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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: June 18, 2017

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

This week you can find material on chatbots, Microsoft patches, the creation of the moon, election forecasting, the Lorenz cipher machine, and a fire sale of Heathrow goodies. URLs take you to material on bank websites tracking, defibrillator drones, a moral issue, Microsoft and Skype, clinical trials and false data, and a paper on why broadband is unreliable.

No WD next week, so we will be back on July 2.


Well! Maybe chatbots are moving along more than I thought. It seems that Facebook’s attempt to teach chatbots how to negotiate resulted in them learning to lie! Bottom line is that at the moment chatbots are very simple creatures. They are capable of answering questions on a tightly limited range of issues, and of asking question based on what you’ve already asked them. That’s very little different to the abilities of the very first chatbots – ELIZA in the mid-1960s. Yes, chatbots are really that old. I could say we’ve come a long way since then. But, really, we haven’t!

Microsoft is still trying to plug the holes revealed by the tools leaked from the NSA. Interestingly, it feel compelled to patch versions as far back as Windows XP, even though it claimed that no more patches would be issued for XP unless you were prepared to pay through the nose for them. For Windows 7 and later these patches will go in automatically (assuming you haven’t got Win7 patching turned off), but if you are using an earlier version you will need to manually download and install them. The Microsoft URL tells you how to do this.

I don’t think this is the last of these patches blocking NSA hacking tools, though, so I’ll try and keep you informed about future ‘old’ operating system patches.


The general consensus on how the Moon was formed is that early in the formation of the solar system something roughly the size of Mars hit the nascent Earth a glancing blow, ripping off a large chunk which became the Moon. You could say the Moon is a chip off the old block!

Now, a new and interesting theory based on modelling of new ideas on how the Earth was spinning at the time has been proposed. It seems that that rather than knocking a chunk off the Earth, the two colliding bodies were squished together to form a single spread out body. Because of the laws of physics, this body would not only have been spread out, but also rotating very fast. So fast, in fact, that the stuff at the edge was going as fast as a modern satellite in orbit would. And from this edge stuff, the Moon coalesced.

It’s an interesting idea. Of course it assumes that the original assumptions are correct, that the model produced from those assumptions is valid, and that the model was coded correctly...

The Register has an interesting piece on election forecasts in the wake of the recent UK elections. I would mention in passing that Brexit was barely mentioned, and wasn’t really an issue in the election. The main cause of the Tories losing their majority was some extremely unwise domestic proposals in their election manifesto.

However, that’s beside the point. What the piece is pointing out is that when election forecasting came into being in the 1950s, things were much more homogeneous. For instance, most children automatically voted the same way as their parents, and the outcome of an election turned on the results in a small number of very marginal areas.

Nowadays things are vastly different; children, old folx, house owners, and different income bands, for instance, all have reasons for different voting, and together with the rise of tactical voting all play a part. Even the decisions of the smaller parties can have an effect. For instance, in my own area, the Green party withdrew from the election in favour of the Labour Party candidate. The resulting Labour majority was close to the number of votes the Green candidate would have expected to get based on their showing in the previous election.

And why is this important? Because the more different things there are that vary, the more difficult it is to get an accurate picture of what it going on – in mathematical terms the variables don’t add up – they multiple with one another, so a small, unrecorded change in one can have a massive effect on the final result.

The discussion in The Register mainly relates to the UK, but I’d suggest that it would be useful for my US readers to take a look. The circumstances in the US are different, but the types of problems are similar.

Geek Stuff:

Fancy yourself as a World War II code breaker? Well now’s your chance to try your hand in the comfort of your own den. The UK’s National Museum of Computing has written a version of the German Lorenz cipher machine to run in your browser. While the better known Enigma machine was used for mundane things like telling U-Boats where convoys were, the Lorenz machine was used by Hitler to communicate with his army commanders in places like Russia, Italy, and France (“Is Paris burning?”).


Ever wanted a check-in desk at the entrance to your home? Or a baggage reclaim carousel in the living room as a talking point? Well, the entire contents of Terminal 1 at London’s Heathrow airport are up for sale! Scroll down the web page to get to a set of thumbnails which you can click on to get pictures of the stuff on sale.

Hmmmm... I’m sure I could find a use for 15 kilometres of stainless steel handrail...


Banking websites are ‘littered with trackers’ ogling your credit risk

Defibrillator drones are four times faster than ambulances

Is it moral to respect the wishes of the dead, above those of the living?

Microsoft officially hangs up on old Skype phones, users fuming

Dozens of recent clinical trials may contain wrong or falsified data, claims study

Three reasons why broadband is so unreliable


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
18 June 2017

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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