Brin Balloons His Bet on Buoyancy

March 22, 2021

I spotted the story “Is Sergey Brin Really Building the World’s Biggest Aircraft? Here’s Everything We Know.” Darned uplifting. The drift of the write up is:

… the ninth richest person in the world’s focus has been on exactly that: building a giant “sky yacht.”

As the IRS might term it, this is a hobby.

The write up explains:

… the LTA [Lighter Than Air] website states only humanitarian goals: “LTA airships will have the ability to complement — and even speed up — humanitarian disaster response and relief efforts, especially in remote areas that cannot be easily accessed by plane and boat due to limited or destroyed infrastructure.

Ah, ha. Tax deduction maybe?

How big you ask?

At this size [650 feet or two soccer pitches], the flying machine would definitely be the world’s largest aircraft today — although it would still be smaller than the ill-fated Hindenburg zeppelin of the 1930s, which was 804 feet long. For context, that’s more than three times the length of a Boeing 747 and more than four times the length of your typical Goodyear Blimp.

Several observations:

  • The write up does not explore the Loon balloon initiative. It drifted into oblivion by the way.
  • The airship’s size is bigger than Roman Abramovich’s Solaris super yacht which is about 200 feet smaller in the length department. But the ship is fungible; the balloon is plein d’air chaud.
  • The science club project will prove that buoyancy is a verifiable phenomenon.

Soon the uplifting impact of the world’s largest humanitarian balloon will cast its long shadow over the land. Quick question: Will Mr. Abramovich undertake an even larger inflatable object with a possible tax deduction. Solaris is difficult to shape into tax benefit, but it could be done with surplus Loon balloons.

Stephen E Arnold, March 22, 2021

Apple Confronts the Middle Kingdom: Another Joust between a High Tech Country and a Nation State

March 19, 2021

How did Australia fare in its head-to-head death match with Facebook? Readers of this blog know that I declared Facebook the winner over a mere country. Imagine. A country with kangaroos thinking it could win against the digital social kingdom. I declared Facebook the winner and pegged Australia as the equivalent of a company selling used RVs to residents of Silicon Valley who could not afford an apartment.

Now China finds itself in the midst of Apple peels because Chinese iPhone app developers are following Apple’s privacy guidelines. Imagine. Programmers in China have the daring do to veer outside the boundaries of the orchard owner.

Apple Warns Chinese Apps Not to Dodge Its New Privacy Rules” explains:

But even before introducing the changes, Apple is facing problems in China, where tech companies are testing ways to beat the system and continue tracking users without prompting for their consent. Apple previously said it would reject from its App Store any apps that “are found to disregard the user’s choice”. On Thursday, Apple fired pre-emptive warnings to at least two Chinese apps, telling them to cease and desist after naming a dozen parameters such as “setDeviceName” that could be used “to create a unique identifier for the user’s device”.

The write up explains that Chinese developers are testing technology to put gates in the fence around the Apple app orchard. That’s not what Apple permits. The techniques referenced in the source article smack of breach techniques long in use by specialized software companies. Some of the methods were hinted at in some of the Snowden documents and in the public dump of the Hacking Team’s RCS. Certain government-supported intelware companies employ similar techniques in their solutions as well.

What’s ahead?

  1. Apple declares victory and makes changes as it did for Russia. Business is business, and the ethical issues are really super important unless the economic hit is a consideration
  2. Apple declares that China has ruined the apple orchard, so no more digital delicacies will be exported to the Middle Kingdom
  3. China demonstrates that it can influence behavior by pulling certain supply chain strings, suggesting tariff changes to countries in its orbit, and engaging in face-to-face discussions with Chinese nationals working for the Silicon Valley giant.

Surveillance operates on steroids when app developers have access to the treasure trove of data from users’ actions.

This is another distinctly 21st century issue: A mere country and some of its state backed developers finding that access to the abundance in the Apple orchard hindered.

Stephen E Arnold, March 19, 2021

Quantum Computing: The Solution to SolarWinds and Microsoft Security Gaps

March 12, 2021

I am an optimist. I have been waking up with the idea that life is good and my work might make the world a slightly better place. However, I don’t put much trust in unicorns (nifty horses with a long pointy horn or the Silicon Valley type), fairies, or magical mermaids. When new technology comes along, I view the explanations of the technology’s wonders with skepticism. Mobile phones are interesting, but the phone has been around for a while. Shrinking chips make it possible to convert the “phone” into a general purpose thumbtyping machine. Nifty, but still a phone on steroids.

I thought about the human tendency to grasp for silver bullets. This characteristic runs through Jacques Ellul’s book The Technology Bluff. Its decades-old explanations and analyses are either unknown or ignored by many informed individuals. My hunch is that the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal assumes that its writers are responsible for understanding certain topics.

I read “Effective Cybersecurity Needs Quantum Computing.” Perhaps I should send a copy of Dr. Ellul’s book? But why? It’s not like the hippy dippy books included in the Murdoch book reviews. Dr. Ellul likes interesting words; for example, Mancipium. Does Mr. Murdoch’s oldest son know the meaning of the word? He should he lives in a mancipum-infused environment.

The essay asserts that a new and essentially unworkable technology will deal with the current cybersecurity challenges. How many years will be required to covert baby step lab experiments into a scalable solution to the business methods employed at outfits like SolarWinds and Microsoft? One, maybe five, or a more realistic 25 years?

The problems caused by flawed, short cut riddled, and uninformed approaches to coding, building, deploying, and updating enterprise software are here-and-now puzzles. For a point of reference, the White House sounded an alarm that a really big problem exists and poses threats today.

Sure, let’s kick back and wait for the entities of nifty technology to deliver solutions. IBM, Google, and other firms are beavering away on the unicornesque quantum computing. That’s fine, but to covert expensive, complex research and development projects into a solution for the vulnerability of that email you sent a few minutes ago is just off the wall. Sure, there may be a tooth fairy or a wizard with a magic wand, but that’s not going to be the fix quantum computing allegedly will deliver.

The WSJ essay states:

The extraordinary sensitivity of qubits reveals interference instantly and unfailingly. They would alert us when hackers read, copy or corrupt transmitted files.

Sure, if someone pays attention. I want to point out that exactly zero of the cybersecurity systems monitoring the SolarWinds’ misstep sounded an alarm. Hooking these systems into a quantum system will result in what, another two to five years of development. Walking by today’s quantum computers and waving an iPhone close to a component can create some excitement. Why? Yep, sensitivity. But why worry about trivial details.

The Murdocher does admit that quantum computers are years away, there is zero value in kicking today’s security disasters down the road like a discard can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Funding is fine. Conflating the current radiation poisoning of digital systems with quantum computing is like waiting for an Uber or Lyft driver to come by in a chariot pulled by a unicorn.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2021

What Can Be Like a Bee? A Drone

March 11, 2021

Drones are mainly associated with aerial photography, eventual package deliveries, and unmanned attacks.  None of these, however, drive drone scientists to improve the robot technology.  What really moves them forward is the desire to replicate bees’ graceful movements and fully seeing flowers’ ultimate beauty says Science Daily in the article, “Appreciating A Flower’s Texture, Color, And Shapes Leads To Better Drone Landings.”

Technically it should be impossible for bees to fly, but reality proves that idea wrong.  Bees are amazing navigators who use optical flow, perceiving an object’s speed in their view field.  Robotics researchers designed an algorithm based off the optical view concept to allow robots to judge distances by visual cues (colors, shapes, and textures).

Drones will learn from the optical flow AI, but the concept has limitations:

“Optical flow has two fundamental limitations that have been widely described in the growing literature on bio-inspired robotics. The first is that optical flow only provides mixed information on distances and velocities — and not on distance or velocity separately. To illustrate, if there are two landing drones and one of them flies twice as high and twice as fast as the other drone, then they experience exactly the same optical flow. However, for good control these two drones should actually react differently to deviations in the optical flow divergence. If a drone does not adapt its reactions to the height when landing, it will never arrive and start to oscillate above the landing surface. Second, for obstacle avoidance it is very unfortunate that in the direction in which a robot is moving, the optical flow is very small. This means that in that direction, optical flow measurements are noisy and hence provide very little information on the presence of obstacles. Hence, the most important obstacles — the ones that the robot is moving towards — are actually the hardest ones to detect!

The limitations can be fixed if robots can interpret optical flow and visual appearances of objects in their field.  Seeing some distance by visual appearances resulted in better landings for drones.

Learning how to land the drones leads to better understanding of insects’ intelligence.  Biology and robotics do not often mesh outside of science fiction, but tiny bees could leads to advances in robotic navigation.

Whitney Grace, March 11, 2021

Quantum Computing: A Nasty Business

March 3, 2021

In a PhD program, successful candidates push the boundaries of knowledge and change the world for the better. Sometimes. One illustration of this happy outcome is the case of Zak Romaszko at the University of Sussex, who contributed to the school’s ion trap quantum computer project. Robaszko is now working at his professor’s spin-off company Universal Quantum on commercialization of the tech to create large-scale quantum computers. Bravo!

Unfortunately, not all PhD programs are crucibles of such success stories. One in particular appears to be just the opposite, as described in “A Dishonest, Indifferent, and Toxic Culture” posted at the Huixiang Voice. The blog is dedicated to covering the heartbreaking experience of PhD candidate Huixiang Chen, who was studying at the University of Florida’s department of Electrical and Computer Engineering when he took his own life. The note Chen left behind indicated the reason, at least in part, was the pressure put on him by his advisor to go along with a fraudulent peer-review process.

We learn:

“It has been 20 months since the tragedy that a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Florida committed suicide, accusing his advisor coerce him into academic misconduct. Our latest article dropped a bump into the academic world by exposing the evidence of those academic misconduct. The Nature Index followed up with an in-depth report with comments from scientists and academic organizations worldwide expressing their shock and deep concerns about this scandal that happened at the University of Florida.”

A joint committee of the academic publisher Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) investigated the matter and found substance in the allegations. ACM has imposed a 15-year ban on participation in any ACM Conference or Publication on the offenders, the most severe penalty the organization has ever imposed. The post continues:

“The conclusion finally confirmed two important accusations listed in Huixiang Chen’s suicide note that:
1) The review process for his ISCA-2019 paper was broken, and most of the reviewers of the paper are ‘friends’ of his advisor Dr. Tao Li. The review process became organized and colluded academic fraud:
2)After recognizing that there are severe problems in his ISCA-2019 paper, Huixiang Chen was coerced by his advisor Dr. Tao Li to proceed with a submission despite that Huixiang Chen repeatedly expressed concerns about the correctness of the results reported in work, which led to a strong conscience condemnation and caused the suicide.
“Finally, the paper with academic misconduct got retracted by ACM as Huixiang’s last wish.”

Chen hoped the revelations he left behind would lead to a change in the world; perhaps they will. The problem, though, is much larger than the culture at one university. Peer reviewed publications have become home to punitive behavior, non-reproducible results, and bureaucratic pressure. Perhaps it is time to find another way to review and share academic findings? Google’s AI ethics department may have some thoughts on academic scope and research reviews.

Cynthia Murrell, March 3, 2021

Fixing the Innovation Economy?

February 19, 2021

I read “How to Fix What the Innovation Economy Broke about America.” I noted this sentence:

No initiative, no program, no development aid will, by itself, solve
the deepest problem of all: distrust of American institutions. Reagan
told Americans that government was not the solution, it was the
problem.

I asked myself, “Does MIT lack the institutional memory to recall that it accepted funds from Jeffrey Epstein?” The decision failure makes clear that the problems with the analysis in the article manifests itself in the actions of entities like MIT.

Social and intellectual failure cannot be attributed to a single factor. Its remediation begins with institutions and the individuals who comprise those entities. Innovation is one chemical in the exhaust generated by actions which are corrosive.

Pontification is okay. Bandying about words like “trust” is hand waving.

Stephen E Arnold, February 19, 2021

Intel: Outputting Horse Hooey (Translation for Thumbtypers: Nonsense)

February 16, 2021

I read “Intel Mocks Apple’s M1 MacBooks in Grudge-Bearing Ad Campaign.” Let’s assume that the information in the Tech Radar article is spot on. I learned:

Intel is back to mocking Apple, having posted a series of tweets highlighting the shortcomings of Apple’s M1 processors.

Yep, Intel and the tweeter thing.

The article points out that Apple divorced Intel from its M1 computers. But there are visitation writes for some Apple computers I think.

The write up points out:

Intel’s tweets link to a video from YouTuber Jon Rettinger, that compare laptops equipped with Intel chips to Apple’s ?M1? Macs. “If you’re looking for a good laptop in 2021, there are many things to consider, but processor choice might be more important than you think,” a description on Rettinger’s video reads. “You might be considering Apple’s new M1-based laptops, but before you hit the buy button, let me show you what Intel’s new Evo laptops can offer you!” Intel’s aggressive tweets come just days after the company posted a series of cherry-picked benchmarks designed to provide that its 11th-generation processors are better than Apple’s ARM-based M1 chips.

I have pointed out that Intel’s Horse Ridge announcement struck me as horse feathers. If Intel is using the tweeter to output negative vibes and fiddling benchmarks, is it possible that Intel has moved from horse ridge to horse feathers?

I prefer innovation, demonstrations of technical competence

Stephen E Arnold, February 16, 2021

Managing Engineers: Make High School Science Club Management Methods More High School-Like?

February 4, 2021

I read an interesting and thoughtful essay in Okay HQ. “Engineering Productivity Can Be Measured – Just Not How You’d Expect.” The “you” seems to be me. That’s okay. As a student of the brilliant HSSCMM encapsulated in decisions related to handling staff, I am fascinated by innovations.

The write up points out:

Since the advent of the software industry, most engineering teams have seen productivity as a black box. Only recently have people even begun to build internal tools that optimize performance. Unfortunately, most of these tools measure the wrong metrics and are shockingly similar across companies.

The idea is that MBA like measures are off the mark.

How does the HSSCMM get back on track? The write up states:

Productivity in engineering therefore naturally increases when you remove the blockers getting in the way of your team.

The idea of a “blocker” is a way to encapsulate the ineffective, inefficient, and clumsy management tactics touted by Peter Drucker and other management experts.

What does a member of the science club perceive as a blocker?

  • Too many interruptions
  • Slow code reviews
  • Lousy development tools
  • Too much context switching (seems like a variant of interruptions, doesn’t it?)
  • Getting pinged to do work outside of business hours (yep, another variation of interrupting a science club member).

Let’s summarize my HSSCMM principles. The engineers — at least the ones in the elite of the science club — want to be managed by these precepts:

  • Don’t interrupt the productive engineers/professionals
  • Don’t give us tools the productive / engineers and professionals don’t find useful, helpful, good, or up to our standards
  • Provide feedback, right now, you inefficient and unproductive human
  • Don’t annoy productive engineers / professionals outside of “work” hours.

These seem perfectly reasonable if somewhat redundant. However, these productive engineers / professionals have created the systems, methods, apps, and conventions that destroy attention, yield lousy software and tools, and nourish the mind set which has delivered the joys of Twitter, Facebook, Robinhood, et al to the world.

Got that, Druckerites? If not, our innovations in artificial intelligence will predict your behaviors and our neuro morphic systems will make you follow the precepts of the science club.

That sound about right?

Stephen E Arnold, February 4, 2021

What Makes the Web Slow? Really Slow?

January 28, 2021

I read “We Rendered a Million Web Pages to Find Out What Makes the Web Slow.” My first reaction was the East Coast Internet outage which ruined some Type A workers’ day. I can hear the howls, “Mommy, I can’t attend class, our Internet is broken again.”

Here’s a passage from the “Rendered a Million Web Pages” which I found interesting:

Internet commentators are fond of saying that correlation does not equal causation, and indeed we can’t get at causality directly with these models. Great caution should be exercised when interpreting the coefficients, particularly because a lot confounding factors may be involved. However, there’s certainly enough there to make you go “hmm”.

Yep, I went “hmm.” But for these reasons:

  • Ad load times slow down my Web experiences. Don’t you love those white page hung ads on the YouTube or the wonky baloney on the Daily Mail?
  • How about crappy Internet service providers?
  • Are you thrilled with cache misses?
  • Pages stuffed full of trackers, bugs, codes, and spammy SEO stuff.

Hmm, indeed.

Stephen E Arnold, January 28, 2021

The Silicon Valley Way: Working 16 Hour Days in Four Hours?

January 26, 2021

Years ago I worked at a couple of outfits which expected professionals to work more than eight hours a day. At the nuclear outfit, those with an office, a helper (that used to be called a “secretary”), and ill-defined but generally complicated tasks were to arrive about 8 am and head out about six pm. At the blue chip consulting firm, most people were out of the office during “regular” working hours; that is, 9 am to 5 pm. Client visits, meetings, and travel were day work. Then after 5 pm or whenever before the next day began professionals had to write proposals, review proposals, develop time and cost estimates, go to meetings with superiors, and field odd ball phone calls (no mobiles, thumb typers. These phones had buttons, lights, and spectacular weird interfaces). During the interview process at the consulting outfit, sleek recruiters in face-to-face meetings would reference 60 hour work weeks. That was a clue, but one often had to show up early Saturday morning to perform work. The hardy would show up on Sunday afternoon to catch up.

Imagine my reaction when I read “Report: One Third of Tech Workers Admit to Working Only 3 to 4 Hours a Day.” I learned:

  • 31% of professionals from 42 tech companies…said they’re only putting in between three and four hours a day
  • 27% of tech professionals said they work five to six hours a day
  • 11% reported only working one to two hours per day
  • 30% said they work between seven and 10 hours per day.

The data come from an anonymous survey and the statistical procedures were not revealed. Hence, the data may be wonky.

One point is highly suggestive. The 30 percent who do more are the high performers. With the outstanding management talent at high technology companies, why aren’t these firms terminating the under performing 70 percent? (Oh, right some outfits did try the GE way. Outstanding.)

My question is, “For the 30 percent who are high performers, why are you working for a company. Become a contractor or an expert consultant. You can use that old school Type A behavior for yourself?”

Economic incentives? The thrill of super spreader events on Friday afternoon when beer is provided? Student loans to repay? Work is life?

I interpret the data another way. Technology businesses have a management challenge. Measuring code productivity, the value of a technology insight, and the honing of an algorithm require providing digital toys, truisms about pushing decisions down, and ignoring the craziness resulting from an engineer acting without oversight.

Need examples? Insider security threats, a failure to manage in a responsible manner, and a heads down effort to extract maximum revenue from customers.

In short, the work ethic quantified.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2021

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