* Posts by Jim Birch

160 posts • joined 23 Sep 2008


Switzerland 'first' country to roll out contact-tracing app using Apple-Google APIs to track coronavirus spread

Jim Birch

Re: Why do they keep repeating that ?

From an epidemiological point of view it is extremely useful to know where the infection occurs. This can guide policy. If you haven't noticed, there's a trade-off between normal freedoms like the ability to go to work or the pub and not killing people.

Jim Birch

Re: Switzerland as a model

They are almost all well-educated, basically law abiding and socially cooperative, and just don't have the same level of anti-government and privacy fetish the anglo world has. An app like this is effective if everyone uses it and more-or-less useless if only a small fraction of people use it. Most people who refuse the app won't be in the covid death demographic so won't have the self-interest factor they might have if they had a mate or two who carked. It will be interesting to see how this goes in different cultural settings, especially in places that have further big outbreaks after reopening things.

FYI: There are thousands of Chrome extensions with so, so many fake installations to trick you into using them

Jim Birch

Re: I'm a very, very conservative person

Most people don't have your skills or caution. Google does a mostly reasonable job of protecting users from themselves but Chrome extensions is a wild west.

Far-right leader walks free from court after conviction for refusing to hand his phone passcode over to police

Jim Birch

Re: And the moral of this story is ...

The police aren't as marvellously omniscient as you like to imagine. If they were, things would be a lot different, wouldn't they?

New Zealand releases Bluetooth-free COVID-19 tracing app

Jim Birch

Re: Trust?

You are joking? Or clueless?

Jim Birch

Re: IQ downward spiral...

Social distancing, contact tracing and quarantine are the best defenses. And starting early and strong. NZ ticks all the boxes. Lower population density, climate factors and less international travellers help but alone they won't achieve what NZ has, i.e. very close to elimination.

Jim Birch

Re: One Last Push and it's Over

Also, achieving herd immunity without a vaccine or some disease mitigating drug kills a horrific number of people. These don't exist at present.

New York data suggest a mortality rate of 1.4% for infected individuals. Based on random population antibody testing and excess deaths statistics, imperfect but good. This number will vary with demographics, population heath, care access, etc, but it's a reasonable ball park.

Read the source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-death-rate/

Apple-Google COVID-19 virus contact-tracing API to bar location-tracking access

Jim Birch

Re: Makes a change

It's not all about you. Think outside your individualism ideology.

In general, the value of a network increases with the number of nodes and this is no exception. It will only work with a significant uptake.

Secondly, you aren't doing this for yourself anyway. If you are young and healthy you are very unlikely to die. You would probably get quite sick and have a real chance of ending up with residual lung damage that it might take (eg) a year to clear. The people at real risk are your and other people's grandparents and people with diseases like diabetes. If you don't care about them, then go with protecting yourself from the security risk. the risk is very minor compared to a whole bunch of stuff you and the rest of us do every day but it does have that cool narrative of heroic individual resistance.

Australian contact-tracing app leaks telling info and increases chances of third-party tracking, say security folks

Jim Birch

Personally, I'd rather stick with my privacy fetish and let the old people die.


Good news: Neural network says 11 asteroids thought to be harmless may hit Earth. Bad news: They are not due to arrive for hundreds of years

Jim Birch

Re: wtf is this shit about "neural networks?"

No so. The equations of motion for more than two gravitational bodies diverge on long time scales. Tiny errors in the initial condition create radically different solutions. The problem needs to be treated using the maths of chaotic systems which will produce probabilities not exact solutions. That's AI country.

Jim Birch

The definition of potential harmful they are using is actually an extremely low chance of an actual hit, about 0.0007%.

For practical purposes this is about as likely as a zombie apocalypse.

UK contractors planning 'mass exodus' ahead of IR35 tax clampdown – survey

Jim Birch

Folk economics in two lessons:

Everyone want to live in high tax countries because it's better but no one wants to pay tax. It's an outrage!

Everyone wants to the benefit of market economies because most stuff works better but no one wants to be impacted by the market. It's an outrage!

Voyager suffers a power wobble as boffins start the final countdown for Spitzer

Jim Birch

I told them to take some spare batteries.

Boffins find proof that yes, Carl Sagan and Joni Mitchell were right, we really are all made up of star stuff

Jim Birch

Re: "[Palladium] is easily destroyed by heat"

I left my palladium out of the fridge and it converted to a smelly carbon compound.

Brian Eno's latest composition: A giant Christmas card with Julian Assange on it

Jim Birch

This article would be very thin without a totally irrelevant bitch on Eno's music.

Metropolitan Police's facial recognition tech not only crap, but also of dubious legality – report

Jim Birch

Of course the article should say that the current version of the technology has some score. In fact, we know it will improve incrementally over time.

Want a good Android smartphone without the $1,000+ price tag? Then buy Google's Pixel 3a

Jim Birch

Re: Cloud Storage

64 Gb is ok for the ordinary connected user with wifi usually available and moderate data contract. The phone is a cloud node. Think cache, not storage centre.

Larger storage is a drag on phone performance, eg, the scan of memory of startup. It also breaks the login on anything and you have everything usage model.

But sure, if you want to cart 50 movies or a humongous music collection around, this device won't do it.

What today links Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram – apart from being run by monopolistic personal data harvesters?

Jim Birch

I'm amazed that the FB system works as well as it does. A userbase in the billions, that seriously scary.

The algorithms! They're manipulating all of us! reckon human rights bods Council of Europe

Jim Birch

I'm more worried about the visible evil stuff.

Is Google purposefully breaking Microsoft, Apple browsers on its websites? Some insiders are confident it is

Jim Birch

Edge breaks a lot of Microsoft stuff, specifically, where plain old html is ok. A number of our sites that are generated with Microsoft tools have DontUseEdge settings. This goes back a long way - 1990s - to Microsoft attempting to tweak up a series of Internet Explorer versions with numerous deviations from the standards. Website responded by detecting the browser and modifying the pages they supplied for the rendering engine. The total dollar cost of this two decade second-guessing game must be humongous. Plus the accumulated aggravation.

It has ended with a dose of cosmic karma as Microsoft moves to the Chromium renderer, basically because they could not keep up with their own shenanigans.

Supernovae may explain mass extinctions of marine animals 2.6 million years ago

Jim Birch

Re: I guess it's possible

Supernovae are powerful but I can't see them killing 10 metre sharks with laser beaming eyes. That's unrealistic.

Google and Microsoft boffins playing nicely together to stop replay attacks in their tracks

Jim Birch

Re: Never pay on a computer

And don't drive a car. There is no safe level of car use.

Google is still chasing the self-driving engineer that jumped ship to Uber

Jim Birch

Re: Spazturtle

"No one in the right mind would risk hiring someone who sees nothing wrong with stealing."

No, you do a risk/benefit analysis. If you really want want they know or can do then the choice could be easy. To return to fanciful burger analogies, McDonalds won't hire someone who was sacked by Burger King for stealing drink cups since there is risk with no upside, but they might hire someone who waltzed out of a previous job with a pile of trade secrets that reduces production costs by 10 cents every burger. That's worth billions, you take risks.

Youth crime falls as kids stay inside to play Grand Theft Auto instead of going out to steal cars

Jim Birch

In the future it will be impossible to commit crime and get away with it. For one thing, you'd have to leave your phone at home. Surveillance becomes continually more pervasive, including self-surveillance like posting on Facebook. This isn't new but it bucks the trend of the last few hundred years. We are more like living in a village or even a hunter-gatherer tribe where everyone knows what everyone else was doing. Privacy barely existed and certainly wasn't fetishized like now.

My personal experience in hanging out with delinquents is that boredom is (was) a big cause of youth crime. One thing this report doesn't mention is that online people are, I think, getting more socializing influences online which reduces crime.

And kids are smarter. Crime doesn't pay, especially at the lower end.

Fermi famously asked: 'Where is everybody?' Probably dead, says renewed Drake equation

Jim Birch

Quantum entanglement does not allow faster than light communication full stop. No one who understands physics believes this.

Doctor finds physical changes to astronaut's eyes after ISS stint

Jim Birch

Feel the Force, you're half blind.

Facial recognition software easily IDs white men, but error rates soar for black women

Jim Birch

Re: So facial recog is not reliable for non-white skin

"So murder somebody, and in some instances murderers are released after six or seven years. In one recent UK case, some evil, criminal scumbag who'd been put away twice before for the manslaughter of TWO previous partners was released early and killed a third partner."

Is that some kind of proof that higher incarceration makes the world a better place? Or some kind of random factoid?

Woo-yay, Meltdown CPU fixes are here. Now, Spectre flaws will haunt tech industry for years

Jim Birch

Adding sandboxing to speculative execution is going to be easier than coming up with a complete new processor paradigm.

Skynet it ain't: Deep learning will not evolve into true AI, says boffin

Jim Birch

Has anyone noticed that the brain is a neural network? It's obviously a question of scale and architectural complexity. Our brains have the advantage of 500 years of evolution and being targeted at all problems the organism encountered, but the disadvantage of being developed by a slow, random, stepwise process. It won't take artificial neural networks 500 million years to catch up, but when they do, the architecture will have advanced. Compare a current multicore SoC to an Intel 4004 chip (etc) and use your imagination.

Android trojan has miner so aggressive it can bork your battery

Jim Birch

Re: security "experts" embarrassing themselves in public

"Good to see that nothing whatsoever has been learned."

A comment from Lalaland. Security has improved astronomically from the old Windows days. The problem is that the exploits have improved as well. This is the nature of an arms race.

The Android model does have some problems but the biggest and toughest one is that users are idiots.

Hardly anyone uses Australia's My Health Record service

Jim Birch

The first aeroplanes had mininal payloads, crashed regularly, and were generally derided. Anyone remember early mobile phones and the early phone network.

Australia spends about 15% of GDP on healthcare. The cost of this initiative is piddling compared to total healthcare spend and the upside is enormous. We are on version 0.2 and everyone wants to moan about the missing V10 features. I read somewhere that just reducing repeated tests would pay for the system. Give it time. This sort of system has to build its dataset and connections to be worth using. It's a big ask. There's a lot of resistance to overcome and connected systems that need to adapt.

DNS resolver will check requests against IBM threat database

Jim Birch

Who is the customer? Are you joking?

This kind of thing would cost peanuts to run. If it works, it easily pays for itself. The organisations that have signed up to this effort are all hurt by cyber threat prevention, mitigation and cleanup as a significant cost of doing business. They have set the thing up with no data slurping because trust is important. If this approach becomes standard it clobbers a lot of cyber threats in one easy hit.

80-year-old cyclist killed in prang with Tesla Model S

Jim Birch

I would suspect Tesla's got lot of work to do if it wants to reach the kill rate of ordinary drivers.

The correct statistic to compare is Tesla v other cars. Comparing Tesla v Zero is is emotional claptrap.

Android at 10: How Google won the smartphone wars

Jim Birch

Re: 'tell us the 'data-monster' dies'

There are plenty of incumbents who have been around for many decades and haven't blown it and are making plenty of money. The collapse of incumbents is a juicy narrative, not a universal truth. It depends. Nothing lasts forever but there are many things around us that have apparently lasted for a lasted for a long time.

Google on flooding the internet with fake news: Leave us alone, we're trying really hard... *sob*

Jim Birch

Right! Let's get Google to censor the news. Easy!

Does anyone notice a teeny little problem with this? Like: Who decides what is the "right" news or web sites? Does Google have the expertise? What happens when they censor the stuff you don't want to be censored?

You are really proposing a China-like control over what is allowed to be said. What's more, it's totally fucking pathetic that people (are so full of themselves that they) think that because they "know" what's fake news, it's so easy to tell. Fake truth is not a new problem, it has been argued for thousands of years. The internet just throws it in your face at an astronomically higher speed.

If there is going to be a system of censorship it's going to require a small army of "faceless bureaucrats" running it because the net is big. Do you trust Google to do this? The government? Who? A team of right-thinking people somewhere, who coincidentally think the same as you, perhaps? Problem solved? I think not. Perhaps I'm in a waning minority, but I don't consider my own views to be the final word on anything. Or anyone else's. Censorship is a Gordian knot.

Personally, I don't have problem with censoring the internet - the opportunities for unscrupulous manipulation are enormous - but it is a not a trivial problem. It is also a cultural shift, a direct challenge to a couple of centuries of liberal mythology which most of us, in the west at least, regard as self-evident truth.

Anyone got any good (non-magical) ideas on how this censorship will actually work? At the moment I'm thinking Google's AI might be our best hope but we're certainly not there yet...

Windows Fall Creators Update is here: What do you want first – bad news or good news?

Jim Birch

Re: Start menu

The average user is more-or-less totally clueless about security (and system configuration.)

They are infinitely better off having the system managed by Microsoft. The rest of us are also much better off when the vast majority of connected computers are properly managed because it means the overall health of the Internet is improved.

If you're smart enough to do do your own thing securely that's great! But be clear that you're in a minority. (You may also be delusional.) I work in IT and think about security issues every day for my job I'm clear that I want my family's systems managed by Google, Microsoft and Apple EVEN IF I lose a bit of control. I know vastly more about system security than the average user, and that might be why I want teams of people and lots of resources looking after me.

Google reveals Android Robocop AI to spot and destroy malware

Jim Birch

Re: Hey Google...

It's true that you have to grant apps rights but most people do that without thinking. Fighting malware needs to be done on multiple fronts. This is a good one.

Driverless cars will make more traffic, say transport boffins

Jim Birch

Game change

If autonomous cars become common, a lot of things will change including people's attitudes.

Autonomous cars won't become normal unless they produce benefits for users, and if they do people make trade-offs. This is how change works. People are inherently conservative. Taxis have been around for a long time but they are expensive for most people. The real impact depends on the economics. Most commuters would like to be able to use their commute time to work or play.

Ethereum-backed hackathon excavates more security holes

Jim Birch

Re: That's why you should avoid turing complete languages when possible

... and Bitcoin has a fantastic security record, doesn't it? There's a fundamental issue that untraceable transactions result in untraceable crime. This produces highly attractive targets. Attacks go for the weakest link in the total process. If the process is mathematically secure, and lots of systems are, that won't be what the attackers attack.

Everybody without Android Oreo vulnerable to overlay attack

Jim Birch

If the world was sane, phones would brick themselves if they weren't updated. There is a relentless arms race between hackers trying to bust software and developers trying to secure it.

There is currently no direct financial incentive for phone makers to create and test updates. They don't get paid for them. There is some reputational incentive but this is rather weak when company has little or no reputation.

This is how things work. It ain't the best system but the financial logic is undeniable. If you buy a phone that won't update you take a risk. You may also be saving money because updates cost and that is built into the phone cost. Personally, I want the most secure android phone available and I'm happy to pay for it and even lose features for it. If everyone did that, the update problem would be more-or-less fixed. But they don't, they want the best features for the best price...

On the other hand there are other factors that are improving the situation. The phone market and phone software is maturing. Security improves over time, and phone software stabilizes so less new exploits are being created. Scanning of apps, improving the update distribution model, etc, are all helping too. None of this is perfect. Having a handset that gets regular and timely updates remains a key component.

ASUS smoking hashes with 19-GPU, 24,000-core motherboard

Jim Birch

Also good for frying eggs, I'd think.

New MH370 analysis again suggests plane came down outside search area

Jim Birch

Guess what. So called Black Boxes* are designed to survive a crash, including fire and immersion. Nothing is perfectly indestructible and nothing lasts for ever but these things have a pretty good survival record.

* They're actually painted a hi-vis orange color for obvious reasons.

If we're in a simulation, someone hit it with a hammer, please: Milky Way spews up to 100 MEELLLION black holes

Jim Birch

Re: If we're in a simulation...

If we are in a simulation it may well have started 5 seconds ago. Or, alternately, 5 simulation seconds ago. The initial conditions could include your memories of that sunny afternoon at the beach when you were ten years old looking up at the sky and wondering how the world worked. Biographical details could be input or output. Until you have determined the nature of the simulation (which could be difficult, exceeding difficult, or impossible, depending on the code quality) you must resign to be trapped on a leaf in a vine.

If I recall correctly I wrote this post.

Ex-MI5 boss: People ask, why didn't you follow all these people ... on your radar?

Jim Birch

Re: @AC

... and even if it was the result of meddling does that mean we should let innocent people die?

Personally, I'm clear that we have foolishly and violently meddled with other peoples but this can't be considered as a simple cause/response. A Weaponised Loser thesis closer to the reality of this kind of attack.


Google can't spare 113 seconds of revenue to compile data on its gender pay gap

Jim Birch

Is there actually a reliable way to measure gender pay gap

If everyone is making widgets doing a gender pay gap analysis is easy. It works well for bus drivers too.

With artists or creative knowledge workers where everyone is doing different things for different money it's a fraught statistical process. Hard, or maybe impossible. Whatever the result, someone will claim it is wrong, maybe even with some justification. More likely, with varying combinations of ideological moral certainty and cluelessness.

Google would crazy to institute this kind of lose-lose project. It would require arcane statistical methods that just about no one would trust. If an analysis showed they were gender neutral, they'd be accused of cooking the books before anyone had read the report. If it turned out they weren't gender fair, that result would be distrusted by others. Then, what are they supposed to do: inflate wages artificially or promote people with lower perceived competence, or what? There's a reasonable to good market for this type of employment. We aren't talking about a sweatshop in rural Pakistan.

Personally, I'd want to see the reliable methodology appropriate to Google's workplace before we bang our dainty fists on tables and demand that they produce a bunch of meaningless numbers. "Everybody knows" doesn't cut it with me.

‪WannaCry‬pt ransomware note likely written by Google Translate-using Chinese speakers

Jim Birch

Speculation is speculation. Over to you Google.

Attempt at building kinder, gentler Reddit downvoted off the Web

Jim Birch

Re: F*&ck off you cockwoble whore

Wars are "authentic". The eternal biological problem is that humans get this voluptuous pleasure from feeling superior to each other. Young testosterone-charged males: apparently get even more pleasure and/or feel less socially restrained.

Cooperation produces enormous benefits, economically, social and security but we have to give up some of these pleasures. (This should be abundantly clear from a brief top-down perusal of history.) There's often - eg, on an anonymous site - no immediate feedback to participants except this voluptuous pleasure, so we need be nudged to give it up or channel it productively by social engineering mechanisms. Facebook may irk, but you will notice it is incredibly successful.

Schiaparelli probe crash caused by excessive spin, report concludes

Jim Birch

Re: Bah!

"Nought out of ten. Go and read "Object Oriented Software Construction" and fucking well pay attention to the basic rule about unspecified results."

Bah x2! When was the last time you pulled off a project this complex with zero screw ups that required patching? This is an incredibly complex project with what by normal standards a deficient test capability.

Ego stroking won't improve anything. Any dickhead can do that. Running a witch hunts is known to increases future failures. You do the full and frank analysis, incorporate changes to systems and process and move forward. To do that, you need the right environment, ie. you need to put a bit of ego aside.

Google DeepMind's use of 1.6m Brits' medical records to test app was 'legally inappropriate'

Jim Birch


The use of big data techniques is great for medicine. It should be a normal practice that goes on all the time. Privacy protection can be achieved via anonymizing data but in practice this can be difficult to implement fully, in practice, security standards and data use agreements is often a better approach.

If you don't absolutely don't trust the government or companies or individuals, we have a problem.

Ransomware scum have already unleashed kill-switch-free WannaCry‬pt‪ variant

Jim Birch

Re: So the haul from this little operation is currently what $60K?

This is a fairly typical ratio of realized proceeds of crime to cost of crime and prevention measures. The economic case for crime reduction is overwhelming. But it's easier said than done. People are creative, even (especially?) criminals.



Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020