Tag Archives: hash

[$] Rhashtables: under the hood

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/751974/rss

The first article in this series described
the interface to the “rhashtable”
resizable hash-table abstraction in Linux 4.15. While a knowledge of
the interface can result in successful use of rhashtables, it often
helps to understand what is going on “under the hood”, particularly when
those details leak out through the interface, as is occasionally the
case with rhashtable. The centerpiece for understanding the
implementation is knowing exactly how the table is resized. So this
follow-on article will explain that operation; it will also present the
configuration parameters that were skimmed over last time and discuss
how they affect the implementation.

Audit Trail Overview

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/audit-trail-overview/

As part of my current project (secure audit trail) I decided to make a survey about the use of audit trail “in the wild”.

I haven’t written in details about this project of mine (unlike with some other projects). Mostly because it’s commercial and I don’t want to use my blog as a direct promotion channel (though I am doing that at the moment, ironically). But the aim of this post is to shed some light on how audit trail is used.

The survey can be found here. The questions are basically: does your current project have audit trail functionality, and if yes, is it protected from tampering. If not – do you think you should have such functionality.

The results are interesting (although with only around 50 respondents)

So more than half of the systems (on which respondents are working) don’t have audit trail. While audit trail is recommended by information security and related standards, it may not find place in the “busy schedule” of a software project, even though it’s fairly easy to provide a trivial implementation (e.g. I’ve written how to quickly setup one with Hibernate and Spring)

A trivial implementation might do in many cases but if the audit log is critical (e.g. access to sensitive data, performing financial operations etc.), then relying on a trivial implementation might not be enough. In other words – if the sysadmin can access the database and delete or modify the audit trail, then it doesn’t serve much purpose. Hence the next question – how is the audit trail protected from tampering:

And apparently, from the less than 50% of projects with audit trail, around 50% don’t have technical guarantees that the audit trail can’t be tampered with. My guess is it’s more, because people have different understanding of what technical measures are sufficient. E.g. someone may think that digitally signing your log files (or log records) is sufficient, but in fact it isn’t, as whole files (or records) can be deleted (or fully replaced) without a way to detect that. Timestamping can help (and a good audit trail solution should have that), but it doesn’t guarantee the order of events or prevent a malicious actor from deleting or inserting fake ones. And if timestamping is done on a log file level, then any not-yet-timestamped log file is vulnerable to manipulation.

I’ve written about event logs before and their two flavours – event sourcing and audit trail. An event log can effectively be considered audit trail, but you’d need additional security to avoid the problems mentioned above.

So, let’s see what would various levels of security and usefulness of audit logs look like. There are many papers on the topic (e.g. this and this), and they often go into the intricate details of how logging should be implemented. I’ll try to give an overview of the approaches:

  • Regular logs – rely on regular INFO log statements in the production logs to look for hints of what has happened. This may be okay, but is harder to look for evidence (as there is non-auditable data in those log files as well), and it’s not very secure – usually logs are collected (e.g. with graylog) and whoever has access to the log collector’s database (or search engine in the case of Graylog), can manipulate the data and not be caught
  • Designated audit trail – whether it’s stored in the database or in logs files. It has the proper business-event level granularity, but again doesn’t prevent or detect tampering. With lower risk systems that may is perfectly okay.
  • Timestamped logs – whether it’s log files or (harder to implement) database records. Timestamping is good, but if it’s not an external service, a malicious actor can get access to the local timestamping service and issue fake timestamps to either re-timestamp tampered files. Even if the timestamping is not compromised, whole entries can be deleted. The fact that they are missing can sometimes be deduced based on other factors (e.g. hour of rotation), but regularly verifying that is extra effort and may not always be feasible.
  • Hash chaining – each entry (or sequence of log files) could be chained (just as blockchain transactions) – the next one having the hash of the previous one. This is a good solution (whether it’s local, external or 3rd party), but it has the risk of someone modifying or deleting a record, getting your entire chain and re-hashing it. All the checks will pass, but the data will not be correct
  • Hash chaining with anchoring – the head of the chain (the hash of the last entry/block) could be “anchored” to an external service that is outside the capabilities of a malicious actor. Ideally, a public blockchain, alternatively – paper, a public service (twitter), email, etc. That way a malicious actor can’t just rehash the whole chain, because any check against the external service would fail.
  • WORM storage (write once, ready many). You could send your audit logs almost directly to WORM storage, where it’s impossible to replace data. However, that is not ideal, as WORM storage can be slow and expensive. For example AWS Glacier has rather big retrieval times and searching through recent data makes it impractical. It’s actually cheaper than S3, for example, and you can have expiration policies. But having to support your own WORM storage is expensive. It is a good idea to eventually send the logs to WORM storage, but “fresh” audit trail should probably not be “archived” so that it’s searchable and some actionable insight can be gained from it.
  • All-in-one – applying all of the above “just in case” may be unnecessary for every project out there, but that’s what I decided to do at LogSentinel. Business-event granularity with timestamping, hash chaining, anchoring, and eventually putting to WORM storage – I think that provides both security guarantees and flexibility.

I hope the overview is useful and the results from the survey shed some light on how this aspect of information security is underestimated.

The post Audit Trail Overview appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Let’s stop talking about password strength

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original https://blog.erratasec.com/2018/04/lets-stop-talking-about-password.html

Picture from EFF — CC-BY license

Near the top of most security recommendations is to use “strong passwords”. We need to stop doing this.

Yes, weak passwords can be a problem. If a website gets hacked, weak passwords are easier to crack. It’s not that this is wrong advice.

On the other hand, it’s not particularly good advice, either. It’s far down the list of important advice that people need to remember. “Weak passwords” are nowhere near the risk of “password reuse”. When your Facebook or email account gets hacked, it’s because you used the same password across many websites, not because you used a weak password.

Important websites, where the strength of your password matters, already take care of the problem. They use strong, salted hashes on the backend to protect the password. On the frontend, they force passwords to be a certain length and a certain complexity. Maybe the better advice is to not trust any website that doesn’t enforce stronger passwords (minimum of 8 characters consisting of both letters and non-letters).

To some extent, this “strong password” advice has become obsolete. A decade ago, websites had poor protection (MD5 hashes) and no enforcement of complexity, so it was up to the user to choose strong passwords. Now that important websites have changed their behavior, such as using bcrypt, there is less onus on the user.

But the real issue here is that “strong password” advice reflects the evil, authoritarian impulses of the infosec community. Instead of measuring insecurity in terms of costs vs. benefits, risks vs. rewards, we insist that it’s an issue of moral weakness. We pretend that flaws happen because people are greedy, lazy, and ignorant. We pretend that security is its own goal, a benefit we should achieve, rather than a cost we must endure.

We like giving moral advice because it’s easy: just be “stronger”. Discussing “password reuse” is more complicated, forcing us discuss password managers, writing down passwords on paper, that it’s okay to reuse passwords for crappy websites you don’t care about, and so on.

What I’m trying to say is that the moral weakness here is us. Rather then give pertinent advice we give lazy advice. We give the advice that victim shames them for being weak while pretending that we are strong.

So stop telling people to use strong passwords. It’s crass advice on your part and largely unhelpful for your audience, distracting them from the more important things.

[$] The rhashtable documentation I wanted to read

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/751374/rss

The rhashtable data structure is a generic resizable hash-table
implementation in the Linux kernel, which LWN first introduced as “relativistic
hash tables” back in 2014. I thought at the time that it might be fun to make
use of rhashtables, but didn’t, until an opportunity arose through my work on
the Lustre filesystem. Lustre is a cluster filesystem that is currently in
drivers/staging while the code is revised to meet upstream
requirements. One of those requirements is to avoid duplicating
similar functionality where possible. As Lustre contains a resizable
hash table, it really needs to be converted to use rhashtables instead — at
last I have my opportunity.

Subscribers can read on for a look at the rhashtable API by guest author
Neil Brown.

timeShift(GrafanaBuzz, 1w) Issue 40

Post Syndicated from Blogs on Grafana Labs Blog original https://grafana.com/blog/2018/04/13/timeshiftgrafanabuzz-1w-issue-40/

Welcome to TimeShift Spring has finally sprung in New York! Hope the weather is equally as beautiful in your part of the world. This week we have a few videos on Prometheus and Grafana to share, as well as articles on integrating Grafana with a new load testing tool, monitoring your AWS resources, and announcing a new Hashicorp Vault exporter for Prometheus. Also, we have a number of upcoming events we’ll be speaking at and sponsoring, so we hope we get to see you and say hi.

Engineering deep dive: Encoding of SCTs in certificates

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org/2018/04/04/sct-encoding.html

<p>Let&rsquo;s Encrypt recently <a href="https://community.letsencrypt.org/t/signed-certificate-timestamps-embedded-in-certificates/57187">launched SCT embedding in
certificates</a>.
This feature allows browsers to check that a certificate was submitted to a
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certificate_Transparency">Certificate Transparency</a>
log. As part of the launch, we did a thorough review
that the encoding of Signed Certificate Timestamps (SCTs) in our certificates
matches the relevant specifications. In this post, I&rsquo;ll dive into the details.
You&rsquo;ll learn more about X.509, ASN.1, DER, and TLS encoding, with references to
the relevant RFCs.</p>

<p>Certificate Transparency offers three ways to deliver SCTs to a browser: In a
TLS extension, in stapled OCSP, or embedded in a certificate. We chose to
implement the embedding method because it would just work for Let&rsquo;s Encrypt
subscribers without additional work. In the SCT embedding method, we submit
a &ldquo;precertificate&rdquo; with a <a href="#poison">poison extension</a> to a set of
CT logs, and get back SCTs. We then issue a real certificate based on the
precertificate, with two changes: The poison extension is removed, and the SCTs
obtained earlier are added in another extension.</p>

<p>Given a certificate, let&rsquo;s first look for the SCT list extension. According to CT (<a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962
section 3.3</a>),
the extension OID for a list of SCTs is <code>1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.2</code>. An <a href="http://www.hl7.org/Oid/information.cfm">OID (object
ID)</a> is a series of integers, hierarchically
assigned and globally unique. They are used extensively in X.509, for instance
to uniquely identify extensions.</p>

<p>We can <a href="https://acme-v01.api.letsencrypt.org/acme/cert/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451">download an example certificate</a>,
and view it using OpenSSL (if your OpenSSL is old, it may not display the
detailed information):</p>

<pre><code>$ openssl x509 -noout -text -inform der -in Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451

CT Precertificate SCTs:
Signed Certificate Timestamp:
Version : v1(0)
Log ID : DB:74:AF:EE:CB:29:EC:B1:FE:CA:3E:71:6D:2C:E5:B9:
AA:BB:36:F7:84:71:83:C7:5D:9D:4F:37:B6:1F:BF:64
Timestamp : Mar 29 18:45:07.993 2018 GMT
Extensions: none
Signature : ecdsa-with-SHA256
30:44:02:20:7E:1F:CD:1E:9A:2B:D2:A5:0A:0C:81:E7:
13:03:3A:07:62:34:0D:A8:F9:1E:F2:7A:48:B3:81:76:
40:15:9C:D3:02:20:65:9F:E9:F1:D8:80:E2:E8:F6:B3:
25:BE:9F:18:95:6D:17:C6:CA:8A:6F:2B:12:CB:0F:55:
FB:70:F7:59:A4:19
Signed Certificate Timestamp:
Version : v1(0)
Log ID : 29:3C:51:96:54:C8:39:65:BA:AA:50:FC:58:07:D4:B7:
6F:BF:58:7A:29:72:DC:A4:C3:0C:F4:E5:45:47:F4:78
Timestamp : Mar 29 18:45:08.010 2018 GMT
Extensions: none
Signature : ecdsa-with-SHA256
30:46:02:21:00:AB:72:F1:E4:D6:22:3E:F8:7F:C6:84:
91:C2:08:D2:9D:4D:57:EB:F4:75:88:BB:75:44:D3:2F:
95:37:E2:CE:C1:02:21:00:8A:FF:C4:0C:C6:C4:E3:B2:
45:78:DA:DE:4F:81:5E:CB:CE:2D:57:A5:79:34:21:19:
A1:E6:5B:C7:E5:E6:9C:E2
</code></pre>

<p>Now let&rsquo;s go a little deeper. How is that extension represented in
the certificate? Certificates are expressed in
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_Syntax_Notation_One">ASN.1</a>,
which generally refers to both a language for expressing data structures
and a set of formats for encoding them. The most common format,
<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X.690#DER_encoding">DER</a>,
is a tag-length-value format. That is, to encode an object, first you write
down a tag representing its type (usually one byte), then you write
down a number expressing how long the object is, then you write down
the object contents. This is recursive: An object can contain multiple
objects within it, each of which has its own tag, length, and value.</p>

<p>One of the cool things about DER and other tag-length-value formats is that you
can decode them to some degree without knowing what they mean. For instance, I
can tell you that 0x30 means the data type &ldquo;SEQUENCE&rdquo; (a struct, in ASN.1
terms), and 0x02 means &ldquo;INTEGER&rdquo;, then give you this hex byte sequence to
decode:</p>

<pre><code>30 06 02 01 03 02 01 0A
</code></pre>

<p>You could tell me right away that decodes to:</p>

<pre><code>SEQUENCE
INTEGER 3
INTEGER 10
</code></pre>

<p>Try it yourself with this great <a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js/#300602010302010A">JavaScript ASN.1
decoder</a>. However, you wouldn&rsquo;t know
what those integers represent without the corresponding ASN.1 schema (or
&ldquo;module&rdquo;). For instance, if you knew that this was a piece of DogData, and the
schema was:</p>

<pre><code>DogData ::= SEQUENCE {
legs INTEGER,
cutenessLevel INTEGER
}
</code></pre>

<p>You&rsquo;d know this referred to a three-legged dog with a cuteness level of 10.</p>

<p>We can take some of this knowledge and apply it to our certificates. As a first
step, convert the above certificate to hex with
<code>xxd -ps &lt; Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451</code>. You can then copy
and paste the result into
<a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js">lapo.it/asn1js</a> (or use <a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js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this handy link</a>). You can also run <code>openssl asn1parse -i -inform der -in Downloads/031f2484307c9bc511b3123cb236a480d451</code> to use OpenSSL&rsquo;s parser, which is less easy to use in some ways, but easier to copy and paste.</p>

<p>In the decoded data, we can find the OID <code>1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.2</code>, indicating
the SCT list extension. Per <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5280#page-17">RFC 5280, section
4.1</a>, an extension is defined:</p>

<pre><code>Extension ::= SEQUENCE {
extnID OBJECT IDENTIFIER,
critical BOOLEAN DEFAULT FALSE,
extnValue OCTET STRING
— contains the DER encoding of an ASN.1 value
— corresponding to the extension type identified
— by extnID
}
</code></pre>

<p>We&rsquo;ve found the <code>extnID</code>. The &ldquo;critical&rdquo; field is omitted because it has the
default value (false). Next up is the <code>extnValue</code>. This has the type
<code>OCTET STRING</code>, which has the tag &ldquo;0x04&rdquo;. <code>OCTET STRING</code> means &ldquo;here&rsquo;s
a bunch of bytes!&rdquo; In this case, as described by the spec, those bytes
happen to contain more DER. This is a fairly common pattern in X.509
to deal with parameterized data. For instance, this allows defining a
structure for extensions without knowing ahead of time all the structures
that a future extension might want to carry in its value. If you&rsquo;re a C
programmer, think of it as a <code>void*</code> for data structures. If you prefer Go,
think of it as an <code>interface{}</code>.</p>

<p>Here&rsquo;s that <code>extnValue</code>:</p>

<pre><code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
</code></pre>

<p>That&rsquo;s tag &ldquo;0x04&rdquo;, meaning <code>OCTET STRING</code>, followed by &ldquo;0x81 0xF5&rdquo;, meaning
&ldquo;this string is 245 bytes long&rdquo; (the 0x81 prefix is part of <a href="#variable-length">variable length
number encoding</a>).</p>

<p>According to <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962, section
3.3</a>, &ldquo;obtained SCTs
can be directly embedded in the final certificate, by encoding the
SignedCertificateTimestampList structure as an ASN.1 <code>OCTET STRING</code>
and inserting the resulting data in the TBSCertificate as an X.509v3
certificate extension&rdquo;</p>

<p>So, we have an <code>OCTET STRING</code>, all&rsquo;s good, right? Except if you remove the
tag and length from extnValue to get its value, you&rsquo;re left with:</p>

<pre><code>04 81 F2 00F0007500DB74AFEEC…
</code></pre>

<p>There&rsquo;s that &ldquo;0x04&rdquo; tag again, but with a shorter length. Why
do we nest one <code>OCTET STRING</code> inside another? It&rsquo;s because the
contents of extnValue are required by RFC 5280 to be valid DER, but a
SignedCertificateTimestampList is not encoded using DER (more on that
in a minute). So, by RFC 6962, a SignedCertificateTimestampList is wrapped in an
<code>OCTET STRING</code>, which is wrapped in another <code>OCTET STRING</code> (the extnValue).</p>

<p>Once we decode that second <code>OCTET STRING</code>, we&rsquo;re left with the contents:</p>

<pre><code>00F0007500DB74AFEEC…
</code></pre>

<p>&ldquo;0x00&rdquo; isn&rsquo;t a valid tag in DER. What is this? It&rsquo;s TLS encoding. This is
defined in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-4">RFC 5246, section 4</a>
(the TLS 1.2 RFC). TLS encoding, like ASN.1, has both a way to define data
structures and a way to encode those structures. TLS encoding differs
from DER in that there are no tags, and lengths are only encoded when necessary for
variable-length arrays. Within an encoded structure, the type of a field is determined by
its position, rather than by a tag. This means that TLS-encoded structures are
more compact than DER structures, but also that they can&rsquo;t be processed without
knowing the corresponding schema. For instance, here&rsquo;s the top-level schema from
<a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.3">RFC 6962, section 3.3</a>:</p>

<pre><code> The contents of the ASN.1 OCTET STRING embedded in an OCSP extension
or X509v3 certificate extension are as follows:

opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;;

struct {
SerializedSCT sct_list &lt;1..2^16-1&gt;;
} SignedCertificateTimestampList;

Here, &quot;SerializedSCT&quot; is an opaque byte string that contains the
serialized TLS structure.
</code></pre>

<p>Right away, we&rsquo;ve found one of those variable-length arrays. The length of such
an array (in bytes) is always represented by a length field just big enough to
hold the max array size. The max size of an <code>sct_list</code> is 65535 bytes, so the
length field is two bytes wide. Sure enough, those first two bytes are &ldquo;0x00
0xF0&rdquo;, or 240 in decimal. In other words, this <code>sct_list</code> will have 240 bytes. We
don&rsquo;t yet know how many SCTs will be in it. That will become clear only by
continuing to parse the encoded data and seeing where each struct ends (spoiler
alert: there are two SCTs!).</p>

<p>Now we know the first SerializedSCT starts with <code>0075…</code>. SerializedSCT
is itself a variable-length field, this time containing <code>opaque</code> bytes (much like <code>OCTET STRING</code>
back in the ASN.1 world). Like SignedCertificateTimestampList, it has a max size
of 65535 bytes, so we pull off the first two bytes and discover that the first
SerializedSCT is 0x0075 (117 decimal) bytes long. Here&rsquo;s the whole thing, in
hex:</p>

<pre><code>00DB74AFEECB29ECB1FECA3E716D2CE5B9AABB36F7847183C75D9D4F37B61FBF64000001627313EB19000004030046304402207E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD30220659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419
</code></pre>

<p>This can be decoded using the TLS encoding struct defined in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#page-13">RFC 6962, section
3.2</a>:</p>

<pre><code>enum { v1(0), (255) }
Version;

struct {
opaque key_id[32];
} LogID;

opaque CtExtensions&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;

struct {
Version sct_version;
LogID id;
uint64 timestamp;
CtExtensions extensions;
digitally-signed struct {
Version sct_version;
SignatureType signature_type = certificate_timestamp;
uint64 timestamp;
LogEntryType entry_type;
select(entry_type) {
case x509_entry: ASN.1Cert;
case precert_entry: PreCert;
} signed_entry;
CtExtensions extensions;
};
} SignedCertificateTimestamp;
</code></pre>

<p>Breaking that down:</p>

<pre><code># Version sct_version v1(0)
00
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
DB74AFEECB29ECB1FECA3E716D2CE5B9AABB36F7847183C75D9D4F37B61FBF64
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
000001627313EB19
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
0000
# digitally-signed struct
04030046304402207E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD30220659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419
</code></pre>

<p>To understand the &ldquo;digitally-signed struct,&rdquo; we need to turn back to <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-4.7">RFC 5246,
section 4.7</a>. It says:</p>

<pre><code>A digitally-signed element is encoded as a struct DigitallySigned:

struct {
SignatureAndHashAlgorithm algorithm;
opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
} DigitallySigned;
</code></pre>

<p>And in <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5246#section-7.4.1.4.1">section
7.4.1.4.1</a>:</p>

<pre><code>enum {
none(0), md5(1), sha1(2), sha224(3), sha256(4), sha384(5),
sha512(6), (255)
} HashAlgorithm;

enum { anonymous(0), rsa(1), dsa(2), ecdsa(3), (255) }
SignatureAlgorithm;

struct {
HashAlgorithm hash;
SignatureAlgorithm signature;
} SignatureAndHashAlgorithm;
</code></pre>

<p>We have &ldquo;0x0403&rdquo;, which corresponds to sha256(4) and ecdsa(3). The next two
bytes, &ldquo;0x0046&rdquo;, tell us the length of the &ldquo;opaque signature&rdquo; field, 70 bytes in
decimal. To decode the signature, we reference <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc4492#page-20">RFC 4492 section
5.4</a>, which says:</p>

<pre><code>The digitally-signed element is encoded as an opaque vector &lt;0..2^16-1&gt;, the
contents of which are the DER encoding corresponding to the
following ASN.1 notation.

Ecdsa-Sig-Value ::= SEQUENCE {
r INTEGER,
s INTEGER
}
</code></pre>

<p>Having dived through two layers of TLS encoding, we are now back in ASN.1 land!
We
<a href="https://lapo.it/asn1js/#304402207E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD30220659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419">decode</a>
the remaining bytes into a SEQUENCE containing two INTEGERS. And we&rsquo;re done! Here&rsquo;s the whole
extension decoded:</p>

<pre><code># Extension SEQUENCE – RFC 5280
30
# length 0x0104 bytes (260 decimal)
820104
# OBJECT IDENTIFIER
06
# length 0x0A bytes (10 decimal)
0A
# value (1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.2)
2B06010401D679020402
# OCTET STRING
04
# length 0xF5 bytes (245 decimal)
81F5
# OCTET STRING (embedded) – RFC 6962
04
# length 0xF2 bytes (242 decimal)
81F2
# Beginning of TLS encoded SignedCertificateTimestampList – RFC 5246 / 6962
# length 0xF0 bytes
00F0
# opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;
# length 0x75 bytes
0075
# Version sct_version v1(0)
00
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
DB74AFEECB29ECB1FECA3E716D2CE5B9AABB36F7847183C75D9D4F37B61FBF64
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
000001627313EB19
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
0000
# digitally-signed struct – RFC 5426
# SignatureAndHashAlgorithm (ecdsa-sha256)
0403
# opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
# length 0x0046
0046
# DER-encoded Ecdsa-Sig-Value – RFC 4492
30 # SEQUENCE
44 # length 0x44 bytes
02 # r INTEGER
20 # length 0x20 bytes
# value
7E1FCD1E9A2BD2A50A0C81E713033A0762340DA8F91EF27A48B3817640159CD3
02 # s INTEGER
20 # length 0x20 bytes
# value
659FE9F1D880E2E8F6B325BE9F18956D17C6CA8A6F2B12CB0F55FB70F759A419
# opaque SerializedSCT&lt;1..2^16-1&gt;
# length 0x77 bytes
0077
# Version sct_version v1(0)
00
# LogID id (aka opaque key_id[32])
293C519654C83965BAAA50FC5807D4B76FBF587A2972DCA4C30CF4E54547F478
# uint64 timestamp (milliseconds since the epoch)
000001627313EB2A
# CtExtensions extensions (zero-length array)
0000
# digitally-signed struct – RFC 5426
# SignatureAndHashAlgorithm (ecdsa-sha256)
0403
# opaque signature&lt;0..2^16-1&gt;;
# length 0x0048
0048
# DER-encoded Ecdsa-Sig-Value – RFC 4492
30 # SEQUENCE
46 # length 0x46 bytes
02 # r INTEGER
21 # length 0x21 bytes
# value
00AB72F1E4D6223EF87FC68491C208D29D4D57EBF47588BB7544D32F9537E2CEC1
02 # s INTEGER
21 # length 0x21 bytes
# value
008AFFC40CC6C4E3B24578DADE4F815ECBCE2D57A579342119A1E65BC7E5E69CE2
</code></pre>

<p>One surprising thing you might notice: In the first SCT, <code>r</code> and <code>s</code> are twenty
bytes long. In the second SCT, they are both twenty-one bytes long, and have a
leading zero. Integers in DER are two&rsquo;s complement, so if the leftmost bit is
set, they are interpreted as negative. Since <code>r</code> and <code>s</code> are positive, if the
leftmost bit would be a 1, an extra byte has to be added so that the leftmost
bit can be 0.</p>

<p>This is a little taste of what goes into encoding a certificate. I hope it was
informative! If you&rsquo;d like to learn more, I recommend &ldquo;<a href="http://luca.ntop.org/Teaching/Appunti/asn1.html">A Layman&rsquo;s Guide to a
Subset of ASN.1, BER, and DER</a>.&rdquo;</p>

<p><a name="poison"></a>Footnote 1: A &ldquo;poison extension&rdquo; is defined by <a href="https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6962#section-3.1">RFC 6962
section 3.1</a>:</p>

<pre><code>The Precertificate is constructed from the certificate to be issued by adding a special
critical poison extension (OID `1.3.6.1.4.1.11129.2.4.3`, whose
extnValue OCTET STRING contains ASN.1 NULL data (0x05 0x00))
</code></pre>

<p>In other words, it&rsquo;s an empty extension whose only purpose is to ensure that
certificate processors will not accept precertificates as valid certificates. The
specification ensures this by setting the &ldquo;critical&rdquo; bit on the extension, which
ensures that code that doesn&rsquo;t recognize the extension will reject the whole
certificate. Code that does recognize the extension specifically as poison
will also reject the certificate.</p>

<p><a name="variable-length"></a>Footnote 2: Lengths from 0-127 are represented by
a single byte (short form). To express longer lengths, more bytes are used (long form).
The high bit (0x80) on the first byte is set to distinguish long form from short
form. The remaining bits are used to express how many more bytes to read for the
length. For instance, 0x81F5 means &ldquo;this is long form because the length is
greater than 127, but there&rsquo;s still only one byte of length (0xF5) to decode.&rdquo;</p>

A geometric Rust adventure

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/03/30/a-geometric-rust-adventure/

Hi. Yes. Sorry. I’ve been trying to write this post for ages, but I’ve also been working on a huge writing project, and apparently I have a very limited amount of writing mana at my disposal. I think this is supposed to be a Patreon reward from January. My bad. I hope it’s super great to make up for the wait!

I recently ported some math code from C++ to Rust in an attempt to do a cool thing with Doom. Here is my story.

The problem

I presented it recently as a conundrum (spoilers: I solved it!), but most of those details are unimportant.

The short version is: I have some shapes. I want to find their intersection.

Really, I want more than that: I want to drop them all on a canvas, intersect everything with everything, and pluck out all the resulting polygons. The input is a set of cookie cutters, and I want to press them all down on the same sheet of dough and figure out what all the resulting contiguous pieces are. And I want to know which cookie cutter(s) each piece came from.

But intersection is a good start.

Example of the goal.  Given two squares that overlap at their corners, I want to find the small overlap piece, plus the two L-shaped pieces left over from each square

I’m carefully referring to the input as shapes rather than polygons, because each one could be a completely arbitrary collection of lines. Obviously there’s not much you can do with shapes that aren’t even closed, but at the very least, I need to handle concavity and multiple disconnected polygons that together are considered a single input.

This is a non-trivial problem with a lot of edge cases, and offhand I don’t know how to solve it robustly. I’m not too eager to go figure it out from scratch, so I went hunting for something I could build from.

(Infuriatingly enough, I can just dump all the shapes out in an SVG file and any SVG viewer can immediately solve the problem, but that doesn’t quite help me. Though I have had a few people suggest I just rasterize the whole damn problem, and after all this, I’m starting to think they may have a point.)

Alas, I couldn’t find a Rust library for doing this. I had a hard time finding any library for doing this that wasn’t a massive fully-featured geometry engine. (I could’ve used that, but I wanted to avoid non-Rust dependencies if possible, since distributing software is already enough of a nightmare.)

A Twitter follower directed me towards a paper that described how to do very nearly what I wanted and nothing else: “A simple algorithm for Boolean operations on polygons” by F. Martínez (2013). Being an academic paper, it’s trapped in paywall hell; sorry about that. (And as I understand it, none of the money you’d pay to get the paper would even go to the authors? Is that right? What a horrible and predatory system for discovering and disseminating knowledge.)

The paper isn’t especially long, but it does describe an awful lot of subtle details and is mostly written in terms of its own reference implementation. Rather than write my own implementation based solely on the paper, I decided to try porting the reference implementation from C++ to Rust.

And so I fell down the rabbit hole.

The basic algorithm

Thankfully, the author has published the sample code on his own website, if you want to follow along. (It’s the bottom link; the same author has, confusingly, published two papers on the same topic with similar titles, four years apart.)

If not, let me describe the algorithm and how the code is generally laid out. The algorithm itself is based on a sweep line, where a vertical line passes across the plane and ✨ does stuff ✨ as it encounters various objects. This implementation has no physical line; instead, it keeps track of which segments from the original polygon would be intersecting the sweep line, which is all we really care about.

A vertical line is passing rightwards over a couple intersecting shapes.  The line current intersects two of the shapes' sides, and these two sides are the "sweep list"

The code is all bundled inside a class with only a single public method, run, because… that’s… more object-oriented, I guess. There are several helper methods, and state is stored in some attributes. A rough outline of run is:

  1. Run through all the line segments in both input polygons. For each one, generate two SweepEvents (one for each endpoint) and add them to a std::deque for storage.

    Add pointers to the two SweepEvents to a std::priority_queue, the event queue. This queue uses a custom comparator to order the events from left to right, so the top element is always the leftmost endpoint.

  2. Loop over the event queue (where an “event” means the sweep line passed over the left or right end of a segment). Encountering a left endpoint means the sweep line is newly touching that segment, so add it to a std::set called the sweep list. An important point is that std::set is ordered, and the sweep list uses a comparator that keeps segments in order vertically.

    Encountering a right endpoint means the sweep line is leaving a segment, so that segment is removed from the sweep list.

  3. When a segment is added to the sweep list, it may have up to two neighbors: the segment above it and the segment below it. Call possibleIntersection to check whether it intersects either of those neighbors. (This is nearly sufficient to find all intersections, which is neat.)

  4. If possibleIntersection detects an intersection, it will split each segment into two pieces then and there. The old segment is shortened in-place to become the left part, and a new segment is created for the right part. The new endpoints at the point of intersection are added to the event queue.

  5. Some bookkeeping is done along the way to track which original polygons each segment is inside, and eventually the segments are reconstructed into new polygons.

Hopefully that’s enough to follow along. It took me an inordinately long time to tease this out. The comments aren’t especially helpful.

1
    std::deque<SweepEvent> eventHolder;    // It holds the events generated during the computation of the boolean operation

Syntax and basic semantics

The first step was to get something that rustc could at least parse, which meant translating C++ syntax to Rust syntax.

This was surprisingly straightforward! C++ classes become Rust structs. (There was no inheritance here, thankfully.) All the method declarations go away. Method implementations only need to be indented and wrapped in impl.

I did encounter some unnecessarily obtuse uses of the ternary operator:

1
(prevprev != sl.begin()) ? --prevprev : prevprev = sl.end();

Rust doesn’t have a ternary — you can use a regular if block as an expression — so I expanded these out.

C++ switch blocks become Rust match blocks, but otherwise function basically the same. Rust’s enums are scoped (hallelujah), so I had to explicitly spell out where enum values came from.

The only really annoying part was changing function signatures; C++ types don’t look much at all like Rust types, save for the use of angle brackets. Rust also doesn’t pass by implicit reference, so I needed to sprinkle a few &s around.

I would’ve had a much harder time here if this code had relied on any remotely esoteric C++ functionality, but thankfully it stuck to pretty vanilla features.

Language conventions

This is a geometry problem, so the sample code unsurprisingly has its own home-grown point type. Rather than port that type to Rust, I opted to use the popular euclid crate. Not only is it code I didn’t have to write, but it already does several things that the C++ code was doing by hand inline, like dot products and cross products. And all I had to do was add one line to Cargo.toml to use it! I have no idea how anyone writes C or C++ without a package manager.

The C++ code used getters, i.e. point.x (). I’m not a huge fan of getters, though I do still appreciate the need for them in lowish-level systems languages where you want to future-proof your API and the language wants to keep a clear distinction between attribute access and method calls. But this is a point, which is nothing more than two of the same numeric type glued together; what possible future logic might you add to an accessor? The euclid authors appear to side with me and leave the coordinates as public fields, so I took great joy in removing all the superfluous parentheses.

Polygons are represented with a Polygon class, which has some number of Contours. A contour is a single contiguous loop. Something you’d usually think of as a polygon would only have one, but a shape with a hole would have two: one for the outside, one for the inside. The weird part of this arrangement was that Polygon implemented nearly the entire STL container interface, then waffled between using it and not using it throughout the rest of the code. Rust lets anything in the same module access non-public fields, so I just skipped all that and used polygon.contours directly. Hell, I think I made contours public.

Finally, the SweepEvent type has a pol field that’s declared as an enum PolygonType (either SUBJECT or CLIPPING, to indicate which of the two inputs it is), but then some other code uses the same field as a numeric index into a polygon’s contours. Boy I sure do love static typing where everything’s a goddamn integer. I wanted to extend the algorithm to work on arbitrarily many input polygons anyway, so I scrapped the enum and this became a usize.


Then I got to all the uses of STL. I have only a passing familiarity with the C++ standard library, and this code actually made modest use of it, which caused some fun days-long misunderstandings.

As mentioned, the SweepEvents are stored in a std::deque, which is never read from. It took me a little thinking to realize that the deque was being used as an arena: it’s the canonical home for the structs so pointers to them can be tossed around freely. (It can’t be a std::vector, because that could reallocate and invalidate all the pointers; std::deque is probably a doubly-linked list, and guarantees no reallocation.)

Rust’s standard library does have a doubly-linked list type, but I knew I’d run into ownership hell here later anyway, so I think I replaced it with a Rust Vec to start with. It won’t compile either way, so whatever. We’ll get back to this in a moment.

The list of segments currently intersecting the sweep line is stored in a std::set. That type is explicitly ordered, which I’m very glad I knew already. Rust has two set types, HashSet and BTreeSet; unsurprisingly, the former is unordered and the latter is ordered. Dropping in BTreeSet and fixing some method names got me 90% of the way there.

Which brought me to the other 90%. See, the C++ code also relies on finding nodes adjacent to the node that was just inserted, via STL iterators.

1
2
3
next = prev = se->posSL = it = sl.insert(se).first;
(prev != sl.begin()) ? --prev : prev = sl.end();
++next;

I freely admit I’m bad at C++, but this seems like something that could’ve used… I don’t know, 1 comment. Or variable names more than two letters long. What it actually does is:

  1. Add the current sweep event (se) to the sweep list (sl), which returns a pair whose first element is an iterator pointing at the just-inserted event.

  2. Copies that iterator to several other variables, including prev and next.

  3. If the event was inserted at the beginning of the sweep list, set prev to the sweep list’s end iterator, which in C++ is a legal-but-invalid iterator meaning “the space after the end” or something. This is checked for in later code, to see if there is a previous event to look at. Otherwise, decrement prev, so it’s now pointing at the event immediately before the inserted one.

  4. Increment next normally. If the inserted event is last, then this will bump next to the end iterator anyway.

In other words, I need to get the previous and next elements from a BTreeSet. Rust does have bidirectional iterators, which BTreeSet supports… but BTreeSet::insert only returns a bool telling me whether or not anything was inserted, not the position. I came up with this:

1
2
3
let mut maybe_below = active_segments.range(..segment).last().map(|v| *v);
let mut maybe_above = active_segments.range(segment..).next().map(|v| *v);
active_segments.insert(segment);

The range method returns an iterator over a subset of the tree. The .. syntax makes a range (where the right endpoint is exclusive), so ..segment finds the part of the tree before the new segment, and segment.. finds the part of the tree after it. (The latter would start with the segment itself, except I haven’t inserted it yet, so it’s not actually there.)

Then the standard next() and last() methods on bidirectional iterators find me the element I actually want. But the iterator might be empty, so they both return an Option. Also, iterators tend to return references to their contents, but in this case the contents are already references, and I don’t want a double reference, so the map call dereferences one layer — but only if the Option contains a value. Phew!

This is slightly less efficient than the C++ code, since it has to look up where segment goes three times rather than just one. I might be able to get it down to two with some more clever finagling of the iterator, but microsopic performance considerations were a low priority here.

Finally, the event queue uses a std::priority_queue to keep events in a desired order and efficiently pop the next one off the top.

Except priority queues act like heaps, where the greatest (i.e., last) item is made accessible.

Sorting out sorting

C++ comparison functions return true to indicate that the first argument is less than the second argument. Sweep events occur from left to right. You generally implement sorts so that the first thing comes, erm, first.

But sweep events go in a priority queue, and priority queues surface the last item, not the first. This C++ code handled this minor wrinkle by implementing its comparison backwards.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
struct SweepEventComp : public std::binary_function<SweepEvent, SweepEvent, bool> { // for sorting sweep events
// Compare two sweep events
// Return true means that e1 is placed at the event queue after e2, i.e,, e1 is processed by the algorithm after e2
bool operator() (const SweepEvent* e1, const SweepEvent* e2)
{
    if (e1->point.x () > e2->point.x ()) // Different x-coordinate
        return true;
    if (e2->point.x () > e1->point.x ()) // Different x-coordinate
        return false;
    if (e1->point.y () != e2->point.y ()) // Different points, but same x-coordinate. The event with lower y-coordinate is processed first
        return e1->point.y () > e2->point.y ();
    if (e1->left != e2->left) // Same point, but one is a left endpoint and the other a right endpoint. The right endpoint is processed first
        return e1->left;
    // Same point, both events are left endpoints or both are right endpoints.
    if (signedArea (e1->point, e1->otherEvent->point, e2->otherEvent->point) != 0) // not collinear
        return e1->above (e2->otherEvent->point); // the event associate to the bottom segment is processed first
    return e1->pol > e2->pol;
}
};

Maybe it’s just me, but I had a hell of a time just figuring out what problem this was even trying to solve. I still have to reread it several times whenever I look at it, to make sure I’m getting the right things backwards.

Making this even more ridiculous is that there’s a second implementation of this same sort, with the same name, in another file — and that one’s implemented forwards. And doesn’t use a tiebreaker. I don’t entirely understand how this even compiles, but it does!

I painstakingly translated this forwards to Rust. Unlike the STL, Rust doesn’t take custom comparators for its containers, so I had to implement ordering on the types themselves (which makes sense, anyway). I wrapped everything in the priority queue in a Reverse, which does what it sounds like.

I’m fairly pleased with Rust’s ordering model. Most of the work is done in Ord, a trait with a cmp() method returning an Ordering (one of Less, Equal, and Greater). No magic numbers, no need to implement all six ordering methods! It’s incredible. Ordering even has some handy methods on it, so the usual case of “order by this, then by this” can be written as:

1
2
return self.point().x.cmp(&other.point().x)
    .then(self.point().y.cmp(&other.point().y));

Well. Just kidding! It’s not quite that easy. You see, the points here are composed of floats, and floats have the fun property that not all of them are comparable. Specifically, NaN is not less than, greater than, or equal to anything else, including itself. So IEEE 754 float ordering cannot be expressed with Ord. Unless you want to just make up an answer for NaN, but Rust doesn’t tend to do that.

Rust’s float types thus implement the weaker PartialOrd, whose method returns an Option<Ordering> instead. That makes the above example slightly uglier:

1
2
return self.point().x.partial_cmp(&other.point().x).unwrap()
    .then(self.point().y.partial_cmp(&other.point().y).unwrap())

Also, since I use unwrap() here, this code will panic and take the whole program down if the points are infinite or NaN. Don’t do that.

This caused some minor inconveniences in other places; for example, the general-purpose cmp::min() doesn’t work on floats, because it requires an Ord-erable type. Thankfully there’s a f64::min(), which handles a NaN by returning the other argument.

(Cool story: for the longest time I had this code using f32s. I’m used to translating int to “32 bits”, and apparently that instinct kicked in for floats as well, even floats spelled double.)

The only other sorting adventure was this:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
// Due to overlapping edges the resultEvents array can be not wholly sorted
bool sorted = false;
while (!sorted) {
    sorted = true;
    for (unsigned int i = 0; i < resultEvents.size (); ++i) {
        if (i + 1 < resultEvents.size () && sec (resultEvents[i], resultEvents[i+1])) {
            std::swap (resultEvents[i], resultEvents[i+1]);
            sorted = false;
        }
    }
}

(I originally misread this comment as saying “the array cannot be wholly sorted” and had no idea why that would be the case, or why the author would then immediately attempt to bubble sort it.)

I’m still not sure why this uses an ad-hoc sort instead of std::sort. But I’m used to taking for granted that general-purpose sorting implementations are tuned to work well for almost-sorted data, like Python’s. Maybe C++ is untrustworthy here, for some reason. I replaced it with a call to .sort() and all seemed fine.

Phew! We’re getting there. Finally, my code appears to type-check.

But now I see storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

Ownership hell

I have a problem. I somehow run into this problem every single time I use Rust. The solutions are never especially satisfying, and all the hacks I might use if forced to write C++ turn out to be unsound, which is even more annoying because rustc is just sitting there with this smug “I told you so expression” and—

The problem is ownership, which Rust is fundamentally built on. Any given value must have exactly one owner, and Rust must be able to statically convince itself that:

  1. No reference to a value outlives that value.
  2. If a mutable reference to a value exists, no other references to that value exist at the same time.

This is the core of Rust. It guarantees at compile time that you cannot lose pointers to allocated memory, you cannot double-free, you cannot have dangling pointers.

It also completely thwarts a lot of approaches you might be inclined to take if you come from managed languages (where who cares, the GC will take care of it) or C++ (where you just throw pointers everywhere and hope for the best apparently).

For example, pointer loops are impossible. Rust’s understanding of ownership and lifetimes is hierarchical, and it simply cannot express loops. (Rust’s own doubly-linked list type uses raw pointers and unsafe code under the hood, where “unsafe” is an escape hatch for the usual ownership rules. Since I only recently realized that pointers to the inside of a mutable Vec are a bad idea, I figure I should probably not be writing unsafe code myself.)

This throws a few wrenches in the works.

Problem the first: pointer loops

I immediately ran into trouble with the SweepEvent struct itself. A SweepEvent pulls double duty: it represents one endpoint of a segment, but each left endpoint also handles bookkeeping for the segment itself — which means that most of the fields on a right endpoint are unused. Also, and more importantly, each SweepEvent has a pointer to the corresponding SweepEvent at the other end of the same segment. So a pair of SweepEvents point to each other.

Rust frowns upon this. In retrospect, I think I could’ve kept it working, but I also think I’m wrong about that.

My first step was to wrench SweepEvent apart. I moved all of the segment-stuff (which is virtually all of it) into a single SweepSegment type, and then populated the event queue with a SweepEndpoint tuple struct, similar to:

1
2
3
4
5
6
enum SegmentEnd {
    Left,
    Right,
}

struct SweepEndpoint<'a>(&'a SweepSegment, SegmentEnd);

This makes SweepEndpoint essentially a tuple with a name. The 'a is a lifetime and says, more or less, that a SweepEndpoint cannot outlive the SweepSegment it references. Makes sense.

Problem solved! I no longer have mutually referential pointers. But I do still have pointers (well, references), and they have to point to something.

Problem the second: where’s all the data

Which brings me to the problem I always run into with Rust. I have a bucket of things, and I need to refer to some of them multiple times.

I tried half a dozen different approaches here and don’t clearly remember all of them, but I think my core problem went as follows. I translated the C++ class to a Rust struct with some methods hanging off of it. A simplified version might look like this.

1
2
3
4
struct Algorithm {
    arena: LinkedList<SweepSegment>,
    event_queue: BinaryHeap<SweepEndpoint>,
}

Ah, hang on — SweepEndpoint needs to be annotated with a lifetime, so Rust can enforce that those endpoints don’t live longer than the segments they refer to. No problem?

1
2
3
4
struct Algorithm<'a> {
    arena: LinkedList<SweepSegment>,
    event_queue: BinaryHeap<SweepEndpoint<'a>>,
}

Okay! Now for some methods.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
fn run(&mut self) {
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 5 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    for event in &self.event_queue {
        println!("{:?}", event)
    }
}

Aaand… this doesn’t work. Rust “cannot infer an appropriate lifetime for autoref due to conflicting requirements”. The trouble is that self.arena.back() takes a reference to self.arena, and then I put that reference in the event queue. But I promised that everything in the event queue has lifetime 'a, and I don’t actually know how long self lives here; I only know that it can’t outlive 'a, because that would invalidate the references it holds.

A little random guessing let me to change &mut self to &'a mut self — which is fine because the entire impl block this lives in is already parameterized by 'a — and that makes this compile! Hooray! I think that’s because I’m saying self itself has exactly the same lifetime as the references it holds onto, which is true, since it’s referring to itself.

Let’s get a little more ambitious and try having two segments.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
fn run(&'a mut self) {
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 5 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 17 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    for event in &self.event_queue {
        println!("{:?}", event)
    }
}

Whoops! Rust complains that I’m trying to mutate self.arena while other stuff is referring to it. And, yes, that’s true — I have references to it in the event queue, and Rust is preventing me from potentially deleting everything from the queue when references to it still exist. I’m not actually deleting anything here, of course (though I could be if this were a Vec!), but Rust’s type system can’t encode that (and I dread the thought of a type system that can).

I struggled with this for a while, and rapidly encountered another complete showstopper:

1
2
3
4
5
6
fn run(&'a mut self) {
    self.mutate_something();
    self.mutate_something();
}

fn mutate_something(&'a mut self) {}

Rust objects that I’m trying to borrow self mutably, twice — once for the first call, once for the second.

But why? A borrow is supposed to end automatically once it’s no longer used, right? Maybe if I throw some braces around it for scope… nope, that doesn’t help either.

It’s true that borrows usually end automatically, but here I have explicitly told Rust that mutate_something() should borrow with the lifetime 'a, which is the same as the lifetime in run(). So the first call explicitly borrows self for at least the rest of the method. Removing the lifetime from mutate_something() does fix this error, but if that method tries to add new segments, I’m back to the original problem.

Oh no. The mutation in the C++ code is several calls deep. Porting it directly seems nearly impossible.

The typical solution here — at least, the first thing people suggest to me on Twitter — is to wrap basically everything everywhere in Rc<RefCell<T>>, which gives you something that’s reference-counted (avoiding questions of ownership) and defers borrow checks until runtime (avoiding questions of mutable borrows). But that seems pretty heavy-handed here — not only does RefCell add .borrow() noise anywhere you actually want to interact with the underlying value, but do I really need to refcount these tiny structs that only hold a handful of floats each?

I set out to find a middle ground.

Solution, kind of

I really, really didn’t want to perform serious surgery on this code just to get it to build. I still didn’t know if it worked at all, and now I had to rearrange it without being able to check if I was breaking it further. (This isn’t Rust’s fault; it’s a natural problem with porting between fairly different paradigms.)

So I kind of hacked it into working with minimal changes, producing a grotesque abomination which I’m ashamed to link to. Here’s how!

First, I got rid of the class. It turns out this makes lifetime juggling much easier right off the bat. I’m pretty sure Rust considers everything in a struct to be destroyed simultaneously (though in practice it guarantees it’ll destroy fields in order), which doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Locals within a function, on the other hand, can each have their own distinct lifetimes, which solves the problem of expressing that the borrows won’t outlive the arena.

Speaking of the arena, I solved the mutability problem there by switching to… an arena! The typed-arena crate (a port of a type used within Rust itself, I think) is an allocator — you give it a value, and it gives you back a reference, and the reference is guaranteed to be valid for as long as the arena exists. The method that does this is sneaky and takes &self rather than &mut self, so Rust doesn’t know you’re mutating the arena and won’t complain. (One drawback is that the arena will never free anything you give to it, but that’s not a big problem here.)


My next problem was with mutation. The main loop repeatedly calls possibleIntersection with pairs of segments, which can split either or both segment. Rust definitely doesn’t like that — I’d have to pass in two &muts, both of which are mutable references into the same arena, and I’d have a bunch of immutable references into that arena in the sweep list and elsewhere. This isn’t going to fly.

This is kind of a shame, and is one place where Rust seems a little overzealous. Something like this seems like it ought to be perfectly valid:

1
2
3
4
let mut v = vec![1u32, 2u32];
let a = &mut v[0];
let b = &mut v[1];
// do stuff with a, b

The trouble is, Rust only knows the type signature, which here is something like index_mut(&'a mut self, index: usize) -> &'a T. Nothing about that says that you’re borrowing distinct elements rather than some core part of the type — and, in fact, the above code is only safe because you’re borrowing distinct elements. In the general case, Rust can’t possibly know that. It seems obvious enough from the different indexes, but nothing about the type system even says that different indexes have to return different values. And what if one were borrowed as &mut v[1] and the other were borrowed with v.iter_mut().next().unwrap()?

Anyway, this is exactly where people start to turn to RefCell — if you’re very sure you know better than Rust, then a RefCell will skirt the borrow checker while still enforcing at runtime that you don’t have more than one mutable borrow at a time.

But half the lines in this algorithm examine the endpoints of a segment! I don’t want to wrap the whole thing in a RefCell, or I’ll have to say this everywhere:

1
if segment1.borrow().point.x < segment2.borrow().point.x { ... }

Gross.

But wait — this code only mutates the points themselves in one place. When a segment is split, the original segment becomes the left half, and a new segment is created to be the right half. There’s no compelling need for this; it saves an allocation for the left half, but it’s not critical to the algorithm.

Thus, I settled on a compromise. My segment type now looks like this:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
struct SegmentPacket {
    // a bunch of flags and whatnot used in the algorithm
}
struct SweepSegment {
    left_point: MapPoint,
    right_point: MapPoint,
    faces_outwards: bool,
    index: usize,
    order: usize,
    packet: RefCell<SegmentPacket>,
}

I do still need to call .borrow() or .borrow_mut() to get at the stuff in the “packet”, but that’s far less common, so there’s less noise overall. And I don’t need to wrap it in Rc because it’s part of a type that’s allocated in the arena and passed around only via references.


This still leaves me with the problem of how to actually perform the splits.

I’m not especially happy with what I came up with, I don’t know if I can defend it, and I suspect I could do much better. I changed possibleIntersection so that rather than performing splits, it returns the points at which each segment needs splitting, in the form (usize, Option<MapPoint>, Option<MapPoint>). (The usize is used as a flag for calling code and oughta be an enum, but, isn’t yet.)

Now the top-level function is responsible for all arena management, and all is well.

Except, er. possibleIntersection is called multiple times, and I don’t want to copy-paste a dozen lines of split code after each call. I tried putting just that code in its own function, which had the world’s most godawful signature, and that didn’t work because… uh… hm. I can’t remember why, exactly! Should’ve written that down.

I tried a local closure next, but closures capture their environment by reference, so now I had references to a bunch of locals for as long as the closure existed, which meant I couldn’t mutate those locals. Argh. (This seems a little silly to me, since the closure’s references cannot possibly be used for anything if the closure isn’t being called, but maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe this is just a limitation of lifetimes.)

Increasingly desperate, I tried using a macro. But… macros are hygienic, which means that any new name you use inside a macro is different from any name outside that macro. The macro thus could not see any of my locals. Usually that’s good, but here I explicitly wanted the macro to mess with my locals.

I was just about to give up and go live as a hermit in a cabin in the woods, when I discovered something quite incredible. You can define local macros! If you define a macro inside a function, then it can see any locals defined earlier in that function. Perfect!

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
macro_rules! _split_segment (
    ($seg:expr, $pt:expr) => (
        {
            let pt = $pt;
            let seg = $seg;
            // ... waaay too much code ...
        }
    );
);

loop {
    // ...
    // This is possibleIntersection, renamed because Rust rightfully complains about camelCase
    let cross = handle_intersections(Some(segment), maybe_above);
    if let Some(pt) = cross.1 {
        segment = _split_segment!(segment, pt);
    }
    if let Some(pt) = cross.2 {
        maybe_above = Some(_split_segment!(maybe_above.unwrap(), pt));
    }
    // ...
}

(This doesn’t actually quite match the original algorithm, which has one case where a segment can be split twice. I realized that I could just do the left-most split, and a later iteration would perform the other split. I sure hope that’s right, anyway.)

It’s a bit ugly, and I ran into a whole lot of implicit behavior from the C++ code that I had to fix — for example, the segment is sometimes mutated just before it’s split, purely as a shortcut for mutating the left part of the split. But it finally compiles! And runs! And kinda worked, a bit!

Aftermath

I still had a lot of work to do.

For one, this code was designed for intersecting two shapes, not mass-intersecting a big pile of shapes. The basic algorithm doesn’t care about how many polygons you start with — all it sees is segments — but the code for constructing the return value needed some heavy modification.

The biggest change by far? The original code traced each segment once, expecting the result to be only a single shape. I had to change that to trace each side of each segment once, since the vast bulk of the output consists of shapes which share a side. This violated a few assumptions, which I had to hack around.

I also ran into a couple very bad edge cases, spent ages debugging them, then found out that the original algorithm had a subtle workaround that I’d commented out because it was awkward to port but didn’t seem to do anything. Whoops!

The worst was a precision error, where a vertical line could be split on a point not quite actually on the line, which wreaked all kinds of havoc. I worked around that with some tasteful rounding, which is highly dubious but makes the output more appealing to my squishy human brain. (I might switch to the original workaround, but I really dislike that even simple cases can spit out points at 1500.0000000000003. The whole thing is parameterized over the coordinate type, so maybe I could throw a rational type in there and cross my fingers?)

All that done, I finally, finally, after a couple months of intermittent progress, got what I wanted!

This is Doom 2’s MAP01. The black area to the left of center is where the player starts. Gray areas indicate where the player can walk from there, with lighter shades indicating more distant areas, where “distance” is measured by the minimum number of line crossings. Red areas can’t be reached at all.

(Note: large playable chunks of the map, including the exit room, are red. That’s because those areas are behind doors, and this code doesn’t understand doors yet.)

(Also note: The big crescent in the lower-right is also black because I was lazy and looked for the player’s starting sector by checking the bbox, and that sector’s bbox happens to match.)

The code that generated this had to go out of its way to delete all the unreachable zones around solid walls. I think I could modify the algorithm to do that on the fly pretty easily, which would probably speed it up a bit too. Downside is that the algorithm would then be pretty specifically tied to this problem, and not usable for any other kind of polygon intersection, which I would think could come up elsewhere? The modifications would be pretty minor, though, so maybe I could confine them to a closure or something.

Some final observations

It runs surprisingly slowly. Like, multiple seconds. Unless I add --release, which speeds it up by a factor of… some number with multiple digits. Wahoo. Debug mode has a high price, especially with a lot of calls in play.

The current state of this code is on GitHub. Please don’t look at it. I’m very sorry.

Honestly, most of my anguish came not from Rust, but from the original code relying on lots of fairly subtle behavior without bothering to explain what it was doing or even hint that anything unusual was going on. God, I hate C++.

I don’t know if the Rust community can learn from this. I don’t know if I even learned from this. Let’s all just quietly forget about it.

Now I just need to figure this one out…

The robotic teapot from your nightmares

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/robotic-teapot/

For those moments when you wish the cast of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was real, only to realise what a nightmare that would be, here’s Paul-Louis Ageneau’s robotic teapot!

Paul-Louis Ageneau Robotic teapot Raspberry Pi Zero

See what I mean?

Tale as old as time…

It’s the classic story of guy meets digital killer teapot, digital killer teapot inspires him to 3D print his own. Loosely based on a boss level of the video game Alice: Madness Returns, Paul-Louis’s creation is a one-eyed walking teapot robot with a (possible) thirst for blood.

Kill Build the beast

“My new robot is based on a Raspberry Pi Zero W with a camera.” Paul-Louis explains in his blog. “It is connected via a serial link to an Arduino Pro Mini board, which drives servos.”

Each leg has two points of articulation, one for the knee and one for the ankle. In order to move each of the joints, the teapot uses eight servo motor in total.

Paul-Louis Ageneau Robotic teapot Raspberry Pi Zero

Paul-Louis designed and 3D printed the body of the teapot to fit the components needed. So if you’re considering this build as a means of acquiring tea on your laziest of days, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the most you’ll get from your pour will be jumper leads and Pi.

Paul-Louis Ageneau Robotic Raspberry Pi Zero teapot
Paul-Louis Ageneau Robotic Raspberry Pi Zero teapot
Paul-Louis Ageneau Robotic Raspberry Pi Zero teapot

While the Arduino board controls the legs, it’s the Raspberry Pi’s job to receive user commands and tell the board how to direct the servos. The protocol for moving the servos is simple, with short lines of characters specifying instructions. First a digit from 0 to 7 selects a servo; next the angle of movement, such as 45 or 90, is input; and finally, the use of C commits the instruction.

Typing in commands is great for debugging, but you don’t want to be glued to a keyboard. Therefore, Paul-Louis continued to work on the code in order to string together several lines to create larger movements.

Paul-Louis Ageneau Robotic teapot Raspberry Pi Zero

The final control system of the teapot runs on a web browser as a standard four-axis arrow pad, with two extra arrows for turning.

Something there that wasn’t there before

Jean-Paul also included an ‘eye’ in the side of the pot to fit the Raspberry Pi Camera Module as another nod to the walking teapot from the video game, but with a purpose other than evil and wrong-doing. As you can see from the image above, the camera live-streams footage, allowing for remote control of the monster teapot regardless of your location.

If you like it all that much, it’s yours

In case you fancy yourself as an inventor, Paul-Louis has provided the entire build process and the code on his blog, documenting how to bring your own teapot to life. And if you’ve created any robotic household items or any props from video games or movies, we’d love to see them, so leave a link in the comments or share it with us across social media using the hashtag #IBuiltThisAndNowIThinkItIsTryingToKillMe.

The post The robotic teapot from your nightmares appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend 2018 roundup

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

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

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

Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend 2018

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

The Raspberry Jam photo booth

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



Here are some of my favourite photo booth tweets:

RGVSA on Twitter

PiParty photo booth @RGVSA & @ @Nerdvana_io #Rjam

Denis Stretton on Twitter

The @SouthendRPIJams #PiParty photo booth

rpijamtokyo on Twitter

PiParty photo booth

Preston Raspberry Jam on Twitter

Preston Raspberry Jam Photobooth #RJam #PiParty

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

The great Raspberry Jam bake-off

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






Raspberry Jams everywhere

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

Europe

Sergio Martinez on Twitter

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

NI Raspberry Jam on Twitter

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

Suzystar on Twitter

My SenseHAT workshop, going well! @SouthendRPiJams #PiParty

Worksop College Raspberry Jam on Twitter

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

Africa

Rita on Twitter

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

GABRIEL ONIFADE on Twitter

@TheMagP1

GABRIEL ONIFADE on Twitter

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

North America

Heidi Baynes on Twitter

The Riverside Raspberry Jam @Vocademy is underway! #piparty

Brad Derstine on Twitter

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

Houston Raspi on Twitter

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

Merge Robotics 2706 on Twitter

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

South America

Javier Garzón on Twitter

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

Asia

Fablab UP Cebu on Twitter

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

福野泰介 on Twitter

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

Ren Camp on Twitter

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

Oceania

Glenunga Raspberry Pi Club on Twitter

PiParty photo booth

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

Ben Nuttall on Twitter

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

Ben Nuttall on Twitter

Back at @McrRaspJam at @DigInnMMU for #PiParty

Ben Nuttall on Twitter

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

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

hackerfemo on Twitter

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

Stuart Fox on Twitter

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

Clare Sutcliffe on Twitter

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

Code Club on Twitter

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

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

The Jam makers!

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

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

Philip Colligan on Twitter

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

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

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

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

S Organ on Twitter

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

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

What John Oliver gets wrong about Bitcoin

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

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

How Bitcoin works

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

How does any money have value?

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

Why Bitcoin conference didn’t take Bitcoin

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

Turning a McNugget back into a chicken

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

ICO’s

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

How to you make money from Bitcoin?

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

Conclusion

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

McAfee Security Experts Weigh-in Weirdly With “Fresh Kodi Warning”

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/mcafee-security-experts-weigh-in-weirdly-with-fresh-kodi-warning-180311/

Over the past several years, the last couple in particular, piracy has stormed millions of homes around the world.

From being a widespread but still fairly geeky occupation among torrenters, movie and TV show piracy can now be achieved by anyone with the ability to click a mouse or push a button on a remote control. Much of this mainstream interest can be placed at the feet of the Kodi media player.

An entirely legal platform in its own right, Kodi can be augmented with third-party add-ons that enable users to access an endless supply of streaming media. As such, piracy-configured Kodi installations are operated by an estimated 26 million people, according to the MPAA.

This popularity has led to much interest from tabloid newspapers in the UK which, for reasons best known to them, choose to both promote and demonize Kodi almost every week. While writing about news events is clearly par for the course, when one considers some of the reports, their content, and what inspired them, something doesn’t seem right.

This week The Express, which has published many overly sensational stories about Kodi in recent times, published another. The title – as always – promised something special.

Sounds like big news….

Reading the text, however, reveals nothing new whatsoever. The piece simply rehashes some of the historic claims that have been leveled at Kodi that can easily apply to any Internet-enabled software or system. But beyond that, some of its content is pretty weird.

The piece is centered on comments from two McAfee security experts – Chief Scientist Raj Samani and Chief Consumer Security Evangelist Gary Davis. It’s unclear whether The Express approached them for comment (if they did, there is no actual story for McAfee to comment on) or whether McAfee offered the comments and The Express built a story around them. Either way, here’s a taster.

“Kodi has been pretty open about the fact that it’s a streaming site but my view has always been if I use Netflix I know that I’m not going to get any issues, if I use Amazon I’m not going to get any issues,” Samani told the publication.

Ok, stop right there. Kodi admits that it’s a streaming site? Really? Kodi is a piece of software. It’s a media player. It can do many things but Kodi is not a streaming site and no one at Kodi has ever labeled it otherwise. To think that neither McAfee nor the publication caught that one is a bit embarrassing.

The argument that Samani was trying to make is that services like Netflix and Amazon are generally more reliable than third-party sources and there are few people out there who would argue with that.

“Look, ultimately you’ve got to do the research and you’ve got to decide if it’s right for you but personally I don’t use [Kodi] and I know full well that by not using [Kodi] I’m not going to get any issues. If I pay for the service I know exactly what I’m going to get,” he said.

But unlike his colleague who doesn’t use Kodi, Gary Davis has more experience.

McAfee’s Chief Consumer Security Evangelist admits to having used Kodi in the past but more recently decided not to use it when the security issues apparently got too much for him.

“I did use [Kodi] but turned it off as I started getting worried about some of the risks,” he told The Express.

“You may search for something and you may get what you are looking for but you may get something that you are not looking for and that’s where the problem lies with Kodi.”

This idea, that people search for a movie or TV show yet get something else, is bewildering to most experienced Kodi users. If this was indeed the case, on any large scale, people wouldn’t want to use it anymore. That’s clearly not the case.

Also, incorrect content appearing is not the kind of security threat that the likes of McAfee tend to be worried about. However, Davis suggests things can get worse.

“I’m not saying they’ve done anything wrong but if somebody is able to embed code to turn on a microphone or other things or start sending data to a place it shouldn’t go,” he said.

The sentence appears to have some words missing and struggles to make sense but the suggestion is that someone’s Kodi installation could be corrupted to the point that someone people could hijack the user’s microphone.

We are not aware of anything like that happening, ever, via Kodi. There are instances where that has happened completely without it in a completely different context, but that seems here nor there. By the same count, everyone should stop using Windows perhaps?

The big question is why these ‘scary’ Kodi non-stories keep getting published and why experts are prepared to weigh-in on them?

It would be too easy to quickly put it down to some anti-piracy agenda, even though there are plenty of signs that anti-piracy groups have been habitually feeding UK tabloids with information on that front. Indeed, a source at a UK news outlet (that no longer publishes such stories) told TF that they were often prompted to write stories about Kodi and streaming in general, none with a positive spin.

But if it was as simple as that, how does that explain another story run in The Express this week heralding the launch of Kodi’s ‘Leia’ alpha release?

If Kodi is so bad as to warrant an article telling people to avoid it FOREVER on one day, why is it good enough to be promoted on another? It can only come down to the number of clicks – but the clickbait headline should’ve given that away at the start.

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

Serverless Dynamic Web Pages in AWS: Provisioned with CloudFormation

Post Syndicated from AWS Admin original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/serverless-dynamic-web-pages-in-aws-provisioned-with-cloudformation/

***This blog is authored by Mike Okner of Monsanto, an AWS customer. It originally appeared on the Monsanto company blog. Minor edits were made to the original post.***

Recently, I was looking to create a status page app to monitor a few important internal services. I wanted this app to be as lightweight, reliable, and hassle-free as possible, so using a “serverless” architecture that doesn’t require any patching or other maintenance was quite appealing.

I also don’t deploy anything in a production AWS environment outside of some sort of template (usually CloudFormation) as a rule. I don’t want to have to come back to something I created ad hoc in the console after 6 months and try to recall exactly how I architected all of the resources. I’ll inevitably forget something and create more problems before solving the original one. So building the status page in a template was a requirement.

The Design
I settled on a design using two Lambda functions, both written in Python 3.6.

The first Lambda function makes requests out to a list of important services and writes their current status to a DynamoDB table. This function is executed once per minute via CloudWatch Event Rule.

The second Lambda function reads each service’s status & uptime information from DynamoDB and renders a Jinja template. This function is behind an API Gateway that has been configured to return text/html instead of its default application/json Content-Type.

The CloudFormation Template
AWS provides a Serverless Application Model template transformer to streamline the templating of Lambda + API Gateway designs, but it assumes (like everything else about the API Gateway) that you’re actually serving an API that returns JSON content. So, unfortunately, it won’t work for this use-case because we want to return HTML content. Instead, we’ll have to enumerate every resource like usual.

The Skeleton
We’ll be using YAML for the template in this example. I find it easier to read than JSON, but you can easily convert between the two with a converter if you disagree.

---
AWSTemplateFormatVersion: '2010-09-09'
Description: Serverless status page app
Resources:
  # [...Resources]

The Status-Checker Lambda Resource
This one is triggered on a schedule by CloudWatch, and looks like:

# Status Checker Lambda
CheckerLambda:
  Type: AWS::Lambda::Function
  Properties:
    Code: ./lambda.zip
    Environment:
      Variables:
        TABLE_NAME: !Ref DynamoTable
    Handler: checker.handler
    Role:
      Fn::GetAtt:
      - CheckerLambdaRole
      - Arn
    Runtime: python3.6
    Timeout: 45
CheckerLambdaRole:
  Type: AWS::IAM::Role
  Properties:
    ManagedPolicyArns:
    - arn:aws:iam::aws:policy/AmazonDynamoDBFullAccess
    - arn:aws:iam::aws:policy/service-role/AWSLambdaBasicExecutionRole
    AssumeRolePolicyDocument:
      Version: '2012-10-17'
      Statement:
      - Action:
        - sts:AssumeRole
        Effect: Allow
        Principal:
          Service:
          - lambda.amazonaws.com
CheckerLambdaTimer:
  Type: AWS::Events::Rule
  Properties:
    ScheduleExpression: rate(1 minute)
    Targets:
    - Id: CheckerLambdaTimerLambdaTarget
      Arn:
        Fn::GetAtt:
        - CheckerLambda
        - Arn
CheckerLambdaTimerPermission:
  Type: AWS::Lambda::Permission
  Properties:
    Action: lambda:invokeFunction
    FunctionName: !Ref CheckerLambda
    SourceArn:
      Fn::GetAtt:
      - CheckerLambdaTimer
      - Arn
    Principal: events.amazonaws.com

Let’s break that down a bit.

The CheckerLambda is the actual Lambda function. The Code section is a local path to a ZIP file containing the code and its dependencies. I’m using CloudFormation’s packaging feature to automatically push the deployable to S3.

The CheckerLambdaRole is the IAM role the Lambda will assume which grants it access to DynamoDB in addition to the usual Lambda logging permissions.

The CheckerLambdaTimer is the CloudWatch Events Rule that triggers the checker to run once per minute.

The CheckerLambdaTimerPermission grants CloudWatch the ability to invoke the checker Lambda function on its interval.

The Web Page Gateway
The API Gateway handles incoming requests for the web page, invokes the Lambda, and then returns the Lambda’s results as HTML content. Its template looks like:

# API Gateway for Web Page Lambda
PageGateway:
  Type: AWS::ApiGateway::RestApi
  Properties:
    Name: Service Checker Gateway
PageResource:
  Type: AWS::ApiGateway::Resource
  Properties:
    RestApiId: !Ref PageGateway
    ParentId:
      Fn::GetAtt:
      - PageGateway
      - RootResourceId
    PathPart: page
PageGatewayMethod:
  Type: AWS::ApiGateway::Method
  Properties:
    AuthorizationType: NONE
    HttpMethod: GET
    Integration:
      Type: AWS
      IntegrationHttpMethod: POST
      Uri:
        Fn::Sub: arn:aws:apigateway:${AWS::Region}:lambda:path/2015-03-31/functions/${WebRenderLambda.Arn}/invocations
      RequestTemplates:
        application/json: |
          {
              "method": "$context.httpMethod",
              "body" : $input.json('$'),
              "headers": {
                  #foreach($param in $input.params().header.keySet())
                  "$param": "$util.escapeJavaScript($input.params().header.get($param))"
                  #if($foreach.hasNext),#end
                  #end
              }
          }
      IntegrationResponses:
      - StatusCode: 200
        ResponseParameters:
          method.response.header.Content-Type: "'text/html'"
        ResponseTemplates:
          text/html: "$input.path('$')"
    ResourceId: !Ref PageResource
    RestApiId: !Ref PageGateway
    MethodResponses:
    - StatusCode: 200
      ResponseParameters:
        method.response.header.Content-Type: true
PageGatewayProdStage:
  Type: AWS::ApiGateway::Stage
  Properties:
    DeploymentId: !Ref PageGatewayDeployment
    RestApiId: !Ref PageGateway
    StageName: Prod
PageGatewayDeployment:
  Type: AWS::ApiGateway::Deployment
  DependsOn: PageGatewayMethod
  Properties:
    RestApiId: !Ref PageGateway
    Description: PageGateway deployment
    StageName: Stage

There’s a lot going on here, but the real meat is in the PageGatewayMethod section. There are a couple properties that deviate from the default which is why we couldn’t use the SAM transformer.

First, we’re passing request headers through to the Lambda in theRequestTemplates section. I’m doing this so I can validate incoming auth headers. The API Gateway can do some types of auth, but I found it easier to check auth myself in the Lambda function since the Gateway is designed to handle API calls and not browser requests.

Next, note that in the IntegrationResponses section we’re defining the Content-Type header to be ‘text/html’ (with single-quotes) and defining the ResponseTemplate to be $input.path(‘$’). This is what makes the request render as a HTML page in your browser instead of just raw text.

Due to the StageName and PathPart values in the other sections, your actual page will be accessible at https://someId.execute-api.region.amazonaws.com/Prod/page. I have the page behind an existing reverse-proxy and give it a saner URL for end-users. The reverse proxy also attaches the auth header I mentioned above. If that header isn’t present, the Lambda will render an error page instead so the proxy can’t be bypassed.

The Web Page Rendering Lambda
This Lambda is invoked by calls to the API Gateway and looks like:

# Web Page Lambda
WebRenderLambda:
  Type: AWS::Lambda::Function
  Properties:
    Code: ./lambda.zip
    Environment:
      Variables:
        TABLE_NAME: !Ref DynamoTable
    Handler: web.handler
    Role:
      Fn::GetAtt:
      - WebRenderLambdaRole
      - Arn
    Runtime: python3.6
    Timeout: 30
WebRenderLambdaRole:
  Type: AWS::IAM::Role
  Properties:
    ManagedPolicyArns:
    - arn:aws:iam::aws:policy/AmazonDynamoDBReadOnlyAccess
    - arn:aws:iam::aws:policy/service-role/AWSLambdaBasicExecutionRole
    AssumeRolePolicyDocument:
      Version: '2012-10-17'
      Statement:
      - Action:
        - sts:AssumeRole
        Effect: Allow
        Principal:
          Service:
          - lambda.amazonaws.com
WebRenderLambdaGatewayPermission:
  Type: AWS::Lambda::Permission
  Properties:
    FunctionName: !Ref WebRenderLambda
    Action: lambda:invokeFunction
    Principal: apigateway.amazonaws.com
    SourceArn:
      Fn::Sub:
      - arn:aws:execute-api:${AWS::Region}:${AWS::AccountId}:${__ApiId__}/*/*/*
      - __ApiId__: !Ref PageGateway

The WebRenderLambda and WebRenderLambdaRole should look familiar.

The WebRenderLambdaGatewayPermission is similar to the Status Checker’s CloudWatch permission, only this time it allows the API Gateway to invoke this Lambda.

The DynamoDB Table
This one is straightforward.

# DynamoDB table
DynamoTable:
  Type: AWS::DynamoDB::Table
  Properties:
    AttributeDefinitions:
    - AttributeName: name
      AttributeType: S
    ProvisionedThroughput:
      WriteCapacityUnits: 1
      ReadCapacityUnits: 1
    TableName: status-page-checker-results
    KeySchema:
    - KeyType: HASH
      AttributeName: name

The Deployment
We’ve made it this far defining every resource in a template that we can check in to version control, so we might as well script the deployment as well rather than manually manage the CloudFormation Stack via the AWS web console.

Since I’m using the packaging feature, I first run:

$ aws cloudformation package \
    --template-file template.yaml \
    --s3-bucket <some-bucket-name> \
    --output-template-file template-packaged.yaml
Uploading to 34cd6e82c5e8205f9b35e71afd9e1548 1922559 / 1922559.0 (100.00%) Successfully packaged artifacts and wrote output template to file template-packaged.yaml.

Then to deploy the template (whether new or modified), I run:

$ aws cloudformation deploy \
    --region '<aws-region>' \
    --template-file template-packaged.yaml \
    --stack-name '<some-name>' \
    --capabilities CAPABILITY_IAM
Waiting for changeset to be created.. Waiting for stack create/update to complete Successfully created/updated stack - <some-name>

And that’s it! You’ve just created a dynamic web page that will never require you to SSH anywhere, patch a server, recover from a disaster after Amazon terminates your unhealthy EC2, or any other number of pitfalls that are now the problem of some ops person at AWS. And you can reproduce deployments and make changes with confidence because everything is defined in the template and can be tracked in version control.

libsodium – Easy-to-use Software Library For Encryption

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2018/03/libsodium-easy-to-use-software-library-for-encryption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

libsodium – Easy-to-use Software Library For Encryption

Sodium is a new, easy-to-use software library for encryption, decryption, signatures, password hashing and more. It is a portable, cross-compilable, installable, packageable fork of NaCl, with a compatible API, and an extended API to improve usability even further.

Its goal is to provide all of the core operations needed to build higher-level cryptographic tools. Sodium supports a variety of compilers and operating systems, including Windows (with MingW or Visual Studio, x86 and x64), iOS, Android, as well as Javascript and Webassembly.

Read the rest of libsodium – Easy-to-use Software Library For Encryption now! Only available at Darknet.

Adding Visible Electronic Signatures To PDFs

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/adding-visible-electronic-signatures-pdf/

I’m aware this is going to be a very niche topic. Electronically signing PDFs is far from a mainstream usecase. However, I’ll write it for two reasons – first, I think it will be very useful for those few who actually need it, and second, I think it will become more and more common as the eIDAS regulation gain popularity – it basically says that electronic signatures are recognized everywhere in Europe (now, it’s not exactly true, because of some boring legal details, but anyway).

So, what is the usecase – first, you have to electronically sign the PDF with an a digital signature (the legal term is “electronic signature”, so I’ll use them interchangeably, although they don’t fully match – e.g. any electronic data applied to other data can be seen as an electronic signature, where a digital signature is the PKI-based signature).

Second, you may want to actually display the signature on the pages, rather than have the PDF reader recognize it and show it in some side-panel. Why is that? Because people are used to seeing signatures on pages and some may insist on having the signature visible (true story – I’ve got a comment that a detached signature “is not a REAL electronic signature, because it’s not visible on the page”).

Now, notice that I wrote “pages”, on “page”. Yes, an electronic document doesn’t have pages – it’s a stream of bytes. So having the signature just on the last page is okay. But, again, people are used to signing all pages, so they’d prefer the electronic signature to be visible on all pages.

And that makes the task tricky – PDF is good with having a digital signature box on the last page, but having multiple such boxes doesn’t work well. Therefore one has to add other types of annotations that look like a signature box and when clicked open the signature panel (just like an actual signature box).

I have to introduce here DSS – a wonderful set of components by the European Commission that can be used to sign and validate all sorts of electronic signatures. It’s open source, you can use at any way you like. Deploy the demo application, use only the libraries, whatever. It includes the signing functionality out of the box – just check the PAdESService or the PDFBoxSignatureService. It even includes the option to visualize the signature once (on a particular page).

However, it doesn’t have the option to show “stamps” (images) on multiple pages. Which is why I forked it and implemented the functionality. Most of my changes are in the PDFBoxSignatureService in the loadAndStampDocument(..) method. If you want to use that functionality you can just build a jar from my fork and use it (by passing the appropriate SignatureImageParameters to PAdESSErvice.sign(..) to define how the signature will look like).

Why is this needed in the first place? Because when a document is signed, you cannot modify it anymore, as you will change the hash. However, PDFs have incremental updates which allow appending to the document and thus having a newer version without modifying anything in the original version. That way the signature is still valid (the originally signed content is not modified), but new stuff is added. In our case, this new stuff is some “annotations”, which represent an image and a clickable area that opens the signature panel (in Adobe Reader at least). And while they are added before the signature box is added, if there are more than one signer, then the 2nd signer’s annotations are added after the first signature.

Sadly, PDFBox doesn’t support that out of the box. Well, it almost does – the piece of code below looks hacky, and it took a while to figure what exactly should be called and when, but it works with just a single reflection call:

    for (PDPage page : pdDocument.getPages()) {
        // reset existing annotations (needed in order to have the stamps added)
        page.setAnnotations(null);
    }
    // reset document outline (needed in order to have the stamps added)
    pdDocument.getDocumentCatalog().setDocumentOutline(null);
    List<PDAnnotation> annotations = addStamps(pdDocument, parameters);
			
    setDocumentId(parameters, pdDocument);
    ByteArrayOutputStream baos = new ByteArrayOutputStream();
    try (COSWriter writer = new COSWriter(baos, new RandomAccessBuffer(pdfBytes))) {
        // force-add the annotations (wouldn't be saved in incremental updates otherwise)
        annotations.forEach(ann -> addObjectToWrite(writer, ann.getCOSObject()));
				
        // technically the same as saveIncremental but with more control
        writer.write(pdDocument);
    }
    pdDocument.close();
    pdDocument = PDDocument.load(baos.toByteArray());
    ...
}

private void addObjectToWrite(COSWriter writer, COSDictionary cosObject) {
    // the COSWriter does not expose the addObjectToWrite method, so we need reflection to add the annotations
    try {
        Method method = writer.getClass().getDeclaredMethod("addObjectToWrite", COSBase.class);
        method.setAccessible(true);
        method.invoke(writer, cosObject);
    } catch (Exception ex) {
        throw new RuntimeException(ex);
    }
}

What it does is – loads the original PDF, clears some internal catalogs, adds the annotations (images) to all pages, and then “force-add the annotations” because they “wouldn’t be saved in incremental updates otherwise”. I hope PDFBox make this a little more straightforward, but for the time being this works, and it doesn’t invalidate the existing signatures.

I hope that this posts introduces you to:

  • the existence of legally binding electronic signatures
  • the existence of the DSS utilities
  • the PAdES standard for PDF signing
  • how to place more than just one signature box in a PDF document

And I hope this article becomes more and more popular over time, as more and more businesses realize they could make use of electronic signatures.

The post Adding Visible Electronic Signatures To PDFs appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

SkyTorrents Dumps Massive Torrent Database and Shuts Down

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/skytorrents-dumps-massive-torrent-database-and-shuts-down180221/

About a year ago we first heard about SkyTorrents, an ambitious new torrent site which guaranteed a private and ad-free experience for its users.

Initially, we were skeptical. However, the site quickly grew a steady userbase through sites such as Reddit and after a few months, it was still sticking to its promise.

“We will NEVER place any ads,” SkyTorrents’ operator informed us last year.

“The site will remain ad-free or it will shut down. When our funds dry up, we will go for donations. We can also handover to someone with similar intent, interests, and the goal of a private and ad-free world.”

In the months that followed, these words turned out to be almost prophetic. It didn’t take long before SkyTorrents had several million pageviews per day. This would be music to the ears of many site owners but for SkyTorrents it was a problem.

With the increase in traffic, the server bills also soared. This meant that the ad-free search engine had to cough up roughly $1,500 per month, which is quite an expensive hobby. The site tried to cover at least part of the costs with donations but that didn’t help much either.

This led to the rather ironic situation where users of the site encouraged the operator to serve ads.

“Everyone is saying they would rather have ads then have the site close down,” one user wrote on Reddit last summer. “I applaud you. But there is a reason why every other site has ads. It’s necessary to get revenue when your customers don’t pay.”

The site’s operator was not easily swayed though, not least because ads also compromise people’s privacy. Eventually funds dried up and now, after the passing of several more months, he has now decided to throw in the towel.

“It was a great experience to serve and satisfy people around the world,” the site’s operator says.

The site is not simply going dark though. While the end has been announced, the site’s operator is giving people the option to download and copy the site’s database of more than 15 million torrents.

Backup

That’s 444 gigabytes of .torrent files for all the archivists out there. Alternatively, the site also offers a listing of just the torrent hashes, which is a more manageable 322 megabytes.

SkyTorrents’ operator says that he hopes someone will host the entire cache of torrents and “take it forward.” In addition, he thanks hosting company NFOrce for the service it has provided.

Whether anyone will pick up the challenge has yet to be seen. What’s has become clear though is that operating a popular ad-free torrent site is hard to pull off for long, unless you have deep pockets.

Update: While writing this article Skytorrents was still online, but upon publication, it is no longer accessible. The torrent archive is still available.

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

Mission Space Lab flight status announced!

Post Syndicated from Erin Brindley original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/mission-space-lab-flight-status-announced/

In September of last year, we launched our 2017/2018 Astro Pi challenge with our partners at the European Space Agency (ESA). Students from ESA membership and associate countries had the chance to design science experiments and write code to be run on one of our two Raspberry Pis on the International Space Station (ISS).

Astro Pi Mission Space Lab logo

Submissions for the Mission Space Lab challenge have just closed, and the results are in! Students had the opportunity to design an experiment for one of the following two themes:

  • Life in space
    Making use of Astro Pi Vis (Ed) in the European Columbus module to learn about the conditions inside the ISS.
  • Life on Earth
    Making use of Astro Pi IR (Izzy), which will be aimed towards the Earth through a window to learn about Earth from space.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, speaking from the replica of the Columbus module at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, has a message for all Mission Space Lab participants:

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst congratulates Astro Pi 2017-18 winners

Subscribe to our YouTube channel: http://rpf.io/ytsub Help us reach a wider audience by translating our video content: http://rpf.io/yttranslate Buy a Raspberry Pi from one of our Approved Resellers: http://rpf.io/ytproducts Find out more about the Raspberry Pi Foundation: Raspberry Pi http://rpf.io/ytrpi Code Club UK http://rpf.io/ytccuk Code Club International http://rpf.io/ytcci CoderDojo http://rpf.io/ytcd Check out our free online training courses: http://rpf.io/ytfl Find your local Raspberry Jam event: http://rpf.io/ytjam Work through our free online projects: http://rpf.io/ytprojects Do you have a question about your Raspberry Pi?

Flight status

We had a total of 212 Mission Space Lab entries from 22 countries. Of these, a 114 fantastic projects have been given flight status, and the teams’ project code will run in space!

But they’re not winners yet. In April, the code will be sent to the ISS, and then the teams will receive back their experimental data. Next, to get deeper insight into the process of scientific endeavour, they will need produce a final report analysing their findings. Winners will be chosen based on the merit of their final report, and the winning teams will get exclusive prizes. Check the list below to see if your team got flight status.

Belgium

Flight status achieved:

  • Team De Vesten, Campus De Vesten, Antwerpen
  • Ursa Major, CoderDojo Belgium, West-Vlaanderen
  • Special operations STEM, Sint-Claracollege, Antwerpen

Canada

Flight status achieved:

  • Let It Grow, Branksome Hall, Toronto
  • The Dark Side of Light, Branksome Hall, Toronto
  • Genie On The ISS, Branksome Hall, Toronto
  • Byte by PIthons, Youth Tech Education Society & Kid Code Jeunesse, Edmonton
  • The Broadviewnauts, Broadview, Ottawa

Czech Republic

Flight status achieved:

  • BLEK, Střední Odborná Škola Blatná, Strakonice

Denmark

Flight status achieved:

  • 2y Infotek, Nærum Gymnasium, Nærum
  • Equation Quotation, Allerød Gymnasium, Lillerød
  • Team Weather Watchers, Allerød Gymnasium, Allerød
  • Space Gardners, Nærum Gymnasium, Nærum

Finland

Flight status achieved:

  • Team Aurora, Hyvinkään yhteiskoulun lukio, Hyvinkää

France

Flight status achieved:

  • INC2, Lycée Raoul Follereau, Bourgogne
  • Space Project SP4, Lycée Saint-Paul IV, Reunion Island
  • Dresseurs2Python, clg Albert CAMUS, essonne
  • Lazos, Lycée Aux Lazaristes, Rhone
  • The space nerds, Lycée Saint André Colmar, Alsace
  • Les Spationautes Valériquais, lycée de la Côte d’Albâtre, Normandie
  • AstroMega, Institut de Genech, north
  • Al’Crew, Lycée Algoud-Laffemas, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
  • AstroPython, clg Albert CAMUS, essonne
  • Aruden Corp, Lycée Pablo Neruda, Normandie
  • HeroSpace, clg Albert CAMUS, essonne
  • GalaXess [R]evolution, Lycée Saint Cricq, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
  • AstroBerry, clg Albert CAMUS, essonne
  • Ambitious Girls, Lycée Adam de Craponne, PACA

Germany

Flight status achieved:

  • Uschis, St. Ursula Gymnasium Freiburg im Breisgau, Breisgau
  • Dosi-Pi, Max-Born-Gymnasium Germering, Bavaria

Greece

Flight status achieved:

  • Deep Space Pi, 1o Epal Grevenon, Grevena
  • Flox Team, 1st Lyceum of Kifissia, Attiki
  • Kalamaria Space Team, Second Lyceum of Kalamaria, Central Macedonia
  • The Earth Watchers, STEM Robotics Academy, Thessaly
  • Celestial_Distance, Gymnasium of Kanithos, Sterea Ellada – Evia
  • Pi Stars, Primary School of Rododaphne, Achaias
  • Flarions, 5th Primary School of Salamina, Attica

Ireland

Flight status achieved:

  • Plant Parade, Templeogue College, Leinster
  • For Peats Sake, Templeogue College, Leinster
  • CoderDojo Clonakilty, Co. Cork

Italy

Flight status achieved:

  • Trentini DOP, CoderDojo Trento, TN
  • Tarantino Space Lab, Liceo G. Tarantino, BA
  • Murgia Sky Lab, Liceo G. Tarantino, BA
  • Enrico Fermi, Liceo XXV Aprile, Veneto
  • Team Lampone, CoderDojoTrento, TN
  • GCC, Gali Code Club, Trentino Alto Adige/Südtirol
  • Another Earth, IISS “Laporta/Falcone-Borsellino”
  • Anti Pollution Team, IIS “L. Einaudi”, Sicily
  • e-HAND, Liceo Statale Scientifico e Classico ‘Ettore Majorana’, Lombardia
  • scossa team, ITTS Volterra, Venezia
  • Space Comet Sisters, Scuola don Bosco, Torino

Luxembourg

Flight status achieved:

  • Spaceballs, Atert Lycée Rédange, Diekirch
  • Aline in space, Lycée Aline Mayrisch Luxembourg (LAML)

Poland

Flight status achieved:

  • AstroLeszczynPi, I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Krola Stanislawa Leszczynskiego w Jasle, podkarpackie
  • Astrokompasy, High School nr XVII in Wrocław named after Agnieszka Osiecka, Lower Silesian
  • Cosmic Investigators, Publiczna Szkoła Podstawowa im. Św. Jadwigi Królowej w Rzezawie, Małopolska
  • ApplePi, III Liceum Ogólnokształcące im. prof. T. Kotarbińskiego w Zielonej Górze, Lubusz Voivodeship
  • ELE Society 2, Zespol Szkol Elektronicznych i Samochodowych, Lubuskie
  • ELE Society 1, Zespol Szkol Elektronicznych i Samochodowych, Lubuskie
  • SpaceOn, Szkola Podstawowa nr 12 w Jasle – Gimnazjum Nr 2, Podkarpackie
  • Dewnald Ducks, III Liceum Ogólnokształcące w Zielonej Górze, lubuskie
  • Nova Team, III Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. prof. T. Kotarbinskiego, lubuskie district
  • The Moons, Szkola Podstawowa nr 12 w Jasle – Gimnazjum Nr 2, Podkarpackie
  • Live, Szkoła Podstawowa nr 1 im. Tadeusza Kościuszki w Zawierciu, śląskie
  • Storm Hunters, I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Krola Stanislawa Leszczynskiego w Jasle, podkarpackie
  • DeepSky, Szkoła Podstawowa nr 1 im. Tadeusza Kościuszki w Zawierciu, śląskie
  • Small Explorers, ZPO Konina, Malopolska
  • AstroZSCL, Zespół Szkół w Czerwionce-Leszczynach, śląskie
  • Orchestra, Szkola Podstawowa nr 12 w Jasle, Podkarpackie
  • ApplePi, I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Krola Stanislawa Leszczynskiego w Jasle, podkarpackie
  • Green Crew, Szkoła Podstawowa nr 2 w Czeladzi, Silesia

Portugal

Flight status achieved:

  • Magnetics, Escola Secundária João de Deus, Faro
  • ECA_QUEIROS_PI, Secondary School Eça de Queirós, Lisboa
  • ESDMM Pi, Escola Secundária D. Manuel Martins, Setúbal
  • AstroPhysicists, EB 2,3 D. Afonso Henriques, Braga

Romania

Flight status achieved:

  • Caelus, “Tudor Vianu” National High School of Computer Science, District One
  • CodeWarriors, “Tudor Vianu” National High School of Computer Science, District One
  • Dark Phoenix, “Tudor Vianu” National High School of Computer Science, District One
  • ShootingStars, “Tudor Vianu” National High School of Computer Science, District One
  • Astro Pi Carmen Sylva 2, Liceul Teoretic “Carmen Sylva”, Constanta
  • Astro Meridian, Astro Club Meridian 0, Bihor

Slovenia

Flight status achieved:

  • astrOSRence, OS Rence
  • Jakopičevca, Osnovna šola Riharda Jakopiča, Ljubljana

Spain

Flight status achieved:

  • Exea in Orbit, IES Cinco Villas, Zaragoza
  • Valdespartans, IES Valdespartera, Zaragoza
  • Valdespartans2, IES Valdespartera, Zaragoza
  • Astropithecus, Institut de Bruguers, Barcelona
  • SkyPi-line, Colegio Corazón de María, Asturias
  • ClimSOLatic, Colegio Corazón de María, Asturias
  • Científicosdelsaz, IES Profesor Pablo del Saz, Málaga
  • Canarias 2, IES El Calero, Las Palmas
  • Dreamers, M. Peleteiro, A Coruña
  • Canarias 1, IES El Calero, Las Palmas

The Netherlands

Flight status achieved:

  • Team Kaki-FM, Rkbs De Reiger, Noord-Holland

United Kingdom

Flight status achieved:

  • Binco, Teignmouth Community School, Devon
  • 2200 (Saddleworth), Detached Flight Royal Air Force Air Cadets, Lanchashire
  • Whatevernext, Albyn School, Highlands
  • GraviTeam, Limehurst Academy, Leicestershire
  • LSA Digital Leaders, Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College, Lancashire
  • Mead Astronauts, Mead Community Primary School, Wiltshire
  • STEAMCademy, Castlewood Primary School, West Sussex
  • Lux Quest, CoderDojo Banbridge, Co. Down
  • Temparatus, Dyffryn Taf, Carmarthenshire
  • Discovery STEMers, Discovery STEM Education, South Yorkshire
  • Code Inverness, Code Club Inverness, Highland
  • JJB, Ashton Sixth Form College, Tameside
  • Astro Lab, East Kent College, Kent
  • The Life Savers, Scratch and Python, Middlesex
  • JAAPiT, Taylor Household, Nottingham
  • The Heat Guys, The Archer Academy, Greater London
  • Astro Wantenauts, Wantage C of E Primary School, Oxfordshire
  • Derby Radio Museum, Radio Communication Museum of Great Britain, Derbyshire
  • Bytesyze, King’s College School, Cambridgeshire

Other

Flight status achieved:

  • Intellectual Savage Stars, Lycée français de Luanda, Luanda

 

Congratulations to all successful teams! We are looking forward to reading your reports.

The post Mission Space Lab flight status announced! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Tech wishes for 2018

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/02/18/tech-wishes-for-2018/

Anonymous asks, via money:

What would you like to see happen in tech in 2018?

(answer can be technical, social, political, combination, whatever)

Hmm.

Less of this

I’m not really qualified to speak in depth about either of these things, but let me put my foot in my mouth anyway:

The Blockchain™

Bitcoin was a neat idea. No, really! Decentralization is cool. Overhauling our terrible financial infrastructure is cool. Hash functions are cool.

Unfortunately, it seems to have devolved into mostly a get-rich-quick scheme for nerds, and by nearly any measure it’s turning into a spectacular catastrophe. Its “success” is measured in how much a bitcoin is worth in US dollars, which is pretty close to an admission from its own investors that its only value is in converting back to “real” money — all while that same “success” is making it less useful as a distinct currency.

Blah, blah, everyone already knows this.

What concerns me slightly more is the gold rush hype cycle, which is putting cryptocurrency and “blockchain” in the news and lending it all legitimacy. People have raked in millions of dollars on ICOs of novel coins I’ve never heard mentioned again. (Note: again, that value is measured in dollars.) Most likely, none of the investors will see any return whatsoever on that money. They can’t, really, unless a coin actually takes off as a currency, and that seems at odds with speculative investing since everyone either wants to hoard or ditch their coins. When the coins have no value themselves, the money can only come from other investors, and eventually the hype winds down and you run out of other investors.

I fear this will hurt a lot of people before it’s over, so I’d like for it to be over as soon as possible.


That said, the hype itself has gotten way out of hand too. First it was the obsession with “blockchain” like it’s a revolutionary technology, but hey, Git is a fucking blockchain. The novel part is the way it handles distributed consensus (which in Git is basically left for you to figure out), and that’s uniquely important to currency because you want to be pretty sure that money doesn’t get duplicated or lost when moved around.

But now we have startups trying to use blockchains for website backends and file storage and who knows what else? Why? What advantage does this have? When you say “blockchain”, I hear “single Git repository” — so when you say “email on the blockchain”, I have an aneurysm.

Bitcoin seems to have sparked imagination in large part because it’s decentralized, but I’d argue it’s actually a pretty bad example of a decentralized network, since people keep forking it. The ability to fork is a feature, sure, but the trouble here is that the Bitcoin family has no notion of federation — there is one canonical Bitcoin ledger and it has no notion of communication with any other. That’s what you want for currency, not necessarily other applications. (Bitcoin also incentivizes frivolous forking by giving the creator an initial pile of coins to keep and sell.)

And federation is much more interesting than decentralization! Federation gives us email and the web. Federation means I can set up my own instance with my own rules and still be able to meaningfully communicate with the rest of the network. Federation has some amount of tolerance for changes to the protocol, so such changes are more flexible and rely more heavily on consensus.

Federation is fantastic, and it feels like a massive tragedy that this rekindled interest in decentralization is mostly focused on peer-to-peer networks, which do little to address our current problems with centralized platforms.

And hey, you know what else is federated? Banks.

AI

Again, the tech is cool and all, but the marketing hype is getting way out of hand.

Maybe what I really want from 2018 is less marketing?

For one, I’ve seen a huge uptick in uncritically referring to any software that creates or classifies creative work as “AI”. Can we… can we not. It’s not AI. Yes, yes, nerds, I don’t care about the hair-splitting about the nature of intelligence — you know that when we hear “AI” we think of a human-like self-aware intelligence. But we’re applying it to stuff like a weird dog generator. Or to whatever neural network a website threw into production this week.

And this is dangerously misleading — we already had massive tech companies scapegoating The Algorithm™ for the poor behavior of their software, and now we’re talking about those algorithms as though they were self-aware, untouchable, untameable, unknowable entities of pure chaos whose decisions we are arbitrarily bound to. Ancient, powerful gods who exist just outside human comprehension or law.

It’s weird to see this stuff appear in consumer products so quickly, too. It feels quick, anyway. The latest iPhone can unlock via facial recognition, right? I’m sure a lot of effort was put into ensuring that the same person’s face would always be recognized… but how confident are we that other faces won’t be recognized? I admit I don’t follow all this super closely, so I may be imagining a non-problem, but I do know that humans are remarkably bad at checking for negative cases.

Hell, take the recurring problem of major platforms like Twitter and YouTube classifying anything mentioning “bisexual” as pornographic — because the word is also used as a porn genre, and someone threw a list of porn terms into a filter without thinking too hard about it. That’s just a word list, a fairly simple thing that any human can review; but suddenly we’re confident in opaque networks of inferred details?

I don’t know. “Traditional” classification and generation are much more comforting, since they’re a set of fairly abstract rules that can be examined and followed. Machine learning, as I understand it, is less about rules and much more about pattern-matching; it’s built out of the fingerprints of the stuff it’s trained on. Surely that’s just begging for tons of edge cases. They’re practically made of edge cases.


I’m reminded of a point I saw made a few days ago on Twitter, something I’d never thought about but should have. TurnItIn is a service for universities that checks whether students’ papers match any others, in order to detect cheating. But this is a paid service, one that fundamentally hinges on its corpus: a large collection of existing student papers. So students pay money to attend school, where they’re required to let their work be given to a third-party company, which then profits off of it? What kind of a goofy business model is this?

And my thoughts turn to machine learning, which is fundamentally different from an algorithm you can simply copy from a paper, because it’s all about the training data. And to get good results, you need a lot of training data. Where is that all coming from? How many for-profit companies are setting a neural network loose on the web — on millions of people’s work — and then turning around and selling the result as a product?

This is really a question of how intellectual property works in the internet era, and it continues our proud decades-long tradition of just kinda doing whatever we want without thinking about it too much. Nothing if not consistent.

More of this

A bit tougher, since computers are pretty alright now and everything continues to chug along. Maybe we should just quit while we’re ahead. There’s some real pie-in-the-sky stuff that would be nice, but it certainly won’t happen within a year, and may never happen except in some horrific Algorithmic™ form designed by people that don’t know anything about the problem space and only works 60% of the time but is treated as though it were bulletproof.

Federation

The giants are getting more giant. Maybe too giant? Granted, it could be much worse than Google and Amazon — it could be Apple!

Amazon has its own delivery service and brick-and-mortar stores now, as well as providing the plumbing for vast amounts of the web. They’re not doing anything particularly outrageous, but they kind of loom.

Ad company Google just put ad blocking in its majority-share browser — albeit for the ambiguously-noble goal of only blocking obnoxious ads so that people will be less inclined to install a blanket ad blocker.

Twitter is kind of a nightmare but no one wants to leave. I keep trying to use Mastodon as well, but I always forget about it after a day, whoops.

Facebook sounds like a total nightmare but no one wants to leave that either, because normies don’t use anything else, which is itself direly concerning.

IRC is rapidly bleeding mindshare to Slack and Discord, both of which are far better at the things IRC sadly never tried to do and absolutely terrible at the exact things IRC excels at.

The problem is the same as ever: there’s no incentive to interoperate. There’s no fundamental technical reason why Twitter and Tumblr and MySpace and Facebook can’t intermingle their posts; they just don’t, because why would they bother? It’s extra work that makes it easier for people to not use your ecosystem.

I don’t know what can be done about that, except that hope for a really big player to decide to play nice out of the kindness of their heart. The really big federated success stories — say, the web — mostly won out because they came along first. At this point, how does a federated social network take over? I don’t know.

Social progress

I… don’t really have a solid grasp on what’s happening in tech socially at the moment. I’ve drifted a bit away from the industry part, which is where that all tends to come up. I have the vague sense that things are improving, but that might just be because the Rust community is the one I hear the most about, and it puts a lot of effort into being inclusive and welcoming.

So… more projects should be like Rust? Do whatever Rust is doing? And not so much what Linus is doing.

Open source funding

I haven’t heard this brought up much lately, but it would still be nice to see. The Bay Area runs on open source and is raking in zillions of dollars on its back; pump some of that cash back into the ecosystem, somehow.

I’ve seen a couple open source projects on Patreon, which is fantastic, but feels like a very small solution given how much money is flowing through the commercial tech industry.

Ad blocking

Nice. Fuck ads.

One might wonder where the money to host a website comes from, then? I don’t know. Maybe we should loop this in with the above thing and find a more informal way to pay people for the stuff they make when we find it useful, without the financial and cognitive overhead of A Transaction or Giving Someone My Damn Credit Card Number. You know, something like Bitco— ah, fuck.

Year of the Linux Desktop

I don’t know. What are we working on at the moment? Wayland? Do Wayland, I guess. Oh, and hi-DPI, which I hear sucks. And please fix my sound drivers so PulseAudio stops blaming them when it fucks up.

Amazon Relational Database Service – Looking Back at 2017

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/amazon-relational-database-service-looking-back-at-2017/

The Amazon RDS team launched nearly 80 features in 2017. Some of them were covered in this blog, others on the AWS Database Blog, and the rest in What’s New or Forum posts. To wrap up my week, I thought it would be worthwhile to give you an organized recap. So here we go!

Certification & Security

Features

Engine Versions & Features

Regional Support

Instance Support

Price Reductions

And That’s a Wrap
I’m pretty sure that’s everything. As you can see, 2017 was quite the year! I can’t wait to see what the team delivers in 2018.

Jeff;

 

Integration With Zapier

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/integration-with-zapier/

Integration is boring. And also inevitable. But I won’t be writing about enterprise integration patterns. Instead, I’ll explain how to create an app for integration with Zapier.

What is Zapier? It is a service that allows you tо connect two (or more) otherwise unconnected services via their APIs (or protocols). You can do stuff like “Create a Trello task from an Evernote note”, “publish new RSS items to Facebook”, “append new emails to a spreadsheet”, “post approaching calendar meeting to Slack”, “Save big email attachments to Dropbox”, “tweet all instagrams above a certain likes threshold”, and so on. In fact, it looks to cover mostly the same usecases as another famous service that I really like – IFTTT (if this then that), with my favourite use-case “Get a notification when the international space station passes over your house”. And all of those interactions can be configured via a UI.

Now that’s good for end users but what does it have to do with software development and integration? Zapier (unlike IFTTT, unfortunately), allows custom 3rd party services to be included. So if you have a service of your own, you can create an “app” and allow users to integrate your service with all the other 3rd party services. IFTTT offers a way to invoke web endpoints (including RESTful services), but it doesn’t allow setting headers, so that makes it quite limited for actual APIs.

In this post I’ll briefly explain how to write a custom Zapier app and then will discuss where services like Zapier stand from an architecture perspective.

The thing that I needed it for – to be able to integrate LogSentinel with any of the third parties available through Zapier, i.e. to store audit logs for events that happen in all those 3rd party systems. So how do I do that? There’s a tutorial that makes it look simple. And it is, with a few catches.

First, there are two tutorials – one in GitHub and one on Zapier’s website. And they differ slightly, which becomes tricky in some cases.

I initially followed the GitHub tutorial and had my build fail. It claimed the zapier platform dependency is missing. After I compared it with the example apps, I found out there’s a caret in front of the zapier platform dependency. Removing it just yielded another error – that my node version should be exactly 6.10.2. Why?

The Zapier CLI requires you have exactly version 6.10.2 installed. You’ll see errors and will be unable to proceed otherwise.

It appears that they are using AWS Lambda which is stuck on Node 6.10.2 (actually – it’s 6.10.3 when you check). The current major release is 8, so minus points for choosing … javascript for a command-line tool and for building sandboxed apps. Maybe other decisions had their downsides as well, I won’t be speculating. Maybe it’s just my dislike for dynamic languages.

So, after you make sure you have the correct old version on node, you call zapier init and make sure there are no carets, npm install and then zapier test. So far so good, you have a dummy app. Now how do you make a RESTful call to your service?

Zapier splits the programmable entities in two – “triggers” and “creates”. A trigger is the event that triggers the whole app, an a “create” is what happens as a result. In my case, my app doesn’t publish any triggers, it only accepts input, so I won’t be mentioning triggers (though they seem easy). You configure all of the elements in index.js (e.g. this one):

const log = require('./creates/log');
....
creates: {
    [log.key]: log,
}

The log.js file itself is the interesting bit – there you specify all the parameters that should be passed to your API call, as well as making the API call itself:

const log = (z, bundle) => {
  const responsePromise = z.request({
    method: 'POST',
    url: `https://api.logsentinel.com/api/log/${bundle.inputData.actorId}/${bundle.inputData.action}`,
    body: bundle.inputData.details,
	headers: {
		'Accept': 'application/json'
	}
  });
  return responsePromise
    .then(response => JSON.parse(response.content));
};

module.exports = {
  key: 'log-entry',
  noun: 'Log entry',

  display: {
    label: 'Log',
    description: 'Log an audit trail entry'
  },

  operation: {
    inputFields: [
      {key: 'actorId', label:'ActorID', required: true},
      {key: 'action', label:'Action', required: true},
      {key: 'details', label:'Details', required: false}
    ],
    perform: log
  }
};

You can pass the input parameters to your API call, and it’s as simple as that. The user can then specify which parameters from the source (“trigger”) should be mapped to each of your parameters. In an example zap, I used an email trigger and passed the sender as actorId, the sibject as “action” and the body of the email as details.

There’s one more thing – authentication. Authentication can be done in many ways. Some services offer OAuth, others – HTTP Basic or other custom forms of authentication. There is a section in the documentation about all the options. In my case it was (almost) an HTTP Basic auth. My initial thought was to just supply the credentials as parameters (which you just hardcode rather than map to trigger parameters). That may work, but it’s not the canonical way. You should configure “authentication”, as it triggers a friendly UI for the user.

You include authentication.js (which has the fields your authentication requires) and then pre-process requests by adding a header (in index.js):

const authentication = require('./authentication');

const includeAuthHeaders = (request, z, bundle) => {
  if (bundle.authData.organizationId) {
	request.headers = request.headers || {};
	request.headers['Application-Id'] = bundle.authData.applicationId
	const basicHash = Buffer(`${bundle.authData.organizationId}:${bundle.authData.apiSecret}`).toString('base64');
	request.headers['Authorization'] = `Basic ${basicHash}`;
  }
  return request;
};

const App = {
  // This is just shorthand to reference the installed dependencies you have. Zapier will
  // need to know these before we can upload
  version: require('./package.json').version,
  platformVersion: require('zapier-platform-core').version,
  authentication: authentication,
  
  // beforeRequest & afterResponse are optional hooks into the provided HTTP client
  beforeRequest: [
	includeAuthHeaders
  ]
...
}

And then you zapier push your app and you can test it. It doesn’t automatically go live, as you have to invite people to try it and use it first, but in many cases that’s sufficient (i.e. using Zapier when doing integration with a particular client)

Can Zapier can be used for any integration problem? Unlikely – it’s pretty limited and simple, but that’s also a strength. You can, in half a day, make your service integrate with thousands of others for the most typical use-cases. And not that although it’s meant for integrating public services rather than for enterprise integration (where you make multiple internal systems talk to each other), as an increasing number of systems rely on 3rd party services, it could find home in an enterprise system, replacing some functions of an ESB.

Effectively, such services (Zapier, IFTTT) are “Simple ESB-as-a-service”. You go to a UI, fill a bunch of fields, and you get systems talking to each other without touching the systems themselves. I’m not a big fan of ESBs, mostly because they become harder to support with time. But minimalist, external ones might be applicable in certain situations. And while such services are primarily aimed at end users, they could be a useful bit in an enterprise architecture that relies on 3rd party services.

Whether it could process the required load, whether an organization is willing to let its data flow through a 3rd party provider (which may store the intermediate parameters), is a question that should be answered in a case by cases basis. I wouldn’t recommend it as a general solution, but it’s certainly an option to consider.

The post Integration With Zapier appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.