PixelFed – Federated Image Sharing

In search of alternatives to the traditional centralized hosted social networks a lot of smart people have started to put time and thought into what is called “the-federation”.

The Federation refers to a global social network composed of nodes that talk to each other. Each of them is an installation of software which supports one of the federated social web protocols.

What is The Federation?

You may already have heard about projects like Mastodon, Diaspora*, Matrix (Synapse) and others.

The PixelFed project seems to gain some traction as apparently the first documentation and sources are made available.

PixelFed is a federated social image sharing platform, similar to instagram. Federation is done using the ActivityPub protocol, which is used by Mastodon, PeerTube, Pleroma, and more. Through ActivityPub PixelFed can share and interact with these platforms, as well as other instances of PixelFed.

the-federation

I am posting this here as to my personal logbook.

Given that there’s already a Dockerfile I will give it a try as soon as possible.

WiFi QR Code Generator

Whenever we arrive at a place that we have not been before it is important to get properly connected to the internet.

Finding wifi SSIDs and typing passwords is tedious and prone to errors. There is an easier way of course!

The owner of the wireless network can generate a QR code that you can easily take a photo of and your phone will automatically prompt you to log into the wireless network without you having to type anything.

On your phone it looks like this:

To generate these QR codes that contain all information for visitors/new users to connect this simple tool / online generator can be used:

Ever wanted to create a cool QR code for your guests? But never wanted to type in your WiFi credentials into a form that submits them to a remote webserver to render the QR code? QiFi for the rescue! It will render the code in your browser, on your machine, so the WiFi stays as secure as it was before (read the code if you do not trust text on the internet :-))!

Qifi.org

Don’t worry: your access point information is not transferred over the internet. As this is open source at the time of writing the data was held in HTML 5 local storage on the local browser only and not transferred out.

CCCamp 2019 – 21. – 25. August 2019

The Chaos Communication Camp is an international, five-day open-air event for hackers and associated life-forms. It provides a relaxed atmosphere for free exchange of technical, social, and political ideas. The Camp has everything you need: power, internet, food and fun. Bring your tent and participate!

CCCamp 2019 Wiki

It has been 2005 that I had the time and chance to attend an international open-air meeting of normal people. Of course I am talking about the 2005 What-the-hack I wrote about back then.

This year it’s time again for the Chaos Communication Camp in Germany. Sadly still I won’t be attending. Clearly that needs to change with one of the next iterations. With the CCC events becoming highly valuable also for families maybe it’s a chance in the future to meet up with old and valued friends (wink-wink Andreas Heil).

The Chaos Communication Camp (also known as CCCamp) is an international meeting of hackers that takes place every four years, organized by the Chaos Computer Club (CCC). So far all CCCamps have been held near Berlin, Germany.

The camp is an event for providing information about technical and societal issues, such as privacy, freedom of information and data security. Hosted speeches are held in big tents and conducted in English as well as German. Each participant may pitch a tent and connect to a fast internet connection and power.

CCCamp in Wikipedia

Enjoy the intro-movie that has just been made available to us, alongside the whole design material:

generate web-ready graphs and data visualizations without coding

Plot.ly is both a well known software library of impressive visualizations and a company providing software and know-how around visualizations.

With the libraries requiring a fair amount of know-how and programming to be useful to everyone there is now seemingly a multitude of tools that wraps the powers of the library and provides a great online-/web-browser experience to create impressive visualizations:

The access path to this quite powerful tool does somehow not be very easily found. So I am linking to it for your and my later reference.

electronic firecracker: Chuwi Hi10 AIR Tablet

The Android tablets I am using for my kitchen scale display and for myfitnesspal data-entry are aging quite bad and apart from the near-display death of one of the tablets both are not supported and updated anymore.

Using them therefore poses an increasing risk. After one of them almost died on me I was determined to replace them both. Looking at alternatives at the lowest possible price quickly showed that I am not going to get another Android tablet.

Instead I was ready to give a chinese company a chance:

I ordered it on 24th of June and it was delivered today. All in all I’ve paid 136 Euro for the tablet and 45 Euro for the keyboard attachement.

Despite the ridiculously low price this thing is quite impressive. It’s sporting a fast-enough Intel Atom processor with 1.4 ghz and 4 Gbyte of RAM. The 64 Gb of solid-state storage where quickly upgraded by an additional 400 Gb MicroSD card for local data storage.

As of writing this it’s still installing and updating the Windows 10 to 1903 but so far I am beyond impressed.

I’ll write more about the device when I’ve had more time to use it. One word for the keyboard attachement: the keyboard is good-enough. Not great but better than for example that on the Pinebook. The touchpad is very small but works – the thing has a Touchscreen anyway.

bridge the openvpn-status.log to MQTT

For big parts of my VPN needs I use OpenVPN. Especially on iOS devices the deep integration just works. Even to a degree that you enable the VPN once and the device will transparently keep it up / reestablish connections when required.

OpenVPN protocol has emerged to establish itself as a de- facto standard in the open source networking space with over 50 million downloads. OpenVPN is entirely a community-supported OSS project which uses the GPL license.

VISIT THE OPENVPN COMMUNITY

I am using the dockerized version of OpenVPN. From there I’ve got several ways to get telemetry data (like connections, traffic, …) out of it. One way is the management interface provided by OpenVPN. Another way is by using the default openvpn-status.log file.

Since the easiest way out-of-the-box was to use the logfile I sat down and wrote a little 2mqtt bridge for the contents of the logfile.

It’s also dockerized so you can easily set it up by pointing the openvpn-status.log to the right volume/mount-point.

When done it’ll produce MQTT messages like this:

The set-up and start-up is rather simple:

docker run -d --restart=always --volume /openvpnstatus2mqttconfiglocation/:/configuration --volume /openvpnstatusloglocation/:/openvpn openvpn-status2mqtt

MQTT Broker, Topic-Prefix and so on are configured with the .json configuration file found along the project.

Of course everything I wrote is available on GitHub as open-source.

The immediate outcome of this is that with the always-on VPN I am now getting statistics about, for example, the data consumption of my iPhone.

The big traffic spike at 1 AM is the backup that my iPhone does every night. Very interesting also how often the connection is closed and opened again even without me using the phone…

retrofuturism sketches

On twitter and artstation I’ve came across Sheng Lam. An artist with a quite fascinating way of sketching. Take a look and be inspired:

Concept artist with AAA experience. Currently working on Star Citizen at Cloud Imperium Games. Mostly draws and likes to eat delicious food.

Sheng Lam on ArtStation

I don’t like the long-tail Windows 10 default cursor

The first device in my household recently has updated itself to the newest Windows 10 1903 build.

On the very first moment of the login screen appearing and logging in I could tell that I hate one specific change that has made it into this latest update.

And it’s the default mouse cursor.

Back in the Pre-Windows Vista days, when I used to work for Microsoft, I was using the latest internal build of Windows and just around the first RTM (release-to-manufacture) build they touched up on the final designs.

I remember vividly when the mouse cursor had changed from the one we new and used since Windows 3 to a shorter tailed more “high-def” looking one.

Since then there were a couple of changes on the cursor but the general design was kept.

Now apparently with the latest Windows 10 update from 1803 to 1903 I got a new – old default mouse cursor.

left: like!
right: booh!

By reflex I changed it back to the one I love and stored safely in a backup. I cannot stand the long tail and the weird pixel-ness of the cursor. It just looks kinda weird to my eyes.

the “new” cursor in 1903
the beloved cursor.

Which one do you like better?

online archeology: to be young and online in 1987

Archive.org is the place to find out about our common internet past. It’s the another project, besides Wikipedia and …, that started it’s life with a bold claim it so far holds true to:

The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, the print disabled, and the general public. Our mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge.

Internet Archive: About IA

And when you freely roam around the archive you will find many gems, like this one:

Another recommendation / starting point on the archive would be Computer Chronicles:

There’s countless hours of material to dig into and be amazed!

terminates the calling process if buffer is not a valid userspace pointer.

How to build security into your software? It’s always simple to find examples where things gone wrong. Where security was compromised and things did not work out as the software authors envisioned.

As always there are new concepts and operating systems being implemented.

A particularly interesting example of security software design can be observed here:

Fuchsia is an open source capability-based operating system currently being developed by Google.

In contrast to prior Google-developed operating systems such as Chrome OS and Android, which are based on the Linux kernel, Fuchsia is based on a new microkernel called Zircon. The name Zircon refers to the mineral of the same name.

Google Fuchsia

So you now know what Fuchsia is. Now on to the actual example. For this we have to take a look into the developer documentation of Zircon:

So this describes a method to get random numbers from the systems cryptocraphically-secure-random-number-generator (CPRNG). It takes a pointer to a memory location as a parameter.

Now. What’s secure about that? It’s the behaviour of the method when it is encountering an unsecure situation:

It’ll kill the calling process when the pointer is not valid.

a red triangle on the window

When you walk around in Tokyo you will find that many buildings have red-triangle markings on some of the windows / panels on the outside.

some of the windows have red triangles pointing down
do you see the triangles pointing down on the upper right wall?

I noticed them as well but I could not think of an explanation. Digging for information brought up this:

Panels to fire access openings shall be indicated with either a red or orange triangle of equal sides (minimum 150mm on each side), which can be upright or inverted, on the external side of the wall and with the wordings “Firefighting Access – Do Not Obstruct” of at least 25mm height on the internal side.

Singapore Firefighting Guide 2018

The red triangles on the buildings/hotel windows in Japan are the rescue paths to be used in case of fire. All fire fighters know the meaning of this red triangle on the windows. Red in color makes it prominent, to be located easily by the fire fighters in case of a fire incident. During a fire incident, windows are generally broken to allow for smoke and other gases to come out of the building.

Triangles in Japan

what do you do with a rental car?

“The only thing we can say is that data show a number of people rent cars without driving them.”

Growing number of car-sharing users don’t rent cars for driving

Wait. What?

“Usually the only place I can take a nap while visiting my clients is a cybercafe in front of the station, but renting a car to sleep in is just a few hundred yen (several dollars), almost the same as staying in the cybercafe.”

Growing number of car-sharing users don’t rent cars for driving

Right…

automated downloads

Hmm… I’ve set-up a script to automatically download a TV show about a year ago and just remembered it…

Apparently 1 year of this show is 167 Gbyte…

For completeness the download script – ignore my bad scripting:

#!/bin/bash

# parameter 1: month
# parameter 2: from day
# parameter 3: to day
# parameter 4: year

# data -dmonday +%d

next_monday=$(date -dmonday +%d)
next_monday_month=$(date -dmonday +%m)
next_monday_year=$(date -dmonday +%y)

previous_monday=$(date -d'monday-7 days' +%d)
previous_monday_month=$(date -d'monday-7 days' +%m)
previous_monday_year=$(date -d'monday-7 days' +%y)

next_friday=$(date -dfriday +%d)
next_friday_month=$(date -dfriday +%m)
next_friday_year=$(date -dfriday +%y)

previous_friday=$(date -d'friday-7 days' +%d)
previous_friday_month=$(date -d'friday-7 days' +%m)
previous_friday_year=$(date -d'friday-7 days' +%y)

for i in `seq 1 7`;
do
        day=$(date -d'today+'$i' days' +%d)
        month=$(date -d'today+'$i' days' +%m)
        year=$(date -d'today+'$i' days' +%y)
        wget -c "https://rodlzdf-a.akamaihd.net/none/zdf/"$year"/"$month"/"$year$month$day"_sendung_dku/1/"$year$month$day"_sendung_dku_3328k_p36v14.mp4"
done

IP-over-DNS

Picture yourself in this situation. You connect to a network and nothing works. Except for this:

It is quite common to have DNS working in networks while everything else is not. Sometimes the network requires a log-in to give you access to a small portion of the internet.

Now, with the help of a tool called iodine, you can get access to the full internet with only DNS working in your current network:

iodine lets you tunnel IPv4 data through a DNS server. This can be usable in different situations where internet access is firewalled, but DNS queries are allowed. 

It runs on Linux, Mac OS X, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD and Windows and needs a TUN/TAP device. The bandwidth is asymmetrical with limited upstream and up to 1 Mbit/s downstream. 

iodine

Setting it up is a bit of work but given that you are anyway having access to a well connected server on the free portion of the internet it can be easily done.

Of course the source is on github.

making ICs at home

Try to wrap your head around this: There are people out there that take the term “Maker” to new levels. People Like Sam Zeloof. He went out and created his very own integrated circuit designs and then he built them. Like the actual silicon, the die, the bonded chip, the IC. The real thing.

Be inspired:

I am very excited to announce the details of my first integrated circuit and share the journey that this project has taken me on over the past year. I hope that my success will inspire others and help start a revolution in home chip fabrication. When I set out on this project I had no idea of what I had gotten myself into, but in the end I learned more than I ever thought I would about physics, chemistry, optics, electronics, and so many other fields. Furthermore, my efforts have only been matched with the most positive feedback and support from the world; I owe a sincere thanks to everyone who has helped me, given me advice, and inspired me on this project. Especially my amazing parents, who not only support and encourage me in any way they can but also give me a space to work in and put up with the electricity costs… Thank you!

Sam Zeloof

Decoding history, the hard way (and with machine learning)

Imagine you’ve got this ancient piece of technology in front of you. You clearly understand how the hardware works and you are even able to emulate the hardware on your modern-world computer.

Unfortunately hardware is only one half of the story. Software is the other half. And software at this time of the past was burned into chips which do not easily give their secret software away.

But let’s start with the hardware:

The IBM 5100 Portable Computer is a portable computer (one of the first) introduced in September 1975, six years before the IBM Personal Computer. It was the evolution of a prototype called the SCAMP (Special Computer APL Machine Portable) that was developed at the IBM Palo Alto Scientific Center in 1973. In January 1978, IBM announced the IBM 5110, its larger cousin, and in February 1980 IBM announced the IBM 5120. The 5100 was withdrawn in March 1982.

When the IBM PC was introduced in 1981, it was originally designated as the IBM 5150, putting it in the “5100” series, though its architecture was not directly descended from the IBM 5100.

And now on to the software:

The IBM 5100 portable computer came with some of its built-in programs stored in a read-only memory called the “non-executable ROS”. (ROS = “read-only storage”.) In contrast with the “executable ROS”, which supplies instructions to the 5100’s processor directly, the non-executable ROS is accessed using sequential I/O operations, a bit like a tape.

Most notably, the non-executable ROS holds the interactive interpreters for the APL and BASIC programming languages. These are not “native” 5100 programs but were expressed instead in System/370 mainframe and System/3 minicomputer machine code respectively. The 5100 runs emulator programs for those computers in order to host the interpreters, so perhaps it’s just as well that the non-executable ROS is non-executable.

DATA

So this write-up is all about how the bits where pushed to the screen and recorded as pictures of the said screen. The characters in these pictures then where analyzed and with the help of machine learning the data could be successfully extracted. It is mind-boggling. And it is all on Github.

Bitmap & tilemap generation with the help of ideas from quantum mechanics

You can get a grasp at the beautiful side of science with visualizations and algorithms that output visual results.

This is the example of producing lots and lots of complex data (houses!) from a small set of input data. It is widely used in game development but also can be helpful to generate parameterized test and simulation environments for machine learning.

So before sending you over to the more detailed explanation the visual example:

This is a lot of different house images. Those are generated using a program called WaveFunctionCollapse:

WFC initializes output bitmap in a completely unobserved state, where each pixel value is in superposition of colors of the input bitmap (so if the input was black & white then the unobserved states are shown in different shades of grey). The coefficients in these superpositions are real numbers, not complex numbers, so it doesn’t do the actual quantum mechanics, but it was inspired by QM. Then the program goes into the observation-propagation cycle:

On each observation step an NxN region is chosen among the unobserved which has the lowest Shannon entropy. This region’s state then collapses into a definite state according to its coefficients and the distribution of NxN patterns in the input.

On each propagation step new information gained from the collapse on the previous step propagates through the output.

On each step the overall entropy decreases and in the end we have a completely observed state, the wave function has collapsed.

It may happen that during propagation all the coefficients for a certain pixel become zero. That means that the algorithm has run into a contradiction and can not continue. The problem of determining whether a certain bitmap allows other nontrivial bitmaps satisfying condition (C1) is NP-hard, so it’s impossible to create a fast solution that always finishes. In practice, however, the algorithm runs into contradictions surprisingly rarely.

Wave Function Collapse algorithm has been implemented in C++PythonKotlinRustJuliaGoHaxeJavaScript and adapted to Unity. You can download official executables from itch.io or run it in the browser. WFC generates levels in Bad NorthCaves of Qudseveral smaller games and many prototypes. It led to new research. For more related workexplanationsinteractive demosguidestutorials and examples see the ports, forks and spinoffs section.

useful CSS Grid Generator

This project is a way for people to use CSS Grid features quickly to create dynamic layouts.

You can set the numbers, and units of your columns and rows, and I’ll generate a CSS grid for you! Drag within the boxes to create divs placed within the grid.

I noticed a lot of people weren’t using Grid because they felt it was too complicated and they couldn’t understand it. Grid is capable of so much, and this small generator only touches on a fraction of the features. The purpose of this is so people get up and running quickly, and create more interesting layouts.

Once you work with this a bit, I suggest checking out resources by Rachel AndrewJen Simmons, and Dave Geddes to dive deeper. There is also a CSS Grid Guide on CSS-Tricks, and a fun little game called Grid Garden to help you learn more!

Source

Celebrate Mid Year’s Day

The middle day of the year. Use only middle names, stay to the middle of the road, pat or rub your or someone else’s middle (this is a great day to apply to join The Order of the Holy Chao Belly Rubbers). Point to things with your middle finger. Visit a middle school and talk about the good old days of the Middle Ages. (If you want to get technical, on Leap Year this day would run from noon of July 2 to noon of July 3, but you don’t have to get that anal unless you really want to).

Mid Year’s Day

online celebrities: Elon Musk

Seemingly short-message services are becoming the standard mode of communication for the powerful and rich. It seems that especially Twitter is capable of bringing the worst in those among us to the outside.

Of course the most controversial statements are being washed away by the sheer throughput. The next one always comes up quicker than you expect.

Helping the masses to keep track is a main task of journalism. That being said traditional journalism (as in newspapers, television) sees great difficulties to keep track as well. Too much, too quick.

So new forms of journalism develop. Often more tendentious then helpful for the cause so they require the cautious mind of the reader to add some more perspective.

This is the example of such a newly developing “tracking journalism” site around the dazzling public character that is Elon Musk. It is called “elonmusk.today“.

Editor’s note: others have done great work exposing Musk’s shameless charlatan carnival barking. If you enjoy this sort of thing, I highly recommend Niya White’s excellent article Musk Misses: The Stories You Don’t Hear About Tesla Anymore …

Craft Beer in Tokyo (Kanto)

There are lists of things all over the internet. I’ve linked to some of these food related lists and maps already on this blog.

And of course there’s this list of craft beer breweries missing:

microbrewery or craft brewery is a brewery that produces small amounts of beer, typically much smaller than large-scale corporate breweries, and is independently owned. Such breweries are generally characterized by their emphasis on quality, flavor and brewing technique.

Wikipedia

Tesla battery survey

If there is any discussion or argument about electric mobility these days the topic of range and battery-aging is coming up rather quick.

Every once in a while you also hear these awesome stories about electric cars achieving total-driven-distances outrageously huge compared to combustion engine cars…

But what is it then, how does a battery in an electric car age over time and mileage? Given that car manufacturers seem to settle on a ca. 150.000km total-driven-miles baseline for giving a battery-capacity percentage guarantee. Something like…

The future owners of ID. models won’t need to worry about the durability of their batteries either, as Volkswagen will guarantee that the batteries will retain at least 70 per cent of their usable capacity even after eight years or 160,000 kilometres.

Volkswagen Newsroom

or

Model S and Model X – 8 years (with the exception of the original 60 kWh battery manufactured before 2015, which is covered for a period of 8 years or 125,000 miles, whichever comes first).

Model 3 – 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, with minimum 70% retention of Battery capacity over the warranty period.

Model 3 with Long-Range Battery – 8 years or 120,000 miles, whichever comes first, with minimum 70% retention of Battery capacity over the warranty period.

Tesla

So. Guarantees are one thing. Reality another. There’s an interesting user-driven survey set-up where Tesla owners can hand in their cars data thus participate in the survey.

And it yields results (getting updated as you read…):

In a nutshell: It seems there is a good chance that your Tesla car might have an above 90% original-specified-battery-capacity after the guaranteed 100.000 miles and even after 150.000 miles (241.000km)…

Good news that is! Given that the average household will do about or less than 20.000 km/year it would mean over 12 years of use and the car still would hold 90% of battery charge. The battery being the most expensive single component on an electric car this is extremely good news as it’s unlikely that the battery will be the reason for the car to be scraped after this mileage.

seen: properly scrolling through code

When working on source files with wide-ranging scopes, I wish source editors could pin the declaration lines to the top of the window like section headers, something like this…

Joe Groff on Twitter

This looks like something that would really make a difference when editing code. Let’s see how long until we get something like that in modern editors…

I/O Is Faster Than the CPU

I/O is getting faster in servers that have fast programmable NICs and non-volatile main memory operating close to the speed of DRAM, but single-threaded CPU speeds have stagnated. Applications cannot take advantage of modern hardware capabilities when using interfaces built around abstractions that assume I/O to be slow. We therefore propose a structure for an OS called parakernel, which eliminates most OS abstractions and provides interfaces for applications to leverage the full potential of the underlying hardware. The parakernel facilitates application-level parallelism by securely partitioning the resources and multiplexing only those resources that are not partitioned.

https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=3317550.3321426

Tilt your head, be more aggressive

“We show that tilting one’s head downward systematically changes the way the face is perceived, such that a neutral face—a face with no muscle movement or facial expression—appears to be more dominant when the head is tilted down,” explain researchers Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy of the University of British Columbia. 

A Facial-Action Imposter