A Raspbian desktop update with some new programming tools

Today we’ve released another update to the Raspbian desktop. In addition to the usual small tweaks and bug fixes, the big new changes are the inclusion of an offline version of Scratch 2.0, and of Thonny (a user-friendly IDE for Python which is excellent for beginners). We’ll look at all the changes in this post, but let’s start with the biggest…

Scratch 2.0 for Raspbian

Scratch is one of the most popular pieces of software on Raspberry Pi. This is largely due to the way it makes programming accessible – while it is simple to learn, it covers many of the concepts that are used in more advanced languages. Scratch really does provide a great introduction to programming for all ages.

Raspbian ships with the original version of Scratch, which is now at version 1.4. A few years ago, though, the Scratch team at the MIT Media Lab introduced the new and improved Scratch version 2.0, and ever since we’ve had numerous requests to offer it on the Pi.

There was, however, a problem with this. The original version of Scratch was written in a language called Squeak, which could run on the Pi in a Squeak interpreter. Scratch 2.0, however, was written in Flash, and was designed to run from a remote site in a web browser. While this made Scratch 2.0 a cross-platform application, which you could run without installing any Scratch software, it also meant that you had to be able to run Flash on your computer, and that you needed to be connected to the internet to program in Scratch.

We worked with Adobe to include the Pepper Flash plugin in Raspbian, which enables Flash sites to run in the Chromium browser. This addressed the first of these problems, so the Scratch 2.0 website has been available on Pi for a while. However, it still needed an internet connection to run, which wasn’t ideal in many circumstances. We’ve been working with the Scratch team to get an offline version of Scratch 2.0 running on Pi.

Screenshot of Scratch on Raspbian

The Scratch team had created a website to enable developers to create hardware and software extensions for Scratch 2.0; this provided a version of the Flash code for the Scratch editor which could be modified to run locally rather than over the internet. We combined this with a program called Electron, which effectively wraps up a local web page into a standalone application. We ended up with the Scratch 2.0 application that you can find in the Programming section of the main menu.

Physical computing with Scratch 2.0

We didn’t stop there though. We know that people want to use Scratch for physical computing, and it has always been a bit awkward to access GPIO pins from Scratch. In our Scratch 2.0 application, therefore, there is a custom extension which allows the user to control the Pi’s GPIO pins without difficulty. Simply click on ‘More Blocks’, choose ‘Add an Extension’, and select ‘Pi GPIO’. This loads two new blocks, one to read and one to write the state of a GPIO pin.

Screenshot of new Raspbian iteration of Scratch 2, featuring GPIO pin control blocks.

The Scratch team kindly allowed us to include all the sprites, backdrops, and sounds from the online version of Scratch 2.0. You can also use the Raspberry Pi Camera Module to create new sprites and backgrounds.

This first release works well, although it can be slow for some operations; this is largely unavoidable for Flash code running under Electron. Bear in mind that you will need to have the Pepper Flash plugin installed (which it is by default on standard Raspbian images). As Pepper Flash is only compatible with the processor in the Pi 2.0 and Pi 3, it is unfortunately not possible to run Scratch 2.0 on the Pi Zero or the original models of the Pi.

We hope that this makes Scratch 2.0 a more practical proposition for many users than it has been to date. Do let us know if you hit any problems, though!

Thonny: a more user-friendly IDE for Python

One of the paths from Scratch to ‘real’ programming is through Python. We know that the transition can be awkward, and this isn’t helped by the tools available for learning Python. It’s fair to say that IDLE, the Python IDE, isn’t the most popular piece of software ever written…

Earlier this year, we reviewed every Python IDE that we could find that would run on a Raspberry Pi, in an attempt to see if there was something better out there than IDLE. We wanted to find something that was easier for beginners to use but still useful for experienced Python programmers. We found one program, Thonny, which stood head and shoulders above all the rest. It’s a really user-friendly IDE, which still offers useful professional features like single-stepping of code and inspection of variables.

Screenshot of Thonny IDE in Raspbian

Thonny was created at the University of Tartu in Estonia; we’ve been working with Aivar Annamaa, the lead developer, on getting it into Raspbian. The original version of Thonny works well on the Pi, but because the GUI is written using Python’s default GUI toolkit, Tkinter, the appearance clashes with the rest of the Raspbian desktop, most of which is written using the GTK toolkit. We made some changes to bring things like fonts and graphics into line with the appearance of our other apps, and Aivar very kindly took that work and converted it into a theme package that could be applied to Thonny.

Due to the limitations of working within Tkinter, the result isn’t exactly like a native GTK application, but it’s pretty close. It’s probably good enough for anyone who isn’t a picky UI obsessive like me, anyway! Have a look at the Thonny webpage to see some more details of all the cool features it offers. We hope that having a more usable environment will help to ease the transition from graphical languages like Scratch into ‘proper’ languages like Python.

New icons

Other than these two new packages, this release is mostly bug fixes and small version bumps. One thing you might notice, though, is that we’ve made some tweaks to our custom icon set. We wondered if the icons might look better with slightly thinner outlines. We tried it, and they did: we hope you prefer them too.

Downloading the new image

You can either download a new image from the Downloads page, or you can use apt to update:

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

To install Scratch 2.0:

sudo apt-get install scratch2

To install Thonny:

sudo apt-get install python3-thonny

One more thing…

Before Christmas, we released an experimental version of the desktop running on Debian for x86-based computers. We were slightly taken aback by how popular it turned out to be! This made us realise that this was something we were going to need to support going forward. We’ve decided we’re going to try to make all new desktop releases for both Pi and x86 from now on.

The version of this we released last year was a live image that could run from a USB stick. Many people asked if we could make it permanently installable, so this version includes an installer. This uses the standard Debian install process, so it ought to work on most machines. I should stress, though, that we haven’t been able to test on every type of hardware, so there may be issues on some computers. Please be sure to back up your hard drive before installing it. Unlike the live image, this will erase and reformat your hard drive, and you will lose anything that is already on it!

You can still boot the image as a live image if you don’t want to install it, and it will create a persistence partition on the USB stick so you can save data. Just select ‘Run with persistence’ from the boot menu. To install, choose either ‘Install’ or ‘Graphical install’ from the same menu. The Debian installer will then walk you through the install process.

You can download the latest x86 image (which includes both Scratch 2.0 and Thonny) from here or here for a torrent file.

One final thing

This version of the desktop is based on Debian Jessie. Some of you will be aware that a new stable version of Debian (called Stretch) was released last week. Rest assured – we have been working on porting everything across to Stretch for some time now, and we will have a Stretch release ready some time over the summer.

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Source: RaspberryPi – IOT Anonimo

Source: Privacy Online

CoderDojo Coolest Projects 2017

When I heard we were merging with CoderDojo, I was delighted. CoderDojo is a wonderful organisation with a spectacular community, and it’s going to be great to join forces with the team and work towards our common goal: making a difference to the lives of young people by making technology accessible to them.

You may remember that last year Philip and I went along to Coolest Projects, CoderDojo’s annual event at which their global community showcase their best makes. It was awesome! This year a whole bunch of us from the Raspberry Pi Foundation attended Coolest Projects with our new Irish colleagues, and as expected, the projects on show were as cool as can be.

Coolest Projects 2017 attendee

Crowd at Coolest Projects 2017

This year’s coolest projects!

Young maker Benjamin demoed his brilliant RGB LED table tennis ball display for us, and showed off his brilliant project tutorial website codemakerbuddy.com, which he built with Python and Flask. [Click on any of the images to enlarge them.]

Coolest Projects 2017 LED ping-pong ball display
Coolest Projects 2017 Benjamin and Oly

Next up, Aimee showed us a recipes app she’d made with the MIT App Inventor. It was a really impressive and well thought-out project.

Coolest Projects 2017 Aimee's cook book
Coolest Projects 2017 Aimee's setup

This very successful OpenCV face detection program with hardware installed in a teddy bear was great as well:

Coolest Projects 2017 face detection bear
Coolest Projects 2017 face detection interface
Coolest Projects 2017 face detection database

Helen’s and Oly’s favourite project involved…live bees!

Coolest Projects 2017 live bees

BEEEEEEEEEEES!

Its creator, 12-year-old Amy, said she wanted to do something to help the Earth. Her project uses various sensors to record data on the bee population in the hive. An adjacent monitor displays the data in a web interface:

Coolest Projects 2017 Aimee's bees

Coolest robots

I enjoyed seeing lots of GPIO Zero projects out in the wild, including this robotic lawnmower made by Kevin and Zach:

Raspberry Pi Lawnmower

Kevin and Zach’s Raspberry Pi lawnmower project with Python and GPIO Zero, showed at CoderDojo Coolest Projects 2017

Philip’s favourite make was a Pi-powered robot you can control with your mind! According to the maker, Laura, it worked really well with Philip because he has no hair.

Philip Colligan on Twitter

This is extraordinary. Laura from @CoderDojo Romania has programmed a mind controlled robot using @Raspberry_Pi @coolestprojects

And here are some pictures of even more cool robots we saw:

Coolest Projects 2017 coolest robot no.1
Coolest Projects 2017 coolest robot no.2
Coolest Projects 2017 coolest robot no.3

Games, toys, activities

Oly and I were massively impressed with the work of Mogamad, Daniel, and Basheerah, who programmed a (borrowed) Amazon Echo to make a voice-controlled text-adventure game using Java and the Alexa API. They’ve inspired me to try something similar using the AIY projects kit and adventurelib!

Coolest Projects 2017 Mogamad, Daniel, Basheerah, Oly
Coolest Projects 2017 Alexa text-based game

Christopher Hill did a brilliant job with his Home Alone LEGO house. He used sensors to trigger lights and sounds to make it look like someone’s at home, like in the film. I should have taken a video – seeing it in action was great!

Coolest Projects 2017 Lego home alone house
Coolest Projects 2017 Lego home alone innards
Coolest Projects 2017 Lego home alone innards closeup

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam group ran a DOTS board activity, which turned their area into a conductive paint hazard zone.

Coolest Projects 2017 NI Jam DOTS activity 1
Coolest Projects 2017 NI Jam DOTS activity 2
Coolest Projects 2017 NI Jam DOTS activity 3
Coolest Projects 2017 NI Jam DOTS activity 4
Coolest Projects 2017 NI Jam DOTS activity 5
Coolest Projects 2017 NI Jam DOTS activity 6

Creativity and ingenuity

We really enjoyed seeing so many young people collaborating, experimenting, and taking full advantage of the opportunity to make real projects. And we loved how huge the range of technologies in use was: people employed all manner of hardware and software to bring their ideas to life.

Philip Colligan on Twitter

Wow! Look at that room full of awesome young people. @coolestprojects #coolestprojects @CoderDojo

Congratulations to the Coolest Projects 2017 prize winners, and to all participants. Here are some of the teams that won in the different categories:

Coolest Projects 2017 winning team 1
Coolest Projects 2017 winning team 2
Coolest Projects 2017 winning team 3

Take a look at the gallery of all winners over on Flickr.

The wow factor

Raspberry Pi co-founder and Foundation trustee Pete Lomas came along to the event as well. Here’s what he had to say:

It’s hard to describe the scale of the event, and photos just don’t do it justice. The first thing that hit me was the sheer excitement of the CoderDojo ninjas [the children attending Dojos]. Everyone was setting up for their time with the project judges, and their pure delight at being able to show off their creations was evident in both halls. Time and time again I saw the ninjas apply their creativity to help save the planet or make someone’s life better, and it’s truly exciting that we are going to help that continue and expand.

Even after 8 hours, enthusiasm wasn’t flagging – the awards ceremony was just brilliant, with ninjas high-fiving the winners on the way to the stage. This speaks volumes about the ethos and vision of the CoderDojo founders, where everyone is a winner just by being part of a community of worldwide friends. It was a brilliant introduction, and if this weekend was anything to go by, our merger certainly is a marriage made in Heaven.

Join this awesome community!

If all this inspires you as much as it did us, consider looking for a CoderDojo near you – and sign up as a volunteer! There’s plenty of time for young people to build up skills and start working on a project for next year’s event. Check out coolestprojects.com for more information.

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Source: RaspberryPi – IOT Anonimo

Source: Privacy Online

CyberSecurity4Rail Conference: Helping European Railways to Build Digital Security through Cooperation

This conference will bring together experts in cybercrime and digital security, plus leaders in ICT and representatives from transport and railway companies. They will discuss the threats and set out a vision for safer, more secure digital communications and data networks in the transport industry.
Source: Cybersecurity and digital privacy newsletter

Source: Privacy Online

Is your product “Powered by Raspberry Pi”?

One of the most exciting things for us about the growth of the Raspberry Pi community has been the number of companies that have grown up around the platform, and who have chosen to embed our products into their own. While many of these design-ins have been “silent”, a number of people have asked us for a standardised way to indicate that a product contains a Raspberry Pi or a Raspberry Pi Compute Module.

Powered by Raspberry Pi Logo

At the end of last year, we introduced a “Powered by Raspberry Pi” logo to meet this need. It is now included in our trademark rules and brand guidelines, which you can find on our website. Below we’re showing an early example of a “Powered by Raspberry Pi”-branded device, the KUNBUS Revolution Pi industrial PC. It has already made it onto the market, and we think it will inspire you to include our logo on the packaging of your own product.

KUNBUS RevPi
Powered by Raspberry Pi logo on RevPi

Using the “Powered by Raspberry Pi” brand

Adding the “Powered by Raspberry Pi” logo to your packaging design is a great way to remind your customers that a portion of the sale price of your product goes to the Raspberry Pi Foundation and supports our educational work.

As with all things Raspberry Pi, our rules for using this brand are fairly straightforward: the only thing you need to do is to fill out this simple application form. Once you have submitted it, we will review your details and get back to you as soon as possible.

When we approve your application, we will require that you use one of the official “Powered by Raspberry Pi” logos and that you ensure it is at least 30 mm wide. We are more than happy to help you if you have any design queries related to this – just contact us at info@raspberrypi.org

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Source: RaspberryPi – IOT Anonimo

Source: Privacy Online

How A Company You've Never Heard Of Sends You Letters About Your Medical Condition

“Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, said this clearly violates a user’s expectation of what will happen based on the design of the site. “It’s not that they lied to you with words, but they have created an impression and violated that impression,” said Calo who suggested it could violate a US federal law against unfair and deceptive practices, as well as laws against deceptive trade practices in California and Massachusetts. A complaint on those grounds, Calo said, “would not be laughed out of court.””

Location

United States

Date published: 
June 20, 2017
Focus Area: 
People: 
Related Topics: 


Source: Cyber Law

Source: Privacy Online

Shelfchecker Smart Shelf: build a home library system

Are you tired of friends borrowing your books and never returning them? Maybe you’re sure you own 1984 but can’t seem to locate it? Do you find a strange satisfaction in using the supermarket self-checkout simply because of the barcode beep? With the ShelfChecker smart shelf from maker Annelynn described on Instructables, you can be your own librarian and never misplace your books again! Beep!

Shelfchecker smart shelf annelynn Raspberry Pi

Harry Potter and the Aesthetically Pleasing Smart Shelf

The ShelfChecker smart shelf

Annelynn built her smart shelf utilising a barcode scanner, LDR light sensors, a Raspberry Pi, plus a few other peripherals and some Python scripts. She has created a fully integrated library checkout system with accompanying NeoPixel location notification for your favourite books.

This build allows you to issue your book-borrowing friends their own IDs and catalogue their usage of your treasured library. On top of that, you’ll be able to use LED NeoPixels to highlight your favourite books, registering their removal and return via light sensor tracking.

Using light sensors for book cataloguing

Once Annelynn had built the shelf, she drilled holes to fit the eight LDRs that would guard her favourite books, and separated them with corner brackets to prevent confusion.

Shelfchecker smart shelf annelynn Raspberry Pi

Corner brackets keep the books in place without confusion between their respective light sensors

Due to the limitations of the MCP3008 Adafruit microchip, the smart shelf can only keep track of eight of your favourite books. But this limitation won’t stop you from cataloguing your entire home library; it simply means you get to pick your ultimate favourites that will occupy the prime real estate on your wall.

Obviously, the light sensors sense light. So when you remove or insert a book, light floods or is blocked from that book’s sensor. The sensor sends this information to the Raspberry Pi. In response, an Arduino controls the NeoPixel strip along the ‘favourites’ shelf to indicate the book’s status.

Shelfchecker smart shelf annelynn Raspberry Pi

The book you are looking for is temporarily unavailable

Code your own library

While keeping a close eye on your favourite books, the system also allows creation of a complete library catalogue system with the help of a MySQL database. Users of the library can log into the system with a barcode scanner, and take out or return books recorded in the database guided by an LCD screen attached to the Pi.

Shelfchecker smart shelf annelynn Raspberry Pi

Beep!

I won’t go into an extensive how-to on creating MySQL databases here on the blog, because my glamourous assistant Janina has pulled up these MySQL tutorials to help you get started. Annelynn’s Github scripts are also packed with useful comments to keep you on track.

Raspberry Pi and books

We love books and libraries. And considering the growing number of Code Clubs and makespaces into libraries across the world, and the host of book-based Pi builds we’ve come across, the love seems to be mutual.

We’ve seen the Raspberry Pi introduced into the Wordery bookseller warehouse, a Pi-powered page-by-page book scanner by Jonathon Duerig, and these brilliant text-to-speech and page turner projects that use our Pis!

Did I say we love books? In fact we love them so much that members of our team have even written a few.*

If you’ve set up any sort of digital making event in a library, have in some way incorporated Raspberry Pi into your own personal book collection, or even managed to recreate the events of your favourite story using digital making, make sure to let us know in the comments below.

* Shameless plug**

Fancy adding some Pi to your home library? Check out these publications from the Raspberry Pi staff:

A Beginner’s Guide to Coding by Marc Scott

Adventures in Raspberry Pi by Carrie Anne Philbin

Getting Started with Raspberry Pi by Matt Richardson

Raspberry Pi User Guide by Eben Upton

The MagPi Magazine, Essentials Guides and Project Books

Make Your Own Game and Build Your Own Website by CoderDojo

** Shameless Pug

 

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Source: RaspberryPi – IOT Anonimo

Source: Privacy Online

The Android Things Candy Dispenser

Alvaro Viebrantz‘s Android Things Candy Dispenser combines image recognition and sugar highs in one delicious Raspberry Pi project.

Android Things A.I. Candy Dispenser

A Candy Dispenser running Android Things, that exchange photos for candies. It uses computer vision to classify the image. https://github.com/alvarowolfx/ai-candy-dispenser https://www.hackster.io/alvarowolfx/android-things-a-i-candy-dispenser-a47e74

Android Things

Released late last year, Android Things is Google’s Android-based operating system for low-cost Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as the Raspberry Pi.

Candy

Invented in ancient India, candy is a scrumptious treat often made of sugar and/or chocolate.

The Android Things Candy Dispenser

Android Things Candy Dispenser Raspberry Pi

Via its 20×4 display, Alvaro’s candy dispenser asks for an image, for example of a cat or a dog. Produce the requested image in front of the onboard Camera Module and the dispenser releases a delicious reward for you.

Inside the dispenser

Android Things Candy Dispenser Raspberry Pi

Alvaro’s schematic provides all the information you need to build your own Android Things candy dispenser (click for a larger version)

The dispenser uses a Raspberry Pi to control both the image detection and the candy release. Press the button, and the Raspberry Pi displays one of several image subjects on the screen. Via the camera, the Pi records the image you present and sends for processing via Google’s Cloud Vision API. Cloud Vision supplies image annotations and metadata, and if these match the image request, boom, free candy!

To discover more about Google Cloud Vision, check out this video from the Cloud Vision team.

Alvaro provides full instructions for the build, including all necessary code and peripherals, on both Instructables and GitHub.

Building with Android Things

Given that Android Things has not been available for very long, we have yet to see many complete builds using it with the Raspberry Pi. If you’d like to try out this OS, Alvaro’s project is a great entry point. You should also check out the Pimoroni Rainbow HAT Android Things Starter Kit that provides everything you need to begin making. And if you have a Pi and are raring to go, follow the official ‘Android Things on Raspberry Pi’ setup guide here.

If you’ve already built a project using the Android Things platform, we’d love to see it! Make sure to share your project link in the comments below.

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Source: RaspberryPi – IOT Anonimo

Source: Privacy Online

The Supreme Court Just Protected Your Right to Facebook

“”The Supreme Court appropriately understood the importance of the internet to the way politics and free expression occur right now,” says Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University Law School, who specializes in First Amendment law. “We cannot have a functioning First Amendment that doesn’t take First Amendment activity in a digital context into account.””

Location

United States

Date published: 
June 19, 2017
Focus Area: 
People: 
Related Topics: 


Source: Cyber Law

Source: Privacy Online

The Cross-Border Data Fix: It’s Not So Simple

Location

United States

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday on cross-border data requests, featuring testimony from the Department of Justice, the U.K. government, Google, the Center for Democracy and Technology, state law enforcement, and Professor Andrew Woods. Everyone recognizes the problem: law enforcement outside the U.S. can’t get data for their legitimate investigations from U.S. providers because the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) prohibits such disclosures; that is, ECPA is a classic blocking statute.  No one agrees on the solution, although there appears to be some consensus that some accommodation should be made for cross-border requests provided privacy safeguards are in place such as judicial oversight, roughly probable cause for content disclosures, due process, and limitations on the types of offenses for which disclosure would be made.

Professor Woods, who has studied this issue for a long time and who has produced some excellent work on the topic, testified at the hearing that the simplest solution would be to amend ECPA to permit U.S. providers to directly respond to cross-border requests. He argues that by removing the block, Congress would also remove the incentive for other countries to enact data localization laws or anti-encryption measures — actions perceived to be privacy-eroding.  He seems skeptical that side agreements between the U.S. and other countries as a prerequisite for data transfers will be a sufficient basis for removing the block because those countries not in “the club” still will insist on compliance with their orders even if extraterritorial in reach and likely enact data localization laws of their own. He’s largely right, but simplicity is not necessarily a virtue in solving the cross-border data problem.

The solution may be simple, but the problem is not simple at all. Most agree that it is a bad idea to require U.S. providers to disclose user data to authoritarian regimes who will use it to suppress dissent under the guise of local criminal law. (But even there, there may be legitimate criminal cases or impending attacks that warrant disclosure even in an authoritarian nation!) If you remove the blocking statute and the requirement to make such requests through the Department of Justice, you practically have removed the ability to resist such disclosures at all. But, as Professor Woods notes, DoJ says that handling the volume of such requests today puts

a strain on the Office of International Affairs and on the U.S.’s diplomatic relations. Many of these requests take nearly a year to complete. Worse, these numbers do not represent the true scale of the demand because many foreign law enforcement agents never make a request at all, knowing that the petition will languish for months or years.

These are poor excuses for eliminating the blocking statute. The real “simple solution” is to properly staff and budget for the realities of a new digital world so that the Department of Justice can properly do its job in screening such requests for legitimacy. The answer is not to shift the burden to providers to make those decisions or bear the ignominy of deciding wrongly. We would be one disclosure away from renaming the simplest solution to be the Tiananmen Square solution.  

If it takes a year for DoJ to properly review and comply with a non-U.S. request for data, then one has to ask why anyone thinks providers will be able to do so more efficiently or quickly? The answer betrays the privacy fear – because providers won’t be able to review them at all. They will comply much more often than not, and presumably have the requisite immunity under ECPA in doing so. And why should anyone expect otherwise? Whom will a provider send into China to resist such orders? Which employees on the ground in the business will want to be at risk of arrest for obstruction in Brazil? This is no real solution at all, although it is simple.  It is manifestly unfair to put providers in that position.

It also undermines the Budapest Convention, also known as the Cybercrime Convention. Over 50 nations have agreed to respect the sovereignty of each other and to use proper channels to obtain evidence stored within another country’s borders. Granted, countries like Brazil, India and Russia have refused to participate, so Professor Woods rightly recognizes that those nations will continue to insist on data localization and compliance under their law with consequences for providers and their employees in country (while some wistfully suggest other countries will raise their standards to meet the club’s rules). But that is no reason not to fully implement the Convention, make it work, reform mutual legal assistance procedures to get the job done right while diplomatically working with non-signatory nations to put a regime in place. That is the role of governments, not providers.

Finally, Professor Woods notes that other nations “resent” having to ask the U.S. government to obtain information in the hands of U.S. providers necessary to a legitimate investigation in their own country involving their own citizens, both perpetrators and victims, under the procedures applicable in their own country. Resentment betrays a lack of respect for sovereignty. Doesn’t the U.S. respect the laws of other nations when seeking evidence in those jurisdictions and don’t those very countries insist on it?  

Advocates for direct access to providers like to refer to the “paradigmatic case” as described in the last paragraph to illustrate the simple point. DoJ’s Richard Downing, for example, testified at the hearing in favor of direct wiretapping under the DoJ-UK proposed agreement and corresponding ECPA amendments using exactly that term. But the paradigm is seldom the case anymore. Investigations often involve users based in more than one country, data storage in another country, victims in potentially many countries. Downing relies on the “standards” in the agreement to which the UK would agree — almost probably cause, proportional, limited duration, etc. But how would a provider know the standards have been applied? While U.S. persons would not be “targeted,” they would be incidentally collected without any notice or remedy. And there is no way to be certain of the location of the actual target either — thus the UK could require a provider to wiretap a person in France or Germany, or anywhere the provider offered service, except for the U.S.

All this is not to say that the problem is too complex for a simple  or single solution. It is to say that solutions to complex problems are never simple. The fact is that there is no single solution that solves every cross-border data problem. A year ago, I argued that it might be better to seek an 80% solution through MLAT reform than trying to achieve a “complete” solution. There certainly ought to be room for agreements between nations for direct provider disclosures in certain, universally recognized cases like human trafficking or child exploitation. Using limited cases over time, with transparency, to build trust, infrastructure and experience is the stuff of creating international norms.

There also should be a greater U.S. government commitment to efficient handling of foreign requests for data. Emergency requests, for example, are handled expeditiously today. We ought to build on that experience. We need a Department of Justice for the digital era that can navigate and negotiate the myriad of interests involved in cross-border data requests.  It is not up to providers to fill that gap.

Providers, of course, can play a role. ECPA already permits the voluntary disclosure of user data with the consent of the user of the service. Uncertainty about which law might apply to determine the validity of the consent  (the law where the provider sits without regard to conflict of laws principles; the law where the subscriber to the service resides; the law of all parties to a communication; the laws of the country of any person affected by the disclosure, etc.) prudently dissuades providers from risking voluntary disclosure in response to governmental requests.

But one part of the solution might be to amend ECPA to protect providers where users of the service consent through clear terms of use to such disclosures in specific cases. Disclosure as a matter of contract law — providers rely upon their terms of use and policies in other contexts so this is not unfamiliar territory. It only lacks clarity under ECPA and would be a simple amendment. Yes, providers would be in a difficult position, as they are today, when they say no to a voluntary disclosure. But a fully engaged Department of Justice ought to fill that gap too to protect providers against undue influence in “voluntary” disclosure cases.

In all of this, there looms the Microsoft Ireland decision. Professor Woods would reverse it through legislation. DoJ agrees and now has 5 lower court decisions in other circuits, building the case for Supreme Court review. The European Union in particular is upset at the notion that the data of EU users is accessible to the U.S. government but not EU investigators. The situation as most commentators have observed is untenable. The untenable part of it is the notion that where the data resides, regardless of how it got, who put it there, how long it has been there or is going to be there, should decide the rule of law for its disclosure to any government. Data is not in rem in the traditional sense, and old school principles of jurisdiction should form the basis of any solution for compelled cross-border disclosures.

Finally, the truth is that providers that offer global services will meet the sovereigns of other nations head on over taxes, consumer protection, criminality and national security. Nations negotiate treaties to address all of these types of international issues so that companies and individuals have certainty about the law. The entire law of international relations is built upon the recognition that sovereigns have an interest in building a fair and sustainable rules-based system for facilitating interaction on a global stage with predictable outcomes. It really is up to the U.S. government to negotiate the framework, implement the rules, protect providers and users, and move with a pace slightly greater than an iceberg because, forgive the mixed metaphor, climate change is real.   

 

 

 

Focus Areas: 


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Mira, tiny robot of joyful delight

The staff of Pi Towers are currently melting into puddles while making ‘Aaaawwwwwww’ noises as Mira, the adorable little Pi-controlled robot made by Pixar 3D artist Alonso Martinez, steals their hearts.

Mira the robot playing peek-a-boo

If you want to get updates on Mira’s progress, sign up for the mailing list! http://eepurl.com/bteigD Mira is a desk companion that makes your life better one smile at a time. This project explores human robot interactivity and emotional intelligence. Currently Mira uses face tracking to interact with the users and loves playing the game “peek-a-boo”.

Introducing Mira

Honestly, I can’t type words – I am but a puddle! If I could type at all, I would only produce a stream of affectionate fragments. Imagine walking into a room full of kittens. What you would sound like is what I’d type.

No! I can do this. I’m a professional. I write for a living! I can…

SHE BLINKS OHMYAAAARGH!!!

Mira Alonso Martinez Raspberry Pi

Weebl & Bob meets South Park’s Ike Broflovski in an adorable 3D-printed bundle of ‘Aaawwwww’

Introducing Mira (I promise I can do this)

Right. I’ve had a nap and a drink. I’ve composed myself. I am up for this challenge. As long as I don’t look directly at her, I’ll be fine!

Here I go.

As one of the many über-talented 3D artists at Pixar, Alonso Martinez knows a thing or two about bringing adorable-looking characters to life on screen. However, his work left him wondering:

In movies you see really amazing things happening but you actually can’t interact with them – what would it be like if you could interact with characters?

So with the help of his friends Aaron Nathan and Vijay Sundaram, Alonso set out to bring the concept of animation to the physical world by building a “character” that reacts to her environment. His experiments with robotics started with Gertie, a ball-like robot reminiscent of his time spent animating bouncing balls when he was learning his trade. From there, he moved on to Mira.

Mira Alonso Martinez

Many, many of the views of this Tested YouTube video have come from me. So many.

Mira swivels to follow a person’s face, plays games such as peekaboo, shows surprise when you finger-shoot her, and giggles when you give her a kiss.

Mira’s inner workings

To get Mira to turn her head in three dimensions, Alonso took inspiration from the Microsoft Sidewinder Pro joystick he had as a kid. He purchased one on eBay, took it apart to understand how it works, and replicated its mechanism for Mira’s Raspberry Pi-powered innards.

Mira Alonso Martinez

Alonso used the smallest components he could find so that they would fit inside Mira’s tiny body.

Mira’s axis of 3D-printed parts moves via tiny Power HD DSM44 servos, while a camera and OpenCV handle face-tracking, and a single NeoPixel provides a range of colours to indicate her emotions. As for the blinking eyes? Two OLED screens boasting acrylic domes fit within the few millimeters between all the other moving parts.

More on Mira, including her history and how she works, can be found in this wonderful video released by Tested this week.

Pixar Artist’s 3D-Printed Animated Robots!

We’re gushing with grins and delight at the sight of these adorable animated robots created by artist Alonso Martinez. Sean chats with Alonso to learn how he designed and engineered his family of robots, using processes like 3D printing, mold-making, and silicone casting. They’re amazing!

You can also sign up for Alonso’s newsletter here to stay up-to-date about this little robot. Hopefully one of these newsletters will explain how to buy or build your own Mira, as I for one am desperate to see her adorable little face on my desk every day for the rest of my life.

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