By msmash from Slashdot's no-mercy department
With few uses to anchor their value, and little in the way of regulation, cryptocurrencies have instead become a focus for speculation, The Economist magazine said this week. From the story, which may be paywalled: Some people have made fortunes as cryptocurrency prices have zoomed and dived; many early punters have cashed out. Others have lost money. It seems unlikely that this latest boom-bust cycle will be the last. Economists define a currency as something that can be at once a medium of exchange, a store of value and a unit of account. Lack of adoption and loads of volatility mean that cryptocurrencies satisfy none of those criteria. That does not mean they are going to go away (though scrutiny from regulators concerned about the fraud and sharp practice that is rife in the industry may dampen excitement in future). But as things stand there is little reason to think that cryptocurrencies will remain more than an overcomplicated, untrustworthy casino. Can blockchains -- the underlying technology that powers cryptocurrencies -- do better? These are best thought of as an idiosyncratic form of database, in which records are copied among all the system's users rather than maintained by a central authority, and where entries cannot be altered once written. Proponents believe these features can help solve all sorts of problems, from streamlining bank payments and guaranteeing the provenance of medicines to securing property rights and providing unforgeable identity documents for refugees. Those are big claims. Many are made by cryptocurrency speculators, who hope that stoking excitement around blockchains will boost the value of their related cryptocurrency holdings.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
On the surface, the world of agile software development is bright, since it is now mainstream. But the reality is troubling, because much of what is done is faux-agile, disregarding agile's values and principles, writes programmer Martin Fowler. The three main challenges we should focus on are: fighting the Agile Industrial Complex and its habit of imposing process upon teams, raising the importance of technical excellence, and organizing our teams around products (rather than projects), he added. An anonymous reader shares his post: Now agile is everywhere, it's popular, but there's been an important shift. It was summed up quite nicely by a colleague of mine who said, "In the old days when we talked about doing agile, there was always this pushback right from the beginning from a client, and that would bring out some important conversations that we would have. Now, they say, 'Oh, yeah, we're doing agile already,' but you go in there and you suddenly find there's some very big differences to what we expect to be doing. As ThoughtWorks, we like to think we're very deeply steeped in agile notions, and yet we're going to a company that says, "Yeah, we're doing agile, it's no problem," and we find a very different world to what we expect. Our challenge at the moment isn't making agile a thing that people want to do, it's dealing with what I call faux-agile: agile that's just the name, but none of the practices and values in place. Ron Jeffries often refers to it as "Dark Agile," or specifically "Dark Scrum." This is actually even worse than just pretending to do agile, it's actively using the name "agile" against the basic principles of what we were trying to do, when we talked about doing this kind of work in the late 90s and at Snowbird. So that's our current battle. It's not about getting agile respectable enough to have a crowd like this come to a conference like this, it's realizing that a lot of what people are doing and calling agile, just isn't. We have to recognize that and fight against it because some people have said, "Oh, we're going to 'post-agile,' we've got to come up with some new word," - but that doesn't help the fundamental problem. It's the values and principles that count and we have to address and keep pushing those forwards and we might as well use the same label, but we've got to let people know what it really stands for.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's tech-for-good department
Internet-connected robots that can stream audio and video are increasingly helping housebound sick children and elderly people keep in touch with teachers, family and friends, combating the scourge of isolation and loneliness. BBC: Zoe Johnson, 16, hasn't been to school since she was 12. She went to the doctor in 2014 "with a bit of a sore throat", and "somehow that became A&E [accident and emergency]," says her mother, Rachel Johnson. The doctors diagnosed myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME for short, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - a debilitating illness affecting the nervous and immune systems. Zoe missed a lot of school but was able to continue with her studies with the help of an online tutor. But "over the years her real-world friendships disappeared because she's not well enough to see anybody," says Ms Johnson. For the last three months, though, she has been taking classes alongside her former classmates using a "telepresence" robot called AV1. The small, cute-looking robot, made by Oslo-based start-up No Isolation, sits in the classroom and live streams video and audio back to Zoe's tablet or smartphone at home. She can speak through the robot and take part in lessons, also controlling where AV1 is looking.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's age-old-debate department
Websites dedicated to "stream ripping" music from YouTube represent the biggest threat to the global music business, UK news outlet The Independent reported this week, citing industry figures, who added that that these shady sites are also posing business threat to "fantastic range" of legal streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. The report describes the nature of the issue: Sites that allow YouTube videos to be converted into an MP3 file and illegally downloaded to someone's phone or computer are attracting millions of visitors, with estimates suggesting that a third of 16-24-year-olds in the UK have ripped music from the Google-owned platform. Other platforms affected by the illegal ripping sites include DailyMotion, SoundCloud and Vimeo, however YouTube is by far the most pirated. The results of a crackdown that began in 2016 are beginning to be seen, thanks to a coordinated effort by organizations representing record companies in the US and the UK. Earlier this week, stream ripping website MP3Fiber was forced to shut down following legal pressure. However, dozens of sites offering similar services still remain active and are easily accessible through Google, whose search engine provides more than 100 million results for the term "YouTube MP3 converter." The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that even referring to the aforementioned questionable websites as "stream ripping" sites is misstating copyright law. "There exists a vast and growing volume of online video that is licensed for free downloading and modification, or contains audio tracks that are not subject to copyright," the EFF told the US Office of the United States Trade Representative last year. "Moreover, many audio extractions qualify as non-infringing fair uses under copyright. Providing a service that is capable of extracting audio tracks for these lawful purposes is itself lawful, even if some users infringe."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Blackouts are common in the Lebanese capital, forcing energy consumers to pay whoever can get them power. Wired looked at how the residents of Beirut keep their lights on -- and their gadgets charged -- in the face of the rolling blackouts. From the report: Electrical power here does not come without concerted exertion or personal sacrifice. Gas-powered generators and their operators fill the void created by a strained electric grid. Most people in Lebanon, in turn, are often stuck with two bills, and sometimes get creative to keep their personal devices -- laptops, cell phones, tablets, smart watches -- from going dead. Meanwhile, as citizens scramble to keep their inanimate objects alive, the local authorities are complicit in this patchwork arrangement, taking payments from the gray-market generator operators and perpetuating a nation's struggle to stay wired. Lebanon has been a glimmering country ever since the 15-year civil war began in 1975, and the reverberations from that conflict persist. These days there is only one city, Zahle, with electricity 24/7. Computer banks in schools and large air conditioners pumping out chills strain the grid, and daily state-mandated power cuts run from at least three hours to 12 hours or more. Families endure power outages mid-cooking, mid-washing, mid-Netflix binging. Residents rely on mobile phone apps to track the time of day the power will be cut, as it shifts between three-hour windows in the morning and afternoon, rotating throughout the week. Once called the Paris of the Middle East, sometimes the region's Sin City, Beirut's supplementary power needs are effectively under the control of what is known here as the generator mafia: a loose conglomerate of generator owners and landlords who supply a great deal of the country's power. This group is indirectly responsible for the Wi-Fi, which makes possible any number of WhatsApp conversations -- an indispensable lifeline for the country's refugees, foreign aid workers, and journalists and locals alike.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's coming-back-home department
Black Pixel, which acquired popular Mac RSS reader app NetNewsWire in 2011, announced this week that the brand name is returning to the founder Brent Simmons. From the announcement: Since acquiring NetNewsWire from Newsgator in 2011, we've invested a great deal in the continued development and support of the product suite including the addition of a free sync service. Unfortunately, the ongoing cost of support and feature development for these products require more dedicated resources than we are able to provide. With that in mind, today we are removing all versions of the app from sale. We'll continue to run the sync service for another 60 days, then take it offline at the end of October. Brent Simmons, who founded the app, shared what he plans to do with the brand name: [...] I want to thank them [Black Pixel] for a second thing: their incredible generosity in bringing it back to me. When I asked them about it, they told me they'd already been discussing it. There was never a need to convince them: they thought it was the right thing to do before I even said a word. [...] You probably know that I've been working on a free and open source reader named Evergreen. Evergreen 1.0 will be renamed NetNewsWire 5.0 -- in other words, I've been working on NetNewsWire 5.0 all this time without knowing it! It will remain free and open source, and it will remain my side project. (By day I'm a Marketing Human at The Omni Group, and I love my job.) Black Pixel will stop selling their versions of the app, and will turn off the syncing system and end customer support -- all of which is detailed in their announcement. (Important note: I will not get any customer data from them, nor will I be doing support for Black Pixel's NetNewsWire.) I want one thing: to make the very best versions of NetNewsWire ever made. And, along the way, I'd love to have your help. Nothing to Download Yet I don't actually have an app bearing the name NetNewsWire ready to download yet. I will have test versions ready soon, though. It's still going to be a while before the final version of 5.0 ships. The Mac community has been thrilled about the announcement. Daniel Jalkut, founder of blogging tool MarsEdit, said, "I appreciate Black Pixel's decision to return NetNewsWire to Brent Simmons. It was the right move strategically, but also very humanistic." Federico Viticci, a prolific blogger on Apple ecosystem, said, "Congrats Brent Simmons on bringing NetNewsWire home. The Mac can use a modern RSS reader that can stand the test of time." John Gruber, a columnist on Apple ecosystem, said, "Black Pixel did a great job taking over NetNewsWire, but times change, and companies change. Handing the NetNewsWire name back to Brent was a classy move, but completely unsurprising to me, knowing George and the other folks at Black Pixel."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's not-burning-Chrome department
Ars Technica sees new $600 "premium Chromebooks" Dell, Samsung, HP, and Lenovo as a growing challenge to Windows, proving that Chrome OS is reaching beyond the education market.
These $600 machines aren't aimed at those same students. Lenovo reps told us that its new Chromebook was developed because the company was seeing demand for Chromebooks from users with a bit more disposable income. For example, new college students that had used Chrome OS at high school and families who wanted the robustness Chrome OS offers are looking for machines that are more attractive, use better materials, and are a bit faster and more powerful. The $600 machines fit that role.
And that's why Microsoft should be concerned. This demand shows a few things. Perhaps most significantly of all, it shows that Chrome OS's mix of Web applications, possibly extended with Android applications, is good enough for a growing slice of home and education users. Windows still has the application advantage overall, but the relevance of these applications is diminishing as Web applications continue to improve... Second, this demand makes clear that exposure to Chrome OS in school is creating sustained interest in, and even commitment to, the platform. High school students are wanting to retain that familiar environment as they move on. The ecosystem they're a part of isn't the Windows ecosystem. Finally, it also shows that Chrome OS's relatively clean-slate approach (sure, it's Linux underneath, but it's not really being pushed as a way of running traditional Linux software) has advantages that are appealing even to home users. The locked down, highly secure Chrome OS machines require negligible maintenance while being largely immune to most extant malware.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
India's smartphone market, which is the second largest in the world (and one of the few markets that continues to show strong growth each quarter), is currently a key battleground for a number of phone makers from China, Taiwan, and South Korea. And increasingly, Chinese phone makers are winning. From a report: Leading the charge is Xiaomi, which last year ended Samsung's five-year-streak as the top phone vendor in the nation. The period between April and June of this year was the fourth consecutive quarter for Xiaomi as the top vendor in India, according to IDC. Xiaomi (29.7 percent market share as of Q2) has aggressively undercut the offerings of its rivals by selling inexpensive but high-quality smartphones in India. A spokesperson for the company said that India is currently its most important market. In the second quarter of this year, four of the top five smartphone makers were Chinese, according to IDC. In addition to Xiaomi, that number includes Oppo (7.6 percent market share), Vivo (12.6 percent), and Transsion (5 percent). Together with other Chinese phone makers such as Lenovo, the group held two-thirds of the local smartphone market in the second quarter, IDC said in a report published last month. Less than three years ago, the aggregate market share of these companies was under 15 percent in India. [...] Indian smartphone makers Micromax, Karbonn Mobile, Lava, and others together held about 46 percent of the market in early 2016. Per the report, Chinese players were originally the design and hardware (ODM) partners of Indian smartphone vendors. They saw an opportunity in India, and cut the middlemen -- Indian vendors -- and started selling phones themselves. Their offerings were better and more cost-effective. Interestingly, even in the premium smartphone segment -- phones priced at $400 or higher -- OnePlus, a Chinese phone manufacturer, outperformed Samsung and Apple in India in the most recent quarter.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's salaries-for-source-code department
"The economics of Open Source software are fundamentally broken," argues Matt Klein, a senior software engineer at Lyft (who created Envoy). Here's a heavily-condensed version of his essay on Medium:
If we take consulting, services, and support off the table as an option for high-growth revenue generation (the only thing VCs care about), we are left with open core [with some subset of features behind a paywall], software as a service, or some blurring of the two... Everyone wants infrastructure software to be free and continuously developed by highly skilled professional developers (who in turn expect to make substantial salaries), but no one wants to pay for it. The economics of this situation are unsustainable and broken...
[W]e now come to what I have recently called "loose" open core and SaaS. In the future, I believe the most successful OSS projects will be primarily monetized via this method. What is it? The idea behind "loose" open core and SaaS is that a popular OSS project can be developed as a completely community driven project (this avoids the conflicts of interest inherent in "pure" open core), while value added proprietary services and software can be sold in an ecosystem that forms around the OSS...
Unfortunately, there is an inflection point at which in some sense an OSS project becomes too popular for its own good, and outgrows its ability to generate enough revenue via either "pure" open core or services and support... [B]uilding a vibrant community and then enabling an ecosystem of "loose" open core and SaaS businesses on top appears to me to be the only viable path forward for modern VC-backed OSS startups.
Klein also suggests OSS foundations start providing fellowships to key maintainers, who currently "operate under an almost feudal system of patronage, hopping from company to company, trying to earn a living, keep the community vibrant, and all the while stay impartial..."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's language-barriers department
Hewlett-Packard's Enterprise blog summarizes a talk by Linux kernel developer Kees Cook at the North America edition of the 2018 Linux Security Summit. Its title? "Making C Less Dangerous."
"C is a fancy assembler. It's almost machine code," said Cook, speaking to an audience of several hundred peers, who understood and appreciated the application speed resulting from C... Over time, Cook and the people he worked with discovered numerous native C problems. To deal with these weaknesses, the Kernel Self Protection Project has worked slowly and steadily on protecting the Linux kernel from attack. In the process, it has worked to remove troublesome code from Linux....
With its operational baggage and weak standard libraries, C contains a great deal of undefined behavior. Cook cited -- and agreed with -- Raph Levien's blog post "With Undefined Behavior, Anything Is Possible." Cook gave concrete examples. "What are the contents of 'uninitialized' variables? Whatever was in memory from before! Void pointers have no type, yet we can call typed functions through them? Sure! Assembly doesn't care: Everything can be an address to call! Why does memcpy() have no 'max destination length' argument? Just do what I say; memory areas are all the same!" Some of these idiosyncracies are relatively easy to deal with. Cook commented, "Linus [Torvalds] likes the idea of always initializing local variables. So, you should 'just do it....'" The long-term solution? More security-savvy open source developers... While at times, the idea of coming up with a Linux C dialect has been attractive, that's not going to happen. The real issue behind the problem of dangerous code is "people don't want to do the work to clean up code -- not just bad code, but C itself," he said. As with all open source projects, "we need more dedicated developers, reviewers, testers, and backporters."
LWN.net has its own run-down of Cook's talk, as well as a link to a PDF file of his slides.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's it's-alive department
Zorro (Slashdot reader #15,797) summarizes a new article in the Guardian:
The death of a woman hit by a self-driving car highlights an unfolding technological crisis, as code piled on code creates "a universe no one fully understands."
"In some ways we've lost agency. When programs pass into code and code passes into algorithms and then algorithms start to create new algorithms, it gets farther and farther from human agency. Software is released into a code universe which no one can fully understand."
The author dubs these man-made monsters "franken-algos," since "After a time in the wild, we no longer know what they are: they have the potential to become erratic." Self-learning algorithms are already part of the "new all-machine phase" of Wall Street trading, leading to what science historian George Dyson believes are rules "where nobody knows what the rules are: the algorithms create their own rules -- you let them evolve the same way nature evolves organisms."
Where does it end? There's already a robotic sharpshooter policing the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, and "swarms of coordinated, weaponized drones" already being developed by three different countries.
The article suggests re-thinking our legal system to assign blame for any badly malfunctioning algorithms, noting that the Association for Computing Machinery recently updated its code of ethics "along the lines of medicine's Hippocratic oath, to instruct computing professionals to do no harm and consider the wider impacts of their work.... Solutions exist or can be found for most of the problems described here, but not without incentivizing big tech to place the health of society on a par with their bottom lines.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's shooting-stars department
"It looks like a tiny yellow submarine, but this underwater drone is on a mission to kill," reports ABC. Specifically, to kill the starfish that are destroying coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. An anonymous reader quotes ABC:
In a bid to eradicate the pest, Queensland researchers have developed world-first robots to administer a lethal injection to the starfish using new technology... Researcher Matt Dunbabin said the technology was 99.4 per cent accurate in delivering a toxic substance only harmful to the starfish.... Divers have played a big role in helping to combat the starfish, but Professor Dunbabin said the robot would take the efforts to the next level. "Divers currently control certain areas, but there are not enough divers to actually make a difference on the scale of the reef," he said. The drone can also monitor and gather huge amounts of data about coral bleaching, water quality and pollution.
"RangerBot will be designed to stay underwater almost three times longer than a human diver, gather vastly more data, map expansive underwater areas at scales not previously possible, and operate in all conditions and all times of the day or night," according to Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology.
The starfish-killing robots were partially funded by Google (through their Google.org Impact Challenge program to fund and support nonprofit innovators), reports The Drive. One study had found the reef's coral cover declined 50% between 1985 and 2012, "with nearly half of that drop resulting from the coral-destroying starfish species."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's millionaire-prisoners department
He'd sold his second online advertising company for $300 million at the age of 25. Six years later he was charged with 47 felonies. And now? "A Silicon Valley millionaire entrepreneur who avoided jail time for a domestic violence conviction in 2014 -- and had his probation revoked following another domestic violence incident -- was sentenced to a year in jail Friday after losing his appeal," writes CBS SF. An anonymous reader quotes their report:
Gurbaksh Chahal, founder of online advertising companies Gravity4 and RadiumOne, sobbed while asking San Francisco Superior Court Judge Tracy Brown for leniency... The 36-year-old was immediately remanded into custody after Brown declined to change her ruling. Chahal must serve at least six months of the one-year sentence. He has been out of custody on $250,000 bail...
Chahal was charged with felony domestic violence in 2013 after police say he punched and kicked his girlfriend 117 times inside his San Francisco penthouse. Security camera video evidence of the attack was deemed inadmissible after a judge ruled police had obtained it without a warrant. With no video and after his girlfriend declined to cooperate with police, Chahal pleaded guilty in 2014 to two misdemeanor battery charges of domestic violence and was sentenced to three years probation.... He was accused of violating his probation in 2016 by kicking another girlfriend in the same South Beach apartment.
"Tonight he's sleeping in the big house," quipped a local TV reporter, adding "that's got to feel very different."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's stuck-in-a-silo department
This week in Vancouver, Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman criticized Intel's slow initial response to the Spectre and Meltdown bugs in a talk at the Open Source Summit North America. An anonymous reader quotes eWeek:
Kroah-Hartman said that when Intel finally decided to tell Linux developers, the disclosure was siloed.... "Intel siloed SUSE, they siloed Red Hat, they siloed Canonical. They never told Oracle, and they wouldn't let us talk to each other." For an initial set of vulnerabilities, Kroah-Hartman said the different Linux vendors typically work together. However, in this case they ended up working on their own, and each came up with different solutions. "It really wasn't working, and a number of us kernel developers yelled at [Intel] and pleaded, and we finally got them to allow us to talk to each other the last week of December ," he said. "All of our Christmas vacations were ruined. This was not good. Intel really messed up on this," Kroah-Hartman said...
"The majority of the world runs Debian or they run their own kernel," Kroah-Hartman said. "Debian was not allowed to be part of the disclosure, so the majority of the world was caught with their pants down, and that's not good." To Intel's credit, Kroah-Hartman said that after Linux kernel developers complained loudly to the company in December 2017 and into January 2018, it fixed its disclosure process for future Meltdown- and Spectre-related vulnerabilities... "Intel has gotten better at this," he said.
An interesting side effect of the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities is that Linux and Windows developers are now working together, since both operating systems face similar risks from the CPU vulnerabilities. "Windows and Linux kernel developers now have this wonderful back channel. We're talking to each other and we're fixing bugs for each other," Kroah-Hartman said. "We are working well together. We have always wanted that."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's anger-mismanagement department
Were the creators of Facebook and Twitter oblivious to how social networks could be abused? "I struggle to believe that these brilliant product CEOs, who have created social media services used by millions of people worldwide, are actually naive," writes the former CEO of Reddit. "It's a lot more likely that they simply don't care."
[S]ocial media companies and the leaders who run them are rewarded for focusing on reach and engagement, not for positive impact or for protecting subsets of users from harm. They're rewarded for keeping costs down, which encourages the free-for-all, anything-goes approach misnomered "free speech." If they don't need to monitor their platforms, they don't need to come up with real policies -- and avoid paying for all the people and tools required to implement them....
In the earliest days, it wasn't always obvious what these platforms were doing and what they would become -- even to insiders. But at a certain point, it became clear that money was the driving factor, and dopamine- or rage-induced interactions meant more money.... CEOs should just forget about hiding behind "naivete" and "free speech," and instead remind themselves they can take actions that will meaningfully change the direction of the future. The first step is acknowledging the problem... You've solved for increasing engagement; now it's time to make real, positive interactions a priority.
The next time a CEO claims ignorance, "we must hold them accountable," the essay argues, complaining that right now there's a vacuum of leadership.
So instead, "Everyone's holding hands on the road to hell."Read Replies (0)