Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Does the Halting Problem Mean No Moral Robots?

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Cute article. Keep in mind, though, that robot cops would not have to have a perfect moral sense: they simply have to offer a measurable improvement over current practice. Certainly existing cops do not have a perfect moral sense, and we get along with that. I imagine we could also get along with imperfect robot cops so long as it’s overall an improvement, failings and all.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2014 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Math, Software, Technology

The Dunning-Kruger effect in action: Scientists who write their own software

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The Dunning-Kruger effect in action. Perfect example: the scientists are so incompetent at programming that they don’t have enough knowledge to recognize their own incompetence. Too ignorant to know they are ignorant. It affects the brightest, because it’s not a question of intelligence, it’s a question of knowledge.

From the article by Jordan Pearson of Motherboard:

A new survey of 417 randomly selected UK researchers, publish​ed today by the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI), reports that 70 percent of respondents believe they could not practically continue their research without the aid of software. 56 percent of respondents design their own software, and 20 percent of those scientists do so without any training in software engineering whatsoever.

“It’s a terrible concern, because you can work your way through software development—researchers are intelligent people, they can work this stuff out—but you can’t build software that is reliable,” Simon Hettrick, deputy director of the SSI, told me. “If you’re producing your results through software, and your software doesn’t produce reproducible results, then your research results aren’t reproducible.” . . .

You can just imagine…

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2014 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Education, Science, Software

The death of the to-do list app

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I tried to open my regular list app I’ve been using for a while now—Wunderlist—only to find that I can no longer use my lists unless I open an account with them using Facebook or Google. I have to have an account with the company, and now must sign in. Apparently they plan to keep my lists in the cloud.

Not interested. I want a little to-do list app on my computer, one that will maintain a few lists, to which I can add entries from time to time, re-order as desired, and print out as needed.

I have another one, Clear, so I tried that one. Went to print it: File, …  no Print. No Print on any of the submenus. I emailed Support and asked how to print the list I created.

They explained how their designers dealt with the app’s print capability. They used an approach that seems to be more oriented at reducing work for the programmer than accommodating the user.

To print a list, you email it to yourself, then print that email in the Mail program. Isn’t that elegant?

I think the “designers” were basically high-school students excited to do their first app.

Anyone know of a good to-do list program that simply sits on your computer and allows one to print lists as needed?

I did try Todoist, which requires me to log in with my Google account or create a free account. No way just to keep a list on your computer.

Does anyone know of a good list program? or do I just use Text Edit?

UPDATE: Found one: Etre Task. Free, works fine. Got it from this list of such apps for the Mac.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2014 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Software

Work for Uber is roughly like working in a sweat shop

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Management doesn’t care about its employees because they’re not employees—they’re “independent contractors.” And so management doesn’t bother to fix the tools on which these independent contractors depend. Claire Goodman reports in Salon:

Uber just lost a really good driver.

As a mom who had stopped working to raise my child, I decided to try driving for Uber part-time, for flexibility and some extra cash. I am a native English speaker who grew up in my major metropolitan area (San Francisco Bay Area), and these are two big advantages for a driver.  Having actually lived and worked from San Jose to Marin, I know how to get from point A to point B without maps or a GPS,  and I do not have to use Uber’s incredibly bad and misleading GPS, which comes with its driver app.  I also have a brand-new Prius and don’t mind keeping it clean.

It took Uber two months to complete my required background check and to “process” my driver’s license, proof of insurance and a $20 car inspection.  It took many weeks for Uber to mail me its iPhone 4 (loaded with its app).  I could not begin driving without it — or possibly, I could have used my own iPhone 5, but they didn’t mention that, because they wanted to charge me $10 per week for their iPhone 4.  The minute I found out I could be using my own phone, I sent theirs back, but not before they had deducted $30 for “phone rental.”

As a former software developer, I was interested to see how the apps work together to get the closest driver to the rider as fast as possible.  The first thing I found out was that Uber’s software sometimes wildly underestimates the number of minutes it takes to reach a rider.  The driver has 10 seconds (and sometimes less) to accept a request, which shows the number of minutes to reach the rider.  If you accept the request, you see the address of the rider.  About half the time, the number of minutes estimated is substantially less than the real time it will take.

Let me give you an example. I received a request indicating it would take “three minutes” to reach a rider.  I was in downtown Oakland and the rider was north of the Berkeley campus.  With stoplights and traffic I knew it would take 15-20 minutes to reach the rider.  As I began driving, I phoned the rider and gave him my ETA.  He canceled to try again for a closer driver – and I don’t blame him.

This happened to me over and over again that night.  At one point, I was on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, and I kept getting ride requests “three minutes” away – that is, three minutes away from Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley.  Could it be possible that Uber’s GPS software does not use map coordinates to calculate distance?  It certainly seemed to be true, considering that this same error happened all night, until I finally logged off in order not to get “dinged” for too many cancellations.

Having accepted a rider, the driver has no idea of the destination.  The rider(s) get in, and tell you where they’re going.  I often had four riders at a time.  Many times, I drove two miles to pick up four college kids and drive them six blocks to a different pub.  This was a typical experience in my college town.  That’s a money-losing ride.

If you accept each ride request sent to you, you will end up a long way from home.  You must then go “offline” and drive home.  This is standard taxi driving – but for less money.

I didn’t want to do this job full-time.  Hourly rate is what mattered to me.  Uber kept me very busy, but the software malfunctioned at least 50 percent of the time, leading to cancellations when I let the rider know the real ETA. Uber has lots of hidden charges and fees.  However, since I was driving during “surge” hours, with back-to-back riders, my hourly rate should reflect the best hourly rate one can earn, driving for Uber. Bottom line: After subtracting all their charges and fees — plus Uber’s 20 percent — driving for Uber during surge pricing, with a constant flow of riders, pays less than $10 per hour.  Then you must deduct insurance, fuel, maintenance and taxes.  At least for me, driving for Uber is not worth it. And that’s a shame. Because I know the area, speak English and communicate professionally with riders.  But I also demand closer to $15 per hour.

Also, considering the company’s huge profits, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2014 at 8:52 am

Slack alters privacy policy to let bosses read your messages

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Interesting report. I think most people assume that any email (or documents) on company computers cannot have an expectation of privacy, but it seems as though Slack is going to provide tools to make it easy for bosses to read through any messages from subordinates.

In somewhat related news, Jason Koebler reports in Motherboard how Facebook and Twitter cooperate immediately with a request from (any) government to censor what you’ve posted—and they do that in secret. Corporations are not interested in human rights; they’re interested in profits.

And another good article on how Facebook is quick to work with repressive governments.

I wonder how long it will be before Twitter and Facebook offer a service (expensive, of course) to authoritarian governments to flag for their attention tweets and posts that the government probably won’t like.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2014 at 2:44 pm

More information on the Regin malware/spyware

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First, the British version of NSA, GCHQ, has made use of the malware, which again is a trail that leads to NSA as the author. Joseph Cox writes at Motherboard:

One of the most sophisticated pieces of malware ever seen has been discovered by researchers. Dubbed Regin, the tool has reportedly been spying on telecoms companies, governments, businesses, and individuals for at least the past six years, and appears to have been used by the UK’s intelligence services.

Security company Symantec announced the existence of Regin yesterday, and the researchers say it is a “​groundbreaking and almost peerless” piece of malware “whose structure displays a degree of technical competence rarely seen.”

The architecture is the hallmark of Regin: each stage of the malware is stored surreptitiously in the section that precedes it. These unload bit by bit, with five stages in total, culminating in an attacker being able to monitor nearly everything carried out on a target device.

In this regard, Symantec compared Regin to the infamous Stuxnet malware, which also had a multi-stage approach. Costin Raiu, director of the Global Research and Analysis Team at security firm Kaspersky Lab agreed with the comparison. “It’s a very good analogy,” he told me, but also pointed out some of the key differences. Kaspersky had also been working on researching the Regin malware, according to a blog post published after Symantec’s white paper, and provided some additional insights.

Stuxnet was designed to infiltrate and ultimately tamper with the Iranian nuclear programme. For this, it was given the power to self-replicate, move from one computer to another, and infect USB sticks, which would then be carried into the facility. From here, Stuxnet would attempt to override the centrifuges crucial to Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants.

Regin doesn’t do any of these things. It works as quietly as possible, granting attackers access to computer systems so they can monitor, not break them. “The main focus of Regin would be surveillance, while Stuxnet was designed for sabotage,” Raiu said. . .

Continue reading.

And The Intercept has an article:

Complex malware known as Regin is the suspected technology behind sophisticated cyberattacks conducted by U.S. and British intelligence agencies on the European Union and a Belgian telecommunications company, according to security industry sources and technical analysis conducted by The Intercept.

Regin was found on infected internal computer systems and email servers at Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian phone and internet provider, following reports last year that the company was targeted in a top-secret surveillance operation carried out by British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, industry sources told The Intercept.

The malware, which steals data from infected systems and disguises itself as legitimate Microsoft software, has also been identified on the same European Union computer systems that were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The hacking operations against Belgacom and the European Union were first revealed last year through documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The specific malware used in the attacks has never been disclosed, however.

The Regin malware, whose existence was first reported by the security firm Symantec on Sunday, is among the most sophisticated ever discovered by researchers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2014 at 2:23 pm

The privacy app for Android phones that’s taking on Google

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Well worth reading if you have an android phone. From the Motherboard article by Thomas Fox-Brewster:

Disconnect, a young San Franciscan startup, builds software than can cut off intrusive advertisers silently grabbing users’ data, and protect web activity with encryption. But the average Android user won’t have heard much about it. Not through Google at least, which has removed the tool from its Play store.

The startup isn’t backing down in its fight for people’s privacy, though. Over the past year, the young firm, which boasts ex-NSA engineer Patrick Jackson as its CTO, has been wrestling Google to get its app on the marketplace so more Android users can use it to protect themselves from government snoops and digital criminals.

It’s losing that fight. But it won’t let Google slow it down. Today, it has launched a completely refreshed app that does a lot to protect data: It encrypts communications, routes traffic through different servers across the globe, filters out more than 5,000 “invasive” services and visualises how tracking software takes information during web sessions and when running apps, allowing users to cut off digital tentacles reaching for their privates.

For a VPN software with lots of bells and whistles, it’s not too pricey either: the full desktop and phone application that covers up to three devices comes at $5 a month, or $50 a year. Some pieces will remain free, such as the tracking visualisation browser add-on. . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: I use Disconnect with my browsers. It’s free, and it provides an additional layer of security and blocks nuisances (tracking cookies, for example).

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2014 at 12:32 pm

Posted in NSA, Software, Techie toys

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