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Google for Slow Connections and Mozilla on Accessibility

  • Lyra: A New Very Low-Bitrate Codec for Speech Compression

    Connecting to others online via voice and video calls is something that is increasingly a part of everyday life. The real-time communication frameworks, like WebRTC, that make this possible depend on efficient compression techniques, codecs, to encode (or decode) signals for transmission or storage. A vital part of media applications for decades, codecs allow bandwidth-hungry applications to efficiently transmit data, and have led to an expectation of high-quality communication anywhere at any time. [...] To solve this problem, we have created Lyra, a high-quality, very low-bitrate speech codec that makes voice communication available even on the slowest networks. To do this, we’ve applied traditional codec techniques while leveraging advances in machine learning (ML) with models trained on thousands of hours of data to create a novel method for compressing and transmitting voice signals.

  • Google's New Lyra Voice Codec + AV1 Aim For Video Chats Over 56kbps Modems In 2021

    Google's AI team has announced "Lyra" as a very low bit-rate codec for speech compression designed for use-cases like WebRTC and other video chats... With a bit rate so low that when combined with the likes of the AV1 video codec could potentially allow video chats over 56kbps Internet connections. Google engineers formally announced Lyra on Thursday as this new codec to challenge the likes of Opus. Lyra leverages machine learning to make it suitable for delivering extremely low bit-rate speech compression. Google's Lyra announcement noted, "Lyra is currently designed to operate at 3kbps and listening tests show that Lyra outperforms any other codec at that bitrate and is compared favorably to Opus at 8kbps, thus achieving more than a 60% reduction in bandwidth. Lyra can be used wherever the bandwidth conditions are insufficient for higher-bitrates and existing low-bitrate codecs do not provide adequate quality."

  • Mozilla Accessibility: 2021 Firefox Accessibility Roadmap Update [Ed: Mozilla is not consistent. It speaks of people with disabilities, but was eager to go on with DRM (EME) inside Firefox despite is being an attack on disabled people]

    People with disabilities can experience huge benefits from technology but can also find it frustrating or worse, downright unusable. Mozilla’s Firefox accessibility team is committed to delivering products and services that are not just usable for people with disabilities, but a delight to use. The Firefox accessibility (a11y) team will be spending much of 2021 re-building major pieces of our accessibility engine, the part of Firefox that powers screen readers and other assistive technologies. While the current Firefox a11y engine has served us well for many years, new directions in browser architectures and operating systems coupled with the increasing complexity of the modern web means that some of Firefox’s venerable a11y engine needs a rebuild. Browsers, including Firefox, once simple single process applications, have become complex multi-process systems that have to move lots of data between processes, which can cause performance slowdowns. In order to ensure the best performance and stability and to enable support for a growing, wider variety of accessibility tools in the future (such as Windows Narrator, Speech Recognition and Text Cursor Indicator), Firefox’s accessibility engine needs to be more robust and versatile. And where ATs used to spend significant resources ensuring a great experience across browsers, the dominance of one particular browser means less resources being committed to ensuring the ATs work well with Firefox. This changing landscape means that Firefox too must evolve significantly and that’s what we’re going to be doing in 2021.

Programming Leftovers

  • Testing 4x4 matrix inversion precision

    It is extremely rare that a hobby software project of mine gets completed, but now it has happened. Behold! Fourbyfour! Have you ever had to implement a mathematical algorithm, say, matrix inversion? You want it to be fast and measuring the speed is fairly simple, right. But what about correctness? Or precision? Behavior around inputs that are on the edge? You can hand-pick a few example inputs, put those into your test suite, and verify the result is what you expect. If you do not pick only trivial inputs, this is usually enough to guarantee your algorithm does not have fundamental mistakes. But what about those almost invalid inputs, can you trust your algorithm to not go haywire on them? How close to invalid can your inputs be before things break down? Does your algorithm know when it stops working and tell you? Inverting a square matrix requires that the inverse matrix exists to begin with. Matrices that do not mathematically have an inverse matrix are called singular. Can your matrix inversion algorithm tell you when you are trying to invert a matrix that cannot be inverted, or does it just give you a bad result pretending it is ok? Working with computers often means working with floating-point numbers. With floating-point, the usual mathematics is not enough, it can actually break down. You calculate something and the result a computer gives you is total nonsense, like 1+2=2 in spirit. In the case of matrix inversion, it's not enough that the input matrix is not singular mathematically, it needs to be "nice enough" numerically as well. How do you test your matrix inversion algorithm with this in mind? These questions I tried to answer with Fourbyfour. The README has the links to the sub-pages discussing how I solved this, so I will not repeat it here. However, as the TL;DR, if there is one thing you should remember, it is this:

  • Getting started with COBOL development on Fedora Linux 33

    Though its popularity has waned, COBOL is still powering business critical operations within many major organizations. As the need to update, upgrade and troubleshoot these applications grows, so may the demand for anyone with COBOL development knowledge. Fedora 33 represents an excellent platform for COBOL development. This article will detail how to install and configure tools, as well as compile and run a COBOL program.

  • 3 Excellent Free Books to Learn about ClojureScript

    ClojureScript is a compiler for Clojure that targets JavaScript. It emits JavaScript code which is compatible with the advanced compilation mode of the Google Closure optimizing compiler. Clojure is a dialect of the Lisp programming language. It’s a well-rounded language. It offers broad library support and runs on multiple operating systems. Clojure is a dynamic functional general purpose programming language that runs on the Java platform, combining the approachability and interactive development of a scripting language with an efficient and robust infrastructure for multi-threaded programming. Clojure features a rich set of immutable, persistent data structures, first-class functions and dynamic typing. Clojure programs are composed of expressions and written in terms of abstractions.

  • ISO 8601: the better date format

    If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that there are different date formats in the world such as the American one (mm/dd/yyyy) and the European one (dd.mm.yyyy). If you’re smart enough, you’ve probably also noticed that the American one makes no sense and is just awful. A simple conclusion that many people draw out of this is that the European format is the best one, however I don’t think this is true. If you’re one of these people who think so, I’m here to (hopefully) change your mind by introducing you to a lesser-known date format called ISO 8601.

Proprietary Software Pains and Security

  • Microsoft to cut perpetual Office support by 50%, raise price by 10%

    Reducing support for Office LTSC and 2021 to five years makes the software less attractive in any comparison with Office 365/Microsoft 365. Perpetual licensing's biggest advantage over subscriptions is cost, but that advantage relies on the customer upgrading relatively infrequently. By offering an upgrade every three years and limiting support to five years, Microsoft has forced customers who want or need perpetual licensing to deploy every version. There's no way to skip an upgrade because there's no overlap in support for versions n and n+2.

  • SolarWinds’s Security Practices Questioned by Lawmakers

    The cyber-attack was revealed in December after FireEye Inc. discovered it while investigating a breach of its own. The [attackers] implanted malicious code into SolarWinds’s popular Orion software, and as many as 18,000 customers received it while updating the software. Far fewer were actually targeted for secondary attacks -- about 100 companies and nine U.S. agencies, according to the White House.

    A persistent question has been how the [attackers] originally breached SolarWinds. At the hearing, SolarWinds CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna said the company was still investigating but had narrowed it to three possible methods. The [attackers] may have used a technique called “password spraying,” where the attackers “spray” passwords at a large volume of usernames. A second possibility was that the [attackers] stole credentials, he said, while the third was a breach of a third-party application used by SolarWinds.

  • Reproducible Builds (diffoscope): diffoscope 168 released

    The diffoscope maintainers are pleased to announce the release of diffoscope version 168. This version includes the following changes:

    * Don't call difflib.Differ.compare with very large inputs; it is at least
      O(n^2) and makes diffoscope appear to hang.
      (Closes: reproducible-builds/diffoscope#240)
    * Don't use "Inheriting PATH of X" in debug log message; use "PATH is X".
    * Correct the capitalisation of jQuery.
    

  • Your old home router is probably vulnerable to hackers [Ed: 'New' Linux FUD from 'old' Microsoft partners]

    Linux is the most-used operating system on Internet routers, but a recent study from Fraunhofer FKIE has shown that these devices are running extremely old and potentially insecure versions of the Linux kernel. While the Fraunhofer report is more than six months old, information security expert Bruce Schneier shared it recently, noting that it has not been widely reported. According to the report, Linux powers more than 90% of broadband routers. However, these devices which act as our gateways to the Internet often run on Linux kernels that are more than ten years old.

Open Source phone news roundup: FreeBSD, Google-free Android, and Ubuntu Touch

The next version of Ubuntu Touch is scheduled to launch on March 10, and the folks at UBPorts are looing for testers willing to check out the latest features, bug fixes, and more. The developers of the ExpidusOS smartphone Linux distribution that uses the Xfce desktop environment have outlined a roadmap for the next six months. And not all of the free and open source operating systems designed for smartphones are based on Linux. One developer has announced plans to build a FreeBSD-based operating system for the PinePhone. And the folks at the /e/ Foundation have been de-Googling Android software for years. Now you can buy a phone with /e/ OS pre-installed and have it shipped to the US or Canada. Previously their phones were only available in Europe. Read more