Meet the Stingray

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-07-27 23:21 (#641)

story imageAre you the proud owner of a snazzy, new smartphone? Thrilled with the convenience and utility of having this clever device in your pocket, connecting you to friends, colleagues, and information? Guess who else is excited about your purchase? Law enforcement. Meet the Stingray, essentially a honey pot, fake cell tower. Your phone connects to it, and you're done.
A stingray is a false cell phone tower that can force phones in a geographical area to connect to it. Once these devices connect, the stingray can be used to either hone in on the target’s location or, with some models, actually eavesdrop on conversations, text messages, and web browser activity. It’s not clear how much the police cooperate with the cell phone carriers on this — in at least some cases, the police have gone to carriers with requests for information, while in others they seem to have taken a brute-force approach, dumping the data of every single user on a given tower and then sorting it to find the parties they’re interested in tracking. Stingrays can be used to force the phone to give up its user details, making it fairly easy for the police to match devices and account holders.
[Ed. note: Time to give up your cellphone and go back to using public phone booths? Oh, wait …]

Facebook pivots on privacy again: for the better

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in internet on 2014-07-27 23:13 (#640)

story imageFacebook is revamping its stance on privacy again. Slate writes:
Remember when Mark Zuckerberg didn’t believe in privacy? When he argued that it was “no longer a social norm”? When Facebook employees wouldn’t even use the word “privacy” at a forum about the future of privacy? That was then. Now, it seems, privacy is back—not just as a social norm, but as a business model.
A good read, by Will Orison. He reviews a number of serious changes over the past six months and identifies a trend. This is good for the consumer, so let's hope the shift is industry-wide.

[Ed. note: I conclude that Zuckerberg's occasional "declaration" sounds like uncontrovertable fact but is usually a desperate attempt to make what's good for his greedy little company sound like what the consumer wants or deserves. This step back shows he is sometimes obliged to eat some crow pie. Bon appetite, Zuck.]

Your eyeball is your password

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-07-27 13:55 (#639)

Interesting things brewing over at Google, where two recent patents show a push to operationalize new technology that lets you unlock a device using a retinal scan.
The process has three steps:
Receiving light on an iris of an eye
Detecting, at one or more light sensors disposed on or within a transparent lens covering at least a portion of the eye, light reflected from the light incident on the iris of the eye, wherein the light reflected comprises image data indicative of a pattern associated with the iris.
Outputting an iris fingerprint based in part on the image data
A related patent looks at an encoded contact lens and its application. Perhaps the days of Google Glass will be numbered, as the fashion-conscious will quickly move right to the next, obvious step.

Intel is paying tablet manufacturers to use its chips

by bryan@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-07-26 00:49 (#637)

story imageHave you seen ASUS's new $150 x86 tablet and thought to yourself: how can it possibly be so cheap?

Well here's your answer. It just may be because Intel is paying manufacturers to use its chips. That's bad news for Intel. Turns out, because Intel's Bay Trail Atom processors don't have as much functionality integrated onto the chip as the more common ARM SOCs (system on a chip), it creates a higher "bill of materials" for tablet makers. Cash-rich Intel is covering the difference in cost by simply reimbursing the manufacturers for the extra components needed. That might be a stop-gap measure to ensure Intel stays "in the game" where tablets manufacturers are concerned, but a long range strategy it is not.

In the meantime, this is a good time to scoop up a cheapo tablet!

Friday Distro: KaOS Linux

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in linux on 2014-07-26 00:46 (#638)

story imageThis Friday's distro is KaOS Linux, and the K stands for KDE. But this isn't just a "lean KDE distro," as is their motto: the focus is quite a bit better defined even than that:
The idea behind KaOS is to create a tightly integrated rolling and transparent distribution for the modern desktop, built from scratch with a very specific focus.
Focus on one DE (KDE), one toolkit (Qt), one architecture (x86_64) plus a focus on evaluating and selecting the most suitable tools and applications. ... It targets users who have tried many Operating Systems/Distributions/Desktop Environments and have found they prefer a Distribution that uses all its available resources to work on one DE to make that the best it can be, and know that after their searches, the best for them is KDE.
The KaOS Linux website was my first reference point for familiarizing myself with this distro, but we're lucky in that it's recently gotten quite a bit of press, too. ZDNet looked at it and called it "solid and focused: The reviewer wasn't thrilled with the installer but found it a reasonable package selections (that even transcends the "QT only" philosophy by also providing LibreOffice and GIMP). And HecticGeek also gave it a spin, though the site was down as I write this.

For me, the killer decision point is really the choice of the Calligra office suite as primary productivity suite. And the fact that LibreOffice is in the repos tells me that it is still not totally baked as an office suite; too bad because I've always rooted for what was once called Koffice and would love to see it blossom, though it always seems to let me down: font kerning was still a mess the last time I tried it in 2012.

Anyway, the folks behind KaOS admit this distro isn't going to be for everyone. But for people that have tried the other options and decided on KDE, this is a distro that promises you that all its effort has gone into ensuring this KDE-centric distro gives you a great experience. I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl.

Fog Creek Software's Trello has spun-off into a $10M Company

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in internet on 2014-07-25 19:54 (#636)

story imageIf you're never used Trello before, I'd highly encourage you to do so. It's the equivalent of a digital whiteboard that allows teams to organize, collaborate, and collectively manage tasks. I discovered it in about 2011, set up a free Trello board for the team and project I manage, and have had no regrets at all: people love it, it's easy to use, and makes it easy to stay organized via tablet, phone, or desktop.

And now, it's an independent company. The Wall Street Journal reports:
For the second time, Fog Creek Software Inc. has spun out a company—Trello Inc., an internal project management tool that became so popular, according to the founders, it needed to exist on its own. ... Trello takes with it $10.3 million in funding and follows a familiar path of companies that grew up around tools created somewhere else. Twitter Inc. started out as twttr, a short message service used internally by the podcasting company Odeo, while Yammer, acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2012 for $1.2 billion, was an internal communications tool for the geneology website Geni.com. ...

“It reminds us of the early traction that Dropbox…and other apps up there had that have grabbed individuals and caused them to start using it and bring it to work and convince teams and colleagues to use it and it’s gradually taken over organizations,” said Index Partner Neil Rimer, whose brother Danny, also an Index partner, invested in Dropbox for that firm. “It turns out to be a better solution than the stuff at the top that’s driven into the organization by policy.”
That last comment is a not-very-veiled swipe at SharePoint, and it fits my experience perfectly: management requires it, even though it's almost totally useless for our purposes.

Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, tells the story beautifully over at the company blog. Clearly, there's still tons of money to be made simply by creating things that help people accomplish things more efficiently. As an avid Trello advocate, I'm raising a glass to these guys [and hoping under the new arrangement corporate ownership doesn't screw the pooch or raise prices, etc.]

Wikipedia brings down the ban-hammer on US Congress

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in internet on 2014-07-25 19:33 (#634)

Someone over at the US House of Representatives - or maybe a group of someones - has made such a nuisance editing Wikipedia that Wikipedia's administration has applied a ten day ban on all anonymous edits at the site.
What precipitated the ban was not edits to articles about jam bands and their fans’ favorite foods, but rather a series of more creative edits that suggested that, among other things, Cuban spies orchestrated the assassination of JFK and a race of hyper-intelligent extra-terrestrial lizardmen has infiltrated the U.S. government, Mediaite said. ... ome staffers are upset about the ban and took to Wikipedia to complain. “Out of over 9000 staffers in the House, should we really be banning this whole IP range based on the actions of two or three? Some of use here are just making grammatical edits, adding information about birds in Omsk, or showing how one can patch KDE2 under FreeBSD,” said one staffer from the House’s IP address.
Important take-away conclusions from this article:
1. House Representatives or their staffers are spending way too much time on Wikipedia.
2. The Twitterbot and Wikipedia oversight have been useful and shed light on what's going on.

But most importantly:

3. Holy crap: the House of Reps is running KDE2 on FreeBSD!

Google confirms purchase of Twitch for $1 billion

by skarjak@pipedot.org in games on 2014-07-25 19:21 (#633)

story imageAfter all the rumours and speculation, back-and-forth, and legal wrangling, it is complete: Google has completed its purchase of Twitch.

We had heard rumours about it, but it's now official. The exact price of purchase and official announcement are yet to come, but investors are reportedly happy about the deal. Considering Google's ownership of Youtube, this will give them firm control over online game session streaming. Venturebeat states:
The deal underscores the value of live Internet streaming and the rise of competitive gaming as a spectator sport — something that draws millions of viewers, can offer prize pools that surpass pro golf’s marquee events, and provides a multibillion dollar opportunity for advertisers.
Author note: What do you think of this, pipers? (That's how we're calling ourselves, right?) Considering Google's often clumsy attempts to control copyrighted material on Youtube, does this spell doom for many Twitch channels? As Twitch users would say, is it time for us to declare: "Rip in peace, Twitch."?

Bruce Byfield: KDE5 Plasma is the best desktop

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in linux on 2014-07-25 12:33 (#632)

Everyone knows opinions are like noses: everyone has one. But Bruce Byfield has been at it longer than most, and his opinion often reflects the industry. And he loves KDE5.
At a time when the Linux desktop offers six main alternatives (Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE Plasma, LXDE, Mate, Unity and Xfce), KDE Plasma consistently tops reader polls with an average of 35-40 percent. In such a diverse market, these figures indicate a broad appeal that other Linux desktop alternatives can't match.

I believe that one of the main reasons for this appeal is the KDE design philosophy. GNOME and Unity may offer a more aesthetic-looking default, but only at the cost of simplifying both the desktop and the utilities in the name of reducing clutter.

By contrast, KDE goes to the opposite extreme. KDE applications typically include every function you can imagine. Sometimes, they can take a version or two to organize the menus in a meaningful way, but applications like Amarok, K3B, or digiKam go far beyond the most common use cases. When you run into problems with them, they usually offer solutions.
Read the rest of his thoughtful and insightful review here.

[Ed. note: Actually, opinions are like something else. But Pipedot is a family-friendly site.]

Fossilised Footprints Suggest Tyrannosaurus Hunted In Packs

by lhsi@pipedot.org in science on 2014-07-25 12:28 (#631)

Recent scientific inquiry shows that the mighty Tyrannosaurus may have been inclined to hunt in packs, rather than going it alone. Adjacent track ways of tyrannosaurus footprints have been discovered (full text) that suggest that tyrannosaurids hunted in packs. The fossilised footprints show clear evidence that the animals travelled together, with all three tracks going in the same direction around the same time, suggesting that these dinosaurs may have been social, and not solitary, animals.
The skeletal record of tyrannosaurids is well-documented, whereas their footprint record is surprisingly sparse. There are only a few isolated footprints attributed to tyrannosaurids and, hitherto, no reported trackways. We report the world's first trackways attributable to tyrannosaurids, and describe a new ichnotaxon attributable to tyrannosaurids. These trackways are from the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian - Maastrichtian) of northeastern British Columbia, Canada. One trackway consists of three tridactyl footprints, and two adjacent trackways consist of two footprints each. All three trackways show animals bearing southeast within an 8.5 meter-wide corridor. Similarities in depth and preservation of the tyrannosaurid tracks indicate that these three trackways were made by track-makers walking concurrently in the same direction. These trackways add significantly to previous osteology-based hypotheses of locomotion and behavior in Tyrannosauridae by providing ichnologic support for gregariousness in tyrannosaurids, and the first record of the walking gait of tyrannosaurids.