Welcome to Plancktime’s first ever monthly roundup featuring short summaries on a couple of maths, tech or computing news that I thought were interesting and/or important. Links to articles that I used on each of the topics will be included at the bottom of the article in case you want to read more into the subjects.
As of January 26th you can now pre-order your very own HomePod, Apple’s smart speaker, for £319. Compared to its main competitors, the Amazon Echo (which ranges from £49.99 for the Echo Dot to £199 for the Echo Show) and the Google Home (which is priced at £129), Apple’s HomePod is not only much pricier, it has also been released much later into the game.
The HomePod focuses on music playback and features a high-excursion woofer, an Apple-designed A8 chip, 6 microphones and an array of seven tweeters. It will implement Siri as its voice assistant and is designed to work with an Apple Music subscription, in contrast to Alexa and Google Assistant which do not restrict you to Amazon Prime Music and Google Play music respectively. Other features include telling you the latest news, traffic, sports and weather, setting reminders and tasks, sending messages and controlling smart home accessories. However, the HomePod does not have bluetooth connectivity.
Apple claims that its HomePod is spatially aware, meaning it should optimise its sound to fit the space it is in, and also can cancel out background noise so if you say ‘Hey Siri’ while the speaker is playing music, Siri will activate.
From the various reviews that I have read (linked below), the consensus seems to be that the audio quality from the HomePod is exceptionally high, regardless of the type of music being played. Furthermore, the sound remains constant as you walk around the room.
Spectre and Meltdown are vulnerabilities that can affect many processors, including some dating back decades. They were only publicly disclosed by Google Project Zero in early January despite various groups within affected companies such as ARM, Apple, Intel and Microsoft knowing about the CPU flaws as early as June 2017. This abnormal disclosure process has meant that many patch updates have been delayed, incomplete or flawed. For example FreeBSD’s security team were only notified in late December and so were unable to offer users an estimate of when patches would be ready by the time the flaws were made public. Many other groups or companies, such as Carnegie Mellon’s CERT/CC, which play a significant role in informing industry about vulnerabilities, didn’t even know about Meltdown and Spectre until Google’s disclosure. 2 other teams independently discovered Meltdown and also reported the issue.
Meltdown and Spectre can be exploited by malicious programs to steal data which is currently processed on the computer in the memory of programs or tabs that are currently running. This could include passwords stored on a browser, emails or photos. Meltdown and Spectre can affect desktops, laptops and Cloud computers, with Spectre also affecting Smartphones. Meltdown allows a program to access the system memory, breaking the mechanism that keeps applications from accessing arbitrary system memory. Spectre tricks other applications into accessing arbitrary locations in their memory, which can then be accessed through a side channel. Spectre is harder to exploit, but it is also harder to mitigate.
New Largest Known Prime
As part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), Jonathan Pace discovered the largest known prime: 2^(77232917) – 1. At 23249425 digits, this prime, also known as M77232917, is one million digits larger than the previous record, which was found towards the end of 2015. It is also in a class of extremely rare primes called Mersenne primes (M77232917 is only the 50th known Mersenne prime). A Mersenne prime is a prime of the form 2^P – 1, where P is a prime.
GIMPS offers rewards for finding the next largest prime and provides software to help find them. Pace has been hunting for large prime numbers for over 14 years. It took his computer 6 days of continuous computation to find and prove that M77232917 is prime, with a further 4 unique programs independently verifying that the number is indeed prime.
Largest Known Prime