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The Big Red Button

You know, I was hoping to begin 2018 with some happy stories, like Rob Ross' happy trees, happy little trees.

Instead, we begin the year with Trump actually managing to outdo his usual level of bullshit. Yes, I said a rude word. You will too when I quote:

Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him
that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is much bigger & more powerful
than his, and my Button works!


The so-called "leader of the free world" really did just compare the size of his supposed Red Button.

To Mister (I'm not prefixing your name with "President") Trump: GROW UP YOU PETULANT INFANT.

To Kim Jong Un: This will be what Trump and his crowd would refer to as "alternative truths". The fact is, unless Trump threw a tantrum on his first day in office, there is no such thing as a red button (and if he threw a tantrum and they gave him a red button, it isn't connected to anything more important than a coffee maker).
I think it was Nixon that started the idea of a crazy person with their finger on the button ready to launch a nuclear strike (and worryingly, it was he who was the supposed madman). It took on a life of its own through the Cold War, and now stands as a cross between a trope and an urban legend, the idea that the US President has a big red button on his desk, and whacking it hard will end the world.

Think about Trump.
Now think about him again.
That's all you need to know to understand why there is no button, and it isn't up to the whim of a deranged individual obsessed with size to prod his "bigger" button.

There is a briefcase that is carried around in proximity to the President at all times. For some reason, it is referred to as a "football". It's a radio system, with codes and stuff. It needs to be authorised by a code that is known only to the President.
That's where the good news ends. The President can launch a nuclear strike. By himself. On his whims. At a moment's notice. You can understand the logic of this if you recall the Cold War. When Russia could have attacked America with a serious amount of weaponry, the first bombs would fall in something like ten minutes. There would be no time to get chiefs of staff together, to talk to congress. It would all be over and America a wasteland before everybody could be gathered together, never mind decide upon a response.
But nowadays? Putting all of that power in the hands of a person such as the current President is reckless. Scary reckless.
There is some hope. The president does not carry the "football", it is one of his military aides. One would hope that these aides would be patriotic enough that if their commander in chief decided to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack (even towards North Korea - does anybody think China and Russia wouldn't retaliate?), that they would put "America first" and stick a bullet in the brain of the guy about to start a nuclear holocaust because he is worried about how big his penis button is.

One final thing - it is known that the recent leadership of North Korea have been of small stature. What will it be tomorrow? My daddy is bigger than your daddy?


Way to go, Intel!

It looks like pretty much every Intel x86-64 processor made in the last decade has a serious flaw - and it has now been demonstrated that due to this flaw, a user process can read some kernel data. It may only be bytes at a time, but anything at all is BAD.

Hard details are scarce at this point, but it appears that data from speculative execution is loaded into the cache. The instruction will likely then abort (as user mode programs are not supposed to access kernel level data), however that data remains in the cache and can be picked up.

What this means is that everybody is rushing to tweak their operating systems to work around this problem.
But, and this is enormous, switching contexts around syscalls is expensive. Some benchmarks available show something that suffers badly is PostgreSQL SELECT 1, the best case is 17% slower, worst case is 23%. On the bright side, it does not appear to affect gaming in any noticeable way. On the cloudy side, it may hit emulation fairly hard, and this might include virtual machines. Time will tell if services like AWS and web hosts suffer.

There is a lot of FUD around this. I've seen it mentioned at the problem also affects ARM processors, yet AMD processors providing the x86-64 instructions are not affected...?

I don't know. What I do know is that Intel have made a lot of cock-ups recently.

More information on TheRegister


HP Instant Ink

Back in August, I installed a replacement set of HP inks. The inks cost me about €25, and looking at my printer status report, it says I have printed 248 pages. Well, five of those will be stuff printed with the Instant Ink, which makes 243 pages. My initial setup inks gave me 140 pages (as shown by the scan on the linked page), so my paid-for inks gave me less - a mere 103 pages. For twenty five euros...
You can see why I think 100 pages every month for €4,99 is a much better deal.

On January 1st, I installed the cartridges. It took a couple of minutes for the printer to authorise the cartridges and register their use. Once that was done, the printer did a quick head clean, and then printed out the alignment sheet.

I don't recall if it was the website or the booklet with the Instant Ink, but they said "don't worry if the cartridges are a little bit bigger, they'll fit". Well, damn, they weren't kidding:

And just to maximise the creepy, just after I'd installed them, a message appeared on my PC:


Super Luna

People that like gazing at that glowing lump in the sky will enjoy January. Let's see, a wolf moon, a blood moon, a super moon, a blue moon, and as if that isn't already more than enough, there's a total lunar eclipse as well. We shouldn't be surprised if Luna decides to take the month of February off.

Here's a long exposure I took. Looks like any normal daytime photo with slightly wonky colour balance...until you notice the stars.



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Rick, 4th January 2018, 09:10
Yes, numerous ARM cores are affected in various ways. It looks like it is due to data leakage to the cache from speculative/out of order execution. 
The main difference appears to be down to how much of a penalty mitigating this will incur...

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