Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (13 July 2014)

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Another short one this week as the World Cup is finally taking a toll on me (and my sleep patterns). So it’s Germany vs Argentina in the final, and I’m backing Germany (but only because they have three players from the club I support, Arsenal – more than any other country). The Germans have a real team, while most of the other countries only have great individuals. Still, if there was one individual that could make a difference it would be Argentina’s Messi. My prediction? Germany wins 2-1 thanks to Müller and Özil – Higuaín to get the consolation for Argentina. Don’t put money on it, but if you do, send me 5% of all winnings.

Alright, let’s get started because I’m heading for an early sleep.

Copyright

Popcorn Time

The MPAA is now going after Popcorn Time, or to be more precise, forks of the original project on GitHub

The MPAA is starting to turn its attention to a software tool that has been dubbed the “Netflix of piracy”, Popcorn Time. The MPAA has issued DMCA notices to GitHub for two forks of Popcorn Time, and GitHub has responded immediately by disabling the repositories of these projects. The DMCA notice also asks GitHub to take proactive action on any and all related forks of the project.

But it’s the open source nature of Popcorn Time will most likely save the software from the same fate enjoyed by other targeted tools in the past. After all, the original Popcorn Time has already survived being “removed” once. With the source code out in the open, it will almost be impossible to completely get rid Popcorn Time and its related developments, which is probably the main reason why the original creators chose to go down the open source route.

The MPAA may have won the first round, but it looks like this is going to be a long, and potentially un-winnable, war for them.

But fighting un-winnable wars is what anti-piracy is all about these days. And it’s a war being waged on from on-top, rather than by the people on the ground in Hollywood, who, according to director Lexi Alexander, don’t really care all that much about the piracy problem. Alexander, who directed the film ‘Green Street Hooligan’, also took to task Hollywood’s general attitude to a wide range of issues, from lack of diversity in hirings, to not giving people what they want.

Most interestingly, Alexander says that Hollywood’s woes, if they are in fact real, are mainly due to the lack of variety in the films they release and who they chooses to direct and star in them. Alexander points out several recent flops, including ‘Mars Needs Moms” and ‘Green Lantern’, and says that releasing crappy movies has cost Hollywood a lot more money than any perceived losses from piracy (both of these movies lost more than $100 million each).

But if you point out these and the dross that studios put on with such regularity, those “Fat Cats” (the only ones who regularly complain about piracy, according to Alexander) in Hollywood might lay the blame for these Box Office misses squarely at the feet of piracy.

New Netflix UI

With so many apps, games, and services competing for our time, and awesome platforms like Netflix to keep us occupied, crappy movies are flopping harder and harder at the box office – and it’s got nothing to do with piracy

What the Internet, and piracy, has managed to do is to provide ubiquitous availability of movies, even those that are still in cinemas. So once upon a time you might have had to pay some money to see if the criticism reserved for a flop that has been universally panned by critics is deserved or not, or you’re just curious (or a sadist), whether this means buying a cheap ticket at the cinema, or renting it on VHS – now, you can just download it. So perhaps piracy does have something to do with it.

But another factor to take into consideration is the sheer amount of choice we get these days in terms of content and activities, not just movies, but also video games, social media and other time wasters. There is no way you can do everything, watch everything, listen or play everything, and so we have to be choosy, not just with money, but with our time as well. There’s simply no room for watching a crappy movie on a Saturday night, which might have once upon a time been unavoidable due to the lack of entertainment choices. There’s also not enough money, so even if you have the time, why would you pay $20+ for ‘R.I.P.D’ when you can do so much more with that same $20?

But yeah, let’s just blame piracy.

One thing that I can blame piracy on, or rather the disproportionate response to the piracy problem, is this news where 30,000 people were sent notices of infringement. That in itself isn’t strange, except these notices were fake with a malicious payload attached to cause havoc. The trojan, sent to German Internet users, could steal credit card details and other sensitive information from the user’s computer.

In other short news, Aereo’s plan for survival has taken an interesting turn as the tiny-antenna company now wants a cable provider license. This would then allow Aereo to negotiate licensing deals with content providers and maybe, just maybe, re-launch their services.

High Definition

The Emmy nominations are in and Netflix has doubled the number of nominations they garnered last year. Once again, Netflix originals ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’ led the way in terms of nominations. Good luck to them for hopefully putting another nail in the coffin of the cable network hegemony.

I wish for Netflix’s success not just because they provide a kick-ass product at a insanely good price, but also because if/when they come to Australia, I would love to work for them doing this recently posted job. I order waste so many hours on Netflix already, so if I can get paid for do it, it would be just bloody awesome.

Gaming

And finally in gaming news, the PS4 isn’t doing so hot in Japan for some reason. This article tries to find the reasons for it, including the Japanese’s still strong love for last-gen consoles, including the PS3, and the fact that all the connected media services that the people are using the PS4 for in the west, like Netflix, isn’t really a thing in Japan. Worth a read if you need some arguments to fuel your PS4 fanboy fights with non-believers.

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That was the news that was, for the week just ended. See you next week!

Site Downtime – What Happened?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Just putting up a quick post to explain the site outage over the weekend, which saw a series of unfortunate events combine to make this the longest downtime since the infamous datacenter fire of 2008.

And it’s all because of a stupid reverse DNS entry.

First up, sorry for the inconvenience of the last few days. But as frustrating it must have been for you, believe me, it was much more frustrating from where I was standing, being able to do very little while the site remained down.

Reverse DNS

What is Reverse DNS?

Before we get to what happened, a little backgrounder on what a reverse DNS entry is. I think most people already know what a normal DNS entry does, in that it translates the domain name (eg. example.com) to an IP address (eg. 1.2.3.4). A reverse DNS entry does the opposite, by telling people what domain name the IP address belongs to.

Reverse DNS entries are not really as useful as normal DNS entries, without which would make it impossible to use domain names (not just for web browsing, but also for emails). Reverse DNS entries are mostly to help humans find out quickly a domain name that’s linked to the IP address, and also for email servers for security purposes – most email servers will reject emails sent from IP addresses that do not have a reverse DNS record, although it doesn’t really matter what the record actually says.

Unlike normal DNS records, reverse DNS entries are not managed by the person who holds the domain name, but by ISPs and web hosts that owns the IP address. For web hosts, when they assigns an IP address to a server that you rent, they may change the reverse DNS entry to match the name of your server (for example, server1.digital-digest.com), which while not essential, looks nice at the very least.

So what happened?

Well, an IP address that no longer belonged to us, but once did, still had the reverse DNS record of the digital-digest.com domain name (while the reverse DNS record may have been assigned automatically to us when the server was procured, when the server was subsequently cancelled, the reverse DNS record apparently remained, for years afterwards). This IP address was being used by its new servers for a phishing scam. A company that investigates this sort of thing did a reverse DNS lookup and found that digital-digest.com was the entry. Using information from the WHOIS entry of digital-digest.com, this web security company subsequently sent emails to us and to our domain name registrar (and possibly others) to inform of the possible abuse going on. This is despite little or not effort apparently being made to check if the IP address did still belong to Digital Digest, which it did not.

Our domain name registrar then decided to suspend the domain name immediately, even though as the IP address was being used in the phishing links, suspending the domain name did nothing to actually prevent the phishing link from continuing to work (this is assuming that the domain name still had something to do with the IP address, which it no longer did).

A rough analogy would be the post office cancelling your mail deliveries because your old phone number, which is still listed in the most recent issue of the White Pages (as you had moved after it was published), was being used in a scam!

And while I was informed of the suspension shortly after it occurred, due to time differences (I was asleep at the time), I wasn’t to know until hours later. Unfortunately (and this is my fault entirely), I chose a domain registrar that did not have 24×7 tech support, and so the issue could not be resolved until Monday despite emails and unanswered phone calls.

Digital Digest Down

Without an active domain name, nothing would work even though the site itself was still running on the server

Adding to my bad fortune, Monday was a public holiday in the US, but luckily, somebody had turned up to work, read my email explaining that the IP address had nothing to do with this domain name anymore, and re-activated the domain name. The only piece of luck in this whole incident.

As nobody really came out of this incident with any credit, myself included, I shall forgo assigning blame. Suffice to say that lessons have been learnt and that I will be transferring my domain names to a different registrar, one that has 24×7 support.

The registrar I’m transferring to, Namecheap, was also one of the many involved in the anti-SOPA protests of last year. Protesting GoDaddy’s then support of SOPA last year, Namecheap hosted a promotion that gave away cheap domain transfers for one day, with some of the proceeds going to support Internet freedom groups. And coincidentally, today is Internet Freedom Day, celebrating the defeat of SOPA a year ago, and the same promotion is running again, with at least $0.50 (up to $1.50, depending on the number of transferred domains) from every cheap $3.99 domain transfer (normally closer to $10) going to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Which makes the decision to switch registrars that much simpler for me :)

The History of Digital Digest Part 1: DVD Digest

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

While we’re celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Digital Digest, I thought it would be interesting if I wrote a brief history of the site. Some of what I will post will be common knowledge, some will be revealed for the first time.

The very first version of Digital Digest, note the Asus V3400 reference

The very first version of Digital Digest, note the Asus V3400 reference

It is worth noting again that Digital Digest is really a collection of many different websites that I have developed over the last 10 years. The very first of these websites was a Geocities (and Tripod) hosted website called DVDigest. It was still relatively early days for the Internet, and the boom was underway. Free web hosting was all the rage, and Geocities and Tripod were amongst the leaders. You get something like 15 MB of space and some unspecified bandwidth limit, for hosting static HTML pages and images, which was plentiful back then. And when you do go over the bandwidth limit, you can always open another free account – to solve the problem of ever changing URLs, you used redirect services like cjb.net (so you would have something like dvdigest.cjb.net, which would direct to whichever free account that was still active back then). Now, this was a time of venture capitalists going crazy and IPOs popping up all over the place, so in comparison, DVDigest was pretty amateur. Even for the amateurs.

But it was noob time for most people back then, before the word “noob” was even invented. My interests back then, being the nerd that I am, was to go to newsgroups and help people with their DVD playback problems. I was one of the few that jumped on to the doomed VCD bandwagon (having purchased a hardware MPEG-1 decoder card at great cost), and my interests naturally flowed onto this new format called DVD. Playing DVDs on your PC back then is  like trying to play games at 2560×1600 resolution today. With 8xAA and 16x AF. In other words, stutter city was the name of the game. That is unless you had some sort of graphics card that could accelerate DVD playback (or a dedicated hardware MPEG-2 decoder card). The graphics card I had back then was the  Asus V3400, part of Nvidia’s Riva TNT family. Despite the marketing, it did not have DVD acceleration and playback was, well, awful. Software based DVD decoders were still in their early days back then, and it took a great deal of tweaking before you could get acceptable framerates on an Intel Celeron 333a. The experience I gained from helping people play DVDs is what led me to write up a few webpages and open a site called DVDigest, which quickly became DVD Digest because people were a bit confused at the name (and they still are – “Digest” reads as in Reader’s Digest, and not as in “digest food”, BTW).

This went on, and more content was added. There were a few new things coming out back then that were quite exciting (for a nerd like me). Talks of doing the impossible and somehow copying the copy protected DVD to your hard-drive, that is if you had a hard-drive big enough. The very first “ripper”, if I can remember, was all about using PowerDVD’s screen capture facility and capturing everything frame by frame. People might as well have pointed a video camera at their TV for all the good that it did (no sound until further processing!) , but at least the process path was all digital. There as also this thing called DivX ; -) – which allowed you to make high quality videos (even better than VCD!) at maybe only a tenth of the space. It was an exciting time.

DeCSS: Who knew such a small program could cause so much trouble ...

DeCSS: Who knew such a small program could cause so much trouble ...

It was still late 1999 when I was approached by a company, which shall remain nameless (and actually I can’t remember their name anyway), that offered to help me host my fledgling website, which had already grown too p0pular to be hosted on a 15 MB free webspace deal (shocking, I know). I was to get a part of the advertising money, and they would do all the hosting. They even kindly purchased the domain name dvd-digest.com (don’t bother hurrying over to whois the name, it’s owned by different people now, I think), which was perhaps not as kind as I had believed, naive as I was. All went pretty smoothly until the said company received legal documents which suggested that the rippers I was hosting was not entirely legal. The infamous DVD CCA vs DeCSS case had started. It doesn’t really matter now that the court eventually ruled in favour of the defendants, but I’m sure it was scary for the company that hosted DVD Digest (and owned the domain name to boot). And they took what was in their eyes not only the right action, but the only action, which was to “Shut It Down!”. I was on vacation and away from the Internet at that time (hard to believe that being away from the Internet is actually possible these days, I know) and I did not find out until a week or two after the fact. It wasn’t good news for DVD Digest.

So I had to start from scratch again in the fake new millennium (2000), this time with the domain name digital-digest.com, even though the site was still called DVD Digest back then. And start again I did. The year 2000 was a great one for DVD Digest, despite the soon bursting of the Internet bubble. It was then that I turned what was really a hobby into a business of sorts, and of course, the DVD industry made huge strides in those few years which was helpful for a website that relied on more and more people wondering why they’re only getting 15 FPS from the DVDs on their PCs.

The DVD Digest name continued to be used for many years, with Digital Digest eventually taking over as the official name of the website, but by then there were other sites part of the Digital Digest network called DivX Digest and DVD±R Digest, but that’s a story for part 2 and 3 of The History of Digital Digest.

To be continued in part 2 …

Weekly News Roundup (16 November 2008)

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Sorry for a lack of the usual weekly blog post. There were quite a few things I wanted to blog about, including my new computer and the drama that went with that, the October NPD figures as well, plus a few other things, but due to the first thing I mentioned (new computer drama), I just didn’t have the time. Basically, I bought a new computer but the RAM was faulty, and I didn’t get it resolved until Friday, and I’ve been busy installing everything since then. It’s settled down a bit now, and I’m actually typing this on my new Intel E8500 computer, so hopefully normality will return soon.

CopyrightLet’s start with copyright news. If you live in Britain, then think of two other people that also live in Britain. Then at least one of you is an online pirate, according to the MPAA that is. I don’t know why the MPAA wants to brag about this, because if everybody is doing it, then it shows the problem is not that some people are dishonest, but rather, there’s a much bigger problem. Perhaps it’s the high prices, poor release schedules, the lack of legal alternatives and many other possible explanations. 

The owner of IsoHunt expands upon this point further by saying that it isn’t the copyright infringers that are in the wrong, but the law itself is the problem. The law currently fails to distinguish between several important differences, such as offering torrent files versus hosting actual pirated material, and whether sharing  1% of a file constitutes the same kind of piracy as sharing 100% of the file through P2P. And then there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s perfectly legal, but still treated in the same way as the worst of piracy.  

Will the Obama administration help to preserve Net Neutrality?

Will the Obama administration help to preserve Net Neutrality?

A sign that real change may be coming to Washington DC, President-Elect Obama’s transition team will hand over the job of reviewing the FCC to two Net Neutrality advocates. This is great news for the fight for Net Neutrality, to prevent media companies from dictating what we can and cannot do with *our* Internet. Let’s hope this is signs of things to come, because the White House has for too long been in the pockets of those whose greed will ultimately be their undoing. All eyes will be on who Obama will pick to be the copyright czar, that newly created position by the Bush administration to grant the MPAA an office at the White House. If Obama picks a consumer friendly advocate to fill this position, then that will truly mean the battle-lines have been drawn and for once, the White House may be on our side. Change we need, indeed (but don’t be too disappointed if nothing happens, as is the way with Washington politics).

Microsoft has launched their US online store. Why is this in the copyright news section? Well, the store now allows for downloads for their popular software titles, instead of using the traditional CD/DVD model. This is a step in the right direction one feels, but the step is far too small coming from Microsoft as the downloads are offered at the same price as the DVD version. Drop the price of Windows Vista by half, and I think you’ll see Vista piracy drop dramatically. With my new computer purchase, I was eligible to get the OEM version of Vista for about half the price of the retail version. While the OEM version is limited to one computer, and it only comes with either the 32 or 64 bit version (I opted for the 64 bit one due to my system having 4 GB of RAM), and it lacks full support that comes with the retail version, the lower price more than makes up for it. Now if Microsoft can do something similar with downloads, then their online store might get a few more customers. Still with Microsoft, they also started banning a whole bunch of Xbox 360’s for using pirated games. Some are easy to spot, because they play games that haven’t even been released yet. And this time, it’s not only Xbox Live accounts getting banned, but also the Xbox 360 console itself – if you see cheap “too good to be true” Xbox 360’s on sale at eBay or something, beware. Xbox 360 piracy, and console piracy in general, is less of a problem than PC piracy. But there are probably only half a dozen must have games each year, plus many of them go on sale for peanuts without a short amount of time, so there’s really no need to pirate console games. I wager that people spend a lot more on DVDs than on games, but one good game can offer 10, 20 times the entertainment of a typical movie, at only about 3 or 4 times the price (at release). 

High DefinitionOnto Blu-ray news now, this holiday season is bringing mixed news for the only HD disc format left (this is the first holiday season where Blu-ray has been the sole HD format). While the spate of new Blu-ray releases will surely sell incredibly well to existing users, it’s the adoption of the format by new users that have the Blu-ray people worried. The price drops, discount hardware and movie deals are now happening on a scale I’ve never seen before, and without considering other circumstances, this would be a great time to Buy-Blu™. Unfortunately, those “other circumstances” happens to be the greatest economic downturn in nearly 100 years, so if there was a worse time to promote a new more expensive and optional format (competing against a firmly established budget alternative), this would be it.

Circuit City filling for bankruptcy could have a negative effect on Blu-ray sales

Circuit City filling for bankruptcy could have a negative effect on Blu-ray sales

With Circuit City filing for Chapter 11, other electronic stores such as Best buy reporting this is the worst holiday sales period they’ve seen in 42 years of retailing, this Christmas is turning blue rather than Blu. I personally think the BDA are doing all the right things at the moment. Lowering hardware prices, lowering movie prices, not relying as much on the PS3 (the PS3 hasn’t dropped in price to tempt consumers away from standalones) and plenty of good titles. But certainly there are external factors they cannot control. Right now, Blu-ray is living off the early adopter and PS3 crowd, the hard-core fans that will buy everything that comes their way, money being no object (relatively). And that’s reflected in the sales stats too, with titles that appeal to these types of consumers selling like hotcakes (do people still eat hotcakes?), while the more mainstream titles such as comedies or kids films doing quite poorly in comparison (a 94% to 6% DVD to Blu-ray sales ratio for this week’s Kung Fu Panda, for example, but as high as 17% for Iron Man). This holiday season will have to be about pushing Blu-ray mainstream, but it’s harder and harder now that people don’t have the cash or confidence to spend.

The other threat to Blu-ray is digital delivery. Here in Australia, video rental giants Video Ezy and Blockbusters are setting up download kiosks in their stores to allow people to download movies. This is the same Blockbusters that have been doing a lot of work to promote Blu-ray here in Australia, but this could signify a change in strategy. But one thing I will say is that Blu-ray players are perfect platforms to host online download services, and it might just be the trojan horse needed to make digital delivery mainstream.

Toshiba, their first holiday season without a HD format to support, are going full steam with their “upscaling is better than real HD” pitch. This time, it’s an HDTV that has the upscaling built-in; you don’t even need an upscaling DVD player anymore. Perversely, these TVs use the same processing chip as found in the most popular Blu-ray player so far, the Sony PS3. If you can remember from earlier in the year, Toshiba purchased Sony’s Cell processor manufacturing plant, and they said it at the time that they want to be the Cell to all forms of home electronics. And it’s not only Toshiba that is using the Cell processor, Leadtek are coming out with a PC graphics card powered by the Cell processor. That’s an interesting concept, and I will be very interested to see the benchmark scores for it.

Don't be tricked into buying expensive HDMI cable

Don't be tricked into buying expensive HDMI cable

And to round-up the HD news, have you ever had an experience where you are pressured by salespeople to buy expensive HDMI cable? The same con has been here forever with component cables, but at least it made some sort of sense with these analogue cables. But with these digital “picture or no picture” cables, there’s almost no difference between a $20 cable and a $200 one.  It makes as much sense as a computer salesperson trying to sell you expensive USB cable because it will prevent data loss. For most people who do not need 20m HDMI cables, there’s almost no advantage to buying expensive cable over cheap ones. The expensive ones may have better build quality, but if you buy a cheap one that break, you can replace it 10 times and still end up spending less. So don’t fall for the con. Buy reasonably priced HDMI cables that still have warranties and certification, and save the money on buying better equipment or more movies 

GamingAnd finally onto gaming, the October NPD figures are out and I will analyse them early next week. The results prove quite positive for the Wi as usual, while the lower priced Xbox 360 sold almost 2:1 compared to the PS3, which actually dropped in sales compared to last month (usually never happens, this close to the holiday shopping season). Sony will go on about how their year-to-year increase (October 2008 compared to October 2007) is the biggest out of the 3 consoles, but our NPD analysis started around this time last year and I have the full analysis right here for October 2007. So yes, the PS3 increased 57% in sales compared to the same month last year, but PS3 sales were absolutely dismal last year this time (last out of all consoles, including the PS2), and it was outsold by the Xbox 360 by a 3:1 margin and by a 4:1 margin with the Wii (which is still outselling it by almost exactly the same margin). The biggest worry has to be the sale decrease compared to the September, despite LittleBigPlanet being released. LBP also didn’t do very well in the sales charts either, barely commanding a place in the top 10 which was once again dominated by the Xbox 360 (5 out of the top 10 titles, including the number one, and platform exclusive, Fable II) and the Wii with the rest.

The price cuts for the Xbox 360 are happening all around the World, including Australia. What I found interesting was a quote from Microsoft’s marketing manager:

You can buy a Wii and an Xbox 360 for less than a PS3, or you can buy an Xbox 360 and a stand-alone Blu-ray player for less than a PS3

You can clearly see Microsoft’s marketing strategy here, and they are not ashamed at all to mention the Wii and even standalone Blu-ray players, and quite clearly position the Xbox 360 as a companion to both of these devices, rather than a competitor. If you can’t beat them, drop prices so you can join them, I guess is what this means. And with the holiday season, you can pick up an even cheaper Xbox 360, for example get a new Xbox 360 plus Rock Band for only $199 from Dell’s Black Friday special. That’s a sweet deal, if you can get your hands on it.

Okay, that’s all I have time for this week. Once I finish installing my new computer, I will hopefully have the NPD analysis up and have time to scour the net for more worthy news items. See you next week.

My PS3 just broke – Redux Part 3

Monday, October 20th, 2008

As expected, my refurbished PS3 arrived this afternoon. The turnaround was a bit slower this time, two days shy of 2 weeks, but I’m not complaining.

Opening up the package, the first thing I noticed that it wasn’t packed very tightly, as the PS3 could move around inside the box slightly. Not a good sign. The second thing I noticed was that the PS3 case wasn’t snapped in properly at one end (front, right hand side was popped up). This is easily fixed of course, just apply pressure to pop it back in, but again it’s not a good sign.

Starting the PS3, doing all the usual set up stuff, the freezing problem (right after the Sony Computer Entertainment fanfare music plays) is still present – it must be something to do with certain settings or something, but I did a quick system restore (not the full one), and it seems to have fixed the problem. The PS3 came with firmware version 2.42, so I’m a little bit afraid. I’m also afraid to update to 2.50, due to the various problems that have been reported so far. I think I shall skip using the PS3 much until 2.51 comes out and people have volunteered to be guinea pigs for it.

I did notice that, unlike my last refurbished PS3, the fan noise is more smooth. The last one had a creaky fan which I did not talk about, it sounded like it needed some oiling. The problem with refurbished PS3s is that you don’t know how it has been used by the previous owner, and while the faulty parts were replaced, the parts that aren’t faulty (but have been used near to death) are still in there. I much prefer Microsoft’s repair policy, where they try to repair your own console before giving you a refurbished one.

So wait I shall for 2.51, which means there will be at least one more post in this series of blog posts. Hopefully, that one will be the last one, because my warranty runs out next month and even if it didn’t, I don’t know if I want to go through everything again.

Update: Bad news. The wireless remote/controller drop-out problem has happened again, and what’s worse, plugging in the controller doesn’t work anymore. I had to do a soft reset, but the PS3 refused to reboot (the green light keeps on blinking), and so a hard reset was the only other choice. Not surprisingly, everything worked again after the restart. I’m now updating the firmware to 2.50, since I have nothing to lose anymore (and Sony tech support will probably ask me to do it anyway). I think I might have to send in my PS3 again. Damn.