Search Results: "Paul Tagliamonte"

26 December 2020

Paul Tagliamonte: Reverse Engineering my Christmas Tree

Over the course of the last year and a half, I ve been doing some self-directed learning on how radios work. I ve gone from a very basic understanding of wireless communications (there s usually some sort of antenna, I guess?) all the way through the process of learning about and implementing a set of libraries to modulate and demodulate data using my now formidable stash of SDRs. I ve been implementing all of the RF processing code from first principals and purely based on other primitives I ve written myself to prove to myself that I understand each concept before moving on. I figured that there was a fun capstone to be done here - the blind reverse engineering and implementation of the protocol my cheep Amazon power switch uses to turn on and off my Christmas Tree. All the work described in this post was done over the course of a few hours thanks to help during the demodulation from Tom Bereknyei and hlieberman.

Going in blind When I first got my switch, I checked it for any FCC markings in order to look up the FCC filings to determine the operational frequency of the device, and maybe some other information such as declared modulation or maybe even part numbers and/or diagrams. However, beyond a few regulatory stickers, there were no FCC ids or other distinguishing IDs on the device. Worse yet, it appeared to be a whitelabeled version of another product, so searching Google for the product name was very unhelpful. Since operation of this device is unlicensed, I figured I d start looking in the ISM band. The most common band used that I ve seen is the band starting at 433.05MHz up to 434.79MHz. I fired up my trusty waterfall tuned to a center frequency of 433.92MHz (since it s right in the middle of the band, and it let me see far enough up and down the band to spot the remote) and pressed a few buttons. Imagine my surprise when I realize the operational frequency of this device is 433.920MHz, exactly dead center. Weird, but lucky! After taking a capture, I started to look at understanding what the modulation type of the signal was, and how I may go about demodulating it. Using inspectrum, I was able to clearly see the signal in the capture, and it immediately stuck out to my eye to be encoded using OOK / ASK. Next, I started to measure the smallest pulse, and see if I could infer the symbols per second, and try to decode it by hand. These types of signals are generally pretty easy to decode by eye. This wound up giving me symbol rate of 2.2 Ksym/s, which is a lot faster than I expected. While I was working by hand, Tom demodulated a few messages in Python, and noticed that if you grouped the bits into groups of 4, you either had a 1000 or a 1110 which caused me to realize this was encoded using something I saw documented elsewhere, where the 0 is a short pulse, and a 1 is a long pulse, not unlike morse code, but where each symbol takes up a fixed length of time (monospace morse code?). Working on that assumption, I changed my inspectrum symbol width, and demodulated a few more by hand. This wound up demodulating nicely (and the preamble / clock sync could be represented as repeating 0s, which is handy!) and gave us a symbol rate of 612(ish) symbols per second a lot closer to what I was expecting. If we take the code for on in the inspectrum capture above and demodulate it by hand, we get 0000000000110101100100010 (treat a short pulse as a 0, and a long pulse as a 1). If you re interested in following along at home, click on the inspectrum image, and write down the bits you see, and compare it to what I have! Right, so it looks like from what we can tell so far that the packet looks something like this:
preamble / sync
Next, I took a capture of all the button presses and demodulated them by hand, and put them into a table to try and understand the format of the messages:
Button Demod'd Bits
On 0000000000110101100100010
Off 00000000001101011001010000
Dim Up 0000000000110101100110100
Dim Down 0000000000110101100100100
Timer 1h 0000000000110101100110010
Timer 2h 0000000000110101100100110
Timer 4h 0000000000110101100100000
Dim 100% 0000000000110101000101010
Dim 75% 00000000001101010001001100
Dim 50% 00000000001101010001001000
Dim 25% 0000000000110101000100000
Great! So, this is enough to attempt to control the tree with, I think so I wrote a simple modulator. My approach was to use the fact that I can break down a single symbol into 4 sub-symbol components which is to say, go back to representing a 1 as 1110, and a 0 as 1000. This let me allocate IQ space for the symbol, break the bit into 4 symbols, and if that symbol is 1, write out values from a carrier wave (cos in the real values, and sin in the imaginary values) to the buffer. Now that I can go from bits to IQ data, I can transmit that IQ data using my PlutoSDR or HackRF and try and control my tree. I gave it a try, and the tree blinked off! Success! But wait that s not enough for me I know I can t just demodulate bits and try and replay the bits forever there s stuff like addresses and keys and stuff, and I want to get a second one of these working. Let s take a look at the bits to see if we spot anything fun & interesting. At first glance, a few things jumped out at me as being weird? First is that the preamble is 10 bits long (fine, let s move along - maybe it just needs 8 in a row and there s two to ensure clocks sync?). Next is that the messages are not all the same length. I double (and triple!) checked the messages, and it s true, the messages are not all the same length. Adding an extra bit at the end didn t break anything, but I wonder if that s just due to the implementation rather than the protocol. But, good news, it looks like we have a stable prefix to the messages from the remote must be my device s address! The stable 6 bits that jump out right away are 110101. Something seems weird, though, 6 bits is a bit awkward, even for a bit limited embedded device. Why 6? But hey, wait, we had 10 bits in the preamble, what if we have an 8 bit address meaning my device is 00110101, and the preamble is 8 0 symbols! Those are numbers that someone working on an 8 bit aligned platform would pick! To test this, I added a 0 to the preamble to see if the message starts at the first 1, or if it requires all the bits to be fully decoded, and lo and behold, the tree did not turn on or off. This would seem to me to confirm that the 0s are part of the address, and I can assume we have two 8 bit aligned bytes in the prefix of the message.
preamble / sync
Now, when we go through the 9-10 bits of stuff , we see all sorts of weird bits floating all over the place. The first 4 bits look like it s either 1001 or 0001, but other than that, there s a lot of chaos. This is where things get really squishy. I needed more information to try and figure this out, but no matter how many times I sent a command it was always the same bits (so, no counters), and things feel very opaque still. The only way I was going to make any progress is to get another switch and see how the messages from the remote change. Off to Amazon I went, and ordered another switch from the same page, and eagerly waited its arrival.

Switch #2 The second switch showed up, and I hurriedly unboxed the kit, put batteries into the remote, and fired up my SDR to take a capture. After I captured the first button ( Off ), my heart sunk as I saw my lights connected to Switch #1 flicker off. Apparently the new switch and the old switch have the same exact address. To be sure, I demodulated the messages as before, and came out with the exact same bit pattern. This is a setback and letdown I was hoping to independently control my switches, but it also means I got no additional information about the address or button format. The upside to all of this, though, is that because the switches are controlled by either remote, I only needed one remote, so why not pull it apart and see if I can figure out what components it s using to transmit, and find any datasheets I can. The PCB was super simple, and I wound up finding a WL116SC IC on the PCB. After some googling, I found a single lone datasheet, entirely in Chinese. Thankfully, Google Translate seems to have worked well enough on technical words, and I was able to put together at least a little bit of understanding based on the documentation that was made available. I took a few screenshots below - I put the google translated text above the hanzi. From that sheet, we can see we got the basics of the 1 and 0 symbol encoding right (I was halfway expecting the bits to be flipped), and a huge find by way of a description of the bits in the message! It s a bummer that we missed the clock sync / preamble pulse before the data message, but that s OK somehow. It also turns out that 8 or 10 bit series of of 0"s wasn t clock sync at all - it was part of the address! Since it also turns out that all devices made by this manufacturer have the hardcoded address of []byte 0x00, 0x35 , that means that the vast majority of bits sent are always going to be the same for any button press on any remote made by this vendor. Seems like a waste of bits to me, but hey, what do I know. Additionally, this also tells us the trailing zeros are not part of the data encoding scheme, which is progress!
Now, working on the assumptions validated by the datasheet, here s the updated list of scancodes we ve found:
Button Scancode Bits Integer
On 10010001 145 / 0x91
Off 10010100 148 / 0x94
Dim Up 10011010 154 / 0x9A
Dim Down 10010010 146 / 0x92
Timer 1h 10011001 154 / 0x99
Timer 2h 10010011 147 / 0x93
Timer 4h 10010000 144 / 0x90
Dim 100% 00010101 21 / 0x15
Dim 75% 00010011 19 / 0x13
Dim 50% 00010010 18 / 0x12
Dim 25% 00010000 16 / 0x10
Interestingly, I think the Dim keys may have a confirmation that we have a good demod the codes on the bottom are missing the most significant bit, and when I look back at the scancode table in the datasheet, they make an interesting pattern the bottom two rows, right and left side values match up! If you take a look, Dim 100% is S1 , Dim 75% is S19 , Dim 50% is S8 , and Dim 25% is S20 . Cool! Since none of the other codes line up, I am willing to bet the most significant bit is a Combo indicator, and not part of the button (leaving 7 bits for the keycode). And even more interestingly, one of our scancodes ( Off , which is 0x94) shows up just below this table, in the examples. Over all, I think this tells us we have the right bits to look at for determining the scan code! Great news there!

Back to the modulation! So, armed with this knowledge, I was able to refactor my code to match the timings and understanding outlined by the datasheet and ensure things still work. The switch itself has a high degree of tolerance, so being wildly off frequency or a wildly wrong symbol rate may actually still work. It s hard to know if this is more or less correct, but matching documentation seems like a more stable foundation if nothing else. This code has been really reliable, and tends to work just as well as the remote from what I ve been able to determine. I ve been using incredibly low power to avoid any interference, and it s been very robust - a testament to the engineering that went into the outlet hardware, even though it cost less than of a lot of other switches! I have a lot of respect for the folks who built this device - it s incredibly simple, reliable and my guess is this thing will keep working even in some fairly harsh RF environments. The only downside is the fact the manufacturer used the same address for all their devices, rather than programming a unique address for each outlet and remote when the underlying WL116SC chip supports it. I m sure this was done to avoid complexity in assembly (e.g. pairing the remote and outlet, and having to keep those two items together during assembly), but it s still a bummer. I took apart the switch to see if I could dump an EEPROM and change the address in ROM, but the entire thing was potted in waterproof epoxy, which is a very nice feature if this was ever used outdoors. Not good news for tinkering, though!

Unsolved Mysteries At this point, even though I understand the protocol enough to control the device, it still feels like I hit a dead end in my understanding. I m not able to figure out how exactly the scancodes are implemented, and break them down into more specific parts. They are stable and based on the physical wiring of the remote, so I think I m going to leave it a magic number. I have what I was looking for, and these magic constants appear to be the right one to use, even if I did understand how to create the codes itself. This does leave us with a few bits we never resolved, which I ll memorialize below just to be sure I don t forget about them. Question #1: According to the datasheet there should be a preamble. Why do I not see one leading the first message? My hunch is that the trailing 0 at the end of the payload is actually just the preamble for the next message (always rendering the first message invalid?). This would let us claim there s an engineering reason why we are ignoring the weird bit, and also explain away something from the documentation. It s just weird that it wouldn t be present on the first message. This theory is mostly confirmed by measuring the timing and comparing it to the datasheet, but it s not exactly in line with the datasheet timings either (specifically, it s off by 200 s, which is kinda a lot for a system using 400 s timings). I think I could go either way on the last 0 being the preamble for the next message. It could be that the first message is technically invalid, or it could also be that this was not implemented or actively disabled by the vendor for this specific application / device. It s really hard to know without getting the source code for the WL116SC chip in this specific remote or the source in the outlet itself. Question #2: Why are some keycodes 8 bits and others 9 bits? I still have no idea why there sometimes 8 bits (for instance, On ) and other times there are 9 bits (for instance, Off ) in the 8 bit keycode field. I spent some time playing with the trailing zeros, when I try and send an Off with the most significant 8 bits (without the least significant / last 9th bit, which is a 0 ), it does not turn the tree off. If I send an On with 9 bits (an additional 0 after the least significant bit), it does work, but both On and Off work when I send 10, 11 or 12 bits padded with trailing zeros. I suspect my outlet will ignore data after the switch is done reading bits regardless of trailing zeros. The docs tell me there should only be 8 bits, but it won t work unless I send 9 bits for some commands. There s something fishy going on here, and the datasheet isn t exactly right either way. Question #3: How in the heck do those scancodes work? This one drove me nuts. I ve spent countless hours on trying to figure this out, including emailing the company that makes the WL116SC (they re really nice!), and even though they were super kind and generous with documentation and example source, I m still having a hard time lining up their documentation and examples with what I see from my remote. I think the manufacturer of my remote and switch has modified the protocol enough to where there s actually something different going on here. Bummer. I wound up in my place of last resort asking friends over Signal to try and see if they could find a pattern, as well as making multiple pleas to the twittersphere, to no avail (but thank you to Ben Hilburn, devnulling, Andreas Bombe and Larme for your repiles, help and advice!) I still don t understand how they assemble the scan code for instance, if you merely add, you won t know if a key press of 0x05 is 0x03 + 0x02 or if it s 0x01 + 0x04. On the other hand, treating it as two 4-bit integers won t work for 0x10 to 0x15 (since they need 5 bits to represent). It s also likely the most significant bit is a combo indicator, which only leaves 7 bits for the actual keypress data. Stuffing 10 bits of data into 7 bits is likely resulting in some really intricate bit work. On a last ditch whim, I tried to XOR the math into working, but some initial brute forcing to make the math work given the provided examples did not result in anything. It could be a bitpacked field that I don t understand, but I don t think I can make progress on that without inside knowledge and much more work. Here s the table containing the numbers I was working off of:
Keys Key Codes Scancode
S3 + S9 0x01 + 0x03 0x96
S6 + S12 0x07 + 0x09 0x94
S22 + S10 0x0D + 0x0F 0x3F
If anyone has thoughts on how these codes work, I d love to hear about it! Send me an email or a tweet or something - I m a bit stumped. There s some trick here that is being used to encode the combo key in a way that is decodeable. If it s actually not decodeable (which is a real possibility!), this may act as a unique button combo hash which allows the receiver to not actually determine which keys are pressed, but have a unique button that gets sent when a combo is used. I m not sure I know enough to have a theory as to which it may be.

12 December 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: DNSync MAC Addresses

I ve been hacking on a project on and off for my LAN called DNSync. This will take a DNSMasq leases file and sync it to Amazon Route 53. I ve added a new feature, which will create A reccords for each MAC address on the LAN. Since DNSync won t touch CNAME records, I use CNAME records (manually) to point to the auto-synced A records for services on my LAN (such as my Projector, etc). Since It s easy for two machines to have the same name, I ve decided to add A records for each MAC as well as their client name. They take the fomm of something like, which is harder to accedentally collide.

18 September 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: DNSync

While setting up my new network at my house, I figured I d do things right and set up an IPSec VPN (and a few other fancy bits). One thing that became annoying when I wasn t on my LAN was I d have to fiddle with the DNS Resolver to resolve names of machines on the LAN. Since I hate fiddling with options when I need things to just work, the easiest way out was to make the DNS names actually resolve on the public internet. A day or two later, some Golang glue, and AWS Route 53, and I wrote code that would sit on my dnsmasq.leases, watch inotify for IN_MODIFY signals, and sync the records to AWS Route 53. I pushed it up to my GitHub as DNSync. PRs welcome!

5 September 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: go-haversine

In the spirit of blogging about some of the code i ve written in the past year or two, I wrote a small utility library called go-haversine, which uses the Haversine Forumla to compute the distance between two points. This is super helpful when working with GPS data - but remember, this assumes everything s squarely on the face of the planet.

22 August 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: go-wmata - golang bindings to the DC metro system

A few weeks ago, I hacked up go-wmata, some golang bindings to the WMATA API. This is super handy if you are in the DC area, and want to interface to the WMATA data. As a proof of concept, I wrote a yo bot called @WMATA, where it returns the closest station if you Yo it your location. For hilarity, feel free to Yo it from outside DC. For added fun, and puns, I wrote a dbus proxy for the API as weel, at wmata-dbus, so you can query the next train over dbus. One thought was to make a GNOME Shell extension to tell me when the next train is. I d love help with this (or pointers on how to learn how to do this right).

15 August 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: Minica - lightweight TLS for everyone!

A while back, I found myself in need of some TLS certificates set up and issued for a testing environment. I remembered there was some code for issuing TLS certs in Docker, so I yanked some of that code and made a sensable CLI API over it. Thus was born minica! Something as simple as minica tag@domain.tls domain.tld will issue two TLS certs (one with a Client EKU, and one server) issued from a single CA. Next time you re in need of a few TLS keys (without having to worry about stuff like revocation or anything), this might be the quickest way out!

8 August 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: Using PKCS#11 on GNU/Linux

PKCS#11 is a standard API to interface with HSMs, Smart Cards, or other types of random hardware backed crypto. On my travel laptop, I use a few Yubikeys in PKCS#11 mode using OpenSC to handle system login. libpam-pkcs11 is a pretty easy to use module that will let you log into your system locally using a PKCS#11 token locally. One of the least documented things, though, was how to use an OpenSC PKCS#11 token in Chrome. First, close all web browsers you have open.
sudo apt-get install libnss3-tools
certutil -U -d sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb
modutil -add "OpenSC" -libfile /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/ -dbdir sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb
modutil -list "OpenSC" -dbdir sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb 
modutil -enable "OpenSC" -dbdir sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb
Now, we'll have the PKCS#11 module ready for nss to use, so let's double check that the tokens are registered:
certutil -U -d sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb
certutil -L -h "OpenSC" -d sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb
If this winds up causing issues, you can remove it using the following command:
modutil -delete "OpenSC" -dbdir sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb

31 July 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: Hacking a Projector in Hy

About a year ago, I bought a Projector after I finally admitted that I could actually use a TV in my apartment. I settled on buying a ViewSonic PJD5132. It was a really great value, and has been nothing short of a delight to own. I was always a bit curious about the DB9 connector on the back of the unit, so I dug into the user manual, and found some hex code strings in there. So, last year, between my last gig at the Sunlight Foundtion and USDS, I spent some time wandering around the US, hitting up DebConf, and exploring Washington DC. Between trips, I set out to figure out exactly what was going on with my Projector, and see if I could make it do anything fun. So, I started off with basics, and tried to work out how these command codes were structured. I had a few working codes, but to write clean code, I'd be better off understanding why the codes looked like they do. Let's look at the "Power On" code. 0x06 0x14 0x00 0x04 0x00 0x34 0x11 0x00 0x00 0x5D Some were 10 bytes, other were 11, and most started with similar looking things. The first byte was usually a 0x06 or 0x07, followed by two bytes 0x14 0x00, and either a 0x04 or 0x05. Since the first few bytes were similarly structured, I assumed the first octet (either 0x06 or 0x07) was actually a length, since the first 4 octets seemed always present. So, my best guess is that we have a Length byte at index 0, followed by two bytes for the Protocol, a flag for if you're Reading or Writing (best guess on that one), and opaque data following that. Sometimes it's a const of sorts, and sometimes an octet (either little or big endian, confusingly).
           Read / Write
     Protocol                Data
       ----           ------------------------ 
0x06 0x14 0x00 0x04 0x00 0x34 0x11 0x00 0x00 0x5D
Right. OK. So, let's get to work. In the spirit of code is data, data is code, I hacked up some of the projector codes into a s-expression we can use later. The structure of this is boring, but it'll let us both store the command code to issue, as well as define the handler to read the data back.
(setv *commands*
  ;  function                       type family         control
  '((power-on                         nil nil            (0x06  0x14 0x00  0x04  0x00 0x34 0x11 0x00 0x00 0x5D))
    (power-off                        nil nil            (0x06  0x14 0x00  0x04  0x00 0x34 0x11 0x01 0x00 0x5E))
    (power-status                   const power          (0x07  0x14 0x00  0x05  0x00 0x34 0x00 0x00 0x11 0x00 0x5E))
    (reset                            nil nil            (0x06  0x14 0x00  0x04  0x00 0x34 0x11 0x02 0x00 0x5F))
As well as defining some of the const responses that come back from the Projector itself. These are pretty boring, but it's helpful to put a name to the int that falls out.
(setv *consts*
  '((power        ((on           (0x00 0x00 0x01))
                   (off          (0x00 0x00 0x00))))
    (freeze       ((on           (0x00 0x00 0x01))
                   (off          (0x00 0x00 0x00))))
After defining a few simple functions to write the byte arrays to the serial port as well as reading and understanding responses from the projector, I could start elaborating on some higher order functions that can talk projector. So the first thing I wrote was to make a function that converts the command entry into a native Hy function.
(defn make-api-function [function type family data]
   (defn ~function [serial]
      (import [PJD5132.dsl [interpret-response]]
              [PJD5132.serial [read-response/raw]])
      (serial.write (bytearray [~@data]))
      (interpret-response ~(str type) ~(str family) (read-response/raw serial))))
Fun. Fun! Now, we can invoke it to create a Hy & Python importable API wrapper in a few lines!
(import [PJD5132.commands [*commands*]]
        [PJD5132.dsl [make-api-function]])
(list (map (fn [(, function type family command)]
               (make-api-function function type family command)) *commands*)))
Cool. So, now we can import things like power-on from *commands* which takes a single argument (serial) for the serial port, and it'll send a command, and return the response. The best part about all this is you only have to define the data once in a list, and the rest comes for free. Finally, I do want to be able to turn my projector on and off over the network so I went ahead and make a Flask "API" on top of this. First, let's define a macro to define Flask routes:
(defmacro defroute [name root &rest methods]
  (import os.path)
  (defn generate-method [path method status]
     (with-decorator (app.route ~path) (fn []
       (import [PJD5132.api [~method ~(if status status method)]])
       (try (do (setv ret (~method serial-line))
               ~(if status  (setv ret (~status serial-line)))
                (json.dumps ret))
       (except [e ValueError]
          (setv response (make-response (.format "Fatal Error: ValueError:  " (str e))))
          (setv response.status-code 500)
  (setv path (.format "/projector/ " name))
  (setv actions (dict methods))
   (do ~(generate-method path root nil)
       ~@(list-comp (generate-method (os.path.join path method-path) method root)
                    [(, method-path method) methods])))
Now, we can define how we want our API to look, so let's define the power route, which will expand out into the Flask route code above.
(defroute power
  ("on"  power-on)
  ("off" power-off))
And now, let's play with it!
$ curl
$ curl
$ curl
Or, the volume!
$ curl
$ curl
$ curl
$ curl
$ curl
$ curl
$ curl
Check out the full source over at!

22 July 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: HOPE 11

I ll be at HOPE 11 this year - if anyone else will be around, feel free to send me an email! I won t have a phone on me (so texting only works if you use Signal!) Looking forward for a chance to see everyone soon!

16 July 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: The Open Source License API

Around a year ago, I started hacking together a machine readable version of the OSI approved licenses list, and casually picking parts up until it was ready to launch. A few weeks ago, we officially announced the osi license api, which is now live at I also took a whack at writing a few API bindings, in Python, Ruby, and using the models from the API implementation itself in Go. In the following few weeks, Clint wrote one in Haskell, Eriol wrote one in Rust, and Oliver wrote one in R. The data is sourced from a repo on GitHub, the licenses repo under OpenSourceOrg. Pull Requests against that repo are wildly encouraged! Additional data ideas, cleanup or more hand collected data would be wonderful! In the meantime, use-cases for using this API range from language package managers pulling OSI approval of a licence programatically to using a license identifier as defined in one dataset (SPDX, for exampele), and using that to find the identifer as it exists in another system (DEP5, Wikipedia, TL;DR Legal). Patches are hugly welcome, as are bug reports or ideas! I'd also love more API wrappers for other languages!

10 July 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: SNIff

A while back, I found myself in need of two webservers that would terminate TLS (with different rules). I wanted to run some custom code I d written (which uses TLS peer authentication), and also nginx on port 443. The best way I figured out how to do this was to write a tool to sit on port 443, and parse TLS Client Hello packets, and dispatch to the correct backend depending on the SNI name. SNI, or Server Name Indication allows the client to announce (yes over cleartext!) what server it s looking for, similar to the HTTP Host header. Sometimes, like in the case above, the Host header won t work, since you ve already done a TLS handshake by the time you figure out who they re looking for. I also spun the Client Hello parser out into its own importable package, just in case someone else finds themselves in this same boat. The code s up on!

2 July 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: Hello, InfluxDB

Last week, I posted about python-sense, and API wrapper for the internal Sense API. I wrote this so that I could pull data about myself into my own databases, allowing me to use that information for myself. One way I'm doing this is by pulling my room data into an InfluxDB database, letting me run time series queries against my environmental data.
#!/usr/bin/env python
from influxdb import InfluxDBClient
import json
import datetime as dt
from sense.service import Sense
api = Sense()
data = api.room_sensors(quantity=20)
def items(data):
    for flavor, series in data.items():
        for datum in reversed(series):
            value = datum['value']
            if value == -1:
            timezone = dt.timezone(dt.timedelta(
                seconds=datum['offset_millis'] / 1000,
            when = dt.datetime.fromtimestamp(
                datum['datetime'] / 1000,
            yield flavor, when, value
client = InfluxDBClient(
def series(data):
    for flavor, when, value in items(data):
            "measurement": " ".format(flavor),
                "user": "paultag"
            "time": when.isoformat(),
                "value": value,
I'm able to run this on a cron, automatically loading data from the Sense API into my Influx database. I can then use that with something like Grafana, to check out what my room looks like over time.

27 June 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: Hello, Sense!

A while back, I saw a Kickstarter for one of the most well designed and pretty sleep trackers on the market. I fell in love with it, and it has stuck with me since. A few months ago, I finally got my hands on one and started to track my data. Naturally, I now want to store this new data with the rest of the data I have on myself in my own databases. I went in search of an API, but I found that the Sense API hasn't been published yet, and is being worked on by the team. Here's hoping it'll land soon! After some subdomain guessing, I hit on So, naturally, I went to take a quick look at their Android app and network traffic, lo and behold, there was a pretty nicely designed API. This API is clearly an internal API, and as such, it's something that should not be considered stable. However, I'm OK with a fragile API, so I've published a quick and dirty API wrapper for the Sense API to my GitHub.. I've published it because I've found it useful, but I can't promise the world, (since I'm not a member of the Sense team at Hello!), so here are a few ground rules of this wrapper: This module is currently Python 3 only. If someone really needs Python 2 support, I'm open to minimally invasive patches to the codebase using six to support Python 2.7. Working with the API: First, let's go ahead and log in using python -m sense.
$ python -m sense
Sense OAuth Client ID: xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx
Sense OAuth Client Secret: xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx
Sense email:
Sense password: 
Attempting to log into Sense's API
Attempting to query the Sense API
The humidity is **just right**.
The air quality is **just right**.
The light level is **just right**.
It's **pretty hot** in here.
The noise level is **just right**.
Now, let's see if we can pull up information on my Sense:
>>> from sense import Sense
>>> sense = Sense()
>>> sense.devices()
 'senses': [ 'id': 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx', 'firmware_version': '11a1', 'last_updated': 1466991060000, 'state': 'NORMAL', 'wifi_info':  'rssi': 0, 'ssid': 'Pretty Fly for a WiFi (2.4 GhZ)', 'condition': 'GOOD', 'last_updated': 1462927722000 , 'color': 'BLACK' ], 'pills': [ 'id': 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx', 'firmware_version': '2', 'last_updated': 1466990339000, 'battery_level': 87, 'color': 'BLUE', 'state': 'NORMAL' ] 
Neat! Pretty cool. Look, you can even see my WiFi AP! Let's try some more and pull some trends out.
>>> values = [x.get("value") for x in sense.room_sensors()["humidity"]][:10]
>>> min(values)
>>> max(values)
I plan to keep maintaining it as long as it's needed, so I welcome co-maintainers, and I'd love to see what people build with it! So far, I'm using it to dump my room data into InfluxDB, pulling information on my room into Grafana. Hopefully more to come! Happy hacking!

19 June 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: Go Debian!

As some of the world knows full well by now, I've been noodling with Go for a few years, working through its pros, its cons, and thinking a lot about how humans use code to express thoughts and ideas. Go's got a lot of neat use cases, suited to particular problems, and used in the right place, you can see some clear massive wins. I've started writing Debian tooling in Go, because it's a pretty natural fit. Go's fairly tight, and overhead shouldn't be taken up by your operating system. After a while, I wound up hitting the usual blockers, and started to build up abstractions. They became pretty darn useful, so, this blog post is announcing (a still incomplete, year old and perhaps API changing) Debian package for Go. The Go importable name is This contains a lot of utilities for dealing with Debian packages, and will become an edited down "toolbelt" for working with or on Debian packages. Module Overview Currently, the package contains 4 major sub packages. They're a changelog parser, a control file parser, deb file format parser, dependency parser and a version parser. Together, these are a set of powerful building blocks which can be used together to create higher order systems with reliable understandings of the world. changelog The first (and perhaps most incomplete and least tested) is a changelog file parser.. This provides the programmer with the ability to pull out the suite being targeted in the changelog, when each upload was, and the version for each. For example, let's look at how we can pull when all the uploads of Docker to sid took place:
func main()  
    resp, err := http.Get("")
    if err != nil  
    allEntries, err := changelog.Parse(resp.Body)
    if err != nil  
    for _, entry := range allEntries  
        fmt.Printf("Version %s was uploaded on %s\n", entry.Version, entry.When)
The output of which looks like:
Version 1.8.3~ds1-2 was uploaded on 2015-11-04 00:09:02 -0800 -0800
Version 1.8.3~ds1-1 was uploaded on 2015-10-29 19:40:51 -0700 -0700
Version 1.8.2~ds1-2 was uploaded on 2015-10-29 07:23:10 -0700 -0700
Version 1.8.2~ds1-1 was uploaded on 2015-10-28 14:21:00 -0700 -0700
Version 1.7.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-08-26 10:13:48 -0700 -0700
Version 1.6.2~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2015-07-01 07:45:19 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.2~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-05-21 00:47:43 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.1+dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2015-05-10 13:02:54 -0400 EDT
Version 1.6.1+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-05-08 17:57:10 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-05-05 15:10:49 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0+dfsg1-1~exp1 was uploaded on 2015-04-16 18:00:21 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0~rc7~dfsg1-1~exp1 was uploaded on 2015-04-15 19:35:46 -0600 -0600
Version 1.6.0~rc4~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-04-06 17:11:33 -0600 -0600
Version 1.5.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2015-03-10 22:58:49 -0600 -0600
Version 1.3.3~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2015-01-03 00:11:47 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.3~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-12-18 21:54:12 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.2~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-11-24 19:14:28 -0500 EST
Version 1.3.1~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-11-07 13:11:34 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-11-03 08:26:29 -0700 -0700
Version 1.3.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-10-17 00:56:07 -0600 -0600
Version 1.2.0~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-10-09 00:08:11 +0000 +0000
Version 1.2.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-09-13 11:43:17 -0600 -0600
Version 1.0.0~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-06-13 21:04:53 -0400 EDT
Version 0.11.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-05-09 17:30:45 -0400 EDT
Version 0.9.1~dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-04-08 23:19:08 -0400 EDT
Version 0.9.1~dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-04-03 21:38:30 -0400 EDT
Version 0.9.0+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-03-11 22:24:31 -0400 EDT
Version 0.8.1+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-02-25 20:56:31 -0500 EST
Version 0.8.0+dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-02-15 17:51:58 -0500 EST
Version 0.8.0+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-02-10 20:41:10 -0500 EST
Version 0.7.6+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-01-22 22:50:47 -0500 EST
Version 0.7.1+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-01-15 20:22:34 -0500 EST
Version 0.6.7+dfsg1-3 was uploaded on 2014-01-09 20:10:20 -0500 EST
Version 0.6.7+dfsg1-2 was uploaded on 2014-01-08 19:14:02 -0500 EST
Version 0.6.7+dfsg1-1 was uploaded on 2014-01-07 21:06:10 -0500 EST
control Next is one of the most complex, and one of the oldest parts of go-debian, which is the control file parser (otherwise sometimes known as deb822). This module was inspired by the way that the json module works in Go, allowing for files to be defined in code with a struct. This tends to be a bit more declarative, but also winds up putting logic into struct tags, which can be a nasty anti-pattern if used too much. The first primitive in this module is the concept of a Paragraph, a struct containing two values, the order of keys seen, and a map of string to string. All higher order functions dealing with control files will go through this type, which is a helpful interchange format to be aware of. All parsing of meaning from the Control file happens when the Paragraph is unpacked into a struct using reflection. The idea behind this strategy that you define your struct, and let the Control parser handle unpacking the data from the IO into your container, letting you maintain type safety, since you never have to read and cast, the conversion will handle this, and return an Unmarshaling error in the event of failure. Additionally, Structs that define an anonymous member of control.Paragraph will have the raw Paragraph struct of the underlying file, allowing the programmer to handle dynamic tags (such as X-Foo), or at least, letting them survive the round-trip through go. The default decoder contains an argument, the ability to verify the input control file using an OpenPGP keyring, which is exposed to the programmer through the (*Decoder).Signer() function. If the passed argument is nil, it will not check the input file signature (at all!), and if it has been passed, any signed data must be found or an error will fall out of the NewDecoder call. On the way out, the opposite happens, where the struct is introspected, turned into a control.Paragraph, and then written out to the io.Writer. Here's a quick (and VERY dirty) example showing the basics of reading and writing Debian Control files with go-debian.
package main
import (
type AllowedPackage struct  
    Package     string
    Fingerprint string
func (a *AllowedPackage) UnmarshalControl(in string) error  
    in = strings.TrimSpace(in)
    chunks := strings.SplitN(in, " ", 2)
    if len(chunks) != 2  
        return fmt.Errorf("Syntax sucks: '%s'", in)
    a.Package = chunks[0]
    a.Fingerprint = chunks[1][1 : len(chunks[1])-1]
    return nil
type DMUA struct  
    Fingerprint     string
    Uid             string
    AllowedPackages []AllowedPackage  control:"Allow" delim:"," 
func main()  
    resp, err := http.Get("")
    if err != nil  
    decoder, err := control.NewDecoder(resp.Body, nil)
    if err != nil  
        dmua := DMUA 
        if err := decoder.Decode(&dmua); err != nil  
            if err == io.EOF  
        fmt.Printf("The DM %s is allowed to upload:\n", dmua.Uid)
        for _, allowedPackage := range dmua.AllowedPackages  
            fmt.Printf("   %s [granted by %s]\n", allowedPackage.Package, allowedPackage.Fingerprint)
Output (truncated!) looks a bit like:
The DM Allison Randal <> is allowed to upload:
   parrot [granted by A4F455C3414B10563FCC9244AFA51BD6CDE573CB]
The DM Benjamin Barenblat <> is allowed to upload:
   boogie [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
   dafny [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
   transmission-remote-gtk [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
   urweb [granted by 3224C4469D7DF8F3D6F41A02BBC756DDBE595F6B]
The DM     <> is allowed to upload:
   covered [granted by 41352A3B4726ACC590940097F0A98A4C4CD6E3D2]
   dico [granted by 6ADD5093AC6D1072C9129000B1CCD97290267086]
   drawtiming [granted by 41352A3B4726ACC590940097F0A98A4C4CD6E3D2]
   fonts-hosny-amiri [granted by BD838A2BAAF9E3408BD9646833BE1A0A8C2ED8FF]
deb Next up, we've got the deb module. This contains code to handle reading Debian 2.0 .deb files. It contains a wrapper that will parse the control member, and provide the data member through the archive/tar interface. Here's an example of how to read a .deb file, access some metadata, and iterate over the tar archive, and print the filenames of each of the entries.
func main()  
    path := "/tmp/fluxbox_1.3.5-2+b1_amd64.deb"
    fd, err := os.Open(path)
    if err != nil  
    defer fd.Close()
    debFile, err := deb.Load(fd, path)
    if err != nil  
    version := debFile.Control.Version
        "Epoch: %d, Version: %s, Revision: %s\n",
        version.Epoch, version.Version, version.Revision,
        hdr, err := debFile.Data.Next()
        if err == io.EOF  
        if err != nil  
        fmt.Printf("  -> %s\n", hdr.Name)
Boringly, the output looks like:
Epoch: 0, Version: 1.3.5, Revision: 2+b1
  -> ./
  -> ./etc/
  -> ./etc/menu-methods/
  -> ./etc/menu-methods/fluxbox
  -> ./etc/X11/
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/keys
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/init
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/system.fluxbox-menu
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/overlay
  -> ./etc/X11/fluxbox/apps
  -> ./usr/
  -> ./usr/share/
  -> ./usr/share/man/
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-style.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-menu.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-apps.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man5/fluxbox-keys.5.gz
  -> ./usr/share/man/man1/
  -> ./usr/share/man/man1/startfluxbox.1.gz
dependency The dependency package provides an interface to parse and compute dependencies. This package is a bit odd in that, well, there's no other library that does this. The issue is that there are actually two different parsers that compute our Dependency lines, one in Perl (as part of dpkg-dev) and another in C (in dpkg). To date, this has resulted in me filing three different bugs. I also found a broken package in the archive, which actually resulted in another bug being (totally accidentally) already fixed. I hope to continue to run the archive through my parser in hopes of finding more bugs! This package is a bit complex, but it basically just returns what amounts to be an AST for our Dependency lines. I'm positive there are bugs, so file them!
func main()  
    dep, err := dependency.Parse("foo   bar, baz, foobar [amd64]   bazfoo [!sparc], fnord:armhf [gnu-linux-sparc]")
    if err != nil  
    anySparc, err := dependency.ParseArch("sparc")
    if err != nil  
    for _, possi := range dep.GetPossibilities(*anySparc)  
        fmt.Printf("%s (%s)\n", possi.Name, possi.Arch)
Gives the output:
foo (<nil>)
baz (<nil>)
fnord (armhf)
version Right off the bat, I'd like to thank Michael Stapelberg for letting me graft this out of dcs and into the go-debian package. This was nearly entirely his work (with a one or two line function I added later), and was amazingly helpful to have. Thank you! This module implements Debian version comparisons and parsing, allowing for sorting in lists, checking to see if it's native or not, and letting the programmer to implement smart(er!) logic based on upstream (or Debian) version numbers. This module is extremely easy to use and very straightforward, and not worth writing an example for. Final thoughts This is more of a "Yeah, OK, this has been useful enough to me at this point that I'm going to support this" rather than a "It's stable!" or even "It's alive!" post. Hopefully folks can report bugs and help iterate on this module until we have some really clean building blocks to build solid higher level systems on top of. Being able to have multiple libraries interoperate by relying on go-debian will be a massive ease. I'm in need of more documentation, and to finalize some parts of the older sub package APIs, but I'm hoping to be at a "1.0" real soon now.

11 June 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: It's all relative

As nearly anyone who's worked with me will attest to, I've long since touted nedbat's talk Pragmatic Unicode, or, How do I stop the pain? as one of the most foundational talks, and required watching for all programmers. The reason is because netbat hits on something bigger - something more fundamental than how to handle Unicode -- it's how to handle data which is relative. For those who want the TL;DR, the argument is as follows: Facts of Life:
  1. Computers work with Bytes. Bytes go in, Bytes go out.
  2. The world needs more than 256 symbols.
  3. You need both Bytes and Unicode
  4. You cannot infer the encoding of bytes.
  5. Declared encodings can be Wrong
Now, to fix it, the following protips:
  1. Unicode sandwich
  2. Know what you have
  3. TEST
Relative Data I've started to think more about why we do the things we do when we write code, and one thing that continues to be a source of morbid schadenfreude is watching code break by failing to handle Unicode right. It's hard! However, watching what breaks lets you gain a bit of insight into how the author thinks, and what assumptions they make. When you send someone Unicode, there are a lot of assumptions that have to be made. Your computer has to trust what you (yes, you!) entered into your web browser, your web browser has to pass that on over the network (most of the time without encoding information), to a server which reads that bytestream, and makes a wild guess at what it should be. That server might save it to a database, and interpolate it into an HTML template in a different encoding (called Mojibake), resulting in a bad time for everyone involved. Everything's awful, and the fact our computers can continue to display text to us is a goddamn miracle. Never forget that. When it comes down to it, when I see a byte sitting on a page, I don't know (and can't know!) if it's Windows-1252, UTF-8, Latin-1, or EBCDIC. What's a poem to me is terminal garbage to you. Over the years, hacks have evolved. We have magic numbers, and plain ole' hacks to just guess based on the content. Of course, like all good computer programs, this has lead to its fair share of hilarious bugs, and there's nothing stopping files from (validly!) being multiple things at the same time. Like many things, it's all in the eye of the beholder. Timezones Just like Unicode, this is a word that can put your friendly neighborhood programmer into a series of profanity laden tirades. Go find one in the wild, and ask them about what they think about timezone handling bugs they've seen. I'll wait. Go ahead. Rants are funny things. They're fun to watch. Hilarious to give. Sometimes just getting it all out can help. They can tell you a lot about the true nature of problems. It's funny to consider the isomorphic nature of Unicode rants and Timezone rants. I don't think this is an accident. U n i c o d e timezone Sandwich Ned's Unicode Sandwich applies -- As early as we can, in the lowest level we can (reading from the database, filesystem, wherever!), all datetimes must be timezone qualified with their correct timezone. Always. If you mean UTC, say it's in UTC. Treat any unqualified datetimes as "bytes". They're not to be trusted. Never, never, never trust 'em. Don't process any datetimes until you're sure they're in the right timezone. This lets the delicious inside of your datetime sandwich handle timezones with grace, and finally, as late as you can, turn it back into bytes (if at all!). Treat locations as tzdb entries, and qualify datetime objects into their absolute timezone (EST, EDT, PST, PDT) It's not until you want to show the datetime to the user again should you consider how to re-encode your datetime to bytes. You should think about what flavor of bytes, what encoding -- what timezone -- should I be encoding into? TEST Just like Unicode, testing that your code works with datetimes is important. Every time I think about how to go about doing this, I think about that one time that mjg59 couldn't book a flight starting Tuesday from AKL, landing in HNL on Monday night, because United couldn't book the last leg to SFO. Do you ever assume dates only go forward as time goes on? Remember timezones. Construct test data, make sure someone in New Zealand's +13:45 can correctly talk with their friends in Baker Island's -12:00, and that the events sort right. Just because it's Noon on New Years Eve in England doesn't mean it's not 1 AM the next year in New Zealand. Places a few miles apart may go on Daylight savings different days. Indian Standard Time is not even aligned on the hour to GMT (+05:30)! Test early, and test often. Memorize a few timezones, and challenge your assumptions when writing code that has to do with time. Don't use wall clocks to mean monotonic time. Remember there's a whole world out there, and we only deal with part of it. It's also worth remembering, as Andrew Pendleton pointed out to me, that it's possible that a datetime isn't even unique for a place, since you can never know if 2016-11-06 01:00:00 in America/New_York (in the tzdb) is the first one, or second one. Storing EST or EDT along with your datetime may help, though! Pitfalls Improper handling of timezones can lead to some interesting things, and failing to be explicit (or at least, very rigid) in what you expect will lead to an unholy class of bugs we've all come to hate. At best, you have confused users doing math, at worst, someone misses a critical event, or our security code fails. I recently found what I regard to be a pretty bad bug in apt (which David has prepared a fix for and is pending upload, yay! Thank you!), which boiled down to documentation and code expecting datetimes in a timezone, but accepting any timezone, and silently treating it as UTC. The solution is to hard-fail, which is an interesting choice to me (as a vocal fan of timezone aware code), but at the least it won't fail by misunderstanding what the server is trying to communicate, and I do understand and empathize with the situation the apt maintainers are in. Final Thoughts Overall, my main point is although most modern developers know how to deal with Unicode pain, I think there is a more general lesson to learn -- namely, you should always know what data you have, and always remember what it is. Understand assumptions as early as you can, and always store them with the data.

31 May 2016

Paul Tagliamonte: Iron Blogger DC

Back in 2014, Mako ran a Boston Iron Blogger chapter, where you had to blog once a week, or you owed $5 into the pot. A while later, I ran it (along with Molly and Johns), and things were great. When I moved to DC, I had already talked with Tom Lee and Eric Mill about running a DC Iron Blogger chapter, but it hasn t happened in the year and a half I ve been in DC. This week, I make good on that, with a fantastic group set up at; with more to come (I m sure!). Looking forward to many parties and though provoking blog posts in my future. I m also quite pleased I ll be resuming my blogging. Hi, again, planet Debian!

2 January 2016

Daniel Pocock: The great life of Ian Murdock and police brutality in context

Tributes: (You can Follow or Tweet about this blog on Twitter) Over the last week, people have been saying a lot about the wonderful life of Ian Murdock and his contributions to Debian and the world of free software. According to one news site, a San Francisco police officer, Grace Gatpandan, has been doing the opposite, starting a PR spin operation, leaking snippets of information about what may have happened during Ian's final 24 hours. Sadly, these things are now starting to be regurgitated without proper scrutiny by the mainstream press (note the erroneous reference to SFGate with link to, this is British tabloid media at its best). The report talks about somebody (no suggestion that it was even Ian) "trying to break into a residence". Let's translate that from the spin-doctor-speak back to English: it is the silly season, when many people have a couple of extra drinks and do silly things like losing their keys. "a residence", or just their own home perhaps? Maybe some AirBNB guest arriving late to the irritation of annoyed neighbours? Doesn't the choice of words make the motive sound so much more sinister? Nobody knows the full story and nobody knows if this was Ian, so snippets of information like this are inappropriate, especially when somebody is deceased. Did they really mean to leave people with the impression that one of the greatest visionaries of the Linux world was also a cat burglar? That somebody who spent his life giving selflessly and generously for the benefit of the whole world (his legacy is far greater than Steve Jobs, as Debian comes with no strings attached) spends the Christmas weekend taking things from other people's houses in the dark of the night? The report doesn't mention any evidence of a break-in or any charges for breaking-in. If having a few drinks and losing your keys in December is such a sorry state to be in, many of us could potentially be framed in the same terms at some point in our lives. That is one of the reasons I feel so compelled to write this: somebody else could be going through exactly the same experience at the moment you are reading this. Any of us could end up facing an assault as unpleasant as the tweets imply at some point in the future. At least I can console myself that as a privileged white male, the risk to myself is much lower than for those with mental illness, the homeless, transgender, Muslim or black people but as the tweets suggest, it could be any of us. The story reports that officers didn't actually come across Ian breaking in to anything, they encountered him at a nearby street corner. If he had weapons or drugs or he was known to police that would have almost certainly been emphasized. Is it right to rush in and deprive somebody of their liberties without first giving them an opportunity to identify themselves and possibly confirm if they had a reason to be there? The report goes on, "he was belligerent", "he became violent", "banging his head" all by himself. How often do you see intelligent and successful people like Ian Murdock spontaneously harming themselves in that way? Can you find anything like that in any of the 4,390 Ian Murdock videos on YouTube? How much more frequently do you see reports that somebody "banged their head", all by themselves of course, during some encounter with law enforcement? Do police never make mistakes like other human beings? If any person was genuinely trying to spontaneously inflict a head injury on himself, as the police have suggested, why wouldn't the police leave them in the hospital or other suitable care? Do they really think that when people are displaying signs of self-harm, rounding them up and taking them to jail will be in their best interests? Now, I'm not suggesting this started out with some sort of conspiracy. Police may have been at the end of a long shift (and it is a disgrace that many US police are not paid for their overtime) or just had a rough experience with somebody far more sinister. On the other hand, there may have been a mistake, gaps in police training or an inappropriate use of a procedure that is not always justified, like a strip search, that causes profound suffering for many victims. A select number of US police forces have been shamed around the world for a series of incidents of extreme violence in recent times, including the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, shooting Walter Scott in the back, death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the attempts of Chicago's police to run an on-shore version of Guantanamo Bay. Beyond those highly violent incidents, the world has also seen the abuse of Ahmed Mohamed, the Muslim schoolboy arrested for his interest in electronics and in 2013, the suicide of Aaron Swartz which appears to be a direct consequence of the "Justice" department's obsession with him. What have the police learned from all this bad publicity? Are they changing their methods, or just hiring more spin doctors? If that is their response, then doesn't it leave them with a cruel advantage over those people who were deceased? Isn't it standard practice for some police to simply round up anybody who is a bit lost and write up a charge sheet for resisting arrest or assaulting an officer as insurance against questions about their own excessive use of force? When British police executed Jean Charles de Menezes on a crowded tube train and realized they had just done something incredibly outrageous, their PR office went to great lengths to try and protect their image, even photoshopping images of Menezes to make him look more like some other suspect in a wanted poster. To this day, they continue to refer to Menezes as a victim of the terrorists, could they be any more arrogant? While nobody believes the police woke up that morning thinking "let's kill some random guy on the tube", it is clear they made a mistake and like many people (not just police), they immediately prioritized protecting their reputation over protecting the truth. Nobody else knows exactly what Ian was doing and exactly what the police did to him. We may never know. However, any disparaging or irrelevant comments from the police should be viewed with some caution. The horrors of incarceration It would be hard for any of us to understand everything that an innocent person goes through when detained by the police. The recently released movie about The Stanford Prison Experiment may be an interesting place to start, a German version produced in 2001, Das Experiment, is also very highly respected. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate. Many, including some on death row, are actually innocent, in the wrong place at the wrong time, without the funds to hire an attorney. The system, and the police and prison officers who operate it, treat these people as packages on a conveyor belt, without even the most basic human dignity. Whether their encounter lasts for just a few hours or decades, is it any surprise that something dies inside them when they discover this cruel side of American society? Worldwide, there is an increasing trend to make incarceration as degrading as possible. People may be innocent until proven guilty, but this hasn't stopped police in the UK from locking up and strip-searching over 4,500 children in a five year period, would these children go away feeling any different than if they had an encounter with Jimmy Saville or Rolf Harris? One can only wonder what they do to adults. What all this boils down to is that people shouldn't really be incarcerated unless it is clear the danger they pose to society is greater than the danger they may face in a prison. What can people do for Ian and for justice? Now that these unfortunate smears have appeared, it would be great to try and fill the Internet with stories of the great things Ian has done for the world. Write whatever you feel about Ian's work and your own experience of Debian. While the circumstances of the final tweets from his Twitter account are confusing, the tweets appear to be consistent with many other complaints about US law enforcement. Are there positive things that people can do in their community to help reduce the harm? Sending books to prisoners (the UK tried to ban this) can make a difference. Treat them like humans, even if the system doesn't. Recording incidents of police activities can also make a huge difference, such as the video of the shooting of Walter Scott or the UK police making a brutal unprovoked attack on a newspaper vendor. Don't just walk past a situation and assume everything is under control. People making recordings may find themselves in danger, it is recommended to use software that automatically duplicates each recording, preferably to the cloud, so that if the police ask you to delete such evidence, you can let them watch you delete it and still have a copy. Can anybody think of awards that Ian Murdock should be nominated for, either in free software, computing or engineering in general? Some, like the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering can't be awarded posthumously but others may be within reach. Come and share your ideas on the debian-project mailing list, there are already some here. Best of all, Ian didn't just build software, he built an organization, Debian. Debian's principles have helped to unite many people from otherwise different backgrounds and carry on those principles even when Ian is no longer among us. Find out more, install it on your computer or even look for ways to participate in the project.

1 June 2015

Paul Tagliamonte: Soylent Sherry Negroni

  • 1 tsp soylent
  • 1 tsp simple syrup
  • 1 oz Palo Cortado sherry
  • oz Rosso Vermouth
  • oz Campari
Assembly Combine Soylent and Simple Syrup. Create what I m going to start to call Soylent Syrup . Enjoy that one, folks. Add ice to a rocks glass, pour Soylent Syrup over ice. Add Sherry, Vermouth and Campari. Stir. Garnish with an orange twist. Big thanks to Matthew Garrett for sparking this one.

2 April 2015

Paul Tagliamonte: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies: paultagskitchen:
  • cups soylent
  • 1 cups rolled oats
  • cup sugar (white & dark brown)
  • cup flour
  • cup raisins
  • tsp baking soda & powder
  • tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter (roomtemp - NOT melted. Don t even try that. Stop. You. I see you.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Assembly Combine butter,

27 December 2014

Benjamin Mako Hill: My Government Portrait

A friend recently commented on my rather unusual portrait on my (out of date) page on the Berkman website. Here s the story. I joined Berkman as a fellow with a fantastic class of fellows that included, among many other incredibly accomplished people, Vivek Kundra: first Chief Information Officer of the United States. At Berkman, all the fellows are all asked for photos and Vivek apparently sent in his official government portrait. You are probably familiar with the genre. In the US at least, official government portraits are mostly pictures of men in dark suits, light shirts, and red or blue ties with flags draped blurrily in the background. Not unaware of the fact that Vivek sat right below me on the alphabetically sorted Berkman fellows page, a small group that included Paul Tagliamonte very familiar with the genre from his work with government photos in Open States decided to create a government portrait of me using the only flag we had on hand late one night. fellows_list_subsetThe result shown in the screenshot above and in the WayBack Machine was almost entirely unnoticed (at least to my knowledge) but was hopefully appreciated by those who did see it.