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Yes, science is political
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-19 21:58:38

Over the past few weeks, we've gotten notes from Verge Science readers wondering why news from the incoming Trump administration has seeped into our science coverage. I wasn't surprised: it's tempting to believe that science is apolitical. But science and politics are plainly related: science is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge is power, and power is politics.

The scientific method consists of generating a hypothesis, attempting to disprove the hypothesis through testing, and accumulating those tests to come up with shared knowledge. And that method also contains ideology: our observed, shared world is the real world. This ideology even has a name: empiricism. An incoming president who clearly picks and chooses facts to suit his own version of the world changes the relationship between science and culture, in potentially destructive ways.

"To be taught to read - what is the use of that, if you know not whether what you read is false or true? To be taught to write or to speak - but what is the use of speaking, if you have nothing to say? To be taught to think - nay, what is the use of being able to think, if you have nothing to think of? But to be taught to see is to gain word and thought at once, and both true."

Tomorrow, in a mirror, darkly.

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Tesla's Autosteer lowered crash rate by almost 40%
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-19 21:47:47

The administration's analysis of Autosteer was more positive about its capabilities. After analyzing mileage and airbag deployment data for Model S and Model X cars equipped with Autopilot, the NHTSA concluded that "the Tesla vehicles' crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation."

Wait, you mean to tell me a computer who doesn't get sleepy or distracted and doesn't need to pee is better at keeping an eye on the road than a human?

Say it isn't so.

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FAP80: a retro computer without the retro baggage
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-19 21:42:28

FAP80 is a Z80-based retro computer with a sprinkling of modern twists to make the experience of designing, programming, and debugging this computer as painless and straightforward as possible.

A lot of retro computer projects today are rooted on nostalgia, they tend to use "period correct" components to get the "feelings" right, and the result often ends up on perfboard or self-etched circuit boards, rudimentary video capacity if at all, few I/O ports, and a symphony of 74 series chips.

While there is nothing wrong with that, I wasn't around during the 80s home computer era, so I didn't have the same attachment to how things was done back then. So instead of trying to recreate the "good old days", I made the decision to liberally use modern parts to simplify the design process, as well as making this computer highly flexible and easy to program and use with very little overheads.

The creator's blog has more detailed information about the project.

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How a robot got Super Mario 64 and Portal 'running' on an SNES
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-18 23:56:24

With those out of the way, TASBot moved on to a similar total control run of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. After a few minutes of setup, the Zelda screen faded out, then faded back in on a bordered window with an ersatz logo for the "Super N64." Without any forthcoming explanation from the runners on stage, TASBot started apparently playing through a glitch-filled speedrun of Super Mario 64 on the Super NES, following it up with a similar glitch-filled speedrun through Valve's PC classic Portal. After that, the scene somehow transitioned to a Skype video call with a number of speedrunners speaking live from the AGDQ event through the SNES.

No one on the AGDQ stage acknowledged how weird this all was, leaving hundreds in the Herndon, VA ballroom and nearly 200,000 people watching live on Twitch temporarily guessing at what, exactly, was going on.

AGDQ (and its Summer counterpart, SGDQ) are some of my favourite events in technology, and I have the entire marathon streaming for the whole week. The TASBot block this year was, as the excerpt above describes, insane, and this article explains how they did it.

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Oracle euthanizes Solaris 12, expunging it from roadmap
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-18 21:49:57

Early December of last year, I posted the rumour that Oracle was going to end Solaris development. While the company denied these rumours at the time, there still seems to be something going on.

Rumors have been circulating since late last year that Oracle was planning to kill development of the Solaris operating system, with major layoffs coming to the operating system's development team. Others speculated that future versions of the Unix platform Oracle acquired with Sun Microsystems would be designed for the cloud and built for the Intel platform only and that the SPARC processor line would meet its demise. The good news, based on a recently released Oracle roadmap for the SPARC platform, is that both Solaris and SPARC appear to have a future.

The bad news is that the next major version of Solaris - Solaris 12 - has apparently been cancelled, as it has disappeared from the roadmap. Instead, it's been replaced with "Solaris 11.next" - and that version is apparently the only update planned for the operating system through 2021.

Read into that what you will. Sounds like maintenance mode to me.

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My Windows rumspringa
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-18 21:48:32

I'll almost certainly buy another MacBook, especially if future iterations can give me back the rationalization that paying so much money allows me to have the best computer. (The best for me, of course; the person who does not need to play videogames on his laptop, for example, because he is going to write a short story or record a pop song.) But in the meantime, I'm enjoying a new type of anticipation which for now only seems to be available in Windowsland: that someday, despite the funfetti working environment and Homermobile nature of the hardware, I may actually be on a path that's going somewhere not just new, but better, or at least more exciting.

Quite the enjoyable read.

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Clearing out the app stores: government censorship made easier
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-18 21:06:26

There's a new form of digital censorship sweeping the globe, and it could be the start of something devastating.

In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store. Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the network declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country. Finally, last week, a Chinese regulator asked app stores operating in the countryto register with the government, an apparent precursor to wider restrictions on app marketplaces.

These moves may sound incremental, and perhaps not immediately alarming. China has been restricting the web forever, and Russia is no bastion of free speech. So what's so dangerous about blocking apps?

Here's the thing: It's a more effective form of censorship.

It's almost like an operating system where you can't install applications not approved by its manufacturer is a really, really dumb idea.

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Android Wear 2.0 reportedly coming 9 February on 2 LG watches
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-17 23:42:47

The next version of Google's smartwatch operating system is slated to arrive on February 9th, according to mobile reporter Evan Blass. The leak follows last week's report that Google had notified developers of Android Wear 2.0's upcoming release so they could prepare to update apps for continued support.

I'm sure all three Android Wear users are jumping up and down with excitement.

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Google infrastructure security design overview
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-17 23:38:12

This document gives an overview of how security is designed into Google’s technical infrastructure. This global scale infrastructure is designed to provide security through the entire information processing lifecycle at Google. This infrastructure provides secure deployment of services, secure storage of data with end user privacy safeguards, secure communications between services, secure and private communication with customers over the internet, and safe operation by administrators.

Google uses this infrastructure to build its internet services, including both consumer services such as Search, Gmail, and Photos, and enterprise services such as G Suite and Google Cloud Platform.

We will describe the security of this infrastructure in progressive layers starting from the physical security of our data centers, continuing on to how the hardware and software that underlie the infrastructure are secured, and finally, describing the technical constraints and processes in place to support operational security.

This document also touches on something I always find quite fascinating - Google is, actually, an incredibly successful hardware company.

A Google data center consists of thousands of server machines connected to a local network. Both the server boards and the networking equipment are custom-designed by Google.

I have no idea how many servers Google actually owns, but this could make them one of the biggest hardware companies in the world.

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First public alpha of axle released
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-01-17 00:18:04

axle is a small UNIX-like hobby operating system. Everything used within axle is implemented from the ground up, aside from the bootloader, for which we use GRUB. axle is a multiboot compliant kernel. axle runs C on 'bare metal' in freestanding mode, meaning even the C standard library is not included. A subset of the C standard library is implemented within axle's kernel, and a userspace version is planned. axle is mainly interfaced through a shell.

Open source, custom educational operating system. The first public alpha release is out.

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