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

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: March 6, 2016

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

Time flies – we are already into March! So, what have we got this week? Well, let me have a look – ‘If’ Sci-Fi mag digitized, Microsoft at it again, Bruce Schneier on security, problems with the internet ad industry, the Raspberry Pi 3, the Aston Martin DB11, plus teenagers in London. URLs point to pieces on digitally removing homeless people, US internet tax ban now permanent, the world’s biggest floating solar farm, SCO v IBM (remember them?), ISIS and encryption, Apple v FBI – in New York this time, and the Brit government brings its spy’s charter to parliament...

That should be enough for your weekend reading!


Wow! Gather round all you Sci-Fi fans, because all 176 issues of ‘If’ magazine are now available digitally. Running from 1952-1974, ‘If’ covers one of the most exciting times in the development of Science Fiction, and now it’s available via the Internet Archive. I hadn’t quite realised just how much of that period’s classic Sci-Fi appeared in ‘If’. Brilliant!

Deja vu! Microsoft are at it again, trying to force everyone onto Windows 10. Once again we can thank Woody Leonhard (great name) for alerting us to the problems as Micro$oft try yet again to trick people into upgrading to Windows 10. You know, we all need some way of asserting control over our own computers. And I have to say that Linux desktop is starting to look very enticing...


Wise words from my favourite security guru, Bruce Schneier, at the RSA 2016 security conference. Basically he made two points. The first is that although we can, to a certain extent, predict where technology is going, we are absolutely useless at predicting the social consequences of that technology. The example he gave was that of the invention of the car. Everyone figured out that it would enable people to travel further and faster, but no one foresaw the rise of the suburbs, and the ensuing social problems that caused.

The other problem is the total disjuncture between how we design and build physical structures – buildings, bridges, ships etc – and how we design and build software. In the first case we design carefully to make sure they don’t fall apart, and so that if anything does go wrong, the consequences are mitigated. In the case of software the pressure is on banging it out as fast as possible and fixing any problems – especially security problems – later. Of course, in the latter case, fixing security problems is usually too late to mitigate problems, and is usually only done after a disaster.

Add this to the fact that the use of networks is increasing exponentially. If you doubt that, think of the number of household and other physical objects slated to be attached to the internet in the not too distant future. (This is often called ‘The Internet of Things or ‘IoT’.) How many people are going to have their dwelling broken into because of a software bug in their ‘smart’ door-phone?

Have a read of The Register’s report on the talk. It’s in English, not tech speak, and well worth a few minutes of your time!

Ad blockers. They’re a serious problem, and yes, I fully admit I’ve used one for many years. The problem has no easy solution. On the one hand people do not want to pay for what they see on the net, but someone has to pay, even if it’s not the users. So, at an early date sites started using paid for ads (in those days mostly banner ads) to fund their sites. Over time the ads have become more and more obtrusive and strident as they compete for people’s attention. They have also added to the network load on the viewer’s internet access, sometimes seriously slowing down the receipt of a web page.

These things have seriously hacked off the ordinary users, who, in many cases have resorted to ad blockers to get uninterrupted access to the web. The use of blockers is growing rapidly. Here in the UK, 22 per cent of adults now use ad blockers – up from 15 per cent six months ago. In a further indication of future trends, UK mobile network operator ‘Three’ has announced its intention of blocking all ads in the not too distant future. This will devastate the business model of most regular web sites, but also the business model of those developers who write ad supported apps for mobile devices. Needless to say this all isn’t confined to the UK, we are just a little further down the route than most others.

The industry has generated big money for many of those in the ad business. For instance, virtually everything you see from Google is funded, at least initially, from Google’s premier position as the internet’s ad-broker. Apart from ad blocking being an increasing problem the business is shot through with problems. Page views are virtually impossible to calculate accurately, click throughs as a metric are wide open to fraud, and how do you know that your super cool new advertising video is being displayed at the size you are paying for – for all you know it could be being shown in a 3 pixel by 2 pixel box!

The truth is that the whole internet advertising industry is fundamentally broken. There are companies out there that offer fixes for some of the problems. Many of the ‘fixes’ are digital snake oil, but some are a serious attempt to deal with problems like click fraud. The problem is that even the ones that do help are really only band-aid. And none of them deal with the underlying technical and social problems, in particular the rise of styles of advertising that are simply not acceptable to its intended audience.

I have no magic bullet for how to fix this problem, but I do know that it’s getting way out of control. So out of control, in fact, that even the advertising industry is beginning to notice it. I will, however, make one prediction. Here it is: rather than fixing the underlying problems the advertising industry will attempt to protect its business model by trying to make ad blockers illegal, and/or trying to make it illegal to block ads, probably using some variant of ‘net neutrality’. I’ll go further and predict that in the long run they won’t succeed in their attempts, but what they will do is ensure that the 80% or so of internet users who don’t know about ad blockers will hear about them!

Geek Stuff:

I’d draw the attention of those of you interested in hardware hacking and the Internet of Thingies to look out for the Raspberry Pi 3. According to the spec it not only has a 64-bit ARM processor, but also has WiFi and Bluetooth built in. Apparently it is in the shops for around US$35 now. Take a look at the URL for the full spec.

On the other hand, if you want something, how shall I put it, a little faster, that plays to your James Bond tendencies, how about the new Aston Martin DB11? It’s a snip at a mere US$211,995 for the basic model, though I doubt that many of those who can afford it will just buy the basic model!


Visiting London with a teenager in tow? I foresee potential boredom problems on the part of said teenager, who will undoubtedly have different cultural and leisure tastes to those who actually bring in the money. Fortunately, courtesy of ‘The Londonist’ I have good news – thirteen things that teenagers can do in London. A visit to Camden market (which was one of Amy Winehouse’s fave hangouts until her sad and untimely death) is a must, though it could be expensive and drive your luggage weight over the limit. Incidentally, the Wellcome Foundation on Euston Road is always worth a visit – especially for those with more macabre tastes.

There’s a wide variety of activities to suit all types, when they eventually get out of bed.


Solution to tech bros’ disgust of SF homeless people launched [Yuk! – AL]

President signs bill making Internet Service tax ban permanent

World’s biggest floating solar farm powers up outside London

SCO vs. IBM looks like it’s over for good

ISIS turns to foreign encryption products as Apple–FBI fight rages in U.S.

Apple scores iPhone legal victory that may help in FBI fight

UK Investigatory Powers Bill lands in Parliament amid howls over breadth of spying powers


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
7 March 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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