Internet Archive

How an artificial language from 1887 is finding new life online

The internet, though, has been a mixed blessing for Esperanto. While providing a place for Esperantists to convene without the hassle of traveling to conventions or local club meetings, some Esperantists believe those meatspace meet ups were what held the community together. The Esperanto Society of New York has 214 members on Facebook, but only eight of them showed up for the meeting. The shift to the web, meanwhile, has been haphazard, consisting mostly of message boards, listservs, and scattered blogs. A website called Lernu! - Esperanto for the imperative "learn!" - is the center of the Esperanto internet, with online classes and an active forum. But it's stuck with a Web 1.0 aesthetic, and the forum is prone to trolls, a byproduct of Esperanto's culture of openness to almost any conversation as long as it's conducted in - or even tangentially related to - Esperanto.

But there's hope that the internet can give the language new life. Wikipedia and its 215,000 pages was a first step, and yesterday, Esperanto debuted on Duolingo, a virtual learning app with 20 million active users - far more people than have ever spoken Esperanto since its invention.

This article is the perfect mix between two of my favourite subjects - technology, and language. A highly recommended read.

Comcast plans to drop Time Warner Cable deal

Comcast Corp. is planning to walk away from its proposed $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said, after meeting with opposition from U.S. regulators.

Comcast’s board will meet to finalize the decision on Thursday, and an announcement may come as soon as Friday, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

Great news for American consumers.

Twitter details new measures to combat abuse

We believe that users must feel safe on Twitter in order to fully express themselves. As our General Counsel Vijaya Gadde explained last week in an opinion piece for the Washington Post, we need to ensure that voices are not silenced because people are afraid to speak up. To that end, we are today announcing our latest product and policy updates that will help us in continuing to develop a platform on which users can safely engage with the world at large.

They're trying, and that's commendable. This must be an incredible engineering problem.

The Fax Machine Lives on in Japan

I actually received a fax today, through the eFax account I've had since the late 90s and has mostly lain dormant during this century, so I found today's NYT article on the fax's enduring importance in Japan quite interesting. The tl;dr: Japanese were early adopters of fax and it's unbelievably intertwined with day-to-day operations of most businesses; the Japanese language and culture favor handwritten notes; people in Japan, demographically, are old and set in their ways.

Google will implement Pointer Events in Blink after all

The Pointer Events API is a low-level input API for mouse, touch and stylus introduced by IE. Pointer Events extends the MouseEvent model while offering a replacement for all uses of Mouse and Touch events. Based on the feedback we've received, and the productive collaboration in the Pointer Events working group, I now believe we should implement this API in Blink.

After this Google u-turn, only Apple refuses to support Pointer Events.

NTP’s fate hinges on ‘father time’

In April, one of the open source code movement's first and biggest success stories, the Network Time Protocol, will reach a decision point. At 30 years old, will NTP continue as the pre-eminent time synchronization system for Macs, Windows, and Linux computers and most servers on networks?

Or will this protocol go into a decline marked by drastically slowed development, fewer bug fixes, and greater security risks for the computers that use it? The question hinges to a surprising degree on the personal finances of a 59-year-old technologist in Talent, Ore., named Harlan Stenn.

Amazing how such an important protocol hinges on just one man.

Pointer Events finalised; Apple, Google refuse to support it

But here's the current reality, one that has been accurate for awhile. Apple has a very, very strong influence over what standards get adopted and what standards do not. Partly it's market share, partly it's developer bias (see, for example, how other vendors eventually felt forced to start supporting the webkit prefix due to vendor prefix abuse).

Apple simply does not play well with other vendors when it comes to standardization. The same sort of things we once criticized Microsoft for doing long ago, we give Apple a pass on today. They're very content to play in their own little sandbox all too often.

All this specifically pertaining to the Touch Events/Pointer Events dichotomy. The latter is superior, but Apple refuses to support it, while the former couldn't be adopted because of patent threats from Apple. So, Pointer Events is now finalised, but Apple will not implement it.

They're not the only ones to blame for yet another childish, nonsensical, anti-consumer spat in web standardisation - Google is just as much to blame. This is what a Google engineer has to say on the matter:

No argument that PE is more elegant. If we had a path to universal input that all supported, we would be great with that, but not all browsers will support PE. If we had Apple on board with PE, we’d still be on board too.

Android is the biggest mobile platform, and Chrome is the most popular desktop browser. Had Google the stones, they'd implement Pointer Events and help paint Apple in a corner. They refuse to do so, thereby contributing just as much to this nonsense as Apple.

All this reeks of specifically wanting to hurt the web just because these companies are competitors elsewhere. Bunch of children.

I’m Brianna Wu, and I’m risking my life standing up to Gamergate

Software increasingly defines the world around us. It's rewriting everything about human interaction - I spend a lot more time on my iPhone than I do at my local civic center. Facebook, Apple, Tinder, Snapchat, and Google create our social realities - how we make friends, how we get jobs, and how mankind interacts. And the truth is, women don't truly have a seat at the table.

This has disastrous consequences for women that use these systems built by men for men. I must use Twitter, as it's a crucial networking tool for a software engineer, yet I must also suffer constant harassment. Women's needs are not heard, our truth is never spoken. These systems are the next frontier of human evolution, and they're increasingly dangerous for us.

You can close your eyes for this. You can cover your ears, shouting "LA LA LA LA!" at the top of your voice. You are free to do so.

Until it's your daughter, and you realise that your refusal to acknowledge this huge problem will have consequences.

FCC proposes to classify internet access as basic utility

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler:

Originally, I believed that the FCC could assure internet openness through a determination of "commercial reasonableness" under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While a recent court decision seemed to draw a roadmap for using this approach, I became concerned that this relatively new concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers.

That is why I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.

Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply - for the first time ever - those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.

Great news for Americans.

The curious case of the disappearing Polish S

A few weeks ago, someone reported this to us at Medium:

"I just started an article in Polish. I can type in every letter, except Åš. When I press the key for Åš, the letter just doesn't appear. It only happens on Medium."

This was odd. We don't really special-case any language in any way, and even if we did... out of 32 Polish characters, why would this random one be the only one causing problems?

Turns out, it wasn't so random. This is a story of how four incidental ingredients spanning decades (if not centuries) came together to cause the most curious of bugs, and how we fixed it.

Interesting.

Opera co-founder releases new browser

The co-founder and former CEO of Opera, Jon von Tetzchner, has released a new browser called Vivaldi.

The new browser, which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, is still in its early days, but offers a number of features that loyal Opera users may remember. It sports mouse gestures for browsing and the familiar "speed dial" interface that shows your favorite tabs on the new tab page.

groups Meet Vivaldi, a new browser from the former CEO of OperaVivaldi also has some new tricks up its sleeves. Multiple tabs can be combined into one for easy browsing of related sites. For example, if you were doing research online you could group all the tabs on that topic into one to save space.

The browser is available as a pre-release version right now, and like Opera, it doesn't actually have its own, unique rendering engine - it's built on top of Chrome's Blink. The idea here appears to be to return at least some of the unique Opera features to the browser space, something a number of you may be interested in.

BlackBerry wants to legally force competitors to support BB10

BlackBerry CEO John Chen has published an open letter to US president Obama on net neutrality. Interestingly enough, he conflates net neutrality with what he calls "content/application neutrality". At the beginning of the letter it's a bit unclear what he means by this, but later one, all pieces of his puzzle fall into place.

Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.

Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer's mobile operating system.

I'm not entirely sure what to say about this. While I would personally welcome a world where companies are multi-platform by nature, it is completely preposterous to legally force them to do so. I could somewhat understand (but still oppose) a call for using open standards so third parties could e.g. create their own Hangouts, WhatsApp, iMessage, or Skype clients, but legally forcing companies to create applications for competing platforms? That's insane.

Except for those with an agenda, we would all love to live in a world where companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft use nothing but open standards and protocols, creating a level playing field for newcomers and small players. However, unless the closed nature of a protocol harms consumers, companies should be free to be as closed as they very well please.

UK prime minister Cameron wants to ban encrypted communication

David Cameron could block WhatsApp and Snapchat if he wins the next election, as part of his plans for new surveillance powers announced in the wake of the shootings in Paris.

The Prime Minister said today that he would stop the use of methods of communication that cannot be read by the security services even if they have a warrant. But that could include popular chat and social apps that encrypt their data, such as WhatsApp.

Apple's iMessage and FaceTime also encrypt their data, and could fall under the ban along with other encrypted chat apps like Telegram.

Part of Cameron's speech has been posted on YouTube.

Unofficial WhatsApp library gets end-to-end encryption

As Slashdot notes:

Earlier last year WhatsApp announced partnership with Open WhisperSystems to integrate the ratcheting forward secrecy protocol found in their app called TextSecure, into WhatsApp. The protocol is supposed to provide end-to-end encryption between WhatsApp clients. So far it has been implemented only in WhatsApp on Android, with the rest of platforms yet to come. The implementation however has already made it into unofficial WhatsApp libraries which allow developers to use WhatsApp service in their applications, starting with a python-library called yowsup, and the rest will follow. It's worth mentioning that none of those libraries are supported nor approved by WhatsApp, so one has to wonder if WhatsApp is going to take some legal action (again) against them.

I would strongly advise against using any non-WhatsApp approved clients. Users of the unofficial WhatsApp client for Sailfish, Mitakuuluu, got banned from WhatsApp for using an unofficial client, after which Mitakuuluu's developer ceased development. Know what you're getting into!

Each new boot a miracle

Dreamlayers ported DOSBOX via Emscripten into a browser-functional emulator. He did it all by himself, and he did it very well, all things considered. His name for it is em-dosbox.

I'm just going to lay it out and say that Dreamlayers is a software engineering genius, one of those people with a gift for coding and making things work not just better, but understanding what things have to be left tied down and waiting for later improvements. Most of his em-dosbox notes are where Emscripten falls down as a compiling and conversion platform, with indications of how they can be improved. And buried in the code of his is an alien artifact that makes the generated javascript from the process run extremely fast.

Project Goliath: inside Hollywood’s secret war against Google

At the beginning of this year, the MPAA and six studios - Universal, Sony, Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros., and Disney - joined together to begin a new campaign against piracy on the web. A January 25th email lays out a series of legally and technically ambitious new tools, including new measures that would block infringing sites from reaching customers of many major ISPs. Documents reviewed by The Verge detail the beginning of a new plan to attack piracy after the federal SOPA efforts failed by working with state attorneys general and major ISPs like Comcast to expand court power over the way data is served. If successful, the result would fundamentally alter the open nature of the internet.

Those who try to halt progress eventually always lose.

As a sidenote, because I absolutely love stressing this: of the companies mentioned, Disney is the absolute worst. Disney's entire fortune was built almost exclusively on taking public domain works from Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world, build an empire with those, and then proceed to lock everyone else out through corruption and buying off the US government. Without the open and limited copyright laws that Disney seeks to eliminate and has eliminated, the company itself would not have existed.

Behind the friendly facade, the Disney company is pure, unadulterated evil. Apple, Google, Microsoft - they're saints compared to the damage Disney has done to the progress of culture and the free flow of information in the 20th century.

Yandex’ new browser is a bold UI experiment

Russian internet giant Yandex has launched an alpha version of its new Chromium-based browser for Windows and Mac OS X that incorporates a few interesting ideas of how a modern browser might look. The main difference from the interface of Chrome or Firefox is the ultimate minimalism and the fact that the tabs are moved to the bottom of the page.

It actually looks quite appealing. More information and download links can be found in Yandex' blog post.

WhatsApp to provide end-to-end encryption

At Open Whisper Systems, our goal is to make private communication simple. For the past three years, we've been developing a modern, open source, strong encryption protocol for asynchronous messaging systems, designed to make seamless end-to-end encrypted messaging possible.

Today we're excited to publicly announce a partnership with WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in the world, to incorporate the TextSecure protocol into their clients and provide end-to-end encryption for their users by default.

Good news for WhatsApp users.