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Programming

America's Former CTO Remembers Historic Coders (bard.edu) 85

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: In her Bard College commencement speech, ex-Google VP and former U.S. CTO Megan Smith revealed to graduates that she gave President Obama a computing history lesson on the same day he learned to code in 2014. "I walked into the Oval Office to do coding with President Obama, and, interestingly, Prince William had just stepped out," Smith explained (YouTube). "They had just had a meeting. I said to President Obama, you know what you and I are about to do is related to Prince William, and he said, how's that. Well, the Prince's wife Kate, her mother and grandmother were codebreakers at Bletchley Park, where they cracked the Nazi Enigma codes...." [Presumably Smith meant to say Kate's great-aunt, not mother — Carole Middleton wasn't born until 1955.]

To be fair to the President, Smith once confessed to not knowing much about computing history herself, explaining in a 2012 Official Google Blog post that she and other visiting tech luminaries were embarrassingly clueless about who Ada Lovelace was in a 2011 visit to England. "Last year, a group of us were lucky enough to visit the U.K. Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street, as part of the Silicon Valley Comes to the U.K. initiative," Smith wrote. "While there, we asked about some of the paintings on the wall. When we got to a large portrait of a regally dressed woman, our host said 'and of course, that's Lady Lovelace'... You can imagine our surprise when we learned she was considered by some to be the world's first computer programmer -- having published the first algorithm intended for use on Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine." One imagines Smith might also have been surprised to learn that many programmers older than Smith were already very aware of Lady Ada at that time thanks to the Department of Defense, who tried in vain to make Ada a household name for decades, but had little success popularizing the Ada programming language, which was named after Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.

KDE

KDE Plasma 5.13 Released (kde.org) 94

jrepin writes: KDE unveils the final release of Plasma 5.13, the free and open-source desktop environment. Members of the Plasma team have focused on optimizing startup and minimizing memory usage. Plasma Browser Integration is a suite of new features which make Firefox, Chrome and Chromium-based browsers work with your desktop. For example, downloads are now displayed in the Plasma notification popup, and the Media Controls Plasmoid can mute and skip videos and music playing from within the browser. Browser tabs can be opened directly using KRunner via the Alt-Space keyboard shortcut. System Settings design has been improved further. Window manager gained much-improved effects for blur and desktop switching. Wayland work continued, with the return of window rules, and initial support for screencasts and desktop sharing. You can view the changelog here.
Desktops (Apple)

Clear Linux Beats MacOS in MacBook Pro Benchmark Tests (phoronix.com) 155

To celebrate its 14th birthday, Phoronix.com used a 15-inch MacBook Pro to run system benchmarking tests on the following operating systems:

- Windows 10 Pro

- The latest macOS 10.13 High Sierra

- Windows 10 Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) using Ubuntu 18.04

- Ubuntu 18.04 LTS with the Linux 4.15 kernel, GCC 7.3.0, and an EXT4 file-system.

- Clear Linux 22780 with the Linux 4.16 kernel, GCC 8.1.1, and EXT4.

- Fedora Workstation 28 with updates is the Linux 4.16 kernel, GCC 8.1.1, and EXT4.

- OpenSUSE Tumbleweed with the Linux 4.16 kernel, GCC 7.3.1, and default file-system configuration of Btrfs root file-system with XFS home partition.

The results? When it came to outright wins and losses, Clear Linux 22780 was the front-runner 59% of the time followed by macOS 10.13.4 finishing first 21% of the time and then Fedora Workstation 28 with winning 10% of the time.

For losses, to little surprise considering the I/O overhead, Windows 10 was in last place 38% of the time followed by Ubuntu 18.04 being surprisingly the slowest Linux distribution 30% of the time on this 2016 MacBook Pro.

The article also reminds readers that "For those looking for a Linux laptop, there are plenty of better options..."
DRM

Flight-Sim Maker Threatens Legal Action Over Reddit Posts Discussing DRM (arstechnica.com) 175

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Today's controversy begins with a Reddit thread that noted FlightSimLabs' A320 add-on installing "cmdhost.exe" files in the "system32" and "SysWOW64" folders inside the Windows directory. The strange filename and location -- which seems designed to closely match those of actual Windows system files -- made some Reddit users suspicious, especially given FlightSimLabs history of undisclosed installations. FlightSimLabs responded on Facebook last Thursday by saying that the files came from third-party e-commerce service eSellerate and were designed to "reduce the number of product activation issues people were having." This system has been acknowledged in the FlightSimLabs forums in the past, and it apparently passes all major antivirus checks.

The "controversy" over these files might well have died down after that response. But then FlightSimLabs' Simon Kelsey sent a message to the moderators of the flightsim subreddit, gently reminding them of "Reddit's obligation as a publisher... to ensure that any libelous content is taken down as soon as you become aware of it." While ostensibly welcoming "robust fair comment and opinion," the message also warns that "ANY suggestion that our current or future products pose any threat to users is absolutely false and libelous." That warning extends to the company's previous password-extractor controversy, with Kelsey writing, "ANY suggestion that any user's data was compromised during the events of February is entirely false and therefore libelous." "I would hate for lawyers to have to get involved in this, and I trust that you will take appropriate steps to ensure that no such libel is posted," Kelsey concludes. A follow-up message from Kelsey reiterated the same points and noted that FlightSimLabs has reported specific comments and demanded they be removed as libelous.

Power

Russian Scientists Upgrade Nuclear Battery Design To Increase Power Output (sciencealert.com) 150

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: A team of Russian researchers have put a new spin on technology that uses the beta decay of a radioactive element to create differences in voltage. The devices are made of stacks of isotope of nickel-63 sandwiched between a pair of special semiconducting diodes called a Schottky barrier. This barrier keeps a current headed one way, a feature often used to turn alternating currents into direct ones. Finding that the optimal thickness of each layer was just 2 micrometers, the researchers were able to maximize the voltage produced by every gram of isotope.

Nickel-63 has a half-life of just over 100 years, which in an optimized system like this adds up to 3,300 milliwatt-hours of energy per gram: ten times the specific energy of your typical electrochemical cell. It's a significant step up from previous nickel-63 betavoltaic devices, and while it isn't quite enough to power your smart phone, it does bring it into a realm of being useful for a wide variety of tasks.

Government

California's Efforts To Restrict Elon Musk's Flamethrowers Go Down In Flames (arstechnica.com) 153

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A California state bill that would have more heavily regulated the use of flamethrowers has now effectively fizzled out in a legislative committee. In light of this development, there's nothing to stop Boring Company customers in California from receiving the company's sold-out flamethrowers. On May 26, the day after the bill died in committee, CEO Elon Musk tweeted: "About to ship. @BoringCompany holding flamethrower pickup parties in a week or so, then deliveries begin. Check https://www.boringcompany.com/... for details." After Musk said he would be selling a flamethrower dubbed "Not a Flamethrower" to get around customs, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) authored a bill that would have imposed more restrictions on their acquisition and use.

"I honestly thought it was a joke when I saw the news about this," the assemblyman said in a statement at the time. "This product, in the wake of California's deadliest wildfire year in state history, is incredibly insensitive, dangerous, and most definitely not funny." He added: "There are many times in which technology and inventions benefit society but are not made available to the public. We don't allow people to walk in off the street and purchase military grade tanks or armor-piercing ammunition... I cannot even begin to imagine the problems a flamethrower would cause firefighters and police officers alike."
Iphone

Apple May Introduce a Triple-Camera iPhone This Year (thenextweb.com) 107

A rumor from The Korea Herald suggests that Apple may be planning on introducing its first triple camera smartphone this year with the rumored 6.5-inch iPhone. The rumor comes buried in a piece mostly about Samsung, which is also expected to introduce a triple-camera smartphone with next year's S10. The Next Web reports: To be clear, this isn't the first time we've heard word of a triple camera iPhone, but the three previous reports have pointed to a 2019 release, according to MacRumors. One of these reports was from Ming Chi Kuo, an Apple analyst who has a solid track record. The fact that's it's mentioned offhandedly in the Korea Herald report makes me think the date may have been a mistake. No matter how good AI and processing get, there's only so much you can do within the physical constraints of a small smartphone sensor. In theory, using multiple cameras and combining the information with some smart processing could help you somewhat replicate the image quality of a larger sensor.
The Courts

ACLU Sues ICE For License Plate Reader Contracts, Records (sfgate.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from SFGate: The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for records about the agency's use of license plate reader technology, after ICE apparently failed to turn over records following multiple requests. In December, ICE purchased access to two databases of ALPR data, the complaint reads. One of those databases is managed by Vigilant Solutions, which has contracts with more than two dozen Bay Area law enforcement agencies. "We believe the other is managed by Thomson Reuters," ACLU laywer Vasudha Talla said. The ACLU and other privacy advocates have expressed concern about how this data will be stored and used for civil immigration enforcement. The ACLU filed two requests under the Freedom of Information Act in March seeking records from ICE, including contracts, memos, associated communications, training materials and audit logs. Since then, ICE has not provided any records, the ACLU said in the complaint, which was filed Tuesday morning in the Northern District Court for the Northern District of California. "The excessive collection and storing of this data in databases -- which is then pooled and shared nationally -- results in a systemic monitoring that chills the exercise of constitutional rights to free speech and association, as well as essential tasks such as driving to work, picking children up from school, and grocery shopping," the complaint said. "We have essentially two concerns: one that is general to ALPR databases, and one that's specific to this situation with ICE," Talla said. "The ACLU has done a lot of work around surveillance technology and ALPR, and we're generally concerned about the aggregation of all this data about license plates paired with a time and location, stretching back for so many months and years."
Technology

Faster Audio Decoding and Encoding Coming To Ogg and FLAC (phoronix.com) 90

FLAC and Ogg now have faster audio encoding and decoding capabilities thanks to recent code improvements. An anonymous reader writes: Robert Kausch of the fre:ac audio converter project informed news outlet Phoronix about recent changes he has made to FLAC and Ogg for bolstering faster performance. Kausch says he updated the CRC checks within FLAC and Ogg to a faster algorithm and those patches have now been accepted upstream. The Ogg and FLAC updates were merged this week for using the optimized CRC algorithm. As a result of this, encoding and decoding FLAC is now 5 percent faster, while encoding and decoding Ogg FLAC is 10 percent and 15 percent faster, respectively. Opus sees about one percent faster decoding, while Vorbis does decoding at two percent faster pace.
Power

No Fossil Fuel-Based Generation Was Added To US Grid Last Month (arstechnica.com) 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In the U.S., two types of electricity generation are on the rise: natural gas and renewables. If one of those is set to make a bigger mark than the other this year, it's natural gas: in 2018, natural gas-burning capacity is expected to outpace renewable capacity for the first time in five years, according to data from the Energy Information Agency. Although natural gas additions are expected to overtake renewable energy additions in 2018, forecasts for renewable energy additions to the grid roughly match what we saw in 2017. Natural gas is overtaking renewables not because renewable energy adoption is slowing, but more because natural gas facilities are seeing a considerable boom.

In fact, barring any changes in the EIA numbers, natural gas, wind, and solar generation are the only electricity generation sources that will be added to the U.S. grid in any consequential manner in 2018. Battery, hydroelectric, and biomass facilities make up the small percentage of "other" sources that are expected to come online this year. Renewable energy also started off the year strong. According to the EIA, "in February 2018, for the first time in decades, all of the new generating capacity coming online within a month were non-fossil-fueled. Of the 475 MW of capacity that came online in February, 81 percent was wind, 16 percent was solar photovoltaic, and the remaining 3 percent was hydro and biomass."

Software

In Virtual Reality, How Much Body Do You Need? (nytimes.com) 34

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Will it soon be possible to simulate the feeling of a spirit not attached to any particular physical form using virtual or augmented reality? If so, a good place to start would be to figure out the minimal amount of body we need to feel a sense of self, especially in digital environments where more and more people may find themselves for work or play. It might be as little as a pair of hands and feet, report Dr. Michiteru Kitazaki and a Ph.D. student, Ryota Kondo. In a paper published Tuesday in Scientific Reports, they showed that animating virtual hands and feet alone is enough to make people feel their sense of body drift toward an invisible avatar (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). Their work fits into a corpus of research on illusory body ownership, which has challenged understandings of perception and contributed to therapies like treating pain for amputees who experience phantom limb.

Using an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and a motion sensor, Dr. Kitazaki's team performed a series of experiments in which volunteers watched disembodied hands and feet move two meters in front of them in a virtual room. In one experiment, when the hands and feet mirrored the participants' own movements, people reported feeling as if the space between the appendages were their own bodies. In another experiment, the scientists induced illusory ownership of an invisible body, then blacked out the headset display, effectively blindfolding the subjects. The researchers then pulled them a random distance back and asked them to return to their original position, still virtually blindfolded. Consistently, the participants overshot their starting point, suggesting that their sense of body had drifted or "projected" forward, toward the transparent avatar.

Cellphones

Lenovo Teases a True All-Screen Smartphone With No Notch (cnet.com) 177

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Notches, it seems, are the new black. Originally seen -- and often criticized -- on the Essential PH-1 and iPhone X in 2017, the trend of adding notches to Android phones has only accelerated this year as phone makers look to maximize the screen size. But the Lenovo Z5 is going the other way: It's truly all-screen, and notch-free. At least, that's according to a sketch shared last Friday by Lenovo VP Chang Cheng on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China. Cheng's teaser post says (according to Google Translate) that the Lenovo Z5 is the company's new flagship phone. Besides that, the post leaves it pretty vague.

All-screen phones look cool, but they challenge the manufacturer to find a place to put front cameras, sensors and other hardware. That's why we see bezels on some phones and notches on others. It's not clear what Lenovo plans to do with the front camera on the Lenovo Z5. Cheng's post claims that "four technological breakthroughs" and "18 patented technologies" were made for the phone, but doesn't go into details.
One of the first smartphones to launch with an edge-to-edge display was the Xiaomi Mi Mix. It launched with next to no bezel or notch, leaving many to wonder where the earpiece would be. What Xiaomi managed to do was use what it calls "cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology." Basically, it's a component that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy to transfer to the phone's internal metal frame, which then vibrates to create sound. It's possible the Z5 relies on a similar technology, or bone conduction technology found in many headphones and some smartphones.

Aside from the front-facing camera and ambient light sensors, the other components that are typically found on the front of smartphones are relatively easy to drag-and-drop to different locations. For example, the speakers in the Z5 are likely bottom facing and the navigation controls are almost certainly software based. The question is whether or not it's worth having a true all-screen smartphone if it means there's no front-facing camera, ambient light sensors, or stereo speakers.
Space

'Yes, Pluto Is a Planet' (sfgate.com) 301

schwit1 quotes a Washington Post perspective piece by the authors of a new book about Pluto: The process for redefining planet was deeply flawed and widely criticized even by those who accepted the outcome. At the 2006 IAU conference, which was held in Prague, the few scientists remaining at the very end of the week-long meeting (less than 4 percent of the world's astronomers and even a smaller percentage of the world's planetary scientists) ratified a hastily drawn definition that contains obvious flaws. For one thing, it defines a planet as an object orbiting around our sun -- thereby disqualifying the planets around other stars, ignoring the exoplanet revolution, and decreeing that essentially all the planets in the universe are not, in fact, planets.

Even within our solar system, the IAU scientists defined "planet" in a strange way, declaring that if an orbiting world has "cleared its zone," or thrown its weight around enough to eject all other nearby objects, it is a planet. Otherwise it is not. This criterion is imprecise and leaves many borderline cases, but what's worse is that they chose a definition that discounts the actual physical properties of a potential planet, electing instead to define "planet" in terms of the other objects that are -- or are not -- orbiting nearby. This leads to many bizarre and absurd conclusions. For example, it would mean that Earth was not a planet for its first 500 million years of history, because it orbited among a swarm of debris until that time, and also that if you took Earth today and moved it somewhere else, say out to the asteroid belt, it would cease being a planet.

To add insult to injury, they amended their convoluted definition with the vindictive and linguistically paradoxical statement that "a dwarf planet is not a planet." This seemingly served no purpose but to satisfy those motivated by a desire -- for whatever reason -- to ensure that Pluto was "demoted" by the new definition. By and large, astronomers ignore the new definition of "planet" every time they discuss all of the exciting discoveries of planets orbiting other stars.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu Considering an HTML5-Based OS Installer (phoronix.com) 179

An anonymous reader writes: Ubuntu's Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, Mark Shuttleworth, is considering backing a new Ubuntu installer that would be using HTML5 via the Electron Framework. This theoretical installer would re-use the company's existing HTML5 code for managing MAAS installations, integrate with Electron, and also better support their Snap packaging format, according to his proposal. What could possibly go wrong with an HTML5/Electron operating system installer? Mark also announced that Ubuntu 18.10 is codenamed the Cosmic Cuttlefish.
iMac

Apple's iMac Turns 20 Years Old (cnn.com) 127

Twenty years ago on May 6, 1998, Steve Jobs unveiled the iMac for the first time. Current CEO Tim Cook shared footage from the event on Twitter Sunday. It shows Jobs describing the $1,299 iMac as an impossibly futuristic device. CNNMoney reports: "The whole thing is translucent, you can see into it. It's so cool," Jobs gushes. He points to a handle that allows the computer's owner to easily lift the device, which is about the size of a modern microwave oven. He takes a jab at the competition: "The back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guy's, by the way." In January 1999, less than a year after the iMac's debut, Apple more than tripled its quarterly profit.

The San Francisco Chronicle declared Apple was "cashing in on insatiable demand for its new space-age iMac computer." For the next decade, Jobs kept the new "i" products coming. Today, the iMac is in its seventh generation and is virtually unrecognizable from its ancestor. An Apple spokesperson notes an "iMac today consumes up to 96% less energy in sleep mode than the first generation."
Some of the original iMac's tech specs include: PowerPC G3 processor clocked at 233MHz, 15-inch display with 1,024x768 resolution, two USB ports and Ethernet with a built-in software modem, 4GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM (expandable to 128MB), 24x CD-ROM drive, built-in stereo speakers with SRS sound, Apple-designed USB keyboard and mouse, and Mac OS 8.1.
GNU is Not Unix

GCC 8.1 Compiler Introduces Initial C++20 Support (gnu.org) 90

"Are you tired of your existing compilers? Want fresh new language features and better optimizations?" asks an announcement on the GCC mailing list touting "a major release containing substantial new functionality not available in GCC 7.x or previous GCC releases."

An anonymous reader writes: GNU has released the GCC 8.1 compiler with initial support for the C++20 (C++2A) revision of C++ currently under development. This annual update to the GNU Compiler Collection also comes with many other new features/improvements including but not limited to new ARM CPU support, support for next-generation Intel CPUs, AMD HSA IL, and initial work on Fortran 2018 support.
Programming

One Of LLVM's Top Contributors Quits Development Over Code of Conduct, Outreach Program (phoronix.com) 1235

Rafael Avila de Espindola is the fifth most active contributor to LLVM with more than 4,300 commits since 2006, but now he has decided to part ways with the project. From a report: Rafael posted a rather lengthy mailing list message to fellow LLVM developers today entitled I am leaving llvm. He says the reason for abandoning LLVM development after 12 years is due to changes in the community. In particular, the "social injustice" brought on the organization's new LLVM Code of Conduct and its decision to participate in this year's Outreachy program to encourage women and other minority groups to get involved with free software development. "I am definitely sad to lose Rafael from the LLVM project, but it is critical to the long term health of the project that we preserve an inclusive community. I applaud Rafael for standing by his personal principles, this must have been a hard decision," Chris Lattner, tweeted Thursday.
Television

Comcast Won't Give New Speed Boost To Internet Users Who Don't Buy TV Service (arstechnica.com) 264

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Last week, Comcast announced speed increases for customers in Houston and the Oregon/SW Washington areas. The announcement headlines were "Comcast increases Internet speeds for some video customers." Customers with 60Mbps Internet download speeds are being upped to 150Mbps; 150Mbps subscribers are going to 250Mbps; and 250Mbps subscribers are getting a raise to 400Mbps or 1Gbps. Comcast says speed increases will kick in automatically without raising the customers' monthly bills -- but only if they subscribe to certain bundles that include both Internet and TV service.

"Cord cutters are not invited to the [speed increase] party," the Houston Chronicle wrote. "Only those who bundle Internet with cable television and other services... will see their speeds go up at no extra charge." Presumably, Internet-only customers can get the new speeds by paying more or by bundling their Internet subscriptions with video.

Linux

USB 3.2 Work Is On The Way For The Linux 4.18 Kernel: Report (phoronix.com) 65

An anonymous reader shares a report: USB 3.2 was announced last summer as an incremental update to the USB standard to double the bandwidth for existing USB Type-C cables. We haven't seen much in the way of USB 3.2 mentions in the Linux kernel yet but then again we haven't really seen USB 3.2 devices yet. USB 3.2 brings a multi-lane operation mode for hosts and devices using existing Type-C cables as well as a minor update to the USB hub specification. USB 3.2 allows for new 10 Gbit/s and 20 Gbit/s rates using two lanes, USB 3.2 Gen 1x2 and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, respectively. It looks like kernel developers are now working on getting their USB 3.2 Linux support in order. We were tipped off that as of last week there are some USB 3.2 patches queued in the usb-next tree maintained by Greg Kroah-Hartman's.
Programming

Drupal Warns of New Remote-Code Bug, the Second in Four Weeks (arstechnica.com) 50

For the second time in a month, websites that use the Drupal content management system are confronted with a stark choice: install a critical update or risk having your servers infected with ransomware or other nasties. From a report: Maintainers of the open-source CMS built on the PHP programming language released an update patching critical remote-code vulnerability on Wednesday. The bug, formally indexed as CVE-2018-7602, exists within multiple subsystems of Drupal 7.x and 8.x. Drupal maintainers didn't provide details on how the vulnerability can be exploited other than to say attacks work remotely. The maintainers rated the vulnerability "critical" and urged websites to patch it as soon as possible.

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