All posts in “linux”

The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Danish understatement meets Mountain View tech

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

Cryptocurrency ad bans are a step in the right direction

Google just banned cryptocurrency and ICO ads, a move that follows Facebook’s decision to do the same. The language is stark: You are no longer allowed to advertise “Cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice).”

This is good news.

In the Wild West of crypto things can head in one of two ways. First, the industry can ignore rationality and decorum and pump and dump ICOs all day long until the SEC, the FBI and European authorities shut down every single one. Or, if the industry takes the slow and steady route, builds self-regulatory bodies and avoids scammy pump-and-dump tactics, then perhaps the industry can grow into maturity.

Currently the methods for token sale marketing are ridiculous. Most recently I spotted a token advertisement that featured a scantily clad young lady in a compromising position — all in an effort to see financial instruments. Further, “crypto geniuses” like James Altucher have polluted all of our feeds for the past few months with strange claims and spurious product offerings. Enough is enough.

The sad part is that cryptocurrencies have to become boring before they can work. I always go back to the early days of Linux. There were flame wars, screeds and practitioners of dark FUD. No one could agree if KDE or Gnome was a better desktop environment and woe were you if you picked the wrong one. The world was full of angry, aggressive and passionate people.

Fast-forward a few decades and now those same people are typing softly in cubicles making millions of dollars. Their early zeal, while seemingly silly, paid off. And now Linux is completely boring, a tool programmers use to spin up and down servers in a heartbeat.

Cryptocurrency has to head in this same direction.

Until it is hidden, until it is unclear where the blockchain stops and the rest of the world starts, and until we rid ourselves of the get-rich-quickers and the outright scams, the industry will not rise to the rank it deserves. Fools and their money are soon parted. Google and Facebook are right to do something to protect them.

Hacker group manages to run Linux on a Nintendo Switch

Hacker group fail0verflow shared a photo of a Nintendo Switch running Debian, a distribution of Linux (via Nintendo Life). The group claims that Nintendo can’t fix the vulnerability with future firmware patches.

According to fail0verflow, there’s a flaw in the boot ROM in Nvidia’s Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip. when your console starts, it reads and executes a piece of code stored in a read-only memory (hence the name ROM). This code contains instructions about the booting process.

It means that the boot ROM is stored on the chip when Nvidia manufactures it and it can’t be altered in any way after that. Even if Nintendo issues a software update, this software update won’t affect the boot ROM. And as the console loads the boot ROM immediately after pressing the power button, there’s no way to bypass it.

The only way to fix it would be to manufacture new Nvidia Tegra X1 chips. So it’s possible that Nintendo asks Nvidia to fix the issue so that new consoles don’t have this vulnerability.

fail0verflow also says that you don’t need to install a modification chip to bypass the boot ROM. On the photo, it looks like they plugged something on the right side of the device, where the right Joy-Con is supposed to be.

If fail0verflow decides to share the exploit, it could open up many possibilities when it comes to homebrew software and, yes, pirated games. It could have some financial implications for Nintendo.

Linus Torvalds declares Intel fix for Meltdown/Spectre ‘complete and utter garbage’

The always outspoken Linus Torvalds, best known for his continuing work on the innermost code of Linux systems, has harsh words to say and accusations to level against Intel. His evaluation of Intel’s latest proposed fix for the Meltdown/Spectre issue: “the patches are COMPLETE AND UTTER GARBAGE.” As a potential line of inquiry, he suggests: “Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f*cking insane?” (Asterisk his.)

These and other kind epithets are awarded by Torvalds in a public email chain between him and David Woodhouse, an engineer at Amazon in the UK, regarding Intel’s solution as relating to the Linux kernel. The issue is (as far as I can tell as someone far out of their depth) a clumsy and, Torvalds argues, “insane” implementation of a fix that essentially does nothing while also doing a bunch of unnecessary things.

The fix needs to address Meltdown (which primarily affects Intel chips), but instead of just doing so across the board, it makes the whole fix something the user or administrator has to opt into at boot. Why even ask, if this is such a huge vulnerability? And why do it at such a low level when future CPUs will supposedly not require it, at which point the choice would be at best unnecessary and at worst misleading or lead to performance issues?

Meanwhile, a bunch of other things are added in the same patch that Torvalds points out are redundant with existing solutions, for instance adding protections against an exploit already mitigated by Google Project Zero’s “retpoline” technique.

Why do this? Torvalds speculates that a major part of Intel’s technique, in this case “Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation” or IBRS, is so inefficient that to roll it out universally would result in widespread performance hits. So instead, it made the main Meltdown fix optional and added the redundant stuff to make the patch look more comprehensive.

Is Intel really planning on making this shit architectural? Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f*cking insane?

They do literally insane things. They do things that do not make sense. That makes all your [i.e. Woodhouse’s] arguments questionable and suspicious. The patches do things that are not sane.

…So somebody isn’t telling the truth here. Somebody is pushing complete garbage for unclear reasons. Sorry for having to point that out.

Woodhouse (who in a long-suffering manner asks they “be done with the shouty part), later in the thread acknowledges Torvalds’ criticism, calling IBRS is “a vile hack” and agreeing that “There’s no good reason for it to be opt-in.” But he but notes some points that are, if not exactly in favor of Intel’s approach, at least explain it a bit.

At any rate, this is all very deep discussion and really only a small slice of it. I’m not highlighting this because I think it’s technically interesting (I’m not really qualified to say so) or consequential in terms of what users will see (it’s hard to say at this point) but rather to simply point out that the Meltdown/Spectre debacle is far from over — in fact, it’s barely begun.

What we saw a few weeks back was the initial wave of craziness and the first line of defense being established. But the work of protecting the billions of devices affected by these problems is going to go on for years as conflicts like this work themselves out. And Linus Torvalds, as profane as his criticisms are wont to be, is one of the many people working hard on behalf of the open source community and the people who ultimately benefit from it down the line.

If there weren’t detail-oriented, no-BS, old-school coders out there watching out for the likes of you and me, the great complacent unwashed out here in userland, we would have to take whatever Intel and the others hand us and thank them in our ignorance. I for one am glad to have people smarter and more uncompromising than myself fighting on our behalf, however “shouty” they may be.

Featured Image: ronstik/Shutterstock

How to price cryptocurrencies

Predicting cryptocurrency prices is a fool’s game yet this fool is about to try. The drivers of a single cryptocurrency’s value are currently too varied and vague to make assessments based on any one point. News is trending up on Bitcoin? Maybe there’s a hack or an API failure that is driving it down at the same time. Ethereum looking sluggish? Who knows: maybe someone will build a new smarter DAO tomorrow that will draw in the big spenders.

So how do you invest or, more correctly, on which currency should you bet?

The key to understanding what to buy or sell and when to hold is to use the tools associated with assessing the value of open source projects. This has been said again and again but to understand the current crypto boom you have to go back to the quiet rise of Linux.

Linux appeared on most radars during the Dot Com bubble. At that time, if you wanted to set up a web server, you had to physically ship a Windows server or Sun Sparc Station to a server farm where it would do the hard work of delivering HTML. At the same time Linux, like a freight train running on a parallel path to Microsoft and Sun, would consistently allow developers to build one-off projects very quickly and easily using an OS and toolset that were improving daily. In comparison, then, the massive hardware and software expenditures associated with the status quo solution providers were deeply inefficient and very quickly all of the tech giants who made their money on software now made their money on services or, like Sun, folded.

From the acorn of Linux an open source forest bloomed. But there was one clear problem: you couldn’t make money from open source. You could consult and you could sell products that used open source components but early builders built primarily for the betterment of humanity and not the betterment of their bank accounts.

Cryptocurrencies have followed the Linux model almost exactly but cryptocurrencies have cash value. Therefore when you’re working on a crypto project you’re not doing it for the common good or for the joy of writing free software. You’re writing it with the expectation of a big payout. This, therefore, clouds the value judgements of many programmers. The same folks that brought you Python, PHP, Django, and Node.js are back… and now they’re programming money.

This year will be the year of great reckoning in the token sale and cryptocurrency space. While many companies have been able to get away with poor or unusable codebases I doubt developers will let future companies get away with so much smoke and mirrors. It’s safe to say we can expect posts like this one detailing Storj’s anemic code base to become the norm and, more important, that these commentaries will sink many so-called ICOs. Though massive, the money trough that is flowing from ICO to ICO is finite and at some point there will be greater scrutiny paid to incomplete work.

What does this mean? It means to understand cryptocurrency you have to treat it like a startup. Does it have a good team? Does it have a good product? Does the product work? Would someone want to use it? It’s far too early to assess the value of cryptocurrency as a whole but if we assume that tokens or coins will become the way computers pay each other in the future. This lets us hand wave away a lot of doubt. After all, not many people knew in 2000 that Apache was going to beat nearly every other web server in a crowded market or that Ubuntu instances would be so common that you’d spin them up and destroy them in an instant.

The key to understanding cryptocurrency pricing is to ignore the froth, hype, and FUD and instead focus on true utility. Do you think that some day your phone will pay another phone for, say, an in game perk? Do you expect the credit card system to fold in the face of an Internet of Value? Do you expect that one day you’ll move through life splashing out small bits of value in order to make yourself more comfortable? Then by all means buy and hold or speculate on things that you think will make your life better. If you don’t expect the Internet of Value to improve your life the way the TCP/IP Internet did (or you do not understand enough to hold an opinion) then you’re probably not cut out for this. NASDAQ is always open, at least during banker’s hours.

Still will us? Good, here are my predictions:

Here is my assessment of what you should look at when considering an “investment” in cryptocurrencies. There are a number of caveats we must address before we begin.

  • Crypto is not a monetary investment in a real currency but an investment in a pie-in-the-sky technofuture. That’s right: when you buy crypto you’re basically assuming that we’ll all be on the deck of the Starship Enterprise exchanging them like Galactic Credits one day. This is the only inevitable future for crypto bulls. While you can force crypto into various economic models and hope for the best, the entire platform is techno-utopianist and assumes all sorts of exciting and unlikely things will come to pass in the next few years. If you have spare cash lying around and you like Star Wars then you’re golden. If you bought bitcoin on a credit card because your cousin told you to then you’re probably going to have a bad time.
  • Don’t trust anyone. There is no guarantee and, in addition to offering the disclaimer that this is not investment advice and that this is in no way an endorsement of any particular cryptocurrency or even the concept in general, we must understand that everything I write here could be wrong. In fact, everything ever written about crypto could be wrong and anyone who is trying to sell you a token with exciting upside is almost certainly wrong. In short, everyone is wrong and everyone is out to get you so be very, very careful.
  • You might as well hold. If you bought when BTC was $18,000 you’d best just hold on. Right now you’re in Pascal’s Wager territory. Yes, maybe you’re angry at crypto for screwing you but maybe you were just stupid and you got in too high and now you might as well keep believing because nothing is certain or you can admit that you were a bit overeager and now you’re being punished for it but that there is some sort of bitcoin god out there watching over you. Ultimately you need to take a deep breath, agree that all of this is pretty freaking weird, and hold on.

Now on with the assessments.

Bitcoin – Expect a rise over the next year that will surpass the current low. Also expect bumps as the SEC and other federal agencies around the world begin regulating the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies in very real ways. Now that banks are in on the joke they’re going to want to reduce risk. Therefore the bitcoin will become digital gold, a staid, boring, and volatility proof safe haven for speculators. Although all but unusable as a real currency, it’s good enough for what we need it to do and we can also expect quantum computing hardware to change the face of the oldest and most familiar cryptocurrency.

Ethereum – Ethereum could sustain another few thousand dollars on its price as long as Vitalik Buterin, the creator, doesn’t throw too much cold water on it. Like a remorseful Victor Frankenstein, Buterin tends to make amazing things and then denigrate them online, a sort of self-flagellation that is actually quite useful in a space full of froth and outright lies. Ethereum is the closest we’ve come to a useful cryptocurrency but it is still the Raspberry Pi of distributed computing – it’s a useful and clever hack that makes it easy to experiment but no one has quite replaced the old systems with new distributed data stores or applications. In short, it’s a really exciting technology but nobody knows what to do with it.