The Raspberry Pi Foundation has launched the Pi Zero W, a variant of the Pi Zero that comes with onboard WiFi and Bluetooth. At $10 it’s double the price of the Pi Zero, but still substantially cheaper than $35 for the original Raspberry Pi Model B which launched 5 years ago. By having connectivity onboard the Pi Zero W will make a much better starting point for Internet of Things (IoT) projects.

Continue reading the full story at InfoQ.

I’ve been working as a CTO in some shape or form for almost 8 years now. Many people tell me that they want to be a CTO, and then moments later ask what’s involved.

Wednesday wasn’t a typical day – they’re (thankfully) not all that full on, but it serves as a good example of the cross section of CTO activities.

An early start

A colleague’s in town from New York, and wants to catch up over breakfast. Since both of us have early meetings it means an even earlier breakfast, so my alarm is set for 0510 so that I can make the 0551 train up to London. Thankfully I get to the station early enough to get the 0547, as the train I’d planned to get is cancelled.

On the way in I do my usual ‘daily download’ on Feedly and Twitter to keep up with what’s going on in the industry. The previous evening’s AWS S3 outage dominates things.

I get to the breakfast venue with time to spare, which gives me the chance to finish off some stuff I was doing with the Serverless Framework that wasn’t working due to the S3 problems. After an excellent Eggs Benedict and a nice cup of tea (my usual morning green and earl grey) it’s time to head off to the next event.

Windows 10 round table

The marketing team have asked me to chair a round table event on Windows 10 migration. We have the top man in the region from Microsoft, the technical lead from our workplace offering group, and a good selection of customers from a variety of industries. My role is to kick off the discussion, and make sure it keeps moving along (and that we don’t leave people out). The conversation is lively, everybody gets a chance to dig into their particular challenges, and the time passes very quickly.

When I first met software defined networking (SDN) inventor Martin Cassado he asked me ‘what sort of CTO are you?’, and my answer was ‘a marketing CTO’ to which he replied ‘that’s the right sort’. I only spend a fraction of my time on marketing, but projecting technical leadership into the marketplace is super important.

As the customers disperse I have a quick debrief with the marketing lead, and he seems happy that we have some strong follow ups to pursue.

A brief pause in the action

It’s 11am and I don’t have anything in my calendar until 1245. I jump on the tube to the office and begin catching up on emails. By the time I get to my desk after a quick catch up with my assistant it’s almost lunch time, and I see a tweet for The Poutinerie that they’re not far away so I head over to them in the hope that I’ll beat the lunchtime rush.

My (very tasty) poutine is almost finished by the time I make it back to the cafe in the office, and I bump into a colleague who tells me he’s leaving the firm in a few days time. It’s a shame – somebody that I like and respect will be working for the competition in a few weeks time, but it’s also an inevitable consequence of the constant change in our industry. While we’re chatting I spot somebody else that I want to catch up with, and once we’re done I do a lap of the office to find which desk she’s at. After some general chit chat about what’s going on I give her a quick demo of Katacoda, which I’m planning on using for infrastructure as code training.

There’s just about time for a quick triage of my inbox before I head out for the next thing. I spot a text from a friend that will need to wait for now.

The bid review

Next up I’m joining one of bid teams for the review meeting with the customer. It’s an account that I’ve been involved with for some time, so I’ve got to know many of the players on both sides of the table. They spent the whole of the preceding day in rehearsals, which included a few hours of my time. Despite all the preparation we go off track with the opening section taking much longer than planned, and everything after that is rushed as we try to make up time.

The meeting seems to go well though, and we leave with everybody feeling pretty positive that it went well. Out of 2.5 hours of scheduled time I spoke for maybe 20 minutes, but that’s not really the point – just by having me there we’re showing our commitment.

I’m not off the hook yet though, it’s back to the office for a debrief. By the time we’re done with that it’s 5pm and people are heading home for the day.

Joining the dots

I finally get to reply to the text I’d received after lunch. I’d introduced our cloud general manager to a consultancy company specialising in virtualisation and cloud, and it turns out that we’ve taken a 20% stake in their company. Their office is on the way to where I need to be next, so I quickly shed the suit I’ve been wearing in favour of jeans and T-shirt for the evening activities, and head over for a quick celebratory drink (and the chance to meet whoever’s still around at 5.30).

We talk a little about the opportunities to work together, but as they’re getting in the second round I realise that I’m not going to be able to stay. I finish my pint, make my apologies and head off to the next thing.

Serverless Meetup

Serverless is one of the hottest trends in IT at the moment, and despite the fact that I have very little experience in using it myself I’ve been asked to do a talk on operational considerations (because despite the hype Serverless doesn’t mean No Ops). My talk is largely based on the Serverless Operations is Not a Solved Problem piece I did for InfoQ from last year’s Serverlessconf London. Before we get started I bump into some of the usual suspects from the leading edge of London’s tech scene, but there are plenty of new faces. After my talk I get into some great discussions with people I hadn’t met before, which is the whole point of such events, but sadly the pizza is gone before I get anywhere near it. The other two talks are very illuminating in terms of what can be done with serverless and some of the challenges, so combined with the various discussions it’s a very educational event.

Sadly I don’t have time to carry on the conversation in the pub. I want to be home before everybody goes to bed, so I head for the 2130 train home, grabbing a spicy mini chirashi from the Wasabi in the station. The journey home gives me time to watch an episode of a TV series (that my wife doesn’t like) on one screen whilst I catch up on emails and Twitter on another.

I get through the door at home just as the news is turning to the weather. At least the next day isn’t such an early start.


My company is organised along the lines of ‘build, sell, deliver’, and I often describe my job as a three legged stool with activities aligned with each. This particular day was more ‘sell’ biased, but that perhaps highlights the difference between a CTO role and a senior architect – the need to get out and be the public face of the organisation (with people who expect a technical answer to their questions).

I’m glad that not every day is so full (and so long) – that would be too exhausting; but this particular day was quite fun and rewarding – and worth writing about.

A buffer overflow bug has caused a small number of requests to Cloudflare proxies to leak data from unrelated requests, including potentially sensitive data such as passwords and other secrets. The issue, which has been named ‘Cloudbleed’, was discovered and documented by Google Project Zero vulnerability researcher Tavis Ormandy. After applying fixes and attempting to clean search engine caches Cloudflare’s John Graham-Cumming provided a detailed explanatory blog post. Despite some sensitive data being leaked Cloudflare’s Founder and CEO Matthew Prince tweeted ‘I think we largely dodged a bullet on the actual impact’.

Continue reading the full story at InfoQ.

My Asus Tinker Board arrived yesterday from CPC, and I did a quick tweet with unboxing photos. Having taken it for a quick test drive here are my first impressions based on running up their Debian image[1] (I’ve not had the time to try Kodi yet).

Tinker Board

Tinker Board before mounting heatsink on SOC

Reassuringly expensive

The Tinker Board is £55, which is a good chunk more than a RPi3 at £32 – that’s quite a premium for a bit more CPU performance and RAM. I like the annotated PCB, and it’s also good to have a clicky MicroSD slot (like the RPi2 had rather than the cheaper feeling ones on the RPi3).


It boots straight into a GUI desktop. Chromium is there, and seems fast enough to be used as a desktop machine (if you can live with a 1080p screen). I guess if I can get by with 2GB RAM on my Chromebook then I can get by with 2GB RAM on this.

I’ve not yet figured out which window manager it’s using (likely whatever Debian default is).


Connecting to WiFi from the desktop was easy – click the button, select the network, enter password.

Getting the gigabit wired network working was not so easy/obvious (for something that should ‘just work’). I could see from my switch that the network was up (and connected at GigE), but the interface didn’t connect and pull a DHCP address and the usual command line invocations like ‘ifdown eth0 && ifup eth0’ weren’t working. Eventually it seems that I clicked something in the desktop UI that provoked action, and at least once it was up it stayed up across power cycles.

The OS image

It’s pretty obvious that somebody at Asus cloned an OS from their working Tinker Board, I can even see their command history for the bits and bobs that they installed by hand. This is not how professionals build and release an image, and I’m guessing my network issues might be related to the hardware MACs on my Tinker Board being different from the ones on the one the snapshot came from. At least the base is relatively stock Debian Jesse.


When the board boots into a desktop it’s with the user ‘linaro’, which happens to have a password ‘linaro’; that user is part of the sudo group, and so can jump straight into doing stuff as root. So we have a hard coded username and password for a user who can get to root.

SSH is listening by default, making it possible to log in remotely (with the hard coded username and password).

The Raspberry Pi foundation did a better job with this stuff, and Asus clearly haven’t learned those lessons, which is a shame.

How could this be better?

If the supplied image booted into a late stage customisation script with the following few options that would be much better:

  • Desktop or CLI?
  • Username and password?
  • SSH (and other exposed services) on or off?

If it was possible to provide a cloud-init like way of supplying customisation to do that without human touch then even better.

It runs hot

I found the included SOC heatsink after I’d done the unboxing photos, and popped it on. It gets pretty hot, so my guess is that it’s needed (or the SOC would be frying). The quick start guide specifies a 2A USB power supply (so that’s 10W). I tried to measure current draw with my PLX Legion Meter, but I couldn’t get it to boot as it seems to try to draw more current than the meter can supply.

That’s it for now

I’ve not had the chance to do anything meaningful with the board yet (let alone build a project around it). Next up I’ll try the Kodi build and see if the x.265 hardware decoding can be used there.


[1] The quick start guide doesn’t have download links (I’m guessing they weren’t ready at the time of printing), and they’re not that easy to find with search. Here’s the download site (though it wasn’t working at the time of writing – sigh). Updated 18 Feb 2017 – There’s a new download site, but it doesn’t seem to have a Kodi image.


Organisations of all types are increasingly making decisions based on data and its analysis, but the rigour involved in this hasn’t yet entered our broader social discourse. I’m hopeful that we all start getting better access to data, and better understanding of the analysis and modelling process so that decisions can be made for the right reasons.

All models are wrong, some are merely useful — Simon Wardley channelling George Box


I spend my days encouraging people to make better decisions based on scientific method and data — collect, analyse, model, hypothesize, experiment — rinse and repeat[1]. My work is just a minuscule part of the overall trend towards running companies on data rather than opinion, and the march towards machine learning[2] and artificial intelligence it brings with it. This makes me very critical of data when it’s put in front of me, and how it gets analysed. I’m going to use a news article I read this morning as an example of bad practice in order to illustrate how things can (and probably will) change for the better.

The News

I’m going to pick apart a no byline piece from the BBC ‘Four-year MOT exemption for new cars proposed’. It’s full of facts and figures, but also has all the hallmarks of a rushed together content farm piece as described in ‘the rest is advertising’.

The proposal

The UK Ministry of Transport (MOT) is proposing that new cars be allowed to go an extra year (4 instead of 3) before their first MOT test. This almost certainly is a decision that’s been made in light of the data. The crucial question here, and one that’s not answered by the article is ‘how many cars fail their MOT test when first presented at 3 years old?’. The MOT people surely know the answer to that question, and that answer no doubt informs the statement that “new vehicles are much safer than they were 50 years ago”.

The irrelevant opinion

The article goes on to present data from an Automobile Association (AA) member poll. Apparently 44% were in favour of the change to 4 years, with 26% against.

It’s pretty clear that those AA members weren’t presented with the data that the MOT has, otherwise I’d expect a vary different outcome.

A question asked with facts presented:

The Ministry of Transport has found that 99.9% of cars presented for their MOT test at 3 years old pass the test, and they’re proposing that new cars now start taking the test after 4 years — does that sound reasonable to you?

Gets a very different answer than:

The Ministry of Transport says that new cars are safer than they were in the past. Do you think the MOT should start at 4 years instead of 3 years like it is now?

My bottom line here is: who gives a rats ass what a bunch of ill informed drivers think — where are the facts driving this decision?

This is not (entirely) the writer’s fault

For sure the writer could have gone back to the Ministry and asked for the fail rate data for cars at 3 years old (and 4 years old etc.), and I’m sure a better article would have resulted. But that’s too much to ask in a world of churning out content and reacting to the next press release or politician’s tweet.

If the Ministry was doing a good job of communicating its proposal perhaps it could have also explained its reasoning, and spoon fed the data with the press release.

What’s this got to do with politics?

Everything is politics — Thomas Mann

With Brexit and Trump’s election 2016 brought a moral panic around ‘fake news’ and the whole concept that one person’s opinion can be more valuable that another person’s fact.

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ — Isaac Asimov

Facts come from data, but it’s easy for the causal link between collected data and presented ‘fact’ to become stretched, especially when statistical methods are being used (which is pretty much all ‘data science’). It’s this bending of fact, particularly in social science such as economics that opened the door to statements like this:

Britain has had enough of experts — Michael Gove

It’s interesting to note that the Brexit Leave campaign made extensive use of data science, along with other modern strategic tools like OODA as described by Dominic Cummings in his ‘how the Brexit referendum was won’. It also seems that we’re dealing with the deliberate introduction of noise into Western political discourse per ‘Putin’s Real Long Game’ and ‘Playtime is Over’.

There is a more hopeful angle though. Peter Leyden argues for a positive refrain in his ‘Why Trump’s Inauguration is Not the Beginning of an Era? — ?but the End’, noting that California might (once again) be ahead of the pack in moving on from celebrity politicians to a more data driven and scientific approach.

From Global Politics to Office Politics

The section above touched on major political events, but it’s worth looking more closely at what happens with data based decision making within organisations. Leaning on my own experience it seems to eliminate lots of office politics.

Don’t bring an opinion to a data fight — Kent Beck

Decisions have traditionally been made based on the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO), and perhaps the heart of office politics has been saying and doing what’s thought to keep the HiPPOs happy. As Andrew McAfee observed in ‘The Diminishment of Don Draper’ the HiPPO is being displaced by data and analytics. This can be very empowering to front line people, and in turn displaces traditional political structures. I think this is for the good, as it seems to make workplaces more pleasant and predictable (rather than confrontational and capricious).


In a world where it seems harder than ever to distinguish fact from fiction it’s on all of us to bring our data and clearly explain our analysis, because that provides facts with provenence, facts that can be understood, facts that can be trusted, facts that can triumph over opinion; and there’s nothing more political than that.

I look forward to better data based journalism in our broader social and political discourse, but I also look forward to what data and data science does to the workplace, because I think less political workplaces are nicer workplaces.

Updated 23 Jan 2017 — I meant to add a link to the London School of Economics series The Politics of Data

This post by Chris Swan was originally made to Medium


[1] For some insight into the work I’ve been contributing to take a look at my GOTO:London 2016 presentation.
[2] One of the ways I like to think of recent advances in machine learning is that computers are finally doing what we might reasonably expect of them — which mainly boils down to not asking a human a question that the machine can reasonably answer for itself.


I need local DNS for various home lab things, but the Windows VMs I’ve been using can be slow and unreliable after a power outage (which happens too frequently). Moving to BIND turned out to be much easier than I feared, and I chose OpenWRT devices to run it on as I wanted reliable turnkey hardware.


My home network is a mixture of ‘production’ – stuff I need for working from home and that the family rely on, and ‘dev/test’ – stuff that I use for tinkering. Both of these things need DNS, which I’ve been running on Windows Active Directory (AD) since it was in Beta in 1999. For many years I had an always on box that ran as an AD server and my personal desktop, but that was before I became more concerned about power consumption and noise. For the last few years my AD has been on VMs running on a couple of physical servers at opposite ends of the house. That’s fine under normal circumstances, but leads to lots of ‘the Internet’s not working’ complaints if a power outage takes down the VM servers.

Why OpenWRT?

I already have a few TP-Link routers that have been re-purposed as WiFi access points, and since the stock firmware is execrable I’ve been running OpenWRT on them for years. They seem to have survived all of the power outages without missing a beat, and restart pretty quickly.


Despite a (possibly undeserved) reputation for being difficult to configure and manage BIND is the DNS server that does it all (at least according to this comparison). It’s also available as an OpenWRT package so all I needed to do was follow the BIND HowTo and:

opkg update
opkg install bind-server bind-tools

Getting my zone files

Windows provides a command line tool to export DNS from Active Directory, and the files that it creates can be used directly as BIND zone files:

dnscmd /ZoneExport Microsoft.local MSzone.txt

The exports show up in %SystemRoot%\System32\Dns and it’s then a case of copying and cleaning up; the cleaning up being necessary because the exports are full of AD SVC records that I don’t need. I simply deleted en masse the SVC records, and tweaked the NS records to reflect the IPs of their new homes.

With clean zone files it was a simple matter of scping them over to the OpenWRT routers and configuring named.conf to pick them up and use my preferred forwarders[1]. A restart of named then allowed my new BIND server to do its thing:

/etc/init.d/named restart


I’d been put off BIND due to tales of its complexity, but for my purposes it’s a breeze to use. The fact that I was able to export my existing DNS setup straight into files that were suitable for use as BIND zone files made things extra easy.


[1] I used to run a recursive DNS at home, but I found that it can be slow at times, so I’ve been using forwarders ever since. I’m not spectacularly keen on giving a list of everything I visit on the Internet to anybody, but ultimately I’ve settled on this selection of forwarders:

	forwarders {;      # Verisign primary
      ;      # Verisign secondary
      ;        # Google primary
      ; # OpenDNS primary
      ;        # Google secondary
      ; # OpenDNS secondary
      ;    # Freenom primary
      ;    # Freenom secondary

I really wish the a company with strong values (like CloudFlare) ran a service that I’d be happy to forward to, though the snoopers charter is making me reconsider my whole approach to DNS – I may have to tunnel my DNS traffic offshore like I’ve done with my Android tablet – anybody know a DNS server that can be forced to use a SOCKS proxy?

Restoring Power



I had a huge problem with ‘nuisance trips’ of the residual current device (RCD) in my house, which has been resolved by the installation of residual current circuit breakers with overcurrent protection (RCBOs). More reliable power to individual circuits in the house (and particularly the garage) has forced me to set up better monitoring so that I’m actually aware of circuit breaker trips.


I live in a new build house that was completed in 2002, but it has perhaps the least reliable electricity supply I’ve ever encountered. Brownouts and power cuts (short and long) are all too frequent, so I’ve invested in a number of uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) to protect power to my home network and the servers (and their files) that live on it.

As part of the wiring regulations that existed at the time all of the power sockets in my house were protected by a single RCD in the consumer unit (aka ‘fuse board’). The RCD was suffering from an increasing number of ‘nuisance trips’ (activating when it wasn’t actually saving me or somebody else from electrocution), taking power to the entire house with it each time it went off.

Why now?

In the run up to Christmas I was experiencing more nuisance trips than ever – three in a single day at one stage; and every time we turned the oven on there was a minute of anticipation about whether it would trip the board again[1].

The incident that spurred me into action happened over New Year. We took a long weekend away with family and friends in the North East of England and Borders of Scotland. On returning home the house was freezing – the power had been out since the evening that we left, and so the central heating had been off. At least the cold weather meant that stuff in the fridges and freezers wasn’t impacted. It took hours to get everything back on – it seemed impossible to have all of the house circuits on at once without tripping the RCD and taking everything down again[2].


A bit of online research led me to this Institution of Engineering Technology (IET) forum thread about nuisance RCD trips in a house with ‘a lot of computers’, the response was:

Too many computers, cumulative earth leakage is tripping the RCD.
Ditch the single RCD and install RCBOs.

I’d not previously heard of RCBOs, but they’re basically a device that combines the functions of a Miniature Circuit Breaker (MCB) and an RCD into a single breaker. This has a couple of advantages:

  1. When a trip happens due to high residual current leakage to earth it only takes out a single circuit rather than the whole board.
  2. Any background levels of current leakage get spread across a number of breakers rather than accumulating on a single breaker and bringing it ever closer to its tripping point.

I got in touch with a friendly electrician[3] and he’s now installed a new consumer unit along with RCBOs[4] for each of the socket circuits (and in accordance with updated wiring regulations the light circuits are now RCD protected too using a ‘split board’ approach).

Since getting the RCBOs installed there hasn’t been a single trip on any circuit – so mission accomplished :)

A quick detour on suppression

The IET Forum Thread I referenced above also contains some discussion of the problems that come with transient voltage suppressors (TVSs). The issue is that when a there’s a voltage spike the transient suppressor gives it a path to earth, which then causes a residual current leak that trips an RCD.

I removed all of the surge suppressed power strips from the house, but it didn’t make any difference, likely because I left in place my 4 UPSs, which I expect all have their own TVSs within.

Every silver lining…

Now that I had reliable power there was a new problem. How would I know when power to the garage (and the server and freezer out there) went off? A trip on the garage RCBO wouldn’t take out the rest of the house, so it would be far less obvious. If I was away on a business trip it’s possible that the rest of the family wouldn’t notice for days.

The answer was to have better monitoring…

Time to go NUTs

I have a PowerWalker VI 2200 out in the garage looking after my Dell T110 II and associated network switch. Like most UPSs it has a USB port that provides a serial over USB connection. I hooked this up to a VM running on the server and installed  Network UPS Tools (NUT) to keep an eye on things.

Email alerts

I use upsmon to run upssched to run a script that sends me an email when power goes out (and another when it’s restored). I’ve dropped the configs and scripts into a gist if you want to do this yourself (thanks to Bogdan for his ‘How to monitor PowerMust 2012 UPS with Ubuntu Server 14‘ for showing me the way here)

Graceful shutdown

My NAS and Desktop NUC both interface directly by USB with their local UPS and are configured to shut down when the battery level goes critical. I needed the same for the VMware vSphere servers running off the other two UPSs (in my garage and loft). Luckily this has been taken care of by René with his ‘NUT Client for ESXi 5 and 6‘ (Google Translation to English) so I just had to install and configure that, pointing at the same NUT servers I used for email alerts.


RCBOs have totally solved the problems I was having with RCD nuisance trips, and I now have monitoring and graceful shutdown in place for when there are real power issues.


[1] Conventional fault finding would suggest a fault with the oven, but I wasn’t convinced given that it’s only about 18 months old. My take was that a trivial issue with the oven that wouldn’t trip the RCD on its own was taking it over the edge when added to other leakage on other circuits. The fact that the oven doesn’t trip its new RCBO seems to bear that out.
[2] Going through the usual fault finding to identify a single culprit was fruitless. Everything was wrong and nothing was wrong. It didn’t matter which circuit I isolated. My hypothesis became that there was probably about 3-4mA of leakage on each circuit in the house, combining to a total leakage that had the single RCD on a hair trigger of any additional leakage.
[3] Despite being an electronics engineering graduate, a member of the IET (MIET) and a Chartered Engineer (CEng) I’m not allowed to do my own electrical work. I recall that there were ructions about this when the revised regulations with proposed and introduced, but it’s pretty sensible. Messing around with the 100A supplies to consumer units is no business for amateurs, and I was happy to get in a professional.
[4] After a bit of hunting around and price comparison I went for a Contactum Defender consumer unit and associated RCBOs and MCBs from my local TLC Direct. The kit came to just over £200, and getting it professionally installed cost about the same – so if you need to do this yourself budget around £350-500 depending on how many circuits you have.


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.

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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.


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