And, they are online now


Over a week ago, I was pinged by @l00g33k on twitter with a picture of a description of a piece of code I wrote in 1982.

That lead to a meet up and reliving a time where the only high technology thing I had was a 6502-based single board computer complete with 2K of RAM. It was a wonderful meet up and @l00g33k  was kind enough to handover to me a bag with 10 copies of the newsletter that was published by the Singapore Ohio Scientific Users Group. That was the very first computer user group I joined.

Suffice to say, I did help contribute to the newsletter by way of code to be run on the Superboard ][ – all in Basic.

I’ve scanned the 10 newsletters and it is now online.

I am really pleased to read in the Vol 1 #3 (page 36) a program to generate a calendar. The code is all in Basic. Feed it a year and out comes the calendar for the whole year.

Another piece of code is in Vol 1 #5 page 36 a program to print out the world map. That code was subsequently improved upon and published by another OSUG member to include actual times of cities – something that could only be done with the addiion of a real time clock circuitry on the Superboard ][.

A third program was in Vol 1 #6 page 26 that implemented a morse code transmitter.

I was very happy then (as I am now) that the code is out there even though none of us whose code was published in the newsletters had any notion of copyright. Code was there to be freely copied and worked on. Yes, a radical idea which in 1984 got codified by Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation (www.fsf.org).

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You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep**


Lots of what we take for granted found expression in the thoughts and writings of John Perry Barlow. He crafted “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” back in 1996. It held lots of truths that I found critical for all of us, regardless of where we find ourselves.

John passed away on 7 February 2018. I was privileged to have met him in Singapore on 28th March 1995 (update: thanks to Marv for the date) and what an honour it was. Singapore was in the midst of her “IT 2000 Master Plan” crafted by the National Computer Board (the earliest I can find of ncb.gov.sg is from 13 October 1997).

He had spoken at an event at the NCB and we then proceed to have lunch a chinese restaurant at Clementi Woods park. Among the many things we chatted about was about the future and what it means to be connected. Mind you, those were days when we had dial up modems, perhaps 56k baud, but what a thrill it was to hear about his visions.

I was fortunate to have been able to keep in contact with him in the early 2010s via twitter and email and I was very glad that he did remember that trip and that he found some of the things Singapore was doing then to be intriguing but challenging for the future and that digital rights would be something that we need to be fighting for because if the people don’t own it, governments and big corporations will occupy that space.

He was the founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and on 7th April 2018, the EFF held a “John Perry Barlow Symposium” hosted by the Internet Archive. Do watch the recording to how critical John was to lots of what we take for granted today.

Read his writings at the EFF which is hosting the John Perry Barlow Library.

Thank you John.

* John’s photo by Mohamed Nanabhay from Qatar,  CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66227217

**https://www.quotes.net/quote/4718

Seeking a board seat at OpenSource.org


I’ve stepped up to be considered for a seat on the Board of the Open Source Initiative.

Why would I want to do this? Simple: most of my technology-based career has been made possible because of the existence of FOSS technologies. It goes all the back to graduate school (Oregon State University, 1988) where I was able to work on a technology called TCP/IP which I was able to build for the OS/2 operating system as part of my MSEE thesis. The existence of newsgroups such as comp.os.unix, comp.os.tcpip and many others on usenet gave me a chance to be able to learn, craft and make happen networking code that was globally useable. If I did not have access to the code that was available on the newsgroups I would have been hardpressed to complete my thesis work. The licensing of the code then was uncertain and arbitrary and, thinking back, not much evidence that one could actually repurpose the code for anything one wants to.

My subsequent involvement in many things back in Singapore – the formation of the Linux Users’ Group (Singapore) in 1993 and many others since then, was only doable because source code was available for anyone do as they pleased and to contribute back to.

Suffice to say, when Open Source Initiative was set up twenty years ago in 1998, it was a formed a watershed event as it meant that then Free Software movement now had a accompanying, marketing-grade branding. This branding has helped spread the value and benefits of Free/Libre/Open Source Software for one and all.

Twenty years of OSI has helped spread the virtue of what it means to license code in an manner that enables the recipient, participants and developers in a win-win-win manner. This idea of openly licensing software was the inspiration in the formation of the Creative Commons movement which serves to provide Free Software-like rights, obligations and responsibilities to non-software creations.

I feel that we are now at a very critical time to make sure that there is increased awareness of open source and we need to build and partner with people and groups within Asia and Africa around licensing issues of FOSS. The collective us need to ensure that the up and coming societies and economies stand to gain from the benefits of collaborative creation/adoption/use of FOSS technologies for the betterment of all.

As an individual living in Singapore (and Asia by extension) and being in the technology industry and given that extensive engagement I have with various entities:

I feel that contributing to OSI would be the next logical step for me. I want to push for a wider adoption and use of critical technology for all to benefit from regardless of their economic standing. We have much more compelling things to consider: open algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc. These are going to be crucial for societies around the world and open source has to be the foundation that helps build them from an ethical, open and non-discriminatory angle.

With that, I seek your vote for this important role.  Voting ends 16th March 2018.

I’ll be happy to take questions and considerations via twitter or here.

Of open source, security and collaboration


I had the privilege of being a panelist at the inaugural “India Digital Open Summit” held in Mumbai, India on 19th January 2018.

The event was organized by Reliance Jio and held at the Jio Talk Auditorium, Learning & Development Center, Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai. My first visit to that part of Mumbai so it was all good and exciting for me.

This Summit was organized jointly by Reliance Jio, The Linux Foundation and Cisco.

The event first of a four city Linux Foundation open source* series to be held in India this year. I am particularly interested in this specific event because of it being organized and run by a up and coming mobile telco, Reliance Jio.

It is really good, from my perspective, that open source is now the driver for all sectors of the global economy and now all corporate entities who expect to be still around over the next five years, are recognizing and acting on getting this into their organizations. We are long past the salad days of free and open source and we are now benefiting from the struggles of the last 20-30 years.

The panel I was on was chaired by Mr. Rajan Mathews, Director General of COAI.

The entire panel discussion can be viewed here.

I would like to perhaps highlight a two things that I was asked about and give added context.

The first was in terms of security of open source software. The typical comment that I’ve heard over the last two decades is that because the code is open, it therefore is prone to being turned into malicious code. The root of this myth is from statements that were made in the late 1990s and early 2000s by proprietary vendors trying to sow F.U.D amongst the technology buyers who were told that only closed proprietary software is secure because no one else can look at it. It is the classic “trust me <wink> <wink>” statement.

Open source is indeed more that good enough such that even the CIO of New York Stock Exchange Euronext endorses it for the NYSE. Billions are traded daily on the NYSE. If they can reap benefits from open source, so can any other entity.

Never mind that endorsement. Just look at what’s happened in the last few weeks around security – specifically in the CPU (i.e., the actual hardware) that runs almost 100% (or very close to it) of the world’s computing systems, mobile phones etc. The specific issue is about Spectre and Meltdown. Mitigation of this hardware issue is driven by the open source community and Red Hat has taken a lead position in it while working in tight collaboration with the rest of the industry, including proprietary OS vendors. If it weren’t for the open source developers, we won’t have been able to do the mitigation as quickly as we have been (and work still continues nonetheless).

So, I do hope that we have put behind us this uninformed statement that “open source software is not secure”.

The second comment is about a question that I was asked was about how open source code is being taken by corporates and turned into products and that the developers of these are not being compensated. This is an important question and will be asked over and over again.

This is where I am particularly proud to be a Red Hatter because what we do is to be trusted entity between the FOSS community of developers and projects and the enterprises who see tremendous value in the open source projects that become products that enterprises can use.

Red Hat can be likened as a gardener/farmer who tends the garden/farm that has many different crops, plants (projects). We harvest good projects from the farm and turn them into products. In that process, additional work is done in security, features, documentation, certification etc so that we can make the open source product ready for enterprises. These changes/enhancements are fed back into the open source projects. This two way process is what we do to ensure that the ecosystem of open source projects are indeed thriving and growing while we bring sanity and accountability to enterprises who use these project/products. Red Hat is a equal peer player/participant in the projects and that is how one gains trust in the community and also how we then are able to bring accountability to the enterprise.

Overall, I enjoyed my pane and I must thank Rajan for being an excellent moderator.

* open source is the marketing term of Free Software first coined by Christine Peterson back in 1998.

[this post first appeared here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/open-source-security-collaboration-harish-pillay/%5D

Wireless@SGx for Fedora and Linux users


Eight years ago, I wrote about the use of Wireless@SGx being less than optimal some years ago.

I must acknowledge that there has been efforts to improve the access (and speeds) to the extent that earlier this week, I was able to use a wireless@sgx hotspot to be on two conference calles using bluejeans.com and zoom.info. It worked very well that for the two hours I was on, there was hardly an issue.

I tweeted about this and kudos must be sent to those who have laboured to make this work well.

The one thing I would want the Wireless@SG people to do is to provide a full(er) set of instructions for access including Linux environments (Android is Linux after all).

I am including a part of my 2010 post here for the configuration aspects (on a Fedora desktop):

The information is trivial. This is all you need to do:

	- Network SSID: Wireless@SGx
	- Security: WPA Enterprise
	- EAP Type: PEAP
	- Sub Type: PEAPv0/MSCHAPv2

and then put in your Wireless@SG username@domain and password. I could not remember my iCell id (I have not used it for a long time) so I created a new one – sgatwireless@icellwireless.net. They needed me to provide my cellphone number to SMS the password. Why do they not provide a web site to retrieve the password?

Now from the info above, you can set this up on a Fedora machine (would be the same for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, SuSE etc) as well as any other modern operating system.

I had to recreate a new ID (it appears that iCell is no longer a provider) and apart from that, everything else is the same.

Thank you for using our tax dollars well, IMDA.

My submission to the proposed changes to the Films Act


[The submission deadline is 5pm Singapore time Saturday December 30, 2017. Image above from http://www.newlovetimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/the-godfather.gif ]

I have sent the following to the IMDA as per their requests for comments for the proposed changes to the Films Act.

 

Public Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Films Act (FA)

To: consultation@imda.gov.sg

Hi. I would like to thank IMDA for inviting comments to the proposed amendments to the Films Act and for extending the deadline to the submissions.

I refer to the following section extracted from section F of Part 1 and included here for completeness – except for the footnotes [0]:

“(F) Enhancements to IMDA’s Investigation and Enforcement Powers

2.30 Today, the Films Act provides IMDA and Police with powers
to enter premises without warrant to search for and seize
unlawful films. However, for other breaches of the Films
Act, such as the distribution or public exhibition of
unclassified films, such powers are vested with the Police
who assist IMDA with enforcement and investigations. Going
forward, the enforcement and investigation for breaches
under the Films Act will be taken on by IMDA, and the Police
will only be called on when necessary. Accordingly, the
Films Act will need to be amended to empower IMDA with the
necessary enforcement and investigation powers to take on
this role.

Proposed Amendments

2.31 MCI/IMDA propose to enhance IMDA’s investigation and
enforcement powers to:

(a) Request any documents and information from any person
to investigate a suspected breach of the Films Act or
licence conditions;
(b) Enter and inspect, without warrant, any premises and
examine any film or advertisement for a film found on
the premises;
(c) Dispose of films, equipment or materials that have
been seized during enforcement and is unclaimed,
forfeited or has to be disposed without returning to
the owner; and
(d) Provide for the composition of offences.”

In general, the various other proposals look useful and are, I think, reasonable.

What concerns me, however, is the change as noted in paragraph 2.30 above.

As it is, there is no need for a warrant to enter a premise as was already in the law [1] (Section 23A(1)(a)(i). I note that it is only in 23A(6) that warrants are sought when 23A(1)(a)(i) fails.)

How the Film Act [2] was written (and passed) that way is something that I’d like to know. I think that it does infringe of one’s rights and I feel is counter to the idea of due process and fair play.

So, given that, I am concerned with the proposed removal of the involvement of Police officers as noted in paragraph 2.30 above.

The consultation document does not provide detailed justifications or reasons for the proposed amendments. It would be very helpful if there were historical information as to what IMDA encountered (or was hindered as a result of) in undertaking the responsibilities as it is defined in the law that now warrants the need to remove Police officers in the list of authorized officers.

I am concerned that the impartial oversight that the Police offers is being diminished by this proposed change. It might very well be that there were indeed no Police officers involved in previous efforts to enforce the Film Act, but that is not evident in this
proposal and seems strange to write them out of it without additional information.

Thank you.

Harish Pillay

[0] https://www.imda.gov.sg/-/media/imda/files/inner/pcdg/consultations/consultation-paper/public-consultation-on-proposed-amendments-to-the-films-act/films-act-public-consultation-4-dec-2017.pdf?la=en
[1] https://www.imda.gov.sg/-/media/imda/files/inner/pcdg/consultations/consultation-paper/public-consultation-on-proposed-amendments-to-the-films-act/annex–draft-films-act-amendment-bill.pdf?la=en
[2] https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/FA1981#pr34-

This is very interesting! (it is proprietary though)


I just came across something called hashgraph that seems to be able to replace blockchains as the basis of distributed ledgers.

The hashgraph is wrtten up by Dr Leemon Baird in this paper: http://leemon.com/papers/2016b.pdf is by the main author Leemon Baird.

He is the founder of a company called Swirlds (www.swirlds.com). Swirlds has implemented the hashgraph algorithm and provides a development environment for people to write applications on top of. It seems that Swirlds has been in stealth mode for the last 5 years or so.

The swirlds technology is, unfortunately, closed source and their demo platform is at:

http://www.swirlds.com/download/

with demo apps (these demo apps are also in the download above):

https://github.com/lbaird/swirlds-demos

Both the SDK and demo codes are jar files. The source code of the demo is in public domain.

One of the key advantages of hashgraph is the number of transactions per seconds that goes into the tens of thousands while being able to maintain consensus with a certainty of 1 and also to be fair.

Hashgraph does not suffer wasteful computational cycles of blocks to arrive at consensus (and hence the power savings).

They don’t have a public block yet (they have a demo of it).

Swirlds has 3 patents (http://www.swirlds.com/ip/).

From their website, their business model is to license their base environment for production.

I feel they are on to something.

More backgroud:
a) https://squawker.org/technology/blockchain-just-became-obsolete-the-future-is-hashgraph/
b) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg-0Dgxc0io (The Future is Not Blockchain, it’s hashgraph)
c) https://youtu.be/ole2WuwNLL4 (The Future Of Consensus | A Panel Discussion With The Hashgraph Team At The Assemblage NYC

You can follow hashgraph on telegram https://t.me/hashgraph

Phenomenal!


It is just amazing to see how the validity of Einstein’s theories have been tested repeatedly and proven to be correct. Einstein did all of what he did in his mind, on the blackboard and on paper. No labs to test his ideas and no real means to verify his theory.

But, over a hundred years later, the scientific community has caught up and are now able to verify gravitational waves from collisions between blackholes and now collisions between neutron stars.

Neutron stars are very different from black holes. Neutron stars are produced from supernova, the explosion of massive stars, and are approximately 1 to 20 times the mass of our sun, but are made up of pure neutrons. The density of the neutron stars are very much greater than the density of atomic nuclei. This results in neutron stars being very compact. They are relatively small, about 25km in diameter (yes, smaller than Singapore).

Yesterday, 16th October 2017, the National Science Foundation held a press conference where they announced the detection of collisions between two neutron stars which is a few hundred million light years away from earth.

This collision generated gravitational waves, but more importantly, electromagnetic radiation in the visible range – i.e., light we can see. This light was detected by a scattering of observatories on earth and in space.

You can watch the entire announcement by following this video:

 

The light that was generated suggests that heavy metals like gold (Au) , silver (Ag) are present which essentially confirms that elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are only possible when there are massive super novae.

Just look around you. If you see a gold chain, a gold plated ornament, it means that that element was created in a star billions of years ago.

That and all of us on Earth are made of star stuff.

It takes time to apologise. I get it. But …


It has taken full NINE days for the CEO of the SMRT to come out and take ownership of the flooding incident of the North South Line that happened on October 7th.

In addition to the leadership of the SMRT, we have the transport minister also apologise for the inconvenience caused and blames people down the line – the Bishan maintenance team was at fault.  In that article, it also says that “that the bonuses of the team at fault would be affected”. How about all of those from those individuals and above right up to the CEO also have a similar bonus freeze (by percentage not quantum)?

Anyone who has done NS would know that if someone in your platoon messes up, everyone is punished. This forces everyone to encourage and nudge all to do well. And since the CEO was a former general, he should be au fait with that shared misery model. Why not do so here?

The CEO says that it is bad culture of the organisation to blame. I can appreciate that. I hope this happened because of the downplaying of engineering as the core competency of the business by the previous management.

So, it would appear that it was complacency and failure to follow procedures that is at fault.

Yes, there has to be thorough investigations and probably that is the reason for the 9 day delay for the leadership to be heard (I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt).

quote-in-paper

Why was it so difficult for the management to come out and speak shortly after the incident? And update it over the following days?

Let me raise something that would be good to have an answer to (I can’t verify it):Why are there statements being made that the individual who was “disciplined” had actually retired late last year/early this year. I really hope this is not true and is pure speculation, but would be good for the SMRT to put it to rest.

 

Transparency is good. Really.


I got a call from Christopher Tan, the Senior Transport Correspondent of a local MSM earlier this afternoon. Kudos to him in tracking me down (not that it was difficult).

He was doing a follow up to his original report of the flooding of the MRT lines.  It was a good chat and we covered some areas of common interest on this topic.

He sort of agreed with my considerations in my previous post about the dangers of water in the tunnel. It is not a small matter when tunnels are flooded. It is not the same as a power being lost and the passengers having to de-train and walk out of the tunnels. With water in the tunnels, and if the water reaches anywhere near the bottom of the train, that would mean that there is probably a meter of water in the tunnel already. De-training and trying to get out is not something that can be done trivially. Even if you can get out, it is very likely that the entire tunnel is dark and having to find one’s way out will be a treacherous challenge.

We need the SMRT/LTA to come up with some mechanisms to manage this scenario. Be bold and willing to listen to the users of the systems and anyone with ideas on how to solve this. Do the trains need to have floats (like what planes have)? Do trains need to have beaconing systems that get activated when there is water (again, like the lifevests in planes)? Lots of easy solutions. Solutions you don’t want to use, but know that it is there when you need it.

During the chat with Christopher, he mentioned that there are “heads rolling” from the SMRT. And lo and behold, there is indeed at least one.  The individual who is being “replaced” was resposible for maintenance.  He apparently (according to the MSM report) was a witness to the 2011 MRT breakdown inquiry.

So, someone got “disciplined”. I have to assume that there was a transparent (to the extent that SMRT is transparent) process to have done this. I can only speculate. I would expect that this is not a last-man-holding-the-hot-potato situation.

If there is one thing that stands out in this SMRT episode is that I have yet to hear from the CEO himself (nor even the transport minister – not that there has to be a statement from a political office holder though). The silence from the top is quite deafening.

Perhaps I should also bring up another issue that I have posted about back in January 2012 – about the inability to close the blast doors of the tunnels at Newton MRT station. The underground MRT stations are designed to be bomb shelters, for those who don’t know. To be fair, I have no idea if it has been fixed. I wish to be updated on it.

So, imagine if we needed to use the bomb shelters and blast doors on the tracks cannot be closed and there is water in the tunnels. What would we be doing? I hope we get that bit fixed now.

For all of our sakes. For Singapore.

Image above is from HomeTeam News.