Tag Archives: Locks

DNSSEC Keysigning Ceremony Postponed Because of Locked Safe

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/02/dnssec_keysigni.html

Interesting collision of real-world and Internet security:

The ceremony sees several trusted internet engineers (a minimum of three and up to seven) from across the world descend on one of two secure locations — one in El Segundo, California, just south of Los Angeles, and the other in Culpeper, Virginia — both in America, every three months.

Once in place, they run through a lengthy series of steps and checks to cryptographically sign the digital key pairs used to secure the internet’s root zone. (Here’s Cloudflare‘s in-depth explanation, and IANA’s PDF step-by-step guide.)

[…]

Only specific named people are allowed to take part in the ceremony, and they have to pass through several layers of security — including doors that can only be opened through fingerprint and retinal scans — before getting in the room where the ceremony takes place.

Staff open up two safes, each roughly one-metre across. One contains a hardware security module that contains the private portion of the KSK. The module is activated, allowing the KSK private key to sign keys, using smart cards assigned to the ceremony participants. These credentials are stored in deposit boxes and tamper-proof bags in the second safe. Each step is checked by everyone else, and the event is livestreamed. Once the ceremony is complete — which takes a few hours — all the pieces are separated, sealed, and put back in the safes inside the secure facility, and everyone leaves.

But during what was apparently a check on the system on Tuesday night — the day before the ceremony planned for 1300 PST (2100 UTC) Wednesday — IANA staff discovered that they couldn’t open one of the two safes. One of the locking mechanisms wouldn’t retract and so the safe stayed stubbornly shut.

As soon as they discovered the problem, everyone involved, including those who had flown in for the occasion, were told that the ceremony was being postponed. Thanks to the complexity of the problem — a jammed safe with critical and sensitive equipment inside — they were told it wasn’t going to be possible to hold the ceremony on the back-up date of Thursday, either.

Cellebrite Claims It Can Unlock Any iPhone

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2019/06/cellebrite_clai.html

The digital forensics company Cellebrite now claims it can unlock any iPhone.

I dithered before blogging this, not wanting to give the company more publicity. But I decided that everyone who wants to know already knows, and that Apple already knows. It’s all of us that need to know.

Ridiculously Insecure Smart Lock

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/06/ridiculously_in.html

Tapplock sells an “unbreakable” Internet-connected lock that you can open with your fingerprint. It turns out that:

  1. The lock broadcasts its Bluetooth MAC address in the clear, and you can calculate the unlock key from it.
  2. Any Tapplock account an unlock every lock.

  3. You can open the lock with a screwdriver.

Regarding the third flaw, the manufacturer has responded that “…the lock is invincible to the people who do not have a screwdriver.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Augmented-reality projection lamp with Raspberry Pi and Android Things

Post Syndicated from Helen Lynn original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/augmented-reality-projector/

If your day has been a little fraught so far, watch this video. It opens with a tableau of methodically laid-out components and then shows them soldered, screwed, and slotted neatly into place. Everything fits perfectly; nothing needs percussive adjustment. Then it shows us glimpses of an AR future just like the one promised in the less dystopian comics and TV programmes of my 1980s childhood. It is all very soothing, and exactly what I needed.

Android Things – Lantern

Transform any surface into mixed-reality using Raspberry Pi, a laser projector, and Android Things. Android Experiments – http://experiments.withgoogle.com/android/lantern Lantern project site – http://nordprojects.co/lantern check below to make your own ↓↓↓ Get the code – https://github.com/nordprojects/lantern Build the lamp – https://www.hackster.io/nord-projects/lantern-9f0c28

Creating augmented reality with projection

We’ve seen plenty of Raspberry Pi IoT builds that are smart devices for the home; they add computing power to things like lights, door locks, or toasters to make these objects interact with humans and with their environment in new ways. Nord ProjectsLantern takes a different approach. In their words, it:

imagines a future where projections are used to present ambient information, and relevant UI within everyday objects. Point it at a clock to show your appointments, or point to speaker to display the currently playing song. Unlike a screen, when Lantern’s projections are no longer needed, they simply fade away.

Lantern is set up so that you can connect your wireless device to it using Google Nearby. This means there’s no need to create an account before you can dive into augmented reality.

Lantern Raspberry Pi powered projector lamp

Your own open-source AR lamp

Nord Projects collaborated on Lantern with Google’s Android Things team. They’ve made it fully open-source, so you can find the code on GitHub and also download their parts list, which includes a Pi, an IKEA lamp, an accelerometer, and a laser projector. Build instructions are at hackster.io and on GitHub.

This is a particularly clear tutorial, very well illustrated with photos and GIFs, and once you’ve sourced and 3D-printed all of the components, you shouldn’t need a whole lot of experience to put everything together successfully. Since everything is open-source, though, if you want to adapt it — for example, if you’d like to source a less costly projector than the snazzy one used here — you can do that too.

components of Lantern Raspberry Pi powered augmented reality projector lamp

The instructions walk you through the mechanical build and the wiring, as well as installing Android Things and Nord Projects’ custom software on the Raspberry Pi. Once you’ve set everything up, an accelerometer connected to the Pi’s GPIO pins lets the lamp know which surface it is pointing at. A companion app on your mobile device lets you choose from the mini apps that work on that surface to select the projection you want.

The designers are making several mini apps available for Lantern, including the charmingly named Space Porthole: this uses Processing and your local longitude and latitude to project onto your ceiling the stars you’d see if you punched a hole through to the sky, if it were night time, and clear weather. Wouldn’t you rather look at that than deal with the ant problem in your kitchen or tackle your GitHub notifications?

What would you like to project onto your living environment? Let us know in the comments!

The post Augmented-reality projection lamp with Raspberry Pi and Android Things appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Cryptocurrency Security Challenges

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cryptocurrency-security-challenges/

Physical coins representing cyrptocurrencies

Most likely you’ve read the tantalizing stories of big gains from investing in cryptocurrencies. Someone who invested $1,000 into bitcoins five years ago would have over $85,000 in value now. Alternatively, someone who invested in bitcoins three months ago would have seen their investment lose 20% in value. Beyond the big price fluctuations, currency holders are possibly exposed to fraud, bad business practices, and even risk losing their holdings altogether if they are careless in keeping track of the all-important currency keys.

It’s certain that beyond the rewards and risks, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. We can’t ignore how they are changing the game for how money is handled between people and businesses.

Some Advantages of Cryptocurrency

  • Cryptocurrency is accessible to anyone.
  • Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis.
  • Transactions can completed for a fraction of the expense and time required to complete traditional asset transfers.
  • Transactions are digital and cannot be counterfeited or reversed arbitrarily by the sender, as with credit card charge-backs.
  • There aren’t usually transaction fees for cryptocurrency exchanges.
  • Cryptocurrency allows the cryptocurrency holder to send exactly what information is needed and no more to the merchant or recipient, even permitting anonymous transactions (for good or bad).
  • Cryptocurrency operates at the universal level and hence makes transactions easier internationally.
  • There is no other electronic cash system in which your account isn’t owned by someone else.

On top of all that, blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies, is already being applied to a variety of business needs and itself becoming a hot sector of the tech economy. Blockchain is bringing traceability and cost-effectiveness to supply-chain management — which also improves quality assurance in areas such as food, reducing errors and improving accounting accuracy, smart contracts that can be automatically validated, signed and enforced through a blockchain construct, the possibility of secure, online voting, and many others.

Like any new, booming marketing there are risks involved in these new currencies. Anyone venturing into this domain needs to have their eyes wide open. While the opportunities for making money are real, there are even more ways to lose money.

We’re going to cover two primary approaches to staying safe and avoiding fraud and loss when dealing with cryptocurrencies. The first is to thoroughly vet any person or company you’re dealing with to judge whether they are ethical and likely to succeed in their business segment. The second is keeping your critical cryptocurrency keys safe, which we’ll deal with in this and a subsequent post.

Caveat Emptor — Buyer Beware

The short history of cryptocurrency has already seen the demise of a number of companies that claimed to manage, mine, trade, or otherwise help their customers profit from cryptocurrency. Mt. Gox, GAW Miners, and OneCoin are just three of the many companies that disappeared with their users’ money. This is the traditional equivalent of your bank going out of business and zeroing out your checking account in the process.

That doesn’t happen with banks because of regulatory oversight. But with cryptocurrency, you need to take the time to investigate any company you use to manage or trade your currencies. How long have they been around? Who are their investors? Are they affiliated with any reputable financial institutions? What is the record of their founders and executive management? These are all important questions to consider when evaluating a company in this new space.

Would you give the keys to your house to a service or person you didn’t thoroughly know and trust? Some companies that enable you to buy and sell currencies online will routinely hold your currency keys, which gives them the ability to do anything they want with your holdings, including selling them and pocketing the proceeds if they wish.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever allow a company to keep your currency keys in escrow. It simply means that you better know with whom you’re doing business and if they’re trustworthy enough to be given that responsibility.

Keys To the Cryptocurrency Kingdom — Public and Private

If you’re an owner of cryptocurrency, you know how this all works. If you’re not, bear with me for a minute while I bring everyone up to speed.

Cryptocurrency has no physical manifestation, such as bills or coins. It exists purely as a computer record. And unlike currencies maintained by governments, such as the U.S. dollar, there is no central authority regulating its distribution and value. Cryptocurrencies use a technology called blockchain, which is a decentralized way of keeping track of transactions. There are many copies of a given blockchain, so no single central authority is needed to validate its authenticity or accuracy.

The validity of each cryptocurrency is determined by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called “blocks”, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Blockchains by design are inherently resistant to modification of the data. They perform as an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable, permanent way. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority. On a scaled network, this level of collusion is impossible — making blockchain networks effectively immutable and trustworthy.

Blockchain process

The other element common to all cryptocurrencies is their use of public and private keys, which are stored in the currency’s wallet. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private “keys” or “addresses” that can be used to receive or spend the cryptocurrency. With the private key, it is possible to write in the public ledger (blockchain), effectively spending the associated cryptocurrency. With the public key, it is possible for others to send currency to the wallet.

What is a cryptocurrency address?

Cryptocurrency “coins” can be lost if the owner loses the private keys needed to spend the currency they own. It’s as if the owner had lost a bank account number and had no way to verify their identity to the bank, or if they lost the U.S. dollars they had in their wallet. The assets are gone and unusable.

The Cryptocurrency Wallet

Given the importance of these keys, and lack of recourse if they are lost, it’s obviously very important to keep track of your keys.

If you’re being careful in choosing reputable exchanges, app developers, and other services with whom to trust your cryptocurrency, you’ve made a good start in keeping your investment secure. But if you’re careless in managing the keys to your bitcoins, ether, Litecoin, or other cryptocurrency, you might as well leave your money on a cafe tabletop and walk away.

What Are the Differences Between Hot and Cold Wallets?

Just like other numbers you might wish to keep track of — credit cards, account numbers, phone numbers, passphrases — cryptocurrency keys can be stored in a variety of ways. Those who use their currencies for day-to-day purchases most likely will want them handy in a smartphone app, hardware key, or debit card that can be used for purchases. These are called “hot” wallets. Some experts advise keeping the balances in these devices and apps to a minimal amount to avoid hacking or data loss. We typically don’t walk around with thousands of dollars in U.S. currency in our old-style wallets, so this is really a continuation of the same approach to managing spending money.

Bread mobile app screenshot

A “hot” wallet, the Bread mobile app

Some investors with large balances keep their keys in “cold” wallets, or “cold storage,” i.e. a device or location that is not connected online. If funds are needed for purchases, they can be transferred to a more easily used payment medium. Cold wallets can be hardware devices, USB drives, or even paper copies of your keys.

Trezor hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Trezor hardware wallet

Ledger Nano S hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Ledger Nano S

Bitcoin paper wallet

A “cold” Bitcoin paper wallet

Wallets are suited to holding one or more specific cryptocurrencies, and some people have multiple wallets for different currencies and different purposes.

A paper wallet is nothing other than a printed record of your public and private keys. Some prefer their records to be completely disconnected from the internet, and a piece of paper serves that need. Just like writing down an account password on paper, however, it’s essential to keep the paper secure to avoid giving someone the ability to freely access your funds.

How to Keep your Keys, and Cryptocurrency Secure

In a post this coming Thursday, Securing Your Cryptocurrency, we’ll discuss the best strategies for backing up your cryptocurrency so that your currencies don’t become part of the millions that have been lost. We’ll cover the common (and uncommon) approaches to backing up hot wallets, cold wallets, and using paper and metal solutions to keeping your keys safe.

In the meantime, please tell us of your experiences with cryptocurrencies — good and bad — and how you’ve dealt with the issue of cryptocurrency security.

The post Cryptocurrency Security Challenges appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

[$] Zone-lock and mmap_sem scalability

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/753269/rss

The memory-management subsystem is a central point that handles all of the
system’s memory, so it is naturally subject to scalability problems as
systems grow larger. Two sessions during the memory-management track of
the 2018 Linux Storage, Filesystem, and Memory-Management Summit looked at
specific contention points: the zone locks and the mmap_sem
semaphore.

[$] The LRU lock and mmap_sem

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/753058/rss

The kernel’s memory-management subsystem has to manage a great deal of
concurrency; that leads to an ongoing series of locking challenges that
sometimes seem intractable. Two recurring locking issues — the LRU locks
and the mmap_sem lock — were the topic of sessions held during the
memory-management track of the 2018 Linux Storage, Filesystem, and
Memory-Management Summit. In both cases, it quickly became clear that,
while some interesting ideas are being pursued, easy
solutions are not on offer.

Security Vulnerabilities in VingCard Electronic Locks

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/security_vulner_14.html

Researchers have disclosed a massive vulnerability in the VingCard eletronic lock system, used in hotel rooms around the world:

With a $300 Proxmark RFID card reading and writing tool, any expired keycard pulled from the trash of a target hotel, and a set of cryptographic tricks developed over close to 15 years of on-and-off analysis of the codes Vingcard electronically writes to its keycards, they found a method to vastly narrow down a hotel’s possible master key code. They can use that handheld Proxmark device to cycle through all the remaining possible codes on any lock at the hotel, identify the correct one in about 20 tries, and then write that master code to a card that gives the hacker free reign to roam any room in the building. The whole process takes about a minute.

[…]

The two researchers say that their attack works only on Vingcard’s previous-generation Vision locks, not the company’s newer Visionline product. But they estimate that it nonetheless affects 140,000 hotels in more than 160 countries around the world; the researchers say that Vingcard’s Swedish parent company, Assa Abloy, admitted to them that the problem affects millions of locks in total. When WIRED reached out to Assa Abloy, however, the company put the total number of vulnerable locks somewhat lower, between 500,000 and a million.

Patching is a nightmare. It requires updating the firmware on every lock individually.

And the researchers speculate whether or not others knew of this hack:

The F-Secure researchers admit they don’t know if their Vinguard attack has occurred in the real world. But the American firm LSI, which trains law enforcement agencies in bypassing locks, advertises Vingcard’s products among those it promises to teach students to unlock. And the F-Secure researchers point to a 2010 assassination of a Palestinian Hamas official in a Dubai hotel, widely believed to have been carried out by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. The assassins in that case seemingly used a vulnerability in Vingcard locks to enter their target’s room, albeit one that required re-programming the lock. “Most probably Mossad has a capability to do something like this,” Tuominen says.

Slashdot post.

Enhanced Domain Protections for Amazon CloudFront Requests

Post Syndicated from Colm MacCarthaigh original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/enhanced-domain-protections-for-amazon-cloudfront-requests/

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be adding enhanced domain protections to Amazon CloudFront. The short version is this: the new measures are designed to ensure that requests handled by CloudFront are handled on behalf of legitimate domain owners.

Using CloudFront to receive traffic for a domain you aren’t authorized to use is already a violation of our AWS Terms of Service. When we become aware of this type of activity, we deal with it behind the scenes by disabling abusive accounts. Now we’re integrating checks directly into the CloudFront API and Content Distribution service, as well.

Enhanced Protection against Dangling DNS entries
To use CloudFront with your domain, you must configure your domain to point at CloudFront. You may use a traditional CNAME, or an Amazon Route 53 “ALIAS” record.

A problem can arise if you delete your CloudFront distribution, but leave your DNS still pointing at CloudFront, popularly known as a “dangling” DNS entry. Thankfully, this is very rare, as the domain will no longer work, but we occasionally see customers who leave their old domains dormant. This can also happen if you leave this kind of “dangling” DNS entry pointing at other infrastructure you no longer control. For example, if you leave a domain pointing at an IP address that you don’t control, then there is a risk that someone may come along and “claim” traffic destined for your domain.

In an even more rare set of circumstances, an abuser can exploit a subdomain of a domain that you are actively using. For example, if a customer left “images.example.com” dangling and pointing to a deleted CloudFront distribution which is no longer in use, but they still actively use the parent domain “example.com”, then an abuser could come along and register “images.example.com” as an alternative name on their own distribution and claim traffic that they aren’t entitled to. This also means that cookies may be set and intercepted for HTTP traffic potentially including the parent domain. HTTPS traffic remains protected if you’ve removed the certificate associated with the original CloudFront distribution.

Of course, the best fix for this kind of risk is not to leave dangling DNS entries in the first place. Earlier in February, 2018, we added a new warning to our systems. With this warning, if you remove an alternate domain name from a distribution, you are reminded to delete any DNS entries that may still be pointing at CloudFront.

We also have long-standing checks in the CloudFront API that ensure this kind of domain claiming can’t occur when you are using wildcard domains. If you attempt to add *.example.com to your CloudFront distribution, but another account has already registered www.example.com, then the attempt will fail.

With the new enhanced domain protection, CloudFront will now also check your DNS whenever you remove an alternate domain. If we determine that the domain is still pointing at your CloudFront distribution, the API call will fail and no other accounts will be able to claim this traffic in the future.

Enhanced Protection against Domain Fronting
CloudFront will also be soon be implementing enhanced protections against so-called “Domain Fronting”. Domain Fronting is when a non-standard client makes a TLS/SSL connection to a certain name, but then makes a HTTPS request for an unrelated name. For example, the TLS connection may connect to “www.example.com” but then issue a request for “www.example.org”.

In certain circumstances this is normal and expected. For example, browsers can re-use persistent connections for any domain that is listed in the same SSL Certificate, and these are considered related domains. But in other cases, tools including malware can use this technique between completely unrelated domains to evade restrictions and blocks that can be imposed at the TLS/SSL layer.

To be clear, this technique can’t be used to impersonate domains. The clients are non-standard and are working around the usual TLS/SSL checks that ordinary clients impose. But clearly, no customer ever wants to find that someone else is masquerading as their innocent, ordinary domain. Although these cases are also already handled as a breach of our AWS Terms of Service, in the coming weeks we will be checking that the account that owns the certificate we serve for a particular connection always matches the account that owns the request we handle on that connection. As ever, the security of our customers is our top priority, and we will continue to provide enhanced protection against misconfigurations and abuse from unrelated parties.

Interested in additional AWS Security news? Follow the AWS Security Blog on Twitter.

Build a house in Minecraft using Python

Post Syndicated from Rob Zwetsloot original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/build-minecraft-house-using-python/

In this tutorial from The MagPi issue 68, Steve Martin takes us through the process of house-building in Minecraft Pi. Get your copy of The MagPi in stores now, or download it as a free PDF here.

Minecraft Pi is provided for free as part of the Raspbian operating system. To start your Minecraft: Pi Edition adventures, try our free tutorial Getting started with Minecraft.

Minecraft Raspberry Pi

Writing programs that create things in Minecraft is not only a great way to learn how to code, but it also means that you have a program that you can run again and again to make as many copies of your Minecraft design as you want. You never need to worry about your creation being destroyed by your brother or sister ever again — simply rerun your program and get it back! Whilst it might take a little longer to write the program than to build one house, once it’s finished you can build as many houses as you want.

Co-ordinates in Minecraft

Let’s start with a review of the coordinate system that Minecraft uses to know where to place blocks. If you are already familiar with this, you can skip to the next section. Otherwise, read on.

Minecraft Raspberry Pi Edition

Plan view of our house design

Minecraft shows us a three-dimensional (3D) view of the world. Imagine that the room you are in is the Minecraft world and you want to describe your location within that room. You can do so with three numbers, as follows:

  • How far across the room are you? As you move from side to side, you change this number. We can consider this value to be our X coordinate.
  • How high off the ground are you? If you are upstairs, or if you jump, this value increases. We can consider this value to be our Y coordinate.
  • How far into the room are you? As you walk forwards or backwards, you change this number. We can consider this value to be our Z coordinate.

You might have done graphs in school with X going across the page and Y going up the page. Coordinates in Minecraft are very similar, except that we have an extra value, Z, for our third dimension. Don’t worry if this still seems a little confusing: once we start to build our house, you will see how these three dimensions work in Minecraft.

Designing our house

It is a good idea to start with a rough design for our house. This will help us to work out the values for the coordinates when we are adding doors and windows to our house. You don’t have to plan every detail of your house right away. It is always fun to enhance it once you have got the basic design written. The image above shows the plan view of the house design that we will be creating in this tutorial. Note that because this is a plan view, it only shows the X and Z co-ordinates; we can’t see how high anything is. Hopefully, you can imagine the house extending up from the screen.

We will build our house close to where the Minecraft player is standing. This a good idea when creating something in Minecraft with Python, as it saves us from having to walk around the Minecraft world to try to find our creation.

Starting our program

Type in the code as you work through this tutorial. You can use any editor you like; we would suggest either Python 3 (IDLE) or Thonny Python IDE, both of which you can find on the Raspberry Pi menu under Programming. Start by selecting the File menu and creating a new file. Save the file with a name of your choice; it must end with .py so that the Raspberry Pi knows that it is a Python program.

It is important to enter the code exactly as it is shown in the listing. Pay particular attention to both the spelling and capitalisation (upper- or lower-case letters) used. You may find that when you run your program the first time, it doesn’t work. This is very common and just means there’s a small error somewhere. The error message will give you a clue about where the error is.

It is good practice to start all of your Python programs with the first line shown in our listing. All other lines that start with a # are comments. These are ignored by Python, but they are a good way to remind us what the program is doing.

The two lines starting with from tell Python about the Minecraft API; this is a code library that our program will be using to talk to Minecraft. The line starting mc = creates a connection between our Python program and the game. Then we get the player’s location broken down into three variables: x, y, and z.

Building the shell of our house

To help us build our house, we define three variables that specify its width, height, and depth. Defining these variables makes it easy for us to change the size of our house later; it also makes the code easier to understand when we are setting the co-ordinates of the Minecraft bricks. For now, we suggest that you use the same values that we have; you can go back and change them once the house is complete and you want to alter its design.

It’s now time to start placing some bricks. We create the shell of our house with just two lines of code! These lines of code each use the setBlocks command to create a complete block of bricks. This function takes the following arguments:

setBlocks(x1, y1, z1, x2, y2, z2, block-id, data)

x1, y1, and z1 are the coordinates of one corner of the block of bricks that we want to create; x1, y1, and z1 are the coordinates of the other corner. The block-id is the type of block that we want to use. Some blocks require another value called data; we will see this being used later, but you can ignore it for now.

We have to work out the values that we need to use in place of x1, y1, z1, x1, y1, z1 for our walls. Note that what we want is a larger outer block made of bricks and that is filled with a slightly smaller block of air blocks. Yes, in Minecraft even air is actually just another type of block.

Once you have typed in the two lines that create the shell of your house, you almost ready to run your program. Before doing so, you must have Minecraft running and displaying the contents of your world. Do not have a world loaded with things that you have created, as they may get destroyed by the house that we are building. Go to a clear area in the Minecraft world before running the program. When you run your program, check for any errors in the ‘console’ window and fix them, repeatedly running the code again until you’ve corrected all the errors.

You should see a block of bricks now, as shown above. You may have to turn the player around in the Minecraft world before you can see your house.

Adding the floor and door

Now, let’s make our house a bit more interesting! Add the lines for the floor and door. Note that the floor extends beyond the boundary of the wall of the house; can you see how we achieve this?

Hint: look closely at how we calculate the x and z attributes as compared to when we created the house shell above. Also note that we use a value of y-1 to create the floor below our feet.

Minecraft doors are two blocks high, so we have to create them in two parts. This is where we have to use the data argument. A value of 0 is used for the lower half of the door, and a value of 8 is used for the upper half (the part with the windows in it). These values will create an open door. If we add 4 to each of these values, a closed door will be created.

Before you run your program again, move to a new location in Minecraft to build the house away from the previous one. Then run it to check that the floor and door are created; you will need to fix any errors again. Even if your program runs without errors, check that the floor and door are positioned correctly. If they aren’t, then you will need to check the arguments so setBlock and setBlocks are exactly as shown in the listing.

Adding windows

Hopefully you will agree that your house is beginning to take shape! Now let’s add some windows. Looking at the plan for our house, we can see that there is a window on each side; see if you can follow along. Add the four lines of code, one for each window.

Now you can move to yet another location and run the program again; you should have a window on each side of the house. Our house is starting to look pretty good!

Adding a roof

The final stage is to add a roof to the house. To do this we are going to use wooden stairs. We will do this inside a loop so that if you change the width of your house, more layers are added to the roof. Enter the rest of the code. Be careful with the indentation: I recommend using spaces and avoiding the use of tabs. After the if statement, you need to indent the code even further. Each indentation level needs four spaces, so below the line with if on it, you will need eight spaces.

Since some of these code lines are lengthy and indented a lot, you may well find that the text wraps around as you reach the right-hand side of your editor window — don’t worry about this. You will have to be careful to get those indents right, however.

Now move somewhere new in your world and run the complete program. Iron out any last bugs, then admire your house! Does it look how you expect? Can you make it better?

Customising your house

Now you can start to customise your house. It is a good idea to use Save As in the menu to save a new version of your program. Then you can keep different designs, or refer back to your previous program if you get to a point where you don’t understand why your new one doesn’t work.

Consider these changes:

  • Change the size of your house. Are you able also to move the door and windows so they stay in proportion?
  • Change the materials used for the house. An ice house placed in an area of snow would look really cool!
  • Add a back door to your house. Or make the front door a double-width door!

We hope that you have enjoyed writing this program to build a house. Now you can easily add a house to your Minecraft world whenever you want to by simply running this program.

Get the complete code for this project here.

Continue your Minecraft journey

Minecraft Pi’s programmable interface is an ideal platform for learning Python. If you’d like to try more of our free tutorials, check out:

You may also enjoy Martin O’Hanlon’s and David Whale’s Adventures in Minecraft, and the Hacking and Making in Minecraft MagPi Essentials guide, which you can download for free or buy in print here.

The post Build a house in Minecraft using Python appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Using AWS Lambda and Amazon Comprehend for sentiment analysis

Post Syndicated from Chris Munns original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/using-aws-lambda-and-amazon-comprehend-for-sentiment-analysis/

This post courtesy of Giedrius Praspaliauskas, AWS Solutions Architect

Even with best IVR systems, customers get frustrated. What if you knew that 10 callers in your Amazon Connect contact flow were likely to say “Agent!” in frustration in the next 30 seconds? Would you like to get to them before that happens? What if your bot was smart enough to admit, “I’m sorry this isn’t helping. Let me find someone for you.”?

In this post, I show you how to use AWS Lambda and Amazon Comprehend for sentiment analysis to make your Amazon Lex bots in Amazon Connect more sympathetic.

Setting up a Lambda function for sentiment analysis

There are multiple natural language and text processing frameworks or services available to use with Lambda, including but not limited to Amazon Comprehend, TextBlob, Pattern, and NLTK. Pick one based on the nature of your system:  the type of interaction, languages supported, and so on. For this post, I picked Amazon Comprehend, which uses natural language processing (NLP) to extract insights and relationships in text.

The walkthrough in this post is just an example. In a full-scale implementation, you would likely implement a more nuanced approach. For example, you could keep the overall sentiment score through the conversation and act only when it reaches a certain threshold. It is worth noting that this Lambda function is not called for missed utterances, so there may be a gap between what is being analyzed and what was actually said.

The Lambda function is straightforward. It analyses the input transcript field of the Amazon Lex event. Based on the overall sentiment value, it generates a response message with next step instructions. When the sentiment is neutral, positive, or mixed, the response leaves it to Amazon Lex to decide what the next steps should be. It adds to the response overall sentiment value as an additional session attribute, along with slots’ values received as an input.

When the overall sentiment is negative, the function returns the dialog action, pointing to an escalation intent (specified in the environment variable ESCALATION_INTENT_NAME) or returns the fulfillment closure action with a failure state when the intent is not specified. In addition to actions or intents, the function returns a message, or prompt, to be provided to the customer before taking the next step. Based on the returned action, Amazon Connect can select the appropriate next step in a contact flow.

For this walkthrough, you create a Lambda function using the AWS Management Console:

  1. Open the Lambda console.
  2. Choose Create Function.
  3. Choose Author from scratch (no blueprint).
  4. For Runtime, choose Python 3.6.
  5. For Role, choose Create a custom role. The custom execution role allows the function to detect sentiments, create a log group, stream log events, and store the log events.
  6. Enter the following values:
    • For Role Description, enter Lambda execution role permissions.
    • For IAM Role, choose Create an IAM role.
    • For Role Name, enter LexSentimentAnalysisLambdaRole.
    • For Policy, use the following policy:
{
    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
                "logs:CreateLogGroup",
                "logs:CreateLogStream",
                "logs:PutLogEvents"
            ],
            "Resource": "arn:aws:logs:*:*:*"
        },
        {
            "Action": [
                "comprehend:DetectDominantLanguage",
                "comprehend:DetectSentiment"
            ],
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Resource": "*"
        }
    ]
}
    1. Choose Create function.
    2. Copy/paste the following code to the editor window
import os, boto3

ESCALATION_INTENT_MESSAGE="Seems that you are having troubles with our service. Would you like to be transferred to the associate?"
FULFILMENT_CLOSURE_MESSAGE="Seems that you are having troubles with our service. Let me transfer you to the associate."

escalation_intent_name = os.getenv('ESACALATION_INTENT_NAME', None)

client = boto3.client('comprehend')

def lambda_handler(event, context):
    sentiment=client.detect_sentiment(Text=event['inputTranscript'],LanguageCode='en')['Sentiment']
    if sentiment=='NEGATIVE':
        if escalation_intent_name:
            result = {
                "sessionAttributes": {
                    "sentiment": sentiment
                    },
                    "dialogAction": {
                        "type": "ConfirmIntent", 
                        "message": {
                            "contentType": "PlainText", 
                            "content": ESCALATION_INTENT_MESSAGE
                        }, 
                    "intentName": escalation_intent_name
                    }
            }
        else:
            result = {
                "sessionAttributes": {
                    "sentiment": sentiment
                },
                "dialogAction": {
                    "type": "Close",
                    "fulfillmentState": "Failed",
                    "message": {
                            "contentType": "PlainText",
                            "content": FULFILMENT_CLOSURE_MESSAGE
                    }
                }
            }

    else:
        result ={
            "sessionAttributes": {
                "sentiment": sentiment
            },
            "dialogAction": {
                "type": "Delegate",
                "slots" : event["currentIntent"]["slots"]
            }
        }
    return result
  1. Below the code editor specify the environment variable ESCALATION_INTENT_NAME with a value of Escalate.

  1. Click on Save in the top right of the console.

Now you can test your function.

  1. Click Test at the top of the console.
  2. Configure a new test event using the following test event JSON:
{
  "messageVersion": "1.0",
  "invocationSource": "DialogCodeHook",
  "userId": "1234567890",
  "sessionAttributes": {},
  "bot": {
    "name": "BookSomething",
    "alias": "None",
    "version": "$LATEST"
  },
  "outputDialogMode": "Text",
  "currentIntent": {
    "name": "BookSomething",
    "slots": {
      "slot1": "None",
      "slot2": "None"
    },
    "confirmationStatus": "None"
  },
  "inputTranscript": "I want something"
}
  1. Click Create
  2. Click Test on the console

This message should return a response from Lambda with a sentiment session attribute of NEUTRAL.

However, if you change the input to “This is garbage!”, Lambda changes the dialog action to the escalation intent specified in the environment variable ESCALATION_INTENT_NAME.

Setting up Amazon Lex

Now that you have your Lambda function running, it is time to create the Amazon Lex bot. Use the BookTrip sample bot and call it BookSomething. The IAM role is automatically created on your behalf. Indicate that this bot is not subject to the COPPA, and choose Create. A few minutes later, the bot is ready.

Make the following changes to the default configuration of the bot:

  1. Add an intent with no associated slots. Name it Escalate.
  2. Specify the Lambda function for initialization and validation in the existing two intents (“BookCar” and “BookHotel”), at the same time giving Amazon Lex permission to invoke it.
  3. Leave the other configuration settings as they are and save the intents.

You are ready to build and publish this bot. Set a new alias, BookSomethingWithSentimentAnalysis. When the build finishes, test it.

As you see, sentiment analysis works!

Setting up Amazon Connect

Next, provision an Amazon Connect instance.

After the instance is created, you need to integrate the Amazon Lex bot created in the previous step. For more information, see the Amazon Lex section in the Configuring Your Amazon Connect Instance topic.  You may also want to look at the excellent post by Randall Hunt, New – Amazon Connect and Amazon Lex Integration.

Create a new contact flow, “Sentiment analysis walkthrough”:

  1. Log in into the Amazon Connect instance.
  2. Choose Create contact flow, Create transfer to agent flow.
  3. Add a Get customer input block, open the icon in the top left corner, and specify your Amazon Lex bot and its intents.
  4. Select the Text to speech audio prompt type and enter text for Amazon Connect to play at the beginning of the dialog.
  5. Choose Amazon Lex, enter your Amazon Lex bot name and the alias.
  6. Specify the intents to be used as dialog branches that a customer can choose: BookHotel, BookTrip, or Escalate.
  7. Add two Play prompt blocks and connect them to the customer input block.
    • If booking hotel or car intent is returned from the bot flow, play the corresponding prompt (“OK, will book it for you”) and initiate booking (in this walkthrough, just hang up after the prompt).
    • However, if escalation intent is returned (caused by the sentiment analysis results in the bot), play the prompt (“OK, transferring to an agent”) and initiate the transfer.
  8. Save and publish the contact flow.

As a result, you have a contact flow with a single customer input step and a text-to-speech prompt that uses the Amazon Lex bot. You expect one of the three intents returned:

Edit the phone number to associate the contact flow that you just created. It is now ready for testing. Call the phone number and check how your contact flow works.

Cleanup

Don’t forget to delete all the resources created during this walkthrough to avoid incurring any more costs:

  • Amazon Connect instance
  • Amazon Lex bot
  • Lambda function
  • IAM role LexSentimentAnalysisLambdaRole

Summary

In this walkthrough, you implemented sentiment analysis with a Lambda function. The function can be integrated into Amazon Lex and, as a result, into Amazon Connect. This approach gives you the flexibility to analyze user input and then act. You may find the following potential use cases of this approach to be of interest:

  • Extend the Lambda function to identify “hot” topics in the user input even if the sentiment is not negative and take action proactively. For example, switch to an escalation intent if a user mentioned “where is my order,” which may signal potential frustration.
  • Use Amazon Connect Streams to provide agent sentiment analysis results along with call transfer. Enable service tailored towards particular customer needs and sentiments.
  • Route calls to agents based on both skill set and sentiment.
  • Prioritize calls based on sentiment using multiple Amazon Connect queues instead of transferring directly to an agent.
  • Monitor quality and flag for review contact flows that result in high overall negative sentiment.
  • Implement sentiment and AI/ML based call analysis, such as a real-time recommendation engine. For more details, see Machine Learning on AWS.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.

Cloud Empire: Meet the Rebel Alliance

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cloud-empire-meet-the-rebel-alliance/

Cloud Empire: Meet the Rebel Alliance

Last week Backblaze made the exciting announcement that through partnerships with Packet and ServerCentral, cloud computing is available to Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage customers.

Those of you familiar with cloud computing will understand the significance of this news. We are now offering the least expensive cloud storage + cloud computing available anywhere. You no longer have to submit to the lock-in tactics and exorbitant prices charged by the other big players in the cloud services biz.

As Robin Harris wrote in ZDNet about last week’s computing partners announcement, Cloud Empire: Meet the Rebel Alliance.

We understand that some of our cloud backup and storage customers might be unfamiliar with cloud computing. Backblaze made its name in cloud backup and object storage, and that’s what our customers know us for. In response to customers requests, we’ve directly connected our B2 cloud object storage with cloud compute providers. This adds the ability to use and run programs on data once it’s in the B2 cloud, opening up a world of new uses for B2. Just some of the possibilities include media transcoding and rendering, web hosting, application development and testing, business analytics, disaster recovery, on-demand computing capacity (cloud bursting), AI, and mobile and IoT applications.

The world has been moving to a multi-cloud / hybrid cloud world, and customers are looking for more choices than those offered by the existing cloud players. Our B2 compute partnerships build on our mission to offer cloud storage that’s astonishingly easy and low-cost. They enable our customers to move into a more flexible and affordable cloud services ecosystem that provides a greater variety of choices and costs far less. We believe we are helping to fulfill the promise of the internet by allowing customers to choose the best-of-breed services from the best vendors.

If You’re Not Familiar with Cloud Computing, Here’s a Quick Overview

Cloud computing is another component of cloud services, like object storage, that replicates in the cloud a basic function of a computer system. Think of services that operate in a cloud as an infinitely scalable version of what happens on your desktop computer. In your desktop computer you have computing/processing (CPU), fast storage (like an SSD), data storage (like your disk drive), and memory (RAM). Their counterparts in the cloud are computing (CPU), block storage (fast storage), object storage (data storage), and processing memory (RAM).

Computer building blocks

CPU, RAM, fast internal storage, and a hard drive are the basic building blocks of a computer
They also are the basic building blocks of cloud computing

Some customers require only some of these services, such as cloud storage. B2 as a standalone service has proven to be an outstanding solution for those customers interested in backing up or archiving data. There are many customers that would like additional capabilities, such as performing operations on that data once it’s in the cloud. They need object storage combined with computing.

With the just announced compute partnerships, Backblaze is able to offer computing services to anyone using B2. A direct connection between Backblaze’s and our partners’ data centers means that our customers can process data stored in B2 with high speed, low latency, and zero data transfer costs.

Backblaze, Packet and Server Central cloud compute workflow diagram

Cloud service providers package up CPU, storage, and memory into services that you can rent on an hourly basis
You can scale up and down and add or remove services as you need them

How Does Computing + B2 Work?

Those wanting to use B2 with computing will need to sign up for accounts with Backblaze and either Packet or ServerCentral. Packet customers need only select “SJC1” as their region and then get started. The process is also simple for ServerCentral customers — they just need to register with a ServerCentral account rep.

The direct connection between B2 and our compute partners means customers will experience very low latency (less than 10ms) between services. Even better, all data transfers between B2 and the compute partner are free. When combined with Backblaze B2, customers can obtain cloud computing services for as little as 50% of the cost of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

Opening Up the Cloud “Walled Garden”

Traditionally, cloud vendors charge fees for customers to move data outside the “walled garden” of that particular vendor. These fees reach upwards of $0.12 per gigabyte (GB) for data egress. This large fee for customers accessing their own data restricts users from using a multi-cloud approach and taking advantage of less expensive or better performing options. With free transfers between B2 and Packet or ServerCentral, customers now have a predictable, scalable solution for computing and data storage while avoiding vendor lock in. Dropbox made waves when they saved $75 million by migrating off of AWS. Adding computing to B2 helps anyone interested in moving some or all of their computing off of AWS and thereby cutting their AWS bill by 50% or more.

What are the Advantages of Cloud Storage + Computing?

Using computing and storage in the cloud provide a number of advantages over using in-house resources.

  1. You don’t have to purchase the actual hardware, software licenses, and provide space and IT resources for the systems.
  2. Cloud computing is available with just a few minutes notice and you only pay for whatever period of time you need. You avoid having additional hardware on your balance sheet.
  3. Resources are in the cloud and can provide online services to customers, mobile users, and partners located anywhere in the world.
  4. You can isolate the work on these systems from your normal production environment, making them ideal for testing and trying out new applications and development projects.
  5. Computing resources scale when you need them to, providing temporary or ongoing extra resources for expected or unexpected demand.
  6. They can provide redundant and failover services when and if your primary systems are unavailable for whatever reason.

Where Can I Learn More?

We encourage B2 customers to explore the options available at our partner sites, Packet and ServerCentral. They are happy to help customers understand what services are available and how to get started.

We are excited to see what you build! And please tell us in the comments what you are doing or have planned with B2 + computing.

P.S. May the force be with all of us!

The post Cloud Empire: Meet the Rebel Alliance appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

American Public Television Embraces the Cloud — And the Future

Post Syndicated from Andy Klein original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/american-public-television-embraces-the-cloud-and-the-future/

American Public Television website

American Public Television was like many organizations that have been around for a while. They were entrenched using an older technology — in their case, tape storage and distribution — that once met their needs but was limiting their productivity and preventing them from effectively collaborating with their many media partners. APT’s VP of Technology knew that he needed to move into the future and embrace cloud storage to keep APT ahead of the game.
Since 1961, American Public Television (APT) has been a leading distributor of groundbreaking, high-quality, top-rated programming to the nation’s public television stations. Gerry Field is the Vice President of Technology at APT and is responsible for delivering their extensive program catalog to 350+ public television stations nationwide.

In the time since Gerry  joined APT in 2007, the industry has been in digital overdrive. During that time APT has continued to acquire and distribute the best in public television programming to their technically diverse subscribers.

This created two challenges for Gerry. First, new technology and format proliferation were driving dramatic increases in digital storage. Second, many of APT’s subscribers struggled to keep up with the rapidly changing industry. While some subscribers had state-of-the-art satellite systems to receive programming, others had to wait for the post office to drop off programs recorded on tape weeks earlier. With no slowdown on the horizon of innovation in the industry, Gerry knew that his storage and distribution systems would reach a crossroads in no time at all.

American Public Television logo

Living the tape paradigm

The digital media industry is only a few years removed from its film, and later videotape, roots. Tape was the input and the output of the industry for many years. As a consequence, the tools and workflows used by the industry were built and designed to work with tape. Over time, the “file” slowly replaced the tape as the object to be captured, edited, stored and distributed. Trouble was, many of the systems and more importantly workflows were based on processing tape, and these have proven to be hard to change.

At APT, Gerry realized the limits of the tape paradigm and began looking for technologies and solutions that enabled workflows based on file and object based storage and distribution.

Thinking file based storage and distribution

For data (digital media) storage, APT, like everyone else, started by installing onsite storage servers. As the amount of digital data grew, more storage was added. In addition, APT was expanding its distribution footprint by creating or partnering with distribution channels such as CreateTV and APT Worldwide. This dramatically increased the number of programming formats and the amount of data that had to be stored. As a consequence, updating, maintaining, and managing the APT storage systems was becoming a major challenge and a major resource hog.

APT Online

Knowing that his in-house storage system was only going to cost more time and money, Gerry decided it was time to look at cloud storage. But that wasn’t the only reason he looked at the cloud. While most people consider cloud storage as just a place to back up and archive files, Gerry was envisioning how the ubiquity of the cloud could help solve his distribution challenges. The trouble was the price of cloud storage from vendors like Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure was a non-starter, especially for a non-profit. Then Gerry came across Backblaze. B2 Cloud Storage service met all of his performance requirements, and at $0.005/GB/month for storage and $0.01/GB for downloads it was nearly 75% less than S3 or Azure.

Gerry did the math and found that he could economically incorporate B2 Cloud Storage into his IT portfolio, using it for both program submission and for active storage and archiving of the APT programs. In addition, B2 now gives him the foundation necessary to receive and distribute programming content over the Internet. This is especially useful for organizations that can’t conveniently access satellite distribution systems. Not to mention downloading from the cloud is much faster than sending a tape through the mail.

Adding B2 Cloud Storage to their infrastructure has helped American Public Television address two key challenges. First, they now have “unlimited” storage in the cloud without having to add any hardware. In addition, with B2, they only pay for the storage they use. That means they don’t have to buy storage upfront trying to match the maximum amount of storage they’ll ever need. Second, by using B2 as a distribution source for their programming APT subscribers, especially the smaller and remote ones, can get content faster and more reliably without having to perform costly upgrades to their infrastructure.

The road ahead

As APT gets used to their file based infrastructure and workflow, there are a number of cost saving and income generating ideas they are pondering which are now worth considering. Here are a few:

Program Submissions — New content can be uploaded from anywhere using a web browser, an Internet connection, and a login. For example, a producer in Cambodia can upload their film to B2. From there the film is downloaded to an in-house system where it is processed and transcoded using compute. The finished film is added to the APT catalog and added to B2. Once there, the program is instantly available for subscribers to order and download.

“The affordability and performance of Backblaze B2 is what allowed us to make the B2 cloud part of the APT data storage and distribution strategy into the future.” — Gerry Field

Easier Previews — At any time, work in process or finished programs can be made available for download from the B2 cloud. One place this could be useful is where a subscriber needs to review a program to comply with local policies and practices before airing. In the old system, each “one-off” was a time consuming manual process.

Instant Subscriptions — There are many organizations such as schools and businesses that want to use just one episode of a desired show. With an e-commerce based website, current or even archived programming kept in B2 could be available to download or stream for a minimal charge.

At APT there were multiple technologies needed to make their file-based infrastructure work, but as Gerry notes, having an affordable, trustworthy, cloud storage service like B2 is one of the critical building blocks needed to make everything work together.

The post American Public Television Embraces the Cloud — And the Future appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/introducing-cloud-compute-services/

Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships

In 2015, we announced Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage — the most affordable, high performance storage cloud on the planet. The decision to release B2 as a service was in direct response to customers asking us if they could use the same cloud storage infrastructure we use for our Computer Backup service. With B2, we entered a market in direct competition with Amazon S3, Google Cloud Services, and Microsoft Azure Storage. Today, we have over 500 petabytes of data from customers in over 150 countries. At $0.005 / GB / month for storage (1/4th of S3) and $0.01 / GB for downloads (1/5th of S3), it turns out there’s a healthy market for cloud storage that’s easy and affordable.

As B2 has grown, customers wanted to use our cloud storage for a variety of use cases that required not only storage but compute. We’re happy to say that through partnerships with Packet & ServerCentral, today we’re announcing that compute is now available for B2 customers.

Cloud Compute and Storage

Backblaze has directly connected B2 with the compute servers of Packet and ServerCentral, thereby allowing near-instant (< 10 ms) data transfers between services. Also, transferring data between B2 and both our compute partners is free.

  • Storing data in B2 and want to run an AI analysis on it? — There are no fees to move the data to our compute partners.
  • Generating data in an application? — Run the application with one of our partners and store it in B2.
  • Transfers are free and you’ll save more than 50% off of the equivalent set of services from AWS.

These partnerships enable B2 customers to use compute, give our compute partners’ customers access to cloud storage, and introduce new customers to industry-leading storage and compute — all with high-performance, low-latency, and low-cost.

Is This a Big Deal? We Think So

Compute is one of the most requested services from our customers Why? Because it unlocks a number of use cases for them. Let’s look at three popular examples:

Transcoding Media Files

B2 has earned wide adoption in the Media & Entertainment (“M&E”) industry. Our affordable storage and download pricing make B2 great for a wide variety of M&E use cases. But many M&E workflows require compute. Content syndicators, like American Public Television, need the ability to transcode files to meet localization and distribution management requirements.

There are a multitude of reasons that transcode is needed — thumbnail and proxy generation enable M&E professionals to work efficiently. Without compute, the act of transcoding files remains cumbersome. Either the files need to be brought down from the cloud, transcoded, and then pushed back up or they must be kept locally until the project is complete. Both scenarios are inefficient.

Starting today, any content producer can spin up compute with one of our partners, pay by the hour for their transcode processing, and return the new media files to B2 for storage and distribution. The company saves money, moves faster, and ensures their files are safe and secure.

Disaster Recovery

Backblaze’s heritage is based on providing outstanding backup services. When you have incredibly affordable cloud storage, it ends up being a great destination for your backup data.

Most enterprises have virtual machines (“VMs”) running in their infrastructure and those VMs need to be backed up. In a disaster scenario, a business wants to know they can get back up and running quickly.

With all data stored in B2, a business can get up and running quickly. Simply restore your backed up VM to one of our compute providers, and your business will be able to get back online.

Since B2 does not place restrictions, delays, or penalties on getting data out, customers can get back up and running quickly and affordably.

Saving $74 Million (aka “The Dropbox Effect”)

Ten years ago, Backblaze decided that S3 was too costly a platform to build its cloud storage business. Instead, we created the Backblaze Storage Pod and our own cloud storage infrastructure. That decision enabled us to offer our customers storage at a previously unavailable price point and maintain those prices for over a decade. It also laid the foundation for Netflix Open Connect and Facebook Open Compute.

Dropbox recently migrated the majority of their cloud services off of AWS and onto Dropbox’s own infrastructure. By leaving AWS, Dropbox was able to build out their own data centers and still save over $74 Million. They achieved those savings by avoiding the fees AWS charges for storing and downloading data, which, incidentally, are five times higher than Backblaze B2.

For Dropbox, being able to realize savings was possible because they have access to enough capital and expertise that they can build out their own infrastructure. For companies that have such resources and scale, that’s a great answer.

“Before this offering, the economics of the cloud would have made our business simply unviable.” — Gabriel Menegatti, SlicingDice

The questions Backblaze and our compute partners pondered was “how can we democratize the Dropbox effect for our storage and compute customers? How can we help customers do more and pay less?” The answer we came up with was to connect Backblaze’s B2 storage with strategic compute partners and remove any transfer fees between them. You may not save $74 million as Dropbox did, but you can choose the optimal providers for your use case and realize significant savings in the process.

This Sounds Good — Tell Me More About Your Partners

We’re very fortunate to be launching our compute program with two fantastic partners in Packet and ServerCentral. These partners allow us to offer a range of computing services.

Packet

We recommend Packet for customers that need on-demand, high performance, bare metal servers available by the hour. They also have robust offerings for private / customized deployments. Their offerings end up costing 50-75% of the equivalent offerings from EC2.

To get started with Packet and B2, visit our partner page on Packet.net.

ServerCentral

ServerCentral is the right partner for customers that have business and IT challenges that require more than “just” hardware. They specialize in fully managed, custom cloud solutions that solve complex business and IT challenges. ServerCentral also has expertise in managed network solutions to address global connectivity and content delivery.

To get started with ServerCentral and B2, visit our partner page on ServerCentral.com.

What’s Next?

We’re excited to find out. The combination of B2 and compute unlocks use cases that were previously impossible or at least unaffordable.

“The combination of performance and price offered by this partnership enables me to create an entirely new business line. Before this offering, the economics of the cloud would have made our business simply unviable,” noted Gabriel Menegatti, co-founder at SlicingDice, a serverless data warehousing service. “Knowing that transfers between compute and B2 are free means I don’t have to worry about my business being successful. And, with download pricing from B2 at just $0.01 GB, I know I’m avoiding a 400% tax from AWS on data I retrieve.”

What can you do with B2 & compute? Please share your ideas with us in the comments. And, for those attending NAB 2018 in Las Vegas next week, please come by and say hello!

The post Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

A geometric Rust adventure

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

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

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

The problem

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

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

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

But intersection is a good start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I fell down the rabbit hole.

The basic algorithm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syntax and basic semantics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language conventions

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorting out sorting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only other sorting adventure was this:

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

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

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

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

But now I see storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

Ownership hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

This throws a few wrenches in the works.

Problem the first: pointer loops

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

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

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

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enum SegmentEnd {
    Left,
    Right,
}

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

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

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

Problem the second: where’s all the data

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

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

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struct Algorithm {
    arena: LinkedList<SweepSegment>,
    event_queue: BinaryHeap<SweepEndpoint>,
}

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

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

Okay! Now for some methods.

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

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

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

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

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fn run(&'a mut self) {
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 5 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    self.arena.push_back(SweepSegment{ data: 17 });
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Left));
    self.event_queue.push(SweepEndpoint(self.arena.back().unwrap(), SegmentEnd::Right));
    for event in &self.event_queue {
        println!("{:?}", event)
    }
}

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

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

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fn run(&'a mut self) {
    self.mutate_something();
    self.mutate_something();
}

fn mutate_something(&'a mut self) {}

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

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

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

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

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

I set out to find a middle ground.

Solution, kind of

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gross.

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

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

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struct SegmentPacket {
    // a bunch of flags and whatnot used in the algorithm
}
struct SweepSegment {
    left_point: MapPoint,
    right_point: MapPoint,
    faces_outwards: bool,
    index: usize,
    order: usize,
    packet: RefCell<SegmentPacket>,
}

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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macro_rules! _split_segment (
    ($seg:expr, $pt:expr) => (
        {
            let pt = $pt;
            let seg = $seg;
            // ... waaay too much code ...
        }
    );
);

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

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

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

Aftermath

I still had a lot of work to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some final observations

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

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

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

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

Now I just need to figure this one out…