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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: August 4, 2013

Fed2 Star last page Fed2 Star: Official News page 10 Fed2 Star next page


An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week’s net, technology and science news

by Alan Lenton

This week’s offering includes the NSA (what else), the Open Education Database, Machu Picchu, tunneling machines, steampunk tech gadgets, DIY quadcopters, and Beethoven’s 9th. There are URLs pointing to the Slingatron, O2 broadband ISP, a tar drop, a credit card mega-bust, and the world’s best sorbet. Quite a feast.


A Short:

I guess I should say something about the NSA, after all everyone else is... I’m not a citizen of the USA, so I’m always leery of criticizing when the UK certainly doesn’t have any of the safeguards the US constitution gives its citizens. However, at the risk of being told to mind my own business, I’d like to make one or two observations.

The problem here, it seems to me, is not, in general, one of the NSA abusing its powers. Quite to the contrary. It’s using the powers it has been given in what it sees as the best way to carry out its task. And the task of a spy organization is to spy. As far as I can see it’s done nothing illegal as such. It, and the administration to which it reports, have decided that the best way to counter terrorism, home grown and otherwise, is to monitor communications and use the tools developed by the big commercial search organizations to trawl through the resulting haul for ‘suspicious’ phrases.

Apart from discussion about whether this is the best way to defend against terrorism, the real issue is political. The authority to use the tools the NSA is using, and the money to develop those tools, was a political decision made by the legislature and the administration. In other words it was made by politicians. But that’s not all. Having passed laws allowing the NSA, and other law enforcement agencies, to develop and use these tools, it is the job of the politicians to ensure that proper oversight is maintained.

Reading the news, I would guess that a lot of US citizens don’t think there has been proper oversight. Well, all I can say is that the solution lies in the hands of the US voters - which is exactly where it should belong!
[If you really want a URL on this subject, just type ‘NSA’ into Google and it will give you 70,700,000 URLs to look at...]


The economies of the major western countries seem to be improving a little, hopefully giving a better chance for those leaving school and college to get a job. That being so, I thought I’d draw your attention to the Open Education Database (OEDb). It’s been around for a while, and represents a massive and free resource for those trying to decide what they want to do with their lives, and what they need to do it.

Following a recommendation from reader Xavier, I took a look at the Computer Science section (something I know a little about...) and was impressed by the way in which it provided, via a wide range of links, a good introduction to what sort of careers were available in the field. My feeling is that OEDb is a good place to start if you know what field you want to make a career in, but need more details of the sub-fields.

I suspect that nowadays few people want to go for the ‘suck it and see’ option I went for, which involved sequentially three different university courses - physics (inc astronomy), engineering and sociology - followed by the civil service, running a book shop, printer, political analyst, graphic designer, rock band manager, production editor of a weekly magazine, general administrator of a consumer computer network, computer game designer, and programmer. And that just the things I got paid to do!

It was a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone to try and do that these days. Build yourself a solid career before you start branching out, and if you haven’t decided yet then I recommend you go and browse through the OEDb to see what’s available.

Do you like cool pictures that have some history attached to them? Then take a look at this superb 16 Gigapixel panoramic photograph of the former Inca capital, Machu Picchu. You can pan around it and zoom in and out of the mountain top city which wasn’t rediscovered until 1911.

Here are a couple of nice pieces about tunnels and tunneling machines. The first one is about London’s new Crossrail tunnel, which is encountering some interesting problems boring under an area that has been urbanized, in one form or another, for around a millennium. The other is a look at the world’s largest tunneling machine. Engineers have all the fun these days!

For Geeks:

Calling all steampunks. Infoworld has a slide show of some really cool looking steampunk computer gadgets you might like to get your hands on. My personal favorite is the Twittertape Machine, but some of the others are just as cool. Take a look - you’re certain to find something that meets your taste.

Fancy making your own quadrotor drone type thing? Then take a look at the ‘Drone it Yourself’ kit which you can use to turn everyday objects into quadrotor UAVs. Flying bicycle wheels? No problem, sir, just let me attach these clamps and away we go.

The kit includes all you need to make your own UAVs, and it’s available as a set of plans on the creator’s site. The plastic bits, like the clamps, can be made on a 3D printer, the motors and nuts and bolts you need to buy from a hardware shop. Nifty!

And while you’re at it, take a look at some of the other projects, for instance the ‘Big Dinosaur’ project, on Jasper’s site.

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony - as played on 167 theremins. What can I say? You’ve just got to hear it. Now!

Scanner: Other stories

Slingatron to hurl payloads into orbit

One in five O2 and Be broadband subscribers abandon the ISP after its sale to Murdoch’s BskyB

World’s slowest-moving drop caught on camera at last

Five charged as Feds bust largest credit-card hack in history

From Corsica, capturing the secrets of the world’s best sorbet

Microsoft to Google: Please remove us from internet


Thanks to readers Barb, Fi and Xavier 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
4 August 2013

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.

Past issues of Winding Down can be found at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/winding/index.html.

Fed2 Star last page   Fed2 Star next page