By EditorDavid from Slashdot's and-ESR-still-does department
Open source guru Eric Raymond turns 60 this year, prompting this question from an anonymous reader:
Eric Raymond's newest writing project is "Things Every Hacker Once Knew," inspired by the day he learned that not every programmer today's knows the bit structure of ASCII. "I didn't write it as a nostalgia trip -- I don't miss underpowered computers, primitive tools, and tiny low-resolution displays... In any kind of craft or profession, I think knowing the way things used to be done, and the issues those who came before you struggled with, is quite properly a source of pride and wisdom. It gives you a useful kind of perspective on today's challenges."
He writes later that it's to "assist retrospective understanding by younger hackers so they can make sense of the fossils and survivals still embedded in current technology." It's focusing on ASCII and "related technologies" like hardware terminals, modems and RS-232. ("This is lore that was at one time near-universal and is no longer.") Sections include "UUCP and BBSes, the forgotten pre-Internets" and "The strange afterlife of the Hayes smartmodem" (which points out some AT commands survived to this day in smartphones). He requests any would-be contributors to remember that "I'm trying to describe common knowledge at the time." This got my thinking -- what are some that every programmer once knew that have since been forgotten by newer generations of programmers?
Eric Raymond is still hard at work today on the NTPsec project -- a secure, hardened, and improved implementation of Network Time Protocol -- and he promises donations to his Patreon page will help fund it. But what things do you remember that were commonplace knowledge "back in the day" that have now become largely forgotten? Leave your best answers in the comments. What are some things that every hacker once knew?Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's 24-years-young department
ZDNet summarizes some of the surprises in this year's poll on LinuxQuestions, "one of the largest Linux groups with 550,000 member". An anonymous reader quotes their report:
The winner for the most popular desktop distribution? Slackware...! Yes, one of the oldest of Linux distributions won with just over 16% of the vote. If that sounds a little odd, it is. On DistroWatch, a site that covers Linux distributions like paint, the top Linux desktop distros are Mint, Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, and Manjaro. Slackware comes in 28th place... With more than double the votes for any category, it appears there was vote-stuffing by Slackware fans... The mobile operating system race was a runaway for Android, with over 68% of the vote. Second place went to CyanogenMod, an Android clone, which recently went out of business...
Linux users love to debate about desktop environments. KDE Plasma Desktop took first by a hair's breadth over the popular lightweight Xfce desktop. Other well-regarded desktop environments, such as Cinnamon and MATE, got surprisingly few votes. The once popular GNOME still hasn't recovered from the blowback from its disliked design change from GNOME 2 to GNOME 3.
Firefox may struggle as a web browser in the larger world, but on Linux it's still popular. Firefox took first place with 51.7 percent of the vote. Chrome came in a distant second place, with the rest of the vote being divided between a multitude of obscure browsers.
LibreOffice won a whopping 89.6% of the vote for "best office suite" -- and Vim beat Emacs.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's yearning-to-breathe-free department
Sidd Bikkannavar works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After racing solar-powered cars in Chile, he had trouble returning to America.
mspohr quote The Verge:
Bikkannavar says he was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and pressured to give the Customs and Border Protection agents his phone and access PIN. Since the phone was issued by NASA, it may have contained sensitive material that wasn't supposed to be shared. Bikkannavar's phone was returned to him after it was searched by CBP, but he doesn't know exactly what information officials might have taken from the device...
The officer also presented Bikkannavar with a document titled "Inspection of Electronic Devices" and explained that CBP had authority to search his phone. Bikkannavar did not want to hand over the device, because it was given to him by JPL and is technically NASA property. He even showed the officer the JPL barcode on the back of phone. Nonetheless, CBP asked for the phone and the access PIN. "I was cautiously telling him I wasn't allowed to give it out, because I didn't want to seem like I was not cooperating," says Bikkannavar. "I told him I'm not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it."
While border agents have the right to search devices, The Verge reports that travelers aren't legally required to unlock their phones, "although agents can detain them for significant periods of time if they do not." They also report that Bikkannavar "was not allowed to leave until he gave CBP his PIN," adding that the cybersecurity team at JPL "was not happy about the breach."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's I'll-be-seeing-you department
Facial recognition software is already in use, and it has privacy advocates worried. An anonymous reader quotes the Bay Area Newsgroup.
Southern California-based FaceFirst sells its facial recognition technology to retail stores, which use it to identify shoplifters who have been banned from the store, and alert management if they return. Corporate offices and banks also use the software to recognize people who are wanted by police... Several local law enforcement agencies have expressed interest in the technology, but so far none have had the budget for it. FaceFirst sells software police officers can install on their smartphones and use to identify people in the field from up to 12 feet away.
Some privacy experts worry facial recognition technology will show up next in police body cameras, with potentially dangerous consequences... The problem, say privacy advocates, is that all kinds of people come into contact with police, including many who are never suspected of any crimes. So lots of innocent people could be caught up in a police database fed by face-recognizing body cameras. The body cameras could turn into a "massive mobile surveillance network," said Jeramie Scott, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
One-third of America's police departments use body cameras. (And just in San Jose, there's already 450 neighborhood cameras that have also agreed to share their footage for police investigations.) The new technologies concern the ACLU's policy director for technology and civil liberties. "You have very powerful systems being purchased, most often in secret, with little-to-no public debate and no process in place to make sure that there are policies in place to safeguard community members."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's bills-being-belittled department
A surprise announcement Sunday revealed that tomorrow Verizon will begin offering introductory plans with unlimited data.*
* Customers "will get full LTE speeds until they reach 22GB of usage," reports The Verge, "after which they'll be subject to reduced data speeds and de-prioritization."
An anonymous reader writes:
Other carriers have similar limits. "For Sprint it's 23GB. T-Mobile has a slightly higher threshold of 26GB... AT&T matches Verizon at 22GB," reports The Verge. Verizon says their cap is "to ensure a quality experience for all customers... While we don't expect to do that very often, network management is a crucial tool that benefits all Verizon customers."
The $80-a-month plan also includes hotspot tethering -- up to 10 gigabytes -- and "includes 'HD' video as opposed to the 480p/DVD-quality video that T-Mobile One customers get by default." In a Sunday YouTube video, the head of Verizon's wireless effort says customer interviews found "Some of the heavier users of data -- the power users -- had data anxiety." But it's still a surprising move. Engadget reports that in the past Verizon "frequently tried its hardest to discourage unlimited data users," but today is "facing stiff competition from T-Mobile, which engineered a dramatic comeback in recent years and upped the ante by making unlimited data standard through the One plan."
Verizon's pricing was also targeted heavily last week in a barrage of Super Bowl ads by both Sprint and T-Mobile just last Sunday. T-Mobile showed a masochistic woman calling Verizon just to enjoying hearing about the overages, taxes and fees she incurred by exceeding her data limit, while Sprint showed a man who was trying to escape his Verizon contract by faking his own death.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's popular-quantum-mechanics department
LIGO is a large-scale physics experiment to detect "ripples in spacetime," as well as gravity waves from outer space. But it turns out that it's also creating gravity waves, according to a team of physicists led by Belinda Pang, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. sciencehabit quotes Science magazine:
Although these waves are far too feeble to detect directly, the researchers say, the radiation in principle could be used to try to detect weird quantum mechanical effects among large objects... Of course, LIGO doesn't generate large gravitational waves -- you could probably make bigger ones yourself by whirling bowling balls around -- but it does so with optimal efficiency [and] the waves could still be used to probe quantum effects among macroscopic objects, Pang says.
Quantum mechanics says that a vanishingly small object such as an electron can literally be in two places in once. Many physicists suspect that it might just be possible to coax a macroscopic object, such as one of LIGO's mirrors, into a similar state of quantum motion. That delicate state wouldn't last long, as interactions with the outside world would make it "decohere" and put it in one place or another. However, one could imagine measuring the rate at which such a state decoheres to see whether it matches the rate expected from the radiation of gravitational waves, Pang says.
"It's unbelievably difficult," Pang says. "But if you want to do it, what we're saying is that LIGO is the best place to do it."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's retro-recipes department
schwit1 quotes The South China Morning Post: Stanford University students have recreated a Chinese beer using a recipe that dates back 5,000 years. The beer "looked like porridge and tasted sweeter and fruitier than the clear, bitter beers of today," said Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology, was quoted by the university as saying. Last spring, Liu and her team of researchers were carrying out excavation work at the Mijiaya site in Shaanxi province and found two pits containing remnants of pottery used to make beer, including funnels, pots and amphorae. The pits dated to between 3400BC and 2900BC, in the late Yangshao era. They found a yellowish residue on the remains of the items, including traces of yam, lily root and barley...Liu taught her students to recreate the recipe as part of her archaeology course.
One student following a second ancient beer recipe created a beverage that "smelled like funky cheese."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's telling-it-to-the-judge department
In 2015 the FBI took over a Tor-accessible child pornography site to infect its users with malware so they could be identified and prosecuted. But now one suspect is challenging that evidence in court, with three different privacy groups filing briefs in his support.
An anonymous reader writes.
One EFF attorney argues it's a classic case of an unreasonable search, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. "If the FBI tried to get a single warrant to search 8,000 houses, such a request would unquestionably be denied." But there's another problem, since the FBI infected users in 120 different countries. "According to Privacy International, the case also raises important questions: What if a foreign country had carried out a similar hacking operation that affected U.S. citizens?" writes Computerworld. "Would the U.S. welcome this...? The U.S. was overstepping its bounds by conducting an investigation outside its borders without the consent of affected countries, the group said."
The FBI's evidence is also being challenged by the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the EFF plans to file two more challenges in March, warning that otherwise "the precedent is likely to impact the digital privacy rights of all Internet users for years to come... Courts need to send a very clear message that vague search warrants that lack the required specifics about who and what is to be searched wonâ(TM)t be upheld."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's robo-bees department
An anonymous reader writes:
An engineer in Japan has built a 1.6-inch "pollinator-bot" and successfully tested it in his lab. The drone's creator "has armed it with paintbrush hairs that are covered in a special gel sticky enough to pick pollen up, but not so sticky that it holds on to that pollen when it brushes up against something else," reports The Economist. They write that his experiments with the tiny drone "show that the drone can indeed carry pollen from flower to flower in the way an insect would -- though he has yet to confirm that seeds result from this pollination." While flown by a human pilot, next he hopes to equip the drones with their own flower-recognizing technology.
The Christian Science Monitor followed up with four experts, asking "Could a fleet of robo-pollinators replace, or at least supplement, the bees?" One said "There is no substitute for bees." Another pointed out that even if robo-bees are developed, some flowers will prove harder to pollinate than others. A third expert thought the technology could scale, though it would need to be mass-produced, and the engineers would need to develop a reusable pollen-collecting gel. But a fourth expert remained worried that it just couldn't scale without becoming too expensive. "I'm not sure that's going to be cheap enough to not make blueberries hundreds of dollars a pint."
Three of those experts also agreed that the best solution is just wild bees, because domesticated or not, "All they have to do is make sure to set aside enough land conducive to the bees' habitat."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's space-junk-fail department
New Scientist reports:
It's a rubbish start for the world's first space clean-up experiment. A cable designed to drag space junk out of orbit has failed to deploy from a Japanese spacecraft... A 700-metre-long metal cable was fitted to an unmanned spacecraft called Kounotori 6, which was on its way back to Earth after delivering supplies to the International Space Station. The cable was meant to unfurl from the spacecraft, at which point an electric current would pass along its length. The idea was that the current would interact with the Earth's magnetic field, creating a drag that pulled the spacecraft out of orbit. The spacecraft would then tumble into our atmosphere and become incinerated... However, Kounotori 6 was unable to release the cable to test its junk-removing potential, and JAXA could not fix the glitch before the spacecraft returned to Earth's atmosphere this morning... "Releasing a cable may seem simple, but nothing in space is simple," says Sean Tuttle at the University of New South Wales in Australia... The test's failure should be seen as a setback rather than a nail in the coffin for junk-removing cables, Tuttle says.
Because of the simplicity of this system, it is bound to be tested again -- hopefully sooner than later... This process is inherently safer than using rocket engines (to be attached to the junk), and is much less of a 'mass-to-orbit' cost, since it only requires a grappling system, and a spool of wire/cable. Hopefully, there will be a follow-up / re-try in the near future for this orbital debris clean-up process.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's augmenting-reality department
Saturday Business Insider claimed that augmented reality company Magic Leap was "scrambling to finish a working prototype before an important board meeting next week," publishing a photo described by their source as an early January prototype. An anonymous reader quotes Mashable:
The image depicts a man with a kit on his back that looks as if it's in the early stages of development, but [CEO Rony] Abovitz's tweet suggested it was not intended as consumer technology. "The photo you are all excited about is NOT what you think it is," he wrote. "The photo shows an @magicleap R&D test rig where we collect room/space data for our machine vision/machine learning work. We do this in order to understand lighting, texture, various surfaces."
As Mashable noted earlier, the leaked photo has done little to assuage fears the company's technology has been overhyped... A December report in The Information raised questions about whether Magic Leap was ready for primetime amid concerns that much of its work could not be commercialised or miniaturised. Two former employees also reportedly told the outlet a promotional video showing the technology in action was in fact created by the special effects company, Weta Workshop.
Magic Leap raised $1.39 billion from investors (including Google), and Abovitz's last tweet Saturday reassured fans that "We will not let you down." Mashable even suggested that "this might just be a bit of clever marketing spin by Magic Leap to greatly lower expectations before unveiling a polished product in the coming months... The worst case scenario is that this does represent the latest version of the company's prototype meant for consumers, in which case there's very little chance we will see a Magic Leap device available to consumers any time in 2017."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's California-controversies department
schwit1 quotes Norm Matloff, a CS professor at the University of California at Davis, on H-1B visa programs:
The Trump administration has drafted a new executive order that could actually mean higher wages for both foreign workers and Americans working in Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley companies, of course, will not be happy if it goes into effect... Their lobbyists claim there is a "talent shortage" among Americans and thus that the industry needs more of such work visas. This is patently false. The truth is that they want an expansion of the H-1B work visa program because they want to hire cheap, immobile labor -- i.e., foreign workers.
To see how this works, note that most Silicon Valley firms sponsor their H-1B workers, who hold a temporary visa, for U.S. permanent residency (green card) under the employment-based program in immigration law. EB sponsorship renders the workers de facto indentured servants; though they have the right to move to another employer, they do not dare do so, as it would mean starting the lengthy green card process all over again.
Computerworld also argues this year's annual H-1B visa lottery "may be different, because of President Donald Trump," reporting that the lottery has historically favored the largest firms heavily. "In the 2015 fiscal year, for instance, the top 10 firms received 38% of all the H-1B visas in computer occupations alone. All these firms, except for Amazon and to a partial extent IBM, are outsourcers."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's target-acquired department
Mickeycaskill quotes Silicon:
Just to illustrate that you can never be too careful, cybersecurity specialist Trend Micro has confirmed that one of the blogs it uses to communicate with customers was itself the victim of a content spoofing attack. The culprits exploited a vulnerability in WordPress to inject fake content onto the blog before it was removed by Trend Micro and the bug fixed...
"Unfortunately there are many different URLs attackers can use to carry out the same attack, so a couple of fake 'articles' ended up posted on CounterMeasures," head of security research Rik Ferguson told Silicon. "We have responded and shut down the vulnerability completely to resolve the issue."
The chairman of Trend Micro claimed in 2011 that open source software was inherently less secure than closed source -- but instead of blaming Wordpress, Ferguson "said it goes to show how breaches are an unfortunate fact of life and that companies should be judged on how they respond... 'Of course technology and best practice can mitigate the vast majority of intrusion attempts, but when one is successful, even one as low-level as this, you are more defined by how you respond than you are by the fact that it happened.'"Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's fingerpointing-in-Finland department
An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg:
Finland's basic income experiment is unworkable, uneconomical and ultimately useless. Plus, it will only encourage some people to work less. That's not the view of a hard core Thatcherite, but of the country's biggest trade union. The labor group says the results of the two-year pilot program will fail to sway its opposition to a welfare-policy idea that's gaining traction among those looking for an alternative in the post-industrial age. "We think it takes social policy in the wrong direction," said Ilkka Kaukoranta, chief economist of the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, which has nearly one million members.
Since January, a group of unemployed Finns aged between 25 and 58 have been receiving a stipend of 560 euros ($600) per month. The amount isn't means-tested and is paid regardless of whether the recipient finds a job, starts a business or returns to school... Advocates say it eliminates poverty traps and redistributes income while empowering the individual and reducing paperwork... While limited in scope (it's conditional on the beneficiary having received some form of unemployment support in November 2016) and size (it's based on a randomly-selected sample of 2,000 jobless people), the Finnish trial may help answer questions like: "Does it work"? "Is it worth it"? And the most fundamental of all: "Does it incite laboriousness or laziness...?"
The trade union argues this UBI program would cost 5% of Finland's entire gross domestic product, making it "impossibly expensive."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's new-notifications department
Building on anti-harassment tools announced in November, Twitter is now "trying to shake its reputation as a haven for online harassment" with still more new internal algorithms and features, reports CNN. An anonymous reader quotes their report:
The changes include preventing serial abusers from creating new accounts, a new "safe search" function and blocking potentially abusive and "low-quality" tweets from appearing in conversations, Twitter's engineering chief Ed Ho said in a blog post. Twitter is working on identifying users that have been permanently suspended and prevent them from creating new accounts, Ho said. This new measure specifically targets "accounts that are created only to abuse and harass others," he said, a problem that has long plagued the platform.
The new safe search function prevents tweets that are abusive, or from blocked and muted accounts, from appearing in users' search results. Those tweets can still be found if people want to see them, but they "won't clutter search results any longer," Ho said. And Twitter will now collapse tweet replies that are potentially abusive or low quality -- like duplicate tweets or content that appears to be automated. But those tweets "will still be accessible to those who seek them out," Ho said.
The blog post announces Twitter's ultimate goal is "a significant impact that people can feel," arguing that freedom of speech for all viewpoints is "put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's Rust-never-sleeps department
An anonymous reader writes:
Google "developer advocate" Felipe Hoffa has determined the top "weekend programming languages," those which see the biggest spike in commit activity on the weekends. "Clearly 2016 was a year dedicated to play with functional languages, up and coming paradigms, and scripting 3d worlds," he writes, revealing that the top weekend programming languages are:
Rust, Glsl, D, Haskell, Common Lisp, Kicad, Emacs Lisp, Lua, Scheme, Julia, Elm, Eagle, Racket, Dart, Nsis, Clojure, Kotlin, Elixir, F#, Ocaml
Earlier this week another data scientist calculated ended up with an entirely different list by counting the frequency of each language's tag in StackOverflow questions. But Hoffa's analysis was performed using Google's BigQuery web service, and he's also compiled a list of 2016's least popular weekend languages -- the ones people seem to prefer using at the office rather than in their own free time.
Nginx, Matlab, Processing, Vue, Fortran, Visual Basic, Objective-C++, Plsql, Plpgsql, Web Ontology Language, Smarty, Groovy, Batchfile, Objective-C, Powershell, Xslt, Cucumber, Hcl, Puppet, Gcc Machine Description
What's most interesting is the changes over time. In the last year Perl has become more popular than Java, PHP, and ASP as a weekend programming language. And Rust "used to be a weekday language," Hoffa writes, but it soon also grew more popular for Saturdays and Sunday. Meanwhile, "The more popular Go grows, the more it settles as a weekday language," while Puppet "is the champion of weekday coders." Ruby on the other hand, is "slowly leaving the week and embracing the weekend."
Hoffa is also a long-time Slashdot reader who analyzed one billion files on GitHub last summer to determine whether they'd been indented with spaces or tabs. But does this new list resonate with anybody? What languages are you using for your weekend coding projects?Read Replies (0)