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Communications

Yes, You've Still Got Mail (recode.net) 129

Veteran technology columnist Walt Mossberg, writes: Like radio, email isn't dying, it's just changing. Over the past decade or so it's become much more like postal mail. It's not the place you expect to find a greeting from a friend or even a timely update from a professional colleague. Instead, it's a mix of junk mail you hate and discard, plus bills and missives from businesses you also hate but can't discard. [...] Still, despite all signs to the contrary -- and many predictions -- email is not dead. In fact, some analyses suggest that it's growing. Few people can afford to be without it. It hasn't expired; it has morphed. There are lots of reasons email persists, even as faster and simpler forms of communication proliferate and your personal communications likely have mostly migrated elsewhere. But one big one is that new types of media channels rarely totally kill off old ones, even though everyone predicts they will. The old ones just adapt and change. Back in the day, television was supposed to kill off radio, but radio gradually saved itself by dropping the programming TV did better (like dramas and variety shows) and starting to focus on playing hit songs and hosting political and sports talk shows. I think something similar is going on with email. Once the king of digital discourse, email has surely been dethroned by an army of alternatives: Vast and numerous messaging services; photo- and video-oriented sharing on social networks or the photo apps of Apple and Google; business tools like Slack. I get the latest pictures of my granddaughter through iCloud photo sharing. I get the latest discussions of how we plan to cover stories on The Verge or Recode through Slack. My editor and I collaboratively edit my stories inside Google Docs. Ten years ago, all those things would have been done via email. Back then, when a reader wanted to tell me I was an idiot (or worse) for something I wrote, I got an email. Now, they tell me on Twitter.
Biotech

Scientists Turn Mammalian Cells Into Complex Biocomputers (sciencemag.org) 35

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Computer hardware is getting a softer side. A research team has come up with a way of genetically engineering the DNA of mammalian cells to carry out complex computations, in effect turning the cells into biocomputers. The group hasn't put those modified cells to work in useful ways yet, but down the road researchers hope the new programming techniques will help improve everything from cancer therapy to on-demand tissues that can replace worn-out body parts. To upgrade their DNA "switches," Wong and his colleagues steered clear of transcription factors and instead switched human kidney cell genes on and off using scissor-like enzymes that selectively cut out snippets of DNA. These enzymes, known as DNA recombinases, recognize two target stretches of DNA, each between 30 to 50 or more base pairs long. When a recombinase finds its target DNA stretches, it cuts out any DNA in between, and stitches the severed ends of the double helix back together. To design genetic circuits, Wong and his colleagues use the conventional cellular machinery that reads out a cell's DNA, transcribes its genes into RNA, and then translates the RNA into proteins. This normal gene-to-protein operation is initiated by another DNA snippet, a promoter, that sits just upstream of a gene. When a promoter is activated, a molecule called RNA polymerase gets to work, marching down the DNA strand and producing an RNA until it reaches another DNA snippet -- a termination sequence -- that tells it to stop. To make one of their simplest circuits, Wong's team inserted four extra snippets of DNA after a promoter. The main one produced green fluorescent protein (GFP), which lights up cells when it is produced. But in front of it was a termination sequence, flanked by two snippets that signaled the DNA recombinase. Wong and his team then inserted another gene in the same cell that made a modified recombinase, activated only when bound to a specific drug; without it, the recombinase wouldn't cut the DNA. When the promoter upstream of the GFP gene was activated, the RNA polymerase ran headfirst into the termination sequence, stopped reading the DNA, and didn't produce the fluorescent protein. But when the drug was added, the recombinase switched on and spliced out the termination sequence that was preventing the RNA polymerase from initiating production of GFP. Voila, the cell lit up. The approach Wong and his colleagues used worked so well that they were able to build 113 different circuits, with a 96.5% success rate. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Businesses

Enemy Number One is Netflix: The Monster That's Eating Hollywood (business-standard.com) 310

From a WSJ report: Tara Flynn, a rising star at a TV production unit of 21st Century Fox, walked into her boss's office last August and told him she was quitting and joining streaming-video giant Netflix Inc. The news was not well-received. "Netflix is public enemy No. 1," said Bert Salke, the head of Fox 21 Television Studios, where Ms. Flynn was a vice president, according to a Netflix legal filing. When Netflix finalized Ms. Flynn's hire a few weeks later, Fox sued, accusing it of a "brazen campaign" to poach Fox executives. In response, Netflix argued Fox's contracts are "unlawful and unenforceable." The ongoing legal battle is just one sign of the escalating tensions between Netflix and Hollywood as the streaming-video company moves from being an upstart dabbling in original programming to a big-spending entertainment powerhouse that will produce more than 70 shows this year. It is expanding into new genres such as children's fare, reality TV and stand-up comedy specials -- including a $40 million deal for two shows by Chris Rock. The shift has unnerved some TV networks that had become used to Netflix's original content being focused on scripted dramas and sitcoms. Netflix's spending on original and acquired programming this year is expected to be more than $6 billion, up from $5 billion last year, more than double what Time Warner Inc.'s HBO spends and five times as much as 21st Century Fox's FX or CBS Corp.'s Showtime.
Security

Anti-Virus Vendors Scramble To Patch Hijacking Exploit Involving Microsoft Tool (securityweek.com) 48

"A zero-day attack called Double Agent can take over antivirus software on Windows machines," Network World reported Wednesday. wiredmikey writes: The attack involves the Microsoft Application Verifier, a runtime verification tool for unmanaged code that helps developers find subtle programming errors in their applications... [The exploit] allows a piece of malware executed by a privileged user to register a malicious DLL for a process associated with an antivirus or other endpoint security product, and hijack its agent.
Patches were released by Malwarebytes, AVG, and Trend Micro, the security researchers told BleepingComputer earlier this week. Kaspersky Lab told ZDNet "that measures to detect and block the malicious scenario have now been added to all its products," while Norton downplayed the exploit, saying the attack "would require physical access to the machine and admin privileges to be successful," with their spokesperson "adding that it has deployed additional detection and blocking protections in the unlikely event users are targeted."

BetaNews reports that the researchers "say that it is very easy for antivirus producers to implement a method of protection against this zero-day, but it is simply not being done. 'Microsoft has provided a new design concept for antivirus vendors called Protected Processes...specially designed for antivirus services...the protected process infrastructure only allows trusted, signed code to load and has built-in defense against code injection attacks.'"
Stats

Stack Overflow Reveals Results From 'Largest Developer Survey Ever Conducted' (stackoverflow.com) 139

More than 64,000 developers from 213 countries participated in this year's annual survey by Stack Overflow -- the largest number ever -- giving a glimpse into the collective psyche of programmers around the world. An anonymous reader quotes their announcement: A majority of developers -- 56.5% -- said they were underpaid. Developers who work in government and non-profits feel the most underpaid, while those who work in finance feel the most overpaid... While only 13.1% of developers are actively looking for a job, 75.2% of developers are interested in hearing about new job opportunities...

When asked what they valued most when considering a new job, 53.3% of respondents said remote options were a top priority. 65% of developers reported working remotely at least one day a month, and 11.1% say they're full-time remote or almost all the time. Also, the highest job satisfaction ratings came from developers who work remotely full-time.

62.5% of the respondents reported using JavaScript, while 51.2% reported SQL, with 39.7% using Java and 34.1% using C# -- but for the #5 slot, "the use of Python [32.0%] overtook PHP [28.1%] for the first time in five years." Yet as far as which languages developers wanted to continue using, "For the second year in a row, Rust was the most loved programming language... Swift, last year's second most popular language, ranked as fourth. For the second year in a row, Visual Basic (for 2017, Visual Basic 6, specifically) ranked as the most dreaded language; 88.3% of developers currently using Visual Basic said they did not want to continue using it."
Programming

Performance Bugs, 'the Dark Matter of Programming Bugs', Are Out There Lurking and Unseen (forwardscattering.org) 266

Several Slashdot readers have shared an article by programmer Nicholas Chapman, who talks about a class of bugs that he calls "performance bugs". From the article: A performance bug is when the code computes the correct result, but runs slower than it should due to a programming mistake. The nefarious thing about performance bugs is that the user may never know they are there -- the program appears to work correctly, carrying out the correct operations, showing the right thing on the screen or printing the right text. It just does it a bit more slowly than it should have. It takes an experienced programmer, with a reasonably accurate mental model of the problem and the correct solution, to know how fast the operation should have been performed, and hence if the program is running slower than it should be. I started documenting a few of the performance bugs I came across a few months ago, for example (on some platforms) the insert method of std::map is roughly 7 times slower than it should be, std::map::count() is about twice as slow as it should be, std::map::find() is 15% slower than it should be, aligned malloc is a lot slower than it should be in VS2015.
Businesses

GitHub Now Lets Its Workers Keep the IP When They Use Company Resources For Personal Projects (qz.com) 75

If it's on company time, it's the company's dime. That's the usual rule in the tech industry -- that if employees use company resources to work on projects unrelated to their jobs, their employer can claim ownership of any intellectual property (IP) they create. But GitHub is throwing that out the window. From a report on Quartz: Today the code-sharing platform announced a new policy, the Balanced Employee IP Agreement (BEIPA). This allows its employees to use company equipment to work on personal projects in their free time, which can occur during work hours, without fear of being sued for the IP. As long as the work isn't related to GitHub's own "existing or prospective" products and services, the employee owns it. Like all things related to tech IP, employee agreements are a contentious issue. In some US states, it's not uncommon for contracts to give companies full ownership of all work employees produce during their tenure, and sometimes even before and after their tenure, regardless of when or how they produce it. These restrictions have led to several horror stories, like the case of Alcatel vs. Evan Brown.
Books

O'Reilly Site Lists 165 Things Every Programmer Should Know (oreilly.com) 234

97 Things Every Programmer Should Know was published seven years ago by O'Reilly Media, and was described as "pearls of wisdom for programmers collected from leading practitioners." Today an anonymous reader writes: All 97 are available online for free (and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3), including an essay by "Uncle Bob" on taking personal responsibility and "Unix Tools Are Your Friend" by Athens-based professor Diomidis Spinellis, who writes that the Unix tool chest can be more useful than an IDE.

But the book's official site is also still accepting new submissions, and now points to 68 additional "edited contributions" (plus another seven "contributions in progress"), including "Be Stupid and Lazy" by Swiss-based Java programmer Mario Fusco, and "Decouple That UI" by tech trainer George Brooke.

"There is no overarching narrative," writes the site's editor Kevlin Henney (who also wrote the original book). "The collection is intended simply to contain multiple and varied perspectives on what it is that contributors to the project feel programmers should know...anything from code-focused advice to culture, from algorithm usage to agile thinking, from implementation know-how to professionalism, from style to substance..."
Stats

America's Most Affordable Cities For Tech Workers: Seattle, Austin, and Pittsburgh (prnewswire.com) 127

"Seattle tech workers who own their homes can expect to have about $2,000 more in disposable income each month than tech workers in the Bay Area," according to a new study from LinkedIn and Zillow. An anonymous reader writes: "For technology workers who rent, Seattle, Austin and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania came out on top among the housing markets analyzed, with the Bay Area at #4..." the two companies reported. "Salaries for other industries don't hold up as well in the San Francisco area, though. Even highly-paid finance workers keep only about 32 percent of their incomes after paying for housing and taxes. In Charlotte or Chicago, they can pocket a median of 61 percent."

The Bay Area's high housing prices are apparently offset by the high salaries paid there to tech workers, according to the study. Even so, both home owners and renters pay roughly half the median income for housing on the west coast, "while a rental in the middle of the country costs more like 25 percent of the median income."

The report also identified the best cities for health workers -- Phoenix, Indianapolis, and Boston -- as well as for finance workers, who do best in Charlotte, Chicago and Dallas. The top 15 cities for tech workers also included those same cities except Chicago and Phoenix, while also including known tech hotspots like Denver, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. But surprisingly the top 15 best cities for tech workers also included Detroit, Nashville, St. Paul (Minnesota) and Tampa, Florida.
Stats

RedMonk Identifies 2017's Most Popular Languages: JavaScript, Java, And Python (redmonk.com) 125

Twice a year the tech analysts at RedMonk attempt to gauge adoption trends for programing languages based on data from both GitHub and Stack Overflow. Here's their top 10 list for 2017: JavaScript, Java, Python, and PHP, followed by a two-way tie between C# and C++, a two-way tie between Ruby and CSS, and then C at #9, and Objective-C at #10. But their GitHub data now counts the number of pull requests rather than the number of repositories. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Swift was a major beneficiary of the new GitHub process, jumping eight spots from 24 to 16 on our GitHub rankings. While the language appears to be entering something of a trough of disillusionment from a market perception standpoint, with major hype giving way to skepticism in many quarters, its statistical performance according to the observable metrics we track remains strong. Swift has reached a Top 15 ranking faster than any other language we have tracked since we've been performing these rankings. Its strong performance from a GitHub perspective suggests that the wider, multi-platform approach taken by the language is paying benefits...

Of all of the top tier languages, none jumped more than TypeScript on our GitHub rankings, as the JavaScript superset moved up 17 points.... PowerShell moved from 36 within the GitHub rankings to 19 to match TypeScript's 17 point jump, and that was enough to nudge it into the Top 20 overall from its prior ranking of 25... One of the biggest overall gainers of any of the measured languages, Rust leaped from 47 on our board to 26 â" one spot behind Visual Basic.

Swift and Scala and Shell all just missed out on the top 10, clustering in a three-way tie at the #11 spot.
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your Horrible IT Boss Story? 300

snydeq writes: Good-bye, programming peers; hello, power to abuse at your whim, writes Bob Lewis in a send-up of an all-too-familiar situation: The engineering colleague who transforms into a greasy political manipulator upon promotion into management. "It's legendary: A CIO promotes his best developer into a management role, losing an excellent programmer and gaining a bad manager. The art of management isn't so much about assembling a dream team, helping others be successful, or solving technical problems. It's about aligning everything you do in service of the business -- the business of yourself.'" What tales do you have of colleagues who broke bad all the way to the top?
Businesses

GitLab Acquires Software Chat Startup Gitter, Will Open-Source the Code (venturebeat.com) 28

According to VentureBeat, "GitLab, a startup that provides open source and premium source code repository software that people use to collaborate on software, is announcing today that it has acquired Gitter, a startup that provides chat rooms that are attached to repositories of code so that collaborators can exchange messages." From the report: GitLab won't bundle it in its community edition or its enterprise edition yet, but it will open-source the Gitter code for others to build on, GitLab cofounder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij told VentureBeat in an interview. What's happening now, though, is that as part of GitLab, Gitter is launching a new feature called Topics, where people will be able to ask and answer questions -- sort of like Stack Overflow. "Although Gitter is best in class with indexing things, it's still sometimes hard to find things," Sijbrandij said. "In this Q&A product, it's a lot easier to structure the Q&A. You're not dealing so much with a chronological timeline where people have different conversations that cross each other. There's a location for every piece of knowledge, and it can grow over time." That technology is already available in beta in Gitter rooms on GitHub, and it will become available on GitLab's Gitter pages over time, Sijbrandij said.
Education

Ask Slashdot: How Do You Make Novice Programmers More Professional? 347

Slashdot reader peetm describes himself as a software engineer, programmer, lecturer, and old man. But how can he teach the next generation how to code more professionally? I have to put together a three-hour (maximum) workshop for novice programmers -- people with mostly no formal training and who are probably flying by the seat of their pants (and quite possibly dangerous in doing so). I want to encourage them to think more as a professional developer would. Ideally, I want to give them some sort of practicals to do to articulate and demonstrate this, rather than just "present" stuff on best practices... If you were putting this together, what would you say and include?
This raises the question of not only what you'd teach -- whether it's variable naming, modular programming, test-driven development, or the importance of commenting -- but also how you'd teach it. So leave your best answers in the comments. How do you make novice programmers more professional?
Firefox

Will WebAssembly Replace JavaScript? (medium.com) 235

On Tuesday Firefox 52 became the first browser to support WebAssembly, a new standard "to enable near-native performance for web applications" without a plug-in by pre-compiling code into low-level, machine-ready instructions. Mozilla engineer Lin Clark sees this as an inflection point where the speed of browser-based applications increases dramatically. An anonymous reader quotes David Bryant, the head of platform engineering at Mozilla. This new standard will enable amazing video games and high-performance web apps for things like computer-aided design, video and image editing, and scientific visualization... Over time, many existing productivity apps (e.g. email, social networks, word processing) and JavaScript frameworks will likely use WebAssembly to significantly reduce load times while simultaneously improving performance while running... developers can integrate WebAssembly libraries for CPU-intensive calculations (e.g. compression, face detection, physics) into existing web apps that use JavaScript for less intensive work... In some ways, WebAssembly changes what it means to be a web developer, as well as the fundamental abilities of the web.
Mozilla celebrated with a demo video of the high-resolution graphics of Zen Garden, and while right now WebAssembly supports compilation from C and C++ (plus some preliminary support for Rust), "We expect that, as WebAssembly continues to evolve, you'll also be able to use it with programming languages often used for mobile apps, like Java, Swift, and C#."
Programming

Douglas Crockford Envisions A Post-JavaScript World (infoworld.com) 300

JavaScript developer (and JSON proponent) Douglas Crockford recently described "a theoretical post-JavaScript World," according to InfoWorld. Crockford "believes the web development staple needs a successor that can fix multiple programming nuances." An anonymous reader summarizes their report: Despite its status as the world's most popular language, Crockford told an audience at the Oracle Code conference, "It would be sad if JavaScript turns out to be the last language." He complained that JavaScript has two different ways of declaring variables -- let and var -- as well as two different "bottom variables" with no value -- both null and undefined. "There's an argument among language designers, should we have bottom values at all? But there's nobody who thinks you should have two of them."

According to InfoWorld, Crockford "also presented a scenario with JavaScript being turned into a purely functional programming language by getting rid of 'impurities' like date, the delete operation, math.random and object.assign. Afterward, he stressed replacing JavaScript rather than adding functional capabilities to it... The next language also should be better able to deal with multiple cores. Most languages have followed the sequential model of Fortran, executing one operation after another, he said. 'That's not how the world works anymore. We now have lots of cores available to us, which all want to be running at the same time.'"

In other news, Crockford also proposed ending the "spaces vs. tabs" debate by simply eliminating tabs altogether.
Iphone

An 81-Year-Old Woman Just Created Her Own iPhone App (cnn.com) 60

After 43 years working in one of Japan's leading banks, 81-year-old Masako Wakamiya has launched an iPhone app called "Hinadan" that shows users how to stage traditional dolls for the Hinamatsuri festival. From a report on CNN Money: She says she felt compelled to do something after noticing a shortage of fun apps aimed at people her age. "We easily lose games when playing against young people, since our finger movements can't match their speed," Wakamiya told CNN. The retired banker asked a bunch of people to create games for seniors, but no one was interested. So she took matters into her own hands and achieved something many people half her age haven't done. "I wanted to create a fun app to get elderly people interested in smartphones," she said. "It took about half a year to develop." Wakamiya started using computers at age 60 when she was caring for her elderly mother and finding it difficult to get out and socialize with friends.
AI

Microsoft Research Developing An AI To Put Coders Out of a Job (mspoweruser.com) 338

jmcbain writes: Are you a software programmer who voted in a recent Slashdot poll that a robot/AI would never take your job? Unfortunately, you're wrong. Microsoft, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, is developing such an AI. This software "can turn your descriptions into working code in seconds," reports MSPoweruser. "Called DeepCoder, the software can take requirements by the developer, search through a massive database of code snippets and deliver working code in seconds, a significant advance in the state of the art in program synthesis." New Scientist describes program synthesis as "creating new programs by piecing together lines of code taken from existing software -- just like a programmer might. Given a list of inputs and outputs for each code fragment, DeepCoder learned which pieces of code were needed to achieve the desired result overall." The original research paper can be read here.
PHP

PHP Becomes First Programming Language To Add 'Modern' Cryptography Library In Its Core (bleepingcomputer.com) 204

An anonymous reader writes from a report via BleepingComputer: The PHP team has unanimously voted to integrate the Libsodium library in the PHP core, and by doing so, becoming the first programming language to support a modern cryptography library by default. Developers approved a proposal with a vote of 37 to 0 and decided that Libsodium will be added to the upcoming PHP 7.2 release that will be launched towards the end of 2017. Scott Arciszewski, the cryptography expert who made the proposal, says that by supporting modern crypto in the PHP core, the PHP team will force the WordPress team to implement better security in its CMS, something they avoided until now. Additionally, it will allow PHP and CMS developers to add advanced cryptography features to their apps that run on shared hosting providers, where until now they weren't able to install custom PHP extensions to support modern cryptography. Other reasons on why he made the proposal are detailed here. Arciszewski also says that PHP is actually "the first" programming language to support a "modern" cryptography library in its core, despite Erlang and Go including similar libraries, which he claims are not as powerful and up-to-date as PHP's upcoming Libsodium implementation.
Open Source

New Free O'Reilly Ebook: 'Open Source In Brazil' (oreilly.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes: Andy Oram, who's been an editor at O'Reilly since 1992, has written a new free report about how open source software is everywhere in Brazil. The country's IT industry is booming in Brazil -- still Latin America's most vibrant economy -- with open source software popular in both startups and in cloud infrastructure. Oram attributes this partly to the government's support of open source software, which over the last 15 years has built public awareness about its power and potential. And says the Brazil now has a thriving open source community, and several free software movements. Even small towns have hacker spaces for collaboration and training, and the country has several free software movements.
Businesses

Slashdot Asks: Are Remote Software Teams More Productive? (techbeacon.com) 165

A recruiter with 20 years of experience recently reported on the research into whether remote software teams perform better. One study of 10,000 coding sessions concluded it takes 10-15 minutes for a programmer to resume work after an interruption. Another study actually suggests unsupervised workers are more productive, and the founders of the collaboration tool Basecamp argue the bigger danger is burnout when motivated employees overwork themselves. mikeatTB shares his favorite part of the article: One interesting take on the issues is raised by ThoughtWorks' Martin Fowler: Individuals are more productive in a co-located environment, but remote teams are often more productive than co-located teams. This is because a remote team has the advantage of hiring without geographic boundaries, and that enables employers to assemble world-class groups.
The article shares some interesting anecdotes from remote workers, but I'd be interested to hear from Slashdot's readers. Leave your own experiences in the comments, and tell us what you think. Are remote software teams more productive?

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