CSCS User Lab Day 2019

Nice day in Lucerne and excellent opportunity to learn about CSCS’s work and interact with the staff. This was my second CSCS Lab Day, and altough I am not working in the HPC field, I learned a lot.
This event is interesting, because it is focused on the interaction of HPC users with the CSCS infrastructure, so you can get a lot of information about containers, virtualization and CSCS user environment, without being overwhelmed with all the HPC specific stuff.

The day started with a talk given by Prof. Demenico Giardini, ETH Zurich who described, how the Seismometer of the InSight Mars mission was developped and deployed and what results obtained were so far.

Migrating Websites to Virtualbox™ – Part Two

Earthquakes in New Zealand, Sep. 7, 2019

As I have announced a few days ago, I was looking into how to migrate my websites to a virtual server environment using VirtualBox.

The installation and configuration was pretty straightforward and it was basically the same as on original websites, the operation systems remains Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and the software environment is identical. However, this was a good opportunity to clean-up some things that have become outdated.

My company website runs on the newer version of Zotonic Erlang CMS (at the time of writing this is 0.51). There was no problem migrating the content and database from a previous version (namedly 0.39).

My website is still running on Yaws Webserver, but some of the data acquisition code needed to be updated, as the source format changed. Thankfully, we are close to solar minimum of solar cycle 24, so there is time for a bigger update on how data on solar events is collected and displayed. For the time being, SDO Videos are no longer produced, as there was an api change on, that’s fixed now, but I decided to redo the whole process of how this data is acquired and treated.

The is also still running on Yaws Webserver, and a handful of sources for earthquake data, namely Iceland, Turkey, Mexico, Switzerland, Philippines and some others were ditched, as they make it exceedingly difficult to acquire the data, and I’ve decided it’s not worth my time. I will spend efforts on improving the data display on the remaining data sources.

The Website is also running on Yaws Webserver and it currently only displays data on near earth objects.

Now, the interesting part will be to see how the VirtualBox environment behaves in production and how easy it is to do DevOps style development with it.

Solar Cycle 25 Preliminary Prediction

Not exactly News, as it dates back to April 2019, but still interesting since we are very close to the end of solar cycle 24 and the solar minimum.

NOAA and NASA experts sat together and came up with a preliminary prediction as to what to expect from the next solar cycle numbered 25.

It’s expected to be a weak cycle, similar to the current one. As the cycles have been getting weaker and weaker since solar cycle 21, this might mean that the decline in solar activity is coming to and end with solar cycle 25.

Yes, it’s still blurry, but end of 2019 better forecasts are expected

According to this preliminary prediction solar cycle 24 is to end somewhere between July 2019 and September 2020.
Solar cycle 25 is expected to peak between 2023 and 2026 with around 95 to 130 sunspots.

The number of sunspots is an indication of solar activity and space weather events such as radio blackouts, geomagnetic storms and solar radiations storms.

Source for this article is at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

New Active Region on Sun an End of Cycle 24 is Near

Today, we have a new active region on the Sun with two sunspots. The Hale magnetic configuration is given as β which means that there might be some solar flare activity, but not very likely above C class.

Location of new active region AR2748 on the Sun
Close-Up of AR2748

This is a rare event, as solar cycle 24 is drawing to a close, with a minimum predicted somewhere between July 2019 and September 2020. During this time there are little to none acitve regions and thus solar flares on the Sun.

Migrating Websites to Virtualbox™

I am currently running some websites on bare metal servers and while I am not prepared (yet) to move these to virtual servers in the cloud, I do want to virtualize them and run them on Oracle’s VirtualBox.

Most of the migration is straightforward, of course. I duplicated the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS environment in a VirtualBox and moved the configuration and files over. For the data collected I created a separate storage container which expands as needed.

There was only one issue in networking. I used bridged adapter in network settings, however the box was only reachable from the host operating system, not from other machines. That is fixed now, not sure how, though. It’s one of these “change settings multiple times until it works” type of fixes.

Currently the development and test environments are moved, and the development environment is set up so I can edit the files and connect to the database. Now the only thing to figure out is how to best publish the changes from development to test to production.
This should happen with the least possible effort and highest degree of automation possible. Still working on that…

«Dorian» moving towards Florida as a Category 4 Hurricane

While this is not a weather blog, I still think this is impressive. The Atlantic hurricane season started quietly in June with not much activity until end of August. Now we are reminded that the hurricane seasons lasts till November with this impressive system called «Dorian».

That’s how the NOAA weather satellite saw the hurricane on August 31 early morning UTC.

Band 07:

Band 13:

Source and explanations is found at

I found these animations, but they were animated gifs over 20MB in size, so I converted them into mp4 with size around 6MB.

Error in Tor Documentation for Bridge Configuration

I seem to have run into a problem using Tor’s documentation for Tor bridge configuration on FreeBSD.
According to mentioned documentation, you install the following software:

pkg install obfs4proxy-tor tor ca_root_nss

This works perfectly.

However, later in the documentation it says, that you will need to add the following line to torrc configuration file:

ServerTransportPlugin obfs4 exec /usr/bin/obfs4proxy

Unfortunately, there is no file called obfs4proxy in the directory /usr/bin/.
The file is installed into directory /usr/local/bin/.
So the correct line to add should read:

ServerTransportPlugin obfs4 exec /usr/local/bin/obfs4proxy

The idea of a Tor bridge is that it’s IP address is not entered into the public database but remains hidden. With this wrong configuration line, the Tor node starts “normally” as a Tor exit node and publishes the IP address to the system in the public database.

Source of documentation:

Follow-Up on Swiss Customers’ Revolut Allegedly Hacked

This is an update to yesterday’s article on allegedly hacked Revolut accounts.

Swiss Newspaper Tages-Anzeiger ran an new story today offering details on what allegedly happened. The article is behind I pay wall, so I can’t read it, but there seems to be a synopsis on Reddit and I am going to take this as the basis for some comments.

Most importantly, there are currently eight customers – all of them Swiss – that claim to have had their accounts hacked. Six of them indeed have receive a text message (sms) and where victims of a phishing attack. Two claim that that wasn’t the case for them.
So, after the current description of events, it was not Revolut that was hacked, but some of its Swiss customers.

However, there are a couple of strange things going on here.

Continue reading Follow-Up on Swiss Customers’ Revolut Allegedly Hacked

Tesla as a Surveillance Platform

I ran into this nice little story on Schneier on Security blog, describing how to transform a Tesla into an surveillance platform, using its cameras that give a 360° view of the car’s environment.
The article is a synopsis of a more detailed description on Wired describing the Tesla modifications.
In fact, it is quite easy to turn your Tesla into your own private surveillance platform. Everything you need is already there, you just need to plug in a notebook running the right (open-source) platform and your set.

Now we can understand why the Basle Police might find it interesting to own and run a few Teslas in the city of Basel. Not that I want to claim they actually used the car in this way, I would have no knowledge of that. Just saying it is a possibility that it will be used in this way, either by them or any other entity.

I can also imagine it would be very interesting to have access to all data from all Tesla cars in your fleet and record was going on around them – even if parked.
In fact, since the car already is a surveillance platform when you buy it, and you can use it as such with a few modifications, why not use it as such for your own purposes? Distributing your cars strategically in an area will give on traffic flow and where people go.

Note that while I write here specifically about Tesla, this holds true for any car from any manufacturer that produces similar cars and it will especially be true for self-driving cars.

Revolut Accounts Allegedly Hacked

It all started yesterday, with an article on Swiss daily news Tages Anzeiger in which a Revolut customer claimed to have had CHF 30,000 booked of his Revolut account. The article was not particularly clear about what had actually happened, but trying to puzzle together from other news sources the claim seems to be that “Revolut allowed CHF 30,000 to be booked off a (UBS) Credit Card via Revolut’s Top-Up feature, and this despite the credit card limit being only CHF 15,000.

This claim seemed dubious to me, and still does, so I decided to dig a bit further. Today, the Swiss financial news site Inside Paradeplatz was writing of more cases, but they seem to be limited to Swiss customers.

Continue reading Revolut Accounts Allegedly Hacked