In the News Archive

Honda bucks industry trend by removing touchscreen controls

Honda has done what no other car maker is doing, and returned to analogue controls for some functions on the new Honda Jazz. While most manufacturers are moving to touchscreen controls, identifying smartphone use as their inspiration – most recently seen in Audi’s latest A3 – Honda has decided to reintroduce heating and air conditioning controls via a dial rather than touchscreen, as in the previous-generation Jazz. Unlike what the introduction states, Honda joins fellow Japanese car maker Mazda in not just blindly using touchscreens for everything inside cars. This is a good move, and definitely takes some guts, since I’ve seen countless car reviewers – including my standout favourite, Doug DeMuro – kind of blindly assuming that any car without 100% touchscreen control is outdated, without questioning the safety consequences. Good on Honda.

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto distract drivers more than pot, alcohol, says study

When Apple CarPlay and Android Auto first started rolling out, initial evidence suggested these technologies held promise to reduce distracted driving. These systems funneled the most important features from our phones onto the infotainment screen, curbing motorists’ desire to reach for their handhelds. Yet, it looks like these mirroring technologies may not be nearly as safe as initially hoped. A new study from the UK’s IAM Roadsmart, an independent road safety organization, paints a far bleaker picture. The stark findings showed that drivers using one of the smartphone mirroring systems in a car displayed reaction times slower than someone who’d used cannabis. In fact, these motorists’ reaction times were five times slower than someone driving with the legal limit of alcohol in their system. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with more than two braincells to rub together. These systems are based on touch screen technology, and touchscreens without any tactility are simply not suited for use while operating a motor vehicle. Touchscreens are far more distracting than plain old tactile buttons in a fixed order that you learn over time and can feel, and it blows my mind that no safety regulations heavily curtailing their use to parked situations has been enacted just yet.

Contrary to Trump’s claim, Google is not building a nationwide coronavirus screening website

Google is not working with the US government in building a nationwide website to help people determine whether and how to get a novel coronavirus test, despite what President Donald Trump said in the course of issuing an emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, a much smaller trial website made by another division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is going up. It will only be able to direct people to testing facilities in the Bay Area. People are dying, and the administration of the most powerful and important country in the world is lying to its citizens left, right, and centre. What a joke.

Uyghurs for sale

The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. The current coronavirus outbreak is showing us once again just how dependent the world is on Chinese manufacturing. The companies implicated in this report – technology companies in particular, since this is OSNews – need all these Chinese workers to function, to exist, and to grow their revenue and Cayman Islands money piles even more, more, more. Do you really think Tim Cook loses one night of sleep over a few thousand Muslims ground to minced meat between the cogs of his manufacturing empire?

The app that broke the Iowa Caucuses was sent out through an Android test platform

So the Democratic party of Iowa tried to use an untested app to report caucus results during the Iowa primary caucus, and… It went as well as you’d expect. Digging deeper into the app, it should’ve been obvious this was never going to work. In this case, however, it looks like Shadow used a test platform for the app’s public distribution. Installing software through a test platform or sideloading onto your device manually both come with security risks, as app store review processes are designed to discover whether a piece of software is hiding malware or does something behind the scenes it’s not supposed to. In the event you do sideload an app or try installing an unofficial version, your smartphone typically warns you of the risks and asks if you want to proceed. It’s also a less stable model for deploying software at scale, which might explain the difficulty precinct chiefs had in downloading the program. The screenshot from Motherboard also shows that the app was distributed using the platform’s free tier and not its enterprise one. That means Shadow didn’t even pony up for the TestFairy plan that comes with single sign-on authentication, unlimited data retention, and end-to-end encryption. Instead, it looks like the company used the version of TestFairy anyone can try for free, which deletes any app data after 30 days and limits the number of test users that can access the app to 200. What an unmitigated disaster. We’re in 2020 right? Not in 1783?

WordPad is gettings ads in Windows 10

An upcoming feature of WordPad has been discovered by enthusiasts, revealing in-app ads that promote Microsoft Office. The change is hidden in recent Insider Preview builds, and not activated for most users. WordPad is a very simple text editor, more powerful than Notepad, but still less feature rich than Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer. It is good for creating a simple text document without complicated formatting. The more advertisements and preinstalled junkware Microsoft shoves into Windows 10, the more the otherwise decent operating system turns into a user-hostile joke. Apple is going down the same route with iOS, and everything about it just feels disgusting and sleazy. One of the many reasons I transitioned all my machines away from Windows and to Linux.

Doug’s Demo Sequel: 1969

Not long after Doug Engelbart’s ground-breaking Mother of All Demos in December 1968, he and his team demonstrated their research at another conference in San Francisco – the 32nd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), in October 1969. This live demo presentation, titled “Augmentation Systems and Information Science,” showcased the novel work coming out of Doug’s Augmented Human Intellect Research Center (AHIRC) at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), now SRI International. Lucky for us, they filmed their 90-minute dress rehearsal in front a live audience. This footage is now available online, along with recently unearthed details and memorabilia. An important piece of history, saved.

The plain text project

Do you need big, feature-packed, and sometimes complex tool for your work, to stay organized, or keep track of your tasks? Maybe not. Maybe all you need is plain text. Yes, simple, old fashioned, unadorned, boring text. It sounds scary or alien, but it’s not. I use plain text for my notes and keeping track of my work orders. Entering deadlines and related information in calendar applications is a fiddly, time-consuming nightmare, and I find it much easier to just jot down the date, time, and related information in plain text, ordered by date and time.

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.

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.

The US nuclear forces’ Dr. Strangelove-era messaging system finally got rid of its floppy disks

In 2014, “60 Minutes” made famous the 8-inch floppy disks used by one antiquated Air Force computer system that, in a crisis, could receive an order from the president to launch nuclear missiles from silos across the United States. But no more. At long last, that system, the Strategic Automated Command and Control System or SACCS, has dumped the floppy disk, moving to a “highly-secure solid state digital storage solution” this past June, said Lt. Col. Jason Rossi, commander of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron. These are incredibly difficult systems to upgrade, so this is no small feat.

Inside TurboTax’s 20-year fight to stop Americans from filing their taxes for free

But the success of TurboTax rests on a shaky foundation, one that could collapse overnight if the U.S. government did what most wealthy countries did long ago and made tax filing simple and free for most citizens. For more than 20 years, Intuit has waged a sophisticated, sometimes covert war to prevent the government from doing just that, according to internal company and IRS documents and interviews with insiders. The company unleashed a battalion of lobbyists and hired top officials from the agency that regulates it. From the beginning, Intuit recognized that its success depended on two parallel missions: stoking innovation in Silicon Valley while stifling it in Washington. Indeed, employees ruefully joke that the company’s motto should actually be “compromise without integrity.” It always surprises me just how badly designed and openly corrupt US politics really is. Even something as banal as filing taxes is made a complicated, outdated mess just so some scumbags can earn some money.

How US tech giants are helping to build China’s surveillance state

The OpenPower Foundation — a nonprofit led by Google and IBM executives with the aim of trying to “drive innovation” — has set up a collaboration between IBM, Chinese company Semptian, and U.S. chip manufacturer Xilinx. Together, they have worked to advance a breed of microprocessors that enable computers to analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently. Shenzhen-based Semptian is using the devices to enhance the capabilities of internet surveillance and censorship technology it provides to human rights-abusing security agencies in China, according to sources and documents. A company employee said that its technology is being used to covertly monitor the internet activity of 200 million people. IBM, of course, has always been perfectly fine with aiding in and profiting from genocide, so it’s not really surprising that the company jumped at the chance to aid the totalitarian Chinese regime’s genocide against the Uhgurs. Google’s involvement may be slightly more surprising since the company has no real presence in China, but I don’t think anyone should be shocked. Many western companies choose profits over ethics in China, such as Apple, who aides the Chinese dictatorship’s massive surveillance state by handing over all Chinese Apple user’s iCloud data to the Chinese government. Since such anti-privacy measures are legally mandated in China, you can safely assume that any western technology company active in China is just as guilty as IBM, Google, and Apple.

40 years later, lessons from the rise and quick decline of the first ‘killer app’

Remember VisiCalc, the world’s first spreadsheet? Today’s tech giants do, and that is why they buy up and invest in potential competitive threats. It was the first killer app, the spark for Apple’s early success and a trigger for the broader PC boom that vaulted Microsoft to its central position in business computing. And within a few years, it was tech-industry roadkill. Many silicon valley startups basically have only one purpose these days: flaunt their ideas in front of the tech giants, and hope VC funding doesn’t run dry before one of them buys them. They’re not building sustainable businesses; they’re building a corporate advertorials.

How to live entirely in a terminal

But you know, if I’m being honest, the experience was not entirely unpleasant. Sure, I missed certain niceties from the graphical side of things, but there were some distinct benefits to living in a shell. My computers, even the low-powered ones, felt faster (command-line software tends to be a whole lot lighter and leaner than those with a graphical user interface). Plus, I was able to focus and get more work done without all the distractions of a graphical desktop, which wasn’t bad. What follows are the applications I found myself relying upon the most during those fateful ten days, separated into categories. In some cases, these are applications I currently use over (or in addition to) their graphical equivalents. Obviously, among OSNews readers, the terminal is a prized tool many rely on – but I wonder how many of you truly live entirely within the terminal, never touching the comforts of a graphical user interface.

How VisiCalc’s spreadsheets changed the world

It’s the 40th anniversary of VisiCalc, the first popular spreadsheet program, and the anniversary has prompted some new remembrances of the killer app that, true to its “power to the people” origins, got people playing with data — and, by popularizing personal computers, helped to change the world. Something about spreadsheets popularising the PC always fascinated me. Out of all the things computers can do – it’s tabulating numbers that played an important role in their spread.

Why Mazda is purging touchscreens from its vehicles

What an interesting coincidence – a story from earlier this year that lines up well with our story from yesterday. Tablet-like touchscreens have become the ubiquitous interfaces of choice, and they’re seemingly everywhere in daily life, on everything from thermostats to coffee makers and refrigerators. But Mazda really doesn’t think they belong in cars—or at least anywhere near the driver’s seat. It wasn’t a decision that was hastily made, according to company officials. However, as they started studying the effects of touchscreens on driving safety (and driving comfort), it soon became clear what the priorities should be with this completely new system that makes its debut in the 2019 Mazda 3. This is a bold move by Mazda, especially now that touchscreens in cars have become such a hyped supposed selling point. I hope other manufacturers follow suit.