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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: June 7, 2015

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An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week's net, technology and science news
by Alan Lenton

This week we cover a wide variety of topics: cards overtake cash in the UK, PayPal’s new usage agreement, Electronic Arts, Linkedin loonies, the safest mode of travel, an academic paper with a lot of authors, cells fighting cancer, five years of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, greaseless ball bearings, New Horizons/XKCD take, and London Crossrail. And as if that wasn’t enough, we also have, in the Scanner section, URLs pointing to how safety critical software is tested (my fav – the Boeing method), Google robots, bladeless wind turbines, a giant artificial city in the desert, an Instagram story, US congress and cryptography, and a newly discovered class of magnets (but still no magnetic monopoles).

Well, although I’m not really into videos we still seem to have a good selection of them this week. I guess for some things they are just unbeatable.

And for those of you who asked what a Large Hadron Colada is, it’s like a souped up version of a Pina Colada:

A very large measure of white rum
A substantial dollop of coconut cream
Orange Juice
Shaken, not stirred...

Mmmmmmmm – hic....


Something interesting happened here in the UK last month. The use of non-cash methods of payments surpassed the use of coins and notes. There are, I suspect two reasons for this. The first is the increasing use of automated payment methods – something which is being pushed by our retail banks, so that they can dispense with expensive branches on shopping streets. The second is the increase in online shopping as the major supermarkets finally get their online shopping working properly.

I don’t think it’s sunk in for a lot of people that there are serious implications for online shopping. While they are aware that you can only do online shopping with a card of some description, they haven’t put that together with the point that the more you shop online, the more comprehensive is the picture of you that can be built up, and the less anything you do is anonymous.

It’s an interesting pointer for the future...

Incidentally, do you use PayPal? If you do, make sure you take a look at the new terms and conditions it’s rolling out over this month. It seems that it includes them having the right to contact you with ‘autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages’ when you agree to the updated terms. Under this agreement they even have the right to contact you via numbers that ‘we have otherwise obtained’.

I believe this is known as robocalling...

I see that Electronic Arts believe they are taking steps to stop themselves continuing to be voted the worst company in America. They have succeeded, after two years in a row, in removing themselves from the top position.

Or did they? I still hear plenty of complaints about EA. Maybe people are just shrugging and giving up? After all, being nasty is written into the company’s DNA. I first came across them in the 1980s when they systematically destroyed the then thriving UK independent games industry by commissioning games and not paying for them, driving the small companies into bankruptcy.

I don’t think they’ve improved themselves, whatever the pundits might think. It’s just that the communications companies have a much higher profile at the moment. I bet if you organized a ‘worst games company’ equivalent competition, EA would still be way out in front...

I assume most of the people in the hi-tech industries have a profile on Linkedin (I don’t, but that’s another story). It can be useful when you’re looking for a new job. On the other hand some people’s idea of what sort of statements will get them a job has to be seen, or in this case heard, to be believed. City AM has a set of videos of people reading out loud some of the things people say in their profiles.

Gems like, “Perhaps that’s why I’m so good at it.” or my favourite, “Just like Jesus Christ was a carpenter... I’m a sales executive.” Exactly the sort of thing to get you a new job!


What’s the safest mode of travel for US residents? Turns out that, despite the recent series of high profile crashes and disappearances, it’s flying. City A.M. has a neat little bar graph that shows this. And the most dangerous mode of travel? Riding a motorbike. You are 3,000 times more likely to be killed riding a motorbike, than you are flying.

That said, the graph engenders other questions – does the flying figure just look at internal flights, or does it include international fights? Are there differences between US and non-US carriers?

Does the age of the person driving the motorbike make a difference? I gave up riding a motorbike in my late twenties after nearly being mowed down by cars three times in a week. How many former bike riders are there, and how do you fit them into the figures?

Still the bald figures are useful if you have a choice of travel methods – take a look for yourself.

I don’t know whether this is indicative of the future, or just a fluke, but a recent research paper in the Physical Review of Letters broke all records with a staggering 5,154 joint authors! The paper itself was only 9 pages long, but it then needed another 24 pages just to list the authors. Need I mention that the paper was about the iconic Higgs Boson?

I’m not really a video person – to me a word is worth a thousand pictures :) Be that as it may, recently I saw one of the most stunning pieces of video ever. Our bodies have special cells – known as white blood cells – whose job it is to patrol the blood stream and eliminate intruders. Now researchers from the US and UK have managed to obtain a video of these cells at work, hunting down and eliminating cancer cells. Take a look, this is probably one of the most significant videos you’ll ever see.

And talking of videos, at the other end of the scale NASA has been showing off some of the best clips of the sun’s surface taken by its solar by its Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has now been taking photographs 24 hours a day (Earth days, of course) for five years. Go for it – point your browser at the URL to see what I mean.

Geek Stuff:

Calling hardware geek engineers. I’ve got something very interesting for you – ball bearings that don’t need to be packed with grease, and for which the balls don’t have to be ‘caged’ to hold them apart.

Instead there is a tiny groove in part of the outer race which separates the balls as they go past. It’s brilliant and simple. If it works at an industrial level it’s going to completely change the efficiency of everything that uses a rotating shaft. Better efficiency = less energy used.

As the New Horizons probe nears Pluto, I thought I’d draw the attention of those of you who, like me, have a warped sense of humour, to XKCD’s take on the issue. Don’t forget to hover over the cartoon to get the tool tip!


London’s new Crossrail subway network has reached a milestone – it’s finished boring 26 miles of new tunnels and to celebrate the company doing the work has released a video of a drone flying through the tunnels. Of particular interest are the shots of the 1,000 ton tunnelling machines breaking through from one segment into the adjacent segment. Altogether they used eight of these machines.

There’s still a way to go yet before the system opens to the public – there’s the stations to build, and the above ground sections, but things are definitely moving along.


How is critical ‘Life or Death’ software tested?

Google will use robot-crane hybrids to build new Mountain View HQ

Vortex bladeless turbines wobble to generate energy

Giant artificial city being constructed to test future technology

Instagram user offers discount prices to fight artist selling $90,000 screenshots of her photos

IT-savvy US congressmen to Feds: End your crypto-backdoor crusade

New class of “non-Joulian magnets” have potential to revolutionize electronics


Thanks to readers Andrew, Barb 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
7 June 2015

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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