The extraordinary life of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen – Business Insider

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died yesterday at the age of 65. While I dissed him in the past for being a patent troll, Allen was very much an interesting guy and did some great things with his money. I particularly enjoy the Living Computers museum in Seattle, which Allen founded and played an active role in sustaining.

Everybody knows Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, the second-richest man in the world.But Microsoft’s other cofounder, Paul Allen, only became famous outside of Seattle once he published his memoirs in 2011.

He too was rich, and his net worth was pegged at $20 billion. With his money, he invested in a lot of tech companies, real estate, and art. But he also led an over-the-top life filled with rock and roll parties, collections, yachts, and sports teams.

Allen died on Monday aged 65 after a battle with cancer. Here is a look back at his fabulous life.

Source: The extraordinary life of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen – Business Insider

After Soyuz Failure, Space Is Now Weirdly Inaccessible to Astronauts

All crewed launches have been suspended by Russia’s space agency following yesterday’s Soyuz rocket failure. That’s a problem, because much of the world relies on Russian rockets to get both cargo and people into space. Consequently, we’re now facing the very real possibility of having an uncrewed International Space Station—something that hasn’t happened in nearly two decades.

Source: After Soyuz Failure, Space Is Now Weirdly Inaccessible to Astronauts

Gotcha! US Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Space Plane Spotted by Satellite Tracker


I am seriously considering making space object tracking a new hobby.

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane may be secretive, but it’s not invisible.

Netherlands-based satellite tracker Marco Langbroek snapped long-exposure photos of the robotic mini-shuttle zooming over the city of Leiden yesterday (Aug. 20), capturing the spacecraft’s rapid trek across the night sky as a thin streak of light.The Air Force discloses little about X-37B missions, keeping details about the plane’s orbit and most of its payloads close to the vest. But Langbroek said he’s confident that the light trail he photographed came from the space plane, which is also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

“The object in question is not in the public catalogue of satellite orbits maintained by JSpOC (the U.S. military tracking network), which shows for an object this bright that it must be a ‘classified’ object,” Langbroek told Space.com via email. “We nevertheless know where ‘classified’ objects like this are, because they are routinely tracked by a small network of amateur trackers, in which I takepart.”

Source: Gotcha! US Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Space Plane Spotted by Satellite Tracker

Down the memory lane rabbit hole with BBSes

I’ve been reading through Adam Fisher’s Valley of Genius book and got to the chapter about The Well, one of San Francisco’s first online communities. It reminded me that I, too, was online as early as 1982, dialing up BBSes from my family’s 300-baud modem. I think the first BBS I called was run by a guy at the University of South Carolina.

Of course, a few years later in 1986 I had set up my own BBS in Great Falls, VA called the Basement BBS. At its peak it had 350 members, two high-speed (19.2 Kbps!) modems, and an early consumer hard-drive (10 whole megabytes!). Good times.

Valley also reminded me of my occasional hobby project of figuring out how to get the Basement back online here in the age of the Internet. This has proven to be more challenging than I expected, because:

1. DOS is a strange world, indeed, with lots of obscure drivers, configuration files, and confusing syntax.
2. I have forgotten 90% of the DOS secrets I once knew.
3. Modern virtualization systems were not designed with DOS virtual hosts in mind.
4. Virtualized DOS systems run far faster and with far more memory than their 80s era computers ever had, which causes problems.

Building a virtualized DOS environment is akin to assembling a ship in a bottle. You’re building a replica of an ancient artifact using very limited tools. All this, and I haven’t even gotten to the magic of modem emulation that will connect my BBS to the larger Internet.

This is the perfect geek project, though: a completely useless exercise in technology exploration. I hope, though, that at the end of it I have something to show for my trouble. But if I don’t that’s okay because I will have learned something anyway.

Sponsored content takes over local media website

Full of fake news! Click to see the reassembled full page, scaled down for your bandwidth’s pleasure.

Got an email yesterday from Google, saying it was time to renew my Google Adsense account. I took Google ads off my page so long ago that I forgot all about them. Fortunately, my blog is a labor of love and expenses run around $20/month. It’s not exactly a high-volume website like the websites of the local media.

I looked up a story today on the website of WRAL, a local television station. It was a story on a robbery and was a bit short on facts. Looking for more information, I began scrolling the page.

And scrolling … and scrolling … and scrolling.

The page went on and on, but it wasn’t more news stories; it was that dreaded garbage known as “sponsored content.” These are paid advertisements that masquerade as news stories, often using lurid, click-baiting headlines. Intermixed with these tabloid-esque stories were occasional links to WRAL’s content.

I got so outraged at the dreck WRAL was serving up to me that I spent over an hour just capturing screenshots of the page and reassembling these shots into the original page. I had to do this because the page was far too lengthy to fit onto one browser screen, crazy as it might sound. So that’s what you see above.
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Firefox downloads mysterious dbsync file

Yesterday I pulled up some websites using Firefox on my Android phone and I was surprised to find two notifications on my phone that a file called “dbsync” had been downloaded. I do not download files without having some idea of what they are, so needless to say I was surprised. The files were zero-bytes, however, so I didn’t think they would pose much of a threat.

I later did some Googling which led me to this reddit page discussing the issue. Several others have had this happen to them. Some linked to dubious “virus scanner” software which would remove it, though this cure looks more dangerous than the disease.

I chalked it up to some fluke until I was reading the website of local TV station WRAL.Com from my Ubuntu desktop. After a while I had a Firefox prompt asking me to download dbsync:

dbsync


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Jolly Roger Telephone Company, saving the world from bad telemarketing | How Does it Work?

This is brilliant. It’s a service that screens your phone calls and answers with an annoying, delaying robot if the caller is a telemarketer or scammer.

How does it work?
1) You buy a subscription, telling us your phone numbers and your email address.

2) Pick a robot you like from our “Pick a Robot” page. Mark down the robot’s phone number and keep it handy.

3) When you receive a telemarketing call, you transfer it to the robot (see “Use a Robot” page for instructions).

4) After our robot is done talking to the telemarketer, it will send a copy to your email so you can have a laugh.

Source: Jolly Roger Telephone Company, saving the world from bad telemarketing | How Does it Work?

Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index – Digiconomist

According to these numbers, a single Bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of electricity as thirty-one U.S. households use in one day. Insanity.

Bitcoin electricty consumption

The continuous block mining cycle incentivizes people all over the world to mine Bitcoin. As mining can provide a solid stream of revenue, people are very willing to run power-hungry machines to get a piece of it. Over the years this has caused the total energy consumption of the Bitcoin network to grow to epic proportions, as the price of the currency reached new highs. The entire Bitcoin network now consumes more energy than a number of countries, based on a report published by the International Energy Agency. If Bitcoin was a country, it would rank as shown below.

Source: Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index – Digiconomist

Four Bad Habits to Avoid at City Council Meetings – CitiesSpeak

This is a great lesson on how some common parliamentary procedures are frequently misused.

There are a number of “urban myths” about Robert’s Rules of Order that can get in the way of democratic process for your council. If your municipality, county council, or special district avoids these bad habits, congratulations! If these errors happen at your meetings, however, you might want to bring them to the attention of your colleagues to straighten them out – in a pleasant way, of course.

Source: Four Bad Habits to Avoid at City Council Meetings – CitiesSpeak

Apple’s new campus: North Carolina Research Triangle on shortlist, report says

I don’t know why I feel better about the possibility of Raleigh landing Apple than I do about Amazon. Both are huge, game-changing projects. It might be because I think Apple treats its employees better.

North Carolina lawmakers are preparing a bid for a new Apple campus, according to a report in the Triangle Business Journal.Separately, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has also floated areas near Washington D.C., like Crystal City and Tysons, as locales for Apple.

Citing unnamed sources in real estate, law and the North Carolina government, the Triangle Business Journal said the Research Triangle Park “tops Apple’s short list,” although the process is far from finalized — Apple is still looking at sites across the country.

Source: Apple’s new campus: North Carolina Research Triangle on shortlist, report says