A big change in how the Internet is defined - and who defines it - is underway.

For a while now, it’s been apparent that Internet and Web standards have stagnated at the ‘top’ of the stack. While the IETF has been busy revising HTTP and replacing TCP down below, a tremendous amount of innovation is going on up top, and it’s all in private hands. This is where most of the apparent value in the Internet now resides: when you ask people what is the Internet? they don’t say anything about end-to-end, reliable delivery, stateful resources, or the browser platform; they say ‘social networking, search and shopping’, or more likely, ‘Facebook, Google and Amazon.’

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Russia’s Foundation for Advanced Research has already flown a 60-kg (132-lb) prototype of its Cyclocar VTOL aircraft, which uses a super-responsive cyclical propeller propulsion system. A full-size, long-range, six-seat Cyclocar is expected to fly in 2022.

We’ve seen this cyclic propulsion system before, from Austria’s Cyclotech, which was previously known as D-Dalus. It places a number of variable-pitch blades in fast-rotating barrels. Each blade changes pitch constantly as the barrel spins, meaning each corner of the aircraft can vector its thrust through 360 degrees nearly instantly, without changing the RPM of the motors.

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The three months since the last cp4space article have largely been spent learning about an interesting project called Urbit. My attention was drawn to its existence during a talk by Riva-Melissa Tez (formerly of Intel) on the importance of continued improvements to the computational efficiency of hardware.

A decent amount has been written on the Internet about Urbit, but it tends to either be non-technical, explaining the importance of the project, or technical but written in highly unconventional project-specific jargon. Instead, we’ll depart from either of these by examining the novel internals of Urbit that are most likely to be of interest to mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists.

Before we can do so, however, it is worth asking what Urbit is. This is often a source of confusion, because it is an ecosystem of multiple interacting components designed to mesh well together. If you were to metaphorically run 2-means on the set of Urbit components, they would cleanly separate into the operating system (Urbit OS) and identity system (Urbit ID).

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I just made a performance improvement to the (single-threaded) rr sources command to cache the results of access system calls checking for directory existence. It’s a simple and very effective optimization on my Skylake, Linux 5.12 laptop:

Before:
[roc@localhost code]$ time rr sources ~/pernosco/main/test-tmp/basics-demo >& ~/tmp/output2
real	3m19.648s
user	1m9.157s
sys	2m9.416s

After: [roc@localhost code]$ time rr sources ~/pernosco/main/test-tmp/basics-demo >& ~/tmp/output2 real 0m36.160s user 0m36.009s sys 0m0.053s

One interesting thing is that we cut the userspace execution time in half even though we’re executing more userspace instructions than before. Frequent system calls actually slow down code execution in userspace. I assumed this was at least partly due to Spectre mitigations so I turned those off (with mitigations=off) and reran the test:

Before:
[roc@localhost code]$ time rr sources ~/pernosco/main/test-tmp/basics-demo >& ~/tmp/output2
real	2m5.776s
user	0m33.052s
sys	1m32.280s

After: [roc@localhost code]$ time rr sources ~/pernosco/main/test-tmp/basics-demo >& ~/tmp/output2 real 0m33.422s user 0m32.934s sys 0m0.110s

So those Spectre mitigations make pre-optimization userspace run 2x slower (due to cache and TLB flushes I guess) and the whole workload overall 1.6x slower! Before Spectre mitigations, those system calls hardly slowed down userspace execution at all.

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Responsive Environments researcher Irmandy Wicaksono has developed KnittedKeyboard II, a multi-modal, soft, and stretchable electronic textile musical interface customized and fabricated with digital knitting and functional fibers. It is responsive to touch, pressure, stretch, and proximity, allowing performers to play discrete notes, as well as trigger continuous effects and modulations with virtuosity, while experiencing the unique, intimate, and organic tactile properties of the knitted e-textile. A contemporary musical piece was written by Mike Hao Jiang from the Viral Communications group to demonstrate the multi-dimensional expressiveness of the instrument.

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The U.S. Navy appears to be taking a cue from mother nature by seeking to develop “bio-inspired autonomous systems” that mimic or leverage characteristics of the natural world to accomplish Navy missions. Specifically, the U.S. Navy’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget requests contain close to $30 million for developing “Biocentric” or “Bio-Inspired” technologies such as unmanned underwater vehicles that can move, school, blend in with their surroundings, and sense their environments in ways similar to the living creatures that inhabit the seas. Most notably, the research outlined in the Navy’s budget documentation includes highly ambitious plans to develop bio-inspired autonomous vehicles that can operate both in air and underwater, and transition seamlessly between the two.

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Twitter has lost legal protection in India over its failure to appoint statutory officers in line with the new IT rules, government sources have said.

Sources said on Wednesday that the microblogging platform lost legal indemnity in India after it failed to comply with new social media rules which required it to appoint key officers in India.

Twitter did not comply with rules despite letters from the ministry, sources said, and added that no order will be issued to remove the intermediary status of the social media platform.

Twitter, however, on Tuesday said it had complied with the Indian government’s new IT rules and appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer.

“We are keeping the MeitY apprised of the progress at every step of the process. An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly soon. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines,” a Twitter spokesperson told India Today.

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My first experience with IRC was in 1999.  I was in middle school, and a friend of mine ordered a Slackware CD from Walnut Creek CDROM.  This was Slackware 3.4, and contained the GNOME 1.x desktop environment on the disc, which came with the BitchX IRC client.

At first, I didn’t really know what BitchX was, I just thought it was a cool program that displayed random ascii art, and then tried to connect to various servers.  After a while, I found out that an IRC client allowed you to connect to an IRC network, and get help with Slackware.

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I am interested in IPFS. I don’t run a node, but I look forward to seeing the technology grow. I like peer-to-peer networks and hope they make a strong resurgence.

However, IPFS has marketing problems. I am subscribed to /r/ipfs which is inundated daily with posts by people who have clearly gotten the wrong idea about what IPFS is and isn’t, and the IPFS homepage hasn’t exactly stepped up to clarify the misunderstandings.

Jun 14

The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed “the UFO patents,” came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to “engineer reality.” His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.

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“The American people sent us to Washington to get things done. Nothing is more important than ensuring every American has an opportunity to get ahead,” said Chairman Cicilline. “Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

“Big Tech has abused its dominance in the marketplace to crush competitors, censor speech, and control how we see and understand the world,” said Rep. Buck. “Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have prioritized power over innovation and harmed American businesses and consumers in the process. These companies have maintained monopoly power in the online marketplace by using a variety of anticompetitive behaviors to stifle competition. This legislation breaks up Big Tech’s monopoly power to control what Americans see and say online, and fosters an online market that encourages innovation and provides American small businesses with a fair playing field. Doing nothing is not an option, we must act now.”

“A Stronger Online Economy: Opportunity, Innovation, Choice” consists of five bipartisan bills drafted by lawmakers on the Antitrust Subcommittee, which last year completed a 16-month investigation into the state of competition in the digital marketplace and the unregulated power wielded by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

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Jun 13

Germany being a bully? Old habits die hard.

The authorities in Germany are demanding those responsible (the developers) for the application to provide user data to security bodies in the event of a judicial request. In addition, they are urging the instant messaging platform to erase criminal content that does not conform to the legal margins of the country.

Meanwhile, other tech giants such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter choose to abide by the provisions of the German authorities, removing any illegal or harmful content, under the Network Enforcement Act, a rule that previously did not apply to Telegram.

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I still fail to see how deepfakes are more concerning than plain old photoshop. My guess is that making them illegal is just one small part of a big move towards censorship in all aspects of our lives.

Is it fair for a judge to increase a defendant’s prison time on the basis of an algorithmic score that predicts the likelihood that he will commit future crimes? Many states now say yes, even when the algorithms they use for this purpose have a high error rate, a secret design, and a demonstrable racial bias. The former federal judge Katherine Forrest, in her short but incisive When Machines Can Be Judge, Jury, and Executioner, says this is both unfair and irrational.

On Saturday morning between 11 am and 12 pm, as Nigerians woke up to the reality of a Twitter ban, and downloading Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to access Twitter, the Nigerian government, through the office of the Presidency, reached out to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to discuss plans to build an internet firewall, FIJ has learnt.

The government officials present at the meeting include Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President, and Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture.

The internet firewall is a way of having a separate network for the Nigerian Internet that will give the government control over social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This is similar to the internet filtering system China operates, called the Great Firewall.

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Computer chips have advanced to the point that they’re no longer reliable: they’ve become “mercurial,” as Google puts it, and may not perform their calculations in a predictable manner.

Not that they were ever completely reliable. CPU errors have been around as long as CPUs themselves. They arise not only from design oversights but also from environmental conditions and from physical system failures that produce faults.

But these errors have tended to be rare enough that only the most sensitive calculations get subject to extensive verification if systems appear to be operating as expected. Mostly, computer chips are treated as trustworthy.

Lately, however, two of the world’s larger CPU stressors, Google and Facebook, have been detecting CPU misbehavior more frequently, enough that they’re now urging technology companies to work together to better understand how to spot these errors and remediate them.

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Cookie pop-ups getting you down? Complaints that the web is ‘unusable’ in Europe because of frustrating and confusing ‘data choices’ notifications that get in the way of what you’re trying to do online certainly aren’t hard to find.

What is hard to find is the ‘reject all’ button that lets you opt out of non-essential cookies which power unpopular stuff like creepy ads. Yet the law says there should be an opt-out clearly offered. So people who complain that EU ‘regulatory bureaucracy’ is the problem are taking aim at the wrong target.

EU law on cookie consent is clear: Web users should be offered a simple, free choice — to accept or reject.

The problem is that most websites simply aren’t compliant. They choose to make a mockery of the law by offering a skewed choice: Typically a super simple opt-in (to hand them all your data) vs a highly confusing, frustrating, tedious opt-out (and sometimes even no reject option at all).

Make no mistake: This is ignoring the law by design. Sites are choosing to try to wear people down so they can keep grabbing their data by only offering the most cynically asymmetrical ‘choice’ possible.

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The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the non-profit that owns Wikipedia and other volunteer-written websites, is about to reach its 10-year goal of creating a $100 million endowment five years earlier than it planned. Its total funds, which have risen by about $200 million over the past five years, now stand at around $300 million. Its revenue has risen every year. In just the first nine months of its current financial year, it has raked in $142 million in donations according to an internal document—and already obliterated its previous annual record.

This news may surprise donors and users around the world who have seen Wikipedia fundraising banners displayed at various times during the past year—including, for the first time, in India. Presently shown to readers in pandemic-ridden Latin America, these banners have created a widespread impression that the WMF must be struggling to keep Wikipedia up-and-running, with tearful-sounding messages like: “This Thursday Wikipedia really needs you. This is the 10th appeal we’ve shown you. 98% of our readers don’t give; they look the other way … We ask you, humbly, don’t scroll away.”

But keeping Wikipedia online is a task that the WMF could comfortably manage on $10 million a year, according to a casual 2013 estimate by Erik Möller, its VP of engineering and product development at the time. So what does the WMF do with all the money? It has used the funds to hire hundreds of additional staff and put money aside for a rainy day. It has ambitious plans to “become the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge.” And it is prepared to tell Wikipedia readers it really needs their money when it is richer than ever.

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A drone that can select and engage targets on its own attacked soldiers during a civil conflict in Libya.

Why it matters: If confirmed, it would likely represent the first-known case of a machine-learning-based autonomous weapon being used to kill, potentially heralding a dangerous new era in warfare.

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Created on May 9, 2020
By @gurlic