The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

China’s iPhone Killer

Xiaomi makes the best Android phones bar none. The customised Android operating system is faster than the original and updated every week. The physical phones are as well-engineered as Apple’s. If you haven’t heard of Xiaomi, that’s because they don’t even try to sell in America. They’ve got a huge market in China; and no danger there of a slew of lawsuits from Apple for borrowing the iPhone’s look and feel (6,500 words)

A Brief History Of USB

There’s a new type of USB plug coming up: the C, intended to replace both the A (the common letterbox shape) and the B (the squarer plug used for printers). The USB has real staying power; even Apple’s attempt to replace it with the proprietary FireWire connector failed; the Thunderbolt, backed by Intel, is doing OK at the high end. But the real challenge to the USB will come from wireless protocols, not other wires (1,800 words)

Smartwatches Make Google Glass Obsolete

“Google Glass is obsolete. Android Wear on a smartwatch does nearly everything Glass can do and then some, and it comes in a package that is significantly more ergonomic, convenient, cheap, and socially acceptable. Android Wear has almost all the positives of Google Glass and none of the negatives. You aren’t pointing a camera at people 24/7. You can normally go about your day while wearing a smartwatch” (1,790 words)

Bitcoin Miner Gains Network Control

GHash, which bills itself as the “#1 Crypto & Bitcoin Mining Pool”, has demonstrated its capacity to control 51 percent of Bitcoin’s total cryptographic hashing output for spans 12 hours at a time. There is no sign GHash has abused the power, but in principle a miner with 51% control can block, delay and falsify transactions. Bitcoin’s model of decentralised security has been fatally compromised (1,017 words)

How Amazon Patented White-Background Photography

“I was not in the room with the engineers, the patent attorneys, or the patent examiner; I don’t know them and have no relationship with them. But I do have the public record of the documents filed with the Patent Office, the audit trails of the searches conducted by the examiner, and the correspondence between the examiner and the patent attorneys. This allows me to reconstruct the story of the patent” (3,580 words)

Can Any Coding Language Top A 1950s Behemoth?

Fortran remains the dominant language of technical computing 60 years after its introduction. “When Fortran was created, our ancestors were required to enter their programs by punching holes in cardboard rectangles.” How has it survived and thrived while every else has changed? By being fast and adaptive, borrowing cleverly from other languages. It does have challengers, though: Clojure, Haskell, Julia (5,000 words)

Everything Google Is Working On This Year

Google tends to signal its areas of interest and its new projects pretty clearly, by announcements and acquisitions. This year’s priorities include: A big push further into gaming via Google Play; getting more of the developing world online, by building out new infrastructure; cheaper phones; home automation; healthcare and fitness; robots; turning self-driving cars into robo-taxis — Uber without the drivers (5,000 words)

Unforkable Android

Should Microsoft fork Android to replace its languishing Windows Phone OS? No. You can understand the temptation: Android is a proven mobile platform with a huge market. By using the Google-built Android core with a proprietary layer of services on top in place of Google Play, Microsoft might hope to grab mobile market share without ceding too much to Google. But Google has seen this one coming (2,240 words)

The Internet Of Things: Disaster Awaits

About all those fridges, doors, TVs etc. connected to the Internet. It’s great fun initially, but what about later? Manufacturers will shift focus to new models, leaving old models without software and security updates, as now with mobile phones; and the software probably wasn’t that robust in the first place. Unless you want to change your fridge every two years, prepare for a house full of appliances that work for somebody else (1,720 words)

Back Doors: A Technical Primer

“This is a technical primer that explains what a backdoor is, and how easy it can be to create your own. A backdoor is an intentional flaw in a cryptographic algorithm or implementation that allows an individual to bypass the security mechanisms the system was designed to enforce. If you design a random number generator that allows you to predict the output and convince someone to use it, you can break their system” (2,670 words)

Head-To-Head: PS4 vs. Xbox One

Which should you buy? “It’s a tougher call than it has been for a while. From a purely hardware-focused perspective, the PS4 provides similar-to-slightly-better power for $100 less. Why you still might want to consider the Xbox One is the games. The Xbox One’s lineup of exclusives is better at the moment, and the forecast for big-name only-on-Xbox experiences looks better in the medium term as well” (2,500 words)

Review: Tesla Motors Model S

Rave review of all-electric car. “As for the driving experience — well, you forget about all of the neat electronics and the touchscreen and the battery when you slip behind the wheel … The Model S doesn’t smell like oil, it doesn’t drink gasoline, and it doesn’t howl when you stomp on it. But even though it lacks a beating mechanical internal combustion heart, it absolutely, positively, most definitely does have a soul” (9,360 words)

OS X 10.9 Mavericks: The Review

John Siracusa’s reviews for Ars Technica are an institution. Long, expert, definitive. Which makes them exciting when there’s a lot to report; here it’s mostly incremental. Key question: if you are currently running Mountain Lion, should you upgrade? Yes, if you are using a laptop. Mavericks should give hours more battery life. But for a desktop it may not be worth the effort, unless you particularly want the new eBooks reader (24,800 words)

Why US Government IT Fails So Hard, So Often

The Obamacare website fiasco is the rule, not the exception. “Long procurement cycles for even minor government technology projects, the slow speed of approval to operate new technologies, and the vast installed base of systems that government IT managers have to deal with all contribute to the glacial adoption of new technology.” The problem is “not so much an installed base of hardware as it is an installed culture” (1,890 words)

How The Feds Took Down The Dread Pirate Roberts

US government says 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht earned $80 million from running Silk Road, a black-market website popular for drug deals, while living under a false name in San Francisco. The site was secure, but Ulbricht left clues elsewhere: a comment on a WordPress blog, a posting on LinkedIn, an account on YouTube, a query on StackOverflow. And then, says the indictment, he hired an FBI agent as a hit man (4,100 words)

The Strange Story Of Skype

As Skype celebrates its tenth birthday, a look back to its beginnings as the brainwave of six young coders in Estonia who’d come together to build a website for a Swedish telecoms company, then scored a first hit by writing the file-sharing app Kazaa. Their eureka moment came when struck them that Kazaa’s peer-to-peer technology could also be used for voice traffic. Two years later they sold to E-Bay for $2.6bn (6,600 words)

Anatomy Of A Hack

How to crack passwords. Interesting and useful. “Lots of passwords for a particular site are remarkably similar, despite being generated by users who have never met each other. After cracking a large percentage of hashes, the next step was to analyse the plains and mimic the patterns to guess the remaining passwords with statistically generated brute-force attacks based on Markov chains” (3,500 words)

I Was Struck By Lightning Yesterday

Exactly what the headline says. Description of an experience that doesn’t get written up all that often, for obvious reasons. “At that moment — and this part is a little foggy — a bright arc of electricity shot through the window and directly into my chest. I hit the concrete floor and bounced back up to my feet, which were shuffling at top speed into a bookshelf … Today, my whole body is sore — even my organs ache in a hard-to-describe way” (800 words)

How An All-Star Team Put An End To The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Yes, it was a while back. But this part of the story is only just getting told. What BP and US government tech teams were up to in private, while Tony Hayward was making an ass of himself in public. And how they found the answer

Quantum Cryptography: Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow

Deep dive into latest from world of data security. How quantum cryptography works, and is finding real-world applications. And why it won’t be supplanting cutting-edge classic cryptography anytime soon. Fascinating, if geeky

Why Passwords Have Never Been Weaker—And Crackers Have Never Been Stronger

“The ancient art of password cracking has advanced further in the past five years than it did in the previous several decades combined.” Here’s a fascinating, if geeky, look at the latest hacker methods. Scary stuff

Experiments In Airborne BASIC

Remembering Finnish radio show Silikoni. Back before web existed, it took a novel decision to broadcast code over the airways. Which listeners simply recorded to tape, then ran on their computers. 120,000 tuned in to each episode

No Safe Haven

How the secret service hunted three hackers around the globe. “When the government intends to take you down, the resources at their disposal are phenomenal.” Which raises an important question: Can they really need more powers?

Automated Robbery

Skimming credit cards isn’t a new fraud. But it’s easier than ever, and no longer limited to ATM’s. Average return from a bank robbery? $4,000. From a skimming incident? $50,000. Here’s how it’s done, and how banks are fighting back

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