COVID-19 Resource Page

I started a COVID-19 resource page.

Debian installer on a USB key

I couldn’t find a concise article about creating a Debian installer USB key with a writable file system, so here is my take.  This assumes you have an available Linux system.  Note that some old BIOSes might not happily boot USB drives created in this way.

  • Install syslinux
  • Insert the USB key and find the device using dmesg (assumed to be at /dev/sdg below)
  • Create a FAT partition, mark it bootable (assumed at /dev/sdg1 below)
  • Put mbr.bin on the key (cat /usr/lib/syslinux/mbr.bin > /dev/sdg)
  • Mount the FAT partition and put the following files on it:
  • Unmount the FAT partition if it was mounted (umount /dev/sdg1)
  • Run syslinux /dev/sdg1

You can also automate the installation.  See:  The preseed.cfg file should go into the root folder of the USB key.  You can then change the syslinux.cfg file to:

default vmlinuz

append initrd=initrd.gz auto file=/hd-media/preseed.cfg locale=en_US console-keymaps-at/keymap=us

 You now have a bootable USB key that you can also easily modify.


Fixing up your Android OTA file

If you’ve deleted some apps (e.g. using TitaniumBackup) and have a custom recovery, but you still want to apply an OTA, here’s what you can do:

  • unzip the OTA file (into a directory named “n”)
  • Run some sed commands:

cp $FILE t
sed -i '/apply_patch_check.*EmailGoogle/d;/apply_patch.*EmailGoogle/,+2d' $FILE
sed -i '/apply_patch_check.*PlusOne/d;/apply_patch.*PlusOne/,+2d' $FILE
sed -i '/apply_patch_check.*Gmail/d;/apply_patch.*Gmail/,+2d' $FILE
diff -u t $FILE
rm n/recovery/etc/
cd n
zip -r ../ .

and then use your custom recovery (e.g. clockwork) to install the zip.

USENIX Security Conference 2011

I am attending the USENIX security conference this week. Sessions are available online. Here are my notes from sessions that I found interesting (bold for extra):

Network Security in the Medium Term: 2061–2561 AD, Charles Stross

Stross is one of my favorite science fiction authors. The main direction of the talk was the future political importance of information security. This is due to the intrusiveness of future information breaches once lifelogging, bioinformatics and other very intimate technologies are adopted.

Fast and Precise Sanitizer Analysis with BEK, Pieter Hooimeijer, et al

  • Compared different HTML sanitizers using an automated harness. Sanitizers from MS included (4), as well as new implementations (3).
  • Four of these were equivalent.
  • Only one protected against all the examples from the XSS Cheat Sheet

Toward Secure Embedded Web Interfaces, Baptiste Gourdin, et al

  • 50 security vulnerabilities reported to CERT
  • All manufacturers had vulnerabilities (XSS, CSRf, …)
  • Author proposes WebDroid security distribution for embedded web interfaces (framework as “firewall”)

Comprehensive Experimental Analyses of Automotive Attack Surfaces, Stephen Checkoway, et al

  • Cars have an instrument bus
  • access to the bus gives complete control
  • can disable breaks, engine, even while in motion
  • attack surface:
    • bus extends to media ports and charging
    • bluetooth
    • remote keyless entry
    • wifi
    • digital radio
    • telematics: automated crash reporting / roadside assistance
  • completely compromised by author: bluetooth, media ports, more
    • crafted cdrom (iso-9660, wma)
    • strcpy in bluetooth stack – craft trojan in android
    • bruteforce pin for pairing (hours)
    • undetectable to users
    • telematics compromise through cellular interface
  • compromise is silent and attacks can be triggered later

Privacy in the Age of Augmented Reality, Alessandro Acquisti, et al

  • De-identified faces matched to identified (FB, …)
  • 10% of FB profiles are pseudonymous
  • Experiments:
    • Unidentified: dating site photos
    • Identified: FB profiles
    • Only match to highest ranked matched from matching algorithm:
    • 10% success rate for re-identification
    • Against pittpatt (acquired by google)
    • 30% success
    • Predicting SSN from DOB, etc.
    • 5 digits matched in four attempts
    • iPhone app for real-time re-identification
  • PPI – personally predictable information

Secure In-Band Wireless Pairing, Shyamnath Gollakota, et al

  • Authors present a method for secure wireless pairing
  • No secondary channel (display, keyboard, infrared, …)
  • secure against MITM
  • Tamper evident message
  • cannot be altered, hidden, prevented without being detected
  • patterns of silence based on hash of message
  • sync pattern longer than any collision

TRESOR Runs Encryption Securely Outside RAM, Tilo Müller and Felix C. Freiling:

  • Prevents cold book attack
  • Uses AES-NI instruction set

A Study of Android Application Security, William Enck, et al

  • Decompiled and statically analyzed 21 millions lines of free Android apps
  • Pervasive misuse of private info and bad security practices
  • High market penetration of ad networks

Permission Re-Delegation: Attacks and Defenses, Adrienne Porter Felt, et al

  • I call this “cross app request forgery” 😉
  • A large fraction of apps mistakenly expose sensitive functionality through intents
  • Malicious apps can abuse this
  • For example, turn on BT, Wifi, GPS
  • Suggests a way to mitigate through dynamic privilege reduction

Telex: Anticensorship in the Network Infrastructure, Eric Wustrow, et al

  • Telex converts innocuous, unblocked websites into proxies, without their explicit collaboration
  • Trigger routing to a proxy while accessing an “innocent” web site by putting a special nonce in the TLS negotiation
  • Could be used to bypass state censorship
  • To be deployed by ISPs on routers
  • Idea: consider deploying on web servers

Three Researchers, Five Conjectures: An Empirical Analysis of TOM-Skype Censorship and Surveillance, Jeffrey Knockel, et al

  • Detailed analysis of Chinese censorship through the compromised version of Skype used in China (with Skype’s cooperation)
  • Application uses a list of keywords to flag conversations for surveillance
  • Keywords triggering surveillance include mostly political and location words
  • Conjectures by authors include:
    “Censorship is effective, despite attempts to evade it.” ,
    “Censored memes spread differently than uncensored memes.”,
    “Keyword based censorship is more effective when the censored keywords are unknown and on-line activity is, or is believed to be, under constant surveillance.”,
    “The types of keywords censored in peer-to-peer communications are fundamentally different than the types of keywords censored in client-server communications.”,
    “Neologisms are an effective technique in evading keyword based censorship, but censors frequently learn of their existence.”
  • Complete lists with translations of the censorship and surveillance keywords for TOM-Skype are available at


BuddyNS is a free secondary name service. Yes, free. I started using it a couple of months ago and had no issues.

Good for your random project domains where you can’t justify spending on DNS fees.

Max More is now CEO of Alcor

It’s interesting to see one of the major characters in the Extropian movement (precursor to the H+ movement) become the CEO of Alcor.

Moving your Android Contact List to a New Phone

This is a somewhat technical article and assumes knowledge of Android and Linux.

Just got a Nexus S, and had some issues moving my contact list from my old phone. So I decided to write this up.

You have two options:

* If you come from a ROM that allows export to SD, just use Import/Export to USB storage, copy the file over, then import it

* Option #2 would have been to use Titanium Backup. However, it doesn’t seem to work right for restoring on the Nexus S (yet).

* Otherwise, you can copy the contacts2.db file. Of course, you have to root your target phone first. Then copy the db file to the sdcard.

As root, do (assuming standard layout):

cd /data/data/
rm contacts2.db
cat /sdcard/contacts2.db > contacts2.db
chmod 660 contacts2.db
ls -l .. # see who owns this directory
chown contats2.db

You might have to restart your phone for the contacts to be re-read.

Atomically Precise Fabrication

Zyvex can now build atomically precise 3-D structures from silicon.  That’s a nano equivalent to the MakerBot.

Arbitrary structures can be used to build templates and tools that can further build other tools, bootstrapping a new industry.

Brain Emulation by 2030

Over the past few years I’ve been thinking about whole brain emulation (WBE) and the required computational resources.  My conclusion is that the required technology level will be reached in the 2025 – 2030 time frame.

Although most estimates focus on calculations per second, the relevant parameters are:

  • Calculations per second
  • Memory size
  • Memory bandwidth per node
  • Inter-node communication bandwidth

[

Singularity Summit 2010 – live blogging – day 2

Missed Eliezer Yudkowsky: Simplified  Humanism and Positive Futurism.

9:40 – Ramez Naam: The Digital Biome

Plenty of carrying capacity for the biome – 30-300 billion people with advanced biotech.  We are using only 1/1000 of the incident energy from the sun.  There’s no reason to crash due to lack of resources with advanced tech.  Population is predicted to level off at 10 billion.

Good points, but the Singularity is likely to happen on a shorter time scale.

[

Singularity Summit 2010 – live blogging – day 1

9:30 – Missed Michael Vassar‘s talk.

9:50 – Gregory Stock is talking.  He is skeptical about progress in the bio realm.  He says that the FDA is a damper on progress, but he also says that there are difficult problems.  He brings up Alzheimer’s as an example.  I think he is underestimating the power of info tech to change the way we do bio-science.  Having read/write access to DNA, plus “in-silico” simulations will change the game.

Now he is talking about Silicon and saying that the complexity of computers rivals that of life.  And now he is talking about the rapid exponential progress in DNA technology.  As far as I understand, he is worried that we will create new life forms that will supersede humans.  He is saying that human evolution is “not exponential”. I think he means that it’s a very slow exponential compared to tech.

[

Sir Martin Reese about the Future of the Cosmos

Martin talks about the future of the cosmos and our responsibility to prevent existential risks at a long now foundation seminar.

Nice to see H+ memes coming from the president of the Royal Society.

H/T Tom McCabe @ Kurzweil AI

Long-Distance Wiring Diagram of the Monkey Brain

Raghavendra Singh and Dharmendra S Modha published a paper in PNAS detailing 383 brain regions and 6,602 connections between them.

Eben Moglen’s Talk – Freedom in the Cloud

A very insightful talk about how we lost our freedom and how to regain it

You can also read the full transcript linked from there.

Motivation and Background for the User Controlled Web

Here are some background pointers:

list of projects in this space.  The Diaspora project is listed under “deployable on commodity webhosting”.  I was under the impression that they are actually more of a p2p application.

set of ideas for this space on the GNU Social wiki.

Adriana Lukas talks about the user-controlled web and the mine project.   (She coins a fun acronym: Relationships on Individuals’ Own Terms – RIOT. )

(flash video removed June 2016)

There seems to be quite a bit of activity with 20-30 projects, but the efforts are fragmented.  Different projects have different goals and approaches.  Some focus on a piece of the user experience and others focus on technology.  For example, the Mine! project is a technology piece focused on rich sharing of data (including links, photos) with strong user control.  OneSocialWeb is focused on messaging.  With Elgg you can create social networks – but it’s not really user controlled.

Diversity is great, but one or two well-thought out efforts need to win.   Critical mass is a must in order to win in this space.

The Diaspora Project and the User Controlled Web

I’m pretty excited about the Diaspora project generating a groundswell of support. They managed to raise $170K in two weeks through kickstarter (they asked for $10K).

Why am I excited? I’ve written before about walled gardens and user controlled Internet apps. It is crucial that we invert the control structure of the web if we want to be in control of our destiny.

There are some critical challenges that a user-controlled system must face:

  • Secure software distribution – users will want to install applets inside their environments.  Third party audit and signing of code will be necessary in order to keep the apps flowing, but without compromising users’ instances.  Applets will also have to be firewalled from each-other – as some will be more trusted and some less.  I’ve previously written a couple of posts about the challenges of secure software distribution.
  • Peer to peer naming and search – it should be easy to find stuff, without necessarily knowing their URLs.  A global, fully distributed naming and search system will be important.
  • A distributed reputation system will be a natural fit for a distributed social network.
  • Memory footprint – current web application frameworks are designed for high volume apps, and therefore take up quite a bit of memory to load application code. These frameworks can afford to do so, because they expect to amortize the memory over many users. However, a user-controlled system will have one user per instance. Clever memory sharing among instances will be necessary.

I can’t wait to see what the first prototype looks like.

There are some additional projects along these lines that are worth a look and are actually further along:

Maybe none of these will make it.  But the $170K is a signal – that people care about this.

On Nanotech and Economics

Tihamer Toth-Fejel writes about Productive Nanosystems and the 2009 Financial Meltdown.

The collisions between unstoppable juggernauts and immovable obstacles are always fascinating—we just cannot tear our eyes away from the immense conflict, especially if we have a glimmer of the immense consequences it will have for us. So it will be when Productive Nanosystems emerge from the global financial meltdown. To predict what will happen in the next decade or so, we must understand the essential nature of wealth, and we must understand the capabilities of productive nanosystems.

DNA not Patentable

Sanity prevails in federal court!  News at 11.

Brain Preservation Tech Prize

As a Cryonics member, I became interested in a new initiative to fixate the brain in a plastic medium:

Would be excellent to have a high fidelity preservation procedure that doesn’t require maintenance (such as liquid nitrogen in the case of Cryonics).

Quantified Self: CMS50 Oximeter

After attending a couple of Quantified Self meetups, I was inspired to quantify various aspects of myself and my life.  For example, I was wondering if I am breathing well while I sleep, since I have been waking up tired on occasion.

I bought the Contec CMS50-F oximeter from here.

The software that comes with the CMS50 could be more reliable and user-friendly, and only runs on Windows.  I ended up spending a day  reverse engineering the USB protocol and writing a Python program to acquire and graph the data.  The software is on Gitorious.

Here are some of the charts you can get: