Tag Archives: cameras

Zoom Vulnerability

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2019/07/zoom_vulnerabil.html

The Zoom conferencing app has a vulnerability that allows someone to remotely take over the computer’s camera.

It’s a bad vulnerability, made worse by the fact that it remains even if you uninstall the Zoom app:

This vulnerability allows any website to forcibly join a user to a Zoom call, with their video camera activated, without the user’s permission.

On top of this, this vulnerability would have allowed any webpage to DOS (Denial of Service) a Mac by repeatedly joining a user to an invalid call.

Additionally, if you’ve ever installed the Zoom client and then uninstalled it, you still have a localhost web server on your machine that will happily re-install the Zoom client for you, without requiring any user interaction on your behalf besides visiting a webpage. This re-install ‘feature’ continues to work to this day.

Zoom didn’t take the vulnerability seriously:

This vulnerability was originally responsibly disclosed on March 26, 2019. This initial report included a proposed description of a ‘quick fix’ Zoom could have implemented by simply changing their server logic. It took Zoom 10 days to confirm the vulnerability. The first actual meeting about how the vulnerability would be patched occurred on June 11th, 2019, only 18 days before the end of the 90-day public disclosure deadline. During this meeting, the details of the vulnerability were confirmed and Zoom’s planned solution was discussed. However, I was very easily able to spot and describe bypasses in their planned fix. At this point, Zoom was left with 18 days to resolve the vulnerability. On June 24th after 90 days of waiting, the last day before the public disclosure deadline, I discovered that Zoom had only implemented the ‘quick fix’ solution originally suggested.

This is why we disclose vulnerabilities. Now, finally, Zoom is taking this seriously and fixing it for real.

Computers and Video Surveillance

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2019/06/computers_and_video.html

It used to be that surveillance cameras were passive. Maybe they just recorded, and no one looked at the video unless they needed to. Maybe a bored guard watched a dozen different screens, scanning for something interesting. In either case, the video was only stored for a few days because storage was expensive.

Increasingly, none of that is true. Recent developments in video analytics — fueled by artificial intelligence techniques like machine learning — enable computers to watch and understand surveillance videos with human-like discernment. Identification technologies make it easier to automatically figure out who is in the videos. And finally, the cameras themselves have become cheaper, more ubiquitous, and much better; cameras mounted on drones can effectively watch an entire city. Computers can watch all the video without human issues like distraction, fatigue, training, or needing to be paid. The result is a level of surveillance that was impossible just a few years ago.

An ACLU report published Thursday called “the Dawn of Robot Surveillance” says AI-aided video surveillance “won’t just record us, but will also make judgments about us based on their understanding of our actions, emotions, skin color, clothing, voice, and more. These automated ‘video analytics’ technologies threaten to fundamentally change the nature of surveillance.”

Let’s take the technologies one at a time. First: video analytics. Computers are getting better at recognizing what’s going on in a video. Detecting when a person or vehicle enters a forbidden area is easy. Modern systems can alarm when someone is walking in the wrong direction — going in through an exit-only corridor, for example. They can count people or cars. They can detect when luggage is left unattended, or when previously unattended luggage is picked up and removed. They can detect when someone is loitering in an area, is lying down, or is running. Increasingly, they can detect particular actions by people. Amazon’s cashier-less stores rely on video analytics to figure out when someone picks an item off a shelf and doesn’t put it back.

More than identifying actions, video analytics allow computers to understand what’s going on in a video: They can flag people based on their clothing or behavior, identify people’s emotions through body language and behavior, and find people who are acting “unusual” based on everyone else around them. Those same Amazon in-store cameras can analyze customer sentiment. Other systems can describe what’s happening in a video scene.

Computers can also identify people. AIs are getting better at identifying people in those videos. Facial recognition technology is improving all the time, made easier by the enormous stockpile of tagged photographs we give to Facebook and other social media sites, and the photos governments collect in the process of issuing ID cards and drivers licenses. The technology already exists to automatically identify everyone a camera “sees” in real time. Even without video identification, we can be identified by the unique information continuously broadcasted by the smartphones we carry with us everywhere, or by our laptops or Bluetooth-connected devices. Police have been tracking phones for years, and this practice can now be combined with video analytics.

Once a monitoring system identifies people, their data can be combined with other data, either collected or purchased: from cell phone records, GPS surveillance history, purchasing data, and so on. Social media companies like Facebook have spent years learning about our personalities and beliefs by what we post, comment on, and “like.” This is “data inference,” and when combined with video it offers a powerful window into people’s behaviors and motivations.

Camera resolution is also improving. Gigapixel cameras as so good that they can capture individual faces and identify license places in photos taken miles away. “Wide-area surveillance” cameras can be mounted on airplanes and drones, and can operate continuously. On the ground, cameras can be hidden in street lights and other regular objects. In space, satellite cameras have also dramatically improved.

Data storage has become incredibly cheap, and cloud storage makes it all so easy. Video data can easily be saved for years, allowing computers to conduct all of this surveillance backwards in time.

In democratic countries, such surveillance is marketed as crime prevention — or counterterrorism. In countries like China, it is blatantly used to suppress political activity and for social control. In all instances, it’s being implemented without a lot of public debate by law-enforcement agencies and by corporations in public spaces they control.

This is bad, because ubiquitous surveillance will drastically change our relationship to society. We’ve never lived in this sort of world, even those of us who have lived through previous totalitarian regimes. The effects will be felt in many different areas. False positives­ — when the surveillance system gets it wrong­ — will lead to harassment and worse. Discrimination will become automated. Those who fall outside norms will be marginalized. And most importantly, the inability to live anonymously will have an enormous chilling effect on speech and behavior, which in turn will hobble society’s ability to experiment and change. A recent ACLU report discusses these harms in more depth. While it’s possible that some of this surveillance is worth the trade-offs, we as society need to deliberately and intelligently make decisions about it.

Some jurisdictions are starting to notice. Last month, San Francisco became the first city to ban facial recognition technology by police and other government agencies. A similar ban is being considered in Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA. These are exceptions, and limited to the more liberal areas of the country.

We often believe that technological change is inevitable, and that there’s nothing we can do to stop it — or even to steer it. That’s simply not true. We’re led to believe this because we don’t often see it, understand it, or have a say in how or when it is deployed. The problem is that technologies of cameras, resolution, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are complex and specialized.

Laws like what was just passed in San Francisco won’t stop the development of these technologies, but they’re not intended to. They’re intended as pauses, so our policy making can catch up with technology. As a general rule, the US government tends to ignore technologies as they’re being developed and deployed, so as not to stifle innovation. But as the rate of technological change increases, so does the unanticipated effects on our lives. Just as we’ve been surprised by the threats to democracy caused by surveillance capitalism, AI-enabled video surveillance will have similar surprising effects. Maybe a pause in our headlong deployment of these technologies will allow us the time to discuss what kind of society we want to live in, and then enact rules to bring that kind of society about.

This essay previously appeared on Vice Motherboard.

Video Surveillance by Computer

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2019/06/video_surveilla.html

The ACLU’s Jay Stanley has just published a fantastic report: “The Dawn of Robot Surveillance” (blog post here) Basically, it lays out a future of ubiquitous video cameras watched by increasingly sophisticated video analytics software, and discusses the potential harms to society.

I’m not going to excerpt a piece, because you really need to read the whole thing.

iOS Shortcut for Recording the Police

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2019/06/ios_shortcut_fo.html

Hey Siri; I’m getting pulled over” can be a shortcut:

Once the shortcut is installed and configured, you just have to say, for example, “Hey Siri, I’m getting pulled over.” Then the program pauses music you may be playing, turns down the brightness on the iPhone, and turns on “do not disturb” mode.

It also sends a quick text to a predetermined contact to tell them you’ve been pulled over, and it starts recording using the iPhone’s front-facing camera. Once you’ve stopped recording, it can text or email the video to a different predetermined contact and save it to Dropbox.

Hidden Cameras in Streetlights

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/hidden_cameras_.html

Both the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are hiding surveillance cameras in streetlights.

According to government procurement data, the DEA has paid a Houston, Texas company called Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC roughly $22,000 since June 2018 for “video recording and reproducing equipment.” ICE paid out about $28,000 to Cowboy Streetlight Concealments over the same period of time.

It’s unclear where the DEA and ICE streetlight cameras have been installed, or where the next deployments will take place. ICE offices in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have provided funding for recent acquisitions from Cowboy Streetlight Concealments; the DEA’s most recent purchases were funded by the agency’s Office of Investigative Technology, which is located in Lorton, Virginia.

Fifty thousand dollars doesn’t buy a lot of streetlight surveillance cameras, so either this is a pilot program or there are a lot more procurements elsewhere that we don’t know about.

Consumer Reports Reviews Wireless Home-Security Cameras

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/consumer_report_1.html

Consumer Reports is starting to evaluate the security of IoT devices. As part of that, it’s reviewing wireless home-security cameras.

It found significant security vulnerabilities in D-Link cameras:

In contrast, D-Link doesn’t store video from the DCS-2630L in the cloud. Instead, the camera has its own, onboard web server, which can deliver video to the user in different ways.

Users can view the video using an app, mydlink Lite. The video is encrypted, and it travels from the camera through D-Link’s corporate servers, and ultimately to the user’s phone. Users can also access the same encrypted video feed through a company web page, mydlink.com. Those are both secure methods of accessing the video.

But the D-Link camera also lets you bypass the D-Link corporate servers and access the video directly through a web browser on a laptop or other device. If you do this, the web server on the camera doesn’t encrypt the video.

If you set up this kind of remote access, the camera and unencrypted video is open to the web. They could be discovered by anyone who finds or guesses the camera’s IP address­ — and if you haven’t set a strong password, a hacker might find it easy to gain access.

The real news is that Consumer Reports is able to put pressure on device manufacturers:

In response to a Consumer Reports query, D-Link said that security would be tightened through updates this fall. Consumer Reports will evaluate those updates once they are available.

This is the sort of sustained pressure we need on IoT device manufacturers.

Boing Boing link.

EDITED TO ADD (11/13): In related news, the US Federal Trade Commission is suing D-Link because their routers are so insecure. The lawsuit was filed in January 2017.

Take a photo of yourself as an unreliable cartoon

Post Syndicated from Helen Lynn original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/take-a-photo-of-yourself-unreliable-cartoon/

Take a selfie, wait for the image to appear, and behold a cartoon version of yourself. Or, at least, behold a cartoon version of whatever the camera thought it saw. Welcome to Draw This by maker Dan Macnish.

Dan has made code, instructions, and wiring diagrams available to help you bring this beguiling weirdery into your own life.

raspberry pi cartoon polaroid camera

Neural networks, object recognition, and cartoons

One of the fun things about this re-imagined polaroid is that you never get to see the original image. You point, and shoot – and out pops a cartoon; the camera’s best interpretation of what it saw. The result is always a surprise. A food selfie of a healthy salad might turn into an enormous hot dog, or a photo with friends might be photobombed by a goat.

OK. Let’s take this one step at a time.

Pi + camera + button + LED

Draw This uses a Raspberry Pi 3 and a Camera Module, with a button and a useful status LED connected to the GPIO pins via a breadboard. You press the button, and the camera captures a still image while the LED comes on and stays lit for a couple of seconds while the Pi processes the image. So far, so standard Pi camera build.

Interpreting and re-interpreting the camera image

Dan uses Python to process the captured photograph, employing a pre-trained machine learning model from Google to recognise multiple objects in the image. Now he brings the strangeness. The Pi matches the things it sees in the photo with doodles from Google’s huge open-source Quick, Draw! dataset, and generates a new image that represents the objects in the original image as doodles. Then a thermal printer connected to the Pi’s GPIO pins prints the results.

A 28 x 14 grid of kangaroo doodles in dark grey on a white background

Kangaroos from the Quick, Draw! dataset (I got distracted)

Potential for peculiar

Reading about this build leaves me yearning to see its oddest interpretation of a scene, so if you make this and you find it really does turn you or your friend into a goat, please do share that with us.

And as you can see from my kangaroo digression above, there is a ton of potential for bizarro makes that use the Quick, Draw! dataset, object recognition models, or both; it’s not just the marsupials that are inexplicably compelling (I dare you to go and look and see how long it takes you to get back to whatever you were in the middle of). If you’re planning to make this, or something inspired by this, check out Dan’s cartoonify GitHub repo. And tell us all about it in the comments.

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Working with the Scout Association on digital skills for life

Post Syndicated from Philip Colligan original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/working-with-scout-association-digital-skills-for-life/

Today we’re launching a new partnership between the Scouts and the Raspberry Pi Foundation that will help tens of thousands of young people learn crucial digital skills for life. In this blog post, I want to explain what we’ve got planned, why it matters, and how you can get involved.

This is personal

First, let me tell you why this partnership matters to me. As a child growing up in North Wales in the 1980s, Scouting changed my life. My time with 2nd Rhyl provided me with countless opportunities to grow and develop new skills. It taught me about teamwork and community in ways that continue to shape my decisions today.

As my own kids (now seven and ten) have joined Scouting, I’ve seen the same opportunities opening up for them, and like so many parents, I’ve come back to the movement as a volunteer to support their local section. So this is deeply personal for me, and the same is true for many of my colleagues at the Raspberry Pi Foundation who in different ways have been part of the Scouting movement.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Scouting and Raspberry Pi share many of the same values. We are both community-led movements that aim to help young people develop the skills they need for life. We are both powered by an amazing army of volunteers who give their time to support that mission. We both care about inclusiveness, and pride ourselves on combining fun with learning by doing.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi started life in 2008 as a response to the problem that too many young people were growing up without the skills to create with technology. Our goal is that everyone should be able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies, for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively.

In 2012 we launched our first product, the world’s first $35 computer. Just six years on, we have sold over 20 million Raspberry Pi computers and helped kickstart a global movement for digital skills.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation now runs the world’s largest network of volunteer-led computing clubs (Code Clubs and CoderDojos), and creates free educational resources that are used by millions of young people all over the world to learn how to create with digital technologies. And lots of what we are able to achieve is because of partnerships with fantastic organisations that share our goals. For example, through our partnership with the European Space Agency, thousands of young people have written code that has run on two Raspberry Pi computers that Tim Peake took to the International Space Station as part of his Mission Principia.

Digital makers

Today we’re launching the new Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge to help tens of thousands of young people learn how to create with technology through Scouting. Over the past few months, we’ve been working with the Scouts all over the UK to develop and test the new badge requirements, along with guidance, project ideas, and resources that really make them work for Scouting. We know that we need to get two things right: relevance and accessibility.

Relevance is all about making sure that the activities and resources we provide are a really good fit for Scouting and Scouting’s mission to equip young people with skills for life. From the digital compass to nature cameras and the reinvented wide game, we’ve had a lot of fun thinking about ways we can bring to life the crucial role that digital technologies can play in the outdoors and adventure.

Compass Coding with Raspberry Pi

We are beyond excited to be launching a new partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which will help tens of thousands of young people learn digital skills for life.

We also know that there are great opportunities for Scouts to use digital technologies to solve social problems in their communities, reflecting the movement’s commitment to social action. Today we’re launching the first set of project ideas and resources, with many more to follow over the coming weeks and months.

Accessibility is about providing every Scout leader with the confidence, support, and kit to enable them to offer the Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge to their young people. A lot of work and care has gone into designing activities that require very little equipment: for example, activities at Stages 1 and 2 can be completed with a laptop without access to the internet. For the activities that do require kit, we will be working with Scout Stores and districts to make low-cost kit available to buy or loan.

We’re producing accessible instructions, worksheets, and videos to help leaders run sessions with confidence, and we’ll also be planning training for leaders. We will work with our network of Code Clubs and CoderDojos to connect them with local sections to organise joint activities, bringing both kit and expertise along with them.




Get involved

Today’s launch is just the start. We’ll be developing our partnership over the next few years, and we can’t wait for you to join us in getting more young people making things with technology.

Take a look at the brand-new Raspberry Pi resources designed especially for Scouts, to get young people making and creating right away.

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Lifting a Fingerprint from a Photo

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/lifting_a_finge.html

Police in the UK were able to read a fingerprint from a photo of a hand:

Staff from the unit’s specialist imaging team were able to enhance a picture of a hand holding a number of tablets, which was taken from a mobile phone, before fingerprint experts were able to positively identify that the hand was that of Elliott Morris.

[…]

Speaking about the pioneering techniques used in the case, Dave Thomas, forensic operations manager at the Scientific Support Unit, added: “Specialist staff within the JSIU fully utilised their expert image-enhancing skills which enabled them to provide something that the unit’s fingerprint identification experts could work. Despite being provided with only a very small section of the fingerprint which was visible in the photograph, the team were able to successfully identify the individual.”

Build a solar-powered nature camera for your garden

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/solar-powered-nature-camera/

Spring has sprung, and with it, sleepy-eyed wildlife is beginning to roam our gardens and local woodlands. So why not follow hackster.io maker reichley’s tutorial and build your own solar-powered squirrelhouse nature cam?

Raspberry Pi- and solar-powered nature camera

Inspiration

“I live half a mile above sea level and am SURROUNDED by animals…bears, foxes, turkeys, deer, squirrels, birds”, reichley explains in his tutorial. “Spring has arrived, and there are LOADS of squirrels running around. I was in the building mood and, being a nerd, wished to combine a common woodworking project with the connectivity and observability provided by single-board computers (and their camera add-ons).”

Building a tiny home

reichley started by sketching out a design for the house to determine where the various components would fit.

Raspberry Pi- and solar-powered nature camera

Since he’s fan of autonomy and renewable energy, he decided to run the project’s Raspberry Pi Zero W via solar power. To do so, he reiterated the design to include the necessary tech, scaling the roof to fit the panels.

Raspberry Pi- and solar-powered squirrel cam
Raspberry Pi- and solar-powered squirrel cam
Raspberry Pi- and solar-powered squirrel cam

To keep the project running 24/7, reichley had to figure out the overall power consumption of both the Zero W and the Raspberry Pi Camera Module, factoring in the constant WiFi connection and the sunshine hours in his garden.

Raspberry Pi- and solar-powered nature camera

He used a LiPo SHIM to bump up the power to the required 5V for the Zero. Moreover, he added a BH1750 lux sensor to shut off the LiPo SHIM, and thus the Pi, whenever it’s too dark for decent video.

Raspberry Pi- and solar-powered nature camera

To control the project, he used Calin Crisan’s motionEyeOS video surveillance operating system for single-board computers.

Build your own nature camera

To build your own version, follow reichley’s tutorial, in which you can also find links to all the necessary code and components. You can also check out our free tutorial for building an infrared bird box using the Raspberry Pi NoIR Camera Module. As Eben said in our YouTube live Q&A last week, we really like nature cameras here at Pi Towers, and we’d love to see yours. So if you have any live-stream links or photography from your Raspberry Pi–powered nature cam, please share them with us!

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Introducing the B2 Snapshot Return Refund Program

Post Syndicated from Ahin Thomas original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/b2-snapshot-return-refund-program/

B2 Snapshot Return Refund Program

What Is the B2 Snapshot Return Refund Program?

Backblaze’s mission is making cloud storage astonishingly easy and affordable. That guides our focus — making our customers’ data more usable. Today, we’re pleased to introduce a trial of the B2 Snapshot Return Refund program. B2 customers have long been able to create a Snapshot of their data and order a hard drive with that data sent via FedEx anywhere in the world. Starting today, if the customer sends the drive back to Backblaze within 30 days, they will get a full refund. This new feature is available automatically for B2 customers when they order a Snapshot. There are no extra buttons to push or boxes to check — just send back the drive within 30 days and we’ll refund your money. To put it simply, we are offering the cloud storage industry’s only refundable rapid data egress service.

You Shouldn’t be Afraid to Use Your Own Data

Last week, we cut the price of B2 downloads in half — from 2¢ per GB to 1¢ per GB. That 50% reduction makes B2’s download price 1/5 that of Amazon’s S3 (with B2 storage pricing already 1/4 that of S3). The price reduction and today’s introduction of the B2 Snapshot Return Refund program are deliberate moves to eliminate the industry’s biggest barrier to entry — the cost of using data stored in the cloud.  Storage vendors who make it expensive to restore, or place time lag impediments to access, are reducing the usefulness of your data. We believe this is antithetical to encouraging the use of the cloud in the first place.

Learning From Our Customers

Our Computer Backup product already has a Restore Return Refund program. It’s incredibly popular, and we enjoy the almost daily “you just saved my bacon” letters that come back with the returned hard drives. Our customer surveys have repeatedly demonstrated that the ability to get data back is one of the things that has made our Computer Backup service one of the most popular in the industry. So, it made sense to us that our B2 customers could use a similar program.

There are many ways B2 customers can benefit from using the B2 Snapshot Return Refund program, here is a typical scenario.

Media and Entertainment Workflow Based Snapshots

Businesses in the Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry tend to have large quantities of digital media, and the amount of data will continue to increase in the coming years with more 4K and 8K cameras coming into regular use. When an organization needs to deliver or share that data, they typically have to manually download data from their internal storage system, and copy it on a thumb drive or hard drive, or perhaps create an LTO tape. Once that is done, they take their storage device, label it, and mail to their customer. Not only is this practice costly, time consuming, and potentially insecure, it doesn’t scale well with larger amounts of data.

With just a few clicks, you can easily distribute or share your digital media if it stored in the B2 Cloud. Here’s how the process works:

  1. Log in to your Backblaze B2 account.
  2. Navigate to the bucket where the data is located.
  3. Select the files, or the entire bucket, you wish to send and create a “Snapshot.”
  4. Once the Snapshot is complete you have choices:
    • Download the Snapshot and pay $0.01/GB for the download
    • Have Backblaze copy the Snapshot to an external hard drive and FedEx it anywhere in the world. This stores up to 3.5 TB and costs $189.00. Return the hard drive to Backblaze within 30 days and you’ll get your $189.00 back.
    • Have Backblaze copy the Snapshot to a flash drive and FedEx it anywhere in the world. This stores up to 110 GB and costs $99.00. FedEx shipping to the specified location is included. Return the flash drive to Backblaze within 30 days and you’ll get your $99.00 back.

You can always keep the hard drive or flash drive and Backblaze, of course, will keep your money.

Each drive containing a Snapshot is encrypted. The encryption key can be found in your Backblaze B2 account after you log in. The FedEX tracking number is there as well. When the hard drive arrives at its destination you can provide the encryption key to the recipient and they’ll be able to access the files. Note that the encryption key must be entered each time the hard drive is started, so the data remains protected even if the hard drive is returned to Backblaze.

The B2 Snapshot Return Refund program supports Snapshots as large as 3.5 terabytes. That means you can send about 50 hours of 4k video to a client or partner by selecting the hard drive option. If you select the flash drive option, a Snapshot can be up to 110 gigabytes, which is about 1hr and 45 min of 4k video.

While the example uses an M&E workflow, any workflow requiring the exchange or distribution of large amounts of data across distinct geographies will benefit from this service.

This is a Trial Program

Backblaze fully intends to offer the B2 Snapshot Return Refund Program for a long time. That said, there is no program like this in the industry and so we want to put some guardrails on it to ensure we can offer a sustainable program for all. Thus, the “fine print”:

  • Minimum Snapshot Size — a Snapshot must be greater than 10 GB to qualify for this program. Why? You can download a 10 GB Snapshot in a few minutes. Why pay us to do the same thing and have it take a couple of days??
  • The 30 Day Clock — The clock starts on the day the drive is marked as delivered to you by FedEx and the clock ends on the date postmarked on the package we receive. If that’s 30 days or less, your refund will be granted.
  • 5 Drive Refunds Per Year — We are initially setting a limit of 5 drive refunds per B2 account per year. By placing a cap on the number of drive refunds per year, we are able to provide a service that is responsive to our entire client base. We expect to change or remove this limit once we have enough data to understand the demand and can make sure we are staffed properly.

It is Your Data — Use It

Our industry has a habit of charging little to store data and then usurious amounts to get it back. There are certainly real costs involved in data retrieval. We outlined them in our post on the Cost of Cloud Storage. The industry rates charged for data retrieval are clearly strategic moves to try and lock customers in. To us, that runs counter to trying to do our part to make data useful and our customers’ lives easier. That viewpoint drives our efforts behind lowering our download pricing and the creation of this program.

We hope you enjoy the B2 Snapshot Return Refund program. If you have a moment, please tell us in the comments below how you might use it!

The post Introducing the B2 Snapshot Return Refund Program appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 2

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/factors-for-choosing-data-center/

Rows of storage pods in a data center

This is part two of a series on the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the different types of data centers, the importance of location in planning a data center, data center certification, and the single most expensive factor in running a data center, power.

In Part 2, we continue to look at factors that need to considered both by those interested in a dedicated data center and those seeking to colocate in an existing center.

Power (continued from Part 1)

In part 1, we began our discussion of the power requirements of data centers.

As we discussed, redundancy and failover is a chief requirement for data center power. A redundantly designed power supply system is also a necessity for maintenance, as it enables repairs to be performed on one network, for example, without having to turn off servers, databases, or electrical equipment.

Power Path

The common critical components of a data center’s power flow are:

  • Utility Supply
  • Generators
  • Transfer Switches
  • Distribution Panels
  • Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)
  • PDUs

Utility Supply is the power that comes from one or more utility grids. While most of us consider the grid to be our primary power supply (hats off to those of you who manage to live off the grid), politics, economics, and distribution make utility supply power susceptible to outages, which is why data centers must have autonomous power available to maintain availability.

Generators are used to supply power when the utility supply is unavailable. They convert mechanical energy, usually from motors, to electrical energy.

Transfer Switches are used to transfer electric load from one source or electrical device to another, such as from one utility line to another, from a generator to a utility, or between generators. The transfer could be manually activated or automatic to ensure continuous electrical power.

Distribution Panels get the power where it needs to go, taking a power feed and dividing it into separate circuits to supply multiple loads.

A UPS, as we touched on earlier, ensures that continuous power is available even when the main power source isn’t. It often consists of batteries that can come online almost instantaneously when the current power ceases. The power from a UPS does not have to last a long time as it is considered an emergency measure until the main power source can be restored. Another function of the UPS is to filter and stabilize the power from the main power supply.

Data Center UPS

Data center UPSs

PDU stands for the Power Distribution Unit and is the device that distributes power to the individual pieces of equipment.

Network

After power, the networking connections to the data center are of prime importance. Can the data center obtain and maintain high-speed networking connections to the building? With networking, as with all aspects of a data center, availability is a primary consideration. Data center designers think of all possible ways service can be interrupted or lost, even briefly. Details such as the vulnerabilities in the route the network connections make from the core network (the backhaul) to the center, and where network connections enter and exit a building, must be taken into consideration in network and data center design.

Routers and switches are used to transport traffic between the servers in the data center and the core network. Just as with power, network redundancy is a prime factor in maintaining availability of data center services. Two or more upstream service providers are required to ensure that availability.

How fast a customer can transfer data to a data center is affected by: 1) the speed of the connections the data center has with the outside world, 2) the quality of the connections between the customer and the data center, and 3) the distance of the route from customer to the data center. The longer the length of the route and the greater the number of packets that must be transferred, the more significant a factor will be played by latency in the data transfer. Latency is the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. Generally latency, not speed, will be the most significant factor in transferring data to and from a data center. Packets transferred using the TCP/IP protocol suite, which is the conceptual model and set of communications protocols used on the internet and similar computer networks, must be acknowledged when received (ACK’d) and requires a communications roundtrip for each packet. If the data is in larger packets, the number of ACKs required is reduced, so latency will be a smaller factor in the overall network communications speed.

Latency generally will be less significant for data storage transfers than for cloud computing. Optimizations such as multi-threading, which is used in Backblaze’s Cloud Backup service, will generally improve overall transfer throughput if sufficient bandwidth is available.

Those interested in testing the overall speed and latency of their connection to Backblaze’s data centers can use the Check Your Bandwidth tool on our website.
Data center telecommunications equipment

Data center telecommunications equipment

Data center under floor cable runs

Data center under floor cable runs

Cooling

Computer, networking, and power generation equipment generates heat, and there are a number of solutions employed to rid a data center of that heat. The location and climate of the data center is of great importance to the data center designer because the climatic conditions dictate to a large degree what cooling technologies should be deployed that in turn affect the power used and the cost of using that power. The power required and cost needed to manage a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Innovation is strong in this area and many new approaches to efficient and cost-effective cooling are used in the latest data centers.

Switch's uninterruptible, multi-system, HVAC Data Center Cooling Units

Switch’s uninterruptible, multi-system, HVAC Data Center Cooling Units

There are three primary ways data center cooling can be achieved:

Room Cooling cools the entire operating area of the data center. This method can be suitable for small data centers, but becomes more difficult and inefficient as IT equipment density and center size increase.

Row Cooling concentrates on cooling a data center on a row by row basis. In its simplest form, hot aisle/cold aisle data center design involves lining up server racks in alternating rows with cold air intakes facing one way and hot air exhausts facing the other. The rows composed of rack fronts are called cold aisles. Typically, cold aisles face air conditioner output ducts. The rows the heated exhausts pour into are called hot aisles. Typically, hot aisles face air conditioner return ducts.

Rack Cooling tackles cooling on a rack by rack basis. Air-conditioning units are dedicated to specific racks. This approach allows for maximum densities to be deployed per rack. This works best in data centers with fully loaded racks, otherwise there would be too much cooling capacity, and the air-conditioning losses alone could exceed the total IT load.

Security

Data Centers are high-security facilities as they house business, government, and other data that contains personal, financial, and other secure information about businesses and individuals.

This list contains the physical-security considerations when opening or co-locating in a data center:

Layered Security Zones. Systems and processes are deployed to allow only authorized personnel in certain areas of the data center. Examples include keycard access, alarm systems, mantraps, secure doors, and staffed checkpoints.

Physical Barriers. Physical barriers, fencing and reinforced walls are used to protect facilities. In a colocation facility, one customers’ racks and servers are often inaccessible to other customers colocating in the same data center.

Backblaze racks secured in the data center

Backblaze racks secured in the data center

Monitoring Systems. Advanced surveillance technology monitors and records activity on approaching driveways, building entrances, exits, loading areas, and equipment areas. These systems also can be used to monitor and detect fire and water emergencies, providing early detection and notification before significant damage results.

Top-tier providers evaluate their data center security and facilities on an ongoing basis. Technology becomes outdated quickly, so providers must stay-on-top of new approaches and technologies in order to protect valuable IT assets.

To pass into high security areas of a data center requires passing through a security checkpoint where credentials are verified.

Data Center security

The gauntlet of cameras and steel bars one must pass before entering this data center

Facilities and Services

Data center colocation providers often differentiate themselves by offering value-added services. In addition to the required space, power, cooling, connectivity and security capabilities, the best solutions provide several on-site amenities. These accommodations include offices and workstations, conference rooms, and access to phones, copy machines, and office equipment.

Additional features may consist of kitchen facilities, break rooms and relaxation lounges, storage facilities for client equipment, and secure loading docks and freight elevators.

Moving into A Data Center

Moving into a data center is a major job for any organization. We wrote a post last year, Desert To Data in 7 Days — Our New Phoenix Data Center, about what it was like to move into our new data center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Desert To Data in 7 Days — Our New Phoenix Data Center

Visiting a Data Center

Our Director of Product Marketing Andy Klein wrote a popular post last year on what it’s like to visit a data center called A Day in the Life of a Data Center.

A Day in the Life of a Data Center

Would you Like to Know More about The Challenges of Opening and Running a Data Center?

That’s it for part 2 of this series. If readers are interested, we could write a post about some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. Please let us know in the comments.

Here's a tip!Here’s a tip on finding all the posts tagged with data center on our blog. Just follow https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.

Don’t miss future posts on data centers and other topics, including hard drive stats, cloud storage, and tips and tricks for backing up to the cloud. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts on our blog.

The post The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 2 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

OTON GLASS: turning text to speech

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/oton-glass/

With OTON GLASS, users are able to capture text with a blink and have it read back to them in their chosen language. It’s wonderful tool for people with dyslexia or poor vision, or for travellers abroad.

OTON GLASS

A wearable device for people who have difficulty reading.

OTON GLASS

Inspired by his father’s dyslexia, Keisuke Shimakage of the Media Creation Research Department at the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences, Japan, began to develop OTON GLASS:

I was determined to develop OTON GLASS because of my father’s dyslexia experience. In 2012, my father had a brain tumor, and developed dyslexia after his operation — the catalyst for OTON GLASS. Fortunately, he recovered fully after rehabilitation. However, many people have congenital dyslexia regardless of their health.

Assembling a team of engineers and designers, Keisuke got to work.

A collage images illustrating the history of developing OTON GLASS — OTON GLASS RASPBERRY PI GLASSES FOR DYSLEXIC USERS

The OTON GLASS device includes a Raspberry Pi 3, two cameras, and an earphone. One camera on the inside of the frame tracks the user’s eyes, and when it detects the blinked trigger, the outward-facing camera captures an image of what the user is looking at. This image is then processed by the Raspberry Pi via a program that performs optical character recognition. If the Pi detects written words, it converts them to speech, which the earphone plays back for the user.

A collage of images and text explaining how OTON GLASS works — OTON GLASS RASPBERRY PI GLASSES FOR DYSLEXIC USERS

The initial prototype of OTON GLASS had a 15-second delay between capturing text and replaying audio. This was cut down to three seconds in the team’s second prototype, designed in CAD software and housed within a 3D-printed case. The makers were then able to do real-world testing of the prototype to collect feedback from dyslexic users, and continued to upgrade the device based on user opinions.

Awards buzz

OTON GLASS is on its way to public distribution this year, and is currently doing the rounds at various trade and tech shows throughout Japan. Models are also available for trial at the Japan Blind Party Association, Kobe Eye Centre, and Nippon Keihan Library. In 2016, the device was runner-up for the James Dyson Award, and it has also garnered attention at various other awards shows and in the media. We’re looking forward to getting out hands on OTON GLASS, and we can’t wait to find out where team will take this device in the future.

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Raspberry Pi Spy’s Alexa Skill

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pi-spy-alexa-skill/

With Raspberry Pi projects using home assistant services such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home becoming more and more popular, we invited Raspberry Pi maker Matt ‘Raspberry Pi Spy‘ Hawkins to write a guest post about his latest project, the Pi Spy Alexa Skill.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Pi Spy Skill

The Alexa system uses Skills to provide voice-activated functionality, and it allows you to create new Skills to add extra features. With the Pi Spy Skill, you can ask Alexa what function each pin on the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO header provides, for example by using the phrase “Alexa, ask Pi Spy what is Pin 2.” In response to a phrase such as “Alexa, ask Pi Spy where is GPIO 8”, Alexa can now also tell you on which pin you can find a specific GPIO reference number.

This information is already available in various forms, but I thought it would be useful to retrieve it when I was busy soldering or building circuits and had no hands free.

Creating an Alexa Skill

There is a learning curve to creating a new Skill, and in some regards it was similar to mobile app development.

A Skill consists of two parts: the first is created within the Amazon Developer Console and defines the structure of the voice commands Alexa should recognise. The second part is a webservice that can receive data extracted from the voice commands and provide a response back to the device. You can create the webservice on a webserver, internet-connected device, or cloud service.

I decided to use Amazon’s AWS Lambda service. Once set up, this allows you to write code without having to worry about the server it is running on. It also supports Python, so it fit in nicely with most of my other projects.

To get started, I logged into the Amazon Developer Console with my personal Amazon account and navigated to the Alexa section. I created a new Skill named Pi Spy. Within a Skill, you define an Intent Schema and some Sample Utterances. The schema defines individual intents, and the utterances define how these are invoked by the user.

Here is how my ExaminePin intent is defined in the schema:

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Example utterances then attempt to capture the different phrases the user might speak to their device.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Whenever Alexa matches a spoken phrase to an utterance, it passes the name of the intent and the variable PinID to the webservice.

In the test section, you can check what JSON data will be generated and passed to your webservice in response to specific phrases. This allows you to verify that the webservices’ responses are correct.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Over on the AWS Services site, I created a Lambda function based on one of the provided examples to receive the incoming requests. Here is the section of that code which deals with the ExaminePin intent:

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

For this intent, I used a Python dictionary to match the incoming pin number to its description. Another Python function deals with the GPIO queries. A URL to this Lambda function was added to the Skill as its ‘endpoint’.

As with the Skill, the Python code can be tested to iron out any syntax errors or logic problems.

With suitable configuration, it would be possible to create the webservice on a Pi, and that is something I’m currently working on. This approach is particularly interesting, as the Pi can then be used to control local hardware devices such as cameras, lights, or pet feeders.

Note

My Alexa Skill is currently only available to UK users. I’m hoping Amazon will choose to copy it to the US service, but I think that is down to its perceived popularity, or it may be done in bulk based on release date. In the next update, I’ll be adding an American English version to help speed up this process.

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Turn your smartphone into a universal remote

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/zero-universal-remote/

Honolulu-based software developer bbtinkerer was tired of never being able to find the TV remote. So he made his own using a Raspberry Pi Zero, and connected it to a web app accessible on his smartphone.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Finding a remote alternative

“I needed one because the remote in my house tends to go missing a lot,” explains Bernard aka bbtinkerer on the Instructables page for his Raspberry Pi Zero Universal Remote.”If I want the controller, I have to hunt down three people and hope one of them remembers that they took it.”

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

For the build, Bernard used a Raspberry Pi Zero, an IR LED and corresponding receiver, Raspbian Lite, and a neat little 3D-printed housing.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero
bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero
bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

First, he soldered a circuit for the LED and resistors on a small piece of perf board. Then he assembled the hardware components. Finally, all he needed to do was to write the code to control his devices (including a tower fan), and to set up the app.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Bernard employed the Linux Infrared Remote Control (LIRC) package to control the television with the Raspberry Pi Zero, accessing the Zero via SSH. He gives a complete rundown of the installation process on Instructables.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Setting up a remote’s buttons with LIRC is a simple case of pressing them and naming their functions one by one. You’ll need the remote to set up the system, but after that, feel free to lock it in a drawer and use your smartphone instead.



Finally, Bernard created the web interface using Node.js, and again, because he’s lovely, he published the code for anyone wanting to build their own. Thanks, Bernard!

Life hacks

If you’ve used a Raspberry Pi to build a time-saving life hack like Bernard’s, be sure to share it with us. Other favourites of ours include fridge cameras, phone app doorbell notifications, and Alan’s ocarina home automation system. I’m not sure if this last one can truly be considered a time-saving life hack. It’s still cool though!

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