Thursday, 21 August 2014

Apocalyptic problem solving

Humans seem to need an apocalypse to fix a global problem. They never quite wipe us out, and we always change for the better afterwards. After the black plague, we figured out hygiene. After a world war, we figured out how not to nuke each other. That one's a work in progress. It is likely that we will solve our global warming and peak oil problems only after they become global catastrophes that almost succeed in wiping us out. A case can be made for that being our current position, but as long as the headlines can read "Global Warming Continues, Yet 7 Billion People Still Live", we as a species are unlikely to make significant progress. Perhaps global warming is too slow and gradual an apocalypse for us to respond to in our traditional "wait until it nearly wipes us out" way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Maybe we can make it the personal problem of some powerful people.
PPS - Like spreading a rumour that global warming causes penis cancer in oil company executives, for instance. Which is totally true.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

How to respond to a DDoS attack

If someone attacks your website with a distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS), demanding money to make it stop, what's the best possible response? I suspect the best idea is to do absolutely nothing, or to reinforce and update your infrastructure. My reasoning is that the criminal has a particular business model and a limited set of resources at their disposal, large though those resources may be. Their plan is to bring down your website, get you to pay up, then move on to another target. If you make no response at all, what can they do? Your website is already offline. Their worst possible response is to keep it offline for longer, but that means they're devoting more of their resources for a longer time to a target that won't pay out. It becomes worthless to them. Before too long, it becomes far more worthwhile for them to devote those resources elsewhere, since they stand to actually profit from a different target.

Like spam, if everyone, worldwide, stopped responding to any of it, it would all completely dry up overnight, except for a few weirdos who get off on the power and don't care about the money.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - But, like spam, if it wasn't paying off, it wouldn't exist.
PPS - Crime doesn't pay, but it does scale well.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Logistical problems in the infinite hotel

There's a weird mathematical thought experiment to illustrate the properties of a countable infinity that goes as follows: you are the manager of an infinite hotel. That is, you have rooms numbered from 1, 2, 3 and so on, up and up, never ending, and right now, every room is full. When you get one more guest, even though every room is full, you can make room for them by moving everyone up one room and putting the new guest in room 1. The guest that was in room 1 goes to room 2, room 2's guest goes to room 3 and so on. Nobody has to leave and everyone still gets a room. This keeps working no matter how large a group arrives at once, as long as there's a finite number of them.

If an infinite number of guests arrives at once, you can still make room for them by advising every current guest to double their room number and move in there. The guest in room 1 goes to room 2, room 2 goes to room 4, room 3 to room 6 and so on. The new guests now check into the odd-numbered rooms and there's still enough space for everyone.

What I'd like to talk about, in a silly way, is the logistics of running a hotel like this. When these guests arrive, it's kind of a pain to move people. You could call up each room individually and ask them to move, but you'd never finish. You could just have the first guest relay the message to the next one, so room 1 tells room 2 to move to room 3, room 2 tells room 3 to move to room 4, and so on. Probably the best communication method is an infinite PA system so that you can address all the rooms at once.

The next part is what I always thought would get me down about staying in an infinite hotel. When that infinite group of new guests arrives, it's not so much trouble for the guest in room 1 to move next door to room 2, nor for room 2 to move to room 4. The guest in room 50 might be a bit miffed at having to move all the way up to room 100, but what about the poor saps up at room 1,000,000 and above? You'd probably still be on the move when the next call came over the PA to move up. So you start at room 1,000,000, and the manager calls out "infinite new guests, everyone please double your room number and move up there". You pack up your things and start walking from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000. Before you pass the door for room 1,005,000, the same call comes again, so now your new room is 4,000,000. It just gets further away all the time. Beyond a certain point, you're better off turning back to the check-in desk and announcing yourself as a new guest. In fact, that's probably where all these "new" guests keep coming from.

Lastly, every time you hire a new cleaner, you never see them again. They'd start cleaning at room 1, move on to room 2, then room 3 and so on down the line, never finishing until they just quit. Realistically, you probably need your guests to clean up after themselves.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Past a certain point, though, it would be impossible to verify.
PPS - Plus, on average, you'd probably spend all your time travelling to evict guests whose credit cards were declined.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Mismatched cutlery

I like mismatched cutlery. It means every fork has a story. When they all match, the story is "we bought these in a set". It's as if you have no personality in your home. It's just a pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped picture of what you think a home should be. When a home (or anything) is real, it has stories, scars and scratches.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I should incorporate it into a story someday.
PPS - I just have to figure out how.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Could a TV catch a virus?

Deb asked me the other day if it was possible her sister's TV had become infected by a virus of some kind, since it's been playing up very badly. They usually have to unplug it at the wall to "reboot" it a couple of times to get it to turn on, and the remote works maybe 50% of the time. My first thought was no, although the TV undoubtedly has a general-purpose computer inside, there's no viable infection vector. There's also no tangible benefit to anyone to write such a virus, even if they could get it into the TV. In all likelihood, the TV is just broken somehow.

However, there's one crazy possibility. Keeping in mind that I don't know quite enough about the protocols and systems involved, with their Playstation 3 connected to the internet, if they play a video over the HDMI connection and that video has some malicious code inside it somehow (maybe a buffer overrun) then there's a slight chance that such a video signal might infect the computer in the TV with a virus. The only thing it could really do from there is break the TV, though, which doesn't really benefit anyone ... except competing TV manufacturers. After all, if you buy a Toshiba TV and it breaks six months later, are you going to buy another Toshiba? You'll probably look to another manufacturer, and those guys are the ones who would write a TV-bricking virus targeting their competitors, in the hopes that you will buy from them instead. It's not a foolproof plan, but it has a slight chance of success. Sometimes that's enough.

With new TVs connecting straight to the internet, we may need to patch our TV operating systems regularly from now on, along with everything else in the house.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Although most manufacturers are unlikely to be that diligent in issuing patches.
PPS - And most devices won't be worthwhile targets for malware.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Obsolete version names

It bothers me when new versions of technology - typically wired or wireless network standards - get names like "long-term evolution" or "high-speed" because, inevitably, those standards end up being older and slower than whatever comes next, and confusing everything. Imagine trying to have this conversation in an electronics store:

"Which model is better?"
"Well, the old model only came with New High-Speed Future-Proof Best-Ever ports, but if you want to keep up, you should really go for the latest model."
"So what does the latest model come with?"
"They're called Version Next Lightning-Fast ports. Backwards compatible, of course."

It's just too much marketing-speak in the mix for average people to handle. That may be part of the goal - if you can still sell last year's model because it still sounds impressive, then you won't have to discount any stock, which is a win for you, but it really seems like a deceptive move.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Code names are slightly better, but version numbers are best.
PPS - You still can't compare version numbers between brands, though.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Declining cinema attendance might not be a problem

Is declining movie theatre attendance a problem to be solved? Well, first of all, Hollywood continues to report record profits every year, so they probably have nothing to worry about for the forseeable future.

Declining cinema attendance is either a sign of change in the entertainment industry or an opportunity. Either you go with it and, basically, bank on streaming services for home use, or you produce a better cinema-centric experience that people can't get elsewhere. Not just a bigger screen and louder speakers, and definitely not 3D. Something fundamentally new to go in that space so recently vacated by all those cinema audiences. Think about what people will gleefully pay for in a public space like that, not what they will grudgingly pay for because it's the only way.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - The answer is also probably not "vaudeville" or "musical theatre".
PPS - If I knew the answer, I'd be on my way to doing it already.