* Posts by Jim Birch

189 publicly visible posts • joined 23 Sep 2008


NASA just patched Voyager 2's software but spared Voyager 1 the risky rewrite

Jim Birch

Re: Not a job I would want.

An engineer? A team effort with layers of cross checking and review. It doesn't go out till everyone is happy.

Not just so there's no one to blame...

Florida Man and associates indicted for conspiracy to steal data, software

Jim Birch

Thankyou, Mr President

He really needs to win the presidency now, to pardon himself. Should we expect fireworks?

Google's next big idea for browser security looks like another freedom grab to some

Jim Birch

Re: Naturally...

Does it have to be Google? My limited reading is that anyone can validate accounts, but the site would have to decide which validators to trust. This would end up being the big boys because it would involve a level of infrastructure and maintenance but I don't think that they would want to force their customers to get/use Google accounts.

Jim Birch

Re: The sad thing is...

The 'hoop' would be ticking a box.

Heata offers free hot water by mounting servers on people's water tanks

Jim Birch


Cryptomining could double up with domestic heating.

ISS dodges space junk from satellite Russia blew up

Jim Birch

Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

This is like catching bullets travelling at 10 or 20 km per second, in different directions, separated by hundreds of km.

Australian court overturns 'Google is a publisher' decision

Jim Birch

Sending any court finding, even if it was later reversed, down the memory hole is undesirable. Open information is important. This won't always be perfect, but it's better than the alternative.

Another problem I see is the cost to the search engine provider. It's easy to say Google and Bing have a lot of money so can pay an army of censors but there are other search engines and possible startups who might find it just too hard to manage huge numbers of no go pages across multiple jurisdictions. They are not the source, it's not their page.

If the original publisher was required to place a header on their web article saying that the information is flawed and briefly why that would be good with me. It only needs to be done once in source page. That's would show up in the search result and allows the publisher to keep a record of what they published at the time.

I'm against actual libel, abuse or hate speech but this is a different situation. It's the wrong target.

Jim Birch

"The newspapers are accountable even to people who read their content in a library."

Sure, but the library is not legally accountable for the content. That's the difference.

Google's ChromeOS Flex turned my old MacBook into new frustrations

Jim Birch

ChromeOS for who?

Around 0% of the Reg readership would want a locked down browser-based OS. You can't do a whole lot of "normal" stuff.

OTOH It seems like a good option for low-tech people who just want to read their email and visit a couple of websites. That's where I'd recommend it. Nothing is perfectly secure but this is a much safer than giving an idiot windows/linux/mac.

Microsoft Teams outage widens to take out M365 services, admin center

Jim Birch

Re: Also ...

Frames per second?

Microsoft datacenter to heat homes in Finland

Jim Birch

Someone needs to create an electric heater that mines bitcoin.

Reality check: We should not expect our communications to remain private

Jim Birch

Re: Before someone starts to talk about Orwell again ..

So, is your objection to Facebook or the general population? This is the bit I don't get. It seems you have a minority view and are demanding that the state adopts it. There are plenty of people who are willing to upload their address books and get a benefit from doing so. It's not a simple problem.

Chromebook sales in recession: Market saturation blamed as shipments collapse more than 63% in Q4

Jim Birch

Re: Unsustainable

Buy cheap, get cheap. Chromebooks, Windows, whatever. We can't blame the existence of Chromebooks for sloppy purchasing decisions. If ChromeOS didn't exist, the same or worse Windows hardware purchases would have been made. There's always opportunity costs and budget limits.

Chromebooks' limited functionality cuts both ways. Organisations like mine that are hooked into Windows devote a lot of resources on what is called security and management but could also be seen as simply downgrading the open unused functionality of their Windows fleet down to near Chromebook levels. Top down, it's a bit weird.

Fugitive mafioso evaded cops for two decades until he was spotted on Google Street View

Jim Birch

Non-falsifiable, must be true.

IntelliJ IDEA plugin catches lazy copy-pasted Java source

Jim Birch

Re: copypasta

Antipasto would have been a better name.

Microsoft rang in the new year with a cutesy tweet in C#. Just one problem: The code sucked

Jim Birch

Re: Not all Yanks are wrong.

Three letters does the trick on a piece of paper but it fails to sort sanely in any kind of list.

I'm diabetic. I'd rather risk my shared health data being stolen than a double amputation

Jim Birch

In Australia we have a mixed public and private health service. Public is available to all but may have lower quality or availability, though not always. Private insurers aren't allowed to change rates based on medical history. This means individual Australian health records don't have a commercial value for insurers. Aggregate information remains useful for a variety of purposes.

Jim Birch

Re: False choice

Health data is used for all sorts of things, some bad some good.

Fact: Medical research uses health data.

You might say it is not worth the risk but have you actually done an evaluation?

If it were possible to evade facial-recognition systems using just subtle makeup, it might look something like this

Jim Birch

Makeup detection

I bet an AI can be trained to detect make up and see through make up with the correct training set and good quality images. That's what we do.

We are talking about an arms race here.

Chinese auto-maker accused of altering data after fatal autonomous car accident

Jim Birch

Power off and brain off

Disconnecting power from an damaged electric vehicle isn't as straightforward as flicking a master switch or disconnecting the battery from a conventional car. there's a lot of energy there. You would want to disconnect individual battery sets from the system to really neutralize the system, especially if it is damaged and may sit around for some time.

Also: self driving cars are better than distracted drivers but they certainly aren't perfect (yet?). That's why the makers legally require that a "driver" should monitor the car. Is that really achieved in the real world? Not reliably. "Drivers" are still distracted or are just lulled into a sense of security by the computer driving better than they can. So we still have accidents. Is it better than having a random selection of drivers and halfwits at the steering wheel? Statistically yes, but not if your computer slams you into something it fails to recognise. It's the old group v individual prisoners dilemma thing again.

Privacy activist Max Schrems claims Google Advertising ID on Android is unlawful, files complaint in France

Jim Birch

There's an implicit agreement here. Google provides a lot of free stuff then makes money from advertising to you based on how you use their services. People are biologically programmed to love free stuff. Micropayment systems that could eliminate advertising have not caught on, have they?

If this succeeds, you'll need to explicitly accept the agreement to access website and services. Good and bad, I guess. I doubt that many people would actually opt out. If they were that way inclined, they have probably done so already.

Atheists warn followers of unholy data leak, hint dark deeds may have tried to make it go away

Jim Birch

Re: Same could be said about religious people

Not really. I'm an atheist, meaning I see no credible evidence for the existence of any gods. I also believe that most religions are incompatible with physics and I'm on the physics team. So, I'm an atheist. I'm also a scientist and change my beliefs on the basis of new evidence. If good evidence for some god is found I won't become an agnostic. What you might not be getting is that truth is a bit different in science to other discourses, especially religious discourse. It's not some abstract absolute, it's more like the best available model that fits the evidence. The confidence varies case-by-case with the evidence backing. Right now the evidence for a universe that is incompatible with the claims of any major religion is quite solid, basically as good as it gets. That's scientific atheism. The fact that I can imagine some evidence that would make me change my mind is irrelevant. I can imagine all sorts of counterfactuals. I'm not agnostic on whether beer is mad from squid, I'm pretty clear on that too.

Comcast to impose 1.2TB-a-month broadband download limits across more of America from next year

Jim Birch

Re: The country that loves competition

Not sure that "inescapably" is correct - it's complex - but there's a great case for regulation in a high entry cost area like telecoms.

Is it Iran or Russia's hackers we need to worry about? The Russians, definitely the Russians, says US intelligence

Jim Birch

Re: Here's something you may not know.

Sorry, international relations does not work like schoolkids bitchin'.

Here's US Homeland Security collaring a suspected arsonist after asking Google for the IP addresses of folks who made a specific search

Jim Birch

Re: Anyone who expects Google not to track at this point

The surveillance state might be coming whether you like it or not. It's mostly private and legal, and the cost is trending towards zero. For me, that makes it smarter to choose some workable middle way. But I'm not one to casually deflate anyone's Manichean worldview. Identity can mean different things, can't it?

Jim Birch

Re: Hmmm

That's possible, especially in tv drama, but in practice people often screw up their alibis, evasions and coverup . It's easy to miss something.

What is your 'intent'? Google Assistant opens door to chatting with third-party apps

Jim Birch

Alternately, it might just be an acceptance of the reality that people use a bunch of third party apps and they aren't going to stop anytime soon. Android can actually benefit as the glue that holds all this menagerie together. Claiming things don't exist tends to bite you in the longer term, better to drink up before they add the kool-aid.

Jim Birch

Re: Anti-trust beads of sweat there?

Alternately, it might just be an acceptance of the reality that people use a bunch of third party apps and they aren't going to stop any time soon. Android can actually benefit as the glue that holds all this menagerie together. Claiming things don't exist tends to bite you in the longer term, better to drink up before they add the kool-aid.

Bill Gates lays out a three-point plan to rid the world of COVID-19 – and anti-vaxxer cranks aren't gonna like it

Jim Birch

Re: Not the same thing

You don't know that. This is the old AI can't do chess argument rehashed.

Modern vaccine technologies can be a lot more targeted that the old stuff which treated the immune system as a black box and didn't consider molecular biology: Just chuck some junk in and hope for the best - a bit like school boys putting rocks on train tracks. We don't want to produce any antibody that attacks the virus randomly but rather to attack a part of the viral sequence that cannot mutate successfully. AFAIK that's what the RNA vaccines are trying to do. Whether this can be achieved or not we currently don't know but that's the aim and, well, they'll probably get there sooner of later.

It's possible that initial vaccines may not be mutation-proof but that's not the end of the story. Technology improves over time. In this case, there is plenty of known potential for improvement and plenty of unknowns that may produce better approaches.

Also, a vaccine that confers a few years immunity is still clearly worth doing. We do annual flu shots, don' we? The greater the reduction of the disease the less circulating infection and the less new strains produced. This disease is like ten times more lethal than flu and will get an

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.