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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: January 17, 2016

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

Once more unto the breach dear readers. This week with material on Alan Rickman, Bernie Sanders’ campaign, ISIS do-it-yourself encryption, politicians and (lack of) encryption, ice ages, vanishing islands, nailing down Easter, the Hindenburg airship, and new lighting for London bikes. Should the Oliver Twists in our company want more, there are URLs pointing to 3D printed livers, an FTC blunder, new Google Street View goodies, a Swiss watch windup, Medicare fraud and big data, and finally, pictures of Japan’s abandoned amusement parks.

That should keep you going for a while!


So, this week we lost David Bowie and actor Alan Rickman (Severus Snape in Harry Potter movies), RIP. There’s no shortage David Bowie material around, so I thought I’d draw your attention to an amazing seven minute, slow motion, video of Alan Rickman demolishing a cup of tea with extreme prejudice!

My first thought when I read this story was that it can’t be true – but it is. It seems that a lawyer representing US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has complained that his campaign logos, displayed on an article about him in the Wikipedia must be removed because they violate copyright! Surely some over-zealous lawyer at work here, was my second thought. But, no, the campaign confirmed it wanted the logos removed.

Totally bizarre. Every politician I know (and I know quite a few!) would absolutely kill for that sort of free publicity...

The push by certain western governments to weaken encryption on the internet took a major blow this week when it was reported that ISIS had created its own secure messaging app for Android smart phones and tablets. This makes clear exactly what the critics have always said of the proposals to add back doors to encryption protocols used on the internet. It would not make any difference to those who wished to use encryption for terrorist activities (however you choose to define such activity).

And in other encryption news, General Michael Hayden, former boss of the US National Security Agency (NSA) said in a speech, “I actually think end-to-end encryption is good for America.” Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, a UK Parliamentary Select Committee was grilling the politicians and bureaucrats about their desire for encryption back doors, and quoted David Anderson QC – who is reviewing the UK’s anti-terror laws – that he noted in his review the “disquiet and suspicion among sections of the public in the UK and other countries, prompted in particular by allegations of bulk collection and analysis of data on a previously reported scale.”


Oh boy! This one is going to put the cat among the pigeons. According to a study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the rise in greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere since about the time of the start of the Industrial Revolution has probably fended off the end of the interglacial that should have started about now. It looks like we’ve managed to put off the start for at least 50,000 years.

Contrary to popular belief, ice ages are not times when the ice completely covers everything all the time. They are periods of ice cover broken by warmer spells where the ice retreats again. We are actually in the middle of an ice age at the moment, but we are in a warm period – known as an interglacial – which started just under 12,000 years ago. Significantly, the emergence of humans started about the same time as the current interglacial.

At the greatest extent of glaciation last time, glaciers covered most of North American, northern Europe, Russia and Asia in the north, together with most of Chile and Argentina in the south. That it might happen again soon is not a nice thought. However, I don’t think the climate change people banging the drum for reducing emissions are going to like the idea that we were only saved from the glaciers this time by an increase in the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide!

Did you know... that most 19th Century atlases and charts contained literally hundreds of islands that simply didn’t exist? Most people have heard of one or two cases, but few realise just how big a problem it was. Even the Admiralty Charts of the UK’s Royal Navy, famed for their accuracy, suffered from the problem. The numbers of these non-existent islands built up gradually over the preceding decades as reports from ships and explorers came in. There were, of course, no satellite pictures to check against, so mostly the reporters were taken at their word, and the islands were added to the charts and atlases – two hundred of them by the middle of the 19th Century.

Eventually, something had to be done, and the 1875 edition of the Admiralty Charts eliminated no less that 123 of the ‘islands’. Actually, it later turned out that three of the eliminated islands did, in fact, exist, and they were reinstated in later editions. It took further years to eliminate other islands. Sandy Island, east of Australia, which never existed slipped through the net and was not shown to be a figment of the imagination until 2012. There are probably a few others lurking around, even now...

Well, Christmas is over. Next in line Easter. Do any of you know how to calculate when Easter falls in any given year? I thought not – here is the official explanation: Easter is on the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon following the spring equinox. Which means that it can be celebrated on a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April. If you want to work it out for the Orthodox Church, don’t forget that they are still using the Julian calendar...

Fear not, though, help is on the way and the heads of various churches are discussing ways of moving this festival from the last of its pagan origins, and fixing the date once and for all. This isn’t the first time this has been tried – the first time was in the 10th Century, and since then there have been another 15 attempts to secure an agreement.

Indeed, at one point – in 1928 – the UK parliament passed legislation allowing for Easter Sunday to be fixed on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. Nobody took any notice. Probably just as well, since that doesn’t seem much better than the existing arrangement, although, to be fair, it does decouple the event from the phases of the moon...

So will this work? Possibly, but even if it does get agreed by the heads of the main churches (the heads of the Anglican, Catholic, Coptic and Orthodox churches are involved) lots of Christians won’t accept it and go their own way. Governments, however, will seize the opportunity – bureaucrats have tidy minds, and would love to finally nail down this wandering public holiday!

Geek Stuff:

I thought some of you might find some material about what was probably the most famous airship of them all – the Hindenburg – interesting. The Hindenburg was 803.8 feet long, and 135 feet in diameter at its widest. The US Capitol, for comparison, is 751 feet long. The Hindenburg’s gas capacity was just over seven million cubic feet. It carried 50 crew and 72 passengers.

It caught fire while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937, and its fiery doom, brought about because it used hydrogen as the lifting gas, effectively marked the end of the passenger airship era. Take a look at the site which is not just about the disaster, but also features material on the interior, design and technology, and flight operations, instruments and controls. Lots of interesting material for the budding steampunk!


Rented push bikes in London (known to the locals as ‘boris bikes’ after the mayor, Boris Johnson) are to be fitted with special LED lights that project a green bike symbol on to the ground about ten feet in front of the bike. It’s a nifty idea, giving cars, lorries and pedestrians warning. Now that’s what I call a good use of technology. I guess it means that pedestrians will have advance warning that cyclists cutting the lights are about to mow them down as they cross!


3D printing organs: Indian startup 3D bioprints human liver

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) puts in a strong bid for the 2016 Ironic Idiocy Award

The world’s largest model railway comes to Google’s Street View

Swiss try to wind up Apple with $25k dumb-watch

The government unleashed Big Data to shut down Medicare fraud. Why isn’t it working?

Photos of Japan’s abandoned amusement parks, in all their ghostly glory


Thanks to readers Barb and Fi for drawing my attention to material for Winding Down.

Please send suggestions for stories to alan@ibgames.com and include the words Winding Down in the subject line, unless you want your deathless prose gobbled up by my voracious Thunderbird spam filter...

Alan Lenton
17 January 2016

Alan Lenton is an on-line games designer, programmer and sociologist, the order of which depends on what he is currently working on! His web site is at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/index.html.

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

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