FOXTROT/ALFA: Sonos Sues Google, Alienware Rips Off the Switch, Boeing 737 NG Software Bug

Welcome to issue 58 of FOXTROT/ALFA for Wednesday, 8 January 2020. With this issue, my humble little newsletter has eclipsed 100 subscribers, which is quite amazing to me. I hadn’t expected to get this far in just over three months and I am honoured that all of you choose to read my daily scribblings. Thank you!

Bah! But enough self-adulation already. You might be wondering why this newsletter is being delivered this late. That’s mostly due to the current geopolitical situation, as I urgently had to finish a podcast episode on the Middle Eastern tensions and the Soleimani assassination. It’s out now, so here we go with the tech news…

Important Security Updates

If you didn’t heed yesterday’s news of a new Firefox version, you might want to reconsider. That’s because Firefox 72.0 and ESR 68.4 also include a number of critical security fixes.

If you use the anonymity-focused Linux distro Tails, you probably also want to upgrade. Tails 4.2 is out and also fixes a number of vulnerabilities. The developers are speaking of a “high” risk of attacks overall. So get the new version!

Sonos is Suing Google

Sonos is suing Google at a District Court in California and has complained to the International Trade Commission, alleging that Google’s products are infringing on patents held by Sonos. A report on CNN says:

Sonos alleges that Google stole its technology for creating a system of wireless speakers that can connect over the internet and be controlled individually or collectively by a mobile app, according to court documents. The company said in its complaint that Google’s size has allowed it to undercut Sonos' prices and position in the market.

Google’s “actions have caused significant damage to Sonos,” the District Court complaint states. Sonos is asking the court to restrict Google from selling the smart speakers it says are infringing on its patents, including some products in the Google Home and Google Nest lines. It also seeks unidentified compensation for damages.

“We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in an emailed statement to CNN Business.

Of course they do…

Alienware Rips Off the Switch

Meanwhile, Alienware is ripping off Nintendo:

This week at CES in Las Vegas, Alienware showed off its ConceptUFO, a portable PC gaming system with detachable controllers that can be played handheld, in tabletop mode, or connected to a television. It is not a Nintendo Switch.

For one, the Switch is a real product you can buy, and ConceptUFO is just a working design prototype. It’s not being sold and may never come to fruition, so no one needs to worry about any similarities between Alienware’s hybrid gaming system and Nintendo’s hybrid gaming system right now. Also, as per Alienware parent company Dell’s CES presentation today, ConceptUFO is a bit larger than a Switch, sporting a 10-inch screen. The Switch screen is only 6.2 inches.

It may look vaguely like Nintendo’s console with similar functionality, but it’s totally a new thing. Not once during the stage presentation did Alienware and Dell VP of gaming Vivian Lien or show host Aisha Tyler mention Nintendo or the Switch. It seems to me like they aren’t even aware of the Switch, and any similarities between it and ConceptUFO are purely coincidental.

Man, I like Kotaku’s style these days. At this rate, I could almost write for them…

Apple to Randomise Serial Numbers

The next thing from Apple? Randomised device serial numbers. Probably to thwart fraud. And maybe press leaks?

In an internal memo shared with Apple Authorized Service Providers, Apple has indicated that it plans to update its serial number format to a randomized alphanumeric string for future products starting in late 2020. Apple says all serial numbers that exist before the change is made will remain the same.

Apple already uses alphanumeric serial numbers, but it has long been possible to determine the date and location that a product was manufactured based on the current format. Readers would often use serial numbers to glean more information about their devices. The randomized format would likely not be decipherable, or at least hard to, and it could also help to reduce fraud.

Maybe they’re doing this so that people can’t easily tell how new the new Mac they just bought is…

Boeing 737 NG Blackout Bug

Boeing continues to be shit at things. After we just had a 737 crash under mysterious circumstances in Tehran, there’s now news that the 737 NG has a hilarious, and potentially very dangerous, software bug. The 737 NG is the predecessor of the currently-grounded disaster plane 737 MAX.

Boeing’s 737 Next Generation airliners have been struck by a peculiar software flaw that blanks the airliners' cockpit screens if pilots dare attempt a westwards landing at specific airports.

Amid the various well-reported woes facing America’s largest airframe maker, yet another one has emerged from the US Federal Aviation Administration; a bug that causes all pilots' display screens in the 737-NG airliner family to simply go blank.

That bug kicks in when airliner crews try to program the autopilot to follow what the FAA described as “a selected instrument approach to a specific runway”. Seven runways, of which five are in the US, and two in South America – in Colombia and Guyana respectively – trigger the bug. Instrument approach procedures guide pilots to safe landings in all weather conditions regardless of visibility.

“All six display units (DUs) blanked with a selected instrument approach to a runway with a 270-degree true heading, and all six DUs stayed blank until a different runway was selected,” noted the FAA’s airworthiness directive, summarising three incidents that occurred on scheduled 737 flights to Barrow, Alaska, in 2019.

Although full technical details were not given in the airworthiness directive, the FAA said that the seven runways had “latitude and longitude values” that “triggered the blanking behaviour”, suggesting some kind of memory interaction between onboard computers causing the screens to stop displaying any information until a different runway was selected in the flight plan. The bug affects 737-600, -700, -700C, -800, -900 and -900ER model aircraft, which are running Common Display System Block Point 15 (CDS BP 15) software for their display electronic units (DEUs) together with flight management computer (FMC) software version U12 or later.

Holy crap. They just can’t catch a break.

Also Noteworthy

Some other stories I came across that you might find interesting:

This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.