Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st May 2018 22:56 UTC
Apple

The tower form factor may be a thing of the past, at least until the new Mac Pro shows up next year, but for years, if you needed the most powerful and flexible machine money could buy, the Power Mac was the only way to go.

For almost five years, the heart of the Power Mac was the PowerPC G4 chip. Starting in 1999 it clocked at just 350 MHz, but by the time the Power Mac G4 line was retired, a tower with dual 1.42 GHz CPUs could be ordered. In that time frame, things like Gigabit Ethernet, SuperDrives, and Wi-Fi became mainstream.

I have a soft spot for all Macs from the PowerPC G4 era - back when Apple wasn't boring - and the various models of Power Mac G4 aren't exceptions. I can't really explain why I find PowerPC G4 Macs so appealing, even to this day - all I know is that I am dead-set on collecting a number of them, especially those I couldn't ever afford when they were new.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st May 2018 22:52 UTC
Bugs & Viruses

Microsoft and Google are jointly disclosing a new CPU security vulnerability that's similar to the Meltdown and Spectre flaws that were revealed earlier this year. Labelled Speculative Store Bypass (variant 4), the latest vulnerability is a similar exploit to Spectre and exploits speculative execution "that modern CPUs use. Browsers like Safari, Edge, and Chrome were all patched for Meltdown earlier this year, and Intel says these mitigations are also applicable to variant 4 and available for consumers to use today."

However, unlike Meltdown (and more similar to Spectre) this new vulnerability will also include firmware updates for CPUs that could affect performance. Intel has already delivered microcode updates for Speculative Store Bypass in beta form to OEMs, and the company expects them to be more broadly available in the coming weeks. The firmware updates will set the Speculative Store Bypass protection to off-by-default, ensuring that most people won’t see negative performance impacts.

This cat ain't going back in no bag anytime soon.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st May 2018 21:26 UTC
Windows

And the second The Old New Thing story, about adding a Windows 3.1 virtual machine to Windows 95.

As the Windows 95 project started to come together, I was approached to undertake a special project: Run Windows 3.1 in an MS-DOS virtual machine inside Windows 95.

This was the ultimate in backward compatibility, along multiple axes.

First of all, it was a demonstration of Windows 95's backward compatibility by showing that it could even use an emulated MS-DOS virtual machine to run the operating system it was designed to replace.

Second, it was the ultimate backward compatibility ripcord. If you had a program that simply wouldn't work with Windows 95 for whatever reason, you could fire up a copy of Windows 3.1 in a virtual machine and run the program there.

To use it, you installed Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 into separate directories, and then made a few edits to the Windows 3.1 SYSTEM.INI file to replace the mouse and serial drivers with special versions. There were some other preparatory steps that had to be done, but eventually you got to the point where you could double-click the Windows 3.1 icon, and up came Windows 3.1 in an MS-DOS virtual machine.

This is quite similar to how Windows 3.x worked in OS/2 at the time.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st May 2018 20:50 UTC
Windows

I've got two fun The Old New Thing stories for you today, starting with a story about Windows' ZIP file support.

Every so often, a customer will ask whether Windows Compressed Folders (Zip folders) supports something fancy like AES encryption, and we have to shake our head and apologize. "Sorry, no."

Why this sad state of affairs?

The compression and decompression code for Zip folders was licensed from a third party. This happened during the development of Windows XP. This means that the feature set of Zip folders was locked to whatever features were hip and cool as of around the year 2000.

You'd think Windows would eventually start supporting other archive formats as well, but no.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st May 2018 00:16 UTC
Mac OS X

What do Photoshop, Matlab, Panic Transmit, and Eclipse have in common? They are among the 299 apps for which macOS applies compatibility fixes.

Here's the full list of bundle IDs, along with the functions that checks for them, and the first caller to those functions. It's also available in CSV format.

Note that this is just a list of apps Apple has developed compatibility tweaks to make them run on newer macOS versions. As the list demonstrates, even the best apps often needs some tweaks on newer macOS. In addition, most of these patches are only applied to older versions of apps.

Here's how I extracted the list, and some interesting things I found in it.

This is absolutely fascinating, and provides some amazing insight into which applications Apple considers crucial to the macOS user experience and platform. We all know Windows performs various tricks to maintain backwards compatibility, but I had no idea Apple went to decent lengths too for the same reasons.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st May 2018 00:09 UTC
Android

We go through this every time a new version comes to Google's own phones while we wait for it to come to the rest. And the outcome is always the same - Pixel phones (and previous Nexus phones) look the way Google wants them to look and the rest of the phones look however the company that made them want them to look. That's because you can't see Android - it's simply software that supports the things you're looking at.

It's confusing. And tech bloggers (myself included) don't help ease the confusion very well when we write about the things we see on a software update for the Pixel. It's too difficult to try and break everything down every time we write something, and while we are good at a lot of things, we tend to shy away from "difficult". To compound it all, when we do try to break "Android" down, we usually make it worse. I'm going to try here because I'm feeling courageous and want to face "difficult" head on today. If I don't come back, tell my wife I love her.

Android is quite a complicated term, entity, and operating system.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st May 2018 00:04 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

When contemplating who’d be a major player in the Android smartphone business, the gaming hardware giant Razer probably doesn’t come to mind. While they have yet to establish themselves as a reliable smartphone provider, Razer’s first attempt did not at all seem like it was their first time dabbling into Android, likely because much of their engineering team came from Nextbit. Razer leveraged their status in gaming hardware to appeal to those who game, and those who game hold high refresh rate monitors in high regard. So Razer put one on a smartphone.

This article takes a close look at the Razor phone's display, which is rather unique among Android phones for its 120Hz refresh rate (iPhones have 120Hz displays as well).

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 20th May 2018 23:12 UTC
In the News

Bold efforts to push academic publishing towards an open-access model are gaining steam. Negotiators from libraries and university consortia across Europe are sharing tactics on how to broker new kinds of contracts that could see more articles appear outside paywalls. And inspired by the results of a stand-off in Germany, they increasingly declare that if they don’t like what publishers offer, they will refuse to pay for journal access at all. On 16 May, a Swedish consortium became the latest to say that it wouldn't renew its contract, with publishing giant Elsevier.

A lot of this research in partially or fully tax-funded, and as such, published articles must be freely available to the public. Good development.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 20th May 2018 20:45 UTC
Android

We just got a look at the upcoming RED Hydrogen One smartphone at an event meant for "RED Pioneers" (read: superfans). It is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious smartphones in years from a company not named Apple, Google, or Samsung. It's an Android phone with a 5.7-inch display and top-tier phone specs, but that description doesn't do justice to what RED is trying to accomplish here.

The company better known for high-end 4K cameras with names like "Weapon" and "Epic-w" isn't entering the smartphone game simply to sell you a better Android phone (though it does have both Verizon and AT&T signed on to support it). No, this phone is meant to be one piece of a modular system of cameras and other media creation equipment - the company claims it will be "the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system".

I doubt this phone will ever have any mass-market success, but that's not really the point anyway. I like that RED is trying something new, something different, and takes it to the extreme with this industrial design. The module system here is different from previous failed attempts at doing so in that it's designed to tie in with RED's popular and expensive camera's and lenses from other big camera brands, instead of trying to appeal to the mass market.

This might actually work out.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 19th May 2018 20:39 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

The 76477 Complex Sound Generation chip (1978) provided sound effects for Space Invaders and many other video games. It was also a popular hobbyist chip, easy to experiment with and available at Radio Shack. I reverse-engineered the chip from die photos and found some interesting digital circuitry inside. Perhaps the most interesting is a shift register based white noise generator, useful for drums, gunshots, explosions and other similar sound effects. The chip also uses a digital mixer to combine the chip's different sound generators. An unusual feature of the chip is that it uses Integrated Injection Logic (I2L), a type of digital logic developed in the 1970s with the goal of high-density, high-speed chips.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 18th May 2018 22:25 UTC
Apple

A number of prominent third-party iOS developers have formed a union to put pressure on Apple to change several App Store policies.

We believe that people who create great software should be able to make a living doing it. So we created The Developers Union to advocate for sustainability in the App Store.

Today, we are asking Apple to publicly commit - by the tenth anniversary of the App Store this July - to allowing free trials for all apps in the App Stores before July 2019. After that, we'll start advocating for a more reasonable revenue cut and other community-driven, developer-friendly changes.

I've railed against the long-term sustainability of the application store model for years now, long before it became en vogue in wider developer circles. I absolutely love the idea of independent developers forming a union - even if it's not a literal union - as a means to put pressure on Apple, Google, and other owners of application stores to take better care of developers.

At the same time, I fear that they are too late - the vast majority of the App Store's revenue comes from crappy pay-to-win mobile games, not from well-made, lovingly crafted applications. I simply don't think these developers are important enough to a bean-counting bottom-liner like Tim Cook.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 18th May 2018 22:17 UTC
Google

Since Google revealed a robo-caller that sounds eerily human earlier this month, the company has faced plenty of questions about how it works. Employees got some answers this week.

On Thursday, the Alphabet Inc. unit shared more details on how the Duplex robot-calling feature will operate when it's released publicly, according to people familiar with the discussion. Duplex is an extension of the company's voice-based digital assistant that automatically phones local businesses and speaks with workers there to book appointments.

At Google’s weekly TGIF staff meeting on Thursday, executives gave employees their first full Duplex demo and told them the bot would identify itself as the Google assistant. It will also inform people on the phone that the line is being recorded in certain jurisdictions, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private matters. A Google spokesman declined to comment.

This is a good step, and while the technology is awesome, I'm still quite reluctant about whether or not we really need this. Aside from the very legitimate use cases for people with disabilities, to whom this technology could be life-changing, I'm wondering just what regular users get out of it.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 18th May 2018 22:15 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces

Today (May 15, 2018) is the 30 year anniversary of CHI'88 (May 15-19, 1988), where Jack Callahan, Ben Shneiderman, Mark Weiser and I (Don Hopkins) presented our paper "An Empirical Comparison of Pie vs. Linear Menus". We found pie menus to be about 15% faster and with a significantly lower error rate than linear menus!

This article will discuss the history of what's happened with pie menus over the last 30 years (and more), present both good and bad examples, including ideas half baked, experiments performed, problems discovered, solutions attempted, alternatives explored, progress made, software freed, products shipped, as well as setbacks and impediments to their widespread adoption.

Fantastic read with fantastic examples. Set some time aside for this one - you won't regret it.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 18th May 2018 20:26 UTC
Legal

In another week the GDPR, or the General Data Protection Regulation will become enforceable and it appears that unlike any other law to date this particular one has the interesting side effect of causing mass hysteria in the otherwise rational tech sector.

This post is an attempt to calm the nerves of those that feel that the(ir) world is about to come to an end, the important first principle when it comes to dealing with any laws, including this one is Don’t Panic. I’m aiming this post squarely at the owners of SME’s that are active on the world wide web and that feel overwhelmed by this development. A bit of background about myself: I’ve been involved in the M&A scene for about a decade, do technical due diligence for a living (together with a team of 8). This practice and my feeling that the battle for privacy on the web is one worth winning which has led me to study online privacy in some detail puts me in an excellent position to see the impact of this legislation first hand as well as how companies tend to deal with it.

The GDRP is not nearly as draconian or complex as people are scared into believing (mostly by people who conveniently also sell GDRP compliance services). Over the past few weeks and months, I've translated countless internal and external corporate documents about the GDPR from companies both big and small, for all kinds of sectors, many of which you know, and none of them are freaking out and none of them find this particularly difficult or complicated. Even a legal simpleton like me understands it just fine, and all I need to do is translate texts about it.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 17th May 2018 23:05 UTC
General Development

Embedded systems have started to become extremely complex. The big push to connect every device to the internet to create the IoT is causing a demand for embedded software engineers that has not yet been seen in recent history. This big push is causing a vacuum in which companies can't find enough embedded software engineers. Instead of training new engineers, they are starting to rely on application developers, who have experience with Windows applications or mobile devices, to develop their real-time embedded software. The problem, of course, is that these engineers don't understand the low-level hardware, but only high-level application frameworks that do all the work for them.

Is this actually true? It's very difficult to gauge this, since most focus when it comes to development is on "sexy" development, such as smartphone applications or websites - there's very little media visibility for lower-level engineering such as embedded developers, kernel engineers, and so on. Since I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of believing that everything was better in the past, I genuinely wonder if this is really actually a problem, or that we just perceive it as such.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 17th May 2018 22:59 UTC
In the News

The bitcoin network is run by miners, computers that maintain the shared transaction ledger called the blockchain. A new study estimates that this process consumes at least 2.6GW of power - almost as much electric power as Ireland consumes. This figure could rise to 7.7GW before the end of 2018 - accounting for almost half a percent of the world's electricity consumption.

Bitcoin is - quite literally - destroying our environment. It's erasing the meagre progress we've made on reducing our overal energy consumption, for a glorified Tulipmania.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 17th May 2018 22:19 UTC
Google

Google has built a multibillion-dollar business out of knowing everything about its users. Now, a video produced within Google and obtained by The Verge offers a stunningly ambitious and unsettling look at how some at the company envision using that information in the future.

The video was made in late 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at X (formerly Google X), and shared internally within Google. It imagines a future of total data collection, where Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations to solve global problems like poverty and disease.

This is exactly as dystopian and deeply creepy as you think it is. My biggest concern is not that this video exists or that companies such as Google are thinking about this - my biggest concern is that a whole generation of people already seem to accept this as the new normal even before it's a reality.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 17th May 2018 22:02 UTC
Google

Previously, HTTP usage was too high to mark all HTTP pages with a strong red warning, but in October 2018 (Chrome 70), we'll start showing the red "not secure" warning when users enter data on HTTP pages.

Seemingly small change, but still hugely significant. Right now, HTTPS pages are marked as secure, and HTTP pages are not marked at all. In the future, HTTPS pages will not be marked, while HTTP pages will be marked as insecure.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 17th May 2018 12:13 UTC
Games

The operative word is "adaptive". XAC's potential truly begins with its back-side strip. There, you'll find a whopping 19 ports, all 3.5mm jacks. No, this isn't a giant middle finger to the headphone-jack haters at Apple and Google. Rather, these ports see Microsoft connecting with, and loudly celebrating, what has long been an open secret in the world of gaming peripherals: the community of add-on devices designed for limited-mobility gamers.

Oversized buttons, finger switches, blowing tubes, foot pedals, and other specialized inputs have long been built for gamers who can't hold onto or efficiently use average controllers (gamepads, keyboards, mice). Recent speeches from company heads like CEO Satya Nadella and Xbox chief Phil Spencer have paid lip service to "inclusivity" in computing and gaming, but this device, the XAC, aims to do the trick by connecting niche add-ons to standard Microsoft hardware.

This is a hugely important device for gamers with limited mobility. Nothing but praise for Microsoft for developing a device like this.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 17th May 2018 12:08 UTC
Legal

The Senate has voted to save net neutrality, but don’t get your hopes up: there’s still a long, likely impossible journey ahead if the policy is to be saved in the immediate future.

In a 52-47 vote today, senators voted to overturn the Federal Communication Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which took net neutrality rules off the books. They were able to do so using the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which allows Congress to reverse recent decisions by government agencies. Republican control of Congress means that such a measure wouldn’t normally even make it up for a vote; but the CRA allows senators to force a vote by obtaining 30 signatures.

All 49 Democrats voted in favor, as well as Republican Senators Susan Collins, of Maine; John Kennedy, of Louisiana; and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska.

This is a step in the right direction for the US, but corruption runs deep, so this fight is far, far from over. Still, a victory is a victory.