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Updated: 5 days 15 hours ago

Steven Hanley: [mtb/events] Buffalo Stampede 2015 - 78km in the Victorian Alpine region

November 4, 2015 - 10:25

Julie running back toward me at the top of Buffalo (fullsize)

This event was not in my original plan for 2015, though nursing a bit of a problem with my right aductor and glute I was feeling alright after six foot to do some big stuff. This turned out to be a tough day out, the incredible steep gradients on the first two climbs (and also on the way back the last two climbs and thus the descents on the other side) were something to behold.

That we did over 1000m of climbing in the first 10km of running, including 4km of flat at the start and a descent to the bottom of a 500m valley in the middle says something. This event lived up to the SkyRace tag really well. Also the victorian alpine region is amazingly pretty and Bright is a great town to hang around in.

Photos and a few words from my day out are here on my Buffalo Stampede 2015 page. Thanks to Paul for his entry and to Dave, Julie and Alex for the company. It was fun to catch up with Hanny and Graham down there too.

Categories: Aligned Planets

sthbrx - a POWER technical blog: What the HILE is this?

November 3, 2015 - 15:44

One of the cool features of POWER8 processors is the ability to run in either big- or little-endian mode. Several distros are already available in little-endian, but up until recently Petitboot has remained big-endian. While it has no effect on the OS, building Petitboot little-endian has its advantages, such as making support for vendor tools easier. So it should just be a matter of compiling Petitboot LE right? Well…

Switching Endianess

Endianess, and several other things besides, are controlled by the Machine State Register (MSR). Each processor in a machine has an MSR, and each bit of the MSR controls some aspect of the processor such as 64-bit mode or enabling interrupts. To switch endianess we set the LE bit (63) to 1.

When a processor first starts up it defaults to big-endian (bit 63 = 0). However the processor doesn’t actually know the endianess of the kernel code it is about to execute - either it is big-endian and everything is fine, or it isn’t and the processor will very quickly try to execute an illegal instruction.

The solution to this is an amazing little snippet of code in arch/powerpc/boot/ppc_asm.h (follow the link to see some helpful commenting):

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 #define FIXUP_ENDIAN tdi 0, 0, 0x48; b $+36; .long 0x05009f42; .long 0xa602487d; .long 0x1c004a39; .long 0xa600607d; .long 0x01006b69; .long 0xa6035a7d; .long 0xa6037b7d; .long 0x2400004c

By some amazing coincidence if you take the opcode for tdi 0, 0, 0x48 and flip the order of the bytes it forms the opcode for b . + 8. So if the kernel is big-endian, the processor will jump to the next instruction after this snippet. However if the kernel is little-endian we execute the next 8 instructions. These are written in reverse so that if the processor isn’t in the right endian it interprets them backwards, executing the instructions shown in the linked comments above, resulting in MSRLE being set to 1.

When booting a little-endian kernel all of the above works fine - but there is a problem for Petitboot that will become apparent a little further down…

Petitboot’s Secret Sauce

The main feature of Petitboot is that it is a full (but small!) Linux kernel and userspace which scans all available devices and presents possible boot options. To boot an available operating system Petitboot needs to start executing the OS’s kernel, which it accomplishes via kexec. Simply speaking kexec loads the target kernel into memory, shuts the current system down most of the way, and at the last moment sets the instruction pointer to the start of the target kernel. From there it’s like booting any other kernel, including the FIXUP_ENDIAN section above.

We’ve Booted! Wait…

So our LE Petitboot kernel boots fine thanks to FIXUP_ENDIAN, we kexec into some other kernel.. and everything falls to pieces.

The problem is we’ve unwittingly changed one of the assumptions of booting a kernel; namely that MSRLE defaults to zero. When kexec-ing from an LE kernel we start executing the next kernel in LE mode. This itself is ok, the FIXUP_ENDIAN macro will handle the switch if needed. The problem is that the FIXUP_ENDIAN macro is relatively recent, first entering the kernel in early 2014. So if we’re booting, say, an old Fedora 19 install with a v3.9 kernel - things go very bad, very quickly.

Fix #1

The solution seems pretty straightforward: find where we jump into the next kernel, and just before that make sure we reset the LE bit in the MSR. That’s exactly what this patch to kexec-lite does.

That worked up until I tested on a machine with more than one CPU. Remembering that the MSR is processor-specific, we also have to reset the endianess of each secondary CPU

Now things are looking good! All the CPUs are reset to big-endian, the target kernel boots fine, and then… ‘recursive interrupts?!’


Skipping the debugging process that led to this (hint: mambo is actually a pretty cool tool), these were the sequence of steps leading up to the problem:

  • Little-endian Petitboot kexecs into a big-endian kernel
  • All CPUs are reset to big-endian
  • The big-endian kernel begins to boot successfully
  • Somewhere in the device-tree parsing code we take an exception
  • Execution jumps to the exception handler at 0x300
  • I notice that MSRLE is set to 1
  • We fail to read the first instruction at 0x300 because it’s written in big-endian, so we jump to the exception handler at 0x300… oh no.

And then we very busily execute nothing until the machine is killed. I spend some time staring incredulously at my screen, then appeal to a higher authority who replies with “What is the HILE set to?”

..the WHAT?

Cracking open the PowerISA reveals this tidbit:

The Hypervisor Interrupt Little-Endian (HILE) bit is a bit in an implementation-dependent register or similar mechanism. The contents of the HILE bit are copied into MSRLE by interrupts that set MSRHV to 1 (see Section 6.5), to establish the Endian mode for the interrupt handler. The HILE bit is set, by an implementation-dependent method, during system initialization, and cannot be modified after system initialization.

To be fair, there are use cases for taking exceptions in a different endianess. The problem is that while HILE gets switched on when setting MSRLE to 1, it doesn’t get turned off when MSRLE is set to zero. In particular the line “…cannot be modified after system initialization.” led to a fair amount of hand wringing from myself and whoever would listen; if we can’t reset the HILE bit, we simply can’t use little-endian kernels for Petitboot.

Luckily while on some other systems the machinations of the firmware might be a complete black box, Petitboot runs on OPAL systems - which means the firmware source is right here. In particular we can see here the OPAL call to opal_reinit_cpus which among other things resets the HILE bit.

This is actually what turns on the HILE bit in the first place, and is meant to be called early on in boot since it also clobbers a large amount of state. Luckily for us we don’t need to hold onto any state since we’re about to jump into a new kernel. We just need to choose an appropriate place where we can be sure we won’t take an exception before we get into the next kernel: thus the final patch to support PowerNV machines.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Steven Hanley: [mtb/events] Geoquest 2015 - Thats Cray

November 3, 2015 - 15:25

Dane crossing a log in the dark for fun (fullsize)

I had a break from doing Geo for 2 years, I guess I got a bit hooked on running and was not keen to try to get a team happening for the event. It almost happened again, however some of the team members in Thats Cray were injured so Cam and I both got an invite to join in the fun.

Geo s always a good event and this year I really enjoyed just joining in for the fun and letting the others worry about Nav and a bunch of other stuff. I have to admit the lack of paddling in the last 2 years made that bit hard, however the event was a lot of fun as always and surprisingly felt pretty good all the way through. Maybe my running fitness helped me get through comfortably.

Photos and some words from the race are online on my Geoquest 2015 album. Thanks to Dane, Lee and Cam for the company, thanks to the awesome support crew and it was good to be back.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Steven Hanley: [mtb/events] The Sri Chinmoy Canberra Ultra 2015 - 102 KM with Wild Bill Bo Jangles and Crew

November 3, 2015 - 10:25

The Wild Bill crew at the finish, KV, Gangles and Bender (fullsize)

I really enjoy Sri Chinmoy events, their attitude and encouragement for people to be healthy and active to have a better life and world through peace and those goals. Given a choice I try to do most of the long or multi sport Sri Chinmoy events. I had run in this event in pairs with Alex in the first year, alternating legs that year.

As I was planning to do another 100 not long after I was not overly keen on a solo entry, however at Gangles's birthday KV and I managed to convince him to compete in the event with us in a team of 3. This would be his first long run (over 20 km, doing the last leg) and KV was stepping up for the first leg (I had the middle two to get done). I got some celebratory t-shirts made up as Gangles' (Adam) middle name is William KV and I decided to call the team Wild Bill Bo Jangles and crew. (I promise it made sense to us)

So we got to join in the fun and run with many of our friends and other people on the day. I took some photos and they are online in my Sri Chinmoy Trail Ultra 2015 album.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Michael Still: Halo: The Fall of Reach

November 2, 2015 - 22:28

ISBN: 0765367297


As someone who doesn't play computer games and has never played a Halo game, I find myself in the strange position of having read a Halo book. This book is the first in the chronological lineage, and explains the history of the Spartan program which produced the Master Chief. I decided to read this after accidentally watching a Halo mini-movie on Netflix with a sick baby, and deciding it wasn't totally terrible.

The book is actually ok to my surprise. Its competently written, and on par with much of the other combat fiction I've read. It certainly doesn't feel like its a tie in to a game. I would have liked this book to cover more of the moral issues around the back story to the Spartan program, but those were only briefly considered. Then again, I like a good shoot 'em up as much as the next guy and perhaps that would have been too boring. Overall I enjoyed it and think I might have to read more in this universe.

Tags for this post: book eric_nylund combat halo engineered_human cranial_computer personal_ai aliens

Related posts: The Last Colony ; The End of All Things; The Human Division; Old Man's War ; The Ghost Brigades ; Old Man's War (2) Comment Recommend a book
Categories: Aligned Planets

OpenSTEM: OpenSTEM robots visit Hobart primary school

November 2, 2015 - 14:29

On our last day in Tasmania (after the OSDC conference, about which I’ll do other posts shortly), Claire and I visited the wonderful Lauderdale Primary School in Hobart, where I did a version of our free Robotics Incursion with two year 5/6 classes, having a chat about robots, robotics, and more – and having our autonomous caterpillar and hexapod robots stroll around the sports hall….

The students were really engaged, they had thoughtful questions and great ideas – and the feedback from the kids as well as the teachers was that the session was fun as well as educational. Good!

We often do this incursion as a neat way for schools, teachers and students to get to know us before undertaking a bigger program such as the Robotics & Programming one. But, when we’re travelling somewhere with the robots anyway, it’s great to visit a local school. All our facilitators hold a current “working with children” card, so getting something like this organised is really quite straightforward.

Categories: Aligned Planets

OpenSTEM: George Boole Bicentenary Celebrations

November 2, 2015 - 13:30

Today is George Boole‘s 200th birthday. He lived from 2 November 1815 to 8 December 1864, so he was only 49 when he died!

In 2015, University College Cork (Ireland) celebrates the bicentenary of George Boole’s birth. Born in Lincoln, Boole was a mathematical genius who was largely self-taught. His appointment as the first Professor of Mathematics at the college in 1849 provided the opportunity to develop his most important work, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought.

Boole is a pivotal figure who can be described as the ‘father of the information age’. His invention of Boolean algebra and symbolic logic pioneered a new mathematics. His legacy surrounds us everywhere, in the computers, information storage and retrieval, electronic circuits and controls that support life, learning and communications in the 21st century.

Check out the site for video and lots more information about George Boole and his wonderful achievements!

Categories: Aligned Planets

Sridhar Dhanapalan: Twitter posts: 2015-10-26 to 2015-11-01

November 2, 2015 - 01:27
Categories: Aligned Planets

Steven Hanley: [mtb/events] The Heysen 105 in 2015

November 1, 2015 - 11:25

A cool rock feature in the Myponga Conservation Area (fullsize)

I really have been taking a huge break from putting stuff online here. I have still been taking many photos while out doing fun stuff so even if I am not writing much else (I have been sucked into social media I guess) I can still upload the links to the various adventures I have photos and reports from.

The main advantage I find is I at least can easily find the links to refer to without needing to see a directory listing on the website. In this case I headed down to Adelaide to hang out with friends there and also run in the Heysen 105 run. Feeling the need to do another 100km ultra this year and the short holiday in Adelaide helped attract me to this one. Report and photos for my Heysen 105 2015 run are online.

Nice part of the world and I had fun both in the event and hanging out with friends in Adelaide. The coopers brewery tour is also rather excellent.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Linux Australia News

November 1, 2015 - 02:26
Categories: Aligned Planets

sthbrx - a POWER technical blog: Docker: Just Stop Using AUFS

October 30, 2015 - 15:06

Docker’s default storage driver on most Ubuntu installs is AUFS.

Don’t use it. Use Overlay instead. Here’s why.

First, some background. I’m testing the performance of the basic LAMP stack on POWER. (LAMP is Linux + Apache + MySQL/MariaDB + PHP, by the way.) To do more reliable and repeatable tests, I do my builds and tests in Docker containers. (See my previous post for more info.)

Each test downloads the source of Apache, MariaDB and PHP, and builds them. This should be quick: the POWER8 system I’m building on has 160 hardware threads and 128 GB of memory. But I was finding that it was only just keeping pace with a 2 core Intel VM on BlueMix.

Why? Well, my first point of call was to observe a compilation under top. The header is below.

Over 70% of CPU time is spent in the kernel?! That’s weird. Let’s dig deeper.

My next port of call for analysis of CPU-bound workloads is perf. perf top reports astounding quantities of time in spin-locks:

perf top -g gives us some more information: the time is in system calls. open() and stat() are the key culprits, and we can see a number of file system functions are in play in the call-chains of the spinlocks.

Why are open and stat slow? Well, I know that the files are on an AUFS mount. (docker info will tell you what you’re using if you’re not sure.) So, being something of a kernel hacker, I set out to find out why. This did not go well. AUFS isn’t upstream, it’s a separate patch set. Distros have been trying to deprecate it for years. Indeed, RHEL doesn’t ship it. (To it’s credit, Docker seems to be trying to move away from it.)

Wanting to avoid the minor nightmare that is an out-of-tree patchset, I looked at other storage drivers for Docker. This presentation is particularly good. My choices are pretty simple: AUFS, btrfs, device-mapper or Overlay. Overlay was an obvious choice: it doesn’t need me to set up device mapper on a cloud VM, or reformat things as btrfs.

It’s also easy to set up on Ubuntu:

  • export/save any docker containers you care about.

  • add --storage-driver=overlay option to DOCKER_OPTS in /etc/default/docker, and restart docker (service docker restart)

  • import/load the containters you exported

  • verify that things work, then clear away your old storage directory (/var/lib/docker/aufs).

Having moved my base container across, I set off another build.

The first thing I noticed is that images are much slower to create with Overlay. But once that finishes, and a compile starts, things run much better:

The compiles went from taking painfully long to astonishingly fast. Winning.

So in conclusion:

  • If you use Docker for something that involves open()ing or stat()ing files

  • If you want your machine to do real work, rather than spin in spinlocks

  • If you want to use code that’s upstream and thus much better supported

  • If you want something less disruptive than the btrfs or dm storage drivers

…then drop AUFS and switch to Overlay today.

Categories: Aligned Planets

James Purser: Do you suffer from rage watching?

October 30, 2015 - 13:30

There is a terrible ailment sweeping the land. Sufferers find themselves compelled to watch, listen, read or generally consume media output that causes high blood pressure, anger and a desperate, overwhelming urge to tweet about how much they truly loathe the media thing they are consuming.

Rage watching.

There seems to be spikes of Rage Watching specifically around Monday nights at 9:30pm with smaller occurances occuring on Sunday mornings (replays on Sunday afternoons). More recently there has been an uptick of Rage Watching on Wednesday nights by people who feel it absolutely necessary to tell the world exactly how bad the ABC show "Kitchen Cabinet" is for either a) Having  an evil person on as a guest or b) Not spending 22 minutes using Kitchin impliments to torture said evil person into confessing they are indeed an evil person and will do better from now on.

Why? Why do you watch these programmes if you know they're going to be terrible? You already know that you're not going to like either the show, or the person being interviewed, or in the case of the Bolt Report everything about it.

Instead be calm, turn off the tv, or switch on Netflix and binge watch your way through a series. Save your rage for when it is actually useful.

Blog Catagories: media
Categories: Aligned Planets

Sam Watkins: sswam

October 29, 2015 - 20:30

I wrote a simple program ramp-io, based on the redshift code, to read and write the xrandr gamma ramps for Linux / X11.  This enables me to define my own gamma ramps, and switch ramps quickly from the command line.  My preferred ramp is red-inv, dim inverse video with a low colour temperature (more red, less blue), and I set the LCD hardware brightness to maximum to reduce LED PWM flicker.  I find this is relatively easy on the eyes for work, compared to the normal glaring white backgrounds.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Linux Users of Victoria (LUV) Announce: LUV Main November 2015 Meeting: Computer Science and SELinux / Parallel Programming

October 29, 2015 - 12:29
Start: Nov 4 2015 18:30 End: Nov 4 2015 20:30 Start: Nov 4 2015 18:30 End: Nov 4 2015 20:30 Location: 

6th Floor, 200 Victoria St. Carlton VIC 3053


Please note that due to the Melbourne Cup this month's meeting is on Wednesday


• Russell Coker, Computer Science and SELinux

• Lev Lafayette, Parallel Programming

200 Victoria St. Carlton VIC 3053 (formerly the EPA building)

Late arrivals, please call (0490) 049 589 for access to the venue.

Before and/or after each meeting those who are interested are welcome to join other members for dinner. We are open to suggestions for a good place to eat near our venue. Maria's on Peel Street in North Melbourne is currently the most popular place to eat after meetings.

LUV would like to acknowledge Red Hat for their help in obtaining the venue and VPAC for hosting.

Linux Users of Victoria Inc. is an incorporated association, registration number A0040056C.

November 4, 2015 - 18:30

read more

Categories: Aligned Planets

Binh Nguyen: Defense Podcasts, MH17 Background, JSF Break-In, JSON Parsing, and More

October 28, 2015 - 20:00
- if you're interested in defense, intelligence, or geo-politics in general these soundcasts may be of interest to you. Obviously, they're US/Allied focused but they cover a wide range of affairs that face these areas. I may go through other countries at another time...[]=817

- if you've been watching the media lately you'll have realised that Russian seperatists seemed to have been implicated in the MH17 downing. If you actually go through all of the evidence (especially the hard evidence that is hard to fake. If you listen to any one side you can easily get caught up in their perspective and miss a few things) though things don't seem that clear cut and there are a lot of people who seem to be withholding (often crucial such as RADAR records, ability to access the crash site, debris/fragments from the site, etc...) evidence for some strange reason (or just missing some things which should be obvious?). Moreover, all parties involved have had a history of fabricating evidence (I wouldn't put it past Ukrainian or Russian forces planting evidence on the crash site) so I wouldn't necessarily believe whatever is finally said. Some theories have included: it could have been a 'false flag' operation to aide Russian justification for invasion of Ukraine, it could have been a 'false flag' operation to aide Ukraine justification for action against Russia, Ukraine air force operation which went extremely bad but actually does a good explanation of why the debris has such variability with regards to damage, it was a plain accident (with a lot of silliness involved all round), possible targeted assisination of Putin himself as his plane was in area at the time (about 100-200 km) and since his plane has similar markings it MH17 which could have meant it was mis-identified. Either way, if you go through the history of all parties you'll realise that all have a credibility problem...

Dutch Safety Board MH17 final report (FULL VIDEO)

Dutch Safety Board simulates MH17 being hit by BUK missile

Former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern on Who Shot Down Flight MH17 And Iran Nuclear Deal.

'MH17 crash' test simulation video: Il-86 plane cockpit hit with BUK missile

MH-17 - The Untold Story 

Flight MH17: Russia and its changing story

- the Russians state that type of missile isn't used by Russian forces, the pattern on the fuesalage doesn't completely replciate the same one as one that was later tested in one of the videos above (though some of this can be put down to the difference between a static and moving aircraft). Moreover, there while there was a supposed siting of a BUK SAM system in the area in question I'm wondering whether there haven't been more people who have come forward of evidence of before and after videos of it launching a rocket at MH17? Surely, with such a massive contrail heaps more people would have come forward with evidence indicating what was happening. Not ruling out the possibility some elements of government may have gotten involved here though to hush people up or that others were paid to tell a 'version of the truth'...

Flight MH17: searching for the truth

- either way, I doubt that we'll ever know the 'complete truth'. There will be some form of cover up because it feels like they either know what happened (and the truth is ugly) or they don't know and those who are guilty are with holding evidence. The problem is that everyone seems to be doing this to some extent so it is possible that 'a deal' may have been reached behind the scenes. My guess is that a lot of people simply stuffed up and they're partly trying to figure out the best way of apportioning blame...

- if you follow the defense/intelligence space you'll have noticed some strange happenings with regards to the JSF project. Apparently, they said that 50TB was stolen a while back but later they've said it was just ALIS and that it was just non-classified information (if you think that US intelligence/security is generally better think again. Look through enough background and you'll find that they are subject to the same limitations, problems, etc... that are faced by every other organisation. There have been some bizarre penetrations of even 'classified networks'...). Either way, I'd be very interested to know how much technology they've stolen, purchased, bribed from certain officials (based on what I've heard 'incentives' have been between 4-7 figures for information regarding stealth technologies and they've been able to procure quite a lot including information about RAM coatings, AESA RADAR, EOTS, DAS, avionics, engine design, etc...)(even with the downing of and purchase of some aircraft I'm guessing they've gained access to at least some AESA RADAR, EOTS, RAM coating, and engine technology?) and how much they've reverse engineered or is entirely native? Look at the design of some of their new stealth aircraft and some aspects seem incredibly crude... The other thing I'm curious about is if it was 50TB of genuine design material how much would Western design efforts of the JSF going to be thrown off?  Would they have to re-design or is the core system good enough? This is much like the question of security of obscurity (closed versus open source security) if you know anything about cybersecurity. Even if the stolen material was honeypot/honeynet material it has to be convincing enough to throw Chinese research off... which means it's still decent (possibly old?)...

China’s new counter-stealth radar JY-26

How China Steals U.S. Military Secrets 

Next Big Thing: China’s Aviation to Develop Long-Range Strike Bomber

Military Marvel: China Ready to Test Asia’s Largest Warship

- if you have to program regularly, you you have to read some pretty 'human unreadable' stuff at times. Some links regarding possible JSON parsers

echo '{"test":1,"test2":2}' | python -mjson.tool

Pandas are actually quite funny and peculiar animals if you read up about them...

Cute Alert?Clingy pandas don’t want to take their medicine

Clingy panda do not let zookeeper go

So Cute! Panda asks for hug to get down from tree!

Cute alert! Four baby pandas playing with zookeeper

Pandas addicted to hugging

Cute pandas playing on the slide

Some interesting quotes in the recent media:-“We’ve tried intervention and putting  down troops in Iraq,” he said. “We’ve tried invention without putting in troops in Libya. And we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria. It’s not clear to me that even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better.”

-“Whenever I’m asked this, I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong,” Blair said. “Because even though he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought. So I can apologize for that. I can also apologize, by the way, for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”

-"Since 9/11, a near doubling of the Pentagon’s modernization accounts — more than $700 billion over 10 years in new spending on procurement, research and development — has resulted in relatively modest gains in actual military capability,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an address last week.

- The United States remains the most powerful nation on earth. Yet from the immediate aftermath of the heady days of 1991 to the present, nations great and small have shown themselves unimpressed by or impervious to U.S. might. To the astonishment of many Americans, the United States, for all its power and its good intentions, has frequently failed in its efforts to lead the world, enforce its preferences or impose its will.

International relations scholars have long understood the fallacy of assuming that power routinely if not automatically provides the wherewithal to get others to do as one wishes. And yet there remains, among statesmen, politicians, policy analysts and the broader public—to say nothing of presidential candidates—an easy assumption of a correlation between a country’s overall power and its ability to persuade, entice, bribe or compel other countries to do its bidding, if not all the time, then at least when the stakes for the powerful country are sufficiently high.

- Atmar warns, "The symbiotic network of terrorists that we are confronted with is going to be a threat to every country in this region and by extension the whole world."

Obama has for years boasted of rendering al-Qaida toothless, but Atmar points out the U.S. withdrawal has reinvigorated the group founded by Osama bin Laden.

He also noted IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's new role in choosing Taliban leaders, with the new caliphate in Iraq and Syria "commanding and controlling," "financing" and even providing the Taliban with a new strategy. "We have no doubt about that," Atmar said.

Facing an existential threat, you turn to those on whom you can depend. Right now, sadly, Putin is a better bet for Afghans than America.

- It’s all a lot to take in, and makes one wonder what G.D.P. really stands for: Generally Disorienting Predictions? Guesses Done Poorly?

“G.D.P. is accounting science built to supply a need to understand an economy’s direction,” said Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research. “Is there more art than science? In terms of filling in all the numbers where the answers are imputed rather than measured, the answer is yes.”

And imputed values, he added, are becoming more important as the service sector grows, while in developing nations, accurate measurement is more difficult for a variety of reasons.

Pro tip: “Whenever doing cross country G.D.P. comparisons, I have always used I.M.F. data,” Mr. Blitz said. “They scrub the data and reset so concepts are the same from country to country.” Point taken.

- In 1999, Saudi Prince Nayef bin Sultan bin Fawwaz Al Shaalan allegedly smuggled two tons of cocaine from Venezuela to France. Now believed to be living under legal shelter in Saudi Arabia, Prince Nayef was accused by France of using his diplomatic status to sneak the drugs onto a jet belonging to the Saudi royal family. He managed to escape his sentencing and was convicted in absentia in 2007. The United States also indicted him with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. 

In 2010, a leaked WikiLeaks cable described a royal underground party scene in Jeddah that was “thriving and throbbing” because Saudi officials looked the other way. The dispatch described a Halloween party, funded in part by a prince from the Al Thunayan family, where more than 150 young men and women dressed in costumes and slogged expensive alcohol, which is sold only on the black market in Saudi Arabia. “Though not witnessed directly at this event, cocaine and hashish use is common in these social circles,” the cable read.

The harsh punishments for violations of Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of sharia law tend not to apply to the some 15,000 princes and princesses who belong to the royal House of Saud. But that hasn’t stopped Riyadh from pursuing executions of foreigners and non-royal citizens accused of less egregious violations of the country’s drug laws.

- "What happens in Afghanistan really does have an impact on what happens over here," Sopko says. "Heroin use is on the rise in the U.S., and although the DEA says that most of the heroin here originates from South America, some still comes from Afghanistan. Our European allies have told me time and again their concerns about the amount of Afghan heroin reaching Europe. Heroin use is a problem in Canada, and 90 percent of Canada's heroin comes from Afghanistan." The Iraqi government has become increasingly suspicious of the US’ lack of real commitment in fighting ISIS. On the other hand, Russian strikes have thus far been so effective against ISIS that the Iraqi government has asked Russia to take on a bigger role against ISIS, than the US.

Russia has in turn signaled that it may start bombing ISIS in Iraq as well as Syria, with the permission of the Iraqi government. Unlike the US, Russia has not broken international law and has sought permission to enter Iraq and Syria from each respective state’s legitimate government.

With these actions Russia has called the US’s bluff on fighting ISIS, and is effectively forcing the US to do a better job of convincing the Iraqi government that it is truly fighting ISIS. If Russia does enter Iraqi airspace, it will more easily cross into Syrian airspace to provide supplies to the Syrian government, since the US has bullied many countries in the region to close their airspace to Russian aircrafts. Furthermore, if Iraq asks Russia to intervene it is a scenario that would reverse any of the influence the US had gained in Iraq, throughout its lengthy occupation of the country since 2003.

The US has been backed into a corner and in doing so, has exposed itself and its allies as the source of terrorism, not champions truly fighting it. Terrorism has always been a means by which the US has sought to deconstruct Russian spheres of influences. Ironically over the last decade it has also simultaneously perpetuated the myth that it is actually fighting a war against terror. However as its allied states grow increasingly tired of this game, how long can the US continue to juggle this duplicity, before the entire deck of cards crumbles?

- Financially, the war economy has largely replaced formal economic life. Incomes are increasingly conflict-dependent, whether it is through smuggling, selling weapons, kidnapping, even distributing aid. You can buy or rent a checkpoint for the day or for an hour. Hezbollah, for one, profits through control of checkpoints. Border control by armed groups is hugely lucrative. Fruitful earnings are made from forged documents such as passports and ID cards. The Syrian regime benefits from and encourages this trade, especially if it means opponents can flee abroad.

- “Iran’s nuclear problem has been solved. From Iran, there is no threat and there never had been,” Mr. Putin said. “The only reason that was used by U.S.—to start building the Missile Defense Shield—disappeared. We [Russia] might have expected that a system of MDS development to be halted.”

Mr. Putin believes the United States lied to Russia and the world on the threat of nuclear danger coming from Iran.

“Some days ago, the first tests of USA’s MDS were conducted in Europe. What does that mean? It means that when we were arguing with our American partners we were right. Russia was right from the beginning that the American Missile Defense Shield program was being developed with the goal to destroy strategic balance and to have a way to dictate her power to everyone. They were trying to deceive us, and the whole world, once again. And, to put it simply, we were lied to.”

- To the notion of America helping the “moderate opposition” in Syria, Mr. Putin responded that the division of “moderate” and “non-moderate” leads to the empowerment of Islamic terrorists.

“We shouldn’t play with words here and divide the terrorists into moderate and non-moderate,” Mr. Putin said. “The difference, according to the ‘specialists’ [a jab to the Obama advisors], seems to be that ‘moderate’ bandits behead people softly.”

- A trio of young Muslim women have been conning ISIS by setting up fake social media accounts and getting the terror group to send them money to travel to Syria to become jihadi brides, according to police.

Once the terror group wired funds to the con artists, from Chechnya, they allegedly deleted the accounts and pocketed the money.

ISIS uses social media to encourage men and women to travel to the lands controlled by ISIS to become fighters and jihadi brides. The Republic of Chechnya is a federal subject of Russia and mainly Muslim.

Now the trio have been detained by Chechen e-crime police for the scam, which has so far netted them more than £2,000, Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper reported.

“I don’t recall any precedent like this one in Chechnya, probably because nobody digs deep enough in that direction,” officer Valery Zolotaryov told the newspaper.
Categories: Aligned Planets

Colin Charles: Sunsetting HPCloud, whom contributed to making MySQL better

October 28, 2015 - 10:25

Recently at Percona Live Amsterdam I gave a talk titled Databases in the Hosted Cloud (I’m told I got a 4/5 rating for this talk). It was before AWS re:Invent, so obviously some of the details in the talk have changed. For one, now there is also Amazon RDS for MariaDB. But there has also been other changes, i.e. HP’s Public Cloud (HP Helion Public Cloud) will sunset January 31 2016.

That’s a slide from my deck. I basically have to caution users as to what’s going on in the cloud world when it comes to their databases. And this one slide shows news reports about HP possibly wanting to exit the cloud world back in April 2015. See: HP Comes to Terms With the Cloud, HP: We’re not leaving the public cloud, and of course the HP blog post from Bill Hilf: HP Helion Strategy to Deliver Hybrid IT Continues Strong.

The tune has of course changed in October 2015: A new model to deliver public cloud. I find this to be quite sad considering they were all very gung ho about pushing OpenStack forward several OSCONs ago. I know many people who made this happen (many ex-MySQL’ers went on to HP to work on OpenStack). I can only feel for them. I guess their important work continues in OpenStack as a whole and all this ends up being part of the HP Helion private cloud.

I think its also worth noting the improvements that Percona Server 5.5 received thanks to HPCloud to make it easier to manage in the cloud:

This pretty much leaves only Rackspace Cloud Databases as being a large OpenStack based offering of databases in the public cloud space, doesn’t it?

HPCloud offered 3 Availability Zones (AZs) per region, and had 2 regions — US-East (Virginia) and US-West. It’s worth remembering that US-West was the only place you could use the Relational DB MySQL service. You also got Percona Server 5.5. You enjoyed 50% off pricing while it was in public beta. 

All this is basically over. Here’s wishing the team well, a big thanks to them for helping make MySQL better and in case you’re looking for more articles to read: H-P Winds Down Cloud-Computing Project

Categories: Aligned Planets

Silvia Pfeiffer: My journey to Coviu

October 27, 2015 - 21:07

My new startup just released our MVP – this is the story of what got me here.

I love creating new applications that let people do their work better or in a manner that wasn’t possible before.

My first such passion was as a student intern when I built a system for a building and loan association’s monthly customer magazine. The group I worked with was managing their advertiser contacts through a set of paper cards and I wrote a dBase based system (yes, that long ago) that would manage their customer relationships. They loved it – until it got replaced by an SAP system that cost 100 times what I cost them, had really poor UX, and only gave them half the functionality. It was a corporate system with ongoing support, which made all the difference to them.

The story repeated itself with a CRM for my Uncle’s construction company, and with a resume and quotation management system for Accenture right after Uni, both of which I left behind when I decided to go into research.

Even as a PhD student, I never lost sight of challenges that people were facing and wanted to develop technology to overcome problems. The aim of my PhD thesis was to prepare for the oncoming onslaught of audio and video on the Internet (yes, this was 1994!) by developing algorithms to automatically extract and locate information in such files, which would enable users to structure, index and search such content.

Many of the use cases that we explored are now part of products or continue to be challenges: finding music that matches your preferences, identifying music or video pieces e.g. to count ads on the radio or to mark copyright infringement, or the automated creation of video summaries such as trailers.

This continued when I joined the CSIRO in Australia – I was working on segmenting speech into words or talk spurts since that would simplify captioning & subtitling, and on MPEG-7 which was a (slightly over-engineered) standard to structure metadata about audio and video.

In 2001 I had the idea of replicating the Web for videos: i.e. creating hyperlinked and searchable video-only experiences. We called it “Annodex” for annotated and indexed video and it needed full-screen hyperlinked video in browsers – man were we ahead of our time! It was my first step into standards, got several IETF RFCs to my name, and started my involvement with open codecs through Xiph.

Around the time that YouTube was founded in 2006, I founded Vquence – originally a video search company for the Web, but pivoted to a video metadata mining company. Vquence still exists and continues to sell its data to channel partners, but it lacks the user impact that has always driven my work.

As the video element started being developed for HTML5, I had to get involved. I contributed many use cases to the W3C, became a co-editor of the HTML5 spec and focused on video captioning with WebVTT while contracting to Mozilla and later to Google. We made huge progress and today the technology exists to publish video on the Web with captions, making the Web more inclusive for everybody. I contributed code to YouTube and Google Chrome, but was keen to make a bigger impact again.

The opportunity came when a couple of former CSIRO colleagues who now worked for NICTA approached me to get me interested in addressing new use cases for video conferencing in the context of WebRTC. We worked on a kiosk-style solution to service delivery for large service organisations, particularly targeting government. The emerging WebRTC standard posed many technical challenges that we addressed by building , by contributing to the standards, and registering bugs on the browsers.

Fast-forward through the development of a few further custom solutions for customers in health and education and we are starting to see patterns of need emerge. The core learning that we’ve come away with is that to get things done, you have to go beyond “talking heads” in a video call. It’s not just about seeing the other person, but much more about having a shared view of the things that need to be worked on and a shared way of interacting with them. Also, we learnt that the things that are being worked on are quite varied and may include multiple input cameras, digital documents, Web pages, applications, device data, controls, forms.

So we set out to build a solution that would enable productive remote collaboration to take place. It would need to provide an excellent user experience, it would need to be simple to work with, provide for the standard use cases out of the box, yet be architected to be extensible for specialised data sharing needs that we knew some of our customers had. It would need to be usable directly on, but also able to integrate with specialised applications that some of our customers were already using, such as the applications that they spend most of their time in (CRMs, practice management systems, learning management systems, team chat systems). It would need to require our customers to sign up, yet their clients to join a call without sign-up.

Collaboration is a big problem. People are continuing to get more comfortable with technology and are less and less inclined to travel distances just to get a service done. In a country as large as Australia, where 12% of the population lives in rural and remote areas, people may not even be able to travel distances, particularly to receive or provide recurring or specialised services, or to achieve work/life balance. To make the world a global village, we need to be able to work together better remotely.

The need for collaboration is being recognised by specialised Web applications already, such as the LiveShare feature of Invision for Designers, Codassium for pair programming, or the recently announced Dropbox Paper. Few go all the way to video – WebRTC is still regarded as a complicated feature to support.

With Coviu, we’d like to offer a collaboration feature to every Web app. We now have a Web app that provides a modern and beautifully designed collaboration interface. To enable other Web apps to integrate it, we are now developing an API. Integration may entail customisation of the data sharing part of Coviu – something Coviu has been designed for. How to replicate the data and keep it consistent when people collaborate remotely – that is where Coviu makes a difference.

We have started our journey and have just launched free signup to the Coviu base product, which allows individuals to own their own “room” (i.e. a fixed URL) in which to collaborate with others. A huge shout out goes to everyone in the Coviu team – a pretty amazing group of people – who have turned the app from an idea to reality. You are all awesome!

With Coviu you can share and annotate:

  • images (show your mum photos of your last holidays, or get feedback on an architecture diagram from a customer),
  • pdf files (give a presentation remotely, or walk a customer through a contract),
  • whiteboards (brainstorm with a colleague), and
  • share an application window (watch a YouTube video together, or work through your task list with your colleagues).

All of these are regarded as “shared documents” in Coviu and thus have zooming and annotations features and are listed in a document tray for ease of navigation.

This is just the beginning of how we want to make working together online more productive. Give it a go and let us know what you think.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Colin Charles: 3 Big Announcements from MariaDB (my take for Oct 2015)

October 27, 2015 - 03:25

Today I received about five emails with the subject: 3 Big Announcements from MariaDB. Maybe you did as well (else, read it online). October has brought on some very interest announcements, and I think my priority for the big announcements vary a little:

  1. MariaDB Server is now available on Amazon RDS – you wouldn’t believe how many people ask for this, as many now deploy using Amazon Web Services (AWS), so now that it is available, I consider this to be extremely amazing. You get 10.0.17 today, and within 3-5 months of a GA, you get the next release (the docs are a work of art — read them!).
  2. MariaDB Server 10.1 is now a stable GA — this is a milestone. Our last stable GA came out in March 2014. There are plenty of new features and we had a developer meeting to plan what comes in 10.2 as well. Remember to read: What is MariaDB 10.1?
  3. New XAMPP with MariaDB — The new XAMPP does not ship with MySQL any longer but MariaDB Server 10.0.17. This is going to help distribution tremendously as many people use XAMPP as a development environment (it is after all the most popular PHP development environment out there). Remember to get your downloads for Windows/Linux/OSX. 

I think the above are my highlights of 3 big announcements from the MariaDB world. What are you waiting for, download it now! And remember to report bugs/feature requests to our Jira instance.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Ben Martin: ESP8266 and a few pins

October 26, 2015 - 23:41
The new Arduino 1.6.x IDE makes it fairly simple to use the ESP8266 modules. I have been meaning to play around with a some open window detectors for a while now. I notice two dedicated GPIO pins on the ESP8266, which is one more than I really need. So I threw in an led which turns on when the window is open. Nothing like local, direct feedback that the device has detected the state of affairs. The reed switch is attached on an interrupt so as soon as the magnet gets too far away the light shines.

I will probably fold and make the interrupt set a flag so that the main loop can perform an http GET to tell the server as soon as it knows when a state has changed.

Probably the main annoying thing I've still got is that during boot it seems the state of both the gpio pins matters. So if the reed switch is closed when you first spply power then the esp goes into some stall state.

It will be interesting to see how easy OTA firmware updates are for the device.

Categories: Aligned Planets

Sridhar Dhanapalan: Twitter posts: 2015-10-19 to 2015-10-25

October 26, 2015 - 01:27
Categories: Aligned Planets