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Canada Post Announces the End of Urban Home Delivery

Alex Pennace Re:Slightly misleading. (226 comments)

Because unlike in Canada where Canada Post control their own rates, postal rates in the USA are controlled by Congress, several members of which have interest in sabotaging the USPS.

It seems this is not correct. The Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission set and oversee postal rates respectively [1]. Ultimately Congress can pass a law changing the structure, but that is no different than Parliament overruling Canada Post, so it appears that the distinction you highlighted between the two postal systems does not exist.


about 9 months ago

Dial 00000000 To Blow Up the World

Alex Pennace Re:Nowhere near as safe. (306 comments)

Or a short pulse is generated by a shorting circuit making a 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ... which gets to a count of 8 of them. BOOM!

This is actually far from hypothetical. Quoting Lee Earnest (

In 1960, I somehow was assigned the responsibility of leading a study group to get approval for putting nuclear warheads on the second-generation BOMARC ground-to-air missiles. This involved proving to a government nuclear safety board in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the probability of accidentally launching a missile on any given day as a result of system malfunctions was less than a certain very small number and that one person couldn't do it by himself. [...]

The SAGE system used land lines to transmit launch commands to the missile sites and, since these lines were duplexed, a black box at each missile site was set up to detect when the primary line went bad so that it could switch to the backup. However on examination we noticed that if both lines went bad concurrently the system would remain connected to the backup line and the amplifiers would then pick up and amplify whatever noise was there and interpret it as a stream of random bits.

[...] [a team member] did a Markov analysis to determine the expected time that it would take for a random bit stream to generate a Fire command for one of the missiles. He found that it was a little over two minutes and, when such a command was received, the missile would erect and prepare to launch. However, unless the missile also received a full set of guidance commands during the launch window of about five minutes, it would automatically abort.

So there it is. Nothing but random noise was all that is needed to erect and ready a nuclear-tipped missile. Although it wouldn't launch, that is probably small comfort to those near these things when they do pop up.

about 10 months ago

Square Is Discontinuing Monthly Pricing On February 1, 2014

Alex Pennace Re:Swipe? (114 comments)

In the USA my understanding was PCI requirements were going to make all companies switch to non-imprintable cards? All of my cards issued in the past year are completely flat.

Perhaps only certain banks are doing it. Of the two cards that I got this year, both were embossed.

about 10 months ago

A Math Test That's Rotten To the Common Core

Alex Pennace Re:Pearson (663 comments)

Is this the same Pearson that designs and administers tests for IT and other professional certifications? If so, it would explain a lot. The ones I've taken seem to be designed not to test your skills in the subject matter, so much as to test your capacity to parse bad English and to solve trick questions.

The subject matter is important, agreed. However, parsing bad English and dealing with trick questions are necessary professional skills in this age.

Although I doubt it was Pearson's intention to test those dimensions.

about 10 months ago

Massachusetts Set To Repeal Controversial IT Services Tax

Alex Pennace Re:Tax-achusetts (122 comments)

The gasoline tax hike was part of the same bill as the tax that they are considering repealing.

Fixed that for myself.

1 year,4 days

Massachusetts Set To Repeal Controversial IT Services Tax

Alex Pennace Re:Tax-achusetts (122 comments)

They repeal one, and raise another. Last month the state's gas tax rose by 3 cents a gallon to 26.5 cents a gallon

More like "they raised/implemented multiple taxes and then subsequently repealed one." The gasoline tax hike was part of the same bill as the tax that was just repealed.

1 year,4 days

The Aging of Our Nuclear Power Plants Is Not So Graceful

Alex Pennace Re:I'm skeptical (436 comments)

I'm skeptical as well. From

In May 2012, two retired natural gas electrical generators were brought back online to help replace the lost power generation capacity: the Huntington Beach Power Station, which produces 440MW of power,[47][48] and the Encina Power Station which provides 965MW; coupled with new conservation measures, this has helped keep power available to San Diego and Riverside counties.[49]

So the "forward-looking planning" seems to rely on two mothballed power stations. Was this *actually* part of some government and/or utility plan, and these two plants were held in reserve as a contingency? Or is it more that they planned to look forward to saying "oh crap" and quickly scrambling to find a stopgap solution?

about a year ago

Drones: Coming Soon To the New Jersey Turnpike?

Alex Pennace Re:Risk vs. Reward? (249 comments)

Because if they raise the limit to 75, people will drive 85. Americans have been conditioned to believe that the "real" speed limit is at least 10 mph over the posted limit.

That is an interesting point so I did some research. I found FHWA Report No. FHWA-RD-92-084 (one source of which is at but other copies agree) that says "The results of the study indicated that lowering posted speed limits by as much as 20 mi/h (32 km/h), or raising speed limits by as much as 15 mi/h (24 km/h) had little effect on motorist' speed."

I'm curious if you had any citations to confirm your statement.

about a year ago

California Lawmaker Wants 3-D Printers To Be Regulated

Alex Pennace Re:Comprehensive reform (856 comments)

While I agree with the Senator, I believe we must act with comprehensive reform. Laser printers are being used to print counterfeit money. Those too should be regulated and tracked just as strictly as 3d printers. All printer owners should be tracked, registered, and of course, pay a government tax to cover all this tracking.

We are already halfway there:

about a year ago

Chinese Hackers Infiltrate US Army Database, Compromise Safety of Dams

Alex Pennace What Information? (256 comments)

From the article it isn't clear exactly what information was deemed sensitive. Does this information include very specific details (like, "here is the password to that plant's SCADA system?" Or does it cover broader details that the public had free access to prior to the September 11 attacks, such information now being withheld as "critical infrastructure information?"

about a year ago

In Canada, a Government-Backed Electronic Currency

Alex Pennace Re:Do Canadian credit cards for sub $10? (248 comments)

Ideally this would be a government function paid for by taxes the same way that minting coins was. Then this could replace the credit card system as it currently stands.

As near as I can tell, minting coins and printing currency is at least self-supporting:

In some cases, national mints report the amount of seigniorage provided to their respective governments; for example, the Royal Canadian Mint reported that in 2006 it generated $C93 million in seigniorage for the Government of Canada.[6] The U.S. government, the largest beneficiary of seignorage, earned approximately $25 billion annually as of 2000.[7] For coinage only, seigniorage accruing to the U.S. Treasury per dollar issued for the fiscal year 2011 was 45 cents.[8]

about a year ago

Helium Depleted, Herschel Space Telescope Mission Ends

Alex Pennace Re:Orbital pickup truck (204 comments)

Some woman had joint pains. Someone told her that WD-40 would help to ease the joint pains. Instead of asking "how much", or doing any research, the woman supposedly BATHED in a tub of WD-40.

I really don't know how true the story is. My wife told it to me, she swears it's true, yada yada yada . . .

Considering that WD-40 comes in a spray can, I can pretty much guarantee that never happened. At least not in the "filled up a bath tub and jumped in". Sprayed herself all over instead of taking a shower maybe.

Not to confirm the grandparent post's legend, but WD-40 is also available in handy gallon jugs:

Supposedly they offer 55 gallon drums of it too.

about a year ago

Helium Depleted, Herschel Space Telescope Mission Ends

Alex Pennace Re:Orbital pickup truck (204 comments)

If only we had a plan for recurring orbital missions... A "space pickup" that would launch on a regular basis to make pit stops for things like extra helium.

To think how many multi-decade projects like this will "rot on the vine".

The Herschel Space Observatory is 1,500,000 km away at a Lagrangian point. Servicing missions of any kind are out of the question.

about a year ago

Misconfigured Open DNS Resolvers Key To Massive DDoS Attacks

Alex Pennace Re:I'm not quite sure how you're supposed to do it (179 comments)

Two other different things...

1) ISPs could drop out-going tcp and udp packets on port 53 from all their IP address except their own DNS servers. That would stop their customers from using public DNS server outside their networks. But it would also stop this kind of attack.

It would also have a high collateral cost: diagnosing many DNS issues becomes impossible when you can only work with one recursive resolver (which may be what is causing the DNS issues!) It is necessary to access legitimate open resolvers and authoritative servers on any kind of Internet connection, even residential broadband (don't think of grandma but think of the tech helping grandma).

In short, we *need* TCP and UDP port 53 traffic unfiltered.

2) Drop all outgoing traffic that has a spoofed source IP address. This is a very simple bit mask operation. Yes, it requires more compute power than not doing it, but not very much. The ISPs know what IP addresses they own, they can very easily prevent spoofed traffic from leaving their networks, effectively stopping this kind of attack, as well as other types of hacking. At the same time, it would still allow legitimate use of public DNS servers.

This is what we need more of. Provided, of course, that it isn't applied in situations where it breaks things, but in those cases the customer is hopefully smart enough to implement their own filtering.

about a year and a half ago

Misconfigured Open DNS Resolvers Key To Massive DDoS Attacks

Alex Pennace Re:By Design (179 comments)

DNS resolvers were originally intended to be open. There was no reason for them not to be. But furthermore, the recursive functionality of DNS made open resolvers a near requirement. This has changed a little and slowly over the years, but it's still largely the case.

[...] It's not in the spec, so why should they?

The changing environment now calls for doing things that weren't done years ago. We have already crossed this bridge with open email relays; this isn't necessarily the case here (the real problem is the lack of IP spoofing protection), but it would be nice for administrators to realize that they may have an open resolver. Many of them will decide that there is no point in offering free DNS resolution services to the whole world and take steps to restrict access. Some will decide that they want to continue offering it; more power to them.

Far from being a requirement, a DNS resolver works just fine if it isn't wide open.

This attack suggests that the spec needs refinement, but don;t go blaming people for doing what has been accepted best practice for the past 20 years or more.

I wouldn't go as far as to accuse them of malfeasance or negligence, particularly since the real problem is lack of BCP38 compliance. So lets not do that. Instead lets educate administrators and permit them to make their own decisions; in this case the decision will likely be to restrict.

about a year and a half ago

Gov't Report: Laser Pointers Produce Too Much Energy, Pose Risk For the Careless

Alex Pennace Re:In other news, (260 comments)

I hear that argument a lot: "I need this powerful car so I can get out of other people's way"... but I've been driving for over 30 years, and in all of that time, there was only once when I had to rely on my vehicle's performance to get out of the way of an accident. And that was when I was on my motorcycle at a stoplight and saw the car approaching from behind at a high rate of speed - I made a quick (and illegal) right turn on red - he squealed to a stop in the middle of the intersection.

His observation may have a point, but I submit that it arises from a number of synergistic factors. More aggressive drivers are more likely to need all the power their car can give them, whereas more conservative motorists wouldn't often call upon that reserve. (Both categories, meanwhile, are likely to blame driving issues on "other idiots.")

One example that comes to mind is my trip home just an hour ago. I am stopped at a traffic light headed westbound on one of the main roads in my city. Eastbound traffic has a dedicated left turn lane; straight and left-turning eastbound traffic are given a green light before westbound traffic is allowed to proceed. Some eastbound nitwit decided that the left turn lane was a passing lane, and switched to that lane to cut past about eight or nine other cars. This presented a problem, as straight traffic was entering the intersection and soon, there would be no room to merge right before he smashed head-on into me.

His solution to the problem of his own stupidity was thus: gun the engine and pass the other eastbound cars, with just enough room to not ruin my day. The aggressive driver, therefore, chalks this one up as another case of power getting him out of a situation most rational people wouldn't have been in to begin with.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Less aggressive drivers sometimes have to quickly accelerate to avoid an accident that would have been caused by an aggressive driver, for instance. Living in Bostonland, I've had to do that more than once.

I'm not advocating that vehicle power should be limited, but it is important to understand exactly where the claim of "I need power to get out of the way" comes from.

about a year and a half ago

Ask Slashdot: Best Way To Block Noise In a Dorm?

Alex Pennace Move (561 comments)

Move. I mean that seriously. Not all dorms are alike, and chances are there is a quieter room available. You will have to approach your student services office or similar about your situation, and bring documentation. They may not be able to accommodate you entirely but they may find some arrangement that would be of benefit. For example, they may make a triple in a quiet dorm into a double with a known-quiet roommate.

If you want further information, give us the name of the school. Maybe someone here knows about a quieter dorm on your campus.

about a year and a half ago

ATLAS Meteor Tracking System Gets $5M NASA Funding

Alex Pennace Re:NASA didn't just hand over the $5 million (104 comments)

So you're saying that the timing is just a coincidence?

It passes the sniff test. Consider the possible scenarios:

1. As per, this has been in the works since 2011, grant money was released in January 2013, and only now is the mainstream media reporting on it.
2. An American bureaucracy approves a $5 million grant within three days, two of which are Saturday and Sunday.
3. There was already a fully-working secret skunkworks detection system that knew months ahead of time that Chelyabinsk Oblast would be grazed by a meteor, and they kept it a secret knowing there would be a lot of grant money headed their way; the only person they told was cousin Igor back in Russia who was ideally positioned to do brisk business in underwear and trouser sales

Which scenario is the most plausible?

about a year ago

Credit Card Swipe Fees Begin Sunday In USA

Alex Pennace Re: I'm curious to see how many retailers actually (732 comments)

The situation may be different, but the argument was that they have different protections. If you dispute a transaction with your CC company the money is still out of your account, until the dispute is handled. The protection is the same, you are just using a red herring.

Fundamentally, they do have different protections. With credit cards, you are disputing a bookkeeping entry that you haven't paid yet. With debit cards, you are asking for your own real money back.

Both credit cards and debit cards ultimately make you whole in the end (but see my earlier comment to this story about when that isn't the case), but the interim situations are quite radically different and important. Not at all a red herring.

about a year and a half ago

Credit Card Swipe Fees Begin Sunday In USA

Alex Pennace Re:I'm curious to see how many retailers actually (732 comments)

There are many issues in play and I don't pretend to be an expert on all of them. In the case I hinted to, GoDaddy had my debit card number on file[1]. As a courtesy, I went through the process of explaining to GoDaddy that they are dumb and they should stop being dumb lest they get hit with a chargeback fee. They were less than accommodating. I then filed a chargeback with Sovereign Bank. Sovereign Bank sat on it for a few months, neither accepting or rejecting it. Status inquiries were either met with "it is in process" or voicemail hell. Never did get the money back, but I made sure that Sovereign knew why I was leaving.

Not all debit card disputes end like this. Indeed I had two other fraudulent charges, both of which Sovereign readily reversed.

The fundamental problem with debit cards is a bogus transaction instantly sucks money out of your account, putting you in the position of waiting for your money back. With credit cards, you decide what to pay and what to dispute. If a bank such as Sovereign proves less than capable of processing your dispute, that turns out to be their problem when you don't pay the disputed amount. As is your legal right.

[1] Actually, they didn't. Sovereign Bank changed my debit card number for some reason (an "upgrade") and invalidated the old one. I didn't bother to update records at GoDaddy, because I was leaving them. There is some mechanism available that lets merchants track down a new card number; GoDaddy helpfully updated their records and charged stuff to a card they never were authorized to use.

about a year and a half ago


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