It’s Not Just Microsoft

November 17th, 2017

Those of you who have weathered multiple versions of Windows are familiar with this: a new operating system arrives, and almost instantly somebody figures out a way to hack into it. Worse still, things either break or they don’t work right and it takes weeks for them to be fixed.

Well, looks like Amazon is following in M$’s footsteps:

(blah, blah, preamble, etc.)

Rhino Labs discovered that a courier equipped with a simple program can use their laptop to fake a command from your Wi-Fi router to disconnect the Cloud Cam from your network. This causes the camera to stop functioning by freezing the image at the last frame. At that point, the courier could re-enter your home, do whatever it is that they want there, and then exit, reactivate the camera, and lock the door as usual. This re-entry would be undetectable by the resident, and it would appear like a normal delivery in Amazon’s data.

This is the problem with too many companies. Sure, they do a lot of testing. That’s not the issue; it’s who they use for that testing. See, if you’re a computer geek, you “know” how an operating system is supposed to work, and it never occurs to you to do odd things with it. And I’ll bet that the folks who set up and tested this Amazon thing never once tried to evade the security setup.

If you’ve ever looked at weapons development for any military, you’ll be familiar with the term “field testing”. For those of you who aren’t, that when an army (or navy, and so on) sends a small quantity of whatever that’s being developed to see what ordinary soldiers do both with it and to it. That’s what’s meant by “soldier proofing” it.

As it stands, this Internet Of Things is probably doomed. There are too many people out there who have neither the ability nor the inclination to really find out how their new toys work. And how many news items do you think it will take that describe someone coming home, expecting their Amazon delivery just inside the door and instead finding out that everything except the walls have been stolen.

Hacking Isn’t The Only Reason

November 14th, 2017

I attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2011. It’s the world’s largest trade show, with hundreds of new products introduced each year. What I saw were booths stuffed with future landfill: docks, dashboard mounts, adapters, robotic vacuum cleaners, 3D TVs. One afternoon, I attended a panel discussion about the rapidly approaching “connected home,” referred to nowadays as the Internet of Things. The panelists promised that household devices of all kinds would soon be connected to one another and to the internet, thereby transforming the average American home into a futuristic fortress of hyperefficiency.


The appliances in my mother’s kitchen weren’t smart, but they lasted forever. If one of them broke, a repairman came to our house and fixed it. The last time a repairman came to my house, he told me that he’d had to get a full-time weekday job at Home Depot because nowadays, when appliances break, most people just buy new ones. And they do break. Now, the most vulnerable parts of modern appliances are usually the ones containing computer chips. My wife and I learned that when we fried the brains of a pair of expensive side-by-side convection ovens by self-cleaning them simultaneously. The repairman’s advice, after pronouncing the circuit boards too costly to replace: Buy the dumbest appliances you can find.

I’ve owned toaster-ovens for forty years. In that time, I’ve never bought one new; they’re always been picked out of the trash. Sure, they needed some attention (or a really good cleaning), but after that they worked just fine. I even have thrown a few of them out when moving, because I knew that there would be another one in my new locale for me to salvage. I’ve never been wrong about that either.

Then we have the issue of “ownership”. It’s bad enough that folks are leasing their homes and properties from the Government. Think I’m wrong? Try not paying your property taxes and see what happens. There are manufacturers, John Deere comes to mind, who seek to prohibit you from fixing your lawn tractor, claiming that the electronic guts are somehow proprietary. And of course, those of us who mess with computers are familiar with those little tags taped over a seam on a component that warns “warranty void if seal is broken”. No, that’s never stopped me either. Up the Man!

Given the choice between convenience and independence, I’ll take the dumb appliance each and every time. You should, too. This was never mentioned in the Jetsons or in Star Trek by the way. Then again, they all told us that we’d have flying cars, too. Grrr.


November 14th, 2017

Because I said so.” “Life isn’t fair.” “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” These are some of the great cop-outs of all time, and the last one is particularly troubling in a country with so many laws that it is impossible to count—let alone read—them all. When was the last time you sat down with a complete set of the federal, state, and local codes setting forth the tens of thousands of criminal violations for which you could be sent to jail? If you answered “never,” you’re in good company. Nevertheless, America’s judges still cling to the proposition that it’s perfectly fine to lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal. But it’s not fine, and the justifications for that palpably unfair rule have only grown more threadbare with time.

One seems to be left with just two choices: either you sit inside your home and don’t do anything at all, ever, or you keep a firearm within arm’s reach at all times and take as many of them with you as possible when they show up to toss you in the clink. Remember: after the first one, the rest are free.

Almost An Afterthought

November 14th, 2017

So, this:

I clicked on that link convinced that Gunwalker/Fast & Furious would again be ignored. Happy to say that I was wrong: in the upper left-hand part of the chart, you’ll find it. Then again, there’s just the one mention, and our friends over at BATFE don’t appear at all.

You’d almost think that arming foreign nationals who turned around and actually used those weapons isn’t a big deal. Oh, and trying to undermine an enumerated Right.

Orange Hitler

November 14th, 2017

We are all reliably informed that the current occupant of the White House will utterly destroy the Republic as it now stands. Along the way, his Administration will rob women of the vote (and back into the kitchen) and send brown people either back to their country of origin or onto the nearest plantation.

I wonder how those folks will ‘interpret’ this:

President Donald Trump confirmed that he did intervene with China President Xi Jinping in the case of three UCLA basketball players who were arrested after shoplifting in China and those players are set to leave the country.

I don’t really know what to think here. Doing stupid stuff, especially when one is a guest of a foreign country, should be painful and unpleasant. The published sentences, however, seem to be a bit over the top. Then there’s the issue of what lesson is being imparted here. As it stands, being a top-tier athlete absolves that player from most consequences, with the result being that we get to find out about all sorts of bad things after they turn professional. I just don’t know.

But given who is running the media these days, you don’t get to be surprised if I’m one of the few outlets that’ll tell you about this. And the ones who do will somehow manage to tell you that the President spared them the pleasures of the Chinese penal system because he thinks that they’re particularly suited to pick cotton.

Also, Water Is Wet

November 12th, 2017

When a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft connected with the International Space Station on May 25, 2012, it made history as the first privately-built spacecraft to reach the ISS. The Dragon was the result of a decision 6 years prior—in 2006, NASA made an “unprecedented” investment in SpaceX technology. A new financial analysis shows that the investment has paid off, and the government found one of the true bargains of the 21st century when it invested in SpaceX.

A new research paper by Edgar Zapata, who works at Kennedy Space Center, looks closely at the finances of SpaceX and NASA. “There were indications that commercial space transportation would be a viable option from as far back as the 1980s,” Zapata writes. “When the first components of the ISS were sent into orbit 1998, NASA was focused on “ambitious, large single stage-to-orbit launchers with large price tags to match.”

“…ambitious, large single stage-to-orbit launchers with large price tags to match.” NA$A? You don’t say.

Here is one of the reasons that I continue to hammer NA$A:

Zapata estimates that SpaceX launches cost NASA around $89,000 per kilogram of cargo delivered to the space station. There’s no telling what precisely would have come from a cargo spacecraft developed by NASA, but Zapata estimates that it would be $272,000 per kg.

For future commercial crew missions sending astronauts into space, Zapata estimates that it will cost $405 million for a SpaceX Dragon crew deployment of 4 and $654 million for a Boeing Starliner, which is scheduled for its first flight in 2019. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but Zapata estimates that its only 37 to 39 percent of what it would have cost the government.

Amazing how an entity manages to lower costs when they’re spending their own money, eh?

If the money angle fails to move you, here’s this:

Unlike truly exotic propulsion proposals using antimatter or nuclear fusion, researchers have long considered nuclear fission rockets technologically feasible. Concrete development began with the Atomic Energy Commission’s Project Rover in 1955 — three years before NASA’s founding — and continued with the NERVA rocket prototype, which fired for nearly 2 hours straight during ground tests before budget cuts ended development in 1972.

By then, NASA had already canceled Apollo 18 through 20, as well as Saturn V rocket production. When Mars plans followed suit, the multibillion-dollar NERVA project lost its main purpose, Houts said. The technology saw a brief revival in the late ’80s and early ’90s with the Space Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (SNTP) program, which also ran out of funding before flight testing.

But now, with interest turning back toward Mars, past research is finding new life in current projects.

NA$A, being a Gummint agency, is subject to the waxing and waning of political fortunes. And for those of you who are slow to catch on, this is a problem. The reasons that exist for getting humanity off-planet don’t care about public opinion or which group of criminals happen to be running DC at any given time.

Even though I think that public support is one of the least important factors here, here’s this:

The article is basically an interview of Andy Weir (The Martian), so don’t bother clicking through if you’re not interested. The point is both the headline and where it was published. Again, the percentage of people that support a given program is pretty irrelevant, after all, when was the last time (or any time, for that matter) you heard about the NA$A budget being a campaign issue?

This’ll Work Out Just Fine, I’m Sure

November 10th, 2017

LISBON (Reuters) – Uber is taking part in a joint industry and government push with NASA to develop software which the company aims to use to manage “flying taxi” routes that could work like ride-hailing services it has popularized on the ground.

Uber said on Wednesday it was the first formal services contract by the U.S. National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) covering low-altitude airspace rather than outer space. NASA has used such contracts to develop rockets since the late 1950s.

Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden also said Uber would begin testing proposed four-passenger, 200-miles-per-hour (322-km-per-hour) flying taxi services across Los Angeles in 2020, its second planned test market after Dallas/Fort Worth.

First impression: why is NA$A doing this? You’d think that this was in the FAA’s bailiwick. One might consider that since NA$A’s body count is far less than that of the FAA, this might be the right move.

NASA death percentage(2)

(Thanks to Jeffersonian for the chart)

Still, one cannot help but remember both Challenger and Columbia. Not to mention the part about NA$A’s history of sucking up vast quantities of tax dollars to build equipment that only gets used once. True enough, one needs to recall Voyager, the Mars Rover, and the Cassini spacecraft as examples of NA$A not only getting it right, but getting it right long past the point that any reasonable person would expect. Still, would you trust your life to an agency that has turned into a make-work administration for people with advanced degrees?

Yet Another Reason

November 10th, 2017

As you’re all aware, I’m a big proponent of getting humanity off this planet and establishing a presence, at least for now, on some of the other bodies here in our Solar System. As much as I want it to be otherwise, our grasp of technology currently precludes any meaningful level of interstellar travel. Yes, I know about some of the workarounds: the “generational” vessel, where the children (or grandchildren) of the original crew will be the ones who actually arrive at the destination, or the cryogenic plan, where the crew is basically frozen and then thawed out upon arrival. Both of these seem like they’ll work, but let me remind you of a fact of life during the colonization of North America: one out of every six ships that set sail for here never made it. You might think that an 83% chance of getting there are acceptable odds; but I’d ask you to put yourself in the place of the folks on that sixth ship.

I’ve harped on the point that inventing nuclear weapons was an act of genius; getting them to the state they are now is engineering. That is, anyone with a firm grasp of the essentials can produce a nuke. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: if you don’t care about the whole dying-horribly-from-radiation-poisoning thing, you can make a Hiroshima style nuke at your kitchen table or workbench. Not much of a deterrent if you’re convinced that there are 72 virgins awaiting you on the other side.

There’s another factor that I haven’t really considered, and as I’ll point out later, I should have: Earth herself:

Our planet Earth has extinguished large portions of its inhabitants several times since the dawn of animals. And if science tells us anything, it will surely try to kill us all again. Working in the 19th century, paleontology pioneer Georges Cuvier saw dramatic turnovers of life in the fossil record and likened them to the French Revolution, then still fresh in his memory.

Today, we refer to such events as “mass extinctions,” incidents in which many species of animals and plants died out in a geological instant. They are so profound and have such global reach that geological time itself is sliced up into periods—Permian, Triassic, Cretaceous—that are often defined by these mass extinctions.

Debate over what caused these factory resets of life has raged ever since Cuvier’s time. He considered them to be caused by environmental catastrophes that rearranged the oceans and continents. Since then, a host of explanations have been proposed, including diseases, galactic gamma rays, dark matter, and even methane from microbes. But since the 1970s, most scientists have considered the likely root cause to be either asteroid impacts, massive volcanic eruptions, or a combination of both.

I have reading habits that can be described as “eclectic” (the polite form of “weird”), and one of the subjects that I have probably spent too much time on is paleontology. Since I’ve been nine or ten years old I’ve been asking some questions: Who Are We? Why Are We The Way We Are? and How Did We Get Here? See, three million years ago there were these creatures named Australopithecines and by two million years ago, the Australopithecines were gone, replaced by the earliest members of Homo, that is, us. How did this happen? Well, nobody knows for sure, but one thing we do know is that during that period of time, the climate went crazy in that part of East Africa: dry-wet-dry-wet, over and over again, not unlike a little kid playing with a light switch. One of the consequences of that instability is that “we” went from vegetarians who occasionally scavenged meat (not unlike modern chimpanzees) to the omnivores that we are today. This might not seem important, but without that adaptation, we wouldn’t be here. Fat, despite what the idjits in DC claim, is a vital nutrient for a species with a giant brain as we have: some 20% of what we eat is used just to keep our brains functioning, and a purely vegetarian diet won’t supply nearly enough calories to do that. Stone tools date from 2.6 mya (million years ago) and controlling fire came a bit later, 2 to 1.9 mya, which is an indirect indicator of the change in diet and hunting patterns that supported the growth and importance of the brain. Not only that, but the niche we occupied in the savannah was already occupied by hyenas, so not only did we have to figure out a way to successfully hunt (the ability to run and sweat glands play a vital role in this), but we also had to compete against a creature who had evolved to exploit the very same food sources that we were trying to use. In light of that, Wahid and Achmed screaming “Death To America” begins to assume a different perspective, doesn’t it?

In closing, let me once again hammer something that I’ve been saying for years: we need to get off this rock. Yes, this might be some pro-human arrogance in play, but I’d like to think that we’ve done a few things and made a couple of works of art that are worthy of preservation.

Dealing With The YouTube Nannies

November 8th, 2017

As you probably know, YouTube has been demonetizing and deleting people’s videos. Worse yet, they’ll put a video into Advertiser Jail (limited state) so that folks can see the thing, but they won’t make any money for the first few days that it’s up, thereby taking most of the potential income a creator might make.

This guy has made a decent work-around, so please watch the whole thing:


Just A Reminder

November 5th, 2017

In the aftermath of today’s tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas, any number of the usual suspects are bleating about gun control.

So it’s not a surprise later, let me reiterate: I haven’t killed anyone, nor have any of my firearms been used to perpetrate such a foul deed, so if you think (even for a minute) that you can punish me for something I had nothing to do with, well, you can piss right off.

That is all.