* Posts by Skwosh

46 publicly visible posts • joined 7 Aug 2017

Apple finally clambers to top of phone market again as spider-eyed iPhone 11 lures fanatics out of the shadows


Re: One hit wonder?

I was thinking we biped monkeys like new things (more than we like discounted older things) – so what if Apple comes out with a nominally new phone – say around $400 – which is fairly competitive on features with similarly priced Androids?

Such a phone would have one unique selling point which none of the Android phones would be able to compete with – it would be not Android.

If Apple are to be believed then owning such a phone would allow one to avoid every moment of life being tracked, warehoused, filleted, packaged and monetised.

Of course if you are someone who believes Apple are totally evil and horrid and just as bad as Google then such a phone would not be for you.

If you are someone who believes that no one including yourself gives a shit about privacy anyway then such a phone would also not be for you or anyone else.

If you are the type who would never ever ever ever ever even consider buying a phone that has a non-user-replaceable-battery/other-well-known-horrid-Apple-feature then it wouldn't be for you either.

Also if you are someone who believes Apple only cares about margins and that they would never consider using their cash pile to subsidise something in the short term to try to gain market/mind share then you will conclude this will never even happen.

It will be interesting to see if it does happen though, and if it does how well it sells.

Larry leaves, Sergey splits: Google lads hand over Alphabet reins to Sundar Pichai


... if the company were a person "it would be a young adult of 21 ..."

It is a long long time ago since Google was a fresh faced young adult of 21.

Today, if Google were a person, it would be more of a grabby uncle with a creepy smile, bad teeth and a string of previous convictions.

I'm thinking Sir Les Patterson equipped with an extensive network of advanced surveillance technology.

Imagine finding this bad boy in your shower: Brit startup pulls the sheets off Moon spider mech


Re: Send to Mars too?

Strictly speaking they'd have to send more than one (spiders – plural) to Mars and then they'd have to be able to get more than one of them back from Mars to Earth because otherwise technically speaking they wouldn't be The Spiders from Mars – they'd just be a spider or spiders on Mars.

Picky I know.

UK.gov drives ever further into Nocluesville, crowdsources how to solve digital identity


Zero cost solution

My idea by me:

Do nothing.

Maybe it just makes sense for it to be "difficult, time-consuming and repetitive" to demonstrate to someone that we are who we say we are? Perhaps that's how it should be.

Sure, making it easier for people to prove their identity sounds like a good idea in the same way that making it easier for people to vote with phones or online sounds like a good idea.

You have to consider the failure modes though, and how bad it is if those failures happen.

With voting I'm pretty sure using pencils and bits of paper with humans in big open sports-halls doing all the counting is definitely a good compromise between robustness and efficiency – sure it's not efficient – and sure there is some friction involved in people having to go to a polling station – but it is *very* robust – everything is visible – everything is understandable – lots of people are visibly involved and everyone can police everyone else.

The problem with a one-ring-to-rule-them-all identity system is that it presents a single point of failure. Once someone works out how to hack whatever un-corruptible-un-hackable-magic-bullshit it is supposedly based on then they can masquerade as you and have nice-n-ezzzzey instant access to *everything* you do – and the stronger the belief that the system is secure and un-hackable the more difficult it will be to recover the situation and prove you are you rather than the scummy hacker.

So, perhaps it makes sense to just leave things more or less as they are, to have a whole load of disparate application specific ID systems – some partially even paper based or paper backed – all run by a variety of organisations on a variety of different systems with a variety of different levels of security and corruptibility, but none needing to claim total infallibility (because, as we all know, total infallibility isn't actually a real thing and also tends to age badly).

What we have now is inefficient and often cumbersome yes – but it is much more *robust* than a centralised single-point-of-failure system – and there is no possibility for one all-powerful organisation to simply shut my entire life down by pressing a button saying 'citizen account suspended'.

Elon Musk's new idea is to hook your noggin up to an AI – but is he just insane about the brain?


Re: "...insurance against his own mortality on Musk's part"

Yes, he wants to live for ever.

I know we know very little about how the brain works and this is insane on several different dimensions all at the same time. However, extrapolating wildly, let's say we could, theoretically, simulate an entire brain as a network of neurons (and all the associated endocrine systems and whatever else that might be involved). This is a huge unknown of course – there may well be processes we don't yet understand and/or possibly even something spooky but as yet undefinable (new physics perhaps) involved in consciousness. Who knows? However, let's just say for the sake of argument that we could simulate a full human brain one day using a very large and very fast (by today's standards) computer – and that such a simulation would at least appear to us on the outside to be conscious – so it could talk and learn and hold opinions about Love Island and all that sort of thing – so at a Turning-test level it would walk like a duck and quack like a duck and so may as well be a duck – or in this case may as well be conscious, at least from our external point of view. OK. So let's say one day before Elon dies we can do this (highly unlikely but give me a break here I'm extrapolating wildly). Elon then has his brain 'scanned' at super resolution by some as yet uninvented technology and a copy of his neural network and a snapshot of his 'current state' is constructed in a simulation and, behold, a potentially immortal in-silico Elon would have been created. But wait. That wouldn't be good enough. It wouldn't actually be Elon. It would just be a copy of Elon. Sure, the immortal simulation of Elon would be available for everyone else to enjoy in perpetuity, but that wouldn't be true for the real original Elon. He would still at some point have to die of old age. His own private consciousness would still at some point have to end and so he would still face the prospect of having to grow up and come to terms with his own mortality. So how do we fix that? Ladies and Gentlemen – I present a continuity argument (I'm sure I can't be the first person to have thought of this though). The idea is that we very slowly replace parts of the real Elon's brain with equivalent simulated parts. On the very first day of this process only a small proportion of Elon's brain has been migrated to the simulation – so Elon's consciousness is still mostly running in the squishy stuff and he is presumably still therefore the real Elon. Just a small amount of his neural workload is being handled by a neural simulation. But if the simulation is functionally equivalent to the initially small original squishy part of his brain that has been replaced then what's the difference? If the simulation behaves in exactly the same way for any given input and feeds back exactly what the original would have fed back in response, then is Elon actually any different than he was the day before? Then, month by month, we migrate more and more of Elon to the simulation, less and less of his processing is done in-squishy, more and more in-silico. But every day, presumably, Elon still feels like Elon. His consciousness then remains somehow 'intact' as it is slowly transferred to the simulation and then, eventually, he is all simulation. This way he might in some sense still be the real Elon rather than a copy, and so his continuous consciousness never faces death (well, until he eventually runs out of money to pay for his maintenance and electricity bills and gets switched off, and his parts get reused for the imortalisation or recreation of someone more voguish). However, to achieve all this it will of course be essential that during the migration process there is a mechanism to connect the remaining parts of squishy Elon-brain to the simulated parts – and it will also be essential that the communication between these parts is two way.

That's why he's doing this.

Facebook chucks 1.5 hours' profit at Citizens Advice anti-scam charity to defuse consumer champ's defamation suit


In summary then

FaceBook takes money from scammers in return for putting their scam adverts up on their platform.

The scammers, naturally, hope to make money from their scams – that's why they pay FB in the first place.

The scammers' activity is, presumably, illegal.

FaceBook's activity, however, is not at all or even in the slightest little bit illegal. Oh no. Definitely not illegal.

No sir.

FaceBook's position is:

(1) No we can't possibly be held liable for any scams or other illegal activity that may be associated with ads or other content on our platform. Those ads are of course absolutely nothing to do with us because, like all content on our platform, we don't originate it and what's more we have no relationship with the people who do originate it either – well – other than the part where we take their money in return for putting their content up – but after all we're not a fucking charity are we.

(2) Also, no of course we can't possibly vet all adverts in advance. Are you some sort of technology illiterate moron? Do you have any idea how expensive that would be for us?

(3) Tell you what – if some of you dumb fucks want to get together in an amateur kind of after-work pond-life-association or whatever and tell us when you think you've spotted something horrid on our platform then knock yourselves out (just so long as we don't have to pay for it in any kind of meaningfully ongoing statutory or profit sapping kind of way). We might even eventually get round to taking some of the stuff you point out down – then again we might not. The main thing here is to keep it all nice and non-binding and really really vague so no one is ever quite sure if we actually have to take anything down or not, certainly not in any kind of if-we-don't-take-it-down-we-go-to-prison kind of way. This way we can make it look like we're doing a massive favour to the community (whatever the fuck that is). But then we're so giving. So virtuous. So so virtuous.

It's all in the wrist: Your fitness tracker could be as much about data warfare as your welfare


You just don't get it

The author's point surely is that once one knows everything about everyone then anything is possible. Just imagine what could be achieved if all the various pieces of information so lovingly extracted from us every day were somehow brought together with all of the other data from everyone else (de-anonymized natch) – our lives could be enriched immeasurably – truly a new golden age would ensue – watched over by machines of loving grace we could be emotionally nurtured and considerately nudged away from bad choices and towards healthier options, our confusion and unsound reasoning about things like politics and other vexing issues of the day could be guided to follow the one true factually-correct evidence-based best-practice righteous world view of absolute rightness and any potentially pre-criminal like tendencies in our behaviour or negative opinions of others towards us could be picked up early thus facilitating timely enrolment in preemptive thought correction programmes in which we could be made repeatedly to learn flower arranging or interpretive dance until we come fully and genuinely to acknowledge the error of our ways. The possibilities are endless – and the more data that is collected the more immaculately perfect this most perfect of all futures could become.

Sinister secret backdoor found in networking gear perfect for government espionage: The Chinese are – oh no, wait, it's Cisco again


Re: it's better to stick to reality

The narrow question – as I said – is how much value does the US get from the UK being in the five eyes – how bad/inconvenient for the US would it be to tolerate the UK still being an eye if the UK went ahead and used Chinese gear in its peripheral networks. Ideally presumably the US would like everyone in the world and particularly everyone in the five eyes always to use gear made by on-side nations indefinitely, no matter how crap and/or expensive it is compared to the alternatives – and of course I assume the UK is considering the risks the US will throw its toys out of the pram even if that might not be the most rational thing for it to do in the short term. I have no privileged knowledge about any of this but it is clear that part of what is happening at the moment (if the comments section here is anything to go by!) is a lot of posturing and bluff calling on both sides. Surely anyone trying to take a reality based approach to understanding the world needs to understand that lots of strutting and bloviating is an important part of human decision making, particularly in the field of international relations.

Regarding Brexit – as you observed, it was a narrow outcome of a democratic process and I would assume that someone with your reality based approach understands that the point of democracy is not to make good decisions – the point of democracy is to make it possible for us to change course when it becomes clear we've made a bad decision. The election of DJT in the US was also the narrow outcome of a democratic process and it has been melodramatically argued by many (though personally I think it is a lazy argument) that DJT's America First doctrine (a clearly stated part of his campaign platform) has seriously undermined various written and un-written international trust relationships many of which date back to the end of the second world war.

The deep historical undertow here in my view is the likely slow but steady decline of US hegemony and how the US and the rest of the world is going to adapt to that. Over here we do at least have some fairly recent experience with coming to terms with declining hegemony! As I said, I have no privileged knowledge about any of this, but perhaps one way to look at it could be as a nudge in the direction of knowing when it does and does not make sense to try to use your (perhaps dwindling) power simply to try to brute force your will rather than compromising and thus perhaps gaining the skills sooner rather than later that you will eventually need to adapt to a world in which your power is more limited?


Re: it's better to stick to reality

Surely if the UK decides to use some less expensive though probably equally vulnerable Huawei gear in its peripheral pond-life public networks then your super duper cleverer-than-anyone-else NSA will be able easily to continue snooping on us via the Huawei gear and indeed if the horrid Chinese are similarly clever then they are almost certainly already snooping on us via the non Chinese (and apparently vulnerability rich) gear we are using already anyway. I suspect the reality is that this would just be a shift on the dial of relative convenience for the respective agencies rather than some sort of dramatic new difference of kind. It would just mean the NSA would probably have to work a little bit harder and the Chinese would probably have to work a little less hard in order to get the kind of information they are both almost certainly already slurping daily from the UK anyway. Narrowly then I suppose it should come down to how much value the US gets from the UK being in the five eyes and if that value outweighs the extra inconvenience to the US of having to hack peripheral networks in the UK running on gear made by non US friendly manufacturers (useful practice - no?) but I think there are probably much wider economic issues and also all manner of longer term geo-political shit to be considered which is much more likely to be the true substance of this row.

Complex automation won't make fleshbags obsolete, not when the end result is this dumb


Re: Artifical Intelligence...

the end result has no clearly defined path that even the creators of the device can follow

Yes, I've come across that example before too in this context, but as you say, that does not mean there is any magic. Just because a 'design' is arrived at by some sort of random selective process doesn't mean that such a design will somehow be capable of defying the laws of physics - it just means that people will be a lot less likely to understand how it works. The inevitable cost of the 'something for nothing' laziness in using such a process to 'design' something is that you are inevitably not going to understand how it works as well as had you built it and reasoned about it piece by piece - and thus the utility of these systems will be lowered because we will be less confident about how they will behave (or even work at all) in any given situation (not that we are particularly confident even now about how deliberately 'human designed' complex computer systems behave!) There is no free lunch - and I'm sceptical about how useful these things will be in the long run (in certain applications anyway).

What is happening here, broadly speaking, is what natural evolution does all the time. You make changes - often small random changes - and you see how well the changed version performs (against your 'desirable' criteria) - and then you iterate the variants that work better along with various tricks and hacks to stop yourself getting stuck in a local minimum. Following that recipe can sometimes get you to something that scores very well according to your desirable criteria, but you will more than likely have no idea how it actually works (since all you were doing was accumulating random changes that made it work better). Still no magic though - just The Blind Watchmaker at work - and the potential pitfalls of this blind approach are already pretty well understood by many biologists and others who have to engage seriously with such evolutionary processes (one of my favourite examples, from River Out of Eden, is: a turkey will kill anything which moves in its nest unless it cries like a baby turkey, and if the turkey is deaf, it will mercilessly kill its own babies).

It could also be argued that this approach (trying out random stuff and seeing what works and what doesn't) is what human culture has been doing for millennia anyway with most of its technology development and that the theory as to how things work often gets developed afterwards.

What I'm saying is that, none the less, the iterative training or whatever process by which ML type systems arrive at their opaque non-linear internal weightings is well understood even if how a particular end result 'works' may not be - though of course it could be understood/unpicked with sufficient effort - but then if you need to put in that effort afterwards then you are eroding the benefit of having gone for the 'lazy' evolutionary design process in the first place (no free lunch again). It all just needs demystifying. In particular, these ML systems can only ever be a kind of highly-obscure lossy compressed representation of their training data.


Re: Artifical Intelligence...

Artifical Intelligence... isn't

Yes. The seductive thing about much of the current work in AI and pretty much all of the work in machine learning (ML) though is that it is not at all clear to the vast majority of humanity at this point in history how these things work – and if you don't know how something works then you have no real way to gauge what it may or may not be capable of and then, crucially, there is the possibility that it could be magic.

A lot of people want to believe in magic because it means getting something for nothing. Magic means that instead of having to do the work ourselves we can simply wave our hands and say the right words in the right order and the mop will self-animate and clean the floor by itself. Even in science and engineering there is a tendency to believe in maths as magic where equations are viewed like mystical runes that just work... and oh my there sure is a lot of maths involved in AI and ML.

A washing machine is a massive labour saving device which acts autonomously – and yet we don't describe washing machines as robots – we don't think of them as delivering something for nothing and we certainly don't think of them as potentially magical. This is because most people have a reasonable in-principle grasp of how a washing machine works.

The problem with boring old technology like steam engines, washing machines and Von Neumann architecture computers is that once you grasp how they work they become prosaic and un-magical. Understanding squeezes the magic out of things and along with it goes the prospect of getting something for nothing.

There is no qualitative difference between these new AI and ML technologies and the washing-machine-like technologies that have preceded them. It is narrowly true that these new machines can 'learn', but ML is still a process – the 'learning' is achieved by a comprehensible mechanism – just as washing machines achieve tea-towel cleaning by comprehensible mechanisms or fixed-wing aircraft achieve flight – there is no magic. Ultimately these new AI and ML technologies (even assuming they turn out to be less trouble than they are worth) will become prosaic through being better understood and the idea that we can somehow get more out of them than we put in will dissipate.

SpaceX Crew Dragon: Launched and docked. Now, about that splashdown...


You are not alone. I thought Fish In Space - Cool! Then I thought but how will the fish no which way is up? I even got as far as thinking about the difficulties of launching large volumes of water into space (presumably also a very real problem faced by aquatic aliens) and then onto how fiddly it would be to make a space suit for octopus when I realised my mistake.

Mobile network Three UK's customer details exposed in homepage blunder


Just to spell it out – if anyone from Three with any influence is reading these comments – there are broadly two ways to respond to incidents like this:

(1) 'Oh this is all a silly load of fuss about nothing really I mean it's not like loads of people were complaining about it or anything.'

A response like that would result in technical people like me thinking that Three are total fuckwits who don't get security and I would henceforth not touch them with a bargepole nor would encourage anyone else I know not to touch them with a bargepole either.

(2) 'We experienced a problem with a software upgrade on our website during which for a short period a subset of user account information became viewable to other non logged in users. We have fixed the problem and have informed the ICO of the incident. We are continuing to investigate but at present we believe the number of users affected was a very small proportion of our UK customer base. We will provide further details once we are clearer as to how this happened and would like to thank members of the public who alerted us early to this problem.'

A response like that is going to result in technical people like me thinking that Three understand security, takes it seriously, understand that you can't always get things right and realise that what really matters is how you respond once something has gone wrong.

Awkward... Revealed Facebook emails show plans for data slurping, selling access to addicts' info, crafty PR spinning


Re: Users should pay to use Facebook

This is a hobbyhorse of mine, but since someone else mentioned whatsapp I'll point out again that it is an interesting example of something that was intended to be a very low cost pay-for service (until it was eaten by FB - perhaps because its success was setting a dangerous precedent).

The original 'manifesto' of the whatsapp creators from 2012 is still up, and I think it makes interesting reading:


When people ask us why we charge for WhatsApp, we say "Have you considered the alternative?"


Re: Users should pay to use Facebook


What you're quoting there is what I say people (like you I guess) say to me when I talk about the idea that people should pay for the service.

As a reminder, this is what Zuck said:

"[...] there may be some price we could charge that wouldn't interfere with ubiquity, but this price wouldn't be enough to make us real money"

I take "some price we could charge that wouldn't interfere with ubiquity..." to mean there is a price we (FB) could charge that would be low enough to not put people off using the service - as in, we would still be ubiquitous...

But... "this price wouldn't be enough to make us real money" which I take to mean that if we (FB) did this we would still make some money, but just not lots and lots and lots of it.



Re: Users should pay to use Facebook

@Primus Secundus Tertius

The World Wide Web is not available at no cost (sure, use of the IP is at no cost).

People have to pay for hardware (phones, tablets, PCs) to access the WWW. We have to pay for broadband every month and/or for mobile data services. The network infrastructure has to be paid for. The servers have to be paid for. The electricity to run the infrastructure and the servers has to be paid for. All the money to pay for all of those things has to come from somewhere. If someone somewhere wasn't coughing up the money on a regular basis then we couldn't have a WWW.

FB pays for all this stuff too. It pays in order to provide its service over the WWW. If FB didn't pay for servers and all that shit there would be no FB service. At the moment this is paid for by advertisers off the back of huge amounts of personal data extracted from FB users. That model appears to be generating increasingly negative 'externalities' (undermining democracy etc...)

There is, however, an alternative.

Life is sometimes about making the least worst choice.


Re: Users should pay to use Facebook


I firmly believe there is no price low enough that it won't put huge sections of the plebs who are their bread and butter off.

Maybe. However, I think that is less convincing than it was a few years ago because Spotify, Netflix etc. have proved fairly conclusively that if the price is right a lot of people will pay for convenience, and to an extent not having ads is a 'convenience' (apparently ads are the number one thing FB users complain about). In general an add free version of any given service is going to be a better 'experience'.

Also, I think how this goes will depend hugely on legislation. At least we now know that Zuck thinks they probably could still run the thing off the back of a low subscription - so if waves of new legislation progressively make the ads-with-slurp funding/business model more and more costly/arduous/toxic then any claim by FB that such changes would completely force them out of business won't fly anymore.


Users should pay to use Facebook

This is from the BBC's excerpts of the emails:

[...] from an email sent by Mark Zuckerberg to several of his executives in which he explains why he does not think making users pay for Facebook would be a good idea [...] dated 19 November 2012:

"[...] My sense is there may be some price we could charge that wouldn't interfere with ubiquity, but this price wouldn't be enough to make us real money[...] "

I take this to mean they could probably run the business without all the unpleasantness of ads and slurping and stalking if they just charged a price low enough that it wouldn't significantly impact the users, but if they did that then they wouldn't make anything like as much money.

So much for the core mission simply being to 'connect people'.

Anyway, whenever I suggest that if users actually paid for these services it might be a solution to a lot of problems I just get told that no one will pay ever and whatever the cost would be it will be too much anyway and that I do not understand how the internet works and that I am an idiot.

It is interesting to learn that the chief executive of Facebook appears to actually agree with me, it's just that he doesn't want to charge the users because he won't make as much money that way (of course, we may simply both be idiots).

Google: Our DeepMind health slurp is completely kosher


Re: You would think

All those Google shills, you'd almost think they wouldn't want anyone to scrutinise a massive advertising company potentially getting access to medical records when that company happens to make almost all of its money by mercilessly extracting personal information from as many people as it possibly can...

US draft bill moots locking up execs who lie about privacy violations


Oh man - I mean those politicians eh - they're all liars and the whole system is corrupt through and through - no point troubling our poor little heads with any actual arguments for or against anything a politician proposes really is there - especially if it might impact the ability of those nice internet advertising funded companies to continue to make shed-loads of money out of lovingly mind-controlling us into buying really cool products and services that enrich our lives. Those companies are just so cool aren't they! All that free stuff they give us - and they fight so valiantly to keep the internet free for everyone else too. I mean, really, if I think about it, there's just no contest between horrible self-serving so called democratically elected politicians in so called governments compared to the cool kids who work for giving caring companies like Google and FaceBook. Everyone knows those companies are run by well meaning goofy nerds who just want the best for everyone and to make the internet fun and cool and free. They just want to help us out. Actually, they should really be in charge of everything shouldn't they? How can all those horrid, old, boring, corrupt politicians possibly be better at anything than those super smart, super generous kids? It's all pretty simple really when I think about it.

The fur is not gonna fly: Uncle Sam charges seven Russians with Fancy Bear hack sprees


Re: Correction here -- Who's Commenting?

Actually, please please please don't try to ban the Russian trolls – if only on grounds of entertainment value.

Personally I'm finding some of the anonymous, cough, cough, comments on these spy stories fascinating, and often mildly hilarious.

It is said that in the old days of the USSR everyone knew the news was a lie, and so you learned to say to yourself, well, this is what they want us to believe, so what does that tell us about what might actually be going on in reality.

I think we are more than capable of applying the same approach here to decoding the trolls – in particular, which stories do they turn out in force on, and also what aspects of a given story do they not comment on.

I think knowing what they (or their superiors) think is the best way to counter something is actually pretty revealing.

UK pins 'reckless campaign of cyber attacks' on Russian military intelligence



Well done all you anonymous Russian trolls (imaginary or otherwise)!

Whataboutism of the highest order.

You almost completely distracted me from the specific allegations here and I was even beginning to think 'Oh man – it's just so hard to decide who is right and who is wrong about anything these days, we're just as evil as everyone else and it's so difficult to decide what's true and what isn't and, you know, I think what we really need is some sort of nice clever grownup strong-man, a bit like our dad or Father Christmas or Jesus or something, who understands all this complicated stuff and can keep us safe and we can always trust him to do the right thing and then we can all get on with our ordinary unimportant prole-lives and let him get on with the important stuff like wars and, also, I guess it would be even better if that guy could stay in power indefinitely too because actually there are some decisions that are just too important to be left to the ordinary people really and...' – but then I snapped out of it.

I imagine, though, that if I am repeatedly exposed to such nuanced and cynical commentary I will eventually succumb, so I guess my advice is keep it up lads and lasses!

Somewhat more on topic though, it appears someone used internationally prohibited chemical weapons recently in a British provincial town as part of a botched assassination and then just threw the bottle away so that it could be (and was) found by some random members of the public.

Should we just go 'Oh – OK then – we're so bad and so horrid because of Iraq and Libya and whatever that we'll just not say anything about this'?

Pray tell, oh anonymous ones, how long (decades?) do we have to wait over here for our evil-points to dissipate enough for us to be allowed to say to the Russian leadership (assuming of course that the left hand even knew what the right hand was doing) that we think the chemical weapons endangering civilians thing is kind of crossing a line?

Holy macaroni! After months of number-crunching, behold the strongest material in the universe: Nuclear pasta


Re: Sorry, what?

On 'why are there protons at all'? I think that is a good question given the usual description of a neutron star as a thing that is made of neutrons. However, having taken a quick look at the paper, I learn the following cool (theorised) stuff:

"The crust comprises the outermost kilometer of the NS [...] The outer crust is a bcc lattice of nuclei embedded in a gas of degenerate electrons, which becomes increasingly neutron rich with depth. At the base of the inner crust the separation between nuclei becomes comparable to nuclei radii and nucleons rearrange themselves into complex shapes known as nuclear pasta."

So, in the crusty bit, there are still thought to be things resembling what we would recognise as nuclei, and so there will be protons around.

On 'what are the forces'? That is also a good question since at least in the non-crust neutron only part of a neutron star you'd expect there to be just attractive nuclear forces – and so why wouldn't the thing just keep on collapsing. The received wisdom is that although the nuclear forces make the neutrons really really really want to stick together as closely as possible this attraction is resisted by what is called degeneracy pressure – this is a quantum mechanical (QM) effect and is a consequence of what is often called the exclusion principle. The exclusion principle is everywhere in Nature – so as well as holding up neutron stars it is also what stops all the electrons in an atom collapsing to the same (lowest) energy level and forces them instead to occupy higher and higher energies – and thus gives us all of chemistry, and all of life etc.

All that off the back of one (comparatively) simple QM rule that has absolutely no underlying explanation whatsoever but if you assume it is true then everything fits wonderfully.

Got to love QM. It's the law (since, currently, there is no alternative).

Google skewered in ad sting after Oracle-backed bods turn troll


Re: I have no respect for sting operations

"When you actively go looking for mistakes, it's easy to find somebody doing something wrong..."

Oh – oh – I know this one – that's except in the case when it's people looking for security flaws in software and IoT etc. – then it's OK actively [to] go looking for mistakes. Yes?

Why didn't Google just take the high ground and politely thank these people for finding a weakness in their system and thus giving them the opportunity to improve it?

Google responds to location-stalking outcry by… tweaking words on its BS support page


Re: 'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

Information *is* power.

Other people having information about me gives them *power* over me.

All this information that's collected about me – all this power over me – this is being shared with other organisations that do *not* have my best interests at heart – they are not paying Google to get this power over me because they want to improve my well being – they only want to use all this knowledge about me because it makes it easier for them to achieve their commercial or political goals – it makes it easier for them to *exploit* me – it makes it easier for them to *manipulate* me into doing what *they* want me to do.

Google may well employ smart people, but given that it is exhibiting the kind of lame dissembling described in the article here I think its workforce must be increasingly enriched with people who, while they may be smart, must also be comfortable with the idea of working for a company that depends for its profitability on systematically violating everyone else's privacy to the maximum extent they can get away with.

Would *you* work for a company that behaves like this?

I fear Google is now an organisation increasingly staffed by high-functioning psychopaths – and it also happens to know pretty much everything there is to know about the rest of us.

What could *possibly* go wrong?

Astroboffins spy the brightest quasar that lit the universe's dark ages


The universe [...]started as a hot soupy mixture of particles that started cooling as it began expanding.


After 800 million years after the Big Bang, the particles clumped together to form the first elements and the first stars and galaxies.

Well, the particles had formed into simple elements a long time before that, but sure, it's thought the very first stars probably began to form starting about 150 million years after the BB.

But before then, there was no light.

Either sort of true or profoundly wrong depending on how pedantic you want to be about the definition of 'light' but certainly there weren't many objects around emitting the kind of visible light we see in the night sky of today's wonderfully named Stelliferous Era.

Summary at the Wikipedia Chronology Of The Universe:


Could change of course – wasn't so long ago we thought The Universe was considerably older than 13 billion years – and then there's the whole dark matter thing, which is still a fairly new idea – and no one knows what dark matter is yet – and now there's dark energy too, which is an even newer idea, and no one knows what that is either.

JURI's out, Euro copyright votes in: Whoa, did the EU just 'break the internet'?


Oh yeah – Cory Doctorow, I remember him – his website has a shop now.

Things change.

There was this thing called the industrial revolution.

History moving forward.

Big factories, pumping out crap into the air and the rivers – horrible unsafe working conditions – large companies making lots of money exploiting the easily exploitable and dumping their externalities on the rest of society.

Presumably the thinking at that time was that if you can't make it with your outdated agrarian labouring skills then you need to adapt. If the air is a bit poisonous then just man up because this is how things are now – work with it – don't hark back to a bygone age when the air was breathable, the rivers had fish and kids didn't need to work 18 hour shifts on dangerous machinery just to eat.

You can't turn the clock back man.

Things changed again though – as they do.

Incidentally, have you not noticed that things have started to change in the world of digital content?

People are paying.

Spotify. Netflix.

There's even money in recorded music again.


Lots of creative people in the music and TV production world busily and happily adapting to this new reality.

UN's freedom of expression top dog slams European copyright plans


Re: Or to put it another way

TheVogon said: "... as soon as you make [liable] the companies that are basically just pipes to content, then loads of unrelated stuff is going to get censored..."

But these companies are not 'basically just pipes to content'

(1) They stick adverts on the content before they pipe it to us, and they make lots and lots of money out of doing so.

(2) They snoop meticulously on who is at the end of their pipes and they monitor what we are looking-at/listening-to so they can monetise the sh*t out of that information.

Basically, these companies make a lot of money off the back of other people's content, and if they didn't have access to content that people wanted to see/hear then they wouldn't have a business.

Broadcasters, print publishers, people who make physical stuff – they can all be held liable if they make money from other people's work without properly compensating them.

But this seemingly straightforward fairness/anti-parasite rule about profiting from other people's work does not currently apply to the internet publishers.

That is an in-plain-sight contradiction.

That is why this isn't going to go away.

Microsoft partners to fling out collabo-visual Ginormonitors this year



If it's not too late, I'd like to suggest gigantotelly as an alternative to enormonitor.

It's World (Terrible) Password (Advice) Day!


Re: What about paper?

For most people the vast majority of the systems and services we use depend on us having access to a particular email account – that is ultimately how we are authenticated – not through knowing a password, but through our ability to access the email account we registered with. I can forget all of my passwords and still have access to all my accounts by clicking 'forgot password' so long as I still have access to the registration email.

Knowing and protecting the password/access-rights to that email account is really really important – knowing the passwords to all the other accounts, ultimately, not so important.

Personally I try to use a strong but memorable password for my main email account (easier said than done of course) and store that password only in my brain. That way (assuming my email service provider hashes passwords) no plain-text of it should ever permanently exist anywhere in the Universe other than encoded in my neurons (unless someone exfiltrates it during a logon – which is of course possible for any password based system if either end-point is dodgy or there is a man-in-the-middle – but hey – nothing is perfect).

Also, I agree with some here that paper (as an aide memoire for strong but less essential passwords) should no longer be blanket ruled out.

I remember reading an interview a while back with one of Google's security bigwig admins – he said he always used strong passwords, a small number of which he memorised, but most of which... he recorded with the aid of a physical (paper) notebook.

Quelle horreur!

The threat landscape has changed: Malware and assorted hacks mean that the security of end-point devices and in some cases even data on servers might (in some scenarios at least) be rather worse on average than the security of a piece of paper (or several pieces of paper) stored physically in a building or on-person.

UK consumer help bloke Martin Lewis is suing Facebook over fake ads


Re: "... he should report any adverts ..."

"[We] have explained to Martin Lewis that he should report any adverts that infringe his rights and they will be removed"

This is on a par with a toddler deliberately swinging a stick around and saying it's your fault you got hit because you didn't get out the way quick enough.

Effectively they are saying:

It's your fault this is causing you problems because you didn't report it to us quick enough. It's not like we did anything wrong – we were just minding our own business – our business being taking money to push out adverts while paying as little attention as possible to who pays for them or what they contain.

Your entire ID is worth £820 to crooks on dark web black market


@WibbleMe: $820 nice, Where can I sell my ID?

What exactly would I get for my £850 though Mr/Ms WibbleMe?

While you're making the list, remember to keep repeating to yourself 'if I've got nothing to hide, I've got nothing to worry about'.

The Great Bulgarian Streaming Scam may well have been scummy, but Spotify got paid


Re: He did not break the rules

..out of interest, what would you have them do if for whatever reason you didn't play anything for that month of subscription? Would Spotify get the whole 100%?

Well - if I didn't play anything then I don't think I'd have any objection if they just applied the existing model (so 70% divvied up to artists in proportion to total plays on the platform). I'd rather my cash was thrown to the vagaries of aggregate public taste so that artists would get something, rather than Spotify taking 100%. Ideally I suppose I'd like them to hold it back for next month, or not charge me at all, but either introduces too much complication I think.


Re: He did not break the rules

Yes. My understanding is that the existing model is (in rough outline):

(1) Put all the money from all subscribers in a big skip every month

(2) Spotify takes 30% of the money in the skip

(3) The remaining 70% of the money in the skip is given to each artist (well, rights holder actually, not the same at all necessarily) in proportion to the number of plays that artist got from the platform total.

Bad points of this way of doing things include:

(a) Every month a large amount of my hard earned subscription cash goes to top 50 artists some of whom I never listen to and whose music I loathe with deep and abiding intensity.

(b) This model is susceptible to being gamed by the method described in the story.

Actually, another way of looking at this is that the major record companies are currently pulling a similar scam, but on a much larger scale, by mind-controlling impressionable young people with too much free time on the their hands to listen over and over again to a small number of artists almost all of whom are on major labels.

An alternative, which is often suggested when this comes up is:

(1) Put the money from my subscription in a little pot every month

(2) Spotify takes 30% of the money in the pot

(3) The remaining 70% of the money in the pot is given to each artist in proportion to the total number of tracks *I* play from those artists this month

(4) Repeat the above for each subscribing user

Then, if the only tracks I play this month are by The Delve (a hypothetical skint band of which I may hypothetically be a fan) then only The Delve gets my sub money this month – and no one else gets any of it.

I am led to believe that the major record companies are not keen on this model.

Use ad blockers? Mine some Monero to get access to news, says US site


Re: Ads


1. Yes, indeed that is per page. However, if it is so trivial an amount that it doesn't matter if we deprive the publisher of it then perhaps it is also such a trivial amount that we wouldn't really mind paying it - or - if it is not a trivial amount, and so we would mind paying it, then perhaps it is then not right for us to deprive the publisher of it. I guess this is actually (the order of) how much the internet would cost if we didn't fund it with ads. How low would it have to be per page before you think it *would* be reasonable? 0.01p, 0.001p?

2. Impractical pipe dream I agree. Perhaps, rather than the sites doing it themselves, what we need is some sort of infrastructure in place that tracks all the sites we visit and tots up all the page views on all those sites, along with all those sites having some means of receiving payment from a centralised entity based on the number of page views they get, and also perhaps something built into the browser that is ad aware and knows who we are, and some sort of 'account' that most of us would have with that central entity and... oh wait... Big Internet (e.g. Google) have all this already, but the whole advert based way of doing things is so hugely profitable for Big Internet because they can keep most of what they get from the advertisers and give scraps to the publishers/creators (hence Big Internet making billions every year). Google, say, could pivot to being non evil and use their existing infrastructure to provide a service like this where we pay content providers directly (with Google taking a modest cut) but they would of course then be *vastly* less profitable. I'd agree with you that it's hopeless were it not for the rise of ad-blockers. Ad blocking seems to me to be the first time a realistic incentive for something like this to happen has come along (that perhaps Big Internet can't thwart), and it is creating a degree of nervousness among publishers who might be inclined to grasp at anything offering a way out (both of ad-block and their perilous Big Internet dependence). The fundamental problem for the ad slingers is that there is no such thing as an 'acceptable' ad; an ad is either so 'acceptable' that you can comfortably *completely* ignore it (in which case it is *useless* as an ad, and in the long term advertisers simply will not pay for such ads), or it is sufficiently impeding to your enjoyment of the content that it will actually attract your attention to some degree, if only briefly, in which case 99.99% of the time it will be at best mildly irritating rather than helpful or informative. All other things being equal, pages without ads are better than pages with ads, no matter how 'acceptable' those ads are. The question is, is there any price level at which people will pay not to have ads? If you'd told me even five years ago how many people are now paying a $10/£10 sub per month for music I'd never have believed you (not that I'm proposing a sub model here).

Rant ends.


Re: Ads

"... publishers can earn a few dollars per 1000 impressions of an ad without any clicks ..."

Excellent – some actual numbers.

So, if I use an ad-blocker then I'm depriving a publisher of the order of a few tenths of a pence/cent per page view (if I don't click through).

OK (clears throat): Dear internet, my idea by me is that I would very much please like an option on the ad-blocker thingies where it will have a box that will say something like 'click here to make a payment of the hugely crippling sum of 0.231 pence to the nice publisher' so that if I click 'yes' then I get to see the page without all the yucky/dangerous ads/tracking, and the publisher gets 0.231p from me and doesn't go out of business and make the world all sad. Thanks.

Euro Space Agency probe begins search for guff gas on Mars


Re: Hmmmm

@AC Dooooh – yes – no oxygen in methane – my bad – think I must have been visualising methanol for some reason – need to keep off the potato vodka.


Re: Hmmmm

Reading up on it just now, as I understand it, the thing can resolve the differences in frequency that having different isotopes (of C, O & H atoms) in the methane would produce, so there's the possibility they could at least partially discriminate between signals suggestive of biological rather than geological origin (granted assuming basic biology similar to that on earth) – so if they see something interesting with the isotopic composition then, even if not definitive proof of life, it would certainly be quite a big deal.

From tomorrow, Google Chrome will block crud ads. Here's how it'll work


Re: Not half-way good enough.

The-Internet-Advertising-Industrial-Complex: I see you are using an ad-blocker. How dare you deprive content creators of the precious income they need to make great web-experiences. You swine.

Me: I *really* don't want to deprive content creators of income. If I view this page without adverts on it then roughly how much money is the content creator going to be deprived of?

The-Internet-Advertising-Industrial-Complex: La la la I'm not listening – and even if I were listening I wouldn't tell you. Please disable your ad-blocker. Advertising is the only way.

Me: No seriously, I'm good for it. I'd love to be able to compensate the content creators directly. How much do you give them in the end as a result of me looking at the adverts on this page – after the various intermediaries have taken their rake off – is it the order of 0.01p, or 0.1p, or 1p, or 10p?

The-Internet-Advertising-Industrial-Complex: La la la la la la la la. Not going to tell you already. Please disable your ad-blocker.

Me: Is there really no way I can just send the money to the content creator directly? Maybe if there were some simple way to make micro payments or whatever, to compensate sites for blocking adverts, perhaps integrated into the browser or something. Could we do it that way?

The-Internet-Advertising-Industrial-Complex: How many times do I have to tell you? Please just simply disable your ad-blocker.

Me: Actually, come to think of it, I guess there's probably someone somewhere making money out of collecting all the information about what web-pages I look at too – so I'm thinking we should factor that in as well – and if I pay compensation directly to the content creators then there's not such a strong justification for me having my data harvested in the first place. I mean – if all this stuff is free then I guess people will put up with all the creepy sh*t – but if we start paying the creators then they wouldn't need to be complicit in tracking us any more would they. Maybe some of them wouldn't even need you any more. How does that sound?

The-Internet-Advertising-Industrial-Complex: Please disable your ad-blocker – and also – you are talking dangerous, impractical and heretical nonsense and shall burn in hell.

Why aren't you being arbiters of truth? MPs scream at Facebook, YouTube, Twitter


Re: Understanding is a three-edged sword

Yeah! What is truth man? We create our own reality. Let's level the playing field. We have these stupid laws about what newspapers and broadcasters can publish – old-world dead tree thinking – nanny-state anachronistic rubbish that tries to crimp the ability of the very wealthy to dominate the _so_called_ democratic process by hijacking the media with _so_called_ propaganda? The wealthy should be able to use their money to swing as many elections as they like – and if they want to keep it secret then why not – it's their money after all. Fu*k yeah! Because, you see, the truth is a triple edged sword man – so who's to say what is and is not propaganda? Let the market decide I say – better yet, let the marketing departments decide. Let's just drop all these naive _so_called_ 'laws' about _so_called_ 'publishing' – why shouldn't newspapers and Sky and Fox and everyone else just be able to run any old sh*t they like? So long as it brings in the punters and doesn't offend the advertisers what's not to like? It's just business right? Newspaper proprietors and media barons everywhere would rejoice. Election time would be particularly lucrative. Keeeeeeerching. Lots of lovely campaign advertising money for them and their shareholders – which I'm sure would all trickle down nicely and give a big boost to the economy too – everyone wins!

Facebook and pals to US Senate's Russia probe: Pleeease don't pass a law on political web ads


Re: Why should they be exempt?

Yes. If we have laws regulating *paid_for* political advertising on other media then why shouldn't those laws apply here too?

We don't need to formulate a new law dictating 'who decides truth' or introduce a new 'censorship regime'.

We just need to apply the laws we *already* have in a context (publishing) where we already apply them.

Does a paid-for ad count as user generated content?

I don't think so.

An ad appears on a platform when a customer *pays* hard cash for that ad to be remorselessly spammed at people who otherwise wouldn't see it.

If these companies' claims about how narrowly and persuasively they can target 'messages' are true then the need to apply the existing law is surely even more important than in broadcast or print?

More and more websites are mining crypto-coins in your browser to pay their bills, line pockets


Re: Advertisers won't be happy.

@Alumoi - I agree 'consume' is not a great word in this context. I didn't accuse anyone of theft – that word came from you. I guess you'd agree that this stuff doesn't cost nothing to create/produce and that the infrastructure to support it costs something to run – so the money has to come from somewhere to create decent content, otherwise we all get shit entertainment and shit journalism. I don't want you (or me) to have to 'pay through the nose' for anything, but at the moment the money for 'free services' is effectively being forced out of our noses anyway by the corporate-surveillance activities of the advertising-industrial-complex with the middle men taking almost all the money simply for sticking adverts on content made by other people and tracking us as we look/read/consume that content to siphon off our very souls to sell to the highest bidder – the middle men make *huge* profits doing this, and as far as I can see those profits are outrageously disproportionate given what they are adding in terms of actual utility or social good – and some of the side effects of their activities are arguably socially corrosive. I was suggesting that we could perhaps cut out the middle men and instead pay small amounts as *directly* as possible to the sites we use (read/watch/listen/consume – whatever) at the point we use them (enough at least to cover the running costs and content production costs so as to keep decent creators and journalists in business and not have them in thrall to advertisers and SV middle men) – and if you strip most of that middle-man stuff out I don't think we would actually have to pay very much at all – and I'm sure that could be managed without having to have multiple subscriptions and fragmentation or walled gardens. There'd be lots of hissy fits but I think both sides are going to have to compromise.


Re: Advertisers won't be happy.

OK – what if – and this is just a wild idea so try to stay with me on this – but what if we had some sort of way of keeping track of who owes who what in society – perhaps represented by some sort of 'token' or something – and those tokens were universal and exchangeable and didn't represent any specific kind of work or service or anything – and people could just give other people these tokens in return for work/services etc. – I don't know – we could call it work-E, or stuff-E, maybe 'mon-E' or something – and what if – when people consume content and services online they gave the people providing the content and services a small amount of this 'mon-E', and then all this tortuous stuff with corporate surveillance and having to fund sites via adverts paid for by companies that might perhaps one day sell us some product or service, or having (in this case) to effectively take peoples' electricity in a hopelessly inefficient way in order ultimately to pay for the electricity running their servers (among other things), all this could just be bypassed, and the consumer could pay the content provider with the 'mon-E' directly, roughly in proportion to what they consume at the point of consuming it? Crazy idea I know.

London Mayor slams YouTube over failure to remove 'shocking' violent gang vids


Possible medium term fix for YouTube

Compromise: change the law to hold Google to the same rules as publishers like newspapers – but *only* for content that Google is or has been making money out of.

By 'making money out of' I mean Google running ads against it *or* tracking views of it for data-mining.

This prevents Google from getting any income from content that would be illegal to conventionally publish in a given country – but it would *not* add any new restrictions to non-monetised posting/publishing of such content, so the existing 'light-touch' laws (safe-harbour and take down procedures etc.) would still apply unchanged to videos that aren't being monetised by Google in any way.

This defuses the freedom-of-speech/artistic-expression argument: If Google is sincere about freedom of speech/expression then they could continue to host - but in return for *no* income and no juicy data mining - all the un-conventionally-publishable and thus un-monetiseable vids (including these gang vids for example) simply for the joy of enriching global culture - or whatever.

This may not make any difference in the short term in this (gang vids) instance but it would be an interesting first step and might appeal to the ideologists on both sides (or possibly just annoy the ideologists on both sides).

Someone must surely have thought of this before. Any good?