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Comment: 1080p, flash were the big criteria for me (Score 1) 45

by billstewart (#49744141) Attached to: Rate These 53 Sub-$200 Hacker SBCs, Win 1 of 20

Last year I was looking into getting either a Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone Black. BBB had a newer ARM rev for the CPU, so it can run more kinds of OS. But the RPi has the removable flash as its drive, so you can easily load whatever OS image you want, change OSs by switching flash chips, and if you hose it too badly you can take it out and reload, without worrying about whether you've bricked the board. Also, the specs at the time said the RPi had a better GPU, and could do 1080p at 60 Hz vs. only 30Hz for BBB, which means I can plug it into TVs and monitors without as much flicker. I chose the RPi.

BBB nominally costs a bit more, but by the time you buy cases and power supplies and flash and such, it pretty much balances out.

Comment: VENOM bug exploits floppy drivers in KVM, etc. (Score 1) 368

A Floppy Disk is that device you almost never bother using, but which gets added to your virtual machines by default, at least under VMware (haven't paid attention on OpenStack.) The recently-discovered VENOM vulnerability exploits bugs in the floppy drivers, which have been around for a decade, to let a process on a virtual machine break out into the hypervisor and maybe mess with other virtual machines.

So it's especially timely to have a convenient new platform for using floppies!


Biologists Create Self-Healing Concrete 94

Posted by Soulskill
from the building-borg-golems dept.
Mr.Intel writes: A team of microbiologists from the Delft University of Technology claims to have invented "bioconcrete" — concrete that heals cracks and breaks using bacteria. The goal was to find a type of bacteria that could live inside concrete and also produce small amount of limestone that could re-seal cracks. This is a difficult prospect because concrete is quite dry and strongly alkaline. The bacteria needed to be able to stay alive for years in those conditions before being activated by water. The bacteria also need a food source — simply adding sugar to concrete will make it weak. The scientists used calcium lactate instead, adding biodegradable capsules of it to the concrete mix. "When cracks eventually begin to form in the concrete, water enters and open the capsules. The bacteria then germinate, multiply and feed on the lactate, and in doing so they combine the calcium with carbonate ions to form calcite, or limestone, which closes up the cracks."

Academics Call For Greater Transparency About Google's Right To Be Forgotten 57

Posted by samzenpus
from the show-us-the-list dept.
Mark Wilson writes: Just yesterday Google revealed that it rejects most Right To Be Forgotten requests it receives. In publishing yet another transparency report, the search giant will have hoped to have put to bed any questions that users and critics may have had. While the report may have satisfied some, it did not go anywhere near far enough for one group of academics. A total of 80 university professors, law experts and technology professionals have written an open letter to Google demanding greater transparency. The letter calls upon the company to reveal more about how Right To Be Forgotten requests are handled so that the public is aware of the control that is being exerted over "readily accessible information."

Comment: GSM Rolling their own - Malice or Incompetence? (Score 1) 111

by billstewart (#49670699) Attached to: Poor, Homegrown Encryption Threatens Open Smart Grid Protocol

GSM rolled their own crypto. They depended on Obscurity to protect their algorithm. Somebody handed a copy to Ian Goldberg, then a grad student at Berkeley, and the reason it took him three whole hours to break it was that the Chinese restaurant near campus was having the good lunch special that day.

It was a weak enough algorithm (designed in electrical-engineer-math style, which is fine if you want checksums for reliability) that I'll give them credit for incompetence, though the fact that 10 bits of the already-too-short key were always set to 0 looks much more like malice (with a slight possibility that an early hardware implementation didn't have enough spare bits on some part of the chip.)

Ron Rivest can sometimes get away with rolling his own algorithms - but RC4 and MD5 are looking pretty weak these days, even if you don't count the (documented from the beginning) rules about making sure to never ever use the same RC4 key twice, which was ignored several different ways in PPTP and in a number of other protocols implemented by people who were rolling their own implementations without understanding the algorithms.

Comment: Google Makes Upgrading Impossible for Consumers (Score 1) 434

by billstewart (#49649709) Attached to: Google Can't Ignore the Android Update Problem Any Longer

Phones and Tablets are different problems - with phones and 3G/4G/LTE tablets, you've got a carrier who can push updates to you, but if you've got a Wifi-only tablet, there's no carrier, just a manufacturer. Do they have an incentive to upgrade? Does the user have a way to tell?

Google's new product announcements always say "See all our shiny new features! If you have one of these three Google Nexus products, you can get it! Otherwise, wait for your carrier to maybe do something!", but never say (at least to consumers; I assume they tell manufacturers) "If your device has at least this generation processor and this much memory, you can upgrade, here's how." Part of that is because, for the big-vendor phones, the manufacturer and sometimes the carrier heavily customize the product, replace half the user interface and tools with custom ones and add a bunch of useful apps or bloatware, and then you can't just do the OS upgrade yourself because you'd lose the customization and probably also lose the bloatware.

My old HTC phone was heavily customized, and the upgrade from 2.1 to 2.2 wasn't actually pushed out, though you could pull it for a little while, if your phone wasn't broken when locked-to-AndroidMarket got replaced with Google Play. My noname 4.0.x tablet which has Google Play but no obvious customization is now running 4.0.4 (I think it originally had 4.0.1), so it shouldn't be a problem to upgrade it if it's got enough horsepower - and Google never tells you how much horsepower they need, just what Nexus models support it.. I ended up replacing the HTC with a Samsung, and haven't taken the time to go back and install Cyanogen on the HTC; I assume if I did that to the tablet I'd lose Google Play access, which I depend on for apps and patches.

Comment: There're lots of new 2.3 phones (Score 1) 434

by billstewart (#49649441) Attached to: Google Can't Ignore the Android Update Problem Any Longer

There are two kinds of 2.x phones out there - really old phones, and cheap low-end phones that run 2.3 because they don't have the horsepower to run 4.x. Many of them are pay-as-you-go phones you can buy at 7-11 or low-end ones from carriers for customers who don't want to pay iPhone prices.

My HTC was locked to Android Market, and wasn't willing to talk to Google Play, and the carrier never pushed out the 2.1->2.2 upgrade in a way that worked for me. 3.x was mainly a tablet release that didn't affect phones, and most of those seem to have been upgradeable to 4.0.


Technology and Ever-Falling Attention Spans 147

Posted by Soulskill
from the click-here-to-something-something-i-forget dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The BBC has an article about technology's effect on concentration in the workplace. They note research finding that the average information worker's attention span has dropped significantly in only a few years. "Back in 2004 we followed American information workers around with stopwatches and timed every action. They switched their attention every three minutes on average. In 2012, we found that the time spent on one computer screen before switching to another computer screen was one minute 15 seconds. By the summer of 2014 it was an average of 59.5 seconds." Many groups are now researching ways to keep people in states of focus and concentration. An app ecosystem is popping up to support that as well, from activity timing techniques to background noise that minimizes distractions. Recent studies are even showing that walking slowly on a treadmill while you work can have positive effects on focus and productivity. What tricks do you use to keep yourself on task?

Comment: Went to Smithsonian Air/Space Museum for research (Score 1) 160

by billstewart (#49604361) Attached to: US Switches Air Traffic Control To New Computer System

Back in the late 80s, when I was working on that decade's failed project to replace the 360/90-based systems, my coworker and I were in DC for a meeting on some phase of the project (or one of the related projects), and we had half a day spare, so we went to the Smithsonian Air&Space Museum to do "research". They didn't have examples of the system we were working on, but they did have some other air traffic control systems (Tracon, I think), and other cool stuff like astronaut ice cream. After that we went to the National Gallery, because Van Gogh.

Comment: Redundancy is really hard. (Score 1) 160

by billstewart (#49604347) Attached to: US Switches Air Traffic Control To New Computer System

That's not even counting the huge amount of code that's designed to make sure all the other parts of the code are working, and to do something appropriate if they're not, and the code that's designed to make sure that code is also working. That stuff's a lot harder than the basic code, and getting it right is the difference between a system with double- or triple-redundant hardware that gets you the 8 9s of reliability the FAA naively thought was possible with 1980s hardware and a air-traffic control system that had triple-redundant hardware running an operating system that crashed weekly (that one was in Singapore, but I don't know if it was actually deployed; I assume they killed it long before it hit the field.)

The 1980s attempt at developing this was only going to be deployed at the ~25 En-Route control centers (with simpler components at the several hundred radar sites feeding each one); it's not intended to be at every airport tower, which was a bunch of different systems.

It's interesting to see how much this thing has grown into, beyond the initial "get radar signals onto the board and replace paper flight-strips and never ever ever crash" goals.

Comment: LOTSa Naivete was involved. (Score 1) 160

by billstewart (#49604335) Attached to: US Switches Air Traffic Control To New Computer System

Most of it on the part of the people who started the original project, who thought it would be done in 3-4 years, made way too many incorrect decisions for the wrong reasons, specified lots of requirements without understanding how impossible they were to meet, picked multiple sets of pie from multiple sets of skies, and didn't start with the ability to get kinds of budget they would have needed to do the job right (if they'd picked a definition of "right" that could have been implemented in the 1980s, when they were trying to replace a 1960s system that had much lower ambitions when it was built, but was still a big upgrade over the 1950s predecessor), but the one thing everybody knew was that if airplanes fall out of the sky or crash into each other, the FAA gets blamed, and if the system's late, the FAA gets blamed, and if it's over budget, the FAA gets blamed, and if the budget had been bigger to start with, the FAA would have been blamed, and if the FAA's going to get blamed, then you can be the contractors trying to design the system are going to get blamed a lot, even just for asking questions when they're working on the thing.

Projects with a scope of tens of millions of dollars are much much different than projects with a scope of a few billions or a few tens of billions. A couple of years after I worked on my part of that fiasco, one of the directors for information systems for one of the National Labs was telling us that he was trying to restructure things to be done in small manageable projects, because he'd never seen the government do a billion-dollar computer project that didn't fail. And all that ancient "Mythical Man-Month" stuff said things you probably already knew about projects in the $10m range sometimes being too large; I remember one much less critical project that had 30 people working on it, so it had to grow to 150 people before it totally failed; if it had started with 5 people instead of 30 and had a budget limiting it to a max of 10, it might have worked. But projects that know they're legitimately in the billion-dollar scale are really really hard.

Comment: Ada's no more verbose than C++ or Java (Score 1) 160

by billstewart (#49604311) Attached to: US Switches Air Traffic Control To New Computer System

It's designed for object-oriented use, with lots of type specification and such upfront, to push decisions into upfront design time rather than coding time, and it's not as terse as C or APL, but it's nowhere near as verbose as COBOL. I wouldn't use it today (mostly because its main uses are for military stuff I won't do, and for antique maintenance, and it doesn't have all the friendly libraries that I'm used to and probably doesn't easily link to non-Ada systems), but it's a fairly cromulent language.

Comment: Oh, my! Re: Glitches (Score 1) 160

by billstewart (#49604277) Attached to: US Switches Air Traffic Control To New Computer System

The article you're pointing to was about how one of the ERAM systems crashed trying to cope with a bizarre flight plan for a U-2 spy plane.

When I was working on AAS in the late 80s, one thing I was mildly concerned about was that the planned "upgrade" our project was trying to design wouldn't really be able to cope with super-sonic aircraft over the continental US. The requirements for how much area had to show on a controller's screen and how fast the radar sweeps were meant that anything at Concorde speeds would kind of blip onto the screen, maybe bounce once or twice more, and then be gone by the next refresh, either to somebody else's screen or another regional center. Economics and politics (sonic booms, restrictions on what nations' airlines could compete for US markets, etc.) meant that it wasn't a likely prospect anyway, but U-2 spy planes operate under different economics and politics.

"A car is just a big purse on wheels." -- Johanna Reynolds