Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Internet of Harmful Things.

In the early 2000s I’d get up on stage and prophesize about the cyber-landscape of the future, much as I still do today. Back then I warned that, one day, your fridge will send spam to your microwave, and together they’d DDoS the coffeemaker. No, really.

The audience would raise eyebrows, chuckle, clap, and sometimes follow up with an article on such ‘mad professor’-type utterances. But overall my ‘Cassandra-ism’ was taken as little more than a joke, since the more pressing cyberthreats of the times were deemed worth worrying about more. So much for the ‘mad professor’…

…Just open today’s papers.

Any house these days – no matter how old – can have plenty of ‘smart’ devices in it. Some have just a few (phones, TVs…), others have loads – including IP-cameras, refrigerators, microwave ovens, coffee makers, thermostats, irons, washing machines, tumble dryers, fitness bracelets, and more. Some houses are even being designed these days with smart devices already included in the specs. And all these smart devices connect to the house’s Wi-Fi to help make up the gigantic, autonomous – and very vulnerable – Internet of Things, whose size already outweighs the Traditional Internet which we’ve known so well since the early 90s.

Connecting everything and the kitchen sink to the Internet is done for a reason, of course. Being able to control all your electronic household kit remotely via your smartphone can be convenient (to some folks:). It’s also rather trendy. However, just how this Internet of Things has developed has meant my Cassandra-ism has become a reality.

SourceSource

Read on: The phantom ransomware menace…

Industrial, Optical, Theoretical, Expositional.

This is a pair of very good binoculars for everyday usage. You never know when you might need to get a closer look of a mysterious object on the horizon, or check out what’s going on down by the entrance to your high-rise apartment block, or suddenly find yourself in a theater…

I’m no binoculars expert. But I don’t have to be to like using a pair. But that pair has to be a good pair. Can’t be having a pair that are tricky to adjust, that give an unclear image, and that don’t fit the eye sockets well. But with this pair was none of that. Clear, large images when looked through – you think you can touch the scene with your hand! When something 10 meters away is viewed, it feels like it’s right in front of you. A colossally class piece of kit:

lytkarino-optics-factory-1

// I wonder where you can buy a pair and how much they cost?

I still don’t know the answers to those two questions, since I was given a pair as a gift in the town of Lytkarino in the Moscow region – namely at the town’s optical glass plant, where they make the lenses for such binoculars. Here:

Yes, that's Lenin :)Yes, that’s Lenin :)

Read on: Three warnings…

One Small Step into Giant Industrial Security.

The other day, Innopolis – the hi-tech town just outside the city of Kazan, Tatartstan, 800 kilometers directly to the east of Moscow – became a “world center of industrial systems’ cybersecurity”.

I was here early this year marveling at the speed of its development and ambitiousness of its plans, all the while turning over its future prospects in my mind.

First of all, let me get all gushing in singing praises: I take my hat off to the determination and persistence of the local authorities, the assuredness of the partners and sponsors, and also the professionalism of the contractors and everyone else who played a part in making Innopolis a reality.

Innopolis was built from nothing in just three years according to a hi-tech concept for hi-tech companies: here there’s excellent infrastructure for both living and doing business, a special economic zone, university, and an international airport not far away.

The year-round conveniences and also the prices here are so attractive it could make you think about dropping everything and moving to Tatarstan at once! In the winter there’s downhill skiing, in summer there’s the golf course, in fall there’s mushroom picking in the surrounding forest, and all year round there’s fishing on the Volga. A 50m2 one-bedroom apartment costs a mere 7000 rubles (~$110) to rent and a two-bedroom apartment costs just 10,000 rubles (~$160), which has a lift going down to the underground parking, which incidentally also costs next to nothing – 1000 rubles per month (~$16). Also: the gym + swimming pool costs just 15,000 rubles a year (~$240)!

Moreover, everything is brand spanking new, shiny, modern, stylish and hi-tech – a far cry from its humble, rural/provincial surroundings.

There’s only one thing that spoils things: Innopolis is surrounded by ugly vacant lots and construction sites. Still – no omelet without the proverbial eggs – and it’s obvious that it’s not going to stay that way forever. It looks like it’ll soon either be built up with more swish residential buildings or just made pretty with landscaping, lawns or something else pleasing to the eye.

So, as you can see, it’s no wonder there’s a long line to get here to live/study/work.

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Read on: One Small Step into Giant Industrial Security…

Darwin’s Patent Panopticon. – pt. 2.

 

The patent ‘landscapes’ of different countries can curiously differ aplenty, with each country’s inventions have a specific ‘aftertaste’.

For example, US patents are generally characterized by their being practical, with a sometimes very utilitarian slant, and with pedantic attention to detail. You can see all that for sure in my Superlatively Subjective Top-5 Most [insert the appropriate] Patents Ever :).

Russian inventors on the other hand can be generally characterized by their ambitiousness – sometimes even to the extent of having ‘cosmic’ yearnings in trying to change the world, the planets, the universe – but ‘cosmic’ also in the sense that their inventions can be zanily ‘out of this world’ crazy. Need convincing? Ok, I’ll convince you – with another Top-5 – this time of Russkie patents…

And we’re off…

The Superlatively Subjective Top-5 Most [insert the appropriate] Russian Patents… Ever!

No. 5: Holy Moses!

Russian Patent Application No. 2013144180: ‘A method for ensuring the survival of Homo Sapiens and preservation of the gene pool of living organisms on planet Earth in conditions of worldwide flooding, global glaciation or other unexpected natural catastrophes’. Oh my gene pool!

You think the title’s long? Wait till you get a load o’ dis: the summary on the first page of the application is made up of just one sentence – containing 1182 letters! I really do sympathize with Russian patent lawyers who have to try and work out just what the *)&%^(+#!@! the author is on about. I mean, this one – somewhere in the middle of it you forget what the first bit was saying, so you stop and read it again – and again – and take notes in the margin in order not to lose track. I read it five times, and can now proudly ‘undertake to articulate the underlying essence of’ the invention in four words: a matrioshka-doll-like… ark :).

The device is to be crammed with microorganisms, seeds, animals, three Home Sapiens and other ‘genetic resources’, and installed at the top of the world’s tallest mountain out of harm’s way.

But what if the elements get a real strop on and even flood the mountains too? Well, then an inflatable dinghy would be jettisoned from the ark to sail about on the water’s surface until the level of the water falls sufficiently. Looks like they’ve thought of everything.

PS: Quote: ‘and after stabilization of the life conditions on the surface of the earth, the members of the team would descend the staircase down the mountains and a new era of renewal of life on the Earth would begin’.

PPS: Rospatent didn’t mess about in throwing this application out: it realized the serious trolling going on, and rejected it based on the lack of an invention. I was quite surprised prior art going back to the Bible wasn’t given as a reason :).

No. 4: They need to quit smoking not just tobacco.

‘If you wanted to quit smoking, but something always stopped you from doing so… well, now nothing can get in your way!’ That’s Patent RU2231371 in a nutshell.

I’m not sure I, nor anyone else in the world – including the authors! – know what the heck this one’s about, so, I’ll just quote the text so you can see what we’re all up against!

‘The contents of a vial of solution of calcium chloride after the ritual smoking of one’s last cigarette is poured into a container with a water solution of tobacco smoke, at end of the fifth or sixth day of not smoking, the doctor conducts a final session of hetero-auto-training, moreover, instead of the container ‘water of life’ in the final session the patient uses a third container, called ‘Word’, with a vial of 10ml 1% solution of dioxydine. The formula of autosuggestion is changed for the formula of a vow: ‘I’ve quit smoking’. After the final session the patient carries out a ritual of self-coding, for which is used 50ml of water solution of tobacco smoke and calcium chloride, into which is poured out from the vial the solution of dioxydine…’

Seriously?

I mean, just what were they smoking? Where was this written? An Amsterdam coffee shop? Colorado? Or, maybe the utter incoherence is a side-effect of quitting smoking using this method? Well, no matter really: the patent expired as the state duty didn’t get paid (“Dude, did you pay the duty?” “Duty? What duty, man? I’m not due tea; I want an espresso, man.”)

No. 3: Machine gun dung!

What can’t you do in a tank? Rather a lot, actually; it’s easier to think of what you can do in a tank and rule out the rest.

So, like, what if you need to… you know – use the bathroom? I mean, you really need to go and just can’t wait? Well, you can’t just leave the tank for a few minutes can you?…

… Enter patent RU2399858, which offers to ‘remove waste of the vital functions of a tank crew via an artillery installation’! And here’s the main thing: without depressurization of the tank!

Read on: WALLOP! Oops!…

Darwin’s Patent Panopticon.

Regular readers will have noticed I haven’t ranted and raved about patent trolls of late. What, all’s quiet on the troll front – they’ve stopped being trolls and started doing something useful and honest instead? You guessed it: no. Alas, every day, stories about their audaciously outrageous stunts can be found in the news if you look in the right places. It’s business as usual for the trolls; it just doesn’t make headline news.

Sometimes the news comes to you – at least, to us: just the other day we received a lawsuit from WETRO LAN for alleged infringement of a patent on filtration of data packets, or, to be more precise – a firewall. WHAT?

So, what they’re saying is, you can patent a widely-known, universally-applied device, er, which was invented more than a decade ago? Just in case you missed that: the tech had been around for ages BEFORE this patent appeared! And now they demand a fee for use of their patented tech! Hold on… WHAT?!

Yes that’s what they’re doing: since 2015 they’ve brought lawsuits to 60+ companies, many of which developed firewalls long before the patent existed. But the industry is taking the lawsuits in its stride; it even name the patent Stupid Patent of the Month.

Equally absurd is their targeting us with a claim. We’re not ‘easy pickings’ by far for an attack, since we always stand our ground and never give in to patent trolls. And we never settle out of court either – as there’s never anything to settle, as we ain’t done nuttin. The only thing we do is return fire occasionally. Well, why not? Their patents will be invalidated sooner rather than later – so we strike while the iron’s still hot there’s still an iron. And no matter what, we’ll continue the good fight – until the last bullet – their bullet.

But all this talk of fighting – no matter how necessary it is – it’s still a bit lot of a mood spoiler. So, to lighten the spirits and stay positive and optimistic, I decided to blow the dust off the archives to come up with a collection of the strangest, craziest, maddest and most paradoxical patents ever. If anything, just so you’ll know where they may bite you in the future for ‘gross violations of patent law’ :).

OK, off we go…

The Superlatively Subjective Top-5 Most [insert the appropriate] Patents Ever

No. 5: The guillotine – the best remedy for a headache.

Warm, sunny, summer weather has its downside. Of course, summer should be all about the beach, pinacoladas and swimsuits, but for that one has to be in good shape. But how can one be in good shape after a fall, winter and spring of non-stop gorging on high-calorie foods? One simply can’t! Well, one could – with a decent diet and exercise – but how unoriginal and folksy and old-fashioned is that? There had to be a hi-tech solution; after all, the 21st century was just around the corner. Therefore…

Folks, meet US patent 4344424 – the ‘anti-eating face mask’. Hannibal Lecter – move over!

ip2

PS: Makes sense to ‘invent’ and patent anti-eating handcuffs too – to chain you to the radiator with so you can’t reach the fridge. In just two weeks you’d have that beach-bod you’d been after :).

Read on: Always ask for a top-up in the pub…

Foggy London.

Phew. That was a tough two days in the UK capital. Herewith, a few words and a lot of pics of those two days…

It was two days of rising at the crack of dawn and getting to bed late. Three conferences + three speeches thereat + lots of meetings + lots of interviews + lots of traffic jams + lots of walking (to avoid the traffic jams) + nothing else! I mean – nothing non-work interesting or touristic. Boo. Still, did manage to take a few snaps over the two days:

A murky Thames:

Read on: A deluxe surprise…

The Vatican: A Pope’s-Eye View.

Rome. Without a doubt – one of the most… significant cities in the world; 100% must-see. I’ve been to the city many times, toured the different parts of the center on foot several times, prodded, tasted, tried on, and took lots of pics of practically everything. And ‘practically everything’ of course includes St. Peter’s Square, including pics from the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, taken on three or four separate occasions. But this was the first time I viewed the square from this angle:

And seeing this person in the flesh – that was also a first!

Read on: Palm trees and monuments…

The Uncalculated History of Mechanical Calculators.

My recent meet with the Pope jogged my memory about the existence of such forgotten gadgets as the arithmometer. The device being used may still be remembered by some in my generation, while to younger generations the ‘contraption’ is an antique – a relic from eons ago – when there was no Facebook (imagine?), and not even any Internet (WHAT?!).

But on this pre-digital analog bit of kit once the accounting of the whole world depended, and more besides. Therefore, this post is all about arithmometers, because history is worth knowing – especially when it’s as intriguingly quaint as this :).

What an invention! Of course, you could read all about it on Wikipedia, but here I’ll give you a summary of what are, IMHO, the highlights.

Mechanical calculators appeared… more than 2000 years ago! The ancient Greeks used them! What, didn’t you know? I kind of did, but – once again (eek!) – my memory later failed me. So I looked up the details to refreshen those synapses.

Aha – here she is, the beut! The Antikythera mechanism – originating one or two centuries BC; that is – 2100+ years ago!

The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer and orrery used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes, as well as the Olympiads, the cycles of the ancient Olympic Games.

Found housed in a 340 millimeters× 180 millimeters× 90 millimeter wooden box, the device is a complex clockwork mechanism composed of at least 30 meshing bronze gears. Its remains were found as one lump, later separated into three main fragments, which are now divided into 82 separate fragments after conservation works. Four of these fragments contain gears, while inscriptions are found on many others. The largest gear is approximately 140 millimeters in diameter and originally had 223 teeth. (Wikipedia)

Oh those Greeks!

Fast forward some 1600 years, and the next example of a mechanical calculator gets drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. That device was a 16-bit adding machine with 10-tooth cogs.

Another long pause – of 120 years…

Surviving notes from Wilhelm Schickard in 1623 report that he designed and had built the earliest of the modern attempts at mechanizing calculation. His machine was composed of two sets of technologies: first an abacus made of Napier’s bones, to simplify multiplications and divisions first described six years earlier in 1617, and for the mechanical part, it had a dialed pedometer to perform additions and subtractions.

Two decades later…

Blaise Pascal designed [a] calculator to help in the large amount of tedious arithmetic required; it was called Pascal’s Calculator or Pascaline. 

30 years later – the ‘stepped reckoner’… 

– A digital mechanical calculator [was] invented by the German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. It was the first calculator that could perform all four arithmetic operations. Its intricate precision gearwork … was somewhat beyond the fabrication technology of the time.

And after that, a veritable arms calculator race ensued…

[In 1674 came] Samual Morland’s ‘arithmetical machine’ by which the four fundamental rules of arithmetic were readily worked “without charging the memory, disturbing the mind, or exposing the operations to any uncertainty” (regarded by some as the world’s first multiplying machine).

In 1709…

[Giovanni] Poleni was the first to build a calculator that used a pinwheel design.

And here come the warm jets real arithmometers, not their precursors…

Thomas de Colmar‘s [arithmometer] became the first commercially successful mechanical calculator. Its sturdy design gave it a strong reputation of reliability and accuracy and made it a key player in the move from human computers to calculating machines that took place during the second half of the 19th century.

Its production debut of 1851 launched the mechanical calculator industry, which ultimately built millions of machines well into the 1970s [!!!!]. For forty years, from 1851 to 1890, the arithmometer was the only type of mechanical calculator in commercial production and it was sold all over the world. During the later part of that period two companies started manufacturing clones of the arithmometer: Burkhardt, from Germany, which started in 1878, and Layton of the UK, which started in 1883. Eventually about twenty European companies built clones of the arithmometer until the beginning of WWII.

Meanwhile in Russia, in the same decade (1850-1860), Pafnuty Chebyshev made the first Russian arithmometer.

Less than a generation later, another resident of Russia (a Swedish immigrant engineer) began line manufacture of the Odhner Arithmometer

From 1892 to the middle of the 20th century, independent companies were set up all over the world to manufacture Odhner’s clones and, by the 1960s, with millions sold, it became one of the most successful type[s] of mechanical calculator ever designed.

Fast forward to September 28, 2016, and a certain Eugene Kaspersky gives Pope Francis one such Odhner Arithmometer:

Its industrial production officially started in 1890 in Odhner’s Saint Petersburg workshop.

Read on: A bit of subjunctive mood…