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Exploring the Future of Computing

299 macOS apps are so buggy, Apple fixes them in AppKit 21 May 2018, 12:16 am

What do Photoshop, Matlab, Panic Transmit, and Eclipse have in common? They are among the 299 apps for which macOS applies compatibility fixes. Here's the full list of bundle IDs, along with the functions that checks for them, and the first caller to those functions. It's also available in CSV format. Note that this is just a list of apps Apple has developed compatibility tweaks to make them run on newer macOS versions. As the list demonstrates, even the best apps often needs some tweaks on newer macOS. In addition, most of these patches are only applied to older versions of apps. Here's how I extracted the list, and some interesting things I found in it. This is absolutely fascinating, and provides some amazing insight into which applications Apple considers crucial to the macOS user experience and platform. We all know Windows performs various tricks to maintain backwards compatibility, but I had no idea Apple went to decent lengths too for the same reasons.

Google makes two different versions of Android 21 May 2018, 12:09 am

We go through this every time a new version comes to Google's own phones while we wait for it to come to the rest. And the outcome is always the same - Pixel phones (and previous Nexus phones) look the way Google wants them to look and the rest of the phones look however the company that made them want them to look. That's because you can't see Android - it's simply software that supports the things you're looking at. It's confusing. And tech bloggers (myself included) don't help ease the confusion very well when we write about the things we see on a software update for the Pixel. It's too difficult to try and break everything down every time we write something, and while we are good at a lot of things, we tend to shy away from "difficult". To compound it all, when we do try to break "Android" down, we usually make it worse. I'm going to try here because I'm feeling courageous and want to face "difficult" head on today. If I don't come back, tell my wife I love her. Android is quite a complicated term, entity, and operating system.

Razer Phone XDA display analysis 21 May 2018, 12:04 am

When contemplating who’d be a major player in the Android smartphone business, the gaming hardware giant Razer probably doesn’t come to mind. While they have yet to establish themselves as a reliable smartphone provider, Razer’s first attempt did not at all seem like it was their first time dabbling into Android, likely because much of their engineering team came from Nextbit. Razer leveraged their status in gaming hardware to appeal to those who game, and those who game hold high refresh rate monitors in high regard. So Razer put one on a smartphone. This article takes a close look at the Razor phone's display, which is rather unique among Android phones for its 120Hz refresh rate (iPhones have 120Hz displays as well).

Europe gets more open-access as university stand-offs spread 20 May 2018, 11:12 pm

Bold efforts to push academic publishing towards an open-access model are gaining steam. Negotiators from libraries and university consortia across Europe are sharing tactics on how to broker new kinds of contracts that could see more articles appear outside paywalls. And inspired by the results of a stand-off in Germany, they increasingly declare that if they don’t like what publishers offer, they will refuse to pay for journal access at all. On 16 May, a Swedish consortium became the latest to say that it wouldn't renew its contract, with publishing giant Elsevier. A lot of this research in partially or fully tax-funded, and as such, published articles must be freely available to the public. Good development.

Hands-on with the RED Hydrogen One 20 May 2018, 8:45 pm

We just got a look at the upcoming RED Hydrogen One smartphone at an event meant for "RED Pioneers" (read: superfans). It is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious smartphones in years from a company not named Apple, Google, or Samsung. It's an Android phone with a 5.7-inch display and top-tier phone specs, but that description doesn't do justice to what RED is trying to accomplish here. The company better known for high-end 4K cameras with names like "Weapon" and "Epic-w" isn't entering the smartphone game simply to sell you a better Android phone (though it does have both Verizon and AT&T signed on to support it). No, this phone is meant to be one piece of a modular system of cameras and other media creation equipment - the company claims it will be "the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system". I doubt this phone will ever have any mass-market success, but that's not really the point anyway. I like that RED is trying something new, something different, and takes it to the extreme with this industrial design. The module system here is different from previous failed attempts at doing so in that it's designed to tie in with RED's popular and expensive camera's and lenses from other big camera brands, instead of trying to appeal to the mass market. This might actually work out.

Inside the 76477 Space Invaders sound effect chip 19 May 2018, 8:39 pm

The 76477 Complex Sound Generation chip (1978) provided sound effects for Space Invaders and many other video games. It was also a popular hobbyist chip, easy to experiment with and available at Radio Shack. I reverse-engineered the chip from die photos and found some interesting digital circuitry inside. Perhaps the most interesting is a shift register based white noise generator, useful for drums, gunshots, explosions and other similar sound effects. The chip also uses a digital mixer to combine the chip's different sound generators. An unusual feature of the chip is that it uses Integrated Injection Logic (I2L), a type of digital logic developed in the 1970s with the goal of high-density, high-speed chips.

iOS developers form union to pressure Apple 18 May 2018, 10:25 pm

A number of prominent third-party iOS developers have formed a union to put pressure on Apple to change several App Store policies. We believe that people who create great software should be able to make a living doing it. So we created The Developers Union to advocate for sustainability in the App Store. Today, we are asking Apple to publicly commit - by the tenth anniversary of the App Store this July - to allowing free trials for all apps in the App Stores before July 2019. After that, we'll start advocating for a more reasonable revenue cut and other community-driven, developer-friendly changes. I've railed against the long-term sustainability of the application store model for years now, long before it became en vogue in wider developer circles. I absolutely love the idea of independent developers forming a union - even if it's not a literal union - as a means to put pressure on Apple, Google, and other owners of application stores to take better care of developers. At the same time, I fear that they are too late - the vast majority of the App Store's revenue comes from crappy pay-to-win mobile games, not from well-made, lovingly crafted applications. I simply don't think these developers are important enough to a bean-counting bottom-liner like Tim Cook.

Google's Duplex will warn that calls are recorded 18 May 2018, 10:17 pm

Since Google revealed a robo-caller that sounds eerily human earlier this month, the company has faced plenty of questions about how it works. Employees got some answers this week. On Thursday, the Alphabet Inc. unit shared more details on how the Duplex robot-calling feature will operate when it's released publicly, according to people familiar with the discussion. Duplex is an extension of the company's voice-based digital assistant that automatically phones local businesses and speaks with workers there to book appointments. At Google’s weekly TGIF staff meeting on Thursday, executives gave employees their first full Duplex demo and told them the bot would identify itself as the Google assistant. It will also inform people on the phone that the line is being recorded in certain jurisdictions, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private matters. A Google spokesman declined to comment. This is a good step, and while the technology is awesome, I'm still quite reluctant about whether or not we really need this. Aside from the very legitimate use cases for people with disabilities, to whom this technology could be life-changing, I'm wondering just what regular users get out of it.

Pie menus: a 30 year retrospective 18 May 2018, 10:15 pm

Today (May 15, 2018) is the 30 year anniversary of CHI'88 (May 15-19, 1988), where Jack Callahan, Ben Shneiderman, Mark Weiser and I (Don Hopkins) presented our paper "An Empirical Comparison of Pie vs. Linear Menus". We found pie menus to be about 15% faster and with a significantly lower error rate than linear menus! This article will discuss the history of what's happened with pie menus over the last 30 years (and more), present both good and bad examples, including ideas half baked, experiments performed, problems discovered, solutions attempted, alternatives explored, progress made, software freed, products shipped, as well as setbacks and impediments to their widespread adoption. Fantastic read with fantastic examples. Set some time aside for this one - you won't regret it.

GDPR hysteria 18 May 2018, 8:26 pm

In another week the GDPR, or the General Data Protection Regulation will become enforceable and it appears that unlike any other law to date this particular one has the interesting side effect of causing mass hysteria in the otherwise rational tech sector. This post is an attempt to calm the nerves of those that feel that the(ir) world is about to come to an end, the important first principle when it comes to dealing with any laws, including this one is Don’t Panic. I’m aiming this post squarely at the owners of SME’s that are active on the world wide web and that feel overwhelmed by this development. A bit of background about myself: I’ve been involved in the M&A scene for about a decade, do technical due diligence for a living (together with a team of 8). This practice and my feeling that the battle for privacy on the web is one worth winning which has led me to study online privacy in some detail puts me in an excellent position to see the impact of this legislation first hand as well as how companies tend to deal with it. The GDRP is not nearly as draconian or complex as people are scared into believing (mostly by people who conveniently also sell GDRP compliance services). Over the past few weeks and months, I've translated countless internal and external corporate documents about the GDPR from companies both big and small, for all kinds of sectors, many of which you know, and none of them are freaking out and none of them find this particularly difficult or complicated. Even a legal simpleton like me understands it just fine, and all I need to do is translate texts about it.

The soon-to-be-extinct embedded software engineer 17 May 2018, 11:05 pm

Embedded systems have started to become extremely complex. The big push to connect every device to the internet to create the IoT is causing a demand for embedded software engineers that has not yet been seen in recent history. This big push is causing a vacuum in which companies can't find enough embedded software engineers. Instead of training new engineers, they are starting to rely on application developers, who have experience with Windows applications or mobile devices, to develop their real-time embedded software. The problem, of course, is that these engineers don't understand the low-level hardware, but only high-level application frameworks that do all the work for them. Is this actually true? It's very difficult to gauge this, since most focus when it comes to development is on "sexy" development, such as smartphone applications or websites - there's very little media visibility for lower-level engineering such as embedded developers, kernel engineers, and so on. Since I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of believing that everything was better in the past, I genuinely wonder if this is really actually a problem, or that we just perceive it as such.

Bitcoin to use 0.5% of world's electricity by end of 2018 17 May 2018, 10:59 pm

The bitcoin network is run by miners, computers that maintain the shared transaction ledger called the blockchain. A new study estimates that this process consumes at least 2.6GW of power - almost as much electric power as Ireland consumes. This figure could rise to 7.7GW before the end of 2018 - accounting for almost half a percent of the world's electricity consumption. Bitcoin is - quite literally - destroying our environment. It's erasing the meagre progress we've made on reducing our overal energy consumption, for a glorified Tulipmania.

Selfish Ledger is an unsettling vision of Google social engineering 17 May 2018, 10:19 pm

Google has built a multibillion-dollar business out of knowing everything about its users. Now, a video produced within Google and obtained by The Verge offers a stunningly ambitious and unsettling look at how some at the company envision using that information in the future. The video was made in late 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at X (formerly Google X), and shared internally within Google. It imagines a future of total data collection, where Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations to solve global problems like poverty and disease. This is exactly as dystopian and deeply creepy as you think it is. My biggest concern is not that this video exists or that companies such as Google are thinking about this - my biggest concern is that a whole generation of people already seem to accept this as the new normal even before it's a reality.

Evolving Chrome's security indicators 17 May 2018, 10:02 pm

Previously, HTTP usage was too high to mark all HTTP pages with a strong red warning, but in October 2018 (Chrome 70), we'll start showing the red "not secure" warning when users enter data on HTTP pages. Seemingly small change, but still hugely significant. Right now, HTTPS pages are marked as secure, and HTTP pages are not marked at all. In the future, HTTPS pages will not be marked, while HTTP pages will be marked as insecure.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller may change gaming forever 17 May 2018, 12:13 pm

The operative word is "adaptive". XAC's potential truly begins with its back-side strip. There, you'll find a whopping 19 ports, all 3.5mm jacks. No, this isn't a giant middle finger to the headphone-jack haters at Apple and Google. Rather, these ports see Microsoft connecting with, and loudly celebrating, what has long been an open secret in the world of gaming peripherals: the community of add-on devices designed for limited-mobility gamers. Oversized buttons, finger switches, blowing tubes, foot pedals, and other specialized inputs have long been built for gamers who can't hold onto or efficiently use average controllers (gamepads, keyboards, mice). Recent speeches from company heads like CEO Satya Nadella and Xbox chief Phil Spencer have paid lip service to "inclusivity" in computing and gaming, but this device, the XAC, aims to do the trick by connecting niche add-ons to standard Microsoft hardware. This is a hugely important device for gamers with limited mobility. Nothing but praise for Microsoft for developing a device like this.

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