Very useful article on OpenSSH installation under Cygwin in Windows 7

Cygwin, sshd and Windows 7

WMAP Reassessment Casts Doubt on Standard Cosmological Model

Scientists have done some re-analysis of the ground-breaking Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) data which has been so important for cosmologists, and their re-assessment suggests that some of the interpretations of the data were off, thereby casting doubt on the entire standard cosmological model which includes the concept of dark energy.  In other words, this new reassessment indicates that dark energy – which has never been actually observed, only theorized – might not exist after all.

If that’s the case, then the fact that the expansion of the universe is accelerating is due to something else.  Possibly the theory of gravitation, which has not changed significantly since Newton’s time, needs to be fundamentally reworked.

Stop sitting up straight!

Imagine hearing your mother telling you this, or a school teacher.  Yet it may be the truth.

I always knew this!  LOL

Sitting straight ‘bad for backs’

On another note, I once heard somewhere that, in the time of Jesus, people used to eat laying on their sides, in a kind of lounging out position.  I’d love to see that come back.

Pronation, Explained: Info from Runner’s World Magazine

Pronation, Explained: Info from Runner’s World Magazine.

Extremely Cool Tool for Creating Live Linux USB Keys

Universal USB Installer by is a really cool utility which automates the process of creating a live Linux USB key installation.  With this utility, you can easily transfer a Linux live CD image to a USB key.  It supports various versions of Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Xubuntu, Knoppix, GParted, and many others.

All you have to do is download the iso cd image of the live Linux system you want, then copy the Universal USB Installer program into the same directory as the .iso, and run it.

I created a bootable Ubuntu 10.4 USB key with this utility in a few minutes.  It also has an option to set a persistence option for the system it installs, meaning that, unlike with a CD, you can actually read/write data on the USB key and save your customizations/configurations between reboots.

SOHO’s Successor

I had actually looked to see what was going on with solar missions with NASA and ESA, yet in my searching I had not found anything that appeared to be replacing SOHO, but then stuff on SDO has been popping up in the media lately, so maybe I missed it.  Today I found the main data page for SDO.  Wow.  Here is a list of instruments on the craft.  Unlike the SOHO which is in what is called a Lagrange halo orbit, SDO is in an inclined geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO).  At least part of the reason for this, I have read, may have to do with data transfer rates, as SDO is transmitting much more information than SOHO.  Its actually interesting to know what the Sun-Earth Lagrange points are, and why the L(1) was chosen for SOHO.

image of SDO spacecraft

image of Sun taken by SDO

NOAA Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon Incident Web Site

Deepwater Horizon Incident, Gulf of Mexico

As the nation’s leading scientific resource for oil spills, NOAA has been on the scene of the Deepwater Horizon spill from the start, providing coordinated scientific weather and biological response services to federal, state and local organizations.

Customizing Windows 7 Save/Open Dialog Sidebar Links

I just installed an extremely useful utility which was mentioned in a thread over at the excellent site.  It allows you to change the default links which show up in the left sidebar in the Open and Save dialog windows.  By default, the left sidebar for Open and Save dialogs contains the following five links:

Recent Places

What is annoying about this is the conspicuous lack of a link for the most obvious place that anyone would want to save to or open an item from: their My Documents folder.  Another obvious one would have been the user’s home folder (one directory above the My Documents folder), which contains the My Music, My Pictures, My Videos and other folders.

This problem is solved with the following utility: Simpli Software’s Places Utility.  With it, you can customize the 5 slots which occupy the left sidebar with whatever links you want.  One trick I will mention that is necessary for getting it to work is that the utility must be run as Administrator.  Even if your regular user has administrative privileges, it is not enough to make the changes to the system.  You must right-click on the utility’s icon and select “Run as Administrator” to run it.

95th percentile calculation with RRDtool

I’ve managed to come up with some useful scripts using RRDtool to pull data out of round-robin archives (rra’s) and to compute 95th percentile.  RRDtool is used as the database backend for multiple monitoring tools such as Cacti, Torrus, Zenoss, and MRTG (as option).

In working this out I utilized the benefit of having my own Cacti deployment handy so that I could compare syntax against Cacti’s own RRDtool queries.  Cacti is an excellent tool because it essentially provides a nice frontend for setting up the necessary SNMP polls to devices that create the rra’s in RRDtool which contain all the data points from the SNMP polls.  It then uses RRDtool queries to extract and process various data and to graph it.  It does a nice job of this without adding a layer of obfuscation on top of RRDtool and is extremely perspicacious, allowing you to see exactly what commands its running via its graphical web interface.

Extracting Data Points

Using the rrdtool xport command you can pull data points from an rra into XML format like so:

The output of this will look like the following:

What I want to do now is actually just extract the raw data set from this query and present it in a clean form.  This data can later be processed further, for example it can be output into csv format for processing somewhere else (might be useful if you are working on billing calculation methods for example).

To do this I only need two other tools, grep and the GNU version of awk, gawk:

The actual data points are contained in the lines embedded between the <row>  </row> tags.  I use grep to filter out entries with NaN values, which are data points which for one reason or another are empty (usually because the SNMP poll to the device did not return a result).  I then use grep to select only the lines with <row>.  This filters out all the XML header info at the top.

After grepping, the output will look like:

Next, I use gawk and specify the field delimiter as the brackets for XML tags using the regex  <[^>]*>
Finally, I print the fields in question (in this case fields 3, 5, 7, and 9, the other fields are various other non-data characters in the row.  If you are using a different rrdtool query with different CDEF’s or XPORT statements the fields may be different.)

Finally, I use some gawk magic to change the format of the first column of data, which is the epoch date (date given in number of seconds since 1 January 1970) to a more readable date.  Note that I chose a date format (using the strftime function)  which is still able to be sorted numerically (this would not be the case if for example the format was Jan 1, 1970 12:00).

The output will now look like:

With the preceding output it is now trivial to use the cut command or some more awk to extract fields, or use the sort command to sort by certain columns.  For example:

will sort by column 3 in descending order.

95th Percentile Calculation

Here I am going to use rrdtool graph to output the 95th percentile calculation.  Without going into detail about how to define the necessary CDEF and VDEF statements (you can read in detail about these here), the following is the command I used:

The output will look like:

Even though this uses the rrdtool graph command the output is to the console only. It is necessary to use the rrdtool graph command because you cannot specify a VDEF with rrdtool xport.

The Coming Big Change to the Internet

There is a big change coming to the Internet which has the potential to radically shift the nature of the Internet itself and how all of the nodes which participate in it collectively will be able to interact. If we were smart, we should be pushing for this change to occur, because the shift is so significant it has the possibility to open up completely new realms of informational hierarchic interchange and organization.

The change has sweeping implications not just technologically, but also socially and certainly politically as well.

The present way the Internet works is that there are essentially two separate classes of nodes which participate on the Internet – servers and regular users. One fundamental difference between the two is that servers are addressable machines which have public addresses that can be accessed by all other systems, whereas most regular user’s machines sit behind routing devices which essentially buffer their computers from the public space, on the one hand potentially protecting them from attack, but also cutting them off from public accessibility.

This problem with regular Internet users’ systems is exacerbated by the fact that Internet service providers typically do not provide permanent addresses to home accounts. Imagine how it would be in the real world if only certain organizations had the privilege of a thing called a mailing address, and everyone else had to use collective addresses that did not belong to just their own residence, but possibly to pools of many residences. And imagine if the home users’ addresses were not even allowed to stay the same, but changed periodically, often at least once every 24 hours. It would be insane, would it not?

The fundamental problem is that there are privileged nodes on the Internet – such as the big sites Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, Facebook, etc. – and unprivileged ones, such as (more than likely) yours and mine.  Private organizations invest hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure designed to capitalize on cornering niches of routine Internet usage and functionality.

For example, to have the “privilege” of having an actual permanent address for your computer, Internet service providers charge extra money. And even when you have such an address, you must go through still more hoops if you want the privilege to participate as an equal peer amongst other servers.

As another example, your computer and mine cannot actually participate as equal peers in the sending of email (via the SMTP protocol) via the Internet because, due to security fears and other issues, only privileged systems are designated as being valid mail senders and will not accept mail from non-privileged systems.  You and I are forced to use the systems of the privileged nodes (i.e. gmail, Yahoo mail, etc.) because our own systems are not deemed worthy of participating equally with others.

Of course this has been done mostly to eliminate spam, yet even still, it is estimated that around 95% of all email traffic in the world consists of spam. Clearly that system, even with its massive inconvenience, is not working very well. There has to be a better way. The entire protocol and mode in which interoperation for Internet mail occurs needs to be re-thought out from the beginning, and things like identity and verifiability of sender and addressee need to be implemented at the protocol level. (I have long been aware that one of the fundamental things lacking with the present Internet is the lack of strict identity. I would like to address this in more detail in another post, yet essentially because of weak identity and verifiability there are all sorts of problems that occur, from scams on eBay to mail spam and phishing attacks. There needs to be a solid infrastructure for identity to exist. Many people will decry this as being a loss – a loss of freedom and anonymity, yet I would also argue that the price that must necessarily be paid to participate in a fully functional system that does not break down requires the concept of strong identity. Things like email and eBay are essentially community interoperations which, as long as there exists no strong system of identity, fundamentally break down. Also, the other side to anonymity is the idea of reputation, and reputation, just as in the real world, is a true asset for any individual or company. Reputation provides a way to build trust and, instead of the cludgy implementations of security designed to protect us and filter out garbage, as circles of reputation are built it would become easy to simply filter out low reputation sources of information. For example, in forums where there are trolls, you can simply choose to filter out these sources because they are coupled with actual, verifiable identities. Filtering is one of the most basic empowerments not just in the real world but in the virtual world as well, but filtering requires identification. I imagine a future in which all humans essentially are assigned their own unique address or identification credentials which can stay with them for life. They can also chose to create new credentials, with the disadvantage being that they will therefore have to establish a new reputation from scratch.)

This is one of those things where you have to get your mind out of the narrow thinking which seems to govern much innovation in Internet entrepreneurship today, where companies basically look for empty niches to exploit in order to get there first and establish themselves before others do in order to corner some aspect of functionality which eventually they hope becomes an indispensable component of the routines of interchange and functionality of the Internet.

You have to go back to the types of thinking that went on in the very early days of the Internet, when the original protocols were developed which laid the ground for open participation of all nodes across the Internet based on open standards and maximum interoperability. Today it is taken as given that all of these groundwork technologies that are necessary for the Internet to operate the way it does just work, yet there are people who work behind the scenes of the Internet to ensure that this all keeps working and that all interoperating systems are in compliance with the standards.

All organizations and providers must dedicate staff to keeping their systems operational with these standards. It is accepted as given and necessary that this is what has to be done to make the Internet work. So we are already paying homage to this higher organization although it typically tends to not be as glorious and appealing as the exploitation of the little niches is with its potentially huge monetary rewards for cornering markets.

The big change that is set to occur is the fundamental changing of the addressing system of the entire Internet from the present protocol IPv4 to the new one, IPv6. IPv6 should make every single node which participates on the Internet its own, unique, addressable system. Any two computers on the Internet, no matter where they are, should be able to immediately address each other and share data.  Every node should then have its own address and be accessible to all other nodes.

If this happens the way it is supposed to, hierarchies might start to topple as the once privileged status of major content providers dissipates and the privilege is shared equally amongst all nodes of the Internet.

I actually believe that the privilege of having a publicly accessible node on the Internet for all users is perhaps more important even than having mailing addresses, because the potential for interchange and participation is that much greater via the Internet.

To give some examples of this type of thinking, let’s say you want to post something for sale on Craigslist. In my world, when you want to post something for sale among your community, you would not go to the server of a private organization which has strict control over the operation of that service, instead your computer would know how to interoperate with the Community Bulletin Board Protocol, which would be a defined standard developed and maintained by technical experts that is designed for maximum interoperability, robustness, security, and features. On your computer you would run a program which knows how to interoperate with the Community Bulletin Board Protocol. It could be one of many programs, because anyone in the world could write their own program which uses that protocol. Of course programs which had the best features and the greatest usability would naturally become the most popular ones. All nodes on the Internet which have programs which use the Community Bulletin Board Protocol would be equally responsible for maintaining the actual community bulletin boards for their communities.

Or think that every computer could run programs which speak the Social Networking Protocol and, similarly, rather than the social network being managed and controlled by one entity, it would instead be defined by a protocol, the Social Networking Protocol, which would implement all of the features and requirements necessary to make it work. On your computer then, you would run one (or several if that makes you happy) of potentially many possible applications which are able to speak the Social Networking Protocol. Each computer, each node on the Internet, is equally responsible for maintaining the actual social network(s) which they choose to participate in.

Instead of resources being devoted to private companies trying to find the best ways to make profit, resources would be devoted to technical experts whose overriding interest is in developing the best, most interoperable, secure, and functional system available.

Of course this does not mean that all private enterprise on the Internet would disappear, but in fact it would lead to a much, much greater benefit which would eventually be far more valuable economically, socially, and politically. Rather than constrain free enterprise, it would simply focus it where it can be most useful and allow for a new hierarchical and informational organization which would lead to a more fundamental flourishing.

Finally, coupled with the above changes, perhaps the most fundamental change that must occur is the recognition that the data transmission infrastructure around the globe for *all* types of data belongs to the people to Earth and can never be privately controlled. We need to dethrone the privileged entities which control the airwaves and cables. We are the ones who have paid for that infrastructure – infrastructure that runs through every community of virtually every nation on Earth. Nothing could be more public than that.

Ultimately there should be one Earth public body that stewards the global information infrastructure and perhaps, as peoples of the world learn to cooperate in this regard, they can eventually cooperate in more areas of policy and resource management, leading to a true one world government.

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