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Gunnar Wolf: Nice read: «The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect»

Planet Debian - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 04:18

A long time ago, I did some (quite minor!) work on natural language parsing. Most of what I got was the very basic rudiments on what needs to be done to begin with. But I like reading some texts on the subject every now and then.

I am also a member of the ACM — Association for Computing Machinery. Most of you will be familiar with it, it's one of the main scholarly associations for the field of computing. One of the basic perks of being an ACM member is the subscription to a very nice magazine, Communications of the ACM. And, of course, although I enjoy the physical magazine, I like reading some columns and articles as they appear along the month using the RSS feeds. They also often contain pointers to interesting reads on other media — As happened today. I found quite a nice article, I think, worth sharing with whoever thinks I have interesting things to say.

They published a very short blurb titled The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect. I was somewhat skeptical reading it links to an identically named article, published in Wired. But gave it a shot, anyway...

The article follows a style that's often abused and not very amusing, but I think was quite well done: The commented interview. Rather than just drily following through an interview, the writer tells us a story about that interview. And this is the story of Gideon Lewis-Kraus interviewing Dean Hachamovitch, the creator of the much hated (but very much needed) autocorrect feature that appeared originally in Microsoft Word.

The story of Hachamovitch's work (and its derivations, to the much maligned phone input predictors) over the last twenty-something years is very light to read, very easy to enjoy. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Outlook grim for orbiting Russian zero-G sex geckos

Ars Technica - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 01:51

Russian space agency Roscosmos issued a number of statements earlier today indicating that their Foton-M4 satellite is in trouble. According to Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS, the scientific research satellite with its payload of experiments is still sending back telemetry, but it's unresponsive to commands sent from the ground. In a separate report, ITAR-TASS quotes a Roscosmos representative as saying that Foton-M4 is designed for "durable autonomous operation," but the lack of ground control jeopardizes the experiments slated to be carried out on board the Foton-M4—not to mention the health of its living cargo.

A day gecko. Paul Ritchie Foton-M4 was launched on July 19 carrying five geckos—small lizards that favor tropical and subtropical climates (and, apocryphally, sell insurance). The lucky lizards—one male and four females—were sent into their 575-kilometer low earth orbit in order to study the effect of microgravity on their reproductive habits, with scientists monitoring their behavior through a video downlink to the ground.

The lizards aren’t joining the 357-Mile High Club alone; the satellite is carrying an additional biological payload of flies, plant seeds, and assorted microorganisms, along with 850kg of scientific instrumentation to support 22 experiments.

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Chubby Checker, HP settle penis size app trademark suit

Ars Technica - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 00:45

Musician Chubby Checker, best known for his 1960 smash hit cover version of The Twist, has settled the lawsuit he brought against Hewlett-Packard in 2013, according to the Hollywood Reporter. In the suit the singer claimed trademark infringement after HP included a penis size estimating application, "The Chubby Checker," in its WebOS store.

Rock and roll icon Chubby Checker, real name Ernest Evans, sued HP for half a billion dollars, claiming not only that it infringed his trademark but also that HP violated the Communications Decency Act. The Communications Decency Act claim was dismissed by the courts in August 2013, but the trademark claim was allowed to proceed and was due to go to trial this coming October.

The application worked by asking for a man's shoe size and thereby providing an estimate of his penis size, a process that likely lacks rigorous scientific validity. The app was withdrawn from the WebOS App Catalog in 2012 after HP received a cease and desist demand from Evans' lawyers. The $0.99 application was downloaded fewer than 100 times during its time on the market, leaving HP with a profit of no more than $30.

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PSA: Destiny beta no longer requires pre-order to access

Ars Technica - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 00:30

Last week, Bungie and Activision unveiled a beta version of their upcoming online shooter game Destiny, which first launched on PS3 and PS4 consoles. Xbox 360 and Xbox One players had to wait until yesterday to join in. Beta access for users across all consoles had a catch: it required a Destiny pre-order (or luckily snagging a beta download code via social media).

That changed on Thursday when Bungie opened the game's beta doors to all console players, so long as they were subscribed to their system's paid subscription service (Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus). The announcement came barely an hour ahead of the game's doors being swung wide open, telling players they merely needed to log in to their consoles' normal download stores to find their free beta download.

The launch comes on the heels of a limited alpha test in June. From our brief experience, the beta contains a more expansive world to explore, a better introductory sequence, and more stable online play—along with a chance for players to compare performance between older and newer console generations. (Our time with the PS3 version, for example, handled surprisingly well, in spite of a remarkably lower screen resolution, fewer foliage/skybox details, and smudgy anti-aliasing methods.)

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Fedora 21 delayed three weeks

LWN.net - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 00:25
At yesterday's Fedora Engineering Steering Committee (FESCo) meeting, the release of Fedora 21 was delayed by three weeks (FESCo ticket), with the final release now scheduled for November 4. There are some problems with "test composes" of the release (creating test ISO images) that mean the deadline for the alpha release would be missed. The original plan was to delay for two weeks, but that put the freeze just before the Flock conference, so it was decided to push out an additional week.

Net Neutrality and the Global Digital Divide

EFF Breaking News - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 00:16

EFF's position on net neutrality simply calls for all data that travels over the Internet to be treated equally. This means that we oppose ISPs blocking content based on its source or destination, or discriminating against certain applications (such as BitTorrent), or imposing special access fees that would make it harder for small websites to reach their users. We have called for the FCC to assume firm legal authority to protect the neutrality of the net from these sorts of abuses, while explicitly forbearing from going any further to regulate the Internet.

Do we maintain this same position internationally? Absolutely. Users from around the world suffer the same sorts of problems—such as the blocking of VoIP services in the Caribbean, to the recently-defeated proposal to authorize a tiered Internet in Mexico, to deals that Spotify is striking with providers in countries such as Austria to offer flat-rate access to its own music streaming service, while users pay full price for competing services. In all of these cases, just like in the US, the result is to tilt the playing field in favor of deep-pocketed incumbents, and against startups and noncommercial content providers.

Does this mean that the same strategies that we are advocating in favour of net neutrality in the US should also apply to the rest of the world? Well, no. There is, of course, no international equivalent of the FCC (nor would we want one), so that rules out the option of global net neutrality rules—though there are global multi-stakeholder bodies discussing the development of non-binding principles or guidelines for net neutrality, which EFF is following.

This makes net neutrality regulation a domestic issue, and the correct approach to take will vary based on each country's circumstances. For example, countries like Japan, the Netherlands and Canada already have open access policies that require competitors to share access to network infrastructure on fair terms. In some cases (such as Australia, Sweden and Singapore) this has been accompanied by functional or structural separation of the dominant telecommunications operator, and/or by significant public funding for a national broadband network.

In yet other countries (such as South Korea and Hong Kong, China) competition flourishes even in the absence of open access or net neutrality rules, thanks in part to low barriers to entry for new broadband service providers resulting from those countries' smaller geographies, along with a low-cost regulatory environment. Open internet rules in these countries may not be such a priority as it is in the United States, where the broadband market is less competitive—and as EFF knows well, regulating without good reason can introduce new problems.

But in countries where threats to net neutrality have emerged or can be clearly seen on the horizon, this can provide good reason to support narrow, targeted open Internet rules.

Digital divide

Where things get more complicated is that there is a second problem that prevents users from around the world from accessing the Internet on fair terms. It's called the digital divide. This simply means that due to a combination of high access prices and low incomes, the cost of an unrestricted, neutral Internet connection in many countries is unaffordable to most. In some of those same countries, a solution offered by mobile providers is to offer “zero rating” of popular services.

What is zero rating? Similar to “fast lane discrimination”, where content providers pay a network provider to prioritize their content on its network, a service that is zero rated can be accessed for free from a (usually mobile) subscriber's device. In contrast, accessing competing services will eat into the subscriber's capped data allowance, or will incur extra fees if that allowance has been used up.

Services that are typically zero rated by providers in developing countries include the world's biggest Web properties—Google, Facebook and Twitter—as well as messaging services like WhatsApp, KakaoTalk and WeChat that can reduce the high cost of communicating through phone calls and SMS messages.

The zero rating of a Internet service is negotiated between the content provider and the network, and in most cases the terms of this negotiation are kept secret. An exception is the non-profit Wikipedia, which although certainly also a big Web property, does operate transparently in its negotiations with providers, and neither pays nor receives payment in exchange for its zero rating.

It goes without saying that users will be much more inclined to access a zero rated service than one for which they need to pay, and that this tilts the playing field in favor of the zero rated content owner. On its face, this isn't neutral at all. Yet some have argued that it is worth allowing poor consumers to access at least part of the Internet, even if they are shut out from accessing the rest of it because they can't afford to do so.

However, we worry about the downside risks of the zero rated services. Although it may seem like a humane strategy to offer users from developing countries crumbs from the Internet's table in the form of free access to walled-garden services, such service may thrive at the cost of stifling the development of low-cost, neutral Internet access in those countries for decades to come.

Zero-rating also risks skewing the Internet experience of millions (or billions) of first-time Internet users. For those who don't have access to anything else, Facebook is the Internet. On such an Internet, the task of filtering and censoring content suddenly becomes so much easier, and the potential for local entrepreneurs and hackers to roll out their own innovative online services using local languages and content is severely curtailed.

Sure, zero rated services may seem like an easy band-aid fix to lessen the digital divide. But do you know what most stakeholders agree is a better approach towards conquering the digital divide? Rules that foster competition and that can reduce the power of telecommunications monopolies and oligopolies to limit the content and applications that their subscribers can access and share, combined, where competition isn't enough, with limited rules against clearly impermissible practices like website blocking. 

This is the vision of net neutrality that EFF is working towards, both in the United States and around the world. We firmly believe that all the world's citizens deserve access to an open, neutral and secure Internet, in all its chaotic, offensive and wonderful glory. Whilst we appreciate the intent behind efforts such as Wikipedia Zero, ultimately zero rated services are a dangerous compromise.

Related Issues: Net NeutralityInternational
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How Hackers Hid a Money-Mining Botnet in the Clouds of Amazon and Others

Wired - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 00:10
Hackers have long used malware to enslave armies of unwitting PCs, but security researchers Rob Ragan and Oscar Salazar had a different thought: Why steal computing resources from innocent victims when there’s so much free processing power out there for the taking? At the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas next month Ragan and Salazar […]

Unconfirmed report says Google has just bought Twitch for $1 billion

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 23:31

After months of speculation, a report has linked Google to a $1 billion acquisition of the video-streaming site Twitch.tv. VentureBeat's Wednesday report went so far as to call the deal "confirmed," but it didn't list an exact price, announcement date, or other key details, relying solely on "sources familiar with the matter."

The deal, originally reported by Variety in May, may seem like a small drop in the bucket for Google. YouTube racks up more than one billion monthly viewers compared to Twitch's 45 million. But the gaming-focused Twitch enjoys an edge thanks to dedicated features like internal console apps, screencasting, and live chat. The acquisition looks particularly attractive in the wake of e-sports' recent rise in Western popularity.

Though Twitch was founded by co-creators of Justin.tv, another streaming site, no report has mentioned whether the originating video-streaming site will be involved in the deal. If that amount remains around $1 billion, it'll be quite the coup for investors who have only sunk roughly $35 million into Twitch thus far.

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Who’s banned from editing Wikipedia this week? Congress

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 23:21
The Rayburn office building for the US House of Representatives. Cliff

Most members and staffers of the US House of Representatives won't be able to edit pages on Wikipedia for more than a week. Administrators of the popular Web encyclopedia have imposed a 10-day ban on the IP address connected to Congress' lower house.

The ban comes after a series of wild "disruptive" edits that appeared following the creation of @congressedits, a bot that monitors anonymous edits from congressional IP addresses and announces them to the world via Twitter. The account was created just over two weeks ago and already has more than 23,000 followers.

Wikipedia editors explained their castigation for the IP address on the user talk page. The 10-day edit ban follows a one-day ban imposed earlier this month, which apparently didn't do the trick.

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Amazon stock plunges after $126 million quarterly loss

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 23:10
The Kindle Fire tablet. amazon

Despite Amazon's recent launch of the Fire Phone, Kindle Unlimited, and HBO on Amazon Prime, the company struggled to turn a profit last quarter.

Amazon announced Thursday that it lost $126 million in quarterly earnings. The company’s stock price was down more than seven percent in after-hours trading.

The losses show that Amazon may be overstretched at the moment. The company made $274 million in 2013 and nearly $3 billion in total profits from 2009 through 2013.

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“Magic Helmet” for F-35 ready for delivery

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 22:30
Rockwell Collins and Elbit Systems' joint—a helmet that can see through planes without making the pilot throw up. Lockheed Martin

This week, Lockheed Martin officially took delivery of a key part of the F-35 fighter’s combat functionality—the pilot’s helmet. The most expensive and complicated piece of headgear ever constructed, the F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) is one of the multipurpose fighter’s most critical systems, and it's essential to delivering a fully combat-ready version of the fighter to the Marine Corps, the Navy, and the Air Force. But it almost didn’t make the cut because of software problems and side effects akin to those affecting some 3D virtual reality headsets.

Built by Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems International (a joint venture between Rockwell Collins and the Israeli defense company Elbit Systems), the HMDS goes way beyond previous augmented reality displays embedded in pilots’ helmets. In addition to providing the navigational and targeting information typically shown in a combat aircraft’s heads-up display, the HMDS also includes aspects of virtual reality, allowing a pilot to look through the plane. Using a collection of six high-definition video and infrared cameras on the fighter’s exterior called the Distributed Aperture System (DAS), the display extends vision a full 360 degrees around the aircraft from within the cockpit. The helmet is also equipped with night vision capabilities via an infrared sensor that projects imagery inside the facemask.

The helmet is an essential part of the aircraft’s cockpit. Some pilots have called the helmet's austere touchscreen Panoramic Cockpit Display “the most naked cockpit in history“ because of its lack of switches and other physical instrumentation. (“Not true,” said Lockheed Martin F-35 Pilot Vehicle Interface lead Michael Skaff in a presentation he gave on the cockpit. “The Wright flyer had fewer switches.”) When combined with the cockpit’s built-in voice recognition capabilities, the helmet will allow the pilot to track everything in the aircraft’s sphere of visibility.

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Science Graphic of the Week: Mapping Climate Change on Tatooine Over 110 Galactic Years

Wired - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 22:06
Just because Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine is fictional doesn’t mean it’s immune to the effects of climate change. This map shows how, in the past 110 Galactic Standard Years, Tatooine has turned from a sprawling, desert wasteland into an even hotter sprawling, desert wasteland. It comes from Tatooine’s first Intergovernmental Report on Climate […]

All You Need To Know About the 10% Brain Myth, in 60 Seconds

Wired - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 22:06
The new Luc Besson movie Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, opens in theatres countrywide tomorrow. It’s based on the immortal myth that we use only 10 percent of our brains. Johansson’s character is injected with drugs that allow her to access 100 percent of her brain capacity. She subsequently gains the ability to learn Chinese in an […]

Court allows use of “stingray” cell tracking device in murder case

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 21:55
Vincent Desjardins

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has upheld the warrantless use of cell phone tracking devices, better known as "stingrays.” In a narrow decision published on Thursday, the court found that while the Milwaukee police did not specifically have a warrant to use the stingray to locate a murder suspect, it did have a related judicial order that essentially served the same purpose.

This 2009 murder case is one of the rare, high-level court decisions that directly speaks to the legality of the use of stingrays, which are often used to track suspects’ phones and, in some cases, intercept calls and text messages. However, stingrays also capture related information on all other cell phone users who happen to be in physical proximity to the target.

The court order specifically approved “the installation and use of a trap and trace device or process,” and "the installation and use of a pen register device/process," and “the release of subscriber information, incoming and outgoing call detail…and authorizing the identification of the physical location of a target cellular phone.”

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Google dumps plans for OpenSSL in Chrome, takes own Boring road

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 21:35

For years, Google’s Chrome browser on many platforms has relied on the Mozilla Network Security Service (NSS) to provide secure Web connections. And earlier this year, that reliance appeared to become a very good thing, with the disclosure of OpenSSL’s Heartbleed vulnerability. But Google also had used OpenSSL as the encryption engine for Chrome on some versions of Android, creating a security crisis for many of Chrome’s mobile users.

Ironically, Heartbleed played out as Google engineers had come to the conclusion that they needed to switch development of Chrome on all platforms to OpenSSL. “Switching to OpenSSL, however, has the opportunity to bring significant performance and stability advantages to iOS, Mac, Windows, and ChromeOS immediately out of the gate,” wrote Ryan Sleevi in a draft design paper in January that was heavily referenced across the Chrome and open-source Chromium developer community.

In the wake of Heartbleed, however, OpenSSL’s benefits have apparently been outweighed by its baggage. On June 20, Google Senior Staff Engineer Adam Langley announced that Google was moving to create its own clean version of OpenSSL, called BoringSSL—boring, as in a lack of exciting vulnerabilities.

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Comic-Con: Guillermo del Toro Shows Us How to Pilot a Pac Rim Jaeger on Oculus

Wired - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 20:33
WIRED reports from Comic-Con as it opens to the public.

The beauty of zipper merging, or why you should drive ruder

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 19:49
According to the world of zipper merging, just because you see this sign doesn't mean you should change lanes at that exact moment. Lexinatrix

Of all of the reasons for traffic snarls, impending lane closures bring out a particularly brutal combination of road rage and etiquette confusion. Most drivers know the pain of approaching two lanes in this situation; the left one is backed up much further because the right one will close in less than a mile thanks to, say, construction.

Which lane should a driver pick in this scenario? Steer to the left as soon as you see a closure notice and you'll almost certainly go slower; stay in the right and you'll catch stink-eye, honks, and even swerving drivers. Everyone is upset that you're about to essentially cut in line—an act that will require a tense, last-minute merge of your own.

Most driving schools and transportation departments in the United States don't instruct drivers on how to handle this situation or whether they must merge within a certain mileage, leaving this kind of merge up to the grace of your fellow, angry commuters. This week, however, Washington state joined Minnesota in sending a clear message to drivers: merge rudely. It's actually faster and safer.

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An Interview with Karen Sandler (Model View Culture)

LWN.net - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 19:19
Over at Model View Culture, Adam Saunders interviews Karen Sandler, executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and formerly the executive director of the GNOME Foundation. Sandler talks about SFC, the Outreach Program for Women, as well as being a cyborg: "I was diagnosed with a heart condition and needed a pacemaker/defibrillator, and none of the device manufacturers would let me see the source code that was to be literally sewn into my body and connected to my heart. My life relies on the proper functioning of software every day, and I have no confidence that it will. The FDA generally doesn't review the source code of medical devices nor can the public. But multiple researchers have shown that these devices can be maliciously hacked, with fatal consequences. Once you start considering medical devices, you quickly start to realize that it's all kinds of software that is life and society-critical - cars, voting machines, stock markets... It's essential that our software be safe, and the only way we can realistically expect that to be the case over time is by ensuring that our software is free and open. If there's catastrophic failure at Medtronic (the makers of my defibrillator), for example, I wouldn't be able to fix a bug in my own medical device."

Mapping the Mass of an Enormous Galaxy Cluster

Wired - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 19:15
You are looking at the most precise gravity map ever made of a distant galaxy cluster. Using the map, astronomers have determined that the cluster is roughly 650,000 light-years across and contains enough matter to make 160 trillion suns. The cluster, known as MCS J0416.1–2403, is located about 4 billion light-years away and consists of […]

“Who Gon Stop Me”—Kanye West finally crushes cryptocurrency Coinye

Ars Technica - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 19:13
Super 45

In a months-long trademark lawsuit, hip hop star Kanye West has finally defeated all the alleged people involved with the parody cryptocurrency Coinye.

In January 2014, an unknown online group trumpeted the launch of “Coinye West” with a simple message: "We takin' shots at Bitcoin." Within days, West filed suit and Coinye appeared to collapse before really going anywhere.

Documents filed this week at a New York federal courthouse show that 10 of the named defendants lost by default, meaning that they never responded to the case. The only remaining step in the case is for the court to order a final judgment in favor of West.

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