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Comment Re: Son of SCO (Score 1) 155

I like your car analogy but for a different reason. If ever car maker used wildly different designs for their controls (say random pedal placement, or gears in different positions on a manual gearbox) then cars would be dangerous because moving from one to another would require extensive retraining... ( In fact, just like you can get a pilot's license, but still have to get type-approval for each different aircraft you want to fly). Your point shows the huge gulf in standards we apply when moving from the real world to the Cyber world, yet specious lawsuits still try to claim equivalence.

Comment Defective by Design? (Score 5, Interesting) 113

I appreciate that this comment is asking that we consider the technical equivalent of "Puuting the Genie Back in the Bottle", but it seems to me that the fundamental issue with the current Stingray technology happens to be the "bulk data capture" nature of the way that it operates...

In one sense this is unavoidable - when you have a piece of technology that imitates a cellphone tower by giving the strongest local signal, it will sweep up multiple handsets each time it is activated.

On the other hand, would it be possible for a judge to declare that the *operator interface* to the stingray device must by law force the operator to enter the particulars of a specific mobile phone handset, thereby preventing the stingray operator for conducting blanket surveillance?

Quite obviously, I know nothing about the inner workings of stingray technology, but it is clear to me that the principle by which it operates is to deem that every cell phone user within range is guilty of a crime - since the technology indiscriminately targets them.

If one motorist breaks the speed limit on a particular road at a particular time, a Law Enforcement Officer is not entitled to stop every vehicle on the road and take details of the driver and their passengers... similarly there should be limits on what that same officer can do when tracking a suspected criminal using stingray technology.

As technologists we know that it would be possible to develop a stingray device that had to be pre-programmed with a cell phone ID before it could be activated. We know that it would also be possible to require that device to have a legally tamper-proof log, to require that to have a license to operate (it is a wireless device that surely needs FCC approval to be used) that there would be supervisory controls that could be enforce.

Law enforcement are quick to claim that the rapid advancement of technology is such that they need extra powers in order to be able to keep pace with the criminals in society. Well, OK, but that should not be grounds for permitting those same officers to bend or break the law in the process. That places the Law Enforcement Agencies in the same category as criminals: as far as honest citizens are concerned that makes LEOs just as dangerous, or perhaps even more so, since they have the implied authority of the state backing them up...

The Enforcement of the law must itself be legal, or it undermines any and all claims of authority it may have over the citizenry it was designed to protect.

Comment Re:Stonehenge, without the stones? (Score 1) 147

One observation to make would be that if the discoveries in the Amazon were shown to align with lunar, solar or stellar events, then this would have a remarkable implication on the environmental conditions of that location when they were constructed.

Stonehenge was constructed on a plain that provided a sufficiently clear view of the horizon during key dates [i.e. the winter solstice] to allow the group that constructed it to implement some very precise alignments. In order for the Amazon constructs to exhibit similar properties, then it rather suggests that the builders there had an equivalent degree of visibility [or, in the alternate, a means to replicate it - such as some method of accurately reflecting observations taken a treetop height down to the ground - for example with the aid of an accurate compass of some kind].

Bottom line is that any form of astronomical alignment would be significant. The closest I have read to anything such as this came from a series of temples and structures located in the far east, in which the temples of Angkor Wat were shown to have correspondence with the constellation of Draco. More details here:-

However, even though Angkor Wat presents plenty of evidence to suggest that it has been constructed to represent Draco, I don't believe that it includes alignment with horizon-level astronomical events [which would require land-clearance on an unprecedented scale.

It will be interesting to follow the events as they happen, to better understand what can be scientifically proven. I would not be surprised if there were found to be "local" representations of astronomical constellations, but very surprised if they were accurately aligned with horizon-level events.

Comment Son of SCO (Score 3, Informative) 155

In many ways this case bears some remarkable similarities with the case brought by "The SCO Group" [a successor-in-interest, *not* the original Santa Cruz Operation company] against IBM, claiming not only that IBM had violated "TSG"-owned copyright, but that because in their view TSG owned the rights to code that IBM were alleged to have copied into Linux, somehow this gave TSG the right to charge every Linux user a "license fee" for the use of this unspecified code.

The exact same greed lies behind the Oracle case against Google. No matter how ludicrous the case might seem to us as technologists, the plaintiff in this case [Oracle], with their dying business model, is asking a court to allow them to charge a "tax" on every Android device in the same way that The SCO Group sought to tax every user of the Linux kernel.

To be fair, there are some important distinctions between the two cases. In TSG vs. IBM, the plaintiff flat-out refused to identify [let alone with the specificity requested by IBM] the actual code they were alleged to have copied. In their hope of getting in front of a jury and having their star lawyer [David Boies] pull some fast talking, TSG refused to specifying, saying basically, "The infringing code is in the Linux Kernel. Go look for yourselves..." With Oracle vs. Google, the "code" is precisely identified.

However, *unlike* the TSG case, Oracle are taking exception to Android's use of the "language structure" of JAVA, which of course Google did to ensure compatibility with existing applications. This is interesting because of the potential legal repercussions of this case and not just because this is two of the biggest names in US Technology duking it out in a court of law. Oracle are trying to argue that the structure of JAVA can be subject to copyright. To put that in context, that is like saying that a publisher could copyright a book structure that comprised of:-

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

and so on... Lay the issue out in such a simple form and it seems a bit absurd, but we would do well to remember that "the law may upset reason, but reason may not upset the law..." (Ieyasu Tokugawa, the Shogun of Japan). This is both important and scary for us as technologists, because it means that if someone can convince a jury that they "own" a data model or data structure that might be self-evident to us, they might get the right to ask for damages sufficient to bring down not just companies, but entire industries.

The funny-if-you-can-look-at-it-that-way observation to make is that Oracle are not the only company gunning for Android. Microsoft have already threatened multiple smart-phone manufacturers with patent infringements, claiming that some portion or other of Android violates some of their intellectual property. Unfortunately, deals struck in those cases always include a confidentiality clause, so we don't yet know what Microsoft have been using to extract their pound of flesh. But it does seem remarkable to me that Microsoft appear to have been more successful by attacking the hardware developers than attempting to go after Google, while Oracle have tried that and now lost multiple times.

Let's hope that Oracle and not permitted get away with what looks for all the world like a shake-down...

Comment Our Attitude To Tech Resources (Score 5, Interesting) 133

I'm struggling a bit with the comment that "1GB is in fact completely unacceptable."

At the risk of i) showing my age and/or ii) getting laughed off the page... I started my career in technology being paid to write software for the 1980s era BBC Micro, a computer that shipped with 32Kb of RAM, of which only 27Kb was usable in the best possible scenarios, and which disappeared rapidly if you wanted anything as high-spec as a graphical display mode...

But behind the ridicule I expect the above comment to attract, I think there lies an important point. Most of us today experience an entire technology stack that has been developed in accordance with some of the rules personified by Eric Raymond in The Art of Unix Programming, specifically things like, "Rule of Economy: Programmer time is expensive; conserve it in preference to machine time". Or "Rule of Generation: Avoid hand-hacking; write programs to write programs when you can"

As a result of this, the technology we use gradually loses sight of the purpose for which it was created. I use a word processor because it is a quick and simple way to allow me to edit a document, layering my thoughts, editing content until I am happy with it, without having to re-type it from scratch each time I want to make a change. There is/was an extremely capable word processing application called Wordwise [which shipped on a ROM chip] for the BBC Microcomputer and which took no RAM [because its code executed in ROM] and which allowed me to edit and maintain documents. Sure, Wordwise doesn't have the features of Microsoft's Word 2016, or LibreOffice Writer [both of which I use], but it gave me word processing with a fraction of the resources demanded today.

I think that we sometimes lose sight of the absolutely insane improvements in system performance over the last 20-30 years - and the complete lack of progress that we see at the human interface. My suspicion - going back to the works of Eric Raymond - are that our developers are writing code that is increasingly inefficient, that the environments that run that code are increasingly wasted [do I really need an animated "ribbon" in my Word Processor - i.e. something that actually slows the software down? No.].

Today we find ourselves arguing that a computer with more than thirty-two thousand times the capacity offered by that fully-functional 1980s BBC micro is "completely unacceptable."

Let's just pause for a moment and consider whether today's 1Gb system is north of 30,000 times faster, better, or cheaper than that 1980s system. Today's machine will surely have many improvements over such early-era systems, but will still fall far short of the orders-of-magnitude improvements that simplistic comparative analysis would suggest. Why is that? Because we have become lazy and inefficient, and so has our technology.

In other words, "If you can't do it in 1Gb of RAM, you are doing it wrong."

Comment Sightings In The Wild (Score 1) 334

Would anyone familiar with the reported conditions/requirements be kind enough to translate this into likely/theoretical points of existence given our understanding of the wider universe?

For example, we've long speculated that the heat and mass of Jupiter might be such that hydrogen in the gas giant's atmosphere might be "condensed out" in liquid form, although if I understand correctly there will be other factors [such as gas densities and the prevalence of free hydrogen at the depths necessary for it to be transformed] remain speculation at this point...

However, what about other locations? Does our understanding of stars [containing lots of hydrogen] suggest that they might contain it. For example, could it exist at a boundary layer between the outer portion of the star and denser core materials? Given it's prevalence in the universe and the gravitational force of black holes, could it exist somewhere around the event horizon?

Just curious really.

Also, the difference between projected and discovered conditions required for formation seem quite significant. Wondering if that is an indication that our understanding of the physics is still a little way off?

Comment A Horrible Law - Agreed (Score 5, Insightful) 156

If I had "Mod Points", I'd mod you up for that observation...

Several things interest me about this particular piece of legislation:-

1. It Doesn't Work [1] - When the United States located Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, it was revealed that no telephone line, no internet connection and no cell phone was connected to the compound in which he lived. In fact, it was a "black spot" for services. Instead, trusted couriers carried encrypted USB sticks by hand. Pretty good OpSec, by all accounts. In other words - the really dangerous terrorists out there do not use the internet to plan their activities or communicate with each-other; they are too smart for that

2. It Doesn't Work [2] - When major incidents have happened [such as was the case with the Paris Attacks, the monitoring of the perpetrators [which had been taking place] was not effective in *STOPPING* the atrocity, it was only useful for telling us that within 24 hours of the incident, the partner of one of the terrorists had fled the country and entered Syria via Turkey. Yes, this might be useful at stopping secondary or tertiary attacks, or at finding the support network, but it won't actually stop the event itself.

3. It Doesn't Work [2] - When investigators looked into the perpetrators of the Boston Bombing in the wake of the marathon attacks, it was again discovered that the perpetrators had been monitored by the security agencies, but that even though they had been "red flagged", the responsible agency had discounted the information because they had so much other data to review. The blanket dragnet meant that they spent all their time triaging initial cuts of data, not enough time following up on reasonable leads.

4. It's An Erosion of the Presumption of Innocence - The fact that *everyone* is caught up in the net [unless you are an MP or member of the judiciary, etc] means that every single person in the UK is presumed guilty of an offence - without being charged. The data is being collected "in case you do something bad"...

5. The Damaging Risk Of Leaks - There have been too many examples of data theft or accidential leakage to bother citing examples here; the fact is that such a treasure-trove of data would be too tempting for organised criminals. In the United States, insurance companies reported that in the wake of the TSA requirement for "approved locks" on all airline luggage, claims against theft of valuables from checked luggage have sky-rocketed. A system set up for one benefit - passenger safety - is being abused by another threat - light-fingered airport staff - resulting in millions being claimed, and tens or hundreds of thousands of passengers becoming victims every year. We should expect the same sort of widespread damage once the data is being collected. Remember - it is not being collected and held by a government agency, but by the telecommunications providers. Like TalkTalk. [ Data Leak Central ].

6. Erosion of Basic Freedoms - Perhaps the most significant change, however, is the way that the relationship between the state and the citizen changes as a result of this. Unlike, say, the US [which has a constitution], the UK has no such basic safety net for human rights. What this means is that more and more powers are being given to government and which are being mis-used.

As an example of this, when researchers looked into a similar and previously enacted piece of legislation [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act], it was discovered that among the more notable and widespread uses of the law came from actions taken by local councils who were spying on residents suspected of "cheating" the school catchment area process. This is a mechanism by which children are enrolled in schools based on their home address. In other words, they way that legislation is "sold" to voting MPs and the way that it is actually used are two entirely different things.

But lastly, perhaps, is the fact that this would/will put so much power in the hands of the state that it makes the individual citizen defenceless against abuse by that state. And that is a very frightening place for us to be.

Comment Mint 18 Direction (Score 1) 137

I'm not [yet] sure that Mint 18 is taking us in the right direction...

I am a big fan of the Mint distribution, having switched from ubuntu 12.04 when I read that Mark Shuttleworth and ubuntu were adopting "monetization" of the dash. I have not had reason to look back - until I switched my most-used system to 18.0 earlier this year.

My system is based around an Asus z170 Pro Gaming mini-ITX motherboard, with an Intel 6700T Skylake processor, 16Gb RAM and a 1Tb Samsung SSD. However, after switching from Mint 17.3 to 18.0 [clean installation to a new SSD] I have experienced a range of issues for which I've been unable to get support or resolution. Examples include:-

1. A sound configuration that will reset itself during a session, within a couple of minutes of being set . I want my audio to exit the system via Digital Output (S/PDIF), but each time I boot the system, and usually after about 10-15 minutes of no active audio - the system unilaterally resets the audio channel to HDMI/DisplayPort Built-in Audio...

2. I have an infrequent, but major and annoying system stability issue, in which an attempt to cold-boot my system generates the following:-

[ 1.377121] [drm:i915_gem_init-stolen [i915_bpo]] *ERROR* conflict detected with stolen region:
[0xc6000000 - oxc8000000]
Welcome to emergency mode!

Having seen the drm portion of the message I wondered if this was related to any Intel drivers, so got in touch on the Intel forums. I've been trawling the net looking for help with this for a month now, without joy, although I am beginning to suspect that this specific issue might either be related to systemd, or possibly to the latest Asus firmware.

I've been exceptionally happy with every single edition of Mint that I have tried since 2012, have donated to the project and had generally positive experiences on the forums. Mint is a slick, clean, efficient and it-works-beautifully [as opposed to it-just-works] distribution. However, with the introduction of 18.0, things have started to look just a little flaky. Let's hope that 18.1 addresses these issues!

The interesting/frustrating thing about the issues I've seen is that I am 99.9999% certain that none of them are caused by software developed directly by the Mint project. Rather I am near-certain that they are brought to this release through selected packages, which unfortunately can make isolation and resolution of the more esoteric issues an exercise in patience, persistence and luck. I just hope that Mint continues to develop via evolution and not revolution...

Comment Sorry to be Negative, but... (Score 5, Insightful) 127

... if the best we can say about Firefox, the "lean, lightweight browser without the bloat" that brought it into existence, is that version 50 has "emojis for everyone", then I think we've completely lost the plot.

So sorry, FF developers; you have a great platform [it's my browser of choice] but we're losing our way here...

Comment Will the Phone-Makers Sue the Federal Government? (Score 1) 432

There are clauses written into the recent, secretly-drafted international trade agreements (like TTIP and CETA) which allow a commercial company to sue the government of any signed-up nation, if that government acts in a way that harms the profits of the company. Yes, this is totally retarded, but then that's what you get when you allow companies to write laws.

Just wondering, however, if any legislation like this already exists in the United States? Companies like Apple might be able to use it against any government that makes such a sweeping action as the one described in the linked article. The reason is simple: if Apple promote the use of the fingerprint technology as enhanced security for their device - and if people purchase that device because in part of it's enhanced security - then the actions taken by the FBI in this case [effectively circumventing that technology] devalues the technical solution. So Apple and other companies may have poured thousands or millions of dollars into developing technology for their phones which has just been rendered obsolete by a government over-reach...

Although, having said that, an entire *building*? I can't imagine that any court would sign a warrant unless the building was, say, a House-In-Multiple-Occupation. This could not stand against an office block, or an apartment building.

One more thing. You have to ask: what led the investigators to the location of the building? I'm guessing Stingray, or equivalent? Any admission of use? Or does this just go to prove that Stingray is part of "dragnet surveillance" in which everyone is guilty until proven innocent...

Comment Re:Where It Gets Nasty... (Score 1) 170

Exactly - and that is 16% profit from the company that owns the "last mile", i.e. the most expensive part to maintain...because all the unreliability in domestic telecoms concentrates at that "last mile"...Trunk links, which are buried/protected and not serviced by minimum-wage out-sourced college students, tend to be reliable... So they can turn that profit from the least profitable part of the network...

Comment Where It Gets Nasty... (Score 1) 170

... is when you realise that the infrastructure serving the homes in these areas are all capable of the same performance. It is the companies themselves who layer different "speeds" on top, which they do with throttling technology, purely to make more profit.

For example... I live in an apartment building and have been at the same address for 24 years.When my telco first offered internet connectivity, it was via V90 modems at 56kbps. This cost me £8.99 monthly. [UK based].

Then, over the years, I've migrated from ADSL1 (512kbps) to ADSL1.5 (2Mbps) to ADSL2 (8Mbps) and I am now running VDSL1 (80Mbps). I am now paying £50/month for a combined VDSL ("Infinity") service that comes bundled with a call package.

All my telco has had to do in that time has been the odd upgrade, in their local exchange, of the back end circuit boards to convert my "last mile" signal to their backbone. This is done on a modular basis with slot-in cards in a chassis, which they can swap, one at a time, as demand swings from the slower service to the faster one. In May of this year the telco announced profits of £3 billion on revenues of £18 billion. That might not sound like much in comparison with US companies, but remember that the UK is a tiny island [less cabling to run] with a much smaller population.

It is a rip-off, start to finish.

Oh, and relatively recently I happened to notice that my telco has started to sell geolocation data to advertisers based on the dynamic IP address they serve me with my VDSL line. That's good for my personal security - not!

Comment Re: Apple slides in for the win... (Score 1) 135

Disclaimer: I bought an iPhone 7 on Sunday.

There are 2 reasons Apple stand to profit from the removal of the 3.5mm plug from the 7. First, a little thing, they have just cut the cost of manufacture, through fewer parts and simpler assembly. It will not be a huge saving, but these devices are cheap to make, so a few cents could represent a reasonable saving.

Second, Apple owns Beats, a vendor of Bluetooth headphones. Yes, there are some excellent top-end retailers out there, like Bose and Sennheiser, but neither are high-volume, mass-market sellers. So the inference was that by cutting the 3.5mm socket, Apple are giving an advantage to their own Beats product in a market.

Annoyingly, this seems to side-step a much more topical issue, which is audio quality. A German research company published a comparative (lab) analysis of the audio quality from the 3.5mm socket compared to the lightning adapter socket and noted a measurable and audible drop in the signal, which lowers the audio towards the noise floor, which means that in simple terms you will hear more hiss at the same volumes.

The thing that bugs me is that we go to all this trouble of having the capability to have Apple Lossless audio formats and a really terrific sound quality in a compact and mobile form factor, only to degrade the quality of the connector. Nuts.

Comment Who Benefits? (Score 1) 508

[tinfoil hat]

The linked article makes interesting reading [even to a non-tekkie like me, when it describes how systemd is bloating with all sorts of additional [and buggy] functionality that takes it far beyond being an init replacement.

I am reminded of Edward Snowden's disclosures from the NSA, in which we learned that the NSA had deliberately submitted a weakened PRNG (Pseudo-Random Number Generator) to an encryption scheme with the deliberate intent to weaken it so that they could crack it easily.

When you look at the sprawling scope-creep, the poor testing and bugs like this, you have to start wondering if this wouldn't be a perfect trojan to be able to subvert an otherwise robust, secure OS...

Just sayin'

[/tinfoil hat]

Comment Re:Self-sustaining civilization on Mars (Score 1) 474


It is not too far different from the scenario where two companies merge...

Company "A" merges with company "B" and for a while a lot of the internal politics is driven by which heritage company you came from. Then, company "AB" merges with company "C".

This is often a watershed moment. The employees from company "AB" no longer think of themselves as coming from Company "A" or Company "B", but now the internal division is between Company "AB" and Company C.

The final act needed to cement a merger is a new merger...

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