A Different Approach to System Security

I enjoy it when science fiction has something useful to say about computer security. Towards the end of Iain M. Banks’ Matter, there’s a big space battle and we find this passage: “Compromised,” Hippinse told him. “Taken over by the other side. Persuaded by a sort of thought-infection.” “Does that happen a lot, sir?” “It …

A Fire Upon The Deep — Retrospective and E-book

Over the last few weeks I read A Fire Upon The Deep, surely one of the top five works of computer science fiction. The proximate reason for the re-read was the upcoming release of a sequel, Children of the Sky, which I am impatiently awaiting. I read the “special edition” which contains about 1500 of …

Good Book: Space Systems Failures

Space Systems Failures is like a horror novel for engineers: years of people’s lives and hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted because somebody crossed a wire or skipped a test. The real reasons for failures of launch vehicles and their payloads, however, are more interesting: Margins are slim because adding margin is expensive System …

Sensor Network Technology in Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky

An important function of science fiction is to help us understand sociological, technological, and other aspects of our future. A really good SF novel — like some of those produced by Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Le Guin, Niven, and Vinge — is so full of ideas and possibilities that the reader’s mind is expanded a little. …

Book Review: Street-Fighting Mathematics

The Trinity test occurred on a calm morning.  Enrico Fermi, one of the observers, began dropping bits of paper about 40 seconds after the explosion; pieces in the air when the blast wave arrived were deflected by about 2.5 meters.  From this crude measurement, Fermi estimated the bomb’s yield to be ten kilotons; he was …

Book Review: Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to go to Grad School

Good jobs have barriers to entry.  Sometimes these barriers are natural (not everyone is capable of writing a novel or being a leader) and sometimes they are artificial (not everyone is born in the right place or to the right parents).  Many well-paid jobs requiring very specialized skills are protected by — among other mechanisms …

Book Review: Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air

The premises are simple.  First, energy consumption must be met by energy production.  Second, use of fossil fuels is unsustainable.  Third, no magical technological fix to the energy problem is going to arrive.  Finally, to understand a sustainable future, we must think quantitatively.  That is, to proceed with a debate about, for example, wind or …