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Category: Computing (page 1 of 3)

Protonmail IP Logging

Around the end of May 2019, a scandal erupted around Protonmail, the encrypted email service, associated with the CERN laboratory, and based in Switzerland. I keep running into this sensational item on social media and am weary of debunking it over and over. So, here’s a blog post about it.

This tempest in a teapot stems from a misleading tweet made by a Swiss lawyer, Martin Steiger, where he states that Protonmail “voluntarily offers assistance for real-time surveillance.” This came from a statement he heard in a meeting. The tweet made it sound like Protonmail offers surveillance to anyone who asks, or even offers it unasked for, so everyone freaked out.

What’s the truth? It’s actually pretty boring. All Swiss-based providers of Internet services are required by law to assist law enforcement when ordered to do so by a court of law. This is the same in virtually every country.

What was said and meant in the meeting that Mr. Steiger attended was that Protonmail cooperates with law enforcement when ordered to do so by a court without fighting the court order. The word “voluntarily” meant that Protonmail complies with Swiss law without objecting.

In the case of Protonmail, cooperating means IP logging, which is all Protonmail can do. The system is designed so they cannot decrypt the contents of emails.

Everything clear now?


Announcing a new page. In recent weeks, my patent “legacy” has come into the conversation. Looking them up is clumsy and time consuming, so I gathered the most interesting ones and published them on a WordPress page here, along with PDFs of the full patents. Now, I can send just one link.

Blogger Export Broken

Hmm. There’s a WordPress plugin that makes transferring a blog from Google’s Blogger to WordPress quite easy. I’ve used it before. Unfortunately, this plugin does not work with WordPress MultiSite. So, I decided to use the manual method of using Blogger’s export function to export to a file, then import the file into WordPress. This is very straightforward. Whereupon, I discovered that Blogger’s export function has been broken for several months with no apparent effort on Google’s part to fix it. Isn’t that oddly interesting?

50th Anniversary of Computer Programming

For what it’s worth, I celebrate a milestone this month, October, 2018. Fifty years ago, I learned to program a computer, in October of 1968. The machine was an IBM 1130. The first language I learned was Fortran IV. Computer programming bit me so hard that I completed the entire four volume IBM programmed learning course in three days of almost non-stop immersion. I was already deep into electronics and astronomy, and the computer complemented both of those fields. For several years, programming became almost an obsession.

In rapid sequence I learned Fortran IV, 1130 machine language, RPG, and APL. I was hooked. Below is an old grainy photo of the very machine I learned on.

Please comment below.

“My” IBM 1130

Mayan Calendar Doesn’t End on December 20, 2012

August 11, 3114 BC marks the beginning of the current calendric cycle of the Mayan Long Count calendar.  The Mayan calendar is comprised of repeating periods that result from the Mayan base-20 positional number system.

The Mayans were the first humans to invent a positional number system like our decimal system—a system based on powers of a number base plus the idea of a numeral that represents zero.  A positional number system must have some way to represent the value zero.  In contrast to our base-10 system, the Mayans chose base-20.  So instead of decimal places Mayan numbers have vigesimal places.  Instead of the decimal system of nine numerals plus zero, Mayan numbers are composed of 19 numerals, plus zero.  In the decimal system, each digit represents a power of ten.  In the Mayan system, each digit represents a power of 20.  A positional number system is a necessity for doing serious mathematics.  Imagine doing even simple addition with a non-positional system like Roman numerals.

Our Gregorian calendar uses decimal numbers for years and a messy system based on the arbitrary values 7, 28, 29, 30, and 31 for weeks and months.  We call the periods of our calendar days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and millennia.

The Mayan Long Count system is much cleaner.  The periods correspond to vigesimal places of a Long Count date and are named k’in, uinal, tun, k’atun, baktun, piktun, etc., each representing a power of 20 except the the second place, the uinal, which is base-18. (This results in the 20×18 = 360 day count in the lowest two places to represent the 360 day Mayan year.) From the third place on up, the count is purely vigesimal.

Mayan Calendar

Mayan Calendar

The Mayans actually used three calendars side-by-side.  The Tzolkin and the Ha’ab calendars are designed to keep track of holidays and astronomical / planting cycles.  Those calendars restart every 52 years and don’t concern us here.  The third calendar, the Maya Long Count calendar, counts an unlimited number of days from a specified starting point using a modified base-20 system that accommodates the 360 day Mayan year. Because this calendar is unlimited, Long Count dates are inscribed in monuments intended to last for a long time.

Now let’s connect some of the Mayan Long Count periods with real numbers.  The first vigesimal place, the kin, counts 20 day cycles.  The second place, the uinal, counts base-18.  Together, the first and second places roll over every 360 days, which is the length of the Mayan year, and the count carries into the third digit.  The third digit, tun, counts 20 Mayan years.  The fourth digit, k’atun, counts 20 tuns, or 400 Mayan years, which is 394.25 years on our Gregorian calendar.  It is this 394 year cycle that is going to roll over in December 20, 2012, and the next vigesimal place, the baktun, will increase from 12 to 13.  We are now in the 13th baktun since the start of the Long Count calendar (like saying we’re in the 21st century in our calendar).  The next baktun begins on December 21, 2012.

A baktun is a period of 144,000 days or 394.25 Gregorian years. The Classic Period of Mayan history occurred during the 8th and 9th baktuns.  The last day of the 13th baktun occurs on Dec 20, 2012 in the Gregorian calendar, which is on the Mayan Long Count calendar. The 14th baktun begins
on (Long Count) or Dec 21, 2010 (Gregorian).

When 20 baktuns are completed (7,885 years from the starting point in 3114 BCE) a new piktun begins and the baktun starts counting again from zero.  The pictun isn’t normally written on Long Count dates because it’s assumed.  Just like we don’t write leading zeros on Gregorian years.  We don’t write 000002012, just 2012.  When 20 pictuns are completed, or 157,700 years, a new kalabtun begins. In fact there are two more digits defined beyond these in the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the k’inchiltun and the alautun.  The Mayan Long Count calendar has places already define and named that carry it another 1.2 billion years.  In our calendar we’re only named periods out to millennia.  The Mayans had a much longer view of time.  And even after 1.2 billion years have elapsed and the named periods of the Mayan calendar are filled, the calendar still doesn’t end.  You just keep adding more digits to the year, the same as we will do when our year passes 9999.

In light of this, the idea that the Mayan calendar ends is particularly ridiculous.  The Long Count calendar is defined, with named periods, 1.2 billion years out into the future.  It would make more sense to say that our calendar ends in 9999, since we haven’t named any periods beyond the millennium.  But the hoopla about the new baktun (similar to a century on our calendar) makes for lots of book and movie sales.

For a timeline of Guatemalan history, from 15,000 BC to the present, see Guatemala History Timeline. 

The Maya Paradise home page displays today’s date in all three Mayan calendars: Tzolkin, Ha’ab, and Long Count.  Maya Paradise

Happy 20th Anniversary to the World Wide Web

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee, of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, wrote a paper describing what quickly became the World Wide Web.

Back in 1989, the Web was just an idea, but it was a world-changing idea and one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

At that time, the first browser and the first web server had yet to be created but those things came quickly. Back then, we got our news from newspapers and on TV at 6 PM. We did our research and study in libraries. We met with our friends in church or at a bar. We received and paid bills through the mail. We used to go to the bank to deposit checks and take care of business. We shopped for clothing by driving to stores and touching the products. We learned about new products through print ads, billboards, and television. We learned about different cultures and met people in distant lands by getting on an airplane and going there. We got our music by buying CDs or cassettes. The idea of an individual being able to publish his writings or photos and have them instantly visible to millions of people was inconceivable.

By 1995, things were well underway. At that time the first major search engine was created, called Alta Vista. Does anyone besides me remember Alta Vista? There was no Yahoo, no Google, no Hotmail, no online music, no multiplayer games. Web-based email was yet to be invented (by Hotmail, later bought by Microsoft). There was no YouTube because there was no digital video yet. Compressed audio (MP3) had just been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. The first MP3 player for computers (WinAmp) came in 1998. The first portable MP3 player came in 1999.

Look at what has happened in the last 10 to 14 years. The whole world has changed for anyone who has access to the Internet.

What will the next 20 years bring?

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