Episode 568 – Aussie Tech Heads Shownotes

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Apple’s $499 smart home speaker gets Australian launch date

Apple has jumped into the voice speaker wars with the HomePod smart speaker, a device that will use its Siri voice assistant and compete against offerings from Amazon and Google.

Apple said on Tuesday it will start taking online orders for its HomePod smart speaker on Saturday in Australia, as well as the United States and United Kingdom just over a month later than initially planned.

The $499 voice-controlled speaker, introduced in June and originally scheduled for a December release, can make music suggestions and adjust home temperatures. The speaker also will be able to send messages and play news updates.

Apple is working to keep its Siri voice assistant relevant in the face of competition from Amazon’s Alexa and Alphabet’s Google Assistant, both of which are featured on smart speakers from those companies.

Apple also is counting on HomePod to boost subscriptions to Apple Music and block the rise of rival Spotify. The smart speakers from Google and Amazon let users give voice commands to play Spotify but Apple Music does not work on the rival devices.

Trip Miller, managing partner at Gullane Capital and an Apple investor, said he’s concerned that Apple has focussed the HomePod too narrowly on playing music with high quality sound. Rivals speakers like the Amazon Echo can be used for a wider variety of tasks, like ordering a pizza or summoning a car from ride-hailing services.

“I wonder if they’re pigeonholing themselves a bit with this product, when a much broader offering has been proven by competitors to be pretty darn attractive,” Miller said.

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JB Hi-Fi joins Wesfarmers, Woolworths on global list of world’s biggest retailers

JB Hi-Fi has been named as one of the biggest retailers in the world as part of Deloitte’s Global Powers of Retailing 2018 report

debut on the international list at 218th place with revenues of $5.3 billion in the 2017 financial year and net income of $162 million.

The only other two Australian companies to make the list were Woolworths, coming in at 23rd place with $50.8 billion, and Coles and Bunnings owner Wesfarmers which ranked 21 on the list with revenue of $59.5 billion.

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Linux creator Linus Torvalds slams “garbage” Intel Meltdown patches

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel has slammed Intel’s Meltdown and Spectre bug fixes as “complete and utter garbage”.

Torvalds argued that an Intel update, which addresses a feature known as indirect branch restricted speculation (IBRS) is a poor implementation of a Meltdown fix that would have users “turn on” the fix during boot.

According to Techcrunch, Torvalds suspects the IBRS workaround is too slow and inefficient to be rolled out universally, and Intel hence made the Meltdown fix optional as well as adding in “garbage” additional features.

“The whole IBRS_ALL feature to me very clearly says ‘Intel is not serious about this, we’ll have a [SIC] ugly hack that will be so expensive that we don’t want to enable it by default, because that would look bad in benchmarks,” he wrote.

“The patches do things like add the garbage MSR writes to the kernel entry/exit points. That’s insane. That says ‘we’re trying to protect the kernel’. We already have retpoline there, with less overhead.”

Torvalds later added: “As it is, the patches are COMPLETE AND UTTER GARBAGE”.

Intel tells customers to stop using faulty Meltdown patches

The company said on Monday that it wanted computer manufacturers and data centre owners to stop using the current fixes for the so-called Meltdown and Spectre security flaws

The patches, which the company spent months crafting, cause computers to reboot more often than normal.

Instead, Intel asked customers to start testing an updated version of its patches that it began sending out on Saturday and Sunday. Intel also said it had identified the root cause of the reboot problem in its older Broadwell and Haswell processors.

Apple will let you disable battery slowdowns in iOS update

Apple has now pledged to go a step further still. If you don’t like the way your iPhone battery is slowing your phone down, you’ll soon be able to disable the feature altogether. But it’s not recommended – the feature is there for a reason, and that reason is to prevent you having a battery that constantly down tools for a breather.

Cook told the news network that the update will roll out in a developer release next month before extending to the public at large. “We’re going to give people the visibility of the health of their battery so it’s very, very transparent,” he said. “This hasn’t been done before.”

The company’s calculation is clearly that the impression of keeping the throttling secret was worse than the throttling itself – and it’s hard to argue with their working. When people see how annoying it is to have an unreliable device, they’ll likely re-enable the feature – but at least they’ll have been consulted this time around.

Hackers are faking Meltdown and Spectre patches

hackers have been working on fake patches, riddled with malware and distributed via dubious websites claiming to be supported by security authorities.

This malware, known as Smoke Loader, looks to be an official patch but will actually let malware loose on your computer, posing potentially a greater threat than the original Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities.

The malware-infested patch was discovered by security firm MalwareBytes,

The download is called Intel-AMD-SecurityPatch-10-1-v1.exe – a filename that looks pretty legitimate, but when users install it onto their computer, they’ll find it’s actually laced with the Smoke Loader malware, causing the computer to connect to domains, sending encrypted information to them via additional payloads.

Kogan debuts $400 Atlas 13-inch C300 convertible laptop

The Kogan Atlas 13-inch C300 notebook converts into a tablet with a 360-degree rotating hinge. It’s fitted with a 13.3-inch display with a 1920×1080 resolution and comes with Windows 10 Home installed.

The specifications are similar to the $349 Atlas UltraSlim X300 notebook that Kogan debuted in November. It’s powered by an Intel Celeron N3450 quad-core processor, 4GB of ram and a 64GB hard drive, with an SSD expansion slot supporting up to 512GB of extra storage.

The Atlas 13-inch C300 is available exclusively at Kogan’s online store and begins shipping on 25 January..

Grumpy Cat wins $710,000 payout in copyright lawsuit

 

Grumpy Cat Limited sued the owners of US coffee company Grenade for exceeding an agreement over the cat’s image.

The company only had rights to use the cat to sell its “Grumppuccino” iced drink, but sold other Grumpy products.

The cat, real name Tardar Sauce, went viral in 2012 after photographs of her sour expression emerged online.

Originally posted on the social website Reddit by the brother of the cat’s owner, Tabatha Bundesen, the image of the cat quickly spread as a meme with funny text captions.

In 2013 Grenade Beverage, owned by father and son Nick and Paul Sandford, struck a $150,000 deal to market iced coffee beverages with the cat’s scowl on its packaging.

 

in 2015 Grumpy Cat Limited sued them for breaching that contract.

A court filing claimed they had exceeded the deal by selling roasted coffee and Grumppucino T-shirts, which Grumpy Cat said “blatantly infringed” their copyrights and trademarks.

The coffee chain’s owners countersued on the grounds that the cat and its owners had not held up their side of the deal.

A lawyer for Grenade said Grumpy Cat had failed to mention its brand enough on social media and in a television appearance, according to court reports.

 

Aussie TAFEs to offer cyber security certifications

Australia’s TAFEs have partnered to offer national qualifications in cyber security from this year.

The certificate and diploma-level qualifications were developed in partnership with industry and will provide students with “hands on skills needed for Australia’s cyber security workforce”.

The Certificate IV in Cyber Security 22334VIC and Advanced Diploma of Cyber Security 22445VIC courses can be undertaken on a full-time or part-time basis, the latter to allow employers to upskill their ICT workforce or bring on apprentices.

The courses will be available at Box Hill Institute, Canberra Institute of Technology (ACT), and TAFEs across NSW, Qld, WA, and SA from this year.

The organisation has estimated that at least an additional 11,000 technical cyber security specialists will be needed to meet demand by Australian organisations over the next decad

Many of Australia’s universities offer their own cyber security degrees.

 

 

 

https://hardware.slashdot.org/story/18/01/22/2251213/trump-administration-approves-tariffs-of-30-percent-on-imported-solar-panels

The Trump administration just approved tariffs of 30% on imported solar panels. Axios explains why it matters: “Most of the American solar industry has opposed tariffs on panels, saying they would raise prices and hurt the sector. A small group of solar panel manufacturers argued — successfully — that an influx of cheap imports, largely from China or Chinese-owned companies, was hurting domestic manufacturing. It’s also part of President Trump’s broader trade agenda against China.” From the report:The tariffs would last for four years and decline in increments of 5% from 30%: 25%, 20% and finally 15% in the fourth year. The tariffs are lower than the 35% the U.S. International Trade Commission had initially recommended last year, per Bloomberg. This is actually the third, and broadest, set of tariffs the U.S. government has issued on solar imports in recent years. The Obama administration issued two earlier rounds of tariffs on a narrower set of imports. Monday’s action also imposed import tariffs on washing machines, a much lower profile issue than solar energy.

https://tech.slashdot.org/story/18/01/23/150206/firefox-58-gets-graphics-speed-boost-web-app-abilities

Mozilla released on Tuesday a new version of its Firefox Quantum browser, boosting its graphics speed and improving a couple of new technologies designed to make the web more powerful. From a report:The browser, version 58, is the first major update since Mozilla’s recovery plan hit full stride in November with the debut of Firefox Quantum. Speed is of the essence in Mozilla’s recovery plan, and Firefox 58 does better than its predecessor in some graphics tasks by splitting work better across the multiple processor cores that computer chips have these days. The result should be scrolling that’s smooth, uninterrupted by the stuttering that in computing circles goes by the disparaging term “jank.” […] Firefox 58 helps with two new web technologies. One, called WebAssembly, provides for dramatically faster web apps. Firefox 58 can get WebAssembly software running faster so you don’t have to twiddle your thumbs waiting as long after clicking a link. Another is progressive web apps (PWAs), an initiative that came out of Google to help make the web a better match for the apps we all drop on our phones.

https://yro.slashdot.org/story/18/01/24/2152242/kim-dotcom-sues-new-zealand-for-68-billion-in-damages-over-erroneous-arrest

Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the U.S. to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Mr Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. He is seeking damages for destruction to his business and loss of reputation. Accountants calculate that the Megaupload group of companies would be worth $10 billion today, had it not been shut down during the raid. As he was a 68% shareholder in the business, Mr Dotcom has asked for damages going up to $6.8 billion. He is also considering taking similar action against the Hong Kong government. As stated in documents filed with the High Court, Mr Dotcom is also seeking damages for: all lost business opportunities since 2012, his legal costs, loss of investments he made to the mansion he was renting, his lost opportunity to purchase the mansion, and loss of reputation.

https://tech.slashdot.org/story/18/01/24/2139204/new-york-governor-signs-executive-order-to-keep-net-neutrality-rules-after-fccs-repeal

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that he has signed an executive order that would require internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality rules, even though the FCC recently voted to repeal those rules last month. Cuomo’s announcement comes a couple days after Montana’s governor signed essentially the same order. The Verge reports:[Both executive orders] require service providers with contracts to abide by the widely agreed upon tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, throttling, or otherwise favoring content. But the more populous New York could now become a key battleground over net neutrality. According to the order, any service provider receiving or renewing a contract after March 1st in New York will be required to sign an agreement saying they will adhere to net neutrality principles. Major companies, including Verizon and AT&T, have signed contracts with the state. That, however, doesn’t mean the executive order will stand. When it passed its repeal of net neutrality rules late last year, the FCC specifically included a provision blocking states from passing their own rules. New York, like other states that attempt similar plans, will likely face a legal challenge.