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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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 Suhl, and Anish Athalye
Location: 4-163
Notes: Presentation slides
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

[edit] Conservation in a Technical World

Date: November 9, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: John Clark
Location: 3-333
Notes: Presentation slides
Abstract: How can hackers in software engineering, machine vision, learning, or hardware help in conservation of plants and animals, in zoos and in the wild? Come find out in this special Cluedump:

It is often said that nature is irreplaceable and that without plants in particular, which provide food, clothing, medicine, shelter, clean air, clear water and more, the planet as we know it could not exist. Conservationists concerned with saving nature have historically come from the biological sciences where an interest in species diversity and related fields readily translates into applied conservation. Thus, conservationists tend to look at conservation challenges in similar ways, often through ecological principals and solutions. While being successful in many respects, conservation as currently practiced suffers from a form of "groupthink" where solutions can be limited by the predominantly biological perspective being applied. If experts in other field such as engineering and computer science were more involved in creating conservation solutions, we could conceivably change dramatically how conservation is practiced. A technological focus could increase our success in saving species and ecosystems, and also inspire new generations of tech-minded students to apply their interests and skills to conservation. Dr. John Clark, President and CEO of the Center for Plant Conservation and Director of Plant Conservation for San Diego Zoo Global, will discuss current challenges in saving nature with a focus on plants, and detail how technology continues to evolve as a primary tool in the conservationist's toolkit. The goal of this talk is to present challenges in plant conservation and provide an opportunity for brainstorming and discussion on how engineering, computer science, and other technology-driven fields can create and support conservation outcomes to build a better tomorrow.

Bio: Dr. John Clark serves as President and CEO of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC). In 2015, CPC moved its headquarters to San Diego in order to formally partner with the San Diego Zoo Global. Together, these two world class organizations are working to "save plants and animals from extinction." CPC is a non-profit association of 40-plus botanical gardens, arboreta, and other organizations that work collaboratively on save plants from extinction. In addition, CPC's global management models and seed bank initiatives include 800 of the nation's most endangered plant species. CPC originated at Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum and was then formerly based at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis before moving to its present National Headquarters in San Diego. John holds a Ph.D. in Botany with an emphasis in molecular systematics and biogeography and spent the bulk of his career conducting research on plant dispersal and evolution in the Pacific islands. His interests outside of botany includes amateur electronics. As a result, John's garage in Escondido, CA emits its own share of electromagnetic radiation on any given evening.

[edit] Reproducible Builds

Date: November 30, 2016, at 7:30 PM
Presenters: Valerie Young
Location: 5-134
Notes: Presentation slides
Abstract: We trust FOSS software because we can read the source code. Or, at least, we trust FOSS software because we trust the community who reads and writes the source code. But users do not download source code and compile programs themselves, they download binaries. Binaries can be exploited in many ways, from a compromised developer to a compromised compiler, and without reproducible builds, we are not capable of independently verifying that a given binary came from the publicly available source code.

"'Reproducible builds?'" you might ask in confusion, "Are you implying the compilation of software is not deterministic?" Turns out, yes!

"Reproducible Builds" is the umbrella term for the wide FOSS effort to make the build chain of all software deterministic and transparent. In this talk, I will give a brief history of the reproducible builds effort from Tor's original success to the ongoing work of the Debian community to create an entirely reproducible operating system. You will leave with a clear understanding of the nuances and challenges of achieving reproducible builds and a clear vision for the exciting future where reproducible builds are the norm.

Bio: Valerie Young is a Debian contributor and secretary for the board of directors of Software in the Public Interest. She studied physics and computer science at Boston University, worked at athenahealth for a few years, and is presently on vacation between paying jobs to chill and write free software.

[edit] Easy digital security for everyday life: 10 weird tricks the NSA doesn't want you to know

Date: December 8, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Presenters: Merry Mou, Sam Dukhovni, and Anish Athalye
Location: 4-231
Notes: Presentation slides
Abstract: Learn some simple, low-effort, high-impact things you can do to secure your digital life, and why computer security is so important. We'll go over how to think about security and introduce you to some simple but powerful tools. Bring your laptop -- this one-hour cluedump will be in a workshop format, and you will leave with a more secure machine and better security habits.

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