Sunday Nerding: The Birth of BASIC

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Many people working in the Information Technology industry today, probably started their journey when they learnt the computer language BASIC – (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) – on computers such as the Apple II or the Commodore 64.

What many people won’t know is the fascinating story of how BASIC started, at Dartmouth College in 1964. In today’s “Sunday Nerding”, learn about the origins of this once ubiquitous programming language.


References

Quickshot: I Like Blue Light!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Quickshots

I’ve typically been a poor sleeper for quite a number of years – and when I added a colour smart globe to my lounge room recently, I thought I’d see if it made a difference.

I’ve been spending the evening before bed for the last couple of weeks under a steady blue light, and I swear I haven’t slept better in years.

If you have trouble sleeping, maybe give it a try too?

Turnbull’s NBN Legacy of Failure

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technology

Malcolm Turnbull has left Australia with quite a legacy with the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Back when the NBN was first mooted in 2008 – (though one could argue its origins go back the OPEL Networks plan from 2006) – everyone was supposed to be on one of three different technologies – 93% of the population with Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP, with up to 100Mbps), 4% with Fixed Wireless (FW, with up to 25Mbps), and 3% Satellite Broadband (SB, with up to 12Mbps).

Tmthetom [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

When then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy cancelled the OPEL plan in 2008, what has become known as the NBN was formulated, with the 93/4/3% split described above.

Enough capacity was to be put into the ground in the FTTP footprint to support 6 separate services – (4 data, and 2 voice) – in every single premise in those areas. The fibre going into the ground was to support services of up to 40Gbps.

To achieve those speeds – (over and above the standard 100Mbps offered initially) – all that would be required is an update to the electronics at each of the fibre connection.

Yes – the original 2008 NBN plan would have allowed for 40Gbps, dependent on CVC and backhaul capacity to be provided by individual ISPs.

Leading up to the 2013 election – and the change of government – then opposition communications spokesweasel, Malcolm Turnbull, and opposition leader Tony Abbott had other ideas.

Simply to oppose on politically ideological grounds, they decided that Conroy’s plan was “too expensive”, and would take “too long”.

Their alternative was to be “cheaper” and “faster to deliver” – neither which has been proven, and has in fact been widely debunked. Their plan called for all areas in which FTTP had not already been deployed, to change to Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN, with up to 100Mbps), using existing copper.

The status of the existing copper was questionable at best.

The rollout has proven to be no faster to deliver – (and in fact has taken longer) – and sustainable speeds of 100Mbps have been so difficult to reach that most ISPs no longer even offer 100Mbps plans – including on the parts of the network that are deployed with FTTP.

What we in fact end up with is what Turnbull called the “Multi Technology Mix” (MTM) – which would leave Australia covered with FTTP in areas where it had already been rolled out, Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) cable in areas where HFC was already rolled out, FTTN in the remaining areas where FTTP had not already been committed and there wasn’t already HFC, and finally FW and SB in much the same areas as originally planned.

The FTTN areas were later broken up further to include some Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC) deployments when they realised FTTN, in particular, wasn’t cutting it. Many areas which they earmarked for existing HFC later switched back to FTTN or FTTC, because many of the existing HFC networks they purchased couldn’t be made suitable.

And 100Mbps? Not even remotely likely unless you’re in an FTTP area, and with an ISP that has purchased enough CVC and backhaul capacity.

Rare.

So what does the MTM end up looking like? Take a look at this small area in the western part of Geelong, Victoria, with mapping provided by NBN MTM Alpha:

The purple dots represent locations that are serviced by FTTP; the yellow dots locations that are serviced by FTTN; the green dots locations that are serviced by FTTC; the pink dots locations that are serviced by FW; the orange dots locations serviced by SB; and finally the blue dots locations that are serviced by fibre from a non-NBN provider.

This is pretty stunning – and stunningly stupid.

You’ll see in the bottom right a patch of FTTC – (green) – where some premises right next door to green dots are getting FTTN – (yellow).

In the same street.

In the middle of the map, you’ll see the hamlet of Fyansford – where at the southern end of town you have a non-NBN fibre provider – (blue) – and at the northern end of town you have FTTP – (purple) – with a blob of FIXED WIRELESS in between. This band of fixed wireless is about 10 house blocks wide – or around 120 metres.

Apparently nobody thought that this area – (which is the newest part of that residential estate) – right next door to two fibre areas should get any kind of fixed-line service – not even FTTN or FTTC.

Stupidity.

Finally, zooming into the area just to the right of Fyansford – (which is on the side of a hill) – we see this:

Locations on the eastern side of Hunt Road get FTTN – (yellow) – locations on the western side get SATELLITE – (orange) – and just a little way down the hill, locations get Fixed Wireless – (pink).

And just to the north? A purple dot of FTTP.

I mean, what the hell?

Australia will one day rue this shemozzle of a “multi-technology mess”.

Trouble is, that day has already come, and Turnbull should hang his head in shame.

Mr Robot – The Art of Silence

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Musings

WARNING: This article may contain Mr Robot spoilers if you’ve not yet watched “S04E05 Method Not Allowed”.

I’ve been a fan of the television series Mr Robot since it first began in 2015. The show is an intense thriller based around a hacker group known as ‘fsociety’, which “aims to destroy all debt records by encrypting the financial data of E Corp, the fictitious largest conglomerate in the world.”

Not only is the story and scripting of this series fantastic and engaging, Mr Robot has become famous for testing the bounds of traditional cinematography.

https://tvline.com/2019/11/03/mr-robot-recap-season-4-episode-5-method-not-allowed-no-dialogue-silent/

For example, rather than use traditional cinematographic techniques, creator Sam Esmail has pushed the boundaries to create a stunning visual look and feel. The following video provides an excellent explanation of what this means within the show.


In the current and final season, Esmail is taking us towards to conclusion of the story in even more interesting and stunning ways.

This is where S04E05 is remarkable. After watching it and being – (yet again) – amazed by the experience, I carried on with my evening.

The next day, I read a review of the episode and found myself shocked. The review described the episode as a “silent episode” – and I’m like, what?

Within the first couple of minutes, Darlene tells Elliot that “we don’t have to speak”. And they don’t – there isn’t a single other line of dialogue until the last few seconds of the episode.

This is where the writing of Esmail shines. I thought to myself that “no, it wasn’t silent, I was listening the whole time”.

And I was.

But the story is so well written that I believed I heard the story being spoken. The only “talking” in the episode is done with characters sending or receiving text messages.

I was blown away – I literally remembered hearing the story being told – but I went back and watched again.

No dialogue. And I didn’t even notice.

Stunning television that is truly art.

Sunday Nerding: Getting To The Moon

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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission – the first moon landing, and that one small step for mankind that changed the world forever.

Apollo 8 Crew
Jim Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman.

In 1961, President John F Kennedy had set his his nation the goal of “landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the earth“.

A while back I wrote about the amazing – (and ongoing) – restoration of an Apollo Guidance Computer – one of the very first digital computers, developed at MIT for NASA, which was crucial to achieving the goal.

While everyone remembers Apollo 11 – (and to a lesser extent Apollo 13, due to the problems it struck) – very little is thought about with respect to Apollo 8 – the mission where NASA figured out how to do two of the four main important tasks of a successful moon landing – getting there and getting back.

The following video discusses the pivotal role Apollo 8 played in making Apollo 11, and all of the subsequent moon landings possible.


Further Reading:

Sunday Nerding: The Clock That Changed The World

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Before there was GPS, people still needed to sail the oceans of the world and know precisely where they were.

With a sextent, you could figure out your latitude, but not your longtitude. Enter the Longitude Rewards, a British government program to encourage someone – anyone – to find a accurate way to determine longitude.

Enter John Harrison, and his incredibly accurate clock.

Russian GNSS Spoofing

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A recently released report from C4ADS following a year of research, appears to confirm the hacking and/or spoofing of GNSS transmissions by Russia’s Federal Protective Service (FSO).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CYGNSS_concept_art.jpeg

GNSS is the collective term for “global navigation satellite systems“, of which the common GPS system is one. Russia and China are known to operate their own GNSS systems, alongside the GPS system developed by the US military.

The activities of the FSO – (in which it is apparent that false signals are deliberately broadcast to confuse GPS receivers, such as those you might have in your car, or those found in commercial ships or commercial aircraft) – are reputedly designed to keep attack drones away from Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

While this might seem like a not unreasonable use of such techniques, the report presents evidence that they are also using these techniques in Syria, possibly to confuse enemy military systems. There is of course a long running military conflict in the region.

It is therefore logical to assume that such techniques can and have been used all over the world at some time – past, present and future.

These techniques could be used to disrupt navigation in all sorts of transportation systems and infrastructures.

Russia shot down a Korean Air passenger jet in 1983 after an issue with the configuration of the navigation system on that Boeing 747. While this was found to be the fault of the pilots at the time, faulty navigation data could be used to initiate similar incidents, but with plausible deniability.

Quoting the report’s Executive Summary:

In this report, we present findings from a year-long investigation ending in November 2018 on an emerging subset of EW activity: the ability to mimic, or “spoof,” legitimate GNSS signals in order to manipulate PNT data. Using publicly available data and commercial technologies, we detect and analyze patterns of GNSS spoofing in the Russian Federation, Crimea, and Syria that demonstrate the Russian Federation is growing a comparative advantage in the targeted use and development of GNSS spoofing capabilities to achieve tactical and strategic objectives at home and abroad. We profile different use cases of current Russian state activity to trace the activity back to basing locations and systems in use.

The full report can be found here.

DARPA’s Open Source eVoting Initiative

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technology

I’ve never been a fan of the concept of electronic voting. I’m still not a fan of electronic voting.

For the most part the idea that I might cast my vote, walk away from the machine that contains my vote, and not know what happens with that machine afterwards scares me.

How do I know my vote eventually gets counted?

It could be argued that a paper ballot in a ballot box might “go missing” too. Most systems have certain kinds of vulnerabilities, whether they be electronic or otherwise.

But can eVoting be made reliable and verifiable?

With this initiative from DARPA, I’ve moved into the “maybe” column. I’m not convinced, but this is the best concept I’ve heard to date.

It’s worth discussing, and we do need to understand that DARPA is part of the US Department of Defence. How much can we trust that?

As an open source initiative, their work would be able to be closely scrutinized by any interested party. This perhaps means the eventual product they develop can be trusted.

It contains a lot of verification mechanisms to instill confidence in it.

Here is their plan as discussed on the most recent episode of Security Now!


References