DCLUG presentation: Tor

I'll be giving a presentation on Tor for the Washington DC Linux Users' Group the evening of 19 May 2010. The LUG meeting will start at 1900 EST5EDT (7:00pm) and run until 2100 EST5EDT (9:00pm) or thereabouts; afterward folks usually go to dinner nearby and hang out for a while. The meeting location is 2025 M Street NW; Washington, DC; 20036. From the street look for the big Tux the Linux Penguin poster or a sign for the LUG.

I hope to see everyone there!

The Doctor | 29 April 2010, 14:41 hours | default | No comments

No jail time for Peter Watts.

It seems that has drawn to a close - as of 1204 hours yesterday Peter Watts will not be getting any jail time. As confirmed on the St. Clair County Court Docket (search on case 09-003320-FH and click on 'Events') his jail term was suspended upon payment of court costs and fines ($68us state minimum; $60 crime victim costs; $1000us court costs, and a $500us fine) for violation of Michigan state law 750.81d (in essence, distracting a duly appointed law enforcement officer carrying out his or her duties, but it's a bit more involved than that). He'll have to leave a DNA sample on his way home (which immediately makes me think of a particular scene in Transmetropolitan, but that's neither here nor there) and depart the United States for home. I don't know what impact this will have upon Dr. Watts' ability to cross back into the country but I'd guess that it'll put the kibosh on things for a while.

Congratulations, Dr. Watts. While this is far from the optimal outcome (i.e., 'not guilty') it means that no jail time will be incurred.

Now, to write the governor of Michigan about getting this law changed.

The Doctor | 27 April 2010, 09:06 hours | default | Three comments

Peter Watts to be sentenced tomorrow.

I've been silently waiting for word to appear on the Net about the sentencing of Dr. Peter Watts, which is schedule for tomorrow in Port Huron. To recap the highlights of , Dr. Watts was found guilty of obstructing law enforcement officers carrying out their legally appointed duties by asking them what was going on.

You really can't say anything more than that, though lots of people have already. Cutting to the chase, Dr. Watts is probably on his way back across the border into Michigan as I write this to appear in court tomorrow. The prosecution was pushing for no jail time; whomever writes presentencing recommendations was pushing for leniency - "very mild" is how it was put. The stated value of "very mild" is four to six months of jail time, regardless of the mess of things the arresting officers made on the stand, the lack of negative marks against Dr. Watts, and the numerous testimonials vouching for the character of Dr. Watts, yadda yadda yadda. It's been said that the person who writes the presentencing recommendations doesn't actually have access to the official court record. Somehow this says much, most of it about the left and right hands refusing to communicate with one another in any meaningful fashion. It also fails to surprise.

We're all pulling for him over here, but I have a nebulous bad feeling about this. We all have our appendages crossed over here, even Archie and Bandit.

Here's hoping. Be careful, Dr. Watts.

The Doctor | 25 April 2010, 15:46 hours | default, images | No comments

I hope dinner didn't get rained out.

The Doctor | 22 April 2010, 09:09 hours | images | No comments

Lotta fog, today.

The Doctor | 22 April 2010, 09:06 hours | images | No comments

Mage rote: ...as they really are.

Game: Mage: the Ascension

Rote: ...as they really are.

Spheres: Matter *, Mind *, Prime *, Spirit **

Traditional focus: Absinthe, though any reasonably high proof spirits would do.

Effect: This is a sensory rote developed by a Cult of Ecstasy chaote named Amber who made a habit of communing with the genius loci of wherever she happened to crash for the night. Following an old saying by Oscar Wilde that the first drink of absinthe shows us things as we wish they were, the second as they are not, and the third as they really are, she would prepare three doses of absinthe using the water ritual and partake before retiring for the evening. The mind-altering effects of the absinthe served as a focus for her magic: Matter allowed her to more fully grasp the nature and composition of everything around her while Mind opened her empathic abilities to the latent emotional impressions of wherever she happened to be. The first rank of Prime permitted Amber to assense the flows and patterns of quintessence around her while Spirit made it possible for her to speak and interact with any conscious spirits in the room.

The Doctor | 20 April 2010, 21:17 hours | content | One comment

Memristors now a viable component of electronic circuitry.

In the early 1970's an electrical component was hypothesized by Leon Chua, who was working at the University of California at Berkeley as an electrical engineer. Chua was said to be working on a mathematically rigorous foundation for the science of electronics, and during the course of his work he concluded that a fundamental component was missing. A memristor is essentially a component which remembers how much current has passed through it for a duration of time (technically, there is a relationship between the integrals over time t between current and voltage). While that doesn't seem all that interesting it actually is unusual insofar as solid state electronics are concerned. Memristors are really only feasible when constructed on the nanoscale (i.e., billionths of of a meter in size) because they operate based upon the movements of individual atoms subjected to an electric current, and they also act very much like neurons do in organic brains. Memristors that 'fire' often are more likely to fire in the future; those don't are less likely to do so. In 2008 a research team at HP fabricated the first practical memristor in their lab and just two years later they're working on practical applications for them.

Memristors are unique in that they don't lose their state when the power is turned off, unlike RAM, which would make them useful for building faster solid-state data storage devices. However, what really has people interested is that they seem to operate using analog rather than digital principles. Digital computers represent everything in terms of strings of two states, 0 or 1 (on or off, high or low). Analog computers represent everything using a precisely calibrated electric current; outputs are displayed using oscilloscopes or voltage meters. The upshot is that they're more accurate than binary representations of decimal values (for certain definitions of and limits for accurate, as always), but they're also much slower than digital logic circuitry, which is why they fell out of use by the late 1960's save in academia. Memristors, however, are now smaller and operating faster than conventionally fabbed transistors. HP's test models are approximately 3nm in size and can switch state in about one nanosecond if their published results are accurate. More surprisingly, memristors have been able to construct circuits in the lab that exhibit some properties formerly limited to organic structures: those circuits were trained to recognize patterns of signals passed through them and could successfully predict the next signals in a series. While this probably won't help you play the latest and greatest FPS there are implications for the fields of data mining, intelligence analysis, signal processing, and network security as well as potential applications in weak and strong AI... definitely a technology to keep your eye on.

The Doctor | 20 April 2010, 13:14 hours | default | Two comments

Carl Macek, rest in peace.

It is with heavy heart that I pass along some sad news, the passing of Carl Macek on Saturday, 17 April 2010. While his name is not exactly one uttered in households across the country he is known for his work in the world of cinema but animation. He worked for Harmony Hold USA, which is best known for stitching together three anime series (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA) into the television show that probably introduced a large contingent of people my age to anime as children, Robotech. Macek also helped create Spumco in the late 80's, the animation house best known for Ren and Stimpy. Macek was involved with Streamline Pictures after Ren and Stimpy was sold to Nickelodeon; Streamline Pictures licensed and dubbed a lot of anime that is now considered classic, such as My Neighbor Totoro, Wicked City, and Akira. More recently he was involved in bringing some fan favorite series to the States - the anime juggernauts Naruto and Bleach. Love him or hate him (and his work), you can't deny the impact he had on broadcast culture in the United States. Without Macek bringing dubbed anime to the States and the airwaves, chances are it would never have caught on as strongly as it did. It would certainly have remained the province of a couple of determined fans watching raw anime on tape at conventions without Macek's intervention.

Thanks, Carl.

The Doctor | 19 April 2010, 20:48 hours | default | No comments

President Obama extends visitation rights to same-sex couples.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama transmitted instructions to his secretary of Health and Human Services to draft rules requiring that all hospitals which receive Medicaid or Medicare payments allow patients to designate who may make healthcare-related decisions regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation. For many years, same-sex couples have been at a distinct disadvantage here - it was not uncommon for the partner of a patient who had been designated someone's caretaker to be completely disregarded in favor of the patient's family. It is sadly not unheard of for the orders given by the patient's family to be completely at odds with those of the patient. It was also not uncommon for the partner of a patient to be barred from visitation, again, often at the demands of the patient's family. This move will, once the reality catches up to the law, ensure that powers of attorney and the directives of healthcare proxies will be respected by hospitals and physicians. It's been far too many years for such a thing to come about, and many couple and non-traditional families will have their fears laid to rest.

Thank you, President Obama. Please see this through to the end.

The Doctor | 18 April 2010, 21:38 hours | default | No comments

Lower Marion School District's stash of surveillance photos found.

The investigation into employees of the Lower Marion School District continues apace, and some highly disturbing things have been discovered. Evidence has been found that the admins employed by the district were using the surveillance software on for more than just tracking missing laptops. It seems that the software was used to keep tabs on students who hadn't returned their laptops at year's end or whose parents hadn't paid the insurance fee, uses of the surveillance software which are questionable at best. Also, and this is the bit that made the skin on the backs of my hands crawl, several thousand photographs were extracted from the workstations of Carol Cafiero (technology co-ordinator) and Michael Perbix (technician) as well as records of instant messages sent to and from said laptops through the course of the year. Some subset of those pictures (certainly enough to give the lawyers the scent of blood in the water) were of a student while he was asleep or partially dressed. E-mails sent by Cafiero made a number of references to her loving watching the lives of some of the students in the same fashion as a soap opera.

Cafiero plead the fifth when making a deposition; the district maintains that there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

Remember, everyone, disconnect your webcams (or close the lids of your laptops) if you want a little privacy at home. I have the sneaking suspicion that stuff like this is going to happen more often in the future.

The Doctor | 18 April 2010, 21:13 hours | default | Two comments

Great. Here we go again.

I've updated my .plan file. The usual warnings still apply.

The Doctor | 18 April 2010, 01:12 hours | content | Four comments

Peter Steele, RIP.

Every once in a while, rumors that Peter Steele, frontman and bassist of the band Type O Negative had died would circulate through the Net; time and again, those rumors would be disproven and shown to be either a practical joke (in poor taste) or just that: rumors.

Not this time, unfortunately.

This morning at 0610 EST5EDT members of the band announced publically (note: no direct link to these posts so they'll probably rot over time) that Steele had died after a brief illness the evening of 14 April 2010. The cause of death is unknown, though heart failure is suspected; an autopsy is pending. While Steele (real name: Petrus Ratajczyk) was known to have a history of substance abuse (even spending some time in prison for it) it is said that he'd been clean for a couple of years prior to his death. Type O Negative hit the big time in 1993 with the release of their third album, Bloody Kisses, which paced back and forth between metal, dirge-goth, occasional parody, and moody introspection. The band was in the process of writing music for a new album, a followup to Dead Again, which was released in 2007.

We're going to miss you, Peter. See you beyond the edge of Time.

Now playing: Type O Negative - Black Number One

The Doctor | 16 April 2010, 09:52 hours | default | No comments

Night-time sakura.

This makes me want to break out the Armani and my white-out contact lens.

The Doctor | 12 April 2010, 13:18 hours | images | No comments

Ikea building?

Insert tab B into slot A?

The Doctor | 12 April 2010, 13:15 hours | images | No comments

Deep brain stimulation, or, "That's funny..."

Marvin Minsky once said that the human mind operates at only one tenth of its full capacity because the rest is taken up by the operating system's overhead. I always thought that was kind of a funny statement. When you get right down to it, nobody's really sure how the brain functions, or even how the mind operates inside of the 2.8 pounds of matter behind your eyes. People have variously been stabbed in the head (ye gods), lost a full quarter of brain mass in accidents, and even had entire hemispheres surgically excised and gone on to live healthy, happy, amazingly functional lives. I could go on for a while about how amazing the brain is and the majesty of its myriad weird functions but I really won't be doing it any justice. I also won't be able to do any justice to the sprawling family of chemo-electrical weirdness known as mental illness. Medical science still doesn't understand exactly how the brain functions so trying to treat something as commonplace as clinical depression can be something of a crapshoot. For some people cognitive therapy works pretty well; for others antidepressants and counseling do the trick. For still others surgical intervention of one sort or another is necessary.

At first deep brain stimulation was limited to treatment of certain neuromuscular diseases like Parkinson's disease, but it was later found to be effective for other ailments, such as depression, cluster headaches, and even certain forms of addiction as well as certain manifestations of mental illness. The treatment is simple in principle though it requires brain surgery (which is never trivial): a fine cluster of electrodes is inserted into the brain and come to rest inside of one or more structures of the brain (sometimes both hemispheres of the brain are involved, sometimes only one) which are associated with the disorder in question. The electrodes are connected to a microcomputer implanted near the collarbone (or lower, sometimes in the abdomen) which generates programmed combinations of voltages, frequencies, and pulse widths. The signals transmitted through the electrodes dampen the chemoelectrical activity of the region somewhat and correct (or at least lessen) the problem. While it works very well, it doesn't function in as linear a manner as one would hope.

The brain is a very densely interconnected marvel of computing power. One way of looking at it is as a fantastically complex network of individual processing elements (neurons). Another way of looking at the brain is as a fantastically complex network of smaller networks (regions of connected neurons that make up what we normally think of as the "parts of the brain", like the visual cortex or the hippocampus) which can influence one another directly or indirectly. For example, a DBS unit which stimulates the subgenual area (which is involved in emotional response) might also affect the processing of parts of the prefrontal cortex (which is also involved in processing and evaluating emotions). Sometimes the effects are what doctors expect but not the causes - the example given in the article is stimulation of the nucleus accumbens not provoking a reaction there but was instead in the prefrontal cortex and subgenual area. Sometimes DBS doesn't work at all for reasons which are poorly understood and probably highly specific to the patient. Sometimes pinging the subgenual area with the DBS unit results in activation of the amygdala instead, which doesn't do what was intended.

The Doctor | 10 April 2010, 18:57 hours | default | No comments

My NOVALUG presentation was a success.

Well, it's done. My Tor presentation at the NOVALUG meeting this morning went off without a hitch. It was a little touch and go for a while because neither Lyssa nor I were firing on all eight cylinders due to low blood sugar but we met up with Hasufin and Mika at the halfway point and carpooled over. In the end made things easier (read: I didn't have to navigate). I may have overprepared a bit by having an extra laptop as well as multiple copies of my presentation on hand in case things went pear-shaped, but thankfully no heroic measures were required. I need to figure out how to make Impress show the same slide on my laptop's screen as it does on the projector, because I had to keep turning around to look at my bullet points, but that's actually pretty minor.

I'd like to thank Greg Pryzby for organizing the meeting as well as the Herndon Fortnightly Library for hosting us for a couple of hours this morning. I'd also like to thank everyone who came to the meeting and asked excellent questions this morning. Special thanks to Hasufin and Mika who let me run through my presentation on their big screen TV last night and helped me edit and polish it until the wee hours of the morning.

If you'd like to download a copy of my presentation here it is as an OpenOffice.org Impress presentation and as a PDF. When the video is put online by NOVALUG I'll post a link to it.

The Doctor | 10 April 2010, 16:20 hours | content | Five comments

Lost in DC: Navigation Fail that deserves its own Wikipedia page.

Not long after moving to DC I gave up on the concept of going to gathers organized by users of meetup.com for a variety of reasons. Most of them involved never being able to find the agreed-upon locations of things that I'm interested in, though a few factor in getting there so late that everybody'd already gone home. Needless to say, after a few such fuckups I decided that it was more interesting to do other things. A couple of years later (but about two weeks ago) Jason asked in passing that he'd found a meetup called Chaos In DC, and would I like to go?

I thought about this for a moment. It'd been a couple of years, I rationalized, and I wouldn't be driving so our chances of actually getting there were pretty good. Besides, I have a smartphone with realtime access to Google Maps and a GPS nav system built in. What the hell - I threw my hat into the ring and cleared my calendar for Friday night.

What could possibly go wrong?

More under the cut...

The Doctor | 08 April 2010, 19:25 hours | default | Seven comments

Restaurant review: Middle Eastern Cuisine

A couple of weeks ago Lyssa and I got together with the House of Leaves for Bronwyn's birthday, much of which we spent at a restaurant in Takoma Park, Maryland called Middle Eastern Cuisine (no website; 7006 Carroll Avenue; Takoma Park, MD; 20912; phone 301-270-5154; fax 301-270-8521). It's a bit of a drive to get to the outskirts, but it's well worth the time spent. You can either eat up front at the smaller tables or you can go into the back half where a long bench encircles part of the room, and is broken up by a number of larger tables that they'll be more than happy to push around and reconfigure for larger parties. The back half is tastefully decorated with abstract prints and a pair of beautiful steampunk paintings on the far wall. Overall, it's a very comfortable place to eat and hang out.

As for the food, it's some of the best Mediterranean I've had in a long while. Their mazza platter is a big enough appetizer for three or four people easily, but it would also make up a whole meal for two people, probably with some left over. The salads are about what you'd expect, so there isn't a whole lot to write home about there. The eggplant parmesan is pretty good and well worth the wait while it's prepared and the chicken kebabs are quite tasty. Their coffee's not bad, either, but I didn't have much because Hasufin had brought a trunkful of coffee-making implements for use later. Prices are a little high for the area - expect to spend about $20us per person for lunch, but you'll definitely be getting your money's worth. On the whole, I give this restaurant one and a half flareguns: if you like Mediterranean food and you find yourself in the DC metroplex, look this place up and pay them a visit. You won't be sorry.

The Doctor | 04 April 2010, 11:42 hours | restaurants | No comments

I now pronounce you nerd and nerd.

Lyssa and I are really married now - we've combined our collections of gaming books into a single bookcase.

Here's the end result.

In descending order, the most represented gaming systems in our library are Mage: the Ascension, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: the Masquerade, and Werewolf: the Apocalypse. The two shelves of miscellaneous games stand unto themselves.

More under the cut...

The Doctor | 03 April 2010, 22:39 hours | images, wedding | Two comments

Tired Time Lord.

The Doctor | 02 April 2010, 13:11 hours | images | No comments

Birthday gift from House Sneed.

From the movie Aliens, a workshirt for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.

The Doctor | 02 April 2010, 13:07 hours | images | Three comments

Yarn spinning faire, March 2010.

A spinning wheel with Robby the Robot etched onto the side.

More under the cut...

The Doctor | 02 April 2010, 13:02 hours | images | No comments

If only these had been up for grabs.

Sadly, these were only empty boxes and not stuff we were asked to clear out of the data center.

The Doctor | 02 April 2010, 13:00 hours | images | No comments

Packets.. get them packets...

From the HacDC space blimp meeting a couple of weekends ago: telemetry proof-of-concept.

Clockwise from left to right: Windbringer, HTX-202 hand-held ham radio, remains of breakfast, random PS/2 stuff from R. Mark Adams' workshop, keyboard, someone else's laptop, 35 watt linear amplifier, USB-to-serial converter, TinyTrak 4 TNC, LCD display for TinyTrak.

We get signal?

The Doctor | 02 April 2010, 12:49 hours | images | No comments

Implements of mass caffeination.

Taken at Bronwyn's birthday party last weekend.

The Doctor | 02 April 2010, 12:46 hours | images | No comments

Battlegoth makeup versus facial recognition software...

In the halcyon days of the 80's, a fairly common trope of cyberpunk was people (usually background characters but occasionally a main character) wearing battlegoth makeup - funky facepaint that distinctively changes your appearance. Often it was described as a stylistic choice, not unlike what some media stars effect today though occasionally you see it at street level. Facial recognition systems are pretty primitive today but they're starting to be deployed by law enforcement and advertising agencies just the same to gather actionable information for later use. Right now eye tracking software is used to determine what keeps people's attention for how long to develop better ads and police agencies are looking into using it to track people of interest by analyzing securicam footage but as processing power grows and software becomes more capable it's going to turn into a hot technology in the next decade or so.

At NYU a grad student named Adam Harvey is researching ways of monkeywrenching these systems with those makeup styles. His findings are indeed interesting: asymmetrical patterns screw up facial contours sufficiently that image recognition systems based upon Viola-Jones type algorithms can't determine who the subject is, and might even skip over the subject as not being a person at all (which I would suspect to be a corner case). Designs that are too regular might not work as well for the purposes of privacy because systems might register type II errors and identify the subject as someone else entirely (which isn't always a good thing - have you ever wanted to be mistaken for Osama bin Ladin?) Interestingly, low effort techniques like this might really take off among the younger pro-privacy crowd if personal privacy doesn't fall too much farther out of fashion. Also, wearing funky makeup while out and about is pretty easy to get away with, probably much more so than other image jamming techniques; the aforementioned media figures make asymmetrical designs and nonsensical patterns not only popular but acceptable. Popular culture sets the fashion trends and after a short period of time people just accept them rather than try to suppress them (they way they would if people started, say, wearing masks as part of their everyday wardrobe).

Definite something to keep an eye on.

The Doctor | 02 April 2010, 06:33 hours | default | One comment
"We, the extraordinary, were conspiring to make the world better."