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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: July 15, 2018

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

Well, here’s another issue of Winding Down, it’s perhaps a little longer than I managed last week, and includes material on a newly discovered sarcophagus, a problem with professional email addresses, brain myths, blockchains, USB cables, the end of the fabled EmDrive, and some cool pictures. The scanner section contains material on asteroids, archaeological revelations from the heatwave in Wales, open plan offices, snowball Earth, the Vatican secret archives, the trolley problem, drones and flying taxis, biometrics problems, and a possible new antibiotic.

I counted up, and while I was ill I still managed to save over a hundred possible stories for Winding Down. Even removing the ones that are pure news (e.g. Congress discusses copyright extension) there’s still a lot left. So for this and the next few issues I will be including some of those stories in the Scanner section. That means that instead of the usual half dozen stories in the section there will be nine or ten. Finally, there is a quote from physicist Richard Feynman.


A massive Egyptian sarcophagus has been found in Alexandria (the Alexandria in Egypt, not the one in Virginia, US of A). To add to the mystery it’s BLACK. It was closed 2,000 years ago, and hasn’t been opened since. Obviously the thing to do is to take it off to a museum and open it. The problem is that it is 15 feet underground and weighs something in the region of 30+ tons. That’s because it’s made of BLACK marble.

Of course, all right thinking film buffs know that opening such a sarcophagus is, to say the least, unwise. Especially a BLACK one! I, of course, felt compelled to dig out my DVD of ‘The Mummy’ to warn you all of the likely consequences: vile curses, man eating beetles (at least they didn’t eat the heroine in the movie), long dead ambulatory mummies and more. The good news is that opening it doesn’t seem to awaken Cthulu...

I wonder what would happen if you trod on the end of one of the mummy’s loose bandages?

Oh dear! The UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) was formed by merging the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIE). Now, it just happened that the IEE had since 1996 allowed its members to have iee.org email addresses, which many of them used for business purposes. There is, after all, a lot of cachet in that sort of professional address.

However, for technical reasons the IET is now closing down the address, resulting in howls of dismay (discrete and proper business-like, howls, of course), not merely because of the loss of a classy address, but also because when you have been using an address for some 20+ years, there is no way you can tell everyone who has the old address what the new one is. I’ve had my alan@ibgames.com mail address since the 1990s, the number of people who have it probably runs into four figures by now. Maybe even five figures if you count the spammers :)

There’s a lesson to be learned here, though I’m not sure what it is, or what can be done about it!


Science Alert has published an interesting piece debunking brain myths, including the idea that we only use 10% of our brain. As the article points out, it would be a terrible idea to spend so much time and energy growing a big brain if people only used a tenth of it. Perhaps they did the original tests on professional politicians...

Then there is the idea that we only have five senses. Actually, we may have anything up to 21 different senses. The exact number depends on which neuroscientist you talk to. There’s also the idea that listening to Mozart makes you smart. This is based on an experiment carried out in the 1950s. Significantly, no one’s been able to replicate the experiment in the 60 or so years since.

Lets talk about blockchains. For those of you who don’t know, blockchains are what makes e-currency, like Bitcoin, work. It’s a way of allowing verified, public and anonymous transactions to take place safely. Everyone agrees that blockchains have a great future ahead of them. The problem is that no one is quite sure what those applications will be, but some very very thoughtful people are thinking about it. O’Reilly book publishers have recently published a piece about blockchain applications that makes interesting reading if you would like to know more. I rather enjoyed reading it.

And since I wrote that piece I came across a real application of a blockchain to trace food provenance. The UK’s food safety watchdog has recently completed a trial of the technology to trace a meat supply chain. This could make it a lot easier to be sure that you are eating what you thought that you bought!
[found via ADVFN crypto newsletter]

Geek Stuff:

Ever heard of the law of USB cables? No? Well it says that no matter how many USB cables you get, you only ever have one good one! Neat. I spotted this on the Hackaday site, which also has an interesting piece on false positives and fatalities in self-driving cars.

Bad news for space junkies hoping for a free ride to exoplanets. The legendary EmDrive, reputed to provide a force without expelling any matter, has finally been laid to rest by a researcher showing where everyone else who tried it messed up. It really is impossible, and Newton’s third law remains intact! Yet another perpetual motion machine bites the dust!


This week some rather nice pictures from NASA’s Apod archive – the road to Mars, a northern summer’s night, and a pre-dawn rocket launch.


A huge number of asteroids could be traced back to five destroyed worlds

Heatwave unveils ancient settlements in Wales

Open plan offices flop – you talk less, IM more, if forced to flee a cubicle

A cracking crust may have turned Earth into a giant snowball

How the mysteries of the Vatican secret archives are being revealed by artificial intelligence

The Trolley Problem has been tested in ‘Real Life’ for the very first time

Here’s what’s needed for self-flying taxis and delivery drones to really take off

Biometrics: Better than your mother’s maiden name. Good luck changing your body if your info is stolen

New antibiotic found in tobacco flowers tears into superbugs


A few issues ago I drew attention to the ruins of ancient civilisations in Cambodia. If you do plan to head out that way to have a look at the magnificent ruins, then it’s probably worth taking a peek at the 100 Best Things to do in Cambodia in the ‘Jen Reviews’ blog.

Quote for the week:

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” – Richard Feynman (Conclusion on the Challenger space shuttle accident)


Thanks to readers Andrew, 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
15 July 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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