All Those Eggs In Amazon's Cloudy Basket

Cloud services are great - except when they're not. Putting data and services in "the cloud" can save money and so on, but the old proverb warning against putting all ones eggs in one basket came to mind as Amazon's AWS S3 services took a nap for a while today. 

It pulled a lot of sites and services out of commission for a few hours - including some IoT devices like "smart" light bulbs and the like.
Amazon S3 is used by around 148,213 websites, and 121,761 unique domains, according to data tracked by SimilarTech, and its popularity as a content host concentrates specifically in the U.S. It’s used by 0.8 percent of the top 1 million websites, which is actually quite a bit smaller than CloudFlare, which is used by 6.2 percent of the top 1 million websites globally – and yet it’s still having this much of an effect.
Tech Crunch


A Look At The 2017 Visual Effects Oscars

I confess I have not actually seen an "Oscars" TV broadcast for 5 or 6 years - more truthfully, I have actively avoided them. As a show that features supposedly the best actors and other talents, it often comes off looking like a high-dollar version of SNL, with everyone desperately trying to squint at their teleprompter. 

This year I expect it to be particulary tiresome, as everyone's favorite target du jour, President Trump, will no doubt be ridiculed and demonized at every opportunity. Ummm, no thanks. If I want to see that, I only have to watch the cable news or late night TV.

My griping aside, the Oscar nominees for "Best Visual Effects" show us how far (and prevalent) visual effects have become in a lot of movies - for good or ill. 

Digital Trends has a look at the nominees with clips and other tidbits.

Linux Kernel 4.10 Sees The Light Of Day

The Linux kernel keeps marching on, and it never fails to amaze and impress me how so many individuals keep contributing time and brainpower for usually no financial reward. 

Kernel 4.10 was just released last week, with fixes and improvements in several areas. This was not as big a release as 4.9, it we still get a bunch of tweaks and improvements.
Summary: This release adds support for virtualized GPUs, a new 'perf c2c' tool for cacheline contention analysis in NUMA systems, a new 'perf sched timehist' command for a detailed history of task scheduling, improved writeback management that should make the system more responsive under heavy writing load, a new hybrid block polling method that uses less CPU than pure polling, support for ARM devices such as the Nexus 5 & 6 or Allwinner A64, a feature that allows to attach eBPF programs to cgroups, an experimental MD RAID5 writeback cache, support for Intel Cache Allocation Technology, and many other improvements and new drivers.
I don't know what half of that means, but it sounds good - and Linus Torvalds sounded happy, so there.
The full change log is available here.


Why Linux Works For Me

I work in IT and I use Linux at home on my laptop (currently Xubuntu 16.04), and have done so now for several years. I am not a programmer, or a sysadmin (I wish!) and I am not even super geeky, so why would I use Linux out of choice?

It's not that I have a deep commitment to the Open Source concept, although I do admire it, and it's not even that I think Linux as a whole is necessarily  "better" than macOS or Windows - so what is it, specifically, that keeps bringing me back to Linux on my several-year-old laptop?

Alphabet's Balloon Tech May Yet Deliver The Internet

Alphabet - the parent company to Google - is pressing on with their anachronistic-sounding project to bring Internet connectivity to remote areas of the world - via balloons.

A somewhat similar project using drones has been put aside, but the balloon approach (named Project Loon) is apparently now closer to being a commercial product, following some recent technical progress in actually controlling the swarms of balloons.
The idea was to encircle the globe with a ring of stratospheric balloons and to control their flight in such a manner as to ensure that enough balloons would always be over a particular location to deliver consistent Internet connectivity.
In order to do this, engineers at X have over the years developed and refined algorithms that allow balloons to navigate to where they need to be by constantly inflating and deflating so as to take advantage of wind directions and speed.


Toshiba Teetering

Japan-based multinational company (and household name) Toshiba may have to file for bankruptcy, following an unaudited $6.3 billion loss over subsidiary Westinghouse Electric. The Toshiba chairman is also stepping down because of the financial problems.
Toshiba has already confirmed it will halt expansion of its US nuclear business, but will reportedly complete its two reactors that are currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina. The company has also put a halt on its nuclear expansion plans in other countries including the UK. It is unclear how this announcement will affect the sale of the minority stake in Toshiba’s memory business.


Another Flying Car Story

We all know what we want our flying cars to look like; either like Doc Brown's DeLorean or like Rick Deckard's flying cop car from Blade Runner. Simply, we want a cool car that also can fly (or at least that's my little fantasy).

The main fly in the ointment is that those portrayals use conveniently unspecified methods of propulsion (kinda like Tony Stark's repulsor technology) - there are no props or jet engines being used in these Sci-Fi vehicles - just some mysterious, compact, powerful (and rather quiet) source of lift and propulsion.

Consequently, most of our current meager crop of "flying cars" are weird combinations of small aircraft that in a pinch could be driven on public roads from airfield to airfield. Meh.

The latest effort from the city of Dubai in the UAE does not even pretend to be a road vehicle, even though this article keeps referring to it as a car. It's actually a small enclosed quadcopter (ok, maybe an octocopter) proposed by Dubai's Road and Transportation Authority, and is actually a thing that is expected to be used on one of the (apparently very congested) commuter routes around that city.

Even in the extravagant world of Dubai, it's hard to imagine more than a handful of these little bugs flying around on a regular basis, but you never know.


Kodi Box Raids In The UK

UK authorities continue to aggressively crack down on media piracy of various kinds, and the latest examples were several raids on people selling "loaded" Kodi boxes. 

Kodi itself is an open source media center software app that is not designed to be illegal, but it can be combined with 3rd party add-ons that can allow users to view sketchy streaming or other content.

In a way, Kodi is in a somewhat similar position to Bittorrent technology - a legitimate piece of software that can be used for marginally legal or sometimes illegal purposes.

The hardware being sold - set top boxes and TV sticks - were loaded with Kodi and the types of add-ons mentioned above, and so caught the attention of authorities.



Zorin 12 Core - Looks Aren't Everything

I jump around Linux desktop distros pretty regularly, and recently I gave the new look Zorin OS 12 64-bit a try. I have used Zorin before - versions 7, 9 and 10 if I recall - and was curious about 12, as the Zorin team have redesigned the user interface for this version.

For a more substantial nuts and bolts review you can see here or here. This is my general impression as both a previous Zorin user and as a distro hopper of some 4 or 5 years.

looks nice (click to enlarge)


My Chromebook Puzzle

Chromebooks are a bit of a puzzle for me. While I am not looking to purchase one in the near future, I have really mixed feelings about the concept. They can be inexpensive, I don't mind a lightweight operating system, and I already use a virtual drive system in pCloud, a service that relies to a great extent on having an Internet connection.

I also have a couple of Android devices, and so the concept of "apps" does not bother me. The only real reservations I have are a) can the web app environment cover my admittedly modest computing needs (probably "yes"), and b) I don't like the idea of having to use my Google account to login and have the big G looking over my shoulder at everything I do.

Of course I realize I am using my Google account when I use Android, but my Android devices are casually used; they are not my "main computer". It's one reason that I use Linux and Windows 7 on the PCs at my home - and you have to take extra steps to avoid using a Microsoft account with Windows 10.

It's not that I am doing anything "bad", and I know I am still being tracked and profiled in other ways as I surf along, I just don't feel inclined to make it laughably easy to sign away what little privacy I have left (to anyone).  

A cheap, lightweight and low-power portable device with a laptop-size display is great, but that other cost might be a bit too step for me.