Planet Russell


RacialiciousOn Shia LaBeouf And Appropriation: This Is What Happens When Nobody Knows Your Name

By Guest Contributor DJ Kuttin Kandi

Nearly 20 years after the film Nobody Knows My Name by documentarian Rachel Raimist many of us can still relate to the many stories of the wom*n in Hip Hop that were told in the film. We, the Anomolies crew can most definitely relate as we are just a few of the thousands upon thousands of names you never knew existed.

Anomolies originally started off as an “all female Hip Hop” collective back in 1995 with over 26 members. In the last few years, we have evolved to be inclusive to being a gender justice collective. So, we don’t appreciate the assumptions and the misgendering of any of our crew members. We came together to create a safe space for ourselves within Hip Hop so that we can be all that we are and do what we love without having to worry about ridicule, judgement and overall oppression that many of us so often receive within many patriarchal-dominated Hip Hop spaces. Anomolies’ intentional goal was to support one another and to offer our support to many of us within Hip Hop who are so often marginalized and underrepresented. We started Anomolies because we knew that we had to be our own agents of change because if we didn’t, who else would?

The dictionary definition of the name aNoMoLIES is 1. To deviate from the norm. or 2. Something that occurs once in a lifetime. When you break down the name it spells out No Mo Lies (no more lies). Anomolies dispels myths about our identities in Hip Hop culture. We are proud to deviate from the “norm”, we are proud to question and to challenge myths.

Beyond our own Hip Hop crew, so many of us are Anomolies — trying to break gender norms, defying myths and trying to use Hip Hop as a platform to be heard.

So many of us are local to global wom*n-identified, wom*n of color, black and brown bodies, indigenous, queer, trans, two-spirited, gender non-conforming, disabled, adoptees, (im)migrants, non-working to working class Hip Hop artists and communities that you never knew had skills. So many are the voices that many have never heard of because either they are pretending we don’t exist or they are pretending to be us. We’re either the ones many want to “rachelize” or we’re the ones they want to call “old skool” b*tches and not give us our due props. We’re the ones you would never know about until an actor like Shia LaBeouf shows up on video footage somewhere in the woods reciting some of our verses from one of our songs and “fake the funk” like he was actually freestyling.

But we are more than just any of this …

We are more than just rappers/lyricists/battle mc’s, DJs & turntablists, producers, graffiti writers, and Bgirlz. We are more than just “independent Hip Hop”. We’re not just from that “true hip hop” cypher we so often call the “underground”. No, we are more than just all this …

Because we also practice the 5th element of Hip Hop which is knowledge, we’ve got knowledge of self. Because we have knowledge of self we know our roots and where we come from. We know the realities of the world and we are aware of the struggles that we face. We are conscious and because of this consciousness we know that even as I write this, many will still never know our name or care about us.

Because we are the marginalized, underrepresented, and the oppressed; we know that many will never know what it feels like to have been around for more than 2 decades to then have a few of our lyrics which was written and recorded in 1999 to be used in a cypher by a famous white cisgender-male privileged famous actor like Shia LaBeouf as though he “freestyled” it himself. We know that many will not even care to understand what it’s like to be attacked by random people defending his “freestyle” by calling us “b*tches” and to tell us that he was doing us a favor by biting our verses. We know that many will tell us it was only a few bars and that we should move on but yet only true Hip Hop heads will know this is disrespect. We know that many will not know what it feels like to now have white amerikkka watching over us and reaching out to our personal lives just to attack us with misogynist threats and even our children just because we were trying to speak up for ourselves. Because we are from the “underground” and are about that “true Hip Hop” we know that Hip Hop has reached suburb America into white backpacker homes who all love to rap Hip Hop, BE Hip Hop, and be us but yet never want to BE us.

Because we are all Anomolies and nobody knows our names – we know that after the buzz feeds and hashtags fades away, we will once again be forgotten and only those of us who truly know and love Hip Hop Culture; will continue to salute and honor us. We know that after all is said and done; we will continue to feel unsafe and unprotected as many will continue to troll the feeds with their racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist and overall oppressive comments just to protect the Rachel Dolezal’s, Iggy Izalea’s and Shia LaBeouf’s of the world – because we are the often imitated, the often erased, and the often oppressed.

But it had been our dearest friend, black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde that has taught us that our silence will not protect us. While some of us may not call ourselves feminists, some of us know that it is because of Audre Lorde that we know that Anomolies is our form of feminism. In the troubled times that we are currently facing and have been facing — from continuously being sexually assaulted, raped, harassed, to Rachel Dolezal’s blackface to Ferguson and to Charleston, to the hurtful attacks against Jennicet for demanding that trans women be released from detention centers – we know that now is not the time to retreat and be afraid of our rage for we know that our silence will not save us.

So, while to some this is just “Hip Hop” and a few bars off our track the “Perfectionist”, to so many of us this means so much more — for Anomolies is our family. nomolies is our ANSwer to speaking truth to power. We’re not here to do anything but to speak our truth because we know that this is bigger than us. We know that all this will just come and go, so we really don’t have time to continuously check the privileges of white cisgendered men of mainstream America because there are far more relevant issues going on in the world. We’ve got work to do and we are working hard to get more organized. As we organize, we know that we need to say our names and say it loud for we are proud to be more than just your average “norm”.

We are not the first to have our music and lyrics bitten, we are not the first to have our h*stories and our lives erased, nor are we the first to be culturally appropriated. But we know we at least said something and did something. We called out whom we needed to call out. We are done.

The rest is up to you all —- We are NOT going to do interviews on this subject because we got work to do. So, we’re going to let our media justice friends do that, should it be done. Btw, a big shout out to all of our fans/supporters/families who all brought this to our attention and who have had our back in responding to all this unnecessary business.

If any of you all wanna continue supporting — then support our work, support our lives, support our movement, support organizations that are doing grassroots gender rights work, call out those only all male hip-hop line ups, buy our music because some of us pay our rents and feed our families with all this, organize in your community, speak out against gender injustice when it needs to be called out — if you don’t know, then learn — not just about Anomolies but support all wom*n, wom*n of color, queer, trans and gender non-conforming with all shapes and sizes, (dis)abilities and ages. Don’t wait for us till we’re no longer here. Do this now —- for again, this is bigger than us — this is not for some “spotlight”. 20 years later you think we care about all that? Nah —- THERE ARE IMPORTANT STRUGGLES GOING ON IN THIS WORLD, we don’t got time for this unwanted attention based off of Shia LaBeouf. SO LET’S ORGANIZE. This is all that is asked to be done to speak and say our names — all of us from the “underground” to all over this world. Say that we are here … speak our names into existence for we are more than just the Anomolies… we are the family you never knew existed.

DJ Kuttin Kandi is a member of the Anomolies hip-hop collective, as well as a poet and activist.

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The post On Shia LaBeouf And Appropriation: This Is What Happens When Nobody Knows Your Name appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

CryptogramOffice of Personnel Management Data Hack

I don't have much to say about the recent hack of the US Office of Personnel Management, which has been attributed to China (and seems to be getting worse all the time). We know that government networks aren't any more secure than corporate networks, and might even be less secure.

I agree with Ben Wittes here (although not the imaginary double standard he talks about in the rest of the essay):

For the record, I have no problem with the Chinese going after this kind of data. Espionage is a rough business and the Chinese owe as little to the privacy rights of our citizens as our intelligence services do to the employees of the Chinese government. It's our government's job to protect this material, knowing it could be used to compromise, threaten, or injure its people­ -- not the job of the People's Liberation Army to forebear collection of material that may have real utility.

Former NSA Director Michael Hayden says much the same thing:

If Hayden had had the ability to get the equivalent Chinese records when running CIA or NSA, he says, "I would not have thought twice. I would not have asked permission. I'd have launched the star fleet. And we'd have brought those suckers home at the speed of light." The episode, he says, "is not shame on China. This is shame on us for not protecting that kind of information." The episode is "a tremendously big deal, and my deepest emotion is embarrassment."

My question is this: Has anyone thought about the possibility of the attackers manipulating data in the database? What are the potential attacks that could stem from adding, deleting, and changing data? I don't think they can add a person with a security clearance, but I'd like someone who knows more than I do to understand that risks.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Mistakes Were Made

As a general rule, “dead code” should never be commented out, but instead, should be replaced. If you ever need to review the history, source control contains that information.

But sometimes, the “I’ll just comment it out” lets us see the moment of realization, when a developer discovers that they’ve done the absolute wrong thing. Clara sends us this:

//HttpPostedFile file = Page.Request.Files["ctl00$phMainContent$fulProfileImage"];
//if (file != null && file.ContentLength > 0)
// try
// {
//  string[] filenameparts = Page.Request.Files["ctl00$phMainContent$fulProfileImage"].FileName.Split(&apos.&apos);
//  byte[] fileData;

//  using (BinaryReader br = new BinaryReader(Page.Request.Files["ctl00$phMainContent$fulProfileImage"].InputStream))
//  {
//      byte[] imageData = br.ReadBytes(Page.Request.Files["ctl00$phMainContent$fulProfileImage"].ContentLength);
//      fileData = CreateThumbnail(imageData, 400.0f, 400.0f);
//  }

//  dealerEntity.ProfileImage = fileData;
// }
// catch { }
        dealerEntity.ProfileImage = CreateThumbnail(fulProfileImage.FileBytes, 400.0f, 400.0f);

It’s a beautiful little collection of ignorance, a willingness to do it the hardware, and one of my favorite anti-patterns: swallowing <script src="" type="text/javascript"></script> exceptions. The important thing is that the developer clearly learned from their mistakes- or somebody who knew better came through and fixed it. Either way, the real lesson is use source control and don't comment out dead code!

<link href="" rel="stylesheet"/> <script src=""></script> <script>hljs.initHighlightingOnLoad();</script>
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Geek FeminismGF classifieds (July, August, and September 2015)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

Cory DoctorowInterview with Slashdot

From Slashdot:

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Planet Linux AustraliaDavid Rowe: FreeDV Robusness Part 5 – FreeDV 700

We’ve just released FreeDV v0.98 GUI software, which includes the new FreeDV 700 mode. This new mode has poorer speech quality than FreeDV 1600 but is far more robust, close to SSB on low SNR fading HF channels. Mel Whitten and the test team have made contacts over 1000 km using just 1 Watt!

You can download the Windows version of FreeDV 0.98 here.

To build it you need the latest codec2-dev and fdmdv2-dev from SVN, follow the Quickstart 1 instructions in fdmdv-dev/README.txt. I’ve been cross compiling for Windows on my Ubuntu Linux machine which is a time saver for me. Thanks Richard Shaw for your help with the cmake build system.

Mel and the team have been testing the software for the past few weeks and we’ve removed most of the small UI bugs. Thanks guys! I’m working on some further improvements to the robustness which I will release in a few weeks. Once we are happy with the FreeDV 700 mode, it will be ported to the SM1000. If you have time, and gcc/embedded experience I’d love to have some help with this!

It’s sounds pretty bad at 700 bit/s but so does SSB at 0dB SNR. The new modem uses a pilot symbol assisted coherent PSK modem (FreeDV 1600 uses a differential PSK modem). The new modem also has diversity; the 7 x 75 symb/s QPSK carriers are copied to form a total of 14 half power carriers. Overall this gives us significantly lower operating point SNR than FreeDV 1600 for fading channels. However the bandwidth is a little wider (800 – 2400 Hz), lets see how that goes through real radios.

Simulations indicate it has readability 4/5 at 0dB SNR on CCIR poor (fast) fading channels. It also has a PAPR of 7dB so if your PA can handle it you can hammer out 5dB more power than FreeDV 1600 (be careful).

For those of you who are integrating FreeDV into your own applications the FreeDV API now contains the 700 bit/s mode and freedv_tx and freedv_rx have been updated to demo it. The API interface has changed, we now have variables for the number of modem and speech samples which change with the mode. The coherent PSK modem has the very strange sample rate of 7500 Hz which at this stage the user (that’s you) has to deal with (libresample is your friend).

The 700 bit/s codec (actually 650 bit/s plus 2 data bits/frame) band limits the input speech between 600 and 2200 Hz to reduce the amount of information we need to encode. This might be something we can tweak, however Mel and the team have shown we can communicate OK using this mode. Here are some samples at 1300 (the codec rate used in FreeDV 1600) and 700 bit/s with no errors for comparison.

Lots more to talk about. I’ll blog some more when I pause and take a breath.

Planet DebianChristian Perrier: [LIFE] Running activities

Hello dear readers,

It has been quite some time since I blogged on Planet Debian,so today, I just want to give some news to fellow Debian pals.

My involvment in Debian is still there. I'm probably less visible nowadays, but I'm still actively working on some packages, monotiring some i18n activities and doing work on D-I.

But, as you know, running has taken precedence nowadays and is still becoming a growing part of my life (along with my family, of course).

This year, I had a first "summit" running the "Vulcain" trail race in French "Massif Central" (mountains in Central France), which was 80km and 3000m positive climb race. It was run mostly in snow and with quite bad weather conditions, a good training for more difficult races. I completed it in about more than 12 hours, for a race that finally had less than 60% finishers.

Later on, most races were preparation races for the summer moutain races : I mostly ran three 50km trail races in the Paris and neighbourhood area. All of them were very good results with a good feeling. Some were run along with friends from the web community, where I am now very active.

My training was also strongly increased wrt former years (yes that *is* possible), peaking at more than 500km during May, where I was mostly on holidays all month long (lucky man).

And now, the first Great Great Thing of the year is coming : La Montagn'hard, 110 kilometers, about 9000 meters positive climb, around Les Contamines, close to Mont-Blanc in French Alps.

That is a Big One, indeed. Technically more difficult than the TDS race I ran last August, during DebConf (120km, but "only" 7000 meters climb). Montagn'hard is indeed known as one of the most difficult moutain trail races in France.

I plan to complete it in about 29 hours....but that can indeed be 30, 32 or even 35, who knows what can happen? Given the very high temperatures over Europe this week (they'll peak at about 38°C on Saturday in the Alps), that will be an incredibly difficult challenge and we expect about only 40% finishers.

A live tracking will be available for thos who care at Wish me luck !

Next challenge will be end of August, with the "Echappee Belle" race : 144km and 10.000 meters positive climb, still in French Alps (Belledonne range, this time). About 48 hours, or even up to 55, two nights out.....harder and hopefully better, faster, stronger...:-)

Planet Linux AustraliaDonna Benjamin: Comparing D7 and D8 outta the box

I did another video the other day. This time I've got a D7 and D8 install open side by side, and compare the process of adding an article.

Planet Linux AustraliaLinux Australia News: Linux Australia council meeting minutes to be published on the planet

Wed, 2015-07-01 11:33

Last fortnight the Linux Australia council resolved to begin publishing their minutes to

While meeting minutes may seem boring, they in fact contain a lot of useful and interesting information about what the organisation and its various subcommittees are up to. As such we felt that this was useful information to publish wider and starting from now we'll be publishing them to the planet.

If you are interested in previous meetings and minute notes, you can find them at

Planet DebianJunichi Uekawa: My thermometer (Fplug) is no longer returning temperature.

My thermometer (Fplug) is no longer returning temperature. It does give me humidity. The values don't really look sane either, maybe it's not a great product.

Planet DebianSteve McIntyre: Quick trip to Sweden

Jo and I spent a few days in Sweden and had an awesome time! The main reason for being there was Leif and Maria's wedding way up north in Skellefteå. They cunningly organised their ceremony for the Midsummer weekend, which was an excellent plan - we had a full weekend of partying while we were there. :-)

the happy couple

We had some time to ourselves while we were there, so we wandered about a little and got to see some of the beautiful coastal countryside.


Then on the way home we stopped off in Umeå to visit Mattias Wadenstein (maswan) and his wife Melanie, and he showed me around some of the machines that he's been admining on behalf of Debian. Maybe I'm a sad geek, but I feel quite a bond with one of the machines there, It's the official CD build machine for Debian, and I've been responsible for thrashing it really hard for the last 5 years or so... :-)

Pettersson and friends

Massive thanks to the University of Umeå and their Academic Computer Club for hosting Debian machines and serving all the CD images for us!

maswan and a lot of disks

The only downsides from the trip were the massive tiredness (midnight sun is pretty, but notconducive to sleep!) the mosquito bites and the nasty plague^Wcold that we picked up while we were there... Ah well. :-)


Planet Linux AustraliaDavid Rowe: New Charger for my EV

On Sunday morning I returned home and plugged in my trusty EV to feed it some electrons. Hmm, something is wrong. No lights on one of the chargers. Oh, and the charger circuit breaker in the car has popped. Always out for adventure, and being totally incompetent at anything above 5V and 1 Amp, I connected it directly to the mains. The shed lights started to waver ominously. Humming sounds like a Mary Shelley novel. And still no lights on the charger.

Oh Oh. Since disposing of my nasty carbon burner a few years ago I only have one car and it’s the EV. So I needed a way to get on the road quickly.

But luck was with me. I scoured my local EV association web site, and found a 2nd hand Zivan NG3 charger, that was configured for a 120V lead acid pack. I have a 36 cell Lithium pack that is around 120V when charged. Different batteries have different charging profiles, for example the way current tapers. However all I really need is a bulk current source, my external Battery Management System will shut down the charger when the cells are charged.

Using some residual charge I EVed down the road where I met Richard, a nice man, fellow engineer, and member of our local EV association. I arranged to buy his surplus NG3, took it home and fired it up. Away it went, fairly hosing electrons into my EV at 20A. The old charger was just 10A so this is a bonus – my charging time will be halved. I started popping breakers again, as I was sucking 2.4kW out of the AC. So I re-arranged a few AC wires, ripped out the older chargers, rewired the BMS module loop a little and away I went with the new charger.

Here is the lash up for the initial test. The new Zivan NG3 is the black box on the left, the dud charger the yellow box on the right. The NG3 replaces the 96V dud charger and two 12V chargers (all wired in series) that I needed to charge the entire pack. My current clamp meter (so useful!) is reading 17A.

Old chargers removed and looking a bit neater. I still need to secure the NG3 somehow. My BMS controller is the black box behind the NG3. It shuts down the AC power to the chargers when the batteries signal they are full.

Pretty red lights in the early morning. Each Lithium cell has a BMS module across it, that monitors the cell voltage, The red light means “just about full”. When the first cell hits 4.1V, it signals the BMS controller to shut down the charger. Richard pointed out that the BMS modules are shunt regulators, so will discharge each cell back down to about 3.6V, ensuring they are all at about the same state of charge.

This is the only reason I go to petrol stations. For air. There is so little servicing on EVs that I forget to check the air for a year, some tyres were a bit low.

The old charger lasted 7 years and was used almost every day (say 2000 times) so I can’t complain. The NG3 was $875 2nd hand. Since converting to the Lithium pack in 2009 I have replaced the electric motor armature (about $900) as I blew it up from overheating, 2 cells ($150 ea) as we over discharged them, a DC-DC converter ($200 ish) and now this charger. Also tyres and brakes last year, which are the only wearing mechanical parts left. In that time I’ve done 45,000 electric km.

TEDQUIZ: Which TED Talk are you?

A fun way to find a talk that’s just right for you…

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CryptogramTwitter Followers: Please Use the Correct Feed

The official Twitter feed for my blog is @schneierblog. The account @Bruce_Schneier also mirrors my blog, but it is not mine. I have nothing to do with it, and I don't know who owns it.

Normally I wouldn't mind, but the unofficial blog fails intermittently. Also, @Bruce_Schneier follows people who then think I'm following them. I'm not; I never log in to Twitter and I don't follow anyone there.

So if you want to read my blog on Twitter, please make sure you're following @schneierblog. If you are the person who runs the @Bruce_Schneier account -- if anyone is even running it anymore -- please e-mail me at the address on my Contact page.

And if anyone from the Twitter fraud department is reading this, please contact me. I know I can get the @Bruce_Schneier account deleted, but I don't want to lose the 27,300 followers on it. What I want is to consolidate them with the 67,700 followers on my real account. There's no way to explain this on the form to report Twitter impersonation. (Although maybe I should just delete the account. I didn't do it 18 months ago when there were only 16,000 followers on that account, and look what happened. It'll only be worse next year.)

TEDNeither laryngitis nor repeated microphone fails could keep Dame Stephanie Shirley from her TED Talk

It took Dame Stephanie Shirley more than a year and a half to tell her story on the TED stage. Photo:  Bret Hartman

It took Dame Stephanie Shirley more than a year and a half to actually tell her story on the TED stage. She opted to bring her own stool from London for the occasion. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED

Dame Stephanie Shirley had just a few hours to go before giving her talk at TEDWomen 2013. There was just one problem: she could hardly speak.

Shirley, a tech entrepreneur who founded a software company in the 1960s, had flown from London to San Francisco to speak at the conference. Her talk told the story of how she started her company, Freelance Programmers, in her dining room, and used the name “Steve” in business correspondence to buck the gender bias of the time. She planned to talk about how she pioneered flexible business practices to let a staff of mainly female software engineers work from home … and how her business was eventually valued at $3 billion. Shirley’s rehearsal of the talk was flawless; staffers had goosebumps.

“I felt a bit poorly, but I attributed it to jet lag,” said Shirley. “But when I woke up the next day — the day of the event — I realized I couldn’t possibly go onstage.”

Shirley had come down with laryngitis. She couldn’t power through her talk; she needed to bow out. “I felt hugely disappointed,” she said. “I hate to let people down.”

The TEDWomen curation team needed a new speaker to fill her time slot, stat. They hoped for someone else who could talk about women in technology.

“Megan Smith — the vice president of Google X at the time and now CTO of the United States — happened to be an attendee at TEDWomen 2013,” said content director Kelly Stoetzel. “While we were on a quest to figure out who would replace Dame Shirley onstage, we spoke with Megan, who was making a documentary about Dame Shirley’s life and work. We mentioned that Dame Shirley had laryngitis. Megan offered to give a talk celebrating women pioneers in technology. It was just an obvious fit. We were very happy to get her onstage at the last minute.”

Smith’s talk gave a peek at her documentary about the many women who have — both quietly and boldly — had a hand in shaping technology, from the “first programmer in the world,” Ada Lovelace, to Grace Hopper, who offered up the idea of debugging. (Watch Megan Smith’s talk at TEDWomen 2013.) The audience loved it.

Megan Smith, now the CTO of the United States, stepped in when Dame Stephanie Shirley got laryngitis. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Megan Smith, now the CTO of the United States, stepped in when Dame Stephanie Shirley got laryngitis. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

But Stoetzel wanted to find a way for Shirley to share her story. “We invited her back to speak at TED2014, but she was already booked the week of that conference,” said Stoetzel. “So we invited her to speak a full year and a half later, at TED2015.”

Sixteen months later, Shirley once again found herself practicing for TED. This time, the stakes felt even higher. “The tight timing scared me,” she said. “My friends told me, ‘They’ll switch you off if you go over your time limit.’”

Shirley had given many talks, but she rarely had to memorize them — and she found it difficult to learn her talk by heart. As she practiced, she thought carefully about each word.

“I was aware that there was an unknown, future digital audience beyond the people in the room,” Shirley said. “I wanted my talk to be meaningful everywhere, to people in Tanzania or Japan. I found that challenge stimulating. I aimed to use short sentences — nice, simple noun-verb-object sentences.”

But one other feature of the TED Talk format had her stressed. “Everybody stands while they deliver their talk, which I knew I wouldn’t be able to do,” she said. “I sat on my kitchen stool — a step stool, and I thought to myself, ‘I feel very comfortable here.’ So I brought the stool with me on the plane from London to Vancouver.”

Waiting in the wings of the TED2015 theater, Shirley felt confident knowing that her stool was waiting for her on stage. She walked out in a brightly patterned shirt and took a seat, folding her hands in her lap. She began to speak, calmly and measuredly. “When I wrote my memoirs…” And then she paused. She could tell that her voice was not echoing any further than the space in front of her face — her microphone had failed. So she tried again: “When I wrote my memoirs…”

No luck. She whispered, “Help, help.” A tech team member checked her microphone and whispered to colleagues, as the audience waited. Shirley was directed her back to her stool one more time, but the problem persisted.

“Sorry folks,” she said with enthusiasm, as TED curator Chris Anderson came back onstage and improvised while Shirley’s microphone was switched. A few minutes later, after a short video, Anderson introduced her one final time: “Speaking of unstoppable women, once again, Dame Stephanie Shirley!”

The audience stood up, applauding. Shirley reemerged with a good-natured smile. “Now you do know how I’m going to start, but you don’t know how I’m going to finish,” she said. “When I wrote my memoirs,” she began. And she, finally, delivered the rest of her talk.


She talked about how her business cut through the male-dominated business world of its day and established many of the practices that have become standard in the tech world. The audience appreciated her sense of humor (“You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads: They’re flat on top for being patted patronizingly”) and connected with her as she told the difficult story of her late son’s autism and how she continues to fight for autism services in his name. As she finished her talk, the audience jumped to their feet, cheering loud for her.

“I was so grateful for the warmth of the audience,” Shirley said. “It really helped.”

As for her trusty stool? “It looked quite mod.”

The microphone glitch was edited out of the final talk that appeared on So far, Shirley’s video has been viewed well over a million times.

In the months since TED2015, Dame Shirley has received messages of congratulations and requests for collaboration from people all over the world.

“My international profile has extended massively,” she said. “I have received invites to speak from Brazil, India, Israel, Turkey and Australia. Most of them I can’t accept, but it’s very exciting.”

While at TED2015, Dame Shirley met Jim and Marilyn Simons, directors of the Simons Foundation, which dedicates resources to autism research. They had spoken before the event, but meeting in person solidified their relationship. Shirley has a hunch it will be an enduring friendship.

Last month, Dame Shirley launched a think tank to develop a strategy for improving resources for autism in the United Kingdom by 2017. “That’s going to keep me busy for the next three years,” she said.

In addition to her philanthropy work, Shirley is excited that her memoir is being adapted into a film — it’s in the very early stages. Who knows? Perhaps her TED saga will make the final cut.

The view from Dame Stephanie Shirley's kitchen stool. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED

The view from Dame Stephanie Shirley’s kitchen stool. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED

Sociological ImagesThis Month in SocImages (June 2015)

SocImages News:

Phew. What a month.

You like!  Here are our most appreciated posts this month:

Thanks everybody!

Editor’s pick:

Top post on Tumblr this month:

With over 15,000 likes and shares, I’m so happy to be helping bring awareness to this issue. At Tumblr, this month’s top post: Defensive architecture aimed at the homeless as a deliberate, considered kind of cruelty.

Social Media ‘n’ Stuff:

Finally, this is your monthly reminder that SocImages is on TwitterFacebookTumblrGoogle+, and Pinterest.  I’m on Facebook and most of the team is on Twitter: @lisawade@gwensharpnv@familyunequal, and @jaylivingston.


Bye-bye June 2015; we’ll remember you forever.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

RacialiciousLand, Power, and Filmmaking in Hawaii: An Untold Story Of “Aloha”

by Shay Chan Hodges; originally posted at the Huffington Post

Updated Author’s Note: I wrote the following post three weeks ago, adding to the dozens of articles about race and culture in Hollywood after the release of “Aloha.” I was one of the few writers, however, who even acknowledged the existence of a native Hawaiian perspective.

On Larry Wilmore’s the Nightly Show, for example, three comedians discussed Emma Stone as “Allison Ng,” including Chinese comedian/actress Kristina Wong and comedian Jo Koy, who is Filipino and Caucasian. Within the first minute, Wilmore said: “The controversy was that Emma Stone was cast as a half-Asian woman…maybe she was like a quarter I think Hawaiian or something like that…” Comedian Koy jumped in, “yeah, a quarter Chinese I think.” Wilmore asked, “a quarter Chinese or quarter Hawaiian?” And Koy responded, “I think Hawaiian is just anything…it’s like Filipino, Japanese, it’s like if you’re in Hawaii and you eat Spam, you’re Hawaiian.”

As a mixed-race Chinese/Mongolian/Norwegian living in Hawaii for the last twenty-three years, it was truly depressing to watch an ethnically diverse group of people dismiss an entire culture in a discussion about racism.  And in all the articles I scanned that week, only one sought to delve deeper into the movie’s presentation of native Hawaiian sovereignty struggles.

Meanwhile, in real time, a significant cultural conflict has been playing out in Hawaii at the top of Mauna Kea  — a volcano considered sacred by Hawaiians  — and has barely made national news. (Coincidentally, Crowe’s depiction of Hawaiian cultural struggles was not far off from these current clashes). Yet the media continues to ignore real Hawaiian news and the perspectives of people in Hawaii.


Originally published June 1, 2015

In October 2013, my husband and our two teenage sons were invited to spend a couple days at Bumpy Kanahele’s village, Pu’uhonua o Waimānalo, to watch the filming of Cameron Crowe’s recently released “Aloha.” (Pu’uhonua translates to “place of refuge” in Hawaiian.) My younger son, who wants to be a director, didn’t quite work up the nerve to get a selfie with Emma Stone, but he spoke briefly with Crowe about filmmaking. My older son reflected on the experience this past December in an essay for his college applications. Some of the history he described is likely unfamiliar to mainland audiences:

“Last year, I accompanied my dad to a native Hawaiian village at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains on the island of Oahu to observe the production of a major Hollywood movie. There we met Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper and Cameron Crowe, but it wasn’t the star studded cast or famous director that left a lasting impression on me. Instead it was the charismatic leader of the village and the work he had done with my father almost twenty years ago.

“We were there at the invitation of Bumpy Kanahele who had a role in the movie based loosely on his life. Bumpy is a Hawaiian rights activist and peaceful revolutionary who had obtained the land for his village twenty years earlier from the state of Hawaii in exchange for ending the peaceful occupation of Makapu’u Beach. My dad met Bumpy the year the occupation ended when they worked together to successfully delay an acquisition by Bank of America, one of the most powerful banks in the world and worth over 30 billion dollars. After months of legal battles, the Federal Reserve eventually compelled the bank to put forward money in order to meet the needs of low income Hawaiians.

“Growing up hearing about Bumpy’s struggles and never-ending efforts and about his and my father’s victories taught me that a small group of motivated individuals can indeed make a difference.”

Two weeks ago, our family was excited to attend an early screening of “Aloha” with people from Bumpy’s village, many of whom were involved with the movie. Watching a Hollywood film in a Honolulu multiplex where the majority of the audience was native Hawaiian was surreal to say the least. It was a “chicken skin” moment, as we say in the islands. The “set” was their actual village — where they raise their keiki (children), respect their kupuna (elders) and work to restore their culture and sovereignty. To see facets of their story on the big screen was extraordinary. And not surprisingly, when Bumpy first appeared in the film, the crowd burst into applause.

With “Aloha,” Cameron Crowe made a heartfelt effort to present a cultural narrative that has not been attempted before in a star-studded Hollywood production. The scenes with Bumpy and other residents of the village are the most authentic depictions of what Hawaii looks like, sounds like, and feels like of any feature film I’ve seen. In a review in The Atlantic entitled, “Aloha’s Hawaii Shoots for Magic and Realism,” Lenika Cruz writes:

Kanahele speaks on his own turf and in his own words with Gilchrist and Ng about the problems and concerns of native Hawaiians, before inviting them to eat and drink with the rest of the community. It’s a touching, if short-lived, vignette that indisputably stems from genuine reverence and compassion for the people of Hawaii. Besides, when was the last time a major motion picture even glanced at the lives of America’s indigenous people with something other than mockery?

When it comes to cultural sensitivity, “Aloha” has been criticized for its title, lack of Asian representation, and Emma Stone being cast as a mixed-race character. Yet, the people I sat with in the theater two weeks ago shared the rare experience of seeing their realities reflected in a major motion picture — including ongoing tensions between the struggle for sovereignty and the power of multinational corporations that operate as if they are above the law.

In many ways, the true magic of “Aloha” is its hyperrealism. Had critics of the movie done their research, they would have discovered that in order to obtain the land for this village two decades ago, Bumpy and some three hundred Hawaiians occupied a well-known beach on Oahu for fourteen months and began building homes for the homeless in the process. In my son’s college essay, he describes how my husband, Bumpy, and other activists took on Bank of America for discriminating against Hawaiians (and Filipinos) in its lending practices. What most filmgoers couldn’t know is that in the scene where Bumpy, Cooper, and Stone are discussing promises made to the Hawaiian people, just outside the camera’s view is a shelf full of files regarding Bank of America’s unfulfilled commitment to the Hawaiian people, reminiscent of the numerous broken treaties the U.S. government has had with indigenous North American tribes.

Perhaps it was Cameron Crowe’s job to provide the context for these scenes, and I certainly agree with critics who thought that the storyline with Bumpy and native Hawaiians should have played a larger role in the film. Had moviegoers understood the import of the scenes at Pu’uhonua o Waimānalo for people in Hawaii, perhaps the criticisms about cultural representation would have been more nuanced.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s safer (and far less work) to focus on a lack of Asians in a movie that takes place in a Hawaiian village and on a military base, than to explore cultural and political themes like illegal occupation, Hawaiian sovereignty, and broken promises to indigenous peoples.

In any case, I would like to suggest the next project for Cameron Crowe: a dramedy/thriller about the battle between native Hawaiians and Bank of America. And when they cast the role of me — activist girlfriend turned writer/wife/mother who happens to be Chinese/Mongolian/Norwegian — please hire Olivia Munn. Then maybe the politically correct will pay attention to the real story.

The post Land, Power, and Filmmaking in Hawaii: An Untold Story Of “Aloha” appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

Planet Linux AustraliaMichael Still: Percival trig

I had a pretty bad day, so I knocked off early and went for a walk before going off to the meeting at a charity I help out with. The walk was to Percival trig, which I have to say was one of the more boring trigs I've been to. Some of the forest nearly was nice enough, but the trig itself is stranded out in boring grasslands. Meh.


Interactive map for this route.

Tags for this post: blog pictures 20150630-percival photo canberra bushwalk trig_point
Related posts: Goodwin trig; Big Monks; Narrabundah trig and 16 geocaches; Cooleman and Arawang Trigs; One Tree and Painter; A walk around Mount Stranger


CryptogramTracking the Psychological Effects of the 9/11 Attacks

Interesting research from 2012: "The Dynamics of Evolving Beliefs, Concerns, Emotions, and Behavioral Avoidance Following 9/11: A Longitudinal Analysis of Representative Archival Samples":

Abstract: September 11 created a natural experiment that enables us to track the psychological effects of a large-scale terror event over time. The archival data came from 8,070 participants of 10 ABC and CBS News polls collected from September 2001 until September 2006. Six questions investigated emotional, behavioral, and cognitive responses to the events of September 11 over a five-year period. We found that heightened responses after September 11 dissipated and reached a plateau at various points in time over a five-year period. We also found that emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions were moderated by age, sex, political affiliation, and proximity to the attack. Both emotional and behavioral responses returned to a normal state after one year, whereas cognitively-based perceptions of risk were still diminishing as late as September 2006. These results provide insight into how individuals will perceive and respond to future similar attacks.

Cory DoctorowOn Big Data’s shrinking returns

In my new Guardian column, I point out that the big-data-driven surveillance business model is on the rocks.

Once upon a time, you could sell soap with a slogan like “You will be clean,” but we become resistant to ads. While Big Data initially generated some promising sell-through results, these days, companies like Facebook are relying on non-surveillance techniques for their growth.

Remember when Xynga’s “social games” like Farmville seemed to colonise the limbic systems of everyone you knew, stealing away their hours with a fiendishly addictive game-mechanic? In short order, most of Xynga’s players grew inured to the game’s temptations, leaving behind a rump of especially susceptible players who were not enough to sustain the game, nor its makers’ high-flying share price.

Likewise, the “surveillance business model” of building up detailed electronic dossiers on internet users in order to predict what they want to buy and how to sell it to them produced some genuinely impressive results in its early years. The serendipity of seeing an ad for something you had been thinking about proved very powerful in the early days of Facebook and the first generation of “retargeting” services.

But a look at Facebook’s ad-card rates shows that the novelty of this technique wears off fast. Facebook was founded on the premise that it could use its mounting dossier on your behavior to figure out how to sell you things faster than your natural defenses would repel its pitches. If that ideology was borne out, you’d expect to see the company’s cost-per-thousand ad rates climbing into the stratosphere. Instead, they’re damned close to the rate you’ll pay for regular, minimally targeted display advertising elsewhere.

The shrinking of the big data promise [Cory Doctorow/The Guardian]

(Image: Old ad for Holsum Bread , Joe Mabel, CC-BY-SA)

big data,advertising,business,surveillance,facebook,

Worse Than FailureUncommon Respect

Coyne viewed the coming work week with dread. His employer spent roughly the sum of all the employee’ 401k holdings on a weeklong mandatory communications training course. The problem of no work getting done during training was solved by having mandatory after-hours work to make up for it.

Skylar White holds the talking pillow in a scene from Breaking Bad

The training program centered around three simple tenets to holding effective meetings: Common Respect, Common Purpose, and Common Goals. Before the training started, Coyne’s manager, Stefen, made an announcement. “After completion of this course,” he said, “there will be no excuse for having an unsuccessful meeting. We’ll be tracking meeting results, and bad meetings will be documented and reviewed during your annual performance evaluations. Now, let me introduce your trainer, Trent…”

Coyne knew where this was going. Meetings would be the same, but now they doubled as ammunition on performance reviews. Worse, Stefen now had three new terms to throw around, ad nauseum, when he decided to hijack a meeting and tell everyone his mandate. The training tried to make that harder for him, though, by introducing a “Talking Pillow” on the very first day.

“Part of Common Respect,” Trent explained, “is adhering to someone’s right to speak.” If you started blabbering without holding the Talking Pillow, you were violating the Common Respect tenet. You could only speak if you were holding the pillow, and once you were done with your spiel, the talking pillow would be passed on so someone else could give input. Coyne and his team were forced to practice it, and most of them had no trouble with the Kindergarten exercise- aside from Stefen, who kept violating the rules.

The ensuing days of training delved into the Common Purpose and Common Goals part of the program. Common Purpose could be summarized as, “Everyone should agree on the purpose of the meeting and stick to it.” Stefen gleefully tacked on an “or else!”. Ever the cynic, Coyne could already see Stefen taking this as a license to focus any meeting on what he wanted it to be about. Disagreeing with Stefen would be trampling the sacred order of the Common Purpose.

As far as Common Goals, these were meant to imply everyone would leave the meeting with the same goals, consisting of a to-do list of deliverables. Anything other than concluding a meeting with Common Goals would be considered a failure. Terms like “post-meeting harmony” were thrown around to make it seem like an ideal situation.

The week ended, and Trent and his fellow consultants were happy to pack up their talking pillows and take their exorbitant check for a week’s worth of work that could have fit into a one hour webinar. “Best of luck, everyone!” Trent said through a grin as he shook everyone’s hand. “I’m sure you’ve all seen the importance of RESPECTING each other’s PURPOSE to achieve GOALS, and you all have that in COMMON now!” He chuckled like this were a clever phrase, and Coyne rolled his eyes.

Before the trainers were out of the parking lot, Stefen raised his own talking pillow on high and shouted, “Listen up, everyone! First thing Monday morning, we’re putting this knowledge to good use. I’m calling a 7AM meeting to discuss the strategy for the Initrode migration, so show some Common Respect and be there on time!”

Most of Coyne’s co-workers didn’t usually start their day until 8 or 9. “Common Respect” apparently didn’t extend to scheduling meetings during core hours. But Coyne and his team members shambled into the conference room, zombie-like, just before 7AM on Monday. Stefen was already seated at the head of the table, with the talking pillow, and had scrawled “COMMON RESPECT, PURPOSE and GOALS” on the whiteboard.

“Have a seat, everyone. Now that we’re familiar with the communication terms, here’s how it’s going to be. You’re going to respect what I have to say. The purpose of this meeting is to inform you of how we’re going to do the Initrode client migration. The goal after this meeting is for all of you to take the flat files the clients are going to send us in their database formats and convert it to ours.”

Coyne glanced around the table. He, and most of his teammates had already had conversations with Initrode about the migration, and Initrode had agreed to convert most of their data into an industry-standard transmission file, which could be directly imported- no additional conversions required. None of Coyne’s co-workers objected, so Coyne slowly reached out for the talking pillow in front of Stefen. “I’m not looking for any input on this, Coyne!” Stefen yelled as he snatched the pillow away and launched it out the door.

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Planet Linux AustraliaMichael Still: A team walk around Red Hill

My team at work is trying to get a bit more active, so a contingent from the Canberra portion of the team went for a walk around Red Hill. I managed to sneak in a side trip to Davidson trig, but it was cheating because it was from the car park at the top of the hill. A nice walk, with some cool geocaches along the way.


Interactive map for this route.

Tags for this post: blog pictures 20150629-davidson photo canberra bushwalk trig_point
Related posts: Goodwin trig; Big Monks; Narrabundah trig and 16 geocaches; Cooleman and Arawang Trigs; One Tree and Painter; A walk around Mount Stranger


Planet DebianJonathan McDowell: What Jonathan Did Next

While I mentioned last September that I had failed to be selected for an H-1B and had been having discussions at DebConf about alternative employment, I never got around to elaborating on what I’d ended up doing.

Short answer: I ended up becoming a law student, studying for a Masters in Legal Science at Queen’s University Belfast. I’ve just completed my first year of the 2 year course and have managed to do well enough in the 6 modules so far to convince myself it wasn’t a crazy choice.

Longer answer: After Vello went under in June I decided to take a couple of months before fully investigating what to do next, largely because I figured I’d either find something that wanted me to start ASAP or fail to find anything and stress about it. During this period a friend happened to mention to me that the applications for the Queen’s law course were still open. He happened to know that it was something I’d considered before a few times. Various discussions (some of them over gin, I’ll admit) ensued and I eventually decided to submit an application. This was towards the end of August, and I figured I’d also talk to people at DebConf to see if there was anything out there tech-wise that I could get excited about.

It turned out that I was feeling a bit jaded about the whole tech scene. Another friend is of the strong opinion that you should take a break at least every 10 years. Heeding her advice I decided to go ahead with the law course. I haven’t regretted it at all. My initial interest was largely driven by a belief that there are too few people who understand both tech and law. I started with interests around intellectual property and contract law as well as issues that arise from trying to legislate for the global nature of most tech these days. However the course is a complete UK qualifying degree (I can go on to do the professional qualification in NI or England & Wales) and the first year has been about public law. Which has been much more interesting than I was expecting (even, would you believe it, EU law). Especially given the potential changing constitutional landscape of the UK after the recent general election, with regard to talk of repeal of the Human Rights Act and a referendum on exit from the EU.

Next year will concentrate more on private law, and I’m hoping to be able to tie that in better to what initially drove me to pursue this path. I’m still not exactly sure which direction I’ll go once I complete the course, but whatever happens I want to keep a linkage between my skill sets. That could be either leaning towards the legal side but with the appreciation of tech, returning to tech but with the appreciation of the legal side of things or perhaps specialising further down an academic path that links both. I guess I’ll see what the next year brings. :)

Planet DebianLunar: Reproducible builds: week 9 in Stretch cycle

What happened about the reproducible builds effort this week:

Toolchain fixes

Norbert Preining uploaded texinfo/6.0.0.dfsg.1-2 which makes texinfo indices reproducible. Original patch by Chris Lamb.

Lunar submitted recently rebased patches to make the file order of files inside .deb stable.

akira filled #789843 to make tex4ht stop printing timestamps in its HTML output by default.

Dhole wrote a patch for xutils-dev to prevent timestamps when creating gzip compresed files.

Reiner Herrmann sent a follow-up patch for wheel to use UTC as timezone when outputing timestamps.

Mattia Rizzolo started a discussion regarding the failure to build from source of subversion when -Wdate-time is added to CPPFLAGS—which happens when asking dpkg-buildflags to use the reproducible profile. SWIG errors out because it doesn't recognize the aforementioned flag.

Trying to get the .buildinfo specification to more definitive state, Lunar started a discussion on storing the checksums of the binary package used in dpkg status database.

akira discovered—while proposing a fix for simgrid—that CMake internal command to create tarballs would record a timestamp in the gzip header. A way to prevent it is to use the GZIP environment variable to ask gzip not to store timestamps, but this will soon become unsupported. It's up for discussion if the best place to fix the problem would be to fix it for all CMake users at once.

Infrastructure-related work

Andreas Henriksson did a delayed NMU upload of pbuilder which adds minimal support for build profiles and includes several fixes from Mattia Rizzolo affecting reproducibility tests.

Neils Thykier uploaded lintian which both raises the severity of package-contains-timestamped-gzip and avoids false positives for this tag (thanks to Tomasz Buchert).

Petter Reinholdtsen filled #789761 suggesting that how-can-i-help should prompt its users about fixing reproducibility issues.

Packages fixed

The following packages became reproducible due to changes in their build dependencies: autorun4linuxcd, libwildmagic, lifelines, plexus-i18n, texlive-base, texlive-extra, texlive-lang.

The following packages became reproducible after getting fixed:

Some uploads fixed some reproducibility issues but not all of them:

Untested uploaded as they are not in main:

Patches submitted which have not made their way to the archive yet:

  • #789648 on apt-dater by Dhole: allow the build date to be set externally and set it to the time of the latest debian/changelog entry.
  • #789715 on simgrid by akira: fix doxygen and patch CMakeLists.txt to give GZIP=-n for tar.
  • #789728 on aegisub by Juan Picca: get rid of __DATE__ and __TIME__ macros.
  • #789747 on dipy by Juan Picca: set documentation date for Sphinx.
  • #789748 on jansson by Juan Picca: set documentation date for Sphinx.
  • #789799 on tmexpand by Chris Lamb: remove timestamps, hostname and username from the build output.
  • #789804 on libevocosm by Chris Lamb: removes generated files which include extra information about the build environment.
  • #789963 on qrfcview by Dhole: removes the timestamps from the the generated PNG icon.
  • #789965 on xtel by Dhole: removes extra timestamps from compressed files by gzip and from the PNG icon.
  • #790010 on simbody by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790023 on stx-btree by akira: pass HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO to Doxygen.
  • #790034 on siscone by akira: removes $datetime from footer.html used by Doxygen.
  • #790035 on thepeg by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790072 on libxray-spacegroup-perl by Chris Lamb: set $Storable::canonical = 1 to make space_groups.db.PL output deterministic.
  • #790074 on visp by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790081 on wfmath by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790082 on wreport by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790088 on yudit by Chris Lamb: removes timestamps from the build system by passing a static comment.
  • #790122 on clblas by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790133 on dcmtk by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790139 on glfw3 by akira: patch for Doxygen timestamps further improved by James Cowgill by removing $datetime from the footer.
  • #790228 on gtkspellmm by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #790232 on ucblogo by Reiner Herrmann: set LC_ALL to C before sorting.
  • #790235 on basemap by Juan Picca: set documentation date for Sphinx.
  • #790258 on guymager by Reiner Herrmann: use the date from the latest debian/changelog as build date
  • #790309 on pelican by Chris Lamb: removes useless (and unreproducible) tests.

debbindiff development

debbindiff/23 includes a few bugfixes by Helmut Grohne that result in a significant speedup (especially on larger files). It used to exhibit the quadratic time string concatenation antipattern.

Version 24 was released on June 23rd in a hurry to fix an undefined variable introduced in the previous version. (Reiner Herrmann)

debbindiff now has a test suite! It is written using the PyTest framework (thanks Isis Lovecruft for the suggestion). The current focus has been on the comparators, and we are now at 93% of code coverage for these modules.

Several problems were identified and fixed in the process: paths appearing in output of javap, readelf, objdump, zipinfo, unsqusahfs; useless MD5 checksum and last modified date in javap output; bad handling of charsets in PO files; the destination path for gzip compressed files not ending in .gz; only metadata of cpio archives were actually compared. stat output was further trimmed to make directory comparison more useful.

Having the test suite enabled a refactoring of how comparators were written, switching from a forest of differences to a single tree. This helped removing dust from the oldest parts of the code.

Together with some other small changes, version 25 was released on June 27th. A follow up release was made the next day to fix a hole in the test suite and the resulting unidentified leftover from the comparator refactoring. (Lunar)

Documentation update

Ximin Luo improved code examples for some proposed environment variables for reference timestamps. Dhole added an example on how to fix timestamps C pre-processor macros by adding a way to set the build date externally. akira documented her fix for tex4ht timestamps.

Package reviews

94 obsolete reviews have been removed, 330 added and 153 updated this week.

Hats off for Chris West (Faux) who investigated many fail to build from source issues and reported the relevant bugs.

Slight improvements were made to the scripts for editing the review database, edit-notes and clean-notes. (Mattia Rizzolo)


A meeting was held on June 23rd. Minutes are available.

The next meeting will happen on Tuesday 2015-07-07 at 17:00 UTC.


The Linux Foundation announced that it was funding the work of Lunar and h01ger on reproducible builds in Debian and other distributions. This was further relayed in a Bits from Debian blog post.

LongNowDigital Dark Age On The Media



On this week’s episode of On the Media, they dive into the digital preservation issue: what would happen if we, as a species, lost access to our electronic records? What if, either by the slow creep of  technological obsolescence or sudden cosmic disaster, we no longer could draw from the well of of knowledge accrued through the ages? What if we fell into…a digital dark age?



CryptogramTEMPEST Attack

There's a new paper on a low-cost TEMPEST attack against PC cryptography:

We demonstrate the extraction of secret decryption keys from laptop computers, by nonintrusively measuring electromagnetic emanations for a few seconds from a distance of 50 cm. The attack can be executed using cheap and readily-available equipment: a consumer-grade radio receiver or a Software Defined Radio USB dongle. The setup is compact and can operate untethered; it can be easily concealed, e.g., inside pita bread. Common laptops, and popular implementations of RSA and ElGamal encryptions, are vulnerable to this attack, including those that implement the decryption using modern exponentiation algorithms such as sliding-window, or even its side-channel resistant variant, fixed-window (m-ary) exponentiation.

We successfully extracted keys from laptops of various models running GnuPG (popular open source encryption software, implementing the OpenPGP standard), within a few seconds. The attack sends a few carefully-crafted ciphertexts, and when these are decrypted by the target computer, they trigger the occurrence of specially-structured values inside the decryption software. These special values cause observable fluctuations in the electromagnetic field surrounding the laptop, in a way that depends on the pattern of key bits (specifically, the key-bits window in the exponentiation routine). The secret key can be deduced from these fluctuations, through signal processing and cryptanalysis.

From Wired:

Researchers at Tel Aviv University and Israel's Technion research institute have developed a new palm-sized device that can wirelessly steal data from a nearby laptop based on the radio waves leaked by its processor's power use. Their spy bug, built for less than $300, is designed to allow anyone to "listen" to the accidental radio emanations of a computer's electronics from 19 inches away and derive the user's secret decryption keys, enabling the attacker to read their encrypted communications. And that device, described in a paper they're presenting at the Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems in September, is both cheaper and more compact than similar attacks from the past -- so small, in fact, that the Israeli researchers demonstrated it can fit inside a piece of pita bread.

Another article. NSA article from 1972 on TEMPEST. Hacker News thread. Reddit thread.

Planet Linux AustraliaBinh Nguyen: The Value of Money - Part 4

- I previously remarked that since we use the concept of 'deterrence' so readily throughout the world we are in a de-facto state of 'Cold War' whose weapons are defense, intelligence, and economics. There's a lot of interesting information out there... 
- it makes sense that companies try to run lean rather than try to create. Everybody knows how to save. It's much more difficult to create something of value
- advertising is a broadcast means of achieving increased transactions but in spite of targeted advertising it is still incredibly inefficient. Based on previous experience even single digit click through rates for online advertising is considered suspect/possibly fraudulent
- the easiest way of estabishing the difference between what's needed and what's wanted is to turn off all advertising around you. Once you've done that, the difference between need and want becomes very strange and the efficacy of advertising on your perspective becomes much, much clearer
- most businesses fail. A lot of people basically have trouble running a business, have flawed business models, or don't achieve enough transactions to make it worthwhile
- immigration is a good thing provided that the people in question bring something to the economy. I look at the Japanese situation and wonder whether or not immigration is a more cost effective means of dealing with their ageing problem than 'Abenomics'. Even if all they do is re-patriate former nationals...
- if you run through their numbers carefully, and think about where many of the world's top companies are headed, the performance (net profit in particular) of some of them aren't any where near impressive (percentage wise) as the share price growth in recent history. There are many small/mid cap firms that would out do them (% net profit wise) if you're looking to invest
- in software engineering people continually harp on about the benefits of Agile, Extreme programming and so on. Basically, all it is maintaining regular contact between staff members to get the best out of a piece of work. Peer pressure and continual oversight also forces you to remain productive. Think about this in the real world. The larger the teams are the more difficult it is to maintain oversight particuarly if the manager in question is of a poor standard and there are no systems in place to maintain standards. There is also a problem with unfettered belief in this metholodgy. If in general, the team members are unproductive or of a poor standard this will ripple throughout your team
- GDP is a horrible measure of productivity. As I've stated previously, the difference between perceived, effective, and actual value basically diguises where true value lies. Go spend some time in other parts of the world. I guarantee that there will be a massive difference in the way you view productivity (productivity means amount of work completed per unit time not overall work)
- a good measure of a person's productivity/value is what happens if they take a day off or a have a break. Observe, the increase in workload for each other staff member and how they deal with it
- people keep on harping on about self interest as the best way of maintaining productivity and encouraging people to work hard. However, I have a huge problem with this as it is incredibly hard to differentiate between actual, effective, and perceived value sometimes. At one particular firm, we had difficulties with this as well. I was therefore tasked with writing an application to monitor things (if you intend to write something along these lines please be mindful relevant HR and Surveillance laws in your jurisdiction. Also, keep the program 'silent'. Staff will likely alter their behaviour if they know that the program is running.). The funny thing is that even people you think are productive tend to work in bursts. The main difference is the amount of time that trasnpires between each piece of work and the rate of work that occurs during each burst. The other thing that you should know is that even with senior members of staff when you look at a lot of metrics it can be extremely difficult to justify their wage. Prepare to be surprised if you currently have poor oversight in your organisation. Lack of proper oversight breeds nepotism, lack of productivity, etc...
- you'll be shocked at what poor staff can do to your team. If the members in question is particularly bad he in effect takes a number of other staff out of the equation at the same time. Think about this. You all are recruited for highly skilled jobs but one team member is poor. If he continually has to rely on other staff then he in effects takes out another member of your team simultaneously (possibly more). Think about this when training new staff. Give them enough time/training to get a guage of what they'll be like but if they can't hold up their part of the deal be prepared to move them elsewhere within the organisation or let go of them. The same is also true in the opposite direction. Good employees have a multiplier effect. You'll only figure out the difference with proper oversight and monitoring. Without this, perceived value may completely throw you off
- we like to focus in on large companies because they supposedly bring in a lot of business. The problem is if they have a monopoly. If they strangle the market of all value and don't put back in via taxes, employment, etc... the state in question could be in a lot of trouble down the line. If/when the company moves the economy would have evolved to see these companies as being a core component. Other surrouding will likely be poorly positioned to adapt when they leave for a place which offers better terms and/or conditions. The other problem is this, based on experience people are willing to except a lower wage to work for such firms (mostly for reasons of financial safety). There is no guarantee that you will be paid what you are worth 
- when and if a large company collapses or moves the problem is the number of others who rely on it for business
- people keep on saying that there are safe industries from off shoring and automation. I think they're naive or haven't spent enough time around good technologists. Good employees will try to automate or develop processes to get things done more efficiently. Virtually all industries (or vast chunks of them) can be automated fully given time (trust me on this. I like to read a lot...).
Only way to keep yourself safe is to be multi-skilled and entrepreneurial or else extremely skilled at a particular profession. Even then there's no guarantee that you'll be safe
- sometimes I think people just don't get it. A small number of outliers is all it takes in order to change group behaviour. Even if we ban regulate/automation there will be those who adopt it without any misgivings much like organised crime, and use of illegal migrants, cash economy, etc... Only real way is to force a cashless society so that we can run algorithms to check for unusual behaviour and breed a more puritan society
- minimal but effective regulation helps to level out the playing field. Making it too complex creates possible avenues for loopholes to be exploited. Too simple and without enough coverage and you have the same problem
- obvious ways to make sustained, long term money include creating something that others need or want, else have the ability to be able to change perception, to be able to see changes and adapt, arbitrage, and using a broadcast structure
- personal experience and history of others with emerging markets such as Asia and Africa says that results can be extremely variable. Without on the ground knowledge and oversight you can just as easily make a substantial profit as a massive loss through fraud. There is very little you can do about this about from taking due diligence and having measures/knowledge to be able to deal with it should it actually occur
- in reality, very few have a genuine chance of making it 'big', "Americans raised at the top and bottom of the income ladder are likely to remain there themselves as adults. Forty-three percent of those who start in the bottom are stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle quintile. Only 4 percent of adults raised in the bottom make it all the way to the top, showing that the "rags-to-riches" story is more often found in Hollywood than in reality."
- use first mover advantage as quickly as you can but have defensive measures in place
- investment from third parties (angel investment, venture capital, etc...) can vary drastically. More and more want a guaranteed return on investment at least though
- based on what I've experienced VC is much more difficult to get locally than in Europe or the United States. Luckily, more companies are willing to invest provided you are posting good numbers. One other thing I've discovered locally is that they are too lazy/unwilling to help even if the idea/s may be good though (though this is changing)
- we don't want to live day by day or have creditors/shareholders to report to so seek the highest profit whenever possible
- you can select a lot of numbers and prove essentially anything in business but their are certain numbers that you simply can't ignore such as net profit/income
- pay a person with cash by the hour where he has to do the numbers versus lump sump and he will look at things very differently. That goes for any profession, even high earning ones
- growth is great but only if it can be sustained and it is genuine. If you have susbtantial variation in growth such as having a few fantastic years of growth and then a sudden drop off that is fed by massive debt you could be in a bit of trouble. You may say that you can just sell off assets. If the growth wasn't good enough then do you see a problem? Moreover, what if you don't have something that it considered worthwhile or easy to sell off? For a state/business, your credit risk suddenly shoots up and you may possibly be priced out of the market. Targeted, sustainable, growth should be the target not growth at all costs. The Chinese position towards economic management is actually making a lot more sense to me now though I'm not certain that it would work quite as easily or be accepted in other states. You may say that we'll invest during good times? The problem is that we're often not wise enough to know when and where to invest
- in many places you are seeing a rise of left wing parties. The worrying thing is that they'll lose sight of the benefits of capitalism and fall into the trap of a more puritan communism/socialist system which hasn't really worked over the long term in the past. The other thing to be concerned about is that a lot of them don't have solid policies or answers to the problems which currently face us
- if more people could distinguish real value from perceived and effective value, needs and wants, we would have less assetts bubbles and price gouging across the board
- there will be those who say who cares about the collective. Capitalism is composed of boom and bust cycles. Here's the problem. Most companies require debt to survive. If they can't survive that bust cycle they will be part of a collective collapse in the economy. Moreover, based on information I've come across other developed countries have looked at the plans for the Eurozone and the ways of dealing with high debt and are basically using that as the blueprint for the future. Your assets can and will be raided in the event of the state or systemic entities getting into trouble 
- people say that we should get educated in order to have a high paying job but the problem is that we are increasingly siloed into specific roles. If we can't use the knowledge, the time and money we've spent on education has been for nothing. We require better organisation between educational curriculums and professional settings
- even if governments are aware that there are problems that are cropping up with our version of capitalism, it's possible that there are those that may be saying that we have no choice but to keep the cycle going. It's the best of the worst
- globlisation essentially buys us more time before things come to a head (if they do). Most of the sceanarios point to organised debt forgiveness as a means of dealing with the problem. Private asset seizure is something that is being metioned everywhere. Raw commodities stored at secure locations may be your only source of safety if things look bad if you are a private citizen
- if you want a resilient economy you need maintain a level playing field, flexible workforce, and possibly limit the size and influence of major companies in your economy
- I don't get it. Heaps of countries have adequate blocking technology to be help deal with this if they deem it illegal. Deploy it correctly and your rioting problem is over with...
- as stated previously, I've come to the conclusion that a lot of financial instruments are useless. They effectively provide a means of making money under any conditions. If we remove these instruments from play then I think that it may be possible that we may return to less speculative markets that depend more on fundamentals
- anyone can create something of value. The issue is whether it is negligible versus tangible value. This will also determine your business model
- you may know that ther is a bubble but as China and local experiences have demonstrated popping it gracefully is far from easy. Moreover, by the time you figure out there's a bubble it may often too late. Too many people may have too many vested interests 
- theory helps but you won't figure out how market economies work without first hand experience

Krebs on SecurityCrooks Use Hacked Routers to Aid Cyberheists

Cybercriminals have long relied on compromised Web sites to host malicious software for use in drive-by download attacks, but at least one crime gang is taking it a step further: New research shows that crooks spreading the Dyre malware for use in cyberheists are leveraging hacked wireless routers to deliver their password-stealing crimeware.

Ubiquity Networks airRouter

Ubiquity Networks airRouter

Dyre (a.k.a. “Dyreza”) is generally installed by a downloader Trojan that is flagged by most tools under the name “Upatre.” The latter is most often delivered via malicious e-mails containing a link which directs unsuspecting users to servers hosting malicious javascript or a basic redirection to a malicious payload. If the user clicks the malicious link, it may serve a bogus file — such as an invoice or bank statement — that if extracted and opened reaches out to an Upatre control server to download Dyre.

According to a recent in-depth report from Symantec, Dyre is a highly developed piece of malware, capable of hijacking all three major web browsers and intercepting internet banking sessions in order to harvest the victim’s credentials and send them to the attackers. Dyre is often used to download additional malware on to the victim’s computer, and in many cases the victim machine is added to a botnet which is then used to send out thousands of spam emails in order to spread the threat.

Recently, researchers at the Fujitsu Security Operations Center in Warrington, UK began tracking Upatre being served from hundreds of compromised home routers — particularly routers powered by MikroTik and Ubiquiti’s AirOS.

“We have seen literally hundreds of wireless access points, and routers connected in relation to this botnet, usually AirOS,” said Bryan Campbell, lead threat intelligence analyst at Fujitsu. “The consistency in which the botnet is communicating with compromised routers in relation to both distribution and communication leads us to believe known vulnerabilities are being exploited in the firmware which allows this to occur.”


Campbell said it’s not clear why so many routers appear to be implicated in the botnet. Perhaps the attackers are merely exploiting routers with default credentials (e.g., “ubnt” for both username and password on most Ubiquiti AirOS routers). Fujitsu also found a disturbing number of the systems in the botnet had the port for telnet connections wide open.

In January 2015, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that the botnet used to attack and briefly knock offline Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony Playstation’s networks relied entirely on hacked routers, all of which appeared to have been compromised remotely via telnet.

Whether you use a router from Ubiquiti or any other manufacturer, if you haven’t changed the default credentials on the device, it’s time to take care of that. If you don’t know whether you’ve changed the default administrative credentials for your wired or wireless router, you probably haven’t. Pop on over to and look up the make and model of your router.

To see whether your credentials are the default, you’ll need to open up a browser and enter the numeric address of your router’s administration page. For most routers, this will be or This page lists the default internal address for most routers. If you have no luck there, here’s a decent tutorial that should help most users find this address. And check out my Tools for a Safer PC primer for more tips on how to beef up the security of your router and your Web browser.

Sociological ImagesWhy Don’t Jury Pools Bond Anymore? Character vs. Structure

I was on jury duty this week, and the greatest challenge for me was the “David Brooks temptation” to use the experience to expound on the differences in generations and the great changes in culture and character that technology and history have brought.

I did my first tour of duty in the 1970s. Back then you were called for two weeks. Even if you served on a jury, after that trial ended, you went back to the main jury room. If you were lucky, you might be released after a week and a half. Now it’s two days.

What most struck me most this time was the atmosphere in the main room. Now, nobody talks. You’re in a large room with maybe two hundred people, and it’s quieter than a library. Some are reading newspapers or books, but most are on their latops, tablets, and phones. In the 1970s, it wasn’t just that there was no wi-fi, there was no air conditioning. Remember “12 Angry Men”? We’re in the same building. Then, you tried to find others to talk to. Now you try to find a seat near an electric outlet to connect your charger.

2 (1)

I started to feel nostalgic for the old system. People nowadays – all in their own narrow, solipsistic worlds, nearly incapable of ordinary face-to-face sociability. And so on.

But the explanation was much simpler. It was the two-day hitch. In the old system, social ties didn’t grow from strangers seeking out others in the main jury room. It happened when you went to a courtroom for voir dire. You were called down in groups of forty. The judge sketched out the case, and the lawyers interviewed the prospective jurors. From their questions, you learned more about the case, and you learned about your fellow jurors – neighborhood, occupation, family, education, hobbies. You heard what crimes they’d been a victim of.  When judge called a break for bathroom or lunch or some legal matter, you could find the people you had something in common with. And you could talk with anyone about the case, trying to guess what the trial would bring. If you weren’t selected for the jury, you went back to the main jury room, and you continued the conversations there. You formed a social circle that others could join.

This time, on my first day, there were only two calls for voir dire, the clerk as bingo-master spinning the drum with the name cards and calling out the names one by one. My second day, there were no calls. And that was it. I went home having had no conversations at all with any of my fellow jurors. (A woman seated behind me did say, “Can you watch my laptop for a second?” when she went to the bathroom, but I don’t count that as a conversation.)

I would love to have written 800 words here on how New York character had changed since the 1970s.  No more schmoozing. Instead we have iPads and iPhones and MacBooks destroying New York jury room culture – Apple taking over the Apple. People unable or afraid to talk to one another because of some subtle shift in our morals and manners. Maybe I’d even go for the full Brooks and add a few paragraphs telling you what’s really important in life.

But it was really a change in the structure. New York expanded the jury pool by eliminating most exemptions. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, judges – they all have to show up. As a result, jury service is two days instead of two weeks, and if you actually are called to a trial, once you are rejected for the jury or after the trial is over, you go home.

The old system was sort of like the pre-all-volunteer army. You get called up, and you’re thrown together with many kinds of people you’d never otherwise meet. It takes a chunk of time out of your life, but you wind up with some good stories to tell. Maybe we’ve lost something. But if we have lost valuable experiences, it’s because of a change in the rules, in the structure of how the institution is run, not a because of a change in our culture and character.

Cross-posted  at Montclair Socioblog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

(View original at

Don MartiBroadcasters, fighting, and data leakage

Bob Hoffman wants to see broadcasters standing up against adtech. He writes,

They are being taken to the cleaners by hyper-motivated digital evangelists who understand what predatory thinking means.

Here's a screenshot of a radio station site.

The purple bar on the right is a Ghostery list of all the trackers that are data-leaking the KFOG audience to the "adtech ecosystem."

So if a media buyer wants to reach radio listeners in the Bay Area, he or she can buy a radio commercial on KFOG (good for KFOG), buy an ad or sponsorship on the KFOG site (also good for KFOG), or just leech off the data leakage and use adtech to reach the same listeners on another site entirely (not so good for KFOG).

The radio station builds an audience, and the third-party trackers leak it away.

At the same time, a radio station can't unilaterally drop all the third-party trackers from the site. Protecting the audience is hard. That's where a radio station can use a tracking protection plan. Get the audience protected, stop data leakage, get more advertisers coming to you instead of sneaking around.

On air, when someone interferes with your signal you can call the FCC. On the Internet, well, this is getting too long, so just call Bob.

Related: news sites and the tracking game

RacialiciousDon’t #AskRachel — She Checked Out Long Ago

By Guest Contributor Dorothy Attakora-Gyan

First things first…wait! I probably shouldn’t open a piece on Rachel Dolezal with the only Iggy Azalea lyric I know. Goodness, let’s try this again.

I advocate letting folks self- identify how they want to—ethically. Rachel Dolezal it seems, has not self- identified ethically and it is fair to hold her accountable and ask her to do better.

A few weeks ago, I presented at a conference in New Orleans. During my visit to that magical city, I had the honour of meeting a French researcher with whom I quickly connected, and remain in touch with today. This isn’t altogether unusual; at conferences people meet each other, exchange contacts, hope to continue networking. What was new for me, however, was how easily I connected with said researcher, who not only researches Rastafarianism, but identifies as Rastafarian herself—and is a white woman.

I’ll be honest: Folks who read as white and seem to perform the racialized other tend to rub me the wrong way. I’m suspicious and wary of them. I’m not afraid to tell them this, and this includes the Rachel Dolezals of the world.

Why, you ask? Because such white folks often try to pass off as innocent and benign what is actually ignorant and entitled. They tend not to acknowledge how their white skin affords them easy access to black masks. The thriving legacy of American colonialism allows white entry into another culture for the purposes of consumption—and similarly easy exit. Rachel can perform “blackness,” yet still stand in stark contrast and opposition to the very community she claims an affinity with.

People of colour exercise choice in our embodiment and performance of our racial identity, when we exercise choice in our lives, we are largely punished for doing so. We can barely navigate white spaces without risking our lives. Just ask Trayvon’s family.

Given all that, I tend to view with skepticism white people who voluntarily don racialized identities that people of colour often have imposed on us to some degree.

Which brings me back to my new friendship with the French researcher This woman, born in Europe and of Italian-French descent, seemed to consciously own her whiteness. But reading race off the body can be tricky—as social constructions often are; with olive skin and flowing dreadlocks that fall well below full hips, my friend could be easily be read as a light-skinned person of colour on first glance. The sounds that escape her lips when she speaks are a mixture of English and Jamaican patois, with a hint of a French accent. From experience I know assuming race based on apparent signs can lead to uncomfortable scenarios; so, I allowed her the opportunity to self-identify.

And she did, as white European. She further acknowledged that while Rastafarianism is now her way of life, it hasn’t always been—and as a researcher, it’s her livelihood as well. She discovered it, fell at home there and is intentional about how she lives and how she uses her white privileges for the betterment of the communities she works with.

Truthfully, I wasn’t confused by her appearance, her speech, or how she identified. I’ve seen white men and women wear their hair in locs before (though often not tending to them diligently, nor understanding the rich history behind them). There’s no shortage of white people whose frame of reference for Rastafarianism is Jamaica, Bob Marley and marijuana, and little else. These performances of difference are a kind of rote memorization, a mechanical adoption of “culture” from another world that is equated with claiming that culture as one’s own. Such performances are quite common.

As an African woman who grew up in small town in Canada, I have had my fair share of encounters with women like Rachel Dolezal. I had plenty of white acquaintances who performed ‘blackness’ proudly—better than me, they claimed. White acquaintances who never seemed to actually talk about race, with comfortable homes where I wasn’t invited, because I was a dark-skinned Black girl.

I’ve been told by countless white folk that they are objectively “more Black” than I am because, well, they can recite rap lyrics from the ‘80s and I can’t. (If you ask me, I have a pretty good excuse going. You see, back in the early ‘80s when rap was making a splash here, I was but a toddler living in Kumasi or Takoradi, with no clue North America existed, let alone rap music.)

In my 30’s I can now joke that Canada’s own Rachel Dolezals are right, in a sense. In their imaginations, which white supremacy has taught them is the same thing as the real world, they are more Black than I am. Consider: I didn’t even know I was “Black” for the first 5 years of my life, before my family emigrated to Canada . Perhaps white Canadian-born people think they have a head start on what ‘Blackness’ is? Congratulations, I guess,

Here is my truth, I am West African, a daughter of the Gold Coast, what is now known today as Ghana. I am of and belong to the Ashante and Fanti tribes. My peoples never had to raise me to identify as Black; we didn’t have to fit neatly into North American standards of racial categorization. My skin has always been a badge of pride. I have always existed outside of the North American context, as a dark skin African girl. And I thrived.

But my life did bring me to Turtle Island, known today as Canada. Here I am, on un-surrendered lands, in all my Black woman glory. I have come to claim the term Black. But I will be clear, it was forced on me; I could not, and still cannot escape it. Nor do I want to by any means, but that is not the point.

The point is, as a Ghanaian-Canadian girl child, this identity of “blackness” was foreign to me. It was violently thrust on me. Once in Canada, the names of the tribes I was born into quickly faded in importance and visibility next to the fact of my Blackness.

I have been punished here in Canada for this black skin, for this Black label. I have been called the N-word for it, spat at in defense of the word. For this label I have experienced and continue to endure traumatic surveillance while crossing borders. I am policed daily by others. My hair and skin touched without consent because I am “different.” Teased for being too dark. Blackness, even if you own it, means facing what many of us are taught to run from.

Into this picture comes sweet, innocent Rachel Dolezal. Rachel wants the world to know that she can and wants to choose (consume) blackness. Call me bitter, but this the epitome of white privilege.

And here is where my new white French Rastafarian friend did disrupt something for me in New Orleans. She was conscious of the reality that whiteness gives her freedom denied others to move in and out of cultures.

She identified as a white woman, but also as a Rastafarian, one who spent some years in both Jamaica and Ethiopia, birthed a daughter in Ethiopia and raised her children there. She speaks Amharic, Jamaican Patois, French, Spanish and English. And while she has gained access to and built trust in these communities, she knows well that she was able to so because her skin carries capital. I had met white Rastafarians who wanted the aesthetics, the caramel babies, the exotic partner of colour. I’d never met one willing to acknowledge that she came to this lifestyle more easily than those around her, that most of the community lived a different reality. My new friend spoke candidly of white supremacy, her whiteness, and her white privilege. With Rachel, we still wait for her to do the same.

I’m not arguing that simply stating one’s privileges upfront permits appropriation. What I am saying is accountability is rare. We women of colour, we Black women, are not used to these white women who speak the truths of their reality. They are rare, and Rachel Dolezal is not one of them.

It seems that as Black women, we have grown used to, even been taught to expect, the entire world feeling entitled to us. Everyone can voice their opinion on who and what we are. Tell us how to identify. Our expressions of gender and sexuality are put on display. We are hypersexualized, or made asexual. The white gaze, we are taught, is more than acceptable; it is our normal. The world doesn’t give a damn about how we self-identify, or labels freely thrust upon us. Welcome to the other face of blackness, Rachel.

The black female body specifically is open terrain, entered by all, a common possession and consumer item.[i] Rachel Dolezal and other white women are able to embody and move in and out of blackness (or what we signify as black attributes) and yet black women are demonized for performing blackness. The Black woman’s body is regulated; blackness makes our bodies fixed and immobile.[ii] And herein lies the issue with Rachel’s claims to self- identify—she has used both her white privilege to choose and embody different identities, and white supremacist constraints on Black women, to appropriate and legitimate a claimed Black identity. Isn’t the question of her blackness moot when she hasn’t even been a decent white ally to people of colour?

I hope we all know that the concept of race is socially constructed, an illusion, a God-awful science experiment gone wrong, but we in Black bodies know that our experiences of white supremacy are not imagined. White men and women have long known they are not imagined. Laws have been built to enshrine white supremacy, which with slavery and free labour have been engines of capitalism.

Racism was created to serve particular bodies and we have bought into it. It is a thriving business with unimaginable causalities. It is insidious; everywhere, and we in black skin have felt its pain. So it’s not that absurd that communities of colour are wary when white folk want to escape their roots and “become” us. We were never depicted as the Promised Land. Whiteness still is.

Let’s humour Rachel for a minute. Even if we accept her self-identification, she refuses to own up to her privileges. There is something disingenuous about her process, whether conscious or unconscious. Her desire to escape whiteness has become so real for her that she fears the truth of herself.

For years whiteness—whether represented by anthropology, science, politics, law, or “the public”—has interrogated communities of colour, mined us for our stories. Probed our genitals, researched us, learned us, made us open books. Yet Rachel Dolezal doesn’t want to be subjected to same rules, now that she faces an interrogation arguably similar to black people, bodies, and communities have long endured. The black woman’s body, has long been placed on scaffold for all to ogle and criticize. We have long been trending hashtags, but because we are murdered by the state. We live these narratives. One does not merely pick the positive experiences of Blackness and hand back the negative. Perhaps some Black people believe that financial wealth will allow them this mobility, but that is an illusion, and a colonized way of thinking.

With the delicious melanin comes oppression. I was born with this skin, regardless where I am in the world; this dark skin marks me as at the bottom of the totem pole. And I mean every totem pole, including within my own community. But Rachel? Will never actually ever have to be Black. If Rachel were Black, she would know. The world would have long reminded her.

We are asking Rachel to consciously remember her whiteness, which comes with privileges and guilts. True healing and transformation requires a community or person to remember what they have decided to unconsciously, or consciously forget (Smith, 1999). Rachel Dolezal refuses to speak the truths of her history. She hasn’t been accountable. Her white skin carries with it a particular narrative, one of colonialism, imperialism, and oppression—likely the very reasons for her departure in the first place. So don’t ask Rachel anything, she checked out long ago.

[i] Brand, D. (2001). A Map To the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging. Toronto: Vintage Canada.

[ii] Razack, S. (2005). How is White Supremacy Embodied? Sexualized Racial Violence at Abu Ghraib. Canadian Journal of Women and Law , 17 (2), 341-363.

With identities as hyphenated as her last name, Dorothy Attakora-Gyan is currently completing her Ph.D. at the Institute for Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa. She is invested in studying solidarity building across differences within transnational feminist networks. She can be found on twitter at @deearchives.


The post Don’t #AskRachel — She Checked Out Long Ago appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

RacialiciousWatch It Again: President Obama’s Eulogy For Clementa Pinckney

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Transcript courtesy

Giving all praise and honor to God.

The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the scripture tells us.

They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance, a man of service, who persevered knowing full-well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, to Jennifer, his beloved wife, Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters, to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.

I cannot claim to have had the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well, but I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina back when we were both a little bit younger, back when I didn’t have visible gray hair.

The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor, all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.

Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived, that even from a young age, folks knew he was special, anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful, a family of preachers who spread God’s words, a family of protesters who so changed to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.

Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching. He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth nor youth’s insecurities. Instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swathe of low country, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment — a place that needed somebody like Clem.

His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long. His calls for greater equity were too-often unheeded. The votes he cast were sometimes lonely.

But he never gave up. He stayed true to his convictions. He would not grow discouraged. After a full day at the Capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him. There, he would fortify his faith and imagine what might be.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.

No wonder one of his Senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us, the best of the 46 of us.”

Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of AME Church.

As our brothers and sisters in the AME Church, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides.”

He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.

What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized, after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.

You don’t have to be of high distinction to be a good man.

Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith.

And then to lose him at 41, slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God — Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.

Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people.

People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, who persevered, people of great faith.

To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.

The church is and always has been the center of African American life — a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah.” Rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.

They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.

That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.

There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherers, services happened here anyway in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.

A sacred place, this church, not just for blacks, not just for Christians but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country, a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.

That’s what the church meant.

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history, but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress, an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.

God has different ideas.

He didn’t know he was being used by God.

Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.

The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley, how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond not merely with revulsion at his evil acts, but with (inaudible) generosity. And more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life. Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.

The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know — Amazing Grace.

How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.

As manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace — as a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.

He’s given us the chance where we’ve been lost to find out best selves. We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace.

But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens.

It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise, as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.

For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression, and racial subjugation.

We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.

The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.

It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.

It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.

By taking down that flag, we express adds grace God’s grace.

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.

For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present.

Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.

Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias. That we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement, and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.

Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal, that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote by recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin, or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God’s grace.

For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.

Sporadically, our eyes are open when eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day, the countless more whose lives are forever changed, the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happening to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now.

And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.

We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it.

But God gives it to us anyway.

And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says, “We have to have a conversation about race.” We talk a lot about race.

There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.

None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.

It will not. People of good will will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires — the big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates.

Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.

Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.

To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

What is true in the South is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.

That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.

That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”

That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible.

If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.

Amazing grace…
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
but now I’m found
was blind, but now, I see.

Clementa Pinckney found that grace.
Cynthia Hurd found that grace.
Susie Jackson found that grace.
Ethel Lance found that grace.
DePayne Middleton Doctor found that grace.
Tywanza Sanders found that grace.
Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.
Myra Thompson found that grace.

Through the example of their lives. They’ve now passed it onto us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure.

May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His Grace on the United States of America.

The post Watch It Again: President Obama’s Eulogy For Clementa Pinckney appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

TEDSoaring imaginations, harsh realities: A recap of TEDGlobal>London

Why do humans rule the world? At TEDGlobalLondon, Yuval Noah Harris says it's our ability to imagine. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Why do humans rule the world? At TEDGlobal>London, Yuval Noah Harari says it’s our ability to imagine. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Formula E racing, the darknet, a potential fountain of youth, and beheadings. At TEDGlobal>London — a two-session event curated and hosted by Bruno Giussani on June 16, 2015, at the Royal Institution of Great Britain — the talks ranged from a wildly hopeful future to stern warnings about the present. Enjoy these recaps of the talks in the event.

In the first session…

What sets humans apart? Our ability to imagine. Prehistoric humans were just another unimportant animal — and yet, today, homo sapiens control the planet. How did we get from there to here, asks history professor Yuval Noah Harari? It turns out, it’s because we can imagine things. Nation states, religions, laws — even money — are fictions, and as long as we believe in them, we’ll continue to cooperate effectively in large groups. Think you could convince a chimp to give you a banana by promising that after he dies, he might get countless bananas in Chimpanzee Heaven? Yeah. Not so much. Only humans believe such stories. This is why we rule the world, whereas chimps are locked up in labs. Read more about Harari’s insights at »

Are we really facing a 2°C warming … or worse? Alice Bows-Larkin says we’re ignoring reality when it comes to climate change — and not just on a personal level. Our policy discussions have focused on limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. But looking at a graph of the exponential growth of emissions, we’re really on a path toward a 4°C warming, says Bows-Larkin. And this will translate into an 8 or 10 degree temperature rise in cities. Imagine the hottest day in New York or Mumbai, and add 10 degrees to that, forever. “Our infrastructure has not been designed to cope with this,” she says. To avoid this hot new reality, we need a 10% decrease in a emissions per year — starting right now. And to get there, we might need to question which we value more: economic growth or our planet’s future. Bows-Larkin points to a 2011 paper in which she and a colleague suggested a period of “planned austerity in wealthy nations” might help us reduce emissions. It was not a popular suggestion, she says now.

Severed heads as spectacle, then and now. “For the past year, we’ve all been watching the same show, and I don’t mean Game of Thrones,” says anthropologist Frances Larson — but rather, a show produced by murderers and aired on the worldwide web: the recent beheadings of seven Western men by ISIS, filmed and uploaded. “It’s easy to say they’re barbaric, but if we think that they are archaic — from a remote, obscure age — then we’re wrong,” Larson says. While the nature of beheadings and executions has changed with time, one thing hasn’t: We all watch. Beheadings of criminals by guillotine drew crowds in 1792 France; execution day was almost like a carnival. Today, although a public execution is unthinkable, our morbid fascination with severed heads continues. Modern terrorist beheadings are staged, a “horrifying real-life drama” — and a viral spectacle. While it’s easy to feel distant and passive, clicking on a video of a terrorist beheading, the act’s power comes from the people watching as the killer performs. Everyone who looks plays a part. Larson ends with a powerful observation: “We should stop watching, but we know we won’t. History tells us we won’t and the killers know it too.”
Society’s toll on joy. With a guitar in hand, Alice Phoebe Lou — a South African singer-songwriter now based in Berlin — begins her song “Society” with a delicate finger-picking melody. In a lullaby-like lament, she sings of a man embittered by what could have been: “Oh society, what have you done to me?” Afterward, she plays “Red,” singing in a translucent, reflective voice, this time of a man who chases money while stifling his inner joy. “He gets out of bed / money makes him poor,” she sings. “He’s been mislead / life’s flown overhead.”

Formula E racer Nicolas Prost answers questions about his electric race car — and the creativity it takes to drive it. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Formula E racer Nicolas Prost answers questions about his electric race car — and the creativity it takes to drive it. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Do race car drivers dream of electric vehicles? Nicolas Prost competes in the Formula E competition. Formula Huh, you say? Formula E — the first all-electric race car championship. Prost, who’s currently placing fourth in the first year of the race, explains more: it’s essentially like the grandaddy racing championship, Formula One, only these cars have electric engines and rechargeable batteries. These battles are less about costly technology, though, because all the drivers have essentially the same car with the same engine. The difference is made “by engineers and drivers, not by money,” says Prost. The young Frenchman will try to emulate the success of his legendary Formula One driver father, Alain Prost, in the final race of the season — to be held in London at the end of June.

Do we understand addiction? It’s been 100 years since the US and Britain banned drugs, says journalist Johann Hari. And he calls it a “fateful decision” to punish addicts as criminals, instead of treating addiction as an illness. Does the century-long, fairly ineffective War on Drugs have at its base a faulty assumption about what addiction is? Hari points to a few hints that addiction may be about more than building a dependency on “chemical hooks” — like the fact that when your grandmother has a hip replacement, she will get dosed, heavily, with a powerful heroin-like narcotic for pain, but she usually doesn’t become an addict afterward. Addiction might have more to do with environment, specifically with a sense of social isolation, says Hari — who has seen the ravages of addiction in his own family. For his new book, he visited Portugal, which decriminalized drug use in 2000 and dedicated its former war-in-drugs budget to creating jobs and social connection for addicts, reuniting them with a sense of purpose. The move has been widely applauded, and fifteen years on, the numbers show it works. Hari suggests, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

After a short break, the second session…

Social media shaming. In the early days of Twitter, “voiceless people realized that they had a voice,” says journalist Jon Ronson. “When powerful people transgressed, we realized that we could do something about it … we could hit them with a weapon that we understood and they didn’t: a social media shaming.” But lately, it seems to have gotten out of control. He tells the story of Justine Sacco, who made an ill-advised joke to her 170 Twitter followers before getting on a plane. When she got off the flight and turned on her phone, she was trending on Twitter worldwide, the subject of a (sometimes violently threatening) social media shaming campaign. In a week of online shaming, she lost her job, her reputation and her sense of self. Social media is “a mutual approval machine,” says Ronson, who spent three years interviewing people like Sacco for his new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. We’re seeing in black and white, deciding that people are either heroes or horrible, when the reality is much more gray. “We are now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is by being voiceless,” he says.

Welcome to the darknet. Jamie Bartlett studies crypto-currency, surveillance and counter-surveillance — and he’s here to talk about a place where all those fascinations meet: the darknet. Accessed using the Tor browser (first developed for the US military to ensure online privacy), the darknet contains 20,000 or 30,000 sites where, among other pursuits, you can buy weed, cocaine and illegal pornography, paying with Bitcoin … on websites that are very, very similar to mainstream shopping sites. They have search, shopping carts, click-to-buy buttons, and — most vital — user ratings. Bartlett analyzed 120,000 pieces of online consumer feedback on darknet sites, and found a very high level of consumer trust between online dealers and customers. To strengthen that trust, there’s even an escrow system, so everyone gets their money and/or product. As he says, “The creation of an anonymous marketplace which is competitive and, on the whole, functions is a remarkable, staggering achievement.”

The digital age of conflict. “What are the connections between Facebook, Minnesota, ISIS and Al-Shabaab?” asks security analyst Rodrigo Bijou. The answer: the two terrorist groups used social media to recruit young men in Minnesota to their cause. The digital landscape has changed radicalization, says Bijou, and it’s also changed what constitutes a threat. Governments simply aren’t nimble and adaptive enough to keep up, he says. He points to a moment in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack when terrorists infected a “Je Sui Charlie” photo meme with malware. “The new common class of threats is decentralized, digital and takes place at network speed,” he says. So how can we stay safe? Peer-to-peer security, says Bijou. “Individuals have more power than ever before to affect national and international security,” he says. He ends with a plea for governments to nurture hackers, value encryption and support privacy. Because if governments use security backdoors to check in on their citizens, so can those with ill intent.

Diana Markosian shared how photography helped her bridge the gap with her father. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Diana Markosian shared how photography helped her bridge the gap with her father. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

In defense of millennials. Poet Suli Breaks takes the TEDGlobal stage with a warm, confident smile, piano accompaniment behind his words as he lays out his “Millennial Generation Manifesto.” In it, he addresses common misconceptions about his age group. “They say I don’t get involved in politics, but I engage in politics on Facebook.” Even though millennials do things differently, he says, they don’t deserve all the scorn. “You keep telling us to look up from our screens / just to see you looking down on us, it seems.” Breaks wants to see different age groups collaborate. “It’s a new day, and even though we grew up in different generations / we are facing the same problems disguised as different situations.”

Of mice and (young) men. The fountain of youth may not be as far-fetched as we think, says neurologist Tony Wyss-Coray. He shares past research that shows how old mice, when given a common blood supply with a young mouse through a process called “parabiosis,” showed tissue rejuvenation in the pancreas, liver and heart. “What I am most excited [about] is that this may even apply to the brain,” he says. Wyss-Coray’s lab looked at blood samples from human beings ages 20 to 89, and found a strong correlation between chronological age (age in years) and biological age (the age of their body). And they identified multiple factors in the blood that correlated with age. But could these factors actually effect tissue? To test this, they paired young mice and old mice in parabiosis, and found that — yes — the brains of the old mice showed more active synapses and had less inflammation than before. In a second experiment, mice injected with young human plasma performed better on a memory test than ones injected with a saline solution. Anyone with a sci-fi imagination may automatically be imagining horrifying scenarios of the future — will billionaires set up ‘young person farms’? — but there’s still a long way to go to see if this can work in humans. But Wyss-Coray is going there. He is running a small clinical study in which adults with mild Alzheimer’s will receive injections of plasma from 20 year olds once a day for four week. The results could prove fascinating.

Quantum … biology? Jim Al-Khalili is a quantum physicist. So as he says, “I’ve grown used to the weirdness of quantum mechanics,” the counterintuitive, two-places-at-once subatomic strangeness first described by physicists almost a century ago. Today, though, he asks whether physics is the only field that has to learn to live with quantum mechanics. Perhaps, too, the principles apply to biology. Could some of the messiness of life be explained by quantum biology? Ernest Schrödinger first suggested this in 1944, and Al-Khalili talks through some ground-breaking new papers that suggest that phenomena such as photosynthesis and possibly even bird migration may be explained by quantum physics. Life, suggests Al-Khalil, may have evolved ways to take advantage of quantum mechanics.

Developing an undeveloped relationship. Photographer Diana Markosian was seven years old when her mother took her away from her father. She left the Soviet Union for California — and was never given the chance to say goodbye to him. In a somber, raw and visual account, Markosian shares how she waited years for him to find her … before she found herself standing in his courtyard 15 years later. She moved in with him, but found that the space between them was much too profound. She began a photo project as a way to bridge the gap. They found it easier to take snapshots of each other than to search for words that the other could understand. “It was a way for us to be together without the past intruding,” she says.

Finally, singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou returned to the stage and, in an unnamed song, told the story of a young, determined heroine who broke free to experience the world. “She cut a hole in the fence and ran,” she sang, ending the event on an uplifting note.

Check out the TEDGlobalLondon program guide. And stay tuned to see some of these talks on

TEDGlobal London was a one-day event at the  Faraday Lecture Hall at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

TEDGlobalLondon was a one-day event held in the Faraday Lecture Hall at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

CryptogramMigrating from SHA-1 to SHA-2

Here's a comprehensive document on migrating from SHA-1 to SHA-2 in Active Directory certificates.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: We All Float Down Here…

When Maarten first saw the utility function below, he couldn’t imagine why converting a number from float to double required a string intermediate. Fortunately, whoever wrote this code followed best practices: their comment not only explained what the code is doing, it also explained why.

Pennywise in the sewer

	 * This method converts a float to a double.
	 * Because the model uses doubles in calculations while the matrices holds floats.
	 * @param number
	 * The float value to convert to a double
	 * @param accurate
	 * Flag to specify whether to use an accurate conversion from float to double
	 * or to use a less accurate conversion. Accurate means strings will be used
	 * what may result in a bit slower performance. Not accurate means typecasting
	 * will be used, this result in a fault since a double has a higher precision
	 * then a float.
	 double floatToDouble(float number, boolean accurate) {
	 	if (accurate) {
	 		return Double.parseDouble(Float.toString(number));
	 	return number;

While Maarten appreciates the author’s effort, he’s not entirely convinced that comments alone can a sensible method make…

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[Advertisement] Use NuGet or npm? Check out ProGet, the easy-to-use package repository that lets you host and manage your own personal or enterprise-wide NuGet feeds and npm repositories. It's got an impressively-featured free edition, too!

Planet DebianPaul Wise: The aliens are amongst us!

Don't worry, they can't cope with our atmosphere.

Alien on the ground

Perhaps they are just playing dead. Don't turn your back if you see one.

Folks may want to use this alien in free software. The original photo is available on request. To the extent possible under law, I have waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work. The alien has signed a model release. An email or a link to this page would be appreciated though.

Planet Linux AustraliaCraige McWhirter: Craige McWhirter: How To Delete a Cinder Snapshot with a Status of error or error_deleting With Ceph Block Storage

When deleting a volume snapshot in OpenStack you may sometimes get an error message stating that Cinder was unable to delete the snapshot.

There are a number of reasons why a snapshot may be reported by Ceph as unable to be deleted, however the most common reason in my experience has been that a Cinder client connection has not yet been closed, possibly because a client crashed.

If you were to look at the snapshots in Cinder, the status is usually error or error_deleting:

% cinder snapshot-list
|                  ID                  |              Volume ID               |     Status     |                           Display Name                           | Size |
| 07d75992-bf3f-4c9c-ab4e-efccdfc2fe02 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |     error      | snappy:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-26T14:00:02Z |  40  |
| 2db84ec7-6e1a-41f8-9dc9-1dc14e6ecef0 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 | error_deleting | snappy:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-05-18T00:00:01Z |  40  |
| 47fbbfe8-643c-4711-a066-36f247632339 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |   available    | snappy:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-29T03:00:14Z |  40  |
| 52c43ec8-e713-4f87-b329-3c681a3d31f2 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 | error_deleting | snappy:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-24T14:00:02Z |  40  |
| a595180f-d5c5-4c4b-a18c-ca56561f36cc | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |     error      | snappy:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-25T14:00:02Z |  40  |

When you check Ceph you may find the following snapshot list:

# rbd snap ls my.pool.cinder.block/volume-3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46
SNAPID NAME                                              SIZE
  2069 snapshot-2db84ec7-6e1a-41f8-9dc9-1dc14e6ecef0 40960 MB
  2526 snapshot-52c43ec8-e713-4f87-b329-3c681a3d31f2 40960 MB
  2558 snapshot-47fbbfe8-643c-4711-a066-36f247632339 40960 MB

The astute will notice that there are only 3 snapshots listed in Ceph yet 5 listed in Cinder. We can immediately exclude 47fbbfe8 which is available in both Cinder and Ceph, so there's no issues there.

You will also notice that the snapshots with the status error are not in Ceph and the two with error_deleting are. My take on this is that for the status error, Cinder never received the message from Ceph stating that this had been deleted successfully. Whereas for the status error_deleting status, Cinder had been unsuccessful in offloading the request to Ceph.

Each status will need to be handled separately , I'm going to start with the error_deleting snapshots, which are still present in both Cinder and Ceph.

In MariaDB, set the status from error_deleting to available:

MariaDB [cinder]> update snapshots set status='available' where id = '2db84ec7-6e1a-41f8-9dc9-1dc14e6ecef0';
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.00 sec)
Rows matched: 1  Changed: 1  Warnings: 0

MariaDB [cinder]> update snapshots set status='available' where id = '52c43ec8-e713-4f87-b329-3c681a3d31f2';
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.00 sec)
Rows matched: 1  Changed: 1  Warnings: 0

Check in Cinder that the status of these snapshots has been updated successfully:

% cinder snapshot-list
|                  ID                  |              Volume ID               |     Status     |                           Display Name                           | Size |
| 07d75992-bf3f-4c9c-ab4e-efccdfc2fe02 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |     error      | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-26T14:00:02Z |  40  |
| 2db84ec7-6e1a-41f8-9dc9-1dc14e6ecef0 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |   available    | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-05-18T00:00:01Z |  40  |
| 47fbbfe8-643c-4711-a066-36f247632339 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |   available    | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-29T03:00:14Z |  40  |
| 52c43ec8-e713-4f87-b329-3c681a3d31f2 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |   available    | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-24T14:00:02Z |  40  |
| a595180f-d5c5-4c4b-a18c-ca56561f36cc | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |     error      | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-25T14:00:02Z |  40  |

Delete the newly available snapshots from Cinder:

% cinder snapshot-delete 2db84ec7-6e1a-41f8-9dc9-1dc14e6ecef0
% cinder snapshot-delete 52c43ec8-e713-4f87-b329-3c681a3d31f2

Then check the results in Cinder and Ceph:

% cinder snapshot-list
|                  ID                  |              Volume ID               |     Status     |                           Display Name                           | Size |
| 07d75992-bf3f-4c9c-ab4e-efccdfc2fe02 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |     error      | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-26T14:00:02Z |  40  |
| 47fbbfe8-643c-4711-a066-36f247632339 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |   available    | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-29T03:00:14Z |  40  |
| a595180f-d5c5-4c4b-a18c-ca56561f36cc | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 |     error      | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-25T14:00:02Z |  40  |

# rbd snap ls my.pool.cinder.block/volume-3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46
SNAPID NAME                                              SIZE
  2558 snapshot-47fbbfe8-643c-4711-a066-36f247632339 40960 MB

So we are done with Ceph now, as the error snapshots do not exist there. As they only exist in Cinder, we need to mark them as deleted in the Cinder database:

MariaDB [cinder]> update snapshots set status='deleted', deleted='1' where id = '07d75992-bf3f-4c9c-ab4e-efccdfc2fe02';
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.00 sec)
Rows matched: 1  Changed: 1  Warnings: 0

MariaDB [cinder]> update snapshots set status='deleted', deleted='1' where id = 'a595180f-d5c5-4c4b-a18c-ca56561f36cc';
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.00 sec)
Rows matched: 1  Changed: 1  Warnings: 0

Now check the status in Cinder:

% cinder snapshot-list
|                  ID                  |              Volume ID               |   Status  |                           Display Name                           | Size |
| 47fbbfe8-643c-4711-a066-36f247632339 | 3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46 | available | tuttle:3004d6e9-7934-4c95-b3ee-35a69f236e46:2015-06-29T03:00:14Z |  40  |

Now your errant Cinder snapshots have been removed.

Enjoy :-)

Planet DebianNorbert Preining: The Talos Principle – Solving puzzles using SAT solvers

After my last post on Portal, there was a sale of The Talos Principle, so I got it and started playing. And soon I got stuck at these kind of puzzles where one has to fit in pieces into a frame. As a logician I hate to solve something by trial and error, so I decided I write a solver for these kind of puzzles, based on a propositional logic encoding and satisfiability solver. Sometimes it is good to be logician!


In the Talos Principle, access to new worlds and specific items is often blocked by gates that open by putting Sigils into the frame. Of course, collecting the sigils is the most challenging part, but that is often solvable by logical thinking. On the other hand, solving these fitting puzzles drove me crazy, so let us solve them with a SAT solver.


I used a propositional encoding that for each combination of cells and sigils assigns a propositional variable, which is true if the specific sigil rests in on that cell in the final solution. That is, we have variable (encoded as x_i_j_n) where runs over the cells of the frame, and over the (numbered) sigils.


I have written a perl program that for a definition of a puzzle (see later), outputs SMT2 code, which then is checked for satisfiability and generation of model with the z3 solver (which is available in Debian).

Necessary assertions

We have to state relations between these propositional variables to obtain a proper solution, in particular we have added the following statements:

  • every field has at least one sigil on it
  • every field has at most one sigil on it
  • every sigil is used at least once
  • defining equations for the sigil’s form

Let us go through them one by one:

Every field has at least on sigil on it

That is an easy part by asserting

In the SMT2 code it would look like

(assert (or x_i_j_1 x_i_j_2 ... x_i_j_n))

Every field has at most one sigil on it

This can be achieved by asserting for each tile and each pair of different sigil (numbers), that not both of the two hold:

and in SMT2 code:

(assert (and
  (not (and x_1_1_1 x_1_1_2))
  (not (and x_1_1_1 x_1_1_3))
(assert (and
  (not (and x_1_2_1 x_1_2_2))
  (not (and x_1_2_1 x_1_2_3))

Every sigil is used at least once

This was a bit a tricky one. First I thought I want to express that every sigil is used exactly once by excluding that for one sigil there are more fields assigned to it then the sigil contains parts. So if a sigil occupies 4 tiles, then every combination of 5 tiles needs to evaluate to false. But with 8×8 or so frames, the number of combinations simply explodes to above several million, which brings my harddrive size and z3 to an end.

The better idea was to say that every sigil was used at least once. Since all sigils together exactly fill the frame, this is enough. This can be done easily by assuming that for each sigil, at least one of the tiles is assigned to it:

or in SMT code for a 6×6 frame and the first sigil:

(assert (or x_1_1_n x_1_2_n ...  x_6_6_1))

Defining equations for the sigil’s form

Of course the most important part are the defining equations for the various sigils. Here I choose the following path:

  • choose for each sigil form an anchor point
  • for each tile in the frame and each sigil, put the anchor of the sigil on the tile, and express the 4 directions of rotation

So for example for the top-most sigil in the above photo, I choose the anchor point to be the center, and if that was in , I need to assume that for the upright position

holds. In the same way, when rotated right, we need

All these options have to be disjunctively connected, in SMT code for the case where the anchor lies at (4,2).

(assert (or
  (and x_3_2_n x_4_2_n x_5_2_n x_4_3_n)
  (and x_3_3_n x_3_2_n x_3_1_n x_4_2_n)
  (and x_3_2_n x_4_2_n x_5_2_n x_4_1_n)

When generating these equations one has to be careful not to include rotated sigils that stick out of the frame, though.

Although the above might not be the optimal encoding, the given assertions suffice to check for SAT and produce a model, which allows me to solve the riddles.

Implementation in Perl

To generate the SMT2 code, I used a Perl script, which is very quickly hacked together. The principle function is (already coded for the above riddle):


where the first two arguments define the size of the frame, and the rest are codes for sigil types:

  • a podest, the first sigil in the above screen shot
  • b stick, the third sigil above, the long stick
  • cl club left, the forth sigil above, a club facing left
  • cr club right, the sixth sigil above, a club facing right
  • q square, the ninth sigil above
  • sl step left, the last sigil in the above image
  • sr step right, mirror of step left (not used above)

This function first sets up the header of the smt2 file, followed by shipping out all the necessary variable definitions, in SMT these are defined as Boolean functions, and the other assertions (please see the Perl code linked below for details). The most interesting part are the definitions of the sigils:

  # for each piece, call the defining assertions
  for my $n (1..$nn) {
    my $p = $pieces[$n-1];
    print "(assert (or\n";
    for my $i (1..$xx) {
      for my $j (1..$yy) {
        if ($p eq 'q') { 
        } elsif ($p eq 'a') {

Every sigil type has its own definiton, in case of the a podest, the type_podest function:

sub type_potest {
  my ($xx,$yy,$i,$j,$n) = @_;
  my ($il, $jl, $ir, $jr, $iu, $ju);
  $il = $i - 1; $ir = $i + 1; $iu = $i;
  $jl = $jr = $j; $ju = $j + 1;
  do_rotate_shipout($xx,$yy, $i, $j, $n, $il, $jl, $ir, $jr, $iu, $ju);

This function is prototypical, one defines the tiles a sigil occupies if the anchor is placed on (i,j) for an arbitrary orientation of the sigil, and then calls do_rotate_shipout on the list of occupied tiles. This function in turn is very simple:

sub do_rotate_shipout {
  my ($xx,$yy, $i, $j, $n, @pairs) = @_ ;
  for my $g (0..3) {
    @pairs = rotate90($i, $j, @pairs);
    check_and_shipout($xx,$yy, $n, $i, $j, @pairs);

as it only rotates four times by 90 degrees, and then checks whether the rotated sigil is completely within the frame, and if yes ships out the assertion code. The rotation is done by multiplying the vector from (i,j) to the tile position with the (0 -1 1 0) matrix and adding it again to (i,j):

sub rotate90 {
  my ($i, $j, @pairs) = @_ ;
  my @ret;
  while (@pairs) {
    my $ii = shift @pairs;
    my $jj = shift @pairs;
    my $ni = $i - ($jj - $j);
    my $nj = $j + ($ii - $i);
    push @ret, $ni, $nj;
  return @ret;

There are a few more functions, for those interested, the full Perl code is here: There is no user interface or any config file reading done, I just edit the source code if I need to solve a riddle.

Massaging the output

Last but not least, the output of the z3 solver is a bit noisy, so I run the output through a few Unix commands to get only the true assignments, which gives me the location of the tiles. That is, I run the following pipeline:

perl | z3 -in | egrep 'define-fun|true|false'  | sed -e 'h;s/.*//;G;N;s/\n//g' | grep true | sort

which produces a list like the following as output:

  (define-fun x_1_1_10 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_1_2_10 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_1_3_5 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_1_4_6 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_1_5_6 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_1_6_6 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_2_1_10 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_2_2_10 () Bool    true)
  (define-fun x_2_3_5 () Bool    true)

from which I can read up the solution that puts the tenth sigil (a square) in the lower left corner:


Planet DebianBen Armstrong: Bluff Trail – Early Summer 2015

Here’s a photo journal of a walk I just completed around the Pot Lake loop of the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail. Hope you enjoy it!

Planet DebianSven Hoexter: moto g GPS reset when it is not working with CM 12.1

There seems to be an issue with the moto g, CM 12.1 (nightlies) and the GPS. My GPS receiver stopped to work as well and I could recover it with the following steps in fastboot mode as described on xda-developers.

fastboot erase modemst1
fastboot erase modemst2
fastboot reboot

That even works with the 4.2.2 fastboot packaged in anroid-tools-fastboot.

Planet Linux AustraliaSridhar Dhanapalan: Twitter posts: 2015-06-22 to 2015-06-28

Sociological ImagesOh Yeah, Don’t Forget the Guns

All eyes are on the Confederate flag, but let’s not forget what enabled Roof to turn his ideology into death with such efficiency.

From cartoonist Jonathan Schmock3Visit Schmock’s website here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Planet DebianRussell Coker: RAID Pain

One of my clients has a NAS device. Last week they tried to do what should have been a routine RAID operation, they added a new larger disk as a hot-spare and told the RAID array to replace one of the active disks with the hot-spare. The aim was to replace the disks one at a time to grow the array. But one of the other disks had an error during the rebuild and things fell apart.

I was called in after the NAS had been rebooted when it was refusing to recognise the RAID. The first thing that occurred to me is that maybe RAID-5 isn’t a good choice for the RAID. While it’s theoretically possible for a RAID rebuild to not fail in such a situation (the data that couldn’t be read from the disk with an error could have been regenerated from the disk that was being replaced) it seems that the RAID implementation in question couldn’t do it. As the NAS is running Linux I presume that at least older versions of Linux have the same problem. Of course if you have a RAID array that has 7 disks running RAID-6 with a hot-spare then you only get the capacity of 4 disks. But RAID-6 with no hot-spare should be at least as reliable as RAID-5 with a hot-spare.

Whenever you recover from disk problems the first thing you want to do is to make a read-only copy of the data. Then you can’t make things worse. This is a problem when you are dealing with 7 disks, fortunately they were only 3TB disks and only each had 2TB in use. So I found some space on a ZFS pool and bought a few 6TB disks which I formatted as BTRFS filesystems. For this task I only wanted filesystems that support snapshots so I could work on snapshots not on the original copy.

I expect that at some future time I will be called in when an array of 6+ disks of the largest available size fails. This will be a more difficult problem to solve as I don’t own any system that can handle so many disks.

I copied a few of the disks to a ZFS filesystem on a Dell PowerEdge T110 running kernel 3.2.68. Unfortunately that system seems to have a problem with USB, when copying from 4 disks at once each disk was reading about 10MB/s and when copying from 3 disks each disk was reading about 13MB/s. It seems that the system has an aggregate USB bandwidth of 40MB/s – slightly greater than USB 2.0 speed. This made the process take longer than expected.

One of the disks had a read error, this was presumably the cause of the original RAID failure. dd has the option conv=noerror to make it continue after a read error. This initially seemed good but the resulting file was smaller than the source partition. It seems that conv=noerror doesn’t seek the output file to maintain input and output alignment. If I had a hard drive filled with plain ASCII that MIGHT even be useful, but for a filesystem image it’s worse than useless. The only option was to repeatedly run dd with matching skip and seek options incrementing by 1K until it had passed the section with errors.

for n in /dev/loop[0-6] ; do echo $n ; mdadm –examine -v -v –scan $n|grep Events ; done

Once I had all the images I had to assemble them. The Linux Software RAID didn’t like the array because not all the devices had the same event count. The way Linux Software RAID (and probably most RAID implementations) work is that each member of the array has an event counter that is incremented when disks are added, removed, and when data is written. If there is an error then after a reboot only disks with matching event counts will be used. The above command shows the Events count for all the disks.

Fortunately different event numbers aren’t going to stop us. After assembling the array (which failed to run) I ran “mdadm -R /dev/md1” which kicked some members out. I then added them back manually and forced the array to run. Unfortunately attempts to write to the array failed (presumably due to mismatched event counts).

Now my next problem is that I can make a 10TB degraded RAID-5 array which is read-only but I can’t mount the XFS filesystem because XFS wants to replay the journal. So my next step is to buy another 2*6TB disks to make a RAID-0 array to contain an image of that XFS filesystem.

Finally backups are a really good thing…

Cory DoctorowThe Internet of Things That Do What You Tell Them – my talk at last week’s Solid Conference

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From Solid Conference 2015: From “ecosystem” strategies to the war on terror, from the copyright wars to the subprime lending industry, it seems like everyone wants to build an Internet of Treacherous Things whose primary loyalty is to someone other than the people with whose lives they are intimately entwined.

Your gesture-driven, voice-controlled future is a future in which you are never off-camera, never out of range of a mic. The difference between a world where computers say “Yes, Master” and computers say “I can’t let you do that, Dave,” is the difference between utopia and dystopia.

EFF is laying the legal groundwork for an Internet of Things That Do What You Tell Them, and we need your help!


Krebs on SecurityA Busy Week for Ne’er-Do-Well News

We often hear about the impact of cybercrime, but too seldom do we read about the successes that law enforcement officials have in apprehending those responsible and bringing them to justice. Last week was an especially busy time for cybercrime justice, with authorities across the globe bringing arrests, prosecutions and some cases stiff sentences in connection with a broad range of cyber crimes, including ATM and bank account cashouts, malware distribution and “swatting” attacks.

Ercan Findikoglu, posing with piles of cash.

Ercan Findikoglu, posing with piles of cash.

Prosecutors in New York had a big week. Appearing in the U.S. court system for the first time last week was Ercan “Segate” Findikoglu, a 33-year-old Turkish man who investigators say was the mastermind behind a series of Oceans 11-type ATM heists between 2011 and 2013 that netted thieves more than $55 million.

According to prosecutors, Findikoglu organized the so-called “ATM cashouts” by hacking into networks of several credit and debit card payment processors. With each processor, the intruders were able to simultaneously lift the daily withdrawal limits on numerous prepaid accounts and dramatically increase the account balances on those cards to allow ATM withdrawals far in excess of the legitimate card balances.

The cards were then cloned and sent to dozens of co-conspirators around the globe, who used the cards at ATMs to withdraw millions in cash in the span of just a few hours. Investigators say these attacks are known in the cybercrime underground as “unlimited operations” because the manipulation of withdrawal limits lets the crooks steal literally unlimited amounts of cash until the operation is shut down.

Two of the attacks attributed to Findikoglu and his alleged associates were first reported on this blog, including a February 2011 attack against Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), and a $5 million heist in late 2012 involving a card network in India. The most brazen and lucrative heist, a nearly $40 million cashout against the Bank of Muscat in Oman, was covered in a May 2013 New York Times piece, which concludes with a vignette about the violent murder of alleged accomplice in the scheme.

Also in New York, a Manhattan federal judge sentenced the co-creator of the “Blackshades” Trojan to nearly five years in prison after pleading guilty to helping hundreds of people use and spread the malware. Twenty-five year old Swedish national Alexander Yucel was ordered to forfeit $200,000 and relinquish all of the computer equipment he used in commission of his crimes.

As detailed in this May 2014 piece, Blackshades Users Had It Coming, the malware was sophisticated but marketed mainly on English language cybecrime forums to young men who probably would have a hard time hacking their way out of a paper bag, let alone into someone’s computer. Initially sold via PayPal for just $40, Blackshades offered users a way to remotely spy on victims, and even included tools and tutorials to help users infect victim PCs. Many of Yucel’s customers also have been rounded up by law enforcement here in the U.S. an abroad.

Matthew Tollis

Matthew Tollis

In a small victory for people fed up with so-called “swatting” — the act of calling in a fake hostage or bomb threat to emergency services with the intention of prompting a heavily-armed police response to a specific address — 22-year-old Connecticut resident Matthew Tollis pleaded guilty last week to multiple swatting incidents. (In an unrelated incident in 2013, this reporter was the victim of swatting, which resulted in our home being surrounded by a dozen or so police and Yours Truly being handcuffed in front of the whole neighborhood).

Tollis admitted belonging to a group that called itself “TeAM CrucifiX or Die,” a loose-knit cadre of young Microsoft XBox and swatting enthusiasts which later renamed itself the “ISIS Gang.” Interestingly, these past few weeks have seen the prosecution of another alleged ISIS Gang member — 17-year-old Finnish miscreant who goes by the nicknames “Ryan” and “Zeekill.” Ryan, whose real name is Julius Kivimaki, was one of several individuals who claimed to be involved in the Lizard Squad attacks that brought down the XBox and Sony Playstation networks in December 2014.

Kivimaki is being prosecuted in Finland for multiple alleged offenses, including payment fraud, money laundering and telecommunications harassment. Under Finnish law, Kivimaki cannot be extradited, but prosecutors there are seeking at least two to three years of jail time for the young man, who will turn 18 in August.

Julius "Ryan" Kivimaki.

Julius “Ryan” Kivimaki.

Finally, investigators with Europol announced the arrest of five individuals in Ukraine who are suspected of developing, exploiting and distributing the ZeuS and SpyEye malware — well known banking Trojans that have been used to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers and small businesses.

According to Europol, each cybercriminal in the group had their specialty, but that the group as a whole specialized in creating malware, infecting machines, harvesting bank credentials and laundering the money through so-called money mule networks.

“On the digital underground forums, they actively traded stolen credentials, compromised bank account information and malware, while selling their hacking ‘services’ and looking for new cooperation partners in other cybercriminal activities,” Europol said. “This was a very active criminal group that worked in countries across all continents, infecting tens of thousands of users’ computers with banking Trojans, and subsequently targeted many major banks

The Europol statement on the action is otherwise light on details, but says the group is suspected of using Zeus and SpyEye malware to steal at least EUR 2 million from banks and their customers.

Sociological ImagesWhere is Gay Marriage Legal in the U.S.?

On June 26th, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. This is your image of the week:

5Source: Slate.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Chaotic IdealismStill God's Children

A friend of mine recently expressed that they disagreed with the recent decision allowing same-sex marriage in all states. I'm re-posting my response here...

I disagree with you on this one... I understand that some people believe that loving someone of the same sex is a sin, but I don't think the government should be denying marriage to any adult capable of entering into a legal contract. Gay couples have really been suffering when they cannot marry. They've been barred from the ICU when their partner is desperately ill; their children have been sent to foster care when one partner dies because the other was not allowed to adopt. I as a Christian can't see any particular reason that same-sex relationships should be called sinful, at least not more so than eating pork.

But I know I probably can't change your mind. Say that, from your perspective, gays and lesbians are sinners. Well--so are you. So is the person who gossips about others, or holds a grudge, or doesn't bother to return the extra nickel they got in their change. Gay people have been mistreated, mocked, stigmatized, and even murdered; they are people we should defend, not exclude. We don't get to say, "You need to be an ex-sinner before God can love you," because God loves all of us, loved us before we ever even understood that sin was a thing at all. If a gay person needs help, we help them. If they're mistreated, we defend them. If they are threatened, we protect them. They are fellow humans and they are often fellow Christians. Whatever your opinion on the morality of loving someone of the same sex, it doesn't let you off treating them as God's children.

Falkvinge - Pirate PartyBitcoin; Technology Beyond Ideology And A Call For Evolution

Activism – Nozomi Hayase:Six years since the invention of the blockchain, more people are beginning to see the powerful political implications that this technology brings. People from diverse backgrounds have been weighing in on its disruptive potential. While libertarians embrace the potential of cryptocurrencies to break up monopolies of the ‘too big to fail’ banking and payment companies, the rise of this technology was met with skepticism by many socialists. Activists who call for economic equality and oppose governments harsh austerity go further to say Bitcoin will become another tool for neoliberalism. So what is the disruptive force inherent in this technology? Is it tied to a specific political ideology?

Critics from the left primarily come from observations of particular events surrounding decentralized digital currency. On the surface, the trend of speculators trading Bitcoin and manipulation of exchange rates can resemble gambling, and some see Bitcoin as recapitulating the existing Wall Street casino-style derivative economy. This investment friendly image is strengthened when economists chime in to depict Bitcoin’s fixed monetary supply (a total of 21M bitcoin is created) as a currency mimicking assets like gold and criticize it as having a deflationary monetary design that would incentivize hoarding and increase wealth inequality.

Contrary to these perceptions, Bitcoin was never meant as a get-rich-quick scheme. While it possesses gold-like characteristics, it is also radically different, as it is highly portable and divisible (Bitcoin can be divided into 8 decimal points and more if consensus is reached). This is a new monetary design that has never existed before.

Competition vs. Cooperation

Bitcoin creates a currency with unprecedented flow. It melts borders and artificial barriers of ideological differences. It resists any stagnation of thought that tries to mold it to carry certain special interests. Careful examination reveals how it is an architecture that embodies innate human nature and is designed to uphold our internal governing structures.

From Socrates’ dictum of know thyself to the modern age of reason, throughout history people have tried to understand the internal laws that constitute man. Naturalist Charles Darwin, upon observation of biological phenomena, identified and defined this internal law as an evolutionary force that guides all species.

In his first work, The Origin of Species, he brought the theory of natural selection and random variation. The notion of survival of the fittest, first coined by English philosopher Herbert Spencer to describe his economic theory and later taken up by Darwin, promoted a view of man as not much more than claws and teeth. This became a prevailing ideology behind the rise of social Darwinism and was used to justify European colonialism and modern predatory capitalism that was spawned in the late 19th century.

Yet, this narrative of fierce competition for life was only half the story. Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin wrote a response to the predominant Darwinian interpretation of natural hierarchy. In his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, he argued for the feeling of solidarity, empathy and cooperation as the ground for human evolution.

This alternative view was held also by Darwin himself. Psychologist and system scientist David Loey in Darwin’s Lost Theory of Love debunked the narrow reductionist interpretation of Neo-Darwinians that emphasized the notion of the selfish genes. He argued how most had buried a major contribution Darwin made when he moved beyond pre-human evolution to examine man’s moral sensibilities. Loey pointed to how Darwin, in his second work The Descent of Man, had recognized that nurturing, expressed as sympathy for the weak was a primary evolutionary force that drives humans to develop higher agency with the principle of mutuality.

The seemingly unbridgeable ideological divide between socialism and capitalism can be looked at as an expression of a contradiction that existed between Darwin’s earlier and later works. It is experienced as two forces constantly battling within us. On one hand, we have a drive for individual pursuits and independence and on the other aspirations for altruism and a deeper connection with others.

In current civilization, the tendency toward personal gain and competitive drive has been overriding the principles of cooperation. What has now become apparent is that the greed of a small minority in a ‘race to the top’ has subverted a broader evolutionary force, holding people hostage in a brutal animal-like kingdom of kleptocracy. The survival of the species in modern times has turned into a game of survival of the crudest and most rapacious corporations and bankers. This has now escalated into an arms race to the bottom, creating resource wars, economic apartheid and environmental catastrophe, likely leading to planetary crisis.

Digital Scarcity

The imagination that infused the blockchain technology intervenes in the course of human evolution that has been heading down this destructive path. Decentralized consensus at the core of this innovation gives us a platform to reconcile seemingly opposing forces manifested as this ideological divide and brings a creative solution to global problems outside of electoral politics.

Bitcoin is like one big organism that regulates itself through algorithm. With no company, CEO or individuals in control, it maintains a ledger transparent to all. Its ecosystem evolves to manifest a vision encoded in its DNA, through stimulus and active interaction with its environment.

The core of this technology is algorithmic consensus that enables digital scarcity; a way to make an object in the digital world scarce without central control. This solves the problem of the double-spend. Cryptographer Adam Back, whose invention of Hashcash contributed to the creation of Bitcoin’s digital scarcity, noted how Bitcoin “constructs a computational irrevocability from proof-of-work and consensus”. This makes permissionless transaction and innovation possible, as well as removing monopolistic control of the production and transfer of money. But more fundamentally, this scarcity offers a key to open society to move beyond the current oligarchical rule of the neo-Darwinian dog-eat-dog world that has now turned into the lions eating the lambs.

The market logic that governs the existing extractive system is that of central control. As a hallmark of the industrial era, capitalism bases its foundation on the idea of land ownership. This places production and distribution into private hands. Scarcity was created through monopolistic control of resources and energy (such as the oil spigot), which has mostly been done in secrecy.

What became the ‘owner class’ began setting rules for the rest of the population through their undue influence on governments. This controlled market slowly destroyed healthy price discovery processes by manipulating currency and creating monopolies. Government giveaways in the form of corporate welfare stifles true entrepreneurship and innovation. Forces of privatization have been swallowing the commons. With scarce access to resources and jobs, people are pitted against one another, engaging in a rigged game that just keeps enriching the richest.

Unlike the managed scarcity of centrally controlled markets, Bitcoin’s digital scarcity is created through voluntary agreement of its participants. Its open source protocol grants users power to choose what kind of network they wish to create or be a part of, as codes can be modified by anyone. Combined with game theory that enforces fairness, this scarcity creates a new form of capital, one that is open source and distributed. This brings a radical departure from the current vulture capitalism that promotes cheating and wealth without work by means of usury, rent-seeking and QE (taxation through inflation).

While central banks use fiat currency as a force of coercion, Bitcoin currency is a token of value that provides an incentive to generate productivity and efficiency of the workers (miners). This pays for the labor required to build a whole new global financial system. In a sense, each Bitcoin mining pool is like a worker-owned cooperative that requires members to both work together and also compete within the network to perform the issuing of monetary units and clearing of transactions. Solidarity generated through collective hashing power maintains the ethos of decentralized consensus.

Perceived deflationary characteristics touted as Bitcoin’s flaw is actually a vital incentive structure that bootstraps the whole venture to build a new infrastructure in this time of transition from a massive teetering debt economy. This networked scarcity encourages the funding of start-ups and fueling of innovation on the edges. All around, new projects are emerging, ones that could fulfill the aspirations and needs of various communities, fostering a new network effect of altruism. Crowd-funding platforms like StartJoin and Bitcoin Capital are good examples of this.

Distributed Accountability

Bitcoin’s self-organizing is not easily understood from outside looking in. It is like a caterpillar in the cocoon before turning into a butterfly. Market manipulation and outright theft within exchanges like Mt. Gox appear to confirm the view of man as selfishly driven. Yet, this is occurring in centralized offshoots and simply a reflection of the greed rampant in the existing system.

If we dig a little deeper into this ecosystem, what is happening within the mining process also appears to affirm the theory of natural selection, where those with powerful computer chips and hashing power can increase the chance of winning the game. Indeed, mining equipment is now highly specialized and is becoming more like a kind of survival of the fittest (where ordinary computers can no longer participate in mining). This brings concern about the potential centralization of mining. Yet, just as Darwin’s first work does not complete his full picture of evolution, the mining was also designed to be subservient to the imagination that infused this innovation.

The fierce mining competition fosters efficiency, helping make the relative capacity of the Bitcoin ecosystem significantly less energy intensive than the existing financial system and the most ecological one when fully utilized at a global scale. This also helps create a solid foundation upon which a social contract of a truly democratic society can be built.

The creator of this technology, Satoshi Nakamoto found a way to secure the system from the risks of concentrated greed and destructive seeds within our ‘selfish genes’. This was done through implementing a particular consensus algorithm that enforces people to show the proof of their work. Rewards here function as a mechanism to keep everyone honest and the equilibrium of supply and demand distributes accountability as a form of self-regulation taken up by those who participate in the mining.

All this has become an engine to build a system that is impervious to internal or external attacks. The mining rings that have now achieved global level security perform a kind of safeguard of real democracy, through which spontaneous forces of We the People can be unleashed. With its feature of infinite divisibility, value created through a peer-to-peer exchange of autonomy and reciprocity can become an abundant flow that nurtures all people, especially those who are made weak and vulnerable by current Western exploitation.

This even makes it possible for the other six billion, the unbanked and under-banked, especially in the Global South to participate in the world economy on their own terms. This is already starting to happen as investment and interest in transforming the massive remittance market is increasing, while charity and tipping is the fastest growing usage of Bitcoin in the West.

Paving the Way for Altruism

Many of us wish to evolve; to act more freely and extend kindness and compassion to others, but our actions are restricted and controlled by oppressive governments, religious fundamentalism and de-facto corporate dictatorship. As commercial-led globalization expands, the entire globe is shackled to the tyrannical logic of extreme capitalism and cowboy banksters’ autocratic control over the flow of money. People with good hearts are forced to adapt to the harsh environment of austerity and rule by the rich. They have to make hard decisions; either to be kind to others or suppress that innate nature of altruism just to survive.

The blockchain removes these obstacles, allowing us to align ourselves with internal forces of evolution. The built-in incentive structure of this game-changing innovation offers humanity a path to divest from the military-industrial complex, war economies, sweat shops and debt slavery as well as Stasi-like surveillance. Instead of supporting oligarchs that print money at will to buy missiles and tanks, people can independently invest in mining gear and channel the selfish and aggressive parts of humanity to serve the larger whole.

Artificial scarcity in centrally planned economies fuels destructive competition among people, dividing all through fear into separated nations, religions and ideologies, and justifies wars and hatred. Now the competitive drive that has been cut off and stagnated can be brought back to its origin of creative power and transformed into one that encourages each to strive for their best in service to all.

With decentralized cryptocurrencies, we can move away from the deterministic future imposed by central banks and divisive political ideologues and build a society that represents who we really are. Those who are ready and want it will find a way to chart a new path. Those in power can choose not to evolve, but they can no longer take the rest of us down with them.

Humans it seems are being degraded into killer apes. As the ideals of distributed consensus enshrined in mathematics are fully developed, they become the killer apps that can help humanity redeem itself. In this new world entered through the blockchain, we can now move beyond struggles for existence and ascend as a species capable of love.

Photo credit – Silhouette of a fibreglass spinosaurus at Blackpool zoo in Lancashire, UK and a ‘con’ trail by Simon Harrod.

Planet DebianChristian Perrier: Bugs #780000 - 790000

Thorsten Glaser reported Debian bug #780000 on Saturday March 7th 2015, against the gcc-4.9 package.

Bug #770000 was reported as of November 18th so there have been 10,000 bugs in about 3.5 months, which was significantly slower than earlier.

Matthew Vernon reported Debian bug #790000 on Friday June 26th 2015, against the pcre3 package.

Thus, there have been 10,000 bugs in 3.5 months again. It seems that the bug report rate stabilized again.

Sorry for missing bug #780000 annoucement. I'm doing this since....November 2007 for bug #450000 and it seems that this lack of attention is somehow significant wrt my involvment in Debian. Still, this involvment is still here and I'll try to "survive" in the project until we reach bug #1000000...:-)

See you for bug #800000 annoucement and the result of the bets we placed on the date it would happen.

Planet Linux AustraliaJoshua Hesketh: adventures

Over the past few months I started to notice occasional issues when cloning repositories (particularly nova) from

It would fail with something like

git clone -vvv git:// .
fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly
fatal: early EOF
fatal: index-pack failed

The problem would occur sporadically during our 3rd party CI runs causing them to fail. Initially these went somewhat ignored as rechecks on the jobs would succeed and the world would be shiny again. However, as they became more prominent the issue needed to be addressed.

When a patch merges in gerrit it is replicated out to 5 different cgit backends (git0[1-5] These are then balanced by two HAProxy frontends which are on a simple DNS round-robin.

                          | |
                          |    (DNS Lookup)   |
                             |             |
                    +--------+             +--------+
                    |           A records           |
+-------------------v----+                    +-----v------------------+
| |                    | |
|   (HAProxy frontend)   |                    |   (HAProxy frontend)   |
+-----------+------------+                    +------------+-----------+
            |                                              |
            +-----+                                    +---+
                  |                                    |
            |    +---------------------+  (source algorithm) |
            |    | |                     |
            |    |   +---------------------+                 |
            |    +---| |                 |
            |        |   +---------------------+             |
            |        +---| |             |
            |            |   +---------------------+         |
            |            +---| |         |
            |                |   +---------------------+     |
            |                +---| |     |
            |                    |  (HAProxy backend)  |     |
            |                    +---------------------+     |

Reproducing the problem was difficult. At first I was unable to reproduce locally, or even on an isolated turbo-hipster run. Since the problem appeared to be specific to our 3rd party tests (little evidence of it in 1st party runs) I started by adding extra debugging output to git.

We were originally cloning repositories via the git:// protocol. The debugging information was unfortunately limited and provided no useful diagnosis. Switching to https allowed for more CURL output (when using GIT_CURL_VERBVOSE=1 and GIT_TRACE=1) but this in itself just created noise. It actually took me a few days to remember that the servers are running arbitrary code anyway (a side effect of testing) and therefore cloning from the potentially insecure http protocol didn’t provide any further risk.

Over http we got a little more information, but still nothing that was conclusive at this point:

git clone -vvv .

error: RPC failed; result=18, HTTP code = 200
fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly
fatal: protocol error: bad pack header

After a bit it became more apparent that the problems would occur mostly during high (patch) traffic times. That is, when a lot of tests need to be queued. This lead me to think that either the network turbo-hipster was on was flaky when doing multiple git clones in parallel or the git servers were flaky. The lack of similar upstream failures lead me to initially think it was the former. In order to reproduce I decided to use Ansible to do multiple clones of repositories and see if that would uncover the problem. If needed I would have then extended this to orchestrating other parts of turbo-hipster in case the problem was systemic of something else.

Firstly I need to clone from a bunch of different servers at once to simulate the network failures more closely (rather than doing multiple clones on the one machine or from the one IP in containers for example). To simplify this I decided to learn some Ansible to launch a bunch of nodes on Rackspace (instead of doing it by hand).

Using the pyrax module I put together a crude playbook to launch a bunch of servers. There is likely much neater and better ways of doing this, but it suited my needs. The playbook takes care of placing appropriate sshkeys so I could continue to use them later.

    - name: Create VMs
      hosts: localhost
        ssh_known_hosts_command: "ssh-keyscan -H -T 10"
        ssh_known_hosts_file: "/root/.ssh/known_hosts"
        - name: Provision a set of instances
            module: rax
            name: "josh-testing-ansible"
            flavor: "4"
            image: "Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin) (PVHVM)"
            region: "DFW"
            count: "15"
            group: "raxhosts"
            wait: yes
          register: raxcreate

        - name: Add the instances we created (by public IP) to the group 'raxhosts'
            module: add_host
            hostname: "{{ }}"
            ansible_ssh_host: "{{ item.rax_accessipv4 }}"
            ansible_ssh_pass: "{{ item.rax_adminpass }}"
            groupname: raxhosts
          with_items: raxcreate.success
          when: raxcreate.action == 'create'

        - name: Sleep to give time for the instances to start ssh
          #there is almost certainly a better way of doing this
          pause: seconds=30

        - name: Scan the host key
          shell: "{{ ssh_known_hosts_command}} {{ item.rax_accessipv4 }} &gt;&gt; {{ ssh_known_hosts_file }}"
          with_items: raxcreate.success
          when: raxcreate.action == 'create'

    - name: Set up sshkeys
      hosts: raxhosts
       - name: Push root's pubkey
         authorized_key: user=root key="{{ lookup('file', '/root/.ssh/') }}"

From here I can use Ansible to work on those servers using the rax inventory. This allows me to address any nodes within my tenant and then log into them with the seeded sshkey.

The next step of course was to run tests. Firstly I just wanted to reproduce the issue, so in order to do that it would crudely set up an environment where it can simply clone nova multiple times.

    - name: Prepare servers for git testing
      hosts: josh-testing-ansible*
      serial: "100%"
        - name: Install git
          apt: name=git state=present update_cache=yes
        - name: remove nova if it is already cloned
          shell: 'rm -rf nova'

    - name: Clone nova and monitor tcpdump
      hosts: josh-testing-ansible*
      serial: "100%"
        - name: Clone nova
          shell: "git clone"

By default Ansible runs with 5 folked processes. Meaning that Ansible would work on 5 servers at a time. We want to exercise git heavily (in the same way turbo-hipster does) so we use the –forks param to run the clone on all the servers at once. The plan was to keep launching servers until the error reared its head from the load.

To my surprise this happened with very few nodes (less than 15, but I left that as my minimum testing). To confirm I also ran the tests after launching further nodes to see it fail at 50 and 100 concurrent clones. It turned out that the more I cloned the higher the failure rate percentage was.

Now that I had the problem reproducing, it was time to do some debugging. I modified the playbook to capture tcpdump information during the clone. Initially git was cloning over IPv6 so I turned that off on the nodes to force IPv4 (just in case it was a v6 issue, but the problem did present itself on both networks). I also locked to one IP rather than randomly hitting both front ends.

    - name: Prepare servers for git testing
      hosts: josh-testing-ansible*
      serial: "100%"
        - name: Install git
          apt: name=git state=present update_cache=yes
        - name: remove nova if it is already cloned
          shell: 'rm -rf nova'

    - name: Clone nova and monitor tcpdump
      hosts: josh-testing-ansible*
      serial: "100%"
        cap_file: tcpdump_{{ ansible_hostname }}_{{ ansible_date_time['epoch'] }}.cap
        - name: Disable ipv6 1/3
          sysctl: name="net.ipv6.conf.all.disable_ipv6" value=1 sysctl_set=yes
        - name: Disable ipv6 2/3
          sysctl: name="net.ipv6.conf.default.disable_ipv6" value=1 sysctl_set=yes
        - name: Disable ipv6 3/3
          sysctl: name="net.ipv6.conf.lo.disable_ipv6" value=1 sysctl_set=yes
        - name: Restart networking
          service: name=networking state=restarted
        - name: Lock git.o.o to one host
          lineinfile: dest=/etc/hosts line='' state=present
        - name: start tcpdump
          command: "/usr/sbin/tcpdump -i eth0 -nnvvS -w /tmp/{{ cap_file }}"
          async: 6000000
          poll: 0 
        - name: Clone nova
          shell: "git clone"
          #shell: "git clone"
          ignore_errors: yes
        - name: kill tcpdump
          command: "/usr/bin/pkill tcpdump"
        - name: compress capture file
          command: "gzip {{ cap_file }} chdir=/tmp"
        - name: grab captured file
          fetch: src=/tmp/{{ cap_file }}.gz dest=/var/www/ flat=yes

This gave us a bunch of compressed capture files that I was then able to seek the help of my colleagues to debug (a particular thanks to Angus Lees). The results from an early run can be seen here:

Gus determined that the problem was due to a RST packet coming from the source at roughly 60 seconds. This indicated it was likely we were hitting a timeout at the server or a firewall during the git-upload-pack of the clone.

The solution turned out to be rather straight forward. The git-upload-pack had simply grown too large and would timeout depending on the load on the servers. There was a timeout in apache as well as the HAProxy config for both frontend and backend responsiveness. The relative patches can be found at and

While upping the timeout avoids the problem, certain projects are clearly pushing the infrastructure to its limits. As such a few changes were made by the infrastructure team (in particular James Blair) to improve’s responsiveness.

Firstly is now a higher performance (30GB) instance. This is a large step up from the previous (8GB) instances that were used as the frontend previously. Moving to one frontend additionally meant the HAProxy algorithm could be changed to leastconn to help balance connections better (

                          |  |
                          | (HAProxy frontend) |
            |  +---------------------+  (leastconn algorithm) |
            |  | |                        |
            |  |   +---------------------+                    |
            |  +---| |                    |
            |      |   +---------------------+                |
            |      +---| |                |
            |          |   +---------------------+            |
            |          +---| |            |
            |              |   +---------------------+        |
            |              +---| |        |
            |                  |  (HAProxy backend)  |        |
            |                  +---------------------+        |

All that was left was to see if things had improved. I rerun the test across 15, 30 and then 45 servers. These were all able to clone nova reliably where they had previously been failing. I then upped it to 100 servers where the cloning began to fail again.

Post-fix logs for those interested:

At this point, however, I’m basically performing a Distributed Denial of Service attack against git. As such, while the servers aren’t immune to a DDoS the problem appears to be fixed.

Geek FeminismFeel Like Making Linkspam (26 June 2015)

      • How NASA Broke The Gender Barrier In STEM | Fast Company (June 23): “The convergence of open data and female leadership has the potential to challenge traditional decision making across sectors and facilitate more data-driven and collaborative approaches in creating new ventures and solving problems. Datanauts was born out of NASA’s open-data priorities as a means to bring more women to the open-data table. While the program is intended for women and men, the founding class is made up entirely of women to encourage other female techies and makers to take the “data leap,” as Beth Beck, Open Innovation program manager at NASA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, calls it. Future classes will include men.”
      • Fuck the Internet Shame Spiral | Gizmodo (June 23): “Once the tone police arrive, we’re no longer talking about how disturbing it is that one of the top scientists in the world thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to work in labs because he might fall in love with them. Instead, we’re talking about whether it’s appropriate for women to mock his comments by posting pictures of themselves on Instagram.”
      • I’m a female scientist, and I agree with Tim Hunt. | Medium (June 14): “Science is based on observations, which are the same thing as universal proof. Even I know that, and I’m just a woman whose brain is filled to capacity with yoga poses and recipes for gluten-free organic soap. Once, I was lured into a trap in the woods because I followed a trail of Sex and the City DVDs for three miles into a covered pit. Do you really think I could do something as complicated as thinking about science?”
      • Journalist Laurie Penny banned from Facebook for using pseudonym | The Guardian (June 24): “Facebook has been accused of putting users at risk “of rape and death threats” by a journalist who was banned from the social networking site for using a pseudonym.Laurie Penny, a contributing editor at the weekly political magazine the New Statesman, who also writes for the Guardian, said she had been kicked off Facebook for using a fake name to avoid being trolled.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.


CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Classic Gary Larson Squid Cartoon

I have always liked this one.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Planet Linux AustraliaBinh Nguyen: The Value of Money - Part 3

The Western world generally saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as proof positive of the superiority of capitalism over communism/socialism. Most of the arguments bordered along the lines that the sheer scale of managing an economy, that it resulted in nepotism, bred corruption, stifled innovation, and that it didn't feed into the needs and wants of it's constituents were the reasons for their failure. The irony is that you can see many of the same flaws in communism and socialism that you see in capitalism now. Given the fact that more and more developed economies are getting into trouble I wonder whether this is the true way forward. The European Union, United States, Japan, and others have all recently endured serious economic difficulty and have been projected to continue to experience prolonged issues.

My belief that if capitalism and free market economics is to work into the future constraints must be placed on the size of firms relative to the size of the market/economy. Below are some reasons for my belief in this as well as some other notes regarding market economics:
- I believe that one of the reasons we only favour free market economics because it limits the severity of problems if/when someone/something collapses. If a government collapses you have trouble everywhere. If a company collapses it only impacts the company and the immediate supply chain, distributers, retailers, etc...
- the other problem is most of the companies that grow to this size have no choice but to be driven by greed. Even if they pay their fair share of taxes most of them rely on debt of some sort in order to maintain a viable business. Without cash flow from the stock market, their creditors, etc... they can't continue to pay the bills. Hence, they must satisfy their own needs as well as that of their shareholders and creditors at the expense of those in the wider community. An example of this are the large retail chains that operate in many of the more developed countries. The problem is that their power can now rival that of the state. For instance, in Australia, "Almost 40 cents in every dollar we spend at the shops is now taken by a Woolworths or Wesfarmers-owned retail entity" with their interests including the "interests in groceries, fuel, liquor, gambling, office supplies, electronics, general merchandise, insurance and hardware, sparking concerns that consumers will pay more."
If the chain collapses it's likely that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost in the event of administration/receivership. I'm arguing that we need to spread the risk a bit. If one part collapses it doesn't bring the whole thing crashing down around you
- despite politician's complaints about MNCs/TNCs not contributing their fair share towards the tax base they aren't willing to make enough of an effort to change things to create those circumstances. There needs to be an understanding that without someone to buy their products and services these companies will go bankrupt. Large firms need employees and consumers as much as we need their tax revenue
- the irony is that we believe that since companies are large they are automatically successful, we should support them. Think about many of the recent large defense programs that were undertaken by large firms. As indicated previously, there's currently no incentive for them to help the state. They just want to survive and generate profits. The JSF program was deliberately structured in such a way that we've ended up with a fighter jet that isn't up to the original design spec, well and truly over the desired budgetary parameters, and way beyond the original design constraints putting the national security of many allied nations at risk
- progress within the context of market economics is often only facilitated through proper competition and regulation. At the moment, many of the largest donors towards political parties are large companies. This results in a significant distortion of the playing field and what the ultimate decision makers deem to be important issues.
Think about nature of the pharmaceutical industry and electronics/IT industries. They both complain that progress (research and development) is difficult. The irony is that it's difficult to argue this if you're not making any worthwhile attempts at it. Both sectors sit atop enough savings to be able to cure much of the world's current woes but they have absolutely no incentive to bring it back on shore for it to be properly tax or to spend it
Moreover, they more often than not just use their existing position to continue to exploit the market. A lot of electronics now is simply uneconomical or impossible to repair locally which means that you have to purchase new products once it has gone out of warranty and has failed due to engineered lifecycles (they are designed to fail after a particular period. If they didn't they would suffer the same fate that some car manufacturers have been complaining about. If they don't fail no one will buy new cars). My belief is that there should be tax concesssions if they are willing or they should be forced to invest into SME firms (which comprise the bulk of the economy) via secondary small capitalisation type funds (especially if the company doesn't know what to do with spare cash and it is left 'stagnant'). Ironically, returns on broad based funds in this area (longer term) more often than not exceed the growth of the company in question as well as the economy in general
- sometimes I wonder whether or not managing an economy (from a political perspective) is much the same as operating as a market analyst. You're effectively taking calculated bets on how the world will end up in the future. Is it possible that good economic managers need to be more lucky than skillful?
- in some cases, the nature of capitalism is such that the state has grown so large (because in general government services aren't profitable) that they are beginning to groan under the pressure that many of the more developed nations are now feeling. This is a case of both mis-management and a mis-understanding of how to use capitalism to your advantage
- one of the biggest contradictions in business is that it should all come down to the bottom line. The stupid aspect of this is that most companies have double digit turnover and continue to make the excuse that you should simply put up with whatever is thrown at you even if employee turnover is high. If workplaces were generally more civilised and conditions better then you would have a huge cost removed from your business (loss of employee, advertising, training, etc...)
- normally, when people are taught about life, we start with the small and simple examples and then we are pushed into more complex and advanced examples. The irony is that is often the opposite of the way we are taught about business. We are taught to dream big and win big or else crash and burn and learn your place in society. There is a major problem with this. In the Australian economy, SME business accounts for 96% of the economy. It is similar elsewhere. People leaving our educational institutions basically aren't equipped to be able to run make money by themselves right out of school. Help them/teach them how and you could help the overall economy as well as these students by equipping them to be able to look after their own needs reducing the burden on the social welfare system and giving them valuable employment experience that may be worthwhile later down the track. Most students are equipped to work for other people not to start their own company or operate as individuals
- all politicians (and people in general) like to talk about the success of their country in being able to attract MNCs/TNCs to employ people locally. However, the problem is that they aren't the main employment drivers in the economy. Across most of the world's economies small businesses are the driving force ("Such firms comprise around 99% of all businesses in most economies and between half and three quarters of the value added. They also make a significant contribution to employment and are of interest to governments primarily for their potential to create more jobs."). One wonders that even with the increased business (direct and indirect) around a large firm when they exist in a country are you getting value for money (especially if you are subsidising their local existence)?
- we actually do ourselves somewhat of a disservice by creating a perception that dreaming and living big is what you should want. Popular culture makes it feel like as though if you don't go to the right schools, work for the right companies, and so on you are a failure. The irony is that if every single graduate were taught about how to commercialise their their ideas while at school I believe that we would have a far more flexible, innovative, economy. Moreover, both they as well as economy in general would get a return on investment. It's no good telling people how to be enterpreneurial if they don't know how to be enterpreneurial.
- the irony of the large donor phenomenon is that SME business accounts for most of the activity within the economy...
- as we've discussed previously on this blog the primary ways you can make money are to create something of value or by changing the perceived value of something such that people will want to buy it no matter what the disparity between perceived value versus effective value. Once upon a time I look at German prestige and performance vehicles to be the pinnacle or automative engineering. The more I've learned about them the less impressed I've become. If I told you the evidence points to them being the least reliable, the vehicles which depreciate the most (within any given time frame), most expensive to repair, the most expensive to insure and service, average safety, and that often only have comparable technology to other cars (once you cut through the marketing speak) you'd think that people would be incredibly stupid to purchase them. Yet, this trend continues...
Another good example is the upper echelons of professional sport and artistry (includes music, art, etc...). If anybody told you that you were paying several hundred dollars an hour to watch a group of individuals kick a ball you'd think that they were mad. The horrible part is when you realise top tier amateur competitions which are free to watch can be just as entertaining and skillful
- in reality, in the real world very very rarely are pure market forces at play and it often takes a lot of time for it to get through to them that for all the stuff/theory that you learn at school there's a lot more that you will also learn in the real world
- most industries fit into the following categories; something that you need or something that you want. By selling people a dream we can turn what you want into something you need and create employment from it
- if you want to make abnormal (excess) profits it's mainly about being able to distinguish between perceived, effective, and actual value. Once you can establish this you can exploit it. This is easier said than done though. Let's say you discovered Lionel Messi playing in the streets of Somalia versus Paris. More than likely, you'd value him much less if we were found in Somalia. Sometimes it can be pretty obvious, at other times it's not much different from predicting the future. For instance, the iPod was essentially a re-modled MP3 player with an integrated software solution/ecosystem, Coke is basically just a sweet, fizzy drink which is actually beaten by Pepsi in blind tests
- we like short term thinking because we like the notion that we can make a lot of money in a short space of time. That means that we can retire early, purchase luxury goods and services. The irony is that this feeds into a disparity between actual, perceived, and effective value which means that flawed businesses can continue to still work. The irony is that this flaw works in practice but in the long term it can results in asset bubbles. Valuation at the correct level is in collective's overall interests
- risk isn't necessarily directly related to reward if you're modelling is good. One way to reduce risk is to let others take it first. You might not make a massive name for yourself but should at least not break bank for a high risk project. This has been a common theme in the Russian and Chinese defense establishments where they have often taken significant cues from American technology
- it's becoming clearer to me that many financial instruments actually aren't required. The industry itself relies on the fact that that many will fall for the perceived notion that you can make a lot of money in a small amount of time or for little labour. However, the reality is that most will make a lot less that what is perceived to be the case. An example of this is the following. Many financial instruments are created for the express purpose of increasing risk exposure and therefore possible profits/losses. In reality, most people lose. It's like a casino where the house wins most the time. The other irony is the following, while liquidity can have a direct correlation with volatility (allows you to reach a more valid price earlier especially if many are involved in pricing), the same is also true in the opposite direction. It only takes a few minor outliers to be able to change the perception where value within the market exists
- may SME firms collapse within a short time frame but easy credit makes it easier for bad business models to continue to exist. The same is also true of the United States economy where uncompetitive industries were allowed to continue to exist for a long time without adequate trade barriers. If the barriers are lifted we should create circumstances where we force companies to alter their strategies earlier or force them to re-structure/collapse/declare bankruptcy. It will help to reduce the impact of when we provide credit to flawed companies which ultimately collapse
- the way we measure credit risk is often questionable. Financial institutions often turn away low income earners because they are considered a credit risk. I looked at this further and the rates that they are actually charged are diabolical. At one particular place, they were charging 10% for a one week loan, 15% for a 3 week loan, and then 25% for a month long loan. If the industry was so risky though how does it continue to exist? Most of the people who understand the problem have basically said that people who require this money simply have a hard time budgeting and managing their affairs. Essentially providing them with a lump sum component every once in a while makes them believe that they can spend freely. The irony is that the rest of society is also somewhat guilty of this. If we were paid cash and by the hour (rather than regular lump sum payments) and had to pay a component of our bills and other expenses each day we would look at our purchases very differently
At the other end of the scale, there exists another paradox/contradiction. I've heard stories about people with relatively high incomes being denied credit even though their credit history was good (companies can't make money if you don't breach credit conditions every once in a while). Despite what we say about free market economics, regulatory frameworks, etc... the system is corrupt. It's just not as overt and no one likes/wants to admit it.
- despite what many may think of him, I think Vladamir Putin is actually trying to look after his country's best interests. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave rise to the oligarch. A circumstance that was facilitated by the nature of free market economics without an adequate framework (rules and regulations such as that provided by law). Essentially, the state was replaced by private enterprise where the needs of the many were placed lower on the pecking order than had the state still been in charge. I understand his perspective but I don't believe in the way he has gone about things
- people say that we should do more and spend more in the fight against organised crime. The stupid, ironic thing is that when society is unfair and unjust organised crime grows much stronger because it provides people with a way of making a living. In Europe, the Italian mafia has grown much stronger with the advent of the European economic difficulties and it was much the same in Japan when their asset bubble burst during the 90s
- the EU was borne of the fact that no one wanted war again in Europe. It feels like much the same with the rest of the world. We've used progress and better living conditions as an argument against going to war. However, the world has essentally ended up engaging in an effective 'Cold War'. Much of the world's spending revolves around the notion of deterrence. Namely, if I go to want to go to war with you I know that I'll suffer just as much damage (if not more)
There are a number of ways around this. By reaching a concensus for that countries will no longer attempt to project power outwards (defend yourself only, don't interfere with others. Highly unlikely.), invasion will no longer be part of the future landscape (other countries will come to the aide of those in trouble. Unlikely especially with the rise of terrorism.), or else collapse a economies such that countries will no longer be able to afford to spend on defense. The troubling thing is that the last scenario has actually been outlined in various US intelligence and defense reports. It's essentially war without war. If you can wreak havoc in someone's economy then they'll no longer be a problem for you. The irony is that the larger your intelligence apparatus the more likely you can engage in this style of activity. Previous leaked reports and WikiLeaks has made me highly skeptical that the average country doesn't engage in this style of activity.
The irony is that you if you don't engage in these activities you may lose a significant advantage. If you do, you're sort of left to question whether or not you are the good guy in this affair
- people who haven't spent enough time in the real world only often understand the theory. Once you understand how things actually work your whole perspective changes. Let's take the housing asset/bubble that we may be going through. As stated previously, making abnormal profits is about managing the difference between perceieved, actual, and effective value. It's clear that in theory boosting supply may change things. The thing I've discovered is that in free market economics it only takes a small thing to change perception. Once the perception snow balls you're stuck with the same problem. This is the same whether it is a new home buyer or a foreign investor purchasing in the local market
- a business structure is simply a focal point of communication between business and consumer. It also affords the opportunity for a government to tax it more effectively
- by being so insistent on upskilling and education it makes low labour costs almost impossible to achieve. This makes a lot of infrastructure projects in developed countries impossible because they are economically unviable. A good example of this is 457 visas in Australia, and illegal immigration in the United States (especially from Mexico) which are often used and abused to acheive lower labour costs than otherwise would have been possible. Another example of this is the Snowy River Hydroelectricity project. It's said that hardly anyone on site knew English and that often people just learned on the job.
Another recent project put this into perspective. It was said that building a building infrastructure (tunnels, office blocks, etc...) in China, shipping it, and then assembling it here in Australia would be more cost effective then building it here alone. We need to give people a chance no matter what their education or skill level if we are to balance government budgets and to reduce the incidents of off-shoring without necessarily having to resort to often expensive anti-shoring techniques such as tarrifs, rebates, taxes, etc...
- our perception of success feels odd sometimes. If you look up the background of Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, and several others you'll see that thye are continually on the point of brankruptcy. Under normal circumstances anyone continually on verge of losing everything would be considered mediocre but in the business world they're considered successful because they can keep the whole thing going... Also, look at the poverty figures for the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Japan. Notice the odd one out? Iran has been under sanction for a long time for their alleged nuclear research activities and yet the level of poverty in Iran is comparable to all these others.
- the only other way to achieve lower costs in developed countries is to resort to automation and robots (else tap developing countries for lower priced components). I've looked at Australian car manufacturing plants and American and European plants for mass produced vehicles. The level of automation in American and European plants seem to be significantly higher with build quality that is comparable
- the perception is that we always should hire the best and brightest in order to get the job done and that we should try to do our best to make them happy. The irony is that I've worked on both sides of the fence. By hiring only the best and brightest (perceived to be. A lot of the time the best and brightest don't necessarily get hired based on what I've seen) and only settling on them we force wages up across the board and we make work more difficult for your existing workforce. It may even be more difficult to keep them happy. The other irony is that there are many wealthy global companies who can afford to hire away your best staff forcing prices up even further. Complete free trade works in favour of those who are already wealthy and makes it harder for those down the chain to make a living and to progress
- if all the best and brightest are hired by the same companies (based on personal experience) you aren't necessarily always going to get the best out of them. Companies have an increasing tendency (regulatory as well as political issues) to pigeon hole them into specific roles which doesn't allow them to realise their full and complete potential. The individual, company, as well as the collective lose out
- we believe in out current style of capitalism because we have a perception that it gives everyone a chance in life to be and do whatever they want. In reality, it's a lot more complicated. At it's very core I think it's very much like Winston Churchhill's opinion of the Westminster parlimentary system, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."
- it's clear that I believe in limited capitalism and for the most part we should try to work with those within our regions to reduce the chances of a systemic collapse. Currency manipulation, foreign investment law, tarrifs, taxation, etc... are all lawful means of changing the playing field. In fact, the exact same techniques that countries use to protect against trade sanctions can be used to guard the economic safety of citizens locally. By playing by the current rules and free trade we are essentially playing into the hands of the larger companies of the world (mostly based in the United States). It's a form of imperialism/conquest (deliberate or not) without necessarily having to engage in open warfare and with the effective ruler being the United States with these companies acting as proxies
- making or saving money can sometimes be counterintuitive. If you've ever worked in the IT industry in any sort of support role then you'll realise that no matter what level of support you operate at one of the main aims is to establish whether or not the problem occurs without your own area of oversight. If it is, you try and fix it, if not you ignore it and basically tell the other end to kindly go away because you often don't have the expertise to fix it, nor do you have the oversight to be able to. The medical and pharmaceutical industry is much the same. The irony is that this perspective can result in longer term harm than good. The United States budget is out of whack with one of the major causes being the high cost of drugs as well as short sighted perspective of medical practitioners who tend to not attempt to treat the problem till it's fixed but keep on managing it. Fix it if you can and the problem goes away, your budget is in better shape
- if so many countries are so concerned about profit shifting why don't they simply make it un-economical/impossible to re-locate from now on? That way existing financial centres for such activity can adapt in the meantime while others countries can begin to regain some of their investment
- every company engages in anti-competitive behaviour. Even though (and others) Google are a supposed proponent of the 'Don't be Evil' mantra they still have shareholders to report to meaning that even if they don't want to they have to
- if too few countries make changes their companies are going to be subject to foreign takeover interest (friendly and non-friendly) if adequate measures aren't taken to protect them. Moreover, they will be at a competitive disadvantage when attemping to branch out. The only way to look after these interests is to look at the way companies are structured in order to look after the needs of both the individual and collective simultaneously
- making changes for a fairer and more equatible society isn't easy and the irony is that those who are already successful will always appeal to reduce the chances of the status quo changing. They will insist that since they 'made it' so can others. Moreover, there are always those within the political and public services who will always have differing opinions on how to acheive the same thing
- people say that globalisation and free market capitalism is a guard against collapse. Someone in the system is always going to be looking for money or someone is always going to have money. The problem is that there's no incentive to do this. Moreover, it has been proven in the United States and Europe that pure private, free trade capitalism isn't necessarily going to fill the void should there be significant underlying problems. Even states and unions can not hold back the dam should the market burst. Moreover, firms have shareholders and creditors to report to. Without adequate safeguards in place the needs of the many are never going to be met by the few who are lucky enough to have survived (there is only one exception to this. If there is strong leadership/management in the private sector which I haven't seen to many instances of)

CryptogramOther GCHQ News from Snowden

There are two other Snowden stories this week about GCHQ: one about its hacking practices, and the other about its propaganda and psychology research. The second is particularly disturbing:

While some of the unit's activities are focused on the claimed areas, JTRIG also appears to be intimately involved in traditional law enforcement areas and U.K.-specific activity, as previously unpublished documents demonstrate. An August 2009 JTRIG memo entitled "Operational Highlights" boasts of "GCHQ's first serious crime effects operation" against a website that was identifying police informants and members of a witness protection program. Another operation investigated an Internet forum allegedly "used to facilitate and execute online fraud." The document also describes GCHQ advice provided :to assist the UK negotiating team on climate change."

Particularly revealing is a fascinating 42-page document from 2011 detailing JTRIG's activities. It provides the most comprehensive and sweeping insight to date into the scope of this unit's extreme methods. Entitled "Behavioral Science Support for JTRIG's Effects and Online HUMINT [Human Intelligence] Operations," it describes the types of targets on which the unit focuses, the psychological and behavioral research it commissions and exploits, and its future organizational aspirations. It is authored by a psychologist, Mandeep K. Dhami.

Among other things, the document lays out the tactics the agency uses to manipulate public opinion, its scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behavior can be influenced, and the broad range of targets that are traditionally the province of law enforcement rather than intelligence agencies.

Rondam RamblingsA bittersweet victory

Today, almost twelve years after I first addressed the topic in this blog, same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states.  It is a cause for celebration, but my happiness today is tempered by my fear that Obergefell v. Hodges will become the next Roe v. Wade.  I was really, really hoping that John Roberts would join Anthony Kennedy on the enlightened side of history and make it a 6-3 decision

Sociological ImagesA SocImages Collection: Same-Sex Marriage

Legal status of same-sex marriage in the U.S.:

The social psychology of same-sex marriage:

Politicians on same-sex marriage:


Changing public opinion on same-sex marriage:


The movement for same-sex marriage:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Sociological ImagesRace and the Criminalization of Opium, Marijuana, and More

Flashback Friday.

My great-grandma would put a few drops of turpentine on a sugar cube as a cure-all for any type of cough or respiratory ailment. Nobody in the family ever had any obvious negative effects from it as far as I know. And once when I had a sinus infection my grandma suggested that I try gargling kerosene. I decided to go to the doctor for antibiotics instead, but most of my relatives thought that was a perfectly legitimate suggestion.

In the not-so-recent history, lots of substances we consider unhealthy today were marketed and sold for their supposed health benefits. Joe A. of Human Rights Watch sent in these images of vintage products that openly advertised that they contained cocaine or heroin. Perhaps you would like some Bayer Heroin?



This alcohol and opium concoction was for treating asthma:

Cocaine drops for the kids:

This product, made up of 46% alcohol mixed with opium, was for all ages; on the back it includes dosages for as young as five days:

A reader named Louise sent in a recipe from her great-grandma’s cookbook. Her great-grandmother was a cook at a country house in England. The recipe is dated 1891 and calls for “tincture of opium”:

The recipe from the lower half of the right-hand page (with original spellings):

Hethys recipe for cough mixture

1 pennyworth of each
Antimonial Wine
Acetic Acid
Tincture of opium
Oil of aniseed
Essence of peppermint
1/2lb best treacle

Well mix and make up to Pint with water.

As Joe says, it’s no secret that products with cocaine, marijuana, opium, and other now-banned substances were at one time sold openly, often as medicines. The changes in attitudes toward these products, from entirely acceptable and even beneficial to inherently harmful and addicting, is a great example of social construction. While certainly opium and cocaine have negative effects on some people, so do other substances that remained legal (or were re-legalized, in the case of alcohol).

Often racist and anti-immigrant sentiment played a role in changing views of what are now illegal controlled substances; for instance, the association of opium with Chinese immigrants contributed to increasingly negative attitudes toward it as anything associated with Chinese immigrants was stigmatized, particularly in the western U.S. This combined with a push by social reformers to prohibit a variety of substances, leading to the Harrison Narcotic Act. The act, passed in 1914, regulated production and distribution of opium but, in its application, eventually basically criminalized it.

Reformers pushing for cocaine to be banned suggested that its effects led Black men to rape White women, and that it gave them nearly super-human strength that allowed them to kill Whites more effectively. A similar argument was made about Mexicans and marijuana:

A Texas police captain summed up the problem: under marijuana, Mexicans became “very violent, especially when they become angry and will attack an officer even if a gun is drawn on him. They seem to have no fear, I have also noted that under the influence of this weed they have enormous strength and that it will take several men to handle one man while under ordinary circumstances one man could handle him with ease.”

So the story of the criminalization of some substances in the U.S. is inextricably tied to various waves of anti-immigrant and racist sentiment. Some of the same discourse–the “super criminal” who is impervious to pain and therefore especially violent and dangerous, the addicted mother who harms and even abandons her child to prostitute herself as a way to get drugs–resurfaced as crack cocaine emerged in the 1980s and was perceived as the drug of choice of African Americans.

Originally posted in 2010.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

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TEDLove triumphs against the odds: StoryCorps celebrates the 46th anniversary of Stonewall

StoryCorps-OutLoud-storiesMore than 40 years after the Stonewall Riots, even as Caitlyn Jenner dominates pop culture, coming out as gay or transgender remains deeply difficult. In some cases, it’s downright dangerous; in others, it’s enough to tear families apart. But as you’ll discover in these six StoryCorps interviews, love — of each other, and of oneself — can triumph over even the most deeply embedded prejudice and fear.

These stories are some of my personal favorites from our OutLoud initiative, launched last year to celebrate the experience of LGBTQ Americans, like my dad. I can see him in all of these stories. Whether the story is painful or one of courage — or some combination of the two — I feel these stories to my core. And as we celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the gay civil rights movement this weekend, it’s a good time to remember the hard-earned wisdom of these remarkable human beings.

Wilmoth-brothers“I just want you to know how much it means to me that you have loved me like this.”

Bryan Wilmoth, the oldest of eight children, was kicked out of his home in the middle of the night when his father found out he was gay. And he wasn’t allowed to speak to any of his siblings, because of his dad’s fear that they would “catch gay.” Over the years, as each of his younger brothers and sisters became estranged from their parents and left home, he began tentatively rebuilding a relationship with them. Eventually, they formed their own family unit. In this interview, Bryan says to his brother Michael, “I just want you to know how much it means to me that you have loved me like this. And for that I will be forever grateful. It is what I built the foundation of the rest of my life on.” It’s a story that can give us all hope.


Genna-Alperin-and-MJ-Seide[It] was the first time that anyone was proud to say that they loved me.”

Twelve-year-old Genna Alperin brought her step-grandmother, MJ Seide, to StoryCorps. These two are poker partners and ride rollercoasters together, but they’d never talked about MJ’s homosexuality before. In this interview, MJ explains to her granddaughter: “I thought that my life was probably not one that was gonna be worth living. There was this hole that I had all of my life because, I never thought I’d be able to walk along the beach and hold somebody’s hand because I’m gay.” MJ never thought she’d be able to have a family, and the depth of her love for her granddaughter is unimaginable.


Nathan-Hoskins-and-Sally-EvansShe took the shotgun out of my hands and she put it to my head.”

Nathan Hoskins’ story is incredibly painful to listen to, but it is an important one to hear. Whether 50 years ago or today, LGBTQ youth often still struggle, especially in small towns and rural areas — and that’s critical to remember. In this story, Nathan tells his friend Sally Evans about how his mother loaded a gun and took him into the countryside when she suspected he was gay. He says, “She took the shotgun out of my hands and she put it to my head. And she said, ‘This is the tree that I’d take my son to and blow his head off if he ever decided to be a faggot.’ And at that moment, I knew I had to do whatever it took to not be gay. And I tried very hard, and I was a great liar for many years.” Ultimately, Nathan found the courage to be himself. He says, “I am who I’m supposed to be. There was never another alternative.”


Stefan-Strassfeld-and-TeperThey modeled for me how to survive an epidemic, even if you were dying while doing it.”

Stefan Lynch Strassfeld, who was raised by his father and his “aunties” — his father’s gay friends — in the 1980s, shares how the AIDS epidemic ravaged his family. By the time he was 19, he says, “Everyone had died except for a handful of stragglers who I now hold near and dear to my heart.” Stefan says of his aunties, “It was a powerful family. There was a lot of love. And they modeled for me how to survive an epidemic, even if you were dying while doing it.” Stefan later became the first director of COLAGE, an organization that supports and celebrates kids with LGBT parents. I’m an honorary board member.


Alexis-Martinez-and-LesleyI walk in love, and I try to live that way every day.”

Alexis Martinez was born Arthur Martinez. When she came out to her mother as transgender, her mom called the police. “I always remember that when the police showed up, you know, they just laughed and told her, ‘You’ve got a fag for a son, and there’s nothing we can do about it,'” Alexis tells her daughter, Lesley, in this interview. Alexis’ greatest fear was that she wouldn’t get to know her granddaughters, but Lesley assures her, “You don’t have to apologize. You don’t have to tiptoe. You know, we’re not going to cut you off. And that is something that I’ve always wanted you to know — that you’re loved.” Listen and you’ll understand why Alexis and her daughter are two of my heroes.


Samuel-Taylor-and-Connie-Casey“I completely and 100% forgive you.”

Samuel Taylor came out to his mother, Connie Casey, when he was a teenager. She sent him to a “conversion therapy” program for gay youth sponsored by the now-defunct Exodus International. Years later, though, she began to see the error of her ways. Her advice to other parents feeling frightened by their kids’ identity is to love them. “No matter how strongly you think you believe something, at the end of the day, you just always have to love and accept your kid. It’s non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned,” she says. Samuel, for his part, is thankful for his mother. He says: “I don’t think I’ve ever told you that I completely and 100% forgive you. It’s part of what we had to go through to get to where we are today. And for that, I’m not only forgiving, I’m grateful.”


For more stories, pick up our new 2-CD collection of stories from OutLoud. It’s hosted by NPR’s Ari Shapiro, and includes the radio documentary I made when I was 22, Remembering Stonewall, after finding out my dad was gay. The documentary in many ways planted the seed for StoryCorps.

And if you find yourself at a Pride parade this weekend, I encourage you to use the StoryCorps app to record an interview with a member of the LGBTQ community.


Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, is the winner of our 2015 TED Prize. In a talk at TED2015, he shared an audacious wish for his organization: to take it global with a free app. Stay tuned for this column every other week on the TED Blog, as we chart the evolution of his TED Prize wish. As told to Amy S. Choi.

RacialiciousKiller Secrets: An Excerpt From Tamara Winfrey Harris’ New Book

By Arturo R. García

Author and Racialicious alum Tamara Winfrey Harris.

Longtime readers of the blog will remember friend and alumnus Tamara Winfrey Harris: Tami’s voice, which many of us first discovered through her blog What Tami Said, has been essential reading in the POC justice ecosystem for years.

But over the past few years, her reach has expanded, and she’s been published everywhere from The Guardian to Salon to — just last week — The New York Times.

Well, we’re proud and happy today to be able to share with you a part of her most pivotal work yet: The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, in which she takes on the stereotypes regularly used to deride black women in the US — their romantic lives, their mental health, their beauty and more.

“The more Americans face stereotypes about us in media, pop culture and other places, the more they are subconsciously ‘activated’ where real black women are concerned, affecting the way we are seen by potential employers, partners, the government and others,” she writes.

The book will be out on July 7, but is already available for order online; it’s already ranked as the No. 1 new Gender Studies release on Amazon. An excerpt can be seen below.

In 2003, the California Black Women’s Health Project found that only 7 percent of black women with symptoms of mental illness seek treatment. And, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health manuscript, a 2008 study of African American women’s perspectives on depression found that many “believed that an individual develops depression due to having a ‘weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.’”

A member of the mental health profession currently working in higher education, Adrianne Traylor says, “I am cognizant of our community being left out of mental health discussions, not having appropriate access to mental health support, the cultural restrictions and barriers that keep us from seeking that support and that there are really not enough competent therapists to deal with situations that are unique to the black experience in America.

Finding a black therapist to refer a client to is extremely difficult. Even when it comes to self-care, I think. ‘Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to refer myself to? Who can I talk to who can really understand what makes my situation unique as a black woman?’ We really lose out in the mental health equation — particularly when it comes to areas of depression, stress, and anxiety.”

Members of the black community often learn that mental health care is something they neither need nor can afford — economically, socially, or culturally. Black folks are encouraged to take it to the Lord in prayer, but Adrianne stresses that many mental health issues cannot be ameliorated by a pastor, friend, or family. Some mental illnesses require intensive therapy or psychotropic drugs, and not getting that treatment can be devastating.

Her own family provided her with a strong example of this cultural challenge. Adrianne says she grew up surrounded by women who exemplified the positive aspects of “black women always being strong and resilient and always being able to carry everything.” But as she grew older, “I saw the [unwillingness to pursue mental health care] weighing more heavily on the women in the family, because it seemed they were the ultimate repositories for sanity and intactness for everyone.”

When she was a teen, the house where Adrianne was born burned down. It was her grandmother’s home and had been the center of many family memories. The loss was devastating to Adrianne. “But I remember watching [my grandmother], who was temporarily living in this itty-bitty house out in the country, and on the one hand admiring her strength. She had lost everything — her physical mementos of her life with her husband — everything. She seemed so strong and seemed on the surface to be coping. But I wondered what happened when she went to bed at night. What did she do then, when no one was looking at her? I started thinking if we were wearing a lot of masks to get through our lives and whether they were helping or hurting us.

“As you become older and more aware of family dysfunction . . . it is an awakening. You’re oblivious to things as a kid and then your eyes open. You realize that the things that seemed like such strength could have really been someone doing what they could to hold things together.”

Thirty-five-year-old Vivian St. Claire* is a high-achiever, perfectionist, and inveterate “good girl.” She earned a PhD before she was thirty “because I was bored.” Vivian also suffers from clinical depression. And three years ago, she had a nervous breakdown, driven in part by her relentless drive to meet societal expectations.

Despite her academic and professional success, Vivian couldn’t shake the notion that she was a failure as a woman. A late bloomer in affairs of the heart, who was always more confident in intellectual pursuits than romantic ones, Vivian was childless and single, having just broken up with the man she once thought she would marry. “I never wanted to be the single black woman, and I think that fear created that whole pressure.”

Her undiagnosed clinical depression began to spiral out of control as Vivian grappled with fears about her personal life, her weight, and other issues. She began taking Ambien to cure the insomnia it caused — Ambien, red wine, and occasionally marijuana.

“I would black out,” she says. “It was just all this very unhealthy mix of me trying to hide from a lot of different things. I know I was all over the place.

“Another part of my depression is I had a pact with myself: if I wasn’t married by thirty-five, I was going to kill myself. I very much planned everything out for my life. At thirty-five, my plans ran out,” she says.

“That came out when I had my breakdown. My parents were in the room. While I was being evaluated, my mom was just sitting there silently crying.

“I would like to be more open with my struggle with depression — let close friends and things know,” says Vivian. But she admits her openness is tempered with the realities of being an academic hoping for tenure and a desire not to “embarrass” her parents. Although they were there during her breakdown, they still have not processed her mental illness.

“My mom is fine with it for other people, but not her children— even though her brother is a paranoid schizophrenic.”

As her parents helped her complete paperwork that would commit her to the hospital, Vivian was surprised to hear her father answer in the affirmative when asked about mental illness on his side of the family.

“‘Oh, yeah, your Auntie So-and-So has this. Your uncle is paranoid schizophrenic and whatever.’”

Black families often keep mental health histories under wraps, treating suffering members like guilty secrets. Quoting author Nalo Hopkinson in the book Brown Girl in the Ring, Vivian points out, “We as a people — our secrets are killing us.”

It was a hard road back to mental health. Healing required that Vivian learn to be gentle with herself, to practice physical and mental self-care, to let go of her perfectionism, and to refuse to see her mental illness as a stigma.

“Today, I would say I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been — mentally and physically. I’ve come to a peace with myself. Yoga, therapy, being open about my mental illness and my medication, having coping mechanisms, and staying healthy — they are just part of my life now.”

Her voice catches as she describes her pride at making it through: “At this point, every day it’s a blessing that I’m happy, that I’m content with myself, and that I’m okay. I’m very proud of myself. I’m proud every day, because at least I keep holding on. It’s not so much of a struggle for me anymore.

“Putting other people’s pressure on me almost killed me. I’ve had to become comfortable with the uncomfortability of not being perfect. I’m amazed at the woman that I have become. . . . Sorry, I’m getting a little emotional, but it’s been hard. It’s been very hard. But I’ve earned a life beyond thirty-five years.”

Learn more about Tamara Winfrey Harris and The Sisters Are Alright at

The post Killer Secrets: An Excerpt From Tamara Winfrey Harris’ New Book appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

CryptogramNSA and GCHQ Attacked Antivirus Companies

On Monday, the Intercept published a new story from the Snowden documents:

The spy agencies have reverse engineered software products, sometimes under questionable legal authority, and monitored web and email traffic in order to discreetly thwart anti-virus software and obtain intelligence from companies about security software and users of such software. One security software maker repeatedly singled out in the documents is Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, which has a holding registered in the U.K., claims more than 270,000 corporate clients, and says it protects more than 400 million people with its products.

British spies aimed to thwart Kaspersky software in part through a technique known as software reverse engineering, or SRE, according to a top-secret warrant renewal request. The NSA has also studied Kaspersky Lab's software for weaknesses, obtaining sensitive customer information by monitoring communications between the software and Kaspersky servers, according to a draft top-secret report. The U.S. spy agency also appears to have examined emails inbound to security software companies flagging new viruses and vulnerabilities.

Wired has a good article on the documents:

The documents...don't describe actual computer breaches against the security firms, but instead depict a systematic campaign to reverse-engineer their software in order to uncover vulnerabilities that could help the spy agencies subvert it.


An NSA slide describing "Project CAMBERDADA" lists at least 23 antivirus and security firms that were in that spy agency's sights. They include the Finnish antivirus firm F-Secure, the Slovakian firm Eset, Avast software from the Czech Republic. and Bit-Defender from Romania. Notably missing from the list are the American anti-virus firms Symantec and McAfee as well as the UK-based firm Sophos.

But antivirus wasn't the only target of the two spy agencies. They also targeted their reverse-engineering skills against CheckPoint, an Israeli maker of firewall software, as well as commercial encryption programs and software underpinning the online bulletin boards of numerous companies. GCHQ, for example, reverse-engineered both the CrypticDisk program made by Exlade and the eDataSecurity system from Acer. The spy agency also targeted web forum systems like vBulletin and Invision Power Board­used by Sony Pictures, Electronic Arts, NBC Universal and others­as well as CPanel, a software used by GoDaddy for configuring its servers, and PostfixAdmin, for managing the Postfix email server software But that's not all. GCHQ reverse-engineered Cisco routers, too, which allowed the agency's spies to access "almost any user of the internet" inside Pakistan and "to re-route selective traffic" straight into the mouth of GCHQ's collection systems.

There's also this article from Ars Technica. Slashdot thread.

Kaspersky recently announced that it was the victim of Duqu 2.0, probably from Israel.

Worse Than FailureError'd: What, What?

" looks like someone is testing in Production as every link on starts with this helpful alert," James writes.


"At just over 2400 light years away, our Sun must be intrinsically brighter than the rest of the galaxy combined," writes Wong


"You'd think that Google would rather have Chrome extensions added, but who am I to judge?," wrote Erwan.


Jeff R. wrote, "I'm not sure that I'll have time to catch up on this series after all."


"I didn't think that it was a big deal that I didn't enter a title," writes Jim B., "Whatever code generates the response letter disagrees."


"It's a good thing that I cut up a penny into tiny pieces for exactly this situation," Dustin W. wrote.


"Wow...That's one weird dog," Jeff F. writes.


Bob D. wrote, "Terror possessed me then when I noticed that one of our 2008r2 domain controllers hadn't been rebooted since 1971."


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TEDGlobal ideas, in a graphic novella

Comic books usually feature superheroes. This one, however, stars the speakers who shared ideas at last week’s TEDGlobal>London. The graphic novella “Beyond the Edge” was created by the “scribes” at Innovation Arts and gives a three-panel pop rendering of each talk at the event, with special appearances by the day’s performers. There are no villains threatening to blow up a city — but there is a shady “darknet” and an old mouse rejuvenated by young blood.

See the first page of the graphic novella below — and then download a PDF of the whole thing.


The Innovation Arts team was led by David Christie, and included Fernanda de Uriarte, Abigail Burch, Eddie Jacob and Kate Hills. The group also installed big whiteboards at TEDGlobal>London and captured the talks live — in quotes, images and rough concepts. You’ll find that a reproduction of that board on the last page of the PDF.

TEDRemembering James Horner

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At TED2005, James Horner shared the secret of what made him such a powerhouse film composer — he made it a point to watch each film as a viewer rather than as a creator.

“Very often directors will say, ‘That’s not what I had in mind. I shot it with this in mind.’ But when a bystander who’s not been involved in the creation of the movie looks at it, they have a whole different perspective,” he said. “As a film composer, you can’t look at a film from the director’s point of view. You have to look at it completely objectively.”

Horner composed the scores for Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Avatar and many other movies. A longtime collaborator of James Cameron’s, he won the Oscar for his original score for Titanic, as well as the Oscar for best original song for “My Heart Will Go On.” He was nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards.

Horner died in a plane crash near Santa Barbara on June 22, 2015. He was 61. And while we’ve never been able to post his TED Talk because it contained film clips that require rights clearance, we wanted to share the first seven minutes of it. It’s a meditation on an unusual art form — one where the artist works in service of another’s vision and isn’t able to return to ideas and themes they want to explore. He said, “Each time out must be a completely clean canvas.”

His talk is remarkable in that, while Horner details the challenges inherent in composing for film, his passion for the craft shines through.

“I can make the music help the scene blossom,” he said.

TEDYour summer reading list: 70+ book picks from TED speakers and attendees

Summer reading recommendations from TED

The tables in bookstores can be overwhelming: Every book cover looks appealing, every blurb glows with praise. Sometimes, you just need a recommendation from a human, someone you trust. Below, 10 members of the TED community — with very different points of view — share the books they think you’ll enjoy this summer. Their selections are wonderfully untethered to new releases and bestsellers, with a little something for everyone.

David Eagleman and TED
Mind-bending fiction, picked by David Eagleman

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist whose sensory vest may just expand the limits of human perception. But this TED speaker is also a writer  — of both fiction (his Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives has been translated into 28 languages) and nonfiction (Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain was a bestseller). His recommendations highlight mind-bending fiction:

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. “An inspiration that never runs out of batteries for me; it shines a new light on everything. Borges follows no one’s rules but his own.”

The Bear by William Faulkner. “I bought this short novel for fifty cents at a garage sale when I was 17. The storytelling and language blew my socks off. I immediately became an English major.”

The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive by Brian Christian. “A book about the wild frontiers of chatbots, it reveals more than expected about what it means to be made of flesh and blood.”

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. “A lovely, wordless story about the immigrant experience.”

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. “A series of very short stories that are all about the same thing: a single city in Kublai Khan’s empire. It’s mother’s milk for my own fiction writing.”

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. “A rare combination of perfect wordsmithery and limitless imagination.”

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. “Science fiction written in 1930, it describes the future of humans two billion years in the future. Deep creativity.”

Things That Are: Essays by Amy Leach. “Hilarious essays that bounce effortlessly between the pedestrian and the cosmic, leaving the reader in a warm blanket of wonder.”

The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler. “An exciting book about the rising bar of peak human performance.”


Anne-Pasternak-thumbnailBooks on art and race, picked by Anne Pasternak

TED attendee Anne Pasternak will be the next director of the Brooklyn Museum, making her the first woman to lead one of New York’s encyclopedic art museums. For the past two decades, she’s directed Creative Time, staging artistic happenings in the wilds of New York City. Her recommendations focus on art, as well as on the legacy of slavery and racism:

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. “Over the past year, several people were shocked I hadn’t heard of this book. So I bought it and dove in. If you’ve ever questioned why there were struggles for equality between the end of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement in the US, this book illuminates the conditions that led to the disinvestment, misery and tragedy that have lasted for generations.”

Who We Be: The Colorization of America by Jeff Chang. “Don’t let the textbook look of this book stop you, because it’s awesome. No one writes more beautifully about race and culture than Jeff, the author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. Only he can make topical discussions of race and art into a page-turner.”

The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis. “As seen on last year’s TED stage, Sarah Lewis speaks to mastery.”

12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. “When filmmaker Steve McQueen told me this book was about to become [suggested] reading in our public school curriculum, I almost burst into tears. Bravo for art impacting education! Now that it’s on our school reading list, it should be on ours as well.”

Nick Cave: Epitome by Nick Cave et al. “In this brand-new coffee-table book, Nick Cave’s beaded and feathered Soundsuits pop off the page. You can almost feel these gorgeous creatures dancing around you. I confess that I haven’t read the essays yet, simply because the pictures are just so captivating.”

Art Studio America: Contemporary Artist Spaces edited by Hossein Amirsadeghi and Maryam Homayoun Eisler. “In this book, you get a glimpse at the creative spaces of some of America’s leading artists, like Chuck Close, Rachel Feinstein and Kiki Smith.”

Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East edited by Anthony Downey. “In countries with rich histories, changing boundaries and war/conflict, artists are sharing histories, reflecting on the past to see the present and speaking truth to power. Check out the thriving artistic practices emerging in the Middle East and North Africa.”


Bill Gates and TEDIlluminating nonfiction, picked by Bill Gates

At TED2015, Bill Gates tried on the protective body suit worn by healthcare workers in Ebola field hospitals and gave a talk on epidemic readiness. He also selected some favorite books. His recommendations focus on business and our modern world:

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks. “Warren Buffett recommended this book to me in 1991, and it’s still the best business book I’ve ever read. Brooks offers sharp insights into the timeless fundamentals of business — like the challenge of building a large organization, hiring people with the right skills and listening to customers’ feedback.”

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Doris Kearns Goodwin studies the lives of these presidents to answer a question that fascinates me: How does social change happen? Can it be driven by an inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork? In Roosevelt’s case, it was the latter; his famous soft speaking and big stick weren’t effective in driving reform until journalists rallied public support.”

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss. “Eloquent essayist Eula Biss uses the tools of literary analysis, philosophy and science to examine the speedy, inaccurate rumors about childhood vaccines that have proliferated among well-meaning American parents. Biss took up this topic not for academic reasons, but because of her new role as a mom.”

Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization by Vaclav Smil. “In this book, Smil examines the materials we use to meet the demands of modern life — like cement, iron, aluminum, plastic and paper. The book is full of staggering statistics: for example, China used more cement in just three years than the US used in the entire twentieth century. Smil is an original thinker who never gives simple answers to complex questions.”

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region by Joe Studwell. “Business journalist Joe Studwell gives compelling answers to two key questions in development economics: How did countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and China achieve sustained high growth? And why have so few other countries managed to do so?”

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff and Irving Geis. “First published in 1954, this book doesn’t feel dated, aside from a few anachronistic examples. (It’s been a long time since bread cost five cents a loaf.) In fact, it’s more relevant than ever. One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons. A timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days.”


Incredible interviews, picked by Dave Isay

Dave Isay of StoryCorps, the winner of the 2015 TED Prize, has centered his life around the art of the interview — where stories of everyday individuals are surfaced and the gift of listening is given. His recommendations, naturally, gravitate toward magical conversations:

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. “The astounding collection of profiles from a legendary The New Yorker writer. Too many good stories to list, but I named my daughter after ‘Mazie,’ his profile of the foul-mouthed ticket taker/bouncer/angel of a low-rent movie theatre catering to homeless men in New York.”

They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Mayer Kirshenblatt. “Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett spent forty years interviewing her father about the Polish town where he grew up. After decades of prodding, Mayer — a retired house painter — picked up a brush and began painting his memories of the town as well. The book creates a singular portrait of a world wiped off the face of the earth.”

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman. “In this graphic novel — one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, in my opinion — Spiegelman interviews his father about living through the Holocaust.”

The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by Gay Talese. “An ode to the men who built the Verrazano-Narrows, it centers around the question, ‘Who are the high-wire walkers wearing boots and hard hats, earning their living by risking their lives in places where falls are often fatal and where the bridges and skyscrapers are looked upon as sepulchers by the families and coworkers of the deceased?’”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. “I’m currently reading this autobiography. As Bryan Stevenson said in his TED Talk: ‘We will ultimately not be judged by our technology; we won’t be judged by our design; we won’t be judged by our intellect and reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated.’ This book is not to be missed.”

The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living by Ira Byock. “A small, beautiful book which reminds us to say the important things we want to say to the people we care about.”


Ava-Duvernay-thumbnailHaunting novels, picked by Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay directed Selma, nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture this year. And this TED attendee is also a big reader. Her recommendations are all about beautiful, heartfelt fiction:

Ruby by Cynthia Bond. “Oprah recommended this book to me, and it is astounding. The writer has such a majestic command of language; she catapults everyday words into rare air with lines that sear into your memory. The characters Ruby and Ephraim shimmer with vibrancy — they show the complications of pain and joy, all messily and beautifully together. A total triumph.”

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. “This book scans the terrain of the personal, the political and the spiritual in incredible ways. The fact that so many millions of people have related to Estha and Rahel — twins in Kerala, India‎ — illustrates the power of storytelling and the fact that within cultural specificity lies a gorgeous universality.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. “Written in 1937 by a black woman artist extraordinaire, this treasure breathes with awe, ache and everything in between. Zora Neale Hurston’s prose is legend. Her story is epic, but her approach is intimate. I can’t say enough about this work.”

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. “A small novel filled with massive ideas, wrapped in language that allows us to taste and smell a whole new life — one as a tourist experiencing the beauty of Antigua and unaware of the indignities required to make such a visit possible. It’s about colonialism, patriarchy‎ and injustice and pushes the reader to examine their own ideas, expectations and identity.”


David Rothkopf at TEDBooks on historical moments, picked by David Rothkopf

Foreign policy thinker David Rothkopf gave a talk at TED2015 — an experience that flipped his thinking. His book recommendations are for those interested in history, as well as on its influence on the present:

Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick. “If I could have written one book in my life, it would probably be this one. One of the best combinations of storytelling, history writing and analysis that I have seen, about the end of the Soviet Union.”

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. “The best book about one of the most horrific topics imaginable. The author is now the US Ambassador to the UN and must struggle with these issues.”

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. “Another evocative look at the Rwandan genocide. It’s a good companion piece to Power’s book because it provides more of the human story, in the most heartrending way possible.”

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor. “I’m fascinated by Joan of Arc and, until recently, by the lack of a really good, modern biography of her. This book fills that void. It tells the story of one of those extraordinary lives that, even when stripped of mythologies, mesmerizes because it illustrates how single individuals can make a difference.”

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. “This book is about the man who invented Wonder Woman, and the women around him who reflected historical changes in the role of women in society. It’s smart and funny, a refreshing look into a corner of cultural history that I would never have thought to explore.”

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. “To understand the century ahead, you need to understand China. To understand China without actually going there, read this new, much-heralded book. It deserves all the awards it has won. But really: you have to go there.”

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. “This history of the Americas turns upside down almost everything you learned in school. It drives home the message that the history we know may never have happened.”

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird. “A terrific and true spy story that makes the fictional kind pale in comparison.”

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. “Michael Lewis is one of the best at telling a compelling story about a few people — and in so doing, opening up a window into big issues of our times. He also knows and writes about finance better than any of his peers. The result: a book that proves how the financial system is just as rigged and corrupt as you thought it was.”

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. “Our economy is changing profoundly, creating new questions about what jobs will look like in the future and how people will make meaningful lives for themselves. Few have even recognized the problem, much less come up with answers. Brynjolfsson and McAfee are doing both.”

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner. “My dad worked at Bell Labs, and my first summer jobs were there as well. It epitomized the power of pure research, and showed how big science and big government could collaborate. It is gone now, and its disappearance raises many questions about our future.”

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “This is the last novel I read. It’s the story of a Nigerian woman who comes to America and then returns home, full of culture shock and self-discovery. It’s beautifully done and will have you looking at the world around you in a very different way.”

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. “A terrific, brutally honest look by an Israeli at the conundrum of loving his country but also understanding its complicated, often-disturbing historical roots and current reality.”


Books on creativity, picked by Tony Fadell

At TED2015, Tony Fadell — the man behind the iPod and Nest — managed to turn an observation about the little stickers on fruit that you inevitably forget to peel off before eating into an intriguing TED Talk. His book recommendations focus on the bounds of creativity:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. “Kahneman is brilliant. His latest book offers a fascinating look at how our brains work, and how they push us to act in ways that aren’t always in our best interest.”

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. “By offering evidence that traits like empathy, determination and self-control tend to be better predictors of success than IQ, Tough will make you think differently about raising kids in a highly competitive world.”

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. “A fantastic read, and hugely applicable to what we do at Nest. It offers a great perspective on how an experienced leader has guided a team of creative, dedicated people to develop amazing things.”

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz. “Starting a company is never easy — even when you’ve done it before. Ben’s advice is useful, honest, profane and essential for understanding why some companies fail and others succeed.”

The Art of War by Sun Tzu. “It’s hard to believe that a 2,000-year-old book could still be relevant for businesses today, but Sun Tzu’s masterpiece is as applicable to the world we live in as ever.”


Christopher Soghoian at TEDBooks on privacy, picked by Christopher Soghoian

TED Fellow Christopher Soghoian is a privacy researcher whose unsettling research suggests that we are just seeing the start of government surveillance. His recommendations are perfect for those interested in security:

This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers by Andy Greenberg. “Ignore the references to WikiLeaks in the title. To understand how and why disruptive technologies like Bitcoin and Tor exist, you need to read this well-written book on the history of the cypherpunk movement.”

Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter. “This page-turner reads like a spy thriller, but is actually a well-reported true story. Welcome to the scary new world of cyberwar, in which the US government plays the starring role.”

Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance by Julia Angwin. “One of the best technology journalists in the US documents her efforts to protect her digital privacy. It’s part self-help book, but also a sobering view of how stacked the privacy deck is against us all.”

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier. “Bruce is the information security community’s ambassador, a thought leader who can explain privacy, surveillance and data security in an accessible way. This book isn’t a deep dive, but an introduction to topics that should concern us all.”

Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing by Tim Shorrock. “Think Blackwater meets the NSA. Tim Shorrock does a great job of exposing the mercenaries and beltway bandits who are fighting for a piece of the $70 billion a year intelligence community budget.”

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd. “Every time I hear someone proclaiming that ‘kids today just don’t care about privacy,’ I tell them to buy this book. Kids do care and are taking steps — you just can’t see it.”


Janet-Mock-thumbnailBooks on identity, picked by Janet Mock

In March, Janet Mock was named one of the “30 Most Influential People on the Internet” by TIME Magazine. A TED2015 attendee, she is the host of MSNBC’s So Popular! and the author of Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Her recommendations focus on explorations of gender, race and trans identity:

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. “This collection of work from the black lesbian poet and feminist provides a lifemap to live and organize for us all.”

ain’t i a woman: black women and feminism by bell hooks. “One of hooks’ most widely taught texts, it centers the lives of black women and their struggles within a feminist context.”

Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex edited by Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith. “This collection is a crucial text, furthering our understanding of the over-policing and criminalization of trans and gender-nonconforming communities, from the 1969 Stonewall Riots through today.”

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. “Released the same year as the March on Washington, Baldwin — an openly gay black male writer and intellectual — offers a torching perspective on being black in America.”

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. “This edition of feminist writings gave voice to a collective of women who were silenced by the mainstream feminist, gay and racial justice movements. I can’t recommend this book more.”

Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam. “This memoir follows one woman’s journey as she enters the lives of four low-income trans girls in Los Angeles, and watches as they grapple with family, poverty, intolerance and their own bodies.”

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America by Melissa V. Harris-Perry. “This book breaks down how women of color struggle to stand upright in a ‘crooked room’ filled with distorted images — ‘mammy,’ ‘jezebel,’ ‘sapphire’ — that unfairly reflect them.”

Sula by Toni Morrison. “Everything Morrison writes is gold, but Sula is one of those books that I return to every few years and I always find new nuggets of wisdom in it. The novel traces the sisterhood between Sula and Nel, and the diverging paths their lives take.”

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith. “It’s the only nonfiction collection from one of my favorite contemporary writers. Smith covers pop culture, race, representation and literary analysis, including an ode to my favorite novel of all time, Their Eyes Were Watching God.”


Nadia-Goodman-thumbnailThought-provoking fiction, picked by Nadia Goodman

TED’s social media editor Nadia Goodman is a celebrity, at least in our office, for her stellar book recommendations. On her Instagram channel Tiny Book Reviews, she sums up books in well-wrought paragraphs alongside snapshots of the books in the perfect environment. Her latest recommendations:

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland. “A lonely woman in New York City, the last transcriptionist at a major newspaper, discovers a story she can’t forget. It’s a quiet, beautifully observed book about who gets remembered, who gets forgotten and how we decide whose stories deserve to be told. One of my favorite finds in a long time.”

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. “A loose retelling of Snow White, set in New England in the mid-1900s. It’s a brilliant exploration of beauty, race, identity and the pain we inflict on others to protect ourselves. The ending is just …*mind blown.*”

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. “I devoured this book in one sitting. It’s insightful, heartbreaking, brutally honest and peppered with such a dry sense of humor that I found myself laughing out loud. More than anything, it humanized the trials of love and marriage.”

Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. “A gut-wrenching collection of poetry about sexuality, race and identity, as tender as it is angry. My personal favorite poems: ‘Boy at Edge of Woods’; ‘Daedalus, After Icarus’; ‘Jasper, 1998’; ‘Apologia’; ‘History, According to Boy.’”

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. “A fantastic story about blind ambition, with a fresh tone and tight, fast-paced prose. It mimics a self-help book — a playful guise for an unexpectedly tender story. I especially love that it’s written in the second person, so the story feels unique and universal all at once.”

Tampa by Alissa Nutting. “Grossly disturbing, but so compelling — I couldn’t turn away. It’s a fascinating foil to Lolita; a scathing indictment of our common assumption that women’s sexuality, especially when paired with beauty, can’t be truly predatory or, worse, that teenage boys are lucky to be preyed on. It’s great fodder for discussion.”

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. “If you haven’t read a young adult novel recently, you should. There’s an explosion of great writing for teens, and Levithan’s book is a shining example that weaves together beautiful, brave stories of boys growing up gay in small town America. In a stroke of genius, it’s narrated by the collective voice of the men who died in the AIDS crisis.”

TEDThe TED Talks library, now 2,000 talks strong

2,000_TED TalkAs you read this, imagine balloons and confetti fluttering to the ground around you. Because we just posted the 2,000th TED Talk.

On June 16, 2015, Margaret Heffernan’s “Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work” became the 2,000th TED Talk. It’s a talk we need now: a sharp reflection on our lives at work. While most companies are built to reward stars, this actually creates competitiveness that undermines great ideas, says Heffernan. It’s not the teams with the highest IQs that achieve the best results — it’s the teams with the most social cohesion, where everyone contributes and feels safe to offer feedback with candor. It’s a talk that will flip your thinking on why you go to work every day.

Watch this talk. And then, if you’re curious, some other landmark TED Talks:

  • The first six TED Talks were posted on June 27, 2006. They are: Al Gore’s “Averting the climate crisis,” Hans Rosling’s “The best stats you’ve ever seen,” Majora Carter’s “Greening the ghetto,” Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do schools kill creativity?,” David Pogue’s “Simplicity sells,” and Tony Robbins’ “Why we do what we do.” Watch them all queued up in order »
  • The first TED Talk to a million views: Jeff Han’s “The radical promise of the multi-touch interface,” posted on August 1, 2006. It was our 15th talk, posted almost a year before the launch of the iPhone.
  • The 20th talk posted on Richard Baraniuk’s “The birth of the open-source learning revolution,” posted on August 21, 2006
  • The 100th talk posted on was then-Wired editor Chris Anderson’s “Technology’s long tail,” on April 26, 2007
  • The first TEDx talk posted on Jane Poynter’s “Life in Biosphere 2,” posted on June 15, 2009
  • The 1,000th talk posted on Lucianne Walkowicz’s, “Finding planets around other stars,” posted on August 11, 2011
  • The first TED Talk in a language other than English: Sarah Kaminsky’s “My father the forger,” published on September 7, 2011
  • The first TED Talk to 10 million views: Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do schools kill creativity?,” which crossed the threshold at some point between 2012 and 2013. His was also the first talk to 20 million views.
  • The fastest TED Talk to storm into our most-popular list: Amy Cuddy’s “Your body language shapes who you are,” posted on October 1, 2012. It was the 1,346th talk posted on and is now the second most-watched after Robinson’s talk.


Planet DebianNorbert Preining: TeX Live 2015 hits Debian/unstable

Here we go, I just uploaded 15 packages to the Debian archive that brings TeX Live in Debian up to the 2015 release (and a bit newer)!

Debian - TeX Live 2015

Uploaded packages are asymptote, biber, context, context-modules, jadetex, musixtex, pmx, tex-common, texinfo, texinfo-doc-nonfree, texlive-base, texlive-bin, texlive-extra, texlive-lang, xmltex.

The packages are basically what has been in experimental for quite some time, plus a checkout of tlnet from yesterday. For details on the changes and the new packaging, please consult this post.

So, now let the flood of bug reports begin, but in the mean time, enjoy!

CryptogramYet Another Leaker -- with the NSA's French Intercepts

Wikileaks has published some NSA SIGINT documents describing intercepted French government communications. This seems not be from the Snowden documents. It could be one of the other NSA leakers, or it could be someone else entirely.

As leaks go, this isn't much. As I've said before, spying on foreign leaders is the kind of thing we want the NSA to do. I'm sure French Intelligence does the same to us.

EDITED TO ADD (6/25): To me, more interesting than the intercepts is the spreadsheet of NSA surveillance targets. That spreadsheet gives us a glimpse into the US process of surveillance: what US government office initially asked for the surveillance, what NSA office is tasked with analyzing the intelligence collected, where a particular target is on the priorities list, and so on.

Sociological ImagesPluralistic Ignorance and Retreat from the Confederate Flag

The governors of Virginia and South Carolina have now taken stands against the Confederate battle flag. So have honchos at Wal*Mart, Sears, Target, and NASCAR.

NASCAR! How could this cascade of reversals have happened so rapidly? Did these important people wake up one morning this week and say to themselves, “Gee, I never realized that there was anything racist about the Confederacy, and never realized that there was anything wrong with racism, till that kid killed nine Black people in a church”?

My guess is that what’s going on is not a sudden enlightenment or even much of a change in views about the flag. To me it looks more like the process of “pluralistic ignorance.” What these people changed was not their ideas about the Confederacy or racism but their ideas about other people’s ideas about these matters. With pluralistic ignorance (a term coined by Floyd Allport nearly a century ago) everyone wants X but thinks that nobody else does. Then some outside factor makes it possible for people to choose X, and everyone does. Everyone is surprised – “Gee, I thought all you guys wanted Y, not X .” It looks like a rapid change in opinion, but it’s not.

A few years ago in places like Ireland and Europe, people were surprised at the success of new laws banning smoking in pubs and restaurants. “Oh, the smokers will never stand for it.” But it turned out that the smokers, too, were quite happy to have rooms with breathable air. It’s just that before the laws were passed, nobody knew that’s how other people felt because those people kept smoking.

The same thing happened when New York City passed a pooper-scooper law. “The law is unenforceable,” people said. “Cops will never see the actual violation, only its aftermath. And do you really think that those selfish New Yorkers will sacrifice their own convenience for some vague public good?” But the law was remarkably effective. As I said in this post from 2009:

Even before the new law, dog owners had probably thought that cleaning up after their dogs was the right thing to do, but since everyone else was leaving the stuff on the sidewalk, nobody wanted to be the only schmuck in New York to be picking up dog shit. In the same way that the no-smoking laws worked because smokers wanted to quit, the dog law in New York worked because dog owners really did agree that they should be cleaning up after their dogs. But prior to the law, none of them would speak or act on that idea.

In South Carolina and Georgia and Bentonville, Arkansas and elsehwere, the governors and the CEOs surely knew that the Confederacy was based on racist slavery; they just rarely thought about it. And if the matter did come up, as with the recent Supreme Court decision about license plates, they probably assumed that most of their constituents and customers were happy with the flag and that the anti-flaggers were a cranky minority.

With the support for letting that flag fade into history, it looks as though for a while now many Southerners may have been uncomfortable with the blatant racism of the Confederacy and the post-Reconstruction era. But because nobody voiced that discomfort, everyone thought that other Southerners still clung to the old mentality. The murders in the Charleston church and the subsequent discussions about retiring the flag may have allowed Southerners to discover that their neighbors shared their misgivings about the old racism. And it allowed the retail giants to see that they weren’t going to lose a lot of money by not stocking the flag.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

(View original at

TEDA picture that rendered me speechless, snapped at TED2015

This photo snapped at the Fellows Closing Dinner at TED2015 gives me incredible joy — six Black women who are masters in different fields loving each other. In the aftermath of the domestic terrorism perpetrated at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel, it also gives me a moment for reflection. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

This photo taken at the Fellows Closing Dinner of TED2015 gives me incredible joy — six Black women who are masters in different fields loving each other. In the aftermath of the domestic terrorism perpetrated at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel, it also leads me to a moment for reflection. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture was worth all the words I had — it rendered me speechless. It’s an image of six Black women, smiling and hugging, taken by Ryan Lash at the TED2015 conference. There we were —  LaToya, Somi, Aomawa, Camille, Danielle and myself — in all of our various and sundry Black Woman-ness.

It took me a long time to figure out why I had such a visceral reaction to this image. I couldn’t decide if it was just a beautiful shot in terms of lighting and composition, or if I just really liked the people in it. All I knew was that it resonated with me, so I did what many people do with pictures that mean a lot to them: I put it on Facebook. Within minutes it had dozens of likes. It ended up lifting out of my friend-set and circulating through a larger network. It seemed that my reaction was more universal than personal.

What brought the six of us together was the TED Fellows program; we are each a part of this unique and life-changing fellowship. Since TED Fellows are often described as “up-and-coming,” I wanted to introduce you to this powerhouse group. They are talent, expertise and creativity, personified.

On the right is Danielle N. Lee, biologist and outreach scientist. She’s a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University, as well as the author of The Urban Scientist, a blog at

Smiling brightly second from the right is Camille A. Brown, a choreographer who has achieved many accolades for her daring works. She is interested in that space between dance and theater where work defies category and takes flight. Her new work, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, will premiere in the fall of 2015 and inspired a new community engagement initiative.

Third from right is Aomawa Shields, astronomer and astrobiologist — a fellow at both UCLA and Harvard. She studies the possible climates of extrasolar planets, and uses theater, writing and visual art to teach astronomy to middle school girls of color.

Next to her is Somi, an East African jazz vocalist, songwriter and recording artist who is originally from Rwanda and Uganda, but was raised in Illinois. (And now lives in New York City.) She is the founder of New Africa Live and has been called the “new Nina Simone.”

LaToya Ruby Frazier is second from left. She works in photography, video and performance to build visual archives that address Rust Belt revitalization, environmental justice and healthcare inequity while also exploring communal history. Her first book, The Notion of Family, received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award.

On the far left of the image is me: Jedidah Isler. I’m an astrophysicist and fellow at Vanderbilt and Harvard, studying supermassive, hyperactive black holes. I’ve loved the night sky since I can remember, and am committed to creating a STEM tsunami by encouraging and equipping the next generation of students — particularly those of color.

Now that we have the introductions out of the way, I want to dig deeper into why this picture struck me so viscerally. It was an impromptu shot, taken the last day of the TED2015 conference as we were headed to our closing Fellows dinner. Suddenly there we were, loving on and being loved by one another.

It could easily be a commercial for some carefree activity of uber-beautiful women — a diverse set of Black Women all inhabiting the depth of what that identity means to us. But beyond the superficial, I’m struck by the depth of expertise here. In this photo, you see six times 10,000 hours, spent on topics as diverse as behavioral psychology and urban ecology, music and improvisation, self-portraiture and photography, astrobiology and exoplanets, dance and choreography, astrophysics and blazars. All of us have some aspect of our work that connects to diversity, inclusion and social justice. Think about that for a second. We all come from different walks of life, have had different lived experiences, and yet when we came together there was a deep sense of knowing. Even more than that — of belonging.

I was so taken with this image that I had to see if the other women in the photo had the same reaction to it. So I asked what they thought.

Aomawa: “Looking at this picture, I see many shades of awesome.”

Danielle: “Upon seeing this photo I thought, ‘These ladies are my heart, and it is full of love and pride.’ I love that I have the honor of being affiliated with these bright, brilliant and high-achieving women through TED — a platform that celebrates brilliance around the globe. We are beautiful African women of every hue, representing the arts, sciences, humanities and activism. We are recognized as innovative. That makes me hype.”

Somi: “Beauty, brilliance and sisterhood. This photo reminded me of the inspired presence of all the diverse Black female narratives heard and seen at TED this year across disciplines.  Hopefully, that presence means that such identities are moving closer to being the norm and less of a ‘story.’ Perhaps. TED is an influential organization. By creating space for all of us, TED is playing a critical role normalizing diversity in fields.”

Camille: “I came to TED after some racially charged experiences performing my company’s new work. So I felt that my personal and professional mission — to move toward a better understanding that we are all equal in society — was even more relevant when I saw this photo. There we were — a beautiful representation of the spectrum of ‘Black girl,’ each standing in our individual truths. We were lifting each other up, honoring each other, loving each other. We understood what it meant for us to be together at TED. This picture was my emotional recovery.”

LaToya: “I knew this moment needed to be documented to defy all the expectations, myths and silence surrounding our existence at TED, in our communities and in our respective professions. The warm embrace that permeates this photograph is so important for me personally because it shows one of the rare times when I felt safe, when I was just truly enjoying my life knowing that the moment was much bigger than me.”

As I think about it, this is the crux of it for me: the space of familiarity in the context of the larger TED crowd. While there are certainly TEDsters of color — and all TEDizens are generally very friendly — the audience is overwhelmingly white and it isn’t the diverse place that it will be. While I met and befriended many people from other ethnicities over the week of the conference, it was this split-second — this precious, captured moment — that reminds me that, wherever I am, there is a home for me.

The beauty of the moment is only amplified in its context at TED. Just a few weeks earlier, I had been at the National Society of Black Physicists and had embraced another set of promising men and women of color. I felt the same sense of knowing and belonging there, in a larger context of black excellence. Do I think the former outweighs the latter? Absolutely not. I think both experiences are critically important to my well-being. I think being in both kinds of spaces — those that are completely familiar and those that stretch us beyond what we ever imagined — is extremely important.

But so is home. Home, no matter where you are. Home, no matter who you are with. That’s what this picture means to me.

In the wake of the domestic terrorism perpetrated on Charleston’s Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church last week, I have revisited this picture many times. When I first decided to write about the photo, it was from a place of unbridled joy; I had found a space that was both beyond my wildest dreams and comfortingly familiar all at once and had a great sense of hope about what it means to exist — in this body — in the TED space. I struggled about whether this article would be appropriate now that we have sadly reentered a place of collective mourning.

But what I found was a reaffirmation of why this picture was so precious to me in the first place; Black women living their best lives and being their best selves in a cultural environment that is not always amenable to such. It’s not lost on me that there were six Black women killed in cold blood in Charleston because of a lethal mix of racism and hatred, and six Black women pictured above. In some ways we are no different than our slain sisters; they too were united around a common experience — their strong faith — while also inhabiting very different lived experiences. There might even be similar pictures of the victims from Mother Emanuel embracing in their collective love as well.

In moments like these, I am reminded that to be a Black woman — living and breathing in this country — is revolutionary. To get to do so alongside these particular women is a deep honor. To persevere through this moment of psychic pain in the hopes that my work — and the work of the other women in this image, not to mention the work of the countless other Black women, Black men and our allies — makes and preserves space for the fundamental premise that #blacklivesmatter in our individual and collective endeavors. That’s my — or maybe our — memorial to the nine precious lives lost on June 17, 2015. May they rest in peace.

CryptogramBaseball Hacking: Cardinals vs. Astros

I think this is the first case of one professional sports team hacking another. No idea if it was an official operation, or a couple of employees doing it on their own initiative.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Practical ValiDATEion

Hampton Court Astrological Clock

Handling dates is difficult.

On paper, it doesn't seem to be a complicated task. After all, computers are good with numbers, and what are days, months and years if not small, supposedly easy-to-deal-with numbers?

But behind this deceptively simple façade lie all sorts of nasty traps. The historical baggage of our civilization means that a good programmer needs to deal with tens of different date formats, multiple calendars, leap years, leap seconds, and some dates simply going missing. One might argue that humanity should've hammered out a more unified, common system long ago — but since we're still at least two hundred years away from adopting stardates, we have to keep accounting for each and every edge case.

Fortunately, we coders are a smart bunch. Most languages have a good date library that takes at least some of that burden off our shoulders. Unfortunately, this being The Daily WTF, today's specimen decided to ignore them all and reinvent the wheel, with quite a few jagged edges...

function checkDate( dateName, dateIn, errorFlag )   {
    var valid  = new String("0123456789.");
    var mon31  = new Array("01","03","05","07","08","10","12");
    var mon30  = new Array("04","06","09","11");
    var minYear= 1970;
    var maxYear= 2018;
    var regExp = /(\d.+)(\W)(\d.+)(\W)(\d.+)/;

        // Check whether all characters are valid
    for (a=0; a<dateIn.length; a++) {
        if (valid.indexOf(dateIn.charAt(a))==-1)    {
            if (errorFlag)  {
                alert ("Please provide a valid date in format.");
            if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
            if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
            return false;   
        // Check whether the input pattern is valid (date format
    if ( ==-1) {
        if (errorFlag)  {
            alert ("Please provide a valid date in format.");
        if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
        if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
        return false;
        // Check whether the date is valid.
    if (parseInt(RegExp.$5,10) < minYear || parseInt(RegExp.$5,10) > maxYear)   {
        if (errorFlag)  {
            alert ("Please provide a valid year: " + minYear + "-" + maxYear);
        if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
        if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
        return false;
    if (parseInt(RegExp.$3,10) < 01 || parseInt(RegExp.$3,10) > 12) {
        if (errorFlag)  {
            alert ("Please provide a valid month.");
        if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
        if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
        return false;
    if (parseInt(RegExp.$1,10) < 01 || parseInt(RegExp.$1,10) > 31) {
        if (errorFlag)  {
            alert ("Please provide a valid day.");
        if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
        if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
        return false;
    for (a=0; a<mon31.length; a++)  {
        if ( (parseInt(mon31[a],10) == parseInt(RegExp.$3,10)) && (parseInt(RegExp.$1,10) > 31) )   {
            if (errorFlag)  {
                alert ("Please provide a valid day.");
            if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
            if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
            return false;
    for (a=0; a<mon30.length; a++)  {
        if ( (parseInt(mon30[a],10) == parseInt(RegExp.$3,10)) && (parseInt(RegExp.$1,10) > 30) )   {
            if (errorFlag)  {
                alert ("Please provide a valid day.");
            if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
            if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
            return false;
    var expYear= parseInt(RegExp.$5,10) % 4;
    if ( (parseInt(RegExp.$3,10) == 02) && (parseInt(RegExp.$1,10) > 29) && expYear == 0)   {
        if (errorFlag)  {
            alert ("Please provide a valid day.");
        if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
        if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
        return false;
    if ( (parseInt(RegExp.$3,10) == 02) && (parseInt(RegExp.$1,10) > 28) && expYear  > 0)   {
        if (errorFlag)  {
            alert ("Please provide a valid day.");
        if (dateName == "dateFrom") {
        if (dateName == "dateUntil"){
        return false;

First thing that stands out is the great implementation of the copy-paste programming paradigm. All nine steps of the date validation process use the same error handling code, with the only difference being the error message — and each and every time, the same snippet is repeated to ensure that nobody dares to change the handler without being at least mildly inconvenienced. But don't be fooled — that doesn't mean the actual code is any better.

Another interesting aspect of the code is the attempt at validating the date format with a regular expression. By itself, the regular expression allows such dates as 999.123.20000, 12?34?56 and 15.5March.2099, while rejecting a perfectly valid 1.09.2015. Luckily, all non-digit, non-period characters are rejected in a loop before that, using the ever-so-helpful indexOf function.

Other WTFs include comparing against 01 and 02 (luckily, 1 and 2 in octal are still 1 and 2 in decimal), making mon30 and mon31 arrays of strings only to parseInt() them in code, and the biggest of all: not spending thirty seconds on Google to find moment.js, date.js or any other JavaScript date library that takes care of each of those rules, and more, in no more than two lines of code.

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Planet Linux AustraliaArjen Lentz: Dutch Court orders Netherlands Government cut CO2 emissions by 25 percent by 2020 | Climate Citizen

A Dutch court in a landmark legal case has just handed down a verdict that the Netherlands Government has the legal duty to take measures against #climate change. Further, the court ordered that a 25% reduction of CO2 emissions, based on 1990 levels, must be accomplished by 2020 by the Dutch government in accordance with IPCC scientific recommendations for industrial countries.


Sue Higginson, Principal Solicitor for the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) NSW, said that the same legal arguments are unlikely to be used in Australia, “Dutch civil laws are much more specific in their terms than Australian laws.” she said.


With Australia, such a case would be much less straightforward as we do not have the incorporation of international human rights or general duty of care directly in our constitution or legal framework.

Planet Linux AustraliaRusty Russell: Hashing Speed: SHA256 vs Murmur3

So I did some IBLT research (as posted to bitcoin-dev ) and I lazily used SHA256 to create both the temporary 48-bit txids, and from them to create a 16-bit index offset.  Each node has to produce these for every bitcoin transaction ID it knows about (ie. its entire mempool), which is normally less than 10,000 transactions, but we’d better plan for 1M given the coming blopockalypse.

For txid48, we hash an 8 byte seed with the 32-byte txid; I ignored the 8 byte seed for the moment, and measured various implementations of SHA256 hashing 32 bytes on on my Intel Core i3-5010U CPU @ 2.10GHz laptop (though note we’d be hashing 8 extra bytes for IBLT): (implementation in CCAN)

  1. Bitcoin’s SHA256: 527.7+/-0.9 nsec
  2. Optimizing the block ending on bitcoin’s SHA256: 500.4+/-0.66 nsec
  3. Intel’s asm rorx: 314.1+/-0.3 nsec
  4. Intel’s asm SSE4 337.5+/-0.5 nsec
  5. Intel’s asm RORx-x8ms 458.6+/-2.2 nsec
  6. Intel’s asm AVX 336.1+/-0.3 nsec

So, if you have 1M transactions in your mempool, expect it to take about 0.62 seconds of hashing to calculate the IBLT.  This is too slow (though it’s fairly trivially parallelizable).  However, we just need a universal hash, not a cryptographic one, so I benchmarked murmur3_x64_128:

  1. Murmur3-128: 23 nsec

That’s more like 0.046 seconds of hashing, which seems like enough of a win to add a new hash to the mix.

Planet Linux AustraliaJeremy Kerr: Toolchains for OpenPower petitboot environments

Since we're using buildroot for the OpenPower firmware build infrastructure, it's relatively straightforward to generate a standalone toolchain to build add-ons to the petitboot environment. This toolchain will allow you to cross-compile from your build host to an OpenPower host running the petitboot environment.

This is just a matter of using op-build's toolchain target, and specifying the destination directory in the BR2_HOST_DIR variable. For this example, we'll install into /opt/openpower/ :

sudo mkdir /opt/openpower/
sudo chown $USER /opt/openpower/
op-build BR2_HOST_DIR=/opt/openpower/ toolchain

After the build completes, you'll end up with a toolchain based in /opt/openpower.

Using the toolchain

If you add /opt/openpower/usr/bin/ to your PATH, you'll have the toolchain binaries available.

[jk@pecola ~]$ export PATH=/opt/openpower/usr/bin/:$PATH
[jk@pecola ~]$ powerpc64le-buildroot-linux-gnu-gcc --version
powerpc64le-buildroot-linux-gnu-gcc (Buildroot 2014.08-git-g80a2f83) 4.9.0
Copyright (C) 2014 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO

Currently, this toolchain isn't relocatable, so you'll need to keep it in the original directory for tools to correctly locate other toolchain components.

OpenPower doesn't (yet) specify an ABI for the petitboot environment, so there are no guarantees that a petitboot plugin will be forwards- or backwards- compatible with other petitboot environments.

Because of this, if you use this toolchain to build binaries for a petitboot plugin, you'll need to either:

  • ensure that your op-build version matches the one used for the target petitboot image; or
  • provide all necessary libraries and dependencies in your distributed plugin archive.

We're working to address this though, by defining the ABI that will be regarded as stable across petitboot builds. Stay tuned for updates.

Using the toolchain for subsequent op-build runs

Because op-build has a facility to use an external toolchain, you can re-use the toolchain build above for subsequent op-build invocations, where you want to build actual firmware binaries. If you're using multiple op-build trees, or are regularly building from scratch, this can save a lot of time as you don't need to continually rebuild the toolchain from source.

This is a matter of configuring your op-build tree to use an "External Toolchain", in the "Toolchain" screen of the menuconfig interface:

You'll need to set the toolchain path to the path you used for BR2_HOST_DIR above, with /usr appended. The other toolchain configuration parameters (kernel header series, libc type, features enabled) will need to match the parameters that were given in the initial toolchain build. However, the buildroot code will check that these match and print a helpful error message if there are any inconsistencies.

For the example toolchain built above, these are the full configuration parameters I used:


Once that's done, anything you build using that op-build configuration will refer to the external toolchain, and use that for the general build process.

Don MartiNIMBY + ISDS = Profit?

Random idea for how to make some cash from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Step 1: Buy a piece of real estate in a city with a severe NIMBY problem. (See How Strong Property Rights Promote Social Equality for more info.) Sell an ownership interest in the property to a foreign company.

Step 2: Get an architect to design a building for the site that is technically 100% legal, but that will provoke a severe NIMBY reaction. Something like "Section 8 housing for TaskRabbit workers and tech bus drivers." Put up posters and buy some newspaper ads, to get the local NIMBYs fired up.

Step 3: When the local government starts giving you grief about the building plans, don't even go to the City Council meeting. Take it straight to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, and get the US Federal government to pay the foreign company for its investment loss.

Buy back the foreign company's share of the property and repeat. Do this enough times and a vacant lot could be more profitable than a luxury condo development. (Sucks to be a person actually looking for an apartment, but hey, are we going to do Free Trade or what?)


Planet DebianNorbert Preining: TeX Live Manager News June 2015

TeX Live 2015 has been released, and normal operation with daily updates has started. During the freeze time and afterwards I have made a few changes to the TeX Live Manager (tlmgr) that I want to highlight here.


The main changes are better error and return code handling (which should be hardly visible for the users), and more more informative output of the tlmgr info action, incorporating more data from the TeX Catalogue.

Error handling

With a program that started as an experiment that has grown into the central configuration and management program, there are lots of old code pieces that did not do proper error signaling via return values. That meant that the return value of a tlmgr run didn’t have any meaning, mostly because it was 0 (success) most of the times.

I have now tried to do proper return code handling throughout the tlmgr code base, that is the and the necessary Perl modules.

While this should not be a user visible changes, it turned out that the MacOS TeX Live Utility by Adam Maxwell (btw, a great program, it would be nice to have something similar written for Unix replacing the bit clumsy tlmgr gui), got broken for paper configuration, due to forgotten return value fixes in the module. That is fixed now in our repository.

All in all we do hope that the return value of a tlmgr run now gives proper information about success or error. I might add a bit more semantics by returning bit-values in case of errors, but this is in early stages of thinking.

TeX Catalogue data in tlmgr info

Since more or less the very beginning we incorporated information from the TeX Catalogue into our database. In particular did we carry over the license information, version, CTAN directory, and date of last change of information in the Catalogue.

ctan-page-asana-mathRecently (or not so recently, I actually don’t know), CTAN has enriched their package view with more information, in particular a list of topics, and a list of related packages. Take for example the Asana-math package. It’s CTAN page now displays besides the previously available information also a list of topics and a list of related packages. The topic index can also be browsed directly when searching for a specific package.

I have now added functionality in the TeX Live Manager that tlmgr info also prints out the topic names and related packages. In the case of Asana Math fonts, that would look like:

$ tlmgr info Asana-Math
package:     Asana-Math
category:    Package
shortdesc:   A font to typeset maths in Xe(La)TeX and Lua(La)TeX.
longdesc:    The Asana-Math font is an OpenType font that includes almost all mathematical Unicode symbols and it can be used to typeset mathematical text with any software that can understand the MATH OpenType table (e.g., XeTeX 0.997 and Microsoft Word 2007). The font is beta software. Typesetting support for use with LaTeX is provided by the fontspec and unicode-math packages.
installed:   Yes
revision:    37556
sizes:       doc: 9k, run: 1177k
relocatable: No
cat-version: 000.955
cat-date:    2015-06-02 20:04:19 +0200
cat-license: ofl
cat-topics:  font font-maths font-otf font-ttf
cat-related: stix xits
collection:  collection-fontsextra

GUIs could use the topic names and related packages to link directly to the CTAN page.

At the moment the related packages are named according to CTAN standards, which are a bit different from what we use in TeX Live. I am not sure whether I will change that, or ship out both names. We will see.

The changes are currently in testing, see section about Test version here, and will be pushed out in due time, probably in the next week.

As usual, in case of any problems or bugs, please contact us at the TeX Live mailing list.


Planet DebianSteinar H. Gunderson: JSONB in Postgres

PostgreSQL continues to amaze. Load in 45 MB (47 581 294 bytes) of JSON in a single-column table with a generic index, and voila:

sesse=# \timing
Timing is on.
sesse=# select jsonb_extract_path(contents, 'short_score') from analysis where contents @> '{"position":{"fen":"rnbqkb1r/pp3ppp/2p1pn2/3p2B1/2PP4/2N2N2/PP2PPPP/R2QKB1R b KQkq - 1 5"}}';
(1 row)
Time: 2,286 ms

Millisecond-level arbitrary JSON queries.

(In the end, I designed the database more traditionally SQL-like, but it was fun to see that this would actually work.)

Update to clarify: That's a little over 2 milliseconds, not 2286 milliseconds.

Krebs on SecurityHershey Park Investigates Card Fraud Pattern

Hershey Park, a popular resort and amusement park in Hershey, Pa. has hired a security firm to investigate reports from multiple financial institutions about a possible credit card breach, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

hersheyContacted after reports by several financial institutions about a pattern of fraudulent charges on customer cards that trace back to Hershey properties, the company says it is investigating.

“We have received reports from some of our guests that fraud charges appeared on their payment cards after they visited our property,” said Kathleen McGraw, director of communications for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company.

“We take reports like this very seriously,” McGraw continued. “While our company does have security measures in place designed to prevent unauthorized access to our network, we immediately began to investigate our system for signs of an issue and engaged an external computer security firm to assist us. The investigation is ongoing.”

Sources at three financial institutions say they have detected a pattern of fraudulent activity on customer cards that were used at Hershey properties in Pennsylvania between mid-March and late May 2015. According to the banks, the cards were used at a variety of Hershey locations, including food and beverage outlets, ticketing stations and the Hershey Lodge.

Rondam RamblingsHow's the Muslim-hunt working out for you, Sam Harris?

Three years ago, Sam Harris wrote in defense of racial profiling of Muslims because they are overwhelmingly more likely to commit acts of terrorism than non-Muslims, specifically: "We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim." (Emphasis added.)Turns out there is actual data to inform this debate.  As The New York Times reports: Since Sept. 11, 2001,

Sociological ImagesWhat Should Cities Do With Their Icons to White Supremacy?

In the aftermath of Dylann Roof’s racist murder, some cities in the South are reconsidering their relationship to the Confederate Flag. Should it fly? Be in a museum? Burn? The discussion raises larger questions of how to move forward from ugly histories without simultaneously whitewashing a city’s past. And, as well, how do we know when something is truly in our past?

I was thinking about just these questions a couple weeks ago when a friend of mine walked me by the monument to the Crescent City White League in New Orleans. The conical stone was erected to commemorate the return of white supremacist government two years after a lethal insurrection against the Reconstruction state government in 1874. In that insurrection, thousands of former Confederate soldiers attacked the city police and state military. They killed 11 members of the NOPD and held city government buildings for three days before federal troops arrived and they fled.

Two years later, the white supremacist politicians were back in power and they placed the monument in a prominent place where Canal St. meets the Mississippi. The monument, to be clear, is in honor of cop-killing white supremacists.

Here it is in 1906 (source, photographer unknown):14

So, what to do with the thing?

In 1974 — one hundred years after the insurrection and 98 years after its erection — the city added a marker nearby distancing itself from the message of white supremacy. It read:

Although the “battle of Liberty Place” and this monument are important parts of the New Orleans history, the sentiments in favor of white supremacy expressed thereon are contrary to the philosophy and beliefs of present-day New Orleans.

In 1993, some of the original inscriptions were removed and replaced with this slightly more politically correct comment:

In honor of those Americans on both sides who died in the Battle of Liberty Place. … A conflict of the past that should teach us lessons for the future.

It was also moved to a new location. Today it sits between a flood wall, a parking lot, and an electrical substation. If you wanted to give a monument the finger, this is one way to do it. Here’s how it looks on Google Maps streetview:

3 4

So, the question is: What to do with these things?

I’ll admit that seeing the monument tucked into an unpleasant corner of New Orleans was somehow satisfying. But I was also uneasy about its displacement. Is this an example of New Orleans trying to repress knowledge of its racist history? (And present?) Or is it a sign that the city actively rejects the values represented by the monument? Conversely, if the city had left the monument at the foot of Canal St. would this be a sign that it took history seriously? And, thus, responsibility for its past? Or a sign that it didn’t take an anti-racist stance seriously enough?

This seems like an obviously difficult call to make, but I’m glad that we’re using the horror of Roof’s massacre to begin a discussion about how to handle symbols like these and, maybe, truly make them a part of our past.

Cross-posted at A Nerd’s Guide to New Orleans.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

CryptogramWhat is the DoD's Position on Backdoors in Security Systems?

In May, Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an address at the Joint Service Academies Cyber Security Summit at West Point. After he spoke for twenty minutes on the importance of Internet security and a good national defense, I was able to ask him a question (32:42 mark) about security versus surveillance:

Bruce Schneier: I'd like to hear you talk about this need to get beyond signatures and the more robust cyber defense and ask the industry to provide these technologies to make the infrastructure more secure. My question is, the only definition of "us" that makes sense is the world, is everybody. Any technologies that we've developed and built will be used by everyone -- nation-state and non-nation-state. So anything we do to increase our resilience, infrastructure, and security will naturally make Admiral Rogers's both intelligence and attack jobs much harder. Are you okay with that?

Admiral James A. Winnefeld: Yes. I think Mike's okay with that, also. That's a really, really good question. We call that IGL. Anyone know what IGL stands for? Intel gain-loss. And there's this constant tension between the operational community and the intelligence community when a military action could cause the loss of a critical intelligence node. We live this every day. In fact, in ancient times, when we were collecting actual signals in the air, we would be on the operational side, "I want to take down that emitter so it'll make it safer for my airplanes to penetrate the airspace," and they're saying, "No, you've got to keep that emitter up, because I'm getting all kinds of intelligence from it." So this is a familiar problem. But I think we all win if our networks are more secure. And I think I would rather live on the side of secure networks and a harder problem for Mike on the intelligence side than very vulnerable networks and an easy problem for Mike. And part of that -- it's not only the right thing do, but part of that goes to the fact that we are more vulnerable than any other country in the world, on our dependence on cyber. I'm also very confident that Mike has some very clever people working for him. He might actually still be able to get some work done. But it's an excellent question. It really is.

It's a good answer, and one firmly on the side of not introducing security vulnerabilities, backdoors, key-escrow systems, or anything that weakens Internet systems. It speaks to what I have seen as a split in the the Second Crypto War, between the NSA and the FBI on building secure systems versus building systems with surveillance capabilities.

I have written about this before:

But here's the problem: technological capabilities cannot distinguish based on morality, nationality, or legality; if the US government is able to use a backdoor in a communications system to spy on its enemies, the Chinese government can use the same backdoor to spy on its dissidents.

Even worse, modern computer technology is inherently democratizing. Today's NSA secrets become tomorrow's PhD theses and the next day's hacker tools. As long as we're all using the same computers, phones, social networking platforms, and computer networks, a vulnerability that allows us to spy also allows us to be spied upon.

We can't choose a world where the US gets to spy but China doesn't, or even a world where governments get to spy and criminals don't. We need to choose, as a matter of policy, communications systems that are secure for all users, or ones that are vulnerable to all attackers. It's security or surveillance.

NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers was in the audience (he spoke earlier), and I saw him nodding at Winnefeld's answer. Two weeks later, at CyCon in Tallinn, Rogers gave the opening keynote, and he seemed to be saying the opposite.

"Can we create some mechanism where within this legal framework there's a means to access information that directly relates to the security of our respective nations, even as at the same time we are mindful we have got to protect the rights of our individual citizens?"


Rogers said a framework to allow law enforcement agencies to gain access to communications is in place within the phone system in the United States and other areas, so "why can't we create a similar kind of framework within the internet and the digital age?"

He added: "I certainly have great respect for those that would argue that they most important thing is to ensure the privacy of our citizens and we shouldn't allow any means for the government to access information. I would argue that's not in the nation's best long term interest, that we've got to create some structure that should enable us to do that mindful that it has to be done in a legal way and mindful that it shouldn't be something arbitrary."

Does Winnefeld know that Rogers is contradicting him? Can someone ask JCS about this?

RacialiciousWeb of Spider-Men: Will Marvel Use Miles Morales To Stick It To Sony?

By Arturo R. García

As of Wednesday morning, the mantle of Spider-Man has changed hands in both the comic-book and movie realms. And while Marvel Comics scored a win on the diversity front, it’s fair to wonder if the move could pay dividends in another realm.

Because while it’s notable enough to see Miles Morales, the Black Latino character introduced in an alternate comics universe nearly four years ago, named as the protagonist in Marvel’s new Spider-Man title, it will be particularly interesting to see how the company handles both him and his predecessor, Peter Parker, after a series of moves de-emphasizing characters who, like Peter, are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Sounds shady, you say? A little far-fetched? Sure. But don’t say your spidey-sense doesn’t ping just a little when you compare the cover to the first issue of the original Secret Wars comic, featuring members of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four:

With this new t-shirt, which subs in heroes from Marvel’s slate of Netflix series and Black Bolt from the Inhumans:

The Inhumans, by the way, have been positioned as Marvel’s resident diversity surrogates since 20th Century Fox is still making both X-Men and Fantastic Four films. The Inhumans now have both their own new comic and an increased presence on the Agents of SHIELD television series. That change looks more than a little disappointing when you consider how thoroughly the “House of Ideas” has appropriated civil rights terminology to trumpet the X-books as its Great Diversity Story.

On the bright side, a rather elegant switch is rumored to be in the works: as Bleeding Cool has reported, the Inhumans’ establishing their own way of life on Earth after decades living on the Moon could coincide with the X-Men — who were established in New York state — being shipped off to space for their next set of adventures.

Meanwhile, fans drawn to Fantastic Four comics by the movie featuring Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch have probably experienced some confusion: the comic was shelved while the movie was doing the promotional loop, following rumors that it was going to be canceled. And the team will still allegedly be split up when the title resumes.

That’s the situation greeting 19-year-old Tom Holland as he prepares to step into the role of Peter. One thing that sets his version of the character apart for the moment is that Sony and Marvel have a different deal in place regarding his use: Holland will play Peter in his own film for Sony in 2017, but his actual debut will come in Marvel’s next Captain America movie, Civil War, due out next year.

Unfortunately for Sony, Holland’s casting came after leaked emails showed the strict guidelines in place for any film depiction of Parker:

The Peter Parker character traits include: his full name is Peter Benjamin Parker; he is Caucasian and heterosexual; his parents become absent from his life during his childhood; from the time his parents become absent he is raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben in New York City; he gains his powers while attending either middle school or college; he gains his powers from being bitten by a spider; he designs his first red and blue costume; the black costume is a symbiote and not designed by him; he is raised in a middle class household in Queens, New York; he attends or attended high school in Queens, New York; and he attends or attended college in New York City.

Even before that rather reactionary bit of information came out, Marvel was trumpeting Miles’ entry into whatever comics universe emerges from the latest Secret Wars crossover/makeover in marketing materials, as seen here:

While somebody wearing the Peter Parker version of the Spider-Man uniform is visible in that picture, Marvel and Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis, who created Miles, are insisting to fans that the company is lending its full weight behind the character.

“It’s not Spider-Man with an asterisk,” Bendis said. “It’s the real Spider-Man for kids of color, for adults of color and everybody else.”

News of the solo book followed Marvel’s announcement that he would join Ms. Marvel and the new Thor as part of the latest Avengers title.

Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler also noted that Miles’ “promotion” comes as Marvel emerges from a cycle of nearly non-stop Big Events, driven by Bendis and other writers.

At the same time, Wheeler said, readers have shown a positive response to a wave of more diverse titles (Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, A-Force) that have shown they can stand on their own, and Marvel must now show that it intends to capitalize on them:

Diversity won’t flourish at a publisher that’s still tied to the idea that a select few writers get to shake up the landscape every six months — especially given that all of those writers are, to a man, men, and presumably straight and white men at that. Diversity depends on giving fresh, upstart voices the room to grow, and that’s tough to do when relying on an establishment of tentpole talents to set the course for a shared universe and dictate the swerve of other writers’ stories.

So while Miles’ new book may not come with an asterisk, it does have some questions attached to it for the weeks and months to come: Will Peter be part of Miles’ new series? Will the company keep Spider-Man running if and when Bendis leaves the book? And where will Miles fit into Marvel’s plans if Sony either renegotiates the film rights regarding Peter or — and this is a long shot — decides to sell them back to the MCU?

A little far-fetched, you say? Sure. But then, so was Miles himself at one point.

The post Web of Spider-Men: Will Marvel Use Miles Morales To Stick It To Sony? appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

Worse Than FailurePonderous at the Ponderosa

Depending upon how long you've been in this industry, you've seen your fair share of bad design, bad code and bad users. Darren A. explains his dealings with bad management, and how a string of edicts there-from can crush kill destroy an organization.

The character Hoss from the show Bonanza

In the past, before management decided to, well, manage, Darren's company was able to complete 15-25 major projects each year. Then they hired a new Head of Software Services, who felt that he needed to actively manage all facets of how things were done...

     To:      <Team>
     From:    HOSS
     Subject: Project Progress Charts
     Hi Team,
     Now that our offices are finally redecorated, we can no longer allow any of those
     pieces of paper stuck to the walls. They look untidy and don't put forth the 
     impression that we want to give to our customers. Henceforth, all project tracking 
     charts are banned.
</body> </html>

Hmmm, so we can no longer track the progress of our projects? No problem, we all know what we're doing and more or less how far along we are. We can guess at the deliverable dates.

A couple of months later, the project reporting from the team fell afoul of HOSS:

     To:      <Team>
     From:    HOSS
     Subject: Burn-Down Charts
     Hi Team,
     From this point on I really must insist that those burn-down charts no 
     longer be used. None of the senior management team can understand them
     and I cannot allow this situation to continue. I'm therefore banning the
     use of burn-down charts; you will just have to utilize  another way to 
     demonstrate progress on your project.

OK, it's possible to do all of this electronically, albeit a little harder to view huge project time lines on even the largest computer monitor. But it's doable...

     To:      <Team>
     From:    HOSS
     Subject: Unit Tests Testing Tool
     Hi Team,

     I'm pleased to announce that we have now purchased a fantastic testing tool called
     SOATest (at no small expense). The test team will now take over this essential function
     so that the development team can stop wasting time writing unit tests.

     From this point forward, all unit testing is banned and only our new tool should be
     used to test our systems.	 

So now all developers are supposed to write, but not test code - at all? I wonder how this will turn out...

Fast forward a few months and not a single unit test had been written by the highly qualified test team. Not to worry, there were still highly qualified architects on the projects. These folks had spent a great deal of time working with users, support people, managers, auditors and even bean-counters to make sure that each project was designed to perform the necessary tasks at the required speed with the requisite redundancy and support the appropriate level of growth. Until...

     To:      <Team>
     From:    HOSS
     Subject: Developer Input
     Hi Team,

     It has come to my attention that senior team members have been making decisions
     and forcing things to be done their way. From now on, all team members, regardless
     of level of experience, will get an equal vote in how things are done, and are
     free to change the project architecture as they see fit.

So all the effort that the senior architects, business users, support teams and auditors put in to agree on an architecture that will provide the necessary features, throughput, resilience and scalability could now be overridden by any junior developer who thinks he knows better?

Ah well, at least the applications would still be able to scale for the expected growth in the business:

     To:      <Team>
     From:    HOSS
     Subject: Software Scalability
     Hi Team,

     I have noticed that development teams aren't finishing their work on time because
     they're spending an inordinate amount of time getting the code to work for far
     larger transaction volumes than are needed today.

     From now on, we will only build what we need today, and no longer worry about
     future scalability; we'll deal with those needs when they happen.

...even though the requirements specify two orders of magnitude growth within 12-18 months. Then it became apparent why he was no longer concerned about making software scalable.

     To:      <Team>
     From:    HOSS
     Subject: Software Scalability
     Hi Team,

     The company has invested a great deal of time and money in building a distributed
     grid computing environment for computer work. From now on, all applications will
     be deployed on the grid.

...but all of the applications are essentially fat batch-type clients, that won't ever be able to leverage any of the capabilities available in a grid computing environment.

With the entire suite of unit tests trashed, four new products and a large API (that lacked even the most basic unit testing) ready for use, they embarked on a large deployment to jam all of this untested fat-client software onto a grid environment.

It. Took. Nine. Hours.

The fallout took over a month to resolve and involved a great deal of weekend work, plus so much Mon-Fri overtime that the entire team turned pale from lack of sunlight.

In the years since HOSS' team embarked on this brave new software development methodology, they've 'increased' their output from 15-25 projects per year to... 3, and lost nine of their most competent developers, including Darren.

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Planet Linux AustraliaRichard Jones: PyCon Australia 2015 Programme Released

PyCon Australia is proud to release our programme for 2015, spread over the weekend of August 1st and 2nd, following our Miniconfs on Friday 31 July.

Following our largest ever response to our Call for Proposals, we are able to present two keynotes, forty eight talks and two tutorials. The conference will feature four full tracks of presentations, covering all aspects of the Python ecosystem, presented by experts and core developers of key Python technology. Our presenters cover a broad range of backgrounds, including industry, research, government and academia.

We are still finalising our Miniconf timetable, but we expect another thirty talks for Friday. We’d like to highlight the inaugural running of the Education Miniconf whose primary aim is to bring educators and the Python community closer together.

The full schedule for PyCon Australia 2015 can be found at

PyCon Australia has endeavoured to keep tickets as affordable as possible. We are able to do so, thanks to our Sponsors and Contributors. Registrations for PyCon Australia 2015 are now open, with prices starting at AU$50 for students, and tickets for the general public starting at AU$240. All prices include GST, and more information can be found at

We have also worked out favourable deals with accommodation providers for PyCon delegates. Find out more about the options at

To begin the registration process, and find out more about each level of ticket, visit
Important Dates to Help You Plan

June 29: Financial Assistance program closes.
July 8: Last day to Order PyCon Australia 2015 T-shirts
July 19: Last day to Advise Special Dietary Requirements
July 31 : PyCon Australia 2015 Begins

About PyCon Australia

PyCon Australia is the national conference for the Python Programming Community. The sixth PyCon Australia will be held on July 31 through August 4th, 2015 in Brisbane, bringing together professional, student and enthusiast developers with a love for developing with Python. PyCon Australia informs the country’s Python developers with presentations, tutorials and panel sessions by experts and core developers of Python, as well as the libraries and frameworks that they rely on.

To find out more about PyCon Australia 2015, visit our website at or e-mail us at

PyCon Australia is presented by Linux Australia ( and acknowledges the support of our Platinum Sponsors, Red Hat Asia-Pacific, and Netbox Blue; and our Gold sponsors, The Australian Signals Directorate and Google Australia. For full details of our sponsors, see our website.

Planet Linux AustraliaClinton Roy: clintonroy

PyCon Australia is proud to release our programme for 2015, spread over the weekend of August 1st and 2nd, following our Miniconfs on Friday 31 July.

Following our largest ever response to our Call for Proposals, we are able to present two keynotes, forty eight talks and two tutorials. The conference will feature four full tracks of presentations, covering all aspects of the Python ecosystem, presented by experts and core developers of key Python technology. Our presenters cover a broad range of backgrounds, including industry, research, government and academia.

We are still finalising our Miniconf timetable, but we expect another thirty talks for Friday. We’d like to highlight the inaugural running of the Education Miniconf whose primary aim is to bring educators and the Python community closer together.

The full schedule for PyCon Australia 2015 can be found at

PyCon Australia has endeavoured to keep tickets as affordable as possible. We are able to do so, thanks to our Sponsors and Contributors. Registrations for PyCon Australia 2015 are now open, with prices starting at AU$50 for students, and tickets for the general public starting at AU$240. All prices include GST, and more information can be found at

We have also worked out favourable deals with accommodation providers for PyCon delegates. Find out more about the options at

To begin the registration process, and find out more about each level of ticket, visit
Important Dates to Help You Plan

June 29: Financial Assistance program closes.
July 8: Last day to Order PyCon Australia 2015 T-shirts
July 19: Last day to Advise Special Dietary Requirements
July 31 : PyCon Australia 2015 Begins

About PyCon Australia

PyCon Australia is the national conference for the Python Programming Community. The sixth PyCon Australia will be held on July 31 through August 4th, 2015 in Brisbane, bringing together professional, student and enthusiast developers with a love for developing with Python. PyCon Australia informs the country’s Python developers with presentations, tutorials and panel sessions by experts and core developers of Python, as well as the libraries and frameworks that they rely on.

To find out more about PyCon Australia 2015, visit our website at or e-mail us at

PyCon Australia is presented by Linux Australia ( and acknowledges the support of our Platinum Sponsors, Red Hat Asia-Pacific, and Netbox Blue; and our Gold sponsors, The Australian Signals Directorate and Google Australia. For full details of our sponsors, see our website.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Valerie AuroraMore ways to fight white supremacy

At least three other people have joined me in donating $1000 to fight white supremacy: Leigh Honeywell, Katie Bechtold, and Alicia Gibb. They also suggested:

Baltimore Racial Justice Action is “an action-based organization grounded in collective analysis of structural racism and white privilege.” In addition to a supportive community and educational events, BRJA offers consulting and training to individuals and organizations that seek to become inclusive and equitable. Donate here. Contributions are tax-deductible.

Black Women’s Blueprint works “to develop a culture where women of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race and other disparities are erased” through research, historical documentation, and movement-building. Follow @BlackWomensBP on Twitter, and donate here. Donations are tax-deductible and eligible for employer matching – you’ll need to get the match by looking up JustGive (EIN 94-3331010) in your employer’s matching system and designating the donation towards BWB.

My original suggestions:

Equal Justice Initiative: Working to reform the criminal justice system, challenge poverty and the legacy of racial segregation, educate the public, and create hope in marginalized communities in the United States. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

United States Representative John Conyers Jr.: For 25 years, he has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives every year to create a commission to study reparations for slavery in the United States. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

We The Protestors: Led by a team including Johnetta Elzie and Deray McKesson, this organization works to “fulfill the democratic promise of our union, establish true and lasting justice, accord dignity and standing to everyone, center the humanity of oppressed people, promote the brightest future for our children, and secure the blessings of freedom for all black lives” through supporting the on-going protest movements in the U.S. I gave $250 (scroll down to the tiny PayPal donate button at the bottom of this page).

The American Civil Liberties Association: Fights for voting rights in the courts across the country. The recent well-funded campaign to prevent Black Americans from voting shows how crucial this issue is. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

[Trigger warning: racist violence and sexual assault]

Finally, I want to speak personally about the link between misogyny and white supremacy that the Charleston killer brought into high relief with his statement, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” Many more educated and well-spoken people than me have written about the long history in the United States of justifying the killing of Black men as “protecting” white women from sexual assault. Implicit in this theory is the assumption that access to white women’s sexuality is controlled by white men, a concept that frankly makes me nauseous. It’s also ridiculous at a personal level, since I am an example of the by far most common case of white sexual assault victim: all the people who sexually assaulted me or attempted to do so were – you guessed it – white men.

Destroying the idea that white women’s sexuality is owned and controlled by white men will remove one more prop in the system of racist violence by white people against Black people. White men: I reject your “protection” if it is based on the concept of owning and controlling access to my sexuality. Come back when you can view women as human beings.

Tagged: racism, white supremacy

Don MartiOne dad's FREE weight loss tip will blow your mind!

"Don, it looks like you lost weight," someone said to me last week.

That is true. Since December 2013 I have lost about 15% of my body weight.

Not a rapid decrease, but sustainable so far. I'm not at my ideal weight yet, but I have made some progress, including having to buy new pants.

The main change that I had to make was to get some kind of personal Hawthorne effect going. If I keep track of how much food I eat, and make rules for myself about when I eat food, then I'm more likely to eat the right amount.

Think of it as a kind of mindful consumption thing.

I have zero claim to be an expert on this subject. I just think of it like IT spending within a company. If my "inner CIO" is doing his job, the overall level of stuff coming in the door should be manageable, even as the users keep asking for more. Sometimes, some extra stuff will get in, over the CIO's objections, but in general, the IT department can handle it and things keep working.

So let's look at today's surveillance marketing news.

40 kcal of rogue IT

Can Mondelez, Facebook Sell More Cookies Online?

The new arrangement also covers 52 countries and will "focus on creating and delivering creative video content and driving impulse snack purchasing online," according to a statement issued on Tuesday.

Hold on a minute.

"impulse snack purchasing"


I'm not allowed to do impulse snack purchasing.

My inner CIO has a snack approval policy, and my inner impulsive cookie-eater has to fill out a form and wait.

So, if you want to sell me food, you have to come in the front door and pitch the mindful eating department. Or my inner CIO will set up the filters to block you.

If you want to rely on Facebook's power to manipulate emotions instead, and try to get around the CIO, you just lost your access.

David Ogilvy once wrote, The customer is not a moron. She's your wife. That's being generous. The customer is a little of both. An inner moron and an inner non-moron who comes home and yells, What the hell did you eat all those cookies for, you moron?

In an environment where advertisers are trying to "engage" my inner moron, information diet is a prerequisite for food diet. I don't have Facebook on my phone, and I have the web site as a mostly write-only medium (thanks to for gatewaying this blog). But Facebook does have an online behavioral advertising operation. In order to protect myself from that kind of thing, I have tracking protection turned on in my browser.

So if you're reading this blog for the weight loss tip, here it is. Take the tracking protection test and get protected. Bonus tip: How can I break the Facebook habit?

I'm fortunate. For me, the consequences of impulse buying are low. Yes, I like Oreo cookies, and no, I don't trust myself not to be manipulated into eating more Oreo cookies than are good for me. But it's not that big of a deal. I'm not being targeted for predatory lending or gambling. My inner CIO could have a lot worse problems.

(If anyone has a blog about mindful eating, I should probably read it to learn more about this stuff, so let me know where to find it, please.)

Photo: Balfabio for Wikimedia Commons

Planet Linux AustraliaJeremy Kerr: Custom kernels in OpenPower firmware

As of commit 2aff5ba6 in the op-build tree, we're able to easily replace the kernel in an OpenPower firmware image.

This commit adds a new partition (called BOOTKERNEL) to the PNOR image, which provides the petitboot bootloader environment. Since it's now in its own partition, we can replace the image with a custom build. Here's a little guide to doing that, using an example of using a separate branch of op-build that provides a little-endian kernel.

You can check if your currently-running firmware has this BOOTKERNEL partition by running pflash -i on the BMC. It should list BOOTKERNEL in the partition table listing:

# pflash -i
Flash info:
Name          = Micron N25Qx512Ax
Total size    = 64MB 
Erase granule = 4KB 

ID=00            part 00000000..00001000 (actual=00001000)
ID=01            HBEL 00008000..0002c000 (actual=00024000)
ID=11            HBRT 00949000..00ca9000 (actual=00360000)
ID=12         PAYLOAD 00ca9000..00da9000 (actual=00100000)
ID=13      BOOTKERNEL 00da9000..01ca9000 (actual=00f00000)
ID=14        ATTR_TMP 01ca9000..01cb1000 (actual=00008000)
ID=15       ATTR_PERM 01cb1000..01cb9000 (actual=00008000)

If your partition table does not contain a BOOTKERNEL partition, you'll need to upgrade to a more recent PNOR image to proceed.

First (if you don't have one already), grab a suitable version of op-build. In this example, we'll use my le branch, which has little-endian support:

git clone --recursive git://
cd op-build
git checkout -b le origin/le
git submodule update

Then, prepare our environment and configure for the relevant platform - in this case, habanero:

. op-build-env
op-build habanero_defconfig

If you'd like to change any of the kernel config (for example, to add or remove drivers), you can do that now, using the 'linux-menuconfig' target. This is only necessary if you wish to make changes. Otherwise, the default kernel config will work.

op-build linux-menuconfig

Next, we build just the userspace and kernel parts of the firmware image, by specifying the linux26-rebuild-with-initramfs build target:

op-build linux26-rebuild-with-initramfs

If you're using a fresh op-build tree, this will take a little while, as it downloads and builds a toolchain, userspace and kernel. Once that's complete, you'll have a built kernel image in the output tree:


Transfer this file to the BMC, and flash using pflash. We specify the -P <PARTITION> argument to write to a single PNOR partition:

pflash -P BOOTKERNEL -e -p /tmp/zImage.epapr

And that's it! The next boot will use your newly-build kernel in the petitboot bootloader environment.

Out-of-tree kernel builds

If you'd like to replace the kernel from op-build with one from your own external source tree, you have two options. Either point op-build at your own tree, or build you own kernel using the initramfs that op-build has produced.

For the former, you can override certain op-build variables to reference a separate source. For example, to use an external git tree:

op-build LINUX_SITE=git:// LINUX_VERSION=v3.19

See Customising OpenPower firmware for other examples of using external sources in op-build.

The latter option involves doing a completely out-of-op-build build of a kernel, but referencing the initramfs created by op-build (which is in output/images/rootfs.cpio.xz). From your kernel source directory, add CONFIG_INITRAMFS_SOURCE argument, specifying the relevant initramfs. For example:

make O=obj ARCH=powerpc \

Planet DebianRussell Coker: Smart Phones Should Measure Charge Speed

My first mobile phone lasted for days between charges. I never really found out how long it’s battery would last because there was no way that I could use it to deplete the charge in any time that I could spend awake. Even if I had managed to run the battery out the phone was designed to accept 4*AA batteries (it’s rechargeable battery pack was exactly that size) so I could buy spare batteries at any store.

Modern phones are quite different in physical phone design (phones that weigh less than 4*AA batteries aren’t uncommon), functionality (fast CPUs and big screens suck power), and use (games really drain your phone battery). This requires much more effective chargers, when some phones are intensively used (EG playing an action game with Wifi enabled) they can’t be charged as they use more power than the plug-pack supplies. I’ve previously blogged some calculations about resistance and thickness of wires for phone chargers [1], it’s obvious that there are some technical limitations to phone charging based on the decision to use a long cable at ~5V.

My calculations about phone charge rate were based on the theoretical resistance of wires based on their estimated cross-sectional area. One problem with such analysis is that it’s difficult to determine how thick the insulation is without destroying the wire. Another problem is that after repeated use of a charging cable some conductors break due to excessive bending. This can significantly increase the resistance and therefore increase the charging time. Recently a charging cable that used to be really good suddenly became almost useless. My Galaxy Note 2 would claim that it was being charged even though the reported level of charge in the battery was not increasing, it seems that the cable only supplied enough power to keep the phone running not enough to actually charge the battery.

I recently bought a USB current measurement device which is really useful. I have used it to diagnose power supplies and USB cables that didn’t work correctly. But one significant way in which it fails is in the case of problems with the USB connector. Sometimes a cable performs differently when connected via the USB current measurement device.

The CurrentWidget program [2] on my Galaxy Note 2 told me that all of the dedicated USB chargers (the 12V one in my car and all the mains powered ones) supply 1698mA (including the ones rated at 1A) while a PC USB port supplies ~400mA. I don’t think that the Note 2 measurement is particularly reliable. On my Galaxy Note 3 it always says 0mA, I guess that feature isn’t implemented. An old Galaxy S3 reports 999mA of charging even when the USB current measurement device says ~500mA. It seems to me that method the CurrentWidget uses to get the current isn’t accurate if it even works at all.

Android 5 on the Nexus 4/5 phones will tell the amount of time until the phone is charged in some situations (on the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 that I used for testing it didn’t always display it and I don’t know why). This is an useful but it’s still not good enough.

I think that what we need is to have the phone measure the current that’s being supplied and report it to the user. Then when a phone charges slowly because apps are using some power that won’t be mistaken for a phone charging slowly due to a defective cable or connector.

Geek FeminismAll this and linkspam too (23 June 2015)

  • Women in Animation Offers Dismal Stats on Current State of Affairs, Proposes Paths towards Progress | Women and Hollywood: “Though a study suggested that women make up the majority of students at animation programs today, research compiled by the Animation Guild note that female creatives total only 20% of the workforce. Women make up a scant 10% of animation directors and producers, 17% of writers, 21% of art/designers and 23% of animators. Things are no better in Canada, where women make up 16-18% of animation creatives. “
  • Meet the Woman Helping Gamergate Victims Come Out of the Shadows | Time: “Shannon Sun-Higginson was investigating sexual harassment in gaming before Gamergate was even a thing. She almost single-handedly made GTFO: The Movie, a documentary about women in gaming debuted SXSW in March, stoking an ongoing debate over accusations that gaming culture is sexist. The film was released for the general public on iTunes last week and TIME caught up with Sun-Higginson to talk about the reactions she’s been getting, why gaming matters, and what surprised her about the trolls.”
  • Gender inequality in STEM is very real for Canadian women | Maclean’s: “While we like to think that gender inequality in STEM is old-fashioned and that as a society we’ve made great advances in equal opportunities, the numbers don’t always tell the same tale. The truth is, in Canada at least, very little has changed.”
  • Revenge Porn: A Serious Issue Is Finally Being Taken Seriously | Privacy Perspectives: “On Friday, Google announced it will honor takedown requests in Google Search related to nonconsensual pornography. Shortly after that, Rep. Jackie Speier’s (D-CA) office announced that next month it will introduce federal legislation on revenge porn. And on Sunday night, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” dedicated most of his episode to cyber-harassment and nonconsensual pornography.”
  • 23 Games from E3 2015 with Badass Playable Female Characters | The Mary Sue: “E3 2015 was one of the best years for playable female characters in recent memory – especially after the bleak, sad stubbly white dude landscape of 2014. This year’s conferences gave us lady protagonists that were not only the traditional elves and clerics, but also engineers, astronauts, tanks, and more. Here are twenty-three games straight from E3 with kick-ass women we can’t wait to play.”

We have a few link trends this week. First off, increasing the visibility of women’s historical contributions to STEM:

  • The women whom science forgot | BBC News: “Many female scientists in the past were not given the credit they deserved for their achievements. As a result, their names have all but disappeared from public consciousness. Here are just a few.”
  • ENIAC Programmers Project: “The ENIAC Programmers Project has been devoted for nearly two decades to researching their work, recording their stories, and seeking honors for the ENIAC Six—the great women of ENIAC.”
  • Lady Science no. 9: Women in Computing, Part 1: “Silicon Valley (and The Social Network and many popular books on the history of Silicon Valley) would have us believe that women and computing generally do not – and have not mixed. Let’s set the record straight.”

Continued response to Tim Hunt’s comments about women in science:

  • Enough talk. There are ways we can help women in science now | Comment is free | The Guardian: “So what can you do? Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a researcher or a professor, I am convinced there is some action you can take to make a difference and help future generations of women to thrive in science. That way, we can ensure women fulfil their potential and are able to use their talents fully for the good of us all.”
  • Sexist Scientist: I Was Being ‘Honest’ | The Daily Beast: “Some media organizations have stepped in to defend Hunt’s comments, which he now claims were an attempt to be entertaining. As a co-panelist sitting next to him at the luncheon, I heard a different story. His speech, he told me, was rooted in “honesty,” not humor.”
  • “Just” Joking? Sexist Talk in Science | PLOS Blogs: “The parts of his statements that portray women as difficult in the scientific workplace because of gender characteristics are sexist. That’s not dependent at all on whether the statement is a joke or not. If it’s not said with malice, then it’s just less hostile: but it’s still sexist.”

A couple interconnected pieces about women’s participation in Magic: the Gathering competitions:

  • Women In Magic: the Gathering | “There are barriers to women playing competitive Magic – unnecessary and difficult issues that prevent potential competitors from ever leaving the “kitchen table” – and these are issues we can and should address.”
  • I’m not sure how much you may want to debate this…: “That’s what this conversation is about. Women make up 38% of Magic players yet this isn’t remotely reflected in in store play. Why? What factors are causing this to be so? And if it’s going to change, it requires those of us in the majority to stand up and say, “You know what? This isn’t right. We need to change this.””

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.


Google AdsenseIncreasing transparency of AdSense payments

When you check your payments history, you might notice a difference between your estimated AdSense earnings and the final amount paid to you. The difference between these two amounts is mostly caused by invalid activity on your site, such as accidental clicks, which are deducted from finalized earnings.

We've received feedback from you that you want to know more about the differences between estimated and finalized earnings. Starting with May’s payment history, you’ll be able to see the invalid activity deductions that cause these differences.  For example, if your estimated earnings were $1,100 and your finalized earnings were $1,000, you now have a better view into how your estimated earnings break down into invalid activity and finalized earnings.

If there is a large difference between your estimated earnings and your finalized earnings, make sure to review these tips. To prevent invalid activity on your site, pay special attention to your site design and traffic acquisition. If you see unusual levels in invalid activity, we encourage you to notify us by using the Invalid Clicks Contact Form.

We hope this will help you understand the differences between your estimated and finalized earnings and how invalid activity affects your payments. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Posted by Justin Chu
AdSense Product Manager

Planet DebianSandro Tosi: CFEngine: upgrade Debian packages

say you use CFEngine to install Debian packages on your server, so it's likely you'll have a bundle looking like this:

bundle agent agentname

        "packages" slist => {


            package_policy => "addupdate",
            package_method => apt_get;


this works great to guarantee those packages are installed, but if a newer version is available in the repositories, that wont be installed. If you want CFEngine to do that too, then the web suggests this trick:


            package_policy => "addupdate",
            package_version => "999999999",
            package_method => apt_get;

which tweak the install system declaring that you want to install version 999999999 of each package, so if you have available a higher version than the one installed, CFEngine will happily upgrade it for you. It works great.. but sometimes it doesn't. why oh why?

That's because Debian versions can have a epoch: every plain version (like 1.0-1) has an implicit epoch of 0, and same goes for the 999999999 above, that means if any of the installed packages has an epoch, that version will sort higher than 999999999 and the package wont be upgraded. If you want to be sure to upgrade every package, then the right solution is:


            package_policy => "addupdate",
            package_version => "9:999999999",
            package_method => apt_get;

Valerie AuroraBan boring mike-based Q&A sessions and use index cards instead

If you’ve ever been to a conference, you know the problem: A brilliant and engaging talk is coming to a close, and already a line of fanatic wild-eyed people (okay, mostly men) is forming at the audience microphone. Just by looking at them you know they will inevitably start their questions with, “This is more of a comment than a question, but…” Actually, you are grateful for the ones who are that self-aware, because most of them seem to genuinely believe that their barely disguised dominance play or naked self-promotion is an actual question that the rest of the audience would like to hear the answer to. So you scooch down lower in your seat and open your Twitter client so you can complain about how awful Q&A sessions inevitably are.

Fortunately, there is a way to prevent this situation entirely! Here is the formula:

  1. Throw away the audience microphones.
  2. Buy a pack of index cards.
  3. Hand out the cards to the audience before or during your talk.
  4. Ask people to write their questions on the cards and pass them to the end of the row.
  5. Collect the cards at the end of the talk.
  6. Flip through the cards and answer only good (or funny) questions.
  7. Optional: have an accomplice collect and screen the questions for you during the talk.

Better yet, if you are a conference organizer, buy enough index cards for every one of your talks and tell your speakers and volunteers to use them.

Why is the typical line-at-the-mike style of audience question so productive of bad questions? To start with, it gives the advantage to people who aren’t afraid to put themselves forward first and rush to the mike first. This means most or all of the questions are from people with relatively little self-doubt and a high opinion of themselves. Another draw for the self-centered overconfident type is the chance to be the center of attention while asking the question using the audience microphone. Then there is the lack of built-in limit on the time the purported question-asker is speaking. Finally, there is no way to screen the question for quality until the question has been fully asked (sometimes taking minutes). The end result is a system that practically invites self-centered, overconfident, boring, long-winded people to dominate it. (And you wonder why women almost never ask questions at your conference?)

By contrast, writing questions on index cards appeals more to quiet, thoughtful, self-effacing folks who are considerate of those around them. It allows you to screen the questions for quality. It limits the length of the question. It encourages actual genuine requests for clarification on the subject of your talk.

Get rid of line-at-the-mike style Q&A sessions. Replace them with index cards. Your conference attendees will thank you.

Tagged: conferences, feminism

CryptogramHayden Mocks NSA Reforms

Former NSA Director Michael recently mocked the NSA reforms in the recently passed USA Freedom Act:

If somebody would come up to me and say, "Look, Hayden, here's the thing: This Snowden thing is going to be a nightmare for you guys for about two years. And when we get all done with it, what you're going to be required to do is that little 215 program about American telephony metadata -- and by the way, you can still have access to it, but you got to go to the court and get access to it from the companies, rather than keep it to yourself." I go: "And this is it after two years? Cool!"

The thing is, he's right. And Peter Swire is also right when he calls the law "the biggest pro-privacy change to U.S. intelligence law since the original enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978." I supported the bill not because it was the answer, but because it was a step in the right direction. And Hayden's comments demonstrate how much more work we have to do.

Krebs on SecurityEmergency Patch for Adobe Flash Zero-Day

Adobe Systems Inc. today released an emergency update to fix a dangerous security hole in its widely-installed Flash Player browser plugin. The company warned that the vulnerability is already being exploited in targeted attacks, and urged users to update the program as quickly as possible.

In an advisory issued Tuesday morning, Adobe said the latest version of Flash — v. on Windows and Mac OS X — fixes a critical flaw (CVE-2015-3113) that is being actively exploited in “limited, targeted attacks.” The company said systems running Internet Explorer for Windows 7 and below, as well as Firefox on Windows XP, are known targets of these exploits.

If you’re unsure whether your browser has Flash installed or what version it may be running, browse to this link. Adobe Flash Player installed with Google Chrome, as well as Internet Explorer on Windows 8.x, should automatically update to the latest version. To force the installation of an available update on Chrome, click the triple bar icon to the right of the address bar, select “About Google” Chrome, click the apply update button and restart the browser.

The most recent versions of Flash should be available from the Flash home page, but beware potentially unwanted add-ons, like McAfee Security Scan. To avoid this, uncheck the pre-checked box before downloading, or grab your OS-specific Flash download from here. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.)

In lieu of patching Flash Player yet again, it might be worth considering whether you really need to keep Flash Player installed at all. In a happy coincidence, earlier today I published a piece about my experience going a month without having Flash Player installed. The result? I hardly missed it at all.

TEDA TED Fellow’s documentary offers an intimate glimpse into life in the Afghan Army, post-NATO support

<iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="330" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" src="" title="Tell Spring Not to Come This Year (official trailer)" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="586"></iframe>

We divide the world into civilians and soldiers. Rarely do we think about the human experience of war — the rhythm and flow of daily life on the front lines. Saeed Taji Farouky’s latest feature documentary, Tell Spring Not to Come This Year, follows a unit of the Afghan National Army during their first year of deployment without NATO support. This intimate film shows the war in Afghanistan from this human perspective, through the eyes of Afghans themselves.

This week, just after the film’s UK premiere at the Sheffield Documentary Festival, Taji Farouky spoke to the TED Blog about his experience of embedding with this band of fighting — and laughing — men.

Why did you want to tell this particular story, at this particular time?

We timed the filming of Tell Spring Not to Come This Year so that we would finish at about the same time that the NATO mission ended. The idea was to show what it will be like for the next several decades with the Afghan National Army fighting their own war, now that the NATO combat mission is over. The unit we filmed with hadn’t been fighting with NATO support for at least a year, so by following their experiences, we have a very good idea of what things will look like without NATO.

The hope was to coincide with Western news saying, “The war is over, our men are back.” That happened in January 2015. Our film came out in February. Right now, as far as most foreign journalists are concerned, the war is over. Because most foreign troops are gone, the news is over. We wanted to say, “The war is not over.” That’s the message we got from the soldiers. The war is over for most foreign troops — but a completely different and probably much harder and longer war has just started.

Afghan Soldiers of the 215 Corps driving back to base through Gereshk town after a routine patrol.

Afghan Soldiers of the 215 Corps drive back to base through Gereshk town after a routine patrol. Photo: Courtesy of Saeed Taji Farouky

How did you choose to work with this particular group of men?

I’d been trying to make a film about Afghanistan for years, but never knew how to approach it. I got an email from my co-director Mike McEvoy, through a mutual friend. He said, “I have an interesting idea for a film. I’m looking for a filmmaker who doesn’t mind being shot at.” That was my introduction.

I knew immediately that it was a very important story. Mike had worked with this unit for nine months as a liaison officer between the British Army and the Afghan Army, serving in the British Army. So he knew these guys very well already, and it meant it would make it a lot easier for us to get our paperwork and approval.

Once we arrived on base, we decided to focus on Jalaluddin, the captain, partly because he’s very active — one of the new hopes for the future of the army, a kind of rising star. I also had a really good rapport with Sunnatullah, the second character in the film, from the very beginning. He’s young and very cocky, but very naive as well. Very sweet, in a way — a mix of trying to be tough, but also idealistic. He has a character that I think represents a lot of things that we see in Afghanistan.

There were people in the unit who said, “Don’t film me, I don’t want to be involved,” and of course we respected that. We were not interested in making reportage; it was more a collaboration. It was understood that we were there to live with them for a year and do whatever they did, and they’d give up a bit of their privacy for us. In return, our promise was we’d tell a story that they know is important to people who don’t understand what life is like in their country.


Captain Jalaluddin rests during boxing training at Gereshk base where his unit — Heavy Weapons Company — is stationed. Photo: Courtesy of Saeed Taji Farouky

What’s the story arc of the film?

It’s almost impressionistic, in a way. Essentially we filmed this unit’s last year of fighting before NATO pulled out, and it follows a pretty typical cycle of fighting seasons. At the beginning of the film, we see a lot of daily routine, and it’s quite slow and boring and repetitive. But it gives you an idea of what life is like on the front line, where a tiny portion is the shocking, scary, exciting part, and the rest is just living life and trying to get by every day. The film builds with several missions over the course of the year, where we start to understand the difficulties they’re faced with: language, the question of, “who can you trust?,” not having the right equipment, confusion over mission goals and so on.

The film leads up to what, at the time, was the biggest Taliban offensive since the start of the war. They were attacking an area called Sangin. The British Army had lost a lot of men there and spent years trying to secure it, but eventually it fell back into chaos. Near the end of our year, the Taliban attacked the military, and a lot of our guys were sent there. We followed them on what was a pretty disastrous mission. It all comes to a head. You see all the issues coming together, with the added danger of being on the front line, under siege.

Mike was filming this part — he did second camera sometimes, and by this time I was already back in the UK editing. He was in one compound for over 48 hours, under siege. The Taliban breached the walls of his compound at one point. It was a fight the scale of which they hadn’t seen before in that war.

I should mention that, while Mike had been with the British Army, his contract was over and we didn’t touch any weapons while filming. They showed me how to shoot, just in case anything went horribly wrong, but we made it very clear that we were not involved in the war. The unit would ask Mike for advice, but the ethical line we took was that if withholding information would put people at risk, he’d say something. But in a regular meeting, if they asked, “What do you think we should do?” he would have to hedge the answer, and say, “Whatever you think is right,” or “This is not my role any more.” For the unit, it was very strange, because for months, they didn’t absorb that once he turned up with a camera instead of a gun, he wasn’t a soldier any more.


An Afghan soldier rests after narrowly escaping with his life from 48 hours under siege in the village of Sangin. Photo: Courtesy of Saeed Taji Farouky

How is the situation different for the Afghan Army now, without NATO? What are their unique challenges?

In many ways it’s different, and in many ways it’s exactly the same. British soldiers who’d served in Afghanistan and have seen the film have commented that the Afghan soldiers encounter exactly the same problems that NATO encountered for years. Especially in Helmand, where we were based, there’s no real front line — it’s not a territorial war, and you have no idea who the enemy is. That’s the fundamental issue. Then you have ancillary problems. For example, how much can you trust the police as a secondary national force? Many of them are recruited from the area, so it’s much easier for them to be corrupt and involved in the insurgency or the drug trade.

The scenario is still: you show up somewhere, someone’s shooting at you, you don’t know who it is, you interview a few people, you arrest a few of them. And you have a language issue because many of the Afghan Army officers speak Dari, and they’re in a Pashto area. Do you destroy the drugs and turn those farmers into insurgents, or do you let them farm opium and channel some of that money to the Taliban? In those cases, technology, money and experience don’t help at all, because these are human issues.

The scale, training, equipment and mission are different. NATO’s mission of course changed radically, because it was a mess, but it began as “get al-Qaeda” and then it morphed into “get rid of the Taliban,” as well as “help nation-build.” The Afghan National Army’s mission is much more of a traditional one: keep this area secure, control the country by dominating the landscape. The problem is they’re still fighting the same war that NATO trained them to fight, with old-style, almost World War I tactics — you go into an area, take it over and then say that you control it. But of course you don’t. The Taliban insurgents are fighting a guerrilla war, which is a completely different war.

There also seems to be no end in sight, no point at which they can say, “We’ve succeeded, now we can stop.”

They are fighting an ideology, and you can’t fight an ideology like a traditional war. Unless you had an enormous military that wasn’t afraid to impose extreme violence on people, there’s no way you can dominate the country this way. The current strategy is to dominate an area — go in, clear it — and then leave three days later. That’s not a long-term recipe for a stable country.

The irony in Afghanistan now is that if you live in an area totally controlled by the army, it’s pretty safe. And if you live in an area totally controlled by the Taliban, it’s pretty safe. It’s if you live in the middle that you get blown up every day. So if the army shows up and says, “We’re here to stabilize you,” what you see on a short-term basis is a lot more violence and death. So in some parts of the country, living under the Taliban is probably more tenable than the continuing war.


Private Sunnatullah relaxes on Gereshk base where his unit — Heavy Weapons Company — is based. Photo: Courtesy of Saeed Taji Farouky

Had you been to Afghanistan before? How much did you already know about the people and the culture and the situation on the ground going in?

No, I’d never been there before. I didn’t know a huge amount about it. But for context, most of my work is based in the Arab world. I didn’t know the language, Dari, although it’s similar enough to Arabic that I picked it up and could have basic conversations by the end of the year. It’s funny. I don’t like to make sweeping generalizations about cultures, but when you show up in an Arab country, generally the people are very interested in talking to you as a visitor. In Afghanistan, that’s not the case, and I think it’s because they’ve lived through so many invasions and so much treachery that they don’t open up very easily. That’s very difficult if you’re making a documentary, obviously. It didn’t surprise me, but those are tough working conditions.

So one of the hardest things was getting past the point where people give you very obvious answers, and getting to the human story. The vast majority of documentaries coming out of Afghanistan — as with most war zones — are superficial. We wanted to say, “What if we treat the Afghan soldiers in the same way that Restrepo treats American soldiers?” Why should we not be able to laugh with them, feel sympathy for them, feel their pain? Why not just treat them as ordinary people and not like novelties?

The Nazar family bury their son -- a soldier in the Afghan National Army -- in Baghlan in northeastern Afghanistan.

The Nazar family bury their son — a soldier in the Afghan National Army — in Baghlan in northeastern Afghanistan. Photo: Courtesy of Saeed Taji Farouky

What did the soldiers make of your Palestinian-British background? Do you feel like you were able to bridge the gap quickly?

I have a very specific approach. When I make a film, I’m always very willing to make a fool of myself — I think you have to be. I’m almost always the silly one with the camera. I think the image that documentary filmmakers and photojournalists like to portray — this kind of tough guy thing — doesn’t work when you want people to trust you and work with you. They generally saw me as the silly one, and what I loved about that group of men is that they were very silly too. They liked to laugh a lot. They played jokes on each other, even in the shittiest of situations. So I wasn’t interested in pretending to be tough.

They found it a bit weird that I was filming things they thought were completely unimportant. They are used to being filmed for news and documentaries as propaganda — they have a lot of ads for the army on TV — and I wasn’t interested in any of that. So they’d wonder, why are you filming us getting food, brushing our teeth, or cleaning our shoes? I’d say, “Everyone knows the fighting parts. They understand what it looks like when you’re blowing things up. These are the parts they don’t know. So that’s what they should see.” I think after a year they got what I was doing, and appreciated it.

Some of them spoke some Arabic. And there was a sense of solidarity when I spoke to them. I’m not a practicing Muslim, but I can pray with them, and I can talk to them about Islam. As a Palestinian, a lot of them said to me, “We’re in the same situation as you — we’re also occupied and we’re fighting a war for our survival.” So there was that sense that we were not so different, and I think that’s important. They could sense I would understand the fundamentals they were dealing with.


Ashuqullah catches his breath in a compound in Yakhchal, after taking cover from insurgent fire. Photo: Courtesy of Saeed Taji Farouky

Having been on the ground, do you see the situation in Afghanistan evolving at any point into something that’s easier? What would have to change to shift the situation?

I’m not an analyst, so this is just based on my opinion and the research I’ve done. I think they have to break away from the image that NATO built their army, because they’re fighting a war that Britain and America and the rest of NATO were fighting — a very traditional war with armies that aren’t so good at nation-building. At some point, they’re going to have to realize (1), “We’re fighting the wrong war,” and (2), “We’re going to have to make political compromises that somehow absorb the Taliban into the political process.” I don’t think there’s any other way of doing it.

In a way, it’s worked in the past. There was a period for a few years where local governors were making informal truces with the Taliban, where they’d say, “If you don’t come in here, we won’t attack you there.” Living under the Taliban — a fascist, racist government — is not great — but you could argue that the quality of life is better than perpetual violence. That’s a model that could reduce the overall level of violence, at least in the short term. In the long term, there needs to be a change in strategy — and also just good governance. The government is extremely corrupt, and therefore really ineffective in a lot of the country. It needs an overhaul.

Was it hard to leave the unit behind after spending a whole year with them, sharing these intense experiences?

I often feel a lot of guilt when I’m doing my films. This one was particularly difficult, because it was so easy for me to leave. It was always really awkward when I went back and they were still there, although they never asked for sympathy. We did five trips, so we said goodbye five times — the final time knowing that I might never see them again.

Of course, however difficult it is for me is no comparison to the sort of life they have to live every day. There is very clearly a privilege there. The only thing that makes me feel better is that I hope I’ve fulfilled my responsibility to them — that I’ve told this story in a way that’s honest, engaging and genuine. In a way that looks real to an Afghan, that shows people outside of Afghanistan what’s really happening in the war — not just what they see on the news.

Many members of the unit have seen the film, and they seem to think that we accomplished what we set out to do. That makes me feel better. It’s always a strange proposition when you say, “I’m going to live with you for a year, invade your privacy, probably annoy the hell out of you — but, trust me, it’s for a good reason.” They did trust me, and I feel like I’ve reciprocated that trust and fulfilled my obligation to them. But I’m just extremely grateful that they tolerated that for so long, and still see me as a friend.

Sociological ImagesMillennials are No Less Racist than Generation X

One of the important conversations that has began in the wake of Dylann Roof’s racist murder in South Carolina has to do with racism among members of the Millennial generation. We’ve placed a lot of faith in this generation to pull us out of our racist path, but Roof’s actions may help remind us that racism will not go away simply by the passing of time.

In fact, data from the General Social Survey — one of the most trusted social science data sets — suggests that Millennials are failing to make dramatic strides toward a non-racist utopia. Scott Clement, at the Washington Post, shows us the data. Attitudes among white millennials (in green below) are statistically identical to whites in Generation X (yellow) and hardly different from Baby Boomers on most measures (orange). Whites are about as likely as Generation X:

  • to think that blacks are lazier or less hardworking than whites
  • to think that blacks have less motivation than whites to do well
  • to oppose living in a neighborhood that is 50% or more black
  • to object if a relative marries a black person

And they’re slightly more likely than white members of Generation X to think that blacks are less intelligent than whites. So much for a Millennial rescue from racism.

4 5 6 7 8

All in all, white millennial attitudes are much more similar to those of older whites than they are to those of their peers of color.


At PBS, Mychal Denzel Smith argues that we are reaping the colorblindness lessons that we’ve sowed. Millennials today may think of themselves as “post-racial,” but they’ve learned none of the skills that would allow them to get there. Smith writes:

Millennials are fluent in colorblindness and diversity, while remaining illiterate in the language of anti-racism.

They know how to claim that they’re not racist, but they don’t know how to recognize when they are and they’re clueless as to how to actually change our society for the better.

So, thanks to the colorblindness discourse, white Millennials are quick to see racism as race-neutral. In one study, for example, 58% of white millennials said they thought that “reverse racism” was as big a problem as racism.

Smith summarizes the problem:

For Millennials, racism is a relic of the past, but what vestiges may still exist are only obstacles if the people affected decide they are. Everyone is equal, they’ve been taught, and therefore everyone has equal opportunity for success. This is the deficiency found in the language of diversity. … Armed with this impotent analysis, Millennials perpetuate false equivalencies, such as affirmative action as a form of discrimination on par with with Jim Crow segregation. And they can do so while not believing themselves racist or supportive of racism.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

Krebs on SecurityA Month Without Adobe Flash Player

I’ve spent the better part of the last month running a little experiment to see how much I would miss Adobe‘s buggy and insecure Flash Player software if I removed it from my systems altogether. Turns out, not so much.

brokenflash-aBrowser plugins are favorite targets for malware and miscreants because they are generally full of unpatched or undocumented security holes that cybercrooks can use to seize complete control over vulnerable systems. The Flash Player plugin is a stellar example of this: It is among the most widely used browser plugins, and it requires monthly patching (if not more frequently).

It’s also not uncommon for Adobe to release emergency fixes for the software to patch flaws that bad guys started exploiting before Adobe even knew about the bugs. This happened most recently in February 2015, and twice the month prior. Adobe also shipped out-of-band Flash fixes in December and November 2014.

Update, 11:30 a.m. ET: Oddly enough, Adobe just minutes ago released an out-of-band patch to fix a zero-day flaw in Flash.

Original story:

Time was, Oracle’s Java plugin was the favorite target of exploit kits, software tools made to be stitched into hacked or malicious sites and foist on visiting browsers a kitchen sink of exploits for various plugin vulnerabilities. Lately, however, it seems to pendulum has swung back in favor of exploits for Flash Player. A popular exploit kit known as Angler, for example, bundled a new exploit for a Flash vulnerability just three days after Adobe fixed it in April 2015.

So, rather than continue the patch madness and keep this insecure software installed, I decided to the pull the…er…plugin. I tend to (ab)use different browsers for different tasks, and so uninstalling the plugin was almost as simple as uninstalling Flash, except with Chrome, which bundles its own version of Flash Player. Fear not: disabling Flash in Chrome is simple enough. On a Windows, Mac, Linux or Chrome OS installation of Chrome, type “chrome:plugins” into the address bar, and on the Plug-ins page look for the “Flash” listing: To disable Flash, click the disable link (to re-enable it, click “enable”).

In almost 30 days, I only ran into just two instances where I encountered a site hosting a video that I absolutely needed to watch and that required Flash (an instructional video for a home gym that I could find nowhere else, and a live-streamed legislative hearing). For these, I opted to cheat and load the content into a Flash-enabled browser inside of a Linux virtual machine I have running inside of VirtualBox. In hindsight, it probably would have been easier simply to temporarily re-enable Flash in Chrome, and then disable it again until the need arose.

If you decide that removing Flash altogether or disabling it until needed is impractical, there are in-between solutions. Script-blocking applications like Noscript and ScriptSafe are useful in blocking Flash content, but script blockers can be challenging for many users to handle.

Another approach is click-to-play, which is a feature available for most browsers (except IE, sadly) that blocks Flash content from loading by default, replacing the content on Web sites with a blank box. With click-to-play, users who wish to view the blocked content need only click the boxes to enable Flash content inside of them (click-to-play also blocks Java applets from loading by default).

Windows users who decide to keep Flash installed and/or enabled also should take full advantage of the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET), a free tool from Microsoft that can help Windows users beef up the security of third-party applications.

Planet DebianBits from Debian: Reproducible Builds get funded by the Core Infrastructure Initiative

The Core Infrastructure Initiative announced today that they will support two Debian Developers, Holger Levsen and Jérémy Bobbio, with $200,000 to advance their Debian work in reproducible builds and to collaborate more closely with other distributions such as Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenWrt to benefit from this effort.

The Core Infrastructure Initiative (CII) was established in 2014 to fortify the security of key open source projects. This initiative is funded by more than 20 companies and managed by The Linux Foundation.

The reproducible builds initiative aims to enable anyone to reproduce bit by bit identical binary packages from a given source, thus enabling anyone to independently verify that a binary matches the source code from which it was said it was derived. For example, this allow the users of Debian to rebuild packages and obtain exactly identical packages to the ones provided by the Debian repositories.

Planet DebianBen Armstrong: Debian Live Rescue needs some love

You may have noticed that Jessie no longer includes the useful rescue flavour of live image, formerly included in Wheezy and earlier releases, and neither will Stretch unless you take action. This is my second public call for help this year to revive it. So if you care about rescue, here’s how you can help:

  • First, try a self-built image, based on the old live-image-rescue configuration. While Jessie still contains the live-image-rescue configuration for live-build as a starting point, to successfully build this image for yourself, you need to edit the package lists to drop or substitute any packages that aren’t in the archive. As of writing, this includes libphash0, mii-diag, denyhosts, hal and emacs23-nox. (Tip: for the latter, substitute emacs24-nox.)
  • Join or form a team to maintain the rescue metapackages in the long term. All of the official Debian Live images are based on metapackages that are looked after by various other teams, (principally the desktop teams,) with rescue being the sole exception. The old package lists include some forensics packages, so you may wish to contact Debian Forensics, but I don’t want to presume they’ll take it on.
  • Have your team decide on what a rescue system should include. You might start with the old lists, spruced up a bit just to make the image build, or you might take an entirely different tack. This is your project, so it’s up to you.
  • File a bug on tasksel, preferably with patch, to include a task-forensics and/or task-rescue task (or whatever you decide the task or tasks should be called).
  • File a bug on the live-images package to include your work.

If you have any questions not answered in this post, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog, talk to the Debian Live team on irc — I’m SynrG, and hang out with the team at #debian-live @ — or drop us an email at

CryptogramWhy We Encrypt

Encryption protects our data. It protects our data when it's sitting on our computers and in data centers, and it protects it when it's being transmitted around the Internet. It protects our conversations, whether video, voice, or text. It protects our privacy. It protects our anonymity. And sometimes, it protects our lives.

This protection is important for everyone. It's easy to see how encryption protects journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists in authoritarian countries. But encryption protects the rest of us as well. It protects our data from criminals. It protects it from competitors, neighbors, and family members. It protects it from malicious attackers, and it protects it from accidents.

Encryption works best if it's ubiquitous and automatic. The two forms of encryption you use most often -- https URLs on your browser, and the handset-to-tower link for your cell phone calls -- work so well because you don't even know they're there.

Encryption should be enabled for everything by default, not a feature you turn on only if you're doing something you consider worth protecting.

This is important. If we only use encryption when we're working with important data, then encryption signals that data's importance. If only dissidents use encryption in a country, that country's authorities have an easy way of identifying them. But if everyone uses it all of the time, encryption ceases to be a signal. No one can distinguish simple chatting from deeply private conversation. The government can't tell the dissidents from the rest of the population. Every time you use encryption, you're protecting someone who needs to use it to stay alive.

It's important to remember that encryption doesn't magically convey security. There are many ways to get encryption wrong, and we regularly see them in the headlines. Encryption doesn't protect your computer or phone from being hacked, and it can't protect metadata, such as e-mail addresses that need to be unencrypted so your mail can be delivered.

But encryption is the most important privacy-preserving technology we have, and one that is uniquely suited to protect against bulk surveillance -- the kind done by governments looking to control their populations and criminals looking for vulnerable victims. By forcing both to target their attacks against individuals, we protect society.

Today, we are seeing government pushback against encryption. Many countries, from States like China and Russia to more democratic governments like the United States and the United Kingdom, are either talking about or implementing policies that limit strong encryption. This is dangerous, because it's technically impossible, and the attempt will cause incredible damage to the security of the Internet.

There are two morals to all of this. One, we should push companies to offer encryption to everyone, by default. And two, we should resist demands from governments to weaken encryption. Any weakening, even in the name of legitimate law enforcement, puts us all at risk. Even though criminals benefit from strong encryption, we're all much more secure when we all have strong encryption.

This originally appeared in Securing Safe Spaces Online.

EDITED TO ADD: Last month, I blogged about a UN report on the value of encryption technologies to human freedom worldwide. This essay is the foreword to a companion document:

To support the findings contained in the Special Rapporteur's report, Privacy International, the Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Law Clinic and ARTICLE 19 have published an accompanying booklet, Securing Safe Spaces Online: Encryption, online anonymity and human rights which explores the impact of measures to restrict online encryption and anonymity in four particular countries ­-- the United Kingdom, Morocco, Pakistan and South Korea.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: A Convoluted Time Machine

Backward Clock - - 548623

The web team and the JDE development team rarely see eye-to-eye in Cho's company. Cho, the JDE developer, worked in a world full of Oracle databases and important financial records. Andrew, a web developer, worked in a world full of MS-SQL and sales appointments. So when Andrew asked Cho to put together a job that would remove debt records older than six years so they'd stop showing up in his sales reports, he figured she had things well in hand.

"Six years?" mused Cho. "I'll have to build a custom function to figure out the start and end dates... I'll get back to you."

Two weeks after launch, several production incidents had been traced back to this new functionality. Of course, Cho had gone on vacation, so it was up to Andrew to dive into the seedy world of Oracle databases and debug the function...

 /* Cast today's date to a character value */
 v_end_date_char := TO_CHAR ( TRUNC ( SYSDATE ) , 'MM/DD/YYYY' );

 /* WI requires removal of debt 6 years back, so obtain the year for
 the purpose of building a 6 year old date */
 v_year := TO_CHAR ( TO_NUMBER ( SUBSTR ( v_end_date_char, 7, 4 ) ) - 6 );

 /* Check for leap year */
 IF ( ( TO_NUMBER ( SUBSTR ( v_end_date_char, 1, 2 ) ) = 2 ) AND
 ( TO_NUMBER ( SUBSTR ( v_end_date_char, 4, 2 ) ) = 29 ) ) THEN
 /* Adjust for a leap year and build date six years ago */
 v_end_date_char := '02/28/' || v_year;

 /* Build the two digit day of the year */
 v_day := TO_CHAR ( TO_NUMBER ( SUBSTR ( v_end_date_char, 4, 2 ) ) );

 /* Build the two digit month of the year */
 v_month := TO_CHAR ( TO_NUMBER ( SUBSTR ( v_end_date_char, 1, 2 ) ) );

 /* Build the character representation of the date six years ago */
 v_end_date_char := v_month || '/' || v_day || '/' || v_year;


 /* Build date for query to compare with duedt field */
 v_end_date := TO_DATE ( v_end_date_char, 'MM/DD/YYYY' );


Andrew stared at the function for a solid thirty minutes before reaching for the delete key. A quick Google search revealed a much cleaner way of getting the date:

 add_months(sysdate, -72)
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Planet DebianRussell Coker: One Android Phone Per Child

I was asked for advice on whether children should have access to smart phones, it’s an issue that many people are discussing and seems worthy of a blog post.

Claimed Problems with Smart Phones

The first thing that I think people should read is this XKCD post with quotes about the demise of letter writing from 99+ years ago [1]. Given the lack of evidence cited by people who oppose phone use I think we should consider to what extent the current concerns about smart phone use are just reactions to changes in society. I’ve done some web searching for reasons that people give for opposing smart phone use by kids and addressed the issues below.

Some people claim that children shouldn’t get a phone when they are so young that it will just be a toy. That’s interesting given the dramatic increase in the amount of money spent on toys for children in recent times. It’s particularly interesting when parents buy game consoles for their children but refuse mobile phone “toys” (I know someone who did this). I think this is more of a social issue regarding what is a suitable toy than any real objection to phones used as toys. Obviously the educational potential of a mobile phone is much greater than that of a game console.

It’s often claimed that kids should spend their time reading books instead of using phones. When visiting libraries I’ve observed kids using phones to store lists of books that they want to read, this seems to discredit that theory. Also some libraries have Android and iOS apps for searching their catalogs. There are a variety of apps for reading eBooks, some of which have access to many free books but I don’t expect many people to read novels on a phone.

Cyber-bullying is the subject of a lot of anxiety in the media. At least with cyber-bullying there’s an electronic trail, anyone who suspects that their child is being cyber-bullied can check that while old-fashioned bullying is more difficult to track down. Also while cyber-bullying can happen faster on smart phones the victim can also be harassed on a PC. I don’t think that waiting to use a PC and learn what nasty thing people are saying about you is going to be much better than getting an instant notification on a smart phone. It seems to me that the main disadvantage of smart phones in regard to cyber-bullying is that it’s easier for a child to participate in bullying if they have such a device. As most parents don’t seem concerned that their child might be a bully (unfortunately many parents think it’s a good thing) this doesn’t seem like a logical objection.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is claimed to be a problem, apparently if a child has a phone then they will want to take it to bed with them and that would be a bad thing. But parents could have a policy about when phones may be used and insist that a phone not be taken into the bedroom. If it’s impossible for a child to own a phone without taking it to bed then the parents are probably dealing with other problems. I’m not convinced that a phone in bed is necessarily a bad thing anyway, a phone can be used as an alarm clock and instant-message notifications can be turned off at night. When I was young I used to wait until my parents were asleep before getting out of bed to use my PC, so if smart-phones were available when I was young it wouldn’t have changed my night-time computer use.

Some people complain that kids might use phones to play games too much or talk to their friends too much. What do people expect kids to do? In recent times the fear of abduction has led to children doing playing outside a lot less, it used to be that 6yos would play with other kids in their street and 9yos would be allowed to walk to the local park. Now people aren’t allowing 14yo kids walk to the nearest park alone. Playing games and socialising with other kids has to be done over the Internet because kids aren’t often allowed out of the house. Play and socialising are important learning experiences that have to happen online if they can’t happen offline.

Apps can be expensive. But it’s optional to sign up for a credit card with the Google Play store and the range of free apps is really good. Also the default configuration of the app store is to require a password entry before every purchase. Finally it is possible to give kids pre-paid credit cards and let them pay for their own stuff, such pre-paid cards are sold at Australian post offices and I’m sure that most first-world countries have similar facilities.

Electronic communication is claimed to be somehow different and lesser than old-fashioned communication. I presume that people made the same claims about the telephone when it first became popular. The only real difference between email and posted letters is that email tends to be shorter because the reply time is smaller, you can reply to any questions in the same day not wait a week for a response so it makes sense to expect questions rather than covering all possibilities in the first email. If it’s a good thing to have longer forms of communication then a smart phone with a big screen would be a better option than a “feature phone”, and if face to face communication is preferred then a smart phone with video-call access would be the way to go (better even than old fashioned telephony).

Real Problems with Smart Phones

The majority opinion among everyone who matters (parents, teachers, and police) seems to be that crime at school isn’t important. Many crimes that would result in jail sentences if committed by adults receive either no punishment or something trivial (such as lunchtime detention) if committed by school kids. Introducing items that are both intrinsically valuable and which have personal value due to the data storage into a typical school environment is probably going to increase the amount of crime. The best options to deal with this problem are to prevent kids from taking phones to school or to home-school kids. Fixing the crime problem at typical schools isn’t a viable option.

Bills can potentially be unexpectedly large due to kids’ inability to restrain their usage and telcos deliberately making their plans tricky to profit from excess usage fees. The solution is to only use pre-paid plans, fortunately many companies offer good deals for pre-paid use. In Australia Aldi sells pre-paid credit in $15 increments that lasts a year [2]. So it’s possible to pay $15 per year for a child’s phone use, have them use Wifi for data access and pay from their own money if they make excessive calls. For older kids who need data access when they aren’t at home or near their parents there are other pre-paid phone companies that offer good deals, I’ve previously compared prices of telcos in Australia, some of those telcos should do [3].

It’s expensive to buy phones. The solution to this is to not buy new phones for kids, give them an old phone that was used by an older relative or buy an old phone on ebay. Also let kids petition wealthy relatives for a phone as a birthday present. If grandparents want to buy the latest smart-phone for a 7yo then there’s no reason to stop them IMHO (this isn’t a hypothetical situation).

Kids can be irresponsible and lose or break their phone. But the way kids learn to act responsibly is by practice. If they break a good phone and get a lesser phone as a replacement or have to keep using a broken phone then it’s a learning experience. A friend’s son head-butted his phone and cracked the screen – he used it for 6 months after that, I think he learned from that experience. I think that kids should learn to be responsible with a phone several years before they are allowed to get a “learner’s permit” to drive a car on public roads, which means that they should have their own phone when they are 12.

I’ve seen an article about a school finding that tablets didn’t work as well as laptops which was touted as news. Laptops or desktop PCs obviously work best for typing. Tablets are for situations where a laptop isn’t convenient and when the usage involves mostly reading/watching, I’ve seen school kids using tablets on excursions which seems like a good use of them. Phones are even less suited to writing than tablets. This isn’t a problem for phone use, you just need to use the right device for each task.

Phones vs Tablets

Some people think that a tablet is somehow different from a phone. I’ve just read an article by a parent who proudly described their policy of buying “feature phones” for their children and tablets for them to do homework etc. Really a phone is just a smaller tablet, once you have decided to buy a tablet the choice to buy a smart phone is just about whether you want a smaller version of what you have already got.

The iPad doesn’t appear to be able to make phone calls (but it supports many different VOIP and video-conferencing apps) so that could technically be described as a difference. AFAIK all Android tablets that support 3G networking also support making and receiving phone calls if you have a SIM installed. It is awkward to use a tablet to make phone calls but most usage of a modern phone is as an ultra portable computer not as a telephone.

The phone vs tablet issue doesn’t seem to be about the capabilities of the device. It’s about how portable the device should be and the image of the device. I think that if a tablet is good then a more portable computing device can only be better (at least when you need greater portability).

Recently I’ve been carrying a 10″ tablet around a lot for work, sometimes a tablet will do for emergency work when a phone is too small and a laptop is too heavy. Even though tablets are thin and light it’s still inconvenient to carry, the issue of size and weight is a greater problem for kids. 7″ tablets are a lot smaller and lighter, but that’s getting close to a 5″ phone.

Benefits of Smart Phones

Using a smart phone is good for teaching children dexterity. It can also be used for teaching art in situations where more traditional art forms such as finger painting aren’t possible (I have met a professional artist who has used a Samsung Galaxy Note phone for creating art work).

There is a huge range of educational apps for smart phones.

The Wikireader (that I reviewed 4 years ago) [4] has obvious educational benefits. But a phone with Internet access (either 3G or Wifi) gives Wikipedia access including all pictures and is a better fit for most pockets.

There are lots of educational web sites and random web sites that can be used for education (Googling the answer to random questions).

When it comes to preparing kids for “the real world” or “the work environment” people often claim that kids need to use Microsoft software because most companies do (regardless of the fact that most companies will be using radically different versions of MS software by the time current school kids graduate from university). In my typical work environment I’m expected to be able to find the answer to all sorts of random work-related questions at any time and I think that many careers have similar expectations. Being able to quickly look things up on a phone is a real work skill, and a skill that’s going to last a lot longer than knowing today’s version of MS-Office.

There are a variety of apps for tracking phones. There are non-creepy ways of using such apps for monitoring kids. Also with two-way monitoring kids will know when their parents are about to collect them from an event and can stay inside until their parents are in the area. This combined with the phone/SMS functionality that is available on feature-phones provides some benefits for child safety.

iOS vs Android

Rumour has it that iOS is better than Android for kids diagnosed with Low Functioning Autism. There are apparently apps that help non-verbal kids communicate with icons and for arranging schedules for kids who have difficulty with changes to plans. I don’t know anyone who has a LFA child so I haven’t had any reason to investigate such things. Anyone can visit an Apple store and a Samsung Experience store as they have phones and tablets you can use to test out the apps (at least the ones with free versions). As an aside the money the Australian government provides to assist Autistic children can be used to purchase a phone or tablet if a registered therapist signs a document declaring that it has a therapeutic benefit.

I think that Android devices are generally better for educational purposes than iOS devices because Android is a less restrictive platform. On an Android device you can install apps downloaded from a web site or from a 3rd party app download service. Even if you stick to the Google Play store there’s a wider range of apps to choose from because Google is apparently less restrictive.

Android devices usually allow installation of a replacement OS. The Nexus devices are always unlocked and have a wide range of alternate OS images and the other commonly used devices can usually have an alternate OS installed. This allows kids who have the interest and technical skill to extensively customise their device and learn all about it’s operation. iOS devices are designed to be sealed against the user. Admittedly there probably aren’t many kids with the skill and desire to replace the OS on their phone, but I think it’s good to have option.

Android phones have a range of sizes and features while Apple only makes a few devices at any time and there’s usually only a couple of different phones on sale. iPhones are also a lot smaller than most Android phones, according to my previous estimates of hand size the iPhone 5 would be a good tablet for a 3yo or good for side-grasp phone use for a 10yo [5]. The main benefits of a phone are for things other than making phone calls so generally the biggest phone that will fit in a pocket is the best choice. The tiny iPhones don’t seem very suitable.

Also buying one of each is a viable option.


I think that mobile phone ownership is good for almost all kids even from a very young age (there are many reports of kids learning to use phones and tablets before they learn to read). There are no real down-sides that I can find.

I think that Android devices are generally a better option than iOS devices. But in the case of special needs kids there may be advantages to iOS.


TEDThe ‘audio selfie’ — a different kind of interview evolves at StoryCorps


With the StoryCorps app, people are taking ‘audio selfies.’ Photo: David Andrako Photography

A few weeks ago, I was driving to the grocery store listening to an interview between a mother and daughter, Elizabeth and Sara Bell. I was astonished to hear the intimacy of their conversation. Elizabeth wants to interview her mother, who is 65 and suffering from dementia, because she is afraid that the disease will take away her mother’s ability to speak. She says, “I want to record your voice so I can listen to it over and over.”

Her mother has such a moving response. “Oh well, listen to this,” she says: “I love you, I love you, I love you!”

So many thousands of interviews have been pouring in since we launched the StoryCorps app at TED2015 that we’re struggling to keep up with them. I listen on the subway, on the way to and from work, and in the car. My colleague Andrew Goldberg listens during the workday. Elizabeth and Sara’s conversation was one that he flagged for me. It became the first interview recorded through the app that we edited and shared.

StoryCorps is full of possibilities right now. It feels like the days after we launched our first booth. The app has the potential to scale in a way we never could before. Typically, we record about 5,000 interviews a year. With the app, we have collected 7,000 interviews in a matter of weeks.

Elizabeth and Sara Bell was the first stroy culled from the app.

Elizabeth and Sara Bell’s interview was recorded with the app at home rather than in a booth.

The interviews are often shorter than our standard 40 minutes, and the recording quality varies. But the respect with which people are using the app is beyond my wildest dreams. In the US, we’re seeing a lot of interviews posted from small towns in the South and Midwest. We have stories coming in from countries all over the world.

And we’re hearing all kinds of interviews that I never could have predicted, including people who interview themselves — they’re like ‘audio selfies.’ Here’s one from Javier Bastos, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. He recorded himself in his hospital room.

Watching the app spread to unexpected places in unexpected ways has been thrilling; and listening to the interviews as they’re uploaded has been one of the most profound and moving experiences of my career.

With the app, a wall has come down. The potential is incredible. We’re excited to launch the effort I mentioned in my TED Talk: Over Thanksgiving 2015, history teachers across the US will ask their students to record an interview with a grandparent or elder. In a single weekend, an entire generation could be honored in this way.

The app is still in beta. Over the coming months, we’ll be working to fix the bugs and make the app more user-friendly. Some of the things you’ll see in the first update, coming later this month: When we launched, we assumed most people would use the app just to record. We had no idea that so many people would be listening to other people’s unedited interviews. So with the next iteration, we want to make it easier for users to search for the most-liked and most-listened-to interviews. We are excited about the idea of curation from within the community itself.

We’re also building a new section on the app where we can highlight stories like Elizabeth and Sara’s and give them the StoryCorps touch. These interviews will be edited and fact-checked, and we’ll get approval from the people featured. We’re still experimenting with what form these stories will take. It’s thrilling to be at that moment of creation.

Eventually, I want people who are recording and listening to interviews to have more tools to work with — the ability to edit an interview, transcribe it and add additional photos. We’re excited to listen to our subscriber community of 70,000-plus users to hear what sorts of features they want.

We plan to experiment as we go along. This feels like a new beginning and, in some ways, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But I am consistently amazed by the fidelity people are giving the StoryCorps process. I don’t know how the app will evolve, but I am hearing StoryCorps magic in almost every single interview I listen to.

Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, is the winner of our 2015 TED Prize. In a talk at TED2015, he shared an audacious wish for his organization: to take it global with a free app. Stay tuned for this column every other week on the TED Blog, as we chart the evolution of his TED Prize wish. As told to Amy S. Choi.

TED9 TED Talks guaranteed to give you wanderlust


Ah, wanderlust. Mild symptoms include obsessive airfare tracking and uncontrollable daydreaming about tropical beaches during conference calls. Severe cases can cause reasonable people to cash out their 401(k) to buy a camper van and hit the open road.

These 9 TED Talks are guaranteed to ignite your need for travel. As a precautionary measure, we’ve included detailed warnings about the possible side effects of each video, but have your passport handy before you press play. Just in case.

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Elora Hardy: Magical houses, made of bamboo
This video may lead to: Moving to Bali to build a gorgeous, curvaceous, sustainable six-story bamboo mansion in the jungle.
How to prepare for your trip: Use bamboo skewers to construct an elaborate play structure for your cat.
Postcard quote: “The floor that you walk on, can it affect the way that you walk? Can it change the footprint that you’ll ultimately leave on the world?”

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Chris Burkard: The joy of surfing in ice cold water
This video may lead to: Packing a wetsuit and surfboard for a beach weekend in … Iceland.
How to prepare for your trip: Take a really cold bath. Outside. During a snowstorm.
Postcard quote: “In life, there are no shortcuts to joy.”

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David Macaulay: An illustrated journey through Rome
This video may lead to: Boarding a plane for Italy with nothing but a sketchbook and a pencil.
How to prepare for your trip: Make detailed architectural sketches of the Olive Garden while sitting in the parking lot, waiting for your to-go order of manicotti.
Postcard quote: “Rome is a city full of surprises. We’re talking about narrow little winding streets that suddenly open into vast, sun-drenched piazzas. That amazing juxtaposition of old and new.”

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Karen Bass, Unseen footage, untamed nature
This video may lead to: Stargazing from the highest peak in the Altiplano.
How to prepare for your trip: Take daily walks up the steepest hill in your neighborhood.
Postcard quote: “People often ask me, ‘Where’s your favorite place on the planet?’ and the truth is, I just don’t have one. There are so many wonderful places.”

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Pico Iyer: Where is home?
This video may lead to: Putting your house on the market.
How to prepare for your trip: Duolingo.
Postcard quote: “For more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than, you could say, with a piece of soul.”

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Ben Saunders: Why bother leaving the house?
This video may lead to: Chartering a helicopter to drop you off in Siberia for a brisk ten-week stroll across Antarctica.
How to prepare for your trip: Walk to work. Walk to the grocery store. Walk to Maine. Walk back.
Postcard quote: “To try, to experience, to engage, to endeavor — rather than to watch and to wonder — that’s where the real meat of life is to be found.”

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Rachel Sussman: The world’s oldest living things
This video may lead to: Flying to South Africa to sit under a 2,000-year-old Baobab tree and ponder.
How to prepare for your trip: Try to determine the age of things around you, from the trees on your block to the leftover meatloaf in the back of the fridge.
Postcard quote: “The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of our past, a call to action in the present and a barometer of our future.”

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Vincent Moon: Hidden music rituals around the world
This video may lead to: Cashing out your retirement fund to tour the world in search of live music.
How to prepare for your trip: Open Spotify, search on “world music,” and play all of it.
Postcard quote: “I wanted to go somewhere else. I felt the need to travel and to discover some other music, to explore the world.”

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Kitra Cahana, A glimpse of life on the road
This video may lead to: Renouncing traditional society, selling everything you own that won’t fit in a knapsack, and hopping a freight train bound for anywhere.
How to prepare for your trip: Attempt to barter for your next vanilla latte.
Postcard quote: “This is a different kind of American dream.”

Planet DebianSven Hoexter: Free SSL/TLS snakeoil from

I've been a proponet of for a long time and I'm still using those certificates in some places, but lately I gave in and searched for something that validates even on iOS. It's not that I strictly need it, it's more a favour to make life for friends and family easier.

I turned down because I always manage to somehow lose the client certificate for the portal login. Plus I failed to generate several certificates for subdomains within the primary domain. I want to use different keys on purpose so SANs are not helpful, neither are wildcard certs for which you've to pay anyway. Another point against a wildcard cert from startssl is that I'd like to refrain from sending in my scanned papers for verification.

On a sidenote I'm also not a fan of random email address extractions from whois to sent validation codes to. I just don't see why the abuse desk of a registrar should be able to authorize on DV certificates for a domain under my control. startssl abuse desk in dv validation

So I decided to pay the self proclaimed leader of the snakeoil industrie (Comodo) via That made 12USD for a 3 year Comodo DV certificate. Fair enough for the mailsetup I share with a few friends, and the cheapest one I could find at that time. Actually no hassle with logins or verification. It looks a bit like a scam but the payment is done via 2checkout if I remember correctly and the certificate got issued via a voucher code by Comodo directly. Drawback: credit card payment.

Now while we're all waiting for I learned about the free offer of The CA is issued by the StartSSL Root CA, so technically we're very close to step one. Beside of that I only had to turn off uBlock origin and the rest of the JavaScript worked fine with Iceweasel once I clicked on the validity time selection checkbox. They offer the certificate for up to 3 years, you can paste your own csr and you can add up to 100 SANs. The only drawback is that it took them about 12 hours to issue the certificate and the mails look a hell lot like spam if you sent them through Spamassassin.

That provides now a free and validating certificate for in case you'd like to check out the chain. The validation chain is even one certificate shorter then the chain for the certificate I bought from Comodo. So in case anyone else is waiting for letsencrypt to start, you might want to check wosign until Mozilla et al are ready.

From my point of view the only reason to pay one of the major CAs is for the service of running a reliable OCSP system. I also pointed that out here. It's more and more about the service you buy and no longer just money for a few ones and zeroes.

CryptogramHistory of the First Crypto War

As we're all gearing up to fight the Second Crypto War over governments' demands to be able to back-door any cryptographic system, it pays for us to remember the history of the First Crypto War. The Open Technology Institute has written the story of those years in the mid-1990s.

The act that truly launched the Crypto Wars was the White House's introduction of the "Clipper Chip" in 1993. The Clipper Chip was a state-of-the-art microchip developed by government engineers which could be inserted into consumer hardware telephones, providing the public with strong cryptographic tools without sacrificing the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access unencrypted versions of those communications. The technology relied on a system of "key escrow," in which a copy of each chip's unique encryption key would be stored by the government. Although White House officials mobilized both political and technical allies in support of the proposal, it faced immediate backlash from technical experts, privacy advocates, and industry leaders, who were concerned about the security and economic impact of the technology in addition to obvious civil liberties concerns. As the battle wore on throughout 1993 and into 1994, leaders from across the political spectrum joined the fray, supported by a broad coalition that opposed the Clipper Chip. When computer scientist Matt Blaze discovered a flaw in the system in May 1994, it proved to be the final death blow: the Clipper Chip was dead.

Nonetheless, the idea that the government could find a palatable way to access the keys to encrypted communications lived on throughout the 1990s. Many policymakers held onto hopes that it was possible to securely implement what they called "software key escrow" to preserve access to phone calls, emails, and other communications and storage applications. Under key escrow schemes, a government-certified third party would keep a "key" to every device. But the government's shift in tactics ultimately proved unsuccessful; the privacy, security, and economic concerns continued to outweigh any potential benefits. By 1997, there was an overwhelming amount of evidence against moving ahead with any key escrow schemes.

The Second Crypto War is going to be harder and nastier, and I am less optimistic that strong cryptography will win in the short term.

Krebs on Security“Free” Proxies Aren’t Necessarily Free

Netflix, Hulu and a host of other content streaming services block non-U.S. users from viewing their content. As a result, many people residing in or traveling outside of the United States seek to circumvent such restrictions by using services that advertise “free” and “open” Web proxies capable of routing browser traffic through U.S.-based computers and networks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, new research suggests that most of these “free” offerings are anything but, and actively seek to weaken browser security and privacy.

proxyThe data comes from Austrian researcher and teacher Christian Haschek, who published a simple script to check 443 open Web proxies (no, that number was not accidental). His script tries to see if a given proxy allows encrypted browser traffic (https://), and whether the proxy tries to modify site content or inject any content into the user’s browser session, such as ads or malicious scripts.

Haschek found that 79 percent of the proxies he tested forced users to load pages in unencrypted (http://) mode, meaning the owners of those proxies could see all of the traffic in plain text.

“It could be because they want you to use http so they can analyze your traffic and steal your logins,” Haschek said. “If I’m a good guy setting up a server so that people can use it to be secure and anonymous, I’m going to allow people to use https. But what is my motive if I tell users http only?”

Haschek’s research also revealed that slightly more than 16 percent of the proxy servers were actively modifying static HTML pages to inject ads.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) allow users to tunnel their encrypted traffic to different countries, but increasingly online content providers are blocking popular VPN services as well. Tor offers users the ability to encrypt and tunnel traffic for free, but in my experience the service isn’t reliably fast enough to stream video.

Haschek suggests that users who wish to take advantage of open proxies pick ones that allow https traffic. He’s created and posted online a free tool that allows anyone to test whether a given proxy permits encrypted Web traffic, as well as whether the proxy truly hides the user’s real Internet address. This blog post explains more about his research methodology and script.

Users who wish to take advantage of open proxies also should consider doing so using a Live CD or virtual machine setup that makes it easy to reset the system to a clean installation after each use. I rely on the free VirtualBox platform to run multiple virtual machines, a handful of which I use to do much of my regular browsing, tweeting, emailing and other things that can lead sometimes to malicious links, scripts, etc.

I’ll most likely revisit setting up your own VirtualBox installation in a future post, but this tutorial offers a fairly easy-to-follow primer on how to run a Live CD installation of a Linux distribution of your choosing on top of VirtualBox.

Jon MastersRed Hat Enterprise Linux Server for ARM Development Preview

A few minutes ago, Red Hat announced Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for ARM Development Preview 7.1. This is a 64-bit (only) Operating System targeting “AArch64″, which is the 64-bit ARM machine execution state. It’s intended to help build out the Red Hat story within the ARM server ecosystem, allowing partners to port their applications and for ISVs to engage with the same trusted Operating System stack that they’ve worked with for many years. It is not a supported Operating System – so you can’t call up for support at this time – but you can use it to port your software to run on ARM servers. And you get all of the Red Hat goodness you would expect, from installation (all of the usual automation using Kickstart and tooling built upon that), through runtime management, and diagnostics (we have a fully functional version of UEFI-based kexec/kdump working with full crashdump support).

In short, everything you would expect from a 64-bit clean, Enterprise-quality Operating System. There are no shortcuts in RHELSA DP. We build one kernel (3.19 based in this release) that boots and runs exactly as you would expect on any other architecture. And we went the extra mile to make sure all of the tools users are familiar with will “just work”, right down to the level of assisting in bringing SMBIOS 3 to the ARM Architecture and in helping to port tools such as “dmidecode” (especially working with vendors to ensure their firmware tables are populated correctly) that users and scripts widely expect to use in discovering information for systems management. Our support of industry standards – such as ECAM-based PCIe enumeration using ACPI – means that plug in adapter cards also “just work”. And we’re not done. We’re poking all of the vendors to upstream their drivers as a condition of ever getting code into anything we might do in the future. It’s part of our very ethos that ARM be about upstream code.

To learn more about what we announced today in Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for ARM Development Preview, you can come to our session at Red Hat Summit (this Wednesday, 10:40am). It’s hosted by myself (I can now of course share publicly that I am technical lead for RHELSA DP), and my awesome colleague Yan Fisher (who leads our markeing efforts around RHELSA DP) to learn more about what we are announcing, and to see a live demo of Apache Spark doing some analytics. You can also see many other hardware platforms that are built to comply with these industry standards running our Operating System at Summit (some with fresh and shiny new firmware upgrades that will migrate them over to support these emerging ARM industry standards). Stay tuned over the next few days for some exciting news and developments!

A little more history

We didn’t get here overnight. It’s taken years of effort by many many people to port our Operating System, infrastructure, tooling, and maintainers over to the 64-bit ARM Architecture, and I am very proud of each and every one of the people who have been involved. What started out as a small skunkworks team in the “Yosemite Project” has become integrated with the whole, and now nearly everyone has more than a little ARM expertise and exposure. With that in mind, I figure I can finally share a little history behind this project and how we got from there to today’s news.

The ARM project, originally known as “Yosemite” (it’s my favorite US National Park), began life 4.5 years ago in a meeting I had with one of my execs. At the time, 32-bit ARMv7 (with hardware floating point!) was the new new shiny, and we were super excited by PandaBoards and BeagleBones (not even -xM, but the original one). It took a stretch of the imagination to go from these tiny embedded engineering boards to a full multi-blade server system, but to give my management the credit they fully deserve, they have rarely been shy about thinking to the future and to newly emerging technologies.

Yet even at the time, we knew that our real interest was in the (as yet unannounced) rumored-to-exist 64-bit ARM Architecture (which is where our interest lies as far as Enterprise focused server systems). Indeed, in my first ever email after creating our internal ARM engineering list, I said the following on the topic of 64-bit ARM:

* The 64-million-dollar question is 64-bit ARM support. I’ve heard various mumblings from contacts, and of course there has been some press on this front. We are going to reach out to ARM to see what we can find out. *If* there will be a 64-bit architecture in the medium term, this may instead become the target of interest to Red Hat (where we care mostly about ARM for things like low power server blades), while Fedora would obviously retain both ARMv5 and ARMv7 in any case. This is a high priority item in the short term to find out this information.

Needless to say, we ultimately did discover that there was, in fact a 64-bit version of the architecture under development, and therein began a beautiful friendship that has existed with the ARM Architecture team for many years (I just love those guys to pieces). We began working with the early silicon vendors from the very beginning. Over the years, I’ve personally had some wild and whacky adventures assisting in everything from silicon bringup and debug (with many vendors) to design reviews for multiple future generations that will dazzle us in the years to come. There’s some truly awesome stuff coming that will bring us lots of fun toys to play with in future years.

When we began our team, we quickly got engaged with the Fedora ARM project, helping to bootstrap the “armv7hl” 32-bit architecture. This served multiple purposes – it helped us to do the right thing (working through Fedora to get what ultimately benefits everyone) and to learn how to bootstrap a new ARM Architecture from scratch once we got to the 64-bit version we knew was in flight. That same very first email from me to our internal engineering team also contained these important words on the subject of Fedora:

* We obviously want to work with the Fedora ARM community that already exists, and not appear to come in to take over. With that in mind, there have already been discussions with Chris Tyler and Paul Whalen that most (or all) of you have been involved in. Our goal is two-fold here: to help improve the Fedora ARM experience, and to be as un-intrusive as possible in our internal efforts at Red Hat engineering. We will come up with a list of priority goals for areas we are best able to help on.

I would like to think we have done our best to live up to our own standards over the past few years as far as doing right by the communities in which we operate (and it is great to see folks like Peter Robinson and Paul Whalen continuing to drive Fedora ARM forward). Looking back on those heady days, I can also amuse and ridicule myself with a number of other thoughts I shared on ways to build ARM servers over the next 5 years:

* we will need to work on questions such as:
- Choosing a kernel tree (upstream, OMAP, Hybrid we make, etc.) and building a single, generic 32-bit ARM binary kernel image. Although ARM traditionally has various machine/platform logic, I feel that the newer stuff like Grant Likely’s Flattened Device Tree work is essential to making a supportable Enterprise kernel. We will need to work with vendors to see what they are doing on the “BIOS”/platform front, and hopefully can get behind something like FDT.

So you can see that I wasn’t always the UEFI/ACPI “fanboy” that I became. Indeed, I have never been wedded to any one technology. I have, instead, been “wedded” to the successful outcome for the overall computing industry in which ARM is a part of a vibrant range of consumer choices. After many early conversations (more than 4 years ago now) with a wide variety of industry players, it became clear to me that the way for ARM to succeed in server (in having a standard platform against which a single Enterprise quality Operating System image could be constructed, and used in such a manner that was highly familiar to those deploying on ARM) was through bringing all of the hardware vendors together and agreeing upon some common standards that could help us succeed together. Which is what we did. I think the end result is a good one for the success of the ARM partnership, which is what matters in the end.

As a result of the work that has been done over the past few years, we have now been able to build an Operating System that feels just like other Enterprise Operating Systems with which many of you are very familiar. And, indeed, many of you have been running RHELSA DP in various incarnations during development. This includes our good friends at Linaro, who have provided much of the platform engineering work required to support emerging ARM platform standards with a single OS kernel image. Linaro have been instrumental in so many ways in bringing the entire Linux-on-ARM emerging server ecosystem together and we look forward to many more wonderful years working on ARM servers together.

RHELSA DP targets industry standards that we have helped to drive for the past few years, including the ARM SBSA (Server Base System Architecture), and the ARM SBBR (Server Base Boot Requirements). These will collectively allow for a single 64-bit ARM Enterprise server Operating System image that supports the full range of compliant systems out of the box (as well as many future systems that have yet to be released through minor driver updates). This is fantastic news for both the emerging ARM server ecosystem, as well as for the Red Hat family overall. It’s only going to get more exciting over time. There are so many others whose designs we have assisted in developing over the past few years that I look forward to seeing come to market as this ecosystem matures with time.

Today I am proud to share Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for ARM Development Preview with our many wonderful partners. I look forward to working with all of those who want to join us in building an open and standards based ecosystem of awesomeness. Now is a great time to reach out to myself and the team to learn more about how to get involved. See you at Red Hat Summit!

Planet DebianNiels Thykier: Introducing dak auto-decruft

Debian now have over 22 000 source packages and 45 500 binary packages.  To counter that, the FTP masters and I have created a dak tool to automatically remove packages from unstable!  This is also much more efficient than only removing them from testing! :)


The primary goal of the auto-decrufter is to remove a regular manual work flow from the FTP masters.  Namely, the removal of the common cases of cruft, such as “Not Built from Source” (NBS) and “Newer Version In Unstable” (NVIU).  With the auto-decrufter in place, such cruft will be automatically removed when there are no reverse dependencies left on any architecture and nothing Build-Depends on it any more.

Despite the implication in the “opening” of this post, this will in fact not substantially reduce the numbers of packages in unstable. :) Nevertheless, it is still very useful for the FTP masters, the release team and packaging Debian contributors.

The reason why the release team benefits greatly from this tool, is that almost every transition generates one piece of “NBS”-cruft.  Said piece of cruft currently must be  removed from unstable before the transition can progress into its final phase.  Until recently that removal has been 100% manual and done by the FTP masters.

The restrictions on auto-decrufter means that we will still need manual decrufts. Notably, the release team will often complete transitions even when some reverse dependencies remain on non-release architectures.  Nevertheless, it is definitely an improvement.


Omelettes and eggs: As an old saying goes “You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs”.  Less so when the only “test suite” is production.  So here are some of the “broken eggs” caused by implementation of the auto-decrufter:

  • About 30 minutes of “dak rm” (without –no-action) would unconditionally crash.
  • A broken dinstall when “dak auto-decruft” was run without “–dry-run” for the first time.
  • A boolean condition inversion causing removals to remove the “override” for partial removals (and retain it for “full” removals).
    • Side-effect, this broke Britney a couple of times because dak now produced some “unexpected” Packages files for unstable.
  • Not to mention the “single digit bug closure” bug.

Of the 3, the boolean inversion was no doubt the worst.  By the time we had it fixed, at least 50 (unique) binary packages had lost their “override”.  Fortunately, it was possible to locate these issues using a database query and they have now been fixed.

Before I write any more non-trivial patches for dak, I will probably invest some time setting up a basic test framework for dak first.


Filed under: Debian, Release-Team

Planet DebianLunar: Reproducible builds: week 8 in Stretch cycle

What happened about the reproducible builds effort this week:

Toolchain fixes

Andreas Henriksson has improved Johannes Schauer initial patch for pbuilder adding support for build profiles.

Packages fixed

The following 12 packages became reproducible due to changes in their build dependencies: collabtive, eric, file-rc, form-history-control, freehep-chartableconverter-plugin , jenkins-winstone, junit, librelaxng-datatype-java, libwildmagic, lightbeam, puppet-lint, tabble.

The following packages became reproducible after getting fixed:

Some uploads fixed some reproducibility issues but not all of them:

Patches submitted which have not made their way to the archive yet:

  • #788747 on 0xffff by Dhole: allow embedded timestamp to be set externally and set it to the time of the debian/changelog.
  • #788752 on analog by Dhole: allow embedded timestamp to be set externally and set it to the time of the debian/changelog.
  • #788757 on jacktrip by akira: remove $datetime from the documentation footer.
  • #788868 on apophenia by akira: remove $date from the documentation footer.
  • #788920 on orthanc by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #788955 on rivet by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789040 on liblo by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789049 on mpqc by akira: remove $datetime from the documentation footer.
  • #789071 on libxkbcommon by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789073 on libxr by akira: remove $datetime from the documentation footer.
  • #789076 on lvtk by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789087 on lmdb by akira: pass HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO to Doxygen.
  • #789184 on openigtlink by akira: remove $datetime from the documentation footer.
  • #789264 on openscenegraph by akira: pass HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO to Doxygen.
  • #789308 on trigger-rally-data by Mattia Rizzolo: call dh_fixperms even when overriding dh_fixperms.
  • #789396 on libsidplayfp by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789399 on psocksxx by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789405 on qdjango by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789406 on qof by akira: set HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO in Doxygen configuration.
  • #789428 on qsapecng by akira: pass HTML_TIMESTAMP=NO to Doxygen.

Bugs with the ftbfs usertag are now visible on the bug graphs. This explain the recent spike. (h01ger)

Andreas Beckmann suggested a way to test building packages using the “funny paths” that one can get when they contain the full Debian package version string.

debbindiff development

Lunar started an important refactoring introducing abstactions for containers and files in order to make file type identification more flexible, enabling fuzzy matching, and allowing parallel processing.

Documentation update

Ximin Luo detailed the proposal to standardize environment variables to pass a reference source date to tools that needs one (e.g. documentation generator).

Package reviews

41 obsolete reviews have been removed, 168 added and 36 updated this week.

Some more issues affecting packages failing to build from source have been identified.


Minutes have been posted for Tuesday June 16th meeting.

The next meeting is scheduled Tuesday June 23rd at 17:00 UTC.


Lunar presented the project in French during Pas Sage en Seine in Paris. Video and slides are available.

RacialiciousRevenge Of The Blerd: The Racialicious Review of Dope

By Arturo R. García

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What’s supposed to be a romantic moment in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope ends up being one of its more problematic: we see the protagonist, Malcolm, tell his love interest Nakia, “Don’t sell yourself short” when she explains that, should she get her GED, she plans to attend a community college before, hopefully, moving on to Cal State Fullerton or a school in that system.

Malcolm’s remark is meant to be encouraging, to spur her on to defying expectations. But there’s also a touch of unwitting condescension, of classism in play in that response. And the vexing thing about Dope is that it’s a coming-of-age tale that won’t let him see that other side even as it insists he’s maturing before our eyes.

SPOILERS under the cut

The movie has gotten some shine after scoring at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the trailer makes it seem like a Feel-Good Hit Of The Summer. What we get instead is a story by writer/director Famuyiwa that wraps Malcolm’s journey to maturation around a social-media heist story, somewhat unevenly. And seeing that Pharrell — who coined the rather-criticized term “New Black” — is listed as an executive producer alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs puts its opening gambit in a different light.

As the film opens, an unseen narrator (producer Forest Whitaker) informs us that Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and buddies Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are ridiculed at their Inglewood high school because they are geeks for liking “white sh*t” (like Donald Glover, because subtle).

Famuyiwa frames things in such a way that the three friends are seemingly the only grade-smart people in their school at all. Malcolm’s apparent dismissal of public universities stems from his obsession with going to Harvard. In his best moment, he asks both the school and the viewer, “Why do I want to go to Harvard? If I was white would you even be asking that question?” Maybe not. But one gets the sense that he’s not just chasing the education — he’s after the idea of Harvard as a salve; you have to wonder what he would think if, say, nearby USC or UCLA offered him a scholarship.

At the same time, he doesn’t want to talk about where he came from in his application essay, calling it “cliche.” Instead, he pulls out a piece purporting to research the singular “Good Day” from the Ice Cube song. The idea isn’t just gimmicky as hell; as NPR’s Gene Demby points out, is literally a recycled AV Club piece.

Besides being a straight-A student, Malcolm also leads a punk band, Awreoh (pronounced like “Oreo” because subtle) with his friends backing him. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the film had let the music — supplied by Pharrell — do more of the talking, since the lyrics we hear give us more of a sense of his day-to-day than Whitaker can supply in his narration.

At the very least, there’s enough elements already in play to really dig into this take on the Blerd identity and navigating it in this kind of neighborhood — the performances by Moore and company lead you to suggest they could do more; rapper A$AP Rocky offers a promising antagonist as Dom, a local heavy who may or may not realize he wasted his own potential; and the film pops both visually and musically; a dream sequence where Malcolm confronts his friends and enemies on a bus home, set to Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where The Hatred Is,” stands out in particular.

But instead of maximizing any of these assets, the film sidetracks itself when Dom foists enough MDMA on Malcolm and his buddies to make selling the stash not just palatable in their eyes, but profitable. There’s enough tech-speak thrown around (Tor! Dark web! Bitcoin!) to nearly make you forget that the scheme (and thus, the film’s plot) only begins to play out because the right person talks himself out of settling the issue around 45 minutes into the story.

While this misadventure is meant as a way to put our heroes in danger, what ends up happening is that just about every character besides Malcolm suffers in the name of the plot, undercutting our reasons to root for him despite Moore’s efforts. The women in his life get the worst of it.

We see Malcolm’s mom (Kimberly Elise) for seconds at a time, yet his pop culture and sartorial style — the sources of his Capital-G Geekiness — are both drawn from a videotape sent by his off-screen father; Diggy doesn’t do much of anything besides show men she’s really a woman, tell us she likes other women, and slap a white guy for trying to get away with using the n-word; older women Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) and Lily (Chanel Iman) both express interest in Malcolm (because wish fulfillment), but the former doesn’t get to speak up for her educational choices, and the latter is literally turned into a meme promoting Awreoh after she suffers a drug-induced freak-out.

One might compare this movie to another recent festival darling, last year’s Dear White People. But while that movie questioned its primary characters at every turn, Dope goes all-in on Malcolm and a less-nuanced trial-by-fire. When Moore gets to show Malcolm speaking for himself, you at least want to hear him state his case. But when the conversation getting the most sustained screentime in the movie involves a white guy wanting to use a racist slur, it’s not the neighborhood stifling him — it’s the writing.

The post Revenge Of The Blerd: The Racialicious Review of Dope appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

CryptogramThe Secrecy of the Snowden Documents

Last weekend, the Sunday Times published a front-page story (full text here), citing anonymous British sources claiming that both China and Russia have copies of the Snowden documents. It's a terrible article, filled with factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims about both Snowden's actions and the damage caused by his disclosure, and others have thoroughly refuted the story. I want to focus on the actual question: Do countries like China and Russia have copies of the Snowden documents?

I believe the answer is certainly yes, but that it's almost certainly not Snowden's fault.

Snowden has claimed that he gave nothing to China while he was in Hong Kong, and brought nothing to Russia. He has said that he encrypted the documents in such a way that even he no longer has access to them, and that he did this before the US government stranded him in Russia. I have no doubt he did as he said, because A) it's the smart thing to do, and B) it's easy. All he would have had to do was encrypt the file with a long random key, break the encrypted text up into a few parts and mail them to trusted friends around the world, then forget the key. He probably added some security embellishments, but -- regardless -- the first sentence of the Times story simply makes no sense: "Russia and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files..."

But while cryptography is strong, computer security is weak. The vulnerability is not Snowden; it's everyone who has access to the files.

First, the journalists working with the documents. I've handled some of the Snowden documents myself, and even though I'm a paranoid cryptographer, I know how difficult it is to maintain perfect security. It's been open season on the computers of the journalists Snowden shared documents with since this story broke in July 2013. And while they have been taking extraordinary pains to secure those computers, it's almost certainly not enough to keep out the world's intelligence services.

There is a lot of evidence for this belief. We know from other top-secret NSA documents that as far back as 2008, the agency's Tailored Access Operations group has extraordinary capabilities to hack into and "exfiltrate" data from specific computers, even if those computers are highly secured and not connected to the Internet.

These NSA capabilities are not unique, and it's reasonable to assume both that other countries had similar capabilities in 2008 and that everyone has improved their attack techniques in the seven years since then. Last week, we learned that Israel had successfully hacked a wide variety of networks, including that of a major computer antivirus company. We also learned that China successfully hacked US government personnel databases. And earlier this year, Russia successfully hacked the White House's network. These sorts of stories are now routine.

Which brings me to the second potential source of these documents to foreign intelligence agencies: the US and UK governments themselves. I believe that both China and Russia had access to all the files that Snowden took well before Snowden took them because they've penetrated the NSA networks where those files reside. After all, the NSA has been a prime target for decades.

Those government hacking examples above were against unclassified networks, but the nation-state techniques we're seeing work against classified and unconnected networks as well. In general, it's far easier to attack a network than it is to defend the same network. This isn't a statement about willpower or budget; it's how computer and network security work today. A former NSA deputy director recently said that if we were to score cyber the way we score soccer, the tally would be 462­456 twenty minutes into the game. In other words, it's all offense and no defense.

In this kind of environment, we simply have to assume that even our classified networks have been penetrated. Remember that Snowden was able to wander through the NSA's networks with impunity, and that the agency had so few controls in place that the only way they can guess what has been taken is to extrapolate based on what has been published. Does anyone believe that Snowden was the first to take advantage of that lax security? I don't.

This is why I find allegations that Snowden was working for the Russians or the Chinese simply laughable. What makes you think those countries waited for Snowden? And why do you think someone working for the Russians or the Chinese would go public with their haul?

I am reminded of a comment made to me in confidence by a US intelligence official. I asked him what he was most worried about, and he replied: "I know how deep we are in our enemies' networks without them having any idea that we're there. I'm worried that our networks are penetrated just as deeply."

Seems like a reasonable worry to me.

The open question is which countries have sophisticated enough cyberespionage operations to mount a successful attack against one of the journalists or against the intelligence agencies themselves. And while I have my own mental list, the truth is that I don't know. But certainly Russia and China are on the list, and it's just as certain they didn't have to wait for Snowden to get access to the files. While it might be politically convenient to blame Snowden because, as the Sunday Times reported an anonymous source saying, "we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted," the NSA and GCHQ should first take a look into their mirrors.

This essay originally appeared on

EDITED TO ADD: I wrote about this essay on Lawfare:

A Twitter user commented: "Surely if agencies accessed computers of people Snowden shared with then is still his fault?"

Yes, that's right. Snowden took the documents out of the well-protected NSA network and shared with people who don't have those levels of computer security. Given what we've seen of the NSA's hacking capabilities, I think the odds are zero that other nations were unable to hack at least one of those journalists' computers. And yes, Snowden has to own that.

The point I make in the article is that those nations didn't have to wait for Snowden. More specifically, GCHQ claims that "we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted." One, agents and assets are not discussed in the Snowden documents. Two, it's two years after Snowden handed those documents to reporters. Whatever is happening, it's unlikely to be related to Snowden.

EDITED TO ADD: Slashdot thread. Hacker News thread.

Mark ShuttleworthIntroducing the Fan – simpler container networking

Canonical just announced a new, free, and very cool way to provide thousands of IP addresses to each of your VMs on AWS. Check out the fan networking on Ubuntu wiki page to get started, or read Dustin’s excellent fan walkthrough. Carry on here for a simple description of this happy little dose of awesome.

Containers are transforming the way people think about virtual machines (LXD) and apps (Docker). They give us much better performance and much better density for virtualisation in LXD, and with Docker, they enable new ways to move applications between dev, test and production. These two aspects of containers – the whole machine container and the process container, are perfectly complementary. You can launch Docker process containers inside LXD machine containers very easily. LXD feels like KVM only faster, Docker feels like the core unit of a PAAS.

The density numbers are pretty staggering. It’s *normal* to run hundreds of containers on a laptop.

And that is what creates one of the real frustrations of the container generation, which is a shortage of easily accessible IP addresses.

It seems weird that in this era of virtual everything that a number is hard to come by. The restrictions are real, however, because AWS restricts artificially the number of IP addresses you can bind to an interface on your VM. You have to buy a bigger VM to get more IP addresses, even if you don’t need extra compute. Also, IPv6 is nowehre to be seen on the clouds, so addresses are more scarce than they need to be in the first place.

So the key problem is that you want to find a way to get tens or hundreds of IP addresses allocated to each VM.

Most workarounds to date have involved “overlay networking”. You make a database in the cloud to track which IP address is attached to which container on each host VM. You then create tunnels between all the hosts so that everything can talk to everything. This works, kinda. It results in a mess of tunnels and much more complex routing than you would otherwise need. It also ruins performance for things like multicast and broadcast, because those are now exploding off through a myriad twisty tunnels, all looking the same.

The Fan is Canonical’s answer to the container networking challenge.

We recognised that container networking is unusual, and quite unlike true software-defined networking, in that the number of containers you want on each host is probably roughly the same. You want to run a couple hundred containers on each VM. You also don’t (in the docker case) want to live migrate them around, you just kill them and start them again elsewhere. Essentially, what you need is an address multiplier – anywhere you have one interface, it would be handy to have 250 of them instead.

So we came up with the “fan”. It’s called that because you can picture it as a fan behind each of your existing IP addresses, with another 250 IP addresses available. Anywhere you have an IP you can make a fan, and every fan gives you 250x the IP addresses. More than that, you can run multiple fans, so each IP address could stand in front of thousands of container IP addresses.

We use standard IPv4 addresses, just like overlays. What we do that’s new is allocate those addresses mathematically, with an algorithmic projection from your existing subnet / network range to the expanded range. That results in a very flat address structure – you get exactly the same number of overlay addresses for each IP address on your network, perfect for a dense container setup.

Because we’re mapping addresses algorithmically, we avoid any need for a database of overlay addresses per host. We can calculate instantly, with no database lookup, the host address for any given container address.

More importantly, we can route to these addresses much more simply, with a single route to the “fan” network on each host, instead of the maze of twisty network tunnels you might have seen with other overlays.

You can expand any network range with any other network range. The main idea, though, is that people will expand a class B range in their VPC with a class A range. Who has a class A range lying about? You do! It turns out that there are a couple of class A networks that are allocated and which publish no routes on the Internet.

We also plan to submit an IETF RFC for the fan, for address expansion. It turns out that “Class E” networking was reserved but never defined, and we’d like to think of that as a new “Expansion” class. There are several class A network addresses reserved for Class E, which won’t work on the Internet itself. While you can use the fan with unused class A addresses (and there are several good candidates for use!) it would be much nicer to do this as part of a standard.

The fan is available on Ubuntu on AWS and soon on other clouds, for your testing and container experiments! Feedback is most welcome while we refine the user experience.

Configuration on Ubuntu is super-simple. Here’s an example:

In /etc/network/fan:

# fan 241 dhcp

In /etc/network/interfaces:

iface eth0 static
up fanctl up
down fanctl down

This will map 250 addresses on to your hosts.

Docker, LXD and Juju integration is just as easy. For docker, edit /etc/default/, adding:

DOCKER_OPTS=”-d -b fan-10-3-4 –mtu=1480 –iptables=false”

You must then restart

sudo service restart

At this point, a Docker instance started via, e.g.,

docker run -it ubuntu:latest

will be run within the specified fan overlay network.


Worse Than FailureFinally Clear

Flickr - Nicholas T - Finality

Neil’s first contributions to the company codebase were to be tested in the fires of a late afternoon code review. Donavan, a veteran of Java since 1.1, was asked to sit in.

It began as a thankfully uneventful affair — but then Donavan noticed that Neil had removed the finally from an existing try/catch/finally block.

“Why’d you do that?” he asked.

“Well, because a finally block is indeterministic,” Neil explained.

Donavan frowned, smoothing out the startled What?! in his throat into a calmer, “What do you mean?”

“You never know when it’s going to execute,” Neil elaborated. “It may never execute. It also causes severe performance and portability problems. It’s not good practice to use.”

“I’ve… never heard of that,” Donavan replied, patiently stowing his skepticism for the moment. “I can only think of two reasons why a finally block might not run: one, the thread executing the try/catch is halted or killed. Two, the JVM crashes or exits in the try or catch block.”

“I’ve read about this before. I know what I’m talking about,” Neil huffed, folding his arms.

“Where’d you read this?” Donavan asked gamely.

“I think it came from a book called Effective Java,” Neil replied.

“I have that book,” Donavan replied. “This is news to me.”

Neil tugged at his collar. “Well, I — I think you’ll find the new code performs much better, and is safer.”

“Did you run any performance tests against it?” Donavan asked.

Neil’s face grew steadily redder, until he wrapped around the spectrum and approached violet. “I have fifteen years of Java experience!”

The experience card? With Donavan? This guy was new, all right.

“Whoa! You don’t have to get defensive about this.” Donavan put up his hands. “I just want to know why you did this, and what your source was. I’m not going to propagate this information by saying ‘Some guy told me this was the case.’ I’d like to read it for myself.”

“I know it was Effective Java,” Neil replied. “Look it up, if you want!”

The rest of the code review proceeded without fanfare. Upon returning to his cube, Donovan googled for information on when and why not to use finally in Java. He found nothing enlightening.

Then he searched for “Effective Java finally.” There, in an online version of the book, Chapter Two made reference to avoiding finalizers, stating the exact same facts Neil had attributed to the hapless finally block.

There it dawned on Donavan: Neil had either confused the terms, or he believed that a finally block was actually itself a finalizer.

Donavan jumped up and checked Neil’s cube, only to find it empty. So he sent an email with the citation. I can see how the terms can be confusing, he added at the end, hoping to soften the blow.

After clicking the Send button, Donavan sat back and folded his arms with a thoughtful frown, pondering the long-term effects of such an innocent slip. In Neil’s alleged 15 years of experience, how many finally blocks had he delete-keyed into oblivion?

Fortunately, Neil wasn’t so set in his ways that he couldn’t correct course when proven wrong. He and Donavan had a good laugh about it the next day. And once Neil finally understood finally, they could finally program happily ever after.

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Planet Linux AustraliaSam Watkins: sswam

I learned a useful trick with the bash shell today.

We can use printf “%q ” to escape arguments to pass to the shell.

This can be useful in combination with ssh, in case you want to pass arguments containing shell special characters or spaces. It can also be used with su -c, and sh -c.

The following will run a command exactly on a remote server:

sshc() {
        remote=$1 ; shift
        ssh "$remote" "`printf "%q " "$@"`"


sshc user@server touch "a test file" "another file"


Planet DebianEnrico Zini: debtags-rewrite-python3

debtags rewritten in python3

In my long quest towards closing #540218, I have uploaded a new libept to experimental. Then I tried to build debtags on a sid+experimental chroot and the result runs but has libc's free() print existential warnings about whatevers.

At a quick glance, there are now things around like a new libapt, gcc 5 with ABI changes, and who knows what else. I figured how much time it'd take me to debug something like that, and I've used that time to rewrite debtags in python3. It took 8 hours, 5 of pleasant programming and the usual tax of another 3 of utter frustration packaging the results. I guess I gained over the risk of spending an unspecified amount of hours of just pure frustration.

So from now on debtags is going to be a pure python3 package, with dependencies on only python3-apt and python3-debian. 700 lines of python instead of several C++ files built on 4 layers of libraries. Hopefully, this is the last of the big headaches I get from hacking on this package. Also, one less package using libept.

Planet Linux AustraliaSridhar Dhanapalan: Twitter posts: 2015-06-15 to 2015-06-21

Planet DebianSteve Kemp: We're all about storing objects

Recently I've been experimenting with camlistore, which is yet another object storage system.

Camlistore gains immediate points because it is written in Go, and is a project initiated by Brad Fitzpatrick, the creator of Perlbal, memcached, and Livejournal of course.

Camlistore is designed exactly how I'd like to see an object storage-system - each server allows you to:

  • Upload a chunk of data, getting an ID in return.
  • Download a chunk of data, by ID.
  • Iterate over all available IDs.

It should be noted more is possible, there's a pretty web UI for example, but I'm simplifying. Do your own homework :)

With those primitives you can allow a client-library to upload a file once, then in the background a bunch of dumb servers can decide amongst themselves "Hey I have data with ID:33333 - Do you?". If nobody else does they can upload a second copy.

In short this kind of system allows the replication to be decoupled from the storage. The obvious risk is obvious though: if you upload a file the chunks might live on a host that dies 20 minutes later, just before the content was replicated. That risk is minimal, but valid.

There is also the risk that sudden rashes of uploads leave the system consuming all the internal-bandwith constantly comparing chunk-IDs, trying to see if data is replaced that has been copied numerous times in the past, or trying to play "catch-up" if the new-content is larger than the replica-bandwidth. I guess it should possible to detect those conditions, but they're things to be concerned about.

Anyway the biggest downside with camlistore is documentation about rebalancing, replication, or anything other than simple single-server setups. Some people have blogged about it, and I got it working between two nodes, but I didn't feel confident it was as robust as I wanted it to be.

I have a strong belief that Camlistore will become a project of joy and wonder, but it isn't quite there yet. I certainly don't want to stop watching it :)

On to the more personal .. I'm all about the object storage these days. Right now most of my objects are packed in a collection of boxes. On the 6th of next month a shipping container will come pick them up and take them to Finland.

For pretty much 20 days in a row we've been taking things to the skip, or the local charity-shops. I expect that by the time we've relocated the amount of possesions we'll maintain will be at least a fifth of our current levels.

We're working on the general rule of thumb: "If it is possible to replace an item we will not take it". That means chess-sets, mirrors, etc, will not be carried. DVDs, for example, have been slashed brutally such that we're only transferring 40 out of a starting collection of 500+.

Only personal, one-off, unique, or "significant" items will be transported. This includes things like personal photographs, family items, and similar. Clothes? Well I need to take one jacket, but more can be bought. The only place I put my foot down was books. Yes I'm a kindle-user these days, but I spent many years tracking down some rare volumes, and though it would be possible to repeat that effort I just don't want to.

I've also decided that I'm carrying my complete toolbox. Some of the tools I took with me when I left home at 18 have stayed with me for the past 20+ years. I don't need this specific crowbar, or axe, but I'm damned if I'm going to lose them now. So they stay. Object storage - some objects are more important than they should be!


Planet DebianJoachim Breitner: Running circle-packing in the Browser, now using GHCJS

Quite a while ago, I wrote a small Haskell library called circle-packing to pack circles in a tight arrangement. Back then, I used the Haskell to JavaScript compiler fay to create a pretty online demo of that library, and shortly after, I create the identical demo using haste (another Haskell to JavaScript compiler).

The main competitor of these two compilers, and the most promising one, is GHCJS. Back then, it was too annoying to install. But after two years, things have changed, and it only takes a few simple commands to get GHCJS running, so I finally created the circle packing demo in a GHCJS variant.

Quick summary: Cabal integration is very good (like haste, but unline fay), interfacing JavaScript is nice and easy (like fay, but unlike haste), and a quick check seems to indicate that it is faster than either of these two. I should note that I did not update the other two demos, so they represent the state of fay and haste back then, respectively.

With GHCJS now available at my fingertips, maybe I will produce some more Haskell to be run in your browser. For example, I could port FrakView, a GUI program to render, expore and explain iterated function systems, from GTK to HTML.

Cory DoctorowCybersecurity podcast

I’m a guest on this week’s New America Foundation cybersecurity podcast, hosted by Amanda Gaines and Peter Warren Singer (whose new book, Ghost Fleet, a novel about cybersecurity, is about to hit the stands) and edited by the great John Taylor Williams.

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MP3 link

Planet Linux AustraliaMichael Still: Yet another possible cub walk

Jacqui and Catherine kindly agreed to come on another test walk for a possible cub walk. This one was the Sanctuary Loop at Tidbinbilla. To be honest this wasn't a great choice for cubs -- whilst being scenic and generally pleasant, the heavy use of black top paths and walkways made it feel like a walk in the Botanic Gardens, and the heavy fencing made it feel like an exhibit at a zoo. I'm sure its great for a weekend walk or for tourists, but if you're trying to have a cub adventure its not great.


See more thumbnails

Interactive map for this route.

Tags for this post: blog pictures 20150620-tidbinbilla photo canberra bushwalk
Related posts: Goodwin trig; Big Monks; Geocaching; Confessions of a middle aged orienteering marker; A quick walk through Curtin; Narrabundah trig and 16 geocaches


Planet DebianLunar: Reproducible builds: week 4 in Stretch cycle

What happened about the reproducible builds effort for this week:

Toolchain fixes

Lunar rebased our custom dpkg on the new release, removing a now unneeded patch identified by Guillem Jover. An extra sort in the buildinfo generator prevented a stable order and was quickly fixed once identified.

Mattia Rizzolo also rebased our custom debhelper on the latest release.

Packages fixed

The following 30 packages became reproducible due to changes in their build dependencies: animal-sniffer, asciidoctor, autodock-vina, camping, cookie-monster, downthemall, flashblock, gamera, httpcomponents-core, https-finder, icedove-l10n, istack-commons, jdeb, libmodule-build-perl, libur-perl, livehttpheaders, maven-dependency-plugin, maven-ejb-plugin, mozilla-noscript, nosquint, requestpolicy, ruby-benchmark-ips, ruby-benchmark-suite, ruby-expression-parser, ruby-github-markup, ruby-http-connection, ruby-settingslogic, ruby-uuidtools, webkit2gtk, wot.

The following packages became reproducible after getting fixed:

Some uploads fixed some reproducibility issues but not all of them:

Patches submitted which did not make their way to the archive yet:

  • #775531 on console-setup by Reiner Herrmann: update and split patch written in January.
  • #785535 on maradns by Reiner Herrmann: use latest entry in debian/changelog as build date.
  • #785549 on dist by Reiner Herrmann: set hostname and domainname to predefined value.
  • #785583 on s5 by Juan Picca: set timezone to UTC when unzipping files.
  • #785617 on python-carrot by Juan Picca: use latest entry in debian/changelog as documentation build date.
  • #785774 on afterstep by Juan Picca: modify documentation generator to allow a build date to be set instead of the current time, then use latest entry in debian/changelog as reference.
  • #786508 on ttyload by Juan Picca: remove timestamp from documentation.
  • #786568 on linux-minidisc by Lunar: use latest entry in debian/changelog as build date.
  • #786615 on kfreebsd-10 by Steven Chamberlain: make order of file in source tarballs stable.
  • #786633 on webkit2pdf by Reiner Herrmann: use latest entry in debian/changelog as documentation build date.
  • #786634 on libxray-scattering-perl by Reiner Herrmann: tell Storable::nstore to produce sorted output.
  • #786637 on nvidia-settings by Lunar: define DATE, WHOAMI, andHOSTNAME_CMD` to stable values.
  • #786710 on armada-backlight by Reiner Herrmann: use latest entry in debian/changelog as documentation build date.
  • #786711 on leafpad by Reiner Herrmann: use latest entry in debian/changelog as documentation build date.
  • #786714 on equivs by Reiner Herrmann: use latest entry in debian/changelog as documentation build date.

Also, the following bugs have been reported:

  • #785536 on maradns by Reiner Herrmann: unreproducible deadwood binary.
  • #785624 on doxygen by Christoph Berg: timestamps in manpages generated makes builds non-reproducible.
  • #785736 on git-annex by Daniel Kahn Gillmor: documentation should be made reproducible.
  • #786593 on wordwarvi by Holger Levsen: please provide a --distrobuild build switch.
  • #786601 on sbcl by Holger Levsen: FTBFS when locales-all is installed instead of locales.
  • #786669 on ruby-celluloid by Holger Levsen: tests sometimes fail, causing ftbfs sometimes.
  • #786743 on obnam by Holger Levsen: FTBFS.

Holger Levsen made several small bug fixes and a few more visible changes:

  • For packages in testing, comparisions will be done using the sid version of debbindiff.
  • The scheduler will now schedule old packages from sid twice often as the ones in testing as we care more about the former at the moment.
  • More statistics are now visible and the layout has been improved.
  • Variations between the first and second build are now explained on the statistics page.


Version 0.007-1 of strip-nondeterminism—the tool to post-process various file formats to normalize them—has been uploaded by Holger Levsen. Version 0.006-1 was already in the reproducible repository, the new version mainly improve the detection of Maven's files.

debbindiff development

At the request of Emmanuel Bourg, Reiner Herrmann added a comparator for Java .class files.

Documentation update

Christoph Berg created a new page for the timestamps in manpages created by Doxygen.

Package reviews

93 obsolete reviews have been removed, 76 added and 43 updated this week.

New identified issues: timestamps in manpages generated by Doxygen, modification time differences in files extracted by unzip, tstamp task used in Ant build.xml, timestamps in documentation generated by ASDocGen. The description for build id related issues has been clarified.


Holger Levsen announced a first meeting on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015, 19:00 UTC. The agenda is amendable on the wiki.


Lunar worked on a proof-of-concept script to import the build environment found in .buildinfo files to UDD. Lucas Nussbaum has positively reviewed the proposed schema.

Holger Levsen cleaned up various experimental toolchain repositories, marking merged brances as such.

Planet DebianLunar: Reproducible builds: week 5 in Stretch cycle

What happened about the reproducible builds effort for this week:

Toolchain fixes

Uploads that should help other packages:

  • Stephen Kitt uploaded mingw-w64/4.0.2-2 which avoids inserting timestamps in PE binaries, and specify dlltool's temp prefix so it generates reproducible files.
  • Stephen Kitt uploaded binutils-mingw-w64/6.1 which fixed dlltool to initialize its output's .idata$6 section, avoiding random data ending up there.

Patch submitted for toolchain issues:

  • #787159 on openjdk-7 by Emmanuel Bourg: sort the annotations and enums in package-tree.html produced by javadoc.
  • #787250 on python-qt4 by Reiner Herrmann: sort imported modules to get reproducible output.
  • #787251 on pyqt5 by Reiner Herrmann: sort imported modules to get reproducible output.

Some discussions have been started in Debian and with upstream:

Packages fixed

The following 8 packages became reproducible due to changes in their build dependencies: access-modifier-checker, apache-log4j2, jenkins-xstream, libsdl-perl, maven-shared-incremental, ruby-pygments.rb, ruby-wikicloth, uimaj.

The following packages became reproducible after getting fixed:

Some uploads fixed some reproducibility issues but not all of them:

Patches submitted which did not make their way to the archive yet:

  • #777308 on dhcp-helper by Dhole: fix mtimes of packaged files.
  • #786927 on flowscan by Dhole: remove timestamps from gzip files and fix mtimes of packaged files.
  • #786959 on python3.5 by Lunar: set build date of binary and documentation to the time of latest debian/changelog entry, prevent gzip from storing a timestamp.
  • #786965 on python3.4 by Lunar: same as python3.5.
  • #786978 on python2.7 by Lunar: same as python3.5.
  • #787122 on xtrlock by Dhole: fix mtimes of packaged files.
  • #787123 on rsync by Dhole: remove timestamps from gzip files and fix mtimes of packaged files.
  • #787125 on pachi by Dhole: fix mtimes of packaged files.
  • #787126 on nis by Dhole: remove timestamps from gzip files and fix mtimes of packaged files.
  • #787206 on librpc-xml-perl by Reiner Herrmann: remove timestamps from generated code.
  • #787265 on libwx-perl by Reiner Herrmann: produce sorted output.
  • #787303 on dos2unix by Juan Picca: set manpage date to the time of latest entry in debian/changelog.
  • #787327 on vim by Reiner Herrmann: remove usage of __DATE__ and __TIME__ macros.

Discussions that have been started:

Holger Levsen added two new package sets: pkg-javascript-devel and pkg-php-pear. The list of packages with and without notes are now sorted by age of the latest build.

Mattia Rizzolo added support for email notifications so that maintainers can be warned when a package becomes unreproducible. Please ask Mattia or Holger or in the #debian-reproducible IRC channel if you want to be notified for your packages!

strip-nondeterminism development

Andrew Ayer fixed the gzip handler so that it skip adding a predetermined timestamp when there was none.

Documentation update

Lunar added documentation about mtimes of file extracted using unzip being timezone dependent. He also wrote a short example on how to test reproducibility.

Stephen Kitt updated the documentation about timestamps in PE binaries.

Documentation and scripts to perform weekly reports were published by Lunar.

Package reviews

50 obsolete reviews have been removed, 51 added and 29 updated this week. Thanks Chris West and Mathieu Bridon amongst others.

New identified issues:


Lunar will be talking (in French) about reproducible builds at Pas Sage en Seine on June 19th, at 15:00 in Paris.

Meeting will happen this Wednesday, 19:00 UTC.

Planet DebianRussell Coker: BTRFS Status June 2015

The version of btrfs-tools in Debian/Jessie is incapable of creating a filesystem that can be mounted by the kernel in Debian/Wheezy. If you want to use a BTRFS filesystem on Jessie and Wheezy (which isn’t uncommon with removable devices) the only options are to use the Wheezy version of mkfs.btrfs or to use a Jessie kernel on Wheezy. I recently got bitten by this issue when I created a BTRFS filesystem on a removable device with a lot of important data (which is why I wanted metadata duplication and checksums) and had to read it on a server running Wheezy. Fortunately KVM in Wheezy works really well so I created a virtual machine to read the disk. Setting up a new KVM isn’t that difficult, but it’s not something I want to do while a client is anxiously waiting for their data.

BTRFS has been working well for me apart from the Jessie/Wheezy compatability issue (which was an annoyance but didn’t stop me doing what I wanted). I haven’t written a BTRFS status report for a while because everything has been OK and there has been nothing exciting to report.

I regularly get errors from the cron jobs that run a balance supposedly running out of free space. I have the cron jobs due to past problems with BTRFS running out of metadata space. In spite of the jobs often failing the systems keep working so I’m not too worried at the moment. I think this is a bug, but there are many more important bugs.

Linux kernel version 3.19 was the first version to have working support for RAID-5 recovery. This means version 3.19 was the first version to have usable RAID-5 (I think there is no point even having RAID-5 without recovery). It wouldn’t be prudent to trust your important data to a new feature in a filesystem. So at this stage if I needed a very large scratch space then BTRFS RAID-5 might be a viable option but for anything else I wouldn’t use it. BTRFS still has had little performance optimisation, while this doesn’t matter much for SSD and for single-disk filesystems for a RAID-5 of hard drives that would probably hurt a lot. Maybe BTRFS RAID-5 would be good for a scratch array of SSDs. The reports of problems with RAID-5 don’t surprise me at all.

I have a BTRFS RAID-1 filesystem on 2*4TB disks which is giving poor performance on metadata, simple operations like “ls -l” on a directory with ~200 subdirectories takes many seconds to run. I suspect that part of the problem is due to the filesystem being written by cron jobs with files accumulating over more than a year. The “btrfs filesystem” command (see btrfs-filesystem(8)) allows defragmenting files and directory trees, but unfortunately it doesn’t support recursively defragmenting directories but not files. I really wish there was a way to get BTRFS to put all metadata on SSD and all data on hard drives. Sander suggested the following command to defragment directories on the BTRFS mailing list:

find / -xdev -type d -execdir btrfs filesystem defrag -c {} +

Below is the output of “zfs list -t snapshot” on a server I run, it’s often handy to know how much space is used by snapshots, but unfortunately BTRFS has no support for this.

hetz0/be0-mail@2015-03-10 2.88G 387G
hetz0/be0-mail@2015-03-11 1.12G 388G
hetz0/be0-mail@2015-03-12 1.11G 388G
hetz0/be0-mail@2015-03-13 1.19G 388G

Hugo pointed out on the BTRFS mailing list that the following command will give the amount of space used for snapshots. $SNAPSHOT is the name of a snapshot and $LASTGEN is the generation number of the previous snapshot you want to compare with.

btrfs subvolume find-new $SNAPSHOT $LASTGEN | awk '{total = total + $7}END{print total}'

One upside of the BTRFS implementation in this regard is that the above btrfs command without being piped through awk shows you the names of files that are being written and the amounts of data written to them. Through casually examining this output I discovered that the most written files in my home directory were under the “.cache” directory (which wasn’t exactly a surprise).

Now I am configuring workstations with a separate subvolume for ~/.cache for the main user. This means that ~/.cache changes don’t get stored in the hourly snapshots and less disk space is used for snapshots.


My observation is that things are going quite well with BTRFS. It’s more than 6 months since I had a noteworthy problem which is pretty good for a filesystem that’s still under active development. But there are still many systems I run which could benefit from the data integrity features of ZFS and BTRFS that don’t have the resources to run ZFS and need more reliability than I can expect from an unattended BTRFS system.

At this time the only servers I run with BTRFS are located within a reasonable drive from my home (not the servers in Germany and the US) and are easily accessible (not the embedded systems). ZFS is working well for some of the servers in Germany. Eventually I’ll probably run ZFS on all the hosted servers in Germany and the US, I expect that will happen before I’m comfortable running BTRFS on such systems. For the embedded systems I will just take the risk of data loss/corruption for the next few years.

Planet DebianNorbert Preining: Localizing a WordPress Blog

There are many translation plugins available for WordPress, and most of them deal with translations of articles. This might be of interest for others, but not for me. If you have a blog with visitors from various language background, because you are living abroad, or writing in several languages, you might feel tempted to provide visitors with a localized “environment”, meaning that as much as possible is translated into the native language of the visitor, without actually translating content – but allowing to.


In my case I am writing mostly in English and Japanese, but sometimes (in former times) in Italian and now and then in my mother tongue, German. Visitors from my site are from all over the world, but at least for Japanese visitors I wanted to provide a localized environment. This blog describes how to get as much as possible translated of your blog, and here I mean not the actual articles, because this is the easy part and most translation plugins handle that fine, but the things around the articles (categories, tags, headers, …).

Starting point and aims

My starting point was a blog where I already had language added as extra taxonomy, and have tagged all articles with a language. But I didn’t have any other translation plugin installed or used. Furthermore, I am using a child theme of the main theme in use (that is always a good idea anyway!). And of course, the theme you are using should be prepared for translation, that is that most literal strings in the theme source code are wrapped in __( ... ) or _e( ... ) calls. And by the way, if you don’t have the language taxonomy, don’t worry, that will come in automatically.

One more thing: The following descriptions are not for the very beginner. I expect certain fluency with WordPress, where for example themese and plugins keep their files, as well as PHP programming experience is needed for some of the steps.

With this starting point my aims were quite clear:

  • allow for translation of articles
  • translate as much as possible of the surroundings
  • auto-selection of language either depending on article or on browser language of visitor
  • by default show all articles independent of selected language
  • if possible, keep database clean as far as possible

Translation plugins

There is a huge bunch of translation plugins, localization plugins, or internationalization plugins out there, and it is hard to select one. I don’t say that what I propose here is the optimal solution, just one that I was pointed at by a colleague, namely utilizing the xili-language plugin.

Installation and initial setup

Not much to say here, just follow the usual procedure (search, install, activate), followed by the initial setup of xili-language. If you haven’t had a language taxonomy by now, you can add languages from the preference page of xili-language, first tab. After having added some languages you should have something similar to the above screen shot. Having defined your languages, you can assign a language to your articles, but for now nothing has actually changed on the blog pages.

xili-languages2As I already mentioned, I assume that you are using a child theme. In this case you should consult the fourth tab of the xili-language settings page, called Managing language files, where on the right you should see / set up things in a way that translations in the child theme override the ones in the main theme, see screen shot on the right. I just mention here that there is another xili plugin, xili-dictionary, that can do a lot of things for you when it comes to translation – but I couldn’t figure out its operation mode, so I switched back (i.e., uninstalled that plugin) and used normal .po/.mo files as described in the next section.

Adding translations – po and mo files

Translations are handled in normal (at least for the Unix world) gettext format. Matthias wrote about this in this blog. In principle you have to:

  • create a directory languages in your child theme folder
  • create there .po file named local-LL.po or local-LL_DD.po, where LL and LL_DD are the same as the values in the field ISO Names in the list of defined languages (see above)
  • convert the .po files to .mo files using
    msgfmt local-LL.po -o

The contents of the po files are described in Matthias’ blog, and in the following when I say add a translation, then I mean: adding a stanza

msgid "some string"
msgstr "translation of some string"

to the po file, and not forgetting to recompile it to mo file.

So let us go through a list of changes I made to translate various pieces of the blog appearance:

Translation of categories

This is the easiest part, simply throw in the names of your categories into the respective local-DD_LL.po file, and be ready. In my case I used local-ja.po which besides other categories contains stanzas like:

msgid "Travel"
msgstr "旅行"

Translation of widget titles

In most cases the widget titles are already automatically translated, if the plugin/widget author cared for it, meaning that he called the widget_title filter on the title. If this does not happen, please report this to the widget/plugin author. I have done this for example for the simple links plugin, which I use for various elements of the side-bar. The author was extremely responsive and the fix will be in the next release is already in the latest release – big thanks!

Translation of tags

This is a bit a problem, as the tags appear in various places on my blog: next to the title line and the footer of each blog, as well as in the tag cloud in the side bar.

Furthermore, I want to translate tags instead of having related tag groups as provided by xili tidy tags plugin, so we have to deal with the various appearances of tags one by one:

Tags on the main page – shown by the theme

This is the easier part – in my case I had already a customized content.php and content-single.php in my child theme folder. If not, you need to copy the one from the parent theme and change the appearance of it to translate tags. Since this is something that depends on the specific theme, I cannot give detailed advice, but if you see something like:

$tags_list = get_the_tag_list( '', __( ', ', 'mistylake' ) );

(here the get_the_tag_list is the important part), then you can replace this by the following code:

$posttags = get_the_tags();
$first = 1;
$tag_list = '';
if ($posttags) {
  foreach($posttags as $tag) {
    if ($first == 1) {
      $first = 0;
    } else {
      $tag_list = $tag_list . __( ', ', 'mistylake' );
    $tag_list = $tag_list . '<a href="' . esc_url( home_url( '/tag/' . $tag->slug ) ) . '">' . __($tag->name, 'mistylake') . '</a>';

(there are for sure simpler ways …) This code loops over the tags and translates them using the __ function. Note that the second parameter must be the text domain of the parent theme.

If you have done this right and the web site is still running (I recommend testing it on a test installation – I had white pages many times due to php programming errors), and of course you have actual translations available and are looking at a localized version of the web site, then the list of tags as shown by your theme should be translated.

Tag cloud widget

This one is a tricky one: The tag cloud widget comes by default with WordPress, but doesn’t translate the tags. I tried a few variants (e.g. creating a new widget as extension of the original tag cloud widget, and only changing the respective functions), but that didn’t work out at all. I finally resorted to a trick: Reading the code of the original widget, I saw that it applies the tag-sort-filter filter on the array of tags. That allows us to hook into the tag cloud creating and translate the tags.

You have to add the following code to your child theme’s functions.php:

function translate_instead_of_sort($tags) {
  foreach ( (array) $tags as $tag ) {
    $tag->name = __( $tag->name , 'mistylake' );
  return $tags;
add_action('tag_cloud_sort', 'translate_instead_of_sort');

xili-languages3(again, don’t forget to change the text domain in the __(.., ..) call!) There might be some more things one could do, like changing the priority to be used after the sorting, or sort directly, but I haven’t played around with that. Using the above code and translating several of the tags, the tag cloud now looks like the screenshot on the right – I know, it could use some tweaking. Also, now the untranslated tags are sorted all before the translated, things one probably can address with the priority of the filter.

Having done the above things, my blog page when Japanese is selected is now mostly in Japanese, with of course the exception the actual articles, which are in a variety of languages.

Open problems

There are a few things I haven’t managed till now to translate, and they are mostly related to the Jetpack plugin, but not only:

  • translation of the calendar – it is strange that although this is a standard widget of WordPress, the translation somehow does not work out there
  • transalation of the meta text entries (Log in, RSS feed, …) – interestingly, even adding the translation of these strings did not help get them translated
  • translation of simple links text fields – here I haven’t invested by now
  • translation of (Jetpack) subscribe to this blog widget

I have a few ideas how to tackle this problem: With Jetpack the biggest problem seems that all the strings are translated in a different text domain. So one should be able to add some code to the functions.php to override/add translations to the jetpack text domain. But somehow it didn’t work out in my case. The same goes for things that are in the WordPress core and use the translation functions without a text domain – so I guess the translation function will use the main WordPress translation files/text domain.


The good thing of the xili-language plugin is that it does not change the actual posts (some plugins save the translations in the the post text), and is otherwise not too intrusive IMHO. Still, it falls short of allowing to translate various parts of the blog, including the widget areas.

I am not sure whether there are better plugins for this usage scenario, I would be surprised if not, but all the plugins I have seen were doing a bit too much on the article translation side and not enough on the translation of the surroundings side.

In any case, I would like to see more separation between the functionality of localization (translating the interface) and translation (translating the content). But at the moment I don’t have enough impetus to write my own plugin for this.

If you have any suggestions for improvement, please let me know!



CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Squid Salad Servers


As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Sociological ImagesEnergy Drinks And Violent Masculinity

Flashback Friday.

Toban B. sent in some photographs and a discussion of how energy drinks are gendered.

Energy drinks are already gendered to begin with in a couple of different ways at least: (1) they are marketed as hydration for athletes and sports is a masculine arena and (2) women aren’t usually encouraged to consume “extra” calories. But, in addition to being seen as somehow for men, Toban shows how a particularly violent and aggressive kind of masculinity is reproduced in the marketing, even across different companies.

Monster energy drinks include slashes on the packaging that look like a vicious scratch and what appears to be a crosshair and bullet holes (bad aim?):


Notice that the “flavor” in the picture above is “Sniper.”  Toban notes that “Assault” and “M-80″ are also flavors:


The can for the Assault-flavored drink also features a camouflage design, invoking militarism.

They call their “shooters” “Hitman”:


Both Monster and Guru link their product directly to (extreme) sports:



Full Throttle and Amp (“Overdrive”) go for a connection to aggressive driving:



Full Throttle energy drinks make it explicit with the tagline, “Let Your Man Out.”

Toban notes that it’s ironic that a lot of these products are marketed as health drinks when, in fact, internalizing an aggressive form of masculinity is associated with taking health risks (e.g., refusing to wear seat belts or hard hats, drinking hard). “In any case,” Toban concludes, “this marketing normalizes and makes light of a lot of aggression and danger that we should be opposing.” And which, I will add, isn’t good for men or women.

See also our post with hilarious fake commercials making fun of energy drinks and hypermasculinity.

Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

RacialiciousEx Machina Abuses Women of Color, But Nobody Cares Because It’s Smart

By Guest Contributor Sharon H Chang, cross posted from Multiracial Asian Families

This past April, British science fiction thriller Ex Machina opened in the U.S. to almost unanimous rave reviews. The film was written and directed by Alex Garland, author of bestselling 1996 novel The Beach (also made into a movie), and screenwriter of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let Me Go (2010).

Ex Machina is Garland’s directorial debut. It’s about a young white coder named Caleb who gets the opportunity to visit the secluded mountain home of his employer Nathan, pioneering programmer of the world’s most powerful search engine. Nathan’s ethnicity isn’t specified, but he reads as non-white, and the actor who plays him is Guatemalan.

Caleb believes the trip to be innocuous, but quickly learns that Nathan’s home is actually a secret research facility in which the brilliant but egocentric and obnoxious genius has been developing sophisticated artificial intelligence. Caleb is immediately introduced to Nathan’s most upgraded construct – a gorgeous white fembot named Ava. Mind games ensue.

As the week unfolds the only things we know for sure are (a) imprisoned Ava wants to be free, and, (b) Caleb becomes completely enamored and wants to “rescue” her. Other than that, nothing is clear. What are Ava’s true intentions? Does she like Caleb back or is she just using him to get out? Is Nathan really as much an asshole as he seems or is he putting on a show to manipulate everyone? Who should we feel sorry for? Who should we empathize with? Who should we hate? Who’s the hero?

Reviewers and viewers alike are melting in intellectual ecstasy over this brain-twisty movie. The Guardian calls it “accomplished, cerebral film-making”; Wired calls it “one of the year’s most intelligent and thought-provoking films”; Indiewire calls it “gripping, brilliant and sensational.” Alex Garland apparently is the smartest, coolest new director on the block. “Garland understands what he’s talking about,” says, and goes “to the trouble to explain more abstract concepts in plain language.”


I like sci-fi and am a fan of Garland’s previous work, so I was excited to see his new flick. But let me tell you, my experience was FAR from  the “brilliant” and “heady” trip multitudes of moonstruck reviewers claimed it would be. Actually, I was livid. And weeks later, I’m STILL pissed. Here’s why…

*Spoiler Alert*

Though you wouldn’t know it from the plethora of glowing reviews out there—telling in and of itself—there’s another prominent fembot in the film. About fifteen minutes into the story, we’re introduced to Kyoko, an Asian servant and sex slave played by mixed-race Japanese-British actress Sonoya Mizuno. Though bound in abusive servitude, Kyoko isn’t physically imprisoned in a room as Ava is, because she’s compliant, obedient, willing.

Kyoko first appears on screen demure and silent, bringing a surprised Caleb breakfast in his room. Of course I recognized the trope of servile Asian woman right away and, as I wrote in February, how quickly Asian/whites are treated as non-white when they look ethnic in any way. I was instantly uncomfortable. Maybe there’s a point, I thought to myself. But soon after we see Kyoko serving sushi to the men. She accidentally spills food on Caleb. Nathan loses his temper, yells at her, and then explains to Caleb she can’t understand which makes her incompetence even more infuriating. This is how we learn Kyoko is mute and can’t speak. Yep. Nathan didn’t give her a voice. He further programmed her, purportedly, to not understand English.

I started to get upset. If there was a point, Garland had better get to it fast.

Unfortunately the treatment of Kyoko’s character just keeps spiraling. We continue to learn more and more about her horrible existence in a way that feels gross only for shock value rather than for any sort of deconstruction, empowerment, or liberation of Asian women. She is always at Nathan’s side, ready and available, for anything he wants. Eventually Nathan shows Caleb something else special about her. He’s coded Kyoko to love dancing (“I told you you’re wasting your time talking to her. However you would not be wasting your time – if you were dancing with her”). When Nathan flips a wall switch that washes the room in red lights and music then joins a scantily-clad gyrating Kyoko on the dance floor, I was overcome by disgust:

<iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="267" src="" width="474"></iframe>

I recently also wrote about Western exploitation of women’s bodies in Asia (incidentally also in February). In particular noting it was U.S. imperialistic conquest that jump-started Thailand’s sex industry. By the 1990s several million tourists from Europe and the U.S. were visiting Thailand annually, many specifically for sex and entertainment. Writer Deena Guzder points out in “The Economics of Commercial Sexual Exploitation” for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting that Thailand’s sex tourism industry is driven by acute poverty. Women and girls from poor rural families make up the majority of sex workers. “Once lost in Thailand’s seedy underbelly, these women are further robbed of their individual agency, economic independence, and bargaining power.” Guzder gloomily predicts, “If history repeats itself, the situation for poor Southeast Asian women will only further deteriorate with the global economic downturn.”

Nightlife at Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Nightlife at Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand [image source]

You know who wouldn’t be a stranger to any of this? Alex Garland. His first novel, The Beach, is set in Thailand and his second, The Tesseract, is set in the Philippines, both developing nations where Asian women continue to be used and abused for Western gain. In a 1999 interview with journalist Ron Gluckman, Garland said he made his first trip to Asia as a teenager in high school and had been back at least once or twice almost every year since. He also lived in the Philippines for 9 months. In a perhaps telling choice of words, Gluckman wrote that Garland had “been bitten by the Asian bug, early and deep.” At the time many Asian critics were criticizing The Beach as a shallow look at the region by an uniformed outsider but Garland protested in his interview:

A lot of the criticism of The Beach is that it presents Thais as two dimensional, as part of the scenery. That’s because these people I’m writing about – backpackers – really only see them as part of the scenery. They don’t see them or the Thai culture. To them, it’s all part of a huge theme park, the scenery for their trip. That’s the point.

I disagree severely with Garland. In insisting on his right to portray people of color one way while dismissing how those people see themselves, he not only centers his privileged perspective (i.e. white, male) but shows determined disinterest in representing oppressed people transformatively. Leads me to wonder how much he really knows or cares about inequity and uplifting marginalized voices. Indeed in Ex Machina the only point that Garland ever seems to make is that racist/sexist tropes exists, not that we’re going to do anything about them. And that kind of non-critical non-resistant attitude does more to reify and reinforce than anything else. Take for instance in a recent interview with Cinematic Essential (one of few where the interviewer asked about race), Garland had this to say about stereotypes in his new film:

Sometimes you do things unconsciously, unwittingly, or stupidly, I guess, and the only embedded point that I knew I was making in regards to race centered around the tropes of Kyoko [Sonoya Mizuno], a mute, very complicit Asian robot, or Asian-appearing robot, because of course, she, as a robot, isn’t Asian. But, when Nathan treats the robot in the discriminatory way that he treats it, I think it should be ambivalent as to whether he actually behaves this way, or if it’s a very good opportunity to make him seem unpleasant to Caleb for his own advantage.

First, approaching race “unconsciously” or “unwittingly” is never a good idea and moreover a classic symptom of white willful ignorance. Second, Kyoko isn’t Asian because she’s a robot? Race isn’t biological or written into human DNA. It’s socio-politically constructed and assigned usually by those in power. Kyoko is Asian because she has been made that way not only by her oppressor, Nathan, but by Garland himself, the omniscient creator of all. Third, Kyoko represents the only embedded race point in the movie? False. There are two other women of color who play enslaved fembots in Ex Machina and their characters are abused just as badly. “Jasmine” is one of Nathan’s early fembots. She’s Black. We see her body twice. Once being instructed how to write and once being dragged lifeless across the floor. You will never recognize real-life Black model and actress Symara A. Templeman in the role, however. Why? Because her always naked body is inexplicably headless when it appears. That’s right. The sole Black body/person in the entire film does not have (per Garland’s writing and direction) a face, head, or brain.

Symara A. Templeman, Ex Machina's

Symara A. Templeman, Ex Machina’s “Jasmine” [image source]

“Jade” played by Asian model and actress Gana Bayarsaikhan, is presumably also a less successful fembot predating Kyoko but perhaps succeeding Jasmine. She too is always shown naked but, unlike Jasmine, she has a head, and, unlike Kyoko, she speaks. We see her being questioned repeatedly by Nathan while trapped behind glass. Jade is resistant and angry. She doesn’t understand why Nathan won’t let her out and escalates to the point we are lead to believe she is decommissioned for her defiance.

It’s significant that Kyoko, a mixed-race Asian/white woman, later becomes the “upgraded” Asian model. It’s also significant that at the movie’s end white Ava finds Jade’s decommissioned body in a closet in Nathan’s room and skins it to cover her own body. (Remember when Katy Perry joked in 2012 she was obsessed with Japanese people and wanted to skin one?). Ava has the option of white bodies but after examining them meticulously she deliberately chooses Jade. Despite having met Jasmine previously, her Black body is conspicuously missing from the closets full of bodies Nathan has stored for his pleasure and use. And though Kyoko does help Ava kill Nathan in the end, she herself is “killed” in the process (i.e. never free) and Ava doesn’t care at all. What does all this show? A very blatant standard of beauty/desire that is not only male-designed but clearly a light, white, and violently assimilative one.

Gana Bayarsaikhan, Ex Machina's

Gana Bayarsaikhan, Ex Machina’s “Jade” [image source]

Gana Bayarsaikhan who played “Jade” [image source]

I can’t even being to tell you how offended and disturbed I was by the treatment of women of color in this movie. I slept restlessly the night after I saw Ex Machina, woke up muddled at 2:45 AM and – still clinging to the hope that there must have been a reason for treating women of color this way (Garland’s brilliant right?) – furiously went to work reading interviews and critiques. Aside from a few brief mentions of race/gender, I found barely anything addressing the film’s obvious deployment of racialized gender stereotypes for its own benefit. For me this movie will be joining the long list of many so-called film classics I will never be able to admire. Movies where supposed artistry and brilliance are acceptable excuses for “unconscious” “unwitting” racism and sexism. Ex Machina may be smart in some ways, but it damn sure isn’t in others.


For another great critique of the film by a sister of color, please read “Ex Machina and the Puppetry of the Patriarch” by Carolyn Mauricette of Rosemary’s Pixie.

The post Ex Machina Abuses Women of Color, But Nobody Cares Because It’s Smart appeared first on Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture.

Worse Than FailureError'd: Language Barriers

"'Soll das Fenster geschlossen werden?' means roughly 'Should the window be closed?'," wrote David, "Hovering over the 'No' option shows that it will invoke doNothing(). Thank goodness!"


"I thought I'd made a typo in my search, but it appears Sears has me covered anyway," John G. wrote.


Ruud H. wrote, "In the heading, you can see that someone left 'Henk' a message as to the availability of newer components."


"I got this while adding a date to a job application site," writes Andy S..


"Direct3D support isn't available on Windows? How is this even possible!?" Miquel B. writes.


"Cumberland Farms gas stations now play annoying commercials at extremely high volume when you pump gas, so imagine my delight at seeing this while filling my tank," James writes.


"I don't think one can possibly get out of an error hole like this one," writes Anon.


"This ironic message appeared while trying to get product documentation for a WD Live Media Streamer I recently purchased," Andy wrote.


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Planet Linux AustraliaRusty Russell: Mining on a Home DSL connection: latency for 1MB and 8MB blocks

I like data.  So when Patrick Strateman handed me a hacky patch for a new testnet with a 100MB block limit, I went to get some.  I added 7 digital ocean nodes, another hacky patch to prevent sendrawtransaction from broadcasting, and a quick utility to create massive chains of transactions/

My home DSL connection is 11Mbit down, and 1Mbit up; that’s the fastest I can get here.  I was CPU mining on my laptop for this test, while running tcpdump to capture network traffic for analysis.  I didn’t measure the time taken to process the blocks on the receiving nodes, just the first propagation step.

1 Megabyte Block

Naively, it should take about 10 seconds to send a 1MB block up my DSL line from first packet to last.  Here’s what actually happens, in seconds for each node:

  1. 66.8
  2. 70.4
  3. 71.8
  4. 71.9
  5. 73.8
  6. 75.1
  7. 75.9
  8. 76.4

The packet dump shows they’re all pretty much sprayed out simultaneously (bitcoind may do the writes in order, but the network stack interleaves them pretty well).  That’s why it’s 67 seconds at best before the first node receives my block (a bit longer, since that’s when the packet left my laptop).

8 Megabyte Block

I increased my block size, and one node dropped out, so this isn’t quite the same, but the times to send to each node are about 8 times worse, as expected:

  1. 501.7
  2. 524.1
  3. 536.9
  4. 537.6
  5. 538.6
  6. 544.4
  7. 546.7


Using the rough formula of 1-exp(-t/600), I would expect orphan rates of 10.5% generating 1MB blocks, and 56.6% with 8MB blocks; that’s a huge cut in expected profits.


  • Get a faster DSL connection.  Though even an uplink 10 times faster would mean 1.1% orphan rate with 1MB blocks, or 8% with 8MB blocks.
  • Only connect to a single well-connected peer (-maxconnections=1), and hope they propagate your block.
  • Refuse to mine any transactions, and just collect the block reward.  Doesn’t help the bitcoin network at all though.
  • Join a large pool.  This is what happens in practice, but raises a significant centralization problem.


  • We need bitcoind to be smarter about ratelimiting in these situations, and stream serially.  Done correctly (which is hard), it could also help bufferbloat which makes running a full node at home so painful when it propagates blocks.
  • Some kind of block compression, along the lines of Gavin’s IBLT idea. I’ve done some preliminary work on this, and it’s promising, but far from trivial.



Planet Linux AustraliaMichael Still: Further adventures in the Jerrabomberra wetlands

There was another walk option for cubs I wanted to explore at the wetlands, so I went back during lunch time yesterday. It was raining really quite heavily during this walk, but I still had fun. I think this route might be the winner -- its a bit longer, and a bit more interesting as well.


See more thumbnails

Interactive map for this route.

Tags for this post: blog pictures 20150618-jerrabomberra_wetlands photo canberra bushwalk
Related posts: Goodwin trig; Big Monks; Geocaching; Confessions of a middle aged orienteering marker; A quick walk through Curtin; Narrabundah trig and 16 geocaches


Valerie AuroraDonating $1,000 to fight white supremacy

“Today, progressives are loath to invoke white supremacy as an explanation for anything.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations

By midnight tonight, I will donate $1,000 to people and organizations fighting white supremacy.

Why am I doing this? Last night’s racist terrorist mass killing at a church in Charleston brought it home to me in a personal way: I am the poster child for benefiting from white supremacy. I’m the beneficiary of a massive worldwide colonization project spanning multiple centuries. Every day of my life I’ve gotten the benefit of the doubt, an extra pass, a bigger raise, because I was born into the dominant racial group in my country. $1,000 is a comically small amount of the money I’ve made from benefiting from racism in favor of white people. It’s time to give that money back to stop the murder and oppression of people of color, and Black people in the U.S. in particular.

If you have benefited from white supremacy, I invite you to join me in donating to these organizations:

Equal Justice Initiative: Working to reform the criminal justice system, challenge poverty and the legacy of racial segregation, educate the public, and create hope in marginalized communities in the United States. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

United States Representative John Conyers Jr.: For 25 years, he has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives every year to create a commission to study reparations for slavery in the United States. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

We The Protestors: Led by a team including Johnetta Elzie and Deray McKesson, this organization works to “fulfill the democratic promise of our union, establish true and lasting justice, accord dignity and standing to everyone, center the humanity of oppressed people, promote the brightest future for our children, and secure the blessings of freedom for all black lives” through supporting the on-going protest movements in the U.S. I gave $250 (scroll down to the tiny PayPal donate button at the bottom of this page).

The American Civil Liberties Association: Fights for voting rights in the courts across the country. The recent well-funded campaign to prevent Black Americans from voting shows how crucial this issue is. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

Thanks everyone for your suggestions, and for everyone who joined me in donating! Keep your work going: speak up when you see racism, continue to educate yourself on your own racism, and continue to support the people and organizations who can most effectively fight racism.

Update: At least three other people have joined me in donating $1000 to fight white supremacy: Leigh Honeywell, Katie Bechtold, and Alicia Gibb. They also suggested:

Baltimore Racial Justice Action is “an action-based organization grounded in collective analysis of structural racism and white privilege.” In addition to a supportive community and educational events, BRJA offers consulting and training to individuals and organizations that seek to become inclusive and equitable. Donate here. Contributions are tax-deductible.

Black Women’s Blueprint works “to develop a culture where women of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race and other disparities are erased” through research, historical documentation, and movement-building. Follow @BlackWomensBP on Twitter, and donate here. Donations are tax-deductible and eligible for employer matching – you’ll need to get the match by looking up JustGive (EIN 94-3331010) in your employer’s matching system and designating the donation towards BWB.

Tagged: racism, white supremacy

Sociological ImagesI am a White Woman. No More Murder in My Name.

Many important things will be said in the next few weeks about the murder of nine people holding a prayer meeting at a predominantly African American church yesterday. Assuming that Dylann Roof is the murderer and that he made the proclamation being quoted in the media, I want to say: “I am a white woman. No more murder in my name.”

Before gunning down a room full of black worshippers, Roof reportedly said:

I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.

For my two cents, I want to suggest that Roof’s alleged act was motivated by racism, first and foremost, but also sexism. In particular, a phenomenon called benevolent sexism.

Sociologists use the term to describe the attribution of positive traits to women that, nonetheless, justify their subordination to men. For example, women may be described as good with people, but this is believed to make them perform poorly in competitive arenas like work, sports, or politics. Better that they leave that to the men. Women are wonderful with children, they say, but this is used to suggest that they should take primary responsibility for unpaid, undervalued domestic work. Better that they let men support them.

And, the one that Roof used to rationalize his racist act was: Women are beautiful, but their grace makes them fragile. Better that they stand back and let men defend them. This argument is hundreds of years old, of course. It’s most clearly articulated in the history of lynching in which black men were routinely violently murdered by white mobs using the excuse that they raped a white woman.

I stand with Jessie Daniel Ames and her “revolt against chivalry” in the 1920s and ’30s. Ames was one of the first white women to speak out against lynching, arguing that its rationale was sexist as well as racist. Roof is the modern equivalent of this white mob. He believes that he and other white men own me and women like me — “you rape our women,” he said possessively — and so he justified gunning down innocent black people on my behalf. You are vulnerable, he’s whispering to me, let me protect you.

All oppression is interconnected. The matrix of domination must come down. I am a white woman. No more murder in my name.

This essay was expanded for The Conversation and cross-posted at the Washington Post.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Sociological ImagesA SocImages Collection: White Men and Violence

Sociological ImagesSame-Sex Couples More Likely to Divide than Share Household Chores

A new study from the Families and Work Institute compared household divisions of labor in 225 other-sex couples and same-sex couples in which both partners worked. The researchers found that same-sex couples are more likely than different-sex couples to share responsibility for chores. Eyeball the two graphs below and look for the green; that’s the bar that indicates that both people in the couple share responsibility. The first is different-sex couples and the second is same-sex.

45Same-sex couples, though, are no sharing utopia in which everyone does exactly 50% of everything. They are still more likely to divide up household labor than share it — that is, the blue and yellow bars indicating the higher or lower earner, respectively, still dominate the graph. And, interestingly, the gendered nature of the labor is still present in that the lower earner in same-sex couples tends to do the same labor as the female in different-sex couples.

The data is more dramatic, though, when we look at parenting. Same-sex couples are more likely to share the responsibility for routine child care (74%) than leave it primarily up to one person. The same goes for sick child care (62%). Among different sex couples, the opposite is true. One parent generally takes primary responsibility for routine (62%) and sick (68%) child care.


There is no secret recipe, of course, to how a couple should divide their household chores and childcare. There is a take home lesson from the study, though, and that’s to talk about it if you want to. Generally speaking, members of couples who talked about it before moving in together (blue) were more satisfied with their division of labor than members of couples who wanted to have a conversation, but didn’t (yellow).


The authors of the study found that women in relationships with men were the most likely of all to say that they wanted to have a conversation, but didn’t (20%). Men in either same- (11%) or different-sex couples (11%) and women in same-sex couples (15%) were less likely to have held their tongue.

The author of the report concludes that it may not be how we divide up labor that matters that drives satisfaction, or even whether we talk about it, but whether we fail to have a conversation that we want.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Krebs on SecurityOPM’s Database for Sale? Nope, It Came from Another US .Gov

A database supposedly from a sample of information stolen in the much publicized hack at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has been making the rounds in the cybercrime underground, with some ne’er-do-wells even offering to sell it as part of a larger package. But a review of the information made available as a teaser indicates that the database is instead a list of users stolen from a different government agency —, also known as Federal Prison Industries.



Earlier this week, miscreants who frequent the Hell cybercrime forum (a “Deep Web” site reachable only via the Tor network) began passing around a text file that contained more than 23,000 records which appeared to be a user database populated exclusively by user accounts with dot-gov email addresses. I thought it rather unlikely that the file had anything to do with the OPM hack, which was widely attributed to Chinese hackers who are typically interested in espionage — not selling the data they steal on open-air markets.

As discussed in my Oct. 2014 post, How to Tell Data Leaks from Publicity Stunts, there are several simple techniques that often can be used to tell whether a given data set is what it claims to be. One method involves sampling email addresses from the leaked/hacked database and then using them in an attempt to create new accounts at the site in question. In most cases, online sites and services will allow only one account per email address, so if a large, random sampling of email addresses from the database all come back as already registered at the site you suspect is the breached entity, then it’s a safe guess the data came from that entity.

How to know the identity of the organization from which the database was stolen? In most cases, database files list the users in the order in which they registered on the site. As a result, the email addresses and/or usernames for the first half-dozen or more users listed in the database are most often from the database administrators and/or site designers. When all of those initial addresses have the same top-level domain — in this case “” — it’s a good bet that’s your victim organization.



According to Wikipedia, UNICOR is a wholly owned United States government corporation created in 1934 that uses penal labor from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to produce goods and services. It is apparently restricted to selling its products and services to federal government agencies, although recently private companies gained some access to UNICOR workforce. For instance, companies can outsource call centers to UNICOR. Case in point: If you call UNICOR’s main number off-hours, the voicemail message states that during business hours your call may be handled by an inmate!

On Tuesday, I reached out to UNICOR to let them know that it appeared their user database — including hashed passwords and other information — was being traded on underground cybercrime forums. On Wednesday, I heard back from Marianne Cantwell, the public information officer for UNICOR. Cantwell said a review of the information suggests it is related to an incident in September 2013, when Federal Prison Industries discovered unauthorized access to its public Web site.

“Since that time, the website software has been replaced to improve security. Assessments by proper law enforcement authorities were conducted to determine the extent of the incident, at the time it was discovered,” said Cantwell, who confirmed the incident hadn’t been previously disclosed publicly. “Limited individuals were deemed to be potentially impacted, and notifications were made as a precautionary measure. Federal Prison Industries is sensitive to ensuring the security of its systems and will continue to monitor this issue.”

The “website software” in question was ColdFusion, a Web application platform owned by Adobe Systems Inc. Around that same time, hackers were running around breaking into a number of government and corporate Web sites and databases using ColdFusion vulnerabilities. In October 2013, I wrote about criminals who had used ColdFusion exploits to break into and steal the database from the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), a congressionally-funded non-profit organization that provides training, investigative support and research to agencies and entities involved in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of cybercrime.

There is no information to link the hack at UNICOR to the crooks behind the NW3C compromise, but it’s interesting to note that those responsible for the NW3C attack also had control over the now-defunct identity theft service ssndob[dot]ms. That service, which was advertised on cybercrime forums, was powered in part by a small but powerful collection of hacked computers exclusively at top data brokers, including LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet, and HireRight/Kroll.

Sociological ImagesHappy Birthday, Jürgen Habermas!

Source: Camila Martins Saraiva.

Have a scholar we should commemorate?  Send us a cool pic and we will!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Planet DebianBálint Réczey: Debian is preparing the transition to FFmpeg!

Ending an era of shipping Libav as default the Debian Multimedia Team is working out the last details of switching to FFmpeg. If you would like to read more about the reasons please read the rationale behind the change on the dedicated wiki page. If you feel so be welcome to test the new ffmpeg packages or join the discussion starting here. (Warning, the thread is loooong!)


CryptogramCounterfeit Social Media Accounts

Interesting article on the inner workings of a Facebook account farm, with commentary on fake social media accounts in general.

Worse Than FailureTaxing Production Tests

1920 tax forms IRS

As some readers already know, the Polish government is not on the best of terms with modern technology. We'd be damned, however, if that stopped us from trying- even if the end result is as much of a mess as Michał reports it to be.

The story began in 2008, when the government decided it needed some presence on this new hip thing called the Internet. And so, the Electronic Platform of Public Administration Services, or ePUAP for short, was born- a website serving to ease communication between public administration and Polish citizens. It went mostly unheeded until 2011, when the Trusted Profile functionality was introduced- and with it, the ability for people to do taxes, file applications, and submit other paperwork fully online.

Surprisingly, the website worked mostly fine. But soon after the first wave of interest, problems began to appear. Every update led to major downtime. Features such as password recovery would either break or have days-long delays. And, an investigation of a corruption scandal revealed that ePUAP- along with several other services- was the fruit of rather shady dealings.

Michał's story concerns an incident from a month ago, when the whole system crashed and burned. Most users were unable to log in, and the lucky ones who could found that their Trusted Profiles and personal data were missing. It turned out to be a major problem for everyone who elected to do their taxes over the Internet, since the system broke down just a few days before the April 30 tax deadline. Their only other options were to wait several hours in line at their local public offices, get hit with huge financial penalties, or write formal letters to the tax department describing how sorry they were.

The media caught the story, and managed to get a response from the Ministry of Administration and Digitization:

The work on a new version of ePUAP is underway. Maintenance-related downtime is expected. There's nothing alarming about it. Unfortunately, the tests we do can't be fully done over weekends.

Apparently, newfangled inventions such as "testing environments" haven't fully permeated the Iron Curtain. And so, this country-wide platform- holding the personal data of hundreds of thousands of people- is being tried in battle on production servers, during the year's most intense period of activity.

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Cory DoctorowMy PDF 2015 talk: An Internet of Things That Do As They’re Told

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Planet DebianNorbert Preining: Gaming: Portal

Ok, I have to admit, I sometimes do game – and recently I finished Portal. Quite old (released in 2007), but still lots of fun. I started playing it about one year ago, off and on, until I recently finished the last level. Took me about 1 year of playing to finish the actual playing time of about 10h – I guess you can see how much an addict I am 😉


I have never been a gamer, and I think there are only three set of games I played for extended periods of time:

plus one more game, which got me hooked somehow:

Hard-core board gamer who I am (I prefer playing with people real games without computer), I loved the Myst series for its crazy riddles, where solving them often needs a combination of logical thinking, recognizing patterns in images and sounds, and piecing together long list of hints. This is something a normal board game cannot provide.

From the Descent series I loved the complete freedom of movement. Normal first-person shooters are just like humans running around, a bit of jumping and crouching, but Descent gives you 6D freedom – which led to some people getting sick while watching me playing.

From the Civilization series I don’t know what I liked particularly, but it got you involved and allowed you to play long rounds.

After these sins of youngsters, I haven’t played for long long time, until a happy coincidence (of being Debian Developer) brought Steam onto my (Linux) machine together with a bunch of games I received for free. One of the games was Portal.

Portal is in the style of Myst games – one can place dual portals in various places, and by entering one of the portals, one leaves through the other. Using this one has to manage to solve loads of puzzle, evade being shot, dissolved in acid, crashed to death, etc etc, with the only aim to leave the underground station.


Besides shooting these portals there are some cubes that one can carry around and use for a variety of purposes, like putting them onto buttons, using them as stairs, protecting yourself from being shot, etc. But that’s already all the tools one has. Despite of this, the levels pose increasingly difficult problems, and one is surprised how strange things one can achieve with these limited abilities – and no, one cannot buy new power-ups, its not WoW. Logical thinking, tactic, and a certain level of reaction suffices.

While not as philosophical as Myst, it was still a lot of fun. The only thing I am a bit unclear is, where to go from here. There are two possible successors: The logical one would be Portal 2. But I recently found a game that reminded me even more of the Myst series, combined with Portal: The Talos Principle, with stunning graphics:



And filled with riddles again, maybe not as involved as in the Myst series (I don’t know by now), but still a bit more challenging than Portal’s one:


Difficult decision. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know!

CryptogramHacking Drug Pumps

When you connect hospital drug pumps to the Internet, they're hackable -- only surprising people who aren't paying attention.

Rios says when he first told Hospira a year ago that hackers could update the firmware on its pumps, the company "didn't believe it could be done." Hospira insisted there was "separation" between the communications module and the circuit board that would make this impossible. Rios says technically there is physical separation between the two. But the serial cable provides a bridge to jump from one to the other.

An attacker wouldn't need physical access to the pump because the communication modules are connected to hospital networks, which are in turn connected to the Internet.

"From an architecture standpoint, it looks like these two modules are separated," he says. "But when you open the device up, you can see they're actually connected with a serial cable, and they"re connected in a way that you can actually change the core software on the pump."

An attacker wouldn't need physical access to the pump. The communication modules are connected to hospital networks, which are in turn connected to the Internet. "You can talk to that communication module over the network or over a wireless network," Rios warns.

Hospira knows this, he says, because this is how it delivers firmware updates to its pumps. Yet despite this, he says, the company insists that "the separation makes it so you can't hurt someone. So we're going to develop a proof-of-concept that proves that's not true."

One of the biggest conceptual problems we have is that something is believed secure until demonstrated otherwise. We need to reverse that: everything should be believed insecure until demonstrated otherwise.

Krebs on SecurityCritical Flaws in Apple, Samsung Devices

Normally, I don’t cover vulnerabilities about which the user can do little or nothing to prevent, but two newly detailed flaws affecting hundreds of millions of Android, iOS and Apple products probably deserve special exceptions.

keychainThe first is a zero-day bug in iOS and OS X that allows the theft of both Keychain (Apple’s password management system) and app passwords. The flaw, first revealed in an academic paper (PDF) released by researchers from Indiana University, Peking University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, involves a vulnerability in Apple’s latest operating system versions that enable an app approved for download by the Apple Store to gain unauthorized access to other apps’ sensitive data.

“More specifically, we found that the inter-app interaction services, including the keychain…can be exploited…to steal such confidential information as the passwords for iCloud, email and bank, and the secret token of Evernote,” the researchers wrote.

The team said they tested their findings by circumventing the restrictive security checks of the Apple Store, and that their attack apps were approved by the App Store in January 2015. According to the researchers, more than 88 percent of apps were “completely exposed” to the attack.

News of the research was first reported by The Register, which said that Apple was initially notified in October 2014 and that in February 2015 the company asked researchers to hold off disclosure for six months.

“The team was able to raid banking credentials from Google Chrome on the latest Mac OS X 10.10.3, using a sandboxed app to steal the system’s keychain and secret iCloud tokens, and passwords from password vaults,” The Register wrote. “Google’s Chromium security team was more responsive and removed Keychain integration for Chrome noting that it could likely not be solved at the application level. AgileBits, owner of popular software 1Password, said it could not find a way to ward off the attacks or make the malware ‘work harder’ some four months after disclosure.”

A story at suggests the malware the researchers created to run their experiments can’t directly access existing keychain entries, but instead does so indirectly by forcing users to log in manually and then capturing those credentials in a newly-created entry.

“For now, the best advice would appear to be cautious in downloading apps from unknown developers – even from the iOS and Mac App Stores – and to be alert to any occasion where you are asked to login manually when that login is usually done by Keychain,” 9to5’s Ben Lovejoy writes.


Separately, researchers at mobile security firm NowSecure disclosed they’d found a serious vulnerability in a third-party keyboard app that is pre-installed on more than 600 million Samsung mobile devices — including the recently released Galaxy S6 — that allows attackers to remotely access resources like GPS, camera and microphone, secretly install malicious apps, eavesdrop on incoming/outgoing messages or voice calls, and access pictures and text messages on vulnerable devices.

The vulnerability in this case resides with an app called Swift keyboard, which according to researcher Ryan Welton runs from a privileged account on Samsung devices. The flaw can be exploited if the attacker can control or compromise the network to which the device is connected, such as a wireless hotspot or local network.

“This means that the keyboard was signed with Samsung’s private signing key and runs in one of the most privileged contexts on the device, system user, which is a notch short of being root,” Welton wrote in a blog post about the flaw, which was first disclosed at Black Hat London on Tuesday, along the release of proof-of-concept code.

Welton said NowSecure alerted Samsung in November 2014, and that at the end of March Samsung reported a patch released to mobile carriers for Android 4.2 and newer, but requested an additional three months deferral for public disclosure. Google’s Android security team was alerted in December 2014.

“While Samsung began providing a patch to mobile network operators in early 2015, it is unknown if the carriers have provided the patch to the devices on their network,” Welton said. “In addition, it is difficult to determine how many mobile device users remain vulnerable, given the devices models and number of network operators globally.” NowSecure has released a list of Samsung devices indexed by carrier and their individual patch status.

Samsung issued a statement saying it takes emerging security threats very seriously.

“Samsung KNOX has the capability to update the security policy of the phones, over-the-air, to invalidate any potential vulnerabilities caused by this issue. The security policy updates will begin rolling out in a few days,” the company said. “In addition to the security policy update, we are also working with SwiftKey to address potential risks going forward.”

A spokesperson for Google said the company took steps to mitigate the issue with the release of Android 5.0 in November 2014.

“Although these are most accurately characterized as application level issues, back with Android 5.0, we took proactive measures to reduce the risk of the issues being exploited,” Google said in a statement emailed to KrebsOnSecurity. “For the longer term, we are also in the process of reaching out to developers to ensure they follow best practices for secure application development.”

SwiftKey released a statement emphasizing that the company only became aware of the problem this week, and that it does not affect its keyboard applications available on Google Play or Apple App Store. “We are doing everything we can to support our long-time partner Samsung in their efforts to resolve this important security issue,” SwiftKey said in a blog post.

Update: SwiftKey’s Jennifer Kutz suggests that it’s incorrect to use the phrase “pre-installed app” to describe the component that Samsung ships with its devices: “A pre-installed app is definitely different from how we work with Samsung, who licenses/white-labels our technology – or prediction engine – to power their devices’ default/stock keyboards,” Kutz said. “The keyboard is not branded as SwiftKey, and the functionality between our Google Play app, or pre-installed SwiftKey app, is different from what Samsung users have (in short, the official SwiftKey app has a much more robust feature set). The SwiftKey SDK powers the word predictions – it’s a core part of our technology but it is not our full app.”

Sociological ImagesIn Light of Rachel Dolezal, Remember “Iron Eyes Cody”

Most people middle aged or older remember the “Crying Indian” campaign for Keep America Beautiful:2

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Most of them, by now, also know that Iron Eyes Cody was no Native American. Born to Sicilian Immigrants in southwestern Louisiana in 1904, Espera Oscar de Corti became an actor in his youth, and found that he could “pass” as a Native American in Hollywood.

de Corti, changing his name to “Cody,” claimed to have Cherokee-Cree heritage. He played native roles in dozens of westerns, with John Wayne and other stars of the mid-20th century. His chanting was featured in the Joni Michtell song “Lakota.” And, of course, he was the Noble Savage face of Keep America Beautiful. All while sharing more heritage with Christopher Columbus than with the people who got the shit end of the Columbian Exchange.

By all accounts Iron Eyes Cody tried to honour his assumed ancestry. He became an activist for Native American causes, and did lecture tours preaching against the harm of alcohol. He married a Seneca archaeologist, Bertha Parker, and they adopted two adopted two Dakota and/or Maricopa children. He even wrote a book about native sign language.

He also invented a backstory, quoted by Glendale News Press from  a 1951 local newspaper article:

Iron Eyes learned much of his Indian lore in the days when, as a youth, he toured the country with his father, Thomas Long Plume, in a wild west show. During his travels, he taught himself the sign language of other tribes of Indians…

The article said that the television star and his wife would appear at a Glendale Historical Society event to tell the story of the “Indian Sign Language in Pictures” and would demonstrate Indian arts and customs. Plus, the couple would bring along their 3-month-old “papoose” Robin (Robert Timothy). All were to be attired in Indian regalia.

In 1996, three years before his death, Iron Eyes Cody was outed as European by his half-sister, May Abshire, who offered proof of the actor’s Sicilian parentage to the Times-Picayune. Cody denied the allegations.

Today, such a shocking exposé, proving that an upstanding member of an ethnic community was really an outsider, would be all over social media. Just like Rachel Dolezal.

I’m having a hard time digging up any initial reactions to Iron Eyes Cody’s outing from indigenous people in the United States or Canada. How is he remembered? Did he help make native issues more visible, or did he obnoxiously appropriate a culture of suffering that didn’t belong to him?

Cross-posted at The Ethical Adman.

Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at Osocio and The Ethical Adman.

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TEDSurprise! You’re the president: A conversation with the first female president of Mauritius

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was just sworn in as the first female president of Mauritius. A TEDGlobal 2014 speaker, she tells us how this happened and what she plans to do while in office. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was just sworn in as the first female president of Mauritius. A TEDGlobal 2014 speaker, she shares the unusual way this happened and what she plans to do while in office. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

You’ve heard of a philosopher king. But what about a biologist president?

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim — the biologist who gave the TED Talk “Humble plants that hide surprising secrets” — was sworn in today as the sixth president of Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Africa, about 500 miles past Madagascar. Gurib-Fakim was appointed to the position by Mauritius’ parliament, and is the country’s first female president. And as she tells the TED Blog: The whole thing comes as a shock.

The TED Blog spoke to Gurib-Fakim about how she became an accidental president — and how she’ll approach the presidency differently, as both a woman and a biologist.

What sparked your interest in politics?

If I tell you the story, you won’t believe it. Last year, the outgoing government wanted to change the constitution, to give the outgoing prime minister more powers. In reaction to this, the opposition party said, “We don’t want any constitutional change. And we are going to propose a woman president.”

When they asked me, I said, “I don’t see myself as a politician. I’m not going to play that game.” The post of the president is not an executive one here, but it’s a lot of responsibility. They said, “We just want you to be there. You don’t have to campaign; we will do all the work.” So I said, “Okay. Let’s go for it.” I thought, in my small mind, they were going to lose anyway; this was a case of David against Goliath. But lo and behold, they won. It was a landslide. This all happened when I came back from TEDGlobal. So there I was.

When the party won, the current president claimed his mandate through 2017. So I thought, “Well, I’ve still got time to get prepared.” Then he resigned last Friday, on May 29. That’s the story of how I got pushed into the limelight of the presidency.

Did you know that the current president would be resigning?

I had no idea. I started hearing echoes last Thursday, and on Friday he signed his resignation. My party said, “We will need to appoint you very quickly.”

Fortunately, here president is a constitutional post — you are the guardian of the constitution. You are also commander in chief — we don’t have an army, but we do have a paramilitary. Then within the role, there is enough space for you to do other things.


I want to drive think-tanks on science and technology. Since TEDGlobal, we opened BioPark Mauritius, the first technology park in this part of the world. We have quite a few clusters and institutions in operation now — but there is potential for a lot more. Another area I want to focus is on the environment. Climate change is a big concern for us — it can be felt in terms of the seasons, and we’re seeing very strong, violent storms. A strong voice needs to be heard. Sustainable development has everything to do with our identity of being Mauritian and of being a biodiversity hotspot.

Of course, we have to pay good attention to education. And my party is focused on getting the economy right — because they know that with the economy comes employment, and with that comes social welfare. We have free healthcare and free education.

As a biologist, do you bring a different vantage point to the role of president?

I think not just as a biologist, but as a woman biologist. I’ve gone through the glass ceiling, and that’s an important message to send to young women and girls. Increasingly, young people are leaving the sciences, so I hope to be a role model to promote the learning of science, to make it interesting and sexy. I want to tell people, “Yes, it’s possible if you are a woman.”

So it feels significant to be the first female president?

Oh yes, it’s very big — for Mauritius and for the continent. In Africa, there aren’t many women at the helm of countries. The same is true globally. It’s really making history.

In Mauritius, we live in a very patriarchal society. I was lucky when I was a young girl, because my father had no objection to his daughter getting an education. When I was young, education wasn’t free, so this was not the case for many girls. Girls got more and more access to schools after 1976, and yet women who are professionals still suffer from what I call the leaky-pipe syndrome. A lot of girls come in to the schools, but by the time we look out the other side of the tube, there’s hardly any left. We need to see how this can be capped. [My appointment] has a lot of symbolism attached to it. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s just so wow-ing.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is sworn in as president of Mauritius on Friday, June 5, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is sworn in as president of Mauritius on Friday, June 5, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Earlier, you mentioned the Mauritian identity. How would you describe that?

The Mauritian identity is constantly being built and rebuilt, because we come from so many parts of the world. We are a people of Indian, African, Chinese and European origin. People think along ethnic lines, and tend to only remember they’re Mauritian on Independence Day, on March 12, when people rally round the flag and national anthem. The next day, they have forgotten about it. So this is something that needs to be constructed systematically.

Mauritius has some very good practices. We’re a country with no natural resources, and yet we have a good per-capita income, one of the highest in Africa. We have a mix of people, and we’ve developed a rich social fabric which has stayed generally strong. All these practices, we should be exporting to the world. I think this has not been done properly over the last few years.

Of course, we have a unique biodiversity. That can be turned into economic opportunity with sustainable development.

How do you anticipate that being president will change your everyday life?

I’ve been traveling quite a bit, and this will clip my wings. My family is also discussing whether to move. For the past five months, they’ve been getting used to the idea [of me as president]. Once my name was mentioned and the party won, we realized it was going to happen at some point.

What are you most excited about — and nervous for — with being sworn in?

It’s daunting. It’s a huge responsibility. Something that requires a lot of psychological preparation, which I’m trying to get. I’m a scientist, so I’m used to saying things as I see them. As president, [I] need to be much more diplomatic. I have to be careful and go in with kid gloves.

Do you think your TED Talk had anything to do with this turn in your career?

TED is very popular here. Having spoken at TED gives you a lot of credibility — and a lot of visibility. It’s been amazing. Maybe we can do a TEDGlobal: South! here in two, three years. Why not?

In her TED Talk, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim introduced us to the baobab tree, just one of the incredible species that grows in the biodiversity hotspot of Mauritius. She says that protecting the environment will be a priority in her presidency. Photo: Courtesy of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

In her TED Talk, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim introduced us to the baobab tree, one of the incredible species that grows in the biodiversity hotspot of Mauritius. Protecting the environment will be a priority in her presidency. Photo: Courtesy of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

RacialiciousSense8 And The Failure Of Global Imagination

By Guest Contributor Claire Light, cross-posted from The Nerds Of Color

How do you imagine a life you could never live? Though not really a theme, this problem is at the heart of Netflix’s new original series Sense8, created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, and heavily influenced by Tom Tykwer. Like many fantastical or science fictional premises, Sense8’s premise is a wish fulfillment: not — as is typical of this genre and the Wachowskis’ earlier work — the wish fulfillment of the disempowered middle school nerd stuffed into a locker, but rather the Mary Sue desire of a mature, white American writer/auteur who has discovered that an entire world is “out there,” one that the maker doesn’t know how to imagine.

Yes, most of us are still white, but 3 outta 8 ain’t bad.

The premise in a nutshell (and mild spoilers follow throughout this article): humanity has evolved a new subspecies, the “sensate,” who can share the thoughts, feelings, memories, skills, and experiences of other sensates. A sensate can “give birth” to a group of adult sensates, tying them together into a “cluster,” that can and does access each other without having to come in physical contact first. The cluster must be composed of eight sensates who were all born at the exact same time, which necessarily means that they are scattered all over the world. They can use each other’s languages, knowledge, and skills, and experience each other’s experiences firsthand. You can see already how incredibly attractive these abilities would be to Americans who wish to depict a new global status quo, but grew up monolingual in an imperialist center.

I’m describing, of course, the Wachowskis, who share entire writing and production credits with J. Michael Straczynski, but are the obvious spiritual core and drivers of this piece. Very little of Straczynski’s earlier work in superhero cartoons, space opera, and short-arc TV drama shows up here, except his expertise with the television format. Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed with his light touch. You don’t see his hand in this at all, and I give entire credit and blame for this series to the Wachowskis, whose vision shines through. (Much more apparent is the influence of Tom Tykwer, who only directed two episodes, but whose pacing and elegiac grittiness is felt throughout.)

We contain multitudes.

The Wachowskis step onto the stage here as fully developed aesthetic internationalists, embracing the equality of diverse world cultures, and espousing the universality of the human experience. You can see the Wachowskis’ development into this — philosophy? — throughout their oeuvre, pushed by a desire to depict true diversity.

It’s something you can see in the Matrix trilogy already, which was limited by the Wachowskis’ extremely limited white American perspective. The works they adapted subsequently (V for Vendetta, Speed Racer, Ninja Assassin) were training wheels: the developing Wachowski worldview refracted through international pop culture artifacts. Cloud Atlas feels like a culmination of this growth, the moment they discovered where they really wanted to go: towards a philosophical simultaneity through extremely diverse global cultures. In Sense8 you see them finally taking the training wheels off and attempting to originate their own simultaneous, diverse-culture-unifying fictions.

It’s a beautiful vision, if you believe in universality. Let’s assume for a moment that you do. It’s a deeply worthy, exciting, and — dare I say it? — moral ambition. And it half-succeeds; which means it also half-fails.

There should be word for the exhilaration of a half-success coupled with the glowing disappointment of the half-failure, that two-sided coin. People who don’t speak German would say that there must be a long-ass German word for it. There isn’t, but German has the virtue of allowing someone to make a half-assed attempt at coining it. Ehrgeitzversagensschoene? I mention this, because this is one of the primary failures of the show: it attaches itself to Americans’ perceptions of how things are in other idioms, as much as, or more than, it attaches to how things actually are.

Even our tweets are clichéd.

To put it plainly: Sense8’s depiction of life in non-western countries is built out of stereotypes, and of life in non-American western countries is suffused with tourist-board clichés. The protagonist in Nairobi is a poor man whose mother has AIDS and whose life is ruled by gangs; in Mumbai we have a woman in a STEM career marrying a man she doesn’t love and engaging in Bollywood dance numbers; in Korea we have a patriarchally oppressed wealthy corporate woman who also happens to be a kickass martial artist; in Mexico City we follow a telenovela actor. London and Reykjavik are filmed using tourist locations and anonymous interiors.

Worse, the filmic clichés of each country are brought to bear on the production in each location — each organized by a different director: Nairobi is sweaty, garish, earth-toned, radiantly shabby; Mumbai is multicolored, and Hindu iconned, full of the jewelry, silks, flowers, and jubilant crowds that burst out of classic Bollywood; Seoul is clean to the point of sterility, with little patches of grass and mirrors and windows everywhere, a grey, hi-tech aesthetic; Mexico City is jewel-toned, rife with skulls, full of melodrama deliberately reminiscent of the telenovela; etc. I believe, quite literally, that the filmmakers primarily learned about these other cultures through their films, and considered that enough.

This is what bad guys look like in Mexico City.

And finally, the pop-cultural elements of the show are all American. There’s no evidence of local or national culture influencing how the non-American characters view themselves or live their lives. The Kenyan sensate idolizes Jean-Claude Van Damme (who is, granted, not American, but known for his role in American action films). The German sensate claims Conan the Barbarian quotes as his personal philosophy. The Icelandic DJ in London puts on 4 Non Blondes’ hideous anthem “What’s Goin’ On?” and infects the entire cluster with a dancing/singing jag. Where there’s no American cultural lead — in Korea and Mexico, and even in the Ganesh-worshipping Indian sensate’s life — the characters’ life philosophies are a blank.

The Wachowskis take advantage of the apparent international ascendancy of American pop culture to unify disparate cultures, when the way American pop works on non-western cultures is often counterintuitive to Western minds. Sense8 also displays a profound lack of recognition of local pop cultures even when they would definitely have influenced such characters. In the show, American pop is specific, non American pop is generalized and clichéd, as in the Bollywood dance, or entirely absent.

The universality being promoted here is a universality of Americanideas, American popular culture, American world views. It’s likeStephen Colbert’s idea of freedom of religion:

I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jew, or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

Violence is the universal language.

If the entire show were an even spread of such thin notions, I could dismiss the show, or even enjoy it as as a guilty or problematic pleasure. But Sense8 has two great counter virtues.

The first is in the depiction of the San Francisco sensate, which is the best representation both of the city and of that particular community that I’ve ever seen on TV. Nomi, a trans woman, is first seen wandering through a very locally-informed San Francisco cityscape during Pride weekend. At every level, the limning of Nomi’s character and the study of San Francisco are intimate, layered, nuanced, and above all, specific. Nomi doesn’t fall off a bike somewhere in San Francisco, she falls off a motorcycle in the Castro during the Dykes on Bikes parade, which she rides in every year with her girlfriend, a gesture of extreme importance to her identity. She doesn’t meet-cute her girlfriend in a random park; she remembers a key moment early in their relationship where her girlfriend stands up for her against a hostile TERF during a picnic in Dolores Park.

It’s the specificity that rings true to this San Franciscan, and that signals to all viewers that this world is real, and the character is alive within it.

No, it’s not the new Mad Max movie, it’s San Francisco.

It’s a vision of how the entire show could have been, if the Wachowskis could have figured out in time how to bring this level of intimacy and specificity to their depiction of all the characters, and all the cities. Because Tom Tykwer, himself a Berliner, directs the Berlin sequences, you see a little bit of this familiarity in the locations chosen for that city and in the character of Wolfgang — his East German origins, his family’s Slavic name and orthodox religion, etc.

But none of the other sensates, including the idealistic Chicago cop, bear anything close to the level of intimate knowledge or specific detail that Nomi or Wolfgang have. In fact, pay attention and you’ll see how generalizing the locations and incidents are. For example: in Nairobi, the sensate’s bus is robbed in what the characters themselves call “a bad area,” i.e. they don’t refer to the district by its name.

One of these things is not like the others. Must be sci-fi.

But even this failure in the rest of Sense8’s world is countered somewhat by its second great virtue, which is that it commits totally to its clichés and rides them out to their conclusions. Thank the slow pacing for this. The entire 12-episode first season covers a story arc that would generally be covered in the first two episodes of any other show (the sensates are introduced, discover each other, start to learn the rules of their condition, meet their antagonist, and finally successfully pull off their first combined action). The very deliberation with which the story unfolds forces the writers to unpack details of each character’s life and situations that bring a kind of life and reality to the clichés they’re embedded in. Details are forced into the narrative — one by one in each character’s arc — and each character eventually becomes rooted in these details, even though they often come late in the season.

For example, Kala, the Indian sensate in Mumbai, is characterized over simply at first: she is to marry a man she doesn’t love, and she is a dedicated worshiper of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh. We don’t actually learn more large details about her, but in drilling down on these two things, we learn a great deal of anchoring detail: the marriage is not arranged, but a “love match;” with her boss’ son; whom she met at work; at a pharmaceutical company; where she works as a chemical engineer; because she has a master’s degree in chemistry. She worships Ganesh; not because she’s a benighted third world person but because she sees no conflict between science and spirituality; and because she had an experience of being lost as a child and then discovering a literal new perspective of the world through the eyes of a papier maché Ganesh parade float; as a consequence, she takes her sensate role in stride because she trusts that she is still seeing the world through Ganesh’s eyes.

All of the characters get drilled down into in this way, to varying degrees, and all start to take on life and verisimilitude. The main problem with forcing this kind of life into characters is that the audience cannot trust its, for lack of a better word, authenticity. To return to Kala: we see her more than once visiting the temple of Ganesh where she has out loud, private conversations with the god, a la Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. I don’t know whether or not Hindus are taught to converse vernacularly with their gods in their temples, but the extreme Americanness of the depiction warns me that the Wachowskis probably don’t know either. My suspicion is that they transposed an American Christian moment into an Indian Hindu one, without really finding out if the translation held. Moments like this are sprinkled throughout.

We have sex with each other inside our heads. Group sex.

The Wachowskis fail to examine characters in the characters owncontext. These are some of the basics of fictional world building and character development: you create the rules of the world, create the worldview, situate the character in this worldview, pick out notes of the worldview for the character to hold as a personal philosophy, motivate the character according to that personal philosophy, and have the character act throughout the story in accordance with these motivations. Missing out on any of these layers — especially the first, broadest layer of cultural context — leaves you with a character that may or may not be alive, but whose motivations, worldview, and context are a blank. And most of Sense8’s characters are laboring within blankness. Again, they gain a certain amount of rootedness, but not one that is trustworthy, because they are rooted in this same cultural absence.

Again, we need that fictional German word, to describe how I feel about what I can only call a failure of global imagination. The fact that the makers conceived of having a global imagination in the first place is, in itself, a triumph. The fact that they attempted to embody a global imagination in a television show is breathtaking. Given their approach, their failure to achieve that global imagination was inevitable.

Because the very act of conceiving a global imagination is itself a function of the specifically American imagination. I “assumed” earlier that we agreed with the Wachowskis’ philosophy of the universality of human experience; but do we? Universality is a deeply western humanist idea that attaches particularly well to the US’s brand of Darwinist individualism. We all have — or should have — the same opportunities, the same basis. What we make of this is a function of our individuality. Culture is just happenstance; what’s important is our actions, our choices, etc. It’s a familiar refrain, and much of American anti-racism and social justice is based upon the idea of the even — the universal — playing field as an ideal to aspire to.

But how universal is human experience, really? How empathetic can we be? We don’t really know how deep culture and environment go in the psyche. We don’t really know how different people can be. Our sciences — and especially our “soft” sciences, which are tasked with these questions — have barely scratched the surface of any answers, eternally stymied by their own deep-seated cultural biases, and the cultural bias of “science” itself. And the very idea of universalism is — o, irony! — too often a culturally imperialist idea imposed from outside upon cultures that share no such understanding of the world.

The world is a mirror that reflects yourself back to you… if you’re a white American dude.

The characters discuss their choices with one another, but nowhere is there any cultural misunderstanding of each others’ choices. Yes, they can each feel what the others are feeling, think what the others are thinking. But does that free each of them from their cultural context? Wouldn’t, instead, each of them be having profound identity crises based on the deepest sort of culture clash anyone has ever felt?

“Universing” everything under an American idea — an American set of choices — is a contradiction in terms; one the Wachowskis underlined in Sense8 through their collaborative process. All five directors who worked on the show are white men, except Lana Wachowski. All are American except Tykwer, who has been working in Hollywood for years. All episodes in all locations were written by the Wachowskis and Straczynski — again, white American men plus Lana Wachowski. There seems to have been no thought of reaching out to, much less collaborating with, writers and directors from the cultures here represented.

The great irony of this show is that it failed to do what the show itself depicts: allow people from disparate cultures to work together, influence each other, clash with each other, and to live moments of each other’s lives.

Am I a Korean woman dreaming of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of being a Korean woman?

In a discussion before I wrote this piece, I disagreed with a friend about the handling of language in the show. I really appreciated the choice of having all characters speak English without forcing them all to speak English in cheap versions of their “native” accents. And, given that this was an American TV show, I didn’t expect the makers to force American audiences to read subtitles. My friend, however, pointed out that it would have been… well, less hegemonic for everyone to be actually speaking their own languages.

Upon reflection, I have to agree that having the dialogue in non-English speaking countries translated would have offered the translators an opportunity for input about the content of the dialogue. And if the Wachowskis had hired writers from each culture to translate not merely the text but also the entire culture and idiom — up to and including changing plot points and points of view to better fit with the local culture of that character — this could have solved their whole problem.

Psych! We shot the whole thing against a green screen!

Whether or not you believe in the universality of human experience — whether or not you believe in a single global imagination — the only way to attempt to depict a true global imagination would be to create — in the writers room and on the directors’ chairs — a facsimile of a sensate cluster. Just imagine it: eight equal auteurs, each in their own physical location and cultural context, striving together — and frequently pulling apart — to achieve a single, complex story on film. Even the failure of such an enterprise would have been far more ambitious, far more glorious, far moreEhrgeizversagensschoen, than the Sense8 we actually got.

And if it had succeeded?

There are four more seasons to go on this show — if the Wachowskis get their way. Let’s hope that in the future their globalism is more than just an aesthetic decision.

Bottom line: yes, watch it. Binge it. Its failure is far more interesting than the success of almost anything else happening at this moment. And it’s truly one of the most diverse shows on TV right now.

They just better not all be dead.

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