Fed2 Star - the newsletter for the space trading game Federation 2

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: July 1, 2012

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An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week's net and technology news

by Alan Lenton

Climate change, Apple, Facebook, space travel, RBS and NatWest banking, ACTA, and tomatoes. Just a little something to keep you going over the next week.

Actually it’s sometime very frustrating writing Winding Down, I always have a lot more material than I can use, and this week was particularly bad because I had five or six times more. The result, as you will see, is a number of round up sections. I would have liked to have expanded on the stories, but there just wasn’t room – this issue is already over two and a half thousand words long.

So, I guess we’d better get on with it...


1. Climate Change:

There’s been some bad news for the climate change proselytizers over the last couple of weeks. The first knock came when it was discovered that the melting of Arctic ice is allowing more light through the thinner ice. This in turn is allowing huge amounts of phytoplankton to grow, absorbing significant amounts of carbon dioxide, something which has been puzzling scientists for a while. They discovered some time ago that the ocean was absorbing more CO2 than expected, but couldn’t explain it. So now they know.

At the other end of the world, in the Antarctic, people have finally got round to checking 20 years of predictions about loss of ice against the actual state of affairs. The result? The discovery that the Antarctic hasn’t, in fact, lost any ice. This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the other models put forward by those who are pushing global warming...

Here in the UK there has, apparently, been a campaign in the newspapers to convince people that the amount of meat they eat is making a serious contribution to global warming. I completely missed this campaign, which is a pity, because I like a good laugh! Anyway the figures are in, and guess what, the emissions from the meat we eat will barely affect any future climate change. You can read the details here:

A number of economists have been doing research into the effects of the EU’s drive to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent. The results are not hopeful. I tend to take any pronouncements by economists with a pinch of salt, but in this case it does seem likely they are in the right ball park. It looks like the program may well add another year to the ongoing economic slump. I hope they are wrong, especially as the British government in its infinite wisdom has enshrined the EU targets in law, but I suspect they’re not.

Finally, I seem to be, for once in my life, part of a national majority – more Britons (48 per cent) are skeptical about global warming being mostly caused by industrial and vehicular CO2 emissions, than agree (43 per cent) with the idea!

2. Apple

Are you sitting comfortably in the Cupertino walled garden, bathing in the gentle glow of iTunes? Perhaps you should be aware that all is not well in the orchard, as those on the receiving end of certain Apple business practices can tell you. Take for example the case of people who are foolish enough to speak in the Farsi language while shopping in an Apple store. Farsi, in case you’re not aware of it, is a Persian (Iranian) language. Several people have already run afoul of Apple’s attempts to prevent its iThingies being exported to Iran. Apparently, they think that not only can you control nuclear fuel separation centrifuges with an iPod, but that any nuclear terrorist wanting to do so will ask for it in Farsi!

Meanwhile deep down in the Apple research labs mad scientists are going at it full tilt. One of their latest patents is for an online clone that will wander around pretending to be you and looking at ‘nice’ web sites, in the hope that people tracking you won’t realize that the real you is looking at ‘naughty’ web sites...

And we mustn’t forget the lawyers. They are busy trying to prevent US citizens from getting their hands on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1. Apple recently got a court to declare that the Tab 10.1 and Apple’s iPad were “virtually indistinguishable”, and therefore should not be allowed to be sold in the USA while the rest of the court case is sorted out. Actually, the court is wrong, the two aren’t indistinguishable. Apple’s offering tries to restrict you to the iTunes walled garden, while Samsung’s allows the freedom to choose what you want to do with it. In my estimation, Samsung’s Tab is currently the only serious threat to the iPad’s dominance of the market. Presumable Apple think it’s better than the iPad, or they wouldn’t spend the money attempting to stop people even looking at it, let alone trying out!

The Australians are taking a hard line with Apple over misleading advertising claims. Their Competition and Consumer Commission has just won a court case against Apple for advertising 4G connection facilities on their iPad when they were well aware that it wouldn’t connect to any of Australia’s 4G networks. A $AU2.5 million fine? That’ll do nicely. Kerching!

And finally the tale of one person who didn’t just buckle under when Apple refused to replace his computer after it stopped booting because of a defective Nvidia board. You have to read the story yourself, because you would think I was making it up if I told you...

3. Facebook

I see Facebook managed to screw over its users again in the same week that a court stamped on a previous attempt. The US$10 million out of court settlement between Facebook and five of its users, whose faces it used in adverts without their permission, dictates that Facebook will allow users to opt out of the program for at least the next two years.

While this was going on Facebook were busy imposing their own e-mail service on their users by altering their email addresses on Facebook to Facebook’s own email service. This caused some people enormous problems, to put it mildly, as critical email went to Facebook instead of the correct address. Not only that, but to compound the woe, Facebook’s email system is, apparently, losing some of the mail sent to it.

Peering into my digital crystal ball (it’s much clearer since I removed all the ones, now it’s just made of zeros it’s easier to read – and lighter to carry), I foresee more court cases, possibly even class actions over this latest fiasco.


The recent success of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule in docking with the International Space Station (ISS), got me to thinking about the future of space flight. It seems to me that ISS docking was a hopeful harbinger of things to come. Until now space exploration has been a preserve of wealthy governments, but that is changing as private companies move into the market. Of course, even they are being subsidized to a greater or lesser extent by their governments, but then so are a great many other companies in other businesses in other fields.

The privatization of space exploration, especially near space, will undoubtedly bring down the cost of space travel. Even now the cost of a SpaceX launch is a fraction of that of a shuttle launch, and there will undoubtedly be new breakthrough technologies that will lower it even further. Of course it’s not all sweetness and light. There will, no doubt, be internecine strife over resources, land grabs, and industrial espionage, but I suspect we would probably have got that writ large with a government monopoly, albeit on a longer time scale.

I think we are in for a time of accelerated growth and development in space science and exploration, possibly similar to the early years of the internet. An exciting prospect!
http://xkcd.com/1074/ (for those who doubt that the USA ever landed on the moon)

I mentioned last week the fact that a large number of people (something in the region of 17 million of them, it turns out) were without banking facilities following a mega-screwup in the UK’s NatWest/RBS banking group. Finally the details have leaked out. It all started with a problem with a change to the CA-7 program which handles the scheduling of work on the bank’s mainframe. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, there is a procedure for backing the update out and then continuing.

Unfortunately, it turns out that half of the team that handles this sort of thing had been sacked in a cost cutting exercise, (reportedly IT teams in what were considered to be ‘non-critical’ areas were cut by 50-70 per cent) and their work outsourced to India. And in India the job was handled by an inexperienced replacement who was unfamiliar with the details of the complex mainframe. The result was that numerous jobs that should have been run, weren’t, and an enormous backlog piled up, some of which is still waiting to be cleared as I write.

I could rant for hours about the perils of outsourcing, having had to deal with the consequences of it myself in the past. But it won’t do any good until the bean counters who propose and oversee these insane attempts to save money get sacked when it’s discovered just what the real costs are. And I would certainly bet they didn’t save anything on this one!

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiated in secret by media companies and government bureaucrats is dying a death by a thousand cuts. Unfortunately for the people who negotiated it, before it could become law it had to be published, and, what do you know, some legislators, not to mention part of their electorate, actually read it before the voting. Poland started the ball rolling a month or two ago, and since then various other European countries have come out against it. Now the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee has voted 19 to 12 against recommending ACTA.

Partly as a result of this, the Australian parliamentary Treaties committee has recommended that ratification be deferred – another nail in the coffin.

Of course we shouldn’t be under any illusions. It will come back again, even after it is finally laid to rest. I had a friend, who served as the leader of my local council. He explained it all to me in the following terms: “These proposals (he was talking about a plan to drive a main road through a residential area, which had just been voted down) never die. When they are defeated the bureaucrats put them into a filing cabinet, and bring them out after the next election on the assumption that enough seats have changed hands to gain a different result.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


Ever wondered why those perfect, smooth, round, unblemished, tomatoes taste like cardboard? Well it’s your own fault, because, spotting that people always pick the best looking tomatoes to buy, growers have bred for looks. Unfortunately, it turns out that the same gene that causes blemishes on the skin also controls the nicer bits of the taste...

There were a couple of interesting breakthroughs in the networking field. The first is a new way to transmit higher quantities of data by twisting the signals into vortexes. If production engineering of this development goes as expected we should be seeing wireless terabit/second data streams in the next few years. I dread to think what the likes of Facebook and Twitter will do with that sort of capacity!

The other breakthrough was also interesting for its mobile phone implications. Technologists have figured out a way to send wireless signals both ways on a single channel at the same time – i.e. you can both send and receive on a single channel. This alone will double the bandwidth available to mobile phone providers at a stroke. I doubt if they will reduce their prices by half though...

Geek Stuff:

A few goodies from Gizmag this week – a new US army weapon that shoots lightning bolts down a laser beam, the first purpose built land speed record car from 1898, some trendy architecture that looks like it’s a modern take on the Maginot Line, and a personalized, on-demand, railroad system.

Scanner: Other stories

Great picture of an alien moon over Seattle

How Microsoft and Yahoo are selling politicians access to you

US culture to spread worldwide by means of Kindle, not iPad

Negative Sunset – Why Mars has a red sky during the day and blue sunsets


Thanks to readers Barb and Fi for drawing my attention to material used in this issue.

Please send suggestions for stories to alan@ibgames.com and include the words Winding Down in the subject line, unless you want your deathless prose gobbled up by my voracious Spamato spam filter...

Alan Lenton
1 July 2012

Alan Lenton is an on-line games designer, programmer and sociologist, the order of which depends on what he is currently working on! His web site is at http://www.ibgames.net/alan.

Past issues of Winding Down can be found at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/winding/index.html.

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