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In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that computer chips would double in performance every two years at low cost, now known as Moore’s aw. He also predicted that chips they would eventually be so small and inexpensive that they could be embedded in homes, cars and what he called “personal portable communications equipment.” In 1968, he and Robert Noyce founded NM Electronics, soon renamed to Integrated Electronics and then shortened to Intel. Integrated circuits were just in their infancy at that point, with companies trying to deal with the technical issues of putting even eight transistors in a single chip.

Of course, Moore’s law is not a physical law, but, thanks in significant part to the work of Intel, it has held remarkably true for 50 years. However, earlier this year Intel announced that it will not continue to keep up with Moore’s Law.

MooresLawThis issue is part science and part finance. As a result of the shrinking the size of microscopic transistors in a modern integrated circuit, these transistors are closer together. This causes two problems: heat and quantum effects. In order to achieve the desired high performance, these packed transistors generate a lot of heat. Too much heat can literally fry a chip, making it useless. Quantum effects cause their behavior to become unpredictable, not a desired trait in the way we use computers today.

The financial problem is due to the cost to produce these new integrated circuits. Today, each machine to “stamp” out chips costs about US$50M. Each future “generation” of chips will increase the design and production cost by up to 50%, meaning a new chip factory may cost US$10B to build.

What does this mean to you and your company? Probably not much in the short term. In fact, if you are lagging a little in your technology usage in your products, this may give you a chance to catch up.  Not surprisingly, chip manufacturing companies are working on several alternative solutions to continue to drive growth in semiconductors:

  • Carry on the current path. The real obstacle is simply money. For those cases where you actually need to get maximum performance from a single small package, you will likely to be able to get it. You may not like the cost, as there will be large production costs and smaller demand.
  • New technologies including spintronics, carbon nanotubes, and quantum computing. Intel plans to move from silicon-based transistors over the next 4-5 years.

For most companies, the real solution is distribution. We see new products every day with embedded processors connected to a network. For the past decade, cars have contained dozens of computers, each assigned to one function like brakes, cruise control, entertainment systems, and even door locks. As the car manufacturers move towards full autonomous vehicles, we are seeing integration of all the computers within a car into a single network, with additional computers added for new functions. We will over the next ten years see the cars themselves integrated into a wider network including other cars and traffic signals and monitors.

As you are looking at your future product plans, consider distribution both within your product and to the outside world as a way to expand capabilities and performance and attract new customers. Always remember that the Cloud is there to help.

The last word:

I was one of 23 thought leaders recently featured in Tenfold’s “23 Thought Leaders Answer: What’s Your #1 Tip for a Successful First Meeting with a Prospect?” You might want to check it out.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

I feel a little lazy this week. We just got back from a very busy spring with two cruises: one from Vancouver around Hawaii and back to Vancouver on Holland America and the other from Amsterdam to Budapest on a Viking Longboat. I strongly recommend both cruises. Between the trips we attended a family wedding at the other end of the state.

But cyber attacks continue unabated. Some of the more recent “highlights:”

  • On top of the 191 million voter registration records stolen in December 2015, another 56 million records were captured and exposed, probably by a Christian right-wing organization. While a lot of information in your voter registration file is public, it does include name, address, birth date, and party affiliation. Organizations can use that information to correlate other non-public information including voting history, religious affiliation, charity donations, work place, income level, political leaning, and some really strange information like whether you like auto racing.
  • State Farm had information on 77,000 customers stolen by a hack into DAC Group, a large advertising agency in the US and Canada. While it currently seems that no financial information was stolen; it is likely that these customers had their email addresses stolen. What is instructive, however, is that this information was stolen from a development server at DAC. Security on development systems is often not as comprehensive as on a production system, and one of the reasons to have a development system is to confirm that any enhancements have not impacted data security before the software moves to the production environment. You should never use production data in a development environment. DAC should have known better.
  • A Japanese travel agency, JTB Corp, had personal information for almost 8 million people. One of JTB group companies experienced a targeted email attack, and an employee opened an attached file, which infected their server.
  • On the lighter side, the Cowboys Casino in Calgary, Canada, was attacked and personal information on less than 2,000 customers and staff were stolen. You parents told you not to gamble.

These are just a few of dozens of attacks in June 2016. If you are not having trouble sleeping, check out Norse real-time threat intelligence. This shows a small sub-set in real-time of network attacks based on their service and port. This does not include email or other application-level or OS-level attacks.

The last word:

For those of you in the United States, enjoy the Fourth of July and think about the freedoms we have here.

A number of people we met on the European cruise were from the UK, and this cruise was just before the BREXIT election. Most of them were concerned that the UK might vote to leave. From my perspective, it is past time for the UK to leave the EU. The EU bureaucrats control far too much of what each individual country and company must do, down to specifying the size and shape of wine bottles. These bureaucrats all seem to be socialists. As a result, the growth of the European economy is in last place compared to Africa, Asia, North and South America. However, the European economy is growing faster than the economy of Antarctica.

In 1992, “everyone” predicted dire consequences for the UK economy when it refused to abandon the Pound and move to the Euro. In 1990, the UK entered the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a prerequisite for adopting the Euro. The UK spent over £6 billion pounds trying to keep its currency within the narrow limits prescribed by the EU, but, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown, finally ruled out conversion to the Euro in 2007. One of the best moves in recent UK history.

Before the BREXIT vote, the UK was the fifth largest economy in the world. Do you really think a European company will cease to trade with a UK company because they are no longer in the EU?

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Both compressed data and encrypted data look similar: they are a string of apparently random characters that seem to bear no relationship to the original data. But there are significant differences between the intent and the process of compression and encryption.

You compress data so it is smaller, thus reducing storage space or transmission times. But since you want to easily retrieve the original data, compression algorithms are standardized and well known. Consider a ZIP file. A ZIP file can be expanded back into its original file(s) on almost any kind of computer system. In most cases, the receiving system needs no additional information than that contained within the compressed file.

Compression algorithms work by finding strings of characters that are repeated within the data, and replacing each occurrence of the string by a much shorter string. If you had, for example, a long paper about George Washington, a simple compression algorithm might replace each occurrence of “George Washington” with “\gw\” thus replacing 17 characters with just 4 each time. Compression algorithms can find lots of duplicated strings like page headers and footers, and fragments involving parts of words or numbers.

You encrypt data so that only certain people can access it. In order to decrypt the data, the receiver needs to know a secret key. Depending on the type of encryption and the length of the key, it can take the fastest computers from seconds to millions of years to brute force decrypt the data. For any scheme more complicated than a simple character substitution (replace each “A” with “x”), the encryption process eliminates the duplicated strings. “George Washington” will most likely be encrypted into different strings at each occurrence.

Therefore trying to compress encrypted data is just a waste of time, and can actually make the data bigger since there is some overhead just to define the type of compression and other parameters needed to decompress it.

Some compression algorithms support some level of encryption. For example, when you create a ZIP file you can specify an encryption key. Many of these algorithms are very weak and subject to easy attack, plus you must send the key to the receiver by some means. I watched a coworker email an encrypted ZIP file to a partner, then send a follow-up email with the password. If the receiver’s email was compromised, then the cybercriminal just received the data and the key.

Both compression and encryption can take significant processing effort on each end. Usually it takes fewer resources to decompress data than to compress it. Since stored data needs only be compressed once, when it is stored, and is often decompressed many times, this attribute is desirable.

Normally, encryption and decryption times are very close to each other on the same platform. Obviously, the actual times depend on the hardware characteristics of the platform.

You should always encrypt sensitive data, whether it is personal or financial data that is protected by regulations or laws, or proprietary information for a company or classified information for a country.

Whether you choose to compress data is a simple business decision: do you save enough money or data transmission time to justify the added cost of compressing and decompression the data.

The last word:

If you need to compress and encrypt data, first compress the data, then encrypt it. That works and you get the full benefit of the compression. However, the process introduces a vulnerability to attack the encryption.

As mentioned earlier, each compression algorithm adds a header in front of the compressed data. That header defines the compression type and a bunch of parameters and is of a fixed format. It is possible to determine the type of compression that an organization uses or accepts by simply trying different compression schemes and see which ones are accepted. It then becomes far easier to attack the encryption since you know how the clear-text message starts.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Benford’s Law

Benford_1Have you ever wanted to do a quick sanity check on a long list of numbers? It might be a budget, worldwide sales by country or product, or a marketing forecast. There is a cute little trick that can possibly tell you if the numbers might be manufactured instead of real: Benford’s Law.

Benford’s Law, which is not really a “law of nature” but the result of more than 125 years of observation, states that the first digit of many real-life sets of numerical data is more likely to be a “1” then any other first digit, and the probability gets successively smaller for “2” through “9”. Intuitively, one might expect that the probability of the first digit would be evenly spread: about 11% for each possible first digit 1 through 9. Zero doesn’t count as a first digit in this case. The law works even with a set of numbers with vastly differently sized numbers based on the number of digits in the number. In fact, the more orders of magnitude covered by the data, the more accurately Benford’s Law seems to apply.

Benford_2In other words, a list that spans numbers as small as 100,000 and as large as billions is likely to follow the law closely. For example, this chart shows how closely the population of the 237 countries in the world (red bars) match Benford’s Law (the black dots).

The American astronomer Simon Newcomb published a paper in 1881 based on the fact that in his logarithm tables the earlier pages were much more worn than the other pages, implying that he was looking up numbers starting with 1 and 2 more often than others. If you have no idea what I’m even talking about, check this out. He postulated the formula in Benford’s law for first digits of 1 and 2. In 1938, physicist Frank Benford tested the theory on twenty different sets of numbers and was thus credited with the law. His data sets included the surface areas of 335 rivers, the sizes of 3,259 US populations, 1,800 molecular weights, and 308 numbers contained in an issue of Reader’s Digest.

Benford’s Law is not a law, and will not apply to sets of numbers that are restricted in value, like the phone numbers in Philadelphia (since almost all will start with 2, 4, or 6). A set of numbers that does not match Benford’s Law is not necessarily wrong, but might be worth a second look. If someone is manufacturing numbers, they are likely to not match Benford’s Laws.

Why does this law work? It has to do with the distribution of numbers in a logarithm scale, and explains why the wear on Simon Newcomb’s logarithm tables led to his initial discovery of the relationship.

Some relationships do not obey Benford’s Lw, including distributions created from square roots or reciprocals. It does not apply to numbers that are the result of mathematics combinations, like quantity times price, or sequentially assigned numbers like check numbers.

At various times, evidence based on Benford’s Law has been admitted in criminal cases at US local, state and federal levels. It has been used as evidence of fraud in the 2009 Iranian elections, although experts tend to discount Benford’s Law as a indicator or election fraud.

Mark Nigrini, a well-known South African author of Forensic Analytics, has shown that Benford’s Law could be used in forensic accounting and auditing, which is how this post started.

The last word:

Benford_3As I was talking about this post, my wife said that this law should also apply to the number of children in a family. In her genealogical research, it appeared to her that there are a lot of families with just a few children and, especially in the past, families with large number of children, more than 9. I could not find any overall statistics to support or deny this claim; most government statistics talk about 1, 2, and “3 or more” children. However, I did find one family tree that had the statistics I wanted covering 344 families with up to 15 children in a family.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

London CabWhen you travel around in London you encounter three moving icons that help define the city: the Underground, the red double-decker buses, and the black London cabs. You do not want to drive yourself in the centre city for several reasons: there are a lot of cars and little parking, they drive on the other side of the road, and they have a “Congestion Charge” that, for the casual tourist, is up to £14 per day, with a £130 per day fine if you are caught without paying the CC.

Last year I predicted that by 2030, London will be the first large city to completely ban non-autonomous vehicles within the City of London. And by 2040 within the entire metropolis of London. I may have been too conservative.

Auto-MateMarcello Raeli is a young Italian designer who grew up all over the world, moving with his parents every 4-5 years. His father was an architect and a painter, and Marcello yearned and learned to be a Designer of things that solved real people’s problems. He also loved Isaac Asimov’s science fiction stories and predictions of the future. He designs shoes, including “running” shoes that can bring the same augmentation that some amputee runners have discovered to a full-limbed runner. He also designs cars, from micro-minis to high performance cars.

Auto-Mate interiorOne of his latest designs is Auto-Mate, an autonomous time-share vehicle specifically for London. It seats up to four adults in comfort. Taking inspiration from the iconic red buses, red telephone booths, and the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel by the Thames, the Auto-Mate is a sleek, futuristic-looking vehicle the same size as the existing London cabs. These vehicles provide transportation-as-a-service to anybody at any time of the day or night, and in any weather. The number of cabs on the street can change automatically based on demand. Over a relatively short time, the system will be able to predict need based on day of week, time of day, weather, or special event and have sufficient vehicles available to meet real-time needs.

London cab drivers, usually, are well trained and know their way around. They speak a form of English, sometimes not easily understood by Americans. The Auto-Mate can speak and understand dozens of languages, and keep quiet when that is what you want.

Raeli’s Auto-Mate is just a design today, but at the rate autonomous vehicles are evolving, sometime soon you may see these as you walk by Parliament.

There are, of course, those who want to slow down the adoption of autonomous cars. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is currently planning on having guidance for the deploying of autonomous vehicles by July 2016. Issuing actual regulations normally takes about eight years; by providing early guidance, the US government will be able to react more quickly to this rapidly changing technology.

It is very hard to stop new technology. Already, Tesla’s autopilot function will automatically drive your car on a highway, including changing lanes and adjusting speed in response to nearby traffic.

The last word:

In January, General Motors and Lyft announced an alliance to create a network of on-demand autonomous vehicles in the US. Lyft is a ride-sharing service, and this alliance plans to eliminate the driver.

Ford is also allowing some car owners to rent their car to a stranger for short periods of time. For example, 12,000 Londoners offer time slots in their cars to pre-screened renters. The plan is that they can earn enough money to cover their car payments, thus having a vehicle for their own use for free. This car-sharing and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are starting a significant change in how we think about cars.

Cars are critical, especially for those of us of a certain age for whom a car represented freedom, a key disconnect from constant supervision by parental units and a means of getting where we wanted to go when we wanted. But, considering the cost of a car and the fact that most cars spend 95% of their time parked and unused, the significance of car ownership will probably decrease.

Maybe not for us over 30, but for the younger generations, the car is likely to cease to be a prized possession but just a means of getting somewhere, and it won’t have to be their’s.

Children born after 2015 will probably need a history lesson before they will understand what is going on in the Taxi TV show.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

MQ-9 Reaper

MQ-9 Reaper

We are used to the daily reports on the activities of military combat drones, and the accompanying public opinion both pro and con on their use. With the ability to control a drone from a long distance, the loss of a drone does not cause injury or death to the pilot. Since there is no pilot, the drone can be far lighter and have better performance since it does not have a provide an environment to support the pilot nor worry about subjecting the pilot to G forces beyond what a human can survive. According to Wikipedia, the first armed drone was flown by Iran in the late 1980s in the Iraq-Iran War.

QH-50DApparently, Wikipedia forgot about the Gyrodyne QH-50C DASH (Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter) Drone. The unmanned remote controlled helicopter was used by the US Navy on destroyers beginning in 1962 as part of the Navy’s counter to Soviet submarine threats. The drone could carry two Mark 44 homing torpedoes or one Mark 46 torpedo, the current NATO standard torpedo. The program was cancelled in 1969, but they continued to fly from Japanese destroyers until 1977, and as late as 2006 at the White Sands test range to tow targets and calibrate radar systems. During the Vietnam War, a television camera was added so the DASH SNOOPY’s (as they were then called) could be used as airborne spotters for naval gunfire.

DSC_4570The DASH Drone had two counter-rotating blades on a single co-axial shaft to control torque, so did not need a tail rotor. Since there was no crew, the drone was viewed as expendable. It used off-the-shelf industrial electronics with no back-ups. About 80% of the failures were the result of a single-point failure in the electronics, with only 10% traced to “pilot” error, with the remaining 10% traced to engine or other mechanical failures.

It weighed about 1,200 pounds empty, with a max takeoff weight of a little over a ton. It cruised at 58 mph, with a maximum speed of 80 knots (92 mph), and a range of about 80 miles. While it usually operated close to sea level, it had a ceiling of 16,400 ft. In its fully operational mode, it could be flown from a destroyer up to 22 miles without providing any warning to a submarine, until it dropped its torpedo into the water.

By comparison, the MQ-9 Reaper, pictured at the top of this post, has a top speed of 300 mph, a range of over 1,100 miles, and weighs in at 4,900 ponds.

The DASH Drone had two controllers:

  1. A “small” one for takeoff and landings that was used on the flight deck. (See photo above left.) This is not a handheld control with a joystick, but attached to the structure on the fantail of a destroyer. The circle in the center is not a screen, but a compass
  2. DSC_4568The larger controller was housed in the ship’s combat information center (CIC). It would fly the drone to the target location and release weapons using semi-automated controls, directed by the ship’s radar. The CIC had no windows, so the pilot could not actually see the drone or even how high it was. Sometimes, this had bad results for the drone. The CIC controller was, not surprising, an early 1960’s era computer, probably with tubes. That era computers were not known to be overly reliable.

rotocycleRemote control communications were via multi-channel analog FM, so these communications were strictly “line of sight.” If the shipboard transmitter did not have a clear line to the drone, it could not control it. Darkness and fog did not impact its communication, but the curvature of the earth and its needs to operate close to sea level restricted its range.

The manufacturer, Gryodyne, had created a very small single-seat helicopter for the U.S. Navy in the mid 1950s. This “Rotocycle” won the prize for the most maneuverable helicopter at the 1961 Paris Air Show. Again under contract with the U.S. Navy, Gryodyne removed the pilot seat and manual controls to create the DASH Drone.

The last word:

If you would like to see one and are in the Philadelphia, PA, area, check out the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association Wings of Freedom Museum near the old Willow Grove Naval Air Station. This museum has a number of interesting military aircraft, including a QH-50C DASH Drone with both controllers. Come check them out, and maybe help them move to a bigger facility that will allow all of their aircraft to be indoors.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

Invading Europe

On 15 January 2014, George Osborne stated at the Open Europe Conference, “Europe accounts for just over 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its economy, and 50% of global social welfare spending.” The Right Honourable George Osborne, MP, is the current Chancellor of the Exchequer in England, the equivalent to the Treasury Secretary in the United States. On the surface, this seems like a typical politician’s claim and subject to doubt. But it is likely true.

According to Eurostat, the 27 nations that make up the European Union account for around 7.2% of the world’s population. If you include European nations that are not part of the EU, then it rises to 10.5%. Also according to Eurostat, the EU nations make up 25.8% of the world GDP (about 30% if you include all European nations). So if Mr. Osborne really meant the EU, he is spot on for the first two claims. The last number is a lot harder to pin down. Mr. Osborne credits German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the claim, but fullfact.org has not yet received an answer from the Chancellor’s office. In 2012 the World Bank published a report that Europe accounted for 58% of the world’s social welfare spending. This number included 36 countries as “European,” which includes the 27 EU members. So maybe the 50% number is reasonable for the EU.

Is it any wonder that the millions fleeing from the Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iran and the Ukraine head to Europe? They are certainly not heading for Africa or Russia, even though Russia has a lot of empty space to house hundreds of thousands of refugees. Just as for many of the people who cross into the US from Mexico and further south, many of these people steaming into Europe are really economic refugees. On average in 2015, each EU country had 260 applicants for each 100,000 in local population, but of course it was not eevnly spread among the EU countries. Hungary had 1,799 applicants for each 100,000 in population, while Spain had 32.

Clearly the majority of these immigrants are fleeing terrible conditions where their lives are at great risk. In my view, these people are refugees that the receiving countries have some responsibility to deal with. But we see in the daily pictures from Europe, many able-bodied 18-35 year old men and women with no accompanying children. These people have no pride in their own land; they are not willing to stay and fight for their country and their culture. How much investment will they have in their new country?

This war-fed migration pales when compared with the fleeing masses during and after World War II. Some estimates put the European component of fleeing refugees at 60 million, with over a million of them still trying to find a place to settle five years after the conflict ended.

Perhaps the biggest difference between then and now is that this war still goes on. ISIS and other organizations still want to take over the world by any means. This migration provides the perfect opportunity for ISIS to infiltrate hundreds of fighters and organizers into Europe, and no way for the European countries to verify the identity and background of any of these people.

Another importance difference between now and just after World War II is the ability of these migrants to communicate. In some cases, and for really good reasons, these migrants are being given smart phones. They are an easy way for the authorities to provide information on where to get help and what options are available, and for the migrants to communicate with family members already in Europe. It also provides a way for the few invaders to communicate among themselves and with any sleeper agents or groups already in place.

The last word:

The US government created the Transportation Security Administration, with an annual budget of more than US$7 billion. The main result of this expense is to inconvenience the more than 800 million passengers in the US each year, adding wait hours to every passenger just to get on the plane. Based on the absence of any “we stopped this attack” information from TSA, it seems that actual attacks are stopped by passengers or crew, not TSA. TSA does provide a weekly report that, on average, reads like found six “artfully concealed prohibited items,” about a dozen weapons (mostly small pen knives), and arrested about a passenger a day for “suspicious behavior” or fraudulent travel documents. There is no indication that any of these incidents actually posed a threat to passengers. Rather, the long queues at checkpoints create clusters of people that are prime targets for those wishing to do us harm.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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