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A tabtastrophe in MacWrite • The Register

Voice Of EU



On Call Sometimes it just works. Sometimes it just doesn’t. And sometimes users do the most curious of things. Welcome to an Apple-tastic episode of On Call.

macintosh plus

Apple Macintosh Plus in the National Museum of Science and Technology of Catalonia

Our story comes from a reader Regomized as “Mark”, well into his fourth decade in the IT industry, and concerns the time when Apple was bringing its beige all-in-one Macs into the classroom for the very first time.

Being in computer customer support at an educational institution, Mark was very much at the sharp pointy end of Apple’s thrust.

“The response to the Mac on our campus was amazing,” he said, “the University built a lab full of just Mac Pluses to handle the demand.”

While it might be 45 years since the Apple II put in an appearance, the impact of the Mac and its user interface continues to reverberate today. The Plus shipped with a mighty megabyte of RAM and rocked a Motorola 68000 CPU. It also featured the iconic monochrome screen in its case and had a range of productivity tools. One of these was MacWrite, which had turned up alongside the first iteration.

The graphical interface, while not wholly original, was a revelation for the time (even if modern users take such what-you-see-is-what-you-might-get marvels for granted today.) It was also subject to abuse.

“One of the enthusiastic users believed that a document could be improved if you added as many different fonts as possible,” explained Mark. We know just the type (and typeface.)

“One day he came to me saying that one of the Macs in the lab was broken,” Mark went on. “He was writing a paper using MacWrite and it would no longer let him enter any more text.”

The MacWrite of the era was not noted for being particularly fragile, so Mark dug deeper.

“He could not edit or enter any text of any kind no matter the font,” he went on, “Of course the first things that came to mind were fonts or perhaps the length of the document.”

“You could create new documents but you could no longer work on his.”

Mark sat down before the stricken machine and created a new file. All was well. The user, however, insisted that Apple’s finest was misbehaving. So Mark did what any good support engineer would do. No, not go for a long liquid lunch. He asked the user to demonstrate what he was doing.

“On every line, when he got to the edge of the screen,” said Mark, “he TABBED to the next line. Just as you would hit return with a typewriter when you got to the edge of the page.”

The document was nearing 30 pages, and the user had tabbed at the end of every text filled line. A paragraph was on the receiving end of two tabs.

We had a crack at recreating this problem ourselves, using one of the popular emulators, and we can confirm that after this sort of abuse, MacWrite occasionally stops accepting any new input (it also gets progressively less and less responsive, hinting at the problems to come.)

Mark speculated that MacWrite must have some sort of tab limit, where no more data could be entered. It didn’t crash, it simply ignored further input.

“I told Apple about this,” he said. “They were unaware of the limit.”

“Of course,” he conceded, “it could have been document size and the tabs made the document exceed it.” However, he’d never hit this problem before or since.

Welcome to Macintosh screen

The Apple Mac is 35 years old. Behold the beige box of the future


Mark gently suggested that the user might remove the tabs and educated him in how MacWrite (and pretty the majority of modern word processors) worked. All was well.

“His document was still ugly with all those fonts.”

It was the only time Mark ever needed to teach someone how to use the application. “I thought MacWrite needed no explanation.”

“I was wrong.”

There have been few greater catastrophes in computing than when users were given the ability to festoon their documents with poor font choices. And even with the most famously friendly of interfaces, a user can still be trusted to do something silly. Ever found yourself dispensing training when you assumed surely none was needed? Tell us, with an email to On Call. ®

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Meditation app Calm sacks one-fifth of staff | Meditation

Voice Of EU



The US-based meditation app Calm has laid off 20% of its workforce, becoming the latest US tech startup to announce job cuts.

The firm’s boss, David Ko, said the company, which has now axed about 90 people from its 400-person staff, was “not immune” to the economic climate. “In building out our strategic and financial plan, we revisited the investment thesis behind every project and it became clear that we need to make changes,” he said in a memo to staff.

“I can assure you that this was not an easy decision, but it is especially difficult for a company like ours whose mission is focused on workplace mental health and wellness.”

The Calm app, founded in 2012, offers guided meditation and bedtime stories for people of all ages. It received a surge of downloads triggered by the 2020 Covid lockdowns. By the end of that year, the software company said the app had been downloaded more than 100 million times globally and had amassed over 4 million paying subscribers.

Investors valued the firm, which said it had been profitable since 2016, at $2bn.

In the memo, Ko went on: “We did not come to this decision lightly, but are confident that these changes will help us prioritize the future, focus on growth and become a more efficient organization.”

More than 500 startups have laid off staff this year, according to, a website that tracks such announcements.

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Let there be ambient light sensing, without data theft • The Register

Voice Of EU



Six years after web security and privacy concerns surfaced about ambient light sensors in mobile phones and notebooks, browser boffins have finally implemented defenses.

The W3C, everyone’s favorite web standards body, began formulating an Ambient Light Events API specification back in 2012 to define how web browsers should handle data and events from ambient light sensors (ALS). Section 4 of the draft spec, “Security and privacy considerations,” was blank. It was a more carefree time.

Come 2015, the spec evolved to include acknowledgement of the possibility that ALS might allow data correlation and device fingerprinting, to the detriment of people’s privacy. And it suggested that browser makers might consider event rate limiting as a potential mitigation.

By 2016, it became clear that allowing web code to interact with device light sensors entailed privacy and security risks beyond fingerprinting. Dr Lukasz Olejnik, an independent privacy researcher and consultant, explored the possibilities in a 2016 blog post.

Olejnik cited a number of ways in which ambient light sensor readings might be abused, including data leakage, profiling, behavioral analysis, and various forms of cross-device communication.

He described a few proof-of-concept attacks, devised with the help of security researcher Artur Janc, in a 2017 post and delved into more detail in a 2020 paper [PDF].

“The attack we devised was a side-channel leak, conceptually very simple, taking advantage of the optical properties of human skin and its reflective properties,” Olejnik explained in his paper.

“Skin reflectance only accounts for the 4-7 percent emitted light but modern display screens emit light with significant luminance. We exploited these facts of nature to craft an attack that reasoned about the website content via information encoded in the light level and conveyed via the user skin, back to the browsing context tracking the light sensor readings.”

It was this technique that enabled the proof-of-concept attacks like stealing web history through inferences made from CSS changes and stealing cross origin resources, such as images or the contents of iframes.

Snail-like speed

Browser vendors responded in various ways. In May 2018, with the release of Firefox 60, Mozilla moved access to the W3C proximity and ambient light APIs behind flags, and applied further limitations in subsequent Firefox releases.

Apple simply declined to implement the API in WebKit, along with a number of other capabilities. Both Apple and Mozilla currently oppose a proposal for a generic sensor API.

Google took what Olejnik described his paper as a “more nuanced” approach, limiting the precision of sensor data.

But those working on the W3C specification and on the browsers implementing the spec recognized that such privacy protections should be formalized, to increase the likelihood the API will be widely adopted and used.

So they voted to make the imprecision of ALS data normative (standard for browsers) and to require the camera access permission as part of the ALS spec.

Those changes finally landed in the ALS spec this week. As a result, Google and perhaps other browser makers may choose to make the ALS API available by default rather than hiding it behind a flag or ignoring it entirely. ®

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4 supports that can help employees outside of work

Voice Of EU



Everyone has different situations to deal with outside of the workplace. But that doesn’t mean the workplace can’t be a source of support.

Employers and governments alike are often striving to make workplaces better for everyone, whether it’s workplace wellbeing programmes or gender pay gap reporting.

However, life is about more than just the hours that are spent in work, and how an employer supports those other life challenges can be a major help.

Family-friendly benefits

Several companies have been launching new benefits and policies that help families and those trying to have children.

Job site Indeed announced a new ‘family forming’ benefit package earlier this year, which is designed to provide employees with family planning and fertility-related assistance.

The programme includes access to virtual care and a network of providers who can guide employees through their family-forming journey.

Vodafone Ireland introduced a new fertility and pregnancy policy in February 2022 that includes extended leave for pregnancy loss, fertility treatment and surrogacy.

And as of the beginning of 2022, Pinterest employees around the world started receiving a host of new parental benefits, including a minimum of 20 weeks’ parental leave, monetary assistance of up to $10,000 or local equivalent for adoptive parents, and four weeks of paid leave to employees who experience a loss through miscarriage at any point in a pregnancy.

Helping those experiencing domestic abuse

There are also ways to support employees going through a difficult time. Bank of Ireland introduced a domestic abuse leave policy earlier this year, which provides a range of supports to colleagues who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Under the policy, the bank will provide both financial and non-financial support to colleagues, such as paid leave and flexibility with the work environment or schedule.

In emergency situations where an employee needs to immediately leave an abusive partner, the bank will help through paid emergency hotel accommodation or a salary advance.

In partnership with Women’s Aid, the company is also rolling out training to colleagues to help recognise the symptoms of abuse and provide guidance on how to take appropriate action.

Commenting on the policy, Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson said employers who implement policies and procedures for employees subjected to domestic abuse can help reduce the risk of survivors giving up work and increase “feelings of solidarity and support at a time when they may feel completely isolated and alone”.

A menopause policy

In 2021, Vodafone created a policy to support workers after a survey it commissioned revealed that nearly two-thirds of women who experienced menopause symptoms said it impacted them at work. A third of those who had symptoms also said they hid this at work. Half of those surveyed felt there is a stigma around talking about menopause, which is something Vodafone is seeking to combat through education for all staff.

Speaking to last year, Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary said the company would roll out a training and awareness programme to all employees globally, including a toolkit to improve their understanding of menopause and provide guidance on how to support employees, colleagues and family members.

In Ireland, Vodafone employees are able to avail of leave for sickness and medical treatment, flexible working hours and additional care through the company’s employee assistance programme when going through the menopause.

Support hub for migrants

There are also initiatives to help people get their foot on the employment ladder.

Earlier this year, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD launched a new service with education and employment supports for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.

The Pathways to Progress platform is part of the Open Doors Initiative supporting marginalised groups to access further education, employment and entrepreneurship in Ireland.

As part of the initiative, member company Siro offered a paid 12-week internship programme for six people who are refugees. The internships include job preparation, interview skills and access to the company’s online learning portals.

Open Doors Initiative CEO Jeanne McDonagh said the chance to land a meaningful job or establish a new business is key to people’s integration into Ireland, no matter what route they took to get here.

“Some are refugees, some are living in direct provision, some will have their status newly regularised, and others will come directly for work,” she said. “Our new service aims to support all migrants in finding a decent job as they prepare to enter the Irish workforce, and to support employers as they seek to build an inclusive culture in their workplaces.”

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