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June 16, 2019
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AWS cuts in half the price of most of its Lightsail virtual private servers

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AWS Lightsail, which launched in 2016, is Amazon’s answer to the rise of Digital Ocean, OVH and other affordable virtual private server (VPS) players. Lightsail started as a pretty basic service, but over the course of the last two years, AWS added features like block storage, Windows support and additional regions.

Today, the company announced it is launching two new instance sizes and cutting in half the price of most Linux-based Lightsail instances. Windows instances are also getting cheaper, though the price cut there is closer to 30 percent for most instances.

The only Linux instance that isn’t getting a full 50 percent cut is the $5/month 512 MB instance, which will now cost $3.50. That’s not too bad, either. Depending on your needs, 512 MB can be enough to run a few projects, so if you don’t need a full 1 GB, you can save a few dollars by going with Lightsail over Digital Ocean’s smallest $5/month 1 GB instance. Indeed, it’s probably no surprise that Lightsail’s 1 GB instance now also costs $5/month.

All instance types come with attached SSD storage, SSH access, a static IP address and all of the other features you’d expect from a VPS hosting service.

As usual, Windows instances cost a bit more (those Windows licenses aren’t free, after all) and now start at $8 per month for a 512 MB instances. The more usable 1 GB instance will set you back $12 per month.

As for the new instance sizes, the new 16 GB instance will feature 4 vCPUs, 320 GB of storage and a generous 6 TB of data transfer. The 32 GB instance doubles the vCPU and storage numbers and offers 7 TB of data transfer.

 

Tall Poppy aims to make online harassment protection an employee benefit

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For the nearly 20 percent of Americans who experience severe online harassment, there’s a new company launching in the latest batch of Y Combinator called Tall Poppy that’s giving them the tools to fight back.

Co-founded by Leigh Honeywell and Logan Dean, Tall Poppy grew out of the work that Honeywell, a security specialist, had been doing to hunt down trolls in online communities since at least 2008.

That was the year that Honeywell first went after a particularly noxious specimen who spent his time sending death threats to women in various Linux communities. Honeywell cooperated with law enforcement to try and track down the troll and eventually pushed the commenter into hiding after he was visited by investigators.

That early success led Honeywell to assume a not-so-secret identity as a security expert by day for companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Slack, and a defender against online harassment when she wasn’t at work.

“It was an accidental thing that I got into this work,” says Honeywell. “It’s sort of an occupational hazard of being an internet feminist.”

Honeywell started working one-on-one with victims of online harassment that would be referred to her directly.

“As people were coming forward with #metoo… I was working with a number of high profile folks to essentially batten down the hatches,” says Honeywell. “It’s been satisfying work helping people get back a sense of safety when they feel like they have lost it.”

As those referrals began to climb (eventually numbering in the low hundreds of cases), Honeywell began to think about ways to systematize her approach so it could reach the widest number of people possible.

“The reason we’re doing it that way is to help scale up,” says Honeywell. “As with everything in computer security it’s an arms race… As you learn to combat abuse the abusive people adopt technologies and learn new tactics and ways to get around it.”

Primarily, Tall Poppy will provide an educational toolkit to help people lock down their own presence and do incident response properly, says Honeywell. The company will work with customers to gain an understanding of how to protect themselves, but also to be aware of the laws in each state that they can use to protect themselves and punish their attackers.

The scope of the problem

Based on research conducted by the Pew Foundation, there are millions of people in the U.S. alone, who could benefit from the type of service that Tall Poppy aims to provide.

According to a 2017 study, “nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.”

The women and minorities that bear the brunt of these assaults (and, let’s be clear, it is primarily women and minorities who bear the brunt of these assaults), face very real consequences from these virtual assaults.

Take the case of the New York principal who lost her job when an ex-boyfriend sent stolen photographs of her to the New York Post and her boss. In a powerful piece for Jezebel she wrote about the consequences of her harassment.

As a result, city investigators escorted me out of my school pending an investigation. The subsequent investigation quickly showed that I was set up by my abuser. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration demoted me from principal to teacher, slashed my pay in half, and sent me to a rubber room, the DOE’s notorious reassignment centers where hundreds of unwanted employees languish until they are fired or forgotten.

In 2016, I took a yearlong medical leave from the DOE to treat extreme post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Since the leave was almost entirely unpaid, I took loans against my pension to get by. I ran out of money in early 2017 and reported back to the department, where I was quickly sent to an administrative trial. There the city tried to terminate me. I was charged with eight counts of misconduct despite the conclusion by all parties that my ex-partner uploaded the photos to the computer and that there was no evidence to back up his salacious story. I was accused of bringing “widespread negative publicity, ridicule and notoriety” to the school system, as well as “failing to safeguard a Department of Education computer” from my abusive ex.

Her story isn’t unique. Victims of online harassment regularly face serious consequences from online harassment.

According to a  2013 Science Daily study, cyber stalking victims routinely need to take time off from work, or change or quit their job or school. And the stalking costs the victims $1200 on average to even attempt to address the harassment, the study said.

“It’s this widespread problem and the platforms have in many ways have dropped the ball on this,” Honeywell says.

Tall Poppy’s co-founders

Creating Tall Poppy

As Honeywell heard more and more stories of online intimidation and assault, she started laying the groundwork for the service that would eventually become Tall Poppy. Through a mutual friend she reached out to Dean, a talented coder who had been working at Ticketfly before its Eventbrite acquisition and was looking for a new opportunity.

That was in early 2015. But, afraid that striking out on her own would affect her citizenship status (Honeywell is Canadian), she and Dean waited before making the move to finally start the company.

What ultimately convinced them was the election of Donald Trump.

“After the election I had a heart-to-heart with myself… And I decided that I could move back to Canada, but I wanted to stay and fight,” Honeywell says.

Initially, Honeywell took on a year-long fellowship with the American Civil Liberties Union to pick up on work around privacy and security that had been handled by Chris Soghoian who had left to take a position with Senator Ron Wyden’s office.

But the idea for Tall Poppy remained, and once Honeywell received her green card, she was “chomping at the bit to start this company.”

A few months in the company already has businesses that have signed up for the services and tools it provides to help companies protect their employees.

Some platforms have taken small steps against online harassment. Facebook, for instance, launched an initiative to get people to upload their nude pictures  so that the social network can monitor when similar images are distributed online and contact a user to see if the distribution is consensual.

Meanwhile, Twitter has made a series of changes to its algorithm to combat online abuse.

“People were shocked and horrified that people were trying this,” Honeywell says. “[But] what is the way [harassers] can do the most damage? Sharing them to Facebook is one of the ways where they can do the most damage. It was a worthwhile experiment.”

To underscore how pervasive a problem online harassment is, out of the four companies where the company is doing business or could do business in the first month and a half there is already an issue that the company is addressing. 

“It is an important problem to work on,” says Honeywell. “My recurring realization is that the cavalry is not coming.”

The UDOO BOLT is a powerful computer on a tiny board

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When we last met UDOO the team was building a powerful Raspberry Pi-based DIY board with a bunch of impressive features including more ports and a better processor. Now the team behind the first units has released the UDOO BOLT, a DIY board that can run “AAA games” thanks to a built-in AMD Ryzen Embedded V1202B 3.2 GHz SoC processor and a Radeon Vega 3 graphics card. The system is also Arduino compatible so you can connect it to your robotics and other electronics projects.

The BOLT, when outfitted with a chunk of RAM, is, according to the creators, “almost twice as powerful as a MacBook Pro 13-inch equipped with an Intel i5 and three times more powerful than a Mac Mini.” Because it is nearly a fully-fledged computer you can stick it into a case and treat it like a mini-workstation with a USB keyboard and mouse and HDMI out to a monitor. The BOLT can drive four monitors at once, two via 4K HDMI and two via USB-C. It runs Linux or Windows.

The team plans on shipping in December 2018. The starter kit costs $298 on Kickstarter and includes a power supply and 4GB of RAM. The 8GB unit with SATA and Wireless costs $409.

Is a DIY board with a massive processor and graphics card a bit of overkill? Absolutely. However, because the system is designed for experimentation and on-the-fly design, you can easily repurpose a board like this for a kiosk, store display, or workstation. Because it is so portable you could slap a few of these on school desks and give the kids powerful computers that run nearly everything you can throw at them. Plus it’s pretty cool to be able to play VR games on a machine the size of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

UDOO has been adding onto the traditional Raspberry Pi/Arduino stack for so long that they’ve become experts at making basic boards much more powerful. Given their earlier models could run drones and control multi-legged robots all while running Android, this new product should be a real treat.

You can now run Linux apps on Chrome OS

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For the longest times, developers have taken Chrome OS machines and run tools like Crouton to turn them into Linux-based developer machines. That was a bit of a hassle, but it worked. But things are getting easier. Soon, if you want to run Linux apps on your Chrome OS machine, all you’ll have to do is switch a toggle in the Settings menu. That’s because Google is going to start shipping Chrome OS with a custom virtual machine that runs Debian Stretch, the current stable version of the operating system.

It’s worth stressing that we’re not just talking about a shell here, but full support for graphical apps, too. That means you could now, for example, run Microsoft’s Linux version of Visual Studio Code right on your Chrome OS machine. Or build your Android app in Android Studio and test it right on your laptop, thanks to the built-in support for Android apps that came to Chrome OS last year.

The first preview of Linux on Chrome OS is now available on the Pixelbook, with support for more devices coming soon.

Google’s PM director for Chrome OS Kan Liu told me the company was obviously aware that people were using Crouton to do this before. But doing this also meant doing away with all of the security features that come with Google’s operating system. And as more powerful Chrome OS machines hit the market in recent years, the demand for a feature like this also grew.

To enable support for graphical apps, the team opted to integrate the Wayland display server; from the user’s perspective, the actual window dressing will look the same as any other Android or web app on Chrome OS.

Most regular users won’t necessarily benefit from built-in Linux support, but this will make Chrome OS machines even more attractive to developers — especially the more high-end ones like Google’s own Pixelbook. Liu stressed that his team spent quite a bit of work optimizing the virtual machine, too, so there isn’t a lot of overhead when you run Linux apps — meaning that even less powerful machines should be able to handle a code editor without issues.

Now, it’s probably only a matter of hours before somebody starts running Windows apps in Chrome OS with the help of the Wine emulator.

The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

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Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

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