Archives

Categories

Installing NextCloud

NextCloud and OwnCloud History

Some time ago I tried OwnCloud, it wasn’t a positive experience for me. Since that time I’ve got a server with a much faster CPU, a faster Internet connection, and the NextCloud code is newer and running on a newer version of PHP, I didn’t make good notes so I’m not sure which factors were most responsible for having a better experience this time. According to the NextCloud Wikipedia page [1] the fork of NextCloud from the OpenCloud base happened in 2016 so it’s obviously been a while since I tried it, it was probably long before 2016.

Recently the BBC published an interesting article on “Turnover contagion” which is when one resignation can trigger many more [2] which is interesting to read in the context of OwnCloud losing critical staff failing after one key developer resigned.

I mentioned OwnCloud in a 2012 blog post about Liberty and Mobile Phones [3], since then I haven’t done well at achieving those goals. A few days ago I decided to try NextCloud and found it a much better experience than I recall OwnCloud being in the past.

Installation

I installed OwnCloud on an Oracle Cloud ARM VM (see my previous blog post about the Oracle Cloud Free Tier [4]).

This CloudCone article on installing NextCloud on Debian 10 (Buster) covers the basics well [5].

Here is the NextCloud URL for downloading the PHP files (a large ZIP archive) [6]. You have to extract to where Apache is configured to have it’s webroot and then run “chown -R www-data nextcloud/lib/private/Log nextcloud/config nextcloud/apps” (or if you use php-fpm then chown it to the user for that). NextCloud recommend having all of the NextCloud files owned by www-data, but that’s just a bad idea, allowing it to rewrite some of it’s program files is bad, allowing it to rewrite all of them is worse.

For my installation I used the Apache modiles macro, rewrite, ssl, php7.4, and headers (this is more about how I configure Apache than about NextCloud). Also I edited /etc/php/7.4/apache2/php.ini and changed memory_limit to 512M (the default of 128M is not enough). I’m currently only testing it, for a production use I would use php-fpm and run it under it’s own UID so that it can’t interact with other PHP apps.

After that it was just a matter of visiting the configuration URL and giving it the details of the database etc.

After setting it up the command “php -d memory_limit=512M occ app:install richdocumentscode_arm64” when run from the root of the OwnCloud installation installs the Cloudera components for editing LibreOffice documents in OwnCloud, this is the command for ARM64 architecture, I presume the command for other architectures is similar.

Conclusion

OwnCloud is very usable, it has a decent feature set built in and the option to download modules such as the components for editing LibreOffice files on the web is useful. But I am hesitant to install things that require the sort of access it requires. I think it would be better if there was a documented and supported way of installing things and then locking them down so that at runtime it can only write to data files not any program files or configuration files. It would also be better if it was packaged for Debian and had the Debian update process for security fixes. I can imagine many people installing it, forgetting to update it, and ending up with insecure systems.

USB Microphones

The Situation

I bought myself some USB microphones over ebay, I couldn’t see any with USB type A connectors (the original USB connectors) and bought ones with USB-C connectors. I thought it would be good to have microphones that could work with recent mobile phones and with PCs, because surely it wouldn’t be difficult to get an adaptor. I tested one of the microphones, it worked well on a phone.

I bought a pair of adaptors for USB A ports on a PC or laptop to USB-C (here’s the link to where I bought them). I used one of the adaptors with a USB-C HDMI device which gave the following line from lsusb, I didn’t try using a HDMI monitor on my laptop, having the device recognised was enough.

Bus 003 Device 002: ID 2109:0100 VIA Labs, Inc. USB 2.0 BILLBOARD

I tried connecting a USB-C microphone and Linux didn’t recognise the existence of a USB device, I tried that on a PC and a laptop on multiple ports.

I wondered whether the description of the VIA “BILLBOARD” device as “USB 2.0” was relevant to my problem. According to Big Mess O’ Wires USB-C has separate wires for USB 3.1 and USB 2 [1]. So someone could make a device that converts USB-A to USB-C with only USB-2 wires in place. I tested the USB-A to USB-C adaptor with the HDMI device in a USB “SuperSpeed” (IE 3.x) port and it still identified as USB 2.0. I suspect that the USB-C HDMI device is using all the high speed wires for DisplayPort data (with a conversion to HDMI) and therefore looks like a USB 2.0 device.

The Problem

I want to install a microphone in my workstation for long Zoom training sessions (7 hours in a day) that otherwise require me to use multiple Android devices as I don’t have a device that will do 7 hours of Zoom without running out of battery. A new workstation with USB-C is unreasonably expensive. A PCIe USB-C card would give me the port at the back of the machine, I can’t have the back of the machine near the microphone because it’s too noisy.

If I could have a USB-C hub with reasonable length cables (the 1M cables typical for USB 2.0 hubs would be fine) connected to a USB-C port at the back of my workstation that would work. But there seems to be a great lack of USB-C hubs. NewBeDev has an informative post about the lack of USB-C hubs that have multiple USB-C ports [2]. There also seems to be a lack of USB-C hubs with cables longer than 20cm.

The Solution

I ended up ordering a Sades Wand gaming headset [3], that has over-ear headphones and an attached microphone which connects to the computer via USB 2.0. I gave the URL for the sades.com.au web site for reference but you will get a significantly better price by buying on ebay ($39+postage vs about $30 including postage).

I guess I won’t be using my new USB-C microphones for a while.

Talking to Criminals

I think most people and everyone who reads my blog is familiar with the phone support scams that are common nowadays. There’s the “we are Microsoft support and have found a problem with your PC”, the “we are from your ISP and want to warn you that your Internet access will be cut off”, and the “here’s the bill for something expensive and we need you to confirm whether you want to pay”.

Most people hang up when scammers call them and don’t call them back. But I like to talk to them. I review the quality of their criminal enterprise and tell them that I expect better quality criminals to call me. I ask them if they are proud to be criminals and if their parents would be proud of them. I ask them if they are paid well to be a criminal. Usually they just hang up and on one occasion the criminal told me to “get lost” before hanging up.

Today I got a spam message telling me to phone +61-2-8006-7237 about an invoice for Norton “Software Enhancer” and “Firewall Defender” if I wanted to dispute it. It was interesting that they had an invoice number in the email which they asked me for when I called, at the time I didn’t think to make up an invoice number with the same format to determine if they were actually looking it up, in retrospect I should have used a random 9 digit number to determine if they had a database for this.

On the first call they just hung up on me. The second call they told me “you won’t save anyone” before hanging up. The third call I got on to a friendly and talkative guy who told me that he was making good money being a criminal. I asked if he was in India or Australia (both guys had accents from the Indian subcontinent), he said he was in Pakistan. He said that he made good money by Pakistani standards as $1 Australian is over 100 Pakistani Rupees. He asked me if I’d like to work for him, I said that I make good money doing legal things, he said that if I have so much money I could send him some. ;) He also offered to take me on a tour of Islamabad if I visited, this could have been a genuine offer to have a friendly meeting with someone from the opposite site of computer security or an attempt at kidnap for ransom. He didn’t address my question about whether the local authorities would be interested in his work, presumably he thinks that a combination of local authorities not caring much and the difficulty of tracking international crime makes him safe.

It was an interesting conversation, I encourage everyone to chat to such criminals. They are right that you won’t save anyone. But you can have some fun and occasionally learn some interesting things.

Links October 2021

Bloomburg has an insightful article about Juniper, the NSA, and the compromise of Netscreen [1]. It was worse than we previously thought and the Chinese government was involved.

Haaretz has an amusing story about security issues at a credit card company based on a series of major WTFs [2]. They used WhatsApp for communicating with customers (despite the lack of support from Facebook for issues like account compromise), stored it on a phone (they should have used a desktop PC), didn’t lock the phone down (should have been in a locked case and bolted down like any other financial security device), and allowed it to get stolen. Fortunately the thief was only after a free phone not the financial data stored on it.

David Brin wrote an insightful blog post “Should facts and successes matter in economics? Or politics?” [3] which is part of his series about challenging conservatives to bet on their policies.

Vice has an interesting article about a normal-looking USB-C to Lightning cable that intercepts data transfer and sends it out via an embedded Wifi AP [4]. Getting that into such a small space is an impressive engineering feat. The vendor already has a YSB-A to lightning cable with such features for $120 [5]. That’s too expensive to just leave them lying around and hope that someone with interesting data finds them, but it’s also quite cheap for a targeted attack.

Interesting article about tracking people via Bluetooth MAC address or device name [6]. Most of the research is based on a man riding a bike around Norway and passively sniffing Bluetooth transmissions. You can buy commercial devices that can receive Bluetooth from 1Km away. A recent version of Bluetooth has random Mac addresses but that still allows tracking by device name which for many people is their own name.

Cory Doctorow has a good summary of the ways that Facebook is rotten [7]. It’s worse than you think.

In 2019 almost all Facebook’s top Christian pages were run by foreign troll farms [8]. This is partly due to Christians being gullible, but Facebook is also to blame for this.

Cornell has an interesting article about using CRISPR to identify the gender of chicken eggs before they hatch [9]. This means that instead of killing roosters hatched from eggs for egg production they can just put those eggs for eating and save some money. Another option would be to genetically engineer more sexual dimorphism into chickens as the real problem is that hens for laying eggs are too thin to be good for eating so if you could have a breed of chicken with thin hens and fat cocks then all eggs could be hatched and the chickens used. The article claims that this is an ethical benefit of not killing baby roosters, but really it’s about saving 50 cents per egg.

Umair Haque wrote an insightful article about why everything will get more expensive as the externalities dating back to the industrial revolution have to be paid for [9].

Alexei Navalny (the jailed Russian opposition politician who Putin tried to murder) wrote an insightful article about why corruption is at the root of most world problems and how to solve it [10].

Cory Doctorow wrote an insightful article about breaking in to the writing industry which can apply to starting in most careers [11]. The main point is that people who have established careers have knowledge about starting a career that’s at best outdated and at most totally irrelevant. Learning from people who are at most one step ahead of you is probably best.

Peter Wehner wrote an insightful article for The Atlantic about the way churches in the US are breaking apart due to political issues [12]. Similar things appear to be happening in Australia for the same reason, conservative fear based politics which directly opposes everything in the Bible about Jesus is taking over churches. On the positive side this should destroy churches and the way churches are currently going they should be destroyed.

The Guardian has an article about the incidence of reinfection with Covid19 [13]. The current expectation is that people who aren’t vaccinated will probably get it about every 16 months if it becomes endemic (as it has in the US and will do in Australia if conservatives have their way). If the mortality rate is 2% each time then an unvaccinated person could expect a 15% chance of dying over the course of 10 years if there is no cumulative damage. However if damage to the heart and lungs accumulates over multiple courses of the disease then the probability of death over 10 years could be a lot higher.

Psyche has an interesting article by Professor Jan-Willem van Prooijeni about the way that conspiracy theories bypass rationality [14]. The way that entertaining stories bypass rationality is particularly concerning given the way Facebook and other social media are driven by clickbait.

Strange Apache Reload Issue

I recently had to renew the SSL certificate for my web server, nothing exciting about that but Certbot created a new directory for the key because I had removed some domains (moved to a different web server). This normally isn’t a big deal, change the Apache configuration to the new file names and run the “reload” command. My monitoring system initially said that the SSL certificate wasn’t going to expire in the near future so it looked fine. Then an hour later my monitoring system told me that the certificate was about to expire, apparently the old certificate came back!

I viewed my site with my web browser and the new certificate was being used, it seemed strange. Then I did more tests with gnutls-cli which revealed that exactly half the connections got the new certificate and half got the old one. Because my web server isn’t doing anything particularly demanding the mpm_event configuration only starts 2 servers, and even that may be excessive for what it does. So it seems that the Apache reload command had reloaded the configuration on one mpm_event server but not the other!

Fortunately this was something that was easy to test and was something that was automatically tested. If the change that didn’t get accepted was something small it would be a particularly insidious bug.

I haven’t yet tried to reproduce this. But if I get the time I’ll do so and file a bug report.

Getting Started With Kali

Kali is a Debian based distribution aimed at penetration testing. I haven’t felt a need to use it in the past because Debian has packages for all the scanning tools I regularly use, and all the rest are free software that can be obtained separately. But I recently decided to try it.

Here’s the URL to get Kali [1]. For a VM you can get VMWare or VirtualBox images, I chose VMWare as it’s the most popular image format and also a much smaller download (2.7G vs 4G). For unknown reasons the torrent for it didn’t work (might be a problem with my torrent client). The download link for it was extremely slow in Australia, so I downloaded it to a system in Germany and then copied it from there.

I don’t want to use either VMWare or VirtualBox because I find KVM/Qemu sufficient to do everything I want and they are in the Main section of Debian, so I needed to convert the image files. Some of the documentation on converting image formats to use with QEMU/KVM says to use a program called “kvm-img” which doesn’t seem to exist, I used “qemu-img” from the qemu-utils package in Debian/Bullseye. The man page qemu-img(1) doesn’t list the types of output format supported by the “-O” option and the examples returned by a web search show using “-O qcow2“. It turns out that the following command will convert the image to “raw” format which is the format I prefer. I use BTRFS for storing all my VM images and that does all the copy-on-write I need.

qemu-img convert Kali-Linux-2021.3-vmware-amd64.vmdk ../kali

After converting it the file was 500M smaller than the VMWare files (10.2 vs 10.7G). Probably the Kali distribution file could be reduced in size by converting it to raw and then back to VMWare format. The Kali VMWare image is compressed with 7zip which has a good compression ratio, I waited almost 90 minutes for zstd to compress it with -19 and the result was 12% larger than the 7zip file.

VMWare apparently likes to use an emulated SCSI controller, I spent some time trying to get that going in KVM. Apparently recent versions of QEMU changed the way this works and therefore older web pages aren’t helpful. Also allegedly the SCSI emulation is buggy and unreliable (but I didn’t manage to get it going so can’t be sure). It turns out that the VM is configured to work with the virtio interface, the initramfs.conf has the configuration option “MODULES=most” which makes it boot on all common configurations (good work by the initramfs-tools maintainers). The image works well with the Spice display interface, so it doesn’t capture my mouse, the window for the VM works the same way as other windows on my desktop and doesn’t capture the mouse cursor. I don’t know if this level of Spice integration is in Debian now, last time I tested it didn’t work that way.

I also downloaded Metasploitable [2] which is a VM image designed to be full of security flaws for testing the tools that are in Kali. Again it worked nicely after converting from VMWare to raw format. One thing to note about Metasploitable is that you must not make it available on the public Internet. My home network has NAT for IPv4 but all systems get public IPv6 addresses. It’s usually nice that those things just work on VMs but not for this. So I added an iptables command to block IPv6 to /etc/rc.local.

Conclusion

Installing VMs for both these distributions was quite easy. Most of my time was spent downloading from a slow server, trying to get SCSI emulation working, working out how to convert image files, and testing different compression options. The time spent doing stuff once I knew what to do was very small.

Kali has zsh as the default shell, it’s quite nice. I’ve been happy with bash for decades, but I might end up trying zsh out on other machines.

Links September 2021

Matthew Garrett wrote an interesting and insightful blog post about the license of software developed or co-developed by machine-learning systems [1]. One of his main points is that people in the FOSS community should aim for less copyright protection.

The USENIX ATC ’21/OSDI ’21 Joint Keynote Address titled “It’s Time for Operating Systems to Rediscover Hardware” has some inssightful points to make [2]. Timothy Roscoe makes some incendiaty points but backs them up with evidence. Is Linux really an OS? I recommend that everyone who’s interested in OS design watch this lecture.

Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting set of 6 articles about Disneyland, ride pricing, and crowd control [3]. He proposes some interesting ideas for reforming Disneyland.

Benjamin Bratton wrote an insightful article about how philosophy failed in the pandemic [4]. He focuses on the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben who has a history of writing stupid articles that match Qanon talking points but with better language skills.

Arstechnica has an interesting article about penetration testers extracting an encryption key from the bus used by the TPM on a laptop [5]. It’s not a likely attack in the real world as most networks can be broken more easily by other methods. But it’s still interesting to learn about how the technology works.

The Portalist has an article about David Brin’s Startide Rising series of novels and his thought’s on the concept of “Uplift” (which he denies inventing) [6].

Jacobin has an insightful article titled “You’re Not Lazy — But Your Boss Wants You to Think You Are” [7]. Making people identify as lazy is bad for them and bad for getting them to do work. But this is the first time I’ve seen it described as a facet of abusive capitalism.

Jacobin has an insightful article about free public transport [8]. Apparently there are already many regions that have free public transport (Tallinn the Capital of Estonia being one example). Fare free public transport allows bus drivers to concentrate on driving not taking fares, removes the need for ticket inspectors, and generally provides a better service. It allows passengers to board buses and trams faster thus reducing traffic congestion and encourages more people to use public transport instead of driving and reduces road maintenance costs.

Interesting research from Israel about bypassing facial ID [9]. Apparently they can make a set of 9 images that can pass for over 40% of the population. I didn’t expect facial recognition to be an effective form of authentication, but I didn’t expect it to be that bad.

Edward Snowden wrote an insightful blog post about types of conspiracies [10].

Kevin Rudd wrote an informative article about Sky News in Australia [11]. We need to have a Royal Commission now before we have our own 6th Jan event.

Steve from Big Mess O’ Wires wrote an informative blog post about USB-C and 4K 60Hz video [12]. Basically you can’t have a single USB-C hub do 4K 60Hz video and be a USB 3.x hub unless you have compression software running on your PC (slow and only works on Windows), or have DisplayPort 1.4 or Thunderbolt (both not well supported). All of the options are not well documented on online store pages so lots of people will get unpleasant surprises when their deliveries arrive. Computers suck.

Steinar H. Gunderson wrote an informative blog post about GaN technology for smaller power supplies [13]. A 65W USB-C PSU that fits the usual “wall wart” form factor is an interesting development.

Oracle Cloud Free Tier

It seems that every cloud service of note has a free tier nowadays and the Oracle Cloud is the latest that I’ve discovered (thanks to r/homelab which I highly recommend reading). Here’s Oracle’s summary of what they offer for free [1].

Oracle’s “always free” tier (where presumable “always” is defined as “until we change our contract”) currently offers ARM64 VMs to a total capacity of 4 CPU cores, 24G of RAM, and 200G of storage with a default VM size of 1/4 that (1 CPU core and 6G of RAM). It also includes 2 AMD64 VMs that each have 1G of RAM, but a 64bit VM with 1G of RAM isn’t that useful nowadays.

Web Interface

The first thing to note is that the management interface is a massive pain to use. When a login times out for security reasons it redirects to a web page that gives a 404 error, maybe the redirection works OK if you are using it when it times out, but if you go off and spend an hour doing something else you will return to a 404 page. A web interface should never refer you to a page with a 404.

There doesn’t seem to be a way of bookmarking the commonly used links (as AWS does) and the set of links on the left depend on the section you are in with no obvious way of going between sections. Sometimes I got stuck in a set of pages about authentication controls (the “identity cloud”) and there seems to be no link I could click on to get me back to cloud computing, I had to go to a bookmarked link for the main cloud login page. A web interface should never force the user to type in the main URL or go to a bookmark, you should be able to navigate from every page to every other page in a logical manner. An advanced user might have their own bookmarks in their browser to suit their workflow. But a beginner should be able to go to anywhere without breaking the session.

Some parts of the interface appear to be copied from AWS, but unfortunately not the good parts. The way AWS manages IP access control is not easy to manage and it’s not clear why packets are dropped, Oracle copies all this. On the upside Oracle has some good Datadog style analytics so for a new deployment you can debug IP access control by seeing records of rejected packets. Just to make it extra annoying when you create a rule with multiple ports specified the web interface will expand it out to multiple rules for one port each, having ports 80 and 443 on separate lines doesn’t make things easier. Also it forces you to have IPv4 and IPv6 as separate rules, so if you want HTTP and HTTPS on both IPv4 and IPv6 (a common requirement) then you need 4 separate rules.

One final annoying thing is that the web interface doesn’t make your previous settings a default. As I’ve created many ARM images and haven’t created a single AMD image it should know that the probability that I want to create an AMD image is very low and stop defaulting to that.

Recovery

When trying a new system you will inevitably break things and have to recover things. The way to recover from a configuration error that prevents your VM from booting and getting to a state of allowing a login is to go to stop the VM, then go to the “Boot volume” section under “Resources” and use the settings button to detach the boot volume. Then you go to another VM (which must be running), go to the “Attached block volumes” menu and attach it as Paravirtualised (not iSCSI and not default which will probably be iSCSI). After some time the block device will appear and you can mount it and do stuff to it. Then after umounting it you detach it from the recovery VM and attach it again to the original VM (where it will still have an entry in the “Boot volume” section) and boot the original VM.

As an aside it’s really annoying that you can’t attach a volume to a VM that isn’t running.

My first attempt at image recovery started with making a snapshot of the Boot volume, this didn’t work well because the image uses EFI and therefore GPT and because the snapshot was larger than the original block device (which incidentally was the default size). I admit that I might have made a mistake making the snapshot, but if so it shouldn’t be so easy to do. With GPT if you have a larger block device then partitioning tools complain about the backup partition table not being found, and they complain even more if you try to go back to the smaller size later on. Generally GPT partition tables are a bad idea for VMs, when I run the host I don’t use partition tables, I have a separate block device for each filesystem or swap space.

Snapshots aren’t needed for recovery, they don’t seem to work very well, and if it’s possible to attach a snapshot to a VM in place of it’s original “Boot volume” I haven’t figured out how to do it.

Console Connection

If you boot Oracle Linux a derivative of RHEL that has SE Linux enabled in enforcing mode (yay) then you can go to the “Console connection”. The console is a Javascript console which allows you to login on a virtual serial console on device /dev/ttyAMA0. It tells you to type “help” but that isn’t accepted, you have a straight Linux console login prompt.

If you boot Ubuntu then you don’t get a working serial console, it tells you to type “help” for help but doesn’t respond to that.

It seems that the Oracle Linux kernel 5.4.17-2102.204.4.4.el7uek.aarch64 is compiled with support for /dev/ttyAMA0 (the default ARM serial device) while the kernel 5.11.0-1016-oracle compiled by Oracle for their Ubuntu VMs doesn’t have it.

Performance

I haven’t done any detailed tests of VM performance. As a quick test I used zstd to compress a 154MB file, on my home workstation (E5-2620 v4 @ 2.10GHz) it took 11.3 seconds of CPU time to compress with zstd -9 and 7.2s to decompress. On the Oracle cloud it took 7.2s and 5.4s. So it seems that for some single core operations the ARM CPU used by the Oracle cloud is about 30% to 50% faster than a E5-2620 v4 (a slightly out of date server processor that uses DDR4 RAM).

If you ran all the free resources in a single VM that would make a respectable build server. If you want to contribute to free software development and only have a laptop with 4G of RAM then an ARM build/test server with 24G of RAM and 4 cores would be very useful.

Ubuntu Configuration

The advantage of using EFI is that you can manage the kernel from within the VM. The default Oracle kernel for Ubuntu has a lot of modules included and is compiled with a lot of security options including SE Linux.

Competitors

https://aws.amazon.com/free

AWS offers 750 hours (just over 31 days) per month of free usage of a t2.micro or t3.micro EC2 instance (which means 1GB of RAM). But that only lasts for 12 months and it’s still only 1GB of RAM. AWS has some other things that could be useful like 1 million free Lambda requests per month. If you want to run your personal web site on Lambda you shouldn’t hit that limit. They also apparently have some good offers for students.

https://cloud.google.com/free

The Google Cloud Project (GCP) offers $300 of credit.

https://cloud.google.com/free/docs/gcp-free-tier#free-tier-usage-limits

GCP also has ongoing free tier usage for some services. Some of them are pretty much unlimited use (50GB of storage for “Cloud Source Repositories” is a heap of source code). But for VMs you get the equivalent of 1*e2-micro instance running 24*7. A e2-micro has 1G of RAM. You also only get 30G of storage and 1GB of outbound data. It’s clearly not as generous an offer as Oracle, but Oracle is the underdog so they have to try harder.

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/free/

Azure appears to be much the same as AWS, free Linux VM for a year and then other less popular services free forever (or until they change the contract).

https://www.ibm.com/cloud/free

The IBM cloud free tier is the least generous offer, a VM is only free for 30 days. But what they offer for 30 days is pretty decent. If you want to try the IBM cloud and see if it can do what your company needs then this will do well. If you want to have free hosting for your hobby stuff then it’s no good.

Oracle seems like the most generous offer if you want to do stuff, but also one of the least valuable if you want to learn things that will help you at a job interview. For job interviews AWS seems the most useful and then GCP and Azure vying for second place.

Links August 2021

Sciencealert has an interesting article on a game to combat misinformation by “microdosing” people [1]. The game seemed overly simplistic to me, but I guess I’m not the target demographic. Research shows it to work.

Vice has an interesting and amusing article about mass walkouts of underpaid staff in the US [2]. The way that corporations are fighting an increase in the minimum wage doesn’t seem financially beneficial for them. An increase in the minimum wage means small companies have to increase salaries too and the ratio of revenue to payroll is probably worse for small companies. It seems that companies like McDonalds make oppressing their workers a higher priority than making a profit.

Interesting article in Vice about how the company Shot Spotter (which determines the locations of gunshots by sound) forges evidence for US police [3]. All convictions based on Shot Spotter evidence should be declared mistrials.

BitsNBites has an interesting article on the “fundamental flaws” of SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) [4].

The Daily Dot has a disturbing article anbout the possible future of the QAnon movement [5]. Let’s hope they become too busy fighting each other to hurt many innocent people.

Ben Taylor wrote an interesting blog post suggesting that Web Assembly should be a default binary target [6]. I don’t support that idea but I think that considering it is useful. Web assembly could be used more for non-web things and it would be a better option than Node.js for some things. There are also some interesting corner cases like games, Minecraft was written in Java and there’s no reason that Web Assembly couldn’t do the same things.

Vice has an interesting article about the Phantom encrypted phone service that ran on Blackberry handsets [7]. Australia really needs legislation based on the US RICO law!

Vice has an interesting article about an encrypted phone company run by drug dealers [8]. Apparently after making an encrypted phone system for their own use they decided to sell it to others and made millions of dollars. They could have run a successful legal business.

Salon has an insightful interview with Michael Petersen about his research on fake news and people who share it because they need chaos [9]. Apparently low status people who are status seeking are a main contributor to this, they share fake news knowingly to spread chaos. A society with less inequality would have less problems with fake news.

Salon has another insightful interview with Michael Petersen, about is later research on fake news as an evolutionary strategy [10]. People knowingly share fake news to mobilise their supporters and to signal allegiance to their group. The more bizarre the beliefs are the more strongly they signal allegiance. If an opposing group has a belief then they can show support for their group by having the opposite belief (EG by opposing vaccination if the other political side supports doctors). He also suggests that lying can be a way of establishing dominance, the more honest people are opposed by a lie the more dominant the liar may seem.

Vice has an amusing article about how police took over the Encrochat encrypted phone network that was mostly used by criminals [11]. It’s amusing to read of criminals getting taken down like this. It’s also interesting to note that the authorities messed up by breaking the wipe facility which alerted the criminals that their security was compromised. The investigation could have continued for longer if they hadn’t changed the functionality of compromised phones. A later vice article mentioned that the malware installed on Encrochat devices recorded MAC addresses of Wifi access points which was used to locate the phones even though they had the GPS hardware removed.

Cory Doctorow wrote an insightful article for Locus about the insufficient necessity of interoperability [12]. The problem if monopolies is not just an inability to interoperate with other services or leave it’s losing control over your life. A few cartel participants interoperating will be able to do all the bad things to us tha a single monopolist could do.

Links July 2021

The News Tribune published an article in 2004 about the “Dove of Oneness”, a mentally ill woman who got thousands of people to believe her crazy ideas about NESARA [1]. In recent time the QANON conspiracy theory has drawn on the NESARA cult and encouraged it’s believers to borrow money and spend it in the belief that all debts will be forgiven (something which was not part of NESARA). The Wikipedia page about NESARA (proposed US legislation that was never considered by the US congress) notes that the second edition of the book about it was titled “Draining the Swamp: The NESARA Story – Monetary and Fiscal Policy Reform“. It seems like the Trump cult has been following that for a long time.

David Brin (best-selling SciFi Author and NASA consultant) wrote an insightful blog post about the “Tytler Calumny” [2], which is the false claim that democracy inevitably fails because poor people vote themselves money. When really the failure is of corrupt rich people subverting the government processes to enrich themselves at the expense of their country. It’s worth reading, and his entire blog is also worth reading.

Cory Doctorow has an insightful article about his own battle with tobacco addiction and the methods that tobacco companies and other horrible organisations use to prevent honest discussion about legislation [3].

Cory Doctorow has an insightful article about “consent theater” which is describes how “consent” in most agreements between corporations and people is a fraud [4]. The new GDPR sounds good.

The forum for the War Thunder game had a discussion on the accuracy of the Challenger 2 tank which ended up with a man who claims to be a UK tank commander posting part of a classified repair manual [5]. That’s pretty amusing, and also good advertising for War Thunder. After reading about this I discovered that it’s free on Steam and runs on Linux! Unfortunately it whinged about my video drivers and refused to run.

Corey Doctorow has an insightful and well researched article about the way the housing market works in the US [6]. For house prices to increase conditions for renters need to be worse, that may work for home owners in the short term but then in the long term their children and grandchildren will end up renting.