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The Scott Forstall interview
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-22 22:46:26

The Computer History Museum organised an interview with Scott Forstall, led by John Markoff. Forstall led the iPhone operating system (now iOS) team for the iPhone and the iPad from their inception, and was a close friend and confidant of Steve Jobs. He was ousted by Tim Cook, supposedly because Forstall was a challenger to Cook's position and power inside the company. On top of that, much like Steve Jobs, Forstall supposedly wasn't the easiest person to get along with, and Cook wanted a more harmonious Apple.

Ever since his departure from Apple, Forstall has been silent. This interview is the first time he's opened up about his long, long tenure at first NeXT (where he was hired on the spot by Steve Jobs himself) and then Apple, and quite honestly, I didn't really know what to expect.

It turns out that if you close your eyes while listening to Forstall speak, it's almost like you're hearing Steve Jobs. The man is charming, well-spoken, has a thoughtful or funny reply to every question, sprinkles it with a touching or heartwarming story or anecdote - all the while showing a deep understanding of what made Apple's products great without having to resort to technical details or PR-approved talking points.

As the interview ended and I pondered the whole thing, it just became so very clear why Cook would want to get rid of Forstall as quickly as he could. Can you imagine a boring bean counter like Cook sharing the stage with a man who so closely resembles and feels like Steve Jobs?

It might very well be the case that a Jobs-like figure like Forstall would not have yielded the kinds of immense financial success Apple has enjoyed under Cook, but I can't help but shake the feeling that an Apple with Forstall at the helm - or even just an Apple with Forstall, period - would be a more exciting, a more innovative, a more boundary-pushing Apple. We'll most likely never know.

Then again... It wouldn't be the first time someone gets ousted from Apple, only to return when the time is right.

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Trump administration approves social media checks
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-22 22:46:08

The Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years.

[...]

Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.

[...]

While the new questions are voluntary, the form says failure to provide the information may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application.

This surely won't affect the countless incredibly smart scientists and engineers wanting to work in the US and contribute to the US economy.

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Atari CEO confirms Atari is working on a new game console
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-21 19:26:54

Atari CEO Fred Chesnais told GamesBeat in an exclusive interview that his fabled video game company is working on a new game console.

In doing so, the New York company might be cashing in on the popularity of retro games and Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition, which turned out to be surprisingly popular for providing a method to easily play old games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in HD on a TV.

[...]

Chesnais declined to describe a lot of details about the console. But he said it is based on PC technology. He said Atari is still working on the design and will reveal it at a later date.

It seems extremely unlikely that this will be a console in the Xbox, Playstation, or Switch sense, but if it's based on PC technology, it won't be some rebranded Android tablet either. I wasn't an Atari kid when I was young - PC and Nintendo all the way - so I have no sense of nostalgia for the company, but I'm still intrigued.

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My Ubuntu for mobile devices post mortem analysis
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-21 12:07:44

Now that Ubuntu phones and tablets are gone, I would like to offer my thoughts on why I personally think the project failed and what one may learn from it.

To recapitulate my involvement in the project: I had been using Ubuntu Touch on a Nexus 7 on an on-and-off-basis between its announcement in 2013 and December 2014, started working on Click apps in December 2014, started writing the 15-part “Hacking Ubuntu Touch” blog post series about system internals in January 2015, became an Ubuntu Phone Insider, got a Meizu MX4 from Canonical, organized and sponsored the UbuContest app development contest, worked on bug reports and apps until about April 2016, and then sold off/converted all my remaining devices in mid-2016. So I think I can offer some thoughts about the project, its challenges and where we could have done better.

Excellent and detailed explanation of why Ubuntu Phone failed.

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Leaked recording: Inside Apple's global war on leakers
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-21 12:07:34

In what is surely the greatest bit of irony in the tech industry this week, a recording of an internal Apple briefing on countering leaking has leaked. Tons of interesting insight in the article covering the recording, but this bit jumped out at me, because I never put two and two together in this regard:

Apple's Chinese workers have plenty of incentive to leak or smuggle parts. "A lot, like 99.9 percent, of these folks are good people who are coming to a place that has a job, they're gonna make money, and they're gonna go back and start a business in their province or they're gonna do something else with it, support their family," Rice says. "But there's a whole slew of folks that can be tempted because what happens if I offer you, say, three months' salary?' In some cases we've seen up to a year's worth of salary being rewarded for stealing product out of the factory." Apple workers on the production line make approximately $350 a month, not including overtime, according to a 2016 report from China Labor Watch.

It never dawned on me that leaks could be the result of underpaid factory workers.

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AMD's future in servers: new 7000-Series CPUs launched
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-20 21:39:00

The big news out of AMD was the launch of Zen, the new high-performance core that is designed to underpin the product roadmap for the next few generations of products. To much fanfare, AMD launched consumer level parts based on Zen, called Ryzen, earlier this year. There was a lot of discussion in the consumer space about these parts and the competitiveness, and despite the column inches dedicated to it, Ryzen wasn't designed to be the big story this year. That was left to their server generation of products, which are designed to take a sizeable market share and reinvigorate AMD's bottom line on the finance sheet. A few weeks ago AMD announced the naming of the new line of enterprise-class processors, called EPYC, and today marks the official launch with configurations up to 32 cores and 64 threads per processor. We also got an insight into several features of the design, including the AMD Infinity Fabric.

For the past few years, the processor market was boring and dominated by Intel.

This is the year everything changes.

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European MEPs seek ban on backdooring encryption
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-20 10:36:54

The European parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has put forward a proposal that would amend the EU's charter of fundamental rights to extend privacy rights to the digital realm and prevent governments of EU Member States from backdooring end-to-end encrypted services.

"This Regulation aims at ensuring an effective and equal protection of end-users when using functionally equivalent services, so as to ensure the protection of confidentiality, irrespective of the technological medium chosen," they write in the draft eprivacy proposal. "The protection of confidentiality of communications is also an essential condition for the respect of other related fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the protection of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and information."

On encryption the committee amends an earlier text, proposed by the EU's executive body, the European Commission, to state: "[W]hen encryption of electronic communications data is used, decryption, reverse engineering or monitoring of such communications shall be prohibited. Member States shall not impose any obligations on electronic communications service providers that would result in the weakening of the security and encryption of their networks and services."

It's only a committee proposal for now that will need approval from the European Parliament, but at least it's something. It also happens to fly in the face of European leaders, who are talking of weakening encryption or banning it outright.

This proposal would obviously be the right thing to do, but with so many leaders around the world exploiting the wholly irrational fear of terrorism (you're much more likely to die sitting on the couch than at the hands of terrorists here in Europe) among the media-primed public and people falling for that nonsense hook, line, and sinker (see Brexit, Trump, and extreme right parties in The Netherlands and France), this proposal will most likely not make it.

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Debian 9 "Stretch" released
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-19 22:04:29

In Stretch, the default MySQL variant is now MariaDB. The replacement of packages for MySQL 5.5 or 5.6 by the MariaDB 10.1 variant will happen automatically upon upgrade.

Firefox and Thunderbird return to Debian with the release of Stretch, and replace their debranded versions Iceweasel and Icedove, which were present in the archive for more than 10 years.

In addition, Debian GNU/Hurd also has a new release.

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AnandTech's Intel Skylake-X Review
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-19 21:55:48

This review comes in two big meaty chunks to sink your teeth into. The first part is discussing the new Skylake-X processors, from silicon to design and covering some of the microarchitecture features, such as AVX-512-F support and cache structure. As mentioned, Skylake-X has some significantly different functionality to the Skylake-S core, which has an impact on how software should be written to take advantage of the new features.

The second part is our testing and results. We were lucky enough to source all three Skylake-X processors for this review, and have been running some regression testing of the older processors on our new 2017 testing suite. There have been some hiccups along the way though, and we'll point them out as we go.

An extra morsel to run after is our IPC testing. We spend some time to run tests on Skylake-S and Skylake-X to see which benchmarks benefit from the new microarchitecture design, and if it really does mean anything to consumers at this stage.

As always, AnandTech delivers the goods when it comes to CPU reviews.

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How Microsoft researchers used AI to master Ms. Pac-Man
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-06-19 21:53:36

Microsoft researchers have created an artificial intelligence-based system that learned how to get the maximum score on the addictive 1980s video game Ms. Pac-Man, using a divide-and-conquer method that could have broad implications for teaching AI agents to do complex tasks that augment human capabilities.

These AIs are relatively simple and single-purpose now, but just remember what computers looked like only a few decades ago.

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