James W. Meng
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Slic3r LIVE -- PADOLF@home -- ReactOS -- Debian-kFreeBSD -- PLF Computing
In the recent past - beginning in early 2017 - I maintained several personal software & hardware projects. Two were specialised, live-USB Linux distributions; another was a boot loader to facilitate the installation of open-source Windows-compatible operating system ReactOS via USB flash drives; yet another was a full-fledged secure corporate desktop computer, the PLFbox, based on the nVidia Jetson architecture with custom-ported Realtek wLAN/Bluetooth drivers in order to be completely independent of the Intel/x86-64 architecture in its entirety. All of these projects are now totally defunct. The ReactOS boot loaders supplied with the latest images have surpassed where my solution left off, and I have halted all development of the Linux distributions due to a lack of time and resources as well as a desire to discourage use of those products for illicit and/or illegal purposes. Specifically, concerns were raised that Slic3rLIVE! might be used to produce firearms, something that I had weighed very carefully in 2017; and there were concerns that PADOLF@home might be used to commandeer computing and electrical resources that an end user might in reality not have the right to access.
1st June 2021. The distributed computing space has changed drastically since 2017. SETI@home, the oldest BOINC project, ceased to use volunteer computing resources on 1st April 2020. I expect that many of the more scientifically-significant projects will follow suit as servers and supercomputing hardware continue to be cheaper to buy, run, and dynamically rent via platforms that are far more powerful and reliable than volunteer computing. I have no plans to re-release PADOLF@home.
A verified, live-USB Linux distribution running Slic3r.
We have previously discussed the illegal theft and regulation of privately owned intellectual property by the United States government and its technology industry.
One prominent vector by which this is accomplished is in the digital fabrication sphere. Since the 3D printing boom began in the first half of the 2010s, independent manufacturers and developers of 3D printing hardware and software have been snapped up by large corporations. What was once an open ecosystem driven forward by idealistic, thoughtful semi-professionals is now viewed as a struggling revenue stream, particularly in the consumer and prosumer spaces, with applications that in some cases run counter to these companies' broader goals.
As such, there have been efforts to centralize and corrupt the ecosystem to a significant degree. Amazon, for example, maintains a superficially-large selection of parts and materials for 3D printers, yet few are quality-checked: perhaps as much as 25% or more of their product catalog in parts consists of items that are totally non-functional due to major design flaws.
The website for Slic3r, the main free and open-source client-side 3D model gcode generator available today, offered up versions for United States users for quite some time that contained malicious code permitting remote intrusion and code execution on users' computers. We are thus far unable to confirm the entity responsible for this.
Other 3D model GCode generators create similar major code-related faults. Current versions of Simplify3D, for example, no longer produce structurally-sound solid parts. This is accomplished purposefully by irregular interruptions in the volume of extruded plastic at structurally-important points in a model and is also true of several other GCode generators.
In our view, these changes may have been implemented due to a desire to regulate the printing of functional firearms, or simply to drive prototyping of physical products to specialists - yet they have stymied efforts at high-quality self-production of any 3D printed item.
While there can be no doubt that the existence of several functional proof-of-concept 3D printed firearms is potentially a worry for governments, illegal and undisclosed regulation of software is an extremely slippery slope in our view, particularly as it relates to the purposeful disabling of software that was functional at the time of sale. On this basis there is now cause for a class action lawsuit against Simplify3D by its clients, for example.
In light of the above, we built from source code a version of Slic3r with verified integrity over a Debian 8/LXDE based live USB installation. Due to intellectual property, security, and production integrity concerns, we do not recommend running any 3D model GCode generator from your primary 'bare iron' operating system installation, nor can we recommend cloud-based GCode generators such as AstroPrint. We have therefore built Slic3r LIVE entirely without software support for network connectivity. You can write Slic3r LIVE to a 4GB or larger USB flash drive on Windows using Rufus, or using the following command at a Linux terminal prompt:
sudo dd if=/path/to/image6.dd of=/dev/id_of_your_flashdrive bs=1M && sync
A verified, live-USB Linux distribution running BOINC.
Named in honor of its creator's Jack Russell Terrier, whose name is not actually Padolf but who nevertheless as a puppy had facial markings strangely resembling Adolf Hitler's mustache, PADOLF@home is currently the only portable, live USB implementation of BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, which supports a great many non-profit distributed computing projects worldwide.
Of these projects, PADOLF@home runs two of the most scientifically significant by default: the Einstein@home project, which exists to identify and document gravitational waves emitted from objects - some of which are pulsars - in the universe using data from the LIGO gravitational wave detector; and the Milkyway@home project, which exists to build a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
Any computer that can boot from a USB flash drive can run PADOLF@home. Do you have an extra computer lying around at home, work or school? Use its spare CPU cycles to contribute to these projects! Unlike cryptocurrency mining, which requires expensive, specialized hardware, almost any x86-based computer made within the last 15 or so years can contribute meaningfully to these important research projects using PADOLF@home.
Standard x86 and x86-64 processors are supported, as are AMD/ATI and nVidia GPUs. PADOLF@home is NOT an "amnesiac" live USB - it is a true, fully functional portable live distribution, which means you can save your progress and shut down in the middle of a work unit when booting back into your normal OS installation.
You can write PADOLF@home to a 4GB or larger USB flash drive on Windows using Rufus, or using the following command at a Linux terminal prompt:
sudo dd if=/path/to/image5.dd of=/dev/id_of_your_flashdrive bs=1M && sync
A quick and easy method of running ReactOS from a USB stick.
We're not directly involved with the ReactOS project. Nevertheless, it's one of the most important open source projects active today, and we realized that for the project to grow and develop, it had to be easier for end users to install, try out, and use.
The current installer images are mostly designed to be used in virtual machines - VMWare, Parallels, QEMU, VirtualBox, etc. - and not on real computers. On most computers they won't even boot. But the ReactOS team has done great work, and we want to see more installations on real computers. This meant building a version that could be easily run or installed from a USB stick, so we did.
Our installation package will allow you to create bootable USB drives that will boot and install easily on almost any BIOS- or UEFI-firmware based system and that offer the option of running either as a Live OS or a full installer on startup. Memory requirements are a bit higher because the installation runs from a RAM disk in order to avoid compatibity issues with your computer's USB hardware: you'll need at least 512MB of RAM.
Previously we attempted to provide single disk image files that could be written directly. However an unspecified issue seems to have impacted the integrity of these images upon download and none would boot. We therefore created a workaround.
To write the image to a USB stick, you need four downloads. One is a program called RMPrepUSB, which offers a one-click installation of a bootloader called SYSLINUX. Insert your flash drive, format it, use RMPrepUSB to install SYSLINUX to the drive's root directory, and then copy the contents of our ZIP file to the root directory of the drive.
You also need whichever ReactOS images you want to use. Download both the Live and Boot versions, rename the Live image to live.iso and the Boot image to main.iso, then copy them along with our package to the root directory of the flash drive you've just prepared. And you're done!
A FreeBSD derivative with pre-set GUI & the familiar Debian package management system.
PLF Computing was born out of a need for computing that respects the needs of professionals, technically-oriented business owners, and researchers: people who need effective protection for their ideas, designs, projects, and other forms of intellectual property - from competing interests, hackers, and even governments.
Unfortunately, no major software company provides this protection today. Major software companies, such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, maintain their own security services to protect their own interests in intellectual property spheres, including behavior that is strategically anti-competitive in addition to cooperating closely with Western governments. This has facilitated vast theft and destruction of private intellectual property, of which the general public remains mostly unaware and to which these companies and governments are rarely if ever held accountable due to corruption in Western courts and patent agencies.
Some governments have attempted to provide a solution to this problem by creating secure variants of Linux. The United States government has built both LPS and TENS - secure, 'amnesiac' versions of Linux designed to be run from a read-only device to improve data security. Neither is likely to function or to even be downloadable in the event that the end user is already under U.S. government surveillance. The Russian government supports and maintains Astra Linux. Meanwhile, the British government, in a move that might be described either as incredibly cynical or perhaps just psychopathic, has funded the development of Kali Linux - a Debian fork poorly hidden, undisclosed, on most British Ubuntu mirrors and designed not only to provide a superficial added level of security, but also to assist those who want to flout security in violation of law in order to give government agencies a bit of excitement in prosecuting otherwise-innocent college students and the like. One particularly notable, recent case of someone who was provoked into committing such crimes by Western governments is that of Roman Seleznev.
There is also an independent project to create a 'reasonably secure operating system' called QubesOS. In principle, it offers a number of satisfactory, software-based solutions to a wide variety of theoretical attack vectors in computer security. There are two main problems with QubesOS. One is that its funding is largely provided by the United States government and several United States corporations, chiefly Google, and source code for the operating system is only available for a few of the supporting software packages built into it - not for the entire operating system. The other is that the current Linux kernel on which it is based - known as systemd - is effectively a hypervisor into which a wide variety of processes unknown and unauditable by the user can be introduced, particularly in the event of closed-source software such as QubesOS. Recent versions of Microsoft Windows are similarly insecure - in addition to maintaining an even wider range of other security holes intended to benefit Western governments and other interests.
As an interim solution, the best alternative that we can conscientiously recommend is a fork of Debian 7.8 based on the FreeBSD kernel. While not a perfect solution, and one to which we are already building a superior alternative, it does offer greater transparency to the user as well as a far more limited opportunity for intrusions and introductions of malware. This distribution has recently disappeared from most Debian mirror servers, aside from that of the Physics Department at ETH Zurich. We offer download links below.
While it is true that there are several structural aspects of BSD that are superior to Linux in a security sense, the primary reason it is more secure than other alternatives in real life is simply that today, most malware and other exploits are built by Western governments and their contractors. Today's operating systems involve many levels of code abstraction; and, because that malware is more or less accessible to other parties once released 'into the wild', exploits tend not to be built for operating systems based on Unix, BSD, Solaris, etc. because these operating systems are mainly used in mission-critical server applications in major organizations. Building exploits for these operating systems that are targeted at desktop users would, therefore, be potentially quite dangerous. As a result, BSD is compelling as a potential solution for the problems we address above.
The challenge with this version is that it is difficult to install, and most likely on purpose. Much like ReactOS, it was likely intended to run only in virtualized environments. Nevertheless, it can be installed in garden-variety PCs at the 'bare iron' level. Our workaround requires a USB flash drive with a controller that can be reconfigured to emulate a DVD-ROM drive.
We have provided recommendations for suitable USB flash drives as well as the configuration software to create the necessary installation media:
Kingston DataTraveller SE9 (16GB USB 2.0 version)
Transcend JetFlash 620 (8GB/16GB USB 2.0 version)
Software - Kingston
Software - Transcend
Debian-kFreeBSD 7.8 (i386)
Debian-kFreeBSD 7.8 (AMD64)
Debian-kFreeBSD 7.8 Update Disk 1 (i386)
Debian-kFreeBSD 7.8 Update Disk 2 (i386)
Debian-kFreeBSD 7.8 Update Disk 1 (AMD64)
Debian-kFreeBSD 7.8 Update Disk 2 (AMD64)
My defunct IT consulting firm, and the secure, proprietary office desktop I built.
I founded and ran an IT consulting company on Long Island, NY for about a year. In the process, I attempted to build a secure, proprietary office desktop around the nVidia Jetson architecture that would provide good performance along with both a small physical and electrical footprint - the PLFbox.
In so doing, I first planned to run ALT Linux, but in the end, updates to the distribution made it nearly useless for use as a desktop workstation. Granted, the Jetson Nano wasn't originally intended for use as a desktop, though it works quite well as one. But eventually Ubuntu put through a very compelling set of driver updates that allowed even more everyday processing tasks to be offloaded to the Jetson's very capable GPU in desktop use, so I returned to their distribution.
Another goal was to pull the desktop out of the Wintel cesspool entirely, chiefly to protect clients from some of the criminals operating out of Western tech majors like Microsoft, Google, and Apple - as well as from the American NSA. And not just with the Jetson Nano, but with an alternate networking solution also (the Jetson, by default, was only compatible with Intel WiFi hardware). Work on porting Realtek drivers to the Jetson system began, but never finished before it became clear there was no way to really get away with offering such a product in Western markets. I would have been run out of business entirely.
But, as it often does, the free market stepped in to fill the gap I had identified, and the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Raspberry Pi 400 not long thereafter in fall 2020. Apple likewise began introducing new computers with an ARM-based processor shortly thereafter. It's not a trivial matter - you can do the same fundamental tasks on an ARM-based system with 10 watts that an Intel-based system needs 500 watts for. That's why I don't feel the least bit bothered that Apple and the Raspberry Pi Foundation were the first with a mass-market ARM PC resurgence. The entirety of Planet Earth will be vastly better off running on the ARM architecture in a lot of ways. It is a big help in tackling carbon output driven by electricity consumption, for example.
Beyond that, and in addition to consulting on various novel special projects, we provided quite a lot of setup, support, and e-waste services. Eventually, my favorite local scrap metal dealer, Gershow Recycling, got into the e-waste business, saving me the trouble of doing the processing work myself and getting customers paid for their e-waste besides. Prior to my arrival, New York was a place where e-waste could only be disposed of at scale with considerable difficulty - it was really fantastic to have been able to make such a positive environmental impact.
I still do IT consulting work on a project basis, though no longer on-site. Call or e-mail me to discuss.