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Reading List, March 2017

  1. Richard Baguley, Origin of wireless security: The Marconi radio hack of 1903, in HackADay, 2 March 2017. [Online]: https://hackaday.com/2017/03/02/great-hacks-of-history-the-marconi-radio-hack-1903/

    This is an interesting read that shows how the first “secure” radio transmission was hacked by a prankster. A fascinating story, but a relatively simple hack by today’s standard – a small transmitter very close to the receiver can hide the legitimate signal from a transmitter further away. The article does not touch upon how this is still an open challenge today, as most radio systems we use do not use any form of security. For instance, GPS signals can be spoofed using a pocket transmitter to perhaps move an aircraft off trajectory. ADS-B transmissions from aircraft are not encrypted, so one could easily use a transmitter to spoof actual air traffic control. Also see this DefCon20 talk for an interesting video on hacking ADS-B.

  2. Bruce Schneier, Uber uses ubiquitous surveillance to identify and block regulators, in Schneier on Security, 6 March 2017. [Online]: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/03/uber_uses_ubiqu.html

    If this does not convince you that corporations have enough data to draw conclusions about your life, you are living with your head in the sand. This discusses a story that Uber “greyballed” regulators so as to prevent them from hailing Ubers and possibly issuing citations to drivers. Uber used a number of parameters to make an intelligent guess, based on how many times people opened up the app, whether or not they used cheaper phones, where they hailed Ubers, and credit card information.

    When Edward Snowden exposed the fact that the NSA does this sort of thing, I commented that the technologies will eventually become cheap enough for corporations to do it. Now, it has.

  3. Sebastian Anthony, IBM will sell 50-qubit universal quantum computer “in the next few years”, in Ars Technica, 6 March 2017. [Online]: https://arstechnica.co.uk/gadgets/2017/03/ibm-q-50-qubit-quantum-computer/

    It seems that quantum computing may finally be here. Seems like this may be a really bad time to be a conventional computer architect. :)

  4. Daniel Lemire, College and inequality, in Daniel Lemire’s blog, 7 March 2017. [Online]: http://lemire.me/blog/2017/03/07/college-and-inequality/

    I strongly believe that education, especially a college education is key to helping the workforce navigate the changing opportunities. The global market means that lesser skilled jobs will move to countries with lower wages and a greater supply of low-skill labour. In such a situation, the only way for the population in higher-income countries is to move to higher-skilled jobs. In this article, Lemire challenges my basic assumptions, that college is a level playing field for people from all strata. Lemire argues that college effectively favours the better off, in fact, perpetuates class differences. Facebook has a page chronicling the class struggles within Cornell. It is heartbreaking to realise how many students here struggle with food insecurity. To top it off, if they don’t complete school due to financial difficulties, they still have crushing college debt that would probably leave them worse off than if they had never joined Cornell.

    That aside done, do read Lemire’s thoughts on the subject. Also, follow his blog, it is well worth the read.

  5. Arnab Ray, Unbelievably believer, in Random thoughts of a demented mind, 8 March 2017. [Online]: https://greatbong.net/2017/03/08/unbelievably-believer/

    I had no idea that Reza Aslan had his own show on CNN where he took a characteristically shallow look at “Hinduism” for his first episode. I know that Reza Aslan is fairly popular amongst the liberals, but I think that he is a pretentious git. It is nice to see Arnab give a fitting reply to what appears to be a poorly executed show.

  6. Rachel Herrmann, Impostor Syndrome Is Definitely a Thing, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 16 November 2016. [Online]: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Impostor-Syndrome-Is/238418

    I almost had a mental breakdown at least once during my graduate school experience to date. It’s hard to figure what qualifies as a breakdown and what doesn’t. This is one of the articles that tackles exactly one issue, and that is the feeling of not belonging to a place. In my opinion, however, the author really misses on making some substantial suggestions beyond the usual “go attend talks” and “work-life balance”. I could write a much longer post on why I think “work-life balance” is a bunch of baloney, but that’s for later. My reason for sharing this article is to provide anecdotal evidence towards my claim that “no one tells you that depression is part of the package when you apply to grad school”.

  7. Christopher Hitchens, The Fanatic, Fraudulent Mother Teresa, in Slate, 20 October 2003. [Online]: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2003/10/mommie_dearest.html

    I remember when Mother Teresa passed away. I was only seven years old, and I remember flags at half-mast, and a day of mourning in India. That memory slipped off my radar soon afterwards, only to be questioned when the foundation left running in her legacy perpetrated a fraudulent story on how the reforms of the Indian government would hurt children and how they faked outrage and claimed the moral high ground because of reforms aimed at curbing corruption, favouritism, and child trafficking. The moral outrage prompted me to try and inform some of my friends, which led to long conversations on Facebook posts. Recently, this article popped up on my radar, which brings me back to the subject of Mother Teresa. It seems that she fits very well into standard category of a confidence person. In fact, she could have been an excellent politician to be reviled, but for the backing of the church. This article in Slate describes her in almost an Orwellian manner, just as described in “The Book”. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from this article.

  8. Samuel Vee, The new confessional is the porcelein throne, in Status 451, 8 March 2017. [Online]: https://status451.com/2017/03/08/the-new-confessional-is-the-porcelain-throne/

    Samuel, in this article, lays out his premise that the new religion is one of moral outrage. Even as the world moves to a post-religious, secular order, the things that characterise organised religion – moral pulpits, public shaming, witch hunts – still remain. The article is explosive, and will almost certainly have you questioning your own beliefs.

    It’s supremely bizarre when you think about it though. Muslims may pray to Mecca five times a day in devotion, but the committed progressive enters the confessional booth of Twitter and Facebook with every bathroom break, unaware, in search of penance and absolution.

  9. Mark Wilson, Microsoft is disgustingly sneaky: Windows 10 isn’t an operating system, it’s an advertising platform, in betanews, 12 March 2017. [Online]: https://betanews.com/2017/03/12/disgustingly-sneaky-windows-10-ads/

    Thanks to the Windows subsystem for Linux (WSL), I have now moved almost full time to Windows 10. I love OneNote, and WSL lets me do my programming tasks with minimum interruptions, which seems like a win-win. However, the ads in Windows are just unacceptable. There are ads in the lock screen, in the start menu, and now in the file explorer, which is annoying as hell. This article describes these issues, but really does not offer any solutions. Is there a solution? A boycott of Windows? Will I get OneNote like functionality on Linux?

  10. Mike Masnick, Move Over, Series Of Tubes, The Internet Is Now A Bridge Over A Creek For A Dozen People?, in Techdirt, 13 March 2017. [Online]: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170311/00533736893/move-over-series-tubes-internet-is-now-bridge-over-creek-dozen-people.shtml

    This article takes on the “internet is a series of tubes” trope and talks about the equally bad “bridge over creek” analogy provided by Senator Ron Johnson. It then effectively takes apart this analogy replacing it with a more accurate analogy that argues for net neutrality.

    But getting back to the net neutrality argument, Johnson’s statements are ludicrous. The “bridges” he’s discussing aren’t being built among neighbors. What’s happening is that the giant companies (AR&R from above) have already built the bridges, and are telling the neighbors that FedEx won’t be able to deliver to them any more in a convenient, timely or cost effective way… unless FedEx agrees to pay up (meaning that the community will have to pay more since the costs will be passed on). And, again, his claim that investment would go down under his analogy that has nothing to do with net neutrality is just… factually wrong because all of the big broadband providers are public companies where their capital expenditure data is public. And it shows that they’ve increased spending on their networks with the open internet rules, rather than the opposite.

    The new administration in the United States is determined to take away civil liberties one at a time, death through a thousand paper cuts, as it were. At a time when fast internet access is a fundamental right in certain countries, it is extremely disheartening to see the country that virtually gave the world the network of connected computers that would one day become the internet as we know it, now trying to kill that very thing it spawned. In continuing our bad analogies, it would be like a parent nurturing their child until the child became someone big and important, and then one day unceremoniously killing that same child.

  11. Robert J. Sawyer, WordStar: A writer’s word processor, 1990, reprinted in Ars Technica on 16 March 2017. [Online]: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/03/wordstar-a-writers-word-processor/

    I almost exclusively use Vim for all of my typing. I find that it is really useful to have a minimal text-editor that focuses on the job at hand. This is a useful essay on similar lines reminding us of the simpler days when typing a document was about focussing on the actual typing itself, and not on anything else.

    I’ve never used a DOS-based word processor. My first experiences with a word processor were with MS Word ’97, I believe. Over the years, I have come to eschew everything about word processors, instead going for a simple text-editor and a formatting/markup language such as Markdown or LaTeX.

  12. Richard Cooke, Shooting the Red Arrows blind – Ep 3, in Richard Cooke Photography (YouTube channel), 27 February 2017. [Online]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZGwQv1FQOU

    Technically, this is a video, not an article. However, I think it warrants inclusion in this list because it is cool, and this is my list – I make up the rules. I like this article because it shows the resourcefulness of photographers and pilots back in the days of film. Richard Cooke shoots the Red Arrows with a film camera mounted on the belly of a plane. The framing for the photographs was planned ahead of time, and the lead pilot in the formation had to ensure that his aeroplane was in the right position, as the photographer couldn’t see out of his viewfinder. The framing was done using white tape over a black lens. Thirty-six photographs, then the team had to land and change film. Makes me think that digital photography has really spoilt all of us. But I think that what makes this video great – the resourcefulness and perseverance of those involved – is still an inspiring message today.

  13. Arnab Ray, The five stages of grief once again, in Random thoughts of a demented mind, 18 March 2017. [Online]: https://greatbong.net/2017/03/18/the-five-stages-of-grief-once-again/

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Indian media has a problem with Narendra Modi and the BJP.

    However well known the electoral successes of the BJP, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the Indian liberal that the BJP is considered a rightful loser in any election.

    Okay, I’m done plagiarising Jane Austen. However, the observations on the Indian media being hostile to Narendra Modi have been established over the past fifteen years. Arnab Ray in this wonderfully-written article describes the Indian media going through the five stages of grief.

    In 2014, Modi’s victory was sought to be de-legitimized by calling into question the very nature of the Indian democratic “first-past-the-post” system, which these same people had been perfectly fine all these years. And now, Modi’s victory is being de-legitimized by providing a platform for and amplifying the fantastic theory of tampering of EVM machines, the same EVM machines that led to embarrassing losses for BJP in politically important states like Delhi and Bihar not so long ago.

    Arnab’s closing remarks are wonderful, and the Indian media would do well to heed them. Perhaps the US media could also learn something here.

    Trying to trivialize the enemy, or to blame the system of democracy or the people who inhabit it, is just not a winning strategy … They can, of course, keep trying to create media martyr heroes, from Kejriwal to Nitish Kumar to Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, hoping that one of them will stick, and provide them platforms on their channels, their conclaves and thinkfests, and run campaigns like “intolerance” and “awaardwapsi”. The danger starts when they start to believe in their own messaging, or to quote Scarface “get high on your own supply”, because then they react to election results as a fan does when their team loses, as opposed to supposedly neutral arbiters and interpreters of facts.

    Till the time they come to accept this, large sections of the media will continue to appear as they do nowangry, petulant, and partisan.

    And what they should realize is that this only makes their dreaded and hated Modi look even stronger.

    The parallels with the recent US election are obvious. A key difference is that Narendra Modi is a skilled politician with a proven track record of effective government and development while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. His accomplishments as Prime Minister have been lacklustre, even from my fanboy perspective. Yet, the media has been terrible at providing any sort of balanced, truthful narrative that is so essential when the person is power is a borderline egomaniac with a fan following that would rather believe what he writes on twitter than objective reality.

  14. Emily Dreyfuss, Silicon Valley would rather cure death than make life worth living, in Wired, 23 March 2017. [Online]: https://www.wired.com/2017/03/silicon-valley-rather-cure-death-make-life-worth-living/

    This article touches upon one of the many things that Silicon Valley engineers get wrong, and emphasises, in my mind, the importance of an education not just in science and technology, but also how science and technology interact with society including the ethics of such interactions. While Silicon Valley is busy ‘disrupting’ various industries, including the one responsible for the circle of life, the author argues that what matters isn’t living forever, rather, living a meaningful life.

  15. Eric S. Raymond, How to act like you’re bright, in Armed and Dangerous, 28 March 2017. [Online]: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=7451

    ESR starts of with an episode of the Big Bang Theory, which used to be a funny show. He, however, takes issue with the acting, which has never been a strong point with the show. The characters portrayed are one-dimensional stereotypes of nerds, which is always funny for a general audience, but makes us nerds cringe. In this post, ESR lays out some tips on how actors should approach acting like bright people. While I don’t necessarily say that this is a comprehensive list, it does have some good tips.

  16. Daniel Lemire, Never reason from averages, in Daniel Lemire’s Blog, 28 March 2017. [Online]: http://lemire.me/blog/2017/03/28/never-reason-from-averages/

    In this blog, Lemire lays out the trouble with statistics, when averages don’t tell the whole story. He has an excellent example explaining why running after the shiniest new language is not a good idea for programmers, but I think this analysis should also extend in other fields. For instance, Elon Musk claims that the Tesla Autopilot is safer than a human driver because the Autopilot has driven more miles to a crash than the average human driver. Here’s the problem with the analysis. There has been only one Tesla crash, which makes the mean a useless statistic. What if the next accident happens at the very next mile? Moreover, statistics often do not account for other parameters that may need to be controlled. Takeaway, treat statistics with caution.

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