Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 3rd Sep 2015 19:20 UTC
Android

Like I said, it's Android week in the technology world right now, but I'm not going to write a new post for every Android phone being thrown onto the world stage to be forgotten in a week. Instead, I'm going to focus on a few that I think are particularly interesting, and I'm going to start with Sony. The company has unveiled its Xperia Z5 line and it has to be said - the Z5 Compact, the Z5, and the Z5 Premium - are absolutely gorgeous.

In terms of essential specs, the three Z5s are pretty similar. (The main differences are size, materials, and screen resolution.) There’s the same Snapdragon 810 64-bit processor powering each of them, with both the Z5 and Z5 Premium sporting 3GB of RAM while the smaller Compact gets 2GB. All three devices are dust-tight and waterproof with capless micro USB ports, offer up to 32GB of internal memory (expandable up to 200GB with microSD cards), and have enough battery to last for up two days' use, says Sony.

The Z5 Premium is a monster of a phone - it has a 4K display, which equates to 3840x2160 pixels and a ppi of 806. Pure insanity. Sony claims all three phones - even the Premium - get 2 days of use on a single charge. They look fantastic, but for some reason, nobody seems to buy Sony smartphones.

Moving on, Lenovo unveiled a bunch of smartphones, and I think one of them might be of interest to many of you.

The Vibe P1 and P1m slot in underneath the S1 just slightly, and they're all about simple features and battery life. The Vibe P1 is an all-metal affair, with a 5.5-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 615 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 13MP rear camera and an absolutely huge 5000 mAh battery. That battery enables reverse charging of other devices over USB, and sports quick charging capabilities.

That's a positively huge battery, and should enable some major battery life.

Lastly, there's a new company - lead by former Apple CEO John Sculley - who also unveiled two brand new Android smartphones. The company's called Obi, and their first two phones are the SF1 and SJ1.5. I'll be honest here - I want these phones' babies. They look fun, quirky, and different, and represent a welcome change from the boring, metallic, cold, hospital-esque stuff we get from other phone makers. They got decent specs, too.

That being said, it's a startup - big name co-founder or no - and there's no information on availability and pricing yet, so for all I know, they're never going to be heard from again. Also, as with all the phones mentioned in this post, they're not running stock Android, so don't expect timely updates.

Still, these are some interesting phones.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 3rd Sep 2015 18:14 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I'm actually a very tiny, tiny little bit 'excited' about Samsung's (...eh) new smartwatch, the Gear S2. It looks pretty decent, seems to have a better input method than laggy touch (Wear) or a finicky jog dial nobody uses (Apple Watch), and the software - that's Tizen, so an alternative operating system! Right? Right? - looks nice, and seems to work well too.

The impressive things with the Gear S2 don't end with its new design: Samsung's actually figured out a really smart interaction model for smartwatches that I'm shocked no one else has done yet. There's the touchscreen, yes, just like most other smartwatches, and the Gear S2 has a couple buttons on its side for home and back. But its real trick is in the rotating bezel, which lets you quickly and easily scroll through lists, apps, watch faces, and whatever else you might be looking at on the screen. It's more predictable and intuitive than the Apple Watch's Digital Crown and is a joy to use.

I can't believe that upon first inspection, this Gear S2 actually seems like a really well-designed and well-thought out product, considering we're dealing with Samsung here. This thing still isn't watch enough for my personal taste, but there's no denying that Samsung seems to have done a decent job here.

I hope I get to play with one soon.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 3rd Sep 2015 18:06 UTC
Android

There's a technology conference going on - IFA - and there's lots and lots of Android-related news. First, a lot of Android Wear smartwatches - including the brand new Moto 360.

If you were hoping for a radically different design from Motorola this year, you're barking up the wrong tree. As we saw in the leaks, Motorola has kept the imperfect circle design from the original Moto 360 and added lugs on the top and bottom instead of hiding the strap connectors inside the casing itself. This change makes it significantly easier to swap out the strap with whatever you want, but also makes more room in the casing for things like a beefier battery. The single button on the side of the watch has moved to the 2 o'clock position, making it significantly easier to reach for and use. Curiously, this button now has the Motorola M emblazoned across it.

Other new Wear watches are the Huawei Watch and the Asus ZenWatch 2. There's really not much to say here - they all have the exact same software as the current (or now 'previous', I guess) crop of Wear devices, so if you weren't impressed then, you won't be impressed now.

If you're looking for something different, I suggest you read the next item I'm about to post.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 2nd Sep 2015 08:47 UTC
General Development

The best class I took in college was on the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Until that point, I had avoided philosophy of language as simply being too esoteric and hermetic to be of use. David Pears, a prodigious yet modest and approachable figure visiting from Oxford, changed my mind. In large part because of Pears' instruction, Wittgenstein's philosophy has been directly relevant to my thinking about computer science, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science. When other scholars were thinking that language and thought could be reduced to a universal, logical language, Wittgenstein turned the matter to practical questions and raised incredibly inconvenient questions that gained traction in artificial intelligence in the 1970s, 40 years after he was working on them.

Great article. I found this paragraph especially interesting:

Here's one example. The French equivalents for here and there are ici and là respectively. But if I point to a pen and say, "The pen is here," the French equivalent is not "Le stylo est ici," but "Le stylo est là." In French, là is always used to refer to a specific place or position, while in English here or there can both work. This rule is so obscure I never learned it in French classes, but obviously all native speakers learn it because no one ever uses it differently. It could just as easily be the other way round, but it's not. The situation is not arbitrary, but the way in which language carves up the interaction between mind and world varies in such a way that French speakers recognize certain practices as right or wrong in a different way than English speakers do. This may seem a trivial point, until you have to program a computer to translate "I pointed to Paris on the map and said, 'She is here.' " into French - at which point it becomes a nightmare. (If you are a translator, on the other hand, this is great news.)

Aside from the obvious fact that I can relate to the remark about translators, the author touches upon something that I benefit from every day. I always feel that being multilingual (just Dutch, English, German, some French, and a basic grasp of ancient Greek and Latin - relatively limited when compared to true multilinguals) makes it easier for me to express myself. Being able to use words, concepts, ideas, structures, and conventions from foreign languages and incorporate them into my Dutch - even if only in my inner monologue - allows me to describe objects, concepts, and situations in a more fine-grained, and therefore, more accurate manner (accurate to my perception, which does not mean "more correct" in more absolute terms).

I appreciate how ridiculously pretentious this sounds, but I do firmly believe this is true: being able to understand, read, write, and speak multiple language makes me better at language.

I'm no programmer - something I like to repeat as often as I can to make sure everyone knows where I'm coming from on the subject of programming - but I get the idea that programming is not very different in that regard. That is, being able to program in multiple programming languages will make you better at programming, and not just in the sense that you will be useful in more situations (you can find a job both as a Java and an Objective-C programmer, for instance), but also in the sense that knowledge and experience in programming language Abc will give you new and different insights into programming language Xyz, allowing you to use a certain language in more unconventional ways that people with knowledge of fewer languages might not.

As much as language is an expression of culture, a programming language is an expression of how a computer works. Both contain within them invaluable knowledge that cannot be easily expressed in other languages - and as such, they are invaluable in preserving knowledge, both culturally and digitally.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 2nd Sep 2015 08:09 UTC
Android

Nextbit, a company founded by former Android engineers from Google, HTC, and others, has unveiled its first smartphone. The Robin has a pretty unique and fun design, but the major selling point - they claim - is that the phone intelligently manages its limited storage by offloading lesser-used or unused stuff (content and applications) to the internet. An interesting strategy in the current climate of privacy wariness - especially since these more boutique Android phones tend to be for technologically inclined users, who will be more aware of these issues. One also has to wonder how well this will work and how reliable it'll be, considering the company's young age.

As for specifications:

Speaking of hardware, the Robin is a uniquely designed mid-range Android phone. Nextbit tapped former HTC designer Scott Croyle as its head of design in 2014, and set out to make a phone that stands out among the sea of similar looking phones. The result is a device that's starkly rectangular, but with circular details throughout. The Robin's all-plastic chassis houses a 5.2-inch, 1080p display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of RAM, a 2,680mAh battery, and 13-megapixel camera. Unique additions include a USB Type-C charging port and fingerprint scanner embedded into the side-mounted power button. The Robin is completely carrier and bootloader unlocked and is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile LTE.

Decidedly midrange for a phone that's on Kickstarter right now and will (supposedly) ship in January.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 2nd Sep 2015 07:57 UTC
Google

The web and tech journalists were all afire yesterday. A major new innovation? A brand new software release? Nope - Google has a new logo. Yeah. That's the hard-hitting tech news deserving of totally unbiased and very unpredictable hot takes.

There was actually real Google news too - the company made some changes to how search is displayed on mobile.

With mobile devices in mind, we've also made some changes to our search results page to help you more easily find what you need and dive into diverse content such as images, videos, news stories and more - by simply swiping and tapping.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 2nd Sep 2015 07:30 UTC, submitted by ddc_
Multimedia, AV

Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Cisco, Intel, Netflix, and Amazon today launched a new consortium, the Alliance for Open Media. The group plans to develop next-generation media formats - including audio and still images, but with video as the top priority - and deliver them as royalty-free open source, suitable for both commercial and noncommercial content.

The problem is that the supposed next-generation codec, HVEC, is going to be a lot more expensive, whereas other initiatives, such as Google's VP9/VP10, would surely face patent trolling from the other major players. By coming together like this, all these players can have a say, without fear of them suing each other. That being said, smaller players will still want to sue, but at least the united front should make that a little harder.

And, unsurprisingly, one major player is not part of this new initiative. I guess they didn't like the open and royalty-free part.

 

Linked by Norman Feske on Mon 31st Aug 2015 17:08 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes The Genode project announced the version 15.08 of their OS framework. The most prominent topics of the current release are the use of Genode as day-to-day operating system by their developers and the added ability to run Genode-based systems on top of the Muen separation kernel.

Where monolithic kernel architectures represent one extreme with respect to kernel complexity, separation kernels mark the opposite end. The code complexity of monolithic OS kernels such as Linux is usually counted in terms of millions of lines of code. In stark contrast, modern microkernels such as NOVA and seL4 are comprised of only ten thousand lines of code. Separation kernels go even a step further by reducing the code complexity to only a few thousand lines of code. How is that possible? The answer lies in the scope of functionality addressed by the different types of kernels. The high complexity of monolithic kernels stems from the fact that all major OS functionalities are considered as being in the scope of the kernel. In particular, device drivers and protocol stacks account for most of the code in such kernels. Microkernels disregard such functionalities from the scope of the kernel by moving them to user-level components. The kernel solely retains the functionality that is fundamentally needed to enable those components to work and collaborate. In order to accommodate a wide range of workloads, microkernels typically provide interfaces to user land that enable the dynamic management of low-level resources such as memory, devices, and processing time. Genode's designated role is to supplement microkernels with a scalable and secure user-level OS architecture. In contrast to microkernels, separation kernels disregard dynamic resource management from their scope. All physical resources are statically assigned to a fixed set of partitions at system-integration time and remain unchanged over the lifetime of the system. The flexibility of microkernels is traded for the benefit of further complexity reduction. Their low complexity of just a few thousand lines of code make separation kernels appealing for high-assurance computing. On the other hand, their static nature imposes limitations on their application areas.

Muen as a representative of separation kernels is special in two ways. First, whereas most separation kernels are proprietary software solutions, Muen is an open-source project. Second, the kernel is implemented in the safe SPARK programming language, which is able to formally verify the absence of implementation bugs such as buffer overflows, integer-range violations, and exceptions. Thanks to the close collaboration between the Muen developers and the Genode community, the assurance of the Muen separation kernel can now be combined with the rich component infrastructure provided by Genode. From Genode's perspective, Muen is another architecture for their custom base-hw kernel. In fact, with Genode on Muen, a microkernel-based system is running within the static boundaries of one Muen partition. This way, the component isolation enforced by the base-hw kernel and the static isolation boundaries enforced by Muen form two lines of defense for protecting security-critical system functions from untrusted code sandboxed within a Genode subsystem.

The second major theme of the current release is the use of Genode as the day-to-day operating system by its developers. Since the beginning of June, one of the core developers is exclusively working with a Genode/NOVA-based system. The key element is VirtualBox with its powerful guest-host integration features. It allows for an evolutionary transition from Linux-centric work flows to the use of native Genode applications. Network connectivity is provided by the Intel wireless stack ported from the Linux kernel. File-system access is based on NetBSD's rump kernels. For using command-line based GNU software directly on Genode, the Noux runtime environment comes in handy. The daily use of Genode as general-purpose OS motivated many recent developments, ranging from the management of kernel memory in NOVA, over new system monitoring facilities, SMP guest support in VirtualBox, to user-facing improvements of the GUI stack. These and many more topics are covered by the comprehensive release documentation.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 31st Aug 2015 17:08 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

This new release - one of the final 1.x released before 2.0 and the tablet hit, I suppose - integrates a whole bunch of options and settings related to the Android application support into the Sailfish settings applications, such as stopping/restarting Alien Dalvik, blocking Android applications from accessing your Sailfish contacts, allowing Android applications to keep running properly in the background, and so on.

There's more, so be sure to update.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 31st Aug 2015 17:03 UTC
Windows

I have been using Windows 10 off and on since October of 2014, and as the operating system on my main computer since January 22nd of this year. I honestly could not see me moving back to an older version ever. The improvements to Windows 10 are both dramatic and subtle, and the improvements keep occurring even this shortly after launch. Better for the desktop, better for the tablet, and a platform than runs on practically any computer system. Windows 10 is here, and Microsoft has made a bold statement with it. It is the return of the old, plus the addition of the new, all in a package that works very well on a huge variety of devices.

Just be sure to ignore all the crappy Metro applications, and you'll be fine with Windows 10.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 31st Aug 2015 17:00 UTC
Android

That's right: beginning today, a select set of Android Wear smartwatches (and all future watches) will work with the iPhone. The app should be rolling out worldwide soon. It’s been a long time coming - and it means that Google will be challenging the Apple Watch on its home turf. Those Android Wear watches will be both cheaper and more varied than the Apple Watch - just like Android itself.

Despite Google's claims to the contrary, though, older Wear devices seem to work just fine - reports are coming in for the Moto 360 and LG G Watch also working with the iPhone application just fine.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 29th Aug 2015 14:44 UTC
Apple

Some very smart people I've been talking to suggest that, by building a platform, Apple is generating leverage that it can use to great effect in these negotiations. A mid-market breakout box offering is one thing, but a huge, rumbling platform with an upward trajectory of living-room dominating apps and third-party content is another beast. If, obviously if, Apple is successful with the Apple TV, it could be in a position to dominate content in a way that no other 'smart' TV platform has before it.

If Apple did indeed 'delay' the Apple TV from being released at WWDC, then it probably had a reason. And, if my sources are correct, that reason could well be polish, polish, polish. The experience of using it is said to blow away the types of junky smart TV interfaces we've had to deal with so far. This is the first real Apple TV product.

If you see another annoying settopbox, they blew it.

 

Written by Thom Holwerda on Thu 27th Aug 2015 23:18 UTC
Windows This hit the news yesterday.

Microsoft released Windows 10 four weeks ago today, and now the company is providing a fresh update on its upgrade figures. 14 million machines had been upgraded to Windows 10 within 24 hours of the operating system release last month, and that figure has now risen to more than 75 million in just four weeks.

As somebody who uses Windows every day, and who upgraded to Windows 10 a few weeks before it was released, let me make a statement about all the positive Windows 10 reviews that not everyone is going to like. There are only two reasons Windows 10 is getting positive reviews. First, because it's free. This one's a given. Second, and more importantly: Windows 10 is getting positive reviews because none of the reviewers have forced themselves to use nothing but Metro applications.

Here's the cold and harsh truth as I see it: despite all the promises, Metro applications are still complete and utter garbage. Let me explain why.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 27th Aug 2015 17:28 UTC
Google

While Google remains committed to industry-wide adoption of HTTPS, there isn't always full compliance on third party ad networks and custom creative code served via our systems. To ensure ads continue to serve on iOS9 devices for developers transitioning to HTTPS, the recommended short term fix is to add an exception that allows HTTP requests to succeed and non-secure content to load successfully.

Confirmed: Google wants me to switch to iOS.

Disgusting.

 

Linked by David Adams on Thu 27th Aug 2015 00:48 UTC
BSD and Darwin derivatives Jordan Hubbard spoke recently at the Bay Area FreeBSD Users Group to discuss NextBSD, a "spork" of FreeBSD. He "covers why mach ports are extremely useful in some cases and no UNIX IPC primitive is an adequate substitute." There's a video of the BAFUG talk and copies of the original slide deck that goes into some detail about NextBSD.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 26th Aug 2015 18:04 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

This year's Galaxy Note 5 is an outstanding device - combining power with grace, and utility with handsome looks - but it also has a pretty major design flaw. The phone's stylus can be inserted into its silo in both orientations, which is a change from previous S Pen designs, and one of those orientations can result in permanent damage to the Note's functionality. If you are unfortunate enough to slide your S Pen in the wrong way, you'll have a hard time unjamming it from the slot (though eventually you should be able to pry it away), but more importantly, you might disable the Note's stylus detection feature. It's a big problem that can result from a very small mistake. Samsung has now issued a response, and well, the answer is that you should read and adhere to the manual.

Grab the pitchforks everyone, we got ourselves 'nother -gate!

I can't believe they shipped this thing with this design flaw, especially since it's so easy to fix: just make the 'wrong' end of the stylus a little bit wider so you can't stick it in the wrong way et voilà, problem fixed.

Samsung's response is silly. They should've said "we're replacing all Note 5 styluses with a newer model that can't be inserted the wrong way around, and all damaged devices will be replaced free of charge".

And done.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 26th Aug 2015 17:55 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

Today the Contiki team announced the release of Contiki 3.0, the latest version of the open source IoT operating system! The 3.0 release is a huge step up from the 2.x branch and brings support for new and exciting hardware, a set of new network protocols, a bunch of improvements in the low-power mesh networking protocols, along with a large number of general stability improvements.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 26th Aug 2015 17:54 UTC, submitted by JRepin
KDE

This release of Plasma brings many nice touches for our users such as much improved high DPI support, KRunner auto-completion and many new beautiful Breeze icons. It also lays the ground for the future with a tech preview of Wayland session available. We're shipping a few new components such as an Audio Volume Plasma Widget, monitor calibration tool and the User Manager tool comes out beta.

There's a video too.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 25th Aug 2015 13:24 UTC
Apple

Over the last few days I've been testing an experimental content blocker called Crystal, which promises to speed up browsing on iOS. I've been particularly impressed by the results and taken aback by how much removing trackers, ads and other scripts makes a difference over a cellular connection.

The content blocker is a major selling point for iOS, in my opinion. On Android, this will always be a hack - third party tools, root, that sort of thing - and never properly integrated into the operating system, even though it should be.

Good move by Apple, and together with a lack of a decent Android headset out right now, it's pushing me towards an iPhone when my contract renewal is up in October.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 25th Aug 2015 08:26 UTC
Windows

The level of Windows 10 paranoia reached new heights this week when reports suggested that Microsoft would wipe torrents and pirated software from people's hard drives. Nonsense, of course, but all the recent privacy concerns were enough to have the operating system banned from several torrent trackers.

Another creepy story here. Windows 10's privacy is turning into a headache for Microsoft. It won't be long now until prime time and daytime news shows start picking this stuff up, and blow it out of proportion - deserved or no.