Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Follow (and foul) up

Today I'm going to revisit a few newsworthy events that have drawn my attention (and, on occasion, my ire). Because all is not well ...

The modern world
A mere four weeks ago, on April 8, the post "Wild and crazy (not always in a good way) stuff," included my latest distress about plans to relinquish American governance of the Internet. (For earlier facets of the Internet governance issue, from December 2012, see "The UN? Seriously?" and "Big Brother redux.")

Perhaps that unilateral abdication to repressive, censoring regimes won't happen, at least not yet. See, "Reversal: Obama may not surrender control of the Internet after all." Nonetheless, authoritarian encroachment into the onetime uncensored and global 'net grows apace. It's not only the Great Firewall of China. See, for example, from a week ago, "Google Warning on Russia Prescient as Putin Squeezes Web."

Returning to the "Wild and Crazy" post ... I also weighed in on the trials and tribulations apt to come from Microsoft's termination of support -- that very day -- for Windows XP.

Danger arrived soon enough after the supposedly final XP updates. See, for example, from April 29, "IE zero day is the first sign of the XPocalypse." At issue: an Internet Exploder bug that dates back to IE 6 (that browser is up to version 11), because IE code is intertwined with basic Windows functionality.

Microsoft's initial response was that they would fix the bug in supported versions of Windows. Two days later, a policy reversal: "Microsoft rescues XP users with emergency browser fix." With "the estimated hundreds of millions" of the world's computers -- including 100Ks of US government computers -- still running XP, a case can be made that Microsoft's policy reversal was for the greater good. Apart, perhaps, from positive PR, the move is certainly not a benefit to Microsoft, as relenting this time will only encourage holdouts in their many millions to count upon future rescues.

IMO, it's nonetheless imprudent to gamble Microsoft will do the same after discovery of the next, inevitable XP bug. Even if one still depends on XP-only apps. If you find yourself in such a situation, check out, "Compatibility with security: How to run Windows XP in a virtual machine."

Russians in Crimea (Voice of America)
New (revisited) subject. In March, in "Sorry that I was so right," I opined, in part, about the naivete of those who had believed Russia reformed and the Cold War a bygone era. And back in 2011, when the space shuttle fleet was retired -- without a replacement American crew-rated spacecraft in sight -- I vented in "Crocodile cheers."

Well, we still don't have a crew-rated American spacecraft. Instead, we have mockery: "U.S. Should Send Astronauts To Space Station By Trampoline: Russian Official." Bear in mind (hah!) that NASA -- read: American taxpayers -- pays Russia ~$70M for each astronaut delivered to the ISS. What passes for sanctions in response to Russian intervention and annexation in Ukraine has yet to make that payout attractive.

And so, due to the lack of government foresight, without other options for access to the space station in which NASA has already invested >$100B, "The U.S. Just Gave Russia $457.9 Million to Do a Job an American Company Could Have Done."

US Navy comsat
It gets worse. A modern military depends on satellites: for the global positioning system, for secure global communications, for early warning of missile launches, for observation. More satellites are ever in demand as old satellites need replacement and new capabilities become feasible. And many of those national-defense-critical satellites are massive; they can only be lofted by heavy-lift launchers.  Now the Air Force wants to award a sole-source contract to United Launch Alliance (jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin) -- for heavy-lift launchers dependent on Russian-built rocket engines!

I was pleased when American aerospace up-and-comer SpaceX protested the sole-source award -- and delighted last week to read "SpaceX granted injunction in rocket launch suit against government." (Yes, that's the same SpaceX that has made three cargo deliveries to the ISS, and is hard at work on upgrading its Dragon space capsule for crew rating.) 

More follow-up next time ...

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