Suggestions 2021

Suggestions 2021
Photo by Blaz Photo on Unsplash

Innovative workspaces, 1972

Who invented those relax spaces in modern high tech companies, with ping
pong tables, bicycles and coffee machines?
This is the report Stuart Brand (Stanford, Biology) wrote for Rolling
Stones after visiting the mythical XEROX PARC lab in Palo Alto, north of
Silicon Valley. It was 1972 and PARC was two years old, struggling to
demonstrate its profitability to XEROX Headquarters, 3000KM far from here.
The Bean-Bag Room seen in one of the pictures was a special meeting room
where anyone could be invited to talk about any topic (really anything).
After an hour or so of talking, residents at PARC usually started asking
questions, challenging and criticizing about the topic, turning the talk
into a sort of a trial. The history of XEROX PARC tells plenty of funny
and interesting anecdotes, remembering that here the Laser Printer,
Ethernet, the Mouse, the Word Processor and Personal Computer as we know
today were born.

Our next pandemic

Andrew Dobson is no ordinary teacher. A professor of ecology and
evolutionary biology at Princeton, he started asking himself (and his
colleagues) how to prevent the next pandemic. He is pretty sure that an
annual investment of $30 billion (worldwide) would be a good starting
point, perhaps sufficient for keeping us safe. Here a short version, on
Science Magazine (free to read) the full explanation.

Cryptography offers fascinating topics even to the causal reader,
provided that you're willing to read without really understanding all
details at first. You can then search for more and more details, only to
discover that the mathematics behind evolved a lot in the meantime...
What about sharing a secret with a number of persons without revealing
it, and later after disclosing you give a proof of having known before?
Looks like committing a proof of having an amount of (crypto)money
without revealing anything about it. In a Quantum-Proof way.
Prof. Buchanan dives into this almost impossible challenge with Prof.
Pedersen as if they were talking about weather in Scotland.

Safety in Automotive with Rust

Rust is an interesting programming language. It was born at Mozilla
(Firefox, Thunderbird, the fancy offices in San Francisco, Canada,
Portland, Berlin etc.) and is secure by its foundations. Developers who
start using it report feeling like it was impossible not to invent it.
So, why not using in the most amazingly complex development, the
autonomous vehicles of tomorrow? Here an opinionated essay.

Quantum Computing podcasts

I recently discovered the series at "meet the meQuanics".
This is a weekly podcast about quantum physics and quantum technology.
Physical hardware together with the technological transfer between
Academy and Industry and the efforts to construct a new technological
industry are topics for the interviews. We're witnessing the very fast
growth of a totally new paradigm in computing and while announcements
from big corporations appear to be too optimistic, a wealth of startups
and academic groups are moving forward so fast that a risk exists that
the effects will come before we understand what's happening. It's
exciting to hear about how silicon industry is potentially a perfect fit
for the new Quantum Computing building blocks.

Bio Science podcast

After the famous "Software is eating the world" (an essay published in
The Wall Street Journal, 2011) now Marc Andreessen and staff name their
podcast dedicated to life sciences, healthcare, technology and industry
after "Bio Eats World". It's true that "Biology is breaking out of the
lab and clinic?and into our daily lives". This is what computing used to
be years ago: transforming almost everything about our everyday
experience of living. Most of the transformations are for our good,
while sometimes sounds like Bio Sciences are dedicated to repairing
disasters caused by other technological advancements.

Lex Friedman and Machine Learning podcast

Conversations about the nature of intelligence, consciousness, love, and power

In this extraordinary and  grueling series of 150+ interviews with giants from all sciences you
find any interesting topic you may want to approach. I like to hear the
advancements on Machine Learning and thanks to Lex's holistic approach I
learn how many different skills are involved in building an artificial
intelligence science and in facing with its consequences.

Quantum Computing and blockchain

An adversary could insert its own blocks and undermine the entire blockchain.

Sounds a bit scaring, doesn't it? This is the promise of Quantum
Computing, and it's coming here sooner than later. More and more essays
and papers speak about practical Quantum Computing and building Quantum
Computing blocks. So here it is: another technology to be taken into

Data Privacy in EU

Anyone involved in studying, preventing, consulting about Data Privacy
should know about the existence of this and other guidelines created by
the European Union working groups, ENISA experts and other European
bodies. This one is about Data Breach Notification and examples of data
breached happening - no wait, already happened to some company or

Mathematical minds

This is my favorite this week and I hope you will enjoy reading another
superb essay on The New Yorker about John Conway, Ronald Graham, and
Freeman Dyson: three great mathematical minds lost during 2020.

(Un)safety of cars

You pay a huge amount of money in exchange for an engineering dream when
you buy a car.

All modern sciences are involved in the design of road vehicles (not to
mention trains and airplanes). You may think that manufacturers of metal
boxes running fast with humans inside are among the most regulated by
law. This is not the case. Qualification for road vehicles is indeed
regulated (the E mark in UN) but electronics and software inside are
still loosely considered. Michael Barr (software expert, leading the
embedded consulting company The Barr Group) was involved in the analysis
of the software flaws that ultimately lead to highly dangerous design of
a car years ago:

The Challenger space disaster and Dr. Feynman

Which reminds of another incident in space industry: the Challenger
Disaster. Richard Feynman famously explained his findings on the O-Ring
failure. We have something to learn from Dr. Feynman, about how to
explain clearly and concisely:

Hacking modern cars

Today, engineering standards and best practices exist and are widely
being adopted, while regulations are slowly evolving. And what about
cyber security? Do you remember the trick of short circuiting two wires
under the steering wheel for starting an engine without keys? This is
version 2.0:

Preventing cyber attacks to cars

Regulations and engineering standards for cyber security in vehicles are
now evolving from draft to final, and part of compulsory qualification
in less than five years. Time to start upgrading development practices!

Quantum Computing and vehicles manufacturers

...but wait, this is not the end of the story: Quantum Computing is
coming and cyber security will need to be rewritten from scratch. Here
is helping procurement, next step?

Building safe algorithms

An integral part of any design-or-plan-first development process is to look at the problem you're trying to solve at a high level is not a charity. It's a design house developing highly complex
software for autonomous drive; they're based in Palo Alto and Munich,
and to whom who knows a bit about my passions this means a lot.
Yet, people at do publish a lot about their development process
and technologies. Three essays are dedicated to Functional Safety,
algorithms and development process. The importance of reading such posts
is in the technical content first, with an eye to the format and
wording. Nothing is less useful than knowledge and technical
capabilities with no willingness to share.

Vacuum tubes, described

The Bell Labs back in the '30s published a lot about what was going on
inside the labs. This description of vacuum tubes research and
production is extraordinary.

Quantum Computers revolution

The relevant word in this next paper is "experimental".
In the list of Research Centers involved in the outcome are Vienna and
Milano as leaders: Quantum Computing is now reaching the feasibility
status here in Europe, which is scaring for cyber security but
challenging for embedded devices. That's why semiconductor manufacturers
are investing in Quantum, strong cyber and machine learning on the edge.
We're about to witness another revolution in embedded systems, and
Europe is very well positioned.

Attracting and enpowering talents, not positions

Traditional organizations tend to distribute activities via job descriptions that are out-of-date the moment they are crafted. Moreover, this process ensures that most employees do not apply their full talents. What a waste!

I'm reading a lot about innovation and how big corporations like Xerox,
AT&T and others leverages a century of extraordinary scientific
advancements. They were successful in creating both teams of great
scientists and a culture of useful and targeted innovation.

In the end it's all about cultural shift, from roles based organization
(where changing role is almost impossible) to talent scouting and
nurturing. This is a clear and concise view on this concept.

Cyber physical attacks

Cyber security is not only a matter of cryptology and algorithms. When
an electronic device is exposed in the wild, a lot of attack scenarios
can exploit hardware weaknesses that are extremely difficult to be
avoided at the design stage.

These threats are known as side channel attacks. They can be active
(injecting perturbances) or passive (catching leaked information). Among
the active ones, perturbing power supply is the simplest. How effective?

This paper is chosen among a series published by CHES (Conference on
Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems) and was written by
researchers at the Ca Foscari, University of Venice. It's very
interesting being practical and referenced to small microcontrollers
found in a lot of products.

Coffee intelligence

This is a very nice example of how Deep Learning enables innovation in
directions we're no accustomed at: more functionalities, smaller
dimensions, cheap solutions. I'm sure this device will soon become a
small independent piece of hardware with software embedded. Thanks to
the paradigm of Machine Learning on the Edge now reaching computer
vision capabilities, mobile phone or PC will not be needed anymore.

Cyber physical attack: listen to your key

This is a mechanical keys attack that relies on audio sniffing. How is
this useful? Because it suggests the idea that any problem should be
analyzed first without assumptions. This is also a mindset for
adversaries and penetration testers in cyber security. Moreover, the
wonderful cyber physical description of the problem and solutions in
this paper is a great guideline on how to put down notes about some new
experiment to be shared with colleagues. Really worth reading!

Golang and cyphers

If you want to experiment cyphers and cyber algorithms, or in case
you're into building a team of developers for that super secure feature
of your next product, you should definitely read the essays published by
Prof. Bill Buchanan: plenty of examples and pieces of code.

He discovered Golang in 2019 and started using it; he then wrote a guide
for his students on how to benefit from the huge amount of solutions
based on this wonderful programming language. The blog post on this is
neat and exact.

Quantum computing explained

Quantum computers: honestly, I didn't yet see any convincing and simple
explanation on what's behind the scenes of quantum computing and qubits.
Leading to the impression shared with many others that there's a bit of
hype and over estimation of the real achievements so far in this field.

Until this one was published a few days ago. This is really what was
missing, in terms of balancing between coverage of the topic and simple
explanations. Enjoy a trip to the near future of computing!

Reverse engineering information

Finding information about a company and persons, collecting leaked
pieces of information from a device, sniffing information exchanged over
a communication channel. This is a big part of Information Security and
Penetration Testing. A very long and complete notepad about operations
and commands everyone can leverage for giving this exciting science a
try. Disclaimer: some of the suggested practices are not permitted by
law "in the wild". Reverse engineering is not always a fault at the
leaking side, the collecting side might be liable.

Reverse engineering a microprocessor

Microprocessors in use inside our Personal Computers and Servers are
overwhelmingly complex. Modern Intel architectures rely on several
layers of compatibility with ancient derivatives that partially date
back to the venerable 8080/8086. The needs for retro compatibility and
very fast operations lead to using at least three nested instructions
translations, starting from high level programming languages. The inner
instructions set is often composed of very few obscure micro operations,
while what we usually call Assembly Language still contains fairly
readable operating codes. Complexity hides mistakes, hidden codes, and
operating modes not intended to be disclosed.
This great essay tells a story of hidden instructions discovery, in a
narrative way. It's useful because it also suggests a process for (1)
exploring (2) experimenting and (3) explaining, in simple words.

Reverse engineering how we learn

What? Artificial Intelligence algorithms that can learn from almost no
data? This is how children learn to distinguish between categories of
things they see the first time.

"Less-than-one"-shot learning is such technology developed by scientists
working at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) for building Machine
Learning solutions that rely on a very very limited amount of given
data, and still can select and take decisions. Amazing consequences!

Paul G. Allen (1953-2018) was a businessman, computer programmer,
researcher, investor. He's known for having co-founded Microsoft with
Bill Gates in 1975. He was also a philanthropist and founder of several
Allen Institutes: neuroscience, cell biology, bio and medical sciences,
immunology and artificial intelligence. A typical American way of giving
back after having earned far more than what's needed in one single life.

Open science is one core principle of all Allen Institutes. The best
incarnation of the principle is Semantic Scholar, the free AI-powered
research tool for scientific literature now ranking hundreds of millions
of published papers. It was created by people at the Allen Institute for
AI and ranks also other research centers and researchers.

In 2016 Michael I. Jordan of the University of California, Berkley was
ranked the most influential Computer Scientist. A few days ago an
interesting interview to Jordan appeared on IEEE Spectrum about the
scope of Artificial Intelligence: he spent years studying the
consequences of misunderstanding what AI really is and should give to
humanity. His conclusions are rare examples of a crystal clear thinking.

Hashing, the wrong way

Hashing is at the foundation of cybersecurity. By hashing, an arbitrary
long message can be converted to a fixed length message with certain
interesting properties, boiling down to not being able to rebuild the
original message. Other properties should include not being able to
modify an existing message without knowing it, which is clearly just one
step from intercepting the message.

Unfortunately a bunch of well known and widely used hashing algorithms
are being used in a wrong context leading exactly to these weaknesses,
and this is an interesting example of the semantic complexity of

On micromanaging

Managers and team leaders are facing a tough challenge in the years of
Covid-19. Micromanaging is one serious risk while trying to help from
remote, without the human touch and reactions. This essay helps
identifying errors and remedies.

History of modern vaccines

The path toward mass production of vaccines against COVID-19 is
fascinating. The pandemic is a tragic event; if any positive outcome
exists, this is the understanding of how important scientific
advancement is, together with a deep thinking and discussion around our

Anthony Fauci is the author of this week's editorial on Science about
the history of modern vaccines. Science is in my opinion the magazine that
best represent the possibility of a publicly supported and shared
international research.

Reading on paper

Why is reading on paper so important? It's about focusing on a topic or
narration, without distractions and for a long while. This is very
difficult while navigating the Internet and following so called socials.

The duration state we enter through a turned page would be lost in a world of increasing speed and relentless connectivity

wrote Sven Birkerts in 1994 (The Gutenberg Elegies), at the beginning of the
Internet Era.

Let's re-discover printed matter: books, newspapers, printed essays are
worth much more the time that it takes to read them.

Writing for prionting

Writing also has great benefits: mind organization, remembering details
about topics, clear speaking and other abilities are well trained by
improving our writing skills. Latex is the venerable typesetting
language that enables concentrating our efforts in good writing and
consistent typographical result.

Risking innovation

Since Ingenuity is classified as a technology demo, JPL is willing to accept more risk

This is the story of how a group of engineers at NASA JPL designed a
helicopter (purposely called Ingenuity) that could fly on Mars.
Autonomously of course! Another achievement in a field of applications
where testing in real conditions is impossible, and learning from
failing is not an option.

The physics of pizza

Cooking is an art and science, and Pizza is no exception. Enjoy
discovering the physics of baking good Pizza - but please don't take
this as a joke: Richard P. Feynman is among the citations!

Exchanging secrets

We stand today on the brink of a revolution in cryptography

(Whitfield Diffie and Martin E. Hellman, 1976)

And with a reason: in this paper they were disclosing a novel algorithm for exchanging a secret
between parties over an insecure communication channel without prior
exchange of any previous material. Think of talking loudly with a
friend, everyone listening, and being able to tell a secret word without
anyone else discovering that word.

Selecting cryptography for devices

Lightweight cryptography applies to small (cheap, low power) electronic
devices that need to be protected against sniffing or information
extraction. Examples of such situation are utility meters, washing
machines, automotive systems, agriculture smart sensors, wearable
medical devices and home automation appliances.

Adding cryptography to these classes of devices without adding too much
cost is not easy. High power CPUs and hardware accelerators are not an
option. This is why the prestigious U.S. National Institute of Standards
and Technology launched an open initiative for selecting candidate
algorithms to be dedicated to such domains. It's very interesting to go
though the selection process and reading comments on the proposals
submitted so far, at the very edge of mathematical research and
implementation efforts of modern cryptology. Prof. Bill Buchanan helps
understanding as usual.

Fair use of Artifical Intelligence

It has been an interesting week for Ethics and Artificial Intelligence.
The European Union published that announced documents with proposals for
a Regulation on Artificial Intelligence, and plenty of comments can be
found on this. At the same time the U.S. Federal Trade Commission
unveiled plans to act against companies selling biased algorithms, with
a blog posted by staff lawyer Elisa Jillson.

How difficult is it to define a "fair use" of AI and a "biased approach"
to AI learning? Plus how important is security while building and
maintaining data sets? Plenty of processes we're using in our life are
now based on Machine Learning and automated decisions: sharing
definitions and regulations is the only way to go.

mRNA is like 3D printing for biotech

mRNA based vaccines are the giant step forward of medicine and
biotechnology that will save humanity from Covid-19. Seems like we now
use the 3D printing of biotech. Unfortunately nothing like printing
vaccines at home will happen soon. The process is the key, as we learn
in this fascinating travel through the supply chain of one of the vaccines.

Giant computer at General Electric, 1950

General Electric Company is ranked in the range of 20th-30th based on
turnover, globally. It was born in 1892 as a merge of Edison and
Thomson-Houston Electric Company, assisted by John Pierpont Morgan then
founder of JPMorgan. GE started aggressively diversifying operations in
1950 and in those years a division located in Louisville installed a
giant electronic computer.

This was the very first computer in a private U.S. company and it
started the era of business data processing. It was also an interesting
first for consultancy: selecting and buying the right computing power
was part of a task assigned by GE to Arthur Andersen, and performed by a
Joseph Glickauf Jr. leading to the birth of Accenture, another enormous
IT consulting firm.

So everything we know today about IT, consulting and computing in
private companies was born in 1950-1960. Programming languages for big
mainframes started being very popular. The BASIC (Beginner's All-purpose
Symbolic Instruction Code) programming language was no exception.

It's really difficult to imagine anything that's part of our businesses
without these events 50-60 years ago.

The flowchart of Artificial Intelligence

Can you describe Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning? A
flowchart helps using the right wording.

Avoiding social engineering attacks by training

Training for cyber security is a must nowadays, in all companies that
rely on digital based operations (or perhaps all business, government
and local agencies).

Training is both for everyone using computers and internet, and
specialist in charge of maintaining operations. Sometimes, training
material is kindly offered for free by conscious companies.

PagerDuty is one such company. A network and cloud services
infrastructure business, they publish recognized reference guidelines
for cybersecurity training. You can use the "everyone" section for
personal awareness or as a basis for a discussion with your colleagues
about best practices. It's actually interesting and scaring discovering
how easy it is to reach our networks and devices by social-engineering
our public accounts.

Same instant networking (literally)

Internet as we know was born in 1969 when a student at the University of
California sent a message to a computer at the Stanford Research
Institute in Menlo Park, 500km away. It was ARPANET at that time.

Fast forward today and entangled particles are now at the foundations
of a totally new idea of networking based on the magic properties of
quantum mechanics. Networking at the speed of literally same instant
is being envisioned: mind-blowing.

Cars and bycicles

Modern cars, or plain old bicycles?

The Whole Earth catalog, before Internet

How did people search for information before Google and DuckDuckGo? By
reading books and newspapers of course. Today, long readings on paper
and listening to people is still the most effective way for building an

Before The Internet and Google, The Whole Earth by Stewart Brand was an
attempt for compiling an information catalog. It was curated by users,
written on paper and published several times per year between 1968 and
1972. A product of counterculture circles, it listed a selection of
tools and ideas for living "beyond the limits of suburban/corporate

Actually the famous Steve Jobs sentence:

Stay hungry. Stay foolish

pronounced in 2005 during his commencement talk at Stanford University
was explicitly quoted from back cover of a special edition of the
Catalog published 1974.

Post-quantum cryptography on the rise

We significantly reduce the cost of factoring integers and computing discrete logarithms in finite fields on a quantum computer by combining techniques from...

(follows a long list of Cryptography and Mathematics giants of our times).

Factoring is a basic but computationally expensive operation needed for
breaking commonly used codes. Reaching high factoring speed is a big
problem for security of communications.

Quantum Computing starts showing examples of breaking the laws of
traditional computing (the Moore Law first of all) and this is why
post-quantum cryptography is a thing right now while we design new products.

Career advices: quitting

Julio Merino is a Spanish engineer and Principal Software Engineer
working on Azure Storage at Microsoft. In this brief blog essay he gives
good advice on a safe and healthy career development for our jobs.

Physical impacts of Artificial Intelligence

We need to acknowledge both the politics and the physical impact that AI has on the planet

Kate Crawford is a teaching professor at various Universities on topics
related to Artificial Intelligence. She co-founded AI Now, researched
institute dedicated the social implications of AI and enhanced
computing, and Principal Engineer at Microsoft. She knows very well the
ups and downs of Artificial Intelligence and the risk of associating
only great technical benefits to its adoption, while underestimating the
real impact for humankind for good and bad.

This article on MIT Technology Review is interesting alone, and her
latest book (Atlas of AI) is highly suggested as a compendium on all the
implications of high power computing on our planet and thinking. Not
positive nor negative as an absolute opinion, instead highly informative
and mind opening.

Short summer courses: Data Driver Decision Making

Thanks to pandemic we discovered that's indeed possible to learn from
remote. Of course training in person remains the most effective and
interesting way for learning and get to know people; while teaching fro
remote is not for everyone and must be designed and trimmed in order to
be useful.

Short summer courses offered (not for free) by Edinburgh Napier
University on cryptology, security and data science are highly suggested
for quality and focus. The course on Data driven decision making is
particularly on time, while everyone struggles trying to understand
what's coming in the next few years for our businesses, health and
humanity from statistics and numbers.

The famous one pager on Intel

Andy Grove was one of the founders and long time CEO at Intel. His
vision of business development and how to manage a team of high-tech
highly focused professionals, from 10s to 1000s is inspiring. His words
very often simple and crystal clear, his style based on asking questions
all the time. He didn't really contribute to the original Intel business
plan apparently but still reading the one-page summary that gained Intel
the initial funding sounds like he started exactly from here.

Use paper

There's plenty of suggestions and tutorial on how to take notes and
organize knowledge. None of them work, unless you find the right
approach for your needs supported by results.

This is a detailed report on how to use paper. Not for everyone, but
plain old paper is considered a very good memory-enhancing habit.
Computer files are handy for archiving and searching, while writing on
paper can sill be the first entry point for organizing ideas. Give it a try!

And while you're here: why not drawing concepts while explaining?

Isaac Asimov on creativity

How do people get new ideas? In 1959, this short essay by Isaac Asimov
tried to address the mysterious path to Creativity.

Computing using DNA, or Quantum Computing?

In 1994 Leonard Adleman (the A in RSA, one of the greatest cryptologists
of all times) at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles
played with the idea of using DNA to find solutions for a famously hard
mathematical problems. He demonstrated the principle and he's still
studying the topic with no significant progress but plenty of collateral

In the same recent years Quantum Computing became a real tool in our

The Internet is broken: long live the Internet

Two opposite opinions on the Net. Both supported by analysis and
experience, and worth carefully reading. As for climate crisis and
global finance, our commitment to fair and ethical use of resources can
make a difference (in this case in shaping the world of Information

Good notes

In the series about how to take notes, here another interesting essay
based on the principle that good notes should behave like memory. We're
invited to stop and think about how we collect and organize our
knowledge. Bad habit is better than no habit at all, and refining starts
from trying to share and discuss.

Proofs for cryptocurrencies

A brief overview on the tactics for calculating proofs about
cryptocurrencies, concise as usual for Spectrum: an IEEE magazine worth
having a look at.

The heat is on, and here to stay

The Heat Is On. And unfortunately this is not a Beverly Hills Cop song
(1984) but instead according to a rising number of scientific studies
and opinions, the result of our wasting resources in our everyday life.

This is a special issue on climate change. Our habits are fundamentally
broken when it comes to climate and the future of humanity. Several
changes are possible, starting from small and individual up to
communities, nations and human being. Ethics should drive massive change.

What can I do? Cycle and walk, use train instead of cars and planes, eat
and shop locally, plant hundreds of trees in your life, commute less,
read a lot, build an opinion and discuss.

The timeless way of building

Many of us are involved in thinking about new products. When developing
a product, foundation guidelines should come first.

There is one timeless way of building

was a famous sentence by Christopher Alexander (The Timeless Way of Building, 1979) that
influenced both architecture, engineering and software design to some
extent. The consequences of a good architectural study in the beginning
are immense, thus reading this blog post by Professor Jan Bosch is both
interesting and useful. Talks about software mainly, applies to any
build from scratch task including managing a group of people, when it
comes to scaling and adapting.

Shaping cryptography with a war

It has been written that World War 2 was essentially shaped by
Cryptography. In the sense that having the possibility to spy
communications between German army parties was of paramount importance
for UK and US defensive and offensive strategy. Everything started in
Poland and teaches a lot about practical cryptology.

Stop climate change

Statement from Nobel Prize Summit that came only a few weeks before
the disasters of North America and Germany.

Startups and innovation

Innovation is a basic human attribute of our society, and the thing that often sets counties, companies and groups apart

Bill Buchanan (Professor of Cryptography at Napier University) writes
about Innovation and Small Companies, something he might know very well
having successfully participated to the creation of a number of startups
in Scotland.

Leaking secrets as a (criminal) service

This is huge: a private company is selling cyber-surveillance
applications capable of stealing secrets from mobile phones based in iOS
and Android. Governments from all parts of the world are buying such
services. Recently, leaked files revealed that thousands of journalists
and politicians are being spied.

The news here, with comments by two of the most respected cryptologists,
and a tool in case you might have doubts about your mobile.

Engineering for battling climate change

Our opening battles in the war on climate change need engineers to work on the many existing technologies that can massively scale up

Ross Koningstein and David Fork are distinguished engineers at Google.
Seven years ago they decided to leverage their knowledge and the role
they play in an important industry, for issuing a passionate and
informed call for action. IEEE Spectrum latest issue published the
revisited essay on the same topic by Ross and David, with renewed
invitation to think out of the box and find feasible solutions to the
increasing threat represented by CO2.

Biotech and Artificial Intelligence

AlphaFold is an AI system developed by DeepMind that predicts a protein's 3D structure from its amino acid sequence.

DeepMind is publishing thousands (350.000 so far) of perfectly described
protein structures derived from DNA sequences by calculating and
predicting, without one single hour spent in lab. Computation only. It's
an extraordinary result of mathematics and bioinformatics, already
considered life changing by the biotech communities.

Life cycle of a stolen database of information

When a website gets breached, it usually happens that a database behind
the website is stolen and reworked by some evil actor. The information
stored in the database might include passwords, email addresses and
other personal information.

Read the interesting life cycle of a stolen database written by Brian
Krebs, a famous journalist that got into cybersecurity by accident and
didn't stop researching and writing about this topic.

Product development was broken

In 1986 Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka published a whitepaper
aimed at starting a conversation around product development, and the
need for a new way or organizing teams and processes in modern times.
The paper is crystal clear, it speaks about products without any
reference to software or hardware. Scrum is one of the most often used
Agile framework, and it was directly inspired by this paper. Scrum was
born for software but perfectly adapts to products and processes.

Denying climate change

Scientists, engineers, informed people find it difficult to deny climate
change. It's visible and tragically effective this year.

Delaying countermeasures (inaction) is like denying a future to our
future generations. Small actions and changes in our everyday habits do
make a difference. Please do it now.

The story of Pixar

The story of Pixar is very interesting and amusing for anyone into
innovation and research.

It speaks about passion, frequent pivoting, and diving the difficult
ocean of investors and markets. It also intersects with the great
history of Xerox Parc! Interesting and useful.

Conversation for real

social media is designed to be addicting

But a different  approach with (internet) socials is possible. The real conversation is
there waiting for you.

Summertime is a good time to start. Moreover: how much of a
microblogging / micromessaging are you bringing also to your work
habits, instead of live discussions?

The Gulf Stream is stoppping, and this is bad news

The Gulf Stream (may be) is collapsing, and that's very bad news.

the only thing to do is keep emissions as low as possible. The likelihood of this extremely high-impact event happening increases with every gram of CO2 that we put into the atmosphere

This was Niklas Boers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the
scientist behind a new study published by Nature Climate Change a few days ago.

The consequences of a Gulf Stream stop are almost impossible to predict
but for sure devastating globally. And this could happen in a few years
or centuries.

The most important reading, 2021

This might be the most important and urgent reading for everyone, this year.

Read, circulate, and please act now.

Urban traffic killer

Urban traffic is the main cause of air pollution. Exposure to air pollution causes direct health problems, such as asthma, hypertension, heart related diseases and cancer

So why not using modern technologies like distributed sensing and
Machine Learning for detecting High Emitting Vechicles? These old,
faulty or simply poorly designed vehicles account for the greatest part
of pollution in dense towns. This is a first attempt for Europe, and I
suspect that adding a bit of inference with Machine Learning after an
initial survey could simplify a lot the detection.

The science of climate change fighting

Fighting climate change is a complex science. In addition to the obvious
analysis of the factors determining an excess of change, scientist need
to understand how the elements of our environment are composed and
behave. Soil is not passive nor immutable, everything changes.

Secrets of decommissioned devices

Decommissioning: To take equipment or weapons out of use

When designing an electronic device, decommissioning must be taken into
account. Decommissioned devices are very often "factory reset" devices
sold as used or discarded. All it takes to extract secrets from such
second hand devices is basic knowledge about electronics and software,
if poorly designed.

Imagine reading back the full history of a medical device, used car or
high tech weapon...

Space incidents

the International Space Station was coming closer to disaster than at anytime in its nearly 25 years in orbit

This is a report of a
space incident that teaches a lot, first of all about how to investigate
and describe security and safety incidents.

Induced demand for bike lanes

An important part of the process that's leading to the Climate Change
Disaster is the sum of our transportation habits. The economics and
policies are not so obvious. As an (important) example: Does Induced
Demand Apply to Bike Lanes? After reading this essay, I'm sure you will
look at the design of towns and roads with different eyes.

Martin Fowler and Leslie Lamport: two giants at work

Leslie B. Lamport is an American Computer Scientist and Mathematician.
He's now part of Microsoft Research after years at Digital Equipment and
Compaq: three companies that pushed radical innovations in computing.

He developed fundamental knowledge about Distributed Computing and
contributed also to cryptology with seminal papers on digital signing
and distributed consensus. Actually a lot of his work is now included in
the development of blockchain algorithms also, so it's worth
understanding the origin of his ideas.

Plenty of additional resources are reached following links in this
essay. But among the most readable explanations of his theory on
distributed computing and timing is the one published by the great
Martin Fowler.

Thinking beyond the lab

Elsa Olivetti (who holds the name of a famous portable typewriter made
by Olivetti) is Associate Professor at MIT and PhD in Material Science.
She knows very well that the urgency of the climate change is pushing
for more sustainable transportation while the lab metrics used to
evaluate new options for batteries must include implementation, scaling
and lifecycle.

Generating disasters

Transformational ecology is the science that describes changes induced
by climate disasters and scenarios for adaptation. Natural-resources
managers are in charge of taking decisions about how to face such changes.

Would it be better not to generate disasters and changes? It's too late.

Functional Safety and Machine Learning

Functional Safety (FuSa) is science and engineering knowledge that
enables designing products that exhibit very low risks of causing
damages to humans and properties. Brakes for cars and cars themselves
are good examples.

Machine Learning (ML) is a corpus of mathematical knowledge and software
engineering that creates algorithms capable of learning from observation
in order to solve problems and control processes. Autonomous drive, that
learns from manned drive experience, is a futuristic example.

What happens when FuSa is a requirement for a product enabled by ML?
This is an ongoing discussion in academies and industries, and a range
of new engineering standards will soon be published that address this
topic. Stay tuned and join the discussion!

Insights on the Vaccine Passport

Cryptology for everyday use: how the so called Vaccine Passport works in
Europe and Scotland, and how cryptography helps simplify signage and
distribution. An interesting description and use case.

Space economy and NASA

The story of how NASA is pushing for private investments in lunar

Building climate change

Buildings account for 40 percent of climate change emissions and are the fastest growing source of emissions

It's very important to understand how buildings performance is measured (or mis-measured it seems).

Braun products design, and software

Dieter Rams was the industrial designer (born architect) behind Braun,
the German innovator of household products from usability and design
points of view.

Back in the '70s during a speech in New York he listed ten principles
for a good design.

Recently, an experienced software architect working at Red Hat gave an
interesting interpretation of the same principles to software design. My
preferred ones are 2. and 3.

Side-Channel cyber attacks

Side-Channel attack is a cyber-attack that penetrates a device using a
connection or information vehicle that was born for a totally different
scope. An example of such attack is reaching the inside electronic
devices of a car by talking to the charge connector (yes, very likely to
happen). Or capturing secrets from a personal computer by "hearing" the
noise of hard disks.

What makes this paper on Side-Channel Attacks so special, is that it
shows how simple it is under not so rare conditions to perform a useful
attack without prior knowledge of the device under threat, which is
interesting and worrying.

Transforming cities

Predicting damages made by human behavior to environment is part of
fighting climate change. Envisioning, designing and transforming cities
to be human friendly (instead of car and mega stores friendly) starts
from measuring and monitoring. Sound and a bit of machine learning can
simplify a lot.

By the way: why not starting an initiative around this in your town?

Faults that sound byzantine

A commonly accepted definition for a Byzantine fault in the context of
dependable systems (functional safety and similar) is: a fault
presenting different symptoms to different observers.

While modern complicated products move towards distributed,
safety-critical processing system topologies, understanding and
recognizing Byzantine faults becomes harder and urgent at the same time.
This paper about tolerance to Byzantine faults was a landmark when first
published back in 2003 and keeps it's freshness today.

Efficient programming languages

Don't take for granted that Python is the programming language for data
manipulation and informatics applied to natural science. Nim is an
alternate language described as efficient, expressive, elegant (by its
creators) and according to the author of this blog post extraordinary
fast in some relevant computation tasks for Bioinformatics, even when
deployed to a 100000s cores cluster.

The dynamics of development teams

Michael Feathers is known as an expert about code reuse. He consulted
hundreds of companies on code revitalization and quality of development.
He might have something to tell about Conway's Law (and the opposite
effect). So he does, in this very interesting and long (and beautifully
illustrated) essay on the dynamics of software development teams.

Experiencing climate change

End of 1990s, economy and business based on experience rather than
physical products was described as an emerging trend. Perhaps it didn't
exactly evolve as envisioned but for sure a lot of the elements
contained in this Harvard Business Review article are taken for granted.
Did this have adverse effect for Climate Change and Ecology? Or is it
one of the keys for saving our world?

Writing a lot

This article on how to enhance your writing skills is not a substitution
to natural abilities, study and perseverance. But it gives great ideas
in case you need to write a lot for your work or passion.

Defining Functional Safety

safety cannot be meaningfully defined without addressing risk

Risk science gives no obvious definition to
Safety and Risk. It's useful to re-address such definitions from time to
time if working in the area of Functional Safety Concerned design.

Books on the history of cryptology

A large part of cryptology was developed as a response to a request for
privacy and security in espionage operations during and after World War 2.

A number of books exists that tell fascinating stories and sometimes
make reference to crypto heroes. Bert Huber, author of a Blog about a
huge amount of interesting stuff does a good job listing them.

Nature Climate Change

Nature Climate Change is the answer of Nature Publishing Group to the
threat of a changing climate. A continuous stream of scientific papers
and research articles, mostly behind paywall with notable exceptions.

Assessing the increasing risks of socio-ecosystem degradation by human
intervention to climate systems is the aim of this contribution by
several researchers from leading European university centers.

Our experience of time, and philosophy

we are organisms that are well-adapted to a given range of latency

Luciano Floridi is Professor of Philosophy at the Oxford Internet
Institute, and he holds a number of positions in various institutions.
He writes here about how digital life modifies our experience of time.
This gives an interesting and unusual point of view about latency and
delay, important to be considered as an example while designing user
experience of a connected device or service. In a broader perspective,
reading this essay makes you think a lot about how our daily routine is
profoundly influenced by the existence of The Internet.

Beyond Enigma

So the famous Enigma was not the only rotors based cipher machine during
and after WW2. The HX-63 was much stronger, and its history gives hints
on the geopolitical consequences of criptology.

Adding roads or adding traffic?

The Braess paradox: it's possible that adding a road could lead to
slower travel for all drivers. The point here is anecdotally observing
that planning roads and infrastructures for traffic is a science, and
not an easy one. Fighting climate change and enhancing quality of life
in our cities requires also that we (all) modify our traveling habits,
and designing roads for the right purpose (which might also be forcing
to use muscles instead of engines) can enforce this a lot.

Donald Knuth, mathematician: the father of modern algorithms programming

We already know Donald Knuth as a father of modern algorithm analysis
and programming as a science.

As a mathematician he couldn't have discarded Machine Learning among his
interests and Lex Fridman, AI researcher at MIT, didn't miss a chance
for interviewing Donald on this and much more. Here's a transcript but I
suggest listening to the full podcast.

Jupyter for scientists

Most developers and scientists know very well about Project Jupyter, and
appreciate using this handy environment for calculations and fast
programming, mainly with Python or R. Documenting the result and keeping
personal notes is very easy, while polishing for publishing is just a
little bit more of an effort.

For whom didn't know about Jupyter I suggest to give it a try and
perhaps never go back. It can be installed locally or used on a cloud

Effective measure for climate change

we set a date for the worldwide exit from fossil fuels

Dramatically simple and effective as a measure, in this manifesto by a
writer and activist with knowledge of how COP conferences are effective
at talking, and ineffective at doing.

Artificial Intelligence on the reports

increasingly pivotal to breakthroughs in everything from drug discovery to mission critical infrastructure like electricity grids

This is Artificial Intelligence from one of the two annual surveys and
reports published in this part of the year.

The survey is published as a result of an interview with 25000+
responses, while the report is personal opinion of two of the leading
investors and observers in London.

Artificial Intelligence is reaching a kind of maturity: useful and
affordable specific use cases take the place of broken promises of
unlimited possibilities.

Leaking secrets while generating fake faces

Not only synthetically generated faces are a threat to our understanding
of what we're seeing and reading on the Internet, pushing forward and
far away the boundaries between the narration of invented and the
reporting of reality.

Studies are now showing how the typical algorithm that generate fake
faces can be prone to revealing samples from the datasets. Meaning that
a huge amount of data that was intended to be protected by Artificial
Intelligence is potentially exposed in the wild, thanks to a foolish
misuse of this powerful branch of mathematics.

Think big on climate

It's urgent.

Might be huge

Paxos Consensus Protocol by Lamport is a class of algorithms widely used
for defining and implementing machines (or process) that cooperate
without deterministic state machines synchronization. It's core to a
range of very critical cloud and embedded applications.

University of Michigan doctoral students and researchers took a giant
step forward by automating formal verification of the safety and
security of such algorithms. This result is particularly interesting
noting that (as it often happens for such disrupting breakthroughs) it's
the outcome of work done by very young researchers, with the needed
freedom and confidence given by more seasoned professionals in academy.

Technical and ethical regulations

The Lex-Atlas: Covid-19 (LAC19) is a research project analyzing the
legal responses to Covid-19 globally. It is a collaboration of nearly
200 jurists worldwide spread over 60 countries.

This essay describes a different point of view for the system of Green
Pass, compared to the cybersecurity analysis more commonly discussed
among technical people. Might be useful also when discussing about other
mixed technical / social / ethical regulations very difficult to be
correctly framed, like the ones now emerging in the fields of autonomous
drive, social security and artificial intelligence.

Deforesting for bad

the Amazon is now emitting a billion tonnes more carbon dioxide each year than it can absorb

This is very bad news for our planet and another threat to our
possibility to enjoy living here in the near future.

Zero knowledge of knowledge

Zero-knowledge protocols allow identification, key exchange and other basic cryptographic operations to be implemented without leaking any secret information during the conversation

In other words, Peggy can prove she has some piece of information to
Victor, by a conversation that will never disclose the information
itself. This class of protocols can be robust and very fast. In case you
were asking yourself, this is the ideal solution to the problem of Green
Health Certificates management, including revocation while preserving

Backdoors inside software sources

New challenges for the producers of critical software-based products,
and for static analysis tools: the possibility that software sources
might contain exploitable backdoors while not showing any evidence of it
at a first sight.

The birth of networking firewalls

And while we speak about security, this is the seminal essay citing the
need for Network Firewalls, not well known nor widely adopted before
1994. It was written after an elaboration by Steven Bellovin William
Cheswick, at Bell Labs of course.

Safety of old cities

Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city

The most climate friendly car you might imagine is the one you don't
use, while cycling brings you anywhere. They know it very well at the
Urban Cycling Institute, Amsterdam where the Italian researcher Luca
Bertolini is also teaching.

Computer music

This paper has been a big push for a couple of innovations of our
everyday life: computer music, and fully electronic instruments.

John M. Chowning studied music composition before meeting Max Mathews
from the Bell Labs, and with him he started imagining new ways for
combining electronically generated audio waves in order to create new
sounds. Thanks to his work and a license given by Standford University
to Yamaha the famous DX7 family of synthesizers was born. Interesting to
note is that John was following an intricate path leading to a totally
new idea, by exploring what was his solid knowledge combined with his
wide curiosity.

Ada: the safe programming language

Ada (programming language) is a structured, statically typed,
imperative, and object-oriented high-level programming language,
extended from Pascal (from Wikipedia). It was born in 1977 at Honeywell
and is super safe, secure and easy to understand.

Ada is not widely used for inscrutable reasons. The ubiquity and
complexity of software development suggests that we give a new look at
Ada, from new points of view including the possibility to write software
for tiny microcontrollers as explained here.

The breach

Three strong warnings on cyber security from recent news.
A bad vulnerability to Intel Pentium microprocessors, an entire new
class of potential weaknesses for the Javascript and many other
programming languages, and one of the greatest breaches of recent times.

The impact of producing electric vehicles

It's not easy to understand the impact of a new product or service. The
emergency of climate change makes it even more difficult because the
state of our mind, poisoned information and the need to revise our
entire lives causes confusion and (dis)illusions. Here an interesting
commentary to the impact of producing Electric Vehicles compared to
existing industries.

(disclaimer: the original post is in German, but translation is
available selecting the language on the left).


A lot of encryption schemes exist that are secure and future proof. A
few of them exhibit very special features, sometimes not well known.

One of them is ElGamal, a Public key encryption created by the obscure
cryptologist Taher Elgamal in 1985. It's typically used to sign
information, and within key exchange methods, with discrete logarithms
at its core.

But Elgamal has also interesting homomorphic properties: you can
calculate on encrypted values, obtaining the encrypted result, without
ever decrypting. Isn't it magic?

Biotech in Europe

Biotechnology and Bioinformatics is not happening in giant university
sites of United States. A great number of results and resources are in
Europe and other parts of the World. And well before AlphaFold,
scientists in public universities developed models and predictions on
DNA and proteins.

The Club of Rome and the limits we should discuss about

Speaking about Climate Change, the discussion very often boils down to
what we're willing to put a limit on. Among the very first group of
people discussing about the consequences of an unlimited economic growth
in terms of excess of consumption was The Club of Rome. Founded in 1968
by Aurelio Peccei and Alexander King, the Club commissioned to
Massachusets Institute of Technology this study published in 1972
stimulating worldwide discussions on this important topic.

Ethics of autonomous drive

Here it is: one of the most complicated products under development today
(the Autonomous vehicle) and the ethics of its implications when it will
be available in the market. According to some researchers, it's not only
technology but also the behavior of corporations that will lead to
either safe or unsafe implementations.

Impossible machine intelligence

Some papers put mathematical speculation over philosophical topics. It's
sort of a short circuit, when this is the only way for trying to
demonstrate the impossibility of machine intelligence.

Greening and un-greeing

Greening means increasing vegetation, which has a cooling effect for
earth surface. Shouldn't we talk reversing un-greening instead? Large
parts of our earth used to be much greener before Industrial Age.

Chuck Palahniuk and the Toyota Faulty Accelerator incident

It's simple arithmetic. It's a story problem

It turns out that one of the best citations about Functional Safety (and
safety of products) is in the book and film Fight Club, by Chuck
Palahniuk (around 1999).

This is reported in this wonderful blog post dissecting the infamous
Toyota faulty accelerator incident. It was originally written in Russian
and then translated and republished by a famous company working on the
topic of Safety of Software. Worth reading and following all citations
and links.

And while you're here, there's plenty of comments and reports on an
Italian Law that's considered an astonishing breakthrough on Corporate
Rensibility (law 231/2001 and following additions) and very few know.
This has been the basis for all recent trials against Corporations in
Italy and Europe, when safety is to be taken into account.


Twenty six pages about Bullshit

I will argue that bullshitting is triggered by a speech community with many
conceptual entrepreneurs, significant amounts of noisy ignorance and
permissive uncertainty

Bullshit can destroy an organization, and so it's worth understanding before this happens.

Modify the Earth

It's terrible to learn how much of our Earth has already been modified
in a way that endangers the lives of humans.

The Mise en Place

Cooking, writing essays, preparing trainings and developing code have
something in common: the Mise En Place process.


One of the examples that I use to show how much we've learned about biology is RNA

RNA is now very famous due to the pandemic we're
living. Yet it comes out that much of its roles and variants is to be
discovered, and this is linked to some of the most interesting and
challenging frontiers of biology and biotechnology.

Hardware and software affecting clima

Not only hardware can affect the climate change. For sure the new
Supersonic Boom is a concern for pollution, and that's why new companies
working at the next supersonic airplanes claim a focus on sustainability
(believe it or not). Software can be wasteful as well. The latest
discovered vulnerability in a huge number of Internet-facing services
(virtually all institutional public services) triggered the need for
rebuilding software packages that has not been estimated yet, but for
sure means using a big amount of electricity in a few days.

Criminal cyber actors

What's behind a ramsonware attack?

The security company Yoroi has been tracking the threat actor (criminal
organization) TH-157 for years, and does a good job here in this blog
post describing the infrastructure and operations.

Everything starts by opening and closing a Power Point document. The
document contains a macro, very difficult to be detected even by the
latest protecting measures, and the damage is done.

Once again the only countermeasure is acting slowly and never accept
candy from strangers.


If you're into developing software or any other Knowledge Working
artifact, you know very well that creating and distributing a consistent
set of tools is a pain. Docker can help a lot, a new life in your
workflow that's easy to be reproduced and described to others. And can
be used in Windows also!

But Docker alone is difficult to be standardized and so it's useful to
start from some work done by other companies like the very interesting

Searching without disclosing

One more application for Public Key Encryption is the possibility to
search for words in a text, without actually being able to read the text
itself. Amazing and very useful, if we drop the requirement of being
subject to cyber surveillance.


How do we (he world) produce electric energy for our comfort and needs?
Coal. More and more coal.

Lightweight cryptography

Lightweight cryptography is a novel diversion from conventional cryptography that targets internet-of-things (IoT) platform due to resource constraints

PRESENT is a proposed block cipher suitable for connected devices, like
home automation and low tech vehicles. When delivering such algorithms
to high number of distributed and difficult to upgrade products it's
important to analyze all possible attacks to cryptography, and the topic
of this paper is possible leaking of secret keys by sniffing
electromagnetic waveforms. In simple words: each electronic device acts
as a radio transmitter, and listening to emitted signals leads to
understanding what's calculating.

The technology of life

The technology of life is a wonderful name for a mixed interest in
biotechnology, biology and engineering. Bert Hubert, entrepreneur and
software developer, blogged for ages about DNA and Mathematics. He now
started writing a book about the technology of life.

Ice reserve

Thwaites Glacier is an important ice reserve. It's melting, and faster
than forecasted according to recent observations. This is very bad and
will cause sea levels to rise much sooner than expected.

Read this in case you might need more reasons for switching to more
sustainable everyday routines.