Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Current time for a hacker to brute-force a password

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Written by Leisureguy

2 December 2022 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Letter from a lawyer to Musk (who seems to have bitten off more than he can chew)

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Letter from lawyer to Musk, threatening legal action if Musk does not honor commitments regarding severance.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2022 at 8:02 pm

“I Was Wrong About Mastodon”

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Marcus Hutchins has an interesting re-evaluation of his a priori judgments about Mastodon. The entire piece is worth reading. I’ll quote just two paragraphs:

What I missed about Mastodon was its very different culture. Ad-driven social media platforms are willing to tolerate monumental volumes of abusive users. They’ve discovered the same thing the Mainstream Media did: negative emotions grip people’s attention harder than positive ones. Hate and fear drives engagement, and engagement drives ad impressions.

Mastodon is not an ad-driven platform. There is absolutely zero incentives to let awful people run amok in the name of engagement. The goal of Mastodon is to build a friendly collection of communities, not an attention leeching hate mill. As a result, most Mastodon instance operators have come to a consensus that hate speech shouldn’t be allowed. Already, that sets it far apart from twitter, but wait, there’s more. When it comes to other topics, what is and isn’t allowed is on an instance-by-instance basis, so you can choose your own adventure.

Hutchins provides yet another example of how mere logic is not a totally trustworthy guide in life, since experience not infrequently contradicts conclusions reached through logical reasoning. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. pointed this out in the context of law: “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” But it’s not just law whose life has depended on experience more than logic.

Whenever you have reached a logical conclusion, see if it holds up against experience. The testing of a theory by looking to experience is, in fact, the scientific method. Indeed, it is so common in science that Thomas Huxley’s comment on “the great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact” has been repeated many times in many contexts for many hypotheses.

I first encountered the statement in reading an account of someone being told of the tiny pores on one’s fingers, and the ridges and valleys that form fingerprints, and exclaiming, “Of course! The ridges are there to protect the pores that run along the valleys” — but the pores run along the ridges, not the valleys. Huxley’s statement was then recited to the person as a consolation.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2022 at 10:17 pm

Thinking about taking your computer to the repair shop? Be very afraid

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Dan Goodin writes in Ars Technica:

If you’ve ever worried about the privacy of your sensitive data when seeking a computer or phone repair, a new study suggests you have good reason. It found that privacy violations occurred at least 50 percent of the time, not surprisingly with female customers bearing the brunt.

Researchers at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recovered logs from laptops after receiving overnight repairs from 12 commercial shops. The logs showed that technicians from six of the locations had accessed personal data and that two of those shops also copied data onto a personal device. Devices belonging to females were more likely to be snooped on, and that snooping tended to seek more sensitive data, including both sexually revealing and non-sexual pictures, documents, and financial information.

Blown away

“We were blown away by the results,” Hassan Khan, one of the researchers, said in an interview. Especially concerning, he said, was the copying of data, which happened during repairs for one from a male customer and the other from a female. “We thought they would just look at [the data] at most.”

The amount of snooping may actually have been higher than recorded in the study, which was conducted from October to December 2021. In all, the researchers took the laptops to 16 shops in the greater Ontario region. Logs on devices from two of those visits weren’t recoverable. Two of the repairs were performed on the spot and in the customer’s presence, so the technician had no opportunity to surreptitiously view personal data.

In three cases, Windows Quick Access or Recently Accessed Files had been deleted in what the researchers suspect was an attempt by the snooping technician to cover their tracks. As noted earlier, two of the visits resulted in the logs the researchers relied on being unrecoverable. In one, the researcher explained they had installed antivirus software and performed a disk cleanup to “remove multiple viruses on the device.” The researchers received no explanation in the other case.

Here’s a breakdown of the six visits that resulted in snooping: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2022 at 6:21 am

Recent Mastodon growth

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I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately on Mastodon because (so far) it’s been interesting. I just came across this chart showing its recent growth.

The plot shows the graph of the number of new users in the Mastodon platform as a function of the date for the last months.
It can be seen that until Musk's purchase was completed, the daily new users were about one thousand.
It jumped to twenty-five thousand during the first migration tc Mastodon, just after the Musk's purchase of Twitter was completed on October 27.
A second jump to 100k new users per day happened in the second wave, just after the massive layoffs in Twitter on Nov
4th.
Finally the third jump to almost 150k per day happened after Musk's Twitter 2.0 ultimatum on Nov 17th.
After that the number of users per day went down to 50k per day for the last week.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2022 at 7:10 pm

Trying Diaspora

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I’m liking Mastodon so much that I thought I’d try out Diaspora. It is a subscription service (because (a) no ads and (b) they don’t sell user information — compare to Facebook: a ton of ads and they sell everything they can discover about you to anyone who will pay). And the subscription is modest: 75¢ per month, paid annually ($8/year). At that price, it’s worth a shot, especially since Facebook presents me with a ton of stuff of no interest to me.

Here’s an invite. Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2022 at 4:25 pm

The New York Times Is in the Tank for Crypto

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I’ve noticed this, too. The NY Times rather too often has feet of clay — the effects of privilege and poor priorities (“access is everything” does not provide good guidance). Robert Kuttner writes in The American Prospect:

In a recent post, I noted in passing the oddly soft coverage of the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried in The New York Times. The Times managed to compare the woes of FTX to a bank run, to blame Bankman-Fried’s competitors for undermining his credibility, and to take his professed charitable intent at face value.

Since I wrote, the Times coverage has only gotten worse.

A piece on the interconnections between Bankman-Fried’s exchange (FTX) and the investment company he controlled (Alameda) soft-pedaled the outright illegality of his making trades with customer funds. To hear the Times tell it, “Alameda’s need for funds to run its trading business was a big reason Mr. Bankman-Fried created FTX in 2019. But the way the two entities were set up meant that trouble in one unit shook up the other as crypto prices began to drop in the spring.”

But that’s not what happened. When customers demanded their money, Fried didn’t have it, because he had been using it and losing it, illegally, for his own trades.

And this: “Alameda’s methods borrowed many aspects from traditional high finance. It was a quantitative trading firm, similar to Wall Street hedge funds that use mathematical models and data to inform decisions. It used ‘leverage’—or borrowed money—to fuel its trades and make bigger returns.”

Note the alibis, and the passive voice. The subhead tells the reader “things got out of control,” as in Nixon’s infamous “mistakes were made.” The comparable Wall Street Journal piece ran rings around the Times version, explaining the interlocks and the sheer illegality.

More from Robert Kuttner

But the most appalling recent Times piece was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2022 at 4:58 pm

The gods of Silicon Valley are falling to earth. So are their warped visions for society

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Moya Lothian-McLean writes in the Guardian:

The new gods are running into a bit of trouble. From the soap opera playing out at Twitter HQ, the too-big-to-fail bankruptcies in the cryptocurrency space, to mass tech layoffs, the past month has seen successive headlines declaring a litany of woes facing the bullish tech boyos in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The minute-by-minute coverage of Elon Musk’s escapades and the global levels of interest in the FTX collapse both go well beyond what you’d expect from a business story. I’m willing to gamble a few Bitcoins that the popular fixation has little to do with any particular interest in successful software engineering; rather it is the personalities who inhabit these spaces, and the philosophies that propel them in their godlike ambition. What is their end goal, we wonder. What drives them, beyond the pursuit of growth? It is easy to assume that money is all that motivates the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Musk and Jeff Bezos. Except, when you start to examine the mindsets of these men, it’s clear that cash is far from the whole story.

The concept of “effective altruism” has had its day in court after FTX, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange announced that, oops, it was mysteriously short of $8bn and would be filing for bankruptcy, post haste. As the dust – and fraud allegations – settle, the personal guiding principles of FTX’s millennial chief executive, Sam Bankman-Fried, have come to the fore. Bankman-Fried ostensibly was driven into crypto by an adherence to the “effective altruism” movement. Originally espousing giving as much targeted time and money to philanthropy as possible, EA has been morphed by its most prominent practitioners into getting very, very rich and then spending that money on projects that better the human race. This “earn-to-give” philosophy is dependent on data-driven analysis of what causes offer the best returns of “betterment”. It’s utilitarianism with a god complex.

Since Bankman-Fried’s spectacular fall from grace, it seems as if this doctrine may be doomed to the same downward spiral as its most famous disciple. It’s hard to argue that you possess the best instincts to improve the prospects of the human race when you can’t even keep your own affairs – or billions in customer funds – in order.

Then there was the allegation last week by the Insider journalist Julia Black that Musk, along with other billionaires, appear to be engaged in their own personal eugenics programme via a movement called “pronatalism”. Black writes that pronatalism – an ideology centred on having children to reverse falling birthrates in European countries, and prevent a predicted population collapse – is “taking hold in wealthy tech and venture-capitalist circles”, with the aid of hi-tech genetic screening.

Musk has championed pronatalist ideas publicly. Privately the Tesla co-founder is, in his own words, “doing my part”; he has 10 children known to the public, two of whom are twins he fathered with an AI expert who serves as an executive for his Neuralink company. But the ideas go beyond Musk and into the canyons of Silicon Valley; the world’s richest and most powerful people see it as their duty, Black claims, to “replicate themselves as many times as possible”.

Black’s subjects also namecheck effective altruism, longtermism (which prioritises the distant future over the concerns of today), and transhumanism (the evolution of humanity beyond current limitations via tech), as complementary philosophies. The concept of legacy is key to understanding our tech pioneers. As one interviewee tells Black,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2022 at 1:04 pm

The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths

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Whenever there’s a road accident locally, Facebook springs to life with comments denigrating the driver(s) (and/or pedestrian(s) if any are involved), but never comments denigrating the road designer or traffic engineer. Weird, eh? This NY Times article (no paywall) by  Emily Badger and Alicia Parlapiano is enlightening. The chart above is from the article, which begins:

About a thousand people gathered on a bright morning on the National Mall the Saturday before Thanksgiving for what has become an American tradition: mourning a roadway fatality. With the Capitol in the background and the tune of an ice cream truck looping nearby, the crowd had assembled to remember Sarah Debbink Langenkamp, who was biking home from her sons’ elementary school when she was crushed by a semi truck.

Ms. Langenkamp was, improbably, the third foreign service officer at the State Department to die while walking or biking in the Washington area this year. She was killed in August in suburban Bethesda, Md. Another died in July while biking in Foggy Bottom. The third, a retired foreign service officer working on contract, was walking near the agency’s headquarters in August. That is more foreign service officers killed by vehicles at home than have died overseas this year, noted Dan Langenkamp, Ms. Langenkamp’s husband and a foreign service officer himself.

“It’s infuriating to me as a U.S. diplomat,” he told the rally in her honor, “to be a person that goes around the world bragging about our record, trying to get people to think like us — to know that we are such failures on this issue.”

That assessment has become increasingly true. The U.S. has diverged over the past decade from other comparably developed countries, where traffic fatalities have been falling. This American exception became even starker during the pandemic. In 2020, as car travel plummeted around the world, traffic fatalities broadly fell as well. But in the U.S., the opposite happened. Travel declined, and deaths still went up. Preliminary federal data suggests road fatalities rose again in 2021.

Safety advocates and government officials lament that so many deaths are often tolerated in America as an unavoidable cost of mass mobility. But periodically, the illogic of that toll becomes clearer: Americans die in rising numbers even when they drive less. They die in rising numbers even as roads around the world grow safer. American foreign service officers leave war zones, only to die on roads around the nation’s capital.

In 2021, nearly 43,000 people died on American roads, the government estimates. And the recent rise in fatalities has been particularly pronounced among those the government classifies as most vulnerable — cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians.

Much of the familiar explanation for America’s road safety record lies with a transportation system primarily designed to move cars quickly, not to move people safely.

“Motor vehicles are first, highways are first, and everything else is an afterthought,” said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

That culture is baked into state transportation departments that have their roots in the era of Interstate highway construction (and through which most federal transportation dollars flow). And it’s especially apparent in  . . . 

Continue reading. (no paywall) 

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2022 at 12:11 pm

Embrace what may be the most important green technology ever. It could save us all

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George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:

So what do we do now? After 27 summits and no effective action, it seems that the real purpose was to keep us talking. If governments were serious about preventing climate breakdown, there would have been no Cops 2-27. The major issues would have been resolved at Cop1, as the ozone depletion crisis was at a single summit in Montreal.

Nothing can now be achieved without mass protest, whose aim, like that of protest movements before us, is to reach the critical mass that triggers a social tipping point. But, as every protester knows, this is only part of the challenge. We also need to translate our demands into action, which requires political, economic, cultural and technological change. All are necessary, none are sufficient. Only together can they amount to the change we need to see.

Let’s focus for a moment on technology. Specifically, what might be the most important environmental technology ever developed: precision fermentation.

Precision fermentation is a refined form of brewing, a means of multiplying microbes to create specific products. It has been used for many years to produce drugs and food additives. But now, in several labs and a few factories, scientists are developing what could be a new generation of staple foods.

The developments I find most interesting use no agricultural feedstocks. The microbes they breed feed on hydrogen or methanol – which can be made with renewable electricity – combined with water, carbon dioxide and a very small amount of fertiliser. They produce a flour that contains roughly 60% protein, a much higher concentration than any major crop can achieve (soy beans contain 37%, chick peas, 20%). When they are bred to produce specific proteins and fats, they can create much better replacements than plant products for meat, fish, milk and eggs. And they have the potential to do two astonishing things.

The first is to shrink to a remarkable degree the footprint of food production. One paper estimates that precision fermentation using methanol needs 1,700 times less land than the most efficient agricultural means of producing protein: soy grown in the US. This suggests it might use, respectively, 138,000 and 157,000 times less land than the least efficient means: beef and lamb production. Depending on the electricity source and recycling rates, it can also enable radical reductions in water use and greenhouse gas emissions. Because the process is contained, it avoids the spillover of waste and chemicals into the wider world caused by farming.

If livestock production is replaced by this technology, it creates what could be the last major opportunity to prevent Earth systems collapse, namely ecological restoration on a massive scale. By rewilding the vast tracts now occupied by livestock (by far the greatest of all human land uses) or by the crops used to feed them – as well as the seas being trawled or gill-netted to destruction – and restoring forests, wetlands, savannahs, natural grasslands, mangroves, reefs and sea floors, we could both stop the sixth great extinction and draw down much of the carbon we have released into the atmosphere.

The second astonishing possibility is breaking the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2022 at 3:06 pm

Musk’s Twitter Buy Makes No Sense – Unless It’s Part of Something Bigger

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Dave Troy writes in Byline Times:

Ever since Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, plunged the world into an endless stream of speculation and condemnation around his purchase of Twitter, the biggest unanswered question has been: why?

For many, his ultimate goals seem to be a mystery. As someone who has followed the company and its role in information warfare closely, I believe we need to use a different set of lenses to evaluate what’s happening.

First, it’s not a very attractive business, and it probably isn’t worth what Musk paid for it based on business metrics alone. He will struggle to service the debt payments associated with it, and he could try to improve profitability by slashing headcount and charging for services like Twitter Blue (which will provide a verified “checkmark” but may not include identity verification). That subscription feature may generate around $100 million a year if it has high uptake — nothing compared to the company’s $3.7bn in 2021 revenues.

It’s also important to realise that co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey endorsed Musk’s takeover bid. Why? Dorsey actually believes Twitter never should have been a company, but rather a foundational protocol on which a Twitter-like service could be built for the benefit of all — rather like the foundational Internet protocols that have enabled the web and email. Dorsey retained his shares in Musk’s Twitter; he said in April, “Elon is the singular solution I trust,” and he seems to be standing by that assessment.

Twitter cost Musk and his consortium of investors about $44 billion — denominated in United States dollars. That seems like quite a lot to pay. However, just as home mortgage payments get less expensive in real terms as time goes on, if you had a high degree of confidence that the value of a dollar would go down, perhaps dramatically, you might not care very much about price — especially if you thought your new asset could help you devalue the dollar.

Looking closer at the biggest investors (among them Musk, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, Qatar, and Dorsey), all of them have an interest in challenging the US dollar. Musk and Dorsey are major Bitcoin fanatics, and believe it’s the future of money. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have expressed interest in displacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It is a peculiar characteristic of the investor list that all of them are interested in displacing the dollar.

Of course, this strategy is also one favoured by Vladimir Putin. His disastrous war in Ukraine is about more than territorial gains — it’s also a challenge to the West and what he perceives as unreasonable Western hegemony. He intends to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2022 at 5:53 pm

Intriguing approach to treating depression

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Paul Fitzgerald, a psychiatrist and the head of the School of Medicine and Psychology at the Australian National University, writes in Psyche:

Rachel gets out of bed slowly, very slowly, still troubled by the oppressive weight of depression that she has been carrying for the past six months. This, despite the therapist she sees, and despite the antidepressant pills she has been taking, seemingly forever. However, her treatment today is different. Instead of taking a pill, she puts a cap on her head – a futuristic-looking device containing electrodes that both read her brainwaves and pass a gentle electrical current across her scalp. She boots up her iPad and enjoys the distraction of a game while receiving her treatment: electrical stimulation to her brain that is driven and refined by ongoing recording of her neural activity. At the end, she rates how she is feeling. This and other data from her session, and her previous treatments, is fed into an algorithm that continually refines her ongoing course of treatment.

This might sound far-fetched, but is far from it. Beyond recognising and addressing the importance of social interventions to ameliorate the external conditions that can contribute to mental health problems, the treatment of depression is currently evolving in unexpected ways. This is based on a shift away from thinking about depression as a disorder of ‘chemicals in the brain’ to an understanding that depression is underpinned by changes in electrical activity and communication between brain regions.

Brain areas talk to one another by firing in rhythm together, at specific frequencies, forming complex networks that underpin important brain functions. For example, nerve cells in frontal and parietal areas of the brain oscillate in rhythm together (usually between 4 and 8 times per second) while we are actively trying to remember something. There is increasing evidence that depression is associated with changes in several of these networks, particularly those that connect multiple brain regions at long distance. One knock-on consequence is the overactivity of some parts of the brain and the underactivity of others.

Unbeknown to most of the public, there’s a new therapy, now established in clinical practice, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) that can address some of these brain-based changes seen in depression. In TMS, a figure-8-shaped coil held over the head generates a magnetic field that stimulates localised brain activity and the strength of connections between multiple brain regions. To treat depression, the TMS pulses are usually targeted to the front of the left side of the brain, a region that is consistently underactive in patients with depression. Although several decades of clinical trials have established the effectiveness and safety of TMS, especially for patients who have not responded to standard antidepressant medication, an ongoing challenge is that it is time-consuming and inconvenient. Patients must attend a clinical setting on a daily basis, five days per week, for up to 6 weeks.

For this reason, efforts are underway to develop alternative forms of brain-stimulation treatment that could be administered in a patient’s home. Of these, the research is most advanced for transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), a surprisingly simple process, the ideas behind which are not new. People have experimented with the use of electrical currents to change brain activity since Scribonius Largus, physician to the emperor Claudius, applied a type of electric ray to the brain during the time of the Roman Empire.

Unlike TMS, tDCS doesn’t directly stimulate the nerve cells of the brain, but subtly shifts the likelihood that they will fire in the future. A weak electrical current passes in one direction between two electrodes held in sponges placed on the scalp. This produces changes in brain activity beneath the electrodes and, when applied repeatedly to an appropriate area of the brain, such as left frontal regions, there is evidence from more than 10 clinical trials that it can help patients with depression. The development of tDCS in depression is at an earlier stage than TMS, but it is progressing rapidly, especially since its simplicity makes it viable as a widespread home-based therapy.

On that front, in recent years, interest has also grown in a related but distinct form of electrical stimulation – transcranial alternating-current stimulation (tACS), which differs from tDCS in that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2022 at 2:51 pm

Digital Books wear out faster than Physical Books

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I have experienced for myself the greater longevity of physical books. Brewster Kahle writes at the Internet Archive Blogs:

Ever try to read a physical book passed down in your family from 100 years ago?  Probably worked well. Ever try reading an ebook you paid for 10 years ago?   Probably a different experience. From the leasing business model of mega publishers to physical device evolution to format obsolescence, digital books are fragile and threatened.

For those of us tending libraries of digitized and born-digital books, we know that they need constant maintenance—reprocessing, reformatting, re-invigorating or they will not be readable or read. Fortunately this is what libraries do (if they are not sued to stop it). Publishers try to introduce new ideas into the public sphere. Libraries acquire these and keep them alive for generations to come.

And, to serve users with print disabilities, we have to keep up with the ever-improving tools they use.

Mega-publishers are saying electronic books do not wear out, but this is not true at all. The Internet Archive processes and reprocesses the books it has digitized as new optical character recognition technologies come around, as new text understanding technologies open new analysis, as formats change from djvu to daisy to epub1 to epub2 to epub3 to pdf-a and on and on. This takes thousands of computer-months and programmer-years to do this work. This is what libraries have signed up for—our long-term custodial roles.

Also, the digital media they reside on changes, too—from Digital Linear Tape to PATA hard drives to SATA hard drives to SSDs. If we do not actively tend our digital books they become unreadable very quickly.

Then there are cataloging and metadata. If we do not keep up with the ever-changing expectations of digital learners, then our books will not be found. This is ongoing and expensive.

Our paper books have lasted hundreds of years on our shelves and are still readable. Without active maintenance, we will be lucky if our digital books last a decade.

Also, how we use books and periodicals . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2022 at 5:34 pm

When Lethal Weapons Grew on Trees

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Man on beach in primitive apparel, aiming a bowl with an arrow whose length is greater than the height of the man.
Tanimber islander with very large bow and arrow in leather armor, Dutch Indies. Source unknown.

Kris De Decker in Low-Tech Magazine (subtitle: Doubts on progress and technology) takes a look at what we know of the history of the bow and arrow. The (lengthy and well-illustrated) article begins:

Many bows and arrows ago

The bow is one of humanity’s most essential and fascinating technologies, perhaps only eclipsed by the controlled use of fire. Despite endless academic speculation on the subject for almost 200 years, we don’t know when archery originated. [1] Bows and arrows were made from organic materials, which do not preserve for long. The oldest archaeological finds come from peat bogs, glaciers, and water-logged lake sediments – oxygen-free environments that prevent organic materials from decaying. [2] In the 1930s, in Stellmoor, Germany, archaeologists found roughly 100 arrow shafts dated to between 8,000 and 10,000 BC. [3] The oldest bow came to light in the 1940s in Holmegaard, Denmark. Scientists dated it to between 6,500 and 7,000 BC.

The bow and arrow are much older than these records indicate. One reason is that prehistoric bows were of a very sophisticated design, a point we return to later. Second, archaeologists have unearthed much older projectile points. The arrowhead is the only part of the bow and arrow made of inorganic material and thus preserves much longer. However, it can be hard to distinguish arrowheads from projectile points used with other weapons, most notably the spearthrower or atlatl. [4-5] While keeping this in mind, some studies have pushed back the date for the first bow and arrow use to between 35,000 and 70,000 years ago. [6] But even arrowheads cannot tell us the whole story because fire-hardened wooden points may have preceded bone and stone points.

Human powered springs

In mechanical terms, the bow is a spring made up of two flexible, elastic limbs held under tension by a string. When the archer pulls the string back, energy accumulates in the bow. When the archer releases the string, the energy transmits to the arrow, which flies out of the bow. The bow is a highly efficient technology: the arrow’s kinetic energy (usable energy) is close to the total energy expended. [7][8] Arrows are also very efficient, much more so than bullets: they lose little speed in flight and require little energy to penetrate a target. [9]

The bow and arrow is a missile (or ranged) weapon for striking from a distance. Simple missile weapons are launched using unassisted bodily force, for example, thrown stones, throw sticks, or hand-cast spears (“javelins”). Complex missile weapons interpose a launcher between the human and the missile. Such weapon systems include the bow as well as the sling, the blowgun, the spearthrower, and the firearm. [4] In the hands of a skillful and muscular archer, the (pre)historical bow was a powerful and accurate weapon. The firearm replaced the bow because it was easier to use, not because it was technically superior. [9]

Diversity of bow designs

Our forebears have used the bow and arrow on every continent except Australia (where spearthrower and throw stick prevailed) and Antarctica. The large geographical distribution and long history led to a wide diversity of bow designs determined by the local circumstances – the available materials and tools, the landscape, the climate, the use of the weapon, the social context, and so on. All bows consisted of a stave and a string, but the materials, dimensions, forms, shooting styles, and other features varied considerably. [10-11] That is not the case with modern firearms, which are the same everywhere.

Essentially, there are two types of bows, opposites on a scale: the 

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2022 at 5:18 pm

This pocket notepad is (slowly) replacing his phone

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Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2022 at 4:52 pm

An Elon insight

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I came across this exchange:

I genuinely wish I could see inside Musk’s head or at least get an explanation for how he was thinking his plans would work out.

Like it’s clear now he is fantastically out of touch with reality but I still really wanna know like, to what degree. Did he think people would accept his ultimatum? Did he genuinely think it would only take like 300 people to keep Twitter running?

In response to that query numberonecatwinner posted this:

I was an intern at SpaceX years ago, back it when it was a much smaller company — after Elon got hair plugs, but before his cult of personality was in full swing. I have some insight to offer here.

Back when I was at SpaceX, Elon was basically a child king. He was an important figurehead who provided the company with the money, power, and PR, but he didn’t have the knowledge or (frankly) maturity to handle day-to-day decision making and everyone knew that. He was surrounded by people whose job was, essentially, to manipulate him into making good decisions.

Managing Elon was a huge part of the company culture. Even I, as a lowly intern, would hear people talking about it openly in meetings. People knew how to present ideas in a way that would resonate with him, they knew how to creatively reinterpret (or ignore) his many insane demands, and they even knew how to “stage manage” parts of the physical office space so that it would appeal to Elon.

The funniest example of “stage management” I can remember is this dude on the IT security team. He had a script running in a terminal on one of his monitors that would output random garbage, Matrix-style, so that it always looked like he was doing Important Computer Things to anyone who walked by his desk. Second funniest was all the people I saw playing WoW at their desks after ~5pm, who did it in the office just to give the appearance that they were working late.

People were willing to do that at SpaceX because Elon was giving them the money (and hype) to get into outer space, a mission people cared deeply about. The company also grew with and around Elon. There were layers of management between individual employees and Elon, and those managers were experienced managers of Elon. Again, I cannot stress enough how much of the company culture was oriented around managing this one guy.

Twitter has neither of those things going for it. There is no company culture or internal structure around the problem of managing Elon Musk, and I think for the first time we’re seeing what happens when people actually take that man seriously and at face value. Worse, they’re doing this little experiment after this man has had decades of success at companies that dedicate significant resources to protecting themselves from him, and he’s too narcissistic to realize it.

This post is long so I’ll leave you with my favorite Elon story. One day at work, I got an all hands email telling me that it was Elon’s birthday and there was going to be a mandatory surprise party for him in the cafeteria. Presumably Elon also got this email, but whatever. We all marched down into the cafeteria, dimmed the lights, and waited. Elon was led out by his secretary (who he hadn’t fired yet) and made a big show of being fake surprised and touched that we were there. Then they wheeled out the cake.

OK, so, I want you to imagine the biggest penis cake you’ve ever seen. Like the king of novelty sex cakes. Only it’s frosted white, and the balls have been frosted to look like fire and smoke. This was Elon’s birthday “rocket” cake.

For as long as I live, I will never forget the look on everyone’s face — in that dark room of mostly-male engineers — when he made a wish and cut into the tip.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2022 at 7:11 am

Turn on two-factor authentication for Facebook

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After reading an article by Tatum Hunter in the Washington Post (no paywall), I immediately turned on two-factor authentication for my Facebook account. You should do that, too.  The article begins:

The first time 100 people tuned in for a live stream Lucretia Groce hosted on her Facebook cooking page, she felt a rush. Some viewers, including cancer patients whose appetites had been suppressed by chemo, told Groce that watching her cook made them feel hungry again. “It really touched me,” Groce said, adding that “it felt like I had known these people forever.”

It all abruptly ended a year ago, when Groce got kicked out of her account. Someone had posted abusive content from her page, an email from Facebook said. When she tried to report the action as an error, Facebook showed her the offending post: A video of two children being forced to perform a sex act.

Her account had been hacked. Groce said she cried for hours. Why did the site show her something so horrible with no warning? And how, without access to her personal account, could she recover the business page she had worked hard to grow?

She had started the page after quitting her job as a home health aide at the start of the pandemic. After years producing multiple videos a week, she had grown the page to 17,000 followers. The extra income from ads in her videos allowed her to pay bills and stash aside some savings, she said.

Her frustrating experience is not unique. Help Desk, the personal technology section at The Washington Post, has received hundreds of emails from people locked out of their Facebook accounts with no idea how to get back in. Many lose their accounts to hackers, who take over Facebook pages to resell them or to game search-engine rankings.

In some cases, losing the account is an inconvenience. But in many others, it is a threat to the finances, relationships or well-being of the user. Groce, for instance, estimates she has lost $18,000 in income after waiting for months for her account to be unlocked.

“We have clients crying on Zoom calls, as they have lost their business and livelihood,” said Jonas Borchgrevink, founder of Hacked.com, which helps victims navigate the notoriously confusing process for recovering hacked Facebook accounts.

Facebook shot to global dominance by promising to be a central hub for our lives, introducing tools to help us run businesses, make payments and even keep track of loved ones during disasters. But once you hit a snag, like an account takeover, that support disappears, dozens of users say, leaving people to flounder in an automated system.

Despite reporting revenue of more than $27 billion in the third quarter, Facebook parent company Meta is a multinational technology giant without real customer support, users say. This month Meta announced it will lay off 11 percent of its workforce. It is unclear how these cuts will affect account security and customer support.

Take these steps to get back into your hacked Facebook account

Last year Facebook told The Post it was working on new processes to solve these problems. A year later, not much appears to have changed. The company has no new initiatives for helping people recover their accounts.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal last week, Meta has disciplined more than two dozen employees and contractors over the past year for illicitly accessing user accounts, in some cases accepting bribes to do so.

Meta has said . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2022 at 2:35 pm

Pencils & Drawing

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Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2022 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Technology

Uh-oh. This looks bad: Monopolies and Cybersecurity Disasters

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Today I’m writing about an ID software management roll-up, where the private equity billionaire responsible for the worst software hack in American history is trying to get into even more sensitive territory.

One common theme of this newsletter is how a finance-first mentality creates hidden risk, particularly in areas of opacity and interconnection, like in enterprise software, the systems that manage the flow of information throughout big corporations.

The guts of corporate America runs on this stuff, large bloated software packages tied together with duct tape and run by ornery techies nagging their superiors about potential problems. Microsoft has built a somehow-unnoticed set of giant monopolies here, but there are an endless number of parasites – from software integrators to management consultants – who feed at this trough. And why shouldn’t they? Most CEOs of big companies don’t care if they spend a few more pennies per seat on some random network access security feature. They have IT departments for that, or CTOs they can ignore. And so enterprise software is often vastly overpriced and of poor quality. But it’s a rounding error on the profit-and-loss statement, it just doesn’t matter.

Only, sometimes it does.

SolarWinds is one of these innumerable enterprise software parasites, it makes a cheap and ubiquitous network management service called Orion. As the CEO put it, “We manage everyone’s network gear.” And he wasn’t, as we would find out later, joking. In late 2020, SolarWinds, and as it turns out every major corporation, was at the center of a devastating Russian hack. The victims were the most important American institutions, from the FBI to the Department of Treasury to Cisco Systems, Intel, Nvidia, California hospitals, etc. Russians got access to Microsoft’s source code and into the Federal agency overseeing America’s nuclear stockpile.

Hackers put malware into updates that SolarWinds sent to clients. Since SolarWinds was everywhere, the malware went everywhere. We hear a lot about how difficult it is to avoid cybersecurity problems, but this particular catastrophe wasn’t some unavoidable natural disaster. SolarWind’s security practices were not, shall we say, top quality. One researcher had previously alerted the company that “anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123.’” It wasn’t just one instance of Spaceballs-style Dark Helmet idiocy, either. Lax security practices were common and systemic, so bad that the key advisor at the firm told them a security breach would be catastrophic, and eventually quit in frustration. For days after the firm was hacked SolarWinds continued to offer its software.

Why was SolarWinds such a poor quality software provider? The firm chose to underinvest in security, a result of a specific business model, which is designed to maximize cash flow while offloading risks, like vulnerabilities to hacking, onto others.. SolarWinds is owned by Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm which scoops up software companies in obscure areas where customers are locked in. In a puff piece in 2020, the Wall Street Journal covered the basic business model.

Thoma Bravo identifies software companies with a loyal customer base but middling profits and transforms them into moneymaking engines by retooling pricing, shutting down unprofitable business lines and adding employees in cheaper labor markets.

The firm then guides its companies to use the profits they generate to do add-on acquisitions, snapping up smaller rivals with offerings that they could spend months and millions of dollars trying to replicate.

Typically Thoma Bravo raises prices and cuts quality, but the affected constituency group – corporate IT managers – don’t have a lot of power or agency. Their superiors don’t want to think about a high-cost but low-probability event, especially if every other big institution would be hit as well. CEOs, ever since the turn to monopoly and finance in the early 1980s, have become bankers, not engineers. So the Thoma Bravo model works, because no one with power listens to the IT nerds offering sage warnings about software quality and risk.

What makes SolarWinds more than a catastrophe, and turns it into a scandal, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 6:42 pm

Amy Coney Barrett urged to step away from gay rights case because of faith affiliation

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The US Supreme Court has some serious problems, which it is working hard to avoid recognizing or doing anything about. Stephanie Kirchgaessner writes in the Guardian:

Former members of Amy Coney Barrett’s secretive faith group, the People of Praise, are calling on the US supreme court justice to recuse herself from an upcoming case involving gay rights, saying Barrett’s continued affiliation with the Christian group means she has participated in discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ people.

The former members are part of a network of “survivors” of the controversial charismatic group who say Barrett’s “lifelong and continued” membership in the People of Praise make her too biased to fairly adjudicate an upcoming case that will decide whether private business owners have a right to decline services to potential clients based on their sexual orientation.

They point to Barrett’s former role on the board of Trinity Schools Inc, a private group of Christian schools that is affiliated with the People of Praise and, in effect, barred children of same-sex parents from attending the school.

A faculty guide published in 2015, the year Barrett joined the board, said “blatant sexual immorality” – which the guide said included “homosexual acts” – had “no place in the culture of Trinity Schools”. The discriminatory policies were in place before and after Barrett joined.

The schools’ attitude, the former People of Praise members said, reflect the Christian group’s staunchly anti-gay beliefs and adherence to traditional family values, including – they say – expelling or ostracizing members of the People of Praise “community” who came out as gay later in life or their gay children.

“I don’t believe that someone in her position, who is a member of this group, could put those biases aside, especially in a decision like the one coming up,” said Maura Sullivan, a 46-year-old who was raised in the People of Praise community in South Bend, Indiana. Sullivan identifies as bisexual and recalls coming out to her parents, who were members of the People of Praise, when she was 19.

“They decided that I wasn’t allowed to be around my sister, who was 13 at the time, without them around, because I could ‘influence’ her in bad ways. Stuff like that. So I had a tenuous relationship with my family,” she said. “To be cut off from my family was the ultimate loss of community.” Sullivan and her parents, who are no longer members of the faith group, have since repaired their relationship, she said.

Questions about the People of Praise’s attitude toward LGBTQ+ members and their families, and Trinity Schools’ policies, have resurfaced because the supreme court will hear oral arguments on 5 December in the case of 303 Creative LLC v Elenis.

It centers on a Christian website developer, Lori Smith, who has claimed an anti-discrimination law in Colorado has violated her right to free speech over same-sex marriage, which she says goes against her religious faith. Smith has said the Colorado law has forced her to “create messages that go against my deeply held beliefs” since she cannot legally turn away gay couples seeking her website services.

Barrett said in her confirmation hearing that her personal religious beliefs would not interfere with her abilities to be an unbiased judge. Conservatives have also lashed out against any suggestion that her affiliation with a Christian sect could compromise her independence.

But some former members of the faith group say . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 4:04 pm

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