Mar 04 2018
So, you're probably wondering why I'm posting this, because it's a bit off of my usual fare. The reason is I think it would be useful to make available a fairly simple algorithm for implementing a general purpose dead man's switch in whatever language you want, which is to say a DMS that could conceivably do just about anything if it activated.
But what's a dead man's switch? Ultimately, it's a mechanism that has to be manually engaged at all times if you want something to happen, and if that switch turns off for some reason, something else happens (like a failsafe). A good example of this is the bar on the handle of a power lawnmower you have to hold down so it'll move while the engine's running. If you let go of the bar the engine keeps running but the lawnmower doesn't keep rolling forward. Another example can be found in locomotives; the conductor has to hold down a switch or lever so the engine will pull the train, and if that lever is ever let go (say the engineer has a heart attack or is otherwise incapacitated) the throttle closes and the train will grind to a halt. More along the lines of what I'll be talking about are the watchdogs found in industrial controllers and realtime operating systems. While running normally a software process inside the device flips a bit somehow - say, writing a 0 into a certain device node. If the underlying hardware ever finds that the bit didn't get flipped within a certain period of time it reacts somehow to fix things (for example, it might reboot in an attempt to un-stick the gizmo).
Nov 27 2017
A couple of weeks ago a new release of the Keybase software package came out, and this one included as one of its new features support for natively hosting Git repositories. This doesn't seem like it's very useful for most people, and it might really only be useful to coders, but it's a handy enough service that I think it's worth a quick tutorial. Prior to that feature release something in the structure of the Keybase filesystem made it unsuitable for storing anything but static copies of Git repositories (I don't know exactly waht), but they've now made Git a first class citizen.
I'm going to assume that you use the Git distributed version control system already, and you have at least one Git repository that you want to host on Keybase; for the purposes of this example I'm going to use my personal copy of the Exocortex Halo code repository on Github. I'm further going to assume that you know the basics of using Git (cloning repositories, committing changes, pulling and pushing changes). I'm also going to assume that you already have a Keybase account and a fairly up-to-date copy of the software installed. I am, however, going to talk a little bit about the idea of remotes in Git. My discussion will necessarily have some technical inaccuracies for the sake of usability if you're not an expert on the internals of Git.
Oct 12 2017
Originally published at Mondo 2000, 10 October 2017.
A common theme of science fiction in the transhumanist vein, and less commonly in applied (read: practical) transhumanist circles is the concept of having an exocortex either installed within oneself, or interfaced in some way with one's brain to augment one's intelligence. To paint a picture with a fairly broad brush, an exocortex was a system postulated by JCR Licklider in the research paper Man-Computer Symbiosis which would implement a new lobe of the human brain which was situated outside of the organism (though some components of it might be internal). An exocortex would be a symbiotic device that would provide additional cognitive capacity or new capabilities that the organism previously did not posses, such as:
- Identifying and executing cognitively intensive tasks (such as searching for and mining data for a project) on behalf of the organic brain, in effect freeing up CPU time for the wetware.
- Adding additional density to existing neuronal networks to more rapidly and efficiently process information. Thinking harder as well as faster.
- Providing databases of experiential knowledge (synthetic memories) for the being to "remember" and act upon. Skillsofts, basically.
- Adding additional "execution threads" to one's thinking processes. Cognitive multitasking.
- Modifying the parameters of one's consciousness, for example, modulating emotions to suppress anxiety and/or stimulate interest, stimulating a hyperfocus state to enhance concentration, or artificially inducing zen states of consciousness.
- Expanding short-term memory beyond baseline parameters. For example, mechanisms that translate short-term memory into long-term memory significantly more efficiently.
- Adding I/O interfaces to the organic brain to facilitate connection to external networks, processing devices, and other tools.
Dec 01 2016
Sometimes, very occasionally, when using the Lastpass plugin with Google Chrome, you may find that Lastpass will start acting wonky. Specifically, if you've had Chrome running for a couple of days, you will notice that Lastpass has logged you out, even if you're in an Incognito Window. When clicking on the browser plugin's icon, you will be able to log into it as usual; multifactor authentication will similiarly work as expected. If you wait a few seconds, the plugin's icon will go dark again. If you're quick and drop into "My Vault," you'll see that screen for a second or two before you get bounced out again. You won't be able to log into anything, and you'll eventually start cursing the day you decided to stop using a password manager like Keepass. You might do this a dozen or two times, scratching your head all the while.
To break out of this frustrating loop, clear your browser cache (Chrome menu icon -> History -> History -> Clear Browsing Data, check Browsing history and Download history, uncheck everything else -> Clear browsing data), fully terminate Chrome (don't just close all of your windows), and start it up again. That should fix the problem.
May 26 2016
I'd beg the forgiveness of my readers for not posting since early this month, but chances are you've been just as busy as I've been in the past few weeks. Life, work, et cetera, cetera. So, let's get to it.
As I've mentioned once or twice I've been slowly getting an abscessed molar cleaned out and repaired for the past couple of months. It's been slow going, in part because infections require time for the body to fight them off (assisted by antibiotics or not) and, depending on how deep the infection runs it can take a while. Now I can concentrate on getting the molar in front of it, which has long been a thorn in my side, er mouth, worked on. Between being in close proximity to a rather nasty infection and the general stresses applied to molars during everyday life the seal on the crown broke at some point, leaving it somewhat loose and making squishing sounds when I chew. I don't know the extent of the involvement, but from coming home from work wiped out just about every night I'm starting to suspect that something nasty is going on in there also; it's a pattern that I've come to recognize over the years as suggestive of an immune response. There's a good chance that this particular pain-in-the-ass is going to need major repairs and, given how little of the original tooth is left (I lost count of the number of surgeries and root canals performed on it a couple of years ago) I'm pretty much resigned to losing the tooth entirely. I'll probably wind up getting an implant in its place if it does get pulled for the sole reason that it'l prevent the rest of the teeth in my mandible from slowly drifting to the fill in the space. Of course, if I do get an implant I'll try to stick a magnet to it and if it works I'll post the pictures.