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* Posts by Gary Bickford

100 posts • joined 27 Jan 2009

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NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online

Gary Bickford

For all those doubters ...

Most folks aren't aware that NSA has multiple directorates, for different missions. The Signals Intelligence Directorate are the infamous spooks, whose job is to collect information. They're the ones that most people think NSA is all about. There is also an IT directorate, that keeps everything running.

And there is also the Information Assurance Directorate, which is chartered with defending US industry and government against groups who do the same thing as the SID - whether foreign governments or independent operators and hackers. They're pretty much the good guys. I suspect that they are the ones funding Tor, and releasing bug fixes to known vulnerabilities in security software. They have helped US businesses - 'saved their ass' - multiple times in the last several years when they discovered attempts to penetrate the business. Source - someone who has worked with NSA in the past in this very area.

It's too easy to lump everything together, painting everything with the same brush. But that limits one's ability to see the real, complicated, picture.

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Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray

Gary Bickford

For those who _need_ a bigger death ray ...

Check out the book "Build Your Own Laser, Phaser, Ion Ray Gun and Other Working Space Age Projects" by Robert E Iannini. Among other things, this 1983 book can tell you how to build a 30 watt CO2 laser. The author cautions: (1) always have a visible laser (such as one of those pointers) aligned with the infrared CO2 laser, so you can see approximately where the beam goes; and (2) stay out of the beam! He notes that he accidentally walked through the beam and instantly cut a slit in the leg of his jeans. 30 watts is definitely enough to cause damage, even if poorly focused. CO2 lasers can be built in almost any size - IIRC the length of the chamber determines the power of the output. Car companies use big CO2 lasers for welding cars.

I will just add that it is illegal to sell lasers of that power at least in the US, for good reason. I don't know if it's illegal to buy one or build one. At least if you have the technical chops to build one, you're _probably_ not so cognitively challenged that you would use it unwisely.

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Two driverless cars stuffed with passengers are ABOUT TO CRASH - who should take the hit?

Gary Bickford

I'll go for the "Minimum Knowledge and Analysis" box

Incorporating all of the infinite regressions of possible bits of information does not improve the analysis, but only pushes off the question of "what is right". Shall we include whether one party has been drinking? What if they're fat? This is the logical extension of the "Progressive" ideal of the state imposing its will on every individual. It's been known for a long time that Asimov's Three Laws can not be algorithmically evaluated but must be handled heuristically (ethics is a "judgment call"). It was recently proved (as mentioned in a Reg article in the last few days) that asking a machine learning or AI system to evaluate an ethical question fails due to the Halting Problem.

So, the best alternative is for the car's systems to evaluate pretty much according to what a human driver might do, given the limited information available. In most cases it is impossible for a driver to know anything about the other party except the immediate behavior. A "good" driver has a real, but somewhat limited, altruistic sense of trying to avoid harming others. That should be the limit of the "least harm" approach. An automated system can use the same approaches without taking the harm avoidance too far, as it would set things up for some not-so-nice humans to take advantage. The automated system could take advantage of its superior high speed physics processing to choose solutions that a human driver might not.

As mentioned in another article, if an automated system attempts to do too much more (or differently) than a human, that system immediately becomes at risk of additional liability. For example, if the system determines that by hitting a third, otherwise uninvolved car instead of taking the full frontal hit, the occupants and owner of the third care may well sue for bringing them into the situation.

There is a future distant possibility that all of the cars could work together to minimize involvement and injury, which has some interesting possibilities. But that would require a radical alteration in the way that liability and insurance are handled today.

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NSA director: We share most of the [crap] bugs we find!

Gary Bickford

It's probably true - at least for the Information Assurance Directorate

NSA has three or four Directorates. Signals Intelligence Directorate is the spooks that everyone talks about. IT is the folks who run the computers. Information Assurance Directorate is chartered to protect American industrial and government resources - they are the anti-spooks. There may be others I don't know about - I don't follow them, I've just picked up things here and there from folks who know. IAD is probably the part of NSA that is funding the TOR project, and they have found and disclosed both bugs in crypt code in order to get it fixed, and attempted or actual penetrations to US institutions - they have saved several companies from bad things, and probably have done the same for government agencies. I think they're the ones who do the high security Linux distribution as well.

So, NSA is not one big monolithic spook-dom. It's multiple groups doing different things, and almost certainly in some cases at cross-purposes. IAD is trying to make things like TOR stronger, while the spooks are trying to break into it.

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SCREW YOU, net neutrality hippies – AT&T halts gigabit fiber

Gary Bickford

OK, let's roll in the competitors!

Unless there are rent-seeking laws in place to prevent it, this is a great opportunity for competitors to come in to those areas and offer a better service. Let the games/competition begin!

Unfortunately, it's likely that the "unless" is the case - ATT may own the poles that the competitor would have to string their wires on. There are rules to require them to rent space on the poles, but ATT could use various pseudo-technical arguments to delay that for years.

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Kryder's law craps out: Race to UBER-CHEAP STORAGE is OVER

Gary Bickford

Seagate eliminated its research group

This is not a failure of the observation / law, but a cessation of any interest in continuing progress and elimination of the core research group.

Several years ago Seagate very suddenly eliminated its research group in Pittsburgh, allowing the 50 or so top people in this area to wander off into the sunset. This group was the one doing the primary research, being used by *everyone* in the business. Only one or two of them even stayed in the business, and since then no serious research is being done. If you look at the curves of capacity, performance, etc., they began to level off at that time.

Source: I got this from someone who was there. According to my source, it was in fact done so callously, without any attempt to support these finely-tuned people, that several of them were emotionally ruined and no longer able to even function in a research capacity.

One result of this is that the capacity and price/performance of SSDs will surpass HDs sooner, probably in late 2015. Therefore, one might argue that Seagate simply saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to stop spending money on the research that wouldn't give them any additional value. Or one might argue that, since the market is essentially a monopoly/duopoly, there was no incentive to continue to try to outdo the competition.

* "everyone" means Western Digital and Seagate. Between them they have well over 90% of the entire hard drive market.

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Yes, Virginia, there IS a W3C HTML5 standard – as of now, that is

Gary Bickford

Where is the Reference Implementation?

Until there is an accepted Reference Implementation, that provides / demonstrates the 'correct' behavior for any given input, it's not really an effective standard. If necessary this implementation could be done in such a way that it would not be competitive on its own.

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Lufthansa tosses IT biz to Big Blue, inks outsource deal with IBM

Gary Bickford

Maybe it's not the outsourcing, but the potential for economies of scale

The company I used to work for collected data, sliced and diced it, and sold it to multiple customers. The primary source of data was a government agency, and one of the major customers was the same agency. But we could collect the data, process it, clean it up and provide the structured and useful data much cheaper than the agency could have done themselves. The major reason was we had 1/2 dozen other customers for the same data, so we could spread the cost among all of them.

Similarly, perhaps IBM will be able to use and adapt the existing Lufthansa infrastructure, and sell the equivalent service to other airlines. This synergy will reduce the delivery cost per customer. The more airlines that sign up, the better for both IBM and those airlines - assuming they run it properly!

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The future health of the internet comes down to ONE simple question…

Gary Bickford

The whole design of the Internet is to route around central control

ICANN seems to be constitutionally unable to realize that central control is completely contrary to the design principles of the Internet. The design was to optimize the ability of the networks to survive radical disruption and route around problems. This is a good methodology, similar to living systems. Rather than working toward a monopoly/dictatorship model, ICANN should be finding ways to make itself unnecessary and allow the Internet run itself and dynamically correct problems via the emergent properties of the design - the protocols and technologies.

Perhaps it is useful to consider the Internet as a living thing - a small child, which needs education (new protocols and tech where necessary) to grow up and be a useful "citizen", not discipline to force it into one group's conception of what it ought to be.

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Trips to Mars may be OFF: The SUN has changed in a way we've NEVER SEEN

Gary Bickford

NERVA was ready for flight testing in 1969

NASA had a nuclear thermal rocket system ready to being flight testing in 1969, called NERVA. This engine was critical to the proposed Mars manned mission to launch in 1978. NERVA was cancelled for political reasons, including certain senators wanting to make a Mars mission impractical and reduce or eliminate NASA's manned space program, and the Nixon Administration's desire to cut spending. Good info can be found on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NERVA. It's really a rather interesting story.

A NERVA-type engine can provide both launch thrust and very high powered ion propulsion with its ability to generate electrical power in the multi-MW level. To reduce or eliminate issues with potential catastrophic disassembly and radioactive contamination, as well as to provide better tuning to required power levels and instant on/off capability, it would probably be better to use a Thorium-based Molten Salt Reactor design. Thorium is extremely safe in its natural state - there are beaches in India composed of Thorium sand. Using a proton beam starter/trigger, even the tiny amount of Uranium required to start an LTFR reactor up could be eliminated. And the LTFR produces almost no radioactive waste.

It's time we as a species accept that both travel and living in space is going to involve nuclear and eventually fusion power systems - along with a lot of robotics.

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Want a more fuel efficient car? Then redesign it – here's how

Gary Bickford

Carbon Fiber (once the $$$ reduce to $), and electric braking

Reading about the use of the AUDI door element, I immediately thought of using carbon fiber for that - it would reduce the weight to a few ounces (it's amazing how light a CF element can be, especially using an isotruss-type structure). This could be used other places as well. But - sigh - first the price needs to go from $20/kg to $2/kg.

Reading the comments, I thought about using adding a simple battery + motor-generator system to one or the other axles, which could use energy generated in braking to add to the next acceleration. If the purpose is limited to this short-term application, the system might be small enough to fit into the plan. There are some motor-generators that are very wide and flat (similar in shape to a disk brake), and are very light, though they cost $2000 apiece 10 years ago, last time I looked.

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Sleepy spotless summer Sun's shock solar storm surge stuns scientists

Gary Bickford

They're baaack

Our ancient enemies the Glfffltaaccchj (phonetic transliteration), remembered only in primordial dreams of reptile beings, fear of snakes, and stories of fabled Atlantis, have returned to wreak vengeance for their defeat 300,000 years ago. Last time around they successfully wiped our racial memories almost completely as they departed in defeat. The war was long, and resulted in the destruction of every "civilized" concentration of humans, as they were burned and melted to slag. But our heroic scientists managed to develop a virus that attacked their scales, making their life on Earth a nightmare of itching and scratching, with ugly festering sores. So they left, to wait until the few remaining humans, suddenly dropped back to pre-civilization conditions, finally died out.

But we survived! A dozen here, five there, a few hundred in some places, survived those first terrible winters or scorching summers and drowning monsoons. And now, to their dismay, the Glfffltaaccchj return to find that we have surpassed our own original level of technology!

The Glfffltaaccchj like their planets warmer and wetter than we do, much like the Age of Dinosaurs, when this was one of their favorite planets to come to for vacation. So they have deployed their evil planet-heating technology as a weapon, generating thousands of additional subsea volcanoes to raise the ocean temperature, melt the icecaps, and increase the greenhouse effect. And they have fired into the Sun a magnetic field generator that periodically triggers a huge CME aimed at the Earth to disrupt all electronics and destroy our high tech civilization once more. As their system gets tuned in, the CMEs will get larger and more dangerous.

This time they plan to cause us to die without destroying our physical infrastructure, so they can move right in. Huge seed-ships are already hiding in the Oort Cloud, waiting for the day when their generals can announce that our resistance is so little that we won't be able to fight back, and they can walk in and eat us.

Our only hope is to advance our technology faster than they can disrupt it. Since the Carrington Event 150 years ago, they have been tuning their CME generator, but it takes years to monitor and tweak between events, while avoiding a truly catastrophic effect on the Sun and making life on Earth impossible for millenia. So they have to wait, and monitor, and get ready. Already our technology has leaped ahead much faster than they could have imagined. Once we have successfully populated the Solar System, starting with orbital platforms, the Moon, Mars and the Asteroids, it will be too late for them. This is why human space development is so important. Support The Integrated Space Plan! (http://thespaceplan.com) and SAVE HUMANITY!! :D

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New USB spec offers two-way power flows AND double-sided plug

Gary Bickford

Every flash drive has a cpu

Actually, every flash drive has a tiny cpu, which is what decides where to put data, spreads writes around the chip(s), and tracks bad sections. If it's a self-encrypting drive, the CPU + other hardware handles that as well. Someone even managed to get Linux running on one.

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Experimental hypersonic SUPERMISSILE destroyed 4 SECONDS after US launched it

Gary Bickford

Re: Why?

A bit of historical background: Back when the US was very young, Thomas Jefferson sent an emissary to the Sultan or whatever who ran what we now call Libya at the time, to ask him why his Barbary Coast pirates persisted in piracy, kidnapping Americans and holding them for ransom. The Sultan replied, "According to the Koran, we are instructed to kill all infidels. The fact that we provide an opportunity to ransom them is just a friendly gesture on our part."

Thomas Jefferson continued to pay off the Sultan for a couple of years, while he proceeded to build the first US Naval and Marine forces. Thus the Marine Hymn, "From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli."

To my knowledge, prior to that time, we in the US had never bombed, harassed, or otherwise had anything to do with the Sultan or any of his ilk. Please explain how your reasoning applies.

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My big reveal as macro-economics analyst: It's a load of COBBLERS

Gary Bickford

Complex adaptive systems

The best working model for an economy is as a complex adaptive system - conceptually and mathematically related to neural networks, ecosystems, and other characteristically 'living' systems. An economy is composed of many, many individual nodes, all receiving information input from some large number of 'neighbors', and sending information output to an equally large number of 'neighbors'. This system is always converging toward a constantly shifting optimum - either a minimum (valley in the error space) or a maximum (peak in the energy space).

One rather obvious aspect of this approach is recognition that such a system will _always_ adapt quickly to any external input. Taken to the limit, complex adaptive systems start looking like fluid dynamics. That may be going too far for some purposes.

Nearly all macroeconomics today is a descendant of the basically linear models that were the only possible way to deal with things in the pre-computer past. Every model was basically "ignore these things, and set these other things to a constant, and you will get a nice line between here and there."

Essentially every top-level economist was trained using these old models. It's time we got economists with PhDs in physics, machine learning, and systems science.

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Brit Sci-Fi author Alastair Reynolds says MS Word 'drives me to distraction'

Gary Bickford

CS Lewis' food for thought

Once, a very long time ago, a young girl asked CS Lewis how to become an author. Among other things, he told her, "Always write in longhand, do not use a typewriter." He went on in this vein: using a typewriter makes you think differently, and what you write will not be as good.

This is a point worth pondering a bit. When you write longhand, you have more time to think about what you are writing, and the words get polished a bit more at least. Writing with a keyboard tends to be more of a 'brain dump' - I think it's faster, and it's easier to backup and rewrite a word or a sentence. This must have a significant effect on what we write. I suspect that text written longhand is going to be less frenetic, at least, and probably more concise.

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Echopraxia scores 'diamond cutter' on the sci-fi hardness scale

Gary Bickford

Why don't media include source links?

This is just a general comment - I've often wondered why online media rarely if ever include links to source material or topical material. Quite often I would like to know more about the topic, and it would be nice to have what librarians sometimes call a 'pathfinder' - like a bibliography - which might just be some of the public sources that the article's author used.

In this case, links to the author's web page, or (heaven forfend the capitalism!) to one or more book sellers or book reviewers or something, would be both useful and (in the case of a link to a book seller) a potential revenue source. Of course, one has to be careful about that, to avoid becoming yet-another-shill, posting articles in part or wholly as paid linkbait. So is this a subtle grey area thing, or better to just remain black-and-white, no links to avoid any issues?

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Govt control? Hah! It's IMPOSSIBLE to have a successful command economy

Gary Bickford

Re: "Mega Corp" proves command and control can work!

It's true that most large corporations operate internally as mostly command economies, and many or most of the complaints that people have with large corporations as customers, employees and other stakeholders can be directly tied to that aspect - they are the same complaints heard about socialist economies. For example, since the feedback loop based on value given and value received is broken, personal influence and backroom deals are essential to getting things done within a corporation - a recent business book discussed the importance of recognizing that every corporation has two structures, the formal hierarchy, and the network of people who get things done. In the outer world this is how corruption becomes essential and endemic in every socialist economy - since you can't buy what you need, you have to bribe, cajole, or be related to someone who can help. We see over and over again how command decisions within corporations - that were often strongly opposed by people within and without the corporation - cause inordinate damage to the company and others - HP has a chain of disasters; Time Warner's merger with AOL; and many others. A recent study showed two things: nearly all major corporate mergers fail, for reasons that were known in advance; and corporate heads, even knowing this commonly convince themselves that "we'll be different" - but they're wrong in the end.

Any economist will tell you that above a certain size, nearly all corporate growth comes from mergers and acquisitions, not internal growth - this shows that these large command economies are failing at what one might consider their primary purpose. These 'successful' large corporations are growing by purchasing those smaller businesses that have been doing all the real growing. The majority of new jobs are also created by small business, while the majority of job losses are the result of 'downsizing' or merger-related layoffs by large corporations.

High tech has some occasional exceptions, including growing by acquiring technology as well as business per se, but even there mergers and acquisitions are primary factors.

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Vulture 2 strapped to speeding van before delicate brain surgery

Gary Bickford

Homing method?

I haven't kept up for a while. Is there a backup system to listen for a homing signal, and steer toward it? That would help the thing bring itself closer to the retrieving team and might help avoid forests and such. Or is the GPS going to be used for navigation as well as monitoring?

Yes, it's been months. :P

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Simian selfie stupidity: Macaque snap sparks Wikipedia copyright row

Gary Bickford

Time for a Kickstarter to help Slater out

Per article on BBC cited in one of the comments here, Slater says he's lost 10,000 lbs. of revenue due to this Wikipedia thing. Someone could start a Kickstarter to help him out, and encourage him to give Wikipedia rights once the campaign succeeds.

[Dang, no monkey icon. :( ]

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Get an EYEFUL OF CURRY for the sake of your brain

Gary Bickford

Re: @moiety

"Brain-cells die. The neural-net loses contacts. It's a fact of life."

It's worth noting recent studies have shown that exercise, ideally an hour a day six days a week (four aerobic, two strength) not only builds and maintains physical fitness but also results in new neural connections in the brain, even into one's 70s, 80s, and 90s. So work out, get smarter! :)

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'BIGGEST BIRD EVER': 21-foot ripsaw-beaked flying HORROR

Gary Bickford

Re: Just imagine

In ancient times there was a community known as the Goodnu's. As all communities did in these times the Goodnu's lived right on the river bank for trading, transportation and sustenance. Water was almighty and worshipped as a God. One day there was a tremendous hurricane far out in the ocean. It's ferocity blew a large flock of "Foo" birds way off course sending them inland many hundreds of miles and in the vicinity of the Goodnu's community. The Goodnu people had never seen a "Foo" bird and were quite curious as to it's sudden and obviously evil presence. The "Foo" bird, as we all know, is a very ugly, evil-looking bird. This caused the Goodnu people to become very uneasy believing they did something wrong to God and that this bird should be avoided. One day a "Foo" bird flew overhead and screeched: "Foo, Foo" and shit on a Goodnu's head. The man ran screaming into the river believing the Holy powers of the river would cleanse him of this evil turd and its consequences. As soon as the man washed this unholy turd from his ear canal he suddenly keeled over and died. The Goodnu's were now convinced of the "Foo" bird's evilness. The next day a woman was outside and heard: "Foo, Foo". Before she could react the "Foo" bird dropped a bomb landing a syrupy turd across her face. Shocked and panicked she ran into the river furiously washing her face of this sloppy stew. The village watched in horror as this woman also died once cleansed of the runny turd. The very next day a village wiseman heard those famous words: "Foo, Foo". He like others had witnessed the terrible deaths of two of his villages' people in the last two days. He too was struck right in the forehead by the "Foo" birds accurately guided turd missile. His first reaction was confusion and he sprinted towards the river. However, he stopped short and thought of his obvious demise should he cleanse the turd wafer from his forehead. He did not cleanse the poo pile from his forehead and lived. So the wiseman went to the other people of the village, gathered them around and stated to them: "There is an obvious lesson here my good people. The moral of this story is: 'If the Foo shits, wear it.'".

- this version from http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bbowman/birds/humor/foo_bird.html

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Aereo has to pay TV show creators? Yes. This isn't rocket science

Gary Bickford

Re: Abolish copyright? What an idiotic idea!

I'm not sure you are correct. One of the common complaints back in the 1600s was that within days of publishing anything, other printers would make copies and sell them more cheaply. IIRC Shakespeare had to keep his scripts secret until the day of the first performance to prevent others from printing them and even performing the play before his group. In the pre-revolutionary US this was also a common problem, and in Britain Dickens' books were notoriously bootlegged, so even though he was a popular author, perhaps the most popular of the time, he was still left relatively poor because so many of 'his' books were actually forgeries.

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Gary Bickford

Re: Aereo is NOT re-broadcasting

"If I connect a splitter to the antenna and connect two coax cables neither of us is re-broadcasting."

Sorry, this is where your thought process fails. This was exactly what the very first CATV did, and what the long court history is based on. John Walson sold TVs in 1948, and the signal in his Pennsylvania valley were too weak. So he stuck an antenna on top of a ridge, and pretty soon had the first primitive cable system running. Since this and most early uses of cable were providing additional local viewers to stations, there wasn't a lot of argument. Later, when a San Diego cable company started showing video from Los Angeles stations, the Los Angeles stations complained - obviously their local advertisers were not going to benefit from viewers 100+ miles away. The upshot of various legal fights was that the FCC got control of cable. See http://www.tvproviders.com/tv-101/why-is-cable-regulated.html.

IIRC, if the cable doesn't cross anyone else's property and doesn't cross any right of way, you can construct your own cable system and be free of FCC regulation but may still be in violation of copyright etc. IANAL, etc.

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Code Spaces goes titsup FOREVER after attacker NUKES its Amazon-hosted data

Gary Bickford

re disgruntled employee

I recall an episode from the 1970s or thereabouts - insurance company fired their tape librarian, gave her two weeks notice. She spent the next two weeks systematically erasing tapes that contained their entire database of customers, policies. They had no way to know who was a policyholder, what policies they had. They had to go back to their field agents all over the country and ask them to reconstruct the data from their own (paper) files.

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Apple: We'll tailor Swift to be a fast new programming language

Gary Bickford

Programming languages could support internationalization

Internationalization of programming languages should be fairly easy to do.

I thought about doing the following for PHP a number of years ago. Have as an optional first line, an instruction saying what language the file is written in. Provide support in the parser the use of an internationalization table, like what is presently common in web pages, frameworks, and many software packages.

This would require two sets of tables, one for the language's reserved words, and one for variable names defined by the programmer. The first would be essential, the second useful. For full support, it would also be useful to have either an identifier tag in every comment pointing to its translation, or to inline multiple languages in the comment.

That's really all it would take, and then a code file could be managed simultaneiously by developers in different languages. A good IDE could even make a stab at translating variables and comments on the fly. (I know, hilarity would ensue - but that would make programming more fun!)

This is so simple, it's rather interesting/odd that it hasn't been done already (AFAIK).

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Silicon Valley bod in no-hire pact lawsuit urges court to REJECT his OWN lawyers' settlement

Gary Bickford

And then there is the effect it had on pay throughout the industry!

It would probably be hard to prove, but I would argue that this practice had the effect of suppressing wages for everyone in the Bay Area, and even throughout the industry. During that time I had recruiters calling me regularly about jobs in Silly Valley and SF but the pay scale was about the same as I was already making, in an area where house prices were less than 1/2 what they were out there. To have even an approximation of the same standard of living I would have had to make double what I was making. So the class action could well have included essentially every EE and SW in the US.

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EU: Let's cost financial traders $400m a day, because EVIL BANKERS. Right?

Gary Bickford

It's not about the HFT - it's about tax revenues

IMHO the real purpose of putting a fee on transactions has nothing to do with the value or risk of HFT, it's just a very attractive way for governments to extract more money from the system in a way that will be invisible to everybody except a tiny few, who can be safely ignored, since they are 'evil HFT traders'.

It's also a very nice example of how the primary, first-order effect of government in an economic system is basically to generate frictional heat. As a second order effect, the funds generated may or may not be utilized beneficially, for example unemployment insurance, which time-shifts some income to act as a low-pass filter that reduces feedback from job loss that would deepen a recession. I suppose a similarly beneficial effect might be accomplished with the funds here, but I don't know what it might be offhand.

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Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco

Gary Bickford

Read "The Checklist Manifesto"

My CEO just loaned me "The Checklist Manifesto", as he liked it. It's a good read about the history of checklists and why we need them. The first well-known modern use was very much related to flying, and avoiding minor problems like taking a nose dive into the ground. A simple checklist turned a failed Boeing bomber prototype (crashed and burned on the first test flight) into the very successful B-17 bomber. And the author notes that lives were saved during his own surgery practice due to using checklists.

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How Microsoft can keep Win XP alive – and WHY: A real-world example

Gary Bickford

Re: XP will only be insecure if connected

One thing IBM did very well back in the 1960s and 1970s was excellent emulation / simulation of older hardware and operating systems. At one point, as I heard tell, the US Social Security Administration was running Autocoder for the 7900 (an assembler-level language running on a 1950s machine), simulated on an IBM 360 running DOS (a 1960s mainframe OS, emulated on a 360 running MVS, simulated on a 3070 running VM. (I probably have all the details wrong, but you get the picture.) This was because the original code *was* the SocSec's business logic, and rewriting raised the probability that the new code would not output the same numbers, causing havoc in the real world.

I assume that sometime in the early 1980s or late 1970s, the administration finally bit the bullet and rewrote the code. But maybe not - the Federal Employees Retirement system is still almost entirely based on paper, for similar reasons.

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Top patent troll sues US regulators for interfering with its business

Gary Bickford

So much prior art

Faximum Software was selling a Unix software package back in the early 1990s with scan-to-email and fax-to-email (and vice versa). My product (company was FXT Corp), InterFax was a networked fax and document server that used that capability. Other prior art includes PaperSight(TM) networked document management system, a product of Visus, Inc., originally released about 1989, Excalibur, and numerous others - essentially every network-aware document management system ever built.

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How to kill trolls and influence Apple people: A patent solution

Gary Bickford

Re: actively trying to invalidate applications by searching for prior art.

It's not supposed to be up to the patent office, at least not entirely. Under current US law, the applicant is supposedly required to present all prior art as part of the application. However two things mitigate against that. First, it requires specialized knowledge and is difficult, time consuming, and expensive to do that. And second, if you do the research and don't happen to find the one patent that can be construed as applying, your liability goes up because (it can be argued) you purposely did not cite the prior art. Worse, you may find that patent and cite it, but then you are pretty much admitting that you are liable for royalties. This is a catch-22. So many institutions tell employees _not_ to look for prior art. So the application may have a few barely-related citations - you have to have _something_ - often expired patents, but basically pretends ignorance, to avoid licensing issues to the prior art holder.

The other problem is that the USPTO by itself can never have a sufficiently conversant staff in every discipline. Patents in high tech fields are often so specialized that only a half dozen people in the world could probably know whether the innovation is unique, etc. IIRC recently the USPTO began to set up a volunteer peer review system. There are many potential issues with that (similar to those in academic peer review), but I think that is a good potential solution to all of the above.

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Joke no more: Comedy virty currency Dogecoin gets real in big Xmas heist

Gary Bickford

The 'Erg' standard

I've casually argued for the use of the Erg, or kw hour, or some other measure of energy as a natural standard of economic value to replace gold. I'm not the first - I found a few papers from the late 1960s and early 1970s arguing for the same thing. First one must assume that a currency should be based on some objective store of value, of course - and that is not a 100% done deal, especially in today's dependence on manipulated currencies. But that's a separate argument.

Energy has some natural advantages as an objective measure. The first, most obvious one is transferability - it is easy to measure almost anything in terms of energy. The amount of energy required to produce, maintain, ship, use, anything is relatively easy to measure, so the price of everything is closely related to its physical cost (other aspects would be rarity, and various intangibles like art value). Most usefully, demand for energy tends to match availability over time - as a general rule, economies have historically developed new energy sources at a rate that roughly matches growth and the demand for energy. So the price of everything in terms of energy tends to remain relatively stable, unlike gold. And unlike gold or other physical measures there is no fundamental problem with a fixed quantity being available. Finally, transfer of energy is much easier in general than transfer of tons of gold or whatever.

So, given the assumption that fiat currencies are a failure, energy seems to be the best alternative. In reality, anything can be used as the measure - gold, silver, nicely carved rocks, wives, goats, camels have all been used as agreed measures. At present the price of light sweet crude oil is as close to a standard measure as anything - when oil prices rise, the cost of almost all goods also rises due to the ubiquity of impact on transportation, heating, electricity, etc. So it would be fairly natural to use a particular grade of oil. But (especially as we use more solar and other non-oil sources of energy, move into space, etc., oil becomes less and less attractive to everyone except the suppliers. The energy contained in the oil is a much better measure. The delivered price of oil in terms of energy would then properly a function of supply and demand, which would also include the cost of production, the value of scarcity (it will run out eventually), the cost of shipping, the cost of management and sales and so forth.

Interestingly, in one of the papers from about 1970, the author argued that using energy as the standard would make nuclear plants uneconomic because, counting the energy used to build them including trucking, etc. and the energy used to decommission them and manage them into perpetuity, a nuke used more energy than it produced. I don't know if that was correct, I somehow doubt that the amortized costs would work out that way, and that was based on the then-prevalent plan to run a nuke 20 years and decommission it; so it's not at all plainly true. But it is indicative of how many economic equations might change given this standard. If a standard economic measure is a good idea, I don't think there is any better measure than energy (by some practical physical quantification).

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Undercover BBC man exposes Amazon worker drone's daily 11-mile trek

Gary Bickford

Re: Is this a story?

Back in the day I worked as a roofer's assistant, carrying shingles up a ladder. In Houston TX, in the summer. It was regularly 100 degrees outside, 100% humidity, and a lot hotter on the roof. I got to the point where I could carry two 80 lb. bundles up the ladder (I did break a few ladders), balancing one on each shoulder. I had to keep three or four roofers busy.

When I got home I took a hot shower, then a cold shower, then collapsed into bed and slept a few hours. Then got up and had dinner.

So - walking 8 hours in an air conditioned warehouse? Hah!

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SR-71 Blackbird follow-up: A new TERRIFYING Mach 6 spy-drone bomber

Gary Bickford

At about 1/2 light speed, according to something I read yesterday, interstellar dust particles will have a relative effective mass equivalent to a medium-sized artillery shell - every few centimeters of travel. And the energy released after impact with the hull will be mostly in the form of high speed particles and X-rays. I figure that the ideal interstellar ship will have about 1/4 mile of water shield in the front of it - protons are the best for shielding, and water has a lot of hydrogen. And that's not counting the thrust required to counteract all that drag.

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Gary Bickford

I'm guessing that when Blackswift was cancelled, the funding was actually continued in various 'black' budget items. At the time of Blackswift the technology was getting close but still very iffy. Now Lockheed has basically said, "We're building this." There's probably $1BB difference between those two states of development.

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Gary Bickford

Re: For this aircraft to be built....

Actually I think the enemy this is designed for is Russia and China, and someday perhaps even India. Remember "nations do not have friends, they only have interests" - adapted from a remark by Lord Palmerston, 1864. A 2030 deployment is 17 or so years from now. Both Russia and China are rapidly working on improving, increasing and advancing their military tech. So is India, mostly in response to China and Pakistan.

I think this tech is basically setting out a benchmark that tells these nations, if they want to play war, they are going to have to ante up at this level.

But also, and more interestingly for me, this technology appears to be a very good basis for either single or dual stage to orbit reusable launch systems. Using the present rocket based systems, about 1/2 of the fuel used is burned just getting to Mach 1, and between 3/4 and 7/8 or higher getting to Mach 5. Then all that hardware is dropped into the ocean. So a first stage based on this technology has the potential to greatly decrease cost, and increase convenience, of space launch systems. It might very well be the final key to orbital hotels, orbital manufacturing, lunar mining, etc.

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Gary Bickford

The one hitch in your argument is that the Fed is presently buying up all the debt that other parties won't buy, and it can and will increase that to whatever extent it finds necessary. Bernanke's lifelong professorial expertise was on government policy and the Great Depression, and he is absolutely convinced that an essentially infinite amount of government largesse can be used to prevent depressions. He's wrong, of course. All he is doing is ignoring second and third order effects, postponing the inevitable, and making the pain last longer and making the final crash more painful. See Venezuela, and Argentina (three times since 1900), etc.

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Gary Bickford

No inflation?

"Officially". That must be why essentially the same car today costs 10 times what it cost 40 years ago. (OK, accounting for new features, call it 5 times.) And why my purchasing power is about the same - house prices, rents, food, etc. - today as it was in 1978, even though I now make about 7 times what I made then. And why my salary today is about 1.5 times what it was in 1999, but I have _less_ purchasing power.

Yes, this is a mix of approximate statistical data and anecdotal evidence. :)

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Gary Bickford

Debt? Who cares?

If you listen to Bernanke and Geitner, there's no reason for a debt limit - it doesn't matter how much we borrow. "Whee! Let's print more money!!" (sigh.)

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iPad Air BARES ALL, reveals she's a high maintenance lady

Gary Bickford

My brilliant idea - use radio-softened glue throughout

I agree that most people aren't going to want to take theirs apart, and fasteners (e.g. screws, tabs, etc.) would require thicker == heavier plastic components. But it would be more efficient to recycle if these machines could come apart without having to be shredded. So, use a glue that releases when struck by some type of radio waves, perhaps microwaves or terahertz waves which are closer to infrared, which might also be sufficient - maybe just heat the thing to 100C - low enough to avoid damaging the chips etc. Then all of the components would just fall apart, ready for reuse or whatever.

Another alternative would be some kind of solvent that the plastic is designed to be vulnerable to.

Both of these are still one-way trips, but at least then the components could be directed to the appropriate recycling mechanism easily and automatically.

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LG G Flex: A new cheeky curvy mobe with a 'SELF-HEALING' bottom

Gary Bickford

Make it an arm phone

I'd like to see it curved backwards on the other axis, so it can be worn on the forearm and leave my pockets free. Use a directional mic and speaker(s) so you could talk to your arm, if you didn't want to use a wired or bluetooth headset.

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Ex-Valve engineers raise begging bowl for 3D holographic-like goggles

Gary Bickford

Re: Release valve

I don't recall if that was how Xerox happened (and I'm too lazy to look it up, but it's certainly true, and it's reasonable. Every company has to evaluate opportunities and direction. There are limited resources, one of which is just 'focus'. If a grocery store chain comes up with a new shopping cart design, should they build it? Probably not - they don't have the expertise, the market presence in that business, or the factory. For Valve to make this a product would require them to become a different company. So perhaps they've kept some piece of the action, and perhaps they're helping these folks out at arm's length but that's as much as they should be doing.

As an alternate case in point that shows another risk - Microsoft's foray into making tablets and other hardware is reportedly encouraging HP to separate themselves from MS a bit - they now see MS as a competitor.

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Leaping SpaceX GRASSHOPPER ROCKET jumps 2,500ft, lands safely

Gary Bickford

Re: *scratching head*

It's been a while since I saw information about this. There is some debate but as I recall the estimate is from 10% to 30% of the fuel. The key thing is that the returning rocket is not longer carrying the weight of the second (& following) stages, most of the fuel is gone, and a big part of the fuel was spent achieving maximum velocity. That velocity can be given away by merely letting gravity take over, only maintaining the proper vertical attitude**, until the thing is coming back at a suitable rate - in fact I think it's best to wait to decelerate (perhaps just maintaining some maximum descent speed?) until the last minute* and use the remaining fuel all at once IIRC. So, taking all that into account, the fuel required to bring it back is much less.

* the last minute - gravity is always accelerating the vehicle downwards. If you slow it down too soon, you'll have to keep burning fuel for a longer time.

** some reusable vehicle designs have been based on a 'flyable' first stage that would use minimal fuel to return, and land on a runway. But that has its own price in weight.

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Asus NV550JV 15.6in full HD notebook - the one we didn't have to send back

Gary Bickford

Try it with a Linux distro - in fact try _every_ review model with a linux distro

Since the majority of El Reg's readers are non-windows, non-mac users, this fine establishment would be doing the world a great service to just plug in a live DVD or two (maybe even a PCBSD DVD?) and see how it works on all these new machines - nothing fancy, just see if it runs normal stuff without tweaking or resorting to geekly file edits. This would provide useful information to us, the great unwashed, who may be ready to buy a new machine, and would also send a useful message to vendors, suggesting that they do that themselves before releasing to the public. This will become increasingly useful as the world continues to move beyond MS-WIndowism.

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Gary Bickford

Re: I really wonder who would see the difference.

"you'd know there is no such thing as too much RAM" - indeed! I regularly run _programs_ that swallow up several GB. I actually use a laptop as a real computer, so I can work without having to sit at a desk.

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DARPA: You didn't think we could make a Mach 6 spaceplane, so let us have this MACH TEN job

Gary Bickford

Re: I still think a rail/supergun in the Andes is the best bet

Not a rail gun per se, but a magnetic launcher (aka 'coilgun') has potential. These are the key factors:

1) The advantages are in potential launch frequency and cost, which is mostly related to fuel and not having to throw away hardware.

2) don't try to do the entire launch package from the railgun, use it as the first stage replacement.

3) without a lightweight heat shield, you are limited in the maximum speed until you get most of the way out of the atmosphere to avoid burning up. But even getting to mach 5 (3800 mph, 1.7km/s) saves about half the fuel. It's been said that 50% of the fuel is used getting to the first 100 feet off the launch pad.

4) if you want humans on board, it's going to be a very long coilgun. I ran similar numbers a couple of months ago - at 10G to reach 5km/s would require a 12.5 km coilgun and 50 seconds. That's beyond what most humans can take, but would be fine for most cargo. I'm too lazy to redo the numbers for 5G and 2km/s but using thumbnail math, 5G to 2.5km/s would also be 12.5 km but 100 seconds?

5) don't forget the mass and handling of the 'carriage' - the thing that the vehicle rides on going up the launcher - you don't want to launch that

The bottom line is, if you look at the coil gun as a cost saving system (long term), it could work. And Ecuador actually does have a space program, so there's an opportunity for someone to work out a deal. Having such a launch system right on the Equator is certainly advantageous. I would think that such a launch system would cost a few $billion.

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From launch to orbit: The new commercial space pioneers

Gary Bickford

Baby steps is key, and we're all in it together

My group (Space Finance Group) is working on both management services and funding for so-called "New Space" development companies. While some companies like those mentioned get most of the press, there are literally hundreds of companies involved, most of which will likely never make the news. Every rocket, every habitation module, every vehicle, is made of thousands of parts that are made by suppliers - from space-rated electronic components to window sealing compounds.

In the relatively short time I've transitioned from an outsider watching this industry to an active participant, I've been astonished at just how large an industry it already is. Some indicators are the number of associations and magazines focussed on it, as well as the number of conferences and conventions.

As I see it, there are three basic types of New Space plans, maybe four:

- Tightly focussed, near-term operational businesses may already be profitable, or may be in the next year or two (but also with long term continuity plans) - this would be Space-X, Virgin Galactic, etc. I would add to this group, the many suppliers that already produce parts and services for both 'Old Space' and 'New Space' clients. This is the 'bread and butter' sector.

- Higher risk, longer term projects with more or less technical risk and potential payouts (hopefully large) in the 10+year time frame. Examples would be Liftport, Deep Space Industries and Golden Spike. Most of these are struggling to get enough funding to go to the next step but there are some interesting ideas for getting some short-term operational revenues to justify initial funding.

- 'Beyond Blue Sky' projects that require much more technical knowledge and/or much more available financial resources than we have availaable now. IMHO all of the Mars projects are presently in this paradigm. For any long-term microgravity habitation, our continuing experience on the International Space Station is a critical element in learning how to live in space. Another example in my mind is Space Solar Power, which has reasonable theory behind it but serious technical and financial risks, and perhaps most importantly political and public relations complications. It is hard to get funding for something that opponents can, and will use fear mongering to inflame the uninformed populace about.

- Last is the large number of individuals who are designing space stations and new propulsion systems at home. Some of these folks will be found at every conference. A very few of these will pan out, and perhaps one out of 1000 will become the basis of the next generation of space systems, or the next after that. I think of these as modern Don Quixotes. It is almost impossible to tell which will succeed, and expensive to analyze their theories. Keep in mind that in the late 1970s, Martine Rothblatt was arguably one of these. She fought the system, overturned an international monopoly on communications satellites, and created Sirius Radio.

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Oracle Team USA sailors admit breaking America's Cup rules

Gary Bickford

Re: I understand

There often seems to be this tension between sports and civil entities. For example the owner of the Miami Dolphins is resubmitting a plan for the State of Florida or the City or something to spend a few hundred $million to further improve Dolphins stadium - and the Dolphins are a loser team. But for cities, sports events can (though don't always) make a lot of money from the tourists that come to town. So it's a bit of a speculative bet on the part of cities.

Having said that, I find it rather hard for a city to justify spending public money on 'bread and circuses'. For reference, read "Plutarch's Lives" on the life of Pericles, who spent public money building the Acropolis and providing free bread and public entertainment in a bid to stay elected. What we can learn from the Ancient Greeks: "Things haven't changed."

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Gary Bickford

Re: Yeah, little technical things

I watched the AC45s in Newport RI last year. You could sit/stand on the side of the water, or you could go back away from the edge where they had some BIG screens set up. What you saw was quite different - the screens had cool perspectives from the helicopters (noisy!), and had the graphics showing what was going on, so you could see the tactical part of the race. Also they showed live video from the boats themselves, so you could see the amazing activity - from a distance sailboats seem like they are just serenely floating along, but on deck it's a blur of activity quite a lot of the time - especially with these very fast boats. From the shore you couldn't see the relative positions as well, but you could see the physical motion of the boats. For part of the race the boats got within perhaps 100 yards of the shore - cats have little draft so they're not constrained as much by shallow water.

We actually went back and forth between TV and shore. I would like to do it again with a FondleSlab to watch the video and earbuds to listen to the commentary.

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