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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: March 18, 2018

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

Phew! Finally things have quietened down, and I’ve got time to write Winding Down. We’re playing catch up this week, so the material is a little more general, and a little less current than usual. We do start with one piece of news, though – Boeing 737s reach the 10,000 mark! After that, we look at electric cars, the use of psychology in social media sites, a paper about the historical struggle by business managers to control programmers, Scrabble playing for the expert, a wooden Turing Machine and two videos on Turing Machines and the Halting Problem (which has nothing to do with the problem of remembering to stop at the sidewalk corner when you are walking along with your phone logged into social media). There’s also links to a couple of nice astronomy pictures, and an amusing quote from the 19th Century physicist Michael Faraday. In the Scanner section you will find URLs pointing to material on hacker created traffic jams, an invisible 1,400 year old text, the lack of business incident response plans, slow clocks, a Baloney Detection Kit, the most powerful IoT companies, and, finally, boring phones.

That should start to make up for the missed weeks... Have a nice Spring Equinox on Tuesday!


Wow! This week the 10,000th Boeing 737 rolled off the production line. Pretty good for a plane that dates back to 1967 – making it over 50 years old. And it’s still really popular with the airlines. So much so, in fact, that Boeing is actually increasing its production of 737s from 47 to 52 a month. Over the years, of course the 737 has been upgraded to be more fuel efficient, carry more passengers, and have a greater range. I’d guess it’s also faster, but that’s irrelevant. The actual time travellers spend in the air is insignificant compared to the time it takes to get through the multiple levels of bureaucracy at the arrival and departure airports...

The rush and push to electric cars by various government and non-government organisations, not to mention prominent individuals, is starting to come up against the limits of reality. Take for instance London’s Royal Mail (the UK’s postal system), which recently decided to look at making the shift to electric for its 49,000 small vehicles. To give it credit, it was at least looking into what’s involved, rather than rushing in to it. It’s just as well it looked before it leapt, because when the figures came in they discovered making the change would lead to a power meltdown at its central hub!

So much for the declaration of the mayor that he plans to only have electric cars on London’s roads in the next decade. It’s always struck me that a lot of electric car enthusiasts don’t really have a grasp of the implications, and burble on about the lack of pollution involved in using electric cars. Where do they think the electricity comes from? Given that renewable sources are a relatively small proportion of electricity generated for the grid, the chances are that the electricity their ‘clean’ car is using is being generated by a fossil fuel power station.

I wonder how they would like to get home from work (in their electric car, of course) to find that the power station backs onto their property?


As someone with a sociology background I’ve always been interested in the effects of continuous access to online activities. Indeed, in the early days of Federation, we worried about whether we might be offering some sort of online addictive drug when we discovered that some people were online for more than 12 hours a day. And that was when it cost something in the region of $5 an hour (at today’s prices).

In those days, though, marketing was very much a hit and miss affair. Now the social media are consciously using psychology theory and the discoveries over the last few decades of how the body’s reward mechanism works to target younger and younger children. It’s very creepy, and it’s leading to all sorts of problems. There’s no space here to go into the details, but I’d strongly recommend that you take a look at the article pointed to by the URL, which is written by a professional psychologist. It’s fairly long, but very worrying.

If you’re interested in the early history of computer programmers, then you might like to consider, for your Easter Holiday reading, a paper on the topic by Nathan L. Ensmenger, entitled ‘Letting the “Computer Boys” Take Over: Technology and the Politics of Organizational Transformation’. It’s fairly long, but it’s the story of business programming and the struggle between the existing departmental managers and the programmers for control over the work and resources involved in programming. Fascinating, and it concludes with some discussion of where programmers do fit in (or not, as the case may be) to the business hierarchy.

It’s a .pdf file, so you need a decent pdf reader (I use the free version of PDF-XChange Editor, which is the best I’ve found so far).

Are you a heavy duty Scrabble player? Then you will love this video of some of the top professional Scrabble players replaying some of their greatest moves (and some of the less great). I always knew that Scrabble involved strategy as well as playing, but before seeing this I had no idea of the level to which it could be taken! Incidentally, do you know what ‘stopbanks’ are? My editor’s dictionary thought it was a spelling error!

Geek Stuff:

Want to see something really, really beautiful? Then you need to have a look at openculture.com where they have a video and text piece about a gorgeous wooden Turing machine. Not sure exactly what a Turing machine does? No problem... The article also has an excellent video by philosopher Mark Jago explaining in very clear terms just what a Turing machine is, and how it works. And while you are at it, you might like to take a look at an equally good video from Mark explaining the Halting Problem.

Neat. Very Neat!


I couldn’t decide which of two really nice pictures on NASA’s apod site to recommend this week. So I’m giving you both! The first, more restful, picture is a view of the complete galactic plane. If you want to know why there is an upside down car in the picture, you’ll have to read the text under the picture.

The second is a little more dynamic, shall we say. It’s of two particle beams emerging from a new born star.

I suspect we will never be able to catalogue all the wonders in the universe...


Hackers create ‘ghost’ traffic jam to confound smart traffic systems

This book contains an invisible 1,400-year-old text we can only read with X-rays

77% of businesses lack proper incident response plans

There’s a strange reason why clocks across Europe are running 6 minutes slow

Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit”: A toolkit that can help you scientifically separate sense from nonsense

Most powerful Internet of Things (IoT) companies

Boring. The phone business has lost the plot and Google is making it worse


When the physicist and chemist Michael Faraday was asked by the English Prime Minister Gladstone about the usefulness of electricity, Faraday replied:

“Why sir, there is every possibility that you will soon be able to tax it!”


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 March 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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