Migrating to Firefox from Google Chrome

After Firefox Quantum was released, I tried it out and decided to switch. I had a few reasons why:

  1. Faster
  2. No tracking
  3. Can run Add-Ons (Extensions) on mobile

I was very impressed, especially with Tracking Protection, how much faster Firefox has become. Number 2 refers to all your browsing data being sent to Google HQ, encrypted I imagine, but still. And for number 3, on Android certain sites would have 3rd party ads that redirected the browser from the new article or whatever page I was reading to some spammy ad page. After discovering that you can run, say uBlock Origin, on mobile I was determined to switch.

So to switch, I needed two profiles (“work” and “personal”, always separate as God intended) and as I found out later, a way to get those two profiles as separate taskbar tabs–which was much harder than it should be.

Switching was not so easy. I’ve had Firefox installed, even with multiple profiles before but it’s definitely not as simple to setup as Chrome. In Chrome, there’s a profile button on the top right of the title bar that makes switching profiles easy.

In Firefox, when it first starts after a fresh install it asks you for a profile name but by default will not ever ask again. So you have to run firefox -profilemanager (after closing any and all Firefox windows), and add a new profile.

Now, you can setup this Firefox installation to allow multiple profiles, but this causes problems with the Windows (7 and 10, at least) taskbar. The separate instances have the same appId, causing both profiles’ windows to be grouped. Which is annoying. And any shortcuts you make to each profile will not inflate with the respective process. In other words, your shortcut and the running application will both be visible at the same time, using up space. And if you click the shortcut, Firefox shows a dialog that complains it can’t start because it is still running. Ugh.

So forget trying to setup shortcuts and pin them to your taskbar for now. The best solution is to just run two installations of Firefox, each using a separate profile by default.

For work, since I’m a developer, I’m using Firefox Developer Edition. For personal crap, I just use regular Firefox. You might be able to install the same edition of Firefox alongside but in a different directory, but I believe the appId will still be the same. In my case, these each have separate appIds, so no issues. Install the second copy of Firefox, and then select the other profile you want to use with it.

Pin it to the taskbar, and your done.

Education in Futility: WarpWallet Brute Forcing

So, WarpWallet is a so-called brain wallet for Bitcoin. That is, you only have to remember a relatively short password and it generates the corresponding private key for use. It uses a memory and CPU hard set of cryptographic algorithms to ensure that brute-forcing is slowed way down. That is, when generating the private key, it takes considerable time. Their Javascript implementation takes over 10 seconds on my machine.

So the makers of it had challenges setup. By the time I stumbled on it, only the last challenge was left, with 6 months remaining. For that challenge, the reward for cracking an 8-character alphanumeric password was 20 BTC (and BCH and BTG!), which was worth over $100,000 USD at the time of the challenge end date.

Since their Javascript implementation is terribly slow I wondered if anyone had ported it to any other language, and found a Go version–but it was outdated and would not compile. So, as my first exercise in Go, I updated it and got it compiling. Instead of 10+ seconds per keypair generated, it took about 1 second. But, it took input from the command line, so I decided to make a brute forcer that used this newly updated generator. It would feed it the passphrase and salt and store the result (the private key and public key) and then I could parse these results later.

So the basic design was this:
My WarpWallet Brute Forcer (using Go WarpWallet implementation) -> SQL Database

The brute-forcer underwent many revisions. First it checked the history of passphrases to ensure no duplicates were stored, but this eventually took longer than the time to generate private keys, slowing the whole processes down. So it was eliminated (and there was virtually no chance of generating the same passphrase twice, the same odds as finding the correct passphrase).

It also did not store anything at first besides the date and the passphrase. The client checked each public key against the target one and discarded the result. This meant if the client was killed before I could check the output, I was out of luck! Later improvements added the private key, public key, and the hostname of the computer that generated it (as I used all available idle personal computers to do so).

Another misstep was having the Go pipeline switch sleep. First it slept 100 ms if no channel had data or their buffers were full, then I increased it to 250 ms inexplicably, then realized it waits by default. So this was leaving processing power on the table. Removing the sleep command on my main desktop gave a ~20% improvement in performance (from 5.12 to 6.14 keypairs/s on an i7). Below are the contributions from various machines. The IPs at the end are AWS servers, the largest chunk of which was from a c4.xlarge machine over a single day!


And then on January 1st, 2018 the challenge expired. There’re just over 24 million rows, 4.5GB data. It takes a few seconds to test any result. I investigated testing each public address to see if they had a balance but on my local Bitcoin node it takes minutes to scan the blockchain for transactions for newly added addresses. And web APIs rate limit you to where it would take a year or so to test each one. Less if I spread requests out across API providers. So, in the end, I just deleted all the results. It was fun, I learned a lot about Go, cryptocurrency nodes, and I’m ready for the next, hopefully more fruitful, project.


Reverse Engineering the firmware on a Kenwood DDX9903S

I bought and really like my Kenwood Excelon DDX9903S headunit. I had it in my WRX, and moved it to my LS430. It supports Android Auto and CarPlay, which I find really useful when driving.

However, it has a nag screen every time it boots up. This got me curious as to how it worked, and see if it could be patched to skip this disclaimer. I figured it probably ran Linux on a SoC, as pretty much everything does nowadays. So I grabbed the latest firmware for it (mine was already updated to it), and started probing.


Extract that and you get 3 folders under S_V2_7_0008_0600/:


In each there’s a .nfu file, which I’ve never encountered before. I ran binwalk on each:

[BOOT_V2_7_0008_0600_release]$ binwalk Boot_2.7.0008.0600.nfu
248776 0x3CBC8 Android bootimg, kernel size: 0 bytes, kernel addr: 0x4F525245, ramdisk size: 1226848850 bytes, ramdisk addr: 0x6C61766E, product name: "ERROR: Cannot read kernel image"
1571592 0x17FB08 ELF, 64-bit LSB shared object, AMD x86-64, version 1 (SYSV)
2358024 0x23FB08 ELF, 64-bit LSB shared object, AMD x86-64, version 1 (SYSV)
3209992 0x30FB08 ELF, 64-bit LSB shared object, AMD x86-64, version 1 (SYSV)

Surprise, surprise, it runs Android. But, I’m thinking this image is possibly just the firmware updater, and not what I am looking for.

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Adding a disk to an encrypted mdadm array

My RAID6 was originally planned with 6 drives, but only had 5 for a while due to space concerns with the case. However, I found as a file, media, and multiple cryptocurrency node it filled up the 2.7TB pretty quickly. So, I got a new case (and some more RAM), which has proper space for 6 3.5″ drives (and 2 5.25″). When migrating to this I decided to add the extra 1TB WD Red NAS drive I bought but have not been able to use.

The case is a Fractal Design Define Mini, and I am thoroughly impressed. Six 3.5″ slots, two 5.25″ external slots, and lots of sound padding on the doors and sides.

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Sync login/lock screen wallpaper to current desktop background

For Windows 7, this turned out to be pretty easy to do via PowerShell. I just had to look for a native image resizing library since the lock screen for some odd reason, only supports JPEGs up to 256KB in size. Probably one of those legacy items left over from NT, like the file system permissions dialogs, and the built-in environment variables editor…

I ended up using WIA’s ImageProcess COM library which worked surprisingly well. It just resizes whatever you give it to the primary desktop resolution, so that’s not guaranteed to be less than 256KB, but it works more often than not so it was good enough for my purposes.


Windmill – Windows Window unclobberer

I noticed during the (many) meetings I attend that disconnecting and reconnecting my laptop from the dock reorganizes all my windows to the laptop’s display. This got annoying to have to drag and resize everything when returning to my desk, which has a 3 monitor setup. So, I wrote this small Win32 application to allow you to save the positioning and size of all windows and then restore them at a later time.


There are binaries in the releases tab.

There doesn’t seem to be an API to detect when removed or added from a dock, so a futher enhancement I’d like to do is to detect when (the same) monitors are re-connected and then automatically move all the windows back. But, it works really well as it is.

Fixing mirrorlist on Arch Linux Arm (Raspberry Pi)

I hadn’t updated my Raspberry Pi (a B+ model for my rpi-drd project) in about a year. Pacman -Syu kept complaining about being unable to find files on any of the mirrors.

So I, without thinking, ran reflector on an x86 host and copied it over. Oops. Now it definitely can’t find packages.

The archlinuxarm.org website gave me the hostname I needed, but not the entire URL. Put this in your mirrorlist (as the sole entry) to restore functionality:

Server = http://mirror.archlinuxarm.org/$arch/$repo

Oculus Rift and Touch

I’m super excited for the imminent onslaught of consumer grade VR equipment and game support. I think it will change how games are played from now on. Not all games, mind you, it takes a certain level of involvement to strap on a head-mounted display and get into the experience. The military already uses similar technology extensively for training. It’s just a matter of months before equipment hits shelves.

That said, there’s a serious problem with it already. When you strap on a VR headset, your mouse and keyboard disappear. They seem antiquated as you tilt and peak below the headset to find the right keys. HIDs are going to need a total revamp to work well with head mounted VR.

Enter the Oculus Touch. Basically two Wii motion controllers. It makes sense. I can’t say it’s the best solution, because no one really knows what is (well, aside from 100% perfect hand and finger motion tracking without any device attached). It’s a great start, and I can see it working well.

via Engadget

For example, one thing I’m really excited for is VR support in my favorite flight combat sim, Eagle Dynamic’s DCS. I’ve seen some footage of the Oculus in use with it, and I’ve used the Oculus DK2 for development and with other games. But DCS has some serious keyboard use involved when playing. Even if you have a nice HOTAS, you can’t map all functions down to the toggle switches and buttons. And even then, you have to know it by feel. What DCS does offer (somewhat uniquely, if I’m not mistaken), is the ability to use in cockpit (on-screen) controls–currently with the mouse.

The new Oculus Touch should be able to handle that. Reach out and you see a hand reach out on screen. Move your hand over to the landing gear switch and press a button. How’s that for integration? This isn’t anything new, the technology’s been around for years now but no one’s made a solid controller for the PC, nor has any game I’m aware of supported it.

I was already excited for Oculus (and other VR HMDs). First-person shooters are also about to see a big change. The current heavy reliance on mouse input for looking and keyboard input for moving makes a lot of FPSs all about mouse/keyboard coordination. HMDs will allow a more realistic experience–if that’s what’s desired. For me, I’m more about the simulation than kill counts (or “360 no scopes”) so I can’t wait.

Installing Arch Linux with an encrypted root

I’ve got a ThinkPad T410. I got it off craigslist in what was a somewhat shady transaction. Regardless, it came with a 300GB spinner. Not interested in finding out how much life was left on it I got a solid state replacement from NewEgg for “Cyber Monday”. A 240GB Intel one for $110, that’s less than 50 cents per GB!

The spinner has a single unencrypted partition with Arch Linux running on it. I wanted to run Arch on an encrypted partition. The main reason: If it’s ever stolen I don’t want to have to worry about any of the data on it. Bonus reason: Geek/spy points.

So, while there are excellent guides for installing Arch, and setting up encryption, and optimizing an SSD, there don’t seem to be any combining the three. In reality it’s not that much more difficult, and if you are motivated to setup encryption on Linux in the first place you probably know what you’re doing. Still, I was disheartened a bit at the lack of information so I decided to note how I went about it in general. Continue reading