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Friday, December 31, 2021

There's No Good Reason to Trust Blockchain Technology by Bruce Schneier

Stolen from WIRED for some reason. Probably because of all the ads popping up and interfering with my trying to read it. It might be from 2019, but the date is a little hazy, I mean just when is 82 86 2019? Unless those 8's are actually zeros.

Opinion: Cryptocurrencies are useless. Blockchain solutions are frequently much worse than the systems they replace. Here's why.

In his 2008 white paper that first proposed bitcoin, the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto concluded with: “We have proposed a system for electronic transactions without relying on trust.” He was referring to blockchain, the system behind bitcoin cryptocurrency. The circumvention of trust is a great promise, but it’s just not true. Yes, bitcoin eliminates certain trusted intermediaries that are inherent in other payment systems like credit cards. But you still have to trust bitcoin—and everything about it.

Much has been written about blockchains and how they displace, reshape, or eliminate trust. But when you analyze both blockchain and trust, you quickly realize that there is much more hype than value. Blockchain solutions are often much worse than what they replace.

First, a caveat. By blockchain, I mean something very specific: the data structures and protocols that make up a public blockchain. These have three essential elements. The first is a distributed (as in multiple copies) but centralized (as in there’s only one) ledger, which is a way of recording what happened and in what order. This ledger is public, meaning that anyone can read it, and immutable, meaning that no one can change what happened in the past.

The second element is the consensus algorithm, which is a way to ensure all the copies of the ledger are the same. This is generally called mining; a critical part of the system is that anyone can participate. It is also distributed, meaning that you don’t have to trust any particular node in the consensus network. It can also be extremely expensive, both in data storage and in the energy required to maintain it. Bitcoin has the most expensive consensus algorithm the world has ever seen, by far.

Finally, the third element is the currency. This is some sort of digital token that has value and is publicly traded. Currency is a necessary element of a blockchain to align the incentives of everyone involved. Transactions involving these tokens are stored on the ledger.

Private blockchains are completely uninteresting. (By this, I mean systems that use the blockchain data structure but don’t have the above three elements.) In general, they have some external limitation on who can interact with the blockchain and its features. These are not anything new; they’re distributed append-only data structures with a list of individuals authorized to add to it. Consensus protocols have been studied in distributed systems for more than 60 years. Append-only data structures have been similarly well covered. They’re blockchains in name only, and—as far as I can tell—the only reason to operate one is to ride on the blockchain hype.

All three elements of a public blockchain fit together as a single network that offers new security properties. The question is: Is it actually good for anything? It's all a matter of trust.

Blockchain Tweet

Trust is essential to society. As a species, humans are wired to trust one another. Society can’t function without trust, and the fact that we mostly don’t even think about it is a measure of how well trust works.

The word “trust” is loaded with many meanings. There’s personal and intimate trust. When we say we trust a friend, we mean that we trust their intentions and know that those intentions will inform their actions. There’s also the less intimate, less personal trust—we might not know someone personally, or know their motivations, but we can trust their future actions. Blockchain enables this sort of trust: We don’t know any bitcoin miners, for example, but we trust that they will follow the mining protocol and make the whole system work.

Most blockchain enthusiasts have a unnaturally narrow definition of trust. They’re fond of catchphrases like

in code we trust,”

in math we trust,” and

in crypto we trust.”

This is trust as verification. But verification isn’t the same as trust.

In 2012, I wrote a book about trust and security, Liars and Outliers. In it, I listed four very general systems our species uses to incentivize trustworthy behavior. The first two are morals and reputation. The problem is that they scale only to a certain population size. Primitive systems were good enough for small communities, but larger communities required delegation, and more formalism.

The third is institutions. Institutions have rules and laws that induce people to behave according to the group norm, imposing sanctions on those who do not. In a sense, laws formalize reputation. Finally, the fourth is security systems. These are the wide varieties of security technologies we employ: door locks and tall fences, alarm systems and guards, forensics and audit systems, and so on.

These four elements work together to enable trust. Take banking, for example. Financial institutions, merchants, and individuals are all concerned with their reputations, which prevents theft and fraud. The laws and regulations surrounding every aspect of banking keep everyone in line, including backstops that limit risks in the case of fraud. And there are lots of security systems in place, from anti-counterfeiting technologies to internet-security technologies.

In his 2018 book, Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust, Kevin Werbach outlines four different “trust architectures.” The first is peer-to-peer trust. This basically corresponds to my morals and reputational systems: pairs of people who come to trust each other. His second is leviathan trust, which corresponds to institutional trust. You can see this working in our system of contracts, which allows parties that don’t trust each other to enter into an agreement because they both trust that a government system will help resolve disputes. His third is intermediary trust. A good example is the credit card system, which allows untrusting buyers and sellers to engage in commerce. His fourth trust architecture is distributed trust. This is emergent trust in the particular security system that is blockchain.

What blockchain does is shift some of the trust in people and institutions to trust in technology. You need to trust the cryptography, the protocols, the software, the computers and the network. And you need to trust them absolutely, because they’re often single points of failure.

When that trust turns out to be misplaced, there is no recourse. If your bitcoin exchange gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If your bitcoin wallet gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If you forget your login credentials, you lose all of your money. If there’s a bug in the code of your smart contract, you lose all of your money. If someone successfully hacks the blockchain security, you lose all of your money. In many ways, trusting technology is harder than trusting people. Would you rather trust a human legal system or the details of some computer code you don’t have the expertise to audit?

Blockchain enthusiasts point to more traditional forms of trust—bank processing fees, for example—as expensive. But blockchain trust is also costly; the cost is just hidden

For bitcoin, that's the cost of the additional bitcoin mined, the transaction fees, and the enormous environmental waste.

Blockchain doesn’t eliminate the need to trust human institutions. There will always be a big gap that can’t be addressed by technology alone. People still need to be in charge, and there is always a need for governance outside the system. This is obvious in the ongoing debate about changing the bitcoin block size, or in fixing the DAO attack against Ethereum

There’s always a need to override the rules, and there’s always a need for the ability to make permanent rules changes. As long as hard forks are a possibility—that’s when the people in charge of a blockchain step outside the system to change it—people will need to be in charge.

Any blockchain system will have to coexist with other, more conventional systems. Modern banking, for example, is designed to be reversible. Bitcoin is not. That makes it hard to make the two compatible, and the result is often an insecurity. Steve Wozniak was scammed out of $70K in bitcoin because he forgot this.

Blockchain technology is often centralized. Bitcoin might theoretically be based on distributed trust, but in practice, that’s just not true. Just about everyone using bitcoin has to trust one of the few available wallets and use one of the few available exchanges. People have to trust the software and the operating systems and the computers everything is running on. And we've seen attacks against wallets and exchanges. We’ve seen Trojans and phishing and password guessing. Criminals have even used flaws in the system that people use to repair their cell phones to steal bitcoin.

Moreover, in any distributed trust system, there are backdoor methods for centralization to creep back in. With bitcoin, there are only a few miners of consequence. There’s one company that provides most of the mining hardware. There are only a few dominant exchanges. To the extent that most people interact with bitcoin, it is through these centralized systems. This also allows for attacks against blockchain-based systems.

These issues are not bugs in current blockchain applications, they’re inherent in how blockchain works. Any evaluation of the security of the system has to take the whole socio-technical system into account. Too many blockchain enthusiasts focus on the technology and ignore the rest.

To the extent that people don’t use bitcoin, it’s because they don’t trust bitcoin. That has nothing to do with the cryptography or the protocols. In fact, a system where you can lose your life savings if you forget your key or download a piece of malware is not particularly trustworthy. No amount of explaining how SHA-256 works to prevent double-spending will fix that.

Similarly, to the extent that people do use blockchains, it is because they trust them. People either own bitcoin or not based on reputation; that’s true even for speculators who own bitcoin simply because they think it will make them rich quickly. People choose a wallet for their cryptocurrency, and an exchange for their transactions, based on reputation. We even evaluate and trust the cryptography that underpins blockchains based on the algorithms’ reputation.

To see how this can fail, look at the various supply-chain security systems that are using blockchain. A blockchain isn’t a necessary feature of any of them. The reasons they’re successful is that everyone has a single software platform to enter their data in. Even though the blockchain systems are built on distributed trust, people don’t necessarily accept that. For example, some companies don’t trust the IBM/Maersk system because it’s not *their* blockchain.

Irrational? Maybe, but that’s how trust works. It can’t be replaced by algorithms and protocols. It’s much more social than that.

Still, the idea that blockchains can somehow eliminate the need for trust persists. Recently, I received an email from a company that implemented secure messaging using blockchain. It said, in part: “Using the blockchain, as we have done, has eliminated the need for Trust.” This sentiment suggests the writer misunderstands both what blockchain does and how trust works.

Do you need a public blockchain? The answer is almost certainly no. A blockchain probably doesn’t solve the security problems you think it solves. The security problems it solves are probably not the ones you have. (Manipulating audit data is probably not your major security risk.) A false trust in blockchain can itself be a security risk. The inefficiencies, especially in scaling, are probably not worth it. I have looked at many blockchain applications, and all of them could achieve the same security properties without using a blockchain—of course, then they wouldn’t have the cool name.

Honestly, cryptocurrencies are useless. They're only used by speculators looking for quick riches, people who don't like government-backed currencies, and criminals who want a black-market way to exchange money.

To answer the question of whether the blockchain is needed, ask yourself: Does the blockchain change the system of trust in any meaningful way, or just shift it around? Does it just try to replace trust with verification? Does it strengthen existing trust relationships, or try to go against them? How can trust be abused in the new system, and is this better or worse than the potential abuses in the old system? And lastly: What would your system look like if you didn’t use blockchain at all?

If you ask yourself those questions, it's likely you'll choose solutions that don't use public blockchain. And that'll be a good thing—especially when the hype dissipates.

I 3D Printed parts that burn like NASA's Rocket Fuel

Another nutcase making weird stuff in his basement. This one comes close to home as my friend Jack likes to build rockets, and Dennis makes things with his 3D printer and he doesn't like tomatoes.

Incense Clock

Incense Clock

China, a thousand years ago. Kontextmaschine has the story, which ends with this bit:
But by far the method I was most taken with was one where you connect multiple types of incense into a single stick or a line of powder, so that each hour (or whichever unit of time) has a particular smell. I find that totally delightful for some reason. A very, very charming premodern way of doing things. Imprecise, but charming.

*sniffs* oh fuck I’m late

Via Astral Codex Ten

Magical Money

Brazilian Currency - AFP/Getty Images

NPR / OPB Planet Money has a story about How Fake Money Saved Brazil. 20 years ago Brazil was suffering from a high rate of inflation, maybe even hyper-inflation. A minister called in some eggheads and they put up a plan to replace the current currency with imaginary currency, and then they magically turned the imaginary currency into real currency. It sounds slightly ridiculous, and I think it leaves out some important bits, but evidently it worked, which is frankly amazing.

Via Astral Codex Tex

United States Death Rates

The COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for a while and now we have some real numbers that show just how bad it has been. Looking at the graph we can see that the death rate has been increasing, but it is still not as high as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

The lowest rate in this period of time was 8.124 deaths per one thousand people in 2008. The highest rate was 9.649 in 1950, the first year in this record.

A difference of one or two deaths in a group of a thousand people does not seem to be much, so how do we get hundreds of thousands of COVID deaths? Simply multiply take that one or two and multiply by 330,000 and all of sudden you've got hundreds of thousands. (You get 330,000 by taking the population of the United States (331,893,745) and divide it by 1,000.)

While we may have found some ways to help people live longer and so decreased the death rate over the last 50 years, we may also have created a more fragile elderly population who are more susceptible to new agents of destruction.

Data from Macrotrends

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Matrix Resurrections – Official Trailer 1

Pretty great. The beginning was a little confusing because where are we? It's like a repeat of the beginning of the original, but it's also all slightly different. It all becomes clear in short order. There are all the essential spectacular elements, king-fu fights, gun fights, and a very spectacular motorcycle chase with Trinity driving. There is also the continuing love story between Neo and Trinity. There are also some funny bits. I don't remember any of that in the first three movies. The dialog is much the same as in the first three movies - curt, profound sounding statements, but don't try to make sense of them, they are just stuffing to make the scene complete.

Bullet Time

I was going to say something about how rogue programs could continue to operate in the ginormous computer system that contains The Matrix, but we are experiencing a smaller version of this everyday with the virus programs that are constantly attacking our everyday computers, so we basically got the same thing. Bullet Time can be done simply by access the supervising program's schedule and letting your character's program run more frequently.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Normally a character program would not be able to access that schedule, but if you are sneaky and are willing to peek behind the curtain, well, all things become possible.

The Twins

The Wachowski brothers/sisters, responsible for the first three Matrix movies are working independently now, this movie was done by Lana (Larry). Mostly I don't want to hear about your transexual perversions, but dang, these guys/gals/people sure make some fantastic movies. I can't help but think of the Frenchman's twin albino wraith thugs as the on screen versions of The Wachowskis.

We saw this film at Movies on TV on Christmas Eve. I think there were ten people in the theater, and our group was half of them. Also on HBO.

The Witcher Season 2 | Official Trailer | Netflix

A whole of good and a whole lot of bad. The visuals are great, the plot and dialog are meh. Geralt (our hero), for those of you aren't familiar with this whole sub-culture, is one a handful of dedicated monster killers. They are in demand as this world is full of monsters, spectacular monsters, each one different and bizarre. They are the best part of this show. 

There is a big story arc involving at least three factions vying for power and control, but the dialog, which you might hope would clarify the situation only seems to confuse it further. It doesn't help that everyone seems to talk in curt, profound but obscure statements.

Yennafer, who I remember from season 1, is back in all her bosumy goodness. Meanwhile Geralt has acquired a cute little teenage blond princess who looks like she was plucked right out of Frozen. And she wants to be a monster killer just like her great big protector Geralt. Okay, fine, being small makes you a smaller target, and if you have the strength and coordination you could be nimble, which could help. But I think she would be better off with stand-off weapons, like bows and arrows, or by commanding a horde of trolls. I suppose it's a matter of scale, but I just can't imagine her being able to tackle any of the monster's we've seen so far, especially since Geralt only seems to survive most of these encounters by the skin of his teeth.

Anyway, the politics are incomprehensible, but the scenery, costumes, monsters and special effects are all great.

8 episodes, I think, one hour each, on Netflix

Airliner Pressurization

Airliner Pressurization

Modern airliners are essentially flying beer cans - a thin metal shell made extremely rigid by internal pressure. However, while beer cans maintain their cylindrical form from top to bottom, airliners have sections cut out that are not pressurized, notably for the the landing gear. The cabin floor over those areas needs to be very strong to withstand the considerable pressure exerted on them. 

747 Main Landing Gear Bay

The 747 cabin is 20 feet wide, and if we suppose the main landing gear bay is 20 feet long, then we have an area of 400 square feet. Airliners maintain an air pressure equivalent to that found at 8,000 feet altitude, which is 10.9 PSI (pounds per square inch). The outside air pressure at 35,000 feet is 3.5 PSI. So we have a difference in pressure of 7.4 PSI. Multiply that by 400 square feet and 144 square inches per square foot and we have a force of 200 odd tons pushing down on that floor. That must be a very strong floor.

There was a scene in a movie (Flightplan maybe) where we have Jody Foster as a mother traveling with her daughter on an airliner and the bad guy stashes the daughter in the radome in the nose of the aircraft. Cute, but bogus, since the radome is not pressurized.

Inspired by a line on View From The Porch

Dr. George Maggs

Memorial Plaque

From Liz Hinds who lives in Wales and. near as I can tell, has a family and a dog.

Freedom and Order

Presidential Medal of Freedom

David Warren has a few thoughts on the subject. This line stuck out:

Yet it is order, not freedom, that is hard to supply; for a dictatorship is a disorder. It is held together only by compulsion, and it disintegrates when the compulsion is relaxed. 

Civilization requires a certain amount of order, I suppose the trick is to maintain that order with the minimal amount of compulsion, or perhaps careful indoctrination.

P.S. Looking for an image of 'Freedom and Order', several Medals of Freedom showed up, including one from Iran. I chose ours because I didn't know much about it and this gave me an excuse to learn a bit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

3D printed Ultralight Metallic Microlattices

I remember seeing some honeycomb material at am aerospace surplus store when I was a kid. It looked like a bar of aluminum, but it was just a stack of very thin strips of aluminum, almost like foil. Each strip was bonded to the next at intervals of about an inch, and the bonds between successive strips alternated their placement so when you pulled on the top strip this pack of strips would expand into a honeycomb. Epoxy this between two sheet of aluminum and you have a very strong, very light flat panel. Great stuff.

Then there was the guy who made flat panels for building construction by epoxying aluminum cans between two sheets of plywood. Also very strong and very light.

Those two methods require a certain amount of mechanical fiddling, which could make them expensive. This business of making these lightweight nickel matrices looks to be very promising. I'm surprised more hasn't been done with it. I suppose carbon fiber kind of captured people's attention. Carbon fiber is cool, but it also uses epoxy and epoxy burns. An all metal structure wouldn't have that problem.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Silicon Chip Fabrication at Home: Laser Doping

Somebody has been making semiconductors for pert near 75 years, but the explanations we get on how it's done are mostly very hand wavy and not at all specific, so it's very cool to see somebody actually doing this. There are still any number of mysteries, like where are these E-Bay wafers coming from, and how is he getting the laser beam to scan across those tiny little rectangles, but if we watched some of his other videos the answer might be revealed.

What is the difference between the abbreviations i.e. and e.g.?

Because I ran into a use of e. g. that didn't look right, so I went and looked it up. From Merriam-Webster:

The most looked up abbreviations in our online dictionary are i.e. and e.g., probably because they are often confused for one another.

Both of these are abbreviations of Latin expressions: i.e. stands for id est, which means “that is” in Latin. It introduces a rewording or a clarification of a statement that has just been made or of a word that has just been used, such as:

The cough may last for a short period of time—i.e., three to five days.

E.g. stands for exempli gratia in Latin, which means “for example.” It introduces one or more examples that illustrate something stated, such as:

Submit a sample of academic writing—e.g., a dissertation chapter.

Because their usage can seem similar, these abbreviations are often confused. One trick to keeping them straight is to remember that i.e. and that is both share an i and that example and e.g. both share an e.

You can also try substituting the English for the abbreviation to check:

The cough may last for a short period of time—that is, three to five days.

Submit a sample of academic writing—for example, a dissertation chapter.

I was correct in my thinking, the usage I ran across was also correct, it was just odd. I usually think of i. e. as meaning 'in other words'. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Jigsaw Puzzle

Taking Apart HP Photosmart C4280 Printer for Parts || Cleaning || Repair...
Not the best video in the world, but it was good enough for my purposes.

I have an HP Photosmart C4385 All-In-One machine (similar to the one in the above video) that I use maybe once or twice a week. I use the scanner about as often as the printer. It is an ink-jet machine which requires ink-jet cartridges which cost a couple of bucks which discourages frivolous printing. I've had it for years (previous appearance here). 

A couple of months ago it started acting up, complaining that the carriage was jammed. It was easy enough to clear, just open the front door and push the carriage to the left a couple of inches and it was happy. But then I got the bright idea that maybe it could stand a little cleaning. I mean it's been operating reliably for years, surely it deserves a little maintenance. So a couple of weeks ago I opened it up. Now I'm wondering what to do. The main shaft is coated with a thin layer of some kind of grease. Should I clean it off? And if I do what should I use to replace it? That question stymied me for a couple of weeks.

See the shiny metal bracket in the center of the picture? Had me stymied for a bit. It was fairly obvious that one end was secured by a screw holding down the main board, but if the main board is already in place, the other end is left hanging in space.  Rotate 180 degrees on the Y axis and put it under the main board and now it connects tot the chassis. You can see the tongue poking through the slot.

I came across the black plastic piece near the top after I had the machine almost completely assembled. Had to backtrack a bit fit it into place.

Today I finally sat down to put it back together. I just wiped off the shaft and the timing strip and reassembled it, I didn't bother with any new grease. It was pretty obvious where most of the parts went, but there were a couple that took a bit of figuring to figure out where they went. But I eventually got it all back together. If I hadn't waited a couple of weeks I probably would have remembered where they went and it wouldn't have been a problem, but where's the challenge in that?

Anyway, put it together and turned it on and the little blinky lights start blinking. Ain't supposed to do that. Wiggle the ribbon cable where it plugs into the main board and the lights come on and go off, but none of my wiggling makes it happy. So while it was an entertaining puzzle to disassemble and reassemble, from a practical standpoint it was a waste of time. Off to the landfill it goes. Probably will consume 20% of my weekly allowed volume of trash.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Molotov Mobile

New Hyperion

Drive Tribe has the story:
It was 1932 when the Soviet Union, thanks to a commercial agreement with the Ford Motor Company, built its first mass-produced passenger car. Called GAZ-A, it was derived from the 1931 Ford Model A and was built up to 1936 in several thousand specimens. In 1933 the Soviet leadership wanted, however, the realization of the most technologically advanced car and it was decided to build it based on the new Ford Model B.

After three years of experimentation, the new GAZ-M1, whose name derives from Vyacheslav Molotov, notorious Soviet foreign minister, was finally presented at the 1937 Paris Expo. The car was built until 1943 in more than 62,000 units and today represents one of the icons associated with the great patriotic war. In 2019 a customer applied to the Truck Garage tuner in Saint Petersburg to transform the wreck of an M1 into a modern off-road vehicle and after a year the new Hyperion was presented this week.
The notorious Vyacheslav Molotov? Yah, notorious is the word. Some bits from Wikipedia:
Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (1890 –  1986) was a Russian politician and diplomat, an Old Bolshevik, and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s onward. 

During the 1930s, he ranked second in the Soviet leadership, after Joseph Stalin, whom he supported loyally for over 30 years, and whose reputation he continued to defend after Stalin's death, having himself been deeply implicated in the worst atrocities of the Stalin years.

The improvised incendiary weapon known as the Molotov cocktail is named after him.

Well, of course the cocktail is named after him. I mean it must be, I've never heard of anyone else named Molotov. How it got that name tells us a little more about the man (from another Wikipedia story): 

The name "Molotov cocktail" was coined by the Finns during the Winter War, called Molotovin koktaili in Finnish. The name was a pejorative reference to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who was one of the architects of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed in late August 1939.

The name's origin came from the propaganda Molotov produced during the Winter War, mainly his declaration on Soviet state radio that bombing missions over Finland were actually airborne humanitarian food deliveries for their starving neighbours. As a result, the Finns sarcastically dubbed the Soviet cluster bombs "Molotov bread baskets" in reference to Molotov's propaganda broadcasts. When the hand-held bottle firebomb was developed to attack and destroy Soviet tanks, the Finns called it the "Molotov cocktail", as "a drink to go with his food parcels".

So the Finns used bottles of gasoline to toast the arrival of the Soviet tanks.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

PD-14 - the main engine of Russia

A little long (30 minutes), but well done. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, their jet engine business fell into a coma. They didn't start developing this motor until 2008. It took a dozen years to develop it but now it is flying. No wonder Putin is so popular at home. 

Two Kinds of Muslims

I Want a New Left has a post up about Joan Didion who recently passed away. She was some kind of famous author, her name didn't ring any bells with me. In any case, he posts this bit which is pretty good.

There are two kinds of Muslim immigrants, and we need to find a way to distinguish them. One kind likes the West and is coming here to escape oppressive conditions. The other kind hates the West and wants to impose oppressive conditions on us. We should allow the first kind in, but we absolutely must keep the second kind out. The second kind hates democracy, which they view as merely rule by humans, while they view Islamic law as rule by Allah. (Any secularist should be able to smash that kind of thinking to smithereens.) Like I said, we need to keep this latter kind out, for obvious reasons.

I've said similar things before, here and here.


Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong | Johann Hari

I suspect that the reason we have a War On Drugs is because of the gray men running the American drug distribution cartel: gray men in gray suits driving gray cars, working out of gray offices, making big contributions to political campaign coffers to insure that the laws aren't changed, the war on drugs continues so no one interferes with their operation. Only the small time operators get busted, or the competitors who have the temerity to think they can compete with the big dog.

The War On Drugs might be the worst thing wrong with America.

12 signs you might be suffering from PTSD

I've met a few people who had alcoholic parents and they have problems. This kind of explains them.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Choctaw Bingo by James McMurtry

I'm tired, but I wanna post this video so I just used YouTube's share control. Not as big, not centered, no id on who put it up, but a heck of a lot quicker and easier.

The tune's not my style, but I could see how it could grow on me. The lyrics are the best part. They really get to the heart of matter.

Humanoid Robots Are Coming

Artificial Muscles Robotic Arm Full Range of Motion + Static Strength Test (V11)
Clone Incorporated (Automaton Robotics)

I'm impressed. If they are able to interface it to the human nervous system it would be great leap forward for prosthetics. A prosthetic will never be as good as the original, but after seeing the reaction of amputees to getting an artificial limb they can control I'm thinking this is pretty great.

The YouTube blurb:
We have achieved strong, fast, power-dense, high-efficiency, biomimetic, soft, safe, clean, organic and affordable robotic technology. The dumbbell weights 7 kg (15,6 lbs), forearm with hand only 1 kg (2,2 lbs).

This artificial muscles robotic arm is operated by water and consumes 200W at peak. We invent and produce portable power supply and our own valves to have complete controllability of speed contraction and compress the whole powering system (for a full body) inside humanlike robot torso.

At this moment our robotic arm is operated only by a half of artificial muscles when compared to a human body. Strongest finger-bending muscle still missing. Fingers are going to move from left to right but they don't have muscles yet. Metacarpal and left-to-right wrist movement are also blocked. This version has a position sensor in each joint but they are yet to be software-implemented. We are going to add everything mentioned above in the next prototype. 

The movement sequence was written and sent by simple commands to a hand. We wish to develop a platform for reinforcement learning purposes, prosthetic arms and ultimately a full humanoid robots to serve people for fun, as butlers, cleaners, chauffeurs,  construction workers (also in space) and even in the future achieve human immortality by transplanting the brain into the machine.

Clone Incorporated
Lucas Kozlik, Dhanush Rad, Amdeusz Swierk, Juliusz Tarnowski

I don't think transplanting brains or human immortality are worthwhile goals. Mentioning them might get them some additional funding. Replicating the mechanics of a human body (the structure and motion) is trivial compared to the trying to replicate the nervous system. We might someday be able to 'grow' a nervous system, but it would require a completely different set of skills and techniques.

A positronic brain, though, that is a distinct possibility.

It does not matter if any one person survives, it only matters if there is enough intelligence to contain and grok our accumulated knowledge, and that might require an artificial intelligence.

The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Revolutions (2003) Official Trailer #1 - Keanu Reeves Movie HD
Movieclips Classic Trailers

Much better than The Matrix Reloaded, but still not nearly as good as the original. This one moves right along with a decent amount of suspense. A lot of it seemed like a good old fashioned war movie, a hopeless battle fought against an implacable foe, desperation in every move they make.

In a way, it gives us a much better depiction of what mechanized warfare is like, better than the WW2 movies we have. Our war movies tend to focus on a few people and a few machines. Intellectually we might understand that there were thousands of ships and airplanes involved, but you don't really get a feel for it. But here in The Matrix Revolutions, you get to see what mechanized warfare is really like with zillions, literally zillions of enemy combatants on the screen. That's what our military-industrial complex has been building ever since 1940. While we might have let off the throttle a bit, many more countries are joining the arms race. I doubt we will see another conflagration like WW2, but conflict is part of our nature so there will continue to be firefights scattered across the planet.

This movie seems much more prophetic, nearly 20 years later,  now that we are seeing just how much more computers can do. Much of the stuff in the show seems like things that we are developing now, or will be in a few short years. Back then the amount of suspension of disbelief required was much greater. Now it it doesn't take nearly as much. Okay, we don't have the repulsars they use to lift their hovercraft, but ask me again next week and I may have a different answer.

HBO, 2 hours+

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Numbers Stations

The Mysterious and Fascinating World of ‘Numbers Stations’
Today I Found Out

I've always been a bit curious about Numbers Stations. Simon doesn't have all the answers, but he has compiled a bunch of info. It's an entertaining video.

He mentions The Conet Project. Wikipedia has a page and so does SoundCloud. He also mentions several tunes have incorporated sounds recorded from Numbers Stations. This is the only one I found.

Jean Michel Jarre - Magnetic Field

It's not much of a tune, it's kind of long and the bits I've listened to are strange. Listen if you like.

I did another post about communications last year that included another video about numbers stations. It has a slightly different take on the subject.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Reloaded (2003) Official Trailer #1 - Keanu Reeves Movie HD
Movieclips Classic Trailers

Lots of good stuff but nowhere near as good as the original. Lots of Keano kung-fu fighting against a phalanx of Agent Smiths. Very long, very destructive car chase scene. The Frenchman was a nice touch as were his perverse wife and his twin albino henchman. Long incomprehensible explanations of what the hell is going on which didn't do much good on account of being incomprehensible. Neo becomes superman and rescues Trinity from certain death, but then she dies anyway, but Neo being the one, brings her back to life. While the original was like a relentless stream of hammer blows, this one was more like the incessant tapping of tiny wooden hammer like you would use to play a xylophone. Lots of action, some new mysteries, but no real twists or turns. Pretty much runs straight through to the conclusion, except the conclusion is in part 3.

On HBO, 2+ hours.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Matrix

Matrix Trailer HD (1999)
Face Off

In preparation for going to see the latest Matrix movie, we rewatched the original. It was great when we saw it the first time and it was nearly as great this time. Not so much suspense, obviously, because we know how it turns out, but dang, the pace is just breakneck fast. Two hours of getting hammered by twists and turns leaves you feeling like you've been through the wringer.

2 hours+ on HBO

Christmas Characters

Lord and Saviour C3PO

Favourite Christmas Character

Bruce Willis, of course. Via Dad's Deadpool Blog. Decorate your tree:

Die Hard Christmas Ornament

Don't Forget to Leave Cigarettes in the Ductwork

Burn The Universities

University Hall Burns

Handwaving Freakoutery is not happy with the way the college students have been saddled with debt. He blames all of us for the disaster that has befallen the zillions who got loans to go to college. He's mostly right.

Universities also help maintain Western Civilization, teaching things like art, literature and history, things that are important if you want to maintain your civilization. But those topics are more of a hobby and don't necessarily tie into making a living, which is what the vast majority of college students are interested in, or will be, as soon as their funding runs out.

Is our economy functioning well? It is, mostly. There is a large, and possibly growing, underclass, and things may not be going so well for them. 'A rising tide lifts all boats' is a phrase I have heard on occasion, but it only really helps those who have boats. What we really need is a boat shop that is producing 'rowboats' for everyone, where a 'rowboat' is something that allows you to float on the rising tide of inflation. Problem is, all the talent and all the investment is being directed at building ocean liners and space ships and fancy stuff, fancy stuff that promises to bring ever greater rewards. Building rowboats for the poor is not such an attractive business proposition.

The Model T Ford was such a rowboat, as were mobile homes. Now we have smartphones which almost everyone has and will surely give you a leg up on surviving in this world.

So we are seeing colossal blunders all around us, but we are also seeing phenomenal successes. We have promoters promoting the most ridiculous nonsense, but since the the world seems to be awash with a zillion times as much money as sense, they are finding followers, followers who are contributing / investing in whatever the promoter is promoting. Cowabunga.

P.S. Mizzou, the University of Missouri alumni magazine has a fine story about the fire that destroyed their Academic Hall in 1892 (picture at top). Steam, electric and gas lighting and broken ax handles all play a part.

P.P.S. Just came across this:

Policy Violence

Citroen Ami: The Adorable Non-Car For Kids

Citroen Ami: The Adorable Non-Car For Kids
DW REV - Cars & Mobility

Compared to an automobile it's not very fast and it doesn't have much range, but for running errands in your immediate area it's fine. And it's enclosed, so you don't have to don rain gear whenever it rains, which is pretty much all the friggin time here in Oregon. Electric power and only 7K Euros, which really cheap compared to any kind of new car.

My problem with it is that I would need two cars - one for running down to the corner to pick up a pizza and another real car for when I have to go to town. That in itself wouldn't be bad. The problem I would have is where are my sunglasses? Are they in this car? Or that one? I suppose one could adjust, but I wouldn't like it.

Via Detroit Steve

Is it Poison?

Marijuana Flowerfotovincek/Depositphotos

New Atlas has a story about the dangers of smoking marijuana:

“Cannabis consumed in combustive form represents the greatest danger to human health, as analysis of heavy metals in the smoke of cannabis revealed the presence of selenium, mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium, nickel and arsenic,” explains Louis Bengyella, an author on the new study. “It is disturbing to realize that the cannabis products being used by consumers, especially cancer patients, may be causing unnecessary harm to their bodies.”

My first reaction:

'revealed the presence'. Bah. That could mean anything.

Testing the ground or the plants is probably a good idea, but you know that bureaucracies can be inept. Some of them seem to run smoothly, but some of them just mangle whatever they are supposed to be watching. Given the way some states are run, more bureaucratic bullshit is just going to drive more cannabis producers into the underground market. Only the rich will be able to afford weed that has been tested and approved. Just another example of class warfare.

My second reaction:

Christ on a crutch, this smells like first class bullshit, the same kind of crap that is being produced to keep everyone in a panic about COVID-19.  'Analysis revealed the presence'. Criminently, everything is everywhere. You could probably detect the 'presence' of plutonium in your breakfast cereal. 'Presence' means nothing. What you want to know is how substantial that presence is. 'Causing unnecessary harm' is another great phrase. Everything causes harm. Every breath you take subtracts another second from your life expectancy, so stop breathing already, it's killing you. Perhaps I am overstating my case, but this kind of crap really irritates me.

One thing leads to another and we get this story from California:

"Leading California cannabis companies warned Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday that the state’s legal industry was on the verge of collapse and needed immediate tax cuts and a rapid expansion of retail outlets to steady the shaky marketplace...

The letter signed by more than two dozen executives, industry officials and legalization advocates followed years of complaints that the heavily taxed and regulated industry was unable to compete with the widespread illegal economy, where consumer prices are far lower and sales are double or triple the legal business."

Via Chuck E. & Indy Tom

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Arabs and Budweiser

(link goes to auto-start video)

I played a few games of soccer twenty odd years ago. Like most sports, it's great fun, especially if you are competing against players of comparable talent. But I don't watch soccer games, and the few times I have caught a bit of a game, there didn't seem to be much in the way of strategy. It was more like guys trying to finesse their way through a cloud of chaos.

Anyway, the reason we have this photo if because I Want A New Left noticed the ads for Budweiser in the stadium (red sign just left of center in the above photo). 

Another oddity was seeing Budweiser advertised in the stadium. Was that meant for the fans? Surely not, since most were Muslims, and Muslims generally don’t drink. I guess, then, that it was meant for the viewing audience, though it’s hard to know how many outsiders were watching.

P.S. According to Wikipedia, Tunisia (which is where this game was played) is 98% Muslim, but supposedly the government is secular. So maybe not all died-in-the-wool ragheads.

Dad Burn Squirrels

Damaged Transmission Wiring
As found (left), stripped back (right)

Transmission warning lights started flashing on Uniberp's 2008 Forester. After digging around he eventually found that some rodent had gnawed through the wires.

Friday, December 17, 2021


Hieroglyphics and Emojis

I read a post the other day about how meme's are a new language, and then I came across this meme (above) and then I'm remembering Picard trying to communicate with the Darmok, which is problematic because the Darmok talk in metaphors. Then there was something I vaguely remember reading a while back about how Chinese isn't structured the same was as Western languages and that could make understanding, and therefor translation, difficult.

So now I'm wondering if Chinese ideographs didn't evolve from pictures that illustrated a story, and so they are essentially speaking in metaphors which is why they just seem so alien.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I don't much care for icons. There are a few I have learned through constant exposure and constant use, but there still many icons on many of the programs I use that I have no idea what they are for. I much prefer words. I realize words take up more space, and a poor choice can be worse than no word at all, but good choices are wonderful. Well, that's me, being all superior and literate and shit. I spent a lot of time learning all these words I've got in my head and I don't want to have to learn what a bunch of new symbols mean, especially since the few I've looked at seem to be stupid and worthless.

D. B. Cooper

D. B. Cooper Richard McCoy Jr.

Kind of looks like there never really was a mystery about who D. B. Cooper was. The FBI suspected Richard McCoy of being DB, but couldn't ever prove it, especially after they shot him. I mean, come on, all you had to do was look at the pictures. Of course, pictures don't qualify as evidence. But didn't the witnesses identify him? Or maybe I'm all wet and the two photos are not similar at all.

I Want A New Left has the story and a link to a YouTube video.

D. B. Cooper, in case you didn't know, is famous for hijacking an airliner back in 1971, jumping out of the back end with a parachute and a bag of money, and disappearing.


Plaque Commemorating the Discovery of Ivermectin

Plaque text:
The synthesis and development of ivermectin by Merck in the 1970s and 1980s provided a breakthrough treatment against infectious diseases transmitted by parasites. This discovery resulted from an international collaboration that screened hundreds of natural products to identify a promising lead compound. Merck scientists synthesized thousands of analogs of this lead and tested them. The result, ivermectin, offered a highly effective treatment for several parasitic diseases affecting a variety of animals. Following its approval for human use in 1987, Merck established a worldwide program to donate ivermectin as Mectizan® to treat onchocerciasis (river blindness), greatly reducing the prevalence of this debilitating disease. In 2015, Merck scientist William Campbell shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in developing ivermectin.

The development of this drug could be a fascinating story, but unless someone investigates and writes a book we'll probably never hear just how big a project it was. Drug companies are notoriously inscrutable.

I vaguely remember hearing about river blindness. It's one of those things that makes Africa less than attractive. 

There's been a great deal of noise about this drug circulating on the Internet. I have no opinion, though it doesn't seem like a drug developed to fight parasites would be a good choice to combat a viral infection (like COVID-19). Biology is complex, so it might work. On the other hand, biology is complex, so it might kill you. Wikipedia doesn't advise using it:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation has been widely spread claiming that ivermectin is beneficial for treating and preventing COVID-19. Such claims are not backed by credible scientific evidence. Research into its use is ongoing, and multiple major health organizations, including the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the European Medicines Agency, and the World Health Organization have stated that ivermectin is not authorized or approved to treat COVID-19.

Note that they don't say that it doesn't work, they just say the-powers-that-be have not given anyone permission to use it.

Via Dad's Deadpool Blog

RIP Renay Mandel Corren

Renay Mandel Corren

Not your typical obituary, written by her son.
El Paso, TX—A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday.

Of itself hardly news, or good news if you're the type that subscribes to the notion that anybody not named you dying in El Paso, Texas is good news. In which case have I got news for you: the bawdy, fertile, redheaded matriarch of a sprawling Jewish-Mexican-Redneck American family has kicked it. This was not good news to Renay Mandel Corren's many surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom she even knew and, in her own way, loved. There will be much mourning in the many glamorous locales she went bankrupt in: McKeesport, PA, Renay's birthplace and where she first fell in love with ham, and atheism; Fayetteville and Kill Devil Hills, NC, where Renay's dreams, credit rating and marriage are all buried; and of course Miami, FL, where Renay's parents, uncles, aunts, and eternal hopes of all Miami Dolphins fans everywhere, are all buried pretty deep. Renay was preceded in death by Don Shula.

Because she was my mother, the death of zaftig good-time gal Renay Corren at the impossible old age of 84 is newsworthy to me, and I treat it with the same respect and reverence she had for, well, nothing. A more disrespectful, trash-reading, talking and watching woman in NC, FL or TX was not to be found. Hers was an itinerant, much-lived life, a Yankee Florida liberal Jewish Tough Gal who bowled 'em in Japan, rolled 'em in North Carolina and was a singularly unique parent. Often frustrated by the stifling, conservative culture of the South, Renay turned her voracious mind to the home front, becoming a model stay at home parent, a supermom, really, just the perfect PTA lady, volunteer, amateur baker and-AHHAHAA HA! HA! HA! Just kidding, y'all! Renay - Rosie to her friends, and this was a broad who never met a stranger - worked double shifts with Doreen, ate a ton of carbs with Bernie, and could occasionally be stirred to stew some stuffed cabbage for the kids. She played cards like a shark, bowled and played cribbage like a pro, and laughed with the boys until the wee hours, long after the last pin dropped. At one point in the 1980's, Renay was the 11th or 12th-ranked woman in cribbage in America, and while that could be a lie, it sounds great in print. She also told us she came up with the name for Sunoco, and I choose to believe this, too. Yes, Renay lied a lot. But on the plus side, Renay didn't cook, she didn't clean, and she was lousy with money, too. Here's what Renay was great at: dyeing her red roots, weekly manicures, dirty jokes, pier fishing, rolling joints and buying dirty magazines. She said she read them for the articles, but filthy free speech was really Renay's thing. Hers was a bawdy, rowdy life lived large, broke and loud. We thought Renay could not be killed. God knows, people tried. A lot. Renay has been toying with death for a decades, but always beating it and running off in her silver Chevy Nova. Covid couldn't kill Renay. Neither could pneumonia twice, infections, blood clots, bad feet, breast cancer twice, two mastectomies, two recessions, multiple bankruptcies, marriage to a philandering Sergeant Major, divorce in the 70's, six kids, one cesarean, a few abortions from the Quietly Famous Abortionist of Spring Lake, NC or an affair with Larry King in the 60's. Renay was preceded in death by her ex-boyfriend, Larry King. Renay was also sadly preceded in death by her beloved daughter, Cathy Sue Corren Lester Trammel Webster, of Kill Devil Hills, NC, who herself was preceded in death by two marriages, a fudge shop and one eyeball lost in a near-fatal Pepsi bottle incident that will absolutely be explored in future obituaries. Losing her 1-eyed badass b**** of a daughter in 2007 devastated Renay, but it also made her quite homeless, since Cathy pretty much picked up the tab. A talented and gregarious grifter, Renay M. Corren eked out her final years of luxury (she literally retired at 62) under the care, compassion, checking accounts and, evidently, unlimited patience of her favorite son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Lourdes Corren, of world-famous cow sanctuary El Paso, TX. Renay is also survived by her son Jeffrey Corren and his endlessly tolerant wife Shirley, of Powell's Point, NC; Scott Corren, and what's left of his colon, of Hampton, VA; Marc and Laura Corren, the loveliest dirt farmers of Vernon, TX (seriously, where is that); and her favorite son, the gay one who writes catty obituaries in his spare time, Andy Corren, of - obviously - New York City. Plus two beloved granddogs, Mia and Hudson. Renay was particularly close to and grateful for the lavish attentions of her granddaughter Perla and her great-grandchildren Elijah and Leroy, as well as her constant cruise companions Sam Trammell of Greenville, NC, and Adam Corren of El Paso, TX. Renay took tremendous pride in making 1 gay son and 2 gay grandchildren, Sam Trammell and Adam Corren.

There will be a very disrespectful and totally non-denominational memorial on May 10, 2022, most likely at a bowling alley in Fayetteville, NC. The family requests absolutely zero privacy or propriety, none what so ever, and in fact encourages you to spend some government money today on a 1-armed bandit, at the blackjack table or on a cheap cruise to find our inheritance. She spent it all, folks. She left me nothing but these lousy memories. Which I, and my family of 5 brothers and my sister-in-laws, nephews, friends, nieces, neighbors, ex-boyfriends, Larry King's children, who I guess I might be one of, the total strangers who all, to a person, loved and will cherish her. Forever. Please think of the brightly-frocked, frivolous, funny and smart Jewish redhead who is about to grift you, tell you a filthy joke, and for Larry King's sake: LAUGH. Bye, Mommy. We loved you to bits.


Via The Feral Irishman

Update a couple days later. I realized the post is worthless without the text, and links have a way of evaporating, so I copied the text here.