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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: May 8, 2016

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

Seems like a long time since the last issue, so this issue is a little longer - especially the scanner section. That way we can catch up on some of the stories missed during the break. So, this week we feature stories on Windows 10 (three of them), VW and Mitsubishi cheating on tests, curbside LEDs for pedestrians not paying attention, JAXA's Hitomi  X-ray Space Telescope written off by buggy software, F-35 buggy software, drones with LEDs, pinball, and London's Cartoon Museum. The scanner section contains URLs pointing to an interesting book review, contact lenses to record what you see, Google income alternatives, the FBI and Greenpeace, Alpha Centauri or bust, a classic job ad, open source robotics projects, and a stiff prison sentence for the SpyEye creators.

Phew! Let's get on with it then...


I see that the spread of Microsoft Windows 10 is slowing down. Various reasons have been put out for the slowdown, but I have my own theory, which no one else seems to have come up with yet. It's quite simple really. It's that they are running out of people who don't know how to disable their obnoxious auto 'upgrade' to Windows 10 application. They've certainly twisted and turned and tried to ram it down people's throats.

Microsoft claim that Windows 10 is now on 300 million devices ('scuse me while I get a pinch of salt from the kitchen). That, of course, includes not just PCs, but also Xbox One and the Windows Phone... That might sound a lot but there are literally billions of PCs out there running Windows of one ilk or another. Something which puts it more in perspective.

One has to wonder just how many copies of Windows 10 they would have on 'devices' if they had sold it normally, and had they not used the same sort of stealth methods used by hackers to load viruses onto unsuspecting users...

By the way, did you see the video of Windows 10 nagware popping up in the middle of a live broadcast weather report on KCCI 8? Take a look - and congrats to meteorologist Metinka Slater for handling it with such aplomb!

Here's an interesting snippet about the Volkswagen emission test scandal. A PowerPoint presentation has just come to light which lays out in detail how to cheat on the tests in the United States. The presentation was prepared by a top executive at VW in 2006. It's not known to whom the presentation was made, but it was prepared during the period when VW was trying to figure out how to meet the US standards.

You can draw your own conclusions from that!

And talking about cheating car companies, I see that Mitsubishi have now owned up to cheating about some of their cars' fuel consumption. As it happens, the cars involved are only sold domestically, so it's not something that concerns US and EU regulators. Or does it? It seems to me that if a manufacturer lies about one thing then they can reasonably be assumed to have lied about other things. Time for a complete check, I think. And how many other motor manufacturers are also cheating, but haven't been caught out yet?

I see the Germans have come up with a scheme to handle the problems of teenagers walking out onto busy intersections while staring at their smart phones and listening to music on the headphones. The city of Augsburg has taken to embedding rows of warning lights into the edge of the pavement at especially dangerous junctions. It's a neat idea, but I'm not sure the people involved will even notice the lights if they are so wrapped up in their devices.

This isn't a new phenomenon. It previously used to be people walking along reading books - in fact they (and I) still do it with their Kindles or reading books on their tablets!


Bugs are the bane of programmers. Yes, there are ways of reducing the number of them in any given piece of software, but there is no way of guaranteeing that the software has zero bugs, as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) found out to its cost recently. Its Hitomi  X-ray Space Telescope cost US$286m to build and was declared dead at the end of last month.

The problem began when the telescope's flywheels began spinning out of control while it was being re-oriented to point to a different section of the sky. That caused the satellite to start tumbling, so its rockets were brought on line to stabilize it. Someone in ground control gave the wrong command and the tumbling increased, eventually snapping off the solar panels.

No solar panels = no means of recharging the batteries = one kaput telescope.

This is a problem that occurs again and again with software. Programmers are absolutely notorious for writing software that assumes the users will never make a mistake. It should have checked all commands to make sure that they couldn't do anything that would damage the craft, and at least asked for confirmation before proceeding. Had that happened, Japan wouldn't have US$286m worth of X-ray telescope drifting helplessly towards burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

And talking of buggy software, I see that the new US F-35 fighter system failed yet another set of tests. Apparently, when the Air Force tried to scramble half a dozen of the fighters, only one made it into the air. As J Michael Gilmore, the US Department of Defence director of operational test and evaluation put it, "Problems during start-up that required system or aircraft shut-downs and restarts – a symptom of immature systems and software – prevented the other alert launches from being completed”.

That's pretty damming. If there's one thing that is required of fighter aircraft, it's that they can get into the air very fast, before the opposition catches them on the ground and destroys them. I wonder how long it's going to be before they abandon their current approach to writing software, and start again from scratch?

Geek Stuff:

I've drawn readers' attention to videos of aerial shows by LED lit drones before. Here's another one from Japan. Previous videos have been of ordinary drones with lights mounted by the orchestrators of the shows. The latest show is from a maker of drones - MicroAd - specializing in drones for these sort of light shows. The show takes place at dusk in front of Mount Fuji. Superb.

You know, looking at it, I strongly suspect that we are looking at the future of fireworks displays. Think about it. These displays are as good as fireworks, and as the control software improves it will be easier for non-techie display designers to use.

OK, it's more expensive up front, but, unlike fireworks, the drones can be packed away and re-used year after year. And, you don't have to buy them all at once - you could start relatively small and build up with, say, an extra half dozen each time you do a display. Not only that, but drones are definitely less dangerous to have around than fireworks!

I still like computer games - preferably the less twitchy ones, my reflexes aren't brilliant, but I still pine for my first love in the games field - the pinball machine. Hours 'wasted' in the coffee bar at University, not to mention the cost! You can still find machines around in some arcades, but they're much more scarce now, if no less addictive! Should you indeed have access to such machines, then let me point you to an article in Atlas Obscura which has many useful tips about just how to get high scores on these machines.

Way to go!


Looking for somewhere different to go in London? Perhaps I should draw your attention to The Cartoon Museum. It's at 35 Little Russell Street, WC1A 2HH, which is pretty central. I went there a few years ago to see one of their exhibitions, and found it fascinating. Definitely not to be missed if you are visiting, or just passing through, London and have a few hours to spare!


Book Review: The Value of the Moon

Sony files patent for contact lens that records what you see

At Google, pressure mounts to find something beyond search

FBI files on Greenpeace paint activism as a crime

Alpha Centauri or Bust

Job ad promises 'Meaningless Repetitive Work on the .NET Stack'

LaCie goes big and roomy with 96 TB hard drive

Nine open source robotics projects

SpyEye creators sentenced to long prison terms


Thanks to readers 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
8 May 2016

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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