The Sizzle

Issue 6 - Monday 11th October, 2015 - Assault, Assault! You Touched Me Officer, Sorry.

Over the weekend I fiddled with the CSS and tried to improve the legibility of this email. Should be easier to read now that text is more spaced out and the paragraphs should wrap properly on bigger screens. I also added a summary of the topics mentioned in this email, so right at the start you can see if there's anything in it that interests you. Thanks to everyone who suggested this stuff - it makes The Sizzle better for everyone. As always, just reply back if you want to chat, even if it's about something tech related you have a question about, I'm always happy to assist readers. If it's intersting I may even mention it in the next issue.

Some of the very first subscribers to The Sizzle are starting to come out of their free trials and 25 people have decided to pay me $5/month - thank you awesome people! It'd be cool if you shared a link to The Sizzle around to your friends to let them know it exists. Tell them you like it and that they might like it too. That would help heaps!

In "stupid shit our government does" news, tomorrow is the start of mandatory data retention in Australia. Leanne O'Donnell has a brief overview of what it is and why it's so dumb, as does this piece from March on Crikey. Despite the months passed since the law was approve, it's still unclear what data will be kept and who will pay for this new surveillance apparatus. The ISPs aren't allowed to say what they're doing either, so there's very little accountability. Due to the fact this plan has been so ill-conceived and poorly funded, I'm counting down the days until an ISP is hacked and all their customer's browsing history is leaked, matched up to Facebook profiles and used as blackmail bait in return for Bitcoins. Of course, circumventing data retention is pretty easy - use a VPN. I wrote a thing about what's involved with using a VPN up on Reckoner yesterday. If you're hunting around for a VPN service, there's a sub-reddit with a bunch of coupons that'll save you some cash.

In "stupid shit other governments do" news, the USA has been trying legally force tech companies to implement backdoors in encryption software used in various products. For example, Apple would be forced to include a backdoor in the iPhone so police can unlock a locked iPhone without brutally bashing the suspect. The problem with adding a backdoor for the government is that inevitably, someone who isn't the government will find that backdoor and then we are all screwed. Of course, the tech companies told the Whitehouse to piss off and Obama has piped down about wanting this capability. I'm kinda surprised the government backed down so easily, maybe they have this ability already and aren't saying so. Put on your tin foil hats people!

And to complete the trilogy, "stupid shit a bunch of governments are agreeing to" - Wikileaks got their hands on the latest version the TPP and people who can decipher legalese have given the copyright and Internet related chapter a going over. Most of the issues centre around digital media piracy and getting all the countries to agree to awful laws like making an ISP liable for what people download, expanding copyright protection to 70 years and a ban on getting around DRM like ripping DVDs or de-scrambling encrypted satellite TV signals. There's nothing new here in terms of what greedy rights owners have wanted for a long time and what the Australian government already wants to do. But having it enshrined in this trade agreement and rolled out to dozens of countries solidifies the idea that this sort of heavy handed enforcement of copyright is okay. The EFF have a more detailed look at this section of the TPP and no doubt more will be exposed as more people read and digest the TPP as it progresses through variou government approvals.

Kogan has been caught selling Android smartphones laden with adware. Some Aussie bloke called Dev has written up his shocking experience in buying a OnePlus 2 phone via Kogan's grey importing, pre-loaded with malware. It arrived to him with shit-apps like Magic Photo, DC Share, KK Browser and Clean Master, pre-installed on his phone - which certainly aren't part of the stock OnePlus 2 version of Android. He did some more digging on Reddit and found that this is actually pretty common with phones sold out of China. They're opened up, loaded with a custom junk ROM with adware that benefits some shady group of people, re-packaged to look like new and shipped around the world. Dude contacted Kogan, Kogan had no idea what he was talking about and didn't seem to care. Whilst Kogan didn't put the junk on the phone, they really should be taking more care to inspect what they're selling. I imagine a lot of people wouldn't have picked up on this and just used their new phone merrily, whilst their personal info is hijacked and sold off and used for who knows what.

The taxi companies just can't catch a break, can they? First Uber comes along, ruins their business model and craps all over them in terms of service. Now the ACCC says they can't have their own app because it's anti-competitive. iHail is an app by Yellow Cabs, Silver Top Taxi Service, Black and White Cabs, Suburban Taxis and Cabcharge to enable you to book their world class cabs instead of those filthy rape-mobiles from Uber. Works pretty much like Uber, but you can book in advance and even offer a tip up front to encourage drivers to pick you up. The ACCC reckons that would concentrate too much market share into one app and be detrimental to customers. Still don't feel sorry for Cabcharge though, smug bastards are reaping what they sowed.

Cool Stuff
Disk I/O is the main bottleneck in most computers. CPUs are plenty fast for most activities. Discrete GPUs are really only for gaming or professional use now. RAM is cheap. Disks though, ugh. Disks are slow. It's been a while but finally consumer level NVMe PCIe SSDs are a thing. In the past there's been PCIe based SSDs but they utilised the AHCI interface and while bandwidth was increased, latency ended up being an issue due to the way AHCI accessed data. NVMe is designed from the ground up for SSDs and the latency improvement is significant. Check out this article from Anandtech as to why NVMe is such an improvement. The reason I mention this is because the Samsung 950 Pro SSD which has 2500MB/sec sequential read speeds and 1500MB/sec writes is finally hitting stores in Australia and motherboards with the new Intel Skylake chipsets are out too, which are the first to have the ability to take advantage of NVMe, PCIe and M.2 drives natively. I can't wait to see some benchmarks with this setup. I like fast disk IO so much, I'm tempted to ditch the Mac and set up a Windows 10 box with a couple of big monitors...

I forgot to mention this last week when it was first announced, but forgetting was worth it as it gave time for Stu Maschwitz to give his quite informed 2 cents on the Light L16 camera. It's a camera the size of an iPhone, with 16 sensors and 16 lenses all at different focal lengths. Why are they doing that? Well instead of taking a photo at a single focal length with one sensor, it takes 16 photos, with its 16 lenses at different focal lengths and 16 sensors that it can then merge into a single giant, high dynamic, noise reduced photo. A DSLR quality camera you can slip into your pocket. Storage is plentiful now, mobile CPUs are fast and small sensors are cheaper to make than big ones. It's an ingenious idea but of course, so was the Lytro and that didn't exactly set the world on fire. Will cost US$1699 (that's around AUD$2599!) and is supposed to be out some time in June-August 2016. A long wait to get some hands on use with this very interesting camera.

My Dad has a Medtronic Maximo II implantable cardioverter defibrillator in his chest (here's the clinical user's guide for it - fascinating read). When he got it installed a few years ago, I was with him when the doctor lugged an industrial looking laptop running what looked like DOS on it and waved a wand over the ICD in his chest. It paired up with the ICD and started to wirelessly download a bunch of stats about what's been doing in the past few days since it was turned on. Being the nerd I am, this was awesome to see - my Dad is literally download stats on his health to a computer from a device implanted inside him. The doctor even showed me the menu for manually operating the ICD - giving my Dad a shock to his heart (used during operations mainly) and immediately I thought "holy shit, what's to stop someone wirelessly connecting to someone else's ICD and killing them?". I never told my Dad this as it would freak him the fuck out, but I've always had it in the back of my mind whenever we talk about how his ICD is going. Marie Moe, a tech security researcher got an ICD installed and she thought the exact same thing. Marie's giving a talk about her experience at a conference soon and I hope they make a video of it available. I'll make sure my Dad doesn't see it.

Here endeth the sizzle (until tomorrow!)

The Sizzle is curated by Anthony "@decryption" Agius and emailed every weekday afternoon. If you liked it, tell your mates and egg 'em on to subscribe too.