Aaron's computer rental chain settles FTC spying charges

Imagine getting set up with a rent-to-own computer only to later find out that the retailer was surreptitiously snapping Webcam photos of you and recording your keystrokes via spyware. As bad as this sounds, it reportedly happened.

Atlanta-based Aaron's rent-to-own computer chain has been accused of knowingly installing software onto its computers that secretly monitored its customers. The Federal Trade Commission caught onto the Aaron's alleged tactics and filed a complaint against the company earlier this year. On Tuesday, the chain agreed to settle with the FTC.

According to the FTC's complaint (PDF), Aaron's software tracked … Read more

Oily Bits: The Basic Design of an Engine

The vast majority of vehicles are powered by what's known as an internal combustion engine.

It's a concept that's been around for a long time but a Belgian engineer, called Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir, is credited with inventing and patenting the first viable internal combustion engine in 1860.

The internal combustion engine isn't as complicated as it might sound. As the name suggests, it burns a mixture of fuel and oxygen in an enclosed space called a combustion chamber.

As this mixture burns it becomes hot and expands rapidly, creating pressure. This pressure is applied to … Read more

Use Scrollbar of Contents for Chrome to easily navigate long Web pages

When you're browsing the Web, you will probably come across some pages that are far too long, with little to no navigation shortcuts. Generally, using your trusty friend Ctrl + F can help you skip ahead to whatever you're looking for. Unfortunately, you may not know the exact wording that the page is going to use, or maybe your phrase appears hundreds of times. Instead of wasting your time skimming the Web page, try using a Chrome extension like Scrollbar of Contents.

This extension helps you skip all the reading you don't care about and get to the … Read more

We chatted with Siri, for real, and weren't frustrated with her answers (Q&A)

It's been a whirlwind week for Susan Bennett. She's been talking to a lot of people she doesn't know -- including reporters like me, when I called to interview her this week.

But talking to a lot of strangers is not exactly new for Bennett.

She says she's the voice of Siri, Apple's voice-recognition personal assistant app -- the one that talks to millions of iPhone and iPad users, and elicits a specific type of passion when users talk about how frustrating the service can be. (Apple, of course, in its steel-trap ways, would never … Read more

Speaker specifications: A consumer guide

I recently met with speaker designer Andrew Jones at the CNET office in NYC to discuss his latest project, the new Pioneer SP-SB23W Speaker Bar. And after we finished, I picked his brain about the value of speaker specifications.

My take is that most, but not all, are nearly useless for providing consumers with information that could lead to opting for one speaker over another. For example, what exactly does "power handling" mean? When a manufacturer claims its speaker has a 100-watt power handling rating, can it be safely used with a 200-watt-per-channel amplifier? Or a 500-watt amp? … Read more

How to check memory usage of Chrome extensions

The Chrome Web Store is both awesome and horrible. While you can find many new extensions to enhance your Web browsing experience, you can also slow things down by adding too many. If you're having trouble picking which ones to keep, taking a look at how much memory each one is using might make the decision a little easier.

Fortunately, Chrome has a built-in tool that will show you the memory usage of each extension. Here's how to open and use it:

When you have a Chrome window open, just click on the menu icon on the toolbar … Read more

Review: TapToVoice is stripped down and easy to use

TapToVoice is a text-to-speech tool for your iPad that features a slick, iOS 7-style keyboard and a couple of options for playback. While it lacks the kind of depth and feature set that some other text-to-speech apps offer, that streamlined nature makes it a great option for many situations. Younger users, those who need a larger screen and interface, and those who don't need the bells and whistles of other text-to-speech tools will get a lot of use out of this app.

When you open TapToVoice for the first time, you're going to find a single keyboard and … Read more

Lock the iPad to just one app

The first time I handed an iPad to my kid, I felt a little guilty, but not for the reasons you might think. The way I figured, with such an awesome tool in his tiny hands -- with the collected knowledge of mankind literally at his fingertips -- my child had an unfair advantage over his peers and a fast track to an Ivy League education.

But minutes later, when I had to pry Angry Birds from him like a T-bone from a tiger, I quickly realized that the iPad, for all its potential, was a tool that needed some … Read more

Review: Stream video, music, etc. from desktop to iOS with StreamToMe for Mac

StreamToMe for Mac allows you to stream media from your desktop to iOS devices using Wi-Fi or a 3G connection, without the need to convert files. The app's features and performance are top notch, making it an excellent option for high-quality media streaming for any occasion.

StreamToMe for Mac comes with a sleek interface that displays local servers and devices on the right side of the screen and a fully-functional media player on the left. There is an additional option to manually input an IP address for streaming, if you wish. To detect devices for streaming we had to … Read more

Use handwriting to input text on Android with MyScript Stylus

When MyScript Calculator by Vision Objects landed on the Google Play store, the handwriting recognition was said to be top-notch. Taking their technology a step further, the company released MyScript Notes Mobile, which lets you handwrite words directly onto the screen and have them converted to text.

Their most recent app takes the same handwriting functionality of the Notes Mobile app and lets you use it system-wide on your Android device, replacing the keyboard. You don't have to use a stylus to do the writing, though it might be a bit faster and more precise. Ready to try it … Read more