Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (October 21, 2018)

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

And we’re back, this time on a new server. Sorry for the lack of a WNR last week, it was just too hectic to do one what with the new servers downloading all the GBs of stuff from the old servers. The migration is going better than expected, it’s been a while since I’ve done such a large scale move and things have actually gotten a lot easier over the years, thanks to a lot of automation. It’s still panic and confusion half of the time though, but hopefully most of that is behind us now, and it’s just the matter of making sure everything still works.

Let’s take a look at the news stories this week …

Copyright

GTA Online

Creating cheat tools in GTA Online, and other games, might get you in big legal trouble

Wow, I didn’t know cheating was so dangerous. Or rather, making cheat tools can apparently get your house searched, computers seized and assets frozen. I guess it is a big deal when it involves a $6 billion gaming franchise in the form of GTA V and in particular, GTA Online, and cheats that allow gamers to generate unlimited virtual currency and bypass Rockstar’s virtual economy could mean real damage to Rockstar’s real currency intake.

The lawsuit is being fought via copyright law, which at first seems a bit strange, but all the publishers are doing it this way, these days. Blizzard, for example, argued that cheat tools break the game’s EULA and the regular copying of code and files by the game is therefore considered illegal copying. Or something convoluted like that.

Still, not too many people will be upset by this because nobody likes cheaters and those that profit from cheating tools, but it still does seem a bit excessive to go after cheat makers so hard like this. I’m sure a strongly worded letter would have had the same effect, but this feels like a show of force to scare away other cheat developers. Shame for the 5 Aussies at the end of it though.

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Remember when torrent news website TorrentFreak was blocked as a piracy/hacking resource? It’s now been banned by Steam, of all places, for being potentially malicious. Just how news stories can harm Steam users, I don’t really know, but Steam is no stranger to blocking anything it deems slightly related to piracy, and I guess news sites (like this one, and this one) are fair game now.

High Definition

New Netflix Interface

Netflix spending heaps on content, but it’s working to drive subscriber growth

Netflix posted some great Q3 results, following the lackluster revenue report from the previous quarter and doubts in the market about the streaming firm’s long term profitability. This initially caused Netflix stock to surge in price, but it has now fallen back to below where it was due to weakness across the whole NASDAQ.

Leaving aside market wobbles, Netflix looks like it’s in a good position, both in the US and in overseas markets. It’s still spending a sh*tload of money on content, some $3 billion negative free cash flow for the year, which is why off of nearly $4 billion in revenue, net income was at a much lower $403 million (which is actually higher than normal).

But the investment in content is worth it as long as it drives new subscribers to the platform. Of course, Netflix would prefer to spend money creating original content than to license existing content, because it has been the originals that have been driving subscriber growth, and in the long run, originals actually cost less money.

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And so that was the week that was. Now back to server stuff.

Weekly News Roundup (September 30, 2018)

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Hello again! Hope you’ve been having a nice week. Me? I’ve been catching up on Battlestar Galactica again, the new re-imagined series (also known as the RDM version, named after its creator and Star Trek alumni Ronald D. Moore – the relevance of this little factoid will be revealed later on). I often have stuff on in the background while doing some of the more tedious work for the site, and TV series with completed seasons that I’ve watched before are great in that they’re long and familiar, which means it won’t distract me from working (too much). If you’ve not seen the RDM BSG series, you really ought to give it a go, especially if you’re a fan of good sci-fi. It’s one of those milestone shows that forever changed sci-fi, and now every second sci-fi show tries to emulate its “grittiness” and serial format (including one particular season of Star Trek: Enterprise, if I can remember), as opposed to Star Trek’s spotless, episodic nature. It’s also one sexy, if still quite tame by HBO standard, show.

Anyway, enough babble, on to the news!

Copyright

Vinyl record player

Old songs will finally start falling into public domain

Before we get to the Star Trek stuff, there’s a bit of copyright good news (relatively speaking) coming out of Washington DC, at a time when good news out of that place is a rarer commodity than modesty from President Trump. For once, Congress, rights-holder groups and digital rights activists have all come together in support of a new copyright bill that could finally set a limit on the copyright term of old music. Really old music.

Having sailed through the US Senate, the Music Modernization Bill will finally start putting music published from 1923 into public domain, starting this year. Songs made before 1946 will all have a set 95 year term, while songs published between 1947 and 1956 would get a 110 year term. Songs published between 1957 and 1972 would all expire by 2067, meaning that will be the year Bill Withers’s ‘Lean On Me’ will fall into public domain. It’s a compromise for digital rights groups like Public Knowledge, which supported the bill, but it finally puts and end limit on copyright terms for songs that were increasingly looking that they were never going to fall into public domain.

Now all we need is something similar for movie and TV content. Can’t wait for a public domain Mickey Mouse to exist, and also can’t wait to see how freaked out Disney will be by it.

Speaking of a media giant being freaked out, CBS has decided to use the nuclear option (or an antimatter explosion equivalent) to take out a promising fan project that will finally allow all of us Trekkies and Trekkers to live out a fantasy – to walk the decks of the USS Enterprise-D. CBS has ordered the fan project Stage 9, which has meticulously recreated the illustrious ship using the Unreal Engine, complete with working controls (yes, even saucer seps!), sound effects and crew members, to shut down or face a legal version of a photon torpedo attack.

Stage 9 USS Enterprise-D Engineering

CBS shuts down the antimatter containment field on the Stage 9 project

This is despite CBS Vice President for Product Development John Van Citters recently reassuring contributors to fan projects that “they’re not going to hear from us. They’re not going to get a phone call, they’re not going to get an email. They’re not going to get anything that’s going to ruin their day one way or another and make them feel bad, like they’ve done something wrong”. Except that exactly what the Stage 9 team got, and efforts to contact Mr Van Citters did not produce any results (as in, no response at all).

I’m sure the people behind Stage 9 would have made any changes that CBS would have requested, and even if CBS wanted them to pay for a license, I’m sure fans of the project would have loved to help. Unfortunately, CBS decided to not to play ball (or Parrises squares) with Stage 9, and us fans were left with no options, not even a paying one.

That last sentence wasn’t entirely correct. There is an option, one that’s obviously not legal now that CBS has stepped in. Downloads of the latest build of Stage 9 has been floating around Reddit and the usual torrent places, and lots of people are downloading. Not sure how long this will go on before the CBS take action on these links. A very sad state of affairs, if you ask me. Sadder than when Captain Picard opened the box containing “his” Ressikan Flute. Sadder than the end of “Lower Decks”.

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And on that nerdy note, we come to the end of this WNR. Back to more fraking excellent BSG. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (March 11, 2018)

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Sorry for the lack of an edition last week, again, nothing much was happening. So this is the first WNR of March, and long time readers will know it is my favourite month because it’s when my birthday happens. I know, self absorbed much? But still, March is a nice month generally regardless of where you are (spring in the Northern hemisphere, and a nice autumn here in the south), and how can you not love a month that sees a Star Wars film being released on Blu-ray. I know, nerd much?

A few things to go through, so let’s not waste too much time on the intro …

Copyright

Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix really messed up the release of Final Fantasy XV

If you want a checklist of things not to do when it’s time to release a game, just take a look at what Square Enix did do with the release of Final Fantasy XV on Windows. First of all, Square Enix’s decision to use Denuvo was always going to be a bad one, when it comes to building relationship with your customers and fans – they weren’t happy! But if you’re going to use Denuvo, there are a few things you need to ensure. First, don’t release pre-load files on Origin in unencrypted form that allowed cracking groups from all over the download the full game files, ready for distribution once the game is cracked. Second, and this is a big one, don’t release a demo that included a game launch executable that could somehow be used with the full game to bypass copy protection. That’s right, Square Enix managed to release a crack for their own game via the demo version, and all signs point to the full game (minus the DLC content) being playable.

Square Enix’s SNAFU does present an unique opportunity to benchmark the performance of Denuvo, and whether or not it affects gaming performance. Some benchmarks have already come in, but most of these test the demo version against the full version for the first few levels (which both the demo and full version include). Most of these say that there are no performance losses associated with Denuvo. While this does test a Denuvo-free version of the game against the Denuvo version, there’s is no information that suggest that the demo is at exactly the same optimization stage as the full release version – the full version may have included additional performance optimizations that the demo version does not. A better test would be the pirated version (with the demo exe, and the full game files) versus the full official version. Hopefully, a benchmark of this type will be made soon (and the benchmark hopefully will take into account the need to ensure there are no GPU bottlenecks fudging up the results – it’s stressing the CPU, preferably on a minimum requirement spec system, that will ultimately show up any performance differences, if there are any).

MXQ Player

The US government will help the MPAA take on Kodi box makers

It’s not going to be easy to segue into the other stories this week since there’s not much in common with any of them, so I’m not even going to try. And so the next story is one that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – the U.S. government is now actively helping the MPAA fight Kodi boxes.

Do a congressional testimony thing, or a discussion panel in this week’s case, let the MPAA and others provide a one sided argument about the dangers and perils of the latest piracy craze, and then the government, as expected, take “swift” action using taxpayer’s money to defend Hollywood corporations from, in most cases, an exaggerated threat. And sometimes, even the President get in on the act, something that Trump’s handlers was able to get him to do this week too.

We now have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu for streaming plus iTunes, Google and Amazon again for downloads, there’s also DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray, not to mention cinemas, early digital releases and cable. If after all this, people are still relying on piracy, then it either means piracy is still somehow better/easier to use than the myriad of legal options, or that people simply can’t afford to pay the prices that Hollywood demands (not if they want access to all the content they like). You can’t stop piracy – people will find a way – but you can minimize it if you give people a better service at a price they deem is affordable/good value. And even then, you’ll probably still have people who prefer piracy.

Innovate, not legislate (or litigate), out of this problem.

uTorrent Logo

uTorrent was once owned by Spotify

Speaking of innovation (hey, I guess there was a way to segue, after all), with Spotify about to get listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and being valued at $20 billion, you might be surprised to find that Spotify’s origins had many links to piracy. In fact, you might be even more surprised to find that Spotify once owned a piece of software called uTorrent – yes, the same uTorrent that people who don’t use Spotify use to “obtain” music.

But the link isn’t so strange when you consider that one of the early developers of Spotify, Ludvig “Ludde” Strigeus, just happened to have invented uTorrent. Spotify bought his software and his technology, and then only a few months later, sold the software to BitTorrent Inc, the current owners. Spotify not only gained technology that they integrated into their own software in the transaction, but they also made a bit of money in the sale to BitTorrent Inc, money that they put to good use to grow the company into the $20 billion behemoth it is now. And not only that, it has virtually wiped out music piracy as a thing of concern even to the likes of the music industry, who failed to innovate out of the problem, but instead, let someone else, Spotify, to benefit from the innovation.

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That’s all I have for you this week. Given that it’s my birthday next week, I might not find the time to do too much work (hehe). But if I do find the time, then see you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (February 25, 2018)

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR, one that, unlike in recent times, is actually full of stuff to talk about. Yeah well, I don’t know what happened either. Maybe it was the post Valentine’s Day euphoria that got the news juices flowing, but I think it’s just lucky timing.

Alright, let’s not waste any time …

Copyright

Redbox Kiosk

Redbox scores a win in its lawsuit with Disney

I didn’t really expect this to happen, but Disney’s lawsuit against Redbox isn’t going to be as easy as they thought it would be, with a judge having denied Disney’s request for a preliminary injunction. Lawyers usually don’t ask for preliminary injunctions (or even file the lawsuit in the first place) if they didn’t have a reasonable expectation of success. But sometimes all it takes is a good argument, and a judge willing to consider it, for the tables to turn, and turn they have.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that Disney was engaged in “copyright misuse”, by attempting to bundle too many conditions to the redemption and use of the digital copy that comes with Disney combo packs. Specifically, Disney tried to “tie” the ownership of the digital copy to the ownership of the discs in the combo packs, and this meant that users had to give up their right to resell the discs if they wanted to redeem the digital copy, and that, the judge said, was beyond what Disney’s copyright allowed them to do.

It wasn’t a complete slam dunk for Redbox though, as they failed to get the judge to recognise that the “first sale doctrine” applied to the redeemable digital copy, as in the judge’s opinion, the digital copy doesn’t actually exist at the time of sale (it only exists after the buyer redeems the code). Without being able to rely on the “first sale doctrine”, which limits the ability for the rights-holder to control the product after the first sale has occurred (and is the basis that allows us to resale our legally purchased goods), Redbox’s assertions that they had a right to sell the digital codes might not be an easy argument to make.

Interestingly, the judge found issue with the wording of the “Codes are not for sale or transfer” condition on Disney’s combo packaging, which does not make it clear that opening the package is considered acceptance of the conditions. Expect changes to the packaging to happen sooner rather than later.

Speaking of changes, those that have used Google Image search in the last week would have noticed a rather big, and annoying, change. Google has removed the “View Image” and “Search by Image” links in its image search results, meaning that it’s now much harder to download the original, unedited versions of any image. And that’s the whole point really, because Google has come under pressure copyright wise (via a Getty Images lawsuit) to stop making it so easy to download images via its image search function.

As expected, users have not reacted positively to these changes, and who could blame them. Also as expected, website owners have welcomed these changes, many of whom have long accused Google of “stealing” their images by directly linking to them (allowing users to download them without the need to visit the publishing website). The same problem exists with snippets (you know, live sports scores, weather, and things of that nature), but at least with snippets, some websites are actively providing the content to Google. Not so with images, and many webmasters have even gone as far as install scripts on their site to prevent direct linking.

While one fire has been potentially put out, expect the conflict between publishers and Google to intensify with Google’s other features.

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Denuvo

Is Denuvo a performance killer?

Does Denuvo affect gaming performance? There’s evidence to suggest that it does, and there’s also evidence to suggest it doesn’t. But I think what is clear is that Devnuo has the *potential* to affect performance, and if the cat and mouse game between Denuvo and crackers continue and Denuvo start to use more and more complicated means to protect games, then yes, performance will eventually become a big issue. Anything that potentially makes hundreds if not thousands of calls per second will take something away from the gaming performance, even if these calls are super efficient.

Denuvo isn’t the only anti-tampering game in town though. Arxan is another company that’s promoting their anti-tampering tech, and it has already been used in some games. It has been used in games for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform, which allows game publishers to use a single API set to publish games for a wide variety of Microsoft devices. UWP features not one but 5 layers of DRM to protect its games, and was previously though to be impenetrable. Try telling that to a hacker though! This week, a UWP game and its 5 layers of DRM (MSStore, UWP, EAppX, XBLive, and Arxan) were all cracked by group CODEX, allowing the game ‘Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection’ to be pirated. It’s hardly a game that pirates have been waiting for, but as a proof of concept that UWP can be cracked, it is just as effective as a AAA game.

High Definition

Disney’s upcoming streaming service won’t compete with Netflix (says Disney at least)

Not content with having control over all of the most profitable franchises (and making a zillion movies for each franchise), Disney is in the process of buying another major studio Fox. This, along with their plans to pull new content from Netflix starting in 2019, all bodes well for the studio’s upcoming streaming platform. It has already been discussed as a potential “Netflix killer”, but Disney says that’s not what it is at all.

Instead, Disney’s streaming offering will be a more streamlined affair, offering 500 movies compared to Netflix’s 4000+ at launch. The price for the service, according to Disney, will also be lower than Netflix’s.

So the new service may not be a Netflix killer, but it might injure it some, considering how many good movies Disney (and Fox) has at their disposal.

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I think that’s all we have this week, hope you found it all interesting. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (October 8, 2017)

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Sometimes you get a weird collection of news stories, everything ranging from DRM delusions of grandeur to the latest news about advances in video tech (even though many people are still happily buying DVDs and watching Netflix in SD). Sometimes, like this week, you get a theme: rip, rip hooray.

You’ll get what I mean in a moment.

Copyright

The ripping scene has been pretty quiet ever since AACS 2.0 showed up via 4K Ultra HD (and some streaming services). This was a tough copy protection scheme that, unlike previous efforts (CSS, AACS 1.0), wasn’t trivial to break. This meant that 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, were for a while, safe from ripping. This seems to no longer be the case.

DeUHD

It may not look much, but it may just get the job done if you need to rip Ultra HD Blu-ray discs

Enter DeUHD, the first tool that makes ripping 4K Ultra Blu-ray discs as easy as clicking on a button. Sure, it’s pricey at the moment (an eye watering €199 for a lifetime license), requires specific hardware to work (and it doesn’t always work), but it’s the best we’ve got, and maybe a sign of things to come.

Just goes to show that, no matter how tough the DRM is, it’s only a matter of time before it’s broken. For now, UHD’s sheer size and the lack of proper burning options makes UHD Blu-ray ripping (and downloading) sometime strictly for video tech geeks like myself and gives the format natural protection against being pirated a lot, but being able to down-convert from such a high quality source may mean a slight but noticeable improvement in the quality of rips you’ll start to see (UHD-BDRips?).

Like AACS 2.0, Denuvo, while strictly speaking not a DRM (but really is a DRM), has been a star advertisement for the necessity of DRM (or DRM-like services). But not anymore, maybe.

News that Denuvo protected game ‘Total War: Warhammer 2’ was cracked in matter of hours should give pause all game publishers who had thought that zero day releases were a thing of the past. The time it takes to break Denuvo protected games has been shortening all the time for those that have been following the WNR, from months down to days, and now, down to hours.

So basically it’s the same thing I said two paragraphs ago, so I won’t repeat it again just to make the word count go higher.

Gaming

PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro

It’s taken a while, but the first pirated PS4 game has been shared – you most likely won’t be able to play it though

I guess when things happen they always happen in three’s, and so when the first pirated PS4 game was uploaded online, it wasn’t a total surprise seeing how this week was panning out. But unlike the other two efforts, this was is not for the faint of heart.

In order to play the pirated PS4 games, not only will you need a jailbroken PS4, which means one running a very old firmware version, you’ll also need to know your way around ELF loaders, Netcat and FTP Payload. In other words, it’s not something that will worry Sony at the moment, since it’s purely academic that pirated PS4 game exists – no one will be that desperate to play free PS4 games that they go to all this trouble just to do so.

Still, it’s the first small step towards something bigger perhaps, especially with rumours that a much more recent version of the PS4 firmware may have been compromised.

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So this week’s theme based WNR comes to a close here. I doubt next week will be as coherent, and probably not as busy either. We’ll find out then!