Wednesday What We’re Reading (Apr. 17, 2019)

As you might have noticed, we’re taking Holy Week a bit easier than usual—parvusimperator is traveling for Easter; I’m in the church choir, have had spring yard work to do, and am preparing for the first USPSA match of the season on Saturday.

Happily, there’s been a lot going on in the world, so we have a longer-than-usual WWRW (unless I miss my guess, the longest ever, in fact) to tide you over until we return to our usual pace.


Science and Technology

  • Amazon contractors listen to Alexa conversations – Feeling real good about my lack of smart home technology right about now. Until I can run my smart home entirely on a server in my basement under my direct control, we’ll get up and turn lights on and off with switches, like cavemen.
  • Wifi’s new WPA3 standard is… already badly insecure – Oops. Maybe if they’d developed the standard out in the open, like security researchers suggested…
  • Intelsat 29e exploded? – It’s a geostationary communication satellite, which looks to have flared up on telescope views, then shed a bunch of debris. Also, evidently there’s a company out there which points telescopes at objects in geostationary orbit. Also also, the comments mention a Russian accusation of an American satellite which roams geostationary orbit, photographing things there. Not necessarily implausible—such a thing would be easy to build, and a cell phone camera at 1km has better resolving power than a 10-meter telescope peering from ground level to geostationary orbit, so it would have its uses, too.
  • SpaceX sticks the Falcon Heavy landing, but loses a booster to the sea – The barges have grabbers which can snag the booster by the ‘octaweb’, the bit of framework which holds all the engine nozzles in their appropriate places, but the Falcon Heavy center core has a different octaweb, so the grabbers can’t get a good grip. The barge encountered 10-foot swells on the way back home, and the center core went over the side.
  • More people streaming movies rather than buying physical copies – See my above Luddite-hood on smart homes for my opinion on this practice; see parvusimperator’s DVD stack for his.
  • The future is here, and it’s a cyberpunk dystopia – Satellite-based advertising is on its way, courtesy a Russian company and PepsiCo.
  • Pepsi clarifies: we’re only testing the technology, by running an orbital ad once – Pardon me for not jumping for joy. The only good thing about this is that it’s a Russian space company, and they never deliver on their promises.
  • Declassified U-2 photographs are helping archaeologists find canals, roads, and other features hard to spot from the ground – In terms of count per unit area, there wasn’t a lot of military interest to find in Central Asia, but evidently there’s at least something of historical interest.
  • Don’t call it PlayStation 5 yet, but Sony releases details on their next console – The spec list may look like an ordinary gaming computer, but remember that one of the huge advantages with console hardware is the integrated memory architecture—there’s no conception of separate graphics memory like there is on your average computer, so you don’t have to worry about getting something from system memory to video memory like you do on a PC. (That’s why bus width is so important on computers and not really mentioned for consoles; it isn’t really a concept worth bringing up for the latter.)
  • Google Fiber’s divorce from Louisville is complete – In other words, don’t trust Google with your stuff in the long term, because they don’t care enough about marginal products to bother keeping them around. I read a good article on that subject this week, but didn’t stick it in our WWRW chat, so I can’t link it here.
  • OpenAI’s Dota 2 bot beats human players, but shows the weaknesses of machine learning – See the section titled, ‘A rudimentary Chinese room’.
  • Stratolaunch takes flight – We have a new record-holder for ‘largest wingspan on an airplane’! I would even go so far as to say that it’s not useless, either, which is a bit of a spicy take. There are two main arguments against the flying-booster-launcher: 1) it doesn’t save you much fuel; 2) reusable rockets make it moot. In re 1), the bit which takes the most fuel is precisely getting off the ground and to altitude, because your rocket is the heaviest and you’re moving through the densest atmosphere. Skipping the densest atmosphere lets you design your first-stage nozzles for more nearly vacuum conditions, which means your first stage can burn effectively for longer. In re 2), reusable rockets still require a lot of launch infrastructure, whereas a plane-launched rocket can dodge weather and get you on track for nearly any orbital direction or inclination with minimal steering losses.
  • A security researcher drops three 0-days against… WordPress plugins… – Just a minute. … Okay, we’re good. … drops three 0-days against WordPress plugins to protest “the moderators of the WordPress Support Forum’s continued inappropriate behavior.” Grudge-based webserver-pwning! What a world we live in.



  • Baseball twitter is usually good for a few laughs
  • Baseball should end service time manipulation – Unfortunately, doing so would require both the players and the teams to sacrifice something for the benefit of Baseball As A Whole, which is not the typical aim in CBA negotiations.
  • Sports leagues embrace gambling – It’s fan engagement! Pennsylvania is one of the states which legalized sports betting; the local sports talk hosts have lately been singing the praises of the sports book at the local casino. A showdown between the gambling operators and the leagues is brewing; the NBA, MLB, and the PGA Tour want a percentage fee on every bet placed on their games—initially, they said 1%; lately, they’ve said 0.25%. Of course, illegal sports gambling was recently estimated as a $150 billion industry, so…

Grab Bag

  • Restaurants are too loud – As it turns out, the modern industrial-chic style absorbs zero sound, which is unpleasant. There’s a sushi joint near my mother’s house that has some sort of magical sound-dampening technology—every seat can be full, and yet it’s never loud enough to disrupt conversation at your table, and it’s one of the most pleasant dining experiences in the area.

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