Recent blog entries for ncm

Sometime in the last five years, "Wow, the phone!" turned into "Aw crap, the phone". The nature of the phone calls didn't change. I'm obliged to conclude that what changed is how much is lost of the investment into what is interrupted.

Let's define two overlapping sets: (1) Cases of criminal and (being generous) what ought to be criminal activity actually conducted or condoned under government auspices; (2) Claimed cases of such activity propagated via informal channels, true or not, accurate or not.

We can probably agree (a) that most of (1) are not the subject of (2), and are never found out, let alone prosecuted, in large part because often (2) would be the only means available to expose them, and are not taken seriously. We can probably agree (b) that most of (1), whether included in (2) or not, amount to petty corruption with no systematic intent to subvert government policy, or to harm specific groups beyond robbing them blind and suppressing evidence of it. We can probably agree (c) that identifying, stopping, and (who knows?) even prosecuting (1), whether in (2) or not, ought to make for better government. We can probably agree (d) that cases of (1) not described in (b) are both the most harmful to good government and the most vigorously defended against exposure.

Of items in (2), we would like to identify those also in (1). If recognizing statistical properties were to help enough, we might be able to focus enough attention on the real ones to do something about them. A problem is that any big-enough and more-or-less accountable government operates research programs devoted (with always the best intentions!) to ways to keep (1) from serious public attention, by way of misleading assertions in public media, and by exaggeration and insertion of recognizably false or just distracting details in (2). Research into how to identify cases of (1) in (2) is most easily applied for such purposes. We need statistical tests that not only identify the (1) subset of (2), but also resist being corrupted, preferably also exposing the attempt.

(As posted on

Since I last posted my employer has been bought out by IBM. Direct experience radically dilutes the mystique. At one of the first meetings they enthused about plans to patent any coding ideas we let them know about.

Last month, for the first time since I got this Dell Latitude E6510 three and a half years back, the "AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad" (PRODUCT=11/2/8/300) is supported by the psmouse driver in a released kernel, v3.13.3. Before, it was only recognized as an IMPS/2, and edge scrolling didn't work. I had an early patch, and had to add a file /etc/modprobe.d/touchpad.conf to say "options psmouse proto=any". I don't know if that's still needed.

I have found that adding a file /etc/pm/config.d/local with a line like SUSPEND_MODULES="sdhci_pci sdhci mmc_block iwldvm iwlwifi" (adjust according to your driver mix) makes suspend/resume much less persnickety.

Looking at the Lenovo laptops we are being issued, it appears that you can't get the regular Thinkpad keyboard any more. Now they all have a "numeric pad" crammed in, leaving no room for speakers. Luckily I was able to order last year's model.

Don Marti, as usual, amazes me with useful new knowledge. A program Pandoc converts between all text formats, including one compatible with git diff, so you can put them in Git in that form and use Git's merge capabilities to integrate edits performed by other people in MSWord or Libreoffice or whatever.

I got these four "free" Nexus 5 phones from Credo Mobile, but they want $1440/yr extra for data service vs. the old "feature phones". I can cancel service for $230/phone and switch to somebody else, probably offset by a ~$60/phone signing bonus. Ting charges $6/mo/phone + $15-$29/GB and $1.15/hr voice. AT&T charges $60/mo + $25/mo/phone + numerous unspecified "fees", for 10GB and unmetered voice. Nexus 5 won't work on Verizon. AT&T's 4G coverage appears much better than Sprint/Credo/Ting's.

A new expression that sounds like it ought to mean something: "Hindsight is always 50/50" or maybe "Hindsight is always 80/20". My brother says difficult situations leave you "screwing the pooch at both ends".

Before embarking on construction of protective structures out of osmium, it would be advisable to have a plan to counteract the metal's distressing tendency to contaminate proximate air via cumulatively-toxic heavy-metal outgassing. Yes, osmium evaporates at room temperature: more precisely, it oxidizes, and the oxide is gaseous.

Iridium is almost as dense as osmium (and might be more dense), is not known to evaporate in air, and is much cheaper. Gold, though less dense, is overwhelmingly more ductile, and more prone to be made off with than to evaporate. Little has been openly published about gold-iridium alloys.

This is the time of year when we look over the sad wreck the United States of America has made of itself after a ragged band of thugs incinerated a few of its planes and buildings and their occupants. Only now is any noticeable slice of its citizenry beginning to understand what sacred treasure they dumped, eagerly, on the victims' funeral pyre. The nation's courage, pride, scruples, myriad freedoms, thousands of its own heirs, its national credibility, its (howsoever tarnished) tradition of rule of law, and the hopes of a generation only served to help loft that pall of smoke out over the ocean. Will what is left of the nation ever wrest control back from the shameless criminals it still allows to pretend to protect us? I have seen nothing to suggest it.

We can derive wry amusement from various US agencies' repetitive insistence that PRISM etc. log only call metadata and not "what was said". What they don't say is that NSA already log "what was said" directly off the fiber, and they only need Verizon's metadata to discover who said it. What makes it amusing is that to collect "what was said", they use a (lower-case) prism to split each fiber's light beam into two.

As a general rule, when a wide variety of unelected officials and their various press and elected mouthpieces repeat an assertion ad nauseum, it might or might not be technically accurate, but its purpose is always to distract our attention from a truth that, come to light, is much, much worse.

The overarching truth in this case is that whatever use surveillance may have for foiling nefarious plots, its chief value, everywhere and always, is in support of extortion. It's the basic currency of corruption. Extortion can force court judgments, congressional votes, cabinet and judicial appointments, bid selections, and resignations from elected office. Any discussion of pervasive surveillance that doesn't mention extortion is another distraction.

Edward Snowden turns out to be just the hero for our age. Getting condemned as a traitor by former (and by the evidence, maybe permanent) Power Behind the Throne Dick Cheney is a real feather in his cap. I wish I could be condemned as a traitor by Dick Cheney. Imagine how great a country would be if if it were governed entirely by people who Dick Cheney would call Traitor.

What they are not telling us is that the reason they only need the "metadata" from the phone companies is not that they respect anyone's privacy. It's that they already have all the audio logged, going back years; but they need the metadata to know who's talking. They got tired of asking the phone companies for metadata on bits they had tagged as interesting, and just demanded the lot.

I bought a Sandisk "Extreme Pro" SDHC card, advertised as supporting "up to 90 MB/s" reads and writes, to use in my Wandboard. Copying a 2.5G image onto it, I got all of 11 MB/s. I guess they only guarantee that it won't go over 90 MB/s, and maybe blow out my SD socket. Thoughtful of them.

30 May 2013 (updated 30 May 2013 at 08:45 UTC) »

I just bought a used Pantech Burst (also called Presto, and P9070) Android phone for US$50, from craigslist. It has a dual-processor Snapdragon ARM7, 1GB RAM, 16GB flash, and a microSD slot. It was running ICS until I replaced that with (Slim's unofficial port of) Cyanogenmod 10. These can be had easily for well under US$100 on ebay, making it the best value I know of in a smartphone. The batteries are supposed to run out a little faster than some other phones, but you can get a pile of spares, and a busted phone to charge them with, very cheap.

I also bought a Wandboard, a 4.5-inch-square complete computer system with dual ARM, 1G RAM, USB (both host and gadget), GigE, 2 microSD slots, SATA, WiFi, Bluetooth, optical and analog audio, HDMI, camera connector, serial, JTAG, and an expansion header, that burns <2W, for $100. A handsome case is another $10. They provide Android Jelly Bean and Ubuntu boot images. This seems like a better value than a RasPi, Mele, or Beagle. Since I bought it they have added a quad CPU version with 2GB RAM for $20 more.

I bought a used Netgear WNDR3700 wifi router for $40. It had the buggy firmware that refuses to load the (less buggy) update. There are lots of these out there because they all automatically downloaded and flashed the bad firmware. I used tftp to downgrade it to (got directly from Netgear), and then installed DD-WRT on it. It has plenty of flash and RAM, and a USB socket.

I also bought a used Cisco/Linksys EA2700 wifi router, also for $40. These are cheap now despite excellent features (agbn, 64M RAM, 64M flash) because the Cisco firmware in them has turned out to be easy to crack remotely, but now it can run DD-WRT.

I built Rust 0.6. I don't know if it's the Glorious Successor to C++, but at the very least it's the Glorious Successor to Haskell. Probably Git-annex needs to be translated to it. Learning Rust will be worth serious effort: powerful, safe, parallel, link-compatible with C, but faster.

I have solved IKEA. I drive into the parking lot exit directly to the "5 minute" loading zone, park there, roll an abandoned cart into the store exit, past the registers to the "self-service" warehouse racks, load up, pay, and roll out again in five minutes.

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