Open Source

'Is It Time For Open Processors?' (lwn.net) 159

Linux kernel developer (and LWN.net co-founder) Jonathan Corbet recently posted an essay with a tantalizing title: "Is it time for open processors?" He cited several "serious initiatives", including the OpenPOWER effort, OpenSPARC, and OpenRISC, adding that "much of the momentum" appears to be with the RISC-V architecture. An anonymous reader quotes LWN.net: The [RISC-V] project is primarily focused on the instruction-set architecture, rather than on specific implementations, but free hardware designs do exist. Western Digital recently announced that it will be using RISC-V processors in its storage products, a decision that could lead to the shipment of RISC-V by the billion. There is a development kit available for those who would like to play with this processor and a number of designs for cores are available... RISC-V seems to have quite a bit of commercial support behind it -- the RISC-V Foundation has a long list of members. It seems likely that this architecture will continue to progress for some time.
Here's some of the reasons that Corbet argues open souce hardware "would certainly offer some benefits, but it would be no panacea."
Businesses

How To Tame the Tech Titans (economist.com) 163

dryriver shares an opinion piece from The Economist: Not long ago, being the boss of a big Western tech firm was a dream job. As the billions rolled in, so did the plaudits: Google, Facebook, Amazon and others were making the world a better place. Today these companies are accused of being BAADD -- big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. Regulators fine them, politicians grill them and one-time backers warn of their power to cause harm. Much of this techlash is misguided. The presumption that big businesses must necessarily be wicked is plain wrong. Apple is to be admired as the world's most valuable listed company for the simple reason that it makes things people want to buy, even while facing fierce competition. Many online services would be worse if their providers were smaller. Evidence for the link between smartphones and unhappiness is weak. Fake news is not only an online phenomenon.

But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or "platforms") for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users "pay" for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade. There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers (see article). The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.

Businesses

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess (theverge.com) 265

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.
Software

Slack Now Available As a Snap For Linux (betanews.com) 140

BrianFagioli writes: Today, yet another wildly popular program gets the Snap treatment, and quite frankly, it is arguably more significant than Spotify. What is it? Slack! Yes, Canonical announces that the ubiquitous communication app can be installed as a Snap. True, Slack was already available on the Linux desktop, but this makes installing it and keeping it updated much easier. "In adopting the universal Linux app packaging format, Slack will open its digital workplace up to an-ever growing community of Linux users, including those using Linux Mint, Manjaro, Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Solus, and Ubuntu. Designed to connect us to the people and tools we work with every day, the Slack snap will help Linux users be more efficient and streamlined in their work. And an intuitive user experience remains central to the snaps' appeal, with automatic updates and rollback features giving developers greater control in the delivery of each offering," says Canonical.
Microsoft

Microsoft Tries To Write the Book On AI (axios.com) 56

When it comes to the ethics and impact of artificial intelligence, Microsoft is literally trying to write the book. From a report: The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society is being made available in digital form tonight, with a forward from longtime lawyer Brad Smith and AI/Research chief Harry Shum. Why it matters: Now is the time when a lot of key decisions are being made about how AI will work and the rules that will govern its development. But the discussion has largely been taking place within the tech sector. Axios chatted with Smith and Shum about the book, AI in general and the questions we all should be grappling with. So, why write a book? Smith: There has been a lot of discussion in the tech sector, as you know. But we think that there's an important role to play in trying to take what the tech sector is talking about and broadening the dialogue.
The Military

America's Fastest Spy Plane May Be Back -- And Hypersonic (bloomberg.com) 299

A Lockheed Skunk Works executive implied last week at an aerospace conference that the successor to one of the fastest aircraft the world has seen, the SR-71 Blackbird, might already exist. Previously, Lockheed officials have said the successor, the SR-72, could fly by 2030. Bloomberg reports: Referring to detailed specifics of company design and manufacturing, Jack O'Banion, a Lockheed vice president, said a "digital transformation" arising from recent computing capabilities and design tools had made hypersonic development possible. Then -- assuming O'Banion chose his verb tense purposely -- came the surprise. "Without the digital transformation, the aircraft you see there could not have been made," O'Banion said, standing by an artist's rendering of the hypersonic aircraft. "In fact, five years ago, it could not have been made." Hypersonic applies to speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. The SR-71 cruised at Mach 3.2, more than 2,000 mph, around 85,000 feet.

"We couldn't have made the engine itself -- it would have melted down into slag if we had tried to produce it five years ago," O'Banion said. "But now we can digitally print that engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integral into the material of the engine itself and have that engine survive for multiple firings for routine operation." The aircraft is also agile at hypersonic speeds, with reliable engine starts, he said. A half-decade before, he added, developers "could not have even built it even if we conceived of it."

The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Plunges Below $12,000 To Six-Week Low Over Crackdown Fears (cnbc.com) 174

Bitcoin plunged to a six-week low Tuesday after comments from South Korea's finance minister renewed worries about a crackdown in one of the largest markets for digital currency trading. In a radio program interview, South Korean Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said that "the shutdown of virtual currency exchanges is still one of the options" the government has. CNBC reports: Bitcoin dropped more than 17 percent to a low of $11,182.71 on Tuesday, falling below $12,000 for the first time since December 5, according to CoinDesk. CoinDesk's bitcoin price index tracks prices from cryptocurrency exchanges Bitstamp, Coinbase, itBit and Bitfinex. As of 12:13 p.m. ET, bitcoin was trading more than 13 percent lower at $11,759.73 a coin, according to CoinDesk. Trading in South Korean won accounted for about 4 percent of bitcoin trading volume, according to CryptoCompare. U.S. dollar-bitcoin trading had the largest share at 40 percent, the website showed. Other major digital currencies including ethereum and ripple also fell significantly. According to CoinMarketCap data, ethereum was trading at $1,051.83, down more than 20 percent in the last 24 hours, before lifting slightly to $1,117.72. Ripple fell almost 27 percent to $1.33 a token before recovering slightly to $1.36.
EU

City of Barcelona Dumps Windows For Linux and Open Source Software (europa.eu) 249

An anonymous reader quotes Open Source Observatory: The City of Barcelona is migrating its computer systems away from the Windows platform, reports the Spanish newspaper El País. The City's strategy is first to replace all user applications with open-source alternatives, until the underlying Windows operating system is the only proprietary software remaining. In a final step, the operating system will be replaced with Linux... According to Francesca Bria, the Commissioner of Technology and Digital Innovation at the City Council, the transition will be completed before the current administration's mandate ends in spring 2019. For starters, the Outlook mail client and Exchange Server will be replaced with Open-Xchange. In a similar fashion, Internet Explorer and Office will be replaced with Firefox and LibreOffice, respectively. The Linux distribution eventually used will probably be Ubuntu, since the City of Barcelona is already running 1,000 Ubuntu-based desktops as part of a pilot...

Barcelona is the first municipality to have joined the European campaign 'Public Money, Public Code'. This campaign is an initiative of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and revolves around an open letter advocating that publicly funded software should be free. Currently, this call to public agencies is supported by more than 100 organisations and almost 15,000 individuals. With the new open-source strategy, Barcelona's City Council aims to avoid spending large amounts of money on licence-based software and to reduce its dependence on proprietary suppliers through contracts that in some cases have been closed for decades.

Music

Japan's Latest Sensation is a Cryptocurrency Pop Group (engadget.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: If you're starting a pop group in Japan, where giant rosters and virtual superstars are par for the course, how do you stand out? By tying yourself to something trendy -- and in 2018, that means cryptocurrency. Meet Kasotsuka Shojo (Virtual Currency Girls), a J-pop group where each of the eight girls represents one of the larger digital monetary formats. Yes, you're supposed to cheer for bitcoin or swoon over ethereum (what, no litecoin?). The group played its first concert on January 12th, and naturally you had to pay in cryptocurrency to be one of the few members of the general public to get in. The group's first single, "The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me," warns listeners about the perils of fraud and extols the virtues of good online security.
"It isn't clear how French maid outfits symbolize cryptocurrency or blockchain technology," notes Quartz, "but they're popular costumes in Japan's anime and cosplay circles."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Calls to Action on the Fifth Anniversary of the Death of Aaron Swartz (eff.org) 151

On the fifth anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz, EFF activist Elliot Harmon posted a remembrance: When you look around the digital rights community, it's easy to find Aaron's fingerprints all over it. He and his organization Demand Progress worked closely with EFF to stop SOPA. Long before that, he played key roles in the development of RSS, RDF, and Creative Commons. He railed hard against the idea of government-funded scientific research being unavailable to the public, and his passion continues to motivate the open access community. Aaron inspired Lawrence Lessig to fight corruption in politics, eventually fueling Lessig's White House run... It's tempting to become pessimistic in the face of countless threats to free speech and privacy. But the story of the SOPA protests demonstrates that we can win in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
He shares a link to a video of Aaron's most inspiring talk, "How We Stopped SOPA," writing that "Aaron warned that SOPA wouldn't be the last time Hollywood attempted to use copyright law as an excuse to censor the Internet... 'The enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared... We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom. They threw themselves into it. They did whatever they could think of to do.'"

On the anniversary of Aaron's death, his brother Ben Swartz, an engineer at Twitch, wrote about his own efforts to effect change in ways that would've made Aaron proud, while Aaron's mother urged calls to Congress to continue pushing for reform to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

And there were countless other remembrances on Twitter, including one fro Cory Doctorow, who tweeted a link to Lawrence Lessig's analysis of the prosecution. And Lessig himself marked the anniversary with several posts on Twitter. "None should rest," reads one, "for still, there is no peace."
The Almighty Buck

Warren Buffett Predicts 'Bad Ending' for Cryptocurrencies (cnbc.com) 326

"97% of all bitcoins are held by 4% of addresses," reports Credit Suisse (in an article cited by Slashdot reader CaptainDork). And elsewhere this week, Warren Buffett told CNBC that speculation in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies "will have a bad ending," adding that looking out five years he'd gladly bet against all of the cryptocurrencies.

Meanwhile, CNBC senior analyst Ron Insana has his own skepticism: I am predisposed to view them as just speculative tokens in a cryptocurrency bubble that has inflated more quickly than any other in financial market history. Admittedly I'm green with envy for failing to foresee the explosive rally in the price of bitcoin when it was first brought to my attention several years ago. Having said that, there are many things I find quite ironic about how bitcoin and other "cryptos" are described. First, they are largely denominated, or discussed, in U.S. dollar terms... If the dollar is archaic, as the crypto-enthusiasts believe, why not speak only in crypto-terms...?

It's much easier to buy and sell dollars, stocks or commodities than it is to trade bitcoin and its brethren. The conversion of one crypto to another is relatively easy on these embryonic exchanges. But getting your digital wealth converted into cold hard cash is more problematic... And while the growth has been impressive, it remains very difficult to walk into any establishment and exchange a digital token for goods or services.

The article notes that the U.S. dollar still accounts for 65% of all global economic transactions, due to its status as the world's reserve currency, and concludes that "The adoption of cryptocurrencies as a global source of funds has a long way to go before staking a claim to the world's economy."
Books

'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy (sfwa.org) 118

An anonymous reader writes: The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection."

The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books."

The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved."

"Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."
The Media

Peter Thiel Is Now Bidding on Gawker.com (reuters.com) 132

An anonymous reader writes: Its official. "Venture capitalist Peter Thiel has made an offer for Gawker," reports Reuters, adding that the potential acquisition "would let him take down stories regarding his personal life that are still available on the website, and remove the scope for further litigation between him and Gawker." It was Thiel's 2016 lawsuit which bankrupted the site, prompting a Washington Post blogger to write that Thiel "killed Gawker once. Now it looks like he may kill it again."

Elsewhere the Washington Post argues the whole episode "highlighted the immense legal risk borne by news outlets already facing a precarious financial reality in the digital age." The Post's blogger describes Thiel as "a billionaire leveraging his wealth to obliterate a media outlet...as part of a personal vendetta."

Last month former Gawker staffers attempted to crowdfund the purchase and relaunch of Gawker.com as a nonprofit media organization. But their 1,496 backers only pledged $89,844, far short of the campaign's $500,000 target.
Security

Adult Themed VR Game Leaks Data On Thousands (securityledger.com) 41

chicksdaddy writes from The Security Ledger: Somebody deserves a spanking after personal information on thousands of users of an adult virtual reality game were exposed to security researchers in the UK by a balky application. Researchers at the firm Digital Interruption on Tuesday warned that an adult-themed virtual reality application, SinVR, exposes the names, email and other personal information via an insecure desktop application -- a potentially embarrassing security lapse. The company decided to go public with the information after being frustrated in multiple efforts to responsibly disclose the vulnerability to parent company inVR, Inc., Digital Interruption researcher and founder Jahmel Harris told The Security Ledger. Jahmel estimated that more than 19,000 records were leaked by the application, but did not have an exact count.

SinVR is a sex-themed virtual reality game that allows players to navigate in various adult-themed environments and interact with virtual characters in common pornographic themes including BDSM, cosplay, naughty teacher, and so on. The company discovered the data after reverse-engineering the SinVR desktop application and noticing a function named "downloadallcustomers." That function called a web service that returned thousands of SinVR customer records including email addresses, user names, computer PC names and so on. Passwords and credit card details were not part of the data dump, Harris said.

Piracy

Studios Sue Dragon Box in Latest Crackdown on Streaming Devices (variety.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: Netflix and Amazon joined with the major studios on Wednesday in a lawsuit against Dragon Box, as the studios continue their crackdown on streaming devices. The suit accuses Dragon Box of facilitating piracy by making it easy for customers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows. Some of the films available are still in theaters, including Disney's "Coco," the suit alleges. Dragon Box has advertised the product as a means to avoid paying for authorized subscription services, the complaint alleges, quoting marketing material that encourages users to "Get rid of your premium channels ... [and] Stop paying for Netflix and Hulu." The same studios filed a similar complaint in October against TickBox, another device that enables users to watch streaming content. Both TickBox and Dragon Box make use of Kodi add-ons, a third-party software application.
Patents

TiVo Sues Comcast Again, Alleging Operator's X1 Infringes Eight Patents (variety.com) 57

TiVo's Rovi subsidiary on Wednesday filed two lawsuits in federal district courts, alleging Comcast's X1 platform infringes eight TiVo-owned patents. "That includes technology covering pausing and resuming shows on different devices; restarting live programming in progress; certain advanced DVR recording features; and advanced search and voice functionality," reports Variety. From the report: A Comcast spokeswoman said the company will "aggressively defend" itself. "Comcast engineers independently created our X1 products and services, and through its litigation campaign against Comcast, Rovi seeks to charge Comcast and its customers for technology Rovi didn't create," the Comcast rep said in a statement. "Rovi's attempt to extract these unfounded payments for its aging and increasingly obsolete patent portfolio has failed to date."

TiVo's legal action comes after entertainment-tech vendor Rovi (which acquired the DVR company in 2016 and adopted the TiVo name) sued Comcast and its set-top suppliers in April 2016, alleging infringement of 14 patents. In November 2017, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that Comcast infringed two Rovi patents -- with the cable operator prevailing on most of the patents at issue. However, because one of the TiVo patents Comcast was found to have violated covered cloud-based DVR functions, the cable operator disabled that feature for X1 customers. Comcast is appealing the ITC ruling.

Businesses

Pandora CEO Roger Lynch Wants To Create the Podcast Genome Project (variety.com) 19

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: Pandora's new CEO Roger Lynch has big plans for podcasts: Lynch told Variety on the sidelines of CES in Las Vegas Thursday that he wants to create "the equivalent of the podcast genome project" as the company plans to add many more podcasts to its catalog. Lynch, who joined Pandora as president and CEO in September, said that the company is working on a deep integration of podcasts that will allow users of the service to easily browse and discover new shows. Describing these efforts as a kind of podcast genome project is a nod to Pandora's Music Genome Project -- a massive database of dozens of musical attributes for every single song in the company's music library that is being used to compile stations and aid discovery. Pandora is also looking to offer podcasters monetization options that will be superior to the current state of podcast advertising. Currently, many podcasters still rely on ads that they read themselves on air, Lynch said. "It is not the most effective advertising model."
Microsoft

Subscriptions With Automated Recurring Billing Come To Windows 10 (betanews.com) 80

An anonymous reader shares a report: In yet another bid to woo developers to the platform, Microsoft is introducing subscription add-ons for Windows 10 Anniversary Edition, and later. Available to all UWP developers, the add-on subscriptions with automated recurring billing will allow creators to sell digital products directly in their apps. Subscription periods available include 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year or 2 years, and it's possible for developers to offer a free trial period too.
Transportation

Senior Citizens Will Lead the Self-Driving Revolution (theverge.com) 137

The Villages in Florida -- home to 125,000 residents, over 54,000 homes, 32 square miles, 750 miles of road, and three distinct downtowns -- will soon get a fleet of robot taxis. "Voyage, a startup that has been operating a handful of self-driving cars in the San Jose, California-based retirement community also called The Villages, announced today that later this year it will expand to the much-larger Villages north of Orlando," reports The Verge. "This is thanks to a successful Series A fundraising round that raked in $20 million in 2017." From the report: It's an indication that, strangely enough, many of the first people to fully experience the possibilities presented by self-driving cars will be over the age of 55. Most experts agree that robot cars will first roll out as fleets of self-driving taxis in controlled environments -- college campuses, business parks, dedicated freeway lanes, city centers, or retirement communities. Self-driving startups get to boast about providing a real service for people in need, while seniors get to lord over their grandchildren about being early adopters of a bold new technology. They're also getting something a little more valuable: Voyage is giving the owners of The Villages and the smaller San Jose development equity stakes of 0.3% and 0.2%, respectively, according to The Information. Voyage's self-driving cars aren't fully driverless. Safety drivers will remain behind the wheel just in case there's a need to intervene. And to compliment its digital mapping capabilities, the startup says it will partner with Carmera, a 3D mapmaker for autonomous vehicles. This type of partnership is necessary for what Voyage believes is "the largest deployment (by area size) of self-driving cars in the world."
Bitcoin

Kodak Announces Its Own Cryptocurrency, Watches Stock Price Skyrocket (theverge.com) 135

Kodak has joined the cryptocurrency craze by launching its own KodakCoin, a cryptocurrency for photographers. As soon as the news was announced, Kodak's stock (KODK) jumped more than 60 percent. The Verge reports: KodakCoins will work as tokens inside the new blockchain-powered KodakOne rights management platform. The platform will supposedly create a digital ledger of rights ownership that photographers can use to register and license new and old work. Both the platform and cryptocurrency are supposed to "empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management," according to the press release. The digital currency is meant to create a new economy for photographers to receive payment and sell work on a secure platform. But while Kodak's proposed blockchain-powered platform and virtual coin sound good on paper, it's not clear why the photography company needs to use blockchain to achieve its goals, rather than just create another social media platform instead. It appears that Kodak, like the other tea and vape companies that received media attention last month for making the abrupt leap to blockchain, could just be trying to capitalize on the current cryptocurrency mania.

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