FOXTROT/ALFA: The FSF Wants Windows 7, Machine Learning Didn’t Predict Premature Births Well, Brandenburg Hacked

Hailing frequencies open! This is issue 70 of FOXTROT/ALFA for Friday, 24 January 2020 and here are your tech news for the day. Engage!

Data Breach of the Day

Today’s data breach is brought to you by the UK’s Royal Yachting Association:

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has told members that “an unauthorised party” may have pilfered a database containing personal information from 2015. A statement issued by the boating organisation, which awards sailing qualifications and safety training to the Great British Public, said it had spotted the breach just over a week ago.

“On 17 January 2020 we became aware that an unauthorised party accessed and may have acquired a database created in 2015 containing personal data associated with a number of RYA user accounts,” it said. Stolen information included names, email addresses and “hashed passwords”, including a “majority held with the salted hash function.” No payment or financial information was said to have gone walkies.

Cyber of the Day

In CYBERWAR news, the city of Brandenburg has been attacked . It looks like the Shitrix vulnerability is part of the problem. The computer systems of several administrative divisions of the city government seem to be offline right now. Of course, nothing will happen over the weekend – it’s the German bureaucracy after all.

Brandenburg is mostly known for being unremarkable. As a German comedian famously sang: “Brandenburg… why would you wanna live there?”

The FSF Wants to Have Windows 7

There are these news stories that you read and you’re all… sorry, what? This is one of those. Apparently the FSF, maybe looking to create a new benchmark for irony, wants Microsoft to open source Windows 7. Yes. Windows 7. The one they excoriated for its “seven sins” back in the day. Christ Almighty.

More than 10 years on from its campaign to persuade users to dump Windows 7 for a non-proprietary alternative, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has kicked off a petition to urge Microsoft to open-source the recently snuffed software.

On the face of it, the logic seems pretty simple. On 14 January Windows 7 reached its end of life as Microsoft turned off the free security update taps with a final fix (which seemed to bork desktop wallpapers for some users).

“Its life doesn’t have to end,” cried the foundation. “We call on Microsoft to upcycle it instead.” Unfortunately, the FSF couldn’t resist a final dig, saying the killing of the OS had brought to an end “its updates as well as its 10 years of poisoning education, invading privacy, and threatening user security.”

Hey team, way to go on persuading the Redmond gang to do you a solid. Suggesting such a release would go some way to “undo past wrongs” may not be a persuasive argument for the Seattle suits, who probably saw Windows 7 as way of undoing the heinous deeds of Vista.

Even after almost a decade and a half of reporting on the FSF, it still surprises me from time to time how disconnected these people are from the general reality of it all.

Machine Learning Didn’t Predict Premature Births as Well as We Thought it Did

Breaking news: Sometimes AI isn’t the answer. Sometimes its crap.

A surprising number of peer-reviewed premature-birth-predicting machine-learning systems are nowhere near as accurate as first thought, according to a new study.

Gilles Vandewiele, a PhD student at Ghent University in Belgium, and his colleagues discovered the shortcomings while investigating how well artificial intelligence can predict premature births using non-invasive electrohysterography (EHG) readings. By premature, we mean before 37 weeks into a pregnancy, and by EHG, we mean the electrical activity in uterine muscles.

They identified an EHG data set on Physionet that was used to train premature-birth-predicting software in 24 published studies. After analyzing each one, they determined 11 of the papers mixed their training and testing data, which led to wildly incorrect accuracy scores.

100 Seconds to Midnight

We’re all gonna die! Since I was a kid, I can remember people saying we’re all doomed. At first, during the Cold War, it was the threat of nuclear annihilation. Then it was supposed to be resource wars in the 2000s, brought on by Peak Oil. Then it was overpopulation and the Population Bomb. After that, it was terrorists with dirty bombs and viruses. Now, it’s climate change:

Today, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates, moved the Doomsday Clock from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight.

As the statement issued today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explains: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers – nuclear war and climate change – that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”

Bullshit. You’re full of crap! All of these predictions since the late ‘80s (and probably all of the ones before that since this fucking clock was created in 1947) were wrong. All of them. We’re still here. In fact, the human race is, by and large, on the right track where wars are concerned. Things are getting better.

I’m not saying there aren’t problems to be solved – including climate change – but stop trying to make everyone panic all of the time. I’m sick and tired of this shit.

Space Cookies

And now something from the total opposite of the bullshit news scale: First food baked in space by astronauts.

Chocolate chip cookies have become the first food to be baked in space in a first-of-its-kind experiment. Astronauts baked the cookies in a special zero-gravity oven at the International Space Station (ISS) last month.

Sealed in individual baking pouches, three of the cookies returned to Earth on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on 7 January. The aim of the experiment was to study cooking options for long-haul trips. The results of the experiment, carried out by astronauts Luca Parmitano and Christina Koch, were revealed this week.

You know what’s sad? That’s the much celebrated all-women spacewalk crew. And they follow this feminist achievement up by baking in space??? You can’t make this shit up! What’s next? The first space sewalong? Okay, okay… I’ll see myself out.

Star Trek: Picard Launches

But before I go, I’d like to mention that Star Trek: Picard premiered today on Amazon Prime Video in Europe. I’ve just watched the first episode and I gotta say it’s promising. Let’s hope they don’t fuck this up, considering how badly Discovery went off the rails last season.

If you read German: My review should be up tomorrow on heise online . Until then, I’ll leave you with the wonderful Picard Song by Dark Materia. LLAP!

Also Noteworthy

Here’s some more stories I came across that you might find interesting:


This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.