Tag Archives: math

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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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# 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.

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>>> 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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                    ╔═══════════╗        ...
                    ║ 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!

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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.

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-- 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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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// 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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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;

Now Available – Compute-Intensive C5 Instances for Amazon EC2

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/now-available-compute-intensive-c5-instances-for-amazon-ec2/

I’m thrilled to announce that the new compute-intensive C5 instances are available today in six sizes for launch in three AWS regions!

These instances designed for compute-heavy applications like batch processing, distributed analytics, high-performance computing (HPC), ad serving, highly scalable multiplayer gaming, and video encoding. The new instances offer a 25% price/performance improvement over the C4 instances, with over 50% for some workloads. They also have additional memory per vCPU, and (for code that can make use of the new AVX-512 instructions), twice the performance for vector and floating point workloads.

Over the years we have been working non-stop to provide our customers with the best possible networking, storage, and compute performance, with a long-term focus on offloading many types of work to dedicated hardware designed and built by AWS. The C5 instance type incorporates the latest generation of our hardware offloads, and also takes another big step forward with the addition of a new hypervisor that runs hand-in-glove with our hardware. The new hypervisor allows us to give you access to all of the processing power provided by the host hardware, while also making performance even more consistent and further raising the bar on security. We’ll be sharing many technical details about it at AWS re:Invent.

The New Instances
The C5 instances are available in six sizes:

Instance Name vCPUs
RAM
EBS Bandwidth Network Bandwidth
c5.large 2 4 GiB Up to 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.xlarge 4 8 GiB Up to 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.2xlarge 8 16 GiB Up to 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.4xlarge 16 32 GiB 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.9xlarge 36 72 GiB 4.5 Gbps 10 Gbps
c5.18xlarge 72 144 GiB 9 Gbps 25 Gbps

Each vCPU is a hardware hyperthread on a 3.0 GHz Intel Xeon Platinum 8000-series processor. This custom processor, optimized for EC2, allows you have full control over the C-states on the two largest sizes, allowing you to run a single core at up to 3.5 GHz using Intel Turbo Boost Technology.

As you can see from the table, the four smallest instance sizes offer substantially more EBS and network bandwidth than the previous generation of compute-intensive instances.

Because all networking and storage functionality is implemented in hardware, C5 instances require HVM AMIs that include drivers for the Elastic Network Adapter (ENA) and NVMe. The latest Amazon Linux, Microsoft Windows, Ubuntu, RHEL, CentOS, SLES, Debian, and FreeBSD AMIs all support C5 instances. If you are doing machine learning inferencing, or other compute-intensive work, be sure to check out the most recent version of the Intel Math Kernel Library. It has been optimized for the Intel® Xeon® Platinum processor and has the potential to greatly accelerate your work.

In order to remain compatible with instances that use the Xen hypervisor, the device names for EBS volumes will continue to use the existing /dev/sd and /dev/xvd prefixes. The device name that you provide when you attach a volume to an instance is not used because the NVMe driver assigns its own device name (read Amazon EBS and NVMe to learn more):

The nvme command displays additional information about each volume (install it using sudo yum -y install nvme-cli if necessary):

The SN field in the output can be mapped to an EBS volume ID by inserting a “-” after the “vol” prefix (sadly, the NVMe SN field is not long enough to store the entire ID). Here’s a simple script that uses this information to create an EBS snapshot of each attached volume:

$ sudo nvme list | \
  awk '/dev/ {print(gensub("vol", "vol-", 1, $2))}' | \
  xargs -n 1 aws ec2 create-snapshot --volume-id

With a little more work (and a lot of testing), you could create a script that expands EBS volumes that are getting full.

Getting to C5
As I mentioned earlier, our effort to offload work to hardware accelerators has been underway for quite some time. Here’s a recap:

CC1 – Launched in 2010, the CC1 was designed to support scale-out HPC applications. It was the first EC2 instance to support 10 Gbps networking and one of the first to support HVM virtualization. The network fabric that we designed for the CC1 (based on our own switch hardware) has become the standard for all AWS data centers.

C3 – Launched in 2013, the C3 introduced Enhanced Networking and uses dedicated hardware accelerators to support the software defined network inside of each Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). Hardware virtualization removes the I/O stack from the hypervisor in favor of direct access by the guest OS, resulting in higher performance and reduced variability.

C4 – Launched in 2015, the C4 instances are EBS Optimized by default via a dedicated network connection, and also offload EBS processing (including CPU-intensive crypto operations for encrypted EBS volumes) to a hardware accelerator.

C5 – Launched today, the hypervisor that powers the C5 instances allow practically all of the resources of the host CPU to be devoted to customer instances. The ENA networking and the NVMe interface to EBS are both powered by hardware accelerators. The instances do not require (or support) the Xen paravirtual networking or block device drivers, both of which have been removed in order to increase efficiency.

Going forward, we’ll use this hypervisor to power other instance types and plan to share additional technical details in a set of AWS re:Invent sessions.

Launch a C5 Today
You can launch C5 instances today in the US East (Northern Virginia), US West (Oregon), and EU (Ireland) Regions in On-Demand and Spot form (Reserved Instances are also available), with additional Regions in the works.

One quick note before I go: The current NVMe driver is not optimized for high-performance sequential workloads and we don’t recommend the use of C5 instances in conjunction with sc1 or st1 volumes. We are aware of this issue and have been working to optimize the driver for this important use case.

Jeff;

[$] A report from the Realtime Summit

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/738001/rss

The 2017
Realtime Summit
(RT-Summit) was hosted by the Czech Technical University on
Saturday, October 21 in Prague, just before the Embedded Linux
Conference. It
was attended by more than 50 individuals with backgrounds ranging from
academic to
industrial, and some local students daring enough to spend a day with that
group. Guest author Mathieu Poirier provides summaries of some of the
talks from the summit.

Kim Dotcom Wins Settlement Over Military-Style Police Raid

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-wins-settlement-military-style-police-raid-171103/

It’s been spoken about thousands of times in the past half-decade but the 2012 raid on Kim Dotcom’s home in New Zealand was extraordinary by any standard.

At the behest of the US Government, 72 police officers – including some from the elite heavily armed Special Tactics Group (STG) – descended on Dotcom’s Coatesville mansion. Two helicopters were used during the raid, footage from which was later released to the public as the scale and nature of the operation became clear.

To be clear, no one in the Dotcom residence had any history of violence. Nevertheless, considerable force was used to attack rooms in the building, all of it aimed at detaining the founder of what was then the world’s most famous file-hosting site. The FBI, it seems, would stop at nothing in pursuit of the man they claimed was the planet’s most notorious copyright infringer.

As the dust settled, it became clear that the overwhelming use of force was not only unprecedented but also completely unnecessary, a point Dotcom himself became intent on pressing home.

The entrepreneur was particularly angry at the treatment received by former wife Mona, who was seven months pregnant with twins at the time. So, in response, the Megaupload founder and his wife sued the police, hoping to hold the authorities to account for their actions.

The case has dragged on for years but this morning came news of a breakthrough. According to information released by Kim Dotcom, the lawsuit has been resolved after a settlement was reached with the police.

“Today, Mona and I are glad to reach a confidential settlement of our case against the New Zealand Police. We have respect for the Police in this country. They work hard and have, with this one exception, treated me and my family with courtesy and respect,” Dotcom said.

“We were shocked at the uncharacteristic handling of my arrest for a non-violent Internet copyright infringement charge brought by the United States, which is not even a crime in New Zealand.”

Dotcom said police could have simply asked to be let in, at which point he could have been arrested. Instead, under pressure from US authorities and “special interests in Hollywood”, they turned the whole event into a massive publicity stunt aimed at pleasing the US.

“The New Zealand Police we know do not carry guns. They try to resolve matters in a non-violent manner, unlike what we see from the United States. We are sad that our officers, good people simply doing their job, were tainted by US priorities and arrogance,” Dotcom said.

“We sued the Police because we believed their military-style raid on a family with children in a non-violent case went far beyond what a civilised community should expect from its police force. New Zealanders deserve and should expect better.”

Kim Dotcom has developed a reputation for fighting back across all aspects of his long-running case, and this particular action was no different. He’d planned to take the case all the way to the High Court but in the end decided that doing so wouldn’t be in the best interests of his family.

Noting that New Zealand has a new government “for the better”, Dotcom said that raking up the past would only serve to further disrupt his family.

“Our children are now settled and integrated safely here into their community and they love it. We do not want to relive past events. We do not want to disrupt our children’s new lives. We do not want to revictimise them. We want them to grow up happy,” he said.

“That is why we chose New Zealand to be our family home in the first place. We are fortunate to live here. Under the totality of the circumstances, we thought settlement was best for our children.”

According to NZ Herald, the Dotcoms aren’t the only ones to have made peace with the police. Other people arrested in 2012, including Dotcom associates Bram van der Kolk and Mathias Ortmann, were paid six-figure sums to settle. The publication speculates that as the main target of the raid, Dotcom’s settlment amount would’ve been more.

But while this matter is now closed, others remain. It was previously determined that Kiwi spy agency the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) unlawfully spied on the Dotcoms over an extended period. Ron Mansfield, New Zealand counsel for the Dotcoms, says that case will continue.

“The GCSB refuses to disclose what it did or the actual private communications it stole. The Dotcoms understandably believe that they are entitled to know this. That action is pending appeal in the Court of Appeal,” he says.

Also before the Court of Appeal is the case to extradite Dotcom and his associates to the United States. That hearing is set for February 2018 but whatever the outcome, a further appeal to the Supreme Court is likely, meaning that Dotcom will remain in New Zealand until 2020, at least.

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

Kim Dotcom Asks Court For $829K to Fund Family Expenses

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-asks-court-for-829k-to-fund-family-expenses-171102/

When Megaupload was shut down in January 2012, US authorities did everything within their power to financially ruin Kim Dotcom and his associates.

Aside from taking much of his personal property, tens of millions of dollars of assets were seized around the world.

Under instruction from the U.S. government, US$42.57m in assets were seized in Hong Kong and since then Dotcom has been trying to claw it back, bit by bit.

Back in July, Dotcom revealed that the Hong Kong High Court had released more of his funds, plus four containers of seized property. Noting that he missed the country, he gave thanks for the lifeline.

“Thanks to a Hong Kong Judge my family can move to Queenstown and my kids will be surrounded by beautiful mountains & lakes instead of spies,” Dotcom said.

That move eventually went ahead, with Dotcom regularly tweeting beautiful waterside views from his new home over the past few months. But of course, nice things tend to cost quite a bit of money, so Dotcom’s legal team have been working hard in Hong Kong to have more funds released.

According to a report from NZHerald, his latest request is fairly sizeable, reaching NZ$1.2m (US$829,400), everything considered.

First up, Dotcom is seeking around NZ$1m (US$691,200) for costs relating to his relocation from Auckland to Queenstown. That’s comprised of two years worth of rent at NZ$40,000 (US$27,648) per month (no typo), plus NZ$150,000 (US$103,680) to cover the actual cost of the move.

On top, Dotcom is looking for NZ$73,000 (US$50,457) per month for living expenses, an amount that’s roughly US$2,000 per month up on the amount he currently receives.

According to the report, Dotcom’s team are also proposing a further amount of NZ$200,000 (US$138,240) to cover emergency items including “medical expenses of the family, car maintenance, household repairs and two holidays of the family”.

It seems unlikely that this will be the final request from Dotcom. According to Gerard McCoy, Dotcom’s lawyer in Hong Kong, the extradition process in New Zealand is nowhere near complete. In fact, McCoy told the court that proceedings won’t be completed during the next two years.

That takes us to 2020, at least, meaning that Dotcom will still be in New Zealand a full eight years after the raid. Given the massive number of court battles and subsequent appeals into every detail of several resulting cases, that’s probably not a surprise, however.

The progress in the extradition process itself is also somewhat glacial, with the next hearing set for the first quarter of 2018 in the Court of Appeal. If past experience is anything to go by, neither side will be happy with the outcome. This means that an appeal to the Supreme Court is almost inevitable.

Over in the United States, progress has also been slow. Recently, a petition from Dotcom and his former Megaupload colleagues over millions of dollars in seized assets was denied by the US Supreme Court.

While this decision means that the battle over a further US$67 million in assets has been exhausted, the question of whether Dotcom and former colleagues Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato will ever stand trial in the US remains unanswered.

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

[$] Restartable sequences and ops vectors

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/737662/rss

Some technologies find their way into the kernel almost immediately; others
need to go through multiple iterations over a number of years first.
Restartable
sequences, a mechanism for lockless concurrency control in user space, fall
into the latter category. At the 2017 Kernel Summit, Mathieu Desnoyers
discussed yet another implementation of this concept — but this one may not
be the last word either.

New – Amazon EC2 Instances with Up to 8 NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs (P3)

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/new-amazon-ec2-instances-with-up-to-8-nvidia-tesla-v100-gpus-p3/

Driven by customer demand and made possible by on-going advances in the state-of-the-art, we’ve come a long way since the original m1.small instance that we launched in 2006, with instances that are emphasize compute power, burstable performance, memory size, local storage, and accelerated computing.

The New P3
Today we are making the next generation of GPU-powered EC2 instances available in four AWS regions. Powered by up to eight NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs, the P3 instances are designed to handle compute-intensive machine learning, deep learning, computational fluid dynamics, computational finance, seismic analysis, molecular modeling, and genomics workloads.

P3 instances use customized Intel Xeon E5-2686v4 processors running at up to 2.7 GHz. They are available in three sizes (all VPC-only and EBS-only):

Model NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs GPU Memory NVIDIA NVLink vCPUs Main Memory Network Bandwidth EBS Bandwidth
p3.2xlarge 1 16 GiB n/a 8 61 GiB Up to 10 Gbps 1.5 Gbps
p3.8xlarge 4 64 GiB 200 GBps 32 244 GiB 10 Gbps 7 Gbps
p3.16xlarge 8 128 GiB 300 GBps 64 488 GiB 25 Gbps 14 Gbps

Each of the NVIDIA GPUs is packed with 5,120 CUDA cores and another 640 Tensor cores and can deliver up to 125 TFLOPS of mixed-precision floating point, 15.7 TFLOPS of single-precision floating point, and 7.8 TFLOPS of double-precision floating point. On the two larger sizes, the GPUs are connected together via NVIDIA NVLink 2.0 running at a total data rate of up to 300 GBps. This allows the GPUs to exchange intermediate results and other data at high speed, without having to move it through the CPU or the PCI-Express fabric.

What’s a Tensor Core?
I had not heard the term Tensor core before starting to write this post. According to this very helpful post on the NVIDIA Blog, Tensor cores are designed to speed up the training and inference of large, deep neural networks. Each core is able to quickly and efficiently multiply a pair of 4×4 half-precision (also known as FP16) matrices together, add the resulting 4×4 matrix to another half or single-precision (FP32) matrix, and store the resulting 4×4 matrix in either half or single-precision form. Here’s a diagram from NVIDIA’s blog post:

This operation is in the innermost loop of the training process for a deep neural network, and is an excellent example of how today’s NVIDIA GPU hardware is purpose-built to address a very specific market need. By the way, the mixed-precision qualifier on the Tensor core performance means that it is flexible enough to work with with a combination of 16-bit and 32-bit floating point values.

Performance in Perspective
I always like to put raw performance numbers into a real-world perspective so that they are easier to relate to and (hopefully) more meaningful. This turned out to be surprisingly difficult, given that the eight NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs on a single p3.16xlarge can do 125 trillion single-precision floating point multiplications per second.

Let’s go back to the dawn of the microprocessor era, and consider the Intel 8080A chip that powered the MITS Altair that I bought in the summer of 1977. With a 2 MHz clock, it was able to do about 832 multiplications per second (I used this data and corrected it for the faster clock speed). The p3.16xlarge is roughly 150 billion times faster. However, just 1.2 billion seconds have gone by since that summer. In other words, I can do 100x more calculations today in one second than my Altair could have done in the last 40 years!

What about the innovative 8087 math coprocessor that was an optional accessory for the IBM PC that was announced in the summer of 1981? With a 5 MHz clock and purpose-built hardware, it was able to do about 52,632 multiplications per second. 1.14 billion seconds have elapsed since then, p3.16xlarge is 2.37 billion times faster, so the poor little PC would be barely halfway through a calculation that would run for 1 second today.

Ok, how about a Cray-1? First delivered in 1976, this supercomputer was able to perform vector operations at 160 MFLOPS, making the p3.x16xlarge 781,000 times faster. It could have iterated on some interesting problem 1500 times over the years since it was introduced.

Comparisons between the P3 and today’s scale-out supercomputers are harder to make, given that you can think of the P3 as a step-and-repeat component of a supercomputer that you can launch on as as-needed basis.

Run One Today
In order to take full advantage of the NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs and the Tensor cores, you will need to use CUDA 9 and cuDNN7. These drivers and libraries have already been added to the newest versions of the Windows AMIs and will be included in an updated Amazon Linux AMI that is scheduled for release on November 7th. New packages are already available in our repos if you want to to install them on your existing Amazon Linux AMI.

The newest AWS Deep Learning AMIs come preinstalled with the latest releases of Apache MxNet, Caffe2, and Tensorflow (each with support for the NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs), and will be updated to support P3 instances with other machine learning frameworks such as Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit and PyTorch as soon as these frameworks release support for the NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs. You can also use the NVIDIA Volta Deep Learning AMI for NGC.

P3 instances are available in the US East (Northern Virginia), US West (Oregon), EU (Ireland), and Asia Pacific (Tokyo) Regions in On-Demand, Spot, Reserved Instance, and Dedicated Host form.

Jeff;

 

SciPy 1.0 released

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/737389/rss

The SciPy project has announced the release of SciPy 1.0. The “Python-based ecosystem of open-source software for mathematics, science, and engineering” has been around for 16 years since version 0.1 and, in reality, the 1.0 designation is overdue.
Some key project goals, both technical (e.g. Windows wheels and continuous
integration) and organisational (a governance structure, code of conduct
and a
roadmap), have been achieved recently.

Many of us are a bit perfectionist, and therefore are reluctant to call
something ‘1.0’ because it may imply that it’s ‘finished’ or ‘we are 100%
happy
with it’. This is normal for many open source projects, however that
doesn’t
make it right. We acknowledge to ourselves that it’s not perfect, and there
are some dusty corners left (that will probably always be the case).
Despite
that, SciPy is extremely useful to its users, on average has high quality
code
and documentation, and gives the stability and backwards compatibility
guarantees that a 1.0 label imply.” Beyond the Windows wheels (a binary distribution format) mentioned above, there are some other new features in the release: continuous-integration coverage for macOS and Windows, a set of new ordinary differential equation solvers and a unified interface to them, two new trust region optimizers and a new linear programming method,
many new BLAS and LAPACK functions were wrapped, and more.

More Raspberry Pi labs in West Africa

Post Syndicated from Rachel Churcher original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pi-based-ict-west-africa/

Back in May 2013, we heard from Dominique Laloux about an exciting project to bring Raspberry Pi labs to schools in rural West Africa. Until 2012, 75 percent of teachers there had never used a computer. The project has been very successful, and Dominique has been in touch again to bring us the latest news.

A view of the inside of the new Pi lab building

Preparing the new Pi labs building in Kuma Tokpli, Togo

Growing the project

Thanks to the continuing efforts of a dedicated team of teachers, parents and other supporters, the Centre Informatique de Kuma, now known as INITIC (from the French ‘INItiation aux TIC’), runs two Raspberry Pi labs in schools in Togo, and plans to open a third in December. The second lab was opened last year in Kpalimé, a town in the Plateaux Region in the west of the country.

Student using a Raspberry Pi computer

Using the new Raspberry Pi labs in Kpalimé, Togo

More than 400 students used the new lab intensively during the last school year. Dominique tells us more:

“The report made in early July by the seven teachers who accompanied the students was nothing short of amazing: the young people covered a very impressive number of concepts and skills, from the GUI and the file system, to a solid introduction to word processing and spreadsheets, and many other skills. The lab worked exactly as expected. Its 21 Raspberry Pis worked flawlessly, with the exception of a couple of SD cards that needed re-cloning, and a couple of old screens that needed to be replaced. All the Raspberry Pis worked without a glitch. They are so reliable!”

The teachers and students have enjoyed access to a range of software and resources, all running on Raspberry Pi 2s and 3s.

“Our current aim is to introduce the students to ICT using the Raspberry Pis, rather than introducing them to programming and electronics (a step that will certainly be considered later). We use Ubuntu Mate along with a large selection of applications, from LibreOffice, Firefox, GIMP, Audacity, and Calibre, to special maths, science, and geography applications. There are also special applications such as GnuCash and GanttProject, as well as logic games including PyChess. Since December, students also have access to a local server hosting Kiwix, Wiktionary (a local copy of Wikipedia in four languages), several hundred videos, and several thousand books. They really love it!”

Pi lab upgrade

This summer, INITIC upgraded the equipment in their Pi lab in Kuma Adamé, which has been running since 2014. 21 older model Raspberry Pis were replaced with Pi 2s and 3s, to bring this lab into line with the others, and encourage co-operation between the different locations.

“All 21 first-generation Raspberry Pis worked flawlessly for three years, despite the less-than-ideal conditions in which they were used — tropical conditions, dust, frequent power outages, etc. I brought them all back to Brussels, and they all still work fine. The rationale behind the upgrade was to bring more computing power to the lab, and also to have the same equipment in our two Raspberry Pi labs (and in other planned installations).”

Students and teachers using the upgraded Pi labs in Kuma Adamé

Students and teachers using the upgraded Pi lab in Kuma Adamé

An upgrade of the organisation’s first lab, installed in 2012 in Kuma Tokpli, will be completed in December. This lab currently uses ‘retired’ laptops, which will be replaced with Raspberry Pis and peripherals. INITIC, in partnership with the local community, is also constructing a new building to house the upgraded technology, and the organisation’s third Raspberry Pi lab.

Reliable tech

Dominique has been very impressed with the performance of the Raspberry Pis since 2014.

“Our experience of three years, in two very different contexts, clearly demonstrates that the Raspberry Pi is a very convincing alternative to more ‘conventional’ computers for introducing young students to ICT where resources are scarce. I wish I could convince more communities in the world to invest in such ‘low cost, low consumption, low maintenance’ infrastructure. It really works!”

He goes on to explain that:

“Our goal now is to build at least one new Raspberry Pi lab in another Togolese school each year. That will, of course, depend on how successful we are at gathering the funds necessary for each installation, but we are confident we can convince enough friends to give us the financial support needed for our action.”

A desk with Raspberry Pis and peripherals

Reliable Raspberry Pis in the labs at Kpalimé

Get involved

We are delighted to see the Raspberry Pi being used to bring information technology to new teachers, students, and communities in Togo – it’s wonderful to see this project becoming established and building on its achievements. The mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. Therefore, projects like this, in which people use our tech to fulfil this mission in places with few resources, are wonderful to us.

More information about INITIC and its projects can be found on its website. If you are interested in helping the organisation to meet its goals, visit the How to help page. And if you are involved with a project like this, bringing ICT, computer science, and coding to new places, please tell us about it in the comments below.

The post More Raspberry Pi labs in West Africa appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

New KRACK Attack Against Wi-Fi Encryption

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

Mathy Vanhoef has just published a devastating attack against WPA2, the 14-year-old encryption protocol used by pretty much all wi-fi systems. Its an interesting attack, where the attacker forces the protocol to reuse a key. The authors call this attack KRACK, for Key Reinstallation Attacks

This is yet another of a series of marketed attacks; with a cool name, a website, and a logo. The Q&A on the website answers a lot of questions about the attack and its implications. And lots of good information in this ArsTechnica article.

There is an academic paper, too:

“Key Reinstallation Attacks: Forcing Nonce Reuse in WPA2,” by Mathy Vanhoef and Frank Piessens.

Abstract: We introduce the key reinstallation attack. This attack abuses design or implementation flaws in cryptographic protocols to reinstall an already-in-use key. This resets the key’s associated parameters such as transmit nonces and receive replay counters. Several types of cryptographic Wi-Fi handshakes are affected by the attack. All protected Wi-Fi networks use the 4-way handshake to generate a fresh session key. So far, this 14-year-old handshake has remained free from attacks, and is even proven secure. However, we show that the 4-way handshake is vulnerable to a key reinstallation attack. Here, the adversary tricks a victim into reinstalling an already-in-use key. This is achieved by manipulating and replaying handshake messages. When reinstalling the key, associated parameters such as the incremental transmit packet number (nonce) and receive packet number (replay counter) are reset to their initial value. Our key reinstallation attack also breaks the PeerKey, group key, and Fast BSS Transition (FT) handshake. The impact depends on the handshake being attacked, and the data-confidentiality protocol in use. Simplified, against AES-CCMP an adversary can replay and decrypt (but not forge) packets. This makes it possible to hijack TCP streams and inject malicious data into them. Against WPA-TKIP and GCMP the impact is catastrophic: packets can be replayed, decrypted, and forged. Because GCMP uses the same authentication key in both communication directions, it is especially affected.

Finally, we confirmed our findings in practice, and found that every Wi-Fi device is vulnerable to some variant of our attacks. Notably, our attack is exceptionally devastating against Android 6.0: it forces the client into using a predictable all-zero encryption key.

I’m just reading about this now, and will post more information
as I learn it.

EDITED TO ADD: More news.

EDITED TO ADD: This meets my definition of brilliant. The attack is blindingly obvious once it’s pointed out, but for over a decade no one noticed it.

EDITED TO ADD: Matthew Green has a blog post on what went wrong. The vulnerability is in the interaction between two protocols. At a meta level, he blames the opaque IEEE standards process:

One of the problems with IEEE is that the standards are highly complex and get made via a closed-door process of private meetings. More importantly, even after the fact, they’re hard for ordinary security researchers to access. Go ahead and google for the IETF TLS or IPSec specifications — you’ll find detailed protocol documentation at the top of your Google results. Now go try to Google for the 802.11i standards. I wish you luck.

The IEEE has been making a few small steps to ease this problem, but they’re hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit. There’s an IEEE program called GET that allows researchers to access certain standards (including 802.11) for free, but only after they’ve been public for six months — coincidentally, about the same time it takes for vendors to bake them irrevocably into their hardware and software.

This whole process is dumb and — in this specific case — probably just cost industry tens of millions of dollars. It should stop.

Nicholas Weaver explains why most people shouldn’t worry about this:

So unless your Wi-Fi password looks something like a cat’s hairball (e.g. “:SNEIufeli7rc” — which is not guessable with a few million tries by a computer), a local attacker had the capability to determine the password, decrypt all the traffic, and join the network before KRACK.

KRACK is, however, relevant for enterprise Wi-Fi networks: networks where you needed to accept a cryptographic certificate to join initially and have to provide both a username and password. KRACK represents a new vulnerability for these networks. Depending on some esoteric details, the attacker can decrypt encrypted traffic and, in some cases, inject traffic onto the network.

But in none of these cases can the attacker join the network completely. And the most significant of these attacks affects Linux devices and Android phones, they don’t affect Macs, iPhones, or Windows systems. Even when feasible, these attacks require physical proximity: An attacker on the other side of the planet can’t exploit KRACK, only an attacker in the parking lot can.

Bottomley: Using Elliptic Curve Cryptography with TPM2

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/736425/rss

James Bottomley describes
the use of the trusted platform module
with elliptic-curve
cryptography, with a substantial digression into how the elliptic-curve
algorithm itself works.
The initial attraction is the same as for RSA keys: making it
impossible to extract your private key from the system. However, the
mathematical calculations for EC keys are much simpler than for RSA keys
and don’t involve finding strong primes, so it’s much simpler for the TPM
(being a fairly weak calculation machine) to derive private and public EC
keys.

Coaxing 2D platforming out of Unity

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/10/13/coaxing-2d-platforming-out-of-unity/

An anonymous donor asked a question that I can’t even begin to figure out how to answer, but they also said anything else is fine, so here’s anything else.

I’ve been avoiding writing about game physics, since I want to save it for ✨ the book I’m writing ✨, but that book will almost certainly not touch on Unity. Here, then, is a brief run through some of the brick walls I ran into while trying to convince Unity to do 2D platforming.

This is fairly high-level — there are no blocks of code or helpful diagrams. I’m just getting this out of my head because it’s interesting. If you want more gritty details, I guess you’ll have to wait for ✨ the book ✨.

The setup

I hadn’t used Unity before. I hadn’t even used a “real” physics engine before. My games so far have mostly used LÖVE, a Lua-based engine. LÖVE includes box2d bindings, but for various reasons (not all of them good), I opted to avoid them and instead write my own physics completely from scratch. (How, you ask? ✨ Book ✨!)

I was invited to work on a Unity project, Chaos Composer, that someone else had already started. It had basic movement already implemented; I taught myself Unity’s physics system by hacking on it. It’s entirely possible that none of this is actually the best way to do anything, since I was really trying to reproduce my own homegrown stuff in Unity, but it’s the best I’ve managed to come up with.

Two recurring snags were that you can’t ask Unity to do multiple physics updates in a row, and sometimes getting the information I wanted was difficult. Working with my own code spoiled me a little, since I could invoke it at any time and ask it anything I wanted; Unity, on the other hand, is someone else’s black box with a rigid interface on top.

Also, wow, Googling for a lot of this was not quite as helpful as expected. A lot of what’s out there is just the first thing that works, and often that’s pretty hacky and imposes severe limits on the game design (e.g., “this won’t work with slopes”). Basic movement and collision are the first thing you do, which seems to me like the worst time to be locking yourself out of a lot of design options. I tried very (very, very, very) hard to minimize those kinds of constraints.

Problem 1: Movement

When I showed up, movement was already working. Problem solved!

Like any good programmer, I immediately set out to un-solve it. Given a “real” physics engine like Unity prominently features, you have two options: ⓐ treat the player as a physics object, or ⓑ don’t. The existing code went with option ⓑ, like I’d done myself with LÖVE, and like I’d seen countless people advise. Using a physics sim makes for bad platforming.

But… why? I believed it, but I couldn’t concretely defend it. I had to know for myself. So I started a blank project, drew some physics boxes, and wrote a dozen-line player controller.

Ah! Immediate enlightenment.

If the player was sliding down a wall, and I tried to move them into the wall, they would simply freeze in midair until I let go of the movement key. The trouble is that the physics sim works in terms of forces — moving the player involves giving them a nudge in some direction, like a giant invisible hand pushing them around the level. Surprise! If you press a real object against a real wall with your real hand, you’ll see the same effect — friction will cancel out gravity, and the object will stay in midair..

Platformer movement, as it turns out, doesn’t make any goddamn physical sense. What is air control? What are you pushing against? Nothing, really; we just have it because it’s nice to play with, because not having it is a nightmare.

I looked to see if there were any common solutions to this, and I only really found one: make all your walls frictionless.

Game development is full of hacks like this, and I… don’t like them. I can accept that minor hacks are necessary sometimes, but this one makes an early and widespread change to a fundamental system to “fix” something that was wrong in the first place. It also imposes an “invisible” requirement, something I try to avoid at all costs — if you forget to make a particular wall frictionless, you’ll never know unless you happen to try sliding down it.

And so, I swiftly returned to the existing code. It wasn’t too different from what I’d come up with for LÖVE: it applied gravity by hand, tracked the player’s velocity, computed the intended movement each frame, and moved by that amount. The interesting thing was that it used MovePosition, which schedules a movement for the next physics update and stops the movement if the player hits something solid.

It’s kind of a nice hybrid approach, actually; all the “physics” for conscious actors is done by hand, but the physics engine is still used for collision detection. It’s also used for collision rejection — if the player manages to wedge themselves several pixels into a solid object, for example, the physics engine will try to gently nudge them back out of it with no extra effort required on my part. I still haven’t figured out how to get that to work with my homegrown stuff, which is built to prevent overlap rather than to jiggle things out of it.

But wait, what about…

Our player is a dynamic body with rotation lock and no gravity. Why not just use a kinematic body?

I must be missing something, because I do not understand the point of kinematic bodies. I ran into this with Godot, too, which documented them the same way: as intended for use as players and other manually-moved objects. But by default, they don’t even collide with other kinematic bodies or static geometry. What? There’s a checkbox to turn this on, which I enabled, but then I found out that MovePosition doesn’t stop kinematic bodies when they hit something, so I would’ve had to cast along the intended path of movement to figure out when to stop, thus duplicating the same work the physics engine was about to do.

But that’s impossible anyway! Static geometry generally wants to be made of edge colliders, right? They don’t care about concave/convex. Imagine the player is standing on the ground near a wall and tries to move towards the wall. Both the ground and the wall are different edges from the same edge collider.

If you try to cast the player’s hitbox horizontally, parallel to the ground, you’ll only get one collision: the existing collision with the ground. Casting doesn’t distinguish between touching and hitting. And because Unity only reports one collision per collider, and because the ground will always show up first, you will never find out about the impending wall collision.

So you’re forced to either use raycasts for collision detection or decomposed polygons for world geometry, both of which are slightly worse tools for no real gain.

I ended up sticking with a dynamic body.


Oh, one other thing that doesn’t really fit anywhere else: keep track of units! If you’re adding something called “velocity” directly to something called “position”, something has gone very wrong. Acceleration is distance per time squared; velocity is distance per time; position is distance. You must multiply or divide by time to convert between them.

I never even, say, add a constant directly to position every frame; I always phrase it as velocity and multiply by Δt. It keeps the units consistent: time is always in seconds, not in tics.

Problem 2: Slopes

Ah, now we start to get off in the weeds.

A sort of pre-problem here was detecting whether we’re on a slope, which means detecting the ground. The codebase originally used a manual physics query of the area around the player’s feet to check for the ground, which seems to be somewhat common, but that can’t tell me the angle of the detected ground. (It’s also kind of error-prone, since “around the player’s feet” has to be specified by hand and may not stay correct through animations or changes in the hitbox.)

I replaced that with what I’d eventually settled on in LÖVE: detect the ground by detecting collisions, and looking at the normal of the collision. A normal is a vector that points straight out from a surface, so if you’re standing on the ground, the normal points straight up; if you’re on a 10° incline, the normal points 10° away from straight up.

Not all collisions are with the ground, of course, so I assumed something is ground if the normal pointed away from gravity. (I like this definition more than “points upwards”, because it avoids assuming anything about the direction of gravity, which leaves some interesting doors open for later on.) That’s easily detected by taking the dot product — if it’s negative, the collision was with the ground, and I now have the normal of the ground.

Actually doing this in practice was slightly tricky. With my LÖVE engine, I could cram this right into the middle of collision resolution. With Unity, not quite so much. I went through a couple iterations before I really grasped Unity’s execution order, which I guess I will have to briefly recap for this to make sense.

Unity essentially has two update cycles. It performs physics updates at fixed intervals for consistency, and updates everything else just before rendering. Within a single frame, Unity does as many fixed physics updates as it has spare time for (which might be zero, one, or more), then does a regular update, then renders. User code can implement either or both of Update, which runs during a regular update, and FixedUpdate, which runs just before Unity does a physics pass.

So my solution was:

  • At the very end of FixedUpdate, clear the actor’s “on ground” flag and ground normal.

  • During OnCollisionEnter2D and OnCollisionStay2D (which are called from within a physics pass), if there’s a collision that looks like it’s with the ground, set the “on ground” flag and ground normal. (If there are multiple ground collisions, well, good luck figuring out the best way to resolve that! At the moment I’m just taking the first and hoping for the best.)

That means there’s a brief window between the end of FixedUpdate and Unity’s physics pass during which a grounded actor might mistakenly believe it’s not on the ground, which is a bit of a shame, but there are very few good reasons for anything to be happening in that window.

Okay! Now we can do slopes.

Just kidding! First we have to do sliding.

When I first looked at this code, it didn’t apply gravity while the player was on the ground. I think I may have had some problems with detecting the ground as result, since the player was no longer pushing down against it? Either way, it seemed like a silly special case, so I made gravity always apply.

Lo! I was a fool. The player could no longer move.

Why? Because MovePosition does exactly what it promises. If the player collides with something, they’ll stop moving. Applying gravity means that the player is trying to move diagonally downwards into the ground, and so MovePosition stops them immediately.

Hence, sliding. I don’t want the player to actually try to move into the ground. I want them to move the unblocked part of that movement. For flat ground, that means the horizontal part, which is pretty much the same as discarding gravity. For sloped ground, it’s a bit more complicated!

Okay but actually it’s less complicated than you’d think. It can be done with some cross products fairly easily, but Unity makes it even easier with a couple casts. There’s a Vector3.ProjectOnPlane function that projects an arbitrary vector on a plane given by its normal — exactly the thing I want! So I apply that to the attempted movement before passing it along to MovePosition. I do the same thing with the current velocity, to prevent the player from accelerating infinitely downwards while standing on flat ground.

One other thing: I don’t actually use the detected ground normal for this. The player might be touching two ground surfaces at the same time, and I’d want to project on both of them. Instead, I use the player body’s GetContacts method, which returns contact points (and normals!) for everything the player is currently touching. I believe those contact points are tracked by the physics engine anyway, so asking for them doesn’t require any actual physics work.

(Looking at the code I have, I notice that I still only perform the slide for surfaces facing upwards — but I’d want to slide against sloped ceilings, too. Why did I do this? Maybe I should remove that.)

(Also, I’m pretty sure projecting a vector on a plane is non-commutative, which raises the question of which order the projections should happen in and what difference it makes. I don’t have a good answer.)

(I note that my LÖVE setup does something slightly different: it just tries whatever the movement ought to be, and if there’s a collision, then it projects — and tries again with the remaining movement. But I can’t ask Unity to do multiple moves in one physics update, alas.)

Okay! Now, slopes. But actually, with the above work done, slopes are most of the way there already.

One obvious problem is that the player tries to move horizontally even when on a slope, and the easy fix is to change their movement from speed * Vector2.right to speed * new Vector2(ground.y, -ground.x) while on the ground. That’s the ground normal rotated a quarter-turn clockwise, so for flat ground it still points to the right, and in general it points rightwards along the ground. (Note that it assumes the ground normal is a unit vector, but as far as I’m aware, that’s true for all the normals Unity gives you.)

Another issue is that if the player stands motionless on a slope, gravity will cause them to slowly slide down it — because the movement from gravity will be projected onto the slope, and unlike flat ground, the result is no longer zero. For conscious actors only, I counter this by adding the opposite factor to the player’s velocity as part of adding in their walking speed. This matches how the real world works, to some extent: when you’re standing on a hill, you’re exerting some small amount of effort just to stay in place.

(Note that slope resistance is not the same as friction. Okay, yes, in the real world, virtually all resistance to movement happens as a result of friction, but bracing yourself against the ground isn’t the same as being passively resisted.)

From here there are a lot of things you can do, depending on how you think slopes should be handled. You could make the player unable to walk up slopes that are too steep. You could make walking down a slope faster than walking up it. You could make jumping go along the ground normal, rather than straight up. You could raise the player’s max allowed speed while running downhill. Whatever you want, really. Armed with a normal and awareness of dot products, you can do whatever you want.

But first you might want to fix a few aggravating side effects.

Problem 3: Ground adherence

I don’t know if there’s a better name for this. I rarely even see anyone talk about it, which surprises me; it seems like it should be a very common problem.

The problem is: if the player runs up a slope which then abruptly changes to flat ground, their momentum will carry them into the air. For very fast players going off the top of very steep slopes, this makes sense, but it becomes visible even for relatively gentle slopes. It was a mild nightmare in the original release of our game Lunar Depot 38, which has very “rough” ground made up of lots of shallow slopes — so the player is very frequently slightly off the ground, which meant they couldn’t jump, for seemingly no reason. (I even had code to fix this, but I disabled it because of a silly visual side effect that I never got around to fixing.)

Anyway! The reason this is a problem is that game protagonists are generally not boxes sliding around — they have legs. We don’t go flying off the top of real-world hilltops because we put our foot down until it touches the ground.

Simulating this footfall is surprisingly fiddly to get right, especially with someone else’s physics engine. It’s made somewhat easier by Cast, which casts the entire hitbox — no matter what shape it is — in a particular direction, as if it had moved, and tells you all the hypothetical collisions in order.

So I cast the player in the direction of gravity by some distance. If the cast hits something solid with a ground-like collision normal, then the player must be close to the ground, and I move them down to touch it (and set that ground as the new ground normal).

There are some wrinkles.

Wrinkle 1: I only want to do this if the player is off the ground now, but was on the ground last frame, and is not deliberately moving upwards. That latter condition means I want to skip this logic if the player jumps, for example, but also if the player is thrust upwards by a spring or abducted by a UFO or whatever. As long as external code goes through some interface and doesn’t mess with the player’s velocity directly, that shouldn’t be too hard to track.

Wrinkle 2: When does this logic run? It needs to happen after the player moves, which means after a Unity physics pass… but there’s no callback for that point in time. I ended up running it at the beginning of FixedUpdate and the beginning of Update — since I definitely want to do it before rendering happens! That means it’ll sometimes happen twice between physics updates. (I could carefully juggle a flag to skip the second run, but I… didn’t do that. Yet?)

Wrinkle 3: I can’t move the player with MovePosition! Remember, MovePosition schedules a movement, it doesn’t actually perform one; that means if it’s called twice before the physics pass, the first call is effectively ignored. I can’t easily combine the drop with the player’s regular movement, for various fiddly reasons. I ended up doing it “by hand” using transform.Translate, which I think was the “old way” to do manual movement before MovePosition existed. I’m not totally sure if it activates triggers? For that matter, I’m not sure it even notices collisions — but since I did a full-body Cast, there shouldn’t be any anyway.

Wrinkle 4: What, exactly, is “some distance”? I’ve yet to find a satisfying answer for this. It seems like it ought to be based on the player’s current speed and the slope of the ground they’re moving along, but every time I’ve done that math, I’ve gotten totally ludicrous answers that sometimes exceed the size of a tile. But maybe that’s not wrong? Play around, I guess, and think about when the effect should “break” and the player should go flying off the top of a hill.

Wrinkle 5: It’s possible that the player will launch off a slope, hit something, and then be adhered to the ground where they wouldn’t have hit it. I don’t much like this edge case, but I don’t see a way around it either.

This problem is surprisingly awkward for how simple it sounds, and the solution isn’t entirely satisfying. Oh, well; the results are much nicer than the solution. As an added bonus, this also fixes occasional problems with running down a hill and becoming detached from the ground due to precision issues or whathaveyou.

Problem 4: One-way platforms

Ah, what a nightmare.

It took me ages just to figure out how to define one-way platforms. Only block when the player is moving downwards? Nope. Only block when the player is above the platform? Nuh-uh.

Well, okay, yes, those approaches might work for convex players and flat platforms. But what about… sloped, one-way platforms? There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have those. If Super Mario World can do it, surely Unity can do it almost 30 years later.

The trick is, again, to look at the collision normal. If it faces away from gravity, the player is hitting a ground-like surface, so the platform should block them. Otherwise (or if the player overlaps the platform), it shouldn’t.

Here’s the catch: Unity doesn’t have conditional collision. I can’t decide, on the fly, whether a collision should block or not. In fact, I think that by the time I get a callback like OnCollisionEnter2D, the physics pass is already over.

I could go the other way and use triggers (which are non-blocking), but then I have the opposite problem: I can’t stop the player on the fly. I could move them back to where they hit the trigger, but I envision all kinds of problems as a result. What if they were moving fast enough to activate something on the other side of the platform? What if something else moved to where I’m trying to shove them back to in the meantime? How does this interact with ground detection and listing contacts, which would rightly ignore a trigger as non-blocking?

I beat my head against this for a while, but the inability to respond to collision conditionally was a huge roadblock. It’s all the more infuriating a problem, because Unity ships with a one-way platform modifier thing. Unfortunately, it seems to have been implemented by someone who has never played a platformer. It’s literally one-way — the player is only allowed to move straight upwards through it, not in from the sides. It also tries to block the player if they’re moving downwards while inside the platform, which invokes clumsy rejection behavior. And this all seems to be built into the physics engine itself somehow, so I can’t simply copy whatever they did.

Eventually, I settled on the following. After calculating attempted movement (including sliding), just at the end of FixedUpdate, I do a Cast along the movement vector. I’m not thrilled about having to duplicate the physics engine’s own work, but I do filter to only things on a “one-way platform” physics layer, which should at least help. For each object the cast hits, I use Physics2D.IgnoreCollision to either ignore or un-ignore the collision between the player and the platform, depending on whether the collision was ground-like or not.

(A lot of people suggested turning off collision between layers, but that can’t possibly work — the player might be standing on one platform while inside another, and anyway, this should work for all actors!)

Again, wrinkles! But fewer this time. Actually, maybe just one: handling the case where the player already overlaps the platform. I can’t just check for that with e.g. OverlapCollider, because that doesn’t distinguish between overlapping and merely touching.

I came up with a fairly simple fix: if I was going to un-ignore the collision (i.e. make the platform block), and the cast distance is reported as zero (either already touching or overlapping), I simply do nothing instead. If I’m standing on the platform, I must have already set it blocking when I was approaching it from the top anyway; if I’m overlapping it, I must have already set it non-blocking to get here in the first place.

I can imagine a few cases where this might go wrong. Moving platforms, especially, are going to cause some interesting issues. But this is the best I can do with what I know, and it seems to work well enough so far.

Oh, and our player can deliberately drop down through platforms, which was easy enough to implement; I just decide the platform is always passable while some button is held down.

Problem 5: Pushers and carriers

I haven’t gotten to this yet! Oh boy, can’t wait. I implemented it in LÖVE, but my way was hilariously invasive; I’m hoping that having a physics engine that supports a handwaved “this pushes that” will help. Of course, you also have to worry about sticking to platforms, for which the recommended solution is apparently to parent the cargo to the platform, which sounds goofy to me? I guess I’ll find out when I throw myself at it later.

Overall result

I ended up with a fairly pleasant-feeling system that supports slopes and one-way platforms and whatnot, with all the same pieces as I came up with for LÖVE. The code somehow ended up as less of a mess, too, but it probably helps that I’ve been down this rabbit hole once before and kinda knew what I was aiming for this time.

Animation of a character running smoothly along the top of an irregular dinosaur skeleton

Sorry that I don’t have a big block of code for you to copy-paste into your project. I don’t think there are nearly enough narrative discussions of these fundamentals, though, so hopefully this is useful to someone. If not, well, look forward to ✨ my book, that I am writing ✨!

JavaScript got better while I wasn’t looking

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/10/07/javascript-got-better-while-i-wasnt-looking/

IndustrialRobot has generously donated in order to inquire:

In the last few years there seems to have been a lot of activity with adding emojis to Unicode. Has there been an equal effort to add ‘real’ languages/glyph systems/etc?

And as always, if you don’t have anything to say on that topic, feel free to choose your own. :p

Yes.

I mean, each release of Unicode lists major new additions right at the top — Unicode 10, Unicode 9, Unicode 8, etc. They also keep fastidious notes, so you can also dig into how and why these new scripts came from, by reading e.g. the proposal for the addition of Zanabazar Square. I don’t think I have much to add here; I’m not a real linguist, I only play one on TV.

So with that out of the way, here’s something completely different!

A brief history of JavaScript

JavaScript was created in seven days, about eight thousand years ago. It was pretty rough, and it stayed rough for most of its life. But that was fine, because no one used it for anything besides having a trail of sparkles follow your mouse on their Xanga profile.

Then people discovered you could actually do a handful of useful things with JavaScript, and it saw a sharp uptick in usage. Alas, it stayed pretty rough. So we came up with polyfills and jQuerys and all kinds of miscellaneous things that tried to smooth over the rough parts, to varying degrees of success.

And… that’s it. That’s pretty much how things stayed for a while.


I have complicated feelings about JavaScript. I don’t hate it… but I certainly don’t enjoy it, either. It has some pretty neat ideas, like prototypical inheritance and “everything is a value”, but it buries them under a pile of annoying quirks and a woefully inadequate standard library. The DOM APIs don’t make things much better — they seem to be designed as though the target language were Java, rarely taking advantage of any interesting JavaScript features. And the places where the APIs overlap with the language are a hilarious mess: I have to check documentation every single time I use any API that returns a set of things, because there are at least three totally different conventions for handling that and I can’t keep them straight.

The funny thing is that I’ve been fairly happy to work with Lua, even though it shares most of the same obvious quirks as JavaScript. Both languages are weakly typed; both treat nonexistent variables and keys as simply false values, rather than errors; both have a single data structure that doubles as both a list and a map; both use 64-bit floating-point as their only numeric type (though Lua added integers very recently); both lack a standard object model; both have very tiny standard libraries. Hell, Lua doesn’t even have exceptions, not really — you have to fake them in much the same style as Perl.

And yet none of this bothers me nearly as much in Lua. The differences between the languages are very subtle, but combined they make a huge impact.

  • Lua has separate operators for addition and concatenation, so + is never ambiguous. It also has printf-style string formatting in the standard library.

  • Lua’s method calls are syntactic sugar: foo:bar() just means foo.bar(foo). Lua doesn’t even have a special this or self value; the invocant just becomes the first argument. In contrast, JavaScript invokes some hand-waved magic to set its contextual this variable, which has led to no end of confusion.

  • Lua has an iteration protocol, as well as built-in iterators for dealing with list-style or map-style data. JavaScript has a special dedicated Array type and clumsy built-in iteration syntax.

  • Lua has operator overloading and (surprisingly flexible) module importing.

  • Lua allows the keys of a map to be any value (though non-scalars are always compared by identity). JavaScript implicitly converts keys to strings — and since there’s no operator overloading, there’s no way to natively fix this.

These are fairly minor differences, in the grand scheme of language design. And almost every feature in Lua is implemented in a ridiculously simple way; in fact the entire language is described in complete detail in a single web page. So writing JavaScript is always frustrating for me: the language is so close to being much more ergonomic, and yet, it isn’t.

Or, so I thought. As it turns out, while I’ve been off doing other stuff for a few years, browser vendors have been implementing all this pie-in-the-sky stuff from “ES5” and “ES6”, whatever those are. People even upgrade their browsers now. Lo and behold, the last time I went to write JavaScript, I found out that a number of papercuts had actually been solved, and the solutions were sufficiently widely available that I could actually use them in web code.

The weird thing is that I do hear a lot about JavaScript, but the feature I’ve seen raved the most about by far is probably… built-in types for working with arrays of bytes? That’s cool and all, but not exactly the most pressing concern for me.

Anyway, if you also haven’t been keeping tabs on the world of JavaScript, here are some things we missed.

let

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 44, Chrome 41, IE 11, Safari 10

I’m pretty sure I first saw let over a decade ago. Firefox has supported it for ages, but you actually had to opt in by specifying JavaScript version 1.7. Remember JavaScript versions? You know, from back in the days when people actually suggested you write stuff like this:

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<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="JavaScript1.2" TYPE="text/javascript">

Yikes.

Anyway, so, let declares a variable — but scoped to the immediately containing block, unlike var, which scopes to the innermost function. The trouble with var was that it was very easy to make misleading:

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// foo exists here
while (true) {
    var foo = ...;
    ...
}
// foo exists here too

If you reused the same temporary variable name in a different block, or if you expected to be shadowing an outer foo, or if you were trying to do something with creating closures in a loop, this would cause you some trouble.

But no more, because let actually scopes the way it looks like it should, the way variable declarations do in C and friends. As an added bonus, if you refer to a variable declared with let outside of where it’s valid, you’ll get a ReferenceError instead of a silent undefined value. Hooray!

There’s one other interesting quirk to let that I can’t find explicitly documented. Consider:

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let closures = [];
for (let i = 0; i < 4; i++) {
    closures.push(function() { console.log(i); });
}
for (let j = 0; j < closures.length; j++) {
    closures[j]();
}

If this code had used var i, then it would print 4 four times, because the function-scoped var i means each closure is sharing the same i, whose final value is 4. With let, the output is 0 1 2 3, as you might expect, because each run through the loop gets its own i.

But wait, hang on.

The semantics of a C-style for are that the first expression is only evaluated once, at the very beginning. So there’s only one let i. In fact, it makes no sense for each run through the loop to have a distinct i, because the whole idea of the loop is to modify i each time with i++.

I assume this is simply a special case, since it’s what everyone expects. We expect it so much that I can’t find anyone pointing out that the usual explanation for why it works makes no sense. It has the interesting side effect that for no longer de-sugars perfectly to a while, since this will print all 4s:

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closures = [];
let i = 0;
while (i < 4) {
    closures.push(function() { console.log(i); });
    i++;
}
for (let j = 0; j < closures.length; j++) {
    closures[j]();
}

This isn’t a problem — I’m glad let works this way! — it just stands out to me as interesting. Lua doesn’t need a special case here, since it uses an iterator protocol that produces values rather than mutating a visible state variable, so there’s no problem with having the loop variable be truly distinct on each run through the loop.

Classes

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 45, Chrome 42, Safari 9, Edge 13

Prototypical inheritance is pretty cool. The way JavaScript presents it is a little bit opaque, unfortunately, which seems to confuse a lot of people. JavaScript gives you enough functionality to make it work, and even makes it sound like a first-class feature with a property outright called prototype… but to actually use it, you have to do a bunch of weird stuff that doesn’t much look like constructing an object or type.

The funny thing is, people with almost any background get along with Python just fine, and Python uses prototypical inheritance! Nobody ever seems to notice this, because Python tucks it neatly behind a class block that works enough like a Java-style class. (Python also handles inheritance without using the prototype, so it’s a little different… but I digress. Maybe in another post.)

The point is, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with how JavaScript handles objects; the ergonomics are just terrible.

Lo! They finally added a class keyword. Or, rather, they finally made the class keyword do something; it’s been reserved this entire time.

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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;
    }
}

This is all just sugar for existing features: creating a Vector function to act as the constructor, assigning a function to Vector.prototype.dot, and whatever it is you do to make a property. (Oh, there are properties. I’ll get to that in a bit.)

The class block can be used as an expression, with or without a name. It also supports prototypical inheritance with an extends clause and has a super pseudo-value for superclass calls.

It’s a little weird that the inside of the class block has its own special syntax, with function omitted and whatnot, but honestly you’d have a hard time making a class block without special syntax.

One severe omission here is that you can’t declare values inside the block, i.e. you can’t just drop a bar = 3; in there if you want all your objects to share a default attribute. The workaround is to just do this.bar = 3; inside the constructor, but I find that unsatisfying, since it defeats half the point of using prototypes.

Properties

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 4, Chrome 5, IE 9, Safari 5.1

JavaScript historically didn’t have a way to intercept attribute access, which is a travesty. And by “intercept attribute access”, I mean that you couldn’t design a value foo such that evaluating foo.bar runs some code you wrote.

Exciting news: now it does. Or, rather, you can intercept specific attributes, like in the class example above. The above magnitude definition is equivalent to:

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

Beautiful.

And what even are these configurable and enumerable things? It seems that every single key on every single object now has its own set of three Boolean twiddles:

  • configurable means the property itself can be reconfigured with another call to Object.defineProperty.
  • enumerable means the property appears in for..in or Object.keys().
  • writable means the property value can be changed, which only applies to properties with real values rather than accessor functions.

The incredibly wild thing is that for properties defined by Object.defineProperty, configurable and enumerable default to false, meaning that by default accessor properties are immutable and invisible. Super weird.

Nice to have, though. And luckily, it turns out the same syntax as in class also works in object literals.

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

Alas, I’m not aware of a way to intercept arbitrary attribute access.

Another feature along the same lines is Object.seal(), which marks all of an object’s properties as non-configurable and prevents any new properties from being added to the object. The object is still mutable, but its “shape” can’t be changed. And of course you can just make the object completely immutable if you want, via setting all its properties non-writable, or just using Object.freeze().

I have mixed feelings about the ability to irrevocably change something about a dynamic runtime. It would certainly solve some gripes of former Haskell-minded colleagues, and I don’t have any compelling argument against it, but it feels like it violates some unwritten contract about dynamic languages — surely any structural change made by user code should also be able to be undone by user code?

Slurpy arguments

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 15, Chrome 47, Edge 12, Safari 10

Officially this feature is called “rest parameters”, but that’s a terrible name, no one cares about “arguments” vs “parameters”, and “slurpy” is a good word. Bless you, Perl.

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function foo(a, b, ...args) {
    // ...
}

Now you can call foo with as many arguments as you want, and every argument after the second will be collected in args as a regular array.

You can also do the reverse with the spread operator:

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let args = [];
args.push(1);
args.push(2);
args.push(3);
foo(...args);

It even works in array literals, even multiple times:

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let args2 = [...args, ...args];
console.log(args2);  // [1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3]

Apparently there’s also a proposal for allowing the same thing with objects inside object literals.

Default arguments

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 15, Chrome 49, Edge 14, Safari 10

Yes, arguments can have defaults now. It’s more like Sass than Python — default expressions are evaluated once per call, and later default expressions can refer to earlier arguments. I don’t know how I feel about that but whatever.

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function foo(n = 1, m = n + 1, list = []) {
    ...
}

Also, unlike Python, you can have an argument with a default and follow it with an argument without a default, since the default default (!) is and always has been defined as undefined. Er, let me just write it out.

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function bar(a = 5, b) {
    ...
}

Arrow functions

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 22, Chrome 45, Edge 12, Safari 10

Perhaps the most humble improvement is the arrow function. It’s a slightly shorter way to write an anonymous function.

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(a, b, c) => { ... }
a => { ... }
() => { ... }

An arrow function does not set this or some other magical values, so you can safely use an arrow function as a quick closure inside a method without having to rebind this. Hooray!

Otherwise, arrow functions act pretty much like regular functions; you can even use all the features of regular function signatures.

Arrow functions are particularly nice in combination with all the combinator-style array functions that were added a while ago, like Array.forEach.

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[7, 8, 9].forEach(value => {
    console.log(value);
});

Symbol

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 36, Chrome 38, Edge 12, Safari 9

This isn’t quite what I’d call an exciting feature, but it’s necessary for explaining the next one. It’s actually… extremely weird.

symbol is a new kind of primitive (like number and string), not an object (like, er, Number and String). A symbol is created with Symbol('foo'). No, not new Symbol('foo'); that throws a TypeError, for, uh, some reason.

The only point of a symbol is as a unique key. You see, symbols have one very special property: they can be used as object keys, and will not be stringified. Remember, only strings can be keys in JavaScript — even the indices of an array are, semantically speaking, still strings. Symbols are a new exception to this rule.

Also, like other objects, two symbols don’t compare equal to each other: Symbol('foo') != Symbol('foo').

The result is that symbols solve one of the problems that plauges most object systems, something I’ve talked about before: interfaces. Since an interface might be implemented by any arbitrary type, and any arbitrary type might want to implement any number of arbitrary interfaces, all the method names on an interface are effectively part of a single global namespace.

I think I need to take a moment to justify that. If you have IFoo and IBar, both with a method called method, and you want to implement both on the same type… you have a problem. Because most object systems consider “interface” to mean “I have a method called method, with no way to say which interface’s method you mean. This is a hard problem to avoid, because IFoo and IBar might not even come from the same library. Occasionally languages offer a clumsy way to “rename” one method or the other, but the most common approach seems to be for interface designers to avoid names that sound “too common”. You end up with redundant mouthfuls like IFoo.foo_method.

This incredibly sucks, and the only languages I’m aware of that avoid the problem are the ML family and Rust. In Rust, you define all the methods for a particular trait (interface) in a separate block, away from the type’s “own” methods. It’s pretty slick. You can still do obj.method(), and as long as there’s only one method among all the available traits, you’ll get that one. If not, there’s syntax for explicitly saying which trait you mean, which I can’t remember because I’ve never had to use it.

Symbols are JavaScript’s answer to this problem. If you want to define some interface, you can name its methods with symbols, which are guaranteed to be unique. You just have to make sure you keep the symbol around somewhere accessible so other people can actually use it. (Or… not?)

The interesting thing is that JavaScript now has several of its own symbols built in, allowing user objects to implement features that were previously reserved for built-in types. For example, you can use the Symbol.hasInstance symbol — which is simply where the language is storing an existing symbol and is not the same as Symbol('hasInstance')! — to override instanceof:

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// oh my god don't do this though
class EvenNumber {
    static [Symbol.hasInstance](obj) {
        return obj % 2 == 0;
    }
}
console.log(2 instanceof EvenNumber);  // true
console.log(3 instanceof EvenNumber);  // false

Oh, and those brackets around Symbol.hasInstance are a sort of reverse-quoting — they indicate an expression to use where the language would normally expect a literal identifier. I think they work as object keys, too, and maybe some other places.

The equivalent in Python is to implement a method called __instancecheck__, a name which is not special in any way except that Python has reserved all method names of the form __foo__. That’s great for Python, but doesn’t really help user code. JavaScript has actually outclassed (ho ho) Python here.

Of course, obj[BobNamespace.some_method]() is not the prettiest way to call an interface method, so it’s not perfect. I imagine this would be best implemented in user code by exposing a polymorphic function, similar to how Python’s len(obj) pretty much just calls obj.__len__().

I only bring this up because it’s the plumbing behind one of the most incredible things in JavaScript that I didn’t even know about until I started writing this post. I’m so excited oh my gosh. Are you ready? It’s:

Iteration protocol

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 27, Chrome 39, Safari 10; still experimental in Edge

Yes! Amazing! JavaScript has first-class support for iteration! I can’t even believe this.

It works pretty much how you’d expect, or at least, how I’d expect. You give your object a method called Symbol.iterator, and that returns an iterator.

What’s an iterator? It’s an object with a next() method that returns the next value and whether the iterator is exhausted.

Wait, wait, wait a second. Hang on. The method is called next? Really? You didn’t go for Symbol.next? Python 2 did exactly the same thing, then realized its mistake and changed it to __next__ in Python 3. Why did you do this?

Well, anyway. My go-to test of an iterator protocol is how hard it is to write an equivalent to Python’s enumerate(), which takes a list and iterates over its values and their indices. In Python it looks like this:

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for i, value in enumerate(['one', 'two', 'three']):
    print(i, value)
# 0 one
# 1 two
# 2 three

It’s super nice to have, and I’m always amazed when languages with “strong” “support” for iteration don’t have it. Like, C# doesn’t. So if you want to iterate over a list but also need indices, you need to fall back to a C-style for loop. And if you want to iterate over a lazy or arbitrary iterable but also need indices, you need to track it yourself with a counter. Ridiculous.

Here’s my attempt at building it in JavaScript.

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function enumerate(iterable) {
    // Return a new iter*able* object with a Symbol.iterator method that
    // returns an iterator.
    return {
        [Symbol.iterator]: function() {
            let iterator = iterable[Symbol.iterator]();
            let i = 0;

            return {
                next: function() {
                    let nextval = iterator.next();
                    if (! nextval.done) {
                        nextval.value = [i, nextval.value];
                        i++;
                    }
                    return nextval;
                },
            };
        },
    };
}
for (let [i, value] of enumerate(['one', 'two', 'three'])) {
    console.log(i, value);
}
// 0 one
// 1 two
// 2 three

Incidentally, for..of (which iterates over a sequence, unlike for..in which iterates over keys — obviously) is finally supported in Edge 12. Hallelujah.

Oh, and let [i, value] is destructuring assignment, which is also a thing now and works with objects as well. You can even use the splat operator with it! Like Python! (And you can use it in function signatures! Like Python! Wait, no, Python decided that was terrible and removed it in 3…)

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let [x, y, ...others] = ['apple', 'orange', 'cherry', 'banana'];

It’s a Halloween miracle. 🎃

Generators

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 26, Chrome 39, Edge 13, Safari 10

That’s right, JavaScript has goddamn generators now. It’s basically just copying Python and adding a lot of superfluous punctuation everywhere. Not that I’m complaining.

Also, generators are themselves iterable, so I’m going to cut to the chase and rewrite my enumerate() with a generator.

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function enumerate(iterable) {
    return {
        [Symbol.iterator]: function*() {
            let i = 0;
            for (let value of iterable) {
                yield [i, value];
                i++;
            }
        },
    };
}
for (let [i, value] of enumerate(['one', 'two', 'three'])) {
    console.log(i, value);
}
// 0 one
// 1 two
// 2 three

Amazing. function* is a pretty strange choice of syntax, but whatever? I guess it also lets them make yield only act as a keyword inside a generator, for ultimate backwards compatibility.

JavaScript generators support everything Python generators do: yield* yields every item from a subsequence, like Python’s yield from; generators can return final values; you can pass values back into the generator if you iterate it by hand. No, really, I wasn’t kidding, it’s basically just copying Python. It’s great. You could now built asyncio in JavaScript!

In fact, they did that! JavaScript now has async and await. An async function returns a Promise, which is also a built-in type now. Amazing.

Sets and maps

MDN docs for MapMDN docs for Set — supported in Firefox 13, Chrome 38, IE 11, Safari 7.1

I did not save the best for last. This is much less exciting than generators. But still exciting.

The only data structure in JavaScript is the object, a map where the strings are keys. (Or now, also symbols, I guess.) That means you can’t readily use custom values as keys, nor simulate a set of arbitrary objects. And you have to worry about people mucking with Object.prototype, yikes.

But now, there’s Map and Set! Wow.

Unfortunately, because JavaScript, Map couldn’t use the indexing operators without losing the ability to have methods, so you have to use a boring old method-based API. But Map has convenient methods that plain objects don’t, like entries() to iterate over pairs of keys and values. In fact, you can use a map with for..of to get key/value pairs. So that’s nice.

Perhaps more interesting, there’s also now a WeakMap and WeakSet, where the keys are weak references. I don’t think JavaScript had any way to do weak references before this, so that’s pretty slick. There’s no obvious way to hold a weak value, but I guess you could substitute a WeakSet with only one item.

Template literals

MDN docs — supported in Firefox 34, Chrome 41, Edge 12, Safari 9

Template literals are JavaScript’s answer to string interpolation, which has historically been a huge pain in the ass because it doesn’t even have string formatting in the standard library.

They’re just strings delimited by backticks instead of quotes. They can span multiple lines and contain expressions.

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console.log(`one plus
two is ${1 + 2}`);

Someone decided it would be a good idea to allow nesting more sets of backticks inside a ${} expression, so, good luck to syntax highlighters.

However, someone also had the most incredible idea ever, which was to add syntax allowing user code to do the interpolation — so you can do custom escaping, when absolutely necessary, which is virtually never, because “escaping” means you’re building a structured format by slopping strings together willy-nilly instead of using some API that works with the structure.

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// OF COURSE, YOU SHOULDN'T BE DOING THIS ANYWAY; YOU SHOULD BUILD HTML WITH
// THE DOM API AND USE .textContent FOR LITERAL TEXT.  BUT AS AN EXAMPLE:
function html(literals, ...values) {
    let ret = [];
    literals.forEach((literal, i) => {
        if (i > 0) {
            // Is there seriously still not a built-in function for doing this?
            // Well, probably because you SHOULDN'T BE DOING IT
            ret.push(values[i - 1]
                .replace(/&/g, '&amp;')
                .replace(/</g, '&lt;')
                .replace(/>/g, '&gt;')
                .replace(/"/g, '&quot;')
                .replace(/'/g, '&apos;'));
        }
        ret.push(literal);
    });
    return ret.join('');
}
let username = 'Bob<script>';
let result = html`<b>Hello, ${username}!</b>`;
console.log(result);
// <b>Hello, Bob&lt;script&gt;!</b>

It’s a shame this feature is in JavaScript, the language where you are least likely to need it.

Trailing commas

Remember how you couldn’t do this for ages, because ass-old IE considered it a syntax error and would reject the entire script?

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{
    a: 'one',
    b: 'two',
    c: 'three',  // <- THIS GUY RIGHT HERE
}

Well now it’s part of the goddamn spec and if there’s anything in this post you can rely on, it’s this. In fact you can use AS MANY GODDAMN TRAILING COMMAS AS YOU WANT. But only in arrays.

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[1, 2, 3,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,]

Apparently that has the bizarre side effect of reserving extra space at the end of the array, without putting values there.

And more, probably

Like strict mode, which makes a few silent “errors” be actual errors, forces you to declare variables (no implicit globals!), and forbids the completely bozotic with block.

Or String.trim(), which trims whitespace off of strings.

Or… Math.sign()? That’s new? Seriously? Well, okay.

Or the Proxy type, which lets you customize indexing and assignment and calling. Oh. I guess that is possible, though this is a pretty weird way to do it; why not just use symbol-named methods?

You can write Unicode escapes for astral plane characters in strings (or identifiers!), as \u{XXXXXXXX}.

There’s a const now? I extremely don’t care, just name it in all caps and don’t reassign it, come on.

There’s also a mountain of other minor things, which you can peruse at your leisure via MDN or the ECMAScript compatibility tables (note the links at the top, too).

That’s all I’ve got. I still wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of JavaScript, but it’s definitely making an effort to clean up some goofy inconsistencies and solve common problems. I think I could even write some without yelling on Twitter about it now.

On the other hand, if you’re still stuck supporting IE 10 for some reason… well, er, my condolences.