A moment ago I found myself trying to explain why “Graham’s number” was more exciting to learn about than what it sounds like, i.e. it’s “just” a really big number. No no. This number expands your notion of what “big” actually means, because you need to learn about the operation that succeeds exponentiation in order to understand it: “tetration”. This Numberphile does a great job at explaining it.
As I was trying to explain the excitement of this number it occurred to me that I better understood how Douglas Hofstadter would remember his childhood feeling of disappointment in learning that a subscript like in , does not refer to something as interesting as exponentiation, like .
There is something incredibly satisfying about beating a corrupt system. I am currently posting this from behind a pay-for-use gateway at the Mexico City airport, connected to the internet using a DNS tunnel provided by an Android app called Slow DNS. All around the airport are signs saying “free wifi”, it just happens that this is a lie. There is no airport wifi, but there is “free wifi” available if you have an account with a telecom provider like Telcel. I do have an account with Telcel but was simply unable to have my credentials authorized. This is extra annoying because, 1) I ran out of data a few hours ago and, 2) I had to go to the airport early.
Frustrated, I tried to buy a drink at a bakery offering “free wifi” to customers, but was told that a drink would not be sufficient to elicit the password, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay Vancouver prices for a croissant. Fuming mad, I decided to try and use the Slow DNS app I downloaded last week as a stop gap measure until I have the time to get iodine installed on one of my servers. To my total shock it is actually working.
What is a DNS tunnel? For the lay person, it is sufficient to say that it is a way of stuffing normal internet traffic into the much more restricted little internet that allows you to access corporate pay-for-use gateway pages. More advanced readers might want to read a more detailed explanation here.
I have been looking for an excuse to do some DNS tunneling for almost 20 years and finally, finally, I have the tools and moral righteousness to do it.
It feels so good. You simply must try it for yourself. Just make sure the websites you visit are “https” and not “http”. I have no idea who runs Slow DNS and it’s best to assume you’re being watched.
Of the many important ideas that the renowned physicist Geoffrey West explains in his recent book “Scale“, several of his remarks about temperature stuck out as demanding more widespread attention:
I first heard West talk about these ideas in his interview on Sean Carroll’s Mindscape podcast. I must say that he came across as quite pompous in this interview, but it became clear over the course of the interview that his research was uniquely important. In my view, his book is essential reading for any scientist.
Obtaining EOS cryptocurrency has recently gotten a whole lot less brutal. See the guide below if you don’t care about my life story.
Earlier this year I did some consulting work that exposed me to two very promising seeming blockchainy projects: IOTA and EOS. I’ll describe the basic ideas for both, but I should say that my technical knowledge of these projects is at best superficial. In the case of IOTA, it turns out the “internet of things” is not the joke that a lot of people, including myself, had thought it to be. Having your fridge connected in an information network to your toaster actually does make sense in a lot of scenarios. Blockchains are not necessarily ideal for recording the micro-transactions that these kinds of connections might produce however, because the records pile up and aren’t very interesting. IOTA is a cryptocurrency that promises to deliver the useful elements of a blockchain (secure, decentralized) using a lightweight data structure called a “Tangle”:
The IOTA project appears to me to be quite serious, with major companies like Volkswagen and Fujitsu embracing the technology.
The EOS project is just impressively ambitious. Using a technology called “delegated proof-of-stake” EOS appears to solve some of the problems encountered by the lovable proof-of-stake based Peercoin project, by being less extreme in its commitment to “decentralization”. Owning some EOS entitles you to vote for “block producers” who do all the hard work of verifying transactions, in addition to offering computing resources to their voting base. Only the top 21 vote receiving block producers are entitled to block rewards, which makes for a competitive dynamic that could feasibly retain the security of total decentralization, with some of the benefits of centralization (e.g., less wasteful mining). It has taken a jaw-dropping amount of thinking to pull this off. The company behind it all, block.one, raised billions of dollars that it now uses to support the development of the system. This includes a governance model that actually clearly defines how disputes and changes to the system can be resolved. In my view, the project makes my own forays into cryptocurrency voting ideas, specifically with votecoin.com, totally pointless.
There is much much more to say about EOS, but the point of providing all this backstory is to motivate this step-by-step guide. Trying to obtain EOS was a very trying experience. I literally failed to do so until just recently, and I would rank the difficulty almost as high as trying to get my nvidia GPU to play nice with Ubuntu. In terms of time spent failing and time spent ruminating on the issues, I’ve surely crossed the 100 hour mark since June. I am delighted that my favourite blockchain project of last year, Bancor, ended up being the saviour in this story.
[/optional backstory]Step-by-step guide to obtaining EOS
*Assumes you already have some Ethereum. If not, it is easy enough to obtain, e.g., CoinSquare
1. Install EOS Lynx on your phone. This costs money, but you need money in your EOS wallet to do anything.
2. Export your EOS Lynx keys to your computer.
3. Download and setup Scatter desktop and Scatter browser plugin and import EOS Lynx private key.
4. Make an account on bancor.network, and install MetaMask browser plugin. Follow the directions in this video EXACTLY. In summary: A) Transfer Ethereum to BNT using MetaMask plugin on bancor.network (do no not use “Bancor wallet”), B) Transfer MetaMask Ethereum to MetaMask BNT using x.bancor.network, C) Transfer MetaMask BNT to EOS using eos.bancor.network
You will not be able to buy EOS until you have enough EOS “staked” for CPU resources, which you can do using your Scatter desktop “Vault”. Great. So you can’t buy EOS until you have EOS. To solve this you’ll need to use “CPU Emergency“, fail, install Telegram, join the “CPU911” telegram group, and beg them to give your EOS account some CPU resources. Also note, that you require a balance in your ETH wallet on Bancor.network in order to process any transaction, even when not using that Ethereum balance in the transaction.
5. You now have EOS, but you should also attach your Scatter wallet to EOS Toolkit to vote for some block producers. Voting is important. I have voted for LiquidEOS using their custom application because Bancor deserves it, but spread your votes out.
I am traveling to Mexico for a few months, and the near constant media coverage of the violence here eventually led me to start thinking more seriously about safety. What started as a passing attempt to reassure friends and family that there was little reason to worry, reminded me of the actual interest I have in the topics of adventure travel and communication secrecy. In my early twenties for example, I hitchhiked around several countries in Central America, without knowing any Spanish, comforted, naively, by the two machetes protruding from out my backpack.
As a teenager, I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Young Pelton’s “The World’s Most Dangerous Places” which includes a good chapter on kidnapping related issues, but looking on it now, the information feels like it could use a bit of an update. At the time it was published, Mexico, evidently, trailed only Columbia in terms of kidnappings,
yet these more recent statistics show my home country of Canada as much further ahead:
I honestly don’t know how this is possible, and it must have something to do with the methodological differences between the “Hiscox” rankings used in the former, and the latter’s UN sourced rankings. It’s hard to know what the actual risks are for a penniless homebody like myself but I nonetheless began to write out some strategies for communicating with friends and family in the event that I find myself in danger. Some brief Googling revealed a paucity of articles that could help the casual traveller develop such strategies. So here is what I’ve thought about so far, though I would be curious to hear the suggestions that others might have in the comments.
Agree on a strategy with trusted friends and family in advance.
Communicate using variations of names, places, contact information, and contact sequences. Examples:
• Referring to your brother Jon as Jonathon could mean “duress = low”.
• First contact made by emailing email@example.com could mean “location = unknown”.
It is much easier to remember a location using what3words than it is to remember a GPS coordinate. These words will encode any location on earth within 3m2. For example, “skirt,shopper,computer“. How you would know these words and not be able to email for help, is a separate question.
Phone apps that act as “dead man’s switches” can be used to trigger SMS messages containing notes and GPS coordinates, in the event that a notification is not responded to. The app I’ve been using was simple enough to setup and works as it should, so long as the phone doesn’t go to sleep (see edit at bottom). An SMS message to a private security firm could instruct them to send a car to that location for a small fee.
As partially complete as this list is, the story doesn’t end just yet. The glib imagination of much modern sci-fi – evident in shows like Black Mirror and the horrifying psychological tortures used by the Klingons in the first season of Star Trek Discovery – led me to some of the academic literature on, what I can only refer to as, “mental secrecy”. This “Ridealong” I recorded last year, looks at a paper by Ravi2007 that reports the use of an event-related potential (ERP) extracted from the EEG of an individual’s idiosyncratic electroencephalogram (EEG) in response to a simple visual stimulus.
What differentiates this paper from other biometric cryptography methods in my view, is that the individual’s unique ERP used as the cryptographic key comprises averages from 61 electrode channels, which I have to think would be quite different when generated from a halcyon versus duressed state of mind. What this could mean then, is that your mind could store secrets that are only accessible if you don’t feel coerced. Maybe. If so, I think the ramifications are pretty obvious in the current context, and truly spectacular as a source of future ideas.
edit1: I’ve just come across a new article on this topic that I look forward to checking out:
Lin, F., Cho, K. W., Song, C., Xu, W., & Jin, Z. (2018). Brain Password. Proceedings of the 16th Annual International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services – MobiSys ’18, 296–309. http://doi.org/10.1145/3210240.3210344
edit2: It took a while to figure out where this setting was stored: Apps & Notifications >> Apps >> Settings >> Special access >> Ignore battery optimization >> set apps you want don’t want “dozed” by Android’s sleep function, to “Allowed”.
I have a real soft spot for the field of study called “Cybernetics”. I was reminded of this today by a popular Reddit thread linking a well-intentioned, but poorly executed, film called “The Choice is Ours“. I didn’t watch it all, and am instead using this an opportunity to link one of my favourite documentaries: “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace – Episode 2 – The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts“, written and directed by Adam Curtis. There are many many many fascinating things to learn from the Curtis documentary, and I would encourage absolutely everyone to watch it, but I’d like to add a few of my own thoughts about Cybernetics as well.
In all my years at university I never once saw a course in Cybernetics offered. It wasn’t until I started trying to model human eye movements that I was able to develop a really deep appreciation for this field. Some of the most important papers I read in graduate school were published in a relatively obscure journal called “Biological Cybernetics“. It was here for instance, that the enigmatic Shun-ichi Amari published his seminal paper that later became a cornerstone of the Dynamic Field Theory based modeling that is I do. Amari lit up my imagination with all kinds of curiously titled, yet often totally impenetrable, papers. One day I will read and try to understand The Information Geometry of Turbo Codes, but for now I will simply say that it is satisfying that some of my academic work has managed to intersect with another interest I’ve long had in self-organizing workplaces.
Cybernetics is very concerned with the concept of “feedback”. This is a topic serendipitously on my mind, as I’m editing some papers I wrote for my comprehensives, and am just at a section discussing the differences between “unsupervised” and “supervised” learning. All that really needs to be said about that, is that feedback can really change how we learn about things, for the better or worse, and some things cannot be learned without it.
For many years my bathroom has been haunted by an old copy of Stafford Beer’s “The Brain of the Firm“. I never did finish this book, which details the “Viable system model” developed to manage the economic input and outputs for the tragically short-lived Allende government in Chile. This is work that is all but forgotten in the halls of academia, yet these are ideas whose time may have finally come, manifest as cryptocurrencies like IOTA. I have a similar affinity for the eccentric, but inspiring, Buckminster Fuller, to whom to we owe the popularity of geodesic domes. I do hope that Cybernetics rises again in academia.