Archive for the 'standards' Category

Gov’t lying, as usual, about banning lightbulbs

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu manages to fit a few lies into his press release (also repeated at the White House blog) such as “The standards do NOT ban incandescent bulbs.”  As usual, when a high government official’s mouth is moving, lies are coming out.  Indeed the “standards”, i.e. the law, DOES ban the vast majority of incandescent bulbs.  Perhaps he meant to say “The standards do NOT ban ALL incandescent bulbs.”  They just ban all the common and cheap incandescent bulbs.

The government spends all its time telling us how great some new bulb products are, without deigning to answer why, if those things are so great, people have to be forced to buy them by banning competing products. They even have the gall to compare this transition to “the change from VCRs to DVDs” — a transition in which CONSUMERS decided which product to buy, rather than bureaucrats.

My own experience with LED bulbs is that these “long life” bulbs tend to fail within weeks.  The LEDs may be perfectly fine, but the electronics around them fail much more quickly than ordinary incandescent bulbs.  I’m a big fan of LEDs; I give away more than a thousand LED flashlights every year.  But after returning three successive LED bulbs to the manufacturer after each failed within a month, I swore off AC-powered LED bulbs until they debug the damn things.  And CFLs don’t work with dimmers — and my entire house is fitted with dimmers (which save energy).  I even got the “dimmable” CFLs; they failed within weeks as well.

Here’s another example of how the Energy Department lies by omission.  Their FAQ asks, “What is the cost difference between the new lights and my incandescent bulbs? How much money will I save when I switch to these new bulbs?“, then doesn’t answer the question, because the answer is politically incorrect.  The answer is that the banned bulbs are cheaper to buy than all the ones left after the ban.  So the real effect of the ban is to force consumers to pay more today, on the theory that if the bulbs last long enough and if the energy price is as projected, they’ll eventually perhaps save money.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the real impetus behind passing this law was campaign donations from companies that make these expensive bulbs. It’s “too hard” to compete with cheap, familiar products unless the government bans them to make the innovator’s life so much easier.

Consumers, stockpile incandescent bulbs!  It’ll be so much easier than getting a friend to illegally ship them to you from a free country later.  Meanwhile, work on removing the rats in Washington from having any power over the sinking ship of the United States.

USB storage can never be securely erased

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

USB devices that implement the Mass Storage command set don’t provide a standard way to securely erase the contents of the storage. People often want to do this, for example before giving the storage device to someone else (without compromising your personal or business records that used to be on it), or before crossing an international border where normal legal protections against intrusive searches or “fishing expeditions” do not apply.

The lack of a standard command for this prevents USB-attached disk drives from being erased using the ATA Secure Erase command. (Sometimes you can open the plastic, extract the SATA drive from inside the USB disk drive case, attach that drive to a computer via SATA, and then erase it securely, but this is painful). It also means that there’s no reliable way to remove information from a USB flash memory stick, which is more serious.

If you merely delete a file from such a memory stick, its contents probably still exist in the flash chips, and it can be read out by anyone who pops open the plastic and connects to the flash chip itself. An upcoming paper from the USENIX FAST conference details how 14 different conventional attempts to securely erase a file all failed to erase the contents of the file from a variety of USB memory sticks. (See the slides.)

Clearly this oversight in the USB Storage command set should be remedied. Who knows somebody who’s on the relevant standards committee?