Tag Archives: linking

When Joe Public Becomes a Commercial Pirate, a Little Knowledge is Dangerous

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/joe-public-becomes-commercial-pirate-little-knowledge-dangerous-180603/

Back in March and just a few hours before the Anthony Joshua v Joseph Parker fight, I got chatting with some fellow fans in the local pub. While some were intending to pay for the fight, others were going down the Kodi route.

Soon after the conversation switched to IPTV. One of the guys had a subscription and he said that his supplier would be along shortly if anyone wanted a package to watch the fight at home. Of course, I was curious to hear what he had to say since it’s not often this kind of thing is offered ‘offline’.

The guy revealed that he sold more or less exclusively on eBay and called up the page on his phone to show me. The listing made interesting reading.

In common with hundreds of similar IPTV subscription offers easily findable on eBay, the listing offered “All the sports and films you need plus VOD and main UK channels” for the sum of just under £60 per year, which is fairly cheap in the current market. With a non-committal “hmmm” I asked a bit more about the guy’s business and surprisingly he was happy to provide some details.

Like many people offering such packages, the guy was a reseller of someone else’s product. He also insisted that selling access to copyrighted content is OK because it sits in a “gray area”. It’s also easy to keep listings up on eBay, he assured me, as long as a few simple rules are adhered to. Right, this should be interesting.

First of all, sellers shouldn’t be “too obvious” he advised, noting that individual channels or channel lists shouldn’t be listed on the site. Fair enough, but then he said the most important thing of all is to have a disclaimer like his in any listing, written as follows:

“PLEASE NOTE EBAY: THIS IS NOT A DE SCRAMBLER SERVICE, I AM NOT SELLING ANY ILLEGAL CHANNELS OR CHANNEL LISTS NOR DO I REPRESENT ANY MEDIA COMPANY NOR HAVE ACCESS TO ANY OF THEIR CONTENTS. NO TRADEMARK HAS BEEN INFRINGED. DO NOT REMOVE LISTING AS IT IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH EBAY POLICIES.”

Apparently, this paragraph is crucial to keeping listings up on eBay and is the equivalent of kryptonite when it comes to deflecting copyright holders, police, and Trading Standards. Sure enough, a few seconds with Google reveals the same wording on dozens of eBay listings and those offering IPTV subscriptions on external platforms.

It is, of course, absolutely worthless but the IPTV seller insisted otherwise, noting he’d sold “thousands” of subscriptions through eBay without any problems. While a similar logic can be applied to garlic and vampires, a second disclaimer found on many other illicit IPTV subscription listings treads an even more bizarre path.

“THE PRODUCTS OFFERED CAN NOT BE USED TO DESCRAMBLE OR OTHERWISE ENABLE ACCESS TO CABLE OR SATELLITE TELEVISION PROGRAMS THAT BYPASSES PAYMENT TO THE SERVICE PROVIDER. RECEIVING SUBSCRIPTION/BASED TV AIRTIME IS ILLEGAL WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT.”

This disclaimer (which apparently no sellers displaying it have ever read) seems to be have been culled from the Zgemma site, which advertises a receiving device which can technically receive pirate IPTV services but wasn’t designed for the purpose. In that context, the disclaimer makes sense but when applied to dedicated pirate IPTV subscriptions, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

It’s unclear why so many sellers on eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist and other platforms think that these disclaimers are useful. It leads one to the likely conclusion that these aren’t hardcore pirates at all but regular people simply out to make a bit of extra cash who have received bad advice.

What is clear, however, is that selling access to thousands of otherwise subscription channels without permission from copyright owners is definitely illegal in the EU. The European Court of Justice says so (1,2) and it’s been backed up by subsequent cases in the Netherlands.

While the odds of getting criminally prosecuted or sued for reselling such a service are relatively slim, it’s worrying that in 2018 people still believe that doing so is made legal by the inclusion of a paragraph of text. It’s even more worrying that these individuals apparently have no idea of the serious consequences should they become singled out for legal action.

Even more surprisingly, TorrentFreak spoke with a handful of IPTV suppliers higher up the chain who also told us that what they are doing is legal. A couple claimed to be protected by communication intermediary laws, others didn’t want to go into details. Most stopped responding to emails on the topic. Perhaps most tellingly, none wanted to go on the record.

The big take-home here is that following some important EU rulings, knowingly linking to copyrighted content for profit is nearly always illegal in Europe and leaves people open for targeting by copyright holders and the authorities. People really should be aware of that, especially the little guy making a little extra pocket money on eBay.

Of course, people are perfectly entitled to carry on regardless and test the limits of the law when things go wrong. At this point, however, it’s probably worth noting that IPTV provider Ace Hosting recently handed over £600,000 rather than fight the Premier League (1,2) when they clearly had the money to put up a defense.

Given their effectiveness, perhaps they should’ve put up a disclaimer instead?

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

Majority of Canadians Consume Online Content Legally, Survey Finds

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/majority-of-canadians-consume-online-content-legally-survey-finds-180531/

Back in January, a coalition of companies and organizations with ties to the entertainment industries called on local telecoms regulator CRTC to implement a national website blocking regime.

Under the banner of Fairplay Canada, members including Bell, Cineplex, Directors Guild of Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Movie Theatre Association of Canada, and Rogers Media, spoke of an industry under threat from marauding pirates. But just how serious is this threat?

The results of a new survey commissioned by Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) in collaboration with the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH) aims to shine light on the problem by revealing the online content consumption habits of citizens in the Great White North.

While there are interesting findings for those on both sides of the site-blocking debate, the situation seems somewhat removed from the Armageddon scenario predicted by the entertainment industries.

Carried out among 3,301 Canadians aged 12 years and over, the Kantar TNS study aims to cover copyright infringement in six key content areas – music, movies, TV shows, video games, computer software, and eBooks. Attitudes and behaviors are also touched upon while measuring the effectiveness of Canada’s copyright measures.

General Digital Content Consumption

In its introduction, the report notes that 28 million Canadians used the Internet in the three-month study period to November 27, 2017. Of those, 22 million (80%) consumed digital content. Around 20 million (73%) streamed or accessed content, 16 million (59%) downloaded content, while 8 million (28%) shared content.

Music, TV shows and movies all battled for first place in the consumption ranks, with 48%, 48%, and 46% respectively.

Copyright Infringement

According to the study, the majority of Canadians do things completely by the book. An impressive 74% of media-consuming respondents said that they’d only accessed material from legal sources in the preceding three months.

The remaining 26% admitted to accessing at least one illegal file in the same period. Of those, just 5% said that all of their consumption was from illegal sources, with movies (36%), software (36%), TV shows (34%) and video games (33%) the most likely content to be consumed illegally.

Interestingly, the study found that few demographic factors – such as gender, region, rural and urban, income, employment status and language – play a role in illegal content consumption.

“We found that only age and income varied significantly between consumers who infringed by downloading or streaming/accessing content online illegally and consumers who did not consume infringing content online,” the report reads.

“More specifically, the profile of consumers who downloaded or streamed/accessed infringing content skewed slightly younger and towards individuals with household incomes of $100K+.”

Licensed services much more popular than pirate haunts

It will come as no surprise that Netflix was the most popular service with consumers, with 64% having used it in the past three months. Sites like YouTube and Facebook were a big hit too, visited by 36% and 28% of content consumers respectively.

Overall, 74% of online content consumers use licensed services for content while 42% use social networks. Under a third (31%) use a combination of peer-to-peer (BitTorrent), cyberlocker platforms, or linking sites. Stream-ripping services are used by 9% of content consumers.

“Consumers who reported downloading or streaming/accessing infringing content only are less likely to use licensed services and more likely to use peer-to-peer/cyberlocker/linking sites than other consumers of online content,” the report notes.

Attitudes towards legal consumption & infringing content

In common with similar surveys over the years, the Kantar research looked at the reasons why people consume content from various sources, both legal and otherwise.

Convenience (48%), speed (36%) and quality (34%) were the most-cited reasons for using legal sources. An interesting 33% of respondents said they use legal sites to avoid using illegal sources.

On the illicit front, 54% of those who obtained unauthorized content in the previous three months said they did so due to it being free, with 40% citing convenience and 34% mentioning speed.

Almost six out of ten (58%) said lower costs would encourage them to switch to official sources, with 47% saying they’d move if legal availability was improved.

Canada’s ‘Notice-and-Notice’ warning system

People in Canada who share content on peer-to-peer systems like BitTorrent without permission run the risk of receiving an infringement notice warning them to stop. These are sent by copyright holders via users’ ISPs and the hope is that the shock of receiving a warning will turn consumers back to the straight and narrow.

The study reveals that 10% of online content consumers over the age of 12 have received one of these notices but what kind of effect have they had?

“Respondents reported that receiving such a notice resulted in the following: increased awareness of copyright infringement (38%), taking steps to ensure password protected home networks (27%), a household discussion about copyright infringement (27%), and discontinuing illegal downloading or streaming (24%),” the report notes.

While these are all positives for the entertainment industries, Kantar reports that almost a quarter (24%) of people who receive a notice simply ignore them.

Stream-ripping

Once upon a time, people obtaining music via P2P networks was cited as the music industry’s greatest threat but, with the advent of sites like YouTube, so-called stream-ripping is the latest bogeyman.

According to the study, 11% of Internet users say they’ve used a stream-ripping service. They are most likely to be male (62%) and predominantly 18 to 34 (52%) years of age.

“Among Canadians who have used a service to stream-rip music or entertainment, nearly half (48%) have used stream-ripping sites, one-third have used downloader apps (38%), one-in-seven (14%) have used a stream-ripping plug-in, and one-in-ten (10%) have used stream-ripping software,” the report adds.

Set-Top Boxes and VPNs

Few general piracy studies would be complete in 2018 without touching on set-top devices and Virtual Private Networks and this report doesn’t disappoint.

More than one in five (21%) respondents aged 12+ reported using a VPN, with the main purpose of securing communications and Internet browsing (57%).

A relatively modest 36% said they use a VPN to access free content while 32% said the aim was to access geo-blocked content unavailable in Canada. Just over a quarter (27%) said that accessing content from overseas at a reasonable price was the main motivator.

One in ten (10%) of respondents reported using a set-top box, with 78% stating they use them to access paid-for content. Interestingly, only a small number say they use the devices to infringe.

“A minority use set-top boxes to access other content that is not legal or they are unsure if it is legal (16%), or to access live sports that are not legal or they are unsure if it is legal (11%),” the report notes.

“Individuals who consumed a mix of legal and illegal content online are more likely to use VPN services (42%) or TV set-top boxes (21%) than consumers who only downloaded or streamed/accessed legal content.”

Kantar says that the findings of the report will be used to help policymakers evaluate how Canada’s Copyright Act is coping with a changing market and technological developments.

“This research will provide the necessary information required to further develop copyright policy in Canada, as well as to provide a foundation to assess the effectiveness of the measures to address copyright infringement, should future analysis be undertaken,” it concludes.

The full report can be found here (pdf)

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

Recording lost seconds with the Augenblick blink camera

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

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

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

Augenblick blink camera recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

Blink and you’ll miss it

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

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

Capturing lost moments

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

Augenblick blink camera recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

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

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

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

Augenblick blink recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

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

Augenblick blink camera recording using a Raspberry Pi Zero

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

Learn more about the Augenblick blink camera

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

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

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

Bell/TSN Letter to University Connects Site-Blocking Support to Students’ Futures

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/bell-tsn-letter-to-university-connects-site-blocking-support-to-students-futures-180510/

In January, a coalition of Canadian companies called on local telecoms regulator CRTC to implement a website-blocking regime in Canada.

The coalition, Fairplay Canada, is a collection of organizations and companies with ties to the entertainment industries and includes Bell, Cineplex, Directors Guild of Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Movie Theatre Association of Canada, and Rogers Media. Its stated aim is to address Canada’s online piracy problems.

While CTRC reviews FairPlay Canada’s plans, the coalition has been seeking to drum up support for the blocking regime, encouraging a diverse range of supporters to send submissions endorsing the project. Of course, building a united front among like-minded groups is nothing out of the ordinary but a situation just uncovered by Canadian law Professor Micheal Geist, one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed scheme, is bound to raise eyebrows.

Geist discovered a submission by Brian Hutchings, who works as Vice-President, Administration at Brock University in Ontario. Dated March 22, 2018, it notes that one of the university’s most sought-after programs is Sports Management, which helps Brock’s students to become “the lifeblood” of Canada’s sport and entertainment industries.

“Our University is deeply alarmed at how piracy is eroding an industry that employs so many of our co-op students and graduates. Piracy is a serious, pervasive threat that steals creativity, undermines investment in content development and threatens the survival of an industry that is also part of our national identity,” the submission reads.

“Brock ardently supports the FairPlay Canada coalition of more than 25 organizations involved in every aspect of Canada’s film, TV, radio, sports entertainment and music industries. Specifically, we support the coalition’s request that the CRTC introduce rules that would disable access in Canada to the most egregious piracy sites, similar to measures that have been taken in the UK, France and Australia. We are committed to assist the members of the coalition and the CRTC in eliminating the theft of digital content.”

The letter leaves no doubt that Brock University as a whole stands side-by-side with Fairplay Canada but according to a subsequent submission signed by Michelle Webber, President, Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA), nothing could be further from the truth.

Noting that BUFA unanimously supports the position of the Canadian Association of University Teachers which opposes the FairPlay proposal, Webber adds that BUFA stands in opposition to the submission by Brian Hutchings on behalf of Brock University.

“Vice President Hutching’s intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community, including faculty, librarians, and Senate; therefore, his submission should not be seen as indicative of the views of Brock University as a whole.”

BUFA goes on to stress the importance of an open Internet to researchers and educators while raising concerns that the blocking proposals could threaten the principles of net neutrality in Canada.

While the undermining of Hutching’s position is embarrassing enough, via access to information laws Geist has also been able to reveal the chain of events that prompted the Vice-President to write a letter of support on behalf of the whole university.

It began with an email sent by former Brock professor Cheri Bradish to Mark Milliere, TSN’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, with Hutchings copied in. The idea was to connect the pair, with the suggestion that supporting the site-blocking plan would help to mitigate the threat to “future work options” for students.

What followed was a direct email from Mark Milliere to Brian Hutchings, in which the former laid out the contributions his company makes to the university, while again suggesting that support for site-blocking would be in the long-term interests of students seeking employment in the industry.

On March 23, Milliere wrote to Hutchings again, thanking him for “a terrific letter” and stating that “If you need anything from TSN, just ask.”

This isn’t the first time that Bell has asked those beholden to the company to support its site-blocking plans.

Back in February it was revealed that the company had asked its own employees to participate in the site-blocking submission process, without necessarily revealing their affiliations with the company.

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

The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 1

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

Backblaze storage pod in new data center

This is part one of a series. The second part will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.

Though most of us have never set foot inside of a data center, as citizens of a data-driven world we nonetheless depend on the services that data centers provide almost as much as we depend on a reliable water supply, the electrical grid, and the highway system. Every time we send a tweet, post to Facebook, check our bank balance or credit score, watch a YouTube video, or back up a computer to the cloud we are interacting with a data center.

In this series, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center, we’ll talk in general terms about the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process. Many of the factors to consider will be similar for opening a private data center or seeking space in a public data center, but we’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that our needs are more modest than requiring a data center dedicated solely to our own use (i.e. we’re not Google, Facebook, or China Telecom).

Data center technology and management are changing rapidly, with new approaches to design and operation appearing every year. This means we won’t be able to cover everything happening in the world of data centers in our series, however, we hope our brief overview proves useful.

What is a Data Center?

A data center is the structure that houses a large group of networked computer servers typically used by businesses, governments, and organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.

While many organizations will have computing services in the same location as their offices that support their day-to-day operations, a data center is a structure dedicated to 24/7 large-scale data processing and handling.

Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere from a half million data centers in the world to many millions. While it’s possible to say that an organization’s on-site servers and data storage can be called a data center, in this discussion we are using the term data center to refer to facilities that are expressly dedicated to housing computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The facility might be a private center, which is owned or leased by one tenant only, or a shared data center that offers what are called “colocation services,” and rents space, services, and equipment to multiple tenants in the center.

A large, modern data center operates around the clock, placing a priority on providing secure and uninterrrupted service, and generally includes redundant or backup power systems or supplies, redundant data communication connections, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, and numerous security devices. Such a center is an industrial-scale operation often using as much electricity as a small town.

Types of Data Centers

There are a number of ways to classify data centers according to how they will be used, whether they are owned or used by one or multiple organizations, whether and how they fit into a topology of other data centers; which technologies and management approaches they use for computing, storage, cooling, power, and operations; and increasingly visible these days: how green they are.

Data centers can be loosely classified into three types according to who owns them and who uses them.

Exclusive Data Centers are facilities wholly built, maintained, operated and managed by the business for the optimal operation of its IT equipment. Some of these centers are well-known companies such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, while others are less public-facing big telecoms, insurance companies, or other service providers.

Managed Hosting Providers are data centers managed by a third party on behalf of a business. The business does not own data center or space within it. Rather, the business rents IT equipment and infrastructure it needs instead of investing in the outright purchase of what it needs.

Colocation Data Centers are usually large facilities built to accommodate multiple businesses within the center. The business rents its own space within the data center and subsequently fills the space with its IT equipment, or possibly uses equipment provided by the data center operator.

Backblaze, for example, doesn’t own its own data centers but colocates in data centers owned by others. As Backblaze’s storage needs grow, Backblaze increases the space it uses within a given data center and/or expands to other data centers in the same or different geographic areas.

Availability is Key

When designing or selecting a data center, an organization needs to decide what level of availability is required for its services. The type of business or service it provides likely will dictate this. Any organization that provides real-time and/or critical data services will need the highest level of availability and redundancy, as well as the ability to rapidly failover (transfer operation to another center) when and if required. Some organizations require multiple data centers not just to handle the computer or storage capacity they use, but to provide alternate locations for operation if something should happen temporarily or permanently to one or more of their centers.

Organizations operating data centers that can’t afford any downtime at all will typically operate data centers that have a mirrored site that can take over if something happens to the first site, or they operate a second site in parallel to the first one. These data center topologies are called Active/Passive, and Active/Active, respectively. Should disaster or an outage occur, disaster mode would dictate immediately moving all of the primary data center’s processing to the second data center.

While some data center topologies are spread throughout a single country or continent, others extend around the world. Practically, data transmission speeds put a cap on centers that can be operated in parallel with the appearance of simultaneous operation. Linking two data centers located apart from each other — say no more than 60 miles to limit data latency issues — together with dark fiber (leased fiber optic cable) could enable both data centers to be operated as if they were in the same location, reducing staffing requirements yet providing immediate failover to the secondary data center if needed.

This redundancy of facilities and ensured availability is of paramount importance to those needing uninterrupted data center services.

Active/Passive Data Centers

Active/Active Data Centers

LEED Certification

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. Facilities can achieve ratings of certified, silver, gold, or platinum based on criteria within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.

Green certification has become increasingly important in data center design and operation as data centers require great amounts of electricity and often cooling water to operate. Green technologies can reduce costs for data center operation, as well as make the arrival of data centers more amenable to environmentally-conscious communities.

The ACT, Inc. data center in Iowa City, Iowa was the first data center in the U.S. to receive LEED-Platinum certification, the highest level available.

ACT Data Center exterior

ACT Data Center exterior

ACT Data Center interior

ACT Data Center interior

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Data Center

There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to build or to occupy space in a data center. Aspects such as proximity to available power grids, telecommunications infrastructure, networking services, transportation lines, and emergency services can affect costs, risk, security and other factors that need to be taken into consideration.

The size of the data center will be dictated by the business requirements of the owner or tenant. A data center can occupy one room of a building, one or more floors, or an entire building. Most of the equipment is often in the form of servers mounted in 19 inch rack cabinets, which are usually placed in single rows forming corridors (so-called aisles) between them. This allows staff access to the front and rear of each cabinet. Servers differ greatly in size from 1U servers (i.e. one “U” or “RU” rack unit measuring 44.50 millimeters or 1.75 inches), to Backblaze’s Storage Pod design that fits a 4U chassis, to large freestanding storage silos that occupy many square feet of floor space.

Location

Location will be one of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a data center and encompasses many other factors that should be taken into account, such as geological risks, neighboring uses, and even local flight paths. Access to suitable available power at a suitable price point is often the most critical factor and the longest lead time item, followed by broadband service availability.

With more and more data centers available providing varied levels of service and cost, the choices increase each year. Data center brokers can be employed to find a data center, just as one might use a broker for home or other commercial real estate.

Websites listing available colocation space, such as upstack.io, or entire data centers for sale or lease, are widely used. A common practice is for a customer to publish its data center requirements, and the vendors compete to provide the most attractive bid in a reverse auction.

Business and Customer Proximity

The center’s closeness to a business or organization may or may not be a factor in the site selection. The organization might wish to be close enough to manage the center or supervise the on-site staff from a nearby business location. The location of customers might be a factor, especially if data transmission speeds and latency are important, or the business or customers have regulatory, political, tax, or other considerations that dictate areas suitable or not suitable for the storage and processing of data.

Climate

Local climate is a major factor in data center design because the climatic conditions dictate what cooling technologies should be deployed. In turn this impacts uptime and the costs associated with cooling, which can total as much as 50% or more of a center’s power costs. The topology and the cost of managing a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Nevertheless, data centers are located in both extremely cold regions and extremely hot ones, with innovative approaches used in both extremes to maintain desired temperatures within the center.

Geographic Stability and Extreme Weather Events

A major obvious factor in locating a data center is the stability of the actual site as regards weather, seismic activity, and the likelihood of weather events such as hurricanes, as well as fire or flooding.

Backblaze’s Sacramento data center describes its location as one of the most stable geographic locations in California, outside fault zones and floodplains.

Sacramento Data Center

Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category 5 hurricane winds.

Equinix Data Center in Miami

Equinix “NAP of the Americas” Data Center in Miami

Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the Bahnhof data center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described “Bond villain” ambiance.

Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm

Usually, the data center owner or tenant will want to take into account the balance between cost and risk in the selection of a location. The Ideal quadrant below is obviously favored when making this compromise.

Cost vs Risk in selecting a data center

Cost = Construction/lease, power, bandwidth, cooling, labor, taxes
Risk = Environmental (seismic, weather, water, fire), political, economic

Risk mitigation also plays a strong role in pricing. The extent to which providers must implement special building techniques and operating technologies to protect the facility will affect price. When selecting a data center, organizations must make note of the data center’s certification level on the basis of regulatory requirements in the industry. These certifications can ensure that an organization is meeting necessary compliance requirements.

Power

Electrical power usually represents the largest cost in a data center. The cost a service provider pays for power will be affected by the source of the power, the regulatory environment, the facility size and the rate concessions, if any, offered by the utility. At higher level tiers, battery, generator, and redundant power grids are a required part of the picture.

Fault tolerance and power redundancy are absolutely necessary to maintain uninterrupted data center operation. Parallel redundancy is a safeguard to ensure that an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is in place to provide electrical power if necessary. The UPS system can be based on batteries, saved kinetic energy, or some type of generator using diesel or another fuel. The center will operate on the UPS system with another UPS system acting as a backup power generator. If a power outage occurs, the additional UPS system power generator is available.

Many data centers require the use of independent power grids, with service provided by different utility companies or services, to prevent against loss of electrical service no matter what the cause. Some data centers have intentionally located themselves near national borders so that they can obtain redundant power from not just separate grids, but from separate geopolitical sources.

Higher redundancy levels required by a company will of invariably lead to higher prices. If one requires high availability backed by a service-level agreement (SLA), one can expect to pay more than another company with less demanding redundancy requirements.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of The Challenges of Opening a Data Center

That’s it for part 1 of this post. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at some other factors to consider when moving into a data center such as network bandwidth, cooling, and security. We’ll take a look at what is involved in moving into a new data center (including stories from Backblaze’s experiences). We’ll also investigate what it takes to keep a data center running, and some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. You can discover all posts on our blog tagged with “Data Center” by following the link https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.

The second part of this series on The Challenges of Opening a Data Center will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.

The post The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 1 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Jumping Air Gaps

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/02/jumping_air_gap_2.html

Nice profile of Mordechai Guri, who researches a variety of clever ways to steal data over air-gapped computers.

Guri and his fellow Ben-Gurion researchers have shown, for instance, that it's possible to trick a fully offline computer into leaking data to another nearby device via the noise its internal fan generates, by changing air temperatures in patterns that the receiving computer can detect with thermal sensors, or even by blinking out a stream of information from a computer hard drive LED to the camera on a quadcopter drone hovering outside a nearby window. In new research published today, the Ben-Gurion team has even shown that they can pull data off a computer protected by not only an air gap, but also a Faraday cage designed to block all radio signals.

Here’s a page with all the research results.

BoingBoing post.

[$] An introduction to the BPF Compiler Collection

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/742082/rss

In the previous article of this series, I discussed how to use eBPF to safely run code supplied by
user space
inside of the kernel. Yet one of eBPF’s biggest challenges
for newcomers is that writing programs requires compiling and linking to
the eBPF library from the kernel source. Kernel developers might always
have a copy of the kernel source within reach, but that’s not so for
engineers working on production or customer machines.

Announcing Alexa for Business: Using Amazon Alexa’s Voice Enabled Devices for Workplaces

Post Syndicated from Tara Walker original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/launch-announcing-alexa-for-business-using-amazon-alexas-voice-enabled-devices-for-workplaces/

There are only a few things more integrated into my day-to-day life than Alexa. I use my Echo device and the enabled Alexa Skills for turning on lights in my home, checking video from my Echo Show to see who is ringing my doorbell, keeping track of my extensive to-do list on a weekly basis, playing music, and lots more. I even have my family members enabling Alexa skills on their Echo devices for all types of activities that they now cannot seem to live without. My mother, who is in a much older generation (please don’t tell her I said that), uses her Echo and the custom Alexa skill I built for her to store her baking recipes. She also enjoys exploring skills that have the latest health and epicurean information. It’s no wonder then, that when I go to work I feel like something is missing. For example, I would love to be able to ask Alexa to read my flash briefing when I get to the office.

 

 

For those of you that would love to have Alexa as your intelligent assistant at work, I have exciting news. I am delighted to announce Alexa for Business, a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale. Alexa for Business not only brings Alexa into your workday to boost your productivity, but also provides tools and resources for organizations to set up and manage Alexa devices at scale, enable private skills, and enroll users.

Making Workplaces Smarter with Alexa for Business

Alexa for Business brings the Alexa you know and love into the workplace to help all types of workers to be more productive and organized on both personal and shared Echo devices. In the workplace, shared devices can be placed in common areas for anyone to use, and workers can use their personal devices to connect at work and at home.

End users can use shared devices or personal devices. Here’s what they can do from each.

Shared devices

  1. Join meetings in conference rooms: You can simply say “Alexa, start the meeting”. Alexa turns on the video conferencing equipment, dials into your conference call, and gets the meeting going.
  2. Help around the office: access custom skills to help with directions around the office, finding an open conference room, reporting a building equipment problem, or ordering new supplies.

Personal devices

  1. Enable calling and messaging: Alexa helps make phone calls, hands free and can also send messages on your behalf.
  2. Automatically dial into conference calls: Alexa can join any meeting with a conference call number via voice from home, work, or on the go.
  3. Intelligent assistant: Alexa can quickly check calendars, help schedule meetings, manage to-do lists, and set reminders.
  4. Find information: Alexa can help find information in popular business applications like Salesforce, Concur, or Splunk.

Here are some of the controls available to administrators:

  1. Provision & Manage Shared Alexa Devices: You can provision and manage shared devices around your workplace using the Alexa for Business console. For each device you can set a location, such as a conference room designation, and assign public and private skills for the device.
  2. Configure Conference Room Settings: Kick off your meetings with a simple “Alexa, start the meeting.” Alexa for Business allows you to configure your conference room settings so you can use Alexa to start your meetings and control your conference room equipment, or dial in directly from the Amazon Echo device in the room.
  3. Manage Users: You can invite users in your organization to enroll their personal Alexa account with your Alexa for Business account. Once your users have enrolled, you can enable your custom private skills for them to use on any of the devices in their personal Alexa account, at work or at home.
  4. Manage Skills: You can assign public skills and custom private skills your organization has created to your shared devices, and make private skills available to your enrolled users.  You can create skills groups, which you can then assign to specific shared devices.
  5. Build Private Skills & Use Alexa for Business APIs:  Dig into the Alexa Skills Kit and build your own skills.  Then you can make these available to the shared devices and enrolled users in your Alexa for Business account, all without having to publish them in the public Alexa Skills Store.  Alexa for Business offers additional APIs, which you can use to add context to your skills and automate administrative tasks.

Let’s take a quick journey into Alexa for Business. I’ll first log into the AWS Console and go to the Alexa for Business service.

 

Once I log in to the service, I am presented with the Alexa for Business dashboard. As you can see, I have access to manage Rooms, Shared devices, Users, and Skills, as well as the ability to control conferencing, calendars, and user invitations.

First, I’ll start by setting up my Alexa devices. Alexa for Business provides a Device Setup Tool to setup multiple devices, connect them to your Wi-Fi network, and register them with your Alexa for Business account. This is quite different from the setup process for personal Alexa devices. With Alexa for Business, you can provision 25 devices at a time.

Once my devices are provisioned, I can create location profiles for the locations where I want to put these devices (such as in my conference rooms). We call these locations “Rooms” in our Alexa for Business console. I can go to the Room profiles menu and create a Room profile. A Room profile contains common settings for the Alexa device in your room, such as the wake word for the device, the address, time zone, unit of measurement, and whether I want to enable outbound calling.

The next step is to enable skills for the devices I set up. I can enable any skill from the Alexa Skills store, or use the private skills feature to enable skills I built myself and made available to my Alexa for Business account. To enable skills for my shared devices, I can go to the Skills menu option and enable skills. After I have enabled skills, I can add them to a skill group and assign the skill group to my rooms.

Something I really like about Alexa for Business, is that I can use Alexa to dial into conference calls. To enable this, I go to the Conferencing menu option and select Add provider. At Amazon we use Amazon Chime, but you can choose from a list of different providers, or you can even add your own provider if you want to.

Once I’ve set this up, I can say “Alexa, join my meeting”; Alexa asks for my Amazon Chime meeting ID, after which my Echo device will automatically dial into my Amazon Chime meeting. Alexa for Business also provides an intelligent way to start any meeting quickly. We’ve all been in the situation where we walk into a meeting room and can’t find the meeting ID or conference call number. With Alexa for Business, I can link to my corporate calendar, so Alexa can figure out the meeting information for me, and automatically dial in – I don’t even need my meeting ID. Here’s how you do that:

Alexa can also control the video conferencing equipment in the room. To do this, all I need to do is select the skill for the equipment that I have, select the equipment provider, and enable it for my conference rooms. Now when I ask Alexa to join my meeting, Alexa will dial-in from the equipment in the room, and turn on the video conferencing system, without me needing to do anything else.

 

Let’s switch to enrolled users next.

I’ll start by setting up the User Invitation for my organization so that I can invite users to my Alexa for Business account. To allow a user to use Alexa for Business within an organization, you invite them to enroll their personal Alexa account with the service by sending a user invitation via email from the management console. If I choose, I can customize the user enrollment email to contain additional content. For example, I can add information about my organization’s Alexa skills that can be enabled after they’ve accepted the invitation and completed the enrollment process. My users must join in order to use the features of Alexa for Business, such as auto dialing into conference calls, linking their Microsoft Exchange calendars, or using private skills.

Now that I have customized my User Invitation, I will invite users to take advantage of Alexa for Business for my organization by going to the Users menu on the Dashboard and entering their email address.  This will send an email with a link that can be used to join my organization. Users will join using the Amazon account that their personal Alexa devices are registered to. Let’s invite Jeff Barr to join my Alexa for Business organization.

After Jeff has enrolled in my Alexa for Business account, he can discover the private skills I’ve enabled for enrolled users, and he can access his work skills and join conference calls from any of his personal devices, including the Echo in his home office.

Summary

We’ve only scratched the surface in our brief review of the Alexa for Business console and service features.  You can learn more about Alexa for Business by viewing the Alexa for Business website, reading the admin and API guides in the AWS documentation, or by watching the Getting Started videos within the Alexa for Business console.

You can learn more about Alexa for Business by viewing the Alexa for Business website, watching the Alexa for Business overview video, reading the admin and API guides in the AWS documentation, or by watching the Getting Started videos within the Alexa for Business console.

Alexa, Say Goodbye and Sign off the Blog Post.”

Tara 

Technology to Out Sex Workers

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

Two related stories:

PornHub is using machine learning algorithms to identify actors in different videos, so as to better index them. People are worried that it can really identify them, by linking their stage names to their real names.

Facebook somehow managed to link a sex worker’s clients under her fake name to her real profile.

Sometimes people have legitimate reasons for having two identities. That is becoming harder and harder.

Spooktacular Halloween Haunted Portrait

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/spooktacular-halloween-haunted-portrait/

October has come at last, and with it, the joy of Halloween is now upon us. So while I spend the next 30 days quoting Hocus Pocus at every opportunity, here’s Adafruit’s latest spooky build … the spooktacular Haunted Portrait.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

Haunted Portraits

If you’ve visited a haunted house such as Disney’s Haunted Mansion, or walked the halls of Hogwarts at Universal Studios, you will have seen a ‘moving portrait’. Whether it’s the classic ‘did that painting just blink?’ approach, or occupants moving in and out of frame, they’re an effective piece of spooky decoration – and now you can make your own!

Adafruit’s AdaBox

John Park, maker extraordinaire, recently posted a live make video where he used the contents of the Raspberry Pi-themed AdaBox 005 to create a blinking portrait.

AdaBox 005 Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

The Adabox is Adafruit’s own maker subscription service where plucky makers receive a mystery parcel containing exciting tech and inspirational builds. Their more recent delivery, the AdaBox 005, contains a Raspberry Pi Zero, their own Joy Bonnet, a case, and peripherals, including Pimoroni’s no-solder Hammer Headers.

AdaBox 005 Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

While you can purchase the AdaBoxes as one-off buys, subscribers get extra goodies. With AdaBox 005, they received bonus content including Raspberry Pi swag in the form of stickers, and a copy of The MagPi Magazine.

AdaBox 005 Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

The contents of AdaBox 005 allows makers to build their own Raspberry Pi Zero tiny gaming machine. But the ever-working minds of the Adafruit team didn’t want to settle there, so they decided to create more tutorials based on the box’s contents, such as John Park’s Haunted Portrait.

Bringing a portrait to life

Alongside the AdaBox 005 content, all of which can be purchased from Adafruit directly, you’ll need a flat-screen monitor and a fancy frame. The former could be an old TV or computer screen while the latter, unless you happen to have an ornate frame that perfectly fits your monitor, can be made from cardboard, CNC-cut wood or gold-painted macaroni and tape … probably.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

You’ll need to attach headers to your Raspberry Pi Zero. For those of you who fear the soldering iron, the Hammer Headers can be hammered into place without the need for melty hot metal. If you’d like to give soldering a go, you can follow Laura’s Getting Started With Soldering tutorial video.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait Hammer Header

In his tutorial, John goes on to explain how to set up the Joy Bonnet (if you wish to use it as an added controller), set your Raspberry Pi to display in portrait mode, and manipulate an image in Photoshop or GIMP to create the blinking effect.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

Blinking eyes are just the start of the possibilities for this project. This is your moment to show off your image manipulation skills! Why not have the entire head flash to show the skull within? Or have an ethereal image appear in the background of an otherwise unexceptional painting of a bowl of fruit?

In the final stages of the tutorial, John explains how to set an image slideshow running on the Pi, and how to complete the look with the aforementioned ornate frame. He also goes into detail about the importance of using a matte effect screen or transparent gels to give a more realistic ‘painted’ feel.

You’ll find everything you need to make your own haunted portrait here, including a link to John’s entire live stream.

Get spooky!

We’re going to make this for Pi Towers. In fact, I’m wondering whether I could create an entire gallery of portraits specifically for our reception area and see how long it takes people to notice …

… though I possibly shouldn’t have given my idea away on this rather public blog post.

If you make the Haunted Portrait, or any other Halloween-themed Pi build, make sure you share it with us via social media, or in the comments below.

The post Spooktacular Halloween Haunted Portrait appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

[$] Linking commits to reviews

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/734018/rss

In a talk in the refereed track of the 2017 Linux Plumbers Conference,
Alexandre Courouble presented the email2git tool that
links kernel commits to their review discussion on the mailing lists. Email2git
is a plugin for cregit, which implements token-level history for a Git repository; we covered a talk on cregit just over one year
ago. Email2git combines cregit with Patchwork to link
the commit to a patch and its discussion threads from any of the mailing
lists that are scanned by patchwork.kernel.org. The result
is a way to easily find the discussion that led to a piece of code—or even
just a token—changing in the kernel source tree.

Apple’s FaceID

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/09/apples_faceid.html

This is a good interview with Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering about FaceID.

Honestly, I don’t know what to think. I am confident that Apple is not collecting a photo database, but not optimistic that it can’t be hacked with fake faces. I dislike the fact that the police can point the phone at someone and have it automatically unlock. So this is important:

I also quizzed Federighi about the exact way you “quick disabled” Face ID in tricky scenarios — like being stopped by police, or being asked by a thief to hand over your device.

“On older phones the sequence was to click 5 times [on the power button], but on newer phones like iPhone 8 and iPhone X, if you grip the side buttons on either side and hold them a little while — we’ll take you to the power down [screen]. But that also has the effect of disabling Face ID,” says Federighi. “So, if you were in a case where the thief was asking to hand over your phone — you can just reach into your pocket, squeeze it, and it will disable Face ID. It will do the same thing on iPhone 8 to disable Touch ID.”

That squeeze can be of either volume button plus the power button. This, in my opinion, is an even better solution than the “5 clicks” because it’s less obtrusive. When you do this, it defaults back to your passcode.

More:

It’s worth noting a few additional details here:

  • If you haven’t used Face ID in 48 hours, or if you’ve just rebooted, it will ask for a passcode.
  • If there are 5 failed attempts to Face ID, it will default back to passcode. (Federighi has confirmed that this is what happened in the demo onstage when he was asked for a passcode — it tried to read the people setting the phones up on the podium.)

  • Developers do not have access to raw sensor data from the Face ID array. Instead, they’re given a depth map they can use for applications like the Snap face filters shown onstage. This can also be used in ARKit applications.

  • You’ll also get a passcode request if you haven’t unlocked the phone using a passcode or at all in 6.5 days and if Face ID hasn’t unlocked it in 4 hours.

Also be prepared for your phone to immediately lock every time your sleep/wake button is pressed or it goes to sleep on its own. This is just like Touch ID.

Federighi also noted on our call that Apple would be releasing a security white paper on Face ID closer to the release of the iPhone X. So if you’re a researcher or security wonk looking for more, he says it will have “extreme levels of detail” about the security of the system.

Here’s more about fooling it with fake faces:

Facial recognition has long been notoriously easy to defeat. In 2009, for instance, security researchers showed that they could fool face-based login systems for a variety of laptops with nothing more than a printed photo of the laptop’s owner held in front of its camera. In 2015, Popular Science writer Dan Moren beat an Alibaba facial recognition system just by using a video that included himself blinking.

Hacking FaceID, though, won’t be nearly that simple. The new iPhone uses an infrared system Apple calls TrueDepth to project a grid of 30,000 invisible light dots onto the user’s face. An infrared camera then captures the distortion of that grid as the user rotates his or her head to map the face’s 3-D shape­ — a trick similar to the kind now used to capture actors’ faces to morph them into animated and digitally enhanced characters.

It’ll be harder, but I have no doubt that it will be done.

More speculation.

I am not planning on enabling it just yet.

Growing up alongside tech

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/08/09/growing-up-alongside-tech/

IndustrialRobot asks… or, uh, asked last month:

industrialrobot: How has your views on tech changed as you’ve got older?

This is so open-ended that it’s actually stumped me for a solid month. I’ve had a surprisingly hard time figuring out where to even start.


It’s not that my views of tech have changed too much — it’s that they’ve changed very gradually. Teasing out and explaining any one particular change is tricky when it happened invisibly over the course of 10+ years.

I think a better framework for this is to consider how my relationship to tech has changed. It’s gone through three pretty distinct phases, each of which has strongly colored how I feel and talk about technology.

Act I

In which I start from nothing.

Nothing is an interesting starting point. You only really get to start there once.

Learning something on my own as a kid was something of a magical experience, in a way that I don’t think I could replicate as an adult. I liked computers; I liked toying with computers; so I did that.

I don’t know how universal this is, but when I was a kid, I couldn’t even conceive of how incredible things were made. Buildings? Cars? Paintings? Operating systems? Where does any of that come from? Obviously someone made them, but it’s not the sort of philosophical point I lingered on when I was 10, so in the back of my head they basically just appeared fully-formed from the æther.

That meant that when I started trying out programming, I had no aspirations. I couldn’t imagine how far I would go, because all the examples of how far I would go were completely disconnected from any idea of human achievement. I started out with BASIC on a toy computer; how could I possibly envision a connection between that and something like a mainstream video game? Every new thing felt like a new form of magic, so I couldn’t conceive that I was even in the same ballpark as whatever process produced real software. (Even seeing the source code for GORILLAS.BAS, it didn’t quite click. I didn’t think to try reading any of it until years after I’d first encountered the game.)

This isn’t to say I didn’t have goals. I invented goals constantly, as I’ve always done; as soon as I learned about a new thing, I’d imagine some ways to use it, then try to build them. I produced a lot of little weird goofy toys, some of which entertained my tiny friend group for a couple days, some of which never saw the light of day. But none of it felt like steps along the way to some mountain peak of mastery, because I didn’t realize the mountain peak was even a place that could be gone to. It was pure, unadulterated (!) playing.

I contrast this to my art career, which started only a couple years ago. I was already in my late 20s, so I’d already spend decades seeing a very broad spectrum of art: everything from quick sketches up to painted masterpieces. And I’d seen the people who create that art, sometimes seen them create it in real-time. I’m even in a relationship with one of them! And of course I’d already had the experience of advancing through tech stuff and discovering first-hand that even the most amazing software is still just code someone wrote.

So from the very beginning, from the moment I touched pencil to paper, I knew the possibilities. I knew that the goddamn Sistine Chapel was something I could learn to do, if I were willing to put enough time in — and I knew that I’m not, so I’d have to settle somewhere a ways before that. I knew that I’d have to put an awful lot of work in before I’d be producing anything very impressive.

I did it anyway (though perhaps waited longer than necessary to start), but those aren’t things I can un-know, and so I can never truly explore art from a place of pure ignorance. On the other hand, I’ve probably learned to draw much more quickly and efficiently than if I’d done it as a kid, precisely because I know those things. Now I can decide I want to do something far beyond my current abilities, then go figure out how to do it. When I was just playing, that kind of ambition was impossible.


So, I played.

How did this affect my views on tech? Well, I didn’t… have any. Learning by playing tends to teach you things in an outward sprawl without many abrupt jumps to new areas, so you don’t tend to run up against conflicting information. The whole point of opinions is that they’re your own resolution to a conflict; without conflict, I can’t meaningfully say I had any opinions. I just accepted whatever I encountered at face value, because I didn’t even know enough to suspect there could be alternatives yet.

Act II

That started to seriously change around, I suppose, the end of high school and beginning of college. I was becoming aware of this whole “open source” concept. I took classes that used languages I wouldn’t otherwise have given a second thought. (One of them was Python!) I started to contribute to other people’s projects. Eventually I even got a job, where I had to work with other people. It probably also helped that I’d had to maintain my own old code a few times.

Now I was faced with conflicting subjective ideas, and I had to form opinions about them! And so I did. With gusto. Over time, I developed an idea of what was Right based on experience I’d accrued. And then I set out to always do things Right.

That’s served me decently well with some individual problems, but it also led me to inflict a lot of unnecessary pain on myself. Several endeavors languished for no other reason than my dissatisfaction with the architecture, long before the basic functionality was done. I started a number of “pure” projects around this time, generic tools like imaging libraries that I had no direct need for. I built them for the sake of them, I guess because I felt like I was improving some niche… but of course I never finished any. It was always in areas I didn’t know that well in the first place, which is a fine way to learn if you have a specific concrete goal in mind — but it turns out that building a generic library for editing images means you have to know everything about images. Perhaps that ambition went a little haywire.

I’ve said before that this sort of (self-inflicted!) work was unfulfilling, in part because the best outcome would be that a few distant programmers’ lives are slightly easier. I do still think that, but I think there’s a deeper point here too.

In forgetting how to play, I’d stopped putting any of myself in most of the work I was doing. Yes, building an imaging library is kind of a slog that someone has to do, but… I assume the people who work on software like PIL and ImageMagick are actually interested in it. The few domains I tried to enter and revolutionize weren’t passions of mine; I just happened to walk through the neighborhood one day and decided I could obviously do it better.

Not coincidentally, this was the same era of my life that led me to write stuff like that PHP post, which you may notice I am conspicuously not even linking to. I don’t think I would write anything like it nowadays. I could see myself approaching the same subject, but purely from the point of view of language design, with more contrasts and tradeoffs and less going for volume. I certainly wouldn’t lead off with inflammatory puffery like “PHP is a community of amateurs”.

Act III

I think I’ve mellowed out a good bit in the last few years.

It turns out that being Right is much less important than being Not Wrong — i.e., rather than trying to make something perfect that can be adapted to any future case, just avoid as many pitfalls as possible. Code that does something useful has much more practical value than unfinished code with some pristine architecture.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in game development, where all code is doomed to be crap and the best you can hope for is to stem the tide. But there’s also a fixed goal that’s completely unrelated to how the code looks: does the game work, and is it fun to play? Yes? Ship the damn thing and forget about it.

Games are also nice because it’s very easy to pour my own feelings into them and evoke feelings in the people who play them. They’re mine, something with my fingerprints on them — even the games I’ve built with glip have plenty of my own hallmarks, little touches I added on a whim or attention to specific details that I care about.

Maybe a better example is the Doom map parser I started writing. It sounds like a “pure” problem again, except that I actually know an awful lot about the subject already! I also cleverly (accidentally) released some useful results of the work I’ve done thusfar — like statistics about Doom II maps and a few screenshots of flipped stock maps — even though I don’t think the parser itself is far enough along to release yet. The tool has served a purpose, one with my fingerprints on it, even without being released publicly. That keeps it fresh in my mind as something interesting I’d like to keep working on, eventually. (When I run into an architecture question, I step back for a while, or I do other work in the hopes that the solution will reveal itself.)

I also made two simple Pokémon ROM hacks this year, despite knowing nothing about Game Boy internals or assembly when I started. I just decided I wanted to do an open-ended thing beyond my reach, and I went to do it, not worrying about cleanliness and willing to accept a bumpy ride to get there. I played, but in a more experienced way, invoking the stuff I know (and the people I’ve met!) to help me get a running start in completely unfamiliar territory.


This feels like a really fine distinction that I’m not sure I’m doing justice. I don’t know if I could’ve appreciated it three or four years ago. But I missed making toys, and I’m glad I’m doing it again.

In short, I forgot how to have fun with programming for a little while, and I’ve finally started to figure it out again. And that’s far more important than whether you use PHP or not.

Updates to GPIO Zero, the physical computing API

Post Syndicated from Ben Nuttall original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/gpio-zero-update/

GPIO Zero v1.4 is out now! It comes with a set of new features, including a handy pinout command line tool. To start using this newest version of the API, update your Raspbian OS now:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

Some of the things we’ve added will make it easier for you try your hand on different programming styles. In doing so you’ll build your coding skills, and will improve as a programmer. As a consequence, you’ll learn to write more complex code, which will enable you to take on advanced electronics builds. And on top of that, you can use the skills you’ll acquire in other computing projects.

GPIO Zero pinout tool

The new pinout tool

Developing GPIO Zero

Nearly two years ago, I started the GPIO Zero project as a simple wrapper around the low-level RPi.GPIO library. I wanted to create a simpler way to control GPIO-connected devices in Python, based on three years’ experience of training teachers, running workshops, and building projects. The idea grew over time, and the more we built for our Python library, the more sophisticated and powerful it became.

One of the great things about Python is that it’s a multi-paradigm programming language. You can write code in a number of different styles, according to your needs. You don’t have to write classes, but you can if you need them. There are functional programming tools available, but beginners get by without them. Importantly, the more advanced features of the language are not a barrier to entry.

Become a more advanced programmer

As a beginner to programming, you usually start by writing procedural programs, in which the flow moves from top to bottom. Then you’ll probably add loops and create your own functions. Your next step might be to start using libraries which introduce new patterns that operate in a different manner to what you’ve written before, for example threaded callbacks (event-driven programming). You might move on to object-oriented programming, extending the functionality of classes provided by other libraries, and starting to write your own classes. Occasionally, you may make use of tools created with functional programming techniques.

Five buttons in different colours

Take control of the buttons in your life

It’s much the same with GPIO Zero: you can start using it very easily, and we’ve made it simple to progress along the learning curve towards more advanced programming techniques. For example, if you want to make a push button control an LED, the easiest way to do this is via procedural programming using a while loop:

from gpiozero import LED, Button

led = LED(17)
button = Button(2)

while True:
    if button.is_pressed:
        led.on()
    else:
        led.off()

But another way to achieve the same thing is to use events:

from gpiozero import LED, Button
from signal import pause

led = LED(17)
button = Button(2)

button.when_pressed = led.on
button.when_released = led.off

pause()

You could even use a declarative approach, and set the LED’s behaviour in a single line:

from gpiozero import LED, Button
from signal import pause

led = LED(17)
button = Button(2)

led.source = button.values

pause()

You will find that using the procedural approach is a great start, but at some point you’ll hit a limit, and will have to try a different approach. The example above can be approach in several programming styles. However, if you’d like to control a wider range of devices or a more complex system, you need to carefully consider which style works best for what you want to achieve. Being able to choose the right programming style for a task is a skill in itself.

Source/values properties

So how does the led.source = button.values thing actually work?

Every GPIO Zero device has a .value property. For example, you can read a button’s state (True or False), and read or set an LED’s state (so led.value = True is the same as led.on()). Since LEDs and buttons operate with the same value set (True and False), you could say led.value = button.value. However, this only sets the LED to match the button once. If you wanted it to always match the button’s state, you’d have to use a while loop. To make things easier, we came up with a way of telling devices they’re connected: we added a .values property to all devices, and a .source to output devices. Now, a loop is no longer necessary, because this will do the job:

led.source = button.values

This is a simple approach to connecting devices using a declarative style of programming. In one single line, we declare that the LED should get its values from the button, i.e. when the button is pressed, the LED should be on. You can even mix the procedural with the declarative style: at one stage of the program, the LED could be set to match the button, while in the next stage it could just be blinking, and finally it might return back to its original state.

These additions are useful for connecting other devices as well. For example, a PWMLED (LED with variable brightness) has a value between 0 and 1, and so does a potentiometer connected via an ADC (analogue-digital converter) such as the MCP3008. The new GPIO Zero update allows you to say led.source = pot.values, and then twist the potentiometer to control the brightness of the LED.

But what if you want to do something more complex, like connect two devices with different value sets or combine multiple inputs?

We provide a set of device source tools, which allow you to process values as they flow from one device to another. They also let you send in artificial values such as random data, and you can even write your own functions to generate values to pass to a device’s source. For example, to control a motor’s speed with a potentiometer, you could use this code:

from gpiozero import Motor, MCP3008
from signal import pause

motor = Motor(20, 21)
pot = MCP3008()

motor.source = pot.values

pause()

This works, but it will only drive the motor forwards. If you wanted the potentiometer to drive it forwards and backwards, you’d use the scaled tool to scale its values to a range of -1 to 1:

from gpiozero import Motor, MCP3008
from gpiozero.tools import scaled
from signal import pause

motor = Motor(20, 21)
pot = MCP3008()

motor.source = scaled(pot.values, -1, 1)

pause()

And to separately control a robot’s left and right motor speeds with two potentiometers, you could do this:

from gpiozero import Robot, MCP3008
from signal import pause

robot = Robot(left=(2, 3), right=(4, 5))
left = MCP3008(0)
right = MCP3008(1)

robot.source = zip(left.values, right.values)

pause()

GPIO Zero and Blue Dot

Martin O’Hanlon created a Python library called Blue Dot which allows you to use your Android device to remotely control things on their Raspberry Pi. The API is very similar to GPIO Zero, and it even incorporates the value/values properties, which means you can hook it up to GPIO devices easily:

from bluedot import BlueDot
from gpiozero import LED
from signal import pause

bd = BlueDot()
led = LED(17)

led.source = bd.values

pause()

We even included a couple of Blue Dot examples in our recipes.

Make a series of binary logic gates using source/values

Read more in this source/values tutorial from The MagPi, and on the source/values documentation page.

Remote GPIO control

GPIO Zero supports multiple low-level GPIO libraries. We use RPi.GPIO by default, but you can choose to use RPIO or pigpio instead. The pigpio library supports remote connections, so you can run GPIO Zero on one Raspberry Pi to control the GPIO pins of another, or run code on a PC (running Windows, Mac, or Linux) to remotely control the pins of a Pi on the same network. You can even control two or more Pis at once!

If you’re using Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi (or a PC running our x86 Raspbian OS), you have everything you need to remotely control GPIO. If you’re on a PC running Windows, Mac, or Linux, you just need to install gpiozero and pigpio using pip. See our guide on configuring remote GPIO.

I road-tested the new pin_factory syntax at the Raspberry Jam @ Pi Towers

There are a number of different ways to use remote pins:

  • Set the default pin factory and remote IP address with environment variables:
$ GPIOZERO_PIN_FACTORY=pigpio PIGPIO_ADDR=192.168.1.2 python3 blink.py
  • Set the default pin factory in your script:
import gpiozero
from gpiozero import LED
from gpiozero.pins.pigpio import PiGPIOFactory

gpiozero.Device.pin_factory = PiGPIOFactory(host='192.168.1.2')

led = LED(17)
  • The pin_factory keyword argument allows you to use multiple Pis in the same script:
from gpiozero import LED
from gpiozero.pins.pigpio import PiGPIOFactory

factory2 = PiGPIOFactory(host='192.168.1.2')
factory3 = PiGPIOFactory(host='192.168.1.3')

local_hat = TrafficHat()
remote_hat2 = TrafficHat(pin_factory=factory2)
remote_hat3 = TrafficHat(pin_factory=factory3)

This is a really powerful feature! For more, read this remote GPIO tutorial in The MagPi, and check out the remote GPIO recipes in our documentation.

GPIO Zero on your PC

GPIO Zero doesn’t have any dependencies, so you can install it on your PC using pip. In addition to the API’s remote GPIO control, you can use its ‘mock’ pin factory on your PC. We originally created the mock pin feature for the GPIO Zero test suite, but we found that it’s really useful to be able to test GPIO Zero code works without running it on real hardware:

$ GPIOZERO_PIN_FACTORY=mock python3
>>> from gpiozero import LED
>>> led = LED(22)
>>> led.blink()
>>> led.value
True
>>> led.value
False

You can even tell pins to change state (e.g. to simulate a button being pressed) by accessing an object’s pin property:

>>> from gpiozero import LED
>>> led = LED(22)
>>> button = Button(23)
>>> led.source = button.values
>>> led.value
False
>>> button.pin.drive_low()
>>> led.value
True

You can also use the pinout command line tool if you set your pin factory to ‘mock’. It gives you a Pi 3 diagram by default, but you can supply a revision code to see information about other Pi models. For example, to use the pinout tool for the original 256MB Model B, just type pinout -r 2.

GPIO Zero documentation and resources

On the API’s website, we provide beginner recipes and advanced recipes, and we have added remote GPIO configuration including PC/Mac/Linux and Pi Zero OTG, and a section of GPIO recipes. There are also new sections on source/values, command-line tools, FAQs, Pi information and library development.

You’ll find plenty of cool projects using GPIO Zero in our learning resources. For example, you could check out the one that introduces physical computing with Python and get stuck in! We even provide a GPIO Zero cheat sheet you can download and print.

There are great GPIO Zero tutorials and projects in The MagPi magazine every month. Moreover, they also publish Simple Electronics with GPIO Zero, a book which collects a series of tutorials useful for building your knowledge of physical computing. And the best thing is, you can download it, and all magazine issues, for free!

Check out the API documentation and read more about what’s new in GPIO Zero on my blog. We have lots planned for the next release. Watch this space.

Get building!

The world of physical computing is at your fingertips! Are you feeling inspired?

If you’ve never tried your hand on physical computing, our Build a robot buggy learning resource is the perfect place to start! It’s your step-by-step guide for building a simple robot controlled with the help of GPIO Zero.

If you have a gee-whizz idea for an electronics project, do share it with us below. And if you’re currently working on a cool build and would like to show us how it’s going, pop a link to it in the comments.

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Open and Click Tracking Have Arrived

Post Syndicated from Brent Meyer original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/ses/open-and-click-tracking-have-arrived/

We’re pleased to announce the addition of open and click tracking metrics to Amazon SES. These metrics will help you measure the effectiveness of the email campaigns you send using Amazon SES.

We’re also adding the ability to publish email sending metrics to Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) using event publishing. This feature gives you greater control over the sending notifications you receive through Amazon SNS.

What’s new in this release?

When you send an email using Amazon SES, we now collect metrics related to opens and clicks. Opens, in this sense, refers to the number of users who successfully received your email and opened it in their email clients; clicks refers to the number of users who received an email and clicked one or more links in it.

Additionally, you can now use event publishing to push email sending notifications—including open and click notifications—using Amazon SNS. Previously, you could send account-level notifications through Amazon SNS. These notifications were pretty limited: you could only receive notifications about bounces, complaints, and deliveries, and you would receive notifications about all of these events across your entire Amazon SES account. Now you can use event publishing to send notifications about deliveries, opens, clicks, bounces, and complaints. Furthermore, you can set up event publishing so that you only receive notifications about emails sent using the configuration sets you specify in those emails.

Why should I use open and click tracking?

Whether you are sending marketing emails, transactional emails, or notifications, you need to know how effective your communications are. The email sending metrics feature of Amazon SES gives you data about entire email response funnel—the total number of emails that were sent, bounced, viewed, and clicked. You can then transform those insights into action.

For example, the open and click tracking feature can help you identify the customers who are most interested in receiving the messages you send. By narrowing down your list of recipients and focusing on your most engaged customers, you can save money (by sending fewer messages), improve the response rates of your marketing campaigns (by targeting only the customers who are most interested in what you have to say), and protect your sender reputation (by reducing the number of bounces and complaints against your sending domain).

How do I enable open and click tracking?

If you’ve set up Sending Metrics in the past, then you can easily add open and click tracking to your existing configuration sets. On the Configuration Sets page, choose the configuration set that contains your sending event destination; edit the event destination, check the boxes for Open and Click (as shown in the image below), and then choose Save.

How does open and click tracking work?

Amazon SES makes very minor changes to your emails in order to make open and click tracking work. At the bottom of each message, we insert a 1 pixel by 1 pixel transparent GIF image. Each email includes a unique link to this image file; when the image is opened, we can tell exactly which message was opened and by whom.

To track clicks, we set up a redirect for each link in the message. When a recipient clicks a link, they are sent to an Amazon SES server, and are immediately forwarded to the destination address. As with open tracking, each of these redirect links is unique, allowing us to easily determine which recipient clicked the link, when they clicked it, and the email from which they arrived at the link.

Can I disable click tracking?

You can disable click tracking by adding a special tag to the anchor tags in your HTML. For example, if you were linking to the AWS home page, a normal anchor link would look something like this:

<a href="https://aws.amazon.com/">Amazon Web Services</a>

To disable click tracking for that same link, you would modify to look like this:

<a ses:no-track href="https://aws.amazon.com/">Amazon Web Services</a>

Because the ses:no-track attribute is non-standard HTML, we automatically remove it from the version of the email that arrives in your recipients’ inboxes.

How do I use event publishing with Amazon SNS?

If you’ve set up event destinations in the past, then the process of setting up an Amazon SNS event destination will be very familiar. You can add an Amazon SNS destination to an existing configuration set, or create a new configuration set that uses Amazon SNS as its event destination. To learn more, see “Set Up an Amazon SNS Event Destination for Amazon SES Event Publishing” in our Developer Guide.

We’re excited about this release. Let us know what you think of these new features in the SES Forum, or in the comments for this post.

The Heart of Maker Faire

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/heart-maker-faire/

We at the Raspberry Pi Foundation find it incredibly rewarding to help people make and share things they love. It’s amazing to be part of an incredibly creative community of makers. And we’re not the only ones who feel this way: for this year’s Maker Faire UK, the team over at NUSTEM created the Heart of Maker Faire, a Pi-powered art installation that is a symbol of this unique community. And to be perfectly frank, it’s bloody gorgeous.

The Heart of Maker Faire

NUSTEM’s new installation for Maker Faire UK 2017, held on 1st & 2nd April at the Centre for Life, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Visitors wrote notes about things they love, and sealed them in jars. They then read their heart rates, and used the control boxes to associate their jar and heart rate with a space on the shelves.

A heart for the community

NUSTEM is a STEM outreach organisation from Northumbria University, and the makers there are always keen to build interactive projects that get people excited about technology. So at this year’s Faire, attendees passing their installation were invited to write down something close to their heart, put that note in a jar, and measure their heart rate. Then they could connect their heart rate, via a QR code, to a space on a shelf lined with LEDs. Once they placed the jar in their space, the LEDs started blinking to imitate their heart beat. With this art piece, the NUSTEM team wants to say something about “how we’re all individuals, but about our similarities too”.

NUSTEM on Twitter

Still beating. Heart of #MakerFaireUK

Making the heart beat

This is no small build – it uses more than 2,000 NeoPixel LEDs, as well as five Raspberry Pis, among other components. Two Pi 3s are in charge of registering people’s contributions and keeping track of their jars. A Pi Zero W acts as a central hub, connecting its bigger siblings via WiFi, and storing a MySQL database of the jars’ data. Finally, two more Pi 3s control the LEDs of the Heart via a script written in Processing. The NUSTEM team has made the code available here for you “to laugh at” (their words, not mine!)

Heart of Maker Faire shelf

The heart, ready to be filled with love

A heart for art

Processing is an open-source programming language used to create images, graphs, and animations. It can respond to keyboard and mouse input, so you can write games with it as well. Moreover, it runs on the Pi, and you can use it to talk to the Pi’s GPIO pins, as the Heart of Maker Faire team did. Hook up buttons, sensors, and LEDs, and get ready to create amazing interactive pieces of art! If you’d like to learn more, read Matt’s blog post, or watch the talk he gave about Processing at our fifth birthday party earlier this year.

Matt Richardson: Art with Processing on the Raspberry Pi – Raspberry Pi Birthday Event 2017 – Talks

Matt Richardson: Art with Processing on the Raspberry Pi Sunday 5th March 2017 Raspberry Pi Birthday Event 2017 Filmed and edited by David and Andrew Ferguson. This video is not an official video published by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. No copyright infringement intended.

To help you get started, we’re providing a free learning resource introducing you to the basics of Processing. We’d love to see what you create, so do share a link to your masterworks in the comments!

World Maker Faire

We’ll be attending World Maker Faire in New York on the 23rd and 24th of September. Will you be there?

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Guest post: How EmailOctopus built an email marketing platform using Amazon SES

Post Syndicated from Brent Meyer original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/ses/guest-post-how-emailoctopus-built-an-email-marketing-platform-using-amazon-ses/

The following guest post was written by Tom Evans, COO of EmailOctopus.


Our product, EmailOctopus, grew from a personal need. We were working on another business venture, and as our email subscriber base grew, the costs of using the larger email service providers became prohibitively expensive for an early-stage startup.

At this point we were already using Amazon SES to send sign up confirmations to our users. We loved Amazon SES’ low pricing and high deliverability, but being a transactional email service, we missed some tracking features offered by our marketing provider. We decided to develop a simple interface to make it easier for us to build and track the performance of marketing emails on top of the Amazon SES platform.

After sharing our accomplishments with other founders, and with no other SaaS solutions on the market that met the same need, we began to turn our basic script into a polished email marketing application. We named our application EmailOctopus. Over 4 years later, and with over 1.5 billion emails delivered through Amazon SES, our mission remains the same: to make contacting your customers as easy and inexpensive as possible.

EmailOctopus is now a fully fledged platform, with thousands of users sending marketing campaigns every day. Our platform integrates directly with our customers’ AWS accounts and provides them with an easy-to-use front end on top of the SES platform. EmailOctopus users can upload or register subscribers who have opted into their correspondence (through an import or one of our many integrations), then send a one-off campaign or an automated marketing series, all while closely tracking the performance of those emails and allowing the recipients to opt-out.

Scaling EmailOctopus to handle millions of emails per day

Building an email marketing platform from scratch has presented a number of challenges, both technical and operational. EmailOctopus has quickly grown from a side project to a mature business that has sent over 1.5 billion emails through Amazon SES.

One of the biggest challenges of our growth has been dealing with a rapidly expanding database. Email marketing generates a huge amount of data. We log every view, bounce, click, spam report, open and unsubscribe for every email sent through our platform. A single campaign can easily generate over 1 million of these events.

Our event processing system sits on a number of microservices spread over EC2 and Lambda, which allows us to selectively scale our services based on demand. Figure 1, below, demonstrates just how irregular this demand is. We save over $500 a month using an on-demand serverless model.

Figure 1. Number of events processed over time.

This model helps us manage our costs and ensures we only pay for the computing power we need.  We rely heavily on CloudFormation scripts to edit that infrastructure; these scripts allow every change to be version-controlled and propagated across all of our environments. In preparing for this blog post, we took a look at how that template had changed over the years—we’d forgotten just how much it had evolved. As our user base grew from 1 customer to 10,000, a single EC2 instance writing to a MySQL database just didn’t cut it. We now rely on a large portion of the AWS suite to reliably consume our event data, as illustrated in Figure 2, below.

Figure 2. Our current event processing infrastructure.

Operationally, our business has needed to make changes to scale too. Processes that worked fine with a handful of clients do not work so well with 10,000 users. We pride ourselves on providing our customers with a superior and personal service; to maintain that commitment, we dedicate 10% of our development time to improving our internal tools. One of these projects resulted in a dashboard which quickly provides us with detailed information on each user and their journey through the platform. The days of asking our support team to assemble database queries are long gone!

What makes EmailOctopus + SES different from the competition?

Amazon SES uses proprietary content filtering technologies and monitors the status of its services rigorously. This means that you’re likely to see increased deliverability on your communication, while saving up to 10x on your current email marketing costs. EmailOctopus pricing plans range from $0 to $109 per month (depending on the number of recipients you need to store), and the cost of sending email through Amazon SES is also very low: you pay nothing for the first 62,000 emails you send through Amazon SES each month, and $0.10 per 1,000 emails after that. Need to send a million emails in a month? You can do it for less than $100 with EmailOctopus + Amazon SES.

Our easy-to-use interface and integrations make it easy to add new subscribers, and our email templates help you create trackable, beautiful, responsive emails. We even offer trigger-based automated email delivery—perfect for onboarding new customers.

I’m ready to get started!

Great! We’ve made it easy to start using EmailOctopus with Amazon SES. First, if you don’t already have one, create an Amazon Web Services account. Once you’ve done that, head over to our website and create an EmailOctopus account. From there, we’ll walk you through the quick and easy process of linking the two services together.

If you’ve never used Amazon SES before, you will also need to provide some information about the types of communication you plan to send. This important step in the process ensures that all new Amazon SES users are reputable, and that they will not have a negative impact on other users who send email through Amazon SES. Once you’ve finished that step, you’ll be ready to start sending emails using EmailOctopus and Amazon SES.

To learn more about what EmailOctopus can do for your business, visit our website at https://emailoctopus.com.

 

NYC Train Sign: real-time train tracking in New York City

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/nyc-train-sign/

Raspberry Pis, blinking lights, and APIs – what’s not to love? It’s really not surprising that the NYC Train Sign caught our attention – and it doesn’t hurt that its creators’ Instagram game is 👌 on point.

NYC Train Sign

NYC Train Sign. 158 likes · 2 talking about this. Live MTA train wait times signage.

Another transport sign?

Yes, yes, I know. Janina wrote about a bus timetable display only the other day. But hear me out, I have a totally legitimate reason why we’re covering this project as well…

…it’s just a really pretty-looking build, alright?

Public transport: a brief explanation

If you’ve been to New York City, or indeed have visited any busy metropolis, you’ll probably have braved the dread conveyor belt of empty-eyed masses that is…dundunduuun…public transport. Whenever you use it, unless you manage to hit that off-peak sweet spot (somewhere between 14.30 and 14.34) where the flow of human traffic is minimal, you are exposed to a hellish amalgam of rushing bodies, yells to ‘hold the door’, and the general funk of tight-packed public situations. Delicious.

NYC Train Sign Raspberry Pi

To be fair, Kramer has bad train etiquette

As APIs for public transport websites are becoming increasingly common and user-friendly, we’re seeing a rise in the number of transport-related builds. From Dr Lucy Rogers’ #WhereIsMyBus 3D-printed London icon to the VästtraPi bus departure screen mentioned above, projects using these APIs allow us respite from the throng and save us from waiting for delayed buses at drab and dreary stations.

Lucy Rogers WhereIsMyBus Raspberry Pi

image c/o Dr Lucy Rogers

We’ve seen a lot of bus builds, but have we seen train builds yet? Anyone? I’ll check: ‘Train your rat’, ‘Picademy teacher training’, ‘How to train your…’ Nope, I think this is the first. Maybe I’m wrong though, in which case please let me know in the comments.

NYC Train Sign

Let me see if I can get this right: the NYC Train Sign-building team at NYC Train Sign has created a real-time NYC train sign using a Raspberry Pi, LED matrix, and locally 3D-printed parts at their base in Brooklyn, NYC (…train sign – shoot!)

NYC Train Sign Raspberry Pi

The NYC Train Sign…so so pretty

The team, headed by creator Timothy Wu, uses the official NTA server API to fetch real-time arrival, departure, and delay information to display on their signs. They also handcraft the signs to fit your specifications (click here to buy your own). How very artisanal!

Do the BART(man)

As a result of the success of the NYC Train Sign, the team is now experimenting with signs for other transport services, including the San Francisco BART, Chicago CTA, and Boston MBTA. APIs are also available for services in other cities around the world, for example London and Los Angeles. We could probably do with a display like this in our London office! In fact, if you commute on public transport and can find the right API, I think one of these devices would be perfect for your workplace no matter where it is.

Using APIs

Given our free resources for a Tweeting Babbage and a…location marker poo (?!), it’s clear that at the Raspberry Pi Foundation we’re huge fans of using APIs in digital making projects. Therefore, it’s really no surprise that we like sharing them as well! So if you’ve created a project using an API, we’d love to see it. Pop a link into the comments below, or tag us on social media.

Now back to their Instagram game

Honestly, their photos are so aesthetically pleasing that I’m becoming a little jealous.

making of real-time nyc mta signs with raspberry pi in bushwick . as seen @kcbcbeer @fathersbk @houdinikitchenlab @dreammachinecreative @hihellobk . 3d-printing @3dbrooklyn vectors @virilemonarch . . #nyc #mta #subwaysystem #nycsubway #subway #metro #nycsubway #train #subwaysigns #3dprinting #3dmodel #3dprinter #3dprinting #3dprints #3d #newyorkcity #manhattan #brooklyn #bushwick #bronx #raspberrypi #code #javascript #php #sql #python #subwayart #subwaygraffiti

121 Likes, 4 Comments – @nyctrainsign on Instagram: “making of real-time nyc mta signs with raspberry pi in bushwick . as seen @kcbcbeer @fathersbk…”

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Some memorable levels

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

Another Patreon request from Nova Dasterin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doom II: MAP10, Refueling Base

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Braid: World 4-7, Fickle Companion

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

screenshots via StrategyWikiplaythroughplaythrough of secret area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I take away from this? Hm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portal: Testchamber 18 (advanced)

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

screenshot mine — playthrough of normal mapplaythrough of advanced map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several chips that cannot be obtained without stepping on a trap

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

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

A wall with a single recessed gray space in it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

maps via vgmaps and TCRFplaythrough with commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cutting room floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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