I thought I could put Squid in front of an SSH tunnel, but it can’t do that. Thankfully Polipo can do the trick.


I was quite happy when it was just spies that were allowed to spy on me (even if they might have been breaking the law by doing so), but I see no good reason (and much danger) in the likes of the Department of Work and Pensions being able to poke its nose into my browsing history. The full list of agencies empowered by the ‘snoopers charter‘ is truly horrifying.

PCs are easy

I’ve been using Firefox (with the FoxyProxy plugin) for a while to choose between various virtual private servers (VPSs) that I run. This lets me easily choose between exit points in the US or the Netherlands (and entry points on a virtual machine [VM] on my home network or a local SSH session when I’m on the road).

To keep the tunnels up on the home network VM I make use of autossh e.g.

/usr/lib/autossh/autossh -M 20001 -D [email protected]

I can then use an init script to run autossh within a screen session (gist):

# Provides:   sshvps
# Required-Start: $local_fs $remote_fs
# Required-Stop:  $local_fs $remote_fs
# Should-Start:   $network
# Should-Stop:    $network
# Default-Start:  2 3 4 5
# Default-Stop:   0 1 6
# Short-Description:  Tunnel to VPS
# Description:    This runs a script continuously in screen.

case "$1" in

        echo "Starting sshvps"
        su chris -c "screen -dmS sshvps /usr/lib/autossh/autossh -M 20001 -D  [email protected]"
        echo "Stopping sshvps"
        PID=`ps -ef | grep autossh | grep 20001 | grep -v grep | awk '{print $2}'`
        kill -9 $PID

        echo "Restarting sshvps"
        PID=`ps -ef | grep autossh | grep 20001 | grep -v grep | awk '{print $2}'`
        kill -9 $PID
        sleep 15
        su chris -c "screen -dmS /usr/lib/autossh/autossh -M 20001 -D  [email protected]"
        echo "Usage: $N {start|stop|restart}" >&2
        exit 1
exit 0

That script lives in /etc/init.d on my Ubuntu VM. I haven’t yet migrated to systemd. With the VM running it provides a SOCKS proxy listening on port 11111 that I can connect to from any machine on my home network. So I can then put an entry into the Firefox FoxyProxy Plugin to connect to VM_IP:11111

Android isn’t so easy

It’s possible to define a proxy in Firefox on Android by going to about:config then searching for proxy and completing a few fields e.g.:

  • network.proxy.socks VM_IP
  • network.proxy.socks_port 11111
  • network.proxy.type 2

That however will only work on a given network, in this case my home network.

I could (and sometimes will) use localhost as the SOCKS address and then use an SSH client such as ConnectBot, but that means starting SSH sessions before I can browse, which will get tiresome quickly.

Android does allow an HTTP proxy to be defined for WiFi connections, but it doesn’t work with SOCKS proxies – I needed a bridge from HTTP to SOCKS.

Not Squid

I’ve used Squid before, and in fact it was already installed on the VM I use for the tunnels. So I went searching for how to join Squid to an SSH tunnel.

It turns out that Squid doesn’t support SOCKS parent proxies, but this Ubuntu forum post not only clarified that, but also pointed me to the solution, another proxy called Polipo.


Installing Polipo was very straightforward, as it’s a standard Ubuntu package:

sudo apt-get install -y polipo

I then needed to add a few lines to the /etc/polipo/config file to point to the SSH tunnel and listen on all ports:

socksParentProxy = "localhost:11111"
socksProxyType = socks5
proxyAddress = ""

Polipo needs to be restarted to read in the new config:

sudo service polipo restart

Once that’s done I had an HTTP proxy listening on (the default) port 8123. All I had to do to use it was long press on my home WiFi connection in Android, tap ‘Modify Connection’ , tick ‘Show advanced options’ and input VM_IP as the ‘Proxy hostname’ and 8123 as ‘Proxy port’.

A quick Google of ‘my ip’ showed that my traffic was emerging from my VPS.

Yes, I know there are holes

DNS lookups will still be going to the usual place, in my case a pair of local DNS servers that forward to various public DNS resolvers (though not my ISP’s). If I was ultra paranoid I could tunnel my DNS traffic too.

When I’m using the tablet out and about on public WiFi and cellular networks I’ll not be proxying my traffic (unless I explicitly use an SSH tunnel).


Polipo provided the bridge I needed between Android’s ability to use WiFi specific HTTP proxies and the SSH tunnels I run out of a VM on my home network to various VPSs outside the UK. I don’t for a moment expect this to provide any protection from real spies, but it should prevent casual snooping, and will also guard against the inevitable ISP data protection failures.

Amongst the flurry of announcements at re:invent 2016 was the launch of a developer preview for a new F1 instance type. The F1 comes with one to eight high end Xilinx Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to provide programmable hardware to complement the Intel E5 2686 v4 processors that come with up to 976 GiB of RAM and 4 TB of NVMe SSD storage. The FPGAs are likely to be used for risk management, simulation, search and machine learning applications, or anything else that can benefit from hardware optimised coprocessors.

continue reading the full story at InfoQ

Amazon have launched Lightsail, a Virtual Private Server (VPS) service to compete with companies like Digital Ocean, Linode and the multitude of Low End Box providers. The service bundles a basic Linux virtual machine with SSD storage and a bandwidth allowance. Pricing starts at $5/month with tiers by RAM allocation. Each larger configuration comes with more storage and bandwidth, though these scale sub-linearly versus RAM/price.


continue reading the full story at InfoQ

I went along to Serverlessconf last week and wrote up a couple of InfoQ news pieces about it:

Day 1 – Serverless Operations is Not a Solved Problem

The emergent theme from day one of the Serverlessconf London 2016 was that far from being ‘NoOps’, Serverless platforms bring with them substantial operational challenges. The physical servers and virtual machines may have been abstracted away, but that doesn’t mean an end to infrastructure configuration; and developers ignore the implications of underlying persistence mechanisms at their peril.

continue reading the full story at InfoQ

Day 2 – Serverless Frameworks

The emergent theme for the second day of Serverlessconf London 2016 was the availability and functionality of management frameworks to address the operational issues highlighted on day one. The Node.js based Serverless Framework featured in at least three talks, and there was also coverage of Zappa, a more opinionated Python based framework.

continue reading the full story at InfoQ


I’ve been very happy with the X250 – it’s given me the same performance I got from my X230, but with better battery life, a smaller form factor and it seems more robust.

Long term review

I started writing this post in January not long after I got my X250, but I never got past the title, and another nine months have rolled by. In that time the X250 has been a faithful companion on a pretty much daily basis.

There are many like it, this is mine

There are many like it, this is mine


My X250 came with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, neither of which is really sufficient for my needs, so I dropped in a 16GB DIMM from Crucial[1] and a 500GB SSD from SanDisk[2]. The X250 can take 2.5″ SATA and/or M.2 SSDs, though I’ve not tried the latter (as I already had a spare 2.5″ drive to hand).


Subjectively the X250 is no better or worse than the three years older X230. That’s fine, because the older laptop had all of the speed I needed, but it’s interesting to note that laptops have essentially plateaued in performance, offering better battery life instead.

For a less subjective view, the X250 gets a Geekbench 3 multi-core score of 5166 (5083 on battery) versus 4065 for the X230 – so there is some extra quantitative performance there. I expect that the newer GPU would also be much better (but hardly ideal) for gaming e.g. it would provide a noticeable improvement to Skyrim, but it’s not going to cope with No Man’s Sky.


The X250 actually has two batteries, an integral battery in the main body, and a detachable battery in the usual place. Together they provide around 6hrs of real world use, which is sufficient to get through a day away from power outlets at a conference or similar.

Form factor

The X250 and its 12″ screen provide the same width and depth as the older X230, but it’s a good bit shallower whilst still offering full sized VGA and network ports (so no need to carry a bag of adapters).


The resolution of the 12″ touchscreen is the same resolution as the screen I had before at 1368 x 768, and it’s nice and bright. It’s thicker than the X230 screen, but more robust as a result.


After 10 months a worn down Ultrabook label shows that it’s had plenty of use, but that’s the only sign – nothing seems to be otherwise showing any age or wear and tear. It will be another 8 months before I can do a fair comparison, but it seems to be made of stronger stuff than my old X230. It seems that Lenovo have got the old ThinkPad mojo back for making laptops that can withstand what everyday life throws at them.


Every Thinkpad that I’ve previously had sported a removable drive bay, which I’ve generally taken advantage of and hence found useful. The X250 has dispensed with this, which means taking off the base (and dealing with potentially fragile plastic clips) to get at the SSD. It’s the same story for the RAM, which doesn’t have an access door.

The M.2 SSD interface only takes SATA drives, so there’s no option for a further boost with NVMe.

The slimmed down form factor means that Lenovo have changed their 20v power supply jack from circular to rectangular, so I’ve had to buy a bunch of adaptors for the handful of power supplies I already had in my daily use and travel bags.

Should I have waited for an X260?

Perhaps – but they weren’t available in December 2015, and I wasn’t going to refuse a laptop that fitted the bill. The Skylake CPU in the later model might have given me even better battery life, but that’s the only difference that I’d expect to notice.


I’ve been very happy with the X250. It’s fast, small, lightweight, has a full selection of ports and can get through the day without worrying about when the next charging opportunity will come. It also seems to show that Lenovo have restored the build quality that traditionally went with the ThinkPad brand, and perhaps slipped a little a few years ago.


[1] The DIMM failed after about 8 months causing the laptop to become *very* unstable. A quick run of Memtest86 revealed the culprit, and I swapped back to the OEM DIMM whilst Crucial did their RMA process, which took longer than I might have hoped, but was otherwise painless.
[2] I don’t seem to have filled the SSD anything like as quickly as I did the similar size one I first put into my X230, so there’s been no need yet to upgrade.



I spent part of my weekend absorbing Rod Johnson’sSoftware That Writes And Evolves Software‘, which introduces what he’s been doing at his new company Atomist, and particularly the concept of ‘Editors’, which are essentially configuration templates for programs. The combination of Atomist and its Editors is a powerful new means of metaprogramming.

I’ll repeat Rod’s suggestion that it’s well worth watching Jessica Kerr’s demo of using Atomist and Editors with Elm:

Why this could be huge

Firstly Rod has form for making the lives of developers easier. His Spring Framework for Java transformed the landscape of Enterprise Java programming, and largely supplanted the ‘Enterprise Edition’ parts of Java Enterprise Edition (JEE [or more commonly J2EE]).

The war against boilerplate

One of the trickier things about using the EE parts of JEE was the sheer volume of boilerplate code needed to get something like Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) working. This is a sickness that still plagues Java to this day – witness Trisha Gee’s Java 8 in Anger (and particularly the parts about Lambdas). Spring fixed this by stripping out the boilerplate and putting the essence into a config file for dependency injection – this got even better when Rod brought Adrian Colyer on board to integrate aspect oriented programming, as it became possible to do really powerful stuff with just a few lines of code.

Jess’s Elm demo shows that the war against boilerplate rumbles on. Even modern programming languages that are supposed to be simple and expressive make developers do grunt work to get things done, so there’s a natural tendency towards scripting away the boring stuff – something that Atomist provides a framework for.

For infrastructure (as code) too…

Atomist’s web site shouts ‘BUILD APPLICATIONS, NOT INFRASTRUCTURE’, but there’s clearly a need for this stuff in the realm of infrastructure as code. Gareth Rushgrove asked yesterday ‘Does anyone have a tool for black box testing AWS AMIs?’ the discussion rapidly descends into ‘everybody starts from scratch’ with a side order of ‘there should be a better way’. The issue here is that for any particular use case it’s easier to hack something together with single use scripts than it might be to learn the framework that does it properly. Metaprogramming is potentially the answer here, but it also raises an important issue…

This stuff is hard

If programming is hard then metaprogramming is hard squared – you need to be able to elevate the thought process to reasoning about reasoning.

Jessica’s demo is impressive, and she makes it look easy, but I take it with the pinch of salt that Jessica is a programming goddess, and she can do stuff with functors that makes my brain melt.

Documentation, samples and examples to the rescue

Perhaps the whole point here isn’t to *do* metaprogramming, but to use metaprogramming. Spring didn’t have to be easy to write, but it was easy to use. Likewise if the hard work is done for us by Rod, and Jessica, and Gareth then that provides a boost for everybody else as we stand on the shoulders of giants.

It’s about making the right way to do things also the easy way to do things – from a learning perspective, and Rod, Jessica and Gareth all have great form here with their books and presentations. If Atomist succeeds then it will be because the documentation, samples and examples that come with it make it easier to get things done with Atomist – the value isn’t just in the tool (or the approach that underlies it), but in the learning ecosystem around the tool.

I have great hopes that metaprogramming (and particularly the Atomist implementation of metaprogramming) will help us win the war against boilerplate (and hacked together scripts) – because it will be easier to start with their documentation, samples and examples.


Meat can be cooked safely at well below 100C, and comes out better for it, so why do cook books and TV chefs never suggest it?


I love to eat and I love to cook, which is one of the reasons that I made my own temperature controlled sous vide water bath – so that I could experiment with new cooking styles.

Today’s Sunday Roast was beef brisket that I cooked for 16 hours at 88C (190F). The gravy that I made with the juices was so nice that my wife finished off what was left over with a spoon.


Low and Slow

Using the water bath has encouraged me to try other low temperature cooking methods. I frequently roast leg of lamb or pork belly in a fan oven overnight at around 75C, which brings me to the point – for me the low in ‘low and slow’ is generally below 100C – I don’t boil my food for hours on end.

But I’ve never, ever seen a TV chef or cook book (apart from the excellent Cooking for Geeks) suggest roasting at anything less than 100C (and generally a good margin above that), and with higher temperatures come quicker cooking times, so ‘slow and low’ becomes neither.

It’s an artefact of human history that there were two ways to make water safe to drink:

  1. Boiling
  2. Alcohol

Of course neither come into play in the modern first world, where we get safe drinking water at the twist of a tap that doesn’t need boiling. It seems however that 100C has become a magical number for food safety that nobody in the public eye is willing to go below.

If I look at official guidance (such as this from the Canadian government) it ranges from 63C for beef steaks to 82C for whole poultry – all comfortably below 100C. These are of course internal temperatures, so with normal high temperature roasting we might go for an hour or two at 180C or more externally to get to the required internal temperature; but with ‘low and slow’ then (given enough time) the internal temperature becomes the same as the external temperature. This happens quicker with a water bath (which uses conduction) than an over (which uses convection), but given sufficient time (which is the whole point) the outcome is the same.

I strongly suspect that the ‘low and slow’ of earlier generations, before the advent of modern ovens, was generally below 100C – so I expect that we’re just rediscovering the delights of how my grandparents used to get their Sunday roasts (when they were lucky enough to have meat).

There’s an important point here – water turns to steam at 100C and meat dehydrates, so proper ‘low and slow’ results in moist and tender meat, which is why I find it such a mystery that all the modern recipes advise above 100C. My guess is that the TV chefs use proper low temperatures for their own cooking, but are too scared to bring the general public along with them in case some fool messes it up and poisons themselves (and their family).

Let the 80s and 90s computer nostalgia continue…

Between writing about how I learned to code, and watching the latest season of Halt and Catch Fire, I’ve been thinking about how the online services I’ve used over the years have shaped my view of the IT landscape.


Like so many others my journey started with the 1983 classic WarGames. I came away from that movie desperately wanting an acoustic coupler (and free phone calls).


I didn’t (yet) have a modem at home, but there was one in the school computer room, and we used it to connect to Prestel – British Telecom’s (BT) videotex service. Videotex was a big deal in the UK with BBC’s Ceefax and ITV’s Oracle, but they were broadcast only – Prestel was bi-directional. Prestel was also a big deal in the IT press due to the case against Steve Gold and Robert Schifreen for hacking Prince Philip’s account. They were charged with forgery because there were no hacking laws then.


I never did get an acoustic coupler, but I finally got my hands on a modem with a promotion by Compunet where they gave away their C64 modem if you signed up to their service for a year. The modem supported the v.23 standard common with videotex services of 1200/75 baud – 1200 bits per second download and 75 upload (and yes – you probably can type faster than that). It also did v.21 300/300, which was generally better for uploading stuff to bulletin board systems (BBSs).


My main problem then was paying the phone bill. I’d get home from school and wait until 6pm for ‘off-peak’ calls, though that put me at odds with the rest of the household wanting to use our single landline for making and receiving calls, and it was still far from cheap. I think eventually we subscribed to BT’s ‘midnight line’ where it was possible to pay a fixed fee for unlimited calls between midnight and 6am – like many teenagers I became semi nocturnal – though the noise from my typing would sometimes result in angry shouts from my mum to pack it in and go to sleep.

Compunet had a great community, and I remember being able to find people who’d help me out with some of the crazy homebrew hardware projects I used to engage in at the time.


Some of the companies and organisations I worked with on my evening/weekend jobs found that they needed to send files from office to office, so I created scripts that made the modems connect then transfer files with Kermit.


First year at University meant living in halls of residence, which in turn meant no access to a telephone point to use a modem. It didn’t matter much as I had my Amiga and PPC640 on hand. The fact that the University network was connected to JANET, and in turn the entire Internet eluded me at that time.

That all changed in second year. Project work meant burning the midnight oil, and a dialup connection to the University’s VAX cluster gave me a jumping off point into the Unix boxes of both the Electronics Department and Computer Science department, and from there I had worldwide connectivity. The World Wide Web hadn’t been invented yet, so I gorged on a diet of Telnet, FTP and Usenet guided by Zen and the Art of the Internet. One of the amazing things at the time was that people would give you Telnet access to their computers if you just asked. It was also a time when almost everything was connected to the Internet without any firewalls.

At roughly the same time I signed up to CIX[1], a service that I still use to this day. CIX was the place to be amongst the UK’s IT savvy during the early 90s, and it gave me the chance to electronically rub shoulders with IT journalists whose stuff I’d been reading in magazines like PCW for years.

WWW and ISPs

The World Wide Web (WWW) was born just before I left University, but I don’t recall using it then. My first memory of browsing was downloading some pictures from the site for Pulp Fiction using the text browser in CIX’s ‘go internet’ portal. The Lynx based text browser wasn’t the best way to view the web, but at this stage I didn’t have a proper Internet Service Provider (ISP).

My first try of a proper web browser was Netscape on OS/2 WARP, which came with a trial of IBM’s dial up Internet service (which I also managed to get going with Windows 95). By that time I’d ditched the built in modem on my PPC640 for a 14.4kbps Pace Pocket Modem (originally bought to go with a Sharp PC3100, but by then used with a homebrew 486 PC). Shortly afterwards CIX launched a dial up Internet service that I could combine with my usual subscription, so that was an easy switch to make.

Since then it’s been a succession of better browsers with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, better dial up speed wit 56k modems, then better ISPs/bearers with Nildram ADSL and now PlusNet VDSL. What a shame the UK government haven’t been doing more to encourage fibre to the premises (FTTP) in new build homes, as I’d love a gigabit service.


[1] I still subscribe to CIX, which means I’ve had the same email address for 24 years. If you know that address (or my University email) then you can go back and see my (now sometimes super embarrassing) early Usenet posts.

A quick overview of WebVR based on Ada Rose Edwards’ awesome ‘getting started with WebVR‘ presentation that I saw at Nineworlds Geekfest

The demos that I showed off can be seen from Ada’s GitHub pages:

Sadly the odd colour basic demo and the T-Rex thing haven’t (yet) made it from the dev container on my laptop to anywhere in the outside world.

If you want to try developing this stuff yourself then it’s Dockerised:

sudo docker run -dp 4000:4000 --name webvr cpswan/webvr

The title page comment about no conspiracy is because I was the 3rd former Royal Navy person in a line up of 6 speakers at an event that has no leaning towards military/defence stuff – what are the chances of that?