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Digital world-beater Arm needs a helping hand from Boris Johnson | Arm

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Last September, Nvidia, the American manufacturer of graphics processing chips, and the Japanese company SoftBank announced an agreement under which Nvidia would acquire the British chip designer Arm from SoftBank for $40bn. Since SoftBank had acquired Arm in 2016 for $32bn, you could say that a 25% profit on a five-year investment isn’t to be sneezed at, especially if industry mutterings about SoftBank’s crackpot investment strategy and Arm’s internal difficulties with its China-based operation are to be believed.

But even if one were foolish enough to sympathise with SoftBank’s desire to climb out of the hole it had dug for itself, the idea that Arm should be sold to a US chip manufacturer is so daft that even Boris Johnson’s administration had begun to smell a rat. And so on Monday it announced that the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport was “intervening in the sale on national security grounds”, based on advice received “from officials across the investment security community”. To which decision the only possible response is: what took him so long?

To fully appreciate the idiocy of allowing the Nvidia deal to go ahead, some technical background might be helpful. Arm is a remarkable Cambridge-based company that emerged from the UK’s early lead in microcomputers in the 1980s, triggered by the BBC’s digital literacy project and the emergence of the BBC Micro. This famous machine was designed by Acorn, a Cambridge startup, and it provided the platform on which a generation of programmers and game designers first learned the basics of their craft.

After the success of the BBC machine, the question for Acorn’s founders was: what next? Their answer was to design a new kind of processor called a Risc (reduced instruction set computer) machine that had the potential for faster, cheaper and more energy-efficient computing. The company they set up to develop this idea was originally called Acorn Risc Machines, hence the acronym Arm, though it eventually became Advanced Risc Machines.

Arm was based on a clever idea from the outset, but the real stroke of genius was its co-founders’ invention of a novel business model. The company would not manufacture chips, but merely design processors to exploit Risc architecture and license the designs to anyone who wanted to actually manufacture the chips while paying royalties to Arm for the use of its intellectual property. This was astute because chip manufacturing is a hugely capital-intensive business feasible only for big companies with very deep pockets and an appetite for risk.

The key to Arm’s extraordinary growth was the smartphone revolution kicked off by the Apple iPhone in 2007. Suddenly, the world shifted to everyone wanting a powerful handhold computer that could access the internet. And all those little computers needed processors that were small, powerful and – most importantly – consumed as little power as possible. In other words, Arm designs. The result: something like 95% of all the mobile devices in the world now run on Arm-designed processors. That’s a British success story on an unimaginable scale.

But here’s the critical bit: Arm doesn’t make chips – that business is left to what are called “silicon foundries”, ie semiconductor fabrication plants. If you need a processor for your new phone or tablet or other gizmo and you’re willing to pay the royalty, you can use an Arm design. And so can your competitors. Arm can – and does – license its designs to all-comers because it’s not involved in their business! It doesn’t compete with its customers.

Nvidia, however, does make processors. Its graphics processing units (GPUs) are the wonders of the silicon world. Originally dominant in the areas of computer gaming, graphics processing and film animation, it turned out that they are also terrific for building machine-learning systems and neural networks – all stuff that happens on desktop computers or in large racks of servers in datacentres. And as the feeding frenzy over machine learning has become frenetic, Nvidia is booming, because it’s surfing a tsunami.

But it doesn’t really have a serious foothold in the mobile computing world, which is why it was hooked when SoftBank decided to dispose of Arm. In the crazed world of corporate mergers and acquisition it probably looks like a smart purchase. But in the long run it’s a way of crippling Arm (or perhaps even destroying it) because all chip manufacturers are, ultimately, competitors of Nvidia. They’re in the same business and in that racket only the paranoid survive.

If the Johnson administration is really serious about the UK continuing to have some real clout in the global digital economy, then letting the country’s one genuinely world-beating company go to a US firm (which is subject to US government rules about technology exports to China) would be certifiable lunacy. And the annoying thing is that an obvious solution exists: the government should take a 51% stake in Arm to protect it from corporate raiders and let it get on with what it does best.

What I’ve been reading

About face
Has the US got its ideas about wearing masks the wrong way around? Answer, yes, argues Derek Thompson in the Atlantic.

Free for all
A sharp piece by James Ball in the New European about the real scandal of the David Cameron affair.

Location, location
A thoughtful meditation by Drew Austin on his Kneeling Bus blog about what the internet is doing to our sense of place.

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Henry Stone: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Comedy

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I write comedy and I direct comedy, and all of the money I make is from making comedy. However not all of the comedy I make is for making money. I like making things that are borne of nothing other than my fancy being tickled. I’m biased because I’m me and me is a perfect boy, but I’m pretty sure that this is the exactly correct way to approach your craft; one for you, one for them.

Ira Glass likes to talk about the taste gap and I like to talk about Ira Glass talking about the taste gap. It’s the mental chasm you find yourself in when you’re really into your chosen creative pursuit but you haven’t flexed your own muscle enough yet and you KNOW IT and it hurts cos you know you suck. I want to half-hijack my own funniest things list to celebrate the taste-gap-closing creative phase because I feel like its necessity is slowly being ignored.

This is a list of the funniest things on the internet that I know have been made only for the love of the process. No budgets or institutional support – simply really funny ideas explored to what appears to be the limit of the creators’ resources and abilities at the time. Has anyone laboured the ideology behind a selection criteria for a funny videos listicle as much as this? Probably not, but I’m trying to close up my opinion-piece-writing taste gap cos I’m thinking about starting a locky-d newsletter so like, forgive me?

1. Tiny Fuppets

Wow the Tiny Fuppets are AMAZE! I STAN TINY FUPPETS! If you don’t know about the Tiny Fuppets well they are simply just some Fuppets who are tiny teehee. This series started in 2011 and not too long after the creators became Conan writers.

2. Aunty Donna – GPS tries to kill man

Feels like you’re legally required to have an Aunty Donna video in your Guardian 10 funniest things list – they themselves had a list populated almost entirely with their own videos (due to the law I guess). Here we find the Donnas in 2012 being very funny and dumb and now we find them everywhere being funny and dumb cos they closed up their gap noice and toight.

3. F the Internet

A public-access-aping sketch that breaks out of the confines of its well-trodden framing with a confidently silly central performance and a clear willingness in the film-making to find the comedy on the day. This is 2015. Three years later star/writer/director Elizabeth Zephyrine McDonough started working for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

4. The New Pet Detectives

2013, my best friends Sam and Greg form the dream team of them, Tom Ward and Jonathan Schuster, to make a sketch for our shared YouTube. They’re in Melbourne and I’ve only just moved to Sydney so I wasn’t involved at all and therefore don’t feel grotty about putting it on my list. Eight years later, The New Pet Detectives makes me laugh every time and even though it ends with literally an apology for how shit they thought it was, all of them have closed up their gaps enough to continue to make comedy on bigger and crazier world stages.

5. Redfern Electrical

This one’s some red-hot 2021 business. John Cruckshank, beyond being a man of the people, is achingly funny and along with his film-making collaborator Luke Smith has the storytelling prowess to make this work of autofiction both hilarious moment-to-moment as well as structurally watertight. Together they’ve got more chops than Sam Kekovich and when viewed as a local sitcom it’s hard to argue that there’s anything better being made on Australia TV by people getting paid to do it. Off the back of this the Shank got tapped to be in the Big Lez Show as well as some other upcoming US animation stuff. If you’re sleeping on him, cut it out.

6. Just 2 Guyz

I don’t think it’s that necessary to go deep into why the Lonely Island are good. Just 2 Guyz was a standalone 2004 video that wound up in their failed 2005 sketch show pilot. Later that year they were all hired into Saturday Night Live. Two years after that, Hot Rod, my favourite comedy movie, comes out. I did toy with including the Stolen Footage: Jorm Dances video series in this list but those were made during SNL which disqualified them from being “for free” in my staunch opinion.

7. Laura’s Shock Attack

Sam (see: The New Pet Detectives) showed this to me and I commend its makers for at once nodding to the past with their use of French New Wave jump cuts while also being forward thinking by experimenting with unusual aspect ratios before your A24 johnny-come-lately’s like Jonah Hill and Robert Eggers ever did. Though it’s rudimentary you gotta crawl before you can walk oddly down steps (see: 40s mark).

8. This @jjjhack tweet

Half a decade late admin reveal: @jjjhack was run by Sophie Braham, Tom Cashman and myself. When we started it, Crikey wrote an article about the account’s follower rise without ever checking to see whether the followers were all eggs, which they were because I paid $60 to get 70,000 fake ones so that we aesthetically mirrored the real @triplejhack Twitter account as closely as possible. We made a pact with ourselves to only ever reply to any emails or tweets with a photo of George Rose from the Dragons which we just kind of plucked from the ether for no real reason. Highlights of the @jjjhack era were sending George Rose to Tom Tilley when he thanked us for the lols and duping Malcolm Turnbull into tagging us instead of the real account.

Again, I don’t feel grimy about sharing something I was involved in because this specific tweet was written by Tom or Soph as I quit writing on it long before they did. The three of us now do other things for fun I guess because we actually did age out of parodying the national youth broadcaster.

9. Side of Smooth

Nathan Fielder and Chris Locke in 2008, five years prior to Nathan For You.

10. Obedience

Fine, I’ll include my own proper one. I made this with Aaron Chen in 2017, it has very little sheen because the entire budget was me paying for lunch. It was knocked back by Tropfest – though I think that’s reasonable because I made it before the year’s theme of “Pineapple” was announced and then I pretended like having pine cones at the start and an apple at the end was an intentionally bookended approach to that theme, but they’d been duped one too many times.

To conclude this list in full earnestness, I wrote this sketch during one of my first ever bouts of depression, a time when I was deeply uncertain of my craft and incredibly distrustful of the local industry and the alleged experts working within it. Aaron, being the perpetually supportive friend he is, agreed to do the role and we got our friend Toby to bring his dog for Aaron to spit on. I think the sketch is pretty funny and is certainly helped to its feet through Chen being one of the most daftly captivating and to-the-core hilarious people this side of the River Murray. Through some twists and turns that reinvigorated my trust in the industry it fell into the laps of the people at Adult Swim and helped get our foot (feet?) in the door to make our short film for them last year. So yeah, it’s in the list because of how clearly it epitomises the cause-and-effect power of making your own stuff.

Remember to try to close up your gap, appreciate it when other people try to close up theirs and always revel in creating for creation’s sake!

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New X.Org Server release candidate appears after long delay • The Register

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More than three years after X.Org Server 1.20, released in May 2018, a release candidate for 21.1.0 has been posted.

The Linux display server remains widely used despite the introduction of Wayland, first released in 2012 and intended to replace X.

The future of the software, in terms of significant new releases, was in doubt when project owner Adam Jackson declared the project “abandoned” last year, but Lithuanian developer Povilas Kanapickas (who formerly worked on the Unity game engine) stepped up and said:

“There are new features in the Xorg DDX that I would like to see released, so I’m volunteering to do the releasing work.”

XWayland, a compatibility piece that enabled X clients for Wayland display servers, is part of the X.Org project but in December maintainer Michel Dänzer proposed that “there are new Xwayland features that we’d like to ship to users. Since there’s currently no clear plan for a new major release of xserver as a whole, I’m volunteering to make releases of Xwayland only instead.”

This was met with approval, and in March there was a standalone release of XWayland 21.1.0. Kanapickas considered this separation “good practice” and therefore the new release candidate is X.Org-only.

Work is proceeding on the 21.1 release of X.Org Server

Work is proceeding on the 21.1 release of X.Org Server

Wayland use is increasing and it is the default in popular distributions including Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Debian. Ubuntu switched to Wayland as the default in version 21.04, a second attempt since it was default in 17.10 but reverted to X.Org for 18.04, which means that the current LTS edition, 20.04, remains on X for most users.

The same applies to distributions such as Linux Mint, based on Ubuntu LTS. Even where Wayland is the default, some users prefer to run X for compatibility or performance reasons.

The new release candidate includes variable refresh rate support, support for AMD GLAMOR acceleration in the Xvfb (X virtual framebuffer), touchpad gesture support, and correct reporting of display DPI “in more cases that may affect rendering of client applications on hi-DPI screens.” There is also full support for the Meson build system and the older autotools support will be dropped in future releases. Kanapickas has also helpfully listed all the fixes since version 1.20.0 which is a long list.

While many users will welcome a new X Server release, Jackson observed last year: “I’m of the opinion that keeping xfree86 alive as a viable alternative since Wayland started getting real traction in 2010ish is part of the reason those are still issues.” ®

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London is the best European city for founders, Startup Genome report

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The UK capital was the only European city to make the top ten in Startup Genome’s ranking, tying with New York in second place for the second year in a row.

London is Europe’s number one start-up city, according to a recent report by Startup Genome. The research and advisory body which specialises in start-ups released its ‘Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021’ report today (22 September).

The report identified London and New York as joint second-best cities in the world for start-ups. London was the only European location to make it into the top ten. The city is attractive to founders thanks to its educated workforce and tax incentives, the report found.

Silicon Valley in California took the top spot, unsurprisingly. This year’s global rankings were dominated by the US, with half of the top 30 ecosystems coming from this region, followed by Asia with 27pc and Europe with 17pc of the top performing ecosystems globally.

Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles alone contributed more than 70pc to the US’s total ecosystem value.

Paris made the top 20, coming in at number 12. The Amsterdam-Delta region followed in thirteenth place. Dublin improved its rank from the previous year’s report, coming in at number 36 this time.

Beijing, Boston, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Seattle and Stockholm also made the top ten best start-up cities.

The global start-up economy is currently worth more than $3.8trn in ecosystem value. There are 79 ecosystems generating over $4bn in value, which is more than double the number identified in 2017. This time last year, 91 ecosystems had achieved unicorn status.

Also in 2020, Startup Genome published a report indicating its concerns over the future of the start-ups ecosystem during Covid-19. The report suggested that 42pc of start-ups were in what it called ‘the red zone,’ meaning they had three months or fewer runway ahead of them.

Several countries  including the UK, France and Germany introduced special support packages for start-ups. Irish non-profit Scale Ireland also introduced a similar start-up scheme for Irish companies.

“Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders in Europe have been working hard to build inclusive innovation ecosystems that are engines of economic growth and job creation for all,” commented JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome on the report’s release.

“The Global Startup Ecosystem Report is the foundation of knowledge where we, as a global network, come together to identify what policies actually produce economic impact and in what context,” Gauthier added.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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