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. 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.

Google acquires Fitbit

Today, we’re announcing that Google has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Fitbit, a leading wearables brand. Over the years, Google has made progress with partners in this space with Wear OS and Google Fit, but we see an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market. Fitbit has been a true pioneer in the industry and has created engaging products, experiences and a vibrant community of users. By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI, software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world. Maybe this will get Google to take Wear OS seriously, because it has been lingering for years now.

The Notepad++ Free Uyghur Edition

Don Ho, developer of the popular Notepad++ text editor: People will tell me again to not mix politics with software/business. Doing so surely impacts the popularity of Notepad++: talking about politics is exactly what software and commercial companies generally try to avoid. The problem is, if we don’t deal with politics, politics will deal with us. We can choose to not act when people are being oppressed, but when it’s our turn to be oppressed, it will be too late and there will be no one for us. You don’t need to be Uyghur or a Muslim to act, you need only to be a human and have empathy for our fellow humans. Hence Notepad++ Free Uyghur Edition. This was a risky move, and as detailed by The Verge, the entirely expected happened: lots and lots of coordinated Chinese spam messages, as well as DDoS attacks. At least Hu has more guts than Apple, the NBA, and Blizzard combined.

Computer files are going extinct

I love files. I love renaming them, moving them, sorting them, changing how they’re displayed in a folder, backing them up, uploading them to the internet, restoring them, copying them, and hey, even defragging them. As a metaphor for a way of storing a piece of information, I think they’re great. I like the file as a unit of work. If I need to write an article, it goes in a file. If I need to produce an image, it’s in a file. I’ve had a love of files since I first started creating them in Windows 95. But I’ve noticed we are starting to move away from the file as a fundamental unit of work. There are forces at work to create as large a distance between the user and her files as possible, because not only do files represent a certain amount of user agency and control, they also represent a massive data mine for companies to profit from.

Twitter to ban all political ads from its platform

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, about Twitter, on Twitter: We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address. Both candidate ads and issue ads will be banned, although ads to encourage people to register to vote will still be allowed. This is clearly a case of Twitter simply not wanting to be part of the problem during the 2020 election cycle in the US, and it’s an easy goal to score for Dorsey after Facebook said earlier last week that it has no issues with allowing lying ads or nazi publishers on its platform.

Apple, your developer documentation is… Missing

Over the past few months, I have been trying to get up to speed on the Apple developer ecosystem, as part of working on my rewrite project. This means I have been learning Swift (again), SwiftUI, and (barely) the iOS and macOS APIs. It has been terrible. The number of parts of this ecosystem which are entirely undocumented is frankly shocking to me. There’s an entire website dedicated to keeping track of just how undocumented Apple’s APIs are.

The sad saga of Purism and the Librem 5

Today I’m going to tell you a sad tale of a device called the Librem 5 and the company behind it, Purism. As of right now, this story does not have a happy ending. I am writing this series of articles as a protest against the behavior of Purism, a company which claims that transparency and openness are their core values. If they won’t tell the world the truth about the Librem 5, then I’m willing to at least give it a go. Everything in these three articles – part two and part three are available as well – reads like the usual kind of stuff that goes down in mismanaged crowdfunding campaigns, especially those for computer hardware. This is why you should always be extremely skeptical of crowdfunding campaigns, and doubly so for ambitious ones. Worse, though, are the claims that the Librem 5 will, in fact, not be entirely open source as promised. This is a big promise to make, and to the people supporting open source projects such as the Librem 5, this is a massive breach of trust.

Twitter “silenced” dissenting voices during anti-government protests in Egypt

Twitter suspended dozens of accounts critical of the Egyptian president without cause during rare anti-government demonstrations last month, according to new research. Wael Eskandar, an Egyptian researcher specializing in digital rights, found that Twitter had suspended accounts that tweeted words in Arabic like “whore” and “ass-kisser.” Is it really any surprise that Twitter is siding with violent, totalitarian regimes? I mean, this is the same company that refuses to ban nazis and white supremacists because that would overlap with Republican politicians.

PC keyboard: the first five years

The vast majority of PC users today have no memory of what PC keyboards looked like before the standard 101/102-key layout arrived, even though various OEMs do their best to mangle the standard layout in order to minimize usability, especially on laptops. OEM-specific modifications aside, the basic layout of the main block of alphanumeric keys has not changed in over 30 years, since 1986. However, up until that point the PC keyboard layout and the keyboard hardware changed quite a bit, and looking at the 1981-1986 IBM Technical References is key to understanding a) why the standard keyboard scan codes are so complex, and b) why there are so many seemingly odd vendor-specific modifications of the standard layout. With our modern operating systems and crazy fast processors, it’s easy to forget that the PC as a platform is almost 40 years old, and many of the PC standards we don’t even think of as standards have roots that date back that far – and the keyboard is no exception.

Windows 10X details revealed in major leak

Microsoft has mostly kept details of Windows 10X – a version of Windows 10 that has been tailored to dual-screen devices – under wraps. Now, a major leak has given us deep insight into the design and goals behind the development of Windows 10X. Am I crazy for being interested in Windows 10X not for foldable devices or laptops, but for my desktop machines? If this information is accurate, it looks like Windows 10X will be a much more straightforward, simpler version of Windows that doesn’t come with 30 years of baggage and technical debt. Assuming the container technology used to run classic Win32 applications – on which many people depend – doesn’t incur too much of a performance and compatibility penalty, and assuming Microsoft will actually make Windows 10X available for desktops, I’ll be excited to try it out.

Intel’s new Atom microarchitecture: the Tremont core in Lakefield

While Intel has been discussing a lot about its mainstream Core microarchitecture, it can become easy to forget that its lower power Atom designs are still prevalent in many commercial verticals. Last year at Intel’s Architecture Summit, the company unveiled an extended roadmap showing the next three generations of Atom following Goldmont Plus: Tremont, Gracemont, and ‘Future Mont’. Tremont is set to be launched this year, coming first in a low powered hybrid x86 design called Lakefield for notebooks, and using a new stacking technology called Foveros built on 10+ nm. At the Linley Processor Conference today, Intel unveiled more about the microarchitecture behind Tremont. AnandTech takes a look at Intel’s upcoming Atom processors, the processor family mostly reserved for lower-end devices and specific markets such as embedded platforms and even some smartphones. Most of us, however, will remember Atom processors best from the netbook craze, where they enabled small, cheap Windows and Linux laptops to be sold in droves.

Why terminals are 80×25 characters by default

A rollicking and surprisingly political blog post takes us through a fascinating history, connecting 1860-era US bank note presses to the 80×20 terminal standard, passing though the Civil War, the US census, mechanical computers, punch cards, IBM, early display technology, VT100, ANSI, CP/M, and DOS along the way.

Project Treble improved Android update uptake

Google has published some statistics about the effects of Project Treble on Android updates. In late July, 2018, just before Android 9 Pie was launched in AOSP, Android 8.0 (Oreo) accounted for 8.9% of the ecosystem. By comparison, in late August 2019, just before we launched Android 10, Android 9 (Pie) accounted for 22.6% of the ecosystem. This makes it the largest fraction of the ecosystem, and shows that Project Treble has had a positive effect on updatability. That’s definitely good news, but Google still has a long way to go.

Google accused of spying with new tool that flags large employee meetings

Google employees have accused their employer of creating a surveillance tool disguised as a calendar extension designed to monitor gatherings of more than 100 people, a signal that those employees may be planning protests or discussing union organizing. Google parent company Alphabet “categorically” denies the accusation. The accusation, outlined in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, claims severe unethical conduct from high-ranking Google employees, who they say allegedly ordered a team to develop an Chrome browser extension that would be installed on all employee machines and used primarily to monitor internal employee activity. Employees are claiming the tool reports anyone who creates a calendar invite and sends it to more than 100 others, alleging that it is an attempt to crackdown on organizing and employee activism. The company that earns its money by finding new ways to extract actionable data from us to sell ads more effectively is employing that same kind of technology to prevent its employees from unionising and demanding better working conditions? I’m so surprised.