* Posts by Fazal Majid

208 posts • joined 16 May 2007

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Scrapheap challenge: How Amazon and Google are dumbing down the gogglebox

Fazal Majid

4K support

Is the big reason to use the SmartTV features. No streaming box available today supports HDMI 2.0 or 4K resolution. Netflix in 4K is a glorious experience, despite the paucity of content. All 4K HDTVs have SmartTV functionality today, and by the time they are no longer supported, the streaming boxes will have caught up, so you are none the worse off.

The thing I find most annoying is why TVs come with only a handful of HDMI ports (3 or 4 is the max), but a surfeit of obsolete analog ports like component video or S-Video, which belong on the dust heap of history. Surely no more than one such port is needed?

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Big trouble in big China: Crashing economy in Middle Kingdom body slams US tech stocks

Fazal Majid

Tech companies are in trouble in China anyway

The Snowden revelations have led to a backlash against Western firms deemed, fairly or not, to be collaborating with the NSA's espionage dragnet.

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The good burghers of Palo Alto are entirely insane

Fazal Majid

Stanford

Stanford University is the elephant in the room. They own a huge amount of property in Palo Alto and are too rich and lawyered-up for the city council to tangle with. Like many prestigious universities in the US, they are really a hedge fund with an education sideline as a tax dodge, and Stanford's endowment is growing fastest in the country, thanks to all the tech wealth it has generated.

The value of property in Palo Alto is tied directly to the tech industry that sprung from Stanford. Detroit can put all the property restrictions it wants, that would not raise prices one whit since no one actually wants to live or work there if they have any choice in the matter. Planning regulations are just a multiplier on top of demand that already exists.

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Vaio returns from the dead wearing sharper suit, bolts in neck

Fazal Majid

Is there really a market for status-symbol Windows PCs?

A few years ago Apple wrested away an astonishing 90% market share in personal computers over $1000. It seems anyone who cares enough (or wants to be seen with a machine the peons are not entitled to) already gets a MacBook of some sort. Vaios had some exclusives like carbon fiber chassis, but recognition is probably not good enough for them to be a Veblen good.

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DNS root zone drama: Follow live the most important dullest ceremony you'll ever see

Fazal Majid

Oscars?

Less glamorous than the Oscars, perhaps, but certainly not more boring than that tedious circle-jerk of Hollywood narcissism.

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Google's new parent Alphabet owns abc.xyz – and, yup, there's already an abc.wtf

Fazal Majid

abc.wtf was registered by Microsoft themselves:

http://whois.domaintools.com/abc.wtf

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It's incredibly easy to bump someone off online, and here's how to do it – infosec bod

Fazal Majid

Immigration fraud

If birth certificates are so easy to forge, that would make immigration fraud easy for younger people.

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Amazon just wrote a TLS crypto library in only 6,000 lines of C code

Fazal Majid

Re: Bit iffy on some of the details

They should have included Dan Bernstein's NaCl library as well.

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Yep, it's true: Android is the poor man's phone worldwide

Fazal Majid

It's difficult

When the crap in question is all the privacy-voiding software built into the OS itself by Google.

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Google-owned smart-gumble-maker Nest snubs Google's smart-gumble OS Brillo

Fazal Majid

Protecting users' privacy?

"the company has worked hard to make simple while protecting users' privacy"

That's pretty rich when coming from a company owned by Google, the creepiest and most privacy-invasive firm there is. I had considered a Nest thermostat a couple of years ago, but their acquisition by Google was an absolute deal-breaker. As for paying $200 to let Big Brother inside your house, that's merely adding insult to injury.

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Chuck chucks Cisco's China C-suite

Fazal Majid

Unwinnable battle

Convenient scapegoats. There's no way Cisco can win in China - Huawei and ZTE are entrenched, outspend it massively on R&D, are way cheaper, and post-Snowden, no self-respecting Chinese would take Cisco gear even if it were given away for free. What's more, other emerging markets are likely to follow.

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Scientists love MacBooks (true) – but what about you?

Fazal Majid

The scientific community and the academic community are deeply interconnected. Given Apple's strength in the education market, it's not surprising they are better represented in the scientific community than in the general business arena.

At my startup here in San Francisco, the Mac is the company standard, and that's consistent with most tech startups in the Bay Area. We're not religious about this, and two of of our 30+ employees actually opted to use Windows, primarily because Excel for Mac is so far behind the Windows version (we buy the licenses, but they are on their own for installing it and supporting themselves). We don't have centralized account management or directory services, but our IT is either cloud-based, web-based internal apps coded to web standards (we don't test on IE, so if they run Windows they have to use Chrome/Firefox) or SSH to UNIX (Solaris) machines. In practice, it's BYOD except the company is paying for the devices. It all works far more smoothly than my previous startup where we ran Windows and had 2 full-time IT people supporting it.

There are places where regulatory requirements (e.g. HIPAA or banking regulations) require a locked-down environment with Active Directory and Policy Editor, but in this era of cloud services the client OS is much less relevant than it used to be. I thought it was a cliche, but I have been at a corporate IT shop where the admins didn't bother to conceal that job security was the main reason why they pushed Microsoft and Oracle technologies.

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US Congress oils up, jumps over ropes into DNS wrestling match

Fazal Majid

The current situation is bad, but entrenching ICANN's unaccountable mismanagement of IANA with a permanent contract would be even worse. It's a damning indictment of ICANN when the shambles that is the US Congress looks attractive in comparison.

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Sir Jony Ive, chief Apple doodler, promoted – into job he already has

Fazal Majid

Sounds like he is being kicked upstairs

That would be a good thing. The amateurish iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 lens bump show Ive is a hack without Jobs around as a tastemaker to keep him in check.

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Infosec bods demo GPU keylogger. Don't tell the NS... oh, wait

Fazal Majid

Seems far-fetched

The GPU has direct memory access but no direct connection to the keyboard, so this is likely to be heavily OS-dependent. It's also awfuly convoluted, when USB rootkits are much easier to install, and one installed in a keyboard is optimally placed to log keystrokes:

http://www.blackhat.com/presentations/bh-usa-09/CHEN/BHUSA09-Chen-RevAppleFirm-PAPER.pdf

or network card rootkits are ideally poised to exfiltrate data.

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FCC wants to know if carriers can grab some of YOUR WiFi signal

Fazal Majid

Despicable telcos following the Tragedy of the Commons playbook

This is nothing less than an attempt to pad their bottom line by reducing the amount of expensive spectrum they need to license by encroaching on the commons, while at the same time degrading quality of service for WiFi, which is in some measure a substitute for their services.

The Israeli government considered banning carrier WiFi offload for this very reason, and this sleazy land-grab should be rebuffed as well:

http://disruptivewireless.blogspot.com/2013/06/is-israel-about-to-ban-carrier-wifi.html

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SECRET PROTOTYPE iPAD 'stolen from RANDY Apple employee'

Fazal Majid

Re: Legalise Prostitution

I have far more faith in the integrity of the average prostitute than that of the average banker, and I am probably not the only one. Yet people use the banking system every day.

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So why exactly does almost ALL tech live in Silicon Valley?

Fazal Majid

Same here. Silicon Valley clustered around Stanford.

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America was founded on a dislike of taxes, so how did it get the IRS?

Fazal Majid

Property taxes go to your city, not the State of California

Minor nit. The State does cap the property tax, but it goes to local authorities.

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Google has tested its speedy QUIC internet protocol on YOU – and the early results are in

Fazal Majid

Hubris

Building a transport protocol on top of UDP is usually a red flag. The 2RTT TCP handshake is there for a reason. There have been proposals to simplify it, e.g. T/TCP, but those have not been widely deployed, nor have extensions to TCP like SACK (RFC 2018) or Quick-start (RFC 4782) that address other shortcomings in TCP.

Many of the proposed "fixes" to TCP over the years were designed by people who do not understand the issues, work only in best-case scenarios and lead to severe failure modes or even affect the stability of the network. Considering all the proponents of QUIC are browser engineers and there has been little to no review by protocol design specialists like Sally Floyd, I would err towards assuming this is an illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect at work and yet another half-baked idea from Google with the potential to do real damage.

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Hooray! China suspends ban on foreign tech in banking

Fazal Majid

Not surprising

Justified, even in light of the Snowden revelations, even if the primary motivation is probably old-fashioned protectionism.

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Intel shows Google how to stick it real good

Fazal Majid

This should be compared to the Amazon FireTV Stick

Which only costs $40, for equivalent hardware. Gives some idea of how much Amazon is subsidizing them.

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Apple takes ACID-compliant NoSQL upstart FoundationDB

Fazal Majid

iCloud Storage

My guess is they realized the current backend for iCloud Storage won't scale, want a replacement and don't want to be beholden to a third-party software vendor for something this critical to their platform. iCloud Storage has 2 APIs, document database and key-value store, and FoundationDB's multi-model capabilities would be a good fit.

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This is what happens when a judge in New York orders an e-hit on a Chinese software biz

Fazal Majid

AACS is the encryption scheme for Blu-Ray, not DVD

DVD uses CSS, which was broken years ago. Blu-Ray uses AACS, which has been broken, but Blu-Ray ripping software is not widely available and the AACS consortium would like to keep it this way, hence this legal action.

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Boffins FOAMING over a Nickel's worth of hydrogen

Fazal Majid

Fuel cells may be dumb for cars because of the bulk and weight, but they are a pretty good fit for solar electricity storage.

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What a hang-up: AT&T dumped from Dow index, Apple installed

Fazal Majid

Survivorship bias

Yes, that's why index funds use broader indexes like the S&P 500 or the Russell 2000.

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Hadoop gets native C/C++ injection

Fazal Majid

There's also the Quantcast File System, a C/C++ drop-in replacement for the Hadoop file system.

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Syneto: Behold, blockheads – an all-flash array... based on ZFS

Fazal Majid

In other words they stuck some Illumos based distribution like OpenIndiana or SmartOS on top of commodity hardware, added a Web UI, and called it a day. ZFS deduplication is a notorious memory hog and not recommended for production use. Compression works very well, on the other hand.

As for BTRFS, it is at least 5 years behind in terms of maturity and robustness, ZFS is available for Linux as well, just not shipping together because it's license is not ideologically pure enough for the ayatollahs of GPL.

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Google's Softcard hookup: Never mind Apple Pay ... it's about beating the networks

Fazal Majid

Good summary, here is some extra color

My credentials: I worked for France Telecom's R&D, hold one patent on online micropayment systems and deployed a successful one in the early days of the Internet (1997 or so).

There are 2 prizes they were all contending for: the ability to skim commissions from all mobile payments, and the ability to mine customer transaction data.

The banks (well, credit card issuers) own both in the current credit system. They have historically been extremely paranoid about telcos, and successful m-payment initiatives like M-PESA in Kenya (with which Vodafone essentially disintermediated the banks and corrupt government) certainly stoked that.

Google obviously hungers for #2, #1 being mere cherry on the icing.

The handset makers had a much weaker position, as in the US at least the telcos are their biggest customers and hold the whip hand, as demonstrated by Nokia's failure to penetrate the US market to the same extent as worldwide.

Apple never entered the fray until Apple Pay, unlike some of the Android handset makers. Apple Pay essentially implements banking industry standards on the banks' terms, for a very modest commission. In other words, they cut a deal with the banks to get an acceptable #1 and forgo #2, and in the process gave the banks a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the hands of Google or the carriers.

In the West, iPhone users are the choice demographic in terms of spending power, and I expect Google will have to cave to the banks' demands and implement a form of EMV tokenization similar to Apple's. It's unclear whether they will be allowed to ingest transaction data. The carriers have already bowed to the inevitable.

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Now Samsung's spying smart TVs insert ADS in YOUR OWN movies

Fazal Majid

Re: WTF!

If the ability to show ads was implemented in the H.264/H.265 codecs themselves, HDMI is not a panacea.

I've been looking for firewall rules to block Samsung voice control and ad servers, but can't find anything. There's got to be an opportunity in syndicating blacklist, as AdBlock does, although for IoT I think the default mode should be whitelisting with transparent parodying.

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Uber hits PANIC BUTTON after India threatens to BAN dial-a-car firm

Fazal Majid

The US rape rate is at least 3x higher than India's

Please do some basic research before besmirching my ancestors' land. Paternalistic it may well be, and there have been some horrific incidents in the news, but as statisticians will tell you, what you really have to worry about are the risks that have become so commonplace they no longer make the news, like car accidents.

According to Wikipedia: "The incidence of reported rapes in India for 2010 were 1.8 per 100,000 people, among the lowest in the world. The US figure for 2010 was 27.3 per 100,000. However, it is estimated that only 1 in 10 rapes in India gets reported, while in the US 46% are reported.".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_India

So if we extrapolate: India - 1.8 x 10 = 18 per 100,000, US = 27.3 / 0.46 = 59.3 per 100,000, or 3 times higher than India. And I am guessing this figure does not count the horrendous incidence of rape in US prisons, which is so high the majority of rape victims in the US are actually men (incarcerated), not women. For reported rapes, the ratio is 15x.

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Big Data, empty bellies: How supermarkets tweak prices just for the sake of YOUR LOVE

Fazal Majid

Big Data is overrated

Big is not the same as valuable. Just because you know your customers does not always mean you understand them or can manipulate them, in other words it is not always actionable. Tesco's meltdown, despite their loyalty card prowess, and the fact they are willing to ditch the alleged Big Data Crown Jewels, indicates they now agree.

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Toshiba packs NUMERIC KEYPAD onto self-bricking USB drive

Fazal Majid

CBC mode is not considered best practice any more

I suppose it could have been worse, as they could have used ECB, as a surprising number of "security" products still do.

The keypad is OS-independent, which is nice for Linux users, or Mac users tired of waiting for IronKey to update their unlocker app for the newest version of OS X.

It's nice they used a solid aluminium chassis for the drive. Boo for USB2. One of the great things about the IronKey S200 is that it uses SLC memory, which made it a very speedy drive (unlike the horrendously slow MLC IronKey D200). I wonder where the Toshiba fits, performance-wise.

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Enough is ENOUGH: It's time to flush Flash back to where it came from – Hell

Fazal Majid

I have always disabled Flash entirely on my primary locked-down browser (Chrome), but the last incident made me reach my tipping point. My plan is to remove Flash entirely from my Mac, and leave it in a VirtualBox VM ghetto for when I absolutely need it. That way I won't have to restart all my browsers each time there is a security update, and the damage from compromise is contained.

The flaw in this plan is that Chrome bundles Flash, so there would still be the taint of Flash on the main OS X.

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Hardboiled, fast-paced, mind-bending fun – Dark Intelligence IS sci-fi

Fazal Majid

Re: One or the other?

The Polity is not yet post-scarcity, it is just post-poverty. The Culture could be seen as the Polity after a few millennia to mature and wipe out or tame existential threats like the Jain.

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EE squashes Orange UK: France Telecom's been 'destroying it for years'

Fazal Majid

Oddly enough

France Telecom never tried to use the Orange brand in its short-lived foray in the Netherlands, a country actually ruled by the House of Orange-Nassau (confusingly, the eponymous Orange is actually the city in the South of France).

FT is phasing out its branding for Orange, which is basically the new, country-neutral name for FT both in France and worldwide.

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Boffin finds formula for four-year-five-nines disk arrays

Fazal Majid

Theory and practice

Typical academic paper making simplistic and very optimistic assumptions about failure modes. In my experience about one third to one half of storage faults are Byzantine, I.e. the drive doesn't just go down, it is actively attempting to sabotage your array by sending interfere down the bus (specially on buses where this is theoretically impossible like FC-AL) or all sorts of crippling behavior. Something like that will still require physical intervention.

Here is an excellent introduction to the subject:

http://dtrace.org/blogs/wesolows/2014/02/20/on-disk-failure/

And of course John Gall's immortal classics about systems thinking.

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It's 4K-ing big right now, but it's NOT going to save TV

Fazal Majid

4K is now

I bought a house 6 months ago. It came with a media room with a 20 year old 42" 720p LG plasma with massive amounts of burn-in and frizzy pixels. My 85lb 46" Toshiba was heavier than the 76lb LG and I wasn't sure the wall mount was rated for the weight, so I replaced both with a 50-inch Samsung HU8550 that weighs half their weight, yet barely takes more space due to the thinner bezel.

The premium for a 4K screen is under $250 over comparable 1080p TVs, so it's a no-brainer for an appliance that is just too inconvenient to install more than once a decade because of its bulk. I went over reviews for the handful of models certified by Netflix for 4K streaming, so I do have some content available via the SmartTV, including Amazon now (no AppleTV or Roku or whatever supports HDMI 2.0 4K resolutions).

Paucity of 4K is not an issue, as I always expected the primary source would be my photo collection (4K=8MP) and 4K home video should become mainstream within a year or two as hardware H.265 compression chips find their way into smartphones. The Samsung doesn't have good photo casting options for a Mac user (surprise surprise), so I have to use a USB stick, but it works and is gorgeous.

I would say buying a 2K set today would be just as short-sighted and penny-wise-pound-foolish as buying a 720p set 5 years ago.

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Armouring up online: Duncan Campbell's chief techie talks crypto with El Reg

Fazal Majid

He is stunningly Naive

If he thinks the threat model for investigating high-level corporate malfeasance should not defend against state-level actors. All evidence shows the NSA has a sideline in economic espionage, whether from deliberate policy, horse-trading for reciprocal favors or simply personal corruption of NSA leaders is irrelevant. It is highly likely big establishment firms like BP or Unilever benefit from the same chumminess from GCHQ, and so on.

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No NAND's land: Flash will NOT take over the data centre

Fazal Majid

Last hurrah

You've got to wonder how much of this is driven by the transition from tape to disk. Certainly primary storage on laptops and enterprise first-tier is going all-flash, and mobile was always thus. The HDD iPod was discontinued. Hard drives seem to be increasingly relegated to cold storage.

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Which country has 2nd largest social welfare system in the world?

Fazal Majid

Re: Sorta

The primary factor is the American Medical Association's cartel deliberately restricting supply to keep prices high. The second is Big Pharma leveraging the corruption of Congress, e.g. Medicare is forbidden by law to negotiate volume discounts on pharmaceuticals. The third factor is a very high level of administrative expenses (which includes marketing costs), primarily driven by the arms race between insurance companies who systematically deny claims or "misplace" them, to the point medical practices need to hire full-time staff to deal with insurance companies. The cost of hospital procedures is incredibly variable. Another cause is gross corruption of some doctors who over prescribe tests in exchange for kickbacks.

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Fazal Majid

Re: But the elephant in the room...

Half of healthcare dollars in the US are spent by the federal government (Medicare and Medicaid, to a lesser extent the VA). The system is corrupt and grossly inefficient, eating up twice the proportion of GDP as in France, for no better outcomes That in itself accounts for nearly 5% of GDP that should be removed from welfare spending to compare the value of the assistance rendered. The other big factor is how higher education is significantly more expensive in the US, but that's more a concern of the middle class, not the poor.

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Part 3: Docker vs hypervisor in tech tussle SMACKDOWN

Fazal Majid

Joyent's Solaris-derived SmartOS shows how containers (a.k.a zones) can coexist with KVM-based VMs on the same kernel. All modern Linux distros have similar capabilities, if not quite as refined. The battle is about management tools - the company that controls the de-facto standard can make a lot of money, see how VMware gave away ESXi, the real revenue is in vCenter, and value-added features like HA and vMotion.

Both public cloud and hypervisor vendors will gain container capabilities. AWS and Microsoft have already made announcements, the others, including VMware, will follow. It seems to me new applications will be designed for, and run directly in containers, whereas heavyweight VMs will be reserved for migrated legacy workloads. Containers do require automation tools like Puppet/Chef/Ansible/Saltstack to be manageable, however, as does the Cloud. Another opportunity to sell to the enterprise.

The efficiency gains from containers are nothing to sneeze at, you can squeeze an order of magnitude or two more containers than VMs on the same hardware, not a mere 10%. For cloud providers, specially PaaS ones, this is compelling. Even for IaaS, thin provisioning is easier to achieve with containers. Linux based container solutions need to reach the levels of maturity of Solaris, specially as concerns security as the recent Docker vulnerability shows. Using a better file system like ZFS (as done by SmartOS or Flocker) is also a big boost, and can provide something close to vMotion in terms of ability to migrate workloads, if not yet online (shutdown required).

Some of the more important gains are in the realm of latency - SSDs give, and VMs take away. At my company, switching from AWS to a containerized private cloud (OpenIndiana) yielded significant improvements in cost (6x), latency (1/3), throughput (3x) and uptime (MTBF went up 30x).

I've already stated my belief VMware style hypervisors will be relegated to a niche of hosting legacy workloads. Nothing wrong with that, and it can be quite lucrative, as shown by IBM. Container vendors won't be able to extract the same profit margins, because they are built on open-source, so the legacy vendors may still end up gobbling up the new entrants. In other words, legacy workloads may represent a small fraction of future volume, but a large portion of value.

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Mozilla remembers 2013. Y'know, back when it still gobbled at the Google money-trough

Fazal Majid

Lots of fat to cut from their budget

Mozilla suffers from a sort of Parkinson's law - make-work expands to fill all available budgets. They have many utterly useless projects like Open Badges (http://openbadges.org/) that could be axed completely with no effect whatsoever on their mission (if anything, getting rid of the distractions should improve the focus on what matters, the browser and the mobile OS).

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'How a censorious and moralistic blogger ruined my evening'

Fazal Majid

Damning Facts

IIRC John Lettice is the Editor of The Register, and his words carry weight.

Emil Michael mentioned specific budget and manpower, in the context of a sleazy PR event, and his previous job was at Klout, the epitome of social-media douchebaggery. This was not an off-the-cuff remark, but a trial balloon for something that has already undergone a feasibility study. His incredibly vague job title (VP of Business? Really?) suggests skulduggery is his real job description and all the flak Uber has been receiving is if anything understated.

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SCREW YOU, net neutrality hippies – AT&T halts gigabit fiber

Fazal Majid

Yeah, right

AT&T's fiber plans are vaporware, and have been for the last 20 years, despite getting a big chunk of the $200Bn that were supposed to support fiber rollouts.

http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/2007/pulpit_20070810_002683.html

Verizon did have the good grace to invest in its infrastructure (FiOS), although it has frozen further rollouts, but AT&T/SBC's corporate culture is to milk its rotting infrastructure for profits and never invest back into it.

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Through the Looking Glass: Vulture pecks at software-defined storage

Fazal Majid

A rose by any other name...

It's fairly straightforward. "Software-defined storage" is a meaningless phrase coined up by storage marketing shills in an attempt to capture the halo effect that currently surrounds "Software Defined Networking" (SDN), which is still going strong in the hype cycle, with its positive associations of cost savings by commoditization.

Storage, like networking, is one of the few areas of the IT industry that has managed to preserve its fat profit margins, but distributed storage architectures like Hadoop from the Web-scale world are putting an end to that, and the high-performance storage is going direct-attached SSD anyways, as the latency of a SAN or NAS array is unacceptably orders of magnitude higher.

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Snapper's decisions: Whatever happened to REAL photography?

Fazal Majid

Re: Many good points - however

A Mamiya 7 or a Fuji 670 are comparable in weight to a premium 35mm SLR.

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Cisco and friends chase WiFi's searing speeds with new cable standard

Fazal Majid

It's not as if WiFi ever gets remotely close to the maximum theoretical bit rate, even with 802.11ac, so saturating Gigabit Ethernet is still a distant pipe dream.

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Apple, Google take on Main Street in BONKING-FOR-CASH struggle

Fazal Majid

Apple could ban the CurrenC app in tit for tat, but they probably won't bother as it looks likely to be stillborn. The Wal-Mart demographic doesn't overlap Apple's too much, but CVS should definitely be concerned at losing market share to Walgreens.

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