Archive for the ‘Geek’ Category


Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Two things I found on the YCombinator Twitter feed that I want to bookmark:

“JavaScript Systems Music”. I’m not really good at music in general, nor am I the audio guy of my group of friends (Hi, Todd!). But I am kind of generally interested in computer audio, and the subtitle of this one sucked me in: “Learning Web Audio by Recreating The Works of Steve Reich and Brian Eno”. Yes, you can do in JavaScript what Steve Reich did with tape loops in 1965.

To say I actually enjoy listening to this piece would probably be stretching it. It wouldn’t be among the records I’d take with me on a desert island. But it is certainly fascinating and kind of hypnotic too. If you allow it to, it does evoke a certain kind of mental atmosphere.

I like “It’s Gonna Rain”, but, yeah, this.

YComb also linked to an article here, but I actually find the whole site interesting and want to bookmark it: Gary McGath’s “Mad File Format Science”. Or everything you ever wanted to know about file formats, identifying them, and recovering data from them.

As you know, Bob, I’m not a “Star Trek” fan, but I did find this interesting:

Some time after his death in 1991, Roddenberry’s estate discovered almost 200 floppies of his. They went to a company called DriveSavers Data Recovery, which took years to recover the documents due to the unusual challenges.

The floppies were written on CP/M systems custom built for Roddenberry with special disk drivers.

“DriveSavers took three months to reverse engineer the disk format.”

Anyway, I want to spend more time exploring this site. I’m also tempted to spring for his udemy course: $20, open-source tools, and hey! I can actually make a case that it is job related!

Things you may have wondered about. (#5 in a series)

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Somebody asked me this question this morning, and I thought the answer was interesting enough to make for a post in this department:

What was the name of Pavlov’s dog?

Turns out “Pavlov’s dog” is actually sort of a misnomer: good old Ivan had a bunch of dogs. I’ve seen 37 in one source, and 40 in another.

But did they have names? Yes.

Eleven years ago, I began a scientific mission with a trip to Russia, to find the names of Pavlov’s dogs. My intention was to name Drosophila memory mutants after the dogs.

This is a pretty cool article that I commend to your attention (especially for the photo of the author wearing Ivan’s old top hot).

The Quora article (with appropriate citations) lists the names of all forty known dogs, Just in case you’re looking for a good name for your new puppy,

Speaking of animal behavior, I’ve been wanting to link to this, and it seems like here is a good place for it. There once was a scientist named John Bumpass Calhoun, whp specialized in studying the behavior of rats and mice.

By 1954, he was working under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health, which gave him whole rooms to build his mousetopias. Like a rodent real estate developer, he incorporated ever-better amenities: climbable walls, food hoppers that could serve two dozen mice at once, lodging he described as “walk-up one-room apartments.”

His ultimate experiment, Universe 25, began in 1968 with eight mice.

The mice themselves were bright and healthy, hand-picked from the institute’s breeding stock. They were given the run of the place, which had everything they might need: food, water, climate control, hundreds of nesting boxes to choose from, and a lush floor of shredded paper and ground corn cob.

The population grew to 620 in about a year.

Then, as always, things took a turn. Such rapid growth put too much pressure on the mouse way of life. As new generations reached adulthood, many couldn’t find mates, or places in the social order—the mouse equivalent of a spouse and a job. Spinster females retreated to high-up nesting boxes, where they lived alone, far from the family neighborhoods. Washed-up males gathered in the center of the Universe, near the food, where they fretted, languished, and attacked each other. Meanwhile, overextended mouse moms and dads began moving nests constantly to avoid their unsavory neighbors. They also took their stress out on their babies, kicking them out of the nest too early, or even losing them during moves.

The last mouse was born in May of 1970.

And by the way, there’s also a literary tie to this story, but you’ll have to click through for that; I won’t spoil it here.

Obit watch: September 12, 2016.

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Bobby Chacon is dead at the age of 64.

His death was confirmed by the Riverside County coroner and attributed to a fall while he was being treated for dementia, which had been linked to brain injuries from boxing.

Mr. Chacon won the featherweight title in 1974 and the super featherweight title in 1982. He was 59-7-1 over his career (1972-1988).

In 1984, Chacon was stripped of his title in a dispute with boxing officials and promoters over his next opponent. By then 32 years old, he moved up one weight class to challenge the lightweight champion Ray Mancini, known as Boom Boom.

This inspired one of Warren Zevon’s best songs:

Also among the dead: Eddie “Crazy Eddie” Antar.

Cary Blanchard, NFL placekicker. He was 47.

Alexis Arquette, character actress and member of the Arquette acting family.

Cahiers du cinéma: September 11, 2016.

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

We were watching movies last night, and a question came up. I don’t remember the exact context, but basically: was The Paper Chase actually John Houseman’s first film?

The answer turns out to be: yes, and no, and it’s interesting.

Before The Paper Chase, Houseman is listed as having an uncredited (and I assume small) role in the film adaptation of Seven Days In May.

But before that, in 1938, Houseman was in something called Too Much Johnson. Just the name sparked immense hilarity among our little group (though to be fair, it was also late) but there’s an interesting story here. Too Much Johnson was never shown in public while Houseman was alive…

As most of my readers probably know, long before he was Professor Kingsfield, Houseman had quite a stage career. Among his other credits, he was a leading member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre. Welles had an idea: he wanted the Mercury Theatre to do an adaptation of a 1894 comedy, also called “Too Much Johnson”, by William Gillette. But he also wanted to integrate a silent film into the stage production.

Welles planned to mix live action and film for this production. The film was designed to run 40 minutes, with 20 minutes devoted to the play’s prologue and two 10-minute introductions for the second and third act. Welles planned to create a silent film in the tradition of the Mack Sennett slapstick comedies, in order to enhance the various chases, duels and comic conflicts of the Gillette play.

There’s some very funny stuff about Welles editing the film, in his hotel suite, while up to his knees (according to Houseman) in nitrate film. Another of Welles collaborators recalls the film catching fire in the projector, Welles being so absorbed in the editing he didn’t even notice…

“What I remember, most remarkably, is me running with the projector in my hand, burning, trying to get out of the door into the goddamn hallway, and Houseman racing for the door at the same time … while Orson, with absolutely no concern whatsoever, was back inside, standing and looking at some piece of film in his hand, smoking his pipe.”

Anyway, they put the film together and went to stage “Too Much Johnson” at a place called the Stony Creek Theatre in Connecticut before they took it to Broadway. But there was a problem: the ceiling in the Stony Creek Theatre was “too low” for film projection. So the Mercury Theatre staged “Too Much Johnson” without the movie part. Depending on who you believe, the audience reaction was poor. In any case, Welles shelved the “Too Much Johnson” project before he finished editing it: in later years, he claimed that he’d looked at the stored footage, and it still looked pristine. But that footage was destroyed in a 1970 fire at Welles home, and the movie was presumed lost…

…until 2008, when a copy was discovered in Spain. The film was restored and shown for the first time in late 2013. In 2015, the combined film/stage production was staged for the first time. And now you can watch the 66 minute work print and reconstructed 34 minute edit of “Too Much Johnson” at the National Film Preservation Foundation website.

This is probably too much “Too Much Johnson” for most of you, but I make no apologies for my interest in Welles and his work, and I think this is a great story even without Welles and Houseman.

After the jump, topic changes…


The other scandal I wanted to touch on…

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

My major source of information on this is an article in the WP. I haven’t seen very much English-language coverage elsewhere, but I welcome links if anyone has them.

There’s a place in Sweden called the Karolinska Institute, a medical school with an associated teaching/research hospital, the Karolinska University Hospital.

The hospital, up until March of this year, employed a scientist, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini. It seems that Dr. Macchiarini was kind of a hot shot:

Macchiarini captured headlines in 2011, a year after he had been recruited by the institute, for his work in regenerative medicine. That year he implanted a “bioartificial” trachea, one made from plastic and the patient’s own stem cells, into a man named Andemariam Beyene.

This is kind of cool, at least to me. Regenerative medicine is sort of a holy grail: imagine if, instead of a heart transplant and the lifetime of anti-rejection/immunosuppressivee drugs, you could just grow a new heart? Or liver? Or spleen?

(Tangentially related: Isabelle Dinoire died in April, though her death is just now being reported in accordance with her family’s wishes. Ms. Dinore was the first person to receive a partial face transplant, and her death is being attributed in part to the immunosuppressive drugs she had been taking.)

So what went wrong?

But in January 2014, as the Iceland Review noted, the trachea Macchiarini had implanted became loose, killing Beyene.

“trachea…became loose”. But wait, there’s more: Dr. Macchiarini did three of these surgeries. Two of the patients are dead, and the third has been in intensive care since 2012.

But wait, there’s more:

The investigator who examined his studies said that Macchiarini was guilty of scientific misconduct by omitting or fabricating information about his patients’ postoperative status to make the procedure seem more successful than it really was.

But wait, there’s more: Dr. Macchiarini didn’t get signed consent forms from two of the patients, and the one he did get isn’t valid. (“that one signed form would not have been approved’ since the patient wasn’t afforded the option of discussing the procedure with an independent medical expert”).

But wait, there’s more:

The report pointed out that a different synthetic material was used in each transplant, which hinted at a lack of research into which one actually worked and suggested an unreadiness for usage in human beings.

There was also illegal use of “growth-stimulating drugs” without proper permits.

But wait, there’s more! It isn’t just that Dr. Macchiarini was a rogue researcher who has since been fired:

The English version of the report stated:

There are many instances of KI [Karolinska Institute – DB] employees being involved in the discussions preceding and following up surgery. KI has also, in several contexts, cited the transplantations as part of its own activities. For example, they have been quoted as research successes in KI’s evaluations of how research funding has been utilized.

This report opined that KI never should have hired Macchiarini in the first place, considering the references the institution received concerning the surgeon.

It was the usual stuff: negative references, false information on his CV, you know the drill.

Lastly, the report found the hospital extended Macchiarini’s contract twice — once in 2013 and one in 2015 — with “no real evaluation or assessment of Macchiarini’s work.”

But. Wait. There’s. More.

The Karolinska Institute is very closely tied to the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

On Tuesday, the Nobel Assembly, which is in charge of choosing the recipient of the institution’s prize for physiology or medicine, asked Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson and Anders Hamsten, two of its 50 judges, to resign. Both are former vice chancellors of the Karolinska Institute, the Swedish medical university associated with the Karolinska University Hospital that employed Macchiarini.

(If I understand correctly, those 50 judges are just the ones who decide on the medicine prize.)

The Swedish Minister of Higher Education also fired Wallberg-Henriksson from her position as “Sweden’s chancellor of all public universities”. The minister is also demanding that everyone who was on the board of the Karolinska Institute while Dr. Macchiarini was employed there resign. “Any who choose not to resign will be replaced, Reuters reported.”

By the way: Dr. Macchiarini is also being criminally investigated. It looks like the prosecutors may press involuntary manslaughter charges against him, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

(It occurs to me: this would make for another great “Law and Order” script. Your cold open is a guy walking down the street with his girlfriend when he suddenly drops dead, coroner finds the loose trachea, McCoy charges the doctor with murder…)

(Question for any TV writers who might be reading this: is it okay to write spec scripts for shows that aren’t on the air any longer?)

Edited to add: Just found this: a February article from Vanity Fair. Seems that NBC News did a two-hour long documentary on Dr. Macchiarini.

I swear, I need an AutoText for “But wait, there’s more”: Dr. Macchiarini was also involved in a romance with the producer of the documentary. As in, they were going to get married. By the Pope. Who personally approved their marriage, even though they were both divorced and she is Episcopalian. And who was going to host the wedding at Castel Gandolfo.

“…Who the hell are you and what the hell is wrong with you?”

Art, damn it, retraction watch!

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

A while back, I linked to a story that claimed Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde filled tanks were giving off formaldehyde fumes at a level above the regulated exposure limit (5 parts per million when the exposure limit is 0.5 ppm).

Well. I was browsing Retraction Watch for unrelated reasons (looking for some information on another scientific scandal) when I discovered that one of the authors of that paper has retracted it.

I, the corresponding author, hereby wholly retract this Analytical Methods article. Further testing has been carried out and clear evidence was found that the reported findings presented are unreliable as a result of errors made in the data analysis.

So. Guess I owe Damien Hirst an apology. Sorry, Mr. Hirst.

But here’s the other funny thing: that retraction was written by one of the authors.

It should be noted that co-authors Gleb Zilberstein, Emmanuil Baskin, Uriel Maor and Roman Zilberstein do not agree to this retraction and the following author was contacted but did not respond: Shoumo Zhang.

Kind of makes you go “Hmmmmmmmmmm”, doesn’t it? But then a lot of stuff on Retraction Watch makes me go “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”.

More on Blue Hydra.

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Earlier, I wrote “It runs! It works! Mostly. Kind of.”

I’ve been banging on Blue Hydra in my spare time since Thursday, and I stand by that statement. Here’s what I’ve run into so far.

The README is pretty clear, and I didn’t have any problems installing the required packages. (I don’t have an Ubertooth, so I skipped that one. We’ll come back to the Ubertooth later.)

First problem, which was actually very tiny: I know next to nothing about Ruby, other than that cartoon foxes are somehow involved, so the phrase “With ruby installed add the bundler gem” was more like “I don’t speak your crazy moon language”. Google cleared that up pretty quickly: the magic words are gem install bundler.

Next problem: running bundle install resulted in an error stating that it couldn’t find the Ruby header files. It turns out that, while my Ubuntu installation had Ruby 2.1 installed, it didn’t have the ruby-dev package installed. sudo apt-get install ruby-dev fixed that issue.

Next problem: the SQLIte Ruby gem failed to install when I ran bundle install. It turns out that I also needed the sqlite3-dev package as well. And with that installed, the bundle built, and I could do ./bin/blue_hydra.

Which gave an error stating that it didn’t have permissions to open a handle for write. Okay, let’s try sudo ./bin/blue_hydra (because I always run code from strangers as root on my machine; everyone knows strangers have the best candy). And that actually worked: Blue Hydra launched and ran just fine. In fairness, this may be a configuration issue on my machine, and not an issue with the software itself.

In playing with it, I’ve found that it does what it claims to do. Sort of. It’s been able to detect devices in my small lab environment with Bluetooth discovery turned off, which is impressive. I also like the fact that it stores data into an SQLite database; other Bluetooth scanning tools I’ve played with didn’t do that.

However, it seems to take a while to detect my iPhone; in some instances, it doesn’t detect it at all until I go into Settings->Bluetooth. Once I’m in the Bluetooth settings, even if I don’t make a change, Blue Hydra seems to pick up the iPhone. Blue Hydra also has totally failed to detect another smart phone in my small lab environment (and I have verified that Bluetooth was both on and set to discoverable.)

Now, to be fair, there may be some other things going on:

  • I’ve also observed previously that Bluetooth under Ubuntu 15.10 didn’t work very well. At all. So at one point on Saturday, just for giggles, I upgraded Project e to Ubuntu 16.01.1 LTS. And shockingly (at least for me) Bluetooth works much much better. As in, I can actually pair my phone with Ubuntu and do other Bluetooth related stuff that didn’t work with 15.10. That seems to have mitigated the discovery issues I was seeing with Blue Hydra a little, but not as much as I would have liked. (Edited to add 8/8: Forgot to mention: after I upgraded, I did have to rerun bundle install to get Blue Hydra working again. But the second time, it ran without incident or error, and Blue Hydra worked immediately aftewards (though it still required root).)
  • I was using the Asus built-in Bluetooth adapter in my testing. Also just for giggles, I switched Blue Hydra to use an external USB adapter as well. That didn’t seem to make a difference.
  • In fairness, Blue Hydra may be designed to work best with an Ubertooth One. The temptation is great to pick one of those up. It is also tempting to pick up a BCM20702A0 based external adapter (like this one) partly to see if that works better, partly because I don’t have a Bluetooth LE compatible adapter (and this one is cheap) and partly because the Bluetooth lock stuff is based on that adapter. (Edited to add 8/8: I’m also tempted by this Sena UD100 adapter. It is a little more expensive, but also high power and has a SMA antenna connector. That could be useful.)
  • It may also be that I have an unreasonable expectation. Project e is seven years old at this point, and, while it still runs Ubuntu reasonably well, I do feel some slowness. Also, I think the battery life is slipping, and I’m not sure if replacements are available. I’ve been thinking off and on about replacing it with something gently used from Discount Electronics: something like a Core i5 or Core i7 machine with USB3 and a GPU that will work with hashcat. Maybe. We’ll see. Point is, some of my issues may just be “limits of old hardware” rather than bugs.
  • And who knows? There may very well be some bugs that get fixed after DEFCON.

tl, dr: Blue Hydra is nice, but I’m not yet convinced it is the second coming of Christ that I’ve been waiting for.

DEFCON 24: August 7, 2016 updates.

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

The presentations on the conference CD are here, if you’re looking for something specific that I didn’t mention. I’m still going to try to provide links to individual presenters and their sites, simply because I believe those are the most recent and best updated ones. Just to be clear, I’m not trying to rip off anyone else’s work, which is why I link directly. I want to provide myself (and possibly other interested folks) with one-stop shopping for the latest versions of the things I’m most interested in.

This takes us into today. I’ve been at this for about an hour and a half now. I’m not proud. Or tired. But I do have some other things I want to do, and I think it is a bit early to expect Sunday presentations to be up. I’ll end this one for now, and see if I can do another update tomorrow. Also, I want to do a further write-up on Blue Hydra, possibly tonight, maybe tomorrow as well.
If you are a presenter who’d like to provide a link to your talk (even if it is one I didn’t specifically call out) or you have other comments or questions, please feel free to comment here or send an email to stainles [at]

DEFCON 24 notes: Hail Hydra!

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

GitHub repository for Blue Hydra.

I’m jumping the gun a little, as the presentation is still a few hours away, but I wanted to bookmark this for personal reference as well as the enjoyment and edification of my readers.

Edited to add: quick update. Holy jumping mother o’ God in a side-car with chocolate jimmies and a lobster bib! It runs! It works! Mostly. Kind of.

If I get a chance, I’ll try to write up the steps I had to follow tomorrow. Yes, this blog is my personal Wiki: also, while the instructions in the README are actually pretty good, I ran into a few dependency issues that were not mentioned, but are documented on Stack Overflow.

DEFCON 24: 0-day notes.

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Another year observing DEFCON remotely. Maybe next year, if I get lucky, or the year after that.

The schedule is here. If I were going, what would I go to? What gets me excited? What do I think you should look for if you are lucky enough to go?

(As a side note, one of my cow-orkers was lucky enough to get a company paid trip to Black Hat this year. I’m hoping he’ll let me make archival copies of the handouts.)


Obit watch: August 2, 2016.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Seymour Papert. NYT. MIT A/I Lab.

I never met him, but as a very young person with my first computer, Papert’s work, especially with LOGO, was a huge influence on my thinking.

Memo from the sentencing desk.

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Remember Christopher Correa, the St. Louis Cardinals “director of baseball development” who plead guilty to hacking the Houston Astros player database? (Previously.)

46 months in prison. $279,038 in restitution.

In other news, Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca was supposed to be sentenced yesterday. The former sheriff, as you may recall, plead guilty to lying to federal investigators. He had agreed to take a plea, and the prosecution, in turn, had agreed to seek a sentence somewhere between probation and a maximum of six months in prison.

Yesterday, the judge in the case threw out the plea agreement.

Six months in prison for the man who ran the Sheriff’s Department “would not address the gross abuse of the public’s trust … including the need to restore the public’s trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” Anderson said.

Baca must now choose among several unappealing options. He could go ahead with the sentencing and accept whatever punishment Anderson has in mind. He could withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial, taking his chances with whatever charges the government might decide to bring. He could negotiate a new deal with federal prosecutors for a longer sentence that the judge would find more acceptable.

Former sheriff Baca has also been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease, which may be one reason why the prosecution was so willing to agree to a relatively light sentence; if his condition gets worse, he may not be competent to participate in his defense, which could result in any trial being delayed.