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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: May 20, 2018

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

Phew! A blockbuster issue this week. It’s all caused by the advent, in a connected world, of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The first item is an explanation, and how we deal with it. Then, we have a look at what a few others have done (or not done), Facebook (sneaky), Google Android (a mess) and in ‘Scanner’ ICAAN (thought it didn’t apply to them), and a bit about fines for screwing up on GDPR. GeekStuff includes a quote on... Unix systemd – I bet you thought I was going to say GDPR – and a picture of some interesting cabling. Moving on we talk a little about the blockchain (not mention GDPR, which might affect it). There are no less than three lots of pictures in the Picture section – and none of them are about GDPR – 6,000 maps on line, farming in mountain country, and an unusual pair of videos about San Francisco. The scanner section includes URLs on squeezing light, IBM exec pay, Earth’s magnetic field, DRAM price fixing, MacBook keyboards, artificial photosynthesis, Dr. Zizmor’s advice, and finally an amusing story about fixing a printer.

Well, yet again we Brits are on holiday again next weekend, so you will have to make this week’s issue last longer than usual! We will be back, hopefully with slightly less of the heavy stuff, on Sunday June 3. See you then!

Special Announcement: GDPR
(Please note – if you subscribe to the Fed2 News, this is the same as that one)

You may have found a whole lot of emails in your inbox recently from companies that hold your data or from mailing lists you are subscribed to.

This flurry of activity is caused by the fact that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (aka GDPR) comes into force this coming week (on May 25, 2018 to be exact).

Actually, the GDPR has been around for the last two years, but now that people have had that amount of time to prepare for it, it actually becomes enforceable. Needless to say, human nature being what it is, no one took a blind bit of notice until very recently. And then they panicked!

So, what is GDPR?

It’s an attempt by the EU to unify and simplify (Hah!) the rules for how the personal data of its citizens is handled by companies. However, given that we live in a connected world, this has implications for everyone using, or doing business on, the internet. Among the things it requires are the right to have your personal data erased in certain circumstances, and the right to access your personal data and to get information about how it’s used.

It also requires that you need to specifically opt in to any processing that might be done on your personal information. No more pre-ticked boxes saying you agree to sacrifice your first born if required to do so. That’s why you are getting these emails asking you to confirm you want to continue receiving mail from the list.

Companies are taking different views on what this requires them to do. Some are sending messages saying that if you want to continue receiving emails from them you should click a button to confirm, otherwise you will never hear from them again. Others are doing it the other way around: if you don’t do anything they will assume you want to stay in contact, and that if you do want to be taken off the list you need to unsubscribe. It’s all very confusing.

So for the record, in the case of the two mailing lists that we run (the Fed2 Star and Winding Down) the only processing we do is to send out the weekly mailings. We don’t do anything else with the email addresses, and don’t sell them to anyone else, aggregate them, pretend to anonymize them, or try to link them to ‘real’ names. In addition, we only send the emails to people who asked us to do, which is opting in. So you don’t need to do anything, unless you no longer want to read our deathless prose. In that almost inconceivable case, there is a link to cancel your subscription at the end of each edition of the newsletter.

If you want to know what personal data we hold on you, that’s easy. Just look at the header for this email and you will see, in the ‘To:’ line the email address we hold for you! And no, we have no idea what your real name is, where you live, work, or play. We hold your email address for as long as you want to receive the newsletters; once you cancel it’s gone, and we have no further access.

And, logically, since we don’t know where you live, this applies to everyone on the list – not just the EU citizens.

As far as the game itself goes, the only thing we know about you is – once again – your email address. That’s all we ask you to give us when you set up an account. We don’t do anything with your email address except use it to contact you if there is an issue with your Fed2 character, or to prove you are you if you forget your password.

This is set out in our privacy policy which you can read here: http://www.ibgames.net/ibinfo/privacypolicy.html.


So, GDPR is about to come in, and what have those well-known paragons of virtue, Facebook, done about it? Would you be surprised to find that they’ve been sneaky about it? You’re not surprised? Neither am I. Here’s what’s going on. Obviously there’s not much they can do about people who actually are EU citizens, until their lawyers find a loophole, but for everyone else, that’s different.

Roughly speaking Facebook has always had two sets of terms and conditions: one for the USA, and one for the rest of the world, based on EU regulations. Now that GDPR has come in they still have two sets of terms, but now it’s one for the EU and for the rest of the world they use the USA terms. Something they probably hoped no one would notice. Sneaky – they transferred the rest of the world to the USA terms which allow much more messing with users personal data!

Still, I suppose you could say that Facebook at least have their act together, even if you don’t like their chosen act. Google’s Android is a whole different kettle of fish – they’re so used to riding roughshod over people, companies and even governments, that they probably thought it didn’t apply to them. It seems that using Google Ads to fund your Android app is likely to mean that you are breaking GDPR if an EU user uses it, and Google hasn’t yet got it sorted, so app devs are considering dropping the ads, and possibly Android as well, since the ad income is what funds their work. What a shambles.

One of the reasons that a lot of very big international companies can basically ignore the law is that the maximum fines for non-compliance have a specified maximum amount which is pocket change for really big companies – basically part of the cost of doing business, equivalent to parking fines for plumbers. Not so for GDPR, the maximum fines are UK£17 million (just under US$23 million) or 4% of the company’s annual turnover, which ever is the greater. A much better way to define it, though it’s still not enough...


I have in my hand a gold coloured coin which purports to be a Bitcoin:

I think the coins must have been minted for politicians, who are noted for their inability to grasp the concept of anything intangible or with the words internet, digital, and especially cryptography. Bitcoin is, of course completely digital. Like a lot of things on the internet it has value, but no physical presence.

For most programmers, and many forward looking companies, the most important thing about Bitcoin (apart from being the currency in which they pay the ransom on hacked and encrypted databases they didn’t backup properly) is that’s it’s based on an algorithm called the blockchain. For many people the terms Bitcoin and blockchain are synonymous, but they are not the same – Bitcoin is stored on the blockchain, which works by providing a digital ledger with can’t be changed, because it has an encryption signing that would be wrong if ledger entry was changed.

If you’d like to learn more about how the blockchain works, the best non-techie explanation I’ve come across is the one in the URL for this piece.

You’ll note though, that earlier on I said the entry can’t be changed. The problem is going to be that it really can’t be changed, because, if you change something in the transaction, it will invalidate the crypto signature, invalidating the transaction and all the subsequent transactions (the explanation involves cryptography so just take my word for it). So, given that GDPR allows people to have their information deleted in circumstances, how do you remove their info from a blockchain?

Answer: you can’t. Oops!

Actually, I’m sure something will be worked out eventually. Probably some sort of compromise between the GDPR powers that be and the programmers and companies designing and using blockchain ledgers. I wish them the best of luck (especially if the politicos stick their oar in as well...).

Incidentally, I see that the energy requirement of Bitcoin is forecast to amount to a full half of a percent of the world’s entire electricity supply by the end of this year!

Geek Stuff:

Here is a quote especially for Linux geeks: “Systemd bears a remarkable resemblance to TRON’s MCP.”
Anonymous comment on a discussion of Red Hat’s systemd software.

Now a short video about the inside of the bunker that handles most of the high speed network connections for the big boys in the City of London. What particularly interested me was the frames at around 28 seconds. How not to keep your cabling neat and tidy!


If, like me, you are an absolute sucker for maps of all kinds, then you will just love the latest from National Geographic. They’ve just digitised over 6,000 of the maps they’ve published between 1888 and now. Go for it!

If you are more into landscapes than maps, here are some very classy pictures of terraced farmland in Japan. A fine example of how to farm mountainous countryside.

And finally, in this section. a little bit of history. Two short ‘travelogue’ videos of San Francisco. The first is taken in 1906 before the earthquake, and the second is taken after the earthquake. Quite a contrast...


Scientists have used graphene to squeeze light into a space smaller than its wavelength

IBM turnover shrinks $28bn in 6 years but execs laugh all the way to the bank

Earth’s magnetic field is not about to reverse, study finds

DRAM makers sued (yet again) for ‘fixing prices’ (yet again) of chips

Apple MacBook butterfly keyboards ‘defective’, ‘prone to fail’ – lawsuit

New artificial photosynthesis method delivers clean hydrogen Fuel

Domain name sellers rub ICANN’s face in sticky mess of Europe’s GDPR

Before his famous subway ads, Dr. Zizmor wrote self-help books for ladies – sprinkled with stupid advice [special for NYC people -AL]

Fixing a printer ended with a dozen fire engines in the car park
http://images.computerhistory.org/revonline/images/500004699-03-01.jpg?w=600 [picture of the printer! AL]


Quote for the Week:

‘This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.’
a note at the end of a Jaron Lanier interview.

This quote is offered as a public service warning to anyone who might be considering reading a Lanier proclamation. [AL]


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
20 May 2018

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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