New poll: innovation

in ask on (#HKRT)
Trying to get back to a 'new poll every Monday' routine, if possible, and I've hit the ground running with a vague, poorly-organized question about where we'd like to see some more innovation. Probably could have put more thought into categories and parameters for the question, but fire away: the world could use some improvement; where shall we begin? Curious to hear the debate. Enjoy!

The Enlightenment Desktop has been forked

in linux on (#83XT)
story imageNever saw this one coming: Enlightenment has been forked. The new product is called Moksha (Sanscrit: "emancipation, freedom") and is based not on the newest version of Enlightenment, E19, but rather an older version, E17. Behind Moksha is Jeff Hoogland and the folks at Bodhi Linux, who got frustrated with the turn that Enlightenment development has taken, and believe Moksha will be the path that takes the useful, stable release of E17 and makes it into something better. From Hoogland's blog:
Bodhi has always been a project based around the Enlightenment desktop.
The Enlightenment desktop however has changed a lot over the last few years. It went from being the “Duke Nukem Forever” of open source software without an official release in over a decade to having three new “major” versions released in the course of the last three years.

The problem with these major releases is that instead of continuing to perfect the end user facing components E17 started over the course of a decade, they were essentially internal tear downs. While optimizations are a good thing to be had, optimizations that break existing features users enjoy and use are bad. These tear downs were rushed to meet release deadlines and did not have the same quality and stability the E17 desktop had come to know.

The E18 desktop was so bad Bodhi skipped it entirely (although you can still find old packages in the 2.4.0 testing branch). When E19 released in the fall of 2014 it did make things better, but that was not difficult considering the mess E18 was.

E19 was usable enough that I gave it an honest try. I spent hours working with the upstream developers and filing bug reports. The biggest issue was that none of the Enlightenment developers were using E19 as their daily desktop. As soon as it was released they jumped on to their next rewrite – E20.
After my umpteeth bug report was met with “Works with E from Git” I was ready to call it quits. In fact for several months I did essentially quit. I was so frustrated I stepped away from the project I had devoted countless hours to over four years.
Submitter note: As an Enlightenment fan, this is interesting, but worrying. Enlightenment is a big code base, and a lot of work to take on. Hope they can make it work - E17 is a fantastic desktop!

WiFi on airplanes: good. Zero-day vulns on aircraft: bad

in security on (#7NYM)
story imageAnyone who spends significant time on aircraft probably agrees that internet access at 30,000 feet is pretty cool. But only if the internet access system isn't stupidly tethered to other aircraft systems of critical importance.
Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? "PASS OXYGEN ON" Anyone ? :)

— Chris Roberts (@Sidragon1) April 15, 2015
The tweet was a joke laced with sarcasm. Roberts is a veteran of the vulnerability disclosure wars, having tried for years to get Boeing and Airbus to heed warnings about security issues with their passenger communications systems. His tweet about the Engine Indicator Crew Alert System, or EICAS, was a reference to research he’d done years ago on vulnerabilities in inflight infotainment networks, vulnerabilities that could allow an attacker to access cabin controls and deploy a plane’s oxygen masks.

It was the wrong message to send. The Feds were waiting when Roberts landed in Syracuse.
Chris Roberts may be pushing buttons on purpose here, but as a security researcher, he's asking the right question about the corporate culture of disclosing and patching vulnerabilities. And the airline industry as a whole has some maturing to do with regard to this well-worn topic.

Firmware licenses threatening the concept of ownership

in code on (#7KYD)
In the software world, it's long been the practice that you don't purchase software, you purchase a license to use it. But as software increasingly gets woven into other products - like the many chips and circuits that run your modern automobile - this practice starts to chip away at the traditional sense of ownership of physical goods.
In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.
It's a conversation with profound implications for the future. Check out the rest at Wired.

Blackphone 2: improved focus on security

in mobile on (#47JJ)
story image"Blackphone 2 caters to the enterprise, the security-minded and the paranoid" they say, and these days, that is a slogan that just might catch your attention. It caught mine.
While much of the news coming out of MWC 2015 has been dominated by Microsoft's Lumia 640, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, and tablets from Sony, there's always room for something a little different. Following on from the security-focused Blackphone, Silent Circle used the Barcelona event to announce the follow-up -- the Blackphone 2. The privacy-centric company has been working on the "world's first enterprise privacy platform" for some time now and the second generation Blackphone. As you would expect, there's a faster processor than before -- an 8-core beast -- as well as an upgraded 3GB RAM, a larger 5.5 inch screen and a bigger battery than before. Blackphone 2 has a $600 price tag and will be unleashed in July.
I might not be the only one frustrated with the Android-vs-Apple smartphone duopoly, and I'm sure I'm not the only one annoyed with the feeling that my phone was rooted since the moment I took it out of the box. Here's wishing good fortune to an alternative that makes security and privacy paramount.

XFCE release 4.12 brings refinement and improvements

in linux on (#47JH)
After 2 years and 10 months, XFCE 4.12 has been released, and its changelog is an impressive list of refinements, improvements, and new features.

For starters, they've streamlined the code, removing a whole host of options the developers decided were no longer the best way to accomplish common tasks. The minimize/maximize buttons are gone now, and all apps run full-screen all the time. You can access a subset of options via keystroke combinations (sadly, these haven't been documented yet but they should be obvious).

Oh wait, just kidding. Must have been thinking about some other desktop environment there. Seriously, have a look at the user-friendly improvements the XFCE team has worked into this release.

Check out the link for a multiple-page change log of significant features, including improvements to alt-tab dialogues, panel features, usage with multiple monitors, a move to GTK3, and more. XFCE remains independent of Linux-specific system features, and instead designed a front-end/back-end approach that allows it to work equally well on Linux, the BSDs, and beyond. As a BSD-user, I'm immensely proud. Finally, note throughout the press release the number of times they mention listening to their users and implementing the features that users said they wanted. More than one other major project could benefit from a similar approach to working with its community.

[Edit 2015-03-02 22:25 There was a very important "just kidding" sentence between paragraphs 2 and 3 that was important, because paragraph 2 is a joke. I've re-added it; otherwise I would expect to be flamed alive by angry XFCEers wondering why i'm such an idiot].

Reflection on the discovery of mid-ocean ridges and the validation of continental drift theory

in science on (#2VT3)
story imageIf you enjoy reading about the history of science, this is a great story: the history of geologist Marie Thorp, whose methodical plotting and cataloging of mid-ocean SONAR data led to the discovery and mapping of the mountainous ridges that bisect the world's oceans. That discovery in turn helped validate the geologic theory of continental drift, which until then had been dismissed by even serious, erudite scientists as a bit of poetry and imagination.
In late 1952, as Tharp was replotting the ocean floor, Heezen took on another deep-sea project searching for safe places to plant transatlantic cables. He was creating his own map, which plotted earthquake epicenters in the ocean floor. As his calculations accumulated, he noticed something strange: Most quakes occurred in a nearly continuous line that sliced down the center of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Tharp had finished her second map—a physiographic diagram giving the ocean floor a 3-D appearance—and sure enough, it showed the rift again. When Heezen and Tharp laid their two maps on top of each other on a light table, both were stunned by how neatly the maps fit.
An interesting read that's surprisingly heart-warming: amazing to see how facts become knowledge and knowledge leads to understanding.

EFF introduces the "troll-proofed defensive patent license"

in legal on (#2VT1)
In the movement toward patent reform, the Patent Office, Congress, and the courts aren't the only targets for change. Individual and corporate patent owners have steps they can take to reduce the harmful effects of software patents and disempower patent trolls, largely through alternative licensing schemes. The EFF announces:
We're excited to announce the first set of patents released under one such scheme, the Defensive Patent License (DPL). The 23 patents, owned by EFF cofounder John Gilmore, were created by Pixel Qi, a startup that aimed to advance low-power LCD screens. With these patents under the DPL, anyone can license them royalty-free as long as they license their own patents (and commit to licensing future patents) under the same terms—even if they don't have any patents at all.

The Defensive Patent License, pioneered by a team at NYU and Berkeley law schools with support from EFF, sets out to create an environment where patents aren't bludgeons for offensive litigation campaigns, abused by companies to engage in expensive lawsuits and by trolls to threaten true innovators. Inspired by free software and free cultural license, the DPL allows for patent-owners and developers to benefit from openly sharing their portfolio.
Interested in more? Check out the EFF's Hacking the Patent System Guide [PDF], available from their website. Back under the bridge with you, trolls!

Advertisers are outraged that 23% of video ads are viewed by robots

in internet on (#2VSY)
Pity those poor advertisers, who are outraged, to say the least. A recent study has shown that computers being remotely operated by hackers account for almost one in four views of digital video ads worldwide. The fraud leads advertisers to spend approximately $6.3 billion dollars per year for advertising that doesn't have any impact whatsoever. The fake views, which also account for 11 percent of other display ads, often take place in the middle of the night when the owners of the hijacked computers are asleep.

The advertising unions are understandably upset.
“We’re being robbed,” said Bob Liodice, president and chief executive officer of the New York-based association, which has 640 members that spend more than $250 billion a year in advertising. “This isn’t about system inefficiencies or process sloppiness. This is about criminal activity.”
But others would say, that's the way the game is played. No word on who wrote the software that manages these fake video views, or who benefits. Finally, pity the poor robots, people, forced to watch video ads all day and night: what a dreary existence!

The Pirate Bay is gone for good

in internet on (#2VSW)
story imageIt's not that the Pirate Bay may cease to exist, although with this most recent raid by Swedish authorities, that may be true as well. It's that since a couple of years ago, the Pirate Bay has become a shadow of its former self, and changed in ways some users would call fundamental.
TPB has become an institution that people just expected to be there. Noone willing to take the technology further. The site was ugly, full of bugs, old code and old design. It never changed except for one thing – the ads. More and more ads was filling the site, and somehow when it felt unimaginable to make these ads more distasteful they somehow ended up even worse.

The original deal with TPB was to close it down on it’s tenth birthday. Instead, on that birthday, there was a party in it’s “honour” in Stockholm. It was sponsored by some sexist company that sent young girls, dressed in almost no clothes, to hand out freebies to potential customers. There was a ticket price to get in, automatically excluding people with no money. The party had a set line-up with artists, scenes and so on, instead of just asking the people coming to bring the content. Everything went against the ideals that I worked for during my time as part of TPB.<\a>

What's next for The Pirate Bay?