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Enlarge / An overview of a browser-based exploit that abuses cloud services.

Vasant Tendulkar et al.

Scientists have devised a browser-based exploit that allows them to carry out large-scale computations on cloud-based services for free, a hack they warn could be used to wage powerful online attacks cheaply and anonymously.

The method, described in a research paper scheduled to be presented at next month's Computer Security Applications Conference, uses the Puffin mobile browser to push computationally intensive jobs onto a cloud-based service that was never intended for such purposes. Normally, Puffin and other so-called cloud-based browsers are used only to accelerate the loading of Web pages on mobile devices by rendering JavaScript, images, and text from disparate sources on a server and only then delivering it to the smartphone or tablet. That's more efficient than relying on mobile devices with limited computing power to render such content themselves.

Now, computer scientists at North Carolina State University and the University of Oregon have demonstrated a way to abuse such services. By creating a customized browser that mimics Puffin, they were able to trick the cloud-based servers it relies on to count words, search for text strings, and carry out other tasks the service was never designed for—free and semi-anonymously. Out of ethical considerations, they limited both the scope and workload imposed on the cloud resources, but they warned less-scrupulous attackers could use similar techniques to perform powerful denial-of-service attacks and password cracks.

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Clouds

I get press releases every week about some new (or old!) company and their so-called cloud solution. Some folks are clearly abusing the popularity of the “cloud” buzzword, and others are actually doing interesting things with distributed computing, infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service, orchestration, and related technologies. Amazon is the prime mover on IaaS, but OpenStack, CloudStack and Eucalyptus are all making strong plays in that space. VMware’s Cloud Foundry and Red Hat’s OpenShift are pushing open source PaaS, while services like Heroku, Engine Yard and dotCloud (among others) are pushing to be your hosted PaaS solution.

It’s not surprising that so many people are looking to differentiate their cloud solutions, and on the balance I think competition is a good thing that eventually benefits end-users. But as things stand today, it strikes me as exceedingly hard to formulate a comprehensive “cloud strategy” given the plethora of options.

If you care strongly about open source, that helps limit your options. VMware’s Cloud Foundry has been open source for quite some time, and recently celebrated its first birthday. Red Hat’s OpenShift is not yet open source, but work is underway to remedy that. Red Hat, obviously, has a long history of successfully open sourcing their work. Red Hat also recently announced that they would be a platinum member of the newly reorganized OpenStack governing board. VMware, on the other hand, is not a company with which I readily associate open source culture or success; and I don’t see a very robust ecosystem coalescing around Cloud Foundry. Hopefully that situation improves.

And there’s also Canonical, the folks behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Canonical has made a real effort to advocate for OpenStack, but their actual contributions to OpenStack don’t seem to tell the same story. Rather than focus on directly contributing to IaaS or PaaS offerings, Canonical is busy making helper products like Metal-as-a-Service and their newly announced “Any Web Service over Me” (with the righteous acronym AWESOME) which aims to provide an API abstraction layer to facilitate running workloads on Amazon’s cloud and on an OpenStack cloud.

The end result of all of this a lot of ambiguity for customers and companies looking to deploy cloud solutions. If you want a private cloud, it doesn’t seem to me that you can make a decision without first reaching a decision as to whether or not you will eventually need to use public cloud resources. If so, your choice of private cloud technology demonstrably hangs on the long-term viability of your intended public cloud target. If you think Amazon is where it’s at for public cloud, then it seems that Eucalyptus is what you build your private cloud on (unless you want to fiddle with even more technology and implement Canonical’s AWESOME). If you think Rackspace is where it’s at, then OpenStack is a more appealing choice for you. But what if you’re wrong about your choice of public cloud provider?

As such, I’m curious to learn what you — the reader — are currently doing. Have you made a technology decision? Did you go all in, or are you leaving room to shift to a different provider if need be? Did you go IaaS or PaaS? Are you a new company, or are you an established organization moving existing workloads to new platforms? Finally, I’m particularly interested to hear from folks in regulated industries — banking, health care, insurance, etc — where your decision as to where to run your applications may be predicated on legal issues.

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fistful

Editor’s note: Jay Fulcher is CEO of video technology company Ooyala. This is a follow-up to his columns “Fear And Loathing In Online Video” and “One Screen To Rule Them All“. Follow him on Twitter @jbfulcher.

The rise of smart, multi-screen streaming media is fundamentally changing the TV experience. This year, for the first time ever, Americans will watch more movies over the Internet than on physical media like DVD and Blu-ray. Ooyala’s Video Index Report found that non-desktop video plays doubled in the fourth quarter of 2011. Tablet sales continue to explode. People now spend more time on Xbox Live streaming movies and TV shows than playing video games. And consumer electronics manufacturers are gearing up to ship 125 million Smart TVs in 2014. Simply put, TV is no longer constrained to a single box, a single screen, or a single UI.

Smart networks, broadcasters, studios and service providers recognize that there’s real money to be made as TV moves into the information age. People are not only watching more movies and TV shows online, they are paying for access to premium video content. Recent studies reveal that over half of American tablet owners paid to watch a movie in Q4 2011 and more than 40% paid for TV content. These are strong signs that we’ve come a long way from Jeff Zucker’s “digital pennies” remark back in 2008.

To make the most digital dollars, new TV technologies should securely deliver media to viewers on their terms. Audiences today have personal, portable ways to consume content. There are more screens, platforms and devices to display their favorite shows, and more ways than ever to rent, purchase, gift and download video content. It is an exciting time for both TV viewers and TV content providers.

Innovation is a tricky business, however, and change can be hard. There are bound to be a few missteps and failures as we invent the next generation of TV. This isn’t a new phenomenon. For every VHS recorder there is a Betamax; for every DVD, a Laserdisc. But there will also be key victories and new revenue streams as media and technology combine to create the TV experience of tomorrow.

Here’s how forward-thinking media companies will profit from the new TV.

Big Data & Analytics

More than a buzzword, Big Data is changing the way we look at information — and the world around us. The ability to quickly extract actionable insights from vast sets of data has already become a business imperative in some sectors. This trend can only grow. Corporations, governments, and non-governmental organizations will all leverage distributed computing to gain insights into their operations and their constituencies and maximize efficiencies.

Big Data and analytics will become mission critical for major media companies as TV moves to IP delivery. Firms that fail to invest in data-driven solutions will be at a severe disadvantage in the marketplace. Putting analytics tools in place to collect and analyze key metrics enables video publishers to see how people interact with their content — and understand where and why it’s underperforming (something that was impossible before). These insights will inform critical business decisions that impact audiences and drive revenue.

Intelligent Monetization

As we all know, the easiest way to make more money in media is to sell more advertising. But simply inserting more pre-roll ads into a video stream, for example, quickly falls prey to the law of diminishing marginal returns. An initial uptick in revenue is followed by a substantial dropoff in ad completion rates, as viewers quickly grow weary of the oversupply of irrelevant ad messages.

Smart monetization strategies go hand-in-hand with analytics. With the right tools in place, video publishers can analyze how variables like ad load (the number of ads served per video) and ad placement (where ads are inserted within the video) impact viewer engagement. It’s even possible to find the optimal rental price for, say, a feature-length movie. And soon it will be commonplace to match ads to viewers based on social graph interests, location, device type, and viewing history.

Smart video publishers will use analytics to simultaneously accomplish two somewhat conflicting goals: (1) maximize digital revenue, and (2) create and/or maintain an optimal viewing experience for their viewers.

Personalized Content

A streaming media strategy based on Big Data computing, powerful analytics and smart monetization results in a personalized viewing experience across all connected screens. Content producers and providers will attract and retain more viewers when they deliver highly relevant content to their viewers, and presented in a way the viewer prefers.

Insights derived from vast data collection ensures that the right content is delivered to the right viewer at the right time. The future of personalized television is geo-targeted, interactive content. Viewers who opt to share data will receive a better experience: location-specific ads, augmented reality media experiences, interactive games and content targeted for their viewing history, network and device. Content publishers will also tap into social networks to deliver meaningful content that is informed by viewer interests. As social media continues to evolve, expect video to play a bigger role in how we relate to one another online.

In Sum…

The TV of tomorrow will be smart. It will understand who is watching, where they are, and what shows they enjoy. The end result will be a more personal TV experience that spans multiple screens and locations.

TV is changing quickly. There is a real need for companies to recognize and get out ahead of this change. With the right tools (like those offered by my company Ooyala), fistfuls of digital dollars are there for the taking.

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A piece generated in Apophysis.


Showing breakage in space in non integer Multibrot set


A Fibonacci word fractal by Samuel Monnier

Fractal art is a form of algorithmic art created by calculating fractal objects and representing the calculation results as still images, animations, and media. Fractal art developed from the mid 1980s onwards.[1] It is a genre of computer art and digital art which are part of new media art. The Julia set and Mandlebrot sets can be considered as icons of fractal art.[2]

Fractal art is not drawn or painted by hand. It is usually created indirectly with the assistance of fractal-generating software, iterating through three phases: setting parameters of appropriate fractal software; executing the possibly lengthy calculation; and evaluating the product. In some cases, other graphics programs are used to further modify the images produced. This is called post-processing. Non-fractal imagery may also be integrated into the artwork.[3]

Fractal art could not have developed without computers because of the calculative capabilities they provide.[4] Fractals are generated by applying iterative methods to solving non-linear equations or polynomial equations. Fractals are any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size.[5]

The Fractal Art Manifesto

As stated by Kerry Mitchell in The Fractal Art Manifesto,[6] "Fractal Art is a subclass of two-dimensional visual art, and is in many respects similar to photography—another art form that was greeted by skepticism upon its arrival. Fractal images typically are manifested as prints, bringing fractal artists into the company of painters, photographers, and printmakers. Fractals exist natively as electronic images. This is a format that traditional visual artists are quickly embracing, bringing them into Fractal Art's digital realm. Generating fractals can be an artistic endeavor, a mathematical pursuit, or just a soothing diversion. However, Fractal Art is clearly distinguished from other digital activities by what it is, and by what it is not." According to Mitchell, fractal art is not computerized art, lacking in rules, unpredictable, nor something that any person with access to a computer can do well. Instead, fractal art is expressive, creative, and requires input, effort, and intelligence. Most importantly, "fractal art is simply that which is created by Fractal Artists: ART."

Types


A 3D fractal generated using Visions of Chaos

There are many different kinds of fractal images and can be subdivided into several groups.

Fractal expressionism is a term used to differentiate traditional visual art that incorporates fractal elements such as self-similarity for example. Perhaps the best example of fractal expressionism is found in Jackson Pollack's dripped patterns. They have been analysed and found to contain a fractal dimension which has been attributed to his technique.[8]

Techniques


Fractal image generated by Electric Sheep

Fractals of all kinds have been used as the basis for digital art and animation. High resolution color graphics became increasingly available at scientific research labs in the mid 1980s. Scientific forms of art, including fractal art, have developed separately from mainstream culture.[9] Starting with 2-dimensional details of fractals, such as the Mandelbrot Set, fractals have found artistic application in fields as varied as texture generation, plant growth simulation and landscape generation.

Fractals are sometimes combined with human-assisted evolutionary algorithms, either by iteratively choosing good-looking specimens in a set of random variations of a fractal artwork and producing new variations, to avoid dealing cumbersome or unpredictable parameters, or collectively, like in the Electric Sheep project, where people use fractal flames rendered with distributed computing as their screensaver and "rate" the flame they are viewing, influencing the server, which reduces the traits of the undesirables, and increases those of the desirables to produce a computer-generated, community-created piece of art.

Many fractal images are admired because of their perceived harmony. This is typically achieved by the patterns which emerge from the balance of order and chaos. Similar qualities have been described in Chinese painting and miniature trees and rockeries.[10]

Some of the most popular fractal rendering programs used to make fractal art include Ultra Fractal, Apophysis, Bryce and Sterling. Fractint was the first widely used fractal generating program.

Landscapes


A 3D landscape generated with Terragen
Main article: Fractal landscape

The first fractal image that was intended to be a work of art was probably the famous one on the cover of Scientific American, August 1985. This image showed a landscape formed from the potential function on the domain outside the (usual) Mandelbrot set. However, as the potential function grows fast near the boundary of the Mandelbrot set, it was necessary for the creator to let the landscape grow downwards, so that it looked as if the Mandelbrot set was a plateau atop a mountain with steep sides. The same technique was used a year after in some images in The Beauty of Fractals by Heinz-Otto Peitgen and Michael M. Richter.

In this book you can find a formula to estimate the distance from a point outside the Mandelbrot set to the boundary of the Mandelbrot set (and a similar formula for the Julia sets), and one can wonder why the creator did not use this function instead of the potential function, because it grows in a more natural way (see the formula in the articles Mandelbrot set and Julia set).

The three pictures show landscapes formed from the distance function for a family of iterations of the form z2 + az4 + c. If, in a light from the sun. Then we imagine the rays are parallel (and given by two angles), and we let the colour of a point on the surface be determined by the angle between this direction and the slope of the surface at the point. The intensity (on the earth) is independent of the distance, but the light grows whiter because of the atmosphere, and sometimes the ground looks as if it is enveloped in a veil of mist (second picture). We can also let the light be "artificial", as if it issues from a lantern held by the observer. In this case the colour must grow darker with the distance (third picture).

Artists

The British artist William Latham, has used fractal geometry and other computer graphics techniques in his works.[11] Greg Sams has used fractal designs in postcards, t-shirts and textiles. American Vicky Brago-Mitchell has created fractal art which has appeared in exhibitions and on magazine covers. Scott Draves is credited with inventing flame fractals. Some artists, such as Reginald Atkins, create fractal art for relaxation.[3] Carlos Ginzburg has explored fractal art and developed a concept called "homo fractalus" which is based around the idea that the human is the ultimate fractal.[12] Merrin Parkers from New Zealand specialises in fractal art.[13]

Exhibits

There has been fractal art exhibits at major international art galleries.[14] One of the first exhibitions of fractal art was called Map Art. It was a travelling exhibition of works which originated from researchers at the University of Bremen.[15] Mathematicians Heinz-Otto Peitgen and Michael M. Richter discovered the public not only found the images aesthetically pleasing but that they also wanted to understand the scientific background to the images.[16]

In 1989, fractals were part of the subject matter for an art show called Strange Attractors: Signs of Chaos at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.[9] The show consisted of photographs, installations and sculptures designed to provide greater scientific discourse to the field which had already captured the public's attention through colourful and intricate computer imagery.

See also

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