Category Archives: News

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College Board Offers At-Home AP Exam Details

Source: Inside Higher Ed (news)

Article note: Even CollegeBoard isn't enough of a control freak to believe in remote proctoring, and is re-developing the at-home AP exams for open-note reality. Take note, y'all.

The College Board will offer at-home test taking for its 2020 Advanced Placement exams, beginning on May 11. 

Students will be able to take the open-note exams on any device. They will be able to type or write and upload answers to one or two free-response questions for most exams, the College Board said in an email to AP instructors on Friday. Students worldwide will take each subject’s exam at the same time, and most will have 45 minutes to complete them, the email said. 

Scoring will continue to be on a scale of 1 to 5, and students cannot earn points for “content that can be found in textbooks or online,” the email said. The College Board is “confident that the vast majority of higher ed institutions will award college credit as they have in the past” and said the at-home test taking has support from hundreds of colleges.

“We want to give every student the chance to earn the college credit they’ve worked toward throughout the year,” Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP and Instruction for the College Board, said in a statement. That’s why we quickly set up a process that’s simple, secure, and accessible.”

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Dropbox’s journey to type checking 4 million lines of Python

Source: OSNews

Article note: "We decided we wanted to pay for the runtime overhead of a dynamically typed language, and the programmer up-front effort of a statically typed language, but without getting all the benefits of static typing."

Dropbox is a big user of Python. It’s our most widely used language both for backend services and the desktop client app (we are also heavy users of Go, TypeScript, and Rust). At our scale—millions of lines of Python—the dynamic typing in Python made code needlessly hard to understand and started to seriously impact productivity. To mitigate this, we have been gradually migrating our code to static type checking using mypy, likely the most popular standalone type checker for Python. (Mypy is an open source project, and the core team is employed by Dropbox.)

This post tells the story of Python static checking at Dropbox, from the humble beginnings as part of my academic research project, to the present day, when type checking and type hinting is a normal thing for numerous developers across the Python community. It is supported by a wide variety of tools such as IDEs and code analyzers.

I recently came across an article complaining about Python’s dynamic typing and couldn’t quite believe this was still the case. As it turns out, nowadays there is indeed a standardized way to do write type annotations and to type-check prior to runtime using mypy, all the while being driven forward by the good folks at Dropbox (which includes Python’s Benevolent Dictator for Life Guido van Rossum). This article provides a fascinating insider insight into the history of type-checking in Python and how it evolved in symbiosis with Dropbox’s codebase.

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What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Oooh. It may be partly all the people who are no longer pooping on company time with company institutional-grade TP causing a market ripple. Interesting. That makes sense.
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Is It Time for Americans to Embrace the Bidet?

Source: NYT > U.S.

Article note: I installed an under-seat bidet in my apartment a couple years ago and I'm never going back.

In the United States, people are hoarding toilet paper and clogging sewer systems with wipes of all kinds. A little water could solve their problems.

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Honda bucks industry trend by removing touchscreen controls

Source: OSNews

Article note: Touchscreens have always been a UX disaster, at least we're finally having to admit it and change course because touchscreen suck is _literally killing people_ in cars (and Naval controls the US DOD got taken on).

Honda has done what no other car maker is doing, and returned to analogue controls for some functions on the new Honda Jazz.

While most manufacturers are moving to touchscreen controls, identifying smartphone use as their inspiration – most recently seen in Audi’s latest A3 – Honda has decided to reintroduce heating and air conditioning controls via a dial rather than touchscreen, as in the previous-generation Jazz.

Unlike what the introduction states, Honda joins fellow Japanese car maker Mazda in not just blindly using touchscreens for everything inside cars. This is a good move, and definitely takes some guts, since I’ve seen countless car reviewers – including my standout favourite, Doug DeMuro – kind of blindly assuming that any car without 100% touchscreen control is outdated, without questioning the safety consequences.

Good on Honda.

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OpenWRT code-execution bug puts millions of devices at risk

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: Eeeh. Not _that_ bad, it's a MITM on the package system because HTTP transport and Checksums was fine in past decades and grossly inadequate now.
Screenshot of OpenWrt.

Enlarge (credit: OpenWRT)

For almost three years, OpenWRT—the open source operating system that powers home routers and other types of embedded systems—has been vulnerable to remote code-execution attacks because updates were delivered over an unencrypted channel and digital signature verifications are easy to bypass, a researcher said.

OpenWRT has a loyal base of users who use the freely available package as an alternative to the firmware that comes installed on their devices. Besides routers, OpenWRT runs on smartphones, pocket computers and even laptops and desktop PCs. Users generally find OpenWRT to be a more secure choice because it offers advanced functions and its source code is easy to audit.

Security researcher Guido Vranken, however, recently found that updates and installation files were delivered over unencrypted HTTPs connections, which are open to attacks that allow adversaries to completely replace legitimate updates with malicious ones. The researcher also found that it was trivial for attackers with moderate experience to bypass digital-signature checks that verify a downloaded update as the legitimate one offered by OpenWTR maintainers. The combination of those two lapses makes it possible to send a malicious update that vulnerable devices will automatically install.

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Zoom’s privacy problems are growing as platform explodes in popularity

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: Zoom, like so many pieces of technology, is a total shit show that got thrust into widespread use when it was _entirely_ unprepared, and it's the modern era tech so a lot of the lack of shit-together is valley-bro data safety hubris. I'm pretty impressed that it's holding up as well as it has technically, and glad they're getting held accountable for policy.
Ominous photograph of multi-story glass office building.

Enlarge / Zoom's San Jose, Calif., headquarters looks like a lovely place to be socially distanced from. (credit: Smith Collection | Gado | Getty Images)

We have several more weeks, if not several more months, to go in this sudden era of Everything from Home. Work from home, school from home, funerals from home, church from home, happy hour from home—you name it, and we as a society are trying as best as we can to pull it off remotely. Tech use as a result is up all over, but arguably the biggest winner to date of the "Oh, crap, where's my webcam" age is videoconferencing platform Zoom.

Zoom's ease of use, feature base, and free service tier have made it a go-to resource not only for all those office meetings that used to happen in conference rooms but also for teachers, religious services, and even governments. The widespread use, in turn, is shining a bright spotlight on Zoom's privacy and data-collection practices, which apparently leave much to be desired.

The challenge is particularly pronounced in the health care and education sectors: Zoom does offer specific enterprise-level packages—Zoom for Education and Zoom for Healthcare—that have compliance with privacy law (FERPA and HIPAA, respectively) baked in. Many users in those fields, however, may be on the free tier or using individual or other types of enterprise licenses that don't take these particular needs into consideration.

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Real learning in a virtual classroom is difficult

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: My own thoughts from the initial effort: - Trying to do all-asynchronous or (much, much worse) all synchronous is a fools errand. You're gonna have to do mixed mode, with some consume-at-leisure delivery and some interactive Q&A time. - You need a document camera, the digital whiteboard things don't cut it. Improvise one if you have to. - Most students aren't as auto-didactic as we'd like to imagine, just like always. Design accordingly. - Make sure you and your students do their best to carve out "work time and place" - Accommodate where you can; your students have access limitations. They have little siblings or children borrowing their computers for their own classes. They have flaky connections. At the same time, hold the line on demonstrating competence. - Spyware "anti cheat" gadgets are harmful bullshit with differential inconvenience, design to deal with the fact that students will be getting reference material and communicating instead of wasting your time trying to stop them.
A virtual classroom setup.

Enlarge / A virtual classroom setup. (credit: Chris Lee)

"Remote teaching sucks. It's yucky, and it is not the future of education."

Thus spake my wife, a high school English teacher with many years of experience. And she's right. I teach at a university, and we have also moved to virtual lessons in the face of COVID-19. Even before the current crisis, I already made extensive use of digital tools in the classroom. However, virtual lessons are a poor substitute for actual in-person instruction. Let me take you on a tour of a future that we all should be trying to avoid. (It isn't all doom and gloom, though; we've discovered some hidden treasures as well.)

The problem is that teaching is an intimate activity: students give up a certain degree of control to the teacher and trust that person to help them master some new topic. It doesn't matter how big the class, that intimacy is unchanged for the teacher. Teaching is personal. Yes, from the student's perspective, a one-on-one lesson is more personal than a lecture delivered to 500 students. But the anonymity and safety in large classes does not mean that teachers are not seeing and modifying their approach via instantaneous feedback from their classes.

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Kentuckians may soon be able to get booze shipped directly to their front door

Source: Kentucky.com -- State

Article note: It's a weird time to get around to it, but YES PLEASE. I would like to finally be able to order weird specialty boozes and cheap internet wine as a KY resident.

Kentuckians would be able to get alcoholic beverages shipped to their front door under a bill the Senate approved Thursday and sent to Gov. Andy Beshear for his consideration. “Let … Click to Continue »

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Masks really work to dramatically reduce the spread of Covid-19

Source: Hacker News

Article note: This has been an interesting double-bind. Clearly, places with ubiquitous mask wearing (not fancy ones either, just surgical masks to prevent spreading infection from projected particles) are doing _dramatically_ better at containing COVID-19 (and also have huge confounding factors). Less-clearly but very likely, the messaging in countries _not_ accustomed to or equipped for ubiquitous mask use is "masks are ineffective" in the face of statistical evidence because they want to conserve their limited supply of masks for high-risk users and prevent runs. And now there's the Czechs, who are attempting a mass DIY mask experiment, which may be the tie-breaker for "right thing to do."
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