The 101 of ELF files on Linux: understanding and analysis

Some of the true craftsmanship in the world we take for granted. One of these things is the common tools on Linux, like ps and ls. Even though the commands might be perceived as simple, there is more to it when looking under the hood. This is where ELF or the Executable and Linkable Format comes in. A file format that used a lot, yet truly understood by only a few. Let’s get this understanding with this introduction tutorial! Some light reading for the weekend.

Introducing Translatotron: an end-to-end speech-to-speech translation model

In “Direct speech-to-speech translation with a sequence-to-sequence model”, we propose an experimental new system that is based on a single attentive sequence-to-sequence model for direct speech-to-speech translation without relying on intermediate text representation. Dubbed Translatotron, this system avoids dividing the task into separate stages, providing a few advantages over cascaded systems, including faster inference speed, naturally avoiding compounding errors between recognition and translation, making it straightforward to retain the voice of the original speaker after translation, and better handling of words that do not need to be translated (e.g., names and proper nouns). As a translator, I feel less and less job-secure every time Google I/O rolls around.

Sony and Microsoft set rivalry aside for cloud gaming alliance

Sony and Microsoft, bitter rivals in the video game console wars, will team up in on-demand gaming to better compete with newcomers like Google as the industry’s main battlefield looks poised to shift to the cloud, Nikkei learned Thursday. During a recent trip to the U.S., Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on a strategic tie-up. While details have yet to be hammered out, the partnership will center on artificial intelligence and the cloud, according to an announcement by Microsoft early Friday Japan time. They must be quite worried about Google Stadia to actually work together to try and counter it. Enemy of my enemy and all that.

It’s time to pay attention to Intel’s Clear Linux OS project

Intel’s Clear Linux Project has been on my radar for months, mainly because of its sheer dominance over traditional Linux distributions — and often Windows — when it comes to performance. From time to time I check in on the latest Phoronix benchmarks and think to myself “I really need to install that.” Up until recently though, the installer for Clear Linux was anything but intuitive for the average user. It also looked considerably dated. Version 2.0 gives the installer a complete overhaul. Aside from the fact it runs Gnome – which is not something I’d want to use – the main issue I have with this project is that it’s from Intel. The processor giant has had many Linux projects in the past, but it often just abandons them or doesn’t really know what to do with them.

Behind Twitter’s plan to get people to stop yelling at one another

Over several days this spring, BuzzFeed News met with Twitter’s leadership and watched as twttr’s team worked on its first big push: helping people better understand what’s being said in often chaotic conversations. The team thinks that if people took more time to read entire conversations, that would help improve their comprehension of them. Maybe they wouldn’t jump to react. Maybe they’d consider their tone. Maybe they’d quit yelling all the time. Or maybe, not even thousands of deeply studied, highly tested product tweaks will be enough to fix the deep-seated issues with a culture more than 13 years in the making. I don’t think hippy ideals such as described will fix Twitter – or online discourse in general. There are bad actors actively stirring up trouble and pitting us against each other, and no amount of UI changes or whatever is going to fix that.

WhatsApp voice calls used to inject Israeli spyware on phones

A vulnerability in the messaging app WhatsApp has allowed attackers to inject commercial Israeli spyware on to phones, the company and a spyware technology dealer said. WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5bn people worldwide, discovered in early May that attackers were able to install surveillance software on to both iPhones and Android phones by ringing up targets using the app’s phone call function. The malicious code, developed by the secretive Israeli company NSO Group, could be transmitted even if users did not answer their phones, and the calls often disappeared from call logs, said the spyware dealer, who was recently briefed on the WhatsApp hack. I never answer phone calls from telephone numbers I am not familiar with, let alone when the incoming callers his their number blocked. Apparently, though, not even protects you from attacks such as these.

Supreme Court says Apple will have to face App Store monopoly lawsuit

The Supreme Court is letting an antitrust lawsuit against Apple proceed, and it’s rejected Apple’s argument that iOS App Store users aren’t really its customers. The Supreme Court upheld the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Apple v. Pepper, agreeing in a 5-4 decision that Apple app buyers could sue the company for allegedly driving up prices. “Apple’s line-drawing does not make a lot of sense, other than as a way to gerrymander Apple out of this and similar lawsuits,” wrote Justice Merrick Garland Brett Kavanaugh. Apple’s argument that users of the App Store aren’t Apple’s customers was completely bonkers to begin with, and obviously solely designed in service of Apple’s new services narrative. Remember – with the new Apple-as-a-Service, Apple’s isn’t really interested in just selling you a product – the company wants to milk you for all you’re worth. Giving customers any sort of stronger position in the App Store and similar services only serves to detriment Apple’s services story to Wall Street.

Google warns that ADB backup and restore may be removed in a future Android release

ADB backup and restore is a handy tool that allows you to do more than some built-in backup options. You can save private data and installed applications without needing root, depending on whether or not the app allows it. Unfortunately, it looks like ADB backup and restore may be going away in a future Android release. A commit in AOSP is titled “Add deprecation warning to adb backup/restore.” A warning will be shown whenever the user runs the tool in the latest ADB tools release telling them that the feature might not stick around. A useful tool, and I’m sad to see it go.

Google acknowledges Fuchsia is a thing that exists

It’s a miracle! Google has finally actually mentioned Fuchsia a few times during Google I/O… Without really saying much of anything at all. Head of Android and Chrome, Hiroshi Lockheimer, said during a live taping of The Vergecast: “We’re looking at what a new take on an operating system could be like. And so I know out there people are getting pretty excited saying, ‘Oh this is the new Android,’ or, ‘This is the new Chrome OS,’” Lockheimer said. “Fuchsia is really not about that. Fuchsia is about just pushing the state of the art in terms of operating systems and things that we learn from Fuchsia we can incorporate into other products.” He says the point of the experimental OS is to also experiment with different form factors, a hint toward the possibility that Fuchsia is designed to run on smart home devices, wearables, or possibly even augmented or virtual reality devices. “You know Android works really well on phones and and you know in the context of Chrome OS as a runtime for apps there. But Fuchsia may be optimized for certain other form factors as well. So we’re experimenting.” That’s all still quite cryptic, and doesn’t really tell us anything at all. Still, it’s the first time Google has openly said anything about Fuchsia at all. Fuchsia also gets a short mention in a Google blog post about Flutter for the web, so maybe Google is finally going to be a bit more open about its plans for the operating system going forward.

Next generation Plasma notifications

There is something very exciting I have to show to you today: a completely rewritten notification system for Plasma that will be part of our next feature update 5.16 to be released in June. There’s so many new and improved things here it’s hard to pick a favourite, but KDE finally getting proper do not disturb support is a big one for me. All my devices – phones, workstation, laptop, tablet – have do not disturb rules set up, but ever since switching my laptop and desktop over to Linux with KDE (from Windows 10), I’ve really been missing this feature. This first iteration does not yet have support for automated rules, but those will come in a future release.

Technical details on the recent Firefox add-on outage

Recently, Firefox had an incident in which most add-ons stopped working. This was due to an error on our end: we let one of the certificates used to sign add-ons expire which had the effect of disabling the vast majority of add-ons. Now that we’ve fixed the problem for most users and most people’s add-ons are restored, I wanted to walk through the details of what happened, why, and how we repaired it. An in-depth look at the cause and fixes for the devastating extensions bug that hit Firefox users over the weekend, written by Firefox CTO Eric Rescorla.

Facebook co-founder: it’s time to break up Facebook

The last time I saw Mark Zuckerberg was in the summer of 2017, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. We met at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., office and drove to his house, in a quiet, leafy neighborhood. We spent an hour or two together while his toddler daughter cruised around. We talked politics mostly, a little about Facebook, a bit about our families. When the shadows grew long, I had to head out. I hugged his wife, Priscilla, and said goodbye to Mark. Since then, Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive. The company’s mistakes — the sloppy privacy practices that dropped tens of millions of users’ data into a political consulting firm’s lap; the slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news; and the unbounded drive to capture ever more of our time and attention — dominate the headlines. It’s been 15 years since I co-founded Facebook at Harvard, and I haven’t worked at the company in a decade. But I feel a sense of anger and responsibility. This New York Times articles, written by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is an absolute must-read. Facebook – along with Apple, Google, and possibly Amazon and Microsoft – must be broken up to reduce their immense power. Hughes quotes John Sherman, who said in the late 19th century on the floor of US Congress, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life.If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.” He was right then, and he’s still right now.

Dynamic System Updates will bring temporary bootable images to Android

This process will no doubt sound familiar to those of you who have used Linux. Most Linux distributions offer bootable images that can be flashed to a USB drive or burned to a CD/DVD. When the computer boots from the Linux drive, a complete desktop environment is present, allowing the user to easily test applications and perform other tasks. Nothing is installed to the computer’s internal drive, and all data is deleted when Linux shuts down. Android Q will include similar functionality, which is currently being called ‘Dynamic System Updates’ (though ‘Live Images’ and ‘Dynamic Android’ were also being used to refer to it). A temporary system partition is created, and an alternative Generic System Image (GSI) can be installed to it. A notification appears when the process is done, and tapping it reboots the phone into the GSI. When you’re done, simply reboot the phone, and you’re returned to your phone’s regular build of Android. This will be a very welcome feature not just for developers, but also for people like me who would love to test public beta releases before committing.

An alternative to garbage collection

An IEEE Spectrum article outlines some interesting new OS-related research. Martin Maas, a University of California, Berkeley, PhD student who is now at Google, designed “a new type of device that relieves the CPU from its garbage collection duties.” Maas notes that CPUs, which have traditionally been assigned garbage collection, were never specifically designed for the task. “CPUs are built to be flexible and run a wide range of applications. As a result, they are relatively large and can take up a significant amount of power,” he explains.Instead, Maas and his colleagues created a compact accelerator unit that requires a small amount of chip area and power. It can be added to the CPU, similar to how many modern processor chips are integrated into graphics processing units.“While the software application is running on the CPU, this unit sits on the side and performs garbage collection for the application,” says Maas. “In principle, this means that you could build a system where the software does not have to worry about garbage collection at all and just keeps using the available memory.”

All Chromebooks will also be Linux laptops going forward

At Google I/O, Google quietly announced that “all devices launched this year will be Linux-ready right out of the box.” A ZDNet article has more details. Earlier, you could run Debian, Ubuntu and Kali Linux on Chrome OS using the open-source Crouton program in a chroot container. Or, you could run Gallium OS, a third-party, Xubuntu Chromebook-specific Linux variant. But it wasn’t easy. Now? It’s as simple as simple can be. Just open the Chrome OS app switcher by pressing the Search/Launcher key and then type “Terminal”. This launches the Termina VM, which will start running a Debian 9.0 Stretch Linux container.

Comparing 21 sub-$1 microcontrollers

In 2017, we saw several new MCUs hit the market, as well as general trends continuing in the industry: the migration to open-source, cross-platform development environments and toolchains; new code-generator tools that integrate seamlessly (or not so seamlessly…) into IDEs; and, most notably, the continued invasion of ARM Cortex-M0+ parts into the 8-bit space. I wanted to take a quick pulse of the industry to see where everything is — and what I’ve been missing while backed into my corner of DigiKey’s web site. It’s time for a good ol’ microcontroller shoot-out.

US senator introduces bill to ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) today announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors”, a broad label that the senator says will include both games designed for kids under 18 and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions”. Loot boxes are clearly gambling, and ought to be treated as such. I’m by no means enough of a lawyer to determine if this specific proposed bill does enough – or possibly too much – to curtail the predatory practices in games, but it’s a good sign people are paying attention. We sure won’t be able to count on Google or Apple, since both of them profit greatly from these predatory practices.

Google’s Project Mainline in Android Q will help speed up security updates

Google is tackling version fragmentation with initiatives such as Project Treble, a major rearchitecting of Android resulting in a separation between the Android OS framework components and the vendor HAL components, extended Linux kernel LTS, mandatory security patch updates for 2 years, and Android Enterprise Recommended. At Google I/O 2019, the company announced its latest initiative to speed up security updates: Project Mainline for Android Q. A fairly detailed look at how this new initiative works. Sadly, as always, this only affects Android Q devices or devices that get updated to Android Q – the vast install base of earlier versions see no benefit at all.

Google releases Android Q beta 3

With Android Q, we’ve focused on three themes: innovation, security and privacy, and digital wellbeing. We want to help you take advantage of the latest new technology — 5G, foldables, edge-to-edge screens, on-device AI, and more — while making sure users’ security, privacy, and wellbeing are always a top priority. This year, Android Q Beta 3 is available on 15 partner devices from 12 OEMs — that’s twice as many devices as last year! It’s all thanks to Project Treble and especially to our partners who are committed to accelerating updates to Android users globally — Huawei, Xiaomi, Nokia, Sony, Vivo, OPPO, OnePlus, ASUS, LGE, TECNO, Essential, and realme. Android Q doesn’t seem like a massive release, but I do like the growing number of Treble-enabled devices that can install this new beta.

20 years ago, Microsoft changed how we mouse forever

Based on technology developed by Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft’s IntelliMouse Explorer arrived with a price tag that could be justified by even cash-strapped students like me. Even better, the underside of the mouse was completely sealed, preventing even the tiniest speck of dirt from penetrating its insides, and it improved on its predecessors by working on almost any surface that wasn’t too reflective. I remember getting back to my dorm room and plugging in the Explorer for the first time, wondering who had a rig fancy enough to use the included PS2 to USB adapter. There were undoubtedly a few driver installation hiccups along the way, but once Windows 98 was happy, I fired up Photoshop and strapped in for the smoothest mouse experience I’d ever had. Problem solved. The changeover from ball mice to optical mice is something few will ever rave about, but I remember it as one of the biggest changes in computer use I’ve personally ever experience. Everything about optical mice is better than ball mice, and using an optical mouse for the first time roughly two decades ago was a complete game-changer.