Java EE's Future (From JCP EC Meeting Minutes)

2016-06-24 09:52:13

If you’ve been following Java EE related news over the past few months, you’ll know that Oracle cut back on a number of its Java Evangelist employees; others such as Reza Rahman appear to have left of their own accord; and there’s a general concern than Oracle appears to have slowed down input on any Java EE JSR. Rahman has formed a group called the Java EE Guardians to drive community activity to support future development of Java EE and EE JSRs.If you want more of an inside view to what’s going on, there’s some interesting reading in the form of the JCP Executive Committee meeting minutes which are public record. The minutes for June 2016 and May 2016 both had agenda items to discuss the future of Java EE. The minutes from the May meeting are very interesting, including comments such as :“…concern that Oracle, despite its role as steward of Java, has not made any public statements or explanations for the apparent lack of activity on Java EE”...and recording of a statement to Oracle from the JCP Executive Committee formally voicing their concern:“EC members expressed their serious concerns about the lack of progress on Java EE. They believe that Java EE is critical to the Java ecosystem and to their organizations and customers. They fully accept Oracle’s right to direct its investment where it wishes, but expressed the hope that they and other members of the Java community be permitted to step in and help with the ongoing development of the platform, particularly in areas where Oracle wishes to reduce its investment. They therefore requested a dialog with Oracle about how to make such a transition.”Another concern recorded in the minutes was that Oracle holds IP rights for the majority of the JSRs that are in progress, and so passing responsibility on to other parties requires Oracle’s involvement to pass on ownership of this IP… something which they may agree to, or may not.Minutes from April 2016 note:“Martijn Verburg reported on behalf of the London Java Community that it now seems clear that little if any progress is being made on Oracle-led Java EE JSRs. (Some Oracle Spec Leads have admitted publicly that they are unable to spend any time on their JSRs, having been directed to work elsewhere.) He estimated that work on Java EE seems to have stopped around November 2015.”So, it’s clear there is industry concern that Oracle has backed off from involvement with the development of JSRs for Java EE8. The question is, what happens now?

How Netflix Changed Streaming

2016-06-17 06:27:25

It's no secret that Netflix kicked off their move to a cloud-based infrastructure back in 2008. The changeover from a monolithic architecture to one dominated by microservices now just seems like common sense to many developers — if not inevitable.After all, as cybersecurity consultant Chris Eng pointed out on Twitter a couple of years back, "A single missing semicolon brought down the entire (monolithic) Netflix website for several hours in 2008."But it's hard to fathom just how deep that overriding philosophy goes. For example, ever wonder how they can stream high-definition movies and shows over what seems like limited bandwidth?Head in the CloudsFortunately, the Netflix crew keeps its goings-on fairly transparent. As they explained on their blog back in December, their entire encoding process takes place in the cloud. "The video encoding pipeline runs EC2 Linux cloud instances," according to the blog. "The elasticity of the cloud enables us to seamlessly scale up when more titles need to be processed and scale down to free up resources."Starting at the source video, they have a system in place to check its quality. This system is automated (because of course it is), scanning the source for compression artifacts and the like that would transfer to the viewer. "Garbage in means garbage out," the post goes on to say.Assuming the video gets the thumbs up, it's just a matter of filtering it into their cloud-based encoding setup. If you're curious, their procedure looks a lot like this:The Netflix gang uses several codecs to handle the variety of types of screens watching their content. "At Netflix we stream to a heterogenous set of viewing devices," their post says. "This requires a number of codec profiles: VC1, H.264/AVC Baseline, H.264/AVC Main and HEVC. We also support varying bandwidth scenarios for our members, all the way from sub-0.5 Mbps cellular to 100+ Mbps high-speed Internet."And as for really big files, 4K video, for example, they break the process into chunks that can run in parallel. And the bigger the file is, the more chunks they create to handle it.All Sizes Fit OneAll right, that's nifty, but how do they get it to my screen? Or, more importantly, my screens? After all, I enjoy Netflix whether it's on my phone, my laptop, my desktop monitor, or my TV. How do they handle that? Do they just break the videos up into a bunch of resolutions and go from there?Well, they used to. But now they prefer a more elegant, more personalized solution.Netflix's system takes their entire library and decides how complex each and every title is. That's where the service differs from a lot of traditional broadcasters. Usually, a movie or show is given a set speed to transmit over, or, at most, given resolutions are paired with static bitrates. As mentioned, that's how Netflix itself did it for a while. Then, they stumbled upon a realization.Let's say I want to watch a cartoon — Young Justice, for example. Sure, it's packed with action and sound effects, but Robin and Kid Flash are never going to be more than two-dimensional renderings. Cadmus Labs looks ominous, but that animation is almost never going to be more complex than a high-budget action show — Marvel's Daredevil, for instance.As impressive as Young Justice is (season one, at least), it's never going to need the resources that Daredevil has to have to transmit cleanly and clearly. Yeah, Aqualad's embassy brawl with Sportsmaster was cool, but did you see any of Murdock's 57 protracted hallway fight sequences? The man deserves a bit of extra bandwidth.Meanwhile, Young Justice can transmit just fine using fewer resources, which can be allocated elsewhere.Netflix uses the peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR), to help determine visual quality. It's measured logarithmically and generally expressed in decibels. To keep it brief, PSNR compares the maximum power of a signal with the power of corrupting noise that leads to distortion. It's generally a quick and dirty way to determine video quality. By Netflix's own admission, it isn't a perfect metric, but it works for their purposes.To prove the diversity of its titles, and to show why a per-title system is a good idea, Netflix's staff compiled 100 of them on a graph.The target for very good quality is 45 dB, but 38 dB is acceptable. The lower the bitrate it takes a title reaches those targets, the more visually simple it tends to be. And if something can be encoded at 1080p with a bitrate of 2,000 kbps, then there's no need for a one-size-fits-all pipeline that transmits it at 4,500 kbps.Here's the difference, courtesy of Netflix:The Method to the MadnessSo, how do they figure out what shows need which bitrates? An algorithm, of course.In the team's own words: "To design the optimal per-title bitrate ladder, we select the total number of quality levels and the bitrate-resolution pair for each quality level according to several practical constraints.  For example, we need backward-compatibility (streams are playable on all previously certified Netflix devices), so we limit the resolution selection to a finite set — 1920x1080, 1280x720, 720x480, 512x384, 384x288 and 320x240. In addition, the bitrate selection is also limited to a finite set, where the adjacent bitrates have an increment of roughly 5%."Well, 5% of what?The ideal bitrate is one that reaches (or very nearly reaches) Pareto efficiency. It's the place where two measurements (in this case, visual quality and efficiency) meet without interfering with each other.So, starting there, or as close to it as they can possibly get, they introduce other bitrates at 5% intervals. According to Netflix's research, that's just under 1 just-noticeable difference (JND). The JND is something out of experimental psychology. It's the amount of stimulus needed for a person to recognized that something has changed.So, by keeping the bitrate increments to under 1 JND, a viewer should theoretically only see a change when several steps are taken once. In effect Netflix takes the stance that those shifts should be as fluid as possible. Or at least as fluid as economically feasible for them.ConclusionTheir whole process really shines for those low-intensity titles. Animation and live-action dramas that focus on characters rather than explosions (not that there's anything wrong with a good car crash) can be transmitted far more efficiently this way than with the older model, which just paired bitrates to resolutions.The end result is a fluid bitrate ladder that is personalized not just to your resolution and bandwidth, but to the title that you're watching. It's just one of those things that makes sense in hindsight and makes you wonder why it didn't happen sooner.Then again, Netflix has been making us say that for years now, so maybe it shouldn't be so surprising. 

Drivers sue Uber, Lyft over exit from Austin, Texas

2016-06-10 04:22:38

Former Uber Technologies Inc UBER.UL and Lyft Inc drivers in Austin, Texas, on Thursday accused the ride-hailing companies of breaking a federal law by abruptly halting operations in the city after voters backed a measure requiring them to fingerprint drivers.The lawsuits filed in federal court in San Francisco, where the companies are based, said Uber and Lyft violated a law that requires companies to give 60 days notice to employees before a "mass layoff." Uber spokesman Matt Kallman declined to comment. Lyft did not respond to a request for comment. The companies suspended services in Austin on May 9, two days after residents voted to keep the city's law requiring Uber and Lyft, just like taxi companies, to conduct fingerprint-based background checks of their drivers. About 10,000 Uber and Lyft drivers lost their jobs, Uber said at the time.The companies consider drivers to be independent contractors, and Thursday's lawsuits are the latest to claim they are actually employees under various federal and state laws because of the degree of control Uber and Lyft exert. They appeared to be the first cases against the companies brought under the 1988 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which was designed to give workers time to adjust to the loss of employment. Companies that violate the law, which includes an exception for "unforeseeable business circumstances," are on the hook for wages and benefits workers would have earned during the 60-day notice period. The lawsuits said the named plaintiffs, who are seeking to represent classes of Uber and Lyft drivers from Austin, have been unable to make up for the loss of income. Drivers around the country have sued Uber and Lyft claiming the companies misclassified them as independent contractors and deprived them of overtime pay, tips, reimbursements and certain employment protections.In April, Uber agreed to pay up to $100 million to 350,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts to settle claims that it owed them reimbursement for gas and mileage and withheld tips. Lyft has proposed a $27 million settlement of a similar case involving California drivers. Federal judges in San Francisco last week held hearings to consider both settlements.The cases in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California are Johnston v. Uber Technologies Inc, No. 3:16-cv-03134, and Thornton v. Lyft Inc, No. 3:16-cv-03135. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi)

Facebook board seeks curb in Zuckerberg control in event of founder's departure

2016-06-03 06:17:59

Facebook Inc's board has proposed removing Mark Zuckerberg's majority voting control in the event of the social media giant's chief executive and founder deciding to exit management at some point in future.In a proxy filing on Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook's board said it will ask shareholders to vote on a proposal that would convert Zuckerberg's Class B shares into Class A shares if he is no longer in a leadership position. As of June 2, Zuckerberg beneficially owned about 4 million Class A shares and about 419 million Class B shares, collectively representing about 53.8 percent of total outstanding voting power and 14.8 percent of total outstanding economic interests. The proposed move - to be voted on at Facebook's annual general meeting on June 20 - is designed to make sure a future Facebook chief's management powers aren't limited, the board said. "These new terms thus ensure that we will not remain a founder-controlled company after we cease to be a founder-led company," the board said in the filing. ( Under current provisions, Zuckerberg is allowed to hold Class B shares and exercise majority voting control even if leaves the company. Zuckerberg would also be allowed to pass his Class B shares, and possibly his majority voting control, to descendants after his death. (Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

Radar images reveal Mars is coming out of an ice age

2016-05-27 04:13:12

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. An analysis of radar images that peered inside the polar ice caps of Mars shows that Earth's neighbor is coming out of an ice age that is part of an ongoing cycle of climate change, scientists said on Thursday. The Martian ice began its retreat about 370,000 years ago, marking the end of the last ice age, according to the research published in the journal Science. Using images taken by satellites orbiting Mars, the researchers determined that about 20,872 cubic miles (87,000 cubic km) of ice has accumulated at its poles since the end of the ice age, mostly in the northern polar cap. Scientists are keenly interested in piecing together the climate history of Mars, which contains strong evidence that oceans and lakes once pooled on its surface, bolstering the prospects for life. Scientists can now use the new ice measurements in computer simulations to more accurately model the Martian climate, said planetary scientist Isaac Smith of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who led the study."Previously those models were unconstrained by observations so they started with guesses. Now they have more to run on," Smith said.The study also was the first to tie a specific layer of Martian ice with a specific period of time. "Eventually we'd like to be able to do this for every layer," Smith said. From the perspective of an Earthling, every day on Mars may feel like an ice age. According to NASA, temperatures on Mars may hit a high at noon at the equator in the summer of roughly 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), or a low of about minus-225 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-153 degrees Celsius) at the poles.Unlike Earth, ice ages on Mars occur when its poles are warmer than average and frozen water is more stable at lower latitudes. Transitions between lengthy climate phases can leave telltale features in the ice, the research showed. For example, Smith and colleagues found dramatic slopes in layers of ice within the Martian northern ice cap. Other layers reveal ice flowing in reverse direction. The climate cycles are triggered by changes in Mars' orbit and tilt, which affect how much sunlight reaches the planet's surface.The shifts are particularly dramatic on Mars because theplanet's tilt changes by as much as 60 degrees, compared to variations in Earth's tilt of about 2 degrees. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Will Dunham)

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