Links June 2020

Bruce Schneier wrote an informative post about Zoom security problems [1]. He recommends Jitsi which has a Debian package of their software and it’s free software.

Axel Beckert wrote an interesting post about keyboards with small numbers of keys, as few as 28 [2]. It’s not something I’d ever want to use, but interesting to read from a computer science and design perspective.

The Guardian has a disturbing article explaining why we might never get a good Covid19 vaccine [3]. If that happens it will change our society for years if not decades to come.

Matt Palmer wrote an informative blog post about private key redaction [4]. I learned a lot from that. Probably the simplest summary is that you should never publish sensitive data unless you are certain that all that you are publishing is suitable, if you don’t understand it then you don’t know if it’s suitable to be published!

This article by Umair Haque on has some interesting points about how Freedom is interpreted in the US [5].

This article by Umair Haque on has some good points about how messed up the US is economically [6]. I think that his analysis is seriously let down by omitting the savings that could be made by amending the US healthcare system without serious changes (EG by controlling drug prices) and by reducing the scale of the US military (there will never be another war like WW2 because any large scale war will be nuclear). If the US government could significantly cut spending in a couple of major areas they could then put the money towards fixing some of the structural problems and bootstrapping a first-world economic system.

The American Conservatrive has an insightful article “Seven Reasons Police Brutality is Systemic Not Anecdotal [7].

Scientific American has an informative article about how genetic engineering could be used to make a Covid-19 vaccine [8].

Rike wrote an insightful post about How Language Changes Our Concepts [9]. They cover the differences between the French, German, and English languages based on gender and on how the language limits thoughts. Then conclude with the need to remove terms like master/slave and blacklist/whitelist from our software, with a focus on Debian but it’s applicable to all software.

Gunnar Wolf also wrote an insightful post On Masters and Slaves, Whitelists and Blacklists [10], they started with why some people might not understand the importance of the issue and then explained some ways of addressing it. The list of suggested terms includes Primary-secondary, Leader-follower, and some other terms which have slightly different meanings and allow more precision in describing the computer science concepts used. We can be more precise when describing computer science while also not using terms that marginalise some groups of people, it’s a win-win!

Both Rike and Gunnar were responding to a LWN article about the plans to move away from Master/Slave and Blacklist/Whitelist in the Linux kernel [11]. One of the noteworthy points in the LWN article is that there are about 70,000 instances of words that need to be changed in the Linux kernel so this isn’t going to happen immediately. But it will happen eventually which is a good thing.

3 comments to Links June 2020

  • With regards to “by reducing the scale of the US military (there will never be another war like WW2 because any large scale war will be nuclear)”: the purpose of the US military is to project force (i.e. enforce the US government’s political will) anywhere in the world, without using nuclear weapons.

    The point of mutually-assured destruction is to prevent the actual use of nuclear weapons. Knowing that the US (or any member of the officially acknowledged nuclear-armed nations group) will not use the nukes casually means that they have no deterrent or punitive effect on any issue that doesn’t warrant their use.

    So: the US military requires a position of overwhelming non-nuclear superiority, with a small contingent (relatively) of nuclear specialists.

    The ridiculous amount of money going into the armed forces actually serves as a welfare/employment system for 1.5 million people, plus about 1.7 million dependents, plus another 800K reserves and million+ dependents. The military enjoys (if that’s the right word) subsidized housing, most expenses paid while on active service, and the largest health care system in the US. (Whether these things are done well or efficiently is arguable.) Less directly, the military contractor/supplier corporations employ many more civilians.

    It may be a terrible, inefficient, and poor quality system with a problematic purpose, but it does contribute to the economy.

  • “Axel Beckert wrote an interesting post about keyboards with small numbers of keys, as few as 28”


    six keys.

  • dsr: The Davey Crocket was a tactical nuclear weapon that was suitable for more casual use. The US military is doing a good job of funnelling money to defence contractors but not much good at achieving goals that benefit typical US citizens.

    For a welfare system, they could have a basic income to give the same economic benefits without anyone getting hurt.

    John: A Morse key has only one button… ;) Seriously though, thanks for the link, it’s interesting.