Category Archives: News

Microsoft’s smartphone division hit hard in upcoming layoffs

Windows Phone

After having already laid off 7500 workers last year, and currently trailing badly in the smartphone market, it appears Microsoft is one step away from throwing in the towel in the smartphone market.

If you’ve ever taken a college-level accounting class, then you’re familiar with regulatory filings that lay out a company’s financial strength and weakness both in written and spreadsheet form. In this case, we are talking about a form 10-K, and the one just provided by Microsoft shows that while their personal computing, cloud, gaming and enterprise divisions are doing well, their smartphone business is not.

When news sites inform you of this, though, they never tell you where exactly you can find the specific numbers indicating how many are being laid off, and the report is 103 pages of tables, explanations, credits, debits, and analysis!

But never fear, I am here to help you weave through it all. You can view the whole thing at this link, and if you would like to see the specific mention of the layoffs you will want to look at page 84, under the heading 2016 restructuring. The first  paragraph lays it all out. In fact, all of page 84, under the main heading ‘Restructuring Charges,’ is interesting yet sad to read.

If you don’t mind heavy accounting and corporate speak, the document is really quite interesting to read overall. It goes into detail about all their divisions, how well they’re doing (or not), their unclaimed revenue, profits and losses, writeoffs, even their acquisition of Minecraft. It’s not an easy read, but it’s informative.

Even I, the most diehard fan of Microsoft and their phone (Mine was an original Nokia, and I even still have a Zune!), finally had to break down and get an Android-powered Galaxy Note. I still wish Microsoft the best and hope, somehow, miraculously, that they can turn it all around.

Alvin Toffler passes away at 87

Alvin Toffler

Alvin Toffler got it right. It was all the way back in 1970 when he published Future Shock, a book that predicted, with surprising yet not complete accuracy, the impact of technology on our future selves. From throwaway consumerism which was a spot-on prediction, to Rapture-esque underwater cities which was not so accurate, his vision of the impact of technology has mostly come true. FutureShock became a trilogy with two more books; The Third Wave and PowerShift.

He was also the first to coin the term ‘Information Overload,’ a term we use to this day, and one I use frequently in my classes, which refers to our inability to take in and process the overwhelming amount of information that continues to be created even today. The title of the book itself is a reference to what would become an inability for us to keep up with the fast pace of the future. He predicted that the family as a cohesive unit would continue to be tested as the busy nature of life and all that would go along with it would wedge itself between those familiar bonds.

He correctly foresaw the development of a new knowledge economy and information age, in which the ability to learn and adapt would become more important than the ability to maintain a trade skill, which we see in the creation of job titles such as ‘Knowledge Worker’ (itself a term introduced in 1966 by Peter Drucker). In his eyes, it would be the inability to adjust that would become the illiteracy of the new millennium.

Indeed, Alvin Toffler predicted technological development would completely reshape the fabric and structure of society, and we now know that he was right.

A true forward thinker.

Public service announcement

GTX 1080

Reading an article on Destructoid of all places, I was made aware of a bizarre situation involving video cards, and thought I would pass it along here.

NVidia recently released a powerhouse graphics card known as the GTX 1080. Before this card, their flagship was the Titan, a very powerful card that ran about $1000. The new 1080 is significantly faster, quieter, and most importantly, much cheaper at around $699. That’s still a lot, I know, but it’s a beast of a card. I have one in my office machine, which is beyond overkill. I can run Word documents So fast!

A major change for the site

Disqus Logo

As you can likely tell from the image header, and as this site continues to expand, I have switched the comment system over to the venerable Disqus platform. While I was more than happy with the stock commenting method provided by WordPress, I also was never completely comfortable with people having to login via social media in which they might not be comfortable leaving a comment, or logging in anonymously, in which *I* wouldn’t be comfortable with them leaving a comment.

I have to admit though, WordPress has so far caught 100% of the spam that has been levied against this site, and I can’t argue with those results. I have seen spam get through on many, many sites that use Disqus, and so everything here today is done with the understanding that if Disqus can’t handle the inevitable comment spam that will arrive, or in some other way becomes odious, I may have to switch back to the old way of doing things.

The 191 Spring student showcase

So what have I been doing since my last post? Well I’ll tell you.

I taught a 2-quarter capstone course, 191, in which students formed groups and were partnered with a sponsor company or organization that needed something technical done. For the next twenty weeks, the groups would meet both with each other and their partner companies, strategize, hash out details, technical specs, scope, time, and everything else involved in a project.

I should also say they did fantastic work. From a project that streams live data from sensors attached to industrial equipment through the cloud to a mobile app, to a project creating a VR marketplace, to a project that connects isolated seniors with volunteers, and many others, they all did outstanding work. I told them many times how impressed I was with their progress and how proud I was of their overcoming challenges and obstacles to create great projects, and I meant it. Here are the teams and what they did (Obviously I’m leaving out individual names, but they know who they are!):

Better change your passwords

1234

Seriously. I’m not just telling you this because it’s World Password Day (it is, though, and I don’t know what Betty White has to do with anything). I’m saying it because it has come out that a security pro at Hold Security discovered an absolutely massive theft of usernames and passwords from Russia’s largest email provider, mail.ru, about 275 million stolen records. Not only that, there was a significant amount of credentials stolen from Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo account holders as well. Incidentally, many reports are saying ‘Microsoft’ instead of ‘Hotmail,’ which is a Microsoft property, but they also have Outlook which hasn’t, as far as I can figure out, been hit.

Most surprising of all, even more than the fact this is one of the largest theft of electronic records in history, is that the teenage hacker who acquired them was willing to sell the whole multi-hundreds-of-millions record lot for the grand sum of $1. But wait, there’s more! The hacker was discovered via his bragging of the theft in an online hacking forum, and when the Hold Security employee who engaged offered to leave positive feedback for the hacker, the price was dropped to free. That’s right, free for the mere quid pro quo of a positive review.

Off topic, but that touches on the concept of what is known as the reputation economy, in which someone’s actual worth depends on what others say about them in public and think about them in private. You can read more about it here.

It’s no secret people use bad passwords all the time, and reuse them over and over for multiple functions and sites. Don’t do that! Use a passphrase – in class just today, my students suggested ‘sheturnedmeintoanewt,’ a line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which turns out to be a perfect passphrase. It’s long, complex, yet easy to remember. Plus, it would take 16 BILLION years to crack! How do I know? Because we plugged it into howsecureismypassword.net, and that was its estimate. Even if it’s off by a billion years or so, that’s still pretty good. If we capitalize just one letter, the ‘n’ in newt, it jumps up to 17 quadrillion years. This isn’t the be-all end-all for accurately determining password strength, but it’s a good estimator.

Pretty secure

Pretty secure

If you’d like to use a different password for each site or service, but are worried about keeping track of them all, you can use a password manager like KeyPass to manage them all. Some password managers even enter the passwords for you. I don’t know how I feel about that personally, but it is easier. Beware, password managers often have a master password and if you lose or forget that, you are screwed – you’ll be resetting passwords forever.

Everyone knows I hate passwords and especially the policies that go along with them, and I hope the scourge of passwords is one we can raze from this earth in the very near future, replaced with something more robust – but not 100% foolproof – like biometrics (fingerprint scanners, for example). Until then, just remember: It’s only a flesh wound.

The end of a Vegas institution?

Tim Arnold

Back around 2012, at UNLV, I taught a course titled “The Business and Technology of the Video Game Industry.” It covered a whole lot of history, from early board games played by ancient civilizations (Go, Royal Game of Ur, Mancala, Senet), as well as the history of digital gaming from Willie Higginbotham’s Tennis for Two at Brookhaven National Laboratory, to Atari and the forming of Activision, through to today.

We also talked about pinball. We talked about its image as something rebellious, highlighted by it being the anchor of the Who’s epic movie, Tommy, and its portrayal in popular media as the cause of all evil, to the implosion of the industry against the competition of home video game systems.

On the last day of the class, we took a field trip to the Pinball Hall of Fame and Museum, a stalwart icon of Vegas, and a non-profit museum that donates hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to good causes. You could even intern there to learn the art of repairing and maintaining pinball machines. I gave everyone one dollar to be sure they could try at least one machine, but of course they were welcome to spend their life savings if they so wished. It is Vegas, after all.

The museum is a wonderful place. Sometimes dark and quiet, but often ringing with the glorious electronic sounds of pinball as well as the familiar noises of classic arcade machines, from Pac-Man to Asteroids and beyond. There’s even air hockey and some dancing puppet machines.

PBHOF

PBHOF

And a couple of days ago, I learned it may be closing for good. Owner Tim Arnold, who has repaired some of my own pinball machines including the very difficult to maintain Bride of Pinbot suffered a heart attack a few years ago and is now looking for osmeone to take over. But there are caveats, hoo boy are there caveats – you have to be able to repair the machines, and because it’s a non-profit you have to work for free.

If you were paying a million dollars a year you’d still have trouble finding someone with the skillset to repair those machines; their electro-mechanical nature and the fact that neither they nor their parts are manufactured anymore makes them very challenging to maintain.

If this closes, it will be an immeasurable loss. It is often identified as one of the best off-strip things to do in Las Vegas, and it isn’t that far away from the flashing lights, and anyway, it provides its own. Pinball itself is fast becoming a lost craft, although some companies like Stern still kick out themed machines.

If you have the opportunity, please visit before it’s gone forever. They’re hard to find, but they’re unforgettable to experience. And if by some grace of G-d you’re skilled in pinball repair and willing to work for free, well you should stop by in that case too.

Internet is capitalized!

Internet

I always hammer home to my students that the term ‘Internet’ is capitalized if you are referring to the global network we all know and love. One of my students sent me an email earlier today asking if that was still necessary, since apparently the Associated Press Stylebook will no longer make that requirement, as announced in a tweet (which is not capitalized. At least, not yet).

They are wrong. Internet is a contraction of the terms ‘interconnected’ and ‘network;’ you can have *an* internet, or you can be talking about *the* Internet. The latter is a proper noun, distinguished from other internets, and should be capitalized. It’s disheartening to see that a well-regarded guide like this is being so misguided.

Of course, they also use ‘lowercase’ as a verb, so I think it’s time to find another style guide.

And while we’re at it, ‘GIF’ is pronouned with a hard ‘G!’ It’s not peanut butter.

Not easy to watch, but important

It might even be NSFW, but not for the reasons you think. I’m honestly not sure of a way to introduce this gently, so I’ll just tell you what it is.

Here at UCI, I receive via email a daily digest entitled “UCI in the NEWS.” Whenever a UCI member is cited in a news source, whether local, regional, national, scientific, or other, they are added to the digest and we can find out all the ways the expertise here is being shared with the world.  Usually I skim through it, sometimes clicking the summary link to find out more information.

The one I received today had a a story titled “UC Irvine doctor is live-streaming his colonoscopy.” How could I not watch that? Maybe get a pizza for the experience. Unfortunately, it happened at 8am the same day I received the email, so it was all over.

But you’re in luck! The page on which it was done is still up, and you can still watch the video. and while I’ve had a somewhat snarky attitude towards it thus far in this post, as the page explains it was all done for a very good cause. It provides some statistics about colorectal cancer, the importance of early detection (it can be treated *if* it’s found early), and for people who will need to be having the procedure done on themselves or a loved one soon, it might give you an idea of what to expect. You probably don’t want to know this, but I’ve been through it myself, and as I approach 50 it’s something I will need to be more aware of. It’s not a very pleasant thing, but it is absolutely an important thing, perhaps even a life-saving thing.

I’ve embedded the video below, and it *is* educational and a novel use of livestreaming, but I also really encourage you to visit the page and read about the importance of the procedure. Hopefully it helps some people get more comfortable with what will be an inevitable medical procedure eventually.

Want to animate the next Futurama?

Good News!

Now you can!

According to a press release, Toonz, the software used to animate Futurama as well as the highly-regarded Princess Mononoke and one of my favorites, the animation masterpiece Howl’s Moving Castle, will be made open source and free at an announcement during the Anime Japan expo this week. It is a full-featured animation package, that allows for digital animation, or the scanning and animating of paper drawings. That’s what lends to the hand-drawn nature of many of Studio Ghibli’s films, who animated the latter two films I mentioned.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, remember. Renderman, Pixar’s animation software used in all their movies, was made free for non-commercial use a little over a year ago. If you’ve ever wanted to see what goes into this kind of animation, or try your hand at it yourself (it’s not for the faint of heart), then now’s your chance!

Toonz

Toonz

Going Up