SIPB Cluedump Series 2016

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SIPB Cluedumps are informal technical talks open to the entire MIT community. They cover topics that are of general interest, such as web browsers, and topics specifically for the MIT computing community, such as Zephyr and Scripts. Cluedumps are usually one to two hours long, and we provide snacks.

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For more information or if you'd like to give a Cluedump, please contact the organizers at

2016 Cluedumps

[edit] Software-Defined Radio

Date: March 26, 2016, at 3:00 PM
Presenters: Will Vahle and Thomas Delgado
Location: 4-237
Abstract: Using software-defined radio (SDR), a single piece of hardware can be rapidly repurposed into a wide variety of very different sorts of radio receivers without having to build and configure new hardware for each new band, modulation strategy, or error-correction scheme.

Join us as Will Vahle and Thomas Delgado show off some inexpensive, commercially-available hardware (the RTL-SDR) and talk about the toolchain required to use it. They'll demonstrate using SDR to listen to aircraft, maritime, and police radio, as well as FM broadcast stations. Also included: Van Eck and TEMPEST side-channel attacks, as well as receiving (but not decoding) cellular signals.

[edit] Large-Scale Systems

Date: March 30, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Alex Chernyakhovsky
Location: 4-231
Abstract: Alex works in Google's Content Delivery Network, and can discuss architecting clusters; load-balancing traffic; job scheduling; building distributed, replicated, highly available systems; operational considerations; how to achieve reliability; high-performance computing; and many related topics.

This will be an interactive, question-driven talk. Audience interaction is highly encouraged, and snacks will be served!


[edit] A Paranoiac's Guide to Email Encryption

Date: April 14, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Samuel Dukhovni
Location: 4-153
Abstract: Sick and tired of the NSA reading all of your emails? Samuel will walk through setting up PGP in Thunderbird, so you can have your top-secret communications encrypted end-to-end. Let's all pretend that not everything they need is in the metadata anyway! :D

Snacks will be served. Your taxes can wait.

[edit] A Case Study of Uber's Drivers: How employment structures and hierarchies emerge through software---talk and brainstorming

Date: April 27, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Alex Rosenblat
Location: 3-333
Abstract: Uber manages a large, disaggregated workforce that delivers a relatively standardized experience to passengers while simultaneously promoting drivers as entrepreneurs whose work is characterized by freedom, flexibility, and independence. Uber, like other companies in the on-demand economy, uses its identity as a platform and a technology company to restructure its employment relationship to drivers, who are classified as independent contractors. It claims to provide a "lead generation application" for drivers to connect with passengers, but this neutral branding of its role as an intermediary belies the important employment structures and hierarchies that emerge through its software application. Through a 9-month empirical research study of Uber driver experiences, myself and my colleague, Luke Stark (NYU), found that Uber leverages significant control over how drivers do their jobs, but this control is structured to be indirect. The opacity and efficacy of control is achieved through a range of semi-automated managerial functions, but foremost amongst these are: algorithmic labor logistics management; driver surveillance and the rating system; and performance targets and policies that limit the choices drivers can make to optimize their individual earnings on the system. For a quick synopsis, see media coverage from The Awl, WSJ, MIT Technology Review, or an article I wrote for HBR.

How can you help?

I'd like the hive mind to help think through the privacy considerations in protecting the identities of drivers in future research, and to examine the ways that platforms can leverage user data (drivers and passengers) to create targeted prices and tiered wages. I'm also interested in issues of user design and deception (see this article I wrote for Motherboard about Uber's phantom cars), and the potential for automating inequities or automating power and knowledge symmetries between workers and platforms. There are broader questions I'd like to dig into as well, such as: When technology creates new efficiencies and reduces friction in transactions between demand (customers) and supply (workers), where do latent points of friction emerge? How do the rhetorics of marketplace efficiency clash with the goals of individual earners? (Example: tipping is "inefficient.")

Bio: Alex Rosenblat is a researcher and technical writer for the Intelligence & Autonomy Initiative at Data & Society, a project supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She tweets @mawnikr.

[edit] An Introduction to Bitcoin's Design, Properties, and Future Challenges

Date: May 4, 2016, at 8:00 PM
Presenters: Jonathan Harvey-Buschel
Location: 4-231
Notes: Slides in PDF or LibereOffice/OpenDocument Presentation formats
Abstract: Since the early 80's, the concept of anonymous electronic cash has been an unsolved problem amongst the cryptography community. While Bitcoin is far from a perfect or proven implementation of this concept, it has been running in the wild for over 7 years and has grown from a 9-page whitepaper into a multi-billion dollar network supported by thousands of full nodes and the consumption of hundreds of megawatts.

To understand some key properties of the network, we will first cover the primitives used in Bitcoin and how they relate to various aspects of participating in the network. Given this background, patterns observed in the real world can be related to parts of the protocol. With an understanding of the current state of the network, we will explore the challenges facing Bitcoin today, and some proposed solutions.

Snacks will be served.

[edit] The Allen Telescope Array: (still) The First Widefield, Panchromatic, Snapshot Radio Camera for Radio Astronomy and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Date: May 25, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Colby Gutierrez-Kraybill
Location: 4-231
Notes: Presentation slides and related paper
Abstract: The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) has been producing science data since 2007 at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory (HCRO). The instrument was noted as a significant path finder for technologies that are currently being incorporated into the Square Kilometer Array designs. Built to aggressively save on costs for the front end antenna design with multiple signal paths, the ATA was designed to have different generations of processing backends, including large scale computer clusters as well as purpose built FX correlators, beamforming elements, and one-off experimental computational systems. Originally designed and built by the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, working with the SETI Institute, the instrument is now operated by SRI International and the SETI Institute.
Bio: Colby Gutierrez-Kraybill is a software engineer and systems administrator. He was part of the original team that built the ATA, working as the lead software developer for the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at UC Berkeley from 2001-2011. From 2011-2012 he was the onsite operations manager at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory for SRI International. He and his family moved to HCRO in 2008 and lived on site until 2012. He now works at the MIT Media Lab on large scale web based systems for the Lifelong Kindergarten and NeCSys groups.

[edit] Timezones

Date: July 27, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Ray Hua Wu
Location: 4-231
Notes: Standard world time zones, Solar time vs standard time, Time in Australia, Time zones of the world
Abstract: This talk will be about how unexpectedly complicated they are and why if anyone ever needs someone to code up a time zone system you should not volunteer.

[edit] Introduction to Athena

Date: September 14, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Ray Hua Wu
Location: 3-370
Abstract: Athena is MIT's computing environment, and learning how to use it can help anyone at MIT. Find out how to discover information about other people; manage mailing lists; and how to get into Athena's computer clusters if you've forgotten the door combo. Also, learn about ways to use the Athena environment when you're not at an Athena machine.

[edit] CoreOS

Date: September 27, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Dalton Hubble and Colin Hom
Location: 4-231

Provisioning CoreOS and Kubernetes on Hardware (Dalton Hubble)

Kubernetes is a powerful system for operating application containers across a cluster of machines. In this talk, we'll explore CoreOS cluster provisioning and Kubernetes setup on hardware. To start, we'll cover PXE network setup and Ignition, CoreOS's built-in early-boot provisioning tool. Then we'll discuss bootcfg, a service which matches machines to profiles to provision complete clusters. We'll walk through PXE booting machines, installation to disk, and automated provisioning of a multi-node etcd key-value store and multi-node Kubernetes cluster. We'll show how the approach extends across machines and to provisioning many different kinds of reference clusters we work on.

Kubernetes on AWS (Colin Hom)

Kubernetes and AWS go together like peanut butter and jelly - both are popular, and combining them just makes sense. The talk begins with an overview of how Kubernetes is deployed on and integrates with the AWS platform. We'll cover diverse topics including DNS zones, load-balancers, and route tables.

Building on Dalton's talk about deploying Kubernetes on physical hardware, we'll explore the challenges associated with extending the Kubernetes abstraction across datacenters and cloud platforms. We'll discuss cutting-edge features and design patterns emerging in the Kubernetes ecosystem. To conclude, I'll ask the audience to speculate on how the movement towards containerized applications and orchestration frameworks will change the industry.


Dalton Hubble is a software engineer at CoreOS. He builds services and apps for provisioning hardware into clusters and works on Tectonic, CoreOS' enterprise offering. He was formerly an engineer at Twitter and studied at MIT.

Colin Hom is an infrastructure engineer at CoreOS. CoreOS is the company delivering Google's Infrastructure for Everyone Else (#GIFEE) and running the world's containers securely on CoreOS Linux, Tectonic and Quay.

[edit] Using PGP

Date: October 19, 2016, at 7:30 PM
Presenters: Merry Mou, Adam R Suhl, and Anish R Athalye
Location: 4-163
Abstract: Come learn how to send emails even the NSA can't snoop on! We'll go over both the theory and practice of PGP, and by the end, you will have a PGP implementation installed on your computer, you'll learn all the different things you can use your PGP key for, and you'll be an active participant in the web of trust.

Bring your laptop so that you can create your own PGP keys. And bring your government ID if you'd like to participate in the mini key signing party happening right after the talk!

Phil Zimmermann, creator of PGP, on why you need PGP.

[edit] LaTeX the Hard Way: Things That Can, But Shouldn't, Be Done With LaTeX

Date: October 26, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Miguel Young de la Sota
Location: 4-149
Abstract: LaTeX (and TeX, which it is built on) are "typesetting languages:" they abstract away the finer points of typesetting text, whilst remaining powerful enough to style complex documents, like books and academic papers. Most importantly, however, LaTeX is a Turing complete language through the use of macros.

In this this talk, I will discuss some of the finer points of LaTeX's syntax and macro system, how to write your own macros that generate macros that generate macros, and exciting things like \write18{}. I'll also discuss my personal macro package, texor, which contains some great examples of things that LaTeX should not be used for, such as dynamic font switching and procedural macro generation.

The texor package

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