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Binh Nguyen: Social Engineering/Manipulation, Rigging Elections, and More

Tue, 2016-07-19 02:03
We recently had an election locally and I noticed how they were handing out 'How To Vote' cards which made me wonder. How much social engineering and manipulation do we experience each day/throughout our lives (please note, that all of the results are basically from the first few pages of any publicly available search engine)? - think about the education system and the way we're mostly taught to

Lev Lafayette: GnuCOBOL: A Gnu Life for an Old Workhorse

Sat, 2016-07-16 23:04

COBOL is a business-orientated programming language that has been in use since 1959, making it one of the world's oldest programming languages.

Despite being much criticised (and for good reasons) it is still a major programming language in the financial sector, although there are a declining number of experienced programmers.

read more

Ben Martin: Making surface mount pcbs with a CNC machine

Sat, 2016-07-16 18:53
The cool kidsTM like to use toaster ovens with thermocouples to bake their own surface mount boards at home. I've been exploring doing that using boards that I make on a CNC locally. The joy of designing in the morning and having the working product in the evening. It seems SOIC size is ok, but smaller SMT IC packages currently present an issue. This gives interesting fodder for how to increase precision down further. Doing SOIC and SMD LED/Resistors from a sub $1k CNC machine isn't too bad though IMHO. And unlike other pcb specific CNC machines I can also cut wood and metal with my machine :-p

Time to stock up on some SOIC microcontrollers for some full board productions. It will be very interesting to see if I can do an SMD usb connector. Makes it a nice complete black box to do something and talk ROS over USB.

Stewart Smith: Using Smatch static analysis on OpenPOWER OPAL firmware

Tue, 2016-07-12 15:00

For Skiboot, I’m always looking at new automated systems to find bugs in the code. A little while ago, I read about the Smatch tool developed by some folks at Oracle (they also wrote about using it on the Linux kernel).

I was eager to try it with skiboot to see if it could find anything.

Luckily, it was pretty easy. I built Smatch according to their documentation and then built skiboot:

make CHECK="/home/stewart/smatch/smatch" C=1 -j20 all check

Due to some differences in how we implement abort() and assert() in skiboot, I added “_abort”, “abort” and “assert_fail” to smatch_data/no_return_funcs in the Smatch source tree to silence some false positives.

It seems that there’s a few useful warnings there (some of which I’ve fixed in skiboot master already), along with some false positives around the preprocessor/complier tricks we do to ensure at compile time that an OPAL call definition has the correct number of arguments specified.

So far, so good though. Try it on your project!

Pia Waugh: Pia, Thomas and little A’s Excellent Adventure – Week 3

Mon, 2016-07-11 11:01

The last fortnight has just flown past! We have been getting into the rhythm of being on holidays, a difficult task for yours truly as the workaholic I am! Meanwhile we have also caught a lot more fish (up to 57 now, 53 were released), have been keeping up with the studies and little A has been (mostly) enjoying a broad range of new foods and experiences. The book is on hold for another week or two while I finish another project off.

Photos are added every few days to the flickr album.


My studies are going well. The two (final) subject are “Law, Governance and Policy” and “White Collar Crime”. They are both great subjects and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the readings, discussions and thinking critically about the issues therein. The White Collar Crime topic in particular has been fascinating! Each week we look at case studies of WCC in the news and there are some incredible issues every single week. A recent one directly relevant to us was the ACCC suing Heinz for a baby food advertised as “99% fruit” but made up of fruit concentrates and purees, resulting in a 67% sugar product. Wow! The advertising is all about how healthy it is and how it developed a taste for real foods in toddlers but it basically is just a sugar hit worse than a soft drink!

Fishing and weather

We have been doing fairly well and the largest trout so far was 69cm (7.5 pounds). We are exploring the area and finding some great new spots but there is certainly some crowding on weekends! Although Thomas was lamenting the lack of rain the first week, it then torrented leaving him to lament about too much rain! Hopefully now we’ll get a good mix of both rain (for fish) and sunshine. Meanwhile it has been generally much warmer than Canberra and the place we are staying in is always toasty warm so we are very comfortable.

Catchups in Wellington and Auckland

We are planning to go to Auckland for Gather later this month and to Wellington for GovHack at the end of July and then for the OS/OS conference in August. The plan is to catch up with ALL TEH PEEPS during those trips which we are really looking forward to! Little A and I did a little one day fly in fly out trip to Wellington last week to catch up with the team to exchange information and experience with running government data portals. It was great to see Nadia, Rowan and the team and to see the recent work happening with the new and to share some of the experience we had with Thanks very much to the team for great day and good luck in the next steps with your ambitious agenda! I know it will go well!


Last week we had our first visitors. Thomas’ parents stayed with us for a week which has been lovely! Little A had a great time being pampered and we enjoyed showing them around. We had a number of adventures with them including some fishing, a trip to the local national park to see some beautiful volcanoes (still active!) and a place reminiscent of the Hydro Majestic in the Blue Mountains.

We also visited Te Porere Redoubt a Maori defensive structure including trenches, and a visit to the site of an old Maori settlement. The trench warfare skills developed by the Maori were used in the New Zealand wars and I got a few photos to show the deep trench running around the outside of the structure and then the labyrinth in the middle. There is a photo of a picture of a fortified Maori town showing that large spikes would have also been used for the defensive structure, and potentially some kind of roof? Incredible use of tactical structures for defence. One for you Sherro!

Wolverine baby

Finally, we had a small incident with little A which really showed how resilient little kids are. We were bushwalking with little A in a special backpack for carrying children. I had to step across a small gap and checked out the brush but only saw the soft leaves of a tree. I stepped across and suddenly little A screamed! Thomas was right on to it (I couldn’t see what was happening) and there had been a tiny low hanging piece of bramble (thorny vine) at little A’s face height! He quickly disentangled her and we sat her down to see the damage and console her. It had caught on her neck and luckily only gave her a few very shallow scratches but she was inconsolable. Anyway, a few cuddles later, some antiseptic cream and a warm shower and little A was perfectly happy, playing with her usual toys whilst Thomas and I were still keyed up. The next day the marks were dramatically faded and within a couple of days you could barely see them. She is healing super fast, like a baby Wolverine She is happily enjoying a range of foods now and gets a lot of walks and some time at the local playgroup for additional socialisation.

Donna Benjamin: The Moon tonight

Sat, 2016-07-09 21:02
Saturday, July 9, 2016 - 20:10

Russell Coker: Nexus 6P and Galaxy S5 Mini

Fri, 2016-07-08 17:02

Just over a month ago I ordered a new Nexus 6P [1]. I’ve had it for over a month now and it’s time to review it and the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini I also bought.


The first noteworthy thing about this phone is the fingerprint scanner on the back. The recommended configuration is to use your fingerprint for unlocking the phone which allows a single touch on the scanner to unlock the screen without the need to press any other buttons. To unlock with a pattern or password you need to first press the “power” button to get the phone’s attention.

I have been considering registering a fingerprint from my non-dominant hand to reduce the incidence of accidentally unlocking it when carrying it or fiddling with it.

The phone won’t complete the boot process before being unlocked. This is a good security feature.

Android version 6 doesn’t assign permissions to apps at install time, they have to be enabled at run time (at least for apps that support Android 6). So you get lots of questions while running apps about what they are permitted to do. Unfortunately there’s no “allow for the duration of this session” option.

A new Android feature prevents changing security settings when there is an “overlay running”. The phone instructs you to disable overlay access for the app in question but that’s not necessary. All that is necessary is for the app to stop using the overlay feature. I use the Twilight app [2] to dim the screen and use redder colors at night. When I want to change settings at night I just have to pause that app and there’s no need to remove the access from it – note that all the web pages and online documentation saying otherwise is wrong.

Another new feature is to not require unlocking while at home. This can be a convenience feature but fingerprint unlocking is so easy that it doesn’t provide much benefit. The downside of enabling this is that if someone stole your phone they could visit your home to get it unlocked. Also police who didn’t have a warrant permitting search of a phone could do so anyway without needing to compel the owner to give up the password.


This is one of the 2 most attractive phones I’ve owned (the other being the sparkly Nexus 4). I think that the general impression of the appearance is positive as there are transparent cases on sale. My phone is white and reminds me of EVE from the movie Wall-E.


This phone uses the USB Type-C connector, which isn’t news to anyone. What I didn’t realise is that full USB-C requires that connector at both ends as it’s not permitted to have a data cable with USB-C at the device and and USB-A at the host end. The Nexus 6P ships with a 1M long charging cable that has USB-C at both ends and a ~10cm charging cable with USB-C at one end and type A at the other (for the old batteries and the PCs that don’t have USB-C). I bought some 2M long USB-C to USB-A cables for charging my new phone with my old chargers, but I haven’t yet got a 1M long cable. Sometimes I need a cable that’s longer than 10cm but shorter than 2M.

The USB-C cables are all significantly thicker than older USB cables. Part of that would be due to having many more wires but presumably part of it would be due to having thicker power wires for delivering 3A. I haven’t measured power draw but it does seem to charge faster than older phones.

Overall the process of converting to USB-C is going to be a lot more inconvenient than USB SuperSpeed (which I could basically ignore as non-SuperSpeed connectors worked).

It will be good when laptops with USB-C support become common, it should allow thinner laptops with more ports.

One problem I initially had with my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was the Micro-USB SuperSpeed socket on the phone being more fiddly for the Micro-USB charging plug I used. After a while I got used to that but it was still an annoyance. Having a symmetrical plug that can go into the phone either way is a significant convenience.

Calendars and Contacts

I share most phone contacts with my wife and also have another list that is separate. In the past I had used the Samsung contacts system for the contacts that were specific to my phone and a Google account for contacts that are shared between our phones. Now that I’m using a non-Samsung phone I got another Gmail account for the purpose of storing contacts. Fortunately you can get as many Gmail accounts as you want. But it would be nice if Google supported multiple contact lists and multiple calendars on a single account.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini

Shortly after buying the Nexus 6P I decided that I spend enough time in pools and hot tubs that having a waterproof phone would be a good idea. Probably most people wouldn’t consider reading email in a hot tub on a cruise ship to be an ideal holiday, but it works for me. The Galaxy S5 Mini seems to be the cheapest new phone that’s waterproof. It is small and has a relatively low resolution screen, but it’s more than adequate for a device that I’ll use for an average of a few hours a week. I don’t plan to get a SIM for it, I’ll just use Wifi from my main phone.

One noteworthy thing is the amount of bloatware on the Samsung. Usually when configuring a new phone I’m so excited about fancy new hardware that I don’t notice it much. But this time buying the new phone wasn’t particularly exciting as I had just bought a phone that’s much better. So I had more time to notice all the annoyances of having to download updates to Samsung apps that I’ll never use. The Samsung device manager facility has been useful for me in the past and the Samsung contact list was useful for keeping a second address book until I got a Nexus phone. But most of the Samsung apps and 3d party apps aren’t useful at all.

It’s bad enough having to install all the Google core apps. I’ve never read mail from my Gmail account on my phone. I use Fetchmail to transfer it to an IMAP folder on my personal mail server and I’d rather not have the Gmail app on my Android devices. Having any apps other than the bare minimum seems like a bad idea, more apps in the Android image means larger downloads for an over-the-air update and also more space used in the main partition for updates to apps that you don’t use.

Not So Exciting

In recent times there hasn’t been much potential for new features in phones. All phones have enough RAM and screen space for all common apps. While the S5 Mini has a small screen it’s not that small, I spent many years with desktop PCs that had a similar resolution. So while the S5 Mini was released a couple of years ago that doesn’t matter much for most common use. I wouldn’t want it for my main phone but for a secondary phone it’s quite good.

The Nexus 6P is a very nice phone, but apart from USB-C, the fingerprint reader, and the lack of a stylus there’s not much noticeable difference between that and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 I was using before.

I’m generally happy with my Nexus 6P, but I think that anyone who chooses to buy a cheaper phone probably isn’t going to be missing a lot.

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sthbrx - a POWER technical blog: Where to Get a POWER8 Development VM

Wed, 2016-07-06 16:00

POWER8 sounds great, but where the heck can I get a Power VM so I can test my code?

This is a common question we get at OzLabs from other open source developers looking to port their software to the Power Architecture. Unfortunately, most developers don't have one of our amazing servers just sitting around under their desk.

Thankfully, there's a few IBM partners who offer free VMs for development use. If you're in need of a development VM, check out:

So, next time you wonder how you can test your project on POWER8, request a VM and get to it!

Chris Neugebauer: 2017 wants your talks!

Wed, 2016-07-06 13:02

You might have noticed earlier this week that 2017, which is happening in Hobart, Tasmania (and indeed, which I’m running!) has opened its call for proposals.

Hobart’s a wonderful place to visit in January – within a couple of hours drive, there’s wonderful undisturbed wilderness to go bushwalking in, historic sites from Tasmania’s colonial past, and countless wineries, distilleries, and other producers. Not to mention, the MONA Festival of Music and Arts will probably be taking place around the time of the conference. Coupled with temperate weather, and longer daylight hours than anywhere else in Australia, so there’s plenty of time to make the most of your visit. is – despite the name – one of the world’s best generalist Free and Open Source Software conferences. It’s been running annually since 1999, and this year, we’re inviting people to talk abut the Future of Open Source.

That’s a really big topic area, so here’s how our CFP announcement breaks it down:

THE FUTURE OF YOUR PROJECT is well-known for deeply technical talks, and lca2017 will be no exception. Our attendees want to be the first to know about new and upcoming developments in the tools they already use every day, and they want to know about new open source technology that they’ll be using daily in two years time.

Many of the techniques that have made Open Source so successful in the software and hardware world are now being applied to fields as disparate as science, data, government, and the law. We want to know how Open Thinking will help to shape your field in the future, and more importantly, we want to know how the rest of the world can help shape the future of Open Source.

It’s easy to think that Open Source has won, but for every success we achieve, a new challenge pops up. Are we missing opportunities in desktop and mobile computing? Why is the world suddenly running away from open and federated communications? Why don’t the new generation of developers care about licensing? Let’s talk about how Software Freedom and Open Source can better meet the needs of our users and developers for years to come.

It’s hard for us to predict the future, but we know that you should be a part of it. If you think you have something to say about Free and Open Source Software, then we want to hear from you, even if it doesn’t fit any of the categories above.

My friend, and former director, Donna Benjamin blogged about the CFP on medium and tweeted the following yesterday:

At @linuxconfau in Hobart, I’d like to hear how people are USING free & open source software, and what they do to help tend the commons.

Our CFP closes on Friday 5 August – and we’re not planning on extending that deadline – so put your thinking caps on. If you have an idea for the conference, feel free to e-mail me for advice, or you can always ask for help on IRC – we’re in on freenode – or you can find us on Facebook or Twitter.

What does the future of Open Source look like? Tell us by submitting a talk, tutorial, or miniconf proposal now! We can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Colin Charles: Speaking in July 2016

Wed, 2016-07-06 03:02
  • Texas LinuxFest – July 8-9 2016 – Austin, Texas – I’ve never spoken at this event before but have heard great things about it. I’ve got a morning talk about what’s in MariaDB Server 10.1, and what’s coming in 10.2.
  • db tech showcase – July 13-15 2016 – Tokyo, Japan – I’ve regularly spoken at this event and its a case of a 100% pure database conference, with a very captive audience. I’ll be talking about the lessons one can learn from other people’s database failures (this is the kind of talk that keeps on changing and getting better as the software improves).
  • The MariaDB Tokyo Meetup – July 21 2016 – Tokyo, Japan – Not the traditional meetup timing, since its 1.30pm-7pm, there will be many talks and its organised by the folk behind the SPIDER storage engine. It should be fun to see many people and food is being provided too. In Japanese: MariaDB コミュニティイベント in Tokyo, MariaDB Community Event in TOKYO.

Tim Serong: Thunderbird Uses OpenGL – Who Knew?

Wed, 2016-07-06 01:04

I have a laptop and a desktop system (as well as a bunch of other crap, but let’s ignore that for a moment). Both laptop and desktop are running openSUSE Tumbleweed. I’m usually in front of my desktop, with dual screens, a nice keyboard and trackball, and the laptop is sitting with the lid closed tucked away under the desk. Importantly, the laptop is where my mail client lives. When I’m at my desk, I ssh from desktop to laptop with X forwarding turned on, then fire up Thunderbird, and it appears on my desktop screen. When I go travelling, I take the laptop with me, and I’ve still got my same email client, same settings, same local folders. Easy. Those of you considering heckling me for not using $any_other_mail_client and/or $any_other_environment, please save it for later.

Yesterday I had an odd problem. A new desktop system arrived, so I installed Tumbleweed, eventually ssh’d to my Laptop, started Thunderbird, and…

# thunderbird

…nothing happened. There’s usually a little bit of junk on the console at that point, and the Thunderbird window should have appeared on my desktop screen. But it didn’t. strace showed it stuck in a loop, waiting for something:

wait4(22167, 0x7ffdfc669be4, 0, NULL) = ? ERESTARTSYS (To be restarted if SA_RESTART is set) --- SIGVTALRM {si_signo=SIGVTALRM, si_code=SI_TKILL, si_pid=22164, si_uid=1000} --- rt_sigreturn({mask=[]}) = -1 EINTR (Interrupted system call) wait4(22167, 0x7ffdfc669be4, 0, NULL) = ? ERESTARTSYS (To be restarted if SA_RESTART is set) --- SIGVTALRM {si_signo=SIGVTALRM, si_code=SI_TKILL, si_pid=22164, si_uid=1000} --- rt_sigreturn({mask=[]}) = -1 EINTR (Interrupted system call) wait4(22167, 0x7ffdfc669be4, 0, NULL) = ? ERESTARTSYS (To be restarted if SA_RESTART is set) --- SIGVTALRM {si_signo=SIGVTALRM, si_code=SI_TKILL, si_pid=22164, si_uid=1000} --- rt_sigreturn({mask=[]}) = -1 EINTR (Interrupted system call)

After an assortment of random dead ends (ancient and useless bug reports about Thunderbird and Firefox failing to run over remote X sessions), I figured I may as well attach a debugger to see if I could get any more information:

# gdb -p 22167 GNU gdb (GDB; openSUSE Tumbleweed) 7.11 [...] Attaching to process 22167 Reading symbols from /usr/lib64/thunderbird/thunderbird-bin... [...] 0x00007f2e95331a1d in poll () from /lib64/ (gdb) break Breakpoint 1 at 0x7f2e95331a1d (gdb) bt #0 0x00007f2e95331a1d in poll () from /lib64/ #1 0x00007f2e8730b410 in ?? () from /usr/lib64/ #2 0x00007f2e8730cecf in ?? () from /usr/lib64/ #3 0x00007f2e8730cfe2 in xcb_wait_for_reply () from /usr/lib64/ #4 0x00007f2e86ecc845 in ?? () from /usr/lib64/ #5 0x00007f2e86ec74b8 in ?? () from /usr/lib64/ #6 0x00007f2e86e9a2a9 in ?? () from /usr/lib64/ #7 0x00007f2e86e9654b in ?? () from /usr/lib64/ #8 0x00007f2e86e966b3 in glXChooseVisual () from /usr/lib64/ #9 0x00007f2e90fa0d6f in glxtest () at /usr/src/debug/thunderbird/mozilla/toolkit/xre/glxtest.cpp:230 #10 0x00007f2e90fa1003 in fire_glxtest_process () at /usr/src/debug/thunderbird/mozilla/toolkit/xre/glxtest.cpp:333 #11 0x00007f2e90f9b4cd in XREMain::XRE_mainInit (this=this@entry=0x7ffdfc66c448, aExitFlag=aExitFlag@entry=0x7ffdfc66c3ef) at /usr/src/debug/thunderbird/mozilla/toolkit/xre/nsAppRunner.cpp:3134 #12 0x00007f2e90f9ee27 in XREMain::XRE_main (this=this@entry=0x7ffdfc66c448, argc=argc@entry=1, argv=argv@entry=0x7ffdfc66d958, aAppData=aAppData@entry=0x7ffdfc66c648) at /usr/src/debug/thunderbird/mozilla/toolkit/xre/nsAppRunner.cpp:4362 #13 0x00007f2e90f9f0f2 in XRE_main (argc=1, argv=0x7ffdfc66d958, aAppData=0x7ffdfc66c648, aFlags=) at /usr/src/debug/thunderbird/mozilla/toolkit/xre/nsAppRunner.cpp:4484 #14 0x00000000004054c8 in do_main (argc=argc@entry=1, argv=argv@entry=0x7ffdfc66d958, xreDirectory=0x7f2e9504a9c0) at /usr/src/debug/thunderbird/mail/app/nsMailApp.cpp:195 #15 0x0000000000404c4a in main (argc=1, argv=0x7ffdfc66d958) at /usr/src/debug/thunderbird/mail/app/nsMailApp.cpp:332 (gdb) continue [Inferior 1 (process 22167) exited with code 01]

OK, so it’s libGL that’s waiting for something. Why is my mail client trying to do stuff with OpenGL?

Hang on! When I told gdb to continue, suddenly Thunderbird appeared, running properly, on my desktop display. WTF?

As far as I can tell, the problem is that my new desktop system has an NVIDIA GPU (nouveau drivers, BTW), and my laptop and previous desktop system both have Intel GPUs. Something about ssh’ing from the desktop with the NVIDIA GPU to the laptop with the Intel GPU, causes Thunderbird (and, indeed, any GL app — I also tried glxinfo and glxgears) to just wedge up completely. Whereas if I do the reverse (ssh from Intel GPU laptop to NVIDIA GPU desktop) and run GL apps, it works fine.

After some more Googling, I discovered I can make Thunderbird work properly over remote X like this:


That will apparently cause glXCreateContext to return BadValue, which is enough to kick Thunderbird along. LIBGL_ALWAYS_SOFTWARE=1 works equally well to enable Thunderbird to function, while presumably still allowing it to use OpenGL if it really needs to for something (proof: LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT=1 glxgears fails, LIBGL_ALWAY_SOFTWARE=1 glxgears gives me spinning gears).

I checked Firefox too, and it of course has the same remote X problem, and the same solution.

sthbrx - a POWER technical blog: Optical Action at a Distance

Tue, 2016-07-05 15:23

Generally when someone wants to install a Linux distro they start with an ISO file. Now we could burn that to a DVD, walk into the server room, and put it in our machine, but that's a pain. Instead let's look at how to do this over the network with Petitboot!

At the moment Petitboot won't be able to handle an ISO file unless it's mounted in an expected place (eg. as a mounted DVD), so we need to unpack it somewhere. Choose somewhere to host the result and unpack the ISO via whatever method you prefer. (For example bsdtar -xf /path/to/image.iso).

You'll get a bunch of files but for our purposes we only care about a few; the kernel, the initrd, and the bootloader configuration file. Using the Ubuntu 16.04 ppc64el ISO as an example, these are:

./install/vmlinux ./install/initrd.gz. ./boot/grub/grub.cfg

In grub.cfg we can see that the boot arguments are actually quite simple:

set timeout=-1 menuentry "Install" { linux /install/vmlinux tasks=standard pkgsel/language-pack-patterns= pkgsel/install-language-support=false --- quiet initrd /install/initrd.gz } menuentry "Rescue mode" { linux /install/vmlinux rescue/enable=true --- quiet initrd /install/initrd.gz }

So all we need to do is create a PXE config file that points Petitboot towards the correct files.

We're going to create a PXE config file which you could serve from your DHCP server, but that does not mean we need to use PXE - if you just want a quick install you only need make these files accessible to Petitboot, and then we can use the 'Retrieve config from URL' option to download the files.

Create a petitboot.conf file somewhere accessible that contains (for Ubuntu):

label Install Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial Xerus kernel http://myaccesibleserver/path/to/vmlinux initrd http://myaccesibleserver/path/to/initrd.gz append tasks=standard pkgsel/language-pack-patterns= pkgsel/install-language-support=false --- quiet

Then in Petitboot, select 'Retrieve config from URL' and enter http://myaccesibleserver/path/to/petitboot.conf. In the main menu your new option should appear - select it and away you go!

Brendan Scott: Windows 10 to Linux

Mon, 2016-07-04 17:03

There is a lot of noise at the moment about Microsoft’s new operating system called Windows 10. Without repeating all the details you can have a look, say here or here or here. The essence of the story is that Microsoft is making it very difficult to avoid the new operating system. The advice being given is to not install the upgrade – which is anything but easy, since Windows 7 is supported until 2020.

The reality is that staying with Windows 7 is only delaying the inevitable. There is no reason to believe that Mircosoft’s offering in 2020 will be any better at respecting your ownership and every reason to think it will be worse. If you are one of these people considering sticking with Windows 7 then you have only two choices:

  • swallow your pride and update (either today or sometime in the next 4 years); or
  • migrate off the platform. If you migrate then, in practice, that means Linux (since Apple has similar beliefs about who really owns your computer).

In my opinion, if you actually want to own your own computer, you have to install Linux.

OpenSTEM: Swiss Professor starts Cybathlon

Mon, 2016-07-04 13:04

The Cybathlon will challenge assistive device developers to create technologies that thrive in day-to-day activities.

The prosthetic arm from the M.A.S.S. Impact team. (Credit: ETH Zurich)

While working as a professor in the sensory-motor systems lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), Robert Riener noticed a need for assistive devices that would better meet the challenge of helping people with daily life. He knew there were solutions, but that it would require motivating developers to rise to the challenge.

So, Riener created Cybathlon, the first cyborg Olympics where teams from all over the world will participate in races on Oct. 8 in Zurich that will test how well their devices perform routine tasks. Teams will compete in six different categories that will push their assistive devices to the limit on courses developed carefully over three years by physicians, developers and the people who use the technology. Eighty teams have signed up so far.

Riener wants the event to emphasize how important it is for man and machine to work together—so participants will be called pilots rather than athletes, reflecting the role of the assistive technology.

“The goal is to push the development in the direction of technology that is capable of performing day-to-day tasks. And that way, there will an improvement in the future life of the person using the device,” says Riener.


and CYBATHLON: Championship for Athletes with Disabilities

Lev Lafayette: Spartan: A New Architecture for Research Computing

Sat, 2016-07-02 01:04

Thursday July 30th, at the Gryphon Gallery at the University of Melbourne, was the official launch of the 'Spartan' high-performance computing and cloud hybrid. Speakers at the launch included Dr Stephen Giugni, Director, Research Platform Services., Prof Margaret Sheil, Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne., Professor Richard Sinnott, Director, eResearch and Professor of Applied Computing Systems., Mr Bernard Meade, Head of Research Compute Services, Research Platform Services, and yours truly, in my role as HPC Support Engineer, Research Platform Services.

As I argued in my presentation, the great advantage of Spartan is that it is designed around what users need. Based on research from the previous general compute resource, Edward, most people wanted to submit lots of jobs with a relatively small core count and memory footprint with data parallel approaches, but some really needed a large core counts with a fast interconnect. Putting the two types of users of the same system was not ideal. Also, engineers tend to want performance from a system, whereas managers want flexibility. Spartan provides both through its partitioning system. I am convinced that this will be architecture of future research computing.

Spartan's launch has received extensive media coverage, including high ranking sites such as HPC Wire, Gizmodo, and Delimiter. In addition to the aforementioned speakers, particular thanks must also be given to Linh Vu, Daniel Tosello, and Chris Samuel for their engineering excellence in helping put together the system, and to Greg Sauter for his project management (and for his photography). Welcome to Spartan!

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OpenSTEM: Use your Electoral Right to Vote

Fri, 2016-07-01 23:05

Did you know…

In 1863, the state of Victoria allowed everyone on the municipal rolls to vote, which included women; who voted in the 1864 general election.  This was regarded as a mistake by the men in government, and the law was changed to exclude women in 1865.  It then took another 40 years before women got the vote again – first federally, then in each of the states individually.

People fought for these and other rights.  You now have the power to choose for what you believe is right.

Please use your electoral right to vote.  It’s important.

James Morris: Linux Security Summit 2016 Schedule Published

Fri, 2016-07-01 21:02

The schedule for the 2016 Linux Security Summit is now published!

The keynote speaker for this year’s event is Julia Lawall.  Julia is a research scientist at Inria, the developer of Coccinelle, and the Linux Kernel coordinator for the Outreachy project.

Refereed presentations include:

See the schedule for the full list of talks.

Also included are updates from Linux kernel security subsystem maintainers, and snacks.

The event this year is co-located with LinuxCon North America in Toronto, and will be held on the 25th and 26th of August.  Standalone registration for the Linux Security Summit is $100 USD: click here to register.

You can also follow updates and news for the event via Twitter:  @LinuxSecSummit
See you there!

Sridhar Dhanapalan: OLPC Australia training resources

Fri, 2016-07-01 19:02

Underpinning the OLPC Australia education programme is a cache of training resources. In addition to our Online Course and Learner Manual, we have a set of help videos, hosted on our Vimeo channel. I have updated the OLPC Disassembly instructions for the top and bottom of the XO with links to the videos.

Sridhar Dhanapalan: OLPC Australia Education Newsletter

Fri, 2016-07-01 19:02

Editions 7 and 8 of the OLPC Australia Education Newsletter have come out in the past few weeks. In each edition, we will provide news, tips and tricks and stories from the field.

To subscribe, send an e-mail to

Sridhar Dhanapalan: Creating an Education Programme

Fri, 2016-07-01 19:02

OLPC Australia had a strong presence at 2012 in Ballarat, two weeks ago.

I gave a talk in the main keynote room about our educational programme, in which I explained our mission and how we intend to achieve it.

Even if you saw my talk at OSDC 2011, I recommend that you watch this one. It is much improved and contains new and updated material. The YouTube version is above, but a higher quality version is available for download from Linux Australia.

The references for this talk are on our development wiki.

Here’s a better version of the video I played near the beginning of my talk:

I should start by pointing out out that OLPC is by no means a niche or minor project. XO laptops are in the hands of 8000 children in Australia, across 130 remote communities. Around the world, over 2.5 million children, across nearly 50 countries, have an XO.

Investment in our Children’s Future

The key point of my talk is that OLPC Australia have a comprehensive education programme that highly values teacher empowerment and community engagement.

The investment to provide a connected learning device to every one of the 300 000 children in remote Australia is less than 0.1% of the annual education and connectivity budgets.

For low socio-economic status schools, the cost is only $80 AUD per child. Sponsorships, primarily from corporates, allow us to subsidise most of the expense (you too can donate to make a difference). Also keep in mind that this is a total cost of ownership, covering the essentials like teacher training, support and spare parts, as well as the XO and charging rack.

While our principal focus is on remote, low socio-economic status schools, our programme is available to any school in Australia. Yes, that means schools in the cites as well. The investment for non-subsidised schools to join the same programme is only $380 AUD per child.

Comprehensive Education Programme

We have a responsibility to invest in our children’s education — it is not just another market. As a not-for-profit, we have the freedom and the desire to make this happen. We have no interest in vendor lock-in; building sustainability is an essential part of our mission. We have no incentive to build a dependency on us, and every incentive to ensure that schools and communities can help themselves and each other.

We only provide XOs to teachers who have been sufficiently enabled. Their training prepares them to constructively use XOs in their lessons, and is formally recognised as part of their professional development. Beyond the minimum 15-hour XO-certified course, a teacher may choose to undergo a further 5-10 hours to earn XO-expert status. This prepares them to be able to train other teachers, using OLPC Australia resources. Again, we are reducing dependency on us.


Training is conducted online, after the teacher signs up to our programme and they receive their XO. This scales well to let us effectively train many teachers spread across the country. Participants in our programme are encouraged to participate in our online community to share resources and assist one another.

Online training process

We also want to recognise and encourage children who have shown enthusiasm and aptitude, with our XO-champion and XO-mechanic certifications. Not only does this promote sustainability in the school and give invaluable skills to the child, it reinforces our core principle of Child Ownership. Teacher aides, parents, elders and other non-teacher adults have the XO-basics (formerly known as XO-local) course designed for them. We want the child’s learning experience to extend to the home environment and beyond, and not be constrained by the walls of the classroom.

There’s a reason why I’m wearing a t-shirt that says “No, I won’t fix your computer.” We’re on a mission to develop a programme that is self-sustaining. We’ve set high goals for ourselves, and we are determined to meet them. We won’t get there overnight, but we’re well on our way. Sustainability is about respect. We are taking the time to show them the ropes, helping them to own it, and developing our technology to make it easy. We fundamentally disagree with the attitude that ordinary people are not capable enough to take control of their own futures. Vendor lock-in is completely contradictory to our mission. Our schools are not just consumers; they are producers too.

As explained by Jonathan Nalder (a highly recommended read!), there are two primary notions guiding our programme. The first is that the nominal $80 investment per child is just enough for a school to take the programme seriously and make them a stakeholder, greatly improving the chances for success. The second is that this is a schools-centric programme, driven from grassroots demand rather than being a regime imposed from above. Schools that participate genuinely want the programme to succeed.

Programme cycle Technology as an Enabler

Enabling this educational programme is the clever development and use of technology. That’s where I (as Engineering Manager at OLPC Australia) come in. For technology to be truly intrinsic to education, there must be no specialist expertise required. Teachers aren’t IT professionals, and nor should they be expected to be. In short, we are using computers to teach, not teaching computers.

The key principles of the Engineering Department are:

  • Technology is an integral and seamless part of the learning experience – the pen and paper of the 21st century.
  • To eliminate dependence on technical expertise, through the development and deployment of sustainable technologies.
  • Empowering children to be content producers and collaborators, not just content consumers.
  • Open platform to allow learning from mistakes… and easy recovery.

OLPC have done a marvellous job in their design of the XO laptop, giving us a fantastic platform to build upon. I think that our engineering projects in Australia have been quite innovative in helping to cover the ‘last mile’ to the school. One thing I’m especially proud of is our instance on openness. We turn traditional systems administration practice on its head to completely empower the end-user. Technology that is deployed in corporate or educational settings is typically locked down to make administration and support easier. This takes control completely away from the end-user. They are severely limited on what they can do, and if something doesn’t work as they expect then they are totally at the mercy of the admins to fix it.

In an educational setting this is disastrous — it severely limits what our children can learn. We learn most from our mistakes, so let’s provide an environment in which children are able to safely make mistakes and recover from them. The software is quite resistant to failure, both at the technical level (being based on Fedora Linux) and at the user interface level (Sugar). If all goes wrong, reinstalling the operating system and restoring a journal (Sugar user files) backup is a trivial endeavour. The XO hardware is also renowned for its ruggedness and repairability. Less well-known are the amazing diagnostics tools, providing quick and easy indication that a component should be repaired/replaced. We provide a completely unlocked environment, with full access to the root user and the firmware. Some may call that dangerous, but I call that empowerment. If a child starts hacking on an XO, we want to hire that kid