Tag Archives: trap

Piracy Can Help Music Sales of Many Artists, Research Shows

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/piracy-can-help-music-sales-of-many-artists-research-shows-180128/

The debate over whether online piracy helps or hurts music sales has been dragging on for several decades now.

The issue has been researched extensively with both positive and negative effects being reported, often varying based on the type of artist, music genre and media, among other variables.

One of the more extensive studies was published this month in the peer-reviewed Information Economics and Policy journal, by Queen’s University economics researcher Jonathan Lee.

In a paper titled ‘Purchase, pirate, publicize: Private-network music sharing and market album sales’ he examined the effect of BitTorrent-based piracy on both digital and physical music sales.

We covered an earlier version of the study two years ago when it was still a work in progress. With updates to the research methods and a data sample, the results are now more clear.

The file-sharing data was obtained from an unnamed private BitTorrent tracker and covers a data set of 250,000 albums and more than five million downloads. These were matched to US sales data for thousands of albums provided by Nielsen SoundScan.

By refining the estimation approach and updating the matching technique, the final version of the paper shows some interesting results.

Based on the torrent tracker data, Lee finds that piracy can boost sales of mid-tier artists, both for physical CDs and digital downloads. For the most popular artists, this effect is reversed. In both cases, the impact is the largest for digital sales.

“I now find that top artists are harmed and mid-tier artists may be helped in both markets, but that these effects are larger for digital sales,” Lee tells TorrentFreak. “This is consistent with the idea that people are more willing to switch between digital piracy and digital sales than between digital piracy and physical CDs.”

The findings lead to the conclusion that there is no ideal ‘one-size-fits-all’ response to piracy. In fact, some unauthorized sharing may be a good thing.

This is in line with observations from musicians themselves over the past years. Several top artists have admitted the positive effects of piracy, including Ed Sheeran, who recently said that he owes his career to it.

“I know that’s a bad thing to say, because I’m part of a music industry that doesn’t like illegal file sharing,” Sheeran said in an interview with CBS. “Illegal file sharing was what made me. It was students in England going to university, sharing my songs with each other.”

Sheeran sharing on TPB

Today, Sheeran is in a totally different position of course. As one of the top artists, he would now be hurt by piracy. However, the new stars of tomorrow may still reap the benefits.

According to the researcher, the music industry should realize that shutting down pirate sites may not always be the best option. On the contrary, file-sharing sites may be useful as promotional platforms in some cases.

“Following above, a policy of total shutdown of private file sharing networks seems excessively costly (compared with their relatively small impact on sales) and unwise (as a one-size-fits-all policy). It would be better to make legal consumption more convenient, reducing the demand for piracy as an alternative to purchasing,” Lee tells us.

“It would also be smart to experiment with releasing music onto piracy networks themselves, especially for up-and-coming artists, similar to the free promotion afforded by commercial radio.”

The researcher makes another interesting extrapolation from the findings. In recent years, some labels and artists have signed exclusive deals with some streaming platforms. This means that content is not available everywhere, and this fragmentation may make piracy look more appealing.

“Here you can view piracy as a non-fragmented alternative platform to Spotify et al. Thus consumers will have a strong incentive to use a single non-fragmented platform (piracy) over having multiple subscriptions to fragmented platforms,” Lee says.

It would be better for the labels to publish their music on all platforms, and to make these more appealing and convenient than the pirate alternative.

The data used for the research was collected several years ago before the big streaming boom, so it might be that the results are different today. However, it is clear that the effect of piracy on sales is not as uniform as the music industry often portrays it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Quest, by timlmul

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

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

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

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

FINAL SCORE: ⛅☔☀

Pancake Numbers Simulator, by AnorakThePrimordial

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

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

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

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

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

Framed Animals, by chridd

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

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

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

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

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

FINAL SCORE: $136,596.69

Battle 4 Glory, by Storyteller Games

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

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

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

FINAL SCORE: 300%

Icnaluferu Guild, Year Sixteen, by CHz

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

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

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

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

FINAL SCORE: 2 bits

The Lonely Tapes, by JTHomeslice

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

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

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

(A VHS is—)

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

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

Pirate Kitty-Quest, by TheKoolestKid

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

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

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

PIRATE. ANISE

PIRATE ANISE!!!

This game wins the jam, hands down. 🏆

FINAL SCORE: Yarr, eight pieces o’ eight

CHIPS Mario, by NovaSquirrel

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

You see this? This is fucking witchcraft.

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

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

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

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

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

d!¢< pic, by 573 Games

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

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

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

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

FINAL SCORE: 3½” 😉

Marble maze, by Shtille

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

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

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

That makes navigating a maze, er, difficult.

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

FINAL SCORE: ᘔ

Refactor: flight, by fluffy

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

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

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

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

The music is great too? Really chill all around.

FINAL SCORE: 🎵🎵🎵🎵

The Adventures of Klyde

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

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

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

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

FINAL SCORE: 19/20 apples

And more

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

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

Cloud Babble: The Jargon of Cloud Storage

Post Syndicated from Andy Klein original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/what-is-cloud-computing/

Cloud Babble

One of the things we in the technology business are good at is coming up with names, phrases, euphemisms, and acronyms for the stuff that we create. The Cloud Storage market is no different, and we’d like to help by illuminating some of the cloud storage related terms that you might come across. We know this is just a start, so please feel free to add in your favorites in the comments section below and we’ll update this post accordingly.

Clouds

The cloud is really just a collection of purpose built servers. In a public cloud the servers are shared between multiple unrelated tenants. In a private cloud, the servers are dedicated to a single tenant or sometimes a group of related tenants. A public cloud is off-site, while a private cloud can be on-site or off-site – or on-prem or off-prem, if you prefer.

Both Sides Now: Hybrid Clouds

Speaking of on-prem and off-prem, there are Hybrid Clouds or Hybrid Data Clouds depending on what you need. Both are based on the idea that you extend your local resources (typically on-prem) to the cloud (typically off-prem) as needed. This extension is controlled by software that decides, based on rules you define, what needs to be done where.

A Hybrid Data Cloud is specific to data. For example, you can set up a rule that says all accounting files that have not been touched in the last year are automatically moved off-prem to cloud storage. The files are still available; they are just no longer stored on your local systems. The rules can be defined to fit an organization’s workflow and data retention policies.

A Hybrid Cloud is similar to a Hybrid Data Cloud except it also extends compute. For example, at the end of the quarter, you can spin up order processing application instances off-prem as needed to add to your on-prem capacity. Of course, determining where the transactional data used and created by these applications resides can be an interesting systems design challenge.

Clouds in my Coffee: Fog

Typically, public and private clouds live in large buildings called data centers. Full of servers, networking equipment, and clean air, data centers need lots of power, lots of networking bandwidth, and lots of space. This often limits where data centers are located. The further away you are from a data center, the longer it generally takes to get your data to and from there. This is known as latency. That’s where “Fog” comes in.

Fog is often referred to as clouds close to the ground. Fog, in our cloud world, is basically having a “little” data center near you. This can make data storage and even cloud based processing faster for everyone nearby. Data, and less so processing, can be transferred to/from the Fog to the Cloud when time is less a factor. Data could also be aggregated in the Fog and sent to the Cloud. For example, your electric meter could report its minute-by-minute status to the Fog for diagnostic purposes. Then once a day the aggregated data could be send to the power company’s Cloud for billing purposes.

Another term used in place of Fog is Edge, as in computing at the Edge. In either case, a given cloud (data center) usually has multiple Edges (little data centers) connected to it. The connection between the Edge and the Cloud is sometimes known as the middle-mile. The network in the middle-mile can be less robust than that required to support a stand-alone data center. For example, the middle-mile can use 1 Gbps lines, versus a data center, which would require multiple 10 Gbps lines.

Heavy Clouds No Rain: Data

We’re all aware that we are creating, processing, and storing data faster than ever before. All of this data is stored in either a structured or more likely an unstructured way. Databases and data warehouses are structured ways to store data, but a vast amount of data is unstructured – meaning the schema and data access requirements are not known until the data is queried. A large pool of unstructured data in a flat architecture can be referred to as a Data Lake.

A Data Lake is often created so we can perform some type of “big data” analysis. In an over simplified example, let’s extend the lake metaphor a bit and ask the question; “how many fish are in our lake?” To get an answer, we take a sufficient sample of our lake’s water (data), count the number of fish we find, and extrapolate based on the size of the lake to get an answer within a given confidence interval.

A Data Lake is usually found in the cloud, an excellent place to store large amounts of non-transactional data. Watch out as this can lead to our data having too much Data Gravity or being locked in the Hotel California. This could also create a Data Silo, thereby making a potential data Lift-and-Shift impossible. Let me explain:

  • Data Gravity — Generally, the more data you collect in one spot, the harder it is to move. When you store data in a public cloud, you have to pay egress and/or network charges to download the data to another public cloud or even to your own on-premise systems. Some public cloud vendors charge a lot more than others, meaning that depending on your public cloud provider, your data could financially have a lot more gravity than you expected.
  • Hotel California — This is like Data Gravity but to a lesser scale. Your data is in the Hotel California if, to paraphrase, “your data can check out any time you want, but it can never leave.” If the cost of downloading your data is limiting the things you want to do with that data, then your data is in the Hotel California. Data is generally most valuable when used, and with cloud storage that can include archived data. This assumes of course that the archived data is readily available, and affordable, to download. When considering a cloud storage project always figure in the cost of using your own data.
  • Data Silo — Over the years, businesses have suffered from organizational silos as information is not shared between different groups, but instead needs to travel up to the top of the silo before it can be transferred to another silo. If your data is “trapped” in a given cloud by the cost it takes to share such data, then you may have a Data Silo, and that’s exactly opposite of what the cloud should do.
  • Lift-and-Shift — This term is used to define the movement of data or applications from one data center to another or from on-prem to off-prem systems. The move generally occurs all at once and once everything is moved, systems are operational and data is available at the new location with few, if any, changes. If your data has too much gravity or is locked in a hotel, a data lift-and-shift may break the bank.

I Can See Clearly Now

Hopefully, the cloudy terms we’ve covered are well, less cloudy. As we mentioned in the beginning, our compilation is just a start, so please feel free to add in your favorite cloud term in the comments section below and we’ll update this post with your contributions. Keep your entries “clean,” and please no words or phrases that are really adverts for your company. Thanks.

The post Cloud Babble: The Jargon of Cloud Storage appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Early Challenges: Managing Cash Flow

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

Cash flow projection charts

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

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

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

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

Raising Your Initial Funding

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

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

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

Sources of Funding

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

Customers

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

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

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

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

Investors

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

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

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

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

Debt

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

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

Grants

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

At Backblaze, we used a number of these options:

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

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

GAAP vs. Cash

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

Stages of Cash Flow Management

All-spend

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

Sales-generating

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

Ramen-profitable

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

Business-profitable

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

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

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

Cash Flow Forecasting

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

Two things to consider:

1) Unit Economics (COGS)

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

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

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

2) Operating Expenses (OpEx)

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

Incremental Net Profit Per Unit

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

Calculating Your Profit

The math on getting to ramen-profitable is simple:

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

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

Improving Cash Flow

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

There are two ways to improve cash flow:

1) Collect More Cash

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

2) Spend Less Cash

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

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

Be Careful (Why GAAP Matters)

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

Summary

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

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

Random with care

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

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

A word about crypto

DON’T ROLL YOUR OWN CRYPTO

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

Use the right distribution

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

Random pitches

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

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

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

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

Random directions

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this work? I have no idea!

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

Beware Gauss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random frequency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rolling your own

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Okay, okay, here’s the actual math

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random vs varied

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

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

NPC quips

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

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

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

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

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

Random drops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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from collections import Counter
import random

histogram = Counter()

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical hits

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

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

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

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

In conclusion

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

VPN Provider Jailed For Five Years After Helping Thousands Breach China’s Firewall

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/vpn-provider-jailed-for-five-years-after-helping-thousands-breach-chinas-firewall-171222/

The Chinese government’s grip on power is matched by its determination to control access to information. To that end, it seeks to control what people in China can see on the Internet, thereby limiting the effect of outside influences on society.

The government tries to reach these goals by use of the so-called Great Firewall, a complex system that grants access to some foreign resources while denying access to others. However, technologically advanced citizens are able to bypass this state censorship by using circumvention techniques including Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

While large numbers of people use such services, in January 2017 the government gave its clearest indication yet that it would begin to crack down on people offering Great Firewall-evading tools.

Operating such a service without a corresponding telecommunications business license constitutes an offense, the government said. Now we have a taste of how serious the government is on this matter.

According to an announcement from China’s Procuratorate Daily, Wu Xiangyang, a resident of the Guangxi autonomous region, has just been jailed for five-and-a-half years and fined 500,000 yuan ($75,920) for building and selling access to VPNs without an appropriate license.

It’s alleged that between 2013 and June 2017, Wu Xiangyang sold VPN server access to the public via his own website, FangouVPN / Where Dog VPN, and Taobao, a Chinese online shopping site similar to eBay and Amazon.

The member accounts provided by the man allowed customers to browse foreign websites, without being trapped behind China’s Great Firewall. He also sold custom hardware routers that came read-configured to use the VPN service, granting access to the wider Internet, contrary to the wishes of Chinese authorities.

Prosecutors say that the illegal VPN business had revenues of 792,638 yuan (US$120,377) and profits of around 500,000 yuan ($75,935). SCMP reports that the company previously boasted on Twitter at having 8,000 foreigners and 5,000 businesses using its services to browse blocked websites.

This is at least the second big sentence handed down to a Chinese citizen for providing access to VPNs. Back in September, it was revealed that Deng Jiewei, a 26-year-old from the city of Dongguan in the Guangdong province, had been jailed for nine months after offering a similar service to the public for around a year.

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

Pioneers winners: only you can save us

Post Syndicated from Erin Brindley original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pioneers-winners-only-you-can-save-us/

She asked for help, and you came to her aid. Pioneers, the winners of the Only you can save us challenge have been picked!

Can you see me? Only YOU can save us!

I need your help. This is a call out for those between 11- and 16-years-old in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Something has gone very, very wrong and only you can save us. I’ve collected together as much information for you as I can. You’ll find it at http://www.raspberrypi.org/pioneers.

The challenge

In August we intercepted an emergency communication from a lonesome survivor. She seemed to be in quite a bit of trouble, and asked all you young people aged 11 to 16 to come up with something to help tackle the oncoming crisis, using whatever technology you had to hand. You had ten weeks to work in teams of two to five with an adult mentor to fulfil your mission.

The judges

We received your world-saving ideas, and our savvy survivor pulled together a ragtag bunch of apocalyptic experts to help us judge which ones would be the winning entries.

Dr Shini Somara

Dr Shini Somara is an advocate for STEM education and a mechanical engineer. She was host of The Health Show and has appeared in documentaries for the BBC, PBS Digital, and Sky. You can check out her work hosting Crash Course Physics on YouTube.

Prof Lewis Dartnell is an astrobiologist and author of the book The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch.

Emma Stephenson has a background in aeronautical engineering and currently works in the Shell Foundation’s Access to Energy and Sustainable Mobility portfolio.

Currently sifting through the entries with the other judges of #makeyourideas with @raspberrypifoundation @_raspberrypi_

151 Likes, 3 Comments – Shini Somara (@drshinisomara) on Instagram: “Currently sifting through the entries with the other judges of #makeyourideas with…”

The winners

Our survivor is currently putting your entries to good use repairing, rebuilding, and defending her base. Our judges chose the following projects as outstanding examples of world-saving digital making.

Theme winner: Computatron

Raspberry Pioneers 2017 – Nerfus Dislikus Killer Robot

This is our entry to the pioneers ‘Only you can save us’ competition. Our team name is Computatrum. Hope you enjoy!

Are you facing an unknown enemy whose only weakness is Nerf bullets? Then this is the robot for you! We loved the especially apocalyptic feel of the Computatron’s cleverly hacked and repurposed elements. The team even used an old floppy disc mechanism to help fire their bullets!

Technically brilliant: Robot Apocalypse Committee

Pioneers Apocalypse 2017 – RationalPi

Thousands of lines of code… Many sheets of acrylic… A camera, touchscreen and fingerprint scanner… This is our entry into the Raspberry Pi Pioneers2017 ‘Only YOU can Save Us’ theme. When zombies or other survivors break into your base, you want a secure way of storing your crackers.

The Robot Apocalypse Committee is back, and this time they’ve brought cheese! The crew designed a cheese- and cracker-dispensing machine complete with face and fingerprint recognition to ensure those rations last until the next supply drop.

Best explanation: Pi Chasers

Tala – Raspberry Pi Pioneers Project

Hi! We are PiChasers and we entered the Raspberry Pi Pionners challenge last time when the theme was “Make it Outdoors!” but now we’ve been faced with another theme “Apocolypse”. We spent a while thinking of an original thing that would help in an apocolypse and decided upon a ‘text-only phone’ which uses local radio communication rather than cellular.

This text-based communication device encased in a tupperware container could be a lifesaver in a crisis! And luckily, the Pi Chasers produced an excellent video and amazing GitHub repo, ensuring that any and all survivors will be able to build their own in the safety of their base.

Most inspiring journey: Three Musketeers

Pioneers Entry – The Apocalypse

Pioneers Entry Team Name: The Three Musketeers Team Participants: James, Zach and Tom

We all know that zombies are terrible at geometry, and the Three Musketeers used this fact to their advantage when building their zombie security system. We were impressed to see the team working together to overcome the roadblocks they faced along the way.

We appreciate what you’re trying to do: Zombie Trolls

Zombie In The Middle

Uploaded by CDA Bodgers on 2017-12-01.

Playing piggy in the middle with zombies sure is a unique way of saving humankind from total extinction! We loved this project idea, and although the Zombie Trolls had a little trouble with their motors, we’re sure with a little more tinkering this zombie-fooling contraption could save us all.

Most awesome

Our judges also wanted to give a special commendation to the following teams for their equally awesome apocalypse-averting ideas:

  • PiRates, for their multifaceted zombie-proofing defence system and the high production value of their video
  • Byte them Pis, for their beautiful zombie-detecting doormat
  • Unatecxon, for their impressive bunker security system
  • Team Crompton, for their pressure-activated door system
  • Team Ernest, for their adventures in LEGO

The prizes

All our winning teams have secured exclusive digital maker boxes. These are jam-packed with tantalising tech to satisfy all tinkering needs, including:

Our theme winners have also secured themselves a place at Coolest Projects 2018 in Dublin, Ireland!

Thank you to everyone who got involved in this round of Pioneers. Look out for your awesome submission swag arriving in the mail!

The post Pioneers winners: only you can save us appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Running Windows Containers on Amazon ECS

Post Syndicated from Nathan Taber original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/running-windows-containers-on-amazon-ecs/

This post was developed and written by Jeremy Cowan, Thomas Fuller, Samuel Karp, and Akram Chetibi.

Containers have revolutionized the way that developers build, package, deploy, and run applications. Initially, containers only supported code and tooling for Linux applications. With the release of Docker Engine for Windows Server 2016, Windows developers have started to realize the gains that their Linux counterparts have experienced for the last several years.

This week, we’re adding support for running production workloads in Windows containers using Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS). Now, Amazon ECS provides an ECS-Optimized Windows Server Amazon Machine Image (AMI). This AMI is based on the EC2 Windows Server 2016 AMI, and includes Docker 17.06 Enterprise Edition and the ECS Agent 1.16. This AMI provides improved instance and container launch time performance. It’s based on Windows Server 2016 Datacenter and includes Docker 17.06.2-ee-5, along with a new version of the ECS agent that now runs as a native Windows service.

In this post, I discuss the benefits of this new support, and walk you through getting started running Windows containers with Amazon ECS.

When AWS released the Windows Server 2016 Base with Containers AMI, the ECS agent ran as a process that made it difficult to monitor and manage. As a service, the agent can be health-checked, managed, and restarted no differently than other Windows services. The AMI also includes pre-cached images for Windows Server Core 2016 and Windows Server Nano Server 2016. By caching the images in the AMI, launching new Windows containers is significantly faster. When Docker images include a layer that’s already cached on the instance, Docker re-uses that layer instead of pulling it from the Docker registry.

The ECS agent and an accompanying ECS PowerShell module used to install, configure, and run the agent come pre-installed on the AMI. This guarantees there is a specific platform version available on the container instance at launch. Because the software is included, you don’t have to download it from the internet. This saves startup time.

The Windows-compatible ECS-optimized AMI also reports CPU and memory utilization and reservation metrics to Amazon CloudWatch. Using the CloudWatch integration with ECS, you can create alarms that trigger dynamic scaling events to automatically add or remove capacity to your EC2 instances and ECS tasks.

Getting started

To help you get started running Windows containers on ECS, I’ve forked the ECS reference architecture, to build an ECS cluster comprised of Windows instances instead of Linux instances. You can pull the latest version of the reference architecture for Windows.

The reference architecture is a layered CloudFormation stack, in that it calls other stacks to create the environment. Within the stack, the ecs-windows-cluster.yaml file contains the instructions for bootstrapping the Windows instances and configuring the ECS cluster. To configure the instances outside of AWS CloudFormation (for example, through the CLI or the console), you can add the following commands to your instance’s user data:

Import-Module ECSTools
Initialize-ECSAgent

Or

Import-Module ECSTools
Initialize-ECSAgent –Cluster MyCluster -EnableIAMTaskRole

If you don’t specify a cluster name when you initialize the agent, the instance is joined to the default cluster.

Adding -EnableIAMTaskRole when initializing the agent adds support for IAM roles for tasks. Previously, enabling this setting meant running a complex script and setting an environment variable before you could assign roles to your ECS tasks.

When you enable IAM roles for tasks on Windows, it consumes port 80 on the host. If you have tasks that listen on port 80 on the host, I recommend configuring a service for them that uses load balancing. You can use port 80 on the load balancer, and the traffic can be routed to another host port on your container instances. For more information, see Service Load Balancing.

Create a cluster

To create a new ECS cluster, choose Launch stack, or pull the GitHub project to your local machine and run the following command:

aws cloudformation create-stack –template-body file://<path to master-windows.yaml> --stack-name <name>

Upload your container image

Now that you have a cluster running, step through how to build and push an image into a container repository. You use a repository hosted in Amazon Elastic Container Registry (Amazon ECR) for this, but you could also use Docker Hub. To build and push an image to a repository, install Docker on your Windows* workstation. You also create a repository and assign the necessary permissions to the account that pushes your image to Amazon ECR. For detailed instructions, see Pushing an Image.

* If you are building an image that is based on Windows layers, then you must use a Windows environment to build and push your image to the registry.

Write your task definition

Now that your image is built and ready, the next step is to run your Windows containers using a task.

Start by creating a new task definition based on the windows-simple-iis image from Docker Hub.

  1. Open the ECS console.
  2. Choose Task Definitions, Create new task definition.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Configure via JSON.
  4. Copy and paste the following JSON into that field.
  5. Choose Save, Create.
{
   "family": "windows-simple-iis",
   "containerDefinitions": [
   {
     "name": "windows_sample_app",
     "image": "microsoft/iis",
     "cpu": 100,
     "entryPoint":["powershell", "-Command"],
     "command":["New-Item -Path C:\\inetpub\\wwwroot\\index.html -Type file -Value '<html><head><title>Amazon ECS Sample App</title> <style>body {margin-top: 40px; background-color: #333;} </style> </head><body> <div style=color:white;text-align:center><h1>Amazon ECS Sample App</h1> <h2>Congratulations!</h2> <p>Your application is now running on a container in Amazon ECS.</p></body></html>'; C:\\ServiceMonitor.exe w3svc"],
     "portMappings": [
     {
       "protocol": "tcp",
       "containerPort": 80,
       "hostPort": 8080
     }
     ],
     "memory": 500,
     "essential": true
   }
   ]
}

You can now go back into the Task Definition page and see windows-simple-iis as an available task definition.

There are a few important aspects of the task definition file to note when working with Windows containers. First, the hostPort is configured as 8080, which is necessary because the ECS agent currently uses port 80 to enable IAM roles for tasks required for least-privilege security configurations.

There are also some fairly standard task parameters that are intentionally not included. For example, network mode is not available with Windows at the time of this release, so keep that setting blank to allow Docker to configure WinNAT, the only option available today.

Also, some parameters work differently with Windows than they do with Linux. The CPU limits that you define in the task definition are absolute, whereas on Linux they are weights. For information about other task parameters that are supported or possibly different with Windows, see the documentation.

Run your containers

At this point, you are ready to run containers. There are two options to run containers with ECS:

  1. Task
  2. Service

A task is typically a short-lived process that ECS creates. It can’t be configured to actively monitor or scale. A service is meant for longer-running containers and can be configured to use a load balancer, minimum/maximum capacity settings, and a number of other knobs and switches to help ensure that your code keeps running. In both cases, you are able to pick a placement strategy and a specific IAM role for your container.

  1. Select the task definition that you created above and choose Action, Run Task.
  2. Leave the settings on the next page to the default values.
  3. Select the ECS cluster created when you ran the CloudFormation template.
  4. Choose Run Task to start the process of scheduling a Docker container on your ECS cluster.

You can now go to the cluster and watch the status of your task. It may take 5–10 minutes for the task to go from PENDING to RUNNING, mostly because it takes time to download all of the layers necessary to run the microsoft/iis image. After the status is RUNNING, you should see the following results:

You may have noticed that the example task definition is named windows-simple-iis:2. This is because I created a second version of the task definition, which is one of the powerful capabilities of using ECS. You can make the task definitions part of your source code and then version them. You can also roll out new versions and practice blue/green deployment, switching to reduce downtime and improve the velocity of your deployments!

After the task has moved to RUNNING, you can see your website hosted in ECS. Find the public IP or DNS for your ECS host. Remember that you are hosting on port 8080. Make sure that the security group allows ingress from your client IP address to that port and that your VPC has an internet gateway associated with it. You should see a page that looks like the following:

This is a nice start to deploying a simple single instance task, but what if you had a Web API to be scaled out and in based on usage? This is where you could look at defining a service and collecting CloudWatch data to add and remove both instances of the task. You could also use CloudWatch alarms to add more ECS container instances and keep up with the demand. The former is built into the configuration of your service.

  1. Select the task definition and choose Create Service.
  2. Associate a load balancer.
  3. Set up Auto Scaling.

The following screenshot shows an example where you would add an additional task instance when the CPU Utilization CloudWatch metric is over 60% on average over three consecutive measurements. This may not be aggressive enough for your requirements; it’s meant to show you the option to scale tasks the same way you scale ECS instances with an Auto Scaling group. The difference is that these tasks start much faster because all of the base layers are already on the ECS host.

Do not confuse task dynamic scaling with ECS instance dynamic scaling. To add additional hosts, see Tutorial: Scaling Container Instances with CloudWatch Alarms.

Conclusion

This is just scratching the surface of the flexibility that you get from using containers and Amazon ECS. For more information, see the Amazon ECS Developer Guide and ECS Resources.

– Jeremy, Thomas, Samuel, Akram

Fate of The Furious Cammers Found Guilty, Hollywood Fails to Celebrate?

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/fate-of-the-furious-cammers-found-guilty-hollywood-fails-to-celebrate-171105/

Earlier this year Hollywood’s MPAA helped local police catch two camcording pirates at a movie theater in Linthicum, Maryland.

Troy Cornish and Floyd Buchanan were spotted with recording equipment, preparing to target the US premiere of The Fate of the Furious.

According to Anne Arundel County Police, both were caught inside the theater while they were recording. The men reportedly wore camming harnesses under their clothing, which strapped mobile phones against their chests.

The MPAA’s involvement in the case is no surprise. The anti-piracy organization is the go-to outfit when it comes to content security at movie theaters and often keeps a close eye on known suspects.

In fact, at the time, an MPAA investigator told police that Buchanan was already known to the industry group as a movie piracy suspect.

Soon after the first reports of the arrests were released, dozens of news outlets jumped on the story. Rightly so, as ‘camming’ movie pirates are rarely caught. However, when the two were convicted this summer it was awfully quiet. There was no mention in the news at all.

While a few months late, this means we can break the news today. Despite claiming their innocence during trial, both Cornish and Buchanan were found guilty at the Glen Burnie District Court.

The court sentenced the two men to a suspended jail sentence of a year, as well as 18 months probation.

The sentence

While this is a serious sentence, it’s likely not the result the MPAA and the major Hollywood studios were hoping for. Despite the cammers’ attempt to illegally record one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, they effectively escaped prison.

If both were jailed for a substantial period there would undoubtedly be a press release to celebrate, but nothing of the like happened during the summer.

The above may sound a bit odd, but it’s totally understandable. The sentences in these cases are likely seen as too mild by Hollywood’s standards, so what’s the purpose of highlighting them? Anti-piracy messaging is mostly about scaring people and deterrence, and this case doesn’t fit that picture.

Still, the MPAA’s investigators are not going to stop. If either of the two men are caught again, it will be hard to avoid prison. Perhaps we’ll hear more then.

The MPAA didn’t respond to our request for comment.

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.

Backblaze’s Upgrade Guide for macOS High Sierra

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/macos-high-sierra-upgrade-guide/

High Sierra

Apple introduced macOS 10.13 “High Sierra” at its 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference in June. On Tuesday, we learned we don’t have long to wait — the new OS will be available on September 25. It’s a free upgrade, and millions of Mac users around the world will rush to install it.

We understand. A new OS from Apple is exciting, But please, before you upgrade, we want to remind you to back up your Mac. You want your data to be safe from unexpected problems that could happen in the upgrade. We do, too. To make that easier, Backblaze offers this macOS High Sierra upgrade guide.

Why Upgrade to macOS 10.13 High Sierra?

High Sierra, as the name suggests, is a follow-on to the previous macOS, Sierra. Its major focus is on improving the base OS with significant improvements that will support new capabilities in the future in the file system, video, graphics, and virtual/augmented reality.

But don’t despair; there also are outward improvements that will be readily apparent to everyone when they boot the OS for the first time. We’ll cover both the inner and outer improvements coming in this new OS.

Under the Hood of High Sierra

APFS (Apple File System)

Apple has been rolling out its first file system upgrade for a while now. It’s already in iOS: now High Sierra brings APFS to the Mac. Apple touts APFS as a new file system optimized for Flash/SSD storage and featuring strong encryption, better and faster file handling, safer copying and moving of files, and other improved file system fundamentals.

We went into detail about the enhancements and improvements that APFS has over the previous file system, HFS+, in an earlier post. Many of these improvements, including enhanced performance, security and reliability of data, will provide immediate benefits to users, while others provide a foundation for future storage innovations and will require work by Apple and third parties to support in their products and services.

Most of us won’t notice these improvements, but we’ll benefit from better, faster, and safer file handling, which I think all of us can appreciate.

Video

High Sierra includes High Efficiency Video Encoding (HEVC, aka H.265), which preserves better detail and color while also introducing improved compression over H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC). Even existing Macs will benefit from the HEVC software encoding in High Sierra, but newer Mac models include HEVC hardware acceleration for even better performance.

MacBook Pro

Metal 2

macOS High Sierra introduces Metal 2, the next-generation of Apple’s Metal graphics API that was launched three years ago. Apple claims that Metal 2 provides up to 10x better performance in key areas. It provides near-direct access to the graphics processor (GPU), enabling the GPU to take control over key aspects of the rendering pipeline. Metal 2 will enhance the Mac’s capability for machine learning, and is the technology driving the new virtual reality platform on Macs.

audio video editor screenshot

Virtual Reality

We’re about to see an explosion of virtual reality experiences on both the Mac and iOS thanks to High Sierra and iOS 11. Content creators will be able to use apps like Final Cut Pro X, Epic Unreal 4 Editor, and Unity Editor to create fully immersive worlds that will revolutionize entertainment and education and have many professional uses, as well.

Users will want the new iMac with Retina 5K display or the upcoming iMac Pro to enjoy them, or any supported Mac paired with the latest external GPU and VR headset.

iMac and HTC virtual reality player

Outward Improvements

Siri

Siri logo

Expect a more nature voice from Siri in High Sierra. She or he will be less robotic, with greater expression and use of intonation in speech. Siri will also learn more about your preferences in things like music, helping you choose music that fits your taste and putting together playlists expressly for you. Expect Siri to be able to answer your questions about music-related trivia, as well.

Siri:  what does “scaramouche” refer to in the song Bohemian Rhapsody?

Photos

HD MacBook Pro screenshot

Photos has been redesigned with a new layout and new tools. A redesigned Edit view includes new tools for fine-tuning color and contrast and making adjustments within a defined color range. Some fun elements for creating special effects and memories also have been added. Photos now works with external apps such as Photoshop and Pixelmator. Compatibility with third-party extension adds printing and publishing services to help get your photos out into the world.

Safari

Safari logo

Apple claims that Safari in High Sierra is the world’s fastest desktop browser, outperforming Chrome and other browsers in a range of benchmark tests. They’ve also added autoplay blocking for those pesky videos that play without your permission and tracking blocking to help protect your privacy.

Can My Mac Run macOS High Sierra 10.13?

All Macs introduced in mid 2010 or later are compatible. MacBook and iMac computers introduced in late 2009 are also compatible. You’ll need OS X 10.7.5 “Lion” or later installed, along with at least 2 GB RAM and 8.8 GB of available storage to manage the upgrade.
Some features of High Sierra require an internet connection or an Apple ID. You can check to see if your Mac is compatible with High Sierra on Apple’s website.

Conquering High Sierra — What Do I Do Before I Upgrade?

Back Up That Mac!

It’s always smart to back up before you upgrade the operating system or make any other crucial changes to your computer. Upgrading your OS is a major change to your computer, and if anything goes wrong…well, you don’t want that to happen.

iMac backup screenshot

We recommend the 3-2-1 Backup Strategy to make sure your data is safe. What does that mean? Have three copies of your data. There’s the “live” version on your Mac, a local backup (Time Machine, another copy on a local drive or other computer), and an offsite backup like Backblaze. No matter what happens to your computer, you’ll have a way to restore the files if anything goes wrong. Need help understanding how to back up your Mac? We have you covered with a handy Mac backup guide.

Check for App and Driver Updates

This is when it helps to do your homework. Check with app developers or device manufacturers to find if their apps and devices have updates to work with High Sierra. Visit their websites or use the Check for Updates feature built into most apps (often found in the File or Help menus).

If you’ve downloaded apps through the Mac App Store, make sure to open them and click on the Updates button to download the latest updates.

Updating can be hit or miss when you’ve installed apps that didn’t come from the Mac App Store. To make it easier, visit the MacUpdate website. MacUpdate tracks changes to thousands of Mac apps.


Will Backblaze work with macOS High Sierra?

Yes. We’ve taken care to ensure that Backblaze works with High Sierra. We’ve already enhanced our Macintosh client to report the space available on an APFS container and we plan to add additional support for APFS capabilities that enhance Backblaze’s capabilities in the future.

Of course, we’ll watch Apple’s release carefully for any last minute surprises. We’ll officially offer support for High Sierra once we’ve had a chance to thoroughly test the release version.


Set Aside Time for the Upgrade

Depending on the speed of your Internet connection and your computer, upgrading to High Sierra will take some time. You’ll be able to use your Mac straightaway after answering a few questions at the end of the upgrade process.

If you’re going to install High Sierra on multiple Macs, a time-and-bandwidth-saving tip came from a Backblaze customer who suggested copying the installer from your Mac’s Applications folder to a USB Flash drive (or an external drive) before you run it. The installer routinely deletes itself once the upgrade process is completed, but if you grab it before that happens you can use it on other computers.

Where Do I get High Sierra?

Apple says that High Sierra will be available on September 25. Like other Mac operating system releases, Apple offers macOS 10.13 High Sierra for download from the Mac App Store, which is included on the Mac. As long as your Mac is supported and running OS X 10.7.5 “Lion” (released in 2012) or later, you can download and run the installer. It’s free. Thank you, Apple.

Better to be Safe than Sorry

Back up your Mac before doing anything to it, and make Backblaze part of your 3-2-1 backup strategy. That way your data is secure. Even if you have to roll back after an upgrade, or if you run into other problems, your data will be safe and sound in your backup.

Tell us How it Went

Are you getting ready to install High Sierra? Still have questions? Let us know in the comments. Tell us how your update went and what you like about the new release of macOS.

And While You’re Waiting for High Sierra…

While you’re waiting for Apple to release High Sierra on September 25, you might want to check out these other posts about using your Mac and Backblaze.

The post Backblaze’s Upgrade Guide for macOS High Sierra appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

‘Game of Thrones Season 7 Pirated Over a Billion Times’

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/game-of-thrones-season-7-pirated-over-a-billion-times-170905/

The seventh season of Game of Thrones has brought tears and joy to HBO this summer.

It was the most-viewed season thus far, with record-breaking TV ratings. But on the other hand, HBO and Game of Thrones were plagued by hacks, leaks, and piracy, of course.

While it’s hard to measure piracy accurately, streaming in particular, piracy tracking outfit MUSO has just released some staggering numbers. According to the company, the latest season was pirated more than a billion times in total.

To put this into perspective, this means that on average each episode was pirated 140 million times, compared to 32 million views through legal channels.

The vast majority of the pirate ‘views’ came from streaming services (85%), followed by torrents (9%) and direct downloads (6%). Private torrent trackers are at the bottom with less than one percent.

Pirate sources

Andy Chatterley, MUSO’s CEO and Co-Founder, notes that the various leaks may have contributed to these high numbers. This is supported by the finding that the sixth episode, which leaked several days in advance, was pirated more than the season finale.

“It’s no secret that HBO has been plagued by security breaches throughout the latest season, which has seen some episodes leak before broadcast and added to unlicensed activity,” Chatterley says.

In addition, the data shows that despite a heavy focus on torrent traffic, unauthorized streaming is a much bigger problem for rightsholders.

“In addition to the scale of piracy when it comes to popular shows, these numbers demonstrate that unlicensed streaming can be a far more significant type of piracy than torrent downloads.”

Although the report shares precise numbers, it’s probably best to describe them as estimates.

The streaming data MUSO covers is sourced from SimilarWeb, which uses a sample of 200 million ‘devices’ to estimate website traffic. The sample data covers thousands of popular pirate sites and is extrapolated into the totals.

While more than a billion downloads are pretty significant, to say the least, MUSO is not even looking at the full pirate landscape.

For one, Muso’s streaming data doesn’t include Chinese traffic, which usually has a very active piracy community. As if that’s not enough, alternative pirate sources such as fully-loaded Kodi boxes, are not included either.

It’s clear though, which doesn’t really come as a surprise, that Game of Thrones piracy overall is still very significant. The torrent numbers may not have grown in recent years, but streaming seems to be making up for it and probably adding a few dozen million extra, give or take.

Total Global Downloads and Streams by Episode

Episode one: 187,427,575
Episode two: 123,901,209
Episode three: 116,027,851
Episode four: 121,719,868
Episode five: 151,569,560
Episode six: 184,913,279
Episode seven (as of 3rd Sept): 143,393,804
All Episode Bundles – Season 7: 834,522
TOTAL (as of 3rd September) = 1,029,787,668

Total Breakdown By Type

Streaming: 84.66%
Torrent: 9.12%
Download: 5.59%
Private Torrent: 0.63%

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