An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week's net, technology and science news
by Alan Lenton
Well, here we are back after yet another break, still trying to catch up with a backlog of stories. Thus, we have a slightly different format, with lotsa (well, eight!) stories in the shorts section this week and no Homework and Geek sections. Stories include chip and finger cards, Win10 free apps, Steam trains, after hours in the Bank of England, the French Foreign Legion, a ‘stupid patent’, the law and data overseas, and encryption. Then there are pictures to look at – icebergs, 140K chunks of NASA stuff, and the best satirical pic to come out of the United Airlines shambles. Finally, Scanner gives you some links to stories on questioning the nature of the internet, the EU, Twitter, Google and Facebook in dispute (no surprise there), a most wanted spammer nabbed, negative mass, London police gun fubar, and Uber flees Denmark.
And, even finally-er, is the windup of the curtain rods saga in the coda section...
Phew! I think we’d better get started.
Now that chip and pin has reached the USA, I see that Mastercard have launched a new biometrics card, which ads a fingerprint detector to the chip on the card. I assume they have some way of replacing your fingers with new ones if the biometric information is stolen...
Windows 10 owners might like to take a look through this piece in InfoWorld – their Top 30 free apps for Windows 10. Some of them – 7-Zip, Malwarebytes, Chrome, and VLC – I already use, and there are a number of others that are on my ‘must-get-round-to-installing’ list.
Steam returns to the Brit mainline rail system – it brings tears to my eyes (and, if I remember correctly from my youth, smuts to my face)! Those of you with a yen for retro will soon be able to make trips on a genuine steam engine hauled train here in Britain. There are plenty of enthusiast steam trains around, but they are not part of the regular rail system. This is the real thing!
And while we are mentioning Britain, have you ever fancied being in the Bank of England late at night? Yes? Well here’s your chance! The Bank of England Museum, which is part of the Bank, is having a late night event on May 19. It runs from 5:30pm to 9:00pm, it’s free – just register. The two activities that caught my eye were talks on how to identify forged banknotes and the opportunity to (literally) pick up a bar of gold. Mind you since it clocks in at a hefty 13 kilos (over 28 pounds – two stone), I don’t think you’ll be able to walk off with it!
Aeon magazine has an fascinating article about why young men queue up to die in the French Foreign Legion. Several thousand apply to join each year, and 80% are rejected. I have to say that marching 40 kilometers (12 miles) a day with a full pack in the blazing desert sun is not really my idea of fun. But it takes all sorts. Now, where did I put my copy of ‘Beau Geste’?
When the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) mentioned a patent held by a company called Global Equity Management (SA) Pty Ltd (GEMSA) in one of its “stupid patent of the month” blog posts, GEMSA promptly sued the EFF to have its name removed from the post. It turns out that the EFF is not only fighting the case, but has even countersued GEMSA. I think GEMSA is about to discover the ‘Streisand effect’ – the harder you try to have something on the net removed, the more likely people are to see a copy of it!
Google has been bitten by the way its algorithms work. A short while ago Microsoft refused to hand over material to law enforcement because it was stored on servers not in the USA. It won that battle, because the stuff overseas is tethered to its location, and never comes into the USA. Google, however, shifts data around to speed things up and balance the storage. The judge’s view was that if Google can view it stateside, then so can the law.
Encryption is big in the news these day, but a lot of people have only the vaguest idea what it is really about. Here’s a (not -very- technical) discussion of the issues involved in the argument about why we should encrypt everything digital.
You want know how big icebergs are? Well, click on the URL to see one off the coast of Newfoundland. And remember from school, only 10% of the iceberg shows up above the water!
If icebergs aren’t your scene, how about stuff from NASA? They’ve just released 140,000 photos, videos, and audio files which are free to search and download. There is sure to be something there that is to your taste!
The funniest thing to come out of the otherwise very unfunny United Airlines affair was a picture purporting to be of United’s “Seating and Apparel Division”. Yes it was a fake, but it was a brilliant take on the issue. Click on the URL for Snopes’ take on the picture.
The reasons why a free and open internet could spell the web’s downfall
Europe will fine Twitter, Facebook, Google etc unless they rip up T&Cs
One of world’s most wanted and prolific alleged spammers arrested
Scientists create negative-mass fluid that flows against the force
30,000 London gun owners hit by Metropolitan Police ‘data breach’
Uber to end services in Denmark after less than three years
Well we are moved in (more or less) to our new home. The legendary curtain rods are installed, and the carrier concerned has instituted a new system – the delivery driver has to photograph the parcel in situ wherever it is delivered to – in this case in our hallway!
We have lots of IKEA cardboard packing to get rid of, and just a limited number of 99 cents IKEA signature blue bags for sale – a snip at US$2,145 each...
My take on moving house? “Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Thanks to readers Barb and Fi for drawing my attention to material for Winding Down.
Please send suggestions for stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and include the words Winding Down in the subject line, unless you want your deathless prose gobbled up by my voracious Thunderbird spam filter...
23 April 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.