General interests that may or may not fit anywhere else.

“I ‘Told’ You So!”

Update on 2014/06/25: Added a word that makes something more clear (specifically the pilots were not BEING responsible but I wrote “were not responsible”).

I was just checking the BBC live news feed I have in my bookmark bar in Firefox and I noticed something of interest. What is that? How automated vehicle systems (whether controlled by humans or not it is still created by and automation itself has its own flaws) are indeed dangerous. Now why is that interesting to me? Because I have written about this before in more than one way! So let us break this article down a bit:

The crew of the Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco “over-relied on automated systems” the head of the US transport safety agency has said.

How many times have I written about things being dumbed down to the point where people are unable – or refuse – to think and act accordingly to X, Y and Z? I know it has been more than once but apparently it was not enough! Actually, I would rather state: apparently not enough people are thinking at all. That is certainly a concern to any rational being. Or it should be.

Chris Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said such systems were allowing serious errors to occur.

Clearly. As the title suggests: I ‘told’ you so!

The NTSB said the 6 July 2013 crash, which killed three, was caused by pilot mismanagement of the plane’s descent.

Again: relying on “smart” technology is relying on the smartest of the designer and the user (which doesn’t leave much chance, does it?). But actually in this case it is even worse. The reasons: First, they are endangering others lives (and three died – is that enough yet?). Second is the fact that they are operating machinery, not using a stupid (which is what a “smart” phone is) phone. I specifically wrote about emergency vehicles and this and here we are, where exactly the situation arises: there are events that absolutely cannot be accounted for automatically and require that a person is paying attention and using the tool responsibly!

During the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Hart said the Asiana crew did not fully understand the automated systems on the Boeing 777, but the issues they encountered were not unique.

This is also called “dumbing the system down” isn’t it? Yes, because when you are no longer required to think and know how something works, you cannot fix problems!

“In their efforts to compensate for the unreliability of human performance, the designers of automated control systems have unwittingly created opportunities for new error types that can be even more serious than those they were seeking to avoid,” Mr Hart said.

Much like I wrote about related to all of and then some: computer security, computer problems, emergency vehicles and in general automated vehicles. This is another example.

The South Korea-based airline said those flying the plane reasonably believed the automatic throttle would keep the plane flying fast enough to land safely.

Making assumptions at the risk of others lives is irresponsible and frankly reprehensible! I would argue it is potentially – and in this case, is – murderous!

But that feature was shut off after a pilot idled it to correct an unexplained climb earlier in the landing.

Does all of this start to make sense? No? It should. Look what the pilot did? Why? A stupid mistake or an evil gremlin took over him momentarily? Maybe the gremlin IS their stupidity.

The airline argued the automated system should have been designed so that the auto throttle would maintain the proper speed after the pilot put it in “hold mode”.

They should rather be saying sorry and then some. They should also be taking care of the mistake THEY made (at least as much as they can; they already killed – and yes, that is the proper way of wording it – three people)!

Boeing has been warned about this feature by US and European airline regulators.

The blame shouldn’t be placed on Boeing if they didn’t actually neglect and they are doing what it seems everyone wants: automation. Is that such a good idea? As I pointed out many times: no. Let me reword that a bit. Is Honda responsible for a drunk getting behind the wheel and then killing a family of five, four, three, two or even one person (themselves included – realistically that would be the only one who is not innocent!)? No? Then why the hell should Boeing be blamed for a pilot misusing the equipment? The pilot is not being responsible and the reason (and how) the pilot is not being responsible is irrelevant!

“Asiana has a point, but this is not the first time it has happened,” John Cox, an aviation safety consultant, told the Associated Press news agency.

It won’t be the last, either. Mark my words. I wish I was wrong but until people wake up it won’t be fixed (that isn’t even including the planes already in commission).

“Any of these highly automated airplanes have these conditions that require special training and pilot awareness. … This is something that has been known for many years.”

And neglected. Because why? Here I go again: it is so dumbed down, so automatic that the burden shouldn’t be placed on the operators! Well guess what? Life isn’t fair. Maybe you didn’t notice that or you like to ignore the bad parts of life, but the fact remains life isn’t fair and they (the pilots and in general the airliner) are playing the pathetic blame game (which really is saying “I’m too immature and irresponsible and not only that I cannot dare admit that I am not perfect. Because of that it HAS to be someone else who is at fault!”).

Among the recommendations the NTSB made in its report:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration should require Boeing to develop “enhanced” training for automated systems, including editing the training manual to adequately describe the auto-throttle programme.
  • Asiana should change its automated flying policy to include more manual flight both in training and during normal operations
  • Boeing should develop a change to its automatic flight control systems to make sure the plane “energy state” remains at or above minimum level needed to stay aloft during the entire flight.

My rebuttal to the three points:

  • They should actually insist upon “improving” the fully automated system (like scrapping the idea). True, this wasn’t completely automated but it seems that many want that (Google self driving cars, anyone?). Because let’s all be real, are they of use here? No, they are not. They’re killing – scrap that, murdering! – people. And that is how it always will be! There is never enough training. There is always the need to stay in the loop. The same applies to medicine, science, security (computer, network and otherwise), and pretty much everything in life!
  • Great idea. A bit late of them though, isn’t it? In fact, a bit late of all airliners that rely on such a stupid design!
  • Well they could always improve but the same thing can be said for cars, computers, medicinal science, other science, and here we go again: everything in this world! But bottom line is this: it is not at all Boeing’s fault. They’re doing what everyone seems to want.

And people STILL want flying cars? Really? How can anyone be THAT stupid? While I don’t find it hard to believe such people exist, I still find it shocking. To close this, I’ll make a few final remarks:

This might be the wrong time, according to some, since it is just reported. But it is not! If it is not the right time now, then when? This same thing happens with everything of this nature! Humans always wait until a disaster (natural or man made) happens until doing something. And then they pretend (lying about it in the process) to be better but what happens next? They do the same thing all over again. And guess what also happens at that time? The same damned discussions (that I dissected, above) occurs! Here’s a computer security example: I’ve lost count with the number of times NASA has suggested they would be improving policies with their network and I have also lost count of times they then went on to LATER be compromised AGAIN with the SAME or EQUALLY stupid CAUSE! Why is this? Irresponsibility and complete and utter stupidity. Aside from the fact that the only thing we learn thing from history is that – and yes, pun is most definitely intended - we do not learn a bloody thing from history! And that is because of stupidity and irresponsibility.

Make no mistake, people:

  1. This will continue happening until humans wake up (which I fear that since even in 2014 ‘they’ have not woken up, they never will!).
  2. I told you so, I was right then and I am still right!
  3. Not only did I tell you so about computer security (in the context of automation) I also told you about real life incidents, including emergencies. And I was right then and I am still right!

Hurts? Well some times that’s the best way. Build some pain threshold as you’ll certainly need it. If only it was everyone’s head at risk, because they’re so thick that they’d survive! Instead we all are at risk because of others (including ourselves, our families, everyone’s families, et al.). Even those like me who suggest this time and again are at risk (because they are either forced in to using the automation or they are surrounded by drones – any pun is much intended here, as well – who willingly use their “smart” everything… smart everything except their brain, that is!

In Memory of C.S. Lewis: 50 Years Later

Some time earlier this year or perhaps last year, I found out that C.S. Lewis died on the same day that JFK was assassinated. As would be expected, this meant hardly anything was said of Lewis and I find this sad to say the least. Since this is not at all a political site (and I assure you it never ever will be turned into such a cesspool!) or a news site, and since I have written before about fantasy – albeit briefly – I think it is about time C.S. Lewis is remembered. To be fair, the BBC did mention this fact the other day, but of course the real interest to most is that it is 50 years since JFK was assassinated and not 50 years since C.S. Lewis died. Well, for me it is 50 years since Lewis died, too.

I remember when I was in grade school the class had to read The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and how much I enjoyed it. I was probably 5 and I had to read the entire series (my choice – the class only had to read the first) and I did it and I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them. It was my first exposure to fantasy and I’ve never looked back. Sure, my favourite author is Jules Verne who wrote more of adventures and science fiction (a combination of) but the truth is fantasy is very much a part of my life. Perhaps because of a specific multiuser dungeon (MUD) that I am a developer and designer for (which by itself is a wonderful thing: use my mind with programming and at the same time use my imagination), it is one of the most important things to me. Many would find MUDs destroyed their life because of addiction (and I admit I was at a time addicted to this MUD but my pleasure from playing was always overpowered by the prospect of programming for it, to which is another ‘addiction’ of mine but it is healthy as it brings me a lot of experience at the same time as joy) but it is the exact opposite for me. It was the first real project I was part of (a significant project, anyway) and it was a team project at that. But who cares about that? I’m going off topic. The point is fantasy is something that matters to me a great deal and C.S. Lewis is the author of the very first book I read in that genre.

There isn’t much to be said at this time, I admit, and part of that is I delayed this until the end of the day (I forgot to write it earlier) and I want to finish up. But one thing I find most interesting is that he was friends with Tolkien and while I’m not into religion, it is interesting to note that Tolkien was religious and is the very reason, I believe, that Lewis opened up to religion. Yet, even though I’m not into [that], I can find a sense of enjoyment from what he wrote. True, Narnia was in the fantasy genre and not a work of theology but it really shows how variety and/or differences is (are) not always a bad thing. Indeed, we would be extinct, I am sure of it, if we were all the same (not to mention it would be a boring life, at least it would to me). But the more we are open to others, the more we can learn and the more we can better ourselves. This very concept is how and why technology evolves as does anything else that evolves does. This very concept is part of evolving, period. Naturally we each go our own path and some will agree and some will disagree. That doesn’t matter to me either because that is exactly why we’re still here. After all, if everyone agreed with everything I said, this world might not be boring but that’s because I’m something of a lunatic – not because everyone agreed with me (I would find it pretty awkward if everyone did agree with me and I’m not always right and I’m willing to accept and admit that). Everyone has their own belief structure and their own goals, and I approve of that just as I approve of Lewis’ having his own beliefs (or what beliefs he had).

Thanks, C.S. Lewis, for your wonderful series involving the wonderful fantasy world called ‘Narnia’. It provided me much enjoyment and still does when I think of it.

Rest In Peace Lou Reed

This will be fairly quick (or so I hope) because things have not been that great (“what is sleep ?” is the story) but I must write at least something before I do in fact try to sleep.

I just saw that Lou Reed has passed away. Now, those who know me well enough will know why I feel this is important: my favourite band collaborated with Lou Reed in 2011. I admit fully that I did not buy it (among the rare things of the band’s work I did not buy although this news may change that) because I did not like Lou’s voice. It was not that it was different that I did not like about the recording. No, that is something I have a huge amount of respect for: Metallica happens to do whatever it is they want and that includes shocking their fans. With shock comes (at times) disappointment. But at the end of the day the reality is they do what they want for themselves (and also for their fans, honestly – though some would disagree it is irrefutable) and that they are willing to risk upsetting someone for themselves shows not weakness but strength. Yes, strength, courage and let us all be realistic: we might not like change but without change the human species would be EXTINCT. So, good on Metallica for change. I don’t even have that much courage – I won’t deny that. Would I like to change that? Yes and no, which I think is how a lot of people view courage (or lack thereof and wanting to change/improve it). Regardless, them being comfortable doing this type of thing brings out their true colours and it is a beautiful rainbow of colours at that. They made mistakes. They are only human. Lars Ulrich pissed off a lot of people with Napster. But you know something? He also realised that perhaps his approach was not the best, and when a store in France (by mistake) released Death Magnetic a day early, not only did the band welcome it, Lars himself welcomed it and noted that things have changed.  They have.  Anyone who does not believe that is ignoring reality and also (in the case of them accepting Lars making a mistake) being unable to accept that no one is perfect but what matters is not perfection but instead always improving yourself and always being the best you can be. He does that and he does it quite well, regardless of how it comes across to some.  Don’t like him? That’s fine. No one likes everyone or everything. For instance: I did not think Lou Reed’s collaboration with Metallica was great at all. I didn’t dislike Lou Reed but I did dislike the way the recording sounded to my ears (his voice sort of drowned out the rest, for me). Still, I know a lot of fellow Clubbers respected his work and I know many more not part of the Metallica Camp respected him, too.

As for Metallica doing things for their fans and it being irrefutable, I have the following words to write: 30 Year Anniversary Celebration. Those who were fortunate enough to be there (and I was only there for one of the four nights) would fully agree, for sure. They truly do care about their fans and their fans care about them (I met people from Mexico, Denmark and Australia, to name three different locations in the world, that fans came from, while I was in San Francisco).

Lou Reed: The legend you left with you will never be forgotten and while I maybe did not like your voice (at least on Lulu) I still respect you, your personality, and you, period (and I always will). Rest in Peace, Lou, and thanks for allowing me to learn of you and what you are about (by collaborating with my favourite band).

“Smart” Technology Is Still Dumb

I can imagine it clearly: a group of kids forced to read why their “smart” tablet, phone or latest gadget is not actually all that smart. There would likely be outrage and flat out denial. Of course, neither of those reactions would change the fact that I am, firstly, correct, and secondly, I do not really care what kids (of today) think any more than I did when I was a kid.

The truth of the matter is that too much reliance on technology (reliance in the sense of letting it take over for human interaction) is a foolish thing to do. Yet I see and hear it far too often than I would like to. An interesting quote (that has been apparently widely mis-attributed to Albert Einstein) comes to mind:

Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.

I won’t even get into the definition of accurate, stupid or brilliant as the definitions really do not matter so much per se. Some might argue that the quote is not actually helpful to my point but actually, it is a perfect quote. The key is the last part of the quote. Think about “together they are powerful beyond imagination” for a minute. Indeed, the problem is not that technology is advanced but rather it is advanced enough that people think it knows best. That is a dangerous fallacious trap to fall in to. It really is quite simple: who created the technology? Yes, that is correct; humans! So it makes perfect sense that they are to be used together and not in place of (besides the issue with trust being given far too easily, would you really rather have computers employed instead of humans? I guess their pay raises would be hardware upgrades!)

When something is dumbed down so much that any thing can use it it there is a problem. The problem is that one need not pay attention. Some might wonder what I am getting at. Well here is what I am getting at: the extremes of allowing an automobile to do all the work – accelerating, braking, turning, changing lanes, detecting traffic signals and stop signs. While that might be better if the person is under the influence (which they should not be any way!) I really have to wonder where else it might be useful. What is even more scary is going even further than we already have (vehicles that fly their occupants somewhere without any human involvement, anyone? I really hope that one is never allowed although scary enough is the cars that supposedly can lift off too). This is not about making things do more than what they were made to do. No, this is about allowing a device to be given so much trust that it endangers others. While some of this may be hypothetical – considering it is not common yet, I would say it is hypothetical in a sense – the very idea is incredibly scary. Let me elaborate:

As it is right now we have traffic signals (lights), traffic signs and traffic rules to help maintain the traffic flow and sanity (in addition to some times having traffic being controlled by a police officer). But if you think about it further there is one other thing that changes those rules, isn’t there? When you hear (or see; after all, a deaf person is allowed to drive but a blind person is not) a siren or emergency lights on a vehicle with said siren, you are obligated to – for the safety of yourself, the safety of the driver and those having the emergency – find where it is and get out of its way. And for good reason. If you were in the ambulance you would want the same thing done for you. Further, if a fire department truck is headed towards your house that is on fire, would you want some selfish person blocking or otherwise delaying the emergency crew? Of course you wouldn’t!

So here’s where it gets interesting: let’s say there is a major change in society and vehicles do all the driving (do I need to remind anyone that even when horses pulled wagons, there were accidents and indeed deaths?). First, if there’s the idea (which I have read exactly this from those who are wanting this type of change) that there are no traffic signals needed, I can predict two very dangerous assumptions:

  1. Those who own old vehicles (hot rods anyone?) and in particular it is a hobby for the owner (they take it to car shows for example) there is not a chance that there would not be outrage if they were told they can no longer drive it or have it on the road.
  2. Worse than that: how is the state/county/city going to be absolutely 100% positive there are no cars that in fact are controlled by humans (besides the fact humans created the car, that is)? If any one thinks insurance, license and registration is sufficient then I have some shocking news for you: some people drive without these things. Is it illegal? Yes. But that is irrelevant when they still are driving in this hypothetical condition. In fact, it is more scary – if it happens now, how do you expect it to not happen when these new conditions are common?

Even if the county could be 100% sure of no drivers I have to ask what about emergency vehicles. As someone who has been in emergencies I can’t even begin to fathom how anyone would trust human (therefore imperfect) programmed (as a programmer for many years but who is also realistic I can say without a doubt that there is no such thing as real software that is 100% bug free 100% of the time and that is a fact that only a complete idiot would deny!) vehicles to detect the sirens or see emergency lights, and, at the same time react in a safe way along with all the other vehicles that are doing the same thing. And only a very ignorant person – or a damned (perhaps literally) fool – would think it is a good idea to let an emergency vehicle drive itself as it deems appropriate.

Bottom line is this: technology – whether it is a phone or a large machine – is only as smart as the least smart of the operator and the creator of the technology in question (regardless of whether the item in question is “smart”). We’re all human, however, and even those that are brilliant in general can still be dumb about some things and there is this other word “mistake” that comes to mind as incredibly significant.

Rest in Peace Jeff Hanneman

This is obviously not a technical piece but it is something that is important for me so I’m writing it before I forget about it. I regret that I missed several other significant deaths including indeed Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath (and others) and more recently Jon Lord of Deep Purple. Today is yet another sad day for metal music, an important part of my life.

I am even more upset now that health prevented me from seeing Slayer when I actually had tickets (in 2011) because Jeff is now gone. He was an amazing guitarist and his music will be well missed. The fact he died from liver failure and that I have a very close friend with liver disease as well as having lost family to liver disease, this really hits me hard. I typically do not think of the past and although that may be sad at times (hard to think of good memories in the past without thinking of the past) I would say it generally helps me cope with losses.

There really is not much else to say as this is truly a horrible loss to the metal heads of the world.

R.I.P. Jeff and thanks for your time and dedication with Slayer.