Texas DPS Launches App for Tracking Sex Offenders, Most Wanted and Human Trafficking

Categories: Crime, Tech

Find sex offenders near you.
When it comes to apps, I have a great appreciation for simplicity. Often, the most powerful ones are also the easiest to use and understand. If I need to be an engineer to find what I need when I tap an icon on my phone, chances are that app won't remain on my phone for long. After all, this is a tiny screen throwing a mountain of data at you all at once. It better get it right, and quickly.

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I took a peek at the Texas Department of Public Safety's new app designed primarily for tracking sex offenders, most wanted criminals and human trafficking operations. Rather than trying to do everything, the Texas DPS app focuses in on these specific initiatives and, as a result, is extremely effective, albeit a tad on the uncomfortable side. No one really wants to know -- do they? -- that the guy down the street was once busted for public indecency, but if they are going to have that list, I suppose an app that makes those individual easier to find is a good thing.

So, naturally efore doing anything else, I immediately called up the sex offender registry and tapped the "near me" icon. On the map were color-coded pins where sex offenders were registered ranked by risk: none, low, medium and high. Tap an icon and get detailed information and photos about the offender. It was quick, easy and informative. Fortunately, there was only one guy in my neighborhood, a gentleman who had served a few years for having sex with a 15-year-old when he was 20. Now, around the Houston Press offices on the south side of downtown...well, let's just say I would recommend people remain indoors.

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Amazon Taking on Square, PayPal with New Local Register Card Swiping Service

Categories: Tech

Amazon wants all of your business.
Twenty years ago, it was a safe bet that some small stores and vendors at craft markets would not have the ability to accept credit cards. It just wasn't practical. Now, most everyone has used one at a coffee shop or farmers market. Hell, people have them at garage sales. And we've all learned how to sign our names with our fingers.

Amazon has decided to throw its considerably large hat into the ring currently occupied by companies like Square and PayPal with its new service called Local Register. It provides essentially the same basic features as its competitors, but Amazon is offering an exceedingly low rate of 1.75 percent on transactions through January 1, 2016 if you sign up before October 31 of this year. After that, the rate rises to 2.5 percent, which is still lower than Square.

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World's First Commercial Launchpad Coming to Texas

Photo from SpaceX.com
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is super cute in orbit.

It's been a months-long courting process complete with millions of dollars in offered incentives, but private rocket company SpaceX finally gave in to Texas' incessant beckoning to establish the world's first commercial spaceport in Brownsville.

The San Francisco headquartered company has toyed with the idea of planting a launchpad in Texas, and CEO Elon Musk's decision leaves broken hearts in runner-up Cape Canaveral, home of Space Florida.

"We appreciate the support of Gov. Perry and numerous other federal, state and local officials who have partnered with us to make this vision a reality," Musk said in a news release. "In addition to creating hundreds of high tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the South Texas area."

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App of the Week: Anonymously Rant to Your Heart's Content With Speakle

Or rant...whichever.
App: Speakle
Platform: iPhone, Android
Website: Speakleapp.com
Cost: Free (requires registration)

There was a time when the Internet was almost entirely anonymous. If you wanted to keep yourself hidden from the masses, you could. You can still do that, but with social networking it is increasingly more difficult to do so. With that comes the burden of having your friends and family members see nearly everything you post.

Former University of Houston grads Saika Momin and Sadiq Momin think they have the answer with Speakle, a kind of social media for the anonymous app that promises to keep your identity hidden, but still allowing you to participate in discussions with others. It's like an old school chat room or online forum before Facebook and Twitter took over.

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My Power Went Out and the E-Mail I Got From CenterPoint Surprised Me

Categories: Tech

Bravo, CenterPoint. Bravo.
On Sunday night just after 7 p.m., I was finishing making dinner when the lights went out. Fortunately, I was finished cooking, but it still was surprising. There were no storms in the area. In fact, the weather was damn beautiful for an August evening. And here my wife and I sat without power. As we sat down in our back yard to dig in, she suggested I check with Nextdoor.com to see if anyone had reported it. My neighbor had already confirmed that she too was sans electricity, but plenty of people in our area were on the social network for neighborhoods.

When I checked my phone, before I could get to the app, I noticed I had new e-mails. The first was an alert from Nextdoor. Someone in our neighborhood wanted to know if anyone else was without power. The second was from CenterPoint Energy and it shocked the hell out of me.

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Ebay Hacked: If You Aren't Routinely Changing Passwords, a Reminder Why You Should

Categories: Tech

Even Dark Helmet gets that you need better passwords.
I work with people every day who entrust me with their passwords so I can assist them with their tech issues, and I am constantly amazed at the overly simplistic nature of passwords for tremendously important data. It is reminiscent of the scene in Spaceballs where Dark Helmet says of the code to a planet's protective shield, "So the combination is...one, two, three, four, five? That's the stupidest combination I've ever heard in my life! That's the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!"

Yet, shockingly, far too many people are more concerned with their ability to remember a password than with its safety. With the recent Heartbleed security vulnerability and now the most recent hack of popular auction site Ebay, there is one thing everyone can do to protect themselves: change their passwords. Every time a company is hacked, it immediately tells its users to change their passwords.

By now, this should be common practice for anyone who uses the Internet with regularity, but it's not.

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The Eight Best Things You Can Find in a Houston Pawn Shop

Thumbnail image for dentures.jpg
Photo by Sander_123 from Flickr
Despite what the Pawn Stars of the History Channel may have you believe, pawn shops aren't all wacky items that require expert appraisal. Houston has its fair share of pawn shops, and they're filled with items both quirky and practical.

"You can find almost anything -- literally almost anything," said Jim Wright of Wright Pawn and Jewelry Company.

We spoke to different pawn shops to find out what they're selling. Here are some of our favorites.

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Five Things the Average Person Can Take Away From the AT&T-DirecTV Merger

Categories: Tech

Maybe AT&T can convince DirecTV to ditch those creepy wireless ads.
It's hard to know exactly what any merger of two giant conglomerates means for the world. If you are like me, you view the joining of AT&T and DirecTV with about the same level of passing interest you might have for the sports scores from a team in the division of your favorite. That's to say it is mildly interesting and maybe even intriguing depending upon the time of year, but not enough for you do dig into in-depth analysis.

Which is why when it comes to mergers of technology companies, it makes our collective glazed-over stares more noticeable. But, this one is slightly different. AT&T and DirecTV, competitors in the world of cable television, merging underscores the radical changes taking place in broadcasting and broadband communications. I say radical because it is altering our perception of a technology that has been with us since the 1950s and it is doing so at breakneck pace.

Anyone who has watched a video on a smartphone or used a DVR to store a television show for later or used a streaming video service like Netflix to watch a movie has been touched by these changes, so it makes sense we should try to understand what a merger like this one means. Here are a few things of note.

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Comcastic: Having the Xfinity X1 Installed and Living to Tell About It

Categories: Tech

If even these guys couldn't help me, Houston, I did have a problem.
I have Comcast at my house. I know, I know. It wasn't my first choice, but it was all I could have at my previous abode and I like CSN Houston. Plus, I'm a masochist.

For the most part, my Comcast service has been solid since I bought a new house and moved last summer. I don't complain too much, so maybe that's it, or maybe it is actually decent. Whatever the case, I rarely have to deal with customer support, so that's good, I guess.

Since Xfinity took over programming for Comcast's television division, there have been marked improvements in technology as well. The X1 is the latest of those changes, a significantly upgraded DVR set-top box with improved menus and an app-like interface that has received rave reviews from geeks who write about such things. It doesn't cost any more per month, but allows the recording of four shows at once and the playback of those shows on any of the satellite boxes you can scatter around your home. You can even talk into an app and it obeys you like freaking Hal, but without the attitude and the "Now, I'm going to kill you, Dave" thing.

I was on the road to a brand-new experience in TV watching that was wholly different from me parked on my ass on the sofa watching DVR'ed episodes of Game of Thrones. Now I also watch those shows from my guest bedroom! To quote The Jeffersons, "Movin' on uuup!"

This sounded like a great idea...until I had to get it installed.

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It's Finally Time to Give Up Internet Explorer for Good

Categories: Tech

It still sucks.
Almost exactly two years ago I wrote about five reasons why you should stop using Internet Explorer. Just this week, it was reported that a security flaw was found in the browser so serious that the U.S. and U.K. governments are recommending users forgo using the Microsoft software until a patch is made available. It has been a thorn in the side of programmers and website administrators for years. It is slow and a drain on memory. Yet millions still use it thanks to its convenient bundle with Windows. IE has become the America Online of Internet browsers. It's the surfing software that people who don't know the difference between a browser and "the Google" use every day. It sucks, and this security issue should be the final blow to what has been a sinking software ship at Microsoft for years.

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