Quotulatiousness

August 28, 2015

The insecurity of the “internet of things” is baked-in right from the start

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Register, Richard Chirgwin explains why every new “internet of things” release is pretty much certain to be lacking in the security department:

Let me introduce someone I’ll call the Junior VP of Embedded Systems Security, who wears the permanent pucker of chronic disappointment.

The reason he looks so disappointed is that he’s in charge of embedded Internet of Things security for a prominent Smart Home startup.

Everybody said “get into security, you’ll be employable forever on a good income”, so he did.

Because it’s a startup he has to live in the Valley. After his $10k per month take-home, the rent leaves him just enough to live on Soylent plus whatever’s on offer in the company canteen where every week is either vegan week or paleo week.

Nobody told him that as Junior VP for Embedded Systems Security (JVPESS), his job is to give advice that’s routinely ignored or overruled.

Meet the designer

“All we want to do is integrate the experience of the bedside A.M. clock-radio into a fully-social cloud platform to leverage its audience reach and maximise the effectiveness of converting advertising into a positive buying experience”, the Chief Design Officer said (the CDO dresses like Jony Ive, because they retired the Steve Jobs uniform like a football club retiring the Number 10 jumper when Pele quit).

For his implementation, the JVPESS chose a chip so stupid the Republicans want to field it as Trump’s running-mate, wrote a communications spec that did exactly and only what was in the requirements, and briefed the embedded software engineer.

The embedded software engineer only makes stuff actually work, so he earns about one-sixth that of the User Experience Ninja that reports to Jony Ive’s Style Slave and has to live in Detroit. But he’s boring and conscientious and delivers the code.

Eventually, the JVPESS hands over a design to Jony Ive’s Outfit knowing it’ll end in tears.

Two weeks later, Jony Ive’s Style Slave returns to request approval for “just a couple of last minute revisions. We have to press ‘go’ on the project by close-of-business today so if you could just look this over”.

QotD: The unusually lucky 20th century, meteorologically speaking

Filed under: Environment, History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… I read a lot of history and thus know a fair bit about how weather impact has been perceived by humans over time. It is a fact that the 20th century was an abnormally lucky hundred years, meteorologically speaking. The facts I managed to jam into tweets included (a) the superstorm that flooded 300 square miles of the Central Valley in California in the 1860s, (b) rainfall levels we’d consider drought conditions were normal in the U.S. Midwest before about 1905, and (c) storms of a violence we’d find hard to believe were commonly reported in the 1800s. I had specifically in mind something I learned from the book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, which relays eyewitness accounts of thunderstorms so intense that travelers had to steeple their hands over their noses in order to breathe air instead of water; but a sense that storms of really theatrical violence were once common comes through in many other histories.

We had a quiet century geophysically as well — no earthquakes even nearly as bad as the New Madrid event of 1812, which broke windows as far north as Montreal. And no solar storms to compare with the Carrington Event of 1859, which seriously damaged the then-nascent telegraph infrastructure and if it recurred today would knock out power and telecomms so badly that we’d be years recovering and casualties would number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly the millions.

(I’m concentrating on 19th-century reports because those tended to be well-documented, but earlier records tell us it was the 20th century calm that was unusual, not the 19th-century violence.)

The awkward truth is that there are very large forces in play in the biosphere, and when they wander out of the ranges we’re adapted to, we suffer and die a lot and there really isn’t a great deal we can do about it; we don’t operate at the required energy scales. For that matter, I can think of several astronomical catastrophes that could be lurking just outside our light-cone only to wipe out all multicellular life on Earth next week. Reality is like that.

Eric S. Raymond, “Heavy weather and bad juju”, Armed and Dangerous, 2011-02-03.

August 26, 2015

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 5 of 6 – “The Romance of Maintenance”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital — shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

August 25, 2015

We finally find someone (not funded by Lockheed Martin) who likes the F-35

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Okay, I poke a bit of fun … there are defenders of the F-35 who are funded by other stakeholders … I kid, I kid! Here’s a contrarian take by Think Defence justifying the UK’s F-35 commitment:

In the 7 years I have been dribbling my thoughts into Think Defence there are a few things on which I have been consistent; the ISO container is the greatest invention since the Bailey Bridge, commonality is not a dirty word, logistics are critically important, and, the F-35B is worth it.

Yet to be discovered tribes in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest could not have failed to notice the untrammelled hype that surrounds the F-35 in general, and the STOVL F-35B in particular. The amount of coverage is staggering, some of it informed, some of it not. Being developed under the un-staring eye of social media and a long line of people who seem to live for being critical has exposed every developmental misstep to ruthless criticism. Reports are often selectively quoted, conclusions drawn without context, over-simplification of complex subjects is rife and correlation confused with causation.

It is also an extremely polarising aircraft, read anything on-line and it seems you are either a Lockheed Martin shill or thick as mince critic who knows nothing.

I suspect, the reality is somewhere between, whilst the F-35 is not the cure for cancer, it is not cancer either.

f35b-power-and-propulsion-740x428

Although I have written about the F-35B many times, including this 5 part series, this is the first for a while

Into this toxic environment I go, a look at the F-35B.

August 24, 2015

QotD: Air conditioning

Filed under: Europe, Quotations, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Thing is, since we don’t live in the far off frozen wastelands like you, it’s not “sweating for a few days”; here it would be sweating for a few months. Or practically the whole year in places like Miami, New Orleans, or Houston.

There’s a reason the population of our industrialized North massively outnumbered that of the South in our Civil War: Because before air conditioning, not many people chose to live in places where the summertime climate can kill you dead. It’s certainly not conducive to industry or a modern economy.

Why is there a stereotype of Southerners talking slowly and ambling languidly, rather than hurrying about like chattering New Yorkers? Because acting like that between May and September down around Atlanta or Birmingham is courting heatstroke.

Air conditioning didn’t just help the modern Sun Belt economy, it’s practically solely responsible for it. Twelve US states are partially or entirely located below the 35th parallel north; the only parts of Europe that far south are Crete and Cyprus, which are not areas known for contributing to the industry of the continent.

Conversely, only our northernmost tier of states is above the 45th parallel: Oregon and Washington, Montana, the Dakotas, parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan, a bit of New England… You know what I noticed in Washington state? Neither of the houses I visited had A/C. Nor did the abode of friends in New Hampshire, until they added a window unit upstairs recently to make the occasional summer heat wave more bearable in the loft bedroom. Do you know where the 45th parallel crosses Europe? The French Riviera. Balmy Lombardy. The pleasant Piedmont.

Tam K. “Heavy Smug Emissions”, View From The Porch, 2015-08-13.

August 23, 2015

The chemistry of ice cream

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Compound Interest on the chemical structure of ice cream:

Click to see the full-sized original

Click to see the full-sized original

Ice cream is a mainstay of summer – for many, a trip to the beach would be incomplete without one. Despite its seeming simplicity, ice cream is a prime example of some fairly complex chemistry. This graphic takes a look at some of the ingredients that go into ice cream, and the important role they play in creating the finished product. There’s a lot to talk about – whilst the graphic gives an overview, read on for some in-depth ice cream science!

Initially, it might be hard to believe that ice cream could be all that complicated. After all, it’s essentially composed of three basic ingredients: milk, cream, and sugar. How complex can the mixing of three ingredients really be? As it turns out, the answer is: very! Simply mixing the ingredients together, then freezing them, isn’t enough to make a good ice cream. To understand why this is, we’re going to need to talk about each of the component ingredients in turn, and what they bring to the table.

Ice cream is a type of emulsion, a combination of fat and water that usually wouldn’t mix together without separating. However, in an emulsion, the very small droplets of fat are dispersed through the water, avoiding this separation. The manner in which this is accomplished is a result of the chemical properties of molecules in the emulsion.

The fat droplets in ice cream come from the cream used to make it. Fats are largely composed of a class of molecules called triglycerides, with very small amounts (less than 2%) of other molecules such as phospholipids and diglycerides. The triglycerides are made up of a glycerol molecule combined with three fatty acid molecules, as shown in the graphic. The melting temperature of the fats used in ice cream is quite important, as fats that melt at temperatures that are too high give a waxy feel in the mouth, whilst it’s difficult to make stable ice cream with those that melt at too low a temperature. Luckily, dairy fat falls just in the right range! As it happens, you can also make ice cream with palm oil and coconut oil, as their melting temperatures are similar.

August 20, 2015

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 4 of 6 – “Unreal Estate”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital— shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

August 17, 2015

Common metal alloys

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Compound Interest looks at the chemical composition of some common metal alloys:

Click to see the full-sized original

Click to see the full-sized original

Today’s post looks at an aspect of chemistry we come across every day: alloys. Alloys make up parts of buildings, transport, coins, and plenty of other objects in our daily lives. But what are the different alloys we use made up of, and why do we use them instead of elemental metals? The graphic answers the first of these questions, and in the post we’ll try and answer the second.

First, a little on what alloys are, for anyone unfamiliar with the term. Alloys are a mixture of elements, where at least one of the elements is a metal. There are over 80 metals in the periodic table of elements, and we can mix selections of these different metals in varying proportions, sometimes with non-metals too, to create alloys. Note the use of the word mixture: in the vast majority of cases, alloys are simply intermixed elements, rather than elements that are chemically bonded together.

August 12, 2015

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 3 of 6 – “Built for Change”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital — shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

August 8, 2015

Tom Kratman on “killer ‘bots”

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

SF author (and former US Army officer) Tom Kratman answers a few questions about drones, artificial intelligence, and the threat/promise of intelligent, self-directed weapon platforms in the near future:

Ordinarily, in this space, I try to give some answers. I’m going to try again, in an area in which I am, at least at a technological level, admittedly inexpert. Feel free to argue.

Question 1: Are unmanned aerial drones going to take over from manned combat aircraft?

I am assuming here that at some point in time the total situational awareness package of the drone operator will be sufficient for him to compete or even prevail against a manned aircraft in aerial combat. In other words, the drone operator is going to climb into a cockpit far below ground and the only way he’ll be able to tell he’s not in an aircraft is that he’ll feel no inertia beyond the bare minimum for a touch of realism, to improve his situational awareness, but with no chance of blacking out due to high G maneuvers..

Still, I think the answer to the question is “no,” at least as long as the drones remain under the control of an operator, usually far, far to the rear. Why not? Because to the extent the things are effective they will invite a proportional, or even more than proportional, response to defeat or at least mitigate their effectiveness. That’s just in the nature of war. This is exacerbated by there being at least three or four routes to attack the remote controlled drone. One is by attacking the operator or the base; if the drone is effective enough, it will justify the effort of making those attacks. Yes, he may be bunkered or hidden or both, but he has a signal and a signature, which can probably be found. To the extent the drone is similar in size and support needs to a manned aircraft, that runway and base will be obvious.

The second target of attack is the drone itself. Both of these targets, base/operator and aircraft, are replicated in the vulnerabilities of the manned aircraft, itself and its base. However, the remote controlled drone has an additional vulnerability: the linkage between itself and its operator. Yes, signals can be encrypted. But almost any signal, to include the encryption, can be captured, stored, delayed, amplified, and repeated, while there are practical limits on how frequently the codes can be changed. Almost anything can be jammed. To the extent the drone is dependent on one or another, or all, of the global positioning systems around the world, that signal, too, can be jammed or captured, stored, delayed, amplified and repeated. Moreover, EMP, electro-magnetic pulse, can be generated with devices well short of the nuclear. EMP may not bother people directly, but a purely electronic, remote controlled device will tend to be at least somewhat vulnerable, even if it’s been hardened,

Question 2: Will unmanned aircraft, flown by Artificial Intelligences, take over from manned combat aircraft?

The advantages of the unmanned combat aircraft, however, ranging from immunity to high G forces, to less airframe being required without the need for life support, or, alternatively, for a greater fuel or ordnance load, to expendability, because Unit 278-B356 is no one’s precious little darling, back home, to the same Unit’s invulnerability, so far as I can conceive, to torture-induced propaganda confessions, still argue for the eventual, at least partial, triumph of the self-directing, unmanned, aerial combat aircraft.

Even, so, I’m going to go out on a limb and go with my instincts and one reason. The reason is that I have never yet met an AI for a wargame I couldn’t beat the digital snot out of, while even fairly dumb human opponents can present problems. Coupled with that, my instincts tell me that that the better arrangement is going to be a mix of manned and unmanned, possibly with the manned retaining control of the unmanned until the last second before action.

This presupposes, of course, that we don’t come up with something – quite powerful lasers and/or renunciation of the ban on blinding lasers – to sweep all aircraft from the sky.

August 7, 2015

Warsaw Falls – The Fokker Scourge Begins I THE GREAT WAR Week 54

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 6 Aug 2015

After the Russian defeats on the Eastern Front, Warsaw falls. The first time in over 100 years a foreign power occupies the city. The German onslaught in the East seems to be unstoppable. Also on the Western Front the Germans are causing havoc with the new Fokker-Eindecker planes which start the so called Fokker Scourge. The British pilots even start to call their airplanes Fokker-Fodder. At the same time, the battle in Gallipoli continues with ever more troops landing while neither the Ottomans nor the ANZAC troops can gain any advantage.

Looking back at April’s 7.8 earthquake in Nepal

Filed under: Asia, Science, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Ars Technica, Scott K. Johnson what has been learned about the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal earlier this year:

The mighty Himalayas have been driven up into the sky by the collision of Eurasia and India, which has migrated north like a tectonic rocket over the last 100 million years. The Indian plate is being crammed beneath the crumpled Himalayan rocks along a dangerous fault that ramps downward to the north.

Lots of GPS sensors and seismometers have been deployed in the area to help seismologists study earthquakes here. Combined with precise satellite measurements of surface elevation changes, researchers have the means to work out where the movement on the fault must have occurred.

The earthquake began about 80 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu and about 15 kilometers beneath the surface. Geologists like to talk about faults “unzipping,” which is a helpful way to visualize what’s going on. A small patch of the fault plane slips, and then expands outward along the fault. In this case, the patch unzipped about 140 kilometers to the east in under a minute, traveling horizontally along the fault plane. Within that patch, the rocks slipped as much as six meters past each other.

Although it’s the seismic energy released by that sudden motion that causes the damage, the surface changes are still eye-catching — some of the GPS stations ended up two meters south of where they had been before the earthquake.

As for that seismic shaking, the pattern of building damage in Kathmandu was partly the result of the geology beneath the city. It sits on a roughly 500-meter-thick stack of lake and river sediment filling a bedrock bowl. The reverberation of seismic waves in that bowl produced a resonance, building stronger waves with a period of 4 to 5 seconds. While fewer homes were actually damaged than expected, taller buildings — which can sway at about that same frequency — didn’t fare as well. (A similar thing happened in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, when buildings between 6 and 15 stories bore the brunt.)

Hacking a Tesla Model S

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At The Register, John Leyden talks about the recent revelation that the Tesla Model S has known hacking vulnerabilities:

Security researchers have uncovered six fresh vulnerabilities with the Tesla S.

Kevin Mahaffey, CTO of mobile security firm Lookout, and Cloudflare’s principal security researcher Marc Rogers, discovered the flaws after physically examining a vehicle before working with Elon Musk’s firm to resolve security bugs in the electric automobile.

The vulnerabilities allowed the researchers to gain root (administrator) access to the Model S infotainment systems.

With access to these systems, they were able to remotely lock and unlock the car, control the radio and screens, display any content on the screens (changing map displays and the speedometer), open and close the trunk/boot, and turn off the car systems.

When turning off the car systems, Mahaffey and Rogers discovered that, if the car was below five miles per hour (8km/hr) or idling they were able to apply the emergency hand brake, a minor issue in practice.

If the car was going at any speed the technique could be used to cut power to the car while still allowing the driver to safely brake and steer. Consumer’s safety was still preserved even in cases, like the hand-brake issue, where the system ran foul of bugs.

Despite uncovering half a dozen security bugs the two researcher nonetheless came away impressed by Tesla’s infosec policies and procedures as well as its fail-safe engineering approach.

“Tesla takes a software-first approach to its cars, so it’s no surprise that it has key security features in place that minimised and contained the risk of the discovered vulnerabilities,” the researchers explain.

August 5, 2015

A report on phasing out nuclear power in Sweden

It may make politicians and activists feel empowered and righteous, but it has negative aspects that don’t seem to get the same level of attention as the “feel good” rhetoric does:

Nuclear power faces an uncertain future in Sweden. Major political parties, including the Green party of the coalition-government have recently strongly advocated for a policy to decommission the Swedish nuclear fleet prematurely. Here we examine the environmental, health and (to a lesser extent) economic impacts of implementing such a plan. The process has already been started through the early shutdown of the Barsebäck plant. We estimate that the political decision to shut down Barsebäck has resulted in ~2400 avoidable energy-production-related deaths and an increase in global CO2 emissions of 95 million tonnes to date (October 2014). The Swedish reactor fleet as a whole has reached just past its halfway point of production, and has a remaining potential production of up to 2100 TWh. The reactors have the potential of preventing 1.9–2.1 gigatonnes of future CO2-emissions if allowed to operate their full lifespans. The potential for future prevention of energy-related-deaths is 50,000–60,000. We estimate an 800 billion SEK (120 billion USD) lower-bound estimate for the lost tax revenue from an early phase-out policy. In sum, the evidence shows that implementing a ‘nuclear-free’ policy for Sweden (or countries in a similar situation) would constitute a highly retrograde step for climate, health and economic protection.

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 2 of 6 – “The Low Road”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital — shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

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