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Gravitational waves detected, confirming Einstein's theory
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-02-11 23:56:24

A team of scientists announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. (Listen to it here.) It completes his vision of a universe in which space and time are interwoven and dynamic, able to stretch, shrink and jiggle. And it is a ringing confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.

More generally, it means that a century of innovation, testing, questioning and plain hard work after Einstein imagined it on paper, scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.

The entirety of today I've been in awe over just how far science has come. The idea of measuring a ripple in spacetime at 1/100,000 of a nanometer, about the width of an atomic nucleus, using lasers and mirrors - I don't know, it's just awe-inspiring what we, as humans, can do when we get together in the name of science, instead of fighting each other over endless strings of pointlessness.

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A history of the Windows Start menu
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-02-11 23:48:52

Microsoft has tried a variety of different Start menus over the years, but the Windows 10 version is the best combination of the modern ideas the company has attempted and the classic menu. The Start menu is iconic, and it's the identity of Windows. As long as Microsoft doesn't have any crazy ideas, it's probably here to stay for many, many more years.

Twenty years is a long time for any software, so let's take a look at how exactly the Start menu, and by extension, Windows itself, has changed since Windows 95.

I am still a huge fan of the original Start menu as it existed in Windows 95 through 2000 (and as an option in XP): a simple, straightforward menu that you could organise yourself. It may not have been very pretty or user-friendly (we've all run into those people who never organised their Start menu), but for me personally, it was really, really great.

I'm really not a fan of the thing we have now in Windows 10, where you can't even do any organisation, and the "All apps" button just gives you an endless alphabetical list of crap. Search obviously helps a little bit here, but applications' Start menu folders often contain other useful tools that you might not know the name of.

In any event, it's definitely an iconic piece of UI.

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New bill looks to save smartphone encryption from state bans
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-02-10 22:26:30

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) are introducing a bill today to effectively override bad state-level encryption bills. The ENCRYPT Act of 2016, or by its longer name, the Ensuring National Constitutional Rights of Your Private Telecommunications Act, would preempt state and local government encryption laws. The two men said today they are "deeply concerned" that varying bills surrounding encryption would endanger the country as well as the competitiveness of American companies. The argument is that it wouldn't be easy or even feasible to tailor phone encryption capabilities for specific states.

We're going to need a lot of these laws - all over the world.

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Android app helps Iranians avoid morality police checkpoints
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-02-10 22:18:02

Community mapping applications come in all shapes and sizes. There are apps to help drivers avoid speed traps, maneuver around traffic jams, and find cheap gas. And now there's one that helps people avoid being pulled from their car by the Ershad - Iran's morals police.

Anonymous developers in Iran recently released an Android app that is intended to help young Iranians share intelligence about Ershad checkpoints. Called "Gershad," the app depends on crowdsourced reports from users to help others avoid being stopped, harassed, or even possibly beaten or arrested for failing to adhere to the Ershad interpretations of Islamic morality.

Fascinating what technology can do for people.

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A big phone works for everyone but you
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-02-08 22:16:29

But in bounding after large screens, phone makers seemed to ignore the usability issues that accompany them. Small studies have shown before that 4.3 inches is about as big as a phone can get before people start struggling to use it. The time to operate the phone slows down significantly because one-hand use is awkward - and that's for average men's hands. Assuming a normal distribution, for half of men and most women, a phone bigger than 4.3 inches - like the current smallest iPhone - is too big.

The increasing size of smartphones is one of the big mysteries of the technology world. The mystery lies not in phones getting larger - a lot of people prefer it - but in smaller phones, which a lot of people also prefer, disappearing, or being treated as second-class citizens.

Such an odd development.

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Linux Distros Don't Keep Up with WebKit Updates
By Thom Holwerda, submitted by Radio on 2016-02-08 22:09:25

Major desktop browsers push automatic security updates directly to users on a regular basis, so most users don't have to worry about security updates. But Linux users are dependent on their distributions to release updates. Apple fixed over 100 vulnerabilities in WebKit last year, so getting updates out to users is critical.

This is the story of how that process has gone wrong for WebKit.

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The Apple Watch got me hooked on mechanical watches
By Thom Holwerda, submitted by Radio on 2016-02-08 22:07:18

I've often predicted the current crop of smartwatches - be they Wear or the Apple Watch - are designed to end up in drawers, forgotten, unloved. However, I had no idea that even Marco Arment would eventually realise the same thing.

Shortly before Christmas, I accidentally found the first mechanical watch that infected my mind so much that I actually wanted - quite badly - to own it. I had many doubts: Would I look ridiculous wearing it? Would I hate setting or winding it? Would I miss notifications, activity tracking, and weather on my watch? Would I wear it briefly but then run back to my Apple Watch and let the mechanical rot in a drawer?

Nope.

Well worth a read. Turns out that even an ardent Apple fan's smartwatch ends up in a drawer, replaced by a real watch.

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New FreeBSD Quarterly Status Report published
By Thom Holwerda, submitted by R_T_F_M on 2016-02-04 23:01:58

The latest FreeBSD Quarterly Status Report is out.

Efforts to bring our BSD high standards to new architectures continue, with impressive work on arm64 leading to its promotion to Tier-2 status and a flurry of work bringing up the new RISC-V hardware architecture. Software architecture is also under active development, including system startup and service management. A handful of potential init system replacements are mentioned in this report: launchd, relaunchd, and nosh. Architectural changes originating both from academic research (multipath TCP) and from the realities of industry (sendfile(2) improvements) are also under way. It is heartening to see how FreeBSD provides a welcoming platform for contributions from both research and industry.

Everything you need to know to be up to date with FreeBSD.

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Google rolling out Marshmallow for Android Wear
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-02-04 22:59:24

Evidence has been mounting over the last few days and it looks like it's finally happening: Android 6.0 for Wear is starting to roll out. Googler Wayne Piekarski just announced on his Google+ feed that OTAs have begun and should continue over the next few weeks.

An official blog post by Google lists some of the new features we can expect in the new firmware, including: newly navigation gestures, audio support on speaker-equipped watches, and expanded support for messaging clients.

The update itself seems a bit 'eh', but the interesting thing here is that all Android Wear devices will be getting this update to Marshmallow, even the first generation Wear smartwatches.

Goes to show that Google does, in fact, know how to do this - now they just need to apply this to phones and tablets.

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Microsoft acquires SwiftKey
By Thom Holwerda on 2016-02-03 23:38:58

I'm pleased to announce that Microsoft has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire SwiftKey, whose highly rated, highly engaging software keyboard and SDK powers more than 300 million Android and iOS devices. In this cloud-first, mobile-first world, SwiftKey's technology aligns with our vision for more personal computing experiences that anticipate our needs versus responding to our commands, and directly supports our ambition to reinvent productivity by leveraging the intelligent cloud. SwiftKey estimates that its users have saved nearly 10 trillion keystrokes, across 100 languages, saving more than 100,000 years in combined typing time. Those are impressive results for an app that launched initially on Android in 2010 and arrived on iOS less than two years ago.

The 'saved nearly 10 trillion keystrokes' thing sent shivers down my spine.

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