Google’s secret ‘Project Nightingale’ gathers personal health data on millions of Americans

Google is teaming with one of the country’s largest health-care systems on a secret project to collect and crunch the detailed personal health information of millions of Americans across 21 states, according to people familiar with the matter and internal documents.

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The data involved in Project Nightingale includes lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, complete with patient names and dates of birth.

Neither patients nor doctors have been notified. At least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter.

There’s a lot of money to be made in healthcare, and it was only a matter of time before creepy technology companies like Google would want a piece of this pie – through massive amounts of personal information.

Technically, this is all above board, though. It’s fully within federal regulations and laws, so this practice is unlikely to stop.

Viral tweet about Apple Card leads to Goldman Sachs probe

A Wall Street regulator is opening a probe into Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s credit card practices after a viral tweet from a tech entrepreneur alleged gender discrimination in the new Apple Card’s algorithms when determining credit limits.

A series of posts from David Heinemeier Hansson starting Thursday railed against the Apple Card for giving him 20 times the credit limit that his wife got. The tweets, many of which contain profanity, immediately gained traction online, even attracting comment from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Hansson didn’t disclose any specific income-related information for either of them but said they filed joint tax returns and that his wife has a better credit score than he does.

The whole Twitter thread by David Heinemeier Hansson is an exercise in inflexible bureaucracy and an unshakable belief in the black box algorithm that nobody even seems to understand. Bias in algorithms is a real problem, and it will only become a bigger problem as they become more and more important in every aspect of our society.

IBM, sonic delay lines, and the history of the 80×24 display

What explains the popularity of terminals with 80×24 and 80×25 displays? A recent blog post “80×25” motivated me to investigate this. The source of 80-column lines is clearly punch cards, as commonly claimed. But why 24 or 25 lines? There are many theories, but I found a simple answer: IBM, in particular its dominance of the terminal market. In 1971, IBM introduced a terminal with an 80×24 display (the 3270) and it soon became the best-selling terminal, forcing competing terminals to match its 80×24 size. The display for the IBM PC added one more line to its screen, making the 80×25 size standard in the PC world. The impact of these systems remains decades later: 80-character lines are still a standard, along with both 80×24 and 80×25 terminal windows.

As noted, a follow-up to our earlier discussion.

What happened if you tried to access a network file bigger than 2GB from MS-DOS?

One of my friends is into retrocomputing, and he wondered what happened on MS-DOS if you asked it to access a file on a network share that was bigger than what FAT16 could express.

My friend was under the mistaken impression that when MS-DOS accessed a network resource, it was the sector access that was remoted. Under this model, MS-DOS would still open the boot sector, look for the FAT, parse it, then calculate where the directories were, read them directly from the network hard drive, and write raw data directly to the network hard drive.

This is not how it works.

Raymond Chen is an international treasure.

AMD Q4: 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X, Threadripper up to 32-Core 3970X

AMD is set to close out the year on a high note. As promised, the company will be delivering its latest 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X processor, built with two 7nm TSMC chiplets, to the consumer platform for $749. Not only this, but AMD today has lifted the covers on its next generation Threadripper platform, which includes Zen 2-based chiplets, a new socket, and an astounding 4x increase in CPU-to-chipset bandwidth.

At this point it’s starting to feel like kicking Intel when they’re down.

Bill Gates: everyone would be using Windows Mobile instead of Android if not for the US antitrust investigation

Gates said that he has no “doubt the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft” as the company would have otherwise focused more on developing the mobile operating system. The lawsuit ended up distracting him away from Windows Mobile and he ultimately “screwed that up“.

He also said that Microsoft was “three months too late on a release” that would have been used by Motorola on a smartphone. While he did not provide the specifics, it is possible that Gates is referring to the iconic Motorola Droid which launched with Android and made consumers in the US notice the OS thanks to the heavy marketing push from Verizon and Motorola.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is actually quite close to reality. Had Verizon and an – at the time – influential phone makers like Motorola with its Droid phone and all the marketing blitz that accompanied it opted for a Microsoft product, I wouldn’t be so sure Android would’ve gotten the head start that it did.

Microsoft Edge is officially coming to Linux soon

It looks like Microsoft could finally bring Chromium-powered Edge, the revamped browser with dark mode and a set of exciting features to Linux.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser specifically built for Linux is being actively developed, and the development was confirmed at the Ignite conference. As shown in the screenshot of a slide from Ignite session, Microsoft Edge is listed as a compatible software for Linux.

I wonder if Microsoft will do the legwork to ensure proper integration with GNOME, KDE, and others.

Intel Performance Strategy Team publishing intentionally misleading benchmarks

Today something happened that many may not have seen. Intel published a set of benchmarks showing its advantage of a dual Intel Xeon Platinum 9282 system versus the AMD EPYC 7742. Vendors present benchmarks to show that their products are good from time-to-time. There is one difference in this case: we checked Intel’s work and found that they presented a number to intentionally mislead would-be buyers as to the company’s relative performance versus AMD.

Intel is desperate, and it’s really starting to show.

Linux 5.5 to add support for SGI Octane I, Octane II workstations

The Linux 5.5 kernel due out as stable in early 2020 will finally have mainline support for the MIPS-powered SGI Octane and Octane II workstations that originally ran with SGI’s IRIX operating system about two decades ago.

There have been out-of-tree patches for running Linux on the SGI Octane MIPS-based systems while Linux 5.5 is set to finally have this support mainlined for these two decade old workstations should you still be running the hardware and looking for something else besides IRIX or support in other platforms like OpenBSD. Mind you, these workstations were already succeeded by the SGI Octane III a decade ago with Intel x86.

Better late than never.

Chrome OS gets virtual desktops

One of the best parts of Chromebooks is that every new version of Chrome OS brings dozens of improvements to keep your device safe, fast and hassle-free. The latest version of Chrome OS includes tools to help you organize your workspace, make phone calls more easily, and print and share feedback more quickly.

Chrome OS now supports virtual desktops, and the only reason I’m posting this is because I just can’t believe it’s taken them this long.

FreeBSD 12.1 released

The FreeBSD Release Engineering Team is pleased to announce the availability of FreeBSD 12.1-RELEASE. This is the second release of the stable/12 branch.

Some of the highlights:

• BearSSL has been imported to the base system.
• The clang, llvm, lld, lldb, compiler-rt utilities and libc++ have been updated to version 8.0.1.
• OpenSSL has been updated to version 1.1.1d.
• Several userland utility updates.

The full release notes has all the details about this new release, and you can download it from the usual place for amd64, i386, powerpc, powerpc64, powerpcspe, sparc64, armv6, armv7, and aarch64.

The lost key of QWERTY

The Sholes and Glidden typewriter (sometimes called the Remington No. 1) was the first successful typewriter ever brought to market (in 1873), and the forerunner of most other successful typewriters. The unidentified key was, as far as I can tell, on this model and only this model. It was gone on the Remington No. 2 introduced in 1878, never to appear again (in this form), and as far as I know never found on competitors either.

So what the heck is it?

I love stuff like this.

Microsoft’s Edge Chromium browser will launch on January 15th with a new logo

Microsoft is planning to release its Edge Chromium browser early next year with a new logo. The software maker is targeting January 15th as the release date for Edge Chromium, with availability for Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8, and macOS. Microsoft is releasing what it calls a “release candidate” today, which should demonstrate most of the final work that will make it into the stable release in January.

The new Edge will join a slew of interesting Chromium-based browsers, such as Vivaldi and Brave.

Text editing hates you too

A month ago, we discussed an article about just how difficult text rendering is, and today we get to take a look at the other side of the coin – text editing.

Alexis Beingessner’s Text Rendering Hates You, published exactly a month ago today, hits very close to my heart.

Back in 2017, I was building a rich text editor in the browser. Unsatisfied with existing libraries that used ContentEditable, I thought to myself “hey, I’ll just reimplement text selection myself! How difficult could it possibly be?” I was young. Naive. I estimated it would take two weeks. In reality, attempting to solve this problem would consume several years of my life, and even landed me a full time job for a year implementing text editing for a new operating system.

Sensing posture-aware pen+touch interaction on tablets

Many status-quo interfaces for tablets with pen + touch input capabilities force users to reach for device-centric UI widgets at fixed locations, rather than sensing and adapting to the user-centric posture.

To address this problem, we propose sensing techniques that transition between various nuances of mobile and stationary use via postural awareness. These postural nuances include shifting hand grips, varying screen angle and orientation, planting the palm while writing or sketching, and detecting what direction the hands approach from.

The video demonstrates some incredibly useful techniques, but as always, the devil is not just in the details, but also in implementation. Nothing shown in the video seems particularly complicated to implement using current technology, but UI elements that move around based on how you are holding or interacting with the device can be either incredibly intuitive – or downright infuriating.

Apple to donate 5% of its 50 billion dollar tax cut to California’s housing crisis

Apple today announced a comprehensive $2.5 billion plan to help address the housing availability and affordability crisis in California. As costs skyrocket for renters and potential homebuyers — and as the availability of affordable housing fails to keep pace with the region’s growth — community members like teachers, firefighters, first responders and service workers are increasingly having to make the difficult choice to leave behind the community they have long called home. Nearly 30,000 people left San Francisco between April and June of this year and homeownership in the Bay Area is at a seven-year low.

2.5 billion dollar sure does sound like a big number.

But wait a second – rewind to the middle of last year:

For years, Apple has held billions of dollars of cash overseas and insisted it won’t bring it home until the US gives it a better deal on the taxes it would have to pay to repatriate the funds. As of 2017, that cash pile had grown to an astonishing $252 billion. Now that lawmakers have passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut that primarily benefits corporations and the wealthy, Apple sees its chance to go forward with bringing that cash home before anyone changes their mind. According to Apple’s announcement, it’ll pay a one time tax of $38 billion.

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If Apple had paid the previous tax rate of 35 percent, its bill would have come out to around $88 billion. Now, that money can go into making the company even larger and providing more cash to hold overseas until Uncle Sam cries uncle again.

Apple got a massive tax cut of 50 billion dollars just last year, so this 2.5 billion dollar represents 5 percent of said tax cut.

Such generosity.

As Apple’s services grow, it’s ‘gifts’ for users and ARPU for analysts

You’ve got to hand it to Apple when it comes to saying the loud part loud and the quiet part quiet. The company has spent the last few years cranking up an enormous services business that’s growing by double digits quarter after quarter and generated nearly 50 billion dollars in the past 12 months—yet it tries very hard to emphasize that making customers happy comes first.

This week, Apple launched its subscription video streaming service, Apple TV+, and also released its quarterly financial results. In the regular phone call with Wall Street analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook tried very hard to get investors excited about Apple’s opportunities to make lots of money while not making it seem like Apple’s lost its soul in the process.

The goal of services companies is to trick you into signing up for as many different confusing services as possible, so that you forget about them or find it too burdensome to cancel them. Apple has already gone well down this path, and instead of tiptoeing around it all the time out of fear of pissing off Tim Cook, I wish the media would just flat-out say it: it’s sleazy.

It’s not illegal or wrong or anything like that – but that doesn’t make it any less sleazy.

Firefox to discontinue sideloaded extensions, but don’t grab your pitchforks

Sideloading is a method of installing an extension in Firefox by adding an extension file to a special location using an executable application installer. This installs the extension in all Firefox instances on a computer.

Sideloaded extensions frequently cause issues for users since they did not explicitly choose to install them and are unable to remove them from the Add-ons Manager. This mechanism has also been employed in the past to install malware into Firefox. To give users more control over their extensions, support for sideloaded extensions will be discontinued.

This blog post requires some very clear translating before all of grab our pitchforks. Users will still be able to install extensions from outside Mozilla’s own add-on website, and developers will still be able to distribute them separately. The functionality Mozilla is removing from Firefox is the ability for application installers – such as Skype – to dump an extension in a folder and then have that extension be installed in every Firefox profile on the machine.

European cloud project draws backlash from US tech giants

Germany and France are introducing a government-backed project to develop European cloud infrastructure in an effort to help local providers compete with U.S. technology giants, which dominate the global cloud market.

Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. criticized the initiative announced this week, called Gaia-X, saying the project will restrict data services along national borders.

The reach of Amazon, Microsoft and other U.S. giants worries European politicians and corporate executives. Companies in Germany and France, the continent’s economic powerhouses, and in other European Union countries are concerned about depending on technology providers that must comply with the U.S. Cloud Act, WSJ Pro Cybersecurity reported in October. The 2018 law requires American firms to provide law enforcement with customers’ personal data on request, even when the servers containing the information are abroad.

The European Union should’ve invested in efforts like this years ago, but rather late then never. And of course, it’s entirely unsurprising that US cloud providers are unhappy about this move, but that really shouldn’t be of any European legislator’s concern.

US opens national security investigation into TikTok

The U.S. government has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, according to two people familiar with the matter.

While the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, U.S. lawmakers have been calling in recent weeks for a national security probe into TikTok, concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data.

TikTok – Wikipedia link for those of us who have no idea what it is – is incredibly popular among younger people, but since it’s an entirely Chinese platform, there’s concerns about what, exactly, the data it stores is being used for.