Google abandons tracking authorship

in google on (#2RXV)
After many years of experimentation, Google has finally decided to abandon its tracking of authorship. Authorship was potentially useful but a bit of a hassle to implement. First you had to create a Google profile, then somewhere, like in the footer of your blog or equivalent, you needed a hyperlink to that profile. Thirdly, in your Google profile, you had to provide a list of sites where you were an author. When you'd jumped through those hoops, you'd be rewarded with a little picture of yourself next to Google search results linked to your site.

About a year ago, they decided to reduce the number of results that showed an image to only the biggest guns or some, select searches. And now they've decided it wasn't providing much value at all, and have ditched it. From John Mueller's G+ post:
Unfortunately, we've also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we've made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.

(If you’re curious -- in our tests, removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads. We make these kinds of changes to improve our users’ experience.)
Sayonara, authorship! Webmasters had fun jumping through the endless hoops of clawing ourselves up the slope of Search Engine Optimization anyway!

Radio telescopes settle controversy over distance to Pleiades

in space on (#2RXC)
story imageAstronomers have used a worldwide network of radio telescopes to resolve a controversy over the distance to a famous star cluster — a controversy that posed a potential challenge to scientists’ basic understanding of how stars form and evolve. The new work shows that the measurement made by a cosmic-mapping research satellite was wrong.
Until the 1990s, the consensus was that the Pleiades are about 430 light-years from Earth. However, the European satellite Hipparcos, launched in 1989 to precisely measure the positions and distances of thousands of stars, produced a distance measurement of only about 390 light-years. ... “That may not seem like a huge difference, but in order to fit the physical characteristics of the Pleiades stars, it challenged our general understanding of how stars form and evolve,” said Carl Melis of the University of California, San Diego. “To fit the Hipparcos distance measurement, some astronomers even suggested that some type of new and unknown physics had to be at work in such young stars.”

Google "picture" tag now in Google Chrome/HTML 5.1

in internet on (#2RXA)
What's wrong with the good old "img" tag in HTML code for images? In a word, it's a tag that links to a graphic image of specific size and proportions.
[The folks at Google think the new picture tag] could usher in a new era of responsive design. The basic idea behind the concept of responsive design is that a given web site will scale and render appropriately for a specific screen size, whether that screen is attached to a desktop PC or a smartphone.

We'll find out soon enough. Google has proposed it for the new HTML 5.1 spec, and built it into a beta version of Chrome. More comments on Slashdot here.

Mars Opportunity Rover about to undergo long-distance flash memory reformat

in space on (#2RX7)
story imageYou think it's stressful to remotely reboot a server in a datacenter in another state? Talk to NASA, where An increasing frequency of computer resets on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has prompted the rover team to make plans to reformat the rover's flash memory.
The resets, including a dozen this month, interfere with the rover's planned science activities, even though recovery from each incident is completed within a day or two. Flash memory retains data even when power is off. It is the type used for storing photos and songs on smart phones or digital cameras, among many other uses. Individual cells within a flash memory sector can wear out from repeated use. Reformatting clears the memory while identifying bad cells and flagging them to be avoided.

"Worn-out cells in the flash memory are the leading suspect in causing these resets," said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, project manager for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project. "The flash reformatting is a low-risk process, as critical sequences and flight software are stored elsewhere in other non-volatile memory on the rover."

New Alienware Area 51 machine: angled for better ventilation

in hardware on (#2RX6)
story imageDell's just come out with an innovatively-designed new gamer machine in their Alienware series: it's vaguely hexagon-shaped, preventing you from placing it against a wall and decreasing its ventilation. Looks cool.
You'll notice the angled corners and somewhat of a triangular shape (with twice as many sides). According to Dell, you can place the Alienware Area 51 against the wall and not have to worry about thermals getting out of the control. That's because there's a controlled gap and a sharp angle that ensures only a small part of the system actually rests against the wall, whereas there's still plenty of room for hot air to escape up and away.

This design also offers users easy access to rear ports, though if you need more room, you can rotate the chassis like a ball so that the rear is facing upward instead of an at angle. Another advantage to all those angles is it makes the occasional transportation chore easier -- there are more places to grab hold of compared to a traditional desktop.
Slashdot linked to it and got tons of flak about it being a Slashvertisement, but I think it's cool hardware. Have a look: what do you think?

Friday Distro: PC-BSD

in bsd on (#2RPD)
story imageThese two XKCD comics about installing FreeBSD are increasingly out of date (but just as funny). But getting FreeBSD on your system has gotten easier than ever, and PC-BSD is a big part of that. Started as a hobby by FreeBSD enthusiast Kris Moore1 in 2005, PC-BSD's goal was just to make a pleasant, well-constructed desktop with a good installer on top of a FreeBSD system. They succeeded so wildly that not only did FreeBSD system provider iXsystems decide to buy them, but rival project Desktop-BSD essentially gave up the ghost (they're back now, and thinking about striking off in a new direction.

What's PC-BSD? It's not a "distro" in the Linux sense. It's FreeBSD with a better installer, configured to build you a desktop, not a server (although you can do that too). It's a project that makes it easier to use FreeBSD's systems and architecture to create a great desktop experience. Put in the installer disk, pour yourself a coffee, and twenty minutes later you are at a KDE4 desktop and online. But PC-BSD pioneered another technology that makes it easy to use: the PBI installer packages. PBIs ("push button installer") are essentially the equivalent of Mac OSX Applications, which install into a top-level "Applications" directory and include within all the relevant libraries. That makes them bigger than your typical Unix package installs, but you can also delete, upgrade, or install them without touching any other part of your system, which is useful. Because iXsystems also bought the FreeNAS project, FreeNAS installs now benefit from the technology too: with a single click, FreeNAS will create a FreeBSD jail and install a PBI into it, giving you compartmentalised functionality on your NAS (the Plex media server is one of them, for example).

Why would a Linux user bother with something like PC-BSD? The old adage, "Linux is for those who hate Microsoft; BSD is for those who love Unix" is probably appropriate. But because PC-BSD is FreeBSD, you get all of the benefits of FreeBSD too: fantastic documentation, and system components that were all designed, managed, packaged, and tested together. You also get FreeBSD's quirks and hardware compatibility challenges too (the installer never noticed my USB wifi, for example) but if you can get past the hardware issues, you are sitting at a tight, well-designed system that is pretty easy to tinker with and pretty hard to mess up. obviously, if you manage a FreeBSD server, this makes it easy to test things off your production system, too.

More about PC-BSD at their webpage, and at I also wrote about my first impressions with PC-BSD in 2006 here.

1Kris Moore is the guy behind the BSDNow podcast, too.

Motorola: chronicle of a death foretold

in mobile on (#2RAM)
Motorola used to be the powerhouse of mobile telephony. Now they're almost nobody. Their phones represent 2 percent of the global market for smartphones; Motorola Mobility lost $198 million in the first quarter of 2014, and its losses just since Google took over have totaled more than $1 billion, even as the company has cut some 17,000 workers. ChicagoMag asks, "What the heck happened?" It's a hell of a story, and it's not over yet.
The history of many giant corporations (Lehman Brothers, General Motors) shows, great success can lead to great trouble. Interviews with key players in and around Motorola and its spinoffs indicate that the problems began when management jettisoned a powerful corporate culture that had been inculcated over decades. When healthy internal competition degenerated into damaging infighting. “I loved most of my time there,” says Mike DiNanno, a former controller of several Motorola divisions, who worked at the company from 1984 to 2003. “But I hated the last few years.”
Don't give up on Motorola yet! Their upcoming Moto 2 smartwatch looks phenomenal, and they've got new management and a couple of tricks up their sleeves. This article is a great chronicle of a company's demise, but skip down to the bottom for a glimpse of what's to come, too.

RISC vs CISC: which chip architecture is the most efficient?

in hardware on (#2RAD)
story imageIt's been a long-brewing argument, and for ages everyone has claimed that ARM chips are more power efficient due to fundamental differences in the architecture of its instruction set.
A new research paper examines these claims using a variety of ARM cores as well as a Loongson MIPS microprocessor, Intel’s Atom and Sandy Bridge microarchitectures, and AMD’s Bobcat.

This paper is an updated version of one I’ve referenced in previous stories, but its methods and claims are worth investigating in more detail. ISA investigations are intrinsically difficult given that it’s effectively impossible to separate the theoretical efficiency of an architecture from the proficiency of its design team or the technical expertise of its manufacturer. Even products that seem identical can have important differences.
Extremetech looks into it via a series of benchmarks and concludes "The RISC vs. CISC argument should’ve passed into history a long time ago. It may still have some relevance in the microcontroller realm, but has nothing useful to contribute to the modern era. An x86 chip can be more power efficient than an ARM processor, or vice versa, but it’ll be the result of other factors — not whether it’s x86 or ARM."

Mozilla rolls out sponsored link tiles

in internet on (#2RAB)
story imageYou'd think that Mozilla, whose Firefox browser is dropping in popularity alongside the now ubiquitous Google Chrome, would be desperate to incorporate new features that allow Firefox to regain its leadership marketshare. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the approach they're taking.

Instead, they've added a feature where new pages show sponsored advertisements. From TheNextWeb:
Mozilla has rolled out directory tiles, the company’s advertising experiment for its browser’s new tab page, to the Firefox Nightly channel. ... News of the non-profit organization’s plan to sell ads in Firefox first broke back in February 2014. The Directory Tiles program is designed to “improve the first-time-with-Firefox experience,” the company says. Instead of seeing blank tiles when a new Firefox user opens a new tab, Mozilla thought it would be best that they see “content.” ... As you use Firefox, the rectangle tiles on the new tab page are populated with the most frequent and recent websites you visit. Since they start as empty (because new users naturally have no browser history), however, Mozilla sees the new tab page as both an opportunity to provide “inherent value” to the user, as well as an opportunity to generate revenue.
[Ed. note: this article posted using Chrome.]

RedHat CTO Brian Stevens to stepdown immediately

in linux on (#2R56)
story imageIn a surprise move, RedHat has announced the departure of their Chief Technical Officer, Brian Stevens. While no official reason was given (certainly, don't expect to find it in the terse, canned statement offered by the corporation's HR department), many speculate it may have been due to executive friction and personal ambition.
Stevens, whose Red Hat page was taken down minutes after the news was released, had been with Red Hat since 2001. Before that he had been the CTO at Mission Critical Linux, and a senior architect at Digital Equipment Company (DEC), where he worked on Digital's Unix operating system, Digital Unix. Today it lives on as HP's Tru64. In technical circles, he's perhaps best known for his work on the X Window System, the foundation of Unix and Linux graphic systems.

While at Red Hat, Stevens often outlines the company's technical and business plans for the public. Most recently for example, he spoke at Gigaom Structure on Red Hat and OpenStack. Before that, he laid out Red Hat's future technology plans at Red Hat Summit in April.
Look for his LinkedIn requests in your mailbox sometime soon, I suppose?