Random links #13

Written on 19 March 2019, 10:20am

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Biohack is just a fancy buzz-word for common-sense advice about improving your life. The most important ones are:

  • sleep well
  • eat well
  • move
  • spend time in nature
  • socialize


I am currently reading Solenoid, by Mircea Cartarescu, a surrealist novel that shows, among others, the challenges of growing up in Bucharest during the communist era.

In a nutshell, the novel is presented as a manuscript of a failed writer who teaches Romanian at an elementary school in Bucharest, hates his job and wishes to find an escape route from the confinement of his body and the three-dimensional world around it.



MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) seem to be the faulty mechanism behind the Boeing 737 Max recent failure.
If an outside sensor measuring the angle-of-attack reports that its nose is aimed too high, the MCAS is programmed to automatically lower it, allowing the plane to regain speed and lift. But if this sensor is broken (and it looks like there was no redundancy), then the MCAS will be incorrectly trigerred, causing the aircraft to dive.
A longer explanation here.


– If you could convince an organization to take only one action to be more secure what would it be?
Collect less data and get rid of it faster.


A good reason to use the dark theme whenever you can

Something is rotten in the state of Belgium

Written on 1 April 2016, 03:17pm

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A post full of links and frustrations, following the recent attacks in Brussels.

A very good summary of the Belgium’s worst terror misses, mistakes and misunderstandings is in this post: http://www.politico.eu/article/the-dirty-dozen-12-mistakes-that-condemned-brussels-to-terror-attacks-isil/. Then there is the famous rant in the wake of the Paris attacks about how Belgium is a failed state: http://www.politico.eu/article/belgium-failed-state-security-services-molenbeek-terrorism/. They paint a very accurate picture of the Belgian state, but they are coming from the same source, so below there are more links with factual data coming from other sources.

Belgian Authorities Overwhelmed By Terror Investigations: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mitchprothero/belgian-authorities-overwhelmed-by-terror-investigations

Belgium feared tragedy was coming but couldn’t stop it (Kristof Clerix): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/22/belgium-feared-brussels-attacks-tragedy-but-could-not-stop-it
From the same author, a post written post-Paris attacks: Why are terrorists drawn to Belgium? http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/17/terrorists-belgium-paris-attacks

Wrong man portrait broadcast: http://www.dhnet.be/medias/television/le-petit-journal-devoile-l-erreur-monumentale-du-ministere-de-l-interieur-dans-le-dossier-reda-kriket-56fe67a235708ea2d41cc459

How Fayçal Cheffou is free to go and a suspected terrorist http://www.politico.eu/article/brussels-terror-attacks-faycal-cheffou-both-free-to-go-and-a-suspected-terrorist/
Arrested and freed again because he got into a friend flat by the window: Fayçal Cheffou à nouveau arrêté http://www.dhnet.be/actu/belgique/faycal-cheffou-a-nouveau-arrete-56fc2c2d35708ea2d40fa73f

La sécurité de l’aéroport de Zaventem inquiète http://www.lesoir.be/1167056/article/actualite/belgique/2016-03-30/attentats-bruxelles-securite-l-aeroport-zaventem-inquiete
“Police working at Brussels Airport have published an open letter censuring the security system at Belgium’s national airport. They suggest the 22 March terrorist attack at Zaventem could have been avoided, and also demand more and better guarantees before accepting to restart working at Brussels Airport.” http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/News/1.2616163

Le système de communication Astrid de la police a été saturé pendant les attentats. Selon un agent, les services ont dû communiquer via l’application Whatsapp, écrivent le Nieuwsblad et la Gazet van Antwerpen samedi. https://www.rtbf.be/info/dossier/explosions-a-brussels-airport/detail_la-police-a-ete-contrainte-de-communiquer-via-whatsapp-pendant-les-attentats?id=9252980

8 Belges sur 10 redoutent de nouvelles attaques et accusent l’Etat, selon un sondage http://www.rtbf.be/info/dossier/explosions-a-brussels-airport/detail_attentats-de-bruxelles-8-belges-sur-10-redoutent-de-nouvelles-attaques-et-accusent-l-etat-selon-un-sondage?id=9256818

March 2014: “Le Centre de Crise développe de nouveaux canaux pour alerter la population en cas de catastrophe. Toutefois, les citoyens ne seront pas automatiquement prévenus. L’inscription via le site web be-alert.be est impérative pour recevoir, le cas échéant, un SMS d’avertissement. Il est également possible d’opter pour l’e-mail, le message vocal sur un numéro fixe ou mobile et… le fax.” http://geeko.lesoir.be/2014/03/17/le-centre-de-crise-belge-debute-lenvoi-dalertes-par-sms/
March 2016: Phone networks down. People not receiving any alerts. “Pourquoi BE-Alert n’a-t-il pas fonctionné ? “J’avais fait inscrire toute ma famille, dont mes parents âgés et ma sœur qui souffre d’un handicap. Mardi dernier, jour des attentats à Bruxelles, personne n’a reçu d’alerte. Si, avant de prendre le métro, j’avais reçu un SMS me tenant au courant de la menace terroriste, jamais je n’aurais pris le risque d’entrer dans la station de Maelbeek. Je serais restée à l’abri et n’aurais pas dû compter sur le hasard pour pouvoir être en vie et témoigner”, s’indigne-t-elle.” http://www.dhnet.be/actu/belgique/pourquoi-be-alert-n-a-t-il-pas-fonctionne-56fdf70635708ea2d41a1e0d

Ok. Where do we go from here? 3 starting points in my opinion (one preventive, two reactive):
1. Strengthen the national security services

The ratio between security services and potential terrorists is therefore roughly of 1:1 — at best. Needless to say, there are not nearly enough people to properly monitor every dangerous individual. Authorities are forced to prioritize and make judgement calls. The likelihood of mistakes multiplies. […] The problem is widely acknowledged, but budgetary restrictions, which were in effect until 2015 due to difficult economic conditions, exacerbated the situation. In this context, and in order to anticipate future threats, the government urgently needs to strengthen its national security services. It’s not a magical solution, but it’s a first step — especially if followed by other measures across the entire counter-terrorism spectrum, notably in terms of prevention.

2. Introduce proper terrorist penalties: life sentence in isolation for terrorist activities, 24/24 monitor for flagged individuals, 24/24 search warrants for suspicion of terrorist activities, etc

3. Up to date CCTV system with high image quality in public places (not like the joke of image in the airport that seems to be taken with a potato)


Do I really need mobile internet?

Written on 2 October 2015, 02:07pm

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In the beginning of this week I started a little experiment. I did not reload my prepaid phone card – meaning I no longer had the usual 2Gb of mobile internet which were typically lasting for 3-4 weeks. I didn’t really know what to expect: without being a social media guy (probably one of the last on this planet not being on Facebook), I thought that FOMO will kick in. Well, it didn’t, maybe also because I was not 100% disconnected, still being able to access the internet from work.
Here are my top 10 findings, collected in a random order. Next to each item I put a score representing how much I missed the connected mode:
1 – not missed it at all
2 – not missed it, but it was nice to have
3 – missed it, but I could easily find a workaround
4 – missed it; the alternative is inconvenient or time consuming
5 – definitely missed it; impossible to do offline and no real alternatives/workarounds

My offline experiment

1. Music: I missed the fact that I could not listen to a particular song that crossed my mind and I had to rely on the offline playlists. Also, on one occasion I could not Shazam a song playing on the radio. Score: 3/5
2. Email: Not receiving emails on the fly is not a problem; I rarely receive emails I must respond urgently. In any case I could check the email several times per day from work. What was really annoying was the fact that I could not snooze emails to have a clean inbox. Score: 3/5
3. Photos: Here the only problem was not being able to post the photos on flickr or share them with family on Google Photos. Not very annoying, so score: 2/5
4. Files: Accessing files from Dropbox could eventually be replaced using the website; but extracting a file stored on my iPhone (like a photo or scanned invoice) required connecting the device to my work computer, which is not always possible and definitely inconvenient. Score: 4/5
5. News: Being informed is important to me, and I like being notified about the latest news. I use Newsify as feed reader – and during the test I had to make sure that I download the news in the morning. I was eventually catching up with the updates in the evening, along with the football and local news. Score: 3/5
6. Connected devices: Here I found that the mobile internet is essential. I was no longer receiving updates from my connected security camera or smoke detector, unable to see/set the home temperature or to find my Tile. Internet of things, so score: 5/5
7. Messages: switching from iMessages to old-school SMSs was not an issue in communicating with the persons that already knew about my experiment. But it was an issue for the ones who didn’t, so I was not receiving iMessages until the evening. Also, I was unable to send/receive other media than simple text. On the other hand, synchronous communication is not ideal, so score: 2/5.
8. Weather: In Belgium the weather can change quickly. So I got used to checking the forecast regularly and have the temperature displayed on my watch. Also, I was relying on push notifications to have weather updates twice per day. With the offline mode being active, I had to make sure that every morning I check the weather from home. Score: 2/5
9. Maps: During the experiment I did not need the maps. However, I know that it’s a feature that I use from time to time, and I would rate it as essential. The alternative would be to download maps for offline use, but it’s not always practical. Score: 4/5
10. Others: I realized that I am using the mobile bank app more often than I thought. But this was not an issue and it can always wait for the wi-fi.
Tracking car fuel consumption was still possible by taking a few pictures and filling the data at home.
Checking the mobile operator stats (credit, usage, etc) was impossible even on wi-fi (cellular data must be enabled), but I could always send a mobile request (#120# or similar).
Calendar, TV schedule or Skype could always wait for the wi-fi.
Overall, I would put score: 2/5.


Being disconnected is not a first world problem. We got used to do certain things from mobile internet. Meanwhile, it’s true that the current technology makes it incredibly easy to introduce yourself ‘mobile’ needs: communication, information, home automation, secure mobile banking, etc.
During the offline experiment, I also noticed some benefits. Being offline meant:
– more time to read e-books or 100-pages long PDF posts
– more time to play Peak
– more time to take/edit pictures
But being disconnected did not meant I stopped using my iPhone. Nor that it pushed me to buy newspapers/books. It just meant that it made me plan better for the day, re-organize things and make the most of the wi-fi usage.

To answer the question in the title – yes, I need mobile internet. After all, my scoring system above indicated that 3 items out of 10 scored 4 or 5, and the average was 3/5. What’s more important, mobile phone slowly becomes synonym with mobile internet device. And that’s the point to remember.