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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: September 23, 2018

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

It’s well and truly autumn over here and the rains have set in again. So, I bring you a soggy selection of stuff this week – I had to dry out the bits over the fire before I could use them to give you material on Apple and Ireland, Facebook and Equal Opportunities, a font for all essays, an interesting take on emergency evacuations, the world’s earliest brewery, the location of Star Trek’s Vulcan, Bohemian Rhapsody, pictures of Hurricane Florence from space, an interactive wind map, and some food for thought. In the Scanner section URLs point to material on a solar observatory shut down, an internet satisfaction survey, Sony and Bach’s music, Google sharing, coding school vs. bachelors degree, and some screwed up US election data. Finally, the quote for this week is from Blaise Pascal. Phew!


Here’s an interesting bit of news you might have missed. As you may be aware, the big international tech companies are under fire for their tax manipulation. Apple is one of those accused. In their case, they did a deal with Ireland that, according to the EU competition commissioner, resulted in an “ “an effective corporate tax rate of 1 per cent on its European profits in 2003 down to 0.005 per cent in 2014”.

The EU, as you can guess, is not a happy bunny. It classified this as an illegal tax benefit, and ordered the payment of the 14.3 billion Euros (US$16.77bn) – the tax plus interest – by Apple to the Irish government. The EU has fairly strict rules about the payment of state aid to private companies. Apple has, of course, been contesting the ruling in the courts.

Significantly though, this week it was revealed that Apple had paid the money into an Irish government escrow fund, to be held until the court case and any subsequent appeals are decided. Ironically, the Irish government sides with Apple, and believes there was nothing wrong with giving the Apple the tax break, and they don’t want to recover the money.

I would imagine that the Irish taxpayers have a somewhat different view of the matter!

I see Facebook is under fire again. This time they been hauled up before the US Equal Opportunities Commission by the ACLU and the employment law firm of Outten & Golden LLP. It seems that Facebook’s system of targeting adverts allows advertisers to choose who their ads are displayed to on the basis of individual characteristics – including sex, race and age. This enabled firms placing job adverts to discriminate against potential employees on the basis of sex, age and race. And of course the discrimination is very subtle, because those discriminated against were never shown the job adverts in question!


Here’s a little something for my younger readers – a free font that makes your essays look up to ten percent longer than they actually are! I have to confess that until I read this piece I had no idea that teachers and the like were dishing out essays by the number of pages required. The correct length for an essay is simple. It is as long as is needed to show that you have grasped the topic, and are able to explain it. If that only takes half a page, for instance, then so be it. Who in their right mind wants to wade through another two and a half pages of padding to bring it up to the three pages demanded?

A grasp of the subject is indicated by how succinct you can be, not by how much you can ramble on. Have a look at this week’s quote for one take on this subject!

I’ve never had a lot of patience for people who don’t evacuate when they are told to by the emergency services, because of things like the recent Hurricane Florence. However, an article in Scientific American magazine got me thinking, and changed my attitude somewhat.

What it argues is that the ability to pack up and leave actually assumes that people are at a certain level of privilege. It takes money to displace yourself to somewhere safe. You have to have the money up front, because it’s going to take endless time and form filling to get a reimbursement later. Not everyone knows how to get the forms, let alone fill them in.

You become very vulnerable when you are evacuated. Not just physically, but also in the sense that you lose the support of your community, and if you happen to be a person with a disability, elderly or a single parent, for instance, the problems multiply. In these sort of case I suspect that a proper risk assessment might well point to it being safer to stay.

I still have no patience with people who can evacuate, but choose not to, and then complain about their losses, but I’m now much more likely to have sympathy for those for whom evacuating poses serious problems.

I guess even an old fogey who’s set in his ways, like me, can have his views changed by a well argued essay!

I’m glad to see archaeologists doing something serious and dear to my heart. They’ve found the world’s earliest brewery at a site in Israel! It’s old enough that it even predates agriculture. The current theories on the rise of towns is that they were a product of the needs of agriculture and the way it was able to support more people. Clearly, in the light of this new discovery, that’s wrong. People came together in towns and villages to make sure that they could get a regular pint of their favourite ale. Towns did not encourage the start of breweries, breweries encouraged the formation of towns.

I would be the first to admit there is some dispute about this theory, but would point out that most of its opponents are teetotallers...

Geek Stuff:

Well, what do you know. The Star Trekkies might just have been right when they identified the planet Vulcan as orbiting the star 40 Eridani A in the constellation of Eridanus. It turns out that there is indeed a somewhat Earth-like planet orbiting the star, and it is within the so-called ‘habitable zone’ where water can exist in a liquid form. Not only that, but it looks like the planet has existed for roughly the same length of time as the Earth – about four billion years, so there has been time for complex life to develop.

Whether it is, in fact, inhabited, let alone inhabited by the inventors of the ‘Vulcan Nerve Pinch’, is an entirely different matter!

Not a Trekkie? Well, in that case how about something completely different – Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as played by 28 trombones. Fantastic! They are slightly out in places, but overall it’s an amazing achievement. Definitely not to be missed!


Since much of the news over the last ten days has been about Hurricane Florence, I thought I might draw your attention to a set of photographs of the hurricane taken from the International Space Station by Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut on the station.

Until I saw them I simply didn’t appreciate the sheer immensity of the storm. Very thought provoking.

Given the above, I thought I would also draw your attention to the excellent real-time wind map produced by nullschool.net. It’s brilliant, you can centre it on wherever you like expand it, turn the globe, etc and look at the wind pattern around your area as well as globally. I’m checking out England at the moment. We currently seem to be in a gap between three different systems, two coming from the Atlantic, which implies rain, and one from the north pole – brrrrr...

When you first pull it up, or if you change the size, position, etc, it takes a second or two to update – longer if you have a cruddy internet supplier – just be patient. Highly recommended.

And being a little less serious, take a look at these pictures of a merger of everyday life and food. Amusing!


A solar observatory in New Mexico has been mysteriously shut down and evacuated – “The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on.”

The internet – not as great as we all thought it was going to be, eh?

Sony finally admits it doesn’t own Bach and it only took a bunch of public pressure

So Brave: Browser biz sics Brit watchdogs on Google’s info slurpage

Coding school vs. bachelors degree – infographic

AI biz borks US election spending data by using underpaid Amazon Mechanical Turks

Quote for the week:

“I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist and moralist


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
23 September 23018

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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