Arch Linux, systemd, and RAID.

May 13, 2016

Long, long time readers of my blog might remember Leandra, the server that I've had running in my lab in one configuration or another since high school (10th grade, in point of fact). She's been through many different incarnations and has run pretty much every x86 CPU ever made since the 80386. She's also run most of the major distributions of Linux out there, starting with Slackware and most recently running Arch Linux (all of the packages of Gentoo with none of the spending hours compiling everything under the sun or fighting with USE flags). It's also possible to get a full Linux install going with only the packages you need in a relatively small amount of disk space; my multimedia machine, for example, is only 2.7 gigabytes in size and Leandra as she stands right now has a relatively svelte 1.1 gigabytes of systemware. However, Arch Linux was an early adopter of something called systemd, which aims to be a complete replacement of the traditional UNIX-like init system that tries to manage dependencies of services, parallelize startup and shutdown of system features, automatically start and stop stuff, replace text-based system logs with a binary database, and all sorts of bleeding edge stuff like that.

Some people love systemd. Some people hate systemd. Personally, I think it is what my besainted grandmother would say, enough to piss off the Pope. That's not really what I'm writing about, though. What I'm writing about is a problem I ran into getting Leandra back up and running after building a fairly sizeable RAID array with logical volumes built on top of it.

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Can't come up for air just yet.

May 04, 2016

Hacking code and writing policy. I'll be able to come up for air soon.

Also, del.icio.us claims that they're migrating to their old URL and that everything is fine. Only everything's not fine, nobody's links load, their blog is now gone, and they're not responding to anybody trying to get in touch with them. I'm glad I was able to download my data (including all the stuff I want to write about when I get a chance) before their site started acting screwy again. I guess I'm going to need to set up my own online link manager...

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Hacking DNA. No, really.

Apr 02, 2016

Last year a new genetic engineering technology called CRISPR - Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats - showed up on my radar at a local conference. Long story short, CRISPR is a highly precise technique for editing DNA in situ which follows from the discovery of short sequences of DNA which allow for precise location of individual genes. It's a fascinating technology; there are even tutorials (archived copy, just in case) online for developing your own guide RNA to implement CRISPR/Cas9. What you might not have known is that CRISPR/Cas9 is being actively studied as a theraputic technique in humans due to the amazing amount of success it's shown in modifying the genomes of other forms of life. At Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania earlier this year molecular biologists successfully used the technique to hack the DNA of cultured human T-cells in vitro that were infected with HIV and delete the HIV DNA entirely. Moreover, when re-exposed to HIV the hacked T-cells were observed to show immunity to the virus. Further observing the cells after they'd been modified showed that no adverse effects were introduced - the cells were healthy, happy, and just as effective post-CRISPR/Cas9 modification as pre-infection with HIV. The research team's peer-reviewed findings were published in the journal Nature in February of 2016, and the paper went open access online in March of this year.

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3D printing of nanomaterials and implanted prosthetic limbs.

Apr 02, 2016

Long-time readers of my site no doubt know of my fascination with the field of 3D printing and tracking the advances that are made almost weekly to this technology. From simple plastic tchotchkes to replacement parts to materials that few ever dreamed would be used, 3D fabbers are fast becoming an integral part of manufacturing at all levels of complexity. A few months ago researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published the results for a revolutionary 3D printer called the Optomec Aerosol Jet 500, a fabber which uses a range of nanomaterials as its feedstock. To cut to the chase they've been using it to construct electronic components and integrated circuits at the molecular level, laying down conductive pathways in three dimensions, constructing semiconductor units material by material, and linking everything together into working circuitry in situ. Current semiconductor prototyping fabs are huge, on the order of thousands of square feet in size but the Optomec is just slightly over 250 square feet in size, well within the working space of your average science lab (and doesn't use any of the incredibly dangerous chemicals ordinarily involved in semiconductor manufacture). The new generation fabber prints at a resolution of 10 microns, which is about the size of a large grain of pollen or silt but far to small for the human eye to discern unaided. I don't know when this technology will leave the lab but you can bet that the semiconductor giants are going to be keeping a close eye indeed on them, if only because eliminating many of the chemicals they use would raise their bottom line significantly (by not needing to worry about licensing and disposal costs).

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North Korea: A Polite Rant

Apr 02, 2016

If you've been following the news for the past couple of weeks you've no doubt seen lots of hand wringing about North Korea's missile tests. To summarize, they've popped off a couple of missiles that seem to have intercontinental capability, i.e., they could, in theory travel from North Korea to the vicinity of the United States or Canada and deliver their payload. The missiles in question keep landing in the ocean, which strongly suggests deliberate targeting to prove launch and control capability as well as making it more difficult for other countries to get hold of the hardware for analysis. That payload, of course, is what has many worried. Additionally, it's been observed that the US military's anti-ballistic missile capability is less than stellar. Official word from the Pentagon is that they're confident that they could handle such a problem, some evidence backs that up, and other evidence casts doubt upon them, such as failing 75% of the time. Coupled with North Korea kicking up propwash in the international media about US and South Korean forces training together about cutting loose if the two countries don't knock it off (spoiler alert: they haven't and aren't).

On the other hand, earlier this year North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit (even though it's tumbling, which makes it useless for anything other than a proof-of-concept) and detonated a bomb powerful enough to register as a seismic event several thousand miles away. Regardless of what one may think these are not events to dismiss lightly because they demonstrate dual-use technical capability; the rocket booster used to put the satellite into orbit could also be used to propel a military payload into the airspace of another country, and even if the bomb detonated on 6 January 2016 wasn't actually a hydrogen bomb, it was certainly powerful enough to level a city.

That said, here's my two cents: Sit down, have another cup of coffee, and find something interesting to do.

No, really. Don't worry about this.

Why?

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Sonata Arctica, Delain, and Nightwish - 11 March 2016.

Mar 28, 2016

It is rare indeed when the Finnish operatic metal band Nightwish comes to the United States. Fans of symphonic metal (like most of us in this house), upon hearing that they would be within driving distance for the first time in many years sprinted, not ran to pick up tickets for this show the moment they went on sale. I can't really describe them to you so all I can really say is take two parts power metal, one part opera, and one part old-school swords and sorcery fantasy, throw into a blender, add a shot of sulfuric acid, and hit frappe'. If one is so inclined, one might say that it's a popular genre of metal in the game Shadowrun (I know that I'm going to be writing all of them into my next game...)

Ahem.

Anyway, opening for Nightwish that evening were Delain and Sonata Arctica. I'm sorry to say that we seem to have missed Delain opening for everyone due to travel time down to San Jose' in a downpour and we caught the last half to third of Sonata Arctica's show. Suffice it to say that, working backwards, we missed one hell of a first half of the night judging by the latter part of S-A-'s set and Nightwish bringing the house down that evening.

Anyway, I can't do the concert much more justice so here are the pictures I took from the back half of the concert hall.

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Roadside Memorial, Anthony Jones, and Information Society at the DNA Lounge.

Mar 27, 2016

The week of 21 March 2016 marked the 23rd anniversary of Death Guild, the longest running goth/industrial night in the United States and second-oldest in the world. In a community where club nights may exist for a handful of years and then vanish, only to be replaced by a new team of promoters Death Guild stands out as the archetypal club night: If you visit SF and you like to dance, you really need to stop by the DNA Lounge on Monday night. The evening of 23 March 2016 was a very special night indeed because three locally prominent bands performed that night to celebrate: Good, old-fashioned goth from Roadside Memorial, storytelling new-school goth by Anthony Jones and his band featuring UnWoman on electric cello and vocals and accompanied by Ariellah, and Information Society celebrating the release of their latest album, a collection of covers of music that helped shape their sound called Orders of Magnitude (which debuted at #10 on the Billboard Electronic Dance Music Charts).

Roadside Memorial is a band that very much plays in the old-school vein - rumbling bass, reedy guitars and at least two octaves of vocals that are fun to listen to and pretty much assured to get you dancing if you're familiar with the music already (full disclosure: I'm not but I'm going to be tracking their work down soon). The closest I can compare Anthony Jones to is the Cruxshadows, because Jones tells coherent stories in at least some of his songs, vamps for the crowd in some of the same ways, and has a few distinct story arcs that cover multiple songs (which I always seem to fall in the middle of, for some reason). I didn't expect to see UnWoman on stage with them - I haven't seen her live since Hexenfest a couple of years back. InSoc was... InSoc. If you've listened to their work over the years, turn it up a couple of notches and you've got their stage show. It's fun, you never know what to expect from them (say, coming out wearing spandex hoods and calf-length mad scientist coats), and if you know the songs it's hard to not sing along. Which I spent much of the night doing, I'm not ashamed to admit.

I think you can tell that I had an incredible time that night. When the bands weren't on stage I was dancing to the DJs (perhaps a little too hard...) and generally having a great time.

Anyway, here are the pictures I took from the dancefloor. When I wasn't taking pictures I was singing at the tops of my lungs or cutting a rug.

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Virtual Adept rotes for Mage20

Mar 27, 2016

Since the 20th anniversary edition of Mage: The Ascension was released by Onyx Path Publishing a couple of us have been playing around with it for old time's sake. You can take the players out of the game but you can't take the game out of the players, so of course things went real wild, real fast. So, to that end, here are a couple of rotes for the Virtual Adepts.

(Disclaimer: White Wolf Games came up with Mage and the (Old) World of Darkness originally; Onyx Path Publishing has the rights to publish and extend the oWoD; I'm just some schmuck who plays tabletop RPGs and comes up with stuff, I don't own any of it.)

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Exocortex: Halo

Mar 26, 2016

In my last post on the topic of exocortices I discussed the Huginn project, how it works, what the code for the agents actually look like, and some of the stuff I use Huginn's agent networks for for in my everyday life. In short, I call it my exocortex - an extension of the information processing capabilities of my brain running in silico instead of in vivo. Now I'm going to talk about Exocortex Halo, a separate suite of bots which augment Huginn to carry out tasks that Huginn by itself isn't designed to carry out very easily, and thus extend my personal capabilities significantly.

Now, don't get me wrong, Huginn has a fantastic suite of agents built into it already and more are being added every day. However, good design techniques require one to realize when an existing software architecture is suited for some things and not others, and allowances should be made for that. To put it another way, it was highly unlikely that I would be able to shoehorn the additional functionality I wanted into Huginn and have a hope in hell of it working. However, what Huginn has a multitude of are interfaces for getting events into and out of itself, and I could make use of those interfaces for plugging my own bots into it. The Website Agent is ideal for pinging REST API interfaces of my own design; Jabber Agent implements a simple XMPP client which can send events to an address on an XMPP server (assuming that it has its own login credentials); oversimplifying a bit, Webhook Agent basically sets up a custom REST API rail that external software can use to send events into Huginn for processing; Data Output Agent is used for sending events out of Huginn in the form of an RSS feed or a JSON document that can be consumed and parsed by other software.

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