Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 22nd Jan 2016 14:04 UTC
In the News

This week, the French government announced a plan to standardize the French-language computer keyboard, as part of an effort to help protect and nurture the language. The ministry of culture and communication says it's "nearly impossible to correctly write French" on keyboards sold in the country today, meaning that the language's strict grammatical rules are being flouted more regularly. The ministry has partnered with a standardization group to develop a new keyboard norm, which will be presented for public feedback this summer.

To many monolingual people - especially those in English-speaking countries - the idea of a keyboard layout influencing a language as a whole often seems insane. It happens, though, and it's very real - I talked about this before, but for Dutch. Modern technology really is changing language in multiple ways all over the place. This really isn't up for debate.

The question, however, is not if technology can change language; no, the real question is whether or not you should care. I personally believe that no, you should not. Language has always been ever-changing, is ever-changing, and always will be ever-changing. The idea that one particular set of rules for English, French, or Dutch from a very particular area and from a very particular timeframe is somehow more or less correct is not only wrong, it's downright insulting.

Much like other aspects of culture, language is often used as a means to discriminate, insult, or ridicule. A great - and sad - example of this is African American Vernacular English, which was often seen as dumb, stupid, and incorrect, reflecting the perceived social position of African-Americans in American society and emphasizing stereotypes about African-Americans. However, when linguists actually started studying AAVE, they found out it was incredibly rich in grammatical rules and constructs that are very different from regular English, but not dumber or less complex.

Coincidentally, AAVE sounds beautiful. It flows really well.

The point being, the idea that you somehow need to "protect" language is kind of silly. Stopping a language from changing - which is exactly what "protecting language" means - is like trying to make it stop raining. If you start to try and stop a language from changing, basically all you're doing is trying to create an ever-widening rift between written language and spoken language, up to a point where the written word deviates so much from the spoken word it starts to get troublesome.

There's nothing wrong with wanting a standardised French keyboard - even if only for something as important as accessibility - but it's not going to stop the French language from changing, being influenced, and modernising itself.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 20th Jan 2016 00:33 UTC

But Google over the past year or so has gotten serious about getting more apps in front of more users, particularly in search results - which remains Google's bread and butter. App indexing - wherein Google actually sorts through the content of an app so it can present it back to users in any number of ways - is the key to all this. You can open a traditional web search result directly into an app. And later Google would show a button that take you to the Play Store to install the app.

And now Google has cut out the middleman - for some of us, at least - by skipping the step of opening the Google Play Store app before installing. Technically speaking, that's probably not a huge leap. And, frankly, it's not as big a deal as headlines are making it seem.

Installing applications is just one of the many things where Android outshines iOS. For instance, it's 2016, and you still can't install applications from the App Store web listing to your iPhone or iPad. I spend most of my computing time on my desktop computer, and I've lost count of how many times I came across an interesting iOS application, only to realise that the only way to actually install on my iPhone was to actually get my iPhone, which could be anywhere in the house, open the App Store, search for the application, hopefully actually find it (search in the App Store is dreadfully bad), and then install it, all the while hoping the App Store app won't soil its undies halfway through.

For Android applications, I just click install on the Play Store web listing, and I'm done. It's one of those niceties that companies that understand web services can do properly without much effort. And it seems like Google is taking all this a step further now, allowing you to install stuff straight from Google Search

Meanwhile, the iOS App Store application is so unreliable and terrible, it needs a hidden "tap ten times to reload" shortcut.



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 20th Jan 2016 00:21 UTC
In the News

Cobalt mined by child laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be entering the supply chains of major tech companies like Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft, as well as auto manufacturers like Volkswagen and Daimler AG, according to an investigation from Amnesty International and Afrewatch, a DRC-based non-government organization.

The report, released today, lays out how cobalt mined by children as young as seven is sold to a DRC-based subsidiary of Huayou Cobalt, a Chinese company. The subsidiary, Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM), processes cobalt ore and sells it to companies in China and South Korea, where it is used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for use in smartphones and electric cars. Amnesty contacted 16 multinational companies listed as customers of the battery makers, based on investor documents and public records. Most said they were unaware of any links to the companies cited in the report, while others, like Apple and Microsoft, said they were evaluating their supply chains. Amnesty says that none of the companies provided enough information to independently verify the origin of their cobalt supply.

This will remain a problem for a long time to come. Many of the rare resources we use every day are gathered in some of the most unstable and poorest places on earth.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 20th Jan 2016 00:18 UTC

All of the new features introduced in iOS 9.x (plus the iPad Pro) point to Apple's intentions for the iPad, which still sells fairly well but has experienced a steady year-over-year sales slide for every quarter since early 2014. Like the iPhone, the iPad will continue to be a touch-first platform that assumes you're using the touchscreen as the primary method of input, but it will continue to pick up more "computer-y" features that make better use of its larger screen and more powerful internal hardware.

With that in mind, here are a few iPad-specific feature requests for iOS 10, all of which balance the iPad's traditional strengths and the needs of people more used to "traditional" desktop OSes.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 18th Jan 2016 23:55 UTC

Well, this is interesting. The Dutch Consumentenbond, the largest consumer protection advocacy agency in The Netherlands, today filed a lawsuit against Samsung demanding the company starts properly updating its Android phones. The Consumentenbond had been in talks with Samsung about this issue for a while now, but no positive outcome was reached, and as such, they saw no other option but to file suit.

The Consumentenbond is demanding that Samsung provides two years of updates for all its Android devices, with the two-year period starting not at the date of market introduction of the device, but at the date of sale. This means that devices introduced one or even more years ago that are still being sold should still get two years' worth of updates starting today.

There's actually an official English version of the press release (as a translator, I am genuinely surprised about that).

Bart Combée, director of the Consumentenbond: "On buying a Samsung Android device, consumers are given inadequate information about how long they will continue to receive software updates. The Consumentenbond is demanding that Samsung provide its customers with clear and unambiguous information about this. Samsung moreover provides insufficient information about critical security vulnerabilities, such as Stagefright, in its Android phones. Finally, the Consumentenbond is demanding that Samsung actually provide its smartphones with updates."

The Consumentenbond's own research has shown that 82% of the Samsung phones sold in The Netherlands did not get updates to the most recent version of Android in the two-year period, which leads to all kinds of security issues and other problems. While Samsung, which has a smartphone market share in The Netherlands of about 80% (yeah... Sorry about that), is the focus of this particular lawsuit, the Consumentenbond notes that other manufacturers are guilty of the same problems.

It will not come as a surprise to any of you that I sincerely applaud this effort. The Android update clusterfrick is by far the biggest problem in the Android world, and OEMs should be, if possible, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for their negligent practices regarding updating their software. There is an extremely strong mandatory EU warranty policy on all products sold in the EU of at least two years, and Samsung and other Android OEMs are clearly failing to follow this law.

That being said, the minutiae of any possible outcome of this lawsuit are extremely crucial. Not only should Samsung and other OEMs be legally forced to release updates for their smartphones for at least two years (I would personally prefer three or four years, actually, but let's start somewhere), the updates ought to be timely. Every Android smartphone should be updated to the latest version of Android for two years after sale of said smartphone, with each update being released no later than four weeks after code availability from Google.

If this means they have to spend more resources on their development team - so be it. If this means they can no longer sell outdated, crappy hardware because newer Android versions would be too slow - so be it. If this means they have to work more closely with Google to prepare for new releases - so be it. None of that should be the concern of any consumer.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 18th Jan 2016 21:44 UTC
General Development

The goal of this project is to preserve and present primary and secondary source materials (including specifications, source code, manuals, and papers discussing design and implementation) from Mesa, the system programming language designed at Xerox PARC in the 1970s and used to implement the Xerox Star office automation system and its follow-ons. The editor greatly appreciates comments, suggestions, and donations of additional materials.

Wikipedia has a short overview of Mesa, and here's the 1979 Mesa Language Manual, which is obviously a lot more in-depth.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 17th Jan 2016 13:27 UTC

Microsoft has detailed its support plans for new and upcoming processor generations. The general gist: all upcoming processor generations from Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm will require Windows 10. Windows 8.x and Windows 7 will not be supported on these new platforms.

Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support. This enables us to focus on deep integration between Windows and the silicon, while maintaining maximum reliability and compatibility with previous generations of platform and silicon. For example, Windows 10 will be the only supported Windows platform on Intel's upcoming "Kaby Lake" silicon, Qualcomm's upcoming "8996" silicon, and AMD's upcoming "Bristol Ridge" silicon.

Through July 17, 2017, Skylake devices on the supported list will also be supported with Windows 7 and 8.1. During the 18-month support period, these systems should be upgraded to Windows 10 to continue receiving support after the period ends. After July 2017, the most critical Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 security updates will be addressed for these configurations, and will be released if the update does not risk the reliability or compatibility of the Windows 7/8.1 platform on other devices.

You better be prepared for this when shopping for new hardware in the coming years.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 17th Jan 2016 13:27 UTC

In an email to some Windows Insider testers, obtained by The Verge, Microsoft is looking for iPhone users to trial the Word Flow keyboard. It's not clear when Word Flow will be released publicly on iOS, but Microsoft is already ready to test it more broadly so it will likely arrive in the coming months. Microsoft's Windows Phone version of Word Flow includes autocorrect, suggestions, gestures, and the ability to swipe letters (like Swype) to type out words.

I'm actually excited about this. I can't stand the iOS keyboard, but I consider the Windows Phone keyboard to be the best one around.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Jan 2016 19:39 UTC

Apple Inc. may be facing a hefty tax bill in Europe.

The world's largest company could owe more than $8 billion in back taxes as a result of a European Commission investigation into its tax policies, according to an analysis by Matt Larson of Bloomberg Intelligence. Apple, which has said it will appeal an adverse ruling, is being scrutinized by regulators who have accused the iPhone maker of using subsidiaries in Ireland to avoid paying taxes on revenue generated outside the U.S.

The EC is investigating a whole slew of companies for tax avoidance, and that is, of course, nothing but a good thing. These shady constructions that only benefit the extremely wealthy have no place in any modern society.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Jan 2016 14:05 UTC
Multimedia, AV

Some members use proxies or "unblockers" to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won't impact members not using proxies.

Good luck with that.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Jan 2016 14:02 UTC

If you long for the days of 2011, when 5.3-inch smartphones were enormous outliers rather than the norm, Sony has some news that may interest you: its flagship Xperia Z5 smartphone and its smaller-but-still-high-end sibling the Xperia Z5 Compact are coming to the US on February 7, 2016.

Sony smartphones are the only non-Nexus Android phones I'd even remotely consider buying. Even though they, too, suffer from the ridiculous update situation, they are at least trying to sell a nice, compact, high-end Android phone. In fact, I find it kind of remarkable that some version of the Z5 Compact isn't available in a Nexus configuration.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Jan 2016 10:09 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

So long as basebands are not audited, and smartphones do not possess IOMMUs and have their operating systems configure them in a way that effectively mitigates the threat, no smartphone can be trusted for the integrity or confidentiality of any data it processes.

This being the case, the quest for "secure" phones and "secure" communications applications is rather bizarre. There are only two possible roads to a secure phone: auditing baseband or using an IOMMU. There can't even begin to be a discussion on secure communications applications until the security of the hardware is established.

I've written about this a long time ago, and it remains true today. Your phone is not secure, by definition, regardless of platform. Governments should legally demand phone manufacturers to fully publish all source code to the baseband chips they use, or be barred from sales. Mobile phone networks have become a crucial pillar of our society, and as citizens, we have the right to know what's going on in baseband chips.

Of course, that's not going to happen - governments benefit from the inherent lack of any form of security in our mobile phone network - but one can dream.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 14th Jan 2016 22:32 UTC

Apple has released a public beta of iOS 9.3. Its major new features:

iOS 9.3 is a major update to the iOS 9 operating system, introducing a long list of new features and improvements. iOS 9.3's biggest new feature is Night Shift mode, which is designed to automatically cut down on the amount of blue light an iOS user is exposed to at night by shifting to more yellow tones for the iPhone or iPad's display. With iOS 9.3, there's a number of changes for educational users, and the iPhone is now able to pair with multiple Apple Watches.

Of course, "Night Shift", as Apple calls it, is a wholesale copy of f.lux.

In any event, Apple also released a public beta of OS X 10.11.4.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 14th Jan 2016 00:00 UTC
Talk, Rumors, X Versus Y

Enter the message bots. As 2016 dawns, there's a sense in Silicon Valley that the decades-old fantasy of a true digital assistant is due to roar back into the mainstream. If the trend in past years has been assistants powered by voice - Siri, Alexa, Cortana - in 2016 the focus is shifting to text. And if the bots come, as industry insiders are betting they will, there will be casualties: with artificial intelligence doing the searching for us, Google may see fewer queries. Our AI-powered assistants will manage more and more of our digital activities, eventually diminishing the importance of individual, siloed apps, and the app stores that sell them. Many websites could come to feel as outdated as GeoCities pages - and some companies might ditch them entirely. Nearly all of the information they provide can be fed into a bot and delivered via messaging apps.

This seems a bit... Overblown. Bots are going to revolutionise a lot over the coming decades, but messaging bots replacing the point and click interface we've been using ever since Xerox invented it?

Much like the death of the PC or Apple, the end of our current HUI metaphor has been predicted more times than I can remember - I don't see how this one is any different.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 13th Jan 2016 01:25 UTC

The first alpha release of Remix OS 2.0 - which we talked about a few days ago - is now officially released. It's clearly an alpha, though, so don't try to use this on any important machines. I have been unable to get it to work - I just get "checking media fail" upon boot - but others are reporting it works, so I guess your mileage may vary.

That being said - I'd be a little weary of the EULA. It seems like it contains some regular Chinese boilerplate stuff (other Chinese companies are using the same boilerplate stuff, such as Xiaomi), which sounds incredibly heavy-handed to us. Not sure what to make of this just yet - maybe the company will clarify this one.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 12th Jan 2016 22:20 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

The solve for this has been smartwatches designed specifically for women, to varying degrees of offense. Resizing is the first step: a thinner strap, a smaller face, more delicate styling (though, of course, not all women have tiny wrists, the same way that not all men have big wrists). Colorways come next, trading "masculine" black, gray, or brown for "feminine" white, tan, and now-ubiquitous rose gold (seriously, ever since Apple added rose gold to their lineup in September, every damn tech company has followed suit). The final step in making wearable tech for ladies? Throw some jewels on it. Sigh.

Technology companies and designing products for women don't go well together, and never have - smartwatches and fitness trackers just highlight this problem like never before.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 11th Jan 2016 23:38 UTC
General Development

By now, simply taking over a game and replacing it with a brand new app was beginning to feel a little predictable. So this year, TASBot decided to show off a new skill. At the AGDQ marathon, the bot set out to edit new features onto a game that's still running in active memory. TASBot wanted to be magnanimous with its new capabilities, too, allowing human players (and livestream viewers) the opportunity to edit the game on the fly.

But just how did TASBot - and the team of coders behind it - intend to turn an old game of Super Mario World, running on a standard SNES, into a heavily editable game of Super Mario Maker? Luckily, we had a behind-the-scenes invite to the event and the opportunity to find out.

I spent most of last week watching AGDQ (and donating, of course), and this particular segment blew my mind.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 11th Jan 2016 23:35 UTC
Bugs & Viruses

For the past few weeks, has been forcing visitors to disable ad blockers if they want to read its content. Visitors to the site with Adblock or uBlock enabled are told they must disable it if they wish to see any Forbes content. Thanks to Forbes' interstitial ad and quote of the day, Google caching doesn't capture data properly, either.

What sets Forbes apart, in this case, is that it didn't just force visitors to disable ad blocking - it actively served them malware as soon as they did. Details were captured by security researcher Brian Baskin, who screenshotted the process.

There are no words for this level of stupidity.


Linked by diegocg on Mon 11th Jan 2016 20:02 UTC

Linux 4.4 has been released This release adds support for 3D support in virtual GPU driver, which allows 3D hardware-accelerated graphics in virtualization guests; loop device support for Direct I/O and Asynchronous I/O, which saves memory and increases performance; support for Open-channel SSDs, which are devices that share the responsibility of the Flash Translation Layer with the operating system; the TCP listener handling is completely lockless and allows for faster and more scalable TCP servers; journalled RAID5 in the MD layer which fixes the RAID write hole; eBPF programs can now be run by unprivileged users, and perf has added support for eBPF programs aswell; a new mlock2() syscall that allows users to request memory to be locked on page fault; and block polling support.

There are also new drivers and many other small improvements. Here is the full list of changes.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 11th Jan 2016 19:53 UTC, submitted by Danu
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

It's bittersweet news for die-hard BlackBerry fans, a shrinking, but fiercely loyal group. Yes, BlackBerry will continue to exist, but won't offer any phones running on its own BlackBerry 10 software. Still, future Android BlackBerry devices means more choice besides the usual mix of Samsung, LG or HTC Android phones.

Something about a tree falling in a forest, but that might be a bit cruel.