Saving Mozilla

We often forget what Mozilla has made for us. Internet wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for that group of developers that took Netscape web browser and transformed it into an Open Source project called Mozilla at first and then Firefox.

That project was one milestone of a road that was always synonym of freedom and openness (would I dare to say… ‘unshutness‘?). Since that moment, Mozilla has stayed independent and has fought against much bigger companies with much deeper pockets.

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It has suffered the consequences, of course. Firefox lost part of its market share due to the popularity (and good features) of Chrome, and other projects suffered from the Open Source curse: it doesn’t matter if it’s better, they’re probably “only suited for geeks”.

The Firefox web browser is just the best example of what defines Mozilla: a defense of open standards for an open web. There are lots of other additional efforts to defend that idea. Lots of them.

So when you find arguments like the ones Psy-Q’s Braindump has showed on his excellent post, you can’t help thinking about what Mozilla has made for us. BTW, this discussion on Hacker News explains it well: the donations are for The Mozilla Foundation (manifesto) which “relies entirely on donations”. Mozilla Corp -the one behind Firefox development- “makes money through corporate deals (e.g. Google and Yahoo! search commissions)”

And that is worth any donation. I’ve just donated $10 dollar.

Your move.

Image | keerochee

Kids and parents beware: modern toys are another gateway to private data

The personal information of almost 5 million parents and more than 200,000 kids was exposed earlier this month after a hacker broke into the servers of a Chinese company that sells kids toys and gadgets.

That company is VTech, but the hack is not on the toys themselves: it’s on the servers that recolect parents and children data. And ancient vulnerability that allows SQL injection attacks and that has lead to the change to collect all this information from end users.

It’s not an isolated case.  There has been for example another problem with the “Hello Barbie” toy from Mattel, which audio files and connection data to servers could be hijacked (it’s not clear if there’s a real risk there according to Mattel partners on this feature). Wired told us a story about the IM-ME made from Mattel and repurposed for opening gare door, and My Friend Cayla could become a toy from an horror movie.

Security and privacy related news are so frequent on this days that we don’t pay much attention to day, but when those users are kids, things start to raise eyebrows. Maybe this is what we need to be aware of the dangers of this information and hyperconnection era.

Security must be seen as something important from the very beginning.  We must learn what secure by design means. And product and service makers should apply that idea to all their processes.

Source: One of the Largest Hacks Yet Exposes Data on Hundreds of Thousands of Kids

OnePlus, Apple, cables and book covers

These days there have been reports on two sides of the same product: cables and power adapters, often dismissed by users, are more important that it may seem.

On one end we’ve got OnePlus, who has been victim of a detailed analysis by a Google Engineer. He found that this maker should be using 56kΩ resistors on their OnePlus 2 power adapter, but instead they’re using 10kΩ resistors.

As Ars Technica explains, these adapters are suitable for OnePlus smartphones, for sure, but you shouldn’t use it on other USB-C connector devices such as the Nexus 5X/6P or the Chromebook Pixel.

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Apple charger (left) vs imitation charger (right)

And then we’ve got another detailed analysis, this time exploring the inside of a MacBook Power Adapter. The result, as the text itself, is surprising, and the expert reviewing it calls it “an impressive piece of engineering

We usually criticize Apple and other makers for selling us expensive cables. Sometimes we can be right, sure, but others it seems quite clear that an expensive cable or power adapter has a reason to be that expensive.

Not in the case of HDMI cables, by the way. Don’t buy expensive ones.

The Raspberry Pi Zero is a crazy little wonderful microPC that costs $5

The Raspberry Pi was a marvel of design and versatility, and it was one of the big reasons the maker movement started in the first place. Sure, Arduino and other projects have helped, but the RPi democratized the trend and made anyone a potential hardware tinkerer.

After developing several versions, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has just launched the Raspberry Pi Zero, a mini computer that is astounding in size and capabilities. With a ridiculous small form factor (65 x 30 x 5 mm) this little beast carries specs that should anyone start playing really quick:

  • A Broadcom BCM2835 application processor
    • 1GHz ARM11 core (40% faster than Raspberry Pi 1)
  • 512MB of LPDDR2 SDRAM
  • A micro-SD card slot
  • A mini-HDMI socket for 1080p60 video output
  • Micro-USB sockets for data and power
  • An unpopulated 40-pin GPIO header
    • Identical pinout to Model A+/B+/2B
  • An unpopulated composite video header

But what is more amazing is the price of this little thing: $5! On some countries that could make shipping costs actually more expensive than the device itself. They’ve even included one Raspberry Pi Zero in each issue of the new MagPi magazine! (Sold out already, of course) Crazy.

I think this enables a new kind of projects in which size and affordability is critical. Yes, this device has some limitations (only one microUSB port for data, no Ethernet, “just” 512 MB of RAM) but even that is not a real problem for users of this little miracle of technology thanks to adapters like powered USB hubs.

It’s amazing what you can do with $5.

Xiaomi’s Mi Pad 2 is a promising cheap alternative to Surface Pro 4 & iPad Pro

You don’t need much more than that to work on the go. A 7.9 inch screen (2048 x 1536 resolution), a quad-core Atom X5-Z8500, 2 GB RAM and 64 GB of internal storage make this Windows 10 tablet a surprising cheap alternative to the new breed of expensive convertible tablets.

This is exactly what Microsoft should have announced in addition to Surface Pro 4. A cheaper, smaller version with similar capabilities. You’d only need a good “Type Cover” for this (Logitech Wireless All-In-one Keyboard TK820 seems like a good fit, but there are other options) and boom, you’re there.

I’d say the complete pack will cost around $300, which is a fair amount to spend on that occasional replacement to a real laptop. Not bad at all. Beware, Microsoft (and Apple).

Source: Xiaomi’s Mi Pad 2 is an iPad mini that runs Windows 10 | The Verge

Samsung Gear VR vs Google Cardboard: the differences are night and day

As an owner of a Google Cardboard model, I had doubts about how Samsung Gear VR could really make a difference when the experience should depend more on the mobile phone than on the mobile VR glasses themselves.

In fact, to me the Samsung Gear VR weren’t nothing else than a expensive, pretty version of the Google Cardboard, by I was wrong. On a recent poll in Reddit, some users pointed out the big differences:

  • Better optics
  • Better field of view
  • Better head orientation / tracking (custom sensor vs under-optimized phone sensors when you use Cardboard)
  • Low persistence (reduced blur)
  • Low latency (OS level changes in Samsung phones made by Oculus)
  • High quality lenses
  • Inbuilt ventilation ducts to prevent lens fogging
  • More content
  • A proximity sensor between the lenses so it waits for it to be on your head to begin (and when you take it off, it pauses)
  • Built-in controls (at the right side of the goggles)

The difference is clear according to one of those users:

Cardboard is a toy, Gear VR is real virtual reality

And the recent The Verge’s review confirms that Gear VR’s experience is much more suited for VR fans. We’ll see how Oculus Rift performs -it should nicer, but also more expensive and you’ll need a powerful PC- but it seems Samsung has made a compelling case for affordable* VR here.

*Not that affordable considering that you’ve got to be owner of one of the “2015 Samsung GALAXY flagship smartphones” :/

Are we ready for virtual showrooming? HoloLens fails to give a good answer

Here we’ve got another nice example of a promising technology that has to overcome several big obstacles. The user experience is far from perfect, and on this specific scenario -showrooming- it fails when what you actually want is touching something physical.

But as with many HoloLens demos, objects are coherent only at a very specific distance and angle. The very thing you want to do with the showroom model — walk up close and get a sense of its scale — chops it into pieces or makes it disappear altogether. The headset’s lenses are easy to adjust, they’re just incredibly unforgiving. I couldn’t quite find a fit that didn’t have me craning my neck to see a whole object, even if it was a Volvo logo the size of a dinner plate. Maintaining the showroom’s illusion requires unflagging concentration.

I’m affraid we still are too attached to actually feeling something in our hands or on our bodies to get a glimpse of the real sense of the product. Hololens seems nice as an expensive toy, but nothing else at the moment.

I really don’t see this escaping from the gaming and certain design scenarios.

Source: Microsoft and Volvo’s new HoloLens showroom is fascinating and frustrating | The Verge

iFixit: Apple Pencil is a little technology marvel

I remember Ken Shirriff’s article about the Apple iPhone charger teardown. On something so seemingly unimportant, Apple showed their capabilities. Design was important, but execution was critical.

Something similar has happened with the Apple Pencil. We can laugh about Apple admitting finally that the stylus can be useful on certain scenarios. What we can’t do is ignore what the company has accomplished withe the Pencil in terms of technology integration again.

Wonderful.

Source: iFixit Apple Pencil teardown reveals twin emitters to measure angle & orientation, logic board folded in half

Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Dock makes you pay $79 for something that Apple should have given in the first place

On May’15 Mark Sullivan wrote his review of the Apple Watch, and he had something to say about the charging features of the device:

You can’t sleep with the Watch because you have to charge it every night. If Apple didn’t mean for you to be able to leave your Watch on while you’re sleeping, why did it include the alarm clock function?

On the Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Dock official description:

With the Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Dock, you can charge your Apple Watch in a flat position with its band open, or on its side. When docked on its side, your watch automatically goes into Nightstand mode, so you can also use it as your alarm clock.

Can’t you charge it in a flat position or on its side with the standard cable? It seems so. It seems the folks at Apple did read that review and had a good idea on how to sell a brand new accessory that makes you pay $79 dollars to get something you should get on the original package. Brilliant.

P.S.: There are other issues with the charging system. Dave Smith at Business Insider wrote about the charging cable:

Each Apple Watch comes with a 2-meter cable — I bought a 1-meter cable for the office — but both options are excessively long. Why not offer a fully retractable cable, where you can set the length yourself? Or better yet, why not a cute little charging cradle for each Apple Watch? This feels like a missed opportunity for Apple’s design geniuses.

There you go Apple. Two brand new ideas for accessories.

Source: The official Apple Watch magnetic charging dock is now on sale | The Verge

The $85 Chromebit is another nice, useless product that solves a problem that didn’t exist

The original Chromecast initiated a trend: HDMI dongles with computing capabilities were born. Intel Compute Stick and Splendo are two good examples of this kind of miniPC (in this case, based on Windows). Now we’ve got another alternative, not in format but in its OS.

The Chromebit was announced a few months ago, and it has finally launched with modest specs: a Rockchip SoC comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard (“relatively slow eMMC”) storage.

You’ve got also a USB port and the dedicated charger (USB to MicroUSB) and according to Engadget’s review,

It’s not terribly fast, nor is it always elegant in its execution. Then again, it’s a perfectly serviceable way to access your email, music and nearly everything the web has to offer, mostly using gear you probably already have. It’s not the most capable streamer. And like most other Chrome OS machines, the Chromebit won’t replace a desktop or laptop with heavier-duty hardware and a more fully featured OS

ExtremeTech agrees. I wouldn’t say that makes this device really interesting. What are the user cases here? If you’re traveling, you’re better served by your own smartphone or tablet most of the time. If you want to use it as a mediacenter the Chromecast can deliver, and if you want to get a more ambitious desktop experience you’ve got those sticks based on Windows I mentioned or even devices such as the Surface 3.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Source: Google And ASUS Launch The $85 Chromebit, A Chrome OS Desktop On An HDMI Stick