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2019-03-17 18:35 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 298 references
[Comments enabled]  

Boeing is commonly considered emblematic of America's "superiority" and "capability."

Boeing is, you see, an "aerospace" company.  Full of smart people who design and build good products.

Not just a firm that has jumped on the scam-wagon of "software as a service" to juice both their profits and stock price, while screwing everyone else in the ass.

No, you're not supposed to get screwed up the ass at 300kts by the seat you're sitting in that has their corporate name on it.... right?

Let me note up front -- I'm not a pilot.  I am, however, a software and hardware guy with a few decades of experience, including writing quite a lot of code that runs physical "things", some of them being quite large, complex, expensive and, if something goes wrong, potentially dangerous.  Flight isn't all that complex at its core; it's simply a dance comprised of lift, gravity, thrust and drag.  What makes it complex is the scale and physical limits we wish to approach or exceed (e.g. you want to go how fast, in air how thin, with a distance traveled of how far and with how many people on board along with you as well as with a bunch of other aircraft in the air at the same time?)

The sequence of circumstances that has left the 737MAX to arguably have the worst hull safety rating in the history of commercial jet aviation appears, from what I can figure out reading public sources, to have basically gone something like this:

  • The 737, a venerable design with literal millions of flight hours, a nice, predictable handling paradigm and an excellent safety record (the basic design of the hull is 50 years old!) was running into competition resulting from its older-series engines that bypassed less air (and thus are less efficient in their consumption of fuel.)  Boeing sought to correct this competitive disadvantage to keep selling new airplanes.

  • The means to correct the efficiency problem is to use newer, higher-bypass engines which, in order to obtain their materially lower fuel consumption, are physically larger in diameter.

  • The aircraft's main landing gear has to fit in the space available.  To make the larger engines fit the landing gear has to be made longer (and thus larger, bigger and stronger) or the engines will hit the ground when taking off and landing.

  • The longer landing gear for where the original design specified the engines to go (but with the larger engines) would not fit in the place where it had to go when it was retracted.

  • Boeing, instead of redesigning the hull including wings, tail and similar from the ground up for larger engines, which would have (1) taken quite a lot of time and (2) been very expensive, because (among other things) it would require a full, new-from-zero certification, decided to move the engines forward in their mounting point which allowed them to be moved upward as well, and thus the landing gear didn't have to be as long, heavy and large -- and will fit.

  • However, moving the engines upward and forward caused the handling of the aircraft to no longer be nice and predictable.  As the angle of attack (that is, the angle of the aircraft relative to the "wind" flowing over it) increased the larger, more-forward and higher mounted engines caused more lift to appear than expected.

  • To compensate for that Boeing programmed a computer to look at the angle of attack of the aircraft and have the computer, without notice to the pilots and transparently add negative trim as the angle-of-attack increased.

  • In other words instead of fixing the hardware, which would have been very expensive since it would have required basically a whole new airplane be designed from scratch it appears Boeing decided to put a band-aid on the issue in software and by doing so act like there was no problem at all when it fact it was simply covered up and made invisible to the person flying the plane by programming a computer to transparently hide it.

  • Because Boeing had gone to a "everything we can possibly stick on the list is an option at extra cost and we will lease that to you on an hours-run basis, you don't buy it", exactly as has been done with engines and other parts including avionics in said aircraft, said shift being largely responsible for the rocket shot higher in the firm's stock price over the last several years, the standard configuration only included one angle-of-attack sensor.  A second one, and a warning in the cockpit that the two don't agree is an extra cost option and was not required for certification! (Update: There is some question as to whether there is one or two, but it appears if there are two physically present the "standard" configuration only USES one at any given time.  Whether literally or effectively it appears the "standard" configuration has one.)

  • Most of the certification compliance testing and documentation is not done by the FAA any more.  It's done by the company itself which "self-certifies" that everything is all wonderful, great, and has sufficient redundancy and protections to be safe to operate in the base, certified configuration.  In short there is no requirement that a third, non-conflicted and competent party look at everything in the design and sign off on it -- and thus nobody did, and the plane was granted certification without requiring active redundancy in those sensors.

  • Said extra cost option and display was not on either the Lion Air or Ethiopian jets that crashed.  It is on the 737MAX jets being flown by US carriers, none of which have crashed.

  • It has been reported that the jackscrew, which as the name implies is a long screw that sets the trim angle on the elevator, has been recovered from the Ethiopian crash, is intact and was in the full down position.  No pilot in his right mind would intentionally command such a setting, especially close to the ground.  It is therefore fair to presume until demonstrated otherwise that the computer put the jackscrew in that position and not the pilot.

  • Given where the jackscrew was found, and that there is no reasonable explanation for the pilot having commanded it to be there, why is the computer allowed to put that sort of an extreme negative trim offset on the aircraft in the first place?  Is that sort of negative offset capability reasonable under the design criteria for the software "hack-around-the-aerodynamics" issue?  Has nobody at Boeing heard of a thing called a "limit switch"?

  • It has been reported from public information that both Lion Air and the Ethiopian jet had wild fluctuations in their rate of climb or descent and at the time they disappeared from tracking both were indicating significant rates of climb.  For obvious reasons you do not hit the ground if you have a positive rate of altitude change unless you hit a cumulogranite cloud (e.g. side of a mountain or similar), which is not what happened in either case.

  • The data source for that public information on rate of climb or descent did not come from radar; while I don't have a definitive statement on the data source public information makes clear it almost-certainly came from a transponder found on most commercial airliners known as ADS-B.  Said transponder is on the airplane itself.  It's obvious that the data in question was either crap, materially delayed or it was indicating insanely wild fluctuations in the aircraft's vertical rate of speed (which no pilot would cause intentionally) since you don't hit the ground while gaining altitude and if the transponder was sending crap data that ground observers were able to receive the obvious implication is that the rest of the aircraft's instruments and computers were also getting crap data of some kind and were acting on it, leading to the crazy vertical speed profile.

  • The Lion Air plane that crashed several months ago is reported to have had in its log complaints of misbehavior consistent with this problem in the days before it crashed.  I have not seen reports that the Ethiopian aircraft had similar complaints logged.  Was this because it hadn't happened previously to that specific aircraft or did the previous crews have the problem but not log it?

  • The copilot on the Ethiopian aircraft was reported to have had a grand total of 200 hours in the air.  I remind you that to get a private pilots license in the US to fly a little Cessna, by yourself, in good weather and without anyone on board compensating you in any way you must log at least 40 hours.  Few people are good enough to pass, by the way, with that 40 hours in the air; most students require more.  To get a bare commercial certificate (e.g. you can take someone in your aircraft who pays you something) you must have logged 250 hours in the US, with at least 100 of them as pilot-in-command and 50 of them cross-country.  The "first officer" on that flight didn't even meet the requirements in the US to take a person in a Cessna 172 single-engine piston airplane for a 15 minute sightseeing flight!

  • The odds of the one pilot who actually was a commercial pilot under US rules in the cockpit of the Ethiopian flight having trained on the potential for this single-data-source failure of the aircraft and what would happen if it occurred (thus knowing how to recognize and take care of it) via simulator time or other meaningful preparation is likely zero.  The odds of the second putative flight officer having done so are zero; he wasn't even qualified to fly a single-engine piston aircraft for money under US rules.

Boeing claims they'll have a "software patch" out later this month to "fix" the problem, essentially admitting that bad sensor data in combination with automated authority to change control inputs is the likely cause of both crashes.

This leads me to ask the obvious question:  How can a "software fix" resolve the issue?

If there is only one sensor on the aircraft then there is only one sensor; software cannot "invent" hardware that does not exist.  While it is likely possible (and probably not even that hard) to have (for example) the onboard GPS receiver check its rate-of-climb (e.g. rate at which the altitude recorded by the GPS is changing) data with the AOA indication and alert if the two are wildly out of agreement you are just using a better bandaid to hide what is, at its core, a physical design problem.

I've done plenty of embedded coding work -- software that runs a physical thing.  A few of the physical things I've written software to run were potentially quite dangerous to property if things went wrong with them and a couple had the potential to kill people.  Putting software hackery on top of a physical issue and calling it "no big deal" is a bad idea; it is far, far better from an engineering and safety perspective to figure out why the physical issue exists and solve it there instead.  The problem is that when you find an issue like this after making a large investment before the discovery is made the temptation is very strong to try to find a way to mask, hide or otherwise "evade" the effects instead of going back and fixing it.

Never mind the apparent lack of physical limits in the system to prevent that sort of extreme trim application by the computer in the first place.  It's not enough to trust a position encoder even if you have redundancy (e.g. two of them) if a failure can break things or kill people.

It appears, if indications are correct, that's what's happened in this instance, and the "we lease 'em and here's a bunch of extra cost options you can have for just the additional low per-hour price of $X", along with masking a handling issue instead of dealing with it in the base design, coupled with no disinterested third-party experts signing off on all of the critical elements of said design shaved the margins of safety far enough that two planes went into the dirt while full of people.

The real ugly question, however, is this: How many more of these sorts of bandaid-style patches are in current commercial aircraft designs, shortly followed by this question, which Reuters is sniffing around but won't come out and say it:


I have no idea -- but I have a nasty suspicion that I wouldn't like the answer to those questions if I did know.

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2019-03-13 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 138 references
[Comments enabled]  

Well, there's a decent amount of history here and it's worth the read:

In recent years, the great hope of an open and free internet has given way to a dystopia where a few big companies control what we see, how we communicate, and what we can say online.

Today, Berners-Lee thinks the internet is broken. In a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair, he recalled its early days. “The spirit there was very decentralized,” Berners-Lee said. “The individual was incredibly empowered. It was all based on there being no central authority that you had to go to to ask permission. That feeling of individual control, that empowerment, is something we’ve lost.”

Oh really?

Berners-Lee may have Alzheimer's.

Or maybe he was one of the ones in control.

The original Internet protocol designs (TCP and UDP) were indeed DARPA research projects, intended to survive nuclear war.  It's one of the reasons the protocol works so well, although much has changed since then.  But it's rather amusing to hear Berners-Lee talk nostalgic about "no central authority" when MCSNet, and every other commercial network, had to petition for access to the NSFNet for years -- without which you couldn't talk to any university or most government agencies.

Yes, you had to formally ask, and you needed a reason to have the access as well.

There were many attempts to torpedo actual private, for-profit, competitive Internet connectivity.  These included flat-out monopolist practices, blackballing organizations, active and passive interference and more.  There were severe issues between the NAPs and the CIX; the latter of which was a purely-commercial Internet traffic exchange. I literally could spend hours on the outrages that we fought through during those years, many sponsored, countenanced or outright committed by the US Government and its "contractors."

I was there and building networks -- including my own, MCSNet -- during this time.

So what do we have today?

Well, a more-complex set of people with even bigger hammers who do even more-evil things than they did then.

Yeah, we need reform.  We could start with prison terms for those who collude to "de-platform", especially when it extends to common-carrier type services such as DNS, dedicated services and unbranded (that is, "bare server and/or OS") hosting.

I've written about this before in these pages, several times.

But heh, keep up with your fantasy if it makes you happy -- and if it makes the old guys pine for something that never, in reality, existed.

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2019-03-12 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 129 references
[Comments enabled]  

We won't get anything like this, of course -- unless the people of this nation both recognize the problem and demand heads on plates to stop it, likely with the threat to put real heads on plates, literally, if it's not passed.

Why?  Because virtually all of the so-called "tech marvels" have business models that rely on screwing you in some form or fashion, alleging you "consented" -- when in truth there's no possible way you would consent if fully informed.

Let's just take one example: "23andMe."  The firm just announced that it will start including information on your genetic predisposition to diabetes in the reports it sends to you as a user.  That sounds good, right?

No, it's ruinously bad, because that information is not limited to you.  GlaxoSmithKline just invested $300 million in the company and thus now is an "owner" and "insider" -- part of the firm.

This of course means Glaxo now has access to your DNA profile.

Every one of these "tech mavens" has a "click through" consent.  The problem is that there is no way for you to give informed consent because all of these "consents" contain a "related business" or "future product and service" clause, whether they call it that or not.  That is, if the firm enters into a new line of business they can use what they have.  Likewise, if someone buys the company the acquiring firm can use what it has.

There are enough of these "interlocking deals" in industry that it's flatly impossible for you to give fair and informed consent to the future relationships that a company might have and the uses to which they may put the data they have on you with some future, as-yet unnamed company.  Glaxo, being a pharmaceutical company, has a great interest in knowing who might have some genetically-linked condition their drugs could work on.  That's not necessarily bad or good but did you give consent when you signed up for a pharmaceutical company to have access to your genetic profile?

What happens when that "consent" manages to get extended to an insurance company?

Here's another example -- one that's happening to you right now. You take your car to the dealer to have it worked on.  They log it into their computer, of course, which tracks all the things you've had done there and when, along with the odometer reading.  That helps them know whether you're in warranty or not, what might be needed in terms of service, etc.

Car dealers and repair shops are now, as a matter of routine, "sharing" (for money, I'm sure) that data with a host of other entities including vehicle tracking databases which your insurance company also subscribes to.

Did you give informed consent to the dealer to give statistics from any module in your vehicle it chooses to access to any number of outside parties at the whim of the dealer?  The obvious one is the odometer reading, which your insurance company can and does use, if it gets access to it, should you claim to be a "Sunday driver" but really are not.  You might not object to that, specifically -- after all, claiming to drive 5,000 miles a year when you really drive 30,000 is fraud.  But who says that data is limited to the odometer reading?  How do you know that the acceleration and braking profile of the vehicle's operation, along with time spent in various speed brackets, isn't in there too?  With today's "connected cars" and "assistance" systems, many of which include a GPS receiver in the vehicle for navigation how do you know its exact location at the time said speeds were recorded isn't in there as well?  What prevents the dealer from making a buck a service visit from you by grabbing every single bit of data it can from the onboard interfaces and uploading it, uniquely linked to the car's VIN?

Nothing whatsover, and yet there is no consent that is requested nor can reasonable, fully-informed consent be given since there's no possible way for you to know the scope of said current and potential future use of that data.  Carfax is one such organization -- but hardly the only one.  While allegedly you can "opt out" of Carfax this assumes you know all of the firms that are doing this sort of thing -- which of course you do not as you were never informed about it in the first place.

Never mind when Company "A" buys or invests in Company "B".  If both are public firms you might at least find out about it.  But if one (or even worse, both) are not there's no notice and consent requirement for you, as a customer, to allow the combined entity or the acquirer to have data the other firm obtained.  Indeed the entire point of buying such a firm is usually to get ahold of whatever it has amassed; for many of these firms that data on you is the only thing of value they have on their books!  While you might have agreed with whatever business principles and operations the original firm had when you signed up or consented to it obtaining the data in the first place what prevents some company with hostile intent -- as you see it -- from swooping in and vacuuming up whatever the other company has?  Nothing!

The law that needs to be passed is quite simple:

Except where mandated by publicly-disclosed law at the point of data collection to collect, possess and use personally-identifiable information including any tied to any unique identifier, such as a "device identifier", phone number, VIN, serial number that can be traced to a purchaser or otherwise a merchant, organization or other entity must, prior to collecting, possessing and using said information obtain personal consent and be able to document having obtained same, having given fair and complete notice complying with all of the following:

1. A complete, full and accurate description of the information to be collected, possessed and used including specifics on what will data will be collected, when it will be collected and how it will be collected.

2. A complete, full and accurate disclosure as regards the amount of time such information will be retained.

3. A complete, full and accurate description of the purposes to which the information collection will be put, whether it be targeted advertising, notifications of upcoming items or services of interest to the customer or any other purpose.

4. A complete, full and accurate description of all entities with which said information will be transmitted to or shared and the circumstances under which said transmission or sharing will take place.

5. A complete, full and accurate disclosure of any use of said data to determine pricing, availability or other "scoring" measures must be made at the point said decisions are taken, including the price or availability the firm would offer absent any collected data bearing on any model used for such determinations.  Said duty to disclose shall be prospective and not require a specific request by the consumer so-impacted.

6. Whether said collection of data is optional or mandatory in order to purchase, transact or interact with the product or service being offered and if it is optional by default the collection of same must be disabled (that is, "opt-in" .vs. "opt-out".)

7. No person who is not competent to contract under state and federal laws, including but not limited to un-emancipated minors under the age of 18, may give consent to such collection.  Any such consent must be given by a parent or adult guardian, the age of majority shall be collected, and any such consent provided by a parent or adult guardian shall expire with all such data being permanently deleted on said minor's 18th birthday.

8. All of the above seven provisions shall apply to any private entity that obtains said information whether by direct collection, business combination or other transfer and irrespective of whether the source organization is within or beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

It shall be both a civil offense and criminal felony, with liability attaching to both the corporation and all persons within it that have actual or constructive knowledge of violations, including but not limited to the Board of Directors, the CEO and COO, for any firm or entity to:

1. Violate any of the above eight provisions.

2. Allow any investor or acquiring firm to have access to any personally identifiable information without first obtaining consent from each person so impacted prior to any such access taking place in the event of any private placement, business combination, investment or joint venture.

3. Fail to, upon failing to obtain said consent, prevent said acquiring, investing or other partner, customer or interested party from accessing said data.

4. Attempt to use any sort of "blanket" consent to bypass the continuing obligation to obtain consent from customers prior to any new relationship being consummated, including but not limited to phrases such as "business partners" or "future lines of business."

Upon violation the penalties shall be as follows:

1. For each person impacted by a violation of #1 - #4 above by any employee or firm a civil penalty of $1,000 per person so impacted, with each such person constituting a separate and distinct offense, payable to the US Treasury.  Each firm or entity so violating these provisions shall be separately liable for said penalties.

2. For each person impacted by a violation of #1 - #4 above by any employee or firm a civil penalty of $3,000 per person so impacted shall be due to the person so impacted as minimum liquidated damages, with each firm or entity violating these provisions separately liable for said penalties.

3. Any person exposed to adverse pricing, selection, offering or exclusion of goods or services as a result of such a violation shall be entitled to recovery of three times the amount of said impact in addition to the penalty specified in #2, along with all reasonable attorneys fees and costs associated with prosecuting and collecting same, whether said suit is filed individually or collectively.  No class or other collective action shall be permitted to reduce the penalties due and actually paid to individual persons under clause #2.

4. All corporate or other business personnel with either constructive or actual knowledge of a violation, always including but not exclusively the CEO, COO and all members of the Board of Directors of said corporation or organization, shall be punished by not less than five and not more than twenty years in federal prison for each violation, which may not be reduced below five years of actual time served, plus a lifetime ban on board membership in any public company plus forfeiture of an amount of personal wealth, not dischargeable in bankruptcy, equal to the entirety of damage, increased price or decreased availability that impacts all persons combined. All such financial penalties shall be deemed to have occurred as a result of intentional malicious conduct and are not subject to any state or federal limitations or protections against same, including but not limited to those applicable to retirement funds and primary residences, nor may they be paid by any third party including insurers, corporations or other sureties.

That would pretty much do it -- it would instantly end all of this crap.  You'd have to give fair notice, you would have to get a new consent whenever you wanted to do something like 23andMe did, your car dealer couldn't sell your service history to Carfax or anyone else without obtaining consent prior to doing so and neither could Google, Apple, Amazon or other firms filch location data and use it without telling you how, where and why.  Those who used such data to produce pricing or availability would have to tell you at the point of purchase how badly it was used to screw you -- to the penny.  All of this crap would end overnight.

It make all of the hidden extraction, extortion and similar schemes that are used by "big data" purveyors and warehousing outfits, including Google, Apple, Amazon, Carfax, Microsoft and others instantly valueless.  With a requirement to fairly disclose to you before a transaction takes place exactly what information was used to produce the pricing and availability presented, where it came from and the change it produced utterly all of the game-playing would instantaneously be rendered unprofitable and cease as any firm attempting that crap would be immediately destroyed.  Any sort of subterfuge would be met with ruinous fines that would actually go to the people harmed and the executives involved would all go to prison.

It won't happen because Americans are too pussified to demand that it does.

The simple fact is that you'd rather get financially gang-raped within an inch of your life on a literal daily basis.

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2019-03-11 15:12 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 64 references
[Comments enabled]  

Two problems have been identified and fixed in the HomeDaemon-MCP code that is in the freeware release at

The problems impact both the ARM32 (Pi2) and ARM64 (Pi3) versions.

The first issue, which is rated severe, relates specifically to events with time offsets (e.g. "[v Some_Variable]@00:20 = 0") which by way of example expresses a test for a variable that has been of value "0" for 20 minutes or more. A coding error in the statement and internal state classifier can, under certain conditions, cause any test with a time offset to evaluate incorrectly.  This can lead the system to not execute an event that should be run, or run one that should not.

The second issue, which is rated moderate, relates to the "zmodelock" command for thermostats.  This command can fail to actually prohibit mode changes and thus make ineffective manual user mitigation of failed HVAC units (e.g. setting the thermostat to a "locked off") state.  Since a user can accomplish the same intended goal by setting the setpoint well above or below the ambient temperature, and that mitigation is fully effective, this issue is rated "moderate" rather than "severe."

Both issues are corrected in v4.6.1; if you are using the freeware version for evaluation purposes please contact me directly using the information on the right and I will direct you to a replacement binary.  No other changes need be made to the downloaded image and replacement of the impacted binary is simple.  A full download of the SD card image is not required; the SD images have been temporarily disabled and will be replaced when the new full builds are complete.


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2019-03-11 11:50 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 162 references
[Comments enabled]  

The crash of a 737-MAX, second of that specific aircraft make and model in the last year or so, at first blush appears to have potentially been related to over-reliance on automation.

We do not yet know for certain why the plane went down -- but it was a brand new aircraft with very few (~1200, if I read the reports correctly) hours on it.  The "black box" recorders have been found so we'll soon get something more-definitive on exactly what happened.

At first blush, however, this may have been related to what preliminary investigation says is an "angle-of-attack" piece of automation that, if it detects what it believes is an impending stall, applies "forward" pressure on the control yoke so as to pitch the nose forward.  This reduces the angle of attack and, if indeed the aircraft is about to have an aerodynamic stall, can prevent it from happening.

However, there are two assumptions here -- first, you have the altitude available to execute that maneuver and the indication of an impending stall is accurate.

There are procedures to disengage and override this system should it malfunction -- if you detect the malfunction in time, do the right thing, and have the space for the recovery.  What if the aircraft is not actually stalling and you're close to the ground, or worse, you do the wrong thing in that circumstance?

There are reports of Tesla's "autopilot" plowing into the back of fire engines or "splitting the difference" between two available lanes, ramming a barrier in the middle.  It's reasonable to assume in that case the reason it happens is that the vehicle "thinks" where it's going is clear -- and it's wrong.  Whether the sensor data is incorrect or the computer incorrectly evaluated it the result is the same -- you crash.  Ditto here, if that's what happened.

It's always possible there was a terrorist event involved here or a mechanical failure of some sort -- but it appears, at first blush, this may be the same sort of thing that took out the other aircraft.

The problem with relying on automation is that it takes attention from the human away as they become complacent.  If the automation then fails to correctly process the situation, either due to bad decision making or bad sensor input people get hurt or die from entirely-avoidable incidents.

I don't call these "accidents" because they're not.  Accidents are acts of God.  An event due to culpable negligence is not an "accident", it is an incident.  An event that occurs because a sensor returned bad data to a computer is not the fault of the computer; it executed its program.  It's the fault of the idiot who relied on a piece of machinery that had insufficient inputs to determine that one of them was giving it bad information.

Now about those self-driving "cars" you want all over the road......

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