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Clare Daly: Change comes from people, not politicians

Post Syndicated from Joanna Elmy original https://toest.bg/clare-daly-interview-english/

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A few weeks ago, Irish MEP Clare Daly caused a media storm during the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) hearing, when she sharply criticized Commission Vice President Vera Joùrova for the European Union’s lack of action on Bulgaria – the poorest and most corrupt member of the Union. Daly is one of the most vocal MEPs in Brussels’s hemicycle, and among the most active Irish European representatives.

Our interview takes place less than an hour after Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union Speech, and Daly opens the conversation by calling it “a hypocrisy”:

“She talks about fair and free elections in Belarus, she talks about European money not being used to feed corruption… They have indisputable evidence that this is exactly what has been happening in Bulgaria and they have done nothing about it. The whole speech was so hypocritical, but in the context of Bulgaria the contradiction in her words was even clearer.”

For a European politician – or any politician in general – Daly is refreshingly straightforward and not afraid to tell me what she thinks. She is a member of Independents 4 Change, an Irish socialist party in the European United Left – Nordic Green Left group. We continue the discussion on Von der Leyen’s speech, during which the European Commission President laid out ambitious plans for the future of the EU in areas including the rule of law, foreign diplomacy and policy, and healthcare.

“That’s the brand of the European Union. It sounded like propaganda and I am sure a lot of citizens in a lot of European countries felt this way. Take the people in Italy, who felt that there was no solidarity in the beginning of this mess; and she talks about people in Afghanistan?” she laughs in disbelief.

I ask her whether Von der Leyen’s speech reflects the disconnect to which many have been referring during the summer of protests in Bulgaria, where citizens are still demanding the resignations of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev amid rising concerns about corruption.

On many fronts the words do not reflect reality. And I think the only way of changing this is by the people in the member states organizing themselves. That is why there is more talk about Bulgaria now. There are not many Bulgarian representatives trying to champion the cause of the protests and that adds to the difficulty of discussing this in Brussels. This is not the case with other countries. I feel that there is more of a political division there, that does not seem to be the case with Bulgaria.

I do agree with her that it is difficult to navigate the Bulgarian political scene, to which she responds: “I know little about Bulgaria, but I am prepared to learn. I have been educated by a lot of information and activity from Bulgarian citizens, for which I am grateful. I do not think you need to be an expert to see that there is a blind eye being turned, and the only reason is either that the Commission is incompetent and does not know what is going on, or they do know and are willing to let it go on, due to the connections with the European People’s Party (EPP). And my belief is that it is the second case: they are incompetent, but not that much. They do not really mind, because their guy [Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov’s party GERB is a part of the EPP alliance – Ed.] is there. He was clever enough to avoid targeting minorities, but that is not to say that there is no discrimination. People have been telling me that their coalition partner [The United Patriots coalition, a nationalist, far-right grouping governing with GERB – Ed.] is really homophobic and racist. But he is clever enough not to be too much in their face in the way that Poland and Hungary are, he is a bit more polished, and the Commission is happy with that. They think he provides a certain amount of stability.”

Similarly to the other MEP I spoke with – Sophia in ’t Veld from the Renew Europe group – Daly talks in club dynamics and political configurations. She tells me that “whoever is not in the club” gets criticized, effectively dividing important European values such as the rule of law and freedom of speech along ideological lines. Daly sees European structures from a critical left-wing perspective, as neoliberal administrations who put certain freedoms – like those of the markets for example – before others, such as the primacy of law when it comes to human rights.

Clare Daly’s political career goes all the way back to her student years, when she campaigned for abortion rights. During her early years as a politician, she was a part of the Militant Tendency inside the Irish Labour party which ultimately led to her being expelled in the late 80s. Perhaps this past and current political ideology led Bulgarian pro-government media to run headlines accusing her of being a “communist” who supports Lukashenko in Belarus.

I hear that they called me a communist. Someone came in this morning and told me there was an article on how I was investigated for conflict of interest in the European Parliament, but the girl who sent it said: “Do not worry, you have to realize there is no independent media in Bulgaria.” I had a meeting the other day and someone told me one of the other MEPs had called me a communist, and my response was that I’ve never been a member of the Communist party, but I believe some of the people who are in power in Bulgaria right now originated there. I mostly laugh at that, it is to be expected. I would be happy to see Lukashenko go, I have no problem saying that; I just think that this is the job of the Belorussian people to get rid of him, not the EU, not America, nor Russia.

I ask Daly about her interactions with Bulgarian socialists, who (at least in theory, if not so much in reality) are currently in opposition in Bulgaria.

“When I first encountered a problem with Irish property in Bulgaria, after I got elected, I wrote to all Bulgarian MEPs, regardless of party or ideology. I did not care, I would work with anyone. Only two of them actually bothered to answer, which is just crazy. One of them referred me to a colleague in the area, from whom I have never heard anything back. Then, when hearing the debates on Bulgaria in the European Parliament, I was struck by the fact that there was not really anybody actually from Bulgaria speaking out too much, even the opposition. And I cannot even get my handle around this Bulgarian Socialist Party, who are they? I cannot make out the divide, and also I have heard that the allegations about corruption are just as bad for them, if not even worse. When I got this relentless, massive response from Bulgarians to my speech in the LIBE commission, it just showed me the state of the vacuum. If that is what people have to cling on, God helps them! It has been really educational for me.”

Daly was supposed to go to Bulgaria, but a member of her staff tested positive for COVID-19 just when she was supposed to travel. She laughs and says she does not expect a quiet visit when she makes it. I ask her why even care about Bulgaria with a pandemic going on, the world heading into economic uncertainty, the EU struggling with much larger issues such as data protection, migration, finance.

When you are an MEP, you represent the citizens of Europe. Now, I see far too much influence here from big business and arms lobbies. I see MEPs who are clearly here to ride the gravy train or care for their own areas, but they do not see themselves as legislating for Europe. Any elected position that I was ever in, I saw as a platform to organize from. I do not believe in politicians changing things, I believe that people change things and politicians respond. And my job is to use the platform that I am privileged to have to give people the confidence they need to change things for themselves.

According to the Irish MEP “the Eastern countries were taken into the European Union very quickly, in many ways the Western European establishment did this as a buffer against Russia. The wealthy in those countries, many of whom came from the old communist regimes benefitting from the sales of state assets, have quickly assumed a new role and took to all the perks of the European money. The citizens of these countries are a nice pool of cheap labor for the Western business and the West is happy to play along.”

Daly thinks it is great that Bulgarians are finally beginning to show themselves. “It is very interesting, looking at the politics of it here, because it is not the same left-right divide we are used to”, she states and I immediately ask what she means by that. “It seems to me that everyone is corrupt across the spectrum”, she retorts. For her the demand for the rule of law is only heard when the rules apply to the political adversary. She says this needs to change, that concrete rules are needed, which would apply equally to everyone.

I cannot help but point out to her that she is painting a pretty dark picture of the European Union. With the rise of populism and Euroscepticism, I ask her a question mulled by many all across Europe: Why do we even need the EU?

This is a question that a lot of Italian people were asking when they were left alone at the beginning of COVID-19; this is a question that a lot of Irish people asked during the financial crisis, when Irish single parents had to pay for Munich stockholders’ losses. That is one of the reasons behind Brexit: it is not that they are all just little English racists but a lot of the people who voted for Brexit were working class people, who had previously supported Labour and felt they were let down. The problem right now is that the European Union is built to advance the interests of business. We tell the story about coming together after the war – and that was it at the start – but it has now become a big business project for the advancement of the financial interests for different industries. The citizens are being left behind. 

“I would say we do not need a European Union in the way in which it is organized now, because if it keeps going this way – more people will leave. But I want to see unity in Europe (and beyond). We all have a mutual interest. Because you see this question more and more through the people who are elected in the EU parliament. And you see it in that appalling speech this morning, people listened to it, saying: I do not know who you are talking to, Mrs. Von der Leyen, because your little fairytale world is not our world.”

Whether one agrees with Daly’s sharp criticism or not, there is an undeniable gap between words and actions in Europe when it comes to addressing pressing issues. Politics and bureaucracy do seem to prevail, as we saw during the first months of the health crisis. My last question for her is whether speeches remain speeches after all, or can we expect, finally,  concrete actions.

“It is not all bleak”, she says after scoffing at the mention of Von der Leyen’s speech. “There will have to be some action. You look at the rule of law in Poland and Hungary, slowly as it is, they are getting into a place where screws have been turning on those issues. We see the recovery plan after COVID-19 – it was a bit better than before, but still not enough. If they try and impose austerity again and make the EU citizens foot the bill of recovery, I think there will be an explosion. But I think that they are wary as well. Change is slow, you know. But it does happen. Whatever happens in Bulgaria, nothing will be the same again. Either there will be a successful breakthrough or not, but you can build on that and lessons will be learned.”

Еveryone knows that people in Bulgaria are organizing. The fact that the mainstream political establishment and media are not putting it on their front pages like in Belarus is really about geopolitical considerations rather than anything else. I do not think people should be too demoralized. We have a saying in Ireland: If you fight, you might win; if you do not fight or make a stand, you have lost already. The protests will certainly resolve in some kind of change, the people in power are worried. Whether they sideline us, or degrade us, or make only small concessions – the lessons will be learned for the future. I think they must be feeling the heat.         

At the end of our conversation, Clare Daly says that it is hard to predict the outcome of the Bulgarian protests. “They are a long way from withholding any European funding, so maybe there will be warnings behind the scenes to not be so blatant when it comes to violations. But this idea of the European Union being a savior, coming down and sorting out things for you – they are just not going to do that. The institution only looks after itself. However, you can, by your organization, embarrass them into doing something. But the job of dealing with your government is yours.”

Cover photo: © Clare Daly

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MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld: Do not think that the EU doesn’t care about Bulgaria

Post Syndicated from Joanna Elmy original https://toest.bg/sophia-in-et-veld-interview-english/

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Sophia in ‘t Veld is a Member of the European Parliament from The Netherlands and the fourth most politically influential MEP in the area of Democracy and Home affairs. Her party, Democrats 66, is part of the Renew Europe Group, the successor to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group Renew Europe describes itself as centrist and considers as its central issues sustainability, rule of law and economic growth. Other prominent European parties of the same group include French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche and Irish Fianna Fàil; the Bulgarian ethnic party Movement for Rights and Freedoms is also part of the same family. 

Sophia in ‘t Veld has been chairing the Rule of Law monitoring group in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) since 2018, and has worked on establishing an EU mechanism for the rule of law. During a recent hearing in LIBE, Mrs. In ‘t Veld questioned the Vice-president of the European Commission Vera Joùrova on Bulgaria media freedom and lack of accountability of the Prosecutor General. This prompted us to sit for an interview with her, during which we discussed in what way addressing ongoing protests in Bulgaria reveals key deficiencies in the way Europe functions politically, what can we expect from the new Report on the Rule of Law, and does Brussels actually know what is going on in the poorest and most corrupt member of the EU. 


You have been an MEP since 2004. Hungary and Poland joined the EU that same year, Bulgaria followed in 2007. Can you recall what were the expectations back then towards the former Eastern Bloc countries? 

We probably thought that economic reforms and preparing them for the internal market would automatically turn them into model democracies. I think those expectations were never realistic.

On the other hand, I also feel that currently there is a tendency to divide Europe into the enlightened, democratic West, and the Eastern countries which are prone to corruption and authoritarianism. That is not accurate. Authoritarianism is on the rise everywhere, look across the pond: Trump is behaving like many of the authoritarian leaders in Eastern Europe, and we also have political parties with the same corrupt authoritarian program as many Eastern countries, they just happen to not have the majority. So this East-West contrast is a false one.

How can we address this rise of authoritarianism at a European level in that case? 

You cannot make policies if you do not have shared values; it is a mistake to think that the EU is just an internal market and that values do not count. Just think of governance of the Internet, privacy, AI, freedom of speech, disinformation, police and justice cooperation – all these require a common set of values, rules and standards. We see with Poland, for example, that this is going horribly wrong, judges in the Netherlands and other countries are now refusing to extradite suspects to Poland because they do not trust the judiciary anymore.

If you do not have a properly functioning judiciary, free media, and transparency rules, then you cannot fight corruption; if you have corruption – the internal market cannot function properly. So it is all connected.

Click to view slideshow.

The question of values naturally leads us to Bulgaria. You are a member of the LIBE Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs which recently criticized Vice President Vera Jourova on the situation in Bulgaria, where people have been protesting for over two months now. How did Bulgaria become a topic of discussion? 

Bulgaria and Romania have always been on the radar screen because there are concerns of corruption, so that is nothing new. We have seen in recent months the massive street protests and the response by the authorities, which triggered concern. We have also seen a number of other concerns. There is the famous court ruling from 2009 saying that the independence and accountability of the General Prosecutor has to be revised. We hear there are concerns over the treatment of Roma people, hate speech, Bulgaria also refuses to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

Hungary and Poland have been in the spotlight for some time now, Malta and Slovakia for a couple of years, now Bulgaria. Later this month the Commission is going to issue – for the first time ever – a Report on the Rule of Law, which will be a cyclical annual event and the follow-up to the legislative initiative taken by the European parliament; I had the pleasure to be the rapporteur for that project.

We are always responding to a crisis in the case of Poland and Hungary, always too late, and a conflict ensues, leading to the polarization of the entire debate. Ultimately we do not achieve the aim of upholding democracy and the fundamental rule of law. So we want to eliminate the arguments behind which autocrats like Victor Orban hide by saying: “Oh, why us? Why are they singling out Hungary? This is anti-Eastern Europe.” That is why we proposed this annual cycle where all member states are assessed against the same criteria, including democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights.

The Parliament’s proposal was that the assessment be done by a panel of independent experts; the Commission has chosen to do the assessment itself. We have such a wide range of mechanisms, like the CVN, but too often the Commission relies on the input of the members of the governments. If you take the Justice ScoreBoard, Hungary always did fantastically well, so… From what I hear, this time the Commission has spoken to a range of actors (they say over 300) so we hope that we will get a more independent, complete and accurate image.

Is hoping good enough though? Because over the past years there have been many reports coming in by the Commission which have praised Bulgaria on improving, even though on the ground the situation was getting progressively worse. And now we find ourselves at a point of unprecedented protest. When the public hears that yet another report is coming, the prevailing question will be rather when and what concrete actions can we see? 

Firstly, I believe the report will be good, because countries where there are problems with corruption and authoritarianism (and often the two go together), cannot hide behind being singled out. But I also believe that it will trigger what I call “the Eurovision song contest” effect: the music is sh*t, but no one wants to be last. So they will complain, point the finger, but then secretly they will be pushed to do better, like with the European Semester. Does the Semester mean that all members fully meet the criteria? No, we know that. But at least it has a disciplining effect for them to go in the right direction.

Now, I understand the desire for action. But we do not have a cavalry to send charging in and to remove the government, it does not work this way. It is all very complex and has a lot to do with the way the European Union is constructed. The EU Commission is supposed to be independent, but in reality it remains shy in taking European member states head-on, because it is still the member states governments who nominate Commissioners. The Commission has to get used to this new role. You can also see that it is politicized and that the member states are resisting like mad, as we saw with the arguments this past summer over the budget. They left everything vague, as they always do, and now they are asking the European Parliament to fix it. And this is difficult, plus the pressure is immense.

For example, my government – the Dutch government – are keen on having this rule of law clause, but at the same time they find it awkward. Because if there is a Council summit, and then there is the official lunch, and Mr. Rutte sits next to Mr. Borissov and says: “Yo, Boyko, can you pass me the salt, please? And by the way, can you please not destroy the rule of law?” I always give this example, because it reflects the events in reality. You can compare it to the impeachment procedure in the United States: a lot of Republicans feel uncomfortable with President Trump and yet they were unable to vote according to their conscience because it is a closed club, this is how it works.

My initial proposal was to have an automatic trigger: if you have an annual report and it has multiple red flags, then there should be an automatic sanctions mechanism. This proposal did not make it. But ultimately, no matter how you organize it, it will always be a political decision to take action. We do not have strong central powers, it depends on the member states and they do not want to make Europe stronger. There are lots of Dutch people who are looking at countries like Bulgaria and saying: “Why isn’t Europe acting on this?” But then you clarify that for this to happen, they need to give Europe powers, and they immediately go on the defense. So there is your dilemma.

This is all pretty bleak, but I do think that despite Poland and Hungary being off-track, had they not been in the European Union, it would be much worse. There is a mitigating effect, being in the European Union and seeing that the institutions care. I can understand the Bulgarian people are feeling that no one takes interest in Bulgaria and I agree that the EU has been slow to act, but that is also because of the novelty of the situation. But do not think that there is no interest. We will be monitoring on a regular basis.

Click to view slideshow.

I want to walk you back a bit, you said that ultimately decisions for action are always political. Bulgaria fares much worse than Hungary or Poland in multiple rankings measuring democratic norms. Do you think that the silence on Sofia is due to the ruling party GERB being in the European People’s Party group? 

Clearly. The EPP is a big power machine and they tend to be very protective of their political family. The same goes for other families. My political family has had its share of awkward cousins, and some of them we have checked out at some point, but it remains difficult.

Mind it that when I say political, it is not necessarily partisan. If you look at the Council of the EU, even if the members all belong to different parties, it still behaves like one body. The dividing lines can be party-political, they can be North-South, they may be East-West, small-big. There are different factions and they all have this shared interest of not strengthening the hand of the European Union, they would like it to remain firmly inter-governmental because it is in their own interest. They think in a national – and often nationalist – way. But there is the dilemma that we mentioned: you cannot have an inter-governmental weak Europe and expect Europe to intervene in member states.

In Europe things move slowly, but when they move – they move. The issue of the rule of law has been rising on the agenda rapidly. This report will also strengthen the hand of the European Commission, because now if it intervenes, they will have better justification. Will it solve all problems? No. But is it an additional tool? Yes. It is not an ultimate solution, but it helps.

Another way to help and encourage, according to some, is cutting European funding. Do you think that is an effective tool as well? Should money be tied to rule of law? 

Yes. This is the conditionality of the budget, but this is not the ultimate solution. The idea came to the Council, because they had this problem called Victor Orban and they thought this was awkward because when they are sitting at the table, they want to avoid making decisions about each other. So they decided: “Oh, if we know we have budget conditionality, some anonymous official from the EU Commission can do the assessment, and tick all the boxes, and then we cut the funds”. Of course, that is an illusion because it can never be done by an anonymous Commission servant: it will always have to be a political decision. So they cannot escape their responsibility.

The impact of budget conditionality will not be the same for all member states. Take Austria, where there is an issue with rightwing tendencies and corruption. But Austria does not rely as much on EU funding, so how do you tackle that? It is not an equal instrument. Just a tool in a toolbox, but it will not solve the problem.

We are considering “smart conditionality” because we do not want autocrats like Victor Orban benefiting from EU funds, but we also do not want to penalize the people. “Smart conditionality” would mean that if there is an autocratic and corrupt regime, the Commission could take over the management of the funds, so that they would go directly to the beneficiaries, rather than through national authorities and that way we could keep a better eye on the money.

Sounds like a hard task. 

Well, nothing is easy [laughs].

I did want to ask about the “awkward cousins” in European political families. Are there mechanisms for sanctioning “rogue” members of a family who do not adhere to common values? Earlier this summer the Chairman of your political family Renew Europe Dacian Ciolos was fed false information by the Bulgarian Movement for Rights and Freedoms in relation to the protests, for example. Ciolos later admitted to being misled and apologized. How can this be addressed? 

In practice it is very difficult, but it happens occasionally. Orban is an example. We had the Austrian case as well. It all depends: if you are in power, it is more difficult. If you are not in government, it is quite easy. These power structures are strong.

So in this case do European MEPs have access to independent, verified information about events in member-states or do they have to rely on national politicians, who are often embroiled in national dynamics and will privilege them to European matters? 

Of course. As the chair of the monitoring group, for example, I would get a lot of emails from individual citizens, we also have their NGOs, we send questionnaires to the governments, we speak to them and invite them to hearings, we speak to the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission, GRECO: there are so many organizations, endless sources. Things cannot be held secret. It is 2020. You can follow events in real time.

It is not just knowing the facts, but how to interpret them. Very often what you see from a country like Bulgaria is that you get different MEPs, from different political groups, telling you different versions of events, all of which contradict each other. And I cannot judge what is true, but I do know one thing: in such situations, when there are such widely diverging interpretations of the facts and so much confusion – that in itself is a problem. It means people cannot trust the authorities, with little difference which version is true.

We stand with all people in Bulgaria – and all countries – who are clamoring for clean, transparent, and efficient government, dedicated to the people. And if you are Bulgarian, you are an EU citizen and you are entitled to that kind of government. We should not create the illusion that the European Union as an outside force can solve every single problem, but we will always firmly stand with those who advocate good government, transparency, fight against corruption and for the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Cover photo: © Stephanie leCocq / EPA

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Bulgarian Politics: a Short Guide for Foreign Correspondents 

Post Syndicated from Svetla Encheva original https://toest.bg/bulgarian-politics-guide-for-foreigners/

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Dear foreign correspondents,

It is difficult to navigate the Bulgarian political scene without prior knowledge. From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem as if the political Left and the Left-wing President are challenging the conservative nationalist right-wing coalition government as well as the party which represents the ethnic Turks in the country.

It might seem the Left is also marching against corruption and the Chief Prosecutor, who claims to be battling corruption himself.

A good starting point for understanding the situation would be

Rule Number 1: Nothing is as it seems in Bulgaria

GERB

On the surface, it might look as if the ruling party GERB is a broad conservative-right structure, similar to Western European Christian democratic parties.

Since the creation of the party its face has been current Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. He was not only former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov’s bodyguard, but has also pointed out to Zhivkov as one of his inspirations. Before becoming a bodyguard, Borissov studied at the Simeonovo Police Academy; he applied to the Department of State Security, another name for the totalitarian secret services. After the unsuccessful bid, he went on to become a fireman. When the Soviet regime fell in 1989 and the country transitioned to a democracy, he refused to leave the Bulgarian Communist Party. For that reason he was temporarily forced out of the Interior Ministry system.

Despite positioning itself on the right of the political spectrum and claiming to „fight the communists“, GERB has remained unfazed in the face of certain communist-era practices. The party attempts to control the economic sector and has nationalized certain factories and whole sectors. The Chief Prosecutor, who is close to GERB, considers the entire privatization process to be a crime and wants to open an investigation into the matter.

In Bulgarian, GERB stands for „Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria“.The party, however, has exacerbated the country’s energy dependency on Russia and is allowing the dissemination of pro-Kremlin and radical religious anti-European propaganda in the country. GERB has withdrawn bills — and the Istanbul Convention — succumbing to pressure from said propaganda.

BSP

It might appear that the Bulgarian Socialist Party is on the left of the political spectrum. But BSP exhibits signs of ultra-conservatism and often lapses into fundamentalist and orthodox rhetoric. The Socialists defend „traditional“ and „orthodox“ values. They played a major part in the campaign against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. They stoked the fire of misinformation campaigns against the Child Protection Strategy and the Social Services Bill. The Party chairwoman’s verbiage is often homophobic or transphobic. The current leadership wants to mold Bulgaria according to the model of Putin’s Russia — with a complete lack of tolerance towards homosexuals and keeping eyes wide shut to domestic violence.

BSP’s former chairman Sergey Stanishev wants to bring the party closer to its European homologs. But the government he was in charge of in 2008 advanced one of the most radically conservative economic reforms in the country with the introduction of a 10% flat rate tax on income and profit.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party is the political heiress of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which ruled the country during the totalitarian era. Near the very end of the Communist regime, in 1989, the Party led a massive ethnic purge. Over 320,000 ethnic Turks were forced out of the country and into Turkey, after years of coercing them to change their names with Bulgarian ones (in the 70s the names of the Bulgarian Pomak population — Slavic Muslims inhabiting Bulgaria — were also forcefully changed).

Thirty years later, BSP has offered no apology for what is now known as the Revival Process. The party’s apparatchiks continue to claim that the actions of the totalitarian regime were „historically right“.

MRF

The majority of ethnic Turks and Pomaks, as well as a smaller proportion of the Roma population, vote for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The MRF is part of the Liberal political group (ALDE) in the EU Parliament. The Party’s manifestos are textbook examples of a liberal political project. However, the MRF is anything but liberal. The party has an authoritarian structure and is controlled by Honorary Chairmen Ahmed Dogan. A former State Security agent during totalitarianism, Dogan takes pride in the so-called „Bulgarian ethnic model“, or in other words, the fact that Bulgaria did not have a Yugoslavia-type war.

But at the same time, the MRF makes no effort in integrating Bulgarian ethnic minorities as a functioning part of social life, instead reinforcing their isolation from society. MRF’s electorate believes that this is the only political formation that can protect them from a majority of ethnic Bulgarians who are hostile to them. This conviction is fueled by nationalist parties and the strong anti-Turkish sentiment instilled early on by national education. In the end, all these factors allow the MRF to exploit rather than protect the Turkish minority.

Counting on these core supporters and using methods and networks inherited from totalitarian state security structures, the MRF manages to be a political force even when not formally in power. Ahmed Dogan once said to his supporters: „I dish out the pieces of the government pie“. That, at least, he can be trusted on. This dynamic reinforces the anti-Turkish sentiment in the country, despite the fact that the beneficiaries of the informal webs of power, money and influence are ethnic Bulgarians. This includes Dogan’s close associate Delyan Peevski, who exerts immense influence as a media and business owner in Bulgaria, both overtly and behind the scenes.

The Nationalists

Oftentimes nationalist parties who claim to defend an ethnic majority in a given country belong to the far-right. In Bulgaria things are not so straightforward. GERB and BSP both have nationalists of their own, which become coalition partners if and when necessary.

Until recently, BSP could count on the pro-Putin formation Ataka (coming from the noun „attack“), but the party lost its appeal when it supported Plamen Oresharski’s government. Seven years ago, there were massive protests against this government, sparked by MRF Delyan Peevski’s appointment as head of the National Security Agency. Ataka’s constituency understood that the party and its leader, Volen Siderov, are not against the MRF, despite their ultranationalist rhetoric. But another pro-Putin formation is now emerging on the horizon, ready to take Ataka’s place: Vazrazhdane (meaning „revival“).

GERB counts on VMRO and NFSB, currently in a coalition named United Patriots. The Patriots claim to be right-wing, despite VMRO’s leader Krassimir Karakachanov’s past as a state security agent for the communist spy structures. They have also not shown any signs of opposition to the MRF-dependent GERB government.

All in all, the MRF and the nationalists are much like Charlie Chaplin and The Kid from the eponymous movie, the nationalists being The Kid: one breaks the windows, creating a sense of danger, and the other promises to fix it, rallying voters.

The nationalist parties in Bulgaria are anti-Russian in theory, but even more so anti-Roma in practice. A significant part of the Roma minority in the country is forced into extreme poverty. It is also a paradox that there are Roma citizens and whole Roma polling places who vote for VMRO, because their votes have been paid for or because they have been promised to keep their homes. Nevertheless, the nationalists always manage to stoke the flames of one or another „ethnic conflict“, which in turn, ends up with the demolition of Roma dwellings.

The Chief Prosecutor

For the first time a Bulgarian mass protest demands the resignation of the Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. On the surface, it seems like our Chief Prosecutor fights crime. In reality, he exerts political and economic pressure on inconvenient opponents. The problem is rooted in the Constitution, since no one is above the Chief Prosecutor. As one of the former occupants of the post Ivan Tatarchev once said: „Only God is above me.“ And despite the Constitutional Court’s decision that any prosecutor can investigate the Chief Prosecutor, in reality, this remains impossible since the hypothetical prosecutor leading the investigation would be forced to operate in a system controlled by the Chief Prosecutor.

Former Chief Prosecutors have also abused power, but Ivan Geshev crossed the line blatantly and aggressively, provoking protests even outside of professional circles who had also stood against former Chief Prosecutors.

The President

There are many foreign media claiming that current protests in Bulgaria are in defense of the President. The current President, who is in open conflict with the Government and the Chief Prosecutor, is rather taking advantage of the protests. Supported by BSP, he is a President in opposition, threatened, pressured and humiliated by the Chief Prosecutor. Traditionally every Bulgarian President has considered that the Presidency should play a stronger role in government; Rumen Radev is no exception.

Democratic Bulgaria

Current protests were not initiated by the President or BSP, but by representatives of a small party outside of Parliament called „Yes, Bulgaria“. Alongside the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (or DSB) and the Green Movement, they form the coalition Democratic Bulgaria.

A few weeks ago activists from „Yes, Bulgaria“, led by its leader and former Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov, exposed the Government’s dependency on the MRF. They tried to dock their boat on a beach next to Ahmed Dogan’s summer residence. The beach is supposedly public land, but access is restricted. They were stopped by guards from the National Service for Protection, who did not identify themselves nor had any legal reasons to be present at the location. This episode sparked the protests.

Where is Democratic Bulgaria on the political spectrum? Tough to tell. DSB is a conservative and Christian democratic party; the Green Movement is an ecological party, although not as much to the left on the spectrum as her European homologs; „Yes, Bulgaria“ prefers to avoid ideological determination and rather insists on fighting corruption as its main value.

Combating corruption and the desire to reform the Judiciary unite Democratic Bulgaria, but the parties within the coalition are very different in some respects. The only one among them to defend the rights of minorities — ethnic or LGBT — is the Green Movement. On this subject, DSB takes a more patriotic-conservative stance, albeit not a nationalist one. „Yes, Bulgaria“ defends those rights on principle but is afraid that speaking on such issues might drive its already scarce constituency away; therefore, it remains rather passive.

Is there a strong political formation on the political scene to advocate for minority rights? No.

Protests and Déjà Vu

The current protests can be seen as a continuation of the unrest during the Plamen Oresharski government 7 years ago. In both cases, they target a government unable to break free from MRF’s hold. But in 2013-2014 we had a BSP government, whereas today the governing party is GERB.

It is no doubt entertaining to watch the two political forces as they mirror one another, slogans included. If before BSP were the ones chanting „Unity!“ and GERB — „Resign!“, today the roles are reversed. The people who were targets of the protests years ago are now part of the protesting crowd (except the MRF), alongside the new nationalists from Vazrazhdane. And even though „Yes, Bulgaria“ was at the source of the protests, there is no guarantee that the coalition Democratic Bulgaria will draw the benefits from the civil unrest; it might end up being used by others to secure the grip on power.

Translated from Bulgarian: Joanna Elmy
Cover photo: © Dimitar Tzankov

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Orthodox Fundamentalism in a Time of Pandemic

Post Syndicated from Svetla Encheva original https://toest.bg/orthodox-fundamentalism-in-a-time-of-pandemic/

„The world we used to know has suddenly become the world of yesterday…“, Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov said, summing up the new situation in which the main and almost the only globally relevant theme is the new coronavirus. And the central question is how we shall organize our lives in a state of emergency, with all kinds of restrictions we just couldn’t have imagined a couple of months ago.

The pandemic situation is not only turning our daily life upside down, but it’s also curbing a number of human rights – something that even (most) human rights activists are currently not opposing. Except, of course, when officials abuse their position and use restrictions for purposes other than public health or to an extent disproportionate to the risk.

Today, we can apply neither our absolute right of public gathering and freedom of movement nor even the right of private and family life. If one of our family members is in the hospital, we are not allowed to visit him/her. If we are under quarantine, our relatives cannot visit us. Currently, in many places around the world, people cannot even get married.

Human rights lawyer Mikhail Ekimdzhiev notes that according to the Bulgarian Constitution, the right of private life cannot be restricted even in a state of emergency. Art. 32 of our Constitution defines privacy as „inviolable“. Therefore, Ekimdzhiev argues that imposing such sanctions over our private life should be preceded by constitutional changes. And yet, restrictions and penalties are already a fact, although constitutional amendments are not.

In the meantime, the course taken by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) is in sharp contrast with all these limitations and self-restrictions.

On March 10, Metropolitan bishop Gavrail of Lovech announced that the Easter services in Bulgaria this year would be held as usual. Why? Because unlike other types of congregations, church services and liturgies are sacraments. This statement seems to be sufficient reason for the Metropolitan bishop to claim that one cannot catch the coronavirus during mass:

„Contamination has never been transmitted or perpetuated in churches where sacraments are performed! There have never been epidemics in the church. They lose their power here“, said Metropolitan bishop Gavrail, adding that questioning his argument would betray a lack of faith. And faith is most important if you don’t want to get infected.

There is no danger – in my opinion – in the specific act of everybody receiving the Eucharist with the same spoon. That’s what the history of the Church has demonstrated. People have been taking the Eucharist throughout the worst epidemic crises, and no contamination and infection have ever taken place. Therefore, there is no need for fear when we go to worship. Infections will never be transmitted there. Well, if someone’s faith is weak – that’s a different story.

Unfortunately, such statements do not express only the personal opinion of the priest. They are supported by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which is why not only the Easter services but also the regular services carry on as usual – with commoners kissing icons and taking Holy Communion from the same silver spoon without disinfection. In some places, icons are wiped with detergent. Or at least those icons that won’t be damaged by disinfection.

Even though security measures due to the pandemic situation are tightening almost daily, the Church seems to be suspended in time. Metropolitan bishop Naum of Ruse was one of the few who called upon laymen and priests to avoid direct contact such as kissing hands and icons or taking communion from the same spoon in churches. Parliament member Yordan Tsonev from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms has also contended that faith was immunization enough:

„It is not dangerous because we, believers, know that the Holy sacraments we will do today are Holy sacraments, and no virus or infection can be transmitted during the services. Our faith would be nothing if we do not believe in Holy Communion and consider it a possible source of contagion. I will take the Eucharist from the shared spoon today because I genuinely believe that it brings us salvation.“

Even the renowned professor of cultural studies Mr. Kalin Yanakiev, whose analysis of the Istanbul Convention disputed the position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, joined the chorus of those championing the power of faith:

Those who believe that communion with the sacraments of faith means communion with the body and blood of Jesus Christ will be outraged by the idea that they, as well as the vessels in which they are stored, can be contagious. I emphasize that this applies to believers only.

According to Professor Yanakiev, those who have little or no faith can be infected during worship. Following that logic – those 46 members of the Protestant Church in South Korea who were infected with the new coronavirus while being on duty might have issues with their faith. And also more than 1000 people who have become ill after four days of Muslim worship in Malaysia. Or maybe their „fault“ is that they were not Orthodox.

The Holy Synod, however, felt obliged to do something about the pandemic. They posted a letter on their website with… prayers „in times of infections and epidemics of especially contagious and deadly diseases“ to be read during worship. Thus, believers were to be „vaccinated“ with the help of the holy Procomedia, the Great Litany and the Litany of the Litanies.

In the meantime, even the Vatican has abolished public worship. In Bulgaria, the Protestant and Catholic churches, as well as the mosques, did so, and the Main Mufti’s Office explicitly asked the elderly and the sick to refrain from visiting the mosque. The Orthodox Church of neighboring Greece has indefinitely postponed all services and rituals involving a gathering of people, including weddings and baptisms. A few days later, the Ecumenical Patriarch called the churches around the world to cease worship. But the BOC is still stubborn and relies on faith, similar to the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko who relies on vodka and tractor driving. The only mitigation of that position was that the Metropolitan bishop of Plovdiv Nikolay released the believers from the „obligation“ to attend mass and asked the elderly not to attend the services.

The misbehavior of the Bulgarian Holy Synod is a minor problem, actually. The big issue is that

Bulgarian public institutions allow the BOC to ignore pandemic security measures.

People’s faith should be treated with respect, not with scorn. However, the faith of the Pope and the Universal patriarch can hardly be considered weaker than that of the Bulgarian Holy Synod. If those worshipers were living on a lonely island, there wouldn’t be any problem for them to test the power of their faith by taking the Eucharist from a shared spoon and, in general, to try it in any other way they find appropriate. On this desert island, one could explain away all cases of contagion and death with the weak faith of the deceased. But as the worshipers share the same world as everyone else, the Church is also responsible for the non-believers. Caring about other people is not only an essential Christian tenet – it is a core principle of prevention. It is precisely for this reason that the state should require the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to follow the same precautions as the rest of the Bulgarian society.

One could argue that such a restriction on the Church is incompatible with the Bulgarian constitution. Possible argumentation might refer to Art. 13 of the Constitution, according to which religions are free and religious institutions are separate from the state, as well as Art. 37, Para. 1: „Freedom of conscience, freedom of thought and choice of religion and of religious or atheistic views are intact.“

However, to impose a temporary ban on certain activities does not impede the freedom and choice of religion.

And not only by chance, we started this article with a short text on human rights and the restriction of the right to privacy, which is also constitutionally guaranteed.

Para. 2 of Art. 37 of the Constitution explicitly states: „Freedom of conscience and religion may not be directed against national security, public order, public health and morals, or against the rights and freedoms of other citizens.“ In that context, public church services during a pandemic can definitely be interpreted as a threat to public health.

Civic activist Desislava Hristova requires BOC to implement the same measures against the spread of the virus as the rest of the public institutions in Bulgaria.

Therefore, on March 15, she reported the BOC misconduct to the Sofia Regional Health Inspectorate (RHI) via the website’s electronic alert form. She attached a link to a bTV news report about services performed at St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral after the declaration of the state of emergency in our country.

„On Monday, March 16, at about 11 o’clock, I was contacted by the RHI and being informed that they had tried to talk to the BOC, […] and also have tried to explain the situation in every possible way, but the BOC chose not to comply,“ she said to Toest.bg. „There is nothing we can do,“ the clerk said, responding affirmatively to Ms. Hristova’s question whether the decision to suspend church services is a political one.

Desislava Hristova did not stop her mission there: „So I have consulted with different acquaintances and decided – despite the deficits – that we are still living in a secular state so the government shall intervene. I truly believe that everyone should be able to trust what one finds appropriate nowadays. Still, we cannot go back to the Middle Ages and place religion above the measures prescribed by experts, doctors, the World Health Organization, etc.“ Ms. Hristova emphasizes that

polls show a high level of trust in the Church, and this is why BOC has a huge responsibility towards the community.

That is why the activist initiated sending an open letter addressed to President Rumen Radev, National Assembly Speaker Tsveta Karayancheva, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, the Chairman of the National Operations Headquarters and Head of the Military Medical Academy Ventsislav Mutafchiiski, Patriarch Neofit and the Major of Sofia, Ms. Yordanka Fandakova.

The letter, supported by 200 doctors, experts, citizens, and activists, is calling upon the secular state to use all the possible mechanisms in their power to stop the presence of laity at church services. Here it is part of it:

„In the current difficult times, religious institutions must offer hope, strength, and faith in the measures taken, and also support the secular state’s efforts to fight the pandemic. Instead, the behavior of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church directly undermines the image of the institution, undermines the trust in institutions, and sabotages the current unprecedented actions taken.

Attending church services, especially by elderly citizens, would put them at risk, which can prove fatal, and we are deeply concerned that BOC representatives do not recognize this fact.“

How have institutions reacted to the open letter? They haven’t.

Only the administration of the Council of Ministers has given a response, albeit an utterly perfunctory one. There are three generals among the addressees, but apparently, none of them wants to confront the BOC. In the meantime, Attorney General Ivan Geshev has ordered the arrest of a Bangladesh student and a citizen of Varna city for spreading unconfirmed information about coronavirus-infected people. Still, somehow he is not able to see „fake news“ in the allegations that silver spoons do not transmit viruses and that true believers and worshipers will not be infected.

In a situation of escalating emergency measures – shopping timeslots for people of different ages, a prohibition on using public parks, and talks about a possible imposition of curfew – the helplessness of the state vis-a-vis the BOC seems inexplicable. When asked by journalists how long temples in Bulgaria will be open to the public, Gen. Mutafchiiski replied that „verbal messages“ were being sent to Church leaders, but there could be no interference in the activities of the Church.

The blindness of our institutions to the dangerous and irresponsible behavior of the BOC raises the question:

If the BOC is independent of the state, does this mean that the state is also independent of the BOC?

More and more facts indicate that the answer to this question is negative. Years ago, the journalist Tatyana Vaksberg noted that even though Bulgaria is a secular state, the Patriarch has attended the first sessions of each new parliament since 2001, and Rumen Radev is the third Bulgarian president to be inaugurated in his presence. When the Church objected to the CoE Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Strategy for Children, and the Social Services Law, its position was taken into account, as well as its objections towards sexual education, for example.

In early 2020, the Holy Synod submitted to the Ministry of Education and Science its textbooks for teaching religion at school, although according to Bulgarian legislation, education is supposed to be secular. The state continues to turn a blind eye even when chapels get erected on school and college grounds.

And so, incrementally and inconspicuously,

the BOC is on its way to hijacking the state even as it adamantly asserts its independence from state structures.

And when the consequences of such behavior go out of control, the state – with all its repressive power – has not enough courage to react.

And the season of church rituals and mass congregations is yet to come. On Palm Sunday willow twigs are consecrated, which seems relatively safe. On Good Friday, however, worshipers congregate to kiss a shroud symbolizing the body of Christ, the gospel, and the cross. Then they crawl under a table. Then there is a lithium procession, during which the congregation goes around the church. Each of these rituals carries a high risk of infection. On Easter Eve, many people will gather in churches. Besides, people associate Easter and St. George’s Day with the slaughter of lambs and ritual feasts involving sharing meals and tableware. These situations are prone to exacerbate the pandemic. Although they shall take place after the anticipated end of the state of emergency, the virological situation in the country is unlikely to become very promising.

Religious fundamentalism differs from normal religiosity in knowing no boundaries and aspiring to control everything. The meddling of the BOC into the affairs of the state is already life-threatening. Literally. If no immediate measures are taken, the ultimate cost will be measured in human lives.

Special thanks to our volunteers: Rumyana Todorova for translating from Bulgarian and Zornitsa Hristova for revising the text.
Cover photo: Salva Barbera

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New – Pay-per-Session Pricing for Amazon QuickSight, Another Region, and Lots More

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/new-pay-per-session-pricing-for-amazon-quicksight-another-region-and-lots-more/

Amazon QuickSight is a fully managed cloud business intelligence system that gives you Fast & Easy to Use Business Analytics for Big Data. QuickSight makes business analytics available to organizations of all shapes and sizes, with the ability to access data that is stored in your Amazon Redshift data warehouse, your Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) relational databases, flat files in S3, and (via connectors) data stored in on-premises MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQL Server databases. QuickSight scales to accommodate tens, hundreds, or thousands of users per organization.

Today we are launching a new, session-based pricing option for QuickSight, along with additional region support and other important new features. Let’s take a look at each one:

Pay-per-Session Pricing
Our customers are making great use of QuickSight and take full advantage of the power it gives them to connect to data sources, create reports, and and explore visualizations.

However, not everyone in an organization needs or wants such powerful authoring capabilities. Having access to curated data in dashboards and being able to interact with the data by drilling down, filtering, or slicing-and-dicing is more than adequate for their needs. Subscribing them to a monthly or annual plan can be seen as an unwarranted expense, so a lot of such casual users end up not having access to interactive data or BI.

In order to allow customers to provide all of their users with interactive dashboards and reports, the Enterprise Edition of Amazon QuickSight now allows Reader access to dashboards on a Pay-per-Session basis. QuickSight users are now classified as Admins, Authors, or Readers, with distinct capabilities and prices:

Authors have access to the full power of QuickSight; they can establish database connections, upload new data, create ad hoc visualizations, and publish dashboards, all for $9 per month (Standard Edition) or $18 per month (Enterprise Edition).

Readers can view dashboards, slice and dice data using drill downs, filters and on-screen controls, and download data in CSV format, all within the secure QuickSight environment. Readers pay $0.30 for 30 minutes of access, with a monthly maximum of $5 per reader.

Admins have all authoring capabilities, and can manage users and purchase SPICE capacity in the account. The QuickSight admin now has the ability to set the desired option (Author or Reader) when they invite members of their organization to use QuickSight. They can extend Reader invites to their entire user base without incurring any up-front or monthly costs, paying only for the actual usage.

To learn more, visit the QuickSight Pricing page.

A New Region
QuickSight is now available in the Asia Pacific (Tokyo) Region:

The UI is in English, with a localized version in the works.

Hourly Data Refresh
Enterprise Edition SPICE data sets can now be set to refresh as frequently as every hour. In the past, each data set could be refreshed up to 5 times a day. To learn more, read Refreshing Imported Data.

Access to Data in Private VPCs
This feature was launched in preview form late last year, and is now available in production form to users of the Enterprise Edition. As I noted at the time, you can use it to implement secure, private communication with data sources that do not have public connectivity, including on-premises data in Teradata or SQL Server, accessed over an AWS Direct Connect link. To learn more, read Working with AWS VPC.

Parameters with On-Screen Controls
QuickSight dashboards can now include parameters that are set using on-screen dropdown, text box, numeric slider or date picker controls. The default value for each parameter can be set based on the user name (QuickSight calls this a dynamic default). You could, for example, set an appropriate default based on each user’s office location, department, or sales territory. Here’s an example:

To learn more, read about Parameters in QuickSight.

URL Actions for Linked Dashboards
You can now connect your QuickSight dashboards to external applications by defining URL actions on visuals. The actions can include parameters, and become available in the Details menu for the visual. URL actions are defined like this:

You can use this feature to link QuickSight dashboards to third party applications (e.g. Salesforce) or to your own internal applications. Read Custom URL Actions to learn how to use this feature.

Dashboard Sharing
You can now share QuickSight dashboards across every user in an account.

Larger SPICE Tables
The per-data set limit for SPICE tables has been raised from 10 GB to 25 GB.

Upgrade to Enterprise Edition
The QuickSight administrator can now upgrade an account from Standard Edition to Enterprise Edition with a click. This enables provisioning of Readers with pay-per-session pricing, private VPC access, row-level security for dashboards and data sets, and hourly refresh of data sets. Enterprise Edition pricing applies after the upgrade.

Available Now
Everything I listed above is available now and you can start using it today!

You can try QuickSight for 60 days at no charge, and you can also attend our June 20th Webinar.

Jeff;

 

Recording lost seconds with the Augenblick blink camera

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

Warning: a GIF used in today’s blog contains flashing images.

Students at the University of Bremen, Germany, have built a wearable camera that records the seconds of vision lost when you blink. Augenblick uses a Raspberry Pi Zero and Camera Module alongside muscle sensors to record footage whenever you close your eyes, producing a rather disjointed film of the sights you miss out on.

Augenblick blink camera recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

Blink and you’ll miss it

The average person blinks up to five times a minute, with each blink lasting 0.5 to 0.8 seconds. These half-seconds add up to about 30 minutes a day. What sights are we losing during these minutes? That is the question asked by students Manasse Pinsuwan and René Henrich when they set out to design Augenblick.

Blinking is a highly invasive mechanism for our eyesight. Every day we close our eyes thousands of times without noticing it. Our mind manages to never let us wonder what exactly happens in the moments that we miss.

Capturing lost moments

For Augenblick, the wearer sticks MyoWare Muscle Sensor pads to their face, and these detect the electrical impulses that trigger blinking.

Augenblick blink camera recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

Two pads are applied over the orbicularis oculi muscle that forms a ring around the eye socket, while the third pad is attached to the cheek as a neutral point.

Biology fact: there are two muscles responsible for blinking. The orbicularis oculi muscle closes the eye, while the levator palpebrae superioris muscle opens it — and yes, they both sound like the names of Harry Potter spells.

The sensor is read 25 times a second. Whenever it detects that the orbicularis oculi is active, the Camera Module records video footage.

Augenblick blink recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

Pressing a button on the side of the Augenblick glasses set the code running. An LED lights up whenever the camera is recording and also serves to confirm the correct placement of the sensor pads.

Augenblick blink camera recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

The Pi Zero saves the footage so that it can be stitched together later to form a continuous, if disjointed, film.

Learn more about the Augenblick blink camera

You can find more information on the conception, design, and build process of Augenblick here in German, with a shorter explanation including lots of photos here in English.

And if you’re keen to recreate this project, our free project resource for a wearable Pi Zero time-lapse camera will come in handy as a starting point.

The post Recording lost seconds with the Augenblick blink camera appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Jam Cameroon #PiParty

Post Syndicated from Ben Nuttall original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/raspberry-jam-cameroon-piparty/

Earlier this year on 3 and 4 March, communities around the world held Raspberry Jam events to celebrate Raspberry Pi’s sixth birthday. We sent out special birthday kits to participating Jams — it was amazing to know the kits would end up in the hands of people in parts of the world very far from Raspberry Pi HQ in Cambridge, UK.

The Raspberry Jam Camer team: Damien Doumer, Eyong Etta, Loïc Dessap and Lionel Sichom, aka Lionel Tellem

Preparing for the #PiParty

One birthday kit went to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. There, a team of four students in their twenties — Lionel Sichom (aka Lionel Tellem), Eyong Etta, Loïc Dessap, and Damien Doumer — were organising Yaoundé’s first Jam, called Raspberry Jam Camer, as part of the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend. The team knew one another through their shared interests and skills in electronics, robotics, and programming. Damien explains in his blog post about the Jam that they planned ahead for several activities for the Jam based on their own projects, so they could be confident of having a few things that would definitely be successful for attendees to do and see.

Show-and-tell at Raspberry Jam Cameroon

Loïc presented a Raspberry Pi–based, Android app–controlled robot arm that he had built, and Lionel coded a small video game using Scratch on Raspberry Pi while the audience watched. Damien demonstrated the possibilities of Windows 10 IoT Core on Raspberry Pi, showing how to install it, how to use it remotely, and what you can do with it, including building a simple application.

Loïc Dessap, wearing a Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend T-shirt, sits at a table with a robot arm, a laptop with a Pi sticker and other components. He is making an adjustment to his set-up.

Loïc showcases the prototype robot arm he built

There was lots more too, with others discussing their own Pi projects and talking about the possibilities Raspberry Pi offers, including a Pi-controlled drone and car. Cake was a prevailing theme of the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend around the world, and Raspberry Jam Camer made sure they didn’t miss out.

A round pink-iced cake decorated with the words "Happy Birthday RBP" and six candles, on a table beside Raspberry Pi stickers, Raspberry Jam stickers and Raspberry Jam fliers

Yay, birthday cake!!

A big success

Most visitors to the Jam were secondary school students, while others were university students and graduates. The majority were unfamiliar with Raspberry Pi, but all wanted to learn about Raspberry Pi and what they could do with it. Damien comments that the fact most people were new to Raspberry Pi made the event more interactive rather than creating any challenges, because the visitors were all interested in finding out about the little computer. The Jam was an all-round success, and the team was pleased with how it went:

What I liked the most was that we sensitized several people about the Raspberry Pi and what one can be capable of with such a small but powerful device. — Damien Doumer

The Jam team rounded off the event by announcing that this was the start of a Raspberry Pi community in Yaoundé. They hope that they and others will be able to organise more Jams and similar events in the area to spread the word about what people can do with Raspberry Pi, and to help them realise their ideas.

The Raspberry Jam Camer team, wearing Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend T-shirts, pose with young Jam attendees outside their venue

Raspberry Jam Camer gets the thumbs-up

The Raspberry Pi community in Cameroon

In a French-language interview about their Jam, the team behind Raspberry Jam Camer said they’d like programming to become the third official language of Cameroon, after French and English; their aim is to to popularise programming and digital making across Cameroonian society. Neither of these fields is very familiar to most people in Cameroon, but both are very well aligned with the country’s ambitions for development. The team is conscious of the difficulties around the emergence of information and communication technologies in the Cameroonian context; in response, they are seizing the opportunities Raspberry Pi offers to give children and young people access to modern and constantly evolving technology at low cost.

Thanks to Lionel, Eyong, Damien, and Loïc, and to everyone who helped put on a Jam for the Big Birthday Weekend! Remember, anyone can start a Jam at any time — and we provide plenty of resources to get you started. Check out the Guidebook, the Jam branding pack, our specially-made Jam activities online (in multiple languages), printable worksheets, and more.

The post Raspberry Jam Cameroon #PiParty appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

LC4: Another Pen-and-Paper Cipher

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/lc4_another_pen.html

Interesting symmetric cipher: LC4:

Abstract: ElsieFour (LC4) is a low-tech cipher that can be computed by hand; but unlike many historical ciphers, LC4 is designed to be hard to break. LC4 is intended for encrypted communication between humans only, and therefore it encrypts and decrypts plaintexts and ciphertexts consisting only of the English letters A through Z plus a few other characters. LC4 uses a nonce in addition to the secret key, and requires that different messages use unique nonces. LC4 performs authenticated encryption, and optional header data can be included in the authentication. This paper defines the LC4 encryption and decryption algorithms, analyzes LC4’s security, and describes a simple appliance for computing LC4 by hand.

Almost two decades ago I designed Solitaire, a pen-and-paper cipher that uses a deck of playing cards to store the cipher’s state. This algorithm uses specialized tiles. This gives the cipher designer more options, but it can be incriminating in a way that regular playing cards are not.

Still, I like seeing more designs like this.

Hacker News thread.

Amazon Translate Now Generally Available

Post Syndicated from Randall Hunt original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/amazon-translate-now-generally-available/


Today we’re excited to make Amazon Translate generally available. Late last year at AWS re:Invent my colleague Tara Walker wrote about a preview of a new AI service, Amazon Translate. Starting today you can access Amazon Translate in US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), and EU (Ireland) with a 2 million character monthly free tier for the first 12 months and $15 per million characters after that. There are a number of new features available in GA: automatic source language inference, Amazon CloudWatch support, and up to 5000 characters in a single TranslateText call. Let’s take a quick look at the service in general availability.

Amazon Translate New Features

Since Tara’s post already covered the basics of the service I want to point out some of the new features of the service released today. Let’s start with a code sample:

import boto3
translate = boto3.client("translate")
resp = translate.translate_text(
    Text="🇫🇷Je suis très excité pour Amazon Traduire🇫🇷",
    SourceLanguageCode="auto",
    TargetLanguageCode="en"
)
print(resp['TranslatedText'])

Since I have specified my source language as auto, Amazon Translate will call Amazon Comprehend on my behalf to determine the source language used in this text. If you couldn’t guess it, we’re writing some French and the output is 🇫🇷I'm very excited about Amazon Translate 🇫🇷. You’ll notice that our emojis are preserved in the output text which is definitely a bonus feature for Millennials like me.

The Translate console is a great way to get started and see some sample response.

Translate is extremely easy to use in AWS Lambda functions which allows you to use it with almost any AWS service. There are a number of examples in the Translate documentation showing how to do everything from translate a web page to a Amazon DynamoDB table. Paired with other ML services like Amazon Comprehend and [transcribe] you can build everything from closed captioning to real-time chat translation to a robust text analysis pipeline for call centers transcriptions and other textual data.

New Languages Coming Soon

Today, Amazon Translate allows you to translate text to or from English, to any of the following languages: Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. We’ve announced support for additional languages coming soon: Japanese (go JAWSUG), Russian, Italian, Chinese (Traditional), Turkish, and Czech.

Amazon Translate can also be used to increase professional translator efficiency, and reduce costs and turnaround times for their clients. We’ve already partnered with a number of Language Service Providers (LSPs) to offer their customers end-to-end translation services at a lower cost by allowing Amazon Translate to produce a high-quality draft translation that’s then edited by the LSP for a guaranteed human quality result.

I’m excited to see what applications our customers are able to build with high quality machine translation just one API call away.

Randall

Съд на ЕС: бриджът не е спорт, но може да е култура

Post Syndicated from nellyo original https://nellyo.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/sport/

В края на 2017 г. Съдът на ЕС е публикувал решението си по дело C‑90/16 с предмет преюдициално запитване, отправено на основание член 267 ДФЕС от Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber) (Въззивен съд (отделение по финансови и данъчни дела), Обединено кралство)   в рамките на производство по дело The English Bridge Union Limited (EBU) срещу Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.

Преюдициалното запитване се отнася до тълкуването на член 132, параграф 1, буква м) от Директива 2006/112/ЕО на Съвета от 28 ноември 2006 година относно общата система на данъка върху добавената стойност – по- точно относно  освобождаването на някои услуги, тясно свързани със спорта или физическото възпитание от нестопански организации на лица, участващи в спортни дейности или физическо възпитание.

EBU е национална организация с нестопанска цел, която има за предмет на дейност регулирането и развитието на двойковия спортен бридж в Обединеното кралство. Тази игра на карти е разновидност на бриджа. EBU плаща ДДС върху входнитe такси за участие – но смята, че посочените такси трябва да бъдат освободени от ДДС.

Данъчната администрация възразява срещу тези доводи, като посочва, че от текста на член 132, параграф 1, буква м), съгласно който е освободена доставката на някои услуги, „тясно свързани със спорта или физическото възпитание“, следва, че даден „спорт“ по смисъла на тази разпоредба трябва да има съществен физически компонент. В допълнение, поддържаното от EBU тълкуване противоречало на принципа на стриктно тълкуване на случаите на освобождаване, предвидени в член 132 от Директива 2006/112.

Така се стига до интересно преюдициално запитване, свързано с идеята за понятието спорт и неговия обхват:

„1)      Какви са основните характеристики, които трябва да има дадена дейност, за да бъде „спорт“ по смисъла на член 132, параграф 1, буква м) от Директива 2006/112? По-конкретно, трябва ли дейността да има съществен (или не несъществен) физически компонент, който е определящ за нейния резултат, или е достатъчно тя да има съществен умствен компонент, определящ за нейния резултат?

2)      Представлява ли двойковият спортен бридж „спорт“ по смисъла на член 132, параграф 1, буква м) от Директива 2006/112?“.

Това е един от случаите, в които Генералният адвокат и Съдът са на противополжни мнения.

Генералният адвокат Szpunar в заключението си казва следното:

Законодателят на Съюза счита, че доставката на някои услуги, тясно свързани със спорта или физическото възпитание, от нестопански организации на лица, участващи в спортни дейности или физическо възпитание, представлява услуга от обществен интерес, която заслужава да бъде освободена. Освен това обосновката за освобождаването трябва да се разглежда в контекста на член 165, параграф 1, втора алинея ДФЕС, съгласно който Съюзът допринася за насърчаването на ролята на спорта в европейския живот, като отчита в същото време спецификите му, структурите, основаващи се на доброволното участие, както и неговата социална и възпитателна функция.

Международният олимпийски комитет включва нефизическия спорт шахмат сред дейностите, на които е предоставен олимпийски статут(44). Оттук стигам до извода, че не е необходимо дадена дейност да има непременно физически компонент, за да бъде приета като спорт. Според мен това е съвсем логично. Задължителен физически елемент ipso facto би довел до изключване на редица дейности, обикновено считани за спортни, макар физическият компонент да е повече от незначителен, но чието квалифициране като спорт е извън съмнение. Като пример в това отношение могат да се посочат стрелбата или стрелбата с лък.

С оглед на това считам, че общото между повечето дейности, които обикновено са известни като спорт, е следното: 1) те изискват известни усилия за преодоляване на предизвикателство или препятствие (и поради това нямат чисто развлекателен характер)(45), независимо дали това предизвикателство е състезание срещу противник или преодоляване на индивидуалните граници на тялото и ума (например самото плуване, движение във вода); 2) при преодоляването на тези предизвикателства или препятствия i) се тренират определени физически или умствени умения, ii) което води до ползи за физическото или психическото благосъстояние на лицата, упражняващи съответния спорт, и 3) тези дейности обикновено се упражняват не само в изцяло търговска среда. Накрая, 4) общественото възприемане (на местно равнище) или международното признаване е индикация за наличието на „спорт“. С други думи, под „спорт“ по смисъла на Директивата трябва да се разбира трениране на психическа или физическа пригодност по начин, който обикновено е полезен за здравето и благосъстоянието на гражданите, тъй като в противен случай не би бил в съответствие с целта на освобождаванията, предвидени в дял IX, глава 2 от Директивата за ДДС(46).

 Поради това моето предложение за отговор на първия въпрос е, че сред характеристиките, които трябва да има дадена дейност, за да бъде „спорт“ по смисъла на член 132, параграф 1, буква м) от Директивата за ДДС, не е необходим не съвсем несъществен физически компонент, който е определящ за нейния резултат. Достатъчно е дейността да има съществен умствен компонент, определящ за нейния резултат.  По втория въпрос: бриджът е спорт.

Съдът в решението си приема за установено, че двойковият спортен бридж е игра на карти, която включва интелектуални усилия и умения и физическият компонент на която изглежда несъществен.

Понятието „спорт“ в общоупотребимия език обозначава физическа дейност, или с други думи — дейност, характеризираща се с физически компонент, който не е несъществен.

При двойковия спортен бридж се използват по-специално логика, памет, планиране или всестранен подход и той е дейност, полезна за умственото и физическото здраве на редовно практикуващите я лица. Дори обаче да се окажат полезни за физическото и умственото здраве, дейностите, които изцяло се изразяват в отдих и развлечение, не попадат в обхвата на цитираната разпоредба.

Състезателният характер на дадена дейност сам по себе не е достатъчен, за да обоснове квалифицирането ѝ като „спорт“, след като липсва физически компонент, който не е несъществен.

От съдебната практика  следва, че целта на член 132 от тази директива е да определи изчерпателно някои дейности от обществен интерес, които като изключение трябва да бъдат освободени от ДДС. Тълкуването   в смисъл, че спортът включва дейности, имащи физически компонент, който изглежда несъществен, представлява разширителен прочит на тази разпоредба, такова тълкуване не е съобразено нито с правилото за стриктно тълкуване на случаите на освобождаване от ДДС, нито с целта за строго очертаване на съответното освобождаване.

Освобождаването се отнася само до дейности, характеризиращи се с физически компонент, който не е несъществен.

Съдът започва решението с уговорката, че не говори за спорт по принцип, а само в контекста на конкретната директива, и завършва решението с разсъждението, че това, което не може да стане по б. м) от разпоредбата, може би не е изключено да стане по член 132, параграф 1, буква н)   – „културни услуги“  – ако предвид начина на практикуване на тази дейност, на историята ѝ и на традициите, към които принадлежи, тя заема в определена държава  такова място в социалното и културно наследство, че може да се смята за част от нейната култура.

Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend 2018 roundup

Post Syndicated from Ben Nuttall original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/big-birthday-weekend-2018-roundup/

A couple of weekends ago, we celebrated our sixth birthday by coordinating more than 100 simultaneous Raspberry Jam events around the world. The Big Birthday Weekend was a huge success: our fantastic community organised Jams in 40 countries, covering six continents!

We sent the Jams special birthday kits to help them celebrate in style, and a video message featuring a thank you from Philip and Eben:

Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend 2018

To celebrate the Raspberry Pi’s sixth birthday, we coordinated Raspberry Jams all over the world to take place over the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend, 3-4 March 2018. A massive thank you to everyone who ran an event and attended.

The Raspberry Jam photo booth

I put together code for a Pi-powered photo booth which overlaid the Big Birthday Weekend logo onto photos and (optionally) tweeted them. We included an arcade button in the Jam kits so they could build one — and it seemed to be quite popular. Some Jams put great effort into housing their photo booth:



Here are some of my favourite photo booth tweets:

RGVSA on Twitter

PiParty photo booth @RGVSA & @ @Nerdvana_io #Rjam

Denis Stretton on Twitter

The @SouthendRPIJams #PiParty photo booth

rpijamtokyo on Twitter

PiParty photo booth

Preston Raspberry Jam on Twitter

Preston Raspberry Jam Photobooth #RJam #PiParty

If you want to try out the photo booth software yourself, find the code on GitHub.

The great Raspberry Jam bake-off

Traditionally, in the UK, people have a cake on their birthday. And we had a few! We saw (and tasted) a great selection of Pi-themed cakes and other baked goods throughout the weekend:






Raspberry Jams everywhere

We always say that every Jam is different, but there’s a common and recognisable theme amongst them. It was great to see so many different venues around the world filling up with like-minded Pi enthusiasts, Raspberry Jam–branded banners, and Raspberry Pi balloons!

Europe

Sergio Martinez on Twitter

Thank you so much to all the attendees of the Ikana Jam in Krakow past Saturday! We shared fun experiences, some of them… also painful 😉 A big thank you to @Raspberry_Pi for these global celebrations! And a big thank you to @hubraum for their hospitality! #PiParty #rjam

NI Raspberry Jam on Twitter

We also had a super successful set of wearables workshops using @adafruit Circuit Playground Express boards and conductive thread at today’s @Raspberry_Pi Jam! Very popular! #PiParty

Suzystar on Twitter

My SenseHAT workshop, going well! @SouthendRPiJams #PiParty

Worksop College Raspberry Jam on Twitter

Learning how to scare the zombies in case of an apocalypse- it worked on our young learners #PiParty @worksopcollege @Raspberry_Pi https://t.co/pntEm57TJl

Africa

Rita on Twitter

Being one of the two places in Kenya where the #PiParty took place, it was an amazing time spending the day with this team and getting to learn and have fun. @TaitaTavetaUni and @Raspberry_Pi thank you for your support. @TTUTechlady @mictecttu ch

GABRIEL ONIFADE on Twitter

@TheMagP1

GABRIEL ONIFADE on Twitter

@GABONIAVERACITY #PiParty Lagos Raspberry Jam 2018 Special International Celebration – 6th Raspberry-Pi Big Birthday! Lagos Nigeria @Raspberry_Pi @ben_nuttall #RJam #RaspberryJam #raspberrypi #physicalcomputing #robotics #edtech #coding #programming #edTechAfrica #veracityhouse https://t.co/V7yLxaYGNx

North America

Heidi Baynes on Twitter

The Riverside Raspberry Jam @Vocademy is underway! #piparty

Brad Derstine on Twitter

The Philly & Pi #PiParty event with @Bresslergroup and @TechGirlzorg was awesome! The Scratch and Pi workshop was amazing! It was overall a great day of fun and tech!!! Thank you everyone who came out!

Houston Raspi on Twitter

Thanks everyone who came out to the @Raspberry_Pi Big Birthday Jam! Special thanks to @PBFerrell @estefanniegg @pcsforme @pandafulmanda @colnels @bquentin3 couldn’t’ve put on this amazing community event without you guys!

Merge Robotics 2706 on Twitter

We are back at @SciTechMuseum for the second day of @OttawaPiJam! Our robot Mergius loves playing catch with the kids! #pijam #piparty #omgrobots

South America

Javier Garzón on Twitter

Así terminamos el #Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend #Bogota 2018 #PiParty de #RaspberryJamBogota 2018 @Raspberry_Pi Nos vemos el 7 de marzo en #ArduinoDayBogota 2018 y #RaspberryJamBogota 2018

Asia

Fablab UP Cebu on Twitter

Happy 6th birthday, @Raspberry_Pi! Greetings all the way from CEBU,PH! #PiParty #IoTCebu Thanks @CebuXGeeks X Ramos for these awesome pics. #Fablab #UPCebu

福野泰介 on Twitter

ラズパイ、6才のお誕生日会スタート in Tokyo PCNブースで、いろいろ展示とhttps://t.co/L6E7KgyNHFとIchigoJamつないだ、こどもIoTハッカソンmini体験やってます at 東京蒲田駅近 https://t.co/yHEuqXHvqe #piparty #pipartytokyo #rjam #opendataday

Ren Camp on Twitter

Happy birthday @Raspberry_Pi! #piparty #iotcebu @coolnumber9 https://t.co/2ESVjfRJ2d

Oceania

Glenunga Raspberry Pi Club on Twitter

PiParty photo booth

Personally, I managed to get to three Jams over the weekend: two run by the same people who put on the first two Jams to ever take place, and also one brand-new one! The Preston Raspberry Jam team, who usually run their event on a Monday evening, wanted to do something extra special for the birthday, so they came up with the idea of putting on a Raspberry Jam Sandwich — on the Friday and Monday around the weekend! This meant I was able to visit them on Friday, then attend the Manchester Raspberry Jam on Saturday, and finally drop by the new Jam at Worksop College on my way home on Sunday.

Ben Nuttall on Twitter

I’m at my first Raspberry Jam #PiParty event of the big birthday weekend! @PrestonRJam has been running for nearly 6 years and is a great place to start the celebrations!

Ben Nuttall on Twitter

Back at @McrRaspJam at @DigInnMMU for #PiParty

Ben Nuttall on Twitter

Great to see mine & @Frans_facts Balloon Pi-Tay popper project in action at @worksopjam #rjam #PiParty https://t.co/GswFm0UuPg

Various members of the Foundation team attended Jams around the UK and US, and James from the Code Club International team visited AmsterJam.

hackerfemo on Twitter

Thanks to everyone who came to our Jam and everyone who helped out. @phoenixtogether thanks for amazing cake & hosting. Ademir you’re so cool. It was awesome to meet Craig Morley from @Raspberry_Pi too. #PiParty

Stuart Fox on Twitter

Great #PiParty today at the @cotswoldjam with bloody delicious cake and lots of raspberry goodness. Great to see @ClareSutcliffe @martinohanlon playing on my new pi powered arcade build:-)

Clare Sutcliffe on Twitter

Happy 6th Birthday @Raspberry_Pi from everyone at the #PiParty at #cotswoldjam in Cheltenham!

Code Club on Twitter

It’s @Raspberry_Pi 6th birthday and we’re celebrating by taking part in @amsterjam__! Happy Birthday Raspberry Pi, we’re so happy to be a part of the family! #PiParty

For more Jammy birthday goodness, check out the PiParty hashtag on Twitter!

The Jam makers!

A lot of preparation went into each Jam, and we really appreciate all the hard work the Jam makers put in to making these events happen, on the Big Birthday Weekend and all year round. Thanks also to all the teams that sent us a group photo:

Lots of the Jams that took place were brand-new events, so we hope to see them continue throughout 2018 and beyond, growing the Raspberry Pi community around the world and giving more people, particularly youths, the opportunity to learn digital making skills.

Philip Colligan on Twitter

So many wonderful people in the @Raspberry_Pi community. Thanks to everyone at #PottonPiAndPints for a great afternoon and for everything you do to help young people learn digital making. #PiParty

Special thanks to ModMyPi for shipping the special Raspberry Jam kits all over the world!

Don’t forget to check out our Jam page to find an event near you! This is also where you can find free resources to help you get a new Jam started, and download free starter projects made especially for Jam activities. These projects are available in English, Français, Français Canadien, Nederlands, Deutsch, Italiano, and 日本語. If you’d like to help us translate more content into these and other languages, please get in touch!

PS Some of the UK Jams were postponed due to heavy snowfall, so you may find there’s a belated sixth-birthday Jam coming up where you live!

S Organ on Twitter

@TheMagP1 Ours was rescheduled until later in the Spring due to the snow but here is Babbage enjoying the snow!

The post Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend 2018 roundup appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Needed: Senior Software Engineer

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/needed-senior-software-engineer/

Want to work at a company that helps customers in 156 countries around the world protect the memories they hold dear? A company that stores over 500 petabytes of customers’ photos, music, documents and work files in a purpose-built cloud storage system?

Well, here’s your chance. Backblaze is looking for a Sr. Software Engineer!

Company Description:

Founded in 2007, Backblaze started with a mission to make backup software elegant and provide complete peace of mind. Over the course of almost a decade, we have become a pioneer in robust, scalable low cost cloud backup. Recently, we launched B2 – robust and reliable object storage at just $0.005/gb/mo. Part of our differentiation is being able to offer the lowest price of any of the big players while still being profitable.

We’ve managed to nurture a team oriented culture with amazingly low turnover. We value our people and their families. Don’t forget to check out our “About Us” page to learn more about the people and some of our perks.

We have built a profitable, high growth business. While we love our investors, we have maintained control over the business. That means our corporate goals are simple – grow sustainably and profitably.

Some Backblaze Perks:

  • Competitive healthcare plans
  • Competitive compensation and 401k
  • All employees receive Option grants
  • Unlimited vacation days
  • Strong coffee
  • Fully stocked Micro kitchen
  • Catered breakfast and lunches
  • Awesome people who work on awesome projects
  • New Parent Childcare bonus
  • Normal work hours
  • Get to bring your pets into the office
  • San Mateo Office – located near Caltrain and Highways 101 & 280

Want to know what you’ll be doing?

You will work on the server side APIs that authenticate users when they log in, accept the backups, manage the data, and prepare restored data for customers. And you will help build new features as well as support tools to help chase down and diagnose customer issues.

Must be proficient in:

  • Java
  • Apache Tomcat
  • Large scale systems supporting thousands of servers and millions of customers
  • Cross platform (Linux/Macintosh/Windows) — don’t need to be an expert on all three, but cannot be afraid of any

Bonus points for:

  • Cassandra experience
  • JavaScript
  • ReactJS
  • Python
  • Struts
  • JSP’s

Looking for an attitude of:

  • Passionate about building friendly, easy to use Interfaces and APIs.
  • Likes to work closely with other engineers, support, and sales to help customers.
  • Believes the whole world needs backup, not just English speakers in the USA.
  • Customer Focused (!!) — always focus on the customer’s point of view and how to solve their problem!

Required for all Backblaze Employees:

  • Good attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done
  • Strong desire to work for a small, fast-paced company
  • Desire to learn and adapt to rapidly changing technologies and work environment
  • Rigorous adherence to best practices
  • Relentless attention to detail
  • Excellent interpersonal skills and good oral/written communication
  • Excellent troubleshooting and problem solving skills

This position is located in San Mateo, California but will also consider remote work as long as you’re no more than three time zones away and can come to San Mateo now and then.

Backblaze is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

If this sounds like you —follow these steps:

  1. Send an email to [email protected] with the position in the subject line.
  2. Include your resume.
  3. Tell us a bit about your programming experience.

The post Needed: Senior Software Engineer appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Message Filtering Operators for Numeric Matching, Prefix Matching, and Blacklisting in Amazon SNS

Post Syndicated from Christie Gifrin original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/message-filtering-operators-for-numeric-matching-prefix-matching-and-blacklisting-in-amazon-sns/

This blog was contributed by Otavio Ferreira, Software Development Manager for Amazon SNS

Message filtering simplifies the overall pub/sub messaging architecture by offloading message filtering logic from subscribers, as well as message routing logic from publishers. The initial launch of message filtering provided a basic operator that was based on exact string comparison. For more information, see Simplify Your Pub/Sub Messaging with Amazon SNS Message Filtering.

Today, AWS is announcing an additional set of filtering operators that bring even more power and flexibility to your pub/sub messaging use cases.

Message filtering operators

Amazon SNS now supports both numeric and string matching. Specifically, string matching operators allow for exact, prefix, and “anything-but” comparisons, while numeric matching operators allow for exact and range comparisons, as outlined below. Numeric matching operators work for values between -10e9 and +10e9 inclusive, with five digits of accuracy right of the decimal point.

  • Exact matching on string values (Whitelisting): Subscription filter policy   {"sport": ["rugby"]} matches message attribute {"sport": "rugby"} only.
  • Anything-but matching on string values (Blacklisting): Subscription filter policy {"sport": [{"anything-but": "rugby"}]} matches message attributes such as {"sport": "baseball"} and {"sport": "basketball"} and {"sport": "football"} but not {"sport": "rugby"}
  • Prefix matching on string values: Subscription filter policy {"sport": [{"prefix": "bas"}]} matches message attributes such as {"sport": "baseball"} and {"sport": "basketball"}
  • Exact matching on numeric values: Subscription filter policy {"balance": [{"numeric": ["=", 301.5]}]} matches message attributes {"balance": 301.500} and {"balance": 3.015e2}
  • Range matching on numeric values: Subscription filter policy {"balance": [{"numeric": ["<", 0]}]} matches negative numbers only, and {"balance": [{"numeric": [">", 0, "<=", 150]}]} matches any positive number up to 150.

As usual, you may apply the “AND” logic by appending multiple keys in the subscription filter policy, and the “OR” logic by appending multiple values for the same key, as follows:

  • AND logic: Subscription filter policy {"sport": ["rugby"], "language": ["English"]} matches only messages that carry both attributes {"sport": "rugby"} and {"language": "English"}
  • OR logic: Subscription filter policy {"sport": ["rugby", "football"]} matches messages that carry either the attribute {"sport": "rugby"} or {"sport": "football"}

Message filtering operators in action

Here’s how this new set of filtering operators works. The following example is based on a pharmaceutical company that develops, produces, and markets a variety of prescription drugs, with research labs located in Asia Pacific and Europe. The company built an internal procurement system to manage the purchasing of lab supplies (for example, chemicals and utensils), office supplies (for example, paper, folders, and markers) and tech supplies (for example, laptops, monitors, and printers) from global suppliers.

This distributed system is composed of the four following subsystems:

  • A requisition system that presents the catalog of products from suppliers, and takes orders from buyers
  • An approval system for orders targeted to Asia Pacific labs
  • Another approval system for orders targeted to European labs
  • A fulfillment system that integrates with shipping partners

As shown in the following diagram, the company leverages AWS messaging services to integrate these distributed systems.

  • Firstly, an SNS topic named “Orders” was created to take all orders placed by buyers on the requisition system.
  • Secondly, two Amazon SQS queues, named “Lab-Orders-AP” and “Lab-Orders-EU” (for Asia Pacific and Europe respectively), were created to backlog orders that are up for review on the approval systems.
  • Lastly, an SQS queue named “Common-Orders” was created to backlog orders that aren’t related to lab supplies, which can already be picked up by shipping partners on the fulfillment system.

The company also uses AWS Lambda functions to automatically process lab supply orders that don’t require approval or which are invalid.

In this example, because different types of orders have been published to the SNS topic, the subscribing endpoints have had to set advanced filter policies on their SNS subscriptions, to have SNS automatically filter out orders they can’t deal with.

As depicted in the above diagram, the following five filter policies have been created:

  • The SNS subscription that points to the SQS queue “Lab-Orders-AP” sets a filter policy that matches lab supply orders, with a total value greater than $1,000, and that target Asia Pacific labs only. These more expensive transactions require an approver to review orders placed by buyers.
  • The SNS subscription that points to the SQS queue “Lab-Orders-EU” sets a filter policy that matches lab supply orders, also with a total value greater than $1,000, but that target European labs instead.
  • The SNS subscription that points to the Lambda function “Lab-Preapproved” sets a filter policy that only matches lab supply orders that aren’t as expensive, up to $1,000, regardless of their target lab location. These orders simply don’t require approval and can be automatically processed.
  • The SNS subscription that points to the Lambda function “Lab-Cancelled” sets a filter policy that only matches lab supply orders with total value of $0 (zero), regardless of their target lab location. These orders carry no actual items, obviously need neither approval nor fulfillment, and as such can be automatically canceled.
  • The SNS subscription that points to the SQS queue “Common-Orders” sets a filter policy that blacklists lab supply orders. Hence, this policy matches only office and tech supply orders, which have a more streamlined fulfillment process, and require no approval, regardless of price or target location.

After the company finished building this advanced pub/sub architecture, they were then able to launch their internal procurement system and allow buyers to begin placing orders. The diagram above shows six example orders published to the SNS topic. Each order contains message attributes that describe the order, and cause them to be filtered in a different manner, as follows:

  • Message #1 is a lab supply order, with a total value of $15,700 and targeting a research lab in Singapore. Because the value is greater than $1,000, and the location “Asia-Pacific-Southeast” matches the prefix “Asia-Pacific-“, this message matches the first SNS subscription and is delivered to SQS queue “Lab-Orders-AP”.
  • Message #2 is a lab supply order, with a total value of $1,833 and targeting a research lab in Ireland. Because the value is greater than $1,000, and the location “Europe-West” matches the prefix “Europe-“, this message matches the second SNS subscription and is delivered to SQS queue “Lab-Orders-EU”.
  • Message #3 is a lab supply order, with a total value of $415. Because the value is greater than $0 and less than $1,000, this message matches the third SNS subscription and is delivered to Lambda function “Lab-Preapproved”.
  • Message #4 is a lab supply order, but with a total value of $0. Therefore, it only matches the fourth SNS subscription, and is delivered to Lambda function “Lab-Cancelled”.
  • Messages #5 and #6 aren’t lab supply orders actually; one is an office supply order, and the other is a tech supply order. Therefore, they only match the fifth SNS subscription, and are both delivered to SQS queue “Common-Orders”.

Although each message only matched a single subscription, each was tested against the filter policy of every subscription in the topic. Hence, depending on which attributes are set on the incoming message, the message might actually match multiple subscriptions, and multiple deliveries will take place. Also, it is important to bear in mind that subscriptions with no filter policies catch every single message published to the topic, as a blank filter policy equates to a catch-all behavior.

Summary

Amazon SNS allows for both string and numeric filtering operators. As explained in this post, string operators allow for exact, prefix, and “anything-but” comparisons, while numeric operators allow for exact and range comparisons. These advanced filtering operators bring even more power and flexibility to your pub/sub messaging functionality and also allow you to simplify your architecture further by removing even more logic from your subscribers.

Message filtering can be implemented easily with existing AWS SDKs by applying message and subscription attributes across all SNS supported protocols (Amazon SQS, AWS Lambda, HTTP, SMS, email, and mobile push). SNS filtering operators for numeric matching, prefix matching, and blacklisting are available now in all AWS Regions, for no extra charge.

To experiment with these new filtering operators yourself, and continue learning, try the 10-minute Tutorial Filter Messages Published to Topics. For more information, see Filtering Messages with Amazon SNS in the SNS documentation.

Coding is for girls

Post Syndicated from magda original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/coding-is-for-girls/

Less than four years ago, Magda Jadach was convinced that programming wasn’t for girls. On International Women’s Day, she tells us how she discovered that it definitely is, and how she embarked on the new career that has brought her to Raspberry Pi as a software developer.

“Coding is for boys”, “in order to be a developer you have to be some kind of super-human”, and “it’s too late to learn how to code” – none of these three things is true, and I am going to prove that to you in this post. By doing this I hope to help some people to get involved in the tech industry and digital making. Programming is for anyone who loves to create and loves to improve themselves.

In the summer of 2014, I started the journey towards learning how to code. I attended my first coding workshop at the recommendation of my boyfriend, who had constantly told me about the skill and how great it was to learn. I was convinced that, at 28 years old, I was already too old to learn. I didn’t have a technical background, I was under the impression that “coding is for boys”, and I lacked the superpowers I was sure I needed. I decided to go to the workshop only to prove him wrong.

Later on, I realised that coding is a skill like any other. You can compare it to learning any language: there’s grammar, vocabulary, and other rules to acquire.

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To my surprise, the workshop was completely inspiring. Within six hours I was able to create my first web page. It was a really simple page with a few cats, some colours, and ‘Hello world’ text. This was a few years ago, but I still remember when I first clicked “view source” to inspect the page. It looked like some strange alien message, as if I’d somehow broken the computer.

I wanted to learn more, but with so many options, I found myself a little overwhelmed. I’d never taught myself any technical skill before, and there was a lot of confusing jargon and new terms to get used to. What was HTML? CSS and JavaScript? What were databases, and how could I connect together all the dots and choose what I wanted to learn? Luckily I had support and was able to keep going.

At times, I felt very isolated. Was I the only girl learning to code? I wasn’t aware of many female role models until I started going to more workshops. I met a lot of great female developers, and thanks to their support and help, I kept coding.

Another struggle I faced was the language barrier. I am not a native speaker of English, and diving into English technical documentation wasn’t easy. The learning curve is daunting in the beginning, but it’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable and to think that you’re really bad at coding. Don’t let this bring you down. Everyone thinks this from time to time.

Play with Raspberry Pi and quit your job

I kept on improving my skills, and my interest in developing grew. However, I had no idea that I could do this for a living; I simply enjoyed coding. Since I had a day job as a journalist, I was learning in the evenings and during the weekends.

I spent long hours playing with a Raspberry Pi and setting up so many different projects to help me understand how the internet and computers work, and get to grips with the basics of electronics. I built my first ever robot buggy, retro game console, and light switch. For the first time in my life, I had a soldering iron in my hand. Day after day I become more obsessed with digital making.

Magdalena Jadach on Twitter

solderingiron Where have you been all my life? Weekend with #raspberrypi + @pimoroni + @Pololu + #solder = best time! #electricity

One day I realised that I couldn’t wait to finish my job and go home to finish some project that I was working on at the time. It was then that I decided to hand over my resignation letter and dive deep into coding.

For the next few months I completely devoted my time to learning new skills and preparing myself for my new career path.

I went for an interview and got my first ever coding internship. Two years, hundreds of lines of code, and thousands of hours spent in front of my computer later, I have landed my dream job at the Raspberry Pi Foundation as a software developer, which proves that dreams come true.

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Where to start?

I recommend starting with HTML & CSS – the same path that I chose. It is a relatively straightforward introduction to web development. You can follow my advice or choose a different approach. There is no “right” or “best” way to learn.

Below is a collection of free coding resources, both from Raspberry Pi and from elsewhere, that I think are useful for beginners to know about. There are other tools that you are going to want in your developer toolbox aside from HTML.

  • HTML and CSS are languages for describing, structuring, and styling web pages
  • You can learn JavaScript here and here
  • Raspberry Pi (obviously!) and our online learning projects
  • Scratch is a graphical programming language that lets you drag and combine code blocks to make a range of programs. It’s a good starting point
  • Git is version control software that helps you to work on your own projects and collaborate with other developers
  • Once you’ve got started, you will need a code editor. Sublime Text or Atom are great options for starting out

Coding gives you so much new inspiration, you learn new stuff constantly, and you meet so many amazing people who are willing to help you develop your skills. You can volunteer to help at a Code Club or  Coder Dojo to increase your exposure to code, or attend a Raspberry Jam to meet other like-minded makers and start your own journey towards becoming a developer.

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Community Profile: Dr. Lucy Rogers

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/community-profile-lucy-rogers/

This column is from The MagPi issue 58. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition through your letterbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve our charitable goals.

Dr Lucy Rogers calls herself a Transformer. “I transform simple electronics into cool gadgets, I transform science into plain English, I transform problems into opportunities. I am also a catalyst. I am interested in everything around me, and can often see ways of putting two ideas from very different fields together into one package. If I cannot do this myself, I connect the people who can.”

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

Among many other projects, Dr Lucy Rogers currently focuses much of her attention on reducing the damage from space debris

It’s a pretty wide range of interests and skills for sure. But it only takes a brief look at Lucy’s résumé to realise that she means it. When she says she’s interested in everything around her, this interest reaches from electronics to engineering, wearable tech, space, robotics, and robotic dinosaurs. And she can be seen talking about all of these things across various companies’ social media, such as IBM, websites including the Women’s Engineering Society, and books, including her own.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

With her bright LED boots, Lucy was one of the wonderful Pi community members invited to join us and HRH The Duke of York at St James’s Palace just over a year ago

When not attending conferences as guest speaker, tinkering with electronics, or creating engaging IoT tutorials, she can be found retrofitting Raspberry Pis into the aforementioned robotic dinosaurs at Blackgang Chine Land of Imagination, writing, and judging battling bots for the BBC’s Robot Wars.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

First broadcast in the UK between 1998 and 2004, Robot Wars was revived in 2016 with a new look and new judges, including Dr Lucy Rogers. Competitors battle their home-brew robots, and Lucy, together with the other two judges, awards victories among the carnage of robotic remains

Lucy graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After that, she spent seven years at Rolls-Royce Industrial Power Group as a graduate trainee before becoming a chartered engineer and earning her PhD in bubbles.

Bubbles?

“Foam formation in low‑expansion fire-fighting equipment. I investigated the equipment to determine how the bubbles were formed,” she explains. Obviously. Bubbles!

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

Lucy graduated from the Singularity University Graduate Studies Program in 2011, focusing on how robotics, nanotech, medicine, and various technologies can tackle the challenges facing the world

She then went on to become a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in 2005 and, later, a fellow of both the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and British Interplanetary Society. As a member of the Association of British Science Writers, Lucy wrote It’s ONLY Rocket Science: an Introduction in Plain English.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

In It’s Only Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English Lucy explains that ‘hard to understand’ isn’t the same as ‘impossible to understand’, and takes her readers through the journey of building a rocket, leaving Earth, and travelling the cosmos

As a standout member of the industry, and all-round fun person to be around, Lucy has quickly established herself as a valued member of the Pi community.

In 2014, with the help of Neil Ford and Andy Stanford-Clark, Lucy worked with the UK’s oldest amusement park, Blackgang Chine Land of Imagination, on the Isle of Wight, with the aim of updating its animatronic dinosaurs. The original Blackgang Chine dinosaurs had a limited range of behaviour: able to roar, move their heads, and stomp a foot in a somewhat repetitive action.

When she contacted Raspberry Pi back in the November of that same year, the team were working on more creative, varied behaviours, giving each dinosaur a new Raspberry Pi-sized brain. This later evolved into a very successful dino-hacking Raspberry Jam.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

Lucy, Neil Ford, and Andy Stanford-Clark used several Raspberry Pis and Node-RED to visualise flows of events when updating the robotic dinosaurs at Blackgang Chine. They went on to create the successful WightPi Raspberry Jam event, where visitors could join in with the unique hacking opportunity.

Given her love for tinkering with tech, and a love for stand-up comedy that can be uncovered via a quick YouTube search, it’s no wonder that Lucy was asked to help judge the first round of the ‘Make us laugh’ Pioneers challenge for Raspberry Pi. Alongside comedian Bec Hill, Code Club UK director Maria Quevedo, and the face of the first challenge, Owen Daughtery, Lucy lent her expertise to help name winners in the various categories of the teens event, and offered her support to future Pioneers.

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Free Electrons becomes Bootlin

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/746345/rss

Longtime embedded Linux development company Free Electrons has just changed its name to Bootlin due to a trademark dispute (with “FREE SAS, a French telecom operator, known as the owner of the free.fr website“). It is possible that Free Electrons may lose access to its “free-electrons.com” domain name as part of the dispute, so links to the many resources that Free Electrons hosts (including documentation and conference videos) should be updated to use “bootlin.com”. “The services we offer are different, we target a different audience (professionals instead of individuals), and most of our communication efforts are in English, to reach an international audience. Therefore Michael Opdenacker and Free Electrons’ management believe that there is no risk of confusion between Free Electrons and FREE SAS.

However, FREE SAS has filed in excess of 100 oppositions and District Court actions against trademarks or name containing “free”. In view of the resources needed to fight this case, Free Electrons has decided to change name without waiting for the decision of the District Court.

This will allow us to stay focused on our projects rather than exhausting ourselves fighting a long legal battle.”

Israeli Scientists Accidentally Reveal Classified Information

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/israeli_scienti.html

According to this story (non-paywall English version here), Israeli scientists released some information to the public they shouldn’t have.

Defense establishment officials are now trying to erase any trace of the secret information from the web, but they have run into difficulties because the information was copied and is found on a number of platforms.

Those officials have managed to ensure that the Haaretz article doesn’t have any actual information about the information. I have reason to believe the information is related to Internet security. Does anyone know more?

Raspberry Pi Spy’s Alexa Skill

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

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

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Pi Spy Skill

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

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

Creating an Alexa Skill

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

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

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

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

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

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

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

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

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

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

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

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

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

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

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

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

Note

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

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EU Compliance Update: AWS’s 2017 C5 Assessment

Post Syndicated from Oliver Bell original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/eu-compliance-update-awss-2017-c5-assessment/

C5 logo

AWS has completed its 2017 assessment against the Cloud Computing Compliance Controls Catalog (C5) information security and compliance program. Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI)—Germany’s national cybersecurity authority—established C5 to define a reference standard for German cloud security requirements. With C5 (as well as with IT-Grundschutz), customers in German member states can use the work performed under this BSI audit to comply with stringent local requirements and operate secure workloads in the AWS Cloud.

Continuing our commitment to Germany and the AWS European Regions, AWS has added 16 services to this year’s scope:

The English version of the C5 report is available through AWS Artifact. The German version of the report will be available through AWS Artifact in the coming weeks.

– Oliver

Game night 2: Detention, Viatoree, Paletta

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/16/game-night-2-detention-viatoree-paletta/

Game night continues with:

  • Detention
  • Viatoree
  • Paletta

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

Detention

longish · inventory horror · jan 2017 · lin/mac/win · $12 on steam · website

Inventory horror” is a hell of a genre.

I think this one came from a Twitter thread where glip asked for indie horror recommendations. It’s apparently well-known enough to have a Wikipedia article, but I hadn’t heard of it before.

I love love love the aesthetic here. It’s obviously 2Dish from a side view (though there’s plenty of parallax in a lot of places), and it’s all done with… papercraft? I think of it as papercraft. Everything is built out of painted chunks that look like they were cut out of paper. It’s most obvious when watching the protagonist move around; her legs and skirt swivel as she walks.

Less obvious are the occasional places where tiny details repeat in the background because a paper cutout was reused. I don’t bring that up as a dig on the art; on the contrary, I really liked noticing that once or twice. It made the world feel like it was made with a tileset (albeit with very large chunky tiles), like it’s slightly artificial. I’m used to seeing sidescrollers made from tiles, of course, but the tiles are usually colorful and cartoony pixel art; big gritty full-color tiles are unusual and eerie.

And that’s a good thing in a horror game! Detention’s setting is already slightly unreal, and it’s made all the moreso by my Western perspective: it takes place in a Taiwanese school in the 60’s, a time when Taiwan was apparently under martial law. The Steam page tells you this, but I didn’t even know that much when we started playing, so I’d effectively been dropped somewhere on the globe and left to collect the details myself. Even figuring out we were in Taiwan (rather than mainland China) felt like an insight.

Thinking back, it was kind of a breath of fresh air. Games can be pretty heavy-handed about explaining the setting, but I never got that feeling from Detention. There’s more than enough context to get what’s going on, but there are no “stop and look at the camera while monologuing some exposition” moments. The developers are based in Taiwan, so it’s possible the setting is plenty familiar to them, and my perception of it is a complete accident. Either way, it certainly made an impact. Death of the author and whatnot, I suppose.

One thing in particular that stood out: none of the Chinese text in the environment is directly translated. The protagonist’s thoughts still give away what it says — “this is the nurse’s office” and the like — but that struck me as pretty different from simply repeating the text in English as though I were reading a sign in an RPG. The text is there, perfectly legible, but I can’t read it; I can only ask the protagonist to read it and offer her thoughts. It drives home that I’m experiencing the world through the eyes of the protagonist, who is their own person with their own impression of everything. Again, this is largely an emergent property of the game’s being designed in a culture that is not mine, but I’m left wondering how much thought went into this style of localization.

The game itself sees you wandering through a dark and twisted version of the protagonist’s school, collecting items and solving puzzles with them. There’s no direct combat, though some places feature a couple varieties of spirits called lingered which you have to carefully avoid. As the game progresses, the world starts to break down, alternating between increasingly abstract and increasingly concrete as we find out who the protagonist is and why she’s here.

The payoff is very personal and left a lasting impression… though as I look at the Wikipedia page now, it looks like the ending we got was the non-canon bad ending?! Well, hell. The bad ending is still great, then.

The whole game has a huge Silent Hill vibe, only without the combat and fog. Frankly, the genre might work better without combat; personal demons are more intimidating and meaningful when you can’t literally shoot them with a gun until they’re dead.

FINAL SCORE: 拾

Viatoree

short · platformer · sep 2013 · win · free on itch

I found this because @itchio tweeted about it, and the phrase “atmospheric platform exploration game” is the second most beautiful sequence of words in the English language.

The first paragraph on the itch.io page tells you the setup. That paragraph also contains more text than the entire game. In short: there are five things, and you need to find them. You can walk, jump, and extend your arms straight up to lift yourself to the ceiling. That’s it. No enemies, no shooting, no NPCs (more or less).

The result is, indeed, an atmospheric platform exploration game. The foreground is entirely 1-bit pixel art, save for the occasional white pixel to indicate someone’s eyes, and the background is only a few shades of the same purple hue. The game becomes less about playing and more about just looking at the environmental detail, appreciating how much texture the game manages to squeeze out of chunky colorless pixels. The world is still alive, too, much moreso than most platformers; tiny critters appear here and there, doing some wandering of their own, completely oblivious to you.

The game is really short, but it… just… makes me happy. I’m happy that this can exist, that not only is it okay for someone to make a very compact and short game, but that the result can still resonate with me. Not everything needs to be a sprawling epic or ask me to dedicate hours of time. It takes a few tiny ideas, runs with them, does what it came to do, and ends there. I love games like this.

That sounds silly to write out, but it’s been hard to get into my head! I do like experimenting, but I also feel compelled to reach for the grandiose, and grandiose experiment sounds more like mad science than creative exploration. For whatever reason, Viatoree convinced me that it’s okay to do a small thing, in a way that no other jam game has. It was probably the catalyst that led me to make Roguelike Simulator, and I thank it for that.

Unfortunately, we collected four of the five macguffins before hitting upon on a puzzle we couldn’t make heads or tails of. After about ten minutes of fruitless searching, I decided to abandon this one unfinished, rather than bore my couch partner to tears. Maybe I’ll go take another stab at it after I post this.

FINAL SCORE: ●●●●○

Paletta

medium · puzzle story · nov 2017 · win · free on itch

Paletta, another RPG Maker work, won second place in the month-long Indie Game Maker Contest 2017. Nice! Apparently MOOP came in fourth in the same jam; also nice! I guess that’s why both of them ended up on the itch front page.

The game is set in a world drained of color, and you have to go restore it. Each land contains one lost color, and each color gives you a corresponding spell, which is generally used for some light puzzle-solving in further lands. It’s a very cute and light-hearted game, and it actually does an impressive job of obscuring its RPG Maker roots.

The world feels a little small to me, despite having fairly spacious maps. The progression is pretty linear: you enter one land, talk to a small handful of NPCs, solve the one puzzle, get the color, and move on. I think all the areas were continuously connected, too, which may have thrown me off a bit — these areas are described as though they were vast regions, but they’re all a hundred feet wide and nestled right next to each other.

I love playing with color as a concept, and I wish the game had run further with it somehow. Rescuing a color does add some color back to the world, but at times it seemed like the color that reappeared was somewhat arbitrary? It’s not like you rescue green and now all the green is back. Thinking back on it now, I wonder if each rescued color actually changed a fixed set of sprites from gray to colorized? But it’s been a month (oops) and now I’m not sure.

I’m not trying to pick on the authors for the brevity of their jam game and also first game they’ve ever finished. I enjoyed playing it and found it plenty charming! It just happens that this time, what left the biggest impression on me was a nebulous feeling that something was missing. I think that’s still plenty important to ponder.

FINAL SCORE: ❤️💛💚💙💜