feeds | grep links > Outbound SSL and Search Engines, New Hefty Tome on Canadian Copyright, Free as in Hardware, and More

  • SSL in outbound links from search engines
    EFF has a great post that discusses how search engines could help our privacy even further by linking to encrypted versions of pages in their results where possible rather than the plain text. Not surprisingly, the privacy conscious search engine, Duck Duck Go, is already doing this. I switch the search engine in my browser some time back to DDG and each new announcement of the concrete steps they are taking to protect my privacy makes me feel that much better about my choice.
  • New book on Canadian digital copyright is out, including a free electronic edition
    Cory shares the news from Michael Geist about this book from Irwin Law. At over six hundred pages, this is a considerable commitment to the subject. The focus is primarily on the most recent copyright debates in Canada, centered on the hotly contested bill C-32. The free PDF version is available under a Creative Commons license making the wealth of material available to, as the cover blurb suggests, be used freely to improve directly the quality of the discourse.
  • The BBC covers the crowd funded plan to build a working analytical engine, BBC via Hacker News
  • FSF launches a hardware focused initiative
    According to the H, the “Respects your Freedom” program is an endorsement based on a device using free software, being built with free software, and allowing user installation of modified software. This reminds me of Neuros’ Unlocked mark from a couple of years back as it is also trying to draw attention to manufacturers that support end user freedom, an increasingly important issue when anti-jail-breaking stories seem to be showing up with increasing frequency.
  • Government admits to Facebook spyring, Slashdot
  • Suit claims Facebook leaked real names of users to advertisers, The Register

Building the Machine Babbage Never Completed

I’ve had a soft spot for the visionary work of Charles Babbage ever since I read Sterling’s and Gibson’s brilliant alternate history, “The Difference Engine“. James Graham-Cunning has a post at O’Reilly Radar that speaks to the tragedy of Babbage’s failure to realize his designs and contains a plea to complete a replica of the Analytical Engine, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished as of yet.

Soldiering on alone with the conviction that his machines would be of great benefit to mankind by taking what had been mental effort and making it mechanical, Babbage wrote that “Another age must be the judge” of his inventions.

Modern computers may be constructed of very different materials but as Graham-Cunning explains the parts and principles are very much recognizably the same. Further, the construction of the Difference Engine No. 2 and its printer using only period materials and techniques proves that, as he says, “Simply put, we live in that age”. Graham-Cunning wants to continue that proof, by settling on which of Babbage’s continually revised designs for the Analytical Engine should be built, modeling it in a simulation for feasibility, and then building a working model.

It might seem a folly to want to build a gigantic, relatively puny computer at great expense 170 years after its invention. But the message of a completed Analytical Engine is very clear: it’s possible to be 100 years ahead of your own time. With support, this type of “blue skies” thinking can result in fantastic changes to the lives of everyone. Just think of the impact of the computer and ask yourself how different the Victorian world would have been with Babbage Engines at its disposal.

“The Difference Engine” poses one answer to that question, far from the only one we can imagine as entertaining as it may be. More interesting is the implication of what research today, like Babbage’s may be far ahead of its time.

If you want to support Graham-Cunning’s efforts, he has launched Plan 28 to gather and coordinate support.

The 100-year leap, O’Reilly Radar

feeds | grep links > Plans for Firefox Home, Review of “Get Lamp”, Open HDCP Software Implementation, and More

  • Contest to produce JavaScript demos no more than 1Kb
    Slashdot links to this now concluded contest that sort of reminds me of the demo scene in terms of the constraint to bum down code as much as possible. The results are a bit more diverse, including many interactive games as well as passive animations. More so than a lot of recent and fairly contrived “HTML5” demos, the finalists in JS1K really showcase what modern browsers can do.
  • Firefox Home adding more devices, social capabilities
    Chris Cameron at ReadWriteWeb shares news of Mozilla’s plans for their Sync client for iPhone. Personally, I cannot wait to get an Android powered replacement for my iPod Touch and start running Fennec, their full mobile browser, but in the interim I’m happy that Home is getting such attention from the lizard wranglers. I especially cannot wait for the password sync support planned for a future release.
  • Congress passes internet, smart phone accessibility bill, Washington Post
  • Update to private cloud-based file system, Tahoe-LAFS, BoingBoing
  • Android software piracy rampant, Slashdot
  • A Review of Jason Scott’s “Get Lamp”
    Text adventure games figured largely in my earliest experiences of computers. It was a no brainer for me to pick up a copy of Scott’s documentary on the subject. I enjoyed it immensely and am far from finished exploring all the material he has included in the two disc set. Jeremy Reimer at Ars Technica has a glowing review that resonates very strongly with my own experience of the work.
  • EFF, others, support Microsoft in case trying to make patent invalidation easier, EFF
  • Open HDCP software implementation released
    Ars Technica, among others, has news of researchers using the recently leaked HDCP keys to build an open source program capable of decrypting encoded digital video streams. Peter Bright questions the utility of the effort as it would still require some sort of hardware to connect into your home media ecosystem. I think the overlooks the very strong tradition of these sorts of proofs of concept developed by security researchers interested in the system more so than its applications.

feeds | grep links > Scribd Surprises Users with Paywall, An Open Source Low Bandwidth Codec, More on the IP Enforcement Bill, and More

  • Xerox PARC turns 40, The Register
  • Scribd quietly moves users docs behind a paywall
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt shares the realization by law professor Eric Goldman of this little publicized change. This action by the document sharing service defies reason. Goldman articulates how undoubtedly most of the users caught by this change must feel, used and trapped. Once again, this isn’t an issue with open or closed but moving from one to the other after a bargain was offered and a promise made. Even a much more clear shift would have been more tenable, if almost as unpalatable.
  • Is Facebook turning on online activists it used to support?, ReadWriteWeb
  • An open source, low bandwidth voice codec
    Slashdot points to a project whose main developer also worked on the Speex codec, another effort tailored to efficient coding of just voice. Mainly Codec2 looks to be focused on replacing a current, proprietary codec used in amateur radio but its capabilities are compelling, almost 4 seconds of clear speech in just over 1 kilobyte. It would be nice of some of the unencumbered ideas might find application in high quality voice encoding, too, perhaps to help fuel an open alternative to Skype with similar sound quality. Of course, that’s just the podcaster in me thinking out loud.
  • Mozilla joins Open Invention Network as licensee
    HT @glynmoody
  • Wendy Seltzer discusses new IP enforcement bill
    In this post on the Freedom to Tinker blog, Seltzer places the bill firmly in the context of piracy as a legal pretext for censorship. I didn’t touch on the issue of potential abuses but the point dovetails with what I explained yesterday about lowering friction. It simply becomes too easy to press a claim of infringement, legitimate or not, for the correct purpose or some lateral one such as suppressing dissenting speech.
  • EP votes on controversial anti-piracy report, TorrentFreak
  • Bill Tracker launched for legislation in the UK, BoingBoing

feeds | grep links > Newton on an iPad, More Softening of Apple Policies, PostgrSQL 9.0 Released, and More

  • Newton on an iPad
    Ht @stephenjayl. The link, which I also saw on Hacker News, is to a write up on the latest fun with a pre-existing project, Einstein, that runs Newton OS on modern hardware via emulation. Earlier this month, the code was ported to iOS and the poster has embedded a video of it running on his iPad. I only ever had one on loan and enjoyed using it. My enjoyment of nostalgic computing and specifically the MessagePad overrides my current irritation with Apple enough that if I had a compatible device, I might try running this.
  • Google Voice app approved in Apple’s app store
    As Slashdot explains, it isn’t the first app that was infamously approved, rejected, and then removed from the store. However, Google Voice Mobile is apparently in the process of being re-submitted and re-considered. As with the changes in Apple’s developer agreement, this signals a softening of policies, most likely because of complaints resulting in FTC scrutiny.
  • Modders bring emulation, homebrew games to PS3, Slashdot
  • Swedish Pirate Party fails to retain seat in parliament, The Register
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein source code released, Slashdot
  • iPhone app piracy tool, source code up for sale, ReadWriteWeb
  • PostgreSQL 9.0 released
    The H has the new features in this release that has been backing for a while. One of the most interesting is replication. It answers my questions, as a long time user of the database server, on how the feature works. It is targeted at hot standby, easing the replication of the write ahead log, so it is distinct from the kind of replication performed by newer, post-relational databases.
  • Europe proposes international internet treaty, Slashdot

feeds | grep links > Security Concerns about Diaspora Code, 6502 Assembly in JavaScript, and More

feeds | grep links > Mozilla Inserts a Stability Beta, How-to Read a Patent, Babbage’s Debugger, and More

Apologies for the paucity of posts today. I am feeling brain drain from a technical presentation at the $employer today. And my mind is still spinning on re-working my audio workflow under Linux now that my mixer is working.

Nanoscale Mechanical Logic Inverter

David Pescovitz at BoingBoing points to some research at Case Western Reserve University that at first sounds like the ultimate homage to Babbage’s early mechanical computer. As he explains the project was funded by DARPA which is interested in components that would be much more reliable in high heat environments like inside a jet or rocket engine.

In a transistor, the voltage applied to one of the terminals, the gate, determines whether a current flows through it. But above 250 °C, the device becomes so awash with thermally generated electrons – even when it is supposedly off – that the voltage leaks through the gate to render the device useless. Even silicon carbide, the semiconductor material hardiest against heat, doesn’t remedy the situation.

The nanoscale levers that make the connection necessary for the inverter to function operate via electrostatic attraction when a current is applied, so are not purely mechanical. They are, however, resistant to temperatures in excess of five hundred degrees Celsius. Work remains, however, before practical application as some of the levers have melted or snapped after two billion cycles for reasons that remain unclear to the researchers.

I am usually very critical of the blithe application of the steampunk label. In this case, I think it resonates with the lateral thinking. Te-Hao Lee and his team re-visited concepts that pre-date modern electronics and effectively carried them forward, like retro futurism realized, to find benefits that complement the computing machinery that so successfully supplanted Babbage’s original designs.

Steampunk chip takes the heat, New Scientist (via BoingBoing)

feeds | grep links > Schmidt Steps in It Again, Acting Against Broadening of the CFAA, Automate News Site Digg is Gamed, and More

First Chapter of Rewritten Hacker Graphic Novel Complete

I enjoyed the original three volumes of Ed Piskor’s well researched and lovingly crafted graphic novel, Wizzywig. When I read a few months ago that instead of producing the conclusion as originally planned, Piskor was going to re-work those volumes improving the art and story telling then release everything as a single printed book, I was far from dismayed. I very much respect the courage it took for him to respond to constructive criticism in such a positive way. I’ll happily add the completed story to my book shelf next to the original version.

As part of the re-work, Ed has been posting a couple of the updated pages a week as a web comic. That’s a very savvy move as he’s more likely to attract new readers and hence potential buyers for the final book when its complete. He also just collected the first quarter of the story into a convenient download, in either CBR or PDF version. I think that is another clever move, giving potential readers more ways to enjoy the work how they want and hopefully then follow along for the rest of the story as he re-vamps and finishes it. I am especially pleased that both the new web site for the pages as web comic and the collected first chapter are now under a Creative Commons license enabling fans, like me, to more easily share Ed’s work.

Oh, and if you are curious about Ed, he’s posted a ton of video material lately that informed Wizzywig and his talk from HOPE about his experience working on the book. I am also planning on interviewing him early in September as he’ll be in town for the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD.

Chapter 1 is Complete, Wizzywig Comics by Ed Piskor