The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The check that was in the mail

I'm checking my snail mail and … what's this? A check?

[Cheap Tickets is certainly not cheap when it comes to checks!]

You mean the check was in the mail?

Oh wait … it's one of those “promotional checks” and not a “real check,” even though it has a check number, it's made out to me, has the value as both numbers and words, it's signed, and has what look to be a routing number (to an Australian bank‽) and account number. Also, across the bottom it has: “THIS DOCUMENT CONTAINS A BLUE BACKGROUND, [Check! –Sean] MICROPRINTING [Oh yes, it does. It doesn't make much sense, but I can make out the letters. —Sean] AND AN ARTIFICIAL WATERMARK ON THE BACK [Yup, “IPS.” So, check! —Sean] — VOID IF NOT PRESENT” [Nope, it's all there, so it's not void. —Sean]

And there is the story of man who deposited a “promotional check” for $95,000

So maybe it's a real check?

Perhaps I could try depositing it? [No! —Bunny] [Awwww! —Sean] [Okay, it's your bank account to lose … go right ahead! —Bunny] [Woot? —Sean]

Notes about an overheard conversation at The Ft. Lauderdale Office of The Corporation

“We should definitely do that at Black Hat!”

“I didn't know you were into haberdashery.”


“I think you mean millinery. Haberdashers generally sell buttons and thread and stuff.”



“What are you guys talking about?”

“Your fascination with hats.”

“You mean Black Hat?”

“Yeah. Haberdashery.”


“Oh, sorry. Millinery.”

“You guys are crazy.”

“We're just pushing it to eleven.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

If you think signal handling in C sucks, try Lua

So I have this Lua module to handle signals I wrote …

Originally, I just set a flag that had to be manually checked, as that was the safest thing to do (make that “practically the only thing you can do” if you want to be pedantic about it).

But after a while, I thought it would be nice to write a handler in Lua and not have to manually check a flag. Unfortunately, signal handlers have to be thought of as asynchronous threads that run at the worst possible time, which means calling into Lua from a signal handler is … not a good idea. The way to handle this is to hook into the Lua VM in the signal handler. lua_sethook() is the only safe Lua function to call from an asynchronous thread (or signal handler) as it just sets a flag in the Lua VM. Then when the Lua VM is at a safe spot, the hook is call which can then run the Lua function.

So we write our Lua function:

function Lua_signal_handler()
  print("Hi!  I'm handing a signal!")

and here I'm making it a global function just for illustrative purposes. At some point, we catch the signal to install the signal handler (which has to be in C):

; In order to hook the Lua VM, we need to statically store the Lua state. 
; That's what this variable is here for ...

static lua_State *gL;

	/* ... code code blah blah ... */

	; we're in some function and we have access to a Lua state.  Store
	; it so the signal handler can reference it.

	gL = L;

	; sigaction() should be used, but that's quite a bit of overhead
	; just to make a point.  Anyway, we are installing our signal
	; handler.


The signal handler installs a hook:

static void C_signal_handler(int sig)
  lua_sethook(gL,luasignalhook,LUA_MASKCALL | LUA_MASKRET | LUA_MASKCOUNT,1);

and when it's safe for the VM to call the hook, it does, which then calls our signal handler written in Lua:

static void luasignalhook(lua_State *L,lua_Debug *ar)
  ; remove the hook as we don't want to be called over and over again


  ; get our function (which is a global, just for illustrative purposes, and
  ; call it.


Yes, it's a rather round-about way to handle a signal, but that's what is required to run Lua code as a signal handler. And it works except for two cases (that I have so far identified—there might be more).

The first case—coroutines. Lua coroutines can be thought of as threads, but unlike system threads, they have to be scheduled manually. And like system threads, signals and coroutines don't mix. Each coroutine creates a new Lua state, which means that if a signal happens, the Lua state that is hooked may not be the one that is currently running and thus, the Lua-written signal handler may never be called!

The second issue involves a feature of POSIX signals—the ability to restart system calls. Normally, a signal will interrupt a system call and its up to the program to restart it. There is an option to restart a system call automatically when a signal happens so the program doesn't have to deal with it. The funny thing is—under the right conditions, the Lua signal handler is never called! Say the program is making a long system call, such as waiting for a network packet to arrive. A signal is raised, our signal handler is called, which hooks the Lua VM. Then the system call is resumed. Until a packet arrives (and thus we return from the system call) the Lua VM never gets control, and thus, our function to handle the signal is never called (or called way past when it should have been called).

Fortunately, I found these issues out in testing, not in production code. But it has me thinking that I should probably work to avoid using signals if at all possible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wishful thinking

There are times when I wish the RFCs had more examples that covered various corner cases, such as handling SMTP or even, you know, SIP!


Anyway, while I'm here, let me also ask for a way to log everything but only when something is going to fail and skip the logging for stuff that won't fail (that just wastes space). How hard can that be?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Gaming the system

By December 2011, lajello’s profile had become one of the most popular on the entire social network. It had received more than 66,000 visits as well as 2435 messages from more than 1200 different people. In terms of the number of different message received, a well-known writer was the most popular on this network but lajello was second.

How a Simple Spambot Became the Second Most Powerful Member of an Italian Social Network | MIT Technology Review

Only lajello isn't a human, but a spambot, but using the information in the article to boost your own ranking on MyFaceGoogleSpaceBookPlusTwitter is left as an exercise for the reader.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The blind men and the Molochian elephant

Bostrom makes an offhanded reference of the possibility of a dictatorless dystopia, one that every single citizen including the leadership hates but which nevertheless endures unconquered. It’s easy enough to imagine such a state. Imagine a country with two rules: first, every person must spend eight hours a day giving themselves strong electric shocks. Second, if anyone fails to follow a rule (including this one), or speaks out against it, or fails to enforce it, all citizens must unite to kill that person. Suppose these rules were well-enough established by tradition that everyone expected them to be enforced.

So you shock yourself for eight hours a day, because you know if you don’t everyone else will kill you, because if you don’t, everyone else will kill them, and so on. Every single citizen hates the system, but for lack of a good coordination mechanism it endures. From a god’s-eye-view, we can optimize the system to “everyone agrees to stop doing this at once”, but no one within the system is able to effect the transition without great risk to themselves.

And okay, this example is kind of contrived. So let’s run through – let’s say ten – real world examples of similar multipolar traps to really hammer in how important this is.

Meditations On Moloch | Slate Star Codex

I don't agree with everything said in this long article (and warning—it is long. I mean, long. Did I mention just how long it was?) but I do feel that certain someones would benefit greatly if they read it and thought long and hard about it. While I'm tempted to give my summary of the article I'd rather not, lest my intended target audience disreguard the article entirely.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The more things change


HTTP2 is finally here (link via Hacker News). I'm not happy about it, but what can I (or you) do? It's a done deal.

Part of the reason I don't like it is that it seems as if Google pushed this for their own needs.

You have a completely warped perspective here.

This is something Google pushed, so that Google can have as many tracking cookies as they like when you browse the internet, without the cookies causing a noticeable performance degradation because a http request might exceed the American DSLs MTU size.

This was one of the primary engineering criterias. No really.

There's no features in it for the user.

You have a completely warped perspective here. This is something Google pushed,… | Hacker News

Google is now in a position to dictate the architecture of the web. Sure, one could ignore Google and blithely go about their web business, but really, if you want to even have a chance of being found on the web, you follow the dictates commands of Google! Heck, even I kept mucking with my blog until I got the “okay” from Google (although there were other reasons I did the change besides Google, notice I didn't stop until Google said I was okay). And don't think Google will stop there (which is another rant for another time).

Another reason I don't like HTTP2 is that, as written, it's TCP over TCP. I can understand why they did it that way, but it's sad that for as much power as Google has, even they couldn't force a more sensible change.


Plus ça change, plus ils deviennent énervant.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Countrly Road

For no good reason, here's a video of some Japanese musicians doing a cover of John Denver'sTake Me Home, Country Raod” (link via Instapundit).

Obligatory Picture

[Don't hate me for my sock monkey headphones.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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