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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


DMCA C&D in one easy step

Step 1: Post the AACS processing key (09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0)

Anybody want to make any guesses as to how long it'll take before I get my very own FREE brand new takedown request? Is my blog too small and insignificant to warrant a letter, or are they being spammed out based on the results of Google searches? Wait and see!

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, apparently the above hex key allows you to decrypt any HD-DVD movie published to date so long as you also have the volume key (which are supposedly non-random and usually trivial, such as the name of a movie and date of release). Obviously, there are those that aren't too thrilled to see said key roaming free on the big truck.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


iPhone: Not widescreen, not higher resolution

Apple has finally announced the official detailed specs of the iPhone:


The screen is 480x320, for an aspect ratio of just 1.5 (or 3:2), which is not widescreen. For reference, 4:3, normal TV and computer aspect ratio, is 1.33, and true widescreen is at least 16:9, or 1.77. Computer monitors are usually 16:10, or 1.6. So calling the iPhone "widescreen" is really stretching it. 3:2 just isn't widescreen. "wider" screen perhaps.

What's the impact of this? It's a bad solution either way. 4:3 content will be letterboxed along the top and bottom, and 16:9 video will be letterboxed along the top and bottom. NO standard video formats will play completely fullscreen!

The iPhone's resolution is also listed as 160dpi, which is (surprise), the exact same as the 5th gen iPod with its 320x240 screen at 160dpi.

While it's a bit dissapointing that the iPhone screen isn't higher resolution (in dpi) than the current iPod, 480x320 in a 3.5" screen is still nothing to scoff at.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I have played the Wii.

About four hours standing in lines at Festival Arcadia (still open tomorrow if you're in Montreal and want a shot at the Wii) netted be a precious 8 minutes of gameplay of "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princss" for the Nintendo Wii, both being scheduled to come out next week. It also provided my ample photo opportunities. But of course, neither myself nor my friend had remembered to bring a digital camera with us, so I dutifully attempted to wring every last bit of quality from my cellphone as possible. After a good deal of time adjusting my cellphone's exposure and lighting ramp for the environment, and knowing from prior experience that most of the photos wouldn't turn out, I began snapping furiously.

Luckily, despite the questionable quality of the phone's 0.3 megapixel camera, about a third of the photos turned out, with several being of excellent quality. Most of the photos of the Wii unit itself turned out brilliantly, and of the three videos that I took, one is at least "watchable" (although not pleasant). And so, I present to you, my Nintendo Wii media.

First off, a note, all these photos are from the same dungeon. While my game time was split up into a 3 minute and 5 minute session on two different units (the first unit had me as a wolf in a different dungeon), the second unit had a much larger screen and better display case, so all the photos are from this. For lack of a better term, I'm going to call it "The Forest Monkey Dungeon", which seems to be the second in the game after the "Wolf in Sewer" dungeon.

This first photo shows Link running across a bridge. Exciting, eh?

Let's get the other least interesting photo out of the way to begin with. This is simply Link running on grass. The tall grass in the bottom-right hand corner of the screen can be cut with a sword for items, as is normal in Zelda games.

This one is more interesting, at least. This shot is from the cutscene introducing a puzzle. Well, it isn't really a puzzle, because the game shows you how to solve it. Essentially, this dungeon involves rescuing monkeys, who then help you along the way. In this scene, the first monkey (which you free by whacking its cage with your sword) would like to free this second monkey. However, the second monkey is in a cage on top of a pillar that you can't reach. The monkey shows you the solution by rolling into the pillar, causing the cage to wobble. The player then rolls into the pillar two or three times until the cage is knocked off the top, freeing the monkey. It's a simple introduction to the use of a gameplay mechanic more than a puzzle.

Hurray! The player has freed the second monkey, and both monkeys now follow you around. In the gameplay I saw, they help mostly by giving you hints as to where to go, and occasionally providing access to unreachable areas by swinging you across gaps.

Up next, we have the highest quality photo of the game that I managed to take. Unfortunately, the only way to get this close to the screen (all previous shots were taking over the shoulders of the people in line in front of me) was to go to the side of the person playing, which accounts for the angle. However, it's still the sharpest shot. The bug standing behind Link is a bomb bug. These enemies turn into bombs when defeated, which can be used to blow things up. Much like the bomb plants in Ocarina of Time, the player doesn't have their own bombs yet, and so must rely on those that the level designers have placed for him.

And now, my shots of the actual console itself. These turned out amazingly well considering the difficult lighting environment for a cell phone camera. Essentially I turned the exposure as low as it would go, and set the light ramp for bright sunny environments. This helped with the blinding flourescent lights placed under the console. The end result is quite neat, and turned out way better than I thought they would.

But didn't I mention that I had taken a video as well? Yes, but don't expect much. The cell phone is a lot worse at recording videos than it is at taking photos. 25 seconds of footage (with sound) at the "max" resolution of 176x144 and 5FPS nets you about 475KB of video. That's right, about 150kbit for both the audio and video, compressed by an outdated cellphone in realtime. Don't say I didn't warn you, but at least you can sort of tell what's going on in the game.

The video file is in the 3gp format, which needs the QuickTime player to view. It also can't be embedded in a web page, it seems, so you'll have to download it yourself. It's under half a meg.


Now that all the media is out of the way, what are my impressions?

I had already planned to pick up a Wii on launch day (or as close to it as possible) with a copy of Twilight Princess. My fears at the awkwardness of the controls were unfounded. The wiimote and nunchuck were comfortable to hold (although I never had one in-hand for more than five minutes), and although I had virtually no time to get used to the controls or run through the training parts of the game, my experience with Ocarina of Time (I've been playing it on PC the last few weeks, previously I'd stuck to only 2D Zelda games) and the mass consumption of online media about the game permitted me to at least function without too much trouble. The controls felt fairly natural, and swinging the wiimote (which could be done with a quick shake instead of a full blown swing) seemed to fit fairly well.

I was standing up, which wasn't ideal, but I expect that sitting down will feel even more comfortable; several journalists have stated as much. I didn't really get to test out the pointing ability of the wiimote, where it acts like a laser pointer. The limit of that was when I took out the slingshot and aimed it at things, letting off a few random shots, just to try it out. Many people were having difficulty aiming with the wiimote at their hips, which is a stupid way to aim anything. Aiming the wiimote with your arm fully extended makes it much easier. It seemed to be fairly accurate, and there was a bit of a snap-on for targets (although that might have been imagined).

What about the game itself? Well, visually, I'd classify it as "good enough". The game is graphically a GameCube game, since it'll be released for both platforms with zero enhancements visually on the Wii. So, oddly enough, despite it being a launch title, THE launch title that will sell the console, it doesn't show off the Wii's visual or processing prowess in the slightest. Still, the visuals were good enough for me. My last console was a SNES, and the most advanced non-PC gaming device I own is a DS. The graphics in Twilight Princess looked nice, and I'm satisfied. To be frank, it's so much of an improvement over the N64 games (the only realistically styled home console Zelda games before this one) that the graphics don't really matter. Besides, I'm buying the Wii for the control scheme, virtual console, price, and all that other stuff, not graphics.

So, my overall experience? Very positive. I want one.

Now, for some general experience of the other games that I saw. I only barely caught glimpses of Ubisoft's "Rayman: Raving Rabids", a minigame oriented game for the PS2 and Wii. I saw a person playing it on the Wii, using the wiimote as a lightgun to fire plungers at cowboy rabbits in a western themed environment. It looked amusing, although I'm not sure if I'll pick it up. I'll need to try a demo myself first.

Wii Sports (which comes bundled with the Wii, a first since the N64) looked neat. Everybody who played baseball struck out on almost every swing, or hit foul balls when they did hit. Tennis looked fun, but without having tried it, I know now that the game is almost entirely automated, and you don't even control what way you hit the ball. I didn't really see the boxing close up, although I managed to sneak a glimpse from a distance.

I tried out Metroid Prime Hunters for DS, a game that came out ages ago (a DS launch game even, I think). I was really surprised by how well an FPS could be pulled off on the DS. It was much nicer, to me (a PC gamer) than using a console controller for the PS2/XBOX/360. Of course, it's a DS game. I probably won't buy it, as the game itself was confusing, and the architecture was extremely repetitive.

Swinging by the Ubisoft booth, my buddy took a turn at "Rainbow Six: Las Vegas", which is scheduled to come out later this month. The game looked quite fun, but my enthusiasm was dampened when I realized just how hard such a game would be for me. The initial trailers of the game looked really neat, but I'm horrible at tactical shooters on PC, so I'd be even worse at them on a console.

Another cool game we saw was "Gears of War" for the XBOX 360. The game came out just a few days ago, but I don't know anybody with a 360, so it was a first look for me. I even took a turn playing it for quite a while, as the Microsoft booth was horribly disorganized with no employees imposing time limits. The graphics (the game uses the Unreal 3 engine) were frankly amazing, and really show off the console's capabilities (we're told to expect even more as developers get more familiar with the hardware). I wasn't very good at the game, although it seemed like some practice could improve things. It was sort of a tactical shooter and halo mixed together. I snapped one photo of the game, but the LCD's high contrast setting washed out the bright spots. Suffice it to say that the visuals are more impressive than any PC or console game currently available.

I think that about wraps it up. Arcadia in general was a very unpleasant experience. We only went to see the Wii, and we achieved our primary objective. We were hoping to try out Red Steel for the Wii (another launch title), but were told by Ubisoft that the demo wasn't ready (finished) yet. The lineups were enormous, the event was overcrowded (the venue was simply too small, and two or three times the space was needed for the same number of attendees), the food prices were exorbitant (It cost me about $15 for three slices of pizza and a coke), and we had to line up for almost an hour just to LEAVE the event, since they had a mandatory coat check service. We were also almost deafened several times by announcers screaming into microphones and sound effects pumped through loudspeakers that were quite obviously way too loud. I've been to concerts that were deafeningly loud. This was way worse. I walked around with my hands clamped over my ears to stop it from HURTING.

Will I go back to Arcadia next year? Probably not. They won't have such a glut of unreleased content (as in, an entirely new console from Nintendo), and since this is their second event, I imagine the next one will be just as badly organized and managed as this one. But for us, and this one event, all the trouble was worth it just for those 8 minutes of Wii.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


iPodDrop 1.5 released

UPDATE: There was a typo in the URL before. The file downloaded fine, but didn't have a ".zip" extension. I've updated the URL.

Bet you didn't see that coming, eh? Another release of iPodDrop, and a BIG one at that!

There are three main changes/themes to this release, which I'll talk a bit about.

First, iPodDrop has been updated for iTunes 7 and the new iPod firmware that was released with it. This means that (at least if you use TV mode), you need iTunes 7 and the latest iPod firmware (currently 1.2 for the 5th gen iPod) to use this new version of iPodDrop. If you don't use TV mode, you should be fine with iTunes 6 and the old firmware.

Why the change? Because of Apple's new movie store! When Apple launched their new movie store, they decided that ALL videos sold through iTunes would change from 320x240 up to 640x480. Little problem though, the highest 4:3 resolution the iPod could decode was about 554x414. So how did Apple fix it? They released a new version of iTunes and the iPod firmware that supports higher resolution video decoding! As such, iPodDrop now targets a total resolution of up to 307200 pixels, instead of the old max of 230400 pixels! This means that most content downloaded off the internet should transcode without rescaling, and original DVDs should require significantly less scaling than before. So, higher quality TV output with iPodDrop! Hurray!

The second major change is a new version of ffmpeg as the core of iPodDrop. The version of ffmpeg used was something like a year and a half old, and a lot of fixes have gone into ffmpeg in the intervening time. As such, the new version of iPodDrop should be able to convert an even larger variety of videos, and will hopefully be significantly more stable. But with this comes another change... 160kbit audio is working once again! It turns out that the problem was that iPodDrop was outputting "main" profile AAC audio. The iPod has no trouble decoding it, and iTunes used to accept it just fine, but since it isn't officially supported, Apple updated iTunes to prevent you from using it. Well, the newer version of ffmpeg now supports the "low complexity" AAC that iTunes needs. So, higher quality audio output with iPodDrop! Hurray!

The third major change is a slew of DVD-related changes. iPodDrop can't do much automated detection of the various types of DVDs (although it can properly handle non-anamorphic non-interlaced DVDs without intervention). There's not terribly much that can be done about this without getting a lot more involved with the input files than iPodDrop is now. However, you should at least be ABLE to properly convert DVDs with iPodDrop, so I've made a bunch of additions. First, you can tell iPodDrop that the input file is an anamorphic DVD, so that it will get the aspect ratio correct. Second of all, you can tell iPodDrop to de-interlace the input video, if you have an interlaced DVD. Third, iPodDrop should be able to detect standard PAL DVDs on it's own as it can NTSC DVDs. And lastly, there's a new "sample" mode that will encode a 60 second sample instead of the full video, so that you can make sure you've got everything working right. So, iPodDrop can now convert most unencrypted DVDs properly! Hurray!

As you can see, a lot of major changes in this release. There are also some other more minor improvements, as you can see in the changelog, such as support for 4 thread SMP (if you have four virtual or real processors/cores). All in all, a real big improvement. However, due to the number of changes, and the scope of some of the changes (such as the ffmpeg upgrade, which involved changing the interface to ffmpeg to be able to talk to the new version), there is a bigger potential for bugs to sneak in. So, if you have any problems with the new version, or anything doesn't work that worked before, please get in touch with me and let me know, so I can fix it (note that the -ab160 option has been removed since iPodDrop now defaults to 160kbit).

You can download iPodDrop v1.5 here: iPodDrop v1.5 (2.7MB)

Finally, the changelog:

- Upgraded version of ffmpeg. This should allow iPodDrop to read more formats, and fixes the 80kbit audio problem. This might break some things, please report bugs if you find something that worked before no longer works.
- Changed audio bitrate back to 160 since the newer version of ffmpeg fixed the issue
- Removed the -ab160 option as it is no longer required
- Added support for anamorphic DVDs via -anamorphicdvd option. It forces a 16:9 aspect ratio, which anamorphic DVDs need to be played back at. I don't have any anamorphic DVDs to test with, so I can't automate this, it needs to be specified manually.
- Added -smp4 option that uses 4 threads (-smp uses 2). This is useful if you have a four real or virtual cores/processors.
- Increased max TV resolution from 230400 pixels to 307200 pixels. You'll need iTunes 7 and the latest iPod firmware. For example, this means that iPodDrop can now output at 640x480 and other resolutions that multiply to 307200 pixels.
- Added -sample option to only encode 60 seconds of video, so you can see if the video is encoding properly without encoding the whole thing.
- Added -deinterlace option to de-interlace the input video. Probably mostly useful for DVDs.
- Added autodetection of PAL DVDs (720x576), previously iPodDrop would only autodetect NTSC (720x480).
- Added a warning if ffmpeg couldn't write an output file (this change is missing from the readme changelog)

And to satisfy the GPL requirements of ffmpeg, you can get the source of the build of ffmpeg used here: http://celticdruid.no-ip.com/source/

The source of iPodDrop is, as usual, included in the package. Creative Commons license, as specified in the source, etc.

Oh, and as a note, really high resolution non-4:3 files don't look right on the iPod screen unless it's outputting to a TV. When I transcoded a DVD for testing, the iPod screen only showed the center of the film zoomed in with the rest cut off. However, it displayed normally when the iPod displayed to a TV. The iPod displays 640x480 content on the screen just fine, however.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


iPodDrop v1.4.1 released

There was an insanely stupid bug in v1.4, where I left in some debugging code so it would never encode more than 30 seconds of video. I guess everybody was just so happy with v1.3 that they never bothered upgrading to v1.4 ;)

Anyhow, without further ado, I present v1.4.1:


As I mentioned, the only change was the 30 second bug. And Apple still hasn't fixed the audio bitrate bug in iTunes, so there is no update on that situation either.

Monday, May 22, 2006


I'm being joe-jobbed

It isn't a particularly bad joe job, since I'm not getting thousands of bounces per day. However, I'm still getting enough (A dozen or so day) that I need to feed them to gmail's spam filter, which means that by the time I get the bounce messages filtering as spam, I'll be unable to receive legitimate bounce messages from people I've tried to mail.

I've been using my gmail account for quite a while now. It was the first webmail service that had an interface that was "good enough" to be a viable alternative to regular mail clients like Thunderbird (And GMail Notifier is a must, especially since it can hijack mailto: links so that I can click mail addresses on web sites), and the storage allotment was way more than enough. I even have some of my other addresses redirecting to my gmail account to save me time. Unfortunately, now that I've had it long enough, and since my mail address has been published unprotected on various website by necessity, I'm getting more and more spam as time goes on. I'm up to about 25 to 50 spams per day, with only about 4 hams per day. So my spam-to-ham ratio is at about 10:1 right now, and it's always climbing.

Thank goodness Google's presumably Bayesian spam filter works so well, otherwise my inbox would be useless.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Amalgamation of software

Sometimes I like to imagine things with aspects taken from other things.

How about software? Well, imagine the following program:

1) Take uTorrent, a rediculously efficient BitTorrent client.
2) Add in Hamachi's NAT/Firewall traversal and encryption
3) Sprinkle a bit of NetSelect's scoring system

What would you get? The fastest downloading BitTorrent client on the planet, that's what. Suddenly a vastly higher number of users would be able to accept incoming connections, dramatically increasing the number of users that can use their connections (and upstream) to their true potential. And instantly, peer connections become way smarter, leading to significantly lower overall internet traffic (They say that BitTorrent makes up 35% of all net traffic worldwide), and possibly higher download speeds for a lot of users.

Of course, since BitTorrent is an open protocol, and there are a ton of clients out there, Hamachi's contributions would be useless, and NetSelects would be almost meaningless. Oh well. One can dream. Personally I hope that the Hamachi guys license Hamachi in library form. Imagine being able to add the benefits of Hamachi's NAT/firewall traversal (and encryption, though that part isn't unique) to any networked app. For example, an IM client developer could license it and finally solve the problems that every IM client has with file transfers. Or an RTS game company could license it and quickly solve the problem of needing to forward ports to host games online.


Ugh. Sick.

Today (Well, the 14th) is my birthday. And as often happens, I got sick. Nasty cold. Problem is, I really feel I need to go to work tomorrow, since I don't think the stuff I'm working on (documentation) is the sort of thing I could do alone at home without input from coworkers. And now it's 3AM, and I've been up fretting about what to do for too long. Even if I go to bed right now (and I think I will after typing this), I'm only going to get 7 hours of sleep if I wake up at 10AM (which gets me to work about as late as I feel I can get away with, noon).

I so wish I was writing test scripts again, then I could stay home sick and hack away at them without help. I guess I just have to plow through this documentation stuff so I can get back to writing code, which is much more fun. And something that I can do alone when I'm sick.

Anyhow, I'm going now to get insufficient sleep to help my sick condition. Night.

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