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Additionally, while you’re here be sure to check out our highly recommended wholesale cell phone service provider Lightyear Wireless. They offer “true” unlimited talk, text, and web (with no data cap or slow down) prepaid service for only $59.99 per month. No contract or credit check required! They don’t add the 28% in fee’s you typically see on your phone bill either. The only other fee Lightyear Wireless will charge you is state sales tax. For example in Rhode Island the whole bill is $64.17 and your bill will stay the same every month. In Florida there is no state sales tax so you only pay $59.99. Incredibly, they even offer customers a way to earn FREE unlimited service with their refer 5 plan. For all the details about Lightyear Wireless click here.

 

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Zillow CEO: Real estate is the ultimate mobile endeavor

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SAN FRANCISCO — As real estate listings site Zillow heads to a $3.5 billion deal to buy Trulia in 2015, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff says the two companies will become part of a media portfolio that will position it for an increasingly mobile world.

On a visit to USA TODAY's San Francisco bureau, he spoke with Tech editor Nancy Blair about Seattle-based Zillow, Trulia and how shopping for homes will evolve. Following are highlights from that conversation, edited for clarity and length.

IMPETUS FOR THE DEAL

Rascoff describes Zillow as a real estate media company. As such, he says, having multiple brands makes sense.

Zillow already operates StreetEasy in New York, acquired a year ago, and HotPads, a national rental site based San Francisco acquired about two years ago. Trulia will be its fourth such property.

"Brands appeal to different users for different reasons," Rascoff says, "either because they like the color scheme, the user experience, the logo or some feature that one site has that another doesn't."

Other companies that have followed the strategy include The Weather Company — which operates weather.com, Weather Underground and Intellicast — and Rascoff's alma mater Expedia, which operates Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire and Trivago. (Rascoff co-founded Hotwire in the '90s; it was sold to Expedia in 2003.)

ZILLOW VS. TRULIA

Zillow is about all things home, Rascoff says, including refinancing and home improvement and keeping an eye on the worth of your home or your neighbor's. Trulia is more of a narrow vertical search engine.

"When you are in the market, Trulia or Zillow are both great services but during the other nine or 10 years when you are out of the market, Zillow tends to be more relevant," he says.

Both companies were started for similar reasons — to try to "remedy the information asymmetry in the real estate industry." In the old days, only real estate agents had access to information such as home values and listings.

"It seems so quaint, but when we started Zillow in 2006, as a consumer, you couldn't actually even find out what was for sale without the good graces of an agent."

THE IMPORTANCE OF MOBILE

The last few years have seen a big shift to mobile: About 70% of Zillow's usage now is on mobile platforms; 30% is desktop.

Many companies, from Zynga to Facebook to Twitter, have huge mobile usage, he notes. "What's nice about us and the reason we have been successful as a public company is we monetize on mobile."

Zillow makes money from real estate agents who advertise based on ZIP codes. Some 57,000 agents spend, on average, $4,000 a year, Rascoff says.

On the mobile app, you can click to call an agent or drop them an e-mail. "When you are out shopping for a home is when you actually want this."

In addition to for sale listings, Zillow is building businesses in rentals and mortgages. Mortgage marketplace advertising is now about 20% of revenue, he says.

Zillow serves up connections to lenders through a company it acquired in Lincoln, Neb., called Mortech. Rascoff compares it to shopping for a hotel on Expedia, or a restaurant on Open Table.

Rentals is a newer part of the business, with about 15 million monthly unique users. Potential revenue from rental listings is a big part of the company's future, but it is just starting to charge for it, mostly to landlords of big apartment buildings. Many rental listings are for single-family homes.

"You can see for sale and for rent at the same time," he says, noting that about a quarter of home shoppers "dual track" as they try to decide whether to rent or buy.

APPS AND MORE

The company has 26 apps across every platform. "Real estate is the ultimate mobile endeavor," he says.

One "super cool" thing on Android is a Google Now feature that serves up Zillow listings if it thinks you're interested in real estate. Google Now is a digital assistant that culls from your search history, e-mails and more to present things to you on your phone without you having to ask.

"You are literally just driving around in a neighborhood and all of a sudden, there is information on homes for sale without you asking for it or thinking about it; that's today's reality."

There's also "a lot of energy and heat in the real estate industry around virtual tours," he says, but that technology is still evolving.

"Given a long enough time horizon, (say) five years or so, I firmly believe that shopping for a home will change dramatically because you will be able to triage many, many, many more homes from your desktop or your tablet on the couch because of some sort of virtual tour technology."

DATA

Zillow employs a team of economists who contribute to the Zillow Real Estate blog and release market data that competes with similar research from Case Shiller and others.

The company makes no money off the data but does it for audience growth. "We have a $10-million-a-year expense item for all this," Rascoff says. "It goes much beyond PR," he says. "This is data analytics."

For Zillow users, the company's trademark "Zestimate" is a way to gauge how much a home is worth. The company produces 110 million Zestimates three times a week, Rascoff says.

The margin for error can vary a lot by region and locale. In San Francisco, "we give ourselves two stars, which is not very good." In San Diego, "we give ourselves four stars."

The wide range has to do with lots of different things, he says, including the quality of underlying data from county records and the like. And the data tends to be less accurate on the high and low ends of the market, because there are fewer comparison homes, or comps.

Still, he says, it's a pretty good starting point, "considering that we have never been in the home."

After all, he says, "we call it a Zestimate, not a Zappraisal."

THE DEAL

"The appeal for us of buying Trulia is (that) they have a huge audience. And they've got a great brand. They've done a great job of integrating rich local data into their listings, like crime data and school data."

The regulatory review process, which can take up to a couple of quarters, often focuses on market power. Rascoff says Zillow and Trulia have a small share of real estate related advertising.

Real estate professionals, who operate thousands of small businesses, spend $12 billion a year in advertising, he says. They spend about 2% of that on Zillow and about 2% on Trulia. The bulk goes to things such as direct mail and outdoor advertising, though eventually, he says, "we believe that most of the budgets will move to online and specifically to mobile."

For now, "although we cast a large shadow, we're actually a relatively small part of where most of the money gets spent.

"That's why we believe it will be met with approval."

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How to check your Internet connection

Rob Pegoraro, Special for USA TODAY 4:32 a.m. EDT August 31, 2014

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Q: I think my Internet connection is down, but I'm not sure. How can I tell that it's not just me?

A: I suspect a great many Time Warner Cable subscribers were asking variations of this question when the No. 2 cable-Internet service in the U.S. suffered a massive outage across the country caused by a configuration mistake.

My first move when I think my own connection has dropped is to swear at the computer, then furiously click the "reload" button in my browser, then maybe shake my fist at the screen in futility. That rarely works for me, and I don't suggest you try it either.

Instead, take the following troubleshooting steps, and take deep breaths between each.

• Try clicking elsewhere. If a site as prominent as Google's home page doesn't load, you can be assured that the fault isn't limited to one company or even in a key component of the Internet's infrastructure like Amazon Web Hosting (which in the past has broken "AWS"-based services like Instagram, Airbnb and Netflix during outages.)

• Check the connections in your home. If your laptop is linked to your router via WiFi, try plugging in an Ethernet cable instead.

• Reboot the router and then, if applicable, the cable or DSL modem. Sorry to sound like stereotypical tech support, but sometimes restarting the networking hardware in your home fixes the problem.

• Does DNS need debugging? Every now and then, an Internet provider's domain name servers — the directory-assistance system that translate requests for addresses like usatoday.com into numerical Internet Protocol coordinates — will break. In that case, you can route around the problem by using another DNS. Now might be a good time to bookmark the setup instructions for the free, alternate services of Google and OpenDNS: In each case, you type a few new sets of numbers into your computer or tablet's Internet settings.

• See what other people are saying. Search Twitter on your phone for updates from your provider's account or complaints about it. If it's a reasonably large company, see if it's mentioned on downdetector.com or the forums at BroadbandReports.com.

The troubleshooting step that should be on this list but isn't is this: Check your Internet provider's status page on your phone. Unfortunately, most of the big-name ISPs don't offer any such help.

The mobile sites of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T don't provide any obvious way to see if their services are working or not. Cablevision's Optimum does, but you have to log in first.

To see how that could work in an alternate universe, see the system-status dashboards of "cloud" services like Google Apps or Apple's iCloud. Or bring up the average electric utility's mobile site: Con Ed in New York, Pepco in Washington and Pacific Gas and Electric in San Francisco, among many others, have outage-map pages a tap or two away.

Tip: Your phone is probably already available as a backup hot spot.

If you need some emergency bandwidth, the answer is probably right in your pocket: Most of the nationwide wireless carriers include tethering, or the option to use your phone as a portable Wi-Fi hot spot, in their standard plans. But finding it can require some tapping around.

On an iPhone, open the Settings app and select Cellular. In Android, it depends. In a stock configuration on a Nexus phone, you'll find it in the Settings app under a "More…" heading; on a Samsung Galaxy S 5, it's behind a "More networks" item in the Settings app; on other phones, you may see a separate hot spot app.

The two exceptions to watch out for: Verizon's "Single Line Smartphone" plans (on which tethering isn't allowed at all, although I've had two VzW customer-service reps tell me otherwise in Web chats) and Sprint's single-line plans (on which it's usually $10 extra for a gigabyte's worth of tethering).

Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/robpegoraro.

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Robot toy invasion: Tech fuels the latest toys

Contributor Marc Saltzman shows off two fun new gadgets that fuse tech with toys.

Marc Saltzman, Special for USA TODAY 12:41 a.m. EDT August 31, 2014

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Forget dollhouses, footballs and jigsaw puzzles — kids today want tech in their toys.

Whether its video games, touch-screen tablets or radio-controlled flying drones, many of 2014's "most wanted" fuse entertainment with electronics.

And in many cases, the lines are blurring between playing and programming — whether it's Lego Mindstorms with "on-brick programming," Sphero 2.0's Macrolab app (with code you can share among friends) or the Moss robot construction kit.

The following is a look at a few of the buzzworthy robotic toys available this fall.

Sphero 2.0

Kids can quite literally have a ball with Sphero 2.0 ($129.99), an app-controlled waterproof toy that rolls around the floor, lights up in different colors and can be used to play more than 30 different games and activities downloadable from the App Store or Google Play market. Most of the supported apps are free.

Using Bluetooth wireless technology to control the ball up to 100 feet away, apps range from zombie-smashing adventures and racing challenges to a golf simulation and "augmented reality" games that also use your mobile device's camera to overlay virtual info onto the real world around you.

As a bonus, two ramps are included in the box, along with an "induction" charging station (just place the ball on the cup to power up).

Kids who want to program their own Sphero game or activity can download free SPRK lessons or apps like MacroLab.

Coming this fall, Sphero's creators will launch another rolling robot named Ollie ($99.99).

WowWee's MiP ($99.99) is a 10-inch tall robot you can control with a free app.(Photo: WowWee)

MiP

Nominated for a "Last Gadget Standing" award at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), WowWee's MiP ($99.99) — which is short for "Mobile Inverted Pendulum" — is a 10-inch-tall robot you can control with a free app (iOS and Android) or through hand gestures and voice commands. Or simply let it discover its surroundings in the autonomous mode.

Rhyming with "pip," MiP can balance on its two wheels, dance, sing, perform tricks and bring you a drink on its snap-on tray (included).

Game highlights include "Cage," where MiP is trapped in a virtual cage and it's up to you to prevent its escape by blocking all the exits, and "Stack," where you must pile as many objects as you can on MiP's tray before the timer runs out.

Not sure where to start with MiP's abilities? A 15-part video tutorial is available at wowwee.com/mip.

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 ($349.99) is an advanced robotics kit.(Photo: Lego Group)

Lego Mindstorms EV3

I'm pretty sure the Lego we played as kids didn't have programmable pieces.

But this is the case with Lego Mindstorms EV3 ($349.99), an advanced robotics kit that lets kids build five different robots out of the box — such as a humanoid, vehicle and reptile. You can download a dozen more designs from the Internet or make your very own creations and share them with friends.

In fact, Lego offers free downloadable programming software, .EV3, for use with Windows and Macs. Kids won't have to know code thanks to an intuitive and icon-based drag-and-drop interface.

With free smartphone or tablet apps (Android and iOS), you can further program and control these versatile creatures to do what you want. Plus, they'll interact with the environment on their own as these robots have infrared sensors for autonomous play, such as the snake-like robot that lunges and hisses if it senses something in front of it (hint: it's a fun way to scare friends).

At the heart of Mindstorms is the Intelligent EV3 Brick with powerful ARM9 processor, USB port for Wi-Fi and Internet connectivity, microSD card reader, back-lit buttons and four motor ports.

Gabby is part of the Chatster line.(Photo: Spin Master Ltd)

Chatsters

While not a robot, per se, toymaker Spin Master has just launched its first interactive doll for girls ages 5 and up.

"Gabby" is the first in the Chatsters ($79.99) toy lineup, and let's just say she wants to be your daughter's BFF.

At 11 inches tall, Gabby talks, dances and plays games and activities through her touch-enabled eyeglasses frames. In fact, many parts of Gabby's body and wardrobe have sensors, and when combined with accessories (included), will cause Gabby to say or do something fun.

For example, she might ask for a makeover, so if you touch the lipstick to her lips they'll change to one of seven colors. If Gabby asks you to text her, place her mini smartphone in her hand. You can have her puppy, Sprinkles, give her a kiss, and so on.

In fact, you can "text" the doll through the free, downloadable app (iOS and Android) and she'll react accordingly. Or why not take a selfie with her?

Chatsters also make silly comments, burps and passes gas, giggles and more.

Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. E-mail him at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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Cutting the Cord: Weighing whether it is words or reality

Want more proof that cord cutting is officially a thing? It's caught the attention of the folks who publish the Oxford English Dictionary.

The term "cord cutter" isn't yet part of the Oxford English Dictionary, which is often considered the arbiter of the language. But it has been added to OxfordDictionaries.com, the first step into OED inclusion.

Along with "cord cutter," the online dictionary also added "binge-watch" and "hate-watch," which means watching a program you don't like, just so you can rant about it. A few other words added: "amazeballs" and "side-boob."

Updated quarterly, OxfordDictionaries.com is a more contemporary counterpart to the Oxford English Dictionary, which is also due for its own quarterly update in September. Words migrate to the OED, but not quite that quickly, says Katherine Martin, who is the head of the U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press.

"There's a lot of evidence for 'cord cutter' right now so if it stays in (the vernacular) much longer it will be a very good candidate," she says.

The last print version of the OED came in 1989, so OED.com is the up-to-date document. There are some sample entries you can look at, but a subscription runs $29.95 monthly or $295 annually.

When the OED researchers looked into the background of "cord cutter," they found it has also been used to describe those who were dropping landline phone service for cell phones, Martin says.

"It's a fun word because you are comparing the cable or telephone companies to your umbilical cord," she says. "It's a fun piece of new English usage. And I think the fact we are adding 'binge-watch' and 'hate-watch' and 'cord cutter' all at the same time speaks to the fact that the way that we consume video content is changing a lot right now. So when things in society change, the English language tends to evolve a lot of new ways to talk about them. If I were looking at a linguistic trend, it would be that our entertainment consumption habits are really being revolutionized right now and we are needing new words to describe the phenomenon."

An illustration about cutting the cord for pay TV service.(Photo: Bob Laird, USA TODAY)

That all makes sense, but could the concept of cord cutting be overblown?

Only about 5% of U.S. homes with broadband Net service have cut the pay TV cord, says Parks Associates research analyst Glenn Hower. "We are not projecting really any increase in that," he says.

That's confirmed by a recent eMarketer analysis of recent cord-cutting research that deemed it "more myth than reality," with perhaps 1 million U.S. cord cutters expected in 2014. Rather, consumers are more likely to switch from cable to telco and satellite services and chip away at their overall pay TV bill, the research firm's report projects.

"A big part of that is just the fact that consumers in the U.S. especially really like their video content and in a lot of instances that is just not really available without a pay TV subscription," Hower said. "You can get certain things from Hulu and Netflix but it is a very fragmented experience and you have to subscribe to multiple services to get all the content you want and even then you won't have access to (everything)."

How online video services evolve – and traditional pay TV providers respond – will dictate whether "cord cutter" has a future on OED.com or not.

"Cutting the Cord" is a new regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider via e-mail. And follow him on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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Editor’s note: @AFPAfrica has been told by a minister that the military in Lesotho has seized control of police HQ, jammed radio stations and cell phones in ‘coup’ attempt – we are looking for more confirmation. – Tom

Editor's note: @AFPAfrica has been told by a minister that the military in Lesotho has seized control of police HQ, jammed radio stations and cell phones in 'coup' attempt - we are looking for more confirmation. - Tom Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The U.N. says 7 in 10 Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians. Israel disagrees.

August 29 at 8:10 PM

The war in Gaza will now continue in a battle between databases to determine who was killed and why.

The most contested number, the one that attracts the most stubborn insistence and ferocious rebuttal, is not the total fatalities on the Palestinian side, the more than 2,100 dead in the Gaza hostilities.

The controversy centers instead on the ratio of civilians to combatants, or as the Israelis call them “terrorist operatives.”

This number will help shape public opinion about the way the war was waged, its cost in human life and whether the hostilities were worth the casualties.

In its most recent count, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that 2,104 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including 1,462 civilians, among them 495 children and 253 women. Those U.N. numbers would mean that 69 percent of the total killed were civilians.

By contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Israeli forces­ had killed “approximately 1,000 terrorists,” which would mean that far fewer of the 2,104 Palestinian dead were civilians — roughly 52 percent.

Israeli military forces­ pride themselves on being “the most moral army in the world.” The Palestinians say Israeli bombardment was frequently indiscriminate or directed at targets where the risk of civilian casualties was high.

In Israel, critics charge that the U.N. numbers are inaccurate and biased, in part because the United Nations bases its reports on numbers generated by human rights groups working in Gaza, which they say cannot be trusted.

Reuven Erlich, the head of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel, which has close ties to Israeli intelligence ser­vices, told the Jerusalem Post that one should be “suspicious of all figures from the Gaza Strip.”

Matthias Behnke, the top official in Jerusalem for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “We feel confident about our process. It is the most elaborate out there. We use a number of sources­. We are on the ground in Gaza. We go out to verify. This puts us in the best available position to assess who is a combatant and who is a civilian.”

A final cease-fire to end hostilities in Gaza was only declared this week, and if past wars between Hamas and Israel in 2009 and 2012 serve as a guide, it will be weeks and perhaps months before complete tallies are released by all sides.

‘Where are their lists?’

From the beginning, the deaths tolls from Gaza have faced criticism by Israel officials, who say the numbers of civilian deaths have been manipulated by the Islamist resistance movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Defense Forces­ warns on its Web site that “media outlets have relied on Hamas’ statistics when reporting casualties in Gaza, but the terrorist group routinely exaggerates civilian deaths for propaganda purposes.”

But neither the prime minister’s office nor the Israeli military have provided any detailed, verifiable tally of their own to account for their contention that the conflict killed some 1,000 terrorists.

“The Israeli claim of 900 or 1,000 fighters killed is just a claim. Please. Provide your data, the names and circumstances, so we can verify. They criticize us. We are held accountable. Where are their lists?” said Mahmoud Abu Rahma, director of communications for the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, which is investigating the cause of casualties in the Gaza war.

Through the seven weeks of war, more than quarter of the population of the Gaza Strip was displaced. The dead and dying were rushed to hospitals under heavy bombardment. Some bodies were buried under rubble for days.

Foreign reporters who visited the morgues were met by chaos. Overwhelmed medical technicians scribbled names in bloody notebooks as relatives fought to retrieve their dead, or bags of their body parts.

But on Facebook and Twitter, one Hamas official, himself a physician, provided a minute-by-minute tally of the dead. From his post at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Kidra was in the early days of the war the public face of casualty figures, often appearing on camera in hospital scrubs.

“All the world uses our numbers. We are the only source,” Kidra boasted in an interview during the height of the fighting.

Kidra’s assistants huddled in an office crowded with computers, ears attached to mobile phones, taking reports from hospitals and morgues. Their numbers were fast but raw.

Identifications and ages were sometimes wrong. The given names of a dead man, for example, might not be Mohammed Mahmoud, but Mahmoud Mohammed, and he was not 24, but 26.

While Hamas officials stressed the high numbers of civilian casualties, Kidra and the Health Ministry did not provide any breakdown of combatants and civilians — just names, ages and gender.

Kidra’s position, though, was clear. “They are all civilians,” he said. “All the dead in all the houses, in the mosques, in the cars, in fields and the facilities for the disabled.”

Multiple sources

Despite his assertion, Kidra’s tallies were not the only source of information. They were a tip sheet. Throughout the war, there were three human rights groups in Gaza — two Palestinian and one Israeli — that released information about the dead.

In the forefront was Mezan, whose field operatives could be found, day after day, squeezed into hospital corridors, collecting names and mobile phone numbers.

Mezan and an Israeli human rights group called Btselem are two that provide data to the United Nations. Other sources of information have declined to be named. The United Nations also has a verification team in Gaza that double-checks identities. It also combs Web sites managed by the Palestinian militant factions and by Israel Defenses Forces.

According to Mezan’s current count, 2,168 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war, and 1,666 of them, or 77 percent, were civilians.

Samir Zaquot, the director of fields operations for Mezan, said it is possible to get at the truth. His field team is working alongside three other Palestinian groups to compile a master database of the dead. About 70 survey workers, armed with a four-page document with 40 questions, are going door-to-door.

After the ground offensive by Israel, Hamas began to withhold the names of its combatants. “They believed if the names became known, the Israelis could target the houses of their families,” Zaquot said.

Israeli military officials said Hamas did so to manipulate the media and highlight civilian casualties.

Lists of “martyred” fighters are beginning this week to appear on banners hung in neighborhoods and posted online by Hamas and other militant factions.

The group Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant brigade after Hamas, announced Friday that 121 of its “soldiers and commanders” were killed in the war.

“This idea that Hamas will hide its martyrs is not possible,” said Mohammed Sabbah, director of the Gaza office of Btselem. “They are proud of their sacrifice.”

A study by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, widely cited by Israel’s supporters, charged that Mezan and other groups in Gaza are integral parts of propaganda campaigns.

Mezan does not get any money from Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Its communications director scrolled through a year’s worth of press releases from Mezan criticizing Hamas for extrajudicial executions, torture of prisoners and dubious arrests.

On the Israeli side, the Meir Amit study examined the first 152 deaths of the Gaza war and reported that 71 were “terror operatives” and 81 “non-involved civilians.”

The Meir Amit study was based on a review of Arabic news media reports, militant social media and “information originating from Israeli security ­sources.”

For comparison, Mezan provided The Washington Post with its list of the first 152 deaths, which concluded that only 44 were combatants.

Some of the differences arose in the definition of combatant. Where the Israeli researchers list three police officers as members of the Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the Palestinian researchers do not. The Israelis label “a radical Islamic preacher” as “a terrorist operative affiliated with global jihad.” The Palestinians list him as a civilian.

But there were a dozen other alleged terrorists on the Israeli list that Mezan researchers say were not members of militant factions.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.

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Marco Andretti in no rush for driverless cars

USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham talks to racecar driver Marco Andretti to see how he feels about driverless cars. VPC

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CULVER CITY, Calif - Marco Andretti, the race car driver and grandson of racing legend Mario Andretti isn't ready to for a world with driverless cars.

"I'm obviously not a fan," he says of the futuristic era that search giant Google is developing . "I'd be out of a job."

The driver, whose season leading the Andretti Autosport team for the Verizon IndyCar races ends this weekend in Fontana, California with the MAVTV 500 calls Google's efforts "incredible to fathom. Maybe it'd be safer than a lot of drivers out there. Just to know it (Google) can judge the closing rates and it somebody cut you off."

Andretti, who is known for dashing around the track at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, navigates his way around with a high-tech $25,000 steering wheel--more than the cost of many cars. "It gives me information," he says. Buttons on the wheel can cut the engine down to 60 MPH, let him know what his miles per gallon is at all times, "and give me the numbers I need to be hitting, to save fuel and go fast at the same time."

At home in Pennsylvania, Andretti drives an Acura MDX, Porsche Cayenne, Jeep SRT8 and a Mercedes CLS63.

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Seat reclining sparks new skirmish

What are the most annoying habits on airplanes? We kick off with number 20 -- abusing overhead bin space. You folded your suit coat nicely and placed your hat in the allotted overhead space. Too bad Bin Hog just mangled it all while shoving his suitcase, stroller and shopping bags into a space meant for one personal item.What are the most annoying habits on airplanes? We kick off with number 20 -- abusing overhead bin space. You folded your suit coat nicely and placed your hat in the allotted overhead space. Too bad Bin Hog just mangled it all while shoving his suitcase, stroller and shopping bags into a space meant for one personal item.
Airplane movies: the opiate of the flying masses. Except when your hyperactive neighbor takes 30 minutes to decide between "Grown Ups 2" or something a little less cerebral. Such behavior earns "passengers who take too long to pick a movie" the number 19 spot on our "most annoying" list. Airplane movies: the opiate of the flying masses. Except when your hyperactive neighbor takes 30 minutes to decide between "Grown Ups 2" or something a little less cerebral. Such behavior earns "passengers who take too long to pick a movie" the number 19 spot on our "most annoying" list.
Coming in at spot 18 -- compulsive leg-shaking. The fidgety leg-shaker isn't all that common, but still annoying when encountered at altitude. Coming in at spot 18 -- compulsive leg-shaking. The fidgety leg-shaker isn't all that common, but still annoying when encountered at altitude.
Annoying behavior number 17? Boarding ahead of group number. Most airlines have a system for getting hundreds of passengers aboard in the least amount of time. That's why we schlep on as part of Group A or B or C. Just because you drew the short straw on this one doesn't give you the right to pretend to be dyslexic. Annoying behavior number 17? Boarding ahead of group number. Most airlines have a system for getting hundreds of passengers aboard in the least amount of time. That's why we schlep on as part of Group A or B or C. Just because you drew the short straw on this one doesn't give you the right to pretend to be dyslexic.
What's more annoying than people rushing to board the plane? Babies crying. Are we really blaming babies for doing what babies do naturally? Sure, as long as they're your kids, and not ours. What's more annoying than people rushing to board the plane? Babies crying. Are we really blaming babies for doing what babies do naturally? Sure, as long as they're your kids, and not ours.
"<i>I'd</i> learn some bladder control if I was in the window seat," runs the unspoken complaint. Number 15 on our list -- those who get huffy when you leave your seat. "I'd learn some bladder control if I was in the window seat," runs the unspoken complaint. Number 15 on our list -- those who get huffy when you leave your seat.
"Hey, we just landed. ... can you hear me? ... we just landed ... I'm on the runway ... can you hear me now? ... We just landed ... " Annoying behavior number 14: Those who can't bear to wait to deplane before yacking on their cell phones."Hey, we just landed. ... can you hear me? ... we just landed ... I'm on the runway ... can you hear me now? ... We just landed ... " Annoying behavior number 14: Those who can't bear to wait to deplane before yacking on their cell phones.
We get it -- airlines have cut back on food service, forcing us all to bring our own snacks and meals onboard. But did you really have to clean out the back of your refrigerator? Bringing aboard stinky food isn't just annoying, it's gross too. We get it -- airlines have cut back on food service, forcing us all to bring our own snacks and meals onboard. But did you really have to clean out the back of your refrigerator? Bringing aboard stinky food isn't just annoying, it's gross too.
Hey, we're trying to read here. Number 12 on the rude behavior list: people who don't know how to use their inside voices on planes. Hey, we're trying to read here. Number 12 on the rude behavior list: people who don't know how to use their inside voices on planes.
Coming in at number 11 -- elbow wars. Do you often find yourself elbowing someone else's arm off what should be a shared space? That's armrest hegemony. And it's annoying. Coming in at number 11 -- elbow wars. Do you often find yourself elbowing someone else's arm off what should be a shared space? That's armrest hegemony. And it's annoying.
Praise God, the middle seat is empty! Til the guy next to you employs annoying behavior number 10 and lays claim to the no man's land of the middle seat with a book, coat or inflatable neck support. Or long appendage. Praise God, the middle seat is empty! Til the guy next to you employs annoying behavior number 10 and lays claim to the no man's land of the middle seat with a book, coat or inflatable neck support. Or long appendage.
Thanks for sharing your globules of diseased saliva. This lonely gentleman may have the only sensible approach to dealing with those who practice annoying behavior number nine -- germ sharing.Thanks for sharing your globules of diseased saliva. This lonely gentleman may have the only sensible approach to dealing with those who practice annoying behavior number nine -- germ sharing.
Bleep, bloop, blorp. Funny how some of the most irritating things on the planet can be called "games." Even more irritating are people who play them, on a plane, with the sound turned on. Bleep, bloop, blorp. Funny how some of the most irritating things on the planet can be called "games." Even more irritating are people who play them, on a plane, with the sound turned on.
"Sir, is that a ... <i>carry-on</i>?" Annoying behavior number seven: Wielding huge suitcases as carry-ons.
"Sir, is that a ... carry-on?" Annoying behavior number seven: Wielding huge suitcases as carry-ons.
Here we've regressed to the time before the invention of the queue. Don't you just hate people who rush from the back of the plane in an attempt to disembark first? Here we've regressed to the time before the invention of the queue. Don't you just hate people who rush from the back of the plane in an attempt to disembark first?
Another annoying behavior that also falls into the gross category -- cutting fingernails inflight. Toenails are also trimmed at 30,000 feet, but that would have been a <i>really </i>offensive picture. Another annoying behavior that also falls into the gross category -- cutting fingernails inflight. Toenails are also trimmed at 30,000 feet, but that would have been a really offensive picture.
"Feet nudism" is a common complaint, earning it the number 4 spot on our list. Appalling side note: people who actually go to the bathroom on the airplane in their bare feet."Feet nudism" is a common complaint, earning it the number 4 spot on our list. Appalling side note: people who actually go to the bathroom on the airplane in their bare feet.
We've all encountered the toilet hogger. What are they doing in there, you wonder as you hover cross-legged by the door. Certainly not being considerate of other people. We've all encountered the toilet hogger. What are they doing in there, you wonder as you hover cross-legged by the door. Certainly not being considerate of other people.
Annoying travel behavior number two: recliners. Aviation engineers, listen up: No one likes the recline button! Time to reinvent the plane seat. Annoying travel behavior number two: recliners. Aviation engineers, listen up: No one likes the recline button! Time to reinvent the plane seat.
"He kicked someone's seat-back." Airplane Irritant No. 1 -- seat-back kicking -- invites a violent response."He kicked someone's seat-back." Airplane Irritant No. 1 -- seat-back kicking -- invites a violent response.
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  • Airline passengers who recline their seats are facing blowback in the air
  • Two flights have allegedly been diverted in the past week over reclining disputes
  • A third flight was diverted when two passengers allegedly got drunk and threatened the flight

(CNN) -- Inching into another passenger's knee space has some fliers itching for a fight.

In the second serious airline legroom argument reported this week, a reportedly irate passenger caused a flight from Miami to Paris to divert to Boston on Wednesday.

Paris resident Edmund Alexandre, 60, was charged in U.S. federal court Thursday with interfering with an airline flight crew. Interfering with flight crew members is a violation of federal law and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. (The passenger's name has also been spelled "Edmond" Alexandre in court documents.)

About two hours after American Airlines Flight 62 had departed Miami on Wednesday, Alexandre allegedly "began arguing with another passenger and became disruptive," according to a press statement from Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Alexandre was also charged under state law.

After a crew member asked him to calm down and walked away, "Alexandre allegedly began raising his voice again, followed the crew member towards the back of the plane, and grabbed the crew member's arm," according to Ortiz's statement.

At that time federal air marshals on the flight broke cover and subdued and restrained Alexandre, according to an FBI agent's affidavit. The flight was diverted to Boston Logan International Airport, where he was arrested.

Alexandre complained of high blood pressure and issues with diabetes, according to the affidavit, and was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital.

It's been a tense week for passengers on both sides of the right-to-recline debate.

This device caused an in-flight fight

A United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver was diverted on August 24 after two passengers argued over one passenger's use of a "Knee Defender," a device that blocks reclining.

Should the Knee Defender be banned?

Water was thrown and the passengers, both 48, were removed from the flight in Chicago, according to a federal law enforcement source, speaking on background. The passengers were not arrested.

It seems at least one of the passengers was not completely satisfied with the extra space in the Economy Plus section where they were seated, which provides United passengers up to 5 inches of extra legroom compared with standard coach seats.

Aviation blogger Benet Wilson is surprised there haven't been more incidents in the air as travelers face long security checkpoint lines at more crowded airports as well as less space and fewer amenities on planes.

"As airlines try and squeeze as many seats into economy as possible, that decreases seat pitch which can be uncomfortable for someone like me, who is 5'3"," wrote Wilson via email.

"But imagine being a foot taller squeezed into that same space. It doesn't help that the FAA doesn't have an official rule on using (seat blocking devices), instead deferring to passengers and airlines. So I feel the situation will get worse before it gets better."

The core problem is definitely the airlines packing too many seats too close together into a tight space, said veteran flight attendant Heather Poole, author of "Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet."

"That said, this doesn't give anyone the right to act childish," Poole wrote via email. "To react in such a way that the crew feels the need to divert a flight to have a passenger removed is a really big deal."

In a disagreement where legroom tension does not appear to have been a factor, a couple of drunken women partied a little too hard on a Canadian flight bound for Cuba this week and found their plans of sunny, sandy beaches replaced with arrests and a court appearance.

The two women on Sunwing Airlines Flight 656 from Toronto to Varadero, Cuba, apparently broke out their duty-free booze on Wednesday, lit up a cigarette in a passenger jet bathroom and got "into a physical altercation with each other," the airline said.

They also allegedly threatened to do something to the plane, which triggered Canadian military jet escorts and an immediate return trip home. A judge granted the two women bail on Thursday after they were charged with disturbing a flight.

The crew didn't actually believe the women could do any damage, "given their condition," Sunwing said, but procedure called for the captain to make a U-turn and head back to Toronto Pearson International Airport.

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Week in Tech: Online storage wars, wearable tech

USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham highlights this week's top headlines from the world of technology. VPC

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LOS ANGELES -- In case you missed it, here are your tech headlines for the week, highlighted by a massive boost in online storage, a new smartwatch from Samsung and major TV stars making new shows for Amazon.

Let's begin with online storage.

Whether you're watching footage of homes destroyed in a Napa earthquake, or severe damage from fires, it doesn't take a genius to realize that the safest way to back up your photos, videos and documents is via online storage, and what's called the cloud.

Using the service Dropbox has become the most popular way to do that, serving 300 million folks who have been spending an average $10 monthly to store up to 100 gigabytes of data.

This week, Dropbox bettered its offer by ten times -- $10 will now get you 1 terabyte of data, matching Google's recent price drops. Microsoft countered with a plan aimed at businesses -- but anyone can apply for 1 terrabyte at $2.50 a month.

Bottom line: the consumer is winning the storage wars.

Meanwhile, in other tech news for the week:

--Samsung debuted yet another new smartwatch, the Gear S, with a 2-inch screen. It's way more stylish than the model introduced back in June. And what of that new digital watch from Apple? Reports this week say the rumored Apple product won't be sold as a watch. Instead, analysts point to a wearable health product -- like the Fitbit -- that will have more features, but can also tell time.

-- Netflix didn't exactly clean up at the Emmys this week, despite the acclaim of such series as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. It came up empty in the prime-time categories. But meanwhile, rival Amazon is continuing its push to wean viewers away from the networks and watch original shows on phones, tablets and TVs. This week, five new series debuted on Amazon, starring veterans Paul Reiser, Dana Delaney and Ron Perlman. To watch, you need to subscribe to the $99 yearly Prime offering of two-day shipping and entertainment.

-- Finally, the top new app of the week, on the iPhone download chart, is FaceQ, a free avatar maker, while the no. 1 new Android app is Link, a social network that connects you to people nearby.

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10 things you didn’t know your phone could do

Kim Komando, Special for USA TODAY 9:09 a.m. EDT August 29, 2014

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You've had your smartphone for a while. But let's face it: you've never read the manual. You take great pride in the fact you know how to use it. Then, it happens.

You see someone do something extraordinary with his or her phone that you did not know was even possible. Friends don't let friends have smartphone skill envy. Here are some of my favorite secrets buried in your phone settings that you probably don't know, but will use now.

Quick note: There are so many versions of Android out there that these instructions won't work for every phone. Where I can I've included apps that do the same thing.

1. Take a screenshot

Have you ever wanted to capture something on your phone's screen? Maybe it's a hilarious text from a friend, an interesting Facebook post, or you want to send someone an image to show them how to do something.

iPhone

Press and hold the Home button along with the Sleep/Wake button. You should hear a shutter click. The screenshot will appear in your Camera Roll or Saved Photos section.

Android

Hold the Power and Volume Down buttons at the same time. The image is saved to the "Captured Images" folder in your Gallery app. That only works in Android 4.0 and higher, though. For Android 3.0, 2.3 or earlier, use an app like AirDroid.

2. Block calls and texts

Have you ever had someone who just won't stop calling or texting you, even after you asked nicely? Here's how to block them.

iPhone

To block calls on an iPhone with iOS 7 or later, open the Phone or FaceTime app. If the person is already a contact, tap their name, scroll to the bottom of the page and tap Block This Caller. Then tap Block Contact.

If the person isn't a contact, tap the Info button, then scroll to the bottom of the page and tap Block this Caller. Then tap Block Contact.

If you want to block texts, open the Messages app and tap a message from the person you want to block. Tap Contact in the upper right and then tap the Info button. Scroll to the bottom and tap Block this Caller. Then tap Block Contact.

You can edit your blocked contacts later at these locations:

Settings>>Phone>>Blocked

Settings>>Messages>>Blocked

Settings>>FaceTime>>Blocked

Android

On Android, go to Settings>>Call settings>>Call block. Under "Incoming calls" tap "Call block list" and then tap Create. You can enter a number, or tap the picture icon to find the number in your Contacts list or in your call logs.

If you don't see these steps or want more blocking options, check out these call- and text-blocking apps.

3. Use a real password

iPhone and Android both default to a 4-digit PIN for unlocking the phone. That's OK as long as you don't use something simple like 0000 or 1234. However, I know some people who want even more security.

iPhone

To set a real password on an iPhone, go to Settings>>Passcode. From there, swipe off the option that says Simple Passcode. Here, you can set your passcode with letters and special characters for better phone security.

Android

Go to Settings>>Lock screen and tap Screen lock. You can set what level of security you want, from a simple swipe to a password. Select Password and type in the password that you want. It should have a mix of letters, numbers and special characters to be really safe.

4. See text easier

Having a hard time reading things on your phone's small screen? Bump up the font size to something a bit easier to see.

iPhone

Go to Settings>>General>>Accessibility and turn on Bold Text and Larger Text. You can choose either one or both, depending on your preferences. You will need to restart your phone for Bold Text to take effect.

Android

Go to Settings>>Accessibility. Under Vision, tap Font size and set it to Large. Some phones include an even larger Huge option.

5. Read things out loud

Want to keep your eyes off your phone for a bit? Have it read things to you out loud.

iPhone

Go to Settings>>General>>Accessibility and turn on VoiceOver. You have the option to practice with VoiceOver, set the speaking rate and more.

You will need to do some playing around to get used to it. For example you can touch and drag your fingers around the home screen to have it read what's there. Double tap to activate an app, while one tap will give you details about it.

VoiceOver will read directions to you in Maps, have your camera tell you how many people are in your shot, and get spoken photo descriptions. You can also hand write notes and letters on the screen and have VoiceOver translate your messages into text for Mail and other apps.

Android

Go to Settings>>Accessibility and tap TalkBack. If you don't see it, you can download it from the Google Play store.

Turn it on and your phone will read whatever you touch on the screen and incoming notifications. Hint: To perform a regular swipe gesture, you have to use two fingers instead of one.

To adjust your TalkBack settings, go to Settings>>Accessibility and tap Text-to-Speech options. You can adjust the voice engine and speed rate.

Then go to Settings and turn on Hands-free mode. This will tell you who is calling or messaging.

There are lots of cool features on your iPhone that you may not know about. Contributor Jennifer Jolly shows you five of them.

6. Customize alert vibration patterns

You've set a custom ringtone for each of your contacts, but that doesn't help when you have your phone on vibrate. Fortunately, you can create custom vibration patterns as well.

iPhone

Go to Settings>>Sounds>>Ringtone>>Vibration. You can tap out patterns to record. Or, you can go into your contacts list and hit Edit and select the Vibration option for each contact.

Android

Go to Contacts and tap on a contact name. Under Vibration Pattern, tap Default and choose a preset pattern. Or tap the Create button and tap on the screen to create your own pattern.

If you don't have this built in, there are third-party apps like Vybe that can do this as well.

7. Flash camera LED for notifications

Need a quiet alert about notifications and don't want to use vibrate? Have notifications trigger your phone's LED camera flash instead. Just make sure you turn this off or keep your phone hidden when you go to the movies.

iPhone

Go to Settings>>General>> Accessibility and turn on "LED Flash for Alerts." Now every time you get a notification, your phone's rear camera will flash.

Android

Go to Settings>>Accessibility and turn on "Flash notification." If your phone doesn't have this, try an app like Flash Notification 2 from the Google Play store.

8. Better ways to take pictures

Tapping your phone's screen to take a picture sounds good in theory, but in practice it can make shots a little shaky. Here are some better options.

iPhone

Hold your camera in landscape mode and press the Volume Up button on the side.

Android

Open the camera app and tap the gear to see the settings. Scroll down to Voice control and turn it on. Now you can take pictures with the commands, "Capture," "Shoot," "Smile" and "Cheese."

If your phone doesn't have a built-in camera app with this feature, you'll need a third-party app like Say Cheese.

9. Take multiple pictures at once

If you're taking pictures of a moving object, squirming kid or people who tend to blink, you often want to take a bunch of pictures at once.

iPhone 5s/5c

Open the Camera app. Tap and hold the shutter release button on the screen - or press and hold the Volume Up button - and the camera will start taking multiple pictures. Release the button when you want to stop.

The iPhone can take up to 10 pictures a second. It will group the photos for you automatically so you can quickly find the best ones.

Android

Open the Camera app. Tap the gear icon to open the settings and turn Burst Shot on. Then tap and hold the shutter release button and the phone will take multiple images until you release the button - or it hits the preset limit for your phone. The photos will be grouped for you in your gallery.

If your camera doesn't have this option, you can grab a third-party camera app like Snap Camera HDR, or wait for your phone to get an updated to Android 4.4.

10. Turn off music automatically

A lot of people use their phone to listen to music as they go to sleep, or as they're doing a project. But you don't want it running forever and draining your battery.

iPhone

Go to the Clock app and click on "Timer," then "When Timer Ends." From here, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the screen and select "Stop Playing."

Android

Open the music player and go to Settings. Look for "Music auto off" and set it to however long you want the music to play. There are also third-party apps like Sleep Timer available.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, newsletters and more, visitwww.komando.com. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com.

Jefferson Graham explores five cool things you can do with Windows 8.1 Phones on Talking Tech.

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