Tag Archives: baby

Tackling Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome with Fesentience

Post Syndicated from Dana Augustin original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/neonatal-abstinence-syndrome-fesentience/

In today’s guest post, we’ll hear from Prastik Mohanraj. He’s a part of the Fesentience project team at the Engineering and Science University Magnet school (ESUMS) in Connecticut, USA, and a student of Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Leon Tynes. Prastik shares his story of creating an incubator device using the Raspberry Pi to help young infants suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

Fesentience – Our Product

Booth video displayed at Mini EXPO. Turn subtitles on when displaying.

Fesentience

Our project, called Fesentience, is to create a device that uses the principles of biomimicry to simulate the maternal womb. By integrating Raspberry Pi and Python programming, we can design a product that houses various systems mimicking the maternal womb, with parameters such as a mother’s specific resting heart rate and blood pressure that we can set via code.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome infant incubator

The product is targeted towards infants suffering from a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. Newborn infants exhibit NAS if they were exposed to addictive drugs while in the womb. Infants with NAS suffer from withdrawal effects, which can be extremely devastating since they may hinder essential post-birth developmental processes. This may lead to the onset of conditions such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, where the infant dies without any prior physiological indicators.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome treatment

Current treatments for NAS include providing kangaroo care, which is a form of touch contact for the infant; weaning infants off drugs slowly by using morphine, fentanyl, or other replacement compounds; and simply housing them in incubator cribs. However, none of these treatments approach NAS in what is scientifically shown to be the best way: providing persistent maternal involvement, or having the mother directly in contact with the infant for prolonged periods of time. The problem with such maternal involvement, though, is that in many cases, it is simply not possible for the mother to be with the infant.

NAS and Raspberry Pi

We made Fesentience to address this difficulty and act as a substitute for the mother. Our incubator device mimics the various biological systems of the mother according to parameters unique to each mother. Hence, our product can fully mimic any particular infant’s mother during its treatment.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome infant incubator

The prototype includes a light system that can display various shades of light; we chose shades of blue light to prevent the occurrence of jaundice in infants being treated. The product also includes a vibration motor to vibrate in a pattern mimicking the mother’s heartbeat; a balloon that inflates and deflates through the use of vacuum pumps to simulate the mother’s respiration; and a speaker to play the mother’s voice in the form of lullabies or songs for the infant. We are planning on adding a thermal system that sets the temperature of the device to the mother’s resting body temperature and modulates it in accordance to physiological temperature fluctuations. These systems are set up so that the infant can clearly sense their outputs and feel like its own mother is directly next to it.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi infant incubator

The final Fesentience product we will develop is a set of appendages to be fitted onto an incubator; we may possibly designing our own incubator housing these appendages in the future. We used the Raspberry Pi microcomputer and Python programming to control Fesentience.

Fesentience Raspberry Pi Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome infant incubator

Many stages of this project were difficult. First, we had to learn the details of NAS by reading numerous scientific papers and conducting interviews with experts. The most difficult part was designing the algorithms for the device, and figuring out how the device would mimic various biological features within a secure and compact system. We had to understand how the features would interact, and how they should physically be placed inside our final device to let the infants become imbued by these sensory stimuli as much as possible. Once our first prototype of Fesentience is done, we will market it to our community and to provide it to hospitals and treatment facilities for infants suffering from NAS and related conditions to make a positive impact in the medical world.

To learn more about the Fesentience project, check out their webpage.

The post Tackling Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome with Fesentience appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Introducing Microsoft Azure Sphere

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/751994/rss

Microsoft has issued a
press release
describing the security dangers involved with the
Internet of things (“a weaponized stove, baby monitors that spy, the
contents of your refrigerator being held for ransom
“) and introducing
“Microsoft Azure Sphere” as a combination of hardware and software to
address the problem. “Unlike the RTOSes common to MCUs today, our
defense-in-depth IoT OS offers multiple layers of security. It combines
security innovations pioneered in Windows, a security monitor, and a custom
Linux kernel to create a highly-secured software environment and a
trustworthy platform for new IoT experiences.

What John Oliver gets wrong about Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2018/03/what-john-oliver-gets-wrong-about.html

John Oliver covered bitcoin/cryptocurrencies last night. I thought I’d describe a bunch of things he gets wrong.

How Bitcoin works

Nowhere in the show does it describe what Bitcoin is and how it works.
Discussions should always start with Satoshi Nakamoto’s original paper. The thing Satoshi points out is that there is an important cost to normal transactions, namely, the entire legal system designed to protect you against fraud, such as the way you can reverse the transactions on your credit card if it gets stolen. The point of Bitcoin is that there is no way to reverse a charge. A transaction is done via cryptography: to transfer money to me, you decrypt it with your secret key and encrypt it with mine, handing ownership over to me with no third party involved that can reverse the transaction, and essentially no overhead.
All the rest of the stuff, like the decentralized blockchain and mining, is all about making that work.
Bitcoin crazies forget about the original genesis of Bitcoin. For example, they talk about adding features to stop fraud, reversing transactions, and having a central authority that manages that. This misses the point, because the existing electronic banking system already does that, and does a better job at it than cryptocurrencies ever can. If you want to mock cryptocurrencies, talk about the “DAO”, which did exactly that — and collapsed in a big fraudulent scheme where insiders made money and outsiders didn’t.
Sticking to Satoshi’s original ideas are a lot better than trying to repeat how the crazy fringe activists define Bitcoin.

How does any money have value?

Oliver’s answer is currencies have value because people agree that they have value, like how they agree a Beanie Baby is worth $15,000.
This is wrong. A better way of asking the question why the value of money changes. The dollar has been losing roughly 2% of its value each year for decades. This is called “inflation”, as the dollar loses value, it takes more dollars to buy things, which means the price of things (in dollars) goes up, and employers have to pay us more dollars so that we can buy the same amount of things.
The reason the value of the dollar changes is largely because the Federal Reserve manages the supply of dollars, using the same law of Supply and Demand. As you know, if a supply decreases (like oil), then the price goes up, or if the supply of something increases, the price goes down. The Fed manages money the same way: when prices rise (the dollar is worth less), the Fed reduces the supply of dollars, causing it to be worth more. Conversely, if prices fall (or don’t rise fast enough), the Fed increases supply, so that the dollar is worth less.
The reason money follows the law of Supply and Demand is because people use money, they consume it like they do other goods and services, like gasoline, tax preparation, food, dance lessons, and so forth. It’s not like a fine art painting, a stamp collection or a Beanie Baby — money is a product. It’s just that people have a hard time thinking of it as a consumer product since, in their experience, money is what they use to buy consumer products. But it’s a symmetric operation: when you buy gasoline with dollars, you are actually selling dollars in exchange for gasoline. That you call one side in this transaction “money” and the other “goods” is purely arbitrary, you call gasoline money and dollars the good that is being bought and sold for gasoline.
The reason dollars is a product is because trying to use gasoline as money is a pain in the neck. Storing it and exchanging it is difficult. Goods like this do become money, such as famously how prisons often use cigarettes as a medium of exchange, even for non-smokers, but it has to be a good that is fungible, storable, and easily exchanged. Dollars are the most fungible, the most storable, and the easiest exchanged, so has the most value as “money”. Sure, the mechanic can fix the farmers car for three chickens instead, but most of the time, both parties in the transaction would rather exchange the same value using dollars than chickens.
So the value of dollars is not like the value of Beanie Babies, which people might buy for $15,000, which changes purely on the whims of investors. Instead, a dollar is like gasoline, which obey the law of Supply and Demand.
This brings us back to the question of where Bitcoin gets its value. While Bitcoin is indeed used like dollars to buy things, that’s only a tiny use of the currency, so therefore it’s value isn’t determined by Supply and Demand. Instead, the value of Bitcoin is a lot like Beanie Babies, obeying the laws of investments. So in this respect, Oliver is right about where the value of Bitcoin comes, but wrong about where the value of dollars comes from.

Why Bitcoin conference didn’t take Bitcoin

John Oliver points out the irony of a Bitcoin conference that stopped accepting payments in Bitcoin for tickets.
The biggest reason for this is because Bitcoin has become so popular that transaction fees have gone up. Instead of being proof of failure, it’s proof of popularity. What John Oliver is saying is the old joke that nobody goes to that popular restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded and you can’t get a reservation.
Moreover, the point of Bitcoin is not to replace everyday currencies for everyday transactions. If you read Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper, it’s only goal is to replace certain types of transactions, like purely electronic transactions where electronic goods and services are being exchanged. Where real-life goods/services are being exchanged, existing currencies work just fine. It’s only the crazy activists who claim Bitcoin will eventually replace real world currencies — the saner people see it co-existing with real-world currencies, each with a different value to consumers.

Turning a McNugget back into a chicken

John Oliver uses the metaphor of turning a that while you can process a chicken into McNuggets, you can’t reverse the process. It’s a funny metaphor.
But it’s not clear what the heck this metaphor is trying explain. That’s not a metaphor for the blockchain, but a metaphor for a “cryptographic hash”, where each block is a chicken, and the McNugget is the signature for the block (well, the block plus the signature of the last block, forming a chain).
Even then that metaphor as problems. The McNugget produced from each chicken must be unique to that chicken, for the metaphor to accurately describe a cryptographic hash. You can therefore identify the original chicken simply by looking at the McNugget. A slight change in the original chicken, like losing a feather, results in a completely different McNugget. Thus, nuggets can be used to tell if the original chicken has changed.
This then leads to the key property of the blockchain, it is unalterable. You can’t go back and change any of the blocks of data, because the fingerprints, the nuggets, will also change, and break the nugget chain.
The point is that while John Oliver is laughing at a silly metaphor to explain the blockchain becuase he totally misses the point of the metaphor.
Oliver rightly says “don’t worry if you don’t understand it — most people don’t”, but that includes the big companies that John Oliver name. Some companies do get it, and are producing reasonable things (like JP Morgan, by all accounts), but some don’t. IBM and other big consultancies are charging companies millions of dollars to consult with them on block chain products where nobody involved, the customer or the consultancy, actually understand any of it. That doesn’t stop them from happily charging customers on one side and happily spending money on the other.
Thus, rather than Oliver explaining the problem, he’s just being part of the problem. His explanation of blockchain left you dumber than before.

ICO’s

John Oliver mocks the Brave ICO ($35 million in 30 seconds), claiming it’s all driven by YouTube personalities and people who aren’t looking at the fundamentals.
And while this is true, most ICOs are bunk, the  Brave ICO actually had a business model behind it. Brave is a Chrome-like web-browser whose distinguishing feature is that it protects your privacy from advertisers. If you don’t use Brave or a browser with an ad block extension, you have no idea how bad things are for you. However, this presents a problem for websites that fund themselves via advertisements, which is most of them, because visitors no longer see ads. Brave has a fix for this. Most people wouldn’t mind supporting the websites they visit often, like the New York Times. That’s where the Brave ICO “token” comes in: it’s not simply stock in Brave, but a token for micropayments to websites. Users buy tokens, then use them for micropayments to websites like New York Times. The New York Times then sells the tokens back to the market for dollars. The buying and selling of tokens happens without a centralized middleman.
This is still all speculative, of course, and it remains to be seen how successful Brave will be, but it’s a serious effort. It has well respected VC behind the company, a well-respected founder (despite the fact he invented JavaScript), and well-respected employees. It’s not a scam, it’s a legitimate venture.

How to you make money from Bitcoin?

The last part of the show is dedicated to describing all the scam out there, advising people to be careful, and to be “responsible”. This is garbage.
It’s like my simple two step process to making lots of money via Bitcoin: (1) buy when the price is low, and (2) sell when the price is high. My advice is correct, of course, but useless. Same as “be careful” and “invest responsibly”.
The truth about investing in cryptocurrencies is “don’t”. The only responsible way to invest is to buy low-overhead market index funds and hold for retirement. No, you won’t get super rich doing this, but anything other than this is irresponsible gambling.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, because everyone is telling you the opposite. The entire channel CNBC is devoted to day traders, who buy and sell stocks at a high rate based on the same principle as a ponzi scheme, basing their judgment not on the fundamentals (like long term dividends) but animal spirits of whatever stock is hot or cold at the moment. This is the same reason people buy or sell Bitcoin, not because they can describe the fundamental value, but because they believe in a bigger fool down the road who will buy it for even more.
For things like Bitcoin, the trick to making money is to have bought it over 7 years ago when it was essentially worthless, except to nerds who were into that sort of thing. It’s the same tick to making a lot of money in Magic: The Gathering trading cards, which nerds bought decades ago which are worth a ton of money now. Or, to have bought Apple stock back in 2009 when the iPhone was new, when nerds could understand the potential of real Internet access and apps that Wall Street could not.
That was my strategy: be a nerd, who gets into things. I’ve made a good amount of money on all these things because as a nerd, I was into Magic: The Gathering, Bitcoin, and the iPhone before anybody else was, and bought in at the point where these things were essentially valueless.
At this point with cryptocurrencies, with the non-nerds now flooding the market, there little chance of making it rich. The lottery is probably a better bet. Instead, if you want to make money, become a nerd, obsess about a thing, understand a thing when its new, and cash out once the rest of the market figures it out. That might be Brave, for example, but buy into it because you’ve spent the last year studying the browser advertisement ecosystem, the market’s willingness to pay for content, and how their Basic Attention Token delivers value to websites — not because you want in on the ICO craze.

Conclusion

John Oliver spends 25 minutes explaining Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies, and the Blockchain to you. Sure, it’s funny, but it leaves you worse off than when it started. It admits they “simplify” the explanation, but they simplified it so much to the point where they removed all useful information.

Happy birthday to us!

Post Syndicated from Eben Upton original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/happy-birthday-2018/

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that today is 28 February, which is as close as you’re going to get to our sixth birthday, given that we launched on a leap day. For the last three years, we’ve launched products on or around our birthday: Raspberry Pi 2 in 2015; Raspberry Pi 3 in 2016; and Raspberry Pi Zero W in 2017. But today is a snow day here at Pi Towers, so rather than launching something, we’re taking a photo tour of the last six years of Raspberry Pi products before we don our party hats for the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend this Saturday and Sunday.

Prehistory

Before there was Raspberry Pi, there was the Broadcom BCM2763 ‘micro DB’, designed, as it happens, by our very own Roger Thornton. This was the first thing we demoed as a Raspberry Pi in May 2011, shown here running an ARMv6 build of Ubuntu 9.04.

BCM2763 micro DB

Ubuntu on Raspberry Pi, 2011-style

A few months later, along came the first batch of 50 “alpha boards”, designed for us by Broadcom. I used to have a spreadsheet that told me where in the world each one of these lived. These are the first “real” Raspberry Pis, built around the BCM2835 application processor and LAN9512 USB hub and Ethernet adapter; remarkably, a software image taken from the download page today will still run on them.

Raspberry Pi alpha board, top view

Raspberry Pi alpha board

We shot some great demos with this board, including this video of Quake III:

Raspberry Pi – Quake 3 demo

A little something for the weekend: here’s Eben showing the Raspberry Pi running Quake 3, and chatting a bit about the performance of the board. Thanks to Rob Bishop and Dave Emett for getting the demo running.

Pete spent the second half of 2011 turning the alpha board into a shippable product, and just before Christmas we produced the first 20 “beta boards”, 10 of which were sold at auction, raising over £10000 for the Foundation.

The beginnings of a Bramble

Beta boards on parade

Here’s Dom, demoing both the board and his excellent taste in movie trailers:

Raspberry Pi Beta Board Bring up

See http://www.raspberrypi.org/ for more details, FAQ and forum.

Launch

Rather to Pete’s surprise, I took his beta board design (with a manually-added polygon in the Gerbers taking the place of Paul Grant’s infamous red wire), and ordered 2000 units from Egoman in China. After a few hiccups, units started to arrive in Cambridge, and on 29 February 2012, Raspberry Pi went on sale for the first time via our partners element14 and RS Components.

Pallet of pis

The first 2000 Raspberry Pis

Unboxing continues

The first Raspberry Pi from the first box from the first pallet

We took over 100000 orders on the first day: something of a shock for an organisation that had imagined in its wildest dreams that it might see lifetime sales of 10000 units. Some people who ordered that day had to wait until the summer to finally receive their units.

Evolution

Even as we struggled to catch up with demand, we were working on ways to improve the design. We quickly replaced the USB polyfuses in the top right-hand corner of the board with zero-ohm links to reduce IR drop. If you have a board with polyfuses, it’s a real limited edition; even more so if it also has Hynix memory. Pete’s “rev 2” design made this change permanent, tweaked the GPIO pin-out, and added one much-requested feature: mounting holes.

Revision 1 versus revision 2

If you look carefully, you’ll notice something else about the revision 2 board: it’s made in the UK. 2012 marked the start of our relationship with the Sony UK Technology Centre in Pencoed, South Wales. In the five years since, they’ve built every product we offer, including more than 12 million “big” Raspberry Pis and more than one million Zeros.

Celebrating 500,000 Welsh units, back when that seemed like a lot

Economies of scale, and the decline in the price of SDRAM, allowed us to double the memory capacity of the Model B to 512MB in the autumn of 2012. And as supply of Model B finally caught up with demand, we were able to launch the Model A, delivering on our original promise of a $25 computer.

A UK-built Raspberry Pi Model A

In 2014, James took all the lessons we’d learned from two-and-a-bit years in the market, and designed the Model B+, and its baby brother the Model A+. The Model B+ established the form factor for all our future products, with a 40-pin extended GPIO connector, four USB ports, and four mounting holes.

The Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ — entering the era of proper product photography with a bang.

New toys

While James was working on the Model B+, Broadcom was busy behind the scenes developing a follow-on to the BCM2835 application processor. BCM2836 samples arrived in Cambridge at 18:00 one evening in April 2014 (chips never arrive at 09:00 — it’s always early evening, usually just before a public holiday), and within a few hours Dom had Raspbian, and the usual set of VideoCore multimedia demos, up and running.

We launched Raspberry Pi 2 at the start of 2015, pairing BCM2836 with 1GB of memory. With a quad-core Arm Cortex-A7 clocked at 900MHz, we’d increased performance sixfold, and memory fourfold, in just three years.

Nobody mention the xenon death flash.

And of course, while James was working on Raspberry Pi 2, Broadcom was developing BCM2837, with a quad-core 64-bit Arm Cortex-A53 clocked at 1.2GHz. Raspberry Pi 3 launched barely a year after Raspberry Pi 2, providing a further doubling of performance and, for the first time, wireless LAN and Bluetooth.

All our recent products are just the same board shot from different angles

Zero to hero

Where the PC industry has historically used Moore’s Law to “fill up” a given price point with more performance each year, the original Raspberry Pi used Moore’s law to deliver early-2000s PC performance at a lower price. But with Raspberry Pi 2 and 3, we’d gone back to filling up our original $35 price point. After the launch of Raspberry Pi 2, we started to wonder whether we could pull the same trick again, taking the original Raspberry Pi platform to a radically lower price point.

The result was Raspberry Pi Zero. Priced at just $5, with a 1GHz BCM2835 and 512MB of RAM, it was cheap enough to bundle on the front of The MagPi, making us the first computer magazine to give away a computer as a cover gift.

Cheap thrills

MagPi issue 40 in all its glory

We followed up with the $10 Raspberry Pi Zero W, launched exactly a year ago. This adds the wireless LAN and Bluetooth functionality from Raspberry Pi 3, using a rather improbable-looking PCB antenna designed by our buddies at Proant in Sweden.

Up to our old tricks again

Other things

Of course, this isn’t all. There has been a veritable blizzard of point releases; RAM changes; Chinese red units; promotional blue units; Brazilian blue-ish units; not to mention two Camera Modules, in two flavours each; a touchscreen; the Sense HAT (now aboard the ISS); three compute modules; and cases for the Raspberry Pi 3 and the Zero (the former just won a Design Effectiveness Award from the DBA). And on top of that, we publish three magazines (The MagPi, Hello World, and HackSpace magazine) and a whole host of Project Books and Essentials Guides.

Chinese Raspberry Pi 1 Model B

RS Components limited-edition blue Raspberry Pi 1 Model B

Brazilian-market Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

Visible-light Camera Module v2

Learning about injection moulding the hard way

250 pages of content each month, every month

Essential reading

Forward the Foundation

Why does all this matter? Because we’re providing everyone, everywhere, with the chance to own a general-purpose programmable computer for the price of a cup of coffee; because we’re giving people access to tools to let them learn new skills, build businesses, and bring their ideas to life; and because when you buy a Raspberry Pi product, every penny of profit goes to support the Raspberry Pi Foundation in its mission to change the face of computing education.

We’ve had an amazing six years, and they’ve been amazing in large part because of the community that’s grown up alongside us. This weekend, more than 150 Raspberry Jams will take place around the world, comprising the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend.

Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend 2018. GIF with confetti and bopping JAM balloons

If you want to know more about the Raspberry Pi community, go ahead and find your nearest Jam on our interactive map — maybe we’ll see you there.

The post Happy birthday to us! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Hacker House’s Zero W–powered automated gardener

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/hacker-house-automated-gardener/

Are the plants in your home or office looking somewhat neglected? Then build an automated gardener using a Raspberry Pi Zero W, with help from the team at Hacker House.

Make a Raspberry Pi Automated Gardener

See how we built it, including our materials, code, and supplemental instructions, on Hackster.io: https://www.hackster.io/hackerhouse/automated-indoor-gardener-a90907 With how busy our lives are, it’s sometimes easy to forget to pay a little attention to your thirsty indoor plants until it’s too late and you are left with a crusty pile of yellow carcasses.

Building an automated gardener

Tired of their plants looking a little too ‘crispy’, Hacker House have created an automated gardener using a Raspberry Pi Zero W alongside some 3D-printed parts, a 5v USB grow light, and a peristaltic pump.

Hacker House Automated Gardener Raspberry Pi

They designed and 3D printed a PLA casing for the project, allowing enough space within for the Raspberry Pi Zero W, the pump, and the added electronics including soldered wiring and two N-channel power MOSFETs. The MOSFETs serve to switch the light and the pump on and off.

Hacker House Automated Gardener Raspberry Pi

Due to the amount of power the light and pump need, the team replaced the Pi’s standard micro USB power supply with a 12v switching supply.

Coding an automated gardener

All the code for the project — a fairly basic Python script —is on the Hacker House GitHub repository. To fit it to your requirements, you may need to edit a few lines of the code, and Hacker House provides information on how to do this. You can also find more details of the build on the hackster.io project page.

Hacker House Automated Gardener Raspberry Pi

While the project runs with preset timings, there’s no reason why you couldn’t upgrade it to be app-based, for example to set a watering schedule when you’re away on holiday.

To see more for the Hacker House team, be sure to follow them on YouTube. You can also check out some of their previous Raspberry Pi projects featured on our blog, such as the smartphone-connected door lock and gesture-controlled holographic visualiser.

Raspberry Pi and your home garden

Raspberry Pis make great babysitters for your favourite plants, both inside and outside your home. Here at Pi Towers, we have Bert, our Slack- and Twitter-connected potted plant who reminds us when he’s thirsty and in need of water.

Bert Plant on Twitter

I’m good. There’s plenty to drink!

And outside of the office, we’ve seen plenty of your vegetation-focused projects using Raspberry Pi for planting, monitoring or, well, commenting on social and political events within the media.

If you use a Raspberry Pi within your home gardening projects, we’d love to see how you’ve done it. So be sure to share a link with us either in the comments below, or via our social media channels.

 

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Server vs Endpoint Backup — Which is Best?

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/endpoint-backup-for-distributed-computing/

server and computer backup to the cloud

How common are these statements in your organization?

  • I know I saved that file. The application must have put it somewhere outside of my documents folder.” — Mike in Marketing
  • I was on the road and couldn’t get a reliable VPN connection. I guess that’s why my laptop wasn’t backed up.” — Sally in Sales
  • I try to follow file policies, but I had a deadline this week and didn’t have time to copy my files to the server.” — Felicia in Finance
  • I just did a commit of my code changes and that was when the coffee mug was knocked over onto the laptop.” — Erin in Engineering
  • If you need a file restored from backup, contact the help desk at [email protected] The IT department will get back to you.” — XYZ corporate intranet
  • Why don’t employees save files on the network drive like they’re supposed to?” — Isaac in IT

If these statements are familiar, most likely you rely on file server backups to safeguard your valuable endpoint data.

The problem is, the workplace has changed. Where server backups might have fit how offices worked at one time in the past, relying solely on server backups today means you could be missing valuable endpoint data from your backups. On top of that, you likely are unnecessarily expending valuable user and IT time in attempting to secure and restore endpoint data.

Times Have Changed, and so have Effective Enterprise Backup Strategies

The ways we use computers and handle files today are vastly different from just five or ten years ago. Employees are mobile, and we no longer are limited to monolithic PC and Mac-based office suites. Cloud applications are everywhere. Company-mandated network drive policies are difficult to enforce as office practices change, devices proliferate, and organizational culture evolves. Besides, your IT staff has other things to do than babysit your employees to make sure they follow your organization’s policies for managing files.

Server Backup has its Place, but Does it Support How People Work Today?

Many organizations still rely on server backup. If your organization works primarily in centralized offices with all endpoints — likely desktops — connected directly to your network, and you maintain tight control of how employees manage their files, it still might work for you.

Your IT department probably has set network drive policies that require employees to save files in standard places that are regularly backed up to your file server. Turns out, though, that even standard applications don’t always save files where IT would like them to be. They could be in a directory or folder that’s not regularly backed up.

As employees have become more mobile, they have adopted practices that enable them to access files from different places, but these practices might not fit in with your organization’s server policies. An employee saving a file to Dropbox might be planning to copy it to an “official” location later, but whether that ever happens could be doubtful. Often people don’t realize until it’s too late that accidentally deleting a file in one sync service directory means that all copies in all locations — even the cloud — are also deleted.

Employees are under increasing demands to produce, which means that network drive policies aren’t always followed; time constraints and deadlines can cause best practices to go out the window. Users will attempt to comply with policies as best they can — and you might get 70% or even 75% effective compliance — but getting even to that level requires training, monitoring, and repeatedly reminding employees of policies they need to follow — none of which leads to a good work environment.

Even if you get to 75% compliance with network file policies, what happens if the critical file needed to close out an end-of-year financial summary isn’t one of the files backed up? The effort required for IT to get from 70% to 80% or 90% of an endpoint’s files effectively backed up could require multiple hours from your IT department, and you still might not have backed up the one critical file you need later.

Your Organization Operates on its Data — And Today That Data Exists in Multiple Locations

Users are no longer tied to one endpoint, and may use different computers in the office, at home, or traveling. The greater the number of endpoints used, the greater the chance of an accidental or malicious device loss or data corruption. The loss of the Sales VP’s laptop at the airport on her way back from meeting with major customers can affect an entire organization and require weeks to resolve.

Even with the best intentions and efforts, following policies when out of the office can be difficult or impossible. Connecting to your private network when remote most likely requires a VPN, and VPN connectivity can be challenging from the lobby Wi-Fi at the Radisson. Server restores require time from the IT staff, which can mean taking resources away from other IT priorities and a growing backlog of requests from users to need their files as soon as possible. When users are dependent on IT to get back files critical to their work, employee productivity and often deadlines are affected.

Managing Finite Server Storage Is an Ongoing Challenge

Network drive backup usually requires on-premises data storage for endpoint backups. Since it is a finite resource, allocating that storage is another burden on your IT staff. To make sure that storage isn’t exceeded, IT departments often ration storage by department and/or user — another oversight duty for IT, and even more choices required by your IT department and department heads who have to decide which files to prioritize for backing up.

Adding Backblaze Endpoint Backup Improves Business Continuity and Productivity

Having an endpoint backup strategy in place can mitigate these problems and improve user productivity, as well. A good endpoint backup service, such as Backblaze Cloud Backup, will ensure that all devices are backed up securely, automatically, without requiring any action by the user or by your IT department.

For 99% of users, no configuration is required for Backblaze Backup. Everything on the endpoint is encrypted and securely backed up to the cloud, including program configuration files and files outside of standard document folders. Even temp files are backed up, which can prove invaluable when recovering a file after a crash or other program interruption. Cloud storage is unlimited with Backblaze Backup, so there are no worries about running out of storage or rationing file backups.

The Backblaze client can be silently and remotely installed to both Macintosh and Windows clients with no user interaction. And, with Backblaze Groups, your IT staff has complete visibility into when files were last backed up. IT staff can recover any backed up file, folder, or entire computer from the admin panel, and even give file restore capability to the user, if desired, which reduces dependency on IT and time spent waiting for restores.

With over 500 petabytes of customer data stored and one million files restored every hour of every day by Backblaze customers, you know that Backblaze Backup works for its users.

You Need Data Security That Matches the Way People Work Today

Both file server and endpoint backup have their places in an organization’s data security plan, but their use and value differ. If you already are using file server backup, adding endpoint backup will make a valuable contribution to your organization by reducing workload, improving productivity, and increasing confidence that all critical files are backed up.

By guaranteeing fast and automatic backup of all endpoint data, and matching the current way organizations and people work with data, Backblaze Backup will enable you to effectively and affordably meet the data security demands of your organization.

The post Server vs Endpoint Backup — Which is Best? appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Progressing from tech to leadership

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2018/02/on-leadership.html

I’ve been a technical person all my life. I started doing vulnerability research in the late 1990s – and even today, when I’m not fiddling with CNC-machined robots or making furniture, I’m probably clobbering together a fuzzer or writing a book about browser protocols and APIs. In other words, I’m a geek at heart.

My career is a different story. Over the past two decades and a change, I went from writing CGI scripts and setting up WAN routers for a chain of shopping malls, to doing pentests for institutional customers, to designing a series of network monitoring platforms and handling incident response for a big telco, to building and running the product security org for one of the largest companies in the world. It’s been an interesting ride – and now that I’m on the hook for the well-being of about 100 folks across more than a dozen subteams around the world, I’ve been thinking a bit about the lessons learned along the way.

Of course, I’m a bit hesitant to write such a post: sometimes, your efforts pan out not because of your approach, but despite it – and it’s possible to draw precisely the wrong conclusions from such anecdotes. Still, I’m very proud of the culture we’ve created and the caliber of folks working on our team. It happened through the work of quite a few talented tech leads and managers even before my time, but it did not happen by accident – so I figured that my observations may be useful for some, as long as they are taken with a grain of salt.

But first, let me start on a somewhat somber note: what nobody tells you is that one’s level on the leadership ladder tends to be inversely correlated with several measures of happiness. The reason is fairly simple: as you get more senior, a growing number of people will come to you expecting you to solve increasingly fuzzy and challenging problems – and you will no longer be patted on the back for doing so. This should not scare you away from such opportunities, but it definitely calls for a particular mindset: your motivation must come from within. Look beyond the fight-of-the-day; find satisfaction in seeing how far your teams have come over the years.

With that out of the way, here’s a collection of notes, loosely organized into three major themes.

The curse of a techie leader

Perhaps the most interesting observation I have is that for a person coming from a technical background, building a healthy team is first and foremost about the subtle art of letting go.

There is a natural urge to stay involved in any project you’ve started or helped improve; after all, it’s your baby: you’re familiar with all the nuts and bolts, and nobody else can do this job as well as you. But as your sphere of influence grows, this becomes a choke point: there are only so many things you could be doing at once. Just as importantly, the project-hoarding behavior robs more junior folks of the ability to take on new responsibilities and bring their own ideas to life. In other words, when done properly, delegation is not just about freeing up your plate; it’s also about empowerment and about signalling trust.

Of course, when you hand your project over to somebody else, the new owner will initially be slower and more clumsy than you; but if you pick the new leads wisely, give them the right tools and the right incentives, and don’t make them deathly afraid of messing up, they will soon excel at their new jobs – and be grateful for the opportunity.

A related affliction of many accomplished techies is the conviction that they know the answers to every question even tangentially related to their domain of expertise; that belief is coupled with a burning desire to have the last word in every debate. When practiced in moderation, this behavior is fine among peers – but for a leader, one of the most important skills to learn is knowing when to keep your mouth shut: people learn a lot better by experimenting and making small mistakes than by being schooled by their boss, and they often try to read into your passing remarks. Don’t run an authoritarian camp focused on total risk aversion or perfectly efficient resource management; just set reasonable boundaries and exit conditions for experiments so that they don’t spiral out of control – and be amazed by the results every now and then.

Death by planning

When nothing is on fire, it’s easy to get preoccupied with maintaining the status quo. If your current headcount or budget request lists all the same projects as last year’s, or if you ever find yourself ending an argument by deferring to a policy or a process document, it’s probably a sign that you’re getting complacent. In security, complacency usually ends in tears – and when it doesn’t, it leads to burnout or boredom.

In my experience, your goal should be to develop a cadre of managers or tech leads capable of coming up with clever ideas, prioritizing them among themselves, and seeing them to completion without your day-to-day involvement. In your spare time, make it your mission to challenge them to stay ahead of the curve. Ask your vendor security lead how they’d streamline their work if they had a 40% jump in the number of vendors but no extra headcount; ask your product security folks what’s the second line of defense or containment should your primary defenses fail. Help them get good ideas off the ground; set some mental success and failure criteria to be able to cut your losses if something does not pan out.

Of course, malfunctions happen even in the best-run teams; to spot trouble early on, instead of overzealous project tracking, I found it useful to encourage folks to run a data-driven org. I’d usually ask them to imagine that a brand new VP shows up in our office and, as his first order of business, asks “why do you have so many people here and how do I know they are doing the right things?”. Not everything in security can be quantified, but hard data can validate many of your assumptions – and will alert you to unseen issues early on.

When focusing on data, it’s important not to treat pie charts and spreadsheets as an art unto itself; if you run a security review process for your company, your CSAT scores are going to reach 100% if you just rubberstamp every launch request within ten minutes of receiving it. Make sure you’re asking the right questions; instead of “how satisfied are you with our process”, try “is your product better as a consequence of talking to us?”

Whenever things are not progressing as expected, it is a natural instinct to fall back to micromanagement, but it seldom truly cures the ill. It’s probable that your team disagrees with your vision or its feasibility – and that you’re either not listening to their feedback, or they don’t think you’d care. It’s good to assume that most of your employees are as smart or smarter than you; barking your orders at them more loudly or more frequently does not lead anyplace good. It’s good to listen to them and either present new facts or work with them on a plan you can all get behind.

In some circumstances, all that’s needed is honesty about the business trade-offs, so that your team feels like your “partner in crime”, not a victim of circumstance. For example, we’d tell our folks that by not falling behind on basic, unglamorous work, we earn the trust of our VPs and SVPs – and that this translates into the independence and the resources we need to pursue more ambitious ideas without being told what to do; it’s how we game the system, so to speak. Oh: leading by example is a pretty powerful tool at your disposal, too.

The human factor

I’ve come to appreciate that hiring decent folks who can get along with others is far more important than trying to recruit conference-circuit superstars. In fact, hiring superstars is a decidedly hit-and-miss affair: while certainly not a rule, there is a proportion of folks who put the maintenance of their celebrity status ahead of job responsibilities or the well-being of their peers.

For teams, one of the most powerful demotivators is a sense of unfairness and disempowerment. This is where tech-originating leaders can shine, because their teams usually feel that their bosses understand and can evaluate the merits of the work. But it also means you need to be decisive and actually solve problems for them, rather than just letting them vent. You will need to make unpopular decisions every now and then; in such cases, I think it’s important to move quickly, rather than prolonging the uncertainty – but it’s also important to sincerely listen to concerns, explain your reasoning, and be frank about the risks and trade-offs.

Whenever you see a clash of personalities on your team, you probably need to respond swiftly and decisively; being right should not justify being a bully. If you don’t react to repeated scuffles, your best people will probably start looking for other opportunities: it’s draining to put up with constant pie fights, no matter if the pies are thrown straight at you or if you just need to duck one every now and then.

More broadly, personality differences seem to be a much better predictor of conflict than any technical aspects underpinning a debate. As a boss, you need to identify such differences early on and come up with creative solutions. Sometimes, all you need is taking some badly-delivered but valid feedback and having a conversation with the other person, asking some questions that can help them reach the same conclusions without feeling that their worldview is under attack. Other times, the only path forward is making sure that some folks simply don’t run into each for a while.

Finally, dealing with low performers is a notoriously hard but important part of the game. Especially within large companies, there is always the temptation to just let it slide: sideline a struggling person and wait for them to either get over their issues or leave. But this sends an awful message to the rest of the team; for better or worse, fairness is important to most. Simply firing the low performers is seldom the best solution, though; successful recovery cases are what sets great managers apart from the average ones.

Oh, one more thought: people in leadership roles have their allegiance divided between the company and the people who depend on them. The obligation to the company is more formal, but the impact you have on your team is longer-lasting and more intimate. When the obligations to the employer and to your team collide in some way, make sure you can make the right call; it might be one of the the most consequential decisions you’ll ever make.

Musician’s White Noise YouTube Video Hit With Copyright Complaints

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/musicians-white-noise-youtube-video-hit-with-copyright-complaints-180105/

When people upload original content to YouTube, there should be no problem with getting paid for that content, should it attract enough interest from the public.

Those who upload infringing content get a much less easy ride, with their uploads getting flagged for abuse, potentially putting their accounts at risk.

That’s what’s happened to Australia-based music technologist Sebastian Tomczak, who uploaded a completely non-infringing work to YouTube and now faces five separate copyright complaints.

“I teach and work in a music department at a University here in Australia. I’ve got a PhD in chiptune, and my main research interests are various intersections of music / sound / tech e.g. arduino programming and DIY stuff, modular synthesis, digital production, sound design for games, etc,” Tomczak informs TF.

“I started blogging about music around a decade ago or so, mainly to write about stuff I was interested in, researching or doing. At the time this would have been physical interaction, music controller design, sound design and composition involving computers.”

One of Tomczak videos was a masterpiece entitled “10 Hours of Low Level White Noise” which features – wait for it – ten hours of low-level white noise.

“The white noise video was part of a number of videos I put online at the time. I was interested in listening to continuous sounds of various types, and how our perception of these kinds of sounds and our attention changes over longer periods – e.g. distracted, focused, sleeping, waking, working etc,” Tomczak says.

White noise is the sound created when all different frequencies are combined together into a kind of audio mush that’s a little baffling and yet soothing in the right circumstances. Some people use it to fall asleep a little easier, others to distract their attention away from irritating sounds in the environment, like an aircon system or fan, for example.

The white noise made by Tomczak and presented in his video was all his own work.

“I ‘created’ and uploaded the video in question. The video was created by generating a noise waveform of 10 hours length using the freeware software Audacity and the built-in noise generator. The resulting 10-hour audio file was then imported into ScreenFlow, where the text was added and then rendered as one 10-hour video file,” he explains.

This morning, however, Tomczak received a complaint from YouTube after a copyright holder claimed that it had the rights to his composition. When he checked his YouTube account, yet more complaints greeted him. In fact, since July 2015, when the video was first uploaded, a total of five copyright complaints had been filed against Tomczak’s composition.

As seen from the image below, posted by Tomczak to his Twitter account, the five complaints came from four copyright holders, with one feeling the need to file two separate complaints while citing two different works.

The complaints against Tomczak’s white noise

One company involved – Catapult Distribution – say that Tomczak’s composition infringes on the copyrights of “White Noise Sleep Therapy”, a client selling the title “Majestic Ocean Waves”. It also manages to do the same for the company’s “Soothing Baby Sleep” title. The other complaints come from Merlin Symphonic Distribution and Dig Dis for similar works .

Under normal circumstances, Tomczak’s account could have been disabled by YouTube for so many infringements but in all cases the copyright holders chose to monetize the musician’s ‘infringement’ instead, via the site’s ContentID system. In other words, after creating the video himself with his own efforts, copyright holders are now taking all the revenue. It’s a situation that Tomczak will now dispute with YouTube.

“I’ve had quite a few copyright claims against me, usually based on cases where I’ve made long mixes of work, or longer pieces. Usually I don’t take them too seriously,” he explains.

“In any of the cases where I think a given claim would be an issue, I would dispute it by saying I could either prove that I have made the work, have the original materials that generated the work, or could show enough of the components included in the work to prove originality. This has always been successful for me and I hope it will be in this case as well.”

Sadly, this isn’t the only problem Tomczak’s had with YouTube’s copyright complaints system. A while back the musician was asked to take part in a video for his workplace but things didn’t go well.

“I was asked to participate in a video for my workplace and the production team asked if they could use my music and I said ‘no problem’. A month later, the video was uploaded to one of our work channels, and then YouTube generated a copyright claim against me for my own music from the work channel,” he reveals.

Tomczak says that to him, automated copyright claims are largely an annoyance and if he was making enough money from YouTube, the system would be detrimental in the long run. He feels it’s something that YouTube should adjust, to ensure that false claims aren’t filed against uploads like his.

While he tries to sort out this mess with YouTube, there is some good news. Other videos of his including “10 Hours of a Perfect Fifth“, “The First 106 Fifths Derived from a 3/2 Ratio” and “Hour-Long Octave Shift” all remain copyright-complaint free.

For now……

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Digital making for new parents

Post Syndicated from Carrie Anne Philbin original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/digital-making-for-new-parents/

Solving problems that are meaningful to us is at the core of our approach to teaching and learning about technology here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Over the last eight months, I’ve noticed that the types of digital making projects that motivate and engage me have changed (can’t think why). Always looking for ways to save money and automate my life and the lives of my loved ones, I’ve been thinking a lot about how digital making projects could be the new best friend of any new parent.

A baby, oblivious to the amount its parents have spent on stuff they never knew existed last year.
Image: sweet baby by MRef photography / CC BY-ND 2.0

Baby Monitor

I never knew how much equipment one small child needs until very recently. I also had no idea of the range of technology that is on offer to support you as a new parent to ensure the perfect environment outside of the womb. Baby monitors are at the top of this list. There are lots of Raspberry Pi baby monitor projects with a range of sensing functionality already in existence, and we’ve blogged about some of them before. They’re a great example of how an understanding of technology can open up a range of solutions that won’t break the bank. I’m looking forward to using all the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi to keep an eye on baby.

Baby name generator

Another surprising discovery was just how difficult it is to name a human being. Surprising because I can give a name to an inanimate object in less than three seconds, and come up with nicknames for colleagues in less than a day. My own offspring, though, and I draw a blank. The only solution: write a Python program to randomly generate names based on some parameters!

import names
from time import sleep
from guizero import App, ButtonGroup, Text, PushButton, TextBox

def get_name():
    boyname = names.get_first_name(gender='male')
    girlname = names.get_first_name(gender='female')
    othername = names.get_first_name()

    if babygender.get() == "male":
        name.set(str(boyname)+" "+str(babylastname.get()))
    elif babygender.get() == "female":
        name.set(str(girlname)+" "+str(babylastname.get()))
    else:
        name.set(str(othername)+" "+str(babylastname.get()))

app = App("Baby name generator")
surname_label = Text(app, "What is your surname?")
babylastname = TextBox(app, width=50)
babygender = ButtonGroup(app, options=[["boy", "male"], ["girl", "female"], ["all", "all"]], selected="male", horizontal=True)
intro = Text(app, "Your baby name could be")
name = Text(app, "")
button = PushButton(app, get_name, text="Generate me a name")

app.display()

Thanks to the names and GUIZero Python libraries, it is super simple to create, resolving any possible parent-to-be naming disputes in mere minutes.

Food, Poo, or Love?

I love data. Not just in Star Trek, but also more generally. Collecting and analysing data to understand my sleep patterns, my eating habits, how much exercise I do, and how much time I spend watching YouTube videos consumes much of my time. So of course I want to know lots about the little person we’ve made, long before he can use language to tell us himself.

I’m told that most newborns’ needs are quite simple: they want food, they want to be changed, or they just want some cuddles. I’m certain it’s more complicated than this, but it’s a good starting point for a data set, so stick with me here. I also wondered whether there might be a correlation between the amplitude of the cry and the type of need the baby has. A bit of an imprecise indicator, maybe, but fun to start to think about.

This build’s success is mostly thanks to Pimoroni’s Rainbow HAT, which, conveniently, has three capacitive touch buttons to record the newborn’s need, four fourteen-segment displays to display the words “FOOD”, “POO”, and “LOVE” when a button is pressed, and seven multicoloured LEDs to indicate the ferociousness of the baby’s cry in glorious technicolour. With the addition of a microphone, the ‘Food, Poo, Love Machine’ was born. Here it is in action:

Food Poo Love – Raspberry Pi Baby Monitor Project

Food Poo Love – The Raspberry Pi baby monitor project that allows you to track data on your new born baby.

Automatic Baby mobile

Another project that I’ve not had time to hack on, but that I think would be really awesome, is to automate a baby cot mobile. Imagine this one moving to the Star Trek theme music:

Image courtesy of Gisele Blaker Designs (check out her cool shop!)

Pretty awesome.

If you’ve got any more ideas for baby projects, do let me know. I’ll have a few months of nothing to do… right?

The post Digital making for new parents appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Game night 1: Lisa, Lisa, MOOP

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/12/05/game-night-1-lisa-lisa-moop/

For the last few weeks, glip (my partner) and I have spent a couple hours most nights playing indie games together. We started out intending to play a short list of games that had been recommended to glip, but this turns out to be a nice way to wind down, so we’ve been keeping it up and clicking on whatever looks interesting in the itch app.

Most of the games are small and made by one or two people, so they tend to be pretty tightly scoped and focus on a few particular kinds of details. I’ve found myself having brain thoughts about all that, so I thought I’d write some of them down.

I also know that some people (cough) tend not to play games they’ve never heard of, even if they want something new to play. If that’s you, feel free to play some of these, now that you’ve heard of them!

Also, I’m still figuring the format out here, so let me know if this is interesting or if you hope I never do it again!

First up:

  • Lisa: The Painful
  • Lisa: The Joyful
  • MOOP

These are impressions, not reviews. I try to avoid major/ending spoilers, but big plot points do tend to leave impressions.

Lisa: The Painful

long · classic rpg · dec 2014 · lin/mac/win · $10 on itch or steam · website

(cw: basically everything??)

Lisa: The Painful is true to its name. I hesitate to describe it as fun, exactly, but I’m glad we played it.

Everything about the game is dark. It’s a (somewhat loose) sequel to another game called Lisa, whose titular character ultimately commits suicide; her body hanging from a noose is the title screen for this game.

Ah, but don’t worry, it gets worse. This game takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where every female human — women, children, babies — is dead. You play as Brad (Lisa’s brother), who has discovered the lone exception: a baby girl he names Buddy and raises like a daughter. Now, Buddy has been kidnapped, and you have to go rescue her, presumably from being raped.

Ah, but don’t worry, it gets worse.


I’ve had a hard time putting my thoughts in order here, because so much of what stuck with me is the way the game entangles the plot with the mechanics.

I love that kind of thing, but it’s so hard to do well. I can’t really explain why, but I feel like most attempts to do it fall flat — they have a glimmer of an idea, but they don’t integrate it well enough, or they don’t run nearly as far as they could have. I often get the same feeling as, say, a hyped-up big moral choice that turns out to be picking “yes” or “no” from a menu. The idea is there, but the execution is so flimsy that it leaves no impact on me at all.

An obvious recent success here is Undertale, where the entire story is about violence and whether you choose to engage or avoid it (and whether you can do that). If you choose to eschew violence, not only does the game become more difficult, it arguably becomes a different game entirely. Granted, the contrast is lost if you (like me) tried to play as a pacifist from the very beginning. I do feel that you could go further with the idea than Undertale, but Undertale itself doesn’t feel incomplete.

Christ, I’m not even talking about the right game any more.

Okay, so: this game is a “classic” RPG, by which I mean, it was made with RPG Maker. (It’s kinda funny that RPG Maker was designed to emulate a very popular battle style, and now the only games that use that style are… made with RPG Maker.) The main loop, on the surface, is standard RPG fare: you walk around various places, talk to people, solve puzzles, recruit party members, and get into turn-based fights.

Now, Brad is addicted to a drug called Joy. He will regularly go into withdrawal, which manifests in the game as a status effect that cuts his stats (even his max HP!) dramatically.

It is really, really, incredibly inconvenient. And therein lies the genius here. The game could have simply told me that Brad is an addict, and I don’t think I would’ve cared too much. An addiction to a fantasy drug in a wasteland doesn’t mean anything to me, especially about this tiny sprite man I just met, so I would’ve filed this away as a sterile fact and forgotten about it. By making his addiction affect me, I’m now invested in it. I wish Brad weren’t addicted, even if only because it’s annoying. I found a party member once who turned out to have the same addiction, and I felt dread just from seeing the icon for the status effect. I’ve been looped into the events of this story through the medium I use to interact with it: the game.

It’s a really good use of games as a medium. Even before I’m invested in the characters, I’m invested in what’s happening to them, because it impacts the game!

Incidentally, you can get Joy as an item, which will temporarily cure your withdrawal… but you mostly find it by looting the corpses of grotesque mutant flesh horrors you encounter. I don’t think the game would have the player abruptly mutate out of nowhere, but I wasn’t about to find out, either. We never took any.


Virtually every staple of the RPG genre has been played with in some way to tie it into the theme/setting. I love it, and I think it works so well precisely because it plays with expectations of how RPGs usually work.

Most obviously, the game is a sidescroller, not top-down. You can’t jump freely, but you can hop onto one-tile-high boxes and climb ropes. You can also drop off off ledges… but your entire party will take fall damage, which gets rapidly more severe the further you fall.

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, except that healing is hard to come by for most of the game. Several hub areas have campfires you can sleep next to to restore all your health and MP, but when you wake up, something will have happened to you. Maybe just a weird cutscene, or maybe one of your party members has decided to leave permanently.

Okay, so use healing items instead? Good luck; money is also hard to come by, and honestly so are shops, and many of the healing items are woefully underpowered.

Grind for money? Good luck there, too! While the game has plenty of battles, virtually every enemy is a unique overworld human who only appears once, and then is dead, because you killed him. Only a handful of places have unlimited random encounters, and grinding is not especially pleasant.

The “best” way to get a reliable heal is to savescum — save the game, sleep by the campfire, and reload if you don’t like what you wake up to.

In a similar vein, there’s a part of the game where you’re forced to play Russian Roulette. You choose a party member; he and an opponent will take turns shooting themselves in the head until someone finds a loaded chamber. If your party member loses, he is dead. And you have to keep playing until you win three times, so there’s no upper limit on how many people you might lose. I couldn’t find any way to influence who won, so I just had to savescum for a good half hour until I made it through with minimal losses.

It was maddening, but also a really good idea. Games don’t often incorporate the existence of saves into the gameplay, and when they do, they usually break the fourth wall and get all meta about it. Saves are never acknowledged in-universe here (aside from the existence of save points), but surely these parts of the game were designed knowing that the best way through them is by reloading. It’s rarely done, it can easily feel unfair, and it drove me up the wall — but it was certainly painful, as intended, and I kinda love that.

(Naturally, I’m told there’s a hard mode, where you can only use each save point once.)

The game also drives home the finality of death much better than most. It’s not hard to overlook the death of a redshirt, a character with a bit part who simply doesn’t appear any more. This game permanently kills your party members. Russian Roulette isn’t even the only way you can lose them! Multiple cutscenes force you to choose between losing a life or some other drastic consequence. (Even better, you can try to fight the person forcing this choice on you, and he will decimate you.) As the game progresses, you start to encounter enemies who can simply one-shot murder your party members.

It’s such a great angle. Just like with Brad’s withdrawal, you don’t want to avoid their deaths because it’d be emotional — there are dozens of party members you can recruit (though we only found a fraction of them), and most of them you only know a paragraph about — but because it would inconvenience you personally. Chances are, you have your strongest dudes in your party at any given time, so losing one of them sucks. And with few random encounters, you can’t just grind someone else up to an appropriate level; it feels like there’s a finite amount of XP in the game, and if someone high-level dies, you’ve lost all the XP that went into them.


The battles themselves are fairly straightforward. You can attack normally or use a special move that costs MP. SP? Some kind of points.

Two things in particular stand out. One I mentioned above: the vast majority of the encounters are one-time affairs against distinct named NPCs, who you then never see again, because they are dead, because you killed them.

The other is the somewhat unusual set of status effects. The staples like poison and sleep are here, but don’t show up all that often; more frequent are statuses like weird, drunk, stink, or cool. If you do take Joy (which also cures depression), you become joyed for a short time.

The game plays with these in a few neat ways, besides just Brad’s withdrawal. Some party members have a status like stink or cool permanently. Some battles are against people who don’t want to fight at all — and so they’ll spend most of the battle crying, purely for flavor impact. Seeing that for the first time hit me pretty hard; until then we’d only seen crying as a mechanical side effect of having sand kicked in one’s face.


The game does drag on a bit. I think we poured 10 in-game hours into it, which doesn’t count time spent reloading. It doesn’t help that you walk not super fast.

My biggest problem was with getting my bearings; I’m sure we spent a lot of that time wandering around accomplishing nothing. Most of the world is focused around one of a few hub areas, and once you’ve completed one hub, you can move onto the next one. That’s fine. Trouble is, you can go any of a dozen different directions from each hub, and most of those directions will lead you to very similar-looking hills built out of the same tiny handful of tiles. The connections between places are mostly cave entrances, which also largely look the same. Combine that with needing to backtrack for puzzle or progression reasons, and it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you need to go next.

I don’t know that the game is wrong here; the aesthetic and world layout are fantastic at conveying a desolate wasteland. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the navigation were deliberately designed this way. (On the other hand, assuming every annoyance in a despair-ridden game is deliberate might be giving it too much credit.) But damn it’s still frustrating.

I felt a little lost in the battle system, too. Towards the end of the game, Brad in particular had over a dozen skills he could use, but I still couldn’t confidently tell you which were the strongest. New skills sometimes appear in the middle of the list or cost less than previous skills, and the game doesn’t outright tell you how much damage any of them do. I know this is the “classic RPG” style, and I don’t think it was hugely inconvenient, but it feels weird to barely know how my own skills work. I think this puts me off getting into new RPGs, just generally; there’s a whole new set of things I have to learn about, and games in this style often won’t just tell me anything, so there’s this whole separate meta-puzzle to figure out before I can play the actual game effectively.

Also, the sound could use a little bit of… mastering? Some music and sound effects are significantly louder and screechier than others. Painful, you could say.


The world is full of side characters with their own stuff going on, which is also something I love seeing in games; too often, the whole world feels like an obstacle course specifically designed for you.

Also, many of those characters are, well, not great people. Really, most of the game is kinda fucked up. Consider: the weird status effect is most commonly inflicted by the “Grope” skill. It makes you feel weird, you see. Oh, and the currency is porn magazines.

And then there are the gangs, the various spins on sex clubs, the forceful drug kingpins, and the overall violence that permeates everything (you stumble upon an alarming number of corpses). The game neither condones nor condemns any of this; it simply offers some ideas of how people might behave at the end of the world. It’s certainly the grittiest interpretation I’ve seen.

I don’t usually like post-apocalypses, because they try to have these very hopeful stories, but then at the end the world is still a blighted hellscape so what was the point of any of that? I like this game much better for being a blighted hellscape throughout. The story is worth following to see where it goes, not just because you expect everything wrapped up neatly at the end.

…I realize I’ve made this game sound monumentally depressing throughout, but it manages to pack in a lot of funny moments as well, from the subtle to the overt. In retrospect, it’s actually really good at balancing the mood so it doesn’t get too depressing. If nothing else, it’s hilarious to watch this gruff, solemn, battle-scarred, middle-aged man pedal around on a kid’s bike he found.


An obvious theme of the game is despair, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if ambiguity is a theme as well. It certainly fits the confusing geography.

Even the premise is a little ambiguous. Is/was Olathe a city, a country, a whole planet? Did the apocalypse affect only Olathe, or the whole world? Does it matter in an RPG, where the only world that exists is the one mapped out within the game?

Towards the end of the game, you catch up with Buddy, but she rejects you, apparently resentful that you kept her hidden away for her entire life. Brad presses on anyway, insisting on protecting her.

At that point I wasn’t sure I was still on Brad’s side. But he’s not wrong, either. Is he? Maybe it depends on how old Buddy is — but the game never tells us. Her sprite is a bit smaller than the men’s, but it’s hard to gauge much from small exaggerated sprites, and she might just be shorter. In the beginning of the game, she was doing kid-like drawings, but we don’t know how much time passed after that. Everyone seems to take for granted that she’s capable of bearing children, and she talks like an adult. So is she old enough to be making this decision, or young enough for parent figure Brad to overrule her? What is the appropriate age of agency, anyway, when you’re the last girl/woman left more than a decade after the end of the world?

Can you repopulate a species with only one woman, anyway?


Well, that went on a bit longer than I intended. This game has a lot of small touches that stood out to me, and they all wove together very well.

Should you play it? I have absolutely no idea.

FINAL SCORE: 1 out of 6 chambers

Lisa: The Joyful

fairly short · classic rpg · aug 2015 · lin/mac/win · $5 on itch or steam

Surprise! There’s a third game to round out this trilogy.

Lisa: The Joyful is much shorter, maybe three hours long — enough to be played in a night rather than over the better part of a week.

This one picks up immediately after the end of Painful, with you now playing as Buddy. It takes a drastic turn early on: Buddy decides that, rather than hide from the world, she must conquer it. She sets out to murder all the big bosses and become queen.

The battle system has been inherited from the previous game, but battles are much more straightforward this time around. You can’t recruit any party members; for much of the game, it’s just you and a sword.

There is a catch! Of course.

The catch is that you do not have enough health to survive most boss battles without healing. With no party members, you cannot heal via skills. I don’t think you could buy healing items anywhere, either. You have a few when the game begins, but once you run out, that’s it.

Except… you also have… some Joy. Which restores you to full health and also makes you crit with every hit. And drops off of several enemies.

We didn’t even recognize Joy as a healing item at first, since we never used it in Painful; it’s description simply says that it makes you feel nothing, and we’d assumed the whole point of it was to stave off withdrawal, which Buddy doesn’t experience. Luckily, the game provided a hint in the form of an NPC who offers to switch on easy mode:

What’s that? Bad guys too tough? Not enough jerky? You don’t want to take Joy!? Say no more, you’ve come to the right place!

So the game is aware that it’s unfairly difficult, and it’s deliberately forcing you to take Joy, and it is in fact entirely constructed around this concept. I guess the title is a pretty good hint, too.

I don’t feel quite as strongly about Joyful as I do about Painful. (Admittedly, I was really tired and starting to doze off towards the end of Joyful.) Once you get that the gimmick is to force you to use Joy, the game basically reduces to a moderate-difficulty boss rush. Other than that, the only thing that stood out to me mechanically was that Buddy learns a skill where she lifts her shirt to inflict flustered as a status effect — kind of a lingering echo of how outrageous the previous game could be.

You do get a healthy serving of plot, which is nice and ties a few things together. I wouldn’t say it exactly wraps up the story, but it doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything either; it’s exactly as murky as you’d expect.

I think it’s worth playing Joyful if you’ve played Painful. It just didn’t have the same impact on me. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t like Buddy as a person. She seems cold, violent, and cruel. Appropriate for the world and a product of her environment, I suppose.

FINAL SCORE: 300 Mags

MOOP

fairly short · inventory game · nov 2017 · win · free on itch

Finally, as something of a palate cleanser, we have MOOP: a delightful and charming little inventory game.

I don’t think “inventory game” is a real genre, but I mean the kind of game where you go around collecting items and using them in the right place. Puzzle-driven, but with “puzzles” that can largely be solved by simply trying everything everywhere. I’d put a lot of point and click adventures in the same category, despite having a radically different interface. Is that fair? Yes, because it’s my blog.

MOOP was almost certainly also made in RPG Maker, but it breaks the mold in a very different way by not being an RPG. There are no battles whatsoever, only interactions on the overworld; you progress solely via dialogue and puzzle-solving. Examining something gives you a short menu of verbs — use, talk, get — reminiscent of interactive fiction, or perhaps the graphical “adventure” games that took inspiration from interactive fiction. (God, “adventure game” is the worst phrase. Every game is an adventure! It doesn’t mean anything!)

Everything about the game is extremely chill. I love the monochrome aesthetic combined with a large screen resolution; it feels like I’m peeking into an alternate universe where the Game Boy got bigger but never gained color. I played halfway through the game before realizing that the protagonist (Moop) doesn’t have a walk animation; they simply slide around. Somehow, it works.

The puzzles are a little clever, yet low-pressure; the world is small enough that you can examine everything again if you get stuck, and there’s no way to lose or be set back. The music is lovely, too. It just feels good to wander around in a world that manages to make sepia look very pretty.

The story manages to pack a lot into a very short time. It’s… gosh, I don’t know. It has a very distinct texture to it that I’m not sure I’ve seen before. The plot weaves through several major events that each have very different moods, and it moves very quickly — but it’s well-written and doesn’t feel rushed or disjoint. It’s lighthearted, but takes itself seriously enough for me to get invested. It’s fucking witchcraft.

I think there was even a non-binary character! Just kinda nonchalantly in there. Awesome.

What a happy, charming game. Play if you would like to be happy and charmed.

FINAL SCORE: 1 waxing moon

Glenn’s Take on re:Invent Part 2

Post Syndicated from Glenn Gore original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/glenns-take-on-reinvent-part-2/

Glenn Gore here, Chief Architect for AWS. I’m in Las Vegas this week — with 43K others — for re:Invent 2017. We’ve got a lot of exciting announcements this week. I’m going to check in to the Architecture blog with my take on what’s interesting about some of the announcements from an cloud architectural perspective. My first post can be found here.

The Media and Entertainment industry has been a rapid adopter of AWS due to the scale, reliability, and low costs of our services. This has enabled customers to create new, online, digital experiences for their viewers ranging from broadcast to streaming to Over-the-Top (OTT) services that can be a combination of live, scheduled, or ad-hoc viewing, while supporting devices ranging from high-def TVs to mobile devices. Creating an end-to-end video service requires many different components often sourced from different vendors with different licensing models, which creates a complex architecture and a complex environment to support operationally.

AWS Media Services
Based on customer feedback, we have developed AWS Media Services to help simplify distribution of video content. AWS Media Services is comprised of five individual services that can either be used together to provide an end-to-end service or individually to work within existing deployments: AWS Elemental MediaConvert, AWS Elemental MediaLive, AWS Elemental MediaPackage, AWS Elemental MediaStore and AWS Elemental MediaTailor. These services can help you with everything from storing content safely and durably to setting up a live-streaming event in minutes without having to be concerned about the underlying infrastructure and scalability of the stream itself.

In my role, I participate in many AWS and industry events and often work with the production and event teams that put these shows together. With all the logistical tasks they have to deal with, the biggest question is often: “Will the live stream work?” Compounding this fear is the reality that, as users, we are also quick to jump on social media and make noise when a live stream drops while we are following along remotely. Worse is when I see event organizers actively selecting not to live stream content because of the risk of failure and and exposure — leading them to decide to take the safe option and not stream at all.

With AWS Media Services addressing many of the issues around putting together a high-quality media service, live streaming, and providing access to a library of content through a variety of mechanisms, I can’t wait to see more event teams use live streaming without the concern and worry I’ve seen in the past. I am excited for what this also means for non-media companies, as video becomes an increasingly common way of sharing information and adding a more personalized touch to internally- and externally-facing content.

AWS Media Services will allow you to focus more on the content and not worry about the platform. Awesome!

Amazon Neptune
As a civilization, we have been developing new ways to record and store information and model the relationships between sets of information for more than a thousand years. Government census data, tax records, births, deaths, and marriages were all recorded on medium ranging from knotted cords in the Inca civilization, clay tablets in ancient Babylon, to written texts in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages.

One of the first challenges of computing was figuring out how to store and work with vast amounts of information in a programmatic way, especially as the volume of information was increasing at a faster rate than ever before. We have seen different generations of how to organize this information in some form of database, ranging from flat files to the Information Management System (IMS) used in the 1960s for the Apollo space program, to the rise of the relational database management system (RDBMS) in the 1970s. These innovations drove a lot of subsequent innovations in information management and application development as we were able to move from thousands of records to millions and billions.

Today, as architects and developers, we have a vast variety of database technologies to select from, which have different characteristics that are optimized for different use cases:

  • Relational databases are well understood after decades of use in the majority of companies who required a database to store information. Amazon Relational Database (Amazon RDS) supports many popular relational database engines such as MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MariaDB, and Oracle. We have even brought the traditional RDBMS into the cloud world through Amazon Aurora, which provides MySQL and PostgreSQL support with the performance and reliability of commercial-grade databases at 1/10th the cost.
  • Non-relational databases (NoSQL) provided a simpler method of storing and retrieving information that was often faster and more scalable than traditional RDBMS technology. The concept of non-relational databases has existed since the 1960s but really took off in the early 2000s with the rise of web-based applications that required performance and scalability that relational databases struggled with at the time. AWS published this Dynamo whitepaper in 2007, with DynamoDB launching as a service in 2012. DynamoDB has quickly become one of the critical design elements for many of our customers who are building highly-scalable applications on AWS. We continue to innovate with DynamoDB, and this week launched global tables and on-demand backup at re:Invent 2017. DynamoDB excels in a variety of use cases, such as tracking of session information for popular websites, shopping cart information on e-commerce sites, and keeping track of gamers’ high scores in mobile gaming applications, for example.
  • Graph databases focus on the relationship between data items in the store. With a graph database, we work with nodes, edges, and properties to represent data, relationships, and information. Graph databases are designed to make it easy and fast to traverse and retrieve complex hierarchical data models. Graph databases share some concepts from the NoSQL family of databases such as key-value pairs (properties) and the use of a non-SQL query language such as Gremlin. Graph databases are commonly used for social networking, recommendation engines, fraud detection, and knowledge graphs. We released Amazon Neptune to help simplify the provisioning and management of graph databases as we believe that graph databases are going to enable the next generation of smart applications.

A common use case I am hearing every week as I talk to customers is how to incorporate chatbots within their organizations. Amazon Lex and Amazon Polly have made it easy for customers to experiment and build chatbots for a wide range of scenarios, but one of the missing pieces of the puzzle was how to model decision trees and and knowledge graphs so the chatbot could guide the conversation in an intelligent manner.

Graph databases are ideal for this particular use case, and having Amazon Neptune simplifies the deployment of a graph database while providing high performance, scalability, availability, and durability as a managed service. Security of your graph database is critical. To help ensure this, you can store your encrypted data by running AWS in Amazon Neptune within your Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) and using encryption at rest integrated with AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS). Neptune also supports Amazon VPC and AWS Identity and Access Management (AWS IAM) to help further protect and restrict access.

Our customers now have the choice of many different database technologies to ensure that they can optimize each application and service for their specific needs. Just as DynamoDB has unlocked and enabled many new workloads that weren’t possible in relational databases, I can’t wait to see what new innovations and capabilities are enabled from graph databases as they become easier to use through Amazon Neptune.

Look for more on DynamoDB and Amazon S3 from me on Monday.

 

Glenn at Tour de Mont Blanc

 

 

Don Jr.: I’ll bite

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/11/don-jr-ill-bite.html

So Don Jr. tweets the following, which is an excellent troll. So I thought I’d bite. The reason is I just got through debunk Democrat claims about NetNeutrality, so it seems like a good time to balance things out and debunk Trump nonsense.

The issue here is not which side is right. The issue here is whether you stand for truth, or whether you’ll seize any factoid that appears to support your side, regardless of the truthfulness of it. The ACLU obviously chose falsehoods, as I documented. In the following tweet, Don Jr. does the same.

It’s a preview of the hyperpartisan debates are you are likely to have across the dinner table tomorrow, which each side trying to outdo the other in the false-hoods they’ll claim.

What we see in this number is a steady trend of these statistics since the Great Recession, with no evidence in the graphs showing how Trump has influenced these numbers, one way or the other.

Stock markets at all time highs

This is true, but it’s obviously not due to Trump. The stock markers have been steadily rising since the Great Recession. Trump has done nothing substantive to change the market trajectory. Also, he hasn’t inspired the market to change it’s direction.
To be fair to Don Jr., we’ve all been crediting (or blaming) presidents for changes in the stock market despite the fact they have almost no influence over it. Presidents don’t run the economy, it’s an inappropriate conceit. The most influence they’ve had is in harming it.

Lowest jobless claims since 73

Again, let’s graph this:

As we can see, jobless claims have been on a smooth downward trajectory since the Great Recession. It’s difficult to see here how President Trump has influenced these numbers.

6 Trillion added to the economy

What he’s referring to is that assets have risen in value, like the stock market, homes, gold, and even Bitcoin.
But this is a well known fallacy known as Mercantilism, believing the “economy” is measured by the value of its assets. This was debunked by Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations“, where he showed instead the the “economy” is measured by how much it produces (GDP – Gross Domestic Product) and not assets.
GDP has grown at 3.0%, which is pretty good compared to the long term trend, and is better than Europe or Japan (though not as good as China). But Trump doesn’t deserve any credit for this — today’s rise in GDP is the result of stuff that happened years ago.
Assets have risen by $6 trillion, but that’s not a good thing. After all, when you sell your home for more money, the buyer has to pay more. So one person is better off and one is worse off, so the net effect is zero.
Actually, such asset price increase is a worrisome indicator — we are entering into bubble territory. It’s the result of a loose monetary policy, low interest rates and “quantitative easing” that was designed under the Obama administration to stimulate the economy. That’s why all assets are rising in value. Normally, a rise in one asset means a fall in another, like selling gold to pay for houses. But because of loose monetary policy, all assets are increasing in price. The amazing rise in Bitcoin over the last year is as much a result of this bubble growing in all assets as it is to an exuberant belief in Bitcoin.
When this bubble collapses, which may happen during Trump’s term, it’ll really be the Obama administration who is to blame. I mean, if Trump is willing to take credit for the asset price bubble now, I’m willing to give it to him, as long as he accepts the blame when it crashes.

1.5 million fewer people on food stamps

As you’d expect, I’m going to debunk this with a graph: the numbers have been falling since the great recession. Indeed, in the previous period under Obama, 1.9 fewer people got off food stamps, so Trump’s performance is slight ahead rather than behind Obama. Of course, neither president is really responsible.

Consumer confidence through the roof

Again we are going to graph this number:

Again we find nothing in the graph that suggests President Trump is responsible for any change — it’s been improving steadily since the Great Recession.

One thing to note is that, technically, it’s not “through the roof” — it still quite a bit below the roof set during the dot-com era.

Lowest Unemployment rate in 17 years

Again, let’s simply graph it over time and look for Trump’s contribution. as we can see, there doesn’t appear to be anything special Trump has done — unemployment has steadily been improving since the Great Recession.
But here’s the thing, the “unemployment rate” only measures those looking for work, not those who have given up. The number that concerns people more is the “labor force participation rate”. The Great Recession kicked a lot of workers out of the economy.
Mostly this is because Baby Boomer are now retiring an leaving the workforce, and some have chosen to retire early rather than look for another job. But there are still some other problems in our economy that cause this. President Trump has nothing particular in order to solve these problems.

Conclusion

As we see, Don Jr’s tweet is a troll. When we look at the graphs of these indicators going back to the Great Recession, we don’t see how President Trump has influenced anything. The improvements this year are in line with the improvements last year, which are in turn inline with the improvements in the previous year.
To be fair, all parties credit their President with improvements during their term. President Obama’s supporters did the same thing. But at least right now, with these numbers, we can see that there’s no merit to anything in Don Jr’s tweet.
The hyperpartisan rancor in this country is because neither side cares about the facts. We should care. We should care that these numbers suck, even if we are Republicans. Conversely, we should care that those NetNeutrality claims by Democrats suck, even if we are Democrats.

Popcorn Time Creator Readies BitTorrent & Blockchain-Powered Video Platform

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/popcorn-time-creator-readies-bittorrent-blockchain-powered-youtube-competitor-171012/

Without a doubt, YouTube is one of the most important websites available on the Internet today.

Its massive archive of videos brings pleasure to millions on a daily basis but its centralized nature means that owner Google always exercises control.

Over the years, people have looked to decentralize the YouTube concept and the latest project hoping to shake up the market has a particularly interesting player onboard.

Until 2015, only insiders knew that Argentinian designer Federico Abad was actually ‘Sebastian’, the shadowy figure behind notorious content sharing platform Popcorn Time.

Now he’s part of the team behind Flixxo, a BitTorrent and blockchain-powered startup hoping to wrestle a share of the video market from YouTube. Here’s how the team, which features blockchain startup RSK Labs, hope things will play out.

The Flixxo network will have no centralized storage of data, eliminating the need for expensive hosting along with associated costs. Instead, transfers will take place between peers using BitTorrent, meaning video content will be stored on the machines of Flixxo users. In practice, the content will be downloaded and uploaded in much the same way as users do on The Pirate Bay or indeed Abad’s baby, Popcorn Time.

However, there’s a twist to the system that envisions content creators, content consumers, and network participants (seeders) making revenue from their efforts.

At the heart of the Flixxo system are digital tokens (think virtual currency), called Flixx. These Flixx ‘coins’, which will go on sale in 12 days, can be used to buy access to content. Creators can also opt to pay consumers when those people help to distribute their content to others.

“Free from structural costs, producers can share the earnings from their content with the network that supports them,” the team explains.

“This way you get paid for helping us improve Flixxo, and you earn credits (in the form of digital tokens called Flixx) for watching higher quality content. Having no intermediaries means that the price you pay for watching the content that you actually want to watch is lower and fairer.”

The Flixxo team

In addition to earning tokens from helping to distribute content, people in the Flixxo ecosystem can also earn currency by watching sponsored content, i.e advertisements. While in a traditional system adverts are often considered a nuisance, Flixx tokens have real value, with a promise that users will be able to trade their Flixx not only for videos, but also for tangible and semi-tangible goods.

“Use your Flixx to reward the producers you follow, encouraging them to create more awesome content. Or keep your Flixx in your wallet and use them to buy a movie ticket, a pair of shoes from an online retailer, a chest of coins in your favourite game or even convert them to old-fashioned cash or up-and-coming digital assets, like Bitcoin,” the team explains.

The Flixxo team have big plans. After foundation in early 2016, the second quarter of 2017 saw the completion of a functional alpha release. In a little under two weeks, the project will begin its token generation event, with new offices in Los Angeles planned for the first half of 2018 alongside a premiere of the Flixxo platform.

“A total of 1,000,000,000 (one billion) Flixx tokens will be issued. A maximum of 300,000,000 (three hundred million) tokens will be sold. Some of these tokens (not more than 33% or 100,000,000 Flixx) may be sold with anticipation of the token allocation event to strategic investors,” Flixxo states.

Like all content platforms, Flixxo will live or die by the quality of the content it provides and whether, at least in the first instance, it can persuade people to part with their hard-earned cash. Only time will tell whether its content will be worth a premium over readily accessible YouTube content but with much-reduced costs, it may tempt creators seeking a bigger piece of the pie.

“Flixxo will also educate its community, teaching its users that in this new internet era value can be held and transferred online without intermediaries, a value that can be earned back by participating in a community, by contributing, being rewarded for every single social interaction,” the team explains.

Of course, the elephant in the room is what will happen when people begin sharing copyrighted content via Flixxo. Certainly, the fact that Popcorn Time’s founder is a key player and rival streaming platform Stremio is listed as a partner means that things could get a bit spicy later on.

Nevertheless, the team suggests that piracy and spam content distribution will be limited by mechanisms already built into the system.

“[A]uthors have to time-block tokens in a smart contract (set as a warranty) in order to upload content. This contract will also handle and block their earnings for a certain period of time, so that in the case of a dispute the unfair-uploader may lose those tokens,” they explain.

That being said, Flixxo also says that “there is no way” for third parties to censor content “which means that anyone has the chance of making any piece of media available on the network.” However, Flixxo says it will develop tools for filtering what it describes as “inappropriate content.”

At this point, things start to become a little unclear. On the one hand Flixxo says it could become a “revolutionary tool for uncensorable and untraceable media” yet on the other it says that it’s necessary to ensure that adult content, for example, isn’t seen by kids.

“We know there is a thin line between filtering or curating content and censorship, and it is a fact that we have an open network for everyone to upload any content. However, Flixxo as a platform will apply certain filtering based on clear rules – there should be a behavior-code for uploaders in order to offer the right content to the right user,” Flixxo explains.

To this end, Flixxo says it will deploy a centralized curation function, carried out by 101 delegates elected by the community, which will become progressively decentralized over time.

“This curation will have a cost, paid in Flixx, and will be collected from the warranty blocked by the content uploaders,” they add.

There can be little doubt that if Flixxo begins ‘curating’ unsuitable content, copyright holders will call on it to do the same for their content too. And, if the platform really takes off, 101 curators probably won’t scratch the surface. There’s also the not inconsiderable issue of what might happen to curators’ judgment when they’re incentivized to block curate content.

Finally, for those sick of “not available in your region” messages, there’s good and bad news. Flixxo insists there will be no geo-blocking of content on its part but individual creators will still have that feature available to them, should they choose.

The Flixx whitepaper can be downloaded here (pdf)

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Кой бяга от здравната ни система?

Post Syndicated from Боян Юруков original https://yurukov.net/blog/2017/koi-bqga-ot-zdravnata-ni-sistema/

Едно от най-честите обяснения, които се дават за състоянието на здравната ни система, е липсата на хора – лекари, акушерки и медицински сестри. Наистина, почти всички сфери изискващи специалисти в страната страдат от този проблем. Най-осезаемо това се вижда в сферата на информационните технологии и машиностроенето. Доколкото е вярно обаче това за здравеопазването?

Преди няколко години споделих в социалките една графика, която направих набързо от данните на НСИ. Сравняваше колко лекари работят в България като абсолютен брой и спрямо глава от населението. Също така, колко учат в сферата на здравеопазването и колко завършват. Днес реших да обновя тези графики с последните данни и да ги разширя. Макар да дават само сухи числа за един единствен аспект от системата, от тях може да научим доста. Здравеопазването определено има сериозни проблеми, които са не само многопласови, но и трудно може да се дестилират в няколко графики. С такива обаче може да се опитаме да оборим няколко мита.

Както винаги, започвам с условностите. Тези данни събират всички практикуващи лекари – лични, тесни специалисти, хирурзи, анестезиолозите и прочие. В категорията медицински специалисти се включват мед. сестри, акушерки, лаборанти, фледшери и други. Не може да анализираме това колко от тях работят на повече от едно място, колко операции и процедури правят, колко специализират, колко отпадат, колко получават точно от всичко това и колко са натоварени, просто защото такива данни няма. Навярно се пазят в болниците, но надали някой има илюзия, че ще ги споделят. Затова може да говорим само за общ брой. НСИ има разбивка по области, но тук не ги разглеждам. Учащите в сферата на здравеопазването са „наедно“ като разглеждам само бакалаврите и магистрите. Във всички графики долу взимам показателите през 2001-ва за основа и сравнявам.

Нека да започнем с броя работещи лекари и медицински специалисти в страната. От данните на НСИ се вижда, че за последите 15 години те всъщност се увеличават като абсолютен брой. Особено при лекарите тенденцията е почти изцяло нагоре. При медицинските специалисти има намаление в последните 3 години, но все още сме над нивото от 2001-ва. Интересно е, че когато първо пуснах тази графика тогава се говореше как масово напускат, а всъщност имаше няколкогодишно увеличение с по 1-2% на година. Лекарите през 2016-та в страната, например, са били с над 8% повече от 2001-ва. Най-големият скок е бил в последните 7 години.

Ако разгледаме спрямо населението, тенденцията става още по-стръмна нагоре. Няма спор, че заради отрицателния приръст и емиграцията (макар намаляваща) населението намалява и това е проблем. Това обаче означава, че на един лекар и медицинска сестра се падат по-малко хора. Също е вярно, че заради застаряващото население са нужни всъщност повече ресурси за здравни грижи, но както виждаме, тенденцията при последните далеч не е универсално надолу. Последният проблем всъщност до голяма степен ще „отмине“ след 20-25 години, заедно с поколението на т.н. baby-boomer-и – бумът в раждането и по-важно оцеляването на бебетата преди 60-тина години. Така виждаме, че на всеки 1000 пациента има с поне 12% повече медицински сестри и над 20% повече лекари, отколкото 15 години по-рано.

Гледайки напред във времето виждаме и постоянен скок в броя учащи и завършващи лекари и медицински специалисти. Разбира се, може да се поспори за качеството и съм сигурен, че доста лекари биха имали да кажат по нещо за това. Когато говорим за масови здравни грижи обаче, 90% от състоянията имат нужда от някакъв личен лекар с що-годе сносни знания. Също така, международната слава на медицинските ни университети въобще не е лоша. Всичко това дори с напускането на някои лекари и чуждестранните студенти, които въобще не са малко, виждаме, че на година завършват и остават в страната повече специалисти по здравни грижи, отколкото са нужни за обновяване на системата. При това този процес се засилва.

При лекарите е видно, че неизменно има увеличение. Няма спор, че в определени професии има проблем. Такива са анестезиолозите, недостиг на които има в цял свят. Заедно с антибиотичната резистентност липсата им се сочи като основен риск за операциите в бъдещето. Кадри в други критични сфери се губят дори в богати държави като Германия и Великобритания. Като по-голям проблем у нас се сочи липсата на медицински сестри и акушерки. Затова ето разбивка как кадрите заети в болници и клиники са се движили в последните 15 години.

Несъмнено има намаление при акушерките, но броят им се стабилизирал в последните 6 години. При медицинските сестри и фелдшерите дори е имало увеличение, което рязко тръгва надолу в последните години. В това може би ще прозрем провали в определени политики в здравната сфера на последните кабинети. Погледнато спрямо населението обаче виждаме друга картинка. Отново – отрицателният приръст е огромен проблем, но погледнат спрямо брой пациенти на мед. сестри и акушерки, всъщност тенденцията е към подобрение независимо от негативите.

Затова нека спрем с извинението, че няма лекари и медицински специалисти. Кадри поне в тази сфера има. Ако има проблем в разпределението им, то това е заради грешни стимули и сбъркана политика. Ако има проблем в качеството, то това е заради специализациите, които абсолютно всеки е съгласен, че са сбъркани като принцип. Финансирането, пътеките, болниците източващи касата и биващи източвани, ненужните процедури, връзките с фармацевтичните компании, наработещата спешна помощ, шарлатаните с алтернативни лечения и неефективната превенция и диагностика са сред огромните проблеми. Еднозначно решения няма и никой не е намерил.

Подобни проблеми има в цял свят, но успяват да държат пълна малко по-малко продънената си кофа с несъизмеримо по-голям поток от пари. У нас нямаме такава възможност. Поне не докато не се вдигне производителността и приходите от вноски. Междувременно трябва да спрем да броим лекарите, а да говорим по-сериозно какво се налага да правят в рамките на стандартния ден, как да спрем злоупотребите, грубото отношение от двете страни, как да запазим здравето и живота и на двете страни и как да подобрим доверието и най-вече очакванията у хората какво медицината може и какво не. Липсите в тези сфери карат все повече не само да харчат неимоверни суми за шамани и „алтернативи“, но и откровено застрашават живота на децата си.

Тук не давам решение и не изброявам всички проблеми, а показвам къде не е проблемът или поне къде най-малко е. Така отговорът на заглавието горе е, че не лекарите и медицинските сестри бягат. Не бягат и толкова пациентите, защото медицинският туризъм се засилва, а все повече болници отварят врати. Бяга се единствено от отговорност. Липсата на доверие в тази и други системи гони и немалка част от българите, които решават, че някъде може би е по-добре. Дали са прави или не е по-трудно да се каже, отколкото си мислят повечето, а и не е въпроса тук. Ефектът е видим.

Pimoroni is 5 now!

Post Syndicated from guru original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pimoroni-is-5-now/

Long read written by Pimoroni’s Paul Beech, best enjoyed over a cup o’ grog.

Every couple of years, I’ve done a “State of the Fleet” update here on the Raspberry Pi blog to tell everyone how the Sheffield Pirates are doing. Half a decade has gone by in a blink, but reading back over the previous posts shows that a lot has happened in that time!

TL;DR We’re an increasingly medium-sized design/manufacturing/e-commerce business with workshops in Sheffield, UK, and Essen, Germany, and we employ almost 40 people. We’re totally lovely. Thanks for supporting us!

 

We’ve come a long way, baby

I’m sitting looking out the window at Sheffield-on-Sea and feeling pretty lucky about how things are going. In the morning, I’ll be flying east for Maker Faire Tokyo with Niko (more on him later), and to say hi to some amazing people in Shenzhen (and to visit Huaqiangbei, of course). This is after I’ve already visited this year’s Maker Faires in New York, San Francisco, and Berlin.

Pimoroni started out small, but we’ve grown like weeds, and we’re steadily sauntering towards becoming a medium-sized business. That’s thanks to fantastic support from the people who buy our stuff and spread the word. In return, we try to be nice, friendly, and human in everything we do, and to make exciting things, ideally with our own hands here in Sheffield.

Pimoroni soldering

Handmade with love

We’ve made it onto a few ‘fastest-growing’ lists, and we’re in the top 500 of the Inc. 5000 Europe list. Adafruit did it first a few years back, and we’ve never gone wrong when we’ve followed in their footsteps.

The slightly weird nature of Pimoroni means we get listed as either a manufacturing or e-commerce business. In reality, we’re about four or five companies in one shell, which is very much against the conventions of “how business is done”. However, having seen what Adafruit, SparkFun, and Seeed do, we’re more than happy to design, manufacture, and sell our stuff in-house, as well as stocking the best stuff from across the maker community.

Pimoroni stocks

Product and process

The whole process of expansion has not been without its growing pains. We’re just under 40 people strong now, and have an outpost in Germany (also hilariously far from the sea for piratical activities). This means we’ve had to change things quickly to improve and automate processes, so that the wheels won’t fall off as things get bigger. Process optimization is incredibly interesting to a geek, especially the making sure that things are done well, that mistakes are easy to spot and to fix, and that nothing is missed.

At the end of 2015, we had a step change in how busy we were, and our post room and support started to suffer. As a consequence, we implemented measures to become more efficient, including small but important things like checking in parcels with a barcode scanner attached to a Raspberry Pi. That Pi has been happily running on the same SD card for a couple of years now without problems 😀

Pimoroni post room

Going postal?

We also hired a full-time support ninja, Matt, to keep the experience of getting stuff from us light and breezy and to ensure that any problems are sorted. He’s had hugely positive impact already by making the emails and replies you see more friendly. Of course, he’s also started using the laser cutters for tinkering projects. It’d be a shame to work at Pimoroni and not get to use all the wonderful toys, right?

Employing all the people

You can see some of the motley crew we employ here and there on the Pimoroni website. And if you drop by at the Raspberry Pi Birthday Party, Pi Wars, Maker Faires, Deer Shed Festival, or New Scientist Live in September, you’ll be seeing new Pimoroni faces as we start to engage with people more about what we do. On top of that, we’re starting to make proper videos (like Sandy’s soldering guide), as opposed to the 101 episodes of Bilge Tank we recorded in a rather off-the-cuff and haphazard fashion. Although that’s the beauty of Bilge Tank, right?

Pimoroni soldering

Such soldering setup

As Emma, Sandy, Lydia, and Tanya gel as a super creative team, we’re starting to create more formal educational resources, and to make kits that are suitable for a wider audience. Things like our Pi Zero W kits are products of their talents.

Emma is our new Head of Marketing. She’s really ‘The Only Marketing Person Who Would Ever Fit In At Pimoroni’, having been a core part of the Sheffield maker scene since we hung around with one Ben Nuttall, in the dark days before Raspberry Pi was a thing.

Through a series of fortunate coincidences, Niko and his equally talented wife Mena were there when we cut the first Pibow in 2012. They immediately pitched in to help us buy our second laser cutter so we could keep up with demand. They have been supporting Pimoroni with sourcing in East Asia, and now Niko has become a member of the Pirates’ Council and the Head of Engineering as we’re increasing the sophistication and scale of the things we do. The Unicorn HAT HD is one of his masterpieces.

Pimoroni devices

ALL the HATs!

We see ourselves as a wonderful island of misfit toys, and it feels good to have the best toy shop ever, and to support so many lovely people. Business is about more than just profits.

Where do we go to, me hearties?

So what are our plans? At the moment we’re still working absolutely flat-out as demand from wholesalers, retailers, and customers increases. We thought Raspberry Pi was big, but it turns out it’s just getting started. Near the end of 2016, it seemed to reach a whole new level of popularityand still we continue to meet people to whom we have to explain what a Pi is. It’s a good problem to have.

We need a bigger space, but it’s been hard to find somewhere suitable in Sheffield that won’t mean we’re stuck on an industrial estate miles from civilisation. That would be bad for the crewwe like having world-class burritos on our doorstep.

The good news is, it looks like our search is at an end! Just in time for the arrival of our ‘Super-Turbo-Death-Star’ new production line, which will enable to make devices in a bigger, better, faster, more ‘Now now now!’ fashion \o/

Pimoroni warehouse

Spacious, but not spacious enough!

We’ve got lots of treasure in the pipeline, but we want to pick up the pace of development even more and create many new HATs, pHATs, and SHIMs, e.g. for environmental sensing and audio applications. Picade will also be getting some love to make it slicker and more hackable.

We’re also starting to flirt with adding more engineering and production capabilities in-house. The plan is to try our hand at anodising, powder-coating, and maybe even injection-moulding if we get the space and find the right machine. Learning how to do things is amazing, and we love having an idea and being able to bring it to life in almost no time at all.

Pimoroni production

This is where the magic happens

Fanks!

There are so many people involved in supporting our success, and some people we love for just existing and doing wonderful things that make us want to do better. The biggest shout-outs go to Liz, Eben, Gordon, James, all the Raspberry Pi crew, and Limor and pt from Adafruit, for being the most supportive guiding lights a young maker company could ever need.

A note from us

It is amazing for us to witness the growth of businesses within the Raspberry Pi ecosystem. Pimoroni is a wonderful example of an organisation that is creating opportunities for makers within its local community, and the company is helping to reinvigorate Sheffield as the heart of making in the UK.

If you’d like to take advantage of the great products built by the Pirates, Monkeys, Robots, and Ninjas of Sheffield, you should do it soon: Pimoroni are giving everyone 20% off their homemade tech until 6 August.

Pimoroni, from all of us here at Pi Towers (both in the UK and USA), have a wonderful birthday, and many a grog on us!

The post Pimoroni is 5 now! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Top 10 Most Obvious Hacks of All Time (v0.9)

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/07/top-10-most-obvious-hacks-of-all-time.html

For teaching hacking/cybersecurity, I thought I’d create of the most obvious hacks of all time. Not the best hacks, the most sophisticated hacks, or the hacks with the biggest impact, but the most obvious hacks — ones that even the least knowledgeable among us should be able to understand. Below I propose some hacks that fit this bill, though in no particular order.

The reason I’m writing this is that my niece wants me to teach her some hacking. I thought I’d start with the obvious stuff first.

Shared Passwords

If you use the same password for every website, and one of those websites gets hacked, then the hacker has your password for all your websites. The reason your Facebook account got hacked wasn’t because of anything Facebook did, but because you used the same email-address and password when creating an account on “beagleforums.com”, which got hacked last year.

I’ve heard people say “I’m sure, because I choose a complex password and use it everywhere”. No, this is the very worst thing you can do. Sure, you can the use the same password on all sites you don’t care much about, but for Facebook, your email account, and your bank, you should have a unique password, so that when other sites get hacked, your important sites are secure.

And yes, it’s okay to write down your passwords on paper.

Tools: HaveIBeenPwned.com

PIN encrypted PDFs

My accountant emails PDF statements encrypted with the last 4 digits of my Social Security Number. This is not encryption — a 4 digit number has only 10,000 combinations, and a hacker can guess all of them in seconds.
PIN numbers for ATM cards work because ATM machines are online, and the machine can reject your card after four guesses. PIN numbers don’t work for documents, because they are offline — the hacker has a copy of the document on their own machine, disconnected from the Internet, and can continue making bad guesses with no restrictions.
Passwords protecting documents must be long enough that even trillion upon trillion guesses are insufficient to guess.

Tools: Hashcat, John the Ripper

SQL and other injection

The lazy way of combining websites with databases is to combine user input with an SQL statement. This combines code with data, so the obvious consequence is that hackers can craft data to mess with the code.
No, this isn’t obvious to the general public, but it should be obvious to programmers. The moment you write code that adds unfiltered user-input to an SQL statement, the consequence should be obvious. Yet, “SQL injection” has remained one of the most effective hacks for the last 15 years because somehow programmers don’t understand the consequence.
CGI shell injection is a similar issue. Back in early days, when “CGI scripts” were a thing, it was really important, but these days, not so much, so I just included it with SQL. The consequence of executing shell code should’ve been obvious, but weirdly, it wasn’t. The IT guy at the company I worked for back in the late 1990s came to me and asked “this guy says we have a vulnerability, is he full of shit?”, and I had to answer “no, he’s right — obviously so”.

XSS (“Cross Site Scripting”) [*] is another injection issue, but this time at somebody’s web browser rather than a server. It works because websites will echo back what is sent to them. For example, if you search for Cross Site Scripting with the URL https://www.google.com/search?q=cross+site+scripting, then you’ll get a page back from the server that contains that string. If the string is JavaScript code rather than text, then some servers (thought not Google) send back the code in the page in a way that it’ll be executed. This is most often used to hack somebody’s account: you send them an email or tweet a link, and when they click on it, the JavaScript gives control of the account to the hacker.

Cross site injection issues like this should probably be their own category, but I’m including it here for now.

More: Wikipedia on SQL injection, Wikipedia on cross site scripting.
Tools: Burpsuite, SQLmap

Buffer overflows

In the C programming language, programmers first create a buffer, then read input into it. If input is long than the buffer, then it overflows. The extra bytes overwrite other parts of the program, letting the hacker run code.
Again, it’s not a thing the general public is expected to know about, but is instead something C programmers should be expected to understand. They should know that it’s up to them to check the length and stop reading input before it overflows the buffer, that there’s no language feature that takes care of this for them.
We are three decades after the first major buffer overflow exploits, so there is no excuse for C programmers not to understand this issue.

What makes particular obvious is the way they are wrapped in exploits, like in Metasploit. While the bug itself is obvious that it’s a bug, actually exploiting it can take some very non-obvious skill. However, once that exploit is written, any trained monkey can press a button and run the exploit. That’s where we get the insult “script kiddie” from — referring to wannabe-hackers who never learn enough to write their own exploits, but who spend a lot of time running the exploit scripts written by better hackers than they.

More: Wikipedia on buffer overflow, Wikipedia on script kiddie,  “Smashing The Stack For Fun And Profit” — Phrack (1996)
Tools: bash, Metasploit

SendMail DEBUG command (historical)

The first popular email server in the 1980s was called “SendMail”. It had a feature whereby if you send a “DEBUG” command to it, it would execute any code following the command. The consequence of this was obvious — hackers could (and did) upload code to take control of the server. This was used in the Morris Worm of 1988. Most Internet machines of the day ran SendMail, so the worm spread fast infecting most machines.
This bug was mostly ignored at the time. It was thought of as a theoretical problem, that might only rarely be used to hack a system. Part of the motivation of the Morris Worm was to demonstrate that such problems was to demonstrate the consequences — consequences that should’ve been obvious but somehow were rejected by everyone.

More: Wikipedia on Morris Worm

Email Attachments/Links

I’m conflicted whether I should add this or not, because here’s the deal: you are supposed to click on attachments and links within emails. That’s what they are there for. The difference between good and bad attachments/links is not obvious. Indeed, easy-to-use email systems makes detecting the difference harder.
On the other hand, the consequences of bad attachments/links is obvious. That worms like ILOVEYOU spread so easily is because people trusted attachments coming from their friends, and ran them.
We have no solution to the problem of bad email attachments and links. Viruses and phishing are pervasive problems. Yet, we know why they exist.

Default and backdoor passwords

The Mirai botnet was caused by surveillance-cameras having default and backdoor passwords, and being exposed to the Internet without a firewall. The consequence should be obvious: people will discover the passwords and use them to take control of the bots.
Surveillance-cameras have the problem that they are usually exposed to the public, and can’t be reached without a ladder — often a really tall ladder. Therefore, you don’t want a button consumers can press to reset to factory defaults. You want a remote way to reset them. Therefore, they put backdoor passwords to do the reset. Such passwords are easy for hackers to reverse-engineer, and hence, take control of millions of cameras across the Internet.
The same reasoning applies to “default” passwords. Many users will not change the defaults, leaving a ton of devices hackers can hack.

Masscan and background radiation of the Internet

I’ve written a tool that can easily scan the entire Internet in a short period of time. It surprises people that this possible, but it obvious from the numbers. Internet addresses are only 32-bits long, or roughly 4 billion combinations. A fast Internet link can easily handle 1 million packets-per-second, so the entire Internet can be scanned in 4000 seconds, little more than an hour. It’s basic math.
Because it’s so easy, many people do it. If you monitor your Internet link, you’ll see a steady trickle of packets coming in from all over the Internet, especially Russia and China, from hackers scanning the Internet for things they can hack.
People’s reaction to this scanning is weirdly emotional, taking is personally, such as:
  1. Why are they hacking me? What did I do to them?
  2. Great! They are hacking me! That must mean I’m important!
  3. Grrr! How dare they?! How can I hack them back for some retribution!?

I find this odd, because obviously such scanning isn’t personal, the hackers have no idea who you are.

Tools: masscan, firewalls

Packet-sniffing, sidejacking

If you connect to the Starbucks WiFi, a hacker nearby can easily eavesdrop on your network traffic, because it’s not encrypted. Windows even warns you about this, in case you weren’t sure.

At DefCon, they have a “Wall of Sheep”, where they show passwords from people who logged onto stuff using the insecure “DefCon-Open” network. Calling them “sheep” for not grasping this basic fact that unencrypted traffic is unencrypted.

To be fair, it’s actually non-obvious to many people. Even if the WiFi itself is not encrypted, SSL traffic is. They expect their services to be encrypted, without them having to worry about it. And in fact, most are, especially Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and other major services that won’t allow you to log in anymore without encryption.

But many services (especially old ones) may not be encrypted. Unless users check and verify them carefully, they’ll happily expose passwords.

What’s interesting about this was 10 years ago, when most services which only used SSL to encrypt the passwords, but then used unencrypted connections after that, using “cookies”. This allowed the cookies to be sniffed and stolen, allowing other people to share the login session. I used this on stage at BlackHat to connect to somebody’s GMail session. Google, and other major websites, fixed this soon after. But it should never have been a problem — because the sidejacking of cookies should have been obvious.

Tools: Wireshark, dsniff

Stuxnet LNK vulnerability

Again, this issue isn’t obvious to the public, but it should’ve been obvious to anybody who knew how Windows works.
When Windows loads a .dll, it first calls the function DllMain(). A Windows link file (.lnk) can load icons/graphics from the resources in a .dll file. It does this by loading the .dll file, thus calling DllMain. Thus, a hacker could put on a USB drive a .lnk file pointing to a .dll file, and thus, cause arbitrary code execution as soon as a user inserted a drive.
I say this is obvious because I did this, created .lnks that pointed to .dlls, but without hostile DllMain code. The consequence should’ve been obvious to me, but I totally missed the connection. We all missed the connection, for decades.

Social Engineering and Tech Support [* * *]

After posting this, many people have pointed out “social engineering”, especially of “tech support”. This probably should be up near #1 in terms of obviousness.

The classic example of social engineering is when you call tech support and tell them you’ve lost your password, and they reset it for you with minimum of questions proving who you are. For example, you set the volume on your computer really loud and play the sound of a crying baby in the background and appear to be a bit frazzled and incoherent, which explains why you aren’t answering the questions they are asking. They, understanding your predicament as a new parent, will go the extra mile in helping you, resetting “your” password.

One of the interesting consequences is how it affects domain names (DNS). It’s quite easy in many cases to call up the registrar and convince them to transfer a domain name. This has been used in lots of hacks. It’s really hard to defend against. If a registrar charges only $9/year for a domain name, then it really can’t afford to provide very good tech support — or very secure tech support — to prevent this sort of hack.

Social engineering is such a huge problem, and obvious problem, that it’s outside the scope of this document. Just google it to find example after example.

A related issue that perhaps deserves it’s own section is OSINT [*], or “open-source intelligence”, where you gather public information about a target. For example, on the day the bank manager is out on vacation (which you got from their Facebook post) you show up and claim to be a bank auditor, and are shown into their office where you grab their backup tapes. (We’ve actually done this).

More: Wikipedia on Social Engineering, Wikipedia on OSINT, “How I Won the Defcon Social Engineering CTF” — blogpost (2011), “Questioning 42: Where’s the Engineering in Social Engineering of Namespace Compromises” — BSidesLV talk (2016)

Blue-boxes (historical) [*]

Telephones historically used what we call “in-band signaling”. That’s why when you dial on an old phone, it makes sounds — those sounds are sent no differently than the way your voice is sent. Thus, it was possible to make tone generators to do things other than simply dial calls. Early hackers (in the 1970s) would make tone-generators called “blue-boxes” and “black-boxes” to make free long distance calls, for example.

These days, “signaling” and “voice” are digitized, then sent as separate channels or “bands”. This is call “out-of-band signaling”. You can’t trick the phone system by generating tones. When your iPhone makes sounds when you dial, it’s entirely for you benefit and has nothing to do with how it signals the cell tower to make a call.

Early hackers, like the founders of Apple, are famous for having started their careers making such “boxes” for tricking the phone system. The problem was obvious back in the day, which is why as the phone system moves from analog to digital, the problem was fixed.

More: Wikipedia on blue box, Wikipedia article on Steve Wozniak.

Thumb drives in parking lots [*]

A simple trick is to put a virus on a USB flash drive, and drop it in a parking lot. Somebody is bound to notice it, stick it in their computer, and open the file.

This can be extended with tricks. For example, you can put a file labeled “third-quarter-salaries.xlsx” on the drive that required macros to be run in order to open. It’s irresistible to other employees who want to know what their peers are being paid, so they’ll bypass any warning prompts in order to see the data.

Another example is to go online and get custom USB sticks made printed with the logo of the target company, making them seem more trustworthy.

We also did a trick of taking an Adobe Flash game “Punch the Monkey” and replaced the monkey with a logo of a competitor of our target. They now only played the game (infecting themselves with our virus), but gave to others inside the company to play, infecting others, including the CEO.

Thumb drives like this have been used in many incidents, such as Russians hacking military headquarters in Afghanistan. It’s really hard to defend against.

More: “Computer Virus Hits U.S. Military Base in Afghanistan” — USNews (2008), “The Return of the Worm That Ate The Pentagon” — Wired (2011), DoD Bans Flash Drives — Stripes (2008)

Googling [*]

Search engines like Google will index your website — your entire website. Frequently companies put things on their website without much protection because they are nearly impossible for users to find. But Google finds them, then indexes them, causing them to pop up with innocent searches.
There are books written on “Google hacking” explaining what search terms to look for, like “not for public release”, in order to find such documents.

More: Wikipedia entry on Google Hacking, “Google Hacking” book.

URL editing [*]

At the top of every browser is what’s called the “URL”. You can change it. Thus, if you see a URL that looks like this:

http://www.example.com/documents?id=138493

Then you can edit it to see the next document on the server:

http://www.example.com/documents?id=138494

The owner of the website may think they are secure, because nothing points to this document, so the Google search won’t find it. But that doesn’t stop a user from manually editing the URL.
An example of this is a big Fortune 500 company that posts the quarterly results to the website an hour before the official announcement. Simply editing the URL from previous financial announcements allows hackers to find the document, then buy/sell the stock as appropriate in order to make a lot of money.
Another example is the classic case of Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer who did this trick in order to download the account email addresses of early owners of the iPad, including movie stars and members of the Obama administration. It’s an interesting legal case because on one hand, techies consider this so obvious as to not be “hacking”. On the other hand, non-techies, especially judges and prosecutors, believe this to be obviously “hacking”.

DDoS, spoofing, and amplification [*]

For decades now, online gamers have figured out an easy way to win: just flood the opponent with Internet traffic, slowing their network connection. This is called a DoS, which stands for “Denial of Service”. DoSing game competitors is often a teenager’s first foray into hacking.
A variant of this is when you hack a bunch of other machines on the Internet, then command them to flood your target. (The hacked machines are often called a “botnet”, a network of robot computers). This is called DDoS, or “Distributed DoS”. At this point, it gets quite serious, as instead of competitive gamers hackers can take down entire businesses. Extortion scams, DDoSing websites then demanding payment to stop, is a common way hackers earn money.
Another form of DDoS is “amplification”. Sometimes when you send a packet to a machine on the Internet it’ll respond with a much larger response, either a very large packet or many packets. The hacker can then send a packet to many of these sites, “spoofing” or forging the IP address of the victim. This causes all those sites to then flood the victim with traffic. Thus, with a small amount of outbound traffic, the hacker can flood the inbound traffic of the victim.
This is one of those things that has worked for 20 years, because it’s so obvious teenagers can do it, yet there is no obvious solution. President Trump’s executive order of cyberspace specifically demanded that his government come up with a report on how to address this, but it’s unlikely that they’ll come up with any useful strategy.

More: Wikipedia on DDoS, Wikipedia on Spoofing

Conclusion

Tweet me (@ErrataRob) your obvious hacks, so I can add them to the list.

IoT Sleepbuddy, the robotic babysitter

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/sleepbuddy-robotic-babysitter/

You’re watching the new episode of Game of Thrones, and suddenly you hear your children, up and about after their bedtime! Now you’ll probably miss a crucial moment of the show because you have to put them to bed again. Or you’re out to dinner with friends and longing for the sight of your sleeping small humans. What do you do? Text the babysitter to check on them? Well, luckily for you these issues could soon be things of the past, thanks to Bert Vuylsteke and his Pi-powered Sleepbuddy. This IoT-controlled social robot could fulfil all your remote babysitting needs!

IoT Sleepbuddy – babyphone – Design concept

This is the actual concept of my robot and in what context it can be used.

A social robot?

A social robot fulfils a role normally played by a person, and interacts with humans via human language, gestures, and facial expressions. This is what Bert says about the role of the Sleepbuddy:

[For children, it] is a friend or safeguard from nightmares, but it is so much more for the babysitters or parents. The babysitters or parents connect their smartphone/tablet/PC to the Sleepbuddy. This will give them access to control all his emotions, gestures, microphone, speaker and camera. In the eye is a hidden camera to see the kids sleeping. The speaker and microphone allow communication with the kids through WiFi.

The roots of the Sleepbuddy

As a student at Ghent University, Bert had to build a social robot using OPSORO, the university’s open-source robotics platform. The developers of this platform create social robots for research purposes. They are also making all software, as well as hardware design plans, available on GitHub. In addition, you will soon be able to purchase their robot kits via a Kickstarter. OPSORO robots are designed around the Raspberry Pi, and controlled via a web interface. The interface allows you to customise your robot’s behaviour, using visual or text-based programming languages.

Sleepbuddy Bert Vuylsteke components

The Sleepbuddy’s components

Building the Sleepbuddy

Bert has provided a detailed Instructable describing the process of putting the Sleepbuddy together, complete with video walk-throughs. However, the making techniques he has used include thermoforming, laser cutting, and 3D printing. If you want to recreate this build, you may need to contact your local makerspace to find out whether they have the necessary equipment.

Sleepbuddy Bert Vuylsteke assembly

Assembling the Sleepbuddy

Finally, Bert added an especially cute touch to this project by covering the Sleepbuddy in blackboard paint. Therefore, kids can draw on the robot to really make it their own!

So many robots!

At Pi Towers we are partial to all kinds of robots, be they ones that test medical devices, play chess or Connect 4, or fight other robots. If they twerk, or are cute, tiny, or shoddy, we maybe even like them a tiny bit more.

Do you share our love of robots? Would you like to make your own? Then check out our resource for building a simple robot buggy. Maybe it will kick-start your career as the general of a robot army. A robot army that does good, of course! Let us know your benevolent robot overlord plans in the comments.

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