Trawl 18Apr2015

World News

Sadly it seems El Salvador’s gang truce has collapsed and sent the countries homicide rate soaring.

Bizarrely there was a death at Disney World in a car racing accident.

In Kenya 3 men who were convicted of a brutal gang-rape of a 16 y.o. girl were initially handed sentences to cut grass  but after protests and international outrage the men have seen their sentences raised to 15 years in prison.

China’s figures show economy slowing down, with a growth rate somewhere between 6.9% to 7.3%. This is still a great and high growth rate compared the US’s 2.4% for 2014 but it is definitely on the low end for China given its recent amazing economic growth coming into the 90s and 2000s.

Existential Threats

Great post by Charlie Stross on The Great Filter and the Fermi Paradox. Never heard of either? This article has all the ground work and background material you will need. As to why would some one worry about these potential future existential threats? Because it’s an exercise in planning and stretches back to now and how we (as a people) plan what we do now to not fall into these traps that are hinted at.

Following in the vein, scientists have declared that Ocean acidification from CO2 (from 252 million y.a. volcano eruptions) was the cause of the worst mass extinction the world has ever seen. Which is pretty concerning because we seem to be acidifying the ocean at a similar pace with our CO2 output: “The Last Time Oceans Got This Acidic This Fast, 96% of Marine Life Went Extinct“. [abstract Ocean acidification and the Permo-Triassic mass extinction]

Another component of the Great Filter might be that we really only get one chance. In his article Out of the Ashes Lewis Dartnell asks

It took a lot of fossil fuels to forge our industrial world. Now they’re almost gone. Could we do it again without them?

Online Privacy

Facebook chats are being handed off to a 3rd party company and being scanned and analysed, oh, and it also seems this company is a front for the CIA, as it’s funded by them. [HN follow up discussion]. The DEA is running disinformation campaign’s to hide their surveillance techniques and capabilities.

In a game of cat and mouse Twitter moves all their Non-US accounts to Ireland both in storage and ownership (SanFran based Twitter Inc and Twitter International Company in Dublin, Ireland). However Microsoft is sounding the alarm that the US government is ‘rewriting’ the law to obtain emails overseas.

Meanwhile a study in Canada showed that Police asked telcos for client data in over 80% of criminal probes.  Now to start with, naturally they got it all, but what’s more concerning, this is just for investigations, when in theory the target is still presumed innocent.  From the article:

“When a tool is unregulated in this way, it becomes a matter of standard practice, no assessment is made as to the invasiveness of the tool, whether it’s justified in a particular context or not. It’s easy to do. It’s low cost, so you just do it.”​

“A lot of those are going to be innocent people,” said Israel. “A lot of privacy gets violated to find the one person who is the actual criminal.”

For what it’s worth, apparently Rogers has stopped providing some data without a warrant and found that with that small safety mechanism in place, requests dropped in 2014.

Finally, a lawyer finds malware on a hardrive supplied by the police in discovery in a rather aggressive move by that police department.

Tech

Great Cannon

How can we not lead but with more discussion on China’s new Great Cannon which they weapons tested recently against github. It is a horribly ingenious weapon turning the Great Firewall inside out. Now that analysis is mostly done [more] we can discuss how it works: basically any traffic in China and any traffic from the world going into China pass through the Great Firewall. All they did was target foreign traffic and for 1% of it going to one specific site, modify the site response a bit injecting a little malicious payload that just asks the target (github) for some content. At Internet scale this >1% weapons test caused massive havoc for github, possibly the largest source code storage and sharing site on the internet.

This who story is fascinating because of the how, but also the “what next”. The US may have a harder time coming up with a response to turning a piece of widespread censorship tech into a tool to weaponize the internet itself. But you will certainly see this adding more urgency to forces who want to roll out censorship tech elsewhere in the world so that they can they also utilize it in this new way.

Sadness for the rest of us though.

Misc Tech

Ramez Naam wrote a think piece about how much land it would take to power the entire US via Solar.

An article Keeping Your Car Safe From Electronic Thieves seems to have a theory on the wave of high tech keyless car stealing going around. The gangs which rang from kids to more organized adult gangs, all seem to be using what appears to be cheap ($30-$100) black boxes of some tech to gain access to the cars. The theory is they are “power amplifiers”:

In a normal scenario, when you walk up to a car with a keyless entry and try the door handle, the car wirelessly calls out for your key so you don’t have to press any buttons to get inside. If the key calls back, the door unlocks. But the keyless system is capable of searching for a key only within a couple of feet.

Mr. Danev said that when the teenage girl turned on her device, it amplified the distance that the car can search, which then allowed my car to talk to my key, which happened to be sitting about 50 feet away, on the kitchen counter. And just like that, open sesame.

In a beautiful and strange case of worlds colliding a video is going around of a Chimpanzee in a Zoo taking down a camera drone from the drone’s POV.

Microsoft have started working on an LLVM based compiler for .Net. The last year has really seen a lot of surprising (historically speaking) announcements from MS, especially around .Net. This is another welcome piece of it. Hopefully some interesting results.

If you run a Windows web server however, patch it now, a new remote kernel code exploit has been found in http.sys which already has server crashing examples floating around, and server rooting ones surely exist. It again raises the debate about what should and should not be a Kernel component. Someone raised to me the hypothesis http.sys was rolled into the Windows kernel as a response to Tux, a not in mainline kernel module that is a static http server.

Multiple sources are reporting that Cyangoenmod, who make a free Android version you can flash onto most popular phone is partnering with Microsoft to bundle their software instead of some of Google’s (like Bing).

Personal and Productivity

This pleasant piece encouraging reading and purportedly showing a snippet of Elon Musk’s reading list entitled The Transformative Effects of Reading.

I stumbled upon Waytools’ Textblade which looks like an amazing portable keyboard for Cells and Tablets and the only reason I haven’t already ordered one is the slight tingle I’m getting in my hoax sense. No one has yet received one and the delivery date has been pushed back several times so I’ll just wait until some people have received them (or not…).

Finally, on a more personal note: I’m still playing with this writing/filtering component I’m trying to add to my news consumption. I do think it’s good and helpful for many reasons, just writing more is good for all of us, it helps with focus, and w.r.t. to my news reading it focuses that and helps with recall. As for the method and format, as from today’s massive weekly summary you can see I’m trying a new approach

Previously I was trying to write short summaries as I read but this had a few limiting and poor factors in which I never could get much done, and it meant I was practically confining my consumption only to periods where I had more time and one device (my laptop). I’m trying now to separate them and use a few tools to save articles, links and thoughts and then at a separate time write them all up. The results for this week was  bit huge and time consuming as any new thing is (a bit over 2 hours) but I’ll probably get more into the groove of it and maybe split it into twice a week, or find another approach to try.


Some of this week

Listening to Baby Metal and The Glitch Mob (thanks amazing sound guy from Person of Interest) after a quiet week of Phillip Glass. First week I’ve ever listened to something low energy and more classical. Not bad. I caught him from BSG reruns, where in the show Starbuck’s father took credit for that song. But felt like something more high energy for the weekend. So, the week:

The LHC is back on. Exciting new experiments to ensue. They hope to get it’s new revitalized self up to double the power of the previous run that resulted in the discovery of the Higgs Boson. But it’s going to take around a month to ramp up.

Caught this Rogers “Smart Home Monitoring” ad on Youtube today. Not scary at all. Wire up your home with cameras and trust your Canadian ISP who has a happy relationship with local law and spook enforcement, not to mention the general security of the infrastructure in light of more talks with Snowden this week. This delightful piece by Quinn Norton handles that well. But as to Rogers’ new service? Yeah, um no thanks. We worry enough about hackers alone taking our webcam and phone pics, now we have the home “security” network too… Celeb nude photo leaks will be a thing of the past replace by Celeb videos of everything from eating and watching tv to you guessed it, full sex. Plus the rest of us.

“At least 30″ Indian farmers have commited suicide after rains destroyed their crops. This is why I’m in favour of a more socialized state with safety nets. Because libertarianism and just bloody minded right wing-ism leads to a lot of people living right on the edge and one bad day or week can wipe them out with no means of recovery. We need to treat people better than that. And if we all have to invest in those safety nets, in basically insurance, via taxes, that oks, because as insurance for us all, you never know when or if you too might need to partake in it.

An 8 year old boy “caught” a severe peanut and fish allergy following a blood transfusion. So that’s something to be aware of. Caught isn’t really the right word, he now just has some blood in him that is allergic to it so when the food started being processed it started reacting with some of his blood. As the foreign blood naturally dissipates, so does the allergy.

There was a protest in Kenya over police and the military’s delayed response to the massacre of 148 students at Garissa University College. Response took 12 hours. Morning till evening. In the mean time the gunmen held the campus and killed people all day.

Been reading The Psychology of Computer Programming. For an older book on a what we think of as rapidly evolving industry it’s still quite interesting and relevant. Also gives me some better angles at thinking about why one day I might like getting into management (if I’m about production, productivity, being solo won’t get me very far, but a team will).

A “popular” Android security app is discovered to be dangerously worthless doing essentially nothing but covering it up providing a false sense of security. App markets have a long way to go until they can be trusted to reliably provide good software for money and yet they are probably still better than the free for all that pre-dated them.

Microsoft (finally some might say) following just about everyone else, looks to be moving to a faster release cadence and have announced the codename of the post Windows 10 project, “Redstone”.

A French network was hacked after exposing it’s password during a TV interview where the camera showed some passwords that had been written down and stored on paper on a wall. So, um, don’t do that.


LHC is back, and we still don’t think about programming right

The Large Hadron Collider is finally back online after two year maintenance break.

Google, who try to apply machine learning to everything including hiring, recently discovered that Being good at programming competitions correlates negatively with being good on the job. And even with ut watching the video, the headline just resonates with me. It relates to a tweet I saw recently:

Brian Degenhardt @bmdhacks
How to be a 10x engineer: Incur technical debt fast enough to appear 10x as productive as the ten engineers tasked with cleaning it up.

Finally, this resonates with the book I’m reading The Psychology of Computer Programming. I’m only 4 chapters in but it’s already brought up how much more social an activity programming is than it is often portrayed. The best programmers are often social and communicate a lot learning new things, techniques, and tools and staying up to date. Also on large projects you need to all work together to establish a shared style so that maintenance is that much easier. I can easily see the “good at competitions” programmer being the more typical “rockstar’ solo programmer who doesn’t integrate as well into group and therefore turns out code that integrates poorly, is less maintainable, and therefore worth less in the long run. They are different skill sets. And from school to competitions we under emphasize what is most important in the workforce.

Seriously though, if you program or manage programmers, the book, while a bit old, has been updated, and is absolutely worth a read.


Peter Watts PoI review

Peter Watts has finally caught up on Person of Interest to see what it’s all about. Pretty much inline with what I’ve felt about the show. “The BUG may have put it best when she described it as a kind of idiot-savante among TV shows: it may lack certain social skills, but you can’t deny the smarts.” It slowly works up to some good concept work and plays with it, which is uncommon. Read the review tho.


Welcome to April

In Canada corporate profit margins hit a 27 year high, or not since 1988. At first blush I’d say there is room for more corporate tax and regardless they aren’t necessarily very internationally competitive long term and could be a potential weakness if they aren’t saving some of that excess money flow.

The media is very excited that the opposition party in Nigeria has unseated a sitting president, a first, “putting former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari … in charge of Africa’s most populous nation and its biggest economy”. Follow up: 5 things to know.

Pretty heartbreaking and cruelly, Canada has done a double take and may be on the verge of booting up to 70,000 foreign workers who have been in the country for years, made lives here, and previously had the oppurtunity to stay dangled in front of them.

Some different life lessons learned growing up in a civil war for kids.

A fairly historic deal was reached six world powers and Iran over it’s nuclear programme. A selection of reactions. This new US policy of engaging with nations they have previously been estranged with (Cuba, now Iran) is a very positive step for everyone. Some countries aren’t as excited however.


Power and space

Russia will be building Jordan a nuclear power plant. An interesting move considering how much fear and consternation there currently is in the region about some countries nuclear capabilities.

Huh, Canadians are the biggest internet users in the world. A little surprised, but when you average things, I guess maybe. Neat.

RadioShack in a classy move puts Customer Data up for sale in Bankruptcy Auction. But again, it is their property now. This I think is one of the things that’s going to take some time to get into the public consciousness and make people less likely to give out info, because companies can die, and you don’t know who’s going to loot the corpse.

Nasa is planning a mission to launch in 2020 where a Robot will land on an asteroid, pick a 4m sized boulder and sly it home to earth orbit over the next 6 years. This is a great beginning if it goes off and also by the time it arrives we could have some great labs in space to study it, even now just dock it with ISS probably and do EVAs to bring in samples.

Truly bizarre, Comcast can’t or won’t give a home in or near it’s area internet so the new homeowner, a work from home software developer, may have to sell it after owning it for only two months. a) Internet is a life’s blood now, get it? and b) telecoms monopolys like this are horrific and going to create new weirdly happed dark parts of cities.


Catchup march 20-25

Under the heading “We’re all doomed” Every Browser Hacked At Pwn2own 2015 at CanSecWest. But in good news, it is reported that ActiveX may soon be scrapped in South Korea.

A New Alzheimer’s Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function For Mice which is pretty damn exciting, even if I am getting ahead of myself.

As much as I want to believe, and own a few merch mugs from them to that point, Mars One is receiving a lot of criticism as it is supposed to be ramping up but not so much. The word “scam” is appearing. A little more time will tell. Sad but maybe not shocking if true.

Remarkably little reporting on Costa Rica Going 75 Days Powering Itself Using Only Renewable Energy. Simply amazing work!

Edward Snowden’s latest leak shows that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) cooperated with the NSA and ran false flag hacking operations with the intent to attribute them to other sources. This just further draws criticism to the currently tabled “anti terrorism” bill C-51 which has no added oversight for a lot of new powers to fight these potentially fictional threats.