Extending the life of TomTom wearables
TomTom recently announced it would stop operating their supporting infrastructure by the end of September following its earlier decision to exit the wearables market. This means that its products, such as sports watches, will become effectively useless, as they will no longer be able to export their activities and sync them with tracker sites. Throwing away an otherwise fine watch only because its maker decided to shut down its proprietary infrastructure seems like a sad waste. Here is how you can download the watch’s data and upload it to Strava, a popular activity tracker, using open source software.
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How AGI can conquer the world and what to do about it
We have seen many calls warning about the existential danger the human race faces from artificial general intelligence (AGI). Recent examples include the letter asking for a six month pause in the development of models more powerful than GPT-4 and Ian Hogarth’s FT article calling for a slow-down in the AI race. In brief, these assert that the phenomenal increase in the power and performance of AI systems we are witnessing raises the possibility that these systems will obsolete humanity. I’ve already argued that some of the arguments made are hypocritical, but that doesn’t mean that they are also vacuous. How credible is AGI’s threat and what should we do about it?
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Many of us are worried that Twitter’s increasingly erratic post visibility and user verification policies will curtail our ability to disseminate our work and ideas to a wide audience. Having spent years to attract followers on Twitter, setting up shop on Mastodon sounds like a tough call. Fortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that dissemination via Mastodon can be more potent than Twitter, even with a fraction of a follower base.
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The hypocritical call to pause giant AI
The recent open letter calling for a pause in giant AI experiments correctly identifies a number of risks associated with the development of AI, including job losses, misinformation, and loss of control. However, its call to pause some types of AI research for six months smacks of hypocrisy.
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AI deforests the knowledge’s ecosystem
Big-tech’s dash to incorporate ChatGPT-like interfaces into their search engines threatens the ecosystem of human knowledge with extinction. Knowledge development is a social activity. It starts with scientists publishing papers and books that build on earlier ones and with practitioners, journalists, and other writers disseminating these findings and their opinions in more accessible forms. It continues through specialized web sites, blogs, the Wikipedia, as well as discussion and Q&A forums. It further builds upon our interactions with these media through web site visits, upvotes, likes, comments, links, and citations. All these elements combined have yielded a rich global knowledge ecosystem that feeds on our interactions to promote the continuous development of useful and engaging content.
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How I fixed git-grep macOS UTF-8 support
As a speaker of Greek, I’ve been fixing issues in the handling of non-ASCII characters for over 40 years, using techniques ranging from simple lookup tables to dynamic patching of in-memory images. Here’s how I debugged and fixed the handling of UTF-8 characters in the
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git grep command, which was broken for almost a decade.
The sorry state of software quality
Thanks to a tweet by Aaron Toponce I learned about the Linux
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/dev/full pseudo-device. Write system calls to it always fail with a
ENOSPC (no space on device) error. With it finding software that doesn’t check for failed writes is a piece of cake. Let’s see this in action.
Rather than alchemy, methodical troubleshooting
I recently encountered a pesky problem while trying to build a React Native project under Apple’s Xcode. The build would fail with an error reporting:
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EMFILE: too many open files, watch. Frustratingly, all available advice on the web pointed to different (often inexplicable) directions, none of which worked. After tormenting myself with these, I decided to troubleshoot the problem methodically, which allowed me to pinpoint it and solve it with an uncommon and noteworthy application of the git bisect command. Here’s the story.
The Evolution of the Unix System Architecture
Unix has evolved for more than five decades, shaping modern operating systems, key software technologies, and development practices. Studying the evolution of this remarkable system from an architectural perspective can provide insights on how to manage the growth of large, complex, and long-lived software systems. In 2016 my colleague Paris Avgeriou and I embarked on this study aiming to combine his software architecture insights with my software analytics skills. Here is a brief summary of the study, which was published this month in the IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering.
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Reviving the 1973 Unix text to voice translator
The early Research Edition Unix versions featured a program that would turn a stream of ASCII text into utterances that could be played by a voice synthesizer. The source code of this program was lost for years. Here’s the story of how I brought it back to life.
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