Offbeat

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UK's National Rail backs down from greyscale website tribute to Prince Phil after visually impaired users complain

Protip: Ad/tracker blockers. Use them (though not on The Reg)


In case you hadn't noticed, Prince Philip, aka the Duke of Edinburgh, aka the Queen's hubby, aka Stavros, shuffled off this mortal coil on Friday and thus the UK entered a period of "national mourning".

Far from citizens taking to the streets and screaming at the sky, fists balled in anguish, most folk are pretty chill about the passing of the nation's slightly inappropriate grandad, who missed hitting a century by about two months.

This collective "mourning" was nowhere more keenly felt than on nationalrail.co.uk, whose overlords deemed it necessary to render the train booking website in greyscale as a tribute to the duke.

There's your sort-of-IT angle.

But rather than the maudlin design choice inspiring bittersweet memories of that time when Prince Phil told a 13-year-old kid he was "too fat to be an astronaut", it instead invoked the ire of visually impaired users.

Indeed, some of the Reg readers who got in touch insisted that "a black and white colour scheme for everything" was an absolutely dreadful idea, especially "if you can't see clearly ([and] especially when things like bold text and links can become indistinguishable)."

"As a mark of respect for the passing of an elderly gentleman, they've stopped any other folk with failing eyesight from using the site."

National Rail went hard on the damage control this morning, deleting some tweets and pinning this message to the top of its feed:

And what, pray, might that feedback include? "Looking to book a train ticket and... struggling with it in greyscale," said one visitor. "@nationalrailenq why's it gone black and white? Thanks."

To which the service's Twitter wrangler responded: "Hello, we've put our website into black and white as mark of respect for Prince Phillip [sic] who passed away last week. Do you need any help with your booking?"

"Oh okay, is there a way to change it back please? Finding it very hard to use..."

"I don't think there is I'm afraid. We're keeping the grey-scale until the end of the week I think... Sorry for the inconvenience of all this."

Others were less forgiving.

Oh dear. But the fix was pretty simple – ad/tracker blockers.

Yes, while researching this story (read: laughing at the Twitter bloodbath), it took us a minute to figure out what everyone was going on about because nationalrail.co.uk looked its usual full-colour mess to us. It was only when we switched off our "shields" on the Brave browser (the built-in service that blocks ads, trackers, and "other creepy things" – except on The Register and a few other responsible sites who deserve our custom) that we found the startling monochrome.

Other browser extensions like uBlock Origin had the same result. So while National Rail's social media intern thought you might have to struggle through for the rest of the week, really you could undo the damage with a click.

Anyway, within the hour the website had returned to its original (and ghastly) blue/yellow incarnation. As usual, moaning on Twitter gets stuff done.

Unfortunately, the Mayor of London's website has not been smart enough to do the same.

The Register asked National Rail and the Mayor of London's office to comment. National Rail more or less copy-pasted its tweet from above, while City Hall said: "The design of our website has been temporarily altered as a mark of respect during this period of national mourning. Accessibility is a priority for us and the use of greyscale has been thoroughly tested to ensure clear contrast across all our website's elements." ®

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DuckDuckGo tries to explain why its browsers won't block some Microsoft web trackers

Meanwhile, Tails 5.0 users told to stop what they're doing over Firefox flaw

DuckDuckGo promises privacy to users of its Android, iOS browsers, and macOS browsers – yet it allows certain data to flow from third-party websites to Microsoft-owned services.

Security researcher Zach Edwards recently conducted an audit of DuckDuckGo's mobile browsers and found that, contrary to expectations, they do not block Meta's Workplace domain, for example, from sending information to Microsoft's Bing and LinkedIn domains.

Specifically, DuckDuckGo's software didn't stop Microsoft's trackers on the Workplace page from blabbing information about the user to Bing and LinkedIn for tailored advertising purposes. Other trackers, such as Google's, are blocked.

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Despite 'key' partnership with AWS, Meta taps up Microsoft Azure for AI work

Someone got Zuck'd

Meta’s AI business unit set up shop in Microsoft Azure this week and announced a strategic partnership it says will advance PyTorch development on the public cloud.

The deal [PDF] will see Mark Zuckerberg’s umbrella company deploy machine-learning workloads on thousands of Nvidia GPUs running in Azure. While a win for Microsoft, the partnership calls in to question just how strong Meta’s commitment to Amazon Web Services (AWS) really is.

Back in those long-gone days of December, Meta named AWS as its “key long-term strategic cloud provider." As part of that, Meta promised that if it bought any companies that used AWS, it would continue to support their use of Amazon's cloud, rather than force them off into its own private datacenters. The pact also included a vow to expand Meta’s consumption of Amazon’s cloud-based compute, storage, database, and security services.

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Atos pushes out HPC cloud services based on Nimbix tech

Moore's Law got you down? Throw everything at the problem! Quantum, AI, cloud...

IT services biz Atos has introduced a suite of cloud-based high-performance computing (HPC) services, based around technology gained from its purchase of cloud provider Nimbix last year.

The Nimbix Supercomputing Suite is described by Atos as a set of flexible and secure HPC solutions available as a service. It includes access to HPC, AI, and quantum computing resources, according to the services company.

In addition to the existing Nimbix HPC products, the updated portfolio includes a new federated supercomputing-as-a-service platform and a dedicated bare-metal service based on Atos BullSequana supercomputer hardware.

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In record year for vulnerabilities, Microsoft actually had fewer

Occasional gaping hole and overprivileged users still blight the Beast of Redmond

Despite a record number of publicly disclosed security flaws in 2021, Microsoft managed to improve its stats, according to research from BeyondTrust.

Figures from the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) show last year broke all records for security vulnerabilities. By December, according to pentester Redscan, 18,439 were recorded. That's an average of more than 50 flaws a day.

However just 1,212 vulnerabilities were reported in Microsoft products last year, said BeyondTrust, a 5 percent drop on the previous year. In addition, critical vulnerabilities in the software (those with a CVSS score of 9 or more) plunged 47 percent, with the drop in Windows Server specifically down 50 percent. There was bad news for Internet Explorer and Edge vulnerabilities, though: they were up 280 percent on the prior year, with 349 flaws spotted in 2021.

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Vehicle owner data exposed in GM credential-stuffing attack

Car maker says miscreants used stolen logins to break into folks' accounts

Automaker General Motors has confirmed the credential stuffing attack it suffered last month exposed customers' names, personal email addresses, and destination data, as well as usernames and phone numbers for family members tied to customer accounts.

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Foxconn factory fiasco could leave Wisconsinites on the hook for $300m

What's Mandarin for 'Where's my money?'

For five years, Foxconn promised and spectacularly failed to build a much-hyped sprawling factory near Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. Now, the area's leaders may be saddled with $300 million in bond repayments that the Taiwanese iPhone maker had promised to repay. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, Foxconn agreed to pay $36 million annually across a 20-year term to pay for the surrounding infrastructure supporting the now-abandoned 3,000-acre site. Those payments are scheduled to start next tax year, and local leaders told the newspaper they're counting on Foxconn's cash to maintain the site while they try to attract another occupant. 

Finding an occupant hasn't been easy. Intel, which announced a $20 billion investment in two chip factories in Ohio in January, was also considering Wisconsin for the project, with its focus on Racine, the nearest large city to the proposed Foxconn plant. 

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Original killer PC spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 now runs on Linux natively

As Google guru who ported it points out, the operating system did not exist when 1-2-3 came out in 1983

A long lost native Unix version of the killer PC spreadsheet has not only been rediscovered, but almost unbelievably, it's been updated to create a native Linux version.

Lotus 1-2-3 was arguably the single application which made the IBM PC a success, and was launched nearly 40 years ago, on January 26, 1983. The Reg celebrated its 30th anniversary by firing it up in DOSbox, and we mourned when IBM finally killed it.

It still has admirers today, and one of them is Google bughunter Tavis Ormandy, of Project Zero. Ormandy explains how he ported Lotus 1-2-3 natively to Linux here.

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ServiceNow takes aim at procurement pain points

Purchasing teams are a bit like help desks – always being asked to answer dumb or inappropriate questions

ServiceNow's efforts to expand into more industries will soon include a Procurement Service Management product.

This is not a dedicated application – ServiceNow has occasionally flirted with templates for its platform that come very close to being apps. Instead it stays close to the company's core of providing workflows that put the right jobs in the right hands, and make sure they get done. In this case, it will do so by tickling ERP and dedicated procurement applications, using tech ServiceNow acquired along with a company called Gekkobrain in 2021.

The company believes it can play to its strengths with procurements via a single, centralized buying team.

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HPE, Cerebras build AI supercomputer for scientific research

Wafer madness hits the LRZ in HPE Superdome supercomputer wrapper

HPE and Cerebras Systems have built a new AI supercomputer in Munich, Germany, pairing a HPE Superdome Flex with the AI accelerator technology from Cerebras for use by the scientific and engineering community.

The new system, created for the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Munich, is being deployed to meet the current and expected future compute needs of researchers, including larger deep learning neural network models and the emergence of multi-modal problems that involve multiple data types such as images and speech, according to Laura Schulz, LRZ's head of Strategic Developments and Partnerships.

"We're seeing an increase in large data volumes coming at us that need more and more processing, and models that are taking months to train, we want to be able to speed that up," Schulz said.

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We have bigger targets than beating Oracle, say open source DB pioneers

Advocates for MySQL and PostgreSQL see broader future for movement they helped create

MySQL pioneer Peter Zaitsev, an early employee of MySQL AB under the original open source database author Michael "Monty" Widenius, once found it easy to identify the enemy.

"In the early days of MySQL AB, we were there to get Oracle's ass. Our CEO Mårten Mickos was always telling us how we were going to get out there and replace all those Oracle database installations," Zaitsev told The Register.

Speaking at Percona Live, the open source database event hosted by the services company Zaitsev founded in 2006 and runs as chief exec, he said that situation had changed since Oracle ended up owning MySQL in 2010. This was as a consequence of its acquisition that year of Sun Microsystems, which had bought MySQL AB just two years earlier.

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Beijing needs the ability to 'destroy' Starlink, say Chinese researchers

Paper authors warn Elon Musk's 2,400 machines could be used offensively

An egghead at the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, writing in a peer-reviewed domestic journal, has advocated for Chinese military capability to take out Starlink satellites on the grounds of national security.

According to the South China Morning Post, lead author Ren Yuanzhen and colleagues advocated in Modern Defence Technology not only for China to develop anti-satellite capabilities, but also to have a surveillance system that could monitor and track all satellites in Starlink's constellation.

"A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation's operating system," the Chinese boffins reportedly said, estimating that data transmission speeds of stealth fighter jets and US military drones could increase by a factor of 100 through a Musk machine connection.

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