* Posts by Jim Birch

142 posts • joined 23 Sep 2008


The algorithms! They're manipulating all of us! reckon human rights bods Council of Europe

Jim Birch

I'm more worried about the visible evil stuff.

Is Google purposefully breaking Microsoft, Apple browsers on its websites? Some insiders are confident it is

Jim Birch

Edge breaks a lot of Microsoft stuff, specifically, where plain old html is ok. A number of our sites that are generated with Microsoft tools have DontUseEdge settings. This goes back a long way - 1990s - to Microsoft attempting to tweak up a series of Internet Explorer versions with numerous deviations from the standards. Website responded by detecting the browser and modifying the pages they supplied for the rendering engine. The total dollar cost of this two decade second-guessing game must be humongous. Plus the accumulated aggravation.

It has ended with a dose of cosmic karma as Microsoft moves to the Chromium renderer, basically because they could not keep up with their own shenanigans.

Supernovae may explain mass extinctions of marine animals 2.6 million years ago

Jim Birch

Re: I guess it's possible

Supernovae are powerful but I can't see them killing 10 metre sharks with laser beaming eyes. That's unrealistic.

Google and Microsoft boffins playing nicely together to stop replay attacks in their tracks

Jim Birch

Re: Never pay on a computer

And don't drive a car. There is no safe level of car use.

Google is still chasing the self-driving engineer that jumped ship to Uber

Jim Birch

Re: Spazturtle

"No one in the right mind would risk hiring someone who sees nothing wrong with stealing."

No, you do a risk/benefit analysis. If you really want want they know or can do then the choice could be easy. To return to fanciful burger analogies, McDonalds won't hire someone who was sacked by Burger King for stealing drink cups since there is risk with no upside, but they might hire someone who waltzed out of a previous job with a pile of trade secrets that reduces production costs by 10 cents every burger. That's worth billions, you take risks.

Youth crime falls as kids stay inside to play Grand Theft Auto instead of going out to steal cars

Jim Birch

In the future it will be impossible to commit crime and get away with it. For one thing, you'd have to leave your phone at home. Surveillance becomes continually more pervasive, including self-surveillance like posting on Facebook. This isn't new but it bucks the trend of the last few hundred years. We are more like living in a village or even a hunter-gatherer tribe where everyone knows what everyone else was doing. Privacy barely existed and certainly wasn't fetishized like now.

My personal experience in hanging out with delinquents is that boredom is (was) a big cause of youth crime. One thing this report doesn't mention is that online people are, I think, getting more socializing influences online which reduces crime.

And kids are smarter. Crime doesn't pay, especially at the lower end.

Fermi famously asked: 'Where is everybody?' Probably dead, says renewed Drake equation

Jim Birch

Quantum entanglement does not allow faster than light communication full stop. No one who understands physics believes this.

Doctor finds physical changes to astronaut's eyes after ISS stint

Jim Birch

Feel the Force, you're half blind.

Facial recognition software easily IDs white men, but error rates soar for black women

Jim Birch

Re: So facial recog is not reliable for non-white skin

"So murder somebody, and in some instances murderers are released after six or seven years. In one recent UK case, some evil, criminal scumbag who'd been put away twice before for the manslaughter of TWO previous partners was released early and killed a third partner."

Is that some kind of proof that higher incarceration makes the world a better place? Or some kind of random factoid?

Woo-yay, Meltdown CPU fixes are here. Now, Spectre flaws will haunt tech industry for years

Jim Birch

Adding sandboxing to speculative execution is going to be easier than coming up with a complete new processor paradigm.

Skynet it ain't: Deep learning will not evolve into true AI, says boffin

Jim Birch

Has anyone noticed that the brain is a neural network? It's obviously a question of scale and architectural complexity. Our brains have the advantage of 500 years of evolution and being targeted at all problems the organism encountered, but the disadvantage of being developed by a slow, random, stepwise process. It won't take artificial neural networks 500 million years to catch up, but when they do, the architecture will have advanced. Compare a current multicore SoC to an Intel 4004 chip (etc) and use your imagination.

Android trojan has miner so aggressive it can bork your battery

Jim Birch

Re: security "experts" embarrassing themselves in public

"Good to see that nothing whatsoever has been learned."

A comment from Lalaland. Security has improved astronomically from the old Windows days. The problem is that the exploits have improved as well. This is the nature of an arms race.

The Android model does have some problems but the biggest and toughest one is that users are idiots.

Hardly anyone uses Australia's My Health Record service

Jim Birch

The first aeroplanes had mininal payloads, crashed regularly, and were generally derided. Anyone remember early mobile phones and the early phone network.

Australia spends about 15% of GDP on healthcare. The cost of this initiative is piddling compared to total healthcare spend and the upside is enormous. We are on version 0.2 and everyone wants to moan about the missing V10 features. I read somewhere that just reducing repeated tests would pay for the system. Give it time. This sort of system has to build its dataset and connections to be worth using. It's a big ask. There's a lot of resistance to overcome and connected systems that need to adapt.

DNS resolver will check requests against IBM threat database

Jim Birch

Who is the customer? Are you joking?

This kind of thing would cost peanuts to run. If it works, it easily pays for itself. The organisations that have signed up to this effort are all hurt by cyber threat prevention, mitigation and cleanup as a significant cost of doing business. They have set the thing up with no data slurping because trust is important. If this approach becomes standard it clobbers a lot of cyber threats in one easy hit.

80-year-old cyclist killed in prang with Tesla Model S

Jim Birch

I would suspect Tesla's got lot of work to do if it wants to reach the kill rate of ordinary drivers.

The correct statistic to compare is Tesla v other cars. Comparing Tesla v Zero is is emotional claptrap.

Android at 10: How Google won the smartphone wars

Jim Birch

Re: 'tell us the 'data-monster' dies'

There are plenty of incumbents who have been around for many decades and haven't blown it and are making plenty of money. The collapse of incumbents is a juicy narrative, not a universal truth. It depends. Nothing lasts forever but there are many things around us that have apparently lasted for a lasted for a long time.

Google on flooding the internet with fake news: Leave us alone, we're trying really hard... *sob*

Jim Birch

Right! Let's get Google to censor the news. Easy!

Does anyone notice a teeny little problem with this? Like: Who decides what is the "right" news or web sites? Does Google have the expertise? What happens when they censor the stuff you don't want to be censored?

You are really proposing a China-like control over what is allowed to be said. What's more, it's totally fucking pathetic that people (are so full of themselves that they) think that because they "know" what's fake news, it's so easy to tell. Fake truth is not a new problem, it has been argued for thousands of years. The internet just throws it in your face at an astronomically higher speed.

If there is going to be a system of censorship it's going to require a small army of "faceless bureaucrats" running it because the net is big. Do you trust Google to do this? The government? Who? A team of right-thinking people somewhere, who coincidentally think the same as you, perhaps? Problem solved? I think not. Perhaps I'm in a waning minority, but I don't consider my own views to be the final word on anything. Or anyone else's. Censorship is a Gordian knot.

Personally, I don't have problem with censoring the internet - the opportunities for unscrupulous manipulation are enormous - but it is a not a trivial problem. It is also a cultural shift, a direct challenge to a couple of centuries of liberal mythology which most of us, in the west at least, regard as self-evident truth.

Anyone got any good (non-magical) ideas on how this censorship will actually work? At the moment I'm thinking Google's AI might be our best hope but we're certainly not there yet...

Windows Fall Creators Update is here: What do you want first – bad news or good news?

Jim Birch

Re: Start menu

The average user is more-or-less totally clueless about security (and system configuration.)

They are infinitely better off having the system managed by Microsoft. The rest of us are also much better off when the vast majority of connected computers are properly managed because it means the overall health of the Internet is improved.

If you're smart enough to do do your own thing securely that's great! But be clear that you're in a minority. (You may also be delusional.) I work in IT and think about security issues every day for my job I'm clear that I want my family's systems managed by Google, Microsoft and Apple EVEN IF I lose a bit of control. I know vastly more about system security than the average user, and that might be why I want teams of people and lots of resources looking after me.

Google reveals Android Robocop AI to spot and destroy malware

Jim Birch

Re: Hey Google...

It's true that you have to grant apps rights but most people do that without thinking. Fighting malware needs to be done on multiple fronts. This is a good one.

Driverless cars will make more traffic, say transport boffins

Jim Birch

Game change

If autonomous cars become common, a lot of things will change including people's attitudes.

Autonomous cars won't become normal unless they produce benefits for users, and if they do people make trade-offs. This is how change works. People are inherently conservative. Taxis have been around for a long time but they are expensive for most people. The real impact depends on the economics. Most commuters would like to be able to use their commute time to work or play.

Ethereum-backed hackathon excavates more security holes

Jim Birch

Re: That's why you should avoid turing complete languages when possible

... and Bitcoin has a fantastic security record, doesn't it? There's a fundamental issue that untraceable transactions result in untraceable crime. This produces highly attractive targets. Attacks go for the weakest link in the total process. If the process is mathematically secure, and lots of systems are, that won't be what the attackers attack.

Everybody without Android Oreo vulnerable to overlay attack

Jim Birch

If the world was sane, phones would brick themselves if they weren't updated. There is a relentless arms race between hackers trying to bust software and developers trying to secure it.

There is currently no direct financial incentive for phone makers to create and test updates. They don't get paid for them. There is some reputational incentive but this is rather weak when company has little or no reputation.

This is how things work. It ain't the best system but the financial logic is undeniable. If you buy a phone that won't update you take a risk. You may also be saving money because updates cost and that is built into the phone cost. Personally, I want the most secure android phone available and I'm happy to pay for it and even lose features for it. If everyone did that, the update problem would be more-or-less fixed. But they don't, they want the best features for the best price...

On the other hand there are other factors that are improving the situation. The phone market and phone software is maturing. Security improves over time, and phone software stabilizes so less new exploits are being created. Scanning of apps, improving the update distribution model, etc, are all helping too. None of this is perfect. Having a handset that gets regular and timely updates remains a key component.

ASUS smoking hashes with 19-GPU, 24,000-core motherboard

Jim Birch

Also good for frying eggs, I'd think.

New MH370 analysis again suggests plane came down outside search area

Jim Birch

Guess what. So called Black Boxes* are designed to survive a crash, including fire and immersion. Nothing is perfectly indestructible and nothing lasts for ever but these things have a pretty good survival record.

* They're actually painted a hi-vis orange color for obvious reasons.

If we're in a simulation, someone hit it with a hammer, please: Milky Way spews up to 100 MEELLLION black holes

Jim Birch

Re: If we're in a simulation...

If we are in a simulation it may well have started 5 seconds ago. Or, alternately, 5 simulation seconds ago. The initial conditions could include your memories of that sunny afternoon at the beach when you were ten years old looking up at the sky and wondering how the world worked. Biographical details could be input or output. Until you have determined the nature of the simulation (which could be difficult, exceeding difficult, or impossible, depending on the code quality) you must resign to be trapped on a leaf in a vine.

If I recall correctly I wrote this post.

Ex-MI5 boss: People ask, why didn't you follow all these people ... on your radar?

Jim Birch

Re: @AC

... and even if it was the result of meddling does that mean we should let innocent people die?

Personally, I'm clear that we have foolishly and violently meddled with other peoples but this can't be considered as a simple cause/response. A Weaponised Loser thesis closer to the reality of this kind of attack.


Google can't spare 113 seconds of revenue to compile data on its gender pay gap

Jim Birch

Is there actually a reliable way to measure gender pay gap

If everyone is making widgets doing a gender pay gap analysis is easy. It works well for bus drivers too.

With artists or creative knowledge workers where everyone is doing different things for different money it's a fraught statistical process. Hard, or maybe impossible. Whatever the result, someone will claim it is wrong, maybe even with some justification. More likely, with varying combinations of ideological moral certainty and cluelessness.

Google would crazy to institute this kind of lose-lose project. It would require arcane statistical methods that just about no one would trust. If an analysis showed they were gender neutral, they'd be accused of cooking the books before anyone had read the report. If it turned out they weren't gender fair, that result would be distrusted by others. Then, what are they supposed to do: inflate wages artificially or promote people with lower perceived competence, or what? There's a reasonable to good market for this type of employment. We aren't talking about a sweatshop in rural Pakistan.

Personally, I'd want to see the reliable methodology appropriate to Google's workplace before we bang our dainty fists on tables and demand that they produce a bunch of meaningless numbers. "Everybody knows" doesn't cut it with me.

‪WannaCry‬pt ransomware note likely written by Google Translate-using Chinese speakers

Jim Birch

Speculation is speculation. Over to you Google.

Attempt at building kinder, gentler Reddit downvoted off the Web

Jim Birch

Re: F*&ck off you cockwoble whore

Wars are "authentic". The eternal biological problem is that humans get this voluptuous pleasure from feeling superior to each other. Young testosterone-charged males: apparently get even more pleasure and/or feel less socially restrained.

Cooperation produces enormous benefits, economically, social and security but we have to give up some of these pleasures. (This should be abundantly clear from a brief top-down perusal of history.) There's often - eg, on an anonymous site - no immediate feedback to participants except this voluptuous pleasure, so we need be nudged to give it up or channel it productively by social engineering mechanisms. Facebook may irk, but you will notice it is incredibly successful.

Schiaparelli probe crash caused by excessive spin, report concludes

Jim Birch

Re: Bah!

"Nought out of ten. Go and read "Object Oriented Software Construction" and fucking well pay attention to the basic rule about unspecified results."

Bah x2! When was the last time you pulled off a project this complex with zero screw ups that required patching? This is an incredibly complex project with what by normal standards a deficient test capability.

Ego stroking won't improve anything. Any dickhead can do that. Running a witch hunts is known to increases future failures. You do the full and frank analysis, incorporate changes to systems and process and move forward. To do that, you need the right environment, ie. you need to put a bit of ego aside.

Google DeepMind's use of 1.6m Brits' medical records to test app was 'legally inappropriate'

Jim Birch


The use of big data techniques is great for medicine. It should be a normal practice that goes on all the time. Privacy protection can be achieved via anonymizing data but in practice this can be difficult to implement fully, in practice, security standards and data use agreements is often a better approach.

If you don't absolutely don't trust the government or companies or individuals, we have a problem.

Ransomware scum have already unleashed kill-switch-free WannaCry‬pt‪ variant

Jim Birch

Re: So the haul from this little operation is currently what $60K?

This is a fairly typical ratio of realized proceeds of crime to cost of crime and prevention measures. The economic case for crime reduction is overwhelming. But it's easier said than done. People are creative, even (especially?) criminals.

Android O-mg. Google won't kill screen hijack nasties on Android 6, 7 until the summer

Jim Birch

Another psychotic discussion thread.

Take your pick, people:

1. A fully locked down environment.

2. An open environment where safety requires good IT security skills that are regularly updated.

3. Something in the middle.

What I want to know s this: Are the same voices that bitch about the lockdown the same people who bitch about security weaknesses?

Empirically we know what happens when the system allows users to give away their security to achieve better application functionality. I can tell you where the model is headed as it matures. Operating systems used by the masses get increasingly locked down. App store policing increases. Eventually we end up with a phone/tablet/computer that won't allow an idiot to circumvent its security. Or at least, make it very difficult.

And the invincible space cadets will continue to complain for a long time because they have to.

Android O my god! It's finally here (for devs)

Jim Birch

Re: What do all these things do?

My battery life has improved radically over the last few renditions of Android. I'm pleased.


2,000 year old man found dead near 2,000 year old computer

Jim Birch

Re: Any black oil attacks being reported yet?

It's still hard to work out why ETs would traverse interstellar distances using space technology way more advanced than ours then resorted to a clunky inaccurate mechanical device that incorporates inadequacies in Greek astronomical theory to determine planet positions. But who knows, maybe they were so busy building starships that they forgot to invent the pocket calculator.

If the bones turn out to be extraterrestrial then there's a case for the mechanism being ET too. Otherwise, maybe not.

Gmail suffers worldwide wobbly Wednesday

Jim Birch

Re: This is why the "cloud" is a terrible idea

The problem with data free narratives is that they are data free.

A simple question: Does GMail fail more or less than an in-house mail server?

Better: Does GMail have a better downtime profile, combining frequency and duration of outages?

The real question: Comparing all costs, capital, maintenance and management of the services against the cost of their outage profiles which service is best for a given business need?

For many businesses, a short email outage of an hour or two is a nuisance with little real economic cost so GMail is a great deal. If outages have real costs, you might want to spend a lot of money on your own highly reliable system. It won't be cheap. Gather the information, do the calculation.

If you use a strategy based on anecdotes you can expect that sooner or later you will be wishing you'd done a bit more structured analysis.

Avoiding Liverpool was the aim: All aboard the world's ONLY moving aqueduct

Jim Birch


These pioneering, creative Victorian engineers built a lot of great stuff making it up as they went.

Google's brand new OS could replace Android

Jim Birch

Telemetry works quite nicely now, doesn't it?

Masked men 'steal' £250k of smartphones from Exertis

Jim Birch

Why is a phone stealable?

Couldn't a phone have a tamperproof burned in serial number that is reported back when you register it?

Google plugs Android vulns

Jim Birch

This is why...

...I own a nexus.

It's Wikipedia mythbuster time: 8 of the best on your 15th birthday

Jim Birch

Wikipedia = FAIL ? Hello in there...

There's something I don't get about this narcissistic article: Which organisations of comparable size and influence is the writer suggesting Wikipedia should emulate?

Reality check. Wikipedia, like any organisation run by great apes suffers from the imperfections of the species. Of course, all those sweetness-and-light organisations designed and run by totally selfless angels in magical realms don't appear to have these problems and if we could just get them run Wikipedia that would be out of this world.

Back here on earth, an organisation can be judged by its capacity to generate value, to run openly and fairly, and to curtail tendency of the humans who run it to lapse into power trips, rent seeking, internecine warfare, abuse of clients, and so on. From a biological perspective, this is the usefulness (aka "purpose") of institutions: to get a bunch of squabbling, self-interested apes to work together and do things that the individuals can't. My judgement is that Wikipedia has done really well. It is used globally - everywhere it is not blocked by governments - and reaches high standards of accuracy and usability in comparison to, say, the rest of the Net.

They might not have fulfilled everyone's aesthetic aspirations in the process, or, to put it differently, it is always possible to bitch about anything.

Wanna call Barnaby Joyce a w**ker / gerbil on radio? FINE, says ACMA

Jim Birch

Wanker, clown, whatever...

Barnaby appears to be playing the time warp game where "clown" is is a good old form of abuse but "wanker" is a ghastly new sexual term that crosses some mysterious boundary of decency. Maybe in parliament, Barnaby, but out here things have moved on. You missed it by about 40 years.

Invisible app ads slug smartmobes with 2GB of daily downloads

Jim Birch

Basic economics anyone?

The fact that it is in a business's interest to advertise does not mean that it is in the general interest.

This is a textbook fallacy. As individuals, we cannot change the market prices we face for goods and services in general, so we must take them as given in looking at the opportunity cost of different choices. Likewise we can't change the level of advertising we compete with so must take that as a given. For the country or the world or even a particular industry this kind of calculation simply does not make sense, except in external trade.

Advertising has some capacity to communicate new products and services to potential customers but this would required a small fraction of the advertising in the modern world. The primary function of modern advertising is out-branding your competitors, largely by repetition. Familiarity is a massive driver of human choices. A little game theory shows that advertising increases to the level where it becomes a waste of money for the average individual actor, not to the level where it optimises general welfare. This is a classic arms race situation.

Obviously without advertising, we would have to find alternate ways of paying for some great advertising industry pissups, the lifestyles of elite sportpersons, and for having stupid numbers of apps on our phones, but the background level of advertising could be lowered - or raised - with limited impact on individuals or businesses. Outside the advertising industry itself, of course, which would love to see the commissions from having every available physical and virtual surface covered with ads.

Natural geothermal heat under Antarctic ice: 'Surprisingly high'

Jim Birch

Surprisingly high: Compared to what?

This isn't news. It is clutching at straws.

Have a little think about it people. A kilometer of rock is a very good insulator. Many kilometers, even better. That's why accessing geothermal energy involves very deep holes down into the earth. Heat flow upwards through the earth is extremely slow compared to atmospheric and ocean processes so the numbers are much smaller. When researchers say the geothermal heat is "surprisingly high" they means that it is high for geothermal heat. Sorry, you can't fry an egg with it. This may be an interesting bit of geothermal science. It says almost nothing about global warming. Geothermal energy is completely known to be a tiny effect in the ocean-atmosphere heat balance. Not zero, but tiny. This is well established science, for those who understand the term.

Please show us the numbers, Lewis! There are no number in this story and if there were, I doubt even you would be willing to put your name on it.

The poor old AGW deniers are desperate for crumbs of anecdotal evidence because there is just about no one left with half a real science qualification arguing their side, and no substantial evidence. All they have left to cling to is a bunch of stories! But hey! keep it up boys. Sure, you might have this vague feeling that you're on a serious loser, but just wait, there always the next Lewis Page pseudoscience scoop to keep you going.

FYI, some indicative numbers:

Sunlight at top of the atmosphere = 1367 Watts per square metre, varies a few percent with orbit and solar activity.

Sunlight at the surface (like) 1120 W/m2. Some attenuation by the atmosphere.

Average incoming solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere 342 W/m2, averaged over day/night and latitude. Equals the average radiation of the earth out to space.

Global average geothermal heat flux = 0.06 W/m2, varies from place to place.

The Antarctic Thwaites Glacier average, these new measurements, like 0.1 W/m2

Thwaites hot spots, up to like 0.2 W/m2

Clearly, geothermal isn't a big factor globally, it is very small, like a 20,000th the power of sunlight or if you like, a 6,000th of the average power of radiation absorbed and re-emitted by greenhouse gasses. It could however have a significant local glaciological effect where the heat is "trapped" under the glacial ice. A higher temperature would increase melt and glacier velocity. That's why scientists are interested, not for the very minor input into the earth's energy budget.

Climate change alarmism is a religious belief – it's official

Jim Birch


This is a news item?

Will rising CO2 damage the world's oceans? Not so much

Jim Birch

Couldn't Lewis Page write on something he understands?

Every article the that Lewis Page writes on AGW involves cherry picking research articles and then seriously misrepresenting it. He is either clueless, or an ideologue, or both.

Couldn't he write on some other area where he has some actual expertise? If such an area exists, of course. If not, he has appropriate skills for selling fitness apparatus to idiots.

World loses John Nash, the 'Beautiful Mind'

Jim Birch

At least...

He's in equilibrium now.


Jim Birch

Ok, so these unexplained ultra-high-energy cosmic ray (UHECR) particles are produced by alien hoons doing near-c donuts somewhere out there in the local supercluster.

Damn those Xxzyipgaaalokeeaens and their goddam hotted-up space chariots!

Ex-squeeze me? Baking soda? Boffins claim it safely sucks CO2 out of the air

Jim Birch

Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

"And just forget that the rotting vegetation creates methane and other gasses that are way worse than CO2"

You are missing some key science: Methane doesn't last that long in the atmosphere - order of a year - it is actually unstable and oxidises. OTOH carbon dioxide is very stable - for practical purposes you could say it lasts indefinitely.

Unlike methane, CO2 won't disappear in the atmosphere. It remains in the atmosphere until removed by some other process, like photosynthesis or absorption by the ocean.

SECRETS of the LOST SCROLLS unlocked by key to HEALTHY BOOBS

Jim Birch

Has Lewis Page lost the plot? Surely fact that these scrolls can still be read is evidence that global warming is a left wing hippie scam. Shouldn't the scrolls have burned up or fallen apart or or something if the earth was really heating up like they say.


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