Helium implicated in weird iPhone malfunctions

Found on Ars Technica on Wednesday, 31 October 2018
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The iPhone user guide warns that proximity to helium can impair functionality and that to recover, devices should be left to air out for a week or so in an environment far away from the rogue helium.

Smartphones contain microelectromechanical systems (MEMS): tiny mechanical systems that are integrated into chips.

That's probably the weirdest way to make a smartphone stop working that we've heard. As for why non-Apple devices appear to escape without harm? They might use different seals or perhaps aren't using MEMS devices in such critical roles.

Or they use cheaper MEMs which have a lower quality to maximize profits.

Printer Makers Are Crippling Cheap Ink Cartridges Via Bogus 'Security Updates'

Found on Motherboard on Wednesday, 17 October 2018
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Printer maker Epson is under fire this month from activist groups after a software update prevented customers from using cheaper, third party ink cartridges. It’s just the latest salvo in a decades-long effort by printer manufacturers to block consumer choice, often by disguising printer downgrades as essential product improvements.

Hardware makers began cooking draconian restrictions into printers, ranging from unnecessary cartridge expiration dates to obnoxious DRM and firmware updates blocking the use of “unofficial” cartridges.

Along with net neutrality, there is a clear need for ink neutrality too.

Facebook unveils smart displays, promises not to snoop on your video calls

Found on Ars Technica on Monday, 08 October 2018
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In addition to their price and size differences, the Portal+ has a more powerful speaker that includes two tweeters with high-range frequency and a single, four-inch bass speaker for richer sound. Both devices have a four-mic array that's designed to pick up your voice no matter where you are in the room.

Facebook hasn't been the most forthcoming company when it comes to letting users know which data it collects and how it's using that data. It also doesn't have the best track record when it comes to keeping users' data safe.

Facebook said it doesn't "listen to, view, or keep the contents of" Portal video calls and that all video calls are encrypted as well.

Yeah. Sure.

A $1, Linux-Capable, Hand-Solderable Processor

Found on Hackaday on Tuesday, 18 September 2018
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This is an ARM processor capable of running Linux. It’s hand-solderable in a TQFP package, has a built-in Mali GPU, support for a touch panel, and has support for 512MB of DDR3.

There is no HDMI support, you’ll need to add some more chips (that are probably in a BGA package), but, hey, it’s only a dollar.

While the Allwinner A13 beats all the other options on price and solderability, it should be noted that like all of these random Linux-capable SoCs, the software is a mess. There is a reason those ‘Raspberry Pi killers’ haven’t yet killed the Raspberry Pi, and it’s because the Allwinner chips don’t have documentation and let’s repeat that for emphasis: the software is a mess.

So the price is good, but the software is a mess. That effectively turns it into a "thanks but no thanks" product, which is too bad. Not to mention that it's a bad idea to offer the core in a TQFP package which you can solder manually, while the missing graphic option would require BGA chips which cut down to target audience to a minority.

Intel rips up microcode security fix license that banned benchmarking

Found on The Register on Thursday, 23 August 2018
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Intel's gagging order came in the form of this license clause: "You will not, and will not allow any third party to … publish or provide any Software benchmark or comparison test results."

Predictably, Intel's contractual omertà had the opposite effect and drew attention to the problem. "Performance is so bad on the latest Spectre patch that Intel had to prohibit publishing benchmarks," said Lucas Holt, MidnightBSD project lead, via Twitter.

That Intel even thought it would get away with that.

German researchers defeat printers' doc-tracking dots

Found on The register on Wednesday, 27 June 2018
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Beating the unique identifiers that printers can add to documents for security purposes is possible: you just need to add extra dots beyond those that security tools already add. The trick is knowing where to add them.

Anybody can take a scan of the document, and clear “empty” areas in an image editor, but the group's second technique is more sophisticated. After their algorithm identifies the pattern in use, it takes a mask of all possible dot locations in that pattern, and adds extra dots that conform to the layout, but render the code meaningless.

If you think about it, the idea is pretty simple but clearly very efficient.

OnePlus 6 images reportedly leaked by Amazon Germany

Found on CNet News on Sunday, 13 May 2018
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German tech site Winfuture posted images of the front and back of the Chinese phonemaker's new flagship handset, saying they were originally posted by Amazon's German marketplace.

The alleged leak comes three days before OnePlus is expected to launch its next marquee phone in London. Wednesday's unveiling will also be a fan event, with admission tickets to the event selling out in just a few hours.

Welcome to the sick world of marketing, where the release of a product for daily use gets celebrated like the first newborn child. Not to mention that nobody believes anymore that "leaked photos" got indeed accidentally leaked.

Predictable senility allows boffins to spot recycled NAND chips

Found on The Register on Monday, 07 May 2018
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With the embedded device market booming and semiconductor companies hard-pressed to keep up with demand, the re-circulation of older memory chips has grown in recent years. Because chips become more apt to fail as they get older, newer devices that are outfitted with recycled chips will be more likely to experience problems.

The group hopes that the techniques could be used by manufacturers to test and weed out the older chips that, in an industrial control device, would cause the entire unit to go down should they fail. In the process, they hope to make embedded and industrial devices more reliable over the long-term.

For the normal consumer, the only option is trust.

Loud Sound From Fire Alarm System Shuts Down Nasdaq's Scandinavian Data Center

Found on Bleeping Computer on Friday, 20 April 2018
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These systems work by releasing inert gas at high speeds, a mechanism usually accompanied by a loud whistle-like sound. With non-calibrated systems, this sound can get very loud, a big no-no in data centers, where loud sounds are known to affect performance, shut down, or even destroy hard drives.

Nasdaq said there weren't enough servers in the whole of Sweden to replace the destroyed ones, and had to import new machines.

Pretty sure they are now trying to find out who was supposed to calibrated those systems.

PC Building Simulator is (most of) the fun of building a PC—without pricey GPUs

Found on Ars Technica on Thursday, 29 March 2018
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The "simulator" genre of PC games was already pretty meta, but it has now reached a new level with PC Building Simulator, a game currently available via Steam Early Access. In it, you build desktop PCs (mostly the gaming variety) by opening up the case, installing components, plugging them into the motherboard for power, and more, all in a 3D simulation.

In free-build mode, you're given a storage unit full of every available component, and every part of your workshop is unlocked, so you can just build whatever PCs you please. Want to put in some LED lights and install a transparent case? Go ahead, you l33t simulator, you.

Seriously now? Whoever plays this game should just go out a little more and socialize; you'd be surprised how many request come in once people realize that you are good with that "computer stuff".