Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Americans aren’t Germans. Germans are orderly and by the book. German roads are perfectly striped and perfectly paved. German cars are ridiculously expensive because they’re over-engineered and over-inspected to make sure they’re as perfect as the Germans know how to make them. They’re a tidy, fastidious people for whom everything must be just so.

Americans, on the other hand, are the nation of “hold my beer and watch *this*!” Everything is sloppy here, from the lines on the highways which differ ridiculously from state to state, to the way we drive. We drive Germans nuts. A Mercedes executive in charge of autonomous car development once tried out a semi-autonomous car that worked perfectly on German roads on American highways, and almost had a nervous breakdown as his car’s computer *did* have a nervous breakdown. “You people can’t even stripe your roads right!” he said, as furious as a German ever gets.

This, of course, is why we invented Silicon Valley and the Germans didn’t. The whole of Silicon Valley is “hold my beer and watch *this*!” applied to computer technology. Most of the time, the result is a spectacular crash, as the dismantled remains of so many failed Silicon Valley companies demonstrates. Sometimes, however, sometimes… you get a Facebook, or a Google, or an eBay, and wonderful things happen. All because of “hold my beer and watch *this*!”.

Now, when applied to the national government… suddenly “hold my beer and watch *this*!” doesn’t seem so great. But a majority of people in sufficient electoral college states thought differently, so ….

– Badtux the Non-beer-drinking Penguin

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So yesterday it turns out that Comey took dated notes in his conversations with Trump, like all FBI agents do. And the notes say that Trump asked him, on February 14, to stop the Russia investigation. Comey didn’t. Then Trump fired him. By his own admission, in his tweets, because of the Russia investigation.

Yeah, obstruction of justice. That and $2 will get you a cup of bad coffee at Starducks.

So now the Justice Department — with Jeff Sessions abstaining because he *isn’t* immune to obstruction of justice charges — has appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special council to oversee the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Mueller is a Republican who was appointed as FBI director by George W. Bush. On the other hand, he has a reputation as a straight arrow. He refused, for example, to allow the FBI to participate in the CIA / Pentagon torture campaign. So… cue the popcorn.

So now to more randomness…

Russia to America: Don’t read newspapers. Really? Dude. The day that I let a foreign government tell me what to do is the day I renounce my American citizenship and swear allegiance to Hydra. Sheesh.

Trump, speaking to graduating Coasties, spent time whining about how mean the press has been to him. “No politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly.” Dude. They shot Abraham Lincoln in the head. And he has the fucking nerve to say this after eight years of bigoted racist attacks against President Obama. Whether it was photoshops of Obama’s head on a witch doctor, the current Racist In Chief’s constant insistence that Obama couldn’t possibly be an American and his birth certificate must be fraudulent because, well, he’s *black*, the continual assertions that Obama was a dictator who was gonna take their guns because he’s a big scary black man, the constant racist photoshopping of his head and his wife’s head onto monkeys, etc., frankly I don’t know how the man didn’t snap and start having bigots strung up on the White House lawn. I guess Obama just has thicker skin than the current precious delicate snowflake-in-chief.

Finally: Any half-decent hacker could break into Mar-a-Lago’s poorly secured networks and spy on everything happening there. Including the doings of the Orange Racist Russian Stooge.

But… her emails!

– Badtux the Head-shakin’ Penguin

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It got up to 94 degrees today. Pretty darn hot for no air conditioning. The good news is that it’s supposed to cool down tomorrow. Phew!

So, I got an alert that one of my drives in my RAID array failed, and when I got in I found that three of the drive bays in my 12-bay NAS unit had died, degrading my ZPOOL too. Well, three drives don’t die at one time, so I rebooted the server, went into the LSI BIOS, and swapped three known good drives into those bays. Still nada, they wouldn’t even blink red. So I did what everybody would do in that situation — I grabbed a backplane off the pile of backplanes behind me that I’d scored off of eBay, and swapped it into the system. The “bad” drives then came back online, added themselves back into the appropriate arrays (with a bit of prompting from me), voila. Hoarders for the win!

So, what’s happening in the world today?

Well, yesterday in 1945 the Red Army hoisted the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, which many historians consider the symbolic end of the Third Reich or, as Steve Bannon calls it, “a temporary setback.”

Jeff Sessions doesn’t like being laughed at. So he prosecuted a woman who laughed when someone said “Jeff Sessions has a well-documented record of treating all people equally under the law” (his actual record is that he’s a raging bigot), and successfully convicted her of disrupting Congress, a crime which carries up to 1 year in Club Fed. Just by comparison: Brock Turner spent 3 months in county jail for raping an unconscious girl. But laughing at a white racist is a more serious crime than raping an unconscious girl, right? Right?!

Talking about rape, Donald Trump just hired yet another person accused of sexual assault by multiple women, Steven Munoz. Because birds of a feather and all that, I guess.

Finally, the Dutch have a good precedent for what to do with a failed leader. Unfortunately applying their lesson to a certain orange racist pussy grabber would result in a lot of heart attacks from eating so much fat…

– Badtux the Snarky Penguin

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So, email. It was invented in 1965 with the first time-sharing systems at MIT. Students at MIT wrote a program called “MAIL” that allowed sending email to each other, as documented by one of the early developers who worked on the MIT systems. By 1970 email programs had gotten a bit more sophisticated, with the development of the modern inbox as part of the Multics project. In 1971, the first version of Unix, created by people who’d worked on Multics who were pining for some of the features of Multics, included a program called ‘mail’ to allow sending email to other users on Unix systems. Then in 1971 Ray Tomlinson, a developer of the ARPANET (a predecessor of the Internet) at BBN (a government contractor), sent the first email across the ARPANET between two computers. By 1972 he’d developed the syntax of using the “@” sign to separate the user name and the destination, so that the ARPANET email system didn’t need to know the user accounts on all systems on the ARPANET simultaneously and so that a user “badtux” at one site and a user “badtux” at another site wouldn’t be confused with each other. Initially the DEC 10 (Tenex) and Multics operating systems supported Internet mail. Obviously others followed.

By 1973 the situation of incompatible email systems on the ARPANET had reached the point where a meeting had to be called to standardize email on the ARPANET. The ARPANET community then tossed out a multitude of proposals which were discussed and hashed out over the course of the year, mostly via email (!). EMAIL accounted for 2/3rds of the traffic on the ARPANET that year. The first SPAM on the ARPANET apparently happened in 1975. By 1976 the Queen of England sent an email message on the ARPANET. In 1976. By 1978, the BSD Unix Mail program had been written with folders and the ability to easily move messages between them, and an email reader had been implemented in MacLisp inside Multics Emacs, thereby proving the adage that Emacs is not a text editor, Emacs is an operating system.

Also in 1978, a 14 year old kid in New Jersey by the name of Shiva Ayyadurai started writing an electronic version of the inter-office mail system for what later became Rutgers Medical School and finished writing it sometime in 1979. He called it EMAIL. Some time later, in 1982, he illegally copyrighted it. (Illegally because it was done as a work for hire for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey which paid him as an employee to write the program, and thus the copyright, which was automatically granted upon the program first being distributed under the terms of the Copyright Act of 1976 which took effect on January 1, 1978, legally belonged to the medical school under the Work for Hire doctrine).

So. That’s a brief history of email up until 1979. In 1980, the limitations of using a bag on the side of the FTP protocol to pass email messages around the Internet reached the breaking point, and SMTP (Send Mail Transport Protocol) was invented and ARPANET’s email transitioned to that new protocol, which is still in use today as our standard Internet EMAIL protocol to transmit messages between email servers all over the world. And in 1983, the current IPv4 Internet protocol replaced the original IMP protocol and it is still in use today. None of which is controversial in any way… except Shiva Ayyadurai says he invented email, and he’ll sue anybody who says differently. Despite all that easily documented history that I mention above. Documented history including, for example, the original Unix manuals from 1971, or the source code for the original MIT email program from 1965 which can be downloaded from historical archives and viewed for yourself, or etc.

And no, those were not instant messaging programs. The BSD ‘mail’ program from 1978, for example, is the exact same program that is shipped with every Linux system in the world today. You likely haven’t seen the program if you date to the GUI era, but I used it back in my BSD days in the early 80’s before we had all this fancy GUI shit, and it implements all the functionality you’d expect of an email program — it has subject headers and From headers, it has folders, you can move messages between folders, etc. It was email. Period. And not invented by Shiva Ayyadurai.

So Shiva Ayyadurai says he’s tired of being called a liar and a fraud? Then he should quit lying and should quit fraudulently claiming to have invented email. And if he doesn’t want to read articles like this on the Internet? Then he should quit being the sort of fucking asswipe who sues news publications that publish the true history of email.

Note: Feel free to copy and paste. This is the kind of asshole who deserves all the negative publicity he has bought by suing a news source for, well, reporting the truth.

– Badtux the Annoyed Penguin

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So yesterday I mentioned how the brown shirts err red caps were harassing people via the Internet and phone, even to the point of calling in false bomb threats in some cases. How can this be?

In a word: we fucked up.

By “we”, I mean those of us in the computer industry who thought we were building the technology of freedom. We tried our best to make the Internet so robust that dissidents could continue to communicate despite the best efforts of a dictator. We tried our best to make the Internet as anonymous and easy to access as possible so that future samizdat did not need hidden typewriters to spread information far and wide. We built anonymity into Internet telephony protocols so that phone calls could be routed across national borders and back in order to evade dictators. We reasoned, in our crypto-libertarian naivete, that this would prevent tyrannical nation-states from suppressing the people.

We fucked up. Instead, it has enabled hoards of brownshirts err red caps to attack and censor any who dare oppose their faction or even just random people they *think* might oppose their faction, hiding behind the anonymity that we built into these protocols. Denial of service attacks launched by red cap sympathizers knock liberal voices off the Internet. Anonymous phone calls wake them up in the middle of the night. Easily accessed hate media anonymously accessed dispatches the red caps against targets far and wide. All of this was enabled by our crypto-libertarian belief in the power of anonymity to fight dictatorial regimes. Anonymity which isn’t even *truly* anonymity — nation-states are quite capable of monitoring every single connection and knowing the contents of each and every communication — but which is impregnable to the average person without the means and capabilities to file lawsuits against dozens of “John Does” in multiple countries and issue hundreds of subpoenas against dozens of providers in multiple countries. In short, only a nation state can truly untangle what we wrought, and if the nation-state is ruled by the head of the red caps…

Talk about the law of unintended consequences — technologies we built to *resist* oppression, are now being used to *create* oppression! We were so naive, when we were young…

– Badtux the No-longer-crypto-libertarian Penguin

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Read the Politico article first, then come back to here.

Are you back? Okay. Well. It’s been 20 years now since I last worked in government, but things haven’t changed since then. Here’s the thing I remember most about government: Their IT people were utter amateurs. They were reliant on contractors for the simplest of things, and panicked whenever the most elementary of problems happened. And it turns out that the State Department’s IT people while HRC was Secretary of State were just as incompetent as I remember, and HRC’s own IT people were complete amateur hour.

Here’s the take-aways I get from the article:

  1. Her “IT team” is typical of what I’ve seen in government — an incompetent nominally in charge, who relied on a very expensive consultant who actually set things up and configured them. The consultant actually did a decent job of setting things up and securing them, from what I can tell, though there’s a couple of things I would have done that he didn’t do. But there’s a lot he did right, too. In particular, I’m impressed that one of the things he did was set up an intrusion detection system that could alert on someone breaking into the system — there’s way too many government IT systems out there which aren’t protected even to that extent.
  2. The FBI is idiots. They tagged dozens of emails sent to her by Sid Blumenthal as containing classified information. Thing is, Sid Blumenthal was a private citizen with no access to classified information. Everything he sent Hillary was public domain knowledge that he’d gathered by talking to other non-government people. By definition it couldn’t be classified, because it did not originate within government and did not use any government resources or assets that could be disclosed and harm government intelligence gathering.
  3. HRC is a complete dolt when it comes to computers. She didn’t even know how to use a personal computer. She used a Blackberry long after the iPhone made the Blackberry obsolete because she didn’t want to learn how to use an iPhone, she felt she had more important things to do when the Blackberry worked well enough for her. Her staffers thought an iPad was a good idea, maybe, but when her staffers gave her one and tried to get her to use it, it didn’t “take” — she ended up going right back to her Blackberry.
  4. HRC had a policy that all classified information was to be handled in hard copy.
  5. HRC did not herself initiate emails with classified information. All emails with potentially classified information in them were sent by her staffers.
  6. For that matter, HRC’s emails were generally along the lines of “Please print out that email thread and bring it to me.” Reading long emails was difficult on the tiny Blackberry and she preferred hardcopy or talking to people personally via telephone. The emails she sent were mostly along the lines of “please print out that document and bring it to me” or “please arrange a phone call with so-and-so and add it to my calendar.”
  7. HRC left her Blackberry outside the “classified” section of the State Department. Everything inside the “classified” tier was done via phone and hard copy.
  8. It was assumed by everybody that all of HRC’s emails were being archived by the State Department because they were between HRC and her staffers, all of whom had “official” State Department email addresses. Sid Blumenthal was the only person other than POTUS outside her staff who had her email address, and nobody thought about archiving his emails because he was a personal friend and emails with him were assumed to be personal business.
  9. The State Department was not, in fact, archiving the emails originating from or terminating at her staffers’ email addresses. But nobody told HRC’s staffers that, they blithely assumed all their emails were being archived.
  10. Once a FOIA request happened for Hillary’s emails, and it was realized that the State Department did not have a copy of the emails, HRC’s staffers made a best-effort attempt to satisfy the request. A best-effort attempt that was laughable in its incompetence, but then, I’m an IT specialist in private enterprise, and I would have handled it much better.
  11. The FBI now has all the emails, including the “deleted” ones, because they retrieved her old retired email server that had been set up in the basement of her house and retrieved them from there. So there’s no longer any “missing” emails that potentially have a “smoking gun” in them.

All in all, I was expecting there to be some sort of smoking gun here of HRC having deliberately attempted to hide things, given the right-wing rhetoric about all this. Instead, it appears that what happened is a typical example of government bungling of basic IT functions, combined with a lot of hype by right wing outlets. It appears that HRC had a clear policy that classified information was to be given to her in hardcopy, not via email, and while clearly some staffers violated that by sending her emails about sensitive topics that probably should have been classified, none of it originated from HRC herself. There’s no evidence of HRC herself sending emails with classified content. For that matter, all of her emails seem to be one-liners along the lines of “send condolences to King Foofoo about his wife’s untimely demise” and “print me out that email thread about North Korea”, things like that. You can’t send much more than a one liner with a Blackberry. It’s just too difficult typing on that tiny little keyboard.

In short: Incompetence is not a crime, and once the fact that the emails had not been archived by the State Department came to light, HRC’s people did their incompetent best to remedy the situation. I don’t see anything here that could be used to prosecute HRC for any crime because any crime for which she or her people could be charged requires intent, not merely incompetence. There’s just no “there” there. If we were going to make IT incompetence a crime, we’d have to send 90% of the government to prison!

But hey, this is just facts. And who needs facts, when we can instead judge people based upon uninformed opinions and prejudices, right?

– Badtux the IT Penguin

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That’s the common lament of those who came of age in the 50’s and 60’s, when utopian articles in popular magazines, plus popular pulp science fiction both published and on television, had us all flying around in flying cars by 2000. No more traffic jams — just rise above the traffic! No more taking all day to drive across Texas. Just rise up to altitude and zoom across Texas within a few hours!

Yet here we are in 2016, still resolutely earthbound. What happened?


  1. Those utopian articles forgot some fundamental laws of physics.
    • Gravity sucks. Literally. It takes a lot of force to lift thousands of pounds up off the ground. It takes a lot of force to keep that object off the ground. If the mechanism applying that force quits — the object swiftly resumes being on the ground as gravity literally sucks it down. Usually deadly so for both the person in the machine, and the people underneath that machine. Thus far we have not created any mechanism capable of lifting thousands of pounds up off the ground that is fail-proof enough to keep from falling when subjected to the inept maintenance and stupidity of the average human being.
    • Pushing or pulling on air doesn’t make you stop or go very fast. If someone cuts you off, there’s no brakes to use the friction of rubber against asphalt to stop you from hitting him, just air. So maintaining sufficient spacing is *very* critical.

    As a result, only machines which are ridiculously over-engineered and over-maintained driven by highly trained pilots are allowed to fly over populated areas, and only if they are sufficient distance from the ground such that if they fail, there’s a chance that before they hit the ground they can directed to a spot where they won’t hurt anybody. This isn’t a recipe for putting flying cars in the hands of the common people.

  2. Those utopian articles overestimated how smart people were. Because of the spacing issue, the only way to get any traffic density is to do it in three dimensions. But the human brain simply isn’t capable of handling keeping track of lots of traffic that’s in all directions around you. There have been plenty of crashes caused by private pilots who ran into other aircraft that were below them or above them that they couldn’t even see, because they’d lost track of the other planes around them.
  3. Those utopian articles overestimated how smart computers would be by the year 2000. Really, the fastest modern computer still doesn’t have the raw compute power of the human brain. The human brain can fire off signals amongst its neurons literally 30 times faster than the fastest supercomputers. And that’s just the neurons in the brain. There are neurons involved in passing and processing signals from our senses to our brain and we have no idea how much processing is being done there, and it’s all in parallel. And finally, we still don’t understand what intelligence is. We understand that it’s a self-organizing system that’s partially hardwired and partially programmed by our environment, but understanding the details with sufficient clarity to actually create such a thing — other than the traditional way involving a man, a woman, and nine months — still eludes us. The end result is that we still don’t have real self-driving cars — just cars that can handle *some* scenarios semi-autonomously, but they still regularly trip out and drift to the side of the road and stop in bafflement if not given human input — nevermind self driving flying cars, which have to do everything that a self-driving ground car does, but in three dimensions.

    Yes, commercial aircraft have autopilots and glide path automation that can basically land the plane by itself. But this is all being directed by humans, humans at air traffic control telling pilots what altitude, heading, and speed to hole, pilots setting the autopilot to hold that altitude, heading, and speed, and humans at air traffic control telling pilots when it’s okay to come in for a landing once the airplane starts circling around the airport in the landing pattern. It’s humans doing the three dimensional thinking, humans with giant radar screens and technology for tracking all these aircraft, but still humans. Plus, the number of aircraft involved is in the hundreds, not in the hundreds of thousands. There are a literally a million cars on the road here in the SF Bay area every morning. Having humans track all those cars in 3D and direct their computers to keep the correct altitude, speed, and heading accordingly simply can’t happen. We need computers to do this — really smart computers. And we don’t have them. We just have autistic savants, machines that can do a few things really, really fast and well, but are utter fail at anything that relies on actual judgement and general pattern recognition.

So. Physics. Inadequate human brains. Inadequate computers. Those are why we don’t have flying cars. Will we have flying cars in the future? Well, the computers keep getting faster and more complex, so sure, it’s possible. But one thing is certain — it won’t be easy, and it won’t happen as quickly as the dreamers of the 1950’s and 1960’s dreamed it would. It turns out there’s some Hard Problems there involving some fundamental laws of physics that aren’t going to be easy to solve sans a lot of computing power — maybe more computing power than we can ever bring to bear on it before we managed to destroy our environment and destroy our civilization. Our great-great-great-great grandchildren, wearing tattered furs while hunting food with pointed sticks in the middle of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, likely won’t have any use for our notions of flying cars. So it goes.

– Badtux the Science Penguin

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