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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: July 10, 2016

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

Phew! I'm back, and I'm trying to catch up. This week there is material on Windows 10 (soon to stop free upgrades, I hear), a nice picture of sunrise at the summer solstice, refugees and WiFi, the Megaprocessor, Big Data, surveillance hang outs, growing aircraft, fMRI statistics blunders, and Google and age discrimination. Additionally, URLs in the Scanner section point to Led Zeppelin non-plagiarism, magnetic fridges, FAA drone rules, Google and a code repository, a picture of the Milky Way, lasers on silicon, and ICAAN and 'pirate' sites.

There's a new section called 'Pending'. It's basically to take things I want to alert you to, but which I think will take a long time to come to a conclusion. Court cases are a typical example, as are things like new discoveries in material science. There's no London section this week, because nothing much is happening in London, probably because people are starting to go off on holiday.

And now let's get started with an update on that old chestnut, Windows 10...


They're back! Like something out of a zombie movie. Microsoft update patches to sneak Windows 10 onto your computer have morphed into new versions. Avoid KB2952664, KB2976978, and KB2977759 like the plague!

By the way, even if you are reading this in Africa you aren't safe. The Chinko project is a wildlife protection project in the Central African Republic trying to protect the local wildlife from armed poachers and the 'Lord's resistance Army'. Windows on a donated laptop burned up gigabytes of expensive bandwidth when it decided to update to Windows 10. And the laptop, the main communications link, didn't work properly afterwards...

On the other hand, one bit of good news, if it's true, is that if you click on the close box of the permission to update to Windows 10 box (the red 'X' button in the top right hand corner) it will no longer take that as permission to go ahead and install the unwanted 'upgrade'. At least that's according to Microsoft. And to be fair I haven't seen any complaints that it's not the case now.

Even better news is the story in the technical press about a woman in California who was awarded US$10,000 from Microsoft by a court after an unwanted upgrade screwed up her computer. As she said afterwards, " I urge every person who has a consumer issue to know their rights and fight back. Only then will large corporations begin to understand that they cannot just do what they want."

I find it difficult to disagree! [Note for US readers: This is the understated English equivalent of punching your fist in the air and shouting "Yeah! Way to go!"]

We missed the summer solstice (June 20th) because of space limitations, but to make up for it here is a belated classic picture of the sunrise solstice over Stonehenge.

Now here's an interesting little piece about refugees and WiFi. It seems that WiFi is extremely important for refugees, who use the Internet to stay in touch with their families, many of whose members have ended up in different refugee camps. In at least one case the refugees even stopped rioting against conditions in the camp, in order to allow the guys installing WiFi to do their work!


As computers get smaller and smaller, the chances of understanding what's going on in them just by looking decrease to a vanishing point. One of the reasons I have some idea what's going on is because I built my first computer from a kit of discrete chips. I could see and track the address and data busses easily on the board as I soldered in the chip holders.

The massive 4K of memory the computer possessed came in the form of eight chips each holding 512 bytes of memory. I learned the trick of handling such things as multiple simultaneous key presses (n-key rollover). I also learned to my cost that plugging in a chip the wrong way round is costly...

I'm not saying everyone should have to do that now, but it does help with programming, especially getting the best out of your work, if you have some idea what's going on 'under the hood'.

Which leads me to engineer James Newman's Megaprocessor.

It's a staggering 10 m long and 2 m tall (32.8 ft x 6.6 ft), and lays bare the innards of a processor at human scales and running at one cycle a second (1Hz), with LEDs to show what's happening at any particular time. A wonderful idea! That's not all - you can play Tetris on it as well...

It's in Cambridge, UK, and James Newman is planning open days. If you're close enough to head in that direction, I'd recommend you take any budding young computer wiz in the family along to look, listen, and learn.

I'd like to recommend a piece by Robert X Cringely explaining what 'Big Data' is and its impact on society. It's not a quick, trivial, read, it's a good historical survey and explanation. Cringely is very good (though I don't always agree with him). He's an excellent writer and analyst, and has a good sense of history.

Big Data is moving into the centre stage of both computing and society. It's important for people to understand the what and why of it, even if they don't understand the details of why. This isn't the last word on Big Data, some of the issues aren't dealt with, but it is a good start.

Geek Stuff:

Atlas Obscura has an interesting piece, complete with pictures of nine different places where you can take a gander at where the spies and surveillance artists work. Some of the places are no longer in use, but others are still spying on you even as you take a look...

Grow your own aircraft? Surely a pot smoker's dream! Apparently not. That's exactly what BAE Systems is planning to do. Actually it looks like they are talking more about drones than full blown military strike aircraft, but given the cost and time constraints of 'real' military aircraft, maybe that is the way forward. See what you think.


fMRI is (potentially) a way of figuring out which bits of the brain control different actions by using an MRI machine to track the blood flow to different sections of the brain while different actions are performed. There's a lot of it going on, but now someone has taken a much closer look at the data, and discovered that much of the work is seriously flawed by bad statistical methods.

Potentially, something in the region of 40,000 fMRI studies may be invalidated by this work. I'll be interested to see how it plays out over the coming year.

Something else to watch out for - an age discrimination case involving Google. A couple of people aged over 40 have filed an age discrimination case against Google. The court is currently considering whether to allow this to become a class action type case. Age discrimination is very difficult to prove, but certainly suggestions that many well-known tech firms don't want anyone over 30 have been swirling around the tech community for many years now.

This will take years to settle, but I plan to keep an eye on it in the future and provide updates.


Led Zeppelin did not plagiarise 'Stairway To Heaven', jury rules

Magnetic fridge eliminates gases, drastically reduces energy use

New FAA rule means huge changes for drone industry

Why Google stores billions of lines of code in a single repository

Firefly trails and the summer Milky Way - wonderful picture

Tiny lasers on silicon means big things for electronics

ICANN: We won't pass judgement on pirate sites


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
10 July 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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