Tag Archives: Universal

Cryptocurrency Security Challenges

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cryptocurrency-security-challenges/

Physical coins representing cyrptocurrencies

Most likely you’ve read the tantalizing stories of big gains from investing in cryptocurrencies. Someone who invested $1,000 into bitcoins five years ago would have over $85,000 in value now. Alternatively, someone who invested in bitcoins three months ago would have seen their investment lose 20% in value. Beyond the big price fluctuations, currency holders are possibly exposed to fraud, bad business practices, and even risk losing their holdings altogether if they are careless in keeping track of the all-important currency keys.

It’s certain that beyond the rewards and risks, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. We can’t ignore how they are changing the game for how money is handled between people and businesses.

Some Advantages of Cryptocurrency

  • Cryptocurrency is accessible to anyone.
  • Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis.
  • Transactions can completed for a fraction of the expense and time required to complete traditional asset transfers.
  • Transactions are digital and cannot be counterfeited or reversed arbitrarily by the sender, as with credit card charge-backs.
  • There aren’t usually transaction fees for cryptocurrency exchanges.
  • Cryptocurrency allows the cryptocurrency holder to send exactly what information is needed and no more to the merchant or recipient, even permitting anonymous transactions (for good or bad).
  • Cryptocurrency operates at the universal level and hence makes transactions easier internationally.
  • There is no other electronic cash system in which your account isn’t owned by someone else.

On top of all that, blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies, is already being applied to a variety of business needs and itself becoming a hot sector of the tech economy. Blockchain is bringing traceability and cost-effectiveness to supply-chain management — which also improves quality assurance in areas such as food, reducing errors and improving accounting accuracy, smart contracts that can be automatically validated, signed and enforced through a blockchain construct, the possibility of secure, online voting, and many others.

Like any new, booming marketing there are risks involved in these new currencies. Anyone venturing into this domain needs to have their eyes wide open. While the opportunities for making money are real, there are even more ways to lose money.

We’re going to cover two primary approaches to staying safe and avoiding fraud and loss when dealing with cryptocurrencies. The first is to thoroughly vet any person or company you’re dealing with to judge whether they are ethical and likely to succeed in their business segment. The second is keeping your critical cryptocurrency keys safe, which we’ll deal with in this and a subsequent post.

Caveat Emptor — Buyer Beware

The short history of cryptocurrency has already seen the demise of a number of companies that claimed to manage, mine, trade, or otherwise help their customers profit from cryptocurrency. Mt. Gox, GAW Miners, and OneCoin are just three of the many companies that disappeared with their users’ money. This is the traditional equivalent of your bank going out of business and zeroing out your checking account in the process.

That doesn’t happen with banks because of regulatory oversight. But with cryptocurrency, you need to take the time to investigate any company you use to manage or trade your currencies. How long have they been around? Who are their investors? Are they affiliated with any reputable financial institutions? What is the record of their founders and executive management? These are all important questions to consider when evaluating a company in this new space.

Would you give the keys to your house to a service or person you didn’t thoroughly know and trust? Some companies that enable you to buy and sell currencies online will routinely hold your currency keys, which gives them the ability to do anything they want with your holdings, including selling them and pocketing the proceeds if they wish.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever allow a company to keep your currency keys in escrow. It simply means that you better know with whom you’re doing business and if they’re trustworthy enough to be given that responsibility.

Keys To the Cryptocurrency Kingdom — Public and Private

If you’re an owner of cryptocurrency, you know how this all works. If you’re not, bear with me for a minute while I bring everyone up to speed.

Cryptocurrency has no physical manifestation, such as bills or coins. It exists purely as a computer record. And unlike currencies maintained by governments, such as the U.S. dollar, there is no central authority regulating its distribution and value. Cryptocurrencies use a technology called blockchain, which is a decentralized way of keeping track of transactions. There are many copies of a given blockchain, so no single central authority is needed to validate its authenticity or accuracy.

The validity of each cryptocurrency is determined by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called “blocks”, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Blockchains by design are inherently resistant to modification of the data. They perform as an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable, permanent way. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority. On a scaled network, this level of collusion is impossible — making blockchain networks effectively immutable and trustworthy.

Blockchain process

The other element common to all cryptocurrencies is their use of public and private keys, which are stored in the currency’s wallet. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private “keys” or “addresses” that can be used to receive or spend the cryptocurrency. With the private key, it is possible to write in the public ledger (blockchain), effectively spending the associated cryptocurrency. With the public key, it is possible for others to send currency to the wallet.

What is a cryptocurrency address?

Cryptocurrency “coins” can be lost if the owner loses the private keys needed to spend the currency they own. It’s as if the owner had lost a bank account number and had no way to verify their identity to the bank, or if they lost the U.S. dollars they had in their wallet. The assets are gone and unusable.

The Cryptocurrency Wallet

Given the importance of these keys, and lack of recourse if they are lost, it’s obviously very important to keep track of your keys.

If you’re being careful in choosing reputable exchanges, app developers, and other services with whom to trust your cryptocurrency, you’ve made a good start in keeping your investment secure. But if you’re careless in managing the keys to your bitcoins, ether, Litecoin, or other cryptocurrency, you might as well leave your money on a cafe tabletop and walk away.

What Are the Differences Between Hot and Cold Wallets?

Just like other numbers you might wish to keep track of — credit cards, account numbers, phone numbers, passphrases — cryptocurrency keys can be stored in a variety of ways. Those who use their currencies for day-to-day purchases most likely will want them handy in a smartphone app, hardware key, or debit card that can be used for purchases. These are called “hot” wallets. Some experts advise keeping the balances in these devices and apps to a minimal amount to avoid hacking or data loss. We typically don’t walk around with thousands of dollars in U.S. currency in our old-style wallets, so this is really a continuation of the same approach to managing spending money.

Bread mobile app screenshot

A “hot” wallet, the Bread mobile app

Some investors with large balances keep their keys in “cold” wallets, or “cold storage,” i.e. a device or location that is not connected online. If funds are needed for purchases, they can be transferred to a more easily used payment medium. Cold wallets can be hardware devices, USB drives, or even paper copies of your keys.

Trezor hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Trezor hardware wallet

Ledger Nano S hardware wallet

A “cold” wallet, the Ledger Nano S

Bitcoin paper wallet

A “cold” Bitcoin paper wallet

Wallets are suited to holding one or more specific cryptocurrencies, and some people have multiple wallets for different currencies and different purposes.

A paper wallet is nothing other than a printed record of your public and private keys. Some prefer their records to be completely disconnected from the internet, and a piece of paper serves that need. Just like writing down an account password on paper, however, it’s essential to keep the paper secure to avoid giving someone the ability to freely access your funds.

How to Keep your Keys, and Cryptocurrency Secure

In a post this coming Thursday, Securing Your Cryptocurrency, we’ll discuss the best strategies for backing up your cryptocurrency so that your currencies don’t become part of the millions that have been lost. We’ll cover the common (and uncommon) approaches to backing up hot wallets, cold wallets, and using paper and metal solutions to keeping your keys safe.

In the meantime, please tell us of your experiences with cryptocurrencies — good and bad — and how you’ve dealt with the issue of cryptocurrency security.

The post Cryptocurrency Security Challenges appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

[$] The memory-management development process

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/752985/rss

The memory-management subsystem is maintained by a small but dedicated
group of developers. How healthy is that development community? Michal
Hocko raised that question during the memory-management track at the 2018
Linux Storage, Filesystem, and Memory-Management Summit. Hocko is worried,
but it appears that his concerns are not universally felt.

Tips for Success: GDPR Lessons Learned

Post Syndicated from Chad Woolf original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/tips-for-success-gdpr-lessons-learned/

Security is our top priority at AWS, and from the beginning we have built security into the fabric of our services. With the introduction of GDPR (which becomes enforceable on May 25 of 2018), privacy and data protection have become even more ingrained into our security-centered culture. Three weeks ago, well ahead of the deadline, we announced that all AWS services are compliant with GDPR, meaning you can use AWS as a data processor as a way to help solve your GDPR challenges (be sure to visit our GDPR Center for additional information).

When it comes to GDPR compliance, many customers are progressing nicely and much of the initial trepidation is gone. In my interactions with customers on this topic, a few themes have emerged as universal:

  • GDPR is important. You need to have a plan in place if you process personal data of EU data subjects, not only because it’s good governance, but because GDPR does carry significant penalties for non-compliance.
  • Solving this can be complex, potentially involving a lot of personnel and multiple tools. Your GDPR process will also likely span across disciplines – impacting people, processes, and technology.
  • Each customer is unique, and there are many methodologies around assessing your compliance with GDPR. It’s important to be aware of your own individual business attributes.

I thought it might be helpful to share some of our own lessons learned. In our experience in solving the GDPR challenge, the following were keys to our success:

  1. Get your senior leadership involved. We have a regular cadence of detailed status conversations about GDPR with our CEO, Andy Jassy. GDPR is high stakes, and the AWS leadership team knows it. If GDPR doesn’t have the attention it needs with the visibility of top management today, it’s time to escalate.
  2. Centralize the GDPR efforts. Driving all work streams centrally is key. This may sound obvious, but managing this in a distributed manner may result in duplicative effort and/or team members moving in a different direction.
  3. The most important single partner in solving GDPR is your legal team. Having non-legal people make assumptions about how to interpret GDPR for your unique environment is both risky and a potential waste of time and resources. You want to avoid analysis paralysis by getting proper legal advice, collaborating on a direction, and then moving forward with the proper urgency.
  4. Collaborate closely with tech leadership. The “process” people in your organization, the ones who already know how to approach governance problems, are typically comfortable jumping right in to GDPR. But technical teams, including data owners, have set up their software for business application. They may not even know what kind of data they are storing, processing, or transferring to other parts of the business. In the GDPR exercise they need to be aware of (or at least help facilitate) the tracking of data and data elements between systems. This isn’t a typical ask for technical teams, so be prepared to educate and to fully understand data flow.
  5. Don’t live by the established checklists. There are multiple methodologies to solving the compliance challenges of GDPR. At AWS, we ended up establishing core requirements, mapped out by data controller and data processor functions and then, in partnership with legal, decided upon a group of projects based on our known current state. Be careful about using a set methodology, tool or questionnaire to govern your efforts. These generic assessments can help educate, but letting them drive or limit your work could lead to missing something that is key to your own compliance. In this sense, a generic, “one size fits all” solution might not be helpful.
  6. Don’t be afraid to challenge prior orthodoxy. Many times we changed course based on new information. You shouldn’t be afraid to scrap an effort if you determine it’s not working. You should also not be afraid to escalate issues to senior leadership when needed. This is an executive issue.
  7. Look for ways to leverage your work beyond this compliance activity. GDPR requires serious effort, but are the results limited to GDPR compliance? Certainly not. You can use GDPR workflows as a way to ensure better governance moving forward. Privacy and security will require work for the foreseeable future, so make your governance program scalable and usable for other purposes.

One last tip that has made all the difference: think about protecting data subjects and work backwards from there. Customer focus drives us to ask, “what would customers and data subjects want and expect us to do?” Taking GDPR from a pure legal or compliance standpoint may be technically sufficient, but we believe the objectives of security and personal data protection require a more comprehensive view, and you can most effectively shape that view by starting with the individuals GDPR was meant to protect.

If you would like to find out more about our experiences, as well as how we can help you in your efforts, please reach out to us today.

-Chad Woolf

Vice President, AWS Security Assurance

Interested in additional AWS Security news? Follow the AWS Security Blog on Twitter.

The answers to your questions for Eben Upton

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/eben-q-a-1/

Before Easter, we asked you to tell us your questions for a live Q & A with Raspberry Pi Trading CEO and Raspberry Pi creator Eben Upton. The variety of questions and comments you sent was wonderful, and while we couldn’t get to them all, we picked a handful of the most common to grill him on.

You can watch the video below — though due to this being the first pancake of our live Q&A videos, the sound is a bit iffy — or read Eben’s answers to the first five questions today. We’ll follow up with the rest in the next few weeks!

Live Q&A with Eben Upton, creator of the Raspberry Pi

Get your questions to us now using #AskRaspberryPi on Twitter

Any plans for 64-bit Raspbian?

Raspbian is effectively 32-bit Debian built for the ARMv6 instruction-set architecture supported by the ARM11 processor in the first-generation Raspberry Pi. So maybe the question should be: “Would we release a version of our operating environment that was built on top of 64-bit ARM Debian?”

And the answer is: “Not yet.”

When we released the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, we released an operating system image on the same day; the wonderful thing about that image is that it runs on every Raspberry Pi ever made. It even runs on the alpha boards from way back in 2011.

That deep backwards compatibility is really important for us, in large part because we don’t want to orphan our customers. If someone spent $35 on an older-model Raspberry Pi five or six years ago, they still spent $35, so it would be wrong for us to throw them under the bus.

So, if we were going to do a 64-bit version, we’d want to keep doing the 32-bit version, and then that would mean our efforts would be split across the two versions; and remember, we’re still a very small engineering team. Never say never, but it would be a big step for us.

For people wanting a 64-bit operating system, there are plenty of good third-party images out there, including SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Given that the 3B+ includes 5GHz wireless and Power over Ethernet (PoE) support, why would manufacturers continue to use the Compute Module?

It’s a form-factor thing.

Very large numbers of people are using the bigger product in an industrial context, and it’s well engineered for that: it has module certification, wireless on board, and now PoE support. But there are use cases that can’t accommodate this form factor. For example, NEC displays: we’ve had this great relationship with NEC for a couple of years now where a lot of their displays have a socket in the back that you can put a Compute Module into. That wouldn’t work with the 3B+ form factor.

Back of an NEC display with a Raspberry Pi Compute Module slotted in.

An NEC display with a Raspberry Pi Compute Module

What are some industrial uses/products Raspberry is used with?

The NEC displays are a good example of the broader trend of using Raspberry Pi in digital signage.

A Raspberry Pi running the wait time signage at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios.
Image c/o thelonelyredditor1

If you see a monitor at a station, or an airport, or a recording studio, and you look behind it, it’s amazing how often you’ll find a Raspberry Pi sitting there. The original Raspberry Pi was particularly strong for multimedia use cases, so we saw uptake in signage very early on.

An array of many Raspberry Pis

Los Alamos Raspberry Pi supercomputer

Another great example is the Los Alamos National Laboratory building supercomputers out of Raspberry Pis. Many high-end supercomputers now are built using white-box hardware — just regular PCs connected together using some networking fabric — and a collection of Raspberry Pi units can serve as a scale model of that. The Raspberry Pi has less processing power, less memory, and less networking bandwidth than the PC, but it has a balanced amount of each. So if you don’t want to let your apprentice supercomputer engineers loose on your expensive supercomputer, a cluster of Raspberry Pis is a good alternative.

Why is there no power button on the Raspberry Pi?

“Once you start, where do you stop?” is a question we ask ourselves a lot.

There are a whole bunch of useful things that we haven’t included in the Raspberry Pi by default. We don’t have a power button, we don’t have a real-time clock, and we don’t have an analogue-to-digital converter — those are probably the three most common requests. And the issue with them is that they each cost a bit of money, they’re each only useful to a minority of users, and even that minority often can’t agree on exactly what they want. Some people would like a power button that is literally a physical analogue switch between the 5V input and the rest of the board, while others would like something a bit more like a PC power button, which is partway between a physical switch and a ‘shutdown’ button. There’s no consensus about what sort of power button we should add.

So the answer is: accessories. By leaving a feature off the board, we’re not taxing the majority of people who don’t want the feature. And of course, we create an opportunity for other companies in the ecosystem to create and sell accessories to those people who do want them.

Adafruit Push-button Power Switch Breakout Raspberry Pi

The Adafruit Push-button Power Switch Breakout is one of many accessories that fill in the gaps for makers.

We have this neat way of figuring out what features to include by default: we divide through the fraction of people who want it. If you have a 20 cent component that’s going to be used by a fifth of people, we treat that as if it’s a $1 component. And it has to fight its way against the $1 components that will be used by almost everybody.

Do you think that Raspberry Pi is the future of the Internet of Things?

Absolutely, Raspberry Pi is the future of the Internet of Things!

In practice, most of the viable early IoT use cases are in the commercial and industrial spaces rather than the consumer space. Maybe in ten years’ time, IoT will be about putting 10-cent chips into light switches, but right now there’s so much money to be saved by putting automation into factories that you don’t need 10-cent components to address the market. Last year, roughly 2 million $35 Raspberry Pi units went into commercial and industrial applications, and many of those are what you’d call IoT applications.

So I think we’re the future of a particular slice of IoT. And we have ten years to get our price point down to 10 cents 🙂

The post The answers to your questions for Eben Upton appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

[$] An audit container ID proposal

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/750313/rss

The kernel development community has consistently resisted adding any
formal notion of what a “container” is to the kernel. While the needed
building blocks (namespaces, control groups, etc.) are provided, it is up
to user space to assemble the pieces into the sort of container
implementation it needs. This approach maximizes flexibility and makes it
possible to implement a number of different container abstractions, but it
also can make it hard to associate events in the kernel with the container
that caused them. Audit container IDs are an attempt to fix that problem
for one specific use case; they have not been universally well received in
the past, but work on this mechanism continues regardless.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ on sale now at $35

Post Syndicated from Eben Upton original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/raspberry-pi-3-model-bplus-sale-now-35/

Here’s a long post. We think you’ll find it interesting. If you don’t have time to read it all, we recommend you watch this video, which will fill you in with everything you need, and then head straight to the product page to fill yer boots. (We recommend the video anyway, even if you do have time for a long read. ‘Cos it’s fab.)

A BRAND-NEW PI FOR π DAY

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is now on sale now for $35, featuring: – A 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU – Dual-band 802.11ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.2 – Faster Ethernet (Gigabit Ethernet over USB 2.0) – Power-over-Ethernet support (with separate PoE HAT) – Improved PXE network and USB mass-storage booting – Improved thermal management Alongside a 200MHz increase in peak CPU clock frequency, we have roughly three times the wired and wireless network throughput, and the ability to sustain high performance for much longer periods.

If you’ve been a Raspberry Pi watcher for a while now, you’ll have a bit of a feel for how we update our products. Just over two years ago, we released Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. This was our first 64-bit product, and our first product to feature integrated wireless connectivity. Since then, we’ve sold over nine million Raspberry Pi 3 units (we’ve sold 19 million Raspberry Pis in total), which have been put to work in schools, homes, offices and factories all over the globe.

Those Raspberry Pi watchers will know that we have a history of releasing improved versions of our products a couple of years into their lives. The first example was Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+, which added two additional USB ports, introduced our current form factor, and rolled up a variety of other feedback from the community. Raspberry Pi 2 didn’t get this treatment, of course, as it was superseded after only one year; but it feels like it’s high time that Raspberry Pi 3 received the “plus” treatment.

So, without further ado, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is now on sale for $35 (the same price as the existing Raspberry Pi 3 Model B), featuring:

  • A 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU
  • Dual-band 802.11ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.2
  • Faster Ethernet (Gigabit Ethernet over USB 2.0)
  • Power-over-Ethernet support (with separate PoE HAT)
  • Improved PXE network and USB mass-storage booting
  • Improved thermal management

Alongside a 200MHz increase in peak CPU clock frequency, we have roughly three times the wired and wireless network throughput, and the ability to sustain high performance for much longer periods.

Behold the shiny

Raspberry Pi 3B+ is available to buy today from our network of Approved Resellers.

New features, new chips

Roger Thornton did the design work on this revision of the Raspberry Pi. Here, he and I have a chat about what’s new.

Introducing the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is now on sale now for $35, featuring: – A 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU – Dual-band 802.11ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.2 – Faster Ethernet (Gigabit Ethernet over USB 2.0) – Power-over-Ethernet support (with separate PoE HAT) – Improved PXE network and USB mass-storage booting – Improved thermal management Alongside a 200MHz increase in peak CPU clock frequency, we have roughly three times the wired and wireless network throughput, and the ability to sustain high performance for much longer periods.

The new product is built around BCM2837B0, an updated version of the 64-bit Broadcom application processor used in Raspberry Pi 3B, which incorporates power integrity optimisations, and a heat spreader (that’s the shiny metal bit you can see in the photos). Together these allow us to reach higher clock frequencies (or to run at lower voltages to reduce power consumption), and to more accurately monitor and control the temperature of the chip.

Dual-band wireless LAN and Bluetooth are provided by the Cypress CYW43455 “combo” chip, connected to a Proant PCB antenna similar to the one used on Raspberry Pi Zero W. Compared to its predecessor, Raspberry Pi 3B+ delivers somewhat better performance in the 2.4GHz band, and far better performance in the 5GHz band, as demonstrated by these iperf results from LibreELEC developer Milhouse.

Tx bandwidth (Mb/s)Rx bandwidth (Mb/s)
Raspberry Pi 3B35.735.6
Raspberry Pi 3B+ (2.4GHz)46.746.3
Raspberry Pi 3B+ (5GHz)102102

The wireless circuitry is encapsulated under a metal shield, rather fetchingly embossed with our logo. This has allowed us to certify the entire board as a radio module under FCC rules, which in turn will significantly reduce the cost of conformance testing Raspberry Pi-based products.

We’ll be teaching metalwork next.

Previous Raspberry Pi devices have used the LAN951x family of chips, which combine a USB hub and 10/100 Ethernet controller. For Raspberry Pi 3B+, Microchip have supported us with an upgraded version, LAN7515, which supports Gigabit Ethernet. While the USB 2.0 connection to the application processor limits the available bandwidth, we still see roughly a threefold increase in throughput compared to Raspberry Pi 3B. Again, here are some typical iperf results.

Tx bandwidth (Mb/s)Rx bandwidth (Mb/s)
Raspberry Pi 3B94.195.5
Raspberry Pi 3B+315315

We use a magjack that supports Power over Ethernet (PoE), and bring the relevant signals to a new 4-pin header. We will shortly launch a PoE HAT which can generate the 5V necessary to power the Raspberry Pi from the 48V PoE supply.

There… are… four… pins!

Coming soon to a Raspberry Pi 3B+ near you

Raspberry Pi 3B was our first product to support PXE Ethernet boot. Testing it in the wild shook out a number of compatibility issues with particular switches and traffic environments. Gordon has rolled up fixes for all known issues into the BCM2837B0 boot ROM, and PXE boot is now enabled by default.

Clocking, voltages and thermals

The improved power integrity of the BCM2837B0 package, and the improved regulation accuracy of our new MaxLinear MxL7704 power management IC, have allowed us to tune our clocking and voltage rules for both better peak performance and longer-duration sustained performance.

Below 70°C, we use the improvements to increase the core frequency to 1.4GHz. Above 70°C, we drop to 1.2GHz, and use the improvements to decrease the core voltage, increasing the period of time before we reach our 80°C thermal throttle; the reduction in power consumption is such that many use cases will never reach the throttle. Like a modern smartphone, we treat the thermal mass of the device as a resource, to be spent carefully with the goal of optimising user experience.

This graph, courtesy of Gareth Halfacree, demonstrates that Raspberry Pi 3B+ runs faster and at a lower temperature for the duration of an eight‑minute quad‑core Sysbench CPU test.

Note that Raspberry Pi 3B+ does consume substantially more power than its predecessor. We strongly encourage you to use a high-quality 2.5A power supply, such as the official Raspberry Pi Universal Power Supply.

FAQs

We’ll keep updating this list over the next couple of days, but here are a few to get you started.

Are you discontinuing earlier Raspberry Pi models?

No. We have a lot of industrial customers who will want to stick with the existing products for the time being. We’ll keep building these models for as long as there’s demand. Raspberry Pi 1B+, Raspberry Pi 2B, and Raspberry Pi 3B will continue to sell for $25, $35, and $35 respectively.

What about Model A+?

Raspberry Pi 1A+ continues to be the $20 entry-level “big” Raspberry Pi for the time being. We are considering the possibility of producing a Raspberry Pi 3A+ in due course.

What about the Compute Module?

CM1, CM3 and CM3L will continue to be available. We may offer versions of CM3 and CM3L with BCM2837B0 in due course, depending on customer demand.

Are you still using VideoCore?

Yes. VideoCore IV 3D is the only publicly-documented 3D graphics core for ARM‑based SoCs, and we want to make Raspberry Pi more open over time, not less.

Credits

A project like this requires a vast amount of focused work from a large team over an extended period. Particular credit is due to Roger Thornton, who designed the board and ran the exhaustive (and exhausting) RF compliance campaign, and to the team at the Sony UK Technology Centre in Pencoed, South Wales. A partial list of others who made major direct contributions to the BCM2837B0 chip program, CYW43455 integration, LAN7515 and MxL7704 developments, and Raspberry Pi 3B+ itself follows:

James Adams, David Armour, Jonathan Bell, Maria Blazquez, Jamie Brogan-Shaw, Mike Buffham, Rob Campling, Cindy Cao, Victor Carmon, KK Chan, Nick Chase, Nigel Cheetham, Scott Clark, Nigel Clift, Dominic Cobley, Peter Coyle, John Cronk, Di Dai, Kurt Dennis, David Doyle, Andrew Edwards, Phil Elwell, John Ferdinand, Doug Freegard, Ian Furlong, Shawn Guo, Philip Harrison, Jason Hicks, Stefan Ho, Andrew Hoare, Gordon Hollingworth, Tuomas Hollman, EikPei Hu, James Hughes, Andy Hulbert, Anand Jain, David John, Prasanna Kerekoppa, Shaik Labeeb, Trevor Latham, Steve Le, David Lee, David Lewsey, Sherman Li, Xizhe Li, Simon Long, Fu Luo Larson, Juan Martinez, Sandhya Menon, Ben Mercer, James Mills, Max Passell, Mark Perry, Eric Phiri, Ashwin Rao, Justin Rees, James Reilly, Matt Rowley, Akshaye Sama, Ian Saturley, Serge Schneider, Manuel Sedlmair, Shawn Shadburn, Veeresh Shivashimper, Graham Smith, Ben Stephens, Mike Stimson, Yuree Tchong, Stuart Thomson, John Wadsworth, Ian Watch, Sarah Williams, Jason Zhu.

If you’re not on this list and think you should be, please let me know, and accept my apologies.

The post Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ on sale now at $35 appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Best Practices for Running Apache Cassandra on Amazon EC2

Post Syndicated from Prasad Alle original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/best-practices-for-running-apache-cassandra-on-amazon-ec2/

Apache Cassandra is a commonly used, high performance NoSQL database. AWS customers that currently maintain Cassandra on-premises may want to take advantage of the scalability, reliability, security, and economic benefits of running Cassandra on Amazon EC2.

Amazon EC2 and Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) provide secure, resizable compute capacity and storage in the AWS Cloud. When combined, you can deploy Cassandra, allowing you to scale capacity according to your requirements. Given the number of possible deployment topologies, it’s not always trivial to select the most appropriate strategy suitable for your use case.

In this post, we outline three Cassandra deployment options, as well as provide guidance about determining the best practices for your use case in the following areas:

  • Cassandra resource overview
  • Deployment considerations
  • Storage options
  • Networking
  • High availability and resiliency
  • Maintenance
  • Security

Before we jump into best practices for running Cassandra on AWS, we should mention that we have many customers who decided to use DynamoDB instead of managing their own Cassandra cluster. DynamoDB is fully managed, serverless, and provides multi-master cross-region replication, encryption at rest, and managed backup and restore. Integration with AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) enables DynamoDB customers to implement fine-grained access control for their data security needs.

Several customers who have been using large Cassandra clusters for many years have moved to DynamoDB to eliminate the complications of administering Cassandra clusters and maintaining high availability and durability themselves. Gumgum.com is one customer who migrated to DynamoDB and observed significant savings. For more information, see Moving to Amazon DynamoDB from Hosted Cassandra: A Leap Towards 60% Cost Saving per Year.

AWS provides options, so you’re covered whether you want to run your own NoSQL Cassandra database, or move to a fully managed, serverless DynamoDB database.

Cassandra resource overview

Here’s a short introduction to standard Cassandra resources and how they are implemented with AWS infrastructure. If you’re already familiar with Cassandra or AWS deployments, this can serve as a refresher.

ResourceCassandraAWS
Cluster

A single Cassandra deployment.

 

This typically consists of multiple physical locations, keyspaces, and physical servers.

A logical deployment construct in AWS that maps to an AWS CloudFormation StackSet, which consists of one or many CloudFormation stacks to deploy Cassandra.
DatacenterA group of nodes configured as a single replication group.

A logical deployment construct in AWS.

 

A datacenter is deployed with a single CloudFormation stack consisting of Amazon EC2 instances, networking, storage, and security resources.

Rack

A collection of servers.

 

A datacenter consists of at least one rack. Cassandra tries to place the replicas on different racks.

A single Availability Zone.
Server/nodeA physical virtual machine running Cassandra software.An EC2 instance.
TokenConceptually, the data managed by a cluster is represented as a ring. The ring is then divided into ranges equal to the number of nodes. Each node being responsible for one or more ranges of the data. Each node gets assigned with a token, which is essentially a random number from the range. The token value determines the node’s position in the ring and its range of data.Managed within Cassandra.
Virtual node (vnode)Responsible for storing a range of data. Each vnode receives one token in the ring. A cluster (by default) consists of 256 tokens, which are uniformly distributed across all servers in the Cassandra datacenter.Managed within Cassandra.
Replication factorThe total number of replicas across the cluster.Managed within Cassandra.

Deployment considerations

One of the many benefits of deploying Cassandra on Amazon EC2 is that you can automate many deployment tasks. In addition, AWS includes services, such as CloudFormation, that allow you to describe and provision all your infrastructure resources in your cloud environment.

We recommend orchestrating each Cassandra ring with one CloudFormation template. If you are deploying in multiple AWS Regions, you can use a CloudFormation StackSet to manage those stacks. All the maintenance actions (scaling, upgrading, and backing up) should be scripted with an AWS SDK. These may live as standalone AWS Lambda functions that can be invoked on demand during maintenance.

You can get started by following the Cassandra Quick Start deployment guide. Keep in mind that this guide does not address the requirements to operate a production deployment and should be used only for learning more about Cassandra.

Deployment patterns

In this section, we discuss various deployment options available for Cassandra in Amazon EC2. A successful deployment starts with thoughtful consideration of these options. Consider the amount of data, network environment, throughput, and availability.

  • Single AWS Region, 3 Availability Zones
  • Active-active, multi-Region
  • Active-standby, multi-Region

Single region, 3 Availability Zones

In this pattern, you deploy the Cassandra cluster in one AWS Region and three Availability Zones. There is only one ring in the cluster. By using EC2 instances in three zones, you ensure that the replicas are distributed uniformly in all zones.

To ensure the even distribution of data across all Availability Zones, we recommend that you distribute the EC2 instances evenly in all three Availability Zones. The number of EC2 instances in the cluster is a multiple of three (the replication factor).

This pattern is suitable in situations where the application is deployed in one Region or where deployments in different Regions should be constrained to the same Region because of data privacy or other legal requirements.

ProsCons

●     Highly available, can sustain failure of one Availability Zone.

●     Simple deployment

●     Does not protect in a situation when many of the resources in a Region are experiencing intermittent failure.

 

Active-active, multi-Region

In this pattern, you deploy two rings in two different Regions and link them. The VPCs in the two Regions are peered so that data can be replicated between two rings.

We recommend that the two rings in the two Regions be identical in nature, having the same number of nodes, instance types, and storage configuration.

This pattern is most suitable when the applications using the Cassandra cluster are deployed in more than one Region.

ProsCons

●     No data loss during failover.

●     Highly available, can sustain when many of the resources in a Region are experiencing intermittent failures.

●     Read/write traffic can be localized to the closest Region for the user for lower latency and higher performance.

●     High operational overhead

●     The second Region effectively doubles the cost

 

Active-standby, multi-region

In this pattern, you deploy two rings in two different Regions and link them. The VPCs in the two Regions are peered so that data can be replicated between two rings.

However, the second Region does not receive traffic from the applications. It only functions as a secondary location for disaster recovery reasons. If the primary Region is not available, the second Region receives traffic.

We recommend that the two rings in the two Regions be identical in nature, having the same number of nodes, instance types, and storage configuration.

This pattern is most suitable when the applications using the Cassandra cluster require low recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO).

ProsCons

●     No data loss during failover.

●     Highly available, can sustain failure or partitioning of one whole Region.

●     High operational overhead.

●     High latency for writes for eventual consistency.

●     The second Region effectively doubles the cost.

Storage options

In on-premises deployments, Cassandra deployments use local disks to store data. There are two storage options for EC2 instances:

Your choice of storage is closely related to the type of workload supported by the Cassandra cluster. Instance store works best for most general purpose Cassandra deployments. However, in certain read-heavy clusters, Amazon EBS is a better choice.

The choice of instance type is generally driven by the type of storage:

  • If ephemeral storage is required for your application, a storage-optimized (I3) instance is the best option.
  • If your workload requires Amazon EBS, it is best to go with compute-optimized (C5) instances.
  • Burstable instance types (T2) don’t offer good performance for Cassandra deployments.

Instance store

Ephemeral storage is local to the EC2 instance. It may provide high input/output operations per second (IOPs) based on the instance type. An SSD-based instance store can support up to 3.3M IOPS in I3 instances. This high performance makes it an ideal choice for transactional or write-intensive applications such as Cassandra.

In general, instance storage is recommended for transactional, large, and medium-size Cassandra clusters. For a large cluster, read/write traffic is distributed across a higher number of nodes, so the loss of one node has less of an impact. However, for smaller clusters, a quick recovery for the failed node is important.

As an example, for a cluster with 100 nodes, the loss of 1 node is 3.33% loss (with a replication factor of 3). Similarly, for a cluster with 10 nodes, the loss of 1 node is 33% less capacity (with a replication factor of 3).

 Ephemeral storageAmazon EBSComments

IOPS

(translates to higher query performance)

Up to 3.3M on I3

80K/instance

10K/gp2/volume

32K/io1/volume

This results in a higher query performance on each host. However, Cassandra implicitly scales well in terms of horizontal scale. In general, we recommend scaling horizontally first. Then, scale vertically to mitigate specific issues.

 

Note: 3.3M IOPS is observed with 100% random read with a 4-KB block size on Amazon Linux.

AWS instance typesI3Compute optimized, C5Being able to choose between different instance types is an advantage in terms of CPU, memory, etc., for horizontal and vertical scaling.
Backup/ recoveryCustomBasic building blocks are available from AWS.

Amazon EBS offers distinct advantage here. It is small engineering effort to establish a backup/restore strategy.

a) In case of an instance failure, the EBS volumes from the failing instance are attached to a new instance.

b) In case of an EBS volume failure, the data is restored by creating a new EBS volume from last snapshot.

Amazon EBS

EBS volumes offer higher resiliency, and IOPs can be configured based on your storage needs. EBS volumes also offer some distinct advantages in terms of recovery time. EBS volumes can support up to 32K IOPS per volume and up to 80K IOPS per instance in RAID configuration. They have an annualized failure rate (AFR) of 0.1–0.2%, which makes EBS volumes 20 times more reliable than typical commodity disk drives.

The primary advantage of using Amazon EBS in a Cassandra deployment is that it reduces data-transfer traffic significantly when a node fails or must be replaced. The replacement node joins the cluster much faster. However, Amazon EBS could be more expensive, depending on your data storage needs.

Cassandra has built-in fault tolerance by replicating data to partitions across a configurable number of nodes. It can not only withstand node failures but if a node fails, it can also recover by copying data from other replicas into a new node. Depending on your application, this could mean copying tens of gigabytes of data. This adds additional delay to the recovery process, increases network traffic, and could possibly impact the performance of the Cassandra cluster during recovery.

Data stored on Amazon EBS is persisted in case of an instance failure or termination. The node’s data stored on an EBS volume remains intact and the EBS volume can be mounted to a new EC2 instance. Most of the replicated data for the replacement node is already available in the EBS volume and won’t need to be copied over the network from another node. Only the changes made after the original node failed need to be transferred across the network. That makes this process much faster.

EBS volumes are snapshotted periodically. So, if a volume fails, a new volume can be created from the last known good snapshot and be attached to a new instance. This is faster than creating a new volume and coping all the data to it.

Most Cassandra deployments use a replication factor of three. However, Amazon EBS does its own replication under the covers for fault tolerance. In practice, EBS volumes are about 20 times more reliable than typical disk drives. So, it is possible to go with a replication factor of two. This not only saves cost, but also enables deployments in a region that has two Availability Zones.

EBS volumes are recommended in case of read-heavy, small clusters (fewer nodes) that require storage of a large amount of data. Keep in mind that the Amazon EBS provisioned IOPS could get expensive. General purpose EBS volumes work best when sized for required performance.

Networking

If your cluster is expected to receive high read/write traffic, select an instance type that offers 10–Gb/s performance. As an example, i3.8xlarge and c5.9xlarge both offer 10–Gb/s networking performance. A smaller instance type in the same family leads to a relatively lower networking throughput.

Cassandra generates a universal unique identifier (UUID) for each node based on IP address for the instance. This UUID is used for distributing vnodes on the ring.

In the case of an AWS deployment, IP addresses are assigned automatically to the instance when an EC2 instance is created. With the new IP address, the data distribution changes and the whole ring has to be rebalanced. This is not desirable.

To preserve the assigned IP address, use a secondary elastic network interface with a fixed IP address. Before swapping an EC2 instance with a new one, detach the secondary network interface from the old instance and attach it to the new one. This way, the UUID remains same and there is no change in the way that data is distributed in the cluster.

If you are deploying in more than one region, you can connect the two VPCs in two regions using cross-region VPC peering.

High availability and resiliency

Cassandra is designed to be fault-tolerant and highly available during multiple node failures. In the patterns described earlier in this post, you deploy Cassandra to three Availability Zones with a replication factor of three. Even though it limits the AWS Region choices to the Regions with three or more Availability Zones, it offers protection for the cases of one-zone failure and network partitioning within a single Region. The multi-Region deployments described earlier in this post protect when many of the resources in a Region are experiencing intermittent failure.

Resiliency is ensured through infrastructure automation. The deployment patterns all require a quick replacement of the failing nodes. In the case of a regionwide failure, when you deploy with the multi-Region option, traffic can be directed to the other active Region while the infrastructure is recovering in the failing Region. In the case of unforeseen data corruption, the standby cluster can be restored with point-in-time backups stored in Amazon S3.

Maintenance

In this section, we look at ways to ensure that your Cassandra cluster is healthy:

  • Scaling
  • Upgrades
  • Backup and restore

Scaling

Cassandra is horizontally scaled by adding more instances to the ring. We recommend doubling the number of nodes in a cluster to scale up in one scale operation. This leaves the data homogeneously distributed across Availability Zones. Similarly, when scaling down, it’s best to halve the number of instances to keep the data homogeneously distributed.

Cassandra is vertically scaled by increasing the compute power of each node. Larger instance types have proportionally bigger memory. Use deployment automation to swap instances for bigger instances without downtime or data loss.

Upgrades

All three types of upgrades (Cassandra, operating system patching, and instance type changes) follow the same rolling upgrade pattern.

In this process, you start with a new EC2 instance and install software and patches on it. Thereafter, remove one node from the ring. For more information, see Cassandra cluster Rolling upgrade. Then, you detach the secondary network interface from one of the EC2 instances in the ring and attach it to the new EC2 instance. Restart the Cassandra service and wait for it to sync. Repeat this process for all nodes in the cluster.

Backup and restore

Your backup and restore strategy is dependent on the type of storage used in the deployment. Cassandra supports snapshots and incremental backups. When using instance store, a file-based backup tool works best. Customers use rsync or other third-party products to copy data backups from the instance to long-term storage. For more information, see Backing up and restoring data in the DataStax documentation. This process has to be repeated for all instances in the cluster for a complete backup. These backup files are copied back to new instances to restore. We recommend using S3 to durably store backup files for long-term storage.

For Amazon EBS based deployments, you can enable automated snapshots of EBS volumes to back up volumes. New EBS volumes can be easily created from these snapshots for restoration.

Security

We recommend that you think about security in all aspects of deployment. The first step is to ensure that the data is encrypted at rest and in transit. The second step is to restrict access to unauthorized users. For more information about security, see the Cassandra documentation.

Encryption at rest

Encryption at rest can be achieved by using EBS volumes with encryption enabled. Amazon EBS uses AWS KMS for encryption. For more information, see Amazon EBS Encryption.

Instance store–based deployments require using an encrypted file system or an AWS partner solution. If you are using DataStax Enterprise, it supports transparent data encryption.

Encryption in transit

Cassandra uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) for client and internode communications.

Authentication

The security mechanism is pluggable, which means that you can easily swap out one authentication method for another. You can also provide your own method of authenticating to Cassandra, such as a Kerberos ticket, or if you want to store passwords in a different location, such as an LDAP directory.

Authorization

The authorizer that’s plugged in by default is org.apache.cassandra.auth.Allow AllAuthorizer. Cassandra also provides a role-based access control (RBAC) capability, which allows you to create roles and assign permissions to these roles.

Conclusion

In this post, we discussed several patterns for running Cassandra in the AWS Cloud. This post describes how you can manage Cassandra databases running on Amazon EC2. AWS also provides managed offerings for a number of databases. To learn more, see Purpose-built databases for all your application needs.

If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below.


Additional Reading

If you found this post useful, be sure to check out Analyze Your Data on Amazon DynamoDB with Apache Spark and Analysis of Top-N DynamoDB Objects using Amazon Athena and Amazon QuickSight.


About the Authors

Prasad Alle is a Senior Big Data Consultant with AWS Professional Services. He spends his time leading and building scalable, reliable Big data, Machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and IoT solutions for AWS Enterprise and Strategic customers. His interests extend to various technologies such as Advanced Edge Computing, Machine learning at Edge. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family.

 

 

 

Provanshu Dey is a Senior IoT Consultant with AWS Professional Services. He works on highly scalable and reliable IoT, data and machine learning solutions with our customers. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family and tinkering with electronics & gadgets.

 

 

 

When You Have A Blockchain, Everything Looks Like a Nail

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/blockchain-everything-looks-like-nail/

Blockchain, AI, big data, NoSQL, microservices, single page applications, cloud, SOA. What do these have in common? They have been or are hyped. At some point they were “the big thing” du jour. Everyone was investigating the possibility of using them, everyone was talking about them, there were meetups, conferences, articles on Hacker news and reddit. There are more examples, of course (which is the javascript framework this month?) but I’ll focus my examples on those above.

Another thing they have in common is that they are useful. All of them have some pretty good applications that are definitely worth the time and investment.

Yet another thing they have in common is that they are far from universally applicable. I’ve argued that monoliths are often still the better approach and that microservices introduce too much complexity for the average project. Big Data is something very few organizations actually have; AI/machine learning can help a wide variety of problems, but it is just a tool in a toolbox, not the solution to all problems. Single page applications are great for, yeah, applications, but most websites are still websites, not feature-rich frontends – you don’t need an SPA for every type of website. NoSQL has solved niche issues, and issues of scale that few companies have had, but nothing beats a good old relational database for the typical project out there. “The cloud” is not always where you want your software to be; and SOA just means everything (ESBs, direct integrations, even microservices, according to some). And the blockchain – it seems to be having limited success beyond cryptocurrencies.

And finally, another trait many of them share is that the hype has settled down. Only yesterday I read an article about the “death of the microservices madness”. I don’t see nearly as many new NoSQL databases as a few years ago, some of the projects that have been popular have faded. SOA and “the cloud” are already “boring”, and we’ve realized we don’t actually have big data if it fits in an Excel spreadsheet. SPAs and AI are still high in popularity, but we are getting a good understanding as a community why and when they are useful.

But it seems that nuanced reality has never stopped us from hyping a particular technology or approach. And maybe that’s okay in order to get a promising, though niche, technology, the spotlight and let it shine in the particular usecases where it fits.

But countless projects have and will suffer from our collective inability to filter through these hypes. I’d bet millions of developer hours have been wasted in trying to use the above technologies where they just didn’t fit. It’s like that scene from Idiocracy where a guy tries to fit a rectangular figure into a circular hole.

And the new one is not “the blockchain”. I won’t repeat my rant, but in summary – it doesn’t solve many of the problems companies are trying to solve with it right now just because it’s cool. Or at least it doesn’t solve them better than existing solutions. Many pilots will be carried out, many hours will be wasted in figuring out why that thing doesn’t work. A few of those projects will be a good fit and will actually bring value.

Do you need to reach multi-party consensus for the data you store? Can all stakeholder support the infrastructure to run their node(s)? Do they have the staff to administer the node(s)? Do you need to execute distributed application code on the data? Won’t it be easier to just deploy RESTful APIs and integrate the parties through that? Do you need to store all the data, or just parts of it, to guarantee data integrity?

“If you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” as the famous saying goes. In the software industry we repeatedly find new and cool hammers and then try to hit as many nails as we can. But only few of them are actual nails. The rest remain ugly, hard to support, “who was the idiot that wrote this” and “I wasn’t here when the decisions were made” types of projects.

I don’t have the illusion that we will calm down and skip the next hypes. Especially if adding the hyped word to your company raises your stock price. But if there’s one thing I’d like people to ask themselves when choosing a technology stack, it is “do we really need that to solve our problems?”.

If the answer is really “yes”, then great, go ahead and deploy the multi-organization permissioned blockchain, or fork Ethereum, or whatever. If not, you can still do a project a home that you can safely abandon. And if you need some pilot project to figure out whether the new piece of technology would be beneficial – go ahead and try it. But have a baseline – the fact that it somehow worked doesn’t mean it’s better than old, tested models of doing the same thing.

The post When You Have A Blockchain, Everything Looks Like a Nail appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Turn your smartphone into a universal remote

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/zero-universal-remote/

Honolulu-based software developer bbtinkerer was tired of never being able to find the TV remote. So he made his own using a Raspberry Pi Zero, and connected it to a web app accessible on his smartphone.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Finding a remote alternative

“I needed one because the remote in my house tends to go missing a lot,” explains Bernard aka bbtinkerer on the Instructables page for his Raspberry Pi Zero Universal Remote.”If I want the controller, I have to hunt down three people and hope one of them remembers that they took it.”

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

For the build, Bernard used a Raspberry Pi Zero, an IR LED and corresponding receiver, Raspbian Lite, and a neat little 3D-printed housing.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero
bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero
bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

First, he soldered a circuit for the LED and resistors on a small piece of perf board. Then he assembled the hardware components. Finally, all he needed to do was to write the code to control his devices (including a tower fan), and to set up the app.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Bernard employed the Linux Infrared Remote Control (LIRC) package to control the television with the Raspberry Pi Zero, accessing the Zero via SSH. He gives a complete rundown of the installation process on Instructables.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Setting up a remote’s buttons with LIRC is a simple case of pressing them and naming their functions one by one. You’ll need the remote to set up the system, but after that, feel free to lock it in a drawer and use your smartphone instead.



Finally, Bernard created the web interface using Node.js, and again, because he’s lovely, he published the code for anyone wanting to build their own. Thanks, Bernard!

Life hacks

If you’ve used a Raspberry Pi to build a time-saving life hack like Bernard’s, be sure to share it with us. Other favourites of ours include fridge cameras, phone app doorbell notifications, and Alan’s ocarina home automation system. I’m not sure if this last one can truly be considered a time-saving life hack. It’s still cool though!

The post Turn your smartphone into a universal remote appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

The deal with Bitcoin

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-deal-with-bitcoin.html

♪ Used to have a little now I have a lot
I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block
          chain ♪

For all that has been written about Bitcoin and its ilk, it is curious that the focus is almost solely what the cryptocurrencies are supposed to be. Technologists wax lyrical about the potential for blockchains to change almost every aspect of our lives. Libertarians and paleoconservatives ache for the return to “sound money” that can’t be conjured up at the whim of a bureaucrat. Mainstream economists wag their fingers, proclaiming that a proper currency can’t be deflationary, that it must maintain a particular velocity, or that the government must be able to nip crises of confidence in the bud. And so on.

Much of this may be true, but the proponents of cryptocurrencies should recognize that an appeal to consequences is not a guarantee of good results. The critics, on the other hand, would be best served to remember that they are drawing far-reaching conclusions about the effects of modern monetary policies based on a very short and tumultuous period in history.

In this post, my goal is to ditch most of the dogma, talk a bit about the origins of money – and then see how “crypto” fits the bill.

1. The prehistory of currencies

The emergence of money is usually explained in a very straightforward way. You know the story: a farmer raised a pig, a cobbler made a shoe. The cobbler needed to feed his family while the farmer wanted to keep his feet warm – and so they met to exchange the goods on mutually beneficial terms. But as the tale goes, the barter system had a fatal flaw: sometimes, a farmer wanted a cooking pot, a potter wanted a knife, and a blacksmith wanted a pair of pants. To facilitate increasingly complex, multi-step exchanges without requiring dozens of people to meet face to face, we came up with an abstract way to represent value – a shiny coin guaranteed to be accepted by every tradesman.

It is a nice parable, but it probably isn’t very true. It seems far more plausible that early societies relied on the concept of debt long before the advent of currencies: an informal tally or a formal ledger would be used to keep track of who owes what to whom. The concept of debt, closely associated with one’s trustworthiness and standing in the community, would have enabled a wide range of economic activities: debts could be paid back over time, transferred, renegotiated, or forgotten – all without having to engage in spot barter or to mint a single coin. In fact, such non-monetary, trust-based, reciprocal economies are still common in closely-knit communities: among families, neighbors, coworkers, or friends.

In such a setting, primitive currencies probably emerged simply as a consequence of having a system of prices: a cow being worth a particular number of chickens, a chicken being worth a particular number of beaver pelts, and so forth. Formalizing such relationships by settling on a single, widely-known unit of account – say, one chicken – would make it more convenient to transfer, combine, or split debts; or to settle them in alternative goods.

Contrary to popular belief, for communal ledgers, the unit of account probably did not have to be particularly desirable, durable, or easy to carry; it was simply an accounting tool. And indeed, we sometimes run into fairly unusual units of account even in modern times: for example, cigarettes can be the basis of a bustling prison economy even when most inmates don’t smoke and there are not that many packs to go around.

2. The age of commodity money

In the end, the development of coinage might have had relatively little to do with communal trade – and far more with the desire to exchange goods with strangers. When dealing with a unfamiliar or hostile tribe, the concept of a chicken-denominated ledger does not hold up: the other side might be disinclined to honor its obligations – and get away with it, too. To settle such problematic trades, we needed a “spot” medium of exchange that would be easy to carry and authenticate, had a well-defined value, and a near-universal appeal. Throughout much of the recorded history, precious metals – predominantly gold and silver – proved to fit the bill.

In the most basic sense, such commodities could be seen as a tool to reconcile debts across societal boundaries, without necessarily replacing any local units of account. An obligation, denominated in some local currency, would be created on buyer’s side in order to procure the metal for the trade. The proceeds of the completed transaction would in turn allow the seller to settle their own local obligations that arose from having to source the traded goods. In other words, our wondrous chicken-denominated ledgers could coexist peacefully with gold – and when commodity coinage finally took hold, it’s likely that in everyday trade, precious metals served more as a useful abstraction than a precise store of value. A “silver chicken” of sorts.

Still, the emergence of commodity money had one interesting side effect: it decoupled the unit of debt – a “claim on the society”, in a sense – from any moral judgment about its origin. A piece of silver would buy the same amount of food, whether earned through hard labor or won in a drunken bet. This disconnect remains a central theme in many of the debates about social justice and unfairly earned wealth.

3. The State enters the game

If there is one advantage of chicken ledgers over precious metals, it’s that all chickens look and cluck roughly the same – something that can’t be said of every nugget of silver or gold. To cope with this problem, we needed to shape raw commodities into pieces of a more predictable shape and weight; a trusted party could then stamp them with a mark to indicate the value and the quality of the coin.

At first, the task of standardizing coinage rested with private parties – but the responsibility was soon assumed by the State. The advantages of this transition seemed clear: a single, widely-accepted and easily-recognizable currency could be now used to settle virtually all private and official debts.

Alas, in what deserves the dubious distinction of being one of the earliest examples of monetary tomfoolery, some States succumbed to the temptation of fiddling with the coinage to accomplish anything from feeding the poor to waging wars. In particular, it would be common to stamp coins with the same face value but a progressively lower content of silver and gold. Perhaps surprisingly, the strategy worked remarkably well; at least in the times of peace, most people cared about the value stamped on the coin, not its precise composition or weight.

And so, over time, representative money was born: sooner or later, most States opted to mint coins from nearly-worthless metals, or print banknotes on paper and cloth. This radically new currency was accompanied with a simple pledge: the State offered to redeem it at any time for its nominal value in gold.

Of course, the promise was largely illusory: the State did not have enough gold to honor all the promises it had made. Still, as long as people had faith in their rulers and the redemption requests stayed low, the fundamental mechanics of this new representative currency remained roughly the same as before – and in some ways, were an improvement in that they lessened the insatiable demand for a rare commodity. Just as importantly, the new money still enabled international trade – using the underlying gold exchange rate as a reference point.

4. Fractional reserve banking and fiat money

For much of the recorded history, banking was an exceptionally dull affair, not much different from running a communal chicken
ledger of the old. But then, something truly marvelous happened in the 17th century: around that time, many European countries have witnessed
the emergence of fractional-reserve banks.

These private ventures operated according to a simple scheme: they accepted people’s coin
for safekeeping, promising to pay a premium on every deposit made. To meet these obligations and to make a profit, the banks then
used the pooled deposits to make high-interest loans to other folks. The financiers figured out that under normal circumstances
and when operating at a sufficient scale, they needed only a very modest reserve – well under 10% of all deposited money – to be
able to service the usual volume and size of withdrawals requested by their customers. The rest could be loaned out.

The very curious consequence of fractional-reserve banking was that it pulled new money out of thin air.
The funds were simultaneously accounted for in the statements shown to the depositor, evidently available for withdrawal or
transfer at any time; and given to third-party borrowers, who could spend them on just about anything. Heck, the borrowers could
deposit the proceeds in another bank, creating even more money along the way! Whatever they did, the sum of all funds in the monetary
system now appeared much higher than the value of all coins and banknotes issued by the government – let alone the amount of gold
sitting in any vault.

Of course, no new money was being created in any physical sense: all that banks were doing was engaging in a bit of creative accounting – the sort of which would probably land you in jail if you attempted it today in any other comparably vital field of enterprise. If too many depositors were to ask for their money back, or if too many loans were to go bad, the banking system would fold. Fortunes would evaporate in a puff of accounting smoke, and with the disappearance of vast quantities of quasi-fictitious (“broad”) money, the wealth of the entire nation would shrink.

In the early 20th century, the world kept witnessing just that; a series of bank runs and economic contractions forced the governments around the globe to act. At that stage, outlawing fractional-reserve banking was no longer politically or economically tenable; a simpler alternative was to let go of gold and move to fiat money – a currency implemented as an abstract social construct, with no predefined connection to the physical realm. A new breed of economists saw the role of the government not in trying to peg the value of money to an inflexible commodity, but in manipulating its supply to smooth out economic hiccups or to stimulate growth.

(Contrary to popular beliefs, such manipulation is usually not done by printing new banknotes; more sophisticated methods, such as lowering reserve requirements for bank deposits or enticing banks to invest its deposits into government-issued securities, are the preferred route.)

The obvious peril of fiat money is that in the long haul, its value is determined strictly by people’s willingness to accept a piece of paper in exchange for their trouble; that willingness, in turn, is conditioned solely on their belief that the same piece of paper would buy them something nice a week, a month, or a year from now. It follows that a simple crisis of confidence could make a currency nearly worthless overnight. A prolonged period of hyperinflation and subsequent austerity in Germany and Austria was one of the precipitating factors that led to World War II. In more recent times, dramatic episodes of hyperinflation plagued the fiat currencies of Israel (1984), Mexico (1988), Poland (1990), Yugoslavia (1994), Bulgaria (1996), Turkey (2002), Zimbabwe (2009), Venezuela (2016), and several other nations around the globe.

For the United States, the switch to fiat money came relatively late, in 1971. To stop the dollar from plunging like a rock, the Nixon administration employed a clever trick: they ordered the freeze of wages and prices for the 90 days that immediately followed the move. People went on about their lives and paid the usual for eggs or milk – and by the time the freeze ended, they were accustomed to the idea that the “new”, free-floating dollar is worth about the same as the old, gold-backed one. A robust economy and favorable geopolitics did the rest, and so far, the American adventure with fiat currency has been rather uneventful – perhaps except for the fact that the price of gold itself skyrocketed from $35 per troy ounce in 1971 to $850 in 1980 (or, from $210 to $2,500 in today’s dollars).

Well, one thing did change: now better positioned to freely tamper with the supply of money, the regulators in accord with the bankers adopted a policy of creating it at a rate that slightly outstripped the organic growth in economic activity. They did this to induce a small, steady degree of inflation, believing that doing so would discourage people from hoarding cash and force them to reinvest it for the betterment of the society. Some critics like to point out that such a policy functions as a “backdoor” tax on savings that happens to align with the regulators’ less noble interests; still, either way: in the US and most other developed nations, the purchasing power of any money kept under a mattress will drop at a rate of somewhere between 2 to 10% a year.

5. So what’s up with Bitcoin?

Well… countless tomes have been written about the nature and the optimal characteristics of government-issued fiat currencies. Some heterodox economists, notably including Murray Rothbard, have also explored the topic of privately-issued, decentralized, commodity-backed currencies. But Bitcoin is a wholly different animal.

In essence, BTC is a global, decentralized fiat currency: it has no (recoverable) intrinsic value, no central authority to issue it or define its exchange rate, and it has no anchoring to any historical reference point – a combination that until recently seemed nonsensical and escaped any serious scrutiny. It does the unthinkable by employing three clever tricks:

  1. It allows anyone to create new coins, but only by solving brute-force computational challenges that get more difficult as the time goes by,

  2. It prevents unauthorized transfer of coins by employing public key cryptography to sign off transactions, with only the authorized holder of a coin knowing the correct key,

  3. It prevents double-spending by using a distributed public ledger (“blockchain”), recording the chain of custody for coins in a tamper-proof way.

The blockchain is often described as the most important feature of Bitcoin, but in some ways, its importance is overstated. The idea of a currency that does not rely on a centralized transaction clearinghouse is what helped propel the platform into the limelight – mostly because of its novelty and the perception that it is less vulnerable to government meddling (although the government is still free to track down, tax, fine, or arrest any participants). On the flip side, the everyday mechanics of BTC would not be fundamentally different if all the transactions had to go through Bitcoin Bank, LLC.

A more striking feature of the new currency is the incentive structure surrounding the creation of new coins. The underlying design democratized the creation of new coins early on: all you had to do is leave your computer running for a while to acquire a number of tokens. The tokens had no practical value, but obtaining them involved no substantial expense or risk. Just as importantly, because the difficulty of the puzzles would only increase over time, the hope was that if Bitcoin caught on, latecomers would find it easier to purchase BTC on a secondary market than mine their own – paying with a more established currency at a mutually beneficial exchange rate.

The persistent publicity surrounding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies did the rest – and today, with the growing scarcity of coins and the rapidly increasing demand, the price of a single token hovers somewhere south of $15,000.

6. So… is it bad money?

Predicting is hard – especially the future. In some sense, a coin that represents a cryptographic proof of wasted CPU cycles is no better or worse than a currency that relies on cotton decorated with pictures of dead presidents. It is true that Bitcoin suffers from many implementation problems – long transaction processing times, high fees, frequent security breaches of major exchanges – but in principle, such problems can be overcome.

That said, currencies live and die by the lasting willingness of others to accept them in exchange for services or goods – and in that sense, the jury is still out. The use of Bitcoin to settle bona fide purchases is negligible, both in absolute terms and in function of the overall volume of transactions. In fact, because of the technical challenges and limited practical utility, some companies that embraced the currency early on are now backing out.

When the value of an asset is derived almost entirely from its appeal as an ever-appreciating investment vehicle, the situation has all the telltale signs of a speculative bubble. But that does not prove that the asset is destined to collapse, or that a collapse would be its end. Still, the built-in deflationary mechanism of Bitcoin – the increasing difficulty of producing new coins – is probably both a blessing and a curse.

It’s going to go one way or the other; and when it’s all said and done, we’re going to celebrate the people who made the right guess. Because future is actually pretty darn easy to predict — in retrospect.

Object models

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

Anonymous asks, with dollars:

More about programming languages!

Well then!

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

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

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

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

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

Python 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool, a very traditional object model.

Except… for some details.

Some details

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

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

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class Foo:
    values = []

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Descriptors

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

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

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

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class MagnitudeDescriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return (instance.x ** 2 + instance.y ** 2) ** 0.5

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

    magnitude = MagnitudeDescriptor()

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

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

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

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class FunctionType:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return functools.partial(self, instance)

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

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

More attribute access, and the interesting part

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

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

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

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

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class Descriptor:
    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        print('called!')

class Foo:
    bar = Descriptor()

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

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

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

Class creation and metaclasses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Object creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Python philosophy

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

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

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

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

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

Lua

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

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

Tables and metatables

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

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

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

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local t = { a = 1, b = 2 }
--print(t + 0)  -- error: attempt to perform arithmetic on a table value

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

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

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local t = {}
local mt = {
    __index = function(table, key)
        return key
    end,
}
setmetatable(t, mt)
print(t.foo)  -- foo
print(t.bar)  -- bar
print(t[3])  -- 3

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

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

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

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                    ╔═══════════╗        ...
                    ║ metatable ║         ║
                    ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨───────────────────────┐
                    ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("superclass") │
                    ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├─────────────────────────────┤
  ╔═══════════╗         ║           │ some other method           ┼─── function() ... end
  ║ metatable ║         ║           └─────────────────────────────┘
  ╟───────────╢   ┌─────╨──────────────────┐
  ║ __index   ╫───┤ lookup table ("class") │
  ╚═══╦═══════╝   ├────────────────────────┤
      ║           │ some method            ┼─── function() ... end
      ║           └────────────────────────┘
┌─────╨─────────────────┐
│ base table ("object") │
└───────────────────────┘

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

Anyway, code!

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local class = {
    foo = function(a)
        print("foo got", a)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
-- setmetatable returns its first argument, so this is nice shorthand
local obj1 = setmetatable({}, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({}, mt)
obj1.foo(7)  -- foo got 7
obj2.foo(9)  -- foo got 9

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

Methods, sort of

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

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-- note the colon!
a:b(c, d, ...)

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

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

Now we can write methods that actually do something.

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local class = {
    bar = function(self)
        print("our score is", self.score)
    end,
}
local mt = { __index = class }
local obj1 = setmetatable({ score = 13 }, mt)
local obj2 = setmetatable({ score = 25 }, mt)
obj1:bar()  -- our score is 13
obj2:bar()  -- our score is 25

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

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

Bringing it all together

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

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local function make_object(body)
    -- create a metatable
    local mt = { __index = body }
    -- create a base table to serve as the object itself
    local obj = setmetatable({}, mt)
    -- and, done
    return obj
end

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

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

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

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

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local Animal = Object:extend{
    cries = 0,
}

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

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

local Cat = Animal:extend{}

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

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

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

The Lua philosophy

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

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

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

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

JavaScript

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

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

Here’s a vector class again:

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class Vector {
    constructor(x, y) {
        this.x = x;
        this.y = y;
    }

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

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

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

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function Vector(x, y) {
    this.x = x;
    this.y = y;
}

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


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

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

The JavaScript model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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vec.dot(vec2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About this

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

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

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

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// this = obj
obj.method()
// this = window
let meth = obj.method
meth()

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

Class syntax

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

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class Vector { ... }

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attribute access

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

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

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

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

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

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

The JavaScript philosophy

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

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

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

Perl 5

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packages and blessing

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

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package Foo::Bar;

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

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

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

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

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package Vector;

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

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

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

    return $self;
}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inheritance

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

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

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

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

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

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use mro 'c3';

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

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

Operator overloading and whatnot

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

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package MyClass;

use overload '+' => \&_add;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually no one does this any more

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

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package Vector;
use Moose;

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

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

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

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

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

The Perl philosophy

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

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

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

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

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

End

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter makers love Halloween

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/twitter-love-halloween/

Halloween is almost upon us! In honour of one of the maker community’s favourite howlidays, here are some posts from enthusiastic makers on Twitter to get you inspired and prepared for the big event.

Lorraine’s VR Puppet

Lorraine Underwood on Twitter

Using a @Raspberry_Pi with @pimoroni tilt hat to make a cool puppet for #Halloween https://t.co/pOeTFZ0r29

Made with a Pimoroni Pan-Tilt HAT, a Raspberry Pi, and some VR software on her phone, Lorraine Underwood‘s puppet is going to be a rather fitting doorman to interact with this year’s trick-or-treaters. Follow her project’s progress as she posts it on her blog.

Firr’s Monster-Mashing House

Firr on Twitter

Making my house super spooky for Halloween! https://t.co/w553l40BT0

Harnessing the one song guaranteed to earworm its way into my mind this October, Firr has upgraded his house to sing for all those daring enough to approach it this coming All Hallows’ Eve.

Firr used resources from Adafruit, along with three projectors, two Raspberry Pis, and some speakers, to create this semi-interactive display.

While the eyes can move on their own, a joystick can be added for direct control. Firr created a switch that goes between autonomous animation and direct control.

Find out more on the htxt.africa website.

Justin’s Snake Eyes Pumpkin

Justin Smith on Twitter

First #pumpkin of the season for Friday the 13th! @PaintYourDragon’s snake eyes bonnet for the #RaspberryPi to handle the eye animation. https://t.co/TSlUUxYP5Q

The Animated Snake Eyes Bonnet is definitely one of the freakiest products to come from the Adafruit lab, and it’s the perfect upgrade for any carved pumpkin this Halloween. Attach the bonnet to a Raspberry Pi 3, or the smaller Zero or Zero W, and thus add animated eyes to your scary orange masterpiece, as Justin Smith demonstrates in his video. The effect will terrify even the bravest of trick-or-treaters! Just make sure you don’t light a candle in there too…we’re not sure how fire-proof the tech is.

And then there’s this…

EmmArarrghhhhhh on Twitter

Squishy eye keyboard? Anyone? Made with @Raspberry_Pi @pimoroni’s Explorer HAT Pro and a pile of stuff from @Poundland 😂👀‼️ https://t.co/qLfpLLiXqZ

Yeah…the line between frightening and funny is never thinner than on Halloween.

Make and share this Halloween!

For more Halloween project ideas, check out our free resources including Scary ‘Spot the difference’ and the new Pioneers-inspired Pride and Prejudice‘ for zombies.

Halloween Pride and Prejudice Zombies Raspberry Pi

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of the zombie virus must be in want of braaaaaaains.

No matter whether you share your Halloween builds on Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram, or YouTube, we want to see them — make sure to tag us in your posts. We also have a comment section below this post, so go ahead and fill it with your ideas, links to completed projects, and general chat about the world of RasBOOrry Pi!

…sorry, that’s a hideous play on words. I apologise.

The post Twitter makers love Halloween appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Spooktacular Halloween Haunted Portrait

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/spooktacular-halloween-haunted-portrait/

October has come at last, and with it, the joy of Halloween is now upon us. So while I spend the next 30 days quoting Hocus Pocus at every opportunity, here’s Adafruit’s latest spooky build … the spooktacular Haunted Portrait.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

Haunted Portraits

If you’ve visited a haunted house such as Disney’s Haunted Mansion, or walked the halls of Hogwarts at Universal Studios, you will have seen a ‘moving portrait’. Whether it’s the classic ‘did that painting just blink?’ approach, or occupants moving in and out of frame, they’re an effective piece of spooky decoration – and now you can make your own!

Adafruit’s AdaBox

John Park, maker extraordinaire, recently posted a live make video where he used the contents of the Raspberry Pi-themed AdaBox 005 to create a blinking portrait.

AdaBox 005 Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

The Adabox is Adafruit’s own maker subscription service where plucky makers receive a mystery parcel containing exciting tech and inspirational builds. Their more recent delivery, the AdaBox 005, contains a Raspberry Pi Zero, their own Joy Bonnet, a case, and peripherals, including Pimoroni’s no-solder Hammer Headers.

AdaBox 005 Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

While you can purchase the AdaBoxes as one-off buys, subscribers get extra goodies. With AdaBox 005, they received bonus content including Raspberry Pi swag in the form of stickers, and a copy of The MagPi Magazine.

AdaBox 005 Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

The contents of AdaBox 005 allows makers to build their own Raspberry Pi Zero tiny gaming machine. But the ever-working minds of the Adafruit team didn’t want to settle there, so they decided to create more tutorials based on the box’s contents, such as John Park’s Haunted Portrait.

Bringing a portrait to life

Alongside the AdaBox 005 content, all of which can be purchased from Adafruit directly, you’ll need a flat-screen monitor and a fancy frame. The former could be an old TV or computer screen while the latter, unless you happen to have an ornate frame that perfectly fits your monitor, can be made from cardboard, CNC-cut wood or gold-painted macaroni and tape … probably.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

You’ll need to attach headers to your Raspberry Pi Zero. For those of you who fear the soldering iron, the Hammer Headers can be hammered into place without the need for melty hot metal. If you’d like to give soldering a go, you can follow Laura’s Getting Started With Soldering tutorial video.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait Hammer Header

In his tutorial, John goes on to explain how to set up the Joy Bonnet (if you wish to use it as an added controller), set your Raspberry Pi to display in portrait mode, and manipulate an image in Photoshop or GIMP to create the blinking effect.

Adafruit Raspberry Pi Haunted Portrait

Blinking eyes are just the start of the possibilities for this project. This is your moment to show off your image manipulation skills! Why not have the entire head flash to show the skull within? Or have an ethereal image appear in the background of an otherwise unexceptional painting of a bowl of fruit?

In the final stages of the tutorial, John explains how to set an image slideshow running on the Pi, and how to complete the look with the aforementioned ornate frame. He also goes into detail about the importance of using a matte effect screen or transparent gels to give a more realistic ‘painted’ feel.

You’ll find everything you need to make your own haunted portrait here, including a link to John’s entire live stream.

Get spooky!

We’re going to make this for Pi Towers. In fact, I’m wondering whether I could create an entire gallery of portraits specifically for our reception area and see how long it takes people to notice …

… though I possibly shouldn’t have given my idea away on this rather public blog post.

If you make the Haunted Portrait, or any other Halloween-themed Pi build, make sure you share it with us via social media, or in the comments below.

The post Spooktacular Halloween Haunted Portrait appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Vinyl Shelf Finder

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/vinyl-shelf-finder/

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a large record collection must be in want of a good shelving system. Valentin Galea has solved this problem by developing the Vinyl Shelf Finder. In this build, a web-based app directs a pan-and-tilt laser to point out your record of choice among your collection.

Vinyl Shelf Finder demo by Valentin Galea

Ta-dah!

Collector’s issues

People love to collect stuff. Stamps; soap bars; Troll dolls; belly button fluff (no, really); if you can think of a tangible item, someone out there in the world is collecting it. Of course, every collector needs to solve two issues — which system to use for cataloguing and sorting their collection, and how to best retrieve items from it. This is where Valentin’s Vinyl Shelf Finder comes in. He says:

My vinyl collection is pretty modest — about 500 records in one vertical shelf and a couple of boxes. This is enough to get cumbersome when I’m searching for specific stuff, so I came up with the idea of a automated laser pointer finder.

The Vinyl Shelf Finder

Valentin keeps an online record of his vinyl collection using Discogs. He entered each LP’s shelf position into the record, and wrote a Node.js app to access the Discogs database. The mobile app has a GUI from which he chooses records based on their name and cover image. To build the hardware, he mounted a Pimoroni Pan-Tilt HAT on a Raspberry Pi, and affixed a laser pointer to the HAT. When he selects a record in the app, the pan-and-tilt laser moves to point out the LP’s location.

Valentin Galea on Twitter

my latest hobby prj: #vinyl finder – with lazers and #raspberrypi #iot and #nodejs – https://t.co/IGGzQDgUFI https://t.co/7YBE3svGyE

Not only does the app help Valentin find records – he has also set it up to collect listening statistics using the Last.fm API. He plans to add more sophisticated statistics, and is looking into how to automate the entry of the shelf positions into his database.

If you’re interested in the Vinyl Shelf Finder, head over to Valentin’s GitHub to learn more, and to find out about updates he is making to this work in progress.

GUI of Valentin Galea's Vinyl Shelf Finder app

 

Vinyl + Pi

We’ve previously blogged about Mike Smith’s kaleidoscopic Recordshelf build — maybe he and Valentin could team up to create the ultimate, beautiful, practical vinyl-shelving system!

If you listen to lots of LP records and would like to learn about digitising them, check out this Pi-powered project from Mozilla HQ. If, on the other hand, you have a vinyl player you never use, why not make amazing art with it by hacking it into a CNC Wood Burner?

Are you a collector of things common or unusual? Could Raspberry Pi technology help make your collection better? Share your ideas with us in the comments!

The post Vinyl Shelf Finder appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Self-Driving Cars Should Be Open Source

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/self-driving-cars-open-source/

Self-driving cars are (will be) the pinnacle of consumer products automation -- robot vacuum cleaners, smart fridges and TVs are just toys compared to self-driving cars. Both in terms of technology and in terms of impact. We aren’t yet on level 5 self driving cars , but they are behind the corner.

But as software engineers we know how fragile software is. And self-driving cars are basically software, so we can see all the risks involved with putting our lives in the hands anonymous (from our point of view) developers and unknown (to us) processes and quality standards. One may argue that this has been the case for every consumer product ever, but with software is different -- software is way more complex than anything else.

So I have an outrageous proposal -- self-driving cars should be open source. We have to be able to verify and trust the code that’s navigating our helpless bodies around the highways. Not only that, but we have to be able to verify if it is indeed that code that is currently running in our car, and not something else.

In fact, let me extend that -- all cars should be open source. Before you say “but that will ruin the competitive advantage of manufacturers and will be deadly for business”, I don’t actually care how they trained their neural networks, or what their datasets are. That’s actually the secret sauce of the self-driving car and in my view it can remain proprietary and closed. What I’d like to see open-sourced is everything else. (Under what license -- I’d be fine to even have it copyrighted and so not “real” open source, but that’s a separate discussion).

Why? This story about remote carjacking using the entertainment system of a Jeep is a scary example. Attackers that reverse engineer the car software can remotely control everything in the car. Why did that happen? Well, I guess it’s complicated and we have to watch the DEFCON talk.

And also read the paper, but a paragraph in wikipedia about the CAN bus used in most cars gives us a hint:

CAN is a low-level protocol and does not support any security features intrinsically. There is also no encryption in standard CAN implementations, which leaves these networks open to man-in-the-middle packet interception. In most implementations, applications are expected to deploy their own security mechanisms; e.g., to authenticate incoming commands or the presence of certain devices on the network. Failure to implement adequate security measures may result in various sorts of attacks if the opponent manages to insert messages on the bus. While passwords exist for some safety-critical functions, such as modifying firmware, programming keys, or controlling antilock brake actuators, these systems are not implemented universally and have a limited number of seed/key pair

I don’t know in what world it makes sense to even have a link between the entertainment system and the low-level network that operates the physical controls. As apparent from the talk, the two systems are supposed to be air-gapped, but in reality they aren’t.

Rookie mistakes were abound -- unauthenticated “execute” method, running as root, firmware is not signed, hard-coded passwords, etc. How do we know that there aren’t tons of those in all cars out there right now, and in the self-driving cars of the future (which will likely use the same legacy technologies of the current cars)? Recently I heard a negative comment about the source code of one of the self-driving cars “players”, and I’m pretty sure there are many of those rookie mistakes.

Why this is this even more risky for self-driving cars? I’m not an expert in car programming, but it seems like the attack surface is bigger. I might be completely off target here, but on a typical car you’d have to “just” properly isolate the CAN bus. With self-driving cars the autonomous system that watches the surrounding and makes decisions on what to do next has to be connected to the CAN bus. With Tesla being able to send updates over the wire, the attack surface is even bigger (although that’s actually a good feature -- to be able to patch all cars immediately once a vulnerability is discovered).

Of course, one approach would be to introduce legislation that regulates car software. It might work, but it would rely on governments to to proper testing, which won’t always be the case.

The alternative is to open-source it and let all the white-hats find your issues, so that you can close them before the car hits the road. Not only that, but consumers like me will feel safer, and geeks would be able to verify whether the car is really running the software it claims to run by verifying the fingerprints.

Richard Stallman might be seen as a fanatic when he advocates against closed source software, but in cases like … cars, his concerns seem less extreme.

“But the Jeep vulnerability was fixed”, you may say. And that might be seen as being the way things are -- vulnerabilities appear, they get fixed, life goes on. No person was injured because of the bug, right? Well, not yet. And “gaining control” is the extreme scenario -- there are still pretty bad scenarios, like being able to track a car through its GPS, or cause panic by controlling the entertainment system. It might be over wifi, or over GPRS, or even by physically messing with the car by inserting a flash drive. Is open source immune to those issues? No, but it has proven to be more resilient.

One industry where the problem of proprietary software on a product that the customer bought is … tractors. It turns out farmers are hacking their tractors, because of multiple issues and the inability of the vendor to resolve them in a timely manner. This is likely to happen to cars soon, when only authorized repair shops are allowed to touch anything on the car. And with unauthorized repair shops the attack surface becomes even bigger.

In fact, I’d prefer open source not just for cars, but for all consumer products. The source code of a smart fridge or a security camera is trivial, it would rarely mean sacrificing competitive advantage. But refrigerators get hacked, security cameras are active part of botnets, the “internet of shit” is getting ubiquitous. A huge amount of these issues are dumb, beginner mistakes. We have the right to know what shit we are running -- in our frdges, DVRs and ultimatey -- cars.

Your fridge may soon by spying on you, your vacuum cleaner may threaten your pet in demand of “ransom”. The terrorists of the future may crash planes without being armed, can crash vans into crowds without being in the van, and can “explode” home equipment without being in the particular home. And that’s not just a hypothetical.

Will open source magically solve the issue? No. But it will definitely make things better and safer, as it has done with operating systems and web servers.

The post Self-Driving Cars Should Be Open Source appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Nazis, are bad

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/08/13/nazis-are-bad/

Anonymous asks:

Could you talk about something related to the management/moderation and growth of online communities? IOW your thoughts on online community management, if any.

I think you’ve tweeted about this stuff in the past so I suspect you have thoughts on this, but if not, again, feel free to just blog about … anything 🙂

Oh, I think I have some stuff to say about community management, in light of recent events. None of it hasn’t already been said elsewhere, but I have to get this out.

Hopefully the content warning is implicit in the title.


I am frustrated.

I’ve gone on before about a particularly bothersome phenomenon that hurts a lot of small online communities: often, people are willing to tolerate the misery of others in a community, but then get up in arms when someone pushes back. Someone makes a lot of off-hand, off-color comments about women? Uses a lot of dog-whistle terms? Eh, they’re not bothering anyone, or at least not bothering me. Someone else gets tired of it and tells them to knock it off? Whoa there! Now we have the appearance of conflict, which is unacceptable, and people will turn on the person who’s pissed off — even though they’ve been at the butt end of an invisible conflict for who knows how long. The appearance of peace is paramount, even if it means a large chunk of the population is quietly miserable.

Okay, so now, imagine that on a vastly larger scale, and also those annoying people who know how to skirt the rules are Nazis.


The label “Nazi” gets thrown around a lot lately, probably far too easily. But when I see a group of people doing the Hitler salute, waving large Nazi flags, wearing Nazi armbands styled after the SS, well… if the shoe fits, right? I suppose they might have flown across the country to join a torch-bearing mob ironically, but if so, the joke is going way over my head. (Was the murder ironic, too?) Maybe they’re not Nazis in the sense that the original party doesn’t exist any more, but for ease of writing, let’s refer to “someone who espouses Nazi ideology and deliberately bears a number of Nazi symbols” as, well, “a Nazi”.

This isn’t a new thing, either; I’ve stumbled upon any number of Twitter accounts that are decorated in Nazi regalia. I suppose the trouble arises when perfectly innocent members of the alt-right get unfairly labelled as Nazis.

But hang on; this march was called “Unite the Right” and was intended to bring together various far right sub-groups. So what does their choice of aesthetic say about those sub-groups? I haven’t heard, say, alt-right coiner Richard Spencer denounce the use of Nazi symbology — extra notable since he was fucking there and apparently didn’t care to discourage it.


And so begins the rule-skirting. “Nazi” is definitely overused, but even using it to describe white supremacists who make not-so-subtle nods to Hitler is likely to earn you some sarcastic derailment. A Nazi? Oh, so is everyone you don’t like and who wants to establish a white ethno state a Nazi?

Calling someone a Nazi — or even a white supremacist — is an attack, you see. Merely expressing the desire that people of color not exist is perfectly peaceful, but identifying the sentiment for what it is causes visible discord, which is unacceptable.

These clowns even know this sort of thing and strategize around it. Or, try, at least. Maybe it wasn’t that successful this weekend — though flicking through Charlottesville headlines now, they seem to be relatively tame in how they refer to the ralliers.

I’m reminded of a group of furries — the alt-furries — who have been espousing white supremacy and wearing red armbands with a white circle containing a black… pawprint. Ah, yes, that’s completely different.


So, what to do about this?

Ignore them” is a popular option, often espoused to bullied children by parents who have never been bullied, shortly before they resume complaining about passive-aggressive office politics. The trouble with ignoring them is that, just like in smaller communitiest, they have a tendency to fester. They take over large chunks of influential Internet surface area like 4chan and Reddit; they help get an inept buffoon elected; and then they start to have torch-bearing rallies and run people over with cars.

4chan illustrates a kind of corollary here. Anyone who’s steeped in Internet Culture™ is surely familiar with 4chan; I was never a regular visitor, but it had enough influence that I was still aware of it and some of its culture. It was always thick with irony, which grew into a sort of ironic detachment — perhaps one of the major sources of the recurring online trope that having feelings is bad — which proceeded into ironic racism.

And now the ironic racism is indistinguishable from actual racism, as tends to be the case. Do they “actually” “mean it”, or are they just trying to get a rise out of people? What the hell is unironic racism if not trying to get a rise out of people? What difference is there to onlookers, especially as they move to become increasingly involved with politics?

It’s just a joke” and “it was just a thoughtless comment” are exceptionally common defenses made by people desperate to preserve the illusion of harmony, but the strain of overt white supremacy currently running rampant through the US was built on those excuses.


The other favored option is to debate them, to defeat their ideas with better ideas.

Well, hang on. What are their ideas, again? I hear they were chanting stuff like “go back to Africa” and “fuck you, faggots”. Given that this was an overtly political rally (and again, the Nazi fucking regalia), I don’t think it’s a far cry to describe their ideas as “let’s get rid of black people and queer folks”.

This is an underlying proposition: that white supremacy is inherently violent. After all, if the alt-right seized total political power, what would they do with it? If I asked the same question of Democrats or Republicans, I’d imagine answers like “universal health care” or “screw over poor people”. But people whose primary goal is to have a country full of only white folks? What are they going to do, politely ask everyone else to leave? They’re invoking the memory of people who committed genocide and also tried to take over the fucking world. They are outright saying, these are the people we look up to, this is who we think had a great idea.

How, precisely, does one defeat these ideas with rational debate?

Because the underlying core philosophy beneath all this is: “it would be good for me if everything were about me”. And that’s true! (Well, it probably wouldn’t work out how they imagine in practice, but it’s true enough.) Consider that slavery is probably fantastic if you’re the one with the slaves; the issue is that it’s reprehensible, not that the very notion contains some kind of 101-level logical fallacy. That’s probably why we had a fucking war over it instead of hashing it out over brunch.

…except we did hash it out over brunch once, and the result was that slavery was still allowed but slaves only counted as 60% of a person for the sake of counting how much political power states got. So that’s how rational debate worked out. I’m sure the slaves were thrilled with that progress.


That really only leaves pushing back, which raises the question of how to push back.

And, I don’t know. Pushing back is much harder in spaces you don’t control, spaces you’re already struggling to justify your own presence in. For most people, that’s most spaces. It’s made all the harder by that tendency to preserve illusory peace; even the tamest request that someone knock off some odious behavior can be met by pushback, even by third parties.

At the same time, I’m aware that white supremacists prey on disillusioned young white dudes who feel like they don’t fit in, who were promised the world and inherited kind of a mess. Does criticism drive them further away? The alt-right also opposes “political correctness”, i.e. “not being a fucking asshole”.

God knows we all suck at this kind of behavior correction, even within our own in-groups. Fandoms have become almost ridiculously vicious as platforms like Twitter and Tumblr amplify individual anger to deafening levels. It probably doesn’t help that we’re all just exhausted, that every new fuck-up feels like it bears the same weight as the last hundred combined.

This is the part where I admit I don’t know anything about people and don’t have any easy answers. Surprise!


The other alternative is, well, punching Nazis.

That meme kind of haunts me. It raises really fucking complicated questions about when violence is acceptable, in a culture that’s completely incapable of answering them.

America’s relationship to violence is so bizarre and two-faced as to be almost incomprehensible. We worship it. We have the biggest military in the world by an almost comical margin. It’s fairly mainstream to own deadly weapons for the express stated purpose of armed revolution against the government, should that become necessary, where “necessary” is left ominously undefined. Our movies are about explosions and beating up bad guys; our video games are about explosions and shooting bad guys. We fantasize about solving foreign policy problems by nuking someone — hell, our talking heads are currently in polite discussion about whether we should nuke North Korea and annihilate up to twenty-five million people, as punishment for daring to have the bomb that only we’re allowed to have.

But… violence is bad.

That’s about as far as the other side of the coin gets. It’s bad. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Also, guess who we bombed today?

I observe that the one time Nazis were a serious threat, America was happy to let them try to take over the world until their allies finally showed up on our back porch.

Maybe I don’t understand what “violence” means. In a quest to find out why people are talking about “leftist violence” lately, I found a National Review article from May that twice suggests blocking traffic is a form of violence. Anarchists have smashed some windows and set a couple fires at protests this year — and, hey, please knock that crap off? — which is called violence against, I guess, Starbucks. Black Lives Matter could be throwing a birthday party and Twitter would still be abuzz with people calling them thugs.

Meanwhile, there’s a trend of murderers with increasingly overt links to the alt-right, and everyone is still handling them with kid gloves. First it was murders by people repeating their talking points; now it’s the culmination of a torches-and-pitchforks mob. (Ah, sorry, not pitchforks; assault rifles.) And we still get this incredibly bizarre both-sides-ism, a White House that refers to the people who didn’t murder anyone as “just as violent if not more so“.


Should you punch Nazis? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m extremely dissatisfied with discourse that’s extremely alarmed by hypothetical punches — far more mundane than what you’d see after a sporting event — but treats a push for ethnic cleansing as a mere difference of opinion.

The equivalent to a punch in an online space is probably banning, which is almost laughable in comparison. It doesn’t cause physical harm, but it is a use of concrete force. Doesn’t pose quite the same moral quandary, though.

Somewhere in the middle is the currently popular pastime of doxxing (doxxxxxxing) people spotted at the rally in an attempt to get them fired or whatever. Frankly, that skeeves me out, though apparently not enough that I’m directly chastizing anyone for it.


We aren’t really equipped, as a society, to deal with memetic threats. We aren’t even equipped to determine what they are. We had a fucking world war over this, and now people are outright saying “hey I’m like those people we went and killed a lot in that world war” and we give them interviews and compliment their fashion sense.

A looming question is always, what if they then do it to you? What if people try to get you fired, to punch you for your beliefs?

I think about that a lot, and then I remember that it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay in half the country. (Courts are currently wrangling whether Title VII forbids this, but with the current administration, I’m not optimistic.) I know people who’ve been fired for coming out as trans. I doubt I’d have to look very far to find someone who’s been punched for either reason.

And these aren’t even beliefs; they’re just properties of a person. You can stop being a white supremacist, one of those people yelling “fuck you, faggots”.

So I have to recuse myself from this asinine question, because I can’t fairly judge the risk of retaliation when it already happens to people I care about.

Meanwhile, if a white supremacist does get punched, I absolutely still want my tax dollars to pay for their universal healthcare.


The same wrinkle comes up with free speech, which is paramount.

The ACLU reminds us that the First Amendment “protects vile, hateful, and ignorant speech”. I think they’ve forgotten that that’s a side effect, not the goal. No one sat down and suggested that protecting vile speech was some kind of noble cause, yet that’s how we seem to be treating it.

The point was to avoid a situation where the government is arbitrarily deciding what qualifies as vile, hateful, and ignorant, and was using that power to eliminate ideas distasteful to politicians. You know, like, hypothetically, if they interrogated and jailed a bunch of people for supporting the wrong economic system. Or convicted someone under the Espionage Act for opposing the draft. (Hey, that’s where the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” line comes from.)

But these are ideas that are already in the government. Bannon, a man who was chair of a news organization he himself called “the platform for the alt-right”, has the President’s ear! How much more mainstream can you get?

So again I’m having a little trouble balancing “we need to defend the free speech of white supremacists or risk losing it for everyone” against “we fairly recently were ferreting out communists and the lingering public perception is that communists are scary, not that the government is”.


This isn’t to say that freedom of speech is bad, only that the way we talk about it has become fanatical to the point of absurdity. We love it so much that we turn around and try to apply it to corporations, to platforms, to communities, to interpersonal relationships.

Look at 4chan. It’s completely public and anonymous; you only get banned for putting the functioning of the site itself in jeopardy. Nothing is stopping a larger group of people from joining its politics board and tilting sentiment the other way — except that the current population is so odious that no one wants to be around them. Everyone else has evaporated away, as tends to happen.

Free speech is great for a government, to prevent quashing politics that threaten the status quo (except it’s a joke and they’ll do it anyway). People can’t very readily just bail when the government doesn’t like them, anyway. It’s also nice to keep in mind to some degree for ubiquitous platforms. But the smaller you go, the easier it is for people to evaporate away, and the faster pure free speech will turn the place to crap. You’ll be left only with people who care about nothing.


At the very least, it seems clear that the goal of white supremacists is some form of destabilization, of disruption to the fabric of a community for purely selfish purposes. And those are the kinds of people you want to get rid of as quickly as possible.

Usually this is hard, because they act just nicely enough to create some plausible deniability. But damn, if someone is outright telling you they love Hitler, maybe skip the principled hand-wringing and eject them.

Growing up alongside tech

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/08/09/growing-up-alongside-tech/

IndustrialRobot asks… or, uh, asked last month:

industrialrobot: How has your views on tech changed as you’ve got older?

This is so open-ended that it’s actually stumped me for a solid month. I’ve had a surprisingly hard time figuring out where to even start.


It’s not that my views of tech have changed too much — it’s that they’ve changed very gradually. Teasing out and explaining any one particular change is tricky when it happened invisibly over the course of 10+ years.

I think a better framework for this is to consider how my relationship to tech has changed. It’s gone through three pretty distinct phases, each of which has strongly colored how I feel and talk about technology.

Act I

In which I start from nothing.

Nothing is an interesting starting point. You only really get to start there once.

Learning something on my own as a kid was something of a magical experience, in a way that I don’t think I could replicate as an adult. I liked computers; I liked toying with computers; so I did that.

I don’t know how universal this is, but when I was a kid, I couldn’t even conceive of how incredible things were made. Buildings? Cars? Paintings? Operating systems? Where does any of that come from? Obviously someone made them, but it’s not the sort of philosophical point I lingered on when I was 10, so in the back of my head they basically just appeared fully-formed from the æther.

That meant that when I started trying out programming, I had no aspirations. I couldn’t imagine how far I would go, because all the examples of how far I would go were completely disconnected from any idea of human achievement. I started out with BASIC on a toy computer; how could I possibly envision a connection between that and something like a mainstream video game? Every new thing felt like a new form of magic, so I couldn’t conceive that I was even in the same ballpark as whatever process produced real software. (Even seeing the source code for GORILLAS.BAS, it didn’t quite click. I didn’t think to try reading any of it until years after I’d first encountered the game.)

This isn’t to say I didn’t have goals. I invented goals constantly, as I’ve always done; as soon as I learned about a new thing, I’d imagine some ways to use it, then try to build them. I produced a lot of little weird goofy toys, some of which entertained my tiny friend group for a couple days, some of which never saw the light of day. But none of it felt like steps along the way to some mountain peak of mastery, because I didn’t realize the mountain peak was even a place that could be gone to. It was pure, unadulterated (!) playing.

I contrast this to my art career, which started only a couple years ago. I was already in my late 20s, so I’d already spend decades seeing a very broad spectrum of art: everything from quick sketches up to painted masterpieces. And I’d seen the people who create that art, sometimes seen them create it in real-time. I’m even in a relationship with one of them! And of course I’d already had the experience of advancing through tech stuff and discovering first-hand that even the most amazing software is still just code someone wrote.

So from the very beginning, from the moment I touched pencil to paper, I knew the possibilities. I knew that the goddamn Sistine Chapel was something I could learn to do, if I were willing to put enough time in — and I knew that I’m not, so I’d have to settle somewhere a ways before that. I knew that I’d have to put an awful lot of work in before I’d be producing anything very impressive.

I did it anyway (though perhaps waited longer than necessary to start), but those aren’t things I can un-know, and so I can never truly explore art from a place of pure ignorance. On the other hand, I’ve probably learned to draw much more quickly and efficiently than if I’d done it as a kid, precisely because I know those things. Now I can decide I want to do something far beyond my current abilities, then go figure out how to do it. When I was just playing, that kind of ambition was impossible.


So, I played.

How did this affect my views on tech? Well, I didn’t… have any. Learning by playing tends to teach you things in an outward sprawl without many abrupt jumps to new areas, so you don’t tend to run up against conflicting information. The whole point of opinions is that they’re your own resolution to a conflict; without conflict, I can’t meaningfully say I had any opinions. I just accepted whatever I encountered at face value, because I didn’t even know enough to suspect there could be alternatives yet.

Act II

That started to seriously change around, I suppose, the end of high school and beginning of college. I was becoming aware of this whole “open source” concept. I took classes that used languages I wouldn’t otherwise have given a second thought. (One of them was Python!) I started to contribute to other people’s projects. Eventually I even got a job, where I had to work with other people. It probably also helped that I’d had to maintain my own old code a few times.

Now I was faced with conflicting subjective ideas, and I had to form opinions about them! And so I did. With gusto. Over time, I developed an idea of what was Right based on experience I’d accrued. And then I set out to always do things Right.

That’s served me decently well with some individual problems, but it also led me to inflict a lot of unnecessary pain on myself. Several endeavors languished for no other reason than my dissatisfaction with the architecture, long before the basic functionality was done. I started a number of “pure” projects around this time, generic tools like imaging libraries that I had no direct need for. I built them for the sake of them, I guess because I felt like I was improving some niche… but of course I never finished any. It was always in areas I didn’t know that well in the first place, which is a fine way to learn if you have a specific concrete goal in mind — but it turns out that building a generic library for editing images means you have to know everything about images. Perhaps that ambition went a little haywire.

I’ve said before that this sort of (self-inflicted!) work was unfulfilling, in part because the best outcome would be that a few distant programmers’ lives are slightly easier. I do still think that, but I think there’s a deeper point here too.

In forgetting how to play, I’d stopped putting any of myself in most of the work I was doing. Yes, building an imaging library is kind of a slog that someone has to do, but… I assume the people who work on software like PIL and ImageMagick are actually interested in it. The few domains I tried to enter and revolutionize weren’t passions of mine; I just happened to walk through the neighborhood one day and decided I could obviously do it better.

Not coincidentally, this was the same era of my life that led me to write stuff like that PHP post, which you may notice I am conspicuously not even linking to. I don’t think I would write anything like it nowadays. I could see myself approaching the same subject, but purely from the point of view of language design, with more contrasts and tradeoffs and less going for volume. I certainly wouldn’t lead off with inflammatory puffery like “PHP is a community of amateurs”.

Act III

I think I’ve mellowed out a good bit in the last few years.

It turns out that being Right is much less important than being Not Wrong — i.e., rather than trying to make something perfect that can be adapted to any future case, just avoid as many pitfalls as possible. Code that does something useful has much more practical value than unfinished code with some pristine architecture.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in game development, where all code is doomed to be crap and the best you can hope for is to stem the tide. But there’s also a fixed goal that’s completely unrelated to how the code looks: does the game work, and is it fun to play? Yes? Ship the damn thing and forget about it.

Games are also nice because it’s very easy to pour my own feelings into them and evoke feelings in the people who play them. They’re mine, something with my fingerprints on them — even the games I’ve built with glip have plenty of my own hallmarks, little touches I added on a whim or attention to specific details that I care about.

Maybe a better example is the Doom map parser I started writing. It sounds like a “pure” problem again, except that I actually know an awful lot about the subject already! I also cleverly (accidentally) released some useful results of the work I’ve done thusfar — like statistics about Doom II maps and a few screenshots of flipped stock maps — even though I don’t think the parser itself is far enough along to release yet. The tool has served a purpose, one with my fingerprints on it, even without being released publicly. That keeps it fresh in my mind as something interesting I’d like to keep working on, eventually. (When I run into an architecture question, I step back for a while, or I do other work in the hopes that the solution will reveal itself.)

I also made two simple Pokémon ROM hacks this year, despite knowing nothing about Game Boy internals or assembly when I started. I just decided I wanted to do an open-ended thing beyond my reach, and I went to do it, not worrying about cleanliness and willing to accept a bumpy ride to get there. I played, but in a more experienced way, invoking the stuff I know (and the people I’ve met!) to help me get a running start in completely unfamiliar territory.


This feels like a really fine distinction that I’m not sure I’m doing justice. I don’t know if I could’ve appreciated it three or four years ago. But I missed making toys, and I’m glad I’m doing it again.

In short, I forgot how to have fun with programming for a little while, and I’ve finally started to figure it out again. And that’s far more important than whether you use PHP or not.