Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 4th Jan 2015 14:28 UTC, submitted by twogunmickey
Hardware, Embedded Systems

I was born in 1973 in Czechoslovakia. It was a small country in the middle of Europe, unfortunately on the dark side of the Iron Curtain. We had never been a part of Soviet Union (as many think), but we were so-called "Soviet Satellite", side by side with Poland, Hungary, and East Germany.

My hobbies were electronics and - in the middle of 80s - computers. The history of computers behind the Iron Curtain is very interesting, with a lot of unusual moments. For example - communists at first called cybernetics as "bourgeois' pseudoscience" (as well as sociology or semiotics), "used to enslave a mankind by machines". But later on they understood the importance of computers, primarily for science and army. So in 50s the Eastern Bloc started to build its own computers, separately and "in its own way".

Absolutely, positively, fascinating. History is written by the winners, so I'm very happy we're still getting the other side of the story, too.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 4th Jan 2015 14:22 UTC

Given that the ME sits in a position where it can configure the chipset and operate on the PCI bus, there are some serious security implications here I wish I could mitigate. Among them is the ability of the ME to run arbitrary code on the host CPU via option ROMs or presenting a disk-drive to boot from. Also among those abilities is the possibility to perform DMA to access host CPU memory. And another one is the ability to configure and use PCI devices present in the system (such as the ethernet card).

As a consumer, I didn't ask for these features. It'd be great to turn them all off. A hardware switch even. And BIOS settings do have a way to "Disable" the ME. But is it truly disabled? It will still run some code at startup I assume. And given that the Intel ME's security model requires that the host CPU is less privileged than the Intel ME, how can the host CPU really turn it off? One example of how the ME is more privileged is the ability to walk around VT-d configuration when performing memory access, which is possibly something required to make PAVP secure.

Baseband processors, FireWire, Apple's Thunderbolt, IME - you may think your operating system is secure, and even if that were true (it isn't), there's still dozens of little pieces of firmware in every machine you own - from your smartwatch to your car - which are closed off, impenetrable black boxes of crappy, insecure code.

As for who or what 'Rosyna' is - I think she or he is a person the author knows. Took me a little while to figure that one out (I thought it was a computer program at first). Not really relevant to the story at hand, but I figured I'd save you the confusion.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 3rd Jan 2015 00:09 UTC
In the News

From Apple's financial followers to the culture pages, expect few technology topics to garner as much attention in 2015 as the Apple Watch, which is set to launch "early" in the year.

Why? Because it's not just a new gadget. Several people, companies, and entire industries are counting on it to be a hit. Without hyperbole, the Apple Watch has the potential to create new billionaires and to change the way people live.

The Apple Watch will sell well, surely. However, this article is definitely not without hyperbole. It will not create new billionaires (well, maybe some Apple employees). It will not "change the way people live".

I'm not a fan of making predictions, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Apple Watch - and the entire smartwatch market - is not going to be all that the technology press wants it to be. My Moto 360 is already in a drawer.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 2nd Jan 2015 18:58 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Fresh off the news that it's acquired the Palm brand, Alcatel has a new Pixi for us. It's not actually the first Pixi from the budget phone maker, but it is pretty unique in its own right: the phone is compatible with three operating systems, being able to run Windows Phone, Android, or Firefox OS. The OS-agnostic Pixi 3 comes in four variants, with a 3.5-inch display 3G model, and three larger versions adding LTE and coming in at 4, 4.5, and 5 inches in size.

alcatel is also releasing a round smartwatch which actually looks kind of nice, but appears to be running some custom software instead of Wear.


Linked by M.Onty on Fri 2nd Jan 2015 18:54 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

David Wood, one of the founder executives of Symbian - and the one who saw it through to the bitter end - has written a book. A very big book.

Smartphones and beyond: Lessons from the remarkable rise and fall of Symbian tells the entire story from Symbian's conception, to world domination, to its rapid demise, and it must be one of the most candid and revealing books a technology executive has ever written.

The Register's Andrew Orlowski has published a review.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 1st Jan 2015 13:08 UTC
Privacy, Security, Encryption

This is an annotated version of my 31C3 talk on Thunderstrike, a significant firmware vulnerability in Apple's EFI firmware that allows untrusted code to be written to the boot ROM and can resist attempts to remove it.

Very detailed write-up on this remarkable vulnerability.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 31st Dec 2014 13:47 UTC

While Android continued to gain market share in the global smartphone market, it saw a significant drop on another key metric: Profits.

Analyst Chetan Sharma estimates that global profits in the Android hardware market for 2014 were down by half from the prior year - the first year that there has been any significant drop.

Google doesn't care, because this is exactly what Google wants. Google wants its services to be everywhere, and Android is the means. Smartphones need to be ubiquitous, and thanks to Android, they now pretty much are. Mission accomplished.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 31st Dec 2014 08:56 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

We've been wondering for a while what is up with domain, and it's looking more and more certain that HP sold the brand and trademarks to Alcatel Onetouch.

Looks like they're going to put the Palm name on cheap-ass Android crap.

Like wiping your ass with the Mona Lisa.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 30th Dec 2014 18:08 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

After raising $1.1 billion in new capital, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has been valued at $46 billion. This means it's worth more in the eyes of investors than even over-performing Uber (currently valued at $41 billion) and is now the most valuable venture-backed tech startup in the world. That's not only testament to the company's growth - sales are up by 300 percent year on year - but it even managed to produce a small profit of $56 million last year. Dedicated apps have kept customers loyal (and offered alternatives to Google services blocked in China) while its online-only sales approach has created hype and saved money on stores. There's just one element of Xiaomi's business that will never be acknowledged: its debt to Apple.

While accusations of Samsung "stealing" from Apple were (mostly!) stupid people falling for aggressive Apple PR, Xiaomi is just absolutely, 100% shameless in its almost one-to-one copying of Apple products. If this company keeps growing and keeps pushing towards the west, they're going to clash with Apple at some point - and the creepy nationalist, anti-east undertones that bubbled to the surface during the Apple/Samsung court cases will turn into all-out racism when this Chinese company inevitably gets sued.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 30th Dec 2014 17:59 UTC
Internet Explorer

Spartan is still going to use Microsoft's Chakra JavaScript engine and Microsoft's Trident rendering engine (not WebKit), sources say. As Neowin's Brad Sams reported back in September, the coming browser will look and feel more like Chrome and Firefox and will support extensions. Sams also reported on December 29 that Microsoft has two different versions of Trident in the works, which also seemingly supports the claim that the company has two different Trident-based browsers.

However, if my sources are right, Spartan is not IE 12. Instead, Spartan is a new, light-weight browser Microsoft is building.

Windows 10 (at least the desktop version) will ship with both Spartan and IE 11, my sources say. IE 11 will be there for backward-compatibility's sake. Spartan will be available for both desktop and mobile (phone/tablet) versions of Windows 10, sources say.

I'm guessing not having to worry about supporting websites built for older versions of IE will make development a lot easier, and the change in name is a huge PR bonus.Shipping two browsers on Windows 10 seems a bit... Well, I don't know, convoluted. Hopefully we'll be able to kick IE right off our computers.


Linked by avgalen on Tue 30th Dec 2014 17:51 UTC
Internet & Networking

Dreamlayers ported DOSBOX via Emscripten into a browser-functional emulator. He did it all by himself, and he did it very well, all things considered. His name for it is em-dosbox.

I'm just going to lay it out and say that Dreamlayers is a software engineering genius, one of those people with a gift for coding and making things work not just better, but understanding what things have to be left tied down and waiting for later improvements. Most of his em-dosbox notes are where Emscripten falls down as a compiling and conversion platform, with indications of how they can be improved. And buried in the code of his is an alien artifact that makes the generated javascript from the process run extremely fast.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 30th Dec 2014 14:15 UTC

A summary of some problems I faced when tinkering with Quake to get it play nicely on an oscilloscope.

Exactly what it says on the tin. Quite amazing.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 28th Dec 2014 19:40 UTC

I found this one via HackerNews - a 2003 article on what Linux needs for "world domination", written by Hugh Fisher.

If Linux is to achieve world domination, it must have One Frickin' User Interface (1FUI): a single user experience / interface behaviour and a single underlying UI toolkit API / widget set. World domination means putting Linux into corporations, schools, PDAs, and cell phones. This will only happen with 1FUI, and if this upsets the nerds, too bad. History clearly shows that if a platform/system offers a choice of user interfaces, the potential users will choose a different system.

It's almost 2015 now, and it turns out he was right. That "1FUI" is called whatever Android has, and it has made Linux the dominant player in the next big computer revolution. Linux does great in servers, embedded stuff, supercomputing, and utterly owns mobile computing (Apple people, the world is bigger than the US, UK, and Australia).

Linux didn't need a 'year of desktop Linux' after all.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 23rd Dec 2014 18:21 UTC
Mozilla & Gecko clones

Firefox OS is coming to Japan and doing it in style.

Announced at a KDDI press event in Tokyo today, the Fx0 is a striking 4.7-inch smartphone with a transparent shell and a home button decorated with the golden Firefox logo embracing the Earth. It runs the latest version of Mozilla's web-centric mobile OS and was designed by noted Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka, whose previous collaboration with KDDI produced a phone worthy of making it into the Museum of Modern Art's collection. With the Fx0, Yoshioka has worked around the familiar outlines of LG's G3 design (LG is the silent partner producing the device) and adapted them to a smaller size while producing a delightful aesthetic in the process. Like a watch with a window showing its internal mechanism, this phone's exposed electronics are a subtle reminder of its technical sophistication - plus, that Firefox home button is just plain cool.

It's different, surely, but.... No. Just no.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 22nd Dec 2014 19:20 UTC

When discussing self-driving cars, people tend to ask a lot of superficial questions: how much will these cars cost? Is this supposed to replace my car at home? Is this supposed to replace taxis or Uber? What if I need to use a drive-thru?

They ignore the smarter questions. They ignore the fact that 45% of disabled people in the US still work. They ignore the fact that 95% of a car's lifetime is spent parked. They ignore how this technology could transform the lives of the elderly, or eradicate the need for parking lots or garages or gas stations. They dismiss the entire concept because they don't think a computer could ever be as good at merging on the freeway as they are.

They ignore the great, big, beautiful picture staring them right in the face: that this technology could make our lives so much better.

Self-driving cars will be the biggest technological breakthrough since the advent of the computer. Beyond 'just' revolutionising personal transportation, it will completely and utterly change the commercial/freight transportation industry.

All of us will benefit from this technology. I cannot wait.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 22nd Dec 2014 00:25 UTC

In 1970, MOS memory chips were just becoming popular, but were still very expensive. Intel had released their first product the previous year, the 3101 RAM chip with 64 bits of storage.[1] For this chip (with enough storage to hold the word "aardvark") you'd pay $99.50. To avoid these astronomical prices, some computers used the cheaper alternative of shift register memory. Intel's 1405 shift register provided 512 bits of storage - 8 times as much as their RAM chip - at a significantly lower price. In a shift register memory, the bits go around and around in a circle, with one bit available at each step. The big disadvantage is that you need to wait for the bit you want to come around, which can take half a millisecond.

Great article.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 21st Dec 2014 20:32 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

It's been almost a year since John Chen was appointed to save Blackberry and it's clear that his grand plan has, at least, stopped the company losing money hand over fist. In the Canadian outfit's latest three month report, it reveals that losses have been trimmed from $4.4 billion last year to a much more manageable $148 million. Of course, it's clear that as the business reinvents itself as a software-and-services company, manufacturing smartphones has increasingly become a side project.

Pretty amazing turnaround financially, but I doubt it'll be enough for the future of Blackberry OS - even if the company itself survives.

I still want the red Passport, though.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 21st Dec 2014 20:24 UTC

Ever since rumors started swirling that Apple was working on a wearable device, I've often thought about what such a device would mean for people with disabilities. My curiosity is so high, in fact, that I've even written about the possibilities. Make no mistake, for users with disabilities such as myself, a wearable like the Apple Watch brings with it usage and design paradigms that, I think, are of even greater impact than what the iPhone in one's pocket has to offer.

Suffice it to say, I'm very excited for Apple Watch's debut sometime next year.

Accessibility is definitely a strong point for Apple - at least compared to the competition - and I don't think the Apple Watch will be any different.


Linked by twitterfire on Sat 20th Dec 2014 00:02 UTC
Privacy, Security, Encryption

German researchers have discovered security flaws that could let hackers, spies and criminals listen to private phone calls and intercept text messages on a potentially massive scale - even when cellular networks are using the most advanced encryption now available.

The flaws, to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, are the latest evidence of widespread insecurity on SS7, the global network that allows the world's cellular carriers to route calls, texts and other services to each other. Experts say it's increasingly clear that SS7, first designed in the 1980s, is riddled with serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 18th Dec 2014 17:47 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Jolla released the tenth major update for Sailfish today, bumping the version number to the as always very useful and helpful The name of the update, also as always in Finnish, isn't helping either: Vaarainjärvi. Joking aside, this tenth update is a massive one - virtually every aspect of the operating system is touched upon in some way, from the lower levels all the way up to UI tweaks.

It's 1.5GB in size, which is pretty huge in Sailfish terms, so make sure to have enough free space for the initial download.