the threat from existing issues, such as revenge porn.

Posting the deepfakes on Telegram creates another issue, too. Telegram is a privacy-focused messaging service that doesn't interfere with its users too much. It does have a policy of removing porn bots and other bots relating to adult material but has done nothing in this case.

3. Hoax Material

You've seen Jordan Peele playing Obama. In that video, he is warning of the dangers of deepfakes. One of the major worries regarding deepfake technology is that someone will create and publish a video so realistic it leads to a tragedy of some form.

At the most extreme end of the scale, people say deepfake video content could trigger a war. But there are other major consequences, too. For example, a deepfake video featuring a major corporation or bank CEO making a damaging statement could trigger a stock market crash. Again, it is extreme. But real people can check and verify a video, whereas global markets react instantly to news, and automated selloffs do happen.

The other thing to consider is volume. With deepfake content becoming increasingly cheap to create, it raises the possibility of huge amounts of deepfake content of the same person, focusing on delivering the same fake message in different tones, places, styles, and more.

4. Denying Real Material

As an extension of hoax material, you must consider that deepfakes will become incredibly realistic. So much so that people will begin to question whether a video is real or not, regardless of the content.

If someone commits a crime and the only evidence is video, what is to stop them saying, "It's a deepfake, it's false evidence"? Conversely, what about planting deepfake video evidence for someone to find?

5. Fake Thought Leaders and Social Contacts

There have already been several instances involving deepfake content posing as thought leaders. Profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter detail high-ranking roles in strategic organizations, yet these people do not exist and are likely generated using deepfake technology.

That said, this isn't a deepfake-specific issue. Since the dawn of time, governments, spying networks, and corporations have used fake profiles and personas to gather information, push agendas, and manipulate.

6. Phishing Scams, Social Engineering, and Other Scams

Social engineering is already an issue when it comes to security. People want to trust other people. It is in our nature. But that trust can lead to security breaches, data theft, and more. Social engineering often requires personal contact, be that over the phone, using a video call, and so on.

Suppose someone could use deepfake technology to mimic a director to gain access to security codes or other sensitive information. In that case, it could lead to a deluge of deepfake scams.

How to Spot and Detect Deepfakes

With deepfakes increasing in quality, figuring out to spot a deepfake is important. In the early days, there were some simple tells: blurry images, video corruptions and artifacts, and other imperfections. However, these telltale issues are decreasing while the cost of using the technology is falling rapidly.

There is no perfect way to detect deepfake content, but here are four handy tips:

  1. Details. As good as deepfake technology is becoming, there are still bits it struggles with. Particularly, fine details within videos, such as hair movement, eye movement, cheek structures and movement during speech, and unnatural facial expressions. Eye movement is a big tell. Although deepfakes can now blink effectively (in the early days, this was a major tell), eye movement is still an issue.
  2. Emotion. Tying into detail is emotion. If someone is making a strong statement, their face will display a range of emotions as they deliver the details. Deepfakes cannot deliver the same depth of emotion as a real person.
  3. Inconsistency. Video quality is at an all-time high. The smartphone in your pocket can record and transmit in 4K. If a political leader is making a statement, it is in front of a room full of top tier recording equipment. Therefore, poor recording quality, both visual and audible, is a notable inconsistency.
  4. Source. Is the video appearing on a verified platform? Social media platforms use verification to ensure globally recognizable people are not mimicked. Sure, there are issues with the systems. But checking where a particularly egregious video is streaming from or being hosted will help you figure out if its real or not. You could also try performing a reverse image search to reveal other locations where the image is found on the internet.

Tools for Spotting and Preventing Deepfakes

You're not alone in the fight against spotting deepfakes. Several major tech companies are developing tools for deepfake detection, while other platforms are taking steps to block deepfakes permanently.

For example, Microsoft's deepfake detection tool, the Microsoft Video Authenticator, will analyze within seconds, informing the user of its authenticity (check out the GIF below for an example). At the same time, Adobe enables you to digitally sign content to protect it from manipulation.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have already banned malicious deepfakes (deepfakes like Will Smith in The Matrix are still fair game), while Google is working on a text-to-speech analysis tool for countering fake audio snippets.

If you want to brush up on your fake media detection skills, check out our list of fake detection tests for spotting and learning.

Deepfakes Are Coming—And They're Getting Better

The truth of the matter is that since deepfakes hit the mainstream in 2018, their primary use is to abuse women. Whether that is creating fake porn using a celebrity face or stripping the clothes from someone on social media, it all focuses on exploiting, manipulating, and degrading women around the world.

There is no doubt an insurrection of deepfakes lies on the horizon. The rise of such technology poses a danger to the public, yet there is little recourse to stop its march forward.

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What Is a URL, and How Can You Edit One? | MakeUseOf

When you're browsing the web, you're using URLs all the time. Whether you follow a link, click on a bookmark, or type a website address into your browser, there's a URL at the core of the operation. But what is a URL---and how do you edit one?

What Does That Acronym Mean?

First, you're right to recognize that "URL" is an acronym, but the full version won't necessarily help to explain things; URL stands for "Uniform Resource Locator". In a simplified sense, that phrase really just means "address" and that's exactly what a URL is: the address of a web page.

In general, a URL can be separated into five sections, each of which is more specific than the last. They're a bit like postal addresses in much of the Western world, except in reverse order. By the end of this article, you'll know what purpose each of those parts serves, and be able to understand any URL you come across on a deeper level than before.

The Protocol: What to Do With This URL

Most URLs you come across will be used to identify websites or individual web pages, but URLs can actually be used in other contexts; the protocol helps define this very broad context right at the beginning.

The standard protocol used to refer to websites is HTTP, but other common protocols include "mailto" (for email), "file" (for local filesystem access) and FTP (for file transfer).

There is another protocol you'll have come across: HTTPS. As you might guess, it's a close cousin of the standard HTTP protocol, but this URL prefix indicates it's a "secure" version. In essence, this means that your usage of such a URL is more private than the standard HTTP alternative—you'll often see such a URL accompanied by a padlock icon in your browser's address bar, which may even hide the protocol altogether.

Some browsers offer their own unique custom protocols such as in the URL for Chrome's preference page, "chrome://settings/".

Experimenting With Addresses

Try typing "file:///" into your browser's address bar to view files on your own computer. If you're viewing a non-secure webpage (such as http://apache.org) try editing the URL to view the secure version instead (e.g. https://apache.org). Many sites will automatically redirect you from their standard version to the secure equivalent.

The Host: an Address for the Whole Site

The host (similar to, although not necessarily exactly the same as, the hostname or domain) is what identifies a specific "website". It's made of a series of parts separated by periods, and it's often all you need to type to reach the homepage of a given company or product's website.

The order of parts in the domain is the opposite order from the overall URL—i.e. it starts specific and gets more general as it goes. In the example, "www" is the most specific bit, then comes a more general "amazon" bit, then finally the "top-level-domain" such as "com".

Read more: What URL Domain Extensions Stand For and Why They Are Needed

Experimenting With URLs

One of the most useful tweaks you can make to a domain is changing the final levels that refer to your location. This might be the top-level domain only, or possibly the previous part too.

For example, this book at amazon.com (the US site):

https://www.amazon.com/Animal-Farm-George-Orwell/dp/0451526341/

can be viewed on Amazon Germany by switching the "com" for "de", giving:

https://www.amazon.de/Animal-Farm-George-Orwell/dp/0451526341/

The Path: an Address for a Specific Page

The path identifies a specific page on the URL's website. Whilst the host started off specific and got more general as we read from left to right, the path is exactly the other way round: it starts off "most general" and gets "more specific" as it narrows down the exact location of the final page. It's similar to the way you address files on a computer because it is, in the simplest case, doing exactly that.

Experimenting With Paths

There are no guarantees, but websites—usually the better organized ones—will often structure their paths in such a way that they can be navigated by manual editing. For example, if you're looking at this URL:

https://www.apple.com/ipad/compare/

you can try removing the last part of the path to navigate "up" a level:

https://www.apple.com/ipad/

The Query: URL Parameters

When a resource is more complicated than just a basic page, enter the "query string", a collection of URL parameters which are typically name/value pairs, each separated by an "&".

Each site (in fact, each page on a website) is free to decide everything about how it handles URL parameters, including their names. In the YouTube example, "v" refers to a specific video and "t", a time at which to start playing the video.

Experimenting With Parameters

URL parameters offer possibly the most flexibility for URL "hacking"! For example, the YouTube URL's "t" parameter is quite flexible; instead of seconds, it can represent minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh5MEDKrwqI&t=1m

or it can combine the two:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh5MEDKrwqI&t=1m30s

A Fragment Identifier: Point Within a Page

Another piece of highly technical jargon which describes a simple concept, a "fragment identifier" is the most specific part of the URL, addressing an individual part of the page.

It will only be available if the underlying page supports it, but Wikipedia is a good example of how it's done.

The links in the Contents section of the above Wikipedia URL all navigate within the same page, they just use different fragment identifiers to target different points.

Experimenting With Identifiers

Often, the first thing you'll want to do is simply remove the fragment identifier; this is not harmful in the slightest, it will just convert a "point specific" URL into one that defaults to the top of the page. You might need to do this if you've clicked a "contents" link, but you want to send someone the URL to the top of the page. To do so, start with the full URL:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL#History

then simply remove the fragment identifier:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL

And That's a URL!

Now you know everything about the anatomy of a URL, from protocol to fragment identifier. URLs start general and get more specific as you read them from left to right. Once you understand how each part works, you can edit a URL to make useful changes.

Another specific area that offers more information is the domain extension.

Image Credit: Chris Dlugosz/Flickr

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How to SIM Unlock Your Android Smartphone or Tablet | MakeUseOf

You want to change networks, but your new SIM card won't work in your phone. Baffled, you call your new carrier, only to learn that your smartphone is locked to the first network, and there's not much you can do about it.

Of course, this isn't strictly true. If you're using an Android device, there's always something you can do. Here's how to SIM unlock your Android phone or tablet.

Does Rooting a Phone Unlock the SIM? No

Before learning how to unlock your Android phone's SIM, let's look at what unlocking the network/SIM is, and is not.

Unlocking the SIM requires a generated code that is input into your phone via the keypad. It's done to break the link between your phone and the network that shipped it. This enables you to insert a compatible SIM card from a different network and connect to their service.

However---and this key---unlocking the SIM does not root your phone or mobile internet-equipped tablet.

Rooting your phone unlocks the bootloader, which is a different thing entirely. Rooting a phone will not carrier-unlock it, but it will let you customize the operating system or install a new one.

Both types of unlock are legal, although a SIM unlock often requires help from the network/carrier.

Is Your Phone SIM Locked?

Unlocking your tablet or phone to a new network often isn't that difficult. Not all phones are SIM or network locked, anyway.

Phones bought directly from a manufacturer or third-party retailer like Motorola, OnePlus, or Amazon for an unsubsidized price (usually $500-$700) are more likely to be unlocked than phones purchased from carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T for subsidized prices (usually free to $200).

But how can you tell if your SIM is locked?

  • Check the device's documentation: if "unlocked" appears on the invoice, you can be confident it isn't locked to a carrier.
  • Try a new SIM card: if you pop in a SIM from a different carrier and it doesn't work, you know the phone is locked.
  • Contact your carrier: ring them up and ask if the phone is locked.

But if you've discovered that your Android phone is locked to a particular carrier/network, how can you unlock it?

Ask Your Carrier to Unlock Your Phone or Tablet for Free

Amazingly, you can get in touch with your carrier about SIM unlocking your phone or tablet.

Since February 2015, US cell phone owners have been able to request networks unlock their devices to switch carriers. A similar system is in place for phone owners in the European Union, and the United Kingdom.

Further, carriers must inform customers on their monthly bill whether the device is eligible for unlocking.

Begin by calling your carrier and asking if the phone is eligible. There is a clause on smartphones bought on contract, so if the initial two-year deal isn't yet up, you'll have to pay a fee. This will cancel the contract and give you the unlock code.

This leaves you free to use another SIM in your phone.

If you bought your phone outright from a network, it will typically be locked for 12 months. After this time, if the account is up to date, the network should surrender the unlock code.

How to Unlock the SIM on Your Android Phone or Tablet

To end the network/SIM lock, your network will need the IMEI number. The International Mobile Equipment Identity is a unique code used to identify your phone or tablet on any network.

In Android, there are two ways to find the IMEI number:

  1. Open the Phone app.
  2. In the dialer, enter *#06#.
  3. Make a note of the IMEI information.

Alternatively:

  1. Open Settings > About phone (on older phones, go to Settings > About phone > Status).
  2. Scroll down to find the IMEI Information and make a note of it.

When you contact your network, either by phone or through the website, this 15-digit string is all they need. The network should then provide you with a code to enable your device to use the new network's SIM card.

(Note that the full process can differ across networks. Also, be aware that your new network may require you to input a specific code to work with that carrier.)

While American carriers are not permitted to charge for this service, in the UK and Europe your network may charge a small administrative fee for unlocking your phone.

Meanwhile, if you have trouble with the "SIM not provisioned MM 2" error, we've offered some tips to help.

Related: How to Fix the SIM Not Provisioned MM 2 Error

Find a Reputable Smartphone Unlock Service

If your network is not accommodating requests to unlock your phone, some specialized websites provide the service.

However, we would advise only using such a service if there is no way your network will unlock the device. As such sites are unregulated, they're not always reliable. You can gain some protection by paying for the service via PayPal.

Try these sites (provided at your own risk) to unlock your phone or tablet SIM:

Note that regardless of the service you choose, there is no guarantee that it will unlock your smartphone or tablet SIM.

Related: Free SIM Card Unlock Sites

Avoid Android SIM Unlock App Scams

As we've seen, unlocking your Android's SIM is relatively simple. So much so that you won't need any SIM unlock apps.

These apps are fake and represent a risk to the security of your device and the data stored on it. They're scams and as such should be avoided.

So, don't head to Google Play to look for a SIM unlock tool. Similarly, don't search for any "phone unlock tools" on download sites, Bittorrent, or Usenet. These are typically laced with Trojans and other malware.

Safe, legal means exist for unlocking your smartphone's SIM/network relationship.

But while you should be cautious of SIM unlock app scams, Google Play does have useful apps for SIM card management.

Did You Unlock Your Device?

SIM unlocking your smartphone or tablet isn't ideal for everyone. We would recommend that you spend a good deal of time weighing up the pros and cons of this process. It's useful for some, such as if you're travelling overseas and don't have a dual SIM device, for example.

And if you're switching mobile network providers, make sure you're getting the best available deal!

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AMD Vs. Intel: What Is the Best Gaming CPU? | MakeUseOf

The CPU markets are hotter than ever before. AMD and Intel are duking it out for supremacy, vying for the attention of regular users and gamers alike. The result? A golden era for PC gamers, with the two major CPU manufacturers pushing development further, moving boundaries faster, and best of all, keeping prices accessible.

So, is AMD or Intel better for gaming? What CPU should you choose for your new gaming rig? Let's look at AMD vs. Intel gaming processors.

AMD vs. Intel Processors

When it comes to desktop CPUs, there are two names in town: Intel and AMD. These are the desktop processor behemoths that dominate the market. When you want to build or buy a new gaming PC, it'll have an Intel or AMD CPU powering your games.

The desktop CPU market dynamic has shifted in recent years, too. For a long time, AMD processors were only good for entry-level or budget options. The introduction of AMD Ryzen CPUs changed that perception drastically, with AMD's Zen architecture creating substantial competition against Intel's stranglehold on the market.

So much so that AMD Ryzen CPUs dominate the CPU market, at least for the most recent CPU generations. Mindfactory regularly releases up to date CPU sales figures, illustrating a decent snapshot of the market, as per the below image.

How to Choose Between AMD and Intel?

So, let's get down to the big question: is Intel or AMD better for gaming?

It is an interesting question and one that requires a base understanding of how to compare CPUs. There are a few key CPU specifications that will sway you to one processor for gaming or another:

  • Single Thread Performance: CPUs are advertised as a dual or quad-core, but some applications and games still only use a single thread on a single CPU core. Thus, your CPU must have decent individual core performance.
  • Multicore Performance: While some games only use a single thread, most modern games now spread the load over multiple cores if available. Understanding how your CPU performs when more than one core is in use helps you understand overall performance.
  • Clock Speed: The clock speed defines the operating speed of the CPU. Generally, a higher number equates with a faster CPU. However, there are other factors to consider, such as the CPU age and generation and the number of CPU cores.
  • Cache Size: Your CPU has internal memory, known as a cache. There are several cache levels of varying importance. When you compare CPU cache sizes, you should only compare similar cache levels. For example, compare an L3 cache to an L3 cache—a larger cache is better.
  • Price: How much cash are you willing to part with for a top-tier Intel or AMD gaming CPU? AMD's resurgence forced Intel to get realistic with their CPU pricing, but god-tier gaming hardware doesn't come cheap.

There are other factors at play, too. Power consumption (you'll need a good power supply unit), CPU architecture, socket type (which dictates the motherboard you will use), and integrated graphics (which you can use instead of a dedicated graphics processing unit) are all considerations.

Related: CPU Socket Types Explained: Socket 5 to BGA

Now you're armed with which vital specs to check, you can figure out which gaming CPUs you like the look of. Alternatively, check out our easy gaming CPU comparisons below.

Best for High-End Gaming: Intel Core i9-10900K vs. AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

The Intel Core i9-10900K is a gaming behemoth, making the top perch its own—but not by much. Check out the table below for the CPU specs overview.

There are some standout CPU specs on that list. The Intel CPU's base clock of 3.70GHz, single-core boost of 5.30GHz, and all-core boost of 4.90GHz are fast. Like, really fast. As such, the Intel Core i9-10900K just beats the Ryzen 9 3950X in single-core performance in almost all benchmarking tests.

However, the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X holds its own in several important areas. Notably, the 3950X has a massive 64MB L3 cache, excellent multicore performance, and the bonus of PCIe 4.0 support. It also comes with 16 cores and 32 threads and supports faster RAM, too. While very few applications and games will use all 16 cores, the additional overhead is handy future-proofing.

Really, there isn't much in it between these two excellent gaming CPUs. When it comes down to it, the price will settle the score, depending on your budget.

In the table, you'll see the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, too. The 3900X is an exceptional gaming CPU in its own right, running the Intel Core i9-10900K close to benchmarking tests. Like the 3950X, the 3900X has excellent multicore performance but is slightly behind in single-thread tests. However, it outperforms the Intel Core i9-9900K, the previous top Intel gaming CPU.

Best for Mid-Tier Gaming: Intel Core i5-10600K vs. AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

On the next gaming CPU rung down, you have the Intel Core i5-10600K and the AMD Ryzen 5 3600X, two excellent CPUs for gaming. Despite them coming from the "second-tier" for each processor manufacturer, the i5-10600K and the Ryzen 5 3600K still pack a serious punch, as you'll see in the table below.

Interestingly, despite the i5-10600K's faster clock speed, the Ryzen 5 3600X scores very similarly in single-core benchmarking tests. The AMD CPU outscores the Intel model in multicore benchmarking tests, too, gaining some extra oomph.

Like the top-tier gaming CPUs, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600X has some perks over the Intel processor. The 3600K has larger L2 and L3 caches, supports faster RAM, has a slightly lower TDP, and is priced extremely competitively.

But, in-game frames and graphics settings are what matter to gamers. And despite the Ryzen 5 3600X's hardware advantages, the Intel Core i5-10600K delivers high frame rates on top-level settings.

Best for Entry-Level Gaming: Intel Core i3-10320 vs. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

These two CPUs are shining examples of how far the Intel vs. AMD battle has pushed CPU development. Even entry-level CPUs provide excellent quality and substantial performance, especially in comparison to CPUs several generations old.

For example, in my desktop is a now aging Intel Core i5-3570K, which can still handle most games on decent settings. Both of these CPUs blow that i5 out of the water, both from the "bottom tier."

Enough about that, let's talk about the processor specs and which CPU suits an entry-level gaming rig.

The Intel Core i3-10320 and the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X are fairly similar in performance. Benchmarking tests show the i3-10320 performing marginally better in single-core situations, with the Ryzen 3 3300X nudging ahead in multicore situations.

Like its bigger siblings, the Ryzen CPU brings a larger cache to the table, as well as support for PCIe 4.0 and faster RAM. However, that doesn't give it much extra in terms of gaming performance, with both cards returning very similar in-game frame rates.

Is AMD or Intel Better for Gaming?

So, should you opt for an Intel or AMD CPU for gaming? AMD's development surge over the past years has closed the gap significantly. In many ways, AMD processors are better investments for the future, consistently delivering better multicore performance scores.

There's another consideration, too. You must pair your gaming CPU with a decent GPU for the best results. GPUs are another area that AMD has drastically stepped up its game, taking the fight to Nvidia in the battle for gaming supremacy.

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How to Play Awesome Games on Any Budget | MakeUseOf

In this week's podcast we look at the various ways you can play the best games for as little money as possible on any platform.

Here are the links you need to learn more about this week's show topics

Christian Cawley and Ben Stegner are your hosts. You can contact them on Twitter as @thegadgetmonkey and @stegnersaurus with your suggestions for future topics.

Look out for our other shows - subscribe to the Really Useful Podcast on iTunes and YouTube (be sure to hit the bell icon to be notified of new episodes) for more tips.

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How Do Smartphones and Applications Know Your Location?

You're probably aware that your devices are capable of giving away their positions. If your device is lost or stolen, these features can be used to recover them. If you have the devices with you, they can let your friends and family know where you are---as well as some applications and websites.

Many question the security and privacy risks of these features. Others praise their utility. Understanding how you feel about these features and how you choose to use them is easier when you understand how they work.

So, how does your mobile device determine and share a location?

How Does Your Device Know?

There a number of different ways that your device location can be determined and shared. Some of them have to do with networks that it may be connected to.

Your Internet Connections

Mobile devices that can connect to the internet have an Internet Protocol address. IP addresses are assigned by the internet service provider (ISP), and they're actually super easy to find. Think of IP addresses like phone numbers but for the internet.

If you're afraid of revealing your IP address, there are a couple of things that you can do like employing a VPN or just not connecting your mobile device to a Wi-Fi connection.

Your mobile devices can still give away your position if you have Wi-Fi turned off but your data turned on. This works similarly to a Wi-Fi connection, but a cellular network provider creates the connection rather than your ISP, gaining access to your data in the process.

GPS Data

GPS determines a device's position using satellites. As a result, it doesn't require internet service and works pretty much anywhere. So, if your phone isn't connected to Wi-Fi or data, it may still be giving away your location.

GPS data is used by both Android Location Services and Apple Location Services. Third-party apps using APIs from these platforms can also access this information when you use those apps. You can refuse the permissions for most of these apps individually when you open them, or in the app settings. You can also disable your device location in the settings.

If your location data is turned off, your provider can make that information available upon request. This may be done if your device is lost or stolen, or if you call an emergency number.

Accidental Disclosure

In this high-tech world, it can be easy to forget the simple things. You can turn off your device location all you want, but remember that photos that you post or information that you share can also give away your location.

Is Location Data a Good Thing?

Some people take drastic measures to protect their security information. Others literally want people to know where they are. So, is location data a good thing, or not?

Location Data Is Your Friend

Giving at least some apps permission to use your device location does have advantages. This article has already mentioned lost or stolen devices and helping first responders or law enforcement respond to an emergency. However, there are other applications as well.

Services like Google can use your precise location to offer you information on points of interest, transportation, and weather in your area. They also use aggregate information to predict things like traffic and arrival times when you use location services.

If you want friends or family to know your location but not others, consider sharing your location directly with those select people through your Google Profile rather than through social media platforms.

Apps like Snapchat using Geofilters can also make photo opportunities even more unique by giving you customization options that are only available in specific locations.

Location Data Is Not Your Friend

A lot of people are afraid of location data. For most people, there's not really anything to be afraid of.

For one thing, there's so much location data out there that for any one person to be singled out would be practically impossible. Even if that wasn't the case, services like Apple and Google Location Services anonymize data when presenting aggregates.

That means that the only location data that you should be afraid of is location data that you enter into apps yourself or the apps that you give access to. Not only are these organizations potentially less trustworthy, but this is also the location data that is most readily associated with you personally and not anonymized.

For example, social media sites that show your location to "friends" can give your location away to people that you'd rather not see as well. Some social media sites may also use your location to do things like target advertisements, a practice that some people are opposed to.

Furthermore, streaming sites and other content providers use geo-restrictions that limit available content based on your location. You can usually get past geo-restrictions with a VPN.

Location Data is Complicated

The bad news is that you can't run from your location data without leaving your phone at home. The good news is that you don't have to.

Being mindful of the permissions that you give to individual apps is a much more efficient method of protecting your location than leaving your phone at home or refusing to connect to the internet. And that's a good thing because some of the services offered by location data, like directed advertising, are appreciated by one person and despised by the next.

While there are those who categorically despise the idea of location data and location sharing, like any technology, it isn't inherently positive or negative.

Your Device Location and You

Your mobile devices have a number of ways to know and share locations. Which method they use depends on the device, what connections it has access to, and what apps have access to those networks and the device's location data.

Your internet connection, mobile data connection, and GPS are the three principal ways that your device can know and share your location. While some of these can be turned off manually, that your device can give away its location has become a simple fact of life.

Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr

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How to Fix the ‘DNS Server Not Responding’ Error to Get Back Online

Every so often, you may come across an odd error when browsing the internet that claims your DNS server is not responding. Unfortunately, it's not immediately obvious from this vague error message as to what a DNS server is, let alone why it's not cooperating with you.

As such, let's explore what a DNS server is, and how to fix this problem.

What Even Is a DNS Server, Anyway?

First of all, before we can explore why your DNS server isn't working, we need to understand what a DNS server even is!

The "DNS" part of the name stands for "Domain Name System."A DNS server helps a computer break down a domain name into an IP address, which it can then use to take you to your destination.

Domain names were designed for humans to understand and remember, not computers. To your computer, "www.google.com" means nothing, even though we as humans know what Google is.

To take you to Google, your device needs the IP address of the website. To do this, your computer needs to convert Google's URL into an IP address, which it knows how to use.

This is where the DNS server comes in. A DNS server acts as a huge phonebook for the internet. Every time a computer needs the IP address of a website, it can give the DNS server the URL and receive an IP address in return.

When you go to Google, the DNS server looks up its huge database of domain names and finds the IP address linked to Google. It then tells your PC to visit that address, and your computer uses the address to fetch Google's website.

We covered more about how DNS servers work and why one might become unavailable.

How to Fix a "DNS Server Not Responding" Error

Now that we know what a DNS server is, we can understand why it's such a big problem when it's not responding.

When you enter a URL into your browser, your computer tries to get an IP address from it, but your DNS server isn't responding. As such, your PC can't take you to the website you want to go to and gives you a DNS error.

So, how do you fix a DNS server not responding error?

1. Try a Different Browser

Sometimes browsers have a rough moment. If you're experiencing DNS issues when using one browser, try a different one. Browsing the web to download another browser may be difficult, but if you're not using your device's default browser, you can always use that instead.

If changing the browser fixes the issue, try updating or reinstalling the misbehaving browser. If that doesn't work, or you're using a default browser on your device, try clearing the browsing data and uninstalling any addons.

2. Clear the DNS Cache

If you're on a PC or laptop and see this message, there may be a problem with your DNS cache.

The DNS cache is a file on your PC that stores the directory of addresses and IPs you visit. It saves time from having to constantly ask your DNS server for information that you've received in the past.

When this cache messes up, it causes DNS problems. Fortunately, there's an easy way to clear the DNS cache on Windows and macOS:

  • For Windows, click on the Start button, then type "Command Prompt." Select the search result that appears, then enter "ipconfig /flushdns."
  • For macOS, open a terminal and enter "sudo dscacheutil -flushcache; sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder" if you're using El Capitan or later.

We use both of these methods in our guide to what a DNS server is, and why it's unavailable. Be sure to give it a read if you'd like to learn more.

3. Change Your DNS Server

If your current DNS server is unavailable, why not try a different one? You don't have to be stuck with the server you use by default, and it's straightforward to tell your device to use a different one for the time being.

To do this, you need to access your computer's DNS settings and tell it to connect somewhere else. If you're unsure of how to do this, we went through the steps in our guide on how to change your DNS settings.

As for what to enter as your new DNS server, there are a few options for your primary and secondary address:

  • Google has a memorable 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 address for their servers.
  • Cloudflare is also easy to remember, with 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1.
  • OpenDNS has 208.67.222.222 and 28.67.220.220.

While these are useful, free DNS services, it's not recommended to use them for extended periods of time. Free DNS servers typically don't have a lot of security installed on them, and they may see a ton of use by other people using the free service.

As such, it's best to use a free DNS server until your normal one comes back online. You can check your normal DNS server by undoing the steps above.

4. Restart Your Router

You may notice that the problem goes beyond your device. If every device and computer on your local network can't connect to the DNS server, there may be something wrong with your router.

Like a computer, some routers will have a DNS cache that can become corrupted. You can do a quick test by turning off the Wi-Fi connection on a mobile device and using data. If this clears up the issue, your router's DNS cache may be at fault.

To fix this, unplug your router from the mains and leave it for 30 seconds. Plug it back in and retry the connection. If the router was the problem, this should fix it.

5. Temporarily Disable Your Antivirus and Firewall

If none of the above seems to work, try temporarily disabling any antivirus programs and firewalls you have set up. These programs monitor your internet connection to ensure nothing nasty sneaks onto your system, but sometimes things go wrong with it.

If disabling your antivirus or firewall does the trick, you may need to reinstall it to get it back on track. It may also be time to try out another antivirus program.

6. Try Going Into Safe Mode

Your antivirus isn't the only program that has control over your connections. Other apps, software, and drivers may interfere with your connection.

To test if something else is the culprit, try booting your device into Safe Mode. You can boot into safe mode in Windows 10, and the macOS boot modes also have their own safe mode.

If you boot into safe mode and the problem resolves itself, it means that software is getting in the way. When you boot into safe mode, your PC deliberately doesn't load non-essential drivers and software.

As such, if safe mode fixes your problem, that means that whatever didn't get loaded in is the culprit. However, there's plenty of issues that could be the reason, so try reinstalling network-based drivers and software until it's fixed.

Getting to Know Your DNS Settings

If you're having DNS problems, there are a lot of potential causes behind it. Unfortunately, identifying the problem requires going through each part of your device that could cause the error and double-checking that it's working correctly.

Now that you're a master of tweaking your DNS, you can do more things with it. For instance, did you know that a few adjustments can speed up your internet?

Image Credit: Maximumm / Shutterstock

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6 Reasons Why a New Monitor Will Reduce Your Eye Strain

If you're experiencing the symptoms of eye strain, the best solution is to spend less time looking at screens. However, if you can't afford to take your eyes off of your monitor, there are ways to reduce the effect they have on your eyes,

Here are a few ways where a new purchase can reduce monitor eye strain.

1. New Monitors May Feature DC Dimming

Your monitor is likely made up of lots of little Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). To preserve your eyes, these LEDs can be dimmed to reduce the light they emit.

There are two different ways that LEDs are dimmed: via pulse width modulation (PWM) or direct current (DC). In PWM, the LEDs are turned on and off very rapidly, and the more time they spend in the "off" mode, the dimmer they appear.

PWM has been used in LED monitors for a long time, and it works well. Unfortunately, it can also cause flickering, which can strain the eyes. It's especially noticeable when your monitor is at very low levels of brightness.

DC dimming takes a different approach. Instead of turning the LEDs on and off at full power, it regulates the power going into the diodes. When there's less power flowing through, the LEDs aren't as bright. As a result, there's no flickering.

Many modern monitors have DC dimming (you'll sometimes see it labeled as "PWM-free"). It was once an expensive addition and would burn out the LEDs faster. However, as technology has improved, it's gotten easier to find monitors with DC dimming.

2. New Monitors Feature Automatic Brightness Adjustment

Monitors that are too bright can cause eye strain. While it's fairly easy to adjust the brightness yourself, lots of new monitors come with automatic brightness adjustment. If you've used one of the backlit Kindles, you've seen this feature before.

These monitors include light sensors and always adjust the brightness to an optimum level. Some even let you customize how they work. It saves you a step and keeps you from forgetting to make the adjustment yourself.

If your monitor doesn't have brightness adjustment, there are ways to replicate it on the software level. For instance, there's both Windows 10's night light and f.lux, both of which we compared in our guide on f.lux vs. Windows 10.

3. Some Monitors Have Glare Reduction

If your monitor is glossy and tends to reflect a lot of light, your eyes are doing more work than they need to. Glare and reflections make it hard to focus and add to eye strain from monitors. Fortunately, it's easy to find monitors with anti-glare coatings.

There are full-matte monitors, but these tend to look a little washed out. Semi-glossy and coated screens reduce glare without making it difficult to see details. These are perfect for offices or desks that get some sunlight or tend to reflect overhead lights.

It's getting more difficult to find a monitor without glare reduction or anti-reflective coating, but make sure to double-check when you're shopping around.

4. Curved Screen Monitors Are More Readily Available Now

Curved screens are increasingly common. It can take a while to get used to a curved monitor, as they curve around your head for a more immersive experience.

But are curved monitors better for your eyes? They feel strange at first, and you might feel like it's actually making your eyes do more work. However, research tells us the opposite is true.

As your eyes shift from the center to the peripheries of a flat-screen, the distance between your eyes and the screen changes, requiring you to quickly refocus. If you regularly perform actions that require your eyes to move back and forth between the center and the side of your screen, it causes a lot of refocusing.

A curved screen keeps the focal distance more uniform, obviating the need for countless quick refocuses. As such, when you're shopping for a curved vs. a flat monitor, be sure to check out the former for better eye focus.

5. New Monitors Can Emit Less Blue Light

Some monitor manufacturers are taking steps to reduce eye strain by limiting the amount of blue light emitted by their screens. BenQ, for example, has some cool blue-light filtering tech in their monitors:

ASUS also has a line of eye care monitors that emit less blue light. Of course, there are other good ways to limit blue light.

Windows 10 has a built-in feature to do the same thing. Mac users can take advantage of a similar feature with Night Shift, while macOS Mojave offers a dark mode for your apps which also helps reduce eye-strain.

It takes a bit to get used to the very red-looking screen, but it's been shown to make a difference and we recommend it!

6. New Monitors Offer Increased Adjustability

Older monitors, especially really old CRTs, had almost no adjustability. But you can easily adjust the height, viewing angle, and even orientation of modern monitors. Getting a monitor at the right angle is crucial for a comfortable workplace.

According to ErgoBuyer, the best viewing angle is between 20 and 50 degrees below horizontal. Interestingly, looking straight ahead at your monitor is good for your neck, but places additional strain on your eyes.

They point out that this angle below horizontal is similar to the angle used when people read books---so think of it that way when you're setting up your workstation.

Is It Time to Invest in a New Monitor?

If it's been a long time since you last upgraded your monitor, it might be time. Especially if you spend hours looking at your screen every day. Many of the features listed above might seem pretty minor. But they make a difference, especially if your old monitor only had one or two of them.

If you think you have eye strain, there are some symptoms to keep your eye out for (no pun intended). Knowing the early warning signs can help you tackle the problem before it gets too out of hand.

Image Credit: ridofranz/Depositphotos

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5 Important Checks to Make Before Flying a Drone | MakeUseOf

Investing in a drone is an exciting opportunity, but putting it to good use is a matter of understanding your device and preparing for your adventure right. There are several things to pay attention to before flying a drone, which either involve managing the machine itself or using apps and websites to plan ahead.

Below you'll find five aspects of your drone adventure that should be at the top of your checklist. The aim is simple. Get to know your drone and how to make the most of your next expedition together.

1. The Model Matters

A good plan should start with buying the right device. The market’s high-tech options promise great experiences, but if you travel a lot and want to be able to move easily without being weighed down by excess luggage, consider a light, practical drone. The best pocket drones for travel will probably be the best value for money.

Check out the Holy Stone Hs160 Shadow Drone or similar devices. It folds to the size of a smartphone, while offering, among other capabilities, a 720p HD camera, 3D VR mode, and Gravity Sensor mode that enables drone control by simply moving your phone.

Explore specifications suited to your purpose. Think about what you want to get out of your drone. With research, you should be able to pinpoint the perfect device among the dozens that exist for all kinds of operators.

2. A High Battery Life Demands Care

Another thing to keep a close eye on is the battery. This is something that limits even the most powerful drone technology. Generally, expect to have 10-20 minutes maximum, especially to take pictures and videos.

Various factors can reduce this further:

  • Recording alone drains the battery.
  • Flight styles that include loops and tricks draw more power.
  • Weight adds to the strain.
  • Wind and humidity can make flying more draining and even damaging.

Forethought and adjustments to the device and your methods can tackle such problems. Firstly, remove components you don’t need, like prop guards, as they add unnecessary weight. If you are going for aerial tricks, leave the camera behind too.

Then make sure you take care of the machine and pilot it carefully. Flying a drone well without wasting energy determines how long you can enjoy it for on a single trip. Of course, you can buy extra batteries too and switch them out when necessary.

3. Check the Weather Before Flying a Drone

We've already mentioned that humidity can damage the drone and its battery, but weather conditions can disrupt your journey in so many other ways, including travel plans and supplies. Channels and websites like AccuWeather are decent sources of information, but you'll get more out of specialized technology like mobile apps.

UAV Forecast is one of the best programs to invest in, completely focused on weather and flight information. Hourly local forecasts, GPS satellite data, and color-coded maps are only the tip of the luxuries you can look forward to.

Any detail you need to know about an area's climate anywhere in the world, this software will provide it with impressive accuracy. When making plans, consider factors like visibility, wind, and temperature so a storm or heatwave doesn't take you and your equipment by surprise.

4. A Flight Plan and Knowledge Are Essential

Make sure that aeronautical awareness and travel management are your priorities when it comes to planning your journey, especially through the air. Apps available on both Android and iOS are your best options, but websites can help as well.

AirMap is a must-have mobile app for drone operators. It provides airspace rules, alerts, and authorization tools for different locations. This way you won’t violate boundaries or fly into a plane. You can also plan the drone's path, down to the altitude, duration, and demands mentioned above.

Considering AirMap and its partners from the SESAR JU GOF U-space project performed the first successful international drone flight from Finland to Estonia in 2019, their app and all its specialized features are worth the effort.

In terms of online domains, make sure to check out the UAV once again as a leading source of updates, guidance, and tools related to the drone industry. There's also the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which brings corporate and casual enthusiasts together.

Apart from serious industry news, it also has an educational domain: Know Before You Fly. It gives recreational users access to key dos and don’ts, including what organizations to approach and how to fly safely around people, vehicles, and controlled airspaces.

5. You May Need a Drone License

In terms of official requirements, when setting yourself up as an operator, it’s important to make sure you’ll be flying legally. Since each country tends to have rules of its own, investigate the matter long before starting out with your drone. It may be that you need a license to fly it, which can take some time to get.

In the US, a FAA drone license is essential for models of 0.55 pounds or more. Once registered as a recreational user through the institution’s website, mark your device with the number provided, keep proof of registration on you at all times, and closely follow regulations.

Another important box to tick before flying a drone in a particular area is finding out whether you're allowed to do so. If you just want to hone your flight skills, you could join organizations like the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), where you'd be free to play as much as you want.

Controlled airspaces, on the other hand, need authorization. Venturing into them for aerial shots and releasing your drone without permission can lead to disruptions, not to mention hefty fines and legal action against you.

Prepare Before You Fly

Start with the technological basics, such as choosing, maintaining, and learning to operate the right model. Then compile apps and websites that provide all you'd need to know in terms of flight plans, weather reports, and permissions.

Whether you're a photographer, modeler, or high-tech adventurer, knowledge and preparation ensure maximum entertainment when flying a drone.

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What Is a VPN and Why You Should Use One | MakeUseOf

Want to know more about VPNs? In this week's show we explain what the term means, why you need one, how to sign up to a VPN, and why you should avoid free VPNs.

Here's what we talk about this week:

This week's show is brought to you by Christian Cawley and Gavin Philips. You can contact them on Twitter as @thegadgetmonkey and @GavinSpavin with your suggestions for future topics.

Look out for our other shows - subscribe to The Really Useful Podcast on iTunes and YouTube (be sure to hit the bell icon to be notified of new episodes) for more tips.