Tag Archives: cia

Derek Woodroffe’s steampunk tentacle hat

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/steampunk-tentacle-hat/

Halloween: that glorious time of year when you’re officially allowed to make your friends jump out of their skin with your pranks. For those among us who enjoy dressing up, Halloween is also the occasion to go all out with costumes. And so, dear reader, we present to you: a steampunk tentacle hat, created by Derek Woodroffe.

Finished Tenticle hat

Finished Tenticle hat

Extreme Electronics

Derek is an engineer who loves all things electronics. He’s part of Extreme Kits, and he runs the website Extreme Electronics. Raspberry Pi Zero-controlled Tesla coils are Derek’s speciality — he’s even been on one of the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures with them! Skip ahead to 15:06 in this video to see Derek in action:

Let There Be Light! // 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES with Saiful Islam – Lecture 1

The first Lecture from Professor Saiful Islam’s 2016 series of CHRISTMAS LECTURES, ‘Supercharged: Fuelling the future’. Watch all three Lectures here: http://richannel.org/christmas-lectures 2016 marked the 80th anniversary since the BBC first broadcast the Christmas Lectures on TV. To celebrate, chemist Professor Saiful Islam explores a subject that the lectures’ founder – Michael Faraday – addressed in the very first Christmas Lectures – energy.

Wearables

Wearables are electronically augmented items you can wear. They might take the form of spy eyeglasses, clothes with integrated sensors, or, in this case, headgear adorned with mechanised tentacles.

Why did Derek make this? We’re not entirely sure, but we suspect he’s a fan of the Cthulu mythos. In any case, we were a little astounded by his project. This is how we reacted when Derek tweeted us about it:

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

@ExtElec @extkits This is beyond incredible and completely unexpected.

In fact, we had to recover from a fit of laughter before we actually managed to type this answer.

Making a steampunk tentacle hat

Derek made the ‘skeleton’ of each tentacle out of a net curtain spring, acrylic rings, and four lengths of fishing line. Two servomotors connect to two ends of fishing line each, and pull them to move the tentacle.

net curtain spring and acrylic rings forming a mechanic tentacle skeleton - steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe
Two servos connecting to lengths of fishing line - steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe

Then he covered the tentacles with nylon stockings and liquid latex, glued suckers cut out of MDF onto them, and mounted them on an acrylic base. The eight motors connect to a Raspberry Pi via an I2C 8-port PWM controller board.

artificial tentacles - steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe
8 servomotors connected to a controller board and a raspberry pi- steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe

The Pi makes the servos pull the tentacles so that they move in sine waves in both the x and y directions, seemingly of their own accord. Derek cut open the top of a hat to insert the mounted tentacles, and he used more liquid latex to give the whole thing a slimy-looking finish.

steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!

You can read more about Derek’s steampunk tentacle hat here. He will be at the Beeston Raspberry Jam in November to show off his build, so if you’re in the Nottingham area, why not drop by?

Wearables for Halloween

This build is already pretty creepy, but just imagine it with a sensor- or camera-powered upgrade that makes the tentacles reach for people nearby. You’d have nightmare fodder for weeks.

With the help of the Raspberry Pi, any Halloween costume can be taken to the next level. How could Pi technology help you to win that coveted ‘Scariest costume’ prize this year? Tell us your ideas in the comments, and be sure to share pictures of you in your get-up with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

The post Derek Woodroffe’s steampunk tentacle hat appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Backing Up Linux to Backblaze B2 with Duplicity and Restic

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/backing-linux-backblaze-b2-duplicity-restic/

Linux users have a variety of options for handling data backup. The choices range from free and open-source programs to paid commercial tools, and include applications that are purely command-line based (CLI) and others that have a graphical interface (GUI), or both.

If you take a look at our Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage Integrations page, you will see a number of offerings that enable you to back up your Linux desktops and servers to Backblaze B2. These include CloudBerry, Duplicity, Duplicacy, 45 Drives, GoodSync, HashBackup, QNAP, Restic, and Rclone, plus other choices for NAS and hybrid uses.

In this post, we’ll discuss two popular command line and open-source programs: one older, Duplicity, and a new player, Restic.

Old School vs. New School

We’re highlighting Duplicity and Restic today because they exemplify two different philosophical approaches to data backup: “Old School” (Duplicity) vs “New School” (Restic).

Old School (Duplicity)

In the old school model, data is written sequentially to the storage medium. Once a section of data is recorded, new data is written starting where that section of data ends. It’s not possible to go back and change the data that’s already been written.

This old-school model has long been associated with the use of magnetic tape, a prime example of which is the LTO (Linear Tape-Open) standard. In this “write once” model, files are always appended to the end of the tape. If a file is modified and overwritten or removed from the volume, the associated tape blocks used are not freed up: they are simply marked as unavailable, and the used volume capacity is not recovered. Data is deleted and capacity recovered only if the whole tape is reformatted. As a Linux/Unix user, you undoubtedly are familiar with the TAR archive format, which is an acronym for Tape ARchive. TAR has been around since 1979 and was originally developed to write data to sequential I/O devices with no file system of their own.

It is from the use of tape that we get the full backup/incremental backup approach to backups. A backup sequence beings with a full backup of data. Each incremental backup contains what’s been changed since the last full backup until the next full backup is made and the process starts over, filling more and more tape or whatever medium is being used.

This is the model used by Duplicity: full and incremental backups. Duplicity backs up files by producing encrypted, digitally signed, versioned, TAR-format volumes and uploading them to a remote location, including Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage. Released under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL), Duplicity is free software.

With Duplicity, the first archive is a complete (full) backup, and subsequent (incremental) backups only add differences from the latest full or incremental backup. Chains consisting of a full backup and a series of incremental backups can be recovered to the point in time that any of the incremental steps were taken. If any of the incremental backups are missing, then reconstructing a complete and current backup is much more difficult and sometimes impossible.

Duplicity is available under many Unix-like operating systems (such as Linux, BSD, and Mac OS X) and ships with many popular Linux distributions including Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora. It also can be used with Windows under Cygwin.

We recently published a KB article on How to configure Backblaze B2 with Duplicity on Linux that demonstrates how to set up Duplicity with B2 and back up and restore a directory from Linux.

New School (Restic)

With the arrival of non-sequential storage medium, such as disk drives, and new ideas such as deduplication, comes the new school approach, which is used by Restic. Data can be written and changed anywhere on the storage medium. This efficiency comes largely through the use of deduplication. Deduplication is a process that eliminates redundant copies of data and reduces storage overhead. Data deduplication techniques ensure that only one unique instance of data is retained on storage media, greatly increasing storage efficiency and flexibility.

Restic is a recently available multi-platform command line backup software program that is designed to be fast, efficient, and secure. Restic supports a variety of backends for storing backups, including a local server, SFTP server, HTTP Rest server, and a number of cloud storage providers, including Backblaze B2.

Files are uploaded to a B2 bucket as deduplicated, encrypted chunks. Each time a backup runs, only changed data is backed up. On each backup run, a snapshot is created enabling restores to a specific date or time.

Restic assumes that the storage location for repository is shared, so it always encrypts the backed up data. This is in addition to any encryption and security from the storage provider.

Restic is open source and free software and licensed under the BSD 2-Clause License and actively developed on GitHub.

There’s a lot more you can do with Restic, including adding tags, mounting a repository locally, and scripting. To learn more, you can review the documentation at https://restic.readthedocs.io.

Coincidentally with this blog post, we published a KB article, How to configure Backblaze B2 with Restic on Linux, in which we show how to set up Restic for use with B2 and how to back up and restore a home directory from Linux to B2.

Which is Right for You?

While Duplicity is a popular, widely-available, and useful program, many users of cloud storage solutions such as B2 are moving to new-school solutions like Restic that take better advantage of the non-sequential access capabilities and speed of modern storage media used by cloud storage providers.

Tell us how you’re backing up Linux

Please let us know in the comments what you’re using for Linux backups, and if you have experience using Duplicity, Restic, or other backup software with Backblaze B2.

The post Backing Up Linux to Backblaze B2 with Duplicity and Restic appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Epic Games Sues Man Over Bitcoin Mining Fortnite ‘Cheat’

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/epic-games-sues-man-over-bitcoin-mining-fortnite-cheat-171019/

A few weeks ago, Epic Games released Fortnite’s free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest among gamers.

The release also attracted attention from thousands of cheaters, many of whom were subsequently banned. In addition, Epic Games went a step further by taking several cheaters to court over copyright infringement.

This week the North Carolina-based game developer continued its a war against cheaters. In a new lawsuit, it targets two other cheaters who promoted their hacks through YouTube videos.

One of the defendants is a Swedish resident, Mr. Josefson. He created a cheat and promoted it in various videos, adding instructions on how to download and install it. In common with the previous defendants, he is being sued for copyright infringement.

The second cheater listed in the complaint, a Russian man named Mr. Yakovenko, is more unique. This man also promoted his Fortnite cheats through a series of YouTube videos, but they weren’t very effective.

When Epic downloaded the ‘cheat’ to see how it works, all they got was a Bitcoin miner.

“Epic downloaded the purported cheat from the links provided in Yakovenko’s YouTube videos. While the ‘cheat’ does not appear to be a functional Fortnite cheat, it functions as a bitcoin miner that infects the user’s computer with a virus that causes the user’s computer to mine bitcoin for the benefit of an unknown third party,” the complaint reads.

Epic ‘cheat’

Despite the non-working cheat, Epic Games maintains that Yakovenko created a cheat for Fortnite’s Battle Royale game mode, pointing to a YouTube video he posted last month.

“The First Yakovenko video and associated post contained instructions on how to download and install the cheat and showed full screen gameplay using the purported cheat,” the complaint reads.

All the videos have since been removed following takedown notices from Epic. Through the lawsuit, the game developer now hopes to get compensation for the damages it suffered.

In addition to the copyright infringement claims the two men are also accused of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and breach of contract.

There’s little doubt that Epic Games is doing its best to hold cheaters accountable. However, the problem is not easy to contain. A simple search for Fortnite Hack or Fortnite Cheat still yields tens of thousands of results, with new videos being added continuously.

A copy of the full complaint against Josefson and Yakovenko is available here (pdf).

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

Anti-Piracy Group Joins Internet Organization That Controls Top-Level Domain

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-group-joins-internet-organization-that-controls-top-level-domain-171019/

All around the world, content creators and rightsholders continue to protest against the unauthorized online distribution of copyrighted content.

While pirating end-users obviously share some of the burden, the main emphasis has traditionally been placed on the shuttering of illicit sites, whether torrent, streaming, or hosting based.

Over time, however, sites have become more prevalent and increasingly resilient, leaving the music, movie and publishing industries to play a frustrating game of whac-a-mole. With this in mind, their focus has increasingly shifted towards Internet gatekeepers, including ISPs and bodies with influence over domain availability.

While most of these efforts take place via cooperation or legal action, there’s regularly conflict when Hollywood, for example, wants a particular domain rendered inaccessible or the music industry wants pirates kicked off the Internet.

As a result, there’s nearly always a disconnect, with copyright holders on one side and Internet technology companies worried about mission creep on the other. In Denmark, however, those lines have just been blurred in the most intriguing way possible after an infamous anti-piracy outfit joined an organization with significant control over the Internet in the country.

RettighedsAlliancen (or Rights Alliance as it’s more commonly known) is an anti-piracy group which counts some of the most powerful local and international movie companies among its members. It also operates on behalf of IFPI and by extension, most of the world’s major recording labels.

The group has been involved in dozens of legal processes over the years against file-sharers and file-sharing sites, most recently fighting for and winning ISP blockades against most major pirate portals including The Pirate Bay, RARBG, Torrentz, and many more.

In a somewhat surprising new announcement, the group has revealed it’s become the latest member of DIFO, the Danish Internet Forum (DIFO) which “works for a secure and accessible Internet” under the top-level .DK domain. Indeed, DIFO has overall responsibility for Danish internet infrastructure.

“For DIFO it is important to have a strong link to the Danish internet community. Therefore, we are very pleased that the Alliance wishes to be part of the association,” DIFO said in a statement.

Rights Alliance will be DIFO’s third new member this year but uniquely it will get the opportunity to represent the interests of more than 100,000 Danish and international rightholders from inside an influential Internet-focused organization.

Looking at DIFO’s membership, Rights Alliance certainly stands out as unusual. The majority of the members are made up of IT-based organizations, such as the Internet Industry Association, The Association of Open Source Suppliers and DKRegistrar, the industry association for Danish domain registrars.

A meeting around a table with these players and their often conflicting interests is likely to be an experience for all involved. However, all parties seem more than happy with the new partnership.

“We want to help create a more secure internet for companies that invest in doing business online, and for users to be safe, so combating digital crime is a key and shared goal,” says Rights Alliance chief, Maria Fredenslund. “I am therefore looking forward to the future cooperation with DIFO.”

Only time will tell how this partnership will play out but if common ground can be found, it’s certainly possible that the anti-piracy scene in Denmark could step up a couple of gears in the future.

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

Using AWS Step Functions State Machines to Handle Workflow-Driven AWS CodePipeline Actions

Post Syndicated from Marcilio Mendonca original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/using-aws-step-functions-state-machines-to-handle-workflow-driven-aws-codepipeline-actions/

AWS CodePipeline is a continuous integration and continuous delivery service for fast and reliable application and infrastructure updates. It offers powerful integration with other AWS services, such as AWS CodeBuildAWS CodeDeployAWS CodeCommit, AWS CloudFormation and with third-party tools such as Jenkins and GitHub. These services make it possible for AWS customers to successfully automate various tasks, including infrastructure provisioning, blue/green deployments, serverless deployments, AMI baking, database provisioning, and release management.

Developers have been able to use CodePipeline to build sophisticated automation pipelines that often require a single CodePipeline action to perform multiple tasks, fork into different execution paths, and deal with asynchronous behavior. For example, to deploy a Lambda function, a CodePipeline action might first inspect the changes pushed to the code repository. If only the Lambda code has changed, the action can simply update the Lambda code package, create a new version, and point the Lambda alias to the new version. If the changes also affect infrastructure resources managed by AWS CloudFormation, the pipeline action might have to create a stack or update an existing one through the use of a change set. In addition, if an update is required, the pipeline action might enforce a safety policy to infrastructure resources that prevents the deletion and replacement of resources. You can do this by creating a change set and having the pipeline action inspect its changes before updating the stack. Change sets that do not conform to the policy are deleted.

This use case is a good illustration of workflow-driven pipeline actions. These are actions that run multiple tasks, deal with async behavior and loops, need to maintain and propagate state, and fork into different execution paths. Implementing workflow-driven actions directly in CodePipeline can lead to complex pipelines that are hard for developers to understand and maintain. Ideally, a pipeline action should perform a single task and delegate the complexity of dealing with workflow-driven behavior associated with that task to a state machine engine. This would make it possible for developers to build simpler, more intuitive pipelines and allow them to use state machine execution logs to visualize and troubleshoot their pipeline actions.

In this blog post, we discuss how AWS Step Functions state machines can be used to handle workflow-driven actions. We show how a CodePipeline action can trigger a Step Functions state machine and how the pipeline and the state machine are kept decoupled through a Lambda function. The advantages of using state machines include:

  • Simplified logic (complex tasks are broken into multiple smaller tasks).
  • Ease of handling asynchronous behavior (through state machine wait states).
  • Built-in support for choices and processing different execution paths (through state machine choices).
  • Built-in visualization and logging of the state machine execution.

The source code for the sample pipeline, pipeline actions, and state machine used in this post is available at https://github.com/awslabs/aws-codepipeline-stepfunctions.

Overview

This figure shows the components in the CodePipeline-Step Functions integration that will be described in this post. The pipeline contains two stages: a Source stage represented by a CodeCommit Git repository and a Prod stage with a single Deploy action that represents the workflow-driven action.

This action invokes a Lambda function (1) called the State Machine Trigger Lambda, which, in turn, triggers a Step Function state machine to process the request (2). The Lambda function sends a continuation token back to the pipeline (3) to continue its execution later and terminates. Seconds later, the pipeline invokes the Lambda function again (4), passing the continuation token received. The Lambda function checks the execution state of the state machine (5,6) and communicates the status to the pipeline. The process is repeated until the state machine execution is complete. Then the Lambda function notifies the pipeline that the corresponding pipeline action is complete (7). If the state machine has failed, the Lambda function will then fail the pipeline action and stop its execution (7). While running, the state machine triggers various Lambda functions to perform different tasks. The state machine and the pipeline are fully decoupled. Their interaction is handled by the Lambda function.

The Deploy State Machine

The sample state machine used in this post is a simplified version of the use case, with emphasis on infrastructure deployment. The state machine will follow distinct execution paths and thus have different outcomes, depending on:

  • The current state of the AWS CloudFormation stack.
  • The nature of the code changes made to the AWS CloudFormation template and pushed into the pipeline.

If the stack does not exist, it will be created. If the stack exists, a change set will be created and its resources inspected by the state machine. The inspection consists of parsing the change set results and detecting whether any resources will be deleted or replaced. If no resources are being deleted or replaced, the change set is allowed to be executed and the state machine completes successfully. Otherwise, the change set is deleted and the state machine completes execution with a failure as the terminal state.

Let’s dive into each of these execution paths.

Path 1: Create a Stack and Succeed Deployment

The Deploy state machine is shown here. It is triggered by the Lambda function using the following input parameters stored in an S3 bucket.

Create New Stack Execution Path

{
    "environmentName": "prod",
    "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
    "templatePath": "infra/Lambda-template.yaml",
    "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
    "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ"
}

Note that some values used here are for the use case example only. Account-specific parameters like revisionS3Bucket and revisionS3Key will be different when you deploy this use case in your account.

These input parameters are used by various states in the state machine and passed to the corresponding Lambda functions to perform different tasks. For example, stackName is used to create a stack, check the status of stack creation, and create a change set. The environmentName represents the environment (for example, dev, test, prod) to which the code is being deployed. It is used to prefix the name of stacks and change sets.

With the exception of built-in states such as wait and choice, each state in the state machine invokes a specific Lambda function.  The results received from the Lambda invocations are appended to the state machine’s original input. When the state machine finishes its execution, several parameters will have been added to its original input.

The first stage in the state machine is “Check Stack Existence”. It checks whether a stack with the input name specified in the stackName input parameter already exists. The output of the state adds a Boolean value called doesStackExist to the original state machine input as follows:

{
  "doesStackExist": true,
  "environmentName": "prod",
  "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
  "templatePath": "infra/lambda-template.yaml",
  "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
  "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ",
}

The following stage, “Does Stack Exist?”, is represented by Step Functions built-in choice state. It checks the value of doesStackExist to determine whether a new stack needs to be created (doesStackExist=true) or a change set needs to be created and inspected (doesStackExist=false).

If the stack does not exist, the states illustrated in green in the preceding figure are executed. This execution path creates the stack, waits until the stack is created, checks the status of the stack’s creation, and marks the deployment successful after the stack has been created. Except for “Stack Created?” and “Wait Stack Creation,” each of these stages invokes a Lambda function. “Stack Created?” and “Wait Stack Creation” are implemented by using the built-in choice state (to decide which path to follow) and the wait state (to wait a few seconds before proceeding), respectively. Each stage adds the results of their Lambda function executions to the initial input of the state machine, allowing future stages to process them.

Path 2: Safely Update a Stack and Mark Deployment as Successful

Safely Update a Stack and Mark Deployment as Successful Execution Path

If the stack indicated by the stackName parameter already exists, a different path is executed. (See the green states in the figure.) This path will create a change set and use wait and choice states to wait until the change set is created. Afterwards, a stage in the execution path will inspect  the resources affected before the change set is executed.

The inspection procedure represented by the “Inspect Change Set Changes” stage consists of parsing the resources affected by the change set and checking whether any of the existing resources are being deleted or replaced. The following is an excerpt of the algorithm, where changeSetChanges.Changes is the object representing the change set changes:

...
var RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED = "RESOURCES-BEING-DELETED-OR-REPLACED";
var CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK = "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK";
for (var i = 0; i < changeSetChanges.Changes.length; i++) {
    var change = changeSetChanges.Changes[i];
    if (change.Type == "Resource") {
        if (change.ResourceChange.Action == "Delete") {
            return RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED;
        }
        if (change.ResourceChange.Action == "Modify") {
            if (change.ResourceChange.Replacement == "True") {
                return RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED;
            }
        }
    }
}
return CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK;

The algorithm returns different values to indicate whether the change set can be safely executed (CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK or RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED). This value is used later by the state machine to decide whether to execute the change set and update the stack or interrupt the deployment.

The output of the “Inspect Change Set” stage is shown here.

{
  "environmentName": "prod",
  "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
  "templatePath": "infra/lambda-template.yaml",
  "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
  "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ",
  "doesStackExist": true,
  "changeSetName": "prod-sample-lambda-app-change-set-545",
  "changeSetCreationStatus": "complete",
  "changeSetAction": "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK"
}

At this point, these parameters have been added to the state machine’s original input:

  • changeSetName, which is added by the “Create Change Set” state.
  • changeSetCreationStatus, which is added by the “Get Change Set Creation Status” state.
  • changeSetAction, which is added by the “Inspect Change Set Changes” state.

The “Safe to Update Infra?” step is a choice state (its JSON spec follows) that simply checks the value of the changeSetAction parameter. If the value is equal to “CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK“, meaning that no resources will be deleted or replaced, the step will execute the change set by proceeding to the “Execute Change Set” state. The deployment is successful (the state machine completes its execution successfully).

"Safe to Update Infra?": {
      "Type": "Choice",
      "Choices": [
        {
          "Variable": "$.taskParams.changeSetAction",
          "StringEquals": "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK",
          "Next": "Execute Change Set"
        }
      ],
      "Default": "Deployment Failed"
 }

Path 3: Reject Stack Update and Fail Deployment

Reject Stack Update and Fail Deployment Execution Path

If the changeSetAction parameter is different from “CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK“, the state machine will interrupt the deployment by deleting the change set and proceeding to the “Deployment Fail” step, which is a built-in Fail state. (Its JSON spec follows.) This state causes the state machine to stop in a failed state and serves to indicate to the Lambda function that the pipeline deployment should be interrupted in a fail state as well.

 "Deployment Failed": {
      "Type": "Fail",
      "Cause": "Deployment Failed",
      "Error": "Deployment Failed"
    }

In all three scenarios, there’s a state machine’s visual representation available in the AWS Step Functions console that makes it very easy for developers to identify what tasks have been executed or why a deployment has failed. Developers can also inspect the inputs and outputs of each state and look at the state machine Lambda function’s logs for details. Meanwhile, the corresponding CodePipeline action remains very simple and intuitive for developers who only need to know whether the deployment was successful or failed.

The State Machine Trigger Lambda Function

The Trigger Lambda function is invoked directly by the Deploy action in CodePipeline. The CodePipeline action must pass a JSON structure to the trigger function through the UserParameters attribute, as follows:

{
  "s3Bucket": "codepipeline-StepFunctions-sample",
  "stateMachineFile": "state_machine_input.json"
}

The s3Bucket parameter specifies the S3 bucket location for the state machine input parameters file. The stateMachineFile parameter specifies the file holding the input parameters. By being able to specify different input parameters to the state machine, we make the Trigger Lambda function and the state machine reusable across environments. For example, the same state machine could be called from a test and prod pipeline action by specifying a different S3 bucket or state machine input file for each environment.

The Trigger Lambda function performs two main tasks: triggering the state machine and checking the execution state of the state machine. Its core logic is shown here:

exports.index = function (event, context, callback) {
    try {
        console.log("Event: " + JSON.stringify(event));
        console.log("Context: " + JSON.stringify(context));
        console.log("Environment Variables: " + JSON.stringify(process.env));
        if (Util.isContinuingPipelineTask(event)) {
            monitorStateMachineExecution(event, context, callback);
        }
        else {
            triggerStateMachine(event, context, callback);
        }
    }
    catch (err) {
        failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, err.message);
    }
}

Util.isContinuingPipelineTask(event) is a utility function that checks if the Trigger Lambda function is being called for the first time (that is, no continuation token is passed by CodePipeline) or as a continuation of a previous call. In its first execution, the Lambda function will trigger the state machine and send a continuation token to CodePipeline that contains the state machine execution ARN. The state machine ARN is exposed to the Lambda function through a Lambda environment variable called stateMachineArn. Here is the code that triggers the state machine:

function triggerStateMachine(event, context, callback) {
    var stateMachineArn = process.env.stateMachineArn;
    var s3Bucket = Util.actionUserParameter(event, "s3Bucket");
    var stateMachineFile = Util.actionUserParameter(event, "stateMachineFile");
    getStateMachineInputData(s3Bucket, stateMachineFile)
        .then(function (data) {
            var initialParameters = data.Body.toString();
            var stateMachineInputJSON = createStateMachineInitialInput(initialParameters, event);
            console.log("State machine input JSON: " + JSON.stringify(stateMachineInputJSON));
            return stateMachineInputJSON;
        })
        .then(function (stateMachineInputJSON) {
            return triggerStateMachineExecution(stateMachineArn, stateMachineInputJSON);
        })
        .then(function (triggerStateMachineOutput) {
            var continuationToken = { "stateMachineExecutionArn": triggerStateMachineOutput.executionArn };
            var message = "State machine has been triggered: " + JSON.stringify(triggerStateMachineOutput) + ", continuationToken: " + JSON.stringify(continuationToken);
            return continueExecution(Util.jobId(event), continuationToken, callback, message);
        })
        .catch(function (err) {
            console.log("Error triggering state machine: " + stateMachineArn + ", Error: " + err.message);
            failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, err.message);
        })
}

The Trigger Lambda function fetches the state machine input parameters from an S3 file, triggers the execution of the state machine using the input parameters and the stateMachineArn environment variable, and signals to CodePipeline that the execution should continue later by passing a continuation token that contains the state machine execution ARN. In case any of these operations fail and an exception is thrown, the Trigger Lambda function will fail the pipeline immediately by signaling a pipeline failure through the putJobFailureResult CodePipeline API.

If the Lambda function is continuing a previous execution, it will extract the state machine execution ARN from the continuation token and check the status of the state machine, as shown here.

function monitorStateMachineExecution(event, context, callback) {
    var stateMachineArn = process.env.stateMachineArn;
    var continuationToken = JSON.parse(Util.continuationToken(event));
    var stateMachineExecutionArn = continuationToken.stateMachineExecutionArn;
    getStateMachineExecutionStatus(stateMachineExecutionArn)
        .then(function (response) {
            if (response.status === "RUNNING") {
                var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " is still " + response.status;
                return continueExecution(Util.jobId(event), continuationToken, callback, message);
            }
            if (response.status === "SUCCEEDED") {
                var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " has: " + response.status;
                return success(Util.jobId(event), callback, message);
            }
            // FAILED, TIMED_OUT, ABORTED
            var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " has: " + response.status;
            return failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, message);
        })
        .catch(function (err) {
            var message = "Error monitoring execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + ", Error: " + err.message;
            failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, message);
        });
}

If the state machine is in the RUNNING state, the Lambda function will send the continuation token back to the CodePipeline action. This will cause CodePipeline to call the Lambda function again a few seconds later. If the state machine has SUCCEEDED, then the Lambda function will notify the CodePipeline action that the action has succeeded. In any other case (FAILURE, TIMED-OUT, or ABORT), the Lambda function will fail the pipeline action.

This behavior is especially useful for developers who are building and debugging a new state machine because a bug in the state machine can potentially leave the pipeline action hanging for long periods of time until it times out. The Trigger Lambda function prevents this.

Also, by having the Trigger Lambda function as a means to decouple the pipeline and state machine, we make the state machine more reusable. It can be triggered from anywhere, not just from a CodePipeline action.

The Pipeline in CodePipeline

Our sample pipeline contains two simple stages: the Source stage represented by a CodeCommit Git repository and the Prod stage, which contains the Deploy action that invokes the Trigger Lambda function. When the state machine decides that the change set created must be rejected (because it replaces or deletes some the existing production resources), it fails the pipeline without performing any updates to the existing infrastructure. (See the failed Deploy action in red.) Otherwise, the pipeline action succeeds, indicating that the existing provisioned infrastructure was either created (first run) or updated without impacting any resources. (See the green Deploy stage in the pipeline on the left.)

The Pipeline in CodePipeline

The JSON spec for the pipeline’s Prod stage is shown here. We use the UserParameters attribute to pass the S3 bucket and state machine input file to the Lambda function. These parameters are action-specific, which means that we can reuse the state machine in another pipeline action.

{
  "name": "Prod",
  "actions": [
      {
          "inputArtifacts": [
              {
                  "name": "CodeCommitOutput"
              }
          ],
          "name": "Deploy",
          "actionTypeId": {
              "category": "Invoke",
              "owner": "AWS",
              "version": "1",
              "provider": "Lambda"
          },
          "outputArtifacts": [],
          "configuration": {
              "FunctionName": "StateMachineTriggerLambda",
              "UserParameters": "{\"s3Bucket\": \"codepipeline-StepFunctions-sample\", \"stateMachineFile\": \"state_machine_input.json\"}"
          },
          "runOrder": 1
      }
  ]
}

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed how state machines in AWS Step Functions can be used to handle workflow-driven actions. We showed how a Lambda function can be used to fully decouple the pipeline and the state machine and manage their interaction. The use of a state machine greatly simplified the associated CodePipeline action, allowing us to build a much simpler and cleaner pipeline while drilling down into the state machine’s execution for troubleshooting or debugging.

Here are two exercises you can complete by using the source code.

Exercise #1: Do not fail the state machine and pipeline action after inspecting a change set that deletes or replaces resources. Instead, create a stack with a different name (think of blue/green deployments). You can do this by creating a state machine transition between the “Safe to Update Infra?” and “Create Stack” stages and passing a new stack name as input to the “Create Stack” stage.

Exercise #2: Add wait logic to the state machine to wait until the change set completes its execution before allowing the state machine to proceed to the “Deployment Succeeded” stage. Use the stack creation case as an example. You’ll have to create a Lambda function (similar to the Lambda function that checks the creation status of a stack) to get the creation status of the change set.

Have fun and share your thoughts!

About the Author

Marcilio Mendonca is a Sr. Consultant in the Canadian Professional Services Team at Amazon Web Services. He has helped AWS customers design, build, and deploy best-in-class, cloud-native AWS applications using VMs, containers, and serverless architectures. Before he joined AWS, Marcilio was a Software Development Engineer at Amazon. Marcilio also holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science. In his spare time, he enjoys playing drums, riding his motorcycle in the Toronto GTA area, and spending quality time with his family.

IoT Cybersecurity: What’s Plan B?

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/10/iot_cybersecuri.html

In August, four US Senators introduced a bill designed to improve Internet of Things (IoT) security. The IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 is a modest piece of legislation. It doesn’t regulate the IoT market. It doesn’t single out any industries for particular attention, or force any companies to do anything. It doesn’t even modify the liability laws for embedded software. Companies can continue to sell IoT devices with whatever lousy security they want.

What the bill does do is leverage the government’s buying power to nudge the market: any IoT product that the government buys must meet minimum security standards. It requires vendors to ensure that devices can not only be patched, but are patched in an authenticated and timely manner; don’t have unchangeable default passwords; and are free from known vulnerabilities. It’s about as low a security bar as you can set, and that it will considerably improve security speaks volumes about the current state of IoT security. (Full disclosure: I helped draft some of the bill’s security requirements.)

The bill would also modify the Computer Fraud and Abuse and the Digital Millennium Copyright Acts to allow security researchers to study the security of IoT devices purchased by the government. It’s a far narrower exemption than our industry needs. But it’s a good first step, which is probably the best thing you can say about this legislation.

However, it’s unlikely this first step will even be taken. I am writing this column in August, and have no doubt that the bill will have gone nowhere by the time you read it in October or later. If hearings are held, they won’t matter. The bill won’t have been voted on by any committee, and it won’t be on any legislative calendar. The odds of this bill becoming law are zero. And that’s not just because of current politics — I’d be equally pessimistic under the Obama administration.

But the situation is critical. The Internet is dangerous — and the IoT gives it not just eyes and ears, but also hands and feet. Security vulnerabilities, exploits, and attacks that once affected only bits and bytes now affect flesh and blood.

Markets, as we’ve repeatedly learned over the past century, are terrible mechanisms for improving the safety of products and services. It was true for automobile, food, restaurant, airplane, fire, and financial-instrument safety. The reasons are complicated, but basically, sellers don’t compete on safety features because buyers can’t efficiently differentiate products based on safety considerations. The race-to-the-bottom mechanism that markets use to minimize prices also minimizes quality. Without government intervention, the IoT remains dangerously insecure.

The US government has no appetite for intervention, so we won’t see serious safety and security regulations, a new federal agency, or better liability laws. We might have a better chance in the EU. Depending on how the General Data Protection Regulation on data privacy pans out, the EU might pass a similar security law in 5 years. No other country has a large enough market share to make a difference.

Sometimes we can opt out of the IoT, but that option is becoming increasingly rare. Last year, I tried and failed to purchase a new car without an Internet connection. In a few years, it’s going to be nearly impossible to not be multiply connected to the IoT. And our biggest IoT security risks will stem not from devices we have a market relationship with, but from everyone else’s cars, cameras, routers, drones, and so on.

We can try to shop our ideals and demand more security, but companies don’t compete on IoT safety — and we security experts aren’t a large enough market force to make a difference.

We need a Plan B, although I’m not sure what that is. E-mail me if you have any ideas.

This essay previously appeared in the September/October issue of IEEE Security & Privacy.

Google Asked to Delist Pirate Movie Sites, ISPs Asked to Block Them

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/google-asked-to-delist-pirate-movie-sites-isps-asked-to-block-them-171018/

After seizing several servers operated by popular private music tracker What.cd, last November French police went after a much bigger target.

Boasting millions of regular visitors, Zone-Telechargement (Zone-Download) was ranked the 11th most-visited website in the whole of the country. The site offered direct downloads of a wide variety of pirated content, including films, series, games, and music. Until the French Gendarmerie shut it down, that is.

After being founded in 2011 and enjoying huge growth following the 2012 raids against Megaupload, the Zone-Telechargement ‘brand’ was still popular with French users, despite the closure of the platform. It, therefore, came as no surprise that the site was quickly cloned by an unknown party and relaunched as Zone-Telechargement.ws.

The site has been doing extremely well following its makeover. To the annoyance of copyright holders, SimilarWeb reports the platform as France’s 37th most popular site with around 58 million visitors per month. That’s a huge achievement in less than 12 months.

Now, however, the site is receiving more unwanted attention. PCInpact says it has received information that several movie-focused organizations including the French National Film Center are requesting tough action against the site.

The National Federation of Film Distributors, the Video Publishing Union, the Association of Independent Producers and the Producers Union are all demanding the blocking of Zone-Telechargement by several local ISPs, alongside its delisting from search results.

The publication mentions four Internet service providers – Free, Numericable, Bouygues Telecom, and Orange – plus Google on the search engine front. At this stage, other search companies, such as Microsoft’s Bing, are not reported as part of the action.

In addition to Zone-Telechargement, several other ‘pirate’ sites (Papystreaming.org, Sokrostream.cc and Zonetelechargement.su, another site playing on the popular brand) are included in the legal process. All are described as “structurally infringing” by the complaining movie outfits, PCInpact notes.

The legal proceedings against the sites are based in Article 336-2 of the Intellectual Property Code. It’s ground already trodden by movie companies who following a 2011 complaint, achieved victory in 2013 against several Allostreaming-linked sites.

In that case, the High Court of Paris ordered ISPs, several of which appear in the current action, to “implement all appropriate means including blocking” to prevent access to the infringing sites.

The Court also ordered Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to “take all necessary measures to prevent the occurrence on their services of any results referring to any of the sites” on their platforms.

Also of interest is that the action targets a service called DL-Protecte.com, which according to local anti-piracy agency HADOPI, makes it difficult for rightsholders to locate infringing content while at the same time generates more revenue for pirate sites.

A judgment is expected in “several months.”

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

New ‘Coalition Against Piracy’ Will Crack Down on Pirate Streaming Boxes

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/new-coalition-against-piracy-will-crack-down-on-pirate-streaming-boxes-171017/

Traditionally there have only been a handful of well-known industry groups fighting online piracy, but this appears to be changing.

Increasingly, major entertainment industry companies are teaming up in various regions to bundle their enforcement efforts against copyright infringement.

Earlier this year the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) was formed by major players including Disney, HBO, and NBCUniversal, and several of the same media giants are also involved in the newly founded Coalition Against Piracy (CAP).

CAP will coordinate anti-piracy efforts in Asia and is backed by CASBAA, Disney, Fox, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Premier League, Turner Asia-Pacific, A&E Networks, Astro, BBC Worldwide, National Basketball Association, TV5MONDE, Viacom International, and others.

The coalition has hired Neil Gane as its general manager. Gane is no stranger to anti-piracy work, as he previously served as the MPAA’s regional director in Australasia and was chief of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.

The goal of CAP will be to assist in local enforcement actions against piracy, including the disruption and dismantling of local businesses that facilitate it. Pirate streaming boxes and apps will be among the main targets.

These boxes, which often use the legal Kodi player paired with infringing add-ons, are referred to as illicit streaming devices (ISDs) by industry insiders. They have grown in popularity all around the world and Asia is no exception.

“The prevalence of ISDs across Asia is staggering. The criminals who operate the ISD networks and the pirate websites are profiting from the hard work of talented creators, seriously damaging the legitimate content ecosystem as well as exposing consumers to dangerous malware”, Gane said, quoted by Indian Television.

Gane knows the region well and started his career working for the Hong Kong Police. He sees the pirate streaming box ecosystem as a criminal network which presents a major threat to the entertainment industries.

“This is a highly organized transnational crime with criminal syndicates profiting enormously at the expense of consumers as well as content creators,” Gane noted.

The Asian creative industry is a major growth market as more and more legal content is made available. However, the growth of these legal services is threatened by pirate boxes and apps. The Coalition Against Piracy hopes to curb this.

The launch of CAP, which will be formalized at the upcoming CASBAA anti-piracy convention in November, confirms the trend of localized anti-piracy coalitions which are backed by major industry players. We can expect to hear more from these during the years to come.

Just a few days ago the founding members of the aforementioned ACE anti-piracy initiative filed their first joint lawsuit in the US which, unsurprisingly, targets a seller of streaming boxes.

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

How to Compete with Giants

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-compete-with-giants/

How to Compete with Giants

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the sixth in a series about entrepreneurship. You can choose posts in the series from the list below:

  1. How Backblaze got Started: The Problem, The Solution, and the Stuff In-Between
  2. Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages
  3. From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers
  4. How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers
  5. Surviving Your First Year
  6. How to Compete with Giants

Use the Join button above to receive notification of new posts in this series.

Perhaps your business is competing in a brand new space free from established competitors. Most of us, though, start companies that compete with existing offerings from large, established companies. You need to come up with a better mousetrap — not the first mousetrap.

That’s the challenge Backblaze faced. In this post, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from that experience.

Backblaze vs. Giants

Competing with established companies that are orders of magnitude larger can be daunting. How can you succeed?

I’ll set the stage by offering a few sets of giants we compete with:

  • When we started Backblaze, we offered online backup in a market where companies had been offering “online backup” for at least a decade, and even the newer entrants had raised tens of millions of dollars.
  • When we built our storage servers, the alternatives were EMC, NetApp, and Dell — each of which had a market cap of over $10 billion.
  • When we introduced our cloud storage offering, B2, our direct competitors were Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. You might have heard of them.

What did we learn by competing with these giants on a bootstrapped budget? Let’s take a look.

Determine What Success Means

For a long time Apple considered Apple TV to be a hobby, not a real product worth focusing on, because it did not generate a billion in revenue. For a $10 billion per year revenue company, a new business that generates $50 million won’t move the needle and often isn’t worth putting focus on. However, for a startup, getting to $50 million in revenue can be the start of a wildly successful business.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let the giants set your success metrics.

The Advantages Startups Have

The giants have a lot of advantages: more money, people, scale, resources, access, etc. Following their playbook and attacking head-on means you’re simply outgunned. Common paths to failure are trying to build more features, enter more markets, outspend on marketing, and other similar approaches where scale and resources are the primary determinants of success.

But being a startup affords many advantages most giants would salivate over. As a nimble startup you can leverage those to succeed. Let’s breakdown nine competitive advantages we’ve used that you can too.

1. Drive Focus

It’s hard to build a $10 billion revenue business doing just one thing, and most giants have a broad portfolio of businesses, numerous products for each, and targeting a variety of customer segments in multiple markets. That adds complexity and distributes management attention.

Startups get the benefit of having everyone in the company be extremely focused, often on a singular mission, product, customer segment, and market. While our competitors sell everything from advertising to Zantac, and are investing in groceries and shipping, Backblaze has focused exclusively on cloud storage. This means all of our best people (i.e. everyone) is focused on our cloud storage business. Where is all of your focus going?

Lesson Learned: Align everyone in your company to a singular focus to dramatically out-perform larger teams.

2. Use Lack-of-Scale as an Advantage

You may have heard Paul Graham say “Do things that don’t scale.” There are a host of things you can do specifically because you don’t have the same scale as the giants. Use that as an advantage.

When we look for data center space, we have more options than our largest competitors because there are simply more spaces available with room for 100 cabinets than for 1,000 cabinets. With some searching, we can find data center space that is better/cheaper.

When a flood in Thailand destroyed factories, causing the world’s supply of hard drives to plummet and prices to triple, we started drive farming. The giants certainly couldn’t. It was a bit crazy, but it let us keep prices unchanged for our customers.

Our Chief Cloud Officer, Tim, used to work at Adobe. Because of their size, any new product needed to always launch in a multitude of languages and in global markets. Once launched, they had scale. But getting any new product launched was incredibly challenging.

Lesson Learned: Use lack-of-scale to exploit opportunities that are closed to giants.

3. Build a Better Product

This one is probably obvious. If you’re going to provide the same product, at the same price, to the same customers — why do it? Remember that better does not always mean more features. Here’s one way we built a better product that didn’t require being a bigger company.

All online backup services required customers to choose what to include in their backup. We found that this was complicated for users since they often didn’t know what needed to be backed up. We flipped the model to back up everything and allow users to exclude if they wanted to, but it was not required. This reduced the number of features/options, while making it easier and better for the user.

This didn’t require the resources of a huge company; it just required understanding customers a bit deeper and thinking about the solution differently. Building a better product is the most classic startup competitive advantage.

Lesson Learned: Dig deep with your customers to understand and deliver a better mousetrap.

4. Provide Better Service

How can you provide better service? Use your advantages. Escalations from your customer care folks to engineering can go through fewer hoops. Fixing an issue and shipping can be quicker. Access to real answers on Twitter or Facebook can be more effective.

A strategic decision we made was to have all customer support people as full-time employees in our headquarters. This ensures they are in close contact to the whole company for feedback to quickly go both ways.

Having a smaller team and fewer layers enables faster internal communication, which increases customer happiness. And the option to do things that don’t scale — such as help a customer in a unique situation — can go a long way in building customer loyalty.

Lesson Learned: Service your customers better by establishing clear internal communications.

5. Remove The Unnecessary

After determining that the industry standard EMC/NetApp/Dell storage servers would be too expensive to build our own cloud storage upon, we decided to build our own infrastructure. Many said we were crazy to compete with these multi-billion dollar companies and that it would be impossible to build a lower cost storage server. However, not only did it prove to not be impossible — it wasn’t even that hard.

One key trick? Remove the unnecessary. While EMC and others built servers to sell to other companies for a wide variety of use cases, Backblaze needed servers that only Backblaze would run, and for a single use case. As a result we could tailor the servers for our needs by removing redundancy from each server (since we would run redundant servers), and using lower-performance components (since we would get high-performance by running parallel servers).

What do your customers and use cases not need? This can trim costs and complexity while often improving the product for your use case.

Lesson Learned: Don’t think “what can we add” to what the giants offer — think “what can we remove.”

6. Be Easy

How many times have you visited a large company website, particularly one that’s not consumer-focused, only to leave saying, “Huh? I don’t understand what you do.” Keeping your website clear, and your product and pricing simple, will dramatically increase conversion and customer satisfaction. If you’re able to make it 2x easier and thus increasing your conversion by 2x, you’ve just allowed yourself to spend ½ as much acquiring a customer.

Providing unlimited data backup wasn’t specifically about providing more storage — it was about making it easier. Since users didn’t know how much data they needed to back up, charging per gigabyte meant they wouldn’t know the cost. Providing unlimited data backup meant they could just relax.

Customers love easy — and being smaller makes easy easier to deliver. Use that as an advantage in your website, marketing materials, pricing, product, and in every other customer interaction.

Lesson Learned: Ease-of-use isn’t a slogan: it’s a competitive advantage. Treat it as seriously as any other feature of your product

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Obviously unnecessary risks are unnecessary, and some risks aren’t worth taking. However, large companies that have given guidance to Wall Street with a $0.01 range on their earning-per-share are inherently going to be very risk-averse. Use risk-tolerance to open up opportunities, and adjust your tolerance level as you scale. In your first year, there are likely an infinite number of ways your business may vaporize; don’t be too worried about taking a risk that might have a 20% downside when the upside is hockey stick growth.

Using consumer-grade hard drives in our servers may have caused pain and suffering for us years down-the-line, but they were priced at approximately 50% of enterprise drives. Giants wouldn’t have considered the option. Turns out, the consumer drives performed great for us.

Lesson Learned: Use calculated risks as an advantage.

8. Be Open

The larger a company grows, the more it wants to hide information. Some of this is driven by regulatory requirements as a public company. But most of this is cultural. Sharing something might cause a problem, so let’s not. All external communication is treated as a critical press release, with rounds and rounds of editing by multiple teams and approvals. However, customers are often desperate for information. Moreover, sharing information builds trust, understanding, and advocates.

I started blogging at Backblaze before we launched. When we blogged about our Storage Pod and open-sourced the design, many thought we were crazy to share this information. But it was transformative for us, establishing Backblaze as a tech thought leader in storage and giving people a sense of how we were able to provide our service at such a low cost.

Over the years we’ve developed a culture of being open internally and externally, on our blog and with the press, and in communities such as Hacker News and Reddit. Often we’ve been asked, “why would you share that!?” — but it’s the continual openness that builds trust. And that culture of openness is incredibly challenging for the giants.

Lesson Learned: Overshare to build trust and brand where giants won’t.

9. Be Human

As companies scale, typically a smaller percent of founders and executives interact with customers. The people who build the company become more hidden, the language feels “corporate,” and customers start to feel they’re interacting with the cliche “faceless, nameless corporation.” Use your humanity to your advantage. From day one the Backblaze About page listed all the founders, and my email address. While contacting us shouldn’t be the first path for a customer support question, I wanted it to be clear that we stand behind the service we offer; if we’re doing something wrong — I want to know it.

To scale it’s important to have processes and procedures, but sometimes a situation falls outside of a well-established process. While we want our employees to follow processes, they’re still encouraged to be human and “try to do the right thing.” How to you strike this balance? Simon Sinek gives a good talk about it: make your employees feel safe. If employees feel safe they’ll be human.

If your customer is a consumer, they’ll appreciate being treated as a human. Even if your customer is a corporation, the purchasing decision-makers are still people.

Lesson Learned: Being human is the ultimate antithesis to the faceless corporation.

Build Culture to Sustain Your Advantages at Scale

Presumably the goal is not to always be competing with giants, but to one day become a giant. Does this mean you’ll lose all of these advantages? Some, yes — but not all. Some of these advantages are cultural, and if you build these into the culture from the beginning, and fight to keep them as you scale, you can keep them as you become a giant.

Tesla still comes across as human, with Elon Musk frequently interacting with people on Twitter. Apple continues to provide great service through their Genius Bar. And, worst case, if you lose these at scale, you’ll still have the other advantages of being a giant such as money, people, scale, resources, and access.

Of course, some new startup will be gunning for you with grand ambitions, so just be sure not to get complacent. 😉

The post How to Compete with Giants appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

More Raspberry Pi labs in West Africa

Post Syndicated from Rachel Churcher original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pi-based-ict-west-africa/

Back in May 2013, we heard from Dominique Laloux about an exciting project to bring Raspberry Pi labs to schools in rural West Africa. Until 2012, 75 percent of teachers there had never used a computer. The project has been very successful, and Dominique has been in touch again to bring us the latest news.

A view of the inside of the new Pi lab building

Preparing the new Pi labs building in Kuma Tokpli, Togo

Growing the project

Thanks to the continuing efforts of a dedicated team of teachers, parents and other supporters, the Centre Informatique de Kuma, now known as INITIC (from the French ‘INItiation aux TIC’), runs two Raspberry Pi labs in schools in Togo, and plans to open a third in December. The second lab was opened last year in Kpalimé, a town in the Plateaux Region in the west of the country.

Student using a Raspberry Pi computer

Using the new Raspberry Pi labs in Kpalimé, Togo

More than 400 students used the new lab intensively during the last school year. Dominique tells us more:

“The report made in early July by the seven teachers who accompanied the students was nothing short of amazing: the young people covered a very impressive number of concepts and skills, from the GUI and the file system, to a solid introduction to word processing and spreadsheets, and many other skills. The lab worked exactly as expected. Its 21 Raspberry Pis worked flawlessly, with the exception of a couple of SD cards that needed re-cloning, and a couple of old screens that needed to be replaced. All the Raspberry Pis worked without a glitch. They are so reliable!”

The teachers and students have enjoyed access to a range of software and resources, all running on Raspberry Pi 2s and 3s.

“Our current aim is to introduce the students to ICT using the Raspberry Pis, rather than introducing them to programming and electronics (a step that will certainly be considered later). We use Ubuntu Mate along with a large selection of applications, from LibreOffice, Firefox, GIMP, Audacity, and Calibre, to special maths, science, and geography applications. There are also special applications such as GnuCash and GanttProject, as well as logic games including PyChess. Since December, students also have access to a local server hosting Kiwix, Wiktionary (a local copy of Wikipedia in four languages), several hundred videos, and several thousand books. They really love it!”

Pi lab upgrade

This summer, INITIC upgraded the equipment in their Pi lab in Kuma Adamé, which has been running since 2014. 21 older model Raspberry Pis were replaced with Pi 2s and 3s, to bring this lab into line with the others, and encourage co-operation between the different locations.

“All 21 first-generation Raspberry Pis worked flawlessly for three years, despite the less-than-ideal conditions in which they were used — tropical conditions, dust, frequent power outages, etc. I brought them all back to Brussels, and they all still work fine. The rationale behind the upgrade was to bring more computing power to the lab, and also to have the same equipment in our two Raspberry Pi labs (and in other planned installations).”

Students and teachers using the upgraded Pi labs in Kuma Adamé

Students and teachers using the upgraded Pi lab in Kuma Adamé

An upgrade of the organisation’s first lab, installed in 2012 in Kuma Tokpli, will be completed in December. This lab currently uses ‘retired’ laptops, which will be replaced with Raspberry Pis and peripherals. INITIC, in partnership with the local community, is also constructing a new building to house the upgraded technology, and the organisation’s third Raspberry Pi lab.

Reliable tech

Dominique has been very impressed with the performance of the Raspberry Pis since 2014.

“Our experience of three years, in two very different contexts, clearly demonstrates that the Raspberry Pi is a very convincing alternative to more ‘conventional’ computers for introducing young students to ICT where resources are scarce. I wish I could convince more communities in the world to invest in such ‘low cost, low consumption, low maintenance’ infrastructure. It really works!”

He goes on to explain that:

“Our goal now is to build at least one new Raspberry Pi lab in another Togolese school each year. That will, of course, depend on how successful we are at gathering the funds necessary for each installation, but we are confident we can convince enough friends to give us the financial support needed for our action.”

A desk with Raspberry Pis and peripherals

Reliable Raspberry Pis in the labs at Kpalimé

Get involved

We are delighted to see the Raspberry Pi being used to bring information technology to new teachers, students, and communities in Togo – it’s wonderful to see this project becoming established and building on its achievements. The mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. Therefore, projects like this, in which people use our tech to fulfil this mission in places with few resources, are wonderful to us.

More information about INITIC and its projects can be found on its website. If you are interested in helping the organisation to meet its goals, visit the How to help page. And if you are involved with a project like this, bringing ICT, computer science, and coding to new places, please tell us about it in the comments below.

The post More Raspberry Pi labs in West Africa appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Spinrilla Wants RIAA Case Thrown Out Over ‘Lies’ About ‘Hidden’ Piracy Data

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/spinrilla-wants-riaa-case-thrown-out-over-lies-about-hidden-piracy-data-171016/

Earlier this year, a group of well-known labels targeted Spinrilla, a popular hip-hop mixtape site and app which serves millions of users.

The coalition of record labels, including Sony Music, Warner Bros. Records, and Universal Music Group, filed a lawsuit against the service over alleged copyright infringements.

While the discovery process is still ongoing, Spinrilla recently informed the court that the record labels have “just about derailed” the entire case. The company has submitted a motion for sanctions, which is currently sealed, but additional information submitted to the court this week reveals what’s going on.

When the labels filed their original complaint they listed 210 tracks, without providing the allegedly infringing URLs. These weren’t shared during the early stages of the discovery process either, forcing the site to manually search for potentially infringing links.

Then, early October, Spinrilla received a massive spreadsheet with over 2,000 tracks, including the infringing URLs. This data came from the RIAA and supported the long list of infringements in the amended complaint submitted around the same time.

The spreadsheet would have made the discovery process much easier for Spinrilla. In a supplemental brief supporting a motion for sanctions, Spinrilla accuses the labels of hiding the piracy data from them and lying about it, “derailing” the case in the process.

“Significantly, Plaintiffs used that lie to convince the Court they should be allowed to add about 1,900 allegedly infringed sound recordings to their original list of 210. Later, Plaintiffs repeated that lie to convince the Court to give them time to add even more sound recordings to their list.”

vbcn

Spinrilla says they were forced to go down an expensive and unnecessary rabbit hole to find the infringing files, even though the RIAA data was available all along.

“By hiding and lying about the RIAA data, Plaintiffs forced Defendants to spend precious time and money fumbling through discovery. Not knowing that Plaintiffs had the RIAA data,” the company writes.

The hip-hop mixtape site argues that the alleged wrongdoing is severe enough to have the entire complaint dismissed, as the ultimate sanction.

“It is without exaggeration to say that by hiding the RIAA spreadsheets and that underlying data, Defendants have been severely prejudiced. The Complaint should be dismissed with prejudice and, if it is, Plaintiffs can only blame themselves,” Spinrilla concludes.

The stakes are certainly high in this case. With well over 2,000 infringing tracks listed in the amended complaint, the hip-hop mixtape site faces statutory damages as high as $300 million, at least in theory.

Spinrilla’s supplement brief in further support of the motion for sanctions is available here (pdf).

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

“KRACK”: a severe WiFi protocol flaw

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/736486/rss

The “krackattacks” web site
discloses a set of WiFi protocol flaws that defeat most of the protection
that WPA2 encryption is supposed to provide. “In a key
reinstallation attack, the adversary tricks a victim into reinstalling an
already-in-use key. This is achieved by manipulating and replaying
cryptographic handshake messages. When the victim reinstalls the key,
associated parameters such as the incremental transmit packet number
(i.e. nonce) and receive packet number (i.e. replay counter) are reset to
their initial value. Essentially, to guarantee security, a key should only
be installed and used once. Unfortunately, we found this is not guaranteed
by the WPA2 protocol
“.

New KRACK Attack Against Wi-Fi Encryption

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/10/new_krack_attac.html

Mathy Vanhoef has just published a devastating attack against WPA2, the 14-year-old encryption protocol used by pretty much all wi-fi systems. Its an interesting attack, where the attacker forces the protocol to reuse a key. The authors call this attack KRACK, for Key Reinstallation Attacks

This is yet another of a series of marketed attacks; with a cool name, a website, and a logo. The Q&A on the website answers a lot of questions about the attack and its implications. And lots of good information in this ArsTechnica article.

There is an academic paper, too:

“Key Reinstallation Attacks: Forcing Nonce Reuse in WPA2,” by Mathy Vanhoef and Frank Piessens.

Abstract: We introduce the key reinstallation attack. This attack abuses design or implementation flaws in cryptographic protocols to reinstall an already-in-use key. This resets the key’s associated parameters such as transmit nonces and receive replay counters. Several types of cryptographic Wi-Fi handshakes are affected by the attack. All protected Wi-Fi networks use the 4-way handshake to generate a fresh session key. So far, this 14-year-old handshake has remained free from attacks, and is even proven secure. However, we show that the 4-way handshake is vulnerable to a key reinstallation attack. Here, the adversary tricks a victim into reinstalling an already-in-use key. This is achieved by manipulating and replaying handshake messages. When reinstalling the key, associated parameters such as the incremental transmit packet number (nonce) and receive packet number (replay counter) are reset to their initial value. Our key reinstallation attack also breaks the PeerKey, group key, and Fast BSS Transition (FT) handshake. The impact depends on the handshake being attacked, and the data-confidentiality protocol in use. Simplified, against AES-CCMP an adversary can replay and decrypt (but not forge) packets. This makes it possible to hijack TCP streams and inject malicious data into them. Against WPA-TKIP and GCMP the impact is catastrophic: packets can be replayed, decrypted, and forged. Because GCMP uses the same authentication key in both communication directions, it is especially affected.

Finally, we confirmed our findings in practice, and found that every Wi-Fi device is vulnerable to some variant of our attacks. Notably, our attack is exceptionally devastating against Android 6.0: it forces the client into using a predictable all-zero encryption key.

I’m just reading about this now, and will post more information
as I learn it.

EDITED TO ADD: More news.

EDITED TO ADD: This meets my definition of brilliant. The attack is blindingly obvious once it’s pointed out, but for over a decade no one noticed it.

EDITED TO ADD: Matthew Green has a blog post on what went wrong. The vulnerability is in the interaction between two protocols. At a meta level, he blames the opaque IEEE standards process:

One of the problems with IEEE is that the standards are highly complex and get made via a closed-door process of private meetings. More importantly, even after the fact, they’re hard for ordinary security researchers to access. Go ahead and google for the IETF TLS or IPSec specifications — you’ll find detailed protocol documentation at the top of your Google results. Now go try to Google for the 802.11i standards. I wish you luck.

The IEEE has been making a few small steps to ease this problem, but they’re hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit. There’s an IEEE program called GET that allows researchers to access certain standards (including 802.11) for free, but only after they’ve been public for six months — coincidentally, about the same time it takes for vendors to bake them irrevocably into their hardware and software.

This whole process is dumb and — in this specific case — probably just cost industry tens of millions of dollars. It should stop.

Nicholas Weaver explains why most people shouldn’t worry about this:

So unless your Wi-Fi password looks something like a cat’s hairball (e.g. “:SNEIufeli7rc” — which is not guessable with a few million tries by a computer), a local attacker had the capability to determine the password, decrypt all the traffic, and join the network before KRACK.

KRACK is, however, relevant for enterprise Wi-Fi networks: networks where you needed to accept a cryptographic certificate to join initially and have to provide both a username and password. KRACK represents a new vulnerability for these networks. Depending on some esoteric details, the attacker can decrypt encrypted traffic and, in some cases, inject traffic onto the network.

But in none of these cases can the attacker join the network completely. And the most significant of these attacks affects Linux devices and Android phones, they don’t affect Macs, iPhones, or Windows systems. Even when feasible, these attacks require physical proximity: An attacker on the other side of the planet can’t exploit KRACK, only an attacker in the parking lot can.

PureVPN Explains How it Helped the FBI Catch a Cyberstalker

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/purevpn-explains-how-it-helped-the-fbi-catch-a-cyberstalker-171016/

Early October, Ryan S. Lin, 24, of Newton, Massachusetts, was arrested on suspicion of conducting “an extensive cyberstalking campaign” against a 24-year-old Massachusetts woman, as well as her family members and friends.

The Department of Justice described Lin’s offenses as a “multi-faceted” computer hacking and cyberstalking campaign. Launched in April 2016 when he began hacking into the victim’s online accounts, Lin allegedly obtained personal photographs and sensitive information about her medical and sexual histories and distributed that information to hundreds of other people.

Details of what information the FBI compiled on Lin can be found in our earlier report but aside from his alleged crimes (which are both significant and repugnant), it was PureVPN’s involvement in the case that caused the most controversy.

In a report compiled by an FBI special agent, it was revealed that the Hong Kong-based company’s logs helped the authorities net the alleged criminal.

“Significantly, PureVPN was able to determine that their service was accessed by the same customer from two originating IP addresses: the RCN IP address from the home Lin was living in at the time, and the software company where Lin was employed at the time,” the agent’s affidavit reads.

Among many in the privacy community, this revelation was met with disappointment. On the PureVPN website the company claims to carry no logs and on a general basis, it’s expected that so-called “no-logging” VPN providers should provide people with some anonymity, at least as far as their service goes. Now, several days after the furor, the company has responded to its critics.

In a fairly lengthy statement, the company begins by confirming that it definitely doesn’t log what websites a user views or what content he or she downloads.

“PureVPN did not breach its Privacy Policy and certainly did not breach your trust. NO browsing logs, browsing habits or anything else was, or ever will be shared,” the company writes.

However, that’s only half the problem. While it doesn’t log user activity (what sites people visit or content they download), it does log the IP addresses that customers use to access the PureVPN service. These, given the right circumstances, can be matched to external activities thanks to logs carried by other web companies.

PureVPN talks about logs held by Google’s Gmail service to illustrate its point.

“A network log is automatically generated every time a user visits a website. For the sake of this example, let’s say a user logged into their Gmail account. Every time they accessed Gmail, the email provider created a network log,” the company explains.

“If you are using a VPN, Gmail’s network log would contain the IP provided by PureVPN. This is one half of the picture. Now, if someone asks Google who accessed the user’s account, Google would state that whoever was using this IP, accessed the account.

“If the user was connected to PureVPN, it would be a PureVPN IP. The inquirer [in the Lin case, the FBI] would then share timestamps and network logs acquired from Google and ask them to be compared with the network logs maintained by the VPN provider.”

Now, if PureVPN carried no logs – literally no logs – it would not be able to help with this kind of inquiry. That was the case last year when the FBI approached Private Internet Access for information and the company was unable to assist.

However, as is made pretty clear by PureVPN’s explanation, the company does log user IP addresses and timestamps which reveal when a user was logged on to the service. It doesn’t matter that PureVPN doesn’t log what the user allegedly did online, since the third-party service already knows that information to the precise second.

Following the example, GMail knows that a user sent an email at 10:22am on Monday October 16 from a PureVPN IP address. So, if PureVPN is approached by the FBI, the company can confirm that User X was using the same IP address at exactly the same time, and his home IP address was XXX.XX.XXX.XX. Effectively, the combined logs link one IP address to the other and the user is revealed. It’s that simple.

It is for this reason that in TorrentFreak’s annual summary of no-logging VPN providers, the very first question we ask every single company reads as follows:

Do you keep ANY logs which would allow you to match an IP-address and a time stamp to a user/users of your service? If so, what information do you hold and for how long?

Clearly, if a company says “yes we log incoming IP addresses and associated timestamps”, any claim to total user anonymity is ended right there and then.

While not completely useless (a logging service will still stop the prying eyes of ISPs and similar surveillance, while also defeating throttling and site-blocking), if you’re a whistle-blower with a job or even your life to protect, this level of protection is entirely inadequate.

The take-home points from this controversy are numerous, but perhaps the most important is for people to read and understand VPN provider logging policies.

Secondly, and just as importantly, VPN providers need to be extremely clear about the information they log. Not tracking browsing or downloading activities is all well and good, but if home IP addresses and timestamps are stored, this needs to be made clear to the customer.

Finally, VPN users should not be evil. There are plenty of good reasons to stay anonymous online but cyberstalking, death threats and ruining people’s lives are not included. Fortunately, the FBI have offline methods for catching this type of offender, and long may that continue.

PureVPN’s blog post is available here.

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

AI in the Cloud Market: AWS & Microsoft Lend a Big Hand

Post Syndicated from Chris De Santis original https://www.anchor.com.au/blog/2017/10/aws-microsoft-launch-ai-platform/

Artificial intelligence (or AI) doesn’t necessarily play a big role in the current cloud hosting market, but Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft are looking to change that.

AI is starting to grow at an alarming rate and may be a significant role-player in the near future. According to Bernie Trudel, chairman of the Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA), AI “will become the killer application that will drive cloud computing forward”. He continues to mention that, although AI only accounts for 1% of the today’s global cloud computing market, its overall IT market share is growing at 52%, and its expected to rapidly grow to 10% of cloud revenue by 2025.

Trudel made notable that, although the big players in the cloud game are currently offering AI capabilities, the cloud-based AI market is still in its early stages. These big players include AWS, Microsoft, Google, and IBM. He also continues to state that AWS is certainly the leader in the cloud market, but they’re playing catch-up in terms of an AI perspective.

AWS 💘 Microsoft?

Here’s the funny bit–that a day or two after Trudel said all of this at Cloud Expo Asia, AWS announce (on their blog) their combined effort with Microsoft to create a new open-source deep-learning interface that “allows developers to more easily and quickly build machine learning models”. In other words, Gluon is an AI application for developers to create their own AI models, to the benefit of their own cloud applications and technical endeavours.

If you’d like to learn more about Gluon and the details of the project, head over to the AWS blog here.

AWS + Microsoft

 

The post AI in the Cloud Market: AWS & Microsoft Lend a Big Hand appeared first on AWS Managed Services by Anchor.

Netflix Expands Content Protection Team to Reduce Piracy

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/netflix-expands-content-protection-team-to-reduce-piracy-171015/

There is little doubt that, in the United States and many other countries, Netflix has become the standard for watching movies on the Internet.

Despite the widespread availability, however, Netflix originals are widely pirated. Episodes from House of Cards, Narcos, and Orange is the New Black are downloaded and streamed millions of times through unauthorized platforms.

The streaming giant is obviously not happy with this situation and has ramped up its anti-piracy efforts in recent years. Since last year the company has sent out over a million takedown requests to Google alone and this volume continues to expand.

This growth coincides with an expansion of the company’s internal anti-piracy division. A new job posting shows that Netflix is expanding this team with a Copyright and Content Protection Coordinator. The ultimate goal is to reduce piracy to a fringe activity.

“The growing Global Copyright & Content Protection Group is looking to expand its team with the addition of a coordinator,” the job listing reads.

“He or she will be tasked with supporting the Netflix Global Copyright & Content Protection Group in its internal tactical take down efforts with the goal of reducing online piracy to a socially unacceptable fringe activity.”

Among other things, the new coordinator will evaluate new technological solutions to tackle piracy online.

More old-fashioned takedown efforts are also part of the job. This includes monitoring well-known content platforms, search engines and social network sites for pirated content.

“Day to day scanning of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Google Search, Bing Search, VK, DailyMotion and all other platforms (including live platforms) used for piracy,” is listed as one of the main responsibilities.

Netflix’ Copyright and Content Protection Coordinator Job

The coordinator is further tasked with managing Facebook’s Rights Manager and YouTube’s Content-ID system, to prevent circumvention of these piracy filters. Experience with fingerprinting technologies and other anti-piracy tools will be helpful in this regard.

Netflix doesn’t do all the copyright enforcement on its own though. The company works together with other media giants in the recently launched “Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment” that is spearheaded by the MPAA.

In addition, the company also uses the takedown services of external anti-piracy outfits to target more traditional infringement sources, such as cyberlockers and piracy streaming sites. The coordinator has to keep an eye on these as well.

“Liaise with our vendors on manual takedown requests on linking sites and hosting sites and gathering data on pirate streaming sites, cyberlockers and usenet platforms.”

The above shows that Netflix is doing its best to prevent piracy from getting out of hand. It’s definitely taking the issue more seriously than a few years ago when the company didn’t have much original content.

The switch from being merely a distribution platform to becoming a major content producer and copyright holder has changed the stakes. Netflix hasn’t won the war on piracy, it’s just getting started.

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

‘Pirate’ EBook Site Refuses Point Blank to Cooperate With BREIN

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-ebook-site-refuses-point-blank-to-cooperate-with-brein-171015/

Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN is probably best known for its legal action against The Pirate Bay but the outfit also tackles many other forms of piracy.

A prime example is the case it pursued against a seller of fully-loaded Kodi boxes in the Netherlands. The subsequent landmark ruling from the European Court of Justice will reverberate around Europe for years to come.

Behind the scenes, however, BREIN persistently tries to take much smaller operations offline, and not without success. Earlier this year it revealed it had taken down 231 illegal sites and services includes 84 linking sites, 63 streaming portals, and 34 torrent sites. Some of these shut down completely and others were forced to leave their hosting providers.

Much of this work flies under the radar but some current action, against an eBook site, is now being thrust into the public eye.

For more than five years, EBoek.info (eBook) has serviced Internet users looking to obtain comic books in Dutch. The site informs TorrentFreak it provides a legitimate service, targeted at people who have purchased a hard copy but also want their comics in digital format.

“EBoek.info is a site about comic books in the Dutch language. Besides some general information about the books, people who have legally obtained a hard copy of the books can find a link to an NZB file which enables them to download a digital version of the books they already have,” site representative ‘Zala’ says.

For those out of the loop, NZB files are a bit like Usenet’s version of .torrent files. They contain no copyrighted content themselves but do provide software clients with information on where to find specific content, so it can be downloaded to a user’s machine.

“BREIN claims that this is illegal as it is impossible for us to verify if our visitor is telling the truth [about having purchased a copy],” Zala reveals.

Speaking with TorrentFreak, BREIN chief Tim Kuik says there’s no question that offering downloads like this is illegal.

“It is plain and simple: the site makes links to unauthorized digital copies available to the general public and therefore is infringing copyright. It is distribution of the content without authorization of the rights holder,” Kuik says.

“The unauthorized copies are not private copies. The private copy exception does not apply to this kind of distribution. The private copy has not been made by the owner of the book himself for his own use. Someone else made the digital copy and is making it available to anyone who wants to download it provided he makes the unverified claim that he has a legal copy. This harms the normal exploitation of the
content.”

Zala says that BREIN has been trying to take his site offline for many years but more recently, the platform has utilized the services of Cloudflare, partly as a form of shield. As readers may be aware, a site behind Cloudflare has its originating IP addresses hidden from the public, not to mention BREIN, who values that kind of information. According to the operator, however, BREIN managed to obtain the information from the CDN provider.

“BREIN has tried for years to take our site offline. Recently, however, Cloudflare was so friendly to give them our IP address,” Zala notes.

A text copy of an email reportedly sent by BREIN to EBoek’s web host and seen by TF appears to confirm that Cloudflare handed over the information as suggested. Among other things, the email has BREIN informing the host that “The IP we got back from Cloudflare is XXX.XXX.XX.33.”

This means that BREIN was able to place direct pressure on EBoek.info’s web host, so only time will tell if that bears any fruit for the anti-piracy group. In the meantime, however, EBoek has decided to go public over its battle with BREIN.

“We have received a request from Stichting BREIN via our hosting provider to take EBoek.info offline,” the site informed its users yesterday.

Interestingly, it also appears that BREIN doesn’t appreciate that the operators of EBoek have failed to make their identities publicly known on their platform.

“The site operates anonymously which also is unlawful. Consumer protection requires that the owner/operator of a site identifies himself,” Kuik says.

According to EBoek, the anti-piracy outfit told the site’s web host that as a “commercial online service”, EBoek is required under EU law to display its “correct and complete business information” including names, addresses, and other information. But perhaps unsurprisingly, the site doesn’t want to play ball.

“In my opinion, you are confusing us with Facebook. They are a foreign commercial company with a European branch in Ireland, and therefore are subject to Irish legislation,” Zala says in an open letter to BREIN.

“Eboek.info, on the other hand, is a foreign hobby club with no commercial purpose, whose administrators have no connection with any country in the European Union. As administrators, we follow the laws of our country of residence which do not oblige us to disclose our identity through our website.

“The fact that Eboek is visible in the Netherlands does not just mean that we are going to adapt to Dutch rules, just as we don’t adapt the site to the rules of Saudi Arabia or China or wherever we are available.”

In a further snub to the anti-piracy group, EBoek says that all visitors to the site have to communicate with its operators via its guestbook, which is publicly visible.

“We see no reason to make an exception for Stichting BREIN,” the site notes.

What makes the situation more complex is that EBoek isn’t refusing dialog completely. The site says it doesn’t want to talk to BREIN but will speak to BREIN’s customers – the publishers of the comic books in question – noting that to date no complaints from publishers have ever been received.

While the parties argue about lines of communication, BREIN insists that following this year’s European Court of Justice decision in the GS Media case, a link to a known infringing work represents copyright infringement. In this case, an NZB file – which links to a location on Usenet – would generally fit the bill.

But despite focusing on the Dutch market, the operators of EBoek say the ruling doesn’t apply to them as they’re outside of the ECJ’s jurisdiction and aren’t commercially motivated. Refusing point blank to take their site offline, EBoek’s operators say that BREIN can do its worst, nothing will have much effect.

“[W]hat’s the worst thing that can happen? That our web host hands [BREIN] our address and IP data. In that case, it will turn out that…we are actually far away,” Zala says.

“[In the case the site goes offline], we’ll just put a backup on another server and, in this case, won’t make use of the ‘services’ of Cloudflare, the provider that apparently put BREIN on the right track.”

The question of jurisdiction is indeed an interesting one, particularly given BREIN’s focus in the Netherlands. But Kuik is clear – it is the area where the content is made available that matters.

“The law of the country where the content is made available applies. In this case the EU and amongst others the Netherlands,” Kuik concludes.

To be continued…..

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

Popular Zer0day Torrent Tracker Taken Offline By Mass Copyright Complaint

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/popular-zer0day-torrent-tracker-taken-offline-by-mass-copyright-complaint-171014/

In January 2016, a BitTorrent enthusiast decided to launch a stand-alone tracker, purely for fun.

The Zer0day platform, which hosts no torrents, is a tracker in the purest sense, directing traffic between peers, no matter what content is involved and no matter where people are in the world.

With this type of tracker in short supply, it was soon utilized by The Pirate Bay and the now-defunct ExtraTorrent. By August 2016, it was tracking almost four million peers and a million torrents, a considerable contribution to the BitTorrent ecosystem.

After handling many ups and downs associated with a service of this type, the tracker eventually made it to the end of 2016 intact. This year it grew further still and by the end of September was tracking an impressive 5.5 million peers spread over 1.2 million torrents. Soon after, however, the tracker disappeared from the Internet without warning.

In an effort to find out what had happened, TorrentFreak contacted Zer0day’s operator who told us a familiar story. Without any warning at all, the site’s host pulled the plug on the service, despite having been paid 180 euros for hosting just a week earlier.

“We’re hereby informing you of the termination of your dedicated server due to a breach of our terms of service,” the host informed Zer0day.

“Hosting trackers on our servers that distribute infringing and copyrighted content is prohibited. This server was found to distribute such content. Should we identify additional similar activity in your services, we will be forced to close your account.”

While hosts tend not to worry too much about what their customers are doing, this one had just received a particularly lengthy complaint. Sent by the head of anti-piracy at French collecting society SCPP, it laid out the group’s problems with the Zer0day tracker.

“SCPP has been responsible for the collective management and protection of sound recordings and music videos producers’ rights since 1985. SCPP counts more than 2,600 members including the majority of independent French producers, in addition to independent European producers, and the major international companies: Sony, Universal and Warner,” the complaints reads.

“SCPP administers a catalog of 7,200,000 sound tracks and 77,000 music videos. SCPP is empowered by its members to take legal action in order to put an end to any infringements of the producers’ rights set out in Article L335-4 of the French Intellectual Property Code…..punishable by a three-year prison sentence or a fine of €300,000.”

Noting that it works on behalf of a number of labels and distributors including BMG, Sony Music, Universal Music, Warner Music and others, SCPP listed countless dozens of albums under its protection, each allegedly tracked by the Zer0day platform.

“It has come to our attention that these music albums are illegally being communicated to the public (made available for download) by various users of the BitTorrent-Network,” the complaint reads.

Noting that Zer0day is involved in the process, the anti-piracy outfit presented dozens of hash codes relating to protected works, demanding that the site stop facilitation of infringement on each and every one of them.

“We have proof that your tracker udp://tracker.zer0day.to:1337/announce provided peers of the BitTorrent-Network with information regarding these torrents, to be specific IP Addresses of peers that were offering without authorization the full albums for download, and that this information enabled peers to download files that contain the sound recordings to which our members producers have the exclusive rights.

“These sound recordings are thus being illegally communicated to the public, and your tracker is enabling the seeders to do so.”

Rather than take the hashes down from the tracker, SCPP actually demanded that Zer0day create a permanent blacklist within 24 hours, to ensure the corresponding torrents wouldn’t be tracked again.

“You should understand that this letter constitutes a notice to you that you may be liable for the infringing activity occurring on your service. In addition, if you ignore this notice, you may also be liable for any resulting infringement,” the complaint added.

But despite all the threats, SCPP didn’t receive the response they’d demanded since the operator of the site refused to take any action.

“Obviously, ‘info hashes’ are not copyrightable nor point to specific copyrighted content, or even have any meaning. Further, I cannot verify that request strings parameters (‘info hashes’) you sent me contain copyrighted material,” he told SCPP.

“Like the website says; for content removal kindly ask the indexing site to remove the listing and the .torrent file. Also, tracker software does not have an option to block request strings parameters (‘info hashes’).”

The net effect of non-compliance with SCPP was fairly dramatic and swift. Zer0day’s host took down the whole tracker instead and currently it remains offline. Whether it reappears depends on the site’s operator finding a suitable web host, but at the moment he says he has no idea where one will appear from.

“Currently I’m searching for some virtual private server as a temporary home for the tracker,” he concludes.

As mentioned in an earlier article detailing the problems sites like Zer0day.to face, trackers aren’t absolutely essential for the functioning of BitTorrent transfers. Nevertheless, their existence certainly improves matters for file-sharers so when they go down, millions can be affected.

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

Coaxing 2D platforming out of Unity

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/10/13/coaxing-2d-platforming-out-of-unity/

An anonymous donor asked a question that I can’t even begin to figure out how to answer, but they also said anything else is fine, so here’s anything else.

I’ve been avoiding writing about game physics, since I want to save it for ✨ the book I’m writing ✨, but that book will almost certainly not touch on Unity. Here, then, is a brief run through some of the brick walls I ran into while trying to convince Unity to do 2D platforming.

This is fairly high-level — there are no blocks of code or helpful diagrams. I’m just getting this out of my head because it’s interesting. If you want more gritty details, I guess you’ll have to wait for ✨ the book ✨.

The setup

I hadn’t used Unity before. I hadn’t even used a “real” physics engine before. My games so far have mostly used LÖVE, a Lua-based engine. LÖVE includes box2d bindings, but for various reasons (not all of them good), I opted to avoid them and instead write my own physics completely from scratch. (How, you ask? ✨ Book ✨!)

I was invited to work on a Unity project, Chaos Composer, that someone else had already started. It had basic movement already implemented; I taught myself Unity’s physics system by hacking on it. It’s entirely possible that none of this is actually the best way to do anything, since I was really trying to reproduce my own homegrown stuff in Unity, but it’s the best I’ve managed to come up with.

Two recurring snags were that you can’t ask Unity to do multiple physics updates in a row, and sometimes getting the information I wanted was difficult. Working with my own code spoiled me a little, since I could invoke it at any time and ask it anything I wanted; Unity, on the other hand, is someone else’s black box with a rigid interface on top.

Also, wow, Googling for a lot of this was not quite as helpful as expected. A lot of what’s out there is just the first thing that works, and often that’s pretty hacky and imposes severe limits on the game design (e.g., “this won’t work with slopes”). Basic movement and collision are the first thing you do, which seems to me like the worst time to be locking yourself out of a lot of design options. I tried very (very, very, very) hard to minimize those kinds of constraints.

Problem 1: Movement

When I showed up, movement was already working. Problem solved!

Like any good programmer, I immediately set out to un-solve it. Given a “real” physics engine like Unity prominently features, you have two options: ⓐ treat the player as a physics object, or ⓑ don’t. The existing code went with option ⓑ, like I’d done myself with LÖVE, and like I’d seen countless people advise. Using a physics sim makes for bad platforming.

But… why? I believed it, but I couldn’t concretely defend it. I had to know for myself. So I started a blank project, drew some physics boxes, and wrote a dozen-line player controller.

Ah! Immediate enlightenment.

If the player was sliding down a wall, and I tried to move them into the wall, they would simply freeze in midair until I let go of the movement key. The trouble is that the physics sim works in terms of forces — moving the player involves giving them a nudge in some direction, like a giant invisible hand pushing them around the level. Surprise! If you press a real object against a real wall with your real hand, you’ll see the same effect — friction will cancel out gravity, and the object will stay in midair..

Platformer movement, as it turns out, doesn’t make any goddamn physical sense. What is air control? What are you pushing against? Nothing, really; we just have it because it’s nice to play with, because not having it is a nightmare.

I looked to see if there were any common solutions to this, and I only really found one: make all your walls frictionless.

Game development is full of hacks like this, and I… don’t like them. I can accept that minor hacks are necessary sometimes, but this one makes an early and widespread change to a fundamental system to “fix” something that was wrong in the first place. It also imposes an “invisible” requirement, something I try to avoid at all costs — if you forget to make a particular wall frictionless, you’ll never know unless you happen to try sliding down it.

And so, I swiftly returned to the existing code. It wasn’t too different from what I’d come up with for LÖVE: it applied gravity by hand, tracked the player’s velocity, computed the intended movement each frame, and moved by that amount. The interesting thing was that it used MovePosition, which schedules a movement for the next physics update and stops the movement if the player hits something solid.

It’s kind of a nice hybrid approach, actually; all the “physics” for conscious actors is done by hand, but the physics engine is still used for collision detection. It’s also used for collision rejection — if the player manages to wedge themselves several pixels into a solid object, for example, the physics engine will try to gently nudge them back out of it with no extra effort required on my part. I still haven’t figured out how to get that to work with my homegrown stuff, which is built to prevent overlap rather than to jiggle things out of it.

But wait, what about…

Our player is a dynamic body with rotation lock and no gravity. Why not just use a kinematic body?

I must be missing something, because I do not understand the point of kinematic bodies. I ran into this with Godot, too, which documented them the same way: as intended for use as players and other manually-moved objects. But by default, they don’t even collide with other kinematic bodies or static geometry. What? There’s a checkbox to turn this on, which I enabled, but then I found out that MovePosition doesn’t stop kinematic bodies when they hit something, so I would’ve had to cast along the intended path of movement to figure out when to stop, thus duplicating the same work the physics engine was about to do.

But that’s impossible anyway! Static geometry generally wants to be made of edge colliders, right? They don’t care about concave/convex. Imagine the player is standing on the ground near a wall and tries to move towards the wall. Both the ground and the wall are different edges from the same edge collider.

If you try to cast the player’s hitbox horizontally, parallel to the ground, you’ll only get one collision: the existing collision with the ground. Casting doesn’t distinguish between touching and hitting. And because Unity only reports one collision per collider, and because the ground will always show up first, you will never find out about the impending wall collision.

So you’re forced to either use raycasts for collision detection or decomposed polygons for world geometry, both of which are slightly worse tools for no real gain.

I ended up sticking with a dynamic body.


Oh, one other thing that doesn’t really fit anywhere else: keep track of units! If you’re adding something called “velocity” directly to something called “position”, something has gone very wrong. Acceleration is distance per time squared; velocity is distance per time; position is distance. You must multiply or divide by time to convert between them.

I never even, say, add a constant directly to position every frame; I always phrase it as velocity and multiply by Δt. It keeps the units consistent: time is always in seconds, not in tics.

Problem 2: Slopes

Ah, now we start to get off in the weeds.

A sort of pre-problem here was detecting whether we’re on a slope, which means detecting the ground. The codebase originally used a manual physics query of the area around the player’s feet to check for the ground, which seems to be somewhat common, but that can’t tell me the angle of the detected ground. (It’s also kind of error-prone, since “around the player’s feet” has to be specified by hand and may not stay correct through animations or changes in the hitbox.)

I replaced that with what I’d eventually settled on in LÖVE: detect the ground by detecting collisions, and looking at the normal of the collision. A normal is a vector that points straight out from a surface, so if you’re standing on the ground, the normal points straight up; if you’re on a 10° incline, the normal points 10° away from straight up.

Not all collisions are with the ground, of course, so I assumed something is ground if the normal pointed away from gravity. (I like this definition more than “points upwards”, because it avoids assuming anything about the direction of gravity, which leaves some interesting doors open for later on.) That’s easily detected by taking the dot product — if it’s negative, the collision was with the ground, and I now have the normal of the ground.

Actually doing this in practice was slightly tricky. With my LÖVE engine, I could cram this right into the middle of collision resolution. With Unity, not quite so much. I went through a couple iterations before I really grasped Unity’s execution order, which I guess I will have to briefly recap for this to make sense.

Unity essentially has two update cycles. It performs physics updates at fixed intervals for consistency, and updates everything else just before rendering. Within a single frame, Unity does as many fixed physics updates as it has spare time for (which might be zero, one, or more), then does a regular update, then renders. User code can implement either or both of Update, which runs during a regular update, and FixedUpdate, which runs just before Unity does a physics pass.

So my solution was:

  • At the very end of FixedUpdate, clear the actor’s “on ground” flag and ground normal.

  • During OnCollisionEnter2D and OnCollisionStay2D (which are called from within a physics pass), if there’s a collision that looks like it’s with the ground, set the “on ground” flag and ground normal. (If there are multiple ground collisions, well, good luck figuring out the best way to resolve that! At the moment I’m just taking the first and hoping for the best.)

That means there’s a brief window between the end of FixedUpdate and Unity’s physics pass during which a grounded actor might mistakenly believe it’s not on the ground, which is a bit of a shame, but there are very few good reasons for anything to be happening in that window.

Okay! Now we can do slopes.

Just kidding! First we have to do sliding.

When I first looked at this code, it didn’t apply gravity while the player was on the ground. I think I may have had some problems with detecting the ground as result, since the player was no longer pushing down against it? Either way, it seemed like a silly special case, so I made gravity always apply.

Lo! I was a fool. The player could no longer move.

Why? Because MovePosition does exactly what it promises. If the player collides with something, they’ll stop moving. Applying gravity means that the player is trying to move diagonally downwards into the ground, and so MovePosition stops them immediately.

Hence, sliding. I don’t want the player to actually try to move into the ground. I want them to move the unblocked part of that movement. For flat ground, that means the horizontal part, which is pretty much the same as discarding gravity. For sloped ground, it’s a bit more complicated!

Okay but actually it’s less complicated than you’d think. It can be done with some cross products fairly easily, but Unity makes it even easier with a couple casts. There’s a Vector3.ProjectOnPlane function that projects an arbitrary vector on a plane given by its normal — exactly the thing I want! So I apply that to the attempted movement before passing it along to MovePosition. I do the same thing with the current velocity, to prevent the player from accelerating infinitely downwards while standing on flat ground.

One other thing: I don’t actually use the detected ground normal for this. The player might be touching two ground surfaces at the same time, and I’d want to project on both of them. Instead, I use the player body’s GetContacts method, which returns contact points (and normals!) for everything the player is currently touching. I believe those contact points are tracked by the physics engine anyway, so asking for them doesn’t require any actual physics work.

(Looking at the code I have, I notice that I still only perform the slide for surfaces facing upwards — but I’d want to slide against sloped ceilings, too. Why did I do this? Maybe I should remove that.)

(Also, I’m pretty sure projecting a vector on a plane is non-commutative, which raises the question of which order the projections should happen in and what difference it makes. I don’t have a good answer.)

(I note that my LÖVE setup does something slightly different: it just tries whatever the movement ought to be, and if there’s a collision, then it projects — and tries again with the remaining movement. But I can’t ask Unity to do multiple moves in one physics update, alas.)

Okay! Now, slopes. But actually, with the above work done, slopes are most of the way there already.

One obvious problem is that the player tries to move horizontally even when on a slope, and the easy fix is to change their movement from speed * Vector2.right to speed * new Vector2(ground.y, -ground.x) while on the ground. That’s the ground normal rotated a quarter-turn clockwise, so for flat ground it still points to the right, and in general it points rightwards along the ground. (Note that it assumes the ground normal is a unit vector, but as far as I’m aware, that’s true for all the normals Unity gives you.)

Another issue is that if the player stands motionless on a slope, gravity will cause them to slowly slide down it — because the movement from gravity will be projected onto the slope, and unlike flat ground, the result is no longer zero. For conscious actors only, I counter this by adding the opposite factor to the player’s velocity as part of adding in their walking speed. This matches how the real world works, to some extent: when you’re standing on a hill, you’re exerting some small amount of effort just to stay in place.

(Note that slope resistance is not the same as friction. Okay, yes, in the real world, virtually all resistance to movement happens as a result of friction, but bracing yourself against the ground isn’t the same as being passively resisted.)

From here there are a lot of things you can do, depending on how you think slopes should be handled. You could make the player unable to walk up slopes that are too steep. You could make walking down a slope faster than walking up it. You could make jumping go along the ground normal, rather than straight up. You could raise the player’s max allowed speed while running downhill. Whatever you want, really. Armed with a normal and awareness of dot products, you can do whatever you want.

But first you might want to fix a few aggravating side effects.

Problem 3: Ground adherence

I don’t know if there’s a better name for this. I rarely even see anyone talk about it, which surprises me; it seems like it should be a very common problem.

The problem is: if the player runs up a slope which then abruptly changes to flat ground, their momentum will carry them into the air. For very fast players going off the top of very steep slopes, this makes sense, but it becomes visible even for relatively gentle slopes. It was a mild nightmare in the original release of our game Lunar Depot 38, which has very “rough” ground made up of lots of shallow slopes — so the player is very frequently slightly off the ground, which meant they couldn’t jump, for seemingly no reason. (I even had code to fix this, but I disabled it because of a silly visual side effect that I never got around to fixing.)

Anyway! The reason this is a problem is that game protagonists are generally not boxes sliding around — they have legs. We don’t go flying off the top of real-world hilltops because we put our foot down until it touches the ground.

Simulating this footfall is surprisingly fiddly to get right, especially with someone else’s physics engine. It’s made somewhat easier by Cast, which casts the entire hitbox — no matter what shape it is — in a particular direction, as if it had moved, and tells you all the hypothetical collisions in order.

So I cast the player in the direction of gravity by some distance. If the cast hits something solid with a ground-like collision normal, then the player must be close to the ground, and I move them down to touch it (and set that ground as the new ground normal).

There are some wrinkles.

Wrinkle 1: I only want to do this if the player is off the ground now, but was on the ground last frame, and is not deliberately moving upwards. That latter condition means I want to skip this logic if the player jumps, for example, but also if the player is thrust upwards by a spring or abducted by a UFO or whatever. As long as external code goes through some interface and doesn’t mess with the player’s velocity directly, that shouldn’t be too hard to track.

Wrinkle 2: When does this logic run? It needs to happen after the player moves, which means after a Unity physics pass… but there’s no callback for that point in time. I ended up running it at the beginning of FixedUpdate and the beginning of Update — since I definitely want to do it before rendering happens! That means it’ll sometimes happen twice between physics updates. (I could carefully juggle a flag to skip the second run, but I… didn’t do that. Yet?)

Wrinkle 3: I can’t move the player with MovePosition! Remember, MovePosition schedules a movement, it doesn’t actually perform one; that means if it’s called twice before the physics pass, the first call is effectively ignored. I can’t easily combine the drop with the player’s regular movement, for various fiddly reasons. I ended up doing it “by hand” using transform.Translate, which I think was the “old way” to do manual movement before MovePosition existed. I’m not totally sure if it activates triggers? For that matter, I’m not sure it even notices collisions — but since I did a full-body Cast, there shouldn’t be any anyway.

Wrinkle 4: What, exactly, is “some distance”? I’ve yet to find a satisfying answer for this. It seems like it ought to be based on the player’s current speed and the slope of the ground they’re moving along, but every time I’ve done that math, I’ve gotten totally ludicrous answers that sometimes exceed the size of a tile. But maybe that’s not wrong? Play around, I guess, and think about when the effect should “break” and the player should go flying off the top of a hill.

Wrinkle 5: It’s possible that the player will launch off a slope, hit something, and then be adhered to the ground where they wouldn’t have hit it. I don’t much like this edge case, but I don’t see a way around it either.

This problem is surprisingly awkward for how simple it sounds, and the solution isn’t entirely satisfying. Oh, well; the results are much nicer than the solution. As an added bonus, this also fixes occasional problems with running down a hill and becoming detached from the ground due to precision issues or whathaveyou.

Problem 4: One-way platforms

Ah, what a nightmare.

It took me ages just to figure out how to define one-way platforms. Only block when the player is moving downwards? Nope. Only block when the player is above the platform? Nuh-uh.

Well, okay, yes, those approaches might work for convex players and flat platforms. But what about… sloped, one-way platforms? There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have those. If Super Mario World can do it, surely Unity can do it almost 30 years later.

The trick is, again, to look at the collision normal. If it faces away from gravity, the player is hitting a ground-like surface, so the platform should block them. Otherwise (or if the player overlaps the platform), it shouldn’t.

Here’s the catch: Unity doesn’t have conditional collision. I can’t decide, on the fly, whether a collision should block or not. In fact, I think that by the time I get a callback like OnCollisionEnter2D, the physics pass is already over.

I could go the other way and use triggers (which are non-blocking), but then I have the opposite problem: I can’t stop the player on the fly. I could move them back to where they hit the trigger, but I envision all kinds of problems as a result. What if they were moving fast enough to activate something on the other side of the platform? What if something else moved to where I’m trying to shove them back to in the meantime? How does this interact with ground detection and listing contacts, which would rightly ignore a trigger as non-blocking?

I beat my head against this for a while, but the inability to respond to collision conditionally was a huge roadblock. It’s all the more infuriating a problem, because Unity ships with a one-way platform modifier thing. Unfortunately, it seems to have been implemented by someone who has never played a platformer. It’s literally one-way — the player is only allowed to move straight upwards through it, not in from the sides. It also tries to block the player if they’re moving downwards while inside the platform, which invokes clumsy rejection behavior. And this all seems to be built into the physics engine itself somehow, so I can’t simply copy whatever they did.

Eventually, I settled on the following. After calculating attempted movement (including sliding), just at the end of FixedUpdate, I do a Cast along the movement vector. I’m not thrilled about having to duplicate the physics engine’s own work, but I do filter to only things on a “one-way platform” physics layer, which should at least help. For each object the cast hits, I use Physics2D.IgnoreCollision to either ignore or un-ignore the collision between the player and the platform, depending on whether the collision was ground-like or not.

(A lot of people suggested turning off collision between layers, but that can’t possibly work — the player might be standing on one platform while inside another, and anyway, this should work for all actors!)

Again, wrinkles! But fewer this time. Actually, maybe just one: handling the case where the player already overlaps the platform. I can’t just check for that with e.g. OverlapCollider, because that doesn’t distinguish between overlapping and merely touching.

I came up with a fairly simple fix: if I was going to un-ignore the collision (i.e. make the platform block), and the cast distance is reported as zero (either already touching or overlapping), I simply do nothing instead. If I’m standing on the platform, I must have already set it blocking when I was approaching it from the top anyway; if I’m overlapping it, I must have already set it non-blocking to get here in the first place.

I can imagine a few cases where this might go wrong. Moving platforms, especially, are going to cause some interesting issues. But this is the best I can do with what I know, and it seems to work well enough so far.

Oh, and our player can deliberately drop down through platforms, which was easy enough to implement; I just decide the platform is always passable while some button is held down.

Problem 5: Pushers and carriers

I haven’t gotten to this yet! Oh boy, can’t wait. I implemented it in LÖVE, but my way was hilariously invasive; I’m hoping that having a physics engine that supports a handwaved “this pushes that” will help. Of course, you also have to worry about sticking to platforms, for which the recommended solution is apparently to parent the cargo to the platform, which sounds goofy to me? I guess I’ll find out when I throw myself at it later.

Overall result

I ended up with a fairly pleasant-feeling system that supports slopes and one-way platforms and whatnot, with all the same pieces as I came up with for LÖVE. The code somehow ended up as less of a mess, too, but it probably helps that I’ve been down this rabbit hole once before and kinda knew what I was aiming for this time.

Animation of a character running smoothly along the top of an irregular dinosaur skeleton

Sorry that I don’t have a big block of code for you to copy-paste into your project. I don’t think there are nearly enough narrative discussions of these fundamentals, though, so hopefully this is useful to someone. If not, well, look forward to ✨ my book, that I am writing ✨!

Predict Billboard Top 10 Hits Using RStudio, H2O and Amazon Athena

Post Syndicated from Gopal Wunnava original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/predict-billboard-top-10-hits-using-rstudio-h2o-and-amazon-athena/

Success in the popular music industry is typically measured in terms of the number of Top 10 hits artists have to their credit. The music industry is a highly competitive multi-billion dollar business, and record labels incur various costs in exchange for a percentage of the profits from sales and concert tickets.

Predicting the success of an artist’s release in the popular music industry can be difficult. One release may be extremely popular, resulting in widespread play on TV, radio and social media, while another single may turn out quite unpopular, and therefore unprofitable. Record labels need to be selective in their decision making, and predictive analytics can help them with decision making around the type of songs and artists they need to promote.

In this walkthrough, you leverage H2O.ai, Amazon Athena, and RStudio to make predictions on whether a song might make it to the Top 10 Billboard charts. You explore the GLM, GBM, and deep learning modeling techniques using H2O’s rapid, distributed and easy-to-use open source parallel processing engine. RStudio is a popular IDE, licensed either commercially or under AGPLv3, for working with R. This is ideal if you don’t want to connect to a server via SSH and use code editors such as vi to do analytics. RStudio is available in a desktop version, or a server version that allows you to access R via a web browser. RStudio’s Notebooks feature is used to demonstrate the execution of code and output. In addition, this post showcases how you can leverage Athena for query and interactive analysis during the modeling phase. A working knowledge of statistics and machine learning would be helpful to interpret the analysis being performed in this post.

Walkthrough

Your goal is to predict whether a song will make it to the Top 10 Billboard charts. For this purpose, you will be using multiple modeling techniques―namely GLM, GBM and deep learning―and choose the model that is the best fit.

This solution involves the following steps:

  • Install and configure RStudio with Athena
  • Log in to RStudio
  • Install R packages
  • Connect to Athena
  • Create a dataset
  • Create models

Install and configure RStudio with Athena

Use the following AWS CloudFormation stack to install, configure, and connect RStudio on an Amazon EC2 instance with Athena.

Launching this stack creates all required resources and prerequisites:

  • Amazon EC2 instance with Amazon Linux (minimum size of t2.large is recommended)
  • Provisioning of the EC2 instance in an existing VPC and public subnet
  • Installation of Java 8
  • Assignment of an IAM role to the EC2 instance with the required permissions for accessing Athena and Amazon S3
  • Security group allowing access to the RStudio and SSH ports from the internet (I recommend restricting access to these ports)
  • S3 staging bucket required for Athena (referenced within RStudio as ATHENABUCKET)
  • RStudio username and password
  • Setup logs in Amazon CloudWatch Logs (if needed for additional troubleshooting)
  • Amazon EC2 Systems Manager agent, which makes it easy to manage and patch

All AWS resources are created in the US-East-1 Region. To avoid cross-region data transfer fees, launch the CloudFormation stack in the same region. To check the availability of Athena in other regions, see Region Table.

Log in to RStudio

The instance security group has been automatically configured to allow incoming connections on the RStudio port 8787 from any source internet address. You can edit the security group to restrict source IP access. If you have trouble connecting, ensure that port 8787 isn’t blocked by subnet network ACLS or by your outgoing proxy/firewall.

  1. In the CloudFormation stack, choose Outputs, Value, and then open the RStudio URL. You might need to wait for a few minutes until the instance has been launched.
  2. Log in to RStudio with the and password you provided during setup.

Install R packages

Next, install the required R packages from the RStudio console. You can download the R notebook file containing just the code.

#install pacman – a handy package manager for managing installs
if("pacman" %in% rownames(installed.packages()) == FALSE)
{install.packages("pacman")}  
library(pacman)
p_load(h2o,rJava,RJDBC,awsjavasdk)
h2o.init(nthreads = -1)
##  Connection successful!
## 
## R is connected to the H2O cluster: 
##     H2O cluster uptime:         2 hours 42 minutes 
##     H2O cluster version:        3.10.4.6 
##     H2O cluster version age:    4 months and 4 days !!! 
##     H2O cluster name:           H2O_started_from_R_rstudio_hjx881 
##     H2O cluster total nodes:    1 
##     H2O cluster total memory:   3.30 GB 
##     H2O cluster total cores:    4 
##     H2O cluster allowed cores:  4 
##     H2O cluster healthy:        TRUE 
##     H2O Connection ip:          localhost 
##     H2O Connection port:        54321 
##     H2O Connection proxy:       NA 
##     H2O Internal Security:      FALSE 
##     R Version:                  R version 3.3.3 (2017-03-06)
## Warning in h2o.clusterInfo(): 
## Your H2O cluster version is too old (4 months and 4 days)!
## Please download and install the latest version from http://h2o.ai/download/
#install aws sdk if not present (pre-requisite for using Athena with an IAM role)
if (!aws_sdk_present()) {
  install_aws_sdk()
}

load_sdk()
## NULL

Connect to Athena

Next, establish a connection to Athena from RStudio, using an IAM role associated with your EC2 instance. Use ATHENABUCKET to specify the S3 staging directory.

URL <- 'https://s3.amazonaws.com/athena-downloads/drivers/AthenaJDBC41-1.0.1.jar'
fil <- basename(URL)
#download the file into current working directory
if (!file.exists(fil)) download.file(URL, fil)
#verify that the file has been downloaded successfully
list.files()
## [1] "AthenaJDBC41-1.0.1.jar"
drv <- JDBC(driverClass="com.amazonaws.athena.jdbc.AthenaDriver", fil, identifier.quote="'")

con <- jdbcConnection <- dbConnect(drv, 'jdbc:awsathena://athena.us-east-1.amazonaws.com:443/',
                                   s3_staging_dir=Sys.getenv("ATHENABUCKET"),
                                   aws_credentials_provider_class="com.amazonaws.auth.DefaultAWSCredentialsProviderChain")

Verify the connection. The results returned depend on your specific Athena setup.

con
## <JDBCConnection>
dbListTables(con)
##  [1] "gdelt"               "wikistats"           "elb_logs_raw_native"
##  [4] "twitter"             "twitter2"            "usermovieratings"   
##  [7] "eventcodes"          "events"              "billboard"          
## [10] "billboardtop10"      "elb_logs"            "gdelthist"          
## [13] "gdeltmaster"         "twitter"             "twitter3"

Create a dataset

For this analysis, you use a sample dataset combining information from Billboard and Wikipedia with Echo Nest data in the Million Songs Dataset. Upload this dataset into your own S3 bucket. The table below provides a description of the fields used in this dataset.

Field Description
year Year that song was released
songtitle Title of the song
artistname Name of the song artist
songid Unique identifier for the song
artistid Unique identifier for the song artist
timesignature Variable estimating the time signature of the song
timesignature_confidence Confidence in the estimate for the timesignature
loudness Continuous variable indicating the average amplitude of the audio in decibels
tempo Variable indicating the estimated beats per minute of the song
tempo_confidence Confidence in the estimate for tempo
key Variable with twelve levels indicating the estimated key of the song (C, C#, B)
key_confidence Confidence in the estimate for key
energy Variable that represents the overall acoustic energy of the song, using a mix of features such as loudness
pitch Continuous variable that indicates the pitch of the song
timbre_0_min thru timbre_11_min Variables that indicate the minimum values over all segments for each of the twelve values in the timbre vector
timbre_0_max thru timbre_11_max Variables that indicate the maximum values over all segments for each of the twelve values in the timbre vector
top10 Indicator for whether or not the song made it to the Top 10 of the Billboard charts (1 if it was in the top 10, and 0 if not)

Create an Athena table based on the dataset

In the Athena console, select the default database, sampled, or create a new database.

Run the following create table statement.

create external table if not exists billboard
(
year int,
songtitle string,
artistname string,
songID string,
artistID string,
timesignature int,
timesignature_confidence double,
loudness double,
tempo double,
tempo_confidence double,
key int,
key_confidence double,
energy double,
pitch double,
timbre_0_min double,
timbre_0_max double,
timbre_1_min double,
timbre_1_max double,
timbre_2_min double,
timbre_2_max double,
timbre_3_min double,
timbre_3_max double,
timbre_4_min double,
timbre_4_max double,
timbre_5_min double,
timbre_5_max double,
timbre_6_min double,
timbre_6_max double,
timbre_7_min double,
timbre_7_max double,
timbre_8_min double,
timbre_8_max double,
timbre_9_min double,
timbre_9_max double,
timbre_10_min double,
timbre_10_max double,
timbre_11_min double,
timbre_11_max double,
Top10 int
)
ROW FORMAT DELIMITED
FIELDS TERMINATED BY ','
STORED AS TEXTFILE
LOCATION 's3://aws-bigdata-blog/artifacts/predict-billboard/data'
;

Inspect the table definition for the ‘billboard’ table that you have created. If you chose a database other than sampledb, replace that value with your choice.

dbGetQuery(con, "show create table sampledb.billboard")
##                                      createtab_stmt
## 1       CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE `sampledb.billboard`(
## 2                                       `year` int,
## 3                               `songtitle` string,
## 4                              `artistname` string,
## 5                                  `songid` string,
## 6                                `artistid` string,
## 7                              `timesignature` int,
## 8                `timesignature_confidence` double,
## 9                                `loudness` double,
## 10                                  `tempo` double,
## 11                       `tempo_confidence` double,
## 12                                       `key` int,
## 13                         `key_confidence` double,
## 14                                 `energy` double,
## 15                                  `pitch` double,
## 16                           `timbre_0_min` double,
## 17                           `timbre_0_max` double,
## 18                           `timbre_1_min` double,
## 19                           `timbre_1_max` double,
## 20                           `timbre_2_min` double,
## 21                           `timbre_2_max` double,
## 22                           `timbre_3_min` double,
## 23                           `timbre_3_max` double,
## 24                           `timbre_4_min` double,
## 25                           `timbre_4_max` double,
## 26                           `timbre_5_min` double,
## 27                           `timbre_5_max` double,
## 28                           `timbre_6_min` double,
## 29                           `timbre_6_max` double,
## 30                           `timbre_7_min` double,
## 31                           `timbre_7_max` double,
## 32                           `timbre_8_min` double,
## 33                           `timbre_8_max` double,
## 34                           `timbre_9_min` double,
## 35                           `timbre_9_max` double,
## 36                          `timbre_10_min` double,
## 37                          `timbre_10_max` double,
## 38                          `timbre_11_min` double,
## 39                          `timbre_11_max` double,
## 40                                     `top10` int)
## 41                             ROW FORMAT DELIMITED 
## 42                         FIELDS TERMINATED BY ',' 
## 43                            STORED AS INPUTFORMAT 
## 44       'org.apache.hadoop.mapred.TextInputFormat' 
## 45                                     OUTPUTFORMAT 
## 46  'org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.io.HiveIgnoreKeyTextOutputFormat'
## 47                                        LOCATION
## 48    's3://aws-bigdata-blog/artifacts/predict-billboard/data'
## 49                                  TBLPROPERTIES (
## 50            'transient_lastDdlTime'='1505484133')

Run a sample query

Next, run a sample query to obtain a list of all songs from Janet Jackson that made it to the Billboard Top 10 charts.

dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT songtitle,artistname,top10   FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE lower(artistname) =     'janet jackson' AND top10 = 1")
##                       songtitle    artistname top10
## 1                       Runaway Janet Jackson     1
## 2               Because Of Love Janet Jackson     1
## 3                         Again Janet Jackson     1
## 4                            If Janet Jackson     1
## 5  Love Will Never Do (Without You) Janet Jackson 1
## 6                     Black Cat Janet Jackson     1
## 7               Come Back To Me Janet Jackson     1
## 8                       Alright Janet Jackson     1
## 9                      Escapade Janet Jackson     1
## 10                Rhythm Nation Janet Jackson     1

Determine how many songs in this dataset are specifically from the year 2010.

dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT count(*)   FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year = 2010")
##   _col0
## 1   373

The sample dataset provides certain song properties of interest that can be analyzed to gauge the impact to the song’s overall popularity. Look at one such property, timesignature, and determine the value that is the most frequent among songs in the database. Timesignature is a measure of the number of beats and the type of note involved.

Running the query directly may result in an error, as shown in the commented lines below. This error is a result of trying to retrieve a large result set over a JDBC connection, which can cause out-of-memory issues at the client level. To address this, reduce the fetch size and run again.

#t<-dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT timesignature FROM sampledb.billboard")
#Note:  Running the preceding query results in the following error: 
#Error in .jcall(rp, "I", "fetch", stride, block): java.sql.SQLException: The requested #fetchSize is more than the allowed value in Athena. Please reduce the fetchSize and try #again. Refer to the Athena documentation for valid fetchSize values.
# Use the dbSendQuery function, reduce the fetch size, and run again
r <- dbSendQuery(con, " SELECT timesignature     FROM sampledb.billboard")
dftimesignature<- fetch(r, n=-1, block=100)
dbClearResult(r)
## [1] TRUE
table(dftimesignature)
## dftimesignature
##    0    1    3    4    5    7 
##   10  143  503 6787  112   19
nrow(dftimesignature)
## [1] 7574

From the results, observe that 6787 songs have a timesignature of 4.

Next, determine the song with the highest tempo.

dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT songtitle,artistname,tempo   FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE tempo = (SELECT max(tempo) FROM sampledb.billboard) ")
##                   songtitle      artistname   tempo
## 1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' Michael Jackson 244.307

Create the training dataset

Your model needs to be trained such that it can learn and make accurate predictions. Split the data into training and test datasets, and create the training dataset first.  This dataset contains all observations from the year 2009 and earlier. You may face the same JDBC connection issue pointed out earlier, so this query uses a fetch size.

#BillboardTrain <- dbGetQuery(con, "SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year <= 2009")
#Running the preceding query results in the following error:-
#Error in .verify.JDBC.result(r, "Unable to retrieve JDBC result set for ", : Unable to retrieve #JDBC result set for SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year <= 2009 (Internal error)
#Follow the same approach as before to address this issue.

r <- dbSendQuery(con, "SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year <= 2009")
BillboardTrain <- fetch(r, n=-1, block=100)
dbClearResult(r)
## [1] TRUE
BillboardTrain[1:2,c(1:3,6:10)]
##   year           songtitle artistname timesignature
## 1 2009 The Awkward Goodbye    Athlete             3
## 2 2009        Rubik's Cube    Athlete             3
##   timesignature_confidence loudness   tempo tempo_confidence
## 1                    0.732   -6.320  89.614   0.652
## 2                    0.906   -9.541 117.742   0.542
nrow(BillboardTrain)
## [1] 7201

Create the test dataset

BillboardTest <- dbGetQuery(con, "SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard where year = 2010")
BillboardTest[1:2,c(1:3,11:15)]
##   year              songtitle        artistname key
## 1 2010 This Is the House That Doubt Built A Day to Remember  11
## 2 2010        Sticks & Bricks A Day to Remember  10
##   key_confidence    energy pitch timbre_0_min
## 1          0.453 0.9666556 0.024        0.002
## 2          0.469 0.9847095 0.025        0.000
nrow(BillboardTest)
## [1] 373

Convert the training and test datasets into H2O dataframes

train.h2o <- as.h2o(BillboardTrain)
## 
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test.h2o <- as.h2o(BillboardTest)
## 
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  |=================================================================| 100%

Inspect the column names in your H2O dataframes.

colnames(train.h2o)
##  [1] "year"                     "songtitle"               
##  [3] "artistname"               "songid"                  
##  [5] "artistid"                 "timesignature"           
##  [7] "timesignature_confidence" "loudness"                
##  [9] "tempo"                    "tempo_confidence"        
## [11] "key"                      "key_confidence"          
## [13] "energy"                   "pitch"                   
## [15] "timbre_0_min"             "timbre_0_max"            
## [17] "timbre_1_min"             "timbre_1_max"            
## [19] "timbre_2_min"             "timbre_2_max"            
## [21] "timbre_3_min"             "timbre_3_max"            
## [23] "timbre_4_min"             "timbre_4_max"            
## [25] "timbre_5_min"             "timbre_5_max"            
## [27] "timbre_6_min"             "timbre_6_max"            
## [29] "timbre_7_min"             "timbre_7_max"            
## [31] "timbre_8_min"             "timbre_8_max"            
## [33] "timbre_9_min"             "timbre_9_max"            
## [35] "timbre_10_min"            "timbre_10_max"           
## [37] "timbre_11_min"            "timbre_11_max"           
## [39] "top10"

Create models

You need to designate the independent and dependent variables prior to applying your modeling algorithms. Because you’re trying to predict the ‘top10’ field, this would be your dependent variable and everything else would be independent.

Create your first model using GLM. Because GLM works best with numeric data, you create your model by dropping non-numeric variables. You only use the variables in the dataset that describe the numerical attributes of the song in the logistic regression model. You won’t use these variables:  “year”, “songtitle”, “artistname”, “songid”, or “artistid”.

y.dep <- 39
x.indep <- c(6:38)
x.indep
##  [1]  6  7  8  9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
## [24] 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38

Create Model 1: All numeric variables

Create Model 1 with the training dataset, using GLM as the modeling algorithm and H2O’s built-in h2o.glm function.

modelh1 <- h2o.glm( y = y.dep, x = x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, family = "binomial")
## 
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  |=====                                                            |   8%
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Measure the performance of Model 1, using H2O’s built-in performance function.

h2o.performance(model=modelh1,newdata=test.h2o)
## H2OBinomialMetrics: glm
## 
## MSE:  0.09924684
## RMSE:  0.3150347
## LogLoss:  0.3220267
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.2380168
## AUC:  0.8431394
## Gini:  0.6862787
## R^2:  0.254663
## Null Deviance:  326.0801
## Residual Deviance:  240.2319
## AIC:  308.2319
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0   1    Error     Rate
## 0      255  59 0.187898  =59/314
## 1       17  42 0.288136   =17/59
## Totals 272 101 0.203753  =76/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                         metric threshold    value idx
## 1                       max f1  0.192772 0.525000 100
## 2                       max f2  0.124912 0.650510 155
## 3                 max f0point5  0.416258 0.612903  23
## 4                 max accuracy  0.416258 0.879357  23
## 5                max precision  0.813396 1.000000   0
## 6                   max recall  0.037579 1.000000 282
## 7              max specificity  0.813396 1.000000   0
## 8             max absolute_mcc  0.416258 0.455251  23
## 9   max min_per_class_accuracy  0.161402 0.738854 125
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.124912 0.765006 155
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or ` 
h2o.auc(h2o.performance(modelh1,test.h2o)) 
## [1] 0.8431394

The AUC metric provides insight into how well the classifier is able to separate the two classes. In this case, the value of 0.8431394 indicates that the classification is good. (A value of 0.5 indicates a worthless test, while a value of 1.0 indicates a perfect test.)

Next, inspect the coefficients of the variables in the dataset.

dfmodelh1 <- as.data.frame(h2o.varimp(modelh1))
dfmodelh1
##                       names coefficients sign
## 1              timbre_0_max  1.290938663  NEG
## 2                  loudness  1.262941934  POS
## 3                     pitch  0.616995941  NEG
## 4              timbre_1_min  0.422323735  POS
## 5              timbre_6_min  0.349016024  NEG
## 6                    energy  0.348092062  NEG
## 7             timbre_11_min  0.307331997  NEG
## 8              timbre_3_max  0.302225619  NEG
## 9             timbre_11_max  0.243632060  POS
## 10             timbre_4_min  0.224233951  POS
## 11             timbre_4_max  0.204134342  POS
## 12             timbre_5_min  0.199149324  NEG
## 13             timbre_0_min  0.195147119  POS
## 14 timesignature_confidence  0.179973904  POS
## 15         tempo_confidence  0.144242598  POS
## 16            timbre_10_max  0.137644568  POS
## 17             timbre_7_min  0.126995955  NEG
## 18            timbre_10_min  0.123851179  POS
## 19             timbre_7_max  0.100031481  NEG
## 20             timbre_2_min  0.096127636  NEG
## 21           key_confidence  0.083115820  POS
## 22             timbre_6_max  0.073712419  POS
## 23            timesignature  0.067241917  POS
## 24             timbre_8_min  0.061301881  POS
## 25             timbre_8_max  0.060041698  POS
## 26                      key  0.056158445  POS
## 27             timbre_3_min  0.050825116  POS
## 28             timbre_9_max  0.033733561  POS
## 29             timbre_2_max  0.030939072  POS
## 30             timbre_9_min  0.020708113  POS
## 31             timbre_1_max  0.014228818  NEG
## 32                    tempo  0.008199861  POS
## 33             timbre_5_max  0.004837870  POS
## 34                                    NA <NA>

Typically, songs with heavier instrumentation tend to be louder (have higher values in the variable “loudness”) and more energetic (have higher values in the variable “energy”). This knowledge is helpful for interpreting the modeling results.

You can make the following observations from the results:

  • The coefficient estimates for the confidence values associated with the time signature, key, and tempo variables are positive. This suggests that higher confidence leads to a higher predicted probability of a Top 10 hit.
  • The coefficient estimate for loudness is positive, meaning that mainstream listeners prefer louder songs with heavier instrumentation.
  • The coefficient estimate for energy is negative, meaning that mainstream listeners prefer songs that are less energetic, which are those songs with light instrumentation.

These coefficients lead to contradictory conclusions for Model 1. This could be due to multicollinearity issues. Inspect the correlation between the variables “loudness” and “energy” in the training set.

cor(train.h2o$loudness,train.h2o$energy)
## [1] 0.7399067

This number indicates that these two variables are highly correlated, and Model 1 does indeed suffer from multicollinearity. Typically, you associate a value of -1.0 to -0.5 or 1.0 to 0.5 to indicate strong correlation, and a value of 0.1 to 0.1 to indicate weak correlation. To avoid this correlation issue, omit one of these two variables and re-create the models.

You build two variations of the original model:

  • Model 2, in which you keep “energy” and omit “loudness”
  • Model 3, in which you keep “loudness” and omit “energy”

You compare these two models and choose the model with a better fit for this use case.

Create Model 2: Keep energy and omit loudness

colnames(train.h2o)
##  [1] "year"                     "songtitle"               
##  [3] "artistname"               "songid"                  
##  [5] "artistid"                 "timesignature"           
##  [7] "timesignature_confidence" "loudness"                
##  [9] "tempo"                    "tempo_confidence"        
## [11] "key"                      "key_confidence"          
## [13] "energy"                   "pitch"                   
## [15] "timbre_0_min"             "timbre_0_max"            
## [17] "timbre_1_min"             "timbre_1_max"            
## [19] "timbre_2_min"             "timbre_2_max"            
## [21] "timbre_3_min"             "timbre_3_max"            
## [23] "timbre_4_min"             "timbre_4_max"            
## [25] "timbre_5_min"             "timbre_5_max"            
## [27] "timbre_6_min"             "timbre_6_max"            
## [29] "timbre_7_min"             "timbre_7_max"            
## [31] "timbre_8_min"             "timbre_8_max"            
## [33] "timbre_9_min"             "timbre_9_max"            
## [35] "timbre_10_min"            "timbre_10_max"           
## [37] "timbre_11_min"            "timbre_11_max"           
## [39] "top10"
y.dep <- 39
x.indep <- c(6:7,9:38)
x.indep
##  [1]  6  7  9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
## [24] 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38
modelh2 <- h2o.glm( y = y.dep, x = x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, family = "binomial")
## 
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  |                                                                       
  |=======                                                          |  10%
  |                                                                       
  |=================================================================| 100%

Measure the performance of Model 2.

h2o.performance(model=modelh2,newdata=test.h2o)
## H2OBinomialMetrics: glm
## 
## MSE:  0.09922606
## RMSE:  0.3150017
## LogLoss:  0.3228213
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.2490554
## AUC:  0.8431933
## Gini:  0.6863867
## R^2:  0.2548191
## Null Deviance:  326.0801
## Residual Deviance:  240.8247
## AIC:  306.8247
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      280 34 0.108280  =34/314
## 1       23 36 0.389831   =23/59
## Totals 303 70 0.152815  =57/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                         metric threshold    value idx
## 1                       max f1  0.254391 0.558140  69
## 2                       max f2  0.113031 0.647208 157
## 3                 max f0point5  0.413999 0.596026  22
## 4                 max accuracy  0.446250 0.876676  18
## 5                max precision  0.811739 1.000000   0
## 6                   max recall  0.037682 1.000000 283
## 7              max specificity  0.811739 1.000000   0
## 8             max absolute_mcc  0.254391 0.469060  69
## 9   max min_per_class_accuracy  0.141051 0.716561 131
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.113031 0.761821 157
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, valid=<T/F>, xval=<T/F>)`
dfmodelh2 <- as.data.frame(h2o.varimp(modelh2))
dfmodelh2
##                       names coefficients sign
## 1                     pitch  0.700331511  NEG
## 2              timbre_1_min  0.510270513  POS
## 3              timbre_0_max  0.402059546  NEG
## 4              timbre_6_min  0.333316236  NEG
## 5             timbre_11_min  0.331647383  NEG
## 6              timbre_3_max  0.252425901  NEG
## 7             timbre_11_max  0.227500308  POS
## 8              timbre_4_max  0.210663865  POS
## 9              timbre_0_min  0.208516163  POS
## 10             timbre_5_min  0.202748055  NEG
## 11             timbre_4_min  0.197246582  POS
## 12            timbre_10_max  0.172729619  POS
## 13         tempo_confidence  0.167523934  POS
## 14 timesignature_confidence  0.167398830  POS
## 15             timbre_7_min  0.142450727  NEG
## 16             timbre_8_max  0.093377516  POS
## 17            timbre_10_min  0.090333426  POS
## 18            timesignature  0.085851625  POS
## 19             timbre_7_max  0.083948442  NEG
## 20           key_confidence  0.079657073  POS
## 21             timbre_6_max  0.076426046  POS
## 22             timbre_2_min  0.071957831  NEG
## 23             timbre_9_max  0.071393189  POS
## 24             timbre_8_min  0.070225578  POS
## 25                      key  0.061394702  POS
## 26             timbre_3_min  0.048384697  POS
## 27             timbre_1_max  0.044721121  NEG
## 28                   energy  0.039698433  POS
## 29             timbre_5_max  0.039469064  POS
## 30             timbre_2_max  0.018461133  POS
## 31                    tempo  0.013279926  POS
## 32             timbre_9_min  0.005282143  NEG
## 33                                    NA <NA>

h2o.auc(h2o.performance(modelh2,test.h2o)) 
## [1] 0.8431933

You can make the following observations:

  • The AUC metric is 0.8431933.
  • Inspecting the coefficient of the variable energy, Model 2 suggests that songs with high energy levels tend to be more popular. This is as per expectation.
  • As H2O orders variables by significance, the variable energy is not significant in this model.

You can conclude that Model 2 is not ideal for this use , as energy is not significant.

CreateModel 3: Keep loudness but omit energy

colnames(train.h2o)
##  [1] "year"                     "songtitle"               
##  [3] "artistname"               "songid"                  
##  [5] "artistid"                 "timesignature"           
##  [7] "timesignature_confidence" "loudness"                
##  [9] "tempo"                    "tempo_confidence"        
## [11] "key"                      "key_confidence"          
## [13] "energy"                   "pitch"                   
## [15] "timbre_0_min"             "timbre_0_max"            
## [17] "timbre_1_min"             "timbre_1_max"            
## [19] "timbre_2_min"             "timbre_2_max"            
## [21] "timbre_3_min"             "timbre_3_max"            
## [23] "timbre_4_min"             "timbre_4_max"            
## [25] "timbre_5_min"             "timbre_5_max"            
## [27] "timbre_6_min"             "timbre_6_max"            
## [29] "timbre_7_min"             "timbre_7_max"            
## [31] "timbre_8_min"             "timbre_8_max"            
## [33] "timbre_9_min"             "timbre_9_max"            
## [35] "timbre_10_min"            "timbre_10_max"           
## [37] "timbre_11_min"            "timbre_11_max"           
## [39] "top10"
y.dep <- 39
x.indep <- c(6:12,14:38)
x.indep
##  [1]  6  7  8  9 10 11 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
## [24] 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38
modelh3 <- h2o.glm( y = y.dep, x = x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, family = "binomial")
## 
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  |========                                                         |  12%
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perfh3<-h2o.performance(model=modelh3,newdata=test.h2o)
perfh3
## H2OBinomialMetrics: glm
## 
## MSE:  0.0978859
## RMSE:  0.3128672
## LogLoss:  0.3178367
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.264925
## AUC:  0.8492389
## Gini:  0.6984778
## R^2:  0.2648836
## Null Deviance:  326.0801
## Residual Deviance:  237.1062
## AIC:  303.1062
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      286 28 0.089172  =28/314
## 1       26 33 0.440678   =26/59
## Totals 312 61 0.144772  =54/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                         metric threshold    value idx
## 1                       max f1  0.273799 0.550000  60
## 2                       max f2  0.125503 0.663265 155
## 3                 max f0point5  0.435479 0.628931  24
## 4                 max accuracy  0.435479 0.882038  24
## 5                max precision  0.821606 1.000000   0
## 6                   max recall  0.038328 1.000000 280
## 7              max specificity  0.821606 1.000000   0
## 8             max absolute_mcc  0.435479 0.471426  24
## 9   max min_per_class_accuracy  0.173693 0.745763 120
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.125503 0.775073 155
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, valid=<T/F>, xval=<T/F>)`
dfmodelh3 <- as.data.frame(h2o.varimp(modelh3))
dfmodelh3
##                       names coefficients sign
## 1              timbre_0_max 1.216621e+00  NEG
## 2                  loudness 9.780973e-01  POS
## 3                     pitch 7.249788e-01  NEG
## 4              timbre_1_min 3.891197e-01  POS
## 5              timbre_6_min 3.689193e-01  NEG
## 6             timbre_11_min 3.086673e-01  NEG
## 7              timbre_3_max 3.025593e-01  NEG
## 8             timbre_11_max 2.459081e-01  POS
## 9              timbre_4_min 2.379749e-01  POS
## 10             timbre_4_max 2.157627e-01  POS
## 11             timbre_0_min 1.859531e-01  POS
## 12             timbre_5_min 1.846128e-01  NEG
## 13 timesignature_confidence 1.729658e-01  POS
## 14             timbre_7_min 1.431871e-01  NEG
## 15            timbre_10_max 1.366703e-01  POS
## 16            timbre_10_min 1.215954e-01  POS
## 17         tempo_confidence 1.183698e-01  POS
## 18             timbre_2_min 1.019149e-01  NEG
## 19           key_confidence 9.109701e-02  POS
## 20             timbre_7_max 8.987908e-02  NEG
## 21             timbre_6_max 6.935132e-02  POS
## 22             timbre_8_max 6.878241e-02  POS
## 23            timesignature 6.120105e-02  POS
## 24                      key 5.814805e-02  POS
## 25             timbre_8_min 5.759228e-02  POS
## 26             timbre_1_max 2.930285e-02  NEG
## 27             timbre_9_max 2.843755e-02  POS
## 28             timbre_3_min 2.380245e-02  POS
## 29             timbre_2_max 1.917035e-02  POS
## 30             timbre_5_max 1.715813e-02  POS
## 31                    tempo 1.364418e-02  NEG
## 32             timbre_9_min 8.463143e-05  NEG
## 33                                    NA <NA>
h2o.sensitivity(perfh3,0.5)
## Warning in h2o.find_row_by_threshold(object, t): Could not find exact
## threshold: 0.5 for this set of metrics; using closest threshold found:
## 0.501855569251422. Run `h2o.predict` and apply your desired threshold on a
## probability column.
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.2033898
h2o.auc(perfh3)
## [1] 0.8492389

You can make the following observations:

  • The AUC metric is 0.8492389.
  • From the confusion matrix, the model correctly predicts that 33 songs will be top 10 hits (true positives). However, it has 26 false positives (songs that the model predicted would be Top 10 hits, but ended up not being Top 10 hits).
  • Loudness has a positive coefficient estimate, meaning that this model predicts that songs with heavier instrumentation tend to be more popular. This is the same conclusion from Model 2.
  • Loudness is significant in this model.

Overall, Model 3 predicts a higher number of top 10 hits with an accuracy rate that is acceptable. To choose the best fit for production runs, record labels should consider the following factors:

  • Desired model accuracy at a given threshold
  • Number of correct predictions for top10 hits
  • Tolerable number of false positives or false negatives

Next, make predictions using Model 3 on the test dataset.

predict.regh <- h2o.predict(modelh3, test.h2o)
## 
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print(predict.regh)
##   predict        p0          p1
## 1       0 0.9654739 0.034526052
## 2       0 0.9654748 0.034525236
## 3       0 0.9635547 0.036445318
## 4       0 0.9343579 0.065642149
## 5       0 0.9978334 0.002166601
## 6       0 0.9779949 0.022005078
## 
## [373 rows x 3 columns]
predict.regh$predict
##   predict
## 1       0
## 2       0
## 3       0
## 4       0
## 5       0
## 6       0
## 
## [373 rows x 1 column]
dpr<-as.data.frame(predict.regh)
#Rename the predicted column 
colnames(dpr)[colnames(dpr) == 'predict'] <- 'predict_top10'
table(dpr$predict_top10)
## 
##   0   1 
## 312  61

The first set of output results specifies the probabilities associated with each predicted observation.  For example, observation 1 is 96.54739% likely to not be a Top 10 hit, and 3.4526052% likely to be a Top 10 hit (predict=1 indicates Top 10 hit and predict=0 indicates not a Top 10 hit).  The second set of results list the actual predictions made.  From the third set of results, this model predicts that 61 songs will be top 10 hits.

Compute the baseline accuracy, by assuming that the baseline predicts the most frequent outcome, which is that most songs are not Top 10 hits.

table(BillboardTest$top10)
## 
##   0   1 
## 314  59

Now observe that the baseline model would get 314 observations correct, and 59 wrong, for an accuracy of 314/(314+59) = 0.8418231.

It seems that Model 3, with an accuracy of 0.8552, provides you with a small improvement over the baseline model. But is this model useful for record labels?

View the two models from an investment perspective:

  • A production company is interested in investing in songs that are more likely to make it to the Top 10. The company’s objective is to minimize the risk of financial losses attributed to investing in songs that end up unpopular.
  • How many songs does Model 3 correctly predict as a Top 10 hit in 2010? Looking at the confusion matrix, you see that it predicts 33 top 10 hits correctly at an optimal threshold, which is more than half the number
  • It will be more useful to the record label if you can provide the production company with a list of songs that are highly likely to end up in the Top 10.
  • The baseline model is not useful, as it simply does not label any song as a hit.

Considering the three models built so far, you can conclude that Model 3 proves to be the best investment choice for the record label.

GBM model

H2O provides you with the ability to explore other learning models, such as GBM and deep learning. Explore building a model using the GBM technique, using the built-in h2o.gbm function.

Before you do this, you need to convert the target variable to a factor for multinomial classification techniques.

train.h2o$top10=as.factor(train.h2o$top10)
gbm.modelh <- h2o.gbm(y=y.dep, x=x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, ntrees = 500, max_depth = 4, learn_rate = 0.01, seed = 1122,distribution="multinomial")
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perf.gbmh<-h2o.performance(gbm.modelh,test.h2o)
perf.gbmh
## H2OBinomialMetrics: gbm
## 
## MSE:  0.09860778
## RMSE:  0.3140188
## LogLoss:  0.3206876
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.2120263
## AUC:  0.8630573
## Gini:  0.7261146
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      266 48 0.152866  =48/314
## 1       16 43 0.271186   =16/59
## Totals 282 91 0.171582  =64/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                       metric threshold    value idx
## 1                     max f1  0.189757 0.573333  90
## 2                     max f2  0.130895 0.693717 145
## 3               max f0point5  0.327346 0.598802  26
## 4               max accuracy  0.442757 0.876676  14
## 5              max precision  0.802184 1.000000   0
## 6                 max recall  0.049990 1.000000 284
## 7            max specificity  0.802184 1.000000   0
## 8           max absolute_mcc  0.169135 0.496486 104
## 9 max min_per_class_accuracy  0.169135 0.796610 104
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.169135 0.805948 104
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `
h2o.sensitivity(perf.gbmh,0.5)
## Warning in h2o.find_row_by_threshold(object, t): Could not find exact
## threshold: 0.5 for this set of metrics; using closest threshold found:
## 0.501205344484314. Run `h2o.predict` and apply your desired threshold on a
## probability column.
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.1355932
h2o.auc(perf.gbmh)
## [1] 0.8630573

This model correctly predicts 43 top 10 hits, which is 10 more than the number predicted by Model 3. Moreover, the AUC metric is higher than the one obtained from Model 3.

As seen above, H2O’s API provides the ability to obtain key statistical measures required to analyze the models easily, using several built-in functions. The record label can experiment with different parameters to arrive at the model that predicts the maximum number of Top 10 hits at the desired level of accuracy and threshold.

H2O also allows you to experiment with deep learning models. Deep learning models have the ability to learn features implicitly, but can be more expensive computationally.

Now, create a deep learning model with the h2o.deeplearning function, using the same training and test datasets created before. The time taken to run this model depends on the type of EC2 instance chosen for this purpose.  For models that require more computation, consider using accelerated computing instances such as the P2 instance type.

system.time(
  dlearning.modelh <- h2o.deeplearning(y = y.dep,
                                      x = x.indep,
                                      training_frame = train.h2o,
                                      epoch = 250,
                                      hidden = c(250,250),
                                      activation = "Rectifier",
                                      seed = 1122,
                                      distribution="multinomial"
  )
)
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##    user  system elapsed 
##   1.216   0.020 166.508
perf.dl<-h2o.performance(model=dlearning.modelh,newdata=test.h2o)
perf.dl
## H2OBinomialMetrics: deeplearning
## 
## MSE:  0.1678359
## RMSE:  0.4096778
## LogLoss:  1.86509
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.3433013
## AUC:  0.7568822
## Gini:  0.5137644
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      290 24 0.076433  =24/314
## 1       36 23 0.610169   =36/59
## Totals 326 47 0.160858  =60/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                       metric threshold    value idx
## 1                     max f1  0.826267 0.433962  46
## 2                     max f2  0.000000 0.588235 239
## 3               max f0point5  0.999929 0.511811  16
## 4               max accuracy  0.999999 0.865952  10
## 5              max precision  1.000000 1.000000   0
## 6                 max recall  0.000000 1.000000 326
## 7            max specificity  1.000000 1.000000   0
## 8           max absolute_mcc  0.999929 0.363219  16
## 9 max min_per_class_accuracy  0.000004 0.662420 145
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.000000 0.685334 224
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, valid=<T/F>, xval=<T/F>)`
h2o.sensitivity(perf.dl,0.5)
## Warning in h2o.find_row_by_threshold(object, t): Could not find exact
## threshold: 0.5 for this set of metrics; using closest threshold found:
## 0.496293348880151. Run `h2o.predict` and apply your desired threshold on a
## probability column.
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.3898305
h2o.auc(perf.dl)
## [1] 0.7568822

The AUC metric for this model is 0.7568822, which is less than what you got from the earlier models. I recommend further experimentation using different hyper parameters, such as the learning rate, epoch or the number of hidden layers.

H2O’s built-in functions provide many key statistical measures that can help measure model performance. Here are some of these key terms.

Metric Description
Sensitivity Measures the proportion of positives that have been correctly identified. It is also called the true positive rate, or recall.
Specificity Measures the proportion of negatives that have been correctly identified. It is also called the true negative rate.
Threshold Cutoff point that maximizes specificity and sensitivity. While the model may not provide the highest prediction at this point, it would not be biased towards positives or negatives.
Precision The fraction of the documents retrieved that are relevant to the information needed, for example, how many of the positively classified are relevant
AUC

Provides insight into how well the classifier is able to separate the two classes. The implicit goal is to deal with situations where the sample distribution is highly skewed, with a tendency to overfit to a single class.

0.90 – 1 = excellent (A)

0.8 – 0.9 = good (B)

0.7 – 0.8 = fair (C)

.6 – 0.7 = poor (D)

0.5 – 0.5 = fail (F)

Here’s a summary of the metrics generated from H2O’s built-in functions for the three models that produced useful results.

Metric Model 3 GBM Model Deep Learning Model

Accuracy

(max)

0.882038

(t=0.435479)

0.876676

(t=0.442757)

0.865952

(t=0.999999)

Precision

(max)

1.0

(t=0.821606)

1.0

(t=0802184)

1.0

(t=1.0)

Recall

(max)

1.0 1.0

1.0

(t=0)

Specificity

(max)

1.0 1.0

1.0

(t=1)

Sensitivity

 

0.2033898 0.1355932

0.3898305

(t=0.5)

AUC 0.8492389 0.8630573 0.756882

Note: ‘t’ denotes threshold.

Your options at this point could be narrowed down to Model 3 and the GBM model, based on the AUC and accuracy metrics observed earlier.  If the slightly lower accuracy of the GBM model is deemed acceptable, the record label can choose to go to production with the GBM model, as it can predict a higher number of Top 10 hits.  The AUC metric for the GBM model is also higher than that of Model 3.

Record labels can experiment with different learning techniques and parameters before arriving at a model that proves to be the best fit for their business. Because deep learning models can be computationally expensive, record labels can choose more powerful EC2 instances on AWS to run their experiments faster.

Conclusion

In this post, I showed how the popular music industry can use analytics to predict the type of songs that make the Top 10 Billboard charts. By running H2O’s scalable machine learning platform on AWS, data scientists can easily experiment with multiple modeling techniques and interactively query the data using Amazon Athena, without having to manage the underlying infrastructure. This helps record labels make critical decisions on the type of artists and songs to promote in a timely fashion, thereby increasing sales and revenue.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.


Additional Reading

Learn how to build and explore a simple geospita simple GEOINT application using SparkR.


About the Authors

gopalGopal Wunnava is a Partner Solution Architect with the AWS GSI Team. He works with partners and customers on big data engagements, and is passionate about building analytical solutions that drive business capabilities and decision making. In his spare time, he loves all things sports and movies related and is fond of old classics like Asterix, Obelix comics and Hitchcock movies.

 

 

Bob Strahan, a Senior Consultant with AWS Professional Services, contributed to this post.