Rashomon of disclosure
> In a world of changing technology, there are few constants - but if there is one constant in security, it is the rhythmic flare-up of discussions about disclosure on the social-media-du-jour (mailing lists in the past, now mostly Twitter and Facebook).
> In this blog post, I would like to highlight a few aspects of the discussion that are important to me personally - aspects which influenced my thinking, and which are underappreciated in my view.
Spacewar - Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums
> 7 December 1972
An account of the first computer game tournament.
> The trend owes its health to an odd array of influences: The youthful fervor and firm dis-Establishmentarianism of the freaks who design computer science; an astonishingly enlightened research program from the very top of the Defense Department; an unexpected market-Banking movement by the manufacturers of small calculating machines, and an irrepressible midnight phenomenon known as Spacewar.
> Reliably, at any nighttime moment (i.e. non-business hours) in North America hundreds of computer technicians are effectively out of their bodies, locked in life-or-death space combat computer-projected onto cathode ray tube display screens, for hours at a time, ruining their eyes, numbing their fingers in frenzied mashing of control buttons, joyously slaying their friend and wasting their employers’ valuable computer time. Something basic is going on.
Plus the beginnings of Xerox PARC.
> “You get just a few more agates in that group and you’ll have all the marbles.”
> The chief marble collector is - well, well - Bob Taylor. When he left the newly restricted ARPA he spent a year at Utah decompressing from the Pentagon and then went to Xerox and there continued his practice of finding and rewarding good men for doing pretty much whatever they considered important work. Freedom to explore in the company of talent is an irresistible lure. In two years Xerox had twenty of the best men around working. Toward what? Well, whatever.
A followup from 2016: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/stewart-brand-recalls-first-spacewar-video-game-tournament-187669/
The Stranding of the MV Shokalskiy
> Mawson’s experience distills the Victorian age of Antarctic exploration to its essence, combining an unbelievable personal fortitude with the overall pointlessness of the endeavor. Even by Antarctic standards, George V Land was unexciting. The best thing you can say about it today is that sometimes a meteorite lands there.
> But Mawson left behind a hut, and by the iron laws of Antarctic nostalgia that apply to any human structure below the 70th parallel, that hut is now an object of veneration, and must be visited.
> In 2011, the Australian climate scientist Chris Turney heard the call of the Antarctic. As readers of this blog know, that can be an expensive call to hear. But the approaching centenary of Mawson’s expedition gave Turney a unique fundraising hook.
And then things went a bit sideways.
Living with a starchitect’s early work
> Young, ambitious architects are known for cost overruns, impractical layouts — and the occasional work of genius
A catalog of complaints, and some advice:
> Le Corbusier, never the most self-deprecating of architects, returned to the site and, looking around, is reported to have said: “You know, it is always life that is right and the architect who is wrong.” That was not an admission of error: Le Corbusier meant that his designs were able to accommodate change.
On colonialism, imperialism, and ignoring medieval history
> We have a lot of fun, don’t we, when we talk about how people argue that the medieval period was the Dark Ages based on the fact that the feel some type of way about it? Now, can I call people who think this ridiculously incredulous and basic? Yes. And I do. Thanks for asking. Having said that, the general ignorance of the medieval period is not from nothing.
I feel like every mention of the dark ages comes with the disclaimer that they weren’t that dark so I’m not sure how widespread the misperception still is. But there’s also some neat historical facts here.
> This ended up completely changing fashion in England. Anne is the girl who introduced those sweet horned headdresses you think of when you think of medieval ladies, riding side-saddle, and the word “coach” to England, (from the Hungairan Kocs, where the cart she arrived at court the first time came from). Sweetening her transition to English life was the fact that she didn’t have to pay a dowry to get married. Instead, the English were allowed to trade freely with Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire and allowed to be around a Czech lady. That was reward enough as far as the Empire was concerned. That’s how much England was not a thing.
> Transparency may not seem particularly exciting. The GIF image format which allowed some pixels to show through the background was published over 30 years ago. Almost every graphic design application released in the last two decades has supported the creation of semi-transparent content. The novelty of these concepts is long gone.
> With this article I’m hoping to show you that transparency in digital imaging is actually much more interesting than it seems – there is a lot of invisible depth and beauty in something that we often take for granted.
Models of Generics and Metaprogramming: Go, Rust, Swift, D and More
> In some domains of programming it’s common to want to write a data structure or algorithm that can work with elements of many different types, such as a generic list or a sorting algorithm that only needs a comparison function. Different programming languages have come up with all sorts of solutions to this problem: From just pointing people to existing general features that can be useful for the purpose (e.g C, Go) to generics systems so powerful they become Turing-complete (e.g. Rust, C++). In this post I’m going to take you on a tour of the generics systems in many different languages and how they are implemented. I’ll start from how languages without a special generics system like C solve the problem and then I’ll show how gradually adding extensions in different directions leads to the systems found in other languages.
Reach for the Moon: Four Lives, the Space Race and a Chaotic Decade
> Alan Contessa (left) worked on the lunar module. Frances ‘Poppy’ Northcutt was a ‘computress’ for TRW Systems. Morgan Watson was a NASA engineer, John Wolfram (right) a Navy SEAL.
> Over the next eight years, success depended upon people like Morgan Watson, a black man from the segregated schoolhouses of rural Louisiana; Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, a high-school valedictorian and onetime beauty contestant from the Texas oil patch; Alan Contessa, a working-class kid from New York City’s outer boroughs; and John Wolfram, a rebel with a patriotic streak from the Wisconsin countryside.
Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?
> The bicycle, as we know it today, was not invented until the late 1800s. Yet it was a simple mechanical invention. It would seem to require no brilliant inventive insight, and certainly no scientific background.
Well, not exactly.
Why Nasa’s next Moon mission can’t be an Apollo retread
> There is a familiar question asked of politicians, entrepreneurs and innovators: if you were to do it all again, what would you do differently?
> At Nasa headquarters, they’re fielding almost the opposite inquiry. Why don’t you just do it the same? If you managed to put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon five decades ago, why is it so hard to do it now?
Trump Consultant Is Trolling Democrats With Biden Site That Isn’t Biden’s
> For much of the last three months, the most popular Joseph R. Biden Jr. website has been a slick little piece of disinformation that is designed to look like the former vice president’s official campaign page, yet is most definitely not pro-Biden.
> The website’s success was not accidental. Mr. Mauldin put it up well before Mr. Biden’s official website and aggressively pushed it out on Reddit, getting clicks and links and exposure. It had a big boost in May when a handful of media outlets — The Daily Caller and CNET, among others — wrote stories about the fake page beating Mr. Biden’s and linked to it. Links from established media websites are weighted heavily by search engines.
Hey everybody, look at this thing we don’t want people to see!
Mary Sherman Morgan, Rocket Fuel Mixologist
> The US had twice tried to launch Navy-designed Vanguard rockets, and both were spectacular failures. It was time to use their ace in the hole: the Redstone rocket, a direct descendant of the V-2s designed during WWII. The only problem was the propellant. It would never get the payload into orbit as-is.
> The US Army awarded a contract to North American Aviation (NAA) to find a propellant that would do the job. But there was a catch: it was too late to make any changes to the engine’s design, so they had to work with big limitations. Oh, and the Army needed it two days before yesterday.
> The Army sent a Colonel to NAA to deliver the contract, and to personally insist that they put their very best man on the job. And they did. What the Army didn’t count on was that NAA’s best man was actually a woman with no college degree.
The Model Estonian Soldier Who Spied for Russia
> I spoke to Metsavas under the auspices of KAPO, which gave The Atlantic virtually unrestricted access to him, but not to his friends or family. Notably, I was not allowed to speak with his wife, his mother, or his father, the last of whom played an integral role in his son’s ordeal. The rules of engagement were simple: I could ask my subject anything I liked, but he had been instructed beforehand not to divulge information that might compromise KAPO’s counterintelligence investigation, particularly any details that would telegraph to the Russians what the Estonians knew about their tradecraft and the secrets they had stolen. “They don’t deserve it,” Toots said.
> For KAPO, the interview was an opportunity to publicize its already legendary reputation of catching Russian spies. For me, it was an unmissable chance to speak to a contemporary spy and raise the curtain on the inner workings of a Russian intelligence agency whose century-long history of skulduggery—from election tampering to dirty wars, from attempted coups to assassination plots—shows no sign of abating. And for Metsavas, it was a chance to atone for his high crimes against his country, his comrades in the army, his friends and family. I believe he had little apparent incentive to lie: Everything he said would be within earshot of at least one KAPO case officer, tasked with ensuring that he didn’t speak out of turn, or embellish or misrepresent his autobiography. I got the impression that Metsavas, as much as the men who had unmasked him, took such matters earnestly. In general, there was a strange camaraderie between Metsavas and the KAPO case officers who flitted in and out of the interrogation room as our interview wore on. All interacted with him not as an enemy of the state, but as an old acquaintance, with an intimacy born of close proximity and repetition. I asked Metsavas whether he felt compelled in any way to talk to me. He said he didn’t and insisted that this whole thing was his idea in the first place. I eventually saw why.
How Discount Brokerages Make Money
> This is outside of my usual software-oriented beat, but sometimes people are wrong on the Internet. Most recently, people have been wrong about payment for order flow, an esoteric topic in the investing industry which seems vaguely unsavory to Hacker News commenters, Michael Lewis , etc.
> Explaining why payment for order flow isn’t a big deal requires a more in-depth discussion of discount brokerages. All stats below are as of 2018; citations for the annual reports are at the bottom.
Building the Wind Turbines Was Easy. The Hard Part Was Plugging Them In
> There was a snag and it was a big one. We have 21st-century technology to produce the power, but we still have a 20th-century power grid that can’t move it from the windy and sunny parts of the country to the urban markets. The American power grid isn’t set up for it. It’s old-fashioned and parochial when it needs to be continental and forward-looking. It’s like the nation’s roads before President Dwight D. Eisenhower championed the construction of the Interstate Highway System seven decades ago.
> Skelly was regularly visiting TVA’s headquarters and received a warm reception from the TVA head. Negotiations seemed to be going well. But the TVA was getting a decidedly different message from Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican who had a longstanding dislike for wind turbines. He had bought a vacation property on Nantucket Island, off the Massachusetts coast, in 2001. The week he closed on the property, news broke about Cape Wind, a plan to build 170 wind turbines in the middle of Nantucket Sound. A year later, after being elected to the U.S. Senate, he introduced a bill that would make life difficult for offshore wind developers. Over the next few years, he kept up his campaign against them.
Advanced Nuclear Power
> The basic idea of a nuclear reactor is really simple. In fact, you could make a toy to explain it to kids.
[Statute of] Queen Anne’s Revenge? Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Allen v. Cooper
> Most media reports concerning the case, however, were less concerned with the legal principle involved, and more interested in the factual situation out of which the dispute arose: the discovery, in 1996, of the 300-year-old wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the pirate. Coincidentally, Blackbeard named his ship for the same Queen Anne who gave royal consent to the first British copyright act, the Statute of Anne, in 1710. In the same year, Bristol merchants completed a ship named Concord, which was later sold to French merchants who called it La Concorde. Blackbeard captured the ship in 1717, outfitted it with additional cannon, and renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge, because he had served as a British privateer during the war against France and Spain that lasted for almost the whole of Queen Anne’s reign.
> Allen v. Cooper raises a host of interesting issues regarding the relationship between the states and the federal government vis-à-vis copyright infringement and the ability of a state to declare a copyrighted work to be a “public record.” The U.S. Supreme Court granted certoriari only on a single threshold issue: whether the states have sovereign immunity from suits for copyright infringement under the Eleventh Amendment. Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of sovereign immunity, as expected, the possibility of a state lawsuit for inverse condemnation remains. Thus, more than 300 years after the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground, her voyage through the American judicial system is far from over.
Sex and Psychological Operations
> Warning! These historical wartime images are sexually explicit.
> Would it surprise you to know that all the major combatants involved in World War II used pornography as part of their psychological operations (PSYOP) strategy?
Info Tech Of Ancient Democracy
> The Athenians had to keep those bodies flowing smoothly, then, and that was largely a matter of keeping track of who belonged where and when. They also had to maintain a smooth and dependable flow of the information generated by those bodies -- the votes, the decrees, the endless speechifying. They had, in short, to do a lot of stuff that modern information technology would have helped them tremendously to do, and nonetheless they managed pretty well, with the materials at hand, to build the tools they needed to make their system work.
> Those tools -- the info tech of ancient Athenian democracy -- are the subject of the following Notes. I present them now without further ado.
Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police
> The new orders, sometimes called “geofence” warrants, specify an area and a time period, and Google gathers information from Sensorvault about the devices that were there. It labels them with anonymous ID numbers, and detectives look at locations and movement patterns to see if any appear relevant to the crime. Once they narrow the field to a few devices they think belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the users’ names and other information.