tech

  • Deep sea life using robots – exclusive

    This blog has often drawn attention to the inability of modern journalists (or should that be media employees? Ed.) to understand ambiguity, i.e. the quality of a statement being open to more than one interpretation, and how to avoid it by using language as a precision, not a blunt instrument.

    The example below dates back to 2022, comes from India’s Republic and dives beneath the waves to the bottom of the sea. It arrived in your ‘umble scribe’s social medial timeline late last week, so apologies if you’ve already seen the howler below.

    Headline - UK researchers discover over 30 potential new species at ocean's bottom using robots. Byline - In what can be considered to be a breakthrough scientific development, over 30 potentially new species have been discovered by UK scientists at ocean&'s bottom.

    The story was originally published in The Guardian. Republic’s reporter Anwesha Majumdar does not disclose in the rewrite why aquatic life in the deep oceans is using robots.

  • Schleswig-Holstein moves towards digital sovereignty

    The region of Schleswig-Holstein on the Jutland Peninsula is no stranger where matters of sovereignty are concerned.

    In the nineteenth century there was the Schleswig-Holstein Question, was a complex set of diplomatic and other issues arising in the 19th century from the relations of two duchies, Schleswig (Sønderjylland/Slesvig) and Holstein (Holsten), to the Danish Crown, to the German Confederation, and to each other.

    Coat of arms of Schleswig-HolsteinIn the twenty-first century digital sovereignty has become a matter of political importance to the north German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein.

    The blog of The Document Foundation reports today that, following a successful pilot project, the state has decided to move from Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office to Linux and LibreOffice (and other free and open source software) on the 30,000 PCs used by the state government.

    According to a statement by the Premier of Schleswig-Holstein, the components of its digitally sovereign workplaces are being based on a total of six project pillars:

    • Switching from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice;
    • Switching the operating system from Microsoft Windows to Linux;
    • Collaboration within the state government and with third parties: use of the open source products Nextcloud, Open Xchange/Thunderbird in conjunction with the Univention AD connector to replace Microsoft Sharepoint and Microsoft Exchange/Outlook;
    • Design of an open source-based directory service to replace Microsoft Active Directory;
    • Appraising specialist procedures with regard to compatibility and interoperability with LibreOffice and Linux; and
    • Development of an open source-based solution to replace Telekom-Flexport.

    The decision to switch office suites follows on from the finding by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) that the European Commission’s use of Microsoft 365 breaches European data protection law.

    According to Schleswig-Holstein’s Digitalisation Minister Dirk Schrödter, digital sovereignty is an integral part of the state government’s digital strategy and work programme. “This cannot be achieved with the current standard IT workstation products. We take digital sovereignty seriously and are moving forward: the decision to change office software is a milestone, but only the beginning of the change: the change to free software for the operating system, the collaboration platform, the directory service, specialist procedures and telephony will follow.”

  • Joint release of LibreOffice versions 24.2.2 & 7.6.6

    Yesterday the blog of The Document Foundation (TDF) announced the simultaneous release of two versions – 23.2.2 and 7.6.6 respectively of the LibreOffice productivity suite. Both releases bugs and regressions to improve quality and interoperability for individual productivity.

    LibreOffice 24.2 banner

    As usual LibreOffice 7.6.6 is an update to a release not at the project’s cutting edge, but is designed for more conservative users who don’t necessarily want – or need – the suite’s latest features.

    Both versions are now available for download. All LibreOffice users are encouraged to update their current version as soon as possible to take advantage of the improvements and bug fixes in the new releases. For those using proprietary operating systems, the minimum requirements are Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 and Apple MacOS 10.15.

    For business use, TDF strongly recommends the LibreOffice Enterprise family of applications from its partners with a wide range of dedicated value-added features and other benefits such as SLAs. Details here.

    LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members can support the work of The Document Foundation by making a donation to it.

  • Today is Document Freedom Day

    Today, 27th March is Document Freedom Day, which every year publicises and raises awareness of how open standards and open document formats enable us to read and write as we so wish.

    Document Freedom Day graphic

    Was there ever a time you were sent an important file that the software onyour computer couldn’t read properly? Do you remember having to purchase or download a new application just so you could open an attachment you needed for your work? The same thing happens tens of thousands of times every day. Can you imagine how much knowledge sharing doesn’t happen just because the sender and receiver – either intentionally or unintentionally – use different file formats? Incompatibilities like these are typically caused by secret (“closed”) and privately held (“proprietary”) file formats.

    Document Freedom Day is a chance to inform the world about open standards, which are crucial for the exchange of information, independence from software suppliers like the Beast of Redmond and to ensure long-term access to our data. LibreOffice – the office suite used and recommended by your ‘umble scribe – is a fine example of how to use open standards such as Open Document Format (ODF).

  • Greggs – EN-US written here

    Greggs logoIn recent days, pastry products purveyor Greggs suffered an IT outage that left shops unable to process certain types of payment, the BBC reported yesterday. The company has over 2,000 branches and employs 21,500 persons.

    Some shops were forced to close and posted notices saying they were closed for the day or could only accept certain payment types. Fans of hot pastry-based snacks took to social media, with some labelling it as bordering on a national emergency. One of the more interesting signs from an unidentified branch of Greggs is shown below.

    Notice reads Due to a system outage, we are CARD ONLY temporarily and our staff cant do math

    Yes, you did read that correctly: “Due to a system outage, we are CARD ONLY temporarily and our staff cant do math“.

    A system outage is not the only woe to beset this particular branch of Greggs. First of all, there’s a punctuation thief about, unless the staff cant is hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically of a moral, religious, or political nature from employees. Secondly, what is this math? Mathematics, the knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their changes, is abbreviated differently by speakers of British and American English; the former with maths, the latter with math, as in the well-known US phrase, (you) do the math.

    Fears of the creeping Americanisation of British English have been doing the rounds for about a century already, but are becoming more prevalent due to the pervasiveness of US culture and a general lack of awareness of the distinctions between the two dialects. For instance, your ‘umble scribe would call something that ran his laptop a program, whilst something broadcast on the radio or TV would be a programme: some folk – quite possibly younger – would use program without distinction for both.

  • New user guides for LibreOffice Writer and Calc

    Last week The Document Foundation blog revealed that new guides have been produced for the latest 24.2 versions of Writer and Calc, LibreOffice‘s word processor and spreadsheet programs respectively.

    Graphic showing covers of new Writer and Calc guides

    The new guides are in essence updates of the guides produced for the preceding LibreOffice 7.6 guides.

    The Writer guide has been reviewed and updated by Jean Weber and has changed from being a single page document to a full-sized book. The latest Writer guide includes all these updates:

    • Comments can now use styles;
    • New features in the Navigator;
    • Save with password dialog now has a password strength meter;
    • Insert Special Characters dropdown now shows a character description;
    • Improved support for multi-page floating tables;
    • “Legal” ordered list numbering: make a given list level use Arabic numbering for all its numeric portions;
    • Miscellaneous changes in the names of some fields and buttons;
    • See the release notes for more changes.

    The Calc guide has been revised by Steve Fanning; it contains a description of the new features of Calc 24.2, the spreadsheet program of LibreOffice:

    • Live font preview when using the Font Name menus on the Properties deck of the Sidebar and on the Formatting toolbar;
    • Interactions to switch between sheets operate cyclically;
    • Option to view or hide column/row highlighting;
    • Additional metadata fields on the Description tab of the Properties dialog;
    • On Windows platforms, support for Alt+NumPad codes covering full Unicode range;
    • Text description of highlighted character on drop-down from Insert Special Characters toolbar icon;
    • Password strength meters for several dialogs;
    • Search field on Functions deck of Sidebar;
    • Support for FTP protocol removed from Hyperlink dialog;
    • Changes to auto-recovery and backup options;
    • Search function on Tools – Options dialogs;
    • Security warnings converted from dialogs to information bars;
    • Modify button renamed Assign on Customise dialog;
    • Language Settings menu of Tools – Options dialogs renamed to Languages and Locales.

    Besides those mentioned above, LibreOffice 24.2 also contains the following improvements:

    • New password-based ODF encryption that hides metadata better and is more resistant to tampering;
    • Clarification of macro security options to make it clear exactly what is allowed and what is not;
    • Accessibility improvements: and
    • Improvements in interoperability with Microsoft’s proprietary file formats.

    The Guides are available in PDF and ODF formats from the Libre Office bookshelf web page as well as print versions.

  • German literary translators want strict AI regulation

    German news site heise reports that German-speaking literary translators associations are demanding stricter regulation of Artificial Intelligence (usually abbreviated to AI) due to its threats to art and literature.

    “Art and democracy too are being threatened.” This is being said by German-speaking literary translators associations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in respect of the increasing “automation of intellectual work and human speech“. They have therefore collaborated on an open letter (PDF) in which they are demanding strict regulation of AI.

    Artificial Intelligence graphic combining a human brain schematic with a circuit board.
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    Regulation must ensure that the functionality of generative AI and its training data must be disclosed. Furthermore, AI providers must clearly state which copyrighted works they have used for training. No works should be used for this purpose against the wishes of copyright holders. In addition to this, the open letter states that copyright holders should be paid if AI is trained using their works and a labelling requirement should be introduced for 100% AI content.

    “Human language is being simulated now”

    “A translation is the result of an individual interaction with an original work”, the translators write. This interaction must take place responsibly. How a sentence is constructed and what attention is focused on guides the inner experience of readers. The language skills needed for this are developed and honed in the active writing process. “The creation of a new literary text in another language makes the translator a copyright holder of a new work.”

    However, text-generating AI can only simulate human speech, according to the translators. “They have neither thoughts, emotions nor aesthetic sense, know no truth, have no knowledge of the world and no reasons for translation decisions.” Due to their design, language simulations are often illogical and full of gaps; they contain substitute terms and statements that are not always immediately recognised as incorrect.

    “AI multiplies prejudices”

    The translators continue by saying that When AI products are advertised, it is suggested that the AI can work independently, “understand” and “learn”. “This means the huge amounts of human work on which the supposedly ‘intelligent’ products are based are kept secret.” Millions of copyrighted works are ‘scraped‘ from illegally established internet libraries to create language bots.

    These and other arguments are combined in a “Manifesto for Human Language”. In it the translators write as follows: “Bot language only ever reproduces the status quo. It multiplies prejudices, inhibits creativity, the dynamic development of languages and the acquisition of language skills.” Text-generating AI is attempting to make human and machine language indistinguishable. It is not designed as a tool, but a replacement for human skill.

    However, AI is not intelligence at all, since this also includes emotional, moral, social and aesthetic intelligence, practical sense and experience which arise from physicality and action. “In this respect, the technical development of language bots cannot be termed ‘progress'”, the open letter states.

  • If you can’t contribute, donate!

    Yesterday the blog of The Document Foundation (TDF), the German non-profit organisation behind LibreOffice, published a post detailing how donations received during 2023 were used to continue development of the software and running the TDF and events

    The post included a handy graphic displaying the disbursement of funds visually, which is shown below.

    Graphic showing how donations were used in 2023
    Graphic courtesy of The Document Foundation
    Your ‘umble scribe would urge anyone who can to contribute their expertise, whether that’s writing or documentation, or helping to test pre-release versions; and if you can’t manage that, then donate! 😀
  • LibreOffice 24.2 released

    The blog of The Document Foundation (TDF), the German-based organisation behind the free and open source LibreOffice suite of productivity software, has today announced the release of LibreOffice 24.2 Community for all major operating systems – Linux. MacOS (Apple and Intel processors) and Windows (Intel, AMD and ARM processors). LibreOffice 24.2 banner

    This is LibreOffice’s first use the new calendar-based numbering scheme (YY.M) for releases, which it hoped will help users in keeping their LibreOffice installations up to date.

    New release highlights – general
    • Save AutoRecovery information is enabled by default, and is always creating backup copies. This reduces the risk of losing content for first-time users who are unfamiliar with LibreOffice settings.
    • Fixed various NotebookBar options, with many menu improvements, better print preview support, proper resetting of customised layout, and enhanced use of radio buttons. This improves the experience for users familiar with the Microsoft Office UI.
    • The Insert Special Character drop-down list now displays a character description for the selected character (and in the tooltip when you hover over it).
    Writer
    • “Legal” ordered list numbering: make a given list level use Arabic numbering for all its numeric portions.
    • Comments can now use styles, with the Comment paragraph style being the default. This makes it easier to change the formatting of all comments at once, or to visually categorise different types of comments.
    • Improved various aspects of multi-page floating table support: overlap control, borders and footnotes, nesting, wrap on all pages, and related UI improvements.
    Calc
    • A new search field has been added to the Functions sidebar deck.
    • The scientific number format is now supported and saved in ODF: embedded text (with number format like ###.000E0); lower case for exponent (with number format like ###.000e0); exponent with empty ‘?’ instead of ‘0’ (with number format like 0.00E+?0).
    • Highlight the Row and Column corresponding to the active cell.
    Draw
    • The handling of small caps has been implemented for Impress.
    • Moved Presenter Console and Remote control settings from Tools > Options > LibreOffice Impress to Slide Show > Slide Show Settings, with improved labelling and dialogue layout.
    • Several improvements and fixes to templates: added and improved placement of various placeholders; fixed order of slides; made fonts and formatting consistent; fixed styles and their hierarchy; improved ODF compliance; made it easier to use templates in languages other than English; fixed use of wrong fonts for CJK and CTL.
    Accessibility
    • Several significant improvements to the handling of mouse positions and the presentation of dialogue boxes via the Accessibility APIs, allowing screen readers to present them correctly.
    • Improved management of IAccessible2 roles and text/object attributes, allowing screen readers to present them correctly.
    • Status bars in dialogue boxes are reported with the correct accessible role so that screen readers can find and report them appropriately, while checkboxes in dialogue boxes can be toggled using the space bar.
    Security
    • The Save with Password dialogue box now has a password strength meter. This uses zxcvbn-c to determine the password strength.
    • New password-based ODF encryption that performs better, hides metadata better, and is more resistant to tampering and brute force.
    • Clarification of the text in the options dialogue box around the macro security settings, so that it is clear exactly what is allowed and what is not.

    A full description of all the new features can be found in the release notes.

    Contributors to LibreOffice 24.2 Community

    There are 166 contributors to the new features of LibreOffice 24.2 Community: 57% of code commits come from the 50 developers employed by three companies on the TDF Advisory Board – Collabora, allotropia and Red Hat – or other organisations, 20% from 8 developers at The Document Foundation; the remaining 23% originated from 108 individual volunteers.

    An additional 159 volunteers have committed to localisation in 160 languages, representing hundreds of people providing translations. LibreOffice 24.2 Community is available in 120 languages, more than any other desktop software, making it available to over 5.5 billion people worldwide in their native language. In addition, over 2.4 billion people speak one of these 120 languages as a second language.

    Interoperability with Microsoft Office

    LibreOffice 24.2 offers a number of improvements and new features aimed at users who share documents with or migrate from MS Office A few of the most significant improvements are as follows:

    • Writer: improved first page headers/footers OOXML import by using the first page property in the existing page style instead of creating a new page style just for the first page.
    • Writer: templates optimised for Japanese text added to the Localisation category to improve interoperability with Microsoft Word for Japanese users.
    • Writer: import of “drawing canvas” from DOCX documents, with connectors no longer imported as simple shapes but as true connectors, primitive shapes like ellipses imported as OOXML shapes (text inside the shape can now wrap), and multicolour gradients, theme colours and glow effects for shapes.
    • OOXML: support for the SVG OOXML extension, which imports the SVG image (svgBlip element) instead of the fallback PNG, and exports the SVG image in addition to the fallback PNG image used when the svgBlip element is not supported (older MS Office versions).

    Download LibreOffice 24.2.

    Your ‘umble scribe is not using the latest official release, but an as-yet unreleased development version. If you would like to help out with LibreOffice testing and development, visit the pre-release versions server and download a development package for your particular operating system.

  • Mozilla release new version of Firefox, sets up Debian repository

    Firefox logoVersion 122 of the free and open source Firefox web browser was released last week and duly reported by the tech media, including The Register.

    Furthermore, El Reg also notes that Mozilla, the organisation behind the browser, has set up its own deb package repository, the software package format for the Debian GNU/Linux distribution and its derivatives such as the Ubuntu family and Linux Mint.

    The installation instructions page on Mozilla’s website now contains specific instructions on how to access the Firefox deb repository, from downloading the repository’s OpenPGP keyring, to adding the repository to one’s own APT list of trusted sources from which to download software.

    Also included are instructions for how to download the version specific to one’s own language, if that just happens not to be EN-US, as well as such vital stuff as importing one’s profile from an old installation to a new, shiny browser from the Mozilla repository.

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