Monthly Archives: December 2019

Centaur Unveils Its New Server-Class x86 Core

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Centaur is ... still a thing? It looks like a quite modern architecture, both in terms of general design and specifically x86 parts with AVX512 and such. The 32,768bit partition-able SIMD is quite interesting, thought I can't find a damn thing about the details of the architecture. At very least it's compellingly wide. It looks like some of the design is out of Zhaoxin, and they're building on a TSMC process, but it's a noticeably thin press package. I suspect the west may not be the target market, or they're mostly hunting for B2B markets who get different access.
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Twitter wants to develop an open, decentralized, federated social media standard…and then join it

Source: Boing Boing

Article note: I'm curious what the scheme is. Putting weight on the scales so that a spec they control is likely to come out on top? Making a small open-washing investment? Trying to build a platform where they can't be held accountable as a publisher (I don't mean that in a disapproving way)? Actual protocols-over-platforms belief?

Twitter is advertising for "a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media" with the goal of becoming "a client of that standard."

It's a pretty seismic move, albeit one that's short on details and binding promises. Twitter was originally designed to be part of a federated network, but over the years, the company has tightened controls over its APIs and other elements in such a way as to make it progressively harder to create federated or third-party tools to interact with Twitter users. Sometimes, this was undertaken in the name of privacy or security (and indeed, there were some privacy and security gains through those moves) and sometimes it was just presented as a fait accompli, and either way, it's transformed Twitter into another centralized platform -- albeit one that is more generous about linking and embedding that its primary rival, the walled gardens of Facebook and its subsidiaries, whose goal is to enclose and snuff out the open internet.

Twitter CEO @Jack explains:

First, we’re facing entirely new challenges centralized solutions are struggling to meet. For instance, centralized enforcement of global policy to address abuse and misleading information is unlikely to scale over the long-term without placing far too much burden on people.

Second, the value of social media is shifting away from content hosting and removal, and towards recommendation algorithms directing one’s attention. Unfortunately, these algorithms are typically proprietary, and one can’t choose or build alternatives. Yet.

Third, existing social media incentives frequently lead to attention being focused on content and conversation that sparks controversy and outrage, rather than conversation which informs and promotes health.

Finally, new technologies have emerged to make a decentralized approach more viable. Blockchain points to a series of decentralized solutions for open and durable hosting, governance, and even monetization. Much work to be done, but the fundamentals are there.

Twitter Makes A Bet On Protocols Over Platforms [Mike Masnick/Techdirt]

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ZedRipper: A 16-core Z80 laptop

Source: Hacker News

Article note: This thing is a fabulous piece of alternative history. 16 Z80 cores, one running CP/M and the rest running running CP/NET, plus a simple multiplexed terminal. All on one gigantic salvaged FPGA.
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The Afghanistan Papers were always hiding in plain sight

Source: The Week: Most Recent Home Page Posts

Article note: This could have been written any time since ~2002 and it would have just been confirming. The US's invasion of Afghanistan has been a visible sprawling failure/rent-seeking opportunity since it started. Nice that someone finally squeezed the internal documentation to prove it into the public eye, though.

The war in Afghanistan is lost, and has been for years. That's not just my opinion — it is also that of top officials in the American occupation, according to a vast document trove obtained by Craig Whitlock for The Washington Post. It calls the project The Afghanistan Papers — a reference to the famous Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon report about the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971. "What are we trying to do here? We didn't have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking," Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, Afghan war adviser to both President Bush and President Obama, told a government interviewer.

Yet the only major new information here is the identity of those making the criticisms. They come from "Lessons Learned," a confidential report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that collected testimony from top government officials that the Post obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. It's good to know, but anyone with eyes to see has known for years that the war in Afghanistan is hopeless.

Whitlock notes that SIGAR has previously produced several "Lessons Learned" reports, but that they were "written in dense bureaucratic prose and focused on an alphabet soup of government initiatives, left out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews." And they do demonstrate that SIGAR left out the most unsparing criticism from top officials — particularly regarding the deception of the American public. But it's also true that overall, SIGAR has painted in its reports a picture of unrelenting disastrous failure — particularly in the summary emails sent to reporters.

Searching my inbox, I find 56 emails summarizing dozens of different SIGAR reports since July 2016, when someone added me to the distribution list. Picking a few at random:

  • On July 28, 2016, SIGAR audited a $423 million Afghan army vehicle maintenance program and found the contractor failed "to meet its most basic contract requirements and program objectives," yet the Pentagon didn't hold them accountable.
  • On October 7, 2016, SIGAR reported that hundreds of millions of dollars were probably being spent on salaries for non-existent soldiers and police — noting that the offical Afghan army strength was 319,595, but quoted an Afghan official saying "the best internal estimate put the number around 120,000."
  • On November 17, 2016, SIGAR reported that $85 million in government-backed loans to build a hotel and apartment building had not produced anything, possibly because of corruption: "[T]he buildings were never completed and are uninhabitable, and the U.S. Embassy is now forced to provide security for the site at additional cost to U.S. taxpayers."
  • On July 31, 2017, SIGAR reviewed a contract to bolster the Afghan army's intelligence operations, and found that due to shoddy data and "lack of performance metrics," "it is almost impossible to gauge the government's return on investment for the $457.7 million spent." What little they could examine uncovered broad failure to appropriately train personnel and naked bill-padding from the contractor.
  • On March 18, 2019, SIGAR reviewed three Army Corps of Engineers contracts worth $1 billion together and found Afghan army personnel "had confiscated contractor-owned property and mistreated or abused contractor staff under all three contracts."

Again, these are just a few among 56 reports detailing a litany of corruption, failure, and waste. One will struggle to find a single positive word in any of them.

Quarterly SIGAR reports to Congress found rampant corruption in both the Afghan government and the U.S. reconstruction effort, steadily increasing Taliban control of the country, and as a result, huge numbers of civilian casualties and internally-displaced refugees. The actual reports, it's true, are a bit more leaden and obscure — but one doesn't have to do much reading between the lines (I have used SIGAR's work over and over and over to argue that the war is lost) to see the obvious truth that the occupation has been a disaster from start to finish. Just reading the PR emails will do just fine.

Whitlock has done a great service showing that the top military brass can see this truth as well yet, like Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War, have lied to the American people. "Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public," he writes. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and multiple top generals publicly said things they knew to be false. Head of SIGAR John Sopko admitted to the Post that "the American people have constantly been lied to."

"If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost," General Lute told SIGAR interviewers. "Who will say this was in vain?" But all the lies did not work — the American people have already decisively turned against the war. Indeed, even veterans now say the war was not worth fighting — 58 percent of former soldiers as compared to 59 percent of all adults. One doesn't have to be a master military strategist to see that America's longest war — which as Whitlock notes has cost more than the entire Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after the Second World War in inflation-adjusted terms — is not going to be won. It is only the D.C. Blob that refuses to accept the inevitable.

Both this new report and all previous SIGAR reports show the American occupation has been a disaster for both the U.S. and Afghanistan. American forces are enabling corruption and fueling conflict instead of the opposite. It's time to realize that and get out.

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How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real

Source: Hacker News

Article note: It took me a while to have time to sit down and read this - it's not short - but it's a fabulous piece. Also, I'm apparently overdue to reread the bridge trilogy.
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Verizon reportedly blocks archivists from Yahoo Groups days before deletion

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: We really do have a growing problem with platform death and losing information. Verizon being shitty about letting others archive is just a particularly egregious case. There is a significant amount of (as a commenter quipped) "When the public domain is stolen, you need thieves to steal it back" going on and some definite reason to think about the importance of owning your platforms... which is a discussion we've been having since Usenet in the 80s.
Screenshot of the Yahoo Groups home page, showing a collection of people jumping in the air and a message that says,

Enlarge / The Yahoo Groups home page (for now). (credit: Yahoo)

An ad-hoc group scrambling to archive as much content as possible from Yahoo Groups ahead of the site's final demise next week is running into trouble as more than a hundred volunteer archivists say Yahoo's parent company, Verizon, has banned their accounts.

Yahoo Groups has been on the wane for years, but Verizon announced its official date of death two months ago. Users were blocked from uploading or posting new content to the site as of October 28, and all content currently on the site is slated to be deleted on December 14—less than one week from now.

Members of the Archive Team have been working rapidly to preserve content from as many groups as possible in that six-week time frame. The volunteers have been using "semi-automated" scripts to join groups rapidly and are using a third-party tool known as PGOffline to access messages, photos, and files not captured by Verizon/Yahoo's data download or export tool. They estimate that as a result of this weekend's blocks, they have now lost access to 80 percent of the material they were attempting to preserve.

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RIP René Auberjonois

Source: Boing Boing

Article note: Oh, sad.

American actor and singer René Auberjonois, who played early roles in in M*A*S*H and 1979's King Kong and later starred as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's irascible and gelatinous security chief Odo, is dead at 79.

Before his entry into Hollywood, Auberjonois worked in theater, earning a Tony for best lead actor in a musical for his role opposite Katharine Hepburn in “Coco.” He received further Tony nominations for 1973’s “The Good Doctor,” 1984’s “Big River,” and 1989’s “City of Angels.”

Auberjonois was also known for his voice roles, particularly in 1989’s Disney Renaissance hit “The Little Mermaid,” in which he voices Chef Louis and sang the memorable “Les Poissons.” Fans of “The Princess Diaries” would recognize him as the voice of Mia Thermopolis’ father, Prince Philippe Renaldi, in an uncredited role.

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20 Low-End VPS Providers Suddenly Shutting Down In a ‘Deadpooling’ Scam

Source: Slashdot

Article note: As the saying goes, "There is no cloud, it's just someone else's computer" If you're going to rent your computer, make sure the people you're renting it from are established, solvent, and not scum, and/or at least have a backup plan if they turn out to be.

"At least 20 web hosting providers have hastily notified customers today, Saturday, December 7, that they plan to shut down on Monday, giving their clients two days to download data from their accounts before servers are shut down and wiped clean," reports ZDNet. And no refunds are being provided: All the services offer cheap low-end virtual private servers [and] all the websites feature a similar page structure, share large chunks of text, use the same CAPTCHA technology, and have notified customers using the same email template. All clues point to the fact that all 20 websites are part of an affiliate scheme or a multi-brand business ran by the same entity... As several users have pointed out, the VPS providers don't list physical addresses, don't list proper business registration information, and have no references to their ownership... A source in the web hosting industry who wanted to remain anonymous told ZDNet that what happened this weekend is often referred to as "deadpooling" -- namely, the practice of setting up a small web hosting company, providing ultra-cheap VPS servers for a few dollars a month, and then shutting down a few months later, without refunding customers. "This is a systemic issue within the low-end market, we call it deadpooling," the source told us. "It doesn't happen often at this scale, however." ZDNet provided this alphabetical list of the 20 companies: ArkaHosting, Bigfoot Servers, DCNHost, HostBRZ, HostedSimply, Hosting73, KudoHosting, LQHosting, MegaZoneHosting, n3Servers, ServerStrong, SnowVPS, SparkVPS, StrongHosting, SuperbVPS, SupremeVPS, TCNHosting, UMaxHosting, WelcomeHosting, X4Servers. However, "A user who was impacted by his VPS provider's shutdown also told ZDNet that the number of VPS providers going down is most likely higher than 20, as not all customers might have shared the email notification online, with others."

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Iconic UK Kirwan-Blanding dorm complex to be razed next year. What will take its place?

Source: -- Education

Article note: They have a plan for bringing the towers down now. Aside from student complaints about the isolating design of the things they've been putting up (and possibly-related wave of acquaintance rape type sexual assault situations), on-campus housing is ridiculously expensive, someone really should start harassing the administration about affordable housing and make them commit to having an inexpensive low-end option as part of the next phase, on the whole "public institution serving the people of the state" basis.

University of Kentucky officials said Friday the 11-building Kirwan-Blanding dorm complex should be razed by the end of 2020 and a new 500-bed student housing complex on part of the … Click to Continue »

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Amazon Ring went from a smart doorbell company to a surveillance network

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Internet of Shit: Not just stupid, also a threat to society.
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