Category Archives: Software

“Google’s Supreme Court faceoff with Oracle was a disaster for Google”

I stopped reading Ars Technica when I reached the last 5 words:

The distinction between a program and an API makes intuitive sense to computer programmers who regularly use APIs (and write programs) in their daily work. But it’s far from obvious to Supreme Court justices, all of whom are lawyers over the age of 50.

Source: Google’s Supreme Court faceoff with Oracle was a disaster for Google | Ars Technica

What does age have to do with this? What a stupid thing to write.

Update: I contacted the author of that and he responded that while some older people are tech savvy, most older people just are not tech savvy.

I noted I have a BS in computer science (1980), an MBA (2001), an MS in software engineering (2012, thesis on Android power management), two patents (one from two years ago), and have written a dozen tech books. I will not quote his private email directly but suffice to say, he argues that it is appropriate to assume that older people are not tech savvy.

Let’s rewrite that sentence to see the implicit bias of Ars Technica – for example, if written as “But it’s far from obvious…all of whom are lawyers who are women” or “But it’s far from obvious…all of whom are lawyers who are black“.

The bias and illogical argument in the use of age is obvious.

People who define others by group identity are practicing -isms. Using this one reporter as an example, should I write that all reporters are ageist? That is the logic this reporter is attempting to defend, so fair’s fair I suppose: All reporters are ageist, and by implication, racist and sexist too!

I’ve deleted all bookmarks to Ars Technica and will no longer be reading their garbage.

Public Health England lost about 16,000 Covid-19 positive tests due to not understanding Excel spreadsheet limitations

The BBC has confirmed the missing Covid-19 test data was caused by the ill-thought-out use of Microsoft’s Excel software. Furthermore, PHE was to blame, rather than a third-party contractor.

Source: Covid: Test error ‘should never have happened’ – Hancock – BBC News

Could have happened to anyone. What’s 16,000 lost positive test results among friends, anyway?

Public health says it has no data on what works and what does not work

Oregon has released its periodic modeling update report.

Shockingly, they say they have no data on what measures work or do not work, or whether or not anyone is adhering to them. They have no information on whether some measures work better or worse than others. They have no data on any measures at all.

Continue reading Public health says it has no data on what works and what does not work

Computer security failures in the news

On Monday, Public Health Wales disclosed that it accidentally leaked the personal data of 18,105 Welsh residents who tested positive for COVID-19, and that data was visible for 20 hours on a public server on Aug. 30 and viewed up to 56 times, the agency said.

The data belonged to every resident of Wales who tested positive for COVID-19 between Feb. 27 and Aug. 30. It included people’s initials, date of birth, gender and general location, but not specific information on who they are. Still, for a subset of 1,926 people who live in supported housing or nursing homes, the data included the names of those locations.

Source: Data on 18,105 coronavirus patients leaks after staffer clicks wrong button – CNET

And, a bug in Biden’s campaign app enabled anyone to access voter history and other data on millions of voters.

Far too many organizations collect far too much information, and then retain it online for far too long. The result is “All your secrets belong to us”.

Having pulled official credit reports on myself and my wife, we were surprised to find the high number of errors in the records. For example, credit reporting agencies had us living at addresses we had never lived at. In one case, they intertwined data from a woman with a similar name to my wife. Through what we found in our own credit file, I was able to cleverly identify the woman, her actual home address and her employer!

Over time, the quality of data retained – for too long – in online databases goes down and there is seldom anyway to know what erroneous data has been stored about yourself, nor is there away to seek a correction.


It’s worse than we thought: “Second Analysis of Ferguson’s Model”

In the past I had some comments on Neil Ferguson’s disease model and have repeatedly noted its poor quality. This model was used, last spring, as the basis for setting government policies to respond to Covid-19. Like many disease models, its output was garbage, unfit for any purpose.

The following item noted that the revision history, since last spring, is available and shows that ICL has not been truthful about the changes made to the original model code.

Source: Second Analysis of Ferguson’s Model – Lockdown Sceptics

THIS! Many academic models including disease models and climate models, average the outputs from multiple runs, some how imaginatively thinking that this produces a reliable projection – uh, no, it does not work that way.

An average of wrong is wrong.  There appears to be a seriously concerning issue with how British universities are teaching programming to scientists. Some of them seem to think hardware-triggered variations don’t matter if you average the outputs (they apparently call this an “ensemble model”).

Averaging samples to eliminate random noise works only if the noise is actually random. The mishmash of iteratively accumulated floating point uncertainty, uninitialised reads, broken shuffles, broken random number generators and other issues in this model may yield unexpected output changes but they are not truly random deviations, so they can’t just be averaged out.

Software quality assurance is often missing in academic projects that are used for public policy:

For standards to improve academics must lose the mentality that the rules don’t apply to them. In a formal petition to ICL to retract papers based on the model you can see comments “explaining” that scientists don’t need to unit test their code, that criticising them will just cause them to avoid peer review in future, and other entirely unacceptable positions. Eventually a modeller from the private sector gives them a reality check. In particular academics shouldn’t have to be convinced to open their code to scrutiny; it should be a mandatory part of grant funding.

The deeper question here is whether Imperial College administrators have any institutional awareness of how out of control this department has become, and whether they care. If not, why not? Does the title “Professor at Imperial” mean anything at all, or is the respect it currently garners just groupthink?

When a software model – such as a disease model – is used to set public policies that impact people’s lives – literally life or death – these models should adhere to standards for life-safety critical software systems. There are standards for, say, medical equipment, or nuclear power plant monitoring systems, or avionics – because they may put people’s lives at risk. A disease model has similar effects – and hacked models that adhere to no standards have no business being used to establish life safety critical policies!

I and another software engineer had an interaction with Gavin Schmidt of NASA regarding software quality assurance of their climate model or paleoclimate histories[1]. He noted they only had funding for 1/4 of a full time equivalent person to work on SQA – in other words, they had no SQA. Instead, their position was that the model’s output should be compared to others. This would be like – instead of testing, Microsoft would judge its software quality by comparing the output of MS Word to the output of another word processor. In other words, sort of a quailty-via-proxy analogy. Needless to say, this is not how SQA works.

Similarly, the climate model community always averages multiple runs from multiple models to create projections. They do this even when some of the model projections are clearly off the rails. Averaging many wrongs does not make a right.

[1] Note that NASA does open source their software which enables more eyes to see the code, and I do not mean to pick on NASA or Schmidt here. They are doing what they can within their funding limitations. The point, however is that SQA is frequently given short shrift in academic-like settings.

Setting up Thrustmaster Rudder Pedals with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Select “Controls”, then “T-Rudder” (should already appear in the Controls list – may have to scroll to the right)

Set the control options as follows:

Left Brake Axis Joystick L-Axis X
Check Reverse Axis box

Right Brake Axis Joystick L-Axis Y
Check Reverse Axis box

Rudder Axis Joystick L-Axis Z

Took me a long time to find this solution. To turn off Auto rudder coordination, press Shift + Ctrl + U (I did that during flight). You need to turn off Auto rudder coordination in order to use the actual rudder pedals with the simulator.

Yes, kind of: “Don’t bother with Android tablets – CNET”

Commentary: I love Android phones, but Android tablets stink as an investment.

Source: Don’t bother with Android tablets – CNET

We recently replaced my wife’s Nexus 7. Unfortunately, nearly all the Android tablets available today are old – or old designs, using older hardware, smaller RAM than is needed, and lower resolutions screens than contemporary hardware,

Samsung seems to be the only company still producing contemporary Android tablets – but my older Samsung tablet has not seen any Android OS update. It is as if the Android tablet market is vanishing and has been for the past 2-3 years.

Looked into iPad – even bought one but ended up returning it. Too many issues to go in to here.

My wife ultimately settled on a Microsoft Surface product that doubles as a notebook and a tablet. She really likes it.

The “No Code” applications phenomena

Software development tools have enabled more people, with less training, to develop software solutions.

Few topics garner cheers and groans quite as quickly as the no-code software explosion.

While investors seem uniformly bullish on toolsets that streamline and automate processes that once required a decent amount of technical know-how, not everyone seems to think that the product class is much of a new phenomenon.

Source: Five VCs discuss how no-code is going horizontal across the world’s industries | TechCrunch

When I started in software and computer engineering we took digital electronics design classes. We learned how hardware works and learned to program in machine and assembly language (and I did some large projects in assembly language). But later on, assembly language was replaced with the easier to use C programming language.

Applications developers soon had access to even simpler BASIC, and a bit later, Visual Basic, to create solutions for customers. Then a long came Excel with the ability to create complex worksheets and data analysis – and its own embedded Visual Basic for Applications, enabling non-programmers to begin programming.

In the 1990s we began to see visual programming environments and eventually “drag and drop” programming models.

Today, we can develop Android apps using MIT App Inventor – which makes app development far simpler than using the Android SDK!

This trend will continue – to the point that nearly everyone is able to be an “app developer”.

What if you could be convicted with secret evidence you cannot see nor contest?

All defendants have a right to review the evidence before them. When software applications produce a conclusion, then the software source code must be re-viewable by the defense.

The government argues it can use secret software against a defendant – software that may very well be defective (think Neil Ferguson’s Imperial College London’s secret disease modeling code that ignores all modern software engineering practices).

Can secret software be used to generate key evidence against a criminal defendant?

Source: EFF and ACLU Tell Federal Court that Forensic Software Source Code Must Be Disclosed | Electronic Frontier Foundation