Category Archives: Breaking News

Gadgetwise Blog: App Smart Extra: Starry Night

Stars, galaxies, meteors and satellites were the subject of App Smart this week as I tested out astronomy apps to help identify objects in the night sky. These apps typically use your phone or tablet’s sensors to display a view of what you’re pointing your device at in the sky in real time, helping you identify planets and constellations. Here are more apps like this to try out:

Star Walk — 5 Stars Astronomy Guide is a popular iOS app, costing $3. It has the same kind of dynamic star display as other apps in its class, and it’s easy to use. It’s also jam-packed with imagery and data on the 200,000 stars and planets in its database, and has a calendar so you can keep track of interesting celestial events. I particularly like the beautiful imagery it uses to show constellations and detail on the planets.

SkySafari 3 may be useful for more experienced star gazers. It has data on 120,000 stars and 220 star clusters, nebulae and galaxies, as well as detailed information pages written by professional astronomers. The basic version costs $3 on iOS, but there’s a Plus edition for $15 that has data on 2.5 million stars and can control some wired and wireless telescopes. The Pro edition is $40 and has many more stars and features but is aimed at the serious amateur astronomer.

Alternatively, and much more simply, there’s SkEye Astronomy, available as a free Android app. It has a businesslike feel, and is slightly sparing on user interface touches like icons. But it is powerful, and essentially works in much the same way as Star Walk or SkySafari does. There’s a $9 SkEye Pro version that has more stars in its database and can help you spot satellites too. But the free edition is fine for the casual astronomer. The app is not ideal you’re a complete beginner, however, as it lacks the kind of detailed background data on stars and so on that similar apps have.

The benefit to stargazing apps like these is that they also work during the day, or in a city that’s too light-polluted to let you see more than a handful of stars. This means you can turn them on at any time to learn more about astronomy.

Quick call: The Popular instant messaging app WhatsApp has been updated to a new version for Windows Phone 8. It has better support for Windows Live Tile displays and extras like a back-up system.

Google Glass: Much ado about nothing

PC Mag’s ranter-in-chief, John C. Dvorak, calls it bluntly a publicity stunt. “It” being the fact that Sergei Brin stated that smartphones are “emasculating”, which taken out of context would point to the fact that smartphones cause a man to lose his genitalia. Actually, one guesses that what he actually wanted to say is smartphones are making people less effective.

Taken in context, it looks like Google’s co-founder, wants to push Google Glass to the best of his abilities. And he probably has a point. Glasses, either from Google or from other vendors, are always on (both electrically and physically). You always wear them and they’re aware of your environment.

To use your phone, you have to take it out of your pocket or pick it up and these few seconds of delay (or in engineering lingo, latency) are, for a company like Google, lost opportunities. These lost seconds are what convinced Google to come up with Google Instant results for example which almost amounts to mind reading.

And this drive for ruthless efficiency is what has motivated Google to come up with so many other time saving services. Google Chrome, Google Car and even Google Fiber. Google Glass, like so many other projects, can either become something fundamental to the core of the company or yet another one of their products lost along the way.

The most important bit though is Google relentless, unquenchable drive to innovation. At the time of writing, Google has acquired more than 120 companies and launched more than 240 projects (services, hardware, software). Out of these, 70, more than a quarter, have been discontinued or have been scheduled to be canned. Google, it seems therefore, has another hidden motto, “there’s nothing as a bad idea, only a good idea whose time has yet to come”.

And that, regardless of what Mr. Dvorak or anyone else might say.

Linus Torvalds speaks out with a Secure Boot plan

The ongoing “Secure Boot” saga has already caused no end of controversy in the Linux community over the past eighteen months or so, but the vitriol that’s been made apparent so far pales in comparison with that evident in a recent debate on the Linux kernel developer mailing list.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds

It all started last Thursday, when Red Hat developer David Howells submitted a request for changes to be made to Linux kernel 3.9 to extend Linux support for Secure Boot.

“Guys, this is not a d**k-sucking contest,” was the response from Linux creator Linus Torvalds. “If Red Hat wants to deep-throat Microsoft, that’s *your* issue. That has nothing what-so-ever to do with the kernel I maintain.”

‘Stop the fear mongering’

Fedora’s solution to the Secure Boot problem—by which technology enabled in the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on Windows 8 hardware requires an appropriate digital signature before an operating system is allowed to boot—has been to get its first stage boot loader, or “shim,” signed with a Microsoft key.

Though it did receive a nod of at least partial support from the Free Software Foundation, that solution has been controversial.

It was when it came to including modifications in the kernel itself, however, that Torvalds drew the line.

Responding to Red Hat developer Michael Garrett’s suggestion that Microsoft could otherwise choose to “blacklist” a distribution’s bootloader, leaving the user unable to boot Linux, Torvalds wrote, “Stop the fear mongering already.

“Instead of pleasing Microsoft, try to see how we can add real security,” he added.

‘Let the user be in control’

Torvalds’ own plan calls for Linux distributions to sign their own modules by default, but nothing else.

Users should be asked for permission, meanwhile, before any third-party module is loaded, he wrote. “Not using keys,” he added. “Nothing like that. Keys will be compromised. Try to limit the damage, but more importantly, let the user be in control.”

Per-host random keys should be encouraged, Torvalds advised, even with the “stupid” UEFI checks disabled entirely if required. “They are almost certainly going to be *more* secure than depending on some crazy root of trust based on a big company, with key signing authorities that trust anybody with a credit card.”

‘It shouldn’t be about MS’

UEFI, in fact, is more about control than it is security, he added.

All in all, “it really shouldn’t be about MS blessings, it should be about the *user* blessing kernel modules,” Torvalds concluded.

There’s been plenty more discussion since Torvalds outlined his view, of course, including his own, more detailed implementation plan later that same day.

The bottom line, however, is that as long as Torvalds is in charge, accommodation for Secure Boot won’t be found in the heart of Linux itself.