Caching In On Program Performance

Most of us have a pretty simple model of how a computer works. The CPU fetches instructions and data from memory, executes them, and writes data back to memory. That model is a good enough abstraction for most of what we do, but it hasn’t really been true for a long time on anything but the simplest computers. A modern computer’s memory subsystem is much more complex and often is the key to unlocking real performance. [Pdziepak] has a great post about how to take practical advantage of modern caching to improve high-performance code.

If you go back to 1956, [Tom Kilburn’s] Atlas computer introduced virtual memory based on the work of a doctoral thesis by [Fritz-Rudolf Güntsch]. The idea is that a small amount of high-speed memory holds pieces of a larger memory device like a memory drum, tape, or disk. If a program accesses a piece of memory that is not in the high-speed memory, the system reads from the mass storage device, after possibly making room by writing some part of working memory back out to the mass storage device.

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Abusing A CPU’s Adders To Optimize Bit Counting

If you like nitpicking around C code and generated assembly language — and we’ll admit that we do — you shouldn’t miss [Scaramanga’s] analysis of what’s known as Kernighan’s trick. If you haven’t heard of the trick, it’s a pretty efficient way of counting bits.

Like the Wheatstone bridge and a lot of other things, the Kernighan trick is misnamed. Brian Kernighan made it famous, but it was actually first published in 1960 and again in 1964 before he wrote about it in 1988. The naive way to count bits would be to scan through each bit position noting how many one bits you encounter, but the problem is, that takes a loop for each bit. A 64-bit word, then, takes 64 loops no matter what it contains. You can do slightly better by removing each bit you find and stopping when the word goes to zero, but that still could take 64 cycles if the last bit you test is set.

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Adobe Neural Net Detects Photoshop Shenanigans

Photoshop can take a bad picture and make it look better. But it can also take a picture of you smiling and make it into a picture of your frowning. Altering images and video can of course be benign, but it can also have nefarious purposes. Adobe teamed up with researchers at Berkeley to see if they could teach a computer to detect a very specific type of photo manipulation. As it turns out, they could.

Using a Photoshop feature called face-aware liquify, slightly more than half of the people tested could tell which picture was the original and which was retouched to alter the facial expression. However, after sufficient training, Adobe’s neural network could solve the puzzle correctly 99% of the time.

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Exploring The Dell N1108T-ON Ethernet Switch

In an era where everything seems to be getting “smarter” every year, it will probably come as no surprise to find that even relatively middling networking hardware is now packing advanced features and considerable computational power. A case in point is the Dell N1108T-ON Ethernet switch. Despite only costing around $100 USD on the second hand market, [Ben Cox] discovered this particular switch was capable of a lot more than what was advertised by poking around its onboard operating system.

It all started by plugging into the serial port on the front of the switch, which [Ben] happily notes is an integrated FTDI USB serial adapter to make life easy. Booting into recovery mode gave him local shell access, and some poking around determines it’s the sort of BusyBox-powered Linux system that you’d expect on an embedded device. The biggest discoveries were that it was running a relatively recent kernel (3.8.1), and that it apparently had Python installed.

The reverse shell Python script

From there, [Ben] found out that these switches have a feature where the administrator can install and run Python “applications” by packaging them up as tarballs and copying them from a USB flash drive. So he wrote up a simple Python program that used the socket library to open up a reverse shell to his desktop computer, and to his surprise, it worked perfectly on the first try. Now with root access, the fun really started.

The next step was getting an SSH installed and running on the switch, so that he didn’t have to do the reverse shell trick every time. He then started installing the packages necessary to turn the switch into a secure VPN tunnel with Wireguard. This took a little fiddling as [Ben] didn’t have the option of installing the normal Wireguard kernel module, but he eventually got the necessary tools modified and cross-compiled to ARM. He believes this is just the start of what’s capable on devices like this, and we’re interested in seeing where the community goes from here.

We’ve seen hackers add management capability to a “dumb” unmanaged switch in the past, but software modifications like this promise to make the creation of custom, secure, networks far easier even on a hacker’s budget. A lot has certainly changed since the last time we saw somebody really dive into a professional Ethernet switch.

Knitting Software Automatically Converts 3D Models Into Machine-knit Stuffies

We’ve seen our fair share of interesting knitting hacks here at Hackaday. There has been a lot of creative space explored while mashing computers into knitting machines and vice versa, but for the most part the resulting knit goods all tend to be a bit… two-dimensional. The mechanical reality of knitting and hobbyist-level knitting machines just tends to lend itself to working with a simple grid of pixels in a flat plane.

However, a team at the [Carnegie Mellon Textiles Lab] have been taking the world of computer-controlled knitting from two dimensions to three, with software that can create knitting patterns for most any 3D model you feed it. Think of it like your standard 3D printing slicer software, except instead of simple layers of thermoplastics it generates complex multi-dimensional chains of knits and purls with yarn and 100% stuffing infill.

The details are discussed and very well illustrated in their paper entitled Automatic Machine Knitting of 3D Meshes and a video (unfortunately not embeddable) shows the software interface in action, along with some of the stuffing process and the final adorable (ok they’re a little creepy too) stuffed shapes.

Since the publication of their paper, [the Textiles Lab] has also released an open-source version of their autoknit software on GitHub. Although the compilation and installation steps look non-trivial, the actual interface seems approachable by a dedicated hobbyist. Anyone comfortable with 3D slicer software should be able to load a model, define the two seams necessary to close the shape, which will need to be manually sewn after stuffing, and output the knitting machine code.

Previous knits: the Knit Universe, Bike-driven Scarf Knitter, Knitted Circuit Board.

Hyperlinking Comes To GitHub Via Extension

If you are browsing GitHub it is very tempting to open up the source code to some project and peek at how it works. The code view is easy to read, but the viewer lacks one important feature: the ability to click on an included file and find it. The Octolinker extension fixes that oversight.

If you want to try it without installing the extension, there is a mock-up demo available. Even though the demo wants you to click on specific things, if you don’t play by the rules it will still do the right thing and take you to either the code on GitHub or an appropriate page. You can even substitute the demo URL for github.com and try it out on any GitHub page without the extension.

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Windows 10 Goes To Shell

Windows 10 — the operating system people love to hate or hate to love. Even if you’re a Linux die-hard, it is a fair bet that your workplace uses it and that you have friends and family members that need help forcing you to use Windows at least some times. If you prefer a command line — or even just find a place where you have to use the command line, you might find the classic Windows shell a bit anemic. Some of that’s the shell’s fault, but some of it is the Windows console which is — sort of — the terminal program that runs various Windows text-based programs. If you have the creator update channel on Windows 10, though, there have been some recent improvements to the console and the Linux system that will eventually trickle down to the mainstream users.

What’s New?

So what’s new? According to Microsoft, they’ve improved the call interface to make the following things work correctly (along with “many others”):

  • Core tools: apt, sed, grep, awk, top, tmux, ssh, scp, etc.
  • Shells: Bash, zsh, fish, etc.
  • Dev tools: vim, emacs, nano, git, gdb, etc.
  • Languages & platforms: Node.js & npm, Ruby & Gems, Java & Maven, Python & Pip, C/C++, C# &
  • .NET Core & Nuget, Go, Rust, Haskell, Elixir/Erlang, etc.
  • Systems & Services: sshd, Apache, lighttpd, nginx, MySQL, PostgreSQL

The changes to the console are mostly surrounding escape sequences, colors, and mouse support. The API changes included things like allowing certain non-administrative users to create symlinks. We’ve made X Windows work with Windows (using a third-party X server) and Microsoft acknowledges that it has been done. However, they still don’t support it officially.

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