Planet Russell

,

TEDWe the Future 2019: Talks from TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation

Hosts Rajesh Mirchandani and Chee Pearlman wave to “We The Future” attendees who watched the salon live from around the world through TED World Theater technology. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

At “We the Future,” a day of talks from TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation at the TED World Theater in New York City, 18 speakers and performers shared daring ideas, deep analysis, cautionary tales and behavior-changing strategies aimed at meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global goals created in partnership with individuals around the world and adopted at the United Nations in 2015.

The event: We the Future, presented by TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation to share ingenious efforts of people from every corner of the globe

When and where: Tuesday, September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY

Music: Queen Esther with Hilliard Greene and Jeff McGlaughlin, performing the jazzy “Blow Blossoms” and the protest song “All That We Are”

The talks in brief:


David Wallace-Wells, journalist

Big idea: The climate crisis is too vast and complicated to solve with a silver bullet. We need a shift in how we live: a whole new politics, economics and relationship to technology and nature.

Why? The climate crisis isn’t the legacy of our ancestors, but the work of a single generation — ours, says Wallace-Wells. Half of all the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in the history of humanity were produced in the last 30 years. We clearly have immense power over the climate, and it’s put us on the brink of catastrophe — but it also means we’re the ones writing the story of our planet’s future. If we are to survive, we’ll need to reshape society as we know it — from building entirely new electric grids, planes and infrastructures to rethinking the way the global community comes together to support those hit hardest by climate change. In we do that, we just might build a new world that’s livable, prosperous and green.

Quote of the talk: “We won’t be able to beat climate change — only live with it and limit it.”


“When the cost of inaction is that innocent children are left unprotected, unvaccinated, unable to go to school … trapped in a cycle of poverty, exclusion and invisibility, it’s on us to take this issue out of darkness and into the light,” says legal identity expert Kristen Wenz. She speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Kristen Wenz, legal identity expert

Big idea: More than one billion people — mostly children — don’t have legal identities or birth certificates, which means they can’t get vital government services like health care and schooling. It’s a massive human rights violation we need to fix.

How? There are five key approaches to ensuring children are registered and protected — reduce distance, reduce cost, simplify the process, remove discrimination and increase demand. In Tanzania, the government helped make it easier for new parents to register their child by creating an online registration system and opening up registration hubs in communities. The results were dramatic: the number of children with birth certificates went from 16 to 83 percent in just a few years. By designing solutions with these approaches in mind, we can provide better protection and brighter opportunities for children across the world.

Quote of the talk: “When the cost of inaction is that innocent children are left unprotected, unvaccinated, unable to go to school … trapped in a cycle of poverty, exclusion and invisibility, it’s on us to take this issue out of darkness and into the light.”


Don Gips, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, in conversation with TEDWomen curator and author Pat Michell

Big idea: Don Gips turned away from careers in both government and business and became CEO of the Skoll Foundation for one reason: the opportunity to take charge of investing in solutions to the most urgent issues humanity faces. Now, it’s the foundation’s mission to identify the investments that will spark the greatest changes.

How?

By reaching deeper into communities and discovering and investing in social entrepreneurs and other changemakers, the Skoll Foundation supports promising solutions to urgent global problems. As their investments yield positive results, Gips hopes to inspire the rest of the philanthropic community to find better ways to direct their resources.

Quote of the interview: “We don’t tell the changemaker what the solution is. We invest in their solution, and go along on the journey with them.”


“By making aesthetic, some might say beautiful, arrangements out of the world’s waste, I hope to hook the viewer, to draw in those that are numb to the horrors of the world, and give them a different way to understand what is happening,” says artist Alejandro Durán. He speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Alejandro Durán, artist

Big Idea: Art can spotlight the environmental atrocities happening to our oceans — leaving viewers both mesmerized and shocked.

Why? From prosthetic legs to bottle caps, artist Alejandro Durán makes ephemeral environmental artworks out of objects he finds polluting the waters of his native region of Sian Ka’an, Mexico. He meticulously organizes materials by color and curates them into site-specific work. Durán put on his first “Museo de La Basura or Museum of Garbage exhibition in 2015, which spoke to the horrors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and he’s still making art that speaks to the problem of ocean trash. By endlessly reusing objects in his art, Durán creates new works that engage communities in environmental art-making, attempting to depict the reality of our current environmental predicament and make the invisible visible.

Quote of the talk: “By making aesthetic, some might say beautiful, arrangements out of the world’s waste, I hope to hook the viewer, to draw in those that are numb to the horrors of the world, and give them a different way to understand what is happening.”


Andrew Forrest, entrepreneur, in conversation with head of TED Chris Anderson

Big idea: The true — and achievable! — business case for investing in plastic recycling.

How? Since earning his PhD in marine ecology, Forrest has dedicated his time and money to solving the global plastic problem, which is choking our waterways and oceans with toxic material that never biodegrades. “I learned a lot about marine life,” he says of his academic experience. “But it taught me more about marine death.” To save ourselves and our underwater neighbors from death by nanoplastics, Forrest says we need the big corporations of the world to fund a massive environmental transition that includes increasing the price of plastic and turning the tide on the recycling industry.

Quote of the talk: “[Plastic] is an incredible substance designed for the economy. It’s the worst substance possible for the environment.”


Raj Panjabi, cofounder of medical NGO Last Mile Health

Big idea: Community health workers armed with training and technology are our first line of defense against deadly viral surges. If we are to fully protect the world from killer diseases, we must ensure that people living in the most remote areas of the planet are never far from a community health worker trained to throttle epidemics at their outset.

How? In December 2013, Ebola broke out in West Africa and began a transborder spread that threatened to wipe out millions of people. Disease fighters across Africa joined the battle to stop it — including Liberian health workers trained by Last Mile Health and armed with the technology, knowledge and support necessary to serve their communities. With their help, Ebola was stopped (for now), after killing 11,000 people. Panjabi believes that if we train and pay more community health workers, their presence in underserved areas will not only stop epidemics but also save the lives of the millions of people threatened by diseases like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea.

Quote of the talk:We dream of a future when millions of people … can gain dignified jobs as community health workers, so they can serve their neighbors in the forest communities of West Africa to the fishing villages of the Amazon; from the hilltops of Appalachia to the mountains of Afghanistan.”


“Indigenous people have the answer. If we want to save the Amazon, we have to act now,” says Tashka Yawanawá, speaking at “We The Future” with his wife, Laura, on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Tashka and Laura Yawanawá, leaders of the Yawanawá in Acre, Brazil

Big idea: To save the Amazon rainforest, let’s empower indigenous people who have been coexisting with the rainforest for centuries.

Why? Tashka Yawanawá is chief of the Yawanawá people in Acre, Brazil, leading 900 people who steward 400,000 acres of Brazilian Amazon rainforest. As footage of the Amazon burning shocks the world’s conscious, Tashka and his wife, Laura, call for us to transform this moment into an opportunity to support indigenous people who have the experience, knowledge and tools to protect the land.

Quote of the talk: “Indigenous people have the answer. If we want to save the Amazon, we have to act now.”


Alasdair Harris, ocean conservationist

Big idea: To the impoverished fishers that rely on the sea for their food, and who comprise 90 percent of the world’s fishing fleet, outside interference by scientists and marine managers can seem like just another barrier to their survival. Could the world rejuvenate its marine life and replenish its fish stocks by inspiring coastal communities rather than simply regulating them?

How? When he first went to Madagascar, marine biologist Alasdair Harris failed to convince local leaders to agree to a years-long plan to close their threatened coral reefs to fishing. But when a contained plan to preserve a breeding ground for an important local species of octopus led to rapid growth in catches six months later, the same elders banded together with leaders across Madagascar to spearhead a conservation revolution. Today, Harris’s organization Blue Ventures works to help coastal communities worldwide take control of their own ecosystems.

Quote of the talk: When we design it right, marine conservation reaps dividends that go far beyond protecting nature — improving catches, driving waves of social change along entire coastlines, strengthening confidence, cooperation and the resilience of communities to face the injustice of poverty and climate change.”


Bright Simons, social entrepreneur and product security expert

Big idea: A global breakdown of the trustworthiness of markets and regulatory institutions has led to a flurry of counterfeit drugs, mislabeled food and defective parts. Africa has been dealing with counterfeit goods for years, and entrepreneurs like Bright Simons have developed myriad ways consumers can confirm that their food and drug purchases are genuine. Why are these methods ignored in the rest of the world?

How? Bright Simons demonstrates some of the innovative solutions Africans use to restore trust in their life-giving staples, such as text hotlines to confirm medications are real and seed databases to certify the authenticity of crops. Yet in the developed world, these solutions are often overlooked because they “don’t scale” — an attitude Simons calls “mental latitude imperialism.” It’s time to champion “intellectual justice” — and look at these supposedly non-scalable innovations with new respect.

Quote of the talk: “It just so happens that today, the most advanced and most progressive solutions to these problems are being innovated in the developing world.”


“Water is life. It is the spirit that binds us from sickness, death and destruction,” says LaToya Ruby Frazier. She speaks at “We The Future” on September 24, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

LaToya Ruby Frazier, artist 

Big Idea: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s powerful portraits of women in Flint, Michigan document the reality of the Flint water crisis, bringing awareness to the ongoing issue and creating real, positive change.

How? Frazier’s portraits of the daily lives of women affected by the Flint water crisis are striking reminders that, after all the news crews were gone, the people of Flint still did not have clean water. For one photo series, she closely followed the lives of Amber Hasan and Shea Cobb — two activists, poets and best friends — who were working to educate the public about the water crisis. Frazier has continued collaborating with Hasan and Cobb to seek justice and relief for those suffering in Flint. In 2019, they helped raise funds for an atmospheric water generator that provided 120,000 gallons of water to Flint residents. 

Quote of the talk: “Water is life. It is the spirit that binds us from sickness, death and destruction. Imagine how many millions of lives we could save if [the atmospheric water generator] were in places like Newark, New Jersey, South Africa and India — with compassion instead of profit motives.”


Cassie Flynn, global climate change advisor

Big idea: We need a new way to get citizen consensus on climate change and connect them with governments and global leaders.

How? The United Nations is taking on an entirely new model of reaching the masses: mobile phone games. Flynn shares how their game “Mission 1.5” can help people learn about their policy choices on climate change by allowing them to play as heads of state. From there, the outcomes of their gameplay will be compiled and shared with their national leaders and the public. Flynn foresees this as a fresh, feasible way to meet citizens where they are, to educate them about climate change and to better connect them to the people who are making those tough decisions.

Quote of the talk: “Right now, world leaders are faced with the biggest and most impactful decisions of their entire lives. What they decide to do on climate change will either lead to a riskier, more unstable planet or a future that is more prosperous and sustainable for us all.”


Wanjira Mathai, entrepreneur

Big Idea: Corruption is a constant threat in Kenya. To defeat it there and anywhere, we need to steer youth towards integrity through education and help them understand the power of the individual.

Why? In 1989, the Karura Forest, a green public oasis in Nairobi, Kenya, was almost taken away by a corrupt government until political activist Wangari Maathai, Nobel Prize recipient and founder of the Greenbelt Movement, fought back fiercely and won. Continuing Maathai’s legacy, her daughter Wanjira explains how corruption is still very much alive in Kenya — a country that loses a third of its state budget to corruption every year. “Human beings are not born corrupt. At some point these behaviors are fostered by a culture that promotes individual gain over collective progress,” she says. She shares a three-pronged strategy for fighting corruption before it takes root by addressing why it happens, modeling integrity and teaching leadership skills.

Quote of the talk: “We cannot complain forever. We either decide that we are going to live with it, or we are going to change it. And if we are going to change it, we know that today, most of the world’s problems are caused by corruption and greed and selfishness.”

CryptogramNSA on the Future of National Cybersecurity

Glenn Gerstell, the General Counsel of the NSA, wrote a long and interesting op-ed for the New York Times where he outlined a long list of cyber risks facing the US.

There are four key implications of this revolution that policymakers in the national security sector will need to address:

The first is that the unprecedented scale and pace of technological change will outstrip our ability to effectively adapt to it. Second, we will be in a world of ceaseless and pervasive cyberinsecurity and cyberconflict against nation-states, businesses and individuals. Third, the flood of data about human and machine activity will put such extraordinary economic and political power in the hands of the private sector that it will transform the fundamental relationship, at least in the Western world, between government and the private sector. Finally, and perhaps most ominously, the digital revolution has the potential for a pernicious effect on the very legitimacy and thus stability of our governmental and societal structures.

He then goes on to explain these four implications. It's all interesting, and it's the sort of stuff you don't generally hear from the NSA. He talks about technological changes causing social changes, and the need for people who understand that. (Hooray for public-interest technologists.) He talks about national security infrastructure in private hands, at least in the US. He talks about a massive geopolitical restructuring -- a fundamental change in the relationship between private tech corporations and government. He talks about recalibrating the Fourth Amendment (of course).

The essay is more about the problems than the solutions, but there is a bit at the end:

The first imperative is that our national security agencies must quickly accept this forthcoming reality and embrace the need for significant changes to address these challenges. This will have to be done in short order, since the digital revolution's pace will soon outstrip our ability to deal with it, and it will have to be done at a time when our national security agencies are confronted with complex new geopolitical threats.

Much of what needs to be done is easy to see -- developing the requisite new technologies and attracting and retaining the expertise needed for that forthcoming reality. What is difficult is executing the solution to those challenges, most notably including whether our nation has the resources and political will to effect that solution. The roughly $60 billion our nation spends annually on the intelligence community might have to be significantly increased during a time of intense competition over the federal budget. Even if the amount is indeed so increased, spending additional vast sums to meet the challenges in an effective way will be a daunting undertaking. Fortunately, the same digital revolution that presents these novel challenges also sometimes provides the new tools (A.I., for example) to deal with them.

The second imperative is we must adapt to the unavoidable conclusion that the fundamental relationship between government and the private sector will be greatly altered. The national security agencies must have a vital role in reshaping that balance if they are to succeed in their mission to protect our democracy and keep our citizens safe. While there will be good reasons to increase the resources devoted to the intelligence community, other factors will suggest that an increasing portion of the mission should be handled by the private sector. In short, addressing the challenges will not necessarily mean that the national security sector will become massively large, with the associated risks of inefficiency, insufficient coordination and excessively intrusive surveillance and data retention.

A smarter approach would be to recognize that as the capabilities of the private sector increase, the scope of activities of the national security agencies could become significantly more focused, undertaking only those activities in which government either has a recognized advantage or must be the only actor. A greater burden would then be borne by the private sector.

It's an extraordinary essay, less for its contents and more for the speaker. This is not the sort of thing the NSA publishes. The NSA doesn't opine on broad technological trends and their social implications. It doesn't publicly try to predict the future. It doesn't philosophize for 6000 unclassified words. And, given how hard it would be to get something like this approved for public release, I am left to wonder what the purpose of the essay is. Is the NSA trying to lay the groundwork for some policy initiative ? Some legislation? A budget request? What?

Charlie Warzel has a snarky response. His conclusion about the purpose:

He argues that the piece "is not in the spirit of forecasting doom, but rather to sound an alarm." Translated: Congress, wake up. Pay attention. We've seen the future and it is a sweaty, pulsing cyber night terror. So please give us money (the word "money" doesn't appear in the text, but the word "resources" appears eight times and "investment" shows up 11 times).

Susan Landau has a more considered response, which is well worth reading. She calls the essay a proposal for a moonshot (which is another way of saying "they want money"). And she has some important pushbacks on the specifics.

I don't expect the general counsel and I will agree on what the answers to these questions should be. But I strongly concur on the importance of the questions and that the United States does not have time to waste in responding to them. And I thank him for raising these issues in so public a way.

I agree with Landau.

Slashdot thread.

Planet DebianJunichi Uekawa: From today, value added tax rate increased in Japan.

From today, value added tax rate increased in Japan. First time with variable tax rate depending on how you consume it, inside the restaurant or outside.

Worse Than FailureWhen Unique Isn't Unique

Palm III 24

Gather 'round, young'uns, for a tale from the Dark Ages of mobile programming: the days before the iPhone launched. Despite what Apple might have you believe, the iPhone wasn't the first portable computing device. Today's submitter, Jack, was working for a company that streamed music to these non-iPhone devices, such as the Palm Treo or the Samsung Blackjack. As launch day approached for the new client for Windows Mobile 6, our submitter realized that he'd yet to try the client on a non-phone device (called a PDA, for those of you too young to recall). So he tracked down an HP iPaq on eBay just so he could verify that it worked on a device without the phone API.

The device arrived a few days out from launch, after QA had already approved the build on other devices. It should've been a quick test: sideload the app, stream a few tracks, log in, log out. But when Jack opened the app for the first time on the new device, it was already logged into someone's account! He closed it and relaunched, only to find himself in a different, also inappropriate account. What on earth?!

The only thing Jack could find in common between the users he was logged in as was that they were running the same model of PDA. That was the crucial key to resolving the issue. To distinguish which device was making the calls to the streaming service, Jack used a call in Windows Mobile that would return a unique ID for each mobile device. In most devices, it would base this identifier on the IMEI, ensuring uniqueness—but not on the HP iPaq. All HP devices could automatically log into the account of the most recently used iPaq, providing the user logged out and back in, as it would generate a recent-user record with the device ID.

Jack had read the documentation many times, and it always stated that the ID was guaranteed to be unique. Either HP had a different definition of "unique" than anyone else, or they had a major security bug!

Jack emailed HP, but they had no plans to fix the issue, so he had to whip up an alternate method of generating a UUID in the case that the user was on this device. The launch had to be pushed back to accommodate it, but the hole was plugged, and life went on as usual.

[Advertisement] ProGet can centralize your organization's software applications and components to provide uniform access to developers and servers. Check it out!

Planet DebianAbhijith PA: Debian packaging session

Hello web,

Group photo

Last week I conducted a workshop on Debian packaging at MES College of Engineering, Kuttipuram in accordance with Frisbee 19, yearly conference by IEEE cell of this college. Thanks to Anupa from ICFOSS who contacted and arranged me to take this session. I was accompanied by Subin and Abhijith from FOSSers. The time span was from 9:30 AM to 04:30 PM. Since it was a big time slot we took from the Free software evangelism –> GNU/Linux –> Debian –> how contributing to community projects can help your career.

Subin introduced Debian history, philosophy and release processes to the students. I started with a hello world program packaging and later to ruby gem packaging with gem2deb. Abhijith helped students who got stuck while packaging. At the end of the session we did a small quiz and gifted them with debian stickers and conference merchandises.

Thanks to the volunteers for setting up the prerequisites.

Planet DebianNorbert Preining: 10 years in Japan

Exactly 10 years ago, on October 1, 2009, I started my work at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), arriving the previous day in a place not completely unknown, but with a completely different outlook: I had a position as Associate Professor, and somehow was looking forward to an interesting and challenging time. Much has changed since then, and I thought a bit of reflection is necessary

Four years ago I wrote a similar blog, 6 years in Japan. Rereading it today it, there is a considerable overlap:

6 years later I am still here at the JAIST, but things have changed considerably, and my future is even less clear than 6 years ago.

How true it was back then, what did I know that within a few months after posting this, the JAIST, in a move to promote internationalization, has purged all but one western foreigner from the faculty (outside the English department), and I found myself unemployed, with a new-born child, not knowing what to do and where to go. It relates cleanly to the paragraph on The biggest disappointment. How much can I laugh now looking at what I considered my biggest disappointment back then, and how I felt half a year later.

The biggest disappoinment

Asked today about the biggest disappointment, it would be clearly the Japanese academic environment. I have never seen such selfish and reckless scientist – maybe better careless – having no interest in the fate of colleagues with whom they have worked for years. Having found myself with a new-born child in unemployment in Japan, guess how many of my colleagues dared to even once ask how I am doing!? The answer is an impressive zero, naught.

Comparing this with the academic environment in which I have grown up in Vienna, I was left dumbfounded: Till now I try to search for work places for those that have been employed in my projects, the group in Vienna always tried to help each other even in hard times, bridging over holes by shifting between projects. I can’t imagine any of my colleagues from my home university to not even ask a colleague in troubles.

Well that is Japan academics, I lost every trust and faith in them.

The happiest thing

Back then I wrote that despite many hardships, the happiest thing was that I found a lovely, beautiful, and caring wife. To topple that, we got a lovely (and lively, but also challenging, at times nasty, etc etc) daughter that changed our life considerably. The three+ years since she is with us, many things got considerably more difficult, and bringing up a child brings out cultural differences and disagreements much more than living in two. But the love and fun we are receiving from our time together is for sure the happiest thing (for now, until I write another blog in 10 years?).

Present and future

After loosing my job at JAIST, and six months of unemployment, a lucky coincidence gifted me with a great job at an IT company in Tokyo, that allows me to work remotely from my home. I am incredibly thankful to everyone there who helped made this happen. It is a complete new world for me. After 25 years in academics being thrown into a Japanese company (all Japanese, I am the only foreigner), with business meetings, client support, etc was something unexpected for me. Maybe I count it as one of the big achievements that I manage to function properly in this kind of environment.

I still try to keep up my research work, publishing articles every year, and as far as possible attending conferences. My OSS activities haven’t changed a lot, and I try to keep up with the projects for which I am responsible.

What the future brings is even less unclear: Now that we have to think about the education of our daughter, moving is getting more and more a point of discussion. I really detest Japanese education system, in particular junior high school which I consider a childhood and personality killer. OTOH, we have settled into a very nice place here in Ishikawa, and at my age moving is getting more and more burdensome, not to speak of another job change. So I feel torn between returning to Europe, or remaining here in Japan. Let us see what the future brings.

Planet DebianRuss Allbery: Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War

Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Publisher: Saga
Copyright: 2019
ISBN: 1-5344-3101-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 200

Red is the most effective operative of the Agency. She darts through time's threads, finds threats to the future, eliminates them, and delights in the work. She rarely encounters the operatives of her enemy directly; they prefer painstaking work in the shadows. But there is one opponent who has a different style. Audacious. Risky.

In the midst of a dead battlefield, Red finds a letter.

Blue is Garden's operative, moving from mission to mission, exerting exactly the right pressure or force at a critical moment to shift the strands of the future. She decided to leave a letter taunting her adversary, but also expressing gratitude at the challenge, the requirement that she give the war her full attention, the relief from boredom. She wasn't sure whether to expect a reply, but she received one.

This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epistolary novel, told in short action sequences by Red or Blue followed by the inevitable discovered letter. At first, they taunt each other and delight in their victories while expressing admiration of their opponent. Blue has the smoother and more comfortable writing style. Red has to research the form of letters and writes like a conversation, sharp and informal. Both threaten and tease the other with the consequences if their superiors discover this exchange.

In word play, cultural references, sincerely-shared preferences, open curiosity, and audacious puns, the letters turn into something more than a taunting game.

The time war is a long-standing SF trope. This one reminds me the most of Fritz Leiber's The Big Time: a two-sided war between far-future civilizations, neither of which are clearly superior in either capabilities or morality. Unlike Leiber's Spiders and Snakes, though, El-Mohtar and Gladstone's Agency and Garden have some solid world-building behind them. Red's Agency is technological, cybernetic, and run by what feels like machine intelligence. Blue's Garden is the biological flip-side, a timeline of crafted life culminating in stars with eyes and a living universe, focus on growth and poison, absorbing and reshaping. To the reader, they alternate between incomprehensible and awful, although Red and Blue are comfortable with their sides at the start. Don't expect detailed or believable descriptions of the technology of either side; this is well into "indistinguishable from magic" territory throughout.

Despite its nature as a time travel story, the plot structure of this story is straightforward and somewhat predictable. You're unlikely to be surprised by the outcome; the enjoyment is in how the story gets there. The relationship didn't quite ring true to me, mostly because it develops so quickly, although some of that has to be forgiven for the format. (I have some experience with epistolary relationships; they're much more rambling and involve far, far more words than this one does.) But the letters themselves are playful, delightful, and occasionally moving, and the resolution, although expected, delivers on the emotional hooks the story was setting up.

I wasn't blown away by this, partly I think because it's too tight, focused, and stylized. Red and Blue are the only true characters in the story and the only people who feel real, which undermines the world-building and means the story can't sprawl into its surroundings or let the reader imagine other ways of living in this world. At 200 pages, it's more of a novella than a novel, and it's structured with the single-minded thrust of short fiction. The dynamic between the two characters is well-done, but there is a limit to how much characterization one can do with only a single other character to interact with. Since Red and Blue can define themselves only in relation to each other, they felt two-dimensional and I was unable to fully embrace either of them as a character.

That said, I read the whole story in an afternoon and did not regret it. I have a weakness for epistolary stories that this satisfied nicely. It hit, at least for me, the sweet spot of recognizing most of the cultural references while being surprised I recognized them, which was oddly satisfying. And the whole book is worth it for the growing tendency they both have for seeing and writing about each other's colors in everything.

I think this is more of an afternoon's entertainment than something you'll remember for a long time, but if you like time travel stories or characters writing letters to each other, recommended.

Rating: 7 out of 10

,

Planet DebianJohn Goerzen: Connecting A Physical DEC vt420 to Linux

John and Oliver trip to Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 2019. Oliver playing Zork on the Micro PDP-11

Inspired by a weekend visit to Vintage Computer Festival Midwest at which my son got to play Zork on an amber console hooked up to a MicroPDP-11 running 2BSD, I decided it was time to act on my long-held plan to get a real old serial console hooked up to Linux.

Not being satisfied with just doing it for the kicks, I wanted to make it actually usable. 30-year-old DEC hardware meets Raspberry Pi. I thought this would be pretty easy, but it turns out is was a lot more complicated than I realized, involving everything from nonstandard serial connectors to long-standing kernel bugs!

Selecting a Terminal — And Finding Parts

I wanted something in amber for that old-school feel. Sadly I didn’t have the forethought to save any back in the 90s when they were all being thrown out, because now they’re rare and can be expensive. Search eBay and pretty soon you find a scattering of DEC terminals, the odd Bull or Honeywell, some Sperrys, and assorted oddballs that don’t speak any kind of standard protocol. I figured, might as well get a vt, since we’re still all emulating them now, 40+ years later. Plus, my old boss from my university days always had stories about DEC. I wish he were still around to see this.

I selected the vt420 because I was able to find them, and it has several options for font size, letting more than 24 lines fit on a screen.

Now comes the challenge: most of the vt420s never had a DB25 RS-232 port. The VT420-J, an apparently-rare international model, did, but it is exceptionally rare. The rest use a DEC-specific port called the MMJ. Thankfully, it is electrically compatible with RS-232, and I managed to find the DEC H8571-J adapter as well as a BC16E MMJ cable that I need.

I also found a vt510 (with “paperwhite” instead of amber) in unknown condition. I purchased it, and thankfully it is also working. The vt510 is an interesting device; for that model, they switched to using a PS/2 keyboard connector, and it can accept either a DEC VT keyboard or a PC keyboard. It also supports full key remapping, so Control can be left of A as nature intended. However, there’s something about amber that is just so amazing to use again.

Preparing the Linux System

I thought I would use a Raspberry Pi as a gateway for this. With built-in wifi, that would let me ssh to other machines in my house without needing to plug in a serial cable – I could put the terminal wherever. Alternatively, I can plug in a USB-to-serial adapter to my laptop and just plug the terminal into it when I want. I wound up with a Raspberry Pi 4 kit that included some heatsinks.

I had two USB-to-serial adapters laying around: a Keyspan USA-19HS and a Digi I/O Edgeport/1. I started with the Keyspan on a Raspberry Pi 4 on the grounds that I didn’t have the needed Edgeport/1 firmware file laying about already. The Raspberry Pi does have serial capability integrated, but it doesn’t use RS-232 voltages and there have been reports of it dropping characters sometimes, so I figured the easy path would be a USB adapter. That turned out to be only partially right.

Serial Terminals with systemd

I have never set up a serial getty with systemd — it has, in fact, been quite a long while since I’ve done anything involving serial other than the occasional serial console (which is a bit different purpose).

It would have taken a LONG time to figure this out, but thanks to an article about the topic, it was actually pretty easy in the end. I didn’t set it up as a serial console, but spawning a serial getty did the trick. I wound up modifying the command like this:

ExecStart=-/sbin/agetty -8 -o '-p -- \\u' %I 19200 vt420

The vt420 supports speeds up to 38400 and the vt510 supports up to 115200bps. However, neither can process plain text at faster than 19200 so there is no point to higher speeds. And, as you are about to see, they can’t necessarily even muster 19200 all the time.

Flow Control: Oh My

The unfortunate reality with these old terminals is that the processor in them isn’t actually able to keep up with line speeds. Any speed above 4800bps can exceed processor capabilities when “expensive” escape sequences are sent. That means that proper flow control is a must. Unfortunately, the vt420 doesn’t support any form of hardware flow control. XON/XOFF is all it’ll do. Yeah, that stinks.

So I hooked the thing up to my desktop PC with a null-modem cable, and started to tinker. I should be able to send a Ctrl-S down the line and the output from the pi should immediately stop. It didn’t. Huh. I verified it was indeed seeing the Ctrl-S (open emacs, send Ctrl-S, and it goes into search mode). So something, somehow, was interfering.

After a considerable amount of head scratching, I finally busted out the kernel source. I discovered that the XON/XOFF support is part of the serial driver in Linux, and that — ugh — the keyspan serial driver never actually got around to implementing it. Oops. That’s a wee bit of a bug. I plugged in the Edgeport/1 instead of the Keyspan and magically XON/XOFF started working.

Well, for a bit.

You see, flow control is a property of the terminal that can be altered by programs on a running system. It turns out that a lot of programs have opinions about it, and those opinions generally run along the lines of “nobody could possibly be using XON/XOFF, so I’m going to turn it off.” Emacs is an offender here, but it can be configured. Unfortunately, the most nasty offender here is ssh, which contains this code that is ALWAYS run when using a pty to connect to a remote system (which is for every interactive session):

tio.c_iflag &= ~(ISTRIP | INLCR | IGNCR | ICRNL | IXON | IXANY | IXOFF);

Yes, so when you use ssh, your local terminal no longer does flow control. If you are particularly lucky, the remote end may recognize your XON/XOFF characters and process them. Unfortunately, the added latency and buffering in going through ssh and the network is likely to cause bursts of text to exceed the vt420’s measly 100-ish-byte buffer. You just can’t let the remote end handle flow control with ssh. I managed to solve this via GNU Screen; more on that later.

The vt510 supports hardware flow control! Unfortunately, it doesn’t use CTS/RTS pins, but rather DTR/DSR. This was a reasonably common method in the day, but appears to be totally unsupported in Linux. Bother. I see some mentions that FreeBSD supports DTR/DSR flow (dtrflow and dsrflow in stty outputs). It definitely looks like the Linux kernel has never plumbed out the reaches of RS-232 very well. It should be possible to build a cable to swap DTR/DSR over to CTS/RTS, but since the vt420 doesn’t support any of this anyhow, I haven’t bothered.

Character Sets

Back when the vt420 was made, it was pretty hot stuff that it was one of the first systems to support the new ISO-8859-1 standard. DEC was rather proud of this. It goes without saying that the terminal knows nothing of UTF-8.

Nowadays, of course, we live in a Unicode world. A lot of software crashes on ISO-8859-1 input (I’m looking at you, Python 3). Although I have old files from old systems that have ISO-8859-1 encoding, they are few and far between, and UTF-8 rules the roost now.

I can, of course, just set LANG=en_US and that will do — well, something. man, for instance, renders using ISO-8859-1 characters. But that setting doesn’t imply that any layer of the tty system actually converts output from UTF-8 to ISO-8859-1. For instance, if I have a file with a German character in it and use ls, nothing is going to convert it from UTF-8 to ISO-8859-1.

GNU Screen also, as it happens, mostly solves this.

GNU Screen to the rescue, somewhat

It turns out that GNU Screen has features that can address both of these issues. Here’s how I used it.

First, in my .bashrc, I set this:


if [ `tty` = "/dev/ttyUSB0" ]; then
stty -iutf8
export LANG=en_US
export MANOPT="-E ascii"
fi

Then, in my .screenrc, I put this:


defflow on
defencoding UTF-8

This tells screen that the default flow control mode is on, and that the default encoding for the pty that screen creates is UTF-8. It determines the encoding for the physical terminal for the environment, and correctly figures it to be ISO-8859-1. It then maps between the two! Yes!

My little ssh connecting script then does just this:

exec screen ssh "$@"

Which nicely takes care of the flow control issue and (most of) the encoding issue. I say “most” because now things like man will try to render with fancy em-dashes and the like, which have no representation in iso8859-1, so they come out as question marks. (Setting MANOPT=”-E ascii” fixes this) But no matter, it works to ssh to my workstation and read my email! (mu4e in emacs)

What screen doesn’t help with are things that have no ISO-8859-1 versions; em-dashes are the most frequent problems, and are replaced with unsightly question marks.

termcaps, terminfos, and weird things

So pretty soon you start diving down the terminal rabbit hole, and you realize there’s a lot of weird stuff out there. For instance, one solution to the problem of slow processors in terminals was padding: ncurses would know how long it would take the terminal to execute some commands, and would send it NULLs for that amount of time. That calculation, of course, requires knowledge of line speed, which one wouldn’t have in this era of ssh. Thankfully the vt420 doesn’t fall into that category.

But it does have a ton of modes. The Emacs On Terminal page discusses some of the interesting bits: 7-bit or 8-bit control characters, no ESC key, Alt key not working, etc, etc. I believe some of these are addressed by the vt510 (at least in PC mode). I wonder whether Emacs or vim keybindings would be best here…

Helpful Resources

CryptogramSupply-Chain Security and Trust

The United States government's continuing disagreement with the Chinese company Huawei underscores a much larger problem with computer technologies in general: We have no choice but to trust them completely, and it's impossible to verify that they're trustworthy. Solving this problem ­ which is increasingly a national security issue ­ will require us to both make major policy changes and invent new technologies.

The Huawei problem is simple to explain. The company is based in China and subject to the rules and dictates of the Chinese government. The government could require Huawei to install back doors into the 5G routers it sells abroad, allowing the government to eavesdrop on communications or ­-- even worse ­-- take control of the routers during wartime. Since the United States will rely on those routers for all of its communications, we become vulnerable by building our 5G backbone on Huawei equipment.

It's obvious that we can't trust computer equipment from a country we don't trust, but the problem is much more pervasive than that. The computers and smartphones you use are not built in the United States. Their chips aren't made in the United States. The engineers who design and program them come from over a hundred countries. Thousands of people have the opportunity, acting alone, to slip a back door into the final product.

There's more. Open-source software packages are increasingly targeted by groups installing back doors. Fake apps in the Google Play store illustrate vulnerabilities in our software distribution systems. The NotPetya worm was distributed by a fraudulent update to a popular Ukranian accounting package, illustrating vulnerabilities in our update systems. Hardware chips can be back-doored at the point of fabrication, even if the design is secure. The National Security Agency exploited the shipping process to subvert Cisco routers intended for the Syrian telephone company. The overall problem is that of supply-chain security, because every part of the supply chain can be attacked.

And while nation-state threats like China and Huawei ­-- or Russia and the antivirus company Kaspersky a couple of years earlier ­-- make the news, many of the vulnerabilities I described above are being exploited by cybercriminals.

Policy solutions involve forcing companies to open their technical details to inspection, including the source code of their products and the designs of their hardware. Huawei and Kaspersky have offered this sort of openness as a way to demonstrate that they are trustworthy. This is not a worthless gesture, and it helps, but it's not nearly enough. Too many back doors can evade this kind of inspection.

Technical solutions fall into two basic categories, both currently beyond our reach. One is to improve the technical inspection processes for products whose designers provide source code and hardware design specifications, and for products that arrive without any transparency information at all. In both cases, we want to verify that the end product is secure and free of back doors. Sometimes we can do this for some classes of back doors: We can inspect source code ­ this is how a Linux back door was discovered and removed in 2003 ­ or the hardware design, which becomes a cleverness battle between attacker and defender.

This is an area that needs more research. Today, the advantage goes to the attacker. It's hard to ensure that the hardware and software you examine is the same as what you get, and it's too easy to create back doors that slip past inspection. And while we can find and correct some of these supply-chain attacks, we won't find them all. It's a needle-in-a-haystack problem, except we don't know what a needle looks like. We need technologies, possibly based on artificial intelligence, that can inspect systems more thoroughly and faster than humans can do. We need them quickly.

The other solution is to build a secure system, even though any of its parts can be subverted. This is what the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon meant in April when she said about 5G, "You have to presume a dirty network." Or more precisely, can we solve this by building trustworthy systems out of untrustworthy parts?

It sounds ridiculous on its face, but the Internet itself was a solution to a similar problem: a reliable network built out of unreliable parts. This was the result of decades of research. That research continues today, and it's how we can have highly resilient distributed systems like Google's network even though none of the individual components are particularly good. It's also the philosophy behind much of the cybersecurity industry today: systems watching one another, looking for vulnerabilities and signs of attack.

Security is a lot harder than reliability. We don't even really know how to build secure systems out of secure parts, let alone out of parts and processes that we can't trust and that are almost certainly being subverted by governments and criminals around the world. Current security technologies are nowhere near good enough, though, to defend against these increasingly sophisticated attacks. So while this is an important part of the solution, and something we need to focus research on, it's not going to solve our near-term problems.

At the same time, all of these problems are getting worse as computers and networks become more critical to personal and national security. The value of 5G isn't for you to watch videos faster; it's for things talking to things without bothering you. These things ­-- cars, appliances, power plants, smart cities --­ increasingly affect the world in a direct physical manner. They're increasingly autonomous, using A.I. and other technologies to make decisions without human intervention. The risk from Chinese back doors into our networks and computers isn't that their government will listen in on our conversations; it's that they'll turn the power off or make all the cars crash into one another.

All of this doesn't leave us with many options for today's supply-chain problems. We still have to presume a dirty network ­-- as well as back-doored computers and phones -- and we can clean up only a fraction of the vulnerabilities. Citing the lack of non-Chinese alternatives for some of the communications hardware, already some are calling to abandon attempts to secure 5G from Chinese back doors and work on having secure American or European alternatives for 6G networks. It's not nearly enough to solve the problem, but it's a start.


Perhaps these half-solutions are the best we can do. Live with the problem today, and accelerate research to solve the problem for the future. These are research projects on a par with the Internet itself. They need government funding, like the Internet itself. And, also like the Internet, they're critical to national security.

Critically, these systems must be as secure as we can make them. As former FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler has explained, there's a lot more to securing 5G than keeping Chinese equipment out of the network. This means we have to give up the fantasy that law enforcement can have back doors to aid criminal investigations without also weakening these systems. The world uses one network, and there can only be one answer: Either everyone gets to spy, or no one gets to spy. And as these systems become more critical to national security, a network secure from all eavesdroppers becomes more important.

This essay previously appeared in the New York Times.

Planet DebianJonathan McDowell: Life with a Yubikey

Vertically mounted 2U server

At the past two DebConfs Thomas Goirand of infomaniak has run a workshop on using a Yubikey, and been generous enough to provide a number of devices for Debian folk. Last year I was fortunate enough to get hold of one of the devices on offer.

My primary use for the device is to hold my PGP key. Generally my OpenPGP hardware token of choice is the Gnuk, which features a completely Free software stack and an open hardware design, but the commonly available devices suffer from being a bit more fragile than I’d like to regularly carry around with me. The Yubikey has a much more robust design, being a slim plastic encapsulated device. I finally set it up properly with my PGP key last November, and while I haven’t attached it to my keyring I’ve been carrying it with me regularly.

Firstly, it’s been perfectly fine from a physical robustness point of view. I don’t worry about it being in my pocket with keys or change, it gets thrown into my bag at the end of the day when I go home, it kicks around my desk and occasionally gets stuff dropped on it. I haven’t tried to break it deliberately and I’m not careless with it, but it’s not treated with kid gloves. And it’s still around nearly a year later. So that’s good.

Secondly, I find my initial expected use case (holding my PGP subkeys and using the auth subkey for SSH access) is the major use I have for the key. I occasionally use the signing subkey for doing Debian uploads, I rarely use the encryption subkey, but I use the auth subkey most days. I’ve also setup U2F for any site I use that supports it, but generally once I’m logged in there on trusted machines I don’t need to regularly re-use it. It’s nice to have though, and something the Gnuk doesn’t offer.

On the down side, I still want a device that requires a physical key press for any signing operation. My preferred use case is leaving the key plugged into the machine to handle SSH logins, but the U2F use case seems to be to insert the key only when needed, and then press the key. OpenPGP operation with the Yubikey doesn’t require a physical touch. I get round some of this by enabling the confirm option with gpg-agent, but I’d still be happier with something on the token itself. The Yubikey also doesn’t do ECC keys, but it does do 4096-bit RSA so it’s not terrible, just results in larger keys than ideal.

Overall I’m happy with the device, and grateful to Thomas and infomaniak for providing me with it, though I’m hopeful about a new version of the Gnuk with a more robust form factor/casing. (If you’re looking for discussion on how to setup the token with GPG subkeys then I recommend Thomas’ presentation from 2018, which covers all the steps required.)

Update: It’s been pointed out to me by several people that the Yubikey can be configured to require a touch for OpenPGP usage; either using ykman or yubitouch.

TEDUnlock: The talks of TED@BCG 2019

Seema Bansal hosts Session 2 of TED@BCG: Unlock — a day of talks and performances exploring how we can reach our full potential — at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

To succeed in the next decade and beyond, we can’t just optimize what we know. We need to keep learning, imagining, inventing. In a day of talks and performances, 16 speakers and performers explored how we can unlock our full potential — human, technological and natural — to accomplish things we never thought possible.

The event: TED@BCG, the eighth time TED and BCG have partnered to bring leaders, innovators and changemakers to the stage to share ideas for solving society’s biggest challenges. Hosted by TED’s Corey Hajim and BCG’s Seema Bansal.

When and where: Tuesday, September 24, 2019, at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai, India

Music: Performances by Gingger Shankar and Dee MC

Open and closing remarks: Rich Lesser, CEO of BCG

The talks in brief:

“Look around and find the people that inspire you to co-conspire. I promise you that your empathy and your courage will change someone’s life and may even change the world,” says Ipsita Dasgupta. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Ipsita Dasgupta, co-conspirator

Big idea: The world needs “co-conspirators”: people willing to bend or break the rules and challenge the status quo and societal norms.

Why? In the face of constant change and complexity, we need unconventional people making decisions at the table. These co-conspirators — which Dasgupta shares through three exemplary stories, including a mother insistent on forgoing some traditional gender roles — can help create new ways of thinking, acting and questioning why we do and how we do it.

Quote of the talk: “To achieve great heights or change the world, no matter how smart we are, we all need people.”


Jean-Manuel Izaret, pricing strategist

Big idea: Because of their huge per-patient cost, medications that could drastically reduce rates of deadly diseases like hepatitis C are often reserved for only the sickest patients, while many others go untreated. Is there a way to pay for these drugs so that every patient can get them, and drug companies can still finance their development?

How? The pricing model for pharmaceuticals is typically based on the cost per patient treated — and it’s a broken model, says Izaret. He explains that a subscription-like payment system (similar to the one pioneered by Netflix) could distribute costs over time and across an entire population of patient subscribers. By combining the savings of early treatment with the lower costs of a larger patient pool, healthcare providers could improve outcomes and remain profitable.

Quote of the talk: “I think we don’t really have a price point problem — I think we have a pricing model problem. I think the problem is not the number, but the unit by which we price.”


Sougwen Chung, artist and researcher

Big Idea: The future of creative collaboration between humans and machines is limitless — with beauty latent in our shared imperfections.

Why? As the world strives towards precision and perfection, Chung creates collaborative art with robots that explores what automation means for the future of human creativity. Through machine learning, Chung “taught” her own artistic style to her nonhuman collaborator, a robot called Drawing Operations Unit: Generation (DOUG). DOUG’s initial goal was to mimic her line as she drew, but they made an unexpected discovery along the way: robots make mistakes too. “Our imperfections became what was beautiful about the interaction,” Chung says. “Maybe part of the beauty of human and machine systems is their inherent, shared fallibility.” Chung recently launched a lab called Scilicet, where artists and researchers are welcome to join her in contributing to the future of human and AI creativity.

Quote of the talk: “By teaching machines to do the work traditionally done by humans, we can explore and evolve our criteria of what’s made possible by the human hand — and part of that journey is embracing the imperfections, recognizing the fallibility of both human and machine, in order to expand the potential of both.”


Kavita Gupta thinks a global, decentralized currency would lead us to “true financial and economic inclusivity, where every citizen in this world has the same choice, same dignity and same opportunity.” She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Kavita Gupta, currency globalist

Big idea: The world should share one stable, decentralized currency.

How, and why? Blockchain and cryptocurrencies could provide better data privacy than anything we use today. They would be immune to global disruptions incited by local unrest or inefficient politicians while offering a global marketplace that “would not just be a way for the elite to diversify their portfolio, but also for the average person to increase sustainable wealth,” Gupta says. With real-world examples that root her perspective in the possible and achievable, she weaves a framework for a united future.

Quote of the talk: “All of this inches us toward a more stable, secure place — to true financial and economic inclusivity, where every citizen in this world has the same choice, same dignity and same opportunity.”


Markus Mutz, supply chain hacker

Big idea: We need clarity on how consumer products are made and where they come from in order to make ethical and informed decisions before purchase.

How? Over the past two years, Mutz and his team founded OpenSC (SC = supply chain) and partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature to bring transparency and traceability to the supply chain process. Together, Mutz believes their efforts will help revolutionize the way we buy and create products. It’ll happen with three straightforward steps: by verifying production claims, tracing products throughout their supply chains and sharing information that will allow consumers to make decisions more aligned with their values — all with the aid of blockchain.

Quote of the talk: “If we have reliable and trustworthy information, and the right systems that make use of it, consumers will support those who are doing the right thing by producing products in a sustainable and ethical way.”


“I firmly believe that if there is any public system in any country that is in inertia, then you have to bring back the motivation. And a great way to trigger motivation is to increase transparency to the citizen,” says public sector strategist Abhishek Gopalka. He speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Abhishek Gopalka, public sector strategist

Big Idea: How do we motivate people working in public sectors like healthcare to feel accountable for providing quality care? With transparency.

Why? Internal, data-driven reviews aren’t enough to keep people accountable, says Gopalka. Instead, we need to move people to do better by sparking their competitive sides — making actions transparent so they either shine or fail in the public eye. In Rajasthan, a state in India that’s home to more than 80 million people, Gopalka has helped to significantly improve the public health system in just two years. How? Public health centers now publicly promise to provide citizens with free care, medicine and diagnosis, resulting in an increase in doctor availability, readily available drugs and, ultimately, patient visits. If applied elsewhere, transparency could benefit many broken systems. Because the first step to solving any complex issue is motivation.

Quote of the talk: “Motivation is a tricky thing. If you’ve led a team, raised a child or tried to change a personal habit, you know that motivation doesn’t just appear. Something needs to change to make you care. And if there’s one thing that all of us humans care about, it’s an inherent desire to shine in front of society.”


Gaby Barrios, marketing expert

Big Idea: By focusing less on gender when marketing products to consumers, we can build better brands — and a better world.

How? Companies often advertise to consumers by appealing to gender stereotypes, but this kind of shortcut isn’t just bad for society — it’s bad for business, says Barrios. Research shows that gender doesn’t drive choice nearly as much as companies assume, yet many still rely on outdated, condescending stereotypes to reach consumers. By looking at variables outside of gender, like location and financial status, companies can develop more nuanced campaigns, grow their brands and reach the customers they want.

Quote of the talk: “Growth is not going to come from using an outdated lens like gender. Let’s stop doing what’s easy and go for what’s right. At this point, it’s not just for your business — it’s for society.”


Sylvain Duranton, AI bureaucracy buster

Big idea: Artificial intelligence can streamline businesses, but it can also miss human nuances in disastrous ways. To avoid this, we need to use AI systems alongside humans, not instead of them. 

How? For companies, deploying AI alongside human teams can be harder and more expensive than relying on AI alone. But this dynamic is necessary to ensure that business decisions take human needs and ethics into account, says Duranton. AI bases decisions on data sets and strict rules, but it can’t quite tell the difference between “right” and “wrong” — which means that AI mistakes can be severe, even fatal. By pairing AI with human teams, we can use AI’s efficiency and human knowledge to create business strategies that are successful, smart and ethical.

Quote of the talk: “Winning organizations will invest in human knowledge, not just AI and data.”


Akiko Busch, author

Big idea: In a world where transparency and self-promotion are glorified, let’s not forget the power and beauty of invisibility.

Why? Invisible cloaks, invisible ink, invisible friends — from the time we’re kids, invisibility gives us a sense of protection, knowledge and security. Akiko Busch thinks it’s time for us to reconsider the power of invisibility. When we disappear into nature, listen without responding, lose ourselves in the primal collectivity of concerts — in all cases, we become more creative and feel more connected to each other and ourselves. In an age where “visibility rules the day,” she says, there is beauty in stepping out of the spotlight, disappearing and existing — if only briefly — invisibly. 

Quote of the talk: Being unseen takes us from self-interest to a larger sense of inclusion in the human family.”


Evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers shares what fungi networks and relationships reveal about human economies — and what they can tell us about how extreme inequalities grow. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Toby Kiers, evolutionary biologist

Big idea: By studying fungi networks and relationships, we can learn more about how human economies work and how extreme inequalities grow.

How? Extreme inequality is one of humanity’s greatest challenges — but it’s not a uniquely human phenomenon. Like us, fungi can strategically trade, steal and withhold resources (though they do all this without cognitive thought, of course). Whereas human systems are built with an understanding of morals, fungi networks have evolved to be ruthless and solely opportunistic. The parallels are remarkable: for example, Kiers found that supply-and-demand economics still held true in fungi relationships. Examining these relationships gives us the chance to better diagnose problems within our own systems and even borrow solutions from the fungi. Kiers’s team is now studying the parallels between fungal network flow patterns and computer algorithms — and there’s even more ahead.

Quote of the talk: “The [fungal] trade system provides us with a benchmark to study what an economy looks like when it’s been shaped by natural selection for hundreds of millions of years, in the absence of morality, when strategies are just based on the gathering and processing of information.”


Chris Kutarna, writer and philosopher

Big idea: Facebook, Twitter and their disruptive cousins have upended our notions of truth. Social media’s assault on simple veracity has led many to cry for its regulation — but philosopher Chris Kutarna believes that we should “let social media run wild, because the truths it breaks … need to be broken.”

How? Kutarna argues that it was the age of mass media that birthed the notion that truth exists in concise, marketable chunks — and this idea does not mirror reality. Promoting a concept like “globalization” as an unassailable axiom rather than as a complex idea with many conflicting currents is reductive and dangerous. If we were to embrace social media’s multiplicity of voices and perspectives rather than enforce a single standard for truth, we could initiate a search for truths too complex for a single perspective to contain. 

Quote of the talk: “What is truth? I don’t know. I can’t know because truth is supposed to be the reality that is bigger than ourselves. To find truth, we need to get together and go and search for it together. Without that search … we’re trapped in our own perspective.”


“Leaders should not impose their will; leaders should act by shaping the context rather than control,” says management consultant Fang Ruan. She speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Fang Ruan, management consultant

Big idea: Influenced by ancient Chinese philosophy, Chinese businesses are shifting towards management techniques that foster more collaborative, spontaneous environments.

How? Enjoying a delicious plate of dumplings one night, Fang Ruan was intrigued as she watched how the business was run. To her surprise, she found a “two hat” strategy: front-line managers were given new responsibilities beyond their current scope, and ideas were welcomed from people at all steps of the career ladder. This approach varies from China’s dominant, Confucianism-influenced business strategy, which values authority and seniority and has served as a time-tested formula for precise execution at a large scale. Now, as tech companies disrupt traditional industries and millennials make up a larger share of the workforce, new ways of management have emerged, Ruan says. Unconventional management is on the rise — characterized by more collaborative, innovative strategies that resemble the philosophy of Taoism, which believes things work to perfection when their natural state is supported rather than controlled.

Quote of the talk: “Leaders should not impose their will; leaders should act by shaping the context rather than control.”


Amane Dannouni shares what digital marketplaces in the developing world can teach us about how to preserve jobs and local economies. He speaks at TED@BCG at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on September 24, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED)

Amane Dannouni, digital business strategist

Big idea: Disruptive startups like Uber, Amazon and Airbnb have reinvented entire industries. Their digital disruption of existing services has provided game-changing benefits for their users and affiliates — but it’s also led to big losses for those whose livelihoods depended on the old, physical business models. Amane Dannouni believes that digital marketplaces in the developing world can teach us valuable lessons about how to preserve jobs and local economies.

How? Companies like Gojek in Indonesia, Jumia in Nigeria and Grab in Singapore have reinvigorated the economic landscapes that spawned them, and in the process energized their surrounding communities. They did this not by ignoring their competitors but by integrating community businesses into their own platforms, and by giving their users support — like insurance and online education — that go above and beyond simply linking providers to their patrons. 

Quote of the talk: “What all these [online marketplaces] have in common is that they transition this basic functionality of matching sellers and buyers from the physical world to the digital world and, by doing so, they can find better matches, do it faster, and ultimately unlock more value for everyone.”


Lorna Davis, business leader

Big idea: We need to break our obsession with heroes. Real change can only happen when we work together.

How? “In a world as complex and interconnected as the one we live in, the idea that one person has the answer is ludicrous,” says Davis. What we really need is “radical interdependence,” shaped by leaders who set different goals and ask others to help them solve big problems. Here’s the difference: whereas “hero” leaders see everyone else as a competitor or a follower, interdependent leaders understand that they need others and genuinely want input. Likewise, heroes set goals that can be delivered through individual results, while interdependent leaders set goals that one person or organization cannot possibly achieve alone. At TED@BCG, Davis sets an “interdependent” goal of her own — calling on the world to help her in her work to end rhino poaching.

Quote of the talk: “We don’t need heroes. We need radical interdependence — which is just another way of saying: we need each other.”

Planet DebianBen Hutchings: Kernel Recipes 2019, part 1

This conference only has a single track, so I attended almost all the talks. All of them were recorded and videos should be available soon. This time I didn't take notes but I've summarised all the talks I attended.

ftrace: Where modifying a running kernel all started

Speaker: Steven Rostedt

Details and slides: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/talks/ftrace-where-modifying-a-running-kernel-all-started/

This talk explains how the kernel's function tracing mechanism (ftrace) works, and describes some of its development history.

It was quite interesting, but you probably don't need to know this stuff unless you're touching the ftrace implementation.

Analyzing changes to the binary interface exposed by the Kernel to its modules

Speaker: Dodji Seketeli

Details: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/talks/analyzing-changes-to-the-binary-interface-exposed-by-the-kernel-to-its-modules/

The upstream kernel does not have a stable ABI (or API) for use by modules, but OS distributors often want to support the use of out-of-tree modules by ensuring that at least some subset of the kernel ABI remains stable within a given OS release.

Currently the kernel build process generates a "version" or "CRC" for each exported symbol by parsing the relevant type definitions. There is a load-time ABI check based on comparing these, and distributors can compare them at build time to detect ABI breaks. However this doesn't work that well and it's hard to work out what caused a change.

The speaker develops the "libabigail" library and tools. These can extract ABI definitions from standard debug information (DWARF), and then analyse and compare ABIs for different versions of a shared libraries, or of the Linux kernel and modules. They are likely to replace the kernel's current symbol versioning approach at some point. He talked about the capabilities of libabigail, plans for improving it, and some limitations of C ABI checkers.

BPF at Facebook

Speaker: Alexei Starovoitov

Details and slides: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/talks/bpf-at-facebook/

The Berkeley Packet Filter (BPF) is a simple virtual machine implemented by several kernels. It allows user-space to add code that runs in kernel context, without compromising the integrity of the kernel.

In recent years Linux has extended this virtual machine architecture to create eBPF, which is expressive enough to be targeted by general-purpose compilers such as Clang and (in the near future) gcc. eBPF can be used for filtering network packets (the original purpose of BPF), tracing events, and many other purposes.

The speaker talked about practical experiences using eBPF with tracing at Facebook. These mainly involved investigating performance problems. He also talked about the difficulties of doing this on production servers without developer tools installed, and how this is being addressed.

Kernel hacking behind closed doors

Speaker: Thomas Gleixner

Details and slides: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/talks/kernel-hacking-behind-closed-doors/

The speaker talked about how kernel developers and hardware vendors have been handling speculative execution vulnerabilities, and the friction between how the vendors' preferred process and the usual kernel development processes.

He described the mailing list manager he wrote to support discussion of security issues with a long embargo period, which sends and receives encrypted messages in both S/MIME and PGP/MIME formats (depending on the subscriber).

Finally he talked about the process that has been settled on for handling future issues of this time with minimal legal paperwork.

This was somewhat marred by a lawyer joke and a generally combative attitude to hardware vendors.

What To Do When Your Device Depends on Another One

Speaker: Rafael Wysocki

Details and slides: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/talks/what-to-do-when-your-device-depends-on-another-one/

The Linux device model represents all devices as a simple hierarchy. Driver binding and unbinding (probe/remove), and power management operations, are sequenced based on the assumption that a device only depends on its parent in the device model.

On PCs, additional dependencies are often hidden behind abstractions such as ACPI, so that Linux does not need to be aware of them. On most embedded systems, however, such abstractions are usually missing and Linux does need to be aware of additional dependencies.

(A few years ago, the device driver core gained support for an error code from probe (-EPROBE_DEFER) that indicates that some dependency is not yet bound, and causes the device to be re-probed later. But this is an incomplete, stop-gap solution.)

The speaker described the new "device links" API which provides a way to record additional dependencies in the device model. The device driver core will use this information to sequence operations on multiple devices correctly.

Metrics are money

Speaker: Aurélien Rougemont

Details: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/metrics-are-money/

The speaker talked about several instances from his experience where system metrics were used to justify buying or rejecting new hardware. In some cases, these metrics were not accurate or consistent, which could lead to bad decisions. He made a plea for better documentation of metrics reported by the Linux kernel.

No NMI? No Problem! – Implementing Arm64 Pseudo-NMI

Speaker: Julien Thierry

Details: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/talks/no-nmi-no-problem-implementing-arm64-pseudo-nmi/

Linux typically uses Non-Maskable Interrupts (NMIs) for Performance Monitoring Unit (PMU) interrupts. NMIs are (almost) never disabled, so this allows interrupt handlers and other code that runs with interrupts disabled to be profiled accurately. On architectures that do not have NMIs, typically Linux can use the highest interrupt priority for this instead, and only mask the lower priorities.

On the Arm architecture, there is no NMI but there are two architectural interrupt priority levels (IRQ and FIQ). However on 64-bit Arm systems FIQ is typically reserved to system firmware so Linux only uses IRQ. This results in inaccurate profiling.

The speaker described the implementation of a pseudo-NMI for 64-bit Arm. This is done by leaving IRQs enabled on the CPU and masking them selectively on the Arm generic interrupt controller (GIC), which supports many more priority levels. However this effectively requires GIC v3 or v4 because these operations are prohibitively slow on earlier versions.

Marvels of Memory Auto-configuration (SPD)

Speaker: Jean Delvare

Details and slides: https://kernel-recipes.org/en/2019/marvels-of-memory-auto-configuration-also-known-as-spd/

The speaker talked about the history of standardised DRAM modules (SIMMs and DIMMs) and how system firmware can detect them and find out their size and timing requirements.

DIMMs expose this information through Serial Presence Detect (SPD) which until recently used standard 256-byte I²C EEPROMs.

For the latest generation of DIMMs (DDR4), the configuration information can be larger than 256 bytes and a new interface was required. Jean described and criticised this interfaces.

He also talked about the Linux drivers and utilities that can be used to read the SPD EEPROMs.

Planet DebianSylvain Beucler: RenPyWeb - one year

One year ago I posted a little entry in Ren'Py Jam 2018, which was the first-ever Ren'Py game directly playable in the browser :)

The Question Tutorial

Big thanks to Ren'Py's author who immediately showed full support for the project, and to all the other patrons who joined the effort!

One year later, RenPyWeb is officially integrated in Ren'Py with a one-click build, performances improved, countless little fixes to the Emscripten technology stack provided stability, and more than 60 games of all sizes were published for the web.

RenPyWeb

What's next? I have plans to download resources on-demand (rather than downloading the whole game on start-up), to improve support for mobile browsers, and of course to continue the myriad of little changes that make RenPyWeb more and more robust. I'm also wondering about making our web stack more widely accessible to Pygame, so as to bring more devs in the wonderful world of python-in-the-browser and improve the tech ecosystem - let me know if you're interested.

Hoping to see great new Visual Novels on the web this coming year :)

Planet DebianScarlett Gately Moore: Akademy! 2019 Edition

KDE Akademy 2019KDE Akademy 2019

 

I am happy to report yet another successful KDE Akademy! This will make my 5th Akademy 🙂 This year akademy was held in beautiful Milan, Italy. As usual we had so many great talks, you can read all about them here:

https://dot.kde.org/2019/09/10/akademy-2019-talks-heres-what-you-missed

My trip was shortened again due to flight availability, but I still got in some great BoF sessions. We were able to achieve some tasks and goals with the Fundraising Working Group. I hung out with the Neon team for a few, and it was decided I will continue the Debian merge and continue to keep the delta between Debian and neon as minimal as possible. This helps all deb based distributions in the end. I was also happy to see snaps are coming along nicely! There was a great BoF on user support, where we discussed trying to get users connected with the people that can answer questions. I believe we landed on Discourse, we are on the technical stage of making that happen.

The core of what makes Akademy so important is the networking of course. I was able to see many old friends and meet many new ones. I was so happy to see so many new faces this year! With each year our bunch has become more and more diverse, which is always a good thing. Face to face collaboration is very important in an environment where we mostly see text all day.

Until next year! Happy hacking and see you all around in the interwebs.

Scarlett

P.S. Stay tuned and I will have another post with everything I have been up to in the last year.

 

Planet DebianChris Lamb: Free software activities in September 2019

Here is my monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free software world during September 2019 (previous month):

  • Attended the launch event of OpenUK, a new organisation with the purpose of supporting the growth of free software, hardware and data. It was hosted at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom and turned out to be quite the night to be attending Parliament.

  • As part of my duties of being on the board of directors of the Open Source Initiative and Software in the Public Interest I attended their respective monthy meetings and participated in various licensing and other discussions occurring on the internet, as well as the usual internal discussions regarding logistics, policy etc.

  • Made a number of changes to my tickle-me-email library to implement Gettings Things Done-like behaviours in IMAP inboxes including:

    • Add support for a sendmail-like command. [...]
    • Don't require specifying the target of sent items in the send-later command [...] and decode messages correctly for the same command [...].
  • Opened pull requests to make the build reproducible in:

  • Opened a pull request for the memcached distributed memory object caching system to... correct the spelling of "ensure". [...]

  • More work on the Lintian static analysis tool for Debian packages, releasing versions 2.20.0, 2.21.0, 2.22.0, 2.23.0 & 2.24.0 as well as:


Reproducible builds

Whilst anyone can inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws almost all software is distributed pre-compiled to end users.

The motivation behind the Reproducible Builds effort is to ensure no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised.

The initiative is proud to be a member project of the Software Freedom Conservancy, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charity focused on ethical technology and user freedom.

Conservancy acts as a corporate umbrella, allowing projects to operate as non-profit initiatives without managing their own corporate structure. If you like the work of the Conservancy or the Reproducible Builds project, please consider becoming an official supporter.

This month I:


I also made the following changes to our tooling:

diffoscope

diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility that can locate and diagnose reproducibility issues.

  • New features:

    • Add /srv/diffoscope/bin to the Docker image path. (#70 [...]
    • When skipping tests due to the lack of installed tool, print the package that might provide it. [...]
    • Update the "no progressbar" logging message to match the parallel "missing tlsh module" warnings. [...]
    • Update "requires foo" messages to clarify that they are referring to Python modules. [...]
  • Testsuite updates

    • The test_libmix_differences ELF binary test requires the xxd tool. (#940645)
    • Build the OCaml test input files on-demand rather than shipping them with the package in order to prevent test failures with OCaml 4.08. (#67)
    • Also conditionally skip the identification and "no differences" tests as we require the Ocaml compiler to be present when building the test files themselves. (#940471)
    • Rebuild our test squashfs images to exclude the character device as they requires root or fakeroot to extract. (#65) [...]
  • Code cleanups, including dropping some unnecessary control flow [...], dropping unnecessary pass statements [...] and dropping explicitly inheriting from object class as it unnecessary in Python 3 [...].



Debian


Debian LTS

This month I have worked 18 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and 12 hours on its sister Extended LTS project.

You can find out more about the projects via the following video:


Uploads

  • redis (5.0.6-1) — New upstream release

  • python-django:

  • aptfs:

    • 1.0.0:
      • Port to Python 3.x. (#936131)
      • Move to a native package and import external Debian packaging from into this repository.
      • Add a pyproject.toml and apply the black source code formatter to the source tree.
      • Drop TODO file; we use our code hosting platform's issue tracker now.
    • 1.0.1 — Fix opening/reading of files after Python 3.x migration.
  • gunicorn:

    • 19.9.0-2 — Drop support for Python 2.x; the gunicorn package now provides the Python 3.x version. (#936679)
    • 19.9.0-3 — Port autopkgtests to Python 3.x.
    • 19.9.0-4 — Add a /usr/bin/gunicorn3/usr/bin/gunicorn compatibility symlink. (#939409)
  • installation-birthday (13):

    • Don't use the deprecated platform library. (#940803)
    • Add a gitlab-ci.yml.
    • Misc coding updates, inculding use the logging module's own string interpolation, not inheriting from object etc.
  • libfiu:

    • 1.00-1:

    • 1.00-2 — Also drop Python 2 support in the autopkgtests.

    • 1.00-3 — Patch the upstream Makefile to not build the Python 2.x bindings to ensure the tests pass.

  • memcached:

    • 1.5.17-1:
      • Adopt package. (#939425)
      • New upstream release. (#924584#939337#879797#835456#789835)
      • Source /etc/default/memcached in /etc/init.d/memcached. (#934542)
      • Add a Pre-Depends on ${misc:Pre-Depends} to ensure a correct dependency on init-system-helpers for the --skip-systemd-native flag.
      • Install README.damemtop to /usr/share/doc/memcached instead of under /usr/share/memcached
    • 1.5.17-2:
      • In the systemd .service file, specify a PIDFile under /run.
      • Add missing ${perl:Depends} to binary dependencies.
    • 1.5.18-1 — New upstream release

New upstream releases of bfs (1.5.1-1), django-auto-one-to-one (3.2.0-1), python-daiquiri (1.6.0-1), python-hiredis (1.0.0-1) and python-redis (3.3.7-1).

Finally, I sponsored uploads of adminer (4.7.3-1) and python-pyocr (0.7.2-1).


FTP Team

As a Debian FTP assistant I ACCEPTed 33 packages: crypto-policies, firmware-tomu, gdmd, golang-github-bruth-assert, golang-github-paypal-gatt, golang-github-rivo-uniseg, golang-github-xlab-handysort, golang-gopkg-libgit2-git2go.v28, icingaweb2-module-audit, icingaweb2-module-boxydash, icingaweb2-module-businessprocess, icingaweb2-module-cube, icingaweb2-module-director, icingaweb2-module-eventdb, icingaweb2-module-graphite, icingaweb2-module-map, icingaweb2-module-nagvis, icingaweb2-module-pnp, icingaweb2-module-statusmap, icingaweb2-module-x509, lazygit, ldh-gui-suite, meep, minder, node-solid-jose, ocaml-charinfo-width, ocaml-stdcompat, ppxfind, ppxlib, printrun, python-securesystemslib, sshesame & tpm2-initramfs-tool.

I additionally filed 6 RC bugs against packages that had potentially-incomplete debian/copyright files against crypto-policies, golang-github-paypal-gatt, icingaweb2-module-graphite, icingaweb2-module-statusmap, minder & printrun.

Planet DebianJonathan Carter: Free Software Activities (2019-09)

It’s been a busy month on a personal level so there’s a bunch of my Debian projects that have been stagnant this month, I hope to fix that over October/November.

Upload sponsoring: This month, when sponsoring package uploads for Debian, I prioritised Python team uploads above mentors.debian.net uploads (where I usually spend my reviewing attention). The Python 2 deprecation is turning out to be a lot of work so I think the Python team can do with a lot more support from everyone at this point.

DebConf: I resigned from the DebConf Committee, I might consider joining again if there’s a position open again in the future. I’m not going to DC20 so it seems like a good to cut back a bit to help me focus more on my technical projects. I’ll still be involved in the DebConf team. Over the next DebConf cycle I’ll still be involved in bursaries and want to cover a whole bunch of documentation and policy improvements that are sorely needed. I also want to finish up the ToeTally integration with Voctomix for the video team and hopefully try it out at a minidebconf within the next year.

Debian Live: calamares-settings-debian has been updated for bullseye, although as of this time we don’t have new images available with that yet. I started looking in to the vmdebootstrap deprecation, it’s going to be more work than I originally thought, so there’s a good possibility we might be switching to FAI for generating live images. I have a script called debmower that works ok and creates good images, but it’s a somewhat hacky shell script and if I ever had the time to rewrite it in Python I might propose that too, but unfortunately finding the time too maintain more things is hard, so I think FAI is the way to go. Isabelle Simpkins created testing artwork so that Debian testing images are easier to differentiate from the last stable release. These will be replaced in Debian as soon as the next release artwork is available.

Activity log:

2019-09-09: Upload package gdisk (1.0.4-2) to debian unstable (Adopting package, closes #939421).

2019-09-09: Upload package calamares (3.2.13-1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-09: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-dash-to-panel (23-1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-09: Upload package toot (0.23.1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-09: File upstream bug for toot crash when launching in tui mode (Toot #124).

2019-09-10: Upload package bluefish (2.2.10-2) to debian unstable (Adopting package, Closes: #922891, #936220).

2019-09-10: Seek feedback on bugs #844449, #852733.

2019-09-11: File removal of pythonqt from debian unstable (BTS: #940025).

2019-09-11: Orphan package golang-gopkg-flosch-pongo2.v3 (BTS: #940030).

2019-09-16: Upload package python3-aniso8601 (8.0.0-1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-remove-dropdown-arrows (12-1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Upload package bluefish (2.10-3) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-move-clock (1.01-2) to debian unstable.

2019-06-16: Upload package tanglet (1.5.4-2) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Upload package gdisk (1.0.4-3) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Upload package tetzle (2.1.4+dfsg1-3) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Upload package bcachefs-tools (0.1+git20190829.aa2a42b-1~exp1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Review package python-flask-jwt-extended (3.21.0-1) (needs some work) (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package flask-jwt-simple (0.0.3-1) for debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request, RFS: #940102).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package python3-fastentrypoints (0.12-1) for debian experimental (mentors.debian.net request, RFS: #934054).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package python3-netsnmpagent (0.6.0-1) for debian experimental (mentors.debian.net request, RFS: #934056).

2019-09-16: Review package pydevd (1.6.1+git20190712.1267523+dfsg) (mentors.debian.net request), recommend that another reviewer give it a second pass.

2019-09-16: Sponsor package python3-aiosqlite (0.10.0-1) for debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request, RFS: #927702).

2019-09-16: Upload package python3-flask-silk (0.2-14) to debian unstable.

2019-09-16: Sponsor package membernator (1.0.1-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package cosmiq (1.6.0-1) for debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package micropython (1.11-1) for debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request, RFS: #939189).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package oomd (0.1.0-1) for debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request, RFS: #939096).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package python3-enc (0.4.0-5) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-16: Review package pcapy () (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-16: Review package impacket () (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-16: Sponsor package python-guizero (1.0.0+dfgs1-1) (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Sponsor package sentry-python (0.9..5-2) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Sponsor package supysonic (0.4.1-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Sponsor package python3-aiohttp-wsgi (0.8.2-2) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Sponsor package python3-onedrivesdk (1.1.8-1) for debian experimental (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Review package python3-ptvsd (4.3.0+dfsg-1) (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Review package python3-flask-jwt-extended (3.21.0-1) (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Review package python3-pydevd (1.7.1+dfsg-1) (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-17: Sponsor package python3-bidict (0.18.2-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-18: Upload package python3-enc (0.4.0-4) to debian unstable.

2019-09-18: Sponsor package python3-pydevd (1.7.1+dfsg1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-18: Sponsor package python-aiohttp (3.6.0-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-18: Review package py-postgresql (1.2.1+git20180803.ef7b9a9-1) (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-18: Review package irker (2.18+dfsg-4) (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-18: Sponsor package py-postgresql (1.2.1+git20180803.ef7b9a9-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-18: Upload package irker (2.18+dfsg-4) to debian unstable (team upload / Python team sponsor request).

2019-09-18: Sponsor package sphinx-autodoc-typehints (1.8.0-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-18: Sponsor package python3-sentry-sdk (0.12.0-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-19: Review package vonsh (1.0) (needs some more work) (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-19: Upload package live-tasks (11.0.1) to debian unstable (Closes: #932780, #936953, #934522).

2019-09-19: Upload package python3-flask-autoindex (0.6.2-2) to debian unstable (Closes: #936523).

2019-09-19: Upload package python3-flask-autoindex (0.6.2-3) to debian unstable (Re-opens: #936523).

2019-09-20: Upload package gamemode (1.5~git20190812-107d469-1~exp1) to debian experimental.

2019-09-20: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-remove-dropdown-arrows (13-1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-20: Sponsor package django-sortedm2m (2.0.0dfsg.1-1) for debian experimental (Python team request).

2019-09-20: Sponsor package python3-anosql (1.0.1-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-23: Upload package gnome-shell-extension-disconnect-wifi (21-1~exp1) to debian experimental.

2019-09-23: Upload package toot (0.24.0-1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-23: Upload package gamemode (1.5~git20190812-107d469-1~exp2) to debian experimental.

2019-09-23: Review package python3-pympler () (needs some more work) (Python team request).

2019-09-23: Close previously fixed bug #914044 in tuxpaint.

2019-09-23: Upload package kpmcore (4.0.0-1~exp1) to debian experimental.

2019-09-23: Upload package kpmcore (4.0.0-1~exp2) to debian experimental.

2019-09-25: Sponsor package assaultcube-data (1.2.0.2.1-3) for debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-25: Sponsor package assaultcube (1.2.0.2.1-2) for debian unstable (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-25: Review package cpupower-gui (0.7.0-1) (needs some more work) (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-25: Sponsor package pympler (0.7+dfsg1-1~exp1) for debian experimental (Python team request).

2019-09-25: Sponsor package sentry-python (0.12.2-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-25: Sponsor package python-aiohttp (3.6.1-1) for debian unstable (Python team request).

2019-09-25: Upload package calamares-settings-debian (11.0.1-1) to debian unstable.

2019-09-25: Merge MR#2 for live-wrapper (Debian BTS: #866183).

2019-09-25: File bug #941131 against qa.debian.org (“Make oustanding MRs more visible in DDPO pages).

2019-09-25: Sponsor package color-theme-modern (0.0.2+4.g42a7926-1) for debian unstable (RFS: #905246) (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-26: Sponsor package python3-flask-jwt-extended for debian unstable (RFS:#940075) (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09-26: Upload package tuxpaint (0.9.24~git20190922-f7d30d-1~exp1) to debian experimental.

2019-09:26: Review package python3-in-toto (0.4.0-1) (needs some more work) (mentors.debian.net request).

2019-09:30: Forward Calamares bug #941301 “write two random seeds to locations for urandom init script and systemd-random-seed service” to upstream bug #1252.

2019-09-30: Sponsor package color-theme-modern (0.0.2+4.g42a7926-1) for debian unstable (RFS: #905246) (mentors.debian.net request).

Planet DebianSylvain Beucler: Debian LTS and ELTS - September 2019

Debian LTS Logo

Here is my transparent report for my work on the Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and Debian Extended Long Term Support (ELTS), which extend the security support for past Debian releases, as a paid contributor.

In September, the monthly sponsored hours were split evenly among contributors depending on their max availability - I was assigned 23.75h for LTS (out of 30 max) and 20h for ELTS (max).

I was again able to factor out some time between LTS and ELTS.

The qemu update required more testing than I expected, as it's used with lots of different CPU and disk backends.

ELTS - Wheezy

  • CVE-2019-13626/libsdl1.2: triage: mark postponed so it doesn't stay in the triage list
  • freetype: CVE-2015-9381,CVE-2015-9382,CVE-2015-9383 security upload
  • freetype: de-dup TEMP-0773084-4AB1FB / CVE-2014-9659
  • CVE-2019-13232/unzip: regression update (zipbomb)
  • CVE-2019-5481/curl: triage: not-affected
  • CVE-2019-1549/openssl: triage: not-affected
  • CVE-2019-16163/libonig: security upload
  • CVE-2019-2180/cups: triage: was fixed prior CVE assignment, no other significant vulnerability to fix, no upload
  • tomcat7: investigate upgrading to upstream stable version, so as to fix the currently failing testsuite; decide not to when realizing that means applying all upstream changes since 2012
  • CVE-2019-3689/nfs-utils: triage, contact package maintainer
  • CVE-2019-16935/python*: help Ola triage and assess severity

LTS - Jessie

  • freetype: CVE-2015-9381,CVE-2015-9382,CVE-2015-9383 security upload
  • radare2: triage: clarify status, add reference to ML discussion about its support
  • unzip: untriage: false-positive
  • CVE-2019-16163/libonig: security upload
  • qemu:
    • check status of unpublished prepared update for CVE-2016-5126,CVE-2016-5403,CVE-2017-9375,CVE-2017-15124,CVE-2019-12155
    • CVE-2017-11334: triage: clarify, keep postponed (known regression)
    • CVE-2017-13672: triage: ignored: minor issue, guest root DoS, too complex to backport
    • CVE-2017-15124: re-triage: ignored: identify regression in proposed update, too complex to backport; reference complementary VNC/SASL patch
    • CVE-2018-19665: triage: ignored: still no sanctioned patch, bluetooth subsystem deprecated
    • CVE-2018-15746: triage: ignored: non-default configuration, requires backported kernel and libseccomp
    • CVE-2019-12067: triage: postponed: no sanctioned patch
    • setup physical jessie box, test extensively (Xen, KVM, virt-manager/gnome-boxes, VNC, Spice, Windows, LVM, VirtIO, iSCSI...)
    • call for testing
    • security upload: pending update -CVE-2017-15124 +CVE-2019-12068,CVE-2019-13164,CVE-2019-14378,CVE-2019-15890

Documentation/Scripts

  • ASAN (Address Sanitizer): fix missing option and document limitations
  • tomcat: notes from last month about testing tomcat
  • qemu: summarize qemu top use cases
  • bin/contact-maintainers: fix Python 2 code leftover
  • Point out that the training / new member process could be more visible

Planet DebianNorbert Preining: TeX Live/Debian updates 20190930

TeX Live 2019 has seen already many updates since the initial upload to Debian, most of which I have never reported about. Today I have uploaded a new set of packages, based on the tlnet archives of 20190930.

The long list of updates is only from the last bunch, but contains a huge amount of stuff. If I would need to pick one interesting change that it is the introduction of development versions of LaTeX made accessible and testable.

Now for the full list of updates and new packages. Enjoy!

New packages

bxghost, circuit-macros, esindex, latex-amsmath-dev, latex-tools-dev, practicalreports, simpleoptics, step,

Updated packages

acro, algobox, almendra, amsmath, arara, axodraw2, babel, babel-french, beebe, biblatex, biblatex-apa, biblatex-bath, biblatex-oxref, biblatex-phys, bundledoc, caption, cellprops, checkcites, chemformula, chemmacros, circuitikz, clojure-pamphlet, ctanbib, datatool, datetime2-scottish, datetime2-serbian, ddphonism, derivative, dtk, ducksay, duckuments, ebgaramond-maths, e-french, etoolbox, exsheets, extract, filecontents, filecontentsdef, fncylab, gatherenum, glossaries, gnuplottex, harftex, hvfloat, hyperref, iodhbwm, ipaex, japanese-otf-uptex, japanese-otf-uptex-nonfree, jfmutil, jlreq, keyfloat, l3backend, l3build, l3experimental, l3kernel, latex-base-dev, latexbug, latexconfig, latex-graphics-dev, latexindent, libertinus-otf, listings, luaotfload, luatexja, luaxml, lwarp, marcellus, mathastext, mathfam256, mismath, newverbs, nicematrix, ocgx2, pdfpages, perltex, plantuml, platex-tools, plautopatch, poemscol, poormanlog, practicalreports, pythontex, scontents, skdoc, snapshot, spacingtricks, statistics, step, tagging, tcolorbox, testidx, tetex, tex4ht, texinfo, textcase, titlesec, tokcycle, tracklang, tuda-ci, unicode-math, updmap-map, upmethodology, uptex-base, xfakebold, xindex, xint, xits,

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Butting In

Initech is a large, international corporation. Any time you're doing business at a global scale, you're going to need to contend with a language barrier sooner or later. This makes employees who are multilingual valuable.

Dana recently joined Initech, and in the first week, was warned about Jerry. Jerry was the "chief" "architect" and team "lead", and was one of those special, valuable employees who spoke three languages. Correction, "spoke" needs scare quotes too, because Jerry was incomprehensible in every language he spoke, including his native tongue.

Jerry's emails were stuff of legend around the office. Punctuation was included, not to structure sentences, but as a kind of decoration, just to spice up his communiques. Capitalization was applied at random. Sentences weren't there to communicate a single thought or idea, but to express fragments of half considered dreams.

Despite being the "chief architect", Jerry's code was about as clear as his emails. His class definitions were rambling stretches of unrelated functionality, piled together into a ball of mud. Splattered through it all were blocks of commented out functionality. And 99.9% of his commits to master had syntax errors.

Why did his commits always have syntax errors? Jerry had never seen fit to install a C++ compiler on his machine, and instead pushed to master and let their CI system compile and find all his syntax errors. He'd then amend the commit to fix the errors, and woe betide anyone else working in the repo, because he'd next git push --force the amended commit. Then he'd fix the new round of syntax errors.

Their organization did have an official code review standard, but since no one understood any of Jerry's code, and Jerry was the "chief", Jerry reviewed his own code.

So, let's talk about enumerated types. A common practice in C++ enums is to include an extra value in the enum, just to make it easy to discover the size of the enum, like so:

enum Color { COLOR_RED, COLOR_BLACK, COLOR_BLUE, COLOR_SIZE }

COLOR_SIZE isn't actually a color value, but it tells you how many color values there are. This can be useful when working with a large team, as it's a sort of form of documentation. It also allows patterns like, `for (int i = 0; i < COLOR_SIZE; i++)…`. Of course, it only works when everyone follows the same convention.

Jerry couldn't remember the convention. So, in his native language, he invented a new one: he'd end all his enums with a _END instead of _SIZE. But Jerry also couldn't remember what the English word for "end" was. So he went off to Google Translate, and got an English translation.

Then he wrote code. Lots of code. No one got to review this code. Jerry touched everything, without worrying about what any other developer was doing.

This meant that before long, every enum in the system looked like this:

enum Color { COLOR_RED, COLOR_BLACK, COLOR_BLUE, COLOR_BUTT }

Eventually, Jerry left Initech. He'd found a position where he could be a CTO of a well-funded startup. The very same day, Dana submitted her largest pull request ever, where she removed every single one of Jerry's butts.

[Advertisement] Forget logs. Next time you're struggling to replicate error, crash and performance issues in your apps - Think Raygun! Installs in minutes. Learn more.

Planet DebianRuss Allbery: Haul post

It's been quite a while since I made one of these, and I... may have been supporting a lot of authors financially despite my huge to-read pile.

Louisa Alcott — Little Women (mainstream)
Louisa Alcott — Good Wives (mainstream)
Louisa Alcott — Little Men (mainstream)
Louisa Alcott — Jo's Boys (mainstream)
Ilona Andrews — Sweep of the Blade (sff)
Rachel Elise Barkow — Prisoners of Politics (nonfiction)
Becky Chambers — To Be Taught, If Fortunte (sff)
James Clear — Atomic Habits (nonfiction)
Michael Collins — Carrying the Fire (nonfiction)
Aliette de Bodard — In the Vanisher's Palace (sff)
Paul Dolan — Happy Ever After (nonfiction)
Benjamin Dreyer — Dreyer's English (nonfiction)
Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone — This is How You Lose the Time War (sff)
Max Gladstone — Empress of Forever (sff)
Emily Guendelsberger — On the Clock (nonfiction)
Alix E. Harrow — The Ten Thousand Doors of January (sff)
Linda Hirshman — Reckoning (nonfiction)
Mike Isaac — Super Pumped (nonfiction)
E.K. Johnston — The Afterward (sff)
Jodi Kantor — She Said (nonfiction)
Guy Gavriel Kay — A Brightness Long Ago (sff)
Sarah Kendzior — The View from Flyover Country (nonfiction)
T. Kingfisher — Minor Mage (sff)
Karoliina Korhonen — Finnish Nightmares 2 (graphic novel)
Karoliina Korhonen — Matti in the Wallet (graphic novel)
Mary Robinette Kowal — The Fated Sky (sff)
Yoon Ha Lee — Hexarchate Stories (sff)
Mark Manson — The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (nonfiction)
Laurie J. Marks — Air Logic (sff)
Randall Munroe — How To (graphic novel)
Terry Pratchett — Lords and Ladies (sff)
Karl Schroeder — Stealing Worlds (sff)
Ryk E. Spoor — Challenges of the Deeps (sff)
J. Michael Straczynski — Becoming Superman (nonfiction)
P.L. Travers — Mary Poppins (children's)
P.L. Travers — Mary Poppins Comes Back (children's)
P.L. Travers — Mary Poppins Opens the Door (children's)
P.L. Travers — Mary Poppins in the Park (children's)
Jo Walton — Lent (sff)

Phew. I'm coming up on a vacation during which I'll have tons of time to read, but I still am buying books rather faster than reading them. Oh well, money into the pockets of authors, which is always a good thing.

There's a whole mess of non-fiction in there, since I've been in a mood of queuing up a lot of interesting-looking non-fiction to read. (I've resisted grabbing even more.) You might be able to tell that I've never made the transition to getting samples and only buying the book if the sample looks good. Or, for that matter, stopping reading a book if I'm not liking it.

There are also several new releases in there, which will probably be vacation reading, and a couple of books that I've already read but haven't written reviews of yet.

Planet DebianShirish Agarwal: India doesn’t need women or doctors

This is again going to be a long one hence I want to start by sharing some positive news first. Few days back, a vlogger Dhruv Rathee made a vlog review about Jatayu nature and park open in Kerala.

Now, why is it important and good. While it is a profitable initiative, it has been made by private money at the cost of INR 100 crores. It has been built which was a degraded barren land surrounded by forest. While one could argue that even such lands should not be disturbed and one perhaps might be right about that, the research I found seem to be inconclusive. I was looking at one study sometime back in which two adjacent plots of land were taken, both degraded, barren patches of land . One land was left alone while the other had some sort of stable, with animals in it, horses, pigs, donkey etc. and they left the land pretty much besides coming at intervals to see if the animal feed was good enough of them, veteniary medical checkups etc. At the end of couple of years, they checked the micro-nutrients of the soil to see which had more mico-nutrients. It was found out that the ones which had the animals was more fertile and had slightlly more/better ecosystem than the one which was left. IIRC, they published the result in some magazine like ‘Nature’ or some such peer-reviewed publication and other scientists were apply to replicate the results with varying degrees of success. While I remember the simplified version I am sure it is far more complex than I have described. One of the best things they have shared in the review, that the land has been leased from the State Govt. for a period of 30 years after which it will given back to the State of Kerala.

undefined

FWIW, Jatayu is the name of a mythological bird taken from Ramayana. Instead of wasting 3000 crores of taxpayer’s money for one single statue and instead invested in in health, education, safe drinking water, employment generation etc. it would have enriched not just the people benefiting from it, but also made x times productivity growth as it has been proved time and again that any improvement in people’s lives not just makes them better, but also enhances countries growth as well. I have given the number X as right now India has 0 people in its Statistical Commisson as the last two full-time membes resigned couple of years back. The only somewhat factual numbers that are in India are provided by CMIE which is a private institution and obviously doesn’t have neither the funds nor the reach that a Government body can. CMIE does share some interesting facts and figures but that probably is a story for another day. For those who might want to visit Jatayu can visit Jayatu Center website for the same. The image shared above is taken from keralatourism.org website and is copyrighted to them.

No Country for Women

While I have written on this topic a few times before, each time an incident happens and I feel do we really deserve women ? Many a times when a woman (young or old) goes to the police she is asked to present evidence. Now a young woman who was persistently blackmailed, raped by a person of the ruling party, a ‘Swami’ , a nomenclature reserved for a seer who is supposed to be beyond temptation presented 45 videos of the gentleman to the police. She also leaked couple in social media so that the videos don’t disappear into thin air and she and her family doesn’t get killed as was attempted in Unnao rape case. It is only because the facts came in public that the MLA accused in the Unnao rape case got expelled from the ruling partt, In fact, even the killers in Nirbhaya Rape case , even they haven’t been hanged.

Paper Clipping of Chinmayanand Rape Case

The sad part part is that in this case, even after evidence she has been asked to produce two witnesses who would say that she has been raped. I haven’t ever heard a more bizarre story while siding with the seer who has claimed that she was extorting money from him. The list goes just goes on and on, there were 6 women journalists who claimed sexual harassment against MJ Akbar. The case is on-going in the Supreme High Court where it will be heard now after Dusshera holidays. The last hearing was done on 9th September and will start anytime after 20th October when the Supreme Court starts. And there are several more cases, like the Kathua case rape, the Muzaffarpur Shelter home case, the case goes on and on. Sadly, we don’t even have latest stats as there are no statisticians in Indian Govt. and the only report we have is the 2016 NCRB report which does show the trend that there is rising crime in India. It is party to joblessness which is rampant, and partly perhaps of our conservative mindset towards sex, sex-education .

There were two good movies made in India on the subject, one which sank in Bollywood without a trace called Khandaani Shafakhana which more or less only talked about erectile dysfunction and tried to make few jokes about it. There was Vicky Donor which talked about sperm donation which did good business a while back. The movie which touched my heart recently was though was the malyalam movie called Peranmbu starring ever-green star Mammooty. While I don’t speak Malyalam, you may get the movie on netflix or Amazon prime with english subs. While I don’t want to give the whole story of the movie, there is one scene in which Mammooty visits a woman so he can hire a male escort for his daughter and gets slapped. Many people, especially boys didn’t like that scene and said why he had to go there, but as a viewer if you see the movie from a father’s eyes he did what any sane father who loves his child will do. While at the end, they didn’t give any solution to the issue or it got censored, when you see the movie you can imagine the plight of such children’s fathers, relatives etc. It is sad when such movies which make you think aren’t even part of the national discourse then how are people to grow their consciousness, their humanity. When I hear of such incidents as above, I genuinely, does India really need women ? Shouldn’t women coming from other countries to India be given travel advisories stating that they should either have black belt in Karate or some defence techniques and carry a deadly weapon with them all times to defend themselves from us. It seems we, Indian men have no control 😦

No Country for Doctors

India doesn’t seem to be a country for doctors as well. In 2017, in BRD Hospital at Gorakpur 63 children died due to oxygen supply issues. For this, four doctors and couple of staff were held responsible for their deaths. Dr. Kafeel Khan, Dr. RK Misra, Dr. Purnima Misra, Dr. Satish, Gajanand Jaiwal (pharmacist), Uday Pratap Sharma (Junior Clerk). All of them were put into jail. Few days back, only the three doctors have been put out on bail, all the others are still in jail. Now one of the local newspapers, Janata Ka reporter had done detailed investigative story which shows that the problems or issues were at top. In fact when they were appraised of the facts, Dr. Khan and all the accused together actually somehow scrapped together 500 oxygen cylinders out of their own money. This is when it was found out that the doctors were not paid salaries of 2-3 months. In fact, it has been a perennial issue and because of that more than 50-60% of the hospital staff posts were vacant, due to lack of money. When you see such news and reports, you feel that why doctors should study medicine after paying such high fees and practise in India. They should migrate to US and UK as many of their brethren do. They get better wages, better social security. Neither IMA came to their rescue nor anybody else. It was only local people, the patients, people who knew them and struggled for it. IMA has its own share of issues and politiking but that is perhaps best suited for another date. No wonder that the number of doctors emigrating overseas has risen and people do not want to go to remote posts. When motivated cases like these can happen in cities, then what hope the doctor has of justice or anything in villages. In fact, most doctors nowadays in India have multiple heatlh conditions due to work-related stresses and other things. It is by no perchance that we are most depressed country on earth. Not really the validation we are looking for, right.

,

TEDTrailblazers: A night of talks in partnership with The Macallan

Curators David Biello and Chee Pearlman host TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater in New York City on June 27, 2019. (Photo: Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

The event: TED Salon: Trailblazers, hosted by TED design and arts curator Chee Pearlman and TED science curator David Biello

When and where: Thursday, June 27, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York City

The partner: The Macallan

Music: Sammy Rae & The Friends

The talks in brief:

Marcus Bullock, entrepreneur and justice reform advocate

  • Big idea: Over his eight-year prison sentence, Marcus Bullock was sustained by his mother’s love — and her photos of cheeseburgers. Years later, as an entrepreneur, he asked himself, “How can I help make it easier for other families to deliver love to their own incarcerated loved ones?”
    Communicating with prisoners is notoriously difficult and dominated by often-predatory telecommunications companies. By creating Flikshop — an app that allows inmates’ friends and families to send physical picture postcards into prison with the ease of texting — Marcus Bullock is bypassing the billion-dollar prison telecommunications industry and allowing hundreds of thousands of prisoners access to the same love and motivation that his mother gave him.
  • Quote of the talk: “I stand today with a felony, and just like millions of others around the country who also have that ‘F’ on their chest, just as my mom promised me many years ago, I wanted to show them that there was still life after prison.”

“It’s always better to collaborate with different communities rather than trying to speak for them,” says fashion designer Becca McCharen-Tran. She speaks at TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater, June 27, 2019, New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Becca McCharen-Tran, founder and creative director of bodywear line CHROMAT

  • Big idea: Fashion designers have a responsibility to create inclusive designs suited for all gender expressions, ages, ability levels, ethnicities and races — and by doing so, they can shatter our limited definition of beauty.
    From day one in school, fashion designers are taught to create for a certain type of body, painting “thin, white, cisgender, able-bodied, young models as the ideal,” says fashion designer Becca McCharen-Tran. This has made body-shaming a norm for so many who strive to assimilate to the illusion of perfection in fashion imagery. McCharen-Tran believes creators are responsible for reimagining and expanding what a “bikini body” is. Her swimwear focused clothing line CHROMAT celebrates beauty in all its forms. They unapologetically counter the narrative through inclusive, explosive designs that welcome all of the uniqueness that comes with being a human.
  • Quote of the talk: “Inclusivity means nothing if it’s only surface level … who is making the decisions behind the scenes is just as important. It’s imperative to include diverse decision-makers in the process, and it’s always better to collaborate with different communities rather than trying to speak for them.”

Amy Padnani, editor at the New York Times (or, as some of her friends call her, the “Angel of Death”)

  • Big idea: No one deserves to be overlooked in life, even in death.
    Padnani created “Overlooked,” a New York Times series that recognizes the stories of dismissed and marginalized people. Since 1851, the newspaper has published thousands of obituaries for individuals like heads of state and celebrities, but only a small amount of those obits chronicled the lives of women and people of color. With “Overlooked,” Padnani forged a path for the publication to right the wrongs of the past while refocusing society’s lens on who’s considered important. Powerful in its ability to perspective-shift and honor those once ignored, “Overlooked” is also on track to become a Netflix series.
  • Fun fact: Prior to Padnani’s breakout project, the New York Times had yet to publish obituaries on notable individuals in history such as Ida B. Wells, Sylvia Plath, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing.

Sam Van Aken shares the work behind the “Tree of 40 Fruit,” an ongoing series of hybridized fruit trees that grow multiple varieties of stone fruit. He speaks at TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater, June 27, 2019, New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Sam Van Aken, multimedia contemporary artist, art professor at Syracuse University in New York and creator of the Tree of 40 Fruit

  • Big idea: Many of the fruits that have been grown in the US were originally brought there by immigrants. But due to industrialization, disease and climate change, American farmers produce just a fraction of the types available a century ago. Sam Van Aken has hand-grafted heirloom varieties of stone fruit — peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries — to make the “Tree of 40 Fruit.” What began as an art project to showcase their multi-hued blossoms has become a living archive of rare specimens and their histories; a hands-on (and delicious!) way to teach people about conservation and cultivation; and a vivid symbol of the need for biodiversity in order to ensure food security. Van Aken has created and planted his trees at museums and at people’s homes, and his largest project to date is the 50-tree Open Orchard — which, in total, will possess 200 varieties originated or historically grown in the region — on Governor’s Island in New York City.
  • Fun fact: One hundred years ago, there were over 2,000 varieties of peaches, nearly 2,000 varieties of plums, and nearly 800 named apple varieties grown in the United States.
  • Quote of the talk: “More than just food, embedded in these fruit is our culture. It’s the people who cared for and cultivated them, who valued them so much that they brought them here with them as a connection to their homes, and it’s the way they passed them on and shared them. In many ways, these fruit are our story.”

Removing his primetime-ready makeup, Lee Thomas shares his personal story of living with vitiligo. He speaks at TED Salon: Trailblazers, in partnership with The Macallan, at the TED World Theater, June 27, 2019, New York, NY. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Lee Thomas, broadcast journalist

  • Big idea: Despite having a disease that left him vulnerable to stares in public, Lee Thomas discovered he could respond to ignorance and fear with engagement and dialogue.
    As a news anchor, Lee Thomas used makeup to hide the effects of vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that left large patches of his skin without pigmentation. But without makeup, he was vulnerable to derision — until he decided to counter misunderstanding with eye contact and conversation. Ultimately, an on-camera story on his condition led him to start a support group and join others in celebrating World Vitiligo Day.
  • Quote of the talk: “Positivity is something worth fighting for — and the fight is not with others, it’s internal. If you want to make positive changes in your life, you have to consistently be positive.”

TEDWeaving Community: Notes from Session 1 of TEDSummit 2019

Hosts Bruno Giussani and Helen Walters open Session 1: Weaving Community on July 21, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

The stage is set for TEDSummit 2019: A Community Beyond Borders! During the opening session, speakers and performers explored themes of competition, political engagement and longing — and celebrated the TED communities (representing 84 countries) gathered in Edinburgh, Scotland to forge TED’s next chapter.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 1: Weaving Community, hosted by Bruno Giussani and Helen Walters

When and where: Sunday, July 21, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Pico Iyer, Jochen Wegner, Hajer Sharief, Mariana Lin, Carole Cadwalladr, Susan Cain with Min Kym

Opening: A warm Scottish welcome from raconteur Mackenzie Dalrymple

Music: Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame performing selections from The Ledger, a series of Scottish folk songs

The talks in brief:

“Seeming happiness can stand in the way of true joy even more than misery does,” says writer Pico Iyer. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Pico Iyer, novelist and nonfiction author

Big idea: The opposite of winning isn’t losing; it’s failing to see the larger picture.

Why? As a child in England, Iyer believed the point of competition was to win, to vanquish one’s opponent. Now, some 50 years later and a resident of Japan, he’s realized that competition can be “more like an act of love.” A few times a week, he plays ping-pong at his local health club. Games are played as doubles, and partners are changed every five minutes. As a result, nobody ends up winning — or losing — for long. Iyer has found liberation and wisdom in this approach. Just as in a choir, he says, “Your only job is to play your small part perfectly, to hit your notes with feeling and by so doing help to create a beautiful harmony that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.”

Quote of the talk: “Seeming happiness can stand in the way of true joy even more than misery does.”


Jochen Wegner, journalist and editor of Zeit Online

Big idea: The spectrum of belief is as multifaceted as humanity itself. As social media segments us according to our interests, and as algorithms deliver us increasingly homogenous content that reinforces our beliefs, we become resistant to any ideas — or even facts — that contradict our worldview. The more we sequester ourselves, the more divided we become. How can we learn to bridge our differences?

How? Inspired by research showing that one-on-one conversations are a powerful tool for helping people learn to trust each other, Zeit Online built Germany Talks, a “Tinder for politics” that facilitates “political arguments” and face-to-face meetings between users in an attempt to bridge their points-of-view on issues ranging from immigration to same-sex marriage. With Germany Talks (and now My Country Talks and Europe Talks) Zeit has facilitated conversations between thousands of Europeans from 33 countries.

Quote of the talk: “What matters here is not the numbers, obviously. What matters here is whenever two people meet to talk in person for hours, without anyone else listening, they change — and so do our societies. They change, little by little, discussion by discussion.”


“The systems we have nowadays for political decision-making are not from the people for the people — they have been established by the few, for the few,” says activist Hajer Sharief. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Hajer Sharief, activist and cofounder of the Together We Build It Foundation

Big Idea: People of all genders, ages, races, beliefs and socioeconomic statuses should participate in politics.

Why? Hajer Sharief’s native Libya is recovering from 40 years of authoritarian rule and civil war. She sheds light on the way politics are involved in every aspect of life: “By not participating in it, you are literally allowing other people to decide what you can eat, wear, if you can have access to healthcare, free education, how much tax you pay, when can you retire, what is your pension,” she says. “Other people are also deciding whether your race is enough to consider you a criminal, or if your religion or nationality are enough to put you on a terrorist list.” When Sharief was growing up, her family held weekly meetings to discuss family issues, abiding by certain rules to ensured everyone was respectful and felt free to voice their thoughts. She recounts a meeting that went badly for her 10-year-old self, resulting in her boycotting them altogether for many years — until an issue came about which forced her to participate again. Rejoining the meetings was a political assertion, and it helped her realize an important lesson: you are never too young to use your voice — but you need to be present for it to work.

Quote of talk: “Politics is not only activism — it’s awareness, it’s keeping ourselves informed, it’s caring for facts. When it’s possible, it is casting a vote. Politics is the tool through which we structure ourselves as groups and societies.”


Mariana Lin, AI character designer and principal writer for Siri

Big idea: Let’s inject AI personalities with the essence of life: creativity, weirdness, curiosity, fun.

Why? Tech companies are going in two different directions when it comes to creating AI personas: they’re either building systems that are safe, flat, stripped of quirks and humor — or, worse, they’re building ones that are fully customizable, programmed to say just what you want to hear, just how you like to hear it. While this might sound nice at first, we’re losing part of what makes us human in the process: the friction and discomfort of relating with others, the hard work of building trusting relationships. Mariana Lin calls for tech companies to try harder to truly bring AI to life — in all its messy, complicated, uncomfortable glory. For starters, she says, companies can hire a diverse range of writers, creatives, artists and social thinkers to work on AI teams. If the people creating these personalities are as diverse as the people using it — from poets and philosophers to bankers and beekeepers — then the future of AI looks bright.

Quote of the talk: “If we do away with the discomfort of relating with others not exactly like us, with views not exactly like ours — we do away with what makes us human.”


In 2018, Carole Cadwalladr exposed Cambridge Analytica’s attempt to influence the UK Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential election via personal data on Facebook. She’s still working to sound the alarm. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Carole Cadwalladr, investigative journalist, interviewed by TED curator Bruno Giussani

Big idea: Companies that collect and hoard our information, like Facebook, have become unthinkably powerful global players — perhaps more powerful than governments. It’s time for the public hold them accountable.

How? Tech companies with offices in different countries must obey the laws of those nations. It’s up to leaders to make sure those laws are enforced — and it’s up to citizens to pressure lawmakers to further tighten protections. Despite legal and personal threats from her adversaries, Carole Cadwalladr continues to explore the ways in which corporations and politicians manipulate data to consolidate their power.

Quote to remember: “In Britain, Brexit is this thing which is reported on as this British phenomenon, that’s all about what’s happening in Westminster. The fact that actually we are part of something which is happening globally — this rise of populism and authoritarianism — that’s just completely overlooked. These transatlantic links between what is going on in Trump’s America are very, very closely linked to what is going on in Britain.”


Susan Cain meditates on how the feeling of longing can guide us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, accompanied by Min Kym on violin, at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 21, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Susan Cain, quiet revolutionary, with violinist Min Kym

Big idea: Life is steeped in sublime magic that you can tap into, opening a whole world filled with passion and delight.

How? By forgoing constant positivity for a state of mind more exquisite and fleeting — a place where light (joy) and darkness (sorrow) meet, known to us all as longing. Susan Cain weaves her journey in search for the sublime with the splendid sounds of Min Kym on violin, sharing how the feeling of yearning connects us to each other and helps us to better understand what moves us deep down.

Quote of the talk: “Follow your longing where it’s telling you to go, and may it carry you straight to the beating heart of the perfect and beautiful world.”

TEDStages of Life: Notes from Session 5 of TEDSummit 2019

Yilian Cañizares rocks the TED stage with a jubilant performance of her signature blend of classic jazz and Cuban rhythms. She performs at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

The penultimate session of TEDSummit 2019 had a bit of everything — new thoughts on aging, loneliness and happiness as well as breakthrough science, music and even a bit of comedy.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 5: Stages of Life, hosted by Kelly Stoetzel and Alex Moura

When and where: Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Nicola Sturgeon, Sonia Livingstone, Howard Taylor, Sara-Jane Dunn, Fay Bound Alberti, Carl Honoré

Opening: Raconteur Mackenzie Dalrymple telling the story of the Goodman of Ballengeich

Music: Yilian Cañizares and her band, rocking the TED stage with a jubilant performance that blends classic jazz and Cuban rhythms

Comedy: Amidst a head-spinning program of big (and often heavy) ideas, a welcomed break from comedian Omid Djalili, who lightens the session with a little self-deprecation and a few barbed cultural observations

The talks in brief:

“In the world we live in today, with growing divides and inequalities, with disaffection and alienation, it is more important than ever that we … promote a vision of society that has well-being, not just wealth, at its very heart,” says Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

Big idea: It’s time to challenge the monolithic importance of GDP as a quality-of-life metric — and paint a broader picture that also encompasses well-being.

How? In 2018, Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand established the Wellbeing Economy Governments group to challenge the supremacy of GDP. The leaders of these countries — who are, incidentally, all women — believe policies that promote happiness (including equal pay, childcare and paternity rights) could help decrease alienation in its citizens and, in turn, build resolve to confront global challenges like inequality and climate change.

Quote of the talk: “Growth in GDP should not be pursued at any and all cost … The goal of economic policy should be collective well-being: how happy and healthy a population is, not just how wealthy a population is.”


Sonia Livingstone, social psychologist

Big idea: Parents often view technology as either a beacon of hope or a developmental poison, but the biggest influence on their children’s life choices is how they help them navigate this unavoidable digital landscape. Society as a whole can positively impact these efforts.

How? Sonia Livingstone’s own childhood was relatively analog, but her research has been focused on how families embrace new technology today. Changes abound in the past few decades — whether it’s intensified educational pressures, migration, or rising inequality — yet it’s the digital revolution that remains the focus of our collective apprehension. Livingstone’s research suggests that policing screen time isn’t the answer to raising a well-rounded child, especially at a time when parents are trying to live more democratically with their children by sharing decision-making around activities like gaming and exploring the internet. Leaders and institutions alike can support a positive digital future for children by partnering with parents to guide activities within and outside of the home. Instead of criticizing families for their digital activities, Livingstone thinks we should identify what real-world challenges they’re facing, what options are available to them and how we can support them better.

Quote of the talk: “Screen time advice is causing conflict in the family, and there’s no solid evidence that more screen time increases childhood problems — especially compared with socio-economic or psychological factors. Restricting children breeds resistance, while guiding them builds judgment.”


Howard Taylor, child safety advocate

Big idea: Violence against children is an endemic issue worldwide, with rates of reported incidence increasing in some countries. We are at a historical moment that presents us with a unique opportunity to end the epidemic, and some countries are already leading the way.

How? Howard Taylor draws attention to Sweden and Uganda, two very different countries that share an explicit commitment to ending violence against children. Through high-level political buy-in, data-driven strategy and tactical legislative initiatives, the two countries have already made progress on. These solutions and others are all part of INSPIRE, a set of strategies created by an alliance of global organizations as a roadmap to eliminating the problem. If we put in the work, Taylor says, a new normal will emerge: generations whose paths in life will be shaped by what they do — not what was done to them.

Quote of the talk: “What would it really mean if we actually end violence against children? Multiply the social, cultural and economic benefits of this change by every family, every community, village, town, city and country, and suddenly you have a new normal emerging. A generation would grow up without experiencing violence.”


“The first half of this century is going to be transformed by a new software revolution: the living software revolution. Its impact will be so enormous that it will make the first software revolution pale in comparison,” says computational biologist Sara-Jane Dunn. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Sara-Jane Dunn, computational biologist

Big idea: In the 20th century, computer scientists inscribed machine-readable instructions on tiny silicon chips, completely revolutionizing our lives and workplaces. Today, a “living software” revolution centered around organisms built from programmable cells is poised to transform medicine, agriculture and energy in ways we can scarcely predict.

How? By studying how embryonic stem cells “decide” to become neurons, lung cells, bone cells or anything else in the body, Sara-Jane Dunn seeks to uncover the biological code that dictates cellular behavior. Using mathematical models, Dunn and her team analyze the expected function of a cellular system to determine the “genetic program” that leads to that result. While they’re still a long way from compiling living software, they’ve taken a crucial early step.

Quote of the talk: “We are at the beginning of a technological revolution. Understanding this ancient type of biological computation is the critical first step. And if we can realize this, we would enter into the era of an operating system that runs living software.”


Fay Bound Alberti, cultural historian

Big idea: We need to recognize the complexity of loneliness and its ever-transforming history. It’s not just an individual and psychological problem — it’s a social and physical one.

Why? Loneliness is a modern-day epidemic, with a history that’s often recognized solely as a product of the mind. Fay Bound Alberti believes that interpretation is limiting. “We’ve neglected [loneliness’s] physical effects — and loneliness is physical,” she says. She points to how crucial touch, smell, sound, human interaction and even nostalgic memories of sensory experiences are to coping with loneliness, making people feel important, seen and helping to produce endorphins. By reframing our perspective on this feeling of isolation, we can better understand how to heal it.

Quote of talk: “I am suggesting we need to turn to the physical body, we need to understand the physical and emotional experiences of loneliness to be able to tackle a modern epidemic. After all, it’s through our bodies, our sensory bodies, that we engage with the world.”

Fun fact: “Before 1800 there was no word for loneliness in the English language. There was something called: ‘oneliness’ and there were ‘lonely places,’ but both simply meant the state of being alone. There was no corresponding emotional lack and no modern state of loneliness.”


“Whatever age you are: own it — and then go out there and show the world what you can do!” says Carl Honoré. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Carl Honoré, writer, thinker and activist

Big idea: Stop the lazy thinking around age and the “cult of youth” — it’s not all downhill from 40.

How? We need to debunk the myths and stereotypes surrounding age — beliefs like “older people can’t learn new things” and “creativity belongs to the young.” There are plenty of trailblazers and changemakers who came into their own later in life, from artists and musicians to physicists and business leaders. Studies show that people who fear and feel bad about aging are more likely to suffer physical effects as if age is an actual affliction rather than just a number. The first step to getting past that is by creating new, more positive societal narratives. Honoré offers a set of simple solutions — the two most important being: check your language and own your age. Embrace aging as an adventure, a process of opening rather than closing doors. We need to feel better about aging in order to age better.

Quote of the talk: “Whatever age you are: own it — and then go out there and show the world what you can do!”

TEDAnthropo Impact: Notes from Session 2 of TEDSummit 2019

Radio Science Orchestra performs the musical odyssey “Prelude, Landing, Legacy” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Session 2 of TEDSummit 2019 is all about impact: the actions we can take to solve humanity’s toughest challenges. Speakers and performers explore the perils — from melting glaciers to air pollution — along with some potential fixes — like ocean-going seaweed farms and radical proposals for how we can build the future.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 2: Anthropo Impact, hosted by David Biello and Chee Pearlman

When and where: Monday, July 22, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Tshering Tobgay, María Neira, Tim Flannery, Kelly Wanser, Anthony Veneziale, Nicola Jones, Marwa Al-Sabouni, Ma Yansong

Music: Radio Science Orchestra, performing the musical odyssey “Prelude, Landing, Legacy” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (and the 100th anniversary of the theremin’s invention)

… and something completely different: Improv maestro Anthony Veneziale, delivering a made-up-on-the-spot TED Talk based on a deck of slides he’d never seen and an audience-suggested topic: “the power of potatoes.” The result was … surprisingly profound.

The talks in brief:

Tshering Tobgay, politician, environmentalist and former Prime Minister of Bhutan

Big idea: We must save the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers from melting — or else face dire, irreversible consequences for one-fifth of the global population.

Why? The Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers are the pulse of the planet: their rivers alone supply water to 1.6 billion people, and their melting would massively impact the 240 million people across eight countries within their reach. Think in extremes — more intense rains, flash floods and landslides along with unimaginable destruction and millions of climate refugees. Tshering Togbay telegraphs the future we’re headed towards unless we act fast, calling for a new intergovernmental agency: the Third Pole Council. This council would be tasked with monitoring the glaciers’ health, implementing policies to protect them and, by proxy, the billions of who depend of them.

Fun fact: The Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers are the world’s third-largest repository of ice (after the North and South poles). They’re known as the “Third Pole” and the “Water Towers of Asia.”


Air pollution isn’t just bad for the environment — it’s also bad for our brains, says María Neira. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

María Neira, public health leader

Big idea: Air pollution isn’t just bad for our lungs — it’s bad for our brains, too.

Why? Globally, poor air quality causes seven million premature deaths per year. And all this pollution isn’t just affecting our lungs, says María Neira. An emerging field of research is shedding a light on the link between air pollution and our central nervous systems. The fine particulate matter in air pollution travels through our bloodstreams to our major organs, including the brain — which can slow down neurological development in kids and speed up cognitive decline in adults. In short: air pollution is making us less intelligent. We all have a role to play in curbing air pollution — and we can start by reducing traffic in cities, investing in clean energy and changing the way we consume.

Quote of the talk: “We need to exercise our rights and put pressure on politicians to make sure they will tackle the causes of air pollution. This is the first thing we need to do to protect our health and our beautiful brains.”


Tim Flannery, environmentalist, explorer and professor

Big idea: Seaweed could help us drawdown atmospheric carbon and curb global warming.

How? You know the story: the blanket of CO2 above our heads is driving adverse climate changes and will continue to do so until we get it out of the air (a process known as “drawdown”). Tim Flannery thinks seaweed could help: it grows fast, is made out of productive, photosynthetic tissue and, when sunk more than a kilometer deep into the ocean, can lock up carbon long-term. If we cover nine percent of the ocean surface in seaweed farms, for instance, we could sequester the same amount of CO2 we currently put into the atmosphere. There’s still a lot to figure, Flannery notes —  like how growing seaweed at scale on the ocean surface will affect biodiversity down below — but the drawdown potential is too great to allow uncertainty to stymie progress.

Fun fact: Seaweed is the most ancient multicellular life known, with more genetic diversity than all other multicellular life combined.


Could cloud brightening help curb global warming? Kelly Wanser speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Kelly Wanser, geoengineering expert and executive director of SilverLining

Big idea: The practice of cloud brightening — seeding clouds with sea salt or other particulates to reflect sunshine back into space — could partially offset global warming, giving us crucial time while we figure out game-changing, long-term solutions.

How: Starting in 2020, new global regulations will require ships to cut emissions by 85 percent. This is a good thing, right? Not entirely, says Kelly Wanser. It turns out that when particulate emissions (like those from ships) mix with clouds, they make the clouds brighter — enabling them to reflect sunshine into space and temporarily cool our climate. (Think of it as the ibuprofen for our fevered climate.) Wanser’s team and others are coming up with experiments to see if “cloud-brightening” proves safe and effective; some scientists believe increasing the atmosphere’s reflectivity by one or two percent could offset the two degrees celsius of warming that’s been forecasted for earth. As with other climate interventions, there’s much yet to learn, but the potential benefits make those efforts worth it. 

An encouraging fact: The global community has rallied to pull off this kind of atmospheric intervention in the past, with the 1989 Montreal Protocol.


Nicola Jones, science journalist

Big idea: Noise in our oceans — from boat motors to seismic surveys — is an acute threat to underwater life. Unless we quiet down, we will irreparably damage marine ecosystems and may even drive some species to extinction.

How? We usually think of noise pollution as a problem in big cities on dry land. But ocean noise may be the culprit behind marine disruptions like whale strandings, fish kills and drops in plankton populations. Fortunately, compared to other climate change solutions, it’s relatively quick and easy to dial down our noise levels and keep our oceans quiet. Better ship propellor design, speed limits near harbors and quieter methods for oil and gas prospecting will all help humans restore peace and quiet to our neighbors in the sea.

Quote of the talk: “Sonar can be as loud as, or nearly as loud as, an underwater volcano. A supertanker can be as loud as the call of a blue whale.”


TED curator Chee Pearlman (left) speaks with architect Marwa Al-Sabouni at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Marwa Al-Sabouni, architect, interviewed by TED curator Chee Pearlman

Big idea: Architecture can exacerbate the social disruptions that lead to armed conflict.

How? Since the time of the French Mandate, officials in Syria have shrunk the communal spaces that traditionally united citizens of varying backgrounds. This contributed to a sense of alienation and rootlessness — a volatile cocktail that built conditions for unrest and, eventually, war. Marwa Al-Sabouni, a resident of Homs, Syria, saw firsthand how this unraveled social fabric helped reduce the city to rubble during the civil war. Now, she’s taking part in the city’s slow reconstruction — conducted by citizens with little or no government aid. As she explains in her book The Battle for Home, architects have the power (and the responsibility) to connect a city’s residents to a shared urban identity, rather than to opposing sectarian groups.

Quote of the talk: “Syria had a very unfortunate destiny, but it should be a lesson for the rest of the world: to take notice of how our cities are making us very alienated from each other, and from the place we used to call home.”


“Architecture is no longer a function or a machine for living. It also reflects the nature around us. It also reflects our soul and the spirit,” says Ma Yansong. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 22, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Ma Yansong, architect and artist

Big Idea: By creating architecture that blends with nature, we can break free from the “matchbox” sameness of many city buildings.

How? Ma Yansong paints a vivid image of what happens when nature collides with architecture — from a pair of curvy skyscrapers that “dance” with each other to buildings that burst out of a village’s mountains like contour lines. Yansong embraces the shapes of nature — which never repeat themselves, he notes — and the randomness of hand-sketched designs, creating a kind of “emotional scenery.” When we think beyond the boxy geometry of modern cities, he says, the results can be breathtaking.

Quote of talk: “Architecture is no longer a function or a machine for living. It also reflects the nature around us. It also reflects our soul and the spirit.”

TEDThe Big Rethink: Notes from Session 3 of TEDSummit 2019

Marco Tempest and his quadcopters perform a mind-bending display that feels equal parts science and magic at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

In an incredible session, speakers and performers laid out the biggest problems facing the world — from political and economic catastrophe to rising violence and deepfakes — and some new thinking on solutions.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 3: The Big Rethink, hosted by Corey Hajim and Cyndi Stivers

When and where: Tuesday, July 23, 2019, 5pm BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: George Monbiot, Nick Hanauer, Raghuram Rajan, Marco Tempest, Rachel Kleinfeld, Danielle Citron, Patrick Chappatte

Music: KT Tunstall sharing how she found her signature sound and playing her hits “Miniature Disasters,” “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See.”

The talks in brief:

“We are a society of altruists, but we are governed by psychopaths,” says George Monbiot. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

George Monbiot, investigative journalist and self-described “professional troublemaker”

Big idea: To get out of the political mess we’re in, we need a new story that captures the minds of people across fault lines.

Why? “Welcome to neoliberalism, the zombie doctrine that never seems to die,” says George Monbiot. We have been induced by politicians and economists into accepting an ideology of extreme competition and individualism, weakening the social bonds that make our lives worth living. And despite the 2008 financial crisis, which exposed the blatant shortcomings of neoliberalism, it still dominates our lives. Why? We haven’t yet produced a new story to replace it — a new narrative to help us make sense of the present and guide the future. So, Monbiot proposes his own: the “politics of belonging,” founded on the belief that most people are fundamentally altruistic, empathetic and socially minded. If we can tap into our fundamental urge to cooperate — namely, by building generous, inclusive communities around the shared sphere of the commons — we can build a better world. With a new story to light the way, we just might make it there.

Quote of the talk: “We are a society of altruists, but we are governed by psychopaths.”


Nick Hanauer, entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

Big idea: Economics has ceased to be a rational science in the service of the “greater good” of society. It’s time to ditch neoliberal economics and create tools that address inequality and injustice.

How? Today, under the banner of unfettered growth through lower taxes, fewer regulations, and lower wages, economics has become a tool that enforces the growing gap between the rich and poor. Nick Hanauer thinks that we must recognize that our society functions not because it’s a ruthless competition between its economically fittest members but because cooperation between people and institutions produces innovation. Competition shouldn’t be between the powerful at the expense of everyone else but between ideas battling it out in a well-managed marketplace in which everyone can participate.

Quote of the talk: “Successful economies are not jungles, they’re gardens — which is to say that markets, like gardens, must be tended … Unconstrained by social norms or democratic regulation, markets inevitably create more problems than they solve.”


Raghuram Rajan shares his idea for “inclusive localism” — giving communities the tools to turn themselves around while establishing standards tp prevent discrimination and corruption — at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Raghuram Rajan, economist and former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India

Big idea: As markets grow and governments focus on solving economic problems from the top-down, small communities and neighborhoods are losing their voices — and their livelihoods. But if nations lack the tools to address local problems, it’s time to turn to grass-roots communities for solutions.

How? Raghuram Rajan believes that nations must exercise “inclusive localism”: giving communities the tools to turn themselves around while establishing standards tp prevent discrimination and corruption. As local leaders step forward, citizens become active, and communities receive needed resources from philanthropists and through economic incentives, neighborhoods will thrive and rebuild their social fabric.

Quote of the talk: “What we really need [are] bottom-up policies devised by the community itself to repair the links between the local community and the national — as well as thriving international — economies.”


Marco Tempest, cyber illusionist

Big idea: Illusions that set our imaginations soaring are created when magic and science come together.

Why? “Is it possible to create illusions in a world where technology makes anything possible?” asks techno-magician Marco Tempest, as he interacts with his group of small flying machines called quadcopters. The drones dance around him, reacting buoyantly to his gestures and making it easy to anthropomorphize or attribute personality traits. Tempest’s buzzing buddies swerve, hover and pause, moving in formation as he orchestrates them. His mind-bending display will have you asking yourself: Was that science or magic? Maybe it’s both.

Quote to remember: “Magicians are interesting, their illusions accomplish what technology cannot, but what happens when the technology of today seems almost magical?”


Rachel Kleinfeld, democracy advisor and author

Big idea: It’s possible to quell violence — in the wider world and in our own backyards — with democracy and a lot of political TLC.

How? Compassion-concentrated action. We need to dispel the idea that some people deserve violence because of where they live, the communities they’re a part of or their socio-economic background. Kleinfeld calls this particular, inequality-based vein of violence “privilege violence,” explaining how it evolves in stages and the ways we can eradicate it. By deprogramming how we view violence and its origins and victims, we can move forward and build safer, more secure societies.

Quote of the talk: “The most important thing we can do is abandon the notion that some lives are just worth less than others.”


“Not only do we believe fakes, we are starting to doubt the truth,” says Danielle Citron, revealing the threat deepfakes pose to the truth and democracy. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Danielle Citron, professor of law and deepfake scholar

Big idea: Deepfakes — machine learning technology used to manipulate or fabricate audio and video content — can cause significant harm to individuals and society. We need a comprehensive legislative and educational approach to the problem.

How? The use of deepfake technology to manipulate video and audio for malicious purposes — whether it’s to stoke violence against minorities or to defame politicians and journalists — is becoming ubiquitous. With tools being made more accessible and their products more realistic, what becomes of that key ingredient for democratic processes: the truth? As Danielle Citron points out, “Not only do we believe fakes, we are starting to doubt the truth.” The fix, she suggests, cannot be merely technological. Legislation worldwide must be tailored to fighting digital impersonations that invade privacy and ruin lives. Educational initiatives are needed to teach the media how to identify fakes, persuade law enforcement that the perpetrators are worth prosecuting and convince the public at large that the future of democracy really is at stake.

Quote of the talk: “Technologists expect that advances in AI will soon make it impossible to distinguish a fake video and a real one. How can truths emerge in a deepfake ridden ‘marketplace of ideas?’ Will we take the path of least resistance and just believe what we want to believe, truth be damned?”


“Freedom of expression is not incompatible with dialogue and listening to each other, but it is incompatible with intolerance,” says editorial cartoonist Patrick Chappatte. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 23, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist and graphic journalist

Big idea: We need humor like we need the air we breathe. We shouldn’t risk compromising our freedom of speech by censoring ourselves in the name of political correctness.

How? Our social media-saturated world is both a blessing and a curse for political cartoonists like Patrick Chappatte, whose satirical work can go viral while also making them, and the publications they work for, a target. Be it a prison sentence, firing or the outright dissolution of cartoon features in newspapers, editorial cartoonists worldwide are increasingly penalized for their art. Chappatte emphasizes the importance of the art form in political discourse by guiding us through 20 years of editorial cartoons that are equal parts humorous and caustic. In an age where social media platforms often provide places for fury instead of debate, he suggests that traditional media shouldn’t shy away from these online kingdoms, and neither should we. Now is the time to resist preventative self-censorship; if we don’t, we risk waking up in a sanitized world without freedom of expression.

Quote of the talk: “Freedom of expression is not incompatible with dialogue and listening to each other, but it is incompatible with intolerance.”

TEDBusiness Unusual: Notes from Session 4 of TEDSummit 2019

ELEW and Marcus Miller blend jazz improvisation with rock in a musical cocktail of “rock-jazz.” They perform at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

To keep pace with our ever-changing world, we need out-of-the-box ideas that are bigger and more imaginative than ever. The speakers and performers from this session explore these possibilities, challenging us to think harder about the notions we’ve come to accept.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 4: Business Unusual, hosted by Whitney Pennington Rodgers and Cloe Shasha

When and where: Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 9am BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Margaret Heffernan, Bob Langert, Rose Mutiso, Mariana Mazzucato, Diego Prilusky

Music: A virtuosic violin performance by Min Kym, and a closing performance by ELEW featuring Marcus Miller, blending jazz improvisation with rock in a musical cocktail of “rock-jazz.”

The talks in brief:

“The more we let machines think for us, the less we can think for ourselves,” says Margaret Heffernan. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, former CEO and writer 

Big idea: The more we rely on technology to make us efficient, the fewer skills we have to confront the unexpected. That’s why we must start practicing “just-in-case” management — anticipating the events (climate catastrophes, epidemics, financial crises) that will almost certainly happen but are ambiguous in timing, scale and specifics. 

Why? In our complex, unpredictable world, changes can occur out of the blue and have outsize impacts. When governments, businesses and individuals prioritize efficiency above all else, it keeps them from responding quickly, effectively and creatively. That’s why we all need to focus on cultivating what Heffernan calls our “unpredictable, messy human skills.” These include exercising our social abilities to build strong relationships and coalitions; humility to admit we don’t have all the answers; imagination to dream up never-before-seen solutions; and bravery to keep experimenting.

Quote of the talk: “The harder, deeper truth is that the future is uncharted, that we can’t map it until we get there. But that’s OK because we have so much capacity for imagination — if we use it. We have deep talents for inventiveness and exploration — if we apply them. We are brave enough to invent things we’ve never seen before. Lose these skills and we are adrift. But hone and develop them, and we can make any future we choose.”


Bob Langert, sustainability expert and VP of sustainability at McDonald’s

Big idea: Adversaries can be your best allies.

How? Three simple steps: reach out, listen and learn. As a “corporate suit” (his words), Bob Langert collaborates with his company’s strongest critics to find business-friendly solutions for society. Instead of denying and pushing back, he tries to embrace their perspectives and suggestions. He encourages others in positions of power to do the same, driven by this mindset: assume the best intentions of your critics; focus on the truth, the science and facts; and be open and transparent in order to turn critics into allies. The worst-case scenario? You’ll become better, your organization will become better — and you might make some friends along the way.

Fun fact: After working with NGOs in the 1990s, McDonald’s reduced 300 million pounds of waste over 10 years.


“When we talk about providing energy for growth, it is not just about innovating the technology: it’s the slow and hard work of improving governance, institutions and a broader macro-environment,” says Rose Mutiso. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Dian Lofton / TED)

Rose Mutiso, energy scientist

Big Idea: In order to grow out of poverty, African countries need a steady supply of abundant and affordable electricity.

Why? Energy poverty, or the lack of access to electricity and other basic energy services, affects nearly two-thirds of Sub-Saharan Africa. As the region’s population continues to grow, we have the opportunity to build a new energy system — from scratch — to grow with it, says Rose Mutiso. It starts with naming the systemic holes that current solutions (solar, LED and battery technology) overlook: we don’t have a clear consensus on what energy poverty is; there’s too much reliance on quick fixes; and we’re misdirecting our climate change concerns. What we need, Mutiso says, is nuanced, large-scale solutions with a diverse range of energy sources. For instance, the region has significant hydroelectric potential, yet less than 10 percent of this potential is currently being utilized. If we work hard to find new solutions to our energy deficits now, everybody benefits.

Quote of talk:Countries cannot grow out of poverty without access to a steady supply of abundant, affordable and reliable energy to power these productive sectors — what I call energy for growth.”


Mariana Mazzucato, economist and policy influencer

Big idea: We’ve forgotten how to tell the difference between the value extractors in the C-suites and finance sectors and the value producers, the workers and taxpayers who actually fuel innovation and productivity. And recently we’ve neglected the importance of even questioning what the difference between the two.

How? Economists must redefine and recognize true value creators, envisioning a system that rewards them just as much as CEOs, investors and bankers. We need to rethink how we value education, childcare and other “free” services — which don’t have a price but clearly contribute to sustaining our economies. We need to make sure that our entire society not only shares risks but also rewards.

Quote of the talk: “[During the bank bailouts] we didn’t hear the taxpayers bragging that they were value creators. But, obviously, having bailed out the biggest ‘value-creating’ productive companies, perhaps they should have.”


Diego Prilusky demos his immersive storytelling technology, bringing Grease to the TED stage. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 24, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Diego Prilusky, video pioneer

Big idea: Get ready for the next revolution in visual storytelling: volumetric video, which aims to do nothing less than recreate reality as a cinematic experience.

How? Movies have been around for more than 100 years, but we’re still making (and watching) them in basically the same way. Can movies exist beyond the flat screen? Yes, says Diego Prilusky, but we’ll first need to completely rethink how they’re made. With his team at Intel Studios, Prilusky is pioneering volumetric video, a data-intensive medium powered by hundreds of sensors that capture light and motion from every possible direction. The result is like being inside a movie, which you could explore from different perspectives (or even through a character’s own eyes). In a live tech demo, Prilusky takes us inside a reshoot of an iconic dance number from the 1978 hit Grease. As actors twirl and sing “You’re the One That I Want,” he positions and repositions his perspective on the scene — moving, around, in front of and in between the performers. Film buffs can rest easy, though: the aim isn’t to replace traditional movies, he says, but to empower creators to tell stories in new ways, across multiple vantage points.

Quote of the talk: “We’re opening the gates for new possibilities of immersive storytelling.”

TEDNot All Is Broken: Notes from Session 6 of TEDSummit 2019

Raconteur Mackenzie Dalrymple regales the TEDSummit audience with a classic Scottish story. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

In the final session of TEDSummit 2019, the themes from the week — our search for belonging and community, our digital future, our inextricable connection to the environment — ring out with clarity and insight. From the mysterious ways our emotions impact our biological hearts, to a tour-de-force talk on the languages we all speak, it’s a fitting close to a week of revelation, laughter, tears and wonder.

The event: TEDSummit 2019, Session 6: Not All Is Broken, hosted by Chris Anderson and Bruno Giussani

When and where: Thursday, July 25, 2019, 9am BST, at the Edinburgh Convention Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland

Speakers: Johann Hari, Sandeep Jauhar, Anna Piperal, Eli Pariser, Poet Ali

Interlude: Mackenzie Dalrymple sharing the tale of an uncle and nephew competing to become Lord of the Isles

Music: Djazia Satour, blending 1950s Chaabi (a genre of North African folk music) with modern grooves

The talks in brief:

Johann Hari, journalist

Big idea: The cultural narrative and definitions of depression and anxiety need to change.

Why? We need to talk less about chemical imbalances and more about imbalances in the way we live. Johann Hari met with experts around the world, boiling down his research into a surprisingly simple thesis: all humans have physical needs (food, shelter, water) as well as psychological needs (feeling that you belong, that your life has meaning and purpose). Though antidepressant drugs work for some, biology isn’t the whole picture, and any treatment must be paired with a social approach. Our best bet is to listen to the signals of our bodies, instead of dismissing them as signs of weakness or madness. If we take time to investigate our red flags of depression and anxiety — and take the time to reevaluate how we build meaning and purpose, especially through social connections — we can start to heal in a society deemed the loneliest in human history.

Quote of the talk: “If you’re depressed, if you’re anxious — you’re not weak. You’re not crazy. You’re not a machine with broken parts. You’re a human being with unmet needs.”


“Even if emotions are not contained inside our hearts, the emotional heart overlaps its biological counterpart in surprising and mysterious ways,” says cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar. He speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 21-25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Sandeep Jauhar, cardiologist

Big Idea: Emotional stress can be a matter of life and death. Let’s factor that into how we care for our hearts.

How? “The heart may not originate our feelings, but it is highly responsive to them,” says Sandeep Jauhar. In his practice as a cardiologist, he has seen extensive evidence of this: grief and fear can cause profound cardiac injury. “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” or broken heart syndrome, has been found to occur when the heart weakens after the death of a loved one or the stress of a large-scale natural disaster. It comes with none of the other usual symptoms of heart disease, and it can resolve in just a few weeks. But it can also prove fatal. In response, Jauhar says that we need a new paradigm of care, one that considers the heart as more than “a machine that can be manipulated and controlled” — and recognizes that emotional stress is as important as cholesterol.

Quote of the talk: “Even if emotions are not contained inside our hearts, the emotional heart overlaps its biological counterpart in surprising and mysterious ways.”


“In most countries, people don’t trust their governments, and the governments don’t trust them back. All the complicated paper-based formal procedures are supposed to solve that problem. Except that they don’t. They just make life more complicated,” says e-governance expert Anna Piperal. She speaks at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Anna Piperal, e-governance expert 

Big idea: Bureaucracy can be eradicated by going digital — but we’ll need to build in commitment and trust.

How? Estonia is one of the most digital societies on earth. After gaining independence 30 years ago, and subsequently building itself up from scratch, the country decided not only to digitize existing bureaucracy but also to create an entirely new system. Now citizens can conduct everything online, from running a business to voting and managing their healthcare records, and only need to show up in person for literally three things: to claim their identity card, marry or divorce, or sell a property. Anna Piperal explains how, using a form of blockchain technology, e-Estonia builds trust through the “once-only” principle, through which the state cannot ask for information more than once nor store it in more than one place. The country is working to redefine bureaucracy by making it more efficient, granting citizens full ownership of their data — and serving as a model for the rest of the world to do the same.

Quote of the talk: “In most countries, people don’t trust their governments, and the governments don’t trust them back. All the complicated paper-based formal procedures are supposed to solve that problem. Except that they don’t. They just make life more complicated.”


Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy

Big idea: We can find ways to make our online spaces civil and safe, much like our best cities.

How? Social media is a chaotic and sometimes dangerous place. With its trolls, criminals and segregated spaces, it’s a lot like New York City in the 1970s. But like New York City, it’s also a vibrant space in which people can innovate and find new ideas. So Eli Pariser asks: What if we design social media like we design cities, taking cues from social scientists and urban planners like Jane Jacobs? Built around empowered communities, one-on-one interactions and public censure for those who act out, platforms could encourage trust and discourse, discourage antisocial behavior and diminish the sense of chaos that leads some to embrace authoritarianism.

Quote of the talk: “If online digital spaces are going to be our new home, let’s make them a comfortable, beautiful place to live — a place we all feel not just included, but actually some ownership of. A place we get to know each other. A place you’d actually want not just to visit, but to bring your kids.”


“Every language we learn is a portal by which we can access another language. The more you know, the more you can speak. … That’s why languages are so important, because they give us access to new worlds,” says Poet Ali. He speaks at at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders, July 25, 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo: Bret Hartman / TED)

Poet Ali, architect of human connection

Big idea: You speak far more languages than you realize, with each language representing a gateway to understanding different societies, cultures and experiences.

How? Whether it’s the recognized tongue of your country or profession, or the social norms of your community, every “language” you speak is more than a lexicon of words: it also encompasses feelings like laughter, solidarity, even a sense of being left out. These latter languages are universal, and the more we embrace their commonality — and acknowledge our fluency in them — the more we can empathize with our fellow humans, regardless of our differences.

Quote of the talk: “Every language we learn is a portal by which we can access another language. The more you know, the more you can speak. … That’s why languages are so important, because they give us access to new worlds.”

TEDBorder Stories: A night of talks on immigration, justice and freedom

Hosts Anne Milgram and Juan Enriquez kick off the evening at TEDSalon: Border Stories at the TED World Theater in New York City on September 10, 2019. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Immigration can be a deeply polarizing topic. But at heart, immigration policies and practices reflect no less than our attitude towards humanity. At TEDSalon: Border Stories, we explored the reality of life at the US-Mexico border, the history of the US immigration policy and possible solutions for reform — and investigated what’s truly at stake.

The event: TEDSalon: Border Stories, hosted by criminal justice reformer Anne Milgram and author and academic Juan Enriquez

When and where: Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York City

Speakers: Paul A. Kramer, Luis H. Zayas, Erika Pinheiro, David J. Bier and Will Hurd

Music: From Morley and Martha Redbone

A special performance: Poet and thinker Maria Popova, reading an excerpt from her book Figuring. A stunning meditation on “the illusion of separateness, of otherness” — and on “the infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives” that inhabit this universe — accompanied by cellist Dave Eggar and guitarist Chris Bruce.

“There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives,” says Maria Popova, reading a selection of her work at TEDSalon: Border Stories. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

The talks in brief:

Paul A. Kramer, historian, writer, professor of history

  • Big idea: It’s time we make the immigration conversation to reflect how the world really works.
  • How? We must rid ourselves of the outdated questions, born from nativist and nationalist sentiments, that have permeated the immigration debate for centuries: interrogations of usefulness and assimilation, of parasitic rhetoric aimed at dismantling any positive discussions around immigration. What gives these damaging queries traction and power, Kramer says, is how they tap into a seemingly harmless sense of national belonging — and ultimately activate, heighten and inflame it. Kramer maps out a way for us to redraw those mental, societal and political borders and give immigrants access to the rights and resources that their work, activism and home countries have already played a fundamental role in creating.
  • Quote of the talk: “[We need] to redraw the boundaries of who counts — whose life, whose rights and whose thriving matters. We need to redraw … the borders of us.”

Luis H. Zayas, social worker, psychologist, researcher

  • Big idea: Asylum seekers — especially children — face traumatizing conditions at the US-Mexico border. We need compassionate, humane practices that give them the care they need during arduous times.
  • Why? Under prolonged and intense stress, the young developing brain is harmed — plain and simple, says Luis H. Zayas. He details the distressing conditions immigrant families face on their way to the US, which have only escalated since children started being separated from their parents and held in detention centers. He urges the US to reframe its practices, replacing hostility and fear with safety and compassion. For instance: the US could open processing centers, where immigrants can find the support they need to start a new life. These facilities would be community-oriented, offering medical care, social support and the fundamental human right to respectful and dignified treatment.
  • Quote of the talk: “I hope we can agree on one thing: that none of us wants to look back at this moment in our history when we knew we were inflicting lifelong trauma on children, and that we sat back and did nothing. That would be the greatest tragedy of all.”

Immigration lawyer Erika Pinheiro discusses the hidden realities of the US immigration system. “Seeing these horrors day in and day out has changed me,” she says. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Erika Pinheiro, nonprofit litigation and policy director

  • Big idea: The current US administration’s mass separations of asylum-seeking families at the Mexican border shocked the conscience of the world — and the cruel realities of the immigration system have only gotten worse. We need a legal and social reckoning.
  • How? US immigration laws are broken, says Erika Pinheiro. Since 2017, US attorneys general have made sweeping changes to asylum law to ensure fewer people qualify for protection in the US. This includes all types of people fleeing persecution: Venezuelan activists, Russian dissidents, Chinese Muslims, climate change refugees — the list goes on. The US has simultaneously created a parallel legal system where migrants are detained indefinitely, often without access to legal help. Pinheiro issues a call to action: if you are against the cruel and inhumane treatment of migrants, then you need to get involved. You need to demand that your lawmakers expand the definition of refugees and amend laws to ensure immigrants have access to counsel and independent courts. Failing to act now threatens the inherent dignity of all humans.
  • Quote of the talk: “History shows us that the first population to be vilified and stripped of their rights is rarely the last.”

David J. Bier, immigration policy analyst

  • Big idea: We can solve the border crisis in a humane fashion. In fact, we’ve done so before.
  • How? Most migrants who travel illegally from Central America to the US do so because they have no way to enter the US legally. When these immigrants are caught, they find themselves in the grips of a cruel system of incarceration and dehumanization — but is inhumane treatment really necessary to protect our borders? Bier points us to the example of Mexican guest worker programs, which allow immigrants to cross borders and work the jobs they need to support their families. As legal opportunities to cross the border have increased, the number of illegal Mexican immigrants seized at the border has plummeted 98 percent. If we were to extend guest worker programs to Central Americans as well, Bier says, we could see a similar drop in the numbers of illegal immigrants.
  • Quote of the talk: “This belief that the only way to maintain order is with inhumane means is inaccurate — and, in fact, the opposite is true. Only a humane system will create order at the border.”

“Building a 30-foot-high concrete structure from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security,” says Congressman Will Hurd in a video interview with Anne Milgram at TEDSalon: Border Stories. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Will Hurd, US Representative for Texas’s 23rd congressional district

  • Big idea: Walls won’t solve our problems.
  • Why? Representing a massive district that encompasses 29 counties and two times zones and shares an 820-mile border with Mexico, Republican Congressman Will Hurd has a frontline perspective on illegal immigration in Texas. Legal immigration options and modernizing the Border Patrol (which still measures their response times to border incidents in hours and days) will be what ultimately stems the tide of illegal border crossings, Hurd says. Instead of investing in walls and separating families, the US should invest in their own defense forces — and, on the other side of the border, work to alleviate poverty and violence in Central American countries.
  • Quote of the talk: “When you’re debating your strategy, if somebody comes up with the idea of snatching a child out of their mother’s arms, you need to go back to the drawing board. This is not what the United States of America stands for. This is not a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent thing. This is a human decency thing.”

Juan Enriquez, author and academic

  • Big idea: If the US continues to divide groups of people into “us” and “them,” we open the door to inhumanity and atrocity — and not just at our borders.
  • How? Countries that survive and grow as the years go by are compassionate, kind, smart and brave; countries that don’t govern by cruelty and fear, says Juan Enriquez. In a personal talk, he calls on us to realize that deportation, imprisonment and dehumanization aren’t isolated phenomena directed at people crossing the border illegally but instead things are happening to the people who live and work by our sides in our communities. Now is the time to stand up and do something to stop our country’s slide into fear and division — whether it’s engaging in small acts of humanity, loud protests in the streets or activism directed at enacting legislative or policy changes.
  • Quote of the talk: “This is how you wipe out an economy. This isn’t about kids and borders, it’s about us. This is about who we are, who we the people are, as a nation and as individuals. This is not an abstract debate.”

TEDTransform: The talks of TED@DuPont

Hosts Briar Goldberg and David Biello open TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Transformation starts with the spark of something new. In a day of talks and performances about transformation, 16 speakers and performers explored exciting developments in science, technology and beyond — from the chemistry of everyday life to innovations in food, “smart” clothing, enzyme research and much more.

The event: TED@DuPont: Transform, hosted by TED’s David Biello and Briar Goldberg

When and where: Thursday, September 12, 2019, at The Fillmore in Philadelphia, PA

Music: Performances by Elliah Heifetz and Jane Bruce and Jeff Taylor, Matt Johnson and Jesske Hume

The talks in brief:

“The next time you send a text or take a selfie, think about all those atoms that are hard at work and the innovation that came before them,” says chemist Cathy Mulzer. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Cathy Mulzer, chemist and tech shrinker

Big idea: You owe a big thank you to chemistry for all that technology in your pocket.

Why? Almost every component that goes into creating a superpowered device like a smartphone or tablet exists because of a chemist — not the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that come to most people’s minds. Chemistry is the real hero in our technological lives, Mulzer says — building up and shrinking down everything from vivid display screens and sleek bodies to nano-sized circuitries and long-lasting batteries.

Quote of talk: The next time you send a text or take a selfie, think about all those atoms that are hard at work and the innovation that came before them.”


Adam Garske, enzyme engineer

Big Idea: We can harness the power of new, scientifically modified enzymes to solve urgent problems across the world.

How? Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions — turning milk into cheese, for example. Through a process called “directed evolution,” scientists can carefully edit and design the building blocks of enzymes for specific functions — to help treat diseases like diabetes, reduce CO2 in our laundry, break down plastics in the ocean and more. Enzyme evolution is already changing how we tackle health and environmental issues, Garske says, and there’s so much more ahead.

Quote of the talk: With enzymes, we can edit what nature wrote — or write our own stories.”


Henna-Maria Uusitupa, bioscientist

Big idea: Our bodies host an entire ecosystem of microorganisms that we’ve been cultivating since we were babies. And as it turns out, the bacteria we acquire as infants help keep us healthier as adults. Henna-Maria Uusitupa wants to ensure that every baby grows a healthy microbiome.

How? Babies must acquire the right balance of microbes in their bodies, but they must also receive them at the correct stages of their lives. C-sections and disruptions in breastfeeding can throw a baby’s microbiome out of balance. With a carefully curated blend of probiotics and other chemicals, scientists are devising ways to restore harmony — and beneficial microbes — to young bodies.

Quote of the talk: “I want to contribute to the unfolding of a future in which each baby has an equal starting point to be programmed for life-long health.”


Leon Marchal, innovation director 

Big Idea: Animals account for 50 to 80 percent of antibiotic consumption worldwide — a major contributing factor to the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. To combat this, farmers can adopt a number of practices — like balanced, antibiotic-free nutrition for animals — on their farms.

Why: The UN predicts that antimicrobial resistance will become our biggest killer by 2050. To prevent that from happening, Marchal is working to transform a massive global industry: animal feed. Antibiotics are used in animal feed to keep animals healthy and to grow them faster and bigger. They can be found in the most unlikely places — like the treats we give our pets. This constant, low-dose exposure could lead some animals to develop antibiotic-resistant bugs, which could cause wide-ranging health problems for animals and humans alike. The solution? Antibiotic-free production — and it all starts with better hygiene. This means taking care of animal’s good bacteria with balanced nutrition and alterations to the food they eat, to keep their microbiomes more resilient.

Quote of the talk: “We have the knowledge on how to produce meat, eggs and milk without or with very low amounts of antibiotics. This is a small price to pay to avoid a future in which bacterial infections again become our biggest killer.”


Physical organic chemist Tina Arrowood shares a simple, eco-friendly proposal to protect our freshwater resources from future pollution. She speaks at TED@DuPont at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Tina Arrowood, physical organic chemist

Big idea: Human activity is a threat to freshwater rivers. We can transform that risk into an environmental and economic reward.

How? A simple, eco-friendly proposal to protect our precious freshwater resources from future pollution. We’ve had technology that purifies industrial wastewaters for the last 50 years. Arrowood suggests that we go a step further: as we clean our rivers, we can sell the salt byproduct as a primary resource — to de-ice roads and for other chemical processing — rather than using the tons of salt we currently mine from the earth.

Fun fact: If you were to compare the relative volume of ocean water to fresh river water on our planet, the former would be an Olympic-sized swimming pool — and the latter would be a one-gallon jug.


“Why not transform clothing and make it a part of our digitized world, in a manner that shines continuous light into our health and well-being?” asks designer Janani Bhaskar. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Janani Bhaskar, smart clothing designer

Big Idea: By designing “smart” clothing with durable technologies, we can better keep track of health and well-being.

How? Using screen-printing technology, we can design and attach biometric “smart stickers” to any piece of clothing. These stickers are super durable, Bhaskar says: they can withstand anything our clothing can, including workouts and laundry. They’re customizable, too — athletes can use them to track blood pressure and heart rate, healthcare providers can use them to remotely monitor vital signs, and expecting parents can use them to receive information about their baby’s growth. By making sure this technology is affordable and accessible, our clothing — the “original wearables” — can help all of us better understand our bodies and our health.

Quote of the talk: “Why not transform clothing and make it a part of our digitized world, in a manner that shines continuous light into our health and well-being?”


Camilla Andersen, neuroscientist and food scientist

Big idea: We can create tastier, healthier foods with insights from people’s brain activity.

How? Our conscious experience of food — how much we enjoy a cup of coffee or how sweet we find a cookie to be, for example — is heavily influenced by hidden biases. Andersen provides an example: after her husband started buying a fancy coffee brand, she conducted a blind taste test with two cups of coffee. Her husband described the first cup as cheap and bitter, and raved about the second — only to find out that the two were actually the same kind of coffee. The taste difference was the result of his bias for the new, fancy coffee — the very kind of bias that can leave food scientists in the dark when testing out new products. But there’s a workaround: brain scans that can access the raw, unfiltered, unconscious taste information that’s often lost in people’s conscious assessments. With this kind of information, Andersen says, we can create healthier foods without sacrificing taste — like creating a zero-calorie milkshake that tastes just like the original.

Fun fact: The five basic tastes are universally accepted: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. But, based on evidence from Andersen’s EEG experiments, there’s evidence of a new sixth basic taste: fat, which we may sense beyond its smell and texture. 


“Science is an integral part of our everyday lives, and I think we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of harnessing all of the knowledge we have to create a better world,” says enzyme scientist Vicky Huang. She speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Vicky Huang, enzyme scientist

Big idea: Enzymes are unfamiliar to many of us, but they’re far more important in our day-to-day lives than we realize — and they might help us unlock eco-friendly solutions to everything from food spoilage to household cleaning problems. 

How? We were all taught in high school that enzymes are a critical part of digestion and, because of that, they’re also ideal for household cleaning. But enzymes can do much more than remove stains from our clothes, break down burnt-on food in our dishwashers and keep our baguettes soft. As scientists are able to engineer better enzymes, we’ll be able to cook and clean with less energy, less waste and fewer costs to our environment.

Quote of the talk: “Everywhere in your homes, items you use every day have had a host of engineers and scientists like me working on them and improving them. Just one part of this everyday science is using enzymes to make things more effective, convenient and environmentally sustainable.”


Geert van der Kraan, microbe detective

Big Idea: We can use microbial life in oil fields to make oil production safer and cleaner.

How? Microbial life is often a problem in oil fields, corroding steel pipes and tanks and producing toxic chemicals like dihydrogen sulfide. We can transform this challenge into a solution by studying the clues these microbes leave behind. By tracking the presence and activity of these microbes, we can see deep within these undergrounds fields, helping us create safer and smoother production processes.

Quote of the talk: “There are things we can learn from the microorganisms that call oil fields their homes, making oil field operations just a little cleaner. Who knows what other secrets they may hold for us?”


Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist and author

Big idea: The stories we tell about our lives shape who we become. By editing our stories, we can transform our lives for the better.

How? When the stories we tell ourselves are incomplete, misleading or just plain wrong, we can get stuck. Think of a story you’re telling about your life that’s not serving you — maybe that everyone’s life is better than yours, that you’re an impostor, that you can’t trust people, that life would be better if only a certain someone would change. Try exploring this story from another point of view, or asking a friend if there’s an aspect of the story you might be leaving out. Rather than clinging to an old story that isn’t doing us any good, Gottlieb says, we can work to write the most beautiful story we can imagine, full of hard truths that lead to compassion and redemption — our own “personal Pulitzer Prize.” We get to choose what goes on the page in our minds that shapes our realities. So get out there and write your masterpiece.

Quote of the talk: “We talk a lot in our culture about ‘getting to know ourselves,’ but part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself: to let go of the one version of the story you’ve told yourself about who you are — so you can live your life, and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”


“I’m standing here before you because I have a vision for the future: one where technology keeps my daughter safe,” says tech evangelist Andrew Ho. He speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Andrew Ho, tech evangelist

Big idea: As technological devices become smaller, faster and cheaper, they make daily tasks more convenient. But they can also save lives.

How? For epilepsy patients like Andrew Ho’s daughter Hilarie, a typical day can bring dangerous — or even fatal — challenges. Medical devices currently under development could reduce the risk of seizures, but they’re bulky and fraught with risk. The more quickly developers can improve the speed and portability of these devices (and other medical technologies), the sooner we can help people with previously unmanageable diseases live normal lives.

Quote of the talk: Advances in technology are making it possible for people with different kinds of challenges and problems to lead normal lives. No longer will they feel isolated and marginalized. No longer will they live in the shadows, afraid, ashamed, humiliated and excluded. And when that happens, our world will be a much more diverse and inclusive place, a better place for all of us to live.”


“Learning from our mistakes is essential to improvement in many areas of our lives, so why not be intentional about it in our most risk-filled activity?” asks engineer Ed Paxton. He speaks at TED@DuPont at The Fillmore, September 12, 2019, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Ed Paxton, aircraft engineer and safety expert

Big idea: Many people fear flying but think nothing of driving their cars every day. Statistically, driving is far more dangerous than flying — in part because of common-sense principles pilots use to govern their behavior. Could these principles help us be safer on the road?

How? There’s a lot of talk about how autonomous vehicles will make traffic safer in the future. Ed Paxton shares three principles that can reduce accidents right now: “positive paranoia” (anticipating possible hazards or mishaps without anxiety), allowing feedback from passengers who might see things you don’t and learning from your mistakes (near-misses caused by driving while tired, for example).

Quote of the talk:  “Driving your car is probably the most dangerous activity that most of you do … it’s almost certain you know someone who’s been seriously injured or lost their life out on the road … Over the last ten years, seven billion people have boarded domestic airline flights, and there’s been just one fatality.”


Jennifer Vail, tribologist

Big idea: Complex systems lose much of their energy to friction; the more energy they lose, the more power we consume to keep them running. Tribology — or the study of friction and things that rub together — could unlock massive energy savings by reducing wear and alleviating friction in cars, wind turbines, motors and engines.

How? By studying the different ways surfaces rub together, and engineering those surfaces to create more or less friction, tribologists can tweak a surprising range of physical products, from dog food that cleans your pet’s teeth to cars that use less gas; from food that feels more appetizing in our mouth to fossil fuel turbines that waste less power. Some of these changes could have significant impacts on how much energy we consume.

Quote of the talk: “I have to admit that it’s a lot of fun when people ask me what I do for my job, because I tell them: ‘I literally rub things together.'”

Planet DebianMike Gabriel: Results produced while at "X2Go - The Gathering 2019" at LinuxHotel in Essen a.d.R., Germany

Over the past weekend I attended "X2Go - The Gathering 2019". This year's venue was LinuxHotel in Essen. It was good to come back here.

Things that I got DONE while at the Gathering

X2Go related topics I worked on...

  • Three informal talks about:
    • the new/alternative X2Go Kdrive graphics backend for X2Go
    • status report of my work on the X2Go Plugin for Remmina
    • brain storming session: accessing X2Go sessions from a web browser
  • Get Ubuntu Gnome Desktops (from 18.04 or later) working in X2Go (with X2Go Kdrive backend being used)
  • Hide color manager authentication dialog on session startup of Gnome-based sessions in X2Go by nastily tweaking colord's policy kit rule set
  • Discuss various issues around nx-libs with Ulrich Sibiller and Mihai Moldovan
  • Discuss Free Software and Civil Administration with Heinz-M. Graesing
  • Discuss Free Software solutions for schools with Heinz-M. Graesing
  • Discuss a Thin Client concept developed by Kjetil Fleten at fleten.net and deepen the partnership of our companies
  • Discuss the benefits of using Weblate for translating X2Go components with Juri Grabowski, providing him with a best practice workflow (ToDo -> Juri)
  • Discuss switching X2Go Git from plain SSH + Git bare repositories to Gitolite with Juri Grabowski (ToDo -> Juri)
  • Share various new developments with Nito Martinez and Juan Zea going on at Qindel
  • File a pull request (PR) against screenshoter [1] porting it to GDK v3 and making it build and run on recent Linux systems (we might need this for the X2Go WebUI implementation)
  • Attend the yearly members' meeting of ORCA e.V.
  • Write the protocol for the yearly members' meeting of ORCA e.V.
  • I got elected as 2nd chair into the board of the ORCA e.V.
  • Review 3 partially quite longish pull-requests (PR) by Ulrich Sibiller for nx-libs (all passed through) [2-4] and one by myself [5].

Non-X2Go related topics I worked on...

  • Upload 35 MATE Desktop Environment related packages to Debian unstable
  • Upload Veyon 4.2.5 to Debian unstable
  • Upload FusionDirectory to Debian unstable (+ as-is Argonaut source-only upload)
  • Upload TigerVNC 1.9.0+dfsg-4 to unstable (sponsored upload on behalf of Joachim Falk)

Credits

The main big thanks goes to Stefan Baur who did most of the event organizing work. Well done, again, Stefan. Thanks for making these events possible on a yearly basis. Much much appreciated.

Another big thanks goes to Mirko Glotz for doing video recordings of all talks and discussion during the event.

Thanks so much to everyone who attended the meeting. We have been 15 people this year! Awesome!

light+love
Mike

References

Planet DebianBen Hutchings: Linux Plumbers Conference 2019, part 3

Here's the last chunk of notes I took at Linux Plumbers Conference earlier this month. See part 1 and part 2 if you missed them.

Real-time track

Etherpad: https://etherpad.net/p/LPC2019_Real_Time/timeslider#4945

Core scheduling for RT

Speaker: Peter Zijlstra

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/417/

LWN article: https://lwn.net/Articles/799454/

This was about restricting which tasks share a core on CPUs with SMT/hyperthreading. There is current interest in doing this as a mitigation for speculation leaks, instead of disabling SMT altogether.

SMT also makes single-thread processing speed quite unpredictable, which is bad for RT, so it would be useful to prevent scheduling any other tasks on the same core as an RT task.

Gen-Z Linux Sub-system

Speakers: Jim Hull and Betty Dall of HPE

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/301/

Summary
  • New interconnect protocol developed by large consortium
  • Memory-like fabric scalable to large numbers of components
  • Multiple PHY types supported (PCIe gen4, 25/50 Gbit Ethernet PHYs) for different reach/bandwidth/latency trade-offs
  • Can support unmodified OS through "logical PCI devices" and ACPI device description

Connections are point-to-point between "components". Switch components provide fan-out.

Components can be subdivided into "resources" and also have "interfaces".

No requirement for a single root (like typical PCIe) and there can be redundant connections forming a mesh.

Fabric can span multiple logical computers (OS instances). Fabric manager assigns components and resources to them, and configures routing.

Protocol is reliable; all writes are acknowledged (by default). However it is not ordered by default.

Components have single control space (like config space?) and single data space (up to 2⁶⁴ bytes). Control space has a fixed header and then additional structures for optional and per-interface registers.

Each component has 12-bit component ID (CID) which may be combined with 16-bit subnet ID (SID) for 28-bit global component ID (GCID).

Coherence is managed by software.

Bridge from CPU to Gen-Z needs MMUs to map between local physical address space and fabric address space. Normally also has DMA engines ("data movers") that can send and receive all types of Gen-Z packets and not just read/write. These bridges are configured by the local OS instance, not the fabric manager.

Adding a Gen-Z subsystem

Needed to:

  • Enable native device drivers that know how to share resources
  • Enable user-space fabric managers and local management service

Should behave similarly to PCI and USB, so far as possible. Leave policy to user-space. Deal with the fact that most features are optional.

The Gen-Z subsystem needs to provide APIs for tracking PASIDs in IOMMU and ZMMU. Similar requirements in PCIe; should this be generic?

How can Gen-Z device memories be mapped with huge pages?

Undecided whether a generic kernel API for data movers is desirable. This would help kernel I/O drivers but not user-space I/O (like RDMA).

Interrupts work very differently from MSI. Bridge may generate interrupts for explicit interrupt packets, data mover completions, and Unsolicited Event Packets (link change, hotplug, …).

Device discovery

All nodes run local management services. On Linux these will be in user-space (LLaMaS).

(This means LLaMaS will need to be included in the initramfs if the boot device is attached through Gen-Z.)

Manager will use netlink to announce when resource has been assigned to the local node. Kernel then creates kernel device for it.

Live patching

Etherpad: https://etherpad.net/p/LPC2019_Live_Patching/timeslider#3799

Do we need a Livepatch Developers Guide?

Moderator: Joe Lawrence

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/512/

Reflections on kernel development process, quality and testing

Speaker: Dmitry Vyukov

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/554/

Slides: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/554/attachments/353/584/Reflections__Kernel_Summit_2019.pdf

Dmitry outlined how the current kernel development processes are failing:

  • Processes are inconsistent between subsystems, and often undocumented
  • Regressions don't consistently get fixed even when they are reported
  • Test coverage is poor and there are several independent automated testing initiatives, that partially overlap
  • Important fixes don't always get backported to the stable branches that need them

It takes a long time for new developers to become productive, or for developers to contribute to unfamiliar subsystems.

(None of this was new to me, but spelling out all these issues definitely had an impact.)

He advocates more consolidation and consistency, so that:

  • Tools can work with and report on proposed/committed changes across the kernel
  • Developers see all test results for a change in one place
  • There is less duplicated work on tools, testing, reporting

There was further discussion of this at the Kernel Maintainer Summit, reported in https://lwn.net/Articles/799134/.

Planet DebianMichael Stapelberg: Debian Code Search: positional index, TurboPFor-compressed

See the Conclusion for a summary if you’re impatient :-)

Motivation

Over the last few months, I have been developing a new index format for Debian Code Search. This required a lot of careful refactoring, re-implementation, debug tool creation and debugging.

Multiple factors motivated my work on a new index format:

  1. The existing index format has a 2G size limit, into which we have bumped a few times, requiring manual intervention to keep the system running.

  2. Debugging the existing system required creating ad-hoc debugging tools, which made debugging sessions unnecessarily lengthy and painful.

  3. I wanted to check whether switching to a different integer compression format would improve performance (it does not).

  4. I wanted to check whether storing positions with the posting lists would improve performance of identifier queries (= queries which are not using any regular expression features), which make up 78.2% of all Debian Code Search queries (it does).

I figured building a new index from scratch was the easiest approach, compared to refactoring the existing index to increase the size limit (point ①).

I also figured it would be a good idea to develop the debugging tool in lock step with the index format so that I can be sure the tool works and is useful (point ②).

Integer compression: TurboPFor

As a quick refresher, search engines typically store document IDs (representing source code files, in our case) in an ordered list (“posting list”). It usually makes sense to apply at least a rudimentary level of compression: our existing system used variable integer encoding.

TurboPFor, the self-proclaimed “Fastest Integer Compression” library, combines an advanced on-disk format with a carefully tuned SIMD implementation to reach better speeds (in micro benchmarks) at less disk usage than Russ Cox’s varint implementation in github.com/google/codesearch.

If you are curious about its inner workings, check out my “TurboPFor: an analysis”.

Applied on the Debian Code Search index, TurboPFor indeed compresses integers better:

Disk space

 
8.9G codesearch varint index

 
5.5G TurboPFor index

Switching to TurboPFor (via cgo) for storing and reading the index results in a slight speed-up of a dcs replay benchmark, which is more pronounced the more i/o is required.

Query speed (regexp, cold page cache)

 
18s codesearch varint index

 
14s TurboPFor index (cgo)

Query speed (regexp, warm page cache)

 
15s codesearch varint index

 
14s TurboPFor index (cgo)

Overall, TurboPFor is an all-around improvement in efficiency, albeit with a high cost in implementation complexity.

Positional index: trade more disk for faster queries

This section builds on the previous section: all figures come from the TurboPFor index, which can optionally support positions.

Conceptually, we’re going from:

type docid uint32
type index map[trigram][]docid

…to:

type occurrence struct {
    doc docid
    pos uint32 // byte offset in doc
}
type index map[trigram][]occurrence

The resulting index consumes more disk space, but can be queried faster:

  1. We can do fewer queries: instead of reading all the posting lists for all the trigrams, we can read the posting lists for the query’s first and last trigram only.
    This is one of the tricks described in the paper “AS-Index: A Structure For String Search Using n-grams and Algebraic Signatures” (PDF), and goes a long way without incurring the complexity, computational cost and additional disk usage of calculating algebraic signatures.

  2. Verifying the delta between the last and first position matches the length of the query term significantly reduces the number of files to read (lower false positive rate).

  3. The matching phase is quicker: instead of locating the query term in the file, we only need to compare a few bytes at a known offset for equality.

  4. More data is read sequentially (from the index), which is faster.

Disk space

A positional index consumes significantly more disk space, but not so much as to pose a challenge: a Hetzner EX61-NVME dedicated server (≈ 64 €/month) provides 1 TB worth of fast NVMe flash storage.

 
 6.5G non-positional

 
123G positional

 
  93G positional (posrel)

The idea behind the positional index (posrel) is to not store a (doc,pos) tuple on disk, but to store positions, accompanied by a stream of doc/pos relationship bits: 1 means this position belongs to the next document, 0 means this position belongs to the current document.

This is an easy way of saving some space without modifying the TurboPFor on-disk format: the posrel technique reduces the index size to about ¾.

With the increase in size, the Linux page cache hit ratio will be lower for the positional index, i.e. more data will need to be fetched from disk for querying the index.

As long as the disk can deliver data as fast as you can decompress posting lists, this only translates into one disk seek’s worth of additional latency. This is the case with modern NVMe disks that deliver thousands of MB/s, e.g. the Samsung 960 Pro (used in Hetzner’s aforementioned EX61-NVME server).

The values were measured by running dcs du -h /srv/dcs/shard*/full without and with the -pos argument.

Bytes read

A positional index requires fewer queries: reading only the first and last trigram’s posting lists and positions is sufficient to achieve a lower (!) false positive rate than evaluating all trigram’s posting lists in a non-positional index.

As a consequence, fewer files need to be read, resulting in fewer bytes required to read from disk overall.

As an additional bonus, in a positional index, more data is read sequentially (index), which is faster than random i/o, regardless of the underlying disk.

1.2G
19.8G
21.0G regexp queries

4.2G (index)
10.8G (files)
15.0G identifier queries

The values were measured by running iostat -d 25 just before running bench.zsh on an otherwise idle system.

Query speed

Even though the positional index is larger and requires more data to be read at query time (see above), thanks to the C TurboPFor library, the 2 queries on a positional index are roughly as fast as the n queries on a non-positional index (≈4s instead of ≈3s).

This is more than made up for by the combined i/o matching stage, which shrinks from ≈18.5s (7.1s i/o + 11.4s matching) to ≈1.3s.

3.3s (index)
7.1s (i/o)
11.4s (matching)
21.8s regexp queries

3.92s (index)
≈1.3s
5.22s identifier queries

Note that identifier query i/o was sped up not just by needing to read fewer bytes, but also by only having to verify bytes at a known offset instead of needing to locate the identifier within the file.

Conclusion

The new index format is overall slightly more efficient. This disk space efficiency allows us to introduce a positional index section for the first time.

Most Debian Code Search queries are positional queries (78.2%) and will be answered much quicker by leveraging the positions.

Bottomline, it is beneficial to use a positional index on disk over a non-positional index in RAM.

Sam VargheseRWC commentators need to be lined up and shot

While many people have raised questions about the quality of refereeing at the ongoing Rugby World Cup, nobody, surprisingly has questioned the quality of commentary that is available. If one were to compare the two, the commentators would lose by a mile.

There is a strange kind of logic that has prevailed in management circles for quite a while now, namely that a person who is good in one sector of an industry would also be equally good in another. It is this kind of logic (?) that leads managers to appoint rank and file employees to positions of leadership. It flies in the face of logic to argue that someone who is good at following orders would be equally good as a leader, but that’s the conventional wisdom that has prevailed and will never go away.

Some years ago, there was a class of person known as a professional commentator. Now this class of person was not one who had necessarily played the game on which he/she was commentating; the two are not connected. No, the commentator had a tremendous understand of the sport in question, an incredibly good vocabulary and a turn of phrase guaranteed to keep even the most of fidgety of individuals glued to their seats. John Arlott and Brian Johnston are two good examples of this class of person; neither had played Test cricket but find me someone who was better at the art of commentating on the game.

Alas, nowadays, there is no vetting of commentators and all seem to be appointed in you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch yours deals. Some ex-players write well, a few, a very select few, have sufficient vocal skills to be good commentators. But the majority are mundane, idiots of the first order, with limited vocabularies, malaprops and generally prone to think that screaming out loud and displaying the behaviour of a baby in a basinet is the best way to commentate.

As a result, good players often earn the ire of the public and lose whatever goodwill they accumulated during their playing days. Take the case of Joel Stransky, fly-half in the victorious South African team of 1995. Before he became a commentator, Stransky was known as the man who won the Springboks their first Webb Ellis Trophy through a drop-goal in extra-time. But now he is known as an incompetent, biased commentator, who has an incredibly poor knowledge of English, is unable to speak three sentences without tripping over his tongue, and one who is close to the head of the queue vying for the title of Mr Malaprop.

Stransky also seems unaware that the job of an expert commentator is to provide something extra, something over and above what the commentator says, some analysis of what is going on on the field. He merely parrots what the commentator says and often leaves his sentences incomplete.

But it is not only the ex-players who lack any competence in the art of commentary. There is one Sean Maloney who is part of the commentary team for the ongoing Rugby World Cup who often does not know the names of players on teams in a match where he is the commentator. The other day, he said, “the ball goes to the number 15 from Tonga…” completely forgetting that this gentleman has a name. Remembering names and faces is one of the basics for commentators so how Malone got a gig is puzzling.

The television and radio networks that appoint incompetents to this job benefit too. For one, the people who are appointed are aware that they have received a favour and thus avoid criticising the network or the organisers. Ex-players try to promote their own favourites. A commentator is meant to function as a journalist, but the current crop act as toadies.

They may have learned to do from the case of Murray Mexted. The former All Black, who was an expert commentator on Fox Sports some years ago, was suddenly thrown out. All it took for Mexted to be punted was some mild criticism of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, the organisation that runs the game in that country. NZRFU complained to Fox, and Mexted was shown the door. But Mexted was good at his job and what he did was the right thing; someone who is in a position that demands he/she function as a journalist should have no fear about criticising something that deserves to be criticised.

There are a few Australians, too, who have no business being on the commentary panel. Phil Kearns, Drew Mitchell and George Gregan were all good players in their time. But they are totally out of their depth when it comes to providing something incisive. They haul out all the old cliches and repeat them ad infinitum.

And this is supposed be the World Cup! When will Fox Sports ensure that professional commentators take over and do a decent job? Grant Nisbett, one of the better commentators and a man who has some 300 Tests under his belt, is nowhere to be seen. But then perhaps that’s because he’s a pro who does what a commentator should.

,

Krebs on SecurityGerman Cops Raid “Cyberbunker 2.0,” Arrest 7 in Child Porn, Dark Web Market Sting

German authorities said Friday they’d arrested seven people and were investigating six more in connection with the raid of a Dark Web hosting operation that allegedly supported multiple child porn, cybercrime and drug markets with hundreds of servers buried inside a heavily fortified military bunker. Incredibly, for at least two of the men accused in the scheme, this was their second bunker-based hosting business that was raided by cops and shut down for courting and supporting illegal activity online.

The latest busted cybercrime bunker is in Traben-Trarbach, a town on the Mosel River in western Germany. The Associated Press says investigators believe the 13-acre former military facility — dubbed the “CyberBunker” by its owners and occupants — served a number of dark web sites, including: the “Wall Street Market,” a sprawling, online bazaar for drugs, hacking tools and financial-theft wares before it was taken down earlier this year; the drug portal “Cannabis Road;” and the synthetic drug market “Orange Chemicals.”

German police reportedly seized $41 million worth of funds allegedly tied to these markets, and more than 200 servers that were operating throughout the underground temperature-controlled, ventilated and closely guarded facility.

The former military bunker in Germany that housed CyberBunker 2.0 and, according to authorities, plenty of very bad web sites.

The authorities in Germany haven’t named any of the people arrested or under investigation in connection with CyberBunker’s alleged activities, but said those arrested were apprehended outside of the bunker. Still, there are clues in the details released so far, and those clues have been corroborated by sources who know two of the key men allegedly involved.

We know the owner of the bunker hosting business has been described in media reports as a 59-year-old Dutchman who allegedly set it up as a “bulletproof” hosting provider that would provide Web site hosting to any business, no matter how illegal or unsavory.

We also know the German authorities seized at least two Web site domains in the raid, including the domain for ZYZTM Research in The Netherlands (zyztm[.]com), and cb3rob[.]org.

A “seizure” placeholder page left behind by German law enforcement agents after they seized cb3rob.org, an affiliate of the the CyberBunker bulletproof hosting facility owned by convicted Dutch cybercriminal Sven Kamphuis.

According to historic whois records maintained by Domaintools.com, Zyztm[.]com was originally registered to a Herman Johan Xennt in the Netherlands. Cb3rob[.]org was an organization hosted at CyberBunker registered to Sven Kamphuis, a self-described anarchist who was convicted several years ago for participating in a large-scale attack that briefly impaired the global Internet in some places.

Both 59-year-old Xennt and Mr. Kamphuis worked together on a previous bunker-based project — a bulletproof hosting business they sold as CyberBunker and ran out of a five-story military bunker in The Netherlands.

That’s according to Guido Blaauw, director of Disaster-Proof Solutions, a company that renovates and resells old military bunkers and underground shelters. Blaauw’s company bought the 1,800 square-meter Netherlands bunker from Mr. Xennt in 2011 for $700,000.

Guido Blaauw, in front of the original CyberBunker facility in the Netherlands, which he bought from Mr. Xennt in 2011. Image: Blaauw.

Media reports indicate that in 2002 a fire inside the CyberBunker 1.0 facility in The Netherlands summoned emergency responders, who discovered a lab hidden inside the bunker that was being used to produce the drug ecstasy/XTC.

Blaauw said nobody was ever charged for the drug lab, which was blamed on another tenant in the building. Blauuw said Xennt and others in 2003 were then denied a business license to continue operating in the bunker, and they were forced to resell servers from a different location — even though they bragged to clients for years to come about hosting their operations from an ultra-secure underground bunker.

“After the fire in 2002, there was never any data or servers stored in the bunker,” in The Netherlands, Blaauw recalled. “For 11 years they told everyone [the hosting servers where] in this ultra-secure bunker, but it was all in Amsterdam, and for 11 years they scammed all their clients.”

Firefighters investigating the source of a 2002 fire at the CyberBunker’s first military bunker in The Netherlands discovered a drug lab amid the Web servers. Image: Blaauw.

Blaauw said sometime between 2012 and 2013, Xennt purchased the bunker in Traben-Trarbach, Germany — a much more modern structure that was built in 1997. CyberBunker was reborn, and it began offering many of the same amenities and courted the same customers as CyberBunker 1.0 in The Netherlands.

“They’re known for hosting scammers, fraudsters, pedophiles, phishers, everyone,” Blaauw said. “That’s something they’ve done for ages and they’re known for it.”

The former Facebook profile picture of Sven Olaf Kamphuis, shown here standing in front of Cyberbunker 1.0 in The Netherlands.

About the time Xennt and company were settling into their new bunker in Germany, he and Kamphuis were engaged in a fairly lengthy and large series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks aimed at sidelining a number of Web sites — particularly anti-spam organization Spamhaus. A chat record of that assault, detailed in my 2016 piece, Inside the Attack that Almost Broke the Internet, includes references to and quotes from both Xennt and Kamphuis.

Kamphuis was later arrested in Spain on the DDoS attack charges. He was convicted in The Netherlands and sentenced to time served, which was approximately 55 days of detention prior to his extradition to the United States.

Some of the 200 servers seized from CyberBunker 2.0, a “bulletproof” web hosting facility buried inside a German military bunker. Image: swr.de.

The AP story mentioned above quoted German prosecutor Juergen Bauer saying the 59-year-old main suspect in the case was believed to have links to organized crime.

A 2015 expose’ (PDF) by the Irish newspaper The Sunday World compared Mr. Xennt (pictured below) to a villain from a James Bond movie, and said he has been seen frequently associating with another man: an Irish mobster named George “the Penguin” Mitchell, listed by Europol as one of the top-20 drug traffickers in Europe and thought to be involved in smuggling heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.

Cyberbunkers 1.0 and 2.0 owner and operator Mr. Xennt, top left, has been compared to a “Bond villain.” Image: The Sunday World, July 26, 2015.

Blaauw said he doesn’t know whether Kamphuis was arrested or named in the investigation, but added that people who know him and can usually reach him have not heard from Kamphuis over several days.

Here’s what the CyberBunker in The Netherlands looked like back in the early aughts when Xennt still ran it:

Here’s what it looks like now after being renovated by Blaauw’s company and designed as a security operations center (SOC):

The former CyberBunker in the Netherlands, since redesigned as a security operations center by its current owner. Image: Blaauw.

I’m glad when truly bad guys doing bad stuff like facilitating child porn are taken down. The truth is, almost anyone trafficking in the kinds of commerce these guys courted also is building networks of money laundering business that become very tempting to use or lease out for other nefarious purposes, including human trafficking, and drug trafficking.

Harald WelteSometimes software development is a struggle

I'm currently working on the firmware for a new project, an 8-slot smart card reader. I will share more about the architecture and design ideas behind this project soon, but today I'll simply write about how hard it sometimes is to actually get software development done. Seemingly trivial things suddenly take ages. I guess everyone writing code knows this, but today I felt like I had to share this story.

Chapter 1 - Introduction

As I'm quite convinced of test-driven development these days, I don't want to simply write firmware code that can only execute in the target, but I'm actually working on a USB CCID (USb Class for Smart Card readers) stack which is hardware-independent, and which can also run entirely in userspace on a Linux device with USB gadget (device) controller. This way it's much easier to instrument, trace, introspect and test the code base, and tests with actual target board hardware are limited to those functions provided by the board.

So the current architecture for development of the CCID implementation looks like this:

  • Implement the USB CCID device using FunctionFS (I did this some months ago, and in fact developing this was a similarly much more time consuming task than expected, maybe I find time to expand on that)
  • Attach this USB gadget to a virtual USB bus + host controller using the Linux kernel dummy_hcd module
  • Talk to a dumb phoenix style serial SIM card reader attached to a USB UART, which is connected to an actual SIM card (or any smart card, for that matter)

By using a "stupid" UART based smart card reader, I am very close to the target environment on a Cortex-M microcntroller, where I also have to talk to a UART and hence implement all the beauty of ISO 7816-3. Hence, the test / mock / development environment is as close as possible to the target environment.

So I implemented the various bits and pieces and ended up at a point where I wanted to test. And I'm not getting any response from the UART / SIM card at all. I check all my code, add lots of debugging, play around with various RTS / DTR / ... handshake settings (which sometimes control power) - no avail.

In the end, after many hours of trial + error I actually inserted a different SIM card and finally, I got an ATR from the card. In more than 20 years of working with smart cards and SIM cards, this is the first time I've actually seen a SIM card die in front of me, with no response whatsoever from the card.

Chapter 2 - Linux is broken

Anyway, the next step was to get the T=0 protocol of ISO 7816-3 going. Since there is only one I/O line between SIM card and reader for both directions, the protocol is a half-duplex protocol. This is unlike "normal" RS232-style UART communication, where you have a separate Rx and Tx line.

On the hardware side, this is most often implemented by simply connecting both the Rx and Tx line of the UART to the SIM I/O pin. This in turn means that you're always getting an echo back for every byte you write.

One could discard such bytes, but then I'm targeting a microcontroller, which should be running eight cards in parallel, at preferably baud-rates up to ~1 megabit speeds, so having to read and discard all those bytes seems like a big waste of resources.

The obvious solution around that is to disable the receiver inside the UART before you start transmitting, and re-enable it after you're done transmitting. This is typically done rather easily, as most UART registers in hardware provide some way to selectively enable transmitter and/or receiver independently.

But since I'm working in Linux userspace in my development environment: How do I approximate this kind of behavior? At least the older readers of this blog will remember something called the CREAD flag of termios. Clearing that flag will disable the receiver. Back in the 1990ies, I did tons of work with serial ports, and I remembered there was such a flag.

So I implement my userspace UART backend and somehow it simply doesn't want to work. Again of course I assume I must be doing something wrong. I'm using strace, I'm single-stepping through code - no avail.

In the end, it turns out that I've just found a bug in the Linux kernel, one that appears to be there at least ever since the git history of linux-2.6.git started. Almost all USB serial device drivers do not implement CREAD, and there is no sotware fall-back implemented in the core serial (or usb-serial) handling that would discard any received bytes inside the kernel if CREAD is cleared. Interestingly, the non-USB serial drivers for classic UARTs attached to local bus, PCI, ... seem to support it.

The problem would be half as much of a problem if the syscall to clear CREAD would actually fail with an error. But no, it simply returns success but bytes continue to be received from the UART/tty :/

So that's the second big surprise of this weekend...

Chapter 3 - Again a broken card?

So I settle for implementing the 'receive as many characters as you wrote' work-around. Once that is done, I continue to test the code. And what happens? Somehow my state machine (implemented using osmo-fsm, of course) for reading the ATR (code found here) somehow never wants to complete. The last byte of the ATR always is missing. How can that be?

Well, guess what, the second SIM card I used is sending a broken, non-spec compliant ATR where the header indicates 9 historical bytes are present, but then in reality only 8 bytes are sent by the card.

Of course every reader has a timeout at that point, but that timeout was not yet implemented in my code, and I also wasn't expecting to hit that timeout.

So after using yet another SIM card (now a sysmoUSIM-SJS1, not sure why I didn't even start with that one), it suddenly works.

After a weekend of detours, each of which I would not have assumed at all before, I finally have code that can obtain the ATR and exchange T=0 TPDUs with cards. Of course I could have had that very easily if I wanted (we do have code in pySim for this, e.g.) but not in the architecture that is as close as it gets to the firmware environment of the microcontroller of my target board.

Planet DebianSteinar H. Gunderson: All Unicode characters

I made this during the Unicode 5.2.0 days; now it's time for an upgrade:

grep -viE 'LEFT-TO-RIGHT|RIGHT-TO-LEFT|SURROGATE|;Cc;' UnicodeData.txt | perl -U -e 'binmode STDOUT, ":utf8"; while (<>) { my ($u, $name, undef, undef, undef, undef, undef, undef, undef, undef, $alias) = split /;/; printf "%c\tU+%s\t%s\t%s\n", oct("0x$u"), $u, $name, $alias; } ' > /srv/storage.sesse.net/unicode.txt

Result at http://storage.sesse.net/unicode.txt. It doesn't include all the CJK ideographs, but apart from that, it should be fairly complete.

,

CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Did Super-Intelligent Giant Squid Steal an Underwater Research Station?

There's no proof they did, but there's no proof they didn't.

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

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Planet DebianJoey Hess: turing complete version numbers

A quick standard for when you want to embed an arbitrary program in the version number of your program.

2   increment the data pointer (to point to the next cell to the right).
3   decrement the data pointer (to point to the next cell to the left).
+   increment (increase by one) the byte at the data pointer.
-   decrement (decrease by one) the byte at the data pointer.
.   output the byte at the data pointer.
4   accept one byte of input, storing its value in the byte at the data pointer.
6   if the byte at the data pointer is zero, then instead of moving the instruction pointer forward to the next command, jump it forward to the command after the matching 9 command.
9   if the byte at the data pointer is nonzero, then instead of moving the instruction pointer forward to the next command, jump it back to the command after the matching 6 command. 

This is simply Brainfuck with operators that are legal in (Debian) version numbers kept as-is, and some numbers replacing the rest.

Note that all other operators are ignored as usual. In particular, 1 and 8 are ignored, which make it easy to build version number programs that compare properly with past versions. And in some cases, adding 1 or 8 will be needed to make a particular program be a properly formatted version number.

For example, an infinite loop version number is:

1+69

A nice short hello world is:

1+6-6336+6-8-1-29-6333999222-92-1.1-1-1-8.2.8.2.3333-1.3+1.22222.2.33.3-1.1

Licensing: Yes, there should also be a way to embed a license in a version ... Oh, I mean to say, the Wikipedia excerpt above is CC-BY-SA, and the hello world is based on https://esolangs.org/wiki/Hello_world_program_in_esoteric_languages

Previously: a brainfuck monad

Sociological ImagesWhat Makes a Mashup Work?

From music to movies and restaurants, genres are a core part of popular culture. The rules we use to classify different scenes and styles help to shape our tastes and our social identities, and so we often see people sticking to clear boundaries between what they like and what they don’t like (for example: “I’ll listen to anything but metal.”). 

But bending the rules of genre can be the quickest way to shake up expectations. Mashups were huge a few years ago. This past summer we saw “Old Town Road” push boundaries in the country music world on its way to becoming a mega-hit. Zeal & Ardor’s mix of black metal and gospel, country blues, and funk is breaking new ground in heavier music.

Blending genres can also backfire. A new fusion concept could be a hit, or it could just be confusing. Sociological research on Netflix ratings and Yelp reviews finds that people with a high preference for variety, who like to consume many different things, are not necessarily interested in atypical work that blends genres in a new or strange way.

One of the more interesting recent examples is this new gameshow concept from Hillsong—a media channel tied to the charismatic megachurch organization:

What is this show? Is it preaching? Is it a game show? Do millennials even watch prime time game shows? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll hate-watch The Masked Singer every once in a while, but the mix seems a little out of place here. Gerardo Martí makes a good point in the tweet above. This show may be a way to repackage religious messaging in a new style. Given what we know about cultural consumption, however, I wonder if this is just too risky to pull anyone in.

It is easy to chase atypicality today, both for media organizations and religious groups trying to retain a younger viewership and find the next big thing. For all the pressure to innovate, this trailer for SOUTHPAW shows us just how much we still rely on genre rules to figure out what to consume.

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

(View original at https://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Cory DoctorowShort documentary on the quest to re-decentralize the internet

I sat down for an interview for Reason’s short feature, The Decentralized Web Is Coming, which documents the surging Decentralized Web movement, whose goal is to restore the internet’s early, decentralized era, before it turned into five giant services filled with screenshots from the other four.

Planet DebianMatthew Garrett: Do we need to rethink what free software is?

Licensing has always been a fundamental tool in achieving free software's goals, with copyleft licenses deliberately taking advantage of copyright to ensure that all further recipients of software are in a position to exercise free software's four essential freedoms. Recently we've seen people raising two very different concerns around existing licenses and proposing new types of license as remedies, and while both are (at present) incompatible with our existing concepts of what free software is, they both raise genuine issues that the community should seriously consider.

The first is the rise in licenses that attempt to restrict business models based around providing software as a service. If users can pay Amazon to provide a hosted version of a piece of software, there's little incentive for them to pay the authors of that software. This has led to various projects adopting license terms such as the Commons Clause that effectively make it nonviable to provide such a service, forcing providers to pay for a commercial use license instead.

In general the entities pushing for these licenses are VC backed companies[1] who are themselves benefiting from free software written by volunteers that they give nothing back to, so I have very little sympathy. But it does raise a larger issue - how do we ensure that production of free software isn't just a mechanism for the transformation of unpaid labour into corporate profit? I'm fortunate enough to be paid to write free software, but many projects of immense infrastructural importance are simultaneously fundamental to multiple business models and also chronically underfunded. In an era where people are becoming increasingly vocal about wealth and power disparity, this obvious unfairness will result in people attempting to find mechanisms to impose some degree of balance - and given the degree to which copyleft licenses prevented certain abuses of the commons, it's likely that people will attempt to do so using licenses.

At the same time, people are spending more time considering some of the other ethical outcomes of free software. Copyleft ensures that you can share your code with your neighbour without your neighbour being able to deny the same freedom to others, but it does nothing to prevent your neighbour using your code to deny other fundamental, non-software, freedoms. As governments make more and more use of technology to perform acts of mass surveillance, detention, and even genocide, software authors may feel legitimately appalled at the idea that they are helping enable this by allowing their software to be used for any purpose. The JSON license includes a requirement that "The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil", but the lack of any meaningful clarity around what "Good" and "Evil" actually mean makes it hard to determine whether it achieved its aims.

The definition of free software includes the assertion that it must be possible to use the software for any purpose. But if it is possible to use software in such a way that others lose their freedom to exercise those rights, is this really the standard we should be holding? Again, it's unsurprising that people will attempt to solve this problem through licensing, even if in doing so they no longer meet the current definition of free software.

I don't have solutions for these problems, and I don't know for sure that it's possible to solve them without causing more harm than good in the process. But in the absence of these issues being discussed within the free software community, we risk free software being splintered - on one side, with companies imposing increasingly draconian licensing terms in an attempt to prop up their business models, and on the other side, with people deciding that protecting people's freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is more important than protecting their freedom to use software to deny those freedoms to others.

As stewards of the free software definition, the Free Software Foundation should be taking the lead in ensuring that these issues are discussed. The priority of the board right now should be to restructure itself to ensure that it can legitimately claim to represent the community and play the leadership role it's been failing to in recent years, otherwise the opportunity will be lost and much of the activist energy that underpins free software will be spent elsewhere.

If free software is going to maintain relevance, it needs to continue to explain how it interacts with contemporary social issues. If any organisation is going to claim to lead the community, it needs to be doing that.

[1] Plus one VC firm itself - Bain Capital, an investment firm notorious for investing in companies, extracting as much value as possible and then allowing the companies to go bankrupt

comment count unavailable comments

CryptogramSuperhero Movies and Security Lessons

A paper I co-wrote was just published in Security Journal: "Superheroes on screen: real life lessons for security debates":

Abstract: Superhero films and episodic shows have existed since the early days of those media, but since 9/11, they have become one of the most popular and most lucrative forms of popular culture. These fantastic tales are not simple amusements but nuanced explorations of fundamental security questions. Their treatment of social issues of power, security and control are here interrogated using the Film Studies approach of close reading to showcase this relevance to the real-life considerations of the legitimacy of security approaches. By scrutinizing three specific pieces -- Daredevil Season 2, Captain America: Civil War, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice -- superhero tales are framed (by the authors) as narratives which significantly influence the general public's understanding of security, often encouraging them to view expansive power critically­to luxuriate within omnipotence while also recognizing the possibility as well as the need for limits, be they ethical or legal.

This was my first collaboration with Fareed Ben-Youssef, a film studies scholar. (And with Andrew Adams and Kiyoshi Murata.) It was fun to think about and write.

Krebs on SecurityMyPayrollHR CEO Arrested, Admits to $70M Fraud

Earlier this month, employees at more than 1,000 companies saw one or two paycheck’s worth of funds deducted from their bank accounts after the CEO of their cloud payroll provider absconded with $35 million in payroll and tax deposits from customers. On Monday, the CEO was arrested and allegedly confessed that the diversion was the last desperate gasp of a financial shell game that earned him $70 million over several years.

Michael T. Mann, the 49-year-old CEO of Clifton Park, NY-based MyPayrollHR, was arrested this week and charged with bank fraud. In court filings, FBI investigators said Mann admitted under questioning that in early September — on the eve of a big payroll day — he diverted to his own bank account some $35 million in funds sent by his clients to cover their employee payroll deposits and tax withholdings.

After that stunt, two different banks that work with Mann’s various companies froze those corporate accounts to keep the funds from being moved or withdrawn. That action set off a chain of events that led another financial institution that helps MyPayrollHR process payments to briefly pull almost $26 million out of checking accounts belonging to employees at more than 1,000 companies that use MyPayrollHR.

At the same time, MyPayrollHR sent a message (see screenshot above) to clients saying it was shutting down and that customers should find alternative methods for paying employees and for processing payroll going forward.

In the criminal complaint against Mann (PDF), a New York FBI agent said the CEO admitted that starting in 2010 or 2011 he began borrowing large sums of money from banks and financing companies under false pretenses.

“While stating that MyPayroll was legitimate, he admitted to creating other companies that had no purpose other than to be used in the fraud; fraudulently representing to banks and financing companies that his fake businesses had certain receivables that they did not have; and obtaining loans and lines of credit by borrowing against these non-existent receivables.”

“Mann estimated that he fraudulently obtained about $70 million that he has not paid back. He claimed that he committed the fraud in response to business and financial pressures, and that he used almost all of the fraudulently obtained funds to sustain certain businesses, and purchase and start new ones. He also admitted to kiting checks between Bank of America and Pioneer [Savings Bank], as part of the fraudulent scheme.”

Check-kiting is the illegal act of writing a check from a bank account without sufficient funds and depositing it into another bank account, explains MagnifyMoney.com. “Then, you withdraw the money from that second account before the original check has been cleared.”

Kiting also is known as taking advantage of the “float,” which is the amount of time between when an individual submits a check as payment and when the individual’s bank is instructed to move the funds from the account.

Magnify Money explains more:

“Say, for example, that you write yourself a check for $500 from checking account A, and deposit that check into checking account B — but the balance in checking account A is only $75. Then, you promptly withdraw the $500 from checking account B. This is check-kiting, a form of check fraud that uses non-existent funds in a checking account or other type of bank account. Some check-kiting schemes use multiple accounts at a single bank, and more complicated schemes involve multiple financial institutions.”

“In a more complex scenario, a person could open checking accounts at bank A and bank B, at first depositing $500 into bank A and nothing in bank B. Then, they could write a check for $10,000 with account A and deposit it into account B. Bank B immediately credits the account, and in the time it might take for bank B to clear the check (generally about three business days), the scammer writes a $10,000 check with bank B, which gets deposited into bank A to cover the first check. This could keep going, with someone writing checks between banks where there’s no actual funds, yet the bank believes the money is real and continues to credit the accounts.”

The government alleges Mann was kiting millions of dollars in checks between his accounts at Bank of American and Pioneer from Aug. 1, 2019 to Aug. 30, 2019.

For more than a decade, MyPayrollHR worked with California-based Cachet Financial Services to process payroll deposits for MyPayrollHR client employees. Every other week, MyPayrollHR’s customers would deposit their payroll funds into a holding account run by Cachet, which would then disburse the payments into MyPayrollHR client employee bank accounts.

But when Mann diverted $26 million in client payroll deposits from Cachet to his account at Pioneer Bank, Cachet’s emptied holding account was debited for the payroll payments. Cachet quickly reversed those deposits, causing one or two pay periods worth of salary to be deducted from bank accounts for employees of companies that used MyPayrollHR.

That action caused so much uproar from affected companies and their employees that Cachet ultimately decided to cancel all of those reversals and absorb that $26 million hit, which it is now trying to recover through the courts.

According to prosecutors in New York, Pioneer was Mann’s largest creditor.

“Mann stated that the payroll issue was precipitated by his decision to route MyPayroll’s clients’ payroll payments to an account at Pioneer instead of directly to Cachet,” wrote FBI Special Agent Matthew J. Wabby. “He did this in order to temporarily reduce the amount of money he owed to Pioneer. When Pioneer froze Mann’s accounts, it’s also (inadvertently) stopped movement of MyPayroll’s clients’ payroll payments to Cachet.”

Approximately $9 million of the $35 million diverted by Mann was supposed to go to accounts at the National Payment Corporation (NatPay) — the Florida-based firm which handles tax withholdings for MyPayrollHR clients. NatPay said its insurance should help cover the losses it incurred when MyPayrollHR’s banks froze the company’s accounts.

Court records indicate Mann hasn’t yet entered a plea, but that he was ordered to be released today under a $200,000 bond secured by a family home and two vehicles. His passport also was seized.

LongNowThe Art of World-Building in Science Fiction

The process of world-building in science fiction isn’t just about coming to grips with the consequences of your narrative arc and making it believable. It’s also about imagining a better world.

Stanford anthropologist James Holland Jones spoke about “The Science of Climate Fiction: Can Stories Lead to Social Action?” in 02019 at The Interval. Watch his talk in full here.

Worse Than FailureError'd: Modern Customer Support

"It's interesting to consider that First Great Western's train personnel track on-time but meanwhile, their seats measure uptime," writes Roger G.

 

Peter G. writes, "At $214.90 for two years I was perfectly happy, but this latest price increase? You've simply gone TOO FAR and I will be cancelling ASAP!"

 

"SharePoint does a lot of normal things, but in the case of this upgrade, it truly went above and beyond," Adam S. wrote.

 

"Sure, I guess you can email a question, but just don't get your hopes up for a reply," writes Samuel N.

 

Al H. writes, "When I signed up for a trial evaluation of Toad and got an e-mail with the activation license key, this was not quite what I was expecting."

 

"The cover story, in case anybody starts asking too many questions, is that Dustin is the name of the male squirrel outside the window. He and Sylvia the squirrel are married. Nobody was testing in Production," writes Sam P.

 

[Advertisement] Utilize BuildMaster to release your software with confidence, at the pace your business demands. Download today!

,

Cory DoctorowCome see me in Portland, Maine next Monday with James Patrick Kelly

I’m coming to Maine to keynote the Maine Library Association conference in Newry next Monday; later that day, I’m appearing with James Patrick Kelly at the Portland, Maine Main Library, from 6:30PM-8PM (it’s free and open to the public) This is the first time I’ve been to Maine, and I can’t wait!

CryptogramOn Chinese "Spy Trains"

The trade war with China has reached a new industry: subway cars. Congress is considering legislation that would prevent the world's largest train maker, the Chinese-owned CRRC Corporation, from competing on new contracts in the United States.

Part of the reasoning behind this legislation is economic, and stems from worries about Chinese industries undercutting the competition and dominating key global industries. But another part involves fears about national security. News articles talk about "spy trains," and the possibility that the train cars might surreptitiously monitor their passengers' faces, movements, conversations or phone calls.

This is a complicated topic. There is definitely a national security risk in buying computer infrastructure from a country you don't trust. That's why there is so much worry about Chinese-made equipment for the new 5G wireless networks.

It's also why the United States has blocked the cybersecurity company Kaspersky from selling its Russian-made antivirus products to US government agencies. Meanwhile, the chairman of China's technology giant Huawei has pointed to NSA spying disclosed by Edward Snowden as a reason to mistrust US technology companies.

The reason these threats are so real is that it's not difficult to hide surveillance or control infrastructure in computer components, and if they're not turned on, they're very difficult to find.

Like every other piece of modern machinery, modern train cars are filled with computers, and while it's certainly possible to produce a subway car with enough surveillance apparatus to turn it into a "spy train," in practice it doesn't make much sense. The risk of discovery is too great, and the payoff would be too low. Like the United States, China is more likely to try to get data from the US communications infrastructure, or from the large Internet companies that already collect data on our every move as part of their business model.

While it's unlikely that China would bother spying on commuters using subway cars, it would be much less surprising if a tech company offered free Internet on subways in exchange for surveillance and data collection. Or if the NSA used those corporate systems for their own surveillance purposes (just as the agency has spied on in-flight cell phone calls, according to an investigation by the Intercept and Le Monde, citing documents provided by Edward Snowden). That's an easier, and more fruitful, attack path.

We have credible reports that the Chinese hacked Gmail around 2010, and there are ongoing concerns about both censorship and surveillance by the Chinese social-networking company TikTok. (TikTok's parent company has told the Washington Post that the app doesn't send American users' info back to Beijing, and that the Chinese government does not influence the app's use in the United States.)

Even so, these examples illustrate an important point: there's no escaping the technology of inevitable surveillance. You have little choice but to rely on the companies that build your computers and write your software, whether in your smartphones, your 5G wireless infrastructure, or your subway cars. And those systems are so complicated that they can be secretly programmed to operate against your interests.

Last year, Le Monde reported that the Chinese government bugged the computer network of the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa. China had built and outfitted the organization's new headquarters as a foreign aid gift, reportedly secretly configuring the network to send copies of confidential data to Shanghai every night between 2012 and 2017. China denied having done so, of course.

If there's any lesson from all of this, it's that everybody spies using the Internet. The United States does it. Our allies do it. Our enemies do it. Many countries do it to each other, with their success largely dependent on how sophisticated their tech industries are.

China dominates the subway car manufacturing industry because of its low prices­ -- the same reason it dominates the 5G hardware industry. Whether these low prices are because the companies are more efficient than their competitors or because they're being unfairly subsidized by the Chinese government is a matter to be determined at trade negotiations.

Finally, Americans must understand that higher prices are an inevitable result of banning cheaper tech products from China.

We might willingly pay the higher prices because we want domestic control of our telecommunications infrastructure. We might willingly pay more because of some protectionist belief that global trade is somehow bad. But we need to make these decisions to protect ourselves deliberately and rationally, recognizing both the risks and the costs. And while I'm worried about our 5G infrastructure built using Chinese hardware, I'm not worried about our subway cars.

This essay originally appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD: I had a lot of trouble with CNN's legal department with this essay. They were very reluctant to call out the US and its allies for similar behavior, and spent a lot more time adding caveats to statements that I didn't think needed them. They wouldn't let me link to this Intercept article talking about US, French, and German infiltration of supply chains, or even the NSA document from the Snowden archives that proved the statements.

Planet DebianThomas Lange: Read-only nfsroot with NFS v4 and overlayfs

The Fully Automatic Installation (FAI) is using a read-only nfsroot since it's very beginning. This is also used in diskless clients enviroments and in the LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project).

During a network installation the clients are running as diskless clients, so the installation has full access to the local hard disk which is not in use. But we need some files to be writable on the read-only nfsroot. In the past we've created symlinks to a ram disk. Later we used aufs (another union fs), a kernel module for doing union mounts of several file systems. Putting a ram disk on top of the read-only nfsroot with aufs makes the nfsroot writable. But aufs was not available in kernel 4.X any more. It was replaced by overlayfs.

The initrd of FAI mounts the nfsroot read only and then puts a tmpfs ram disk on top of it using overlayfs. The result is a new merged file system which is writable. This works nicely since several years when using NFSv3. But when using NFSv4 we can read from a file, but writing always reported

openat(AT_FDCWD,....) = -1 EOPNOTSUPP (Operation not supported)

After some days of debugging overlayfs and NFS v4, I found that it's a complicated mixture of NFS and acl support (POSIX and nfs4 acl) and what overlayfs expects from the file systems in respect to certain xattr. Overlayfs uses calls like

setxattr(work/work, "trusted.overlay.opaque", "0", 1, 0x0) = 0

and writing to a file used

getxattr("/b/lower/etc/test1", "system.nfs4_acl", ....) = 80

without any errors. When talking to some overlayfs guys they ask me to disable acl for the exported NFS file system. There's an noacl option listed on nfs(5), but it's for NFS version 2 and 3 only, not for NFS v4. You cannot disable ACL on a NFS v4 mount.

In the end the solution was to disable ACL on the whole file system on the NFS server, which is exported to the clients. If you have a ext4 file system this works on the NFS server by doing

# mount -oremount,noacl $EXPORTED_FS

After that, overlayfs will detect that ACL's are not support on the NFS mount and behaves as expected allowing writes to a file.

You will need to use dracut instead of initramfs-tools for creating the initrd. The later is using busybox or klibc tools inside the initrd. Both do not support NFS v4 mounts (https://bugs.debian.org/409271).

Dracut is using the normal libc based executables. The Debian package of dracut supports the kernel cmdline option rootovl. This is an example of the kernel cmdline options:

rootovl ip=dhcp root=11.22.33.44:/srv/fai/nfsroot

This mounts a read only nfsroot and puts a tmpfs on top for making it writable.

NFSv4 nfsroot

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Trim Off a Few Miles

I don’t know the length of Russell F’s commute. Presumably, the distance is measured in miles. Miles and miles. I say that, because of this block, which is written… with care.

  string Miles_w_Care = InvItem.MilesGuaranteeFlag == true && InvItem.Miles_w_Care.HasValue ? (((int)InvItem.Miles_w_Care / 1000).ToString().Length > 2 ? ((int)InvItem.Miles_w_Care / 1000).ToString().Trim().Substring(0, 2) : ((int)InvItem.Miles_w_Care / 1000).ToString().Trim()) : "  ";
  string Miles_wo_Care = InvItem.MilesGuaranteeFlag == true && InvItem.Miles_wo_Care.HasValue ? (((int)InvItem.Miles_wo_Care / 1000).ToString().Length > 2 ? ((int)InvItem.Miles_wo_Care / 1000).ToString().Trim().Substring(0, 2) : ((int)InvItem.Miles_wo_Care / 1000).ToString().Trim()) : "  ";

Two lines, so many nested ternaries. Need to round off to the nearest thousand? Just divide and then ToString the result, selecting the substring as needed. Be sure to Trim the string which couldn’t possibly contain whitespace, you never know.

Ironically, the only expression in this block which isn’t a WTF is InvItem.MilesGuaranteeFlag == true, because while we’re comparing against true, MilesGuaranteeFlag is a Nullable<bool>, so this confirms that it has a value and that the value is true.

So many miles.

And I would write five hundred lines
and I would write five hundred more
just to be the man who wrote a thousand lines
Uncaught Exception at line 24

[Advertisement] ProGet can centralize your organization's software applications and components to provide uniform access to developers and servers. Check it out!

Krebs on SecurityInterview With the Guy Who Tried to Frame Me for Heroin Possession

In April 2013, I received via U.S. mail more than a gram of pure heroin as part of a scheme to get me arrested for drug possession. But the plan failed and the Ukrainian mastermind behind it soon after was imprisoned for unrelated cybercrime offenses. That individual recently gave his first interview since finishing his jail time here in the states, and he’s shared some select (if often abrasive and coarse) details on how he got into cybercrime and why. Below are a few translated excerpts.

When I first encountered now-31-year-old Sergei “Fly,” “Flycracker,” “MUXACC” Vovnenko in 2013, he was the administrator of the fraud forum “thecc[dot]bz,” an exclusive and closely guarded Russian language board dedicated to financial fraud and identity theft.

Many of the heavy-hitters from other fraud forums had a presence on Fly’s forum, and collectively the group financed and ran a soup-to-nuts network for turning hacked credit card data into mounds of cash.

Vovnenko first came onto my radar after his alter ego Fly published a blog entry that led with an image of my bloodied, severed head and included my credit report, copies of identification documents, pictures of our front door, information about family members, and so on. Fly had invited all of his cybercriminal friends to ruin my financial identity and that of my family.

Somewhat curious about what might have precipitated this outburst, I was secretly given access to Fly’s cybercrime forum and learned he’d freshly hatched a plot to have heroin sent to my home. The plan was to have one of his forum lackeys spoof a call from one of my neighbors to the police when the drugs arrived, complaining that drugs were being delivered to our house and being sold out of our home by Yours Truly.

Thankfully, someone on Fly’s forum also posted a link to the tracking number for the drug shipment. Before the smack arrived, I had a police officer come out and take a report. After the heroin showed up, I gave the drugs to the local police and wrote about the experience in Mail From the Velvet Cybercrime Underground.

Angry that I’d foiled the plan to have me arrested for being a smack dealer, Fly or someone on his forum had a local florist send a gaudy floral arrangement in the shape of a giant cross to my home, complete with a menacing message that addressed my wife and was signed, “Velvet Crabs.”

The floral arrangement that Fly or one of his forum lackeys had delivered to my home in Virginia.

Vovnenko was arrested in Italy in the summer of 2014 on identity theft and botnet charges, and spent some 15 months in arguably Italy’s worst prison contesting his extradition to the United States. Those efforts failed, and he soon pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft and wire fraud, and spent several years bouncing around America’s prison system.

Although Vovnenko sent me a total of three letters from prison in Naples (a hand-written apology letter and two friendly postcards), he never responded to my requests to meet him following his trial and conviction on cybercrime charges in the United States. I suppose that is fair: To my everlasting dismay, I never responded to his Italian dispatches (the first I asked to be professionally analyzed and translated before I would touch it).

Seasons greetings from my pen pal, Flycracker.

After serving his 41 month sentence in the U.S., Vovnenko was deported, although it’s unclear where he currently resides (the interview excerpted here suggests he’s back in Italy, but Fly doesn’t exactly confirm that). 

In an interview published on the Russian-language security blog Krober.biz, Vovnenko said he began stealing early in life, and by 13 was already getting picked up for petty robberies and thefts.

A translated English version of the interview was produced and shared with KrebsOnSecurity by analysts at New York City-based cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint.

Sometime in the mid-aughts, Vovnenko settled with his mother in Naples, Italy, but he had trouble keeping a job for more than a few days. Until a chance encounter led to a front job at a den of thieves.

“When I came to my Mom in Naples, I could not find a permanent job. Having settled down somewhere at a new job, I would either get kicked out or leave in the first two days. I somehow didn’t succeed with employment until I was invited to work in a wine shop in the historical center of Naples, where I kinda had to wipe the dust from the bottles. But in fact, the wine shop turned out to be a real den and a sales outlet of hashish and crack. So my job was to be on the lookout and whenever the cops showed up, take a bag of goods and leave under the guise of a tourist.”

Cocaine and hash were plentiful at his employer’s place of work, and Vovnenko said he availed himself of both abundantly. After he’d saved enough to buy a computer, Fly started teaching himself how to write programs and hack stuff. He quickly became enthralled with the romanticized side of cybercrime — the allure of instant cash — and decided this was his true vocation.

“After watching movies and reading books about hackers, I really wanted to become a sort of virtual bandit who robs banks without leaving home,” Vovnenko recalled. “Once, out of curiosity, I wrote an SMS bomber that used a registration form on a dating site, bypassing the captcha through some kind of rookie mistake in the shitty code. The bomber would launch from the terminal and was written in Perl, and upon completion of its work, it gave out my phone number and email. I shared the bomber somewhere on one of my many awkward sites.”

“And a couple of weeks later they called me. Nah, not the cops, but some guy who comes from Sri Lanka who called himself Enrico. He told me that he used my program and earned a lot of money, and now he wants to share some of it with me and hire me. By a happy coincidence, the guy also lived in Naples.”

“When we met in person, he told me that he used my bomber to fuck with a telephone company called Wind. This telephone company had such a bonus service: for each incoming SMS you received two cents on the balance. Well, of course, this guy bought a bunch of SIM cards and began to bomb them, getting credits and loading them into his paid lines, similar to how phone sex works.”

But his job soon interfered with his drug habit, and he was let go.

“At the meeting, Enrico gave me 2K euros, and this was the first money I’ve earned, as it is fashionable to say these days, on ‘cybercrime’. I left my previous job and began to work closely with Enrico. But always stoned out of my mind, I didn’t do a good job and struggled with drug addiction at that time. I was addicted to cocaine, as a result, I was pulling a lot more money out of Enrico than my work brought him. And he kicked me out.”

After striking out on his own, Vovnenko says he began getting into carding big time, and was introduced to several other big players on the scene. One of those was a cigarette smuggler who used the nickname Ponchik (“Doughnut”).

I wonder if this is the same Ponchik who was arrested in 2013 as being the mastermind behind the Blackhole exploit kit, a crimeware package that fueled an overnight explosion in malware attacks via Web browser vulnerabilities.

In any case, Vovnenko had settled on some schemes that were generating reliably large amounts of cash.

“I’ve never stood still and was not focusing on carding only, with the money I earned, I started buying dumps and testing them at friends’ stores,” Vovnenko said. “Mules, to whom I signed the hotlines, were also signed up for cashing out the loads, giving them a mere 10 percent for their work. Things seemed to be going well.”

FAN MAIL

There is a large chronological gap in Vovnenko’s account of his cybercrime life story from that point on until the time he and his forum friends started sending heroin, large bags of feces and other nasty stuff to our Northern Virginia home in 2013.

Vovnenko claims he never sent anything and that it was all done by members of his forum.

-Tell me about the packages to Krebs.
“That ain’t me. Suitcase filled with sketchy money, dildoes, and a bouquet of coffin wildflowers. They sent all sorts of crazy shit. Forty or so guys would send. When I was already doing time, one of the dudes sent it. By the way, Krebs wanted to see me. But the lawyer suggested this was a bad idea. Maybe he wanted to look into my eyes.”

In one part of the interview, Fly is asked about but only briefly touches on how he was caught. I wanted to add some context here because this part of the story is richly ironic, and perhaps a tad cathartic.

Around the same time Fly was taking bitcoin donations for a fund to purchase heroin on my behalf, he was also engaged to be married to a nice young woman. But Fly apparently did not fully trust his bride-to-be, so he had malware installed on her system that forwarded him copies of all email that she sent and received.

Fly,/Flycracker discussing the purchase of a gram of heroin from Silk Road seller “10toes.”

But Fly would make at least two big operational security mistakes in this spying effort: First, he had his fiancée’s messages forwarded to an email account he’d used for plenty of cybercriminal stuff related to his various “Fly” identities.

Mistake number two was the password for his email account was the same as one of his cybercrime forum admin accounts. And unbeknownst to him at the time, that forum was hacked, with all email addresses and hashed passwords exposed.

Soon enough, investigators were reading Fly’s email, including the messages forwarded from his wife’s account that had details about their upcoming nuptials, such as shipping addresses for their wedding-related items and the full name of Fly’s fiancée. It didn’t take long to zero in on Fly’s location in Naples.

While it may sound unlikely that a guy so immeshed in the cybercrime space could make such rookie security mistakes, I have found that a great many cybercriminals actually have worse operational security than the average Internet user.

I suspect this may be because the nature of their activities requires them to create vast numbers of single- or brief-use accounts, and in general they tend to re-use credentials across multiple sites, or else pick very poor passwords — even for critical resources.

In addition to elaborating on his hacking career, Fly talks a great deal about his time in various prisons (including their culinary habits), and an apparent longing or at least lingering fondness for the whole carding scene in general.

Towards the end, Fly says he’s considering going back to school, and that he may even take up information security as a study. I wish him luck in that whatever that endeavor is as long as he can also avoid stealing from people.

I don’t know what I would have written many years ago to Fly had I not been already so traumatized by receiving postal mail from him. Perhaps it would go something like this:

“Dear Fly: Thank you for your letters. I am very sorry to hear about the delays in your travel plans. I wish you luck in all your endeavors — and I sincerely wish the next hopeful opportunity you alight upon does not turn out to be a pile of shit.”

The entire translated interview is here (PDF). Fair warning: Many readers may find some of the language and topics discussed in the interview disturbing or offensive.

,

Planet DebianShirish Agarwal: Life, Liberty and Kashmir

I was going to write about history of banking today but because the blockade is still continuing in Kashmir, I am forced to write my opinions on it and clear at least some ideas and myths various people have about Kashmir. Before I start though, I hope the Goa Debian Utsav was good. While I haven’t seen any reports, I hope it went well. Frankly, I was in two minds whether I should apply for the Debutsav in Goa or not. While there is a possibility that I could have applied and perhaps even got the traveling sponsorship, I was unsure as to what to tell the students. With recovery of the economy in India at least 6 quarters away if not more, it would have been difficult for me to justify to the students as to how to look for careers in I.T. when salaries of most professionals have been stagnant, lowered and even retention happening in Pune, Bangalore and other places it would have been difficult to say that.

Anyways, this would be a long one. I would like to start with a lawsuit filed in Kerala which was shared and the judgement which was given which at least in my view was a progressive decision. The case I am reciting is ”Right To Access Internet Is Part Of Right To Privacy And Right To Education‘ which was given by Kerala HC recently. The judgement of the case is at https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-364655.pdf which I reproduce below as well.

So let us try to figure out what the suit/case was all about and how it involves the larger question of communication blockades and other things in Kashmir. The case involves a woman student of 18 years of age, a Faheema shirin (Petitioner) who came to Kerala for higher studies (B.Ed) at an institute called Narayanguru College located in Kozhikhode District. Incidentally, I have been fortunate to visit Kerala and Khozikhode District and they are beautiful places but we can have that conversation some other day. Now apparently, she was expelled from the college hostel for using the mobile phone during study time. The College is affiliated to University of Calicut. Now according to statements from the hostel matron, the petitioner and others, it became clear that inmates of the hostel were not allowed to use mobile phones from 10 p.m. to 6.a.m. -i.e. 22:00 hrs. to 0600 hrs. Apparently, this rule was changed to 1800 hrs – 2000 hrs. arbitrarily. The petitioner’s house is 150 kms. from the place. When she said it is not possible to follow the rules because of the subjects she was studying as well as she needed to connect to home anytime she wanted or her father or relatives may feel to call her or in case of any help. She alleged discrimination as these rules were only made for the girl’s hostel and not for the boy’s hostel. I had also seen and felt the same but as shared that’s for another day altogether.

The petitioner invoked the Conventions on Eliminations of all forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979, the Beijing Declaration and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which GOI is a signatory and hence had to abide by its rules. She further contended that her education depended on her using digital technology with access to web as given in her textbook. She needed to scan the QR codes in various places in her textbooks and use the link given therein to see videos, animations etc. on a digital platform called swayam. Incidentally, it seems swayam runs on closed source software as shared by SFLC.in on their website. Now if it is closed, commercial software than most probably the only the content can be viewed is via streaming rather than downloading, going offline and seeing it as that would attract provisions of the IT ACT and perhaps would constitute piracy. While this point was not argued, it seemed pertinent for me to point out as few people on social media have asked about. In several such cases it is either impossible or you have to be an expert in order to manipulate and download such data (like Snowdem did) but then that’s again a story for another day. Interestingly, the father in the case above was also in the favor of the girl using mobile phone for whatever purpose as he trusts her implicitly and she is adult enough to make her own life choices.

Thankfully, the petitioner had presence of mine throughout the journey that she did all her correspondence through letters instead of orally and had documentary evidence to back up all her claims. The State Govt. of Kerala has been on the forefront of digital technology for a long while and me and many of my friends have been both witness and played our small parts in whichever way to see Kerala become an IT hub. While they still do need to do a lot more but that again is a story for another day. While there was lot of back and forth between her, the hostel authorities, the father and the hostel authorities, she, her father, the hostel authorities and the college but they were unable to resolve the issues amicably. Her grounds for the fight were –

a. She is an adult and of rational mind so she can make decisions on her own.
b. She has right of privacy ( as shared by the Honorable Supreme Court in its 2017 landmark judgement)
c. She needs the mobile and the laptop for studying as her studies demand her using Internet.
d. She also relied and used the budget speech made by Minister of Finance and State Government for making internet accessible to all citizens and recognizing the right to Internet as a human right.
e. Her violation to right of property under Article 300 A.

In order to further bolster her case, through her lawyers she cited further judgements and studies which show how women are disadvantaged to Internet access, in particular she cited a UNESCO study which tells the same.

The judge, Honorable Jutice P.V. Asha guided herself with the arguments and counter-arguments by both parties, she also delved into Calicut University First Ordinances under which the University, the college and the hostel come in to see how thngs fare there. She had also asked the respondent that by using Internet has she or any other student in the hostel ever caused disturbance to any of the other inmates to which the reply was negative. The Judge also determined that if a miuse of a mobile phone or laptop has to happen, it can happen any time, anywhere and you cannot and should not control adult behavior especially when it collides with dignity and freedom of an adult. The learned counsel for the petitioner also shared resolution 23/2 in the UN General Assembly held on 24th June 2013 which talks of freedom of expression and opinion for women’s empowerment to which India is a signatory. There is also resolution 20/8 of 5th July 2012 which also underscores the point. Both the portions of the resolution can be found on page 18 of the judgement. The judge also cited few other judgements which were pointed out by the learned counsel for the petitioner, the Vishaka Judgement (1997) , the Beijing Statement and several other cases and judgement which showed how women are discriminated against under society. In the end she set aside the expulsion citing various judgements and her rationale for the same and asked the matron to take the student back and also asked the student to not humiliate the teacher or warden and she be allowed to use phone in any way she feels fit as far as she doesn’t create any disturbance to other students.

Observations – It opens up several questions which are part of society’s issues even today and probably for sometime.

a. I have been part of quite a few workshops where while I was supposed to share about GNU/Linux, more often than not I ended up sharing about how to use web access rather than advanced technologies. In this I found women to be more backward and take more time to understand and use the concepts than men. Whether it is due to just access issues or larger societal reasons ( the hidden alleged misuse of web) I just don’t know. While I do wish we could do more I don’t have any solutions.

b. As correctly pointed by Honorable Justice Asha, if a women who is pursuing B.Ed. it would harm the career of the young woman. I would opine and put one step more, wouldn’t it also be endangering her proteges, her students from getting a better teacher who is able to guide her students to the best of her ability. As we all know, rightly or wrongly almost all information is available on the net. The role of the teacher or guide is not to show information but probably more as to how to inquire and interpret information in different ways.

Kashmir

In light of the above judgement would not the same principles apply to Kashmir. There are two points shared by various people who are in favor of the lockdown. The first is National Security, National Interest and the second is Kashmiri Pandits. Let us take them one by one –

a. National Interest or/and National Security – I find this reason porous on many grounds. This Govt. is ruled by one of the richest political parties that India ever has. Without divulging further, there is such a huge range of hardware and software for the Government to surveil. With AFSA in-place and all sorts of technologies available off-the-shelf to surveil on residents that argument looks weak. Further, the Minister’s statement tells that the issue is not security of the state but something else. Of course the majoratian view is that they deserve it because they are muslims. If this is not hate, I dunno what is. A person on twitter did a social experiment where a daughter and a mother had the same conflict. The daughter’s view is that it is not right, the mother’s view being the opposite. The daughter disallowed the mother any contact with her, her husband and her daughter for 2 weeks, the mother was in tears. Then how can you think of people being blocked for 2 months.

Another variation of the argument is that militants will come and kill. Now I find it hard to believe that even after having half a million soldiers in the valley they still feel miitants can do something and they cannot. I find it a little hard to digest. There has been news now that the Taliban are involved. If this is true then they have troubled U.S. also, so if one of the most powerful armies on the earth can be stale-mated for what 19 years, are we going to put Kashmiris in lockdown for 19 years ? In fact the prejudcial face can be seen even more at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXWZnnD6JFY-

Kashmiri Pandits – There is no doubt that there was a mass exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. Nobody disputes that. But just like the process followed in NRC, whether rightly or wrongly couldn’t the Kashmiri Pandits be sent back home. I would argue this is the best time. You have a huge contigent of forces in the valley, you can start the process, get the documents, get them back into the valley, otherwise this will continue to be something like Palestine is in Israel which has continued to an issue for both Israelis and Palestinians with no end in sight. The idea that Pakistan will not harass or do something in Kashmir in fool’s paradise. They have been doing it since 90’s, for that to have a huge population blocked from communicating is nothing but harassment. And hate will never get you anywhere. While this is more greyer than I am making it out, feel free to read this interview as well as the series called The Family Man which I found to be pretty truthful as to the greyishness of the situation out there. While most of the mainstream media gave it an average score, I found it thought-provoking. The fact is mainstream media in India no longer questions the Government excesses. Some people do and they are often targeted. I do hope to share the banking scenario and a sort of mini-banking crisis soon. Till later.

Cory DoctorowMy appearance on Futurithmic

I was delighted to sit down with my old friend Michael Hainsworth for his new TV show Futurithmic, where we talked about science fiction, technological self-determination, internet freedom. They’ve just posted the episode and it’s fabulous!

Planet DebianMike Gabriel: IServ Schulserver - Insecure Setup Strategy allows Hi-Jacking of User Accounts

"IServ Schulserver" [1] is a commercial school server developed by a company in Braunschweig, Germany. The "IServ Schulserver" is a product based on Debian. The whole project started as a students' project.

The "IServ" is an insular school server (one machine for everything + backup server) that provides a web portal / communication platform for the school (reachable from the internet), manages the school's MS Windows® clients via OPSI [2] and provides other features like chatrooms, mail accounts, etc.

The "IServ Schulserver" has written quite a success story in various areas of Germany, recently. IServ has been deployed at many many schools in Northrhein-Westfalia, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. You can easily find those schools on the internet, if you search the web for "IServ IDesk".

The company that is developing "IServ" has various IT partner businesses all over Germany that deploy the IServ environment at local schools and are also the first point of contact for support.

It's all hear-say...

So, last night, I heard about a security design flaw not having been fixed / addressed since I had first heard about it. That was in 2014, when one of the Debian Edu schools I supported back then migrated over to IServ. At that time, the below could be confirmed. Last night, I learned that the following is still an issue on an IServ machine deployed recently here in Schleswig-Holstein (its deployment dates only a few weeks back). It's all hear-say, you know. But alas, ...

Mass User Creation Modes

If IServ admins mass create user accounts or (updated 20190930) perform user import from CSV-like data following the product's documentation [3a, 3b], they can opt for user accounts to be created and made active immediately, or they can opt for creating user accounts that are initially deactivated.

If the site admins uses the user import tool on the other hand, they also can opt for activated or deactivated accounts ot be created and they can choose one of the available password creation strategies (password := login (default), password from CSV, password generated via pwgen).

The password creation strategy of the local supplier of IServ Schulserver in Schleswig Holstein (around the area of city of Kiel) seems to be creating these initial user accounts (that is, all contemporary teachers and students) with immediately activated accounts and the default password creation strategy (password := login). (Cough cough...)

Initial Login

If you are a teacher (or student) at a school and have been notified about your initial IServ account being set up for you, you will get the instruction to initially log into the IServ web portal. The school provides each teacher with a URL and a login name. The default scheme for login names is <firstname>.<lastname>.

The password is not explicitly mentioned, as it is easy to remember. It is also <firstname>.<lastname> (i.e. initial_password := login_name). Conveniently as it is, people can do these logins from anywhere. When doing the initial login, the users are guided to a change-password dialog in their web browser session and finally, they can set their own password.

Pheeeww.... one account less that is just too dumb easy to hack.

Getting to know People at your New School

Nowadays, most schools have a homepage. On that homepage, they always present the core teacher staff group (people with some sort of a leadership position) with full names. Sometimes they even list all teachers with their full names. More rarely, but also quite common, all teachers are listed with a portrait photo (and/or the subjects they teach). Wanna be a teacher at that school? Hacky-sign up for an account then...

Update (20190930): To be fully clear on this: IServ does not provide a Sign-Up Feature byitself, all user accounts get created via an import of school data taken out of the school's administration database. However, picking an existing account that is likely to be still fresh and untouched by its user, is pretty much as easy as signing up for an account on.

How to Get In

If you are a nasty hacker, you can now go to some school's homepage, pick a teacher/face (or subject combination) that makes you assume that that person is not an IT-affiliated-kind-of-person and try to login as that person. If you are a neat hacker, you do this via Tor (or similar), of course.

Seriously!

If our imaginery hackers succeed with logging in using initial credentials, they can set a password for the impersonated teacher and they are in.

Many schools, I have seen, distribute documents and information to their teachers via the schools communication platform. If that platform is "IServ Schulserver", then you can easily gain access to those documents [4].

My personal guess is, that schools also use their school communication platform for distributing personal data, which is probably not allowed on the educational network of a school anyway (the "IServ Schulserver" is not an E-Mail server on the internet, it is the core server, firewall, mail gateway, Windows Network Server, etc. of the school's educational network).

Now, sharing those information via a system that is so easy to get unauthorized access to, is IMHO highly negligent and a severe violation of the GDPR.

Securing Mass User Creation

There are several ways, to fix this design flaw:

  • mass create users with accounts being initially deactivated and come up with some internal social workflow for enabling and setting up accounts and user passwords
  • talk to the developers and ask them to add credential imports (i.e. mass setting passwords for a list of given usernames)
  • Obsolete 20190930: use some other school server solution
  • Update 20190930: the previous statement about just using another school server solution is not really leading to better security by itself. The problem here in this blog post is not so much about IServ's user import code, but about the combination of software-featured setup strategies and that service providers deploy IServ in such an insecure manner (although more secure features are available, but not the default). So, I could also say: get another service provider, that is aware of the security impact of what they when they set up school IT...

Other Security Issues?

If people like to share their observations about school IT and security, I'd be interested. Let me know (see the imprint page [5] on my blog for my mail address).

light+love
Mike Gabriel (aka sunweaver at debian.org)

References & Footnotes

Update 20190930:

Last Friday, I received feedback from Sören Wendhauen (IServ GmbH). He provided some more background information about IServ user import. Thanks a lot for that.

Admin coaches at IServ GmbH do in fact make there service partner businesses aware of what I have depicted above. So, service providers should be in the loop of the security weakness (and act accordingly, I'd expect).

However, (and that was the essence of my reply), they (IServ GmbH developers) nonetheless developed this "password := login" feature in the first place, made it the default password generation strategy and even now that they have more secure password creation methods at hand, they leave the "password := login" method the default method.

Another alternative: If user accounts are activated at creation time and if the "password := login" password creation method had been used during creation, the IServ WebUI could e.g. prohibit a world-wide login, but restrict the user login to the computer labs of the school. Not a good solution, but drastically shrinking the attack vector, while keeping the wanted usability. However, this only works at schools where computer lab access is always monitored by teacher staff.

With Dürrenmatt's "Die Physiker" in mind, as a software developer I am responsible for the features I give people at hand to use and/or misuse.

Planet DebianAndrej Shadura: Rust-like enums in Kotlin

Rust has an exciting concept of enumeration types, which is much more powerful than enums in other languages. Notably C has the weakest type of enum, since there’s no type checking of any kind, and enum values can be used interchangeably with integers:

enum JobState {
    PENDING,
    STARTED,
    FAILED,
    COMPLETED
};

You can opt for manually assigning integers instead of leaving this to the compiler, but that’s about it.

Higher level languages like Python and Java treat enumeration types as classes, bringing stricted type checking and better flexibility, since they can be extended nearly as any other classes. In both Python and Java individual enumerated values are singleton instances of the enumeration class.

class JobState(Enum):
    PENDING = auto()
    STARTED = auto()
    FAILED = auto()
    COMPLETED = auto()
enum JobState {
    PENDING,
    STARTED,
    FAILED,
    COMPLETED;
}

Since enumerations are classes, they can define extra methods, but because the enum values are singletons, they can’t be coupled with any extra data, and no new instances of the enum class can be created.

In contrast with Python and Java, Rust allows attaching data to enumerations:

enum JobState {
    Pending,
    Started,
    Failed(String),
    Completed
}

This allows us to store the error message in the same value as the job state, without having to declare a structure with an extra field which would be used only when the state in Failed.

So, what Kotlin has to offer? Kotlin has a language feature called sealed classes. A sealed class is an abstract class with limited interitance: all of its subclasses have to be declated in the same file. In a way, this is quite close to the Rust enums, even though sealed classed look and behave a bit differently.

sealed class JobState {
    object Pending : JobState()
    object Started : JobState()
    object Completed : JobState()
    data class Failed(val errorMessage: String) : JobState()
}

Declared this way, JobState can be used in a way similar to Rust’s enums: a single variable of this type can be assigned singletons Pending, Started or Completed, or any instance of Failed with a mandatory String member:

val state: JobState = JobState.Failed("I/O error")

when (state) {
    is JobState.Completed ->
        println("Job completed")
    is JobState.Failed ->
        println("Job failed with an error: ${state.errorMessage}")
}

This usage resembles the regular Java/Kotlin enums quite a bit, but alternatively, Pending and friends can be declared outside of the sealed class, allowing them to be used directly without the need to add a JobState qualifier.

A slightly simplified real life example from a Kotlin project I’m working on, where a separate coroutine handles I/O with a Bluetooth or a USB device:

sealed class Result
object Connected : Result()
data class Failed(val error: String) : Result()

sealed class CommServiceMsg
data class Connect(val response: CompletableDeferred<Result>) : CommServiceMsg()
object Disconnect : CommServiceMsg()
data class Write(val data: ByteArray) : CommServiceMsg()

fun CoroutineScope.bluetoothServiceActor(device: BluetoothDevice) = actor<CommServiceMsg>(Dispatchers.IO) {
    val socket: BluetoothSocket = device.createSocket()

    process@ for (msg in channel) {
        when (msg) {
            is Connect -> {
                with(socket) {
                    msg.response.complete(try {
                        connect()
                        Connected
                    } catch (e: IOException) {
                        val error = e.message ?: ""
                        Failed(error)
                    }
                }
            }
            is Disconnect -> break@process
            is Write -> {
                socket.outputStream.write(msg.data)
            }
        }
    }
    socket.outputStream.flush()
    socket.close()
}

Here, we can talk to bluetoothServiceActor using messages each carrying extra data; if the coroutine needs to talk back (in this example, the result of a connection attempt), it uses a CompletableDeferred<> value of the Result type, which can hold an error message when needed.

With that in place, we can write something like this:

val bluetoothService = bluetoothServiceActor(device)
val response = CompletableDeferred<Result>()

bluetoothService.send(Connect(response))
var result = response.await()
when (result) {
    is Connected -> {
        bluetoothService.send(Write(byteArrayOf(42, 0x1e, 0x17)))
        bluetoothService.send(Disconnect)
    }
    is Failed ->
        println("error occurred: ${result.error}")
}

CryptogramIneffective Package Tracking Facilitates Fraud

This article discusses an e-commerce fraud technique in the UK. Because the Royal Mail only tracks packages to the postcode -- and not to the address - it's possible to commit a variety of different frauds. Tracking systems that rely on signature are not similarly vulnerable.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: And it was Uphill Both Ways

Today’s submission is a little bit different. Kevin sends us some code where the real WTF is simply that… it still is in use somewhere. By the standards of its era, I’d actually say that the code is almost good. This is more of a little trip down memory lane, about the way web development used to work.

Let’s start with the HTML snippet:

<frameset  border="0" frameborder="0" framespacing="0" cols="*,770,*"  onLoad="MaximizeWindow()">
	<!-- SNIPPED... -->
</frameset>

In 2019, if you want to have a sidebar full of links which allow users to click, and have a portion of the page update while not refreshing the whole page, you probably write a component in the UI framework of your choice. In 1999, you used frames. Honestly, by 1999, frames were already on the way out (he says, despite maintaining a number of frames-based applications well into the early 2010s), but for a brief period in web development history, they were absolutely all the rage.

In fact, shortly after I made my own personal home page, full of <marquee> tags, creative abuse of the <font> tag, and a color scheme which was hot pink and neon green, I showed it to a friend, who condescendingly said, “What, you didn’t even use frames?” He made me mad enough that I almost deleted my Geocities account.

Frames are dead, but now we have <iframes> which do the same thing, but are almost entirely used for embedding ads or YouTube videos. Some things will never truly die.

  IE4 = (document.all) ? true : false;
  NS4 = (document.layers) ? true : false;
  ver4 = (IE4||NS4);

  if (ver4!=true){  
    function MaximizeWindow(){
        alert('Please install a browser with support for Javascript 1.2. This website works for example with Microsofts Internet Explorer or Netscapes Navigator in versions 4.x or newer!')
        self.history.back();
        }
    }
  
  if (ver4==true){
    function MaximizeWindow(){
    window.focus();
	window.moveTo(0,0)
	window.resizeTo(screen.availWidth,screen.availHeight)
      }
}

Even today, in the era of web standards, we still constantly need to use shims and compatibility checks. The reasons are largely the same as they were back then: standards (or conventions) evolve quickly, vendors don’t care about standards, and browsers represent fiendishly complicated blocks of software. Today, we have better ways of doing those checks, but here we do our check with the first two lines of code.

And this, by the way, is why I said this code was “almost good”. In the era of “a browser with support for Javascript 1.2”, the standard way of checking browser versions was mining the user-agent string. And because of that we have situations where browsers report insanity like Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_14_4) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/77.0.3865.90 Safari/537.36.

Even in the late 90s though, the “right” way to check if your site was compatible with a given browser was to check for the features you planned to use. Which this code does- specifically, it’s looking for document.all or document.layers, which were two different approaches to exploring the DOM before we had actual tools for exploring the DOM. In this era, we’d call stuff like this “DHTML” (the D is for “dynamic”), and we traversed the DOM as a chain of properties, doing things like document.forms[0].inputs[0] to access fields on the form.

This is almost good, though, because it doesn’t gracefully degrade. If you don’t have a browser which reports these properties- document.all or document.layers, we just pop up an alert and forcibly hit the back button on your browser. Then again, if you do have a browser that supports those properties, it’s just going to go and forcibly hit the “Maximize” button on you, which is also not great, but I’m sure would make the site look quite impressive on an 800x600 resolution screen. I’m honestly kind of surprised that this doesn’t also check your resolution, and provide some warning about looking best at a certain resolution, which was also pretty standard stuff for this era.

Again, the real WTF is that this code still exists out in the wild somewhere. Kevin found it when he encountered a site that kept kicking him back to the previous page. But there’s a deeper WTF: web development is bad. It’s always been bad. It possibly always will be bad. It’s complicated, and hard, and for some reason we’ve decided that we need to build all our UIs using a platform where a paragraph is considered a first-class UI element comparable to a button. But the next time you struggle to “grok” the new hot JavaScript framework, just remember that you’re part of a long history of people who have wrestled with accomplishing basic tasks on the web, and that it’s always been a hack, whether it’s a hack in the UA-string, a hack of using frames to essentially embed browser windows inside of browser windows, or a hack to navigate the unending efforts of browser vendors to hamstring and befuddle the competition.

[Advertisement] ProGet can centralize your organization's software applications and components to provide uniform access to developers and servers. Check it out!

,

Planet DebianEnrico Zini: xtypeinto: type text into X windows

Several sites have started disabling paste in input fields, mostly password fields, but also other fields for no apparent reason.

Random links on the topic:

  • https://developers.google.com/web/tools/lighthouse/audits/password-pasting
  • https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/blog-post/let-them-paste-passwords
  • https://www.troyhunt.com/the-cobra-effect-that-is-disabling/
  • https://www.wired.com/2015/07/websites-please-stop-blocking-password-managers-2015/

This said, I am normally uneasy about copy-pasting passwords, as any X window can sniff the clipboard contents at any time, and I like password managers like impass that would type it for you instead of copying it to the clipboard.

However, today I got out way more frustrated than I could handle after illing in 17-digits nonsensical, always-slightly-different INPS payment codelines inside input fields that disabled paste for no reason whatsoever (they are not secret).

I thought "never again", I put together some code from impass and wmctrl and created xtypeinto:

$ ./xtypeinto --help
usage: xtypeinto [-h] [--verbose] [--debug] [string]

Type text into a window

positional arguments:
  string         string to type (default: stdin)

optional arguments:
  -h, --help     show this help message and exit
  --verbose, -v  verbose output
  --debug        debug output

Pass a string to xtypeinto as an argument, or as standard input.

xtypeinto will show a crosshair to pick a window, and the text will be typed into that window.

Please make sure that you focus on the right field before running xtypeinto, to make sure things are typed where you need them.

CryptogramCrown Sterling Claims to Factor RSA Keylengths First Factored Twenty Years Ago

Earlier this month, I made fun of a company called Crown Sterling, for...for...for being a company that deserves being made fun of.

This morning, the company announced that they "decrypted two 256-bit asymmetric public keys in approximately 50 seconds from a standard laptop computer." Really. They did. This keylength is so small it has never been considered secure. It was too small to be part of the RSA Factoring Challenge when it was introduced in 1991. In 1977, when Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adelman first described RSA, they included a challenge with a 426-bit key. (It was factored in 1994.)

The press release goes on: "Crown Sterling also announced the consistent decryption of 512-bit asymmetric public key in as little as five hours also using standard computing." They didn't demonstrate it, but if they're right they've matched a factoring record set in 1999. Five hours is significantly less than the 5.2 months it took in 1999, but slower than would be expected if Crown Sterling just used the 1999 techniques with modern CPUs and networks.

Is anyone taking this company seriously anymore? I honestly wouldn't be surprised if this was a hoax press release. It's not currently on the company's website. (And, if it is a hoax, I apologize to Crown Sterling. I'll post a retraction as soon as I hear from you.)

EDITED TO ADD: First, the press release is real. And second, I forgot to include the quote from CEO Robert Grant: "Today's decryptions demonstrate the vulnerabilities associated with the current encryption paradigm. We have clearly demonstrated the problem which also extends to larger keys."

People, this isn't hard. Find an RSA Factoring Challenge number that hasn't been factored yet and factor it. Once you do, the entire world will take you seriously. Until you do, no one will. And, bonus, you won't have to reveal your super-secret world-destabilizing cryptanalytic techniques.

EDITED TO ADD (9/21): Others are laughing at this, too.

EDITED TO ADD (9/24): More commentary.

CryptogramRussians Hack FBI Comms System

Yahoo News reported that the Russians have successfully targeted an FBI communications system:

American officials discovered that the Russians had dramatically improved their ability to decrypt certain types of secure communications and had successfully tracked devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams. Officials also feared that the Russians may have devised other ways to monitor U.S. intelligence communications, including hacking into computers not connected to the internet. Senior FBI and CIA officials briefed congressional leaders on these issues as part of a wide-ranging examination on Capitol Hill of U.S. counterintelligence vulnerabilities.

These compromises, the full gravity of which became clear to U.S. officials in 2012, gave Russian spies in American cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco key insights into the location of undercover FBI surveillance teams, and likely the actual substance of FBI communications, according to former officials. They provided the Russians opportunities to potentially shake off FBI surveillance and communicate with sensitive human sources, check on remote recording devices and even gather intelligence on their FBI pursuers, the former officials said.

It's unclear whether the Russians were able to recover encrypted data or just perform traffic analysis. The Yahoo story implies the former; the NBC News story says otherwise. It's hard to tell if the reporters truly understand the difference. We do know, from research Matt Blaze and others did almost ten years ago, that at least one FBI radio system was horribly insecure in practice -- but not in a way that breaks the encryption. Its poor design just encourages users to turn off the encryption.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Do You Need this

I’ve written an unfortunate amount of “useless” code in my career. In my personal experience, that’s code where I write it for a good reason at the time- like it’s a user request for a feature- but it turns out nobody actually needed or wanted that feature. Or, perhaps, if I’m being naughty, it’s a feature I want to implement just for the sake of doing it, not because anybody asked for it.

The code’s useless because it never actually gets used.

Claude R found some code which got used a lot, but was useless from the moment it was coded. Scattered throughout the codebase were calls to getInstance(), as in, Task myTask = aTask.getInstance().

At first glance, Claude didn’t think much of it. At second glance, Claude worried that there was some weird case of deep indirection where aTask wasn’t actually a concrete Task object and instead was a wrapper around some factory-instantiated concrete class or something. It didn’t seem likely, but this was Java, and a lot of Java code will follow patterns like that.

So Claude took a third glance, and found some code that’s about as useful as a football bat.

public Task getInstance(){
    return this;
}

To invoke getInstance you need a variable that references the object, which means you have a variable referencing the same thing as this. That is to say, this is unnecessary.

[Advertisement] Otter - Provision your servers automatically without ever needing to log-in to a command prompt. Get started today!

Planet DebianKeith Packard: picolibc

Picolibc Version 1.0 Released

I wrote a couple of years ago about the troubles I had finding a good libc for embedded systems, and for the last year or so I've been using something I called 'newlib-nano', which was newlib with the stdio from avrlibc bolted on. That library has worked pretty well, and required very little work to ship.

Now that I'm doing RISC-V stuff full-time, and am currently working to improve the development environment on deeply embedded devices, I decided to take another look at libc and see if a bit more work on newlib-nano would make it a good choice for wider usage.

One of the first changes was to switch away from the very confusing "newlib-nano" name. I picked "picolibc" as that seems reasonably distinct from other projects in the space and and doesn't use 'new' or 'nano' in the name.

Major Changes

Let's start off with the big things I've changed from newlib:

  1. Replaced stdio. In place of the large and memory-intensive stdio stack found in newlib, picolibc's stdio is derived from avrlibc's code. The ATmel-specific assembly code has been replaced with C, and the printf code has seen significant rework to improve standards conformance. This work was originally done for newlib-nano, but it's a lot cleaner looking in picolibc.

  2. Switched from 'struct _reent' to TLS variables for per-thread values. This greatly simplifies the library and reduces memory usage for all applications -- per-thread data from unused portions of the library will not get allocated for any thread. On RISC-V, this also generates smaller and faster code. This also eliminates an extra level of function call for many code paths.

  3. Switched to the 'meson' build system. This makes building the library much faster and also improves the maintainability of the build system as it eliminates a maze of twisty autotools configure scripts.

  4. Updated the math test suite to use glibc as a reference instead of some ancient Sun machine.

  5. Manually verified the test results to see how the library is doing; getting automated testing working will take a lot more effort as many (many) tests still have invalid 'correct' values resulting in thousands of failure.

  6. Remove unused code with non-BSD licenses. There's still a pile of unused code hanging around, but all non-BSD licensed bits have been removed to make the licensing situation clear. Picolibc is BSD licensed.

Picocrt

Starting your embedded application requires initializing RAM as appropriate and calling initializers/constructors before invoking main(). Picocrt is designed to do that part for you.

Building Simplified

Using newlib-nano meant specifying the include and library paths very carefully in your build environment, and then creating a full custom linker script. With Picolibc, things are much easier:

  • Compile with -specs=picolibc.specs. That and the specification of the target processor are enough to configure include and library paths. The Debian package installs this in the gcc directory so you don't need to provide a full path to the file.

  • Link with picolibc.ld (which is used by default with picolibc.specs). This will set up memory regions and include Picocrt to initialize memory before your application runs.

Debian Packages

I've uploaded Debian packages for this version; they'll get stuck in the new queue for a while, but should eventually make there way into the repository. I'll plan on removing newlib-nano at some point in the future as I don't plan on maintaining both.

More information

You can find the source code on both my own server and over on github:

You'll find some docs and other information linked off the README file

Sam VargheseSaudis want US to fight another war for them

On 3 August 1990, the morning after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Saudi Arabian government was more than a bit jittery, fearing that the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would make Riyadh his next target. The Saudis had been some of the bigger buyers of American and British arms, but they found that they had a big problem.

And that was the fact that all the princes who were pilots of F-16 jets, considered one of the glamour jobs, had gone missing. Empty jets were of no use. How would the Saudis defend their country if Baghdad decided to march into the country’s Eastern Region? If Hussein decided to do so, he would be in control of a sizeable portion of the world’s oil resources and many countries would be royally screwed.

Then the Americans came calling, ready with doctored satellite imagery to scare the hell out of King Fahd and his colleagues. Finally, the king gave in to Dick Cheney’s arguments and asked the Americans to come into Saudi Arabia to defend the country.

The situation appears to be repeating itself after missiles hit Saudi Arabian oil installations two weeks ago, though this time the Americans seem reluctant to get into a fight with Iran, which has been blamed for the attack.

There is not a shred of proof to implicate Teheran apart from American and Saudi claims but then when has the Western press ever needed anything more than claims to point the finger at Iran?

The Saudis have been using foreign labour for a long time to do all the work in the country, right from cleaning the toilets to managing their companies. And they would, no doubt, be looking to the Americans to fight Iran too if it becomes necessary.

The fact is, the Saudis have more than enough military equipment to protect their country. But they are either incompetent to the point where they are unable to use it as it should be used. Or else, they are lazy and want others to do the work for them. After all, these are royals, right?

The Americans made a profit on the war which was waged in 1991 to eject Iraq from Kuwait; they spent US$51 billion and raked in US$60 billion, with contributions being made by numerous countries, all worried that oil prices would put their economies into negative territory.

But Iran will not be a pushover as Iraq was. And there is unlikely to be any kind of coalition like the one assembled in 1990. Nobody has the appetite for a fight. The world economy is looking decidedly shaky. And after the US pulled out of a deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, countries in Europe are not exactly enthusiastic about joining the Americans in any more crazy adventures.

Planet DebianDirk Eddelbuettel: RcppAnnoy 0.0.13

annoy image

A new release of RcppAnnoy is now on CRAN.

RcppAnnoy is the Rcpp-based R integration of the nifty Annoy library by Erik Bernhardsson. Annoy is a small and lightweight C++ template header library for very fast approximate nearest neighbours—originally developed to drive the famous Spotify music discovery algorithm.

This release brings several updates. First and foremost, the upstream Annoy C++ code was updated from version 1.12 to 1.16 bringing both speedier code thanks to AVX512 instruction (where available) and new functionality. Which we expose in two new functions of which buildOnDisk() may be of interest for some using the file-back indices. We also corrected a minor wart in which a demo file was saved (via example()) to a user directory; we now use tempfile() as one should, and contributed two small Windows build changes back to Annoy.

Detailed changes follow below.

Changes in version 0.0.13 (2019-09-23)

  • In example(), the saved and loaded filename is now obtained via tempfile() to not touch user directories per CRAN Policy (Dirk).

  • RcppAnnoy was again synchronized with Annoy upstream leading to enhanced performance and more features (Dirk #48).

  • Minor changes made (and send as PRs upstream) to adapt both annoylib.h and mman.h changes (Dirk).

  • A spurious command was removed from one vignette (Peter Hickey in #49).

  • Two new user-facing functions onDiskBuild() and unbuild() were added (Dirk in #50).

  • Minor tweaks were made to two tinytest-using test files (Dirk).

Courtesy of CRANberries, there is also a diffstat report for this release.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

,

TEDIs geoengineering a good idea? A brief Q&A with Kelly Wanser and Tim Flannery

This satellite image shows marine clouds off the Pacific West Coast of the United States. The streaks in the clouds are created by the exhaust from ships, which include both greenhouse gases and particulates like sulfates that mix with clouds and temporarily make them brighter. Brighter clouds reflect more sunlight back to space, cooling the climate.

As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also produce particles that reflect sunshine back into space, putting a check on global warming that we’re only starting to understand. In her talk at TEDSummit 2019, “Emergency medicine for our climate fever,” climate activist Kelly Wanser asked: Can we engineer ways to harness this effect and reduce the effects global warming?

This idea, known as “cloud brightening,” is seen as controversial. After her talk, Wanser was joined onstage by environmentalist Tim Flannery — who gave a talk just moments earlier about the epic carbon-capturing abilities of seaweed — to discuss cloud brightening and how it could help restore our climate to health. Check out their exchange below.

CryptogramI'm Looking to Hire a Strategist to Help Figure Out Public-Interest Tech

I am in search of a strategic thought partner: a person who can work closely with me over the next 9 to 12 months in assessing what's needed to advance the practice, integration, and adoption of public-interest technology.

All of the details are in the RFP. The selected strategist will work closely with me on a number of clear deliverables. This is a contract position that could possibly become a salaried position in a subsequent phase, and under a different agreement.

I'm working with the team at Yancey Consulting, who will follow up with all proposers and manage the process. Please email Lisa Yancey at lisa@yanceyconsulting.com.

Google AdsenseAdSense now understands Marathi

Today, we’re excited to announce the addition of Marathi, a language spoken by over 80 millions people in Maharashtra, India and many other countries around the world, to the family of AdSense supported languages.

The interest for Marathi language content has been growing steadily over the last few years. With this launch, AdSense provides an easy way for publishers to monetize the content they create in Marathi, and advertisers can connect to a Marathi speaking audience with relevant ads.

To start monetizing your Marathi content website with Google AdSense:

  1. Check the AdSense Program policies and make sure your site is compliant.
  2. Sign up for an AdSense account
  3. Add the AdSense code to start displaying relevant ads to your users

Welcome to AdSense! Sign Up now!

Posted by:
AdSense Internationalization Team

CryptogramFrance Outlines Its Approach to Cyberwar

In a document published earlier this month (in French), France described the legal framework in which it will conduct cyberwar operations. Lukasz Olejnik explains what it means, and it's worth reading.

Planet DebianMolly de Blanc: Freedoms and Rights

I want to talk a bit about the relationship between rights and freedoms, and what they are. I think building a mutual understanding around this is important as I dig deeper into conversations around digital rights and software, user, and technology freedom.

A right is like a privilege in as much is that it’s something you’re allowed to do, however rights are innate and not earned. They are things to which everyone is entitled. A freedom expresses a lack of constraints related to an action. When we have a particular freedom (freedom X), we have an unrestrained ability to do X — we can do whatever we want in relation to X. You can also have the right to a certain kind of freedom (e.g. freedom of speech). I talk about both digital rights and digital freedoms. I view digital rights are the extension of our rights into digital spaces, and digital freedoms as the freedoms we have in those spaces. We have the right to free expression when speaking in a room; we have the right to free expression when speaking on the Internet.

Typically, we frame rights and freedoms in terms of government restrictions: governments are not allowed to keep you from exercising your freedoms, and they are there to protect and ensure your rights. It is becoming increasingly relevant (and common) to also talk about these in relation to companies and technology. It is important to also shift this discussion to include companies and technologies — especially computing software. As computing becomes more pervasive, we need to make sure that the software we’re writing is freedom protecting and rights respecting. These freedoms include the freedoms we typically associate with free and open source software: the unbridaled ability to use, study, modify, and share. it also includes freedoms like expression (to express ourselves without constraint) and the freedom to assemble (to get together without constraint). All of these freedoms are freedoms we have the right to, in addition to other rights including the right to digital autonomy and the right to consent.

I want to dig a little into a specific example, of the play between freedoms and rights, and the way we see computing fits in.

We have the right to freedom of speech — to communicate unfettered with one another. Free expression is something to which everyone is entitled, and there is a societal, social, and moral imperative to protect that right. Computers connect us to one another and enable us to express ourselves. They also give us safe spaces to develop the ideas we want to express in public ones, which is a necessary part of freedom of speech. However, computers can also infringe upon that right. Home surveillance devices, like home assistants, that are listening to and recording everything you say are stepping on your right and restricting your freedom. They are taking away your safe space to develop ideas and creating an environment where you cannot express yourself without restriction for fear of possible repercussions.

This is just one example of how computers play with the things we traditionally consider our rights and freedoms. Computers also force us to consider rights and freedoms in new contexts, and push the boundaries of what we consider to “count.” Our right to bodily autonomy now includes which medical devices, which computers, we allow to be implanted into our bodies; what happens with our medical and biometric data; and when and how our bodies are being monitored in public (and private) spaces. This includes the near future, where we see an increase in wearable computers and recreational and elective implants.

We have freedoms, we have rights, and we have the rights to certain freedoms because it is moral, ethical, and necessary for a just world. Our digital rights and digital freedoms are necessary for our digital autonomy, to borrow a phrase from Karen Sandler. Digital autonomy is necessary to move forward into a world of justice, equity, and equality.

Special thanks for Christopher Lemmer Webber.

Worse Than FailureAccounting for Changes

Sara works as a product manager for a piece of accounting software for a large, international company. As a product manager, Sara interacts with their internal customers- the accounting team- and Bradley is the one she always bumps heads with.

Bradley's idea of a change request is to send a screenshot, with no context, and a short message, like "please fix", "please advise", or "this is wrong". It would take weeks of emails and, if they were lucky, a single phone call, for Sara's team to figure out what needs to be fixed, because Bradley is "too busy" to provide any more information.

One day, Bradley sent a screenshot of their value added taxation subsystem, saying, "This is wrong. Please fix." The email was much longer, of course, but the rest of the email was Bradley's signature block, which included a long list of titles, certifications, a few "inspirational" quotes, and his full name.

Sara replied. "Hi Brad," her email began- she had once called him "Bradley" which triggered his longest email to date, a screed about proper forms of address. "Thanks for notifying us about a possible issue. Can you help me figure out what's wrong? In your screen shot, I see SKU numbers, tax information, and shipping details."

Bradley's reply was brief. "Yes."

Sara sighed and picked up her phone. She called Bradley's firm, which landed her with an assistant, who tracked down another person, who asked another who got Bradley to confirm that the issue is that, in some cases, the Value Added Tax isn't using the right rate, as in some situations multiple rates have to be applied at the same time.

It was a big update to their VAT rules. Sara managed to talk to some SMEs at her company to refine the requirements, contacted development, and got the modifications built in the next sprint.

"Hi, Bradley," Sara started her next email. "Thank you for bringing the VAT issue to our attention. Based on your description, we have implemented an update. We've pushed it to the User Acceptance Testing environment. After you sign off that the changes are correct, we will deploy it into production. Let me know if there are any issues with the update." The email included links to the UAT process document, the UAT test plan template, and all the other details that they always provided to guide the UAT process.

A week later, Bradley sent an email. "It works." That was weird, as Bradley almost never signed off until he had pushed in a few unrelated changes. Still, she had the sign off. She attached the email to the ticket and once the changes were pushed to production, she closed the ticket.

A few days later, the entire accounting team goes into a meltdown and starts filing support request after support request. One user submitted ten by himself- and that user was the CFO. This turns into a tense meeting between the CFO, Bradley, Sara, and Sara's boss.

"How did this change get released to production?"

Sara pulled up the ticket. She showed the screenshots, referenced the specs, showed the development and QA test plans, and finally, the email from Bradley, declaring the software ready to go.

The CFO turned to Bradley.

"Oh," Bradley said, "we weren't able to actually test it. We didn't have access to our test environment at all last week."

"What?" Sara asked. "Why did you sign off on the change if you weren't able to test it!?"

"Well, we needed it to go live on Monday."

After that, a new round of requirements gathering happened, and Sara's team was able to implement them. Bradley wasn't involved, and while he still works at the same company, he's been shifting around from position to position, trying to find the best fit…

[Advertisement] Forget logs. Next time you're struggling to replicate error, crash and performance issues in your apps - Think Raygun! Installs in minutes. Learn more.

,

Sam VargheseWas Garcès the right choice to officiate SA-NZ game?

The authorities who select referees for matches at the Rugby World Cup do not seem to think very deeply about the choices they make. This is, perhaps, what resulted in the French referee Jérôme Garcès being put in charge of the game between New Zealand and South Africa on 21 September.

Some background is necessary to understand why Garcès’ appointment was questionable. He had officiated in the game between Australia and New Zealand earlier this year and handed out a red card to Kiwi lock Scott Barrett for a charge on Australian skipper Michael Hooper. This was a decision that was questioned in many quarters; that Scott Barrett deserved a yellow card was not in question, but a red card was deemed to be a gross over-reaction.

Scott Barrett was banned for two matches after that and was making his return in Saturday’s game. Thus there were a fair few people observing how Garcès would officiate, especially when it came to Scott Barrett.

An additional factor that made Garcès unsuitable for this game is the regular claim about referees going easy on New Zealand because of their influence in world rugby; apart from those who come to watch a game because they are fans of this team or that, there is huge contingent of people who come to watch the All Blacks because they have some sort of mystique around them.

This claim is made by officials of teams which have been getting hammered by the Kiwis for years so one can put it down to that variety of fruit which is common these days: sour grapes. The fact is that all teams take advantage of the rules to the extent possible.

Garcès, thus, had to avoid being seen as going easy on New Zealand. And he made some very elementary errors.

The most glaring mistake he made was when he failed to send off South Africa winger Makazole Mapimpi for not releasing the New Zealand standoff Richie Mo’unga, after the latter had booted a ball downfield, collected it five metres from the goalline and, though somewhat off-balance, was set to stumble over the line and score. Mapimpi tacked him but did not release Mo’unga as per the rules as there were no other South African players around to lend support.

Given that South Africa indulges in cynical tactics like this quite often — who can forget the professional fouls committed by the like of Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana in years gone by? — a hardline referee may well have awarded the All Blacks a penalty try.

But Garcès did not go beyond a regulation penalty. He earned bitter criticism from the New Zealand captain Kieran Read who described him as “gutless” right there on the field.

Garcès also overlooked a number of neck rolls by South Africa’s Pieter-Steph du Toit on the All Blacks flanker Ardi Savea. Springboks giant lock Eben Etzebeth also grabbed the neck of a Kiwi player here and there but Garcès had no eyes for these tactics. All this in a year when there have been repeated reports that rugby referees have been ordered to crack down on tackles that come anywhere near the head.

The French official also missed a number of questionable tackles by the New Zealand players. He was put in a tricky situation by whoever selected him to officiate in the game and came out smelling of anything but roses.

But then Garcès was not responsible for the most shocking refereeing decision of the opening weekend of the tournament. This honour was claimed by British referee Rowan Kitt who was officiating as the television match official in the game between Australia and Fiji.

Kitt had nothing to offer on a tackle that Australian winger Reece Hodge effected on Fiji’s Peceli Yato, the team’s best player up to that point of the game, blocking the flanker with a shoulder-led, no-arms challenge to the head that resulted in Yato having to leave the field with concussion. He played no further part in the game.

On-field official Ben O’Keeffe missed the tackle too, but he was somewhat unsighted as the tackle took place close to the sideline. Former referee Jonathan Kaplan was scathing in his criticism of Kitt.

“On this occasion Kitt ruled that the challenge was legal and I find that extremely surprising,” said the 70-Test referee, a highly respected official during his day, in a column for the UK’s Daily Telegraph. “To let it pass without any sanction whatsoever was clearly the wrong call.”

He added: “Going into this tournament World Rugby have been very clear about contact with the head and what constitutes a red card under their new High Tackle Sanction framework.

“With that in mind I have absolutely no idea why Reece Hodge was not sent off for his tackle on Fiji’s Peceli Yato. To me it was completely clear and an almost textbook example of the type of challenge they are trying to outlaw.”

Exactly what it will take for referees to rule equally on all infringements remains to be seen. Perhaps someone needs to die on the field in real-time before rugby officials sit up and take notice.

Planet DebianWilliam (Bill) Blough: Free Software Activities (August 2019)


Debian

  • Fixed bug 933422: passwordsafe — Switch to using wxgtk3

    Versions:

    • unstable/testing: 1.06+dfsg-3
  • Upgraded passwordsafe package to latest upstream version (1.08.2)

    Versions:

    • unstable/testing: 1.08.2+dfsg-1
    • buster-backports: 1.08.2+dfsg-1~bpo10+1
  • Updated python-django-cas-client to latest upstream version (1.5.1) and did some miscellaneous cleanup/maintenance of the packaging.

    Versions:

    • unstable/testing: 1.5.1-1
  • Discovered an issue with sbuild where the .changes file output by the build was different from the .changes file passed to lintian. This meant that the lintian results were sometimes different when lintian was run via sbuild vs when it was run manually. Patch submitted.

  • Provided a patch for NuSOAP to update deprecated class constructors.

  • Submitted a merge request to update the ftp-master website and replace a reference to Buster as testing with Bullseye.

Axis2-C

  • Fixed bug AXIS2C-1619: CVE-2012-6107: SSL/TLS Hostname validation

    Commits:

    • r1866225 - Perform SSL hostname validation
    • r1866245 - Add SSL host validation check to X509_V_OK code path

CryptogramA Feminist Take on Information Privacy

Maria Farrell has a really interesting framing of information/device privacy:

What our smartphones and relationship abusers share is that they both exert power over us in a world shaped to tip the balance in their favour, and they both work really, really hard to obscure this fact and keep us confused and blaming ourselves. Here are some of the ways our unequal relationship with our smartphones is like an abusive relationship:

  • They isolate us from deeper, competing relationships in favour of superficial contact -- 'user engagement' -- that keeps their hold on us strong. Working with social media, they insidiously curate our social lives, manipulating us emotionally with dark patterns to keep us scrolling.

  • They tell us the onus is on us to manage their behavior. It's our job to tiptoe around them and limit their harms. Spending too much time on a literally-designed-to-be-behaviorally-addictive phone? They send company-approved messages about our online time, but ban from their stores the apps that would really cut our use. We just need to use willpower. We just need to be good enough to deserve them.

  • They betray us, leaking data / spreading secrets. What we shared privately with them is suddenly public. Sometimes this destroys lives, but hey, we only have ourselves to blame. They fight nasty and under-handed, and are so, so sorry when they get caught that we're meant to feel bad for them. But they never truly change, and each time we take them back, we grow weaker.

  • They love-bomb us when we try to break away, piling on the free data or device upgrades, making us click through page after page of dark pattern, telling us no one understands us like they do, no one else sees everything we really are, no one else will want us.

  • It's impossible to just cut them off. They've wormed themselves into every part of our lives, making life without them unimaginable. And anyway, the relationship is complicated. There is love in it, or there once was. Surely we can get back to that if we just manage them the way they want us to?

Nope. Our devices are basically gaslighting us. They tell us they work for and care about us, and if we just treat them right then we can learn to trust them. But all the evidence shows the opposite is true.

EDITED TO ADD (9/22) Cindy Cohn echoed a similar sentiment in her essay about John Barlow and his legacy.

Planet DebianColin Watson: Porting Storm to Python 3

We released Storm 0.21 on Friday (the release announcement seems to be stuck in moderation, but you can look at the NEWS file directly). For me, the biggest part of this release was adding Python 3 support.

Storm is a really nice and lightweight ORM (object-relational mapper) for Python, developed by Canonical. We use it for some major products (Launchpad and Landscape are the ones I know of), and it’s also free software and used by some other folks as well. Other popular ORMs for Python include SQLObject, SQLAlchemy and the Django ORM; we use those in various places too depending on the context, but personally I’ve always preferred Storm for the readability of code that uses it and for how easy it is to debug and extend it.

It’s been a problem for a while that Storm only worked with Python 2. It’s one of a handful of major blockers to getting Launchpad running on Python 3, which we definitely want to do; stoq ended up with a local fork of Storm to cope with this; and it was recently removed from Debian for this and other reasons. None of that was great. So, with significant assistance from a large patch contributed by Thiago Bellini, and with patient code review from Simon Poirier and some of my other colleagues, we finally managed to get that sorted out in this release.

In many ways, Storm was in fairly good shape already for a project that hadn’t yet been ported to Python 3: while its internal idea of which strings were bytes and which text required quite a bit of untangling in the way that Python 2 code usually does, its normal class used for text database columns was already Unicode which only accepted text input (unicode in Python 2), so it could have been a lot worse; this also means that applications that use Storm tend to get at least this part right even in Python 2. Aside from the bytes/text thing, many of the required changes were just the usual largely-mechanical ones that anyone who’s done 2-to-3 porting will be familiar with. But there were some areas that required non-trivial thought, and I’d like to talk about some of those here.

Exception types

Concrete database implementations such as psycopg2 raise implementation-specific exception types. The inheritance hierarchy for these is defined by the Python Database API (DB-API), but the actual exception classes aren’t in a common place; rather, you might get an instance of psycopg2.errors.IntegrityError when using PostgreSQL but an instance of sqlite3.IntegrityError when using SQLite. To make things easier for applications that don’t have a strict requirement for a particular database backend, Storm arranged to inject its own virtual exception types as additional base classes of these concrete exceptions by patching their __bases__ attribute, so for example, you could import IntegrityError from storm.exceptions and catch that rather than having to catch each backend-specific possibility.

Although this was always a bit of a cheat, it worked well in practice for a while, but the first sign of trouble even before porting to Python 3 was with psycopg2 2.5. This release started implementing its DB-API exception types in a C extension, which meant that it was no longer possible to patch __bases__. To get around that, a few years ago I landed a patch to Storm to use abc.ABCMeta.register instead to register the DB-API exceptions as virtual subclasses of Storm’s exceptions, which solved the problem for Python 2. However, even at the time I landed that, I knew that it would be a porting obstacle due to Python issue 12029; Django ran into that as well.

In the end, I opted to refactor how Storm handles exceptions: it now wraps cursor and connection objects in such a way as to catch DB-API exceptions raised by their methods and properties and re-raise them using wrapper exception types that inherit from both the appropriate subclass of StormError and the original DB-API exception type, and with some care I even managed to avoid this being painfully repetitive. Out-of-tree database backends will need to make some minor adjustments (removing install_exceptions, adding an _exception_module property to their Database subclass, adjusting the raw_connect method of their Database subclass to do exception wrapping, and possibly implementing _make_combined_exception_type and/or _wrap_exception if they need to add extra attributes to the wrapper exceptions). Applications that follow the usual Storm idiom of catching StormError or any of its subclasses should continue to work without needing any changes.

SQLObject compatibility

Storm includes some API compatibility with SQLObject; this was from before my time, but I believe it was mainly because Launchpad and possibly Landscape previously used SQLObject and this made the port to Storm very much easier. It still works fine for the parts of Launchpad that haven’t been ported to Storm, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were newer features of SQLObject that it doesn’t support.

The main question here was what to do with StringCol and its associated AutoUnicodeVariable. I opted to make these explicitly only accept text on Python 3, since the main reason for them to accept bytes was to allow using them with Python 2 native strings (i.e. str), and on Python 3 str is already text so there’s much less need for the porting affordance in that case.

Since releasing 0.21 I realised that the StringCol implementation in SQLObject itself in fact accepts both bytes and text even on Python 3, so it’s possible that we’ll need to change this in the future, although we haven’t yet found any real code using Storm’s SQLObject compatibility layer that might rely on this. Still, it’s much easier for Storm to start out on the stricter side and perhaps become more lenient than it is to go the other way round.

inspect.getargspec

Storm had some fairly complicated use of inspect.getargspec on Python 2 as part of its test mocking arrangements. This didn’t work in Python 3 due to some subtleties relating to bound methods. I switched to the modern inspect.signature API in Python 3 to fix this, which in any case is rather simpler with the exception of a wrinkle in how method descriptors work.

(It’s possible that these mocking arrangements could be simplified nowadays by using some more off-the-shelf mocking library; I haven’t looked into that in any detail.)

What’s next?

I’m working on getting Storm back into Debian now, which will be with Python 3 support only since Debian is in the process of gradually removing Python 2 module support. Other than that I don’t really have any particular plans for Storm at the moment (although of course I’m not the only person with an interest in it), aside from ideally avoiding leaving six years between releases again. I expect we can go back into bug-fixing mode there for a while.

From the Launchpad side, I’ve recently made progress on one of the other major Python 3 blockers (porting Bazaar code hosting to Breezy, coming soon). There are still some other significant blockers, the largest being migrating to Mailman 3, subvertpy fixes so that we can port code importing to Breezy as well, and porting the lazr.restful stack; but we may soon be able to reach the point where it’s possible to start running interesting subsets of the test suite using Python 3 and categorising the failures, at which point we’ll be able to get a much better idea of how far we still have to go. Porting a project with the best part of a million lines of code and around three hundred dependencies is always going to take a while, but I’m happy to be making progress there, both due to Python 2’s impending end of upstream support and so that eventually we can start using new language facilities.

,

Planet DebianJoey Hess: how to detect chef

If you want your program to detect when it's being run by chef, here's one way to do that.

sleep 1 while $ENV{PATH} =~ m#chef[^:]+/bin#;

This works because Chef's shell_out adds Gem.bindir to PATH, which is something like /opt/chefdk/embedded/bin.

You may want to delete the "sleep", which will make it run faster.

Would I or anyone ever really do this? Chef Inc's management seems determined to test the question, don't they.

Cory DoctorowWhy do people believe the Earth is flat?

I have an op-ed in today’s Globe and Mail, “Why do people believe the Earth is flat?” wherein I connect the rise of conspiratorial thinking to the rise in actual conspiracies, in which increasingly concentrated industries are able to come up with collective lobbying positions that result in everything from crashing 737s to toxic baby-bottle liners to the opioid epidemic.

In a world where official processes are understood to be corruptible and thus increasingly unreliable, we don’t just have a difference in what we believe to be true, but in how we believe we know whether something is true or not. Without an official, neutral, legitimate procedure for rooting out truth — the rule of law — we’re left just trusting experts who “sound right to us.”

Big Tech has a role to play here, but it’s not in automated brainwashing through machine learning: rather, it’s in the ability for conspiracy peddlers to find people who are ripe for their version of the truth, and in the ability of converts to find one another and create communities that make them resilient against social pressure to abandon their conspiracies.

Fighting conspiracies, then, is ultimately about fighting the corruption that makes them plausible — not merely correcting the beliefs of people who have come under their sway.

They say that ad-driven companies such as Google and Facebook threw so much R&D at using data-mining to persuade people to buy refrigerators, subprime loans and fidget-spinners that they accidentally figured out how to rob us of our free will. These systems put our online history through a battery of psychological tests, automatically pick an approach that will convince us, then bombard us with an increasingly extreme, increasingly tailored series of pitches until we’re convinced that creeping sharia and George Soros are coming for our children.

This belief is rooted in a deep and completely justified mistrust of the Big Tech companies, which have proven themselves liars time and again on matters of taxation, labour policy, complicity in state surveillance and oppression, and privacy practices.

But this well-founded skepticism is switched off when it comes to evaluating Big Tech’s self-serving claims about the efficacy of its products. Exhibit A for the Mind-Control Ray theory of conspiratorial thinking is the companies’ own sales literature, wherein they boast to potential customers about the devastating impact of their products, which, they say, are every bit as terrific as the critics fear they are.

Why do people believe the Earth is flat? [Cory Doctorow/The Globe and Mail]

,

Planet DebianDirk Eddelbuettel: digest 0.6.21

A new version of digest is just now arriving at CRAN (following a slight holdup over one likely spurious reverse dependency error), and I will send an updated package to Debian shortly as well.

digest creates hash digests of arbitrary R objects (using the md5, sha-1, sha-256, sha-512, crc32, xxhash32, xxhash64, murmur32, and spookyhash algorithms) permitting easy comparison of R language objects. It is a fairly widely-used package (currently listed at 795k downloads) as many tasks may involve caching of objects for which it provides convenient general-purpose hash key generation.

Every now and then open source work really surprises you. Out of nowhere arrived a very fine pull request by Matthew de Queljoe which adds a very clever function getVDigest() supplying a (much faster) vectorized wrapper for digest creation. We illustrate this in a quick demo vectorized.R that is included too. So if you call digest() in bulk, this will most likely be rather helpful to you. Matthew even did further cleanups and refactorings but we are saving that for a subsequent pull request or two.

CRANberries provides the usual summary of changes to the previous version.

For questions or comments use the issue tracker off the GitHub repo.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

Planet DebianBen Hutchings: Linux Plumbers Conference 2019, part 2

Here's the second chunk of notes I took at Linux Plumbers Conference earlier this month. Part 1 covered the Distribution kernels track.

Kernel Debugging Tools BoF

Moderators: George Wilson and Serapheim Dimitropoulos from Delphix; Omar Sandoval from Facebook

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/539/

Problem: ability to easily anlyse failures in production (live system) or post-mortem (crash dump).

Debuggers need to:

  • Get consistent stack traces
  • Traverse and pretty-print memory structures
  • Easily introduce, extend. combine commands

Most people present use crash; one mentioned crash-python (aka pycrash) and one uses kgdb.

Pain points:

  • Tools not keeping up with kernel changes
  • Poor scripting support in crash

crash-python is a Python layer on top of a gdb fork. Uses libkdumpfile to decode compressed crash-dumps.

drgn (aka Dragon) is a debugger-as-a-library. Excels in introspectiion of live systems and crash-dumps, and covers both kernel and user-space. It can be extended through Python. As a library it can be imported and used from the Python REPL.

sdb is Deplhix's front-end to drgn, providing a more shell-like interactive interface. Example of syntax:

> modules | filter obj.refcnt.counter > 10 | member name

Currently it doesn't always have good type information for memory. A raw virtual address can be typed using the "cast" command in a pipeline. Hoping that BTF will allow doing better.

Allows defining pretty-print functions, though it appears these have to be explciitly invoked.

Answering tough questions:

  • Can I see any stacks with a specific function in? (bpftrace can do that on a live system, but there's no similar facility for crash dumps.)
  • What I/O is currently being issued?
  • Which files are currently being written?

Some discussion around the fact that drgn has a lot of code that's dependent on kernel version, as internal structures change. How can it be kept in sync with the kernel? Could some of that code be moved into the kernel tree?

Omar (I think) said that his approach was to make drgn support multiple versions of structure definitions.

Q: How does this scale to the many different kernel branches that are used in different distributions and different hardware platforms?

A: drgn will pick up BTF structure definitions. When BTF is available the code only needs to handle addition/removal of members it accesses.

Brendan Gregg made a plea to distro maintainers to enable BTF. (CONFIG_DEBUG_INFO_BTF).

Wayland BoF

Moderator: Hans de Goede of Red Hat

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/533/

Pain points and missing pieces with Wayland, or specifically GNOME Shell:

  • GNOME Shell is slower
  • Synergy doesn't work(?) - needs to be in the compositor
  • With Nvidia proprietary driver, mutter and native Wayland clients get GPU acceleration but X clients don't
  • No equivalent to ssh -X. Pipewire goes some way to the solution. The whole desktop can be remoted over RDP which can be tunnelled over SSH.
  • No remote login protocol like XDMCP
  • No Xvfb equivalent
  • Various X utilities that grab hot-keys don't have equivalents for Wayland
  • Not sure if all X's video acceleration features are implemented. Colour format conversion and hardware scaling are implemented.
  • Pointer movement becomes sluggish after a while (maybe related to GC in GNOME Shell?)
  • Performance, in general. GNOME Shell currently has to work as both a Wayland server and an X compositor, which limits the ability to optimise for Wayland.

IoT from the point of view of view of a generic and enterprise distribution

Speaker: Peter Robinson of Red Hat

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/439/

The good

Can now use u-boot with UEFI support on most Arm hardware. Much easier to use a common kernel on multiple hardware platforms, and UEFI boot can be assumed.

The bad

"Enterprise" and "industrial" IoT is not a Raspberry Pi. Problems result from a lot of user-space assuming the world is an RPi.

Is bluez still maintained? No user-space releases for 15 months! Upstream not convinced this is a problem, but distributions now out of synch as they have to choose between last release and arbitrary git snapshot.

Wi-fi and Bluetooth firmware fixes (including security fixes) missing from linux-firmware.git. RPi Foundation has improved Bluetooth firmware for the chip they use but no-one else can redistribute it.

Lots of user-space uses /sys/class/gpio, which is now deprecated and can be disabled in kconfig. libgpiod would abstract this, but has poor documentation. Most other GPIO libraries don't work with new GPIO UAPI.

Similar issues with IIO - a lot of user-space doesn't use it but uses user-space drivers banging GPIOs etc. libiio exists but again has poor documentation.

For some drivers, even newly added drivers, the firmware has not been added to linux-firmware.git. Isn't there a policy that it should be? It seems to be an unwritten rule at present.

Toolchain track

Etherpad: https://etherpad.net/p/LPC2019_TC/timeslider#5767

Security feature parity between GCC and Clang

Speaker: Kees Cook of Google

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/398/

LWN article: https://lwn.net/Articles/798913/

Analyzing changes to the binary interface exposed by the Kernel to its modules

Speaker: Dodji Seketeli of Red Hat

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/399/

Wrapping system calls in glibc

Speakers: Maciej Rozycki of WDC

Details: https://linuxplumbersconf.org/event/4/contributions/397/

LWN article: https://lwn.net/Articles/799331/

CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Piglet Squid

Another piglet squid video.

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

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Planet DebianBernhard R. Link: Firefox 69 dropped support for

With version 69, firefox removed the support for the <keygen> feature to easily deploy TLS client certificates.
It's kind of sad how used I've become to firefox giving me less and less reasons to use it...

Planet DebianEnrico Zini: Upgrading LineageOS 14 to 16

The LineageOS updater notified me that there will be no more updates for LineageOS 14, because now development on my phone happens on LineageOS 16, so I set aside some time and carefully followed the upgrade instructions.

I now have a phone with Lineageos 16, but the whole modem subsystem does not work.

Advice on #lineageos was that "the wiki instructions are often a bit generic.. offical thread often has the specific details".

Official thread is here, and the missing specific detail was "Make sure you had Samsung's Oreo firmware bootloader and modem before installing this.".

It looks like nothing ever installed firmware updates, since the Android that came with my phone ages ago. I can either wipe everything and install a stock android to let it do the upgrade, then replace it with LineageOS, or try a firmware upgrade.

This link has instructions for firmware upgrades using haimdall, which is in Debian, instead of Odin, which is in Windows.

Finding firmwares is embarassing. They only seem to be available from links on shady download sites, or commercial sites run by who knows whom. I verify sha256sums on LineageOS images, F-Droid has reproducible builds, but at the base of this wonderful stack there's going to be a blob downloaded off some forum on the internet.

In this case, this link points to some collection of firmware blobs.

I downloaded the pack and identified the ones for my phone, then unpacked the tar files and uncompressed the lz4 blobs.

With heimdall, I identified the mapping from partition names to blob names:

heimdall print-pit --no-reboot

Then I did the flashing:

heimdall flash --resume --RADIO modem.bin --CM cm.bin --PARAM param.bin --BOOTLOADER sboot.bin

The first time flashing didn't work, and I got stuck in download mode. This explains how to get out of download mode (power + volume down for 10s).

Second attempt worked fine, and now I have a working phone again:

heimdall flash --RADIO modem.bin --CM cm.bin --PARAM param.bin --BOOTLOADER sboot.bin

CryptogramNew Biometrics

This article discusses new types of biometrics under development, including gait, scent, heartbeat, microbiome, and butt shape (no, really).

Worse Than FailureError'd: Full Stack Languages...and BEYOND!

"When travelling to outer space, don't forget your...Javascript code?" writes Rob S.

 

Pascal wrote, "If you ask me, I think Dr. Phil needs to hire a captioner that doens't have a stutter."

 

Tore F. writes, "If the Lenovo System Update tool was coded to expect an unexpected exception, does that mean that it was, in fact, actually expected?"

 

"Note to self: Never set the A/C to its lowest limit, or at least have a toilet and TP handy," writes Peter G.

 

"No matter how hard you try, Yodal, 82 - (-7) does not equal 22," Chris E. wrote.

 

Jiri G. writes, "100% service availability? Nah, you don't need that. Close enough is good enough."

 

[Advertisement] Continuously monitor your servers for configuration changes, and report when there's configuration drift. Get started with Otter today!

,

Planet DebianLouis-Philippe Véronneau: Praise Be CUPS Driverless Printing

Last Tuesday, I finally got to start updating $work's many desktop computers to Debian Buster. I use Puppet to manage them remotely, so major upgrades basically mean reinstalling machines from scratch and running Puppet.

Over the years, the main upgrade hurdle has always been making our very large and very complicated printers work on Debian. Unsurprisingly, the blog posts I have written on that topic are very popular and get me a few 'thank you' emails per month.

I'm very happy to say, thanks to CUPS Driverless Printing (CUPS 2.2.2+), all those trials and tribulations are finally over. Printing on Buster just works. Yes yes, even color booklets printed on 11x17 paper folded in 3 stapled in the middle.

Xerox Altalink C8045 and Canon imageRUNNER ADVANCE C5550i

Although by default the Xerox Altalink C8045 comes with IPP Everywhere enabled, I wasn't able to print in color until I enabled AirPrint. I also had to update the printer to firmware version 101.002.008.274001 to make the folding and stapling features more stable.

As for the Canon imageRUNNER ADVANCE C5550i, it seems it doesn't support IPP Everywhere. After enabling AirPrint manually, everything worked perfectly.

Both printers now work wonderfully with all our computers, without the need to resort to strange (and broken) proprietary drivers or aweful 32bit libraries.

Note that if you run a firewall locally, you will need to open port 5353 UDP for machines to resolve .local addresses via mDNS. This had me bumped for a while.

Praises

Packaging CUPS and all the related CUPS bits for Debian isn't an easy task. I'm so glad I don't have to touch that side of CUPS. Three cheers to Didier Raboud, Till Kamppeter and to the Debian Printing Team.

Many, many thanks to Brian Potkin for the work he did to document CUPS Driverless printing and AirPrint on the Debian wiki. If we ever meet, I definitely owe you a pint.

Finally, well, thanks to Apple. (I never thought I'd ever say that)


  1. That took me a few hours. Yes. 

Planet DebianThomas Lange: FAI 5.8.7 and new ISO images using Debian 10

The new FAI release 5.8.7 now supports apt keys in files called package_config/CLASS.gpg. Before we only supported .asc files. fai-mirror has a new option -V, which checks if variables are used in package_config/ and uses variable definitions from class/.var.

I've also created new ISO images, which now install Debian 10 by default. They are available from

https://fai-project.org/fai-cd

If you need a newer kernel, checkout the FAI.me service which can also build ISO images using the kernel from backports which currently is 5.2.

FAI

CryptogramRevisiting Software Vulnerabilities in the Boeing 787

I previously blogged about a Black Hat talk that disclosed security vulnerabilities in the Boeing 787 software. Ben Rothke concludes that the vulnerabilities are real, but not practical.

Planet DebianRaphaël Hertzog: Freexian’s report about Debian Long Term Support, August 2019

A Debian LTS logoLike each month, here comes a report about the work of paid contributors to Debian LTS.

Individual reports

In August, 212.5 work hours have been dispatched among 13 paid contributors. Their reports are available:

  • Adrian Bunk got 8h assigned (plus 18 extra hours from July), but did nothing, thus he is carrying over 26h to September.
  • Ben Hutchings did 20 hours (out of 20 hours allocated).
  • Brian May did 10 hours (out of 10 hours allocated).
  • Chris Lamb did 18 hours (out of 18 hours allocated).
  • Emilio Pozuelo Monfort did 31 hours (out of 21.75h assigned plus 14.5 extra hours from July), thus he is carrying over 5.25h to September).
  • Hugo Lefeuvre did 30.5 hours (out of 21.75 hours allocated, plus 8.75 extra hours from July).
  • Jonas Meurer did 0.5 hours (out of 10, thus carrying 9.5h to September).
  • Markus Koschany did 21.75 hours (out of 21.75 hours allocated).
  • Mike Gabriel did 24 hours (out of 21.75 hours allocated plus 10 extra hours from July, thus carrying over 7.75h to September).
  • Ola Lundqvist got 8h assigned (plus 8 extra hours from August), but did nothing and gave back 8h, thus he is carrying over 8h to September.
  • Roberto C. Sanchez did 8 hours (out of 8 hours allocated).
  • Sylvain Beucler did 21.75 hours (out of 21.75 hours allocated).
  • Thorsten Alteholz did 21.75 hours (out of 21.75 hours allocated).

Evolution of the situation

August was more or less a normal month, a bit still affected by summer in the area where most contributors live: so one contributor is still taking a break (thus we only had 13, not 14), two contributors were distracted by summer events and another one is still in training.

It’s been a while that we haven’t welcomed a new LTS sponsors. Nothing worrisome at this point as few sponsors are stopping, but after 5 years, some have moved on so it would be nice to keep finding new ones as well. We are still at 215 hours sponsored by month.

The security tracker currently lists 42 packages with a known CVE and the dla-needed.txt file has 39 packages needing an update.

Thanks to our sponsors

New sponsors are in bold.

No comment | Liked this article? Click here. | My blog is Flattr-enabled.

Worse Than FailureRedesign By Committee

Sample web form

Carl was excited to join his first "real" company and immerse himself in the World of Business. The fresh-faced IT Analyst was immediately assigned to a "cross-strata implementation team" tasked with redesigning the RMA form completed by customers when they returned goods. The current form had been flagged for various weaknesses and omissions.

The project's kickoff meeting ran for three hours, with twelve team members in attendance representing departments throughout the company. By the end of the meeting, the problem had been defined, and everyone had homework: to report to the next team meeting with their own interpretations of what the new form should look like.

Each team member dutifully came back with at least one version of the form each. The next meeting consisted of Norman, the QA Manager, critiquing each prospective form as it was presented to the group. Without fail, he'd shake his head with a furrowed brow, muttering "No, no ..."

This proceeded, form after form, until Terry, an Accounts Junior, presented his version. When Norman expressed displeasure, Terry dared to ask, "Well? What's wrong with it?"

Norman gestured to the list of required criteria in his hands. "You've missed this piece of information, and that's probably the most important item we need to capture."

Terry frowned. "But, Norman, your form doesn't have that information on it, either."

Upon looking down at his own form, Norman realized Terry was correct. He rallied to save his dignity. "Ah, yes, but, you see, I know that it's missing."

Stupefied, Terry backed down.

Carl cycled through bafflement, boredom, and agony of the soul as the meeting dragged on. At one point, Finance Manager Kevin picked up yet another version of the form and asked, "What about this one, then?"

Jason the Ops Manager skimmed through it, ticking off items against the list of criteria. "Yup, yup, yup, yup ... yes, this is it! I think we've cracked it!" he exclaimed.

Norman peered at the form in Jason's hands. "That's the form we're currently using." The very form they needed to replace.

Hours upon hours of combined effort had thus far resulted in no progress whatsoever. Carl glanced at the conference room's wall clock with its stubbornly slow hands, wondering if a camera hidden behind it were recording his reaction for a YouTube prank channel. But, no. He was simply immersed in the World of Business.

[Advertisement] BuildMaster allows you to create a self-service release management platform that allows different teams to manage their applications. Explore how!

Planet DebianLouis-Philippe Véronneau: Archiving 20 years of online content

Last Spring at work I was tasked with archiving all of the digital content made by Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ), a student union federation that was planned to shut down six months later.

Now that I've done it, I have to say it was quite a demanding task: ASSÉ was founded in 2001 and neither had proper digital archiving policies nor good web practices in general.

The goal was not only archiving those web resources, but also making sure they were easily accessible online too. I thus decided to create a meta site regrouping and presenting all of them.

All in all, I archived:

  • a Facebook page
  • a Twitter account
  • a YouTube account
  • multiple ephemeral websites
  • old handcrafted PHP4 websites that I had to partially re-write
  • a few crummy Wordpress sites
  • 2 old phpBB Forum using PHP3
  • a large Mailman2 mailing list
  • a large Yahoo! Group mailing list

Here are the three biggest challenges I faced during this project:

The Twitter API has stupid limitations

The Twitter API won't give you more than an account's last 3000 posts. When you need to automate the retrieval of more than 5500 tweets, you know you're entering a world of pain.

Long story short, I ended up writing this crummy shell script to parse the HTML, statify all the Twitter links and push the resulting code to a Wordpress site using Ozh' Tweet Archive Theme. The URL list was generated using the ArchiveTeam's web crawler.

Of course, once done I made the Wordpress into a static website. I personally think the result looks purty.

Here's the shell script I wrote - displayed here for archival purposes only. Let's pray I don't ever have to do this again. Please don't run this, as it might delete your grandma.

cat $1 | while read line
do
  # get the ID
  id=$(echo $line | sed 's@https://mobile.twitter.com/.\+/status/@@')
  # download the whole HTML page
  html=$(curl -s $line)
  # get the date
  date=$(echo "$html" | grep -A 1 '<div class="metadata">' | grep -o "[0-9].\+20[0-9][0-9]" | sed 's/ - //' | date -f - +"%F %k:%M:%S")
  # extract the tweet
  tweet=$(echo "$html" | grep '<div class="dir-ltr" dir="ltr">')
  # we strip the HTML tags for the title
  title=$(echo $tweet | sed -e 's/<[^>]*>//g')
  # get CSV list of tags
  tags=$(echo "$tweet" | grep -io "\#[a-z]\+" | sed ':a;N;$!ba;s/\n/,/g')
  # get a CSV list of links
  links=$(echo "$tweet" | grep -Po "title=\"http.*?>" | sed 's/title=\"//; s/">//' | sed ':a;N;$!ba;s/\n/,/g')
  # get a CSV list of usernames
  usernames=$(echo "$tweet" | grep -Po ">\@.*?<" | sed 's/>//; s/<//' | sed ':a;N;$!ba;s/\n/,/g')
  image_link=$(echo "$html" | grep "<img src=\"https://pbs.twimg.com/media/" | sed 's/:small//')

  # remove twitter cruft
  tweet=$(echo $tweet | sed 's/<div class="dir-ltr" dir="ltr"> /<p>/' | perl -pe 's@<a href="/hashtag.*?dir="ltr">@<span class="hashtag hashtag_local">@g')

  # expand links
if [ ! -z $links ]
then
    IFS=',' read -ra link <<< "$links"
    for i in "${link[@]}"
    do
      tweet=$(echo $tweet | perl -pe "s@<a href=\"*.+?rel=\"nofollow noopener\"dir=\"ltr\"data-*.+?</a>@<a href='$i'>$i</a>@")
    done
  fi

  # replace hashtags by links
  if [ ! -z $tags ]
  then
    IFS=',' read -ra tag <<< "$tags"
    for i in "${tag[@]}"
    do
      plain=$(echo $i | sed -e 's/#//')
      tweet=$(echo $tweet | sed -e "s@$i@#<a href=\"https://oiseau.asse-solidarite.qc.ca/index.php/tag/$plain\">$plain@")
    done
  fi

  # replace usernames by links
  if [ ! -z $usernames ]
  then
    IFS=',' read -ra username <<< "$usernames"
    for i in "${username[@]}"
    do
      plain=$(echo $i | sed -e 's/\@//')
      tweet=$(echo $tweet | perl -pe "s@<a href=\"/$plain.*?</a>@<span class=\"username username_linked\">\@<a href=\"https://twitter.com/$plain\">$plain</a></span>@i")
    done
  fi

  # replace images
  tweet=$(echo $tweet | perl -pe "s@<a href=\"http://t.co*.+?data-pre-embedded*.+?</a>@<span class=\"embed_image embed_image_yes\">$image_link</span>@")

echo $tweet | sudo -u twitter wp-cli post create - --post_title="$title" --post_status="publish" --tags_input="$tag" --post_date="$date" > tmp
post_id=$(grep -Po "[0-9]{4}" tmp)
sudo -u twitter wp-cli post meta add $post_id ozh_ta_id $id
echo "$post_id created"
rm tmp
done

Does anyone ever update phpBBs?

What's worse than a phpBB forum? Two phpBB 2.0.x forums using PHP3 and last updated in 2006.

I had to resort to unholy methods just to be able to get those things running again to be able to wget the crap out of them.

By the way, the magic wget command to grab a whole website looks like this:

wget --mirror -e robots=off --page-requisites --adjust-extension -nv --base=./ --convert-links --directory-prefix=./ -H -D www.foo.org,foo.org http://www.foo.org/

Depending on the website you are trying to archive, you might have to play with other obscure parameters. I sure had to. All the credits for that command goes to Koumbit's wiki page on the dark arts of website statification.

Archiving mailing lists

mailman2 is pretty great. You can get a dump of an email list pretty easily and mailman3's web frontend, the lovely hyperkitty, is well, lovely. Importing a legacy mailman2 mbox went without a hitch thanks to the awesome hyperkitty_import importer. Kudos to the Debian Mailman Team for packaging this in Debian for us.

But what about cramming a Yahoo! Group mailing list in hyperkitty? I wouldn't recommend it. After way too many hours spent battling character encoding errors I just decided people that wanted to read obscure emails from 2003 would have to deal with broken accents and shit. But hey, it kinda works!

Oh, and yes, archiving a Yahoo! Group with an old borken Perl script wasn't an easy task. Hell, I kept getting blacklisted by Yahoo! for scraping too much data to their liking. I ended up patching together the results of multiple runs over a few weeks to get the full mbox and attachments.

By the way, if anyone knows how to tell hyperkitty to stop at a certain year (i.e. not display links for 2019 when the list stopped in 2006), please ping me.

,

Krebs on SecurityBefore He Spammed You, this Sly Prince Stalked Your Mailbox

A reader forwarded what he briefly imagined might be a bold, if potentially costly, innovation on the old Nigerian prince scam that asks for help squirreling away millions in unclaimed fortune: It was sent via the U.S. Postal Service, with a postmarked stamp and everything.

In truth these old fashioned “advance fee” or “419” scams predate email and have circulated via postal mail in various forms and countries over the years.

The recent one pictured below asks for help in laundering some $11.6 million from an important dead person that anyway has access to a secret stash of cash. Any suckers who bite are strung along for weeks while imaginary extortionists or crooked employees at these bureaucratic institutions demand licenses, bribes or other payments before disbursing any funds. Those funds never arrive, no matter how much money the sucker gives up.

This type of “advance fee” or “419” scam letter is common in spam, probably less so via USPS.

It’s easy to laugh at this letter, because it’s sometimes funny when scammers try so hard. But then again, maybe the joke’s on us because sending these scams via USPS makes them even more appealing to the people most vulnerable: Older individuals with access to cash but maybe not all their marbles. 

Sure, the lure costs $.55 up front. But a handful of successful responses to thousands of mailers could net fortunes for these guys phishing it old school.

The losses from these types of scams are sometimes hard to track because so many go unreported. But they are often perpetrated by the same people involved in romance scams online and in so-called ‘business email compromise” or BEC fraud, wherein the scammers try to spoof the boss at a major company in a bid to get wire payment for an “urgent” (read: fraudulent) invoice.

These scam letters are sometimes called 419 scams in reference to the penal code for dealing with such crimes in Nigeria, a perennial source of 419 letter schemes. A recent bust of a Nigerian gang targeted by the FBI gives some perspective on the money-making abilities of a $10 million ring that was running these scams all day long.

Reportedly, in the first seven months of 2019 alone the FBI received nearly 14,000 complaints reporting BEC scams with a total loss of around $1.1 billion—a figure that nearly matches losses reported for all of 2018.

CryptogramCracking Forgotten Passwords

Expandpass is a string expansion program. It's "useful for cracking passwords you kinda-remember." You tell the program what you remember about the password and it tries related passwords.

I learned about it in this article about Phil Dougherty, who helps people recover lost cryptocurrency passwords (mostly Ethereum) for a cut of the recovered value.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: You Can Take Care

Tiberrias sends us some code that, on its face, without any context, doesn’t look bad.

var conditionId = _monitorConditionManagement.GetActiveConditionCountByClient(clientIdentityNumber);

_monitorConditionManagement.StopCondition(conditionId);

The purpose of this code is to lookup a condition ID for a client, and then clear that condition from a client by StopConditioning that ID. Which, if you read the code closely, the problem becomes obvious: GetActiveConditionCountByClient. Count. This doesn’t return a condition ID, it returns the count of the number of active conditions. So, this is a stupid, simple mistake, an easy error to make, and an easy error to catch- this code simply doesn’t work, so what’s the WTF?

This code was written by a developer who either made a simple mistake or just didn’t care. But then it went through code review- and the code reviewer either missed it, or just didn’t care. It’s okay, though, because there are unit tests. There’s a rich, robust unit test suite. But in this case, the GetActiveConditionCountByClient and the StopCondition methods are just mocks, and the person who wrote the unit test didn’t check to see that the mocks were called as expected, because they just didn’t care.

Still, there’s an entire QA team between this code and production, and since this code definitely can’t work, they’re going to catch the bug, right? They might- if they cared. But this code passed QA, and got released into production.

The users might notice, but the StopCondition method is so nice that, if given an invalid ID, it just logs the error and trucks on. The users think their action worked. But hey, there’s a log file, right? There’s an operations team which monitors the logs and should notice a lot of errors suddenly appearing. They just would have to care, which guess what…

This bug only got discovered and fixed because Tiberrias noticed it while scrolling through the class to fix an entirely unrelated bug.

“You really shouldn’t fix two unrelated bugs in the same commit,” the code reviewer said when Tiberrias submitted it.

There was only one way to reply. “I don’t care.”

[Advertisement] ProGet supports your applications, Docker containers, and third-party packages, allowing you to enforce quality standards across all components. Download and see how!

,

Planet DebianShirish Agarwal: Dissonance, Rakhigiri, one-party system

I heard the term dissonance or Cognitive dissonance about a year, year and a half back. This is the strategy that BJP used to win in 2014 and in 2019. How much part did EVM’s play and how much part did the cognitive dissonance work is hard to tell and define but both have made irreperable damage to not just the economy, social fabric, institutions, the constitution but the idea of India itself. India, the country which has thousands of different cultures, castes, are for one reason or the other put into hate which seems to have no end. But before going into the politics, let me share one beautiful video which got played on social media and also quickly forgotten.

Dhol Tasha in Ganesh Chaturthi

The gentleman playing that drum is Mr. Greg Ellis. While we had Ganesh Chaturthi just a while back, the most laid-back I have seen in my whole 40+ years. While there were other dhol tasha plays which played for e.g. these two videos

and

I do like the first one though which represents what is and used to be call jugalbandi. This is where two artists talk to each other having conversation while playing their instruments. For e.g. Zakir Hussain Sahab and Shivamani and many others. but that perhaps is a story for another day.

The Science and Politics of the 4500 year old Rakhigarhi woman.

This story was broken couple of weeks back. The best way or person to perhaps explain it in plain english would perhaps be Shekhar Gupta . From the discussions you see it is much heated and contested topic.

The study that was done can be found at https://reich.hms.harvard.edu/sites/reich.hms.harvard.edu/files/inline-files/2019_Cell_ShindeNarasimhan_Rakhigarhi.pdf and https://reich.hms.harvard.edu/sites/reich.hms.harvard.edu/files/inline-files/2019_Science_NarasimhanPatterson_CentralSouthAsia.pdf . In fact you can see whole series of papers on the same topic https://reich.hms.harvard.edu/publications . Now the Indian nationalist narrative movement is that Aryan migration does not take place while others say it’s the opposite. One can look at a bit more background on the story in the Indian Express article which came a few months before, before the whole controversy erupted.

One of the best things that has happened is the ability to get the DNA from a 4500 year old specimen. This is Priya Moorani’s github repo. which helped them get the genome data. I am sure some of the Debian folks may be interested in such kind of forensic anthropology. I know I had shared bits of its previously as well but it didn’t fit well with me as I had hadn’t shared the whole narrative behind it and the positions that people have taken.

The Economy

The Economy is in a bad shape in India is in a bad shape is not a hidden thing anymore but India Inc. had been keeping quiet. Apart from Ratan Tata and Mahindra who quipped about the R-word (Recession) only two ladies seems to be able a spade, a spade and both of them called on it on NDTV . Both these ladies are wealth-creators and have made India proud, one of them even benefiting from the rupee crash but even then their heart in the right place.

The Madame above is Ms. Kiran Majumdar Shaw who is a billionaire who makes her money selling generic active pharmaceutical ingredients and other bio products to advanced countries. Businessworld had done stories on pharmaceutical development, engineering about 6-7 years back when it was an emerging industry and lot of startups had come into the field. While it is a pretty competitive field with about 60 odd companies and biocon itself shedding quite a bit of its price on the stock exchange and still she has the guts to criticize the Modi Govt.

The other is Shobhana Kamineni of Apollo Hospitals, which is in superspeciality hospitals. Both the ladies are into medicine field and both are in the high-risk and high-reward game and still they are able to speak their mind. What is and was shocking for many of us is the kind of numbers she had shared of people emigrating to elsewhere in the last 5 odd years which perhaps wasn’t the case before. In fact, couple of days back both Indian Express and the Wire ran stories showing how millionaires and billionaires are moving out of the country. This hasn’t happened in a day but over a 5 year period. While people are saying that the money is being spent on trael and education, in fact it is due to tax harrassment and structural issues in the broader economy that wealth-creators are leaving. Of course for the rest of us it is the Hindu-Muslim topics but that is another story altogether.

The Hindu-Muslim polarization

When I talk to most of the Bhakts or people who have a militant belief of the way BJP is going, one of the questions I ask is, who are these muslims, are they the ones who came from Arab or are these converted Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs etc. Most of them were and our own people who choose to convert to a religion because they saw upward mobility in that religion. So in a way the whole debate collapses. The saddest part is whether it is Hindu-Muslim polarization or Hindu-Sikh polarization it is always one brother beating the other. Also, studies showed that in the 2002 Gujarat riots, the ones who took part in the riots were from the lowest strata of the society because by killing the Muslims, they got prestige and money in the society. While I’m sure I have shared the studies before on the site, but if not shared, please let me know and will update the same accordingly. It is somewhere in my bookmarks somewhere 🙂

Chandrayaan 2 (Update)

The Update for Chandrayaan 2 has been that it was shared by ISRO team that the last 2 kms. the thrust landers which should have been pushing against gravity and moon so that the lander would land softly did the opposite or the reverse i.e. instead of pushing against the moon/regolith gave speed which may have resulted in the crash. In few days NASA may share some photographs of the lander.

The Single-party State

One of the newest discussions that has been thrown is having a single party for the country. Now I dunno whether it is just for us to get us into another discussions or controversies as they have been doing for last so many years, just like Trump does every other day or does he mean it. If this becomes a reality, then there will be nothing left. Even the judiciary has been keeping quiet on the habeaus corpus on the Kashmir issue . In fact Shah Faesal, who if memory serves me right, came on a BJP ticket has withdrawn his habeaus corpus writ as thousands of kashmiris has no access to put up such a writ. Also the Supreme Court casual approach has baffled many of the legal luminaries in the field. At the end, I don’t really know what to look out for The economy doesn’t seem will recover in the short-to-medium term and with the Saudi fields hit, oil, petrol will climb more than ever before. Not a happy note to end on though but it is, what it is.

Update 18/09/2019 – Newslaundry shared that ANI (A Govt. mouthpiece) has been told to alter the stories on single-party state so it appears a bit differently, some papers have still carried it in the same. Youtube also has his statement on record so he can’t escape.

Krebs on SecurityMan Who Hired Deadly Swatting Gets 15 Months

An Ohio teen who recruited a convicted serial “swatter” to fake a distress call that ended in the police shooting an innocent Kansas man in 2017 has been sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Image: FBI.gov

“Swatting” is a dangerous hoax that involves making false claims to emergency responders about phony hostage situations or bomb threats, with the intention of prompting a heavily-armed police response to the location of the claimed incident.

The tragic swatting hoax that unfolded on the night of Dec. 28, 2017 began with a dispute over a $1.50 wager in an online game “Call of Duty” between Shane M. Gaskill, a 19-year-old Wichita, Kansas resident, and Casey S. Viner, 18, from the Cincinnati, OH area.

Viner wanted to get back at Gaskill in grudge over the Call of Duty match, and so enlisted the help of another man — Tyler R. Barriss — a serial swatter in California known by the alias “SWAuTistic” who’d bragged of swatting hundreds of schools and dozens of private residences.

Chat transcripts presented by prosecutors showed Viner and Barriss both saying if Gaskill isn’t scared of getting swatted, he should give up his home address. But the address that Gaskill gave Viner to pass on to Barriss no longer belonged to him and was occupied by a new tenant.

Barriss’s fatal call to 911 emergency operators in Wichita was relayed from a local, non-emergency line. Barriss falsely claimed he was at the address provided by Viner, that he’d just shot his father in the head, was holding his mom and sister at gunpoint, and was thinking about burning down the home with everyone inside.

Wichita police quickly responded to the fake hostage report and surrounded the address given by Gaskill. Seconds later, 28-year-old Andrew Finch exited his mom’s home and was killed by a single shot from a Wichita police officer. Finch, a father of two, had no party to the gamers’ dispute and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Swatting is not a prank, and it is no way to resolve disputes among gamers,” U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister, said in a press statement. “Once again, I call upon gamers to self-police their community to ensure that the practice of swatting is ended once and for all.”

In chat records presented by prosecutors, Viner admitted to his role in the deadly swatting attack:

Defendant VINER: I literally said you’re gonna be swatted, and the guy who swatted him can easily say I convinced him or something when I said hey can you swat this guy and then gave him the address and he said yes and then said he’d do it for free because I said he doesn’t think anything will happen
Defendant VINER: How can I not worry when I googled what happens when you’re involved and it said a eu [sic] kid and a US person got 20 years in prison min
Defendant VINER: And he didn’t even give his address he gave a false address apparently
J.D.: You didn’t call the hoax in…
Defendant VINER: Does t [sic] even matter ?????? I was involved I asked him to do it in the first place
Defendant VINER: I gave him the address to do it, but then again so did the other guy he gave him the address to do it as well and said do it pull up etc

Barriss was sentenced earlier this year to 20 years in federal prison for his role in the fatal swatting attack.

Barriss also pleaded guilty to making hoax bomb threats in phone calls to the headquarters of the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. In addition, he made bomb threat and swatting calls from Los Angeles to emergency numbers in Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Massachusetts, Illinois, Utah, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Missouri, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New York, Michigan, Florida and Canada.

Prosecutors for the county that encompasses Wichita decided in April 2018 that the officer who fired the shot that killed Andrew Finch would not face charges, and would not be named because he wasn’t being charged with a crime.

Viner was sentenced after pleading guilty to one count each of conspiracy and obstructing justice, the US attorney’s office for Kansas said. CNN reports that Gaskill has been placed on deferred prosecution.

Viner’s obstruction charge stems from attempts to erase records of his communications with Barriss and the Wichita gamer, McAllister’s office said. In addition to his prison sentence, Viner was ordered to pay $2,500 in restitution and serve two years of supervised release.

Planet DebianBits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (July and August 2019)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months:

  • Keng-Yu Lin (kengyu)
  • Judit Foglszinger (urbec)

The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months:

  • Hans van Kranenburg
  • Scarlett Moore

Congratulations!

Planet DebianAntoine Beaupré: FSF resignations

I have been hesitant in renewing my membership to the Free Software Foundation for a while, but now I never want to deal with the FSF until Richard Stallman, president and founder of the free software movement, resigns. So, like many people and organizations, I have written this letter to cancel my membership. (Update: RMS resigned before I even had time to send this letter, but I publish here to share my part of this story.)

My encounters with a former hero

I had the (mis)fortune of meeting rms in person a few times in my life. The first time was at an event we organized for his divine visit to Montreal in 2005. I couldn't attend the event myself, but I had the "privilege" of having dinner with rms later during the week. Richard completely shattered any illusion I had about him as a person. He was arrogant, full of himself, and totally uninterested in the multitude of young hackers he was meeting in his many travels, apart from, of course, arguing with them about proper wording and technicalities. Even though we brought him to the fanciest vegetarian restaurant in town, he got upset because the restaurant was trying to make "fake meat" meals. Somehow my hero, who wrote the GNU manifesto that inspired me to make free software a life goal, has spoiled a delicious meal by being such an ungrateful guest. I would learn later that Stallman has rock star level requirements, with "vegetarian meals served just so" being only one exception out of many. (I don't mind vegetarians of course: I've been a vegetarian for more than 20 years now, but I will never refuse vegetarian food given to me.)

The second time was less frustrating: it was in 2006 during the launch of the GPLv3 discussion draft, an ambitious project to include the community in the rewrite of the GPLv2. Even though I was deeply interested in the legal implications of the changes, everything went a bit over my head and I felt left out of a process that was supposedly designed to include legal geeks like me. At best, I was able to assist Stallman's assistant as she skidded over icy Boston sidewalks with a stereotypical (and maybe a little machismo, I must admit) Canadian winter assurance. At worst, I burned liters of fuel to drive me and some colleagues over the border to see idols speak on a stage.

Finally, I somehow got tangled up with rms in a hallway conversation about open hardware and wireless chipsets at LibrePlanet 2017, the FSF's yearly conference. I forgot the exact details, but we were debating whether or not legislation that forbids certain wireless chipsets to be open was legitimate or not.

(For some reason, rms has ambiguous opinions about "hardware freedom" and sees a distinction between software that runs on a computer (as "in the CPU") and software that is embedded in the hardware, etched into electronic circuits. The fact that this is a continuum that has various in-between incarnations ("firmware", ASIC, FPGA) seems to escape his analysis. But that is besides the point here.)

We "debated" this for a while, but for people who don't know, debating with rms is a little bit like talking with a three year old: they have their deeply rooted opinion, they might recognize you have one as well (if your lucky), but they will generally ignore whatever it is you non-sensical adult are saying because it's incomprehensible anyways. With a three year old, it's kind of hilarious (until they spill an bottle full of vanilla on the floor), but with an adult, it's kind of aggravating and makes you feel like an idiot for even trying.

I mention this anecdote because it's a good example of how Stallman doesn't think rules apply to him. Simple, informal rules like listening to people you're talking to seem like basic courtesy, but rms is above such mundane things. If this was just a hallway conversation, I wouldn't mind that much: after all, I don't need to talk to Richard Stallman. But at LibrePlanet (and in fact anywhere), he believes it is within his prerogative to interrupt any discussion or talk around him . I was troubled by the FSF's silence on Eric Schultz's request for safety at Libre Planet: while I heard the FSF privately reached out to Eric, nothing seemed to have been done to curb Stallman's attitude in public. This is the reason why I haven't returned to Boston for LibrePlanet since then, even though I have dear friends that live there and were deeply involved in the organization.

The final straw before this week's disclosurse was an event in Quebec city where Stallman was speaking at a conference. A friend of mine asked a question involving his daughter as an example user. Stallman responded to the question by asking my friend if he could meet his (underage) daughter, with obvious obscene undertones. Everyone took this as a joke, but, in retrospect, it was just horrible and I had come to conclude that Stallman was now a liability to the free software movement. I just didn't know what to do back then. I wish I had done something.

Why I am resigning from the FSF

Those events at LibrePlanet were the first reason why I haven't renewed my membership yet. But now I want to formally cancel my membership with the FSF because its president went over his usual sexism and weird pedophilia justification from the past. I first treated those as an abhorrent eccentricity or at best an unfortunate intellectual posture, but rms has gone way beyond this position now. Now rms has joined the rank of rape apologists in the Linux kernel development community, an inexcusable position in our community that already struggles too much with issues of inclusion, respect, and just being nice with each other. I am not going to go into details that are better described by this courageous person, but needless to say that this kind of behavior is inexcusable from anyone, and particularly from an historical leader. Stallman did respond to the accusations, but far from issuing an apology, he said his statements were "mischaracterised"; something that looks to me like a sad caricature.

I do not want to have anything to do with the FSF anymore. I don't know if they would be able to function without Stallman, and frankly at this point, I don't care: they have let this gone on for too long. I know how much rms contributed to the free software movement: he wrote most of Emacs, GCC and large parts of the GNU system so many people use on their desktops. I am grateful for that work, but that was a long time ago and this is now. As others have said, we don't need to replace rms. We need a world where such leaders are not necessary, because rock stars too easily become abusers.

Stallman is just the latest: our community is filled with obnoxious leaders like this. It seems our community leaders are (among other things) either assholes, libertarian gun freaks, or pedophilia apologists and sexists. We tolerate their abuse because we somehow believe they are technically exceptional. They aren't: they're just hard-working and privileged. But even if they would be geniuses, but as selamie says:

For a moment, let’s assume that someone like Stallman is truly a genius. Truly, uniquely brilliant. If that type of person keeps tens or even hundreds of highly intelligent but not ‘genius’ people out of science and technology, then they are hindering our progress despite the brilliance.

Or, as Banksy says:

We don't need any more heroes.

We just need someone to take out recycling.

I wish Stallman would just retire already. He's done enough good work for a lifetime, now he's bound to just do more damage.

Update: Richard Stallman resigned from the FSF and from MIT ("due to pressure on MIT and me"), still dodging responsability and characterizing the problem as "a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations". Obviously, this man cannot be reformed and we need to move on. Those events happened before I even had time to actually send this letter to the FSF, so I guess I might renew my membership after all. I'll hold off until LibrePlanet, however, we'll see what happens there... In the meantime, I'll see how I can help my friends left the FSF because they must be living through hell now.

Planet DebianMolly de Blanc: Thinkers

Free and open source software, ethical technology, and digital autonomy have a number of great thinkers, inspiring leaders, and hard working organizations. I see two discussions occurring now that I feel the need to address: What will we do next? Who will our new great leader be?

The thing is, we don’t need to do something new next, and we don’t need to find new leader.

Organizations and individuals have been doing amazing work in our sphere for more than thirty years. We only need to look at the works of groups like Public Labs, OpenStreetMap, and Wikimedia to see where the future of our work lies: applying the principles of user freedom to create demonstrable change, build equity, and fight for justice. I am positively inspired by the GNOME community and their dedication to building software for people in every country, of every ability, and of every need. Outreachy and projects and companies that participate in Outreachy internships are working hard to build the future of community that we want to see.

Deb Nicholson recently reminded me that we cannot build a principled future where people are excluded from the process of building it. She also pointed out that once we’ve have a techno-utopia, it will include everyone, because it needs to. This utopia is built on ideas, but it is also built by plumbers — by people doing work on the ground with those ideas.

Deb Nicholson is another inspiration to me. I’ve been lucky enough to know her since 2010, when she graciously began to mentor me. I now consider her both a mentor and a dear friend. Her ideas are innovative, her principles hard, and her vision wide.

Deb is one of the many  people who have helped and continue to help shape my ideas, teach me things. Allison Randall, Asheesh Laroia, Christopher Lemmer-Webber, Daniel Khan Gilmore, Elana Hashman, Gabriella Coleman, Jeffrey Warren, Karen Sandler, Karl Fogel, Stefano Zacchiroli — these are just a few of the individuals who have been necessary figures in my life.

We don’t need to find new leaders and thinkers because they’re already here. They’ve been here, thinking, writing, speaking, and doing for years.

What we need to do is listen to their voices.

As I see people begin to discuss the next president of the Free Software Foundation, they do so in a context of asking who will be leading the free software movement. The free software movement is more than the FSF and it’s more than any given individual. We don’t need to go in search of the next leader, because there are leaders who work every day not just for our digital rights, but for a better world. We don’t need to define a movement by one man, nor should we do so. We instead need to look around us and listen to what is already happening.

Worse Than FailureA Learning Experience

Jakob M. had the great pleasure of working as a System Administrator in a German school district. At times it was rewarding work. Most of the time it involved replacing keyboard keys mischievous children stole and scraping gum off of monitor screens. It wasn't always the students that gave him trouble though.

Frau Fritzenberger was a cranky old math teacher at a Hauptschule near Frankfurt. Jakob regularly had to answer support calls she made for completely frivolous things. Having been teaching since before computers were a thing, she put up a fight for every new technology or program Jakob's department wanted to implement.

Over the previous summer, a web-based grading system called NotenWertung was rolled out across the district's network. It would allow teachers to grade homework and post the scores online. They could work from anywhere, with any computer. There was even a limited mobile application. Students and parents could then get a notification and see them instantly. Frau Fritzenberger was predictably not impressed.

She threw a fit on the first day of school and Jakob was dispatched to defuse it. "Why do we need computers for grading?!" she screeched at Jakob. "Paper works just fine like it has for decades! How else can I use blood red pen to shame them for everything they get wrong!"

"I understand your concern, Frau Fritzenberger," Jakob replied while making a 'calm down' gesture with his arms. "But we can't have you submitting grades on paper when the entire rest of the district is using NotenWertung." He had her sit down at the computer and gave her a For Dummies-type walkthrough. "There, it's easier than you think. You can even do this at night from the comfort of your own home," he assured her before getting up to leave.

Just as he was exiting the classroom, he heard her shout, "If you were my student, I would smack you with my ruler!" Jakob brushed it off and left to answer a call about paper clips jammed in a PC fan.

The next morning, Jakob got a rare direct call on his desk phone. It was Frau and she was in a rage. All he could make out between strings of aged German cuss words was "computer is broken!" He hung up and prepared to head to Frau's Hauptschule.

Jakob expected to find that Frau didn't have a network connection, misplaced the shortcut to her browser, didn't realize the monitor was off, or something stupid like that. What he found was Frau's computer was literally broken. The LCD screen of her monitor was an elaborate spider web, her keyboard was cracked in half, and the PC tower looked like it had been run over on the Autobahn. Bits of the motherboard dangled outside the case, and the HDD swung from its cable. "Frau Fritzenberger... what in the name of God happened here?!"

"I told you the computer was broken!" Frau shouted while meanly pointing her crooked index finger at Jakob. "You told me I have to do grades on the computer. So I packed it up to take home on my scooter. It was too heavy for me to ride with it on back so I wiped out and it smashed all over the road! This is all your fault!"

Jakob stared on in disbelief at the mangled hunks of metal and plastic. Apparently you can teach an old teacher new tricks but you can't teach her that the same web application can be accessed from any computer.

[Advertisement] ProGet supports your applications, Docker containers, and third-party packages, allowing you to enforce quality standards across all components. Download and see how!

,

Planet DebianSteve Kemp: A slack hack

So recently I've been on-call, expected to react to events around the clock. Of course to make it more of a challenge alerts are usually raised via messages to a specific channel in slack which come from a variety of sources. Let's pretend I'm all retro/hip and I'm using IRC instead.

Knowing what I'm like I knew there was essentially zero chance a single beep on my phone, from the slack/irc app, would wake me up. So I spent a couple of hours writing a simple bot:

  • Connect to the server.
  • Listen for messages.
  • When an alert is posted in the channel:
    • Trigger a voice-call via the twilio API.

That actually worked out really, really, really well. Twilio would initiate a call to my mobile which absolutely would, could, and did wake me up. I did discover a problem pretty quickly though; too many phone-calls!

Imagine something is broken. Imagine a notice goes to your channel, and then people start replying to it:

  Some Bot: Help! Stuff is broken!  I'm on Fire!!  :fire: :hot: :boom:
  Colleague Bob: Is this real?
  Colleague Ann: Can you poke Chris?
  Colleage Chris: Oh dears, woe is me.

The first night I was on call I got a phone call. Then another. Then another. Even I replied to the thread/chat to say "Yeah I'm on it". So the next step was to refine my alerting:

  • If there is a message in the channel
    • Which is not from Bob
    • Which is not from Steve
    • Which is not from Ann
    • Which is not from Chris
    • Which doesn't contain the text "common false-positive"
    • Which doesn't contain the text "backup completed"
  • Then make a phone-call.

Of course the next problem was predictable enough, so the rules got refined:

  • If the time is between 7PM and 7AM raise the alert.
  • Unless it is the weekend in which case we alert regardless of the time of day.

So I had a growing set of rules. All encoded in my goloang notification application. I moved some of them to JSON (specificially a list of users/messages to ignore) but things like the time of day were harder to move.

I figured I shouldn't be hardwiring these things. So last night put together a simple filter-library, an evaluation engine, in golang to handle them. Now I can load a script and filter things out much more dynamically. For example assume I have the following struct:

type Message struct {
    Author  string
    Channel string
    Message string
    ..
}

And an instance of that struct named message, I can run a user-written script against that object:

 // Create a new eval-filter
 eval, er := evalfilter.New( "script goes here ..." )

 // Run it against the "message" object
 out, err := eval.Run( message )

The logic of reacting now goes inside that script, which is hopefully easy to read - but more importantly can be edited without recompiling the application:

//
// This is a filter script:
//
//   return false means "do nothing".
//   return true means initiate a phone-call.
//

//
// Ignore messages on channels that we don't care about
//
if ( Channel !~ "_alerts" ) { return false; }

//
// Ignore messages from humans who might otherwise write in our channels
// of interest.
//
if ( Sender == "USER1" ) { return false; }   // Steve
if ( Sender == "USER2" ) { return true; }    // Ann
if ( Sender == "USER3" ) { return false; }   // Bob


//
// Is it a weekend? Always alert.
//
if ( IsWeekend() ) { return true ; }

//
// OK so it is not a weekend.
//
// We only alert if 7pm-7am
//
// The WorkingHours() function returns `true` during working hours.
//
if ( WorkingHours() ) { return false ; }

//
// OK by this point we should raise a call:
//
// * The message was NOT from a colleague we've filtered out.
// * The message is upon a channel with an `_alerts` suffix.
// * It is not currently during working hours.
//   * And we already handled weekends by raising calls above.
//
return true ;

If the script returns true I initiate a phone-call. If the script returns false we ignore the message/event.

The alerting script itself is trivial, and probably non-portable, but the filtering engine is pretty neat. I can see a few more uses for it, even without it having nested blocks and a real grammar. So take a look, if you like:

Planet DebianNeil McGovern: GNOME relationship with GNU and the FSF

On Saturday, I wrote an email to the FSF asking them to cancel my membership. Other people who I greatly respect are doing the same. This came after the president of the FSF made some pretty reprehensible remarks saying that the “most plausible scenario is that [one of Epstein’s underage victims] presented themselves as entirely willing” while being trafficked. This isn’t the only incident, but it is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In my capacity as the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, I have also written to the FSF. One of the most important parts of my role is to think of the well being of our community and the GNOME mission. One of the GNOME Foundation’s strategic goals is to be an exemplary community in terms of diversity and inclusion. I feel we can’t continue to have a formal association with the FSF or the GNU project when its main voice in the world is saying things that hurt this aim.

I greatly admire the work of FSF staffers and volunteers, but have now reached the point of concluding that the greatest service to the mission of software freedom is for Richard to step down from FSF and GNU and let others continue in his stead. Should this not happen in a timely manner, then I believe that severing the historical ties between GNOME, GNU and the FSF is the only path forward.

Edit: I’ve also cross-posted this to the GNOME discourse instance.

Planet DebianSven Hoexter: ansible scp_if_ssh: smart debugging

I guess that is just one of the things you've to know, so maybe it helps someone else.

We saw some warnings in our playbook rollouts like

[WARNING]: sftp transfer mechanism failed on [192.168.23.42]. Use
ANSIBLE_DEBUG=1 to see detailed information

They were actually reported for sftp and scp usage. If you look at the debug output it's not very helpful for the average user, similar if you go to verbose mode with -vvv. The later one at least helped to see parameters passed to sftp and scp, but you still see no error message. But if you set

scp_if_ssh: True

or

scp_if_ssh: False

you will suddenly see the real error message

fatal: [docker-023]: FAILED! => {"msg": "failed to transfer file to /home/sven/testme.txt /home/sven/
.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1568643306.1439135-27483534812631/source:\n\nunknown option -- A\r\nusage: scp [-346BCpqrv]
[-c cipher] [-F ssh_config] [-i identity_file]\n           [-l limit] [-o ssh_option] [-P port] [-S program] source
... target\n"}

Lesson learned, as long as ansible is running in "smart" mode it will hide all error messages from the user. Now we could figure out that the culprit is the -A for AgentForwarding, which is for obvious reasons not available in sftp and scp. One can move it to group_vars ansible_ssh_extra_args. The best documentation regarding this, beside of the --help output, seems to be the commit message of 3ad9b4cba62707777c3a144677e12ccd913c79a8.

LongNowLong Now hosts Anthropocene Film Festival

Phosphorus Mining

Long Now is honored to host the San Francisco premiere of ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch on Sunday, September 29, 02019 at 1:30pm at the historic Castro Theatre. This special Sunday afternoon Seminar will feature the film screening, followed by a Q&A with Stewart Brand and all 3 filmmakers.

A cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch is a documentary film from Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky. The film follows the research of an international body of scientists, the Anthropocene Working Group, who after nearly 10 years of research, are arguing that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth.

ANTHROPOCENE is the third and final full-length documentary film of the The Anthropocene Project, a multidisciplinary body of work combining fine art photography, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, scientific research and educational programs, seeks to investigate human influence on the state, dynamic, and future of the Earth.

Watermark and Manufactured Landscapes, the other 2 films in this Anthropocene trilogy, will show the same day at 5:30pm and 9:00pm at the Castro Theater, with separate tickets required for each screening. Tickets to see the 2 additional films need to be purchased in person at the theater box office (open from noon to 9:30pm) on the day of the event.

Tickets to the premiere of ANTHROPOCENE may be purchased here.

CryptogramAnother Side Channel in Intel Chips

Not that serious, but interesting:

In late 2011, Intel introduced a performance enhancement to its line of server processors that allowed network cards and other peripherals to connect directly to a CPU's last-level cache, rather than following the standard (and significantly longer) path through the server's main memory. By avoiding system memory, Intel's DDIO­short for Data-Direct I/O­increased input/output bandwidth and reduced latency and power consumption.

Now, researchers are warning that, in certain scenarios, attackers can abuse DDIO to obtain keystrokes and possibly other types of sensitive data that flow through the memory of vulnerable servers. The most serious form of attack can take place in data centers and cloud environments that have both DDIO and remote direct memory access enabled to allow servers to exchange data. A server leased by a malicious hacker could abuse the vulnerability to attack other customers. To prove their point, the researchers devised an attack that allows a server to steal keystrokes typed into the protected SSH (or secure shell session) established between another server and an application server.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Should I Do this? Depends.

One of the key differences between a true WTF and an ugly hack is a degree of self-awareness. It's not a WTF if you know it's a WTF. If you've been doing this job for a non-zero amount of time, you have had a moment where you have a solution, and you know it's wrong, you know you shouldn't do this, but by the gods, it works and you've got more important stuff to worry about right now, so you just do it.

An anonymous submitter committed a sin, and has reached out to us for absolution.

This is a case of "DevOps" hackery. They have one server with no Internet- one remote server with no Internet. Deploying software to a server you can't access physically or through the Internet is a challenge. They have a solution involving hopping through some other servers and bridging the network that lets them get the .deb package files within reach of the destination server.

But that introduces a new problem: these packages have complex dependency chains and unless they're installed in the right order, it won't work. The correct solution would be to install a local package repository on the destination server, and let apt worry about resolving those dependencies.

And in the long run, that's what our anonymous submitter promises to do. But they found themselves in a situation where they had more important things to worry about, and just needed to do it.

#!/bin/bash count=0 for f in ./*.deb do echo "Attempt $count" for file in ./*.deb do echo "Installing $file" sudo dpkg -i $file done (( count++ )) done

This is a solution to dependency management which operates on O(N^2): we install each package once for the total number of packages in the folder. It's the brutest of force solutions, and no matter what our dependency chain looks like, by sheer process of elimination, this will eventually get every package installed. Eventually.

[Advertisement] Ensure your software is built only once and then deployed consistently across environments, by packaging your applications and components. Learn how today!

Planet DebianSam Hartman: Free as in Sausage Making: Inside the Debian Project

Recently, we’ve been having some discussion around the use of non-free software and services in doing our Debian work. In judging consensus surrounding a discussion of Git packaging, I said that we do not have a consensus to forbid the use of non-free services like Github. I stand behind that consensus call. Ian Jackson, who initially thought that I misread the consensus later agreed with my call.


I have been debating whether it would be wise for me as project leader to say more on the issue. Ultimately I have decided to share my thoughts. Yes, some of this is my personal opinion. Yet I think my thoughts resonate with things said on the mailing list; by sharing my thoughts I may help facilitate the discussion.


We are bound together by the Social Contract. Anyone is welcome to contribute to Debian so long as they follow the Social Contract, the DFSG, and the rest of our community standards. The Social Contract talks about what we will build (a free operating system called Debian). Besides SC #3 (we will not hide problems), the contract says very little about how we will build Debian.


What matters is what you do, not what you believe. You don’t even need to believe in free software to be part of Debian, so long as you’re busy writing or contributing to free software. Whether it’s because you believe in user freedom or because your large company has chosen Debian for entirely pragmatic reasons, your free software contributions are welcome.


I think that is one of our core strengths. We’re an incredibly diverse community. When we try to tie something else to what it means to be Debian beyond the quality of that free operating system we produce, judged by how it meets the needs of our users, we risk diminishing Debian. Our diversity serves the free software community well. We have always balanced pragmatic concerns against freedom. We didn’t ignore binary blobs and non-free firmware in the kernel, but we took the time to make sure we balanced our users’ needs for functional systems against their needs for freedom. By being so diverse, we have helped build a product that is useful both to people who care about freedom and other issues. Debian has been pragmatic enough that our product is wildly popular. We care enough about freedom and do the hard work of finding workable solutions that many issues of software freedom have become mainstream concerns with viable solutions.


Debian has always taken a pragmatic approach to its own infrastructure and to how Debian is developed. The Social Contract requires that the resulting operating system be 100% free software. But that has never been true of the Debian Project nor of our developers.



  • At the time the Social contract was adopted, uploading a package to Debian involved signing it with the non-free PGP version 2.6.3. It was years later that GnuPG became commonly used.

  • Debian developers of the day didn’t use non-free tools to sign the Social Contract. They didn’t digitally sign it at all. Yet their discussions used the non-free Qmail because people running the Debian infrastructure decided that was the best solution for the project’s mailing lists.


“That was then,” you say.



  • Today, some parts of security.debian.org redirect to security-cdn.debian.org, a non-free web service

  • Our recommended mirror (deb.debian.org) is backed by multiple non-free CDN web services.

  • Some day we may be using more non-free services. If trends in email handling continue, we may find that we need to use some non-free service to get the email we send accepted by major email providers. I know of no such plan in Debian today, but I know other organizations have faced similar choices.


Yet these choices to use non-free software and non-free services in the production of Debian have real costs. Many members of our community prefer to use free software. When we make these choices, we can make it harder for people to contribute to Debian. When we decline to use free software we may also be missing out on an opportunity to improve the free software community or to improve Debian itself. Ian eloquently describes the frustrations those who wish to use only free software face when faced with choices to use non-free services.


As alternatives to non-free software or services have become available, we as a project have consistently moved toward free options.


Normally, we let those doing the work within Debian choose whether non-free services or software are sufficiently better than the free alternatives that we will use them in our work. There is a strong desire to prefer free software and self-hosted infrastructure when that can meet our needs.


For individual maintainers, this generally means that you can choose the tools you want to do your Debian work. The resulting contributions to Debian must themselves be free. But if you want to go write all your Debian packaging in Visual Studio on Windows, we’re not going to stop you, although many of us will think your choices are unusual.


And my take is that if you want to store Debian packages on Github, you can do that too. But if you do that, you will be making it harder for many Debian contributors to contribute to your packages. As Ian discussed, even if you listen to the BTS, you will create two classes of contributors: those who are comfortable with your tools and those who are not. Perhaps you’ve considered this already. Perhaps you value making things easier for yourself or for interacting with an upstream community on Github over making it easier for contributors who want to use only free tools. Traditionally in Debian, we’ve decided that the people doing the work generally get to make that decision. Some day perhaps we’ll decide that all Debian packaging needs to be done in a VCS hosted on Debian infrastructure. And if we make that decision, we will almost certainly choose a free service to host. We’re not ready to make that change today.


So, what can you do if you want to use only free tools?



  • You could take Ian’s original approach and attempt to mandate project policy. Yet each time we mandate such policy, we will drive people and their contributions away. When the community as a whole evaluates such efforts we’ll need to ask ourselves whether the restriction is worth what we will lose. Sometimes it is. But unsurprisingly in my mind, Debian often finds a balance on these issues.


  • You could work to understand why people use Github or other non-free tools. As you take the time to understand and value the needs of those who use non-free services, you could ask them to understand and value your needs. If you identify gaps in what free software and services offer, work to fix those gaps.


  • Specifically in this instance, I think that setting up easy ways to bidirectionally mirror things between Github and services like Salsa could really help.



Conclusions



  1. We have come together to make a free operating system. Everything else is up for debate. When we shut down that debate—when we decide there is one right answer—we risk diluting our focus and diminishing ourselves.

  2. We and the entire free software community win through the Debian Project’s diversity.

  3. Freedom within the Debian Project has never been simple. Throughout our entire history we’ve used non-free bits in the sausage making, even though the result consists (and can be built from) entirely free bits.

  4. This complexity and diversity is part of what allows us to advocate for software freedom more successfully. Over time, we have replaced non-free software that we use with free alternatives, but those decisions are nuanced and ever-changing.

,

Planet DebianShirish Agarwal: Freedom, Chandrayaan 2 and Corporations in Space.

Today will be a longish blogpost so please excuse if you do not want to read a long article.

While today is my birthday, I don’t feel at all like celebrating. When 8 million Kashmiris are locked down in Kashmir and 19 million to be sent in detention camp, the number may increase, how one one feel happy? Sadly, many people disregard that illegal immigration is everywhere. Whether it is UK or US, Indians too have illegally immigrated. If you look at the comments either in US or UK papers is just as toxic as you would find in twitter in India. Most of the people are uninformed of the various reasons that people choose to take a dangerous path to make home a new country. Alliances are also divided because the children grow up in another culture and then they will be ‘corrupted’ especially if women are sent back to India. The situation in India have never been as similar as they are today, see this from Najam Sethi, an internationally known left-leaning journalist
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCcrobZMy7A
and similarly you can see how Indian and US Investigative journalism is having a slow death in both India and U.S.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65P44plUCng

You can also see how similar the societies are going into with this conversations
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieWZi4gm_yE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_1oJui2Zq8

There are good moments too as can be seen here –

People going to Ganesh Visarjan and Muharram, Hyderabad.

We always say we are better than Pakistan but we seem to be going down to the same road and that can’t be good. Forget politics, even human right issues are not being tackled sensitively by our Supreme Court. Just today there came an incident involving one of the victims of the Muzaffarpur Shelter Home being allegedlly raped in a moving car. The case has been pending in the Supreme Court for quite sometime but no action being taken so far. Journalists either in Uttar Pradesh or Haryana are being booked for showing the truth. I have been trying to engage with people from across the political divide, i.e. the ones who support BJP. Majority of them are don’t have jobs and this is the only way they can get their frustration out. Also the dissonance in political message is such they feel that their jobs are being taken by outsiders. Ironically the Ministers get away with saying things like ‘North Indians lack qualifications’ . It shows lack of empathy on the Minister’s part. If they are citizens of the state, then it is the state’s responsibility of making sure they are skilled. If they are not skilled, then it is the Central Government and State Governments responsibility. Most of the States in the North are governed by BJP. I could share more but then it will all be about BJP only and nothing about the Chandrayaan 2 mission.

Chandrayaan 2 and Corporate Interests

Before we get to Chandrayaan 2, there are few interesting series I want to talk about, share about. The first one is AltBalaji’s Mission Over Mars which in some ways is similar to Mars 6-part series Docu-drama made by National Geographic and lot of movies, books etc. read over years. In both these and other books, movies etc. it has been shown how Corporate Interests win over science and exploration which the motives of such initiatives were and are. The rich become richer and richer while the poor become more poorer.

There has been also lot of media speculation that ISRO should be privatized similar to how NASA is and people saying that NASA’s importance has not lessened even though they couldn’t have been more wrong. Take the Space Launch System . It was first though of in the 2010 after the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 came into being. When it was shared or told it was told that it would be ready somewhere in 2016. Now it seems it won’t be ready until 2025. And who is responsible for this, the same company which has been responsible for lot of bad news in the international aviation business Boeing. The auditor’s report for NASA while blaming NASA for oversight also blames Boeing for not doing things right. And from what we have come to know that in the american system of self-regulation leaves much to be desired. More so, when an ex-employee of Boeing is exercising his fifth Amendment rights which raises the suspicion that there is more than just simply an oversight issue. Boeing also is a weapons manufacturer but that’s another story altogether. For people interested in the arms stuff, a wired article published 2 years back gives enough info. as to how America is good bad or Arms sale.

I know the whole thing gives a rather complex picture but that is the nature of things. The only thing I would say is we should be very careful in privatizing ISRO as the same issues are bound to happen sooner or later, the more private and non-transparent things become. We, the common citizens would never come to know if any sort of national or industrial espionage is happening and of course all profits would be of corporates while losses will be public as seen can be nowadays. Doesn’t leave a good taste in the mouth.

Vikram Lander

Now while the jury is still out as to what happened or might have happened and we hope that Vikram does connect within the 14 days there are lots of theories as to what could have gone wrong. While I’m no expert, I do find it hard to take the statement that probably ISRO saw an image of Chandrayaan 2 lander, at least not a single image has been released in the public. What ISRO has shared in its updates is that it located a lander which doesn’t tell much. While the Chandrayaan 2 orbitor started at 100 km. lunar orbit it probably would have some deviations to make sure that the orbiter itself doesn’t get into Moon’s gravity and crash-lands on the moon itself. The lens which probably would have been used would be to take panaromic shots and not telescopic in nature. As to what happened, we just don’t know as of yet. There are probably a dozen or two probabilities. One of the most simplest explanation to my mind could be some space rock could have crashed into the lander when it was landing. The dark side of the moon has more impacts than the one which we face so it’s entirely possible that the lander got hit by a space rock or lava. From what little I have been able to learn, the lander doesn’t seem to have any A.I. to manoeuver if such a scenario happens. Also any functioning A.I. would probably need more energy and for space missions energy, weight, electrical interference, contamination are all issues that Space Agencies have to deal with it. The other is of course, sensor failure, wrong calculation or a rough spot where it landed and broke the antennae. Till ISRO doesn’t share more details with us, we have only conjecture to help us.

Chandrayaan 2 Imaging

While we await news about the lander, would be curious to know about the images that Chandrayaan 2 is getting. Sadly, none of the images have made it to the public domain as of yet. Whether the images are in FITS or RAW format and whatever spectrum, (Chandrayaan 2 is going to image in a wide range of spectrum.) . Like Spirit and Opportunity did for NASA, I hope ISRO does show renderings of Moon as captured by the Orbitor, even though its lifeless so people, especially children get enthused about getting into Space Sciences .

Planet DebianMolly de Blanc: Free software activities (August 2019)

A photo of a beach in Greece, with bleach and tourquoise water and well trodden sand. In the forground is an inflatable uniforn with a rainbow mane.

August was really marked by traveling too much. I took the end of the month off from non-work activities in order to focus on GUADEC and GUADEC-follow up.

Personal

  • The Debian Community Team (CT) had a meeting where we discussed some of our activities, including potential new team members!
  • CT team members went on VAC, so we took a bit of a break in the second half of the month.
  • The OSI standing committee and board had meetings.
  • I handled some paperwork in my capacity as president.
  • I had regular meetings with the OSI general manager.
  • I gave a keynote at FrOSCon on “Open source citizenship for everyone!” TL;DR: We have rights and responsibilities as people participating in free software and the open source ecosystem — “we” here includes corporate actors.
  • I bought a really sweet pair of GNOME socks. Do recommend.

Professional

  • The LAS sponsorship team met and handled the creation of some important paperwork, and discussed fundraising strategy for the event.
  • I attended the GNOME Advisory Board meeting, where I got to meet and speak with the Foundation Board and the Advisory Board about activities over the past year, plans for the future, and the needs of the communities of AdBoard members. It was really educational and a lot of fun.
  • I attended my first GUADEC! it was amazing. I wrote a trip report over on the GNOME Engagement Blog.
  • At GUADEC, I spent some time helping out with basic operations, including keeping time in sessions.
  • We, the staff and board, did a Q&A at the Annual General Meeting.
  • I drank a lot of coffee. Like, a lot.

,

CryptogramUpcoming Speaking Engagements

This is a current list of where and when I am scheduled to speak:

The list is maintained on this page.

,

CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: How Scientists Captured the Giant Squid Video

In June, I blogged about a video of a live juvenile giant squid. Here's how that video was captured.

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

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

CryptogramWhen Biology Becomes Software

All of life is based on the coordinated action of genetic parts (genes and their controlling sequences) found in the genomes (the complete DNA sequence) of organisms.

Genes and genomes are based on code-- just like the digital language of computers. But instead of zeros and ones, four DNA letters --- A, C, T, G -- encode all of life. (Life is messy, and there are actually all sorts of edge cases, but ignore that for now.) If you have the sequence that encodes an organism, in theory, you could recreate it. If you can write new working code, you can alter an existing organism or create a novel one.

If this sounds to you a lot like software coding, you're right. As synthetic biology looks more like computer technology, the risks of the latter become the risks of the former. Code is code, but because we're dealing with molecules -- and sometimes actual forms of life -- the risks can be much greater.

Imagine a biological engineer trying to increase the expression of a gene that maintains normal gene function in blood cells. Even though it's a relatively simple operation by today's standards, it'll almost certainly take multiple tries to get it right. Were this computer code, the only damage those failed tries would do is to crash the computer they're running on. With a biological system, the code could instead increase the likelihood of multiple types of leukemias and wipe out cells important to the patient's immune system.

We have known the mechanics of DNA for some 60 plus years. The field of modern biotechnology began in 1972 when Paul Berg joined one virus gene to another and produced the first "recombinant" virus. Synthetic biology arose in the early 2000s when biologists adopted the mindset of engineers; instead of moving single genes around, they designed complex genetic circuits.

In 2010 Craig Venter and his colleagues recreated the genome of a simple bacterium. More recently, researchers at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Britain created a new, more streamlined version of E. coli. In both cases the researchers created what could arguably be called new forms of life.

This is the new bioengineering, and it will only get more powerful. Today you can write DNA code in the same way a computer programmer writes computer code. Then you can use a DNA synthesizer or order DNA from a commercial vendor, and then use precision editing tools such as CRISPR to "run" it in an already existing organism, from a virus to a wheat plant to a person.

In the future, it may be possible to build an entire complex organism such as a dog or cat, or recreate an extinct mammoth (currently underway). Today, biotech companies are developing new gene therapies, and international consortia are addressing the feasibility and ethics of making changes to human genomes that could be passed down to succeeding generations.

Within the biological science community, urgent conversations are occurring about "cyberbiosecurity," an admittedly contested term which exists between biological and information systems where vulnerabilities in one can affect the other. These can include the security of DNA databanks, the fidelity of transmission of those data, and information hazards associated with specific DNA sequences that could encode novel pathogens for which no cures exist.

These risks have occupied not only learned bodies -- the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published at least a half dozen reports on biosecurity risks and how to address them proactively -- but have made it to mainstream media: genome editing was a major plot element in Netflix's Season 3 of "Designated Survivor."

Our worries are more prosaic. As synthetic biology "programming" reaches the complexity of traditional computer programming, the risks of computer systems will transfer to biological systems. The difference is that biological systems have the potential to cause much greater, and far more lasting, damage than computer systems.

Programmers write software through trial and error. Because computer systems are so complex and there is no real theory of software, programmers repeatedly test the code they write until it works properly. This makes sense, because both the cost of getting it wrong and the ease of trying again is so low. There are even jokes about this: a programmer would diagnose a car crash by putting another car in the same situation and seeing if it happens again.

Even finished code still has problems. Again due to the complexity of modern software systems, "works properly" doesn't mean that it's perfectly correct. Modern software is full of bugs -- thousands of software flaws -- that occasionally affect performance or security. That's why any piece of software you use is regularly updated; the developers are still fixing bugs, even after the software is released.

Bioengineering will be largely the same: writing biological code will have these same reliability properties. Unfortunately, the software solution of making lots of mistakes and fixing them as you go doesn't work in biology.

In nature, a similar type of trial and error is handled by "the survival of the fittest" and occurs slowly over many generations. But human-generated code from scratch doesn't have that kind of correction mechanism. Inadvertent or intentional release of these newly coded "programs" may result in pathogens of expanded host range (just think swine flu) or organisms that wreck delicate ecological balances.

Unlike computer software, there's no way so far to "patch" biological systems once released to the wild, although researchers are trying to develop one. Nor are there ways to "patch" the humans (or animals or crops) susceptible to such agents. Stringent biocontainment helps, but no containment system provides zero risk.

Opportunities for mischief and malfeasance often occur when expertise is siloed, fields intersect only at the margins, and when the gathered knowledge of small, expert groups doesn't make its way into the larger body of practitioners who have important contributions to make.

Good starts have been made by biologists, security agencies, and governance experts. But these efforts have tended to be siloed, in either the biological and digital spheres of influence, classified and solely within the military, or exchanged only among a very small set of investigators.

What we need is more opportunities for integration between the two disciplines. We need to share information and experiences, classified and unclassified. We have tools among our digital and biological communities to identify and mitigate biological risks, and those to write and deploy secure computer systems.

Those opportunities will not occur without effort or financial support. Let's find those resources, public, private, philanthropic, or any combination. And then let's use those resources to set up some novel opportunities for digital geeks and bionerds -- as well as ethicists and policymakers -- to share experiences, concerns, and come up with creative, constructive solutions to these problems that are more than just patches.

These are overarching problems; let's not let siloed thinking or funding get in the way of breaking down barriers between communities. And let's not let technology of any kind get in the way of the public good.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

CryptogramSmart Watches and Cheating on Tests

The Independent Commission on Examination Malpractice in the UK has recommended that all watches be banned from exam rooms, basically because it's becoming very difficult to tell regular watches from smart watches.

Worse Than FailureError'd: Many Languages, One WTF

"It's as if IntelliJ IDEA just gave up trying to parse my code," writes John F.

Henry D. writes, "If you have a phone in English but have it configured to recognize two different languages, simple requests sometimes morph into the weirdest things."

 

 

Carl C. wrote, "Maybe Best Buy's page is referring to a store near Nulltown, Indiana, but really, I think their site is on drugs."

 

"Yeah, Thanks Cisco, but I'm not sure I really want to learn more," writes Matt P.

 

"Ebay is alerting me to something. No idea what it is, but I can tell you what they named their variables," Lincoln K. wrote.

 

"Not quite sure what secrets the Inner Circle holds, I guess knowing Latin?" writes Matt S.

 

[Advertisement] BuildMaster allows you to create a self-service release management platform that allows different teams to manage their applications. Explore how!

,

LongNowShort film of Comet 67P made from 400,000 Rosetta images is released

On August 6, 02014, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe successfully reached Comet 67P. In addition to studying the comet, Rosetta was able to place one of Long Now’s Rosetta Disks on its surface via its Philae lander.

In 02017, ESA released over 400,000 images from the Rosetta mission. Now, motion designer Christian Stangl has made a short film out of the images.
The Comet offers a remarkable, beautiful, and haunting look at this alien body from the Kuiper belt. Watch it below:

the Comet from Christian Stangl on Vimeo.

CryptogramFabricated Voice Used in Financial Fraud

This seems to be an identity theft first:

Criminals used artificial intelligence-based software to impersonate a chief executive's voice and demand a fraudulent transfer of €220,000 ($243,000) in March in what cybercrime experts described as an unusual case of artificial intelligence being used in hacking.

Another news article.

CryptogramNotPetya

Wired has a long article on NotPetya.

EDITED TO ADD (9/12): Another good article on NotPetya.

CryptogramDefault Password for GPS Trackers

Many GPS trackers are shipped with the default password 123456. Many users don't change them.

We just need to eliminate default passwords. This is an easy win.

EDITED TO ADD (9/12): A California law bans default passwords starting in 2020.

CryptogramMore on Law Enforcement Backdoor Demands

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy convened an Encryption Working Group to attempt progress on the "going dark" debate. They have released their report: "Moving the Encryption Policy Conversation Forward.

The main contribution seems to be that attempts to backdoor devices like smartphones shouldn't also backdoor communications systems:

Conclusion: There will be no single approach for requests for lawful access that can be applied to every technology or means of communication. More work is necessary, such as that initiated in this paper, to separate the debate into its component parts, examine risks and benefits in greater granularity, and seek better data to inform the debate. Based on our attempt to do this for one particular area, the working group believes that some forms of access to encrypted information, such as access to data at rest on mobile phones, should be further discussed. If we cannot have a constructive dialogue in that easiest of cases, then there is likely none to be had with respect to any of the other areas. Other forms of access to encrypted information, including encrypted data-in-motion, may not offer an achievable balance of risk vs. benefit, and as such are not worth pursuing and should not be the subject of policy changes, at least for now. We believe that to be productive, any approach must separate the issue into its component parts.

I don't believe that backdoor access to encryption data at rest offers "an achievable balance of risk vs. benefit" either, but I agree that the two aspects should be treated independently.

EDITED TO ADD (9/12): This report does an important job moving the debate forward. It advises that policymakers break the issues into component parts. Instead of talking about restricting all encryption, it separates encrypted data at rest (storage) from encrypted data in motion (communication). It advises that policymakers pick the problems they have some chance of solving, and not demand systems that put everyone in danger. For example: no key escrow, and no use of software updates to break into devices).

Data in motion poses challenges that are not present for data at rest. For example, modern cryptographic protocols for data in motion use a separate "session key"� for each message, unrelated to the private/public key pairs used to initiate communication, to preserve the message's secrecy independent of other messages (consistent with a concept known as "forward secrecy"). While there are potential techniques for recording, escrowing, or otherwise allowing access to these session keys, by their nature, each would break forward secrecy and related concepts and would create a massive target for criminal and foreign intelligence adversaries. Any technical steps to simplify the collection or tracking of session keys, such as linking keys to other keys or storing keys after they are used, would represent a fundamental weakening of all the communications.

These are all big steps forward given who signed on to the report. Not just the usual suspects, but also Jim Baker -- former general counsel of the FBI -- and Chris Inglis: former deputy director of the NSA.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Time to Wait

When dealing with customers- and here, we mean, “off the street” customers- they often want to know “how long am I going to have to wait?” Whether we’re talking about a restaurant, a mechanic, a doctor’s office, or a computer/phone repair shop, knowing (and sharing with our customers) reasonable expectations about how much time they’re about to spend waiting.

Russell F works on an application which facilitates this sort of customer-facing management. It does much more, too, obviously, but one of its lesser features is to estimate how long a customer is about to spend waiting.

This is how that’s calculated:

TimeSpan tsDifference = dtWorkTime - DateTime.Now;
string strEstWaitHM = ((tsDifference.Hours * 60) + tsDifference.Minutes).ToString();
if (Convert.ToInt32(strEstWaitHM) >= 60)
{
	decimal decWrkH = Math.Floor(Convert.ToDecimal(strEstWaitHM) / 60);
	int intH = Convert.ToInt32(decWrkH);
	txtEstWaitHours.Value = Convert.ToString(intH);
	int intM = Convert.ToInt32(strEstWaitHM) - (60 * intH);
	txtEstWaitMinutes.Value = Convert.ToString(intM);
}
else
{
	txtEstWaitHours.Value = "";
	txtEstWaitMinutes.Value = strEstWaitHM;
}

Hungarian Notation is always a great sign of bad code. It really is, and I think that’s because it’s easy to do, easy to enforce as a standard, and provides the most benefit when you have messy variable scoping and keeping track of what type a given variable is might actually be a challenge.

Or, as we see in this case, it’s useful when you’re passing the same data through a method with different types. We calculate the difference between the WorkTime and Now. That’s the last thing in this code which makes sense.

The key goal here is that, if we’re going to be waiting for more than an hour, we want to display both the hours and minutes, but if it’s just minutes, we want to display just that.

We have that TimeSpan object, which as you can see, has a convenient Hours and Minutes property. Instead of using that, though, we convert the hours to minutes, add it together, if the number is more than 60, we know we’ll be waiting for over an hour, so we want to populate the hours box, and the minutes box, so we have to convert back to hours and minutes.

In that context, the fact that we have to convert from strings to numbers and back almost seems logical. Almost. I especially like that they Convert.ToDecimal (to avoid rounding errors) and Math.floor the result (to round off). If only there were some numeric type that never rounded off, and always had an integer value. If only…

[Advertisement] ProGet supports your applications, Docker containers, and third-party packages, allowing you to enforce quality standards across all components. Download and see how!

,

Sociological ImagesNormal Distributions in the Wild

Social scientists rely on the normal distribution all the time. This classic “bell curve” shape is so important because it fits all kinds of patterns in human behavior, from measures of public opinion to scores on standardized tests.

But it can be difficult to teach the normal distribution in social statistics, because at the core it is a theory about patterns we see in the data. If you’re interested in studying people in their social worlds, it can be more helpful to see how the bell curve emerges from real world examples.

One of the best ways to illustrate this is the “Galton Board,” a desk toy that lets you watch the normal distribution emerge from a random drop of ball-bearings. Check out the video below or a slow motion gif here.

The Galton Board is cool, but I’m also always on the lookout for normal distributions “in the wild.” There are places where you can see the distribution in real patterns of social behavior, rather than simulating them in a controlled environment. My absolute favorite example comes from Ed Burmila:

The wear patterns here show exactly what we would expect a normal distribution to tell us about weightlifting. More people use the machine at a middle weight setting for the average strength, and the extreme choices are less common. Not all social behavior follows this pattern, but when we find cases that do, our techniques to analyze that behavior are fairly simple.

Another cool example is grocery shelves. Because stores like to keep popular products together and right in front of your face (the maxim is “eye level is buy level“), they tend to stock in a normally-distributed pattern with popular stuff right in the middle. We don’t necessarily see this in action until there is a big sale or a rush in an emergency. When stores can’t restock in time, you can see a kind of bell curve emerge on the empty shelves. Products that are high up or off to the side are a little less likely to be picked over.

Paul Swansen, Flickr CC

Have you seen normal distributions out in the wild? Send them my way and I might feature them in a future post!

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

(View original at https://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Krebs on SecurityNY Payroll Company Vanishes With $35 Million

MyPayrollHR, a now defunct cloud-based payroll processing firm based in upstate New York, abruptly ceased operations this past week after stiffing employees at thousands of companies. The ongoing debacle, which allegedly involves malfeasance on the part of the payroll company’s CEO, resulted in countless people having money drained from their bank accounts and has left nearly $35 million worth of payroll and tax payments in legal limbo.

Unlike many stories here about cloud service providers being extorted by hackers for ransomware payouts, this snafu appears to have been something of an inside job. Nevertheless, it is a story worth telling, in part because much of the media coverage of this incident so far has been somewhat disjointed, but also because it should serve as a warning to other payroll providers about how quickly and massively things can go wrong when a trusted partner unexpectedly turns rogue.

Clifton Park, NY-based MyPayrollHR — a subsidiary of ValueWise Corp. — disclosed last week in a rather unceremonious message to some 4,000 clients that it would be shutting its virtual doors and that companies which relied upon it to process payroll payments should kindly look elsewhere for such services going forward.

This communique came after employees at companies that depend on MyPayrollHR to receive direct deposits of their bi-weekly payroll payments discovered their bank accounts were instead debited for the amounts they would normally expect to accrue in a given pay period.

To make matters worse, many of those employees found their accounts had been dinged for two payroll periods — a month’s worth of wages — leaving their bank accounts dangerously in the red.

The remainder of this post is a deep-dive into what we know so far about what transpired, and how such an occurrence might be prevented in the future for other payroll processing firms.

A $26 MILLION TEXT FILE

To understand what’s at stake here requires a basic primer on how most of us get paid, which is a surprisingly convoluted process. In a typical scenario, our employer works with at least one third party company to make sure that on every other Friday what we’re owed gets deposited into our bank account.

The company that handled that process for MyPayrollHR is a California firm called Cachet Financial Services. Every other week for more than 12 years, MyPayrollHR has submitted a file to Cachet that told it which employee accounts at which banks should be credited and by how much.

According to interviews with Cachet, the way the process worked ran something like this: MyPayrollHR would send a digital file documenting deposits made by each of these client companies which laid out the amounts owed to each clients’ employees. In turn, those funds from MyPayrollHR client firms then would be deposited into a settlement or holding account maintained by Cachet.

From there, Cachet would take those sums and disburse them into the bank accounts of people whose employers used MyPayrollHR to manage their bi-weekly payroll payments.

But according to Cachet, something odd happened with the instructions file MyPayrollHR submitted on the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 4 that had never before transpired: MyPayrollHR requested that all of its clients’ payroll dollars be sent not to Cachet’s holding account but instead to an account at Pioneer Savings Bank that was operated and controlled by MyPayrollHR.

The total amount of this mass payroll deposit was approximately $26 million. Wendy Slavkin, general counsel for Cachet, told KrebsOnSecurity that her client then inquired with Pioneer Savings about the wayward deposit and was told MyPayrollHR’s bank account had been frozen.

Nevertheless, the payroll file submitted by MyPayrollHR instructed financial institutions for its various clients to pull $26 million from Cachet’s holding account — even though the usual deposits from MyPayrollHR’s client banks had not been made.

REVERSING THE REVERSAL

In response, Cachet submitted a request to reverse that transaction. But according to Slavkin, that initial reversal request was improperly formatted, and so Cachet soon after submitted a correctly coded reversal request.

Financial institutions are supposed to ignore or reject payment instructions that don’t comport with precise formatting required by the National Automated Clearinghouse Association (NACHA), the not-for-profit organization that provides the backbone for the electronic movement of money in the United States. But Slavkin said a number of financial institutions ended up processing both reversal requests, meaning a fair number of employees at companies that use MyPayrollHR suddenly saw a month’s worth of payroll payments withdrawn from their bank accounts.

Dan L’Abbe, CEO of the San Francisco-based consultancy Granite Solutions Groupe, said the mix-up has been massively disruptive for his 250 employees.

“This caused a lot of chaos for employers, but employees were the ones really affected,” L’Abbe said. “This is all very unusual because we don’t even have the ability to take money out of our employee accounts.”

Slavkin said Cachet managed to reach the CEO of MyPayrollHR — Michael T. Mann — via phone on the evening of Sept. 4, and that Mann said he would would call back in a few minutes. According to Slavkin, Mann never returned the call. Not long after that, MyPayrollHR told clients that it was going out of business and that they should find someone else to handle their payroll.

In short order, many people hit by one or both payroll reversals took to Twitter and Facebook to vent their anger and bewilderment at Cachet and at MyPayrollHR. But Slavkin said Cachet ultimately decided to cancel the previous payment reversals, leaving Cachet on the hook for $26 million.

“What we have since done is reached out to 100+ receiving banks to have them reject both reversals,” Slavkin said. “So most — if not all — employees affected by this will in the next day or two have all their money back.”

THE VANISHING MANN

Cachet has since been in touch with the FBI and with federal prosecutors in New York, and Slavkin said both are now investigating MyPayrollHR and its CEO. On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the state’s Department of Financial Services to investigate the company’s “sudden and disturbing shutdown.”

A tweet sent Sept. 11 by the FBI’s Albany field office.

The $26 million hit against Cachet wasn’t the only fraud apparently perpetrated by MyPayrollHR and/or its parent firm: According to Slavkin, the now defunct New York company also stiffed National Payment Corporation (NatPay) — the Florida-based firm which handles tax withholdings for MyPayrollHR clients — to the tune of more than $9 million.

In a statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity, NatPay said it was alerted late last week that the bank accounts of MyPayrollHR and one of its affiliated companies were frozen, and that the notification came after payment files were processed.

“NatPay was provided information that MyPayrollHR and Cloud Payroll may have been the victims of fraud committed by their holding company ValueWise, whose CEO and owner is Michael Mann,” NatPay said. “NatPay immediately put in place steps to manage the orderly process of recovering funds [and] has more than sufficient insurance to cover actions of attempted or real fraud.”

Requests for comment from different executives at both MyPayrollHR and its parent firm ValueWise Corp. went unanswered, and the latter’s Web site is now offline. Several erstwhile MyPayrollHR employees reached via LinkedIn said none of them had seen or heard from Mr. Mann in days.

Meanwhile, Granite Solutions Groupe CEO L’Abbe said some of his employees have seen their bank accounts credited back the money that was taken, while others are still waiting for those reversals to come through.

“It varies widely,” L’Abbe said. “Every bank processes differently, and everyone’s relationship with the bank is different. Others have absolutely no money right now and are having a helluva time with their bank believing this is all the result of fraud. Things are starting to settle down now, but a lot of employees are still in limbo with their bank.”

For its part, Cachet Financial says it will be looking at solutions to better detect when and if instructions from clients for funding its settlement accounts suddenly change.

“Our system is excellent at protecting against outside hackers,” Slavkin said. “But when it comes to something like this it takes everyone by complete surprise.”

LongNowLong-term Building in Japan

The Ise Shrine in Japan, which has been rebuilt every 20 years for over 1,400 years. 

When I started working with Stewart Brand over two decades ago, he told me about the ideas behind Long Now, and how we might build the seed for a very long-lived institution. One of the first examples he mentioned to me was Ise Shrine in Japan, which has been rebuilt every 20 years in adjacent sites for over 1,400 years. This shrine is made of ephemeral materials like wood and thatch, but its symbiotic relationship with the Shinto belief and craftsmen has kept a version of the temple standing since 692 CE. Over these past decades many of us at Long Now have conjured with these temples as an example of long-term thinking, but it had not occurred to me that I might some day visit them.

That is, until a few years ago, when I came across a news piece about the temples. It announced that the shrine’s foresters were harvesting the trees for the next rebuild, and I decided to do some research to find out how and when visitors could go see the one temple being replaced by the next. This research turned out to be very difficult, in part because of the language barrier, but also because the last rebuild took place well before the world wide web was anything close to ubiquitous. I kept my ear out and asked people who might know about the shrines, but did not get very far.

Then, one morning in late September, Danny Hillis called to tell me that Daniel Erasmus, a Long Now member in Holland, had learned that the shrine transfer ceremony would be taking place the following Saturday. Danny said he was going to try and meet Daniel in Ise, and wanted to know if he should document it. I told him he wouldn’t need to, because I was going to get on a plane and meet them there.

Ise Shrine

The next few days were a blur of difficult travel arrangements to a rural Japanese town where little English was spoken and lodging was already way over-booked. I was greatly aided by a colleague’s Japanese wife, who was able to find us a room in a traditional ryokan home-stay very close to the temples. I also put the word out about the trip, and Ping Fu from the Long Now Board decided to join us, as well.

Streets of Osaka.

A few days later I met Ping at SFO for our flight to Osaka. Danny Hillis and Daniel Erasmus would be coming in from Tokyo a day later. We would stay the night in Osaka and then take the train to Ise. I found out that one of the other sites in Japan I had always wanted to visit was also close by: the Buddhist temples of Nara, considered to be some of the oldest continuously standing wooden structures in the world. We would be visiting Nara after our visit to Ise.

After landing, Ping and I spent a jet-lagged evening wandering around the Blade Runner streets of Osaka to find a restaurant. In Japan the best local food and drink are often tiny neighborhood affairs that only seat 5–10 people. Ping’s ability to read Kanji characters, which transfer over from Chinese, proved to be very helpful in at least figuring out if a sign was for a restaurant or a bathhouse.

“Fast food” in Osaka.

The next morning we headed east on a train to Ise eating “fast food” — morsels of fish and rice wrapped in beautiful origami of leaves. This was not one of the bullet trains; Ise is a small city whose economy has been largely driven by Shinto pilgrims for the last two millennia. A few decades before the birth of Christ, a Japanese princess is said to have spent over twenty years wandering Japan, looking for the perfect place to worship. Around year 4 of the current era she found Ise, where she heard the spirits whisper that this “is a secluded and pleasant land. In this land I wish to dwell.” And thus Ise was established as the Shinto spiritual center of Japan.

This is probably a good time to say a bit more about Shinto. While it is referred to often as a religion with priests and temples, there is actually a much deeper explanation, as with most things in Japan. Shinto is the indigenous belief system that goes back to at least 6 centuries BCE and pre-dates any religions in Japan — including Buddhism, which did not arrive until a millennium or so later. Shinto is an animist world view, which believes that spirits, or Kami, are a part of all things. It is said that nearly all Japanese are Shinto, even though many would self-describe as non-religious, or Buddhist. There are no doctrines or prophets in Shinto; people give reverence to various Kami for different reasons throughout their day, week, or life.

Shinto Priest at Ise gates.

There are over 80,000 Shinto temples, or Jinja, in Japan, and hundreds of thousands of Shinto “priests” who administer them. Of all of these temples, the structures at Ise, collectively referred to as Jingū, are considered the most important and the most highly revered. And of these, the Naikū shrine, which we were there to see, tops them all, and only members of the Japanese imperial family or the senior priests are allowed near or in the shrine. The simple yet stunningly beautiful Kofun-era architecture of the temples dates back over 2500 years, and the traditional construction methods have been refined to an unbelievably high art — even when compared to other Japanese craft.

Roof detail at shrine at Ise.

My understanding of how this twenty-year cycle became a tradition is that these shrines were originally used as seed banks. Since these were made of wood, they would need to be replaced and the seed stock transferred from one to the other. The design of the buildings and even the thatch roof are highly evolved for this. When there are rains, the thatch roof gets heavier, weighing down the wood joinery and making it water-tight. In the dry season, it gets lighter and the gaps between the wood are allowed to breathe again, avoiding mold.

The streets of Ise.

On Friday afternoon we arrived at Ise and, within a short walk, had checked in at our very basic ryokan hotel. The location was perfect, however, as we were directly across from the Naikū shrine area entrance. The town of Ise lies in a mainly flat lowland area across the bay from Nagoya (to the North). Its temples are the end destination of a pilgrimage route which people used to traverse largely by foot, and over the last 2,000 years various food and accommodation services have evolved to cater to those visitors.

Arriving at the temple area.

Ping and I wandered toward the entry and met up with Danny, Daniel, and Maholo Uchida, a friend of Daniel’s who is a curator at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. Maholo would prove to be an absolutely amazing guide through the next 24 hours, and most of what I now understand about Ise and its customs comes from her.

Danny Hillis and Maholo Uchida purifying at the Temizuya.

We traversed a small bridge and passed a low pool of water with a small roof over it. These Temizuya basins, found at the entry to all Shinto shrines, are a place to purify yourself before entry. As with all things in Japan — especially visits to shrines — there is an order and ceremony to washing your hands and mouth at the Temizuya. After this purification, we headed into the forest on a wide path of light grey gravel that crunched underfoot.

Just where the forest begins, we approached a large and beautifully crafted Shinto arch. These are apparently made from the timbers of an earlier shrine after it has been deconstructed. Visitors generally pass through three consecutive arches to enter a Shinto shrine area. Maholo quickly educated us on how to bow as we passed under the first arch (it is different for entering versus leaving) and on proper path walking etiquette. It is apparently too prideful to walk in the middle of the path: you should walk to one side, which is generally — but not always — the left side. As with everything here, there was etiquette to follow which was steeped in tradition and rules that would take a lifetime to understand fully.

Danny Hillis bowing under the first arch.

As we walked from arch to arch, Maholo explained that the forest here had historically been used exclusively to harvest timbers for all the shrines, but over the last millennia they had been harvested too heavily for various war efforts, or lost in fire. Since the beginning of this century the shrines’ caretakers have been bringing these forests back, and expect them to be self-sustaining again within the next two or three rebuilding periods — 40 to 60 years from now.

Third arch approaching the grand shrine.

Passing through a sequence of arches, we arrived at the Naikū shrine sanctuary area. This area includes a place that sells commemorative gifts. At this point you might be thinking “tourist trap gift shop,” but this adjacent structure is at least centuries old and of course perfectly fits the aesthetic. Instead of cheap plastic trinkets and coffee mugs, it offered hand-screened prints on wood from the last temple deconstruction, as well as calligraphic stamps for your shrine ‘passport’.

The 2,000 year-old gift shop.

Adjacent to the gift shop is the walled-off section of the Naikū shrine. Visitors are allowed to approach one spot, where there is a gap in the wall, and see a glimpse of the main temples. On the left, the one completed in 01993 has begun to grey (pictured below), and on the right gleams the newly finished temple, a dual view only seen once every 20 years. After this event, they will begin disassembly of the old shrine, and will leave just a little doghouse-sized structure in its place for the next two decades.

The old shrine, grey with age.

The audience for this event consisted of only a few hundred people. Maholo explained that this rebuilding has been going on for eight years, and that many people come for different parts of the process, including the harvesting of the trees, the blessing of the tools, the milling of the timbers, the placement of the white river foundation stones, and so on.

As we stood there, crowds were gathering, and we noticed behind us a series of chests that were roped off in the courtyard area. Some of these were plain wood and some of them were lacquered. These chests contained the temple “treasures” that are moved from the old temple to the new. Some are re-created every 20 years by the greatest craftspeople in Japan, some have been moved from temple to temple for 14 centuries, and some are totally secret to all but the priests. The treasures are what the Kami spirits follow from one temple to the next as they are rebuilt. So the Shinto priests move the treasures when the new temple is ready, and the Kami spirits move sometime in the night to follow them in to their new home.

Treasure change ceremony at Ise.

As we took photos, a large group of priests and press started lining up. We were ushered over to the gift building area and held back by white gloved security personnel. It was a bit comical as they did not seem to know exactly what to do with us. Since this ceremony happens only every 20 years, it is unlikely that any of the staff were present at the last occasion: while this is one of the oldest events in the world, it is simultaneously brand new. It was very apparent that none of the ritual acts were performed for the audience. All of this ceremony was designed for the benefit of the Kami spirits, not for people’s entertainment, and much of what we saw were glimpses through trees from a distance. While it was hard to see everything, we all agreed that this perspective made the tradition much more magical and interesting than if it had all been laid bare.

Without fanfare, the princess of Japan led a march of hundreds of Ise priests down the path that we had just walked, and they all lined up in rows next to the chests. After a ceremony with nearly 30 minutes of bowing, the chests were carried into the sanctuary and placed into the new shrine (though this was out of view).

Then they came back out, lined up again, and went through a series of wave like bows before being led away by the princess.

All very calm, very simple, and without any hurrah. The Kami would soon follow the treasures into their new home.

What was a real surprise was to learn that there are 125 shrines in Ise: all are rebuilt every 20 years, but on different schedules. This is also done at other Shinto shrine sites, but not always every 20 years; some have cycles as long as 60 years. Once we were allowed to wander around again, we hiked up the hill to some of the other temples, all built for different Kami. Some recently-built shrines stood next to the ones awaiting deconstruction, and some stood alone. These are all made with similar design and unerring construction, and unlike the main temple, we were allowed to walk right up to these and take pictures.

A recently-built shrine stands next to an old one.

We left the forest on a different path as the sun set, bowing our exit bows twice after each of the three arches. We wandered through the town a bit and I suggested we find a local bar that offered the traditional Japanese “bottle keep” so we could drink half of a bottle and leave it on the shelf to return in 20 years for the other half.

Hopefully we’ll drink from this bottle again in 02033.

Maholo took us to a tiny alley where she peeked into a few shoji screens, eventually finding us the right place. It had only eight or so seats, and the proprietor was a lovely Japanes grandmother. We ordered a bottle of Suntory whiskey and began to pour.

The barkeep was amazed to find out how far we had traveled to see the ceremony, and put our dated Long Now bottle on the highest shelf in a place of honor.

Afterwards, Maholo had arranged for us to have dinner at a beautiful ryokan with one of the Shinto priests, who had come in from Tokyo to help with the events in Ise. We were served course after course of incredible seafood while he gracefully answered our questions, all translated by Maholo.

We learned that the priests who run Ise are their own special group within the Shinto organization, and don’t really follow the line of the main organization. For instance, when several of the Shinto temples were offered UNESCO world heritage site status, they politely declined. I can just imagine them wondering why they would need an organization like UNESCO, that is not even half a century old, to tell them that they had achieved “historic” status. I suspect that maybe in a millennium or two, if UNESCO is still around, they might reconsider.

The priests bringing the Kami their first meal.

The next morning we returned to Naikū to catch a glimpse through the trees of the priests bringing the Kami their first meal. The Kami are fed in the morning and evening of each day from a kitchen building behind the temple sanctuary. We watched priests and their assistants bringing in chests of food as we chatted with an American who works for the Shinto central office in Tokyo. He had put together a beautiful book about the shrines at Ise, The Soul of Japan, to which he later sent me a link to share in this report.

Afterwards, we also visited the small but amazing museum at Ise that displays some of the “treasures” from past shrines, a temple simulacrum, and a display documenting the 1400-year reconstruction history along with the beautiful Japanese tools used for building the shrines.

Bridge to the Gekū shrines.

Then Maholo took us to the Gekū shrine areas, a few kilometers away, which allow much more access. These shrines, and the bridge that leads to them, are also built on the alternating-site, 20-year cycle. But here you walk on the right, and there are four arches — I could not find out why. Most interesting, however, is that in World War II the Japanese emperor ordered a rare temporary delay in shrine rebuilding. While the people of Ise could not defy him, they realized that he had only mentioned the shrines, so they went ahead and rebuilt the bridge as scheduled in the middle of a war-torn year.

Finally, we headed to the train station, from where Danny and Daniel would travel to Kyoto for their flights, and Maholo would return to Tokyo. Ping and I later boarded the train to Osaka to stay the night, and then headed to Nara prefecture the next day.

Entering Hōryū-ji

Hōryū-ji at Nara

Only 45 minutes by train from Osaka is the stop at Hōryū-ji, a bit before you get to Nara center. Almost concurrent to the building of the first shrine at Ise in the 7th century, a complex of Buddhist temples were built here beginning in 607 CE.

The tall pagoda at Hōryū-ji is one of the oldest continuously standing structures in the world. And while there is controversy over which parts of this temple complex are orginal, the central vertical pillar of wood in the Pagoda was definitively felled in 594.

The architecture has a strong Chinese influence, reflecting the route Buddhism traveled before arriving in Japan, and came with a tradition of continual maintenance rather than periodic rebuilding. 

Roof detail at Hōryū-ji

I suspect one of the main reasons these buildings have survived so long is their ceramic roof. The roof tiles can last centuries and are vastly less susceptible to fire than wood or thatch. Like the Shinto shrines, though, no one resides in these buildings, so the chance of human error starting a blaze is vastly diminished. I was amused to see the “no smoking” sign as we entered one of temples.

No smoking sign at Hōryū-ji

As you walk through these temples there are many beautiful little maintenance details. Places where water would have wicked into the bottom of a pillar or around the edge of a metal detail have been carefully removed, with new wood spliced back in over the centuries.

It is striking that this part of Japan houses two sets of structures, both of nearly equal age, and both made of largely ephemeral materials that have lasted over 14 centuries through totally different mechanisms and religions. Both require a continuous, diligent and respectful civilization to sustain them, yet one is punctuated and episodic, while the other is gradual. Both are great models for how to make a building, or an institution, last through millennia.


Learn More

  • Read Alexander Rose’s recent essay in BBC Future, “How to Build Something that Lasts 10,000 Years.”
  • See more photos from Alexander Rose’s trip to Japan here.
  • Read Soul of Japan: An Introduction to Shinto and Ise Jingu (02013) in full here.

CryptogramOn Cybersecurity Insurance

Good paper on cybersecurity insurance: both the history and the promise for the future. From the conclusion:

Policy makers have long held high hopes for cyber insurance as a tool for improving security. Unfortunately, the available evidence so far should give policymakers pause. Cyber insurance appears to be a weak form of governance at present. Insurers writing cyber insurance focus more on organisational procedures than technical controls, rarely include basic security procedures in contracts, and offer discounts that only offer a marginal incentive to invest in security. However, the cost of external response services is covered, which suggests insurers believe ex-post responses to be more effective than ex-ante mitigation. (Alternatively, they can more easily translate the costs associated with ex-post responses into manageable claims.)

The private governance role of cyber insurance is limited by market dynamics. Competitive pressures drive a race-to-the-bottom in risk assessment standards and prevent insurers including security procedures in contracts. Policy interventions, such as minimum risk assessment standards, could solve this collective action problem. Policy-holders and brokers could also drive this change by looking to insurers who conduct rigorous assessments. Doing otherwise ensures adverse selection and moral hazard will increase costs for firms with responsible security postures. Moving toward standardised risk assessment via proposal forms or external scans supports the actuarial base in the long-term. But there is a danger policyholders will succumb to Goodhart's law by internalising these metrics and optimising the metric rather than minimising risk. This is particularly likely given these assessments are constructed by private actors with their own incentives. Search-light effects may drive the scores towards being based on what can be measured, not what is important.

EDITED TO ADD (9/11): BoingBoing post.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: ImAlNumb?

I think it’s fair to say that C, as a language, has never had a particularly great story for working with text. Individual characters are okay, but strings are a nightmare. The need to support unicode has only made that story a little more fraught, especially as older code now suddenly needs to support extended characters. And by “older” I mean, “wchar was added in 1995, which is practically yesterday in C time”.

Lexie inherited some older code. It was not designed to support unicode, which is certainly a problem in 2019, and it’s the problem Lexie was tasked with fixing. But it had an… interesting approach to deciding if a character was alphanumeric.

Now, if we limit ourselves to ASCII, there are a variety of ways we could do this check. We could convert it to a number and do a simple check- characters 48–57 are numeric, 65–90 and 97–122 cover the alphabetic characters. But that’s a conditional expression- six comparison operations! So maybe we should be more clever. There is a built-in library function, isalnum, which might be more optimized, and is available on Lexie’s platform. But we’re dedicated to really doing some serious premature optimization, so there has to be a better way.

bool isalnumCache[256] =
{false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true, false, false, false, false, false,
false,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true, true, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false};

This is a lookup table. Convert your character to an integer, and then use it to index the array. This is fast. It’s also error prone, and this block does incorrectly identify a non-alphanumeric as an alphanumeric. It also 100% fails if you are dealing with wchar_t, which is how Lexie ended up looking at this block in the first place.

[Advertisement] Utilize BuildMaster to release your software with confidence, at the pace your business demands. Download today!

,

Krebs on SecurityPatch Tuesday, September 2019 Edition

Microsoft today issued security updates to plug some 80 security holes in various flavors of its Windows operating systems and related software. The software giant assigned a “critical” rating to almost a quarter of those vulnerabilities, meaning they could be used by malware or miscreants to hijack vulnerable systems with little or no interaction on the part of the user.

Two of the bugs quashed in this month’s patch batch (CVE-2019-1214 and CVE-2019-1215) involve vulnerabilities in all supported versions of Windows that have already been exploited in the wild. Both are known as “privilege escalation” flaws in that they allow an attacker to assume the all-powerful administrator status on a targeted system. Exploits for these types of weaknesses are often deployed along with other attacks that don’t require administrative rights.

September also marks the fourth time this year Microsoft has fixed critical bugs in its Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) feature, with four critical flaws being patched in the service. According to security vendor Qualys, these Remote Desktop flaws were discovered in a code review by Microsoft, and in order to exploit them an attacker would have to trick a user into connecting to a malicious or hacked RDP server.

Microsoft also fixed another critical vulnerability in the way Windows handles link files ending in “.lnk” that could be used to launch malware on a vulnerable system if a user were to open a removable drive or access a shared folder with a booby-trapped .lnk file on it.

Shortcut files — or those ending in the “.lnk” extension — are Windows files that link easy-to-recognize icons to specific executable programs, and are typically placed on the user’s Desktop or Start Menu. It’s perhaps worth noting that poisoned .lnk files were one of the four known exploits bundled with Stuxnet, a multi-million dollar cyber weapon that American and Israeli intelligence services used to derail Iran’s nuclear enrichment plans roughly a decade ago.

In last month’s Microsoft patch dispatch, I ruefully lamented the utter hose job inflicted on my Windows 10 system by the July round of security updates from Redmond. Many readers responded by saying one or another updates released by Microsoft in August similarly caused reboot loops or issues with Windows repeatedly crashing.

As there do not appear to be any patch-now-or-be-compromised-tomorrow flaws in the September patch rollup, it’s probably safe to say most Windows end-users would benefit from waiting a few days to apply these fixes. 

Very often fixes released on Patch Tuesday have glitches that cause problems for an indeterminate number of Windows systems. When this happens, Microsoft then patches their patches to minimize the same problems for users who haven’t yet applied the updates, but it sometimes takes a few days for Redmond to iron out the kinks.

The trouble is, Windows 10 by default will install patches and reboot your computer whenever it likes. Here’s a tutorial on how to undo that. For all other Windows OS users, if you’d rather be alerted to new updates when they’re available so you can choose when to install them, there’s a setting for that in Windows Update.

Most importantly, please have some kind of system for backing up your files before applying any updates. You can use third-party software to do this, or just rely on the options built into Windows 10. At some level, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you’re backing up your files, preferably following the 3-2-1 backup rule.

Finally, Adobe fixed two critical bugs in its Flash Player browser plugin, which is bundled in Microsoft’s IE/Edge and Chrome (although now hobbled by default in Chrome). Firefox forces users with the Flash add-on installed to click in order to play Flash content; instructions for disabling or removing Flash from Firefox are here. Adobe will stop supporting Flash at the end of 2020.

As always, if you experience any problems installing any of these patches this month, please feel free to leave a comment about it below; there’s a good chance other readers have experienced the same and may even chime in here with some helpful tips.

Cory DoctorowCharles de Lint on Radicalized

I’ve been a Charles de Lint fan since I was a kid (see photographic evidence, above, of a 13-year-old me attending one of Charles’s signings at Bakka Books in 1984!), and so I was absolutely delighted to read his kind words in his books column in Fantasy and Science Fiction for my latest book, Radicalized. This book has received a lot of critical acclaim (“among my favorite things I’ve read so far this year”), but to get such a positive notice from Charles is wonderful on a whole different level.

The stories, like “The Masque of the Red Death,” are all set in a very near future. They tackle immigration and poverty, police corruption and brutality, the U.S. health care system and the big pharma companies. None of this is particularly cheerful fodder. The difference is that each of the other three stories give us characters we can really care about, and allow for at least the presence of some hopefulness.

“Unauthorized Bread” takes something we already have and projects it into the future. You’ve heard of Juciero? It’s a Wi-Fi juicer that only lets you use the proprietary pre-chopped produce packs that you have to buy from the company. Produce you already have at home? It doesn’t work because it doesn’t carry the required codes that will let the machine do its work.

In the story, a young woman named Salima discovers that her toaster won’t work, so she goes through the usual steps one does when electronics stop working. Unplug. Reset to factory settings. Finally…

“There was a touchscreen option on the toaster to call support but that wasn’t working, so she used the fridge to look up the number and call it.”

I loved that line.

Books To Look For [Charles de Lint/F&SF]

Worse Than FailureDeath by Consumption

Tryton Party Module Address Database Diagram

The task was simple: change an AMQ consumer to insert data into a new Oracle database instead of an old MS-SQL database. It sounded like the perfect task for the new intern, Rodger; Rodger was fresh out of a boot camp and ready for the real world, if he could only get a little experience under his belt. The kid was bright as they came, but boot camp only does so much, after all.

But there are always complications. The existing service was installed on the old app servers that weren't setup to work with the new corporate app deployment tool. The fix? To uninstall the service on the old app servers and install it on the new ones. Okay, simple enough, if not well suited to the intern.

Rodger got permissions to set up the service on his local machine so he could test his install scripts, and a senior engineer got an uninstall script working as well, so they could seamlessly switch over to the new machines. They flipped the service; deployment day came, and everything went smoothly. The business kicked off their process, the consumer service picked up their message and inserted data correctly to the new database.

The next week, the business kicked off their process again. After the weekend, the owners of the old database realized that the data was inserted into the old database and not the new database. They promptly asked how this had happened. Rodger and his senior engineer friend checked the queue; it correctly had two consumers set up, pointing at the new database. Just to be sure, they also checked the old servers to make sure the service was correctly uninstalled and removed by tech services. All clear.

Hours later, the senior engineer refreshed the queue monitor and saw the queue now had three consumers despite the new setup having only two servers. But how? They checked all three servers—two new and one old—and found no sign of a rogue process.

By that point, Rodger was online for his shift, so the senior engineer headed over to talk to him. "Say, Rodger, any chance one of your installs duplicated itself or inserted itself twice into the consumer list?"

"No way!" Rodger replied. "Here, look, you can see my script, I'll run it again locally to show you."

Running it locally ... with dawning horror, the senior engineer realized what had happened. Roger had the install script, but not the uninstall—meaning he had a copy still running on his local developer laptop, connected to the production queue, but with the old config for some reason. Every time he turned on his computer, hey presto, the service started up.

The moral of the story: always give the intern the destructive task, not the constructive one. That can't go wrong, right?

[Advertisement] Forget logs. Next time you're struggling to replicate error, crash and performance issues in your apps - Think Raygun! Installs in minutes. Learn more.

Cory DoctorowPodcast: DRM Broke Its Promise

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my new Locus column, DRM Broke Its Promise, which recalls the days when digital rights management was pitched to us as a way to enable exciting new markets where we’d all save big by only buying the rights we needed (like the low-cost right to read a book for an hour-long plane ride), but instead (unsurprisingly) everything got more expensive and less capable.

The established religion of markets once told us that we must abandon the idea of owning things, that this was an old fashioned idea from the world of grubby atoms. In the futuristic digital realm, no one would own things, we would only license them, and thus be relieved of the terrible burden of ownership.

They were telling the truth. We don’t own things anymore. This summer, Microsoft shut down its ebook store, and in so doing, deactivated its DRM servers, rendering every book the company had sold inert, unreadable. To make up for this, Microsoft sent refunds to the custom­ers it could find, but obviously this is a poor replacement for the books themselves. When I was a bookseller in Toronto, noth­ing that happened would ever result in me breaking into your house to take back the books I’d sold you, and if I did, the fact that I left you a refund wouldn’t have made up for the theft. Not all the books Microsoft is confiscating are even for sale any lon­ger, and some of the people whose books they’re stealing made extensive annotations that will go up in smoke.

What’s more, this isn’t even the first time an electronic bookseller has done this. Walmart announced that it was shutting off its DRM ebooks in 2008 (but stopped after a threat from the FTC). It’s not even the first time Microsoft has done this: in 2004, Microsoft created a line of music players tied to its music store that it called (I’m not making this up) “Plays for Sure.” In 2008, it shut the DRM serv­ers down, and the Plays for Sure titles its customers had bought became Never Plays Ever Again titles.

We gave up on owning things – property now being the exclusive purview of transhuman immortal colony organisms called corporations – and we were promised flexibility and bargains. We got price-gouging and brittle­ness.

MP3

,

Krebs on SecuritySecret Service Investigates Breach at U.S. Govt IT Contractor

The U.S. Secret Service is investigating a breach at a Virginia-based government technology contractor that saw access to several of its systems put up for sale in the cybercrime underground, KrebsOnSecurity has learned. The contractor claims the access being auctioned off was to old test systems that do not have direct connections to its government partner networks.

In mid-August, a member of a popular Russian-language cybercrime forum offered to sell access to the internal network of a U.S. government IT contractor that does business with more than 20 federal agencies, including several branches of the military. The seller bragged that he had access to email correspondence and credentials needed to view databases of the client agencies, and set the opening price at six bitcoins (~USD $60,000).

A review of the screenshots posted to the cybercrime forum as evidence of the unauthorized access revealed several Internet addresses tied to systems at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that manages the nation’s naturalization and immigration system.

Other domains and Internet addresses included in those screenshots pointed to Miracle Systems LLC, an Arlington, Va. based IT contractor that states on its site that it serves 20+ federal agencies as a prime contractor, including the aforementioned agencies.

In an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, Miracle Systems CEO Sandesh Sharda confirmed that the auction concerned credentials and databases were managed by his company, and that an investigating agent from the Secret Service was in his firm’s offices at that very moment looking into the matter.

But he maintained that the purloined data shown in the screenshots was years-old and mapped only to internal test systems that were never connected to its government agency clients.

“The Secret Service came to us and said they’re looking into the issue,” Sharda said. “But it was all old stuff [that was] in our own internal test environment, and it is no longer valid.”

Still, Sharda did acknowledge information shared by Wisconsin-based security firm Hold Security, which alerted KrebsOnSecurity to this incident, indicating that at least eight of its internal systems had been compromised on three separate occasions between November 2018 and July 2019 by Emotet, a malware strain usually distributed via malware-laced email attachments that typically is used to deploy other malicious software.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Department of Transportation. A spokesperson for the NIH said the agency had investigated the activity and found it was not compromised by the incident.

“As is the case for all agencies of the Federal Government, the NIH is constantly under threat of cyber-attack,” NIH spokesperson Julius Patterson said. “The NIH has a comprehensive security program that is continuously monitoring and responding to security events, and cyber-related incidents are reported to the Department of Homeland Security through the HHS Computer Security Incident Response Center.”

One of several screenshots offered by the dark web seller as proof of access to a federal IT contractor later identified as Arlington, Va. based Miracle Systems. Image: Hold Security.

The dust-up involving Miracle Systems comes amid much hand-wringing among U.S. federal agencies about how best to beef up and ensure security at a slew of private companies that manage federal IT contracts and handle government data.

For years, federal agencies had few options to hold private contractors to the same security standards to which they must adhere — beyond perhaps restricting how federal dollars are spent. But recent updates to federal acquisition regulations allow agencies to extend those same rules to vendors, enforce specific security requirements, and even kill contracts that are found to be in violation of specific security clauses.

In July, DHS’s Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) suspended all federal contracts with Perceptics, a contractor which sells license-plate scanners and other border control equipment, after data collected by the company was made available for download on the dark web. The CPB later said the breach was the result of a federal contractor copying data on its corporate network, which was subsequently compromised.

For its part, the Department of Defense recently issued long-awaited cybersecurity standards for contractors who work with the Pentagon’s sensitive data.

“This problem is not necessarily a tier-one supply level,” DOD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year. “It’s down when you get to the tier-three and the tier-four” subcontractors.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Making a Nest

Tiffany started the code review with an apology. "I only did this to stay in style with the existing code, because it's either that or we rewrite the whole thing from scratch."

Jim J, who was running the code review nodded. Before Tiffany, this application had been designed from the ground up by Armando. Armando had gone to a tech conference, and learned about F#, and how all those exciting functional features were available in C#, and returned jabbering about "immutable data" and "functors" and "metaprogramming" and decided that he was now a functional programmer, who just happened to work in C#.

Some struggling object-oriented developers use dictionaries for everything. As a struggling functional programmer, Armando used tuples for everything. And these tuples would get deeply nested. Sometimes, you needed to flatten them back out.

Tiffany had contributed this method to do that:

public static Result<Tuple<T1, T2, T3, T4, T5>> FlatternTupleResult<T1, T2, T3, T4, T5>( Result<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>, T4>, T5>> tuple ) { return tuple.Map(x => new Tuple<T1, T2, T3, T4, T5>(x.Item1.Item1.Item1.Item1, x.Item1.Item1.Item1.Item2, x.Item1.Item1.Item2, x.Item1.Item2, x.Item2)); }

It's safe to say that deeply nested generics are a super clear code smell, and this line: Result<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>, T4>, T5>> tuple downright reeks. Tuples in tuples in tuples.

Tiffany cringed at the code she had written, but this method lived in the TaskResultHelper class, and lived alongside methods with these signatures:

public static Result<Tuple<T1, T2, T3, T4>> FlatternTupleResult<T1, T2, T3, T4>(Result<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>, T4>> tuple) public static Result<Tuple<T1, T2, T3>> FlatternTupleResult<T1, T2, T3>(Result<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>> tuple)

"This does fit in with the way the application currently works," Jim admitted. "I'm sorry."

[Advertisement] BuildMaster allows you to create a self-service release management platform that allows different teams to manage their applications. Explore how!

Cory DoctorowCome see me in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Toronto and Maine!

I’m about to leave for a couple of weeks’ worth of lectures, public events and teaching, and you can catch me in many places: Santa Cruz (in conversation with XKCD’s Randall Munroe); San Francisco (for EFF’s Pioneer Awards); Toronto (for Word on the Street, Seeding Utopias and Resisting Dystopias and 6 Degrees); Newry, ME (Maine Library Association) and Portland, ME (in conversation with James Patrick Kelly).

Here’s the full itinerary:

Santa Cruz, September 11, 7PM: Bookshop Santa Cruz Presents an Evening with Randall Munroe, Santa Cruz Bible Church, 440 Frederick St, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

San Francisco, September 12, 6PM: EFF Pioneer Awards, with Adam Savage, William Gibson, danah boyd, and Oakland Privacy; Delancey Street Town Hall, 600 Embarcadero St., San Francisco, California, 94107

Houston and beyond, September 13-22: The Writing Excuses Cruise (sorry, sold out!)

Toronto, September 22: Word on the Street:

Toronto, September 23, 6PM-8PM: Cory Doctorow in Discussion: Seeding Utopias & Resisting Dystopias , with Jim Munroe, Madeline Ashby and Emily Macrae; Oakwood Village Library & Arts Centre, 341 Oakwood Avenue, Toronto, ON M6E 2W1

Toronto, September 24: 360: How to Make Sense at the 6 Degrees Conference, with Aude Favre, Ryan McMahon and Nanjala Nyabola, Art Gallery of Ontario.

Newry, ME, September 30: Keynote for the Maine Library Association Annual Conference, Sunday River Resort, Newry, ME

Portland, ME, September 30, 6:30PM-8PM: In Conversation With James Patrick Kelly, Main Library, Rines Auditorium.

I hope you can make it!

,

Sam VargheseSerena Williams loses another Grand Slam final

Serena Williams has fallen flat on her face again in her bid to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles. This time Williams’ loss was to Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu – and what makes it better is that she lost in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5.

Andreescu, 19, is a raw hand at the game; she has never played in the main draw of the US Open before. Last year, ranked 208, she was beaten in the first round by Olga Danilovic.

Williams has now lost four Grand Slam finals in pursuit of 24 wins: Angelique Kerber defeated her at Wimbledon in 2018, Naomi Osaka defeated her in the last US Open and Simona Halep accounted for Williams at Wimbledon this year. In all those finals, Williams was unable to win more than four games in any set. And now Andreescu has sent her packing.

Williams appears to be obsessed with being the winner of most Grand Slams before she quits the game. But after returning from maternity leave, she has shown the inability to cope with the pressure of a final. Her last win was in the Australian Open in 2017, when she beat her sister, Venus, 6-4, 6-4.

Unlike many other players, Williams is obsessed with herself. Not for her the low-profile attitude cultivated by the likes of Roger Federer or Steffi Graf. The German woman, who dominated tennis for many years, was a great example for others.

In 1988, Graf thrashed Russian Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in the final of the French Open in 34 minutes – the shortest and most one-sided Grand Slam final on record. And Zvereva had beaten the great Martina Navratilova en route to the final!

Yet Graf was low-key at the presentation. She did not laud it over Zvereva who was in tears, she did not indulge in triumphalism. One shudders to think of the way Williams would have carried on in such a situation. Graf was graciousness personified.

Williams is precisely the opposite. When she wins, it is because she played well. And when she loses, it is all because she did not play well. Her opponent only gets some reluctant praise.

It is time for Williams to do some serious soul-searching and consider whether it is time to bow out. This constant search for a 24th title — and I’m sure she will look for a 25th after that to be atop the winners’ list — is getting a little tiresome.

There is a time in life for everything as it says in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Williams has had a good run but now her obsession with another win is getting on people’s nerves. There is much more to women’s tennis than Serena Williams – and it is time that she realised it as well and retired.

,

CryptogramMassive iPhone Hack Targets Uyghurs

China is being blamed for a massive surveillance operation that targeted Uyghur Muslims. This story broke in waves, the first wave being about the iPhone.

Earlier this year, Google's Project Zero found a series of websites that have been using zero-day vulnerabilities to indiscriminately install malware on iPhones that would visit the site. (The vulnerabilities were patched in iOS 12.1.4, released on February 7.)

Earlier this year Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) discovered a small collection of hacked websites. The hacked sites were being used in indiscriminate watering hole attacks against their visitors, using iPhone 0-day.

There was no target discrimination; simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack your device, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant. We estimate that these sites receive thousands of visitors per week.

TAG was able to collect five separate, complete and unique iPhone exploit chains, covering almost every version from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12. This indicated a group making a sustained effort to hack the users of iPhones in certain communities over a period of at least two years.

Four more news stories.

This upends pretty much everything we know about iPhone hacking. We believed that it was hard. We believed that effective zero-day exploits cost $2M or $3M, and were used sparingly by governments only against high-value targets. We believed that if an exploit was used too frequently, it would be quickly discovered and patched.

None of that is true here. This operation used fourteen zero-days exploits. It used them indiscriminately. And it remained undetected for two years. (I waited before posting this because I wanted to see if someone would rebut this story, or explain it somehow.)

Google's announcement left out of details, like the URLs of the sites delivering the malware. That omission meant that we had no idea who was behind the attack, although the speculation was that it was a nation-state.

Subsequent reporting added that malware against Android phones and the Windows operating system were also delivered by those websites. And then that the websites were targeted at Uyghurs. Which leads us all to blame China.

So now this is a story of a large, expensive, indiscriminate, Chinese-run surveillance operation against an ethnic minority in their country. And the politics will overshadow the tech. But the tech is still really impressive.

EDITED TO ADD: New data on the value of smartphone exploits:

According to the company, starting today, a zero-click (no user interaction) exploit chain for Android can get hackers and security researchers up to $2.5 million in rewards. A similar exploit chain impacting iOS is worth only $2 million.

EDITED TO ADD (9/6): Apple disputes some of the claims Google made about the extent of the vulnerabilities and the attack.

EDITED TO ADD (9/7): More on Apple's pushbacks.

Valerie AuroraWhy you shouldn’t trust people who support sexual predators

[CW: mention of child sexual abuse]

Should you trust people who support sexual predators? My answer is no. Here’s why:

Anyone who is ethically flexible enough to justify knowingly supporting a sexual predator is ethically flexible enough to justify harming the people who trust and support them.

This week’s news provides a useful case study.

After writing about how to avoid supporting sexual predators, I talked to some of the 250 people who signed a letter of support for Joi Ito to remain as head of MIT Media Lab. They signed this letter between August 26th and September 6th, when they were aware of the initial revelations that Ito and the ML had taken about $2 million from Jeffrey Epstein after his 2008 conviction for child sex offenses.

Here’s the dilemma these signatories were facing: Ito was powerful, and charming, and had inspired loyalty and support in them. The letter says, “We have experienced first-hand Joi’s integrity, and stand in testament to his overwhelmingly positive influence on our lives—and sincerely hope he remains our visionary director for many years to come.” When given evidence that Ito had knowingly supported a convicted serial child rapist, they chose to believe that there was some as-yet unknown explanation which would square with their image of Ito as a person of integrity and ethics. Others viewed taking Epstein’s money as some kind of moral imperative: the money was available, they could do good with it, no one was preventing them from taking it. They denied that Epstein accrued any advantage from the donations. Finally, many of the signatories also depend on Ito for a living; after all, as Upton Sinclair says, it is difficult to get a person to understand something when their salary depends upon their not understanding it.

These 250 people expected their public pledge of loyalty to be rewarded. Instead, on September 6th, we all learned that Ito and other ML staff had been deliberately covering up Epstein’s role in about $8 million in donations to the ML, in contravention of MIT’s explicit disqualification of Epstein as a donor. The article is filled with horrifying details, but most damning of all: Epstein visited the ML in 2015 to meet with Ito in person (a privilege accorded to him for his financial support). The women on the ML staff offered to help two extremely young women accompanying Epstein escape, fearing they were trafficked.

Ito knew Epstein was almost certainly still committing rape after 2008.

Needless to say, this not what the signatories of the letter of support expected. Less than 24 hours after this news broke, the number of signatories had dropped from 250 to 228, and this disclaimer was added: “This petition was drafted by students on August 26th, 2019, and signed by members of the broader Media Lab community in the days that followed, to show their support for Joi and his apology. Given when community members added their names to this petition, their signatures should not be read as continued support of Joi staying on as Media Lab Director following the most recent revelations in the September 6th New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow.”

What happened? This is a phenomenon I’ve seen before, from my time working in the Linux kernel community. It’s this: Every nasty horror show of an abuser is surrounded by a ring of charming enablers who mediate between the abuser and the rest of the world. They make the abuser’s actions more palatable, smooth over the disagreements, invent explanations: the abuser can’t help it, the abuser needs help, the abuser is doing more good than harm, the abuse isn’t real abuse, we’ll always have an abuser so might as well stick with the abuser we know, etc. And around the immediate circle of enablers is a wider circle of dozens and hundreds of kind, trusting, supportive people who believe, in spite of all the evidence, that keeping the abuser and their enablers in power is ethically justified, in some way they aren’t privileged to understand. They don’t fully understand why, but they trust the people in power and keep working on faith.

That first level of charming enabler surrounding the abuser is doing that work with full knowledge of how terrible the abuser is, and they are rationalizing their decision in some way. It might be pure self-interest, it might be in service of some supposed greater goal, it might be a deep psychological need to believe that the abuser can be reformed. Whatever it is, it is a rationalization, and they are daily acting in a way that the surrounding circle of kind, trusting people would consider wildly unethical.

Here’s the key: you can’t trust anyone in that inner circle of enablers. They are people who are ethically flexible enough to rationalize supporting an abuser. They can easily rationalize screwing over the kind people who trust them, as Ito did with the 250 signatories of a letter that said, “We are here for you, we support you, we will forever be grateful for your impact on our lives.” His supporters are finding out the hard way that this kind of devotion and love is only one-way.

I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can refuse to knowingly support sexual predators. I also refuse to associate with people who support sexual predators because I know I can’t trust them to act ethically. I encourage you to join me.

,

CryptogramFriday Squid Blogging: Squid Perfume

It's not perfume for squids. Nor is it perfume made from squids. It's a perfume called Squid, "inspired by life in the sea."

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

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Cory DoctorowTalking RADICALIZED and MAKERS on Writers Voice

The Writers Voice podcast just published their interview with me about Radicalized; as a bonus, they include my decade-old interview about Makers in the recording!

MP3

CryptogramThe Doghouse: Crown Sterling

A decade ago, the Doghouse was a regular feature in both my email newsletter Crypto-Gram and my blog. In it, I would call out particularly egregious -- and amusing -- examples of cryptographic "snake oil."

I dropped it both because it stopped being fun and because almost everyone converged on standard cryptographic libraries, which meant standard non-snake-oil cryptography. But every so often, a new company comes along that is so ridiculous, so nonsensical, so bizarre, that there is nothing to do but call it out.

Crown Sterling is complete and utter snake oil. The company sells "TIME AI," "the world's first dynamic 'non-factor' based quantum AI encryption software," "utilizing multi-dimensional encryption technology, including time, music's infinite variability, artificial intelligence, and most notably mathematical constancies to generate entangled key pairs." Those sentence fragments tick three of my snake-oil warning signs -- from 1999! -- right there: pseudo-math gobbledygook (warning sign #1), new mathematics (warning sign #2), and extreme cluelessness (warning sign #4).

More: "In March of 2019, Grant identified the first Infinite Prime Number prediction pattern, where the discovery was published on Cornell University's www.arXiv.org titled: 'Accurate and Infinite Prime Number Prediction from Novel Quasi-Prime Analytical Methodology.' The paper was co-authored by Physicist and Number Theorist Talal Ghannam PhD. The discovery challenges today's current encryption framework by enabling the accurate prediction of prime numbers." Note the attempt to leverage Cornell's reputation, even though the preprint server is not peer-reviewed and allows anyone to upload anything. (That should be another warning sign: undeserved appeals to authority.) PhD student Mark Carney took the time to refute it. Most of it is wrong, and what's right isn't new.

I first encountered the company earlier this year. In January, Tom Yemington from the company emailed me, asking to talk. "The founder and CEO, Robert Grant is a successful healthcare CEO and amateur mathematician that has discovered a method for cracking asymmetric encryption methods that are based on the difficulty of finding the prime factors of a large quasi-prime numbers. Thankfully the newly discovered math also provides us with much a stronger approach to encryption based on entangled-pairs of keys." Sounds like complete snake-oil, right? I responded as I usually do when companies contact me, which is to tell them that I'm too busy.

In April, a colleague at IBM suggested I talk with the company. I poked around at the website, and sent back: "That screams 'snake oil.' Bet you a gazillion dollars they have absolutely nothing of value -- and that none of their tech people have any cryptography expertise." But I thought this might be an amusing conversation to have. I wrote back to Yemington. I never heard back -- LinkedIn suggests he left in April -- and forgot about the company completely until it surfaced at Black Hat this year.

Robert Grant, president of Crown Sterling, gave a sponsored talk: "The 2019 Discovery of Quasi-Prime Numbers: What Does This Mean For Encryption?" I didn't see it, but it was widely criticized and heckled. Black Hat was so embarrassed that it removed the presentation from the conference website. (Parts of it remain on the Internet. Here's a short video from the company, if you want to laugh along with everyone else at terms like "infinite wave conjugations" and "quantum AI encryption." Or you can read the company's press release about what happened at Black Hat, or Grant's Twitter feed.)

Grant has no cryptographic credentials. His bio -- on the website of something called the "Resonance Science Foundation" -- is all over the place: "He holds several patents in the fields of photonics, electromagnetism, genetic combinatorics, DNA and phenotypic expression, and cybernetic implant technologies. Mr. Grant published and confirmed the existence of quasi-prime numbers (a new classification of prime numbers) and their infinite pattern inherent to icositetragonal geometry."

Grant's bio on the Crown Sterling website contains this sentence, absolutely beautiful in its nonsensical use of mathematical terms: "He has multiple publications in unified mathematics and physics related to his discoveries of quasi-prime numbers (a new classification for prime numbers), the world's first predictive algorithm determining infinite prime numbers, and a unification wave-based theory connecting and correlating fundamental mathematical constants such as Pi, Euler, Alpha, Gamma and Phi." (Quasi-primes are real, and they're not new. They're numbers with only large prime factors, like RSA moduli.)

Near as I can tell, Grant's coauthor is the mathematician of the company: "Talal Ghannam -- a physicist who has self-published a book called The Mystery of Numbers: Revealed through their Digital Root as well as a comic book called The Chronicles of Maroof the Knight: The Byzantine." Nothing about cryptography.

There seems to be another technical person. Ars Technica writes: "Alan Green (who, according to the Resonance Foundation website, is a research team member and adjunct faculty for the Resonance Academy) is a consultant to the Crown Sterling team, according to a company spokesperson. Until earlier this month, Green -- a musician who was 'musical director for Davy Jones of The Monkees' -- was listed on the Crown Sterling website as Director of Cryptography. Green has written books and a musical about hidden codes in the sonnets of William Shakespeare."

None of these people have demonstrated any cryptographic credentials. No papers, no research, no nothing. (And, no, self-publishing doesn't count.)

After the Black Hat talk, Grant -- and maybe some of those others -- sat down with Ars Technica and spun more snake oil. They claimed that the patterns they found in prime numbers allows them to break RSA. They're not publishing their results "because Crown Sterling's team felt it would be irresponsible to disclose discoveries that would break encryption." (Snake-oil warning sign #7: unsubstantiated claims.) They also claim to have "some very, very strong advisors to the company" who are "experts in the field of cryptography, truly experts." The only one they name is Larry Ponemon, who is a privacy researcher and not a cryptographer at all.

Enough of this. All of us can create ciphers that we cannot break ourselves, which means that amateur cryptographers regularly produce amateur cryptography. These guys are amateurs. Their math is amateurish. Their claims are nonsensical. Run away. Run, far, far, away.

But be careful how loudly you laugh when you do. Not only is the company ridiculous, it's litigious as well. It has sued ten unnamed "John Doe" defendants for booing the Black Hat talk. (It also sued Black Hat, which may have more merit. The company paid $115K to have its talk presented amongst actual peer-reviewed talks. For Black Hat to remove its nonsense may very well be a breach of contract.)

Maybe Crown Sterling can file a meritless lawsuit against me instead for this post. I'm sure it would think it'd result in all sorts of positive press coverage. (Although any press is good press, so maybe it's right.) But if I can prevent others from getting taken in by this stuff, it would be a good thing.

Worse Than FailureError'd: Does Your Child Say "WTF" at Home?

Abby wrote, "I'm tempted to tell the school that my child mostly speaks Sanskrit."

 

"First of all, I have 58,199 rewards points, so I'm a little bit past joining, second, I'm pretty sure Bing Rewards was rebranded as Microsoft Rewards a while ago, and third...SERPBubbleXL...wat?" writes Zander.

 

"I guess, for T-Mobile, time really is money," Greg writes.

 

Hans K. wrote, "I guess it's sort of fitting, but in a quiz about Generics in Java, I was left a little bit confused.

 

"Wait, so if I do, um, nothing, am I allowed to make further changes or any new appointment?" Jeff K. writes.

 

Soumya wrote, "Yeah...I'm not a big fan of Starbucks' reward program..."

 

[Advertisement] Continuously monitor your servers for configuration changes, and report when there's configuration drift. Get started with Otter today!

,

LongNowWhat a Prehistoric Monument Reveals about the Value of Maintenance

Members of Long Now London chalking the White Horse of Uffington, a 3000-year-old prehistoric hill figure in England. Photo by Peter Landers.

Imagine, if you will, that you could travel back in time three thousand years to the late Bronze Age, with a bird’s eye view of a hill near the present-day village of Uffington, in Oxfordshire, England. From that vantage, you’d see the unmistakable outlines of a white horse etched into the hillside. It is enormous — roughly the size of a football field — and visible from 20 miles away.

Now, fast forward. Bounding through the millennia, you’d see groups of people arrive from nearby villages at regular intervals, making their way up the hill to partake in good old fashioned maintenance. Using hammers and buckets of chalk, they scour the hillside to ensure the giant pictogram is not obscured. Without this regular maintenance, the hill figure would not last more than twenty years before becoming entirely eroded and overgrown. After the work is done, a festival is held.

Entire civilizations rise and fall. The White Horse of Uffington remains. Scribes and historians make occasional note of the hill figure, such as in the Welsh Red Book of Hergest in 01382 (“Near to the town of Abinton there is a mountain with a figure of a stallion upon it, and it is white. Nothing grows upon it.”) or by the Oxford archivist Francis Wise in 01736 (“The ceremony of scouring the Horse, from time immemorial, has been solemnized by a numerous concourse of people from all the villages roundabout.”). Easily recognizable by air, the horse is temporarily hidden by turf during World War II to confuse Luftwaffe pilots during bombing raids. Today, the National Trust preserves the site, overseeing a regular act of maintenance 3,000 years in the making.

Long Now London chalking the White Horse. Photo by Peter Landers.

Earlier this summer, members of Long Now London took a field trip to Uffington to participate in the time-honored ceremony. Christopher Daniel, the lead organizer of Long Now London, says the idea to chalk the White Horse came from a conversation with Sarah Davis of Longplayer about the maintenance of art, places and meaning across generations and millennia.

“Sitting there, performing the same task as people in 01819, 00819 and around 800 BCE, it is hard not to consider the types and quantities of meaning and ceremony that may have been attached to those actions in those times,” Daniel says.

The White Horse of Uffington in 01937. Photo by Paul Nash.

Researchers still do not know why the horse was made. Archaeologist David Miles, who was able to date the horse to the late Bronze Age using a technique called optical stimulated luminescence, told The Smithsonian that the figure of the horse might be related to early Celtic art, where horses are depicted pulling the chariot of the sun across the sky. From the bottom of the Uffington hill, the sun appears to rise behind the horse.

“From the start the horse would have required regular upkeep to stay visible,” Emily Cleaver writes in The Smithsonian. “It might seem strange that the horse’s creators chose such an unstable form for their monument, but archaeologists believe this could have been intentional. A chalk hill figure requires a social group to maintain it, and it could be that today’s cleaning is an echo of an early ritual gathering that was part of the horse’s original function.”

In her lecture at Long Now earlier this summer, Monica L. Smith, an archaeologist at UCLA, highlighted the importance of ritual sites like Stonehenge and Göbekli Tepe in the eventual formation of cities.

“The first move towards getting people into larger and larger groups was probably something that was a ritual impetus,” she said. “The idea of coming together and gathering with a bunch of strangers was something that is evident in the earliest physical ritual structures that we have in the world today.”

Photo by Peter Landers.

For Christopher Daniel, the visit to Uffington underscored that there are different approaches to making things last. “The White Horse requires rather more regular maintenance than somewhere like Stonehenge,” he said. “But thankfully the required techniques and materials are smaller, simpler and much closer to hand.”

Though it requires considerably less resources to maintain, and is more symbolic than functional, the Uffington White Horse nonetheless offers a lesson in maintaining the infrastructure of cities today. “As humans, we are historically biased against maintenance,” Smith said in her Long Now lecture. “And yet that is exactly what infrastructure needs.”

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Photo by Rich Niewiroski Jr.

When infrastructure becomes symbolic to a built environment, it is more likely to be maintained. Smith gave the example of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to illustrate this point. Much like the White Horse, the Golden Gate Bridge undergoes a willing and regular form of maintenance. “Somewhere between five to ten thousand gallons of paint a year, and thirty painters, are dedicated to keeping the Golden Gate Bridge golden,” Smith said.

Photos by Peter Landers.

For members of Long Now London, chalking the White Horse revealed that participating in acts of maintenance can be deeply meaningful. “It felt at once both quite ordinary and utterly sublime,” Daniel said. “The physical activity itself is in many ways straightforward. It is the context and history that elevate those actions into what we found to be a profound experience. It was also interesting to realize that on some level it does not matter why we do this. What matters most is that it is done.”

Daniel hopes Long Now London will carry out this “secular pilgrimage” every year. 

“Many of the oldest protected routes across Europe are routes of pilgrimage,” he says. “They were stamped out over centuries by people carrying or searching for meaning. I want the horse chalking to carry meaning across both time and space. If even just a few of us go to the horse each year with this intent, it becomes a tradition. Once something becomes a tradition, it attracts meaning, year by year, generation by generation. On this first visit to the horse, one member brought his kids. A couple of other members said they want to bring theirs in the future. This relatively simple act becomes something we do together—something we remember as much for the communal spirit as for the activity itself. In so doing, we layer new meaning onto old as we bash new chalk into old.”


Learn More

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Give Your Date a Workout

Bob E inherited a site which helps amateur sports clubs plan their recurring workouts/practices during the season. To do this, given the start date of the season, and the number of weeks, it needs to figure out all of the days in that range.

function GenWorkoutDates()
{

   global $SeasonStartDate, $WorkoutDate, $WeeksInSeason;

   $TempDate = explode("/", $SeasonStartDate);

   for ($i = 1; $i <= $WeeksInSeason; $i++)
   {
     for ($j = 1; $j <= 7; $j++)
     {

	   $MonthName = substr("JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec", $TempDate[0] * 3 - 3, 3);

       $WorkoutDate[$i][$j] = $MonthName . " " . $TempDate[1] . "  ";
       $TempDate[1] += 1;


       switch ( $TempDate[0] )
	   {
     case 9:
	   case 4:
	   case 6:
	   case 11:
	     $DaysInMonth = 30;
	     break;

	   case 2:
     	 $DaysInMonth = 28;

	     switch ( $TempDate[2] )
	     {
	     case 2012:
	     case 2016:
	     case 2020:
	     	$DaysInMonth = 29;
	        break;

	     default:
	       $DaysInMonth = 28;
	       break;
	     }

	     break;

	   default:
	     $DaysInMonth = 31;
	     break;
	   }

	   if ($TempDate[1] > $DaysInMonth)
	   {
	     $TempDate[1] = 1;
	     $TempDate[0] += 1;
	     if ($TempDate[0] > 12)
	     {
	       $TempDate[0] = 1;
	       $TempDate[2] += 1;
	     }
	   }
     }
   }
}

I do enjoy that PHP’s string-splitting function is called explode. That’s not a WTF. More functions should be called explode.

This method of figuring out the month name, though:

$MonthName = substr("JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec", $TempDate[0] * 3 - 3, 3);

I want to hate it, but I’m impressed with it.

From there, we have lovely hard-coded leap years, the “Thirty days has September…” poem implemented as a switch statement, and then that lovely rollover calculation for the end of a month (and the end of the year).

“I’m not a PHP developer,” Bob writes. “But I know how to use Google.” After some googling, he replaced this block of code with a 6-line version that uses built-in date handling functions.

[Advertisement] Continuously monitor your servers for configuration changes, and report when there's configuration drift. Get started with Otter today!

,

Cory DoctorowCritical essays (including mine) discuss Toronto’s plan to let Google build a surveillance-based “smart city” along its waterfront

Sidewalk Labs is Google’s sister company that sells “smart city” technology; its showcase partner is Toronto, my hometown, where it has made a creepy shitshow out of its freshman outing, from the mass resignations of its privacy advisors to the underhanded way it snuck in the right to take over most of the lakeshore without further consultations (something the company straight up lied about after they were outed). Unsurprisingly, the city, the province, the country, and the company are all being sued over the plan.

Toronto Life has run a great, large package of short essays by proponents and critics of the project, from Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff (no, really, that’s his name) to former privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian (who evinces an unfortunate belief in data-deidentification) to city councillor and former Greenpeace campaigner Gord Perks to urban guru Richard Florida to me.

I wrote about the prospect that a city could be organized around the principle that people are sensors, not things to be sensed — that is, imagine an internet of things that doesn’t relegate the humans it notionally serves to the status of “thing.”

Our cities are necessarily complex, and they benefit from sensing and control. From census tracts to John Snow’s 19th-century map of central London cholera infections, we have been gathering telemetry on the performance of our cities in order to tune and optimize them for hundreds of years. As cities advance, they demand ever-higher degrees of sensing and actuating. But smart cities have to be built by cities themselves, democratically controlled and publicly owned. Reinventing company towns with high-tech fillips is not a path to a brighter future. It’s a new form of digital feudalism.

Humans are excellent sensors. We’re spectacular at deciding what we want for dinner, which seat on the subway we prefer, which restaurants we’re likely to enjoy and which strangers we want to talk to at parties. What if people were the things that smart cities were designed to serve, rather than the data that smart cities lived to process? Here’s how that could work. Imagine someone ripped all the surveillance out of Android and all the anti-user controls out of iOS and left behind nothing on your phone but code that serves you, not manufacturers or advertisers. It could still collect data—where you are, who you talk to, what you say—but it would be a roach motel for that data, which would check in to your device but not check out. It wouldn’t be available to third parties without your ongoing consent.

A phone that knows about you—but doesn’t tell anyone what it knows about you—would be your interface to a better smart city. The city’s systems could stream data to your device, which could pick the relevant elements out of the torrent: the nearest public restroom, whether the next bus has a seat for you, where to get a great sandwich.


A smart city should serve its users, not mine their data
[Cory Doctorow/Toronto Life]

The Sidewalk Wars [Toronto Life]

(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY, modified)

CryptogramCredit Card Privacy

Good article in the Washington Post on all the surveillance associated with credit card use.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: UnINTentional Errors

Data type conversions are one of those areas where we have rich, well-supported, well-documented features built into most languages. Thus, we also have endless attempts for people to re-implement them. Or worse, wrap a built-in method in a way which makes everything less clear.

Mindy encountered this.

/* For converting (KEY_MSG_INPUT) to int format. */
public static int numberToIntFormat(String value) {
  int returnValue = -1;    	
  if (!StringUtil.isNullOrEmpty(value)) {
    try {
      int temp = Integer.parseInt(value);
      if (temp > 0) {
        returnValue = temp;
      }
    } catch (NumberFormatException e) {}
  }    	
  return returnValue;
}

The isNullOrEmpty check is arguably pointless, here. Any invalid input string, including null or empty ones, would cause parseInt to throw a NumberFormatException, which we’re already catching. Of course, we’re catching and ignoring it.

That’s assuming that StringUtil.isNullOrEmpty does what we think it does, since while there are third party Java libraries that offer that functionality, it’s not a built-in class (and do we really think the culprit here was using libraries?). Who knows what it actually does.

And, another useful highlight: note how we check if (temp > 0)? Well, this is a problem. Not only does the downstream code handle negative numbers, –1 is a perfectly reasonable value, which means when this method takes -10 and returns -1, what it’s actually done is passed incorrect but valid data back up the chain. And since any errors were swallowed, no one knows if this was intentional or not.

This method wasn’t called in any context relating to KEY_MSG_INPUT, but it was called everywhere, as it’s one of those utility methods that finds new uses any time someone wants to convert a string into a number. Due to its use in pretty much every module, fixing this is considered a "high risk" change, and has been scheduled for sometime in the 2020s.

[Advertisement] ProGet can centralize your organization's software applications and components to provide uniform access to developers and servers. Check it out!

Krebs on Security‘Satori’ IoT Botnet Operator Pleads Guilty

A 21-year-old man from Vancouver, Wash. has pleaded guilty to federal hacking charges tied to his role in operating the “Satori” botnet, a crime machine powered by hacked Internet of Things (IoT) devices that was built to conduct massive denial-of-service attacks targeting Internet service providers, online gaming platforms and Web hosting companies.

Kenneth “Nexus-Zeta” Schuchman, in an undated photo.

Kenneth Currin Schuchman pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting computer intrusions. Between July 2017 and October 2018, Schuchman was part of a conspiracy with at least two other unnamed individuals to develop and use Satori in large scale online attacks designed to flood their targets with so much junk Internet traffic that the targets became unreachable by legitimate visitors.

According to his plea agreement, Schuchman — who went by the online aliases “Nexus” and “Nexus-Zeta” — worked with at least two other individuals to build and use the Satori botnet, which harnessed the collective bandwidth of approximately 100,000 hacked IoT devices by exploiting vulnerabilities in various wireless routers, digital video recorders, Internet-connected security cameras, and fiber-optic networking devices.

Satori was originally based on the leaked source code for Mirai, a powerful IoT botnet that first appeared in the summer of 2016 and was responsible for some of the largest denial-of-service attacks ever recorded (including a 620 Gbps attack that took KrebsOnSecurity offline for almost four days).

Throughout 2017 and into 2018, Schuchman worked with his co-conspirators — who used the nicknames “Vamp” and “Drake” — to further develop Satori by identifying and exploiting additional security flaws in other IoT systems.

Schuchman and his accomplices gave new monikers to their IoT botnets with almost each new improvement, rechristening their creations with names including “Okiru,” and “Masuta,” and infecting up to 700,000 compromised systems.

The plea agreement states that the object of the conspiracy was to sell access to their botnets to those who wished to rent them for launching attacks against others, although it’s not clear to what extent Schuchman and his alleged co-conspirators succeeded in this regard.

Even after he was indicted in connection with his activities in August 2018, Schuchman created a new botnet variant while on supervised release. At the time, Schuchman and Drake had something of a falling out, and Schuchman later acknowledged using information gleaned by prosecutors to identify Drake’s home address for the purposes of “swatting” him.

Swatting involves making false reports of a potentially violent incident — usually a phony hostage situation, bomb threat or murder — to prompt a heavily-armed police response to the target’s location. According to his plea agreement, the swatting that Schuchman set in motion in October 2018 resulted in “a substantial law enforcement response at Drake’s residence.”

As noted in a September 2018 story, Schuchman was not exactly skilled in the art of obscuring his real identity online. For one thing, the domain name used as a control server to synchronize the activities of the Satori botnet was registered to the email address nexuczeta1337@gmail.com. That domain name was originally registered to a “ZetaSec Inc.” and to a “Kenny Schuchman” in Vancouver, Wash.

People who operate IoT-based botnets maintain and build up their pool of infected IoT systems by constantly scanning the Internet for other vulnerable systems. Schuchman’s plea agreement states that when he received abuse complaints related to his scanning activities, he responded in his father’s identity.

“Schuchman frequently used identification devices belonging to his father to further the criminal scheme,” the plea agreement explains.

While Schuchman may be the first person to plead guilty in connection with Satori and its progeny, he appears to be hardly the most culpable. Multiple sources tell KrebsOnSecurity that Schuchman’s co-conspirator Vamp is a U.K. resident who was principally responsible for coding the Satori botnet, and as a minor was involved in the 2015 hack against U.K. phone and broadband provider TalkTalk.

Multiple sources also say Vamp was principally responsible for the 2016 massive denial-of-service attack that swamped Dyn — a company that provides core Internet services for a host of big-name Web sites. On October 21, 2016, an attack by a Mirai-based IoT botnet variant overwhelmed Dyn’s infrastructure, causing outages at a number of top Internet destinations, including Twitter, Spotify, Reddit and others.

The investigation into Schuchman and his alleged co-conspirators is being run out the FBI field office in Alaska, spearheaded by some of the same agents who helped track down and ultimately secure guilty pleas from the original co-authors of the Mirai botnet.

It remains to be seen what kind of punishment a federal judge will hand down for Schuchman, who reportedly has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and autism. The maximum penalty for the single criminal count to which he’s pleaded guilty is 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

However, it seems likely his sentencing will fall well short of that maximum: Schuchman’s plea deal states that he agreed to a recommended sentence “at the low end of the guideline range as calculated and adopted by the court.”

Cory DoctorowPodcast: Barlow’s Legacy

Even though I’m at Burning Man, I’ve snuck out an extra scheduled podcast episode (MP3): Barlow’s Legacy is my contribution to the Duke Law and Tech Review’s special edition, THE PAST AND FUTURE OF THE INTERNET: Symposium for John Perry Barlow:

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”1

And now we are come to the great techlash, long overdue and desperately needed. With the techlash comes the political contest to assemble the narrative of What Just Happened and How We Got Here, because “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”Barlow is a key figure in that narrative, and so defining his legacy is key to the project of seizing the future.

As we contest over that legacy, I will here set out my view on it. It’s an insider’s view: I met Barlow first through his writing, and then as a teenager on The WELL, and then at a dinner in London with Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Cindy Cohn (now the executive director of EFF), and then I worked with him, on and off, for more than a decade, through my work with EFF. He lectured to my students at USC, and wrote the introduction to one of my essay collections, and hung out with me at Burning Man, and we spoke on so many bills together, and I wrote him into one of my novels as a character, an act that he blessed. I emceed events where he spoke and sat with him in his hospital room as he lay dying. I make no claim to being Barlow’s best or closest friend, but I count myself mightily privileged to have been a friend, a colleague, and a protege of his.

There is a story today about “cyber-utopians”told as a part of the techlash: Once, there were people who believed that the internet would automatically be a force for good. They told us all to connect to one another and fended off anyone who sought to rein in the power of the technology industry, naively ushering in an era of mass surveillance, monopolism, manipulation, even genocide. These people may have been well-intentioned, but they were smart enough that they should have known better, and if they hadn’t been so unforgivably naive (and, possibly, secretly in the pay of the future monopolists) we might not be in such dire shape today.

MP3

Cory DoctorowPodcast: Barlow’s Legacy

Even though I’m at Burning Man, I’ve snuck out an extra scheduled podcast episode (MP3): Barlow’s Legacy is my contribution to the Duke Law and Tech Review’s special edition, THE PAST AND FUTURE OF THE INTERNET: Symposium for John Perry Barlow:

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”1

And now we are come to the great techlash, long overdue and desperately needed. With the techlash comes the political contest to assemble the narrative of What Just Happened and How We Got Here, because “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”Barlow is a key figure in that narrative, and so defining his legacy is key to the project of seizing the future.

As we contest over that legacy, I will here set out my view on it. It’s an insider’s view: I met Barlow first through his writing, and then as a teenager on The WELL, and then at a dinner in London with Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Cindy Cohn (now the executive director of EFF), and then I worked with him, on and off, for more than a decade, through my work with EFF. He lectured to my students at USC, and wrote the introduction to one of my essay collections, and hung out with me at Burning Man, and we spoke on so many bills together, and I wrote him into one of my novels as a character, an act that he blessed. I emceed events where he spoke and sat with him in his hospital room as he lay dying. I make no claim to being Barlow’s best or closest friend, but I count myself mightily privileged to have been a friend, a colleague, and a protege of his.

There is a story today about “cyber-utopians”told as a part of the techlash: Once, there were people who believed that the internet would automatically be a force for good. They told us all to connect to one another and fended off anyone who sought to rein in the power of the technology industry, naively ushering in an era of mass surveillance, monopolism, manipulation, even genocide. These people may have been well-intentioned, but they were smart enough that they should have known better, and if they hadn’t been so unforgivably naive (and, possibly, secretly in the pay of the future monopolists) we might not be in such dire shape today.

MP3

Cory DoctorowThey told us DRM would give us more for less, but they lied

My latest Locus Magazine column is DRM Broke Its Promise, which recalls the days when digital rights management was pitched to us as a way to enable exciting new markets where we’d all save big by only buying the rights we needed (like the low-cost right to read a book for an hour-long plane ride), but instead (unsurprisingly) everything got more expensive and less capable.

For 40 years, University of Chicago-style market orthodoxy has promised widespread prosperity as a natural consequence of turning everything into unfettered, unregulated, monopolistic businesses. For 40 years, everyone except the paymasters who bankrolled the University of Chicago’s priesthood have gotten poorer.

Today, DRM stands as a perfect example of everything terrible about monopolies, surveillance, and shareholder capitalism.

The established religion of markets once told us that we must abandon the idea of owning things, that this was an old fashioned idea from the world of grubby atoms. In the futuristic digital realm, no one would own things, we would only license them, and thus be relieved of the terrible burden of ownership.

They were telling the truth. We don’t own things anymore. This summer, Microsoft shut down its ebook store, and in so doing, deactivated its DRM servers, rendering every book the company had sold inert, unreadable. To make up for this, Microsoft sent refunds to the custom­ers it could find, but obviously this is a poor replacement for the books themselves. When I was a bookseller in Toronto, noth­ing that happened would ever result in me breaking into your house to take back the books I’d sold you, and if I did, the fact that I left you a refund wouldn’t have made up for the theft. Not all the books Microsoft is confiscating are even for sale any lon­ger, and some of the people whose books they’re stealing made extensive annotations that will go up in smoke.

What’s more, this isn’t even the first time an electronic bookseller has done this. Walmart announced that it was shutting off its DRM ebooks in 2008 (but stopped after a threat from the FTC). It’s not even the first time Microsoft has done this: in 2004, Microsoft created a line of music players tied to its music store that it called (I’m not making this up) “Plays for Sure.” In 2008, it shut the DRM serv­ers down, and the Plays for Sure titles its customers had bought became Never Plays Ever Again titles.

We gave up on owning things – property now being the exclusive purview of transhuman immortal colony organisms called corporations – and we were promised flexibility and bargains. We got price-gouging and brittle­ness.

DRM Broke Its Promise [Locus/Cory Doctorow]

(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY, modified)

,

Krebs on SecuritySpam In your Calendar? Here’s What to Do.

Many spam trends are cyclical: Spammers tend to switch tactics when one method of hijacking your time and attention stops working. But periodically they circle back to old tricks, and few spam trends are as perennial as calendar spam, in which invitations to click on dodgy links show up unbidden in your digital calendar application from Apple, Google and Microsoft. Here’s a brief primer on what you can do about it.

Image: Reddit

Over the past few weeks, a good number of readers have written in to say they feared their calendar app or email account was hacked after noticing a spammy event had been added to their calendars.

The truth is, all that a spammer needs to add an unwelcome appointment to your calendar is the email address tied to your calendar account. That’s because the calendar applications from Apple, Google and Microsoft are set by default to accept calendar invites from anyone.

Calendar invites from spammers run the gamut from ads for porn or pharmacy sites, to claims of an unexpected financial windfall or “free” items of value, to outright phishing attacks and malware lures. The important thing is that you don’t click on any links embedded in these appointments. And resist the temptation to respond to such invitations by selecting “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” as doing so may only serve to guarantee you more calendar spam.

Fortunately, the are a few simple steps you can take that should help minimize this nuisance. To stop events from being automatically added to your Google calendar:

-Open the Calendar application, and click the gear icon to get to the Calendar Settings page.
-Under “Event Settings,” change the default setting to “No, only show invitations to which I have responded.”

To prevent events from automatically being added to your Microsoft Outlook calendar, click the gear icon in the upper right corner of Outlook to open the settings menu, and then scroll down and select “View all Outlook settings.” From there:

-Click “Calendar,” then “Events from email.”
-Change the default setting for each type of reservation settings to “Only show event summaries in email.”

For Apple calendar users, log in to your iCloud.com account, and select Calendar.

-Click the gear icon in the lower left corner of the Calendar application, and select “Preferences.”
-Click the “Advanced” tab at the top of the box that appears.
-Change the default setting to “Email to [your email here].”

Making these changes will mean that any events your email provider previously added to your calendar automatically by scanning your inbox for certain types of messages from common events — such as making hotel, dining, plane or train reservations, or paying recurring bills — may no longer be added for you. Spammy calendar invitations may still show up via email; in the event they do, make sure to mark the missives as spam.

Have you experienced a spike in calendar spam of late? Or maybe you have another suggestion for blocking it? If so, sound off in the comments below.

Worse Than FailureCodeSOD: Boxing with the InTern

A few years ago, Naomi did an internship with Initech. Before her first day, she was very clear on what her responsibilities would be: she'd be on a team modernizing an older product called "Gem" (no relation to Ruby libraries).

By the time her first day rolled around, however, Initech had new priorities. There were a collection of fires on some hyperspecific internal enterprise tool, and everyone was running around and screaming about the apocalypse while dealing with that. Except Naomi, because nobody had any time to bring the intern up to speed on this disaster. Instead, she was given a new priority: just maintain Gem. And no, she wouldn't have a mentor. For the next six months, Naomi was the Gem support team.

"Start by looking at the code quality metrics," was the advice she was given.

It was bad advice. First, while Initech had installed an automated code review tool in their source control system, they weren't using the tool. It had started crashing instead of outputting a report six years ago. Nobody had noticed, or perhaps nobody had cared. Or maybe they just didn't like getting bad news, because once Naomi had the tool running again, the report was full of bad news.

A huge mass of the code was reimplemented copies of the standard library, "tuned for performance", which meant instead of a sensible implementation it was a pile of 4,000 line functions wrapping around massive switch statements. The linter didn't catch that they were parsing XML using regular expressions, but Naomi spotted that and wisely decided not to touch that bit.

What she did find, and fix, was this pattern:

private Boolean isSided; // dozens more properties public GemGeometryEntryPoint(GemGeometryEntryPoint gemGeometryEntryPoint) { this.isSided = gemGeometryEntryPoint.isSided == null ? null : new Boolean(gemGeometryEntryPoint.isSided); // and so on, for those dozens of properties }

Java has two boolean types. The Boolean reference type, and boolean primitive type. The boolean is not a full-fledged object, and thus is smaller in memory and faster to allocate. The Boolean is a full class implementation, with all the overhead contained within. A Java developer will generally need to use both, as if you want a list of boolean values, you need to "box" any primitives into Boolean objects.

I say generally need both, because Naomi's predecessors decided that worrying about boxing was complicated, so they only used the reference types. There wasn't a boolean or an int to be found, just Booleans and Integers. Maybe they just thought "primitive" meant "legacy"?

You can't convert a null into a boxed type, so new Boolean(null) would throw an exception. Thus, the ternary check in the code above. At no point did anyone think that "hey, we're doing a null check on pretty much every variable access" mean that there was something wrong in the code.

The bright side to this whole thing was that the unit tests were exemplary. A few hours with sed meant that Naomi was able to switch most everything to primitive types, confirm that she hadn't introduced any regressions in the process, and even demonstrated that using primitives greatly improved performance, as it cut down on heap memory allocations. The downside was replacing all those ternaries with lines like this.isSided = other.gemGeometryEntryPoint.isSided didn't look nearly as impressive.

Of course, changing that many lines of code in a single commit triggered some alarms, which precipitated a mini-crisis as no one knew what to do when the intern submitted a 15,000 line commit.

Naomi adds: "Mabye null was supposed to represent FILE_NOT_FOUND?"

[Advertisement] Forget logs. Next time you're struggling to replicate error, crash and performance issues in your apps - Think Raygun! Installs in minutes. Learn more.

,

Krebs on SecurityFeds Allege Adconion Employees Hijacked IP Addresses for Spamming

Federal prosecutors in California have filed criminal charges against four employees of Adconion Direct, an email advertising firm, alleging they unlawfully hijacked vast swaths of Internet addresses and used them in large-scale spam campaigns. KrebsOnSecurity has learned that the charges are likely just the opening salvo in a much larger, ongoing federal investigation into the company’s commercial email practices.

Prior to its acquisition, Adconion offered digital advertising solutions to some of the world’s biggest companies, including Adidas, AT&T, Fidelity, Honda, Kohl’s and T-Mobile. Amobee, the Redwood City, Calif. online ad firm that acquired Adconion in 2014, bills itself as the world’s leading independent advertising platform. The CEO of Amobee is Kim Perell, formerly CEO of Adconion.

In October 2018, prosecutors in the Southern District of California named four Adconion employees — Jacob Bychak, Mark ManoogianPetr Pacas, and Mohammed Abdul Qayyum —  in a ten-count indictment on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, and electronic mail fraud. All four men have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from a grand jury indictment handed down in June 2017.

‘COMPANY A’

The indictment and other court filings in this case refer to the employer of the four men only as “Company A.” However, LinkedIn profiles under the names of three of the accused show they each work(ed) for Adconion and/or Amobee.

Mark Manoogian is an attorney whose LinkedIn profile states that he is director of legal and business affairs at Amobee, and formerly was senior business development manager at Adconion Direct; Bychak is listed as director of operations at Adconion Direct; Quayyum’s LinkedIn page lists him as manager of technical operations at Adconion. A statement of facts filed by the government indicates Petr Pacas was at one point director of operations at Company A (Adconion).

According to the indictment, between December 2010 and September 2014 the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to identify or pay to identify blocks of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that were registered to others but which were otherwise inactive.

The government alleges the men sent forged letters to an Internet hosting firm claiming they had been authorized by the registrants of the inactive IP addresses to use that space for their own purposes.

“Members of the conspiracy would use the fraudulently acquired IP addresses to send commercial email (‘spam’) messages,” the government charged.

HOSTING IN THE WIND

Prosecutors say the accused were able to spam from the purloined IP address blocks after tricking the owner of Hostwinds, an Oklahoma-based Internet hosting firm, into routing the fraudulently obtained IP addresses on their behalf.

Hostwinds owner Peter Holden was the subject of a 2015 KrebsOnSecurity story titled, “Like Cutting Off a Limb to Save the Body,” which described how he’d initially built a lucrative business catering mainly to spammers, only to later have a change of heart and aggressively work to keep spammers off of his network.

That a case of such potential import for the digital marketing industry has escaped any media attention for so long is unusual but not surprising given what’s at stake for the companies involved and for the government’s ongoing investigations.

Adconion’s parent Amobee manages ad campaigns for some of the world’s top brands, and has every reason not to call attention to charges that some of its key employees may have been involved in criminal activity.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are busy following up on evidence supplied by several cooperating witnesses in this and a related grand jury investigation, including a confidential informant who received information from an Adconion employee about the company’s internal operations.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

According to a memo jointly filed by the defendants, “this case spun off from a larger ongoing investigation into the commercial email practices of Company A.” Ironically, this memo appears to be the only one of several dozen documents related to the indictment that mentions Adconion by name (albeit only in a series of footnote references).

Prosecutors allege the four men bought hijacked IP address blocks from another man tied to this case who was charged separately. This individual, Daniel Dye, has a history of working with others to hijack IP addresses for use by spammers.

For many years, Dye was a system administrator for Optinrealbig, a Colorado company that relentlessly pimped all manner of junk email, from mortgage leads and adult-related services to counterfeit products and Viagra.

Optinrealbig’s CEO was the spam king Scott Richter, who later changed the name of the company to Media Breakaway after being successfully sued for spamming by AOL, MicrosoftMySpace, and the New York Attorney General Office, among others. In 2008, this author penned a column for The Washington Post detailing how Media Breakaway had hijacked tens of thousands of IP addresses from a defunct San Francisco company for use in its spamming operations.

Dye has been charged with violations of the CAN-SPAM Act. A review of the documents in his case suggest Dye accepted a guilty plea agreement in connection with the IP address thefts and is cooperating with the government’s ongoing investigation into Adconion’s email marketing practices, although the plea agreement itself remains under seal.

Lawyers for the four defendants in this case have asserted in court filings that the government’s confidential informant is an employee of Spamhaus.org, an organization that many Internet service providers around the world rely upon to help identify and block sources of malware and spam.

Interestingly, in 2014 Spamhaus was sued by Blackstar Media LLC, a bulk email marketing company and subsidiary of Adconion. Blackstar’s owners sued Spamhaus for defamation after Spamhaus included them at the top of its list of the Top 10 world’s worst spammers. Blackstar later dropped the lawsuit and agreed to paid Spamhaus’ legal costs.

Representatives for Spamhaus declined to comment for this story. Responding to questions about the indictment of Adconion employees, Amobee’s parent company SingTel referred comments to Amobee, which issued a brief statement saying, “Amobee has fully cooperated with the government’s investigation of this 2017 matter which pertains to alleged activities that occurred years prior to Amobee’s acquisition of the company.”

ONE OF THE LARGEST SPAMMERS IN HISTORY?

It appears the government has been investigating Adconion’s email practices since at least 2015, and possibly as early as 2013. The very first result in an online search for the words “Adconion” and “spam” returns a Microsoft Powerpoint document that was presented alongside this talk at an ARIN meeting in October 2016. ARIN stands for the American Registry for Internet Numbers, and it handles IP addresses allocations for entities in the United States, Canada and parts of the Caribbean.

As the screenshot above shows, that Powerpoint deck was originally named “Adconion – Arin,” but the file has since been renamed. That is, unless one downloads the file and looks at the metadata attached to it, which shows the original filename and that it was created in 2015 by someone at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Slide #8 in that Powerpoint document references a case example of an unnamed company (again, “Company A”), which the presenter said was “alleged to be one of the largest spammers in history,” that had hijacked “hundreds of thousands of IP addresses.”

A slide from an ARIN presentation in 2016 that referenced Adconion.

There are fewer than four billion IPv4 addresses available for use, but the vast majority of them have already been allocated. In recent years, this global shortage has turned IP addresses into a commodity wherein each IP can fetch between $15-$25 on the open market.

The dearth of available IP addresses has created boom times for those engaged in the acquisition and sale of IP address blocks. It also has emboldened scammers and spammers who specialize in absconding with and spamming from dormant IP address blocks without permission from the rightful owners.

In May, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that Amir Golestan — the owner of a prominent Charleston, S.C. tech company called Micfo LLC — had been indicted on criminal charges of fraudulently obtaining more than 735,000 IP addresses from ARIN and reselling the space to others.

KrebsOnSecurity has since learned that for several years prior to 2014, Adconion was one of Golestan’s biggest clients. More on that in an upcoming story.

Worse Than FailureClassic WTF: Hyperlink 2.0

It's Labor Day in the US, where we celebrate the workers of the world by having a barbecue. Speaking of work, in these days of web frameworks and miles of unnecessary JavaScript to do basic things on the web, let's look back at a simpler time, where we still used server-side code and miles of unnecessary JavaScript to do basic things on the web. Original. --Remy

For those of you who haven't upgraded to Web 2.0 yet, today's submission from Daniel is a perfect example of what you're missing out on. Since the beginning of the Web (the "1.0 days"), website owners have always wanted to know who was visiting their website, how often, and when. Back then, this was accomplished by recording each website "hit" in a log file and running a report on the log later.

But the problem with this method in Web 2.0 is that people don't use logs anymore; they use blogs, and everyone knows that blogs are a pretty stupid way of tracking web traffic. Fortunately, Daniel's colleagues developed an elegant, clever, and -- most importantly -- "AJAX" way of solving this problem. Instead of being coded in HTML pages, all hyperlinks are assigned a numeric identifier and kept in a database table. This identifier is then used on the HTML pages within an anchor tag:

<a href="Javascript: followLink(124);">View Products</a>

When the user clicks on the hyperlink, the followLink() Javascript function is executed and the following occur:

  • a translucent layer (DIV) is placed over the entire page, causing it to appear "grayed out", and ...
  • a "please wait" layer is placed on top of that, with an animated pendulum swinging back and forth, then ...
  • the XmlHttpRequest object is used to call the "GetHyperlink" web service which, in turn ...
  • opens a connection to the database server to ...
  • log the request in the RequestedHyperlinks table and ...
  • retrieves the URL from the Hyperlinks table, then ...
  • returns it to the client script, which then ...
  • sets the window.location property to the URL retrieved, which causes ...
  • the user to be redirected to the appropriate page

Now that's two-point-ohey.

[Advertisement] Continuously monitor your servers for configuration changes, and report when there's configuration drift. Get started with Otter today!