Japanology – Small factories

I am so humbled to watch a short documentary on the magnificent talent of Japanese artists. At times, the tasks at hand require a level of precision that can only be achieved by feels and instinct of humans. For instance, a stainless steel bar needs to have its diameter reduced from 52.01 millimeter to 50 millimeter. Exactly 2.01 millimeter must be removed. No more, no less.

The talent of these skilled workers is remarkable, only bettered by their off-the-chart regard for what they do. All the interviewees have years and years of honing their craft and pride beams out of their face whenever they talk about the work they do. The products of their labor don’t often get mentioned or recognized by end users, yet as the video shows, the parts play a pivotal role in high speed trains or rockets or healthcare.

This type of craftsmanship, dedication and pride in their work seems like a lost art. I have nothing but deep deep respect for Japan, its culture and the example they show the rest of the world.

Women suffrage and what’s happening with abortion bans

I came across a lot of materials in Washington DC’s museums on women suffrage decades ago. The movement is really inspiring and stunning to see. Inspiring in the sense that these women did everything they had to in order to get what was rightfully theirs, in the times that were hostile to women’s rights.

Stunning in a sense that almost 150 years later, women are still battling for the right to do what they want with THEIR OWN bodies. We cured a lot of diseases that were fatal years ago. We got close to Mars, put men on the moon and went beyond what we had imagined. We have been talking about autonomous vehicles for years. We make content instantly available almost everywhere on small devices that are much more powerful than computers 40 years ago. Yet, the basic rights of women are still a fight.

Years from now, museums in the US will store evidence of how women still didn’t have this basic right and how they fought to eventually secure it in 2019, won’t they?

How Apple’s Find My feature works

Wired published details on how Find My feature on Apple devices will work. the feature allows Apple users to find lost or stolen devices even when the devices are offline. Below are my understanding of the process and attempt to illustrate how it works with visuals for easier interpretation

Here’s how the new system works, as Apple describes it, step by step:

When you first set up Find My on your Apple devices—and Apple confirmed you do need at least two devices for this feature to work—it generates an unguessable private key that’s shared on all those devices via end-to-end encrypted communication, so that only those machines possess the key.

Each device also generates a public key. As in other public key encryption setups, this public key can be used to encrypt data such that no one can decrypt it without the corresponding private key, in this case the one stored on all your Apple devices. This is the “beacon” that your devices will broadcast out via Bluetooth to nearby devices.

That public key frequently changes, “rotating” periodically to a new number. Thanks to some mathematical magic, that new number doesn’t correlate with previous versions of the public key, but it still retains its ability to encrypt data such that only your devices can decrypt it. Apple refused to say just how often the key rotates. But every time it does, the change makes it that much harder for anyone to use your Bluetooth beacons to track your movements.

Say someone steals your MacBook. Even if the thief carries it around closed and disconnected from the internet, your laptop will emit its rotating public key via Bluetooth. A nearby stranger’s iPhone, with no interaction from its owner, will pick up the signal, check its own location, and encrypt that location data using the public key it picked up from the laptop. The public key doesn’t contain any identifying information, and since it frequently rotates, the stranger’s iPhone can’t link the laptop to its prior locations either.

The stranger’s iPhone then uploads two things to Apple’s server: The encrypted location, and a hash of the laptop’s public key, which will serve as an identifier. Since Apple doesn’t have the private key, it can’t decrypt the location.

When you want to find your stolen laptop, you turn to your second Apple device—let’s say an iPad—which contains both the same private key as the laptop and has generated the same series of rotating public keys. When you tap a button to find your laptop, the iPad uploads the same hash of the public key to Apple as an identifier, so that Apple can search through its millions upon millions of stored encrypted locations, and find the matching hash. One complicating factor is that iPad’s hash of the public key won’t be the same as the one from your stolen laptop, since the public key has likely rotated many times since the stranger’s iPhone picked it up. Apple didn’t quite explain how this works. But Johns Hopkins’ Green points out that the iPad could upload a series of hashes of all its previous public keys, so that Apple could sort through them to pull out the previous location where the laptop was spotted.

Apple returns the encrypted location of the laptop to your iPad, which can use its private key to decrypt it and tell you the laptop’s last known location. Meanwhile, Apple has never seen the decrypted location, and since hashing functions are designed to be irreversible, it can’t even use the hashed public keys to collect any information about where the device has been.

Exhibit 1 – Two devices have its own public key and a shared private key
Exhibit 2 – A step-by-step illustration of the process, from top to bottom

If you think there are any errors in my understanding of the how this works, please leave me a comment and share your thoughts.

Weekly readings – 8th June 2019

Uber’s Path of Destruction. A critical great read on the challenges that Uber faces due to its business model.

Life hacks from Marcus Aurelius: How Stoicism can help us

Underwater Drones Nearly Triple Data From the Ocean Floor. Fascinating use of drones to explore what is still largely a mystery to us.

An interesting conversation with Naval on various topics such as AI, reading, how to be happy and so on. I do agree with him on AI, yet disagree with him on the way he gave an example of socialism. Nonetheless, it is a conversation worth listening to while driving, on a bus or in a gym

The NBA Finals Have Never Seen a Coach Like Nick Nurse. I find it interesting since I never knew about Nick Nurse, yet he has done a marvelous job guiding Toronto Raptors to one win away from the NBA championship. The team has played really well against the defending champions. His journey in England and learning his crafts in a country where basketball isn’t remotely popular is captivating.

Fan transgression and blemish on sports

Last night, an unfortunate event took place at Oracle Arena in the game between Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. The co-owner of GSW sat court side and upon contact with Kyle Lowry, the point guard of Toronto Raptors, who was trying to save a ball, laid hands on Lowry and hurled vulgar language towards the player. The culprit was suspended by the team for the rest of the series and fined by the league as well

Sports are about emotions and it’s alright to stay at home or a friend’s place and scream at the TV. However, it’s not OK to assault athletes, either physically or verbally. There is racism around Europe in soccer stadiums. Players threaten to walk out in cases like that and I think that they are justified. In basketball, fans touch and throw insults at players. Why? Players are just humans who are trying to do a job for which they are paid. There is no reason to act outside the realm of courtesy or decency.

In some cases, it gets more serious than just shoving or obscene language. A few weeks ago, Mkhitaryan, an Armenian football player at Arsenal, had to stay home to watch his teammates play in the Europa League. It is because the game took place in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which has political conflict with Armenia. If the fans could separate the beautiful game of football from a political conflict and realize that Mkhitaryan didn’t choose where he was born, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I hope that one day, we will forever discard all the blemishes on the sports we love and just enjoy the beautiful moments that sports bring. We don’t need what the co-owner of Golden State Warriors did to be a distraction away from moments like this.

The debt to the truth & the fatal lesson we didn’t seem to learn

The last episode of Chernobyl was aired on Monday and yet it has still been on my mind since. The quality of the episode is unbelievable and bettered only by the message it carries. The importance of the truth. The cost we pay for lies.

Here is a clip in which how a nuclear core works and how negligence, coupled with greed, set up the cause for one of the most tragic incidents in humans’ history.

This speech from Legasov explains that it is not incompetence that caused the reactor core explosion. It’s the lies we tell each other.

“When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it’s even there. But it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, the debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Lies”

What is even more shocking is that we as humans don’t seem to learn from our lesson. Technology Review reported on the egregious behavior of KHNP, a nuclear affiliate of Korea Nuclear Power Corporation.

“On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?

After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, most reactor builders had tacked on a slew of new safety features. KHNP followed suit but later realized that the astronomical cost of these features would make the APR1400 much too expensive to attract foreign clients.

“They eventually removed most of them,” says Park, who now teaches nuclear engineering at Dongguk University. “Only about 10% to 20% of the original safety additions were kept.”

Most significant was the decision to abandon adding an extra wall in the reactor containment building—a feature designed to increase protection against radiation in the event of an accident. “They packaged the APR1400 as ‘new’ and safer, but the so-called optimization was essentially a regression to older standards,” says Park. “Because there were so few design changes compared to previous models, [KHNP] was able to build so many of them so quickly.”

Having shed most of the costly additional safety features, Kepco was able to dramatically undercut its competition in the UAE bid, a strategy that hadn’t gone unnoticed. After losing Barakah to Kepco, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon likened the Korean unit to a car without airbags and seat belts. When I told Park this, he snorted in agreement. “Objectively speaking, if it’s twice as expensive, it’s going to be about twice as safe,” he said. At the time, however, Lauvergeon’s comments were dismissed as sour words from a struggling rival.On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?”

It’s not just other countries. The US is reportedly not very careful with nuclear warheads in the country, as Last Week Tonight reported

The value of trust

Watching Apple WWDC event made me think about the value of trust in business.

During the two-hour event, Apple repeatedly emphasized the trustworthiness of its products and services. The message that Apple protects your privacy and secures your data was told in one segment after another. The thing is that consumers seemed to find Apple’s claim more credible than that of other companies. They trust Apple more in this sense. With that trust, Apple seems to have an easier time introducing very personal products or services to users than others. In addition to a continued push into healthcare, Apple introduced Apple Pay, HomeKit Secure – which allows you to monitor the camera at your front door and sends an encrypted copy to iCloud and Single Sign On. Without trust, I don’t think the enthusiasm would have been as much as that shown during the event. And if they want to introduce something similar to HomeKit Secure, well, good luck with that.

One of a notable releases was Mac Pro, which will cost around $6,000 apiece. though the figure itself does sound expensive, it’s not out of character for Apple. The company has been able to charge users outrageous prices for its devices, yet their annual revenue for the past decade has grown dramatically. It is evidence that consumers trust Apple enough to spend a significant sum on its hardware. In order to pay for a premium, you will need to trust that it carries out basic functions first and on top of that it is worth it. After trouble with Note 7 and the foldable phone, would you still trust Samsung enough to pay $2,000 for its phone?

Trust requires hard work and consistency. Yet, once form, it is a powerful competitive advantage and can open many doors. In some cases, I think it can be the most valuable asset a company can have.

The hopeless and “It wouldn’t matter anyway” pessimism

A friend of mine showed me a screenshot of a notification from a school to which she applied years ago. The notification was about a security breach at the school recently. My reaction to her was that it happened every week nowadays. What does it matter, one more breach?

That’s when it hits me. I am so used to this hopeless beat-down notion that our online identity is eventually leaked and misused. What does it matter that it happened today?

The feeling isn’t exclusive to myself. You and I can see it everywhere.

A friend of mine from Belgium didn’t vote in the election last week. When asked why, he said he didn’t think his vote would matter, in addition to his disagreement with the way EU was functioning.

We are so accustomed to scandals and misdemeanor from this administration and the President that anytime it happens, we just shrug it off and let it buried after one day or even a few hours of the news cycle.

Personally, I am so used to the deaths in traffic accidents in Vietnam that whenever an accident is reported, however horrific, I am numb to the shock or disappointment. I just absorb it and move on.

Should we succumb to this type of pessimism? Maybe not. If someone wants to criticize this surrendering attitude, as they may say, they are in their rights to and they may have a point. On the other hand, the pessimism isn’t necessarily unjustified. As we grow older than the time when we are full of youth and optimism, we gain more life experience and, as a byproduct, more interaction with the harsh reality. Yet, we are too powerless to do anything. And if you look closely at what transpires every day, how can you blame them?

The majority of folks, including myself, tend to just get on with our lives, carrying with us the distrust caused by constant disappointment. However, when enough people in our society subscribe to the “it wouldn’t matter anyway” pessimism, a group of people will benefit. And they will benefit greatly.

Axios Series and The Art of Journalism From Jonathan Swan

I came across the first episode of Axios Season 2 on HBO and was blown away by the ability and courage to ask tough questions by Jonathan Swan.

Jonathan covered various controversial and sensitive topics, asking questions on Jared’s alleged conflict of interest in using his position in the government to further business interest, Jared’s close relationship with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Jared’s opinion on Palestine – Israel, whether Jared thinks Trump is a racist, whether he discussed with Trump on his security clearance and so on. Jonathan wasn’t afraid to challenge Jared’s answers on the spot and to follow with clarifying and dissecting questions.

Some of the questions asked are (edited a bit for publishing purpose)

  • You are a son-in-law, a husband (to his daughter), a senior advisor, does it make it harder to tell him the truth? Where do you stand on abortion?
  • Do you believe that the Jewish people have a God given right to The West Bank?
  • Do you believe the Palestinian government is capable of governing themselves without the Israeli interference?
  • You are talking about what Palestinian people want, but how do you frankly know what they want?
  • The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, what do you see in this guy personally? How many conversations have you had with MBS about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Will you join Khashoggi family in calling for the release of his body?
  • Why didn’t you pick up the phone and call the FBI about the email from Roger Stone about the meeting with Russia?
  • Has Trump ever said anything racist? Was Birtherism racist?

Not only is this a refreshing air breathed into journalism, but the interview is one of the rare looks into the mind of one of the top advisors in the government, Jared Kushner, who doesn’t do many interviews. Very well done by HBO and Axios.

Boeing Max – Failure from incentive, negligence and irresponsibility

“Show me the incentives and I’ll show you the outcome” – Charlie Munger

This is a stunning investigative story on the gross negligence and irresponsibility at Boeing regarding the design of the Max; which ultimately led to two crashes and 346 deaths.

The fatal flaws with Boeing’s 737 Max can be traced to a breakdown late in the plane’s development, when test pilots, engineers and regulators were left in the dark about a fundamental overhaul to an automated system that would ultimately play a role in two crashes.

A year before the plane was finished, Boeing made the system more aggressive and riskier. While the original version relied on data from at least two types of sensors, the ultimate used just one, leaving the system without a critical safeguard. In both doomed flights, pilots struggled as a single damaged sensor sent the planes into irrecoverable nose-dives within minutes, killing 346 people and prompting regulators around the world to ground the Max.

Boeing never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to Federal Aviation Administration officials involved in determining pilot training needs, according to three agency officials. When Boeing asked to remove the description of the system from the pilot’s manual, the F.A.A. agreed. As a result, most Max pilots did not know about the software until after the first crash, in October.

The disasters might have been avoided, if employees and regulators had a better understanding of MCAS. A test pilot who originally advocated for the expansion of the system didn’t understand how the changes affected its safety. Safety analysts said they would have acted differently if they had known it used just one sensor. Regulators didn’t conduct a formal safety assessment of the new version of MCAS.

On March 30, 2016, Mark Forkner, the Max’s chief technical pilot, sent an email to senior F.A.A. officials with a seemingly innocuous request: Would it be O.K. to remove MCAS from the pilot’s manual?

The officials, who helped determine pilot training needs, had been briefed on the original version of MCAS months earlier. Mr. Forkner and Boeing never mentioned to them that MCAS was in the midst of an overhaul, according to the three F.A.A. officials.

Under the impression that the system was relatively benign and rarely used, the F.A.A. eventually approved Mr. Forkner’s request, the three officials said.

Boeing wanted to limit changes to the Max, from previous versions of the 737. Anything major could have required airlines to spend millions of dollars on additional training. Boeing, facing competitive pressure from Airbus, tried to avoid that.

Despite whatever Boeing has to say about safety being the number priority, actions speak louder than words. As the article and the last paragraph in the quote section above show, they care more about profitability than about passenger safety. I am sure safety was mentioned somewhere in the process by caring and responsible individuals. However, in the end, getting ahead of competition and generating money seem to trump everything else. To make matters worst, the FAA leaves the required safety checks to employees of airplane manufacturers since it doesn’t have the necessary resources. When Boeing can play the judge role to its own performance in a game in which it’s incentivized to not be honest or critical of itself, what would the FAA expect then? You’d have all the recipes for a disaster to happen and it did, twice.

Incentives, unless done prudently and strategically to align with desired goals, could lead to unfortunate failures, sometimes of a great magnitude.

I used to feel safe when flying several years ago. Lately, there have been several unfortunate tragedies involving airplanes. Nowadays, I feel uneasy and anxious whenever a flight takes off or when there is turbulence, and I breath a sigh of relief whenever we land safely. The article doesn’t really help the issue here, from how manufacturers have interest in not doing their full due diligence to the authority not having enough resources to work properly.