* Posts by RobHib

536 posts • joined 17 May 2013

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Boeing 787 software bug can shut down planes' generators IN FLIGHT

RobHib
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@A.C. – Re: RobHib's thoughts.

A.C., thanks. Short of time to elaborate on your comments here except to say I agree with them. Will reply in more detail later. Also, Charles Haddon Cave video is fascinating, recommended viewing, and has echoes of similar things/incidents that I've experienced (but luckily with fewer repercussions).

In the meantime, with reference to TB/h 'I don't know where this figure comes from...', here's one immediate reference, there's others too: http://www.trilliumsoftware.com/success/_pdf/DataIQ_Fall12-Nigel-Article.pdf.

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RobHib
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@Simon Sharwood - Re: So... Some thoughts.

Reckon that's so but also there are broader issues here; essentially they're issues that emerge from complexity.

To the point: the complexity of modern airliners like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 are such that it's just not possible in any practicable sense to cover every functional mode of operation, design limitation and failure mode let alone properly evaluate all their relevant parameters [design limitations/omissions, failure severity, event probability etc.] through rigorous state analysis and similar techniques.

Anyone familiar with state analysis will know that it's nigh on impossible to cover every aspect (design limitations, failure modes etc.) of a system as 'simple' as a domestic VCR let alone one as complex as a modern jet airliner–even a VCR's complexity is such that the computational problems are enormous. Just defining the parameters for such tests alone is problematic.

I'm not saying that these modern airliners aren't reliable, clearly they are but putting an exact measure on 'reliability' just isn't possible with today's state-of–the-art. The fact is we've still to rely on the best expertise that's available and this ultimately boils down to the combined expertise and experience of the engineers, designers and manufacturer's wherewithal etc.–not to mention bean-counters and budgets.

Let me give you an example: the well-publicized Qantas QF32 A380 [2010-11-04] engine failure. The Rolls-Royce T/900s each generates about 20 terabytes of monitoring data per hour yet this was 'insufficient' to give any forewarning of the failure. Moreover, after the failure–despite the many hundreds of thousands of sensors on the A380–the pilots still had insufficient (or perhaps inappropriate) monitoring for them to determine what failed sufficient to the extent necessary to safely navigate and land the plane.

Sufficient data was only gathered after a passenger reported damage to the wing and a pilot visually inspected the damage from the passenger's seat. With all of the A380's sophisticated monitoring, human intervention (a human sensor) was still necessary.

The issues that arise are complex and many but the essential ones are reasonably clear: we now know the exploding engine cut sensor and control lines thus cutting off essential data to the pilots. The question is why this eventuality wasn't allowed for in the original design (given that engines have previously failed/exploded and cut control lines long before this incident). Also, why didn't a state analysis pick up this issue beforehand in the early design phase?

Moreover, given the long history of control cable/hydraulics failures (by being severed) and leading to crashes [e.g.: UA FLT 232, (1989); AA FLT 96, (1972)], one has to speculate why in such a modern aircraft the few truly critical circuits weren't also backed up by wireless links (powered at sensor source). Same goes for why there were no iPhone-sized camera 'sensors' in critical places–for pilots to view the engines etc. (as we all know from our phones, this is pretty trivial these days).

Similarly, Airbus designers appear not to have taken into account the overwhelming levels of error messages generated in the cockpit by the computer-based information system. It was essentially useless, as the huge amount of data presented forced the crew to process the data manually and in a time of great stress and with very limited time. The pilots reported that at no time during their training had they ever had to experience this level of data overload–had it not been for the extremely professional crew the craft could have been lost. The problem with the status/fault monitoring is nothing less than a very significant ergonomic design failure. (It's a damning indictment, as there's seemingly no reason why this problem should not have been foreseen.)

Effectively, the design parameters, in sum, were passed to be an 'acceptable' risk but in practice they were not.

There's no doubt the QF32 incident raises serious concerns, and both the regulators and Airbus need to be put under the spotlight for a series of problems and events that compounded to considerably more than could ever just be attributed to force majeure alone. That said, what is even more key is that this incident clearly shows that our current understanding of complex systems is very limited. State analysis etc. as applied to large complex designs such as modern aircraft has a long way to go before it can be considered mature engineering. Designers need to heed this fact.

In my opinion, the chain of events that led to the QF32 incident is a brilliant encapsulated example of the same kinds of problems we all too often see in large computer systems, Windows, the internet etc. Perhaps we computer types should spend more time examining them.

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Silence is golden: Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp is 100 today

RobHib
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@ x7 — I'm sorry for you.

I've been accused of being a humourless irritable bastard but you take the cake!

Presumably, you're just buying an argument to wind us up. If not, then I'm genuinely sorry for you.

Even I laugh myself silly at this comic genius, fortunately much of the world follows suit.

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UberPop granted temporary reprieve in France

RobHib
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@A.C. - - Re: Funny isn't it?

A.C., perhaps you should actually read what I said.

I said nothing whatsoever about "operating without a licence, probably having no insurance and pocketing undeclared income", nor did I even infer it!

...But then what would one expect from an A.C. who'd even bother to be an A.C. over such a trivial headline. Perhaps you're trying hide from your own shadow.

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RobHib
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Funny isn't it?

Funny isn't it how the world wants competition and fee markets at almost any cost–witness all the free trade agreements etc? And yet in almost every country this aspect of free trade is verboten.

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The storage is alive? Flash lives longer than expected – report

RobHib
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Time will ultimately tell.

Decades ago when I was at school I recall daring kids to touch my charged capacitors. Some did which instantly deterred others.

I also remember the charge didn't last very long. Now, SSDs aren't quite the same but the theory of operation's not far off.

SSDs great devices, I use them all the time, but we're still testing their endurance. A few more years will tell. There's also the question of very long-term storage of decades. The message from similar technologies, EEPROMS etc., is mixed, I've some decades old and perfectly OK whilst a few have carked it inexplicably (but the manufacturing tech is much older of course) .

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GCHQ: Ensure biz security by STOPPING everyone from TALKING

RobHib
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Devil

Ha! We'll see....

I well remember suggesting this in my organization well over a decade ago and I was laughed at. (At the time thumb drives weren't around but floppies, Zip drives, email attachments and mobile phones were.)

Even the management instantly balked at it such is their addiction to such devices. It'll be a brave organization that does. It might even stop it recruiting the top people when the fact's known.

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Microsoft RE-BORKS Windows 7 patch after reboot loop horror

RobHib
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Re: @BobChip -- Windows is such an adventure

Ha! A fisherman I ought to be. Mention Win APIs and Linux together and, even with an obvious lure, there's always a guaranteed catch!

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RobHib
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@BobChip -- Re: Windows is such an adventure

Far easier just to turn Windows automatic updates off altogether, this way I get to keep 100% compatibility without drama. Don't even have to think about Wine.

Better still, I uninstall the Windows automatic updates service, this way other sneaky MS programs can't silently turn it back on, as they're so often wont to do.

I've learned the hard way many years ago never to turn on Windows (or even Linux) automatic updates, as things change, often strangely and without notice. And in Windows' case, the all-to-regular BSODs were somewhat distracting.

BTW, I do use Linux regularly for many purposes but not as my default desktop machine. For some reason, Linux is missing a key component, Win32/64 API compatibility! Quick, quick, Linux devotees, reach for the down-vote.

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Zimmermann slams Cameron’s ‘absurd’ plans for crypto ban

RobHib
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Big Brother

@A.C. -- Your'e from the Government then?

1. Why are you an A.C.? Ironic isn't it, you're actually hiding something! (Remember, that's what encryption does.)

2. People who espouse views in the way you've expressed them usually wish their names be attached.

3. What you've written is almost a boilerplate press release from the police or government.

4. Thus, it's difficult then to conclude you're NOT from the establishment.

5. In the circumstances that would also explain why you're an A.C.

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Forget viruses: Evil USB drive 'fries laptops with a power surge'

RobHib
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Devil

@Adam Foxton -- Re: A salt and battery -- JUST BEGINNERS!

Ever had a piece of electronic gear that's been returned under warranty many times and the intermittent fault still remains, and whatever you do you can't get the service company to (a) believe you and (b) actually fix the problem?

Solution: Just stick the PWA/circuit board in the microwave and problem solved. Next time it's returned, they'll either fix the gear properly or replace it. Fixing the gear properly means completely replacing the offending PWA.

NOW, BEGINNERS DON'T RUSH OFF!

You have to know what you are doing or you'll brick it in such a way that you won't be able to take advantage of your warranty. If you don't know what you are doing don't do it. And worse, if your Mrs catches you there'll be hell to pay. You'll be blamed forever and a day about the smelly microwave tainting the food (it's nonsense of course unless you're stupid and overdo it).

1. First, calibrate your microwave on some known old disposable circuit board.

2. About 3-4 seconds of microwave energy is all you need. Any more and you'll blow the ICs to smithereens, the cases will explode and little craters will appear in the tops of the ICs near the Si chips. Such damage is even evident to room-temperature IQ types, they won't usually blame you but they'll say lightening struck it and won't honour the warranty.

3. Done properly, the PWA will show absolutely no signs of damage whatsoever but the majority of the ICs will be totally stuffed internally—the professional term for such damage is BER (Beyond Economic Repair).

4. Never put a whole laptop in microwave, it's possible the damage to the electronics could short the battery (we don't want any loud bangs, now do we?) Also, the screen will go motley and be obvious.

5. The quickest way to brick a laptop without being obvious is to expose the circuit board/PWA and run a wide metal contact down the CPU support chips with the power still on (you're very unlikely to blow the battery because on-board fuses and safety stuff in the battery will stop excess currents. It's often best to get a techie to do it, he'll know how to do it without marking the solder pads (thus leaving traces).

(In the past, I've had to do this legitimately to get rid of old corporate laptops.)

6. There's much more, but that's secret!

REMEMBER. DO NOT DELIBERATELY SCREW UP EQUIPMENT BELONGING TO OTHERS! (THERE ARE MANY RULES ABOUT IT.)

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Quantum computers have failed. So now for the science

RobHib
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Happy

@Pawl -- Re: @RobHib -- We'll see...

Your insightful last post in effect wraps up the discussion I reckon. Your comment succinctly summarises the original point I was trying to make about aspects of fields being incomprehensible except through mathematics. Anyway, it seems what started with my casual and facetious remark about a 'Nobel for 'fields' has generated more words than I expected.

As mentioned, the notion of fields, through various levels of understanding, has troubled me for decades since as a kid I asked what magnetism was, and in ways it still does. Whilst the double-slit experiment rightfully captures popular imagination as a means of demonstrating quantum weirdness, it seems to me a similar case can be made with respect to force fields. Especially so since it's a ubiquitous aspect of physics in the sense that most physics students, electrical engineers, etc., not only can't avoid it, but as with thermodynamics, it's a central pillar of their work/profession.

Moreover, I cannot ever recall any intermediate-level text making a strong point about the striking dichotomy between static, non-excited, force fields (magnetic, electric etc.) and those of far-field EMR. Of course, by that I'm referring to both our perception of and our seemingly quite different explanations of these physical phenomena—yet clearly for nature, they're just manifestations of the same thing; she has no concerns that we've difficulty in explaining them, and or that we often do so using inconsistent or very different approaches for each phenomena.

Ages ago, I recall searching* various classical physics and QM texts for various explanations of what happens at the instant a static magnetic field begins to move (is accelerated) with respect to an electron or current-carrying wire (specifically the classical case—where EMR/photons begin to be emitted and the instant when λ ceases to be meaningless/'infinite'); and it was exceedingly difficult to find any direct references to the matter. One is left to figure it out like an exam question from the more general explanations which can be very difficult. (I ended up in an entangled (no pun intended) mathematical mess; Lorentz and many other such matters to consider, even the relativistic case was in the mix—right, my attempt failed.)

I failed again tackling the problem from the QED end, one easily gets bogged down (well, certainly I do) in complicated conceptual matters, and the maths is persistently mind-boggling (heaven knows why I bothered). The basics of QM photon generation/emission is documented but to fully understand the intricacies of the coupling/interaction of e‾ to the magnetic static force field at the moment of initial acceleration is, pretty much, beyond this mere mortal's capability. We've to consider such notions as virtual photon exchange, perturbation theory, QM's non-relativistic and relativistic Hamiltonian for both free and bound electrons in a static force field etc., etc. If it's not one's primary bread and butter, then it's damn heavy going. (Oh, to have Dirac/Feynman's mind!)

I note also the popular press has recently dipped its toes into the question of what exactly is a field. In a short, somewhat uninformative article on fields New Scientist (No 2999, 13 December 2014, p39) says of a field that "On the one level, it is just a map"; and even MIT's Frank Wilczek gets into the act who's quoted as saying "Ultimately, a field is something that depends on position".

This leaves me little the wiser. I'd have thought that with Wilczek's renowned stature in such matters, he could have put up a marginally better performance. It's hardly very informative given that the article's opening paragraph quotes Newton's dismissive position on the matter of fields. But then, Wilczek, like Newton, is also dismissive.

As Robinson ruefully points out in his post, that speculating over the philosophy of QM phenomena is a waste of time: "[it] is unknowable and likely transcends the limits of Human understanding. That's why physicists don't like to discuss it. It's kind-of pointless." Perhaps so, (and I essentially agree with that position, especially so from the position of getting things done); but I doubt seriously if many (even some scientists) will ever refrain from doing so on the grounds that it's pointless. It's just too alluring for many (and sometimes it actually delivers results).

Of course, the other aspect of this argument is that physicists aren't lily-white either. As a matter of course, they do things that would give philosophers apoplexy. They've little qualms about 'creating' virtual particles that run backwards in time, exceed c and perform other strange 'illegal' non-real-world scenarios, and then there's also perturbation—say no more! [OK, OK, I know!] Moreover, they've been performing these 'kluges' for a very long time, Planck ultimately did it back ca 1900 as a last resort and out of sheer desperation to solve the Ultraviolet Catastrophe and, voila, now very thankfully we've h. So I'm not against such approaches by any means, as it usually works somehow (a bit like those parametric equations one learnt about in one's early schooling). If I'd been Planck, I'd have done exactly the same (but that's nonsense, I'd have never dreamt up such an ingenious solution anyway). What it certainly does show is how truly brilliant and innovative Planck really was.

Thus, it doesn't really matter if people speculate or theorize wildly; scientists will carry on doing their day-to-day work in their usual, procedural, by-the-book way. But very occasionally philosophising will yield results and someone will arrive at a brilliant idea (after all, Einstein famously speculated in a tram if I recall and now look at the results).

Anyway, seems we've come full circle. It's unlikely we've gained a better understanding of these closely-related electromagnetic field phenomena than we had before we started the discussion, but it seems to me what's key and really significant is how vastly different our approach needs to be towards each for our ultimate understanding of the physics that's involved. If nothing else, these two phenomena are an excellent illustration of how seemingly idiosyncratic the quantum world is. Whether or not we want to, they force us to think about the problem.

A great story and great posts.

…Now I can sit back and wait to see whether QM is analogue or not! ;-)

__

* BTW, during that earlier search, I ended up ferreting out old original copies of that eccentric genius Oliver Heaviside's expansion and reformulation of Maxwell's 1873 masterpiece, 'A treatise on electricity and magnetism'. Heaviside's own three-volume set on the subject titled 'Electromagnetic Theory' (1893 if I recall), is also a masterpiece, albeit dense and heavy going. Those with an understanding of Maxwell's equations and who've an interest in the history of the subject ought to at least peruse them. In the grand schema, this is an extremely important mainstream document, as in it Heaviside essentially modernizes Maxwell into the form that we use today. Also, it introduces much of the terminology (absent in Maxwell) that practical scientists and electrical engineers use today (they'd be forever thankful to Heaviside if they knew these were his ideas, but most don't). There's also Heaviside's earlier work 'Electromagnetic Waves' (1889) which may also be of interest.

Seems these days Heaviside's a little lost to history which is a shame. It's often what happens when you fight the scientific establishment/established orthodoxy, which he did (remember it took Galileo quite some centuries to be 'redeemed' for similar reasons). Nevertheless, he features heavily in my old books on radio theory; had the Kennelly–Heaviside ionospheric E layer named after him; and even the 'Heaviside layer' features as the subject of a song in Lloyd Webber's musical Cats.

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RobHib
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@gazthejourno -- Re: is it just me?

We're not passing ourselves off as a peer-reviewed scientific journal here.

So what, look at all the verbiage I've written as a consequence! As I've endeavoured to point out, the interpretation of QM is extremely esoteric and still open to interpretation. Any vigorous debate is only to be welcomed.

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RobHib
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@Robinson -- Re: @ Phil Endecott -- We'll see...

Ah, is that tree in the quad really there? Well, it depends....

Huh, Logical Positivism indeed! OK, OK, be nice or I'll throw my long-owned, well-dogeared copies of Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic and The Problem of Knowledge at you!

I've always wished for Shakespeare's pithiness and succinctness but alas it's eluded me. In my long-winded way the point I was making, or more correctly, trying to make, is that these complex problems are profoundly disturbing to some people, as they possess a worldview which instinctively gravitates to examining them from a "things in themselves" perspective.

Reckon this way of thinking has little to do with intelligence, rather it's a mode of thought, whether it's appropriate here is perhaps open to debate (subject to which side of the philosophical divide one sits, that is). I may be wrong but I can only ever envisage Dirac thinking about physical "things as they appear". On the other hand, and from his bio Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman, Feynman, occasionally, seems to embrace the former, even if it does 'transcend the limits of Human understanding'—just let's say it: things that are intrinsically metaphysical by nature. Mind you, there's no doubt that Feynman was more than sufficiently adroit to instantly flip into whatever mode of thinking that was appropriate for the occasion.

If you think physicists avoid discussions on matters concerning "things in themselves", then they pale in comparison to the attitudes of engineers when similarly confronted; for them, it's strictly application of quantum rules, any doubts about quantum weirdness or metaphysical issues are simply bedamned notions.

It would be wrong to assume that my worldview defaults to the former view, it doesn't, not usually anyway (as I've been in and out of engineering for far too long). The fact is this glaring example of fields and forces is just too striking to ignore, it perplexes many through its apparent striking anomalies and the seeming lack of a coherent classical understanding. (In perceived importance, perhaps it could be considered the 'double-slit experiment' of electronics and electrical engineering.)

As I see it, whilst mathematics is the default lingua franca of physicists, it's not necessarily so for mere mortals. Thus, any explanation of the seeming paradoxes that the problem unleashes ought to deserve considerably more attention. If that involves physicists having to provide a more painstaking explanation of the mathematics involved, then so be it.

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RobHib
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@Mystic Megabyte - Re: s'obvious in'it

I'm off to the pub, Monday is old farts night

Reckon I should join you, it's certainly less brain-taxing.

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RobHib
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@Pawl -- Re: We'll see...

Right. As a kid I remember asking my father how a magnet worked, even then it was obvious to me that his description of 'lines of force' was inadequate as it was only a representation. Later, this basic concept gave way to more detailed terminology, equipotential surfaces, transformations, eigenvalues/vectors etc., which provides a much more precise mathematical interpretation.

Your "field" of corn analogy makes sense, and if the stalks were waving in the breeze we'd have a representation of its dynamics. In other words, a 'field', as we describe it mathematically, is a representation of the 'state' of underlying forces. Nevertheless, even in quantum field theory, we still have to resort to aids such as Feynman diagrams to represent a 'system', explaining the exact underlying reality still eludes us.

As you say the "field" is the sum of all the relevant particles acting in a particular way', but even if the LHC does discover the graviton (or anything else) and we end up with an even more precise understanding of nature, does that mean we will be able to truly describe what a force is, when we already use the term 'force' to describe how this underlying system works (describing something in terms of itself is, logically, nonsense)? Seems to me the only solution is to do what we've always done which is to again resort to mathematics and let the equations provide the description.

Let me give you an example of a common but difficult conceptual problem that pops up regularly and which is never satisfactorily explained by physicists except in terms of mathematics. The common description of light is photons in the form of electromagnetic radiation [a complex issue in itself] radiating at speed c from some generating source such as a candle, the process being initially driven from an energy source such as paraffin etc.

Leaving aside how the stored energy is converted into light for a moment, the description of light becomes more problematic when lambda becomes infinite (at zero frequency—the 'DC' condition). In the 'DC' state, a DC electric current is the source of energy for say an electromagnet which generates a magnetic field which fills surrounding space at speed c. Same with a permanent magnet which once stationary requires no input energy—here for want of a better description we have a system in stasis (for example, my fridge magnets just stay put). The question everyone asks is where do the photons hang out a static system, how, so to speak, can they seemingly hang around in 'mid air' at speed zero when they're supposed to travel at speed c? Same goes for charges on pith balls, and in capacitors. If the energy stored in a capacitor's dielectric isn't in the form of photons then what is it?

Ahh, so now we're back to the 'field' problem again, exactly how are fields involved in the conversion of energy into photons?

Again, mathematics comes to the rescue, but conceptually how a photon generated is a complex and difficult problem to get one's head around—one that's never properly explained except in complex texts at the higher echelons of physics. Even then, we're back to the fundamentals of having to describe the process terms of 'fields', 'forces' etc. It's mathematics all over again.

Physicists have to do more to make this stuff much more comprehensible.

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RobHib
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@ Phil Endecott -- Re: We'll see...

"Look up "scalar field" and "vector field" in Wikipedia.

I did the mathematics for that in algebra once, that's the mathematical analogy that they drum into us in uni physics—sure that works in the practical world, it lets us calculate all sorts of things but it STILL doesn't tell me exactly what a field is.

You tell me, what's inside that 'stuff' that say 'connects'—'glues' my fridge magnet to my fridge? Take the case of a permanent magnet, it needs no power yet it's not perpetual motion, nevertheless the force the field exhibits/impresses on susceptible surroundings (iron) holds the magnet there indefinitely.

OK, not happy with this perspective, then invert the question. How does a force work, what inside it that makes it manipulate things at a distance? Right, we can use mathematics, classical physics/Maxwell etc., quantum electrodynamics or whatever you want to provide various high-level explanations of 'action' that manifests in what we physically perceive as a force, but it still doesn't tell us what's actually inside a force or what it consists of that makes it act the way it actually does.

The same argument applies to 'power', it can only be described mathematically, and even then only in terms of something else, i.e.: P=VI. OK, so I now know that Power equals [be described in terms of] Volts x Amps, but I'm still none the wiser!

Words like force, field and power are essentially the physical equivalent of the philosophical concept of the 'simple notion' which states a notion cannot be reduced further, for example the concept of 'yellow' cannot be reduced. You can describe it as a certain wavelength of electromagnetic radiation and also do that mathematically if you like, but it has absolutely no meaning for a blind person who has never seen before and who wants to experience what others perceive as 'yellow'. Unfortunately, this is all we do when we describe a field.

Fact is, with our present knowledge of physics, no one, it seems, really has a clue. It's why I asked the facetious question in the first place.

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RobHib
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We'll see...

I'll be convinced when the maths (and ultimately experiments) are in for this new understanding of quantum mechanics. If this is ultimately correct then, ipso facto, we've also a solution to the TOE—we've a solution which connects the quantum world and relativity.

Now that would be very nice.

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An aside: this article keeps referring to 'fields'. Now, I want to grab some 'field' and store it in a bottle to look at and analyze. So would someone please tell me precisely what a field is. What exactly is a field?

A Nobel Prize for a correct answer, perhaps?

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Life, the interview and everything: A chat with Douglas Adams

RobHib
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Ah, I still have my CD of Starship Titanic complete with its strange but alluring cover.

Adams, a tragic loss. But then, only the good die young.

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MPs 'alarmed' by millions of mugshots on Brit cops' databases

RobHib
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FAIL

@Down-voters -- Re: @ Pheasant Plucker - Just forget it.

Down-voters: may I humbly remind you that in an argument, refuting a proposition is normal and proper procedure. Down-voting without attempting to refute my proposition automatically means you lose the argument by default.

Of course, if you are part of the of The State's apparatus—that to which I was originally referring—and are merely upset or offended, then down-vote this.

Gotcha, either refute the argument or shut-up!

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RobHib
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@ Pheasant Plucker - Re: Just forget it.

So many downvotes for daring to seek to shatter illusions.

Shooting the messenger's been a time-honoured pastime for those who don't want to hear. Seems it's human nature, it's also part of the problem.

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RobHib
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@A.C. -- Re: Future, what future

"Something will have to change either through choice or through force"

How!

The bureaucratic establishment has become far too powerful to change, in that there's now a plethora of laws, which when examined holistically, are more about the The State's self-protection than they are about protecting the citizenry. Unfortunately, the citizenry is, more and more, perceived as the enemy.

As you say, to change it by force would mean an ugly, bloody, French-revolution-style coup d'état, and few civilized people have the stomach for that anymore (fortunately).

Tragically, we're stuck with it. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and we citizens took our eyes off the the ball once too often.

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RobHib
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Unhappy

Just forget it.

Forget it, it's far too late for a few wayward pollies with twinges of conscience to fix.

Tragically, it's all over Red Rover, the cat's out of the bag. As with all other types of surveillance, we're far too far down the road of a police state to now do anything to stop it.

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HAPPY 20th Birthday MICROSOFT BOB

RobHib
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Comic Sans

"Comic Sans is now regarded as a low point in the history of computing"

Says who?

I've usually don't have much to say about MS that's good and Bob was a first-class fizzer, but whilst comic Sans is certainly no Garamond, it's still a very good informal font. I've used it often in informal emails, it looks and suits the part.

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The SHOCKING storage truth: Everyone's buying spinning rust

RobHib
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@DougS

Agree completely, but I have to add spinning rust has considerably more capacity for the price. No problem, DBs use flash and long-term 'slower' storage uses rust. Obviously, flash (and newer tech) will win out—probably sooner than later.

From long experience, there's one thing I'm certain of, which is there's no such thing as too much storage, our demand for it is insatiable.

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UK Supreme Court waves through indiscriminate police surveillance

RobHib
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@lucreLout -- Re: @A.C. -- As Treasonas May is fond of saying...

"It doesn't matter, because whatever that point is, whenever we reach it, the populace at large will be unable to enforce their will because those in power have all the guns and nobody to whom they can cede power."

There are, of course, solutions but I'm not going to discuss them any further, as it's against the law to do so in my country. Now, we don't want to be up on charges of subversion, sedition and perhaps even treason, do we?

The fact I'm prepared not to discuss the matter says a great deal in itself.

As I've said in a previous post, arguing a philosophical concept along these lines is one thing, even suggesting it is another matter altogether. As I said then the French Revolution and The Reign of Terror (la Terreur) was truly terrible and not something I'd ever contemplate. Thus, for me and I'd imagine most of us, that violent action at that level is ruled out entirely.

This leaves us in a very big quandary: the fact that as The State is becoming ever more powerful, especially with its recent enactment of many draconian laws ultimately aimed at its own self-protection, which deliberately target citizens (and others) who may want to do it harm or even change its regime, it means that beyond a certain point we essentially end up with no way to effectively object or protect our own freedoms. Like the action of a diode, we're then on a one-way slide into total subservience. When we reach that point, we're effectively in a totalitarian state.

I've no reasonable solution for this. To my mind, the fact that this discussion is occurring at all means that there is something seriously wrong with our governance.

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RobHib
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@lucki bstard - Re: @A.C. -- As Treasonas May is fond of saying...

Right, nothing like a simple distillation for an eight-year-old to explain everything.

Come to think of it, that's pretty much on the same level as the public discourse on such matters these days, methinks. ;-)

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RobHib
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@A.C. -- Re: As Treasonas May is fond of saying...

This raises some interesting points. If government goes feral and continues to slide into totalitarianism, at what point is the citizenry entitled to act and take matters into its own hands?

Questions arise such as was the English Civil War, the French Revolution and the American War of Independence reasonable actions or not. And in whose eyes and at what times would such action be deemed reasonable (e.g.: by the standards of those living before the action, afterward and those of today)?

Do today's governments of France, UK and US consider these past actions legitimate, especially when they're hell-bent on quashing any action from today's citizens or ensuring the matter never arises (and especially given that their distant predecessors engaged in such 'terrorist' actions, and the fact that these governments are in power today actually hinges on those past actions)?

Once, whether morally right or not, it was determined by the victor. However, in modern times, as we've seen from many recent conflicts, such action is often not considered legitimate by the international community. And for that matter, at what point would the international community of today consider such action legitimate?

Hypothetical questions they may well now be, but in the future as or when things continue to progressively deteriorate, they may not.

BTW, I can't help notice that the police state must be actually having an effect, the large number of Anonymous Cowards posting here seems to attest to this.

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Bite my shiny metal Ask: Java for OS X crapware storm brewing

RobHib
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Mushroom

Bloody hell, when will this nonsense ever stop?

"...Oracle Java updates now try to smuggle in Ask's browser toolbar."

For fuck's sake, when are these disreputable practices going to stop? How the hell can we expect the multitudes of nefarious exploits to cease when supposedly reputable companies resort to such treachery by only being one step removed? The excuse being by example.

This disreputable nonsense is truly getting out of hand, it's time we users revolted, big-time.

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In assault on American values, Lockheed BLASTS PICKUP with RAYGUN

RobHib
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@Big John -- Right, that's the worry.

And it'd be devastating at considerably lower powers too (which would make it even more practicable).

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RobHib
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@John H Woods -- Re: input vs. output

Even batteries could give you several hundreds of kW if the duty cycle was long enough; moreover, reasonably small engines of hundreds of kW are commonly available.

What's more conceivable and disturbing is that it's possible that such devilish machinery could be more likely to get into the hands of terrorists than it would be for nukes to do so.

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United Nations: For pity's sake don't use your iPhone in your car

RobHib
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Stop

You mean "once upon a time", don't you?

"The ITU rules the world's communications. It sets the global standards.... ...The organisation has more gravitas than Morgan Freeman speaking at Gandhi’s Funeral."

Tries to. Once that was certainly true in the long-gone days when engineers actually ruled—that's before undue influence was brought to bear from large corporations with vested interests. (Once, only governments had influence).

Similar can also be said of IEEE standards, unfortunately.

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Give biometrics the FINGER: Horror tales from the ENCRYPT

RobHib
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@John Miles -- Re: no other option than to work on an offline PC

Unfortunately, me too.

Many years ago, a schoolteacher said of my handwriting 'it's Chinese hieroglyphics done by the wanderings of a demented spider'.

Not far from the truth, and such colourful analogies are never forgotten! ;-)

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RobHib
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Come to the conclusion, security's a joke.

Seems to me if one wants to keep some vestige of security/privacy then there's probably no other option than to work on an offline PC with its LAN and wireless ripped out and the screen equipped with a secure screen utility—and if one needs to access the net then one would have to copy info from the secure PC to a networked one by pencil and paper!

Essentially, security's kaput. Every day, there's a new exploit, hole in Windows, network or protocol vulnerability, governments ransacking one's data, etc., etc., it's seemingly endless.

Seems, something has to give sooner or later. The obvious solution is to start from scratch—that's after we've figured out exactly what we want from (or mean by) security/privacy.

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Sick of Chrome vs Firefox? Check out these 3 NEW browsers

RobHib
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@ Paul Herber -- Re: Disabling javascript

Agreed (and the damn hide of Mozilla to do so).

You should try that wonderful Firefox add-on 'QuickJava', it works beautifully. I default it to 'JavaScript off' mode but when necessary it's only one click on a toolbar icon to allow JavaScript.

(Of course, it's pressure from the likes of Google and others to eliminate anything that makes it easier to kill ads, make tracking more difficult, etc., thus any such tweakables are either deeply hidden or eliminated. That Mozilla receives monies from Google clearly compromises Mozilla's independence. This has been obvious for quite some years now.

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RobHib
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@P Lee -- Re: >£10 says Microsoft will open source Spartan

"Commercial SW is all about the upgrade cycle. MS is too large to rely on new customers for "growth." That is a problem for most major corps these days."

It's the reason why so many users look for alternatives when software doesn't consider users' [established] needs. For the likes of Opera, Firefox, etc. alternatives generally exist. Trouble is, for many, that alternatives to Microsoft simply do not exist or are too hard to implement. Unfortunately, Microsoft's monopoly relies on this fact.

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RobHib
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@illiad -- Re: @DJGM -- @ Aoyagi Aichou -- Vivaldi?

Right on!

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RobHib
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@nematoad -- Re: I migrated to Pale Moon from Firefox

"...Both set of developers of the original have started monkeying around with the UI"

Absolutely correct, but then they're influenced by that quintessential example—Microsoft. Every version of Windows has a significantly different interface without a proper fallback position (such as the previous UI). So arrogant these bastards have become that it's cost them billions in lost sales with the Win-8/Metro debacle. It's such an obvious stuff-up that it would have been obvious even to Blind Freddy. No doubt, exactly how this happened I reckon will the subject of investigation, Ph.D theses etc., long into the future.

Right, the only solution is either not upgrade or to simply walk elsewhere. That's the only way to make them see reason.

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RobHib
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@A.C.

"I am considering migrating to Firefox fork Pale Moon, though."

I've done that but I eventually dumped Pale Moon on compatibility issues, but don't let me suggest that you shouldn't try it, as it's a good browser.

As I see it, the more important problem is that Firefox is forever changing its core user functionality (as well as forever breaking add-ons with monotonous regularity). This is made considerably worse by the fact that automatic updates is on by default—which means that user functionality can and does change without users being aware of it (as well as add-ons breaking unexpectedly—a damned PIA that's plagued Firefox since its inception).

Moreover, Mozilla never clearly explains the functional changes from one version to the next (except in gibberish in the depths of Mozilla's site that only developers read), and these changes occur also with monotonous regularity. That user functionality can change in such a haphazard way without the user's knowledge is, not only an operational hazard but also, frankly, it's a damned disgrace. It's software engineering of the worst kind, it's negligence in the extreme.

One way around these incessant upgrades is to continue using an older version of Firefox, my case Firefox 25, but this too is fraught with difficulties as some sites including YouTube arrogantly report that they're no longer supporting it. My immediate response was to use the User Agent Overrider add-on which immediately silenced the nagging.

For me, an even better solution is to hang on to the older Firefox 25 and to supplement it with a Firefox fork such as the latest Cyberfox (it's a pretty good fork but it doesn't retrofit the earlier features so annoying removed by Mozilla).

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RobHib
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@Jango -- Re: @ Aoyagi Aichou -- Vivaldi?

See my reply to DJGM.

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RobHib
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@DJGM -- Re: @ Aoyagi Aichou -- Vivaldi?

"...being in some way sarcastic"

Absolutely, true, but then bitter experience has made me a sarcastic, irritable bastard.

The fact is I used Opera for many years—almost since its inception. The code was tight, excellent and essentially bug-free [at one time it'd easily fit onto a 1.44MB floppy], and it had many excellent features including the ability to properly paginate and print difficult Web pages (something that IE and Firefox still have problems with and have never fixed), as well as many other nifty features including an excellent, almost-bulletproof downloader and the ability to tweak it extensively.

As for your criticism that Vivaldi is just a beta doesn't cut much ice. That once in public beta, it's extremely rare for principal functionality of any program to change. On final release, I'll bet Vivaldi doesn't change as I'd wish it to; if it does, then I'd invite you ridicule me in public at the first opportunity.

Unfortunately, Opera upped and left its original techie roots and succumbed to the current fashion of dumbed-down minimal interface; in so doing it left nothing for past/experienced users to work with (it's what happens when one slavishly follows Goolgle—the current fad with Google now supplants the fashion of some years back when Microsoft was all the rage). (It never ceases to amaze me how, in recent years, once-logical IT has been so very smitten with fashion, it has let commonsense be thrown to the wind).

I'm sure that some will find Vivaldi useful but for Opera diehards like me it's a bitter (and sad) pill to take.

Sarcastic I am, that's certain. However, I'm rarely given to making sweeping statements without good and proper consideration.

BTW, this is the second time I've had Vivaldi on my machine, previously I've evaluated an earlier beta. Apologies for any impression that I only gave it a cursory glance, that's far from the case.

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RobHib
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@A.C. -- Re: Vivaldi?

Exactly.

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RobHib
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@ Aoyagi Aichou -- Re: Vivaldi?

Right, I was stupid enough to actually believe the Vivaldi hype for a microsecond. I couldn't get it off my machine fast enough.

No features, no tweakables I use, no decent plugins, not compatible with anything, my XPI files won't work on it, and so on. Yuck, Yuck.

(And to think, years ago on ZDNet I wrote a spirited defense of Opera and von Tetzchner when the world was against Opera and didn't have one good word to say about it (IE was then flavour of the year).

I now feel ashamed.

It's time von Tetzchner was put out to pasture, for he's obviously lost the plot.

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Nokia boss smashes net neutrality activists

RobHib
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Facepalm

Ahh, here we go again.

This is tiring, of course he'd say that. I don't know why we give airspace to this kind of tripe. He'd be better off doing something positive to help his parent company take the bloat out of that pox-ridden, again O/S it flogs.

After all, its not the O/S cars run on or we'd all be dead.

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Debian on track to prove binaries' origins

RobHib
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Thumb Up

Re: what about the silicon ?

"Agreed. It seems unlikely that given what else they've been up to, the spooks haven't attacked the low level stuff.

I've no idea whether or not spooks have attacked the low-level stuff but I wouldn't be a bit surprised. Another obvious and almost guaranteed method of attack on low-level hardware and firmware will come from industrial espionage targeted by commercial operators (industrial spying). Then there are governments with plans for secret and or mandatory backdoors into smartphones. However, for the protagonists to effectively implement or render any of these schemes into silicon they would need to be well resourced and well funded.

This isn't entirely idle speculation either. No specifics, but the matter of whether certain important security hardware had been 'gotten at' and had 'suspect chips' came across my desk about 15 years ago. In IT terms, that's eons ago. If the issue arose with me that long ago then you might like to speculate what's transpired since. I'll leave you to guess. It's ludicrous to think that back then that we alone were the only ones who were considering such matters—of course not. Furthermore, even back then such ideas were far from new (had they been I'd like to think I'd have patented the concept). ;-) (BTW, a while back, I was laughed at in these posts for having the hide and temerity to even suggest such things were possible with silicon. Oh dear.)

At the time, we were concerned about the possibility of specially designed Trojan components, ICs, ASICs etc., with 'modified' silicon being incorporated into systems and equipment—devices that had normal part numbers together with the usual physical characteristics etc., ones that worked in the usual standard/specified way so as to fool investigators but upon receipt of secret commands would also perform 'extra' undocumented (hidden) tasks.

Your post about Ken Thompson's 'doctored' compilers together with that of JimmyPage about Silicon, immediately reminded me of issues we'd actively investigated years ago, specifically backdoor techniques can also be incorporated in or patched into silicon compilers—consider it, its ramifications are just humungous. At the time the matter arose, our principal concern wasn't the exact specifics of how Si or other components were modified or could be altered, rather it was how to go about detecting 'dodgy/suss' ICs, and other components—or even complete subsystems or modules that may be fully encapsulated but suspect (does one test or break open a black box?). And, I can assure you, it ain't easy!

Since then I've examined the matter at some length, Si compiler hacks are feasible and doable. That said; don't immediately jump to paranoiac conclusions that it's happening everywhere. Essentially, it'd be a large operation that'd need resources of such a magnitude that only governments and large corporations could command (it'd also need complicity between government and foundry).

Nowadays, users have little or no control over BIOS/flash ROM as they once* did, instead HW and SW manufacturers have combined to essentially lock users out of that part of their PC, they've now little more than token access. Similarly, there is considerable potential for 'compromised' chips, ASICs and other 'modifiable' hardware to compromise security completely. PCs are not alone; many types of tech gear continue to be highly vulnerable security risks as they too have BIOSes, and as technology becomes more dense, the problem is only going to get worse. Instead of manufacturers closing loopholes, they keep them open or even widen them for their own convenience. BIOS hacks and patches (such as the patched ROM hack that you're likely to have on your laptop this very moment), are easily installed by both manufacturers and hackers alike but the reverse is seldom true for users.

* It's not an exaggeration, I used to compile the assembler BIOS source in my Godbout CompuPro. It gave me incredible control over the system, it's control I do not have in the PC ;

So who's the true beneficiary now that your mobo's BIOS is easily hacked and controlled? Right, it's not the user (as fewer and fewer tweaks are now being made available in the BIOS UI of many modern machines—fewer tweaks mean fewer help-desk calls, but it also means many machines are running sub-optimally.) Not only is control being continually whittled away bit-by-bit from users in the BIOS but it's also happening in Windows. With every new release, users have increasing difficulty in accessing the 'low-level' areas within in Windows (it literally takes me weeks to tailor Window the way I want it. It sucks, and it ought not to be necessary.)

This begs the question about who's ultimately responsible for security breaches when manufacturers deliberately remove control from users. For example, once mobos had 'hard' DIL switches that couldn't be tweaked by Windows or remote hackers, now there's no physical DIL switches at all, as MS and others forced their removal only to have them replaced with 'soft' switches—switches Windows can now actually command. (And, in many instances, that's worrying). Moreover, why do hard disks no longer have a mechanical write-protect switch as they once had?

The ever-increasing 'soft' control over vast amounts of our new (and older) technology is becoming a serious problem. For example: once a sluice gate on a storage dam had to be opened manually, now, more often than not, it's opened by software from some remote terminal, and (stupidly) there's no human to hand if something goes seriously wrong. Matters are then made even worse when this 'improved' now-more-fragile system, becomes the subject of threats, hacking etc. We've now instances where critical infrastructure has becomes more vulnerable simply because of the actions of idiots who want to remote control a previously intrinsically reliable system that's worked for decades—solely on the grounds that it can be done (the excuse being that it's cheaper)!

What happens next would put a circus to shame, the government and its band of woolly thinkers have to tighten security laws around critical infrastructure because they've weakened it—and in the end it'll cost a damn side more to fix, than if they had initially left it alone. In the world of engineering in which I grew up, we would deem this madness. More accurately, we're now living in a world where the digital addiction meme is more contagious than the influenza virus.

It doesn't require much stretch of the imagination to figure where the next step leads: mass government surveillance has come about, not because it makes sense but because it can be done easily—put it together with the fact that people have fallen in love with the technology and the woolly thinking becomes even woollier, as they're no longer thinking rationally (the masses falling in love with their tools is, historically, a unique phenomenon—in the past tools meant work).

Like the Emperor's new clothes, almost everyone's now caught up in a wave of general madness, either because they want to see the 'clothes' or they don't want to admit that they can't for fear of embarrassment. Correct, this is crowdsourcing gone crazy! Plato covered this in the Republic millennia ago—when you're sick, go to best advice available: a doctor; only a bloody fool would prefer to take the alternative option, that of asking the LCD-opinion of a crowd.

Ipso facto, we're now more vulnerable to government snooping, violations of privacy by manufacturers, infiltration by serious hackers and of being exposed to data and ID theft, now it's clear why. Moreover, there seems little progress through the impasse: technology is progressing leaps and bounds, yet seemingly simple problems such as using it are fraught with difficulties. Deep-down, as years of experience attest, Microsoft et al truly do not want the great unwashed in full control, we're simply not trusted—and because they didn't listen to us, that's exactly why we've ultimately ended up with abominations like Window 8.

All this ought to be of considerable concern to users, but I see little in the Big Picture Department except inaction. (Somehow, there's still a widespread belief that Microsoft etc. knows best. It's utter bullshit of course.)

Hope I'm wrong but I reckon the security issues will likely soon reach the stage where the security at the bottom (physical) layers of the OSI model will be sufficiently compromised that business communications over the internet will degenerate into a hit-and-miss affair—or shroud that be 'mess'. Embedded and other systems, who've had it good until now will also be in for a similar shock. Pessimistic perhaps, but I don't think so. After all, if it were possible to equate dissimilar standards, what other industry could be so degenerate as to have the equivalent standards to that of IT security? Security so poor that the NSA, GCHQ, DSD etc. look into our private lives with such ease that it's as if they're looking through transparent glass; then, almost every day, El Reg has spectacular stories such as the heist of millions of credit cards; and then there's the almighty Microsoft patch saga: year after year, decade after decade, MS continues to issue thousands of patches for its mouldy, over-bloated, holier-than-Swiss-cheese operating systems, and yet it still has the audacity and unmitigated hide to pontificate that its OSes are state of the art.

It's hard to deny the IT Industry has sleazebag ethics that'd put used car salesmen to shame.

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'NSA, GCHQ-ransacked' SIM maker Gemalto takes a $500m stock hit

RobHib
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Any advance on 'Cyber Thugs'.

The more I read about the antics of these government-sponsored cyber thugs, the more they resemble common criminals--with the law unto themselves and unaccountable to no one.

But that's putting it mildly, and mild it is.

(I nearly said what I really think, but I'd have been accused of falling victim to Godwin's.)

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Australian ISPs agree to three-strikes-plus-court-order anti-piracy plan

RobHib
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What exactly does naughtiness amounts to?

'A second allegation of naughtiness within twelve months will result in the despatch of a “Warning Notice” ...'

'Naughtiness' by itself is a simple notion, so what's its actual extent? A single encounter with a file-sharing site that would make the Ort Cloud seem close, or one that would make Kim Dotcom feel overly satisfied.

Exactly how this is played out will be its key to success or failure.

As a person who feels that movies of the 1930's are overly modern, it's unlikely I'll ever encounter Hollywood's wrath, but it seems to me that many such industry agreements are dangerous and often fail. Also, using a surrogate cop for any reason is fraught with problems, especially one who is under duress to perform. Sometimes the antiquated procedures the law may be a better option, and this may be one of them.

Seems a worry for some, I'll bet there'll be blood on the floor before it's over.

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Did NSA, GCHQ steal the secret key in YOUR phone SIM? It's LIKELY

RobHib
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@thebackhand --Re: Legality. But!

'[Govts] ...have been monitoring international traffic since the 1940's...'

Very true, but in the old days pre digital AXE telephone exchanges, we had Strowger/SXS (step-by-step) and cross-point/crossbar exchanges which required considerably more effort and manpower by government to monitor. (You'll have probably seen old B/W cops and robbers movies where the crooks are trying to get away and some telephone exchange techie with the police looking on is hastily tracing their phone call along the sequential stepping of Strowger switches to get their phone number before they rang off—in those days the only 'call log' was the charging meter impulse.)

What's happened with the introduction of AXE and similar computerized exchanges is nothing short of an almighty huge paradigm shift—no exaggeration whatsoever. An AXE exchange enables authorized persons to sit at a remote location—even in another country—and monitor/trace calls at will, not to mention to do so with considerable ease; furthermore, blanket surveillance monitoring is essentially automatic—that's until the 'machinery' signals 'juicy bits have arrived'. This computerized technology empowers The State's ability for general surveillance more than it ever possibly dreamt of 50 years ago.

Moreover, it's not just the automatic logging/recording of AXE-type computerized switching equipment that's important, behind it are all the trappings of professional data management infrastructures. Extend this to the internet and the mega collection centers run by the likes of GCHQ, NSA, ASIO etc. and we've the huge extent of state surveillance as it is today.

Just by computerizing the exchanges alone, The State has found itself with a very considerable advantage over its citizens, it now knows more about us than ever before, and more knowledge inevitably means more power and control over our lives by government. Couple this with the new laws covering surveillance and security and that telcos are forced to install government surveillance access points—usually at the telco's expense, then there's no doubt that what we've witnessed over the past 50 years is a huge shift of power to The State.

Essentially, technology has enabled The State to do whatever it damn well wants in the security and privacy areas of citizens' lives, and it damn well has—without our permission. Moreover, it's done so through omission, obfuscation, FUD and misinformation. Failure of governments to explain clearly and succinctly to all citizens that the telephone is no longer private is aided and abetted by the fact the average punter has difficulties in understanding the huge significance / ramifications of changing from electromechanical switching to computer based systems (Strowger to AXE etc.) is also part of the problem. Effectively, it has meant that there's been a huge and manifold increase in the ease by which governments can monitor citizens, and they've gotten away with it at ease.

Governments have introduced this hugely enabling and powerful monitoring technology without any public debate. Here's some instances: when did you hear ANY government say to its citizens—through say big type in the front of phone books, TV ads, advertising campaigns etc.:

(a) that government has cheap and easy means to conduct surveillance on you and all citizens, it does so now and it has every intention of continuing to so do, and;

(b) the government will carry out surveillance on you and other citizens whenever it wants to so do, either by listening to or monitoring your conversations and activities or by any other means at its disposal such as the collection of your metadata, whether you protest about it or not, and;

(c) it will do so in utmost secrecy without your knowledge and without having to tell you—and if you find out by accident that you're under surveillance and tell others of the fact, then you'll be charged with subversion and or sedition even if you've never committed any criminal act nor intend to do so—just by telling others you're under surveillance (or you tell of others who are), then you've committed a criminal act, and;

(d) that the government will conduct blanket monitoring/surveillance across the state at will—even if you're not a suspect or have never been a suspect in any illegal or nefarious activities, you will, nevertheless, likely be under surveillance, your activities will be recorded at will by the government—and if it doesn't like what you are doing or even what you are thinking then its general monitoring will metamorphose into outright heavy-duty surveillance of your person as well as your friends, relatives and contacts—just on that information alone, and;

(e) that the private information that the government collects about you through its surveillance of you may and probably will be shared with governments of other countries—governments that you've never voted for, and;

(f) that governments have never issued in advance of commencing general blanket surveillance any publicity to warn you and all fellow citizens of the very real dangers posed by state surveillance, nor have they proffered sensible advice such as how not to draw attention to yourself and how NOT to incriminate yourself, your family, friends or contacts etc. by saying silly things over the telephone or internet or discussing, implying and or even mentioning anything that's controversial or that may be misconstrued as controversial, criminal or subversive—even in jest? After all, in the first instance, it ought to be the proper responsibility of government to keep its citizens out of trouble!

Not that long ago such spying activities by democratic governments on its own citizens would have been unthinkable, as that was the stuff of dictatorships, not democracies; but in recent times tragically it has ACTUALLY happened in our democracies without a whimper of public debate (that of itself ought to be remarkable, but these days secrecy, spin and propaganda is managed by governments with considerable finesse). That governments have acted this way is nothing less than authoritarian action by deliberate stealth against their citizens; there is no simpler way of putting it, facts are facts. As a citizen, I consider such authoritarian action by my government as a basic and fundamental threat to our democratic freedoms, and that's an understatement.

Even in wartime (WWII for instance), the general public was made well aware of the special wartime needs for secrecy and other special wartime laws etc. Here, with nationwide surveillance, we're not told anything, nor have we ever been properly informed. And that our leaders are now actually discussing such matters at all, albeit with their usual wont of absolutely minimal information, is only because the secrecy surrounding them has been blown by whistleblowers, Snowden and others.

In WWII, millions of our citizens died to protect our democracies from authoritarian rule, now we're entering it little by little, by stealth in fact. Such inaction and inability by society to deal with problems of magnitude, such as governments getting beyond their calling and lording it over their citizens, is what a high ranking military commander, who years ago was my boss for a while, aptly called 'the creeping paralysis problem'. It's a core and fundamental issue facing modern democracies, it underpins why those in charge can wield so much power without riots occurring.

Today, we live in fear of losing those tragically hard-won gains for freedom. How else can we read it when, in the eyes of our leaders and the powerful elites, we citizens command such little respect and trust that they will not even discuss such key democratic issues with us? Clearly, the writing's on the wall for democracy (at least as we knew it) when these elites flatly refuse to debate matters of such fundamental importance with us 'plebs'. Moreover, the animosity is made considerably worse by the twaddle and unmitigated lies rolled out 'that mum's the word in the name of security you know', even a five-year-old knows operational matters aren't the same as why you conduct them.

Looking at our democracies holistically, any reasonable person has to conclude that these bastards really do have a damn fucking hide to treat us citizens in such a dismissive and cursory way. Crunch time has to come sooner or later; the big question is whether we citizens can muster enough gumption or have the balls to win.

When governments retort to criticisms with clichés such as 'it's all for your own safety' and similar patronizing twaddle then the inevitable question must be asked: the world, at least as I once knew it some years back, wasn't such a dangerous place, so who was in charge, either just fiddling or causing the problem, such to let it get in such a damnable mess. Right, it's the same pack of miserable bastards who are now leading us down the path towards totalitarianism.

Again, damn them! There, I've said it—and the clock's yet to strike thirteen.

(Let's hope Room 101's walls are painted in tasteful colours.)

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RobHib
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@ Christoph -- But how different would the Greens be when in power?

'...is the Greens. They're a long way from perfect...'

Yeah, perhaps. ...But like all pollies, put them into power and things change (as I've mentioned here in another post).

What's really wrong isn't so much the politicians (although many are far from perfect and we deserve better), but it's the system of the so-called democracy that we have today. For various and complex reasons, this form of representation simply doesn't work effectively anymore (that's if it ever did). By 'effectively' I mean that it doesn't work best for what most of us understand to be the citizenry.

It doesn't take Einstein to figure out that essentially all politicians are more susceptible to influence from those who already have power (through lobbying or whatever) than poor, just-about-disenfranchised Joe Bloggs voter. Similarly, no matter what a politician's persuasion, he/she's very brave to buck The Establishment. Of course, the establishment is many and varied--the truly powerful are not only large corporations, organizations etc. but especially senior public servants who wield very considerable 'hidden' power (and like Sir Humphrey are so very powerful).

Couple the Sir Humphreys with secrecy, scare tactics and FUD and the average politician is easily outwitted, outnumbered and out-powered--not to mention misled through omission, obfuscation and outright deception by smart public servants; thus it's a very 'brave' one who'll put his/her neck directly on the line. Experience shows most don't.

Gone are the days of great statesmen, Pitt et al, and of principle and what's right and best for citizens, and the Millian principle of utility/greatest good for the greatest number. Unfortunately, times have changed.

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