Sunday, May 17. 2015
Via The Register
Mozilla has released the first version of its Firefox browser to include support for Encrypted Media Extensions, a controversial World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) spec that brings digital rights management (DRM) to HTML5's video tag.
"Nearly everyone who implements DRM says they are forced to do it" the FSF said at the time, "and this lack of accountability is how the practice sustains itself."
Nonetheless, Mozilla promoted Firefox 38 to the Release channel on Tuesday, complete with EME enabled – although it said it's still doing so reluctantly.
"We don't believe DRM is a desirable market solution, but it's currently the only way to watch a sought-after segment of content," Mozilla senior veep of legal affairs Danielle Dixon-Thayer said in a blog post.
The first firm to leap at the chance to shovel its DRM into Firefox was Adobe, whose Primetime Content Delivery Module for decoding encrypted content shipped with Firefox 38 on Tuesday. Thayer said various companies, including Netflix, are already evaluating Adobe's tech to see if it meets their requirements.
Mozilla says that because Adobe's CDM is proprietary "black box" software, it has made certain to wrap it in a sandbox within Firefox so that its code can't interfere with the rest of the browser. (Maybe that's why it took a year to get it integrated.)
The CDM will issue an alert when it's on a site that uses DRM-wrapped content, so people who don't want to use it will have the option of bowing out.
Restricted content ahead ...
If you don't want your browser tainted by DRM at all, you still have options. You can disable the Adobe Primetime CDM so it never activates. If that's not good enough, there's a menu option in Firefox that lets you opt out of DRM altogether, after which you can delete the Primetime CDM (or any future CDMs from other vendors) from your hard drive.
Finally, if you don't want DRM in your browser and you don't want to bother with any of the above, Mozilla has made available a separate download that doesn't include the Primetime CDM and has DRM disabled by default.As it happens, however, many users won't have to deal with the issue at all – at least not for now. The first version of Adobe's CDM for Firefox is only available on Windows Vista and later and then only for 32-bit versions of the browser. Windows XP, OS X, Linux, and 64-bit versions of Firefox are not yet supported, and there's no word yet on when they might be.
Thursday, April 30. 2015
Via Information week
Technology giant IBM announced two major breakthroughs towards the building of a practical quantum computer, the next evolution in computing that will be required as Moore’s Law runs out of steam.
Described in the April 29 issue of the journal Nature Communications, the breakthroughs include the ability to detect and measure both kinds of quantum errors simultaneously and a new kind of circuit design, which the company claims is "the only physical architecture that could successfully scale to larger dimensions."
The two innovations are interrelated: The quantum bit circuit, based on a square lattice of four superconducting "qubits" -- short for quantum bits -- on a chip roughly one-quarter-inch square, enables both types of quantum errors to be detected at the same time.
The IBM project, which was funded in part by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Multi-Qubit Coherent Operations program, opts for a square-shaped design as opposed to a linear array, which IBM said prevents the detection of both kinds of quantum errors simultaneously.
Jerry M. Chow, manager of the Experimental Quantum Computing group at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center, and the primary investigator on the IARPA-sponsored Multi-Qubit Coherent Operations project, told InformationWeek that one area they are excited about is the potential for quantum computers to simulate systems in nature.
"In physics and chemistry, quantum computing will allow us to design new materials and drug compounds without the expensive trial-and-error experiments in the lab, dramatically speeding up the rate and pace of innovation," Chow said. "For instance, the effectiveness of drugs is governed by the precise nature of the chemical bonds in the molecules constituting the drug."
He noted the computational chemistry required for many of these problems is out of the reach of classical computers, and this is one example of where quantum computers may be capable of solving such problems leading to better drug design.
The qubits, IBM said, could be designed and manufactured using standard silicon fabrication techniques, once a handful of superconducting qubits can be manufactured quickly and reliably, and boast low error-rates.
"Quantum information is very fragile, requiring the quantum elements to be cooled to near absolute zero temperature and shielded from its environment to minimize errors," Chow explained. "A quantum bit, the component that carries information in a quantum system, can be susceptible to two types of errors -- bit-flip and phase-flip. It either error occurs, the information is destroyed and it cannot carry out the operation."
He said it is important to detect and measure both types of errors in order to know what errors are present and how to address them, noting no one has been able to do this before in a scalable architecture.
"We are at the stage of figuring out the building blocks of quantum computers -- a new paradigm of computing completely different than how computers are built today," Wong said. "In the arc of quantum computing progress, we are at the moment of time similar to when scientists were building the first transistor. If built, quantum computers have the potential to unlock new applications for scientific discovery and data analysis and will be more powerful than any supercomputer today."
Monday, April 27. 2015
Via The Verge
After months of rumors, Microsoft is revealing its plans to get mobile apps on Windows 10 today. While the company has been investigating emulating Android apps, it has settled on a different solution, or set of solutions, that will allow developers to bring their existing code to Windows 10.
iOS and Android developers will be able to port their apps and games directly to Windows universal apps, and Microsoft is enabling this with two new software development kits. On the Android side, Microsoft is enabling developers to use Java and C++ code on Windows 10, and for iOS developers they’ll be able to take advantage of their existing Objective C code. "We want to enable developers to leverage their current code and current skills to start building those Windows applications in the Store, and to be able to extend those applications," explained Microsoft’s Terry Myerson during an interview with The Verge this morning.
The idea is simple, get apps on Windows 10 without the need for developers to rebuild them fully for Windows. While it sounds simple, the actual process will be a little more complicated than just pushing a few buttons to recompile apps. "Initially it will be analogous to what Amazon offers," notes Myerson, referring to the Android work Microsoft is doing. "If they’re using some Google API… we have created Microsoft replacements for those APIs." Microsoft’s pitch to developers is to bring their code across without many changes, and then eventually leverage the capabilities of Windows like Cortana, Xbox Live, Holograms, Live Tiles, and more. Microsoft has been testing its new tools with some key developers like King, the maker of Candy Crush Saga, to get games ported across to Windows. Candy Crush Saga as it exists today on Windows Phone has been converted from iOS code using Microsoft’s tools without many modifications.
During Microsoft’s planning for bringing iOS and Android apps to Windows, Myerson admits it wasn’t always an obvious choice to have both. "At times we’ve thought, let's just do iOS," Myerson explains. "But when we think of Windows we really think of everyone on the planet. There’s countries where iOS devices aren’t available." Supporting both Android and iOS developers allows Microsoft to capture everyone who is developing for mobile platforms right now, even if most companies still continue to target iOS first and port their apps to Android at the same time or shortly afterward. By supporting iOS developers, Microsoft wants to be third in line for these ported apps, and that’s a better situation than it faces today.
Alongside the iOS and Android SDKs, Microsoft is also revealing ways for websites and Windows desktop apps to make their way over to Windows universal apps. Microsoft has created a way for websites to run inside a Windows universal app, and use system services like notifications and in-app purchases. This should allow website owners to easily create web apps without much effort, and list those apps in the Windows Store. It’s not the best alternative to a native app for a lot of scenarios, but for simple websites it offers up a new way to create an app without its developers having to learn new code languages. Microsoft is also looking toward existing Windows desktop app developers with Windows 10. Developers will be able to leverage their .NET and Win32 work and bring this to Windows universal apps. "Sixteen million .NET and Win32 apps are still being used every month on Windows 7 and Windows 8," explains Myerson, so it’s clear Microsoft needs to get these into Windows 10.
Microsoft is using some of its HyperV work to virtualize these existing desktop apps on Windows 10. Adobe is one particular test case where Microsoft has been working closely with the firm to package its apps ready for Windows 10. Adobe Photoshop Elements is coming to the Windows Store as a universal app, using this virtualization technology. Performance is key for many desktop apps, so it will be interesting to see if Microsoft has managed to maintain a fluid app experience with this virtualization.
Collectively, Microsoft is referring to these four new SDKs as bridges or ramps to get developers interested in Windows 10. It’s a key moment for the company to really win back developers and prove that Windows is still relevant in a world that continues to be dominated by Android and iOS. The aim, as Myerson puts it, is to get Windows 10 on 1 billion devices within the next two to three years. That’s a big goal, and the company will need the support of developers and apps to help it get there.
These SDKs will generate questions among Microsoft’s core development community, especially those who invested heavily in the company’s Metro-style design and the unique features of Windows apps in the past. The end result for consumers is, hopefully, more apps, but for developers it’s a question of whether to simply port their existing iOS and Android work across and leave it at that, or extend those apps to use Windows features or even some design elements. "We want to structure the platform so it’s not an all or nothing," says Myerson. "If you use everything together it’s beautiful, but that’s not required to get started."
Microsoft still has the tricky mix of ported apps to contend with, and that could result in an app store similar to Amazon's, or even one where developers still aren't interested in porting. This is just the beginning, and Windows universal apps, while promising, still face a rocky and uncertain future.
Friday, April 24. 2015
Via SD Times
I recently attended Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco, where I had a revelation on why it is going to be impossible to succeed as a technology vendor in the long run without deeply embracing open source. Of the many great presentations I listened to, I was most captivated by the ones that explained how Facebook internally developed software. I was impressed by how quickly the company is turning such important IP back into the community.
To be sure, many major Web companies like Google and Yahoo have been leveraging open-source dynamics aggressively and contribute back to the community. My aim is not to single out Facebook, except that it was during the F8 conference I had the opportunity to reflect on the drivers behind Facebook’s actions and why other technology providers may be wise to learn from them.
Here are my 10 reasons why open-source software is effectively becoming inevitable for infrastructure and application platform companies:
Monday, April 13. 2015
Back in December, we reported on the alpha for BitTorrent’s Maelstrom, a browser that uses BitTorrent’s P2P technology in order to place some control of the Web back in users’ hands by eliminating the need for centralized servers.
Along with the beta comes the first set of developer tools for the browser, helping publishers and programmers to build their websites around Maelstrom’s P2P technology. And they need to – Maelstrom can’t decentralize the Internet if there isn’t any native content for the platform.
It’s only available on Windows at the moment but if you’re interested and on Microsoft’s OS, you can download the beta from BitTorrent now.? Project Maelstrom
Wednesday, April 01. 2015
Via Network World
GitHub has been hammered by a continuous DDoS attack for three days. It's the "largest DDoS attack in github.com's history." The attack is aimed at anti-censorship GreatFire and CN-NYTimes projects, but affected all of GitHub. The traffic is reportedly coming from China, as attackers are using the Chinese search engine Baidu for the purpose of "HTTP hijacking."
According to tweeted GitHub status messages, GitHub has been the victim of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack since Thursday March 26. 24 hours later, GitHub said it had "all hands on deck" working to mitigate the continuous attack. After GitHub later deployed "volumetric attack defenses," the attack morphed to include GitHub pages and then "pages and assets." Today, GitHub said it was 71 hours into defending against the attack.
Monday, March 23. 2015
For today's edition of There's Nothing New Under The Sun™, we have a radio engineer who experimented with creating high-tech fashion that would be right at home amongst the 21st century's glitch art and wifi visualizations. Except that these patterns were made in 1938.
The July 1938 issue of Radio-Craft magazine featured photos of RCA engineer C.E. Burnett, turning radiowaves into patterns that could be used on clothes and furniture. Burnett was a radio and TV engineer and was inspired to turn the frequencies he saw around him everyday into practical textiles.
In an article titled "Radio Creates Amazing Fashion Patterns," we learn about this new kind of art being created with a "radio kaleidoscope." By photographing a cathode ray tube (the same kind that would eventually fill American living rooms in the form of TV after WWII) and fiddling with the voltages and frequencies, the textile designer is able to create an "electronic snakeskin" pattern.
The patterns could be used for any number of products from hats and shoes to bags and lampshades. The possibilities were endless, and imperfections were welcome, as the article noted. But it also wasn't just a guessing game. Through smart manipulation, you could get the kind of pattern you wanted.
From the July 1938 issue of Radio-Craft:
This finding of patterns through electronic means is by no means an entirely hit-or-miss affair. Research has proven that given frequencies may be relied upon to produce patterns of a certain sort. If, for example, a chain effect of linked lines is wanted, they electronic designer looks at his frequency chart, sets the controls and — presto! — a pattern similar to that used on the bracelet illustrated appears.
I have yet to find any photos of Burnett's designs out in the real world and it's unclear from the article what became of this new high-tech inspired design technique. The article notes that surrealists artists would be "frantic with envy" over this method of creating visual art, but that it would find plenty of practical applications.
Whether anyone actually took up the torch for these "electronic patterns" in 1938 is unclear, but whether he knew it or not, Burnett would prove decades ahead of his time.Images: Scanned from the July 1938 issue of Radio-Craft magazine
Friday, March 20. 2015
Via PC World
Remember when the Internet was just that thing you accessed on your computer?
Today, connectivity is popping up in some surprising places: kitchen appliances, bathroom scales, door locks, clothes, water bottles… even toothbrushes.
That’s right, toothbrushes. The Oral-B SmartSeries is billed as the world’s first “interactive electric toothbrush” with built-in Bluetooth. Whatever your feelings on this level of connectivity, it’s undeniable that it’s a new frontier for data.
And let’s face it, we’re figuring it out as we go. Consequently, it’s a good idea to keep your devices secure - and that means leveraging a product like Norton Security, which protects mobile devices and can help keep intruders out of your home network. Because, let’s face it, the last thing you want is a toothbrush that turns on you.
Welcome to the age of the Internet of Things (IoT for short), the idea that everyday objects - and everyday users - can benefit from integrated network connectivity, whether it’s a washing machine that notifies you when it’s done or a collar-powered tracker that helps you locate your runaway pet.
Some of these innovations are downright brilliant. Others veer into impractical or even unbelievable. And some can present risks that we’ve never had to consider before.
Consider the smart lock. A variety of companies offer deadbolt-style door locks you can control from your smartphone. One of them, the August Smart Lock, will automatically sense when you approach your door and unlock it for you, even going so far as to lock it again once you’ve passed through. And the August app not only logs who has entered and exited, but also lets you provide a temporary virtual key to friends, family members, a maid service, and the like.
That’s pretty cool, but what happens in the event of a dead battery - either in the user’s smartphone or the lock itself? If your phone gets lost or stolen, is there a risk a thief can now enter your home? Could a hacker “pick” your digital lock? Smart lock-makers promise safeguards against all these contingencies, but it begs the question whether the conveniences outweigh the risks. Do we really need the Internet in all our things?
The latest that-can’t-possibly-be-a-real-product example made its debut at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show: The Belty, an automated belt/buckle combo that automatically loosens when you sit and tightens when you stand. A smartphone app lets you control the degree of each. Yep.
Then there’s the water bottle that reminds you to drink more water. The smart exercise shirt your trainer can use to keep tabs on your activity (or lack thereof). And who can forget the HAPIfork, the “smart” utensil that aims to steer you toward healthier eating by reminding you to eat more slowly?
Stop the Internet (of Things), I want to get off.
Okay, I shouldn’t judge. And it’s not all bad. There is real value in - and good reason to be excited about - a smart basketball that helps you perfect your jump shot. Or a system of smart light bulbs designed to deter break-ins. Ultimately, the free market will decide which ones are useful and which ones are ludicrous.
The important thing to remember is that with the IoT, we’re venturing into new territory. We’re linking more devices than ever to our home networks. We’re installing phone and tablet apps that have a direct line not just to our data, but also our very domiciles.
Wednesday, March 18. 2015
A year after it revealed another attempt to muscle in on the smartphone market, Canonical’s first Ubuntu-based smartphone is due to go on sale in Europe in the “coming days”, it said today. The device will be sold for €169.90 (~$190) unlocked to any carrier network, although some regional European carriers will be offering SIM bundles at the point of purchase. The hardware is an existing mid-tier device, the Aquaris E4.5, made by Spain’s BQ — with the Ubuntu version of the device known as the ‘Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition’. So the only difference here is it will be pre-loaded with Ubuntu’s mobile software, rather than Google’s Android platform.
Canonical has been trying to get into the mobile space for a while now. Back in 2013, the open source software maker failed to crowdfund a high end converged smartphone-cum-desktop-computer, called the Ubuntu Edge — a smartphone-sized device that would been powerful enough to transform from a pocket computer into a fully fledged desktop when plugged into a keyboard and monitor, running Ubuntu’s full-fat desktop OS. Canonical had sought to raise a hefty $32 million in crowdfunds to make that project fly. Hence its more modest, mid-tier smartphone debut now.
On the hardware side, Ubuntu’s first smartphone offers pretty bog standard mid-range specs, with a 4.5 inch screen, 1GB RAM, a quad-core A7 chip running at “up to 1.3Ghz”, 8GB of on-board storage, 8MP rear camera and 5MP front-facing lens, plus a dual-SIM slot. But it’s the mobile software that’s the novelty here (demoed in action in Canonical’s walkthrough video, embedded below).
Canonical has created a gesture-based smartphone interface called Scopes, which puts the homescreen focus on on a series of themed cards that aggregate content and which the user swipes between to navigate around the functions of the phone, while app icons are tucked away to the side of the screen, or gathered together on a single Scope card. Examples include a contextual ‘Today’ card which contains info like weather and calendar, or a ‘Nearby’ card for location-specific local services, or a card for accessing ‘Music’ content on the device, or ‘News’ for accessing various articles in one place.
It’s certainly a different approach to the default grid of apps found on iOS and Android but has some overlap with other, alternative platforms such as Palm’s WebOS, or the rebooted BlackBerry OS, or Jolla’s Sailfish. The problem is, as with all such smaller OSes, it will be an uphill battle for Canonical to attract developers to build content for its platform to make it really live and breathe. (It’s got a few third parties offering content at launch — including Songkick, The Weather Channel and TimeOut.) And, crucially, a huge challenge to convince consumers to try something different which requires they learn new mobile tricks. Especially given that people can’t try before they buy — as the device will be sold online only.
Canonical said the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition will be made available in a series of flash sales over the coming weeks, via BQ.com. Sales will be announced through Ubuntu and BQ’s social media channels — perhaps taking a leaf out of the retail strategy of Android smartphone maker Xiaomi, which uses online flash sales to hype device launches and shift inventory quickly. Building similar hype in a mature smartphone market like Europe — for mid-tier hardware — is going to a Sisyphean task. But Canonical claims to be in it for the long, uphill haul.
“We are going for the mass market,” Cristian Parrino, its VP of Mobile, told Engadget. “But that’s a gradual process and a thoughtful process. That’s something we’re going to be doing intelligently over time — but we’ll get there.”
Thursday, February 26. 2015
Let's face it, we're always at risk, and I speak for human kind, not just the personal risks we take each time we leave our homes. Some of these potential terrors are unavoidable -- we can't control the asteroid we find hurtling towards us or the next super volcano that may erupt as the Siberian Traps once did.
Some risks however, are well within our control, yet we continue down paths that are both exciting and potentially dangerous. In his book Demon Haunted World, the great astronomer, teacher and TV personality Carl Sagan wrote "Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance, particularly our ignorance about ourselves".
Now researchers have published a list of the risks we face and several of them are self-created. Perhaps the most prominent is artificial intelligence, or AI as it generally referred to. The technology has been fairly prominent in the news recently as both Elon Musk and Bill Gates have warned of its dangers. Musk went as far as to invest in some of the companies so that he could keep an eye on things.
The new report states "extreme intelligences could not easily be controlled (either by the groups creating them, or by some international regulatory regime), and would probably act to boost their own intelligence and acquire maximal resources for almost all initial AI motivations".
Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world's most famous scientist, told the BBC "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race".
That's three obviously intelligent men telling us it's a bad idea, but of course that will not deter those who wish to develop it and if it is controlled correctly then it may not be the huge danger we worry about.
What else is on the list of doom and gloom? Several more man-made problems, including nuclear war, global system collapse, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology. There is also the usual array of asteroids, super volcanoes and global pandemics. For good measure, the scientists even added in bad global governance.
If you would like to read the report for yourself it can be found at the Global Challenges Foundation website. It may keep you awake at night -- even better than a good horror movie could.
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