Neologism: Code Puce

Jul 13 2020

code puce - noun phrase - An IT or ops situation in which the software installed in production is one version and the management system expects a different version.  This results in a situation in which everything is running more or less smoothly, and at the same time everything in the monitoring system is going bonkers.  Compare with code red, code blue, and so forth.

COVID-19 quarantine, day... who knows anymore.

Jul 04 2020

I have no idea how long I've been in quarantine.  I've stopped counting because the numbers were just making me twitchy.  Life is going about as well as one could reasonably expect.  We're all save and sound in northern California, as much as we can be during a pandemic.  Working from home is working from home.  To minimize risk we're getting as much stuff delivered as we can, modulo periodic trips to the local pharmacy to pick up filled prescriptions and suchlike. I wish I could say the same of things back home in Pennsylvania, but I'd be lying and I'm really not ready to talk about that right now.

I keep thinking of stuff that I want to write about, but everytime I sit down at a keyboard state-dependent memory kicks in and I forget all of it.  It is equally annoying and frustrating when that happens.  So I think I'm just going to ramble a bit and see what pops out.

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Hanson's Razor

Jun 15 2020

Hanson's Razor - Never attribute to stupidity that which can be adequately explained by (unconscious) malice or selfishness.

Lizardman's constant

Jun 15 2020

Lizardman's Constant - A rough heuristic of the population of people who troll data collection polls.  Comes from asking the question "Do you believe that the President is a shape-shifting lizard person?" and consistently getting a roughly 4.5% "yes" response.

Extending a wireless network with OpenWRT.

Jun 13 2020

One of my earliest covid-19 lockdown projects was doing a little work on my home wireless network.  I have a fairly nice wireless access point upstairs running OpenWRT, sitting behind the piece-of-shit DSL modem-slash-wireless access point our ISP makes us use.  All of our devices connect to that AP instead of the DSL modem.  Let's call it Upstairs.  However, the dodginess of the construction of our house being what it is (please don't ask), wireless coverage from upstairs isn't the greatest downstairs.  The fix for this, conveniently, is to set up another wireless access point downstairs and connect the two in such a way that wireless devices downstairs connect to the second access point (let's call this one Downstairs), which then transparently relays the users' traffic to the Upstairs AP, and then to the public Net (or one of the machines also hanging out on Upstairs).  This was a remarkably easy thing to do but it did take a little background research, which was daunting in and of itself so my goal here is to lay out a nitty-gritty, "Here's how you do this thing" process so you can do it yourself.  Also, in today's political climate, this process has the potential for filling in some essential gaps in emergencies.

First, some basic assumptions that you have to make for this to work: Your wireless access points have to be dual-band - they must be capable of supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networking simultaneously.  This means that they have two independent radios on board.  If they don't this won't work.  Seriously, don't try to get clever with this.  Any hackery you try to pull is going to be brittle, and you'll be inflecting upon yourself to kinetic pattern baldness needlessly.  Second, it is entirely possible to extend one SSID using this technique but you don't have to.  We have three related wireless networks here: Upstairs-2.4GHz, Upstairs-5GHz, and Downstairs-5GHz but you can do it differently if you want.  Third, unless you're already using OpenWRT for your wireless network, this probably won't work.

This is an advanced project so you might not want to tackle this on your own if you haven't been tinkering with OpenWRT for a while; this includes being comfortable with SSHing into your access point and installing software (including the web control panel).  I won't walk you through the installation process because OpenWRT already has good documentation for this.  Follow it first to bootstrap your second access point-slash-wireless network extender before you start this tutorial.  I'll also walk you through some of the gotchas I ran into to make life easier for everyone else.  We're going to assume that you're using OpenWRT's default 192.168.0.0/24 private network layout already but if you aren't adjust the instructions as required.  You do not have to be running the same version of OpenWRT on your access points.  I'm running v18.06.2 on Upstairs and v19.07.2 on Downstairs.

When I built this out at home I purchased a duplicate of the access point I already have.  You probably don't have to do this, but I did just to be sure I knew the make and model was solid.

For the record (and the same of my external memory) here are the instructions I used when I originally figured this out.

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An in-depth discussion of tear gas.

Jun 07 2020

Before I repost this Twitter thread in toto, I'd like to say a few things.  First, Zander is an old friend of mine (pushing 20 years at this point).  Second, while he might bill himself as "an amateur chemist," his scientific expertise has been helpful to me numerous times over the years, so I feel that I can vouch for his knowledge as well as his assessment of the situation.  I asked him if I could repost this research earlier and he gave his permission.  For clarity I've made minor edits to add punctuation.  I've also reposted the images he used and gotten hold of copies of his references.  I feel that, right now being able to verify the provenance of information is very important because information sabotage is an effective tactic.

Take it away, Zander.

- - - - -

I’ve been seeing a lot of conflicting information about tear gas online and wanted to make a guide about what tear gas is, how it’s used and how to treat exposure to it. I have a background in experimental methodology and research, and am an amateur chemist.

Special thanks to @3liza for this thread that gave me inroads to the literature, @taliabear for proofreading this and my professional chemist friend who wishes to remain anonymous for reviewing this.

So the first thing to really drive home: Tear gas isn’t just one thing. There’s nearly a dozen different compounds that are used as riot control agents across the world. I’ll be focusing on the USA because that’s where I live.

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Getting a C64 online in 2020.

May 22 2020

As you might have seen in previous posts, my stuck-in-quarantine project has been restoring my C64 so I can play around with it.  Part of that involves figuring out what you can reasonably use such a venerable computer for in 2020.ev, besides playing old games.  Word processing and suchlike are a given, though I strongly doubt that I could get my Commodore playing nicely (or even poorly) with the laser printer in the other room.  Also, the relative scarcity of 5.25" floppy disks these days makes saving data somewhat problematic (though I've got a solution for that, which I'll touch on later).  Ultimately, the utility of a computer of any kind increases exponentially when it has a network connection of some kind due to how much data isn't kept on one's workstation these days but on remote servers, be they one room over or across the planet.  Plus, running applications on more powerful systems is thankfully still a thing, marketing making people forget all about that to the contrary.

Along with the other Commodore equipment I've been hauling around with me over the years is a Commodore 1670 modem that used to scream along at a spritely 1200 baud and a copy of Bob's Term Pro v1.9, gifted to me by a work associate of my mother's many years previously.  I also still have an acoustic coupler attachment that plugs into a modem's phone line jack which, at one time anyway, worked decently well for mobile communications in the days before wifi.  I don't have a landline anymore, just DSL and a mobile phone, so I decided to try an experiment.  A grand experiment, if you will, an attempt to get my C64 online and calling BBSes once more.

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Reprint: Making your own superconductor.

May 22 2020

Disclaimer: Times have changed since this article was written so seek legal and scientific advice from qualified personnel if you plan to try making your own superconducting materials.  I am not qualified personnel or a lawyer.  Do not try this at home.  We live in a world in which possession of basic chemistry apparatus is illegal in some places, so do your homework.

Process reprinted from OMNI Magazine, November 1987, page 76.  (local PDF) (local CBR) (right-click -> save as to download))

From How To Make Your Own Superconductors, by Bruce Schecter.  Retyped as faithfully as possible.  Hyperlinks mine, added for background.

Paul Grant, a research scientist at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, believes he has even come up with the first practice use of the new superconductors - science education.  A few months after he and his colleagues had whipped up their first batch, he advised high-school science teacher David Pribyl and his students from Gilroy, California (famous for its garlic), to have a go at making superconductors themselves.  Grant feels that this must be some kind of record.  "In less than six months a major discovery made the trip from the research laboratory to a high-school chemistry project," Grant says.  "Next year year, science fairs will have hundreds of these experiments."

The new superconductors are made up of yttrium, barium, copper, and oxygen - the chemical formula is Y1Ba2Cu3O7-x.  The proportions of the yttrium, barium, and copper have lead scientists to call this material 123 - a nice coincidence since making it is as easy as that.

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Faking a telnet server with netcat.

May 20 2020

Let's say that you need to be able to access a server somewhere on your network.  This is a pretty common thing to do if you've got a fair amount of infrastructure at home.  But let's say that your computer, for whatever reason, doesn't have the horsepower to run SSH because the crypto used requires math that older systems can't carry out in anything like reasonable time.  This is a not uncommon situation for retrocomputing enthusiasts.  In the days before SSH we used telnet for this, but pretty much the entire Net doesn't anymore because the traffic wasn't encrypted, so anyone with a mind to eavesdrop could grab your login credentials to abuse later.  However, on a home network behind a firewall between systems you own it doesn't hurt to use once in a while.  Good luck finding systems that still package in.telnetd, though.  However, you can fake it with a tool called netcat.

First, you need a FIFO (first in, first out) that, as far as a Linux machine is concerned is a file that multiple processes can open to read and write.  Whenever something writes into a FIFO, everything reading from it gets whatever came in the other end.  As passing data goes the question is "how hard do you really need it to be," and FIFOs answer the question with "Not hard."  Linux boxen come with a tool called mkfifo that create them; uncreating them is as simple as deleting them like any other file.  This is the first step toward faking a telnet server:

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