The #gotofail episode will become a text book example of not just poor attention to detail, but moreover, the importance of disciplined logic, rigor, elegance, and fundamental coding theory.
A still deeper lesson in all this is the fragility of software. Prof Arie van Deursen nicely describes the iOS7 routine as “brittle”. I want to suggest that all software is tragically fragile. It takes just one line of silly code to bring security to its knees. The sheer non-linearity of software — the ability for one line of software anywhere in a hundred million lines to have unbounded impact on the rest of the system — is what separates development from conventional engineering practice. Software doesn’t obey the laws of physics. No non-trivial software can ever be fully tested, and we have gone too far for the software we live with to be comprehensively proof read. We have yet to build the sorts of software tools and best practice and habits that would merit the title “engineering”.
I’d like to close with a philosophical musing that might have appealed to my old mentors at Telectronics. Post-modernists today can rejoice that the real world has come to pivot precariously on pure text. It is weird and wonderful that technicians are arguing about the layout of source code — as if they are poetry critics.
We have come to depend daily on great obscure texts, drafted not by people we can truthfully call “engineers” but by a largely anarchic community we would be better of calling playwrights.
Stephan Wilson, “gotofail and a defence of purists”, Lockstep, 2014-02-26.
November 13, 2016
November 2, 2016
Online security theatre: “We sell biometric authentication systems to people who need a good password manager”
Joey DeVilla linked to this discussion of the Mirai botnet and the distressing failures of online security … not for the brilliance and sophistication of the attack (it was neither), but the failure to address simple common-sense security issues:
I’ve written about 1988’s Morris worm, and I wanted to dig into the source of the Mirai botnet (helpfully published by the author) to see how far we’ve come along in the past 28 years.
Can you guess how Mirai spreads?
Was there new zeroday in the devices? Hey, maybe there was an old, unpatched vulnerability hanging — who has time to apply software updates to their toaster? Maybe it was HeartBleed 👻?
Mirai does one, and only one thing in order to break into new devices: it cycles through a bunch of default username/password combinations over telnet, like “admin/admin” and “root/realtek”. For a laugh, “mother/fucker” is in there too.
Default credentials. Over telnet. That’s how you get hundreds of thousands of devices. The Morris worm from 1988 tried a dictionary password attack too, but only after its buffer overflow and sendmail backdoor exploits failed.
Oh, and Morris’ password dictionary was larger, too.
April 24, 2016
… the point of my book is that failure is inevitable, so you’d better learn to deal with it as best you can. Don’t say “Failure is not an option” the way they do in movies, because I promise you, failure is always an option. Prepare for it. Learn from it. Move on.
The follow-up question I frequently got — and a completely fair one — is “OK, how do you know when it’s time to pack it in? ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ only takes you so far, after all.”
In response, I ended up telling a story. It’s the story of a girl who was destined to be around 6’2″, a fact ascertained during her toddlerhood by the family doctor. (Apparently you can reasonably approximate adult height by measuring a little kid’s leg bones. Or maybe by looking at her 6’7″ dad.)
This little girl briefly wanted to be a gymnast. This was not in her destiny. So she settled on a new ambition. She wanted to be a jockey.
The girl grew very fast. By the time she was in fifth grade, she was over 5′ tall. By seventh grade, she had reached her full height. And it was just around this time that someone pointed out that she was already a foot too tall to be a jockey.
Should this girl — and yes, it was our very own Megan McArdle — have pluckily ignored the critics and the naysayers and dedicated herself to achieving her dream? To answer that, ask yourself another question: Should you try to dislodge a stuck lemon peel from the garbage disposal while it’s still running?
No, no, no. This can only end in disaster.
Sometimes what failure is telling you is “this doesn’t work” or “you don’t have what it takes.” Ignoring those messages is, in fact, how many of the folks I chronicled in my book turned a simple failure into a total disaster.
Megan McArdle, “Will Mitt Romney Know When It’s Time To Quit?”, Bloomberg View, 2015-01-16.
December 6, 2015
Matt Waldman tries to get to the root of the problem … the problem of being a Cleveland Browns fan:
The Seahawks’ exploits have been a thrill, but I’ve never hung on every play with the same passion I did when I watched Steve McNair and company in Tennessee. You see, Titans and Seahawks fans got a taste of Han in those games, but by the time that happened I had already been marinated in it in Cleveland:
Han or Haan is a concept in Korean culture attributed as a unique Korean cultural trait which has resulted from Korea’s frequent exposure to invasions by overwhelming foreign powers. Han denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds (the overcoming of which is beyond the nation’s capabilities on its own). It connotes aspects of lament and unavenged injustice.
The minjung theologian Suh Nam-dong describes han as a “feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong — all these combined.”
Whether they know it or not, the Browns are the unofficial NFL team of Korea. Cleveland embodies Han more than any team – and possibly, city (Detroit gets props) – in American sport.
It’s what happens when your team is this close to it all coming together and its spirit gets kidnapped to Baltimore.
Baltimore Colts great Art Donovan got it right when he said that he had mixed feelings about the Ravens’ arrival in Charm City. He was happy for the fans to get a team, but not at the cost of another great fan base losing theirs.
The Ravens still have the soul and guts of the real Cleveland Browns. They’re Mickey Rourke’s detective Harry Angel from Angel Heart. a war veteran kidnapped by crooner Johnny Favorite, who, to avoid paying up his side of the deal he made with the devil, performs a gruesome ritual on Angel to inhabit the detective’s body and hide from Lucifer – and himself.
I wish I could say Angel Heart only applies to Art Modell performing his satanic ritual on Cleveland and hiding in the Ravens purple and black. Then it could make DeNiro’s Lucifer the collective embodiment of vengeful Browns fans everywhere.
But I experienced my own personal horror of discovering who I was in the wake of the Browns 42nd last-minute loss since 1999: Despite 20 years of trying not deny it, I’m still a Browns fan. I’ll always be a Browns fan.
It’s not a choice. It’s part of who I am.
I had this epiphany last night while watching defeat snatched from the foot of victory against the team that made off with our mojo. Watching my shitty team lose a game to its mortal enemy that’s so deeply wounded that it’s starting an ATM for interceptions, pissed me off more than the Titans and Seahawks’ one-yard debacles in the Super Bowl.
October 20, 2015
Published on 6 Oct 2015
“You can defend an entirely different view of the world using the same data that’s used to defend the standard model. So whenever I can do that, I’m so there,” says Scott Adams. “Because as soon as you realize that the model you’ve been looking at maybe isn’t so firm as you thought… Then you’re free.”
Adams is a man of many talents: Best-selling author behind books such as God’s Debris and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, serial entrepreneur and creator of the time-management system Calendar Tree, and, of course, the man behind Dilbert.
Reason TV‘s Zach Weissmueller sat down with Adams in his home office to discuss Adams’ obsession with Donald Trump (“I see in Trump a level of persuasion technique that is probably invisible to the public” – 1:18), his resistance to political labels (“As soon as I join a group, suddenly all those things that I thought were crazy, I start convincing myself…” – 2:19), his political philosophy (“My preferred political process would be something like business” – 3:08), what Dilbert can teach us about capitalism (“One of those ideas that’s terribly flawed, but we haven’t figured out anything better yet” – 5:22), and the theme that runs through all of his work (“In all cases, I’m interested in the same thing: Is there a different way to look at the familiar?” – 10:05).
Bonus: Here’s Scott Adams’ view that The Donald is a Master Wizard:
September 21, 2015
At Techdirt, Tim Cushing explains how Xerox is going the extra distance to extort even more money from their customers over toner ink:
Everyone likes buying stuff with a bunch of built-in restrictions, right? The things we “own” often remain the property of the manufacturers, at least in part. That’s the trade-off we never asked for — one pushed on us by everyone from movie studios to makers of high-end cat litter boxes and coffee brewers. DRM prevents backup copies. Proprietary packets brick functions until manufacturer-approved refills are in place.
Here’s another bit of ridiculousness, via Techdirt reader techflaws. German news outlet c’t Magazin is reporting that Xerox printers are going further than the normal restrictions we’ve become accustomed to. For years, printer companies have made sure users’ printers won’t run without every single slot being filled with approved cartridges. This includes such stupidity as disabling every function (including non-ink-related functions like scanning) in all-in-one printers until the printer is fed.
Xerox is going further. Not only do you need to refill the ink, but you have to fill it with local ink. techflaws paraphrases the paywalled, German-language article.
Xerox uses region coding on their toner catridges AND locks the printer to the first type used. So if you use an NA (North America) cartridge you can’t use the cheaper DMO (Eastern Europe) anymore. The printer’s display does NOT show this, nor does the hotline know about it. When c’t reached out to Xerox, the marketing drone claimed, this was done to serve the customer better, I kid you not.
Ah, the old “serve the customer better by limiting his/her options,” as seen everywhere DRM/DRM-esque restrictions are applied.
Nearly every major printer manufacturer is in on the scam. HP saw an opportunity to increase incremental sales and staked out this territory in 2004. This brave new world of customer-screwing was followed by Lexmark, Canon, Epson and Xerox — none of which saw anything wrong with illogically restricting ink cartridges to certain regions.
Region coding for DVDs and videogames makes a certain amount of sense, provided you’re willing to make a small logic buy-in on windowed releases. But ink? It’s not like Australians need to wait six weeks for HP to cut loose ink cartridges so as not to sabotage the US release. The only reason to do this is to tie paying customers into the most expensive ink and toner. This lock-in is cemented by many printers’ refusal to recognize third-party replacement cartridges and/or allow refills of existing manufacturer cartridges.
The excuses made for this mercenary behavior would be hilarious if they weren’t so transparently dismissive of customers. Every flowery ode to customers’ best interests by PR flacks boils down to nothing more than, “Fuck ’em. It’s not like they have a choice.”
August 8, 2015
Published on 5 Aug 2015
As a last birthday surprise, we tried something new and present Indy’s ranking of the 11 most stupid moves of early World War 1. What do you think of our list and who would make it to the top of yours? Tell us in the comments below.
July 13, 2015
Toronto’s Pan Am Games organizers appear to have been living in a cave without an internet connection for the last 15 years:
The organisers of the Pan American Games in Toronto, which start this week, require that people seek formal permission to link to its website at [toronto2015 DOT org].
Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™. If you wish to link to the Site, you must submit a written request to TO2015™ to do so. Requests for written consent can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. TO2015™ reserves the right to withhold its consent to link, such right to be exercised in its sole and unfettered discretion.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the $2bn sports event – effectively a mini-Olympics – also appears to have trademarked the term “TO2015.” Which makes about as much sense.
Incredibly, this is not a misreading of the terms, and it doesn’t appear to have been a mistake either. Instead, it’s about the increasingly insane approach that intellectual property lawyers are taking to sponsors – and non-sponsors – of sporting events.
Alongside such gems as forcing people to put tape over their own computers if a computer company is a sponsor, and stopping people for drinking anything that isn’t a sponsor drink (if there is a drinks sponsor), now it seems the Pan Am Games lawyers have decided they need to prevent the internet from entering the hallowed sponsor world.
Strictly speaking, anyone who links to the website or even anyone who uses the games’ own hashtag of [hashtagTO2015] is violating its terms, and could be sued. Although not a court in the land would actually enforce it.
Notice that, as I live in Canada, I’ve carefully obfuscated the URL and the hashtag so you don’t accidentally click on them and violate their intellectual property right claims or anything. I suspect this will be the only actual coverage of the games I’ll be posting, just to be on the safe side. Discussion of the financial side, or the disruption to normal life in Toronto caused by the games, of course, is still fair game.
July 4, 2015
Published on 1 Jul 2015
Meet the Thighmaster of urban public policy: Streetcars.
Municipal politicians all across the country have convinced themselves that this costly, clunky hardware can revitalize their flabby downtown economies.
That includes the fearless leaders of America’s capital city. The DC government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade trying to erect a streetcar line in the up-and-coming neighborhood of H Street. The project has been an epic disaster, perfectly demonstrating how ill-suited streetcars are to modern urban life.
Watch the full video above, or click below for downloadable versions. And subscribe to Reason TV’s YouTube channel for daily content like this.
June 18, 2015
At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy explains how historical “expert knowledge” and government cheerleading pointed in exactly the opposite direction of today’s experts and government regulators:
For decades, the federal government has been advising Americans on what to eat. Those recommendations have been subject to the shifting sands of dietary science. And have those sands ever been shifting. At first, fat and cholesterol were vilified, while sugar was mostly let off the hook. Now, fat is fine (saturated fat is still evil, though), cholesterol is back, and sugar is the new bogeyman.
Why the sizable shift? The answer may be “bad science.”
Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, composed of nutrition and health experts from around the country, convenes to review the latest scientific and medical literature. From their learned dissection, they form the dietary guidelines.
But according to a new editorial published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, much of the science they review is fundamentally flawed. Unlike experiments in the hard sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology, which rely on direct observational evidence, most diet studies are based on self-reported data. Study subjects are examined for height, weight, and health, then are questioned about what they eat. Their dietary choices are subsequently linked to health outcomes — cancer, mortality, heart disease, etc.
That’s a poor way of doing science, says Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, and lead author of the report.
“The assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false,” he and his co-authors write.
Two of the largest studies on nutritional intake in the United States, the CDC’s NHANES and “What We Eat,” are based on asking subjects to recall precisely what and how much they usually eat.
But despite all of the steps that NHANES examiners take to aid recall, such as limiting the recall period to the previous 24 hours and even offering subjects measuring guides to help them report accurate data, the information received is wildly inaccurate. An analysis conducted by Archer in 2013 found that most of the 60,000+ NHANES subjects report eating a lower amount of calories than they would physiologically need to survive, let alone to put on all the weight that Americans have in the past few decades.
May 5, 2015
Published on 4 May 2015
Conrad von Hötzendorf was one of the main figures pushing for war and escalating the July crisis in 1914 leading to World War 1. His failure as commander in chief of Austria-Hungary were staggering but still today some consider him a military genius. Who was this man who polarizes military scholars till today and played such a huge role in the downfall of the Habsburg empire? Find out in our biography.
April 23, 2015
Poor old Neville … he’s become such a byword for failure that they’re even comparing Barack Obama to Chamberlain. This is hardly fair to either party:
One of the hardest things to do in history is to read history in context, shutting out our foreknowledge of what is going to happen — knowledge the players at the time did not have.
Apparently Neville Chamberlain is back in the public discourse, again raised from the dead as the boogeyman to scare us away from any insufficiently militaristic approach to international affairs.
There is no doubt that Neville Chamberlain sold out the Czechs at Munich, and the Munich agreement was shown to be a fraud on Hitler’s part when he invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia just months later. In retrospect, we can weep at the lost opportunity as we now know, but no one knew then, that Hitler’s generals planned a coup against him that was undermined by the Munich agreement.
But all that being said, let’s not forget the historic context. World War I was a cataclysm for England and Europe. It was probably the worst thing to happen to Europe since the black death. And many learned folks at the time felt that this disaster had been avoidable (and many historians today might agree). They felt that there had been too much rush to war, and too little diplomacy. If someone like Britain had been more aggressive in dragging all the parties to the bargaining table in 1914, perhaps a European-wide war could have been avoided or at least contained to the Balkans.
If you’ve read my Origins of WW1 posts, you’ll probably agree that Britain alone could not have averted the First World War, although they could have stayed out of the war (which would probably have guaranteed a German victory by 1916). Unlike the attitudes in 1914, few Europeans wanted any kind of war in the late 1930s, having learned too well what the casualties of modern war could be. The idea that Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier could somehow have deterred Hitler requires an amazing lack of awareness of the political realities in Britain and France at the time … and of the state of the respective armed forces of the two nations. Neither politician could have survived the reaction if they’d forced Hitler’s hand … which might well have served Hitler’s purposes just as well as the “scrap of paper” did in the end.
In a postscript, Warren also points out that FDR could just as easily take the place of Neville Chamberlain for his own “sell out” of Poland and the rest of what became the Warsaw Pact “allies”:
Years ago in my youth I used to excoriate FDR for caving into Stalin at Yalta, specifically in giving away most of Eastern Europe. I still wish he hadn’t given his moral authority and approval to the move, but even if we stood on the table and screamed at Stalin in opposition, what were we going to do? Was there any appetite for extending the war? Zero. That is what folks who oppose the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan get wrong in suggesting there were alternatives. All those alternatives involved a longer war and more American deaths which no one wanted.
March 11, 2015
I’d expect some legal action is pending over this little contracting embarrassment for Undead Labs:
Undead Lab’s State of Decay became a cult hit when it released back in 2013. Last year, the developer announced State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition. This updated iteration packs in previously released DLC along with a 1080p graphical overhaul. And once the visuals became clearer, developer Undead Labs realized their contracted help for the game hid an abundance of phalluses in the game.
While working on State of Decay, Undead Labs hired contractors to help build some of the backgrounds. For reasons unknown, those contractors scattered a collage of genitalia across the backgrounds. However, the original version of the game was a low enough resolution that the naughty bits flew under the testing radar.
“Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background,” says Geoffrey Card, senior designer at Undead Labs in an interview with XBLA Fans.
H/T to John Ryan for the link.
February 4, 2015
POSSIBLY there has been a greater shambles in the history of warfare than our withdrawal from Kabul; probably there has not. Even now, after a lifetime of consideration, I am at a loss for words to describe the superhuman stupidity, the truly monumental incompetence, the bland blindness to reason of Elphy Bey and his advisers. If you had taken the greatest military geniuses of the ages, placed them in command of our army, and asked them to ruin it utterly as speedily as possible, they could not — I mean it seriously — have done it as surely and swiftly as he did. And he believed he was doing his duty. The meanest sweeper in our train would have been a fitter commander.
Shelton was not told that we would march on the morning of the 6th January, until evening on the 5th. He laboured like a madman through the night, loading up the huge baggage train, assembling the troops within the cantonment in their order of march, and issuing orders for the conduct and disposal of the entire force. It is a few words on paper: as I remember it, there was a black night of drifting snow, with storm lanterns flickering, troops tramping unseen in the dark, a constant babble of voices, the neighing and whining of the great herd of baggage animals, the rumble of wagons, messengers dashing to and fro, great heaps of luggage piled high outside the houses, harassed officers demanding to know where such-and-such a regiment was stationed, and where so-and-so had gone, bugle calls ringing in the night wind, feet stamping, children crying, and on the lighted verandah of his office, Shelton, red-faced and dragging at his collar, with his staff scurrying about him while he tried to bring some order out of the inferno.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
January 24, 2015
But looking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghten, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.
No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.
Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.
Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganized enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.