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Updated: 1 week 4 days ago

Craig Sanders: New D&D Cantrip

Thu 16th Feb 2017 19:02

Name: Alternative Fact
Level: 0
School: EN
Time: 1 action
Range: global, contagious
Components: V, S, M (one racial, cultural or religious minority to blame)
Duration: Permanent (irrevocable)
Classes: Cleric, (Grand) Wizard, Con-man Politician

The caster can tell any lie, no matter how absurd or outrageous (in fact, the more outrageous the better), and anyone hearing it (or hearing about it later) with an INT of 10 or less will believe it instantly, with no saving throw. They will defend their new belief to the death – theirs or yours.

This belief can not be disbelieved, nor can it be defeated by any form of education, logic, evidence, or reason. It is completely incurable. Dispel Magic does not work against it, and Remove Curse is also ineffectual.

New D&D Cantrip is a post from: Errata

Categories: thinktime

Chris Neugebauer: Two Weeks’ Notice

Thu 16th Feb 2017 11:02

Last week, a rather heavy document envelope showed up in the mail.

Inside I found a heavy buff-coloured envelope, along with my passport — now containing a sticker featuring an impressive collection of words, numbers, and imagery of landmarks from the United States of America. I’m reliably informed that sticker is the valid US visa that I’ve spent the last few months applying for.

Having that visa issued has unblocked a fairly important step in my path to moving in with Josh (as well as eventually getting married, but that’s another story). I’m very very excited about making the move, though very sad to be leaving the city I’ve grown up in and come to love, for the time being.

Unrelatedly, I happened to have a trip planned to Montréal to attend ConFoo in March. Since I’ll already be in the area, I’m using that trip as my opportunity to move.

My last day in Hobart will be Thursday 2 March. Following that, I’ll be spending a day in Abu Dhabi (yes, there is a good reason for this), followed by a week in Montréal for ConFoo.

After that, I’ll be moving in with Josh in Petaluma, California on Saturday 11 March.

But until then, I definitely want to enjoy what remaining time I have in Hobart, and catch up with many many people.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be:

  • Attending, and presenting a talk at WD42 — my talk will be one of my pieces for ConFoo, and is entirely new material. Get along!
  • Having a farewell do, *probably* on Tuesday 28 February (but that’s not confirmed yet). I’ll post details about where and when that’ll be in the near future (once I’ve made plans)
  • Madly packing and making sure that that I use up as close to 100% of my luggage allowance as possible

If you want to find some time to catch up over the next couple of weeks, before I disappear for quite some time, do let me know.

Categories: thinktime

David Rowe: FreeDV 700C

Thu 16th Feb 2017 09:02

Over the past month the FreeDV 700C mode has been developed, integrated into the FreeDV GUI program version 1.2, and tested. Windows versions (64 and 32 bit) of this program can be downloaded from Thanks Richard Shaw for all your hard work on the release and installers.

FreeDV 700C uses the Codec 2 700C vocoder with the COHPSK modem. Some early results:

  • The US test team report 700C contacts over 2500km at SNRs down to -2dB, in conditions where SSB cannot be heard.
  • My own experience: the 700C speech quality is not quite as good as FreeDV 1600, but usable for conversation. That’s OK – it’s very early days for the 700C codec, and hey, it’s half the bit rate of 1600. I’m actually quite excited that 700C can be used conversationally at this early stage! I experienced a low SNR channel where FreeDV 700C didn’t work but SSB did, however 700C certainly works at much lower SNRs than 1600.
  • Some testers in Europe report 700C falling over at relatively high SNRs (e.g. 8dB). I also experienced this on a 1500km contact. Suspect this is a bug or corner case we can fix, especially in light of the US teams results.

Tony, K2MO, has put together this fine video demonstrating the various FreeDV modes over a simulated HF channel:

It’s early days for 700C, and there are mixed reports. However it’s looking promising. My next steps are to further explore the real world operation of FreeDV 700C, and work on improving the low SNR performance further.

Categories: thinktime

David Rowe: Modems for HF Digital Voice Part 2

Wed 15th Feb 2017 13:02

In the previous post I argued that pushing bits through a HF channel involves much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Now we shall apply numbers and graphs to the problem, which is – in a nutshell – Engineering.

QPSK Modem Simulation

I have worked up a GNU Octave modem simulation called hf_modem_curves.m. This operates at 1 sample/symbol, i.e. the sample rate is the symbol rate. So we takes some random bits, map them to QPSK symbols, add noise, then turn the noisy symbols back into bits and count errors:

The simulation ignores a few real world details like timing and phase synchronisation, so is a best case model. That’s OK for now. QPSK uses symbols that each carry 2 bits of information, here is the symbol set or “constellation”:

Four different points, each representing a different 2 bit combination. For example the bits ’00’ would be the cross at 45 degrees, ’10’ at 135 degrees etc. The plot above shows all possible symbols, but we just send one at a time. However it’s useful to plot all of the received symbols like this, as an indication of received signal quality. If the channel is playing nice, we receive something like this:

Each cross is now a fuzzy dot, as noise has been added by the channel. No bit errors yet – a bit error happens when we get enough noise to move received symbols into another quadrant. This sort of channel is called Additive White Gaussian Noise (AWGN). Line of site UHF radio is a good example of a real world AWGN channel – all you have to worry about is additive noise.

With a fading or multipath channel like HF we end up with something like:

In a fading channel the received symbol amplitudes bounce up and down as the channel fades in and out. Sometimes the symbols dip down into the noise and we get lots of bit errors. Sometimes the signal is reinforced, and the symbol amplitude gets bigger.

The simulation used for the multipath or HF channel uses a two path model, with additive noise as per the AWGN simulation:

Graphs and Modem Performance

Turns out there are some surprisingly good models to help us work out the expected Bit Error Rate (BER) for a modem. By “model” I mean people have worked out the maths to describe the Bit Error Rate (BER) for a QPSK Modem. This graph shows us how to work out the BER for QPSK (and BPSK):

So the red line shows us the BER given Eb/No (E-B on N-naught), which is a normalised form of Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR). Think about Eb/No as a modem running at 1 bit per second, with the noise power measured in 1 Hz of bandwidth. It’s a useful scale for comparing modems and modulation schemes.

Looking at the black lines, we can see that for an Eb/No or 4dB, we can expect a BER of 1E-2 or 0.01 or 1% of our bits will be received in error over an AWGN channel. This curve is for QPSK or BPSK, different curves would be used for other modems like FSK.

Given Eb/No you can work out the SNR if you know the bit rate and noise bandwidth:

SNR = S/N = EbRb/NoB

or in dB:

SNR(dB) = Eb/No(dB) + 10log10(Rb/B)

For example at Rb = 1600 bit/s and a noise bandwidth B = 3000 Hz:

SNR(dB) = 4 + 10log10(1600/3000) = 1.27 dB

OK, so that was for ideal QPSK. Lets add a few more curves to our graph:

We have added the experimental results for our QPSK simulation (green), and for Differential QPSK (DQPSK – blue). Our QPSK modem simulation (green) is right on top of the theoretical QPSK curve (red) – this is good and shows our simulation is working really well.

DQPSK was discussed in Part 1. Phase differences are sent, which helps with phase errors in the channels but costs us extra bit errors. This is evident on the curves – at the 1E-2 BER line, DQPSK requires 7dB Eb/No, 3dB more (double the power) of QPSK.

Now lets look at modem performance for HF (multipath) channels, on this rather busy graph (click for larger version):

Wow, HF sucks. Looking at the theoretical HF QPSK performance (straight red line) to achieve a BER of 1E-2, we need 14dB of Eb/No. That’s 10dB worse than QPSK on the AWGN channel. With DQPSK, we need about 16dB.

For HF, a lot of extra power is required to make a small difference in BER.

Some of the kinks in the HF curves (e.g. green QPSK HF simulated just under red QPSK HF theory) are due to not enough simulation points – it’s not actually possible to do better than theory!

Estimated Performance of FreeDV Modes

Now we have the tools to estimate the performance of FreeDV modes. FreeDV 1600 uses Codec 2 at 1300 bit/s, plus a little FEC at 300 bit/s to give a total of 1600 bit/s. With the FEC, lets say we can get reasonable voice quality at 4% BER. FreeDV 1600 uses a DQPSK modem.

On an AWGN channel, that’s an Eb/No of 4.4dB for DQPSK, and a SNR of:

SNR(dB) = 4.4 + 10log10(1600/3000) = 1.7 dB

On a multipath channel, that’s an Eb/No of 11dB for DQPSK, and a SNR of:

SNR(dB) = 11 + 10log10(1600/3000) = 8.3 dB

As discussed in Part 1, FreeDV 700C uses diversity and coherent QPSK, and has a multipath (HF) performance curve plotted in cyan above, and close to ideal QPSK on AWGN channels. The payload data rate is 700 bit/s, however we have an overhead of two pilot symbols for every 4 data symbols. This means we effectively need a bit rate of Rb = 700*(4+2)/4 = 1050 bit/s to pump 700 bits/s through the channel. It doesn’t have any FEC (yet, anyway), so we need a BER of a little lower than FreeDV 1600, about 2%. Running the numbers:

On an AWGN channel, for 2% BER we need an Eb/No of 3dB for QPSK, and a SNR of:

SNR(dB) = 3 + 10log10(1050/3000) = -1.5 dB

On a multipath channel, diversity (cyan line) helps a lot, that’s an Eb/No of 8dB, and a SNR of:

SNR(dB) = 8 + 10log10(1050/3000) = 3.4 dB

The diversity model in the simulation uses two carriers. The amplitudes of each carrier after passing through the multipath model are plotted below:

Often when one carrier is faded, the other is not faded, so when we recombine them at the receiver we get an average that is closer to AWGN performance. However diversity is not perfect, occasionally both carriers are wiped out at the same time by a fade.

So we can see FreeDV 700C is about 4 dB in front of FreeDV 1600, which matches the best reports from early adopters. I’ve had reports of FreeDV 700C operating at as low as -2dB , which is presumably on channels that don’t have heavy fading and are more like AWGN. Also some reports of 700C falling over at high SNRs (around like 8dB)! However that is probably a bug, e.g. a sync issue or something else we can track down in time.

Real world channels can vary. The multipath model above doesn’t take into account fast or slow fading, it just calculates the average bit errors rate. In practice, slow fading is hard to handle in digital voice applications, as the whole channel might be wiped out for a few seconds.

Now that we have a reasonable 700 bit/s codec – we can also consider other schemes, such as a more powerful FEC code rather than diversity. Like diversity, FEC codes provide “coding gain”, moving our operating point to the left. Really good codes operate at 10% BER, right over on the Eb/No = 2dB region of the curve. No free lunch of course – such codes may require long latency (seconds) or be expensive to decode.

Next Steps

I’d like to “instrument” FreeDV 700C and work with the 700C early adopters to find out how well it’s working, why and how it falls over, and work through any obvious bugs. Then start experimenting with ways to make it operate at lower SNRs, such as more powerful FEC codes or even non-redundant techniques like Trellis decoding.

Now we have shown Codec 700C has sufficient quality for conversations over the air, I’m planning another iteration of the Codec 2 700C vocoder design to see if we can improve speech quality.


Modems for HF Digital Voice Part 1.

More Eb/No to SNR worked examples.

Similar modem calculations were used to develop a 100 kbit/s telemetry system to send HD images from High Altitude Balloons.

Categories: thinktime

Stewart Smith: j-core + Numato Spartan 6 board + Fedora 25

Tue 14th Feb 2017 19:02

A couple of changes to made it easy for me to get going:

  • In order to make ModemManager not try to think it’s a “modem”, create /etc/udev/rules.d/52-numato.rules with the following content: # Make ModemManager ignore Numato FPGA board ATTRS{idVendor}=="2a19", ATTRS{idProduct}=="1002", ENV{ID_MM_DEVICE_IGNORE}="1"
  • You will need to install python3-pyserial and minicom
  • The minicom command line i used was: sudo stty -F /dev/ttyACM0 -crtscts && minicom -b 115200 -D /dev/ttyACM0

and along with the instructions on, I got it to load a known good build.

Categories: thinktime

OpenSTEM: This Week in HASS – term 1, week 3

Tue 14th Feb 2017 15:02

This is a global week in HASS for primary students. Our youngest students are marking countries around the world where they have family members, slightly older students are examining the Mayan calendar, while older students get nearer to Australia, examining how people reached Australia and encountered its unique wildlife.

Foundation to Year 3 Mayan date

Foundation students doing the Me and My Global Family unit (F.1) are working with the world map this week, marking countries where they have family members with coloured sticky dots. Those doing the My Global Family unit (F.6), and students in Years 1 to 3 (Units 1.1; 2.1 and 3.1), are examining the Mayan calendar this week. The Mayan calendar is a good example of an alternative type of calendar, because it is made up of different parts, some of which do not track the seasons, and is cyclical, based on nested circles. The students learn about the 2 main calendars used by the Mayans – a secular and a celebratory sacred calendar, as well as how the Mayans divided time into circles running at different scales – from the day to the millennium and beyond. And no, in case anyone is still wondering – they did not predict the end of the world in 2012, merely the end of one particular long-range cycle, and hence, the beginning of a new one…

Years 3 to 6 Lake Mungo, where people lived at least 40,000 years ago.

Students doing the Exploring Climates unit (3.6), and those in Years 4 to 6 (Units 4.1, 5.1 and 6.1), are examining how people reached Australia during the Ice Age, and what Australia was like when they arrived. People had to cross at least 90 km of open sea to reach Australia, even during the height of the Ice Age, and this sea gap led to the relative isolation of animals in Australia from others in Asia. This phenomenon was first recorded by Alfred Wallace, who drew a line on a map marking the change in fauna. This line became known as the Wallace line, as a result. Students will also examine the archaeological evidence, and sites of the first people in Australia, ancestors of Aboriginal people. The range of sites across Australia, with increasingly early dates, amply demonstrate the depth of antiquity of Aboriginal knowledge and experience in Australia.

Categories: thinktime

sthbrx - a POWER technical blog: High Power Lustre

Mon 13th Feb 2017 16:02

(Most of the hard work here was done by fellow blogger Rashmica - I just verified her instructions and wrote up this post.)

Lustre is a high-performance clustered file system. Traditionally the Lustre client and server have run on x86, but both the server and client will also work on Power. Here's how to get them running.


Lustre normally requires a patched 'enterprise' kernel - normally an old RHEL, CentOS or SUSE kernel. We tested with a CentOS 7.3 kernel. We tried to follow the Intel instructions for building the kernel as much as possible - any deviations we had to make are listed below.

Setup quirks

We are told to edit ~/kernel/rpmbuild/SPEC/kernel.spec. This doesn't exist because the directory is SPECS not SPEC: you need to edit ~/kernel/rpmbuild/SPECS/kernel.spec.

I also found there was an extra quote mark in the supplied patch script after -lustre.patch. I removed that and ran this instead:

for patch in $(<"3.10-rhel7.series"); do \ patch_file="$HOME/lustre-release/lustre/kernel_patches/patches/${patch}" \ cat "${patch_file}" >> $HOME/lustre-kernel-x86_64-lustre.patch \ done

The fact that there is 'x86_64' in the patch name doesn't matter as you're about to copy it under a different name to a place where it will be included by the spec file.

Building for ppc64le

Building for ppc64le was reasonably straight-forward. I had one small issue:

[build@dja-centos-guest rpmbuild]$ rpmbuild -bp --target=`uname -m` ./SPECS/kernel.spec Building target platforms: ppc64le Building for target ppc64le error: Failed build dependencies: net-tools is needed by kernel-3.10.0-327.36.3.el7.ppc64le

Fixing this was as simple as a yum install net-tools.

This was sufficient to build the kernel RPMs. I installed them and booted to my patched kernel - so far so good!

Building the client packages: CentOS

I then tried to build and install the RPMs from lustre-release. This repository provides the sources required to build the client and utility binaries.

./configure and make succeeded, but when I went to install the packages with rpm, I found I was missing some dependencies:

error: Failed dependencies: ldiskfsprogs >= 1.42.7.wc1 is needed by kmod-lustre-osd-ldiskfs-2.9.52_60_g1d2fbad_dirty-1.el7.centos.ppc64le sg3_utils is needed by lustre-iokit-2.9.52_60_g1d2fbad_dirty-1.el7.centos.ppc64le attr is needed by lustre-tests-2.9.52_60_g1d2fbad_dirty-1.el7.centos.ppc64le lsof is needed by lustre-tests-2.9.52_60_g1d2fbad_dirty-1.el7.centos.ppc64le

I was able to install sg3_utils, attr and lsof, but I was still missing ldiskfsprogs.

It seems we need the lustre-patched version of e2fsprogs - I found a mailing list post to that effect.

So, following the instructions on the walkthrough, I grabbed the SRPM and installed the dependencies: yum install -y texinfo libblkid-devel libuuid-devel

I then tried rpmbuild -ba SPECS/e2fsprogs-RHEL-7.spec. This built but failed tests. Some failed because I ran out of disk space - they were using 10s of gigabytes. I found that there were some comments in the spec file about this with suggested tests to disable, so I did that. Even with that fix, I was still failing two tests:

  • f_pgsize_gt_blksize: Intel added this to their fork, and no equivalent exists in the master e2fsprogs branches. This relates to Intel specific assumptions about page sizes which don't hold on Power.
  • f_eofblocks: This may need fixing for large page sizes, see this bug.

I disabled the tests by adding the following two lines to the spec file, just before make %{?_smp_mflags} check.

rm -rf tests/f_pgsize_gt_blksize rm -rf tests/f_eofblocks

With those tests disabled I was able to build the packages successfully. I installed them with yum localinstall *1.42.13.wc5* (I needed that rather weird pattern to pick up important RPMs that didn't fit the e2fs* pattern - things like libcom_err and libss)

Following that I went back to the lustre-release build products and was able to successfully run yum localinstall *ppc64le.rpm!

Testing the server

After disabling SELinux and rebooting, I ran the test script:

sudo /usr/lib64/lustre/tests/

This spat out one scary warning:

mount.lustre FATAL: unhandled/unloaded fs type 0 'ext3'

The test did seem to succeed overall, and it would seem that is a known problem, so I pressed on undeterred.

I then attached a couple of virtual harddrives for the metadata and object store volumes, and having set them up, proceeded to try to mount my freshly minted lustre volume from some clients.

Testing with a ppc64le client

My first step was to test whether another ppc64le machine would work as a client.

I tried with an existing Ubuntu 16.04 VM that I use for much of my day to day development.

A quick google suggested that I could grab the lustre-release repository and run make debs to get Debian packages for my system.

I needed the following dependencies:

sudo apt install module-assistant debhelper dpatch libsnmp-dev quilt

With those the packages built successfully, and could be easily installed:

dpkg -i lustre-client-modules-4.4.0-57-generic_2.9.52-60-g1d2fbad-dirty-1_ppc64el.deblustre-utils_2.9.52-60-g1d2fbad-dirty-1_ppc64el.deb

I tried to connect to the server:

sudo mount -t lustre $SERVER_IP@tcp:/lustre /lustre/

Initially I wasn't able to connect to the server at all. I remembered that (unlike Ubuntu), CentOS comes with quite an aggressive firewall by default. I ran the following on the server:

systemctl stop firewalld

And voila! I was able to connect, mount the lustre volume, and successfully read and write to it. This is very much an over-the-top hack - I should have poked holes in the firewall to allow just the ports lustre needed. This is left as an exercise for the reader.

Testing with an x86_64 client

I then tried to run make debs on my Ubuntu 16.10 x86_64 laptop.

This did not go well - I got the following error:

liblustreapi.c: In function ‘llapi_get_poollist’: liblustreapi.c:1201:3: error: ‘readdir_r’ is deprecated [-Werror=deprecated-declarations]

This looks like one of the new errors introduced in recent GCC versions, and is a known bug. To work around it, I found the following stanza in a lustre/autoconf/lustre-core.m4, and removed the -Werror:

AS_IF([test $target_cpu == "i686" -o $target_cpu == "x86_64"], [CFLAGS="$CFLAGS -Wall -Werror"])

Even this wasn't enough: I got the following errors:

/home/dja/dev/lustre-release/debian/tmp/modules-deb/usr_src/modules/lustre/lustre/llite/dcache.c:387:22: error: initialization from incompatible pointer type [-Werror=incompatible-pointer-types] .d_compare = ll_dcompare, ^~~~~~~~~~~ /home/dja/dev/lustre-release/debian/tmp/modules-deb/usr_src/modules/lustre/lustre/llite/dcache.c:387:22: note: (near initialization for ‘ll_d_ops.d_compare’)

I figured this was probably because Ubuntu 16.10 has a 4.8 kernel, and Ubuntu 16.04 has a 4.4 kernel. Work on supporting 4.8 is ongoing.

Sure enough, when I fired up a 16.04 x86_64 VM with a 4.4 kernel, I was able to build and install fine.

Connecting didn't work first time - the guest failed to mount, but I did get the following helpful error on the server:

LNetError: 2595:0:(acceptor.c:406:lnet_acceptor()) Refusing connection from insecure port 1024

Refusing insecure port 1024 made me thing that perhaps the NATing that qemu was performing for me was interfering - perhaps the server expected to get a connection where the source port was privileged, and qemu wouldn't be able to do that with NAT.

Sure enough, switching NAT to bridging was enough to get the x86 VM to talk to the ppc64le server. I verified that ls, reading and writing all succeeded.

Next steps

The obvious next steps are following up the disabled tests in e2fsprogs, and doing a lot of internal performance and functionality testing.

Happily, it looks like Lustre might be in the mainline kernel before too long - parts have already started to go in to staging. This will make our lives a lot easier: for example, the breakage between 4.4 and 4.8 would probably have already been picked up and fixed if it was the main kernel tree rather than an out-of-tree patch set.

In the long run, we'd like to make Lustre on Power just as easy as Lustre on x86. (And, of course, more performant!) We'll keep you up to date!

(Thanks to fellow bloggers Daniel Black and Andrew Donnellan for useful feedback on this post.)

Categories: thinktime

Ben Martin: Printer bracket fix

Sun 12th Feb 2017 22:02
Similar to many 3d printer designs, many of the parts on this 3d printer are plastic. Where the Z-Axis meets the Y-Axis is held in place by two top brackets (near the gear on the stepper is a bolt to the z alloy extrusion) and the bottom bracket. One flaw here is that there are no bolts to the z-axis on the bottom bracket. It was also cracked in two places so the structural support was low and the x-axis would droop over time. Not so handy.

The plastic is about 12mm thick and smells like a 2.5D job done by a 3d printer 'just because'.  So a quick tinker in Fusion 360 and the 1/2 inch thick flatland part was born. After removing the hold down tabs and flapping the remains away 3 M6 bolt holds were hand drilled. Notice the subtle shift on the inside of the part where the extrusion and stepper motor differ in size.

It was quicker to just do that rather than try to remount and register on the cnc and it might not have even worked with the limited z range of the machine.

The below image only has two of the three bolts in place. With the addition of the new bolt heading into the z axis the rigidity of the machine went right up. The shaft that the z axis is mounted onto goes into the 12mm empty hole in the part.

This does open up the mental thoughts of how many other parts would be better served by not being made out of plastic.

Categories: thinktime

Lev Lafayette: Multicore World 2017

Sat 11th Feb 2017 23:02

The 6th Multicore World will be held on Monday 20th to Wednesday 22nd of February 2017 at Shed 6 on the Wellington (NZ) waterfront. Nicolás Erdödy (Open Parallel) has once again done an amazing job at finding some the significant speakers in the world in parallel programming and multicore systems to attend. Although a short - and not an enormous conference - the technical quality is always extremely high, dealing with some of the most fundamental problems and recent experiences in these fields.

read more

Categories: thinktime

OpenSTEM: Librarians take up arms against fake news | Seattle Times

Sat 11th Feb 2017 21:02

Librarians are stepping into the breach to help students become smarter evaluators of the information that floods into their lives. That’s increasingly necessary in an era in which fake news is a constant.

Spotting fake news – by librarian Janelle Hagen – Lakeside School Seattle

Read more:

Categories: thinktime

Donna Benjamin: 5 Tech Non Profs you should support right now!

Sat 11th Feb 2017 15:02
Saturday, February 11, 2017 - 13:21

Join 'em, support 'em, donate, promote... whatever. They all do good work. Really good work. And we should all support them as much as we can. Help me, help them, by following them, amplifying their voices, donating or even better?Joining them! And if all you've got is gratitude for the work they do, then drop 'em a line and just say a simple thank you :)

  Software Freedom Conservancy

Follow: @conservancy



  Open Source Initiative

Follow: @OpenSourceOrg



    Drupal Association

Follow: @drupalassoc





Internet Archive

Follow: @internetarchive


Join: as above, just choose monthly sustaining member



Wikimedia Foundation

Follow: @Wikimedia



Categories: thinktime

OpenSTEM: This Week in HASS: term 1 week 2

Fri 10th Feb 2017 19:02
Foundation to Year 3

Our standalone Foundation (Prep/Kindy etc) students are introduced to the World Map this week, as they start putting stickers on it, showing where in the world they and their families come from – the origin of the title of this unit (Me and My Global Family). This helps students to feel connected with each other and to start to understand both the notion of the ‘global family’, as well as the idea that places can be represented by pictures (maps). Of course, we don’t expect most 5 year olds to understand the world map, but the sooner they start working with it, the deeper the familiarity and understanding later on.

Students building Stonehenge with blocks

All the other younger students are learning about movements of celestial bodies (the Earth and Moon, as they go around the Sun and each other) and that people have measured time in the past with reference to both the Sun and the Moon – Solar and Lunar calendars. To make these ideas more concrete, students study ancient calendars, such as Stonehenge, Newgrange and Abu Simbel, and take part in an activity building a model of Stonehenge from boxes or blocks.

Years 3 to 6 Demon Duck of Doom

Our older primary students are going back into the Ice Age (and who wouldn’t want to, in this weather!), as they explore the routes of modern humans leaving Africa, as part of understanding how people reached Australia. Aboriginal people arrived in Australia as part of the waves of modern humans spreading across the world. However, the Australia they encountered was very different from today. It was cold, dry and very dusty, inhabited by giant Ice Age animals (the Demon Duck of Doom is always a hot favourite with the students!) and overall, a pretty dangerous place. We challenge students to imagine life in those times, and thereby start to understand the basis for some of the Dreamtime stories, as well as the long and intricate relationship between Aboriginal people and the Australian environment.

Categories: thinktime

OpenSTEM: This Week in HASS: term 1 week 1

Fri 10th Feb 2017 19:02

We thought it would be fun to track what’s happening in schools using our primary HASS program, on a weekly basis. Now we know that some of you are doing different units and some will start in different weeks, depending on what state you’re in, what term dates you have etc, but we will run these posts based off those schools which are implementing the units in numerical order and starting in the week beginning 30 January, 2017.

Week 1 is an introductory week for all units, and usually sets some foundations for the rest of the unit.

Foundation to Year 3

Our youngest students are still finding their feet in the new big world of school! We have 2 units for Term 1, depending on whether the class is standalone, or integrating with some Year 1 students. This week standalone classes will be starting a discussion about their families – geared towards making our newest students feel welcome and comfortable at school.

Those integrating with Year 1 or possibly Year 2, as well, will start working with their teachers on a Class Calendar, marking terms and holidays, as well as celebrations such as birthdays and public holidays. This helps younger students start to map out the coming year, as well as provide a platform for discussions about how they spent the holidays. Year 2 and 3 students may choose to focus more on discussing which season we are in now, and what the weather’s like at the moment (I’m sure most of you are in agreement that it’s too hot!). Students can track the weather on the calendar as well.

Years 3 to 6

Some Year 3 students may be in classes integrating with Year 4 students, rather than Year 2. Standalone Year 3 classes have a choice of doing either unit. These older students will be undertaking the Timeline Activity and getting a physical sense of history and spans of time. Students love an excuse to get outdoors, even when it’s hot, and this activity gives them a preview of material they will be covering later in the year, as well as giving them a hands-on understanding of how time has passed and how where we are compares to past events. This activity can even reinforce the concept of a number line from Maths, in a very kinaesthetic way.

Categories: thinktime

David Rowe: Modems for HF Digital Voice Part 1

Fri 10th Feb 2017 09:02

The newly released FreeDV 700C mode uses the Coherent PSK (COHPSK) modem which I developed in 2015. This post describes the challenges of building HF modems for DV, and how the COHPSK modem evolved from the FDMDV modem used for FreeDV 1600.

HF channels are tough. You need a lot of SNR to push bits through them. There are several problems to contend with:

When the transmit signal is reflected off the ionosphere, two or more copies arrive at the receiver antenna a few ms apart. These echoes confuse the demodulator, just like a room with bad echo can confuse a listener.

Here is a plot of a BPSK baseband signal (top). Lets say we receive two copies of this signal, from two paths. The first is identical to what we sent (top), but the second is delayed a few samples and half the amplitude (middle). When you add them together at the receiver input (bottom), it’s a mess:

The multiple paths combining effectively form a comb filter, notching out chunks of the modem signal. Loosing chunks of the modem spectrum is bad. Here is the magnitude and phase frequency response of a channel with the two paths used for the time domain example above:

Note that comb filtering also means the phase of the channel is all over the place. As we are using Phase Shift Keying (PSK) to carry our precious bits, strange phase shifts are more bad news.

All of these impairments are time varying, so the echoes/notches, and phase shifts drift as the ionosphere wiggles about. As well as the multipath, it must deal with noise and operate at SNRs of around 0dB, and frequency offsets between the transmitter and receiver of say +/- 100 Hz.

If commodity sound cards are used for the ADC and DAC, the modem must also handle large sample clock offsets of +/-1000 ppm. For example the transmitter DAC sample clock might be 7996 Hz and the receiver ADC 8004 Hz, instead of the nominal 8000 Hz.

As the application is Push to Talk (PTT) Digital Voice, the modem must sync up quickly, in the order of 100ms, even with all the challenges above thrown at it. Processing delay should be around 100ms too. We can’t wait seconds for it to train like a data modem, or put up with several seconds of delay in the receive speech due to processing.

Using standard SSB radio sets we are limited to around 2000 Hz of RF bandwidth. This bandwidth puts a limit on the bit rate we can get through the channel. The amplitude and phase distortion caused by typical SSB radio crystal filters is another challenge.

Designing a modem for HF Digital Voice is not easy!


In 2012, the FDMDV modem was developed as our first attempt at a modem for HF digital voice. This is more or less a direct copy of the FDMDV waveform which was developed by Francesco Lanza, HB9TLK and Peter Martinez G3PLX. The modem software was written in GNU Octave and C, carefully tested and tuned, and most importantly – is open source software.

This modem uses many parallel carriers or tones. We are using Differential QPSK, so every symbol contains 2 bits encoded as one of 4 phases.

Lets say we want to send 1600 bits/s over the channel. We could do this with a single QPSK carrier at Rs = 800 symbols a second. Eight hundred symbols/s times two bit/symbol for QPSK is 1600 bit/s. The symbol period Ts = 1/Rs = 1/800 = 1.25ms. Alternatively, we could use 16 carriers running at 50 symbols/s (symbol period Ts = 20ms). If the multipath channel has echoes 1ms apart it will make a big mess of the single carrier system but the parallel tone system will do much better, as 1ms of delay spread won’t upset a 20ms symbol much:

We handle the time-varying phase of the channel using Differential PSK (DPSK). We actually send and receive phase differences. Now the phase of the channel changes over time, but can be considered roughly constant over the duration of a few symbols. So when we take a difference between two successive symbols the unknown phase of the channel is removed.

Here is an example of DPSK for the BPSK case. The first figure shows the BPSK signal top, and the corresponding DBPSK signal (bottom). When the BPSK signal changes, we get a +1 DBPSK value, when it is the same, we get a -1 DBPSK value.

The next figure shows the received DBPSK signal (top). The phase shift of the channel is a constant 180 degrees, so the signal has been inverted. In the bottom subplot the recovered BPSK signal after differential decoding is shown. Despite the 180 degree phase shift of the channel it’s the same as the original Tx BPSK signal in the first plot above.

This is a trivial example, in practice the phase shift of the channel will vary slowly over time, and won’t be a nice neat number like 180 degrees.

DPSK is a neat trick, but has an impact on the modem Bit Error Rate (BER) – if you get one symbol wrong, the next one tends to be corrupted as well. It’s a two for one deal on bit errors, which means crappier performance for a given SNR than regular (coherent) PSK.

To combat frequency selective fading we use a little Forward Error Correction (FEC) on the FreeDV 1600 waveform. So if one carrier gets notched out, we can use bits in the other carriers to recover the missing bits. Unfortunately we don’t have the bandwidth available to protect all bits, and the PTT delay requirement means we have to use a short FEC code. Short FEC codes don’t work as well as long ones.


Over the next few years I spent some time thinking about different modem designs and trying a bunch of different ideas, most of which failed. Research and disappointment. You just have to learn from your mistakes, talk to smart people, and keep trying. Then, towards the end of 2014, a few ideas started to come together, and the COHPSK modem was running in real time in mid 2015.

The major innovations of the COHPSK modem are:

  1. The use of diversity to help combat frequency selective fading. The baseline modem has 7 carriers. A copy of these are made, and sent at a higher frequency to make 14 tones in total. Turns out the HF channel giveth and taketh away. When one tone is notched out another is enhanced (an anti-fade). So we send each carrier twice and add them back together at the demodulator, averaging out the effect of frequency selective fades:
  2. To use diversity we need enough bandwidth to fit a copy of the baseline modem carriers. This implies the need for a vocoder bit rate of much less than 1600 bit/s – hence several iterations at a 700 bits/s speech codec – a completely different skill set – and another 18 months of my life to develop Codec 2 700C.
  3. Coherent QPSK detection is used instead of differential detection, which halves the number of bit errors compared to differential detection. This requires us to estimate the phase of the channel on the fly. Two known symbols are sent followed by 4 data symbols. These known, or Pilot symbols, allow us to measure and correct for the current phase of each carrier. As the pilot symbols are sent regularly, we can quickly acquire – then track – the phase of the channel as it evolves.

Here is a figure that shows how the pilot and data symbols are distributed across one frame of the COHPSK modem. More information of the frame design is available in the cohpsk frame design spreadsheet, including performance calculations which I’ll explain in the next blog post in this series.

Coming Next

In the next post I’ll show how reading a few graphs and adding a few dBs together can help us estimate the performance of the FDMDV and COHPSK modems on HF channels.


Modems for HF Digital Voice Part 2

cohpsk_plots.m Octave script used to generate plots for this post.

FDMDV Modem Page

Some earlier musings on FreeDV 1600 and why SSB works so well:

FreeDV Robustness Part 1

FreeDV Robustness Part 2

FreeDV Robustness Part 3

Categories: thinktime

Craige McWhirter: Adding a Docker Runner to GitLab

Thu 09th Feb 2017 13:02

In my particular scenario, I need to run both docker and docker-compose to test and build our changes. The first step to achieving this is to add an appropriate GitLab runner.

We especially need to run a privileged runner to make this happen.

Assuming that GitLab Runner has already been successfully installed, head to Admin -> Runner in the webUI of your GitLab instance and note your Registration token.

From a suitable account on your GitLab instance register a shared runner:

% sudo /usr/bin/gitlab-ci-multi-runner register --docker-privileged \ --url \ --registration-token REGISTRATION_TOKEN \ --executor docker \ --description "My Docker Runner" \ --docker-image "docker:latest" \

Your shared runner should now be ready to run.

This applies to self-hosting a GitLab instance. If you are using the hosted services, a suitable runner is already supplied.

There are many types of executors for runners, suiting a variety of scenarios. This example's scenario is that both GitLab and the desired runner are on the same instance.

Categories: thinktime

Lev Lafayette: OpenStack and the OpenStack Barcelona Summit

Tue 07th Feb 2017 17:02

Presentation to Linux Users of Victoria, 7th February, 2017

An overview of cloud computing platforms in general, and OpenStack in particular, is provided introduces this presentation. Cloud computing is one of the most significant changes to IT infrastructure and employment in the past decade, with major corporate services (Amazon, Microsoft) gaining particular significance in the late 2000s. In mid-2010, Rackspace Hosting and NASA jointly launched an open-source cloud-software initiative known as OpenStack, with initial code coming from NASA's Nebula project and Rackspace's Cloud Files project, and soon gained prominence as the largest open-source cloud platform. Although a cross-platform service, it was quickly available on various Linux distributions including Debian, Ubuntu, SuSE (2011), and Red Hat (2012).

OpenStack is governed by the OpenStack Foundation, a non-profit corporate entity established in September 2012. Correlating with the release cycle of the product, OpenStack Summits are held every six months for developers, users and managers. The most recent Summit was held in Barcelona in late October 2016, with over 5000 attendees, almost 1000 organisations and companies, and 500 sessions, spread out over three days, plus one day of "Upstream University" prior to the main schedule, plus one day after the main schedule for contributor working parties. The presentation will cover the major announcements of the conference as well as a brief overview of the major streams, as well the direction of OpenStack as the November Sydney Summit approaches.

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Categories: thinktime

Binh Nguyen: Life in Venezuela, Examining Prophets/Pre-Cogs 5, and More

Mon 06th Feb 2017 21:02
Wanted to see what life was like in Venezuela given their recent problems: - complicated colonial history with conflict between Spaniards and local indigenous people (led by Native caciques, such as Guaicaipuro and Tamanaco). One of first to declare independence in Latin America. History of military strongmen and corruption? Political and economic instability over many years... venezuela
Categories: thinktime

Russell Coker: SE Linux in Debian/Stretch

Mon 06th Feb 2017 15:02

Debian/Stretch has been frozen. Before the freeze I got almost all the bugs in policy fixed, both bugs reported in the Debian BTS and bugs that I know about. This is going to be one of the best Debian releases for SE Linux ever.

Systemd with SE Linux is working nicely. The support isn’t as good as I would like, there is still work to be done for systemd-nspawn. But it’s close enough that anyone who needs to use it can use audit2allow to generate the extra rules needed. Systemd-nspawn is not used by default and it’s not something that a new Linux user is going to use, I think that expert users who are capable of using such features are capable of doing the extra work to get them going.

In terms of systemd-nspawn and some other rough edges, the issue is the difference between writing policy for a single system vs writing policy that works for everyone. If you write policy for your own system you can allow access for a corner case without a lot of effort. But if I wrote policy to allow access for every corner case then they might add up to a combination that can be exploited. I don’t recommend blindly adding the output of audit2allow to your local policy (be particularly wary of access to shadow_t and write access to etc_t, lib_t, etc). But OTOH if you have a system that’s running in enforcing mode that happens to have one daemon with more access than is ideal then all the other daemons will still be restricted.

As for previous releases I plan to keep releasing updates to policy packages in my own apt repository. I’m also considering releasing policy source to updates that can be applied on existing Stretch systems. So if you want to run the official Debian packages but need updates that came after Stretch then you can get them. Suggestions on how to distribute such policy source are welcome.

Please enjoy SE Linux on Stretch. It’s too late for most bug reports regarding Stretch as most of them won’t be sufficiently important to justify a Stretch update. The vast majority of SE Linux policy bugs are issues of denying wanted access not permitting unwanted access (so not a security issue) and can be easily fixed by local configuration, so it’s really difficult to make a case for an update to Stable. But feel free to send bug reports for Buster (Stretch+1).

Related posts:

  1. Debian SE Linux Status June 2012 It’s almost the Wheezy freeze time and I’ve been working...
  2. SE Linux Status in Debian 2012-01 Since my last SE Linux in Debian status report [1]...
  3. Debian SSH and SE Linux I have just filed Debian bug report #556644 against the...
Categories: thinktime

Francois Marier: IPv6 and OpenVPN on Linode Debian/Ubuntu VPS

Mon 06th Feb 2017 00:02

Here is how I managed to extend my OpenVPN setup on my Linode VPS to include IPv6 traffic. This ensures that clients can route all of their traffic through the VPN and avoid leaking IPv6 traffic, for example. It also enables clients on IPv4-only networks to receive a routable IPv6 address and connect to IPv6-only servers (i.e. running your own IPv6 broker).

Request an additional IPv6 block

The first thing you need to do is get a new IPv6 address block (or "pool" as Linode calls it) from which you can allocate a single address to each VPN client that connects to the server.

If you are using a Linode VPS, there are instructions on how to request a new IPv6 pool. Note that you need to get an address block between /64 and /112. A /116 like Linode offers won't work in OpenVPN. Thankfully, Linode is happy to allocate you an extra /64 for free.

Setup the new IPv6 address

If your server only has an single IPv4 address and a single IPv6 address, then a simple DHCP-backed network configuration will work fine. To add the second IPv6 block on the other hand, I had to change my network configuration (/etc/network/interfaces) to this:

auto lo iface lo inet loopback allow-hotplug eth0 iface eth0 inet dhcp pre-up iptables-restore /etc/network/iptables.up.rules iface eth0 inet6 static address 2600:3c01::xxxx:xxxx:xxxx:939f/64 gateway fe80::1 pre-up ip6tables-restore /etc/network/ip6tables.up.rules iface tun0 inet6 static address 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::/64 pre-up ip6tables-restore /etc/network/ip6tables.up.rules

where 2600:3c01::xxxx:xxxx:xxxx:939f/64 (bound to eth0) is your main IPv6 address and 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::/64 (bound to tun0) is the new block you requested.

Once you've setup the new IPv6 block, test it from another IPv6-enabled host using:

ping6 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::1 OpenVPN configuration

The only thing I had to change in my OpenVPN configuration (/etc/openvpn/server.conf) was to change:

proto udp


proto udp6

in order to make the VPN server available over both IPv4 and IPv6, and to add the following lines:

server-ipv6 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::/64 push "route-ipv6 2000::/3"

to bind to the right V6 address and to tell clients to tunnel all V6 Internet traffic through the VPN.

In addition to updating the OpenVPN config, you will need to add the following line to /etc/sysctl.d/openvpn.conf:


and the following to your firewall (e.g. /etc/network/ip6tables.up.rules):

# openvpn -A INPUT -p udp --dport 1194 -j ACCEPT -A FORWARD -m state --state NEW -i tun0 -o eth0 -s 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::/64 -j ACCEPT -A FORWARD -m state --state NEW -i eth0 -o tun0 -d 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::/64 -j ACCEPT -A FORWARD -m state --state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT

in order to ensure that IPv6 packets are forwarded from the eth0 network interface to tun0 on the VPN server.

With all of this done, apply the settings by running:

sysctl -p /etc/sysctl.d/openvpn.conf ip6tables-apply systemctl restart openvpn.service Testing the connection

Now connect to the VPN using your desktop client and check that the default IPv6 route is set correctly using ip -6 route.

Then you can ping the server's new IP address:

ping6 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::1

and from the server, you can ping the client's IP (which you can see in the network settings):

ping6 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::1002

Once both ends of the tunnel can talk to each other, you can try pinging an IPv6-only server from your client:


and then pinging your client from an IPv6-enabled host somewhere:

ping6 2600:3c01:xxxx:xxxx::1002

If that works, other online tests should also work.

Categories: thinktime

Linux Users of Victoria (LUV) Announce: LUV Main February 2017 Meeting: OpenStack Summit/Data Structures and Algorithms

Sun 05th Feb 2017 21:02
Start: Feb 7 2017 18:30 Start: Feb 7 2017 18:30 Location:  6th Floor, Trinity College (EPA Victoria building), 200 Victoria St., Carlton Link:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
6th Floor, Trinity College (EPA Victoria building)
200 Victoria St., Carlton


• Lev Lafayette, OpenStack and the OpenStack Barcelona Summit
• Jacinta Richardson, Data Structures and Algorithms in the 21st Century

200 Victoria St. Carlton VIC 3053 (the EPA building)

Late arrivals needing access to the building and the sixth floor please call 0490 049 589.

Before and/or after each meeting those who are interested are welcome to join other members for dinner. We are open to suggestions for a good place to eat near our venue. Maria's on Peel Street in North Melbourne is currently the most popular place to eat after meetings.

LUV would like to acknowledge Red Hat for their help in obtaining the venue.

Linux Users of Victoria Inc., is an incorporated association, registration number A0040056C.

February 7, 2017 - 18:30

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Categories: thinktime