Tag Archives: math

Early Challenges: Making Critical Hires

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/early-challenges-making-critical-hires/

row of potential employee hires sitting waiting for an interview

In 2009, Google disclosed that they had 400 recruiters on staff working to hire nearly 10,000 people. Someday, that might be your challenge, but most companies in their early days are looking to hire a handful of people — the right people — each year. Assuming you are closer to startup stage than Google stage, let’s look at who you need to hire, when to hire them, where to find them (and how to help them find you), and how to get them to join your company.

Who Should Be Your First Hires

In later stage companies, the roles in the company have been well fleshed out, don’t change often, and each role can be segmented to focus on a specific area. A large company may have an entire department focused on just cubicle layout; at a smaller company you may not have a single person whose actual job encompasses all of facilities. At Backblaze, our CTO has a passion and knack for facilities and mostly led that charge. Also, the needs of a smaller company are quick to change. One of our first hires was a QA person, Sean, who ended up being 100% focused on data center infrastructure. In the early stage, things can shift quite a bit and you need people that are broadly capable, flexible, and most of all willing to pitch in where needed.

That said, there are times you may need an expert. At a previous company we hired Jon, a PhD in Bayesian statistics, because we needed algorithmic analysis for spam fighting. However, even that person was not only able and willing to do the math, but also code, and to not only focus on Bayesian statistics but explore a plethora of spam fighting options.

When To Hire

If you’ve raised a lot of cash and are willing to burn it with mistakes, you can guess at all the roles you might need and start hiring for them. No judgement: that’s a reasonable strategy if you’re cash-rich and time-poor.

If your cash is limited, try to see what you and your team are already doing and then hire people to take those jobs. It may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re already doing it presumably it needs to be done, you have a good sense of the type of skills required to do it, and you can bring someone on-board and get them up to speed quickly. That then frees you up to focus on tasks that can’t be done by someone else. At Backblaze, I ran marketing internally for years before hiring a VP of Marketing, making it easier for me to know what we needed. Once I was hiring, my primary goal was to find someone I could trust to take that role completely off of me so I could focus solely on my CEO duties

Where To Find the Right People

Finding great people is always difficult, particularly when the skillsets you’re looking for are highly in-demand by larger companies with lots of cash and cachet. You, however, have one massive advantage: you need to hire 5 people, not 5,000.

People You Worked With

The absolutely best people to hire are ones you’ve worked with before that you already know are good in a work situation. Consider your last job, the one before, and the one before that. A significant number of the people we recruited at Backblaze came from our previous startup MailFrontier. We knew what they could do and how they would fit into the culture, and they knew us and thus could quickly meld into the environment. If you didn’t have a previous job, consider people you went to school with or perhaps individuals with whom you’ve done projects previously.

People You Know

Hiring friends, family, and others can be risky, but should be considered. Sometimes a friend can be a “great buddy,” but is not able to do the job or isn’t a good fit for the organization. Having to let go of someone who is a friend or family member can be rough. Have the conversation up front with them about that possibility, so you have the ability to stay friends if the position doesn’t work out. Having said that, if you get along with someone as a friend, that’s one critical component of succeeding together at work. At Backblaze we’ve hired a number of people successfully that were friends of someone in the organization.

Friends Of People You Know

Your network is likely larger than you imagine. Your employees, investors, advisors, spouses, friends, and other folks all know people who might be a great fit for you. Make sure they know the roles you’re hiring for and ask them if they know anyone that would fit. Search LinkedIn for the titles you’re looking for and see who comes up; if they’re a 2nd degree connection, ask your connection for an introduction.

People You Know About

Sometimes the person you want isn’t someone anyone knows, but you may have read something they wrote, used a product they’ve built, or seen a video of a presentation they gave. Reach out. You may get a great hire: worst case, you’ll let them know they were appreciated, and make them aware of your organization.

Other Places to Find People

There are a million other places to find people, including job sites, community groups, Facebook/Twitter, GitHub, and more. Consider where the people you’re looking for are likely to congregate online and in person.

A Comment on Diversity

Hiring “People You Know” can often result in “Hiring People Like You” with the same workplace experiences, culture, background, and perceptions. Some studies have shown [1, 2, 3, 4] that homogeneous groups deliver faster, while heterogeneous groups are more creative. Also, “Hiring People Like You” often propagates the lack of women and minorities in tech and leadership positions in general. When looking for people you know, keep an eye to not discount people you know who don’t have the same cultural background as you.

Helping People To Find You

Reaching out proactively to people is the most direct way to find someone, but you want potential hires coming to you as well. To do this, they have to a) be aware of you, b) know you have a role they’re interested in, and c) think they would want to work there. Let’s tackle a) and b) first below.

Your Blog

I started writing our blog before we launched the product and talked about anything I found interesting related to our space. For several years now our team has owned the content on the blog and in 2017 over 1.5 million people read it. Each time we have a position open it’s published to the blog. If someone finds reading about backup and storage interesting, perhaps they’d want to dig in deeper from the inside. Many of the people we’ve recruited have mentioned reading the blog as either how they found us or as a factor in why they wanted to work here.
[BTW, this is Gleb’s 200th post on Backblaze’s blog. The first was in 2008. — Editor]

Your Email List

In addition to the emails our blog subscribers receive, we send regular emails to our customers, partners, and prospects. These are largely focused on content we think is directly useful or interesting for them. However, once every few months we include a small mention that we’re hiring, and the positions we’re looking for. Often a small blurb is all you need to capture people’s imaginations whether they might find the jobs interesting or can think of someone that might fit the bill.

Your Social Involvement

Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook, Hacker News or Slashdot, your potential hires are engaging in various communities. Being socially involved helps make people aware of you, reminds them of you when they’re considering a job, and paints a picture of what working with you and your company would be like. Adam was in a Reddit thread where we were discussing our Storage Pods, and that interaction was ultimately part of the reason he left Apple to come to Backblaze.

Convincing People To Join

Once you’ve found someone or they’ve found you, how do you convince them to join? They may be currently employed, have other offers, or have to relocate. Again, while the biggest companies have a number of advantages, you might have more unique advantages than you realize.

Why Should They Join You

Here are a set of items that you may be able to offer which larger organizations might not:

Role: Consider the strengths of the role. Perhaps it will have broader scope? More visibility at the executive level? No micromanagement? Ability to take risks? Option to create their own role?

Compensation: In addition to salary, will their options potentially be worth more since they’re getting in early? Can they trade-off salary for more options? Do they get option refreshes?

Benefits: In addition to healthcare, food, and 401(k) plans, are there unique benefits of your company? One company I knew took the entire team for a one-month working retreat abroad each year.

Location: Most people prefer to work close to home. If you’re located outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, you might be at a disadvantage for not being in the heart of tech. But if you find employees close to you you’ve got a huge advantage. Sometimes it’s micro; even in the Bay Area the difference of 5 miles can save 20 minutes each way every day. We located the Backblaze headquarters in San Mateo, a middle-ground that made it accessible to those coming from San Jose and San Francisco. We also chose a downtown location near a train, restaurants, and cafes: all to make it easier and more pleasant. Also, are you flexible in letting your employees work remotely? Our systems administrator Elliott is about to embark on a long-term cross-country journey working from an RV.

Environment: Open office, cubicle, cafe, work-from-home? Loud/quiet? Social or focused? 24×7 or work-life balance? Different environments appeal to different people.

Team: Who will they be working with? A company with 100,000 people might have 100 brilliant ones you’d want to work with, but ultimately we work with our core team. Who will your prospective hires be working with?

Market: Some people are passionate about gaming, others biotech, still others food. The market you’re targeting will get different people excited.

Product: Have an amazing product people love? Highlight that. If you’re lucky, your potential hire is already a fan.

Mission: Curing cancer, making people happy, and other company missions inspire people to strive to be part of the journey. Our mission is to make storing data astonishingly easy and low-cost. If you care about data, information, knowledge, and progress, our mission helps drive all of them.

Culture: I left this for last, but believe it’s the most important. What is the culture of your company? Finding people who want to work in the culture of your organization is critical. If they like the culture, they’ll fit and continue it. We’ve worked hard to build a culture that’s collaborative, friendly, supportive, and open; one in which people like coming to work. For example, the five founders started with (and still have) the same compensation and equity. That started a culture of “we’re all in this together.” Build a culture that will attract the people you want, and convey what the culture is.

Writing The Job Description

Most job descriptions focus on the all the requirements the candidate must meet. While important to communicate, the job description should first sell the job. Why would the appropriate candidate want the job? Then share some of the requirements you think are critical. Remember that people read not just what you say but how you say it. Try to write in a way that conveys what it is like to actually be at the company. Ahin, our VP of Marketing, said the job description itself was one of the things that attracted him to the company.

Orchestrating Interviews

Much can be said about interviewing well. I’m just going to say this: make sure that everyone who is interviewing knows that their job is not only to evaluate the candidate, but give them a sense of the culture, and sell them on the company. At Backblaze, we often have one person interview core prospects solely for company/culture fit.

Onboarding

Hiring success shouldn’t be defined by finding and hiring the right person, but instead by the right person being successful and happy within the organization. Ensure someone (usually their manager) provides them guidance on what they should be concentrating on doing during their first day, first week, and thereafter. Giving new employees opportunities and guidance so that they can achieve early wins and feel socially integrated into the company does wonders for bringing people on board smoothly

In Closing

Our Director of Production Systems, Chris, said to me the other day that he looks for companies where he can work on “interesting problems with nice people.” I’m hoping you’ll find your own version of that and find this post useful in looking for your early and critical hires.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, if you know of anyone looking for a place with “interesting problems with nice people,” Backblaze is hiring. 😉

The post Early Challenges: Making Critical Hires appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Kim Dotcom Begins New Fight to Avoid Extradition to United States

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-begins-new-fight-to-avoid-extradition-to-united-states-180212/

More than six years ago in January 2012, file-hosting site Megaupload was shut down by the United States government and founder Kim Dotcom and his associates were arrested in New Zealand.

What followed was an epic legal battle to extradite Dotcom, Mathias Ortmann, Finn Batato, and Bram van der Kolk to the United States to face several counts including copyright infringement, racketeering, and money laundering. Dotcom has battled the US government every inch of the way.

The most significant matters include the validity of the search warrants used to raid Dotcom’s Coatesville home on January 20, 2012. Despite a prolonged trip through the legal system, in 2014 the Supreme Court dismissed Dotcom’s appeals that the search warrants weren’t valid.

In 2015, the District Court later ruled that Dotcom and his associates are eligible for extradition. A subsequent appeal to the High Court failed when in February 2017 – and despite a finding that communicating copyright-protected works to the public is not a criminal offense in New Zealand – a judge also ruled in favor.

Of course, Dotcom and his associates immediately filed appeals and today in the Court of Appeal in Wellington, their hearing got underway.

Lawyer Grant Illingworth, representing Van der Kolk and Ortmann, told the Court that the case had “gone off the rails” during the initial 10-week extradition hearing in 2015, arguing that the case had merited “meaningful” consideration by a judge, something which failed to happen.

“It all went wrong. It went absolutely, totally wrong,” Mr. Illingworth said. “We were not heard.”

As expected, Illingworth underlined the belief that under New Zealand law, a person may only be extradited for an offense that could be tried in a criminal court locally. His clients’ cases do not meet that standard, the lawyer argued.

Turning back the clocks more than six years, Illingworth again raised the thorny issue of the warrants used to authorize the raids on the Megaupload defendants.

It had previously been established that New Zealand’s GCSB intelligence service had illegally spied on Dotcom and his associates in the lead up to their arrests. However, that fact was not disclosed to the District Court judge who authorized the raids.

“We say that there was misleading conduct at this stage because there was no reference to the fact that information had been gathered illegally by the GCSB,” he said.

But according to Justice Forrest Miller, even if this defense argument holds up the High Court had already found there was a prima facie case to answer “with bells on”.

“The difficulty that you face here ultimately is whether the judicial process that has been followed in both of the courts below was meaningful, to use the Canadian standard,” Justice Miller said.

“You’re going to have to persuade us that what Justice Gilbert [in the High Court] ended up with, even assuming your interpretation of the legislation is correct, was wrong.”

Although the US seeks to extradite Dotcom and his associates on 13 charges, including racketeering, copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud, the Court of Appeal previously confirmed that extradition could be granted based on just some of the charges.

The stakes couldn’t be much higher. The FBI says that the “Megaupload Conspiracy” earned the quartet $175m and if extradited to the US, they could face decades in jail.

While Dotcom was not in court today, he has been active on Twitter.

“The court process went ‘off the rails’ when the only copyright expert Judge in NZ was >removed< from my case and replaced by a non-tech Judge who asked if Mega was ‘cow storage’. He then simply copy/pasted 85% of the US submissions into his judgment," Dotcom wrote.

Dotcom also appeared to question the suitability of judges at both the High Court and Court of Appeal for the task in hand.

“Justice Miller and Justice Gilbert (he wrote that High Court judgment) were business partners at the law firm Chapman Tripp which represents the Hollywood Studios in my case. Both Judges are now at the Court of Appeal. Gilbert was promoted shortly after ruling against me,” Dotcom added.

Dotcom is currently suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over the warrant which triggered his arrest and the demise of Megaupload.

The hearing is expected to last up to two-and-a-half weeks.

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

SUPER game night 3: GAMES MADE QUICK??? 2.0

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/23/super-game-night-3-games-made-quick-2-0/

Game night continues with a smorgasbord of games from my recent game jam, GAMES MADE QUICK??? 2.0!

The idea was to make a game in only a week while watching AGDQ, as an alternative to doing absolutely nothing for a week while watching AGDQ. (I didn’t submit a game myself; I was chugging along on my Anise game, which isn’t finished yet.)

I can’t very well run a game jam and not play any of the games, so here’s some of them in no particular order! Enjoy!

These are impressions, not reviews. I try to avoid major/ending spoilers, but big plot points do tend to leave impressions.

Weather Quest, by timlmul

short · rpg · jan 2017 · (lin)/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry

Weather Quest is its author’s first shipped game, written completely from scratch (the only vendored code is a micro OO base). It’s very short, but as someone who has also written LÖVE games completely from scratch, I can attest that producing something this game-like in a week is a fucking miracle. Bravo!

For reference, a week into my first foray, I think I was probably still writing my own Tiled importer like an idiot.

Only Mac and Windows builds are on itch, but it’s a LÖVE game, so Linux folks can just grab a zip from GitHub and throw that at love.

FINAL SCORE: ⛅☔☀

Pancake Numbers Simulator, by AnorakThePrimordial

short · sim · jan 2017 · lin/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry

Given a stack of N pancakes (of all different sizes and in no particular order), the Nth pancake number is the most flips you could possibly need to sort the pancakes in order with the smallest on top. A “flip” is sticking a spatula under one of the pancakes and flipping the whole sub-stack over. There’s, ah, a video embedded on the game page with some visuals.

Anyway, this game lets you simulate sorting a stack via pancake flipping, which is surprisingly satisfying! I enjoy cleaning up little simulated messes, such as… incorrectly-sorted pancakes, I guess?

This probably doesn’t work too well as a simulator for solving the general problem — you’d have to find an optimal solution for every permutation of N pancakes to be sure you were right. But it’s a nice interactive illustration of the problem, and if you know the pancake number for your stack size of choice (which I wish the game told you — for seven pancakes, it’s 8), then trying to restore a stack in that many moves makes for a nice quick puzzle.

FINAL SCORE: \(\frac{18}{11}\)

Framed Animals, by chridd

short · metroidvania · jan 2017 · web/win · free on itch · jam entry

The concept here was to kill the frames, save the animals, which is a delightfully literal riff on a long-running AGDQ/SGDQ donation incentive — people vote with their dollars to decide whether Super Metroid speedrunners go out of their way to free the critters who show you how to walljump and shinespark. Super Metroid didn’t have a showing at this year’s AGDQ, and so we have this game instead.

It’s rough, but clever, and I got really into it pretty quickly — each animal you save gives you a new ability (in true Metroid style), and you get to test that ability out by playing as the animal, with only that ability and no others, to get yourself back to the most recent save point.

I did, tragically, manage to get myself stuck near what I think was about to be the end of the game, so some of the animals will remain framed forever. What an unsatisfying conclusion.

Gravity feels a little high given the size of the screen, and like most tile-less platformers, there’s not really any way to gauge how high or long your jump is before you leap. But I’m only even nitpicking because I think this is a great idea and I hope the author really does keep working on it.

FINAL SCORE: $136,596.69

Battle 4 Glory, by Storyteller Games

short · fighter · jan 2017 · win · free on itch · jam entry

This is a Smash Bros-style brawler, complete with the four players, the 2D play area in a 3D world, and the random stage obstacles showing up. I do like the Smash style, despite not otherwise being a fan of fighting games, so it’s nice to see another game chase that aesthetic.

Alas, that’s about as far as it got — which is pretty far for a week of work! I don’t know what more to say, though. The environments are neat, but unless I’m missing something, the only actions at your disposal are jumping and very weak melee attacks. I did have a good few minutes of fun fruitlessly mashing myself against the bumbling bots, as you can see.

FINAL SCORE: 300%

Icnaluferu Guild, Year Sixteen, by CHz

short · adventure · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

Here we have the first of several games made with bitsy, a micro game making tool that basically only supports walking around, talking to people, and picking up items.

I tell you this because I think half of my appreciation for this game is in the ways it wriggled against those limits to emulate a Zelda-like dungeon crawler. Everything in here is totally fake, and you can’t really understand just how fake unless you’ve tried to make something complicated with bitsy.

It’s pretty good. The dialogue is entertaining (the rest of your party develops distinct personalities solely through oneliners, somehow), the riffs on standard dungeon fare are charming, and the Link’s Awakening-esque perspective walls around the edges of each room are fucking glorious.

FINAL SCORE: 2 bits

The Lonely Tapes, by JTHomeslice

short · rpg · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

Another bitsy entry, this one sees you play as a Wal— sorry, a JogDawg, which has lost its cassette tapes and needs to go recover them!

(A cassette tape is like a VHS, but for music.)

(A VHS is—)

I have the sneaking suspicion that I missed out on some musical in-jokes, due to being uncultured swine. I still enjoyed the game — it’s always clear when someone is passionate about the thing they’re writing about, and I could tell I was awash in that aura even if some of it went over my head. You know you’ve done good if someone from way outside your sphere shows up and still has a good time.

FINAL SCORE: Nine… Inch Nails? They’re a band, right? God I don’t know write your own damn joke

Pirate Kitty-Quest, by TheKoolestKid

short · adventure · jan 2017 · win · free on itch · jam entry

I completely forgot I’d even given “my birthday” and “my cat” as mostly-joking jam themes until I stumbled upon this incredible gem. I don’t think — let me just check here and — yeah no this person doesn’t even follow me on Twitter. I have no idea who they are?

BUT THEY MADE A GAME ABOUT ANISE AS A PIRATE, LOOKING FOR TREASURE

PIRATE. ANISE

PIRATE ANISE!!!

This game wins the jam, hands down. 🏆

FINAL SCORE: Yarr, eight pieces o’ eight

CHIPS Mario, by NovaSquirrel

short · platformer · jan 2017 · (lin/mac)/win · free on itch · jam entry

You see this? This is fucking witchcraft.

This game is made with MegaZeux. MegaZeux games look like THIS. Text-mode, bound to a grid, with two colors per cell. That’s all you get.

Until now, apparently?? The game is a tech demo of “unbound” sprites, which can be drawn on top of the character grid without being aligned to it. And apparently have looser color restrictions.

The collision is a little glitchy, which isn’t surprising for a MegaZeux platformer; I had some fun interactions with platforms a couple times. But hey, goddamn, it’s free-moving Mario, in MegaZeux, what the hell.

(I’m looking at the most recently added games on DigitalMZX now, and I notice that not only is this game in the first slot, but NovaSquirrel’s MegaZeux entry for Strawberry Jam last February is still in the seventh slot. RIP, MegaZeux. I’m surprised a major feature like this was even added if the community has largely evaporated?)

FINAL SCORE: n/a, disqualified for being probably summoned from the depths of Hell

d!¢< pic, by 573 Games

short · story · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

This is a short story about not sending dick pics. It’s very short, so I can’t say much without spoiling it, but: you are generally prompted to either text something reasonable, or send a dick pic. You should not send a dick pic.

It’s a fascinating artifact, not because of the work itself, but because it’s so terse that I genuinely can’t tell what the author was even going for. And this is the kind of subject where the author was, surely, going for something. Right? But was it genuinely intended to be educational, or was it tongue-in-cheek about how some dudes still don’t get it? Or is it side-eying the player who clicks the obviously wrong option just for kicks, which is the same reason people do it for real? Or is it commentary on how “send a dick pic” is a literal option for every response in a real conversation, too, and it’s not that hard to just not do it — unless you are one of the kinds of people who just feels a compulsion to try everything, anything, just because you can? Or is it just a quick Twine and I am way too deep in this? God, just play the thing, it’s shorter than this paragraph.

I’m also left wondering when it is appropriate to send a dick pic. Presumably there is a correct time? Hopefully the author will enter Strawberry Jam 2 to expound upon this.

FINAL SCORE: 3½” 😉

Marble maze, by Shtille

short · arcade · jan 2017 · win · free on itch · jam entry

Ah, hm. So this is a maze navigated by rolling a marble around. You use WASD to move the marble, and you can also turn the camera with the arrow keys.

The trouble is… the marble’s movement is always relative to the world, not the camera. That means if you turn the camera 30° and then try to move the marble, it’ll move at a 30° angle from your point of view.

That makes navigating a maze, er, difficult.

Camera-relative movement is the kind of thing I take so much for granted that I wouldn’t even think to do otherwise, and I think it’s valuable to look at surprising choices that violate fundamental conventions, so I’m trying to take this as a nudge out of my comfort zone. What could you design in an interesting way that used world-relative movement? Probably not the player, but maybe something else in the world, as long as you had strong landmarks? Hmm.

FINAL SCORE: ᘔ

Refactor: flight, by fluffy

short · arcade · jan 2017 · lin/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry

Refactor is a game album, which is rather a lot what it sounds like, and Flight is one of the tracks. Which makes this a single, I suppose.

It’s one of those games where you move down an oddly-shaped tunnel trying not to hit the walls, but with some cute twists. Coins and gems hop up from the bottom of the screen in time with the music, and collecting them gives you points. Hitting a wall costs you some points and kills your momentum, but I don’t think outright losing is possible, which is great for me!

Also, the monk cycles through several animal faces. I don’t know why, and it’s very good. One of those odd but memorable details that sits squarely on the intersection of abstract, mysterious, and a bit weird, and refuses to budge from that spot.

The music is great too? Really chill all around.

FINAL SCORE: 🎵🎵🎵🎵

The Adventures of Klyde

short · adventure · jan 2017 · web · free on itch · jam entry

Another bitsy game, this one starring a pig (humorously symbolized by a giant pig nose with ears) who must collect fruit and solve some puzzles.

This is charmingly nostalgic for me — it reminds me of some standard fare in engines like MegaZeux, where the obvious things to do when presented with tiles and pickups were to make mazes. I don’t mean that in a bad way; the maze is the fundamental environmental obstacle.

A couple places in here felt like invisible teleport mazes I had to brute-force, but I might have been missing a hint somewhere. I did make it through with only a little trouble, but alas — I stepped in a bad warp somewhere and got sent to the upper left corner of the starting screen, which is surrounded by walls. So Klyde’s new life is being trapped eternally in a nowhere space.

FINAL SCORE: 19/20 apples

And more

That was only a third of the games, and I don’t think even half of the ones I’ve played. I’ll have to do a second post covering the rest of them? Maybe a third?

Or maybe this is a ludicrous format for commenting on several dozen games and I should try to narrow it down to the ones that resonated the most for Strawberry Jam 2? Maybe??

Build a Binary Clock with engineerish

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/engineerish-binary-clock/

Standard clocks with easily recognisable numbers are so last season. Who wants to save valuable seconds simply telling the time, when a series of LEDs and numerical notation can turn every time query into an adventure in mathematics?

Build a Binary Clock with Raspberry Pi – And how to tell the time

In this video I’ll be showing how I built a binary clock using a Raspberry Pi, NeoPixels and a few lines of Python. I also take a stab at explaining how the binary number system works so that we can decipher what said clock is trying to tell us.

How to read binary

I’ll be honest: I have to think pretty hard to read binary. It stretches my brain quite vigorously. But I am a fan of flashy lights and pretty builds, so YouTube and Instagram rising star Mattias Jähnke, aka engineerish, had my full attention from the off.

“If you have a problem with your friends being able to tell the time way too easily while in your house, this is your answer.”

Mattias offers a beginners’ guide in to binary in his video and then explains how his clock displays values in binary, before moving on to the actual clock build process. So make some tea, pull up a chair, and jump right in.

Binary clock

To build the clock, Mattias used a Raspberry Pi and NeoPixel strips, fitted snugly within a simple 3D-printed case. With a few lines of Python, he coded his clock to display the current time using the binary system, with columns for seconds, minutes, and hours.

The real kicker with a binary clock is that by the time you’ve deciphered what time it is – you’re probably already late.

418 Likes, 14 Comments – Mattias (@engineerish) on Instagram: “The real kicker with a binary clock is that by the time you’ve deciphered what time it is – you’re…”

The Python code isn’t currently available on Mattias’s GitHub account, but if you’re keen to see how he did it, and you ask politely, and he’s not too busy, you never know.

Make your own

In the meantime, while we batter our eyelashes in the general direction of Stockholm and hope for a response, I challenge any one of you to code a binary display project for the Raspberry Pi. It doesn’t have to be a clock. And it doesn’t have to use NeoPixels. Maybe it could use an LED matrix such as the SenseHat, or a series of independently controlled LEDs on a breadboard. Maybe there’s something to be done with servo motors that flip discs with different-coloured sides to display a binary number.

Whatever you decide to build, the standard reward applies: ten imaginary house points (of absolutely no practical use, but immense emotional value) and a great sense of achievement to all who give it a go.

The post Build a Binary Clock with engineerish appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Kim Dotcom Loses Megaupload Domain Names, Gets “Destroyed” Gaming Chair Back

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-loses-megaupload-domain-names-gets-destroyed-gaming-chair-back-180117/

Following the 2012 raid on Megaupload and Kim Dotcom, U.S. and New Zealand authorities seized millions of dollars in cash and other property, located around the world.

Claiming the assets were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes, the U.S. government launched separate civil cases in which it asked the court to forfeit bank accounts, servers, domain names, and other seized possessions of the Megaupload defendants.

One of these cases was lost after the U.S. branded Dotcom and his colleagues as “fugitives”.The defense team appealed the ruling, but lost again, and a subsequent petition at the Supreme Court was denied.

Following this lost battle, the U.S. also moved to conclude a separate civil forfeiture case, which was still pending at a federal court in Virginia.

The assets listed in this case are several bank accounts, including several at PayPal, as well as 60 servers Megaupload bought at Leaseweb. What has the most symbolic value, however, are the domain names that were seized, including Megaupload.com, Megaporn.com and Megavideo.com.

Mega’s domains

This week a U.S. federal court decided that all claims of Kim Dotcom, his former colleague Mathias Ortman, and several Megaupload-related companies should be stricken. A default was entered against them on Tuesday.

The same fugitive disentitlement argument was used in this case. This essentially means that someone who’s considered to be a fugitive from justice is not allowed to get relief from the judicial system he or she evades.

“Claimants Kim Dotcom and Mathias Ortmann have deliberately avoided prosecution by declining to enter or reenter the United States,” Judge Liam O’Grady writes in his order to strike the claims.

“Because Claimant Kim Dotcom, who is himself a fugitive under Section 2466, is the Corporate Claimants’ controlling shareholder and, in particular, because he signed the claims on behalf of the corporations, a presumption of disentitlement applies to the corporations as well.”

As a result, the domain names which once served 50 million users per day, are now lost to the US Government. The court records list 18 domains in total, which were registered through Godaddy, DotRegistrar, and Fabulous.

Given the legal history, the domains and other assets are likely lost for good. However, Megaupload defense lawyer Ira Rothken is not giving up yet.

“We are still evaluating the legal options in a climate where Kim Dotcom is being labeled a fugitive in a US criminal copyright case even though he has never been to the US, is merely asserting his US-NZ extradition treaty rights, and the NZ High Court has ruled that he and his co-defendants did not commit criminal copyright infringement under NZ law,” Rothken tells TorrentFreak.

There might be a possibility that assets located outside the US could be saved. Foreign courts are more open to defense arguments, it seems, as a Hong Kong court previously ordered the US to return several assets belonging to Kim Dotcom.

The Hong Kong case also brought some good news this week. At least, something that was supposed to be positive. On Twitter, Dotcom writes that two containers with seized assets were returned, but in a “rotten and destroyed” state.

“A shipment of 2 large containers just arrived in New Zealand. This is how all my stuff looks now. Rotten & destroyed. Photo: My favorite gaming chair,” Dotcom wrote.

According to Dotcom, the US Government asked him to pay for ‘climate controlled’ storage for more than half a decade to protect the seized goods. However, judging from the look of the chair and the state of some other belongings, something clearly went wrong.

Rotten & destroyed

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

Early Challenges: Managing Cash Flow

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/managing-cash-flow/

Cash flow projection charts

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the eighth 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
  7. The Decision on Transparency
  8. Early Challenges: Managing Cash Flow

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

Running out of cash is one of the quickest ways for a startup to go out of business. When you are starting a company the question of where to get cash is usually the top priority, but managing cash flow is critical for every stage in the lifecycle of a company. As a primarily bootstrapped but capital-intensive business, managing cash flow at Backblaze was and still is a key element of our success and requires continued focus. Let’s look at what we learned over the years.

Raising Your Initial Funding

When starting a tech business in Silicon Valley, the default assumption is that you will immediately try to raise venture funding. There are certainly many advantages to raising funding — not the least of which is that you don’t need to be cash-flow positive since you have cash in the bank and the expectation is that you will have a “burn rate,” i.e. you’ll be spending more than you make.

Note: While you’re not expected to be cash-flow positive, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about cash. Cash-flow management will determine your burn rate. Whether you can get to cash-flow breakeven or need to raise another round of funding is a direct byproduct of your cash flow management.

Also, raising funding takes time (most successful fundraising cycles take 3-6 months start-to-finish), and time at a startup is in short supply. Constantly trying to raise funding can take away from product development and pursuing growth opportunities. If you’re not successful in raising funding, you then have to either shut down or find an alternate method of funding the business.

Sources of Funding

Depending on the stage of the company, type of company, and other factors, you may have access to different sources of funding. Let’s list a number of them:

Customers

Sales — the best kind of funding. It is non-dilutive, doesn’t have to be paid back, and is a direct metric of the success of your company.

Pre-Sales — some customers may be willing to pay you for a product in beta, a test, or pre-pay for a product they’ll receive when finished. Pre-Sales income also is great because it shares the characteristics of cash from sales, but you get the cash early. It also can be a good sign that the product you’re building fills a market need. We started charging for Backblaze computer backup while it was still in private beta, which allowed us to not only collect cash from customers, but also test the billing experience and users’ real desire for the service.

Services — if you’re a service company and customers are paying you for that, great. You can effectively scale for the number of hours available in a day. As demand grows, you can add more employees to increase the total number of billable hours.

Note: If you’re a product company and customers are paying you to consult, that can provide much needed cash, and could provide feedback toward the right product. However, it can also distract from your core business, send you down a path where you’re building a product for a single customer, and addict you to a path that prevents you from building a scalable business.

Investors

Yourself — you likely are putting your time into the business, and deferring salary in the process. You may also put your own cash into the business either as an investment or a loan.

Angels — angels are ideal as early investors since they are used to investing in businesses with little to no traction. AngelList is a good place to find them, though finding people you’re connected with through someone that knows you well is best.

Crowdfunding — a component of the JOBS Act permitted entrepreneurs to raise money from nearly anyone since May 2016. The SEC imposes limits on both investors and the companies. This article goes into some depth on the options and sites available.

VCs — VCs are ideal for companies that need to raise at least a few million dollars and intend to build a business that will be worth over $1 billion.

Debt

Friends & Family — F&F are often the first people to give you money because they are investing in you. It’s great to have some early supporters, but it also can be risky to take money from people who aren’t used to the risks. The key advice here is to only take money from people who won’t mind losing it. If someone is talking about using their children’s college funds or borrowing from their 401k, say ‘no thank you’ — even if they’re sure they want to loan you money.

Bank Loans — a variety of loan types exist, but most either require the company to have been operational for a couple years, be able to borrow against money the company has or is making, or be able to get a personal guarantee from the founders whereby their own credit is on the line. Fundera provides a good overview of loan options and can help secure some, but most will not be an option for a brand new startup.

Grants

Government — in some areas there is the potential for government grants to facilitate research. The SBIR program facilitates some such grants.

At Backblaze, we used a number of these options:

• Investors/Yourself
We loaned a cumulative total of a couple hundred thousand dollars to the company and invested our time by going without a salary for a year and a half.
• Customers/Pre-Sales
We started selling the Backblaze service while it was still in beta.
• Customers/Sales
We launched v1.0 and kept selling.
• Investors/Angels
After a year and a half, we raised $370k from 11 angels. All of them were either people whom we knew personally or were a strong recommendation from a mutual friend.
• Debt/Loans
After a couple years we were able to get equipment leases whereby the Storage Pods and hard drives were used as collateral to secure the lease on them.
• Investors/VCs
Ater five years we raised $5m from TMT Investments to add to the balance sheet and invest in growth.

The variety and quantity of sources we used is by no means uncommon.

GAAP vs. Cash

Most companies start tracking financials based on cash, and as they scale they switch to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Cash is easier to track — we got paid $XXXX and spent $YYY — and as often mentioned, is required for the business to stay alive. GAAP has more subtlety and complexity, but provides a clearer picture of how the business is really doing. Backblaze was on a ‘cash’ system for the first few years, then switched to GAAP. For this post, I’m going to focus on things that help cash flow, not GAAP profitability.

Stages of Cash Flow Management

All-spend

In a pure service business (e.g. solo proprietor law firm), you may have no expenses other than your time, so this stage doesn’t exist. However, in a product business there is a period of time where you are building the product and have nothing to sell. You have zero cash coming in, but have cash going out. Your cash-flow is completely negative and you need funds to cover that.

Sales-generating

Starting to see cash come in from customers is thrilling. I initially had our system set up to email me with every $5 payment we received. You’re making sales, but not covering expenses.

Ramen-profitable

But it takes a lot of $5 payments to pay for servers and salaries, so for a while expenses are likely to outstrip sales. Getting to ramen-profitable is a critical stage where sales cover the business expenses and are “paying enough for the founders to eat ramen.” This extends the runway for a business, but is not completely sustainable, since presumably the founders can’t (or won’t) live forever on a subsistence salary.

Business-profitable

This is the ultimate stage whereby the business is truly profitable, including paying everyone market-rate salaries. A business at this stage is self-sustaining. (Of course, market shifts and plenty of other challenges can kill the business, but cash-flow issues alone will not.)

Note, I’m using the word ‘profitable’ here to mean this is still on a cash-basis.

Backblaze was in the all-spend stage for just over a year, during which time we built the service and hadn’t yet made the service available to customers. Backblaze was in the sales-generating stage for nearly another year before the company was barely ramen-profitable where sales were covering the company expenses and paying the founders minimum wage. (I say ‘barely’ since minimum wage in the SF Bay Area is arguably never subsistence.) It took almost three more years before the company was business-profitable, paying everyone including the founders market-rate.

Cash Flow Forecasting

When raising funding it’s helpful to think of milestones reached. You don’t necessarily need enough cash on day one to last for the next 100 years of the company. Some good milestones to consider are how much cash you need to prove there is a market need, prove you can build a product to meet that need, or get to ramen-profitable.

Two things to consider:

1) Unit Economics (COGS)

If your product is 100% software, this may not be relevant. Once software is built it costs effectively nothing to deliver the product to one customer or one million customers. However, in most businesses there is some incremental cost to provide the product. If you’re selling a hardware device, perhaps you sell it for $100 but it costs you $50 to make it. This is called “COGS” (Cost of Goods Sold).

Many products rely on cloud services where the costs scale with growth. That model works great, but it’s still important to understand what the costs are for the cloud service you use per unit of product you sell.

Support is often done by the founders early-on in a business, but that is another real cost to factor in and estimate on a per-user basis. Taking all of the per unit costs combined, you may charge $10/month/user for your service, but if it costs you $7/month/user in cloud services, you’re only netting $3/month/user.

2) Operating Expenses (OpEx)

These are expenses that don’t scale with the number of product units you sell. Typically this includes research & development, sales & marketing, and general & administrative expenses. Presumably there is a certain level of these functions required to build the product, market it, sell it, and run the organization. You can choose to invest or cut back on these, but you’ll still make the same amount per product unit.

Incremental Net Profit Per Unit

If you’ve calculated your COGS and your unit economics are “upside down,” where the amount you charge is less than that it costs you to provide your service, it’s worth thinking hard about how that’s going to change over time. If it will not change, there is no scale that will make the business work. Presuming you do make money on each unit of product you sell — what is sometimes referred to as “Contribution Margin” — consider how many of those product units you need to sell to cover your operating expenses as described above.

Calculating Your Profit

The math on getting to ramen-profitable is simple:

(Number of Product Units Sold x Contribution Margin) - Operating Expenses = Profit

If your operating expenses include subsistence salaries for the founders and profit > $0, you’re ramen-profitable.

Improving Cash Flow

Having access to sources of cash, whether from selling to customers or other methods, is excellent. But needing less cash gives you more choices and allows you to either dilute less, owe less, or invest more.

There are two ways to improve cash flow:

1) Collect More Cash

The best way to collect more cash is to provide more value to your customers and as a result have them pay you more. Additional features/products/services can allow this. However, you can also collect more cash by changing how you charge for your product. If you have a subscription, changing from charging monthly to yearly dramatically improves your cash flow. If you have a product that customers use up, selling a year’s supply instead of selling them one-by-one can help.

2) Spend Less Cash

Reducing COGS is a fantastic way to spend less cash in a scalable way. If you can do this without harming the product or customer experience, you win. There are a myriad of ways to also reduce operating expenses, including taking sub-market salaries, using your home instead of renting office space, staying focused on your core product, etc.

Ultimately, collecting more and spending less cash dramatically simplifies the process of getting to ramen-profitable and later to business-profitable.

Be Careful (Why GAAP Matters)

A word of caution: while running out of cash will put you out of business immediately, overextending yourself will likely put you out of business not much later. GAAP shows how a business is really doing; cash doesn’t. If you only focus on cash, it is possible to commit yourself to both delivering products and repaying loans in the future in an unsustainable fashion. If you’re taking out loans, watch the total balance and monthly payments you’re committing to. If you’re asking customers for pre-payment, make sure you believe you can deliver on what they’ve paid for.

Summary

There are numerous challenges to building a business, and ensuring you have enough cash is amongst the most important. Having the cash to keep going lets you keep working on all of the other challenges. The frameworks above were critical for maintaining Backblaze’s cash flow and cash balance. Hopefully you can take some of the lessons we learned and apply them to your business. Let us know what works for you in the comments below.

The post Early Challenges: Managing Cash Flow appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Physics cheats

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/06/physics-cheats/

Anonymous asks:

something about how we tweak physics to “work” better in games?

Ho ho! Work. Get it? Like in physics…?

Hitboxes

Hitbox” is perhaps not the most accurate term, since the shape used for colliding with the environment and the shape used for detecting damage might be totally different. They’re usually the same in simple platformers, though, and that’s what most of my games have been.

The hitbox is the biggest physics fudge by far, and it exists because of a single massive approximation that (most) games make: you’re controlling a single entity in the abstract, not a physical body in great detail.

That is: when you walk with your real-world meat shell, you perform a complex dance of putting one foot in front of the other, a motion you spent years perfecting. When you walk in a video game, you press a single “walk” button. Your avatar may play an animation that moves its legs back and forth, but since you’re not actually controlling the legs independently (and since simulating them is way harder), the game just treats you like a simple shape. Fairly often, this is a box, or something very box-like.

An Eevee sprite standing on faux ground; the size of the underlying image and the hitbox are outlined

Since the player has no direct control over the exact placement of their limbs, it would be slightly frustrating to have them collide with the world. This is especially true in cases like the above, where the tail and left ear protrude significantly out from the main body. If that Eevee wanted to stand against a real-world wall, she would simply tilt her ear or tail out of the way, so there’s no reason for the ear to block her from standing against a game wall. To compensate for this, the ear and tail are left out of the collision box entirely and will simply jut into a wall if necessary — a goofy affordance that’s so common it doesn’t even register as unusual. As a bonus (assuming this same box is used for combat), she won’t take damage from projectiles that merely graze past an ear.

(One extra consideration for sprite games in particular: the hitbox ought to be horizontally symmetric around the sprite’s pivot — i.e. the point where the entity is truly considered to be standing — so that the hitbox doesn’t abruptly move when the entity turns around!)

Corners

Treating the player (and indeed most objects) as a box has one annoying side effect: boxes have corners. Corners can catch on other corners, even by a single pixel. Real-world bodies tend to be a bit rounder and squishier and this can tolerate grazing a corner; even real-world boxes will simply rotate a bit.

Ah, but in our faux physics world, we generally don’t want conscious actors (such as the player) to rotate, even with a realistic physics simulator! Real-world bodies are made of parts that will generally try to keep you upright, after all; you don’t tilt back and forth much.

One way to handle corners is to simply remove them from conscious actors. A hitbox doesn’t have to be a literal box, after all. A popular alternative — especially in Unity where it’s a standard asset — is the pill-shaped capsule, which has semicircles/hemispheres on the top and bottom and a cylindrical body in 3D. No corners, no problem.

Of course, that introduces a new problem: now the player can’t balance precariously on edges without their rounded bottom sliding them off. Alas.

If you’re stuck with corners, then, you may want to use a corner bump, a term I just made up. If the player would collide with a corner, but the collision is only by a few pixels, just nudge them to the side a bit and carry on.

An Eevee sprite trying to move sideways into a shallow ledge; the game bumps her upwards slightly, so she steps onto it instead

When the corner is horizontal, this creates stairs! This is, more or less kinda, how steps work in Doom: when the player tries to cross from one sector into another, if the height difference is 24 units or less, the game simply bumps them upwards to the height of the new floor and lets them continue on.

Implementing this in a game without Doom’s notion of sectors is a little trickier. In fact, I still haven’t done it. Collision detection based on rejection gets it for free, kinda, but it’s not very deterministic and it breaks other things. But that’s a whole other post.

Gravity

Gravity is pretty easy. Everything accelerates downwards all the time. What’s interesting are the exceptions.

Jumping

Jumping is a giant hack.

Think about how actual jumping works: you tense your legs, which generally involves bending your knees first, and then spring upwards. In a platformer, you can just leap whenever you feel like it, which is nonsense. Also you go like twenty feet into the air?

Worse, most platformers allow variable-height jumping, where your jump is lower if you let go of the jump button while you’re in the air. Normally, one would expect to have to decide how much force to put into the jump beforehand.

But of course this is about convenience of controls: when jumping is your primary action, you want to be able to do it immediately, without any windup for how high you want to jump.

(And then there’s double jumping? Come on.)

Air control is a similar phenomenon: usually you’d jump in a particular direction by controlling how you push off the ground with your feet, but in a video game, you don’t have feet! You only have the box. The compromise is to let you control your horizontal movement to a limit degree in midair, even though that doesn’t make any sense. (It’s way more fun, though, and overall gives you more movement options, which are good to have in an interactive medium.)

Air control also exposes an obvious place that game physics collide with the realistic model of serious physics engines. I’ve mentioned this before, but: if you use Real Physics™ and air control yourself into a wall, you might find that you’ll simply stick to the wall until you let go of the movement buttons. Why? Remember, player movement acts as though an external force were pushing you around (and from the perspective of a Real™ physics engine, this is exactly how you’d implement it) — so air-controlling into a wall is equivalent to pushing a book against a wall with your hand, and the friction with the wall holds you in place. Oops.

Ground sticking

Another place game physics conflict with physics engines is with running to the top of a slope. On a real hill, of course, you land on top of the slope and are probably glad of it; slopes are hard to climb!

An Eevee moves to the top of a slope, and rather than step onto the flat top, she goes flying off into the air

In a video game, you go flying. Because you’re a box. With momentum. So you hit the peak and keep going in the same direction. Which is diagonally upwards.

Projectiles

To make them more predictable, projectiles generally aren’t subject to gravity, at least as far as I’ve seen. The real world does not have such an exemption. The real world imposes gravity even on sniper rifles, which in a video game are often implemented as an instant trace unaffected by anything in the world because the bullet never actually exists in the world.

Resistance

Ah. Welcome to hell.

Water

Water is an interesting case, and offhand I don’t know the gritty details of how games implement it. In the real world, water applies a resistant drag force to movement — and that force is proportional to the square of velocity, which I’d completely forgotten until right now. I am almost positive that no game handles that correctly. But then, in real-world water, you can push against the water itself for movement, and games don’t simulate that either. What’s the rough equivalent?

The Sonic Physics Guide suggests that Sonic handles it by basically halving everything: acceleration, max speed, friction, etc. When Sonic enters water, his speed is cut; when Sonic exits water, his speed is increased.

That last bit feels validating — I could swear Metroid Prime did the same thing, and built my own solution around it, but couldn’t remember for sure. It makes no sense, of course, for a jump to become faster just because you happened to break the surface of the water, but it feels fantastic.

The thing I did was similar, except that I didn’t want to add a multiplier in a dozen places when you happen to be underwater (and remember which ones need it to be squared, etc.). So instead, I calculate everything completely as normal, so velocity is exactly the same as it would be on dry land — but the distance you would move gets halved. The effect seems to be pretty similar to most platformers with water, at least as far as I can tell. It hasn’t shown up in a published game and I only added this fairly recently, so I might be overlooking some reason this is a bad idea.

(One reason that comes to mind is that velocity is now a little white lie while underwater, so anything relying on velocity for interesting effects might be thrown off. Or maybe that’s correct, because velocity thresholds should be halved underwater too? Hm!)

Notably, air is also a fluid, so it should behave the same way (just with different constants). I definitely don’t think any games apply air drag that’s proportional to the square of velocity.

Friction

Friction is, in my experience, a little handwaved. Probably because real-world friction is so darn complicated.

Consider that in the real world, we want very high friction on the surfaces we walk on — shoes and tires are explicitly designed to increase it, even. We move by bracing a back foot against the ground and using that to push ourselves forward, so we want the ground to resist our push as much as possible.

In a game world, we are a box. We move by being pushed by some invisible outside force, so if the friction between ourselves and the ground is too high, we won’t be able to move at all! That’s complete nonsense physically, but it turns out to be handy in some cases — for example, highish friction can simulate walking through deep mud, which should be difficult due to fluid drag and low friction.

But the best-known example of the fakeness of game friction is video game ice. Walking on real-world ice is difficult because the low friction means low grip; your feet are likely to slip out from under you, and you’ll simply fall down and have trouble moving at all. In a video game, you can’t fall down, so you have the opposite experience: you spend most of your time sliding around uncontrollably. Yet ice is so common in video games (and perhaps so uncommon in places I’ve lived) that I, at least, had never really thought about this disparity until an hour or so ago.

Game friction vs real-world friction

Real-world friction is a force. It’s the normal force (which is the force exerted by the object on the surface) times some constant that depends on how the two materials interact.

Force is mass times acceleration, and platformers often ignore mass, so friction ought to be an acceleration — applied against the object’s movement, but never enough to push it backwards.

I haven’t made any games where variable friction plays a significant role, but my gut instinct is that low friction should mean the player accelerates more slowly but has a higher max speed, and high friction should mean the opposite. I see from my own source code that I didn’t even do what I just said, so let’s defer to some better-made and well-documented games: Sonic and Doom.

In Sonic, friction is a fixed value subtracted from the player’s velocity (regardless of direction) each tic. Sonic has a fixed framerate, so the units are really pixels per tic squared (i.e. acceleration), multiplied by an implicit 1 tic per tic. So far, so good.

But Sonic’s friction only applies if the player isn’t pressing or . Hang on, that isn’t friction at all; that’s just deceleration! That’s equivalent to jogging to a stop. If friction were lower, Sonic would take longer to stop, but otherwise this is only tangentially related to friction.

(In fairness, this approach would decently emulate friction for non-conscious sliding objects, which are never going to be pressing movement buttons. Also, we don’t have the Sonic source code, and the name “friction” is a fan invention; the Sonic Physics Guide already uses “deceleration” to describe the player’s acceleration when turning around.)

Okay, let’s try Doom. In Doom, the default friction is 90.625%.

Hang on, what?

Yes, in Doom, friction is a multiplier applied every tic. Doom runs at 35 tics per second, so this is a multiplier of 0.032 per second. Yikes!

This isn’t anything remotely like real friction, but it’s much easier to implement. With friction as acceleration, the game has to know both the direction of movement (so it can apply friction in the opposite direction) and the magnitude (so it doesn’t overshoot and launch the object in the other direction). That means taking a semi-costly square root and also writing extra code to cap the amount of friction. With a multiplier, neither is necessary; just multiply the whole velocity vector and you’re done.

There are some downsides. One is that objects will never actually stop, since multiplying by 3% repeatedly will never produce a result of zero — though eventually the speed will become small enough to either slip below a “minimum speed” threshold or simply no longer fit in a float representation. Another is that the units are fairly meaningless: with Doom’s default friction of 90.625%, about how long does it take for the player to stop? I have no idea, partly because “stop” is ambiguous here! If friction were an acceleration, I could divide it into the player’s max speed to get a time.

All that aside, what are the actual effects of changing Doom’s friction? What an excellent question that’s surprisingly tricky to answer. (Note that friction can’t be changed in original Doom, only in the Boom port and its derivatives.) Here’s what I’ve pieced together.

Doom’s “friction” is really two values. “Friction” itself is a multiplier applied to moving objects on every tic, but there’s also a move factor which defaults to \(\frac{1}{32} = 0.03125\) and is derived from friction for custom values.

Every tic, the player’s velocity is multiplied by friction, and then increased by their speed times the move factor.

$$
v(n) = v(n – 1) \times friction + speed \times move factor
$$

Eventually, the reduction from friction will balance out the speed boost. That happens when \(v(n) = v(n – 1)\), so we can rearrange it to find the player’s effective max speed:

$$
v = v \times friction + speed \times move factor \\
v – v \times friction = speed \times move factor \\
v = speed \times \frac{move factor}{1 – friction}
$$

For vanilla Doom’s move factor of 0.03125 and friction of 0.90625, that becomes:

$$
v = speed \times \frac{\frac{1}{32}}{1 – \frac{29}{32}} = speed \times \frac{\frac{1}{32}}{\frac{3}{32}} = \frac{1}{3} \times speed
$$

Curiously, “speed” is three times the maximum speed an actor can actually move. Doomguy’s run speed is 50, so in practice he moves a third of that, or 16⅔ units per tic. (Of course, this isn’t counting SR40, a bug that lets Doomguy run ~40% faster than intended diagonally.)

So now, what if you change friction? Even more curiously, the move factor is calculated completely differently depending on whether friction is higher or lower than the default Doom amount:

$$
move factor = \begin{cases}
\frac{133 – 128 \times friction}{544} &≈ 0.244 – 0.235 \times friction & \text{ if } friction \ge \frac{29}{32} \\
\frac{81920 \times friction – 70145}{1048576} &≈ 0.078 \times friction – 0.067 & \text{ otherwise }
\end{cases}
$$

That’s pretty weird? Complicating things further is that low friction (which means muddy terrain, remember) has an extra multiplier on its move factor, depending on how fast you’re already going — the idea is apparently that you have a hard time getting going, but it gets easier as you find your footing. The extra multiplier maxes out at 8, which makes the two halves of that function meet at the vanilla Doom value.

A graph of the relationship between friction and move factor

That very top point corresponds to the move factor from the original game. So no matter what you do to friction, the move factor becomes lower. At 0.85 and change, you can no longer move at all; below that, you move backwards.

From the formula above, it’s easy to see what changes to friction and move factor will do to Doomguy’s stable velocity. Move factor is in the numerator, so increasing it will increase stable velocity — but it can’t increase, so stable velocity can only ever decrease. Friction is in the denominator, but it’s subtracted from 1, so increasing friction will make the denominator a smaller value less than 1, i.e. increase stable velocity. Combined, we get this relationship between friction and stable velocity.

A graph showing stable velocity shooting up dramatically as friction increases

As friction approaches 1, stable velocity grows without bound. This makes sense, given the definition of \(v(n)\) — if friction is 1, the velocity from the previous tic isn’t reduced at all, so we just keep accelerating freely.

All of this is why I’m wary of using multipliers.

Anyway, this leaves me with one last question about the effects of Doom’s friction: how long does it take to reach stable velocity? Barring precision errors, we’ll never truly reach stable velocity, but let’s say within 5%. First we need a closed formula for the velocity after some number of tics. This is a simple recurrence relation, and you can write a few terms out yourself if you want to be sure this is right.

$$
v(n) = v_0 \times friction^n + speed \times move factor \times \frac{friction^n – 1}{friction – 1}
$$

Our initial velocity is zero, so the first term disappears. Set this equal to the stable formula and solve for n:

$$
speed \times move factor \times \frac{friction^n – 1}{friction – 1} = (1 – 5\%) \times speed \times \frac{move factor}{1 – friction} \\
friction^n – 1 = -(1 – 5\%) \\
n = \frac{\ln 5\%}{\ln friction}
$$

Speed” and move factor disappear entirely, which makes sense, and this is purely a function of friction (and how close we want to get). For vanilla Doom, that comes out to 30.4, which is a little less than a second. For other values of friction:

A graph of time to stability which leaps upwards dramatically towards the right

As friction increases (which in Doom terms means the surface is more slippery), it takes longer and longer to reach stable speed, which is in turn greater and greater. For lesser friction (i.e. mud), stable speed is lower, but reached fairly quickly. (Of course, the extra “getting going” multiplier while in mud adds some extra time here, but including that in the graph is a bit more complicated.)

I think this matches with my instincts above. How fascinating!

What’s that? This is way too much math and you hate it? Then don’t use multipliers in game physics.

Uh

That was a hell of a diversion!

I guess the goofiest stuff in basic game physics is really just about mapping player controls to in-game actions like jumping and deceleration; the rest consists of hacks to compensate for representing everything as a box.

Random with care

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/01/02/random-with-care/

Hi! Here are a few loose thoughts about picking random numbers.

A word about crypto

DON’T ROLL YOUR OWN CRYPTO

This is all aimed at frivolous pursuits like video games. Hell, even video games where money is at stake should be deferring to someone who knows way more than I do. Otherwise you might find out that your deck shuffles in your poker game are woefully inadequate and some smartass is cheating you out of millions. (If your random number generator has fewer than 226 bits of state, it can’t even generate every possible shuffling of a deck of cards!)

Use the right distribution

Most languages have a random number primitive that spits out a number uniformly in the range [0, 1), and you can go pretty far with just that. But beware a few traps!

Random pitches

Say you want to pitch up a sound by a random amount, perhaps up to an octave. Your audio API probably has a way to do this that takes a pitch multiplier, where I say “probably” because that’s how the only audio API I’ve used works.

Easy peasy. If 1 is unchanged and 2 is pitched up by an octave, then all you need is rand() + 1. Right?

No! Pitch is exponential — within the same octave, the “gap” between C and C♯ is about half as big as the gap between B and the following C. If you pick a pitch multiplier uniformly, you’ll have a noticeable bias towards the higher pitches.

One octave corresponds to a doubling of pitch, so if you want to pick a random note, you want 2 ** rand().

Random directions

For two dimensions, you can just pick a random angle with rand() * TAU.

If you want a vector rather than an angle, or if you want a random direction in three dimensions, it’s a little trickier. You might be tempted to just pick a random point where each component is rand() * 2 - 1 (ranging from −1 to 1), but that’s not quite right. A direction is a point on the surface (or, equivalently, within the volume) of a sphere, and picking each component independently produces a point within the volume of a cube; the result will be a bias towards the corners of the cube, where there’s much more extra volume beyond the sphere.

No? Well, just trust me. I don’t know how to make a diagram for this.

Anyway, you could use the Pythagorean theorem a few times and make a huge mess of things, or it turns out there’s a really easy way that even works for two or four or any number of dimensions. You pick each coordinate from a Gaussian (normal) distribution, then normalize the resulting vector. In other words, using Python’s random module:

1
2
3
4
5
6
def random_direction():
    x = random.gauss(0, 1)
    y = random.gauss(0, 1)
    z = random.gauss(0, 1)
    r = math.sqrt(x*x + y*y + z*z)
    return x/r, y/r, z/r

Why does this work? I have no idea!

Note that it is possible to get zero (or close to it) for every component, in which case the result is nonsense. You can re-roll all the components if necessary; just check that the magnitude (or its square) is less than some epsilon, which is equivalent to throwing away a tiny sphere at the center and shouldn’t affect the distribution.

Beware Gauss

Since I brought it up: the Gaussian distribution is a pretty nice one for choosing things in some range, where the middle is the common case and should appear more frequently.

That said, I never use it, because it has one annoying drawback: the Gaussian distribution has no minimum or maximum value, so you can’t really scale it down to the range you want. In theory, you might get any value out of it, with no limit on scale.

In practice, it’s astronomically rare to actually get such a value out. I did a hundred million trials just to see what would happen, and the largest value produced was 5.8.

But, still, I’d rather not knowingly put extremely rare corner cases in my code if I can at all avoid it. I could clamp the ends, but that would cause unnatural bunching at the endpoints. I could reroll if I got a value outside some desired range, but I prefer to avoid rerolling when I can, too; after all, it’s still (astronomically) possible to have to reroll for an indefinite amount of time. (Okay, it’s really not, since you’ll eventually hit the period of your PRNG. Still, though.) I don’t bend over backwards here — I did just say to reroll when picking a random direction, after all — but when there’s a nicer alternative I’ll gladly use it.

And lo, there is a nicer alternative! Enter the beta distribution. It always spits out a number in [0, 1], so you can easily swap it in for the standard normal function, but it takes two “shape” parameters α and β that alter its behavior fairly dramatically.

With α = β = 1, the beta distribution is uniform, i.e. no different from rand(). As α increases, the distribution skews towards the right, and as β increases, the distribution skews towards the left. If α = β, the whole thing is symmetric with a hump in the middle. The higher either one gets, the more extreme the hump (meaning that value is far more common than any other). With a little fiddling, you can get a number of interesting curves.

Screenshots don’t really do it justice, so here’s a little Wolfram widget that lets you play with α and β live:

Note that if α = 1, then 1 is a possible value; if β = 1, then 0 is a possible value. You probably want them both greater than 1, which clamps the endpoints to zero.

Also, it’s possible to have either α or β or both be less than 1, but this creates very different behavior: the corresponding endpoints become poles.

Anyway, something like α = β = 3 is probably close enough to normal for most purposes but already clamped for you. And you could easily replicate something like, say, NetHack’s incredibly bizarre rnz function.

Random frequency

Say you want some event to have an 80% chance to happen every second. You (who am I kidding, I) might be tempted to do something like this:

1
2
if random() < 0.8 * dt:
    do_thing()

In an ideal world, dt is always the same and is equal to 1 / f, where f is the framerate. Replace that 80% with a variable, say P, and every tic you have a P / f chance to do the… whatever it is.

Each second, f tics pass, so you’ll make this check f times. The chance that any check succeeds is the inverse of the chance that every check fails, which is \(1 – \left(1 – \frac{P}{f}\right)^f\).

For P of 80% and a framerate of 60, that’s a total probability of 55.3%. Wait, what?

Consider what happens if the framerate is 2. On the first tic, you roll 0.4 twice — but probabilities are combined by multiplying, and splitting work up by dt only works for additive quantities. You lose some accuracy along the way. If you’re dealing with something that multiplies, you need an exponent somewhere.

But in this case, maybe you don’t want that at all. Each separate roll you make might independently succeed, so it’s possible (but very unlikely) that the event will happen 60 times within a single second! Or 200 times, if that’s someone’s framerate.

If you explicitly want something to have a chance to happen on a specific interval, you have to check on that interval. If you don’t have a gizmo handy to run code on an interval, it’s easy to do yourself with a time buffer:

1
2
3
4
5
6
timer += dt
# here, 1 is the "every 1 seconds"
while timer > 1:
    timer -= 1
    if random() < 0.8:
        do_thing()

Using while means rolls still happen even if you somehow skipped over an entire second.

(For the curious, and the nerds who already noticed: the expression \(1 – \left(1 – \frac{P}{f}\right)^f\) converges to a specific value! As the framerate increases, it becomes a better and better approximation for \(1 – e^{-P}\), which for the example above is 0.551. Hey, 60 fps is pretty accurate — it’s just accurately representing something nowhere near what I wanted. Er, you wanted.)

Rolling your own

Of course, you can fuss with the classic [0, 1] uniform value however you want. If I want a bias towards zero, I’ll often just square it, or multiply two of them together. If I want a bias towards one, I’ll take a square root. If I want something like a Gaussian/normal distribution, but with clearly-defined endpoints, I might add together n rolls and divide by n. (The normal distribution is just what you get if you roll infinite dice and divide by infinity!)

It’d be nice to be able to understand exactly what this will do to the distribution. Unfortunately, that requires some calculus, which this post is too small to contain, and which I didn’t even know much about myself until I went down a deep rabbit hole while writing, and which in many cases is straight up impossible to express directly.

Here’s the non-calculus bit. A source of randomness is often graphed as a PDF — a probability density function. You’ve almost certainly seen a bell curve graphed, and that’s a PDF. They’re pretty nice, since they do exactly what they look like: they show the relative chance that any given value will pop out. On a bog standard bell curve, there’s a peak at zero, and of course zero is the most common result from a normal distribution.

(Okay, actually, since the results are continuous, it’s vanishingly unlikely that you’ll get exactly zero — but you’re much more likely to get a value near zero than near any other number.)

For the uniform distribution, which is what a classic rand() gives you, the PDF is just a straight horizontal line — every result is equally likely.


If there were a calculus bit, it would go here! Instead, we can cheat. Sometimes. Mathematica knows how to work with probability distributions in the abstract, and there’s a free web version you can use. For the example of squaring a uniform variable, try this out:

1
PDF[TransformedDistribution[u^2, u \[Distributed] UniformDistribution[{0, 1}]], u]

(The \[Distributed] is a funny tilde that doesn’t exist in Unicode, but which Mathematica uses as a first-class operator. Also, press shiftEnter to evaluate the line.)

This will tell you that the distribution is… \(\frac{1}{2\sqrt{u}}\). Weird! You can plot it:

1
Plot[%, {u, 0, 1}]

(The % refers to the result of the last thing you did, so if you want to try several of these, you can just do Plot[PDF[…], u] directly.)

The resulting graph shows that numbers around zero are, in fact, vastly — infinitely — more likely than anything else.

What about multiplying two together? I can’t figure out how to get Mathematica to understand this, but a great amount of digging revealed that the answer is -ln x, and from there you can plot them both on Wolfram Alpha. They’re similar, though squaring has a much better chance of giving you high numbers than multiplying two separate rolls — which makes some sense, since if either of two rolls is a low number, the product will be even lower.

What if you know the graph you want, and you want to figure out how to play with a uniform roll to get it? Good news! That’s a whole thing called inverse transform sampling. All you have to do is take an integral. Good luck!


This is all extremely ridiculous. New tactic: Just Simulate The Damn Thing. You already have the code; run it a million times, make a histogram, and tada, there’s your PDF. That’s one of the great things about computers! Brute-force numerical answers are easy to come by, so there’s no excuse for producing something like rnz. (Though, be sure your histogram has sufficiently narrow buckets — I tried plotting one for rnz once and the weird stuff on the left side didn’t show up at all!)

By the way, I learned something from futzing with Mathematica here! Taking the square root (to bias towards 1) gives a PDF that’s a straight diagonal line, nothing like the hyperbola you get from squaring (to bias towards 0). How do you get a straight line the other way? Surprise: \(1 – \sqrt{1 – u}\).

Okay, okay, here’s the actual math

I don’t claim to have a very firm grasp on this, but I had a hell of a time finding it written out clearly, so I might as well write it down as best I can. This was a great excuse to finally set up MathJax, too.

Say \(u(x)\) is the PDF of the original distribution and \(u\) is a representative number you plucked from that distribution. For the uniform distribution, \(u(x) = 1\). Or, more accurately,

$$
u(x) = \begin{cases}
1 & \text{ if } 0 \le x \lt 1 \\
0 & \text{ otherwise }
\end{cases}
$$

Remember that \(x\) here is a possible outcome you want to know about, and the PDF tells you the relative probability that a roll will be near it. This PDF spits out 1 for every \(x\), meaning every number between 0 and 1 is equally likely to appear.

We want to do something to that PDF, which creates a new distribution, whose PDF we want to know. I’ll use my original example of \(f(u) = u^2\), which creates a new PDF \(v(x)\).

The trick is that we need to work in terms of the cumulative distribution function for \(u\). Where the PDF gives the relative chance that a roll will be (“near”) a specific value, the CDF gives the relative chance that a roll will be less than a specific value.

The conventions for this seem to be a bit fuzzy, and nobody bothers to explain which ones they’re using, which makes this all the more confusing to read about… but let’s write the CDF with a capital letter, so we have \(U(x)\). In this case, \(U(x) = x\), a straight 45° line (at least between 0 and 1). With the definition I gave, this should make sense. At some arbitrary point like 0.4, the value of the PDF is 1 (0.4 is just as likely as anything else), and the value of the CDF is 0.4 (you have a 40% chance of getting a number from 0 to 0.4).

Calculus ahoy: the PDF is the derivative of the CDF, which means it measures the slope of the CDF at any point. For \(U(x) = x\), the slope is always 1, and indeed \(u(x) = 1\). See, calculus is easy.

Okay, so, now we’re getting somewhere. What we want is the CDF of our new distribution, \(V(x)\). The CDF is defined as the probability that a roll \(v\) will be less than \(x\), so we can literally write:

$$V(x) = P(v \le x)$$

(This is why we have to work with CDFs, rather than PDFs — a PDF gives the chance that a roll will be “nearby,” whatever that means. A CDF is much more concrete.)

What is \(v\), exactly? We defined it ourselves; it’s the do something applied to a roll from the original distribution, or \(f(u)\).

$$V(x) = P\!\left(f(u) \le x\right)$$

Now the first tricky part: we have to solve that inequality for \(u\), which means we have to do something, backwards to \(x\).

$$V(x) = P\!\left(u \le f^{-1}(x)\right)$$

Almost there! We now have a probability that \(u\) is less than some value, and that’s the definition of a CDF!

$$V(x) = U\!\left(f^{-1}(x)\right)$$

Hooray! Now to turn these CDFs back into PDFs, all we need to do is differentiate both sides and use the chain rule. If you never took calculus, don’t worry too much about what that means!

$$v(x) = u\!\left(f^{-1}(x)\right)\left|\frac{d}{dx}f^{-1}(x)\right|$$

Wait! Where did that absolute value come from? It takes care of whether \(f(x)\) increases or decreases. It’s the least interesting part here by far, so, whatever.

There’s one more magical part here when using the uniform distribution — \(u(\dots)\) is always equal to 1, so that entire term disappears! (Note that this only works for a uniform distribution with a width of 1; PDFs are scaled so the entire area under them sums to 1, so if you had a rand() that could spit out a number between 0 and 2, the PDF would be \(u(x) = \frac{1}{2}\).)

$$v(x) = \left|\frac{d}{dx}f^{-1}(x)\right|$$

So for the specific case of modifying the output of rand(), all we have to do is invert, then differentiate. The inverse of \(f(u) = u^2\) is \(f^{-1}(x) = \sqrt{x}\) (no need for a ± since we’re only dealing with positive numbers), and differentiating that gives \(v(x) = \frac{1}{2\sqrt{x}}\). Done! This is also why square root comes out nicer; inverting it gives \(x^2\), and differentiating that gives \(2x\), a straight line.

Incidentally, that method for turning a uniform distribution into any distribution — inverse transform sampling — is pretty much the same thing in reverse: integrate, then invert. For example, when I saw that taking the square root gave \(v(x) = 2x\), I naturally wondered how to get a straight line going the other way, \(v(x) = 2 – 2x\). Integrating that gives \(2x – x^2\), and then you can use the quadratic formula (or just ask Wolfram Alpha) to solve \(2x – x^2 = u\) for \(x\) and get \(f(u) = 1 – \sqrt{1 – u}\).

Multiply two rolls is a bit more complicated; you have to write out the CDF as an integral and you end up doing a double integral and wow it’s a mess. The only thing I’ve retained is that you do a division somewhere, which then gets integrated, and that’s why it ends up as \(-\ln x\).

And that’s quite enough of that! (Okay but having math in my blog is pretty cool and I will definitely be doing more of this, sorry, not sorry.)

Random vs varied

Sometimes, random isn’t actually what you want. We tend to use the word “random” casually to mean something more like chaotic, i.e., with no discernible pattern. But that’s not really random. In fact, given how good humans can be at finding incidental patterns, they aren’t all that unlikely! Consider that when you roll two dice, they’ll come up either the same or only one apart almost half the time. Coincidence? Well, yes.

If you ask for randomness, you’re saying that any outcome — or series of outcomes — is acceptable, including five heads in a row or five tails in a row. Most of the time, that’s fine. Some of the time, it’s less fine, and what you really want is variety. Here are a couple examples and some fairly easy workarounds.

NPC quips

The nature of games is such that NPCs will eventually run out of things to say, at which point further conversation will give the player a short brush-off quip — a slight nod from the designer to the player that, hey, you hit the end of the script.

Some NPCs have multiple possible quips and will give one at random. The trouble with this is that it’s very possible for an NPC to repeat the same quip several times in a row before abruptly switching to another one. With only a few options to choose from, getting the same option twice or thrice (especially across an entire game, which may have numerous NPCs) isn’t all that unlikely. The notion of an NPC quip isn’t very realistic to start with, but having someone repeat themselves and then abruptly switch to something else is especially jarring.

The easy fix is to show the quips in order! Paradoxically, this is more consistently varied than choosing at random — the original “order” is likely to be meaningless anyway, and it already has the property that the same quip can never appear twice in a row.

If you like, you can shuffle the list of quips every time you reach the end, but take care here — it’s possible that the last quip in the old order will be the same as the first quip in the new order, so you may still get a repeat. (Of course, you can just check for this case and swap the first quip somewhere else if it bothers you.)

That last behavior is, in fact, the canonical way that Tetris chooses pieces — the game simply shuffles a list of all 7 pieces, gives those to you in shuffled order, then shuffles them again to make a new list once it’s exhausted. There’s no avoidance of duplicates, though, so you can still get two S blocks in a row, or even two S and two Z all clumped together, but no more than that. Some Tetris variants take other approaches, such as actively avoiding repeats even several pieces apart or deliberately giving you the worst piece possible.

Random drops

Random drops are often implemented as a flat chance each time. Maybe enemies have a 5% chance to drop health when they die. Legally speaking, over the long term, a player will see health drops for about 5% of enemy kills.

Over the short term, they may be desperate for health and not survive to see the long term. So you may want to put a thumb on the scale sometimes. Games in the Metroid series, for example, have a somewhat infamous bias towards whatever kind of drop they think you need — health if your health is low, missiles if your missiles are low.

I can’t give you an exact approach to use, since it depends on the game and the feeling you’re going for and the variables at your disposal. In extreme cases, you might want to guarantee a health drop from a tough enemy when the player is critically low on health. (Or if you’re feeling particularly evil, you could go the other way and deny the player health when they most need it…)

The problem becomes a little different, and worse, when the event that triggers the drop is relatively rare. The pathological case here would be something like a raid boss in World of Warcraft, which requires hours of effort from a coordinated group of people to defeat, and which has some tiny chance of dropping a good item that will go to only one of those people. This is why I stopped playing World of Warcraft at 60.

Dialing it back a little bit gives us Enter the Gungeon, a roguelike where each room is a set of encounters and each floor only has a dozen or so rooms. Initially, you have a 1% chance of getting a reward after completing a room — but every time you complete a room and don’t get a reward, the chance increases by 9%, up to a cap of 80%. Once you get a reward, the chance resets to 1%.

The natural question is: how frequently, exactly, can a player expect to get a reward? We could do math, or we could Just Simulate The Damn Thing.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
from collections import Counter
import random

histogram = Counter()

TRIALS = 1000000
chance = 1
rooms_cleared = 0
rewards_found = 0
while rewards_found < TRIALS:
    rooms_cleared += 1
    if random.random() * 100 < chance:
        # Reward!
        rewards_found += 1
        histogram[rooms_cleared] += 1
        rooms_cleared = 0
        chance = 1
    else:
        chance = min(80, chance + 9)

for gaps, count in sorted(histogram.items()):
    print(f"{gaps:3d} | {count / TRIALS * 100:6.2f}%", '#' * (count // (TRIALS // 100)))
 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
  1 |   0.98%
  2 |   9.91% #########
  3 |  17.00% ################
  4 |  20.23% ####################
  5 |  19.21% ###################
  6 |  15.05% ###############
  7 |   9.69% #########
  8 |   5.07% #####
  9 |   2.09% ##
 10 |   0.63%
 11 |   0.12%
 12 |   0.03%
 13 |   0.00%
 14 |   0.00%
 15 |   0.00%

We’ve got kind of a hilly distribution, skewed to the left, which is up in this histogram. Most of the time, a player should see a reward every three to six rooms, which is maybe twice per floor. It’s vanishingly unlikely to go through a dozen rooms without ever seeing a reward, so a player should see at least one per floor.

Of course, this simulated a single continuous playthrough; when starting the game from scratch, your chance at a reward always starts fresh at 1%, the worst it can be. If you want to know about how many rewards a player will get on the first floor, hey, Just Simulate The Damn Thing.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
  0 |   0.01%
  1 |  13.01% #############
  2 |  56.28% ########################################################
  3 |  27.49% ###########################
  4 |   3.10% ###
  5 |   0.11%
  6 |   0.00%

Cool. Though, that’s assuming exactly 12 rooms; it might be worth changing that to pick at random in a way that matches the level generator.

(Enter the Gungeon does some other things to skew probability, which is very nice in a roguelike where blind luck can make or break you. For example, if you kill a boss without having gotten a new gun anywhere else on the floor, the boss is guaranteed to drop a gun.)

Critical hits

I suppose this is the same problem as random drops, but backwards.

Say you have a battle sim where every attack has a 6% chance to land a devastating critical hit. Presumably the same rules apply to both the player and the AI opponents.

Consider, then, that the AI opponents have exactly the same 6% chance to ruin the player’s day. Consider also that this gives them an 0.4% chance to critical hit twice in a row. 0.4% doesn’t sound like much, but across an entire playthrough, it’s not unlikely that a player might see it happen and find it incredibly annoying.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to explicitly forbid AI opponents from getting consecutive critical hits.

In conclusion

An emerging theme here has been to Just Simulate The Damn Thing. So consider Just Simulating The Damn Thing. Even a simple change to a random value can do surprising things to the resulting distribution, so unless you feel like differentiating the inverse function of your code, maybe test out any non-trivial behavior and make sure it’s what you wanted. Probability is hard to reason about.

Instrumenting Web Apps Using AWS X-Ray

Post Syndicated from Bharath Kumar original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/instrumenting-web-apps-using-aws-x-ray/

This post was written by James Bowman, Software Development Engineer, AWS X-Ray

AWS X-Ray helps developers analyze and debug distributed applications and underlying services in production. You can identify and analyze root-causes of performance issues and errors, understand customer impact, and extract statistical aggregations (such as histograms) for optimization.

In this blog post, I will provide a step-by-step walkthrough for enabling X-Ray tracing in the Go programming language. You can use these steps to add X-Ray tracing to any distributed application.

Revel: A web framework for the Go language

This section will assist you with designing a guestbook application. Skip to “Instrumenting with AWS X-Ray” section below if you already have a Go language application.

Revel is a web framework for the Go language. It facilitates the rapid development of web applications by providing a predefined framework for controllers, views, routes, filters, and more.

To get started with Revel, run revel new github.com/jamesdbowman/guestbook. A project base is then copied to $GOPATH/src/github.com/jamesdbowman/guestbook.

$ tree -L 2
.
├── README.md
├── app
│ ├── controllers
│ ├── init.go
│ ├── routes
│ ├── tmp
│ └── views
├── conf
│ ├── app.conf
│ └── routes
├── messages
│ └── sample.en
├── public
│ ├── css
│ ├── fonts
│ ├── img
│ └── js
└── tests
└── apptest.go

Writing a guestbook application

A basic guestbook application can consist of just two routes: one to sign the guestbook and another to list all entries.
Let’s set up these routes by adding a Book controller, which can be routed to by modifying ./conf/routes.

./app/controllers/book.go:
package controllers

import (
    "math/rand"
    "time"

    "github.com/aws/aws-sdk-go/aws"
    "github.com/aws/aws-sdk-go/aws/endpoints"
    "github.com/aws/aws-sdk-go/aws/session"
    "github.com/aws/aws-sdk-go/service/dynamodb"
    "github.com/aws/aws-sdk-go/service/dynamodb/dynamodbattribute"
    "github.com/revel/revel"
)

const TABLE_NAME = "guestbook"
const SUCCESS = "Success.\n"
const DAY = 86400

var letters = []rune("ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ")

func init() {
    rand.Seed(time.Now().UnixNano())
}

// randString returns a random string of len n, used for DynamoDB Hash key.
func randString(n int) string {
    b := make([]rune, n)
    for i := range b {
        b[i] = letters[rand.Intn(len(letters))]
    }
    return string(b)
}

// Book controls interactions with the guestbook.
type Book struct {
    *revel.Controller
    ddbClient *dynamodb.DynamoDB
}

// Signature represents a user's signature.
type Signature struct {
    Message string
    Epoch   int64
    ID      string
}

// ddb returns the controller's DynamoDB client, instatiating a new client if necessary.
func (c Book) ddb() *dynamodb.DynamoDB {
    if c.ddbClient == nil {
        sess := session.Must(session.NewSession(&aws.Config{
            Region: aws.String(endpoints.UsWest2RegionID),
        }))
        c.ddbClient = dynamodb.New(sess)
    }
    return c.ddbClient
}

// Sign allows users to sign the book.
// The message is to be passed as application/json typed content, listed under the "message" top level key.
func (c Book) Sign() revel.Result {
    var s Signature

    err := c.Params.BindJSON(&s)
    if err != nil {
        return c.RenderError(err)
    }
    now := time.Now()
    s.Epoch = now.Unix()
    s.ID = randString(20)

    item, err := dynamodbattribute.MarshalMap(s)
    if err != nil {
        return c.RenderError(err)
    }

    putItemInput := &dynamodb.PutItemInput{
        TableName: aws.String(TABLE_NAME),
        Item:      item,
    }
    _, err = c.ddb().PutItem(putItemInput)
    if err != nil {
        return c.RenderError(err)
    }

    return c.RenderText(SUCCESS)
}

// List allows users to list all signatures in the book.
func (c Book) List() revel.Result {
    scanInput := &dynamodb.ScanInput{
        TableName: aws.String(TABLE_NAME),
        Limit:     aws.Int64(100),
    }
    res, err := c.ddb().Scan(scanInput)
    if err != nil {
        return c.RenderError(err)
    }

    messages := make([]string, 0)
    for _, v := range res.Items {
        messages = append(messages, *(v["Message"].S))
    }
    return c.RenderJSON(messages)
}

./conf/routes:
POST /sign Book.Sign
GET /list Book.List

Creating the resources and testing

For the purposes of this blog post, the application will be run and tested locally. We will store and retrieve messages from an Amazon DynamoDB table. Use the following AWS CLI command to create the guestbook table:

aws dynamodb create-table --region us-west-2 --table-name "guestbook" --attribute-definitions AttributeName=ID,AttributeType=S AttributeName=Epoch,AttributeType=N --key-schema AttributeName=ID,KeyType=HASH AttributeName=Epoch,KeyType=RANGE --provisioned-throughput ReadCapacityUnits=5,WriteCapacityUnits=5

Now, let’s test our sign and list routes. If everything is working correctly, the following result appears:

$ curl -d '{"message":"Hello from cURL!"}' -H "Content-Type: application/json" http://localhost:9000/book/sign
Success.
$ curl http://localhost:9000/book/list
[
  "Hello from cURL!"
]%

Integrating with AWS X-Ray

Download and run the AWS X-Ray daemon

The AWS SDKs emit trace segments over UDP on port 2000. (This port can be configured.) In order for the trace segments to make it to the X-Ray service, the daemon must listen on this port and batch the segments in calls to the PutTraceSegments API.
For information about downloading and running the X-Ray daemon, see the AWS X-Ray Developer Guide.

Installing the AWS X-Ray SDK for Go

To download the SDK from GitHub, run go get -u github.com/aws/aws-xray-sdk-go/... The SDK will appear in the $GOPATH.

Enabling the incoming request filter

The first step to instrumenting an application with AWS X-Ray is to enable the generation of trace segments on incoming requests. The SDK conveniently provides an implementation of http.Handler which does exactly that. To ensure incoming web requests travel through this handler, we can modify app/init.go, adding a custom function to be run on application start.

import (
    "github.com/aws/aws-xray-sdk-go/xray"
    "github.com/revel/revel"
)

...

func init() {
  ...
    revel.OnAppStart(installXRayHandler)
}

func installXRayHandler() {
    revel.Server.Handler = xray.Handler(xray.NewFixedSegmentNamer("GuestbookApp"), revel.Server.Handler)
}

The application will now emit a segment for each incoming web request. The service graph appears:

You can customize the name of the segment to make it more descriptive by providing an alternate implementation of SegmentNamer to xray.Handler. For example, you can use xray.NewDynamicSegmentNamer(fallback, pattern) in place of the fixed namer. This namer will use the host name from the incoming web request (if it matches pattern) as the segment name. This is often useful when you are trying to separate different instances of the same application.

In addition, HTTP-centric information such as method and URL is collected in the segment’s http subsection:

"http": {
    "request": {
        "url": "/book/list",
        "method": "GET",
        "user_agent": "curl/7.54.0",
        "client_ip": "::1"
    },
    "response": {
        "status": 200
    }
},

Instrumenting outbound calls

To provide detailed performance metrics for distributed applications, the AWS X-Ray SDK needs to measure the time it takes to make outbound requests. Trace context is passed to downstream services using the X-Amzn-Trace-Id header. To draw a detailed and accurate representation of a distributed application, outbound call instrumentation is required.

AWS SDK calls

The AWS X-Ray SDK for Go provides a one-line AWS client wrapper that enables the collection of detailed per-call metrics for any AWS client. We can modify the DynamoDB client instantiation to include this line:

// ddb returns the controller's DynamoDB client, instatiating a new client if necessary.
func (c Book) ddb() *dynamodb.DynamoDB {
    if c.ddbClient == nil {
        sess := session.Must(session.NewSession(&aws.Config{
            Region: aws.String(endpoints.UsWest2RegionID),
        }))
        c.ddbClient = dynamodb.New(sess)
        xray.AWS(c.ddbClient.Client) // add subsegment-generating X-Ray handlers to this client
    }
    return c.ddbClient
}

We also need to ensure that the segment generated by our xray.Handler is passed to these AWS calls so that the X-Ray SDK knows to which segment these generated subsegments belong. In Go, the context.Context object is passed throughout the call path to achieve this goal. (In most other languages, some variant of ThreadLocal is used.) AWS clients provide a *WithContext method variant for each AWS operation, which we need to switch to:

_, err = c.ddb().PutItemWithContext(c.Request.Context(), putItemInput)
    res, err := c.ddb().ScanWithContext(c.Request.Context(), scanInput)

We now see much more detail in the Timeline view of the trace for the sign and list operations:

We can use this detail to help diagnose throttling on our DynamoDB table. In the following screenshot, the purple in the DynamoDB service graph node indicates that our table is underprovisioned. The red in the GuestbookApp node indicates that the application is throwing faults due to this throttling.

HTTP calls

Although the guestbook application does not make any non-AWS outbound HTTP calls in its current state, there is a similar one-liner to wrap HTTP clients that make outbound requests. xray.Client(c *http.Client) wraps an existing http.Client (or nil if you want to use a default HTTP client). For example:

resp, err := ctxhttp.Get(ctx, xray.Client(nil), "https://aws.amazon.com/")

Instrumenting local operations

X-Ray can also assist in measuring the performance of local compute operations. To see this in action, let’s create a custom subsegment inside the randString method:


// randString returns a random string of len n, used for DynamoDB Hash key.
func randString(ctx context.Context, n int) string {
    xray.Capture(ctx, "randString", func(innerCtx context.Context) {
        b := make([]rune, n)
        for i := range b {
            b[i] = letters[rand.Intn(len(letters))]
        }
        s := string(b)
    })
    return s
}

// we'll also need to change the callsite

s.ID = randString(c.Request.Context(), 20)

Summary

By now, you are an expert on how to instrument X-Ray for your Go applications. Instrumenting X-Ray with your applications is an easy way to analyze and debug performance issues and understand customer impact. Please feel free to give any feedback or comments below.

For more information about advanced configuration of the AWS X-Ray SDK for Go, see the AWS X-Ray SDK for Go in the AWS X-Ray Developer Guide and the aws/aws-xray-sdk-go GitHub repository.

For more information about some of the advanced X-Ray features such as histograms, annotations, and filter expressions, see the Analyzing Performance for Amazon Rekognition Apps Written on AWS Lambda Using AWS X-Ray blog post.

Weekly roundup: Breadth of the Wild

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/dev/2017/12/28/weekly-roundup-breadth-of-the-wild/

My sleep got all screwed up and I caught a cold which knocked me on my ass for a couple days. Very efficient to have both happen simultaneously. I’ve made up for it by being a busy beaver so far this week.

As for last week…

  • anise!!: Good progress! I fixed screen transitions to not diagonally cut across other chunks of the map (except in an obscure case I noticed two days ago). Implemented some interactive stuff, drew some extra grass tiles to fill in what glip gave me, polished the first part of the map decently well, and then sat down with glip and sketched out the progression for the rest of the map.

  • blog: I wrote most of another Game Night installment, but managed never to finish it. I also wrote maybe 60% of an interesting mathy post, which I also managed not to finish yet, largely because I ended up down a rabbit hole for half a day about the intersection of probability and calculus (which is fascinating).

And that was about it! I spent two and a half days just playing through Breath of the Wild while sick; I never actually beat the game. And now I, er, still haven’t beaten it. I’m trying to find all the shrines before I do, and there are maybe half a dozen left with all the quests finished, so all I can do is run around the world and hope the shrine radar goes off. I’ll get back to that, uh, later.

I guess this’ll be the last roundup of 2017! Happy new year!

Simplify Querying Nested JSON with the AWS Glue Relationalize Transform

Post Syndicated from Trevor Roberts original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/simplify-querying-nested-json-with-the-aws-glue-relationalize-transform/

AWS Glue has a transform called Relationalize that simplifies the extract, transform, load (ETL) process by converting nested JSON into columns that you can easily import into relational databases. Relationalize transforms the nested JSON into key-value pairs at the outermost level of the JSON document. The transformed data maintains a list of the original keys from the nested JSON separated by periods.

Let’s look at how Relationalize can help you with a sample use case.

An example of Relationalize in action

Suppose that the developers of a video game want to use a data warehouse like Amazon Redshift to run reports on player behavior based on data that is stored in JSON. Sample 1 shows example user data from the game. The player named “user1” has characteristics such as race, class, and location in nested JSON data. Further down, the player’s arsenal information includes additional nested JSON data. If the developers want to ETL this data into their data warehouse, they might have to resort to nested loops or recursive functions in their code.

Sample 1: Nested JSON

{
	"player": {
		"username": "user1",
		"characteristics": {
			"race": "Human",
			"class": "Warlock",
			"subclass": "Dawnblade",
			"power": 300,
			"playercountry": "USA"
		},
		"arsenal": {
			"kinetic": {
				"name": "Sweet Business",
				"type": "Auto Rifle",
				"power": 300,
				"element": "Kinetic"
			},
			"energy": {
				"name": "MIDA Mini-Tool",
				"type": "Submachine Gun",
				"power": 300,
				"element": "Solar"
			},
			"power": {
				"name": "Play of the Game",
				"type": "Grenade Launcher",
				"power": 300,
				"element": "Arc"
			}
		},
		"armor": {
			"head": "Eye of Another World",
			"arms": "Philomath Gloves",
			"chest": "Philomath Robes",
			"leg": "Philomath Boots",
			"classitem": "Philomath Bond"
		},
		"location": {
			"map": "Titan",
			"waypoint": "The Rig"
		}
	}
}

Instead, the developers can use the Relationalize transform. Sample 2 shows what the transformed data looks like.

Sample 2: Flattened JSON

{
    "player.username": "user1",
    "player.characteristics.race": "Human",
    "player.characteristics.class": "Warlock",
    "player.characteristics.subclass": "Dawnblade",
    "player.characteristics.power": 300,
    "player.characteristics.playercountry": "USA",
    "player.arsenal.kinetic.name": "Sweet Business",
    "player.arsenal.kinetic.type": "Auto Rifle",
    "player.arsenal.kinetic.power": 300,
    "player.arsenal.kinetic.element": "Kinetic",
    "player.arsenal.energy.name": "MIDA Mini-Tool",
    "player.arsenal.energy.type": "Submachine Gun",
    "player.arsenal.energy.power": 300,
    "player.arsenal.energy.element": "Solar",
    "player.arsenal.power.name": "Play of the Game",
    "player.arsenal.power.type": "Grenade Launcher",
    "player.arsenal.power.power": 300,
    "player.arsenal.power.element": "Arc",
    "player.armor.head": "Eye of Another World",
    "player.armor.arms": "Philomath Gloves",
    "player.armor.chest": "Philomath Robes",
    "player.armor.leg": "Philomath Boots",
    "player.armor.classitem": "Philomath Bond",
    "player.location.map": "Titan",
    "player.location.waypoint": "The Rig"
}

You can then write the data to a database or to a data warehouse. You can also write it to delimited text files, such as in comma-separated value (CSV) format, or columnar file formats such as Optimized Row Columnar (ORC) format. You can use either of these format types for long-term storage in Amazon S3. Storing the transformed files in S3 provides the additional benefit of being able to query this data using Amazon Athena or Amazon Redshift Spectrum. You can further extend the usefulness of the data by performing joins between data stored in S3 and the data stored in an Amazon Redshift data warehouse.

Before we get started…

In my example, I took two preparatory steps that save some time in your ETL code development:

  1. I stored my data in an Amazon S3 bucket and used an AWS Glue crawler to make my data available in the AWS Glue data catalog. You can find instructions on how to do that in Cataloging Tables with a Crawler in the AWS Glue documentation. The AWS Glue database name I used was “blog,” and the table name was “players.” You can see these values in use in the sample code that follows.
  2. I deployed a Zeppelin notebook using the automated deployment available within AWS Glue. If you already used an AWS Glue development endpoint to deploy a Zeppelin notebook, you can skip the deployment instructions. Otherwise, let’s quickly review how to deploy Zeppelin.

Deploying a Zeppelin notebook with AWS Glue

The following steps are outlined in the AWS Glue documentation, and I include a few screenshots here for clarity.

First, create two IAM roles:

Next, in the AWS Glue Management Console, choose Dev endpoints, and then choose Add endpoint.

Specify a name for the endpoint and the AWS Glue IAM role that you created.

On the networking screen, choose Skip Networking because our code only communicates with S3.

Complete the development endpoint process by providing a Secure Shell (SSH) public key and confirming your settings.

When your new development endpoint’s Provisioning status changes from PROVISIONING to READY, choose your endpoint, and then for Actions choose Create notebook server.

Enter the notebook server details, including the role you previously created and a security group with inbound access allowed on TCP port 443.

Doing this automatically launches an AWS CloudFormation template. The output specifies the URL that you can use to access your Zeppelin notebook with the username and password you specified in the wizard.

How do we flatten nested JSON?

With my data loaded and my notebook server ready, I accessed Zeppelin, created a new note, and set my interpreter to spark. I used some Python code that AWS Glue previously generated for another job that outputs to ORC. Then I added the Relationalize transform. You can see the resulting Python code in Sample 3.­

Sample 3: Python code to transform the nested JSON and output it to ORC

import sys
from awsglue.transforms import *
from awsglue.utils import getResolvedOptions
from pyspark.context import SparkContext
from awsglue.context import GlueContext
from awsglue.job import Job
#from awsglue.transforms import Relationalize

# Begin variables to customize with your information
glue_source_database = "blog"
glue_source_table = "players"
glue_temp_storage = "s3://blog-example-edz/temp"
glue_relationalize_output_s3_path = "s3://blog-example-edz/output-flat"
dfc_root_table_name = "root" #default value is "roottable"
# End variables to customize with your information

glueContext = GlueContext(spark.sparkContext)
datasource0 = glueContext.create_dynamic_frame.from_catalog(database = glue_source_database, table_name = glue_source_table, transformation_ctx = "datasource0")
dfc = Relationalize.apply(frame = datasource0, staging_path = glue_temp_storage, name = dfc_root_table_name, transformation_ctx = "dfc")
blogdata = dfc.select(dfc_root_table_name)
blogdataoutput = glueContext.write_dynamic_frame.from_options(frame = blogdata, connection_type = "s3", connection_options = {"path": glue_relationalize_output_s3_path}, format = "orc", transformation_ctx = "blogdataoutput")

What exactly is going on in this script?

After the import statements, we instantiate a GlueContext object, which allows us to work with the data in AWS Glue. Next, we create a DynamicFrame (datasource0) from the “players” table in the AWS Glue “blog” database. We use this DynamicFrame to perform any necessary operations on the data structure before it’s written to our desired output format. The source files remain unchanged.

We then run the Relationalize transform (Relationalize.apply()) with our datasource0 as one of the parameters. Another important parameter is the name parameter, which is a key that identifies our data after the transformation completes.

The Relationalize.apply() method returns a DynamicFrameCollection, and this is stored in the dfc variable. Before we can write our data to S3, we need to select the DynamicFrame from the DynamicFrameCollection object. We do this with the dfc.select() method. The correct DynamicFrame is stored in the blogdata variable.

You might be curious why a DynamicFrameCollection was returned when we started with a single DynamicFrame. This return value comes from the way Relationalize treats arrays in the JSON document: A DynamicFrame is created for each array. Together with the root data structure, each generated DynamicFrame is added to a DynamicFrameCollection when Relationalize completes its work. Although we didn’t have any arrays in our data, it’s good to keep this in mind. Finally, we output (blogdataoutput) the root DynamicFrame to ORC files in S3.

Using the transformed data

One of the use cases we discussed earlier was using Amazon Athena or Amazon Redshift Spectrum to query the ORC files.

I used the following SQL DDL statements to create external tables in both services to enable queries of my data stored in Amazon S3.

Sample 4: Amazon Athena DDL

CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE IF NOT EXISTS blog.blog_data_athena_test (
  `characteristics_race` string,
  `characteristics_class` string,
  `characteristics_subclass` string,
  `characteristics_power` int,
  `characteristics_playercountry` string,
  `kinetic_name` string,
  `kinetic_type` string,
  `kinetic_power` int,
  `kinetic_element` string,
  `energy_name` string,
  `energy_type` string,
  `energy_power` int,
  `energy_element` string,
  `power_name` string,
  `power_type` string,
  `power_power` int,
  `power_element` string,
  `armor_head` string,
  `armor_arms` string,
  `armor_chest` string,
  `armor_leg` string,
  `armor_classitem` string,
  `map` string,
  `waypoint` string 
)
ROW FORMAT SERDE 'org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.io.orc.OrcSerde'
WITH SERDEPROPERTIES (
  'serialization.format' = '1'
) LOCATION 's3://blog-example-edz/output-flat/'
TBLPROPERTIES ('has_encrypted_data'='false');

 

Sample 5: Amazon Redshift Spectrum DDL

-- Create a Schema
-- A single schema can be used with multiple external tables.
-- This step is only required once for the external tables you create.
create external schema spectrum 
from data catalog 
database 'blog' 
iam_role 'arn:aws:iam::0123456789:role/redshift-role'
create external database if not exists;

-- Create an external table in the schema
create external table spectrum.blog(
  username VARCHAR,
  characteristics_race VARCHAR,
  characteristics_class VARCHAR,
  characteristics_subclass VARCHAR,
  characteristics_power INTEGER,
  characteristics_playercountry VARCHAR,
  kinetic_name VARCHAR,
  kinetic_type VARCHAR,
  kinetic_power INTEGER,
  kinetic_element VARCHAR,
  energy_name VARCHAR,
  energy_type VARCHAR,
  energy_power INTEGER,
  energy_element VARCHAR,
  power_name VARCHAR,
  power_type VARCHAR,
  power_power INTEGER,
  power_element VARCHAR,
  armor_head VARCHAR,
  armor_arms VARCHAR,
  armor_chest VARCHAR,
  armor_leg VARCHAR,
  armor_classItem VARCHAR,
  map VARCHAR,
  waypoint VARCHAR)
stored as orc
location 's3://blog-example-edz/output-flat';

I even ran a query, shown in Sample 6, that joined my Redshift Spectrum table (spectrum.playerdata) with data in an Amazon Redshift table (public.raids) to generate advanced reports. In the where clause, I join the two tables based on the username values that are common to both data sources.

Sample 6: Select statement with a join of Redshift Spectrum data with Amazon Redshift data

-- Get Total Raid Completions for the Hunter Class.
select spectrum.playerdata.characteristics_class as class, sum(public.raids."completions.val.raids.leviathan") as "Total Hunter Leviathan Raid Completions" from spectrum.playerdata, public.raids
where spectrum.playerdata.username = public.raids."completions.val.username"
and spectrum.playerdata.characteristics_class = 'Hunter'
group by spectrum.playerdata.characteristics_class;

Summary

This post demonstrated how simple it can be to flatten nested JSON data with AWS Glue, using the Relationalize transform to automate the conversion of nested JSON. AWS Glue also automates the deployment of Zeppelin notebooks that you can use to develop your Python automation script. Finally, AWS Glue can output the transformed data directly to a relational database, or to files in Amazon S3 for further analysis with tools such as Amazon Athena and Amazon Redshift Spectrum.

As great as Relationalize is, it’s not the only transform available with AWS Glue. You can see a complete list of available transforms in Built-In Transforms in the AWS Glue documentation. Try them out today!


Additional Reading

If you found this post useful, be sure to check out Using Amazon Redshift Spectrum, Amazon Athena and AWS Glue with Node.js in Production and Build a Data Lake Foundation with AWS Glue and Amazon S3.


About the Author

Trevor Roberts Jr is a Solutions Architect with AWS. He provides architectural guidance to help customers achieve success in the cloud. In his spare time, Trevor enjoys traveling to new places and spending time with family.

New Piracy Scaremongering Video Depicts ‘Dangerous’ Raspberry Pi

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/new-piracy-scaremongering-video-depicts-dangerous-raspberry-pi-171202/

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll be aware that online streaming of video is a massive deal right now.

In addition to the successes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, for example, unauthorized sources are also getting a piece of the digital action.

Of course, entertainment industry groups hate this and are quite understandably trying to do something about it. Few people have a really good argument as to why they shouldn’t but recent tactics by some video-affiliated groups are really starting to wear thin.

From the mouth of Hollywood itself, the trending worldwide anti-piracy message is that piracy is dangerous. Torrent sites carry viruses that will kill your computer, streaming sites carry malware that will steal your identity, and ISDs (that’s ‘Illegal Streaming Devices’, apparently) can burn down your home, kill you, and corrupt your children.

If anyone is still taking notice of these overblown doomsday messages, here’s another one. Brought to you by the Hollywood-funded Digital Citizens Alliance, the new video rams home the message – the exact same message in fact – that set-top boxes providing the latest content for free are a threat to, well, just about everything.

While the message is probably getting a little old now, it’s worth noting the big reveal at ten seconds into the video, where the evil pirate box is introduced to the viewer.

As reproduced in the left-hand image below, it is a blatantly obvious recreation of the totally content-neutral Raspberry Pi, the affordable small computer from the UK. Granted, people sometimes use it for Kodi (the image on the right shows a Kodi-themed Raspberry Pi case, created by official Kodi team partner FLIRC) but its overwhelming uses have nothing to do with the media center, or indeed piracy.

Disreputable and dangerous device? Of course not

So alongside all the scary messages, the video succeeds in demonizing a perfectly innocent and safe device of which more than 15 million have been sold, many of them directly to schools. Since the device is so globally recognizable, it’s a not inconsiderable error.

It’s a topic that the Kodi team itself vented over earlier this week, noting how the British tabloid media presented the recent wave of “Kodi Boxes Can Kill You” click-bait articles alongside pictures of the Raspberry Pi.

“Instead of showing one of the many thousands of generic black boxes sold without the legally required CE/UL marks, the media mainly chose to depict a legitimate Rasbperry Pi clothed in a very familiar Kodi case. The Pis originate from Cambridge, UK, and have been rigorously certified,” the team complain.

“We’re also super-huge fans of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and the proceeds of Pi board sales fund the awesome work they do to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in schools. The Kodi FLIRC case has also been a hit with our Raspberry Pi users and sales contribute towards the cost of events like Kodi DevCon.”

“It’s insulting, and potentially harmful, to see two successful (and safe) products being wrongly presented for the sake of a headline,” they conclude.

Indeed, it seems that both press and the entertainment industry groups that feed them have been playing fast and loose recently, with the Raspberry Pi getting a particularly raw deal.

Still, if it scares away some pirates, that’s the main thing….

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

Stretch for PCs and Macs, and a Raspbian update

Post Syndicated from Simon Long original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/stretch-pcs-macs-raspbian-update/

Today, we are launching the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for PCs and Macs, and we’re also releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch splash screen

For PCs and Macs

When we released our custom desktop environment on Debian for PCs and Macs last year, we were slightly taken aback by how popular it turned out to be. We really only created it as a result of one of those “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” conversations we sometimes have in the office, so we were delighted by the Pi community’s reaction.

Seeing how keen people were on the x86 version, we decided that we were going to try to keep releasing it alongside Raspbian, with the ultimate aim being to make simultaneous releases of both. This proved to be tricky, particularly with the move from the Jessie version of Debian to the Stretch version this year. However, we have now finished the job of porting all the custom code in Raspbian Stretch to Debian, and so the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for your PC or Mac is available from today.

The new Stretch releases

As with the Jessie release, you can either run this as a live image from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card or install it as the native operating system on the hard drive of an old laptop or desktop computer. Please note that installing this software will erase anything else on the hard drive — do not install this over a machine running Windows or macOS that you still need to use for its original purpose! It is, however, safe to boot a live image on such a machine, since your hard drive will not be touched by this.

We’re also pleased to announce that we are releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi today. The Pi and PC versions are largely identical: as before, there are a few applications (such as Mathematica) which are exclusive to the Pi, but the user interface, desktop, and most applications will be exactly the same.

For Raspbian, this new release is mostly bug fixes and tweaks over the previous Stretch release, but there are one or two changes you might notice.

File manager

The file manager included as part of the LXDE desktop (on which our desktop is based) is a program called PCManFM, and it’s very feature-rich; there’s not much you can’t do in it. However, having used it for a few years, we felt that it was perhaps more complex than it needed to be — the sheer number of menu options and choices made some common operations more awkward than they needed to be. So to try to make file management easier, we have implemented a cut-down mode for the file manager.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - file manager

Most of the changes are to do with the menus. We’ve removed a lot of options that most people are unlikely to change, and moved some other options into the Preferences screen rather than the menus. The two most common settings people tend to change — how icons are displayed and sorted — are now options on the toolbar and in a top-level menu rather than hidden away in submenus.

The sidebar now only shows a single hierarchical view of the file system, and we’ve tidied the toolbar and updated the icons to make them match our house style. We’ve removed the option for a tabbed interface, and we’ve stomped a few bugs as well.

One final change was to make it possible to rename a file just by clicking on its icon to highlight it, and then clicking on its name. This is the way renaming works on both Windows and macOS, and it’s always seemed slightly awkward that Unix desktop environments tend not to support it.

As with most of the other changes we’ve made to the desktop over the last few years, the intention is to make it simpler to use, and to ease the transition from non-Unix environments. But if you really don’t like what we’ve done and long for the old file manager, just untick the box for Display simplified user interface and menus in the Layout page of Preferences, and everything will be back the way it was!

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - preferences GUI

Battery indicator for laptops

One important feature missing from the previous release was an indication of the amount of battery life. Eben runs our desktop on his Mac, and he was becoming slightly irritated by having to keep rebooting into macOS just to check whether his battery was about to die — so fixing this was a priority!

We’ve added a battery status icon to the taskbar; this shows current percentage charge, along with whether the battery is charging, discharging, or connected to the mains. When you hover over the icon with the mouse pointer, a tooltip with more details appears, including the time remaining if the battery can provide this information.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - battery indicator

While this battery monitor is mainly intended for the PC version, it also supports the first-generation pi-top — to see it, you’ll only need to make sure that I2C is enabled in Configuration. A future release will support the new second-generation pi-top.

New PC applications

We have included a couple of new applications in the PC version. One is called PiServer — this allows you to set up an operating system, such as Raspbian, on the PC which can then be shared by a number of Pi clients networked to it. It is intended to make it easy for classrooms to have multiple Pis all running exactly the same software, and for the teacher to have control over how the software is installed and used. PiServer is quite a clever piece of software, and it’ll be covered in more detail in another blog post in December.

We’ve also added an application which allows you to easily use the GPIO pins of a Pi Zero connected via USB to a PC in applications using Scratch or Python. This makes it possible to run the same physical computing projects on the PC as you do on a Pi! Again, we’ll tell you more in a separate blog post this month.

Both of these applications are included as standard on the PC image, but not on the Raspbian image. You can run them on a Pi if you want — both can be installed from apt.

How to get the new versions

New images for both Raspbian and Debian versions are available from the Downloads page.

It is possible to update existing installations of both Raspbian and Debian versions. For Raspbian, this is easy: just open a terminal window and enter

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Updating Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi

How to update to the latest version of Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi. Download Raspbian here: More information on the latest version of Raspbian: Buy a Raspberry Pi:

It is slightly more complex for the PC version, as the previous release was based around Debian Jessie. You will need to edit the files /etc/apt/sources.list and /etc/apt/sources.list.d/raspi.list, using sudo to do so. In both files, change every occurrence of the word “jessie” to “stretch”. When that’s done, do the following:

sudo apt-get update 
sudo dpkg --force-depends -r libwebkitgtk-3.0-common
sudo apt-get -f install
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install python3-thonny
sudo apt-get install sonic-pi=2.10.0~repack-rpt1+2
sudo apt-get install piserver
sudo apt-get install usbbootgui

At several points during the upgrade process, you will be asked if you want to keep the current version of a configuration file or to install the package maintainer’s version. In every case, keep the existing version, which is the default option. The update may take an hour or so, depending on your network connection.

As with all software updates, there is the possibility that something may go wrong during the process, which could lead to your operating system becoming corrupted. Therefore, we always recommend making a backup first.

Enjoy the new versions, and do let us know any feedback you have in the comments or on the forums!

The post Stretch for PCs and Macs, and a Raspbian update appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Object models

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/11/28/object-models/

Anonymous asks, with dollars:

More about programming languages!

Well then!

I’ve written before about what I think objects are: state and behavior, which in practice mostly means method calls.

I suspect that the popular impression of what objects are, and also how they should work, comes from whatever C++ and Java happen to do. From that point of view, the whole post above is probably nonsense. If the baseline notion of “object” is a rigid definition woven tightly into the design of two massively popular languages, then it doesn’t even make sense to talk about what “object” should mean — it does mean the features of those languages, and cannot possibly mean anything else.

I think that’s a shame! It piles a lot of baggage onto a fairly simple idea. Polymorphism, for example, has nothing to do with objects — it’s an escape hatch for static type systems. Inheritance isn’t the only way to reuse code between objects, but it’s the easiest and fastest one, so it’s what we get. Frankly, it’s much closer to a speed tradeoff than a fundamental part of the concept.

We could do with more experimentation around how objects work, but that’s impossible in the languages most commonly thought of as object-oriented.

Here, then, is a (very) brief run through the inner workings of objects in four very dynamic languages. I don’t think I really appreciated objects until I’d spent some time with Python, and I hope this can help someone else whet their own appetite.

Python 3

Of the four languages I’m going to touch on, Python will look the most familiar to the Java and C++ crowd. For starters, it actually has a class construct.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
class Vector:
    def __init__(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    def __neg__(self):
        return Vector(-self.x, -self.y)

    def __div__(self, denom):
        return Vector(self.x / denom, self.y / denom)

    @property
    def magnitude(self):
        return (self.x ** 2 + self.y ** 2) ** 0.5

    def normalized(self):
        return self / self.magnitude

The __init__ method is an initializer, which is like a constructor but named differently (because the object already exists in a usable form by the time the initializer is called). Operator overloading is done by implementing methods with other special __dunder__ names. Properties can be created with @property, where the @ is syntax for applying a wrapper function to a function as it’s defined. You can do inheritance, even multiply:

1
2
3
4
class Foo(A, B, C):
    def bar(self, x, y, z):
        # do some stuff
        super().bar(x, y, z)

Cool, a very traditional object model.

Except… for some details.

Some details

For one, Python objects don’t have a fixed layout. Code both inside and outside the class can add or remove whatever attributes they want from whatever object they want. The underlying storage is just a dict, Python’s mapping type. (Or, rather, something like one. Also, it’s possible to change, which will probably be the case for everything I say here.)

If you create some attributes at the class level, you’ll start to get a peek behind the curtains:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
class Foo:
    values = []

    def add_value(self, value):
        self.values.append(value)

a = Foo()
b = Foo()
a.add_value('a')
print(a.values)  # ['a']
b.add_value('b')
print(b.values)  # ['a', 'b']

The [] assigned to values isn’t a default assigned to each object. In fact, the individual objects don’t know about it at all! You can use vars(a) to get at the underlying storage dict, and you won’t see a values entry in there anywhere.

Instead, values lives on the class, which is a value (and thus an object) in its own right. When Python is asked for self.values, it checks to see if self has a values attribute; in this case, it doesn’t, so Python keeps going and asks the class for one.

Python’s object model is secretly prototypical — a class acts as a prototype, as a shared set of fallback values, for its objects.

In fact, this is also how method calls work! They aren’t syntactically special at all, which you can see by separating the attribute lookup from the call.

1
2
3
print("abc".startswith("a"))  # True
meth = "abc".startswith
print(meth("a"))  # True

Reading obj.method looks for a method attribute; if there isn’t one on obj, Python checks the class. Here, it finds one: it’s a function from the class body.

Ah, but wait! In the code I just showed, meth seems to “know” the object it came from, so it can’t just be a plain function. If you inspect the resulting value, it claims to be a “bound method” or “built-in method” rather than a function, too. Something funny is going on here, and that funny something is the descriptor protocol.

Descriptors

Python allows attributes to implement their own custom behavior when read from or written to. Such an attribute is called a descriptor. I’ve written about them before, but here’s a quick overview.

If Python looks up an attribute, finds it in a class, and the value it gets has a __get__ method… then instead of using that value, Python will use the return value of its __get__ method.

The @property decorator works this way. The magnitude property in my original example was shorthand for doing this:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
class MagnitudeDescriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return (instance.x ** 2 + instance.y ** 2) ** 0.5

class Vector:
    def __init__(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    magnitude = MagnitudeDescriptor()

When you ask for somevec.magnitude, Python checks somevec but doesn’t find magnitude, so it consults the class instead. The class does have a magnitude, and it’s a value with a __get__ method, so Python calls that method and somevec.magnitude evaluates to its return value. (The instance is None check is because __get__ is called even if you get the descriptor directly from the class via Vector.magnitude. A descriptor intended to work on instances can’t do anything useful in that case, so the convention is to return the descriptor itself.)

You can also intercept attempts to write to or delete an attribute, and do absolutely whatever you want instead. But note that, similar to operating overloading in Python, the descriptor must be on a class; you can’t just slap one on an arbitrary object and have it work.

This brings me right around to how “bound methods” actually work. Functions are descriptors! The function type implements __get__, and when a function is retrieved from a class via an instance, that __get__ bundles the function and the instance together into a tiny bound method object. It’s essentially:

1
2
3
4
5
class FunctionType:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return functools.partial(self, instance)

The self passed as the first argument to methods is not special or magical in any way. It’s built out of a few simple pieces that are also readily accessible to Python code.

Note also that because obj.method() is just an attribute lookup and a call, Python doesn’t actually care whether method is a method on the class or just some callable thing on the object. You won’t get the auto-self behavior if it’s on the object, but otherwise there’s no difference.

More attribute access, and the interesting part

Descriptors are one of several ways to customize attribute access. Classes can implement __getattr__ to intervene when an attribute isn’t found on an object; __setattr__ and __delattr__ to intervene when any attribute is set or deleted; and __getattribute__ to implement unconditional attribute access. (That last one is a fantastic way to create accidental recursion, since any attribute access you do within __getattribute__ will of course call __getattribute__ again.)

Here’s what I really love about Python. It might seem like a magical special case that descriptors only work on classes, but it really isn’t. You could implement exactly the same behavior yourself, in pure Python, using only the things I’ve just told you about. Classes are themselves objects, remember, and they are instances of type, so the reason descriptors only work on classes is that type effectively does this:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
class type:
    def __getattribute__(self, name):
        value = super().__getattribute__(name)
        # like all op overloads, __get__ must be on the type, not the instance
        ty = type(value)
        if hasattr(ty, '__get__'):
            # it's a descriptor!  this is a class access so there is no instance
            return ty.__get__(value, None, self)
        else:
            return value

You can even trivially prove to yourself that this is what’s going on by skipping over types behavior:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
class Descriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        print('called!')

class Foo:
    bar = Descriptor()

Foo.bar  # called!
type.__getattribute__(Foo, 'bar')  # called!
object.__getattribute__(Foo, 'bar')  # ...

And that’s not all! The mysterious super function, used to exhaustively traverse superclass method calls even in the face of diamond inheritance, can also be expressed in pure Python using these primitives. You could write your own superclass calling convention and use it exactly the same way as super.

This is one of the things I really like about Python. Very little of it is truly magical; virtually everything about the object model exists in the types rather than the language, which means virtually everything can be customized in pure Python.

Class creation and metaclasses

A very brief word on all of this stuff, since I could talk forever about Python and I have three other languages to get to.

The class block itself is fairly interesting. It looks like this:

1
2
class Name(*bases, **kwargs):
    # code

I’ve said several times that classes are objects, and in fact the class block is one big pile of syntactic sugar for calling type(...) with some arguments to create a new type object.

The Python documentation has a remarkably detailed description of this process, but the gist is:

  • Python determines the type of the new class — the metaclass — by looking for a metaclass keyword argument. If there isn’t one, Python uses the “lowest” type among the provided base classes. (If you’re not doing anything special, that’ll just be type, since every class inherits from object and object is an instance of type.)

  • Python executes the class body. It gets its own local scope, and any assignments or method definitions go into that scope.

  • Python now calls type(name, bases, attrs, **kwargs). The name is whatever was right after class; the bases are position arguments; and attrs is the class body’s local scope. (This is how methods and other class attributes end up on the class.) The brand new type is then assigned to Name.

Of course, you can mess with most of this. You can implement __prepare__ on a metaclass, for example, to use a custom mapping as storage for the local scope — including any reads, which allows for some interesting shenanigans. The only part you can’t really implement in pure Python is the scoping bit, which has a couple extra rules that make sense for classes. (In particular, functions defined within a class block don’t close over the class body; that would be nonsense.)

Object creation

Finally, there’s what actually happens when you create an object — including a class, which remember is just an invocation of type(...).

Calling Foo(...) is implemented as, well, a call. Any type can implement calls with the __call__ special method, and you’ll find that type itself does so. It looks something like this:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
# oh, a fun wrinkle that's hard to express in pure python: type is a class, so
# it's an instance of itself
class type:
    def __call__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        # remember, here 'self' is a CLASS, an instance of type.
        # __new__ is a true constructor: object.__new__ allocates storage
        # for a new blank object
        instance = self.__new__(self, *args, **kwargs)
        # you can return whatever you want from __new__ (!), and __init__
        # is only called on it if it's of the right type
        if isinstance(instance, self):
            instance.__init__(*args, **kwargs)
        return instance

Again, you can trivially confirm this by asking any type for its __call__ method. Assuming that type doesn’t implement __call__ itself, you’ll get back a bound version of types implementation.

1
2
>>> list.__call__
<method-wrapper '__call__' of type object at 0x7fafb831a400>

You can thus implement __call__ in your own metaclass to completely change how subclasses are created — including skipping the creation altogether, if you like.

And… there’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t even touched on.

The Python philosophy

Python offers something that, on the surface, looks like a “traditional” class/object model. Under the hood, it acts more like a prototypical system, where failed attribute lookups simply defer to a superclass or metaclass.

The language also goes to almost superhuman lengths to expose all of its moving parts. Even the prototypical behavior is an implementation of __getattribute__ somewhere, which you are free to completely replace in your own types. Proxying and delegation are easy.

Also very nice is that these features “bundle” well, by which I mean a library author can do all manner of convoluted hijinks, and a consumer of that library doesn’t have to see any of it or understand how it works. You only need to inherit from a particular class (which has a metaclass), or use some descriptor as a decorator, or even learn any new syntax.

This meshes well with Python culture, which is pretty big on the principle of least surprise. These super-advanced features tend to be tightly confined to single simple features (like “makes a weak attribute“) or cordoned with DSLs (e.g., defining a form/struct/database table with a class body). In particular, I’ve never seen a metaclass in the wild implement its own __call__.

I have mixed feelings about that. It’s probably a good thing overall that the Python world shows such restraint, but I wonder if there are some very interesting possibilities we’re missing out on. I implemented a metaclass __call__ myself, just once, in an entity/component system that strove to minimize fuss when communicating between components. It never saw the light of day, but I enjoyed seeing some new things Python could do with the same relatively simple syntax. I wouldn’t mind seeing, say, an object model based on composition (with no inheritance) built atop Python’s primitives.

Lua

Lua doesn’t have an object model. Instead, it gives you a handful of very small primitives for building your own object model. This is pretty typical of Lua — it’s a very powerful language, but has been carefully constructed to be very small at the same time. I’ve never encountered anything else quite like it, and “but it starts indexing at 1!” really doesn’t do it justice.

The best way to demonstrate how objects work in Lua is to build some from scratch. We need two key features. The first is metatables, which bear a passing resemblance to Python’s metaclasses.

Tables and metatables

The table is Lua’s mapping type and its primary data structure. Keys can be any value other than nil. Lists are implemented as tables whose keys are consecutive integers starting from 1. Nothing terribly surprising. The dot operator is sugar for indexing with a string key.

1
2
3
4
5
local t = { a = 1, b = 2 }
print(t['a'])  -- 1
print(t.b)  -- 2
t.c = 3
print(t['c'])  -- 3

A metatable is a table that can be associated with another value (usually another table) to change its behavior. For example, operator overloading is implemented by assigning a function to a special key in a metatable.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
local t = { a = 1, b = 2 }
--print(t + 0)  -- error: attempt to perform arithmetic on a table value

local mt = {
    __add = function(left, right)
        return 12
    end,
}
setmetatable(t, mt)
print(t + 0)  -- 12

Now, the interesting part: one of the special keys is __index, which is consulted when the base table is indexed by a key it doesn’t contain. Here’s a table that claims every key maps to itself.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
local t = {}
local mt = {
    __index = function(table, key)
        return key
    end,
}
setmetatable(t, mt)
print(t.foo)  -- foo
print(t.bar)  -- bar
print(t[3])  -- 3

__index doesn’t have to be a function, either. It can be yet another table, in which case that table is simply indexed with the key. If the key still doesn’t exist and that table has a metatable with an __index, the process repeats.

With this, it’s easy to have several unrelated tables that act as a single table. Call the base table an object, fill the __index table with functions and call it a class, and you have half of an object system. You can even get prototypical inheritance by chaining __indexes together.

At this point things are a little confusing, since we have at least three tables going on, so here’s a diagram. Keep in mind that Lua doesn’t actually have anything called an “object”, “class”, or “method” — those are just convenient nicknames for a particular structure we might build with Lua’s primitives.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
                    ╔═══════════╗        ...
                    ║ metatable ║         ║
                    ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨───────────────────────┐
                    ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("superclass") │
                    ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├─────────────────────────────┤
  ╔═══════════╗         ║           │ some other method           ┼─── function() ... end
  ║ metatable ║         ║           └─────────────────────────────┘
  ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨──────────────────┐
  ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("class") │
  ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├────────────────────────┤
      ║           │ some method            ┼─── function() ... end
      ║           └────────────────────────┘
┌─────╨─────────────────┐
│ base table ("object") │
└───────────────────────┘

Note that a metatable is not the same as a class; it defines behavior, not methods. Conversely, if you try to use a class directly as a metatable, it will probably not do much. (This is pretty different from e.g. Python, where operator overloads are just methods with funny names. One nice thing about the Lua approach is that you can keep interface-like functionality separate from methods, and avoid clogging up arbitrary objects’ namespaces. You could even use a dummy table as a key and completely avoid name collisions.)

Anyway, code!

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
local class = {
    foo = function(a)
        print("foo got", a)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
-- setmetatable returns its first argument, so this is nice shorthand
local obj1 = setmetatable({}, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({}, mt)
obj1.foo(7)  -- foo got 7
obj2.foo(9)  -- foo got 9

Wait, wait, hang on. Didn’t I call these methods? How do they get at the object? Maybe Lua has a magical this variable?

Methods, sort of

Not quite, but this is where the other key feature comes in: method-call syntax. It’s the lightest touch of sugar, just enough to have method invocation.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
-- note the colon!
a:b(c, d, ...)

-- exactly equivalent to this
-- (except that `a` is only evaluated once)
a.b(a, c, d, ...)

-- which of course is really this
a["b"](a, c, d, ...)

Now we can write methods that actually do something.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
local class = {
    bar = function(self)
        print("our score is", self.score)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
local obj1 = setmetatable({ score = 13 }, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({ score = 25 }, mt)
obj1:bar()  -- our score is 13
obj2:bar()  -- our score is 25

And that’s all you need. Much like Python, methods and data live in the same namespace, and Lua doesn’t care whether obj:method() finds a function on obj or gets one from the metatable’s __index. Unlike Python, the function will be passed self either way, because self comes from the use of : rather than from the lookup behavior.

(Aside: strictly speaking, any Lua value can have a metatable — and if you try to index a non-table, Lua will always consult the metatable’s __index. Strings all have the string library as a metatable, so you can call methods on them: try ("%s %s"):format(1, 2). I don’t think Lua lets user code set the metatable for non-tables, so this isn’t that interesting, but if you’re writing Lua bindings from C then you can wrap your pointers in metatables to give them methods implemented in C.)

Bringing it all together

Of course, writing all this stuff every time is a little tedious and error-prone, so instead you might want to wrap it all up inside a little function. No problem.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
local function make_object(body)
    -- create a metatable
    local mt = { __index = body }
    -- create a base table to serve as the object itself
    local obj = setmetatable({}, mt)
    -- and, done
    return obj
end

-- you can leave off parens if you're only passing in 
local Dog = {
    -- this acts as a "default" value; if obj.barks is missing, __index will
    -- kick in and find this value on the class.  but if obj.barks is assigned
    -- to, it'll go in the object and shadow the value here.
    barks = 0,

    bark = function(self)
        self.barks = self.barks + 1
        print("woof!")
    end,
}

local mydog = make_object(Dog)
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
mydog:bark()  -- woof!
print(mydog.barks)  -- 3
print(Dog.barks)  -- 0

It works, but it’s fairly barebones. The nice thing is that you can extend it pretty much however you want. I won’t reproduce an entire serious object system here — lord knows there are enough of them floating around — but the implementation I have for my LÖVE games lets me do this:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
local Animal = Object:extend{
    cries = 0,
}

-- called automatically by Object
function Animal:init()
    print("whoops i couldn't think of anything interesting to put here")
end

-- this is just nice syntax for adding a first argument called 'self', then
-- assigning this function to Animal.cry
function Animal:cry()
    self.cries = self.cries + 1
end

local Cat = Animal:extend{}

function Cat:cry()
    print("meow!")
    Cat.__super.cry(self)
end

local cat = Cat()
cat:cry()  -- meow!
cat:cry()  -- meow!
print(cat.cries)  -- 2

When I say you can extend it however you want, I mean that. I could’ve implemented Python (2)-style super(Cat, self):cry() syntax; I just never got around to it. I could even make it work with multiple inheritance if I really wanted to — or I could go the complete opposite direction and only implement composition. I could implement descriptors, customizing the behavior of individual table keys. I could add pretty decent syntax for composition/proxying. I am trying very hard to end this section now.

The Lua philosophy

Lua’s philosophy is to… not have a philosophy? It gives you the bare minimum to make objects work, and you can do absolutely whatever you want from there. Lua does have something resembling prototypical inheritance, but it’s not so much a first-class feature as an emergent property of some very simple tools. And since you can make __index be a function, you could avoid the prototypical behavior and do something different entirely.

The very severe downside, of course, is that you have to find or build your own object system — which can get pretty confusing very quickly, what with the multiple small moving parts. Third-party code may also have its own object system with subtly different behavior. (Though, in my experience, third-party code tries very hard to avoid needing an object system at all.)

It’s hard to say what the Lua “culture” is like, since Lua is an embedded language that’s often a little different in each environment. I imagine it has a thousand millicultures, instead. I can say that the tedium of building my own object model has led me into something very “traditional”, with prototypical inheritance and whatnot. It’s partly what I’m used to, but it’s also just really dang easy to get working.

Likewise, while I love properties in Python and use them all the dang time, I’ve yet to use a single one in Lua. They wouldn’t be particularly hard to add to my object model, but having to add them myself (or shop around for an object model with them and also port all my code to use it) adds a huge amount of friction. I’ve thought about designing an interesting ECS with custom object behavior, too, but… is it really worth the effort? For all the power and flexibility Lua offers, the cost is that by the time I have something working at all, I’m too exhausted to actually use any of it.

JavaScript

JavaScript is notable for being preposterously heavily used, yet not having a class block.

Well. Okay. Yes. It has one now. It didn’t for a very long time, and even the one it has now is sugar.

Here’s a vector class again:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
class Vector {
    constructor(x, y) {
        this.x = x;
        this.y = y;
    }

    get magnitude() {
        return Math.sqrt(this.x * this.x + this.y * this.y);
    }

    dot(other) {
        return this.x * other.x + this.y * other.y;
    }
}

In “classic” JavaScript, this would be written as:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
function Vector(x, y) {
    this.x = x;
    this.y = y;
}

Object.defineProperty(Vector.prototype, 'magnitude', {
    configurable: true,
    enumerable: true,
    get: function() {
        return Math.sqrt(this.x * this.x + this.y * this.y);
    },
});


Vector.prototype.dot = function(other) {
    return this.x * other.x + this.y * other.y;
};

Hm, yes. I can see why they added class.

The JavaScript model

In JavaScript, a new type is defined in terms of a function, which is its constructor.

Right away we get into trouble here. There is a very big difference between these two invocations, which I actually completely forgot about just now after spending four hours writing about Python and Lua:

1
2
let vec = Vector(3, 4);
let vec = new Vector(3, 4);

The first calls the function Vector. It assigns some properties to this, which here is going to be window, so now you have a global x and y. It then returns nothing, so vec is undefined.

The second calls Vector with this set to a new empty object, then evaluates to that object. The result is what you’d actually expect.

(You can detect this situation with the strange new.target expression, but I have never once remembered to do so.)

From here, we have true, honest-to-god, first-class prototypical inheritance. The word “prototype” is even right there. When you write this:

1
vec.dot(vec2)

JavaScript will look for dot on vec and (presumably) not find it. It then consults vecs prototype, an object you can see for yourself by using Object.getPrototypeOf(). Since vec is a Vector, its prototype is Vector.prototype.

I stress that Vector.prototype is not the prototype for Vector. It’s the prototype for instances of Vector.

(I say “instance”, but the true type of vec here is still just object. If you want to find Vector, it’s automatically assigned to the constructor property of its own prototype, so it’s available as vec.constructor.)

Of course, Vector.prototype can itself have a prototype, in which case the process would continue if dot were not found. A common (and, arguably, very bad) way to simulate single inheritance is to set Class.prototype to an instance of a superclass to get the prototype right, then tack on the methods for Class. Nowadays we can do Object.create(Superclass.prototype).

Now that I’ve been through Python and Lua, though, this isn’t particularly surprising. I kinda spoiled it.

I suppose one difference in JavaScript is that you can tack arbitrary attributes directly onto Vector all you like, and they will remain invisible to instances since they aren’t in the prototype chain. This is kind of backwards from Lua, where you can squirrel stuff away in the metatable.

Another difference is that every single object in JavaScript has a bunch of properties already tacked on — the ones in Object.prototype. Every object (and by “object” I mean any mapping) has a prototype, and that prototype defaults to Object.prototype, and it has a bunch of ancient junk like isPrototypeOf.

(Nit: it’s possible to explicitly create an object with no prototype via Object.create(null).)

Like Lua, and unlike Python, JavaScript doesn’t distinguish between keys found on an object and keys found via a prototype. Properties can be defined on prototypes with Object.defineProperty(), but that works just as well directly on an object, too. JavaScript doesn’t have a lot of operator overloading, but some things like Symbol.iterator also work on both objects and prototypes.

About this

You may, at this point, be wondering what this is. Unlike Lua and Python (and the last language below), this is a special built-in value — a context value, invisibly passed for every function call.

It’s determined by where the function came from. If the function was the result of an attribute lookup, then this is set to the object containing that attribute. Otherwise, this is set to the global object, window. (You can also set this to whatever you want via the call method on functions.)

This decision is made lexically, i.e. from the literal source code as written. There are no Python-style bound methods. In other words:

1
2
3
4
5
// this = obj
obj.method()
// this = window
let meth = obj.method
meth()

Also, because this is reassigned on every function call, it cannot be meaningfully closed over, which makes using closures within methods incredibly annoying. The old approach was to assign this to some other regular name like self (which got syntax highlighting since it’s also a built-in name in browsers); then we got Function.bind, which produced a callable thing with a fixed context value, which was kind of nice; and now finally we have arrow functions, which explicitly close over the current this when they’re defined and don’t change it when called. Phew.

Class syntax

I already showed class syntax, and it’s really just one big macro for doing all the prototype stuff The Right Way. It even prevents you from calling the type without new. The underlying model is exactly the same, and you can inspect all the parts.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
class Vector { ... }

console.log(Vector.prototype);  // { dot: ..., magnitude: ..., ... }
let vec = new Vector(3, 4);
console.log(Object.getPrototypeOf(vec));  // same as Vector.prototype

// i don't know why you would subclass vector but let's roll with it
class Vectest extends Vector { ... }

console.log(Vectest.prototype);  // { ... }
console.log(Object.getPrototypeOf(Vectest.prototype))  // same as Vector.prototype

Alas, class syntax has a couple shortcomings. You can’t use the class block to assign arbitrary data to either the type object or the prototype — apparently it was deemed too confusing that mutations would be shared among instances. Which… is… how prototypes work. How Python works. How JavaScript itself, one of the most popular languages of all time, has worked for twenty-two years. Argh.

You can still do whatever assignment you want outside of the class block, of course. It’s just a little ugly, and not something I’d think to look for with a sugary class.

A more subtle result of this behavior is that a class block isn’t quite the same syntax as an object literal. The check for data isn’t a runtime thing; class Foo { x: 3 } fails to parse. So JavaScript now has two largely but not entirely identical styles of key/value block.

Attribute access

Here’s where things start to come apart at the seams, just a little bit.

JavaScript doesn’t really have an attribute protocol. Instead, it has two… extension points, I suppose.

One is Object.defineProperty, seen above. For common cases, there’s also the get syntax inside a property literal, which does the same thing. But unlike Python’s @property, these aren’t wrappers around some simple primitives; they are the primitives. JavaScript is the only language of these four to have “property that runs code on access” as a completely separate first-class concept.

If you want to intercept arbitrary attribute access (and some kinds of operators), there’s a completely different primitive: the Proxy type. It doesn’t let you intercept attribute access or operators; instead, it produces a wrapper object that supports interception and defers to the wrapped object by default.

It’s cool to see composition used in this way, but also, extremely weird. If you want to make your own type that overloads in or calling, you have to return a Proxy that wraps your own type, rather than actually returning your own type. And (unlike the other three languages in this post) you can’t return a different type from a constructor, so you have to throw that away and produce objects only from a factory. And instanceof would be broken, but you can at least fix that with Symbol.hasInstance — which is really operator overloading, implement yet another completely different way.

I know the design here is a result of legacy and speed — if any object could intercept all attribute access, then all attribute access would be slowed down everywhere. Fair enough. It still leaves the surface area of the language a bit… bumpy?

The JavaScript philosophy

It’s a little hard to tell. The original idea of prototypes was interesting, but it was hidden behind some very awkward syntax. Since then, we’ve gotten a bunch of extra features awkwardly bolted on to reflect the wildly varied things the built-in types and DOM API were already doing. We have class syntax, but it’s been explicitly designed to avoid exposing the prototype parts of the model.

I admit I don’t do a lot of heavy JavaScript, so I might just be overlooking it, but I’ve seen virtually no code that makes use of any of the recent advances in object capabilities. Forget about custom iterators or overloading call; I can’t remember seeing any JavaScript in the wild that even uses properties yet. I don’t know if everyone’s waiting for sufficient browser support, nobody knows about them, or nobody cares.

The model has advanced recently, but I suspect JavaScript is still shackled to its legacy of “something about prototypes, I don’t really get it, just copy the other code that’s there” as an object model. Alas! Prototypes are so good. Hopefully class syntax will make it a bit more accessible, as it has in Python.

Perl 5

Perl 5 also doesn’t have an object system and expects you to build your own. But where Lua gives you two simple, powerful tools for building one, Perl 5 feels more like a puzzle with half the pieces missing. Clearly they were going for something, but they only gave you half of it.

In brief, a Perl object is a reference that has been blessed with a package.

I need to explain a few things. Honestly, one of the biggest problems with the original Perl object setup was how many strange corners and unique jargon you had to understand just to get off the ground.

(If you want to try running any of this code, you should stick a use v5.26; as the first line. Perl is very big on backwards compatibility, so you need to opt into breaking changes, and even the mundane say builtin is behind a feature gate.)

References

A reference in Perl is sort of like a pointer, but its main use is very different. See, Perl has the strange property that its data structures try very hard to spill their contents all over the place. Despite having dedicated syntax for arrays — @foo is an array variable, distinct from the single scalar variable $foo — it’s actually impossible to nest arrays.

1
2
3
my @foo = (1, 2, 3, 4);
my @bar = (@foo, @foo);
# @bar is now a flat list of eight items: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4

The idea, I guess, is that an array is not one thing. It’s not a container, which happens to hold multiple things; it is multiple things. Anywhere that expects a single value, such as an array element, cannot contain an array, because an array fundamentally is not a single value.

And so we have “references”, which are a form of indirection, but also have the nice property that they’re single values. They add containment around arrays, and in general they make working with most of Perl’s primitive types much more sensible. A reference to a variable can be taken with the \ operator, or you can use [ ... ] and { ... } to directly create references to anonymous arrays or hashes.

1
2
3
my @foo = (1, 2, 3, 4);
my @bar = (\@foo, \@foo);
# @bar is now a nested list of two items: [1, 2, 3, 4], [1, 2, 3, 4]

(Incidentally, this is the sole reason I initially abandoned Perl for Python. Non-trivial software kinda requires nesting a lot of data structures, so you end up with references everywhere, and the syntax for going back and forth between a reference and its contents is tedious and ugly.)

A Perl object must be a reference. Perl doesn’t care what kind of reference — it’s usually a hash reference, since hashes are a convenient place to store arbitrary properties, but it could just as well be a reference to an array, a scalar, or even a sub (i.e. function) or filehandle.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First, the other half: blessing and packages.

Packages and blessing

Perl packages are just namespaces. A package looks like this:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
package Foo::Bar;

sub quux {
    say "hi from quux!";
}

# now Foo::Bar::quux() can be called from anywhere

Nothing shocking, right? It’s just a named container. A lot of the details are kind of weird, like how a package exists in some liminal quasi-value space, but the basic idea is a Bag Of Stuff.

The final piece is “blessing,” which is Perl’s funny name for binding a package to a reference. A very basic class might look like this:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
package Vector;

# the name 'new' is convention, not special
sub new {
    # perl argument passing is weird, don't ask
    my ($class, $x, $y) = @_;

    # create the object itself -- here, unusually, an array reference makes sense
    my $self = [ $x, $y ];

    # associate the package with that reference
    # note that $class here is just the regular string, 'Vector'
    bless $self, $class;

    return $self;
}

sub x {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return $self->[0];
}

sub y {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return $self->[1];
}

sub magnitude {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return sqrt($self->x ** 2 + $self->y ** 2);
}

# switch back to the "default" package
package main;

# -> is method call syntax, which passes the invocant as the first argument;
# for a package, that's just the package name
my $vec = Vector->new(3, 4);
say $vec->magnitude;  # 5

A few things of note here. First, $self->[0] has nothing to do with objects; it’s normal syntax for getting the value of a index 0 out of an array reference called $self. (Most classes are based on hashrefs and would use $self->{value} instead.) A blessed reference is still a reference and can be treated like one.

In general, -> is Perl’s dereferencey operator, but its exact behavior depends on what follows. If it’s followed by brackets, then it’ll apply the brackets to the thing in the reference: ->{} to index a hash reference, ->[] to index an array reference, and ->() to call a function reference.

But if -> is followed by an identifier, then it’s a method call. For packages, that means calling a function in the package and passing the package name as the first argument. For objects — blessed references — that means calling a function in the associated package and passing the object as the first argument.

This is a little weird! A blessed reference is a superposition of two things: its normal reference behavior, and some completely orthogonal object behavior. Also, object behavior has no notion of methods vs data; it only knows about methods. Perl lets you omit parentheses in a lot of places, including when calling a method with no arguments, so $vec->magnitude is really $vec->magnitude().

Perl’s blessing bears some similarities to Lua’s metatables, but ultimately Perl is much closer to Ruby’s “message passing” approach than the above three languages’ approaches of “get me something and maybe it’ll be callable”. (But this is no surprise — Ruby is a spiritual successor to Perl 5.)

All of this leads to one little wrinkle: how do you actually expose data? Above, I had to write x and y methods. Am I supposed to do that for every single attribute on my type?

Yes! But don’t worry, there are third-party modules to help with this incredibly fundamental task. Take Class::Accessor::Fast, so named because it’s faster than Class::Accessor:

1
2
3
package Foo;
use base qw(Class::Accessor::Fast);
__PACKAGE__->mk_accessors(qw(fred wilma barney));

(__PACKAGE__ is the lexical name of the current package; qw(...) is a list literal that splits its contents on whitespace.)

This assumes you’re using a hashref with keys of the same names as the attributes. $obj->fred will return the fred key from your hashref, and $obj->fred(4) will change it to 4.

You also, somewhat bizarrely, have to inherit from Class::Accessor::Fast. Speaking of which,

Inheritance

Inheritance is done by populating the package-global @ISA array with some number of (string) names of parent packages. Most code instead opts to write use base ...;, which does the same thing. Or, more commonly, use parent ...;, which… also… does the same thing.

Every package implicitly inherits from UNIVERSAL, which can be freely modified by Perl code.

A method can call its superclass method with the SUPER:: pseudo-package:

1
2
3
4
sub foo {
    my ($self) = @_;
    $self->SUPER::foo;
}

However, this does a depth-first search, which means it almost certainly does the wrong thing when faced with multiple inheritance. For a while the accepted solution involved a third-party module, but Perl eventually grew an alternative you have to opt into: C3, which may be more familiar to you as the order Python uses.

1
2
3
4
5
6
use mro 'c3';

sub foo {
    my ($self) = @_;
    $self->next::method;
}

Offhand, I’m not actually sure how next::method works, seeing as it was originally implemented in pure Perl code. I suspect it involves peeking at the caller’s stack frame. If so, then this is a very different style of customizability from e.g. Python — the MRO was never intended to be pluggable, and the use of a special pseudo-package means it isn’t really, but someone was determined enough to make it happen anyway.

Operator overloading and whatnot

Operator overloading looks a little weird, though really it’s pretty standard Perl.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
package MyClass;

use overload '+' => \&_add;

sub _add {
    my ($self, $other, $swap) = @_;
    ...
}

use overload here is a pragma, where “pragma” means “regular-ass module that does some wizardry when imported”.

\&_add is how you get a reference to the _add sub so you can pass it to the overload module. If you just said &_add or _add, that would call it.

And that’s it; you just pass a map of operators to functions to this built-in module. No worry about name clashes or pollution, which is pretty nice. You don’t even have to give references to functions that live in the package, if you don’t want them to clog your namespace; you could put them in another package, or even inline them anonymously.

One especially interesting thing is that Perl lets you overload every operator. Perl has a lot of operators. It considers some math builtins like sqrt and trig functions to be operators, or at least operator-y enough that you can overload them. You can also overload the “file text” operators, such as -e $path to test whether a file exists. You can overload conversions, including implicit conversion to a regex. And most fascinating to me, you can overload dereferencing — that is, the thing Perl does when you say $hashref->{key} to get at the underlying hash. So a single object could pretend to be references of multiple different types, including a subref to implement callability. Neat.

Somewhat related: you can overload basic operators (indexing, etc.) on basic types (not references!) with the tie function, which is designed completely differently and looks for methods with fixed names. Go figure.

You can intercept calls to nonexistent methods by implementing a function called AUTOLOAD, within which the $AUTOLOAD global will contain the name of the method being called. Originally this feature was, I think, intended for loading binary components or large libraries on-the-fly only when needed, hence the name. Offhand I’m not sure I ever saw it used the way __getattr__ is used in Python.

Is there a way to intercept all method calls? I don’t think so, but it is Perl, so I must be forgetting something.

Actually no one does this any more

Like a decade ago, a council of elder sages sat down and put together a whole whizbang system that covers all of it: Moose.

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
package Vector;
use Moose;

has x => (is => 'rw', isa => 'Int');
has y => (is => 'rw', isa => 'Int');

sub magnitude {
    my ($self) = @_;
    return sqrt($self->x ** 2 + $self->y ** 2);
}

Moose has its own way to do pretty much everything, and it’s all built on the same primitives. Moose also adds metaclasses, somehow, despite that the underlying model doesn’t actually support them? I’m not entirely sure how they managed that, but I do remember doing some class introspection with Moose and it was much nicer than the built-in way.

(If you’re wondering, the built-in way begins with looking at the hash called %Vector::. No, that’s not a typo.)

I really cannot stress enough just how much stuff Moose does, but I don’t want to delve into it here since Moose itself is not actually the language model.

The Perl philosophy

I hope you can see what I meant with what I first said about Perl, now. It has multiple inheritance with an MRO, but uses the wrong one by default. It has extensive operator overloading, which looks nothing like how inheritance works, and also some of it uses a totally different mechanism with special method names instead. It only understands methods, not data, leaving you to figure out accessors by hand.

There’s 70% of an object system here with a clear general design it was gunning for, but none of the pieces really look anything like each other. It’s weird, in a distinctly Perl way.

The result is certainly flexible, at least! It’s especially cool that you can use whatever kind of reference you want for storage, though even as I say that, I acknowledge it’s no different from simply subclassing list or something in Python. It feels different in Perl, but maybe only because it looks so different.

I haven’t written much Perl in a long time, so I don’t know what the community is like any more. Moose was already ubiquitous when I left, which you’d think would let me say “the community mostly focuses on the stuff Moose can do” — but even a decade ago, Moose could already do far more than I had ever seen done by hand in Perl. It’s always made a big deal out of roles (read: interfaces), for instance, despite that I’d never seen anyone care about them in Perl before Moose came along. Maybe their presence in Moose has made them more popular? Who knows.

Also, I wrote Perl seriously, but in the intervening years I’ve only encountered people who only ever used Perl for one-offs. Maybe it’ll come as a surprise to a lot of readers that Perl has an object model at all.

End

Well, that was fun! I hope any of that made sense.

Special mention goes to Rust, which doesn’t have an object model you can fiddle with at runtime, but does do things a little differently.

It’s been really interesting thinking about how tiny differences make a huge impact on what people do in practice. Take the choice of storage in Perl versus Python. Perl’s massively common URI class uses a string as the storage, nothing else; I haven’t seen anything like that in Python aside from markupsafe, which is specifically designed as a string type. I would guess this is partly because Perl makes you choose — using a hashref is an obvious default, but you have to make that choice one way or the other. In Python (especially 3), inheriting from object and getting dict-based storage is the obvious thing to do; the ability to use another type isn’t quite so obvious, and doing it “right” involves a tiny bit of extra work.

Or, consider that Lua could have descriptors, but the extra bit of work (especially design work) has been enough of an impediment that I’ve never implemented them. I don’t think the object implementations I’ve looked at have included them, either. Super weird!

In that light, it’s only natural that objects would be so strongly associated with the features Java and C++ attach to them. I think that makes it all the more important to play around! Look at what Moose has done. No, really, you should bear in mind my description of how Perl does stuff and flip through the Moose documentation. It’s amazing what they’ve built.

Presenting Amazon Sumerian: An easy way to create VR, AR, and 3D experiences

Post Syndicated from Tara Walker original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/launch-presenting-amazon-sumerian/

If you have had an opportunity to read any of my blog posts or attended any session I’ve conducted at various conferences, you are probably aware that I am definitively a geek girl. I am absolutely enamored with all of the latest advancements that have been made in technology areas like cloud, artificial intelligence, internet of things and the maker space, as well as, with virtual reality and augmented reality. In my opinion, it is a wonderful time to be a geek. All the things that we dreamed about building while we sweated through our algorithms and discrete mathematics classes or the technology we marveled at when watching Star Wars and Star Trek are now coming to fruition.  So hopefully this means it will only be a matter of time before I can hyperdrive to other galaxies in space, but until then I can at least build the 3D virtual reality and augmented reality characters and images like those featured in some of my favorite shows.

Amazon Sumerian provides tools and resources that allows anyone to create and run augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D applications with ease.  With Sumerian, you can build multi-platform experiences that run on hardware like the Oculus, HTC Vive, and iOS devices using WebVR compatible browsers and with support for ARCore on Android devices coming soon.

This exciting new service, currently in preview, delivers features to allow you to design highly immersive and interactive 3D experiences from your browser. Some of these features are:

  • Editor: A web-based editor for constructing 3D scenes, importing assets, scripting interactions and special effects, with cross-platform publishing.
  • Object Library: a library of pre-built objects and templates.
  • Asset Import: Upload 3D assets to use in your scene. Sumerian supports importing FBX, OBJ, and coming soon Unity projects.
  • Scripting Library: provides a JavaScript scripting library via its 3D engine for advanced scripting capabilities.
  • Hosts: animated, lifelike 3D characters that can be customized for gender, voice, and language.
  • AWS Services Integration: baked in integration with Amazon Polly and Amazon Lex to add speech and natural language to into Sumerian hosts. Additionally, the scripting library can be used with AWS Lambda allowing use of the full range of AWS services.

Since Amazon Sumerian doesn’t require you to have 3D graphics or programming experience to build rich, interactive VR and AR scenes, let’s take a quick run to the Sumerian Dashboard and check it out.

From the Sumerian Dashboard, I can easily create a new scene with a push of a button.

A default view of the new scene opens and is displayed in the Sumerian Editor. With the Tara Blog Scene opened in the editor, I can easily import assets into my scene.

I’ll click the Import Asset button and pick an asset, View Room, to import into the scene. With the desired asset selected, I’ll click the Add button to import it.

Excellent, my asset was successfully imported into the Sumerian Editor and is shown in the Asset panel.  Now, I have the option to add the View Room object into my scene by selecting it in the Asset panel and then dragging it onto the editor’s canvas.

I’ll repeat the import asset process and this time I will add the Mannequin asset to the scene.

Additionally, with Sumerian, I can add scripting to Entity assets to make my scene even more exciting by adding a ScriptComponent to an entity and creating a script.  I can use the provided built-in scripts or create my own custom scripts. If I create a new custom script, I will get a blank script with some base JavaScript code that looks similar to the code below.

'use strict';
/* global sumerian */
//This is Me-- trying out the custom scripts - Tara

var setup = function (args, ctx) {
// Called when play mode starts.
};
var fixedUpdate = function (args, ctx) {
// Called on every physics update, after setup().
};
var update = function (args, ctx) {
// Called on every render frame, after setup().
};
var lateUpdate = function (args, ctx) {
// Called after all script "update" methods in the scene has been called.
};
var cleanup = function (args, ctx) {
// Called when play mode stops.
};
var parameters = [];

Very cool, I just created a 3D scene using Amazon Sumerian in a matter of minutes and I have only scratched the surface.

Summary

The Amazon Sumerian service enables you to create, build, and run virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and 3D applications with ease.  You don’t need any 3D graphics or specialized programming knowledge to get started building scenes and immersive experiences.  You can import FBX, OBJ, and Unity projects in Sumerian, as well as upload your own 3D assets for use in your scene. In addition, you can create digital characters to narrate your scene and with these digital assets, you have choices for the character’s appearance, speech and behavior.

You can learn more about Amazon Sumerian and sign up for the preview to get started with the new service on the product page.  I can’t wait to see what rich experiences you all will build.

Tara

 

A Thanksgiving Carol: How Those Smart Engineers at Twitter Screwed Me

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/11/a-thanksgiving-carol-how-those-smart.html

Thanksgiving Holiday is a time for family and cheer. Well, a time for family. It’s the holiday where we ask our doctor relatives to look at that weird skin growth, and for our geek relatives to fix our computers. This tale is of such computer support, and how the “smart” engineers at Twitter have ruined this for life.

My mom is smart, but not a good computer user. I get my enthusiasm for science and math from my mother, and she has no problem understanding the science of computers. She keeps up when I explain Bitcoin. But she has difficulty using computers. She has this emotional, irrational belief that computers are out to get her.

This makes helping her difficult. Every problem is described in terms of what the computer did to her, not what she did to her computer. It’s the computer that needs to be fixed, instead of the user. When I showed her the “haveibeenpwned.com” website (part of my tips for securing computers), it showed her Tumblr password had been hacked. She swore she never created a Tumblr account — that somebody or something must have done it for her. Except, I was there five years ago and watched her create it.

Another example is how GMail is deleting her emails for no reason, corrupting them, and changing the spelling of her words. She emails the way an impatient teenager texts — all of us in the family know the misspellings are not GMail’s fault. But I can’t help her with this because she keeps her GMail inbox clean, deleting all her messages, leaving no evidence behind. She has only a vague description of the problem that I can’t make sense of.

This last March, I tried something to resolve this. I configured her GMail to send a copy of all incoming messages to a new, duplicate account on my own email server. With evidence in hand, I would then be able solve what’s going on with her GMail. I’d be able to show her which steps she took, which buttons she clicked on, and what caused the weirdness she’s seeing.

Today, while the family was in a state of turkey-induced torpor, my mom brought up a problem with Twitter. She doesn’t use Twitter, she doesn’t have an account, but they keep sending tweets to her phone, about topics like Denzel Washington. And she said something about “peaches” I didn’t understand.

This is how the problem descriptions always start, chaotic, with mutually exclusive possibilities. If you don’t use Twitter, you don’t have the Twitter app installed, so how are you getting Tweets? Over much gnashing of teeth, it comes out that she’s getting emails from Twitter, not tweets, about Denzel Washington — to someone named “Peaches Graham”. Naturally, she can only describe these emails, because she’s already deleted them.

“Ah ha!”, I think. I’ve got the evidence! I’ll just log onto my duplicate email server, and grab the copies to prove to her it was something she did.

I find she is indeed receiving such emails, called “Moments”, about topics trending on Twitter. They are signed with “DKIM”, proving they are legitimate rather than from a hacker or spammer. The only way that can happen is if my mother signed up for Twitter, despite her protestations that she didn’t.

I look further back and find that there were also confirmation messages involved. Back in August, she got a typical Twitter account signup message. I am now seeing a little bit more of the story unfold with this “Peaches Graham” name on the account. It wasn’t my mother who initially signed up for Twitter, but Peaches, who misspelled the email address. It’s one of the reasons why the confirmation process exists, to make sure you spelled your email address correctly.

It’s now obvious my mom accidentally clicked on the [Confirm] button. I don’t have any proof she did, but it’s the only reasonable explanation. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gotten the “Moments” messages. My mom disputed this, emphatically insisting she never clicked on the emails.

It’s at this point that I made a great mistake, saying:

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Twitter has very smart engineers. What’s the chance they made the mistake here, or…”.

I recognized condescension of words as they came out of my mouth, but dug myself deeper with:

“…or that the user made the error?”

This was wrong to say even if I were right. I have no excuse. I mean, maybe I could argue that it’s really her fault, for not raising me right, but no, this is only on me.

Regardless of what caused the Twitter emails, the problem needs to be fixed. The solution is to take control of the Twitter account by using the password reset feature. I went to the Twitter login page, clicked on “Lost Password”, got the password reset message, and reset the password. I then reconfigured the account to never send anything to my mom again.

But when I logged in I got an error saying the account had not yet been confirmed. I paused. The family dog eyed me in wise silence. My mom hadn’t clicked on the [Confirm] button — the proof was right there. Moreover, it hadn’t been confirmed for a long time, since the account was created in 2011.

I interrogated my mother some more. It appears that this has been going on for years. She’s just been deleting the emails without opening them, both the “Confirmations” and the “Moments”. She made it clear she does it this way because her son (that would be me) instructs her to never open emails she knows are bad. That’s how she could be so certain she never clicked on the [Confirm] button — she never even opens the emails to see the contents.

My mom is a prolific email user. In the last eight months, I’ve received over 10,000 emails in the duplicate mailbox on my server. That’s a lot. She’s technically retired, but she volunteers for several charities, goes to community college classes, and is joining an anti-Trump protest group. She has a daily routine for triaging and processing all the emails that flow through her inbox.

So here’s the thing, and there’s no getting around it: my mom was right, on all particulars. She had done nothing, the computer had done it to her. It’s Twitter who is at fault, having continued to resend that confirmation email every couple months for six years. When Twitter added their controversial “Moments” feature a couple years back, somehow they turned on Notifications for accounts that technically didn’t fully exist yet.

Being right this time means she might be right the next time the computer does something to her without her touching anything. My attempts at making computers seem rational has failed. That they are driven by untrustworthy spirits is now a reasonable alternative.

Those “smart” engineers at Twitter screwed me. Continuing to send confirmation emails for six years is stupid. Sending Notifications to unconfirmed accounts is stupid. Yes, I know at the bottom of the message it gives a “Not my account” selection that she could have clicked on, but it’s small and easily missed. In any case, my mom never saw that option, because she’s been deleting the messages without opening them — for six years.

Twitter can fix their problem, but it’s not going to help mine. Forever more, I’ll be unable to convince my mom that the majority of her problems are because of user error, and not because the computer people are out to get her.

Capturing Custom, High-Resolution Metrics from Containers Using AWS Step Functions and AWS Lambda

Post Syndicated from Nathan Taber original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/capturing-custom-high-resolution-metrics-from-containers-using-aws-step-functions-and-aws-lambda/

Contributed by Trevor Sullivan, AWS Solutions Architect

When you deploy containers with Amazon ECS, are you gathering all of the key metrics so that you can correctly monitor the overall health of your ECS cluster?

By default, ECS writes metrics to Amazon CloudWatch in 5-minute increments. For complex or large services, this may not be sufficient to make scaling decisions quickly. You may want to respond immediately to changes in workload or to identify application performance problems. Last July, CloudWatch announced support for high-resolution metrics, up to a per-second basis.

These high-resolution metrics can be used to give you a clearer picture of the load and performance for your applications, containers, clusters, and hosts. In this post, I discuss how you can use AWS Step Functions, along with AWS Lambda, to cost effectively record high-resolution metrics into CloudWatch. You implement this solution using a serverless architecture, which keeps your costs low and makes it easier to troubleshoot the solution.

To show how this works, you retrieve some useful metric data from an ECS cluster running in the same AWS account and region (Oregon, us-west-2) as the Step Functions state machine and Lambda function. However, you can use this architecture to retrieve any custom application metrics from any resource in any AWS account and region.

Why Step Functions?

Step Functions enables you to orchestrate multi-step tasks in the AWS Cloud that run for any period of time, up to a year. Effectively, you’re building a blueprint for an end-to-end process. After it’s built, you can execute the process as many times as you want.

For this architecture, you gather metrics from an ECS cluster, every five seconds, and then write the metric data to CloudWatch. After your ECS cluster metrics are stored in CloudWatch, you can create CloudWatch alarms to notify you. An alarm can also trigger an automated remediation activity such as scaling ECS services, when a metric exceeds a threshold defined by you.

When you build a Step Functions state machine, you define the different states inside it as JSON objects. The bulk of the work in Step Functions is handled by the common task state, which invokes Lambda functions or Step Functions activities. There is also a built-in library of other useful states that allow you to control the execution flow of your program.

One of the most useful state types in Step Functions is the parallel state. Each parallel state in your state machine can have one or more branches, each of which is executed in parallel. Another useful state type is the wait state, which waits for a period of time before moving to the next state.

In this walkthrough, you combine these three states (parallel, wait, and task) to create a state machine that triggers a Lambda function, which then gathers metrics from your ECS cluster.

Step Functions pricing

This state machine is executed every minute, resulting in 60 executions per hour, and 1,440 executions per day. Step Functions is billed per state transition, including the Start and End state transitions, and giving you approximately 37,440 state transitions per day. To reach this number, I’m using this estimated math:

26 state transitions per-execution x 60 minutes x 24 hours

Based on current pricing, at $0.000025 per state transition, the daily cost of this metric gathering state machine would be $0.936.

Step Functions offers an indefinite 4,000 free state transitions every month. This benefit is available to all customers, not just customers who are still under the 12-month AWS Free Tier. For more information and cost example scenarios, see Step Functions pricing.

Why Lambda?

The goal is to capture metrics from an ECS cluster, and write the metric data to CloudWatch. This is a straightforward, short-running process that makes Lambda the perfect place to run your code. Lambda is one of the key services that makes up “Serverless” application architectures. It enables you to consume compute capacity only when your code is actually executing.

The process of gathering metric data from ECS and writing it to CloudWatch takes a short period of time. In fact, my average Lambda function execution time, while developing this post, is only about 250 milliseconds on average. For every five-second interval that occurs, I’m only using 1/20th of the compute time that I’d otherwise be paying for.

Lambda pricing

For billing purposes, Lambda execution time is rounded up to the nearest 100-ms interval. In general, based on the metrics that I observed during development, a 250-ms runtime would be billed at 300 ms. Here, I calculate the cost of this Lambda function executing on a daily basis.

Assuming 31 days in each month, there would be 535,680 five-second intervals (31 days x 24 hours x 60 minutes x 12 five-second intervals = 535,680). The Lambda function is invoked every five-second interval, by the Step Functions state machine, and runs for a 300-ms period. At current Lambda pricing, for a 128-MB function, you would be paying approximately the following:

Total compute

Total executions = 535,680
Total compute = total executions x (3 x $0.000000208 per 100 ms) = $0.334 per day

Total requests

Total requests = (535,680 / 1000000) * $0.20 per million requests = $0.11 per day

Total Lambda Cost

$0.11 requests + $0.334 compute time = $0.444 per day

Similar to Step Functions, Lambda offers an indefinite free tier. For more information, see Lambda Pricing.

Walkthrough

In the following sections, I step through the process of configuring the solution just discussed. If you follow along, at a high level, you will:

  • Configure an IAM role and policy
  • Create a Step Functions state machine to control metric gathering execution
  • Create a metric-gathering Lambda function
  • Configure a CloudWatch Events rule to trigger the state machine
  • Validate the solution

Prerequisites

You should already have an AWS account with a running ECS cluster. If you don’t have one running, you can easily deploy a Docker container on an ECS cluster using the AWS Management Console. In the example produced for this post, I use an ECS cluster running Windows Server (currently in beta), but either a Linux or Windows Server cluster works.

Create an IAM role and policy

First, create an IAM role and policy that enables Step Functions, Lambda, and CloudWatch to communicate with each other.

  • The CloudWatch Events rule needs permissions to trigger the Step Functions state machine.
  • The Step Functions state machine needs permissions to trigger the Lambda function.
  • The Lambda function needs permissions to query ECS and then write to CloudWatch Logs and metrics.

When you create the state machine, Lambda function, and CloudWatch Events rule, you assign this role to each of those resources. Upon execution, each of these resources assumes the specified role and executes using the role’s permissions.

  1. Open the IAM console.
  2. Choose Roles, create New Role.
  3. For Role Name, enter WriteMetricFromStepFunction.
  4. Choose Save.

Create the IAM role trust relationship
The trust relationship (also known as the assume role policy document) for your IAM role looks like the following JSON document. As you can see from the document, your IAM role needs to trust the Lambda, CloudWatch Events, and Step Functions services. By configuring your role to trust these services, they can assume this role and inherit the role permissions.

  1. Open the IAM console.
  2. Choose Roles and select the IAM role previously created.
  3. Choose Trust RelationshipsEdit Trust Relationships.
  4. Enter the following trust policy text and choose Save.
{
  "Version": "2012-10-17",
  "Statement": [
    {
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {
        "Service": "lambda.amazonaws.com"
      },
      "Action": "sts:AssumeRole"
    },
    {
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {
        "Service": "events.amazonaws.com"
      },
      "Action": "sts:AssumeRole"
    },
    {
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {
        "Service": "states.us-west-2.amazonaws.com"
      },
      "Action": "sts:AssumeRole"
    }
  ]
}

Create an IAM policy

After you’ve finished configuring your role’s trust relationship, grant the role access to the other AWS resources that make up the solution.

The IAM policy is what gives your IAM role permissions to access various resources. You must whitelist explicitly the specific resources to which your role has access, because the default IAM behavior is to deny access to any AWS resources.

I’ve tried to keep this policy document as generic as possible, without allowing permissions to be too open. If the name of your ECS cluster is different than the one in the example policy below, make sure that you update the policy document before attaching it to your IAM role. You can attach this policy as an inline policy, instead of creating the policy separately first. However, either approach is valid.

  1. Open the IAM console.
  2. Select the IAM role, and choose Permissions.
  3. Choose Add in-line policy.
  4. Choose Custom Policy and then enter the following policy. The inline policy name does not matter.
{
    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [ "logs:*" ],
            "Resource": "*"
        },
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [ "cloudwatch:PutMetricData" ],
            "Resource": "*"
        },
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [ "states:StartExecution" ],
            "Resource": [
                "arn:aws:states:*:*:stateMachine:WriteMetricFromStepFunction"
            ]
        },
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [ "lambda:InvokeFunction" ],
            "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:*:*:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction"
        },
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [ "ecs:Describe*" ],
            "Resource": "arn:aws:ecs:*:*:cluster/ECSEsgaroth"
        }
    ]
}

Create a Step Functions state machine

In this section, you create a Step Functions state machine that invokes the metric-gathering Lambda function every five (5) seconds, for a one-minute period. If you divide a minute (60) seconds into equal parts of five-second intervals, you get 12. Based on this math, you create 12 branches, in a single parallel state, in the state machine. Each branch triggers the metric-gathering Lambda function at a different five-second marker, throughout the one-minute period. After all of the parallel branches finish executing, the Step Functions execution completes and another begins.

Follow these steps to create your Step Functions state machine:

  1. Open the Step Functions console.
  2. Choose DashboardCreate State Machine.
  3. For State Machine Name, enter WriteMetricFromStepFunction.
  4. Enter the state machine code below into the editor. Make sure that you insert your own AWS account ID for every instance of “676655494xxx”
  5. Choose Create State Machine.
  6. Select the WriteMetricFromStepFunction IAM role that you previously created.
{
    "Comment": "Writes ECS metrics to CloudWatch every five seconds, for a one-minute period.",
    "StartAt": "ParallelMetric",
    "States": {
      "ParallelMetric": {
        "Type": "Parallel",
        "Branches": [
          {
            "StartAt": "WriteMetricLambda",
            "States": {
             	"WriteMetricLambda": {
                  "Type": "Task",
				  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
    	  {
            "StartAt": "WaitFive",
            "States": {
            	"WaitFive": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 5,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambdaFive"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambdaFive": {
                  "Type": "Task",
				  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
    	  {
            "StartAt": "WaitTen",
            "States": {
            	"WaitTen": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 10,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda10"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda10": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
    	  {
            "StartAt": "WaitFifteen",
            "States": {
            	"WaitFifteen": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 15,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda15"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda15": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait20",
            "States": {
            	"Wait20": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 20,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda20"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda20": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait25",
            "States": {
            	"Wait25": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 25,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda25"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda25": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait30",
            "States": {
            	"Wait30": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 30,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda30"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda30": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait35",
            "States": {
            	"Wait35": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 35,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda35"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda35": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait40",
            "States": {
            	"Wait40": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 40,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda40"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda40": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait45",
            "States": {
            	"Wait45": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 45,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda45"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda45": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait50",
            "States": {
            	"Wait50": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 50,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda50"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda50": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          },
          {
            "StartAt": "Wait55",
            "States": {
            	"Wait55": {
            		"Type": "Wait",
            		"Seconds": 55,
            		"Next": "WriteMetricLambda55"
          		},
             	"WriteMetricLambda55": {
                  "Type": "Task",
                  "Resource": "arn:aws:lambda:us-west-2:676655494xxx:function:WriteMetricFromStepFunction",
                  "End": true
                } 
            }
          }
        ],
        "End": true
      }
  }
}

Now you’ve got a shiny new Step Functions state machine! However, you might ask yourself, “After the state machine has been created, how does it get executed?” Before I answer that question, create the Lambda function that writes the custom metric, and then you get the end-to-end process moving.

Create a Lambda function

The meaty part of the solution is a Lambda function, written to consume the Python 3.6 runtime, that retrieves metric values from ECS, and then writes them to CloudWatch. This Lambda function is what the Step Functions state machine is triggering every five seconds, via the Task states. Key points to remember:

The Lambda function needs permission to:

  • Write CloudWatch metrics (PutMetricData API).
  • Retrieve metrics from ECS clusters (DescribeCluster API).
  • Write StdOut to CloudWatch Logs.

Boto3, the AWS SDK for Python, is included in the Lambda execution environment for Python 2.x and 3.x.

Because Lambda includes the AWS SDK, you don’t have to worry about packaging it up and uploading it to Lambda. You can focus on writing code and automatically take a dependency on boto3.

As for permissions, you’ve already created the IAM role and attached a policy to it that enables your Lambda function to access the necessary API actions. When you create your Lambda function, make sure that you select the correct IAM role, to ensure it is invoked with the correct permissions.

The following Lambda function code is generic. So how does the Lambda function know which ECS cluster to gather metrics for? Your Step Functions state machine automatically passes in its state to the Lambda function. When you create your CloudWatch Events rule, you specify a simple JSON object that passes the desired ECS cluster name into your Step Functions state machine, which then passes it to the Lambda function.

Use the following property values as you create your Lambda function:

Function Name: WriteMetricFromStepFunction
Description: This Lambda function retrieves metric values from an ECS cluster and writes them to Amazon CloudWatch.
Runtime: Python3.6
Memory: 128 MB
IAM Role: WriteMetricFromStepFunction

import boto3

def handler(event, context):
    cw = boto3.client('cloudwatch')
    ecs = boto3.client('ecs')
    print('Got boto3 client objects')
    
    Dimension = {
        'Name': 'ClusterName',
        'Value': event['ECSClusterName']
    }

    cluster = get_ecs_cluster(ecs, Dimension['Value'])
    
    cw_args = {
       'Namespace': 'ECS',
       'MetricData': [
           {
               'MetricName': 'RunningTask',
               'Dimensions': [ Dimension ],
               'Value': cluster['runningTasksCount'],
               'Unit': 'Count',
               'StorageResolution': 1
           },
           {
               'MetricName': 'PendingTask',
               'Dimensions': [ Dimension ],
               'Value': cluster['pendingTasksCount'],
               'Unit': 'Count',
               'StorageResolution': 1
           },
           {
               'MetricName': 'ActiveServices',
               'Dimensions': [ Dimension ],
               'Value': cluster['activeServicesCount'],
               'Unit': 'Count',
               'StorageResolution': 1
           },
           {
               'MetricName': 'RegisteredContainerInstances',
               'Dimensions': [ Dimension ],
               'Value': cluster['registeredContainerInstancesCount'],
               'Unit': 'Count',
               'StorageResolution': 1
           }
        ]
    }
    cw.put_metric_data(**cw_args)
    print('Finished writing metric data')
    
def get_ecs_cluster(client, cluster_name):
    cluster = client.describe_clusters(clusters = [ cluster_name ])
    print('Retrieved cluster details from ECS')
    return cluster['clusters'][0]

Create the CloudWatch Events rule

Now you’ve created an IAM role and policy, Step Functions state machine, and Lambda function. How do these components actually start communicating with each other? The final step in this process is to set up a CloudWatch Events rule that triggers your metric-gathering Step Functions state machine every minute. You have two choices for your CloudWatch Events rule expression: rate or cron. In this example, use the cron expression.

A couple key learning points from creating the CloudWatch Events rule:

  • You can specify one or more targets, of different types (for example, Lambda function, Step Functions state machine, SNS topic, and so on).
  • You’re required to specify an IAM role with permissions to trigger your target.
    NOTE: This applies only to certain types of targets, including Step Functions state machines.
  • Each target that supports IAM roles can be triggered using a different IAM role, in the same CloudWatch Events rule.
  • Optional: You can provide custom JSON that is passed to your target Step Functions state machine as input.

Follow these steps to create the CloudWatch Events rule:

  1. Open the CloudWatch console.
  2. Choose Events, RulesCreate Rule.
  3. Select Schedule, Cron Expression, and then enter the following rule:
    0/1 * * * ? *
  4. Choose Add Target, Step Functions State MachineWriteMetricFromStepFunction.
  5. For Configure Input, select Constant (JSON Text).
  6. Enter the following JSON input, which is passed to Step Functions, while changing the cluster name accordingly:
    { "ECSClusterName": "ECSEsgaroth" }
  7. Choose Use Existing Role, WriteMetricFromStepFunction (the IAM role that you previously created).

After you’ve completed with these steps, your screen should look similar to this:

Validate the solution

Now that you have finished implementing the solution to gather high-resolution metrics from ECS, validate that it’s working properly.

  1. Open the CloudWatch console.
  2. Choose Metrics.
  3. Choose custom and select the ECS namespace.
  4. Choose the ClusterName metric dimension.

You should see your metrics listed below.

Troubleshoot configuration issues

If you aren’t receiving the expected ECS cluster metrics in CloudWatch, check for the following common configuration issues. Review the earlier procedures to make sure that the resources were properly configured.

  • The IAM role’s trust relationship is incorrectly configured.
    Make sure that the IAM role trusts Lambda, CloudWatch Events, and Step Functions in the correct region.
  • The IAM role does not have the correct policies attached to it.
    Make sure that you have copied the IAM policy correctly as an inline policy on the IAM role.
  • The CloudWatch Events rule is not triggering new Step Functions executions.
    Make sure that the target configuration on the rule has the correct Step Functions state machine and IAM role selected.
  • The Step Functions state machine is being executed, but failing part way through.
    Examine the detailed error message on the failed state within the failed Step Functions execution. It’s possible that the
  • IAM role does not have permissions to trigger the target Lambda function, that the target Lambda function may not exist, or that the Lambda function failed to complete successfully due to invalid permissions.
    Although the above list covers several different potential configuration issues, it is not comprehensive. Make sure that you understand how each service is connected to each other, how permissions are granted through IAM policies, and how IAM trust relationships work.

Conclusion

In this post, you implemented a Serverless solution to gather and record high-resolution application metrics from containers running on Amazon ECS into CloudWatch. The solution consists of a Step Functions state machine, Lambda function, CloudWatch Events rule, and an IAM role and policy. The data that you gather from this solution helps you rapidly identify issues with an ECS cluster.

To gather high-resolution metrics from any service, modify your Lambda function to gather the correct metrics from your target. If you prefer not to use Python, you can implement a Lambda function using one of the other supported runtimes, including Node.js, Java, or .NET Core. However, this post should give you the fundamental basics about capturing high-resolution metrics in CloudWatch.

If you found this post useful, or have questions, please comment below.

Community Profile: Matthew Timmons-Brown

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/community-profile-matthew-timmons-brown/

This column is from The MagPi issue 57. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

“I first set up my YouTube channel because I noticed a massive lack of video tutorials for the Raspberry Pi,” explains Matthew Timmons-Brown, known to many as The Raspberry Pi Guy. At 18 years old, the Cambridge-based student has more than 60 000 subscribers to his channel, making his account the most successful Raspberry Pi–specific YouTube account to date.

Matthew Timmons-Brown

Matt gives a talk at the Raspberry Pi 5th Birthday weekend event

The Raspberry Pi Guy

If you’ve attended a Raspberry Pi event, there’s a good chance you’ve already met Matt. And if not, you’ll have no doubt come across one or more of his tutorials and builds online. On more than one occasion, his work has featured on the Raspberry Pi blog, with his yearly Raspberry Pi roundup videos being a staple of the birthday celebrations.

Matthew Timmons-Brown

With his website, Matt aimed to collect together “the many strands of The Raspberry Pi Guy” into one, neat, cohesive resource — and it works. From newcomers to the credit card-sized computer to hardened Pi veterans, The Raspberry Pi Guy offers aid and inspiration for many. Looking for a review of the Raspberry Pi Zero W? He’s filmed one. Looking for a step-by-step guide to building a Pi-powered Amazon Alexa? No problem, there’s one of those too.

Make your Raspberry Pi artificially intelligent! – Amazon Alexa Personal Assistant Tutorial

Artificial Intelligence. A hefty topic that has dominated the field since computers were first conceived. What if I told you that you could put an artificial intelligence service on your own $30 computer?! That’s right! In this tutorial I will show you how to create your own artificially intelligent personal assistant, using Amazon’s Alexa voice recognition and information service!

Raspberry Pi electric skateboard

Last summer, Matt introduced the world to his Raspberry Pi-controlled electric skateboard, soon finding himself plastered over local press as well as the BBC and tech sites like Adafruit and geek.com. And there’s no question as to why the build was so popular. With YouTubers such as Casey Neistat increasing the demand for electric skateboards on a near-daily basis, the call for a cheaper, home-brew version has quickly grown.

DIY 30KM/H ELECTRIC SKATEBOARD – RASPBERRY PI/WIIMOTE POWERED

Over the summer, I made my own electric skateboard using a £4 Raspberry Pi Zero. Controlled with a Nintendo Wiimote, capable of going 30km/h, and with a range of over 10km, this project has been pretty darn fun. In this video, you see me racing around Cambridge and I explain the ins and outs of this project.

Using a Raspberry Pi Zero, a Nintendo Wii Remote, and a little help from members of the Cambridge Makespace community, Matt built a board capable of reaching 30km/h, with a battery range of 10km per charge. Alongside Neistat, Matt attributes the project inspiration to Australian student Tim Maier, whose build we previously covered in The MagPi.

Matthew Timmons-Brown and Eben Upton standing in a car park looking at a smartphone

LiDAR

Despite the success and the fun of the electric skateboard (including convincing Raspberry Pi Trading CEO Eben Upton to have a go for local television news coverage), the project Matt is most proud of is his wireless LiDAR system for theoretical use on the Mars rovers.

Matthew Timmons-Brown's LiDAR project for scanning terrains with lasers

Using a tablet app to define the angles, Matt’s A Level coursework LiDAR build scans the surrounding area, returning the results to the touchscreen, where they can be manipulated by the user. With his passion for the cosmos and the International Space Station, it’s no wonder that this is Matt’s proudest build.

Built for his A Level Computer Science coursework, the build demonstrates Matt’s passion for space and physics. Used as a means of surveying terrain, LiDAR uses laser light to measure distance, allowing users to create 3D-scanned, high-resolution maps of a specific area. It is a perfect technology for exploring unknown worlds.

Matthew Timmons-Brown and two other young people at a reception in the Houses of Parliament

Matt was invited to St James’s Palace and the Houses of Parliament as part of the Raspberry Pi community celebrations in 2016

Joining the community

In a recent interview at Hills Road Sixth Form College, where he is studying mathematics, further mathematics, physics, and computer science, Matt revealed where his love of electronics and computer science started. “I originally became interested in computer science in 2012, when I read a tiny magazine article about a computer that I would be able to buy with pocket money. This was a pretty exciting thing for a 12-year-old! Your own computer… for less than £30?!” He went on to explain how it became his mission to learn all he could on the subject and how, months later, his YouTube channel came to life, cementing him firmly into the Raspberry Pi community

The post Community Profile: Matthew Timmons-Brown appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

EC2 Convertible Reserved Instance Update – New 1-Year CRI, Merges & Splits

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/ec2-convertible-reserved-instance-update-new-1-year-cri-merges-splits/

We launched Convertible Reserved Instances for EC2 just about a year ago. The Convertible RIs give you a significant discount (typically 54% when compared to On-Demand) and allow you to change the instance family and other parameters associated with the RI if your needs change.

Today we are introducing Convertible RIs with a 1-year term, complementing the existing 3-year term. We are also making the Convertible Reserved Instance model more flexible by allowing you to exchange portions of your RIs and to perform bulk exchanges.

New 1-Year Convertible RIs
Convertible Reserved Instances with a 1-year term are now available. This will give you more options and more flexibility; you can now purchase a mix of 1-year and 3-year Convertible Reserved Instances (CRIs) in accord with your needs. Startups with financial constraints will find this option attractive, as will other ventures that may not be in a position to make a commitment that runs for longer than one year.

Merging and Splitting Convertible RIs
Let’s say that you start running your web and application servers on M4 instances and uses Convertible RIs to save money. Later, after a tuning exercise you move your application servers to C4 instances. With today’s launch you can exchange a portion of your M4 Convertible RIs for C4 Convertible RIs. You can also merge two or more CRIs (perhaps for smaller instances) and obtain one for a larger instance.

The exchange model for Convertible Reserved Instances is based on splitting, exchanging, and merging. Let’s say I own a 3-year Partial Upfront CRI for four t2.micro instances:

My application has changed and now I want to use a pair of t2.micro instances and a single r4.xlarge. The first step is to split this CRI into the part that I want to keep and the part that I want to exchange. I select it and click on Modify Reserved Instances. Then I create my desired configuration and click on Continue:

I review the request and click on Submit Modifications:

The state of the CRI changes to indicate that it is being modified. After a moment or two it will be marked as retired, replaced by a pair that are active:

Now I can exchange one of the 2-instance CRIs. I select it, click on Exchange Reserved Instance, and enter the desired configuration for my new CRI:

I click on Find Offering to see my options, and choose the desired one, an r4.xlarge Partial Upfront. As you can see, the console “does the math” takes the remaining upfront value ($139.995 in this case) of the unneeded CRIs into account when computing the upfront payment:

When I am ready to move forward I click on Exchange. This initiates the exchange process and lets me know that it may take a few minutes to complete.

I can also merge two or more Convertible Reserved Instances together and then use them as the starting point for an exchange. To do this I simply select the existing CRIs, click on Action, and choose Exchange Reserved Instances. I can see the total remaining upfront value of the selected CRIs and proceed accordingly:

You can merge CRIs that have different start dates and/or term lengths. The merged CRI will have the expiry date of the RI that is furthest from the date of exchange. Merging CRIs with different term lengths always produces a 3-year CRI.

You can also perform the split, exchange, and merge operations using the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) and the EC2 APIs.

Available Now
All of the functions and the 1-year CRIs described in this post are available now and you can start using them today.

Jeff;