Tag Archives: SAM

Using AWS Step Functions State Machines to Handle Workflow-Driven AWS CodePipeline Actions

Post Syndicated from Marcilio Mendonca original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/using-aws-step-functions-state-machines-to-handle-workflow-driven-aws-codepipeline-actions/

AWS CodePipeline is a continuous integration and continuous delivery service for fast and reliable application and infrastructure updates. It offers powerful integration with other AWS services, such as AWS CodeBuildAWS CodeDeployAWS CodeCommit, AWS CloudFormation and with third-party tools such as Jenkins and GitHub. These services make it possible for AWS customers to successfully automate various tasks, including infrastructure provisioning, blue/green deployments, serverless deployments, AMI baking, database provisioning, and release management.

Developers have been able to use CodePipeline to build sophisticated automation pipelines that often require a single CodePipeline action to perform multiple tasks, fork into different execution paths, and deal with asynchronous behavior. For example, to deploy a Lambda function, a CodePipeline action might first inspect the changes pushed to the code repository. If only the Lambda code has changed, the action can simply update the Lambda code package, create a new version, and point the Lambda alias to the new version. If the changes also affect infrastructure resources managed by AWS CloudFormation, the pipeline action might have to create a stack or update an existing one through the use of a change set. In addition, if an update is required, the pipeline action might enforce a safety policy to infrastructure resources that prevents the deletion and replacement of resources. You can do this by creating a change set and having the pipeline action inspect its changes before updating the stack. Change sets that do not conform to the policy are deleted.

This use case is a good illustration of workflow-driven pipeline actions. These are actions that run multiple tasks, deal with async behavior and loops, need to maintain and propagate state, and fork into different execution paths. Implementing workflow-driven actions directly in CodePipeline can lead to complex pipelines that are hard for developers to understand and maintain. Ideally, a pipeline action should perform a single task and delegate the complexity of dealing with workflow-driven behavior associated with that task to a state machine engine. This would make it possible for developers to build simpler, more intuitive pipelines and allow them to use state machine execution logs to visualize and troubleshoot their pipeline actions.

In this blog post, we discuss how AWS Step Functions state machines can be used to handle workflow-driven actions. We show how a CodePipeline action can trigger a Step Functions state machine and how the pipeline and the state machine are kept decoupled through a Lambda function. The advantages of using state machines include:

  • Simplified logic (complex tasks are broken into multiple smaller tasks).
  • Ease of handling asynchronous behavior (through state machine wait states).
  • Built-in support for choices and processing different execution paths (through state machine choices).
  • Built-in visualization and logging of the state machine execution.

The source code for the sample pipeline, pipeline actions, and state machine used in this post is available at https://github.com/awslabs/aws-codepipeline-stepfunctions.

Overview

This figure shows the components in the CodePipeline-Step Functions integration that will be described in this post. The pipeline contains two stages: a Source stage represented by a CodeCommit Git repository and a Prod stage with a single Deploy action that represents the workflow-driven action.

This action invokes a Lambda function (1) called the State Machine Trigger Lambda, which, in turn, triggers a Step Function state machine to process the request (2). The Lambda function sends a continuation token back to the pipeline (3) to continue its execution later and terminates. Seconds later, the pipeline invokes the Lambda function again (4), passing the continuation token received. The Lambda function checks the execution state of the state machine (5,6) and communicates the status to the pipeline. The process is repeated until the state machine execution is complete. Then the Lambda function notifies the pipeline that the corresponding pipeline action is complete (7). If the state machine has failed, the Lambda function will then fail the pipeline action and stop its execution (7). While running, the state machine triggers various Lambda functions to perform different tasks. The state machine and the pipeline are fully decoupled. Their interaction is handled by the Lambda function.

The Deploy State Machine

The sample state machine used in this post is a simplified version of the use case, with emphasis on infrastructure deployment. The state machine will follow distinct execution paths and thus have different outcomes, depending on:

  • The current state of the AWS CloudFormation stack.
  • The nature of the code changes made to the AWS CloudFormation template and pushed into the pipeline.

If the stack does not exist, it will be created. If the stack exists, a change set will be created and its resources inspected by the state machine. The inspection consists of parsing the change set results and detecting whether any resources will be deleted or replaced. If no resources are being deleted or replaced, the change set is allowed to be executed and the state machine completes successfully. Otherwise, the change set is deleted and the state machine completes execution with a failure as the terminal state.

Let’s dive into each of these execution paths.

Path 1: Create a Stack and Succeed Deployment

The Deploy state machine is shown here. It is triggered by the Lambda function using the following input parameters stored in an S3 bucket.

Create New Stack Execution Path

{
    "environmentName": "prod",
    "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
    "templatePath": "infra/Lambda-template.yaml",
    "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
    "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ"
}

Note that some values used here are for the use case example only. Account-specific parameters like revisionS3Bucket and revisionS3Key will be different when you deploy this use case in your account.

These input parameters are used by various states in the state machine and passed to the corresponding Lambda functions to perform different tasks. For example, stackName is used to create a stack, check the status of stack creation, and create a change set. The environmentName represents the environment (for example, dev, test, prod) to which the code is being deployed. It is used to prefix the name of stacks and change sets.

With the exception of built-in states such as wait and choice, each state in the state machine invokes a specific Lambda function.  The results received from the Lambda invocations are appended to the state machine’s original input. When the state machine finishes its execution, several parameters will have been added to its original input.

The first stage in the state machine is “Check Stack Existence”. It checks whether a stack with the input name specified in the stackName input parameter already exists. The output of the state adds a Boolean value called doesStackExist to the original state machine input as follows:

{
  "doesStackExist": true,
  "environmentName": "prod",
  "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
  "templatePath": "infra/lambda-template.yaml",
  "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
  "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ",
}

The following stage, “Does Stack Exist?”, is represented by Step Functions built-in choice state. It checks the value of doesStackExist to determine whether a new stack needs to be created (doesStackExist=true) or a change set needs to be created and inspected (doesStackExist=false).

If the stack does not exist, the states illustrated in green in the preceding figure are executed. This execution path creates the stack, waits until the stack is created, checks the status of the stack’s creation, and marks the deployment successful after the stack has been created. Except for “Stack Created?” and “Wait Stack Creation,” each of these stages invokes a Lambda function. “Stack Created?” and “Wait Stack Creation” are implemented by using the built-in choice state (to decide which path to follow) and the wait state (to wait a few seconds before proceeding), respectively. Each stage adds the results of their Lambda function executions to the initial input of the state machine, allowing future stages to process them.

Path 2: Safely Update a Stack and Mark Deployment as Successful

Safely Update a Stack and Mark Deployment as Successful Execution Path

If the stack indicated by the stackName parameter already exists, a different path is executed. (See the green states in the figure.) This path will create a change set and use wait and choice states to wait until the change set is created. Afterwards, a stage in the execution path will inspect  the resources affected before the change set is executed.

The inspection procedure represented by the “Inspect Change Set Changes” stage consists of parsing the resources affected by the change set and checking whether any of the existing resources are being deleted or replaced. The following is an excerpt of the algorithm, where changeSetChanges.Changes is the object representing the change set changes:

...
var RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED = "RESOURCES-BEING-DELETED-OR-REPLACED";
var CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK = "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK";
for (var i = 0; i < changeSetChanges.Changes.length; i++) {
    var change = changeSetChanges.Changes[i];
    if (change.Type == "Resource") {
        if (change.ResourceChange.Action == "Delete") {
            return RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED;
        }
        if (change.ResourceChange.Action == "Modify") {
            if (change.ResourceChange.Replacement == "True") {
                return RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED;
            }
        }
    }
}
return CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK;

The algorithm returns different values to indicate whether the change set can be safely executed (CAN_SAFELY_UPDATE_EXISTING_STACK or RESOURCES_BEING_DELETED_OR_REPLACED). This value is used later by the state machine to decide whether to execute the change set and update the stack or interrupt the deployment.

The output of the “Inspect Change Set” stage is shown here.

{
  "environmentName": "prod",
  "stackName": "sample-lambda-app",
  "templatePath": "infra/lambda-template.yaml",
  "revisionS3Bucket": "codepipeline-us-east-1-418586629775",
  "revisionS3Key": "StepFunctionsDrivenD/CodeCommit/sjcmExZ",
  "doesStackExist": true,
  "changeSetName": "prod-sample-lambda-app-change-set-545",
  "changeSetCreationStatus": "complete",
  "changeSetAction": "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK"
}

At this point, these parameters have been added to the state machine’s original input:

  • changeSetName, which is added by the “Create Change Set” state.
  • changeSetCreationStatus, which is added by the “Get Change Set Creation Status” state.
  • changeSetAction, which is added by the “Inspect Change Set Changes” state.

The “Safe to Update Infra?” step is a choice state (its JSON spec follows) that simply checks the value of the changeSetAction parameter. If the value is equal to “CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK“, meaning that no resources will be deleted or replaced, the step will execute the change set by proceeding to the “Execute Change Set” state. The deployment is successful (the state machine completes its execution successfully).

"Safe to Update Infra?": {
      "Type": "Choice",
      "Choices": [
        {
          "Variable": "$.taskParams.changeSetAction",
          "StringEquals": "CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK",
          "Next": "Execute Change Set"
        }
      ],
      "Default": "Deployment Failed"
 }

Path 3: Reject Stack Update and Fail Deployment

Reject Stack Update and Fail Deployment Execution Path

If the changeSetAction parameter is different from “CAN-SAFELY-UPDATE-EXISTING-STACK“, the state machine will interrupt the deployment by deleting the change set and proceeding to the “Deployment Fail” step, which is a built-in Fail state. (Its JSON spec follows.) This state causes the state machine to stop in a failed state and serves to indicate to the Lambda function that the pipeline deployment should be interrupted in a fail state as well.

 "Deployment Failed": {
      "Type": "Fail",
      "Cause": "Deployment Failed",
      "Error": "Deployment Failed"
    }

In all three scenarios, there’s a state machine’s visual representation available in the AWS Step Functions console that makes it very easy for developers to identify what tasks have been executed or why a deployment has failed. Developers can also inspect the inputs and outputs of each state and look at the state machine Lambda function’s logs for details. Meanwhile, the corresponding CodePipeline action remains very simple and intuitive for developers who only need to know whether the deployment was successful or failed.

The State Machine Trigger Lambda Function

The Trigger Lambda function is invoked directly by the Deploy action in CodePipeline. The CodePipeline action must pass a JSON structure to the trigger function through the UserParameters attribute, as follows:

{
  "s3Bucket": "codepipeline-StepFunctions-sample",
  "stateMachineFile": "state_machine_input.json"
}

The s3Bucket parameter specifies the S3 bucket location for the state machine input parameters file. The stateMachineFile parameter specifies the file holding the input parameters. By being able to specify different input parameters to the state machine, we make the Trigger Lambda function and the state machine reusable across environments. For example, the same state machine could be called from a test and prod pipeline action by specifying a different S3 bucket or state machine input file for each environment.

The Trigger Lambda function performs two main tasks: triggering the state machine and checking the execution state of the state machine. Its core logic is shown here:

exports.index = function (event, context, callback) {
    try {
        console.log("Event: " + JSON.stringify(event));
        console.log("Context: " + JSON.stringify(context));
        console.log("Environment Variables: " + JSON.stringify(process.env));
        if (Util.isContinuingPipelineTask(event)) {
            monitorStateMachineExecution(event, context, callback);
        }
        else {
            triggerStateMachine(event, context, callback);
        }
    }
    catch (err) {
        failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, err.message);
    }
}

Util.isContinuingPipelineTask(event) is a utility function that checks if the Trigger Lambda function is being called for the first time (that is, no continuation token is passed by CodePipeline) or as a continuation of a previous call. In its first execution, the Lambda function will trigger the state machine and send a continuation token to CodePipeline that contains the state machine execution ARN. The state machine ARN is exposed to the Lambda function through a Lambda environment variable called stateMachineArn. Here is the code that triggers the state machine:

function triggerStateMachine(event, context, callback) {
    var stateMachineArn = process.env.stateMachineArn;
    var s3Bucket = Util.actionUserParameter(event, "s3Bucket");
    var stateMachineFile = Util.actionUserParameter(event, "stateMachineFile");
    getStateMachineInputData(s3Bucket, stateMachineFile)
        .then(function (data) {
            var initialParameters = data.Body.toString();
            var stateMachineInputJSON = createStateMachineInitialInput(initialParameters, event);
            console.log("State machine input JSON: " + JSON.stringify(stateMachineInputJSON));
            return stateMachineInputJSON;
        })
        .then(function (stateMachineInputJSON) {
            return triggerStateMachineExecution(stateMachineArn, stateMachineInputJSON);
        })
        .then(function (triggerStateMachineOutput) {
            var continuationToken = { "stateMachineExecutionArn": triggerStateMachineOutput.executionArn };
            var message = "State machine has been triggered: " + JSON.stringify(triggerStateMachineOutput) + ", continuationToken: " + JSON.stringify(continuationToken);
            return continueExecution(Util.jobId(event), continuationToken, callback, message);
        })
        .catch(function (err) {
            console.log("Error triggering state machine: " + stateMachineArn + ", Error: " + err.message);
            failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, err.message);
        })
}

The Trigger Lambda function fetches the state machine input parameters from an S3 file, triggers the execution of the state machine using the input parameters and the stateMachineArn environment variable, and signals to CodePipeline that the execution should continue later by passing a continuation token that contains the state machine execution ARN. In case any of these operations fail and an exception is thrown, the Trigger Lambda function will fail the pipeline immediately by signaling a pipeline failure through the putJobFailureResult CodePipeline API.

If the Lambda function is continuing a previous execution, it will extract the state machine execution ARN from the continuation token and check the status of the state machine, as shown here.

function monitorStateMachineExecution(event, context, callback) {
    var stateMachineArn = process.env.stateMachineArn;
    var continuationToken = JSON.parse(Util.continuationToken(event));
    var stateMachineExecutionArn = continuationToken.stateMachineExecutionArn;
    getStateMachineExecutionStatus(stateMachineExecutionArn)
        .then(function (response) {
            if (response.status === "RUNNING") {
                var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " is still " + response.status;
                return continueExecution(Util.jobId(event), continuationToken, callback, message);
            }
            if (response.status === "SUCCEEDED") {
                var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " has: " + response.status;
                return success(Util.jobId(event), callback, message);
            }
            // FAILED, TIMED_OUT, ABORTED
            var message = "Execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + " has: " + response.status;
            return failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, message);
        })
        .catch(function (err) {
            var message = "Error monitoring execution: " + stateMachineExecutionArn + " of state machine: " + stateMachineArn + ", Error: " + err.message;
            failure(Util.jobId(event), callback, context.invokeid, message);
        });
}

If the state machine is in the RUNNING state, the Lambda function will send the continuation token back to the CodePipeline action. This will cause CodePipeline to call the Lambda function again a few seconds later. If the state machine has SUCCEEDED, then the Lambda function will notify the CodePipeline action that the action has succeeded. In any other case (FAILURE, TIMED-OUT, or ABORT), the Lambda function will fail the pipeline action.

This behavior is especially useful for developers who are building and debugging a new state machine because a bug in the state machine can potentially leave the pipeline action hanging for long periods of time until it times out. The Trigger Lambda function prevents this.

Also, by having the Trigger Lambda function as a means to decouple the pipeline and state machine, we make the state machine more reusable. It can be triggered from anywhere, not just from a CodePipeline action.

The Pipeline in CodePipeline

Our sample pipeline contains two simple stages: the Source stage represented by a CodeCommit Git repository and the Prod stage, which contains the Deploy action that invokes the Trigger Lambda function. When the state machine decides that the change set created must be rejected (because it replaces or deletes some the existing production resources), it fails the pipeline without performing any updates to the existing infrastructure. (See the failed Deploy action in red.) Otherwise, the pipeline action succeeds, indicating that the existing provisioned infrastructure was either created (first run) or updated without impacting any resources. (See the green Deploy stage in the pipeline on the left.)

The Pipeline in CodePipeline

The JSON spec for the pipeline’s Prod stage is shown here. We use the UserParameters attribute to pass the S3 bucket and state machine input file to the Lambda function. These parameters are action-specific, which means that we can reuse the state machine in another pipeline action.

{
  "name": "Prod",
  "actions": [
      {
          "inputArtifacts": [
              {
                  "name": "CodeCommitOutput"
              }
          ],
          "name": "Deploy",
          "actionTypeId": {
              "category": "Invoke",
              "owner": "AWS",
              "version": "1",
              "provider": "Lambda"
          },
          "outputArtifacts": [],
          "configuration": {
              "FunctionName": "StateMachineTriggerLambda",
              "UserParameters": "{\"s3Bucket\": \"codepipeline-StepFunctions-sample\", \"stateMachineFile\": \"state_machine_input.json\"}"
          },
          "runOrder": 1
      }
  ]
}

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed how state machines in AWS Step Functions can be used to handle workflow-driven actions. We showed how a Lambda function can be used to fully decouple the pipeline and the state machine and manage their interaction. The use of a state machine greatly simplified the associated CodePipeline action, allowing us to build a much simpler and cleaner pipeline while drilling down into the state machine’s execution for troubleshooting or debugging.

Here are two exercises you can complete by using the source code.

Exercise #1: Do not fail the state machine and pipeline action after inspecting a change set that deletes or replaces resources. Instead, create a stack with a different name (think of blue/green deployments). You can do this by creating a state machine transition between the “Safe to Update Infra?” and “Create Stack” stages and passing a new stack name as input to the “Create Stack” stage.

Exercise #2: Add wait logic to the state machine to wait until the change set completes its execution before allowing the state machine to proceed to the “Deployment Succeeded” stage. Use the stack creation case as an example. You’ll have to create a Lambda function (similar to the Lambda function that checks the creation status of a stack) to get the creation status of the change set.

Have fun and share your thoughts!

About the Author

Marcilio Mendonca is a Sr. Consultant in the Canadian Professional Services Team at Amazon Web Services. He has helped AWS customers design, build, and deploy best-in-class, cloud-native AWS applications using VMs, containers, and serverless architectures. Before he joined AWS, Marcilio was a Software Development Engineer at Amazon. Marcilio also holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science. In his spare time, he enjoys playing drums, riding his motorcycle in the Toronto GTA area, and spending quality time with his family.

Implementing Default Directory Indexes in Amazon S3-backed Amazon CloudFront Origins Using [email protected]

Post Syndicated from Ronnie Eichler original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/implementing-default-directory-indexes-in-amazon-s3-backed-amazon-cloudfront-origins-using-lambdaedge/

With the recent launch of [email protected], it’s now possible for you to provide even more robust functionality to your static websites. Amazon CloudFront is a content distribution network service. In this post, I show how you can use [email protected] along with the CloudFront origin access identity (OAI) for Amazon S3 and still provide simple URLs (such as www.example.com/about/ instead of www.example.com/about/index.html).

Background

Amazon S3 is a great platform for hosting a static website. You don’t need to worry about managing servers or underlying infrastructure—you just publish your static to content to an S3 bucket. S3 provides a DNS name such as <bucket-name>.s3-website-<AWS-region>.amazonaws.com. Use this name for your website by creating a CNAME record in your domain’s DNS environment (or Amazon Route 53) as follows:

www.example.com -> <bucket-name>.s3-website-<AWS-region>.amazonaws.com

You can also put CloudFront in front of S3 to further scale the performance of your site and cache the content closer to your users. CloudFront can enable HTTPS-hosted sites, by either using a custom Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate or a managed certificate from AWS Certificate Manager. In addition, CloudFront also offers integration with AWS WAF, a web application firewall. As you can see, it’s possible to achieve some robust functionality by using S3, CloudFront, and other managed services and not have to worry about maintaining underlying infrastructure.

One of the key concerns that you might have when implementing any type of WAF or CDN is that you want to force your users to go through the CDN. If you implement CloudFront in front of S3, you can achieve this by using an OAI. However, in order to do this, you cannot use the HTTP endpoint that is exposed by S3’s static website hosting feature. Instead, CloudFront must use the S3 REST endpoint to fetch content from your origin so that the request can be authenticated using the OAI. This presents some challenges in that the REST endpoint does not support redirection to a default index page.

CloudFront does allow you to specify a default root object (index.html), but it only works on the root of the website (such as http://www.example.com > http://www.example.com/index.html). It does not work on any subdirectory (such as http://www.example.com/about/). If you were to attempt to request this URL through CloudFront, CloudFront would do a S3 GetObject API call against a key that does not exist.

Of course, it is a bad user experience to expect users to always type index.html at the end of every URL (or even know that it should be there). Until now, there has not been an easy way to provide these simpler URLs (equivalent to the DirectoryIndex Directive in an Apache Web Server configuration) to users through CloudFront. Not if you still want to be able to restrict access to the S3 origin using an OAI. However, with the release of [email protected], you can use a JavaScript function running on the CloudFront edge nodes to look for these patterns and request the appropriate object key from the S3 origin.

Solution

In this example, you use the compute power at the CloudFront edge to inspect the request as it’s coming in from the client. Then re-write the request so that CloudFront requests a default index object (index.html in this case) for any request URI that ends in ‘/’.

When a request is made against a web server, the client specifies the object to obtain in the request. You can use this URI and apply a regular expression to it so that these URIs get resolved to a default index object before CloudFront requests the object from the origin. Use the following code:

'use strict';
exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
    
    // Extract the request from the CloudFront event that is sent to [email protected] 
    var request = event.Records[0].cf.request;

    // Extract the URI from the request
    var olduri = request.uri;

    // Match any '/' that occurs at the end of a URI. Replace it with a default index
    var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');
    
    // Log the URI as received by CloudFront and the new URI to be used to fetch from origin
    console.log("Old URI: " + olduri);
    console.log("New URI: " + newuri);
    
    // Replace the received URI with the URI that includes the index page
    request.uri = newuri;
    
    // Return to CloudFront
    return callback(null, request);

};

To get started, create an S3 bucket to be the origin for CloudFront:

Create bucket

On the other screens, you can just accept the defaults for the purposes of this walkthrough. If this were a production implementation, I would recommend enabling bucket logging and specifying an existing S3 bucket as the destination for access logs. These logs can be useful if you need to troubleshoot issues with your S3 access.

Now, put some content into your S3 bucket. For this walkthrough, create two simple webpages to demonstrate the functionality:  A page that resides at the website root, and another that is in a subdirectory.

<s3bucketname>/index.html

<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Root home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the root directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>

<s3bucketname>/subdirectory/index.html

<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>

When uploading the files into S3, you can accept the defaults. You add a bucket policy as part of the CloudFront distribution creation that allows CloudFront to access the S3 origin. You should now have an S3 bucket that looks like the following:

Root of bucket

Subdirectory in bucket

Next, create a CloudFront distribution that your users will use to access the content. Open the CloudFront console, and choose Create Distribution. For Select a delivery method for your content, under Web, choose Get Started.

On the next screen, you set up the distribution. Below are the options to configure:

  • Origin Domain Name:  Select the S3 bucket that you created earlier.
  • Restrict Bucket Access: Choose Yes.
  • Origin Access Identity: Create a new identity.
  • Grant Read Permissions on Bucket: Choose Yes, Update Bucket Policy.
  • Object Caching: Choose Customize (I am changing the behavior to avoid having CloudFront cache objects, as this could affect your ability to troubleshoot while implementing the Lambda code).
    • Minimum TTL: 0
    • Maximum TTL: 0
    • Default TTL: 0

You can accept all of the other defaults. Again, this is a proof-of-concept exercise. After you are comfortable that the CloudFront distribution is working properly with the origin and Lambda code, you can re-visit the preceding values and make changes before implementing it in production.

CloudFront distributions can take several minutes to deploy (because the changes have to propagate out to all of the edge locations). After that’s done, test the functionality of the S3-backed static website. Looking at the distribution, you can see that CloudFront assigns a domain name:

CloudFront Distribution Settings

Try to access the website using a combination of various URLs:

http://<domainname>/:  Works

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/
*   Trying 54.192.192.214...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.214) port 80 (#0)
> GET / HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< ETag: "cb7e2634fe66c1fd395cf868087dd3b9"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: -D2FSRwzfcwyKZKFZr6DqYFkIf4t7HdGw2MkUF5sE6YFDxRJgi0R1g==
< Content-Length: 209
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:16 GMT
< Via: 1.1 6419ba8f3bd94b651d416054d9416f1e.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Root home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the root directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

This is because CloudFront is configured to request a default root object (index.html) from the origin.

http://<domainname>/subdirectory/:  Doesn’t work

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/
*   Trying 54.192.192.214...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.214) port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/ HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< ETag: "d41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e"
< x-amz-server-side-encryption: AES256
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: Iqf0Gy8hJLiW-9tOAdSFPkL7vCWBrgm3-1ly5tBeY_izU82ftipodA==
< Content-Length: 0
< Content-Type: application/x-directory
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:24 GMT
< Via: 1.1 6419ba8f3bd94b651d416054d9416f1e.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

If you use a tool such like cURL to test this, you notice that CloudFront and S3 are returning a blank response. The reason for this is that the subdirectory does exist, but it does not resolve to an S3 object. Keep in mind that S3 is an object store, so there are no real directories. User interfaces such as the S3 console present a hierarchical view of a bucket with folders based on the presence of forward slashes, but behind the scenes the bucket is just a collection of keys that represent stored objects.

http://<domainname>/subdirectory/index.html:  Works

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/index.html
*   Trying 54.192.192.130...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.130) port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/index.html HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:35:15 GMT
< ETag: "ddf87c487acf7cef9d50418f0f8f8dae"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: RefreshHit from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: bkh6opXdpw8pUomqG3Qr3UcjnZL8axxOH82Lh0OOcx48uJKc_Dc3Cg==
< Content-Length: 227
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:45 GMT
< Via: 1.1 3f2788d309d30f41de96da6f931d4ede.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

This request works as expected because you are referencing the object directly. Now, you implement the [email protected] function to return the default index.html page for any subdirectory. Looking at the example JavaScript code, here’s where the magic happens:

var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');

You are going to use a JavaScript regular expression to match any ‘/’ that occurs at the end of the URI and replace it with ‘/index.html’. This is the equivalent to what S3 does on its own with static website hosting. However, as I mentioned earlier, you can’t rely on this if you want to use a policy on the bucket to restrict it so that users must access the bucket through CloudFront. That way, all requests to the S3 bucket must be authenticated using the S3 REST API. Because of this, you implement a [email protected] function that takes any client request ending in ‘/’ and append a default ‘index.html’ to the request before requesting the object from the origin.

In the Lambda console, choose Create function. On the next screen, skip the blueprint selection and choose Author from scratch, as you’ll use the sample code provided.

Next, configure the trigger. Choosing the empty box shows a list of available triggers. Choose CloudFront and select your CloudFront distribution ID (created earlier). For this example, leave Cache Behavior as * and CloudFront Event as Origin Request. Select the Enable trigger and replicate box and choose Next.

Lambda Trigger

Next, give the function a name and a description. Then, copy and paste the following code:

'use strict';
exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
    
    // Extract the request from the CloudFront event that is sent to [email protected] 
    var request = event.Records[0].cf.request;

    // Extract the URI from the request
    var olduri = request.uri;

    // Match any '/' that occurs at the end of a URI. Replace it with a default index
    var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');
    
    // Log the URI as received by CloudFront and the new URI to be used to fetch from origin
    console.log("Old URI: " + olduri);
    console.log("New URI: " + newuri);
    
    // Replace the received URI with the URI that includes the index page
    request.uri = newuri;
    
    // Return to CloudFront
    return callback(null, request);

};

Next, define a role that grants permissions to the Lambda function. For this example, choose Create new role from template, Basic Edge Lambda permissions. This creates a new IAM role for the Lambda function and grants the following permissions:

{
    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
        {
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
                "logs:CreateLogGroup",
                "logs:CreateLogStream",
                "logs:PutLogEvents"
            ],
            "Resource": [
                "arn:aws:logs:*:*:*"
            ]
        }
    ]
}

In a nutshell, these are the permissions that the function needs to create the necessary CloudWatch log group and log stream, and to put the log events so that the function is able to write logs when it executes.

After the function has been created, you can go back to the browser (or cURL) and re-run the test for the subdirectory request that failed previously:

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/
*   Trying 54.192.192.202...
* TCP_NODELAY set
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net (54.192.192.202) port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/ HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
>
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 21:18:44 GMT
< ETag: "ddf87c487acf7cef9d50418f0f8f8dae"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: rwFN7yHE70bT9xckBpceTsAPcmaadqWB9omPBv2P6WkIfQqdjTk_4w==
< Content-Length: 227
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:45 GMT
< Via: 1.1 3572de112011f1b625bb77410b0c5cca.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<
<!doctype html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
    </body>
</html>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

You have now configured a way for CloudFront to return a default index page for subdirectories in S3!

Summary

In this post, you used [email protected] to be able to use CloudFront with an S3 origin access identity and serve a default root object on subdirectory URLs. To find out some more about this use-case, see [email protected] integration with CloudFront in our documentation.

If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to comment below. For troubleshooting or implementation help, check out the Lambda forum.

What’s new in HiveMQ 3.3

Post Syndicated from The HiveMQ Team original https://www.hivemq.com/whats-new-in-hivemq-3-3

We are pleased to announce the release of HiveMQ 3.3. This version of HiveMQ is the most advanced and user friendly version of HiveMQ ever. A broker is the heart of every MQTT deployment and it’s key to monitor and understand how healthy your system and your connected clients are. Version 3.3 of HiveMQ focuses on observability, usability and advanced administration features and introduces a brand new Web UI. This version is a drop-in replacement for HiveMQ 3.2 and of course supports rolling upgrades for zero-downtime.

HiveMQ 3.3 brings many features that your users, administrators and plugin developers are going to love. These are the highlights:

Web UI

Web UI
The new HiveMQ version has a built-in Web UI for advanced analysis and administrative tasks. A powerful dashboard shows important data about the health of the broker cluster and an overview of the whole MQTT deployment.
With the new Web UI, administrators are able to drill down to specific client information and can perform administrative actions like disconnecting a client. Advanced analytics functionality allows indetifying clients with irregular behavior. It’s easy to identify message-dropping clients as HiveMQ shows detailed statistics of such misbehaving MQTT participants.
Of course all Web UI features work at scale with more than a million connected MQTT clients. Learn more about the Web UI in the documentation.

Time To Live

TTL
HiveMQ introduces Time to Live (TTL) on various levels of the MQTT lifecycle. Automatic cleanup of expired messages is as well supported as the wiping of abandoned persistent MQTT sessions. In particular, version 3.3 implements the following TTL features:

  • MQTT client session expiration
  • Retained Message expiration
  • MQTT PUBLISH message expiration

Configuring a TTL for MQTT client sessions and retained messages allows freeing system resources without manual administrative intervention as soon as the data is not needed anymore.
Beside global configuration, MQTT PUBLISHES can have individual TTLs based on application specific characteristics. It’s a breeze to change the TTL of particular messages with the HiveMQ plugin system. As soon as a message TTL expires, the broker won’t send out the message anymore, even if the message was previously queued or in-flight. This can save precious bandwidth for mobile connections as unnecessary traffic is avoided for expired messages.

Trace Recordings

Trace Recordings
Debugging specific MQTT clients or groups of MQTT clients can be challenging at scale. HiveMQ 3.3 introduces an innovative Trace Recording mechanism that allows creating detailed recordings of all client interactions with given filters.
It’s possible to filter based on client identifiers, MQTT message types and topics. And the best of all: You can use regular expressions to select multiple MQTT clients at once as well as topics with complex structures. Getting detailed information about the behavior of specific MQTT clients for debugging complex issues was never easier.

Native SSL

Native SSL
The new native SSL integration of HiveMQ brings a performance boost of more than 40% for SSL Handshakes (in terms of CPU usage) by utilizing an integration with BoringSSL. BoringSSL is Google’s fork of OpenSSL which is also used in Google Chrome and Android. Besides the compute and huge memory optimizations (saves up to 60% Java Heap), additional secure state-of-the-art cipher suites are supported by HiveMQ which are not directly available for Java (like ChaCha20-Poly1305).
Most HiveMQ deployments on Linux systems are expected to see decreased CPU load on TLS handshakes with the native SSL integration and huge memory improvements.

New Plugin System Features

New Plugin System Features
The popular and powerful plugin system has received additional services and callbacks which are useful for many existing and future plugins.
Plugin developers can now use a ConnectionAttributeStore and a SessionAttributeStore for storing arbitrary data for the lifetime of a single MQTT connection of a client or for the whole session of a client. The new ClientGroupService allows grouping different MQTT client identifiers by the same key, so it’s easy to address multiple MQTT clients (with the same group) at once.

A new callback was introduced which notifies a plugin when a HiveMQ instance is ready, which means the instance is part of the cluster and all listeners were started successfully. Developers can now react when a MQTT client session is ready and usable in the cluster with a dedicated callback.

Some use cases require modifying a MQTT PUBLISH packet before it’s sent out to a client. This is now possible with a new callback that was introduced for modifying a PUBLISH before sending it out to a individual client.
The offline queue size for persistent clients is now also configurable for individual clients as well as the queue discard strategy.

Additional Features

Additional Features
HiveMQ 3.3 has many additional features designed for power users and professional MQTT deployments. The new version also has the following highlights:

  • OCSP Stapling
  • Event Log for MQTT client connects, disconnects and unusual events (e.g. discarded message due to slow consumption on the client side
  • Throttling of concurrent TLS handshakes
  • Connect Packet overload protection
  • Configuration of Socket send and receive buffer sizes
  • Global System Information like the HiveMQ Home folder can now be set via Environment Variables without changing the run script
  • The internal HTTP server of HiveMQ is now exposed to the holistic monitoring subsystem
  • Many additional useful metrics were exposed to HiveMQ’s monitoring subsystem

 

In order to upgrade to HiveMQ 3.3 from HiveMQ 3.2 or older versions, take a look at our Upgrade Guide.
Don’t forget to learn more about all the new features with our HiveMQ User Guide.

Download HiveMQ 3.3 now

Google Asked to Delist Pirate Movie Sites, ISPs Asked to Block Them

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/google-asked-to-delist-pirate-movie-sites-isps-asked-to-block-them-171018/

After seizing several servers operated by popular private music tracker What.cd, last November French police went after a much bigger target.

Boasting millions of regular visitors, Zone-Telechargement (Zone-Download) was ranked the 11th most-visited website in the whole of the country. The site offered direct downloads of a wide variety of pirated content, including films, series, games, and music. Until the French Gendarmerie shut it down, that is.

After being founded in 2011 and enjoying huge growth following the 2012 raids against Megaupload, the Zone-Telechargement ‘brand’ was still popular with French users, despite the closure of the platform. It, therefore, came as no surprise that the site was quickly cloned by an unknown party and relaunched as Zone-Telechargement.ws.

The site has been doing extremely well following its makeover. To the annoyance of copyright holders, SimilarWeb reports the platform as France’s 37th most popular site with around 58 million visitors per month. That’s a huge achievement in less than 12 months.

Now, however, the site is receiving more unwanted attention. PCInpact says it has received information that several movie-focused organizations including the French National Film Center are requesting tough action against the site.

The National Federation of Film Distributors, the Video Publishing Union, the Association of Independent Producers and the Producers Union are all demanding the blocking of Zone-Telechargement by several local ISPs, alongside its delisting from search results.

The publication mentions four Internet service providers – Free, Numericable, Bouygues Telecom, and Orange – plus Google on the search engine front. At this stage, other search companies, such as Microsoft’s Bing, are not reported as part of the action.

In addition to Zone-Telechargement, several other ‘pirate’ sites (Papystreaming.org, Sokrostream.cc and Zonetelechargement.su, another site playing on the popular brand) are included in the legal process. All are described as “structurally infringing” by the complaining movie outfits, PCInpact notes.

The legal proceedings against the sites are based in Article 336-2 of the Intellectual Property Code. It’s ground already trodden by movie companies who following a 2011 complaint, achieved victory in 2013 against several Allostreaming-linked sites.

In that case, the High Court of Paris ordered ISPs, several of which appear in the current action, to “implement all appropriate means including blocking” to prevent access to the infringing sites.

The Court also ordered Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to “take all necessary measures to prevent the occurrence on their services of any results referring to any of the sites” on their platforms.

Also of interest is that the action targets a service called DL-Protecte.com, which according to local anti-piracy agency HADOPI, makes it difficult for rightsholders to locate infringing content while at the same time generates more revenue for pirate sites.

A judgment is expected in “several months.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer successes

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

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

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

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

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

Get started

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

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

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

New ‘Coalition Against Piracy’ Will Crack Down on Pirate Streaming Boxes

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/new-coalition-against-piracy-will-crack-down-on-pirate-streaming-boxes-171017/

Traditionally there have only been a handful of well-known industry groups fighting online piracy, but this appears to be changing.

Increasingly, major entertainment industry companies are teaming up in various regions to bundle their enforcement efforts against copyright infringement.

Earlier this year the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) was formed by major players including Disney, HBO, and NBCUniversal, and several of the same media giants are also involved in the newly founded Coalition Against Piracy (CAP).

CAP will coordinate anti-piracy efforts in Asia and is backed by CASBAA, Disney, Fox, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Premier League, Turner Asia-Pacific, A&E Networks, Astro, BBC Worldwide, National Basketball Association, TV5MONDE, Viacom International, and others.

The coalition has hired Neil Gane as its general manager. Gane is no stranger to anti-piracy work, as he previously served as the MPAA’s regional director in Australasia and was chief of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.

The goal of CAP will be to assist in local enforcement actions against piracy, including the disruption and dismantling of local businesses that facilitate it. Pirate streaming boxes and apps will be among the main targets.

These boxes, which often use the legal Kodi player paired with infringing add-ons, are referred to as illicit streaming devices (ISDs) by industry insiders. They have grown in popularity all around the world and Asia is no exception.

“The prevalence of ISDs across Asia is staggering. The criminals who operate the ISD networks and the pirate websites are profiting from the hard work of talented creators, seriously damaging the legitimate content ecosystem as well as exposing consumers to dangerous malware”, Gane said, quoted by Indian Television.

Gane knows the region well and started his career working for the Hong Kong Police. He sees the pirate streaming box ecosystem as a criminal network which presents a major threat to the entertainment industries.

“This is a highly organized transnational crime with criminal syndicates profiting enormously at the expense of consumers as well as content creators,” Gane noted.

The Asian creative industry is a major growth market as more and more legal content is made available. However, the growth of these legal services is threatened by pirate boxes and apps. The Coalition Against Piracy hopes to curb this.

The launch of CAP, which will be formalized at the upcoming CASBAA anti-piracy convention in November, confirms the trend of localized anti-piracy coalitions which are backed by major industry players. We can expect to hear more from these during the years to come.

Just a few days ago the founding members of the aforementioned ACE anti-piracy initiative filed their first joint lawsuit in the US which, unsurprisingly, targets a seller of streaming boxes.

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

How to Compete with Giants

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

How to Compete with Giants

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

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

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

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

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

Backblaze vs. Giants

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

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

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

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

Determine What Success Means

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

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

The Advantages Startups Have

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

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

1. Drive Focus

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

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

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

2. Use Lack-of-Scale as an Advantage

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

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

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

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

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

3. Build a Better Product

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

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

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

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

4. Provide Better Service

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

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

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

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

5. Remove The Unnecessary

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

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

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

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

6. Be Easy

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

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

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

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

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

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

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

Lesson Learned: Use calculated risks as an advantage.

8. Be Open

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

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

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

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

9. Be Human

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

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

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

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

Build Culture to Sustain Your Advantages at Scale

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

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

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

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

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.

Spinrilla Wants RIAA Case Thrown Out Over ‘Lies’ About ‘Hidden’ Piracy Data

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/spinrilla-wants-riaa-case-thrown-out-over-lies-about-hidden-piracy-data-171016/

Earlier this year, a group of well-known labels targeted Spinrilla, a popular hip-hop mixtape site and app which serves millions of users.

The coalition of record labels, including Sony Music, Warner Bros. Records, and Universal Music Group, filed a lawsuit against the service over alleged copyright infringements.

While the discovery process is still ongoing, Spinrilla recently informed the court that the record labels have “just about derailed” the entire case. The company has submitted a motion for sanctions, which is currently sealed, but additional information submitted to the court this week reveals what’s going on.

When the labels filed their original complaint they listed 210 tracks, without providing the allegedly infringing URLs. These weren’t shared during the early stages of the discovery process either, forcing the site to manually search for potentially infringing links.

Then, early October, Spinrilla received a massive spreadsheet with over 2,000 tracks, including the infringing URLs. This data came from the RIAA and supported the long list of infringements in the amended complaint submitted around the same time.

The spreadsheet would have made the discovery process much easier for Spinrilla. In a supplemental brief supporting a motion for sanctions, Spinrilla accuses the labels of hiding the piracy data from them and lying about it, “derailing” the case in the process.

“Significantly, Plaintiffs used that lie to convince the Court they should be allowed to add about 1,900 allegedly infringed sound recordings to their original list of 210. Later, Plaintiffs repeated that lie to convince the Court to give them time to add even more sound recordings to their list.”

vbcn

Spinrilla says they were forced to go down an expensive and unnecessary rabbit hole to find the infringing files, even though the RIAA data was available all along.

“By hiding and lying about the RIAA data, Plaintiffs forced Defendants to spend precious time and money fumbling through discovery. Not knowing that Plaintiffs had the RIAA data,” the company writes.

The hip-hop mixtape site argues that the alleged wrongdoing is severe enough to have the entire complaint dismissed, as the ultimate sanction.

“It is without exaggeration to say that by hiding the RIAA spreadsheets and that underlying data, Defendants have been severely prejudiced. The Complaint should be dismissed with prejudice and, if it is, Plaintiffs can only blame themselves,” Spinrilla concludes.

The stakes are certainly high in this case. With well over 2,000 infringing tracks listed in the amended complaint, the hip-hop mixtape site faces statutory damages as high as $300 million, at least in theory.

Spinrilla’s supplement brief in further support of the motion for sanctions is available here (pdf).

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

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.

PureVPN Explains How it Helped the FBI Catch a Cyberstalker

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/purevpn-explains-how-it-helped-the-fbi-catch-a-cyberstalker-171016/

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

The Department of Justice described Lin’s offenses as a “multi-faceted” computer hacking and cyberstalking campaign. Launched in April 2016 when he began hacking into the victim’s online accounts, Lin allegedly obtained personal photographs and sensitive information about her medical and sexual histories and distributed that information to hundreds of other people.

Details of what information the FBI compiled on Lin can be found in our earlier report but aside from his alleged crimes (which are both significant and repugnant), it was PureVPN’s involvement in the case that caused the most controversy.

In a report compiled by an FBI special agent, it was revealed that the Hong Kong-based company’s logs helped the authorities net the alleged criminal.

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

Among many in the privacy community, this revelation was met with disappointment. On the PureVPN website the company claims to carry no logs and on a general basis, it’s expected that so-called “no-logging” VPN providers should provide people with some anonymity, at least as far as their service goes. Now, several days after the furor, the company has responded to its critics.

In a fairly lengthy statement, the company begins by confirming that it definitely doesn’t log what websites a user views or what content he or she downloads.

“PureVPN did not breach its Privacy Policy and certainly did not breach your trust. NO browsing logs, browsing habits or anything else was, or ever will be shared,” the company writes.

However, that’s only half the problem. While it doesn’t log user activity (what sites people visit or content they download), it does log the IP addresses that customers use to access the PureVPN service. These, given the right circumstances, can be matched to external activities thanks to logs carried by other web companies.

PureVPN talks about logs held by Google’s Gmail service to illustrate its point.

“A network log is automatically generated every time a user visits a website. For the sake of this example, let’s say a user logged into their Gmail account. Every time they accessed Gmail, the email provider created a network log,” the company explains.

“If you are using a VPN, Gmail’s network log would contain the IP provided by PureVPN. This is one half of the picture. Now, if someone asks Google who accessed the user’s account, Google would state that whoever was using this IP, accessed the account.

“If the user was connected to PureVPN, it would be a PureVPN IP. The inquirer [in the Lin case, the FBI] would then share timestamps and network logs acquired from Google and ask them to be compared with the network logs maintained by the VPN provider.”

Now, if PureVPN carried no logs – literally no logs – it would not be able to help with this kind of inquiry. That was the case last year when the FBI approached Private Internet Access for information and the company was unable to assist.

However, as is made pretty clear by PureVPN’s explanation, the company does log user IP addresses and timestamps which reveal when a user was logged on to the service. It doesn’t matter that PureVPN doesn’t log what the user allegedly did online, since the third-party service already knows that information to the precise second.

Following the example, GMail knows that a user sent an email at 10:22am on Monday October 16 from a PureVPN IP address. So, if PureVPN is approached by the FBI, the company can confirm that User X was using the same IP address at exactly the same time, and his home IP address was XXX.XX.XXX.XX. Effectively, the combined logs link one IP address to the other and the user is revealed. It’s that simple.

It is for this reason that in TorrentFreak’s annual summary of no-logging VPN providers, the very first question we ask every single company reads as follows:

Do you keep ANY logs which would allow you to match an IP-address and a time stamp to a user/users of your service? If so, what information do you hold and for how long?

Clearly, if a company says “yes we log incoming IP addresses and associated timestamps”, any claim to total user anonymity is ended right there and then.

While not completely useless (a logging service will still stop the prying eyes of ISPs and similar surveillance, while also defeating throttling and site-blocking), if you’re a whistle-blower with a job or even your life to protect, this level of protection is entirely inadequate.

The take-home points from this controversy are numerous, but perhaps the most important is for people to read and understand VPN provider logging policies.

Secondly, and just as importantly, VPN providers need to be extremely clear about the information they log. Not tracking browsing or downloading activities is all well and good, but if home IP addresses and timestamps are stored, this needs to be made clear to the customer.

Finally, VPN users should not be evil. There are plenty of good reasons to stay anonymous online but cyberstalking, death threats and ruining people’s lives are not included. Fortunately, the FBI have offline methods for catching this type of offender, and long may that continue.

PureVPN’s blog post is available here.

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

Some notes on the KRACK attack

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/10/some-notes-on-krack-attack.html

This is my interpretation of the KRACK attacks paper that describes a way of decrypting encrypted WiFi traffic with an active attack.

tl;dr: Wow. Everyone needs to be afraid. (Well, worried — not panicked.) It means in practice, attackers can decrypt a lot of wifi traffic, with varying levels of difficulty depending on your precise network setup. My post last July about the DEF CON network being safe was in error.

Details

This is not a crypto bug but a protocol bug (a pretty obvious and trivial protocol bug).
When a client connects to the network, the access-point will at some point send a random “key” data to use for encryption. Because this packet may be lost in transmission, it can be repeated many times.
What the hacker does is just repeatedly sends this packet, potentially hours later. Each time it does so, it resets the “keystream” back to the starting conditions. The obvious patch that device vendors will make is to only accept the first such packet it receives, ignore all the duplicates.
At this point, the protocol bug becomes a crypto bug. We know how to break crypto when we have two keystreams from the same starting position. It’s not always reliable, but reliable enough that people need to be afraid.
Android, though, is the biggest danger. Rather than simply replaying the packet, a packet with key data of all zeroes can be sent. This allows attackers to setup a fake WiFi access-point and man-in-the-middle all traffic.
In a related case, the access-point/base-station can sometimes also be attacked, affecting the stream sent to the client.
Not only is sniffing possible, but in some limited cases, injection. This allows the traditional attack of adding bad code to the end of HTML pages in order to trick users into installing a virus.

This is an active attack, not a passive attack, so in theory, it’s detectable.

Who is vulnerable?

Everyone, pretty much.
The hacker only needs to be within range of your WiFi. Your neighbor’s teenage kid is going to be downloading and running the tool in order to eavesdrop on your packets.
The hacker doesn’t need to be logged into your network.
It affects all WPA1/WPA2, the personal one with passwords that we use in home, and the enterprise version with certificates we use in enterprises.
It can’t defeat SSL/TLS or VPNs. Thus, if you feel your laptop is safe surfing the public WiFi at airports, then your laptop is still safe from this attack. With Android, it does allow running tools like sslstrip, which can fool many users.
Your home network is vulnerable. Many devices will be using SSL/TLS, so are fine, like your Amazon echo, which you can continue to use without worrying about this attack. Other devices, like your Phillips lightbulbs, may not be so protected.

How can I defend myself?

Patch.
More to the point, measure your current vendors by how long it takes them to patch. Throw away gear by those vendors that took a long time to patch and replace it with vendors that took a short time.
High-end access-points that contains “WIPS” (WiFi Intrusion Prevention Systems) features should be able to detect this and block vulnerable clients from connecting to the network (once the vendor upgrades the systems, of course). Even low-end access-points, like the $30 ones you get for home, can easily be updated to prevent packet sequence numbers from going back to the start (i.e. from the keystream resetting back to the start).
At some point, you’ll need to run the attack against yourself, to make sure all your devices are secure. Since you’ll be constantly allowing random phones to connect to your network, you’ll need to check their vulnerability status before connecting them. You’ll need to continue doing this for several years.
Of course, if you are using SSL/TLS for everything, then your danger is mitigated. This is yet another reason why you should be using SSL/TLS for internal communications.
Most security vendors will add things to their products/services to defend you. While valuable in some cases, it’s not a defense. The defense is patching the devices you know about, and preventing vulnerable devices from attaching to your network.
If I remember correctly, DEF CON uses Aruba. Aruba contains WIPS functionality, which means by the time DEF CON roles around again next year, they should have the feature to deny vulnerable devices from connecting, and specifically to detect an attack in progress and prevent further communication.
However, for an attacker near an Android device using a low-powered WiFi, it’s likely they will be able to conduct man-in-the-middle without any WIPS preventing them.

Manufacturing Astro Pi case replicas

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/astro-pi-case-guest-post/

Tim Rowledge produces and sells wonderful replicas of the cases which our Astro Pis live in aboard the International Space Station. Here is the story of how he came to do this. Over to you, Tim!

When the Astro Pi case was first revealed a couple of years ago, the collective outpouring of ‘Squee!’ it elicited may have been heard on board the ISS itself. People wanted to buy it or build it at home, and someone wanted to know whether it would blend. (There’s always one.)

The complete Astro Pi

The Sense HAT and its Pi tucked snugly in the original Astro Pi flight case — gorgeous, isn’t it?

Replicating the Astro Pi case

Some months later the STL files for printing your own Astro Pi case were released, and people jumped at the chance to use them. Soon reports appeared saying you had to make quite a few attempts before getting a good print — normal for any complex 3D-printing project. A fellow member of my local makerspace successfully made a couple of cases, but it took a lot of time, filament, and post-print finishing work. And of course, a plastic Astro Pi case simply doesn’t look or feel like the original made of machined aluminium — or ‘aluminum’, as they tend to say over here in North America.

Batch of tops of Astro Pi case replicas by Tim Rowledge

A batch of tops designed by Tim

I wanted to build an Astro Pi case which would more closely match the original. Fortunately, someone else at my makerspace happens to have some serious CNC machining equipment at his small manufacturing company. Therefore, I focused on creating a case design that could be produced with his three-axis device. This meant simplifying some parts to avoid expensive, slow, complex multi-fixture work. It took us a while, but we ended up with a design we can efficiently make using his machine.

Lasered Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first lasered case

And the resulting case looks really, really like the original — in fact, upon receiving one of the final prototypes, Eben commented:

“I have to say, at first glance they look spectacular: unless you hold them side by side with the originals, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s changed. I’m looking forward to seeing one built up and then seeing them in the wild.”

Inside the Astro Pi case

Making just the bare case is nice, but there are other parts required to recreate a complete Astro Pi unit. Thus I got my local electronics company to design a small HAT to provide much the same support the mezzanine board offers: an RTC and nice, clean connections to the six buttons. We also added well-labelled, grouped pads for all the other GPIO lines, along with space for an ADC. If you’re making your own Astro Pi replica, you might like the Switchboard.

The electronics supply industry just loves to offer *some* of what you need, so that one supplier never has everything: we had to obtain the required stand-offs, screws, spacers, and JST wires from assorted other sources. Jeff at my nearby Industrial Paint & Plastics took on the laser engraving of our cases, leaving out copyrighted logos etcetera.

Lasering the top of an Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Lasering the top of a case

Get your own Astro Pi case

Should you like to buy one of our Astro Pi case kits, pop over to www.astropicase.com, and we’ll get it on its way to you pronto. If you’re an institutional or corporate customer, the fully built option might make more sense for you — ordering the Pi and other components, and having a staff member assemble it all, may well be more work than is sensible.

Astro Pi case replica Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first full Astro Pi case replica, complete with shiny APEM buttons

To put the kit together yourself, all you need to do is add a Pi, Sense HAT, Camera Module, and RTC battery, and choose your buttons. An illustrated manual explains the process step by step. Our version of the Astro Pi case uses the same APEM buttons as the units in orbit, and whilst they are expensive, just clicking them is a source of great joy. It comes in a nice travel case too.

Tim Rowledge holding up a PCB

This is Tim. Thanks, Tim!

Take part in Astro Pi

If having an Astro Pi replica is not enough for you, this is your chance: the 2017-18 Astro Pi challenge is open! Do you know a teenager who might be keen to design a experiment to run on the Astro Pis in space? Are you one yourself? You have until 29 October to send us your Mission Space Lab entry and become part of the next generation of space scientists? Head over to the Astro Pi website to find out more.

The post Manufacturing Astro Pi case replicas appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

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 ✨!

My Blogging

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

Blog regulars will notice that I haven’t been posting as much lately as I have in the past. There are two reasons. One, it feels harder to find things to write about. So often it’s the same stories over and over. I don’t like repeating myself. Two, I am busy writing a book. The title is still: Click Here to Kill Everybody: Peril and Promise in a Hyper-Connected World. The book is a year late, and as a very different table of contents than it had in 2016. I have been writing steadily since mid-August. The book is due to the publisher at the end of March 2018, and will be published in the beginning of September.

This is the current table of contents:

  • Introduction: Everything is Becoming a Computer
  • Part 1: The Trends
    • 1. Capitalism Continues to Drive the Internet
    • 2. Customer/User Control is Next
    • 3. Government Surveillance and Control is Also Increasing
    • 4. Cybercrime is More Profitable Than Ever
    • 5. Cyberwar is the New Normal
    • 6. Algorithms, Automation, and Autonomy Bring New Dangers
    • 7. What We Know About Computer Security
    • 8. Agile is Failing as a Security Paradigm
    • 9. Authentication and Identification are Getting Harder
    • 10. Risks are Becoming Catastrophic
  • Part 2: The Solutions
    • 11. We Need to Regulate the Internet of Things
    • 12. We Need to Defend Critical Infrastructure
    • 13. We Need to Prioritize Defense Over Offence
    • 14. We Need to Make Smarter Decisions About Connecting
    • 15. What’s Likely to Happen, and What We Can Do in Response
    • 16. Where Policy Can Go Wrong
  • Conclusion: Technology and Policy, Together

So that’s what’s been happening.

Predict Billboard Top 10 Hits Using RStudio, H2O and Amazon Athena

Post Syndicated from Gopal Wunnava original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/predict-billboard-top-10-hits-using-rstudio-h2o-and-amazon-athena/

Success in the popular music industry is typically measured in terms of the number of Top 10 hits artists have to their credit. The music industry is a highly competitive multi-billion dollar business, and record labels incur various costs in exchange for a percentage of the profits from sales and concert tickets.

Predicting the success of an artist’s release in the popular music industry can be difficult. One release may be extremely popular, resulting in widespread play on TV, radio and social media, while another single may turn out quite unpopular, and therefore unprofitable. Record labels need to be selective in their decision making, and predictive analytics can help them with decision making around the type of songs and artists they need to promote.

In this walkthrough, you leverage H2O.ai, Amazon Athena, and RStudio to make predictions on whether a song might make it to the Top 10 Billboard charts. You explore the GLM, GBM, and deep learning modeling techniques using H2O’s rapid, distributed and easy-to-use open source parallel processing engine. RStudio is a popular IDE, licensed either commercially or under AGPLv3, for working with R. This is ideal if you don’t want to connect to a server via SSH and use code editors such as vi to do analytics. RStudio is available in a desktop version, or a server version that allows you to access R via a web browser. RStudio’s Notebooks feature is used to demonstrate the execution of code and output. In addition, this post showcases how you can leverage Athena for query and interactive analysis during the modeling phase. A working knowledge of statistics and machine learning would be helpful to interpret the analysis being performed in this post.

Walkthrough

Your goal is to predict whether a song will make it to the Top 10 Billboard charts. For this purpose, you will be using multiple modeling techniques―namely GLM, GBM and deep learning―and choose the model that is the best fit.

This solution involves the following steps:

  • Install and configure RStudio with Athena
  • Log in to RStudio
  • Install R packages
  • Connect to Athena
  • Create a dataset
  • Create models

Install and configure RStudio with Athena

Use the following AWS CloudFormation stack to install, configure, and connect RStudio on an Amazon EC2 instance with Athena.

Launching this stack creates all required resources and prerequisites:

  • Amazon EC2 instance with Amazon Linux (minimum size of t2.large is recommended)
  • Provisioning of the EC2 instance in an existing VPC and public subnet
  • Installation of Java 8
  • Assignment of an IAM role to the EC2 instance with the required permissions for accessing Athena and Amazon S3
  • Security group allowing access to the RStudio and SSH ports from the internet (I recommend restricting access to these ports)
  • S3 staging bucket required for Athena (referenced within RStudio as ATHENABUCKET)
  • RStudio username and password
  • Setup logs in Amazon CloudWatch Logs (if needed for additional troubleshooting)
  • Amazon EC2 Systems Manager agent, which makes it easy to manage and patch

All AWS resources are created in the US-East-1 Region. To avoid cross-region data transfer fees, launch the CloudFormation stack in the same region. To check the availability of Athena in other regions, see Region Table.

Log in to RStudio

The instance security group has been automatically configured to allow incoming connections on the RStudio port 8787 from any source internet address. You can edit the security group to restrict source IP access. If you have trouble connecting, ensure that port 8787 isn’t blocked by subnet network ACLS or by your outgoing proxy/firewall.

  1. In the CloudFormation stack, choose Outputs, Value, and then open the RStudio URL. You might need to wait for a few minutes until the instance has been launched.
  2. Log in to RStudio with the and password you provided during setup.

Install R packages

Next, install the required R packages from the RStudio console. You can download the R notebook file containing just the code.

#install pacman – a handy package manager for managing installs
if("pacman" %in% rownames(installed.packages()) == FALSE)
{install.packages("pacman")}  
library(pacman)
p_load(h2o,rJava,RJDBC,awsjavasdk)
h2o.init(nthreads = -1)
##  Connection successful!
## 
## R is connected to the H2O cluster: 
##     H2O cluster uptime:         2 hours 42 minutes 
##     H2O cluster version:        3.10.4.6 
##     H2O cluster version age:    4 months and 4 days !!! 
##     H2O cluster name:           H2O_started_from_R_rstudio_hjx881 
##     H2O cluster total nodes:    1 
##     H2O cluster total memory:   3.30 GB 
##     H2O cluster total cores:    4 
##     H2O cluster allowed cores:  4 
##     H2O cluster healthy:        TRUE 
##     H2O Connection ip:          localhost 
##     H2O Connection port:        54321 
##     H2O Connection proxy:       NA 
##     H2O Internal Security:      FALSE 
##     R Version:                  R version 3.3.3 (2017-03-06)
## Warning in h2o.clusterInfo(): 
## Your H2O cluster version is too old (4 months and 4 days)!
## Please download and install the latest version from http://h2o.ai/download/
#install aws sdk if not present (pre-requisite for using Athena with an IAM role)
if (!aws_sdk_present()) {
  install_aws_sdk()
}

load_sdk()
## NULL

Connect to Athena

Next, establish a connection to Athena from RStudio, using an IAM role associated with your EC2 instance. Use ATHENABUCKET to specify the S3 staging directory.

URL <- 'https://s3.amazonaws.com/athena-downloads/drivers/AthenaJDBC41-1.0.1.jar'
fil <- basename(URL)
#download the file into current working directory
if (!file.exists(fil)) download.file(URL, fil)
#verify that the file has been downloaded successfully
list.files()
## [1] "AthenaJDBC41-1.0.1.jar"
drv <- JDBC(driverClass="com.amazonaws.athena.jdbc.AthenaDriver", fil, identifier.quote="'")

con <- jdbcConnection <- dbConnect(drv, 'jdbc:awsathena://athena.us-east-1.amazonaws.com:443/',
                                   s3_staging_dir=Sys.getenv("ATHENABUCKET"),
                                   aws_credentials_provider_class="com.amazonaws.auth.DefaultAWSCredentialsProviderChain")

Verify the connection. The results returned depend on your specific Athena setup.

con
## <JDBCConnection>
dbListTables(con)
##  [1] "gdelt"               "wikistats"           "elb_logs_raw_native"
##  [4] "twitter"             "twitter2"            "usermovieratings"   
##  [7] "eventcodes"          "events"              "billboard"          
## [10] "billboardtop10"      "elb_logs"            "gdelthist"          
## [13] "gdeltmaster"         "twitter"             "twitter3"

Create a dataset

For this analysis, you use a sample dataset combining information from Billboard and Wikipedia with Echo Nest data in the Million Songs Dataset. Upload this dataset into your own S3 bucket. The table below provides a description of the fields used in this dataset.

Field Description
year Year that song was released
songtitle Title of the song
artistname Name of the song artist
songid Unique identifier for the song
artistid Unique identifier for the song artist
timesignature Variable estimating the time signature of the song
timesignature_confidence Confidence in the estimate for the timesignature
loudness Continuous variable indicating the average amplitude of the audio in decibels
tempo Variable indicating the estimated beats per minute of the song
tempo_confidence Confidence in the estimate for tempo
key Variable with twelve levels indicating the estimated key of the song (C, C#, B)
key_confidence Confidence in the estimate for key
energy Variable that represents the overall acoustic energy of the song, using a mix of features such as loudness
pitch Continuous variable that indicates the pitch of the song
timbre_0_min thru timbre_11_min Variables that indicate the minimum values over all segments for each of the twelve values in the timbre vector
timbre_0_max thru timbre_11_max Variables that indicate the maximum values over all segments for each of the twelve values in the timbre vector
top10 Indicator for whether or not the song made it to the Top 10 of the Billboard charts (1 if it was in the top 10, and 0 if not)

Create an Athena table based on the dataset

In the Athena console, select the default database, sampled, or create a new database.

Run the following create table statement.

create external table if not exists billboard
(
year int,
songtitle string,
artistname string,
songID string,
artistID string,
timesignature int,
timesignature_confidence double,
loudness double,
tempo double,
tempo_confidence double,
key int,
key_confidence double,
energy double,
pitch double,
timbre_0_min double,
timbre_0_max double,
timbre_1_min double,
timbre_1_max double,
timbre_2_min double,
timbre_2_max double,
timbre_3_min double,
timbre_3_max double,
timbre_4_min double,
timbre_4_max double,
timbre_5_min double,
timbre_5_max double,
timbre_6_min double,
timbre_6_max double,
timbre_7_min double,
timbre_7_max double,
timbre_8_min double,
timbre_8_max double,
timbre_9_min double,
timbre_9_max double,
timbre_10_min double,
timbre_10_max double,
timbre_11_min double,
timbre_11_max double,
Top10 int
)
ROW FORMAT DELIMITED
FIELDS TERMINATED BY ','
STORED AS TEXTFILE
LOCATION 's3://aws-bigdata-blog/artifacts/predict-billboard/data'
;

Inspect the table definition for the ‘billboard’ table that you have created. If you chose a database other than sampledb, replace that value with your choice.

dbGetQuery(con, "show create table sampledb.billboard")
##                                      createtab_stmt
## 1       CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE `sampledb.billboard`(
## 2                                       `year` int,
## 3                               `songtitle` string,
## 4                              `artistname` string,
## 5                                  `songid` string,
## 6                                `artistid` string,
## 7                              `timesignature` int,
## 8                `timesignature_confidence` double,
## 9                                `loudness` double,
## 10                                  `tempo` double,
## 11                       `tempo_confidence` double,
## 12                                       `key` int,
## 13                         `key_confidence` double,
## 14                                 `energy` double,
## 15                                  `pitch` double,
## 16                           `timbre_0_min` double,
## 17                           `timbre_0_max` double,
## 18                           `timbre_1_min` double,
## 19                           `timbre_1_max` double,
## 20                           `timbre_2_min` double,
## 21                           `timbre_2_max` double,
## 22                           `timbre_3_min` double,
## 23                           `timbre_3_max` double,
## 24                           `timbre_4_min` double,
## 25                           `timbre_4_max` double,
## 26                           `timbre_5_min` double,
## 27                           `timbre_5_max` double,
## 28                           `timbre_6_min` double,
## 29                           `timbre_6_max` double,
## 30                           `timbre_7_min` double,
## 31                           `timbre_7_max` double,
## 32                           `timbre_8_min` double,
## 33                           `timbre_8_max` double,
## 34                           `timbre_9_min` double,
## 35                           `timbre_9_max` double,
## 36                          `timbre_10_min` double,
## 37                          `timbre_10_max` double,
## 38                          `timbre_11_min` double,
## 39                          `timbre_11_max` double,
## 40                                     `top10` int)
## 41                             ROW FORMAT DELIMITED 
## 42                         FIELDS TERMINATED BY ',' 
## 43                            STORED AS INPUTFORMAT 
## 44       'org.apache.hadoop.mapred.TextInputFormat' 
## 45                                     OUTPUTFORMAT 
## 46  'org.apache.hadoop.hive.ql.io.HiveIgnoreKeyTextOutputFormat'
## 47                                        LOCATION
## 48    's3://aws-bigdata-blog/artifacts/predict-billboard/data'
## 49                                  TBLPROPERTIES (
## 50            'transient_lastDdlTime'='1505484133')

Run a sample query

Next, run a sample query to obtain a list of all songs from Janet Jackson that made it to the Billboard Top 10 charts.

dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT songtitle,artistname,top10   FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE lower(artistname) =     'janet jackson' AND top10 = 1")
##                       songtitle    artistname top10
## 1                       Runaway Janet Jackson     1
## 2               Because Of Love Janet Jackson     1
## 3                         Again Janet Jackson     1
## 4                            If Janet Jackson     1
## 5  Love Will Never Do (Without You) Janet Jackson 1
## 6                     Black Cat Janet Jackson     1
## 7               Come Back To Me Janet Jackson     1
## 8                       Alright Janet Jackson     1
## 9                      Escapade Janet Jackson     1
## 10                Rhythm Nation Janet Jackson     1

Determine how many songs in this dataset are specifically from the year 2010.

dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT count(*)   FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year = 2010")
##   _col0
## 1   373

The sample dataset provides certain song properties of interest that can be analyzed to gauge the impact to the song’s overall popularity. Look at one such property, timesignature, and determine the value that is the most frequent among songs in the database. Timesignature is a measure of the number of beats and the type of note involved.

Running the query directly may result in an error, as shown in the commented lines below. This error is a result of trying to retrieve a large result set over a JDBC connection, which can cause out-of-memory issues at the client level. To address this, reduce the fetch size and run again.

#t<-dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT timesignature FROM sampledb.billboard")
#Note:  Running the preceding query results in the following error: 
#Error in .jcall(rp, "I", "fetch", stride, block): java.sql.SQLException: The requested #fetchSize is more than the allowed value in Athena. Please reduce the fetchSize and try #again. Refer to the Athena documentation for valid fetchSize values.
# Use the dbSendQuery function, reduce the fetch size, and run again
r <- dbSendQuery(con, " SELECT timesignature     FROM sampledb.billboard")
dftimesignature<- fetch(r, n=-1, block=100)
dbClearResult(r)
## [1] TRUE
table(dftimesignature)
## dftimesignature
##    0    1    3    4    5    7 
##   10  143  503 6787  112   19
nrow(dftimesignature)
## [1] 7574

From the results, observe that 6787 songs have a timesignature of 4.

Next, determine the song with the highest tempo.

dbGetQuery(con, " SELECT songtitle,artistname,tempo   FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE tempo = (SELECT max(tempo) FROM sampledb.billboard) ")
##                   songtitle      artistname   tempo
## 1 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' Michael Jackson 244.307

Create the training dataset

Your model needs to be trained such that it can learn and make accurate predictions. Split the data into training and test datasets, and create the training dataset first.  This dataset contains all observations from the year 2009 and earlier. You may face the same JDBC connection issue pointed out earlier, so this query uses a fetch size.

#BillboardTrain <- dbGetQuery(con, "SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year <= 2009")
#Running the preceding query results in the following error:-
#Error in .verify.JDBC.result(r, "Unable to retrieve JDBC result set for ", : Unable to retrieve #JDBC result set for SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year <= 2009 (Internal error)
#Follow the same approach as before to address this issue.

r <- dbSendQuery(con, "SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard WHERE year <= 2009")
BillboardTrain <- fetch(r, n=-1, block=100)
dbClearResult(r)
## [1] TRUE
BillboardTrain[1:2,c(1:3,6:10)]
##   year           songtitle artistname timesignature
## 1 2009 The Awkward Goodbye    Athlete             3
## 2 2009        Rubik's Cube    Athlete             3
##   timesignature_confidence loudness   tempo tempo_confidence
## 1                    0.732   -6.320  89.614   0.652
## 2                    0.906   -9.541 117.742   0.542
nrow(BillboardTrain)
## [1] 7201

Create the test dataset

BillboardTest <- dbGetQuery(con, "SELECT * FROM sampledb.billboard where year = 2010")
BillboardTest[1:2,c(1:3,11:15)]
##   year              songtitle        artistname key
## 1 2010 This Is the House That Doubt Built A Day to Remember  11
## 2 2010        Sticks & Bricks A Day to Remember  10
##   key_confidence    energy pitch timbre_0_min
## 1          0.453 0.9666556 0.024        0.002
## 2          0.469 0.9847095 0.025        0.000
nrow(BillboardTest)
## [1] 373

Convert the training and test datasets into H2O dataframes

train.h2o <- as.h2o(BillboardTrain)
## 
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test.h2o <- as.h2o(BillboardTest)
## 
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  |=================================================================| 100%

Inspect the column names in your H2O dataframes.

colnames(train.h2o)
##  [1] "year"                     "songtitle"               
##  [3] "artistname"               "songid"                  
##  [5] "artistid"                 "timesignature"           
##  [7] "timesignature_confidence" "loudness"                
##  [9] "tempo"                    "tempo_confidence"        
## [11] "key"                      "key_confidence"          
## [13] "energy"                   "pitch"                   
## [15] "timbre_0_min"             "timbre_0_max"            
## [17] "timbre_1_min"             "timbre_1_max"            
## [19] "timbre_2_min"             "timbre_2_max"            
## [21] "timbre_3_min"             "timbre_3_max"            
## [23] "timbre_4_min"             "timbre_4_max"            
## [25] "timbre_5_min"             "timbre_5_max"            
## [27] "timbre_6_min"             "timbre_6_max"            
## [29] "timbre_7_min"             "timbre_7_max"            
## [31] "timbre_8_min"             "timbre_8_max"            
## [33] "timbre_9_min"             "timbre_9_max"            
## [35] "timbre_10_min"            "timbre_10_max"           
## [37] "timbre_11_min"            "timbre_11_max"           
## [39] "top10"

Create models

You need to designate the independent and dependent variables prior to applying your modeling algorithms. Because you’re trying to predict the ‘top10’ field, this would be your dependent variable and everything else would be independent.

Create your first model using GLM. Because GLM works best with numeric data, you create your model by dropping non-numeric variables. You only use the variables in the dataset that describe the numerical attributes of the song in the logistic regression model. You won’t use these variables:  “year”, “songtitle”, “artistname”, “songid”, or “artistid”.

y.dep <- 39
x.indep <- c(6:38)
x.indep
##  [1]  6  7  8  9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
## [24] 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38

Create Model 1: All numeric variables

Create Model 1 with the training dataset, using GLM as the modeling algorithm and H2O’s built-in h2o.glm function.

modelh1 <- h2o.glm( y = y.dep, x = x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, family = "binomial")
## 
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  |=====                                                            |   8%
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  |=================================================================| 100%

Measure the performance of Model 1, using H2O’s built-in performance function.

h2o.performance(model=modelh1,newdata=test.h2o)
## H2OBinomialMetrics: glm
## 
## MSE:  0.09924684
## RMSE:  0.3150347
## LogLoss:  0.3220267
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.2380168
## AUC:  0.8431394
## Gini:  0.6862787
## R^2:  0.254663
## Null Deviance:  326.0801
## Residual Deviance:  240.2319
## AIC:  308.2319
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0   1    Error     Rate
## 0      255  59 0.187898  =59/314
## 1       17  42 0.288136   =17/59
## Totals 272 101 0.203753  =76/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                         metric threshold    value idx
## 1                       max f1  0.192772 0.525000 100
## 2                       max f2  0.124912 0.650510 155
## 3                 max f0point5  0.416258 0.612903  23
## 4                 max accuracy  0.416258 0.879357  23
## 5                max precision  0.813396 1.000000   0
## 6                   max recall  0.037579 1.000000 282
## 7              max specificity  0.813396 1.000000   0
## 8             max absolute_mcc  0.416258 0.455251  23
## 9   max min_per_class_accuracy  0.161402 0.738854 125
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.124912 0.765006 155
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or ` 
h2o.auc(h2o.performance(modelh1,test.h2o)) 
## [1] 0.8431394

The AUC metric provides insight into how well the classifier is able to separate the two classes. In this case, the value of 0.8431394 indicates that the classification is good. (A value of 0.5 indicates a worthless test, while a value of 1.0 indicates a perfect test.)

Next, inspect the coefficients of the variables in the dataset.

dfmodelh1 <- as.data.frame(h2o.varimp(modelh1))
dfmodelh1
##                       names coefficients sign
## 1              timbre_0_max  1.290938663  NEG
## 2                  loudness  1.262941934  POS
## 3                     pitch  0.616995941  NEG
## 4              timbre_1_min  0.422323735  POS
## 5              timbre_6_min  0.349016024  NEG
## 6                    energy  0.348092062  NEG
## 7             timbre_11_min  0.307331997  NEG
## 8              timbre_3_max  0.302225619  NEG
## 9             timbre_11_max  0.243632060  POS
## 10             timbre_4_min  0.224233951  POS
## 11             timbre_4_max  0.204134342  POS
## 12             timbre_5_min  0.199149324  NEG
## 13             timbre_0_min  0.195147119  POS
## 14 timesignature_confidence  0.179973904  POS
## 15         tempo_confidence  0.144242598  POS
## 16            timbre_10_max  0.137644568  POS
## 17             timbre_7_min  0.126995955  NEG
## 18            timbre_10_min  0.123851179  POS
## 19             timbre_7_max  0.100031481  NEG
## 20             timbre_2_min  0.096127636  NEG
## 21           key_confidence  0.083115820  POS
## 22             timbre_6_max  0.073712419  POS
## 23            timesignature  0.067241917  POS
## 24             timbre_8_min  0.061301881  POS
## 25             timbre_8_max  0.060041698  POS
## 26                      key  0.056158445  POS
## 27             timbre_3_min  0.050825116  POS
## 28             timbre_9_max  0.033733561  POS
## 29             timbre_2_max  0.030939072  POS
## 30             timbre_9_min  0.020708113  POS
## 31             timbre_1_max  0.014228818  NEG
## 32                    tempo  0.008199861  POS
## 33             timbre_5_max  0.004837870  POS
## 34                                    NA <NA>

Typically, songs with heavier instrumentation tend to be louder (have higher values in the variable “loudness”) and more energetic (have higher values in the variable “energy”). This knowledge is helpful for interpreting the modeling results.

You can make the following observations from the results:

  • The coefficient estimates for the confidence values associated with the time signature, key, and tempo variables are positive. This suggests that higher confidence leads to a higher predicted probability of a Top 10 hit.
  • The coefficient estimate for loudness is positive, meaning that mainstream listeners prefer louder songs with heavier instrumentation.
  • The coefficient estimate for energy is negative, meaning that mainstream listeners prefer songs that are less energetic, which are those songs with light instrumentation.

These coefficients lead to contradictory conclusions for Model 1. This could be due to multicollinearity issues. Inspect the correlation between the variables “loudness” and “energy” in the training set.

cor(train.h2o$loudness,train.h2o$energy)
## [1] 0.7399067

This number indicates that these two variables are highly correlated, and Model 1 does indeed suffer from multicollinearity. Typically, you associate a value of -1.0 to -0.5 or 1.0 to 0.5 to indicate strong correlation, and a value of 0.1 to 0.1 to indicate weak correlation. To avoid this correlation issue, omit one of these two variables and re-create the models.

You build two variations of the original model:

  • Model 2, in which you keep “energy” and omit “loudness”
  • Model 3, in which you keep “loudness” and omit “energy”

You compare these two models and choose the model with a better fit for this use case.

Create Model 2: Keep energy and omit loudness

colnames(train.h2o)
##  [1] "year"                     "songtitle"               
##  [3] "artistname"               "songid"                  
##  [5] "artistid"                 "timesignature"           
##  [7] "timesignature_confidence" "loudness"                
##  [9] "tempo"                    "tempo_confidence"        
## [11] "key"                      "key_confidence"          
## [13] "energy"                   "pitch"                   
## [15] "timbre_0_min"             "timbre_0_max"            
## [17] "timbre_1_min"             "timbre_1_max"            
## [19] "timbre_2_min"             "timbre_2_max"            
## [21] "timbre_3_min"             "timbre_3_max"            
## [23] "timbre_4_min"             "timbre_4_max"            
## [25] "timbre_5_min"             "timbre_5_max"            
## [27] "timbre_6_min"             "timbre_6_max"            
## [29] "timbre_7_min"             "timbre_7_max"            
## [31] "timbre_8_min"             "timbre_8_max"            
## [33] "timbre_9_min"             "timbre_9_max"            
## [35] "timbre_10_min"            "timbre_10_max"           
## [37] "timbre_11_min"            "timbre_11_max"           
## [39] "top10"
y.dep <- 39
x.indep <- c(6:7,9:38)
x.indep
##  [1]  6  7  9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
## [24] 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38
modelh2 <- h2o.glm( y = y.dep, x = x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, family = "binomial")
## 
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  |                                                                 |   0%
  |                                                                       
  |=======                                                          |  10%
  |                                                                       
  |=================================================================| 100%

Measure the performance of Model 2.

h2o.performance(model=modelh2,newdata=test.h2o)
## H2OBinomialMetrics: glm
## 
## MSE:  0.09922606
## RMSE:  0.3150017
## LogLoss:  0.3228213
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.2490554
## AUC:  0.8431933
## Gini:  0.6863867
## R^2:  0.2548191
## Null Deviance:  326.0801
## Residual Deviance:  240.8247
## AIC:  306.8247
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      280 34 0.108280  =34/314
## 1       23 36 0.389831   =23/59
## Totals 303 70 0.152815  =57/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                         metric threshold    value idx
## 1                       max f1  0.254391 0.558140  69
## 2                       max f2  0.113031 0.647208 157
## 3                 max f0point5  0.413999 0.596026  22
## 4                 max accuracy  0.446250 0.876676  18
## 5                max precision  0.811739 1.000000   0
## 6                   max recall  0.037682 1.000000 283
## 7              max specificity  0.811739 1.000000   0
## 8             max absolute_mcc  0.254391 0.469060  69
## 9   max min_per_class_accuracy  0.141051 0.716561 131
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.113031 0.761821 157
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, valid=<T/F>, xval=<T/F>)`
dfmodelh2 <- as.data.frame(h2o.varimp(modelh2))
dfmodelh2
##                       names coefficients sign
## 1                     pitch  0.700331511  NEG
## 2              timbre_1_min  0.510270513  POS
## 3              timbre_0_max  0.402059546  NEG
## 4              timbre_6_min  0.333316236  NEG
## 5             timbre_11_min  0.331647383  NEG
## 6              timbre_3_max  0.252425901  NEG
## 7             timbre_11_max  0.227500308  POS
## 8              timbre_4_max  0.210663865  POS
## 9              timbre_0_min  0.208516163  POS
## 10             timbre_5_min  0.202748055  NEG
## 11             timbre_4_min  0.197246582  POS
## 12            timbre_10_max  0.172729619  POS
## 13         tempo_confidence  0.167523934  POS
## 14 timesignature_confidence  0.167398830  POS
## 15             timbre_7_min  0.142450727  NEG
## 16             timbre_8_max  0.093377516  POS
## 17            timbre_10_min  0.090333426  POS
## 18            timesignature  0.085851625  POS
## 19             timbre_7_max  0.083948442  NEG
## 20           key_confidence  0.079657073  POS
## 21             timbre_6_max  0.076426046  POS
## 22             timbre_2_min  0.071957831  NEG
## 23             timbre_9_max  0.071393189  POS
## 24             timbre_8_min  0.070225578  POS
## 25                      key  0.061394702  POS
## 26             timbre_3_min  0.048384697  POS
## 27             timbre_1_max  0.044721121  NEG
## 28                   energy  0.039698433  POS
## 29             timbre_5_max  0.039469064  POS
## 30             timbre_2_max  0.018461133  POS
## 31                    tempo  0.013279926  POS
## 32             timbre_9_min  0.005282143  NEG
## 33                                    NA <NA>

h2o.auc(h2o.performance(modelh2,test.h2o)) 
## [1] 0.8431933

You can make the following observations:

  • The AUC metric is 0.8431933.
  • Inspecting the coefficient of the variable energy, Model 2 suggests that songs with high energy levels tend to be more popular. This is as per expectation.
  • As H2O orders variables by significance, the variable energy is not significant in this model.

You can conclude that Model 2 is not ideal for this use , as energy is not significant.

CreateModel 3: Keep loudness but omit energy

colnames(train.h2o)
##  [1] "year"                     "songtitle"               
##  [3] "artistname"               "songid"                  
##  [5] "artistid"                 "timesignature"           
##  [7] "timesignature_confidence" "loudness"                
##  [9] "tempo"                    "tempo_confidence"        
## [11] "key"                      "key_confidence"          
## [13] "energy"                   "pitch"                   
## [15] "timbre_0_min"             "timbre_0_max"            
## [17] "timbre_1_min"             "timbre_1_max"            
## [19] "timbre_2_min"             "timbre_2_max"            
## [21] "timbre_3_min"             "timbre_3_max"            
## [23] "timbre_4_min"             "timbre_4_max"            
## [25] "timbre_5_min"             "timbre_5_max"            
## [27] "timbre_6_min"             "timbre_6_max"            
## [29] "timbre_7_min"             "timbre_7_max"            
## [31] "timbre_8_min"             "timbre_8_max"            
## [33] "timbre_9_min"             "timbre_9_max"            
## [35] "timbre_10_min"            "timbre_10_max"           
## [37] "timbre_11_min"            "timbre_11_max"           
## [39] "top10"
y.dep <- 39
x.indep <- c(6:12,14:38)
x.indep
##  [1]  6  7  8  9 10 11 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
## [24] 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38
modelh3 <- h2o.glm( y = y.dep, x = x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, family = "binomial")
## 
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perfh3<-h2o.performance(model=modelh3,newdata=test.h2o)
perfh3
## H2OBinomialMetrics: glm
## 
## MSE:  0.0978859
## RMSE:  0.3128672
## LogLoss:  0.3178367
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.264925
## AUC:  0.8492389
## Gini:  0.6984778
## R^2:  0.2648836
## Null Deviance:  326.0801
## Residual Deviance:  237.1062
## AIC:  303.1062
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      286 28 0.089172  =28/314
## 1       26 33 0.440678   =26/59
## Totals 312 61 0.144772  =54/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                         metric threshold    value idx
## 1                       max f1  0.273799 0.550000  60
## 2                       max f2  0.125503 0.663265 155
## 3                 max f0point5  0.435479 0.628931  24
## 4                 max accuracy  0.435479 0.882038  24
## 5                max precision  0.821606 1.000000   0
## 6                   max recall  0.038328 1.000000 280
## 7              max specificity  0.821606 1.000000   0
## 8             max absolute_mcc  0.435479 0.471426  24
## 9   max min_per_class_accuracy  0.173693 0.745763 120
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.125503 0.775073 155
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, valid=<T/F>, xval=<T/F>)`
dfmodelh3 <- as.data.frame(h2o.varimp(modelh3))
dfmodelh3
##                       names coefficients sign
## 1              timbre_0_max 1.216621e+00  NEG
## 2                  loudness 9.780973e-01  POS
## 3                     pitch 7.249788e-01  NEG
## 4              timbre_1_min 3.891197e-01  POS
## 5              timbre_6_min 3.689193e-01  NEG
## 6             timbre_11_min 3.086673e-01  NEG
## 7              timbre_3_max 3.025593e-01  NEG
## 8             timbre_11_max 2.459081e-01  POS
## 9              timbre_4_min 2.379749e-01  POS
## 10             timbre_4_max 2.157627e-01  POS
## 11             timbre_0_min 1.859531e-01  POS
## 12             timbre_5_min 1.846128e-01  NEG
## 13 timesignature_confidence 1.729658e-01  POS
## 14             timbre_7_min 1.431871e-01  NEG
## 15            timbre_10_max 1.366703e-01  POS
## 16            timbre_10_min 1.215954e-01  POS
## 17         tempo_confidence 1.183698e-01  POS
## 18             timbre_2_min 1.019149e-01  NEG
## 19           key_confidence 9.109701e-02  POS
## 20             timbre_7_max 8.987908e-02  NEG
## 21             timbre_6_max 6.935132e-02  POS
## 22             timbre_8_max 6.878241e-02  POS
## 23            timesignature 6.120105e-02  POS
## 24                      key 5.814805e-02  POS
## 25             timbre_8_min 5.759228e-02  POS
## 26             timbre_1_max 2.930285e-02  NEG
## 27             timbre_9_max 2.843755e-02  POS
## 28             timbre_3_min 2.380245e-02  POS
## 29             timbre_2_max 1.917035e-02  POS
## 30             timbre_5_max 1.715813e-02  POS
## 31                    tempo 1.364418e-02  NEG
## 32             timbre_9_min 8.463143e-05  NEG
## 33                                    NA <NA>
h2o.sensitivity(perfh3,0.5)
## Warning in h2o.find_row_by_threshold(object, t): Could not find exact
## threshold: 0.5 for this set of metrics; using closest threshold found:
## 0.501855569251422. Run `h2o.predict` and apply your desired threshold on a
## probability column.
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.2033898
h2o.auc(perfh3)
## [1] 0.8492389

You can make the following observations:

  • The AUC metric is 0.8492389.
  • From the confusion matrix, the model correctly predicts that 33 songs will be top 10 hits (true positives). However, it has 26 false positives (songs that the model predicted would be Top 10 hits, but ended up not being Top 10 hits).
  • Loudness has a positive coefficient estimate, meaning that this model predicts that songs with heavier instrumentation tend to be more popular. This is the same conclusion from Model 2.
  • Loudness is significant in this model.

Overall, Model 3 predicts a higher number of top 10 hits with an accuracy rate that is acceptable. To choose the best fit for production runs, record labels should consider the following factors:

  • Desired model accuracy at a given threshold
  • Number of correct predictions for top10 hits
  • Tolerable number of false positives or false negatives

Next, make predictions using Model 3 on the test dataset.

predict.regh <- h2o.predict(modelh3, test.h2o)
## 
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print(predict.regh)
##   predict        p0          p1
## 1       0 0.9654739 0.034526052
## 2       0 0.9654748 0.034525236
## 3       0 0.9635547 0.036445318
## 4       0 0.9343579 0.065642149
## 5       0 0.9978334 0.002166601
## 6       0 0.9779949 0.022005078
## 
## [373 rows x 3 columns]
predict.regh$predict
##   predict
## 1       0
## 2       0
## 3       0
## 4       0
## 5       0
## 6       0
## 
## [373 rows x 1 column]
dpr<-as.data.frame(predict.regh)
#Rename the predicted column 
colnames(dpr)[colnames(dpr) == 'predict'] <- 'predict_top10'
table(dpr$predict_top10)
## 
##   0   1 
## 312  61

The first set of output results specifies the probabilities associated with each predicted observation.  For example, observation 1 is 96.54739% likely to not be a Top 10 hit, and 3.4526052% likely to be a Top 10 hit (predict=1 indicates Top 10 hit and predict=0 indicates not a Top 10 hit).  The second set of results list the actual predictions made.  From the third set of results, this model predicts that 61 songs will be top 10 hits.

Compute the baseline accuracy, by assuming that the baseline predicts the most frequent outcome, which is that most songs are not Top 10 hits.

table(BillboardTest$top10)
## 
##   0   1 
## 314  59

Now observe that the baseline model would get 314 observations correct, and 59 wrong, for an accuracy of 314/(314+59) = 0.8418231.

It seems that Model 3, with an accuracy of 0.8552, provides you with a small improvement over the baseline model. But is this model useful for record labels?

View the two models from an investment perspective:

  • A production company is interested in investing in songs that are more likely to make it to the Top 10. The company’s objective is to minimize the risk of financial losses attributed to investing in songs that end up unpopular.
  • How many songs does Model 3 correctly predict as a Top 10 hit in 2010? Looking at the confusion matrix, you see that it predicts 33 top 10 hits correctly at an optimal threshold, which is more than half the number
  • It will be more useful to the record label if you can provide the production company with a list of songs that are highly likely to end up in the Top 10.
  • The baseline model is not useful, as it simply does not label any song as a hit.

Considering the three models built so far, you can conclude that Model 3 proves to be the best investment choice for the record label.

GBM model

H2O provides you with the ability to explore other learning models, such as GBM and deep learning. Explore building a model using the GBM technique, using the built-in h2o.gbm function.

Before you do this, you need to convert the target variable to a factor for multinomial classification techniques.

train.h2o$top10=as.factor(train.h2o$top10)
gbm.modelh <- h2o.gbm(y=y.dep, x=x.indep, training_frame = train.h2o, ntrees = 500, max_depth = 4, learn_rate = 0.01, seed = 1122,distribution="multinomial")
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perf.gbmh<-h2o.performance(gbm.modelh,test.h2o)
perf.gbmh
## H2OBinomialMetrics: gbm
## 
## MSE:  0.09860778
## RMSE:  0.3140188
## LogLoss:  0.3206876
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.2120263
## AUC:  0.8630573
## Gini:  0.7261146
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      266 48 0.152866  =48/314
## 1       16 43 0.271186   =16/59
## Totals 282 91 0.171582  =64/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                       metric threshold    value idx
## 1                     max f1  0.189757 0.573333  90
## 2                     max f2  0.130895 0.693717 145
## 3               max f0point5  0.327346 0.598802  26
## 4               max accuracy  0.442757 0.876676  14
## 5              max precision  0.802184 1.000000   0
## 6                 max recall  0.049990 1.000000 284
## 7            max specificity  0.802184 1.000000   0
## 8           max absolute_mcc  0.169135 0.496486 104
## 9 max min_per_class_accuracy  0.169135 0.796610 104
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.169135 0.805948 104
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `
h2o.sensitivity(perf.gbmh,0.5)
## Warning in h2o.find_row_by_threshold(object, t): Could not find exact
## threshold: 0.5 for this set of metrics; using closest threshold found:
## 0.501205344484314. Run `h2o.predict` and apply your desired threshold on a
## probability column.
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.1355932
h2o.auc(perf.gbmh)
## [1] 0.8630573

This model correctly predicts 43 top 10 hits, which is 10 more than the number predicted by Model 3. Moreover, the AUC metric is higher than the one obtained from Model 3.

As seen above, H2O’s API provides the ability to obtain key statistical measures required to analyze the models easily, using several built-in functions. The record label can experiment with different parameters to arrive at the model that predicts the maximum number of Top 10 hits at the desired level of accuracy and threshold.

H2O also allows you to experiment with deep learning models. Deep learning models have the ability to learn features implicitly, but can be more expensive computationally.

Now, create a deep learning model with the h2o.deeplearning function, using the same training and test datasets created before. The time taken to run this model depends on the type of EC2 instance chosen for this purpose.  For models that require more computation, consider using accelerated computing instances such as the P2 instance type.

system.time(
  dlearning.modelh <- h2o.deeplearning(y = y.dep,
                                      x = x.indep,
                                      training_frame = train.h2o,
                                      epoch = 250,
                                      hidden = c(250,250),
                                      activation = "Rectifier",
                                      seed = 1122,
                                      distribution="multinomial"
  )
)
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##    user  system elapsed 
##   1.216   0.020 166.508
perf.dl<-h2o.performance(model=dlearning.modelh,newdata=test.h2o)
perf.dl
## H2OBinomialMetrics: deeplearning
## 
## MSE:  0.1678359
## RMSE:  0.4096778
## LogLoss:  1.86509
## Mean Per-Class Error:  0.3433013
## AUC:  0.7568822
## Gini:  0.5137644
## 
## Confusion Matrix (vertical: actual; across: predicted) for F1-optimal threshold:
##          0  1    Error     Rate
## 0      290 24 0.076433  =24/314
## 1       36 23 0.610169   =36/59
## Totals 326 47 0.160858  =60/373
## 
## Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
##                       metric threshold    value idx
## 1                     max f1  0.826267 0.433962  46
## 2                     max f2  0.000000 0.588235 239
## 3               max f0point5  0.999929 0.511811  16
## 4               max accuracy  0.999999 0.865952  10
## 5              max precision  1.000000 1.000000   0
## 6                 max recall  0.000000 1.000000 326
## 7            max specificity  1.000000 1.000000   0
## 8           max absolute_mcc  0.999929 0.363219  16
## 9 max min_per_class_accuracy  0.000004 0.662420 145
## 10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.000000 0.685334 224
## 
## Gains/Lift Table: Extract with `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, <data>)` or `h2o.gainsLift(<model>, valid=<T/F>, xval=<T/F>)`
h2o.sensitivity(perf.dl,0.5)
## Warning in h2o.find_row_by_threshold(object, t): Could not find exact
## threshold: 0.5 for this set of metrics; using closest threshold found:
## 0.496293348880151. Run `h2o.predict` and apply your desired threshold on a
## probability column.
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.3898305
h2o.auc(perf.dl)
## [1] 0.7568822

The AUC metric for this model is 0.7568822, which is less than what you got from the earlier models. I recommend further experimentation using different hyper parameters, such as the learning rate, epoch or the number of hidden layers.

H2O’s built-in functions provide many key statistical measures that can help measure model performance. Here are some of these key terms.

Metric Description
Sensitivity Measures the proportion of positives that have been correctly identified. It is also called the true positive rate, or recall.
Specificity Measures the proportion of negatives that have been correctly identified. It is also called the true negative rate.
Threshold Cutoff point that maximizes specificity and sensitivity. While the model may not provide the highest prediction at this point, it would not be biased towards positives or negatives.
Precision The fraction of the documents retrieved that are relevant to the information needed, for example, how many of the positively classified are relevant
AUC

Provides insight into how well the classifier is able to separate the two classes. The implicit goal is to deal with situations where the sample distribution is highly skewed, with a tendency to overfit to a single class.

0.90 – 1 = excellent (A)

0.8 – 0.9 = good (B)

0.7 – 0.8 = fair (C)

.6 – 0.7 = poor (D)

0.5 – 0.5 = fail (F)

Here’s a summary of the metrics generated from H2O’s built-in functions for the three models that produced useful results.

Metric Model 3 GBM Model Deep Learning Model

Accuracy

(max)

0.882038

(t=0.435479)

0.876676

(t=0.442757)

0.865952

(t=0.999999)

Precision

(max)

1.0

(t=0.821606)

1.0

(t=0802184)

1.0

(t=1.0)

Recall

(max)

1.0 1.0

1.0

(t=0)

Specificity

(max)

1.0 1.0

1.0

(t=1)

Sensitivity

 

0.2033898 0.1355932

0.3898305

(t=0.5)

AUC 0.8492389 0.8630573 0.756882

Note: ‘t’ denotes threshold.

Your options at this point could be narrowed down to Model 3 and the GBM model, based on the AUC and accuracy metrics observed earlier.  If the slightly lower accuracy of the GBM model is deemed acceptable, the record label can choose to go to production with the GBM model, as it can predict a higher number of Top 10 hits.  The AUC metric for the GBM model is also higher than that of Model 3.

Record labels can experiment with different learning techniques and parameters before arriving at a model that proves to be the best fit for their business. Because deep learning models can be computationally expensive, record labels can choose more powerful EC2 instances on AWS to run their experiments faster.

Conclusion

In this post, I showed how the popular music industry can use analytics to predict the type of songs that make the Top 10 Billboard charts. By running H2O’s scalable machine learning platform on AWS, data scientists can easily experiment with multiple modeling techniques and interactively query the data using Amazon Athena, without having to manage the underlying infrastructure. This helps record labels make critical decisions on the type of artists and songs to promote in a timely fashion, thereby increasing sales and revenue.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.


Additional Reading

Learn how to build and explore a simple geospita simple GEOINT application using SparkR.


About the Authors

gopalGopal Wunnava is a Partner Solution Architect with the AWS GSI Team. He works with partners and customers on big data engagements, and is passionate about building analytical solutions that drive business capabilities and decision making. In his spare time, he loves all things sports and movies related and is fond of old classics like Asterix, Obelix comics and Hitchcock movies.

 

 

Bob Strahan, a Senior Consultant with AWS Professional Services, contributed to this post.

 

 

Popcorn Time Creator Readies BitTorrent & Blockchain-Powered Video Platform

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/popcorn-time-creator-readies-bittorrent-blockchain-powered-youtube-competitor-171012/

Without a doubt, YouTube is one of the most important websites available on the Internet today.

Its massive archive of videos brings pleasure to millions on a daily basis but its centralized nature means that owner Google always exercises control.

Over the years, people have looked to decentralize the YouTube concept and the latest project hoping to shake up the market has a particularly interesting player onboard.

Until 2015, only insiders knew that Argentinian designer Federico Abad was actually ‘Sebastian’, the shadowy figure behind notorious content sharing platform Popcorn Time.

Now he’s part of the team behind Flixxo, a BitTorrent and blockchain-powered startup hoping to wrestle a share of the video market from YouTube. Here’s how the team, which features blockchain startup RSK Labs, hope things will play out.

The Flixxo network will have no centralized storage of data, eliminating the need for expensive hosting along with associated costs. Instead, transfers will take place between peers using BitTorrent, meaning video content will be stored on the machines of Flixxo users. In practice, the content will be downloaded and uploaded in much the same way as users do on The Pirate Bay or indeed Abad’s baby, Popcorn Time.

However, there’s a twist to the system that envisions content creators, content consumers, and network participants (seeders) making revenue from their efforts.

At the heart of the Flixxo system are digital tokens (think virtual currency), called Flixx. These Flixx ‘coins’, which will go on sale in 12 days, can be used to buy access to content. Creators can also opt to pay consumers when those people help to distribute their content to others.

“Free from structural costs, producers can share the earnings from their content with the network that supports them,” the team explains.

“This way you get paid for helping us improve Flixxo, and you earn credits (in the form of digital tokens called Flixx) for watching higher quality content. Having no intermediaries means that the price you pay for watching the content that you actually want to watch is lower and fairer.”

The Flixxo team

In addition to earning tokens from helping to distribute content, people in the Flixxo ecosystem can also earn currency by watching sponsored content, i.e advertisements. While in a traditional system adverts are often considered a nuisance, Flixx tokens have real value, with a promise that users will be able to trade their Flixx not only for videos, but also for tangible and semi-tangible goods.

“Use your Flixx to reward the producers you follow, encouraging them to create more awesome content. Or keep your Flixx in your wallet and use them to buy a movie ticket, a pair of shoes from an online retailer, a chest of coins in your favourite game or even convert them to old-fashioned cash or up-and-coming digital assets, like Bitcoin,” the team explains.

The Flixxo team have big plans. After foundation in early 2016, the second quarter of 2017 saw the completion of a functional alpha release. In a little under two weeks, the project will begin its token generation event, with new offices in Los Angeles planned for the first half of 2018 alongside a premiere of the Flixxo platform.

“A total of 1,000,000,000 (one billion) Flixx tokens will be issued. A maximum of 300,000,000 (three hundred million) tokens will be sold. Some of these tokens (not more than 33% or 100,000,000 Flixx) may be sold with anticipation of the token allocation event to strategic investors,” Flixxo states.

Like all content platforms, Flixxo will live or die by the quality of the content it provides and whether, at least in the first instance, it can persuade people to part with their hard-earned cash. Only time will tell whether its content will be worth a premium over readily accessible YouTube content but with much-reduced costs, it may tempt creators seeking a bigger piece of the pie.

“Flixxo will also educate its community, teaching its users that in this new internet era value can be held and transferred online without intermediaries, a value that can be earned back by participating in a community, by contributing, being rewarded for every single social interaction,” the team explains.

Of course, the elephant in the room is what will happen when people begin sharing copyrighted content via Flixxo. Certainly, the fact that Popcorn Time’s founder is a key player and rival streaming platform Stremio is listed as a partner means that things could get a bit spicy later on.

Nevertheless, the team suggests that piracy and spam content distribution will be limited by mechanisms already built into the system.

“[A]uthors have to time-block tokens in a smart contract (set as a warranty) in order to upload content. This contract will also handle and block their earnings for a certain period of time, so that in the case of a dispute the unfair-uploader may lose those tokens,” they explain.

That being said, Flixxo also says that “there is no way” for third parties to censor content “which means that anyone has the chance of making any piece of media available on the network.” However, Flixxo says it will develop tools for filtering what it describes as “inappropriate content.”

At this point, things start to become a little unclear. On the one hand Flixxo says it could become a “revolutionary tool for uncensorable and untraceable media” yet on the other it says that it’s necessary to ensure that adult content, for example, isn’t seen by kids.

“We know there is a thin line between filtering or curating content and censorship, and it is a fact that we have an open network for everyone to upload any content. However, Flixxo as a platform will apply certain filtering based on clear rules – there should be a behavior-code for uploaders in order to offer the right content to the right user,” Flixxo explains.

To this end, Flixxo says it will deploy a centralized curation function, carried out by 101 delegates elected by the community, which will become progressively decentralized over time.

“This curation will have a cost, paid in Flixx, and will be collected from the warranty blocked by the content uploaders,” they add.

There can be little doubt that if Flixxo begins ‘curating’ unsuitable content, copyright holders will call on it to do the same for their content too. And, if the platform really takes off, 101 curators probably won’t scratch the surface. There’s also the not inconsiderable issue of what might happen to curators’ judgment when they’re incentivized to block curate content.

Finally, for those sick of “not available in your region” messages, there’s good and bad news. Flixxo insists there will be no geo-blocking of content on its part but individual creators will still have that feature available to them, should they choose.

The Flixx whitepaper can be downloaded here (pdf)

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

Security updates for Thursday

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/736176/rss

Security updates have been issued by CentOS (httpd and thunderbird), Debian (nss), Fedora (git), openSUSE (krb5, libvirt, samba, and thunderbird), Oracle (httpd and thunderbird), Red Hat (httpd, rh-mysql57-mysql, and thunderbird), Scientific Linux (httpd and thunderbird), and Ubuntu (ceph).