On the Low Down

Sometimes even being one of the hottest social media platforms isn’t enough…

I’ve been involved in social media platforms since before we called them social media platforms. I had an AOL account. I had a Prodigy account and a CompuServe account; and those services, by today’s standards are largely what Facebook is today. It’s funny how things change over the years.

One of the newer and more popular social media platforms today, Snapchat, owned by Snap, was recently reported to have gone through a reduction in force of nearly 24 people. The company seems to be having a couple of funding and growth issues. They are currently looking for ways to manage costs and expenses.

The layoffs are mainly from Snapchat’s content division. They are consolidating teams in their Venice, California headquarters. Previously Content had space and people in both Venice and New York.

Snapchat’s Content team is responsible for overseeing the production of content from major publishers, as well as content submitted by users for its public stories. According the Snap’s CEO Evan Spiegel the layoffs are the company’s attempt to scale their business.

Not only is Snap performing reductions in force, but they’re slowing or stopping hiring as well. They laid off 18 recruiters in October knowing that 2018 will be a slower hiring season for them. Instead of hiring more people, they’re going to make better use of the resources they have. They’re also going to spend money developing and promoting the leaders they already have.

Snapchat is in the process of changing. The company is trying to roll out a major redesign of the application that it first announced in November of 2017. How successful this redesign is for the organization is unclear at this time.

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The Day After the [Patches] Before

My office implemented both Meltdown and Spectre patches over the weekend…

In the previous weeks, both the Meltdown and Spectre processor vulnerabilities have been making a great deal of news. At my office – a financial firm – a Windows shop running Windows 7 (like most of the business world), implemented Windows based patches this past weekend. The results, especially in some of our older hardware, haven’t been very good. Thankfully, those machines are non-critical, non-business systems: For example, those that are used to display presentations in a conference room during a meeting. Unfortunately, the performance on those machines is atrocious. They are nearly unusable.

To understand what’s going on with those machines and why they now suck beyond all relief, we have to understand what the vulnerabilities are and what’s needed to patch both of them.

Meltdown Logo

Meltdown effects both x86 and ARM based microprocessors and allows rogue processes read all memory, even if unauthorized to do so. Meltdown effects nearly ALL processors used today. Resolution of this vulnerability will require a hardware revision, or effectively a new processor. For most computers – laptops especially – this isn’t likely to happen. Replacing a laptop’s microprocessor is expensive, and is likely not possible, as it would also require new system boards and supporting chipsets.

The only way to resolve this vulnerability is to come up with some level of operating system patch. Most of the operating systems used today have been, or are in the process of being, patched, including iOS, Linux, macOS and Windows.

Unfortunately, Meltdown patches are likely to cause performance issues, especially in older machines. The vulnerability makes all memory, including cache memory accessible. The patch works by constantly flushing the cache, making the computer work harder to put information back into it, where it can be read quickly. Unfortunately, since the cache is constantly being flushed, the computer is often forced to read it back into memory from the hard drive, slowing things down. In some cases, this happens far too often, forcing your computer’s hardware to fight against its operating system, putting it into a constant read loop. By the time the drive has read ahead enough information, its likely had the cache flushed, requiring it to start over again.

Spectre Logo
Spectre is a vulnerability that effects modern processors that perform branch prediction, or a way to predetermine possible execution outcomes allowing for speed of computations and actions. When the computer doesn’t predict where “you’re going” correctly, your computer may leave observable side effects that may reveal private data to hackers. For example, if the pattern of memory accesses performed by such speculative execution depends on private data, the resulting state of the data cache constitutes a side channel through which an attacker may be able to extract information about the private data using a timing attack.

There are two common vulnerabilities and exposure IDs related to Spectre, one for bounds check bypass and one for branch target injection. JIT engines used for JavaScript were found vulnerable. A website can read data stored in the browser for another website, or the browser’s memory itself.

Unfortunately, Spectre patches are also known to cause performance issues; and they have been reported to significantly slow down a PC’s performance, especially, again, on older computers. On newer, 8th generation Intel processors, performance has been known to take a 2% to 14% hit.

With both of these patches on your machine, your current computing experience is likely totally hosed, no matter what generation processor you have or how much computing power you possess.

For example, if you do anything with any kind of video, you’re going to have an especially hard time. Patches for both of these vulnerabilities are likely to result in a performance hit of anywhere between 10% to as much as 50%. As a result, graphic and video renders can take up to twice as long to complete, if they don’t just crash your machine.

However, it isn’t all gloom and doom. There does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Fixes for Spectre aren’t easy to implement. The problem is likely going to be around for quite some time. However, while a great deal of the vulnerabilities are executed through Java Script, and therefore while you’re surfing the web, Browsers such as Chrome, and Firefox are implementing other processes on top of the OS level patches you likely already have. You could also completely eliminate browser based exploits for both Meltdown and Spectre by disabling JavaScript all together.

It has also been suggested that the cost of mitigation can be alleviated by processors which feature selective translation lookaside buffer (TLB) flushing, a feature which is called process-context identifier (PCID) under Intel 64 architecture; and under Alpha, an address space number (ASN). This is because selective flushing enables the TLB behavior crucial to the exploit to be isolated across processes, without constantly flushing the entire TLB – the primary reason for the cost of mitigation.

Personally, I haven’t seen much of a slow down on my Late 2013 MacBook Pro. Thankfully, I seem to be falling somewhere in the 2% to 14% performance hit. How things go from here, however will help me decide if I stay with this Mac or wait until Apple releases a new Mac with a new processor that doesn’t fall victim to this nasty issue.

What happened to you and your computer? Do you have an older machine? Have you installed the patches? Are you experiencing a performance hit that you’d like to reveal or discuss with someone?

If so, give me a shout and let me know where you stand. You can find me in the Discussion are a below or you can send me an email.

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Why does the Performance on my iPhone Suck?

You’d be surprised by the answer (or at least you should have been)…

I’ve been an iPhone user on and off since 2008. I started with an iPhone 3G, which I ditched inside of three months because the bloody thing couldn’t take or make a call without dropping it at least – literally – a dozen times or more.

More recently, I’ve been dealing with a different iPhone problem. I’ve got iPhone 6’s and iPhone 7 Plus’ in my house. Since Apple’s whole “Batterygate” thing hit the news, things have been a bit crazy for nearly every iPhone owner I know of.

Case in point – I was recently contacted by a buddy of mine about this very issue. Apparently one of his wife’s friends was having an issue.

IMG-0629

I tried to explain to him that this was the publicized battery issue; and that there was a reasonably priced resolution, that shouldn’t be too difficult to take care of.

IMG-0630

It was clear to me that this was also the same problem that he had described in his previous message.

 

The additional information was nice, but not completely necessary…

IMG-0632

So, this, like other issues that plague iPhone users has been completely misunderstood. So let me break it down very carefully.

1. Do you have an iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus, or iPhone 7/7 Plus?
If the answer is yes, then you need to take a look at the following questions.
2. Is the phone older than a year old?
If the answer is yes, ask yourself the next question
3. Does the phone seem slower now with iOS 11 than it did with iOS 10?
If so, you’re not crazy.

If the phone is a year old or more, AND you use your phone a LOT, you’ve likely cycled through the battery a number of times. The more cycles on your battery, the older it becomes. The older your battery is, the quicker it discharges power. When your phone has a lot of cycles on its battery, it’s very likely that it won’t hold a charge very long. When it doesn’t hold a charge for a long time, you end up charging it more often. This becomes a Catch 22; as the more that device needs to be charged, the shorter the drain time is, and the more cycles you put on your phone’s battery.

The performance problem isn’t imagined. Apple’s latest version of iOS 11.2.2 actually throttles the processor so that the phone uses less power, when the battery’s health (measured by age and the number of cycles it has on it) is below 80%-85%.

So the solution to all of this, believe it or not, is really easy – get a new battery. Prior to the issue with processor throttling in iOS 11.2.2, Apple charged $79 for a battery replacement. Now, Apple is charging $29 to replace the battery in your iPhone 6/6 Plus or later during all of 2018.

While the problem is now easy to identify, the solution is also easy to apply – slow phone? Get a new battery.

Do you have an older iPhone (now defined as at least 3 generation’s back (so at least 2 years old)? If you do, the best thing that you can do to put your phone back into “like new” performance, is to get a new battery.

You can find more information about this particular issue at Apple’s Support site.

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