In the News Archive
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.
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.
When I’m in charge of a car company, we’re going to have one strict rule about interior design: make it so it doesn’t cause you to crash the car. You’d think this would already be in effect everywhere, but no. Ever since the arrival of the iPhone, car designers have aspired to replicate that sleek, glassy aesthetic within the cabin. And it never works, because you tend to look at a phone while you use it. In a car, you have this other thing you should be looking at, out there, beyond the high-resolution panoramic screen that separates your face from the splattering june bugs. If a designer came to me with a bunch of screens, touch pads, or voice-activated haptic-palm-pad gesture controls, I’d trigger a trapdoor that caused the offender to plummet down into the driver’s seat of a Cadillac fitted with the first version of the CUE system—which incorporated a motion sensor that would actually change the screen as your finger approached it. And I’d trigger my trapdoor by turning a knob. I wouldn’t even have to look at it. I couldn’t agree more. One of the things I dread about ever replacing my 2009 Volvo S80 are these crappy touchscreens that are added to every car these days, often of dubious quality, with no regard to user interface design or driver safety. For instance, I don’t want to take my eyes off the road just to adjust the temperature of the climate control – there should be a big, easy to find knob within arm’s reach. This just seems extremely unsafe to me.
CERN has started a project to replace all of the closed source, proprietary software that it uses with open alternatives. Given the collaborative nature of CERN and its wide community, a high number of licenses are required to deliver services to everyone, and when traditional business models on a per-user basis are applied, the costs per product can be huge and become unaffordable in the long term. A prime example is that CERN has enjoyed special conditions for the use of Microsoft products for the last 20 years, by virtue of its status as an “academic institution”. However, recently, the company has decided to revoke CERN’s academic status, a measure that took effect at the end of the previous contract in March 2019, replaced by a new contract based on user numbers, increasing the license costs by more than a factor of ten. Although CERN has negotiated a ramp-up profile over ten years to give the necessary time to adapt, such costs are not sustainable. I always find it strange when scientific institutions funded by public money get locked in by proprietary software vendors, to the point where they are so reliant on them it becomes virtually impossible to opt for alternatives. Good on CERN – although a bit late – for trying to address this issue.
I bought an IBM mainframe for personal use. I am doing this for learning and figuring out how it works. If you are curious about what goes into this process, I hope this post will interest you. Is it just me, or is everyone buying an IBM mainframe these days? What’s with the sudden resurgence in interest?
We would like to announce the availability of the QEMU 4.0.0 release. This release contains 3100+ commits from 220 authors. You can grab the tarball from our download page. The full list of changes are available in the Wiki.
The fact is that democracy in the United States is now largely a secretive and privately-run affair conducted out of the public eye with little oversight. The corporations that run every aspect of American elections, from voter registration to casting and counting votes by machine, are subject to limited state and federal regulation. The companies are privately-owned and closely held, making information about ownership and financial stability difficult to obtain. The software source code and hardware design of their systems are kept as trade secrets and therefore difficult to study or investigate. It’s for this very reason that my own country – for now – of The Netherlands went back to pencil and paper voting with public manual counting by actual humans.
Katie Bouman, a researcher who helped create the first image of a black hole, quickly gained internet fame Thursday for her role in the project after a photo of her went viral. But internet trolls soon followed, questioning Bouman’s work and floating false claims that she did not have much of a role in the project. Colleagues rallied to her defense, but the situation highlighted the vitriol that women continue to face on the internet, and the continued vulnerability of major internet platforms to trolling campaigns. Isn’t it funny how it’s always men?
The idea that a bicycle might need an OS might seem silly, but 30 years ago may gearheads wouldn’t have anticipated that cars would become rolling supercomputers. Hammerhead crowdfunded its first product, the H1, and subsequently built Karoo, a “cycling computer” that supports navigation and training. But Morgan told me his ambitions are bigger than that.After all, he sees a future where electric bikes need smart range projections, where bike-share fleets need to be managed, where social training programs like Strava can pull data from the bike itself and where any bicycle should come with theft and crash alerts. Calling it an OS is probably a stretch. It seems to be an Android OS with cycling-specific constellation of apps, originally designed specifically for their own hardware but eventually intended to be licensed to other vendors.
The only place in San Francisco still pricing real estate like it’s the 1980s is the city assessor’s office. Its property tax system dates back to the dawn of the floppy disk. City employees appraising the market work with software that runs on a dead programming language and can’t be used with a mouse. Assessors are prone to make mistakes when using the vintage software because it can’t display all the basic information for a given property on one screen. The staffers have to open and exit several menus to input stuff as simple as addresses. To put it mildly, the setup “doesn’t reflect business needs now,” says the city’s assessor, Carmen Chu. San Francisco rarely conjures images of creaky, decades-old technology, but that’s what’s running a key swath of its government, as well as those of cities across the U.S. Politicians can often score relatively easy wins with constituents by borrowing money to pay for new roads and bridges, but the digital equivalents of such infrastructure projects generally don’t draw the same enthusiasm. “Modernizing technology is not a top issue that typically comes to mind when you talk to taxpayers and constituents on the street,” Chu says. It took her office almost four years to secure $36 million for updated assessors’ hardware and software that can, among other things, give priority to cases in which delays may prove costly. The design requirements are due to be finalized this summer. This is a problem all over the world, and it’s more difficult than one might think to replace such outdated systems. Existing data has to be transferred, a new system has to be designed, staff has to be retrained – and, of course, since it’s not a sexy subject politicians can flaunt, it has to be done with impossible budgets that inevitably balloon, often leading to doomed projects. It’s easy to laugh at these outdated systems still in use today, but often, replacing them simply isn’t an option.
USB 3.2, which doubles the maximum speed of a USB connection to 20Gb/s, is likely to materialize in systems later this year. In preparation for this, the USB-IF—the industry group that together develops the various USB specifications—has announced the branding and naming that the new revision is going to use, and… It’s awful. I won’t spoil it for you. It’s really, really bad.
Responding to a forum post on upcoming ARM server offerings, Linus Torvalds makes a compelling case for why Linux and x86 completely overwhelmed commercial Unix and RISC: Guys, do you really not understand why x86 took over the server market? It wasn’t just all price. It was literally this “develop at home” issue. Thousands of small companies ended up having random small internal workloads where it was easy to just get a random whitebox PC and run some silly small thing on it yourself. Then as the workload expanded, it became a “real server”. And then once that thing expanded, suddenly it made a whole lot of sense to let somebody else manage the hardware and hosting, and the cloud took over.
When we re-launched the site at the beginning of the year, I mentioned that I’d considered shuttering OSNews as a response to needing such a major overhaul, since conventional advertising was no longer sufficient for covering expenses. A few weeks ago, I decided to experiment with offering a sponsorship, wherein a patron pays a fee to be the exclusive sponsor of the site for a week. It was all just a pipe dream until someone agreed last week to be our first sponsor. So we’re cautiously optimistic that this may be a viable way to keep the site running and maybe even expand. It won’t work, though, unless we can fill our pipeline with sponsors. I doubt we’ll be able to do that just by putting up a shingle and hoping people contact us. So I wanted to reach out to you, beloved readers, to see if you could help. If you know someone, maybe your employer, who offers a product or service that might be interesting to OSNews readers, see if they’ll be willing to sponsor the site. We’re open to ideas on how to structure the sponsorship program. If you were to sponsor the site, what would you want to get in exchange for your money? We’d love feedback on the terms of the sponsorship. Do you know of any ways that we might be able to publicize the availability of sponsorships? Would you be interested in acting as a salesperson and reaching out to firms to solicit sponsorships? Let me know. And finally, sponsorships will be desirable if OSNews itself is popular and vibrant. You can do your part by reading the site, commenting, submitting news, and contacting us if you’re interested in writing a feature.
But sometimes life using DOS was not so great, sometimes you would be using DOS and all of a sudden things like this would happen. This sample also plays a small tune on the PC speaker while it’s printing, so this could be really embarrassing in a office environment. Those bootsector viruses were incredibly resilient – your computer would be just fine, until you put in an older floppy that apparently still had a virus on it. Good times.
Regular readers will have noticed that we’ve been offline for several days. As you can see, during that time, we’ve made some major changes to the site, and though the design has changed substantially, we’ve made even more dramatic changes in the back-end. We are now running our 6th major iteration of OSNews. It all was precipitated by messages from readers we’ve received over the past few weeks alerting us that they’ve been getting spam, phishing attempts, and some weak-sauce cyber-extortion emails at addresses that were unique to their OSNews accounts. Read on for more.
It took about 30 minutes for Williamson County commissioners to unanimously approve a roughly $16 million incentive package for Apple Tuesday morning, bringing the total amount the tech giant is likely to receive in exchange for choosing Austin as the site for its newest campus to a cool $41 million. The new addition is set to be Apple's second campus in the Austin, Texas, area - located less than a mile from the company's existing facility, established five years ago. It comes with the promise of a $1 billion dollar investment from Apple in the area and the addition of up to 15,000 new jobs.
But the details of the incentive package Williamson County whipped up to woo Apple tell a slightly different story. In the contract approved by county officials, Apple committed to spending at least $400 million on the new campus and creating 4,000 jobs over 12 years. The contract says the jobs don’t necessarily have to be on the new campus in order for Apple to receive the promised incentives, but rather can be anywhere within Williamson County.
Shady and shoddy deals like these are only the tip of the iceberg - and don't think this is merely an American thing. This entire past year in The Netherlands has been dominated by our newly elected government wanting to shove through an incredibly unpopular tax cut specifically designed to appease major (partly) Dutch multinationals like Shell and Unilever - a 2 billion euro tax cut while various important social services like police, education, and healthcare desperately need better pay and working conditions.
In the end, under immense public and political pressure, the tax cut was cancelled, but it goes to show that these things happen everywhere - in large, powerful nations like the US, but also in small, insignificant welfare states like The Netherlands.
Doug Engelbart was the first to actually build a computer that might seem familiar to us, today. He came to Silicon Valley after a stint in the Navy as a radar technician during World War II. Engelbart was, in his own estimation, a "naive drifter", but something about the Valley inspired him to think big. Engelbart's idea was that computers of the future should be optimized for human needs - communication and collaboration. Computers, he reasoned, should have keyboards and screens instead of punch cards and printouts. They should augment rather than replace the human intellect. And so he pulled a team together and built a working prototype: the oNâ€‘Line System. Unlike earlier efforts, the NLS wasn't a military supercalculator. It was a generalâ€‘purpose tool designed to help knowledge workers perform better and faster, and that was a controversial idea. Letting non-engineers interact directly with a computer was seen as harebrained, utopian - subversive, even. And then people saw the demo.
Engelbart is one of the greatest visionaries of this industry.
Today, in a landmark decision, representatives from 60 countries voted to redefine the International System of Units (SI), changing the world's definition of the kilogram, the ampere, the kelvin and the mole, for ever.
The decision, made at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles, France, which is organised by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), means that all SI units will now be defined in terms of constants that describe the natural world. This will assure the future stability of the SI and open the opportunity for the use of new technologies, including quantum technologies, to implement the definitions.
The metric system - or, as it is known today, the International System of Units (SI) - is an amazing achievement of mankind. Save for a few archaic holdouts who still measure things by sheep intestines and cow brains, the entire world has standardized on this system, so that regardless of where you are, things innately make sense.
While this is not a story about computing, it is a story about technology, and a very fascinating technology at that. Sure, steam heating systems may not sound particularly exciting, but trust me - you'd be wrong.
Back in 2016, The New Yorker ran a short story about a presentation by Dan Holohan.
Dan Holohan, a tall, bespectacled man, took the floor. Through such books as "The Lost Art of Steam Heating" and "We Got Steam Heat! A Homeowner's Guide to Peaceful Coexistence", as well as the Web site HeatingHelp.com, Holohan has built a community among those who work on and live with the nineteenth-century heating technology that is still common, if not commonly understood, in New York and in other older cities across the country.
It turns out a version of this presentation, held at the Central Park Arsenal for The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York (what a magnificent name!), is available on YouTube, and let me tell you - like you right now, I didn't think this subject could be even remotely interesting. As it turns out, though, ancient steam heating systems are an absolutely fascinating subject and kind of a neat piece of engineering. Did you know, for instance, that the 102 floors of the Empire State Building are heated with only one and a half pounds of steam pressure?
Holohan is clearly a man proud of his knowledge and trade, and his excitement about this arcane subject is palpable. I highly suggest taking 50 minutes out of your day to watch his presentation.
Election Day is today, November 6th, in the United States, and the 2018 midterm elections are likely going to be some of the most contentious elections in recent history. While President Donald Trump isn't up for reelection yet, the House of Representatives and Senate are in play for both parties, along with gubernatorial races, attorney general elections, and marijuana legalization initiatives in four different states.
It's a lot to take in, but the internet is here to help. Here’s everything you need to get ready for the big day, complete with registration information, polling locations, ride-sharing deals, and more.
To our American readers - get out there and vote.