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An Invitation for CrashPlan Customers: Try Backblaze

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/crashplan-alternative-backup-solution/

Welcome CrashPlan Users
With news coming out this morning of CrashPlan exiting the consumer market, we know some of you may be considering which backup provider to call home. We welcome you to try us.

For over a decade, Backblaze has provided unlimited cloud backup for Windows and Macintosh computers at $5 per month (or $50 per year).

Backblaze is excellent if you’re looking for the cheapest online backup option that still offers serious file protection.” — Dann Berg, Tom’s Guide.

That’s it. Ready to make sure your data is safe? Try Backblaze for free — it’ll take you less than a minute and you don’t need a credit card to start protecting your data.

Our customers don’t have to choose between competing feature sets or hard to understand fine print. There are no extra charges and no limits on the size of your files — no matter how many videos you want to back up. And when we say unlimited, we mean unlimited; there are no restrictions on files, gigabytes, or restores. Customers also love the choices they have for getting their data back — web, mobile apps, and our free Restore by Mail option. We’re also the fastest to back up your data. While other services throttle your upload speeds, we want to get you protected as quickly as possible.

Backblaze vs. Carbonite

We know that CrashPlan is encouraging customers to look at Carbonite as an alternative. We would like to offer you another option: Backblaze. We cost less, we offer more, we store over 350 Petabytes of data, we have restored over 20 billion files, and customers in over 120 countries around the world trust us with their data.

Backblaze Carbonite Basic Carbonite Prime
Price per Computer $50/year $59.99/year $149.99/year
Back Up All User Data By Default – No Picking And Choosing Yes No No
Automatically Back Up Files Of Any Size, Including Videos Yes No Yes1
Back Up Multiple USB External Hard Drives Yes No No
Restore by Mail for Free Yes No No
Locate Computer Yes No No
Manage Families & Teams Yes No No
Protect Accounts Via Two Factor VerificationSMS & Authenticator Apps Yes No No
Protect Data Via Private Encryption Key Yes No No2
(1) All videos and files over 4GB require manual selection.  (2) Available on Windows Only

To get just some of the features offered by Backblaze for $50/year, you would need to purchase Carbonite Prime at $149.99/year.

Reminder: Sync is Not Backup

“Backblaze is my favorite online backup service, mostly because everything about it is so simple, especially its pricing and software.“ Tim Fisher — Lifewire: 22 Online Backup Services Reviewed

Of course, there are plenty of options in the marketplace. We encourage you to choose one to make sure you stay backed up. One thing we tell our own friends and family: sync is not backup.

If you’re considering using a sync service — Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, etc. — you should know that these services are not designed to back up all your data. Typically, they only sync data from a specific directory or folder. If the service detects a file was deleted from your sync folder, it also will delete it from their server, and you’re out of luck. In addition, most don’t support external drives and have tiered pricing that gets quite expensive.

Backblaze is the Simple, Reliable, and Affordable Choice for Unlimited Backup of All Your Data
People have trusted Backblaze to protect their digital photos, music, movies, and documents for the past 10 years. We look forward to doing the same for your valuable data.

Your CrashPlan service may not be getting shut off today. But there’s no reason to wait until your data is at risk. Try Backblaze for FREE today — all you need to do is pick an email/password and click download.

The post An Invitation for CrashPlan Customers: Try Backblaze appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Mod your Nerf gun with a Pi

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/mod-nerf-gun-pi/

Michael Darby, who blogs at 314reactor, has created a new Raspberry Pi build, and it’s pretty darn cool. Though it’s not the first Raspberry Pi-modded Nerf gun we’ve seen, it’s definitely one of the most complex!

Nerf Gun Ammo Counter / Range Finder – Raspberry Pi

An ammo counter and range finder made from a Raspberry Pi for a Nerf Gun.

Nerf guns

Nerf guns are toy dart guns that have been on the market since the early 1990s. They are popular with kids and adults who enjoy playing paintball, laser tag, and first-person shooter video games. Michael loves Nerf guns, and he wanted to give his toy a sci-fi overhaul, making it look and function more like a gun that an avatar might use in Half-Life, Quake, or Doom.

Modding a Nerf gun

A busy and creative member of the Raspberry Pi community, Michael has previously delighted us with his Windows 98 wristwatch. Now, he has upgraded his Nerf gun with a rangefinder and an ammo counter by adding a Pi, a Pimoroni Rainbow HAT, and some sensors.

Setting up a rangefinder was straightforward. Michael fixed an ultrasonic distance sensor pointing in the direction of the gun’s barrel. Live information about how far away he is from his target is shown on the Rainbow HAT’s alphanumeric display.

View of Michael Darby's nerf gun range finder

To create an ammo counter, Michael had to follow a more circuitous route. Since he couldn’t think of a way to read out how many darts are in the Nerf gun’s magazine, he ended up counting how many darts have been shot instead. This data is collected via a proximity sensor, a device that can measure shorter distances than an ultrasonic sensor. Michael aimed the sensor towards the end of the barrel, attaching it with Blu-Tack.

View of Michael Darby's nerf gun proximity sensor

The number of shots left in the magazine is indicated by the seven LEDs above the Rainbow HAT’s alphanumeric display. The countdown works for more than seven darts, thanks to colour coding: the LEDs count down first in red, then in orange, and finally in green.

In a Python script running on the Pi, Michael has included a default number of shots per magazine. When he changes a magazine, he uses one of the HAT’s buttons as a ‘Reload’ button, resetting the counter. He has also set up the HAT so that the number of available shots can be entered manually instead.

Nerf gun modding tutorial

On Michael’s blog you will find a thorough step-by-step guide to how he created this build. He has also included his code, and links to all the components, software installation guides, and test scripts he has used. So head on over there if you’re keen to mod your own nerf gun like this, and take a look at some of his other projects while you’re there!

Michael welcomes suggestions for how to improve upon his mods, especially for how to count shots in a magazine automatically. Do you have an idea? Let usand himknow in the comments!

Toy mods

Over the years, we’ve covered quite a few fun toy upgrades, and some that may have to be approached with caution. The Pi-powered busy board for babies, the ‘weaponized’ teddy bear, and the inevitable smart Fisher Price phone are just a few from our archives.

What’s your favourite childhood toy, and how could it be improved by the addition of a Pi? Share your ideas with us in the comments below.

The post Mod your Nerf gun with a Pi appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

TVAddons Decimated Without Trial, Here’s a View of the Damage

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/tvaddons-decimated-without-trial-heres-a-view-of-the-damage-170820/

On June 2, a collection of Canadian telecoms giants including Bell Canada, Bell ExpressVu, Bell Media, Videotron, Groupe TVA, Rogers Communications and Rogers Media, filed a complaint in Federal Court against Montreal resident Adam Lackman, the man behind TVAddons.

They claimed that by developing, hosting, distributing or promoting Kodi add-ons, Lackman infringed their copyrights.

On June 9 the Federal Court handed down an interim injunction against Lackman which restrained him from various activities in respect of TVAddons. The process took place ex parte, meaning in secret, without Lackman being able to mount a defense.

The plaintiffs were also granted an Anton Piller order, a civil search warrant that granted access to Lackman’s premises and allowed him to be interrogated.

As previously reported, the plaintiffs abused the process and only later did a court recognize that the search was designed as both a fishing exercise and a means to take down TVAddons, in advance of any trial on the merits of the case.

In the meantime, with the process grinding through an early appeal, the plaintiffs’ aim of destroying TVAddons has been at least partially achieved. After prolonged downtime, Lackman recently brought the site back under a new URL, TVAddons.co. However, he informs TF that serious damage has been done to a project that previously enjoyed great momentum.

“Google is the most popular site on the internet. If Google was down for a day, you’d check back tomorrow. If it was down for a week, you’d check back a week later. If it was down for a month, maybe you’d try once in a while,” Lackman says.

“However, if Google was down for more than six months, would you return in a year from now? Probably not. And that’s Google, not a small community site like TVAddons.”

Some people are coming back to the site now, but in nowhere near the volumes it previously enjoyed. Here’s a traffic analysis for a typical day at TVAddons.ag before the takedown.

TVAddons.ag daily traffic, before the takedown

And here is how the traffic for TVAddons.co looked a few days ago, a little two weeks after its revival and ten weeks after the initial takedown.

Part of the problem is not being able to get in touch with former users. In addition to taking control of TVAddons’ domains, the legal process also deprived the site of its social media accounts.

For example, TVAddons’ original Twitter account is now dormant. It still has 141K followers but with its passwords in the hands of lawyers, Lackman has been forced to open a new account, TVAddonsco. However, he’s only been able to attract just over 8,000 followers.

Facebook tells a similar story. With no access to the old account (which had 174,229 likes), the new account facebook.com/tvaddonsco is stalling at around 1,600. The situations on YouTube and Instagram are just as bleak.

“They’ve completely muzzled us, there was never anything questionable on our social media, seizing it without actually winning a lawsuit against us is nothing less than censorship,” Lackman says.

“Since we never required user registration, we don’t have the ability to reach the majority of our users without having access to our old social media accounts and notification system, which doesn’t work without our domain name being active.”

Also seized were TVaddons’ Feedburner account, which was used to manage the site’s 100,000 RSS feed subscribers.

“It was in the same account as Google+ and YouTube so we lost that too. We could have easily used it to forward our RSS feed and keep all the subscribers otherwise,” Lackman adds.

This has left TVAddons having to do its best to spread the details of its new locations via social media and a contest that has thus far gained more than 87,000 entries and may be helping things along.

While it’s now common knowledge that many TVAddons-related domains and accounts were seized following the search, Lackman now reveals that other non-connected projects were affected too. Included were the social media pages of several unrelated businesses, the domain name of a hosting website that was around seven years old, and an entirely legal “cord-cutting” information resource.

“Since the cord-cutting phenomenon conflicts with their business interests, seizing that specific social media page effectively destroyed their direct competition,” Lackman says.

“The plaintiffs are trying to destroy their competition rather than innovating. TVAddons provided a lot of legitimate competition for them in terms of content for cordcutters, they’re trying to keep a grasp on the market at any cost.

“Their failure at innovating can be immediately demonstrated by the fact that the NFL recently canceled all broadcast contracts with Canadian TV operators, in favor of DAZN, a new legal sports streaming service that charges half the price they did, with way more content than their sports packages ever offered.”

But despite the setbacks, Lackman appears determined to continue not only with the resurrected TVAddons, but also the legal fight against the Canadian broadcasting giants intent on his destruction.

At the time of writing the site’s fundraiser has generated more than $27,000 in 15 days but TF understands that this might only be 5 to 10 percent of the final sum required when all bills are counted. It’s hoped that new methods of donating and assistance from friendly website operators might give the campaign an additional boost but in the meantime, Lackman is expressing gratitude for the efforts so far.

It’s hard to say whether TVAddons will once again reach the heights achieved at its peak but after taking years to build up a following, the odds are certainly stacked against it.

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

BREIN is Taking Infamous ‘Piracy’ Hosting Provider Ecatel to Court

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/brein-is-taking-infamous-piracy-hosting-provider-ecatel-to-court-170815/

A regular website can be easily hosted in most countries of the world but when the nature of the project begins to step on toes, opportunities begin to reduce. Openly hosting The Pirate Bay, for example, is something few providers want to get involved with.

There are, however, providers out there who specialize in hosting services that others won’t touch. They develop a reputation of turning a blind eye to their customers’ activities, only reacting when a crisis looms on the horizon. Despite the problems, there are a few that are surprisingly resilient.

One such host is Netherlands-based Ecatel, which has hit the headlines many times over the years for allegedly having customers involved in warez, torrents, and streaming, not to mention spam and malware. For hosting the former group, it’s now in the crosshairs of Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN.

According to an application for a witness hearing filed with The Court of the Hague by BREIN, Ecatel has repeatedly hosted websites dealing in infringing content over recent years. While this is nothing particularly out of the ordinary, BREIN claims that complaints filed against the sites were dealt with slowly by Ecatel or not at all.

Ecatel Ltd is a company incorporated in the UK with servers in the Netherlands but since 2015, another hosting company called Novogara has appeared in tandem. Court documents suggest that Novogara is associated with Ecatel, something that was confirmed early 2016 in an email sent out by Ecatel itself.

“We’d like to inform you that all services of Ecatel Ltd are taken over by a new brand called Novogara Ltd with immediate effect. The take-over includes Ecatel and all her subsidiaries,” the email read.

Muddying the waters a little more, in 2015 Ecatel’s IP addresses were apparently taken over by Quasi Networks Ltd, a Seychelles-based company whose business is described locally as being conducted entirely overseas.

“Stichting BREIN has found several websites in the network of Quasi Networks with obviously infringing content. Quasi Networks, however, does not respond structurally to requests for closing those websites. This involves unlawful acts against the parties associated with the BREIN Foundation,” a ruling from the Court reads.

As a result, BREIN wants a witness hearing with three defendants connected to the Ecatel/Novgara/Quasi group of companies in order to establish the relationship between the businesses, where their servers are, and who is behind Quasi Networks.

“Stichting BREIN is interested in this information in order to be able to judge who it can appeal to and whether it is useful to start a legal procedure,” the Court adds.

Two of the defendants failed to lodge a defense against BREIN’s application but one objected to the request for a hearing. He said that since Quasi Networks, Ecatel and Novogara are all incorporated outside the Netherlands, a trial must also be conducted abroad and therefore a Dutch judge would not have jurisdiction.

He also argued that BREIN would use the witness hearing as a “fishing expedition” in order to gather information it currently does not have, in order to formulate some kind of case against the defendants, in one way or another.

In a decision published this week, The Court of the Hague rejected that argument, noting that the basis for the claim is copyright infringement through Netherlands-hosted websites. Furthermore, the majority of the witnesses are resident in the district of The Hague. It also underlined the importance of a hearing.

“The request for holding a preliminary witness hearing opens an independent petition procedure, which does not address the eligibility of any claim that may be lodged. An investigation must be made by the judge who has to deal with and decide the main case – if it comes.

“The court points out that a preliminary witness hearing is now (partly) necessary to clarify whether and to what extent a claim has any chance of success,” the decision reads.

According to documents published by Companies House in the UK, Ecatel Ltd ceased to exist this morning, having been dissolved at the request of its directors.

The hearing of the witnesses is set to take place on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 9.30 in the Palace of Justice at Prince Claus 60 in The Hague.

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

Nazis, are bad

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/08/13/nazis-are-bad/

Anonymous asks:

Could you talk about something related to the management/moderation and growth of online communities? IOW your thoughts on online community management, if any.

I think you’ve tweeted about this stuff in the past so I suspect you have thoughts on this, but if not, again, feel free to just blog about … anything 🙂

Oh, I think I have some stuff to say about community management, in light of recent events. None of it hasn’t already been said elsewhere, but I have to get this out.

Hopefully the content warning is implicit in the title.


I am frustrated.

I’ve gone on before about a particularly bothersome phenomenon that hurts a lot of small online communities: often, people are willing to tolerate the misery of others in a community, but then get up in arms when someone pushes back. Someone makes a lot of off-hand, off-color comments about women? Uses a lot of dog-whistle terms? Eh, they’re not bothering anyone, or at least not bothering me. Someone else gets tired of it and tells them to knock it off? Whoa there! Now we have the appearance of conflict, which is unacceptable, and people will turn on the person who’s pissed off — even though they’ve been at the butt end of an invisible conflict for who knows how long. The appearance of peace is paramount, even if it means a large chunk of the population is quietly miserable.

Okay, so now, imagine that on a vastly larger scale, and also those annoying people who know how to skirt the rules are Nazis.


The label “Nazi” gets thrown around a lot lately, probably far too easily. But when I see a group of people doing the Hitler salute, waving large Nazi flags, wearing Nazi armbands styled after the SS, well… if the shoe fits, right? I suppose they might have flown across the country to join a torch-bearing mob ironically, but if so, the joke is going way over my head. (Was the murder ironic, too?) Maybe they’re not Nazis in the sense that the original party doesn’t exist any more, but for ease of writing, let’s refer to “someone who espouses Nazi ideology and deliberately bears a number of Nazi symbols” as, well, “a Nazi”.

This isn’t a new thing, either; I’ve stumbled upon any number of Twitter accounts that are decorated in Nazi regalia. I suppose the trouble arises when perfectly innocent members of the alt-right get unfairly labelled as Nazis.

But hang on; this march was called “Unite the Right” and was intended to bring together various far right sub-groups. So what does their choice of aesthetic say about those sub-groups? I haven’t heard, say, alt-right coiner Richard Spencer denounce the use of Nazi symbology — extra notable since he was fucking there and apparently didn’t care to discourage it.


And so begins the rule-skirting. “Nazi” is definitely overused, but even using it to describe white supremacists who make not-so-subtle nods to Hitler is likely to earn you some sarcastic derailment. A Nazi? Oh, so is everyone you don’t like and who wants to establish a white ethno state a Nazi?

Calling someone a Nazi — or even a white supremacist — is an attack, you see. Merely expressing the desire that people of color not exist is perfectly peaceful, but identifying the sentiment for what it is causes visible discord, which is unacceptable.

These clowns even know this sort of thing and strategize around it. Or, try, at least. Maybe it wasn’t that successful this weekend — though flicking through Charlottesville headlines now, they seem to be relatively tame in how they refer to the ralliers.

I’m reminded of a group of furries — the alt-furries — who have been espousing white supremacy and wearing red armbands with a white circle containing a black… pawprint. Ah, yes, that’s completely different.


So, what to do about this?

Ignore them” is a popular option, often espoused to bullied children by parents who have never been bullied, shortly before they resume complaining about passive-aggressive office politics. The trouble with ignoring them is that, just like in smaller communitiest, they have a tendency to fester. They take over large chunks of influential Internet surface area like 4chan and Reddit; they help get an inept buffoon elected; and then they start to have torch-bearing rallies and run people over with cars.

4chan illustrates a kind of corollary here. Anyone who’s steeped in Internet Culture™ is surely familiar with 4chan; I was never a regular visitor, but it had enough influence that I was still aware of it and some of its culture. It was always thick with irony, which grew into a sort of ironic detachment — perhaps one of the major sources of the recurring online trope that having feelings is bad — which proceeded into ironic racism.

And now the ironic racism is indistinguishable from actual racism, as tends to be the case. Do they “actually” “mean it”, or are they just trying to get a rise out of people? What the hell is unironic racism if not trying to get a rise out of people? What difference is there to onlookers, especially as they move to become increasingly involved with politics?

It’s just a joke” and “it was just a thoughtless comment” are exceptionally common defenses made by people desperate to preserve the illusion of harmony, but the strain of overt white supremacy currently running rampant through the US was built on those excuses.


The other favored option is to debate them, to defeat their ideas with better ideas.

Well, hang on. What are their ideas, again? I hear they were chanting stuff like “go back to Africa” and “fuck you, faggots”. Given that this was an overtly political rally (and again, the Nazi fucking regalia), I don’t think it’s a far cry to describe their ideas as “let’s get rid of black people and queer folks”.

This is an underlying proposition: that white supremacy is inherently violent. After all, if the alt-right seized total political power, what would they do with it? If I asked the same question of Democrats or Republicans, I’d imagine answers like “universal health care” or “screw over poor people”. But people whose primary goal is to have a country full of only white folks? What are they going to do, politely ask everyone else to leave? They’re invoking the memory of people who committed genocide and also tried to take over the fucking world. They are outright saying, these are the people we look up to, this is who we think had a great idea.

How, precisely, does one defeat these ideas with rational debate?

Because the underlying core philosophy beneath all this is: “it would be good for me if everything were about me”. And that’s true! (Well, it probably wouldn’t work out how they imagine in practice, but it’s true enough.) Consider that slavery is probably fantastic if you’re the one with the slaves; the issue is that it’s reprehensible, not that the very notion contains some kind of 101-level logical fallacy. That’s probably why we had a fucking war over it instead of hashing it out over brunch.

…except we did hash it out over brunch once, and the result was that slavery was still allowed but slaves only counted as 60% of a person for the sake of counting how much political power states got. So that’s how rational debate worked out. I’m sure the slaves were thrilled with that progress.


That really only leaves pushing back, which raises the question of how to push back.

And, I don’t know. Pushing back is much harder in spaces you don’t control, spaces you’re already struggling to justify your own presence in. For most people, that’s most spaces. It’s made all the harder by that tendency to preserve illusory peace; even the tamest request that someone knock off some odious behavior can be met by pushback, even by third parties.

At the same time, I’m aware that white supremacists prey on disillusioned young white dudes who feel like they don’t fit in, who were promised the world and inherited kind of a mess. Does criticism drive them further away? The alt-right also opposes “political correctness”, i.e. “not being a fucking asshole”.

God knows we all suck at this kind of behavior correction, even within our own in-groups. Fandoms have become almost ridiculously vicious as platforms like Twitter and Tumblr amplify individual anger to deafening levels. It probably doesn’t help that we’re all just exhausted, that every new fuck-up feels like it bears the same weight as the last hundred combined.

This is the part where I admit I don’t know anything about people and don’t have any easy answers. Surprise!


The other alternative is, well, punching Nazis.

That meme kind of haunts me. It raises really fucking complicated questions about when violence is acceptable, in a culture that’s completely incapable of answering them.

America’s relationship to violence is so bizarre and two-faced as to be almost incomprehensible. We worship it. We have the biggest military in the world by an almost comical margin. It’s fairly mainstream to own deadly weapons for the express stated purpose of armed revolution against the government, should that become necessary, where “necessary” is left ominously undefined. Our movies are about explosions and beating up bad guys; our video games are about explosions and shooting bad guys. We fantasize about solving foreign policy problems by nuking someone — hell, our talking heads are currently in polite discussion about whether we should nuke North Korea and annihilate up to twenty-five million people, as punishment for daring to have the bomb that only we’re allowed to have.

But… violence is bad.

That’s about as far as the other side of the coin gets. It’s bad. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Also, guess who we bombed today?

I observe that the one time Nazis were a serious threat, America was happy to let them try to take over the world until their allies finally showed up on our back porch.

Maybe I don’t understand what “violence” means. In a quest to find out why people are talking about “leftist violence” lately, I found a National Review article from May that twice suggests blocking traffic is a form of violence. Anarchists have smashed some windows and set a couple fires at protests this year — and, hey, please knock that crap off? — which is called violence against, I guess, Starbucks. Black Lives Matter could be throwing a birthday party and Twitter would still be abuzz with people calling them thugs.

Meanwhile, there’s a trend of murderers with increasingly overt links to the alt-right, and everyone is still handling them with kid gloves. First it was murders by people repeating their talking points; now it’s the culmination of a torches-and-pitchforks mob. (Ah, sorry, not pitchforks; assault rifles.) And we still get this incredibly bizarre both-sides-ism, a White House that refers to the people who didn’t murder anyone as “just as violent if not more so“.


Should you punch Nazis? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m extremely dissatisfied with discourse that’s extremely alarmed by hypothetical punches — far more mundane than what you’d see after a sporting event — but treats a push for ethnic cleansing as a mere difference of opinion.

The equivalent to a punch in an online space is probably banning, which is almost laughable in comparison. It doesn’t cause physical harm, but it is a use of concrete force. Doesn’t pose quite the same moral quandary, though.

Somewhere in the middle is the currently popular pastime of doxxing (doxxxxxxing) people spotted at the rally in an attempt to get them fired or whatever. Frankly, that skeeves me out, though apparently not enough that I’m directly chastizing anyone for it.


We aren’t really equipped, as a society, to deal with memetic threats. We aren’t even equipped to determine what they are. We had a fucking world war over this, and now people are outright saying “hey I’m like those people we went and killed a lot in that world war” and we give them interviews and compliment their fashion sense.

A looming question is always, what if they then do it to you? What if people try to get you fired, to punch you for your beliefs?

I think about that a lot, and then I remember that it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay in half the country. (Courts are currently wrangling whether Title VII forbids this, but with the current administration, I’m not optimistic.) I know people who’ve been fired for coming out as trans. I doubt I’d have to look very far to find someone who’s been punched for either reason.

And these aren’t even beliefs; they’re just properties of a person. You can stop being a white supremacist, one of those people yelling “fuck you, faggots”.

So I have to recuse myself from this asinine question, because I can’t fairly judge the risk of retaliation when it already happens to people I care about.

Meanwhile, if a white supremacist does get punched, I absolutely still want my tax dollars to pay for their universal healthcare.


The same wrinkle comes up with free speech, which is paramount.

The ACLU reminds us that the First Amendment “protects vile, hateful, and ignorant speech”. I think they’ve forgotten that that’s a side effect, not the goal. No one sat down and suggested that protecting vile speech was some kind of noble cause, yet that’s how we seem to be treating it.

The point was to avoid a situation where the government is arbitrarily deciding what qualifies as vile, hateful, and ignorant, and was using that power to eliminate ideas distasteful to politicians. You know, like, hypothetically, if they interrogated and jailed a bunch of people for supporting the wrong economic system. Or convicted someone under the Espionage Act for opposing the draft. (Hey, that’s where the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” line comes from.)

But these are ideas that are already in the government. Bannon, a man who was chair of a news organization he himself called “the platform for the alt-right”, has the President’s ear! How much more mainstream can you get?

So again I’m having a little trouble balancing “we need to defend the free speech of white supremacists or risk losing it for everyone” against “we fairly recently were ferreting out communists and the lingering public perception is that communists are scary, not that the government is”.


This isn’t to say that freedom of speech is bad, only that the way we talk about it has become fanatical to the point of absurdity. We love it so much that we turn around and try to apply it to corporations, to platforms, to communities, to interpersonal relationships.

Look at 4chan. It’s completely public and anonymous; you only get banned for putting the functioning of the site itself in jeopardy. Nothing is stopping a larger group of people from joining its politics board and tilting sentiment the other way — except that the current population is so odious that no one wants to be around them. Everyone else has evaporated away, as tends to happen.

Free speech is great for a government, to prevent quashing politics that threaten the status quo (except it’s a joke and they’ll do it anyway). People can’t very readily just bail when the government doesn’t like them, anyway. It’s also nice to keep in mind to some degree for ubiquitous platforms. But the smaller you go, the easier it is for people to evaporate away, and the faster pure free speech will turn the place to crap. You’ll be left only with people who care about nothing.


At the very least, it seems clear that the goal of white supremacists is some form of destabilization, of disruption to the fabric of a community for purely selfish purposes. And those are the kinds of people you want to get rid of as quickly as possible.

Usually this is hard, because they act just nicely enough to create some plausible deniability. But damn, if someone is outright telling you they love Hitler, maybe skip the principled hand-wringing and eject them.

TV Box Seller Emails Sky TV Bosses With ‘Pirate’ Offer, Gets Sued for $1m

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/tv-box-seller-emails-sky-tv-bosses-with-pirate-offer-gets-sued-for-1m-170804/

After relatively quiet treatment in the media, last year press in New Zealand began reporting on the booming ‘pirate’ set-top box business sweeping the world.

Often based around legal Kodi software boosted with third-party addons, the devices are known for providing free movies, TV shows, and sports.

Last November, ‘My Box NZ’ owner Krish Reddy, who said he would take on Sky in its own backyard with his custom streaming boxes, hit the headlines. The 27-year-old told NZHerald that “it seemed like a great idea so we decided to do it ourselves.”

The boxes offered some local free-to-air channels but also the all-important premium offerings from Sky, including Sky Movies and Sky Sports, an expensive proposition for an official subscriber.

“Why pay $80 minimum per month for Sky when for one payment you can have it free for good?” Reddy’s advertising said.

Reddy was confident in the abilities of his product but was also confident he wasn’t breaking the law.

“I don’t see why [Sky] would contact me but if they do contact me and … if there’s something of theirs that they feel I’ve unlawfully taken then yeah … but as it stands I don’t [have any concerns],” he told the Herald.

As things moved on, Reddy’s business really took off. He admitted to having sold 8,000 of the devices and then April this year, Sky appeared to ruh out of patience. In a letter from its lawyers, the pay TV company said Reddy’s devices breached copyright law and the Fair Trading Act. Reddy responded by calling the TV giant “a playground bully” and denied again that he was breaking the law.

“From a legal perspective, what we do is completely within the law. We advertise Sky television channels being available through our website and social media platforms as these are available via streams which you can find through My Box,” he said.

“The content is already available, I’m not going out there and bringing the content so how am I infringing the copyright… the content is already there, if someone uses the box to search for the content, that’s what it is.”

Stuff reports that the initial compensation demand from Sky against Reddy’s company My Box runs to NZD$1.4m (US$1m), an amount that could “rise by millions” by the time a judgment is reached.

“They have given us until September 24 to respond. We are not going to sit and take it,” Reddy told the publication. “How many people can say they went up against a multimillion dollar giant like Sky?”

And it seems that Reddy is absolutely determined to fight back. Earlier this year he said that his father always encouraged him as a child to seek out the big guy for a fight, something that is now playing out with one of the world’s biggest broadcasters.

“[Sky’s] point of view is they own copyright and I’m destroying the market by giving people content for free. To me it is business; I have got something that is new … that’s competition,” he said.

In Europe, where these kinds of cases have already been tested at the highest level, comments like these would be extremely ill-advised and enough to give any defending lawyer a high temperature, but Reddy really doesn’t seem to care.

In fact, a bulk email he sent out to 50,000 people advertising his product as “being better than Sky”, actually found the inboxes of 50 Sky TV staff and directors. He believes this triggered the legal action from the company.

While Reddy was on Sky’s radar long before the mailshot, the blatancy of his advertising and its targets won’t have helped his case one bit. Sky, for its part, is determined to get a ruling against a large player and Reddy seems the perfect catch.

“Anyone selling these boxes are within our sights. You have got to go after the big fish first,” said Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way.

No case like this has ever gone to court in New Zealand so it could be important for setting the ground rules on several aspects of copyright law, including the making available right.

In addition to prosecutions, Way told Stuff that it could also be possible to introduce site-blocking laws such as those already in place in Australia and the UK. These would aim to render Kodi-powered devices less effective at providing copyrighted content from unauthorized sources.

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

TVAddons Returns, But in Ugly War With Canadian Telcos Over Kodi Addons

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/tvaddons-returns-ugly-war-canadian-telcos-kodi-addons-170801/

After Dish Network filed a lawsuit against TVAddons in Texas, several high-profile Kodi addons took the decision to shut down. Soon after, TVAddons itself went offline.

In the weeks that followed, several TVAddons-related domains were signed over (1,2) to a Canadian law firm, a mysterious situation that didn’t dovetail well with the US-based legal action.

TorrentFreak can now reveal that the shutdown of TVAddons had nothing to do with the US action and everything to do with a separate lawsuit filed in Canada.

The complaint against TVAddons

Two months ago on June 2, a collection of Canadian telecoms giants including Bell Canada, Bell ExpressVu, Bell Media, Videotron, Groupe TVA, Rogers Communications and Rogers Media, filed a complaint in Federal Court against Montreal resident, Adam Lackman, the man behind TVAddons.

The 18-page complaint details the plaintiffs’ case against Lackman, claiming that he communicated copyrighted TV shows including Game of Thrones, Prison Break, The Big Bang Theory, America’s Got Talent, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and dozens more, to the public in breach of copyright.

The key claim is that Lackman achieved this by developing, hosting, distributing or promoting Kodi add-ons.

Adam Lackman, the man behind TVAddons (@adam.lackman on Instagram)

A total of 18 major add-ons are detailed in the complaint including 1Channel, Exodus, Phoenix, Stream All The Sources, SportsDevil, cCloudTV and Alluc, to name a few. Also under the spotlight is the ‘FreeTelly’ custom Kodi build distributed by TVAddons alongside its Kodi configuration tool, Indigo.

“[The defendant] has made the [TV shows] available to the public by telecommunication in a way that allows members of the public to have access to them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them…consequently infringing the Plaintiffs’ copyright…in contravention of sections 2.4(1.1), 3(1)(f) and 27(1) of the Copyright Act,” the complaint reads.

The complaint alleges that Lackman “induced and/or authorized users” of the FreeTelly and Indigo tools to carry out infringement by his handling and promotion of infringing add-ons, including through TVAddons.ag and Offshoregit.com, in contravention of sections 3(1)(f) and 27(1) of the Copyright Act.

“Approximately 40 million unique users located around the world are actively using Infringing Addons hosted by TVAddons every month, and approximately 900,000 Canadian households use Infringing Add-ons to access television content. The amount of users of Infringing add-ons hosted TVAddons is constantly increasing,” the complaint adds.

To limit the harm allegedly caused by TVAddons, the complaint asked for interim, interlocutory, and permanent injunctions restraining Lackman and associates from developing, promoting or distributing any of the allegedly infringing add-ons or software. On top, the plaintiffs requested punitive and exemplary damages, plus costs.

The interim injunction and Anton Piller Order

Following the filing of the complaint, on June 9 the Federal Court handed down a time-limited interim injunction against Lackman which restrained him from various activities in respect of TVAddons. The process took place ex parte, meaning in secret, without Lackman being able to mount a defense.

The Court also authorized a bailiff and computer forensics experts to take control of Internet domains including TVAddons.ag and Offshoregit.com plus social media and hosting provider accounts for a period of 14 days. These were transferred to Daniel Drapeau at DrapeauLex, an independent court-appointed supervising counsel.

The order also contained an Anton Piller order, a civil search warrant that grants plaintiffs no-notice permission to enter a defendant’s premises in order to secure and copy evidence to support their case, before it can be destroyed or tampered with.

The order covered not only data related to the TVAddons platform, such as operating and financial details, revenues, and banking information, but everything in Lackman’s possession.

The Court ordered the telecoms companies to inform Lackman that the case against him is a civil proceeding and that he could deny entry to his property if he wished. However, that option would put him in breach of the order and would place him at risk of being fined or even imprisoned. Catch 22 springs to mind.

The Court did, however, put limits on the number of people that could be present during the execution of the Anton Piller order (ostensibly to avoid intimidation) and ordered the plaintiffs to deposit CAD$50,000 with the Court, in case the order was improperly executed. That decision would later prove an important one.

The search and interrogation of TVAddons’ operator

On June 12, the order was executed and Lackman’s premises were searched for more than 16 hours. For nine hours he was interrogated and effectively denied his right to remain silent since non-cooperation with an Anton Piller order amounts to contempt of court. The Court’s stated aim of not intimidating Lackman failed.

The TVAddons operator informs TorrentFreak that he heard a disturbance in the hallway outside and spotted several men hiding on the other side of the door. Fearing for his life, Lackman called the police and when they arrived he opened the door. At this point, the police were told by those in attendance to leave, despite Lackman’s protests.

Once inside, Lackman was told he had an hour to find a lawyer, but couldn’t use any electronic device to get one. Throughout the entire day, Lackman says he was reminded by the plaintiffs’ lawyer that he could be held in contempt of court and jailed, even though he was always cooperating.

“I had to sit there and not leave their sight. I was denied access to medication,” Lackman told TorrentFreak. “I had a doctor’s appointment I was forced to miss. I wasn’t even allowed to call and cancel.”

In papers later filed with the court by Lackman’s team, the Anton Piller order was described as a “bombe atomique” since TVAddons had never been served with so much as a copyright takedown notice in advance of this action.

The Anton Piller controversy

Anton Piller orders are only valid when passing a three-step test: when there is a strong prima facie case against the respondent, the damage – potential or actual – is serious for the applicant, and when there is a real possibility that evidence could be destroyed.

For Bell Canada, Bell ExpressVu, Bell Media, Videotron, Groupe TVA, Rogers Communications and Rogers Media, serious problems emerged on at least two of these points after the execution of the order.

For example, TVAddons carried more than 1,500 add-ons yet only 1% of those add-ons were considered to be infringing, a tiny number in the overall picture. Then there was the not insignificant problem with the exchange that took place during the hearing to obtain the order, during which Lackman was not present.

Clearly, the securing of existing evidence wasn’t the number one priority.

Plaintiffs: We want to destroy TVAddons

And the problems continued.

No right to remain silent, no right to consult a lawyer

The Anton Piller search should have been carried out between 8am and 8pm but actually carried on until midnight. As previously mentioned, Adam Lackman was effectively denied his right to remain silent and was forbidden from getting advice from his lawyer.

None of this sat well with the Honourable B. Richard Bell during a subsequent Federal Court hearing to consider the execution of the Anton Piller order.

“It is important to note that the Defendant was not permitted to refuse to answer questions under fear of contempt proceedings, and his counsel was not permitted to clarify the answers to questions. I conclude unhesitatingly that the Defendant was subjected to an examination for discovery without any of the protections normally afforded to litigants in such circumstances,” the Judge said.

“Here, I would add that the ‘questions’ were not really questions at all. They took the form of orders or directions. For example, the Defendant was told to ‘provide to the bailiff’ or ‘disclose to the Plaintiffs’ solicitors’.”

Evidence preservation? More like a fishing trip

But shockingly, the interrogation of Lackman went much, much further. TorrentFreak understands that the TVAddons operator was given a list of 30 names of people that might be operating sites or services similar to TVAddons. He was then ordered to provide all of the information he had on those individuals.

Of course, people tend to guard their online identities so it’s possible that the information provided by Lackman will be of limited use, but Judge Bell was not happy that the Anton Piller order was abused by the plaintiffs in this way.

“I conclude that those questions, posed by Plaintiffs’ counsel, were solely made in furtherance of their investigation and constituted a hunt for further evidence, as opposed to the preservation of then existing evidence,” he wrote in a June 29 order.

But he was only just getting started.

Plaintiffs unlawfully tried to destroy TVAddons before trial

The Judge went on to note that from their own mouths, the Anton Piller order was purposely designed by the plaintiffs to completely shut down TVAddons, despite the fact that only a tiny proportion of the add-ons available on the site were allegedly used to infringe copyright.

“I am of the view that [the order’s] true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the Defendant, deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him, and to provide an opportunity for discovery of the Defendant in circumstances where none of the procedural safeguards of our civil justice system could be engaged,” Judge Bell wrote.

As noted, plaintiffs must also have a “strong prima facie case” to obtain an Anton Piller order but Judge Bell says he’s not convinced that one exists. Instead, he praised the “forthright manner” of Lackman, who successfully compared the ability of Kodi addons to find content in the same way as Google search can.

So why the big turn around?

Judge Bell said that while the prima facie case may have appeared strong before the judge who heard the matter ex parte (without Lackman being present to defend himself), the subsequent adversarial hearing undermined it, to the point that it no longer met the threshold.

As a result of these failings, Judge Bell declared the Anton Piller order unlawful. Things didn’t improve for the plaintiffs on the injunction front either.

The Judge said that he believes that Lackman has “an arguable case” that he is not violating the Copyright Act by merely providing addons and that TVAddons is his only source of income. So, if an injunction to close the site was granted, the litigation would effectively be over, since the plaintiffs already admitted that their aim was to neutralize the platform.

If the platform was neutralized, Lackman could no longer earn money from the site, which would harm his ability to mount a defense.

“In considering the balance of convenience, I also repeat that the plaintiffs admit that the vast majority of add-ons are non-infringing. Whether the remaining approximately 1% are infringing is very much up for debate. For these reasons, I find the balance of convenience favors the defendant, and no interlocutory injunction will be issued,” the Judge declared.

With the Anton Piller order declared unlawful and no interlocutory injunction (one effective until the final determination of the case) handed down, things were about to get worse for the telecoms companies.

They had paid CAD$50,000 to the court in security in case things went wrong with the Anton Piller order, so TVAddons was entitled to compensation from that amount. That would be helpful, since at this point TVAddons had already run up CAD$75,000 in legal expenses.

On top, the Judge told independent counsel to give everything seized during the Anton Piller search back to Lackman.

The order to return items previously seized

But things were far from over. Within days, the telecoms companies took the decision to the Court of Appeal, asking for a stay of execution (a delay in carrying out a court order) to retain possession of items seized, including physical property, domains, and social media accounts.

Mid-July the appeal was granted and certain confidentiality clauses affecting independent counsel (including Daniel Drapeau, who holds the TVAddons’ domains) were ordered to be continued. However, considering the problems with the execution of the Anton Piller order, Bell Canada, TVA, Videotron and Rogers et al, were ordered to submit an additional security bond of CAD$140,000, on top of the CAD$50,000 already deposited.

So the battle continues, and continue it will

Speaking with TorrentFreak, Adam Lackman says that he has no choice but to fight the telcoms companies since not doing so would result in a loss by default judgment. Interestingly, both he and one of the judges involved in the case thus far believe he has an arguable case.

Lackman says that his activities are protected under the Canadian Copyright Act, specifically subparagraph 2.4(1)(b) which states as follows:

A person whose only act in respect of the communication of a work or other subject-matter to the public consists of providing the means of telecommunication necessary for another person to so communicate the work or other subject-matter does not communicate that work or other subject-matter to the public;

Of course, finding out whether that’s indeed the case will be a costly endeavor.

“It all comes down to whether we will have the financial resources necessary to mount our defense and go to trial. We won’t have ad revenue coming in, since losing our domain names means that we’ll lose the majority of our traffic for quite some time into the future,” Lackman told TF in a statement.

“We’re hoping that others will be as concerned as us about big companies manipulating the law in order to shut down what they see as competition. We desperately need help in financially supporting our legal defense, we cannot do it alone.

“We’ve run up a legal bill of over $100,000 to date. We’re David, and they are four Goliaths with practically unlimited resources. If we lose, it will mean that new case law is made, case law that could mean increased censorship of the internet.”

In the hope of getting support, TVAddons has launched a fundraiser campaign and in the meantime, a new version of the site is back on a new domain, TVAddons.co.

Given TVAddons’ line of defense, the nature of both the platform and Kodi addons, and the fact that there has already been a serious abuse of process during evidence preservation, this is now one of the most interesting and potentially influential copyright cases underway anywhere today.

TVAddons is being represented by Éva Richard , Hilal Ayoubi and Karim Renno in Canada, plus Erin Russell and Jason Sweet in the United States.

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

NSA Collects MS Windows Error Information

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/08/nsa_collects_ms.html

Back in 2013, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA intercepts and collects Windows bug reports:

One example of the sheer creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method they use that exploits the error-proneness of Microsoft’s Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the annoying window that occasionally pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, an automatic message that prompts the user to report the bug to the manufacturer and to restart the program. These crash reports offer TAO specialists a welcome opportunity to spy on computers.

When TAO selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft. An internal presentation suggests it is NSA’s powerful XKeyscore spying tool that is used to fish these crash reports out of the massive sea of Internet traffic.

The automated crash reports are a “neat way” to gain “passive access” to a machine, the presentation continues. Passive access means that, initially, only data the computer sends out into the Internet is captured and saved, but the computer itself is not yet manipulated. Still, even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person’s computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim’s computer.

Although the method appears to have little importance in practical terms, the NSA’s agents still seem to enjoy it because it allows them to have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Seattle-based software giant. In one internal graphic, they replaced the text of Microsoft’s original error message with one of their own reading, “This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine.” (“Sigint” stands for “signals intelligence.”)

The article talks about the (limited) value of this information with regard to specific target computers, but I have another question: how valuable would this database be for finding new zero-day Windows vulnerabilities to exploit? Microsoft won’t have the incentive to examine and fix problems until they happen broadly among its user base. The NSA has a completely different incentive structure.

I don’t remember this being discussed back in 2013.

EDITED TO ADD (8/6): Slashdot thread.

Friday Squid Blogging: Giant Squids Have Small Brains

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/07/friday_squid_bl_586.html

New research:

In this study, the optic lobe of a giant squid (Architeuthis dux, male, mantle length 89 cm), which was caught by local fishermen off the northeastern coast of Taiwan, was scanned using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging in order to examine its internal structure. It was evident that the volume ratio of the optic lobe to the eye in the giant squid is much smaller than that in the oval squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana) and the cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis). Furthermore, the cell density in the cortex of the optic lobe is significantly higher in the giant squid than in oval squids and cuttlefish, with the relative thickness of the cortex being much larger in Architeuthis optic lobe than in cuttlefish. This indicates that the relative size of the medulla of the optic lobe in the giant squid is disproportionally smaller compared with these two cephalopod species.

From the New York Times:

A recent, lucky opportunity to study part of a giant squid brain up close in Taiwan suggests that, compared with cephalopods that live in shallow waters, giant squids have a small optic lobe relative to their eye size.

Furthermore, the region in their optic lobes that integrates visual information with motor tasks is reduced, implying that giant squids don’t rely on visually guided behavior like camouflage and body patterning to communicate with one another, as other cephalopods do.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Introducing Our Content Director: Roderick

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/introducing-content-director-roderick/

As Backblaze continues to grow, and as we go down the path of sharing our stories, we found ourselves in need of someone that could wrangle our content calendar, write blog posts, and come up with interesting ideas that we could share with our readers and fans. We put out the call, and found Roderick! As you’ll read below he has an incredibly interesting history, and we’re thrilled to have his perspective join our marketing team! Lets learn a bit more about Roderick, shall we?

What is your Backblaze Title?
Content Director

Where are you originally from?
I was born in Southern California, but have lived a lot of different places, including Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Texas, New Mexico, Austria, and Italy.

What attracted you to Backblaze?
I met Gleb a number of years ago at the Failcon Conference in San Francisco. I spoke with him and was impressed with him and his description of the company. We connected on LinkedIn after the conference and I ultimately saw his post for this position about a month ago.

What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze?
I hope to learn about Backblaze’s customers and dive deep into the latest in cloud storage and other technologies. I also hope to get to know my fellow employees.

Where else have you worked?
I’ve worked for Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, and a few startups. I’ve also consulted to Apple, HP, Stanford, the White House, and startups in the U.S. and abroad. I mentored at incubators in Silicon Valley, including IndieBio and Founders Space. I used to own vineyards and a food education and event center in the Napa Valley with my former wife, and worked in a number of restaurants, hotels, and wineries. Recently, I taught part-time at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley. I’ve been a partner in a restaurant and currently am a partner in a mozzarella di bufala company in Marin county where we have about 50 water buffalo that are amazing animals. They are named after famous rock and roll vocalists. Our most active studs now are Sting and Van Morrison. I think singing “a fantabulous night to make romance ‘neath the cover of October skies” works for Van.

Where did you go to school?
I studied at Reed College, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, and the Università per Stranieri di Perugia in Italy. I put myself through college so was in and out of school a number of times to make money. Some of the jobs I held to earn money for college were cook, waiter, dishwasher, bartender, courier, teacher, bookstore clerk, head of hotel maintenance, bookkeeper, lifeguard, journalist, and commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska.

What’s your dream job?
I think my dream would be having a job that would continually allow me to learn new things and meet new challenges. I love to learn, travel, and be surprised by things I don’t know.

I love animals and sometimes think I should have become a veterinarian.

Favorite place you’ve traveled?
I lived and studied in Italy, and would have to say the Umbria region of Italy is perhaps my favorite place. I also worked in my father’s home country of Austria, which is incredibly beautiful.

Favorite hobby?
I love foreign languages, and have studied Italian, French, German, and a few others. I am a big fan of literature and theatre and read widely and have attended theatre productions all over the world. That was my motivation to learn other languages—so I could enjoy literature and theatre in the languages they were written in. I started scuba diving when I was very young because I wanted to be Jacques-Yves Cousteau and explore the oceans. I also sail, motorcycle, ski, bicycle, hike, play music, and hope to finish my pilot’s license someday.

Coke or Pepsi?
Red Burgundy

Favorite food?
Both my parents are chefs, so I was exposed to a lot of great food growing up. I would have to give more than one answer to that question: fresh baked bread and bouillabaisse. Oh, and white truffles.

Not sure we’ll be able to stock our cupboards with Red Burgundy, but we’ll see what our office admin can do! Welcome to the team!

The post Introducing Our Content Director: Roderick appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

CyberChef – Cyber Swiss Army Knife

Post Syndicated from Darknet original http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/darknethackers/~3/SOhld_nebGs/

CyberChef is a simple, intuitive web app for carrying out all manner of “cyber” operations within a web browser. These operations include simple encoding like XOR or Base64, more complex encryption like AES, DES and Blowfish, creating binary and hexdumps, compression and decompression of data, calculating hashes and checksums, IPv6 and X.509…

Read the full post at darknet.org.uk

Usenet Provider Giganews Sues Perfect 10 For Fraud, Demands $20m

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/usenet-provider-giganews-sues-perfect-10-for-fraud-demands-20m-170712/

For many years, Perfect 10 went about its business of publishing images of women in print and on the Internet. At some point along the way, however, the company decided that threatening to sue online service providers was more profitable.

Claiming copyright infringement, Perfect 10 took on a number of giants including Google, Amazon, Mastercard, and Visa, not to mention hosting providers such as LeaseWeb and OVH.

With court papers revealing that Perfect 10 owner Norman Zada worked 365 days a year on litigation and that the company acquired copyrights for use in lawsuits, it’s no surprise that around two dozen of Perfect 10’s lawsuits ended in cash settlements and defaults.

With dollar signs in mind, Perfect 10 went after another pretty big fish in 2011. The publisher claimed that Usenet provider Giganews was responsible when its users uploaded Perfect 10 images to the newsgroups. Things did not go well.

In November 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California found that Giganews was not liable for the infringing activities of its users. Perfect 10 was ordered to pay Giganews $5.6m in attorney’s fees and costs. Perfect 10 lost again at the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

But even with all of these victories under its belt, Giganews just can’t catch a break.

The company is clearly owed millions but Perfect 10 is refusing to pay up. As a result, this week Giganews filed yet another suit, accusing Perfect 10 and Norman Zada of fraud aimed at depriving Giganews of the amounts laid out by the court.

The claims center around an alleged conspiracy in which Perfect 10 transferred its funds and assets to Zada.

“As of now (over two years since the judgment), Perfect 10 has not voluntarily paid any amount of the judgment,” the complaint begins.

“Instead, Perfect 10, through the unlawful acts of Zada and in conspiracy with him, has intentionally avoided satisfaction of the judgment through a series of fraudulent transfers of Perfect 10’s corporate assets to Zada’s personal possession.”

Giganews says these “illegal and fraudulent” transfers began back in 2014, when Perfect 10 began to realize that the fight against the Usenet provider was going bad.

For example, on November 20, 2014, around six days after the court granted summary judgment in favor of Giganews, Perfect 10 transferred $850,000 to Zada’s personal account. The Perfect 10 owner later told a Judgment Debtor’s Examination that the transfer was made due to the summary judgment orders, a statement that amounts to a confession of fraud, Giganews says.

“We had a settlement of $1.1 million in, I believe, June. I was entitled to that money,” Zada told the hearing. “And after the summary judgment orders were issued, I did not see any point in keeping more cash than we needed in the account.”

Giganews says that Perfect 10 transferred at least $1.75m in cash to Zada.

Then, within weeks of the court ordering Perfect 10 to pay $5.6m in attorneys fees and costs, Giganews says that Zada “fraudulently transferred substantially all
of Perfect 10’s physical assets” to himself for an amount that did not represent their true value.

Those assets included a car, furniture, and computer servers. When Zada was questioned why the transfers took place, he admitted that “it would have been
totally disruptive to have those [assets] seized” in satisfaction of the judgment. Indeed, the complaint alleges that the assets never moved physical location.

Perhaps surprisingly given the judgment, Giganews alleges that Zada continues to run Perfect 10’s business in much the same way as he did before. The company even has copyright infringement litigation underway against AOL in Germany, despite having few assets.

This is made possible, Giganews says, by Perfect 10 calling on assets it previously transferred to Zada. When required by the company, Zada simply “gives” them back.

In summary, Giganews says these transfers display the “badges of fraud” that indicate attempts to “hinder, delay or defraud” creditors, while leaving Perfect 10 practically insolvent.

“As a consequence, Plaintiffs are entitled to a judgment against Defendants, and each of them, in the sum of the unlawfully transferred amounts of at least $1,750,000, or in an amount to be proven at trial, together with interest on that amount at the legal rate of 10% per annum from and after March 24, 2015,” the complaint reads.

But the claim doesn’t stop there. Giganews asks the court to prevent Perfect 10 from transferring any more cash or assets out of Perfect 10 to Zada or anyone acting in concert with him or on his behalf. This is rounded off with a claim for punitive and exemplary damages of $20m to be considered during a jury trial.

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

More on the NSA’s Use of Traffic Shaping

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/07/more_on_the_nsa_2.html

“Traffic shaping” — the practice of tricking data to flow through a particular route on the Internet so it can be more easily surveiled — is an NSA technique that has gotten much less attention than it deserves. It’s a powerful technique that allows an eavesdropper to get access to communications channels it would otherwise not be able to monitor.

There’s a new paper on this technique:

This report describes a novel and more disturbing set of risks. As a technical matter, the NSA does not have to wait for domestic communications to naturally turn up abroad. In fact, the agency has technical methods that can be used to deliberately reroute Internet communications. The NSA uses the term “traffic shaping” to describe any technical means the deliberately reroutes Internet traffic to a location that is better suited, operationally, to surveillance. Since it is hard to intercept Yemen’s international communications from inside Yemen itself, the agency might try to “shape” the traffic so that it passes through communications cables located on friendlier territory. Think of it as diverting part of a river to a location from which it is easier (or more legal) to catch fish.

The NSA has clandestine means of diverting portions of the river of Internet traffic that travels on global communications cables.

Could the NSA use traffic shaping to redirect domestic Internet traffic — ­emails and chat messages sent between Americans, say­ — to foreign soil, where its surveillance can be conducted beyond the purview of Congress and the courts? It is impossible to categorically answer this question, due to the classified nature of many national-security surveillance programs, regulations and even of the legal decisions made by the surveillance courts. Nevertheless, this report explores a legal, technical, and operational landscape that suggests that traffic shaping could be exploited to sidestep legal restrictions imposed by Congress and the surveillance courts.

News article. NSA document detailing the technique with Yemen.

This work builds on previous research that I blogged about here.

The fundamental vulnerability is that routing information isn’t authenticated.

Some memorable levels

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/07/01/some-memorable-levels/

Another Patreon request from Nova Dasterin:

Maybe something about level design. In relation to a vertical shmup since I’m working on one of those.

I’ve been thinking about level design a lot lately, seeing as how I’ve started… designing levels. Shmups are probably the genre I’m the worst at, but perhaps some general principles will apply universally.

And speaking of general principles, that’s something I’ve been thinking about too.

I’ve been struggling to create a more expansive tileset for a platformer, due to two general problems: figuring out what I want to show, and figuring out how to show it with a limited size and palette. I’ve been browsing through a lot of pixel art from games I remember fondly in the hopes of finding some inspiration, but so far all I’ve done is very nearly copy a dirt tile someone submitted to my potluck project.

Recently I realized that I might have been going about looking for inspiration all wrong. I’ve been sifting through stuff in the hopes of finding something that would create some flash of enlightenment, but so far that aimless tourism has only found me a thing or two to copy.

I don’t want to copy a small chunk of the final product; I want to understand the underlying ideas that led the artist to create what they did in the first place. Or, no, that’s not quite right either. I don’t want someone else’s ideas; I want to identify what I like, figure out why I like it, and turn that into some kinda of general design idea. Find the underlying themes that appeal to me and figure out some principles that I could apply. You know, examine stuff critically.

I haven’t had time to take a deeper look at pixel art this way, so I’ll try it right now with level design. Here, then, are some levels from various games that stand out to me for whatever reason; the feelings they evoke when I think about them; and my best effort at unearthing some design principles from those feelings.

Doom II: MAP10, Refueling Base

Opening view of Refueling Base, showing a descent down some stairs into a room not yet visible

screenshots mine — map via doom wiki — see also textured perspective map (warning: large!) via ian albertpistol start playthrough

I’m surprising myself by picking Refueling Base. I would’ve expected myself to pick MAP08, Tricks and Traps, for its collection of uniquely bizarre puzzles and mechanisms. Or MAP13, Downtown, the map that had me convinced (erroneously) that Doom levels supported multi-story structures. Or at least MAP08, The Pit, which stands out for the unique way it feels like a plunge into enemy territory.

(Curiously, those other three maps are all Sandy Petersen’s sole work. Refueling Base was started by Tom Hall in the original Doom days, then finished by Sandy for Doom II.)

But Refueling Base is the level I have the most visceral reaction to: it terrifies me.

See, I got into Doom II through my dad, who played it on and off sometimes. My dad wasn’t an expert gamer or anything, but as a ten-year-old, I assumed he was. I watched him play Refueling Base one night. He died. Again, and again, over and over. I don’t even have very strong memories of his particular attempts, but watching my parent be swiftly and repeatedly defeated — at a time when I still somewhat revered parents — left enough of an impression that hearing the level music still makes my skin crawl.

This may seem strange to bring up as a first example in a post about level design, but I don’t think it would have impressed on me quite so much if the level weren’t designed the way it is. (It’s just a video game, of course, and since then I’ve successfully beaten it from a pistol start myself. But wow, little kid fears sure do linger.)

Map of Refueling Base, showing multiple large rooms and numerous connections between them

The one thing that most defines the map has to be its interconnected layout. Almost every major area (of which there are at least half a dozen) has at least three exits. Not only are you rarely faced with a dead end, but you’ll almost always have a choice of where to go next, and that choice will lead into more choices.

This hugely informs the early combat. Many areas near the beginning are simply adjacent with no doors between them, so it’s easy for monsters to start swarming in from all directions. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by an endless horde; no matter where you run, they just seem to keep coming. (In fact, Refueling Base has the most monsters of any map in the game by far: 279. The runner up is the preceding map at 238.) Compounding this effect is the relatively scant ammo and health in the early parts of the map; getting very far from a pistol start is an uphill battle.

The connections between rooms also yield numerous possible routes through the map, as well as several possible ways to approach any given room. Some of the connections are secrets, which usually connect the “backs” of two rooms. Clearing out one room thus rewards you with a sneaky way into another room that puts you behind all the monsters.

Outdoor area shown from the back; a large number of monsters are lying in wait

In fact, the map rewards you for exploring it in general.

Well, okay. It might be more accurate to say that that map punishes you for not exploring it. From a pistol start, the map is surprisingly difficult — the early areas offer rather little health and ammo, and your best chance of success is a very specific route that collects weapons as quickly as possible. Many of the most precious items are squirrelled away in (numerous!) secrets, and you’ll have an especially tough time if you don’t find any of them — though they tend to be telegraphed.

One particularly nasty surprise is in the area shown above, which has three small exits at the back. Entering or leaving via any of those exits will open one of the capsule-shaped pillars, revealing even more monsters. A couple of those are pain elementals, monsters which attack by spawning another monster and shooting it at you — not something you want to be facing with the starting pistol.

But nothing about the level indicates this, so you have to make the association the hard way, probably after making several mad dashes looking for cover. My successful attempt avoided this whole area entirely until I’d found some more impressive firepower. It’s fascinating to me, because it’s a fairly unique effect that doesn’t make any kind of realistic sense, yet it’s still built out of familiar level mechanics: walk through an area and something opens up. Almost like 2D sidescroller design logic applied to a 3D space. I really like it, and wish I saw more of it. So maybe that’s a more interesting design idea: don’t be afraid to do something weird only once, as long as it’s built out of familiar pieces so the player has a chance to make sense of it.

A similarly oddball effect is hidden in a “barracks” area, visible on the far right of the map. A secret door leads to a short U-shaped hallway to a marble skull door, which is themed nothing like the rest of the room. Opening it seems to lead back into the room you were just in, but walking through the doorway teleports you to a back entrance to the boss fight at the end of the level.

It sounds so bizarre, but the telegraphing makes it seem very natural; if anything, the “oh, I get it!” moment overrides the weirdness. It stops being something random and becomes something consciously designed. I believe that this might have been built by someone, even if there’s no sensible reason to have built it.

In fact, that single weird teleporter is exactly the kind of thing I’d like to be better at building. It could’ve been just a plain teleporter pad, but instead it’s a strange thing that adds a lot of texture to the level and makes it much more memorable. I don’t know how to even begin to have ideas like that. Maybe it’s as simple as looking at mundane parts of a level and wondering: what could I do with this instead?

I think a big problem I have is limiting myself to the expected and sensible, to the point that I don’t even consider more outlandish ideas. I can’t shake that habit simply by bolding some text in a blog post, but maybe it would help to keep this in mind: you can probably get away with anything, as long as you justify it somehow. Even “justify” here is too strong a word; it takes only the slightest nod to make an arbitrary behavior feel like part of a world. Why does picking up a tiny glowing knight helmet give you 1% armor in Doom? Does anyone care? Have you even thought about it before? It’s green and looks like armor; the bigger armor pickup is also green; yep, checks out.

A dark and dingy concrete room full of monsters; a couple are standing under light fixtures

On the other hand, the map as a whole ends up feeling very disorienting. There’s no shortage of landmarks, but every space is distinct in both texture and shape, so everything feels like a landmark. No one part of the map feels particularly central; there are a few candidates, but they neighbor other equally grand areas with just as many exits. It’s hard to get truly lost, but it’s also hard to feel like you have a solid grasp of where everything is. The space itself doesn’t make much sense, even though small chunks of it do. Of course, given that the Hellish parts of Doom were all just very weird overall, this is pretty fitting.

This sort of design fascinates me, because the way it feels to play is so different from the way it looks as a mapper with God Vision. Looking at the overhead map, I can identify all the familiar places easily enough, but I don’t know how to feel the way the map feels to play; it just looks like some rooms with doors between them. Yet I can see screenshots and have a sense of how “deep” in the level they are, how difficult they are to reach, whether I want to visit or avoid them. The lesson here might be that most of the interesting flavor of the map isn’t actually contained within the overhead view; it’s in the use of height and texture and interaction.

Dark room with numerous alcoves in the walls, all of them containing a hitscan monster

I realize as I describe all of this that I’m really just describing different kinds of contrast. If I know one thing about creative work (and I do, I only know one thing), it’s that effectively managing contrast is super duper important.

And it appears here in spades! A brightly-lit, outdoor, wide-open round room is only a short jog away from a dark, cramped room full of right angles and alcoves. A wide straight hallway near the beginning is directly across from a short, curvy, organic hallway. Most of the monsters in the map are small fry, but a couple stronger critters are sprinkled here and there, and then the exit is guarded by the toughest monster in the game. Some of the connections between rooms are simple doors; others are bizarre secret corridors or unnatural twisty passages.

You could even argue that the map has too much contrast, that it starts to lose cohesion. But if anything, I think this is one of the more cohesive maps in the first third of the game; many of the earlier maps aren’t so much places as they are concepts. This one feels distinctly like it could be something. The theming is all over the place, but enough of the parts seem deliberate.

I hadn’t even thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but since this is a “refueling base”, I suppose those outdoor capsules (which contain green slime, inset into the floor) could be the fuel tanks! I already referred to that dark techy area as “barracks”. Elsewhere is a rather large barren room, which might be where the vehicles in need of refueling are parked? Or is this just my imagination, and none of it was intended this way?

It doesn’t really matter either way, because even in this abstract world of ambiguity and vague hints, all of those rooms still feel like a place. I don’t have to know what the place is for it to look internally consistent.

I’m hesitant to say every game should have the loose design sense of Doom II, but it might be worth keeping in mind that anything can be a believable world as long as it looks consciously designed. And I’d say this applies even for natural spaces — we frequently treat real-world nature as though it were “designed”, just with a different aesthetic sense.

Okay, okay. I’m sure I could clumsily ramble about Doom forever, but I do that enough as it is. Other people have plenty to say if you’re interested.

I do want to stick in one final comment about MAP13, Downtown, while I’m talking about theming. I’ve seen a few people rag on it for being “just a box” with a lot of ideas sprinkled around — the map is basically a grid of skyscrapers, where each building has a different little mini encounter inside. And I think that’s really cool, because those encounters are arranged in a way that very strongly reinforces the theme of the level, of what this place is supposed to be. It doesn’t play quite like anything else in the game, simply because it was designed around a shape for flavor reasons. Weird physical constraints can do interesting things to level design.

Braid: World 4-7, Fickle Companion

Simple-looking platformer level with a few ladders, a switch, and a locked door

screenshots via StrategyWikiplaythroughplaythrough of secret area

I love Braid. If you’re not familiar (!), it’s a platformer where you have the ability to rewind time — whenever you want, for as long as you want, all the way back to when you entered the level.

The game starts in world 2, where you do fairly standard platforming and use the rewind ability to do some finnicky jumps with minimal frustration. It gets more interesting in world 3 with the addition of glowing green objects, which aren’t affected by the reversal of time.

And then there’s world 4, “Time and Place”. I love world 4, so much. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other game, and it’s so simple yet so clever.

The premise is this: for everything except you, time moves forwards as you move right, and backwards as you move left.

This has some weird implications, which all come together in the final level of the world, Fickle Companion. It’s so named because you have to use one (single-use) key to open three doors, but that key is very easy to lose.

Say you pick up the key and walk to the right with it. Time continues forwards for the key, so it stays with you as expected. Now you climb a ladder. Time is frozen since you aren’t moving horizontally, but the key stays with you anyway. Now you walk to the left. Oops — the key follows its own path backwards in time, going down the ladder and back along the path you carried it in the first place. You can’t fix this by walking to the right again, because that will simply advance time normally for the key; since you’re no longer holding it, it will simply fall to the ground and stay there.

You can see how this might be a problem in the screenshot above (where you get the key earlier in the level, to the left). You can climb the first ladder, but to get to the door, you have to walk left to get to the second ladder, which will reverse the key back down to the ground.

The solution is in the cannon in the upper right, which spits out a Goomba-like critter. It has the timeproof green glow, so the critters it spits out have the same green glow — making them immune to both your time reversal power and to the effect your movement has on time. What you have to do is get one of the critters to pick up the key and carry it leftwards for you. Once you have the puzzle piece, you have to rewind time and do it again elsewhere. (Or, more likely, the other way around; this next section acts as a decent hint for how to do the earlier section.)

A puzzle piece trapped behind two doors, in a level containing only one key

It’s hard to convey how bizarre this is in just text. If you haven’t played Braid, it’s absolutely worth it just for this one world, this one level.

And it gets even better, slash more ridiculous: there’s a super duper secret hidden very cleverly in this level. Reaching it involves bouncing twice off of critters; solving the puzzle hidden there involves bouncing the critters off of you. It’s ludicrous and perhaps a bit too tricky, but very clever. Best of all, it’s something that an enterprising player might just think to do on a whim — hey, this is possible here, I wonder what happens if I try it. And the game rewards the player for trying something creative! (Ironically, it’s most rewarding to have a clever idea when it turns out the designer already had the same idea.)

What can I take away from this? Hm.

Well, the underlying idea of linking time with position is pretty novel, but getting to it may not be all that hard: just combine different concepts and see what happens.

A similar principle is to apply a general concept to everything and see what happens. This is the first sighting of a timeproof wandering critter; previously timeproofing had only been seen on keys, doors, puzzle pieces, and stationary monsters. Later it even applies to Tim himself in special circumstances.

The use of timeproofing on puzzle pieces is especially interesting, because the puzzle pieces — despite being collectibles that animate moving into the UI when you get them — are also affected by time. If the pieces in this level weren’t timeproof, then as soon as you collected one and moved left to leave its alcove, time would move backwards and the puzzle piece would reverse out of the UI and right back into the world.

Along similar lines, the music and animated background are also subject to the flow of time. It’s obvious enough that the music plays backwards when you rewind time, but in world 4, the music only plays at all while you’re moving. It’s a fantastic effect that makes the whole world feel as weird and jerky as it really is under these rules. It drives the concept home instantly, and it makes your weird influence over time feel all the more significant and far-reaching. I love when games weave all the elements of the game into the gameplaylike this, even (especially?) for the sake of a single oddball level.

Admittedly, this is all about gameplay or puzzle mechanics, not so much level design. What I like about the level itself is how simple and straightforward it is: it contains exactly as much as it needs to, yet still invites trying the wrong thing first, which immediately teaches the player why it won’t work. And it’s something that feels like it ought to work, except that the rules of the game get in the way just enough. This makes for my favorite kind of puzzle, the type where you feel like you’ve tried everything and it must be impossible — until you realize the creative combination of things you haven’t tried yet. I’m talking about puzzles again, oops; I guess the general level design equivalent of this is that players tend to try the first thing they see first, so if you put required parts later, players will be more likely to see optional parts.

I think that’s all I’ve got for this one puzzle room. I do want to say (again) that I love both endings of Braid. The normal ending weaves together the game mechanics and (admittedly loose) plot in a way that gave me chills when I first saw it; the secret ending completely changes both how the ending plays and how you might interpret the finale, all by making only the slightest changes to the level.

Portal: Testchamber 18 (advanced)

View into a Portal test chamber; the ceiling and most of the walls are covered in metal

screenshot mine — playthrough of normal mapplaythrough of advanced map

I love Portal. I blazed through the game in a couple hours the night it came out. I’d seen the trailer and instantly grasped the concept, so the very slow and gentle learning curve was actually a bit frustrating for me; I just wanted to portal around a big playground, and I finally got to do that in the six “serious” tests towards the end, 13 through 18.

Valve threw an interesting curveball with these six maps. As well as being more complete puzzles by themselves, Valve added “challenges” requiring that they be done with as few portals, time, or steps as possible. I only bothered with the portal challenges — time and steps seemed less about puzzle-solving and more about twitchy reflexes — and within them I found buried an extra layer of puzzles. All of the minimum portal requirements were only possible if you found an alternative solution to the map: skipping part of it, making do with only one cube instead of two, etc. But Valve offered no hints, only a target number. It was a clever way to make me think harder about familiar areas.

Alongside the challenges were “advanced” maps, and these blew me away. They were six maps identical in layout to the last six test chambers, but with a simple added twist that completely changed how you had to approach them. Test 13 has two buttons with two boxes to place on them; the advanced version removes a box and also changes the floor to lava. Test 14 is a live fire course with turrets you have to knock over; the advanced version puts them all in impenetrable cages. Test 17 is based around making extensive use of a single cube; the advanced version changes it to a ball.

But the one that sticks out the most to me is test 18, a potpourri of everything you’ve learned so far. The beginning part has you cross several large pits of toxic sludge by portaling from the ceilings; the advanced version simply changes the ceilings to unportalable metal. It seems you’re completely stuck after only the first jump, unless you happen to catch a glimpse of the portalable floor you pass over in mid-flight. Or you might remember from the regular version of the map that the floor was portalable there, since you used it to progress further. Either way, you have to fire a portal in midair in a way you’ve never had to do before, and the result feels very cool, like you’ve defeated a puzzle that was intended to be unsolvable. All in a level that was fairly easy the first time around, and has been modified only slightly.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I could say it’s good to make the player feel clever, but that feels wishy-washy. What I really appreciated about the advanced tests is that they exploited inklings of ideas I’d started to have when playing through the regular game; they encouraged me to take the spark of inspiration this game mechanic gave me and run with it.

So I suppose the better underlying principle here — the most important principle in level design, in any creative work — is to latch onto what gets you fired up and run with it. I am absolutely certain that the level designers for this game loved the portal concept as much as I do, they explored it thoroughly, and they felt compelled to fit their wilder puzzle ideas in somehow.

More of that. Find the stuff that feels like it’s going to burst out of your head, and let it burst.

Chip’s Challenge: Level 122, Totally Fair and Level 131, Totally Unfair

A small maze containing a couple monsters and ending at a brown button

screenshots mine — full maps of both levelsplaythrough of Totally Fairplaythrough of Totally Unfair

I mention this because Portal reminded me of it. The regular and advanced maps in Portal are reminiscent of parallel worlds or duality or whatever you want to call the theme. I extremely dig that theme, and it shows up in Chip’s Challenge in an unexpected way.

Totally Fair is a wide open level with a little maze walled off in one corner. The maze contains a monster called a “teeth”, which follows Chip at a slightly slower speed. (The second teeth, here shown facing upwards, starts outside the maze but followed me into it when I took this screenshot.)

The goal is to lure the teeth into standing on the brown button on the right side. If anything moves into a “trap” tile (the larger brown recesses at the bottom), it cannot move out of that tile until/unless something steps on the corresponding brown button. So there’s not much room for error in maneuvering the teeth; if it falls in the water up top, it’ll die, and if it touches the traps at the bottom, it’ll be stuck permanently.

The reason you need the brown button pressed is to acquire the chips on the far right edge of the level.

Several chips that cannot be obtained without stepping on a trap

The gray recesses turn into walls after being stepped on, so once you grab a chip, the only way out is through the force floors and ice that will send you onto the trap. If you haven’t maneuvered the teeth onto the button beforehand, you’ll be trapped there.

Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, since you can go see exactly how the maze is shaped and move the teeth into position fairly easily. But you see, here is the beginning of Totally Fair.

A wall with a single recessed gray space in it

The gray recess leads up into the maze area, so you can only enter it once. A force floor in the upper right lets you exit it.

Totally Unfair is exactly identical, except the second teeth has been removed, and the entrance to the maze looks like this.

The same wall is now completely solid, and the recess has been replaced with a hint

You can’t get into the maze area. You can’t even see the maze; it’s too far away from the wall. You have to position the teeth completely blind. In fact, if you take a single step to the left from here, you’ll have already dumped the teeth into the water and rendered the level impossible.

The hint tile will tell you to “Remember sjum”, where SJUM is the password to get back to Totally Fair. So you have to learn that level well enough to recreate the same effect without being able to see your progress.

It’s not impossible, and it’s not a “make a map” faux puzzle. A few scattered wall blocks near the chips, outside the maze area, are arranged exactly where the edges of the maze are. Once you notice that, all you have to do is walk up and down a few times, waiting a moment each time to make sure the teeth has caught up with you.

So in a sense, Totally Unfair is the advanced chamber version of Totally Fair. It makes a very minor change that force you to approach the whole level completely differently, using knowledge gleaned from your first attempt.

And crucially, it’s an actual puzzle! A lot of later Chip’s Challenge levels rely heavily on map-drawing, timing, tedium, or outright luck. (Consider, if you will, Blobdance.) The Totally Fair + Totally Unfair pairing requires a little ingenuity unlike anything else in the game, and the solution is something more than just combinations of existing game mechanics. There’s something very interesting about that hint in the walls, a hint you’d have no reason to pick up on when playing through the first level. I wish I knew how to verbalize it better.

Anyway, enough puzzle games; let’s get back to regular ol’ level design.

A 4×4 arrangement of rooms with a conspicuous void in the middle

maps via vgmaps and TCRFplaythrough with commentary

Link’s Awakening was my first Zelda (and only Zelda for a long time), which made for a slightly confusing introduction to the series — what on earth is a Zelda and why doesn’t it appear in the game?

The whole game is a blur of curiosities and interesting little special cases. It’s fabulously well put together, especially for a Game Boy game, and the dungeons in particular are fascinating microcosms of design. I never really appreciated it before, but looking at the full maps, I’m struck by how each dungeon has several large areas neatly sliced into individual screens.

Much like with Doom II, I surprise myself by picking Eagle’s Tower as the most notable part of the game. The dungeon isn’t that interesting within the overall context of the game; it gives you only the mirror shield, possibly the least interesting item in the game, second only to the power bracelet upgrade from the previous dungeon. The dungeon itself is fairly long, full of traps, and overflowing with crystal switches and toggle blocks, making it possibly the most frustrating of the set. Getting to it involves spending some excellent quality time with a flying rooster, but you don’t really do anything — mostly you just make your way through nondescript caves and mountaintops.

Having now thoroughly dunked on it, I’ll tell you what makes it stand out: the player changes the shape of the dungeon.

That’s something I like a lot about Doom, as well, but it’s much more dramatic in Eagle’s Tower. As you might expect, the dungeon is shaped like a tower, where each floor is on a 4×4 grid. The top floor, 4F, is a small 2×2 block of rooms in the middle — but one of those rooms is the boss door, and there’s no way to get to that floor.

(Well, sort of. The “down” stairs in the upper-right of 3F actually lead up to 4F, but the connection is bogus and puts you in a wall, and both of the upper middle rooms are unreachable during normal gameplay.)

The primary objective of the dungeon is to smash four support columns on 2F by throwing a huge iron ball at them, which causes 4F to crash down into the middle of 3F.

The same arrangement of rooms, but the four in the middle have changed

Even the map on the pause screen updates to reflect this. In every meaningful sense, you, the player, have fundamentally reconfigured the shape of this dungeon.

I love this. It feels like I have some impact on the world, that I came along and did something much more significant than mere game mechanics ought to allow. I saw that the tower was unsolvable as designed, so I fixed it.

It’s clear that the game engine supports rearranging screens arbitrarily — consider the Wind Fish’s Egg — but this is s wonderfully clever and subtle use of that. Let the player feel like they have an impact on the world.

The cutting room floor

This is getting excessively long so I’m gonna cut it here. Some other things I thought of but don’t know how to say more than a paragraph about:

  • Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins has a lot of levels with completely unique themes, backed by very simple tilesets but enhanced by interesting one-off obstacles and enemies. I don’t even know how to pick a most interesting one. Maybe just play the game, or at least peruse the maps.

  • This post about density of detail in Team Fortress 2 is really good so just read that I guess. It’s really about careful balance of contrast again, but through the lens of using contrasting amounts of detail to draw the player’s attention, while still carrying a simple theme through less detailed areas.

  • Metroid Prime is pretty interesting in a lot of ways, but I mostly laugh at how they spaced rooms out with long twisty hallways to improve load times — yet I never really thought about it because they all feel like they belong in the game.

One thing I really appreciate is level design that hints at a story, that shows me a world that exists persistently, that convinces me this space exists for some reason other than as a gauntlet for me as a player. But it seems what comes first to my mind is level design that’s clever or quirky, which probably says a lot about me. Maybe the original Fallouts are a good place to look for that sort of detail.

Conversely, it sticks out like a sore thumb when a game tries to railroad me into experiencing the game As The Designer Intended. Games are interactive, so the more input the player can give, the better — and this can be as simple as deciding to avoid rather than confront enemies, or deciding to run rather than walk.

I think that’s all I’ve got in me at the moment. Clearly I need to meditate on this a lot more, but I hope some of this was inspiring in some way!

“Only a year? It’s felt like forever”: a twelve-month retrospective

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/12-months-raspberry-pi/

This weekend saw my first anniversary at Raspberry Pi, and this blog marks my 100th post written for the company. It would have been easy to let one milestone or the other slide had they not come along hand in hand, begging for some sort of acknowledgement.

Alex, Matt, and Courtney in a punt on the Cam

The day Liz decided to keep me

So here it is!

Joining the crew

Prior to my position in the Comms team as Social Media Editor, my employment history was largely made up of retail sales roles and, before that, bit parts in theatrical backstage crews. I never thought I would work for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, despite its firm position on my Top Five Awesome Places I’d Love to Work list. How could I work for a tech company when my knowledge of tech stretched as far as dismantling my Game Boy when I was a kid to see how the insides worked, or being the one friend everyone went to when their phone didn’t do what it was meant to do? I never thought about the other side of the Foundation coin, or how I could find my place within the hidden workings that turned the cogs that brought everything together.

… when suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a new job with a dream company. #raspberrypi #positive #change #dosomething

12 Likes, 1 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “… when suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a new job with a dream company. #raspberrypi #positive…”

A little luck, a well-written though humorous resumé, and a meeting with Liz and Helen later, I found myself the newest member of the growing team at Pi Towers.

Ticking items off the Bucket List

I thought it would be fun to point out some of the chances I’ve had over the last twelve months and explain how they fit within the world of Raspberry Pi. After all, we’re about more than just a $35 credit card-sized computer. We’re a charitable Foundation made up of some wonderful and exciting projects, people, and goals.

High altitude ballooning (HAB)

Skycademy offers educators in the UK the chance to come to Pi Towers Cambridge to learn how to plan a balloon launch, build a payload with onboard Raspberry Pi and Camera Module, and provide teachers with the skills needed to take their students on an adventure to near space, with photographic evidence to prove it.

All the screens you need to hunt balloons. . We have our landing point and are now rushing to Therford to find the payload in a field. . #HAB #RasppberryPi

332 Likes, 5 Comments – Raspberry Pi (@raspberrypifoundation) on Instagram: “All the screens you need to hunt balloons. . We have our landing point and are now rushing to…”

I was fortunate enough to join Sky Captain James, along with Dan Fisher, Dave Akerman, and Steve Randell on a test launch back in August last year. Testing out new kit that James had still been tinkering with that morning, we headed to a field in Elsworth, near Cambridge, and provided Facebook Live footage of the process from payload build to launch…to the moment when our balloon landed in an RAF shooting range some hours later.

RAF firing range sign

“Can we have our balloon back, please, mister?”

Having enjoyed watching Blue Peter presenters send up a HAB when I was a child, I marked off the event on my bucket list with a bold tick, and I continue to show off the photographs from our Raspberry Pi as it reached near space.

Spend the day launching/chasing a high-altitude balloon. Look how high it went!!! #HAB #ballooning #space #wellspacekinda #ish #photography #uk #highaltitude

13 Likes, 2 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “Spend the day launching/chasing a high-altitude balloon. Look how high it went!!! #HAB #ballooning…”

You can find more information on Skycademy here, plus more detail about our test launch day in Dan’s blog post here.

Dear Raspberry Pi Friends…

My desk is slowly filling with stuff: notes, mementoes, and trinkets that find their way to me from members of the community, both established and new to the life of Pi. There are thank you notes, updates, and more from people I’ve chatted to online as they explore their way around the world of Pi.

Letter of thanks to Raspberry Pi from a young fan

*heart melts*

By plugging myself into social media on a daily basis, I often find hidden treasures that go unnoticed due to the high volume of tags we receive on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. Kids jumping off chairs in delight as they complete their first Scratch project, newcomers to the Raspberry Pi shedding a tear as they make an LED blink on their kitchen table, and seasoned makers turning their hobby into something positive to aid others.

It’s wonderful to join in the excitement of people discovering a new skill and exploring the community of Raspberry Pi makers: I’ve been known to shed a tear as a result.

Meeting educators at Bett, chatting to teen makers at makerspaces, and sharing a cupcake or three at the birthday party have been incredible opportunities to get to know you all.

You’re all brilliant.

The Queens of Robots, both shoddy and otherwise

Last year we welcomed the Queen of Shoddy Robots, Simone Giertz to Pi Towers, where we chatted about making, charity, and space while wandering the colleges of Cambridge and hanging out with flat Tim Peake.

Queen of Robots @simonegiertz came to visit #PiTowers today. We hung out with cardboard @astro_timpeake and ate chelsea buns at @fitzbillies #Cambridge. . We also had a great talk about the educational projects of the #RaspberryPi team, #AstroPi and how not enough people realise we’re a #charity. . If you’d like to learn more about the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the work we do with #teachers and #education, check out our website – www.raspberrypi.org. . How was your day? Get up to anything fun?

597 Likes, 3 Comments – Raspberry Pi (@raspberrypifoundation) on Instagram: “Queen of Robots @simonegiertz came to visit #PiTowers today. We hung out with cardboard…”

And last month, the wonderful Estefannie ‘Explains it All’ de La Garza came to hang out, make things, and discuss our educational projects.

Estefannie on Twitter

Ahhhh!!! I still can’t believe I got to hang out and make stuff at the @Raspberry_Pi towers!! Thank you thank you!!

Meeting such wonderful, exciting, and innovative YouTubers was a fantastic inspiration to work on my own projects and to try to do more to help others discover ways to connect with tech through their own interests.

Those ‘wow’ moments

Every Raspberry Pi project I see on a daily basis is awesome. The moment someone takes an idea and does something with it is, in my book, always worthy of awe and appreciation. Whether it be the aforementioned flashing LED, or sending Raspberry Pis to the International Space Station, if you have turned your idea into reality, I applaud you.

Some of my favourite projects over the last twelve months have not only made me say “Wow!”, they’ve also inspired me to want to do more with myself, my time, and my growing maker skill.

Museum in a Box on Twitter

Great to meet @alexjrassic today and nerd out about @Raspberry_Pi and weather balloons and @Space_Station and all things #edtech 🎈⛅🛰📚🤖

Projects such as Museum in a Box, a wonderful hands-on learning aid that brings the world to the hands of children across the globe, honestly made me tear up as I placed a miniaturised 3D-printed Virginia Woolf onto a wooden box and gasped as she started to speak to me.

Jill Ogle’s Let’s Robot project had me in awe as Twitch-controlled Pi robots tackled mazes, attempted to cut birthday cake, or swung to slap Jill in the face over webcam.

Jillian Ogle on Twitter

@SryAbtYourCats @tekn0rebel @Beam Lol speaking of faces… https://t.co/1tqFlMNS31

Every day I discover new, wonderful builds that both make me wish I’d thought of them first, and leave me wondering how they manage to make them work in the first place.

Space

We have Raspberry Pis in space. SPACE. Actually space.

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

New post: Mission accomplished for the European @astro_pi challenge and @esa @Thom_astro is on his way home 🚀 https://t.co/ycTSDR1h1Q

Twelve months later, this still blows my mind.

And let’s not forget…

  • The chance to visit both the Houses of Parliment and St James’s Palace

Raspberry Pi team at the Houses of Parliament

  • Going to a Doctor Who pre-screening and meeting Peter Capaldi, thanks to Clare Sutcliffe

There’s no need to smile when you’re #DoctorWho.

13 Likes, 2 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “There’s no need to smile when you’re #DoctorWho.”

We’re here. Where are you? . . . . . #raspberrypi #vidconeu #vidcon #pizero #zerow #travel #explore #adventure #youtube

1,944 Likes, 30 Comments – Raspberry Pi (@raspberrypifoundation) on Instagram: “We’re here. Where are you? . . . . . #raspberrypi #vidconeu #vidcon #pizero #zerow #travel #explore…”

  • Making a GIF Cam and other builds, and sharing them with you all via the blog

Made a Gif Cam using a Raspberry Pi, Pi camera, button and a couple LEDs. . When you press the button, it takes 8 images and stitches them into a gif file. The files then appear on my MacBook. . Check out our Twitter feed (Raspberry_Pi) for examples! . Next step is to fit it inside a better camera body. . #DigitalMaking #Photography #Making #Camera #Gif #MakersGonnaMake #LED #Creating #PhotosofInstagram #RaspberryPi

19 Likes, 1 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “Made a Gif Cam using a Raspberry Pi, Pi camera, button and a couple LEDs. . When you press the…”

The next twelve months

Despite Eben jokingly firing me near-weekly across Twitter, or Philip giving me the ‘Dad glare’ when I pull wires and buttons out of a box under my desk to start yet another project, I don’t plan on going anywhere. Over the next twelve months, I hope to continue discovering awesome Pi builds, expanding on my own skills, and curating some wonderful projects for you via the Raspberry Pi blog, the Raspberry Pi Weekly newsletter, my submissions to The MagPi Magazine, and the occasional video interview or two.

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for joining me on the ride!

The post “Only a year? It’s felt like forever”: a twelve-month retrospective appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Friday Squid Blogging: Giant Squid Caught Off the Coast of Ireland

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/friday_squid_bl_578.html

It’s rare:

Fishermen caught a 19-foot-long giant squid off the coast of Ireland on Monday, only the fifth to be seen there since 1673.

Also the first in 22 years.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Halium is an Open Source Project Working Towards a Common Base for Non-Android Mobile Operating Systems

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/720328/rss

The xda-developers blog looks
at
Project Halium. “This open-source project is trying to pool
developers from Ubuntu Touch ports, Sailfish OS community developers, the
open webOS Lune OS project, and KDE Plasma Mobile contributors, among other
developers (Jolla, we suspect) to put an end to the fragmentation seen in
their respective project’s lower-level base. Currently, Ubuntu Touch,
Sailfish OS/Mer, Plasma Mobile, and others use different Android source
trees and methods for differently-built stacks. This leads to a lot of
fragmentation among the most popular non-Android, GNU/Linux-based mobile OS
projects in their use of the Android source tree, how the Android init is
started, and how images are flashed to the device. Many of these projects
essentially do the same job, but in a different way.
” The goal of
Halium is to work towards a common Linux base, which can be used by
all of these different projects.

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Can Edit Their Own RNA

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/04/friday_squid_bl_573.html

This is just plain weird:

Rosenthal, a neurobiologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, was a grad student studying a specific protein in squid when he got an an inkling that some cephalopods might be different. Every time he analyzed that protein’s RNA sequence, it came out slightly different. He realized the RNA was occasionally substituting A’ for I’s, and wondered if squid might apply RNA editing to other proteins. Rosenthal, a grad student at the time, joined Tel Aviv University bioinformaticists Noa Liscovitch-Braur and Eli Eisenberg to find out.

In results published today, they report that the family of intelligent mollusks, which includes squid, octopuses and cuttlefish, feature thousands of RNA editing sites in their genes. Where the genetic material of humans, insects, and other multi-celled organisms read like a book, the squid genome reads more like a Mad Lib.

So why do these creatures engage in RNA editing when most others largely abandoned it? The answer seems to lie in some crazy double-stranded cloverleaves that form alongside editing sites in the RNA. That information is like a tag for RNA editing. When the scientists studied octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish, they found that these species had retained those vast swaths of genetic information at the expense of making the small changes that facilitate evolution. “Editing is important enough that they’re forgoing standard evolution,” Rosenthal says.

He hypothesizes that the development of a complex brain was worth that price. The researchers found many of the edited proteins in brain tissue, creating the elaborate dendrites and axons of the neurons and tuning the shape of the electrical signals that neurons pass. Perhaps RNA editing, adopted as a means of creating a more sophisticated brain, allowed these species to use tools, camouflage themselves, and communicate.

Yet more evidence that these bizarre creatures are actually aliens.

Three more articles. Academic paper.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.