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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

As a fan of HyperCard, I am intrigued by the story Bill Atkinson tells about the origins of the product.

HyperCard was a precurser to the first web browser, except chained to a hard drive before the worldwide web. Six years later Mosaic was introduced, influenced by some of the ideas in HyperCard, and indirectly by an inspiring LSD experience.

Yes, you have read that correctly: Bill Atkinson says he was under the influence of LSD when he thought of the need of links between pieces of information as a tool to create better knowledge and wisdom.

What is ‘hypertext’?

On one hand, it’s strange that he needed an ‘acid trip’ to think of hyperlinks, because he could have read the work of Vannevar Bush, or talked to people like Ted Nelson or Douglas Engelbart who were already working on the concept for decades. But on the other hand, of course, the internet – which would have allowed him to discover those people – did not yet exist…

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One of the (many) computers in my home is a venerable Apple Macintosh SE/30. No, it’s not a Mac, it’s a Macintosh; if want to call him by name, you have to use “SeseSeko”. I haven’t booted that machine in many years, so I don’t know if I would fare better than Stephen Wolfram a few days ago…

Mr. Wolfram wanted to use an SE/30 to demonstrate the first version of Mathematica. That version 1 was published on June 23, 1988, exactly 30 years ago. As Mr. Wolfram notes, it’s quite unusual for software packages to live that long (especially in the personal computer space, of course). So he has a good reason to celebrate this anniversary – congratulations!

(Click on the image to go to Stephen Wolfram’s blog entry about this anniversary)

Wolfram speaks of “computational intelligence”, and I think he does so to distinguish his approach from “artificial intelligence”. Mathematica isn’t called that just for fun: it’s a product for computation in the widest sense of term. I know that I have long wanted to “play” with it, but I must admit that I either did not have the money to buy a computer powerful enough to run it (when I was a student and a young father), nor did I have much time to dedicate to a single program – I have been busy with computers and programming for forty years now, but always in al exploratory way, and never really dedicated to a single item…

Anyway, where is Mathematica going? Does it still have a future? Absolutely, says Stephen Wolfram. In his view, the story of Mathematica and the Wolfram language is only just beginning!

If one looks at the history of computing, it’s in many ways a story of successive layers of capability being added, and becoming ubiquitous. First came the early languages. Then operating systems. Later, around the time Mathematica came on the scene, user interfaces began to become ubiquitous. A little later came networking and then large-scale interconnected systems like the web and the cloud.

But now what the Wolfram Language provides is a new layer: a layer of computational intelligence — that makes it possible to take for granted a high level of built-in knowledge about computation and about the world, and an ability to automate its application.

And of course, now I’m starting to wonder – will SeseSeko still boot just like it did eight or nine years ago, when I even managed to connect it to the Internet and run a very old version of Netscape on it?

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It cannot be repeated enough: “There is No Middle Ground on Encryption” says the EFF. Specifically: the so-called “backdoors” requested by government can only weaken the encryption used, basically rendering it vulnerable to malicious attacks. The legal arguments put forward by the EFF are, of course, specific to the USA, but similar cases can certainly be built in many other countries. And the other arguments only fail to convince those who don’t know what they’re talking about… So let’s spread the word: no backdoors!

Source: Shutterstock

Also interesting is the fact that the general conclusion from a 1996 (!) study (also quoted by the EFF) still remains pretty valid:

It is true that the spread of encryption technologies will add to the burden of those in government who are charged with carrying out certain law enforcement and intelligence activities. But the many benefits to society of widespread commercial and private use of cryptography outweigh the disadvantages.

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It’s all over the Internet: the Telegram messaging application will be banned in Russia. Censorship is never good news, so why am I happy about the news?

It’s simple: if even the russian secret services/hackers can’t break the Telegram encryption, then their protocol and encryption must be very good! That’s good news for Telegram users and privacy lovers all over the world (except Russia, of course). And that makes me a happy user of Telegram.

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Just to make the update history complete: my Samsung Galaxy S7 has been updated yesterday with the February 2018 Security Patch. The current version is now called NRD90M.G930FXXU2DRB6. There’s still no sign of a real Android update to version 7.1 or 8.0…

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From time to time, I spend some time (sometimes way too much) to check out the applications I’m using. Certainly on mobile devices the available options for a given function can change quickly, and it’s always useful to see if you’re missing out on something a newer application has to offer.

My most important app on any platform is, of course, a password manager. I have already spoken out in favour of the KeePass family of tools. Currently on the iPad Mini I’m using MiniKeePass, which is not very sexy to look at (or to use). But the app can read your database when stored in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.), and the source code is available on Github – so we are reasonably certain that the app does what it is supposed to do, nothing less and certainly nothing more.

The MiniKeePass settings screen

My search for ‘Keepass‘ on the App Store turned up another candidate: KeePass Touch. Glancing over the specs made me want to try it out. Indeed, the “Touch” part of the name indicates that you can unlock access to the passwords by using Touch ID, and I must admit that I have grown fond of that functionality on multiple mobile devices.

However, a bit of study stopped me from switching from MiniKeePass. Here’s why:

  • KeePass Touch displays ads, that can only be avoided by paying.
  • KeePass Touch claims to be “Open Source”, but I’m guessing the quotes are there for a reason: I wasn’t able to find the source code of this app, nor did I even find any website for the company that publishes the app.
  • As I found out by comparing both apps, MiniKeePass can also be unlocked by Touch ID. That’s perfect for use on my new iPad Pro ;-)

I’m very suspicious of KeePass Touch, since there are no guarantees that your passwords are safe from the eyes of its developers.

I would be very happy if someone made MiniKeePass read and write its files directly from/to Dropbox, Google Drive or a similar cloud service. But even without that I will continue to use MiniKeePass – if only to prove that real Open Source is important to me.

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Yes, Samsung distributed another update for my Samsung Galaxy S7. No, it wasn’t an update to Android 7.1, and certainly not Android 8. Just security patches, I suppose – but no word on which holes were effectively taken care of. I hope that the famous KRACK attack vector of November 2017 is taken care of; I’m not betting on any resolution, partial or complete, for Spectre and Meltdown. I guess we’ll just have to be happy with the fact that security patches do come through, no?

Build G930FXXU1DRA3 for SGS7 looks like this ;-)

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