Tag Archives: marketing

Amazon Redshift Dense Compute (DC2) Nodes Deliver Twice the Performance as DC1 at the Same Price

Post Syndicated from Quaseer Mujawar original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/amazon-redshift-dense-compute-dc2-nodes-deliver-twice-the-performance-as-dc1-at-the-same-price/

Amazon Redshift makes analyzing exabyte-scale data fast, simple, and cost-effective. It delivers advanced data warehousing capabilities, including parallel execution, compressed columnar storage, and end-to-end encryption as a fully managed service, for less than $1,000/TB/year. With Amazon Redshift Spectrum, you can run SQL queries directly against exabytes of unstructured data in Amazon S3 for $5/TB scanned.

Today, we are making our Dense Compute (DC) family faster and more cost-effective with new second-generation Dense Compute (DC2) nodes at the same price as our previous generation DC1. DC2 is designed for demanding data warehousing workloads that require low latency and high throughput. DC2 features powerful Intel E5-2686 v4 (Broadwell) CPUs, fast DDR4 memory, and NVMe-based solid state disks.

We’ve tuned Amazon Redshift to take advantage of the better CPU, network, and disk on DC2 nodes, providing up to twice the performance of DC1 at the same price. Our DC2.8xlarge instances now provide twice the memory per slice of data and an optimized storage layout with 30 percent better storage utilization.

Customer successes

Several flagship customers, ranging from fast growing startups to large Fortune 100 companies, previewed the new DC2 node type. In their tests, DC2 provided up to twice the performance as DC1. Our preview customers saw faster ETL (extract, transform, and load) jobs, higher query throughput, better concurrency, faster reports, and shorter data-to-insights—all at the same cost as DC1. DC2.8xlarge customers also noted that their databases used up to 30 percent less disk space due to our optimized storage format, reducing their costs.

4Cite Marketing, one of America’s fastest growing private companies, uses Amazon Redshift to analyze customer data and determine personalized product recommendations for retailers. “Amazon Redshift’s new DC2 node is giving us a 100 percent performance increase, allowing us to provide faster insights for our retailers, more cost-effectively, to drive incremental revenue,” said Jim Finnerty, 4Cite’s senior vice president of product.

BrandVerity, a Seattle-based brand protection and compliance‎ company, provides solutions to monitor, detect, and mitigate online brand, trademark, and compliance abuse. “We saw a 70 percent performance boost with the DC2 nodes for running Redshift Spectrum queries. As a result, we can analyze far more data for our customers and deliver results much faster,” said Hyung-Joon Kim, principal software engineer at BrandVerity.

“Amazon Redshift is at the core of our operations and our marketing automation tools,” said Jarno Kartela, head of analytics and chief data scientist at DNA Plc, one of the leading Finnish telecommunications groups and Finland’s largest cable operator and pay TV provider. “We saw a 52 percent performance gain in moving to Amazon Redshift’s DC2 nodes. We can now run queries in half the time, allowing us to provide more analytics power and reduce time-to-insight for our analytics and marketing automation users.”

You can read about their experiences on our Customer Success page.

Get started

You can try the new node type using our getting started guide. Just choose dc2.large or dc2.8xlarge in the Amazon Redshift console:

If you have a DC1.large Amazon Redshift cluster, you can restore to a new DC2.large cluster using an existing snapshot. To migrate from DS2.xlarge, DS2.8xlarge, or DC1.8xlarge Amazon Redshift clusters, you can use the resize operation to move data to your new DC2 cluster. For more information, see Clusters and Nodes in Amazon Redshift.

To get the latest Amazon Redshift feature announcements, check out our What’s New page, and subscribe to the RSS feed.

How to Compete with Giants

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-compete-with-giants/

How to Compete with Giants

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the sixth in a series about entrepreneurship. You can choose posts in the series from the list below:

  1. How Backblaze got Started: The Problem, The Solution, and the Stuff In-Between
  2. Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages
  3. From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers
  4. How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers
  5. Surviving Your First Year
  6. How to Compete with Giants

Use the Join button above to receive notification of new posts in this series.

Perhaps your business is competing in a brand new space free from established competitors. Most of us, though, start companies that compete with existing offerings from large, established companies. You need to come up with a better mousetrap — not the first mousetrap.

That’s the challenge Backblaze faced. In this post, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from that experience.

Backblaze vs. Giants

Competing with established companies that are orders of magnitude larger can be daunting. How can you succeed?

I’ll set the stage by offering a few sets of giants we compete with:

  • When we started Backblaze, we offered online backup in a market where companies had been offering “online backup” for at least a decade, and even the newer entrants had raised tens of millions of dollars.
  • When we built our storage servers, the alternatives were EMC, NetApp, and Dell — each of which had a market cap of over $10 billion.
  • When we introduced our cloud storage offering, B2, our direct competitors were Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. You might have heard of them.

What did we learn by competing with these giants on a bootstrapped budget? Let’s take a look.

Determine What Success Means

For a long time Apple considered Apple TV to be a hobby, not a real product worth focusing on, because it did not generate a billion in revenue. For a $10 billion per year revenue company, a new business that generates $50 million won’t move the needle and often isn’t worth putting focus on. However, for a startup, getting to $50 million in revenue can be the start of a wildly successful business.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let the giants set your success metrics.

The Advantages Startups Have

The giants have a lot of advantages: more money, people, scale, resources, access, etc. Following their playbook and attacking head-on means you’re simply outgunned. Common paths to failure are trying to build more features, enter more markets, outspend on marketing, and other similar approaches where scale and resources are the primary determinants of success.

But being a startup affords many advantages most giants would salivate over. As a nimble startup you can leverage those to succeed. Let’s breakdown nine competitive advantages we’ve used that you can too.

1. Drive Focus

It’s hard to build a $10 billion revenue business doing just one thing, and most giants have a broad portfolio of businesses, numerous products for each, and targeting a variety of customer segments in multiple markets. That adds complexity and distributes management attention.

Startups get the benefit of having everyone in the company be extremely focused, often on a singular mission, product, customer segment, and market. While our competitors sell everything from advertising to Zantac, and are investing in groceries and shipping, Backblaze has focused exclusively on cloud storage. This means all of our best people (i.e. everyone) is focused on our cloud storage business. Where is all of your focus going?

Lesson Learned: Align everyone in your company to a singular focus to dramatically out-perform larger teams.

2. Use Lack-of-Scale as an Advantage

You may have heard Paul Graham say “Do things that don’t scale.” There are a host of things you can do specifically because you don’t have the same scale as the giants. Use that as an advantage.

When we look for data center space, we have more options than our largest competitors because there are simply more spaces available with room for 100 cabinets than for 1,000 cabinets. With some searching, we can find data center space that is better/cheaper.

When a flood in Thailand destroyed factories, causing the world’s supply of hard drives to plummet and prices to triple, we started drive farming. The giants certainly couldn’t. It was a bit crazy, but it let us keep prices unchanged for our customers.

Our Chief Cloud Officer, Tim, used to work at Adobe. Because of their size, any new product needed to always launch in a multitude of languages and in global markets. Once launched, they had scale. But getting any new product launched was incredibly challenging.

Lesson Learned: Use lack-of-scale to exploit opportunities that are closed to giants.

3. Build a Better Product

This one is probably obvious. If you’re going to provide the same product, at the same price, to the same customers — why do it? Remember that better does not always mean more features. Here’s one way we built a better product that didn’t require being a bigger company.

All online backup services required customers to choose what to include in their backup. We found that this was complicated for users since they often didn’t know what needed to be backed up. We flipped the model to back up everything and allow users to exclude if they wanted to, but it was not required. This reduced the number of features/options, while making it easier and better for the user.

This didn’t require the resources of a huge company; it just required understanding customers a bit deeper and thinking about the solution differently. Building a better product is the most classic startup competitive advantage.

Lesson Learned: Dig deep with your customers to understand and deliver a better mousetrap.

4. Provide Better Service

How can you provide better service? Use your advantages. Escalations from your customer care folks to engineering can go through fewer hoops. Fixing an issue and shipping can be quicker. Access to real answers on Twitter or Facebook can be more effective.

A strategic decision we made was to have all customer support people as full-time employees in our headquarters. This ensures they are in close contact to the whole company for feedback to quickly go both ways.

Having a smaller team and fewer layers enables faster internal communication, which increases customer happiness. And the option to do things that don’t scale — such as help a customer in a unique situation — can go a long way in building customer loyalty.

Lesson Learned: Service your customers better by establishing clear internal communications.

5. Remove The Unnecessary

After determining that the industry standard EMC/NetApp/Dell storage servers would be too expensive to build our own cloud storage upon, we decided to build our own infrastructure. Many said we were crazy to compete with these multi-billion dollar companies and that it would be impossible to build a lower cost storage server. However, not only did it prove to not be impossible — it wasn’t even that hard.

One key trick? Remove the unnecessary. While EMC and others built servers to sell to other companies for a wide variety of use cases, Backblaze needed servers that only Backblaze would run, and for a single use case. As a result we could tailor the servers for our needs by removing redundancy from each server (since we would run redundant servers), and using lower-performance components (since we would get high-performance by running parallel servers).

What do your customers and use cases not need? This can trim costs and complexity while often improving the product for your use case.

Lesson Learned: Don’t think “what can we add” to what the giants offer — think “what can we remove.”

6. Be Easy

How many times have you visited a large company website, particularly one that’s not consumer-focused, only to leave saying, “Huh? I don’t understand what you do.” Keeping your website clear, and your product and pricing simple, will dramatically increase conversion and customer satisfaction. If you’re able to make it 2x easier and thus increasing your conversion by 2x, you’ve just allowed yourself to spend ½ as much acquiring a customer.

Providing unlimited data backup wasn’t specifically about providing more storage — it was about making it easier. Since users didn’t know how much data they needed to back up, charging per gigabyte meant they wouldn’t know the cost. Providing unlimited data backup meant they could just relax.

Customers love easy — and being smaller makes easy easier to deliver. Use that as an advantage in your website, marketing materials, pricing, product, and in every other customer interaction.

Lesson Learned: Ease-of-use isn’t a slogan: it’s a competitive advantage. Treat it as seriously as any other feature of your product

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Obviously unnecessary risks are unnecessary, and some risks aren’t worth taking. However, large companies that have given guidance to Wall Street with a $0.01 range on their earning-per-share are inherently going to be very risk-averse. Use risk-tolerance to open up opportunities, and adjust your tolerance level as you scale. In your first year, there are likely an infinite number of ways your business may vaporize; don’t be too worried about taking a risk that might have a 20% downside when the upside is hockey stick growth.

Using consumer-grade hard drives in our servers may have caused pain and suffering for us years down-the-line, but they were priced at approximately 50% of enterprise drives. Giants wouldn’t have considered the option. Turns out, the consumer drives performed great for us.

Lesson Learned: Use calculated risks as an advantage.

8. Be Open

The larger a company grows, the more it wants to hide information. Some of this is driven by regulatory requirements as a public company. But most of this is cultural. Sharing something might cause a problem, so let’s not. All external communication is treated as a critical press release, with rounds and rounds of editing by multiple teams and approvals. However, customers are often desperate for information. Moreover, sharing information builds trust, understanding, and advocates.

I started blogging at Backblaze before we launched. When we blogged about our Storage Pod and open-sourced the design, many thought we were crazy to share this information. But it was transformative for us, establishing Backblaze as a tech thought leader in storage and giving people a sense of how we were able to provide our service at such a low cost.

Over the years we’ve developed a culture of being open internally and externally, on our blog and with the press, and in communities such as Hacker News and Reddit. Often we’ve been asked, “why would you share that!?” — but it’s the continual openness that builds trust. And that culture of openness is incredibly challenging for the giants.

Lesson Learned: Overshare to build trust and brand where giants won’t.

9. Be Human

As companies scale, typically a smaller percent of founders and executives interact with customers. The people who build the company become more hidden, the language feels “corporate,” and customers start to feel they’re interacting with the cliche “faceless, nameless corporation.” Use your humanity to your advantage. From day one the Backblaze About page listed all the founders, and my email address. While contacting us shouldn’t be the first path for a customer support question, I wanted it to be clear that we stand behind the service we offer; if we’re doing something wrong — I want to know it.

To scale it’s important to have processes and procedures, but sometimes a situation falls outside of a well-established process. While we want our employees to follow processes, they’re still encouraged to be human and “try to do the right thing.” How to you strike this balance? Simon Sinek gives a good talk about it: make your employees feel safe. If employees feel safe they’ll be human.

If your customer is a consumer, they’ll appreciate being treated as a human. Even if your customer is a corporation, the purchasing decision-makers are still people.

Lesson Learned: Being human is the ultimate antithesis to the faceless corporation.

Build Culture to Sustain Your Advantages at Scale

Presumably the goal is not to always be competing with giants, but to one day become a giant. Does this mean you’ll lose all of these advantages? Some, yes — but not all. Some of these advantages are cultural, and if you build these into the culture from the beginning, and fight to keep them as you scale, you can keep them as you become a giant.

Tesla still comes across as human, with Elon Musk frequently interacting with people on Twitter. Apple continues to provide great service through their Genius Bar. And, worst case, if you lose these at scale, you’ll still have the other advantages of being a giant such as money, people, scale, resources, and access.

Of course, some new startup will be gunning for you with grand ambitions, so just be sure not to get complacent. 😉

The post How to Compete with Giants appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Hollywood Giants Sue Kodi-powered ‘TickBox TV’ Over Piracy

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/hollywood-giants-sue-kodi-powered-tickbox-tv-over-piracy-171014/

Online streaming piracy is booming and many people use dedicated media players to bring this content to their regular TVs.

The bare hardware is not illegal and neither is media player software such as Kodi. When these devices are loaded with copyright-infringing addons, however, they turn into an unprecedented piracy threat.

It becomes even more problematic when the sellers of these devices market their products as pirate tools. This is exactly what TickBox TV does, according to Hollywood’s major movie studios, Netflix, and Amazon.

TickBox is a Georgia-based provider of set-top boxes that allow users to stream a variety of popular media. The company’s devices use the Kodi media player and come with instructions on how to add various add-ons.

In a complaint filed in a California federal court yesterday, Universal, Columbia Pictures, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, Amazon, and Netflix accuse Tickbox of inducing and contributing to copyright infringement.

“TickBox sells ‘TickBox TV,’ a computer hardware device that TickBox urges its customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint, picked up by THR, reads.

While the device itself does not host any infringing content, users are informed where they can find it.

The movie and TV studios stress that Tickbox’s marketing highlights its infringing uses with statements such as “if you’re tired of wasting money with online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.”

Sick of paying high monthly fees?

“TickBox promotes the use of TickBox TV for overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, infringing purposes, and that is how its customers use TickBox TV. TickBox advertises TickBox TV as a substitute for authorized and legitimate distribution channels such as cable television or video-on-demand services like Amazon Prime and Netflix,” the studios’ lawyers write.

The complaint explains in detail how TickBox works. When users first boot up their device they are prompted to download the “TickBox TV Player” software. This comes with an instruction video guiding people to infringing streams.

“The TickBox TV instructional video urges the customer to use the ‘Select Your Theme’ button on the start-up menu for downloading addons. The ‘Themes’ are curated collections of popular addons that link to unauthorized streams of motion pictures and television shows.”

“Some of the most popular addons currently distributed — which are available through TickBox TV — are titled ‘Elysium,’ ‘Bob,’ and ‘Covenant’,” the complaint adds, showing screenshots of the interface.

Covenant

The movie and TV studios, which are the founding members of the recently launched ACE anti-piracy initiative, want TickBox to stop selling their devices. In addition, they demand compensation for the damages they’ve suffered. Requesting the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per copyright infringement, this can run into the millions.

The involvement of Amazon, albeit the content division, is notable since the online store itself sells dozens of similar streaming devices, some of which even list “infringing” addons.

The TickBox lawsuit is the first case in the United States where a group of major Hollywood players is targeting a streaming device. Earlier this year various Hollywood insiders voiced concerns about the piracy streaming epidemic and if this case goes their way, it probably won’t be the last.

A copy of the full complaint is available here (pdf)

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

PureVPN Logs Helped FBI Net Alleged Cyberstalker

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/purevpn-logs-helped-fbi-net-alleged-cyberstalker-171009/

Last Thursday, Ryan S. Lin, 24, of Newton, Massachusetts, was arrested on suspicion of conducting “an extensive cyberstalking campaign” against his former roommate, a 24-year-old Massachusetts woman, as well as her family members and friends.

According to the Department of Justice, Lin’s “multi-faceted campaign of computer hacking and cyberstalking” began in April 2016 when he began hacking into the victim’s online accounts, obtaining personal photographs, sensitive information about her medical and sexual histories, and other private details.

It’s alleged that after obtaining the above material, Lin distributed it to hundreds of others. It’s claimed he created fake online profiles showing the victim’s home address while soliciting sexual activity. This caused men to show up at her home.

“Mr. Lin allegedly carried out a relentless cyber stalking campaign against a young woman in a chilling effort to violate her privacy and threaten those around her,” said Acting United States Attorney William D. Weinreb.

“While using anonymizing services and other online tools to avoid attribution, Mr. Lin harassed the victim, her family, friends, co-workers and roommates, and then targeted local schools and institutions in her community. Mr. Lin will now face the consequences of his crimes.”

While Lin awaits his ultimate fate (he appeared in U.S. District Court in Boston Friday), the allegation he used anonymization tools to hide himself online but still managed to get caught raises a number of questions. An affidavit submitted by Special Agent Jeffrey Williams in support of the criminal complaint against Lin provides most of the answers.

Describing Lin’s actions against the victim as “doxing”, Williams begins by noting that while Lin was the initial aggressor, the fact he made the information so widely available raises the possibility that other people got involved with malicious acts later on. Nevertheless, Lin remains the investigation’s prime suspect.

According to the affidavit, Lin is computer savvy having majored in computer science. He allegedly utilized a number of methods to hide his identity and IP address, including TOR, Virtual Private Network (VPN) services and email providers that “do not maintain logs or other records.”

But if that genuinely is the case, how was Lin caught?

First up, it’s worth noting that plenty of Lin’s aggressive and stalking behaviors towards the victim were demonstrated in a physical sense, offline. In that respect, it appears the authorities already had him as the prime suspect and worked back from there.

In one instance, the FBI examined a computer that had been used by Lin at a former workplace. Although Windows had been reinstalled, the FBI managed to find Google Chrome data which indicated Lin had viewed articles about bomb threats he allegedly made. They were also able to determine he’d accessed the victim’s Gmail account and additional data suggested that he’d used a VPN service.

“Artifacts indicated that PureVPN, a VPN service that was used repeatedly in the cyberstalking scheme, was installed on the computer,” the affidavit reads.

From here the Special Agent’s report reveals that the FBI received cooperation from Hong Kong-based PureVPN.

“Significantly, PureVPN was able to determine that their service was accessed by the same customer from two originating IP addresses: the RCN IP address from the home Lin was living in at the time, and the software company where Lin was employed at the time,” the agent’s affidavit reads.

Needless to say, while this information will prove useful to the FBI’s prosecution of Lin, it’s also likely to turn into a huge headache for the VPN provider. The company claims zero-logging, which clearly isn’t the case.

“PureVPN operates a self-managed VPN network that currently stands at 750+ Servers in 141 Countries. But is this enough to ensure complete security?” the company’s marketing statement reads.

“That’s why PureVPN has launched advanced features to add proactive, preventive and complete security. There are no third-parties involved and NO logs of your activities.”

PureVPN privacy graphic

However, if one drills down into the PureVPN privacy policy proper, one sees the following:

Our servers automatically record the time at which you connect to any of our servers. From here on forward, we do not keep any records of anything that could associate any specific activity to a specific user. The time when a successful connection is made with our servers is counted as a ‘connection’ and the total bandwidth used during this connection is called ‘bandwidth’. Connection and bandwidth are kept in record to maintain the quality of our service. This helps us understand the flow of traffic to specific servers so we could optimize them better.

This seems to match what the FBI says – almost. While it says it doesn’t log, PureVPN admits to keeping records of when a user connects to the service and for how long. The FBI clearly states that the service also captures the user’s IP address too. In fact, it appears that PureVPN also logged the IP address belonging to another VPN service (WANSecurity) that was allegedly used by Lin to connect to PureVPN.

That record also helped to complete another circle of evidence. IP addresses used by
Kansas-based WANSecurity and Secure Internet LLC (servers operated by PureVPN) were allegedly used to access Gmail accounts known to be under Lin’s control.

Somewhat ironically, this summer Lin took to Twitter to criticize VPN provider IPVanish (which is not involved in the case) over its no-logging claims.

“There is no such thing as a VPN that doesn’t keep logs,” Lin said. “If they can limit your connections or track bandwidth usage, they keep logs.”

Or, in the case of PureVPN, if they log a connection time and a source IP address, that could be enough to raise the suspicions of the FBI and boost what already appears to be a pretty strong case.

If convicted, Lin faces up to five years in prison and three years of supervised release.

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

Denuvo Crisis After Total Warhammer 2 Gets Pirated in Hours

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/denuvo-crisis-after-total-warhammer-2-gets-pirated-in-hours-170929/

Needing little introduction, the anti-piracy system sold by Denuvo Software Solutions of Austria is probably the most well-known product of its type of the planet.

For years, Denuvo was considered pretty much impenetrable, with its presence a virtual stamp of assurance that a game being protected by it would not fall victim to piracy, potentially for years. In recent times, however, things have begun to crumble.

Strangely, it started in early 2016 with bad news. Chinese cracking group 3DM declared that Denuvo was probably uncrackable and no protected games would appear online during the next two years.

By June, however, hope appeared on the horizon, with hints that progress was being made. By August 2016, all doubts were removed when a group called CONSPIR4CY (a reported collaboration between CPY and CODEX) released Rise of the Tomb Raider.

After that, Denuvo-protected titles began dropping like flies, with some getting cracked weeks after their launch. Then things got serious.

Early this year, Resident Evil 7 fell in less than a week. In the summer, RiME fell in a few days, four days exactly for Tekken 7.

Now, however, Denuvo has suffered its biggest failure yet, with strategy game Total War: Warhammer 2 falling to pirates in less than a day, arguably just a few hours. It was cracked by STEAMPUNKS, a group that’s been dumping cracked games on the Internet at quite a rate for the past few months.

TOTAL.WAR.WARHAMMER.2-STEAMPUNKS

“Take this advice, DO NOT CODE a new installer when you have very hot Babes dancing in their bikini just in front of you. Never again,” the group said in a statement. “This time we locked ourselves inside and produced a new installer.”

The fall of this game in such a short space of time will be of major concern to Denuvo Software Solutions. After Resident Evil 7 was cracked in days earlier this year, Denuvo Marketing Director Thomas Goebl told Eurogamer that some protection was better than nothing.

“Given the fact that every unprotected title is cracked on the day of release — as well as every update of games — our solution made a difference for this title,” he said.

With yesterday’s 0-day crack of Total War: Warhammer 2, it can be argued that Denuvo made absolutely no difference whatsoever to the availability of the title. It didn’t even protect the initial launch window.

Goebl’s additional comment in the summer was that “so far only one piracy group has been able to bypass [Denuvo].” Now, just a handful of months later, there are several groups with the ability. That’s not a good look for the company.

Back in 2016, Denuvo co-founder Robert Hernandez told Kotaku that the company does not give refunds. It would be interesting to know if anything has changed there too.

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

Surviving Your First Year

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/startup-stages-surviving-your-first-year/

Surviving Your First Year

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the fifth in a series about entrepreneurship. You can choose posts in the series from the list below:

  1. How Backblaze got Started: The Problem, The Solution, and the Stuff In-Between
  2. Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages
  3. From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers
  4. How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers
  5. Surviving Your First Year

Use the Join button above to receive notification of new posts in this series.

In my previous posts, I talked about coming up with an idea, determining the solution, and getting your first customers. But you’re building a company, not a product. Let’s talk about what the first year should look like.

The primary goals for that first year are to: 1) set up the company; 2) build, launch, and learn; and 3) survive.

Setting Up the Company

The company you’re building is more than the product itself, and you’re not going to do it alone. You don’t want to spend too much time on this since getting customers is key, but if you don’t set up the basics, there are all sorts of issues down the line.

startup idea board

Find Your Co-Founders & Determine Roles

You may already have the idea, but who do you need to execute it? At Backblaze, we needed people to build the web experience, the client backup application, and the server/storage side. We also needed someone to handle the business/marketing aspects, and we felt that the design and user experience were critical. As a result, we started with five co-founders: three engineers, a designer, and me for the business and marketing.

Of course not every role needs to be filled by a co-founder. You can hire employees for positions as well. But think through the strategic skills you’ll need to launch and consider co-founders with those skill sets.

Too many people think they can just “work together” on everything. Don’t. Determine roles as quickly as possible so that it’s clear who is responsible for what work and which decisions. We were lucky in that we had worked together and thus knew what each person would do, but even so we assigned titles early on to clarify roles.

Takeaway:   Fill critical roles and explicitly split roles and responsibilities.

Get Your Legal Basics In Place

When we’re excited about building a product, legal basics are often the last thing we want to deal with. You don’t need to go overboard, but it’s critical to get certain things done.

  1. Determine ownership split. What is the percentage breakdown of the company that each of the founders will own? It can be a tough discussion, but it only becomes more difficult later when there is more value and people have put more time into it. At Backblaze we split the equity equally five ways. This is uncommon. The benefit of this is that all the founders feel valued and “in it together.” The benefit of the more common split where someone has a dominant share is that person is typically empowered to be the ultimate decision-maker. Slicing Pie provides some guidance on how to think about splitting equity. Regardless of which way you want you go, don’t put it off.
  2. Incorporate. Hard to be a company if you’re not. There are various formats, but if you plan to raise angel/venture funding, a Delaware-based C-corp is standard.
  3. Deal With Stock. At a minimum, issue stock to the founders, have each one buy their shares, and file an 83(b). Buying your shares at this stage might be $100. Filing the 83(b) election marks the date at which you purchased your shares, and shows that you bought them for what they were worth. This one piece of paper paper can make the difference between paying long-term capital gains rates (~20%) or income tax rates (~40%).
  4. Assign Intellectual Property. Ask everyone to sign a Proprietary Information and Inventions Assignment (“PIIA”). This document says that what they do at the company is owned by the company. Early on we had a friend who came by and brainstormed ideas. We thought of it as interesting banter. He later said he owned part of our storage design. While we worked it out together, a PIIA makes ownership clear.

The ownership split can be worked out by the founders directly. For the other items, I would involve lawyers. Some law firms will set up the basics and defer payment until you raise money or the business can pay for services out of operations. Gunderson Dettmer did that for us (ask for Bennett Yee). Cooley will do this on a casey-by-case basis as well.

Takeaway:  Don’t let the excitement of building a company distract you from filing the basic legal documents required to protect and grow your company.

Get Health Insurance

This item may seem out of place, but not having health insurance can easily bankrupt you personally, and that certainly won’t bode well for your company. While you can buy individual health insurance, it will often be less expensive to buy it as a company. Also, it will make recruiting employees more difficult if you do not offer healthcare. When we contacted brokers they asked us to send the W-2 of each employee that wanted coverage, but the founders weren’t taking a salary at first. To work around this, make the founders ‘officers’ of the company, and the healthcare brokers can then insure them. (Of course, you need to be ok with your co-founders being officers, but hopefully, that is logical anyway.)

Takeaway:  Don’t take your co-founders’ physical and financial health for granted. Health insurance can serve as both individual protection and a recruiting tool for future employees.

Building, Launching & Learning

Getting the company set up gives you the foundation, but ultimately a company with no product and no customers isn’t very interesting.

Build

Ideally, you have one person on the team focusing on all of the items above and everyone else can be heads-down building product. There is a lot to say about building product, but for this post, I’ll just say that your goal is to get something out the door that is good enough to start collecting feedback. It doesn’t have to have every feature you dream of and doesn’t have to support 1 billion users on day one.

Launch

If you’re building a car or rocket, that may take some time. But with the availability of open-source software and cloud services, most startups should launch inside of a year.

Launching forces a scoping of the feature set to what’s critical, rallies the company around a goal, starts building awareness of your company and solution, and pushes forward the learning process. Backblaze launched in public beta on June 2, 2008, eight months after the founders all started working on it full-time.

Takeaway:  Focus on the most important features and launch.

Learn & Iterate

As much as we think we know about the customers and their needs, the launch process and beyond opens up all sorts of insights. This early period is critical to collect feedback and iterate, especially while both the product and company are still quite malleable. We initially planned on building peer-to-peer and local backup immediately on the heels of our online offering, but after launching found minimal demand for those features. On the other hand, there was tremendous demand from companies and resellers.

Takeaway:  Use the critical post-launch period to collect feedback and iterate.

Surviving

“Live to fight another day.” If the company doesn’t survive, it’s hard to change the world. Let’s talk about some of the survival components.

Consider What You As A Founding Team Want & How You Work

Are you doing this because you hope to get rich? See yourself on the cover of Fortune? Make your own decisions? Work from home all the time? Founder fighting is the number one reason companies fail; the founders need to be on the same page as much as possible.

At Backblaze we agreed very early on that we wanted three things:

  1. Build products we were proud of
  2. Have fun
  3. Make money

This has driven various decisions over the years and has evolved into being part of the culture. For example, while Backblaze is absolutely a company with a profit motive, we do not compromise the product to make more money. Other directions are not bad; they’re just different.

Do you want a lifestyle business? Or want to build a billion dollar business? Want to run it forever or build it for a couple years and do something else?

Pretend you’re getting married to each other. Do some introspection and talk about your vision of the future a lot. Do you expect everyone to work 20 or 100 hours every week? In the office or remote? How do you like to work? What pet peeves do you have?

When getting married each person brings the “life they’ve known,” often influenced by the life their parents lived. Together they need to decide which aspects of their previous lives they want to keep, toss, or change. As founders coming together, you have the same opportunity for your new company.

Takeaway:  In order for a company to survive, the founders must agree on what they want the company to be. Have the discussions early.

Determine How You Will Fund Your Business

Raising venture capital is often seen as the only path, and considered the most important thing to start doing on day one. However, there are a variety of options for funding your business, including using money from savings, part-time work, friends & family money, loans, angels, and customers. Consider the right option for you, your founding team, and your business.

Conserve Cash

Whichever option you choose for funding your business, chances are high that you will not be flush with cash on day one. In certain situations, you actually don’t want to conserve cash because you’ve raised $100m and now you want to run as fast as you can to capture a market — cash is plentiful and time is not. However, with the exception of founder struggles, running out of cash is the most common way companies go under. There are many ways to conserve cash — limit hiring of employees and consultants, use lawyers and accountants sparingly, don’t spend on advertising, work from a home office, etc. The most important way is to simply ensure that you and your team are cash conscious, challenging decisions that commit you to spending cash.

Backblaze spent a total of $94,122 to get to public beta launch. That included building the backup application, our own server infrastructure, the website with account/billing/restore functionality, the marketing involved in getting to launch, and all the steps above in setting up the company, paying for healthcare, etc. The five founders took no salary during this time (which, of course, would have cost dramatically more), so most of this money went to computers, servers, hard drives, and other infrastructure.

Takeaway:  Minimize cash burn — it extends your runway and gives you options.

Slowly Flesh Out Your Team

We started with five co-founders, and thus a fairly fleshed-out team. A year in, we only added one person, a Mac architect. Three months later we shipped a beta of our Mac version, which has resulted in more than 50% of our revenue.

Minimizing hiring is key to cash conservation, and hiring ahead of getting market feedback is risky since you may realize that the talent you need will change. However, once you start getting feedback, think about the key people that you need to move your company forward. But be rigorous in determining whether they’re critical. We didn’t hire our first customer support person until all five founders were spending 20% of their time on it.

Takeaway:  Don’t hire in anticipation of market growth; hire to fuel the growth.

Keep Your Spirits Up

Startups are roller coasters of emotion. There have been some serious articles about founders suffering from depression and worse. The idea phase is exhilarating, then there is the slog of building. The launch is a blast, but the week after there are crickets.

On June 2, 2008, we launched in public beta with great press and hordes of customers. But a few months later we were signing up only about 10 new customers per month. That’s $50 new monthly recurring revenue (MRR) after a year of work and no salary.

On August 25, 2008, we brought on our Mac architect. Two months later, on October 26, 2008, Apple launched Time Machine — completely free and built-in backup for all Macs.

There were plenty of times when our prospects looked bleak. In the rearview mirror it’s easy to say, “well sure, but now you have lots of customers,” or “yes, but Time Machine doesn’t do cloud backup.” But at the time neither of these were a given.

Takeaway:  Getting up each day and believing that as a team you’ll figure it out will let you get to the point where you can look in the rearview mirror and say, “It looked bleak back then.”

Succeeding in Your First Year

I titled the post “Surviving Your First Year,” but if you manage to, 1) set up the company; 2) build, launch, and learn; and 3) survive, you will have done more than survive: you’ll have truly succeeded in your first year.

The post Surviving Your First Year appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Say Hello to the New Atlassian

Post Syndicated from Chris De Santis original https://www.anchor.com.au/blog/2017/09/hello-new-atlassian/

Who is Atlassian?

Atlassian is an Australian IT company that develops enterprise software, with its best-known products being its issue-tracking app, Jira, and team collaboration and wiki product, Confluence.

In December 2015, Atlassian went public and made their initial public offering (IPO) under the symbol TEAM, valuing them at $4.37 billion. In summary, they big.

What happened?

A facelift

It’s a nice sunny day in Sydney in mid-September of 2017, and Atlassian, after 15 years of consistency, has rebranded, changing their look and feel for a brighter and funner one, compared to the dreary previous look.New Atlassian Branding VideoIt’s a hell of a lot simpler and, as they show in the above video, it’s going to be used with a lot more creativity and flair in mind—it’s flexible in a sense that they can use it in a lot more ways than before, with a lot more colours than before.

Atlassian Logo ComparisonThe blues they’re using now work super-well with the logos on a white background, whereas the white logos on their new champion, brand colour blue can go both ways: some can see it as a bold, daring step which is quite attractive, while others can see it as off-putting and not very user-friendly.

New Atlassian Logo Versions

What’s it all mean?

Symbolism

In his announcement blog, Atlassian Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Mike Cannon-Brookes, mentions that the branding change reflects their newly-shifted focus on the concept of teamwork. He continues to explain that their previous logo depicted the sky-holding Greek titan Atlas and symbolised legendary service and support. But, while it has become renown, they’re shifting their focus on the concept of teamwork—why focus on something you’ve already done right, right?

Atlassian Logo EvolutionThe new logo contains more symbolism than meets the eye, as can be interpreted as:

  • Two people high-fiving
  • A mountain to scale
  • The letter “A” (seen as two pillars reinforcing each other)
Product logos

Atlassian has created and acquired many products in their adventure so far, and they all seemed to have a similar art style, but something always felt off about their consistency. Well, needless to say, this was addressed with Atlassian’s very own “identity system”, which is a pretty cool term for a consistent logo-look for 14+ products, to fit them under one brand.

New Atlassian Product LogosThe result is a set of unique marks that “still feel very related to each other”. Whereas, I also see a new set of “unknown” Pokémon.

Typeface

New Atlassian TypefaceTo add a cherry on top, Atlassian will be using their own custom-made typeface called Charlie Sans, specifically designed to balance legibility with personality–that’s probably the best way to describe it. Otherwise, I’d say, out of purely-constructive criticism, that there isn’t much difference between itself and any of the other staple fonts; i.e. Arial, Verdana, etc. Then again, I’m not a professional designer.

It doesn’t look as distinct as their previous typeface, but, to be fair, it does look very slick next to the new product logos.

Well…

What do you think about it all?

 

Image credits: Atlassian

The post Say Hello to the New Atlassian appeared first on AWS Managed Services by Anchor.

Kodi ‘Trademark Troll’ Has Interesting Views on Co-Opting Other People’s Work

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kodi-trademark-troll-has-interesting-views-on-co-opting-other-peoples-work-170917/

The Kodi team, operating under the XBMC Foundation, announced last week that a third-party had registered the Kodi trademark in Canada and was using it for their own purposes.

That person was Geoff Gavora, who had previously been in communication with the Kodi team, expressing how important the software was to his sales.

“We had hoped, given the positive nature of his past emails, that perhaps he was doing this for the benefit of the Foundation. We learned, unfortunately, that this was not the case,” XBMC Foundation President Nathan Betzen said.

According to the Kodi team, Gavora began delisting Amazon ads placed by companies selling Kodi-enabled products, based on infringement of Gavora’s trademark rights.

“[O]nly Gavora’s hardware can be sold, unless those companies pay him a fee to stay on the store,” Betzen explained.

Predictably, Gavora’s move is being viewed as highly controversial, not least since he’s effectively claiming licensing rights in Canada over what should be a free and open source piece of software. TF obtained one of the notices Amazon sent to a seller of a Kodi-enabled device in Canada, following a complaint from Gavora.

Take down Kodi from Amazon, or pay Gavora

So who is Geoff Gavora and what makes him tick? Thanks to a 2016 interview with Ali Salman of the Rapid Growth Podcast, we have a lot of information from the horse’s mouth.

It all began in 2011, when Gavora began jailbreaking Apple TVs, loading them with XBMC, and selling them to friends.

“I did it as a joke, for beer money from my friends,” Gavora told Salman.

“I’d do it for $25 to $50 and word of mouth spread that I was doing this so we could load on this media center to watch content and online streams from it.”

Intro to the interview with Ali Salman

Soon, however, word of mouth caused the business to grow wings, Gavora claims.

“So they started telling people and I start telling people it’s $50, and then I got so busy so I start telling people it’s $75. I’m getting too busy with my work and with this. And it got to the point where I was making more jailbreaking these Apple TVs than I was at my career, and I wasn’t very happy at my career at that time.”

Jailbreaking was supposed to be a side thing to tide Gavora over until another job came along, but he had a problem – he didn’t come from a technical background. Nevertheless, what Gavora did have was a background in marketing and with a decent knowledge of how to succeed in customer service, he majored on that front.

Gavora had come to learn that while people wanted his devices, they weren’t very good at operating XBMC (Kodi’s former name) which he’d loaded onto them. With this in mind, he began offering web support and phone support via a toll-free line.

“I started receiving calls from New York, Dallas, and then Australia, Hong Kong. Everyone around the world was calling me and saying ‘we hear there’s some kid in Calgary, some young child, who’s offering tech support for the Apple TV’,” Gavora said.

But with things apparently going well, a wrench was soon thrown into the works when Apple released the third variant of its Apple TV and Gavorra was unable to jailbreak it. This prompted him to market his own Linux-based set-top device and his business, Raw-Media, grew from there.

While it seems likely that so-called ‘Raw Boxes’ were doing reasonably well with consumers, what was the secret of their success? Podcast host Salman asked Gavora for his ‘networking party 10-second pitch’, and the Canadian was happy to oblige.

“I get this all the time actually. I basically tell people that I sell a box that gives them free TV and movies,” he said.

This was met with laughter from the host, to which Gavora added, “That’s sort of the three-second pitch and everyone’s like ‘Oh, tell me more’.”

“Who doesn’t like free TV, come on?” Salman responded. “Yeah exactly,” Gavora said.

The image below, taken from a January 2016 YouTube unboxing video, shows one of the products sold by Gavora’s company.

Raw-Media Kodi Box packaging (note Kodi logo)

Bearing in mind the offer of free movies and TV, the tagline on the box, “Stop paying for things you don’t want to watch, watch more free tv!” initially looks quite provocative. That being said, both the device and Kodi are perfectly capable of playing plenty of legal content from free sources, so there’s no problem there.

What is surprising, however, is that the unboxing video shows the device being booted up, apparently already loaded with infamous third-party Kodi addons including PrimeWire, Genesis, Icefilms, and Navi-X.

The unboxing video showing the Kodi setup

Given that Gavora has registered the Kodi trademark in Canada and prints the official logo on his packaging, this runs counter to the official Kodi team’s aggressive stance towards boxes ready-configured with what they categorize as banned addons. Matters are compounded when one visits the product support site.

As seen in the image below, Raw-Media devices are delivered with a printed card in the packaging informing people where to get the after-sales services Gavora says he built his business upon. The cards advise people to visit No-Issue.ca, a site setup to offer text and video-based support to set-top box buyers.

No-Issue.ca (which is hosted on the same server as raw-media.ca and claimed officially as a sister site here) now redirects to No-Issue.is, as per a 2016 announcement. It has a fairly bland forum but the connected tutorial videos, found on No Issue’s YouTube channel, offer a lot more spice.

Registered under Gavora’s online nickname Gombeek (which is also used on the official Kodi forums), the channel is full of videos detailing how to install and use a wide range of addons.

The No-issue YouTube Channel tutorials

But while supplying tutorial videos is one thing, providing the actual software addons is another. Surprisingly, No-Issue does that too. Filed away under the URL http://solved.no-issue.is/ is a Kodi repository which distributes a wide range of addons, including many that specialize in infringing content, according to the Kodi team.

The No-Issue repository

A source familiar with Raw-Media’s devices informs TF that they’re no longer delivered with addons installed. However, tools hosted on No-Issue.is automate the installation process for the customer, with unlisted YouTube Videos (1,2) providing the instructions.

XBMC Foundation President Nathan Betzen says that situation isn’t ideal.

“If that really is his repo it is disappointing to see that Gavora is charging a fee or outright preventing the sale of boxes with Kodi installed that do not include infringing add-ons, while at the same time he is distributing boxes himself that do include the infringing add-ons like this,” Betzen told TF.

While the legality of this type of service is yet to be properly tested in Canada and may yet emerge as entirely permissible under local law, Gavora himself previously described his business as operating in a gray area.

“If I could go back in time four years, I would’ve been more aggressive in the beginning because there was a lot of uncertainty being in a gray market business about how far I could push it,” he said.

“I really shouldn’t say it’s a gray market because everything I do is completely above board, I just felt it was more gray market so I was a bit scared,” he added.

But, legality aside (which will be determined in due course through various cases 1,2), the situation is still problematic when it comes to the Kodi trademark.

The official Kodi team indicate they don’t want to be associated with any kind of questionable addon or even tutorials for the same. Nevertheless, several of the addons installed by No-Issue (including PrimeWire, cCloud TV, Genesis, Icefilms, MoviesHD, MuchMovies and Navi-X, to name a few), are present on the Kodi team’s official ban list.

The fact remains, however, that Gavora successfully registered the trademark in Canada (one month later it was transferred to a brand new company at the same address), and Kodi now have no control over the situation in the country, short of a settlement or some kind of legal action.

Kodi matters aside, though, we get more insight into Gavora’s attitudes towards intellectual property after learning that he studied gemology and jewelry at school. He’s a long-standing member of jewelry discussion forum Ganoskin.com (his profile links to Gavora.com, a domain Gavora owns, as per information supplied by Amazon).

Things get particularly topical in a 2006 thread titled “When your work gets ripped“. The original poster asked how people feel when their jewelry work gets copied and Gavora made his opinions known.

“I think that what most people forget to remember is that when a piece from Tiffany’s or Cartier is ripped off or copied they don’t usually just copy the work, they will stamp it with their name as well,” Gavora said.

“This is, in fact, fraud and they are deceiving clients into believing they are purchasing genuine Tiffany’s or Cartier pieces. The client is in fact more interested in purchasing from an artist than they are the piece. Laying claim to designs (unless a symbol or name is involved) is outrageous.”

Unless that ‘design’ is called Kodi, of course, then it’s possible to claim it as your own through an administrative process and begin demanding licensing fees from the public. That being said, Gavora does seem to flip back and forth a little, later suggesting that being copied is sometimes ok.

“If someone copies your design and produces it under their own name, I think one should be honored and revel in the fact that your design is successful and has caused others to imitate it and grow from it,” he wrote.

“I look forward to the day I see one of my original designs copied, that is the day I will know my design is a success.”

From their public statements, this opinion isn’t shared by the Kodi team in respect of their product. Despite the Kodi name, software and logo being all their own work, they now find themselves having to claw back rights in Canada, in order to keep the product free in the region. For now, however, that seems like a difficult task.

TorrentFreak wrote to Gavora and asked him why he felt the need to register the Kodi trademark, but we received no response. That means we didn’t get the chance to ask him why he’s taking down Amazon listings for other people’s devices, or about something else that came up in the podcast.

“My biggest weakness, I guess, is that I’m too ethical about how I do my business,” he said, referring to how he deals with customers.

Only time will tell how that philosophy will affect Gavora’s attitudes to trademarks and people’s desire not to be charged for using free, open source software.

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

Philips Wants to Stop Piracy With ‘Ambilight’ Technology

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/philips-wants-to-stop-piracy-with-ambilight-technology-170729/

The movie industry sees illegally recorded movies as one of the biggest piracy threats and goes to extremes to stop it.

Over the years, movie theaters have used audio and video watermarking tools to detect pirates, for example. And during prominent events, night-vision goggles and other spy tech is used to monitor movie goers.

Most anti-piracy efforts are not particularly pleasing for the public, but a new technology from Philips hopes to change this. In a recent patent application the technology company proposes an ambient lighting system for movie theaters that will hinder pirate recordings.

“The major motion picture studios are losing large amounts of money due to piracy. The worldwide motion picture industry, distributors, theaters, video stores and pay-per-view operators, lose each year billions of dollars as a result of piracy,” the company begins.

Philips notes that many of the current security measures, such as watermarking, make piracy traceable. However, they don’t prevent actual recording and distribution. Watermarks can be simply rendered useless if pirates remove them afterwards, for example.

“The problem with current security measures in digital cinema is that they do not prevent pirates from filming the content from the cinema screen. Watermarks can help to identify the source of pirate content, but it does not prevent the actual copying and spreading of the content.”

The ambient lighting solution is different and Philips believes that it could reduce piracy substantially.

The concept is quite easy. By shining light on the visitors from the side, at a certain frequency, the pirate recordings will be severely degraded up to a point where they’ll become completely unwatchable.

“The solution proposed here is to shine visible light from an (additional) light source with a pre-determined modulation frequency at the cinema screen while the movie plays,” the patent application reads.

“When the frequency is chosen well, a camera will not be able to properly film the content, because the light source runs out of sync with the camera resulting in stripes running through the movie content.”

The idea is partly inspired by Philips existing Ambilight technology for TVs. This generates lighting effects around the TV that correspond to the video content. The cinema setup will do the same while hindering pirates in the process. A win-win situation, according to Philips.

“It is yet a further aspect to provide a more immersive experience when watching video content on a display device in combination with anti-piracy measures,” the patent application reads.

It’s unclear whether there are concrete plans to roll out the technology at movie theaters. Philips, however, is no stranger to these type of anti-piracy solutions. The company previously rolled out CineFence, a forensic marking technology for both image and sound, targeted at digital cinema content.

In any case, it’s a good marketing message to get movie theaters to try ambient lighting. Whether it’s really effective has yet to be seen though.

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

Announcing the Winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge – Conversational, Intelligent Chatbots using Amazon Lex and AWS Lambda

Post Syndicated from Tara Walker original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/announcing-the-winners-of-the-aws-chatbot-challenge-conversational-intelligent-chatbots-using-amazon-lex-and-aws-lambda/

A couple of months ago on the blog, I announced the AWS Chatbot Challenge in conjunction with Slack. The AWS Chatbot Challenge was an opportunity to build a unique chatbot that helped to solve a problem or that would add value for its prospective users. The mission was to build a conversational, natural language chatbot using Amazon Lex and leverage Lex’s integration with AWS Lambda to execute logic or data processing on the backend.

I know that you all have been anxiously waiting to hear announcements of who were the winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge as much as I was. Well wait no longer, the winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge have been decided.

May I have the Envelope Please? (The Trumpets sound)

The winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge are:

  • First Place: BuildFax Counts by Joe Emison
  • Second Place: Hubsy by Andrew Riess, Andrew Puch, and John Wetzel
  • Third Place: PFMBot by Benny Leong and his team from MoneyLion.
  • Large Organization Winner: ADP Payroll Innovation Bot by Eric Liu, Jiaxing Yan, and Fan Yang

 

Diving into the Winning Chatbot Projects

Let’s take a walkthrough of the details for each of the winning projects to get a view of what made these chatbots distinctive, as well as, learn more about the technologies used to implement the chatbot solution.

 

BuildFax Counts by Joe Emison

The BuildFax Counts bot was created as a real solution for the BuildFax company to decrease the amount the time that sales and marketing teams can get answers on permits or properties with permits meet certain criteria.

BuildFax, a company co-founded by bot developer Joe Emison, has the only national database of building permits, which updates data from approximately half of the United States on a monthly basis. In order to accommodate the many requests that come in from the sales and marketing team regarding permit information, BuildFax has a technical sales support team that fulfills these requests sent to a ticketing system by manually writing SQL queries that run across the shards of the BuildFax databases. Since there are a large number of requests received by the internal sales support team and due to the manual nature of setting up the queries, it may take several days for getting the sales and marketing teams to receive an answer.

The BuildFax Counts chatbot solves this problem by taking the permit inquiry that would normally be sent into a ticket from the sales and marketing team, as input from Slack to the chatbot. Once the inquiry is submitted into Slack, a query executes and the inquiry results are returned immediately.

Joe built this solution by first creating a nightly export of the data in their BuildFax MySQL RDS database to CSV files that are stored in Amazon S3. From the exported CSV files, an Amazon Athena table was created in order to run quick and efficient queries on the data. He then used Amazon Lex to create a bot to handle the common questions and criteria that may be asked by the sales and marketing teams when seeking data from the BuildFax database by modeling the language used from the BuildFax ticketing system. He added several different sample utterances and slot types; both custom and Lex provided, in order to correctly parse every question and criteria combination that could be received from an inquiry.  Using Lambda, Joe created a Javascript Lambda function that receives information from the Lex intent and used it to build a SQL statement that runs against the aforementioned Athena database using the AWS SDK for JavaScript in Node.js library to return inquiry count result and SQL statement used.

The BuildFax Counts bot is used today for the BuildFax sales and marketing team to get back data on inquiries immediately that previously took up to a week to receive results.

Not only is BuildFax Counts bot our 1st place winner and wonderful solution, but its creator, Joe Emison, is a great guy.  Joe has opted to donate his prize; the $5,000 cash, the $2,500 in AWS Credits, and one re:Invent ticket to the Black Girls Code organization. I must say, you rock Joe for helping these kids get access and exposure to technology.

 

Hubsy by Andrew Riess, Andrew Puch, and John Wetzel

Hubsy bot was created to redefine and personalize the way users traditionally manage their HubSpot account. HubSpot is a SaaS system providing marketing, sales, and CRM software. Hubsy allows users of HubSpot to create engagements and log engagements with customers, provide sales teams with deals status, and retrieves client contact information quickly. Hubsy uses Amazon Lex’s conversational interface to execute commands from the HubSpot API so that users can gain insights, store and retrieve data, and manage tasks directly from Facebook, Slack, or Alexa.

In order to implement the Hubsy chatbot, Andrew and the team members used AWS Lambda to create a Lambda function with Node.js to parse the users request and call the HubSpot API, which will fulfill the initial request or return back to the user asking for more information. Terraform was used to automatically setup and update Lambda, CloudWatch logs, as well as, IAM profiles. Amazon Lex was used to build the conversational piece of the bot, which creates the utterances that a person on a sales team would likely say when seeking information from HubSpot. To integrate with Alexa, the Amazon Alexa skill builder was used to create an Alexa skill which was tested on an Echo Dot. Cloudwatch Logs are used to log the Lambda function information to CloudWatch in order to debug different parts of the Lex intents. In order to validate the code before the Terraform deployment, ESLint was additionally used to ensure the code was linted and proper development standards were followed.

 

PFMBot by Benny Leong and his team from MoneyLion

PFMBot, Personal Finance Management Bot,  is a bot to be used with the MoneyLion finance group which offers customers online financial products; loans, credit monitoring, and free credit score service to improve the financial health of their customers. Once a user signs up an account on the MoneyLion app or website, the user has the option to link their bank accounts with the MoneyLion APIs. Once the bank account is linked to the APIs, the user will be able to login to their MoneyLion account and start having a conversation with the PFMBot based on their bank account information.

The PFMBot UI has a web interface built with using Javascript integration. The chatbot was created using Amazon Lex to build utterances based on the possible inquiries about the user’s MoneyLion bank account. PFMBot uses the Lex built-in AMAZON slots and parsed and converted the values from the built-in slots to pass to AWS Lambda. The AWS Lambda functions interacting with Amazon Lex are Java-based Lambda functions which call the MoneyLion Java-based internal APIs running on Spring Boot. These APIs obtain account data and related bank account information from the MoneyLion MySQL Database.

 

ADP Payroll Innovation Bot by Eric Liu, Jiaxing Yan, and Fan Yang

ADP PI (Payroll Innovation) bot is designed to help employees of ADP customers easily review their own payroll details and compare different payroll data by just asking the bot for results. The ADP PI Bot additionally offers issue reporting functionality for employees to report payroll issues and aids HR managers in quickly receiving and organizing any reported payroll issues.

The ADP Payroll Innovation bot is an ecosystem for the ADP payroll consisting of two chatbots, which includes ADP PI Bot for external clients (employees and HR managers), and ADP PI DevOps Bot for internal ADP DevOps team.


The architecture for the ADP PI DevOps bot is different architecture from the ADP PI bot shown above as it is deployed internally to ADP. The ADP PI DevOps bot allows input from both Slack and Alexa. When input comes into Slack, Slack sends the request to Lex for it to process the utterance. Lex then calls the Lambda backend, which obtains ADP data sitting in the ADP VPC running within an Amazon VPC. When input comes in from Alexa, a Lambda function is called that also obtains data from the ADP VPC running on AWS.

The architecture for the ADP PI bot consists of users entering in requests and/or entering issues via Slack. When requests/issues are entered via Slack, the Slack APIs communicate via Amazon API Gateway to AWS Lambda. The Lambda function either writes data into one of the Amazon DynamoDB databases for recording issues and/or sending issues or it sends the request to Lex. When sending issues, DynamoDB integrates with Trello to keep HR Managers abreast of the escalated issues. Once the request data is sent from Lambda to Lex, Lex processes the utterance and calls another Lambda function that integrates with the ADP API and it calls ADP data from within the ADP VPC, which runs on Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC).

Python and Node.js were the chosen languages for the development of the bots.

The ADP PI bot ecosystem has the following functional groupings:

Employee Functionality

  • Summarize Payrolls
  • Compare Payrolls
  • Escalate Issues
  • Evolve PI Bot

HR Manager Functionality

  • Bot Management
  • Audit and Feedback

DevOps Functionality

  • Reduce call volume in service centers (ADP PI Bot).
  • Track issues and generate reports (ADP PI Bot).
  • Monitor jobs for various environment (ADP PI DevOps Bot)
  • View job dashboards (ADP PI DevOps Bot)
  • Query job details (ADP PI DevOps Bot)

 

Summary

Let’s all wish all the winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge hearty congratulations on their excellent projects.

You can review more details on the winning projects, as well as, all of the submissions to the AWS Chatbot Challenge at: https://awschatbot2017.devpost.com/submissions. If you are curious on the details of Chatbot challenge contest including resources, rules, prizes, and judges, you can review the original challenge website here:  https://awschatbot2017.devpost.com/.

Hopefully, you are just as inspired as I am to build your own chatbot using Lex and Lambda. For more information, take a look at the Amazon Lex developer guide or the AWS AI blog on Building Better Bots Using Amazon Lex (Part 1)

Chat with you soon!

Tara

New – SES Dedicated IP Pools

Post Syndicated from Randall Hunt original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/new-ses-dedicated-ip-pools/

Today we released Dedicated IP Pools for Amazon Simple Email Service (SES). With dedicated IP pools, you can specify which dedicated IP addresses to use for sending different types of email. Dedicated IP pools let you use your SES for different tasks. For instance, you can send transactional emails from one set of IPs and you can send marketing emails from another set of IPs.

If you’re not familiar with Amazon SES these concepts may not make much sense. We haven’t had the chance to cover SES on this blog since 2016, which is a shame, so I want to take a few steps back and talk about the service as a whole and some of the enhancements the team has made over the past year. If you just want the details on this new feature I strongly recommend reading the Amazon Simple Email Service Blog.

What is SES?

So, what is SES? If you’re a customer of Amazon.com you know that we send a lot of emails. Bought something? You get an email. Order shipped? You get an email. Over time, as both email volumes and types increased Amazon.com needed to build an email platform that was flexible, scalable, reliable, and cost-effective. SES is the result of years of Amazon’s own work in dealing with email and maximizing deliverability.

In short: SES gives you the ability to send and receive many types of email with the monitoring and tools to ensure high deliverability.

Sending an email is easy; one simple API call:

import boto3
ses = boto3.client('ses')
ses.send_email(
    Source='[email protected]',
    Destination={'ToAddresses': ['[email protected]']},
    Message={
        'Subject': {'Data': 'Hello, World!'},
        'Body': {'Text': {'Data': 'Hello, World!'}}
    }
)

Receiving and reacting to emails is easy too. You can set up rulesets that forward received emails to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), or AWS Lambda – you could even trigger a Amazon Lex bot through Lambda to communicate with your customers over email. SES is a powerful tool for building applications. The image below shows just a fraction of the capabilities:

Deliverability 101

Deliverability is the percentage of your emails that arrive in your recipients’ inboxes. Maintaining deliverability is a shared responsibility between AWS and the customer. AWS takes the fight against spam very seriously and works hard to make sure services aren’t abused. To learn more about deliverability I recommend the deliverability docs. For now, understand that deliverability is an important aspect of email campaigns and SES has many tools that enable a customer to manage their deliverability.

Dedicated IPs and Dedicated IP pools

When you’re starting out with SES your emails are sent through a shared IP. That IP is responsible for sending mail on behalf of many customers and AWS works to maintain appropriate volume and deliverability on each of those IPs. However, when you reach a sufficient volume shared IPs may not be the right solution.

By creating a dedicated IP you’re able to fully control the reputations of those IPs. This makes it vastly easier to troubleshoot any deliverability or reputation issues. It’s also useful for many email certification programs which require a dedicated IP as a commitment to maintaining your email reputation. Using the shared IPs of the Amazon SES service is still the right move for many customers but if you have sustained daily sending volume greater than hundreds of thousands of emails per day you might want to consider a dedicated IP. One caveat to be aware of: if you’re not sending a sufficient volume of email with a consistent pattern a dedicated IP can actually hurt your reputation. Dedicated IPs are $24.95 per address per month at the time of this writing – but you can find out more at the pricing page.

Before you can use a Dedicated IP you need to “warm” it. You do this by gradually increasing the volume of emails you send through a new address. Each IP needs time to build a positive reputation. In March of this year SES released the ability to automatically warm your IPs over the course of 45 days. This feature is on by default for all new dedicated IPs.

Customers who send high volumes of email will typically have multiple dedicated IPs. Today the SES team released dedicated IP pools to make managing those IPs easier. Now when you send email you can specify a configuration set which will route your email to an IP in a pool based on the pool’s association with that configuration set.

One of the other major benefits of this feature is that it allows customers who previously split their email sending across several AWS accounts (to manage their reputation for different types of email) to consolidate into a single account.

You can read the documentation and blog for more info.

Announcing Dedicated IP Pools

Post Syndicated from Brent Meyer original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/ses/announcing-dedicated-ip-pools/

The Amazon SES team is pleased to announce that you can now create groups of dedicated IP addresses, called dedicated IP pools, for your email sending activities.

Prior to the availability of this feature, if you leased several dedicated IP addresses to use with Amazon SES, there was no way to specify which dedicated IP address to use for a specific email. Dedicated IP pools solve this problem by allowing you to send emails from specific IP addresses.

This post includes information and procedures related to dedicated IP pools.

What are dedicated IP pools?

In order to understand dedicated IP pools, you should first be familiar with the concept of dedicated IP addresses. Customers who send large volumes of email will typically lease one or more dedicated IP addresses to use when sending mail from Amazon SES. To learn more, see our blog post about dedicated IP addresses.

If you lease several dedicated IP addresses for use with Amazon SES, you can organize these addresses into groups, called pools. You can then associate each pool with a configuration set. When you send an email that specifies a configuration set, that email will be sent from the IP addresses in the associated pool.

When should I use dedicated IP pools?

Dedicated IP pools are especially useful for customers who send several different types of email using Amazon SES. For example, if you use Amazon SES to send both marketing emails and transactional emails, you can create a pool for marketing emails and another for transactional emails.

By using dedicated IP pools, you can isolate the sender reputations for each of these types of communications. Using dedicated IP pools gives you complete control over the sender reputations of the dedicated IP addresses you lease from Amazon SES.

How do I create and use dedicated IP pools?

There are two basic steps for creating and using dedicated IP pools. First, create a dedicated IP pool in the Amazon SES console and associate it with a configuration set. Next, when you send email, be sure to specify the configuration set associated with the IP pool you want to use.

For step-by-step procedures, see Creating Dedicated IP Pools in the Amazon SES Developer Guide.

Will my email sending process change?

If you do not use dedicated IP addresses with Amazon SES, then your email sending process will not change.

If you use dedicated IP pools, your email sending process may change slightly. In most cases, you will need to specify a configuration set in the emails you send. To learn more about using configuration sets, see Specifying a Configuration Set When You Send Email in the Amazon SES Developer Guide.

Any dedicated IP addresses that you lease that are not part of a dedicated IP pool will automatically be added to a default pool. If you send email without specifying a configuration set that is associated with a pool, then that email will be sent from one of the addresses in the default pool.

Dedicated IP pools are now available in the following AWS Regions: us-west-2 (Oregon), us-east-1 (Virginia), and eu-west-1 (Ireland).

We hope you enjoy this feature. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment on this post, or let us know in the Amazon SES Forum.

Wanted: Front End Developer

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/wanted-front-end-developer/

Want to work at a company that helps customers in over 150 countries around the world protect the memories they hold dear? Do you want to challenge yourself with a business that serves consumers, SMBs, Enterprise, and developers? If all that sounds interesting, you might be interested to know that Backblaze is looking for a Front End Developer​!

Backblaze is a 10 year old company. Providing great customer experiences is the “secret sauce” that enables us to successfully compete against some of technology’s giants. We’ll finish the year at ~$20MM ARR and are a profitable business. This is an opportunity to have your work shine at scale in one of the fastest growing verticals in tech – Cloud Storage.

You will utilize HTML, ReactJS, CSS and jQuery to develop intuitive, elegant user experiences. As a member of our Front End Dev team, you will work closely with our web development, software design, and marketing teams.

On a day to day basis, you must be able to convert image mockups to HTML or ReactJS – There’s some production work that needs to get done. But you will also be responsible for helping build out new features, rethink old processes, and enabling third party systems to empower our marketing/sales/ and support teams.

Our Front End Developer must be proficient in:

  • HTML, ReactJS
  • UTF-8, Java Properties, and Localized HTML (Backblaze runs in 11 languages!)
  • JavaScript, CSS, Ajax
  • jQuery, Bootstrap
  • JSON, XML
  • Understanding of cross-browser compatibility issues and ways to work around them
  • Basic SEO principles and ensuring that applications will adhere to them
  • Learning about third party marketing and sales tools through reading documentation. Our systems include Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Salesforce, and Hubspot

Struts, Java, JSP, Servlet and Apache Tomcat are a plus, but not required.

We’re looking for someone that is:

  • Passionate about building friendly, easy to use Interfaces and APIs.
  • Likes to work closely with other engineers, support, and marketing to help customers.
  • Is comfortable working independently on a mutually agreed upon prioritization queue (we don’t micromanage, we do make sure tasks are reasonably defined and scoped).
  • Diligent with quality control. Backblaze prides itself on giving our team autonomy to get work done, do the right thing for our customers, and keep a pace that is sustainable over the long run. As such, we expect everyone that checks in code that is stable. We also have a small QA team that operates as a secondary check when needed.

Backblaze Employees Have:

  • Good attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done
  • Strong desire to work for a small fast, paced company
  • Desire to learn and adapt to rapidly changing technologies and work environment
  • Comfort with well behaved pets in the office

This position is located in San Mateo, California. Regular attendance in the office is expected. Backblaze is an Equal Opportunity Employer and we offer competitive salary and benefits, including our no policy vacation policy.

If this sounds like you
Send an email to [email protected] with:

  1. Front End Dev​ in the subject line
  2. Your resume attached
  3. An overview of your relevant experience

The post Wanted: Front End Developer appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Curb Your Enthusiasm on Those HBO Leaks

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/curb-your-enthusiasm-on-those-hbo-leaks-170814/

Late July, news broke that a hacker, or hackers, had compromised the network of the American cable and television network HBO.

Those responsible contacted reporters, informing them about the prominent breach, and leaked files surfaced on the dedicated website Winter-leak.com.

The website wasn’t around for long, but last week the hackers reached out to the press again with a curated batch of new leaks shared through Mega.nz. Among other things, it contained more Game of Thrones spoilers, marketing plans, and other confidential HBO files.

Fast forward another week and there’s yet another freshly curated batch of leaks. This time it includes episodes of the highly anticipated return of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ which officially airs in October, as well as episodes from “Barry,” “Insecure” and “The Deuce,” AP reports.

These shows are part of the treasure trove of 1.5 terabytes that was taken from HBO. These and several other titles were already teased last week in a screenshot the hackers released to the press.

There’s no reason to doubt that the leaks are real, but thus far they haven’t been widely distributed. It appears that the various journalists who received the latest batch of Mega.nz links are not very eager to post them in public.

TorrentFreak scoured popular torrent sites and streaming portals for public copies of the new Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes and came up empty-handed. And we’re certainly not the only ones having trouble spotting the leaks in public.

“I searched around a lot a few hours ago and couldn’t find anything,” one Curb Your Enthusiasm watcher commented on Reddit. “Why can’t these hackers be courteous and place links?” another added.

This is quite different from the leaked episode of Game of Thrones that came out before its official release two weeks ago. That leak was not related to the HBO hack, but before the news broke in the mainstream press, thousands of copies were already available on pirate sites.

HBO, meanwhile, appears to have had enough of the continued enthusiasm the hacker is managing to generate in the press.

“We are not in communication with the hacker and we’re not going to comment every time a new piece of information is released,” a company spokesperson said.

“It has been widely reported that there was a cyber incident at HBO. The hacker may continue to drop bits and pieces of stolen information in an attempt to generate media attention. That’s a game we’re not going to participate in.”

As for the Curb Your Enthusiasm fans who were hoping for an early preview of the new season. They may have to, well… you know. For now at least.

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

Hackers Leak More Confidential Game of Thrones Files

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/hackers-leak-more-confidential-game-of-thrones-files-170808/

Last week, news broke that a hacker, or hackers, had compromised the network of the American cable and television network HBO.

Those responsible sent out an email to reporters, announcing the prominent breach, and leaked files surfaced on the dedicated website Winter-leak.com.

While the latter is no longer accessible, the hackers are not done yet. Another curated batch of leaked files has now appeared online, revealing more Game of Thrones spoilers, marketing plans, and other confidential HBO files.

The first leak put a preliminary outline of the fourth episode of the current Game of Thrones season in the spotlight, and the second batch follows up with the same for the upcoming fifth episode.

Although the outline was prepared over a year ago, it likely contains various accurate spoilers, which we won’t repeat here.

Preliminary outline S07E05

The new data dump, which is a subsection of the 1.5 terabytes of data the hackers claimed to have in their possession, also lists a variety of other Game of Thrones related files.

Among other items, there’s a confidential cast list for the current season, a highly confidential “Game of Ideas” brief, an outline of GoT marketing strategies, and a Game of Thrones roadmap. The information all appears to be a few months old.

The hackers took a screenshot of several folders, where the files may have been taken from, as seen below.

Folders screenshot

In addition, the hackers provided ‘proof’ that they have emails, which according to AP point to HBO’s vice president for film programming Leslie Cohen.

Finally, the new batch contains a video letter to HBO CEO Richard Plepler, titled “First letter to HBO,” where a certain Mr. Smith takes credit for the hack. The letter offered to keep the information away from the public, in exchange for a ransom payment.

First letter to HBO

For spoiler-eager Game of Thrones fans the hack is a true treasure trove. However, like the first batch, no leaked episodes are included. And, based on another screenshot, these are probably not on the way either.

A “Series Screenshot” includes a list of likely compromised titles, such as The Deviant Ones and the previously leaked Barry, Ballers, and Room 104, but no Game of Thrones.

A leak of the fourth GoT episode did appear online late last week, but this wasn’t linked to the breach of HBO’s network. Still, HBO is likely not amused and will do everything in its power to catch those responsible.

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

Pimoroni is 5 now!

Post Syndicated from guru original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pimoroni-is-5-now/

Long read written by Pimoroni’s Paul Beech, best enjoyed over a cup o’ grog.

Every couple of years, I’ve done a “State of the Fleet” update here on the Raspberry Pi blog to tell everyone how the Sheffield Pirates are doing. Half a decade has gone by in a blink, but reading back over the previous posts shows that a lot has happened in that time!

TL;DR We’re an increasingly medium-sized design/manufacturing/e-commerce business with workshops in Sheffield, UK, and Essen, Germany, and we employ almost 40 people. We’re totally lovely. Thanks for supporting us!

 

We’ve come a long way, baby

I’m sitting looking out the window at Sheffield-on-Sea and feeling pretty lucky about how things are going. In the morning, I’ll be flying east for Maker Faire Tokyo with Niko (more on him later), and to say hi to some amazing people in Shenzhen (and to visit Huaqiangbei, of course). This is after I’ve already visited this year’s Maker Faires in New York, San Francisco, and Berlin.

Pimoroni started out small, but we’ve grown like weeds, and we’re steadily sauntering towards becoming a medium-sized business. That’s thanks to fantastic support from the people who buy our stuff and spread the word. In return, we try to be nice, friendly, and human in everything we do, and to make exciting things, ideally with our own hands here in Sheffield.

Pimoroni soldering

Handmade with love

We’ve made it onto a few ‘fastest-growing’ lists, and we’re in the top 500 of the Inc. 5000 Europe list. Adafruit did it first a few years back, and we’ve never gone wrong when we’ve followed in their footsteps.

The slightly weird nature of Pimoroni means we get listed as either a manufacturing or e-commerce business. In reality, we’re about four or five companies in one shell, which is very much against the conventions of “how business is done”. However, having seen what Adafruit, SparkFun, and Seeed do, we’re more than happy to design, manufacture, and sell our stuff in-house, as well as stocking the best stuff from across the maker community.

Pimoroni stocks

Product and process

The whole process of expansion has not been without its growing pains. We’re just under 40 people strong now, and have an outpost in Germany (also hilariously far from the sea for piratical activities). This means we’ve had to change things quickly to improve and automate processes, so that the wheels won’t fall off as things get bigger. Process optimization is incredibly interesting to a geek, especially the making sure that things are done well, that mistakes are easy to spot and to fix, and that nothing is missed.

At the end of 2015, we had a step change in how busy we were, and our post room and support started to suffer. As a consequence, we implemented measures to become more efficient, including small but important things like checking in parcels with a barcode scanner attached to a Raspberry Pi. That Pi has been happily running on the same SD card for a couple of years now without problems 😀

Pimoroni post room

Going postal?

We also hired a full-time support ninja, Matt, to keep the experience of getting stuff from us light and breezy and to ensure that any problems are sorted. He’s had hugely positive impact already by making the emails and replies you see more friendly. Of course, he’s also started using the laser cutters for tinkering projects. It’d be a shame to work at Pimoroni and not get to use all the wonderful toys, right?

Employing all the people

You can see some of the motley crew we employ here and there on the Pimoroni website. And if you drop by at the Raspberry Pi Birthday Party, Pi Wars, Maker Faires, Deer Shed Festival, or New Scientist Live in September, you’ll be seeing new Pimoroni faces as we start to engage with people more about what we do. On top of that, we’re starting to make proper videos (like Sandy’s soldering guide), as opposed to the 101 episodes of Bilge Tank we recorded in a rather off-the-cuff and haphazard fashion. Although that’s the beauty of Bilge Tank, right?

Pimoroni soldering

Such soldering setup

As Emma, Sandy, Lydia, and Tanya gel as a super creative team, we’re starting to create more formal educational resources, and to make kits that are suitable for a wider audience. Things like our Pi Zero W kits are products of their talents.

Emma is our new Head of Marketing. She’s really ‘The Only Marketing Person Who Would Ever Fit In At Pimoroni’, having been a core part of the Sheffield maker scene since we hung around with one Ben Nuttall, in the dark days before Raspberry Pi was a thing.

Through a series of fortunate coincidences, Niko and his equally talented wife Mena were there when we cut the first Pibow in 2012. They immediately pitched in to help us buy our second laser cutter so we could keep up with demand. They have been supporting Pimoroni with sourcing in East Asia, and now Niko has become a member of the Pirates’ Council and the Head of Engineering as we’re increasing the sophistication and scale of the things we do. The Unicorn HAT HD is one of his masterpieces.

Pimoroni devices

ALL the HATs!

We see ourselves as a wonderful island of misfit toys, and it feels good to have the best toy shop ever, and to support so many lovely people. Business is about more than just profits.

Where do we go to, me hearties?

So what are our plans? At the moment we’re still working absolutely flat-out as demand from wholesalers, retailers, and customers increases. We thought Raspberry Pi was big, but it turns out it’s just getting started. Near the end of 2016, it seemed to reach a whole new level of popularityand still we continue to meet people to whom we have to explain what a Pi is. It’s a good problem to have.

We need a bigger space, but it’s been hard to find somewhere suitable in Sheffield that won’t mean we’re stuck on an industrial estate miles from civilisation. That would be bad for the crewwe like having world-class burritos on our doorstep.

The good news is, it looks like our search is at an end! Just in time for the arrival of our ‘Super-Turbo-Death-Star’ new production line, which will enable to make devices in a bigger, better, faster, more ‘Now now now!’ fashion \o/

Pimoroni warehouse

Spacious, but not spacious enough!

We’ve got lots of treasure in the pipeline, but we want to pick up the pace of development even more and create many new HATs, pHATs, and SHIMs, e.g. for environmental sensing and audio applications. Picade will also be getting some love to make it slicker and more hackable.

We’re also starting to flirt with adding more engineering and production capabilities in-house. The plan is to try our hand at anodising, powder-coating, and maybe even injection-moulding if we get the space and find the right machine. Learning how to do things is amazing, and we love having an idea and being able to bring it to life in almost no time at all.

Pimoroni production

This is where the magic happens

Fanks!

There are so many people involved in supporting our success, and some people we love for just existing and doing wonderful things that make us want to do better. The biggest shout-outs go to Liz, Eben, Gordon, James, all the Raspberry Pi crew, and Limor and pt from Adafruit, for being the most supportive guiding lights a young maker company could ever need.

A note from us

It is amazing for us to witness the growth of businesses within the Raspberry Pi ecosystem. Pimoroni is a wonderful example of an organisation that is creating opportunities for makers within its local community, and the company is helping to reinvigorate Sheffield as the heart of making in the UK.

If you’d like to take advantage of the great products built by the Pirates, Monkeys, Robots, and Ninjas of Sheffield, you should do it soon: Pimoroni are giving everyone 20% off their homemade tech until 6 August.

Pimoroni, from all of us here at Pi Towers (both in the UK and USA), have a wonderful birthday, and many a grog on us!

The post Pimoroni is 5 now! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Open and Click Tracking Have Arrived

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

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

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

What’s new in this release?

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

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

Why should I use open and click tracking?

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

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

How do I enable open and click tracking?

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

How does open and click tracking work?

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

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

Can I disable click tracking?

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

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

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

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

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

How do I use event publishing with Amazon SNS?

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

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

Concerns About The Blockchain Technology

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/concerns-blockchain-technology/

The so-called (and marketing-branded) “blockchain technology” is promised to revolutionize every industry. Anything, they say, will become decentralized, free from middle men or government control. Services will thrive on various installments of the blockchain, and smart contracts will automatically enforce any logic that is related to the particular domain.

I don’t mind having another technological leap (after the internet), and given that I’m technically familiar with the blockchain, I may even be part of it. But I’m not convinced it will happen, and I’m not convinced it’s going to be the next internet.

If we strip the hype, the technology behind Bitcoin is indeed a technical masterpiece. It combines existing techniques (likes hash chains and merkle trees) with a very good proof-of-work based consensus algorithm. And it creates a digital currency, which ontop of being worth billions now, is simply cool.

But will this technology be mass-adopted, and will mass adoption allow it to retain the technological benefits it has?

First, I’d like to nitpick a little bit – if anyone is speaking about “decentralized software” when referring to “the blockchain”, be suspicious. Bitcon and other peer-to-peer overlay networks are in fact “distributed” (see the pictures here). “Decentralized” means having multiple providers, but doesn’t mean each user will be full-featured nodes on the network. This nitpicking is actually part of another argument, but we’ll get to that.

If blockchain-based applications want to reach mass adoption, they have to be user-friendly. I know I’m being captain obvious here (and fortunately some of the people in the area have realized that), but with the current state of the technology, it’s impossible for end users to even get it, let alone use it.

My first serious concern is usability. To begin with, you need to download the whole blockchain on your machine. When I got my first bitcoin several years ago (when it was still 10 euro), the blockchain was kind of small and I didn’t notice that problem. Nowadays both the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains take ages to download. I still haven’t managed to download the ethereum one – after several bugs and reinstalls of the client, I’m still at 15%. And we are just at the beginning. A user just will not wait for days to download something in order to be able to start using a piece of technology.

I recently proposed downloading snapshots of the blockchain via bittorrent to be included in the Ethereum protocol itself. I know that snapshots of the Bitcoin blockchain have been distributed that way, but it has been a manual process. If a client can quickly download the huge file up to a recent point, and then only donwload the latest ones in the the traditional way, starting up may be easier. Of course, the whole chain would have to be verified, but maybe that can be a background process that doesn’t stop you from using whatever is built ontop of the particular blockchain. (I’m not sure if that will be secure enough, and that, say potential Sybil attacks on the bittorrent part won’t make it undesirable, it’s just an idea).

But even if such an approach works and is adopted, that would still mean that for every service you’d have to download a separate blockchain. Of course, projects like Ethereum may seem like the “one stop shop” for cool blockchain-based applications, but fragmentation is already happening – there are alt-coins bundled with various services like file storage, DNS, etc. That will not be workable for end-users. And it’s certainly not an option for mobile, which is the dominant client now. If instead of downloading the entire chain, something like consistent hashing is used to distribute the content in small portions among clients, it might be workable. But how will trust work in that case, I don’t know. Maybe it’s possible, maybe not.

And yes, I know that you don’t necessarily have to install a wallet/client in order to make use of a given blockchain – you can just have a cloud-based wallet. Which is fairly convenient, but that gets me to my nitpicking from a few paragraphs above and to may second concern – this effectively turns a distributed system into a decentralized one – a limited number of cloud providers hold most of the data (just as a limited number of miners hold most of the processing power). And then, even though the underlying technology allows for a distributed deployment, we’ll end-up again with simply decentralized or even de-facto cenetralized, if mergers and acquisitions lead us there (and they probably will). And in order to be able to access our wallets/accounts from multiple devices, we’d use a convenient cloud service where we’d login with our username and password (because the private key is just too technical and hard for regular users). And that seems to defeat the whole idea.

Not only that, but there is an inevitable centralization of decisions (who decides on the size of the block, who has commit rights to the client repository) as well as a hidden centralization of power – how much GPU power does the Chinese mining “farms” control and can they influence the network significantly? And will the average user ever know that or care (as they don’t care that Google is centralized). I think that overall, distributed technologies will follow the power law, and the majority of data/processing power/decision power will be controller by a minority of actors. And so our distributed utopia will not happen in its purest form we dream of.

My third concern is incentive. Distributed technologies that have been successful so far have a pretty narrow set of incentives. The internet was promoted by large public institutions, including government agencies and big universitives. Bittorrent was successful mainly because it allowed free movies and songs with 2 clicks of the mouse. And Bitcoin was successful because it offered financial benefits. I’m oversimplifying of course, but “government effort”, “free & easy” and “source of more money” seem to have been the successful incentives. On the other side of the fence there are dozens of failed distributed technologies. I’ve tried many of them – alternative search engines, alternative file storage, alternative ride-sharings, alternative social networks, alternative “internets” even. None have gained traction. Because they are not easier to use than their free competitors and you can’t make money out of them (and no government bothers promoting them).

Will blockchain-based services have sufficient incentives to drive customers? Will centralized competitors just easily crush the distributed alternatives by being cheaper, more-user friendly, having sales departments that can target more than hardcore geeks who have no problem syncing their blockchain via the command line? The utopian slogans seem very cool to idealists and futurists, but don’t sell. “Free from centralized control, full control over your data” – we’d have to go through a long process of cultural change before these things make sense to more than a handful of people.

Speaking of services, often examples include “the sharing economy”, where one stranger offers a service to another stranger. Blockchain technology seems like a good fit here indeed – the services are by nature distributed, why should the technology be centralized? Here comes my fourth concern – identity. While for the cryptocurrencies it’s actually beneficial to be anonymous, for most of the real-world services (i.e. the industries that ought to be revolutionized) this is not an option. You can’t just go in the car of publicKey=5389BC989A342…. “But there are already distributed reputation systems”, you may say. Yes, and they are based on technical, not real-world identities. That doesn’t build trust. I don’t trust that publicKey=5389BC989A342… is the same person that got the high reputation. There may be five people behind that private key. The private key may have been stolen (e.g. in a cloud-provider breach).

The values of companies like Uber and AirBNB is that they serve as trust brokers. They verify and vouch for their drivers and hosts (and passengers and guests). They verify their identity through government-issued documents, skype calls, selfies, compare pictures to documents, get access to government databases, credit records, etc. Can a fully distributed service do that? No. You’d need a centralized provider to do it. And how would the blockchain make any difference then? Well, I may not be entirely correct here. I’ve actually been thinking quite a lot about decentralized identity. E.g. a way to predictably generate a private key based on, say biometrics+password+government-issued-documents, and use the corresponding public key as your identifier, which is then fed into reputation schemes and ultimately – real-world services. But we’re not there yet.

And that is part of my fifth concern – the technology itself. We are not there yet. There are bugs, there are thefts and leaks. There are hard-forks. There isn’t sufficient understanding of the technology (I confess I don’t fully grasp all the implementation details, and they are always the key). Often the technology is advertised as “just working”, but it isn’t. The other day I read an article (lost the link) that clarifies a common misconception about smart contracts – they cannot interact with the outside world – they can’t call APIs (e.g. stock market prices, bank APIs), they can’t push or fetch data from anywhere but the blockchain. That mandates the need, again, for a centralized service that pushes the relevant information before smart contracts can pick it up. I’m pretty sure that all cool-sounding applications are not possible without extensive research. And even if/when they are, writing distributed code is hard. Debugging a smart contract is hard. Yes, hard is cool, but that doesn’t drive economic value.

I have mostly been referring to public blockchains so far. Private blockchains may have their practical application, but there’s one catch – they are not exactly the cool distributed technology that the Bitcoin uses. They may be called “blockchains” because they…chain blocks, but they usually centralize trust. For example the Hyperledger project uses PKI, with all its benefits and risks. In these cases, a centralized authority issues the identity “tokens”, and then nodes communicate and form a shared ledger. That’s a bit easier problem to solve, and the nodes would usually be on actual servers in real datacenters, and not on your uncle’s Windows XP.

That said, hash chaining has been around for quite a long time. I did research on the matter because of a side-project of mine and it seems providing a tamper-proof/tamper-evident log/database on semi-trusted machines has been discussed in many computer science papers since the 90s. That alone is not “the magic blockchain” that will solve all of our problems, no matter what gossip protocols you sprinkle ontop. I’m not saying that’s bad, on the contrary – any variation and combinations of the building blocks of the blockchain (the hash chain, the consensus algorithm, the proof-of-work (or stake), possibly smart contracts), has potential for making useful products.

I know I sound like the a naysayer here, but I hope I’ve pointed out particular issues, rather than aimlessly ranting at the hype (though that’s tempting as well). I’m confident that blockchain-like technologies will have their practical applications, and we will see some successful, widely-adopted services and solutions based on that, just as pointed out in this detailed report. But I’m not convinced it will be revolutionizing.

I hope I’m proven wrong, though, because watching a revolutionizing technology closely and even being part of it would be quite cool.

The post Concerns About The Blockchain Technology appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Introducing Our Content Director: Roderick

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

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

What is your Backblaze Title?
Content Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coke or Pepsi?
Red Burgundy

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Scaling EmailOctopus to handle millions of emails per day

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

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

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

Figure 1. Number of events processed over time.

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

Figure 2. Our current event processing infrastructure.

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

What makes EmailOctopus + SES different from the competition?

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

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

I’m ready to get started!

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

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

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