I went to see a movie, and instead I saw the future
> This is the future, I’m afraid. A future that plans on everything going right so no one has to think about what happens when things go wrong. Because computers don’t make mistakes. An automated future where no one actually knows how things work.
I broke Giant’s handheld scanner system by only buying two things
> The employee interface verified that my cart contained two (2) items. She scanned both. It verified that those two items were ones I had scanned. And then it told her that she needed to scan five more items to complete the audit, because the audit requires seven items to be scanned.
Ironies of automation
> The central irony (‘combination of circumstances, the result of which is the direct opposite of what might be expected’) referred to in this paper is that the more we automate, and the more sophisticated we make that automation, the more we become dependent on a highly skilled human operator.
Admit It: You Have a Box of Cords You’ll Never, Ever Use Again
> There’s a box that moved with Sarah Loveless and her husband from San Diego to Charleston, S.C., from Charleston to Dallas and from Dallas to Richland, Wash. The box, never unpacked, went into a closet or the garage each time. Contents: 20 to 30 electronics cords.
Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy
> Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
> Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.
Welcome to the age of the avatar
Imagine Being on Trial. With Exonerating Evidence Trapped on Your Phone.
> Public defenders lack access to gadgets and software that could keep their clients out of jail.
> This tech gap has two basic forms. First, law enforcement agencies can use warrants and court orders to compel companies to turn over emails, photos and other communications, but defense lawyers have no such power. And second, the government has access to forensic technology that makes digital investigations easier. Over the last two decades, the machines and software designed to extract data from computers and smartphones were primarily made for and sold to law enforcement.
> To successfully defend its clients, the Legal Aid Society, New York City’s largest public defender office, realized in 2013 that it needed to buy the same tools the police had: forensic devices and software from companies including Cellebrite, Magnet Forensics and Guidance Software. Not only does the expensive technology unearth digital evidence that is otherwise hard or impossible to find, it captures it in a format that can hold up in court, as opposed to evidence that could have been tampered with or forged.
Motorola Brings Back The Razr: Flip-Phone In 2020
> Motorola has today announced a modern successor to one of the most iconic phones ever released: the Razr V3. The popular flip-phone was first released in 2004 and had been a huge success for the company as it went on to sell over a 100M units. The clamshell design was immensely popular as it was a lot thinner and had a unique design. The new Razr takes the core aspects of this design and ports it over to the latest 2019 technologies. At the heart of the new smartphone lies Motorola’s take on foldable displays, giving the new Razr a proper modern “full body screen” experience.
A nice look at how they got the fold to work. We’ll see.
History of Information
Lots of little facts organized in various ways.
The July Galileo Outage: What happened and why
> This post is an excerpt of a far longer post on Galileo, its structures and the cause of the outage. Here we’ll only focus on the outage - the potential underlying reasons behind it are described in the full article.
> Since the week-long outage in July I’ve been fascinated by Galileo and, together with a wonderful crew of developers, experts and receiver operators, have learned so much about what I now know are called ‘Global Navigation Satellite Systems’ or GNSS. This has lead to the galmon.eu project, which monitors the health and vital statistics of GPS, Galileo, BeiDou and GLONASS. More about the project can be read in the full article.
I totally missed the fact that there was an outage, but some interesting commentary.
> Light Commands is a vulnerability of MEMS microphones that allows attackers to remotely inject inaudible and invisible commands into voice assistants, such as Google assistant, Amazon Alexa, Facebook Portal, and Apple Siri using light.
> In our paper we demonstrate this effect, successfully using light to inject malicious commands into several voice controlled devices such as smart speakers, tablets, and phones across large distances and through glass windows.
Wonders of the Internet
> There wasn’t any indication of what it had been part of, or what it was for, but it did have the marking PART 2198768 on the back, so I handed that to The Goog.
> And the result was instantaneous and unequivocal: it belongs to my refrigerator. Specifically, it goes in the back of the freezer compartment to keep food from falling down into the back and blocking the drainage path.
I tried to adjust the time on my alarm clock. I failed.
> For some reason, my alarm clock requires that I install an app on my phone. And the app required me to create an account.
> I’m going to repeat that: In order to set my alarm clock, I had to create an account with the clock manufacturer.
The Deadly Consequences of Rounding Errors
> In politics, stock markets, space, and the battlefield, tiny software calculation mistakes have had enormous consequences.
> Sometimes those fractional cents aren’t stolen—they simply vanish. In the early 1980s, a new stock index at the Vancouver Stock Exchange tracked a steady and mysterious loss in value. An investigation revealed that floor() was being used instead of round(), with the lost fractions of cents accumulating to almost a 50 percent loss of value in 22 months. The programming mistake was finally fixed; the index closed around 500 on a Friday and reopened the following Monday at over 1,000, the lost value restored.
Grumman X-29: The impossible fighter jet with inverted wings
> There’s no airplane quite like the Grumman X-29. Its astonishing forward-swept wings were just one of its many bold innovations.
> Created at the height of the Cold War by a conglomerate of giants -- NASA, the US Air Force, the “men in black” at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and aerospace behemoth Grumman -- it first flew in 1984 as part of a quest to build the ultimate fighter jet.
All Penn, No Teller
> Why Penn Jillette kind of makes sense as a tech magazine’s back-page columnist
> But Jillette was something different. He was already famous—certainly more famous than Pournelle, an established science-fiction author, thanks to being a regular fixture on television during much of his career and starring in a legendary Run-DMC music video—and he likely did not need a nationally distributed computer magazine column to make a living. Jillette simply liked computers and knew a lot about them, which meant that he could rant about the details of an Autoexec.bat file just as easily as he can about politics. He gave the tech writing form something of an edge, while maintaining the freewheeling nature established by fellow pre-blogging voices like Pournelle.
Some good quotes and links here.
Reverse-engineering precision op amps from a 1969 analog computer
> We are restoring a vintage1 computer that CuriousMarc recently obtained. Analog computers were formerly popular for fast scientific computation, but pretty much died out in the 1970s. They are interesting, though, as a completely different computing paradigm from digital computers. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on the op amps used in Marc’s analog computer, a Simulators Inc. model 240.
> An analog computer performs computations using physical, continuously changeable values such as voltages. This is in contrast to a digital computer that uses discrete binary values. Analog computers have a long history including gear mechanisms, slide rules, wheel-and-disk integrators, tide computers, and mechanical gun targeting systems. The “classic” analog computers of the 1950s and 1960s, however, used op amps and integrators to solve differential equations. They were typically programmed by plugging cables into a patch panel, yielding a spaghetti-like tangle of wires.
Plus some good references to more about analog computers.
Ken Thompson did some of his early programming on an early analog computer, although I’m unsure of which model.
The Invention of Recombinant DNA Technology
> In the early 1970s, a momentous series of events in the history of science unfolded at points around the San Francisco Bay. Lines of inquiry pursued at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco converged on a set of discoveries that vastly expanded the productive capabilities of molecular genetics, disrupted the customary rhythms and routines of the scientific community, sparked bitter disputes about risks and responsibilities in scientific experimentation, and generated a tsunami of technological change that spread rapidly across multiple domains of productive activity and all around the globe.
> The first recombinant molecule containing DNA from different organisms was assembled late in 1971, in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford. Berg hoped to transduce bacterial and mammalian cells with a recombinant virus in order to study gene expression systems, but subsequently chose not to carry out the planned experiments. He was persuaded by scientific colleagues to consider potential biohazard risks before moving ahead.
> The technology for propagating and expressing recombinant genes was invented by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer in 1973. It enabled the transformation of bacterial cells into living factories for the directed manufacture of select proteins. The technology was immediately recognized as a tool without parallel in genetics research, and was soon applied to practical ends in a wide variety of fields including medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, chemicals, and energy. It has since transformed the world in which we live.
> The history is complicated.
Where oil rigs go to die
> When a drilling platform is scheduled for destruction, it must go on a thousand-mile final journey to the breaker’s yard. As one rig proved when it crashed on to the rocks of a remote Scottish island, this is always a risky business
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