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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 30 min 38 sec ago

Nintendo reveals Labo, a DIY experience for Switch

Thursday 18th of January 2018 01:07:21 AM
Nintendo unveiled what it calls a "new interactive experience" for Nintendo Switch today that’s unlike anything else on the console. Called Nintendo Labo, it’s a "new line of interactive build-and-play experiences that combine DIY creations with the magic of Nintendo Switch," according to Nintendo. Labo will let Nintendo Switch owners build cardboard versions of real-world items like a 13-key piano, fishing rod or motorbike. Nintendo calls those cardboard creations Toy-Cons. And, by inserting Joy-Con controllers into those Toy-Cons, players will be able to play games themed to the cardboard creations. This is a great idea, and such a novel thing to do with a games console.

Antique BeOS Content by Scot Hacker

Wednesday 17th of January 2018 12:43:52 AM
In late 2002, Byte.com decided to combat falling ad revenue by charging admission to its archives of computing content. I have first-hand experience tring to harvest enough revenue from the Internet to pay operating costs, and fully support Byte's decision to move to a subscription model. However, my BeView columns on Byte.com are now virtually hidden from search engines and thus from the Internet, and hundreds of incoming links (which now redirect to a subscription page) might as well be broken. The BeOS content I provided to Byte.com over the two years I wrote for them is tailored to a very specific niche audience. BeOS itself is, for practical intents and purposes, completely dead. Even though these articles were surprisingly well-trafficked at the time, it is hard for me to imagine that anyone would pay for access to the Byte archives just to read a few old nuggets. Scot Hacker's BeOS columns for Byte, neatly archived. What an amazing treasure trove. I don't think this archive is new by any means, but it's the first time I've seen it.

Apple changed the future of laptops 10 years ago today

Wednesday 17th of January 2018 12:37:49 AM
"It's the world’s thinnest notebook," said Steve Jobs as he introduced the MacBook Air 10 years ago today. Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft. Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was. We'd never seen a laptop quite like it, and it immediately changed the future of laptops. The unveiling of the original MacBook Air was a watershed moment for laptop. Sure, the first model wasn't exactly a speedy machine, and it had an incredibly hefty price tag, but it changed the entire market. Later models became incredibly successful, and for years it formed the backbone of Apple's laptop lineup. Every other manufacturer would eventually copy most of its design and construction, to the point where every laptop in the €800-1200 range sported the MacBook Air-like design. It became the benchmark every other similarly priced laptop was compared to. It's still for sale today, but it's an outdated machine mostly kept around for its low price, ironically enough. Interestingly enough, just today, I bought a new keyboard for my iOS laptop (a 2017 iPad Pro 12.9"), which gives it a look very similar to a MacBook Air - just without the legacy operating system. The spirit of the Air definitely lives on in laptops of the future.

Google memory loss

Tuesday 16th of January 2018 10:10:06 PM
Tim Bray, former Google employee, currently working at Amazon, writes: I think Google has stopped indexing the older parts of the Web. I think I can prove it. Google’s competition is doing better. It's an interesting theory for sure, but it seems hard to back this up with any tangible evidence. How would you even test this? You can pick specific web sites to test this with, but that will always be an incredibly small - infinitesimally, unbelievably small - subset of web sites, and there's no way to extrapolate any of that to the web as a whole. To make matters worse, Google tailors search results to the information they have on you, making this even harder.

New bill aims to ban US gov from using Huawei, ZTE phones

Tuesday 16th of January 2018 10:04:25 PM
US lawmakers have long worried about the security risks posed the alleged ties between Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE and the country's government. To that end, Texas Representative Mike Conaway introduced a bill last week called Defending U.S. Government Communications Act, which aims to ban US government agencies from using phones and equipment from the companies. Almost all phones and electronics - including most "American" or "European" phones - are made in China. This seems more like a battle in a wider trade war than something related to spying.

Wrong dropdown menu selection led to false missile warning

Monday 15th of January 2018 09:09:27 PM
Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: "Test missile alert" and "Missile alert". He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert. "In this case, the operator selected the wrong menu option," HEMA spokesman Richard Rapoza told The Washington Post on Sunday. A dropdown menu with just two options. That's incredibly bad user interface design.

Reading disks from 1988 in 2018

Saturday 13th of January 2018 11:59:34 PM
I used an Apple IIe computer throughout high school and into my second year in college, before I bought a Mac SE. That following summer I sold the Apple IIe and everything that came with it - the monitor, floppy drives, and dot-matrix printer - and pocketed the cash. What I was left with were two boxes containing two dozen 5.25-inch floppy disks. I could've thrown the disks away - I had already transferred all the files I cared about to the Mac. But for some reason I saved them instead. And the two dozen floppy disks stayed in two battered boxes for the next 27 years.

Apple's iOS security document

Saturday 13th of January 2018 11:56:08 PM
Apple designed the iOS platform with security at its core. When we set out to create the best possible mobile platform, we drew from decades of experience to build an entirely new architecture. We thought about the security hazards of the desktop environment, and established a new approach to security in the design of iOS. We developed and incorporated innovative features that tighten mobile security and protect the entire system by default. As a result, iOS is a major leap forward in security for mobile devices. This document provides details about how security technology and features are implemented within the iOS platform. It will also help organizations combine iOS platform security technology and features with their own policies and procedures to meet their specific security needs. Some light reading over the weekend.

What really happened with Vista: an insider's retrospective

Saturday 13th of January 2018 11:53:40 PM
I enjoyed reading Terry Crowley's thoughtful blog (What Really Happened with Vista). Terry worked in the Office organization and did a fantastic job covering the complex machinations that went into Windows Vista and the related but doomed Longhorn project - from an outsider's point of view. He correctly identified many of the problems that dogged the project and I don't mean to rehash any of them here. I figured it was only fair to try to offer an insider's view of the same events. I can't hope to be as eloquent or thorough as Terry but hope to shed some light on what went wrong. Ten years have gone by since the original release date of Windows Vista but the lessons seem more relevant now than ever. I really enjoy these stories from people involved with the Vista project. Even though we complained left and right about Vista itself, the release was still hugely important and many of Windows NT's core systems were rewritten from scratch, and we still profit from those reworks and rewrites today. Doesn't retroactively make using Vista any less painful, though.

See the long-lost NES prototype of SimCity

Friday 12th of January 2018 11:52:53 PM
Gamers of a certain age probably remember that Nintendo worked with Maxis to port a version of the seminal SimCity to the brand-new SNES in 1991. What most gamers probably don't realize is that an NES version of the game was developed at the same time and cancelled just before its planned release. That version of the game was considered lost for decades until two prototype cartridges surfaced in the collecting community last year. One of those prototypes has now been obtained and preserved by the Video Game History Foundation's (VGHF's) Frank Cifaldi, who demonstrated the emulated ROM publicly for the first time at MAGFest last weekend. I'm a SimCity 2000 person myself, but the original SimCity is a classic, and I love that they finally managed to preserve it.

Apple is moving its Chinese iCloud operations to a local firm

Thursday 11th of January 2018 12:28:53 AM
Apple is moving its Chinese iCloud operations from its own datacenters to a local Chinese company run by the government. The firm is called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD). It's based in Guizhou Province and supervised by a board ran by government-owned businesses. In emails to mainland Chinese customers, Apple says that the move enables "us to continue improving the speed and reliability of iCloud and to comply with Chinese regulations." But there's also the chance that closer ties with the Chinese government might mean more regulation, which Apple has a record of abiding closely to in the past. Last July, Apple deleted VPN apps from the App Store that had helped netizens evade Chinese censorship, "because it includes content that is illegal in China." Those who aren't happy with the move at least have the option of closing their iCloud accounts. Read into it what you will, but the ties between Apple and the Chinese government are strengthening. One has to wonder how long until Apple has to open up iMessage's encryption.

The fight for patent-unencumbered codecs is nearly won

Wednesday 10th of January 2018 11:49:00 PM
Apple joining the Alliance for Open Media is a really big deal. Now all the most powerful tech companies - Google, Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, AMD, ARM, Nvidia - plus content providers like Netflix and Hulu are on board. I guess there's still no guarantee Apple products will support AV1, but it would seem pointless for Apple to join AOM if they're not going to use it: apparently AOM membership obliges Apple to provide a royalty-free license to any "essential patents" it holds for AV1 usage. It seems that the only thing that can stop AOM and AV1 eclipsing patent-encumbered codecs like HEVC is patent-infringement lawsuits (probably from HEVC-associated entities). I can barely believe this is still a thing, and that it seems like a positive outcome.

Gemini is a tiny Android laptop with the spirit of Psion

Wednesday 10th of January 2018 12:39:57 AM
The Gemini is a clamshell Android device with an 18:9 ultrawide 1080p screen and a compact but more-or-less full physical keyboard. It runs on a 10-core MediaTek Helio X27 processor and has 4GB of RAM, a 4,220mAh battery, and two USB-C ports. It’s 15.1mm thick when closed and weighs 308g. There are both Wi-Fi-only and LTE-capable models. The software is pretty much stock Android with a useful customized dock that can be brought up anywhere, and you can also dual-boot into Linux for more customization. This is exactly what I've always wanted. A tiny Psion Series 5-like computer running a modern operating system. This machine can run Android and regular Linux, and seems quite similar in concept to the GPD Pocket 7, which sadly seems to be hard to come by here in The Netherlands (I'd want to run Haiku on the GPD Pocket 7). To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what's I'd use such a tiny laptop for, but they're tiny enough they're not really taking up space.

Performance impact of Spectre, Meltdown patches on Windows

Tuesday 9th of January 2018 06:03:36 PM
From Microsoft's blog: Last week the technology industry and many of our customers learned of new vulnerabilities in the hardware chips that power phones, PCs and servers. We (and others in the industry) had learned of this vulnerability under nondisclosure agreement several months ago and immediately began developing engineering mitigations and updating our cloud infrastructure. In this blog, I'll describe the discovered vulnerabilities as clearly as I can, discuss what customers can do to help keep themselves safe, and share what we've learned so far about performance impacts. The basic gist here is this: the older your processor and the older your Windows version, the bigger the performance impact will be. Windows 10 users will experience a smaller performance impact than Windows 7 and 8 users, and anyone running Haswell or older processors will experience a bigger impact than users of newer processors.

Everything is too complicated

Monday 8th of January 2018 10:55:11 PM
It's the very beginning of CES 2018, and the first trickles of gadget news are starting to come out. The flood begins tomorrow as the show floor opens and keynotes and press conferences begin in earnest. It's easy to see the broad themes of the show and the tech industry at large already forming: smart assistants everywhere, sensors and radios in every device you can think of, and an eternal hope that something, anything, will be the reason people will finally upgrade their TVs. All of that is exciting - I love gadgets and am one of the few crazy people that think CES is incredibly fun! - but I want to take a half-step back before it all begins and point out something obvious: most people have no idea how any of these things work, and are already hopelessly confused by the tech they have. Shoving a display and garbage software on every single possible household item is simply a really, really dumb idea. Add networking into the mix, and it becomes outright dangerous. People end up with products they have no idea how to use, that quickly become outdated, aren't getting software updates, and quickly become dangerous attack vectors for all sorts of possible criminals. The article also touches on something else - namely, that even things like smartphones are getting way, way too complicated for most people. I, too, am continuously surprised by how little people around me really know about their smartphone - be it iOS or Android - and what certain things mean or how certain functions work, or that they even have said functions at all. Tech companies are doing a terrible job of exposing users to functionality in a meaningful, understandable way.

The oldest x86 processor still supported by a modern Linux kernel?

Monday 8th of January 2018 10:48:29 PM
What is the oldest x86 processor that is still supported by a modern Linux kernel in present time? I asked the above quiz question during the Geekcamp tech conference in Nov 2017 during my emcee role. The theoretical answer as you can glean from the title of this post is the 486 which was first released in 1989. I determined that fact from this article where support for the 386 was dropped in Dec 2012. To get you interested, here is the result of my effort. Cool project.

An 8-tube module from a 1954 IBM mainframe examined

Monday 8th of January 2018 01:32:00 PM
IBM's vacuum tube computers of the 1950s were built from pluggable modules, each holding eight tubes and the associated components. I recently came across one of these modules so I studied its circuitry. This particular module implements five contact debouncing circuits, used to clean up input from a key or relay. When you press a key, the metal contacts tend to bounce a bit before closing, so you end up with multiple open/closed signals, rather than a nice, clean signal. The signal needs to be "debounced" to remove the extra transitions before being processed by a computer. This is so far before my time, it basically looks like 19th century machinery to me. The steps between this module and what we have today blow my mind.

Finding a CPU design bug in the Xbox 360

Monday 8th of January 2018 01:29:28 PM
The recent reveal of Meltdown and Spectre reminded me of the time I found a related design bug in the Xbox 360 CPU - a newly added instruction whose mere existence was dangerous. Back in 2005 I was the Xbox 360 CPU guy. I lived and breathed that chip. I still have a 30-cm CPU wafer on my wall, and a four-foot poster of the CPU’s layout. I spent so much time understanding how that CPU's pipelines worked that when I was asked to investigate some impossible crashes I was able to intuit how a design bug must be their cause. But first, some background...

Interactive X Linux desktop rendered to TTY and streamed over SSH

Friday 5th of January 2018 11:45:15 PM
I'm travelling around the world and sometimes I don't have very good Internet. If all I have is a 3kbps connection tethered from my phone then it's good to SSH into my server and browse the web through elinks. That way my server downloads the web pages and uses the limited bandwidth of my SSH connection to display the result. But it lacks JS support and all that other modern HTML5 goodness. Texttop is simply a way to have the power of a remote server running a desktop, but interfaced through the simplicity of a terminal and very low bandwidth. Why not VNC? Well VNC is certainly one solution but it doesn't quite have the same ability to deal with extremely bad Internet. Texttop uses MoSH to further reduce the bandwidth and stability requirements of the connection. Mosh offers features like automatic reconnection of dropped connections and diff-only screen updates. Also, other than SSH or MoSH, Texttop doesn't require a client like VNC. But of course another big reason for Texttop is that it's just very cool geekery.

Xerox Alto zero-day

Thursday 4th of January 2018 09:54:13 PM
We've been archiving a bunch of old Xerox Alto disk packs from the 1970s. A few of them turned out to be password-protected, so I needed to figure out how to get around the password protection. I've developed a way to disable password protection, as well as a program to find the password instantly. Xerox has failed to respond to this severe security hole in their computer, and every day they refuse to patch this vulnerability is a day their customers run a massive risk. Irresponsible.

More in Tux Machines

Fedora: Updated F27 Live ISOs, Synergy 2.0, Bodhi 3.2.0, Announcing Flapjack

  • F27-20180112 Updated Live Isos Released
    The Fedora Respins SIG is pleased to announce the latest release of Updated 27 Live ISOs, carrying the 4.14.13-300 kernel.
  • synergy-2.0.0 is in Fedora updates-testing
    I have packed the latest stable version, 2.0.0, for Fedora 27, 26 and EPEL 7. No EPEL 6 update this time as it requires CXX14, which EL6 does not provide.
  • Bodhi 3.2.0 released
  • Announcing Flapjack
    Here’s a post about a tool that I’ve developed at work. You might find it useful if you contribute to any desktop platform libraries that are packaged as a Flatpak runtime, such as GNOME or KDE. Flatpak is a system for delivering desktop applications that was pioneered by the GNOME community. At Endless, we have jumped aboard the Flatpak train. Our product Endless OS is a Linux distribution, but not a traditional one in the sense of being a collection of packages that you install with a package manager; it’s an immmutable OS image, with atomic updates delivered through OSTree. Applications are sandboxed-only and Flatpak-only.
  • Flapjack Helps Developers Work On Components Inside Flatpak

Security Leftovers

  • Security updates for Wednesday
  • Latvia's e-health system hit by cyberattack from abroad
    Latvia said its new e-health system was on Tuesday hit by a large-scale cyberattack that saw thousands of requests for medical prescriptions pour in per second from more than 20 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the European Union. No data was compromised, according to health officials, who immediately took down the site, which was launched earlier this month to streamline the writing of prescriptions in the Baltic state. "It is clear that it was a planned attack, a widespread attack—we might say a specialised one—as it emanated from computers located in various different countries, both inside the European Union and outside Europe," state secretary Aivars Lapins told reporters. "We received thousands of requests in a very short space of time. That's not the normal way the system works," he said, adding that an investigation is under way.
  • Linux Lite Developer Creates Automated Spectre/Meltdown Checker for Linux OSes
    The developer of the Ubuntu-based Linux Lite distribution has created a script that makes it easier for Linux users to check if their systems are vulnerable to the Meltdown and Spectre security flaws. As we reported last week, developer Stéphane Lesimple created an excellent script that would check if your Linux distribution's kernel is patched against the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities that have been publicly disclosed earlier this month and put billions of devices at risk of attacks.
  • Purism Releases Meltdown and Spectre Patches for Its Librem Linux Laptops
    Purism, the computer technology company behind the privacy-focused, Linux-based Librem laptops and the upcoming smartphone, released patches for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities. The company was one of the first Linux OEMs and OS vendor to announce that it's working on addressing both the Meltdown and Spectre security exploits on his Linux laptops. Meltdown and Spectre have been unearthed in early January and they are two severe hardware bugs that put billions of devices at risk of attacks.
  • Facebook Awards Security Researchers $880,000 in 2017 Bug Bounties
    Facebook is hardly a small organization, with large teams of engineers and security professionals on staff. Yet even Facebook has found that it can profit from expertise outside of the company, which is why the social networking giant has continued to benefit from its bug bounty program. In 2017, Facebook paid out $880,000 to security researchers as part of its bug bounty program. The average reward payout in 2017 was $1,900, up from $1,675 in 2016.
  • Multicloud Deployments Create Security Challenges, F5 Report Finds

Arch Linux vs. Antergos vs. Clear Linux vs. Ubuntu Benchmarks

Last week when sharing the results of tweaking Ubuntu 17.10 to try to make it run as fast as Clear Linux, it didn't take long for Phoronix readers to share their opinions on Arch Linux and the request for some optimized Arch Linux benchmarks against Clear Linux. Here are some results of that testing so far in carrying out a clean Arch Linux build with some basic optimizations compared to using Antergos Minimal out-of-the-box, Ubuntu Server, and Clear Linux. Tests this time around were done on the Intel Core i9 7980XE system with ASUS PRIME X299-A motherboard, 4 x 4GB DDR4-3200 Corsair memory, GeForce GTX 750, and Corsair Force MP500 120GB NVMe solid-state drive. The system with 18 cores / 36 threads does make for quick and easy compiling of many Linux packages. Read more

Mozilla Leftovers

  • Making WebAssembly even faster: Firefox’s new streaming and tiering compiler
    People call WebAssembly a game changer because it makes it possible to run code on the web faster. Some of these speedups are already present, and some are yet to come. One of these speedups is streaming compilation, where the browser compiles the code while the code is still being downloaded. Up until now, this was just a potential future speedup. But with the release of Firefox 58 next week, it becomes a reality. Firefox 58 also includes a new 2-tiered compiler. The new baseline compiler compiles code 10–15 times faster than the optimizing compiler.
  • Firefox Telemetry Use Counters: Over-estimating usage, now fixed
    Firefox Telemetry records the usage of certain web features via a mechanism called Use Counters. Essentially, for every document that Firefox loads, we record a “false” if the document didn’t use a counted feature, and a “true” if the document did use that counted feature.
  • Firefox 58 new contributors
  • Giving and receiving help at Mozilla
    This is going to sound corny, but helping people really is one of my favorite things at Mozilla, even with projects I have mostly moved on from. As someone who primarily works on internal tools, I love hearing about bugs in the software I maintain or questions on how to use it best. Given this, you might think that getting in touch with me via irc or slack is the fastest and best way to get your issue addressed. We certainly have a culture of using these instant-messaging applications at Mozilla for everything and anything. Unfortunately, I have found that being “always on” to respond to everything hasn’t been positive for either my productivity or mental health. My personal situation aside, getting pinged on irc while I’m out of the office often results in stuff getting lost — the person who asked me the question is often gone by the time I return and am able to answer.
  • Friend of Add-ons: Trishul Goe
    Our newest Friend of Add-ons is Trishul Goel! Trishul first became involved with Mozilla five years when he was introduced to the Firefox OS smartphone. As a JavaScript developer with an interest in Mozilla’s mission, he looked for opportunities to get involved and began contributing to SUMO, L10n, and the Firefox OS Marketplace, where he contributed code and developed and reviewed apps. After Firefox OS was discontinued as a commercial product, Trishul became interested in contributing to Mozilla’s add-ons projects. After landing his first code contributions to addons.mozilla.org (AMO), he set about learning how to develop extensions for Firefox using WebExtensions APIs. Soon, he began sharing his knowledge by leading and mentoring workshops for extension developers as part of Mozilla’s “Build Your Own Extension” Activate campaign.