Fed2 Star - the newsletter for the space trading game Federation 2

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: July 27, 2014

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An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week’s net, technology and science news

by Alan Lenton

This week’s little smorgasbord is small, but, of course, perfectly formed, containing, as it does, material on Russki attempts to crack Tor, UK ISP filters, Amazon’s Fire Phone, Earth’s magnetic field, the Panama Canal, Hi-Fi, holodecks, a cool sidewalk machine, a Ferrari car, and the ultimate 404 web page. URLs will transport you to a number of delights, including iOS slurping, unwiped Android phones, artificial intelligence (have you noticed that its practitioners always spell it with a capital ‘A’ and ‘I’?) and The Beatles, a climate change survey, liquid computing, and finally US Social Security blows US$300 million.

A slightly shorter Winding Down this week folks. We have yet another fridge delivery this morning. This one is a replacement for the one delivered a few weeks ago – hopefully we won’t need a third one...


The Tor anonymous network must be doing something right! Russia’s Interior Ministry is offering to pay 3,900,000 roubles (US$111,000 or UK£65,500) to anyone who can break the anonymization provided by Tor. Well, it’ll be interesting to see if anything comes of it, it’s a pretty paltry sum for what’s involved in breaking Tor!

A year ago, the UK government bullied the major UK ISPs into installing ‘porn’ filters in their network, on the grounds that these were desperately needed to save the innocence of kiddies. Well now the cat is out of the bag, with the publication of the results of a survey from the regulator.

Over ninety percent of customers opted out of having the filtering. It could be that nearly all Brits are depraved, etc, etc. But, frankly that doesn’t seem likely. I think it’s much more likely that the bulk of the population considers that it is no business of the government, and that they, not the government, will decide what their children do.

Probably a wise move, given that, based on their political performance, our leading politicians are probably under the impression that new babies are flown in by storks...

The Amazon Fire Phone is garnering mixed reviews. As far as I can tell it’s a pretty solid affair, but doesn’t have the gee-wiz-flash-bang of the top end galaxies, iPhones and their ilk. That would do me just fine – I hardly use any of the crap apps that Samsung filled my Note 1 with – and they seem to be impossible to remove.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to give you a review of my own, since the Fire Phone 1 isn’t going to be released in this country – we have to wait for a Fire Phone 2. But, in the meantime, here are a couple of reviews to be going on with.


The Earth’s magnetic field is changing much faster than has previously been observed. Three satellites called ‘Swarm’ have been monitoring the fields for a while now. The latest indications are that a weak spot is developing over the Western hemisphere, while the field is strengthening in the area over the southern Indian Ocean.

Scientists are not really sure what is going on, but one theory is that the poles are ‘getting ready’ to flip. This means that what is now the North Pole will end up where the South pole is now, and vice versa.

The author of the Scientific American article pointed to by the URL is obviously torn between his (or her) journalistic instincts – “...huge blasts of deadly solar radiation...” – and the fact the this is a reputable scientific magazine – “...there is no evidence that a weakened magnetic field would result in a doomsday for Earth.”

Still, it’s well worth a read of the piece, because it does explain how scientists think the magnetic field is generated, which is worth knowing in its own right!

And while we are looking at Scientific American, you might like to take a look at their slide show about the Panama Canal. There’s a great picture of a set of lock gates before they let the water in, and an interesting shot of dredgers clearing away a landslide that had blocked the canal. For military buffs there is a photo from 1924 of the battleship USS Colorado making its way through the canal.

And for a more up to date view, you can have a look at one of canal web cams – they take a frame once every minute or so and display them on the web. It’s great, watching the ships move through the locks (and a serious time sucker).

Those of you into audio hi-fi might be interested in reading this article on hi-fi speakers published in ‘The Register’ earlier this month. It suggests that the speakers are really just a pile of junk that don’t give you very good music at all, and that the codecs used for audio are little better, because they only need to produce sound that’s as good as the speakers can take.

Well worth a read – I learned a lot from it.

For Geeks:

The Star Trek holodeck moves a step closer, though you have to wear one of Oculus Rift’s ultra-ugly headsets to experience it. Still, why worry about the aesthetics when there is the possibility of a holodeck to play with!

Want to see a really nifty piece of engineering in action? Yes? Then take a look at this video of a machine that lays out brick sidewalks (pavements for my English readers). Isn’t it beautiful? I want one...

If that doesn’t grab you, then perhaps this 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale will. One of only three built it’s going on auction in Monterey, California on August 15th. Make sure you’ve got plenty of change in your pocket though, Ferraris are expensive. Last year a 1967 Ferrari 275 NART Spider set a world record price at a mind-blowing US$27.5 million.

My fave web page of the week – no make that of the month – has to be this one from the ACM at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign!


iOS devices are still safe -- from everybody except Apple and the NSA

That ‘wiped’ Android phone you bought is stuffed with naked selfies – possibly

Artificial Intelligence uncovers the musical progression of The Beatles

Climate: ‘An excuse for tax hikes’, scientists ‘don’t know what they’re talking about’. People of the world’s responses to new survey

Welcome to the next tech revolution: Liquid computing

US Social Security ‘wasted $300 million on an IT boondoggle’


Thanks to readers Barb, Dj and Fi for drawing my attention to material for Winding Down.

Please send suggestions for stories to alan@ibgames.com and include the words Winding Down in the subject line, unless you want your deathless prose gobbled up by my voracious Thunderbird spam filter...

Alan Lenton
27 July 2014

Alan Lenton is an on-line games designer, programmer and sociologist, the order of which depends on what he is currently working on! His web site is at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/index.html.

Past issues of Winding Down can be found at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/winding/index.html.

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